They chose New York this time.
It’s been Steve’s favorite for a long time, from before humans started dreaming bigger, brighter, and built their cities in glass aiming for the stars. Spring is just on its starting foot, and Central Park is saturated with the colors it brings: the fresh green of grass bursting through the ground, coaxed out by sunshine; the sky so clear it looks like a painting; the cacophony of birdsong that would be annoying in any other season.
"You're going to give me hay fever one of these centuries," Bucky says, dark sunglasses on his face as he sits wrapped in a black leather jacket that looks old and new at the same time.
"You keep saying that, but I won't believe it until I hear a sniff," Steve says, not bothering to open his eyes. The sun is warm on his skin, and he feels the energy of it flowing through his veins.
They sit in silence for long minutes, Bucky glaring at a bird that flies too close to his face, and Steve breathing in the air. Under the bench, a snowdrop breaks through the ground and lifts its head towards Steve, like its only dream is to get closer to him. Bucky knows the feeling. His hand moves to rest on the back of the bench, fingers barely ghosting over the skin on Steve's neck.
Steve's eyes open as soon as he feels the touch, and he turns to look at Bucky. Bucky's hand is cold, and Steve's smile is warm and he says, "Just six months. Just like always."
"It feels longer. Just like always," Bucky says. His forefinger moves in a pattern on Steve's throat, touch burning in the best kind of way. Steve leans into the touch, and all around them the grass dances in the warm summer breeze.
"I miss you already," Bucky says, voice soft but Steve can feel the shake (of the ground, of the air, of the core of the Earth) underneath it.
"I do too," Steve answers and grabs Bucky's hand, intertwines their fingers together. He lets the heat soaring through his veins warm Bucky's skin. "But I'll be back before you know it, just as I have for ages."
Bucky stares down at their hands, and takes a deep breath. When he moves closer, Steve meets him halfway, and the kiss is a goodbye, of sorts. Steve's mouth tastes like sweet fruit, a taste Bucky wants more of, but he forces himself to move away and look at Steve over the rim of his glasses.
"When you come back, leave the goddamn lilac up here. The smell reeks," he says, smirks, but his voice is hard.
"I'll come back," is all Steve says. Bucky's eyes burn red and black, like lava cracking through scorched ground, but Steve is there, warm and real and close, so he smiles back truthfully this time.
"I mean it about the lilac, jerk."
Around them, the world shakes, tiny and almost imperceptible.
It all starts with a legend. That is to say, with a truth and a lie.
There is a Lord of the Underworld, and the juice of pomegranates. Someone gets stolen and someone steals. The rest is what happens when the seeds of truth grow, and twist, and turn like vines through time.
There is a Hades, and there is a Persephone. They’re just not the ones you’d expect.
They steal their names when they walk the Earth, and no one notices. Steve loves the way the sound rolls off of Bucky’s lips, the way it hisses through his teeth when he calls for him, when he moans his name. They steal their names because even Gods become just stories. Even Gods get lost to humanity.
Steve shrugs, but there’s a smile on his lips. “It sounds like you,” he says. Bucky hums, and moves closer, leaves crackling under his feet.
“You’ll steal everything from these mortals one day. Might even end up one yourself,” Bucky says, tries and fails to keep his tone light. His hands find Steve’s hips, and his breathing slows as he stares up at Steve.
“I wouldn’t mind. I’d still end up with you in the end, wouldn’t I?” Steve says, and Bucky closes his eyes and nods. He keeps the name and Steve keeps his, and centuries later they don’t even remember the time when it was different.
When Bucky first sees Steve, it’s not suppose to happen, but the Fates have a wicked sense of humor when they spin and unravel the threads of life. The humans wage wars and Bucky shouldn’t be there, not yet anyways, but he is. The air smells of smoke and blood, and figures only he can see walk over the Earth one last time, silver shapes fading into the sunset.
It’s the flowers that catch his eye first, deep purple irises opening their faces on soil they shouldn’t be able to live on. Bucky runs the tips of his fingers over the velvet-like petals, stares as more and more of them bloom in waves and cover the Earth. Their presence feels like hope, not something Bucky expected to find. It makes him smile.
When he looks up, he finally notices the lone figure in the middle of the field of purple that’s staring at him. Bucky’s breath catches in his throat under Steve’s examining gaze, and when Steve starts walking towards him the flowers lean out of his way to make room. Bucky can’t help but think, for a moment, that it reminds him of human kings.
“They’re here to guide the dead and help them find peace,” is the first thing Steve says when he’s close enough. His voice is soft, barely above a whisper, like he’s afraid he’s disturbing something, but his eyes are focused and curious. Bucky looks away, at the shadows visible only to his eyes that roam around them and nods, turns a hesitant smile to Steve.
“Thank you,” he says, and Steve looks like he wants to say more, but stops himself. He turns to look at the fields around him, eyes sometimes stopping on a point in the distance, and Bucky wonders if he can see them too.
They don’t talk again that day, but back in his own world, Bucky can’t stop thinking about blue eyes under golden eyelashes, and the one iris flower he stole feels like a lead weight in his pocket.
If he leaves the Underworld more often after that, well. That’s how legends start.
“I’m the God your mother warned you about, you know,” Bucky says the second time he talks to Steve, and his voice sounds hoarse even to his own ears, after what feels like ages of quietude. It’s summer, like it always is, and Steve looks golden in the morning light. Bucky knows he shouldn’t be here; he feels the Earth underneath his feet calling for him, but he can’t look away. He hasn’t been able to look away for some time now, and he can’t understand why. There’s something here, something about Steve that has dug itself under his skin, deep into his soul and he can’t shake it off.
“She warned me about all of them,” Steve says, and glances down at the shadows that play around Bucky’s feet. There’s no fear in his stare, just eager interest. “What makes you so special?”
Bucky laughs and says, “You really don’t know?”
“I was never good at listening to sound advice,” Steve shrugs, and takes a step forward. He stops when Bucky flinches, so small Steve would miss it if he weren’t looking close enough. “I’m not going to hurt you.” Behind him, the sun is getting too bright, a warning from the world.
“It’s not you I’m worried about,” Bucky answers and when Steve blinks, there’s nothing in front of him but air. Bucky can’t shake the memories of Steve’s voice for days, and he wakes up dreaming he had the courage to reach out.
The third time they meet, they actually don’t. Bucky walks through the world, hand stretched out and fingers playing with the river of summer flowers that Steve left in his wake, and that evening Steve notices dark footprints on the ground.
The fourth time, the others notice.
Bucky sits in the shade of a willow tree, shadows gathering around him like they're working to protect him, and stares out at the far-away dot that is Steve. On a branch above his head, a lone figure stands, dark wings hanging down lazily.
"Your trips to the Surface are catching the eyes of certain friends," the figure says in a lazy drawl, and his voice sounds like satin and gravel at the same time.
Bucky grits his teeth, and looks up. The shape above him looks like a man, but if he looks too closely he can just make out where he fades away, edges blurring into the space around him like ink in water. The eyes though, they burn like the heart of a star.
"I don't care,” Bucky says, spits out the words.
The figure shrugs, and one of his wings twitches with the movement.
"It was just a friendly warning," he says, and looks out into the distance and then up, like he’s looking for something only he can find. "They might not agree with your new interest."
"I am the ruler of my own world. Why should it bother me what others think?" Bucky says, but around him the shadows move, vibrating with tension.
"Because some others," the figure says, and gives him a pointed look, "might have the power to keep your interests away from you."
Bucky swallows, and feels the bitterness behind the gesture, acid on his teeth and tongue.
"And how would you know what the others would do?"
"You may be the Lord of the Underworld," the figure says, and his smile shines from behind the darkness, "but I am Death. I know things that even the Gods don’t. So take my advice and move fast, my Lord."
Bucky nods after a long moment, and his eyes move, scanning the horizon. The figure laughs, and he's suddenly next to Bucky, his movement like a cold breeze. When his wings flutter, the feathers almost caress the skin on the back of Bucky's hand and just the thought of the touch sends unwilling goosebumps down Bucky’s skin.
"And quick," Death says, voice edging on something akin to worry. "Even Gods run out of time. Trust me, I know best."
Steve is asleep when Bucky sees him next. The night is young, stars just visible on the horizon, and Bucky moves silently through the trees, eyes never leaving the sleeping form in the grass. Steve always chooses to sleep under the open sky, trusts the world to keep him safe, and the thought gives Bucky pause, makes him feel like a trespasser. He tries to shake the feeling off, will himself to move closer, more than he'd deem safe, and crouches down on the grass just a few feet from Steve. He can hear his own pulse, so loud in the quiet night, and it takes him a while to realize that what he’s feeling is fear. It’s been ages since he’s known it, and it feels foreign in his blood and in his chest.
Steve sleeps on, unaware of the movement around him, face relaxed and eyes moving behind his eyelids and if Bucky focuses he can feel Steve's dreams moving around them. He's so caught up in the sensation, in the excitement of being so close to Steve, that he doesn't notice Steve's breathing change.
"You rarely move so freely in the daytime," Steve says and Bucky almost jumps, almost lets the shadows pull him away from there. But when Steve's eyes open, and a quiet smile lifts the corners of his lips, Bucky suddenly feels glued to the spot.
"Not much daytime where I come from," Bucky says, swallows against the dryness in his throat.
Bucky freezes, and he suddenly feels the ground wanting to pull him back towards its core.
"So you know," he says, not making it a question, and he hates the way his voice sounds, hollow and tiny.
"I know," Steve answers, and moves just a fraction of an inch closer, gaze darting towards the ground. When he looks up, Bucky can almost see the sky in his eyes, so clear and bright.
"Most of our kind don't take well to me," Bucky says, and Steve frowns, a sad crease between his eyebrows.
"I'm not ‘most of our kind’. And," he pauses, glances at the sky like he expects the stars to be listening in, before he moves closer to whisper, "I know you're not like most of them either."
“You’re so sure about that?” and Bucky means it. He wears the Underworld on his body like a cloak, darkness following him around everywhere he goes, but when he looks at Steve he can only see life and warmth; he can only see things that don’t belong to him.
Steve shakes his head. “You came to them, to the human souls. The first time I saw you, you were there for them,” Steve says, like that explains everything.
“That doesn’t mean anything,” Bucky says, and thinks of the sadness in the air that day, how he could have breathed it in until it was too much. He also thinks of iris flowers, and the sweep of Steve’s eyebrows when he talked of hope.
“It did to them. It does to me.”
And Bucky doesn’t know what to do with that, doesn’t find any words left in his chest.
“Don't go away, please. Not yet, not so fast," Steve says in the silence, voice pleading yet strong, and his hand moves like he wants to touch Bucky, but stops halfway through the gesture.
There’s a moment of hesitance on Steve’s part, like he’s trying to find the courage to speak. When he does, his voice shows nothing but determination.
"Because whenever I catch a glimpse of you, I like it. I don’t know why, but I like having you close. You always disappear or hide, though. So I'm asking you to just stay, for a little while. Just this time."
The words send a shiver down Bucky’s arms, the back of his neck, and when he looks into Steve’s eyes, Steve just stares back, unflinching. Bucky nods, realizes he’s doing it only when Steve’s face breaks into a smile that is too bright and too happy, and Bucky doesn’t remember the last time he was on the receiving end of one of those. There’s a feeling growing right behind Bucky’s breastbone, like his Fate has been sealed with just one tiny gesture but he can’t be bothered to care. When he lies down, Steve moves closer, close enough that Bucky can count the freckles on the bridge of his nose.
"Thank you," Bucky says, and he doesn't know for what. Steve seems to understand what he can't though, because he doesn't question him, just smiles. Bucky places his hand on the ground, palm down, and tiny grass blades move between his fingers to point up at the stars.
When Steve closes his eyes, Bucky gives himself a moment to stare at him freely, at the perfect cupid’s bow arch of his lips, at the curve of his cheekbones. He feels like he could do this forever.
He falls asleep like that. In the morning, Steve's hand is closed over his, and all around them Asphodel flowers open their petals to stare at them.
They meet more and more often after that. Bucky leaves his world behind and walks after Steve wherever he goes; he sees the sun more than he has in ages, since giants roamed the Earth and the Underworld was not yet his.
Steve smiles whenever he sees him, and that smile makes Bucky's chest tighten. They meet in early mornings, and Bucky plays with the dewdrops in the grass to keep his hands busy, to keep them from reaching out and touching things he shouldn’t. They meet when the sun is setting, a golden disc on the zenith, and Steve makes the fields of grain dance in the light for Bucky, a contented look in his eyes when Bucky laughs with delight.
Steve doesn't touch him, movements guarded and safe, like he’s afraid Bucky will flee. And Bucky’s grateful for that, not sure if he could trust himself if he did.
Back in his own world, Bucky finds the cold annoying for the first time in ages.
"I came as a warning," says Ares one day. She's waiting for him in the throne room, leaning her hip on one of the black marble columns, expression unreadable. Her hair is fiery red, too bright for this place, and Bucky's eyes narrow when she speaks.
"What makes you think any of you can threaten me?" he says, voice hard like the very rock around them, a cold edge to his words. The air around them gets colder, but Ares just stares back, one perfect eyebrow rising as a challenge, eyes sharp as the glint of a sword.
"I'm not threatening. I don't threaten," she says and he knows she speaks the truth. Ares takes and burns, and it's enough. "I came as a favor. I like you, but most of the others don't. Especially now that you're moving to take something from the living world."
Bucky's hands twist into fists, and she smiles sadly. "I'm not taking him."
"There's more ways to do that than you think,” she says, voice softening at the edges. “You're taking his heart."
The anger in Bucky’s veins gets overwhelmed by the way his own heart skips a beat, quick and hard in his chest.
“It’s not like that,” he says, and only realizes how false it sounds when she shakes her head.
"I've never wanted anything, before. Never asked for anything, either," he says, swallows against the tightness in his throat and looks around the room, his voice a wavering echo all around him.
When the world was split in three, he took what was given and never complained, wore his crown with pride. But now darkness meets him in every corner, liquid and ever-present, and the emptiness of it all is suddenly too much. His world is full of souls, a different kind of life bursting under his feet, but their presence could never drown out the silence.
Ares moves closer to him, and plucks one stray cherry blossom from his hair.
"Between you and me, I don't mind that much," she says and twists the stem of the flower inbetween her fingers. "I came as a warning, but I'm on your side. You and me, we've known each other since the first human picked up a knife and took his first life. But this suits you. This is the first color I've seen on you in ages." She smiles up at him, and places the blossom in his hand. His fingers curl around it protectively.
"I don't know what to do," he says and she smiles, kisses his cheek once.
"He does," she whispers, and then she's gone. Bucky sits in silence for what feels like ages, and the cherry blossom burns in his palm.
He visits Steve that night, and Steve looks at him like he always does, like Bucky is the best thing about his day. It breaks Bucky’s heart, tears at his chest with the kind of force that leaves him choking.
"Why do you let me come here?" Bucky asks before Steve has time to say anything, afraid he’ll lose the courage if he waits. Steve's face falls at the question, and he stares at Bucky for a long moment.
"I like you," Steve says like it's obvious, like it's the kind of truth that he has no problem saying. Bucky's hands shake as he runs them through his hair, half-exasperation and half-confusion in the gesture.
"I thought you knew. You must understand that," Steve says and when Bucky looks at him his chin is up, eyes steady as they stare at him. Steve looks like he’s ready to fight, like he’s ready to win because he doesn’t doubt it going any other way.
"This isn't going to end well. For you," Bucky says, and Steve’s eyes widen a fraction before he takes a deep breath. The trees around them sway in a breeze that isn't there, leaves trembling angrily.
"Do you want to stop this?" Steve asks, voice collected but still so loud in Bucky's ears, like a tempest waiting to break. Bucky swallows against the words that want to come, against the warnings and the pleas, because they sound hollow in Steve’s presence. He can't help the laugh that escapes him, bitter and burning in his throat, chooses honesty as he says, "I don't think I can."
Steve nods. "Good," he says and moves forward before Bucky has time to register the action. When Steve's lips crash into his, it's painful and hot and everything Bucky's ever wanted. Steve tastes like the air after a summer storm, dust and electricity mixing on his lips, and Bucky suddenly understands what falling feels like.
Bucky's hands find Steve's hips and he digs his nails there, the gesture hard and possessive, a promise in the pressure of his fingers. His breath is burning in his chest, but Steve keeps kissing him, tongue licking into his mouth and teeth biting at his bottom lip, and Bucky is afraid that if Steve ever stops his heart will give out. Steve's hand moves to the back of his head and he pulls on the hair there, just a little, just so Bucky has to lean his head back. When Steve's lips find the muscles on his exposed throat, the sensation goes through Bucky's entire body and straight to his cock.
"Please," Steve whispers, leaving a trail of kisses to the shell of Bucky's ear, and Bucky doesn't need to know the question to answer, "Yes, anything," because he knows in that moment that he would give Steve anything he ever asked for just so he could hear the breathlessness in his voice once more.
Steve pulls him down with him, until Bucky is lying on his back and Steve is straddling his hips with his hands braced on either side of Bucky's head, nails digging into the dirt like he's afraid to ever let go. Bucky runs his hands up Steve's thighs, up his sides and chest, and he wants to never forget every inch of the body above him. Steve's eyes are hooded as he stares down at Bucky, and he grabs Bucky's hand in his and nips at his knuckles, kisses the skin between them, the gesture delicate and intimate.
"You are so beautiful," Bucky says because he’s overwhelmed with the feeling, with the weight of Steve’s eyes on him and the touch of his lips. In the moonlight, Steve looks like he's something the universe built out of light and stardust, carved out of the heart of marble. Steve blushes, and Bucky can feel his smile on the back of his hand. "I couldn't stop staring at you the first time I saw you. I don't think I'll ever be able to stop."
"Then don't stop," Steve says and then he moves his hips, the movement slow and deliberate, his erection brushing against Bucky's. He bends down to catch Bucky's mouth again, the gesture rough, like he’s claiming Bucky’s lips, his breath, his body for his own, and Bucky is ready to give it all up. His hands run up Steve's back and down towards his ass, and he pulls Steve towards him in search of more friction and more heat, and he’s already drunk on it, body already addicted to Steve’s presence. The sensation is a shock to his core, better than he ever wished for, the fervor of it all running through every nerve in his body.
"I've been imagining doing this with you for so long," Steve whispers in the space between them, and the words make Bucky's hips twitch harder. His body is on edge, every move and intake of breath frantic with need. "Touch me, please."
A shiver goes down Bucky's spine, hair standing up on his arms, and he presses the heel of his palm into the front of Steve’s pants. Steve closes his eyes and gasps at the contact, and Bucky kisses him, wants to take every sound Steve makes and swallow it until it's part of him, ingrained in every cell of his body.
Steve rocks against him as Bucky undoes his pants, takes out Steve's erection and curls his hand around the shape of it. The sounds Steve is making are intoxicating, and Bucky wants to hear more, so he twists his wrist, moves his hand in just the right way, until Steve is doing nothing but panting, desperate and needy, his forehead pressed against Bucky's. Bucky's hips move up, following the rhythm of his hand, and his other hand comes up to rest on Steve's face, fingers brushing away the strands of hair from his forehead.
"I want to steal you," Bucky whispers in a broken voice, and Steve's eyes snap open to stare down at him. He is gorgeous, Bucky thinks, all flushed skin and his breath coming out in short gasps of pleasure. "I want to steal you, I want to take you to my world and make you look like this every day."
Steve's back arches, and he's just as close as Bucky is, Bucky can see it in the way he is trembling in Bucky's grasp, tension in every line of his body. Steve kisses him, gentler than he expected, and presses his hips down on Bucky's. Bucky feels like his spine is melting, and just the touch of Steve's lips makes him whimper in the back of his throat.
"Take me with you," Steve says, and his eyes are too bright, too honest. "Steal me.” His words are all Bucky needs to send him over the edge, his climax crashing through his body like a thunderstorm. Above him, Steve gasps once and Bucky can feel, through the daze of his own orgasm, Steve come all over his hand. He digs his fingers in Steve's thighs, and breathes in the smell of heat and arousal as they both ride through it, their gasps the only sound in the quiet night.
When he can move again, Steve drops his body over Bucky's, his head coming up to rest under Bucky's chin, strong legs holding his in place, and Bucky rests his hand on the back of his neck. He plays with the soft hair there, twists a strand between his fingers and breathes in the sweet, spicy smell of Steve's skin so close to him. His body feels like it’s not his anymore, moves languid and eyelids heavy.
Through it all, Bucky becomes aware of the way the grass around him is tickling his ears and his face. It's swaying around their bodies like tiny waves, velvety blades caressing him, poking the skin above his collar. Above him, in the dark, he can almost make out the cracking of tree branches coming down to shield them from the sky, away from prying eyes.
"Your world is beautiful," Bucky says. And it is, the kind of beauty that he now sees more clearly through Steve's eyes. His lips are close to Steve's temple, and he can almost taste his skin with every move of his lips, salty and something else, something so intrinsically him.
Steve hums, and looks up. He rests his chin on Bucky's sternum and there's a proud smile on his lips, like he's made the world himself. He might as well have, as far as Bucky is concerned, because without Steve all of this would not merit a second glance.
"Is is," Steve agrees and he looks up. All around them, the leaves move with a sort of music that only he can hear. "You are too," Steve says and runs a finger from Bucky’s eyebrow, over his cheekbone and down his lips. Bucky smiles, bites at the tip of Steve’s finger.
There's a thoughtful frown between Steve's eyebrows as he traces the plump curve of Bucky's lower lip, and when he glances up at Bucky, there’s a look in his eyes that speaks of unyielding promises.
"I meant it," Steve says. Bucky knows his heart is beating so hard that they both can feel it. "Take me with you. Don't leave me behind this time."
Steve fingers are still ghosting over his skin, his heart beating a rapid rhythm against Bucky’s chest and his eyes have never been this sharp. Bucky couldn’t say no even if he wanted to.
"I won’t leave you behind," he says and when Steve kisses him this time, it's fierce and unremitting just like the darkness around them that moves to claim them both.
The first day in the Underworld, Steve kisses Bucky in the Palace gardens, between the bare white and black trees and thorn bushes. Steve kisses Bucky, and he tastes like honey, and spices, and above them a tree blooms under the Earth for the first time.
Steve fucks Bucky like he's starving for it. He holds Bucky's hands over his head, grip so tight it would break his bones if Bucky wasn't what he is, and thrusts into him slowly until Bucky is nothing but a whimpering mess under him, on the verge of orgasm for what feels like hours.
"Please," Bucky says, voice almost broken, and Steve's lips are so close to his, so close yet not close enough as he says, "What do you want?"
Steve's cock is filling him up, and it’s too much and not enough at the same time. Bucky can feel the bruises bloom on his wrists, and when Steve kisses his chest it burns like the first rays of sun.
"I want more of you. I need more," Bucky says and Steve kisses his neck, licks a spot just above his collarbone just as he pushes into Bucky hard and fast, giving up all control with each move. Bucky's choked-out cry fills the room.
He comes a few moments later, seed spilling out over his abdomen and Steve fucks him through it all, whispering in his ear, "I never want to let you go."
Aboveground, the first leaf turns golden.
Bucky shows Steve everything his world has to offer, and Steve takes to it with a euphoric curiosity that makes Bucky’s chest swell with pride. They walk along the rivers of the realm, crystal waters that flow from all corners of the land, and Steve stops a few feet away from the edge to stare at the horizon and the boats that bring the souls.
"They look like fireflies," he says, and when Bucky looks across the waters he can see it too. Each tiny boat illuminated by one solitary lamp, dozens of them floating in tranquility over waters that reflect the darkness above. Steve crouches down and stares at the flowing river, and his hand moves until his palm is just a few inches from the surface.
"Don't," Bucky says, panic etching his words, and Steve looks up at him, confused frown on his face. "Don't touch the water. Don't eat the food. That's for them, not for us."
"What would happen if I did?" Steve asks, but he gets up and takes a step back and Bucky can’t help but curl his fingers protectively around his wrist .
"You'd be damned to this world."
Steve closes the gap between them and his lips graze Bucky's. "Would it be that bad? For me to be here forever?"
Bucky takes a deep breath, taking in the scent and warmth of Steve so close to him, so foreign in this place. He still wakes up in the middle of the night afraid he’ll turn to find Steve cold next to him, skin and eyelashes powdered with the ashes of funeral pyres. Only when he puts his lips to Steve’s wrist and feels the pulse there, the quiet beat of it against his skin, does he close his eyes again.
"Not like that," Bucky says and touches Steve's cheek until Steve looks at him. "Not because you were forced to."
Steve looks at him for a long second before he nods, and his hand finds Bucky's, squeezing it in understanding.
Bucky shows him his world and Steve takes it all in like he was born to be here. The land of the dead blooms under Steve's footsteps and Bucky can't help but stare, can't help the way his chest tightens with something he’s afraid to name. Asphodel flowers open their faces towards the sky when Steve is near, and the meadows where the souls roam freely burst with colors more vibrant than before.
"Can they see us?" Steve asks as they walk between the souls that shine with silver halos. Bucky shakes his head, and moves to let a little girl and a boy run past him.
"Not us. They see souls just like them when they look," Bucky says, and Steve smiles when the little girl turns to look at him and then runs to hide behind a tree, her green eyes shining when she pops her head from behind the tree trunk to stare at them.
"Are they happy?" he asks and above the little girl, the tree bursts into flowers, petals falling to the ground like snow. Her shriek of excitement makes Steve laugh, eyes crinkling at the corners, and it’s the kind of sound Bucky will never get tired of hearing.
"They are. I didn't make this world, they did. The afterlife is what each human makes it; it's what they seek when they cross over. I just make sure it stays that way, as peaceful as they deserve it."
When Steve looks at him, his eyes shine with the kind of awe that Bucky is not used to. He feels a blush creep up his neck when Steve says, "It's amazing, what you do."
Bucky is almost thankful when the little girl runs up to Steve to distract him, because that way he doesn't have to answer him. Steve's smile gets even brighter when the girl gestures to him to crouch down, and when Steve does, she places a primrose flower crown on his head.
"Thank you. It's beautiful," Steve says and she blushes before she runs away, nothing but the top of her head visible in the tall grass. When Steve sits up again, Bucky’s breath catches. The crown falls down his forehead, yellow flowers bright against his skin, but it fits him. Steve smiles, and Bucky swallows against the onslaught of emotions, and he pulls Steve close to him, their lips crashing in a kiss.
When they fuck that night, bodies moving in perfect unison, Bucky whispers the words he can't say out loud over Steve's heart.
Water lilies flower at the edges of the rivers of the dead, silver petals with blood-red veins bursting from their center.
Above them, rivers turn cold and willow trees die.
"My kingdom has never been visited by so many Gods. Am I holding a celebration but don't know it yet?" Bucky says as he stares down from the balcony. Behind him, he can hear footsteps as a man steps out of the doorway and comes to stand next to him. There's a glow coming off him, like every cell of his body is alight with flame, and when he looks down his eyes shine like melted copper.
"I came to see it with my own eyes," Apollo says. He's playing with an arrow, twisting it in his hands carefully, and it sparks where his fingers touch it. Bucky spares the arrow a glance, and then follows his line of sight. In the gardens below he can make out Steve taking a stroll, white flowers growing in his wake and vines slithering gracefully up trees. "You've caused quite a stir above."
"I've heard," Bucky says, and his voice betrays no guilt. The laugh he hears is easy, even if incredulous.
"Who would have thought the Lord of Hell would be the one to steal Summer from the humans?" Apollo says, and turns around to lean back on his elbows on the railing, arrow hanging lazily from his fingers. He quirks an amused eyebrow in Bucky's direction, who doesn't bother replying.
"He looks happy here," Apollo says, and Bucky can't help the smile that pulls at the corner of his lips. "And so do you. It's distressing."
"I am happy," Bucky says, meaning it. He turns to look at the other God and his eyes spark as he says, "He's not going back."
Apollo lifts one hand in a placating gesture. "I didn't come to take him from you, I promise."
"Only as a warning, I presume?" Bucky asks, his voice bitter.
"No," and Apollo shakes his head and sighs. "Just as the bearer of news."
"I didn’t think that was the kind of thing you did."
"It isn't," Apollo answers. "But it also affects me. The word is getting colder above you, and it has to do with him," he says and his face hardens under his words. "You've brought him here and now Death is inching slowly over the land like a plague. It's not serious yet, but it will be."
Bucky's jaw tightens when he says, "Why tell me this?"
"Because we may be Gods, but that just means we have an eternity to face the consequences. You should know that better than most of us," and when Apollo glances over his shoulder at Steve, there's a mournful twist to his lips.
"I can't lose him," Bucky says, hates how desperation colors his words.
"I'm sorry," Apollo sighs, and in his hand the arrow turns to pure light and vanishes. "But you need to ask yourself if he's worth it all. Or, more importantly, if he thinks he is."
Bucky feels his hands grip the railing harder, until metal bends under his fingers, snapping and cracking with the panic he feels running through his blood.
"I'm not the last visitor you'll get," Apollo says, and his voice sounds far away. "And the next ones aren't going to be as friendly. Be careful." With that, Bucky is left alone. Before him, the world stretches on, undisturbed.
Winter sweeps the lands above, and Bucky sits on his throne and watches more and more souls cross over. Besides him, Death is silent.
"How many?" Bucky asks, and his voice shakes.
"Too many, my Lord," Death says from all around him. Bucky feels a scream well up in his chest, and the world shakes with the force of it.
He holds Steve's sleeping form that night like it's the last time he’ll ever get to do it. In his sleep, Steve's hands find his and he intertwines their fingers together, and Bucky kisses the place where his neck meets his shoulder. His eyes burn with tears he doesn’t want to let loose, and he whispers Steve name like a prayer.
When Steve opens his eyes, he smiles sleepily, but the gesture freezes on his lips.
"What's wrong?" Steve asks and Bucky tells him, even if he’d rather burn the word to the ground than hear the words himself. Steve listens, and when he catches Bucky’s lips in a desperate kiss, it feels like hope and goodbye at the same time.
When Bucky walks into his throne room, he isn't surprised to see the man there.
"You may be King," Bucky says as Zeus stares down at him from the throne, "But that is not your place."
Zeus stares at him blankly for a long moment, before he gets up, smiling pleasantly at Bucky. When his lips lift up, it pulls at the scars that run down his left eye, making them stand out even more, like lightning against the night sky.
"And is it yours? When I gave you this world, you were suppose to guard it. And here you are, stealing human souls faster so you can have a kingdom of your own."
"Don't you dare," Bucky says, voice loud in the empty throne room, echoes bouncing back angrily. "Don't you dare pretend you, or any of them, care about their souls. You use them for your pleasure as long as it suits you, and then you toss them away like they’re nothing. You may have their lives, but I am the one who has their eternity. I've seen the sorrow and pain they bring with them, so don't come here acting like you're better than what you actually are."
Zeus narrows his eyes, and the air suddenly smells like ozone and electricity.
"And when you took him from them, to use him for your own pleasure while the Earth died, was that not the same?"
Bucky feels like the very life has been knocked out of his lungs.
"He made his own choice,” Bucky says, hands shaking even if his voice isn’t.
"No, he didn’t,” Zeus says and he moves closer, too close, and the hair on the back of Bucky's arms stands on end. "You’ve twisted him. This isn't a world made for him. What makes you think someone like him could ever last down here? Or want to?"
“I took him because I love him, and he stayed because he loves me,” Bucky says, lips turning up sharply at the corners, and he catches the hesitance in Zeus’ eyes. "I'd fight the whole of Olympus for him, even you, if he'd want me to. But that's the difference between you and me, my King," and the word is almost spit out, "I care. And so does he. You'll have your summer back, but don't for one second think it's because of you, or any of the other mountain-dwellers. It's because I, because we, care. Now leave before I forget to be a gracious host and decide Tarturus needs a new soul to rip apart."
Bucky turns around, walks away before the fire that's coursing through his veins burns through him and around him, and ignores the spark of lightning that snaps behind him. He's almost out the door when Zeus speaks again, voice a low growl that echoes like thunder.
"If he steps here again against our rules, or you after him, I will make sure to bring you the souls myself."
"Do not threaten me in my own home, Zeus. You forget I am also a King," Bucky says, and his jaw tightens against the words.
"That is my offer, do what you want with it."
The ground cracks around Bucky, but it is too late. He is alone.
“I’m sorry,” Bucky says, voice breaking with each syllable. Steve’s hands are in his hair, and when he looks at Bucky, there’s a glint in his eyes that shakes Bucky to his core.
“I’m not. I’ll never be sorry for you,” he says and when he kisses Bucky, he tastes like honey, and spices and something more, something of this world. The garden lies almost frozen around them, and Steve's moves are hungry and desperate as he pushes Bucky to the ground, teeth biting into his collarbone and nails leaving red gashes over Bucky's hips. Steve whispers his name like a plea, and Bucky gives him everything he asks for.
He doesn't notice the red fruit hanging from the tree above them.
"I'm coming back," Steve says. He kisses Bucky's jaw, his cheeks, his eyelashes, and Bucky keeps his eyes shut tightly against it all. He holds on to Steve, brings their foreheads together, and tries to memorize the rhythm of his breath and the warmth of his skin.
"I love you," Bucky says, voice hoarse like he wants to scream it, and Steve smiles against his lips.
"I've loved you since the first time I saw you. And that's why I'm coming back."
"You can’t,” Bucky says, but Steve kisses him, doesn't let him finish. The kiss is intense, Steve licking into Bucky's mouth like he's starved for it. His hands are on Bucky's face, holding him close and still.
"I'm coming back," Steve says when he breaks the kiss, and his voice is so sure that Bucky opens his eyes to look at him. Steve smiles down at him, a confident tilt to his lips. There's a glint in his eyes, and Bucky is suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that Steve is immortal, a God more powerful than he could ever imagine. The air sizzles around them, and Bucky nods.
"You'll be back," he says and Steve's bright smile is blinding before he disappears.
Only when he's alone, does Bucky notice the taste on his tongue. He stares down at his feet and the ground is littered with small, bright red pomegranate seeds. When the laughter bursts out of him, it's halfway to being delirious and he feels it vibrating in his bones.
Bucky sits on the edge of rivers and counts each passing soul to the beat of his heartbeat. He only moves when both slow down.
Above him, the first bud sees the light, and tree branches dig deeper into the Earth in search of something more.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen the big man so angry,” Apollo says, and there’s a delighted glint in his eyes. Bucky just shrugs, tries to go for nonchalance, but he can’t help the smirk on his lips, and Apollo snorts out a laugh from where he’s hanging upside down from a tree branch.
“I didn’t make the rules,” Bucky says and runs his fingers over the rim of a Calla Lily that turns its head to follow his gesture.
“Olympus hasn’t been this exciting since the swan incident,” Ares says, and she doesn’t even flinch when an arrow made of light speeds past her left ear to dig into the tree stump behind her. “You should visit some time,” she says, and her smile is vicious but amused.
“Thank you, but no,” Bucky says and looks up. The pomegranate tree is bursting with fruit, branches hanging low and full, and Bucky smiles. “Summer is almost over,” he says, and behind him Ares and Apollo share a look.
“He’s really coming back, isn’t he?” Apollo says, and Bucky nods, the gesture quick and full of conviction. It’s been six months, and the Underworld still blooms, Steve’s presence in every blade of glass and every budding flower. Six months, so Steve has to come back.
“I didn’t make the rules,” Bucky says.
Ares’ hand feels good on the back of Bucky’s neck, and when he turns to look at her, there’s a happy tilt to her lips.
“He’d have come back whatever it took. He would have started a war for you. Trust me on this one.” She winks and Bucky breathes in, lets the gesture ground him. Steve is coming back, he just knows it, and that is enough for him now. He suddenly feels an arrow zoom past his cheek, so close it makes his hair move in the breeze, and he throws a glare over Ares’ head.
“Speaking of starting wars, your visits have probably not gone unnoticed?” he asks, and Apollo shrugs, even though the gesture is almost lost as he hangs with his arms over his head, two new arrows dangling from his fingers.
“You seem to forget, we had to chose sides too. And we did,” he says, and looks at Ares who nods.
“It’s also less gloomy down here lately,” she says and gives his shoulder a squeeze. Bucky gives them a thankful look, and then laughs when she catches an arrow straight out the air and throws it back at Apollo’s head.
A chill wind blows over the forest, and Bucky feels it sweep through his hair, sending a chill down his spine. It carries the smell of storms and late-growing fruit, and all around him the leaves shake and murmur a song he’s starting to understand. Bucky doesn’t take note of it tough, he just notices the soft footfalls that are getting closer, and he closes his eyes, praying it’s not in his head. When arms wrap around him from behind, the knot in his chest loosens so quickly he almost stops breathing, knees on the verge of buckling under him.
“Six months,” Steve whispers, his lips brushing the spot behind Bucky’s right ear, and Bucky’s face breaks out in a smile so bright it’s close to being painful. He leans back and Steve’s arms tighten around him, warm and solid, and even better than Bucky remembered.
“You like it?” Bucky says and Steve closes the gap between them to kiss and nip once on Bucky’s lower lip. They’re in the throne room, and all around them the moonlight falls like silver curtains through the windows that now stretch high where walls used to be. Outside, blue Morning Glory flowers twist up the walls in a beautifully chaotic dance.
“I liked it before too,” Steve says and smiles softly, “But thank you. It’s beautiful.”
“It’s yours now. If you want it,” Bucky says and Steve’s arms tighten around Bucky’s waist.
“I want you, with or without all of this,” Steve says, and Bucky feels the way his pulse quickens. “I’ll always take this world as long as it has you in it,” and when he smiles, there’s nothing but happiness in the pull of his lips and the crinkles at the corner of his eyes. Bucky has to kiss him then, or else he feels like he’d float away from the want and joy in his body.
Steve answers back with the same heat, and the stay like that for what feels like ages, lips to lips, chest to chest. It’s Steve who moves first, pushes at Bucky until Bucky has to walk backwards to not fall. Steve doesn’t break the kiss, just guides Bucky slowly until the backs of Bucky’s knees hit the edge of the throne, and he lets out a sound of surprise. Steve’s places his palm on Bucky’s chest and gives him one final push, until Bucky’s forced to sit down.
“Yes, I could get used to this image,” Steve says, and leans down, arms braced on each armrest, keeping Bucky in place. Bucky smirks, leans forward until he can catch Steve’s bottom lip between his teeth, sucking on it softly.
“I could get used to you here, always,” Bucky says and Steve swallows down a moan, the gesture so close and loud to Bucky’s ears.
“Always,” Steve echoes, and his hands come up to hold Bucky’s face, to pull him in and deepen the kiss. Bucky grabs his wrists, feels Steve’s quickening pulse under his fingers and the kiss is not enough anymore. He needs Steve, open and naked under him, needs Steve more than he’d needed him when he was gone; his presence here again makes Bucky realize just how much he missed him, his absence a hole in his chest all these months.
“I missed you so much,” Bucky says, and Steve looks at him with the open kind of longing that Bucky knows is reflected in his own eyes. Steve’s hands feel hot on his face, and when he moves back a step, Bucky almost whimpers at the loss of contact - but then Steve drops to his knees in front of him and the sound gets stuck in Bucky’s throat.
“I’ve been dreaming about you every night,” Steve says as he pushes Bucky’s knees open, “Dreaming about what I would want to do once I see you again, of how I want to take you, every inch of you, make you scream with pleasure until you can’t anymore.”
Bucky wants to say something, but he can’t, the perfect image of Steve on his knees in front of him being enough to make his mouth water. Steve drops his head, and he kisses the inside of Bucky’s knee and then higher up Bucky’s thigh. His fingers dig into his other knee, holding his legs open, like Bucky would ever be able to move them.
“I dreamt of you, moaning my name as I make you come. That kept me sane all this time away from you,” Steve bites at Bucky’s thigh and Bucky can feel it even through the material of his pants. Steve’s breathy voice, the way he’s looking up at him through his eyelashes, make Bucky so hard that his hips hitch forward, the gesture uncontrollable, and Steve smiles as he moves his hands up Bucky’s thighs.
"What do you want?" he asks, and Bucky tries to find his words.
"You. Your body, your mouth," he says, and his voice almost goes out when Steve palms his erection through his pants before undoing them. Bucky sighs when his cock is finally out, but then Steve is suddenly there, and he licks a long stripe up Bucky's length, tongue circling the tip. Bucky grabs the armrests, fingers digging into them until he can almost hear the crack of metal and stone in the quiet around them. His pulse is loud in his ears, and when Steve grabs his cock and drags the tip slowly over his plump, pink bottom lip, before taking him fully into his mouth, his breath comes out in one long gasp.
Steve takes him as far as he can, hums in the back of his throat and Bucky can feel it in every nerve ending, and he can't help the way his hips twitch forward with every upstroke. Steve's tongue is hot and wet, makes Bucky gasp every time it drags over the tip of his cock, slow and deliberate. Bucky places his hand on the side of Steve's face, feels the way Steve's jaw moves under his fingers, every moan Steve makes and it's all a slow burn in his spine and his chest.
"You are perfect," he says, and he feels like he's on edge and fading into bliss at the same time. Nothing matters but Steve, and the heat of his mouth, and the look he gives Bucky, all adoration and pure want. Bucky's breath is coming out in short pants, echoing off the empty walls around them, and then Steve does something with his tongue, sucks so hard his cheeks hollow out under Bucky's hand and he's done. He comes with a cry, loud and urgent, his world fading at the edges in a blinding light.
He's vaguely aware of Steve pulling his mouth off his cock, and then Steve's lips are on his, a grounding point for his now fuzzy brain. Steve licks into his mouth and Bucky tastes himself on Steve's tongue, bitter and sharp. He feels boneless, and his fingers tingle when he touches Steve's face.
"I love you," Steve says, voice hoarse and low. Bucky feels like he will never get used to hearing it, will never not feel those words like an arrow in his chest. "We're not done yet, though, I still haven't made you scream as hard as I want to."
"Harder and you'll kill me," Bucky says, even as he can feel the heat crawling up his throat. His hands move up the inside of Steve's thigh, feels the muscle tremble with desire under his caress, and he smirks. Steve inhales sharply through his nose, and says, "We'll see about that."
Bucky can't help the huff of laughter that is half-moan as his head is pulled back and Steve's lips meet his. Shadows move around them, curl up Steve's leg and Bucky's wrists, like liquid binds that try to push them together. Steve is suddenly in his lap, hands running through Bucky's hair and teeth biting at Bucky's bottom lip, and before desire overloads all his sense, Bucky has one clear thought.
He's never been happier.
The steps of the Met are bursting with people as they hurry in and out of the building, tourists in a rush to buy tickets, or teenagers looking for an empty spot to sit and enjoy the last rays of warm sunshine summer has to offer. No one seems to notice the figure in the dark blue peacoat sitting quietly at the bottom, two coffee cups resting next to his ankles, but almost everyone unconsciously avoids the few feet of space around him.
Bucky stares at the world over the rim of his sunglasses, rests his arms on his knees and waits. As always, he doesn't have to wait long. He feels Steve before he hears him, the unmistakable movement of the air around him, and Bucky smiles as Steve sits down on the steps behind him, legs bracketing his body. Steve's arms snake around his chest, his chin comes to rest on Bucky's shoulder, and Bucky can't help the contented sigh that escapes his lips as he leans back.
"Happy autumn," Steve says, his nose nuzzling at the spot behind Bucky's ear.
"Favorite day of the year," Bucky says, and intertwines his fingers with Steve's over his chest, right over his heart.
"Mine too. I can't exactly remember why," Steve says, and lets out an undignified yelp when Bucky elbows him in the ribs. When he laughs, the puff of air tickles the back of Bucky's neck over the rim of his peacoat. Bucky turns his head until he is nose to nose with Steve, and he thinks he'll never get sick of seeing him like this. Steve smells like freshly-cut grass and apples, like the city after it rains. There are freckles over the bridge of his nose, freckles that Bucky knows go down his back and over his shoulders like constellations Bucky will get to map out with his fingers and his mouth later. Steve is beautiful, and Bucky will never get over it.
"Hello," Steve says, and his eyes sparkle.
"Hello," Bucky says, the word not leaving his mouth completely before Steve kisses him. It's easy and leisurely, a soft caress of lips and tongue. Steve kisses Bucky like he knows Bucky is his. The sun sets above them, long shadows moving across the stairs, and they just sit there, wrapped in the warmth of each other. “I missed you,” Bucky says, lets his head fall back on Steve’s shoulder. “So has your dog.”
His voice is quiet, words simple, even if he means so much more in words he doesn’t speak because he’s afraid he won’t stop. But Steve gets it, he always does, because he laughs, asks, “Which one of them?”
He kisses Bucky's temple when Bucky smiles, closes his eyes and says, "Let’s go home."
Bucky doesn't even have to nod, just lets the setting sun take them with it.