Steve is seven and he’s sitting in the classroom. His classmate next to him hisses in pain, and he hasn’t even touched anything. This doesn’t startle his classmate, however. He smiles to himself and continues to listen to the class.
Steve doesn’t understand this. His father had died before he was alive, and he grew up watching someone whose pain was always her own.
So, he frowns, but he doesn’t ask his classmate what happened. He just frowns.
At home, his mother tells him, “that boy took his soulmate’s pain away. One day, you’ll get a soulmate too. And whenever they’re in pain, from the simplest pinch to the most agonizing hit, you’ll be the one to feel it for them.”
That was the first time he heard about soulmates. Usually, a child is first told when he gets the first pain that isn’t his own. But Steve didn’t know that, didn’t know that most people get their pains from when they’re two, so he doesn’t ask, “how come I don’t have those pains now?” but he would in the future. For now, he just nods and thinks about one day meeting his soulmate.
Steve is ten and Bucky just had a particularly bad attack. Steve doesn’t know what to do, as he never got any attacks. So he just puts an arm around Bucky and tells him it will be over soon.
When it’s over, Bucky is still shivering and in pain, but he’s not under attack anymore. “That was horrible,” he says, “my soulmate is going to have to apologize a lot when I meet them.”
Steve can’t help himself when he asks, “how can you bear it?”
Bucky shrugs, “you get used to it. This has happened since I was two.” Bucky raises a brow at him, “don’t you feel it too?”
Steve doesn’t know why he lies when he says, “of course I do. It’s just never this bad.”
That day, Steve does ask his mother, “why hasn’t it happened to me yet?”
And Sarah sighs and says, “I think it’s too late for you, Steve.”
From then on, Steve understands what is wrong with him. He’s unmarked. He doesn’t have a soulmate, and he never will. Steve learns to never, ever tell anyone. Steve sees unmarkeds, children for the most part, dragged away from their homes as their parents look on, their parents who called the authorities, the moms or dads looking coldly or sadly, but not remorsefully. Because everyone must have a soulmate, Steve learns. Unmarkeds promote infidelity and sex before marriage, and those are things that can’t be allowed. They’re unnatural.
So Steve never tells anyone he’s unmarked. Steve never tells anyone he’s unmarked, and sometimes that’s a little lonely, because he has to live alone with this secrett and no one else in the world is waiting for him. But his mom knows, and they both live in a world without their soulmates, but with each other, and sometimes, that’s enough.
Steve is fourteen and he decides that not having a soulmate is actually a strength. A small part of him resented his father for going to the war and making his mother feel too much pain, and then dying and leaving his mother with her own pain. But with being unmarked, Steve realizes he can be like him. He can protect others and stand up to bullies, just like him, without causing some tortured soul to hate him. People push him around for being too small for his age, and when Steve gets punched, it’s okay. No soulmate will get his pain, and the pain he gets is never too much to bear. So he stands up, fists drawn, and smiles, even with blood in his teeth, “I can do this all day.” And it’s never really true, because too many punches and his body will give up on him, even without the agonizing pain to tell him it will happen, but his bullies are always terrified as he tries to throw a weak punch, and never backs down. They do have soulmates to protect, and that gives him an advantage.
Steve is eighteen and his mother is gone. She dies quickly and slowly at the same time. And as she drifts away from him, Steve realizes for the first time, that what she has, what’s taking her away, it’s real apin. And when she is taken from him, he feels real pain, deep in his chest, squeezing around his heart. He punches a wall and his fingers break but he feels concrete. He wonders if his pain is as painful as his mother dying. Either way, Steve is alone, and not even the pain he feels is enough to keep him company.
Steve starts living with Bucky, his mother and his sister, and Bucky takes care of them all. Bucky taking care of him mostly includes him shaking his head as he drags him from a fight.
Steve has more doctor visits than he can count. He has a myriad of health issues, but his pain tolerance must be high, because the doctors tell him, “stay away from fights. If you felt any pain you wouldn’t get into any fights, but instead, now you’re coming to a hospital every week”. Bucky always sighs when he comes out of another appointment, cocks his head to the side, and says, “do you think your soulmate will tolerate this as well as I do?” Steve never answers.
It’s when he gets diagnosed with asthma, and remembers his mom coughing, shaking with pain, that he realizes that he doesn’t feel any pain. He feels the gravel as he falls and fingers when he’s pinched but he doesn’t feel any pain at all.
He grew up thinking he’s unmarked. But there’s a reason he can fool the doctors into thinking he isn’t.
Steve is twenty three and he wants to enlist and no one will let him. He wants to scream at them all, “but I’m the only one who can fight! No soulmate will suffer because of me! And I don’t feel pain anyway!” But he can’t say that and they don’t listen to anything else he says. It takes a long while before someone notices him, understands how much he wants to fight, decides to take a chance on him.
“Not a lot of people want to fight like you do,” Erksine tells him, “afraid for their soulmate. For their future.”
“This is my future, sir,” he tells him, “if I find my soulmate, great. But protecting people, that’s my duty. My destiny.”
Back then, it’s still a small destiny for him. He just wants to serve and getting to basic training is enough for now. He throws himself at a grenade and gets chosen to be the next Captain America.
Becoming Captain America means he can stop pretending. He doesn’t have to act like he gets pain, because if he would, as was explained to him, it would pass quickly. That doesn’t matter to Steve, however, because he’s focusing on getting to fight, instead of going to another photoshoot. When Bucky is kidnapped, Steve knows it’s his time to pay him back for all the times Bucky took care of him, and he finally snaps, promising to bring Bucky back, at any cost. In a way, Bucky is the reason he’s Captain America. In another way, Steve thinks a few months later, he was always destined to be on that path. The next three years are a blur of rescues and strategies and spies and the next mission, again and again and again.
When he loses Bucky, he tries to be a soldier about it. This is just another brother in arms that he lost. But Bucky isn’t just a brother in arms, he’s the only brother Steve had and the weight of the loss crushes him. When he loses Bucky, he stops being Captain America for a second, the person who can feel no pain and has only one path, and he becomes Steve Rogers, a kid who knows something is wrong with him, but with Bucky, that’s fine, because he’d always be there for him. Bucky is his only and greatest failure. He keeps moving, but a pain in his heart reminds him who he is.
Steve only thinks about soulmates upon looking at one person. By then, Steve has decided that he was never meant to have any pain. His soulmate was invisible, this uniform, this job, this symbol. Being Captain America was only ever his destiny. What other explanation could there be? God put him on this Earth to defeat Hydra, and God granted him no pain so he could do his duty. He never felt pain, because pain was the only thing that made it harder to be a soldier. And with no pain, to give or receive, Steve was the perfect soldier.
But… when Steve looks at Peggy Carter…
It’s unclear if Peggy has a soulmate. Once, Steve noticed someone asking her, and she punched him in the face. It’s an unwritten rule for them all. Not to talk about soulmates with Peggy.
Steve knows Peggy just wants to be respected beyond her romantic life, but a part of him hopes that she’s hiding something. That’s she unmarked like he is. Because Steve thinks that if he ever decides to settle down, it would be with someone like Peggy. A fellow soldier, who understands him.
When Steve goes under the ice, he knows it doesn’t matter. He fulfilled his destiny.
Sam’s father was a living saint. He was a bishop, a charity worker, the most kind and caring person Sam had ever met. His father always told him, “Samuel, there’s a lot of things in life you won’t be able to understand, but there’s not one thing you won’t be able to find love for.”
Sam was the eldest of three, with one baby sister and another baby brother. Sam knew that Sarah got unexplainable pains sometimes. Sam knew that Gidoen cried loudly when his head would hit the table. He knew that his siblings were different from one another. The Gidoen didn’t have a soulmate but Sarah did. When he asked which one he was, his parents would look at one another, bite their lip and say, “it’s too early to tell.”
When Sam was six, he heard his parents arguing in hushed tones in the kitchen, “he must be unmarked, Darlene.”
“He can’t be,” she whispered back, “he never cries like Gidoen did.”
Sam listens to them talk as they argue back and forth about whether or not someone untouchable out there gets his pain or whether Sam doesn’t have a soulmate but has some kind of condition that makes him untouchable.
The next day, in tears, he asks his mom and dad, “I’m different, aren’t I?”
His parents envelope him in a hug and whisper, “yes, baby, but that’s not a bad thing. Everyone’s a little different from one another. Doesn’t make us love you any less.”
Sam grew up not knowing whether he had a soulmate or not, but he also grew up not caring about it. He knew he would be loved either way. For most of his childhood, Sam grew up making friends, joining the running track team, studying hard for school, daydreaming about being an astronaut and letting his sister mock him for liking science fiction movies and having their parents’ music. He had a normal childhood.
But when his one unmarked friend would raise a brow at his non-reaction at getting a scrape on his knee, or when his soulmated friends got uncomfortable when he stared at them when they got pain that wasn’t theirs, he would know that he is different.
He never thought about a soulmate with too much longing. He put it out of his mind if they existed or not. But never a day passed that Sam didn’t wonder what pain felt like.
Things change when he’s sixteen and his dad dies. Sam knows something is wrong when his mother starts crying out in pain, and then starts shaking so hard it hurts. And it hurts her . It takes a while before the police find him and discover what happens to him, and Sam sinks to his knees and thinks, “you didn’t deserve this, you didn’t deserve this, you didn’t deserve this.” Paul was killed because he had a kind heart. Paul was killed because he had too kind a heart.
Things change and suddenly, Sam is in no way a normal kid. His mother needs to work, his siblings need to be watched, and Sam, Sam thinks that his future is less important, because his father left him with the task of taking care of his family.
For the first time in his life, Sam wants a soulmate. It wasn’t unusual for him to get crushes on boys on the track team or the cute guy he partnered with for chem. He went on a few dates, and had a first kiss. He always felt romantic attraction, and sometimes, he was even grateful that not having a soulmate means he doesn’t have to wait for someone. But for the first time, for the years after his dad dies, he wants a soulmate. He wants someone he knows would help him, would take care of him, would be there for him. A constant pain that would make him feel less alone.
The recruiters come almost before he’s graduating. Sam hasn’t slept a full eight hours in a week, hasn’t talked to anyone outside of his family since he left the track team, hasn’t gotten a good grade ever since his father died, and he has already been to too many counselor meetings about his wasted potential, when the recruiters come.
They hand him a pamphlet about the Air-Force, and tell him, “you still have a future”. Sam doesn’t know what he’ll do after he graduates, but he thinks, “my dad died trying to help people. Maybe it’s poetic if I did too.”
Sam never thought before that not having pain could be an advantage. He would probably never think it is. Before his dad, he never felt a longing for a soulmate or felt unlucky for them not showing their presence. But his relationship, or lack thereof, with pain, made him feel different. Made him feel wrong. But he gets to basic training, and no pain (given or received or had) is holding him back, and he passes test after test, and he gets to be Falcon.
It’s everything he didn’t know he wanted. He loves it.
They tell him he would meet his co-pilot on that day, and they would both test and use the wings together. Sam nods like a good soldier and hopes that his co-pilot isn’t horrible. He hasn’t expected warm and happy brown eyes, sandy blond hair that looks so soft and a big beam that is impossible not to fall for.
Sam didn’t know it was possible to have his breath taken away by someone.
Sam got crushes before but not like this.
They hit it off immediately, easy banter and easy smiles passing between the two of them. Everything new he learns about Riley makes him like him even more. He learns that their music taste is similar (except for their guilty pleasures), that Riley didn’t have that great of a childhood, that he’s a bit clueless about the tech they’re being given but that he leans on the palms of his hands when he listens to Sam try his best to explain it.
Sam watches him work, tricks that must be painful to unmarkeds, and he asks him, “you’re insane. How do you do all that?”
Riley shrugs and says, “I’m fueled by my hate for my soulmate.”
Riley only smiles at him fondly when Sam laughs.
Sam learns that Riley knows who his soulmate is, but since their first interaction involved that soulmate being a jackass, Riley decided to run for the hills and enlist for the Air-Force.
“Do you have a soulmate, Sammy?”
Sam hesitates but less time than he should before he admits, “I don’t know.”
Riley is the first person who he tells the whole story to.
When he does, Riley wastes no time to kiss him and tell him, “I don’t care if you have a soulmate because you’re perfect to me.”
When Riley falls out of the sky, and Sam can do nothing but watch and scream, he wishes he could feel pain. He wants pain. But he doesn’t want it to be from his soulmate reminding him he isn’t alone and not just a dull ache finally satisfying his curiosity, instead he wants it to be his own pain, finally giving him some control.
Sam won’t touch the wing pack anymore. Not without Riley.
When he returns to civilian life it’s weird. His brother and sister are all grown up and he wasn’t there to see it. Sarah lets him crash on her couch until he can get back on his feet, and when Sam smiles at her gratefully, she waves him off and says, “it’s the least I can do after you took care of me.” They don’t mention how Sam left as soon as he was eighteen, barely saying goodbye.
The couch is too soft, but when he falls off to the floor, shivering at another nightmare, sometimes he decides to just stay on the ground. His life becomes routine. Sleep, wake up, don’t think about Riley, watch TV, don’t think about Riley, eat, don’t think about Riley, repeat.
Sarah watches him with concerned eyes, like he used to do for her, and Sam doesn’t know how to break off this cycle, he just knows that he misses Riley and he isn’t a civilian, and he can’t fix any of it. He would never be just a civilian again and he will never see Riley again. The thought doesn’t practically make him want to get off the couch.
It takes him three months. Sam gets up on the roof and thinks about what it would feel like to fly again. He knows that before he’ll touch the ground, he’ll be with Riley again and he’ll fly for eternity. Sarah stops him before he can make that step and makes him go to a vetran support group.
The first meetings aren’t that effective, but Sarah has him on suicide watch, so he can’t not go to them and he can’t run away from them. And if someone tells a story that painfully reminds him of Riley, all he can do is hope nobody sees his tears. By the fifth visit he shares. By the sixth visit he gets a recommendation for a better mattress. By the eighth visit, he laughs at one of the veterans’ jokes. By the tenth visit, people ask him after the meetings for drinks, and suddenly, he can listen to other stories and share his.
It should be less of a surprise to him that he’s good at taking care of people.
Maybe it’s because he’s always been so intrigued by pain that he decides to get a psychology major and work at the VA.
Life gets better bit by bit, and the pain in his chest relents, and the pain in his body never comes, but it’s becoming okay for him. He moves out as soon as he gets enough money. He starts running again as he feels like it’s okay to be happy. He finds a mattress that doesn’t bother him as soon as he is willing to admit that he isn’t okay but he has to get better. He finds out that not following a strict set of rules is freeing as soon as he starts to realize that he’s getting better at having a civilian life. He finds out that finding another partner is hard, especially when people too often treat him as a therapist, as soon as he’s ready to go on dates. He makes friends in the VA, and in his college, any place he can as soon as he feels right in his skin and back with a smile.
Life is good by 2011, when he suddenly gets very, very cold.
There’s a lot to get used to in the twenty-first century.
At first, Steve’s so overwhelmed by all the shining lights, the loud noise, and the new agency that wants to recruit him, that he doesn’t notice anything. It’s all too much and too overwhelming, so he doesn’t notice anything, because there’s too much to notice already.
SHIELD tells him sensory overload might be a problem with his new world and new powers. Steve doesn’t care for the reason. He only wants it to stop.
Steve doesn’t know how to cope so he does the only thing he can. He goes back to Brooklyn.
His old house is an attraction now. A piece of history with a placet that says “Steve Rogers grew up here”. It says a few more things but Steve stops reading. He doesn’t need to know. He lived this. Steve walks into the crumbling ruins. He knows it’s dangerous but he doesn’t care. He needs something familiar. Something quiet.
Steve thinks about his miserable childhood in this house. Just him, his mother, and stories about his dad. He thinks about growing up scared and alienated, before deciding he grew up special. He remembers being just a kid from Brooklyn.
Steve believed most of his life that he was special. That he was made to be Captain America. That there was no one like him. But… as he steps into the house, the only place he could bear in this world, he knows that’s not true. This world, this almost entirely new world, is filled with incredible people, who aren’t overwhelmed by it all, but are used to it, lived in it, created it. But Steve Rogers is just a kid from Brooklyn who can’t do this. He can’t.
When he leaves the house he feels a sharp… feeling in his bicep. Steve doesn’t know how to describe it but he never felt it before. And certainly not… without interacting with another object. It makes a startled gasp come out of him, and he grips the sore spot.
What just happened? Steve wonders, what is this?
“This era is doing something to my body,” Steve complains to the SHIELD agent, after the random… touches? That wasn’t exactly right. It was closer to the feeling of being stabbed by a needle but somehow worse. Sometimes it felt like something was pressing into his skin for a long time. Either way, they kept happening. “I get these… presses? I can feel things on my body.”
Fury raises an eyebrow, “you have a sense of touch?”
“It's not touch,” Steve argues, “it’s… sometimes I get them without touching anything.”
Fury’s eyes light up, “soulmate pains.”
Steve blinks. Pain feels like a better word for the things. But why now? He never had any pain before. Why now? Because it is now, Steve concluded. Steve didn’t have a soulmate so it could only be this time. This time must be doing something to him. “No. I don’t have a soulmate.”
“I think more has changed than you think, Captain,” Fury only tells him.
Steve considers Fury’s answer a non-answer (it is very like him) and decides to figure it out on his own.
He gets a place inside a basement. The landlord looks at him like he’s insane when he tells him that place is exactly what he was looking for. Steve supposed that his place is less than desirable, since it’s away from the sun and the world, but for Steve, it’s exactly what he needs.
Things still cost a lot in the future, more than they should, and Steve gawks at how much he pays just to feed himself. Steve keeps getting money from SHIELD, and he hates it, because he already told them they should have left him in the ice. He still uses it, but if he makes a few extra bucks at a gym and as a bodyguard, no one can say he doesn’t have some pride. He buys punching bags and he watches black and white documentaries and he uses the internet to track down old friends, and that is his life.
Sometimes, when none of the destroyed bags gets him the satisfaction he wants, he wonders. He wonders if his soulmate feels the bruises on his knuckles which he covers with quickly tainted cloth. He wonders if he has a soulmate, or if maybe this global warming he keeps hearing about is poisoning him.
He listens to Peggy speak about always doing what’s right, and he donates all his half ruined bags to the gym he works at. He doesn’t know if he has a soulmate, but if he does, he has to take care of them now.
He picks up a sketchbook instead.
Sam doesn’t understand how this can happen. He understands what happened, yes. He got a soulmate. But it doesn’t… make sense.
He searches online if it’s possible to be that late of a blommer, and a few articles come up about soulmates with huge age differences that makes Sam want to puke.
He dry heaves into the toilet, because his eyes and ears feel like they’re trying to make him cry, and because he can’t get a soulmate when he’s 30, he can’t, he can’t .
The feeling of his ears, his eyes, his head, his brain , pounding and stabbing, and he can’t make it to work and Sarah comes over and she tells him, “it’s pain, Sam, that’s what it is.”
When he feels better, and his sister can stop worrying, he hopes his sister won’t call him a creep, “so. I guess my soulmate is born.”
“Sam,” Sarah shakes her head, “no new born feels like this.”
“You don’t know that,” Sam objects, “maybe they’re abused by their parents. Would make sense why they’d want to be with a 48 year old when they turn 18.” Sam winces, immediately regretting his distasteful joke.
“This isn’t that kind of pain,” Sarah tells him, “trust me, it’s not. I’ve felt that kind of pain. This isn’t it.”
“Then what kind of pain is it?” Sam asks, curious.
A beat passes while Sarah thinks. “I don’t know,” she admits, “I never had it. No one I know had it. All I know is that if you have a soulmate, they weren’t born just now. They’ve just now experienced pain.”
Sam sighs, “figures that when I do get a soulmate it’s still complicated.”
His soulmate, he learns, experiences a lot of pain. His knuckles ache a lot, but the pain only lasts about five minutes before it fades into a dull kind of ache and then twenty minutes later, it’s gone. Sarah tells him that’s not common but it’s nothing to be worried about. His muscles ache from some kind of effort too often, and it makes him want to stop using his legs and fall to the ground, like some of his fellow unmarked soldiers in basic training did, but the pain doesn’t last long and it somehow… feels less bad than it should. There are some normal pains, paper cuts, the occasional headaches, stabbing his pinky against the coffee table, but it’s all short lived and not enough pain. He realizes Sarah must be right. His soulmate can’t be a newborn. His soulmate's just not normal.
He feels particularly bad on the day he drives away from Washington DC, trying to get as far as he can from New York (though he still takes the wing pack with him). All the pain is still short lived, but it just keeps coming, and Sam tries to concentrate on driving, but it’s hard with all the blows he takes for his soulmate. At least, he thinks, this makes sense. Everyone’s hurting in the battle of New York. Sam’s happy to take the pain away this time around.
Steve doesn’t want to live in Stark Tower (Tony insists that Steve call it the Avengers Tower but he refuses to, since the Avengers don’t live there), but he still thinks team building is important. So he comes to Stark Tower and meets all the Avengers again and tries to push off Tony’s invites to stay at the tower.
The team are discussing what Steve’s first movie should be when James Rhodes, or War Machine as Steve has learned, comes over.
Tony’s face lights up even before the elevators open up all the way, and much to James’ apparent delight he gets an armful of Tony Stark. “Honeybear!” the engineer says before kissing the soldier on the mouth. The whole team stares.
Except Natasha, who seems unfazed, but nothing fazes Nat.
“You didn’t tell me you were coming home today,” Tony tells him, oblivious to the team’s surprise, pulling James towards the couches.
James shrugs with a smirk, “wanted to surprise you.”
“Ugh, you know how much I hate surprises.”
“You love surprises.”
Tony smiles at him fondly, “yeah, I do. But you still should have told me. I have guests over. It would be rude to do… our usual coming home... routine… with them here.”
James pulls the engineer closer and whispers to Tony something in his ear. Bruce and Steve both look to the ground while the others keep being nosy. He can still hear Tony gasping in mock horror.
Steve coughs, hoping they would stop discussing their sex lives in front of everyone and Tony stops giggling and looks right at him, challenging him to say anything.
Steve looks away and tells the team, “um, what movie did you pick?”
“Cap, you have to watch Die Hard,” James butts in, and even though most of the team protests, he seems to be putting his foot down about this, “JARVIS, play Die Hard.”
The movie starts playing and Tony playfully shoves Rhodey off the couch, “I can’t believe your idea for a first movie is Die Hard . You have no appreciation for classics. I was about to wear them down with The Matrix!”
“Baby, don’t be mad,” James teases and steals one kiss from Tony before standing up and brushing himself off, “I’m gonna get some popcorn.
On his way to get the popcorn, James pats him on the shoulder shyly and says, “by the way, I’m James, but you can call me Rhodey. Tony will probably make you call me Rhodey anyway. I’m uh. A fan.” Then he disappears to get popcorn.
Tony flops down next to him, “sorry about him. He’s bossy. Did he bother you?”
“You’re cheating on War Machine?”
Tony gapes at him, “I beg your pardon?”
“Sorry, that’s probably the wrong word,” Steve frowns, “you’re uh… polyamor?”
Tony still gapes at him, “who taught you… never mind. No, I’m not polyamorous. In fact, Rhodey is the only person I’ve ever slept with.”
“But the…” tabloids, Steve thinks but doesn’t say, because he realizes that’s a stupid reason to think something is true. “...Papera,” he finishes.
“Oh boy, am I the one who needs to teach you about corrupt journalists? Not all of them fight for truth, justice and the American way now,” Tony informs him and Steve wants to roll his eyes, because sometimes it’s really tempting to amp up his ‘golly ! This is the future?’ act, just to see how long it takes before Tony realizes it’s an act. “Rhodey and I are soulmates. I met him when I was 14. Never been with anyone else.”
“You have a soulmate?” Steve whispers and Natasha shushes him. Easy for her to say, she already knew.
Tony rolls his eyes, “don’t act so surprised. I’m not unloveable, y’know.”
“No, no, it's just… you nearly sacrificed your life… and you have a soulmate… that’s-”
“Oh,” Tony blinks, “that. Never really thought of it that way. Huh. Well, you know, James is active combat, so god knows he’s given me his fair share of pain. Don’t tell him that, though. We’re equals. He scares me shitless, I scare him shitless. We’ve decided a long time ago not to consider each other in these situations. We have to fight, and it sucks that the other suffers, yes, but we’re both willing to take it.”
Steve pauses. He wonders if he could get a soulmate like that. A soulmate that understands. He must, right? That’s why they’ll be soulmates. They’ll understand each other.
“Maybe that’s why you’re soulmates.”
Tony smiles sadly, “that’s a nice thought, Cap. I have a better story about it, though.”
Tony tells him about how he and Rhodey met and didn’t realize they were soulmates. They were friends for a long time before they realized, and by then they managed to fall in love all on their own. Tony tells him that if he hadn’t known Rhodey before he knew he was his soulmate, he would have run for the hills. He always assumed his soulmate hated him because of how much pain he granted them, and if they didn’t hate him yet they would hate him upon meeting him. But Rhodey and him did meet each other before and that’s how the universe guaranteed that Tony would stay with his soulmate.
“You think it’s fate?” Steve laughs. He believes in a fate by God, but he doesn’t think any God would think he belongs here enough to only grant him a soulmate here. Steve decided when he got out of the ice, that this was all a punishment by God for not having a soulmate back in the day, and he would have to make up for it some way. Maybe by getting a soulmate that wasn’t right for him, maybe by suddenly having pain. So Steve scoffs at Tony because this era can’t be his fate. At least not in a positive way.
Tony shrugs, “Rhodey brings out the corniness out of me.”
James returns with the popcorn and scolds Tony for distracting Steve from the important movie. They bicker as if he doesn’t exist, and Steve knows that Tony might be crazy with his theories about soulmates, but he’s undeniably found his.
Steve might scoff at fate, but that’s exactly what it is when he decides to move to Washington DC the next week.
Eventually Sam stops worrying about his soulmate. He’ll meet them when he meets them and hopefully they won’t be a toddler.
“Need a medic?” Steve asks the mystery runner he’s been sort of following for the past week. He didn’t know why he was following him, but Steve hadn’t run in a while and that guy seemed to have a usual track that Steve could follow. He was Air-Force, Steve could tell by his shirt, so his workout must be a little more up Steve’s speed. Also... the view was pretty nice, okay?
He seemed to exhaust the guy, and it would have been rude to abandon this stranger who seems to be in pain. It’s not Steve’s fault this guy is competitive, but he can’t help but feel bad. Plus, he needs a break. Apparently, his soulmate is working his legs too because they feel tense and his chest feels a little tight. Which is weird, Steve thinks, almost like that pain is his own. He could keep going, he wouldn’t cause himself more pain by running, but still.
The guy laughs, “I need a new set of lungs. Dude, you just ran thirteen miles in like thirty minutes.”
“I guess I got a late start,” Steve teases.
The guy chuckles, “really? You should be ashamed of yourself. You should take another lap.” The poor guy still needs to take some air in, and Steve smiles at the joke. “Did you just take it?” apparently the guy isn’t done with his quips, “I assume you just took it.”
Steve grins at the joke, “what unit you with?” He asks out of curiosity, but also if it’s a particularly athletic unit, Steve plans to jokingly bring up the guy’s unit being disappointed in him.
“ 58, Pararescue. But now I'm working down at the VA,” the guy tells him and offers his hand up for Steve to take, “Sam Wilson.” Huh. He didn’t know why he assumed Sam wasn’t a civilian. Probably just hoped someone like him would live around here. Then again, maybe Steve is a civilian now too.
“Steve Rogers,” Steve says and pulls Sam up with his hand. Then he winces, a sudden pain in his hands. He wonders about his soulmate, wondering why their actions seem to sync up with Steve’s. He blinks once before, suddenly, he realizes.
He looks up at Sam, in awe.
“Yeah,” the guy grunts while being lifted up, “I kind of put that together.” Sam looks at him weirdly, “you okay? Did I hurt you? Because if that run couldn’t make your legs go sore, I don’t see how I-”
“No,” Steve shakes his head, “I hurt you.”
“No, you didn’t-” Sam begins before he stares at him, just for a beat, and then says, quietly, “oh.”
Two strangers in the park stare at one another, both with the same looks of awe and bewilderment.
Later, much later, Steve would know Sam is his soulmate because he’s just what he needed and he’d feel bad for dragging Sam into danger and his chaotic life. Later, much later, Sam would know Steve is his soulmate because he gave him back something he didn’t know he missed and he’d feel weird for moving on from Riley this way and wondering how his life became this.
But right now, they're just two strangers in the park, talking about soft beds and Marvin Gaye, making offers to meet at the VA because Steve probably needs it and Sam wants it and kissing against a tree for the very first time.