Steve finished his morning workout and was walking out of the gym when he caught sight of his friends looking at something in the main conference room. He took a swig out of his water bottle and walked towards them.
"What are we looking at?" he called out.
No one answered, so he entered the space and followed his friends' gazes to the soundproof glass room in the middle.
Tony was in there with someone. Steve furrowed his brows. Tony had "retired" after everything that happened with Ultron two months ago. Steve stood next to Natasha, observing, as Tony spoke and paced the room. So much for retirement.
"Who's the dame?" he remarked.
Still no answer. Steve looked at his friends.
"Not sure. She came in with Tony about an hour ago on the jet," Sam answered.
He took another swig of water. He couldn't see much of the person except her dark hair, pulled up into an elegant chignon. He noted with particular interest the bit of exposed skin he could see on her neck. The hologram in the middle of the room was displaying a bunch of numbers. Steve wondered who this mysterious woman was.
"She comes from money. I'd say she's Tony's business associate," Nat observed.
"Or an old friend," Wanda remarked.
Everyone turned to look at Vision.
"Both of you are correct. The woman is well-dressed. She comes from money, that much is clear. She also has what most people would consider as good taste. Old money, then. As for how she knows Tony, it is clear they are previously acquainted. Tony is comfortable around her. His tie is undone."
Sam scoffed. "You got all that from Tony's tie?"
Vision glanced at him. "I know Tony. I was in his head my whole life."
Steve looked at his friends. Things must be getting really boring around the Avengers compound if they were all standing around, looking at Tony's tie. He made a mental note to institute training of some kind on Saturday mornings.
The presentation seemed to be coming to an end. Tony looked up and saw the line of them. Steve nodded his way. He was about to take another swig of water when the woman in the chair swiveled around.
Dark eyes rested on cheekbones that looked like they were reaching for the heavens. Delicate pearl earrings accentuated a strong jaw. The woman smiled at the line of Avengers, and Steve felt his stomach do a flip.
Tony was moving towards the door. The woman stood up. She was wearing a dress shirt and a tight skirt. He tried to refrain from staring at the shape of her body.
"Speak of the devils!" Tony opened the door with a flourish. The woman moved to join him.
Tony offered his arm to her. Steve felt an irrational pang of jealousy when he saw her smile and take his arm before they walked down the steps.
"Everyone, this is Alina Chen. Alina's an old friend and a business associate," Tony said.
Vision smiled a knowing, self-satisfied smile.
"Nice to meet you," the woman said, greeting her onlookers. Steve noticed her full, pink lips. They looked impossibly soft. He must have imagined that her eyes settled on him for a second longer than the others.
"These," Tony gestured with his free hand, "are the Avengers. Well, some of them anyway." Arm still in hand, he led her to Vision.
"How do you do," he nodded politely. Alina smiled in answer.
"Wanda Maximoff. Scarlet Witch." They exchanged smiles.
"Sam Wilson. Falcon."
"Nice to meet you," Sam smiled. She smiled back at him. Steve began to realize his heart was beating quite fast.
"Natasha Romanova, Black Widow." Natasha nodded at Alina.
"And Steve Rogers. Captain America."
He straightened up and had to restrain himself from giving her a small salute.
"It's nice to meet you, Captain," Alina said, giving him a small smile.
The way she uttered his title gave him goosebumps. He noticed a small beauty mark on top of her left lip.
"Well then, that's done," Tony said. "I always feel like a goddamn circus announcer introducing you guys."
Steve flinched at Tony's language, but Alina's laugh distracted him. He hoped he would get to hear her laugh again and that next time, it would be because of something he said.
"Alina will be helping me with a new project I'm working on," Tony said, patting her hand on his arm. Steve wondered what it was. "She'll be staying at the compound for a week as my guest. She's also requested a tour of the facilities this afternoon." He looked back at her. "As much as I'd love to stay and show you around, I have a previous commitment." Tony looked back at the group. "Anyone up for the challenge?"
"I'll do it," Steve answered almost immediately.
Alina glanced at him and offered another smile. His stomach did another flip.
"Alright, then. I'll ask Happy to get your bags," Tony said. "Steve?" Tony moved to offer him Alina's hand, but she did not take his arm.
"Actually, I was hoping to change into something a little more comfortable before the tour."
"You look great as is."
Did he really just blurt that out? Sam let out a low chuckle. Steve felt heat start to creep unto his cheeks. Alina glanced at him.
"Well, thank you, Captain. But I would very much prefer to change. If that's alright with you?"
"Yes, of course. I only meant..." he trailed off. No one filled the gap in the air.
Tony looked between Steve and Alina. "Well, then, let me show you to your room."
For some reason, Steve felt his heart fall.
"I'll see you in an hour, Captain. Where shall we meet?" Alina asked.
He thought quickly. "How about the front lawn?"
"Front lawn it is. See you in an hour." She smiled at him, and he felt his heart soar.
She placed another hand on Tony's arm, and they walked out of the room. Steve noted her graceful gait.
"You look great as is, huh?" Sam said, coming up behind Steve when the two had left.
Steve shot him a look.
"Cap's got the hots for Tony's ex," a new voice piped up.
"Rhodes? Where did you come from?" Steve said, turning around.
"I was finishing up a call outside and saw the whole thing," Rhodes said, gesturing to the window on the other side of the room. "And you definitely have a thing for her."
He opened his mouth to deny it but stopped himself. Natasha and Wanda laughed.
"How do you know she's an ex-lover?" Vision asked Rhodes. Steve felt heat return to his cheeks at Vision's choice of words.
"It's obvious," Rhodes said, grinning widely. "No woman that good-looking, who knows Tony, isn't his ex."
Vision considered this new bit of information and nodded. Steve felt a curious sensation in the pit of his stomach.
"You'd better go, Stevie. You could use a shower," Sam said, clapping his hands on his back.
"I don't smell too bad, do I?"
Wanda crinkled her nose.
"Ok, ok, message received."
"Good luck on your big date!" He heard Sam yell out as he left the room.
He ignored the comment and walked toward his room with the sounds of laughter behind him.
Steve walked out to the front lawn. He thought he was early, but Alina was already there, talking to Happy.
Dressed down in jeans and a casual blouse, she still looked elegant and graceful. He wondered if she was a dancer. Rhodes was right. She was a beautiful woman.
Alina was smiling and listening intently to something Happy was saying.
"Hey, Cap!" Happy greeted him as he walked through the double doors.
"Captain," Alina said.
They exchanged a greeting with nods.
"Well, I should get going, Alina. It was nice to see you again. I gotta go do something for Tony. We'll catch up again on Friday over dinner," Happy said. He moved to kiss her on the cheek, and she returned the gesture.
The two of them watched Happy jump into a limousine and drive away. Steve never knew what Happy did a lot of the time that required him to drive a limousine around for Tony's "errands" but it kept him, well, happy enough.
"Shall we?" Steve said, offering his arm.
"Thank you, Captain."
Alina slipped her hand on his. This close, Steve could smell her warm, floral perfume — it made his heart beat faster. He led them back inside the building to begin the tour.
"How many floors does this building have?" Alina asked.
The tour of the Avengers compound was taking much longer than she had expected. She knew from the spiel that Tony gave her on the jet that the compound used to be a series of warehouses, but she had not expected it to be quite this large. Steve looked at her.
"Are you tired, ma'am? We can rest for a moment if you'd like."
"That would be great. Thank you."
For some reason, the Captain insisted on a walking tour. She had agreed out of politeness and curiosity but was beginning to think it was a mistake. This place rivaled the size of an international airport in a major city. He led her to a nearby bench, and they sat down together. She instantly felt the weight on her feet ease up.
"You can call me Alina, Captain," she said after a few moments.
He smiled at her. The tour had been pleasant enough. It was obvious that Steve was proud of the Avengers compound, and he had a keen knowledge of the place. She wondered just how much time he spent in the compound. Did he live here too?
She reached down to massage her ankles. An old injury was acting up.
"Are you alright?"
She looked at him, concern showing on his face.
"Yes, I'm fine," she answered automatically, retracting her hand.
"We don't have to continue the tour if you don't want to. I can take you back to your room so you can get some rest. I'm sure you've had a long day of traveling."
She looked at him and smiled. He was cute in an endearing way. Eager to please.
"I'd hardly call flying in an Avengers jet with Tony Stark 'a long day of traveling.' The only part of that sentence that would have made the travel day 'long' is the part with Tony in it."
Steve laughed a deep, hearty laugh. She noticed lines form around his eyes. He was a very handsome man.
They were silent for a bit. Alina looked out at the obscenely large yard, thinking about what she had seen on tour so far. It had mostly been hangars, main assembly rooms, and training areas. It was clear Tony spared no expense here.
"How do you two know each other?" Steve asked.
It was an innocent enough question, but she sensed something was wanting beneath the nonchalant way it was posed. She glanced at Steve. His eyes were trained out unto the courtyard.
"We used to date."
She felt Steve stiffen slightly. His reaction made her stomach flutter.
"Tony and I were in the same MBA program at MIT. He was doing electrical engineering and physics as extra disciplines. My extra was in the fine arts with a focus on music."
She heard Steve let out a deep breath.
"Tony was the famed boy genius, and I was a promising young prodigy in the music department. He attended one of my performances. We got to talking after."
It was much more than talking they did the night they met and for about a year on and off after, but Steve didn't need to know that.
"What instrument do you play?" Steve asked after a moment, looking at her.
"Instruments," she corrected him and smiled. He raised his eyebrows. "My main instrument is the flute. But I also play the piano and the harp." She paused. "I can play the seruling and guzheng as a result of those instruments. Though not as often as I would hope."
At the two foreign words, Steve shot her a questioning look.
"The last two are traditional instruments. My grandfather played seruling as a boy, and my grandmother taught me guzheng."
She was pretty sure Steve had no clue what those instruments were. In fact, she didn't know why she had shared this much information with him at all. She wasn't usually so forthcoming when people asked about Tony Stark. Or herself, for that matter. It must be those soft blue eyes.
"Where's your family from?"
"Singapore," she answered after a few moments.
She looked at Steve in surprise. Most people in the West assumed Singapore was in China if they even knew Singapore existed.
He must have sensed her surprise. He grinned at her. There was another emotion — guilt? Yearning?— behind the smile.
"I fought in World War II, remember? I'm pushing 100 here."
She looked at him. He was sitting next to her, wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans like any regular man. Except he was Captain America. She blamed the memory lapse on the distractingly clean scent coming off him.
"You look pretty good for a centenarian."
He laughed again. She was suddenly aware of the body heat he was radiating. She cleared her throat. After a few moments of silence, Steve spoke.
"The Battle of Singapore happened a year before I was recruited. I remember listening to Churchill on the radio."
"The worst disaster in British history," she recited from memory.
It was his turn to look at her with surprise.
"I took an interest in history when I was studying music at Julliard. In my final year, I wrote and published a paper focusing on the South East Asian theater of war in World War II."
Steve looked at her in awe for a second.
"My grandfather was a young soldier," she explained. "He served with the Malay regiment during the war. My paper focused on the Battle of Singapore and the subsequent Japanese occupation." She paused before continuing. "It was a way for me to honor him and his stories."
Steve took a few long moments to process the information. When he finally spoke, his voice was quiet.
"We failed you."
The comment took Alina by surprise.
Steve looked at her. "The Allies. We failed to protect you." He stared off into the courtyard.
She wanted to say something back to him — something about benevolent patriarchy or colonialism. She opened her mouth to speak, but something stopped her. Steve looked...familiar. She had seen similar looks on her grandfather's face when he reminisced about the war. Guilt. Regret. Her hands itched to reach out for his. She squeezed them around the bench instead.
"You know, it was probably a good thing the British left the way they did. We never really liked them anyway," she said. "Neither did you guys, remember?" She pointed to the American flag just outside the window.
Steve looked at the flag, then back at her. He placed a finger on his lips and looked at her sideways, hiding a smile. God, this man was adorable. They sat there, sharing a smile for a moment. Steve looked like he was going to say something but decided against it. Instead, he stood up and held his hand out.
"Shall we continue the tour?"
She took his hand and felt a warm, tingling sensation go up to her arm. He offered his arm. She thought she felt him flex when she placed her hand on his impressive bicep.
"Since you were so kind as to share a little more about yourself with me, I have a special place in mind to show you."
She could feel herself blushing. Steve had noticed and appreciated her sharing information about her life with him.
"It's a new addition Tony built into the compound recently."
"What is it?"
"A music room. Though by the size of it, it looks more like a conservatory, to be honest."
"Of course Tony would build a conservatory in a compound for superheroes. Why not? That makes complete sense."
He laughed, and she grinned.
She found it difficult to focus the rest of the tour. She could feel the Captain stealing glances at her when he thought she wasn't looking.
When the tour ended, she thanked him for taking the time to show her around. Feeling brave, she left him with a light kiss on the cheek as a gesture of budding friendship. When she went to bed that night, the last thought to enter her head was the thrilling sensation of his stubble scratching her jaw.