Lovely image made for this short by LunaOrlha!
When Steve woke up in SHIELD custody, the world was definitely a confusing place. 70 years… it was a lot to take in.
He wasn’t sure if it was more or less of a shock to discover that he had new soulmarks.
For some reason, Bucky’s mark was still as dark as ever. It hadn’t faded since his death, which was very peculiar. Steve didn’t know what it meant. But he had also acquired two new ones. The first was difficult to decipher, the writing appearing to be a hurried scribble. The second was very clear, the handwriting loopy and feminine-seeming.
He silently thanked God that fate had seen fit to give him new soulmates to help him adjust to this new time. Now hopefully it wouldn’t take long to find them.
“You look pretty good, for a Capsicle,” a voice spoke from behind Steve one afternoon. He turned to look at the man in the doorway with an expression of hope; those were the words he managed to puzzle out on his arm. The stranger’s grin slowly faded as they watched each other for a moment.
Finally, Steve found his voice. “I feel alright, except for being confused every few minutes.”
The man froze for a moment, eyes widening. Then he smiled. “Well, the world is an amazing and complex place. I’m Tony. Tony Stark.”
“Stark? Related to Howard?” Really, his new soulmate was someone related to his one-time friend?
Tony’s expression clouded but he nodded. “Yeah. He was my dad. We didn’t get along, though.”
Steve nodded. “I’m sorry. I just thought…”
Shaking himself, Tony shrugged. “He was obsessed with finding you. Even when he eventually back-burnered the project, he never forgot about you.”
“He was a good friend,” Steve answered quietly. “Hopefully you and I will be even better.”
“Damn straight. C’mon. Let’s bust you outta here for a while. Show you that modern isn’t so bad.” Tony’s expression lightened and Steve was glad he’d found the right words to ease their interaction. He didn’t want their bond to be laced with grief or resentment.
Steve was barely awake after his dip in the Potomac when Tony burst into the hospital room, swearing loudly. Sam jumped to his feet, but Tony just pushed him aside to get to Steve’s bedside.
“Damn you and your blasted hero complex!” Tony swore, though he picked up Steve’s hand so gently that Sam wouldn’t have believed it if he hadn’t seen it. “I could’ve lost you. You know I’m always here if you need help. Especially ‘saving the world’-type help!”
“I know,” Steve answered, his voice hoarse. “Sorry. Just… all happened so fast.” He glanced up and saw Sam’s concerned face. “Tony, meet Sam Wilson. Sam, this is Tony… one of my soulmates.”
Sam’s confusion cleared and he stepped around the bed to the other side. “Mr. Stark,” he greeted, holding out his hand. “Sam Wilson, codename Falcon. Former military, and glad to help Cap when he asked. Actually, I insisted.”
“Call me Tony. Any friend of Cap’s…” Tony shook hands briefly, then returned his attention to Steve. “As for you… why, why didn’t you call?”
“I was confused,” Steve answered gently. “Tony… I saw Bucky. But he didn’t know me.”
Shock crossed Tony’s expression and the room was silent for a long moment. “Crap. Alright, I’ll start JARVIS working on a locator program. We’ll find him, Steve. I promise.”
Skye sat in the medical wing after returning from HYDRA’s antarctic base. Lincoln was still in critical condition, Mike Peterson wasn’t in great shape, and the third person they’d rescued was still unconscious.
Bucky Barnes. The Winter Soldier. Coulson had word from Fury that Tony Stark and Steve Rogers were looking for him. But they’d decided it would be better to keep his presence quiet until he was back on his feet and let him decide if he wanted to be found.
So Skye sat between her friend and the Soldier. Just to be on the safe side. And also, her presence made the medical staff feel better about working around such a famous assassin. Though whether or not it would be enough for her to stop him, should he wake intent on damage… well, that remained to be seen.
A few hours later, Skye was startled when Barnes snapped awake suddenly. He was reaching for the IV tube in his flesh arm when she intercepted him. “Stop, please. It’s okay, you’re safe here. We’re not going to hurt you, I promise.”
Barnes froze, staring at her with his big blue eyes. Eyes full of hope under the fear. “You might be the only one who could tell me that and be believed,” he whispered. “Show me. Please.”
She blinked at him as the words on one of her soulmarks registered, then smiled softly. She pulled up her sleeve to reveal her mark and saw him relax fully. “I’m glad. The drip is just saline; you were badly dehydrated. You’re not on the HYDRA base anymore; we brought you out with us when we went in to rescue our friends.”
Barnes nodded, his expression softening as he caught her hand gently in his. “Can you… do you know someone… who could help me?”
“Possibly,” she said cautiously. “What kind of help do you need?”
“HYDRA left… triggers. Programming. In my mind. I don’t… don’t want to be their Asset anymore. No more assassinations. No more innocent deaths.”
She nodded her understanding. “I think we can help with that. I won’t let you hurt anyone if I can help it.”
He looked relieved as he squeezed her hand gently in thanks. “Then I guess… I just have one more question.”
“What’s your name, doll?”
She smiled softly. “It’s Skye.”
“A name as beautiful as you are.” He smiled when she blushed.
“What would you like me to call you?” she asked instead.
“I’m… not quite sure I feel like myself yet. For now, I guess… call me James.”
“I can do that.” She brushed the fingertips of her free hand over his face. “I should probably call a doctor. My friend Jemma is one of them; would it be alright if I asked her to look over you?”
He hesitated, but then nodded. “Yeah, but will you stay?”
“Of course.” She reached over and pressed the button for the intercom. Fortunately, Jemma answered it. “Jemma, our guest is awake. He’s alright if you come to check on him, but just you. Is that alright?”
Jemma hesitated a moment, but then asked, “Will you be there?”
“Then it’s fine. I’m on my way.”
“Something special about you, doll, that she’s more comfortable if you’re here?”
Skye smiled. “You could say that, yeah. I’m not quite what I seem.”
“That’s good. Keeps you safer.”
She was a little surprised at his calm acceptance but dismissed it. They could talk about it later.
Bucky walked with his soulmate as she said goodbye to her father. The previous weeks had seen a lot of progress in his mental stability, so he was allowed to move freely around the base. Most often, he stayed with Skye if he could. Before walking away, Cal gave him a small, strained smile and said, “Take good care of my little girl.”
“I promise,” Bucky answered in a low voice. He put his arm around Skye as they watched Cal leave the base; she managed to hold onto her composure until the door clanged shut. Then she turned to him, breath catching in a sob. “Shh, little angel,” he soothed her, knowing that it was something her parents had called her when she was small. “It’ll be alright.”
When she didn’t answer, he scooped her up and carried her to her room. He sat with her on his lap, cradling her shaking body against his. “I know I helped make this decision,” she cried. “I want him to have a new life, to be happy and healthy again. But… he’ll never remember me. And that hurts so much…”
“I know, doll. I know. But I’ll always be here for you. You don’t have to do this alone.” He rocked her gently.
“I don’t know what I’d do without you,” she whispered when she’d calmed down.
“God willing, you’ll never have to find out,” he soothed. “I’m not goin’ anywhere without you, Skye.”
“Promise?” Her voice sounded pitiful, even to herself. But her own mother had tried to kill her; stability wasn’t ever going to be something she could believe in easily.
“I promise,” he answered solemnly, knowing how much she needed to hear it. He held her close and kissed her softly.
“What if… what if our other soulmates don’t want me?”
“Never happen,” he swore to her. “Stevie’s gonna love you.”
She shrugged, knowing she’d have to take his word for it. “And the fourth? They could be together by now, too.”
“I’m sure he’ll love you, too, Skye. You’re strong and capable, but you still have a kind heart and try to see the best in everyone. You’re also the most beautiful girl I ever saw, an’ I mean that. They’ll think so too.”
She sighed softly. “You make it sound so simple, James. But it can’t be. Nothing ever is.”
He held her closer for a moment. “Maybe it’ll be me they don’t like. I’m not the same man I was, last time I saw Steve. I still don’t know how to be. Maybe he can’t get past that. Maybe our fourth will be someone I hurt in the past, and they won’t be able to get over that.”
“I’ll stay with you. No matter what. Even if a full bond never works,” she whispered.
“And I’ll stay with you. Always. I love you, Skye.”
She smiled; he’d never said those four words to her, but she knew he meant it. The bond was drawing them together, but more… they were each there for the other through the turmoil of the past few weeks. They’d gotten close very fast. Part of her hoped that, wherever he was, Steve had someone to support him similarly.
“I love you too, James. And I will keep loving you, even when you remember more about being Bucky.”
“Doctor Garner says you’re ready. Both of you,” Coulson told Skye and Barnes. The smile he gave them was one of pride and pleasure in their accomplishments over the past few months. Together and separately. They’d grown stronger and more stable, in control of themselves and their abilities.
“Thank you, sir,” Bucky answered. “It hasn’t been easy.”
“The things worth achieving never are,” Coulson told him with a smile. “So I have something for you, by way of celebration.”
Skye blinked, then smiled. “You do? Aww, DC…” She took the small, white card that Coulson handed over and looked at it. “A hotel reservation?”
“In New York,” Bucky said softly and Coulson nodded. “The number on the back goes directly to Maria Hill. She will help with the arrangements to meet up with Captain Rogers, if that’s what you want.” He smiled gently at Skye. “You deserve to be happy. Both of you. Even if that means you choose a different team.”
“But the Inhumans…”
“Will still be there if you decide that’s what you want. We’ll set you up a base in New York if we have to.” He sighed. “I don’t want to lose you, Skye. But your happiness is important, too, and soulbonds are hard to ignore. So we’ll make the best of it, whatever you decide.”
“I… don’t know what to say, DC.”
“Thank you, Director,” Bucky said when Skye remained quiet. “We both appreciate the opportunity. We won’t just disappear, I promise. We’ll keep in touch.”
Skye nodded. When Coulson got up to see them out of the office, she threw herself into his arms. Coulson caught her awkwardly, still adapting to the loss of his hand. But he held her close for a long moment.
“Good luck, the both of you. The reservation starts tomorrow; May will drop you off at La Guardia in the morning.”
“Thanks, DC,” Skye reiterated. “I’ll text you when we’re settled in.” He nodded and shooed them out of his office to go pack.
Thanks to Maria Hill, getting in to see Steve was easy. She met them in the lobby of the tower, waved at Security and led them to an elevator that took them directly up to the meeting level.
“He should be here in a minute,” Maria said with a smile. “Cap’s never late.”
“Thanks,” Skye said with a small smile. “Here goes everything.”
“It’ll be fine. You found his best friend,” Maria replied. Skye glanced at Bucky and they realized that Coulson hadn’t told her. Probably for the best, though.
“I suppose I did. Thanks again for your help, Maria.”
“You’re very welcome.” She left them alone in the room. Bucky drifted over to the window, looking out. Skye joined him and smiled when he wrapped his arm around her. He’d finally stopped worrying about holding her with his prosthetic arm and she was glad he could finally relax. Fitz and Simmons had been working for weeks on an alternative, anyway. Something better, more fully functional.
They turned together when they heard the door open; Steve paused just inside the doorway, his expression one of shock. “Bucky,” he whispered. He stepped closer, one arm outstretched.
Skye stepped back, leaning against the wall as she stood aside to let Bucky greet the friend and soulmate he hadn’t seen in seventy years. Compared to that… she could wait a few more minutes.
“Hey, punk.” Bucky stepped closer to Steve, then stalled. “I’m… sorry…” But Steve didn’t let him say anything further; he took the last few steps and pulled Bucky into his arms. They clung to one another silently for several minutes, and when they stepped back both seemed much more relaxed. Bucky pulled Steve in for a kiss and they both smiled when they parted.
“Nothin’ to be sorry for, Buck. We’ve pretty much pieced out what happened.”
Bucky nodded. “So, we’re okay?”
“Yeah. We’re okay.”
“Good. Then there’s someone I’d like you to meet.” Bucky towed Steve to where Skye waited patiently with a small smile on her face and a soft look in her eyes. “This is Skye. Skye, this is Steve.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” Skye said, speaking first. “The Howling Commandos were kind of my heros as a kid.”
The expression on Steve’s face was priceless, but the shock only lasted a moment. “Well, you met the best one first. I hope the rest of us don’t suffer by comparison.” It was the response she expected and she just smiled as she held out her hand. When Steve took it, Bucky stepped behind her and hip-checked her into Steve.
“Bucky!” Steve yelped, his tone admonishing even as he caught Skye. She just started to laugh; Bucky had a mischievous streak almost as big as hers. And really, being in Steve’s arms wasn’t something she was likely to complain about. She just hugged him tightly and then let him set her back on her feet.
“Relax, Stevie,” Bucky responded, chuckling. “She ain’t gonna mind. She’s cuddly, our Skye is.”
With a soft smile, Steve looked down at her. “Well, if the lady doesn’t object then I surely won’t.” He held her for a moment more, then stepped away. “Thank you for finding Bucky, and for bringing him back here.”
“Like I was gonna leave him as he was,” Skye answered with a roll of her eyes. “Even if he hadn’t been my soulmate, helping him was the right thing to do. And now with you, that’s three out of four for me.”
Steve’s eyes went wide as he realized that, for those few brief moments of relief and shock, he’d forgotten about Tony. “FRIDAY, please call Tony down here.”
“Yes, Captain,” a softly accented voice lilted in response.
Skye looked up at Steve, perplexed for a moment. Then her eyes went huge. “Wait… you mean… Tony Stark…?”
Steve nodded. “Yeah. He’s our fourth. He was one of the first people I met after SHIELD found me, and he’s been a huge help to me in adjusting to the modern world.”
“Then I guess I owe him thanks, too,” Bucky said quietly.
A few minutes later, a rather disgruntled Tony walked into the meeting room. “I hope this is important, Capsicle; I was kind of busy.” He paused abruptly when he realized that there were more people in the room than just Steve.
Steve just snorted, not the least bit intimidated. “I suppose that depends on whether you consider it important to meet the rest of our soulmates. If not, then by all means go back to what you were doing.”
Tony looked from Barnes to the strange girl standing by Steve and harumphed. “So you found him first, huh?” he asked. “We’ve been looking for months.”
“I wasn’t looking,” Skye said quietly. “For any of you, really. Not everyone finds their soulmate.”
Steve frowned. “Didn’t you want to?”
Skye just shrugged and moved back to the windows, staring out silently.
“She’s had a rough life,” Bucky answered for her, glancing from Steve to Tony. “Cut her some slack, yeah?”
Tony smiled a little and nodded. “I was never sure how I’d end up hearing that from you. Guess I know now.”
Bucky nodded in acknowledgment and crossed over to Skye. “Skye, darlin’, you know he don’t know any better. I’m sure he didn’t mean to upset you.”
She sighed. “I know that. I just… didn’t think it’d be so hard.”
“Why don’t we go upstairs?” Tony suggested after a moment, running a hand through his hair. “We can get some lunch, maybe a couple of drinks. Get to know each other where it’s comfortable.”
Bucky glanced at Skye, and when she nodded he tugged her away from the window. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“What would you like for lunch?” Tony asked as he led them into the elevator. “I can have the kitchen whip up just about anything.”
Skye shrugged. “I’m not fussy. Anything is fine.”
Tony looked back at her with a smile. “Anything is possible. What would you like ?”
She studied him for a moment, then smiled a little. “A grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup.” Comfort food might be a good thing, with the afternoon facing them.
“Relay to the kitchen, FRIDAY,” Tony said, chuckling. “And add a ham and swiss on rye for me.”
“I’ll have what Skye’s having,” Bucky said when Tony paused to look at him.
“Couple of sandwiches sound good,” Steve agreed.
“Coffee?” Skye asked. “Or tea is fine, too.”
“We have plenty of coffee,” Tony replied with a smirk. “Too many of us depend on it.”
When they reached Tony’s public floor, he headed straight for the bar area. A couple of water bottles were tossed in Steve’s direction, which he shared with Bucky. On one end of the bar sat a high end coffee/espresso machine. “How do you take your coffee, sweetheart? Or would you prefer a latte?”
Wide-eyed, Skye studied the array of flavors and choices. “Um… Irish Cream latte, please?” She watched Tony make himself an Irish Coffee - black with whiskey - while the machine produced her latte, to which he added a generous shot of Irish Cream. She hadn’t really meant to go for alcohol (he had just the flavoring too), but what the heck.
She took a sip and smiled slowly. “Perfect. Thank you.”
“Anything for our girl,” he answered quietly. He escorted her towards the couches where Steve and Bucky had settled; lunch had arrived while Tony had made coffee, so as they sat they divided out everyone’s requests. “Most of the rest of us have had pretty public lives; will you tell us about yourself, Skye?”
She’d known this was coming. She toyed with her food, trying to delay the inevitable. Dunking her sandwich in the bowl of soup first, she chewed and swallowed slowly. “Yeah, I will. You’re not gonna like it, though.”
“Why not?” Tony was curious, but listening.
“Because it will show you just how little I belong here,” she answered, gesturing to the luxury all around them. “I grew up an orphan. St. Agnes’ orphanage, in Hell’s Kitchen; and let me tell you, the nuns were ridiculously hard on me. Didn’t want me to turn out to be the kind of girl with three men as soulmates. Add to that the fact that I never stayed in any foster home for more than three or four months, and my childhood was pretty much a nightmare. I found out eventually that I moved so much because of an invisible SHIELD protocol; it was supposed to keep me safe. But…”
“No real home of your own, no stability. I’m sorry, Skye,” Steve said, his tone sympathetic.
She nodded. “I finally ran away from the last foster home when I was 16. My foster-father was a perv; caught him spying on me. He had… ideas... about girls with multiple soulmarks.” Her eyes were on her food, so she didn’t see three outraged looks. Even Bucky hadn’t known this part; she seldom talked about her childhood. He knew more about her time hacking and with SHIELD.
“Long story short, I couldn’t go back to the orphanage. The nuns would never have believed me anyway. So I just took off. Did some odd jobs, an old friend from the orphanage - a few years older than me - helped me get my GED while he was in college. Hid me in his dorm room as often as he dared.” She smiled a little, the fond memories of her only real friend removing the tension of her earlier admission. “It wasn’t so bad. I got good with computers and wound up in the Rising Tide. Wasn’t big on secrets, since my whole life was one massive blank. I had no birth certificate, no ID when I arrived - everything I had at the orphanage was ordered by the nuns. The only thing I could ever find was one single file, redacted by SHIELD. So of course I learned to hack. Finally got myself on SHIELD’s radar. Figured if I couldn’t get the info from the outside, maybe from the inside…” She shrugged.
“So you worked for SHIELD before it fell?” Steve asked.
Skye gave him an odd look. “Yes. And I still do.”
“Come on, Steve. You must’ve realized that some of it survived when Fury brought a freaking helicarrier to Sokovia!” Tony broke in.
“The world still needs SHIELD,” Skye added. “We’ve been working to take down HYDRA, to keep people safe from the kind of things that don’t make it onto the superheroes’ radar. Besides, my team has been the only family I’ve got for a couple of years now. We wouldn’t let something like HYDRA ruin us forever.”
Bucky grinned. “And it landed you neat powers, even if getting them wasn’t happy for you.”
With a chuckle, Skye nodded. “Yeah, I know. It’s been a rough couple of years. But here we are. And it brought us all together. I would never have walked into this tower on my own. Of course, if I hadn’t found James then I would never have known who the handwriting belonged to either.”
Tony set his dishes aside and moved to kneel beside Skye’s chair. He held his hand out, and she slowly placed her hand in his. “You’re an amazing, strong woman, Skye,” he began slowly, measuring his words before he spoke them. “And even if you aren’t used to comfort and luxury, I think you’ve more than earned it anyway. I intend to spoil you as much as you’ll allow, because you’re special and because you’re our soulmate. And because everyone deserves to find something good in life.”
Skye studied his expression, then slowly smiled. “I think I can handle that.”