Growing up, Tony Stark knew he was destined to disappoint his soulmate. Rhodey and Pepper had tried to change his mind, but he was a scientist and the years had provided him with substantial proof of this fact.
For one, his father mentioned it constantly. Tony couldn’t remember a single conversation they’d had that didn’t include Howard Stark expressing his frustration towards his son and pitying whoever would say the words on his wrist. While his father wasn’t around often, it was still enough to leave a lasting impression and had foreshadowed his future as a fucked up person.
Another support to his theory was himself in general. He was rebellious. He was loud. He was an alcoholic and reckless and a billion other things nobody wanted in a partner.
Afghanistan only made things worse.
He added PTSD and being one broken wire away from total heart failure to his list. Not exactly “Bachelor of the Year” material.
And if all that wasn’t enough, the words on his wrist described exactly what his soulmate would think of him.
Are you crazy? Someone could’ve been killed!
Not exactly an ego-booster. He heard it pretty often, especially after becoming Iron Man, but it hadn’t been their first words to him. Apparently he’d be disappointing his soulmate from the get go.
Tony thrived on being different, but this was something he wasn’t exactly proud of. He had no interest in meeting his soulmate. He was doing such a fantastic job of fucking up his own life, why do that to someone else?
No, he couldn’t bring someone else into that mess. There were lots of people available for his soulmate to choose from and any one of them would be better than Tony, so if he met his soulmate he’d probably turn and run in the other direction. Before his soulmate had a chance to.
When the time did come, though, running wasn’t exactly an option. And if he thought meeting his soulmate would be bad, he was not prepared for the utter shitstorm of what actually happened.
For one, it was in the middle of a battle. One of the first alongside Fury’s epic boyband: the Avengers. It was going well so far. Hulk was smashing, Nat was slicing, Clint was arrowing.
Then someone new joined their ranks: Red, white, and noble as fuck. They had been warned that Captain America was going to be let out, to test him on the Avengers, but it was still a little shocking to see the guy Howard Stark had raved about for all of Tony’s childhood. He wasn’t as tall as he’d thought he’d be, though Tony was flying overhead
So yes, maybe he was a little awed and yes, maybe he wanted to show off just a little bit. And while his maneuver resulted in some dead robots, it also resulted in an explosion that knocked him out of the sky and into a heap on the concrete.
Captain America reached him as he pulled himself up, suit creaking slightly from the impact.
“Are you crazy? Someone could’ve been killed!”
Tony froze, thankful for the faceplate because he was pretty sure he resembled a fish with how his eyes widened and his jaw dropped.
What. The actual. Fuck.
Tony always knew he wouldn’t be good enough for his soulmate, but Captain freaking America? Was this some cosmic joke? Was whatever deity that existed up there high on something and thinking: What would fuck up Tony Stark the most? Oh, I know! Let’s pair him up with Captain America: Perfect Superhuman.
Maybe. Maybe Tony was presumptuous to think deities cared that much about him. Or maybe the Captain was a serial killer in a past life and was still making it up.
Whatever the case, Tony couldn’t speak. He couldn’t say whatever was probably written on Captain freaking America and have him feel obligated to try a relationship with Tony. He could not do that. It would just be torture for them both.
But the Captain was still looking at him expectantly and Tony needed to say something. And whatever he said now would determine what happened next. Which, of course, was usually the case when people said things, but not always on this grand a scale.
Tony was considering pretending to be mute when it hit him. He was in total control here. He could say whatever he wanted and no matter what, it would be on Captain America’s wrist. He was determining history, right here and now.
So he just had to say something that was not suspicious in the slightest. Something that wouldn’t tip off that Captain America was his soulmate. All he had to do was say something so common and mundane, nobody would think twice.
The soldier was silent and Tony held his breath. Was that simple enough? Had the Captain heard that enough times he wouldn’t notice?
He saw the Captain squint for just a moment before shaking his head in frustration.
“Whatever. Let’s just finish this.”
“Aye, aye, Cap.” Tony saluted and took off again, mentally praising himself for an averted crisis.
Steve Rogers had always been a romantic. Even though he’d grown up sick and scrawny and no dame would give him the time of day, he had dreamed of the day he’d meet his soulmate and they’d fall in love with each other.
Of course, when he’d gotten his words, he couldn’t help his disappointment.
At first he was confused. Why the hell would his soulmate call him ‘Captain’? Was it a nickname? A joke?
Years passed without the words being spoken. Then the war happened. Project Rebirth happened. And then he was hearing the words every other day and he was pretty close to hitting his head against a wall. Repeatedly. At least the serum would prevent lasting damage.
How the hell was he supposed to find his words when they were spoken by almost everyone he met? At first he’d jumped every time he was addressed, but eventually he was desensitized. No matter how hard he tried, he wouldn’t figure it out.
Instead, he focused on his first words to other people. Surely, if he said something unique enough, his soulmate would recognize it and mention it. And then they could be together.
That hadn’t happened yet and as he was crashing that plane he sent a silent apology to his soulmate for leaving before they could meet.
Then he was in the 21 st century and within a week he was in the middle of the city fighting robots alongside spies, a hulking green monster, and what Steve could only assume was another robot.
And he thought wireless phones were strange.
At least fighting was something he knew how to do. So was calling out idiot teammates, like the flying robot was proving to be.
“Are you crazy? Someone could’ve been killed!”
The robot stood, seeming dazed. He was silent for a while, maybe recalibrating whatever served as its brain, and then it spoke in a digitized voice.
After all the time in the ice, so much distance from the last time he’d heard that, Steve couldn’t help a reaction. However, this was a robot. And clearly, this era had the same greetings as the past and he would once again be hearing his words said by every human and robot under the sun. Just great.
“Whatever,” he grumbled. “Let just finish this.”
The robot saluted with a sassy remark and flew off. Steve didn’t know that robots could be sassy.
It didn’t take long after that to neutralize the threat, idiot robot aside, and afterwards they returned to the SHIELD facility to brief Fury. Well, Steve briefed. The robot just quipped.
When they were dismissed they all filed out of the building where Steve found himself shaking hands with the so-called ‘Avengers’.
“So,” Clint gave a crooked grin. “Are you going to join the team? We do have cookies. And movies.”
Steve shot a glance at the robot — Iron Man, apparently — and shrugged. “I- I don’t know? I was just fighting Nazis in the 40s and now… robots.” His face flushed as he glanced at the robot. Would it be offended? He?
Iron Man didn’t react and Hawkeye laughed. “That’s fair. Well, you’re always welcome with us if you want a place to crash while you think it over.”
“I didn’t realize you owned the tower,” Iron Man said from behind him. Clint rolled his eyes.
“Please, there’s plenty of room. Besides, if we’re sharing with Hulk and Thor, I think we can manage one little super soldier.”
Iron Man crossed his arms and Steve could picture him rolling his eyes. “Of course.”
With that the robot took off and Steve couldn’t hold back his amazement at seeing him fly.
Clint shrugged. “Yea, it’s cool. I mean, it’s not like he’s an expert marksman, but hey, we can’t all be me.”
Steve laughed. Clint reminded him of Bucky and it made him smile. And a bit sad, the wound still fresh.
“It- He’s something. Reckless though. That stunt he pulled-”
Natasha waved her hand as they got into the car that had pulled up. “Oh, he does that a lot. Less reckless and more self-sacrificing, though, the idiot.”
Steve frowned. “I guess.”
“Iron Man is a part of this team and we’re lucky to have him,” Natasha’s voice was firm and Steve got the feeling that if he disagreed with her, the serum would do nothing to protect him.
“Iron Man is fine, it’s who he comes with that’s the problem,” Clint mumbled, earning a smack from Natasha.
Steve furrowed his brow in confusion and Natasha sighed.
“He’s talking about Stark.”
“Howard?” Was he still around? Was Steve going to see a familiar face, finally?
“Tony. Howard’s son. And if you have any sense at all you won’t mention it.”
Steve opened his mouth to ask why, but from the expressions on everyone’s faces, figured it would be better not to.
“So… what’s wrong with him?”
Natasha shot a glare at Clint. “Nothing. He’s just not the best with people.”
“He’s an idiot,” Clint clarified. “I mean, he’s a genius. Absolutely brilliant, but he’s also an idiot.”
“And he owns Iron Man?”
The spies looked at each other before Clint burst out laughing. Natasha smirked and turned to Steve.
“He is Iron Man.”
Steve wasn’t exactly sure how, but he wound up living at the tower.
It had started that first day, with him agreeing to stay the night instead of returning to the cold SHIELD facility. Then he was there for a week, given the time to adjust to the future by being thrown headfirst into invisible butlers and spaceships that were really coffee machines.
Now, it was a couple months later and nobody asked Steve what his plans were. He had his sketches taped up to the wall of what had become his room. He sparred with Clint and Nat and Thor because they were friends. He met the Hulk’s other ego, Bruce Banner, a soft spoken doctor.
And yet, he had not met Tony Stark.
Sure, when battles came up Iron Man appeared in full armour, ready to fight, but besides that, Steve had the sense that he was being avoided.
He found it odd, considering he was essentially living in the man’s home. Clint had assured him it was fine, that Tony didn’t care, but Steve still thought that they might run into each other, no matter how big the tower was.
Instead, any communication was through the others. They gave him a StarkPhone, they gave him the papers Tony had apparently drawn up getting him military pay for the past seventy years. Tony had indirectly done so much for him, but once the battles were over he would fly off and would not be seen again.
At times, he started questioning his sanity.
“He does exist, right?” Steve asked Natasha once. “You sure Iron Man isn’t a robot?”
“I mean, we’ve had our doubts, but nope. All human. Just not all there,” she tapped her head with a smile.
“Then why won’t he meet me?”
Natasha was a trained spy so she didn’t let any emotion slip. “He has some issues. Give it time.”
So Steve did. He must’ve been open about his annoyance, though, because finally, three months into his stay, he ran into Tony Stark. He had a feeling Nat was behind it.
It was early in the morning and Steve had just finished his run, ready for a tall glass of water, but someone was in the kitchen.
He was sitting at the counter, sipping coffee. His hair was styled to perfection, his suit pristine, and he was wearing yellow sunglasses for some reason. He turned when Steve entered.
“Mr. Stark,” Steve sounded breathless, taken aback by the man in front of him. He looked ever the polished businessman, but his hands were calloused and slightly scarred and the fitted suit suggested someone in better shape than a desk job would allow. He was handsome, in that careless, poised, elegant way and Steve found it strangely enticing.
“Tony is fine.”
Steve managed to get some water, the reason he was here, and smiled. “Then call me Steve.”
Tony shrugged. “I’ll probably switch to nicknames anyway. I don’t call anyone by their name. Even Pepper, though with a name like Virginia, I was doing her a favour.”
Steve had only met Pepper once, when she stopped by with some papers for him, but it was enough to understand that Tony would not get away with nicknames.
“Right. Do I need to think of a nickname for you, then?”
Tony’s lips quirked up before returning to a thin line. “I would never ask Captain America to stoop so low.”
Steve didn’t know how to answer that. He sipped his water instead, trying to escape the suffocating silence that had fallen. Tony drained his mug and stood up.
“Well, good talk. See you around.”
“Wait!” Steve set his glass down. “Um, thank you, by the way. For everything you did.”
Tony shrugged. “Pretty standard. Avengers perks, if you will.”
“Still,” Steve said. “I never got the chance…” He trailed off, not knowing if he should mention Tony avoiding him.
“Don’t take it personally, Cap, I’m very busy.”
Steve couldn’t see Tony’s eyes behind the glasses. All he saw was a man still wearing his armor.
“Of course. Sorry.”
“Let me know if you need anything,” he called as he left.
And that was that.
Tony was definitely avoiding the Captain.
He had showed up to the kitchen to appease Nat, but then he went right back into hiding. Not because he was scared or anything. Because he was terrified.
Actually meeting Steve Rogers without his armor was a lot. The knowledge that the man before him, the blond hair and chiselled everything, was somehow predestined to be the love of his life? Tony had taken time to himself to ponder it, but with all his knowledge he couldn’t wrap his head around it.
It was no help that the Captain was all shy and polite and Tony had no idea how to respond to that, which meant he had to hide in his workshop forever. Maybe he could leave for the occasional meeting, so Pepper didn’t get mad.
Sometimes, though, he’d sit on his stool and take off his wrist cuff so he could trace the words. He could picture them in his mind clear as day, having known them for most of his life, but knowing what they sounded like, who was saying them, it made everything more real.
He glanced at the half-finished circuit board he’d abandoned. This was stupid. Stop moping and move on from his soulmate. It wasn’t like it was unheard of; Lots of soulmates were platonic or lost each other and found someone new. Maybe soulmates weren’t as rigid as people thought. Maybe they were more like… suggestions?
Tony grabbed his cuff and hid the words from sight, despite them being burned onto his eyelids. He was Tony goddamn Stark and he was not going to let some dumb tattoo tell him what to do.
There were only two people who could tell him what to do and since Pepper wouldn’t be fun about it, he called the other one.
Rhodey was local to training new recruits rather than overseas, which meant he answered Tony’s call on the second ring and his face appeared on the screen.
“If you’re dying again, I will kill you.”
Tony gave a weak laugh. “Only emotionally, platypus.”
Rhodey, angel that he was, could immediately tell something was up. “Do you need your emotional support animal?”
“Please, I would never dehumanize you like that!”
“You just called me platypus.”
Tony could only manage a brief glare before it fell away. “Will you come be my pillow?”
He watched the screen shift its view as Rhodey immediately got into the suit.
“So much for not dehumanizing me.”
Tony smiled and hung up, grateful for his amazing genius in repulsor tech when he didn’t have to wait long for Rhodey to arrive. Five minutes after that saw them curled up on his couch in the corner of the lab, Tony seated between Rhodey’s legs as his friend ran his fingers through his hair comfortingly.
“Much as I love cuddling, are you gonna talk about it?”
Tony sighed, leaning back onto Rhodey’s chest so he could be wrapped into a hug. He closed his eyes so he could work up the nerve to speak.
“I met my soulmate.”
He felt Rhodey freeze, but he waited for Tony to go on.
“It’s the Captain.”
“Shit,” Rhodey whispered, summing everything up nicely.
“Shit,” Tony agreed.
“What did you say? What did he say?”
Tony was silent and felt Rhodey’s groan more than he heard it.
“What did you do?”
“So,” Tony started innocently. “He may not be aware that I’m his soulmate.”
“And how the hell did he not recognize the words he’s probably had for decades?”
“Well, he said my words. Quite shocking in the middle of a battle, I have to say, I’m lucky it didn’t distract me. What if he said it while I was in the middle of something, I mean it’s really so impra-”
“Right. Well, I could choose my first words to him. So I just said something generic enough he wouldn’t notice.”
“Of course you did,” Rhodey leaned forward to rest his head on top of Tony’s. “Of fucking course you did.”
“In my defense,” Tony started loudly before continuing in a small voice, “his words hurt my feelings.”
Rhodey was silent, but his arms held him tighter and Tony was grateful. He really didn’t want to cry, even if it was only in front of Rhodey.
“It’s not fair,” Tony channeled his inner child, which wasn’t too difficult.
“I know, Tones, it’s not. But you have a soulmate. You can’t deny the both of you the chance at a relationship.”
Tony understood how Rhodey felt. He picked up his friend’s hand and traced the cuff on his wrist, knowing that it was just for show. It wasn’t common for people to be born without words, but it wasn’t unheard of. Tony was always amazed at how well Rhodey handled it. Hell, Tony was making such a mess of having words, he had no idea what a nightmare he would be if he didn’t have any.
“What if he hates me?”
“I think the point of the soulmates thing is that they don’t hate you.”
Tony shrugged. “Love and hate are pretty similar. Wasting time thinking about them, both love and hate are red. Both give you weird sexual feelings.”
“Right. But how do I compare? I mean, he’s the most perfect being on the planet, he’s beyond human!”
“No one is perfect, Tony.”
Rhodey laughed. “I’m the exception.”
Tony smiled, even though his chest ached. “Do you ever wish we were soulmates? Like, platonic ones?”
“Tony, I don’t need words to know we’re soulmates.”
Warmth spread through him and Tony blinked back tears because crying would be cheesy and stupid. “I love you, too.”
“So long as you don’t have weird sexual feelings about me.”
“That’s not fair, honey bear, you know you’re a snack!”
As much as Tony loved it when Rhodey visited, he also hated it because Rhodey had a tendency towards being logical and making sure Tony did the right thing. It got old real fast.
However, Tony knew that Rhodey was the authority on when Tony was being an idiot, so he figured it couldn’t hurt to talk to the Captain. They did live in the same building and go on life or death missions together, he wouldn’t want things to be awkward.
Or, you know, more awkward.
Captain America was in the gym, beating the devil out of the reinforced punching bag Tony had installed after the Captain’s first workout. Tony stood to the side and watched, admiring the peak of physical condition, when he was noticed.
“Mr. Stark!” The Captain’s voice was high with shock and Tony decided not to comment on it, giving a small nod instead.
“Um, are you- do you need the gym?”
Tony shook his head and smiled, photo ready. “No, I actually came to talk.”
Steve walked over, unwrapping his hands and nodding for Tony to go on. Tony wished he’d written out a script.
“So, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’ve been kind of… avoiding you. Just a bit.”
“Really?” Figures Captain America was a terrible liar. Tony raised an eyebrow at him and he blushed.
“I mean, I know you’re busy…”
“I was a jerk. Ask around, I do that often. And I am here to apologize, which, if you ask around, you will learn I don’t do often.”
“Yes, Captain. I am sorry I was a jerk. I just, you know, I grew up hearing about you, so it’s weird that you’re here in my tower. And it doesn’t help that you knew my dad.” Tony mentally hit himself as he spoke. He knew he hadn’t planned on mentioning the soulmates thing, but Howard was a no better topic.
“It’s okay. And you don’t have to worry about me comparing you to him. I know you’re a different person and you have different accomplishments. Like the suit!”
Yep, Howard was definitely the worse choice. “Right, sorry I couldn’t live up to the legend,” his voice was bitter to his own ears, but he didn’t care at that point.”
“No, that’s not it! I just-”
“Look,” Tony interrupted, having lost any fucks he had. “You may have known him as brilliant, charming, able to shit gold or whatever else they said about him. But the Howard I grew up with was a complete dick so, as far as I’m concerned, the less you think I’m like him the better.”
There was silence, the Captain’s eyes wide with shock. “He was?”
Tony sighed, feeling the heat leave him. He really had to work on his daddy issues at some point. Maybe he could book another session with Bruce.
“Look, Cap, you left a lot of people when you went into the ice. Not all of them handled it very well.”
Tony shrugged. “Not your fault.”
“Still,” he placed a hand on Tony’s shoulder to give a comforting squeeze. “You shouldn’t have had to go through that.”
Tony shook the hand off. “Whatever, it’s done. Anyway, sorry I was a dick. I’ll try not to do it again in the future, but I probably will. Sorry in advance, Captain.”
“You can call me Steve, you know.”
Tony smiled. “Then call me Tony.”
Steve liked Thor. He was a bit… alien to him, but he was a good guy and always had interesting stories about the Nine Realms to tell.
Unfortunately, having Thor around often meant that his brother was nearby. Steve had only met Loki once so far, but he had met the spiders and the demonic birds and the snakes that he had sent their way. Thor said not to take it seriously, that it just meant that Loki was warming up to them. Steve would hate to see what would happen if Loki hated them.
When Thor flew into the tower to join them for supper, Steve felt he was entitled to be wary that Loki would act soon. Tony clearly felt the same, based on the groan he let out when Thor set his hammer on a chair that was definitely not worthy.
“Look, Thunderpants. You’re great, property damage aside, but please tell me your brother didn’t follow you.”
“You all don’t like Loki?” Thor’s expression was sad and everyone rushed to fix it. Just because they hated Loki, did not mean they could tell Thor that.
“Of course we do,” Clint said. “We just have different senses of humour. We prefer… less destruction.”
Thor frowned. “Did you not blow up the training room last week?”
Clint shrugged. “I said less, not none. I’m not dead.”
“Yet,” Natasha corrected. Clint flicked a pea at her, considering he wasn’t eating them anyway.
“Look, your brother is a time and a half,” Tony said. “But it can take more energy than we have. Us Midgardians are more.. fragile. Subject to wanting naps and our innards, you know, inside.”
Thor sighed. “I suppose I understand. I will speak to him.”
Steve smiled. “Thank you, Thor. Now, I read somewhere your goats are immortal, is that true?”
Thor smiled, launching into story mode. “Not so much immortal as I can bring them back, as long as all the pieces are there. This one time…”
Supper went well and Steve was happy that they were all together. Even Tony, as they had been getting along much better since their talk. Things were great.
Things were not great.
Thor had spoken to Loki, but apparently he took that to mean his attacks were too boring and overdone. So he became more creative.
Clint had a nasty bruise from the wolf that somehow made it into the vents and Natasha nearly lost a finger from the asp in her sock drawer. Bruce was still recovering from the Hulk’s rampage at the rats in the pantry only he could see.
Tony had retreated to his workshop for the week in an attempt to avoid the chaos. He didn’t even go to his room to sleep, so later he would blame exhaustion for not being cautious enough.
He had finally looked up from his soldering when he noticed something at the end of his work table. He hadn’t realized anyone had even been in the shop, but that wasn’t unusual. He picked up the long, thin box to find a single rose with a folded note. Tony immediately knew who it was from.
“Rhodey, you charmer.”
He took out the rose to smell and felt a sharp heat in his finger as he pricked himself on one of the thorns.
“Oops,” he said before falling to the ground, unconscious.
Steve was just getting back from his run when JARVIS notified him that everyone was in the infirmary. Panicked, he raced over to meet them.
“What happened?” He looked around the hall to make sure everyone was there. The only one missing was-
“It’s Tony,” Bruce’s voice was calm even as his eyes were pained. “JARVIS alerted us to something being wrong and we found him knocked out in his shop, with this.”
He gingerly held out a single rose, wrapped in a cloth to keep it from touching his skin. Steve frowned.
“He was hurt by a flower?”
“Apparently it was a gift from Loki.” Natasha was just as calm as Bruce, but the look she shot Thor would’ve killed a mere mortal.
“What did it do?” Steve looked past them into the room to see Tony asleep in a bed. It was the most relaxed he had ever seen him.
“It’s not that serious,” Thor assured them, doing nothing to make them feel better. “We used to use that spell all the time as children. I’ve heard many Midgard stories about them, so you must be as familiar.”
“Fairy tales,” Bruce said. “We never actually cast them.”
Steve still didn’t have an answer. “What spell?”
“It’s a sleeping curse,” Natasha explained. “Think Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.”
Steve felt his stomach drop. “So he needs-”
“True love’s kiss,” Thor smiled. “It’s not a curse, it’s romantic. Loki probably just wanted to help Tony’s love life, he spends so much time alone.”
“Does Tony even love anyone?” The words came out harsher than Steve intended, given the glares Natasha and Bruce shot his way, but he didn’t know what to think. He’d read about Tony’s many conquests, but nothing about a soulmate.
“It can’t just be any regular love,” Natasha said. “It has to be strong enough to break the curse- the spell,” she corrected when Thor opened his mouth to argue. “We all thought his soulmate was Pepper, until she started dating Happy, so we have no clue.”
“He hasn’t found his soulmate yet?”
Bruce shrugged. “If he has, he hasn’t mentioned it.”
“So, what do we do?”
Natasha crossed her arms. “We were going to ask you, team leader and all.”
Steve felt a weight on his shoulders it took all his super strength to lift. He and Tony were just beginning to become friends and now he had to save him.
“Can we… can we check his wrist? For his words? Maybe give away who his soulmate is?”
The others, minus Thor, shifter nervously. Looking at other people’s words wasn’t the most polite thing to do, but given the circumstances, they all knew their options were limited.
They turned to Bruce, who knew Tony the best. He bit his lip nervously before giving a shaky nod.
“Alright. Let’s do it.”
They crowded into the room and around Tony’s bed. His face was relaxed, the heart monitor hooked up to a piece of metal in his chest. Steve wondered if that was what modern technology was like, though he didn’t remember having one when he woke up at SHIELD.
Upon closer inspection, he realized the metal was embedded in Tony’s chest. His face must’ve shown his horror because Bruce gave him a sad look.
“He’s been through a lot.” He didn’t say anything else and Steve figured it wasn’t his story to tell, so instead he watched as Bruce took Tony’s hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze before taking off the leather cuff. Five heads leaned closer to read the words underneath.
Are you crazy? Someone could’ve been killed!
They all leaned back and Steve stood frozen as the others exchanged confused looks.
“Doesn’t tell us much,” Clint said. Natasha, though, noticed Steve’s expression.
“What is it?”
“I-” Steve swallowed. “I said that to him.”
“What?” Clint looked at him like he’d grown a second head which, at this point, would be less shocking. “Did he say your words?”
Steve glanced at his wrist, knowing the words printed underneath his cuff. He nodded slowly.
“Jeez, Steve, why didn’t you say anything?”
“My words,” Steve’s head felt fuzzy and the words were thick on his tongue. “They’re pretty common. I- I heard them all the time, so I figured…” He couldn’t finish. The others regarded him sadly except for Bruce, who frowned.
“But Tony didn’t say anything?”
Steve shook his head, looking at Tony’s face with wonder and fear and confusion and anger and a billion other emotions he couldn’t describe. Why hadn’t Tony said anything?
“Well, at least this is easier now.”
Steve’s eyes snapped to Clint. “What do you mean?”
“You’re his soulmate. So plant a smooch on him and get this over with.”
“But-” Steve looked back at Tony. Sure, he was handsome. And smart. And kind. But he was also rash, impulsive, stubborn, and definitely prone to self-destructive tendencies.
“It’s alright,” Natasha placed a hand on his arm. “No one’s judging. I don’t know if anyone talked to you about it yet, but same-sex relationships-”
“I got that,” Steve interrupted. “Agent Coulson gave me the talk back at SHIELD. I just… I never- I didn’t-”
“You think it’s a platonic bond? Are you straight?” Bruce questioned. Steve shrugged.
“I have no idea,” Steve responded to both.
“Well, kissing him can’t hurt,” Clint pointed out and Steve knew he was right. If they were soulmates, Steve was their best chance at waking Tony up.
“Excellent,” Thor was much too happy for the situation. “Loki’s actions have brought two soulmates together! I can’t wait to tell him!”
“Please don’t,” Steve murmured as he walked around the bed to Tony’s head. His lips looked chapped, which wasn’t surprising given how often the genius could be seen chewing on them. Steve had never kissed a guy before, but it was the 21 st century. He was dealing with lots of firsts.
Trying to ignore everyone watching him, he leaned over and pressed a chaste kiss to Tony’s mouth. It was only a few seconds, warm and sweet. Definitely not terrible, except that Tony stayed asleep. Steve pulled back and frowned.
They all waited with their breaths held in the hopes that there would be a delayed effect, but nothing happened.
“So much for love,” Clint shook his head and Natasha elbowed him. She gave Steve an encouraging smile before speaking.
“Now, Somebody hold my damn helmet.”
They all turned at the voice to find Colonel James Rhodes standing in the doorway looking rather imposing in the silver suit of armour. He walked up to them and shoved the helmet into Steve’s hands before pushing him aside.
“Honestly, soulmates or not, you think it’s true love after knowing him for five minutes? Please!”
“I-” Steve didn’t even know what to say and Rhodes rolled his eyes.
“JARVIS called me. I programmed him to let me know whenever Tony did something stupid.”
“You can program him?”
Rhodes raised an eyebrow. “You know I met Tony at MIT, right? What do you think I was there for, the scenery?”
Rhodes ignored him and leaned down to peck Tony on the lips. He pulled back just in time for Tony to shoot up, eyes wide.
“What the hell?” He looked around, blinking quickly. “Please tell me nobody kissed me.”
“Sorry, Tones,” Rhodes gave a warm smile. “Two of us did.”
“Aw,” Tony pouted. “I finally get you to kiss me and I’m not even awake to enjoy it?”
“Too bad because it’s not happening again.”
“You wound me.”
“Wait,” Clint looked between the two of them. “You two are dating?”
“Oh god, no,” Rhodes laughed. Tony pretended to look offended.
“Gee, Rhodey, thanks for the ego boost.”
“I’m straight, Tones. You know if I were so inclined I’d be all over that ass.”
“It is a beautiful ass,” Tony nodded solemnly.
Clint was still confused. “But how did your kiss work?”
“Because,” Tony spoke slowly, as though to a child. Which, granted, Clint could act like sometimes. “We love each other. We are super bros. We are platonic soulmates.”
“But we’re soulmates.” The words left Steve’s mouth before he could stop them.
Tony looked at him in shock before looking down at his uncovered wrist and it changed to horror.
“Well,” Rhodes said carefully. “This was fun, but maybe we should all slowly back out of the room.”
Steve kept his gaze on Tony as the others left, closing the door behind them. He knew they were probably still there with their ears pressed against the keyhole, though.
“This is awkward,” Tony said eloquently. Steve didn’t know whether to laugh or shake him.
“You’re my soulmate.”
Tony looked down at his wrist, tracing his words with his thumb. He nodded. Steve took a shaky breath.
“And you didn’t think to mention it?”
Tony shrugged. Of course it would be when Steve wanted him to talk that he would finally be quiet.
“I had no idea,” Steve felt his voice raise as anger and frustration seeped through. “My words, I’ve heard them so often I don’t even notice anymore. But yours… I said that and you…” Steve trailed off as Tony flinched, guilt spreading across his face. Suddenly it hit him.
“Did you…” Steve thought back to when they met. To Tony’s silence. “Did you do it on purpose?”
Tony still wouldn’t look at him and when he spoke, it was pained. “I knew that whatever I said would be on your wrist. So I… chose carefully.”
Steve’s mouth opened and closed as he searched for words. His head was spinning trying to comprehend that his childhood, his words, his life spent wondering which of the hundreds of people were his soulmate, were all because of Tony’s decision. All because-
“You didn’t want me?” He didn’t mean to sound so broken, but rejected soulmates were practically unheard of. Was this one more thing that made him different from everyone else?
Tony finally looked up at him, eyes wide. “No, god no! It’s not I just… well, my words weren’t exactly an ego boost? And with everything my dad said about you and, honestly, about me, I didn’t want you to be stuck with me.”
“Stuck with you?” Steve echoed.
Tony nodded quickly, as though there was nothing wrong with what he was saying.
“Look, you’re Captain America. You’re truth and justice and all that crap and I knew that if you found out you’d try so hard to make things work and I’d just screw it up. I didn’t want to put you through that.”
Steve honestly couldn’t respond. He remembered Tony saying Howard had changed, that he wasn’t a great father, but what had he done to make his son think so little of himself? And Steve’s first words to Tony, well, he supposed that if one were to grow up reading them, they wouldn’t have high hopes.
“I’m so sorry, Tony.”
“Why?” He should not look so confused.
“I’m sorry Howard was a terrible father. I’m sorry your words were so bad. But gosh, Tony, I wish you’d said something. I wouldn’t be forcing myself to be your soulmate. We’re already friends, or nearly there. I don’t know if our bond is platonic or romantic or what, but it’s not like we’d just jump into a relationship right off the bat.”
Tony swallowed. “I know, I guess- well, I’m an idiot. Ask Rhodey, he knows me best. Cramming my head full of science meant pushing out common sense and people skills.”
Tony smiled and Steve wondered if it hurt with how fake it was.
“Stop deflecting. You were right about me trying to make things work as soulmates, but I was already trying to be your friend. And I’m only going to try as long as you do, too.”
“I’m not good at making friends,” Tony’s voice was light, but the words were heavy. Steve took Tony’s hand.
Tony smiled and it was real. Steve smiled back, a warm happiness filling him that he hadn’t felt since before the ice.
“You know,” Tony said. “If we end up as platonic soulmates, Rhodey will be very jealous.”