At 23, you were bound to not one, but two soulmates. Neither of them did you meet under normal circumstances, or led lives that were in any way, shape, or form, congruent to yours. It took you three days before you gathered enough courage to return to the compound, hailing a rather costly Uber ride to the edge of the city and trekking up the vast front yard. You brought your camera and laptop, hoping that the excuse of starting your assignment would seem enough of a justification to be around.
By the time you had reached the door and slapped your lanyard against the laser console, you were drenched with sweat and had to tie your hair up in a loose bun to get the strands off your neck. You’d spent the last three days swimming in difficult questions that you were afraid to ask and afraid to learn the answer to. Your body hurt endlessly, and you were so exhausted from the pain that you could no longer hold out. It was less of your anxiety and more of the separation that hurt, you believed. Since the Binding, your pain initiated and persisted in a very particular way- in your chest, and spreading dully, rather than centralized and urgent like your anxiety.
You were hesitant to admit that your return was also in search of … them. The pain you felt was shared, and it shamed you to know that your choice caused them to feel it, too. You couldn’t change how you felt, your fear, apprehension, turmoil, none of it. But you couldn’t ignore it, either. That morning, you had stared at yourself for a long time in the mirror and looked at the Words crawling on your body, finally deciding that if you could travel the world alone for two years and come back in once piece, you could at least go see Steve and Bucky.
Doctor Banner was glad when you came into the lab. Natasha was sitting idly on his table, fiddling with a contraption in her lap as he worked. They smiled when they saw you and nodded down the hall to where you assumed one of your soulmates were. It was still foreign, that word, being applied to someone meant for you. You snapped a quick picture of them together when they weren’t looking and made your way out.
Bucky sat in the dining room, dressed in a black quarter-sleeved shirt and dark jeans, cutting into a peach with a knife. There were heavy blue bags under his eyes, but he looked up upon your arrival, yet made no move to come toward you. You secretly thanked his gesture.
“Hey,” you called, sending a small smile his way.
“Hey,” he replied, matching you. He watched you cross the threshold of the room, and when you were close enough, he reached out to take your bag, setting it down next to his feet. When you muttered a thank you, he offered you a slice. You thanked him yet again and leaned against the table, sliding the piece into your mouth carefully, making sure you were chewing politely. He did the same, before pushing the blade back in and prying another wedge loose. The two of you continued this quietly until the peach had been eaten in its entirety, leaving behind a spiny pit on the table.
You watched your companion as you had eaten each piece, observing the tiredness of his face, the drooping corners of his mouth, even the dullness of his skin… they all seemed to be slowly regaining vibrance the longer you stayed in his presence. You couldn’t help but linger on his mouth as he ate, watching the crease of his two plush lips bend and move with every thoughtful bite. His tongue would dart out from time to time to catch droplets of peach-juice. Scenarios played in your head of those lips pressed against yours in a tender first kiss. Your cheeks burned and you scolded yourself for daydreaming inappropriately.
He didn’t mind that you stared, he was rather delighted that you came as close as you did. Bucky wanted to memorize everything about you. You noticed that your chest was hurting less as well, but your heart was beating very loudly under his intense contemplation. Finally, when it seemed like the pounding was loud enough to where Bucky could hear it, you hurriedly cleared your throat and pushed yourself up straight and excused yourself, pointing to the camera hung around your neck.
Bucky smiled and as you turned toward the hall, he called out to you, “He’s in the pool”. You were unsure if it was your imagination, but you didn’t turn around when Bucky chuckled at your suddenly tense stride.
Wandering down the hallway and taking a left, you snapped some shots of various things: a potted plant with a single flower blooming in an otherwise empty room, rows of monitors, all black with one lit orange, a room full of Tony’s suits, with a picture of Pepper on a stand. You had to look at the map in your e-mail again, as the compound was so large you were constantly getting lost. The closer you moved towards the pool, the more tense you became. You were imagining Steve, of course, dripping wet. Fuck, your poor heart.
The hallway finally led into the training are of the compound, and you were able to sneak a shot of Wanda calling red sparks to her hand. You finally came upon the wall of glass that separated the lap pool from the hallway, and saw him, in the center lane, streaking through the water effortlessly. You took a shot, admiring the way the muscles in his back rippled under the light of the sunroof, lingering slightly on your cursive Words on his left arm: you too, captain. When he reached one edge, he flipped and began his journey to the other side. You wondered how many hours he could do this for.
“The Captain is tireless,” a voice from behind you answered your thoughts. The thick accent and masculine tone belonged to Pietro, who was exiting the leisure pool, pale skin sprinkled with pink spots from the harsh chlorinated water. Around his waist was a white towel, sitting low on his hips. Pietro smirked at your tinged pink cheeks and extended his forearm, where a scribble of loops and coils stretched from elbow to wrist.
“Wanda,” he shrugged, “It cannot be changed.”
The young man traced the stripe with his finger, following its arches lovingly. You watched him, your own hand coming up to touch the Words on your left arm before reaching with your thumb to your chest.
“You are thinking of how you can be with two?” Pietro asked as your expression grew sullen. “Why is it so bad, ah? There are two meant to love you… like my sestra is meant to love me.” You studied his words as he began to walk away and as if his he couldn’t leave you with any less to reflect upon, he quietly added,
“You never have to wonder, it is… wonderful.”
Then, as instantaneous as his arrival, he departed, tearing away in a streak of blue-gray.
You turned the words repeatedly as you absently watched Steve pulled himself up on the edge of the lap pool, back and shoulder muscles contracting to lift his body out.
The Captain was shaking the water out of his hair and grabbing a nearby towel. He was tense, frustrated, and you could tell by the way he scrubbed his head crudely with the cloth before descending it upon his face. God, he was going to rub the skin right off himself. You paced in the hallway, overwrought with feelings, groaning when the tension in your chest rose again. Pietro’s words lingered in your mind: There are two meant to love you. You never have to wonder.
He was right, wasn’t he?
Your heart wouldn’t stop hammering. Tears were threatening to well up again as you thought about the gravity of his statement. The mysteries of the heart were as inexplicable as the depths of space, perhaps, but in this moment, some things need not an explanation. Did Steve and Bucky love you? You were afraid to admit it. But would they be? No. Not at all.
Did you love them? No. Not… yet. But could you love them? You didn’t know.
It wasn’t as simple as everyone else made it seem, and you knew better than the fairy tales you’d been fed growing up. Sure, the ritual made it easy to fall headfirst into the Binding. The strain of separation was easily remedied by the relief of intimacy, but your heart needed more than a command to be attached. The promise of eternity wasn’t as sweet as it seemed on the surface. It was truly an expectation, a domination of your independence. You couldn’t submit yourself to that so easily.
The glass door had shifted open behind you while you frantically palmed your sternum to calm your heart, unaware of Steve’s approaching form until his cold hand touched your back. He called your name, worriedly.
“You’re here? Oh, please don’t cry,” he insisted, pulling his hand back in case it offended you once he saw your wet eyes. He had changed back into sweatpants and a dark blue shirt, but otherwise he was barefoot and still wet. “I.. Are you staying? Can you stay, baby?” At the sound of the pet name, you couldn’t hold it in anymore. Once again, the tears rolled down your cheeks, but you quickly wiped them away and nodded. Steve dried your face with his large fingers, then putting your hand in his again, as if it was already a habit, he led you down the hallway.
You fumbled with your camera as you walked in step with him, having to let go to put the device back in its bag. You were surprised when you reflexively placed your hand back into his, fingers intertwining effortlessly. The flurry of your heart was heating your entire body. Steve’s hand felt so warm.
“Has Bucky seen you yet?”
“Yes, he’s got my bag.”
“That’s good. He’s been wanting to see you.” You walked in silence for a little while longer, nothing but the sound of his feet and your shoes passed between you. Minutes felt like an eternity as you made your way down the long hall. His thumb would graze up and down your own, and sometimes he would squeeze your hand tighter, as if to remind himself that you were indeed there. There wasn’t much that could stop your breath from quickening every time he glanced back at you.
“Steve?” You inquired.
He hummed in response, slowing his pace.
“Steve… is love…” You tried to find the right words, desperately trying to avoid being a cliché. “When do you know it’s real? How do you know it’s real?”
He stopped in front of a door. It must have been his room at the compound.
“Sweetheart,” he said softly, cupping your cheek. Your face flushed at the contact, but the temperature of his hand subsided the flare. His blue-green eyes searched yours, “Love is a choice that you make. It can be a rush, it can be overpowering, passionate, quick, scary… but when all of that falls away, in the end it’s up to you to commit. The real thing is a commitment.”
You were hushed, comforted by the resolute response. He was placing the power in your court, trusting you with making the choice of loving him. You felt overcome with fondness for the man in front of you. The connections of soulmates were so often posed as these whirlwind feelings, fervent desire and emotions that overrode thought, leaving in their wake the compulsion of being with The One. But Steve wanted to place you in the eye of the storm instead, showing you the serenity love could offer. It was up to you to move with it.
He turned the handle, pushing the door open and walking you into the darkness of his room. It was a large open space with a bed in the center next to his dresser and a computer desk on the far left. On the opposite end was a sofa couch next to a lamp and bookshelf. Bucky was seated there on one side, under the light of the standing lamp with a book. Your backpack was faithfully at his feet. Steve kissed the back of your hand before letting it drop.
“Do you mind keeping Bucky company? I’ll be back. Can the three of us have lunch together?” You replied with a nod, feeling the butterflies in your chest settle with his retreating back. You touched the hand he’d kissed before making your way to Bucky. Steve slipped away into the attached bathroom. The shower turned on as you took a seat on the other end of the couch, giving Bucky some space and putting down your camera bag. He was focused on the novel in his hand, but his eyes weren’t moving at all. Minutes passed.
“You let him kiss your hand,”
You froze. It could have been an accusation coming from anyone else, but you were puzzled that Bucky’s tone was more apathetic. Almost cheerful?
“I’m not jealous,” he placed the novel sideways on the bookshelf, not bothering to put it back in its proper place. This statement was slightly more loaded than the previous one.
“Can I kiss you too? Your hand, I mean,”
You thought you were going to faint. It was too much. Other than Nathan Young’s guileful grip on your upper thigh when you were 18, you had never been the object of anyone’s romantic affection. Bucky turned his body to face you, scooting closer and placing the elbow of his metal arm over the back of the sofa and one leg up, bent, knee pointed. You felt bewitched under his gaze as your right hand shakily reached up to him in an offer.
Super Soldiers ran hotter than most, but Bucky was an absolute inferno. He gradually brought it up to his lips while dipping his head. The side of his hair that was unkept by his ear hung like a fringe over his face and his electric gaze remained on you as he pressed your hand to his lips in the same spot Steve previously kissed. Both your eyes slipped shut with thunderous exhales.
He moved to your knuckles, content to leave them there over the first and second joint before marking a damp path across all four. Then he journeyed down, fingers travelling appropriately over each of yours to give his lips more surface. Your ring finger was kissed, then the tip of your pointer, then your thumbprint was against his hot mouth. You gripped his hand in reflex, body shaking with anticipation. He breathed a heavy sigh on your thumb before dashing his tongue across it in a slow and demanding lick.
A whimper escaped you without permission followed by a series of brief pants. You tried to recall your breath but it was no use. Your body quivered for more of his touch. Bucky watched you in anticipation, making no further move unless you allowed it. His pupils were blown wide, mouth open, breathing heavily though his nose. He groaned when you slid your thumb over his bottom lip, turning your hand ever so slightly to catch his clefted chin in your palm.
It was an exercise in control, if nothing else. Bucky wanted to strip you bare and press every inch of his body onto yours. His mouth hungered to taste your neck, shoulders, belly, lips. Christ, anywhere and everywhere if you’d let him. His throat was parched as you explored his mouth with your thumb, pressing the pad onto his eager tongue. He sucked hard on it, biting down gently to show you how much more he was willing to give you.
Your mind was blank. There was nothing else in your world except for Bucky’s mouth clamped around your finger. You hadn’t blinked in minutes. The nervousness you generally felt in your belly was nowhere to be found as you watched him watch you. Something in your brain was trying to coax the rest of your body to foresee the embarrassment this situation could bring- but it wasn’t strong enough.
When the shower stopped, neither of you knew. The door had swung opened and shut itself closed and you didn’t notice either.
“Keeping each other entertained, I see,” Steve was chuckling at the two of you as you stared intently at each other on his couch. Your thumb slipped out of Bucky’s mouth with a quiet pop and fell back into your lap. You bit your bottom lip, finally letting your eyes close in pleasure.
Your heart had grown so uncharacteristically quiet that you wondered if you were even alive anymore. You faintly heard the sound of Steve kneeling in front the couch and allowed his hands to wander in your hair. He was cradling your head like it was a grapefruit, you briefly mused. His thumb drew circles behind your ears as you shifted towards him and leaned into his touch, exposing your neck. One hand tugged the band out of your hair to let it cascade down your back.
“God…” you gasped. You were sure you were melting at this point, body becoming limp, and ready to run through Steve’s hands into a puddle on his couch.
Bucky modified his position on the couch closer to you, hand snaking its way under Steve’s arms to rub gently up and down from your throat to the dip between your collarbones. Your thighs squeezed tightly against each other involuntarily and you hummed at the friction between your legs.
“Does that feel nice, sweetheart?” Steve asked breathlessly, watching your chest rise and fall with each stroke of Bucky’s hand. You muttered something back neither of them could comprehend and they shared a satisfied smile with each other. It was intoxicating, the heavy atmosphere growing in Steve’s room from such simple touches. He knew what was on Bucky’s mind as they watched your lips part and close; he always knew what was on Bucky’s mind.
The soulmate affair could be complex with two. With three, it was like navigating a labyrinth in the dark. Steve watched your eyes slide open, blinking languidly, high on contact. Especially, he thought, when it involved someone completely inexperienced with love.
Even more so, he lamented, with Bucky, whose hand was beginning to act on it own.
Steve let loose of you gently with a sigh, propping you back to lean against the couch. He quickly removed Bucky’s hand, which was starting to route its way down your chest. Bucky scoffed and pulled away impatiently.
It was a moment before you were able to regain your senses, blinking as you took in the sights around you- Bucky to your right, Steve kneeling in front. You didn’t even notice he’d been shirtless the entire time, and the sight of him was making your stomach flip.
“I gotta go,” You sobbed drily, “I’m gonna explode,”
The boys laughed. Steve pulled you to your feet as Bucky followed behind. “Let’s get food,” he smiled once you were balanced. He took a shirt from his dresser and put it on, the fabric stretched taught over his chest. It took a few steps before you remembered how to walk, trying desperately to ignore the pooling heat in your core. There was a shroud lingering now and tension that had built was beginning to bubble beneath it. Strangely enough, you noticed, you were no longer nervous to be in their presence. It had been replaced by a different type of pressure.
The three of you fell into step beside each other once the door closed, with Bucky lingering behind only a little bit. While you weren’t looking, Steve pointedly inspected his friend, frowning at the stiffness rising from the crotch of his jeans. Bucky scowled but shoved his hands in his pockets anyway, adjusting the denim as much as he could. He didn’t care, he wanted you to see.
Steve stifled his exasperation. It seemed like his needs would have to be muted if he were to take on the mantle of controlling Bucky’s desires. As Bucky’s gaze found its way fixedly to your curvy bottom, Steve could feel himself resigning to that very reality.
He slipped his hand back into yours once more. At least he could have that.