The majority of it had been easy for Tony… once the ball got rolling. First was Rhodey, whom he forever (jokingly) blamed for his self-esteem issues as a child. The words “You’re annoying. -JR” being written across Tony’s right bicep since the day he was born. For a brief time, yes, he’d been extremely embarrassed about those words, but his mother would always sit him down when he got upset over them and tell him he was a good person and maybe his soulmate was just joking or something like that.
But no, Rhodey had meant it completely when he first met Tony. After evading the army for three weeks in regards to his father’s inventions, Rhodey finally caught up to Tony in Malibu. “You’re annoying,” he declared simply, approaching Tony in uniform.
“And intelligent,” Tony replied with a smirk, taking a sip of a mojito. “I thought you would take a week to find me; obviously I’ve outsmarted you.”
Rhodey wasn’t impressed, but he sat down and stole the mojito from Tony. “I’m gonna need more of these if I’m gonna spend the rest of my life with you,” he finally declared with a sigh.
The next after him was Pepper, the words “I’m your new PA. -VP” in pleasing script on his left hip, slanting downward. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that relationship was going to be anything but platonic.
After she said those words to Tony, he replied promptly with, “That’s nice. You’re fired.”
Pepper was shocked for… well, a lot of reasons. For one, her soulmate was Tony Stark! And he’d just fired her because… why?
“Is this because I’m your soulmate?” she demanded.
Tony looked up at her, his eyes just barely displaying his surprise. “Okay, you’re unfired,” he decided. “My reason was because I don’t need a new PA for Stane to use to spy on me.”
“I’m your PA, not his,” she assured him. She tried to tell herself that they were meant to be platonic because A, she was not going to get into a relationship with her boss, and B, she wasn’t going to quit just because he was her soulmate.
It was a strange decade of denial.
It was quite some time after that before he found any others, but when he did, “Rushman, Natalie Rushman. –NR,” “Mr. Stark. –SR,” “Do not touch me again. –TO,” “He’s got to heat the cube to a hundred and twenty million Kelvin just to break through the Coulomb barrier. –BB,” and “Wanna give me a lift. -CB” came in short order. Despite having eight sets of words in all, only one wasn’t platonic so far, and the only one he hadn’t met didn’t exactly seem too happy to meet him judging by the words.
He was born with all eight marks in a world that frowned upon having more than three, even if the majority of the relationships were platonic. Of course, being a billionaire softened the bullying he would have received, but it didn’t prevent Tony from feeling like an outcast. After all, who else would have that many marks?
Apparently the answer to that question was Natasha, the third person he met, the one whose mark on him danced across his right shoulder, the name ‘Rushman’ in English both times, but the name ‘Natalie’ being translated back to Russian. In fact, the Avengers came to notice that Natasha’s words were in Russian for each of them, and they had each translated them at one point or another before meeting her. Still, that left three sets of words unaccounted for, one of which Tony only saw on accident after catching her in the shower- she said if he told anyone, his body would never be recovered.
Generally, Natasha was rather open about her marks. Obviously the Avengers had all figured out each other’s marks in relation to one another, and she didn’t particularly care if people saw the one from whoever wanted to know how she was (she found out later that it was Sam Wilson) or the one who didn’t want to go somewhere with her. The only one she cared to hide properly was the one that surrounded a bullet wound she had gotten. “There is no ‘nice’ here. -JB” it read.
It was… what, 1950? Maybe a couple of years earlier, but certainly no later. The modified soldier serum had slowed down her aging process and even though she was well into her twenties, she looked like she was fifteen at best. The Red Room, the Bolshoi, it was just one tangled mass in her head at the time, and she thought she was meeting a new ballet instructor.
“It’s nice to meet you, sir,” she’d greeted him, a smile on her face.
She’d been punched in the stomach by a metal fist and beaten until she was black and blue. Then her attacker, instructor, future lover, whatever he was, told her the words. It was then that she realized she wasn’t with the Bolshoi. She was a Black Widow. That was when the training truly began.
“Hey, Nat, you with us?” Steve asked, and the former Russian flashed the group a smile, forcing a smile onto her face.
“Sorry,” she apologized. “Spaced out.”
Steve had grown up embarrassed with his three marks. All of them were older than him, he was sure—it was rare to be born with the marks of those younger than you. “I’ve come here to put an end to Loki’s schemes! –TO” was written in a Nordic-type font in red and silver on the inside of his left forearm, taking up almost the entirety skin there. “You alright? –JB” was tiny, on the inner side of his right pinky finger, the script more like blocks in black. “Gentlemen, I’m Agent Carter, I supervise all operations of this division. –PC” was in a loopy, feminine blue script on top of his right shoulder and making it down to the top of his arm. He questioned Agent Carter’s gender on more than one occasion; it was rare to have a female running operations, but the thought of having a strong, determined partner gave Steve no grief.
Another mark appeared when he was young, a lengthy one in blood red that wrapped around from his middle spine to his stomach and read, “There was quite the buzz around here, finding you in the ice. I thought Coulson was gonna swoon. Did he ask you to sign his Captain America trading cards yet? –NR.” Who Coulson and Captain America were, he didn’t know, and honestly, he didn’t quite care.
He was embarrassed with the marks for a very simple reason: he could never figure out who was platonic and who was romantic. After meeting Bucky, they had jumped back and forth between the two more times than he cared to count, and he couldn’t help but wonder if the other three would be the same.
Peggy wound up being romantic, but he thought he would never get to find out about TO and NR. He wound up in the ice before he could even meet anyone with the initials TO, much less someone with his words. He’d met a couple of people with the initials NR, but once again, no one with his words.
Waking up, Steve felt the tingling warmth he felt when he was young and got Natasha’s marks. At first, he ignored it, instead focusing on getting out of wherever he was being kept, but after allowing Fury to take him back to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s New York headquarters, he looked at his arms, his back, his legs, everywhere, trying to find the mark he knew was there.
Or, as it would be, marks. He now had ten marks in total, an astounding number. He’d never known anyone with that many, not even Howard. All his old marks were still there, though Peggy’s was fading, but he counted six new ones. “A lot of people were. You were the world’s first superhero. –PC” was written in gray on the top of his foot in a basic, straight-line font. “Oh, yeah. Hi. They told me you'd be coming. –BB” was on his right wrist, green and purple and on his pulse point. “Captain. –AS” was in fire engine red, taking up far more room than it should have been on his left pectoral.
He already wanted to slap AS. Seriously, could they not come up with a clearer introduction.
“I can. –CB” was on the underside of his middle right finger. Once again, he was frustrated with the simple introduction. At least “Uh-huh, on my left. Got it. –SW” had something original to say, even if it took Steve ten minutes to find it on the back of his left knee. His personal favorite was “Hey there Capsicle. –DL” running down the left side of his spine in electric blue. At least someone had a sense of humor about his situation, even if he couldn’t just yet.
The official meeting between Clint and Bruce was almost comical. For groups, it wasn’t rare for individuals not to talk to each other for a while after meeting, and they often wouldn’t realize it until they spoke to one another for the first time. For Clint and Bruce, it was after the Battle of New York when they were all eating shawarma.
“This is actually pretty good shawarma,” Bruce declared, nodding a little as he spoke to everyone. He’d had more than his fair share in his travels, and this was the first time a restaurant in America matched up to the authentic cuisine.
Clint nodded in agreement. “Yeah, it’s really authentic and HOW ARE WE ALL ALIVE?”
Everyone jumped a little at Clint’s outburst, the question coming to their minds as well. Bruce just bit back a smile.
It took the Avengers longer than any of them cared to admit to realize that while they all had each other’s fonts and words on their skin, there was another they all shared. It was the same blue as the Tesseract and in a delicate, feminine handwriting, and there were times when one of them would swear the words would shimmer and glow.
They made bets on when they would meet DL.
Tony had twenty on Natasha being the first of them to meet DL. Steve had thirty on Pepper’s words coming immediately after Tony insulted DL. Bruce put ten on one of them scaring DL half to death.
They made bets on why DL would come into their lives.
“Scientist,” Clint bet, throwing fifteen dollars into the pot. It had started out as a pile on the table when they were drunk, but one of them (no one remembered who) brought out an actual pot to put the money in. People would write their bets and names on dollar bills and toss it into the pot whenever they got the chance.
Two days later, Natasha came in with a split lip and a gash in her head and dropped a ten dollar bill in the pot. “Asgardian,” she declared.
The next to make a bet was Thor with a couple of gold coins. “A witch,” he decided. “She has to be a witch.”
Pepper actually laughed at that one. “You’re telling me witches are real now, too?” she asked.
Thor nodded like it was the simplest thing in the world.
The redhead sighed and shook her head. “Well, if everyone else is doing it, I might as well, too.” There were whoops and hollers as Pepper pulled out a fifty dollar bill and wrote down her bet. “DL is probably just someone totally normal who gets wrapped up in this on accident, one of you is going to scare him or her, and he or she is going to hurt whoever it is so bad that you wind up in the hospital.”
Oddly enough, none of them made bets on who was platonic with DL and who was romantic.
As it turned out, Pepper, Steve, and Bruce were all right.