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Where the Wild Monsters Are

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Monsters in the closet honey
Monsters overhead
Monsters lying next to me at night before I rest

They gonna haunt me
They gonna twist me into knots
Don’t let me haunt you
Don’t let me haunt you, that I beg

*

This is a fairytale. Not the kind you’re used to, with enchanted lights and magical wishes, but the kind that is darker, the grim tale that goes bump in the night.

This is the story of the monster under your bed, and what happens when you fall in love with it.

*

Steve is four years old the first time he sees him. He has wavy brown hair and eyes the color of the morning sun. He doesn’t have sharp teeth or sharp claws. He looks like a little boy, one who might play with him. Steve thinks he should be terrified, but the monster looks so sad, he forgets to be.

“Can you come play?” the monster asks.

The monster reaches his hand out toward Steve, but Steve crawls back under the covers and pulls them over his head.


The next day, he looks at his Ma across their rickety breakfast table.

“Mama, there’s a little boy under my bed,” Steve says, mouth full of cereal.

Sarah Rogers looks as though her blood has run cold, but then she gives her son the full force of her smile.

“Those are bad dreams, Steve,” she says, touching his little shoulder.

She checks under the bed for him anyway. “There’s nothing here, see?”

Steve isn’t convinced.


That night, he crawls under his covers until he feels a bump somewhere underneath.

He’s trembling as he sticks his head over the edge, to look under. His light blond hair falls behind him, framing his curiosity with the whimsy of a child.

There, in the dark, those same eyes peer out at him.

“Monster,” Steve says, “Mama says you’re a bad dream.”

The monster seems to pause.

“I’m not a bad dream,” the monster says, bearing his little monster teeth. “I’m Bucky.”


“Mama,” Steve says the next day, before his Ma leaves for her shift at the hospital. “The monster under my bed isn’t a monster. His name is Bucky.”

Sarah Rogers, preparing Steve’s pack for Mrs. O’Sullivan, smiles at him, the way mothers do when their child has an imaginary friend.

“Is Bucky a nice monster?” Sarah asks her son.

Steve considers this, a piece of orange in his little mouth. He swallows and nods, brightening.

“I think so,” he says.


“You’re not a very scary monster, are you?” Steve asks that night. He dangles over the edge of his bed again.

The monster under his bed stares at him, his golden eyes luminous.

Then, slowly, he bares his teeth again. They aren’t sharp at all.

“I am Bucky,” he says, trying to snarl.

It’s like another four year old snarling. Steve smiles.

“I’m Steve,” Steve says.

The monster stares at him. Then he tries to glare. Eventually, his expression seems to soften.

“Steve,” the monster says, thoughtfully. Then, under the bed, in the dark, Steve sees him smile. “Steve.” 

*

Steve grows and the monster does too. He turns older—five, six, seven—and so does the monster.

One day, when he’s nine and has scraped his knees from roughhousing with the boys on the playground, he comes home and his mother helps bandage his wounds.

“How is Bucky?” Sarah asks her nine year old.

She brushes back strands of sweaty, dirty blond.

“He’s doing well,” Steve grins. “He has sisters and they drive him crazy.”

“Are monster siblings worse than normal ones?” Sarah asks with a smile.

“I wouldn’t know,” Steve says wryly and Sarah Rogers laughs.

She presses a kiss to his head and stands up.

“I love you, plum,” she says.

“I love you too,” Steve says and hops out of his chair. He wraps her in his best Steve hug and breathes in her scent--soft and clean, like fresh laundry and flowers. It’s his favorite scent in the whole world.

Sarah kisses the top of Steve’s head and shoos him away to shower.


The thing is—Steve loves Bucky too. He knows this, by the time he’s nine years old. Steve is small and sick and has a hundred and one things wrong with him—his heart has a hard time working, and his pancreas, and definitely his lungs. He’s a little hard of hearing, and he’s colorblind, at least for certain color ranges. He’s allergic to half the things his mother tries to feed him and he catches pneumonia the way most people catch flies.

The first time Bucky learns about this, Steve is five and very very sick. Sarah leaves him for the night to get some rest and Bucky crawls out from under Steve’s bed.

“What is wrong with you?” the boy-shaped monster says, gnashing his little monster teeth. He hovers over Steve and Steve sees now that he’s a boy after all.

Bucky bends over the bed and Steve thinks he’s going to eat him all up.

“I’m sick,” Steve says with a wheeze and cough, too deep for the lungs of a child. His eyes are glassy and his skin hot with fever.

Bucky doesn’t seem to like that. He grows larger and larger, a terrifying shadow consuming the room.

Then he snaps back to his boy-shaped form.

“Get better,” Bucky says and it sounds like a whine.

Then he pushes the covers back and crawls into bed with Steve.


Bucky pushes his face into Steve’s hot neck and Steve whimpers a little, the fever bright under his skin, the fluid thick in his lungs. Bucky wraps his arm around him, one long arm swallowing up all of Steve.

Steve dozes off, wheezing faintly, Bucky’s little form curled around him. He dreams vivid, colorful fever dreams of monsters and terrors in the night and in the center of each is a pair of bright, yellow eyes.

In the morning, Bucky is gone, and so is Steve’s fever. The sun hurts his eyes a little, but Steve can breathe better.

On the left side of his pillow is a little indentation that does not belong to him.


It’s not the first time Bucky crawls into bed with him and it’s not the last time.

Every time Steve falls sick, Bucky curls himself around Steve’s body, angry and worried. It is as though Steve’s sickness is the real monster and Bucky is his guardian angel.


When Steve is ten, Sarah Rogers leaves him alone for the very first time.

“I need to take a night shift, plum,” she says to Steve. “If you need anything, ring Mrs. O’Sullivan.”

“Bucky and I will be fine, Ma,” Steve wrinkles his nose.

Sarah looks at him for a moment, as though worried, but her expression smooths out a moment later. She presses a kiss to her ten year old’s forehead.

“Of course,” she says. “You and Bucky will be fine.”


That night, Steve brings Bucky out from his room for the first time.

“This is my room,” he says, leading him around by hand. “And this is the kitchen and this is the living room.”

Bucky looks at the house with unreserved wonder and Steve shows him all of his favorite things—the radio, the lumpy couch, Sarah’s knitting basket, his little art corner. He tries to take Bucky out to the fire escape, but Bucky shakes his head with a hiss.

“I can’t go outside,” he says.

That makes Steve desperately sad.

“Oh,” he says, looking out at the moonlight. He’ll never be able to show his best friend to any of the boys who pick on him or get into fights with him.

Then he shakes it off.

If Bucky is his best friend only in his house, that’s okay too.

“Come on, chase me!” he says and, with laughter, peels away from Bucky.

Bucky chases him around like the monster he is, feet clomping loudly and playful snarls interspersed with breathless laughter. Steve shows him how to make sandwiches and Bucky tries human food for the first time. They listen to the radio. Steve draws him a picture. They make a mess.

By the time Steve’s eyes are closing from exhaustion, they’re lying on the floor of his bedroom, heads touching, hands tangled between them.

Bucky has Steve’s drawing clutched in his other hand.

He turns and stares down at Steve with his bright, golden eyes.

“Oh, Steve, please don’t go,” Bucky says, angrily, all teeth and snarls. He presses a kiss to Steve’s cheek. “I’ll eat you up, I love you so.”


When Steve wakes up, he’s tucked into bed and Bucky has disappeared again.

Steve touches his cheek, like it will help him with his dream.

“I’ll eat you up,” Steve whispers. “I love you so.”

 

art: child bucky with his sweet monster shadow; art by: deisderium

*

When Steve is thirteen, he comes home, dejected.

Bucky sits on his bed and makes room for Steve, the exact right amount, as though he’s memorized just how big Steve is and just how much space he takes up next to him.

“Are they bullying you again?” Bucky asks, growling.

Bucky knows all about the other boys—Tommy McCreedy and his group of oversized, teenage goons. They’ve been picking on Steve since grade school, even though their Ma’s go to the same church and Steve is no poorer than any of the other boys trying to make ends meet in the middle of the Great Depression.

It’s not that he’s poorer—it’s that he’s smaller.

Anyway, Steve’s never kept a thing from Bucky.

“No,” Steve says and picks a thread from his fraying shirt.

“Stop,” Bucky says and covers Steve’s hand with his own. “Your Ma worked hard to buy that for you.”


Sometimes Bucky sounds more like a parent than his best monster friend.

“Do you have dames in your world?” Steve asks, looking at Bucky.

Steve is a teenager now and Bucky the monster equivalent of one. They’ve both grown, a little taller, a little ganglier. Bucky moreso than Steve, who grows so impossibly slowly that he sighs in frustration at the injustice sometimes. Bucky’s hair is a little longer now, just halfway down his neck, his mouth a lovely, full curve, his yellow eyes more golden than it used to be.

Steve, in contrast, is still too-small, still too-thin. Sometimes he looks at himself in the mirror, in his too-big shirt and his too-loose suspenders and he wonders if Bucky took all of the growth between them.

“Yeah,” Bucky says, scratching his monster nose. “I guess.”

Steve nods, twisting his hands together in his lap.

“Do you like one?” Bucky asks after a moment. He presses a hand to Steve’s cheek.

Steve nods. Then he shakes his head. His breath comes up short, the nerves hot and tangled in his stomach.

“Can I tell you a secret?” Steve asks.

When he looks at Bucky, Bucky watches him closely, golden eyes soft and thoughtful.

“Yes,” Bucky says.

Steve squirms and shakes his head. Then he takes a nervous breath.

“When Tommy and the boys talk about the dames they’d like to kiss, I don’t always feel like that,” he whispers.

Bucky tilts his head.

“Sometimes,” Steve swallows. “I want to kiss the boys too.”

Steve closes his eyes, ready for Bucky to feel--if not disgusted by him, then changed, irreparably.

Instead, he feels Bucky’s hand move into his hair.

“Sometimes,” Bucky says quietly, so quietly that Steve peeks his eyes open. “I want to kiss boys too.”

And then, without warning, Bucky leans forward and kisses him. 

*

By the time he’s fifteen, Steve sometimes thinks he’s made Bucky up altogether. He will be at school or by the docks with the other boys, looking out across the cold blue of the East River, and everything else will feel so real against his skin, he’ll think, in comparison, he’s made up the monster under his bed and all his memories with him.

But then he comes home and finds Bucky standing against the window, looking toward the moon mournfully, and Steve will wrap his arms around him from the back and his best friend will lean back into him.

He can’t make that up, Steve thinks. It’s impossible to make up the way Bucky feels warm in his arms or how, sometimes, in the dark of his room, Bucky looks wilder, more feral, like a monster come to stay.


One night he comes home, flushed with excitement.

“I kissed a boy,” Steve whispers in the dark.

Next to him, on the bed, Bucky deflates a little.

“His name is Robbie and he met me after school in the library,” Steve says.

“Was he a good kisser?” Bucky asks. He sounds only a little petulant.

“Kinda,” Steve says, and then, with a wider smile. “Yeah.”

“Oh,” Bucky says.

“There are places, you know,” Steve says and falls back onto his hard bed. “For fellas like us.”

Bucky’s quiet for a moment and when he speaks, he sounds a little angry.

“Not places I can go,” he says.

Steve turns toward his best friend with a frown.

Bucky looks unspeakably hurt for a moment, but then Steve reaches toward him and tugs him back down next to him.

“What do they do there?” Bucky asks, next.

“They go dancin’,” Steve says with a smile. “And drinkin’, I guess. But I like the dancin’. You can dance with gals or with guys and no one will look at you twice for it.”

Bucky turns fully onto his side and Steve turns to face him.

“What’s it like?” Bucky asks, voice like a whisper.

Steve reaches forward, brushes Bucky’s brown hair out his eyes.

“Dancing?” Bucky says. He doesn’t look sad or angry anymore. He looks curious, instead.

“Hey,” Steve says and tilts his head forward to kiss Bucky, slow and sweet. “Want me to show you?”


Steve’s Ma is at a friend’s for a supper Steve didn’t feel like going to, so he locks the door and puts a record into the record player.

“Okay,” he says, turning to Bucky. “You put your arms around me like this.”


Steve is fifteen years old and his heart is beating quickly as the monster under his bed puts one arm around Steve’s back. Steve also wraps an arm around Bucky. The other hand, they hold between them.

The slow song winds around them and Steve finds that he can tuck his head under Bucky’s chin almost perfectly. Here, with Bucky surrounding him, Steve feels the warmth between their bodies, the way their hearts seem to echo each other.

It feels like something old and something new, Steve thinks.

They wind their way through Steve’s small living room, moving with the music and against each other.

“You feel like home,” Steve says, quietly.

Bucky pulls away, just once, to look down at him and then, in the gentle, midnight lighting of Steve’s apartment, kiss him softly. 

*

Home is where Bucky is, Steve thinks.

Home is where his mother lives, Steve knows.


The day Sarah Rogers dies, Steve feels the light go out of him.

He comes home from burying her, his hands cold, his face wet, his heart out of space for anything lighter than grief.

Bucky finds him sitting on his lumpy couch, his head in his hands.

“Steve,” he breathes out.

Steve leans his forehead into Bucky’s chest and cries.


What Steve needs is his mother back.

What he has is an empty apartment he’s not entirely certain he can afford anymore. The year is 1936 and Steve is working down at the newstand for a mere pittance. He doodles in his free time and sometimes he’ll get a commission--an advertisement for something or a mural someone wants painted along the side of their shop.

“I’m going to be busier now, Buck,” Steve says quietly. “Ma’s gone and I gotta support myself.”

He’s not sure monsters understand that--bills and groceries. Steve doesn’t know how the monster world works, but he doesn’t think Bucky pays rent for the space under his bed.

“That’s okay,” Bucky says, when Steve tells him. “I don’t have anywhere else to be.”


He comes back later and later, working in the mornings and in the afternoons and, most nights, the evenings too. He comes home exhausted, smelling like ink and sweat and, sometimes, when Harry’s hires him for the week, like baked bread. He’s worn thin, cut to the bone with weariness.

He doesn’t have much time to spend with Bucky anymore, but Bucky doesn’t seem to mind.

Steve will fall asleep on the couch, exhausted, and Bucky will sit with him, covering him with a blanket and stroking his hair. He watches Steve Rogers sleep until the sun comes up and they both have to disappear again. 

*

Three years later, war comes to the United States. Steve tries to enlist, not once, not twice, but half a dozen times.

He’s too small, too sick each time.

“War,” Bucky says, trying the word out on his tongue. “We have those too.”

“I can’t just sit here,” Steve says, eyeing another rejection. “Not while there are Nazis out there, killin’ people. Not while people are putting themselves on the line for this country. For freedom.”

“What about me?” Bucky asks, fiercely. “What about us?”

Steve struggles with that. He pushes his face into his hands, presses his palms against his eyes.

“I’ve lost everything, Buck,” he says. “I have to do this.”

“You haven’t lost everything,” Bucky says, desperately. “You still have me.”

How do you explain to your best friend that some things are bigger than you both and sometimes, to fight for what’s right, you have to gently let go of what you love the most?


It’s not that Bucky isn’t enough. It’s that Steve isn’t.

He meets someone named Professor Erskine. For the first time in three years, Steve feels something terribly close to hope.


Bucky must see it in his eyes, because he disappears for a week, angrily.

Steve has terrible dreams that week. He barely sleeps at all.


When Bucky reappears, it’s wild-eyed, nostrils flared, his hair on edge. His hands still aren’t claws, but they look like it. His shadow lengthens behind him, the air crackling with electricity.

“Don’t leave me,” Bucky says roughly.

He wraps his arms around Steve so tightly, it’s as though he thinks he can pull Steve into himself if he tries hard enough.

“I don’t know if I can stay,” Steve says, but Bucky shakes his head.

He frames Steve’s face between his pale, monster hands and kisses him desperately.

“Don’t go,” he says, his voice frantic, his eyes luminous.

Steve can’t promise that, so he kisses him back instead.


Steve has only ever kissed a few guys and a few dames and fooled around with even fewer.

But Bucky pushes him against the wall and his head tilts back, until his throat is a long, pale line that Bucky sucks bruises into. There’s something terribly sad and desperate between them; Steve feels the grief and loneliness swirl around them both. It floods their veins, tries to drown them together. It nearly succeeds.

Bucky undoes the clasps on Steve’s suspenders and shoves them off Steve’s shoulders. Steve pulls him in for a kiss, one hand in Bucky’s hair, the other rucking up Bucky’s shirt.

Bucky grasps Steve’s pants and shoves them down and drops to his knees.

Steve closes his eyes, covers them with his arm, and when Bucky takes him into his mouth, he lets out a noise like he’s strangling on air.


When the stars clear from his head, Bucky’s still on his knees, hands covering his face. Steve drops to his knees then, too.

This time, he takes Bucky into his arms, pushing his face into Bucky’s warm neck.

“I love you,” Steve says and kisses the space there.

“You’re leaving me,” Bucky says, wetly.

He doesn’t wail, but his shadow does.


Steve takes Bucky into his hand and strokes him slowly. Bucky bites down on Steve’s neck, leaving the perfect imprint of inhuman teeth against his fair skin. He rocks against Steve, his whole body shaking from it. They pant together and when Bucky comes in Steve’s hand, Steve feels Bucky still, for a perfect, wrecked second, before he deflates against him.


“You called me your home,” Bucky says, after.

“I don’t have a home anymore,” Steve says.

It tears through them both in different ways.

“You’re all that I have,” Bucky’s face is wet. “I can’t leave, you know that.”

“I want to stay,” Steve says, palm to Bucky’s cheek. “But I can’t. I have to go, Buck.”

Bucky looks so angry, the room seems cast in shadows--terrors of the night crawling up the sides of the walls quickly, like fire consuming wallpaper. He kisses Steve anyway and Steve lets him swallow him whole, one last time.


The way he looks at him that night, Steve knows that there’s only one monster in the room and it isn’t Bucky. 

*

He leaves one day, Steve, and comes back the next, Captain America.

Maybe Bucky doesn’t come out, because Steve doesn’t want him to. He looks at himself in the mirror, at the slopes and muscles of his new body, and thinks--no one would recognize this, not his Ma herself. If this is the last day he has in his home, Steve doesn’t want to look into his best friend’s eyes and see in its reflection a stranger. Maybe that makes him selfish--to break Bucky’s heart by shielding his own.

He packs up his things and his Ma’s things and puts them all into a corner.

“I’ll be back,” Steve says quietly, into the still air of his empty bedroom. “This is just for a little while.”

Bucky doesn’t appear and the space under his bed yawns at him, like an unwelcome cavern.

He doesn’t say goodbye, because he doesn’t know how to.

*

Steve goes away to war.

He doesn’t come back.

*

What is a monster under someone’s bed, when that someone leaves?

Bucky goes away too.

For a very, very long time.

***

Chapter Text

Seventy years pass and the world changes.

So does Brooklyn.

*

Pre-war buildings are an expensive commodity in the future, Steve learns. He learns a lot: for example, about the Internet, and cell phones, and diners that stay open 24 hours. Every part of the city is expensive and he can’t get good pizza anywhere. Everyone he knows is dead or almost dead. Everyone else wears extremely tight shirts and very short skirts. He leaves flowers at his mother’s grave. He visits Peggy Carter in a nursing home in Washington D.C.

Once, he goes to the Smithsonian and sees remnants of a past that the world saw ages ago and that, for him, exists just around the corner.

It’s 2011 and Steve is alive, but that’s not enough, is it?

He’s lonely, which is funny because there are rainbows everywhere and he doesn’t have to feel that guilty about wanting to kiss guys and girls anymore.

*

He meets Tony Stark and the rest of the Avengers and that’s a whole other thing.

In the future, there are aliens and Gods who come down a rainbow bridge and ride waves of lightning. It surprises his colleagues far more than it surprises him.

How could a God surprise Steve when he is a relic from the past himself?

How could he be afraid of an alien when his best friend used to be a monster?

*

Sometimes, Steve can’t sleep. He closes his eyes, but his head buzzes with electricity, or bees. Those days, he drags himself out of bed and to a quiet, empty gym in the dead middle of the night.

Steve has only had a few years of getting to know a body he doesn’t recognize as his own.

He spends time getting to know it now--what else does he have to do?

His body gets better, but his mind doesn’t.

He looks in the mirror at the gym and doesn’t recognize who he sees.

He thinks no one would--not his Ma, not the Howlies, not Buc--

*

The new century spreads fast and bright around him and Steve stumbles along, trying to find himself in the distracted cacophony of a time he doesn’t belong in. Everything feels wrong to him--the feel of cloth against his skin, the taste of flavor on his tongue, the color of the sky itself.

Steve finds friends, he even finds a family.

He spends his days with the Avengers and at night he comes home to a sterile room inside a tower Tony Stark built for them all.

He lays awake, late into the night, and thinks about wavy brown hair and a snarl as soft as breathing. Sometimes, on the worst of nights, he closes his eyes and thinks about home.


Once, he looks under his bed, palms sweating, heart beating fast, and finds--nothing.

It’s just an empty, dead, black space.

He swallows heavily and pulls himself back up.

He doesn’t try again. 

*

“Do you believe in fairytales, Sam?” Steve asks.

Sam Wilson, sprawled on the grass next to him, under the clear blue sky of a bright, D.C. summer day, looks at his friend.

“What about them?” he asks.

Steve, his hands behind him, sweat slick across his brows, tilts his head back.

“When I was younger,” Steve says. “My best friend had golden eyes.”

Sam doesn’t answer that immediately. He unscrews his water bottle and swallows half of it. Then he offers it to Steve, who takes it gratefully.

“That some kind of condition?” Sam asks.

Steve finishes the bottle of water and then shakes his head.

“No,” Steve says. And then, softly, “He was a monster.”

Sam raises an eyebrow, but he’s Sam Wilson, so he all he says is--

“And?”

Steve doesn’t know how to answer that for a long time.

His limbs are loose from their run, the warmth of the day a rush to his head. If Steve shuts his eyes, he thinks he can still feel brown hair slip between his fingers, a small hand pressed against his back.

“I loved him,” Steve says.

Steve wonders what happens to little boys who befriend their monsters.

He wonders what happens to monsters who get left behind by their little boys.

“You should visit your old place,” Sam says, after a minute. “Maybe it’s still around.”

*

So yes, prewar buildings are an expensive commodity. Steve doesn’t even think about asking to buy it, but he’s Captain America, so is the nice old lady who lives in his old apartment going to say no when he asks to see it?

“Do you know what happened to Irene O’Sullivan?” Steve asks, just in case.

“The O’Sullivans,” the old lady says, thinking. “They sold the building after the second World War. Now it’s owned by some company.”

Everything is owned by some company in 2014. In retrospect, Mrs. O’Sullivan wasn’t that bad; she had just smelled strongly of cats and menthol.

The old lady goes to make him some tea and Steve steps into his old bedroom.

It’s smaller than he remembers it, but then again, he’s much bigger than he was before. There’s a bed in the middle of the room, a wooden dresser with a mirror nestled on top, and an old red rug that’s faded with age. The windows have white curtains pulled across.

Steve doesn’t know how to look his past in the face. He doesn’t know how to say goodbye to it.

He supposes, he never has.

Still, he steps in, his heart beating quickly--too quickly. It’s a different bed, but the space underneath is the exact same. It’s not the bed that makes the monster, it’s the home around it.

Steve eases himself to his knees and bends down, peering into the dark.


“Bucky?” he asks, quietly.

There’s nothing but swirls of dust and the undisturbed space of silence.

“Bucky?” Steve says again, trying not to hope, and ultimately failing.

His heart sinks, but no one answers back.

Try as he might, he doesn’t see those golden eyes. The shadows don’t move for him. There are no gnashing teeth or long, sharp claws.

There’s only Steve, the ache in his chest, and the knowledge that once upon a time, he was a boy in love with his best friend. 

*

The world turns and monsters come in different shapes. Steve was never once afraid of Bucky, but this Thanos--he’s something different. He’s not a monster, because monsters are beautiful and harmless. Thanos is a sadist. He’s selfish. He’s worse than a monster ever could be.

He snaps his finger and everyone Steve has ever known--they disappear.

***

In 2022, Steve is 38 going on 104.

He settles into the future, not slowly, but not quickly either. He settles in the way Steve does anything--at exactly the pace he wants to do it.

He has friends here--he has family. He loses them once and then he gets them back.

“Are you ready to date now?” Natasha asks him one day, before she falls.

“I’m tired,” Steve says, and that’s the truth.

It’s true before Thanos and it’s true after Thanos. The world, in shambles, knits itself together again, because time ebbs and flows, but humans are resilient creatures, when they haven’t been turned into mounds of dust.


When he goes to sleep, he has nightmares--actual nightmares.

They never take any shape or form and maybe the irony of it is that he isn’t haunted by shadows and monsters but by the lack of them. His dreams are always too bright, like looking into the sun.

Steve doesn’t want to look into the sun, he realizes. He hasn’t wanted to look into the sun for a very long time.


When Steve looks down at his hands, he doesn’t see hands, he sees claws.


One day, he turns to Sam and asks, “Sam, what color are my eyes?”

Sam looks at him, worried. It’s been five years and Sam is still, as ever, worried about Steve. As though Steve had been the one dusted, instead of the one left behind.

“Blue, Cap,” he says. “What color do you think they should be?”

Steve takes a deep breath and sways on his feet.


When he looks in the mirror, sometimes he thinks he sees his shadow move.

When he turns around to catch it, it goes back to normal. 

*

Five years after the world ends, it begins again.

The nice old lady doesn’t come back and when Steve sees the listing for the apartment in the expensive prewar building, he buys it.


“It’s a nice space,” Sam says, looking around it. “A little sparse though.”

Steve sets everything the way that he wants it to look--a couch in the middle, a little lumpy, a radio on the kitchen counter, a small table to the corner with art supplies tucked into cups on top.

“Thanks for helping me move in,” Steve says.

Sam looks at Steve, long and hard.

He claps a hand on Steve’s shoulder. He keeps it there while Steve tries not to squirm.

“Thanks for bringing me back,” Sam says.

Steve swallows, feeling guilty.


Sam stays for a few hours and they do things that are fun and easy--they eat pizza and drink beer and watch TV in relative silence. It’s comfortable between them, a camaraderie Steve has never felt with anyone before and will never feel with anyone else again.

“A long time ago, you asked me if I believed in fairytales,” Sam says into the space between them.

Steve’s grip on his beer bottle tightens.

“I didn’t then,” Sam says. “But now--? After aliens and Gods and Infinity Stones and the end of the world? After time travel?”

“Yeah?” Steve asks, quietly.

“How could I not?” Sam says and tips the mouth of his bottle back into his mouth. “We’re living in the future, so why not live in a fantasy too?”


Sam puts his jacket on at the door.

“I like your place, Cap,” he says.

“Sam,” Steve tries and Sam shakes his head.

“What was his name?” Sam asks. “Your monster friend.”

Steve feels the name catch in his chest, a place he’s kept hidden the ache of his past.

“Bucky,” Steve says.

Sam nods.

He leans in and gives Steve a hug--a firm one. He lingers, as though memorizing him.

“Say hi to him for me,” Sam says. When he pulls back, Steve can feel his vision going blurry. This is Sam Wilson, saying goodbye.

Sam smiles at Steve, sadly. “Hey, your eyes are looking a little golden.” 

*

It’s not like Beetlejuice.

He doesn’t stand in front of the mirror and say Bucky, Bucky, Bucky.

Instead, Steve lays on top of his bed, his heart beating somewhere in his throat, adrenaline coursing through every part of his body it is possible for adrenaline to touch.

Then, when he can’t stand still, not a second longer, he scoots his whole body to the edge of the bed.

Taking a deep, shaky breath, he looks over the edge, upside down, and peers into the dark.

For a terrible, dizzying moment there’s nothing there--

And then, there’s a pair of luminous, golden eyes.

*

“I told you,” Steve says, hands on Bucky’s face. “I told you I’d be back.”

Bucky--taller now, broader, with a metal arm and scarring across his torso--gives a shaky, watery laugh.

“You kept me waiting all this time,” Bucky says. “You punk.”

“I didn’t mean to,” Steve says. He doesn’t let Bucky go. Bucky’s bigger now, but he’s the same. He’s the same monster, with a different shape and a story Steve hasn’t heard. “I didn’t want to be gone so long, Buck.”

Bucky, with his large hand against Steve’s back, his metal hand cool against Steve’s face.

“I thought you forgot about me,” Bucky says, sadly. “I thought you grew up and didn’t need me anymore.”

“I missed you,” Steve says. “I missed you every day I was gone.”

Steve’s chest twists, the ache spreading through him. It changes him, this loss. His hair grows long, his nails turn to claws. He loses his shape, becomes a black, terrible, shadowy thing.

“I have always needed you,” he says with a mouth that isn’t his mouth anymore. His voice is deep, loud, it echoes across the walls and through them, sinks down, down, down through the building and into the ground. He grows tall and he grows wide, he covers Brooklyn in an impenetrable shroud.

He doesn’t wail, but his shadow does.


“Come home,” Bucky, in his human shape says. His human hands frame Steve's monster face. “Come home to me, Steve.”

Bucky pulls Steve down and when their mouths meet, Steve melts back into the shape he always has been.

He’s small and sickly, asthma wracking his lungs.

He’s tall and broad, the vision of health, a body created in a lab and made for war.

He’s something in between--a man held by a monster, a boy kissed by his best friend.

Bucky rucks his hand through Steve’s hair and Steve presses into him and Bucky--he swallows him whole, sparks down their backs and all. 

*

Outside, the sun is nearly up again.

“Welcome home, Stevie,” Bucky says and Steve feels it, every single inch of him. “It’s time for me to go.”

Steve won’t let him--not this time.


Bucky offers him his hand.

“Will you come with me?” he asks, his golden eyes shining brightly in the dim light of the room.

Steve can see what Bucky sees, then--his own wild, golden hair, his red-kissed mouth, the strong lines of his muscles and bones. His beautiful, glowing, golden eyes.

“Take me home,” Steve says, his heart beating fast.

Bucky, feral and large and beautiful, pulls him close. He presses a kiss to Steve’s mouth again.

He says, I love you.

He says, it’s time to go.


Steve takes Bucky’s hand, and Bucky pulls him under the bed.

***


art: bucky and steve kissing sweetly, with their monster shadows in the background; art by deisderium