I said I would write a Steve POV for this and then kind of forgot? Well, I finally remembered, so here it is!
I just reblogged part one, but you can find it here.
4200 words, watch for the cut!
When he was growing up, writing on the skin was a difficult prospect. He’d been taught that it was rude to write anywhere that might show up in an embarrassing place for his soulmate. Arms, hands, even lower legs and the tops of the feet were out, but writing anywhere that was covered by clothing was lewd and shameful. What if his soulmate had taken her shirt off one night and found his name written on her chest or thighs? The very idea had been enough to make his teenage-self flush in shameful arousal and had led to more than one embarrassing situation.
The compromise had been the bottom of the feet. His mom wrote his name for him the first, spelled out in flowing letters from his heel to the bottom of his toes on his left foot. It had tickled and she’d only been able to write a letter at a time so he could stop and giggle. She’d ended up sitting on him so he couldn’t accidentally wiggle out of her grip half-way through, and when she’d finished he had to sit with his foot on the window sill to let the ink dry.
“Now your solemate will know your name,” his mom had teased, tickling his opposite foot until he was shrieking with laughter. He didn’t get the pun until many years later when he’d learned to spell.
He’d checked his opposite foot every few minutes those first couple of days, waiting for another name to appear. Everyone knew that soul ink didn’t start manifesting until after soulmates had touched skin-to-skin, so playing tag at school took on a new context that Steve had found a little cruel. Mostly it was the boys chasing after the girls, while the girls tried to escape. Steve had never been very good at running anyways, so he’d ended up helping the girls hide while he’d misdirected the boys’ efforts around the playground.
Still, he continued to check his right foot every night, and when the ink started to fade, he’d trace over the letters again and again.
By the time he made it to high school, writing his name on his foot had become a habit as much as combing his hair or tying his shoes. By then, his classmates had started flouting the rules – names would appear in small writing on palms or wrists, and Steve had once seen Mary Lewis edge up her skirt so she could write on the inside of her thigh, right there in class. Anyone who was caught with visible ink got lines or cleaning duty, but that didn’t stop them. Bucky ended up in detention for a whole month when he’d taken a paint brush to write “HELLO SWEET THING” all the way up his left forearm in thick, tall letters.
A few of his classmates paired off and used their soul ink to pass notes back and forth in class, and Steve would feel the bottom of his foot tingling whenever he caught one of them at it.
After his mom died, he’d covered his entire chest in ink – doodles, words, meaningless slashes of thick lines over his ribs and across his heart. No one wrote back, but Bucky had walked into the room and caught him at it one day. It was a private thing, and almost as bad as someone catching him touching himself like that, but Steve had just forced himself to straighten up and let his shirt hang open so Bucky could see the ruin he’d made of his skin. Bucky hadn’t said a thing, just set his fingertips on the messy scrawl of ‘Where are you?’ and then pulled Steve’s shirt closed and did up the buttons.
The SSO tour had been a different kind of thing. He’d been in the dressing room with the girls every night, and once they’d gotten used to him, they hadn’t been shy about taking their clothes off with him hiding behind a dressing screen trying to get into or out of his tights.
Some of the girls had a lot of ink. Lisa’s torso was painted from just under the line of her ribs to the crease of her hipbones, and Annabel had a permanent tattoo on the sole of her left foot. The other girls had called her brave and giggled with her when she’d shown them all, and Steve should have looked away because ink was private, but he’d been so stunned by the very idea of a permanent tattoo (on a dame no less) that he’d just stared at her with his mouth hanging open.
“You’re such a boy, Steve Rogers,” she’d said, nudging his hip with her tattooed foot. “I just got tired of writing it over and over, so I figured this was better.”
“Who would even do that for you?” he’d babbled to the laughter of the girls around him.
“I did it, silly,” Annabel had said, and then had given him a sly look and asked, “You want one?”
Steve had turned about seven shades of red and got himself out of the dressing room as fast as he could without hurting anyone.
It hadn’t taken long for the girls to find out that he was an artist. By the end of the tour he’d been writing and drawing on them by request, all the while aware that his mother would have had a heart attack if she’d caught him putting ink on a lady who wasn’t his soulmate. She’d have gone apoplectic if she’d walked into that one hotel room in Minnesota with Steve sprawled on a squeaky bed in nothing but his shorts with six girls drawing on his skin.
The Army was another brand of different. They didn’t have ink just lying around, but that wasn’t about stop the guys from writing lewd messages on themselves. After better than a year with the choir girls, Steve had lost all of his shyness about ink, and their early attempts to shock him with their writing had only escalated when he hadn’t responded with the shock they’d expected.
The Howling Commandos used charcoal mostly, or campfire ash. If one of the guys fell asleep on watch, whoever found him would scrawl all over his face and then kick his ass awake. Steve mostly turned a blind eye to it, even that time that they’d found a stash of Nazi liquor and gotten rip-roaring drunk. Dum Dum had come up with the bright idea to strip naked and write Suck It on his cock with the fountain pen they’d found in the base commander’s desk. Dum Dum had been sore and itchy for days afterward and Steve hadn’t felt a bit of pity for him.
He hadn’t found it quite as funny when Bucky had wrestled him to the ground and wrote I won’t give away my sniper’s nest in the goddamned field like a fucking idiot all over his chest.
“Don’t blaspheme on my skin, Buck,” Steve had tried to protest, but his soulmate could be a person of faith, but he’d just gotten another goddamn fucking idiot for his efforts, and really, he’d deserved it.
When he woke up in the new century, his handlers had expected him to be shocked and appalled by all the visible ink. Girls walking around in short skirts with their legs covered in writing, men in tank-tops with messages from their soulmates proudly on display, tattoo parlors out in the open with advertisements on billboards, and fake tattoos available for 25 cents out of a machine. There were even people walking around with ink on their faces.
Steve had politely not laughed in his handlers’ faces when they’d gently explained that the world was different and he might find ink practices a little shocking. It was like the 21st Century thought they’d invented ink. He’d just nodded along and tried not to break their hearts by telling them that he’d probably seen more ink in more obscene places than they’d ever dreamed about.
He hadn’t written on the bottom of his foot – or anywhere else – since waking up. It didn’t seem like it would matter. If he had a soulmate out there, they’d be old enough to be his grandparent, and might not appreciate finding him so late in life. He did his best not to touch anyone over seventy, and generally kept his hands to himself with everyone else, just in case.
When he peeled his clothes off, sweaty and smeared with soot after The Invasion, and found a jumble of numbers and letters on his stomach, he was too exhausted to react to at all. He grunted, struggled out of his pants, and stepped into the shower.
The marks had grown by the time he woke up. Steve found himself staring at in the mirror, too stunned to do anything other than trace the shape of the numbers. Differential math, he realized belatedly. He hadn’t had much math in school, but he recognized the format from staring at Howard’s blackboard back in the workshop. He tried to solve the equation, but it was in pieces. Whoever was writing it had a brain that apparently moved too quickly for complete equations, or else they were writing some of it on paper rather than their skin.
“Okay,” Steve told his reflection. His heart gave an unsteady jerk. He had a soulmate. He had a soulmate who was good at math and had very neat handwriting, and had no compunctions about writing anywhere. Steve stood in front of the mirror for almost an hour, mesmerized by the ink boiling out of his skin.
He’d expected soul ink to feel like something, but there was almost no sensation, just a bare tickle that he might have been imagining. He traced the letters and numbers and wondered if his soulmate could feel him touching the marks, if they thought they were imagining the sensation as well.
A polite knock at the door interrupted him, and Steve only barely restrained himself from yelling at them to go away. He wanted to spend all day just watching his soulmate work, but when the agent on the other side of the door called out a tentative, “Captain Rogers…?” Steve sighed and pulled on a t-shirt.
He tried to write back. It took two days to work up the nerve, but he finally picked up a marker and wrote hello? on his hip, snuggled in between the two most recent equations, hoping it would be the most visible there. He waited for several minutes, but there was no immediate response. He had work to do – a city to clean up, alien technology to pick up before it fell into the hands of a civilian, and a cultural liaison to play pranks on.
Over the next several days, Steve grew increasingly frustrated as all of his questions were ignored and more and more ink showed up on his body. He wasn’t even sure how his soulmate had managed to get half of that equation onto his ass. Whoever his soulmate was, they were apparently ambidextrous and very flexible, and they didn’t sleep much.
It would just figure that Steve finally found his soulmate on the other side of a 70 year long nap under the water, and they were obviously brilliant, and – based on the number of times the caffeine molecule had been doodled on his arms – a coffee addict. They were passionate, and had steady hands, and were completely uninterested in responding to Steve in the slightest.
After tracing the most recent equation where it spidered out from his hip, crawled across his pelvis and ran down his left leg, Steve finally grabbed his marker in a fit of irritation and wrote, Either tell me your name or stop writing all these numbers on my skin in thick letters down his thigh. He traced over the letters again and again until they would be impossible to miss, even among all the clutter.
There was no response, but it was nearly one o’clock in the morning and Steve didn’t know when the equation had been written in the first place. His soulmate was probably asleep, though hopefully they would see it in the morning and at least acknowledge his existence.
Two days passed without a single spot of new ink showing up on his skin. Steve brushed his finger over the fading evidence of his annoyance, smearing a corner of the ‘E.’ Choosing a thinner marker, he found a clear space on the opposite leg and tried, Thank you for stopping the differential equations. I was missing too many pieces to keep up.
By the evening, there was no response, so Steve tried an apology: I’m sorry for shouting the other day. Or writing loudly?
Steve tried not to be disappointed when there was no response by the next morning. Maybe his soulmate had been responding to him in some kind of mathematical code that Steve didn’t understand. Maybe his soulmate couldn’t respond – maybe they had some kind of mental disability, or they were actually in a coma somewhere and this was their best friend doodling on their skin, shocked that someone had written back and didn’t know how to respond. They could be senile, or have some other kind of sickness, or just anxious because someone was yelling on their skin.
He made it all the way through the next day and into the following morning before picking a clear spot and writing, If you could write something back, I would appreciate it. Starting to think I’m going crazy here.
Steve sat on the edge of the bed and stared at his calf where he’d made his stupid desperate plea. He tried to scrub the letters off, but he’d used a sharpie and it had already dried. If he got into the shower, maybe he could get it off his skin before his soulmate saw it. He stared at the bathroom door. His SHIELD-issued apartment was the same size as the tenement he and his mom had shared with another single mom and her daughter, but Steve had the place all to himself. It had felt like luxury on those few occasions when he’d had the run of the tenement for an evening, but the apartment was just lonely and quiet.
Are you there? He wrote on the inside of his left forearm without expecting to get a response, but he was still disappointed when he finally went to sleep without one.
Steve’s heart flip-flopped in his chest. He traced over the letters, for a moment wondering if he had written the word himself in his sleep, so desperate for an answer that he’d manufactured one himself. But the letters matched the rest of the writing, neat and precisely crafty, if not a little shaky compared to the others.
“Hi,” Steve said to his arm. He ran his thumb over the word again and again. Wiping his hands nervously on his bedspread, Steve picked up the marker and wrote back, Oh, good.
“Oh, good?” Steve hissed, “What the hell, Rogers?”
He tried to fix it by adding That’s really good, gave himself a sharp knock on the head, and helplessly added, Hi.
There was no immediate response and Steve cursed at himself. They probably thought he was a teenager with that witty introduction. Stripping off his t-shirt, he hurried into the bathroom and craned his neck back so he could get to the empty space on the left side of chest and wrote, My name’s Steve.
He tapped the marker on the counter, waiting for a response, feeling foolish and jittery. It was almost four in the morning, and he needed to be in the briefing room by five, but he didn’t want to cover his skin up in case he missed something. Maybe he could wear a tank-top and shorts – people did that in the twenty-first century, and if anyone called him on it, he could just play dumb and claim that he had misunderstood modern fashion.
Tony, appeared over his ribs, and then Can I.
Steve placed his hand over the name. Tony – he had a soulmate, and his soulmate’s name was Tony. It was perfect. He waited for the rest of the question to show up – could he what?
Impatient and excited, Steve twisted the pen around to the center of his chest, which had yet to fill up with differential math. I would love to meet you, he tried nervously. His hand was shaking so badly that the words came out spidery.
He waited nervously for a response, and almost missed it on his right arm. Skip the middle of the chest.
Steve winced. He should have noticed that Tony would rather twist around and write on his ass than the more easily accessible middle of his chest. He stretched his left arm over his head to pull the skin taut and wrote, Sorry. Does it hurt?
He’d never heard of soul ink hurting, but there was a lot that he’d never heard of before he woke up in the new century.
No, Tony reassured him over his hip. Just can’t see it.
Steve frowned, trying to think of a reason that Tony wouldn’t be able to see the center of his chest when the name finally impacted. Tony, who spoke fluent differential math and couldn’t see the center of his chest – because there was an arc reactor embedded in his sternum. Steve’s jaw went slack and he stared at his own reflection for several seconds. They’d touched skin-to-skin on the helicarrier. Steve boggled at the insanity of chance that had dragged him across a century to meet his soulmate, and his soulmate was Tony Stark.
He leaned back and wrote upside along the curve of his stomach, I would love to meet you.
Steve waited several seconds for a reply, twisting around to look at his back in the mirror in case Tony had decided to put his answer across his low back. The clock was ticking closer to five and Steve finally gave up and got dressed. He didn’t think Maria would let him get away with a tank-top and shorts after all.
Just as he was leaving the room, an address and a time appeared on his wrist.
Tony was already sitting at a small table on the outdoor patio at a café three blocks down from Stark Tower, dressed in a hoodie, baggy pants, and sunglasses. Steve had decided on simple clothing, a ball cap, and a pair of sunglasses that he’d borrowed from Mark, his cultural liaison. The sidewalk was still littered in debris, but the street was clear, and the café had either avoided the devastation of the battle, or repaired whatever damage had been done. The café was busy, and Steve kept his head down to avoid recognition as he wended through the tables. He didn’t have as much trouble with it as the others – as long as he was out of his uniform, he didn’t usually get mobbed by civilians.
Tony didn’t look surprised to see him at all, but Steve shoved his hands in his pockets to keep them from giving away how nervous he was to see the other man. They hadn’t exactly gotten off to a good start, and Steve wouldn’t blame Tony if the meeting was just an opportunity to say we shouldn’t see each other without taking up precious skin space.
“I thought it might be you,” Steve said, stopping beside the table.
“Yeah,” Tony said after giving him an inscrutable once-over. “Well look at how surprised I am to see you.”
Steve didn’t know how to respond, or how to interpret Tony’s tone of voice. He gestured to a chair and waited for Tony to nod before sitting down. He was so nervous he felt like his spine was made of concrete and it wouldn’t bend on its own. It took conscious effort to make his posture relax and then he shifted around in the chair until he found a comfortable position for his legs where his knees weren’t wedged under the table, but he also wasn’t invading Tony’s space. Or setting himself up a potential tripping hazard. That was one thing that he did miss about being smaller – being so big and bulky meant constant negotiation of where his limbs were in relation to everyone else.
The waitress slid up to them with her notepad out, her eyes darting back and forth between them. Steve winced – she obviously recognized them, and all it would take was one word to get the attention of the entire café, and his meet-and-greet with his soulmate would vanish. She hesitated, the pen twisting in her fingers as if she was on the verge of asking for an autograph, but finally decided to take pity on them. She pulled out a smile and asked if they were ready to order.
“Espresso,” Tony said with a charming smile and a wink that was maybe a reward for not blowing their cover, “You know the way I like it.”
Steve held two fingers up for the same. Caffeine had no effect on him, but the army had given him a taste for strong coffee. She nodded, gave them another nervous look, and then nodded again and practically skipped away. Tony’s eyes followed her, but Steve couldn’t tell if it was an interested kind of following, or just a distracted kind of following.
“What are we going to do about this?” Steve asked to get his attention back and hid a wince by brushing his hair back from his face.
“Well,” Tony said, his eyes following Steve’s wrist, where the café’s address peeked out around the cuff of his jacket. “The Mystical Higher Powers That Be think we’re meant for each other. Apparently.”
Steve couldn’t tell if Tony was mocking ‘The Mystical Higher Powers that Be’ or not, but the uncertain feeling in his gut was starting to descend into dread. He managed a shrug, but he couldn’t stop his brows from drawing together in what he knew would read as a frown.
“Meant for each other can mean a lot of things,” he said. It could mean a lot of things – there were plenty of soulmates who ended up being the very best of friends, partners in business, there were even siblings who sometimes ended up as soulmates. It didn’t mean that they had to be in a romantic relationship, or even friends. They could just be excellent teammates. Or nothing at all.
Before he could babble any of that out, their server returned. It looked like she’d brushed her ponytail and put on more lipstick. She dropped off their coffee and bounced off in a way that made her ponytail swing.
Steve winced. “She recognizes us,” he said with a sigh.
“Yup,” Tony answered, but he sounded unconcerned. He picked up his cup and took a sip of it. The steam briefly fogged up his glasses, but the mist disappeared once he’d set the cup down.
“So,” Steve started, but then had no idea to continue. So, we should be friends. So, let’s not be enemies. So, how do you feel about being fuckbuddies?
“I think you should move in,” Tony said before Steve could say anything stupid. “I meant the Initiative,” he clarified when Steve just blinked at him like an idiot. “Which means you. As well.”
Steve’s heart was going crazy in his chest – leaping with hope and falling with disappointment at every third word. He swallowed and said, “Okay. What are we going to do about this?” He held up his arm just in case Tony thought he was talking about their coffee, or the mosaic pattern of the table, or the server who looked like she was half a breath away from starting a mob at the café.
“Well, I guess you’re going to be learning some differential math,” Tony said. Before Steve could get too disappointed, Tony spread his hands out on the surface of the table and added, “And… Maybe we can do. This.”
Steve’s skin went cold and his fingertips started to tingle with the force of his relief. He let out a lungful of air he hadn’t realized he’d been holding onto and sank collapsed into his chair. He felt the smile stretching across his face, and he couldn’t stop it from taking over. He felt light enough to float away. “I would like that Tony,” he said. “I would like that a lot.”
A tentative smile flickered over Tony’s lips, but he quickly hid it with his coffee. He nodded. “Great. That’s. Great.”
Steve drained his coffee, fished his pen out of one pocket and his wallet out of the other. He dropped a twenty dollar bill on the table (enough for living expenses for a month and change to spare in his youth), and then scrawled his signature on a napkin. Tony quirked an amused eyebrow at him, but he snagged the pen before Steve could cap and added his own signature to the bottom.
“Want to help me with the floor plan designs? I’m pretty sure I can drum up some coffee and Chinese takeout,” Tony said, recapping the pen and tossing it back.
Steve caught it and ducked to hide the stupid smile on his face. He slid the pen back into his jacket pocket and stood up. “I’d like that too.”