Steve Grant Rogers and James Buchannan Barnes were, for better or for worse, some of the closest soulmates the world had ever seen.
Since the dawn of humanity, soulmates had been a fact of life for everyday people. Created by God as an act of Mercy following the Fall of Man, some said, and others theorized soulmates as an evolutionary advantage within the species to further prolong life and ensure reproductive success with the most viable mate. These are just some of the many theories that littered the world about soulmates. Either way, people always react differently upon receiving their soulmate mark. This mark was inscribed upon the body at the fourteenth birthday, and it detailed the name of the person's soulmate. Some fell in love immediately with their soulmate before even meeting their other half, and upon first meeting, their hopes and dreams fell by the wayside.
Soulmates are the people promised destined by Fate to be your other half. Your soulmate completes you in mind, body, and spirit. It is utterly devastating to a person when their soulmate deems them unworthy of their love and rejects them. This devastation can lead to many soulmates dying within days of the rejection due to suicide or their body refusing to accept the rejection passing out, eventually having their body's vital organs shutting down one by one while maintaining the perfect soulmate dream within the mind of the person. These dangers have traveled across cultures, spread by word of mouth through various languages, until it became common knowledge that you never, ever, reject your soulmate. This is the universal taboo of Earth.
However, even if a soulmate pair did not want to perform the taboo, did not mean soulmates were forever by each other. As technology grew, and civilization expanded, some soulmates were oceans apart from one another and did not speak again until years later. This did not deteriorate their soulmate bond at all. Proven time and time again, soulmates were Fate's chosen pairings, but that did not necessitate being paired together by the hip for the rest of their life.
This idea of separation of soulmates did not seem to matter to Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes, as from the moment Bucky and Steve received their soul marks with Steve Grant Rogers etched in red, white, and blue pen on his shoulder ("Goddamnit Steve, why do you have to be so damn patriotic? Seriously, you were born on July 4th, we get it already you don't need to remind people! For the rest of my life, I'm going to have this monstrosity of a patriotic message carved onto my skin!") in the cursive calligraphy of Steve's handwriting, taught to him by his Celtic mother on her deathbed in the hospital, and James Buchannan Barnes in dark grey and crimson block letters stamped on Steve's shoulder.
Their relationship was never romantic. It had been determined by both that although the best of friends, their sexual and romantic interests lay between the long legs and shapely figure of a woman, not a man. Although, this was not without trying. One time, in the middle of the War somewhere in France, liberating a terrified town from Nazi tyranny and searching for HYDRA enemies, Steve had grabbed Bucky by the shoulders, his super soldier strength in full use, and locked his lips onto Buckys during his panic. Bucky had been missing for hours on the battlefield, helping some farmers pack their few possessions onto overflowing wagons in preparation for the evacuation of the town, and Steve had been beside himself in worry. The kiss was reciprocated by Bucky, their lips locked in a perfect union for a few seconds, before pulling apart. Both admitted it was mainly aftershock and had felt no sexual excitement from the kiss, only a strengthening of their soulmate bond.
When Steve and Bucky were permanently separated in the war, when Steve believed that Bucky had died in that chasm fall, their soulmate bond did not die. Steve believed it was an aftereffect of the super soldier serum, but it did not lessen the crippling pain Steve felt due to the loss of his best friend and soulmate. Through the rest of the war, through his dip in the Atlantic and time spent frozen, all the way through the Battle of New York and the Chitauri invasion, Steve had carried the pain on his heart. It damaged his ability to make new relationships with the Avengers and led Steve to become aloof and estranged in this new century. Already an outsider because of the serum, Steve Rogers was truly alone in the 21st century until Bucky Barnes entered his life again.
Granted, their first meeting was not exactly picturesque. Bucky had been programmed by HYDRA to assassinate Nick Fury, the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. In the road nearby Steve's apartment, after another assassination attempt of Fury, Steve locked eyes with his soulmate again. Warmth flooded through his body, true warmth that made the toes wriggle in comfort and made Steve think of the summer days before the war and before HYDRA, and Steve staggered back in shock. Bucky felt the same warmth and visibly cringed backward. It was incomprehensible in his mind that his soulmate survived. HYDRA programmed his soulmate was dead (he could not remember his soulmate's name, only felt warmth and goodness and redwhiteblue).
These melancholy thoughts preoccupied Steve currently as he undressed in his bathroom at Stark—Avenger's—Tower. He had just completed a mission for the United States Army, not undercover as a SHIELD agent but as Captain Steve Rogers, Stalwart Defender of American values. He had led a battalion of American soldiers to capture a key town in Iraq where ISIS had been in control for the past year and a half. The buildings had been razed to the ground, rubble lying where families had previously spent years living, not a single soul in sight. The town had been used as a headquarters for the terrorist organization; women had been rounded up and married off to ISIS members, the children were used as pawns for the group, and the men had been murdered during the taking of the town. However, a single girl had turned fourteen during the subjugation, and her soul mark had appeared. During a raid by American soldiers, she had bumped into her soulmate by accident and ever since had been spying on the inside of ISIS-held land and relaying information back to the Americans. On her information, the government had contacted Steve and requested he return to duty to help free the town. Steve had acquiesced and had just returned from Iraq.
Steve could still feel sand on his skin as he stepped into the luxurious shower Tony had set up for him. Three different jets of water sprayed him on all sides, water running down his back until carrying the dirty particles down the drain. Steve took his time in the shower as the warm water relaxing his muscles. In the background, Jarvis was playing music from the 1960's. Slowly but surely, Steve was catching up with modern music. He had just finished his Beatles phase and was now transitioning to other music from this "British invasion" he had been hearing about.
He left the bathroom as the opening riff to "House of the Rising Sun" drifted through the air, the air humid from the length of Steve's shower. A towel was wrapped snugly around Steve's hips, a second towel in his hand as he wrung through his hair and rang out his ears from the water. Even now, as years have passed since the super soldier serum, Steve was often surprised by the transitions his body had undergone by the procedure. Before, his stature was slight, skinny, and scrawny, with nothing but a strong heart and moral code. Now, muscles rippled down his body like boulders on a mountain. His height increase minimized the sheer amount of muscles, expanding them across his frame so that it fitted a lithe, muscular form.
Steve walked across the floor, the cold hardwood floor creating goosebumps up and down his legs. His apartment in Avengers Tower covered an entire floor, consisting of a living room with an open kitchen, as well as two bedrooms and a large bathroom. Steve rarely spent his time in it, as he was out exploring the new century and spending time in the boxing gym on another floor. Pepper Potts, Tony's soulmate and CEO of Stark Industries, often had to order his groceries and have his fridge stocked for him, as Steve often forgot about such necessities.
It was that Steve entered his kitchen, filled with granite countertops and sleek, new century appliances. Steve had taken one look at it and stated "Goodness, my mother would've loved this place," the first time he had seen it, when the Avengers were in incubation after the Battle of New York and Steve had still been uneasy at living in the Tower.
Within the kitchen, as Steve was perusing the large refrigerator, a familiar voice echoed across the room, "Stevie."
Steve whirled around in surprise, his eyebrows rising as his eyes widened in shock. "Buck!"
Bucky Barnes was sitting compactly in one of the chairs surrounding Steve's kitchen table, his shoulders hunched over and his body rigid in behavior. His seat was in the corner of the room, invisible to those who first enter, and had the perfect vantage point. No matter the amount of time Bucky spent away from HYDRA conditioning, remnants of his training were ingrained within in subconscious and were visibly shown. It was like how Natasha acted, Steve had noticed. Maybe the conditioning of HYDRA and the Red Room were similar not only in results but aftereffects as well.
Bucky shifted slightly, his legs moving forward until his elbows rested on his knees. His long, dark hair fell in a curtain around his head, and his crystal-clear eyes locked onto Steve with an intensity.
"Steve, we have a problem."
Steve shifted his body sideways, reaching into the refrigerator for the new carton of orange juice Pepper had specially ordered for him, as him and Bucky were the only Avengers who liked the sweet liquid. "You said that same thing the time my mom caught us comparing our marks the day I turned fourteen. What kind of problem are we dealing with here?"
Bucky automatically accepted the cup of orange juice thrust into his hand, the shape and feel of the glass still odd between the cybernetic neurons laced individually together on the pads of his metallic hand. After the Avengers' trip to Wakanda, Princess Shuri had developed Bucky a new arm developed entirely from vibranium. Doctor Strange had interwoven the meteorite material with magic so that Bucky could move the appendage with the same stealth and flexibility, and with both geniuses working together they had been able to develop metallic neurons that sent the same messages along pathways until reaching his spinal cord, which was converted then into normal bodily sensations. The result was a fully functioning, flexible, and low-maintenance arm that Bucky was currently utilizing to take a much-deserved sip of orange juice.
The citric acid settled heavily in Bucky's stomach, rumbling and raging like the thoughts storming around his head. Finally, he bit the bullet. "Steve, have you looked in the mirror since we got back from Iraq?"
Confused, Steve exclaimed "Wha—What are you talking about Bucky? What does me looking in a mirror have to do with this?"
Bucky sighed and set the glass on the kitchen table. "I'll assume you haven't then."
"No, I haven't actually—What are you doing Bucky?" Bucky had stood up and taken hold of Steve's shoulder. Normally, Steve would have flipped any other person through the table upon unwanted contact. It was natural instinct as well as a severe adverse reaction to touch leftover from his days sick and infirm. The only people who were able to touch him for long without fear of breaking him were his mother and Bucky. As Steve spent more time in this new century, he has come to learn that physical contact with other human beings have become normalized within everyday society; a hug was commonplace upon meeting friends and family, and handshakes had become normalized upon strangers interacting. Now, the circle of comfort had begun to include the other Avengers, but Bucky would forever be included within it, even through the Winter Soldier mess.
In the background of Steve's apartment, the rock tune of the Animals had transitioned into the soft crooning of Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World." Bucky had dragged Steve into his bedroom, decorated with miscellaneous letters from children around the country that Steve had decided to begin correspondence with. Across the room was a full-length mirror, and Bucky dragged Steve in front of it. At Steve's look of confusion, Bucky forcibly turned Steve around so that his back faced the mirror, and Steve had to crane his neck around to see the image.
On Steve's left shoulder sat the same letters since his fourteenth birthday. James Buchannan Barnes in block letters reminiscent of army stamps was branded permanently, a sign of their relationship, a testament to their friendship.
However, for the first time since Steve had last looked at his shoulder, a new soul mark had appeared. On Steve's right shoulder, in a barely legible chicken scratch, Harriet Lily Potter shone in emerald ink. Next to Steve, Bucky had efficiently removed his shirt, and on his right shoulder, the same inscription marked him as well.
Steve stared for a long time in the mirror, his mind scrambled beyond belief. A new soulmate? Over seventy years after receiving his first soul mark? Where were they? Why now? What would this mean for the Avengers? Nevermind that, what does this mean for him and Bucky? In the silence of the room, to the tune of Louis Armstrong, Steve Rogers only uttered one word: "Fuck."