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Soulmates are a fickle thing. Years of research, millions of dollars of funding have been put into figuring out the intricacies of soulmates. To hopefully make it easier for people to find each other. Centuries ago, when it was easier to meet your soulmate—especially when you live in a small town with a population of only a hundred—they figured out that when you eat or drink something, the person on the other end of the bond starts craving the same thing as well.

People get to meet their soulmates through having very personalised tastes and preferences so that one day, they can stumble upon someone who is eating the exact thing or at least trying to curb the urge to eat frog legs topped with caviar.

But in this day and age, where the population is growing in size each and every moment, more and more people start to care less about soulmates. Not that the interest about them disappear completely; they still teach the idea of soulmates in world history. But because of the rarity of successful pairings—usually in the one out of a million chances—and the fact more people are rebelling against the idea of being tethered to one person for the entirety of your life, people tend to not think largely on soulmates.

Not that it doesn’t happen. Fate did decide to pair two souls, and so fate would bring them together. Scientists—as logical as they are—do think there’s always something bigger at play here, because it’s still shockingly more common for soulmates to meet than for it to make sense.

Which is why when Tony Stark—small, young, full of hopes and dreams and knowing everything there is about soulmates—was absolutely devastated when he starts to realise how he never really craved anything. Even as a small child, he never once had the urge to eat something new or interesting or even anything at all.

At seven, his smile breaks when Jarvis asks him what’s his soulmate’s favourite food. He comes up with ‘Waffles! Like my favourite!’ knowing there’s something wrong with him if he doesn’t even know what’s his soulmate’s favourite food.

At eleven, he shrugs when his classmate asks him what’s the weirdest craving he’s ever gotten. He says his soulmate has basic tastes, not having the guts to say they don’t have a taste at all.

At fifteen, when he’s fresh out of MIT and tied at the hip with his best friend—whose favourite food is beef taquitos with chipotle hot sauce—he says with a wink and a smile that his soulmate loves taquitos with hot sauce. Rhodey always has this dull look of sadness in the depths of his eyes, but he doesn’t say a thing—especially after he had to see Tony screaming through tears that his soulmate is dead, that he’s a loner who deserves nobody in this world.

At twenty-one, when he’s drunk and counting down the days to his parents’ funeral, downing so many shots he wonders if he’ll have alcohol poisoning, the girl who’s straddling his lap furrows her brows and asks if his soulmate likes alcohol as much as he does. He can only give a dry laugh, before tossing back another shot.

At thirty one, he wakes up on the eleventh of August and he has an overwhelming urge to drink milk. He easily shrugs it off, makes his coffee with an absurdly amount of creamer that would usually offend his love for the bitter taste of black.

It’s only when a few weeks pass by that he realises something is very off. He craves milk at random times of the day, in the morning, in the evening and even in the middle of the night.

It’s when he’s having his third cup of milk of the day, sitting in his kitchen in the dark, when he bolts upright and spits out the milk, eyes wide with horror.

No fucking way.

Tony nearly has a breakdown right there and then, his hands shaky as he thinks back to all the times he’s drank milk and nothing else. He thinks there’s no way. There’s no way in hell he’s older than his soulmate by thirty one years.

He tells JARVIS to lock down his house and he throws the two jugs of milk he has in his fridge into the trash, one of which is already half empty. He sits in his basement, eyes glassy and hand wound tightly around his wrench as he tries to tinker with his car. All he thinks about is how fucked up this is, how fucked up fate made his life to be this way, how he knows he’ll spend the rest of his life avoiding this poor baby—fuck, they’re not even two months old yet—just so he would still have his dignity intact and give his soulmate a semblance of a normal life.

Eventually, he does go back to drinking milk a couple of hours later, unable to ignore the craving.

If Pepper and Rhodey notice how he starts drinking less, they don’t comment. 

**

Months later, he’s craving mashed potato and puree carrots, blends of avocado and banana. To satisfy the craving, he eats dinners of mashed potato with gravy and raw carrots with a banana avocado shake.

Turns out he has a preference for shakes.

He stops drinking alcohol altogether and replaces his morning coffee with bright pink smoothies, strawberries and bananas with apple juice that bursts with flavour in his mouth. He feels healthy and for one small moment, he’s glad his soulmate is an incentive to become less of the human mess that he is. 

**

Once in a while, he indulges in a glass of alcohol, but almost every time, he ends up not finishing it, the guilt eating at him from inside. On those nights where he drinks, the next day will start with him throwing more strawberries and honey into his smoothies to help ease his conscience.

**

On business trips, he goes to exotic places to eat all types of dishes, as if giving a small sampling to his young soulmate of what the world has to offer. He eats, and dines and tastes things he’s never tasted before. The cravings he gets are the usual waffles and ice cream, spaghetti and meatballs his soulmate seem to have an appetite for, and the hot chocolate during late nights.

Tony makes his mind wander at this times when he makes his own hot chocolate—not quite tasting like the stuff his five year old soulmate drinks but close enough; he needs the recipe because it’s that good—at the same time his soulmate drinks it. He makes his own world where his soulmate is happily sipping down their warm drink, burrowing into a couch with a blanket safely enveloping them. He never gets cravings for odd or disgusting food, which is a relief for Tony because it means his soulmate is well off, or at least enough for them to indulge in sweet treats and nice dinners.

Tony knows the more you indulge your soulmate cravings, the stronger your bond is. Which is starting to show in how much Tony eats desserts, simple dinners and drink fruit juices. The stronger bond also allows the other person to have a partial taste of what they’re eating, like a ghost of a taste on their tongue. Which is one of the many reasons he stopped drinking alcohol at this point. He knows that if he were to drink it now, the craving would be insatiable for his soulmate—who is already five years old—and he can’t do that to them. Ever.

**

Tony gets another Apogee Award. He’s in a casino when he receives it. He’s late for his flight. He asks for one hot sake and ignores how Rhodey gives him a knowing look without stopping his chiding.

An hour later, Rhodey is drunk, rambling about his army men, while Tony is sucking down on a tall glass of apple juice. The kid’s been drinking that a lot lately. Maybe it’s a school lunch beverage?

He’s Tony Stark, weapons designer, and he presents the Jericho. He pretends to sip the scotch he takes for himself, the crate of dry ice and alcohol just for show.

He takes the fun-vee and it doesn’t seem as much fun once he sees young men killed right in front of his eyes by his own weapons. Doesn’t become any more fun when he sees his name on a missile that sends him flying.

He damns the name ‘fun-vee’ when he’s staring at the growing patch of red on his blue shirt, feeling excruciating pain in his chest. He hates how he wishes he actually met his soulmate, he hates how he regrets not eating more different foods for them to enjoy, hates how they’ll grow up never feeling those cravings again, he hates how he knows they’ll come to realise their soulmate is dead—just like he did when he was younger. Darkness envelopes him.

**

When he’s eating nothing but ground meat and brown sauce, lungs compressed and eyes so well adjusted to the dark, his tummy rumbles with hot chocolate and sweet cookie dough ice cream. Tony thinks his soulmate knows something is wrong (or he’s just stupidly hoping) because the three months he’s there, the kid eats all kinds of foods. Ranging to their usual meals, to new dishes he knows his soulmate has never tried. It’s… heartening to know that there is someone out there, caring in their own way. When he craves barbeque mixed with that special sauce at that restaurant he loves, and the flavour spreads with a dull tingle across Tony’s tongue, Tony lets a tear roll down his cheek. His soulmate knows his favourite food and they’re trying to cheer him up.

**

The first thing he eats when he gets back is a cheeseburger. He knows it’s the kid’s third favourite food, next to tacos and the smoothies Tony makes. He gets a craving of his favourite ice cream later that night, and he imagines eating the ice cream with the kid.

**

He learns how to cook for himself, especially the foods the kid likes. It becomes Tony’s other favourite hobby, next to his tinkering and building of suits.

**

When Tony is dying, he tries his best to eat exotic foods more often, getting out of his comfort zone to order when he’s at restaurants. He hopes the kid can taste the oysters on their tongue.

**

He throws in a spoonful of honey, strawberries and even a dash of cinnamon to his chlorophyll shakes. Just because Tony is dying, doesn’t mean he’ll make his soulmate want a disgusting mixture of plain greens and bitter vegetables. In return, he gets cravings of a green salad which—Tony can’t even begin to unpack—nearly makes Tony cry.

The kid is only seven years old and they can already pick up cues of Tony’s tastes. The kid would usually buy heaps of sweet treats but for him—for Tony—they’d eat a green salad so that Tony would continue his healthy diet. It only lasts a week before it’s back to the bowls of cookie dough ice cream at night, but Tony never forgets that moment of sweetness and care across the bond.

**

Tony fucked up. He let his lack of self-preservation skills take over and he drowns himself in alcohol on his last birthday. One sickening thought enters his thought, that his soulmate deserves to have this bitter liquid run down the back of their throat for having Tony as their soulmate.

**

He buys a box of donuts, along with a cup of coffee that’s on the sweeter side, as an apology for making his soulmate—they’re seven years old, Tony notes, and wow does time fly—want alcohol for hours last night.

**

He tastes coconut in his mouth when he has the new element running through his veins, and he knows his soulmate tasted it too. Because minutes later, there’s coconut ice cream on his empty tongue.

**

It’s years later, and every year on the week he knows is around his soulmate’s birthday, he travels to a country to try all sorts of food. He hopes his soulmate enjoys their gift.

**

One night, Tony is tinkering on a red and blue suit—a week after finding out about this new web-slinger vigilante with a terrible excuse of a costume and who goes head first into bad situations—when his mouth is enveloped with the taste of copper. Blood.

The tangy, metallic taste freaks Tony out, and rightfully so. His soulmate is out there, with their blood pooling in their mouth, and it seems to be a lot. Because the taste doesn’t go away until half an hour later. By that time, Tony is stirring a pot of hot chocolate and taking a small bowl of cookie dough ice cream—which became Tony’s comfort foods—to make himself feel better. He takes scalding sips of the drink, the mug shaking in his hand.

A few minutes into his ice cream and breakdown, he has a strong craving for Thai food and he nearly crumples into himself, relief flooding his body.

**

Peter opens the door and greets his aunt, an odd craving for May’s walnut date loaf. But he shakes it off. He’d rather have those awful craving of bitter green smoothies than eat May’s date loaf.

He’s a stuttering mess when he meets Tony Stark, who is in his living room. His living room! He barely spares a thought at how he pays a compliment to May’s horrendous walnut date loaf. Next thing he knows, the man is in his bedroom and telling him he knows he’s Spider-Man and he can join his mission in Germany, which Peter of course has to go to. It’s the Avengers!

**

Tony is in India when he tastes a mouthful of disgusting beer. He does the math quickly in his head and he rolls his eyes. Only fifteen and probably at a high school party with bitter beer and bad music. He relaxes a little bit, though, because the alcohol taste goes away fairly fast. He supposes his soulmate isn’t one for much beer.

Not even half an hour later, his mouth is full of the taste of bland water, but it tastes dirty.

He gets a notification that Peter’s suit just activated his parachute, and he watches his Iron Man suit fish Peter out of the lake he fell from a hundred feet into.

He’s able to slow down his heart rate a little bit when the scans show the teenager is uninjured. Only for his blood pressure to rise when he hears that Peter has to take him down now, huh? Steady crockett, there are people who handle this sort of thing.

He ends the call, but not without a niggling feeling at the back of his head.

**

His mouth is filled with blood again and again, Tony has a panic attack. This time, it’s on the floor of his lab in the Avengers compound, in the middle of adding more tracking devices to Peter’s suit. He blinks, tears blurring his vision as he’s hit with the thought his soulmate is in pain again. They’re only fifteen.

He gets a call twenty minutes from Happy later, who tells him that Peter took down the ‘flying vulture guy’ and saved crates of weaponry that was being sent over from the tower.

Despite the fear of his soulmate being dead, he drinks hot chocolate again, with the hope he’ll get a craving in return. He doesn’t.

At least until breakfast, which makes Tony slump against the tinkering table, shaken to his core. A buttered croissant and orange juice tingling his taste buds.

**

He gets it. Why Peter turned down the offer. But there’s a twisting feeling in his stomach, right where he usually gets his cravings. He gulps down his smoothie, grimacing. He doesn’t know what that feeling means but he doesn’t unpack it yet. There’s so much going on and Peter really isn’t the highest thing on his agenda. Not even close.

**

That statement turns to dust when Peter starts texting him, updating him on patrols and his school projects. Tony starts replying instead of turning him away, and he finds himself enjoying their little midnight chats; Peter talking about his school and his Spider-Manning while Tony drops a comment or two about being on a business trip.

Tony knows Peter is higher on his agenda when he races towards the signal of the Spider-Man suit tracker, when he blasts the guy who stabbed Peter into the brick wall. The man gains seven fractures.

He knows it’s become a problem when he stops and stares when Peter strips out of his suit, all sturdy curves and thick cords of muscle.

He knows it’s fucked up when he doesn’t immediately turn off the Baby Monitor footage of Peter whimpering in the dark and whispering ‘Mr. Stark’—the reason why there was an alert in the first place—as he chases his orgasm.

**

Tony reasons it’s fine just as long as he keeps his hands off his underaged protégé—Jesus, he’s as old as his soulmate which doesn’t comfort Tony at all—when he invites him over for their usual tinkering in the Stark Tower lab. (He curses fate because—is this all he’s supposed to be? Be tethered to an underage teenager while simultaneously lusting after another one?)

**

They have dinners together; pizza, Thai take-outs and sometimes even Tony’s cooking. He can’t help the part of himself that purrs in satisfaction when Peter praises his cooking. He makes an off-comment he cooks for his soulmate, because he knows all of their favourite foods. Peter grins and says, “Hey, one of my favourites is also spicy chicken tacos! I can basically devour them. They’re amazing.”

**

They have quiet moments in the dark lab, amused smiles when Peter makes bad science jokes, fond eye rolls when Peter asks if Tony is playing Led Zeppelin, soft sounds of triumph and victory when they figure out a problem together, one person carrying the other to the couch when they pass out. It’s private moments, shared over their love of science and technology, and their bond between them.

**

Peter and Tony walk into the frozen section of the grocery store, both of them reaching for the same ice cream. Cookie dough. Peter is beaming, “Your favourite is cookie dough ice cream too?”

Tony snorts but nods, taking two cartons of it for safekeeping. He also takes a bag of cocoa powder to make his favourite drink.

When he’s poured a mug for Peter and himself, he awaits Peter’s reaction as he takes a sip. His brown eyes go wide, looking down at the mug. “Holy crap, this tastes nearly identical to my mom’s old recipe.”

Tony pauses, lips close to his mug as he stares at Peter. He’s spent years perfecting his soulmate’s hot chocolate recipe. The same creeping feeling comes back into his head, which he waves off. Tony shrugs. “Good? Or bad?”

“Good. Definitely good.” Peter is nearly nuzzling up to the mug, hands wrapped around the warm ceramic. They share a secretive smile over their mugs, Tony taking in the sweetness of Peter’s raised cheeks and bright doe eyes. They take their cartons of ice cream to the couch and watch some movie classic that Peter calls ‘old’.

  **

Peter comes over to the tower dressed in a pink knitted sweater that brings out the pretty cherry red gloss on his lips, and dark blue jeans that seem skin tight. He’s there for advice; not for a Spider-Man thing, but rather for help on a date with a boy he finds interesting.

Tony finds it particularly difficult to spout out dating advice when he’s distracted by how kissable his mentee’s lips are—bright and red and so sinful—so he sends Peter off with a tight-lipped smile and a grandfathterly pat on the shoulder.

The sweetness of a strawberry milkshake floods his mouth but he shoves it down along with the hazy lust. For the first time in years, he takes three fingers of scotch down in quick succession, going down his throat with a burn that faintly reminds him of the shame he feels when he looks at Peter in a way that’s not fatherly.

It burns more when he thinks of his soulmate who ate cookie dough ice cream last night.

**

“How was the date?” Tony can’t bring himself to put much enthusiasm into his tired voice, but Peter doesn’t even seem to notice, because his eyes are downcast and he’s dragging his feet across the floor like he’s heaving a heavy bag behind him—and he seems so upset that Tony—god, Tony knows he’s not a good person, no matter how much he tries to convince himself by drowning in smoothies but—he can’t help himself from opening his arms like he has the right. Not that it matters because Peter rushes into his arms, slumping against the warmth Tony gives off who rubs his back in an awkward attempt to comfort him.

“What’s wrong?”

“Lucas is a dick. He only asked me out so he can fulfil some dumb dare his friends made.” Tony sighs, and gently pushes Peter onto the stool next to him.

“You know that doesn’t mean you’re not worth the effort, right? That guy’s an asshole for treating you like this. It’s not your fault.” Peter quickly wipes away the stray tear, red-rimmed eyes tugging at Tony’s heartstrings. “Sure feels like it.”

“And why is that?”

“Because… if I was more attractive or more funny then maybe he would ask me out for real.” Tony stares at him. “Are you serious? Kid, he wouldn’t have asked you out for real because he never saw you for what you truly are.”

Tony leans in to rest his hand on Peter’s arm and they lock eyes. “He doesn’t deserve you, Pete. You should know that.”

Peter looks lost for a moment, contemplative as he looks at Tony. An irking feeling nips at Tony’s brain, and he pulls away, breaking the thin walls of their moment. He’s too close.

Tony gives him a smile, genuine but a little guarded. Peter just furrows his brows, tilting backwards in his stool. The light hits just right where Tony can see the shimmer of pink in Peter’s lip gloss, the deep brown in his irises that turn to honey and Tony—Tony loses his breath. Because he knows he’s so fucked. And he can’t do anything about it.

“Did you know my favourite dessert is cookie dough ice cream?” Peter asks, looking at the table as he avoids Tony’s confused gaze.

“Yeah, you told me.”

“My other favourites are hot chocolate, chicken tacos, and strawberry smoothies.” Peter looks up and gets off from his stool. He moves to Tony and places his hands on his thighs, staring at Tony’s face.

“Kid, what’re you—”

“I just—I just need to know, Mr. Stark.”

Peter kisses him.

The first thing that Tony notices is the cherry-flavoured lip-gloss. Then Peter licks the seam of Tony’s lips, and the man lets him slide in.

The second thing that Tony notices is the strawberry milkshake flavour he was craving just an hour ago.

He freezes.

Peter can taste the scotch on Tony’s tongue, the same alcohol that warmed up his belly when he was sipping down his strawberry milkshake.

Tony doesn’t pull away. He doesn’t. Because he knows—he knows what this means.

He can feel the probing feeling again, stronger than ever—telling him to touch Peter—touch Peter, he has to.

His hand slowly inches forward, grazing Peter’s wrist. The second he touches Peter’s soft, creamy skin and something—something breaks.

A flood of feelings erupt within them, like a huge dam that was built in the corner of their mind—holding everything back, colours and memories flitting before of their eyes. Cacophony of deafening sounds, unforgettable tastes, overflowing sensations and buried hurt.

“Mommy, can I have some hot chocolate? My soulmate is having some!”

“Peter—don’t touch that bottle!”

“But I want it!”

“Richard, should we be worried? Peter has been wanting that bottle of scotch for hours now. I don’t know what to do.”

“Oh my gosh! This tastes almost exact like the smoothies my soulmates likes to make!”

“Oh!—They like cookie dough ice cream too!”

“Mommy, there’s something wrong. I can taste blood.”

“May! I want salad for dinner. I think my soulmate changed his taste!”

“Ned! My soulmate is drinking apple juice too! Isn’t that cool? I wonder if they’re in this school.”

“I don’t know whether to love or hate my soulmate. I think they go around tasting all sorts of exotic stuff around my birthday because now all I want is chilli crab wrapped in squid tentacles. And I’ve never even liked squid!”

“May… my soulmate is drinking too much. I’m scared. They never drink this much, ever.”

“God, I didn’t know I can bleed in the mouth so much from a punch… Shit.”

“It’s so hard for me to believe she’s someone’s aunt. This walnut date loaf is exceptional.”

“Mr. Stark, the only time I’ve ever tasted caviar is on my birthday and I don’t think I’ve never hated my soulmate more for that.”

“The only time I’ve ever been scared for my soulmate, was when I was six or seven. All I craved for three months was beans and pork. Nothing else. I didn’t know why, but it had me so worried.”

Tony pulls away, his eyes wide. Peter is crying, Tony’s memories playing in his head. And Tony… Tony feels nothing but the need to protect and to keep his soulmate, nothing but the need to shower Peter in affection that buries deep into his soul.

A shaky hand reaches up, calloused thumb light tracing Peter’s supple skin as he tries his best to hold everything together. It’s been so long.

Tony’s wanted this for so long. He promised himself he’d never want to meet them, but along the way, between the sweet hot chocolate and cookie dough ice cream, he’s grown affection and love in his heart, tender to the touch but blooming. And all for the one true person he’s made for. All for Peter.

“I found you.” Tony can barely speak, his throat closing up as his mouth tastes even more of the strawberry milkshake.

“And I found you,” Peter mumbles, his hand coming to rest on Tony’s forearm. They lean into each others touch, feeling their heart, soul and mind intertwine as memories of the other play before their eyes. Tony can feel Peter. Peter is all over him. He wants—he wants him, he wants… more.

His hand swoops down to cover the back of Peter’s thigh while the other slides down to his waist. Tony, barely sparing a moment, pulls the small doe eyed sweetheart into his lap, the scent of Peter’s strawberry shampoo and cheap deodorant enveloping his senses.

They stare at each other and slowly, Peter’s hands entangle into Tony’s soft hair, not losing sight of the other for a second, afraid the other would disappear if they do.

And they kiss.

And kiss again.

Peter is whimpering, making soft noises against Tony’s lips. Tony is practically breathless, unable to get enough of Peter as he nip and licks his way into Peter’s sweet mouth; the mouth that’s nothing less of a sweet tooth—something that Tony has come to learn over years of late night cravings.

It feels like every unsatisfied craving he’s had over the years are met, like a hole inside getting filled up the longer his hands are on Peter. It’s like… getting your other half, not knowing you were there was a piece missing all along.

Peter pulls away, a thin string of saliva connecting their red lips. The lithe boy on his lap looks like an angel.

“Can we get hot chocolate and cookie dough ice cream?” Tony moves in, licking a warm stripe on Peter’s neck, revelling in the deliciously drawn out sound from him.

“Sure, kid, whatever you want.”