Before the ice, Steve knew that he didn’t have a soulmate. He had never felt the tug of the other side of the bond. He had never felt sensations that weren’t his, emotions that belonged to someone else. It wasn’t uncommon, back in the Depression. Sometimes soulmates died young, before a bond could form. Sometimes mates weren’t born.
His parents weren’t mates, his Ma would remind him. We were happy enough without a bond.
“I’m glad I don’t have a mate,” He told Bucky one winter, around the constricting bands he felt around his chest. “At least I know she ain’t hurtin’ like me.”
He ignored the look on Bucky’s face and focused on breathing through the hacking coughs that stole the badly needed air from his lungs.
Tony is four and is so very cold.
It’s July, and outside it’s sweltering, and he can see the heatwaves rising from the ground when he looks outside his bedroom window, but Tony is shivering, his teeth chattering.
His Mama swaddles him in blankets and instructs Jarvis to light a fire, despite the heat outside. She holds him close, and Tony can feel how sweaty her forehead is against his, but he is still freezing. He appreciates the hot cocoa Jarvis brings him though, and falls asleep on his mother lap, feeling safe and loved, if not warm.
That night, just like every other, Maria Carbonell held her rosary beads and pleaded with the saints to protect her baby boy.
Bucky gets drafted, and Steve meets Erskine, and Steve’s world changes.
He meets Peggy Carter, who doesn’t believe in mates, and doesn’t care that Steve is small. Steve only met her a few weeks ago, but he thinks he might be a little in love with her.
Then he gets chosen for the Serum, and Erskine asks him if he has a soulmate.
Steve answers him, and doesn’t miss the loosening of the Doctors shoulders. He wonders why, until Stark’s machine turns on and the screaming starts.
At least he knew that no one was suffering with him.
Tony is ten years old and his parents are fighting. It’s not uncommon. They never stop arguing nowadays, he thinks, as he shudders and pulls his blankets tighter around his shoulders.
Today it’s about him.
“You need to stop pandering to him, Maria! He’s a Stark-”
“He is a child!”
“Enough! I refuse to have this conversation with you again-”
Tony smiles gratefully at Jarvis as the butler hands him the mug of cocoa. The man tucks the blanket a little tighter around his young masters shoulders, before he returns to the dinner preparations. Tonight, he knows, Howard will inform Tony of the boarding school the boy had been accepted into.
Unlike Mrs Stark, Jarvis did not have the freedom to argue with Mr Stark about his decisions. The butler resigns himself to worrying about Master Tony and his soulmate.
Tony simply rubs his chest and tries to project comforting thoughts to his mate.
Bucky is holding on, his fingers wrapped around the metal, but he’s slipping, and Steve can’t reach, and then he’s watching, watching as his best friend falls, and wishes more than anything to go down with him-
-Steve wakes up to a dark and cold tent in the middle of Austria, and sees the empty bed roll beside his own.
His Ma’ was long gone now, and he had just gotten his friend, his brother, killed. For the first time, he is totally alone.
He takes a deep, shuddering breath in the oppressive silence of the tent, and for the first time, he curses his lack of a soulmate to help him cope with the pain.
Rhodey wraps an arm around his shuddering frame, and leads him away from the graves of his parents. Obadiah stops to deal with the press, but Rhodey just keeps walking, back into the car.
Inside the car, Tony finally lets the tears spill down his cheeks. He feels the familiar chill in his bones, and not for the first time, curses his soulmate for not being there.
Steve is going down, and he knows, can already feel the phantom water filling his lungs. He hears Peggy’s voice, stares into her eyes in the picture in his compass. He arranges a date that they both know he’ll never make, and his eyes sting with tears.
He could have had it all with Peggy. Marriage, kids, the American dream, the ideal his parents had emigrated from Ireland for. They might not have been soulmates, but they could have made it work.
That’s why, as he goes down, he dreams of Peggy in beautiful white dress, and not some fantasy person that Steve never had the option of having.
Tony has shrapnel in his chest, and the cave is cold.
He’s used to cold, of course. His bones have felt as if they were made of ice for as long as he could remember. But Tony, Tony has always been coddled, wrapped in blankets by his mother, warm hugs from Rhodey that he could almost feel. Tony’s soulmate might always be freezing, but Tony’s never been truly cold, all by himself.
But the cave is dark and damp, and his chest aches, and he’s attached to a goddamn car battery, and oh god, they just keep pushing him under, again and again-
The second time they have to perform CPR makes him feel as if he not only had a hole in his sternum, but as if they had ripped his heart out entirely.
Then he builds the first miniaturized Arc Reactor, and he builds the Mark I (because he knows, he has to finish this, so there will be more), and he watches his first friend he made in the past decade die, and he kills his first men with his own hands, and he’s walking through the desert and, and-
And for the first time, he thanks whatever deities that exist that his soulmate is perpetually cold, because while he can feel his shoulders blistering, can feel how dry his mouth is, but he doesn’t feel the heat in his core, and it keeps him going, until Rhodey can wrap his arms around him and Tony knows he’s safe.
Steve wakes up and his chest aches.
Fury – Director Fury, and boy, if anyone ever fitted their name better, Steve sure wanted to meet them, tells him he’s been asleep, and Steve realises that the impossible happened.
He has a soulmate.
He wants to scream. His soulmate could be in their sixties, could have lived a whole lifetime without him, like Peggy, beautiful Peggy who still as gorgeous as ever, despite her frailness. She met her soulmate, she tells him, in her more lucid moments. She was right. She lived happily unbonded with a lovely looking woman she calls Angie when she shows him the picture, and Steve heart hurts, under his soulmates pain.
His soulmate is constantly tense, his shoulders knotted, and Steve sometimes gets flickers of emotion – mostly irritation, but sometimes, sometimes he gets something he can only describe as longing.
Steve wishes he was stronger. He wishes he could reach out, try to find this mystery, to give them both peace.
But this person, they could have been born in 1945. They could have lived their entire life without him. They could be older, their face lined with the age that Steve is missing. But he’s already lost everything. He’s clinging to Peggy, but he’s losing her too, her memory riddled with more holes than Bucky’s moth eaten old socks. Call him selfish, but he can’t lose something he’s never had.
I’m sorry, he thinks, and knows it isn’t enough.
For the first time in his life, Tony feels truly warm. He almost doesn’t know what the feeling is.
As soon as he notices, he excuses himself from the board meeting to have a panic attack in a closet. It’s Pepper who finds him, Pepper who whispers ‘Oh Tony,’ Pepper who herds him to the car, where Happy takes him home, Pepper who gets him to the penthouse of his almost finished tower, and oh god, how much Tony wishes she was the one who made him feel like this.
The second thing Tony does, is take a steaming hot bath -pushing away memories of a hands in his hair, submerging him- and for the first time, he feels something that isn’t cold or numb.
The third thing he does, because he can feel something, or more aptly, someone, at the edge of his consciousness, is clamp down on the connection, hard enough he thinks, that if this was a movie, he’d have broken it.
The fourth thing Tony Stark does after his soulmate is awoken, is cry.
Steve’s chest is still aching, but he’s fighting, and it almost feels like the Howling Commandos, except the Howling Commandos never fought actual aliens, and god, Bucky would have loved this.
The Avengers – the Avengers are becoming a team, forged in fire.
Thor and Banner – the Hulk, he reminds himself, are brawlers, like Dum-Dum, and seem to be enjoying themselves. Barton is sniper, like Bucky, and he’s up high, making snarky comments and he thinks of Gabe. Romanov – Romanov, while she reminds him of Peggy, he thinks that she is more like Morita, using her body as a weapon.
And Stark, Stark is flying, and if this is the future, Steve is glad to witness it.
But then the warhead is aimed at Manhattan, and Stark is riding it into the portal, and Steve knows a little something about sacrifice plays, but he can’t help but feel pre-emptive grief at the loss of another teammate.
He feels a wave of something from his soulmate, a deliberate, if brief, contact – for the first time ever- he is so startled that he barely recognises the feeling of apology and he doesn’t get-
It’s only when the pain in his chest worsens suddenly, then gradually lessens, until all he feels is empty, that Steve realises.
He’s lost something he never had.
Hulk shocking his heart back, a team dinner and a demi-god in chains later, Tony Stark faces his soulmate for the first time without being under the influence of some crazy guys magic stick.
“Explains the cold, I suppose.” He states flippantly, and winces when the other man almost imperceptibly flinches.
“At least I know you haven’t got an age related heart problem.” And ooh, was that sass? Tony thinks he likes the good Captain a bit better if the man is willing to sass him. “And I think we should start over.”
“We weren’t exactly introduced in the best circumstances.” At this, Rogers sticks his hand out. “Hi, I’m Steve Rogers.”
Tony smirks, and says “Tony Stark. You're only thirty eight years late.” And goes to shake the other man’s hand.
Their hands meet, and the bond flares up, bright, beautiful and warm.