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Blank Wrist

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When Steve was six, he dreamed about finding his soulmate. She would be perfect, with dark brown hair and lots of sass and guts. They would meet while fighting mobsters, robbers and rumrunners. They would get married and move into the apartment next to his mother. He was six and that was his idea of love.

But he wasn’t born with a soulmate mark.

It wasn’t that unusual, at first. A lot of the kids Steve knew weren’t born with marks. But nearly all of them got their marks by first grade. Except for Steve, whose wrist remained as blank as the day he was born. And would remain that way until he crashed an airplane into the north Atlantic.

His mother would hug him and tell him not to worry, that the soulmate mark would show up eventually. It did for everyone.

His mother lied to him.

Steve couldn’t really fault her. No one talked about soulmate marks once they got older so no one knew anything about how soulmarks worked. The soulmark signaled how you would meet your soulmate. You got the symbol on your wrist when you were a child and hoped for the best, knowing that meeting your soulmate was a true crap shoot. In the end, nearly everyone eventually settled for someone you could get along with and possibly love, even if you weren’t soulmates.

He and all the other children were taught early that it was hopeless to look for your soulmate if you didn’t have money, couldn’t travel, and didn’t have all the time in the world. The world was big and too full of people to find that one exact match. Finding your soulmate was a pipe dream and best left for books and movies.

He eagerly watched those movies and read those books where soulmates found each other against impossible odds. It all seemed so wonderful -- finding that one person who was the perfect match for you and you alone. And he wanted that love story and meeting his soulmate, that other half of his soul.

He was a kid. He didn’t know better.

Steve would stumble into his coldwater flat after a long day of school, coughing and wheezing. His mother would tell him stories of Ireland and her family as she put him to bed. She showed him her mark -- a red ball -- on her wrist and what it was like when she met the boy bouncing a bright red ball. She married him and went to America, but the boy died all too young in a war in another foreign country. She kissed Steve and whispered a little prayer over her stubborn son’s little head as she turned out the light.

Sarah panicked quietly watching her frail son struggle with mumps and measles, fearing that no soulmate mark meant that Steve would die young. But he was the one who buried her instead on a cold raw day in early spring.

He forgot about his dreams of finding a soulmate. He had to. He had to grow up fast. He was born to work for a living. He sold newspapers on the street. He did errands for his neighbors. He worked as a delivery man for the corner pharmacy, passing by the newsstands filled with romance magazines and their headlines about finding your soulmate.

And at night, he drew and drew until he fell asleep at his desk. Because he had a new dream of becoming a commercial artist. He still practiced and studied hard even when he had to drop out of Pratt because he didn’t have the money to stay. He got small jobs here and there and worked for the WPA.

It was a good, but lonely life.

Bucky laughed about the idea of soulmates. He didn’t care. He’d slap Steve on the back and say that his soulmate should find him. Otherwise he was going to have all the fun he could. He went out with a different girl nearly every night never expecting to find the one. He pushed Steve into double dates, where the women fussed over Bucky and ignored Steve.

Steve didn’t have half the confidence that Bucky did. He didn’t need the crowd of women who flocked to the cocky Bucky. But he wanted a special someone. He didn’t even have the comfort of a possible soulmate. His wrist remained stubbornly blank even into his twenties. Maybe the loneliness would get him before the winter pneumonia did.

His artist friends told stories about other people who didn’t have marks or had marks show up late in life, or found that a person found their soulmate who didn’t have a corresponding mark. One night a falling-down drunk friend cornered Steve and rolled up his sleeve to show a mark of a simple black square. “What do you think that is?” the man blurted out. “How am I going to find a soulmate with this?”

All Steve ever learned was that soulmarks were more trouble than they were worth.

Everything changed when war was declared.

Steve would always remember the first time he saw Peggy. He fell for her like a ton of bricks because she was everything he had ever wanted in a soulmate -- brave, smart, and strong, and knew when to kick his ass when he needed it. She might not be his soulmate, but everytime he saw her it was like the 4th of July for him.

The Howling Commandos laughed and joked about their soulmarks. Howard had a car on his right wrist and Bucky had a book on his left. Jones had a newspaper and Falsworth a horse. Dugan had high hopes about meeting his soulmate because he swore after several beers he had met her once and he would again once he was back in the states. He had a radio on his wrist. The rest of the commandos never stopped teasing him about his obvious soulmate Morita. They were fascinated with Steve’s blank wrists but left him alone.

Peggy never talked to him at all about her soulmark. But Steve had decided that regardless of what marks they had or didn’t, they could rub along and make a good life for themselves. He knew it was a miracle that Peggy even looked at him twice. He dreamed of building a life with Peggy once the war was over. He’d follow her anywhere.

Then there was the crash and seventy years of ice. And he woke up to a new century and a soulmark of a socket wrench on his left wrist.

The world had changed.

In the shiny, bright new century he now lived in, he couldn’t escape hearing about soulmates and soulmarks. He was surprised to find that the biggest thing on the internet besides porn, genealogy, and cat pictures were the soulmate-matching sites.

The new soulmark anchored him firmly to someone somewhere out there. But Steve remained adrift, wondering where he fit in, if he ever would.

He met up with Peggy. She had had a good life full of friends and family and hard, interesting work, everything she had asked for. Except she had never met her soulmate.

“It’s ridiculous these days, Steve,” she said with a slight laugh. “My granddaughter is almost 30 – she’s been looking for her soulmate for years. I keep telling her it’s okay to find someone you love and build a life with them even if they’re not your soulmate. She calls it settling.”

She saw Steve’s new soulmate mark once and they never mentioned it again. But Steve had caught sight of the obvious pain in her eyes. After her funeral he found out from her daughter that Peggy’s soulmark was a grenade. The woman had no idea what that meant – except that Steve did, immediately recalling that day in basic training when Phillips threw the dummy grenade.

Why couldn’t he have had a clipboard like Peggy carried at Camp Lehigh on his wrist? Or anything that marked him as Peggy’s?

He worked hard to put it all out of his mind.

After SHIELD went down in flames over the Potomac, Tony Stark burst back into Steve’s life like a bolt from the blue. He was all fire, determination and brilliance as he pitched the idea of Steve joining the reformed Avengers. They would fight the remains of HYDRA, find Loki’s sceptre for Thor and clean up all the messes. Steve couldn’t say no to him.

Then a killer robot and his insane plans gave Steve a permanent team and a home. Tony turned out to be a stand-up guy and a fantastic partner in fighting the good fight against the evil in the world.

Steve thought about Tony sometimes after he stepped down from the team to sort himself out. Like he promised, Steve did miss him. A little. A lot. Way more than he should.

His life immediately brightened when Tony drove up to the facility for the day. They lingered over lunch, spent time together in the labs and workshops, did a little sparring in the gym. When Tony left It hurt like hell.

It was at Avengers Tower over beers one night, that Steve listened to Tony running over all the reasons why he shouldn’t be Iron Man again, and failing to convince himself. Steve tried in vain to hide his growing hope that he would see Tony every day. Finally Tony gave in and asked to be on the team again.

A few months later, the team hung around the living room talking late into the night after a party, listening as Tony teased Rhodey about his meeting with a soulmate consultant.

“Soulmate consultant?” Steve asked.

Long-suffering Rhodey nodded. “It’s a new thing,” he said. “A friend suggested it since I haven’t had any luck.” He showed Steve the neatly etched coffee mug on his right wrist.

Tony laughed. “Nearly 40 percent of Americans have a coffee mug or coffee-related item for their soulmark.”

“That’s very precise, Tony,” Clint said.

“It’s all statistics, Robin Hood,” Tony replied. He flashed his own coffee-mug soulmark. “The more common the mark, harder it is to find your soulmate. Unless you spend hard-earned money on something as ridiculous as a soulmate consultant.”

Steve glanced down at the beautiful socket wrench on his wrist. He had studied it many times since he noticed it that first day he woke up from his long sleep. No idea what it meant. But he had his mark, for better or worse.

“So what does the soulmate consultant do?” Wanda asked from her perch on the couch next to Vision.

Listening to Rhodey talk about his meeting with the consultant, Steve fought to keep his eyes open. Tony leaned over and tapped him on the knee. “You want to call it a night?”

Steve blinked, stretched and yawned. “Sure.” After saying his goodnights, Steve followed Tony to the elevator, his supersensitive hearing picking up the quiet snickers of his teammates.

Tony was heading to his apartment at the top of the tower. “See you tomorrow, Cap. Maybe we’ll have some new HYDRA goons to take out,” Tony said when the elevator stopped at Steve’s floor.

“Perhaps. Can always count on the bad guys having something new,” Steve added.

Tony saluted jauntily as Steve got off the elevator. Tony always had a way of making Steve smile. Of course they had their share of arguments. But Steve thought the world of brilliant Tony, with his brown wavy hair and sparkling brown eyes. Tony fought hard for what he believed in. He had an abundance of ideas and courage. And Steve needed Tony to challenge and question him, remind him that he was human not a legend.

The next day, Steve made lunch for Tony, a habit he had fallen into while he made his own. After Tony woke, he usually went down to the workshop where he made do with coffee and bot-blended smoothies. Steve worried, and started bringing him lunch. They chatted as they ate, and lunch became a Thing for them.

He sliced a tomato until the coffee maker beeped. He opened a cabinet to sort through the coffee mugs to find something for Tony. He settled on a mug from Hawaii and assembled the tray.

On the way down to Tony’s workshop, Steve smiled, thinking about Tony. He briefly wondered what it would be like to go on a date with Tony. What it would be like to kiss him.

He punched in the code to the workshop. He knew his thoughts were ridiculous. Tony was way, way out of his league. Steve knew that all too well.

Hearing Steve arrive, Tony pushed up his goggles and rubbed his eyes. “Lunch already?” He waggled a socket wrench at Steve.

“Lunch is a shorter word than ‘coffee with smoothies on the side’,” Steve teased as he handed Tony the coffee mug.

Tony’s fingers brushed Steve’s as he took the mug. An electric shock shot through Steve. And looking at Tony, it was clear something similar happened to him.

Coffee mug. Socket wrench.

Steve grabbed a stunned Tony’s wrist to look carefully at the coffee-mug soulmark. “Tony,” he gasped.

“Don’t tell me you have a socket wrench --?” Tony asked.

After all these years, after all the impossible events, after all the pain and longing, Steve stared into the eyes of his soulmate.

Wasting no time, Tony leaped forward and kissed Steve, knocking the tray, food and coffee to the floor. He kissed Steve hard, grabbing at every part of Steve he could get his hands on.

“I had no idea, this can’t be possible, I can’t believe …” Tony babbled.

Steve cupped the back of Tony’s neck tenderly, looking deeply into Tony’s eyes as if the solution to all life’s mysteries could be found there.

“Believe it, Tony. I’ve waited for this all my life.” Steve, still in shock that he had found his soulmate after all these years, slid his arms around Tony’s waist. He pressed a soft kiss to the top of Tony’s head.

“So glad I don’t have to wait any longer.”