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What A Match

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Soul marks were intensely private, always had been. You didn’t share the name until you met your soulmate. It just wasn’t done.

Which, of course, didn’t mean that no one did.

Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes had been friends since childhood. Bucky had actually been there when Steve’s words came in. He’d been so sick they’d hardly noticed at the time, but Bucky had been the one to point out the words that curled around Steve’s thigh.

Samuel Thomas Wilson.

Steve was ecstatic, especially because his name came in before Bucky’s. Bucky waved off his teasing, just happy to know that, despite everything, there was someone out there for his sickly friend. Most same-gender match ups were considered platonic soulmates, but neither Bucky nor Sarah would care if it was romantic.

Bucky was alone when his own mark came in.

It appeared as careful writing placed neatly on his left wrist. He liked the practiced form of the words and the easy position they were in. It meant he could usually reach out for his soulmate a moment’s notice, right there on his wrist.

Anthony Edward Stark.

He didn’t show Steve. Partially because it made Steve grouchy, which was always amusing, and largely because he liked having something just for him. Steve was so proud and so excited that he probably would have told everyone he met if it wasn’t considered so scandalous. Bucky, though, he loved the thought that this person was just for him. He didn’t need to share them or boast about them.

They’d love each other no matter what.

So he saved up and bought himself one of the metal cuffs designed for people like him who had names on their wrists and he waited.

*

He had the vaguest memories of people, doctors probably, talking about his arm. The original one. Too damaged, they said, the fall and the frostbite had left it useless and a risk to his health. Especially with the dented and cracked metal that had seemingly frozen to his skin. Even if they could take it off it would probably take skin with it.

They removed the whole arm instead.

He didn’t know why that memory stood out. Of course they removed the arm, he needed to operate at maximum efficiency for missions. It wasn’t his place to care, unless it was impacting his mission.

Yet every time the memory came up he felt cold and lost and he kept thinking of Anthony.

He didn’t know who that was.

*

Tony understood soulmates. He understood the concept but he also knew they weren’t necessary. Mom and dad weren’t soulmates. Anna and Jarvis were though.

He knew which he’d prefer to have.

Soul marks came in as part of puberty and that was about the only thing people were certain about. Tony had looked into everything he could after his came in. He was thirteen, and at home for a change preparing for starting MIT. It wasn’t for a while yet, but he was excited.

He felt the itch across his chest and lifted up his shirt to see a name written in the centre of his chest. He had to squint at it for a moment before he could read the upside down words.

James Buchanan Barnes.

Of course, Tony Stark, age 13 knew all the stories about Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes. Howard and Peggy both talked about them, although they usually focused on Steve. Confused, he went to Jarvis.

“Can soulmates be dead?” Tony asked, Jarvis nearly dropped his oven tray. He put it down before turning to Tony with a confused frown.

“What do you mean?”

Tony lifted up his shift to show Jarvis the name on his chest. Jarvis’s eyes automatically flickered away as soon as he saw the writing but then looked back and actually read it.

“He’s dead.” Tony said once he was sure Jarvis recognised the name. “Even if he wasn’t he’d be like, dad’s age. Am I… Am I not supposed to have a soulmate?”

“Of course you are Master Tony.” Jarvis said gently, giving Tony a smile. “I’m sure Bucky Barnes is not the only person who’s ever had that name. You’ll find your soulmate one day and I’m sure you’ll be amazing together.”

Tony smiled back at him, encouraged.

*

Tony’s life was full of people who weren’t his soulmate. It wasn’t exactly uncommon. Waiting for your soulmate wasn’t considered obligatory, but Tony still wished he had at least some clue. Hell, he would even appreciate it if his soulmate’s name was somewhere easier to cover up. Most of the time it was fine but some people wouldn’t sleep with him if he refused to take his shirt off and it was an awkward place to cover with make-up too, especially if it would just smear.

In a cave in Afghanistan, looking at the connection point in his chest for a fucking car battery, Tony definitely wished his mark had been somewhere else. It was nowhere now. Rumours had been flying for years about his soul mark and how maybe he didn’t even have one.

Well, now they were right.

Yinsen tried to apologise. He’d been able to see the writing but not make out the name due the shrapnel damage. Tony waved him off. He wasn’t exactly getting younger and at this point, who would even want him as their soulmate?

No one living knew the name that had been on his chest. It was probably the best thing he could do for his soulmate to just forget about it too.

Besides, he had bigger things to worry about.

*

After New York Tony offered all the Avengers a place in his tower, but he was actually kind of surprised when they, eventually, accepted. They hadn’t exactly gotten off to the best start; it was almost as if they didn’t like him. He’d given the invitation though and he was going to follow through.

Besides, as it turned out, they actually got along.

Bruce and Tony were in their element together, both excited to have someone to talk science with. Tony and Steve, after a very awkward moment where Steve tried to apologise and Tony pointed out they’d both just said what they’d been thinking, came to an understanding and agreed to ignore any preconceptions they had about each other.

After Afghanistan Tony didn’t exactly have the roaring sex life he’d boasted before. Not that anyone noticed, people were still talking about sleeping with him, if he left an event with someone it was assumed he had slept with them and, frankly, Tony was mostly ok with that.

He was not ok with being thanked for it during night movie night.

He burst out laughing, almost spilling the popcorn. Thor and Steve looked confused, Bruce was shaking his head but smiling and Natasha just rolled her eyes. Once Tony had regained himself he just grinned at Clint.

“I gotta say, that’s the most relaxed way anyone’s thanked me for not being a whore.” He said. “I’m not doing it for your benefit, but you’re welcome.”

“You been thanked for that before?” Steve said, apparently baffled.

“Sure.” Tony said with a shrug. “Usually because of a business thing. One time a man actually thanked me for not sleeping with his wife. That was awkward. Especially since she hadn’t even taken her ring off or anything. I wasn’t going near that.”

“I was actually thanking you for not bringing them home.” Clint said from his floor seat at Natasha’s feet. “I’m not going to tell you not to sleep with people.”

“I don’t even want to know.” Sam said, shaking his head as he re-entered the room. Steve’s face immediately lit up, as it always did when Sam appeared. Steve might not be exactly what people expected from Captain America, but there was no denying he was a sap.

“I just meant, I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with strangers coming and going at all hours.” Clint said once he’d finished pretending to gag.

“Security hazard.” Natasha said agreeably.

“I am glad to hear you have not stopped your search for our comfort.” Thor said in his loud voice, earning himself a few confused looks.

“Uh, what was I searching for?” Tony asked blankly.

“Your soulmate of course. Were you not exploring people in order to find your partner faster?” Thor asked. Steve choked on his drink at the implication and Clint started laughing at him.

“That actually makes a lot of sense.” Tony said thoughtfully before he shook his head, giving Thor a smile. “I’ve got nothing to search for though. Let’s get this movie started!”

Jarvis immediately darkened the room and started the movie, restricting anyone’s ability to ask about what Tony had said. He hadn’t meant to, it just slipped out. After all, what did he have to search for?

There wasn’t a name on him.

*

He was Bucky.

Sergeant James Buchanan Barnes. Childhood friend of Steve Rogers.

He was. He knew he was. Even on the days were he woke up only able to speak Russian with the desire to go find his handlers, he knew. Without the chair, the wipes, he had memories. Memories the Winter Soldier had had no use for so they must have belonged to someone else.

They were his and they are Bucky’s so he must be Bucky.

Which answers one of the many questions he has.

Steve Rogers is Captain America.

Captain America is – was – his target.

Steve Rogers was – is? – his friend. Bucky’s friend.

He’s pretty sure Steve is still his friend, or still wants to be at least. He remembers things about Steve. When he was smaller, thinner. When Bucky was good and came to get him out of fights or started fights with him. He’s pretty sure the Steve he remembers wouldn’t stop being his friend.

Which mostly answers a few more questions.

Anthony.

He doesn’t remember Anthony.

He can’t remember anyone with the name. Not even a target. Whenever he tries to focus on it he just remembers rubbing at his wrist to comfort himself. Before it was metal. When it was skin and had words on it.

He can’t remember the words.

He tried, on his good days when he could remember Steve and Sarah and his sister, he tried to remember the full name on his wrist but it never came.

It hurt like thinking of Steve used to. Like some part of his brain was actively blocking it out and trying to warn him away.

It made sense. He knew it was the name of his soulmate. Hydra wouldn’t want their Winter Soldier to have something as dangerous and fragile as a soulmate bond. They would have focused extra on keeping him from remembering it.

The thing is though, he wants it. He can’t remember wanting something like this in a very long time. The Soldier didn’t want things. Not like this. The Soldier obeyed orders, completed missions, and reported to handers. There was no wanting, it was just what he was supposed to do, so he did.

Bucky wanted to know who his soulmate was.

He wanted to know who Anthony was.

He wanted to know if Anthony would really be his perfect match. Could anyone be his perfect match? Half the time we wasn’t even sure if he matched himself.

He wanted that perfect soulmate story though.

Even if it meant speaking to Steve Rogers.

*

“Tony.”

“Holy shit!” Tony struggled not to fumble his cup of coffee, letting out a breath when he managed not to spill any of it on himself. Only then did he look up at Natasha. “I have a heart condition.”

“I doubt a bit of a startle is enough to take you out of the game.” Natasha said with a smirk, completely unapologetic. Then her face fell into a serious expression that had Tony briefly considering trying to slip past her. “Your soulmate will always accept you.”

Tony blinked, honestly confused by this turn of events. He knew by now that Natasha was quite blunt when she wasn’t undercover or trying to get information but he hadn’t expected a soulmate talk. It took him probably a moment too long to remember the slip from the other night.

“I think we’ve had a misunderstanding.” Tony said and, when Natasha raised an eyebrow, he continued. “I don’t have a soulmate.”

“Everyone has a soulmate.” Natasha said, with so much confidence Tony almost wanted to ask. He didn’t, because she might stab him, but the thought was there. Besides, better to get this out of the way. He wasn’t going to burden someone with being bound to him and it would be easier if his team weren’t secretly searching for some unfortunate individual with his name on them.

“Not me. I’m sure you’ve heard the rumours.” Tony said with a shrug. He smirked when Natasha looked doubtful. “C’mon Nat, don’t you think if I had a name someone would have known about it by now? At the very least the location. I’m a blank slate, free from the chains of fate. So, if that’s all, I really need to finish some schematics for Pep.”

Natasha let him pass, though she looked deeply confused. Tony headed down to his workshop. He really did have schematics to finish, probably some papers to sign too, and he’d been planning on refining the search for Barnes.

Except he stepped out of the elevator to find Steve waiting for him. He looked kind of nervous, but with his determines, Captain America expression in place.

No rest for this wicked.

“What’s up, Capsicle?”

“I need to talk to you about the Winter Soldier.”

Tony listened as Steve spoke. He didn’t interrupt and he didn’t argue. When Steve finally finished Tony asked him to leave, quite politely. Steve, for a moment, started to argue but he stopped himself and ended up leaving with little more than a regretful look.

An hour later Tony finally finished the schematics and sent them off to Pepper. Only then did he acknowledge the mess of destructions he’d turned the lab into. He was just lucky he’d thought to make Jarvis confine the bots. They were out of their stations now, attempting to start the clean-up. Tony let out a sigh and got to work helping them.

Barnes could wait a little longer.

*

At some point Tony did the math. The chance of Bucky Barnes being the same James Buchanan Barnes whose name had once appeared on Tony’s chest were miniscule. Even with Steve and Sam proving time on ice didn’t matter the chances of them being a match in anyway, never mind a perfect one, were limited.

What kind of fucked up fate would match them anyway?

Besides, wouldn’t Steve have mentioned it? Sure soul marks were a private matter but Steve always talked about Bucky. Hell, history talked about how Steve and Bucky were the best of friends since childhood. If anyone was going to share their soul marks it was those two. Even Tony had shown one person.

So they weren’t soulmates. It was an unfortunate coincidence that didn’t even matter anymore.

Tony was a blank slate.

*

Bruce warily walked into the workshop. Steve had told the team about Tony’s parents and they’d all agreed he needed some time. That had been three days ago. Bruce was nominated to check on Tony and honestly the only reason they hadn’t invaded earlier was because Bruce knew Tony had food in there and he started taking the food they left at the door on the second day.

Which didn’t mean Bruce wasn’t prepared for the worst.

Instead he found Tony surrounded by holograms, he looked fine. Bruce cleared his throat to get Tony’s attention.

“So, you know how if you hold anything for a really long time, even something relatively light, like a glass of water or a shoe or something, it starts to feel really heavy?” Tony said after glancing him, scowling at a screen full of numbers.

“I understand the concept of muscle strain and fatigue, yes.” Bruce replied bemusedly.

“So now imagine that this thing is strapped to your shoulder and you can’t take it off and instead of something that just seems heavy it’s a heavy as fuck piece of metal that’s connected to your nervous system.”

“Tony are you… studying the Winter Soldier’s arm?” Bruce asked blankly. He could honestly say that wasn’t what he’d expected.

“I finished the schematics for Pepper,” Tony said with a shrug. “Apparently there’s a lot more to arms than I thought there was. Well, not really, I understand how arms work but damn are human bodies complicated.”

“Have you slept since Steve told you?”

Tony hummed an absent non-answer.

“Jarvis?”

“Sir rested for a period approximately thirty seven hours ago.”

“Why do you do this to me Jarvis?” Tony said in a whining tone. He waved a hand at Bruce. “Honestly I’m fine. I’m working. I’ve been eating. I’ll be out in a while. Once I’ve worked out fingers.”

Bruce hesitated a moment before he gave in. This was better than they’d been expecting at least.

“Just don’t hang out down here too long. Clint keeps complaining about Steve’s moping and Sam will probably let you get at least one hit in since Steve kept it a secret so long.”

“I’ll be sure to wear the gauntlet.”

Bruce chuckled as he exited the lab. He hadn’t gotten Tony out but Tony also hadn’t been spiralling into self-destructive behaviours like the team seemed concerned he would. He considered it a win. Besides, Tony always did better when he had a project.

*

Tony wasn’t sure how much time passed between Bruce checking on him and Jarvis alerting him to someone infiltrating the tower. He pulled up footage of the intruder – he had camera’s everywhere, blind spots were for losers – and watched as the Winter Soldier made his way through the building.

“What’s Cap’s position?”

“Captain Rogers and Mr Wilson are both currently sleeping on the Captain’s floor.”

“Same bed?”

“Yes Sir.”

“They wearing clothes?”

“It appears so Sir.”

“Awesome. I want a recording for blackmail purposes.”

“I believe this acts against the privacy protocols you assured the Avengers I had.”

“I’m sure they’ll understand. So long as our murder hobo jumps the right couple.”

“I sure he would regret ending up in Agent Romanoff’s room.”

“Wouldn’t we all.”

Silence descended as Tony continued to watch Barnes sneak through the building. He could make it easier for him, of course, but honestly it was a good way to test the tower’s security measures. If Jarvis was ever occupied this wouldn’t be noticed so he should probably do something about that. Besides, he was either sneaking in to rekindle old friendships or murder someone. Jarvis could neutralise him if it looked like the latter was more likely.

Either way Steve was the most likely target.

Sam was just collateral.

“We should do something about the hobo look. Get his measurements, we’ll make him pick some stuff out when they finish their manly bonding.”

“Of course, Sir.”

“How’s the arm?”

“Sergeant Barnes’s current arm appears to be functional but not operating at optimal efficiency. There has been damage but I cannot accurately judge with the available data. It appears your simulation will be effective and the last materials should arrive tomorrow.”

“I should probably go to bed then.”

“I’m sure Doctor Banner would appreciate it.”

“Yeah. Gonna head to bed. It’s so unfair for him to be hot when I want to be angry.”

“Noted, Sir.”

Tony made the trip to his room in silence. It wasn’t until he was in bed that he spoke, his voice unusually quiet and shaky.

“I don’t know what to do, J.”

“About your soulmate?” Jarvis asked, and Tony managed a small smile at the way he modulated his voice to be soft and gentle. It fell quickly.

“Haven’t you heard, J? I don’t have a soulmate.”

Jarvis didn’t say anything as Tony drifted off to sleep, instead focusing his attention on Sergeant Barnes. Tony might have done the math but, as far as Jarvis was aware, there was absolutely no way to accurately predict soulmates. He understood soulmates only in an abstract way but most information suggested that having his soulmate near would be beneficial to Tony. On the other hand, people close to Tony had hurt him before and, regardless of what Tony said, his soulmate would have even more power to hurt him.

Jarvis would not allow it.

*

Bucky crawled through the vents of Stark tower he was mildly concerned about setting of an alarm of some kind but so far he’d avoided any kind of security. He had a basic idea of the layout and the sleeping arrangements of the Avengers. He didn’t want to be in contact with most of them for a variety of reasons but he needed to speak to Steve if he was going to find out who Anthony was.

He peaked through a grate and managed to spot a familiar blond head. Quietly he lifted the grate and lowered himself into the room. He landed with a small noise and paused to watch Steve. He grunted and rolled over, his arm going over his bed companion.

Bed companion?

Bucky tried to remember if anything had been said about Steve finding his soulmate. Steve was a private person so it might not have reached the media. He was also an old school romantic though, so whoever was in bed with him was probably his soulmate. Bucky had a vague memory of helping Steve through an asthma attack after he’d gotten too excited about his words coming in.

Curious, he went around to the other side of the bed and leant over. It only took him a moment to recognise the man. He’d been on the helicarriers. The soldier had done some damage to him. A pity, he wasn’t bad looking. Guess Stevie had done ok in the soulmate department then. Sharp eyes.

Eyes. Fuck.

Sam let out a shriek upon realising someone not-Steve was so close to his face and tried to throw himself backwards. Steve had woken to the sound of Sam’s shriek and before he could work out what was happening Sam was landing hard on top of him. Steve grunted at the impact and his eyes widened as he realised the momentum was going off take them off the bed. He pulled Sam to him and hurried to shift him so that he hit the floor instead of Sam.

Bucky watched the couple tumble off the bed was an absent sense of amusement. It probably wasn’t the best impression, but it was funny.

“Sam,” Steve said in a pained voice once they were no longer in motion, “what the fuck?”

Bucky snorted, unable to stop it, and caused the two to struggle to get up and look combat ready. Steve had bed head and Sam looked like he was holding back a pout. He was holding a gun though.

“Was that in your bed?”

“Bucky?”

“Oh like you don’t sleep with a gun.”

“Sam!”

“Well I know I don’t sleep with anyone else. Don’t want that interrupting you.”

“Bucky!”

“Ah, so you’re just upset because-”

“That’s enough!” Steve looked disappointed and put out. Bucky smirked at him. He felt confident, it was part of the reason he chose today to come find Steve. He felt confident, like he didn’t have someone else crawling around his head. Steve stared at him for a moment. “Are you…?”

“More or less,” Bucky said with a shrug. “Heard you were looking for me.”

“God, yes, Buck. Are you all right?” Steve asked, moving forward cautiously. Bucky shrugged again.

“Relatively.”

“Well you’re here now we can-”

“I’m not staying. I wasn’t exactly invited.”

“Of course you can stay,” Steve said, and then he flinched slightly when Sam cleared his throat and gave him a pointed look. “Or, well, Jarvis will ask Tony-”

“Sir is already aware of our guest,” Jarvis said, making Bucky jump and look around sharply. “Sergeant Barnes is welcome to stay in one of the spare rooms on this floor. Once he has given his preference new clothing will be ordered for him.”

“What?”

“Tony knows?”

“Son of a bitch.”

“Quite,” Jarvis said. Bucky couldn’t help but notice the amusement in his voice. “I should also inform you Sir had me record Sergeant Barnes’s arrival and save the footage to his personal files. Welcome to Stark Tower, Sergeant Barnes.”

“Fuck this,” Sam said, crawling back into the bed and pulling the cover over his head. “I’m going back to sleep if there’s no actual danger. Don’t wake me before the suns up.”

“Right, sorry Sam,” Steve said, giving the bed a fond look before he gestured towards the door. Bucky followed him out and let him close the door before he spoke.

“I really didn’t plan on staying.”

“Of course you’re staying,” Steve said stubbornly. “You think I’m letting you walk out of here now I’ve finally found you again?”

“I wasn’t planning on giving you a choice, punk.”

“Well I’m not giving you one either, jerk,” Steve said with a fond smile. Bucky shook his head but he smiled back. This, this felt good. He felt more stable than he had in a long time. He had to ask though.

“Who was Anthony?”

“What?” Steve said, head tilting to the side blankly.

“Anthony,” Bucky repeated, touching his metal wrist lightly. Steve’s eyes followed the movement and his face fell.

“You don’t remember?” He asked, his voice full of heartbreak that put Bucky on edge. He shook his head and looked at Steve hopefully. Steve looked pained. “Buck, I never saw your mark. I don’t know what his name is.”

“Oh.”

Steve didn’t know. Steve didn’t know and Bucky didn’t know. There was no one else. There was no one. He had no one. He didn’t have a soulmate after all. He just had a blank metal arm and a long lost opportunity. Even if he knew the name who would really want him like this? A broken murderer without even the memory of his soul mark.

No one deserved that.

Anthony didn’t deserve that.

“Oh.”

“Bucky, Bucky c’mon stay with me. It’s ok. We can find him. You just need to relax. Tony has all kinds of resources.” Steve was rambling now, trying to comfort him. He’d never been too good at that. He’d rather fight a problem than comfort someone about it. He had good intentions though.

“No. No I don’t want to,” Bucky said, pulling himself together. “I don’t have a mark. I can’t make someone else deal with this.”

“You had a mark,” Steve said in his stubborn voice. “There is nothing wrong with you. You just need some time.”

“I’m not going to drag someone through my crap Steve,” Bucky said, his voice hard now that he’d made a decision. “What kind of soulmate would the Winter Soldier have anyway?”

Steve was quite for a moment, just looking at him with sad eyes.

“I don’t know about the Winter Soldier,” he said eventually, “but I bet James Barnes’s soulmate is amazing.”

Bucky just snorted and shook his head.

“Will you stay?” Steve asked hopefully. Bucky hesitated. He shouldn’t, he was dangerous and Steve disregarding that danger would only make it worse. He shouldn’t be near people. On the other hand. Who better to handle the Winter Soldier than the Avengers? Besides he didn’t have anywhere else to go.

“Yeah, I guess I will.”

*

Bucky’s presence in the tower was accepted with surprising ease. Everyone side-eyed him and were wary of setting him off but that was expected. Also on his second morning in the tower he was present to see the group panic when Bruce dropped his cup of tea. Everyone had sucked in a breath and frozen in place, eyes on Bruce.

Bruce had just looked mournfully at the mess. Not a hint of green on him.

“I am boiling the kettle now, Doctor Banner,” Jarvis said, breaking the standoff. A little robot had appeared out of nowhere and started cleaning up the mess. Bruce had waited until all the shards were removed than simply gotten himself another mug.

Jarvis was a whole different issue. He was polite enough and provided for anything the Avengers needed. He had ordered a whole wardrobe of clothes once Bucky had finally provided preferences. Bucky couldn’t help but feel like he was being judged though.

He still hadn’t met his host, but the others had apparently seen him and a red head appeared at one stage demanding to see Tony. Bucky had actually got up the courage to ask her if his presence bothered Tony, since surely the Pepper Potts Steve kept talking about would know.

“I doubt it,” Pepper said with a kind smile. “Tony’s not the most emotionally open person but he is logical. He’s not going to hold anything Hydra made you do against you. He’s just found a new project. He’ll come out eventually.”

Even with all the assurances Bucky was not prepared for his first meeting with Tony Stark.

Clint was grumpy about something, Sam was needling him and Thor was laughing at them. It was a pretty regular morning actually. Then suddenly it wasn’t.

Thor clapped Sam on the back hard enough to make him stumble into Clint, who stumbled himself. Right into Bruce. Bruce who had enter with a mug in one hand and papers in the other. All of which clattered to the floor along with Clint’s glass. Bucky watched the mix of tea and orange juice stain what looked an awful lot like hand written notes and could feel the shift in the room.

Clint scrambled away from Bruce, followed quickly by Sam. Thor put himself between them and their growing teammate. The elevator doors opened.

The Hulk turned towards the sound with a snarl. Tony Stark stepped out of the elevator, took in the scene and walked right up to the large, green creature. Bucky nearly panicked. He didn’t see any signs of armour on Tony. He was just wearing a t-shirt and jeans.

“I tried telling him to sleep more,” Tony said as he tried to carefully step around the mess. The Hulk grunted and reached out to Tony. Bucky lurched forward with a sudden urge to step between them but was stopped by Natasha grabbing his shoulder and shaking her head.

“Tony’s got this,” was all she said.

“Thanks buddy,” Tony said with a grin. He looked perfectly at ease in the Hulk’s large hands. “Bruce is such a hypocrite. You wanna watch Disney and let Sweeps clean this up?”

“Disney,” Hulk said with an agreeable nod. He turned and walked towards the entertainment area. The little clean-up bot, Sweeps apparently, had come back out and, once they were out of the way, set about cleaning the mess. Clint and Sam both let out sighs of relief.

“What did you do?” Steve asked as he entered the room.

“Nothing!” Clint said immediately. Sam looked vaguely guilty.

“Our Shield brothers have taken to the TV room,” Thor said in a grand voice. Steve did not look impressed.

“Honestly, can’t you guys keep things under control for one day?” He nudged Bucky lightly, gesturing for him to follow as he headed for the kitchen. “C’mon we should take some food in for them. Bruce is always hungry after a change and God knows when Tony last ate.”

Bucky just nodded and took the plates and bowls Steve handed him. It was a lot of food but given the Hulk’s size he didn’t doubt they’d get through it. Steve loaded his arms up with food as well and they headed for the entertainment area.

Bucky had to pause at the sight that met him.

Hulk was sitting on the floor in the middle of the room. Tony sat in his lap, looking perfectly content as they both watched some animated show. Hulk was basically cuddling him as he focused on the TV. Tony looked over at them as they enter and grinned, regardless of the fact that he hadn’t actually met Bucky.

“Hey, it’s the soldier boys,” he said brightly, making grabby hands at the food. Steve rolled his eyes and deposited all his food in front of Tony. Bucky followed his lead somewhat bemusedly.

“When did you last sleep?” Steve asked, arms folded pointedly.

“Ha, joke’s on you, I slept last night.” Tony said smugly as he picked up two muffins and handed one to Hulk. Hulk put the whole thing in his mouth with no trouble. “Bruce, on the other hand, has not been sleeping and devolved to paper notes. Thus leading to our current situation. Fortunately, Jarvis has digital copies, because he’s prepared for everything.”

“That’s good to hear.”

“You two hanging around?”

“I’ve got to go into Shield,” Steve said, then looked towards Bucky in a way that made him bite back a groan. “Bucky’s free though.”

Why was he like this?

“Well, pull up a cushion Robocop,” Tony said easily. “We don’t mind the company, do we big guy?”

Hulk finally looked away from the TV to look at Bucky before he looked down at Tony in his lap. “Friend?”

“Yeah, new friend. Wanna let him watch with us?”

“Friend can watch.”

“Welcome aboard.” Tony said with a grin as he opened a bag of chips. Steve shoved a pillow at Bucky and he sighed, sitting down beside Hulk. Steve grinned at him before he left the room to go about whatever he needed to do.

They all watched TV in silence for a while. Tony managed the food, either offering it to Bucky or just putting it in Hulk’s hands since his hand didn’t fit in the packets. Everything was fine until Bucky made the mistake of reaching for something with his metal arm. There was a whir click noise and Bucky winced as something in the arm jammed. It wasn’t made to go so long without maintenance.

“Problem, Buckaroo?” Tony’s voice had a joking lilt but there was a concerned frown on his face.

“No,” Bucky said as he shifted so he could use his other arm. “It’s fine.”

“That doesn’t sound fine,” Tony said as the whirring of the arm got louder.

“Arm broken,” Hulk said in agreement.

“See, Hulk agrees with me. I can probably get it to settle at least.”

“You don’t need to-”

“I don’t need to do anything. Kinda want to though,” Tony said, a grin in place. “C’mon Barnes, give me a hand.”

Bucky snorted before he could stop himself. Tony waggled his eyebrows at him until he gave in and moved over so his arm was in Tony’s lap. It wasn’t as if he could hurt Tony with the Hulk right there. Tony pulled a number of tools from God knows where and went about carefully opening Bucky’s arm. Fortunately, Hulk didn’t seem to mind Tony’s running commentary. In fact he seemed to be drifting off as he watched the movie.

Bucky, honestly, was paying more attention to Tony than the movie. He told Bucky everything he was doing with the arm and it actually took Bucky a moment to realise he didn’t feel any pain from it. He’d been prepared for it to hurt, even for the Soldier to potentially break out, but the Soldier wasn’t even stirring.

It didn’t make any sense. He’d been in the tower for a week and had at least one scuffle a day because his instincts took over. Yet here, with the arm being worked on, he didn’t feel any threat. Well, the Hulk was a threat but he also nudged Tony into singing along to the songs with him so it was somewhat undermined.

Hulk was well and truly drifting off when Tony finally closed up his arm.

“Ok, that should tide you over for a while,” Tony said as he stood and stretched. Bucky found himself tracking the movement a bit differently than he usually did. “You know if you came down to the lab I could set you up with something better.”

“I didn’t want to impose,” Bucky said. He watched Tony move to catch Bruce as the Hulk shifted down. He was gentle but sure, supporting Bruce with ease. “Any more than I already have.”

“I would have kicked you out if I didn’t want you here,” Tony said with a snort, amusement shining in his eyes. “Honestly I didn’t want to make you uncomfortable. Come down sometime. That thing’s a monstrosity. C’mon Bruce, work with me here. I can’t actually lift you.”

“Hurt anyone?” Bruce asked as Tony hauled him to his feet. Most of his weight was on Tony who just looked amused.

“We watched Tangled and ate junk food. I think you’re good buddy.”

“My notes…”

“Were recorded by Jarvis and electronic copies will be waiting for you after you’ve slept.”

“Thanks Tony.”

“Sure thing, Brucie Bear.”

“Are you two soulmates?” Bucky asked before he could stop himself. He was pretty sure Steve would have told him if that were the case but they looked so comfortable together. Tony clearly cared about Bruce and the Hulk, without fear or judgement. Wasn’t that what soulmates did?

Tony just snorted again.

“In my dreams.”

“Tony’d make a good soulmate.” Bruce said in a sleepy voice.

“Go to sleep, Bruce, you’re drunk.”

“It’s true.”

“The universe thinks otherwise.” Tony said in a voice so quiet Bucky was sure he only heard it because of his enhanced hearing. He pulled Bruce out of the room without looking back at Bucky. Bucky looked down at his metal hand with a frown. The fingers moved more smoothly than they had when he first came out of cryo.

Tony Stark was amazing.

Bucky stood and head to the kitchen. When he found no one there he headed for the gym. Clint was doing stretches when Bucky approached.

“What happened to Tony’s soulmate?” He asked without warning. He only realised he might be too close when Clint snapped around and tried to punch him. Bucky dodge the swing easily thanks to Clint having just pulled out of a somewhat awkward stretched. He crossed his arms as he waited for an answer.

“Jesus Christ, learn to make some noise,” Clint said once he’d fully regained his balance. “Now I know how Tony feels. What do you want?”

“What happened to Tony’s soulmate?”

“Uh, well, as far as we know he doesn’t have one,” Clint said. He looked pained just saying it. Bucky frowned.

“That doesn’t make sense. Everyone has a soulmate.”

“Right. We thought at first something must have happened but Natasha can usually tell when someone’s lying. Even someone like Tony. According to him he doesn’t have a soul mark.”

“Why wouldn’t he have a mark?”

“I don’t know man. Natasha and Sam keep trying to talk to him about it.” Clint said with a shrug. “I’m not going there.”

Bucky left with a frown. It just didn’t make sense. Everyone got a soul mark. They didn’t necessarily end up with their soulmate or get a happy ending but everyone had one at some stage in their life. Even he’d had one.

Once.

*

Tony was honestly surprised when Bucky took him up on the offer to come down to the workshop. It had been a genuine offer, of course, but he’d kind of thought the workshop would be uncomfortable for him. He looked a little uncomfortable but not in the way Tony thought he would.

“Hey, I was thinking I’d take you up on that offer for a full check,” he said in greeting. “I mean, if it’s a good time. I can go… Somewhere else. I’m not going back upstairs. Steve is trying to tell me about his love life and there’s only so much I can handle at a time.”

Tony snorted and waved him over.

“Well come in then, clear yourself a spot somewhere. Watch out for the bots, U is going through a grabby phase.”

“Who?”

“U,” Tony said, pointing towards where U was currently watching Dum-E make a smoothie. Butterfingers was somewhere looking for something. Tony wasn’t actually sure and he didn’t usually ask until they brought something to him and he had to work out what to do with it.

U actually looked over at them and made an inquisitive noise.

“No I don’t need you, keep helping your brother,” Tony said. The last thing he needed was his robots groping Bucky. Steve would probably make him attend a sexual harassment seminar or something. U came over anyway and immediately got into Bucky’s personal space.

“Uh, hello,” Bucky said uncertainly. Butterfingers was suddenly there as well, apparently torn between wanting to investigate Bucky and wanting to pull U away. Butterfingers did not like strangers. “Is this one going to murder me?”

“Butterfingers, leave your sister alone. Bucky was invited and she can look at him if she wants to.”

Butterfingers made an unhappy noise that was ignored in favour of U’s excited chirping as she got her claw on Bucky’s arm.

“U, what have I said about grabbing,” Tony said as he got up to shoo the bots away. “We do not grab people. Bucky is a people.”

U let go of Bucky with a sad noise and beeped a few times.

“No, it’s his arm. He’s not a robot he’s a person. Why don’t you go help Butterfingers find whatever he was looking for?”

U didn’t seem particularly happy about this but rolled off after Butterfingers. Tony turned to Bucky was interrupted when Dum-E nudged him, smoothie in hand.

“Thank you, Dum-E,” Tony said as he took the drink. “Daddy has got to work now. Watch the other two for me?”

Dum-E chirped happily and headed for the other two bots.

“Jarvis?”

“The smoothie is safe, Sir,” Jarvis said immediately. “I have set up the scanners for Sergeant Barnes.”

“Thank you, J,” Tony said. He took a swing of the smoothie before catching sight of Bucky’s expression. “What?”

“Nothing. I just, you, they’re cute.”

“Don’t hurt yourself there. C’mon, I need to do a few scans of the arm, and possibly some physical checks, to make sure how know how all the connections work. I’m not dealing with Steve if I screw something up.”

Bucky followed after Tony willingly. He’d been somewhat nervous about going into Tony’s workshop, there was no Hulk this time if something set him off, but somehow nothing here reminded him of Hydra. Everything was open and cluttered and it all felt… homey. Lived in. It didn’t feel clinical or cold or like he was just another machine.

Even the machines here weren’t treated like machines.

“So, anything other than Steve’s love life getting to you?” Tony asked as he bounced between Bucky’s arm and several screens.

“I pinned him to the floor when he woke me up this morning,” Bucky answered without thinking. “Sam hit in the face with a pillow and told me to get my own soulmate because I wasn’t allowed to fuck his. Steve got offended when I pretended to throw up.”

Tony paused and squinted at him. “I don’t know whether the story or the fact that you said all that deadpan is funnier.”

“I have seen too much to be able to have feelings for Steve. I watched him eat dirt. Then throw up that dirt.”

“Why did he eat dirt?”

“I don’t remem- someone bet he wouldn’t. He wanted the money to buy his mom a present.”

“Your best friend is an idiot,” Tony said with a laugh.

“Yours isn’t?” Bucky asked with a raised eyebrow.

“No, I’m the idiot best friend,” Tony said, grinning. “Tell me more embarrassing stories about Steve. I need shit to say when he and Sam get married.”

Bucky grinned back and obligingly shared the embarrassing stories he could remember about Steve. Occasionally he’d trail off, unable to remember how the event happened. Tony just nudged him onto a different story or shared his own stories of him and his friend Rhodey. He hadn’t been kidding when he said he was the stupid friend. Who knew geniuses could pull off so much stupidity?

“He dated casually, sure, but I still think he’s waiting for his soulmate,” Tony said absently. “It’d be easier if he’d just tell me her name. With my resources it wouldn’t take long to find her.”

“Yeah, Steve mentioned that.”

“He did? Why? You want help finding yours?”

“No, I, I don’t have their name anymore,” Bucky said, looking down at his metal wrist. He couldn’t tell Steve the real reason. Not sweet, romantic Steve. Tony though, Tony might understand. “I don’t remember it and I can’t, I can’t force someone to deal with this. With me. I’m a mess. I nearly stabbed Natasha earlier just because she was holding a knife. It was a butter knife. She was making sandwiches. If I met my soulmate they’d feel obligated and I… That’s not fair to them.”

He looked up and Tony was looking at him with so much understanding he felt elated for a moment. Tony wasn’t going dismiss his feelings or give him some platitude about the perfectness of soulmates. Bucky didn’t know what had made Tony think he didn’t deserve a soulmate but Bucky was at least glad there was someone who understood. After a moment Tony cleared his throat and looked away.

“Well, this is going to take a while to work through and, if you can put up with the bots, you’re welcome down here whenever you want.”

“Thanks Tony.”

*

Tony would never have been able to predict how quickly he and Bucky fell into friendship. With any residual awkwardness pretty much removed they got on amazingly. Bucky was full of sass and, on his good days, flirted just as much as Tony did. They’d taken to seeing who could throw out the most ridiculous pet name before someone on the team reacted.

Sam and Clint were the easiest to get too. Steve always looked at them like he was mildly horrified and had been heard saying: “Oh god, there’s two of them.” Tony had fallen off his chair laughing while Bucky declared that he would finally have revenge for Steve’s bullshit. Steve groaned with his head on the table.

It was pointless trying to get to Natasha or Thor. Natasha wasn’t affected by anything and Thor just took it as a sign of team bonding. He was continually “glad for their close bond”.

Bucky let Tony flop all over him on movie night and Tony taught Bucky how to handle long hair. He refused to tell anyone why he knew how to do that. Even Bucky.

They both felt comfortable around each other without even trying. It was amazing. They used any excuse they could to be closer than necessary. Tony was touchy with pretty much everyone on the team and the others mostly just seemed happy that Bucky was making progress.

Neither of them mentioned the romance-movie feelings they had when they had contact. It just didn’t come up.

It wasn’t until Tony finally got to attaching Bucky’s new arm that things came to a head.

“Ok, last connection,” Tony said and waited for Bucky’s nod before he actions connected the wire. Bucky twitched at the little spark that went through him but then Tony was closing up the arm with a proud grin. “I think this might be one of my greatest creations.”

Bucky sat up cautiously and looked down at the arm in awe. He had known the previous arm was heavy but he hadn’t realised how much it was pulling on his muscles. Tony new creations was light but sturdy. Everything moved smoothly and it barely made a sound. It was amazing.

“Tony, this is-” he cut when Tony tossed a fuzzy ball at him. He caught it in his new hand on pure reflex and then froze. He could, he could feel it. Not quite like his real hand but if he closed his eyes he’d be able to tell the texture of something with just his left hand. Tony grinned at him and Bucky moved forward before he could stop to think.

His metal hand slid through Tony’s hair and he revelled in the sensation even as he pressed their lips together. Tony was frozen before a moment before he started kissing back very enthusiastically. It was a good kiss too. They both had experience and they knew each other well.

It was amazing.

“You’re amazing,” Bucky said when they finally pulled apart. Tony looked fantastic, eyes slightly glazed and lips red.

“You too,” he said before he managed to pull together his focus. “We’re not-”

“Not everyone is with their soulmate,” Bucky said before Tony could build up momentum. “I don’t even know what my mark said, not really. I know you and, if you’ll have me, I want to be with you.”

“I’ll have you in so many ways,” Tony said with a wicked grin. Bucky grinned back and then they were kissing again. Who really needed a soulmate?

*

They decided, a couple days after the fact, to come out to the team by making out on the couch when the others came down because they knew they’d get at least one worthwhile reaction. They got tired of waiting in short order and decided they might as well start early. It quickly devolved into a proper making out session, with some necking because apparently Bucky was possessive and loved hickeys. Tony loved egging him on.

They only broke apart when several people started shouting.

“Oh my God, my eyes!”

“Not the couch!”

“Our shield bothers have joined in glorious union!”

“Oh my God, my ears! The fuck?”

“Anthony Edward Stark!”

Tony made a high pitched noise he would later deny and leapt off the couch. Bucky remained where he was, face slack.

“Rhodey! You’re not supposed to be here yet,” Tony said, looking somewhat shifty. It was one thing bombarding the team. He’d been planning on easing Rhodey into this. Rhodey was protective and he liked Bucky in one piece.

“Yes I am, you forgot the day again,” Rhodey said, arms folded and eyebrow raised.

“Jarvis would have told me,” Tony countered. He had reminders for this.

“I did, Sir,” Jarvis said immediately. “However it was before you and Sergeant Barnes became involved. I attempted to warn you Colonel Rhodes was on his way up but you were preoccupied.”

Fuck.

“Listen, Rhodey, I-”

“Anthony,” Bucky said in a blank tone from the couch. Anthony. His Anthony. The name he couldn’t remember.

“Please don’t call me that,” Tony said with a wince. “Anthony, gross.”

“Your name is Anthony,” Bucky said as he sat up and looked at Tony with awed eyes.

“Yeah?” Tony said blankly. Steve gasped as he realised the implication, earning himself a few confused look.

“I couldn’t remember. I couldn’t remember the full name. I could only remember Anthony.”

“Your…” Tony’s eyes glanced down at Bucky’s wrist. “It can’t, we’re not, Steve would have said-”

“Steve didn’t know. I never told him. It was something, someone, just for me.”

Steve tried to discreetly usher everyone out of the room, hushing most of the protests with quiet threats of extra drills. Rhodey looked like he’d put up a fight until he saw Tony’s hand raise up to rest over the arc reactor. He might not have ever seen Tony’s mark but he’d known where it was.

He could put off the shovel talk for a little longer. Tony looked like he needed the time.

Soulmate or not; someone was getting a shovel talk once he’d spoken to Tony and worked out what the Hell was going on.

And told him he was happy for him.

If anyone deserved his soulmate it was Tony.

Oblivious to the departure of their friends Tony and Bucky stared at each other. Bucky swallowed hard.

“Do you, Steve said, you don’t have-”

“Not anymore,” Tony said, hand over the arc reactor. “It used to be, but I didn’t, I didn’t think I deserv- And Steve would have said something, I thought.”

Bucky let out a little laugh as he pulled Tony closer.

“What a match.”

“Yeah,” Tony breathed. “I could, I could put it on for you. On your wrist. I can engrave it.”

“And you?”

“I don’t need-”

“Both or neither, Tony. We’re in this together.” Bucky said with a fond smile.

“Hell, I’ll work something out, I can probably engrave it.”

“I can’t wait.”

“I can’t wait for you to kiss me again, soulmate.”

Bucky grinned and did as he was bid. He would have been happy with Tony even if they’d never had marks. He didn’t need some words on his wrist to tell him he belonged with Tony.

It didn’t stop him from grinning stupidly at the name once Tony actually got to engraving it in the metal of his wrist.

It also didn’t stop him from tracing his name on Tony’s arc reactor.

What a match.