Most people met their soul mates with a great flash of light; so pale and blinding they often claimed they thought a bomb had gone off. Most people described meeting their soul mates as a warm, gooey feeling in their stomach - a complete switch from their normal state of being, but completely natural at the same time.
Bucky met his soul mate as he was blowing chunks. Later, he thinks that's maybe why the gooey feeling wasn't exactly present. And really, the only explanation for the lack of flashing lights is the fact that he fainted the minute he laid eyes on Steve Rogers.
"You threw up on an Oscar award winner," is the first thing Clint said when Bucky wakes up.
"What the fuck are you talking about?" is the first thing Bucky said. He squinted around himself, trying to gather his surroundings through his headache and the bright lights.
"University medical center," Clint supplied, handing Bucky a bottle of water. "Our favorite actor is another room. Apparently you're not the best at handling soul bonds."
Bucky squinted harder at Clint, trying to make sense of the words coming out of him. Soul bond?
And then it hit him. About as pleasant as a head on collision with an eighteen wheeler.
Shield University had been buzzing with the news for months; Oscar award winner and former student Steve Rogers - the Steve Rogers - was visiting. Genius actor, drop dead gorgeous, gayer than shit millionaire. Bucky liked to say the only difference between himself and Rogers was the money and profession.
But that was before they soul bonded.
At the lecture Rogers had visited Shield U to give. That everyone had been looking forward to for months - even more so than Natasha's annual Halloween party. And Bucky had soul bonded and then had a complete break down midway through it.
Clint's expression softened as he studied Bucky's distressed face.
"Hey," he said. "It could have been worse; he could have been a complete dick about the whole throwing up thing."
"And he wasn't?" Bucky questioned, wincing. His voice came out rough against his throat, and sounded unpleasantly hoarse. He took a swig from the water bottle.
"No, man. He just kept apologizing as I was trying to drag your limp form out of the room."
"He was apologizing?" Bucky asked incredulously. "Is this a fucking joke? I vomited all over him, and now he's stuck with me for practically the rest of his life."
Clint shrugged, leaning back against the hard brown medical center chair. "I guess that's just something he doesn't mind."
Dr. Banner, the kind but constantly exhausted university doctor, refused to let Bucky see Rogers in person yet. He said Bucky's physical and emotional reaction was still unpredictable. He did share the other's contact information with both of them, though.
"You may be an over sensitive shit, but you did just get us an Oscar award winner's phone number," Clint sniped as they left the medical center. "Congrats."
"Sure, sure. I did it all for you after all," Bucky grumbled back. "Especially the whole fainting bit."
The dark curtains of night had fallen, cloaking the two of them in the cold of the evening. It was a fairly short walk to their dorm, but even after Bucky had gotten inside and snuggled deep into bed, he was chilled.
Sleep evaded him, slipped through his fingers like sand. Was Rogers really okay with the dramatic and humiliating way they had bonded? And even if he was, would he want to potentially spend the rest of his life with some no-name college kid, with no plans? No accomplishments - at least, not anything worth mentioning compared to Roger's many achievements.
"Fuck," Bucky decided, staring up at his monotonously patterned ceiling in frustration. "Just fuck it all."
His phone pinged, lighting up his darkened dorm room with an eery blue-white glow. He almost let it go, but at the last second snatched it up.
Nice to meet you today! Looking forward to seeing you - hopefully - soon. Feel better!
Then, a few seconds later, another message chimed in.
This is Steve by the way.
Bucky had assumed it was Rogers even before the second text. And the third was definitely unnecessary; it was strange, as if Rogers still didn't realize how relevant he was. Who else could Steve be to Bucky?
It was cute, Bucky decided. Sweet, innocent, if a bit clueless.
Nice to meet you too! Sorry I threw up on you :). See you! - J. Barnes.
Not a minute later, and a response lit up the room.
It's completely fine! You couldn't help it. Goodnight.
Bucky would never admit it, but he fell asleep right away after that.
It wasn't until midway through the next day that shit really hit the fan. Dr. Banner had cleared Bucky for going to his classes, but by two Bucky'd almost wished he hadn't.
"You look ridiculous," Natasha informed him matter-of-factly. "Everyone can still recognize you."
Bucky just tugged the baseball cap lower, until the brim touched his sunglasses. "The sun is too bright," he grumbled. It was his prepared excuse for his get up - as if Natasha hadn't seen through that right away.
She sighed. "Just, think about this," she started. Bucky made a noise to interrupt, but she shushed him. "No, listen. You might be getting unwanted attention for your bond, but think of what Steve will go through - both now and over the course of the next few months."
Bucky begrudgingly considered it.
And really, Rogers would have to endure a lot. Paparazzi sneaking around his house and local grocery store, nosy reporters who wanted to know every gritty piece of information on the soul bond, angry fans who had wanted him to themselves.
Not to mention when Mrs. Rogers found out; dealing with over enthusiastic parents was never an easy task.
But Bucky was dealing with fairly large amounts of shit, too, thank you very much. He'd had a total of 23 (not that he was counting...) people ask if he'd secretly been dating Rogers, 11 of which wanted to know if he'd seen Rogers' dick. Bucky didn't even want to begin tackling their flaw in logic, because these people's knowledge on soul bonds was severely lacking. No way would Bucky have reacted so badly if he'd met Rogers before.
Which brought Bucky to his next Big Issue.
13 people had inquired after his health. Which would have been flattering, if half of them hadn't asked mockingly, and the other half hadn't asked about it loudly and in a public place. At this point, it was just exhausting.
And then Professor Pierce had gone and congratulated him in front of his entire European History class. Bucky wouldn't have thrown such a big fit about that if he had thought it was a good natured congratulations.
But if pressed for honesty, Bucky had always thought Professor Pierce had it out for him. And his tone certainly had been snide as he had called attention to Bucky, who was innocently sitting in the back, hat and sunglasses dutifully on. Bucky really didn't deserve that kind of call out.
"Yeah, I guess he'll deal with a lot of shit. But so have I," Bucky finally told Nat.
"That's my point," she insisted as they turned towards the cafeteria where Clint was waiting for them. And probably anything but patiently. "You're both going through the social repercussions of your bond, and you should do it together."
"What are you trying to say?" Bucky finally interrupted. He was too tired to make sense of her today.
"What I'm trying to say is - " she grabbed his sleeve and forced him to look at her - "you should give him a chance. He's your soulmate, Barnes. You don't exactly find one of those every day. And, even if I don't admit it much, you deserve happiness. He could give you that. So don't let all this bullshit get between you."
Bucky felt a slow smile crawl across his face. It was a relief after such an awful day. "Wow Nat," he said mock-innocently. "I didn't know you were a romantic at heart."
"Shut it, Barnes. Or you won't live to take my advice."
Dr. Banner had set up hours that Bucky and Steve could interact. He wanted to keep it short, since he thought Bucky still might react badly, but he didn't think that would be the case.
"Once your body is accustomed to being close to your soulmate, you should be completely normal again. And that shouldn't take long; I promise." Dr. Banner smiled and then told Bucky that, yes, he did have to see Steve at the setup times. No exceptions. Even if Bucky convinced Clint to break his leg.
Bucky wanted to take Natasha's advice, and it wasn't like he was angry with Rogers. He just - well, if he was being completely honest, he was nervous.
He wasn't used to being nervous to meet people. He was usually very confident - he had his good friends, he was friendly with everyone else, and he'd always been good with the ladies (and, occasionally, men). But this time was different. Bucky felt like someone had scooped his guts out with a pumpkin carver.
This was his soulmate.
(And an Oscar award winner, Clint's voice reminded him.)
This could be the most potentially important relationship of Bucky's life. And he'd already pretty much fucked it up.
Even better? The first meeting time was in five minutes.
"Hi, I'm Steve," is the first thing Steve Rogers ever said to Bucky.
"Hi, I'm Bucky. Nice to meet you," is the first thing Bucky meant to say.
Instead he said, "No shit."
And, instead of being a normal, functioning human being and apologizing, he just stared blankly at Rogers. Everything felt a little fuzzy around the edges.
"I've made a mistake," Bucky said, right before he turned around and walked away.
"So it appears your social filter has taken a hit, too," Dr. Banner said when Bucky finally made his way back to the medical center. "Don't worry; we'll get you acclimated to this whole soulmate business in no time. It's not a permanent effect."
"Thanks, doc," Bucky said as Dr. Banner left with a bland smile. He waited until the door shut to sock Clint in the stomach.
Clint somehow managed to continue laughing.
Their second meeting was at Starbucks, which was good, because it was before Bucky's nine o'clock class, and he desperately needed caffeine.
"Are you feeling better?" Steve asked. He even looked genuinely concerned, rather than sly and teasing like Clint and Natasha.
"Yeah, I'm doing a lot better, thanks." Bucky wondered how convincing that was when he was dressed in sweats and an oversized sweatshirt, adorned with the messiest of buns, and rocking bags under his eyes. Eight in the morning was not his favorite time.
"So you never introduced yourself last time," Steve said as Bucky ordered his highly complex and extremely sugary order. Kudos to Steve for not looking as horrified as he could have.
"I'm Bucky. Bucky Barnes."
"Bucky? They said your name was James at the medical center."
They walked slowly to a table in a the corner. Sunlight streamed through the window, dancing across the tiled floor and Steve's face. It was the most peaceful Bucky had felt since the start of their bond.
"Bucky's short for my middle name, Buchanan. Because apparently my mom had a thing for obscure presidents."
Steve smiled. "She sounds great. I should meet her someday."
Bucky smiled back, and maybe just a little bit forgot that Steve was a big time, Oscar award winning actor. And that he had thrown up all over him.
"So how long is Rogers even in town?" Clint asked as he laid on the floor of Bucky's dorm room.
"He says he's in New York for awhile anyway, but that he starts shooting for his new movie in a couple of weeks." Bucky had slowly been typing out his European History report for the better part of two hours. He was roughly two sentences in. "And speaking of leaving, don't you have your own dorm?"
"Yeah, but Tony scares me, and your roommate is always at his girlfriend's anyway."
"Fiancé now, actually."
"Thor got engaged?" Clint said, sitting up slightly. "Tell him congrats."
"Will do, if he ever actually leaves Jane's apartment."
There was a peaceful silence that followed, so of course Clint broke it. "So you and Rogers are doing well, then? He's treating you right?"
"I mean, we've only really met twice. But yeah, Steve's alright." He was pretty great actually; even if he did tease Bucky like an asshole. Why did Bucky always hang out with the assholes?
"So he's Steve, now, huh? Guess you guys are getting pretty serious."
"No, Clint, we have not had sex yet. Thanks for asking."
"I am shocked and offended!" Clint gasped, pushing himself up into full sitting position. "How dare you assume that's what I was going to ask?"
"Yes," Clint sighed, laying back down. "But that doesn't mean it's nice to assume."
After the third meeting - also at Starbucks, but at a later time in the day, thank god - Dr. Banner cleared them to hang out whenever. Which is why Steve showed up at his dorm randomly the next Friday.
"There's an Oscar award winner at your door!" Clint called when he answered Steve's knock.
"Please go home," Bucky sighed, pushing him out of the way and grinning up at Steve. "Hey there."
"Hey," Steve said, slightly out of breath. "Look, I just got a call from my manager, and - "
"Uh oh. If this is going to be dramatic, I'm just gonna go find Nat. Peace." Clint ducked past Steve and disappeared down the hall, cackling as he left.
"Wow, thanks. That's the first time he's left in two days." Bucky moved backwards to give Steve room to come in. Steve didn't lose the troubled look on his face.
"My manager, Sam, just called, and he says I have to leave tomorrow - "
"But you weren't supposed to leave for another two weeks - "
"They're shooting earlier than expected, but just think - "
"Have you even asked Dr. Banner what effects this will have - "
"Maybe you can come visit. Me. Visit me."
They both finished, breathless, staring at each other. Finally, Bucky said, "Wait - where are you even shooting?"
"California. But you could - "
"Visit. You mean it? I don't want to - to get in the - "
"You wouldn't be in the way at all! I have a place out there -"
"Of course you have a place out there, you have a place everywhere, you loaded piece of - "
"So we're good? You forgive me?" Steve asked.
"Why would I even be mad? You have to go for work. I was just... Concerned. Given how I reacted when we first met."
"That's why I said you should visit," Steve insisted.
"Right," Bucky said, a smile creeping up his cheeks. "And not because you're going to miss me. Of course."
Steve smiled back, a blush worming its way onto his cheeks. Bucky felt his heart squeeze. "Now, I never said I wouldn't miss you."
The first time Steve and Bucky kissed, it was in a messy dorm room, surrounded by Clint's dirty clothes, with Natasha behind them taking pictures. (Bucky really needed to get her cat bells.)
It wasn't a perfect scenario, but it was the best one.
When Steve was gone, Bucky felt weird. Not necessarily bad - no, but strange. A tad bit empty. Gutted.
"You'll get used to that feeling," Dr. Banner promised. "But you two do have an intense bond, so it will take awhile. All I can prescribe is patience."
Bucky was not a very patient person.
"You should get out, go to a party. Distract yourself," Natasha insisted. "We're stopping by Coulson's party later."
"Yeah, come get high," said Clint. Nat elbowed him.
"Nah, guys, really. I'll just stay in; I still have to write my paper for European History."
"Dude, you've been working on that for a week. How much do you have done?" Clint asked, wrinkling his brow.
"About three sentences. And wipe that smirk off your face, you haven't even started your lab report, you goddamned hypocrite."
They left him alone after that. (Though Nat made him promise he'd call her if he got lonely.)
He didn't get lonely; he really didn't. He was perfectly fine messing around on the Internet and Not-Writing his history paper. Besides, he didn't even want to hang out tonight, he didn't want to get drunk or watch Clint get high and put his shoes in the microwave, he -
His phone was ringing.
Thinking it was Nat or Clint, he picked it up without glancing at caller ID. "What's up, fuck face?"
"I miss you. You should come here." It was Steve's voice, except it wasn't. It was all slurred and blurry around the edges, his words slipping into each other.
Speaking of drunk.
"I miss you too. But just how drunk are you right now?" Bucky couldn't keep a note of fondness out of his voice.
"Sam says I'm really drunk, but Sam is mean. He made me come out here without you."
"Are you with Sam right now?" Suddenly Bucky was scared Steve was wandering the streets of California unsupervised. Like a giant toddling three year old.
"Hey!" Steve suddenly gasped. "I have an idea!"
"Yeah! You should come out here."
"That's a good idea," Bucky said softly. "But I can't tonight."
Steve acted like he hadn't even heard him. "You should c-come out here, and bring shoes."
"Please tell me you're wearing shoes."
"They were uncomfortable." Bucky could practically hear Steve pouting. "But you're perfect. You should bring your shoes out here."
"I think you should drink some water," Bucky said. "And then maybe go to sleep."
"I'm not tired. Hey, what do want to do when you grow up?"
Bucky blinked, confused by the sudden topic change, the innocence of how Steve phrased the question. "I ... Well, I don't know. I haven't really declared my major yet."
"Everyone knows what they want to do," Steve said with all the matter-of-factness of a child. Jesus, he really was drunk. "They're just too scared to say it."
But maybe he was right. The pale white glow of Bucky's lap top lit up the otherwise dark room, and he considered. "I guess..." Bucky said slowly. "I guess I always wanted to help people. And not just like save lives and that stuff, but like...give people a reason to be alive. If that makes sense at all."
"How?" Steve asked.
"Uh, geez, I don't know. Being a teacher maybe? A counselor? Something along those lines."
"I don't want to be an actor," Steve declared suddenly. "I want to move to the country - northern New York, maybe. Get a big house. A family. White picket fence, the whole shebang. You."
Bucky inhaled sharply, breathing in the sudden sweetness of Steve's comment. How could he be so sure? Bucky was just some college kid - but then again, Steve didn't want to be an actor anymore. He didn't want to be known.
Maybe this time Bucky was the answer for somebody. Maybe Bucky could get what he wanted out of life, too - Steve.
Maybe, just maybe, Bucky decided, they could find an answer together.
Things at school had finally settled down. The media, the press - that was a completely different story. Bucky stopped going out in public as much - too many paparazzi. And buying magazines? Forget about it. No one likes their face enough to see it plastered across every magazine they read.
No wonder Steve wanted out.
Bucky stuck to wearing his sunglasses and a baseball cap out in public. Clint said he looked like some undercover secret soldier, and Nat said he just looked dumb.
Why was Bucky friends with them anyway?
Everything was running smoothly, beyond that. Steve called Bucky every day, though usually (Bucky was almost disappointed) sober. Clint still crashed on Thor's bed/ Bucky's bed/ the floor almost every night. Nat was still stunningly beautiful and mildly frightening.
And then shit hit the fan. Again.
What was it with Bucky's life?
"I think you need to look at this," is all Clint said when Bucky answered his door that night.
It was a magazine - a trashy one. But it was about Steve. Steve and some - some girl who was gorgeous and confident and hugging him and Bucky should have known better. Should have known better than to have thought a man like Steve would want some guy like Bucky. He felt like all the breath had just been knocked out of him.
But why was Bucky getting carried away? Trash magazines like this printed complete lies half the time. Why should Bucky have any reason to believe them?
"Bullshit," he said. "Steve wouldn't pull this."
"Turn to page seventeen," Clint said. His voice was hard as flint, angry - and God, Bucky felt so sick. Right down to his toes. Right down into the deepest part of his abdomen.
And there was Steve, there was some gorgeous woman. Kissing. It was blurry and out of focus - but it was real. And Bucky wouldn't cry. He wouldn't. He hadn't cried in years; why should he now? Just because some dick came through like a storm and blew apart chunks of his life. Just because his soul mate wasn't really much at all.
And shit, Bucky was crying. And Clint wrapped his arms around him like a vise, whispering the same thing over and over again.
"I'm so sorry."
They taught you about it, once or twice, that soulmates didn't really mean soulmates. Sometimes, it didn't work out right. One of them didn't love the other, or one died, or there was some inexplicable flaw in nature.
It had always been a present thought in the back of Bucky's head. Tucked away in a dusty shelf, where he never had to really consider it. He'd always been aware, though.
He'd just never thought it would happen to him.
He tried to call Steve twice. Once right after Clint went to get Natasha, and then once half an hour later, right before Nat and Clint came in.
And then they wouldn't let him call anymore.
"You're not in a good state right now," Natasha said soothingly. "Calling him won't make it any better."
"Now put your damn phone down," said Clint. "We're watching The Breakfast Club."
And so they did.
Bucky let them comfort him because it's what comforted them. And really, it did help; he had people who cared about him. But...
It was just never enough for him, was it? He had all these fantastic people in his life, who really deeply cared about him, and he couldn't just be satisfied, could he?
It was selfish, he thought, how he was surrounded by people who loved him, and all he could think about was the one person who didn't.
"Hey, Steve, I know you are probably busy right now, or your phone is off or something, but I want to let you know real quick that I don't think we should - you know what? Never mind."
"Hey, it's Bucky again. Call me when you get the chance."
"Okay, this is killing me. Who was she? You know what, I don't want to know. Just delete this message, okay?"
"This is Bucky. And I may be a bit drunk, but I am also pissed off, buddy. If you think you can fucking walk all over me like that, then fucking just delete my phone number. And don't come over. Just, fuck. My head hurts."
Bucky couldn't tell whether it was late or early when he woke up next. He was disoriented and his head felt like it had been split in two with a dull axe. Nat and Clint had left earlier, when he had insisted he would be fine, and that he wouldn't, under any circumstance call Steve.
Which, of course, was the first thing he did when they left.
And now someone was knocking at his door and, Jesus, his head hurt. Why was this happening to him? He was a good person, he never asked for any of this shit and -
Steve Rogers was standing at his door.
"Um," said Bucky.
Steve pushed him inside, his hands bunching up Bucky's pajama shirt. And then he pulled him into the tightest hug Bucky had ever experienced, practically bruising. And remarkably warm and encompassing, and Bucky could just melt in it and stay there forever.
And suddenly Bucky remembered why he was hungover and angry and hurt. He shoved Steve back just a little - the farthest he had strength to.
"I got your messages - "
"Fuck you - "
They stopped and the beginnings of a smile were pulling at Steve's lips. "We need to stop meeting like this," he whispered.
"Then stop doing stupid shit," Bucky whispered back.
They were kissing before they could help it. And it was sweet and hurt and confused but right. And then Bucky was pulling back and staring at Steve, truly confused now.
"What about ..."
"What about what?"
"That woman you were with, that you were kissing. That..."
"Bucky, who are you talking about?" Now Steve looked confused. "Is this what you were mad about? I haven't been with anyone - and certainly not a woman. I don't know if you haven't noticed, but I'm kind of really incredibly gay."
But Bucky was pulling away, slipping out of Steve's now slack grip, and flipping through the papers on his desk.
"Here!" He exclaimed, flapping the magazine at Steve. He ripped several pages in his haste to get to page seventeen. "Look! That's who!"
Steve was gaping at the magazine and then back at Bucky and back again. "That's who you thought I was with? That's just Peggy, and that - that kissing picture, I was kissing her cheek." Laughter was escaping out of the edges of Steve's mouth now.
Bucky turned to leave. "Look, I'm too goddamned tired for you to lie to me right now."
Steve snatched his arm. "No, please, listen. I'm sorry you were hurt, but this magazine. It lied. I promise you. I love Peggy, she's one of best friends, but you're it for me. You're my soulmate."
Bucky paused, looking back at Steve.
"Look, if you asked me to, I'd do anything for you. I'd quit this movie I'm working on. I'd marry you right now - right this instant. I'd cut off an arm for you, Bucky, Jesus. I'd - I'd even leave if that's what you really wanted. If that's what made you happy. Is that what you want?"
Blue met gray and they held. Everything was still, silent; the clock on the wall, the street outside, their breath.
"No," Bucky whispered. "I don't want that."
"What do you want, then?"
"I want you to kiss me again."
The third time Bucky Barnes and Steve Rogers kissed - the fourth time, the fifth, the tenth and the one hundredth time - wasn't perfect. But it was the best they ever, and would ever, have.