“I will not stay, not ever again - in a room or conversation or relationship or institution that requires me to abandon myself.”
Steve Rogers had always been what Bucky called a hopeless romantic. Growing up, he would beg his ma to tell him stories of his dad, who had been her soulmate. He’d died in the Great War of mustard gas, while his ma was still pregnant with Steve. It was just the two of them growing up, but Steve never forgot the twinkle in her eye or her soft smile whenever she spoke of him. His ma had been in love with his dad — was still in love with him. Their time together had been cut short, but it didn’t make their love any less strong. Steve knew he wanted a love like that.
A soulmate who he could talk to, who could be both lover and friend. Someone who wouldn’t be turned off by his skinny exterior and various ailments. Someone who would see him, and still love him just as much as his ma loved his dad.
Despite how desperately he wished for the day he could meet his soulmate, Steve also knew it was likely he’d never meet them, for two reasons.
The first being that every winter threatened to be his last. He was tough, he fought hard, but for the first 16 years of his life he’d frequently contract pneumonia, which would almost always turn into bronchitis, which left him struggling to stay afloat. Though the pneumonia was less threatening in the following years, that didn’t mean he was considered anything close to healthy.
The second reason was the fact that he had no idea where he was supposed to meet them. Steve had been born very prematurely, which had resulted not only in his many ailments, but it had also left his soul mark unreadable. He could make out that there were four distinct words on the inside of his right wrist, but the only legible one was the third word.
As in New York, New Jersey, New Orleans, New Zealand, or countless other locations across the world. Though truthfully, the likelihood that Steve would ever meet anyone outside of New York was slim to none, meaning that he often prayed that he was meant to meet his soulmate in his home state.
He frequently dreamed of bumping into his soulmate in the streets of Brooklyn, and at that moment they would see their wrist timer hit zero. They would touch hands (or if Steve was feeling particularly wistful, he’d imagine brushing his fingertips lightly across their cheek), and then the entire world would fall into place, just as his ma had described.
They would feel the electricity flow between them as their bodies remembered what their souls already knew. They would share dreams when they went to sleep, feel each other’s emotions when they were awake, and have an awareness and knowledge of each other that was intimate and whole.
Some people liked dating before they met their soulmate, for a variety of reasons, especially since it wasn’t nearly as taboo as it used to be. Some people with a long countdown on their wrist were impatient or didn’t want to be alone for that long. Some wanted the experience of dating before they found the person they’d spend the rest of their life with. As unconventional as it was, some people fell in love with someone who wasn’t their soulmate, and would try to make the relationship work. Some simply didn’t believe in the idea that a person you had just met could be your other half in an instant.
Personally, Steve wanted to wait for his soulmate to have his first kiss — his first everything — even if he never found them.
Still, Steve knew that Bucky worried about him, especially when they both knew his odds of ever finding them were abysmal (although Bucky was apparently supposed to find his soulmate in Russia, so in Steve’s opinion, their odds were about the same).
“Besides, you’re never gonna find your soulmate by staying put. They could be right here in the state of New York, Stevie. You just gotta go out and look.”
So Steve entertained him whenever he planned double dates for them. He begrudgingly went out with girls that would take one look at him and be disappointed, no matter that he had splurged on flowers and had worn the best-fitting clothes in his closet. Sometimes they were disappointed even before they saw him, just due to the fact that they knew they weren’t Bucky’s date.
Then the war came, and Steve’s focus shifted. It was his chance to finally do something meaningful, to help people, save lives. Steve Rogers might never find his soulmate, but he could sure as hell make a difference in this war. But just as he had experienced his whole life, no one was willing to give him half a chance.
Until Abraham Erskine. The man had given Steve a chance, and that’s all he needed. In just two days he was to begin training in Camp Lehigh, New Jersey.
Four words. The third one had the word “New”. Steve tried to tamp down his excitement, after all he’d been disappointed plenty of times. Besides, Buck would never let him live it down if he found his soulmate in New Jersey, of all places.
His first day had him excited, even though he could feel the incredulous stares and hear the snickers from the other men. That was nothing new. He’d show them that Steve Rogers had plenty to give. As they stood in line, he took a good look at his surroundings, the place he’d be staying at for the next week, only to have his train of thought interrupted by a crisp, English accent.
Steve stood to attention and looked over at the voice, his jaw almost dropping at the sight of the woman in military dress.
“Gentlemen, I am Agent Carter. I supervise all operations for this division.”
“What’s with the accent, Queen Victoria? I thought I was signing up for the US Army.”
Steve watched with interest as Agent Carter coolly responded to Hodge and instructed him to step forward, and how Hodge came onto her.
And then she punched him hard enough to knock him off his ass.
He could hardly stifle his chuckle. Hodge had it coming, after all.
Agent Carter looked over at him. Steve quickly schooled his expression. Before he turned his attention forward again at the sound of another gruff voice calling her name, he could have sworn that there was a twinkle in her eye.
Even though Agent Carter was most likely not his soulmate, Steve knew he was in trouble.
Peggy Carter had never cared much for soulmates.
Her parents were supposedly soulmates, but growing up she had seen how they acted around each other. Distant, overly polite, infuriatingly civil, and sometimes, even cold —if the occasion called for it. Truthfully, she wasn’t even sure if there had ever been love between them in the first place. Her mother had been a nurse in the Great War, and had had plans to continue her studies afterwards.
And then Amanda had met her soulmate.
Peggy didn’t know what happened, but her mother never finished her studies. She became a housewife who dedicated her existence to raising her children. Though Peggy knew that she and Michael were well loved, there was always a sadness in her mother’s eyes, a weight to her shoulders that never left. As though her ability to be truly happy was just out of reach. She had sacrificed everything for the person she was cosmically bound to, and she wasn’t even in love. Peggy didn’t know when exactly it happened, but the day she realized her biggest fear was following in her mother’s footsteps was the day she decided she didn’t want to ever meet her soulmate.
If she was going to be condemned to a loveless but binding relationship, it meant that she was going to be as free as possible until she was 23 years old. She had adventures to have, after all. While the dragons she slayed with Michael were pretend, there were plenty of real ones that she could fight.
The soulmate thing did come in handy every now and again. Mostly for fending off unwanted advances. And once she was 13 and had developed much faster than her other classmates, there were plenty of those to go around.
One in particular being Fred Wells. As someone who had been born without a soul mark (which Peggy didn’t even try to pretend that she didn’t envy), he had been particularly insistent in trying to convince Peggy to spend time with him. While she had been dreading the day she’d meet her soulmate, she’d found some strange comfort in his attention. He had been kind, doting and most importantly, she could leave any time she wanted. She liked that detail the most.
Fred wasn’t anything particularly special, but she became comfortable with him. Comfortable enough that she was beginning to reevaluate what she truly desired. After all, being with Fred was enough of a rebellion against the soul mark on the inside of her left wrist, did she really want to involve herself in the war effort any more than she already was? Her mother was overjoyed with their relationship, which Peggy strongly suspected had something to do with her disdain for her own soulmate. Besides, Fred was perfectly nice. Did she really want to roll the dice by waiting for something else?
Something else that couldn’t be undone?
Michael was the only one openly opposed their relationship. He tried to convince Peggy not to chain herself to the first semi decent man she met for fear that the alternative was worse. He argued that she deserved to live the life of adventure she’d always dreamed of. She told him in return that he was a delusional dreamer, that he didn’t understand the gravity of what her life could become if she took his advice things went horribly wrong.
When he died just three weeks after their explosive argument, it had been a shock to her system. Peggy finally understood what he’d meant, that she still held her future in her hands. She just had to fight for it.
So Peggy left her mother’s dreams behind, and joined the SOE.
Peggy threw herself into her work, gaining enough notoriety within the SOE that she was personally tapped by Colonel Phillips to join the SSR. This time, she took the transfer without hesitation. With him, she began a journey that led her to the sorts of adventures that she and Michael had dreamed for her. And little by little, she began to worry less about the timer on the inside of her left wrist.
It helped that she made certain that her soul mark was always covered. She had the exact date and time burned into her brain, but it was easier to forget if she didn’t keep accidentally glancing at it. Her strategy mostly worked. She was so busy that she hardly thought about her dwindling timer.
7 days, 2 hours, 40 minutes, 20 seconds.
“There’s a lot of eyes on this operation, so we need to know that this will work,” Phillips said gruffly as he crossed his arms across his chest.
“As long as we choose the right man, it will,” Erskine assured him. “Stark and I have perfected everything, but if we are not careful in choosing, we could easily have another Schmidt on our hands.”
“That’s why I’m having Agent Carter overseeing the division.”
Peggy’s breath hitched, but she maintained a neutral face.
“I’m too busy to be overseeing training 24/7, but like Erskine said, we need to choose wisely, which means the recruits will need constant vigilance. This project is too big to leave it to some two-bit Lieutenant who doesn’t understand what we’re looking for. You got Erskine out of Germany, you understand Project Rebirth, which makes you the most qualified person for this position.
“I quite agree,” Erskine said with a twinkle in his eye.
Peggy tempered her smile, but couldn’t entirely hide how pleased she felt.
“Thank you, sir.”
5 days, 18 hours, 25 minutes, 6 seconds.
“These are all the recruits?” Peggy asked as she looked through the files.
Phillips nodded his assent, while Erskine made a small noise of disdain. Peggy looked between them curiously.
“You can look through these files, but it won’t help,” Erskine said simply.
“Do explain,” Phillips said, clearly unamused.
While Phillips and Erskine got along just fine, and were almost friends, Peggy had noticed that when it came to strategy, they couldn’t be more different.
“I understand that you must look through their files to learn about the recruits’ backgrounds, but what we’re looking for in the candidate, it won’t be in any tangible file,” he explained. “For that, we must look inward."
Peggy tilted her head in thought as Phillips snorted.
2 days, 10 hours, 19 minutes, 57 seconds.
“I have found a new recruit,” Erskine announced as he walked into Phillips’ office where he and Peggy were discussing the training the recruits were going to be subjected to.
“You want to run that by me again?”
Erskine handed them a new file, and Phillips’ face visibly contorted as they both read his list of health ailments.
“Alright Abe, this is very funny. You got me.”
“It’s no joke, Colonel. In fact, I have already accepted his application. He’s scheduled to begin with the rest of the recruits.”
“You did what?”
“Why him?” Peggy asked abruptly, interrupting Phillips, who looked nothing short of fuming.
“Because I firmly believe he has what we’re looking for.”
“We’ll see about that,” Phillips scoffed, and Peggy could tell that it was only the fact that he’d been in a good mood all day that had saved them from a proper outburst.
“We certainly will,” Erskine smiled.
12 hours, 7 minutes, 45 seconds.
Peggy took more time than normal setting her curls that night. She knew very well what was in store for her in the morning. The moment she’d been running from since she was 8 years old. She remembered thinking even at such a young age that if all that awaited her was a lifetime the cold grip of a hating, binding marriage, she wanted nothing to do with it. And so she almost married Fred. And then she joined the army.
But nothing she’d done, no decision that she’d made had changed the countdown on her wrist.
She was still doomed to meet her soulmate.
27 minutes, 32 seconds.
Peggy was surprisingly calm in the morning. Despite the anxiety that was increasingly filling her veins, her hands didn’t shake as she took out the pins from her hair and styled it. She kept her head held high as she entered the mess hall. Her voice never quivered. Peggy was determined to fight to keep every ounce of control she had left.
1 minute, 3 seconds.
Peggy could see the line of the recruits from behind. Most of them were chatting with each other, but even from this distance she could feel the arrogance radiating off of some of them.
Every one of her fears that she’d been clutching to her chest for years sharply rose to the surface. No matter which recruit was her soulmate, any one of these men would likely jump at the chance to claim her, and subsequently take away her freedom, her position here — which the military would be all too happy to do.
Her only hope was that she could feign ignorance if one of them came forward and said they were her soulmate. After all, she’d be meeting multiple recruits at once, and he only had the location, not the time of meeting. If none of them came forward, then that would be all the better.
She stuffed her anxiety far down her throat and put on her stiff upper lip. She had known since she was a little girl that she wasn’t meant for a happy ending then, let alone now.
Peggy Carter wasn’t destined for a great love.
One down, Peggy thought as she knocked Hodge off his feet, only half bitterly. At the very least, she didn’t have to worry that he was her soulmate. Suffice to say it would’ve been awkward if she found out mid-punch that it was him. However, there was still the other recruits that she had to worry about. After only a day she could hardly stand the sight of any them.
Except for Private Rogers.
He was different, and it wasn’t just his size.
She watched the way the other men would laugh at Rogers, sabotage his efforts in the various exercises they did. She also saw the way he didn’t give in. He hardly paid them any mind, simply gritted his teeth and kept going. Peggy recognized his determination, the hunger to prove himself to his peers. That was something she could wholly sympathize with.
Of course, it would be too much to ask that he would be the one. The universe had never been that kind to her before, and there was no reason for it to start now.
On the recruits’ first evening at Lehigh, she’d found Rogers fighting both Hodge and Johnston behind the barracks.
“What is the meaning of this?” she asked them sharply, watching as Hodge and Johnston stood to attention while Rogers wiped his mouth and clumsily did the same.
“Just a little disagreement, ma’am,” he told her breathlessly.
She arched her eyebrow, but none of them wavered, though there was something about Johnston’s expression when his eyes flicked to Rogers that told Peggy he was relieved by what was said.
“You’ll all run extra laps in the morning,” she informed them. “5am sharp.”
“Yes ma’am,” they said, though she noted that Rogers’ was the only one that didn’t hold any disdain.
As Peggy walked back around the front of the barracks, she heard two other recruits, Moore and Smith, talking about the fight between Rogers, Hodge and Johnston.
“I mean he had it coming,” Moore said. “He was getting all angry just because Hodge was rightfully calling out Carter for being an uptight bitch.”
Peggy inhaled sharply and clenched her fists.
“I think it’s because he’s soft on her,” Smith retorted. “As if she’d ever give him the time of day. What Carter needs is a big, strong-”
She turned on her heel and stalked away before she could hear the end of his sentence. Peggy walked all the way back to her quarters, taking deep breaths in an effort to calm her anger. While this sort of behaviour wasn’t anything she hadn’t experienced before, Peggy had worked so hard to get the little respect she did have, and to hear Moore and Smith and Hodge and Johnston speak and act the way they did left her feeling angry, and even more abysmal about her soulmate situation.
The fact that the universe had most likely paired her with a sexist brute was simply salt on a more than decade-long wound. It didn’t help that there was a small, traitorous part of her heart that told her there was still a chance it could be Private Rogers.
Not for the first time that day, she quickly shook that thought away. Peggy needed to keep her wits about her. She couldn’t be worried about any of her potential horrendous soulmates and she certainly couldn’t hope that the one decent one was the one. There was a war on and she had an important job to do. And as long as she didn’t accidentally touch any of them (though purposefully punching was more likely at this point), she wouldn’t have to worry about the ramifications of needing to complete an actual bond.
Still, when she saw Private Rogers in the mess hall later that evening, and after looking around to ensure that no one was paying attention to them, she gave him a small, but genuine smile.
Peggy watched with disinterest as almost all the recruits clambered over each other like apes trying to reach the flag. She wasn’t surprised to see that they had failed. The recruits were generally fast and strong, but she found they lacked the ability to think tactically in most situations.
That is, until Steve Rogers walked up to the flag pole. He stared at it for a moment and then took out the pins holding it upright. Peggy watched along with the rest of the soldiers as the flag pole came falling down with a loud creak and a thud. Rogers then walked over and grabbed the flag, handed it over with a breathless thank you, sir and hopped on the back of the truck.
He gave her a courteous nod once he was settled, and Peggy turned back to face the front before he could see just how pleased she was with the results of that particular test.
“Agent Carter,” Erskine greeted her the next day.
“Dr. Erskine,” she smiled, looking up from the report she was writing.
“Do you have a moment to chat?”
She nodded and gestured for him to take a seat. It wasn’t rare that Erskine would come to her desk at the end of the day. They had become good friends in the last few months, which was how she could tell that this particular visit was inspired by what ever was on his mind at the moment.
“I understand that we have one day left of training, but I want to know what your current impressions are of our candidates.”
“You’re asking me who I think should be chosen,” she said knowingly.
He gave her a warm smile.
“I might already have my opinions, but I value your thoughts, seeing as you have spent the most time with all the recruits.”
“Well… if I were to speak candidly, I’m not sold on most of them.”
“Most?” he asked casually, though there was a knowing hint to his tone.
“Private Rogers has certainly been making an impression,” she said simply. Not for the first time, she was grateful that she never felt the need to censor herself around Erskine nearly as much as she did with everyone else on this base. “Other than being the sole candidate that holds any modicum of respect for me, he did something no one has been able to do for nearly two decades when he managed to get that flag yesterday.”
“I agree,” Erskine announced, clearly pleased with her answer. “Out of all of the candidates, I believe that Rogers has proven himself to be the most worthy. He has a good heart, the kind that is so rare to find. He is the only one I don’t worry about being corrupted by the serum.”
“It’s a shame Phillips will never agree to choose him,” she sighed.
“How do you know?”
“We had a similar conversation just before lunch. The moment I brought up Private Rogers he shut me down, and told me to drop the matter altogether when I insisted. I’m afraid he only sees Rogers for his exterior.”
“Why don’t you let me try to talk to the Colonel,” Erskine offered.
She arched her eyebrow up at him.
“You really think you can convince him?”
“I believe if anyone can convince him, Steven can,” he answered, a conspiratorial smile tugging at his lips.
“Come on ladies, faster! My grandmother has more life in her, God rest her soul.”
Steve was panting as he tried to keep up. Though his lungs were burning and eyes watering with the effort, he kept pace as best as he could. He had been called many things in his lifetime, but no one could say that Steve Rogers was a quitter. Steve knew it was his last chance to make a big enough impression to be chosen, that he was just as good as any of these men.
If he didn’t, that would be the end of his army career, and he’d be stuck in Brooklyn trying to figure out once again how to help, how to make a difference.
He could do this. He needed to do this.
Then something small landed a few feet in front of him.
Steve didn’t think, he ran forward and dove on top of it, curling his body around the explosive.
“Get away!” he shouted.
Another second passed. It didn’t go off.
“Get back!” he said again before curling up tighter around it.
It still didn’t go off.
He looked up, panting and confused. Everyone was now several feet further than they just had been, and they were all staring at him. He thought he heard someone say “dummy grenade”, but between the fire in his lungs from the exercises and the pounding in his ears from the adrenaline, he felt disoriented.
“Is this a test?”
Steve looked around again, and finally realized that Agent Carter was the only person closer than she had been before the dummy grenade had landed. And she was looking at him, her eyes almost… soft.
Not for the first time in the last week, he felt his chest tighten in her presence. He wasn’t a fool, he knew that even if he could read the mark on the inside of his right wrist he’d never be lucky enough to be Agent Carter’s soulmate.
Still, it didn’t stop his heart from fluttering whenever she was near, or pounding when she said his name, even if she only ever addressed him as Rogers.
Even from their limited interactions, Steve knew that Agent Carter was something special, and whoever had the honour of being her soulmate was the luckiest son of a bitch on the planet.
Peggy was assigned to escort Private Rogers to the procedure. While she knew that she had been asked solely because she was a woman, she didn’t mind the opportunity to spend more time with Rogers. Even as he pointed out every location in Brooklyn that he had gotten beat up in, she managed to find him endearing.
“You start running, they’ll never let you stop. You stand up, you push back. They can’t say no forever, right?”
And there it was, that kinship that she’d felt with him from the first day. The frustration from being rejected that only stoked her motivation more every time it happened. Now in the back of this cab, she could actually voice her sympathy.
“I know a little of what that’s like, to have every door shut in your face.”
“I guess I just don’t know why you’d want to join the army if you were a beautiful dame. Or a beaut- a woman. An agent. Not a dame. You are beautiful, but…”
The corners of her mouth twitched slightly as she stifled a smile. He really was something special.
“You have no idea how to talk to a woman, do you?”
“I think this is the longest conversation I’ve ever had with one,” he admitted with a smile. “Women aren’t exactly lining up to dance with a guy they might step on.”
“You must have danced.”
“Well, asking a woman to dance always seemed so terrifying. And the past few years, it just didn’t seem to matter that much. Figured I’d wait.”
“The right partner.”
Not for the first time that week, Peggy felt her heart flutter traitorously in her chest in his presence. She turned her head forward as she unsuccessfully fought back a smile. She was only glad that his poor hearing meant there wasn’t even a chance of him hearing her wildly beating heart.
Steve followed Agent Carter into the antique shop, feeling awed at the entire process of entry, and taken aback as she lead him down the hallway to where the procedure was actually taking place. From there, there was hardly time for him to think about much other than his nerves.
Erskine instructed him to take off his shirt, tie and hat, and he was suddenly very aware of Agent Carter still standing behind him as he did so. He knew he wasn’t much to look at, but she didn’t outright grimace when she saw him shirtless. Steve figured that it was probably her military training that allowed her to keep a straight face.
“Agent Carter, don’t you think you would be more comfortable in the booth?” Erskine prompted.
“Yes, of course. Sorry.”
He felt his stomach drop as she walked off. While it was silly to wish that she could’ve stayed by his side, her presence had been a steadying rock. She looked back and he met her gaze, and for a moment he wondered whether the look in her eyes was concern, or if it was a trick of the light.
As she continued on and walked up the stairs, Steve couldn’t help but wonder for the first time just what the hell he’d gotten himself into.
Peggy let out a breath the moment the capsule opened.
She also lost it the very next second when she actually saw him emerge a new man.
She rushed down the stairs, her heart thrumming with relief and something else that needed to be tamped down because dear God he could’ve died in that chamber this was no time to be thinking about his new body and how it was larger and firmer and glistening.
Peggy broke through the crowd and reached him just as he was being helped down from the chamber. He was even more magnificent up close.
“How do you feel?” she asked.
“Taller,” he panted.
Peggy reacted without thinking.
She reached out.
Three of her fingers brushed against his bare chest.
Even though she’d never experienced such a thing, it suddenly felt as though she’d been struck by lightning. Her fingertips burned from where they were touching his chest, electricity coursing up her arm and through every vein in her body. It could have been seconds or minutes that she spent with her skin in contact with his, but it didn’t matter. All of her senses zeroed in on him and he was the only thing she knew.
Then suddenly everything was loud and bright and the colours were overwhelming her and she felt like a stranger in her own body as she tried to catch her breath. None of the emotions she was feeling were hers — or maybe some were and she just couldn’t discern them from his.
With the first part of the soul bond complete, Peggy finally met his eyes, and he looked just as shell shocked as she felt, his body trembling slightly. A noise in the background reminded Peggy that they weren’t alone — far from it, she thought bitterly as she quickly retracted her hand. She was handed a shirt that she then gave to him, almost mechanically as she tried to orient herself.
“You look taller,” she said, feeling entirely breathless now.
Their fingertips brushed each other as she passed it to him and she inhaled sharply at the feeling of buzzing under her skin where she had touched him. Peggy couldn’t help but stare openly as he put the shirt on.
And then there was the explosion.
“Stop him!” Erskine shouted.
Two shots rang out. They had hit Erskine. A scream. Peggy sprung into action, her training taking over despite the fact that she still felt the world tilting on its axis. She shot twice, managing to hit the assailant once. Still, he persisted in his escape, so she chased the man back up the stairs and out of the antique shop, into the streets. Now that there was some distance between her and Rogers, she felt her head clear slightly.
She took a breath and aimed. An explosion behind caught her attention for only a moment. She turned back, fired. It hit the driver right in the head. The car swerved and crashed. The man who had shot Erskine exited the car and entered the cab that had come up behind him, and began driving in her direction.
Peggy took a few determined steps forward and raised her gun to aim at him. She shot twice and missed. The cab increased its speed.
Just as she was about to pull the trigger again, she felt her chest fill with pure fear. The next thing she knew there were arms around her and she was being tackled onto the ground, and she had missed her shot.
“I had him!” she shouted angrily as she and Rogers stumbled awkwardly into a standing position.
“Sorry!” he called out.
The worst part was, he genuinely sounded apologetic. Peggy watched as he chased the cab on bare feet, ignoring the way her heart was racing, how every part of her body that Rogers had touched felt like it was on fire.
When they were out of sight, Peggy swore loudly, finally coming to her senses. She hot-wired the closest parked car and followed them.
Steve stared numbly into the distance as the nurse took his blood samples. Erskine was gone — murdered. The man who had done it had died on his own terms before Steve could do anything.
“Think you got enough?” he asked hoarsely as the nurse finally retracted the needle.
“Any hope of reproducing the program is locked in your genetic code,” Agent Carter explained while he rolled down his left sleeve and stepped toward her. “But without Doctor Erskine, it would take years.”
Steve swallowed the lump in his throat.
“He deserved more than this.”
“If it could only work once, he’d be proud it was you.”
The nurse left and Steve finally looked at Agent Carter. They held their gaze for a few long moments. She offered him a small reassuring smile, but Steve could feel her own grief, her own anger quietly boiling underneath the surface. He also knew she was telling the truth about him.
How could he know that?
Steve looked away from her gaze down at his right arm, his eyes immediately catching the change on the inside of his wrist that he hadn’t noticed before. The illegible markings that had lived there all his life had seemingly stitched themselves back together into coherent, if almost entirely faded, words. His heart stopped entirely.
Camp Lehigh, New Jersey.
Steve thought of his first moments out of the chamber. He could hear out of his previously deaf ear, and hear out of both of his ears well enough to catch the awed whispered conversations happening at the opposite end of the room.
And then there was Agent Carter. Agent Carter with her bright red lipstick and deep brown eyes that were wide with shock and concern. She had touched him, and his entire body felt like it had been lit on fire once again. Except it was different. Because it felt like a homecoming, like his body had been finishing the connection that their souls had started, bonding him to her until he could sense her presence without needing to open his eyes, until was filled with feelings that weren’t his, but he knew belonged to her.
He finally looked at her once more.
“Did you feel it too?” he asked her, his voice low and quiet.
Agent Carter looked taken aback for a fraction of a second. He could feel her anxiety spike before it cooled down into something more controlled, more cautious as she held tight to the folder in her hands.
“Did you?” he pressed.
She must have sensed the slight desperation in his voice, the need to know that he hadn’t imagined what had happened to him outside the chamber. To know that the thing he thought would never happen to him, actually did happen, against all odds. Her eyes softened just barely, and her voice was quiet as she spoke.
“So it is you,” he whispered, a small disbelieving smile growing on his face. “I wanted it to be you but I never thought…”
He felt his chest fill with warmth that was not all his own. Agent Carter double checked their surroundings, ensured that they were alone.
“You never said anything back at Lehigh,” she said quietly, her tone curious.
Steve looked down at his right wrist, the words that he could finally read, before showing her his arm.
“I didn’t know where I’d meet my soulmate,” he said honestly. “It wasn’t until the serum and the procedure that the words on my wrist even became legible.”
She looked at the words on his wrist, her fingers floating above it. Just far enough away that she wasn’t touching him, but close enough that he could feel the electricity between them thrumming, begging them to close the distance.
“Why didn’t you say anything?”
She finally broke her gaze away from his wrist and arched her eyebrow at him.
“As you’ll recall, there were multiple recruits that I met at once when my clock hit zero,” she answered. “And perhaps because, being a woman in the military, that they would see me more as a liability than they already do just because I’ve met my soulmate. And that I was rightfully worried that they would discharge me and take away everything that I’ve been working years for?”
Steve could feel her anger, her bitterness with every word she uttered, and his heart sunk.
Back when he was smaller, it was always a fear of his that his soulmate would take one look and no matter the bond they felt, still want nothing to do with him. Even so, it seemed that he hadn’t prepared himself enough for that possibility, considering how his heart was breaking at the thought of Peggy not wanting him, even now, because of outside forces at play.
“I… I’m sorry,” he said, finally letting his arm drop to his side.
There was a tense moment where neither of them said a word. When Agent Carter did speak, her voice was quiet, controlled.
“You have to understand that it isn’t easy to be a self-possessed woman, let alone one in the army. And this - us - it all complicates matters greatly for me.”
She lifted her left arm and showed him her timer that now lived at zero. A countdown to meeting him.
“All my life this has been an inescapable pressure. It was a constant reminder that one day I would be forced to settle down, to go down the same path as my parents and potentially be bonded to someone whom I couldn’t stand, to someone who didn’t respect me and my wants.”
“I respect you,” he said, feeling desperation seeping into his voice again. “I would never make you stay at home or do anything you don’t want to do.”
“I know,” she said, her voice almost gentle. “But that doesn’t mean that the very existence of our bond doesn’t threaten my position here.”
Steve took a shaky breath as he felt his heart sink.
This wasn’t how this was supposed to go.
“So where do we go from here?” he asked numbly.
Agent Carter paused as she looked at him, and Steve could both see and feel the war she was waging internally.
A knock at the door startled them both, and they jumped apart. Steve hadn’t even realized how much closer they had gotten. An agent opened the door, not waiting for an answer.
“Agent Carter, Private Rogers, Colonel Phillips is requesting your presence.”
“Yes of course,” she answered. “We’ll be along in a moment.”
The agent left, leaving them alone in the room once again, this time with the door open.
“You realize that we can’t breathe a word of this to anyone,” she said in a low voice when the agent had made his way down the hall.
Steve nodded silently, understanding exactly why. She was good agent, and she didn’t deserve to be sidelined because of their soul bond. So while it stung deeply, he swallowed his pride and followed her out of the room without another word.
“You are not enough.”
Peggy felt the words hit Steve like a douse of cold water. After all he’d worked for he was still being denied the opportunity to help. She felt particularly indignant on his behalf.
Colonel Phillips stormed off, to pack most likely, leaving them alone with Senator Brandt. Peggy wasn’t a fan of Senator Brandt, and she also didn’t trust his intentions, but she could already feel Steve’s eagerness to agree to whatever it was he was offering.
And then he did.
It seemed that either way they looked at it, they were being separated. She didn’t quite want to think about why that stung so deeply.
Once Senator Brandt and his entourage had left, Peggy sent Howard to follow Phillips, saying she would be along shortly. After she was sure they were alone, Peggy gave Steve a significant look.
“What is it?” she asked, feeling the swirl of emotions going through him but unable to decipher exactly what was going on in his head.
“I can feel your emotions, Steve,” she reminded him. “I know that you’re upset about not joining up properly. But that doesn’t mean that you should resign yourself to the USO tour and let Senator Brandt pull your strings for the foreseeable suture.”
“At least he’s got me doing this. Phillips would have had me stuck in a lab.”
She arched her eyebrow up sharply.
“And these are your only two options? A lab rat or a dancing monkey?”
His jaw clenched and he looked away from her. Peggy frowned and took a small step forward.
“You were meant for more than this, you know,” she said softly.
He swallowed thickly.
“It’s not just that,” he whispered, finally looking up at her.
“Then what is it?”
“I just found you,” he said, sounding more frustrated than she’d ever heard him. “I’ve waited my whole life for my soulmate, and honestly, I never thought I’d have a chance of finding them. I thought I’d be dead before I was 18 or that they would take one look at me and pass. And then I did meet you, but we lost an entire week because we didn’t know. And even now that we know we still can’t be together so that you don’t lose your job with the SSR.”
“Steve,” she said softly, feeling overwhelmed by the storm of emotions running through him.
“I’m going on the USO tour,” he interrupted. “Because then you won’t have to worry about anyone finding out about this, and you can go out and end this war.”
She inhaled sharply.
“You really believe in me that much?”
“Of course I do,” he said with a small smile.
“You hardly know me.”
“I know you well enough to know that if there’s anyone capable of taking out Schmidt, it’s you.”
She knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he meant it. Even if it hadn’t been for their soul bond, his eyes were wide and earnest, his voice determined. She swallowed hard. In the grand scheme of things, they hardly knew each other. And yet he had so much faith in her that he was willing to relegate himself to show business to allow her to continue her work without the threat of their soul bond hanging over her head.
Peggy’s heart ached fiercely for him. To spend his entire life wondering whether he’d ever be able to find her, when she had always known the exact moment they would meet. For him to be so excited and open to meeting her, only to have her tell him things were too complicated. And after all that, for him to still be so kind to her, to let her have the future she wanted, not the one that had been chosen for her.
“This isn’t the end,” she told him firmly, but quietly. “For us.”
He smiled at her sadly.
“How do you know?”
“Because I just found you,” she whispered, echoing his earlier words. “Which means this can only be our beginning.”
She could feel the pressure in his chest lift somewhat, feel a bit of the hope she had felt from him when she confirmed that she was his soulmate return to his heart, and Peggy herself felt lighter in response.
“Can I write to you?” he asked, his voice small and earnest.
Peggy tilted her head slightly. While she wasn’t quite ready to dive into this soulmate thing headfirst, she supposed letters were innocent enough. And after what Steve was sacrificing for her, it was the least she could give him in return.
“As long as you promise to tell me in detail about every city you visit.”
Steve’s smile grew, and Peggy could feel the natural pull her body felt toward him grow all the more.
“Goodbye, Steve,” she whispered, placing a light kiss on his cheek.
Anything more, and she was certain that they wouldn’t pull away from each other.
“Goodbye, Agent Carter.”
“I believe at this point you’re allowed to call me Peggy,” she told him. “In private, that is.”
“Peggy,” he breathed out, an almost goofy smile on his face.
Peggy’s breath hitched, and she forced herself to take a step back before she started something that they couldn’t pull themselves back from. Still, she gave him a warm smile before leaving.
After she had walked through the doors and turned the corner at the end of the hall, where she was positive that he wouldn’t be able to hear, Peggy stopped to lean against the wall and catch her breath.
Something special, indeed.