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(i'll leave my love) Between the Stars

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Steve comes to a rest, panting lightly after a 15 mile run.  He thinks about breakfast; there’s a diner a few blocks up from the park that has fantastic food and a surly waitress that Steve’s got a soft spot for, but he decides against it.  There’s food at home.

Home.

As he lopes back toward the Tower, he wonders when he’d started thinking of it as home.

It’s not.  He knows that.  He knows that it’s just Tony’s collection of people and things that he deems important:  his sports cars, his labs, his suits, his soulmate, his Avengers.

He knows he sounds bitter.  Hell, he feels bitter. It’s hard.  Tony has Pepper, and Nat has Clint. Seeing the others with their soulmates only highlights the absences in Steve’s life.  He knows what he and Peg had was good. They were happy. But they also knew it was temporary. Either of them could have met their soulmate at any time.  It was a dangerous way to love, but he wouldn’t have changed his time with Peggy for anything.

Now though…it’s different.

Steve trains and he goes on missions.  He does everything he can to help the newest Avengers find their place on the team.  He lends himself out to Ops and Intel whenever they need him. As busy as he keeps himself, though, it doesn’t negate the fact that he’s lonely.

He’s lonely.

He’s been on a couple of dates; he’s not a boy scout, no matter what the PR team likes to project.  The first two were people who were more enamored of spending an evening with Captain America than with Steve Rogers.  The second two were just killing time until they found their match. He’s had a thousand people or more touch him, trying to see if he’s their soulmate.  There’s been a couple of one-night stands, if that’s what you can call a quick fuck in the men’s, or handjobs in a back alley. He pinks at the memory, but he refuses to feel ashamed for reaching out for a little of what he needs.  

He’s not a goddamned saint.

Thinking about the registry, he wonders again if it’s something he should consider.  The registry didn’t exist in his day, and that was fine. Everyone took their chances on meeting their soulmate, and for the most part, it worked out just right. There were very few people who walked through life without a soulmate.

From what Steve’s pieced together, the number of people who hadn’t met their soulmate increased as globalization took over.  Scientists discovered the genetic markers that signified soulmates, and thus, the registry was born.

However, just as everything comes full circle, it seemed that the task of finding one’s soulmate had, too.  More and more people either weren’t registering, or were waiting until later in life to register, preferring to give nature a shot over science, and wanting to discover their soulmate on their own.

Steve has mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the registry sounds nice and easy.  On the other…well, what if he’s already missed his shot?  What if his soulmate was born in the 20’s, like he was?

He’s not sure that he’s ready to give up hope yet.  A negative response from the Registry might be more than he can stand.

At the same time...is he ready for a soulmate?  A bond that supersedes everything else in his life?  When he thinks of the responsibility of the shield, of being Captain America, he isn’t sure.

He’s lived two lifetimes already - once as little Steve Rogers, once as Captain America.  Now he’s on his third go, and he’s not sure what that should mean, what he’s entitled to. What he’s allowed.  Worse, he’s not sure what’s right.

Still, for all the good he tries to do in the world, isn’t he allowed something that’s just his?

Truth is, he doesn’t know.

.

After a long day of sparring against Wanda, Steve is wiped out.  She’s a great kid, and he’s crazy about her, but the work he does trying to shield his thoughts from her is exhausting.  It’s what they’ve agreed to, though: teaching her to control her powers is only part of their exercises together. She teaches the Avengers how to guard their thoughts and feelings against other telepaths.  Nat’s been the most successful, but Steve’s been giving it his full effort. His encounter against Wanda before she was on their side showed him a vulnerability that he doesn’t like.

So all he really wants is to head to his rooms, have an hour-long shower, and collapse into bed.  He chuckles when he realizes he’s probably too tired to even get off.

“Capsicle!  There you are,” Tony calls.  “Pep wanted me to make sure you’d be there for dinner.  Got a few requests for appearances that she wants to run by you.

“Does it have to be tonight?”  Steve runs a hand through his hair, but he knows it’s no good.  He’s never been able to say no to Pepper.

“’Fraid so,” Tony says, and leaves it at that.  He’s being uncharacteristically calm, which is setting Steve’s nerves on edge.  No telling what he’s walking into tonight.

After a much shorter shower than he’d originally planned, Steve heads down to dinner with the team: Sam, Wanda, Tony, Pepper, Nat and Clint.  Bruce and Vision are working on something in the lab, and Steve’s surprised that Tony’s not with them.

It would be quieter if he was.

As they get through the pleasantries of the meal, Steve finds himself watching Nat and Clint, Tony and Pepper.  They move in such simpatico rhythms: each of them knowing their partner well enough to anticipate their needs. Nat spoons sauce onto Clint’s plate and he passes her his cucumbers from his salad.  Tony fills Pepper’s wine glass and she lays a calming hand on his shoulder when she sees him getting overly excited. It’s almost like a dance. It’s lovely.

Steve wants it.

After dinner, Pepper sits down with Steve to go over the list of guest appearances that have been requested. Steve okays most of the ones with kids, vetoes the news programs outright, and agrees to the Ellen appearance so long as there are no questions about his personal life.  Everyone wants to know whether Cap ever met his soulmate. Everyone wants to know why he’s still single, and why he’s not in the registry, and whether or not he’s gay, and is he willing to date outside of a bond?

It overwhelms him sometimes – that people think they have a right to his private life like that.  A right to his heart.

Pepper’s good about being in tune with him – she rarely tries to persuade him toward things she knows he’ll object to, but she brings him everything, nonetheless.  He considers the idea of coming out as bisexual. It’s not unusual, he knows that, but a lot of public figures don’t do it until their same-sex soulmate turns up. It’s probably something he should run by Pepper before he opens his mouth.  God, he hates the thought of it - more people thinking they know him because of a quirk of genetics.

The speculation if he does come out as bi is enough to make him queasy.  The character assassinations against people long dead – the Howlies, Howard – it will all be fair game.  It doesn’t matter that most of the people involved won’t be able to defend themselves. The media wants to make a dime, and the public wants their bread and circuses.

By the time he’s done with Pepper, Sam’s playing a video game on the couch, drinking a beer.  When Steve goes to join him, Sam wordlessly passes a controller his way, backing out of the game and restarting so that they can both play.

The pair play in silence for a while before Sam finally speaks.

“You know I can feel you brooding from here.  You want to talk about it?”

Steve shrugs. “No.”  Then a pause. “Have you tried any of those dating sites?  The ones for people without soulmates?”

“Nope,” Sam says.  “I had my soulmate.  We had six good years.  I’m not interested in an imitation.”

They play in silence for a bit more before Steve speaks up again.  “But isn’t that…I mean, don’t you get…?”

“Lonely?  I don’t. But I have a big family and a lot of friends, and…I see someone from time to time.  She’s amazing, but we both know it’s nothing more than friendly. I’m not trying to fall in love, and neither is she.”

“You got a girl, huh?” Steve says, his voice teasing.

“Excuse you, woman .  And if she can kick my ass, she can probably kick yours.”

Steve laughs.  “Okay, okay. It’s just – I’ve been thinking….”

“About the dating sites or something else?”

He thinks about it for a moment, but there’s no point in lying.  “Maybe something else.”

“Like Registry something else?”

“Yeah.”

Taking a deep breath, Sam says, “If that’s what you want, then you should do it.  You know it’s not a guarantee though, right?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, I know.”

“Okay.  Won’t do you any good getting your heart set on something that might not happen.”

“Sam.  I know.  I just…I never found mine, you know?  And maybe I can’t. Maybe they were born ninety years ago.  But if they weren’t…if they weren’t….”

“Then how will you find them now, given how given how tight your security is, something like that?”

“It’s not like they can just drop by the tower,” Steve says.

“Sounds like your mind’s made up.”

“You know it wasn’t?  Not until just now.”

Sam grins and clinks his beer with Steve’s in toast.  Whatever comes next, Steve is ready. He’s ready to know if there’s someone out there - someone just for him.

.

Steve paces up and down the aisle of the lab.  He stops now and then to pinch the bridge of his nose, but resumes pacing soon enough.

“Capsicle, come on, you’re killing me.”  Tony looks over at Steve before giving his attention back to whatever it is that he’s welding.

“That’s rich, Tony.”

Tony clicks off the flame to his torch and slumps, letting out a groan of frustration.  “You really want to do this?” he asks. “Even though we have no idea if it’s safe? You really want to do this?”

“It’s a cheek swab,” Steve says, exasperated.  “What are they really going to get out of a cheek swab?”

Tony pulls back and Steve knows it was the wrong thing to say.  “What are they gonna get?   What are they gonna get?  What are they gonna get?  Gee, Steve, let’s find out.  Dum-E!”

The robot swings over to Tony, and stabs at his face with a cotton swab.

“What are you -? Don’t!  No – I – Give me that!” Tony takes the swab and runs it along the inside of his cheek, then loads it into one of his machines.  A moment later, he pops up a screen that is teeming with blobs of…something…and what looks like little blobs with dark centers.

“That’s…unpleasant,” Steve says.

“That’s what they’re going to get.  Friday? Run a scan.” Tony watches Steve with an expectant look on his face until Friday begins to speak.

“Cheek specimen of Stark, Anthony Edward.  Father: Stark, Howard, Deceased. Mother: Stark, Maria, Deceased.  Residence: Stark Tower, Manhattan, New York. Blood Type: O Negative.  Soulmate: Potts, Virginia. Recent medical diagnoses include inflammation of liver –“

“Okay, that’s enough.  Steve, you get my point?”

“I get it.  This feels dangerous to you, and yeah, they will get some information, but they can’t remake the serum from a couple of cheek cells.”

“God – you’re not getting it!  You’re whole life will be laid out for anyone to see.”

Neither of them realizes Natasha is there until she pipes up.  “What if it’s not?”

Both men turn to stare at her.  “No really, what if it’s not all laid out there?  What if we send an adulterated sample? Or…or what if we don’t send a sample at all?”

“Hey!” Steve says.  “I thought you were on my side with this.”

“I am.  What if we don’t send a sample, but instead do the analysis ourselves.  Tony? You can hack into their database, can’t you? I’m sure it’s child’s play for you.”

“Except, it’s not.” Tony says.  “Trust me, I’ve already tried. Their entire system is air-gapped.  Nothing comes in or out. Believe it or not, they still print out results on greenbar.”  Tony looks positively disgusted.

“I can do it,” Nat says with a shrug.

“No, you can’t.”  Bruce pipes up from behind a tower of beakers and glassware.  A small puff of gas rises and he blows on it, watching it turn lavender before it dissipates.  He writes something down in a notebook.

“He’s right,” Tony says, and at least has the good grace to look sorry.

When Steve raises an eyebrow at him, Tony shrugs and looks sheepish.  “We…had a reason to get in there at one point. A legitimate reason,” he says, when Steve gives him a look.  “You’ve gotta be there for years before they let you anywhere near the database. I tried to sell them Stark Tech, to get one of my people in there…nothing.”

“We could claim national security?” Nat says.

“Nope,” Bruce says.  “And Tony, you still owe me a hundred bucks from that.  Told you it was impossible.”

“Legitimate reason, huh?” Steve says.

“At any rate,” Bruce says, coming around his work bench to talk to everyone, “we’re not getting in there. And even if we did, new matches are submitted every day.  Our data would be stale within a week.”

“And we can’t give them super-soldier DNA,” Tony says.

“Which means you’re never going to find your soulmate,” Nat says, the corners of her mouth pulling down.

“Stop that,” Clint says, dropping from the ceiling.  “That’s my favorite mouth and you’re messing it up.” He drops a kiss on Nat’s cheek and she ducks away from him.

“That’s not all I’m going to be messing up,” she says, giving him a once over.

Steve smiles, taking the pair of them in.  In the years that he’s known Natasha, she’s softened.  It’s not that she found her soulmate – she knew Clint long before Steve met her.  No, something in her has settled. Steve likes to think it’s because she knows she has people who have her back.  He hopes so, anyway.

“Not necessarily,” Bruce says.  “I have an idea.”

.

“You sure this is going to work?” Steve asks, handing Bruce the damp swab.

“Not in the least,” he says.  “But it’s worth a try.”

“And it works again how?” Clint asks.

“Radiation causes damage at the cellular level,” Bruce says.  “Cancer survivors first showed up as an anomaly. The more they researched it, the more they realized that certain sets of people could come up with more than one match.  Eventually they figured out how to narrow it down, but the people with those anomalies usually had to meet their match in person before they’d know for sure.”

“The touch thing,” Steve says.  Bruce, Nat, Clint and Tony agree.  “The touch thing.”

Steve leaves Tony and Bruce to manipulate his swab, trusting that they’ll extract the meaningful parts of his DNA without giving someone out there the building blocks for another super soldier.

When he’d gone into the ice, he figured that was his last shot at finding his soulmate.  Everyone has one, they’d said, and while Steve was growing up, he’d tried – he’d tried so hard – to find his.

Never did though, so when he realized what he’d needed to do with the Valkyrie, he didn’t hesitate.  As much as he’d cared about her, Peg wasn’t his soulmate. Every minute they had together was borrowed time, and it would only hurt them both when it came to an end.  Better to do it sooner than later, he figured. Better to do it before either of them could settle down into peacetime, and do something stupid, like fall in love.

But Steve’s been out of the ice for a few years now.  He figures his soulmate probably died decades ago, but ever since he found out about the database, he’s been curious.

Itching.

If he does have a soulmate?  He wants them. Man, woman, something in between -  he doesn’t care. He just - he wants – he needs – that feeling that they all talk about.  He wants what he’s always wanted and never had:  the sense that he belongs.

.

Steve’s in the kitchen making a sandwich when Clint walks in.

“Well this is exciting,” Clint says, and nudges Steve with his elbow.

Shrugging, Steve cuts the sandwich in two and offers half to Clint.

“I don’t know,” Steve says.  “I’m just – I’m curious. You know?”

Clint nods, taking a bit of his sandwich. “I get it,” he says around a mouthful of food.  “When I was assigned to take Nat out, I had no idea what I was walking into. She fired her tasers at me, and all I could think was how incredible she was.  The way she moved…I had no doubt she could kill me six ways from Sunday, you know?”

Steve nods, looking thoughtful.

“She didn’t though.  She pulled her first punch and when I grabbed her by the wrist, our skin touched and it was like…there was nothing else in –“

“Nothing else in the world, I know,” Steve says.  He’s heard this description so many times, but he can’t get his head around it.  He’s never felt like that about anyone – anything – it just doesn’t make sense. How can one touch render everything else in your life secondary?

“I don’t know,” Clint says.  “You can’t describe it. It just…is.”  He shrugs and throws his hands up and his sandwich goes flying, coming apart in the process.  “Aw, sandwich, no.”

Chuckling, Steve hands Clint the rest of his half.  “Wasn’t really hungry anyway,” he says, before heading up to his quarters to brood.

That night as he sleeps, his dreams turn strange.  There’s a dark-haired man with a gun, a rifle. He stares down his scope at Steve and Steve turns and waves.  The man is a part of Steve’s team, backing them up, though Steve doesn’t know how, or why.

And even though he’s too far away to see, Steve knows the man is beautiful.  It stirs a spark of want in his gut, knowing that when the fight is done, Steve will find himself in the beautiful man’s arms.

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, Steve is reading in the common area when Tony comes bursting through the door, Bruce hot on his heels.

“We have matches,” he says, waving an envelope over his head.

“That’s – is that mine?”  Steve sets aside his book and gets up to take the papers.

“Did I tell you, or did I tell you?  I told you.”

“You did,” Steve says.  “Can I see them?”

“Oh, you want to seeee them.  See?” he says, holding the envelope behind his back and looking around the room.  “This is what I’m talking about. I house you, feed you, submit altered DNA to the soulmates database, and what thanks do I get?  I might as well wear a maid’s uniform for all the thanks I get around here.”

Steve rolls his eyes.  “One, I’ve offered to pay rent every month for the last three years.  And two – I know about the uniform.”

“There’s a uniform?” Bruce asks.

“Oh, yeah,” Clint says, dropping down from the ceiling and snatching up the envelope from behind Tony’s back.  “I believe this belongs to you,” he says, handing it over to Steve.

“What? How did - ?  Friday, call an exterminator,” Tony says.  “We seem to have pests in the ceiling,” he says, glaring at Clint.

“Sir, I have not detected -”

“He’s joking, Friday,” Bruce yells.  “Tony, come on, let’s let the man alone, okay?  This is a big deal. Let him have some privacy.”

“Oh sure,” Tony says.  “Of course, let’s let Captain Lonely Pants have some privacy.”

“Lonely pants?” Steve asks.

“Yeah, not my finest,” Tony answers, but heads for the elevator anyway.

Steve stares at the folded pages in his hand for a moment before heading to the elevator bank himself.  When he gets to his floor, he uses his keycard to lock the elevator out.

“Friday?” he asks, glancing up at the ceiling.  “Full privacy protocols, please?”

“Of course, Captain.  The feed to your quarters remains inactive, and you won’t be disturbed unless there is a level four attack or your vital statistics indicate severe distress.”

“Thank you, Friday.”  He feels like an idiot for thanking the AI, but at the same time, she is very nice to him.  The future – what can you do?

He sits down on his sofa and runs a finger under the flap of the envelope.  He pulls out a couple of pages, so he figures there’s more than one match.

Okay then.

The first one up is Jenny Green from Wisconsin.  She’s beautiful. Bright blue eyes and a round face that some might call chubby, but the million dollar smile she’s sporting would make a fool out of anyone who tried.  She’s twenty-six, a political consultant, and an ardent hockey fan. Looking at her picture, Steve can easily imagine laughing with her in the late summer sun, a couple of beers in hand, and something on the grill.  It’s a nice image.

Next comes Eugene Clark, Seattle.  He’s tall and wiry, with brown eyes and a receding hairline.  At thirty-two, his passions include politics (again?) and art.  Steve tries to imagine the two of them together, holding hands while walking through a museum, but he’s not quite getting the image.  Something about the guy feels…breakable. No other way to put it.

Shrugging, he sets Eugene’s page aside and picks up the next one.  James Barnes, Brooklyn native, baseball enthusiast, current active military.  Steve spends a long time staring at the photograph. He has upturned lips, and smiling, blue-gray eyes that crinkle in the corners.  Thick, curly hair, a strong jaw, and broad shoulders from what Steve can see. He’s gorgeous.

He knows he should get in touch with all three of his potential matches.  He knows that.  There’s just as good a chance that Jenny or Eugene is his soulmate, but James…James is the one he wants.

Sighing, he sets down the pages and grabs a beer from the fridge.  He knows it’s not going to do anything for him, but he likes the taste.  Makes him feel human.

After an hour and one hell of a lot of internal debating, Steve gives up.  He fires up the StarkPad that Tony gave him and opens up the email application, and starts typing.

.

Dear Mr. Barnes,

I know this is a little bit unusual…

Unusual.  Yeah. Taking a deep breath, Steve starts again.

I know this is a little bit unusual, but I received your name as a possible soulmate match.  I say possible because they weren’t able to make an absolute match. I received your name and contact information along with two others.  I would very much like to get to know you better.

To start, I’ll tell you a little bit about myself.  Like you, I’m from Brooklyn, though I’m currently bunking down with a friend in Manhattan.  I’m, well, male. I hope that’s not a shock.

I’m a baseball fan from way back (damn those Dodgers!  How could they leave us?), and currently root for the Mets.  (Wow, I hope you’re not a Yankees fan.)

Anyway, I don’t want to go on and bore you.  I hope you’ll write back.

Best wishes,

Steve

Steve hits send on the email and sets the StarkPad aside.  There’s a sensation behind his ribs, light and airy, like a balloon.  It takes Steve several moments to recognize it for what it is: Hope.

.

That night, Steve dreams of the dark-haired man, but now he wears the face of James Barnes.  He’s looking at Steve with slate-colored eyes so filled with…something. Steve can’t decipher it, but it makes him feel like he can’t breathe.

“C’mere,” the man says, and Steve does.  He gets close enough to feel James’ breath against his face.  “C’mon,” he says, and then cants his face up toward Steve’s. It’s not much, James is almost as tall as Steve.  Almost.

If Steve tips his head, just a little, his mouth will be…oh.   Oh.

Breathing hard, Steve wakes with a gasp.

.

Bucky and his squad get in from a routine patrol of the eastern border.  It’s not hard work, but it is dangerous. The last group that went out got hit with an IED, so everyone’s more skittish than usual.  What else is new?

When he was promoted to Special Forces, he thought he’d gotten a golden ticket.  Now it hangs around his neck like a millstone, and damned if he isn’t counting down the days until his time is up. It’s not right what they’re doing to his guys out here.

His mail bundle has a package of cookies and socks from his Ma, and a half dozen books from his sister, Becca.  He pulls out the Louis L’amour for Dugan and sets the others aside. She’s been sending him the Vinland Saga, and he’s been eagerly awaiting the next installment.  The art is incredible.

He fishes out a protein bar (Becs always sends him the good ones) and heads over to the Rec tent to send a couple of emails.  When he gets there, he finds an email from someone he doesn’t know – juststeve@starkmail.com.

What the hell?  No one unauthorized is supposed to have his email address, and he would remember authorizing someone named juststeve.

He clicks it open and momentarily forgets to chew the protein bar in his mouth.  He reads the short message through twice, then once more for good measure.

Soulmate?

God, he spent so much time hoping for a match in the registry, so much time putting himself out there, trying to meet people, hoping to find his, and now it looks like he might have a match after all.

And…god, of course it’s going to be now.  Of course.

He’s stuck in the sandbox for the foreseeable future, and of course his soulmate pops up.  Of course.

Well, maybe anyway.  It’s weird that it’s only a partial match.  He thought the Registry was fool-proof. So why wouldn’t he know for sure?

He sends a quick thank you to his Mom and Becca, then logs out and heads back to the barracks.  When he gets there, Morita’s on his bunk with the latest Vinland book open, eating a brownie.

“Save some for the others,” Bucky says, but knows it’s no use.  If the guys don’t make it back soon, there’s not gonna be much left of the cookies and brownies.  The Howlies are a first come, first served unit, and everyone’s care packages are fair game.

Morita mumbles something and Bucky sits on the edge of his bunk, trying to get his head around that email.

“Hey,” Morita says.  “What’s up, Sarge?”

Bucky shakes his head.  “I got a weird email.” He knows Morita’s got a soulmate at home, same as Denier.  Juney is engaged to his, and Gabe’s soulmate died when they were still in high school.  Now he’s career military. Seems like he’s adjusting okay, but Bucky still worries about the guy.  Dugan and Falsworth are like him – still searching.

Morita’s keeping his mouth shut, waiting for Bucky to speak.  Morita knows Bucky the best of all them, Bucky thinks, and it’s good.  He needs someone who can think like him.

“Guys played any good practical jokes lately?” Bucky asks.

Morita perks up.  “Not since Gabe ended up with two weeks’ latrine duty.  What’s up?”

“Got an email from someone, says he might be my soulmate.”

“Might be?  That is weird.”

“Yeah.  Just thought maybe it was one of you guys, having a laugh.”

“Sarge, I don’t think any of the guys would pull a stunt like that.  Soulmates aren’t something to joke about.” It’s a gentle rebuke, and it reassures Bucky more than anything that this isn’t one of his guys having a laugh.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Bucky concedes.  The guys might be a little skewed in what they think is funny, but none of them are mean.

“Hey!”  Morita pops up, setting the book aside.  “You know, now that I think about it, my cousin’s wife’s sister had something like that.  She had leukemia when she was a kid and the docs said it messed up her DNA too much for the test to be accurate.  She ended up meeting five different guys before she found her soulmate. They’re a great match, too. Think it could be something like that?”

Shrugging, Bucky looks around the room.  “I don’t know. Think I might head back over to the Rec tent, see if I can find anything on the tubes.  You save me one of those blondies, you hear? I come back and they’re all gone, you guys’ll be eatin’ sand for the next month, at least.”

“Affirmative.”  Morita lays back on the bed and picks his book back up, mouth already working on the rest of his brownie.

.

After a half hour spent googling multiple matches for soulmates, Bucky feels reasonably good that the guy is telling the truth.  A frisson of excitement runs through him. He might have found his soulmate.

Still, if what the guy says is true, chances are he either was sick or is now.  Bucky’s stomach sinks. He’s given a lot of thought to what he hopes his soulmate will be, and athletic is damn near top of the list.  Hell, he thinks he could even make it work with a woman if he had to, so long as she was someone who liked being active. He doesn’t much like working out in the gym, but getting out and going hiking, camping, hell even a quiet day spent fishing – his soulmate’s gotta be into a least some of that.  Not to mention, well, Bucky has a tendency to be a little…athletic in the bedroom. And while he doesn’t care if he tops or bottoms, the idea of his soulmate being able to pick him and throw him around a little always makes Bucky weak in the knees. Every damned time.

Sighing, he opens up his email account.

Dear Steve,

Thank you for the email.  You’re right, it is a little bit unusual.  So much so that I thought this might be a joke being played by one of the guys.  But given that they know just how hard I can make their lives, I’m gonna guess that you’re for real.

In which case, I have to tell you, I think I’m probably not the guy you’re looking for.  I did a little research and I’m guessing since you didn’t get a definitive match, that you either are sick or were sick.  I’m real sorry for that. What a tough break.

Either way, I’m a pretty active guy, and I can’t imagine that my soulmate would be someone who can’t keep up.

Good news is it sounds like you got a couple other matches to check out?  Either way, I wish you the best.

James Barnes

PS – Still holding a grudge on the Dodgers?  My Pop Pop would be proud.

PPS – The Yankess can suck it.

.

Steve gets the ping that he has a new email in the middle of the night.  He’d waited all day, and when he finally went to bed, he turned the notification sound all the way up.

It’s four in the morning and he’s groggy, but excitement flutters low in his belly.

His soulmate.

Laying in bed, he reads the letter, then reads it again.

Sonofabitch.

Dear James,

Please rest assured that I am healthy as a horse and very athletic.  I was sick as a kid, but was lucky enough to get into treatment for my ailments, and can now boast that I’ve gone almost a decade without so much as a cold.

Seventy years and a decade, Steve thinks to himself, before continuing on.

If that’s your only objection to us getting to know one another better, then I would very much like to continue correspondence.  If, however, you have other objections, then please let me know and I won’t bother you further.

Sincerely,

Steve

.

Won’t bother you further? Bucky thinks.  Geez, is this guy some kind of professor?

Settling in, Bucky hits reply.

Dear Steve,

Glad to hear that you’re doing good now.  I’m sorry for how that message must have seemed.  I hope you can understand. I always thought I’d meet my soulmate and we’d both just know, and that would be it.  I never thought I’d be one of a few that you’re trying on for size, you know?

That said, I’m game.  I gotta warn you though – I’m on deployment in Afghanistan, so I’m not always gonna be around to answer your emails right away.  Sorry about that.

So tell me about yourself.  What’s a nice Brooklyn kid like you doing slumming it in the city?  You know you can’t get a decent slice there.

Me, I was born in Indiana, but we moved to Brooklyn when I was a kid.  Got a sister who’s still there, going to art school if you can believe that.  My folks gave up and went back to Indy when Pop Pop got sick. After he passed, they stayed on.  Mom works at the elementary school as a librarian still, and Pop took over the family auto repair business.  They say they like it, but between me and you, they seem bored as hell.

Tell me something about yourself, would ya?  Who knows, we might be soulmates. :)

Bucky

PS  - Bucky’s what my friends and family call me.  Get your giggles out now, pal, ‘cause you laugh at my name to my face and I’m gonna deck ya.

.

Dear Bucky,

Who’s laughing?  (Okay, maybe a grin.)

How did that become your nickname?  I’m having a hard time making the jump from James to Bucky.

I don’t have a nickname, despite what my buddy would say.  He calls everyone everything other than their names, with the one exception being his wife.  (She is great, by the way. I honestly don’t know how she puts up with him.)

Anyway, my story’s not that interesting.  I was born and raised in Brooklyn. My father died in the service and my mother was a nurse.  She got sick and passed my last year of high school. I was a sick kid – a lot of health problems – but Mom and I?  We got through it. Through thick and through thin, she always said. I’m only sorry she never got to see me healthy, you know?  Every day, I try to be a man she would be proud of.

That probably sounds so corny.  Wow.

Anyway, I signed up for the service and met some truly great people, including the Doc that got me healthy.

I guess I should tell you I also met a woman.  She was – well, I don’t know how to explain her.  She’s one of the best people I’ve ever known. I think we loved each other, even though we knew we weren’t soulmates.  One of the other matches on my list is a woman. I guess that makes me bisexual. I’ve never cared much for labels.

I got...hurt.  In combat. Spent a long time recovering.  She met her soulmate while I was out of commission.  They had three kids!

I guess folks think I should be mad, but I’m not.  I’m glad she got to move on, have a life.

I know it’s the fashion now not to seek your soulmate.  That’s what they tell me, anyhow. I’m glad you signed up for the registry.  Even if we’re not a match. It’s nice to have someone to talk to, you know?

And don’t worry – sometimes I drop off the grid for a few days myself.  I’ll make you a deal: I won’t panic if you take a few days to respond if you don’t, okay?

It’s getting late here, and I’ve got an early morning, so I’m going to pack it in.

Do me a favor, pal?  Stay safe over there.

Steve

Chapter Text

“Stay safe.”  Bucky rolls his eyes, but he can’t help the grin that tugs at the corner of his mouth.  This guy.

Still, something about the letter pangs.  The guy sounds lonely as hell, and it pulls hard on Bucky’s protective instincts.  And, alright, Bucky might identify a little. He’s always been a good-time guy, never alone, but then, lonely and alone, those aren’t the same things.  

.

Dear Steve,

Thanks for the email.  It’s always nice to have something to look forward to over here.

Still not sure how you ended up in the city from Brooklyn, but I’ll leave that for another time.

Like I said, I grew up in Brooklyn, too – Bed-Stuy to be exact.  Becca (my sister, did I tell you about her?) is still living in the house we grew up in.  She got into Pratt, so my folks are letting her live there since they moved back to Indy. She’s renting out the spare rooms to cover tuition, and I send home what I can.  We get by.

What can I say about growing up?  I had a great childhood. We had block parties all summer long, and us kids ran that neighborhood.  But, that was back when it was safe to let your kids play on the street, you know?

What am I talking about?  Of course you know.

Anyway, me and Becs were pretty inseparable.  There were times I could be a jerk. I mean, who wants their kid sister along when you’re trying to put the moves a girl, am I right?  Didn’t take me long though to realize that girls weren’t really what I was interested in, if you know what I mean. I had my share of good times, but.  Nah. I can’t say I’ve ever been in love. You might have one up on me there.

I can’t imagine being an only child.  Becs was a pain in my ass a lot of the time, but she’s also – I don’t even know how to explain it.  We were close, growing up. Still are. It’s like, growing up, my folks were always “go play with your sister,” or “take care of your sister.”  I feel responsible for her, but not in a bad way. That’s the only downside of being over here – not being there to take care of her. (But if she ever heard me say that, man she would smack me one and good.  She’s a very modern girl, my Becs. And she’s not letting anyone forget it.) She’s the one who gave me my nickname. My middle name’s Buchanan. She couldn’t pronounce it, so she said Bucky, and it stuck. Been mine so long now I can’t imagine people who know me calling me anything else, you know?

What was it like growing up an only child?  You said you and your Mom were close?

Hey, just how old are you anyway?  And can you attach a picture? I know the agency usually sends one, but I didn’t get one with your profile.  Could make a fella think you’re hiding something. Just sayin. ;)

Hope you’re having a good day Stateside, Stevie.  It’s hot as fuck over here and I got sand in places I shouldn’t.  If it wasn’t for my guys, I’da been home last time my contract was up.

I might be offline a couple of days, just so you know.

Have a good one.

Bucky

.

“Wow, that’s quite a smile, Captain Rogers.”  Nat’s watching Steve from across the common room.  She’d been cozied down reading a book when he walked in.  When his email pinged, he hadn’t thought twice – just opened the app and read Bucky’s latest missive.  With, apparently, a great big grin on his face.

“Oh, don’t stop on my account,” she says, and Steve gives her what Sam calls his “bitch, please” face.  The one that makes Clint say “Aw, Cap, no.”

She looks away and he goes back to reading, a smirk hovering at the corner of her mouth.  He can’t imagine what it would be like, having a sibling. He’s glad Bucky’s got someone he’s that close with.  He types a quick note to Friday to keep tabs on Becca Barnes, just in case aliens ever decide to land in the city again.  He figures it’s the least he can do.

Then he gets to the part about his age and his picture, and fuck.  Fuck. He knows he’s skirting things by signing up as Steve Grant. He doesn’t want to outright lie to Bucky, but he knows there’s no way he can reveal his age – or his picture, without outing himself.  Which then leads to security concerns over the database having his DNA. Jesus.

“Hey, Nat?  Do you think you can help me with something?”

Putting down her book, she looks over at Steve. “I was wondering when you’d ask.”

Steve smiles and tries not to blush as he explains his problem.

“Okay,” Nat says.  “Well, since lying is out, you’re going to have to get creative.  You were what, 27 when they brought you back? So let’s just say you’ve been walking the earth for 31 years.  Does that work?

Breathing deep, Steve sighs.  “Yeah, yeah it does. Thanks Nat.  Now what about the picture. You know I can’t send him a picture of my face.”

“No, you can’t.”  She pauses and looks at the ceiling for a moment.  “You are in security.  Okay. You can say that the terms of your employment don’t allow you to take photographs.”

“Nat.  That’s an outright lie.  I don’t want to do that. What if he’s the one?”

Letting out a deep breath, Natasha groans.  “Okay. How about this: You provide security for some very important people, which is why you try to keep your identity as private as possible.”

“I don’t think he’ll go for that.”

“Only one way to find out.”

.

Dear Bucky,

I think me and you had different childhoods, there in Brooklyn.  We were pretty poor, and I was sick a lot. Once one of the neighbors called a priest – she was sure I wasn’t going to make it.  And Ma, wow – she didn’t speak to Mrs. Leary for weeks after that. ‘Who did she think she was?’ Ma said, ‘giving up on me like that.’  She was fierce, my Ma, and beautiful. Smart too – really smart. She was a nurse, and well, when she passed, the whole damn hospital turned out.  I was eating casseroles for a month!

It’s really great that your sister’s in art school.  I went once – just local, before I signed up for the service.  I loved it though. You know I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, and when I was real small, Ma bought a set of colored pencils and some drawing paper.  It turned on a light bulb for me, you know? It was like – it didn’t matter if I didn’t have friends, if I couldn’t go outside to play. I had plenty of friends right there on the paper, and if I got lonely, well, it was easy to call them up.

Which isn’t to say I was lonely all the time.  Ma worked a lot, but when she had a day off, we’d go have a picnic in the park, or go to the library.  The movies now and then, and that was a treat. I still can’t smell popcorn without my mouth watering.

So, not an idyllic childhood, but then, if I grew up different, I probably wouldn’t be the man I am today.  You know?

I guessed it was a matter of time before you got curious.  You’re right, the agency doesn’t have my photograph. I work in private security and, let’s just say, it’s better if people don’t know I’m looking for my soulmate.  I guess a lot of people nowadays don’t – look that is. I can’t imagine it though. I mean, there’s this person that’s supposed to just…get you. Make you want to be your best self for them, because you know that they’re their best self for you.  Why wouldn’t you want that?

Anyway, I have blonde hair and blue eyes and am a little over six feet tall.  I work out a lot. And for your other question? I’ve been walking this earth for 31 years.  My buddy, the one I live with, he likes to tease that I’m an old man. What does he know?

My day’s going alright, Buck, thanks for asking.

I’m looking forward to hearing from you again.

Sincerely,

Steve

.

“Okay, Sarge,” Morita pipes up.  “This guy is definitely hiding something.”

“Yeah,” Gabe agrees.  “What kind of private security doesn’t let you take pictures for personal use?”

Bucky groans.  “I know. What’s he think?  I’m gonna take out a page in the Times?”

“He could be lying,” Dugan says.

“Probably is,” agrees Juney.  “I mean, what are the odds that this guys is as built as he says he is?”

Shrugging, Bucky leans back against his pillows in his bunk.  He’d really been hoping that Steve was on the up and up. But…the guy sounded so squirrely in his answers.  What’s Bucky supposed to think?

He wants to rush over to the rec tent and write back to Steve, calling him out.  He’s just about to lace his boots when the Staff Sergeant pokes his head into the room.

“Hustle up.  New assignment – we head out in thirty.”

The guys all groan, but get moving anyway.  Bucky stuffs his pants into his boots, before strapping on his protective gear.  Looking around the room, he sees his men all doing the same. A swell of pride flares in his gut.  He knows they’re elite – the best of the best – but it’s still nice to see it in action.

As he heads out to the convoy, he spares one last thought for Steve.  What if he is what he says he is?  

What if?

.

Dear Bucky,

It’s been almost a week since I’ve heard from you.  I’m going to assume that you’re working and can’t reply.  If I’m wrong, I sure would appreciate some kind of response, even if it’s just to tell me to get lost.

I can’t help but worry.  I hope you’re safe.

Please be safe.

Steve

.

“Hey, Tony?”  Steve calls out into the workshop, then follows the sound of Tony’s voice as he yells “Polo!”

When he finally finds him, Steve has a smile on his face.  They’ve gotten closer, since the fall of SHIELD. It’s been good.  Steve’s not sure they’re ever going to be best friends, but Tony has his back, and that’s all that Steve could hope for.

“What’s up Patriot Pop?”

Steve sighs.  That one wasn’t even funny.  “I need a favor.”

“Of course you do.  I mean, hey, it’s not like you just wandered down here to say hey, see how I’m doing, spend some quality time.  Tell me, Cap, is that a generational thing? My father was the same way.”

Steve leans back and smirks.  “We spent four hours together last night.”

“That was movie night.  Doesn’t count.”

“Okay,” Steve says.  “Want to go get coffee?  Hang out? Isn’t that what the kids are doing these days?”

“I’d love to, Cap, really, but my unfortunately, my dance card is full.  What’cha need?”

Huffing a laugh, Steve rubs the back of his neck.  “I haven’t heard from, uh, my pen pal in a few days, and I’m starting to get worried.”

“Friday, can we get a status update on James Barnes, Special Forces, Afghanistan?”

“One moment, Sir.”

“Wow, you can do that?” Steve asks.

“Of course I can do that.  What did you come here for if you didn’t think I could do that?”

“I thought you’d call someone?”

“You know, if you’d just attend my ‘Technology Today” classes…”

Steve shudders.  “I’m not taking one-on-one tech classes from you.  All you’ll do is show me porn.”

“Friday!  You told!”

“Sir, I have information on Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes, Afghanistan.”

“You’re not getting off that easy,” Tony says, but waits for Friday to upload the report.

When the report comes through, Tony throws up on one of the screens.  Steve looks it over, then lets out a heavy sigh. “Okay,” he says. It looks like Bucky’s still on a mission.  It’s not ideal, but at least he knows Bucky’s not hurt somewhere out there.

“Thanks, Tony,” Steve says.  “And thank you, Friday.”

“You realize you just thanked my AI?”

“Your AI is usually nicer than you.”

“It was my pleasure, Captain Rogers.”

“Maybe it’s time for Monday,” Tony says, and Steve chuckles.  

“Come on, come get that cup of coffee with me.”

“I’m good,” Tony says.  “But thanks for asking.”

Steve smiles and makes his way back upstairs.

.

 

In his dream, he’s in a war zone.  There’s smoke all around him. Ahead, he spots the man with Bucky’s face.  He’s covered in char and blood, and Steve’s stomach turns from the smell of it. He runs forward, needing to get closer.  

“Bucky?”

An explosion goes off nearby, and Bucky doesn’t flinch.  He yells orders to his men before flicking his eyes Steve’s way.  

“Fall back,” he yells.  “That’s an order!”

His eyes are angry and bright, and Steve reaches for his shield, but it’s not there.  

“Buck...I…” Steve’s lost.  He can’t protect Bucky, can’t even protect himself with the way he’s standing there, exposed.  As he gapes, trying to formulate a plan, another explosion goes off. There’s a shock of fear in Bucky’s eyes and Steve wakes with a start.

He’s standing next to his bed, gasping and trying to remember where he is as the dream slips away from him.

“Friday?”

“Yes, Captain Rogers?”

“Status on James Buchanan Barnes?  Is he - is he okay?”

“Sergeant Barnes returned to base 3 hours ago and has not been remanded for medical care.  HIs team -”

“Thank you, Friday.  That’s all I needed to know.”

Steve sits down hard on the edge of his bed.  He wants Friday to tell him everything, but that’s information that’s not his to know.  He can’t violate Bucky’s privacy any more than he already has.

.

 

Steve,

Sorry – duty called.  I’ll write more later.

B

.

Hey Buck,

Hope everything is good with you.  I remembered what you said about dropping off the grid, and I did my best not to panic.  :)

I know you can’t really talk about your job.  I just want to let you know I’m here for you, in whatever way helps.

Steve

.

Bucky groans and braces his palms against the shower wall, letting the hot water wash over him.  It’s scalding hot and Bucky has to force himself to stay in place. But if he focuses on the water stinging his skin, maybe he can stop thinking about everything got so fucked up tonight.

Their mission went great - in and out, neat and tidy.  They were told that the road they were taking back to base was secure.  

It wasn’t.

Now Waters is probably never going to hear out of his right ear again, and Bucky’s going to see his horrified face in his dreams for the next six months at least.  Bucky towels off and thinks about heading to bed, but he’s too amped up for that and he knows it.

Instead, he wheels around to the Rec tent to make a phone call.

“Bucky?”  Becca’s voice is slurry and soft with sleep.  In the background, he can hear Danny’s mumble as Becca tells him to go back to sleep.  Becca found her soulmate during midterms her sophmore year at Pratt, and they’ve been side by side, ever since.  Bucky met the guy a couple of times. He seems nice enough, but the way he dotes on Becca won Bucky over pretty fast. He’s glad she has someone.

“Wha’s going on?” she asks, and Bucky can hear her moving in the background.

“Just...wanted to talk,” he says, knowing that Becca knows what he needs.  .

“Mmmkay,” she says.  “Remember that piece I had up in competition?” she asks.  Bucky thinks back on it, a huge canvas in blues and yellows and greens, calling to mind a beach, though it was nothing more than washes of color.  It was gorgeous. Made Bucky think of trips to the beach growing up, the way the sand bled into the ocean, and the ocean bled into the sky.

“I got second,” she says, and Bucky smiles.  She prattles on for a few more minutes, catching him up on the gossip around the neighborhood, and in the family.  When Bucky calls his folks, Winnie chatters at him the same way, but there’s always a frightened edge to her words that Becca doesn’t have.

“Hey, Bucky?” she asks, and he snaps out of his lull.  “You reupping?”

“I don’t know, Becs.”

“Well you know how I feel.  But listen, when will you be home next?”

Like a premonition, Bucky knows what’s coming before she says it.

“About three more months, Becs.  What’s up?”

Bucky can hear the smile in her voice and it warms him through, even as it causes that same old ache in his chest to flare up.

“I’m pregnant, Bucky.”  She huffs a little laugh, and her joy is catching.  “I’m gonna have a kid.”

Inside, Bucky whoops and hollers.  He knows that later, when he tells the guys, they all will.  But now, he presses his fingers against his sternum and ducks his head down so that the private manning the front desk doesn’t see him blink back tears.

“You’re pregnant?”

“Yeah,” she says, voice soft.  “Danny and I want to have our bonding ceremony before the baby comes, but I won’t do it without you.  So….”

“Becs,” he says, and swallows hard around the lump in his throat.  “You know I’ll be there. Let me talk to my C.O. and I’ll email you dates this week, okay?”

“Yeah,” she says, and then giggles.  “I’m kind of terrified,” she confides.

“You got this, Becs.  You and Danny are gonna be amazing parents.  When are you due?”

“Not until August, but Danny’s already working on my old room for a nursery.”

“Oh, thank god.  You gotta get rid of that unicorn wallpaper.”

“Oh, shut up!  Better than your baseballs and mitts all over the walls.”

“Uh, I don’t think so,” Bucky teases back, and as he grins, he feels the weight of the day lifting.  

It’s not that talking to Becca suddenly makes everything alright.  Not even the doctors are gonna make everything alright for Waters. But it takes enough of the load from Bucky that he can turn around, go back to his guys, and do his job.  It’s more than he probably deserves.

“I gotta go,” he says, a few moments later.

“Alright,” she says.  “Don’t forget to email.”

“I won’t.  Hey Becs? Thanks.”

“Shut up,” she answers.  “I love you.”

“Love you too, Becs.”

Before he hangs up with her, he’s feeling good enough to check his emails, and maybe send one, too.

.

Steve,

Thanks for the well wishes – I do appreciate it.  Sorry for being out of touch for so long. I did warn you.  That said, I don’t want to talk about my job. No offense, but I don’t know you, and there’s only so much I’m allowed to say anyway.

Look, I’m not gonna beat around the bush, here.  I don’t like that you won’t send me a photo. It makes me think you’re hiding something, and that really doesn’t set right with me.  It’s not the best way to build trust, pal.

That said, I’m willing to let it go.  For now.

(And if the guys have taken to calling you Quasimodo, well, that’s nobody’s fault but yours.)

It sounds like you had things hard, growing up.  I’m sorry to hear that, and I’m sorry about your mother.  My condolences.

I like your attitude though.  What you’ve been through – it would be easy to let that get you down.  Sounds like you never did. You should be proud.

You said you went to art school once upon a time?  Do you still practice? Becca says that some days her pastels are the only thing keeping her sane.  It sounds like you have a pretty stressful job – seems like art would probably be a good outlet. (But what do I know?)

This is weird.  I feel like we’re still making small talk with each other, but when I was out there, I was thinking about you.

I haven’t been in a relationship in a really long time.  I’m not saying that’s what this is, but I’m not saying it’s not either?

Like I said, weird.

How’s your week been?

Best,

Bucky

Chapter Text

Steve leans his head back against the side of the Quinjet.  It’s been five days of fighting and his whole body is strung tight with exhaustion.  The routine raid turned into a prolonged firefight when it turned out that the nearly abandoned Hydra base was, in fact, fully staffed and operational.  Steve wasn’t sure what they’d been doing there, but the creatures that his team ended up fighting were fierce. He tries not to think about the snake woman, the terrified look in her eyes as she lashed out at him.

He knows he’ll dream about her tonight.  How could he not?

On top of it all, he hadn’t had time to get word to Bucky about his absence.  Who knows what he’s thinking?

He knows that Cho is going to want to see him in Med as soon as they touch down, but if the venom hasn’t killed him yet, then there’s no reason he can’t take a few extra minutes to get word to Bucky that he’s still around.  Interested.

He’s making the plan when he hears a sharp intake of breath from Nat.  

He looks over and sees her staring down at a gushing wound in Clint’s side.  What the hell?

“Steve?”  She looks at him, and Christ, he’s never seen fear in her eyes.

“Nat!” He gets up, but Sam is already there, pressing a stack of clean white cloths over Clint’s side.  

“Tony,” Sam calls.  “Gonna need blood here.  What’s our ETA?”

Steve follows the back and forth.  One of the suits will meet them in transit with a few pints for Clint, and Cho is readying the RegenerX machine.  

Steve moves to sit beside Nat.  She’s holding Clint’s hand so hard, her knuckles are white.

“He’ll be okay.”  It’s a promise he knows he can’t keep, but he’s going to try.  

Later, when Clint’s on the mend and Nat no longer has that terrifying, haunted look on her face, Steve will remember that moment and wonder to himself if he wants to find his soulmate after all.  If a soulmate can leave you that vulnerable, is it worth it?

He wants to ignore the ache in his chest that tells him he needs to find out.

.

Dear Bucky,

I’m sorry for the delayed response.  As you said, duty called.

Quasimodo, huh?  I feel honor bound to tell you that they’re not that far off the mark.  Sorry! (I am working on getting a photograph for you. It’s a negotiation.)

I wish

How do you do it?  We almost lost someone today, and his soulmate is one of my best friends.  She was so goddamned scared and all I could do was hold her hand while she held him.  How the fuck do you go out there everyday, knowing that you could lose one of your guys?  

I’m not afraid for myself, but seeing the look in her eyes….

Sorry.

I’m sorry.  I don’t - I don’t have a lot of people I can talk to.  They can’t see me having doubts.

Fears.

I can’t let them down.  Do you know what that’s like? I feel like you might.

Anyway.

Thanks for writing back.  You know, it’s been years since I’ve done more than doodle in the margins of a meeting agenda.  I used to live to draw – and paint! In school, I took a class in color theory, but a lot of it went over my head.  I should really try to pick it back up.

Believe it or not, I consider myself really lucky.  Growing up, I knew we were poor, but, so was everyone else, so, it didn’t seem so out of place. We all just made do.  Everything seems different now. No one fixes anything, they just replace anything that doesn’t work right. Makes me thankful for how I was raised – that value isn’t always in the immediacy of things.  My buddy is huge on instant gratification. I’m more of a shoulder to the wheel kind of guy.

I’m sorry, Buck.  I’ll pick this back up later.

Steve

.

Dear Steve,

You go out there and you do your best.  It’s all you can do, and if you do that, at the end of the day, everyone’s gonna know that you did your best.  

I’m real sorry about your friend.  Let me know if he makes it?

I’m here.

Bucky

.

Dear Bucky,

You don’t

I can’t

Thank you.  Not really fair of me to put that on you like I did.  If I had my head on straight, it wouldn’t have happened.  

I’m so sorry.

He’s going to be fine, though.  It’s good of you to ask.

 

Anyway.  

I’ve been wondering: do you consider yourself career military?

I keep wondering what our lives might look like, if it turns out we’re soulmates.

Just to keep things fair: I haven’t had a relationship since I got out of the service.  I’ve been on a couple of dates, but none of them…sparked. It didn’t seem right to waste anyone’s time.  Which isn’t to say that I’m expecting that of you. I mean, if we’re soulmates, it won’t be an issue, but until we know, I’m not expecting…you know.  Wow, I do not know how to end that sentence. This must be what the kids mean by “awkward.”

Anyway, I think I’m going to end this here, before I dig myself any deeper.

Thanks for writing back, Buck.  I like hearing from you.

All my best,

Q

.

Holding his breath, Steve hits send.  He hopes Bucky will write him again. He hopes he didn’t blow it by being unavailable and needy.  He hopes – he hopes so many things.

.

Bucky reads the letter with a slight smile on his lips, then barks a left when he gets to the signature.  That little shit. Either Steve’s the most well-adjusted, ugly asshole Bucky’s ever met, or he’s got reason to be confident.  Either way, it’s appealing.

What’s not appealing is how sorry Steve seems to feel for having human emotions.  Everyone needs someone. Doesn’t he know that?

It gives him pause.  He can’t deny how glad he was to finally hear from Steve, or how much he’s worried about the guy.  Doesn’t he have anyone to talk to?

He can’t shake the feeling that Steve’s not being entirely honest with him.  The letter he sent - that sounded like Steve was on some kind of military assignment.  What kind of VIP security detail gets into that kind of firefight?

Also, that he doesn’t know what Steve looks like really bothers Bucky.  On the other hand, what he’s seen of Steve’s personality so far is someone who is smart and sweet and funny, and aside from the photo thing, earnest.

Jesus, Bucky can’t remember the last time he met someone he’d call earnest.  It’s appealing in a ways he hadn’t anticipated.

.

When he gets into the Rec center for his weekly call with Becs, he finds himself wondering if he should ask Steve for his number.  It might be nice, seeing how conversation flows between them.

On the other hand…Steve might dodge him again.  Bucky’s not sure how he’d take that.

A few minutes into his call with Becs, she calls him out for being distracted.

“Hey, are you okay?” she asks.

He sighs and has an internal debate that lasts all of a second.  He’s never been able to keep secrets from Becs.

“Something weird happened.  I’m still figuring it out.”

“Weird like…?”

“Weird like some guy sent me an email, said we might be soulmates.”

Becca’s quiet on the other end of the line.  She knows how long Bucky’s been hoping to find his soulmate.

“What do you mean, might be?” she finally asks.

“Well, that’s it.  He was sick as a kid and the treatments damaged his DNA.  So, he has three maybe matches. We’ve been talking through emails.”

“And?”

Bucky can feel the blush rising in his cheeks.  “And I like him.”

There.  It’s out now.  He hasn’t been willing to admit it to himself, but yeah, he likes Steve.  Steve is smart and funny and there’s this underlying sweetness to him. It’s almost…old fashioned?  The way he speaks and thinks about things.

It’s enough that Bucky wants to know more.  He says as much to Becca.

“And he’s from Brooklyn?  Huh.”

“Alright, I know that voice.  What’re you thinking?”

“Just, you know…I could probably go and meet him for you.  I mean, if he’s your soulmate we’ll be family anyway, so he shouldn’t object, right?”

Breathing deep, Bucky considers it.

He’s almost certain Steve will decline the invitation, and being honest, Bucky’s not sure how he’ll take that.  It feels like Steve keeps opening doors, but not letting Bucky walk through.

“Let me think about it, Becs.”

“Okay.  But promise me you will think about it.”

“I promise.  Now how’s that baby?  Ma driving you nuts yet?”

Laughing, Becca says, “You have no idea.”

They chat for a while more before Bucky’s time is up.  He makes sure to check in with Becca at least once a week, and his folks the same.  Still, he’s pretty sure this is going to be his last deployment. He loves his job, and he loves his guys, but the firefight they got into on their last mission was a little too close for comfort.  Each time he talks to Becca (or emails Steve, for that matter), he’s reminded that there’s a whole big world full of people living their lives. He thinks it might be time to start living his own.

.

Dear Q,

(You didn’t think I was gonna let that drop, did you?)

That said, when I said I’m here for you, I meant it.  I’m just gonna say this once: If you’re not talking to your team, and you’re not talking to me, who the hell are you talking to?  You gotta talk to someone.

Sorry if I was snippy on the picture thing.  I’m frustrated, and I don’t handle that well.  I don’t handle sitting and waiting all that well, either.  It’s another few months before I’ll be stateside again, and before we’ll find out if we’re soulmates or not.  Seems like a long time.

Have you picked up any art supplies yet?  Just wondering.

I think there was a time I considered the Army my career.  I’m good at my job (he says so humbly), and there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for my guys, but.  But. Becs is going to be out of school soon, and she’s having a baby.  I don’t want to miss all of that being stationed half the world away from her, you know?  For now, Brooklyn’s her home, so it’ll be mine soon, too.

Guess it’s a good thing you’re a local, huh?

Hey, are you talking to any of your other matches?  Have you met any of them? Just wondering.

Well, it’s late and I’m exhausted and we’ve got an early start tomorrow.  I might be offline a couple of days. I’ll get in touch when I can, but feel free to write in the meantime.  I’d say I like hearing from you, but it’d go straight to your head.

Bucky

Bucky’s finger hesitates a moment before he gives in and clicks send.

He might have been a bit oblique, but it’s the closest he’s come to confessing that he likes Steve, that he hopes that they are soulmates.  It sends a flutter up under his ribs, unexpected but not unwelcome.  He’s never been good at being vulnerable.

.

Steve’s getting ready to head down to breakfast when Natasha rings his doorbell.  Opening the door, he sees her holding a manila envelope.

“Someone’s got mail,” she says, sliding past Steve and heading to the kitchen for the coffee pot, passing him the envelope along the way.

It’s amazing, he thinks, how quickly she’s bounced back. Not ten days ago, Clint was bleeding out on the Quinjet.  Now here she is, a bounce in her step and smirk on her face.

“How do you do it?” he asks.  

He knows she knows what he means, but she still stares up at him with guileless eyes.  “Do what?”

“Nat.  Come on.”

She looks down at her hands and takes a deep breath.

“This is our life,” she says, finally looking him in the eye.  “This is what we chose, or what was chosen for us. We make the best of it.  That’s all.” She shakes her head and her curls tremble. There’s a long look between them, and Steve feels like he’s missing something, but he doesn’t know what.

He looks away.

“What’s this?” he asks, even as he’s opening the envelope.  When he pulls out the pages inside, he’s surprised to see more matches.

“Donna Conway, 32, Los Angeles.  She’s pretty,” Steve says, skimming over her profile.  “Gary Logan, 18 – Jesus, Nat, he’s a baby!”

“Lots of people register when they’re eighteen now.  Some people register earlier. You know that.”

“Knowing it is one thing, getting matched with it is another.”

“Hey, at least yours are all Americans.  Imagine being in Russia and getting an American for a match.”  She arches a brow at him and Steve frowns. Natasha’s match being an American fast tracked her into the Red Room program.  They thought they could brainwash the soulbond away, creating a perfect little sleeper agent. The pain and suffering that Nat went through because of it still makes Steve angry.

At the same time though, if she hadn’t gone through all that, would she have ever met Clint?  Steve couldn’t get his head around it – she’d had to suffer horribly in order to be the person who could meet her soulmate.  When he pulls back to look at it, their paths were on a convergent course their whole lives, even though neither of them knew it.

Shrugging, Steve sets the papers down on the table.  “I don’t know if I’m ready for all this,” he says. “Are they just going to keep sending me matches?”

“Until you meet yours?  Probably. That’s kind of the reason the database exists,” she says with a smirk.  Then her face softens, becomes kind. “You haven’t even talked to the other matches, have you?”

Steve flushes and looks down.  “Not all of them,” he mumbles.

“What was that?”

With a deep breath, Steve steels himself and looks Nat in the eye.  “Not all of them.”

“And?”

Flopping down on the couch, Steve ponders his options.  He know that Nat cares for him and wants him to be happy.  He trusts her.

“One…one guy.  He’s - I really like him, but he’s on deployment in Afghanistan.”

“You really never pick the easy road, do you?”

Steve shrugs.

“What made you choose him?” Nat asks, and Steve realizes he can’t name the reason.  There’s just…something about Bucky. It’s not just his photograph, at least, Steve doesn’t think so.  Bucky’s from Brooklyn too, and he’s Army, so he understands about fighting for what he believes in, and he’s strong and…and beautiful.  Steve thinks of Bucky’s profile picture – the dark curly hair and those gray-blue eyes. He’s gorgeous, but Bucky’s smile is what really did it.  In the photo, he’s grinning at the camera and it’s half-cocky, half sweet, like he’s just told you that he’s the most handsome guy in the world and is about to crack up at himself over it, but he still knows it’s true.

Steve can’t put his finger on it, but he likes it.  A lot.

“I couldn’t say.  I just – I think he’s the one.”

Nat raises her brows and gives her patented half-shrug.  “If that’s it, then what’s the harm in meeting the others?  Assuming they’re available.”

“I don’t –“ he sits up, puts his elbows on his knees and then hangs his head between them.  He doesn’t even want to admit this to himself, let alone anyone else. The truth is, he doesn’t want to meet anyone else.  He wants Bucky. The idea that any of the others could be his soulmate isn’t something he wants to face.

“Hey,” Nat says, sitting on the coffee table opposite Steve.  “Just write to them, get a feel for them. Or, if you’re so sure that this guy is your soulmate, meet the others.  Then you can cross them off the list. What can it hurt?”

He knows there’s no reason not to, but like a stubborn child, he doesn’t want to.

Nat lays off the soulmates conversation and they talk instead about baseball.  Natasha is surprisingly invested in the A’s. When Steve asked her why, she gave one of her enigmatic shrugs.  “I like the underdogs,” she said, and left it at that.

“Mets are playing the Dodgers in June.  You want to go?”

Steve grins.  He hasn’t been to a Dodger game in decades, and how many people can say that?  The idea of heckling the boys in blue sounds fantastic.

“Yeah,” he says.  “I do. Let’s see if the others want to come to, what do you think?”

“Sounds great,” Nat says, smiling.  “Except for Thor. I’m not trying to explain baseball to him again.”

Laughing, Steve recalls the first time they’d been watching a game on television when Thor was around.  It was hilarious and frustrating for all of them. “Lucky for us, he’s off-world right now.”

Natasha smiles and hums, then rinses out her coffee mug and sets it in the sink.

As she turns to leave, Steve finds himself calling after her.

“Hey, Nat?  Thanks.”

Smiling, she nods before slipping out of the front door.

Later that afternoon, Steve boots up his StarkBook.  He flicks open the email and his mind stutters for a moment.

Jenny Green has sent him an email.

He reads the other messages – reminders about training schedules, a video clip of a guy with a car full of tigers that Sam sent him, and some of the world’s headlines from the digests he’s signed up for, and reminder that his Coffee of the Month Club membership is almost due.

When he’d done, he circles back to the email that the Agency forwarded on to him.  He’d asked for the highest level of privacy, which meant that potential matches couldn’t see his picture, and couldn’t contact him directly.  It was an option often used by celebrities, the rich and famous, or people who were in relationships but who wanted to know if they had a match anyway.

Dear S.G.,

I was surprised when the Agency let me know that I’d had a match.  I’ve been in the database for over five years now and was starting to give up hope.

My name, if you don’t know, is Jennifer Green.  Jenny. I’m a political consultant for the Dems, lastly for Senator Blum.  Her reelection was a tough fight, but worth it in the end. I’m one of those crazy, wild-eyed liberals, by the way.  I could go into a lengthy rant about peace and liberty and freedom, but I’ll just say it’s how I was raised. Even when I thought I knew better than my folks (and there were a lot of those years), I always saw the logic in their politics.

I bring that up because politics is a big part of my life – you should know that going in.

I hope you don’t think me too forward.  When I got the match, I gave it some time, waiting for you to reach out.  But you didn’t, so…so here I am.

When I’m not working, I spend a lot of time with my garden – I grow flowers along with a host of vegetables.  My tomatoes are something to be seen, even though at this point they’re almost all volunteers. I have two dogs, and the boys keep me very busy.  Do you like dogs? I found these two as puppies by the side of the road. Vet said they’d probably been abandoned since they aren’t purebred, but you’d never know it.  They’re bright, happy dogs. By the time the shelter opened for me to take them in, I was already in love with them. We go hiking a lot. They’re big boys and need a lot of exercise, and hey, it beats a treadmill, you know?

To be perfectly honest with you, I’m happy.  I’m happy with my life. But I do hope to have kids someday, and I can’t imagine doing that with someone who isn’t my soulmate.  My brother did that and…it led to a lot of misery, for everyone. The dust has settled, but when his wife met her soulmate after a car accident of all things, it wreaked havoc on our entire family.  Hers, too. I won’t put anyone through that.

I’m willing to consider relocating if you’re not local, and I would consider giving up my work, so long as there is a different opportunity available that would be as fulfilling.  I was raised to give back, and I can’t just sit on my hands because of it. I hope you’ll understand.

Anywho, this is my elevator pitch, as it were.  I understand that the nature of your sample left you with multiple matches.  I hope you’ll consider meeting with me so that we can discover the depth of our match.  Please, at least…write back?

My best,

Jenny

Steve closes the window for the email, then opens it and reads the letter again.

She’s – she sounds lovely.  And Steve can picture it in his head, long weekend out hiking and camping, two dogs sleeping snuggled up beside them.  Kids, god - sweet, towheaded kids with Jenny’s big blue eyes, Steve teaching them to ride a bicycle or watching them run wild in Central Park.

It would be a good life.

A really good life.

This is so much more than he bargained for.

As he muses over Jenny’s profile, he can’t help but wonder what Bucky would think.  Would it be okay with him if he met Jenny? He can’t help but feel that he owes Bucky something - some kind of fealty.  

Aside from that is the realization that he doesn’t actually want to meet Jenny Green. He knows it’s too soon to be in love, but each time he hears from Bucky, he feels warm and filled up inside.  Less lonely, and more like he has someone - someone on his side. He’s always been a lousy liar, especially when it comes to lying to himself.

.

Dear Bucky,

That’s funny, one of my good friends just asked me if I’ve met any of my matches yet.  I should confess that I haven’t. You’re the only one I’m talking to, but my friend, she thinks I should reach out to some of the others?

I don’t know.

I got two more matches in the mail today.  I must be some kind of idiot. I didn’t realize they’d keep sending me matches.  And a woman that I matched with the first time around, she sent me an email. She wants to meet me, and – and she sounds great.  And she’s pretty.

I don’t.  Hell. I’ll be honest, Buck.  I don’t want to. I don’t really want more matches.  I like you. Not sure what to do here. I’m not sure what’s fair?

Stay safe, Buck, would you?

Q

PS – I bought a set of pencils and some paper.  We’ll see.

.

Dear Bucky,

I know you said you’d be offline for a few days, and I’m not panicking.

I’m meeting that woman tomorrow.  The one I told you about? She was awfully nice in her letter and I guess…it doesn’t seem right to let her keep hoping if it’s not going to happen, you know?  I don’t know why I’m so nervous.

Went to the park today with my paper and pencils.  It was good. I’m surprised at how much I still remember from the classes I took before.

Oh, and hey!  I don’t know when you’ll be back in town, but I might have a pair of tickets for the Mets/Dodgers in June, if you’re around.

Probably not, but…it couldn’t hurt to ask.

Anyway, Buck, I hope things are as good as can be in your part of the world.  If there’s ever anything you need, please let me know?

Steve

.

That night, Steve dreams that he’s at Coney Island.  The air is warm and soft, with a light breeze, and it’s almost a perfect day.

Almost.

He turns to the person he came with, but no one’s there.  So he searches. With growing panic, he races from attraction to attraction, searching.  Someone asks him what he’s looking for, and suddenly he can’t say.

“I - I need - I lost….”  But nothing more comes out.

A hand lands on his shoulder, and instead of being startled, Steve calms.  His heart rate lowers and he draws a long, deep breath.

When he turns, Bucky is staring back at him.  “There you are,” he says, and his eyes are a calm, soft blue.  “I’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

He steps into Steve’s space and closes his eyes, presses his face into Bucky’s neck, where he smells clean and warm.  Where he smells like home.

“I got you,” Bucky says, and wraps strong arms around Steve’s waist.  “I got you.”

When Steve wakes, the ache in his chest is deep, and fierce.  He doesn’t know if the dream is a sign that Bucky is his soulmate, or a warning that he’s getting himself worked up over nothing.  Since the moment he saw Bucky’s picture, he’s all that Steve’s wanted.

.

Hey Buck!

Man, I am so glad that’s over with!  I swear to you, I knew just from seeing her that we weren’t soulmates, but shaking hands confirmed it.

She was great – lovely and kind and hilarious.  Her soulmate is gonna be a lucky guy, no doubt. And her dogs – she has these two big huskies – well, they’re not purebred but man, they were great.  Big and beautiful. Do you like dogs? I’ve always wanted a dog, but – well with my job, sometimes I’m gone a few days at a time. Wouldn’t be fair, you know?

Anyway, we had a nice lunch and I wished her luck.              

Hope things are okay with you.  I – I miss you. Okay, not really you, just your smart mouth.

Stay safe, would ya, jerk?

Steve

Chapter Text

When Bucky finally gets back to base, he wants to go back to his bunk and crash out and sleep for at least a month.  Maybe longer.

He has a hot shower and there’s a sandwich and some soup waiting for him when he gets out.  He’s lucky. His guys take damn good care of him.

He towels off his hair and slips on a pair of sweats and a t-shirt.  He wolfs down half the sandwich and drinks the soup from the bowl as he walks to the Rec tent.  He knows he needs to get in touch with Becs first thing. She always gets anxious. But instead of going to the phone bank, he veers left and heads to the computers.  The last time he was out for a while, Steve got anxious, even though he tried to hide it. Bucky doesn’t want to leave him hanging this time.

Pulling up his email account, he sees multiple messages.  He starts at the oldest, intending to work his way through them, but when he starts reading, his breath catches.

Steve has even more matches, and one of them wants to meet.

It’s not – he doesn’t have the right, he knows, but part of him wants to tell Steve no.  No you can’t meet this girl. No, don’t respond to anyone else. No. You’re mine.

Breathing deep, Bucky lets out a groan.

Fuck.  Fuck!

He hadn’t meant for this to go so far.  He doesn’t even know what Steve looks like.

Then he realizes that it doesn’t matter.  Steve could, in fact, look like Quasimodo, and Bucky would want him anyway.

Fuck.

It’s not until he reads the second, and then the third letters that his heart rate starts to calm down.

She wasn’t a match.

Bucky breathes a sigh of relief.

He knows he needs to write back, and he wants to say all kinds of things.  Instead, he takes a deep breath and clicks reply:

 

Dear Q,

Everything’s okay here.  We’re back and everyone's safe.

I’m glad it didn’t work out with her.  I don’t care that that makes me a jerk.

I’m gonna go sleep for the rest of the year.  Send me one of your sketches?

B

.

That night, Bucky dreams of explosions.  Giant dogs are attacking him, biting into his flesh and dragging him away from his mission:  a person in the middle of a field, a man. He’s curled into himself and all Bucky can see is the gleam of blond hair.  He’s hurting, and it’s Bucky’s job to get to him, to ease his hurt. A landmine goes off to his right and when he turns away to look, a dog, this one way bigger than the rest, streaks across the field and launches himself at Bucky, going for his throat.

Bucky wakes with a start, sweat streaming down his face, t-shirt soaked.

“All good, Sarge?” someone whispers.  Morita would be Bucky’s guess. He’s the light sleeper.

Sitting up, Bucky rubs a hand over his face.

“I’m good, Jimmy.  Go back to sleep.”

Bucky walks over to the Rec center.  He grabs himself a bowl of cereal from the all-night snack shop, and then sits down at the computer.  He’d emailed Becs the all clear, but nothing more. She’ll understand. Sometimes it takes him a day or two to come down from a mission.

He checks the time.  He could call her. She’d be up.  But…he’s not ready for her fussing.

On a whim, he slides up to one of the computers and fires off a quick email.

After that, he spends some time surfing the internet.  He follows a couple of photography blogs – people documenting the gentrification of Brooklyn, others just taking pretty pictures in and around the city.

He find himself searching those photos, looking at the face of every blonde man.  Is that Steve? Is this one him? He could be anyone.

The computer he’s on pings and Bucky looks up to see that he has a new email.  Bucky holds his breath when he opens it.

.

Hey, Buck.

Yeah, that would…that would be great.  My number’s 212-555-5555.

Call anytime.  I’ll answer if I can.

Q

,

Bucky lets out a shaky sigh and looks over at the phone bank.  It’s the middle of the night and there’s hardly anyone around. He could...he could.

He rolls his eyes at himself.  He thinks nothing of leading his men into a firefight, of rolling past IEDs, of any of the many terrible, dangerous things that he does.  But this? Calling up a stranger who might be his soulmate? Bucky is terrified.

“Christ, Barnes, put on your big girl panties already.”

A guy across the room looks up and stares at Bucky for a moment, before going back to his video games.

He’s made of stronger stuff than this.  You’re a Barnes, for god’s sake, he reminds himself.

Standing, Bucky walks to the phone bank and punches in the number before he can think twice.

It stops after half a ring.

“Bucky?”  The voice on the other end is deep, but somehow soft.  Hopeful.

Bucky lets out a deep breath.  “Hey, pal. How ya doin’?”

The man on the other end giggles and Bucky grins.  He feels so much more at ease already.

“I’m good,” Steve says.  “Just…hanging out at the park.  You?”

“Oh yeah?  You drawing again?”

“Yeah.  It’s actually a nice day out.  Unusually warm, they’re saying.”

“Yeah?” Bucky asks, leaning back against the chair and closing his eyes, picturing an early spring day in Prospect Park.  “Tell me about it,” he says, and Steve does.

It’s late, he’s got a phone card, and there’s no line for the phones, so Bucky gets to spend a good half an hour talking to Steve.  He’s half brain dead with fatigue, but somehow Steve’s making everything seem okay. It’s all going to be okay.

Eventually, the private running the bank signals to Bucky that his time is up.

“Hey, Stevie, listen.  I gotta hang up now, but it was good talking to you.”

Is he imagining the sadness that creeps into Steve’s voice?

“Yeah, yeah, okay ya jerk.  Go get some sleep. It’s the middle of the night over there.”

He’s – god - he’s touched that Steve knows what time it is in Afghanistan.  Worse, Bucky can hear Brooklyn in Steve’s voice, and it makes his heart keen with homesickness that he hasn’t felt in years.

“Hey, you ever gonna send me one of your sketches?”

“What?  Buck, I don’t know.  They’re not.…”

“Aw, come on.  You tellin’ me you’re not gonna do what you can to cheer up a soldier on the front lines?  Some patriot you are.”

Steve coughs out a laugh and sounds odd when he responds.  “I’ll see, Buck. Now go.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Bucky says.  Whatever.”

“Hey,” Steve says, just as Bucky’s about to hang up.  “Stay safe, would ya, jerk?”

Rolling his eyes and sighing, Bucky smiles.  He hopes Steve can hear it. “Sure thing, punk.”

Hanging up, Bucky heads back to his quarters.  The rest of the guys are sound asleep. As he climbs into his bunk, he curls onto his side and closes his eyes.  Sleep has never found him faster.

.

Steve hangs up the phone and looks out over Prospect Park, feeling a warmth that has nothing to do with the early spring day.  Hearing Bucky’s voice – tired, but content – it sparked something soft and easy in Steve, a glowing ember that warms him through.

He can just picture Bucky – sweats maybe, t-shirt, too exhausted for sleep – and the idea that talking to Steve helped get him where he needed to be?  Well, it’s about the best damn compliment Steve’s ever gotten.

Looking around the park, Steve gets an idea.  Pulling out his pencils, he relocates to a bench where he gets a great view of the bridge as well as some of the bare trees.  He captures it all, the sunlight and the trees reflected on the water, and sketches in a few of the people for good measure.

He wants Bucky to see the park exactly as it is now.  See it, and hunger for it the way that Steve does on days when he’s been cooped up in the tower for too long, days when he feels like he’s as far away from being Steve Rogers, actual human being, as he can get.

Days like that, he comes out to the park and he watches it all.  People playing with their dogs, throwing balls and Frisbees, and taking joy in their animal’s joy.  Young families playing with their children, new couples on dates – all of it spread before him and it could make him feel apart from humanity, but it doesn’t.  It’s the opposite. Because this – everyday people living everyday lives – this is what he’s fighting for. This is what he works so hard to keep safe.

So of course it’s at that moment that the flock of birds that Steve’s been watching dramatically changes course and begins attacking people from the sky.  Of course.

He’s got his shield out and is running to help in seconds, pulling out his phone and pressing the all-alert key that Tony installed and spent an undue amount of time teaching Steve to use.  It’s a red button – how hard can it be?

“Steve?”  He hears Nat’s voice come in over the comm.

“Prospect Park,” he yells, making his way to an enclave where a dozen civilians are hiding out.  “Some kind of bird. I don’t have more than that. We need Sam, Wanda, Tony – anyone who can fly.  I don’t know how much good I can do on the ground.”

“On it,” Nat says, and hangs up.  Steve barely gets the thing back into his pocket before one of the birds swoops down at him.

Reaching up, he pulls it from the sky and shreds it.  Metal.

Good to know.

As he approaches the enclave he throws out the shield.  He gets a half dozen of the birds – one of which had been going for a child – before the shield bounces back his way.

Looking around, Steve finds a maintenance shed not far from where the people are.  It’s locked, but Steve gets it open with a quick strike of the shield.

“This way!” he yells.  “Come on, everybody, this way!”  He runs back to the civilians and helps those who don’t immediately start sprinting.  There’s a young woman helping out. She has shoulder length, dark wavy hair, and intelligent eyes.  There’s something familiar about her.

Steve picks up an elderly woman, getting his arms under her knees and around her shoulders, before rushing her over to the shelter.  On the way back, he takes out two dozen more of the flying things, but most of them seem to be defecting, and if Steve is right, they’re heading for the playground.

“Oh, hell,” he says, and notices that the young woman has gotten the last of the people over to the shelter.

“You folks sit tight,” he says.  “I’ll have someone back for you when this is all over.”

“I’m coming with,” the young woman says.  “I can help.”

Steve grabs a fistful of his own hair and pulls before letting go and addressing her.

“You can help by getting in the shelter and keeping folks calm.”

“I can help,” she says again, and there’s a steely look in her eyes that Steve would admire any other time.

“Becca, come on!” A teen-aged boy inside the shelter calls out to her and in a moment, Steve understands exactly what’s going on.  “Oh, god, you’re Becca Barnes,” he says, and she juts out her chin before a look of confusion crosses her face.

“How did you…?”

Steve has a split second to make a decision.

“No time,” he says, before shoving her into the shed and twisting the door handles closed.  It won’t be impossible for them to get out, but it will definitely take some time.

Jesus.  If he let Bucky’s little sister get hurt, he can kiss off any shot he might have with the guy.

Just as he turns to the playground, he sees Tony and Sam flying in, with Rhodey hot on their trail.  He takes a moment to feel the relief before he runs to the playground to help protect the kids.

He was having such a nice day, too.

.

Dear Steve,

Hey, so do I have a story for you:

Steve closes his eyes, holds his breath for a moment, then exhales and starts to read.

Yesterday at the park, Becca ran into none other than Captain America.  Can you believe that? There was some kind of attack on the park, and he was helping get folks to safety.

The best part though – and this’ll really ring your bell – apparently, Captain America knew her!  Can you believe that?

I mean, what, these guys get bios on everyone in the city or something?

Crazy coincidence, don’t you think?  I mean, it was the same park you were at when we talked, just a couple hours beforehand.

Isn’t that a crazy coincidence?

Yeah, we thought so, too.  Becs was just giddy at the idea of Captain America knowing who she is.  Which reminds me: me and Becs? We look just alike. Used to pass for twins when we were kids.

Anyway, she said he was a real jerk, too.  Pushed her and locked her in a shed so she couldn’t go help anyone.

Who’d’ve thought Captain America would be that kind of guy, huh?

Anyway, just wanted to tell you that story.  What a crazy world, right pal?

Bucky

.

Steve breathes deep a couple of times.  It’s – god, not like this, he thinks. He doesn’t want Bucky to find out like this.

Reading through the letter again, Steve can practically hear Bucky’s butterscotch voice in his head, can practically hear the sneer. This is bad.

Bad enough that he considers, for a moment, asking Tony to pull some strings so that Steve can call Afghanistan.  Bad enough that he considers taking a quinjet and just going there.

In the end, he decides that while appealing, none of those moves is right.

Hanging his head, he clicks the reply button.  He has some explaining to do.

.

Dear Bucky,

I didn’t really know how to tell you.  To be honest, it was really nice getting to know you without you having any preconceived ideas about who I am.  What I’m like. It was nice to start out without any expectations.

I guess now I want to know if this changes things for you.  And if so, why?

I hope it doesn’t.

I’ve enjoyed getting to know you. You are everything anyone could hope for in a friend, a partner.  A soulmate.

I’m sorry to have misled you.  Though, I hope you can understand a little of where I’m coming from?

Please let me know what you’re thinking?  You can call me anytime.

Steve

.

Dear Steve,

Look, honesty’s a big deal to me.  Looking at your letters, I can see that you didn’t lie outright, but boy did you put some effort into misleading me.  Not really a great way to start a life together with someone, you know?

I guess I can see your side of things, but it doesn’t really change how it feels on my end.  I was up front with you, the whole way.

I wish you could have been the same.

I know we can’t know for sure if we’re soulmates until we touch, and I’m not going to be back stateside for a few months yet. Until then, let’s just...put the brakes on this.  Maybe by the time we can meet, we can start fresh. I’ll let you know when I have firm dates to be in town.

Until then, take care of yourself.  

Bucky

.

Steve sets the StarkPad down with shaky hands.  

He knew this was a possibility.  But he’d hoped…he’d hoped that Bucky would have understood why things had to be this way.  He hoped he’d be forgiven.

For the first time since all of this started, Steve questions what he’s doing.  Maybe Bucky isn’t his soulmate after all. A part of him viscerally rejects that idea...but what choice does he have?

.

Dear Bucky,

I understand, and I respect your decision.  I won’t write again unless you ask me to.

Please stay safe.

Steve

.

 

“He’s moping,” Clint says, as Nat walks into the communal kitchen.  Steve is sitting at the table, head resting on one hand while he plays with a sugar packet with the other.

“He is moping,” Nat says and gives him a curious look.  “Why are you moping.”

“M’not moping.  I’m just...sitting here.”

Clint pours himself a very large cup of coffee, then a much smaller one for Nat.  

“Should we give him coffee?” Clint asks.

“Mmm...no, I don’t think lack of caffeine is what ails him.”

“What’s going on,” Sam asks, walking into the kitchen.  If Steve had realized how communal the kitchen actually was, he would have chosen a better place to mope.  Maybe the roof?

“He’s moping,” Nat says, flicking her hair over her shoulder toward Steve.

“Yeah, wow,” Sam says, turning to look at Steve.  “What’s up, man?”

“I’m fine,” Steve says, not lifting his head from his hand.

“Oh, yeah, I can see that.  You look great man. Thriving.”

Steve sighs.  He doesn’t really want to talk about it, but now that Sam’s noticed something wrong, he’ll keep at Steve about it, so he might as well just spill.

“My soulmate dumped me.”

He hears Nat make a noise that sounds suspiciously like a gasp, and Clint drops his cup of coffee.  

“Aw, coffee, no.”

“Your soulmate,” Sam asks.

“Yes,” Steve grumps.  “Well probably, anyway.”

“Probably.  So you haven’t actually met him,” Sam says.

“No, and now I don’t know if I ever will.  He - he found out I’m Captain America, and now he doesn’t want anything to do with me because I didn’t tell him first.”

Sam evaluates the new information.  “I mean, I can maybe see where he’s coming from, you know?”

Steve shrugs.  “I promised Tony that I wouldn’t tell anyone unless I met them in person.”  

“Okay, so how’d this guy find out?”

So Steve tells Sam everything, from how he knew the first time he saw Bucky’s picture that he was the one, to their correspondence, to meeting Becca in the park and shunting her toward safety, and Bucky follow up letters.

“Wait a minute,” Sam says.  “He tells you he doesn’t want to talk anymore, and you just take it?”

Steve looks at Sam like he’s crazy.  “Yeah? What else am I supposed to do?  I respect him. I’m not going to force him into something he doesn’t want.”

“No, but maybe you can make sure he knows you’re still interested.  Ever think of that? Damn, Rogers, what you don’t know about winning someone over is a lot.”

Steve shakes his head.  “I’m not going to push him.  He was clear about where he’s at.  It’s not right.”

“I’m not saying keep pursuing him.  But it’s a couple of weeks, right? Maybe just shoot him a message and let him know you’re thinking of him.”

Steve looks over at Nat.  “Oh no, I’m staying out of this.  You’re on your own.”

“I’m not saying go the full court press, Steve.  But at let the man know he’s on your mind.”

Steve nods.  He’s probably not going to do it, but at least he can get them all off his back.

The gang makes quiet conversation as they enjoy various snacks, and Steve watches, quiet at the edges.

He’s thinking he should probably just go for another run when Friday pipes in:

“Captain Rogers, I’m sorry to disturb, however there’s been a report about Sergeant Barnes.  The 107th took fire while on a mission today. I’m afraid Sergeant Barnes has been taken hostage.”

Chapter Text

“Captain Rogers, I’m sorry to disturb you, however there’s been a report about Sergeant Barnes.  The 107th took fire while on a mission today. I’m afraid Sergeant Barnes has been taken hostage.”

.

It takes Steve about 15 seconds to plot his course of action.  He’s already moving toward the door when Nat jumps in front of him.  

“Steve, wait.”

“I’m sorry, Nat.  I have to go.”

“Steve,” Sam says.  His voice has is a mix of steel and pleading. “Just...come on, man.  Let’s figure this out.”

“Friday?” Nat calls out.  “Get Tony.”

“Tony’s here,” Tony says, walking into the common room.  His suit is following him, and he holds his arms out, letting it encase him.

“Tony,” Steve says.  “I have to.”

“Of course,” Tony says, just as Nat and Sam say “What?”

“Of course.  You have to stay right here and let us go sort this out.”

Steve might be a terrible liar, but he’s got an excellent poker face, and he holds his cards close to his chest.

“You know I can’t do that,” Steve says.

“No, what I know is that if you head out there half-cocked that you run a good chance of getting yourself and Barnes hurt or killed.  Is that the plan?”

Steve offers him a withering look, and then his face softens.  “I can’t ask you to do this.”

“Guess it’s a good thing you didn’t.”

“Tony….”  It all comes back to Steve: what Tony went through over there, how hard he’s worked since then to clean up the arms dealers and the weapons trade, how much he loathes his father’s legacy in that regard.

“We,” Tony says, “are going in as a team.  Isn’t that right, Avengers?” Tony turns to face the others and Steve looks up.  Sam is typing something into Redwing’s control pad, and Clint is strapping a brace onto his arm.  Nat is nowhere to be found.

“We’ll meet at the hanger in fifteen?” Tony asks, and Clint and Sam head out.

“Tony,” Steve says.  “I -”

“Can it.  There’s no way we’re letting you do this on your own, but, Cap, you’re not giving the orders out there.  Understood?”

Steve balks.  “Hey-”

“Ha ha ha no.  I mean it. You’re in no shape to be calling the shots.  We’ll get in, get him and his unit out, and you -” Tony pauses, pushing his metal-clad hand into Tony’s chest - “are going to babysit the quinjet, and stay put unless we call for you.”

Steve bridles.  “I don’t know if I can do that.”

“I don’t think you have a choice.  Now suit up before I change my mind.”

.

The ride out is long and tense.  Even with the quinjet’s accelerated speed, it’s still hours before they’re on the right side of the world.

“Sir, Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes is trying to reach you.”  

“Thanks, Friday.  Put him through.”

Tony puts the call on speaker so that everyone can hear the news.  It doesn’t look great. Barnes and three of his team were captured outside of Kunduz when trying to retake part of the province that had been infiltrated by insurgents.  The insurgents were said to be trafficking arms and people through neighboring Tajikistan.

While no one was taking credit for the capture yet, a video had been released.  Friday puts it up on the display: It showed a group of soldiers in a holding cell huddling together.  In front of the cell is a man with a thick, black blindfold over his eyes.

“Barnes, James Buchanan, Sergeant, 32557038.”  There’s a sound, something hard hitting something soft, meaty, and a scream, before the blindfolded man repeats himself.  “Barnes, James Buchanan, Sergeant, 32775038.”

Steve makes a soft, gagging noise and stands to pace.  

“Friday, what’s our ETA?”

“According to the tracking device, we are thirty-seven point eight minutes away from the last known location of Sergeant Barnes and his crew.”

“Tracking device?  Tony?”

“Don’t look at me,” Tony says, holding his hands up in front of him.

When Steve looks at Nat, she looks away and quirks her shoulder in that half-shrug that makes him want to both kiss and strangle her.

“Tony,” Rhodey breaks in.  “This is a military matter.  You can’t just bust in there-”

“What busting?  Nobody’s busting.  The team and I just happened to be out for a Sunday drive, ran into some trouble.  There’s no busting.”

“Tony-”

“Oh!  Interference!  You’re breaking up,” Tony says, moving away from the videolink,  “Friday, remind me to upgrade the tech on the quinjets when we get back, would you?”

“Tony!”

“Sorry, Rhodey!  I can’t hear you anymore!”

As Tony disconnects the link, he looks over at Nat and Clint.  Sam is talking with Wanda in low tones, walking her through her prep.  The plan is for Redwing to do a final scout check, then Tony, Clint and Nat are going to sneak in.  Wanda is going to distract the insurgents with some homemade nightmares, and Tony and Sam are going to fly the prisoners out while Nat and Clint provide cover.  

It all goes to plan until it doesn’t.  Some of the combatants end up being children, a fact which startles Wanda and Tony both.  A fight breaks out and Bucky gets caught in the middle while trying to get Morita out.

He goes down, and Tony goes in after him.  Steve’s got the shield on his back and is halfway down the ramp off the jet when Tony flies up, Bucky in his arms.

“Gotta get something on this wound,” Tony says, laying Bucky down on the floor of the jet.  Steve grabs a thick pile of towels and returns to where Bucky is laid out.

He reaches forward, ready to stop the bleeding and suddenly stops, and presses the towels into Tony’s hands.

“I can’t,” he says.  “I - not like this. He wouldn’t want that.”

“Oh for -”  Tony takes the towels and presses them into Bucky’s shoulder.  

“Sam?  Need a medic.  What’s your ETA?.” Steve’s voice is urgent while Bucky moans on the floor.

At one point, Bucky wakes, his eyelids fluttering open and he takes in Steve, kneeling beside him, stealth suit on, eyes anxious.

“Steve?” he asks.  “Oh, shit, this must be bad.”

“Hey, Buck,” Steve says.  “Help’s coming. Just - hold on for me, would ya, pal?”

Bucky winces as Tony presses the towel harder against his shoulder, trying to staunch the blood.  “Thought you’d be bigger,” Bucky says, and Steve gives a watery laugh that lasts only a few seconds, until Bucky passes out.

.

In the end, Bucky spends a week hopping from Bagram to Landstuhl to the US, where either Tony or Rhodey - Steve never figures out which of them it was - gets Bucky released to the Maria Stark Memorial Hospital, not far from Stark tower.  Steve visits a couple of times, meets Bucky’s parents, who thank him until he’s pink the face, but he never makes a move to see Bucky.

Becca catches him in the hall one day.  He’s taken to loitering outside of Bucky’s room, trying to work up the nerve to see him, not knowing if he’ll be welcome.

“We meet again,” she says, and Steve turns pink again.  

“Hi.  Yeah, sorry - I’m sorry.”  He ducks his head and looks at his feet.  What is he even doing here?

“You have nothing to be sorry about” she hisses.  “You brought my brother home .  You saved his life.  We are so grateful.” At that, she reaches out and wraps her hand around his forearm, making him meet her eyes.  She’s wearing a weak smile.

“I...I had to,” Steve says, and looks away.  “It was the right thing.” He’s tried to rationalize it to himself, finally ending on that weak excuse.

“Captain..ahm...Rogers...I-”

“Steve,” he says.  “You can call me Steve.”

This time, her smile is bright.  “Bucky doesn’t want to see you right now,” she says, her eyes going soft.  “He doesn’t want to find out like this.”

“Yeah,” Steve nods.  “Yeah, of course.” It makes perfect sense.  Either they’re soulmates, and if that’s the case, Bucky doesn’t want to spend the first few months of their relationship getting healthy, or they’re not, in which case...he doesn’t want to lose hope.

Becca reaches into her pocket and pulls out a slip of paper.  “Give him a couple of days,” she says. “But I know my big brother.  Don’t wait too long.”

Steve folds the paper into his hand and accepts the hug that she offers.  

It’s not what he wanted, but...he can live with this.

 

IMAGE_DESCRIPTION

Two months later….

Steve’s been pacing the passenger arrivals area for an hour, maybe more.  After being released from the hospital and being given an honorable discharge, Bucky’s finally coming home.  He’s spent the last few months at a facility on the West Coast that specializes in physical therapy and PTSD.  He’d asked Steve for his patience while he recovered, and Steve was more than happy to give it. They spoke on the phone daily, and sent the occasional email.  

Bucky was able to be open about some of the more painful things in his life when he didn’t have to worry about Steve’s immediate reaction.  He wrote about his hurts and worries - the vivid nightmares he still has, the loss of his military career, the limited use of his left arm - and Steve was grateful.  

On the phone, they often kept things light - talking about growing up, their hopes.  Bucky told a lot of stories about his guys, and lately, those stories didn’t end with Bucky feeling down.

Still.

Months later, here they are.  As passengers begin to filter through security, Steve can’t help but hold his breath.  Where is he?

Finally, all of the passengers seem to have disembarked.  He looks over to where Natasha is ostensibly reading a magazine.  She gives a shrug but then blinks and nods toward the corridor.

As Steve watches, a handsome man comes toward him.  He’s tall, just a hair shorter than Steve, with broad shoulders and muscular thighs filling out his clothes.  His dark hair is cut short and tousled, and there’s a day or two’s worth of scruff across his jaw. It’s gorgeous.  He’s gorgeous.

There’s an ease in how he walks, a confidence that borders on arrogance, except that Steve is sure that this man could hold his own against damn near any unenhanced person.  He instantly thinks about sparring with this man, the way their bodies might move together, then feels himself blush.

As the man comes closer, he pulls off a pair of aviators, and Steve can see his eyes are light – blue?  Gray? It’s okay that he can’t tell. He’s willing to spend a lifetime trying to pin it down.

“Hey,” Steve says as the man comes close. “Buck?”

“Hi,” Bucky says.

They stare at one another, grinning like fools, and Steve is suddenly terrified.

One touch is all it takes.  One touch and he’ll know whether Bucky is his soulmate, or whether the last six months – the best six months of his life – are over.

“We should…” he forces himself to say.

Bucky sighs, his smile softening.  “I know, pal. Just – just give me a minute, would ya?”

Steve’s smile deepens.  It takes everything he has not to reach out to Bucky. To touch him. To – god, he wants to kiss him.

Over the last two months he has fallen so deeply in love with this man.

Bucky’s grin widens like he can hear Steve’s thoughts. “Alright,” he says, that same soft grin lighting his face. “Go on.”  He holds his hand up, as though he’s going to touch Steve.

“Wait!” Steve yells, skittering back.  “Wait, just…uhm. Before we – before. You – you’re beautiful, Bucky, inside and out.  And I – I just…” Steve breathes out, a deep, shuddering breath. “I love you. No matter what…what happens.  I love you.”

Sucking his bottom lip in his mouth, Bucky bites it before grinning around it.  “Come here,” he says, looking so soft and fond and – and in love.

Steve hardly has a moment to savor the realization before Bucky reaches for Steve, his fingers brushing Steve’s cheek just as Steve’s brush Bucky’s forearm.

“Oh,” Bucky says, and Steve sucks a breath.

Oh.

It’s – it’s like nothing he’s ever felt before.  Everything around him stills and narrows, until the only thing that he’s aware of is Bucky.  Bucky and his beautiful blue-gray eyes and his warm golden skin. Bucky who is leaning forward and is so close.  Bucky, whose lips are feathering across Steve’s, in a kiss soft enough to stop Steve’s heart.

Bucky.

Steve reaches for Bucky, rubs his thumb across the scruff at his jaw and presses their foreheads together, eyes closing because this – this is everything he’s ever wanted.  Everything.

“I knew it,” Steve says.  “I knew it was you.”

“I know, pal,” Bucky says, and his voice is hoarse.  “Me, too.”

Steve doesn’t know how long they stand like that, chest to chest and holding tight, oblivious to the world around them.  When he pulls away, he sees that Bucky’s eyes are shiny, like his, and the two of them chuckle, breath ghosting across each other lips.

“Well,” someone says to his left, and Steve’s grin become huge. “Look what the Captain dragged in.”

Looking over, he sees Nat, who is trying to give him a stern look, but it’s ruined by the beautiful smile on her face. “Come on guys,” she says.  “Unless you want to be all over the Post tomorrow, we should move this someplace more private.”

Smiling, Steve brings himself to pull away from Bucky, his hand sliding down Bucky’s arm until he tangles his fingers with Bucky’s. “Coming with?” Steve asks.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, and the dumb grin on his face would be ridiculous except that Steve knows the one he wears matches.  “Let’s go home.”

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

Bucky wakes slow and easy, floating up to consciousness, feeling warm and safe and loved.

He feels loved.

It’s not something he’d ever thought he’d have for himself.  In his teens he thought he’d hate having a soul mate.  In his early twenties, he watched the people around him fall in love, and caught himself yearning for some of what they had.  As he got older, he grew resigned.  The way the world was today, it wasn’t unheard of for people to never find their soul mates.

He’s so glad that wasn’t him.

Breathing deep, he snuggles back into Steve’s arms.  He knows Steve’s already awake, can sense it, the way he always knows where in the tower Steve is, the way he knows when Tony’s working overtime to rile Steve up, and the way he knows when Steve is in real, true danger.

“Finally,” Steve whispers, and presses kisses along Bucky’s neck and shoulder. 

The nerve damage in his left arm is bad enough that he can’t always feel Steve’s mouth on him, but the soul mate bond is like a sixth sense: it lets Bucky know how Steve’s touching him, even if he can’t feel it. 

Bruce has been begging Bucky to let him study it.

(Bucky has, thus far, declined.)

Steve strokes a hand along Bucky’s side down to his thigh, then makes a circuit back up again.  Bucky presses his hips back, already knowing that Steve is hard and ready.

Steve is always hard and ready.

“You’ve already been for a run,” Bucky says, catching the faint scent of Steve’s body wash in the air. 

“Mmmm,” Steve hums, nuzzling into the back of Bucky’s neck. 

Smirking, Bucky lets himself think about last night, Steve taking charge and pushing Bucky to his knees, then his stomach, taking Bucky apart until he was a mess – quivering, begging to come, begging for Steve to never stop.  He lets his desire unfold, low in his belly, warming through his body. 

“Baby,” Steve says, and Bucky knows that Steve’s sensing Bucky’s desire. 

It caught them both off-guard at first: suddenly getting swamped with emotions that didn’t belong to them, the soul mate bond opening them up to one another in every way.  They’d spent almost a month away from other people, each of them trying to cope, learning how to tamp down the things that didn’t belong to them, and how to support one another when they needed it.

Bucky’s first instinct when scared was always to turn to anger.  Steve’s was, too, which left the pair of them a mess more than once, sniping at each other without even understanding why. 

Once they learned how to read the other, it was easier to address the underlying issues, easier to not to rise to the bait of a needling Steve when Bucky could feel the fear and insecurity simmering below it.

And that is what it meant to have a soulmate.  It wasn’t just someone who knew you better than anyone else. When it came right down to it, Becca probably knew Bucky better than anyone on earth, and always would.  Bucky’d gotten to know Steve before they’d ever touched, before the soul mate bond could manifest, and he would never stop being grateful for that.  He knows that he and Steve?  They chose each other without the bond.  They chose each other before it, and maybe a little in spite of it.  They chose each other.

A soul mate?  That’s someone who could read you, give you what you need.  A soul mate was the person who inspired you to be your best self, while giving you a strong, steady platform from which to fly, knowing that home would always be waiting.

And the sex was, you know…spectacular.  Steve approached sex with wonder, every time.  He’d lay Bucky out, take him apart, and even when Bucky was strung out and begging for it, even when Steve was at his most commanding, Bucky could feel Steve’s wonder:   Wonder that Bucky was his.  Wonder that he was allowed to touch Bucky in this way.  Wonder that Bucky let him.

It was intoxicating, and Bucky always, always wanted more.

Bucky catches a wave of Steve’s desire, floats on it for a moment, before groaning and hitching his knee up, exposing himself to Steve.

“Come on,” he says, no longer in the mood for soft, or slow.  Steve spent hours last night, fucking into Bucky with his mouth and his fingers and his cock, drawing it out until Bucky was a mess of need and sweat and lube and come.  It was good; making love with Steve is always good.

But now he wants to get fucked, and Steve knows exactly how to do that.

Steve gasps, feeling the weight of Bucky’s want, then sifts so that Bucky’s on his stomach, and Steve is blanketed over him.

“You sure?” Steve asks.  “Not sore?”

Bucky groans as Steve slides a finger inside of him, finding him still wet and loose from the night before.

“Oh,” Steve breathes, and shifts again, rubbing the head of his cock over Bucky’s hole. 

Steve could take him now, and it would be good.  It would sting a little, and there wouldn’t be quite enough lube, but it would still be spectacular, because sometimes Bucky likes it like that – when it hurts, just a little.

Steve isn’t in that mood though.  So he reaches over Bucky and grabs the lube, working a dollop and his fingers inside, pressing on Bucky’s prostate until he’s rutting against the sheets.

“Christ,” he groans.  “Christ.”

And oh, he can feel that fucker smirking. 

Turning, Bucky rolls them over until he’s on top, straddling Steve.  The smirk is gone, and Steve looks up at Bucky with naked wonder. 

As he sinks down on to Steve’s cock, Bucky watches the way the wonder turns to desire, and then to need.  Just because Bucky likes to bottom doesn’t mean he doesn’t top.

Bracing himself on Steve’s chest, Bucky sets a punishing pace, and Steve quickly realizes he’s along for the ride.

It’s good.  Bucky loves being able to affect Steve like this, taking control, letting Steve relax and just feel.

Bucky watches Steve’s orgasm crash over him, feeling both Steve’s euphoria and his own satisfaction, before his own orgasm washes through him, leaving him feeling happy and sated…and filthy.

When Bucky stands to shower, Steve watches him for a moment.  Bucky knows that when he gets out of the shower, Steve will have brewed him a pot of coffee and made breakfast.  The two of them will spar later that day – a routine that helps Bucky feel centered in his body, and one that comes in damned handy when he backs up Steve in the field.

At first, the bond made it hard for the two of them to be apart.  Then it made it hard for Steve to do his job.  He could feel Bucky stress and worry.  Finally, the team decided to make use of Bucky’s sniper skills and military training.  Now he joins them when appropriate, and he volunteers with Sam at the VA.  It’s good, and he’s happy.

He smiles to himself and hums under the water.  He doesn’t know how he ended up here:  First Indiana, then Brooklyn, then Afghanistan and now here:  showering off several rounds of sex in Stark Tower, with the best man he’s ever known in the kitchen, making him breakfast.  He doesn’t know how he ended up here, but he’s never going to stop being grateful.

When he turns off the water, Steve comes in, a big cup of coffee in his hand.  He sets it down and then wraps Bucky up in a warm towel, pulling him in close.  He’s looking at Bucky like he’s some kind of prize – like he’s the best thing Steve’s ever seen. 

When Bucky leans up to kiss him, he feels the bond wrap around them, warm and content. 

“I love you,” Bucky says, then leans up to press a kiss to the corner of Steve’s jaw.

“I love you, too,” Steve says, drawing back to look into Bucky’s eyes.  Bucky feels the flood of Steve’s emotions – gratitude and love and joy, and he opens himself up, letting Steve have everything he’s got. 

It’s not something he thought he’d ever have – a home, a soul mate.  Happiness.  It’s not something he ever thought he’d have, but now that he’s got it?  He’s never letting go.