Thus it happened that a collection of four highly unusual individuals were attendees at the Defense Technology Convention in Las Vegas. They might have stood out very strangely, attired as they were – Thor in his armor, Natasha in her leathers, Lucinda in her outfit from another era. Hawkeye was the only one in semi-normal clothing, dressed in a collared shirt and dark slacks but with military issue boots, and armor beneath his undershirt, but, this was Las Vegas, and nothing is unusual in Las Vegas. Stark, however, had to escort them in because Thor’s armor and hammer kept setting off the alarms.
The convention was very full, a teaming sea of people. The group wandered about, taking in all the various weapons and vehicles for warfare. Thor was intrigued at the intricacy of the inventions, which seemed much more advanced than his father had led him to believe was to be found in Midgard. Hawkeye stopped briefly at an exhibit for guided arrows. But mostly they were just passing time until the reveal by Stark Enterprises.
At one point, while Natasha was discussing throwing knives with a Japanese representative, and Hawkeye had left to use the restroom, Thor was left with Lucinda. Standing a little apart from the crowd and surveying the vast market, Thor took the opportunity to speak.
“So. Loki – the first enemy of the Avengers – now joins them.”
“The people here have an excellent saying: ‘If you can’t fight it, join it.’” And Loki smiled broadly and chuckled. Loki’s eyes shown with excitement even as he stood with arms crossed over his chest (which had attractive curves currently), feet a little apart, gazing out over the crowd under dark brows.
“Behold! The StingRay!” cried Stark to the applauding crowd as the crimson silk was pulled back.
The hover craft turned out to be a vessel shaped vaguely like an arrowhead. It was a polished silver color that gleamed triumphantly under the bright lights, with reinforced titanium hull built like fish scales. The tail, which worked as a rudder, was fully flexible and maneuverable. Propeller fans in the wings provided the hover capabilities and could rotate to provide extra acceleration when needed. Rechargeable fuel cells provided power to the main engines, which were jets built into the underside of the hull. Torpedoes and other guns were accessories available for the top of the hull. The cabin was functional, albeit tight. The vessel included a cockpit, lavatory, two berths, and a common area for eating and other activities. The VP of Research and Development explained to the crowd that the craft was designed to sense the density of the surrounding atmosphere and adjust the torque and velocity of the propeller fans for water or air. Overall, it was a sleek, strong, agile vessel.
Steve arrived just before the unveiling and was duly impressed. He continuously was shaking his head, marveling at the sophistication. The rest of the party poked around and tried out the various features, including firing blanks from the guns. Natasha was pleased that there were two berths, observing that there would be one for the women and one for the men. Although there was very little storage space, they were satisfied that it would be adequate for what they hoped would be a short journey. Hawkeye would, of course, be pilot. Thor also reminded them that he had been able to fly Malachi’s ships without ever having set foot in one before. He was confident that he could fly this as well. Natasha just rolled her eyes at Lucinda as they stood together listening to the bragging.
Later, they all gathered at the reception hosted by Stark at the top of one of the casinos. It was a stylish affair with a live orchestra and formal attire was required. Thor shook his head, but refrained from ridiculing what he considered to be peasant attire. He, Steve, and Hawkeye were getting drinks at the bar when Natasha arrived.
Hawkeye did a double-take and Steve let out an audible breath as she walked up wearing a shiny little black dress that hugged her slim figure, tall black stiletto boots, and her flaming red hair up with a sparkling clasp. Pieces of her hair escaped the clasp and framed her face. Her dark makeup brought out the boldness of her features.
“Oh, come on, gentlemen!” she said, rolling her eyes. “You act like you’ve never seen a woman before!”
“Indeed! That is a good look for you!” Thor said approvingly, bowing his head to her.
Her bright red lips parted in a grateful smile.
“So, which of you gentlemen are going to ask me to dance?” she asked from under her long lashes.
Hawkeye looked pained and raised his hands defensively. “Sorry, Miss, I am a married man, and you look like sex on a stick!” and he shook his head with a wry smile.
Natasha laughed and then looked at Steve. With a little hesitation, he obliged. The length of her dress -or perhaps the lack of length – seemed to trouble him a little.
As they headed to the dance floor, Thor looked at the long table of exotic appetizers and observed to Hawkeye, “Your Earth banquets need more food.”
Hawkeye just chuckled and sipped his drink.
“I am told,” said Steve to Natasha as they began a simple waltz, “that if this were only a few decades prior, our native countries would have been at war.”
Natasha considered and then said, “Yes, but a stale-mate war.”
“I am glad, then, that I was awakened in this time,” Steve said with a smile, “because it is a pleasure to work beside you, Miss Romanov.”
Natasha actually felt a blush rise to her cheeks. “Thank you, Captain. That may be one of the nicest things anyone has said to me.”
Steve, for all his awkwardness, had learned to dance in an era of civility and respect, and deftly guided Natasha about the dance floor. She felt as though she were floating, and feelings began to stir in her that alarmed her. She was both sad and relieved when the dance finished.
Steve then politely bought her a drink, and then moved to the edge of the room to observe. Stark was at the entrance to the room, greeting and entertaining the guests to his extroverted heart’s content. A few couples were moving about the dance floor, and most of the guests were lingering around the appetizer tables and bar area in little groups. Beyond them all, through the windows, the city could be seen stretching out in a vast circus of bright, colorful lights in the dark. As his eyes took in the whole scene, he noticed a solitary figure near the windows. Lucinda stood with legs crossed, arms behind her back, leaning against a pillar, observing the crowd as well. Something about the way she gazed thoughtfully at the scene before her, the serious expression on her face, or the way she peered out from under her dark brows, Steve was drawn. Something about it called up in him feelings of empathy, he being well acquainted with the loneliness of being excluded, the reject. He could imagine that she had tasted the bitterness of rejection for her unusual abilities. Without further deliberation, Steve made his way across the room to her.
“Good evening, Captain!” she said with a little bow.
“Evening, Miss Gonzalez,” he replied. “May I have this dance?”
She looked a little hesitant, and replied, “I do not know your dances! Dances in my country are different!”
Steve, not to be put off, offered to show her. She humbly accepted with fluttering eyelashes.
Lucinda turned out to be a very quick learner, Steve discovered, and was clearly enjoying the swing dance he was leading her through. She was so delighted with the dance that when it concluded, she exclaimed, “Oh, Captain, another!” with a broad smile. The innocent joy in her dark eyes was more than Steve could resist, and he obliged.
However, partway through the next dance, Steve felt a tap on his shoulder.
“May I cut in?” Stark asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Be my guest,” Steve said graciously.
Lucinda’s manner seemed to shift slightly, and the music from the orchestra altered as well. Stark exchanged pleasantries with this tall, yet pale, Amazonian woman, and then as they eased into the dance, he gently pulled her in for a closer tango. She seemed to sense what he was doing, and looked at him slyly through smoky eyes and arched brow. From then on, they spoke no audible words to each other, but rather let the music guide their silent body language. Stark was putting all the flourish and skill of seduction he possessed into the dance, moving his hand on the small of her back, and letting his thigh brush hers. But he was unprepared for her powers of persuasion. She moved her hips, and leaned in to brush her breasts against his chest while with her thumb she gently stroked his hand. All her motions were fluid and alluring. When he dipped her, she closed her eyes and seemed to be in raptures. There was a strength in her movements, a passion in her rhythm, a confidence in the way she held her head… Even her scent spoke to him of strength and ambition.
By the time the song concluded, Stark was in such a trance that he was startled by the end of the song. The dance floor had cleared while they danced, and most of the room had been observing in rapt attention, so that now a cheer erupted from those gathered around. He stumbled over his thanks for the dance, and she just smiled a knowing smile. As they parted, she let her finger trace his neckline and across his shirt before taking his hand.
Stark had not fully recovered even by the time they joined the rest of the group at a little table. After a few comments, Stark excused himself to continue mingling with his guests.
“That was quite a dance!” Natasha said with an impressed smile.
“Thanks,” Lucinda said with a blush and a little bow.
“Indeed,” cried Thor with a laugh, “that was quite a performance!”
Lucinda smiled and seemed to consider for a moment. Then she asked, “Mister Thor, can you dance?”
Thor seemed a little taken aback, but responded, “I can dance well enough among my own people. But I am afraid I do not know any of these sort of dances.” He was not sure what Loki was up to, but it made him uncomfortable.
With a curl to her lips of a repressed smile, Lucinda then said, “Well, then, will you show me the dance of your people?”
A look passed between the two of them that was unintelligible to Natasha and Hawkeye. But it was a challenge between the brothers. Thor, not wanting to appear cold to the others felt pressured to accept, but was also repulsed by the idea of dancing with his brother!
“Challenge accepted,” Thor said after a moment and a hard look between him and Loki.
As they took the floor, Thor leaned in and said in a low voice into Loki’s dark wavy curls, “Brother, you are most gravely imbalanced!”
Loki beamed and said triumphantly, “I embrace it!”
Thus they began the dance. Thor, out of spite perhaps, chose an Asgardian courting dance that was rather intimate. This only seemed to delight Loki more. As they spun and moved to the beat of the music, Thor was not gentle. Loki responded with equal aggression, all with a ludicrous smile, his deep green velvet dress fanning out as he spun, and his heels clicking in perfect time to the music. It was less of a dance and more of a sparing match set to music.
“Loki, you’re leading,” Thor remonstrated.
Loki looked at him with a delighted but hard gaze and said, “Brother, I was born to lead!”