"C'mon, Stevie," Bucky cajoled. "Just one hint?"
Steve scowled and shoved his hands deeper into his coat pockets. "Leave off, Buck. It's supposed to be private."
He snorted. "Says Father O'Malley."
"Says my Ma and your Ma."
Bucky glanced down at his own forearm -- blank to Steve's eyes, but Bucky clearly saw something there because his lips upturned at the corner.
"Sure is a pretty name," he sighed, then gave Steve a sidelong glance. "You got Edith, don't ya?"
"No!" Steve yelped, then punched Bucky hard on the shoulder just for good measure. Edith Abernathy had been mooning over Steve since kindergarten -- Lord knows why. She was always bringing over cookies and soup whenever he was sick. She was... nice, but not the one.
Bucky ducked his punch, cackling, and Steve's short sleeve rode up on his forearm.
ANTHONY showed briefly -- flat-silver lettering to Steve's eyes, like a scar, in big block letters. The rest: EDWARD STARK was still covered by his shirt. He thanked the Lord every day that your soulmate's name wasn't visible to everyone else 'til you touched them. Father O'Malley would probably have something to say about Steve's soulmate being a boy.
Bucky returned to Steve's side, still grinning. They walked a few steps, then he blurted. "Natasha. That's her name."
"Bucky," Steve tried not to blush. What he was sharing was considered very, very private.
But Bucky was undeterred. "You should know, because you're my best pal and if you ever meet her, you can send her my way."
Steve swallowed. "Okay." He covered his hand over his own forearm. He didn't share Anthony's name, and Bucky didn't ask again.
It wasn't the first time Steve laid eyes on Howard Stark. Before, at the World's fair, it had been with a sense of shame. If Howard was a brother or a cousin, would he be willing to introduce him to Anthony? Scrawny, broke Steve who was too sickly to fight in the war. What would Anthony say? What would he think?
Because Steve was certain as the sun rose that his Anthony was part of the war effort. He'd have to be. All men even half-able were going overseas -- well. All men but him.
Now, Steve had a chance to help his country. Erskine's procedure was tomorrow, and Howard Stark had bustled into medical to take final measurements. The machine he was working on had to be precise.
Nearly vibrating tension, Steve waited until Erskine and the MPs had stepped out of view. Then he asked, casual as he could, "Do you know an Anthony?"
"Hm?" Howard looked at him, distracted, then turned to jot a notation down on his clipboard.
Steve swallowed and tried a different track. "You look like someone I knew in Brooklyn. Do you have a cousin named Anthony--?"
This time Howard turned his attention toward him, and flashed a smile. "Sorry, kid. I'm the one and only. Now, extend your left arm so I can take the proper length. Yes, there we go."
Shoving down disappointment, Steve complied. To push the issue would raise questions, and if anyone knew he had a man's name on his arm, they'd choose Hodge for the procedure. Not him.
It's fine, he told himself. I'll meet Anthony when I'm able to serve. I just know it.
Steve placed his compass and Peggy's picture on the dash in front of him. The windshield view was filled by white ice, with jagged streaks of dark blue ocean water breaking it up.
He wondered if dying was going to hurt, or if it was like falling asleep.
The ice was growing closer, and the radio had cut to static. His gaze flicked from the window, back to the compass, then to the underside of his arm. Anthony's name.
I'm sorry, he thought. For leaving you before we met. For everything.
The plane hit.
Tony Stark had just turned two years, four months and fifteen days old by his own count. He knew how to read a lot of words -- most of the important ones, in his opinion, but it was a surprise and a delight to discover new, very special words.
"I know these!" he crowed triumphantly, pointing to a yellowed newspaper clipping on the table.
His father started in surprise in his chair, nearly tipping his drink. He hadn't known Tony was in the library with him because Tony had been extra, extra quiet. Sometimes his father yelled when he didn't want to be disturbed.
His father was gathering himself up for it now, probably to call Jarvis. To forestall him, Tony pointed again at the newspaper, then at his own forearm where the letters he saw were reflected exactly, only in neat silver cursive. "These are my names," he proclaimed.
Jarvis had told him all about the soulmark names, had even showed Tony his own -- which were visible in inky black writing because he had met Anna, his wife.
The cigar in his father's mouth drooped, and for a second Tony thought his daddy was proud of him because he wasn't speaking. He just stared.
Then, "MARIA! Get in here!"
What followed was a lot of yelling, his Momma asking to write down the letters only Tony could see on his forearm, and words from his father that Tony knew he should never repeat.
Finally, Howard said, "You know what this means? He's alive -- they'd never form if he wasn't--"
"Oh Howard, it has to be a coincidence," Tony's mother said, and lifted Tony up. He turned to put his cheek on her shoulder -- she rarely held him, and he already knew to take advantage.
"First, middle, and last? And I've seen his Roger's signature myself. Does it look like this, boy?" Howard held up another paper. It had a gaunt faced man in an army suit. 4-F stamped boldly in red. At the bottom was a signature -- the exact one on Tony's arm: STEVEN GRANT ROGERS.
Not sure if he's was in trouble or not, Tony nodded.
"Ha!" Howard barked, "It had to be the serum. It kept him alive -- we just need to find him, and by God, we will! I've got to call Obie -- arrange an expedition." He strode out of the room.
"Momma," Tony whispered, "is my soulname bad?"
He was surprised -- and a little grateful -- when she hugged him close. But her next words chilled him right through. "You must never tell anyone the name on your arm. Not even Jarvis. Lie and say your name is something else. Do you understand me?"
Tony was two years, four months and -- he checked the clock to confirm it was past midnight -- sixteen days old, but even he knew it was wrong to say your soulname was someone else. Wrong in a deep down way that went to his core.
"Why?" he asked.
She squeezed him tight, then set him down. Without her arms, Tony felt cold. Her bangles on jingled on her arms, and not for the first time Tony noted her arm was bare to his eyes, too. She and his father were not soulmates.
Maria looked him in the eyes. "Because if they knew he was alive, people would have questions. Some might even want to take you to find him. Do you understand?"
That was silly. His father would build something to find Tony even if he was ever lost or kidnapped. He knew this. But his mother was looking at him so earnestly, when she usually didn't look at him at all. Tony found himself nodding.
"What if I just don't say who it is? No one can make me tell." He was a Stark. His father said they had iron in their spines.
Her smile wobbled. "Yes, dear. Either lie, or don't tell anyone at all."
Steve Rogers stared at his hands, which were lightly clasped in front of him on a sleek black table. Everything about the future was sleek, or clean. Artificial.
If Bucky were here, he'd be marveling at all this. Glass that lit up, that you could type commands onto. Whole telephones so tiny and slim you could keep inside your pocket. But it all felt... washed out and muted, after the jazzy glitter of Time Square. He wasn't sure he was ready for the rest of the world.
Fury had talked him back into SHIELD. Some nice men and women in suits had told him outlines of the last few decades, had asked him questions he wasn't sure he had the answers too. How was he feeling? Did he understand what was going on? Where he was? Did he have any questions?
Questions? He had millions of them. And none at all.
His left hand was turned. The first few letters of his soulmark's name showing on silvery skin.
Steve hadn't felt much but rage, terror, and revenge since Bucky fell. The impact that he'd lifted an entire life -- seventy years -- without him, landed, but not hard. Maybe it would hurt later. He didn't know.
"Captain Rogers, are you listening?"
Steve looked up to the annoyed face of the General across the table. He was in yet another meeting. He'd lost count of them all. Why did this General have so many decorations over his chest? Surely, the couldn't all be metals, he wondered for a distracted second.
"Yes, sir," he lied. He'd already heard some of the SHIELD kids whisper that Captain America didn't lie. He didn't know where that got started.
The General -- Ross, wasn't it? -- leaned back in his chair, as if his point was made. He'd probably been making a point.
"I think," said the second man in the room. He spoke on behalf of the World Council, whatever that was meant to mean. "We ought to give the Captain time to process all of this. SHIELD has the resources--"
"The Army is fully equipped with medical," Ross eyed Steve, "and psychological staff on hand."
Steve felt like bristling at that. His mind was fine. He was just in a little shock, after all.
"With all due respect, Captain Rogers' case is unusual enough to fall under SHIELD purview."
"He enlisted with the Army."
"I doubt that makes much of a difference now," the third and final man reminded him. Fury. He glared at Ross with his one good eye. Steve had taken a good read around the room, and Fury's body language -- such as it was -- indicated Pierce and Fury were in alliance, and they didn't like Ross very much. That was fine. Steve didn't, either.
He'd made up his mind yesterday that he'd sign up with SHIELD, when they offered.
The door suddenly slid open. Ross, Pierce, and Fury came to attention as another man strode in.
The man was a touch shorter than average height, wore a suit that was probably in the fashion these days -- close fitting, with a crimson red button up shirt and an overcoat that was tailored to the nines. He strode -- almost strutted in -- and glanced at Steve from over red-tinted circular sunglasses.
The impact of his gaze left Steve winded, and he wasn't sure why.
"Stark," Fury growled, and Steve's heart lurched painfully in his chest. "What are you doing here?"
The man turned his gaze to Fury, and his smile had a sharp edge to it. "Overseeing my holdings? Apparently my father's own expedition discovered something that SHIELD tried to cover up."
"The nature of the discovery fell under SHIELD's --"
"Uh-huh." The man turned his back to Fury in deliberate insult and stepped closer to Steve. He held out his hand. "Anthony Edward Stark. Call me Tony."
There was a beat in the room -- Steve wasn't looking at the other officials, but could feel their surprise. No one three-named themselves.
He knew the moment when someone got it. Interestingly enough, it was Pierce who snapped, "Stop him--"
But Steve had already risen to his feet. His right hand clasped over Anthony's--Tony's, firm and sure. "Steven Grant Rogers," he said. A warm wave rolled through his body, from the point of contact and down his spine and through his limbs. He was too busy gazing into Tony's warm, brown eyes, but the itch on his skin told him the silver marks were filling in black -- becoming visible to the world. Steve added, "It's good to finally meet you."
"Technically," Tony said, "I've been waiting longer to meet you."
"Well, I'll be damned," Fury breathed.
And just like that, Steve became aware of the rest of the room again. More, he was aware of the controlled concern Tony was expertly hiding under confidence and showmanship. Steve was in danger, his soulmate's feelings told him without words. They were in danger here.
Tony held his gaze for another beat, then turned to the room. "We're leaving," he announced, as if it was going to be that easy.
Sure enough, Ross bristled. "Captain Rogers is under Army command."
"So was Blonski, and Harlem still shows how that turned out. Even if someone was crazy enough to give you another super soldier, Captain Rogers signed up for a four year commitment, seventy years ago," Tony interrupted. There was steel in his voice. "I'll have my lawyers send over a calculator if you don't trust the math." He glanced over to Fury, ignoring Pierce completely. "And you aren't getting him, either. He hasn't signed a contract agreement with you--" he glanced over at Steve for confirmation.
"I haven't," he agreed.
"As soulmate, I have legal power of Attorney."
It was then that Steve realized he was still holding hands with Tony. In public. But he couldn't care a whit. He tightened his grip in a tiny squeeze. Tony squeezed back.
Ross's voice was steely as he said, "Do you think you can walk out of here?"
"Try to stop us," Tony replied. "No really. I could use the data for my next upgrade."
No one replied, which was good because Steve could feel that Tony was partially bluffing.
Tony squeezed Steve's hand, and together they walked out of the room. No one rose from their seats. No one called out for them to halt.
The doors leading to the street-level were just up ahead. Hand-in-hand, with his soulmate at last, Steve had never felt stronger.
"I," Steve mused, watching the exits as they crossed the lobby, "am soulmated to a very interesting man."
"Brave new world," Tony replied quickly. "And I'm one of the movers and shakers in it. I hope you learn quickly, Captain."
"Steve," he said.
"Steve." The smile Tony sent was quick, but there was something... tender in his eyes, too. Steve got the feeling Tony liked to bluster in public, his masks only coming down in private.
Well, that was fine with him. Captain America started as a USO show. Steve knew all about public faces.
And that's when they came up to a... red and gold mannequin standing rigidly in the middle of the sidewalk, a crowd of admirers around it. As Tony approached, a hatch opened in the thing, and Steve realized it was an... armor? Like a medieval knight.
"I think," he said, "I see what you mean." It is a brave new world, and Steve had a lot of catching up to do.
For the first time since he woke up, Steve found he was looking forward to it.
Minutes later, standing on one boot for balance with his arm wrapped securely around 'Iron Man's' middle, Steve caught another glimpse of the inside of his own arm. Of Tony's name, now and forever visible to the world as it always had been for him.
He had a feeling that whatever else may come, the future was going to turn out all right.