It wasn’t until the after that Sam first realized he had a soulmate, after the fight at the Triskelion and after Steve recovered in the hospital. It was after the dust had settled and after Sam had finally gotten a chance to rest that it happened. He’d fallen asleep on his couch, with the TV on as it looped the news and a half-eaten pizza cooling on the coffee table.
Sam hadn’t expected to wake to find something his soulmate had lost because Sam wasn’t too sure he had one. Unlike most of the world, he’d never found anything when he’d woken.
But everything was about to change.
Half asleep, stretched out on the couch, he blindly reached for the remote to turn off the TV. It was late from the infomercials that were playing, someone selling a Shake Weight. The room was dark except for the glow of the TV.
Squinting against the bright screen, he patted the coffee table in search of the remote, his hand knocking into a pile of money he assumed must have been the change from the pizza.
After turning off the TV, he rolled over and went back to sleep, dreaming of Steve and his wings and the Winter Soldier, the man Steve had said was his friend. His life really had become more interesting after meeting Steve and joining his fight.
When he woke hours later, the sun was just reaching over the horizon, casting warmth into the living room. Soft rays of light cut through the blinds. Sam blinked his gritty eyes open, then groaned. His couch wasn’t the most comfortable, leaving him stiff. He pushed himself up, wrinkling his nose at the mess he’d left on the table. The pizza box was still open, and the grease and cheese had congealed on top of it.
He scrubbed a hand over his face. Then his eye caught something odd on the table. A tiny detail that didn’t compute with his recovering brain.
The change looked wrong.
Leaning forward with his arms against his knees, he eyed the peculiar money on the edge of the table. The coins were wrong—they were too golden and not the right size. The crumpled paper note sitting next to the little pile was foreign, and when he picked it up, smoothing it out against his leg, he was able to see that the writing looked Russian or something similar.
His first thoughts weren’t that the pile of change had been something his soulmate lost. His mind didn’t go there because he’d never found anything before, but things had changed. He just hadn’t realized that yet.
Setting the note back on the table, he went to check his locks, thinking maybe someone had broken in during the night. Not that that made a lot of sense. Who would break in to leave foreign currency next to where he slept?
He eyed the pile of change from across the living room, then crossed back to the couch and sat again with a huff.
He frowned at the money.
He had been sleeping , he reasoned. Could this really be something his soulmate lost? But if that was the case, why had he never found anything before?
He had long ago made peace with being alone, and yet here he was, looking at the evidence that shouted he wasn’t. It just didn’t make sense. How had his soulmate never lost anything before, and now, the first thing they lost was money from another country. Did that mean his soulmate was on the other side of the world?
Frowning, he picked up the money with shaky hands, plucking each gold-colored coin from the table. They felt strange in his hand, not the familiar weight of American currency. A strange feeling settled over him as he realized that he was holding something his soulmate had touched only a day before.
Again, he couldn’t believe that after all these years, after everything he’d been through, he wasn’t alone. Briefly, his mind went to the things he’d lost over the years, wondering what had gone to his soulmate. Was his soulmate keeping a box of his things?
There was a time when he’d thought there was something wrong with him, never finding something from his soulmate. He’d thought that there must be something wrong with his soul, that he wasn’t deserving of one. He’d spent a lot of his teen years depressed over it, but that changed in time. He grew up and enlisted and forgot about soulmates while flying with his wingman, Riley.
And Riley had been just what he needed. They might not have been soulmates, but they were bonded like brothers. Riley listened when Sam opened up about his lack of soulmate. He didn’t pity Sam or give him false platitudes. He just patted him on the shoulder and passed him the whiskey. With Riley’s help, Sam made peace in the desert, moving on with his life.
He took the money to his room, where he dug his wooden soulmate box out of the closet and set it on his bed. He lifted the lid and peered into the empty box.
He’d never had anything to add to it before, a fact that made him bitter in his youth. At one time, he’d considered burning the box, but a tiny voice in his head had always stopped him. Maybe it was the hopeless romantic in him. He supposed now that it was a good thing he’d listened to that voice.
He carefully set the money in the box, just staring at it. The coins and crumbled note looked forlorn at the bottom of the box. Most people would have full boxes by this point in their life, maybe even on their second or third, but he was just starting his first.
It didn’t matter, though. This was good. It was a start.
His heart thudded a little funny against his ribs, and his hands shook as he closed the lid. An echo of a smile graced his lips.
He had a soulmate.
Across the ocean, in a hostel on the outskirts of Minsk, Belarus, a man who was still more the Winter Soldier than Bucky Barnes examined his small collection of soulmate items—a pack of gum, a remote, and a pen from a dentist office in D.C.
There was a lot about life Bucky wasn’t sure about, but one thing he knew was that somehow, things that didn’t belong to him made their way to his bed as he slept, and he remembered enough to know what a soulmate was.
As he looked at the items, he wondered how long he’d been connected to his soulmate. Hydra had made sure that he never saw his soulmate items. They always disposed of them before Bucky had a chance to see. It hurt to think that his soulmate could be at the end of their life. He just didn’t know.
It was a struggle to remember his life before the fall, before Hydra, before he was molded to be a weapon. The memories he had were wisps of things, but he thought he recalled a woman holding him, telling him that sometimes people died before ever losing a thing.
He touched the pen as the realization that he had a soulmate sank in. It went against everything inside him. He didn’t feel like he deserved a soulmate, and he wasn’t sure he should seek them out. What did a monster have to offer, anyway? He felt guilty for not having been a better soulmate. They’d probably lived their life thinking they were alone.
He couldn’t remember ever losing anything as the Winter Soldier, as he never had possessions to lose.
Had his soulmate thought he was dead, too?
There was still a lot to do, so he put the items back in his bag, then took out his journal. Inside, he wrote what he remembered, and he wrote to his soulmate. They may never read it, but part of him, the human part, wanted connection. He may never meet them, but he could still pretend that someday they would.
It was in Lagos that things changed, and not just for Sam, but for the world. All eyes saw the clusterfuck that was the bomb going off, people mourned the lives lost, but that wasn’t what stuck out to Sam. Sure, they had fucked up, but something else had happened, too.
All eyes were on Rumlow right before the bomb went off, and what Sam saw made him freeze in his tracks. On Rumlow’s wrist was a watch Sam would recognize anywhere because it had been in his possession for years, up until he’d moved to his new apartment in D.C. It was lost after that, and the only thing that consoled him was knowing it went to his soulmate. At least there, he’d hoped, it would be safe.
But none of that made sense now.
Sam used his HUD to zero in on the watch right before Wanda lifted him into the air, and his heart squeezed and threatened not to expand again. Rumlow was wearing Riley’s watch. The engraved face was proof.
That meant …
No, no, Sam refused to believe that. He couldn’t. Rumlow couldn’t be his soulmate, but he had his watch, and how else?
The bomb went off, and people screamed, and Sam felt like throwing up.
If that were his soulmate, then he was dead now. He felt like he should feel some loss in his soul over his soulmate dying, but he felt nothing.
He had every reason to believe his soulmate was dead, but knowing who it was, he couldn’t find it in himself to care.
In another country, Bucky woke to find a toothbrush beside him. Which shouldn’t be remarkable by itself, but it was the third toothbrush in a year. Huffing a laugh, he rolled over and went back to sleep. He dreamed about the man with wings and smiled.
Time passed, and nothing new came to Sam, not that he’d expected it. His soulmate was dead, after all.
The bitterness he’d had toward soulmates in his youth was back in full force, and no matter how hard he tried, he still couldn’t wrap his head around Rumlow being his soulmate. It seemed wrong and rotten to the core. The thought of it made him sick.
It was easy to readjust to living without a soulmate. It wasn’t like he’d ever found much anyway. Rumlow must have been a real neat freak, never losing things, which Sam was grateful for now—it meant less he needed to throw away.
He wanted any remnants of Rumlow wiped from his life.
But then, one morning, everything changed again.
Just like his life had changed after meeting Steve and joining his fight, Sam’s life turned upside down again when he woke to find something from his soulmate--his soulmate who should be dead.
Beside him, he found a small paper bag, something that had no right being there. Blinking the sleep from his eyes, he pushed himself up on an elbow and tugged the bag closer. He told himself it couldn’t be from his soulmate, but part of him knew it had to be. Somehow, his soulmate was still alive, but he’d seen Rumlow die with his own eyes.
His heart pounded against his ribs as he opened the bag, tipping it toward himself so he could peer inside.
His face scrunched. “The fuck? Who loses their breakfast?”
His mind went to Steve or someone else messing with him, but he wasn’t sharing a room for once, and the door was locked, the keys in his pants pocket. And besides, why would they bring him a muffin at ass o’clock in the morning?
Looking out the window, he could see the sky was still dark.
Leaning against the headboard, Sam shook his head, but a smile played on his lips. “Well, at least I get breakfast.”
There weren’t words for the relief of finding out his soulmate was still alive, but what did that mean about Rumlow? How did he get Riley’s watch? The only explanation Sam had was that Rumlow had been close to his soulmate at some point and gotten the watch. That thought didn’t settle any of his worries, though. Did his soulmate have a connection to Hydra?
His stomach twisted the more he thought about it, but he liked to think that his soulmate was good. It might be silly, but he thought he could just tell. He felt like he would know if they were bad. Something in Sam told him that his soulmate was good, and he was willing to hope on that.
Bucky searched his room, but he couldn’t remember where he left the bag with the muffin. He’d used the last of his money to buy it. The only other food he had in his room was a can of beans his soulmate had apparently lost last month. Bucky had been saving them for an emergency, and it seemed like it was finally time to open them.
As he sat down to eat his cold beans, he thought of his soulmate.
They owed him breakfast.
It wasn’t until after becoming a fugitive that Sam found something from his soulmate again. It was somehow more random and out of place than the muffin had been.
Next to his pillow, he’d found a rock.
There was nothing special about it, really. It was a plain, ordinary gray rock until he turned it into the light, and it shimmered, the flecks of mica catching the sun. It was beautiful. Sam could see why his soulmate had kept it.
And for once, he had no doubts it had belonged to his soulmate, the weirdo, because he’d definitely not gone to bed with a rock next to him. Rocks and dirt didn’t belong where you slept, thank you very much. He’d had enough of that in the military.
He picked up the stone and weighed it in his hand, a small smile spreading over his face. His soulmate had lost a rock. He really wasn’t giving Sam any clues to find him by, but that was fine. They were still connected, and that’s all that mattered.
He didn’t have his soulmate box, as that was back in his apartment that had probably been emptied by now, so he tucked the rock into his backpack and zipped the compartment closed.
“A rock, huh?” he chuckled to himself as he kicked the bag back to the corner. “I guess that’s fair after some of the things I’ve lost.”
Sam just hoped this shit storm would blow over soon. The Accords were a mess, and hiding out wasn’t easy, though Sam didn’t regret his choices.
He supported Steve and his decisions, and even though Barnes was a piece of work, Sam could grudgingly say that he’d come to respect the guy. They hadn’t talked much, but he liked him, even if he was an asshole at times.
Sam didn’t often think about other men, usually more into women, but he could appreciate a good-looking dude when he saw one, and Bucky, with his slate-gray eyes and pouty lips, was pretty easy to look at.
If he dreamed of Bucky’s plump lips stretched around him, well, that was between him, his hand, and a bottle of lube.
Thanos came, and the Avengers lost.
Bucky felt no pain as he turned to dust, then he woke what felt like seconds later and joined another fight as if the last had never ended.
Everyone was there on the battlefield, and in the end, Tony gave his life so they could all live.
Thanos was defeated, and the world could finally heal.
Then Steve left just to come back as an old man, and Sam took the shield.
Looking back, Bucky realized none of them knew what it really meant to give that shield to a black man, but Sam would teach them.
His relationship with Sam had been tense at first, probably something to do with trying to kill him more than once. Still, it had grown to something closer to mutual respect and understanding, and over the next few months, they’d grow even closer—fighting the Flag Smashers, breaking out Zemo, and dealing with John Walker.
Working side by side with Sam, Bucky slowly found himself again, more than he ever had in therapy. He’d always been a hands-on type of guy.
After Karli died and the dust finally settled, Sam went back to Louisiana, Bucky a few days behind.
In all the action and drama of the last month or two, Bucky hadn’t found a single thing from his soulmate, which worried him a little. It had always been in the back of his mind. Since finally escaping Hydra, Bucky hadn’t gone a week without finding something, even if it was just a pack of gum or a random sock.
This long stint without finding anything was odd, and he kind of hoped his soulmate lost something soon so he would know that they were okay.
He didn’t need to wait long.
It was the morning of the big barbeque with Sam’s family that something new came to Bucky.
He’d been late into town and hadn’t wanted to wake Sam, so he’d stayed in a hotel. It was the sun streaming in the window that had woken him. He pushed himself up in the big bed, his eye catching something green next to him. He rolled onto his side, propping himself up on an elbow, then reaching out to touch the object. Picking it up, he examined it closely.
It was a little green beaded alligator. A keychain, to be precise. The beadwork was neat but imperfect, like whoever made it was young or unsure. The alligator was only a few inches long from nose to tail, and it had two bright red beads for eyes. Hanging from the nose was a keychain loop, but no keys.
It felt different to touch something like this. It was more personal. Bucky wondered if his soulmate had kids. Maybe they had found themselves someone nice and settled down. It wasn’t like Bucky had any right to them. If they found someone who loved them, he wouldn’t intrude on that. It wasn’t like everyone married their soulmates.
A selfish part of him hoped they were still single, though. The more he’d recovered and made peace with what he’d done, the more he’d wanted to meet his soulmate and maybe try his hand at having a life of his own. If there was one thing Sam had shown him, it was that everyone deserves a chance at happiness, no matter how shadowed their past was.
Getting the privilege to become friends with Sam had taught him a lot. He’d learned that the most powerful strength didn’t come from the serum and that even in the darkest of times, you could still show compassion, and most importantly, he learned how to accept himself. In just being his friend, Sam had shown Bucky that family was more than a word and that even if he wasn’t their blood, he’d always be welcome at their door.
The truth was that somewhere between breaking Zemo out of prison and handing the shield back to Sam, Bucky had developed a bit of a crush on the man. The feelings he had developed sat funny in his gut. He thought they tasted like guilt and betrayal. He shouldn’t want another when he had a soulmate, but he couldn’t deny the achy feeling of want that spread through him when Sam smiled, making the corners of his eyes crinkle.
He squashed the feelings down, though, and packed them away. No matter how much he wanted Sam, the man wasn’t his to have. He was a friend and couldn’t be more. And even if he could ask Sam to be his, he didn’t know if Sam even swung his way. There had been pats on the shoulder and the rare hug but nothing that Bucky could undeniably call flirting. The lingering touches could all be explained by his kindness and their friendship. Entertaining those thoughts, wishing for more, was dangerous, and he knew it could only end in heartbreak.
Turning his attention back to the little alligator, Bucky threaded it onto the chain around his neck beside his dog tags, then tucked them all into his shirt.
It was nice to have something of his soulmate’s so close. Maybe someday, if Bucky were lucky, he’d be able to ask his soulmate about the keychain and find out who made it. And if his soulmate turned out to have a family, then Bucky would be happy for them.
And if they didn’t want him, it would hurt, but he’d understand that, too. How could he not? He’d been a killer. It was one thing to be pardoned, but that didn’t mean he’d be accepted. There was a reason he’d always worn gloves. Sometimes strangers would see the arm and skirt around him like they thought he might hurt them.
When Bucky got dressed for Sam’s barbeque, he didn’t put on gloves. His therapist would probably call it growth and scratch it down in her notebook, and maybe it was. When he was with Sam’s family, he felt accepted. They didn’t look at the arm like a weapon. The kids looked at it in wonder. He’d even become an unofficial uncle to Cass and AJ.
On the way to the docks, he swung by the store and grabbed an Oreo cake because his mother taught him better than showing up empty-handed.
When he got to the barbeque, the kids ran up to greet him, play fighting with him as he balanced the cake, and walked to the table. Sam was talking to his sister and their friends.
Sam and his family took Bucky into their fold, and Bucky didn’t mind. These people were his, and he’d protect them. Nothing could steal them away.
It was when Bucky was helping the kids clean up after the party that his world changed in a way he’d never seen coming.
AJ and Cass were shooting off questions, one after another, about everything from the war to John Walker and then back to the shield. Bucky answered as much as he could, smiling and laughing as he did.
But it was hot that day, and his tags and the alligator were rubbing on his chest. As he answered Cass, he reached in and pulled the tags and keychain from his shirt. It instantly felt a little better. He scratched his chest through his shirt, but his smile faltered when he saw AJ staring at him, his eyes fixed on the alligator.
Feeling a little self-conscious, he touched the keychain. “Neat, huh?” Then he licked his lips. “It was my soulmate’s,” he added, though he wasn’t sure why he’d felt the need to say it.
AJ patted at Cass’s shoulder, and when his brother stopped picking up the plates to look, he pointed at Bucky’s alligator. “Isn’t that …?”
Cass frowned, then dropped the trash bag to step closer to Bucky.
Bucky had to fight the urge to step away. Instead, he stood still as Cass touched the alligator with the tips of his fingers, then a smile spread over his face. He looked back to AJ and said, “It is!”
Bucky was the one to frown this time. “Help out an old man. What are you two troublemakers talking about now?”
AJ was vibrating with excitement. Cass was bouncing in place. They exchanged a look and nodded. Then, AJ grabbed Bucky’s metal hand and started dragging him toward the boat.
“Hey, wait, where are we going?” Bucky laughed but let them lead him away.
Sam was standing near the boat, his back turned.
Cass yelled to him, “Uncle! We found something you were looking for!”
Sam turned, eyebrow raised. “Oh yeah, and what’s that? A grouchy centenarian who ate all the cake?”
Cass and AJ shoved Bucky forward, and Bucky shrugged. “I don’t know what they are up to any more than you do.”
And when Bucky looked to Sam’s face, expecting to see him smiling, he saw him staring blankly at Bucky’s chest, at the alligator to be exact.
Sam brought a shaky hand up to point at it. His eyes narrowed. “Where did you get that?”
Bucky touched the keychain, feeling the smooth beads between his fingers. He never really talked about his soulmate, but he had no reason to hide them. He glanced down at the alligator, then back to Sam. “It was my soulmates.” He shrugged. “I mean, I’ll probably never meet them, but—”
“Cass made me that.” Sam looked up to meet his eyes. “I thought I’d lost it for good. Well, I mean, I did, but it seems like it was in good hands.”
Bucky’s brow furrowed as he tried to make sense of Sam’s words. He wanted to believe what he was saying, but it seemed too good to be true. He couldn’t let himself go down this road. Maybe Sam meant something different. He didn’t dare to hope that Sam might be his.
Bucky dropped his hand from the chain, licking his lips. “You’re saying it’s you? I mean, the toothbrushes and gum and can of beans?”
Sam just nodded, though his lips twitched toward a smile. “I have your rock.”
“My … You mean that little gray one that sparkled? I found that in Wakanda while I was feeding the goats.” Bucky laughed to himself, then tipped his head to the side. “Did you at least eat the muffin?”
Sam barked out a laugh. “It was a great muffin. Hit the spot.”
Bucky shook his head. “You’re not disappointed?”
Sam stepped forward, taking Bucky’s right hand. Bucky curled his fingers around him instinctively. They were inches apart.
Sam’s eyes traced over Bucky’s mouth, then flicked back to meet his gaze. “Is It wrong I want to kiss you?”
Bucky’s lips parted, his tongue peeking out to wet them. “I haven’t done this in a long time.”
“Just like riding a bike,” Sam said, just before pressing his lips to Bucky’s.
It was a little hesitant, but when they pulled apart to the sound of cheering kids, they were both smiling.
“Are you happy with who you found?” Sam asked. “Things could have played out differently.”
“You were just what I was looking for.”