Steve had made it his life's mission to excel at everything.
This wasn't because of either narcissism or a lack of self-esteem. It wasn't even because he was a good artist or that he'd become an excellent gymnast after he'd finally hit his growth spurt in his late teens. It wasn't even because he filled out athletic gear really, really well. It was because his soulmarks pretty much demanded it.
Well, that was impressive started from the base of his spine and curled around his left butt cheek like a tail. Steve liked to think it meant his soulmate had a good sense of humor.
Sam figured it meant the guy was an ass. "But then again," Sam always added, "It means you'll be perfect for each other."
Sam was also an ass, which was why the words, You're an ass, ran just above his tailbone like a tramp stamp. Universal payback was a bitch.
Somehow, Steve and Sam were best friends anyway.
Sam was also friends with 'Genius, Billionaire, Playboy Philanthropist' Tony Stark. The story there was that Sam had pushed Tony out of the way of a car when Tony had stumbled into the street as a sad, drunken teen. Sam had ended up with a broken collarbone and a friend for life.
This lifelong friendship had resulted in some amazing opportunities, like Sam being invited to the inaugural weekend of Tony's new 'cottage'. Which was a cottage only in the same way that a Lamborghini was a 'car'. It was actually a stupidly big, luxury chalet nestled on the beautiful island Tony owned in Muskoka. Because Tony was rich.
He was also a traditionalist, because even though he could probably afford to bring in an army of workers to get the cottage ready for the party, he was making Sam and Steve do it in payment for room and board.
"And alcohol!" Tony grunted as he helped Steve and Sam put the dock out. "And the best hot dogs you'll ever eat. And an epic bonfire! With s'mores!"
"Are you trying to motivate us, or yourself?" Sam grunted back as he levered the extraordinarily heavy dock into the water. "This sucks by the way. Just saying."
"My boat's worth it." Tony shoved the supports with his shoulder. He was chest-deep in the lake, and seemingly having the time of his life. "And Steve doesn't think it sucks! Do you, Steve?"
"I think I just swallowed a horsefly."
"Well, that was impressive," Sam said. And laughed. The ass.
"You're an ass," Steve said back.
"You're both wimps," Tony said. "And Steve, if it was small enough to swallow it was probably a deer fly." He shook his head like a sheepdog, scattering more disgustingly muddy water over everything. "This is living! Isn't this living, guys?"
"I'm going to drown you," Sam said.
"You love it!"
"I'd better love that alcohol a whole lot," Sam said.
"The water stinks, Tony," Steve said, which he was extremely aware of because he was waist-deep in it, helping Tony pull the dock into place.
"Only near the shore," Tony said happily. "It's just a little mud!" He grinned down at the water. "Look! Minnows!"
"I know. They're inside my shorts, nibbling on my thighs."
"That's the most action you've had in a while, isn't it?" Sam laughed.
"Fuck you." Steve tried to splash Sam where he was standing, still dry on the dock. Steve's foot slipped and he went under the water, immediately coming up spluttering.
"Well, that was impressive," Sam and Tony said.
Bucky had made it his life's mission to go anywhere and everywhere in the world that had cool things to look at.
It wasn't that he was particularly fond of travelling, or even travelling to places with cool things to look at. It was because he was born with the words, Enjoying the view? emblazoned in a neat circle around his navel like an invitation.
Bucky's navel wasn't all that interesting, but some day he'd meet someone who was that interesting. And he could only assume they'd be looking in the same direction at something they both thought was cool. He liked the synergy of that. But the only way to make that happen was to keep finding cool views to enjoy.
So he travelled. A lot. And then he started writing about his experiences because, hey, it was better than reading the in-flight magazines.
By the time he ended up sitting beside the incredible Virginia 'call me Pepper' Potts on a first-class flight to Shanghai, he was kind of famous for it. Even though he'd had to sweet-talk his way into first class and she probably just bought the whole plane.
But they hit it off, and when he told her what he did for a living, she invited him to the party Mr. Stark was throwing at his new cottage in Ontario. Bucky had been to the observation deck on the CN Tower in Toronto, and that had had a hell of a view. But he'd never gone rural. Pepper said the views were very enjoyable. He was sold.
Steve made a face at Sam as he walked by, arms laden with yet another pile of dried wood that Tony insisted they needed for the epic bonfire for the night portion of the cottage warming party.
"Thanks," Steve groused at him.
Sam wasn't wrong though. A whole day spent in the hot sun, added to the bug spray, sun screen, creosote, baked-on muddy lake water and his own sweat meant that Steve was now even offending himself. "I was just heading in for a shower."
"I call dibs!" Sam shouted as he tossed the wood in the direction of the fire pit and bolted for the house.
"You’re an ass!" Steve shouted at his retreating back. It wasn't like the massive mansion would run out of hot water. Sam was just being a jerk.
"You'd better hurry." Tony came out onto the patio, a tumbler of amber liquid in his hand. He was wearing leather boat shoes, tan pants and an 'Iron Maiden' T-shirt, looking like he'd stepped out of a Tommy Hilfiger catalogue by way of a record shop. "Pepper and her entourage are arriving in about twenty minutes. And you smell. Like, really terrible."
"Gee, if only I'd been able to go in, take a hot shower, get changed and grab a drink while my friends were still finding kindling in the woods," Steve said.
"If only you owned the cottage." Tony grinned at him. "Better hurry up."
"You're an ass!" Steve called after him as Tony ambled down to the fire pit.
"Not my soulmarks!" Tony called back.
Muskoka was beautiful.
Bucky stood on the porch overlooking the lake, breathing in the evening air.
The sun was setting, casting the water in muted colours of red and orange, blue and pink. Loons were crying in the distance, and out on the water a lonely sailboat turned to head towards shore.
Ontario was actually pretty great. The people were friendly and the rural areas were just as picturesque as Pepper had promised. It reminded him a lot of Upstate New York, only Canadian.
The cottage was built on a small hill that led down to a private beach and a dock big enough to tether a yacht. There was a fire pit on a level terrace landscaped with flagstone, and low wooden 'Muskoka' chairs that looked really comfortable.
Tony's property was fucking gorgeous. The house was like something out of a magazine and the view…. Well, no one had asked him if he was enjoying it, but yes. Yes he was.
Pepper came up beside him and handed him a bottle of some local craft beer. "I always enjoy this view."
Bucky startled at her words. He nearly asked her to repeat them, because, holy shit! But then he realized three things: One, this wasn't their first conversation, two, they weren't the same words as the soulmarks around his navel, and three, Pepper was the publicly-acknowledged soulmate of Tony Stark. There was no way he'd be in a triad like that.
She smiled at him. "Come on down to the patio. We're going to light the fire." She led him back inside the cottage, down a flight of steps, and then across a huge space with marble flooring that held a pool table, an air hockey table, a foosball table, a dart board and a television as big as a small movie theatre.
"If it was daylight, I'd have taken you down the outside steps," Pepper said. "But Tony hasn’t finished installing the lighting." She led him towards the far wall, which was entirely covered in slatted wooden blinds. She flicked a switch and the blinds silently slid into a housing on either side, revealing sliding glass doors surrounded by panes of more crystal clear glass.
Outside it was dark enough that the lake water seemed to disappear into the horizon.
"There are so many stars," Bucky breathed.
"Because there's no lighting," Pepper sighed. "But at least we'll have a bonfire."
Steve passed Sam coming out of the cavernous bathroom on his way in. Sam had a towel wrapped around his waist, a towel draped around his shoulders, and a towel wrapped around his head like a shampoo advertisement. He danced sideways long before Steve got near him.
Steve glowered at him. "You'd better not have used all the towels."
"I'm pretty sure there're a couple more in the cupboard." Sam crept around him like Steve was a landmine. "Seriously, man, you're disgusting. Take a shower."
"I've been trying," Steve said. "Someone called dibs."
Sam laughed and headed upstairs. "See you at the party!"
Steve shook his head and went into the bathroom. He shut the door and gratefully shed his filthy clothes. "Gonna burn them," he muttered, kicking them into a corner.
He took a very long, hot shower, coming out pink and squeaky clean. And found not one single towel. Not one. Not even a washcloth.
"Fucking hell! Sam!" He could practically hear the asshole cackling.
Well, maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Steve's room was just down the hallway, and it was a pretty warm night. He could use a tee-shirt to dry off. It'd be fine.
Steve opened the bathroom door and poked his head out.
There was no one in the basement room and he breathed a sigh of relief. He took a step out.
He shrieked and dove back into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Someone had opened up the binds covering the windows and doors to the outside. All the blinds. The glass wall was completely bare.
And there were people on the patio.
"Fuck!" Steve breathed. "Shit!"
He ran his hands through his wet hair, trying to figure out what to do.
The bathroom's shower was a luxurious square structure with glass walls, so there was no shower curtain to borrow. He eyed his filthy clothes and shuddered. He couldn't stand the idea of touching them, let alone putting them back on.
"Toilet paper?" He murmured. But his body was too damp. The toilet paper clung and tore when he tried to wrap it around his hips.
There wasn’t a single other useful item in the whole room.
"Fucking Sam," Steve swore. He opened the door and peeked again.
There were indeed people on the patio. He could just make them out through the glass, silhouetted by the bonfire. It really was epic. He saw Pepper's lithe figure, Tony's spiky hair and Sam relaxing in a chair with a beer in hand and not a care in the world. The ass.
There was one more person out there, with broad shoulders and long legs. Steve couldn't help but take a moment to admire the man's outline before he shook it off and concentrated on the problem at hand.
He was wet and naked and there was an entire wall of glass with people on the other side between him and his clothes.
"I'm an athlete," Steve said to himself. "I can do this. I'm impressive." He bounced on his toes and shook out his hands like he did before one of his gymnastic competitions, preparing to sprint down the hallway.
He eyed the wall once more. Everyone seemed to be facing away from the house, enjoying the fire. If he moved swiftly and silently they probably wouldn't even see him.
Steve took a fortifying breath and ran, aiming for his bedroom door the way he'd aim for a pommel horse on a mat.
His form was perfect, except his feet were wet, and the marble floor was slick, smooth and highly polished. Steve went flying.
He crashed into the glass with a sound reminiscent of bird fatalities; only much, much louder. He rebounded off the window like a hockey puck and hit the floor hard enough to knock the wind out of him.
Not hard enough, unfortunately, to render him unconscious and save him any embarrassment. He could hear the collective gasp of shock from everyone outside, and thought briefly about getting up and making a dash for his room. But his entire body stubbornly refused to move. He threw his forearm over his eyes, with the childish thought that if he couldn't see them, maybe they wouldn't see him.
The door slid open, letting in the sounds of the night outside and the concerned exclamations of his friends as they entered, making his humiliation complete.
"I'll get some ice." Pepper's voice and the sound of her expensive shoes on the marble floor.
"Should I call an ambulance?" That was Tony.
"Well, that was impressive," could only be Sam. The ass.
"Enjoying the view?" Steve said back resignedly. It wasn't like he had anything else to hide at this point.
"Holy shit," someone said. "You're my soulmate."
Steve took his arm off his eyes and sat up. The long-legged guy was kneeling beside him, his blue eyes wide with shock.
Steve gaped at him. "You're not Sam."
"I’m Bucky." He smiled and held out his hand. Steve took it, and an electric rush of awareness coursed through him, landing right at his groin. He would've killed to have had a towel.
Pepper reappeared with an icepack just as Sam came out of Steve's bedroom. He was carrying a pair of pants, a tee-shirt and a towel.
"I thought you might need these," he said.
"I became a travel blogger because of your words, you know," Bucky said.
They were in Steve's room. Bucky was holding the icepack to the back of Steve's head. Steve could feel a lump forming anyway, but he appreciated the effort.
"I spent a lot of time trying to be awesome at everything because of yours."
"Should I apologize?"
Steve smiled. "No need. Your words were highly motivating, actually. I'm a medal-winning gymnast."
"I could see that in the graceful way you hit the window." Bucky laughed. "Gotta say, I did enjoy the view, though. It just wasn't what I'd expected from my soulmarks." He leaned closer, so his warm breath puffed next to Steve's ear. "You were definitely impressive."
Steve turned towards him, lowering his voice. "I'm actually really good at a lot of things."
"Oh, yeah?" Bucky's voice went silky. He lifted the icepack from Steve's head, then sat next to him. "What kind of things?"
"I'm really flexible," Steve purred. "I've heard it's very impressive."
"I'm sure I'll enjoy the view," Bucky murmured, and kissed him.