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Like Some Tender God

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He walks the mortal realms as he remembers he once did. In another lifetime. The earth beneath his feet, the sun on his skin, the scent of dirt and new rain. He’s missed this. It’s been centuries since he last visited the world above, but even now, he feels his brother’s scrutiny. He must tread carefully. He is the rich dark soil that nourishes a mortal’s seed-grain, and he is the wealth hidden deep within the earth. He is the passage of souls over the Styx. He is the golden isles, the gray plains, the fiery underbelly. Most importantly, he is no longer a being of this land, and so many suspicious eyes watch him when he enters it.

A twinge of the old anger. It was not by choice but by chance that he drew this lot. He isn’t unhappy with it, but it’s locked him away from the old lands. His home once, moreso than the palace on the mount ever was. He wonders how the game where he and his brothers divided the divine realms would go now. Now, Hermes holds luck in his hand as one of his many aspects, and Tykhe grips fortune’s rudder. But likely, they would favor their father, and Zeus would once again walk away with the heavens in his palm.

It’s useless to dwell on such matters. His realm is his own, and he loves it dearly—even if he does miss the brighter, sweeter fruits of mortal soils. Throughout all his wanderings in the underworld, he has seen many a beautiful thing. Terrible and dangerous it may be, but he appreciates it all nonetheless. The Lethe is a slow, deep-bottomed river that welcomes weary souls into her embrace. The Moirai spin their golden thread, meting out the span of a single life. The bright hope on a young hero’s face as he walks from the shores of Elysium back to the mortal realms. All these strange and wonderful things, and there’s no one to share it with.

He’s lonely, he realizes. He has his servants and his retainers, but he can never open himself up to them as honestly as he longs to. They’re bound to his service, but they shouldn’t suffer through his loneliness as well. Both of his brothers had found consorts long ago, but he remains alone. There’s no one to hold vigil with him amongst the mists and shadows. It’s never bothered him until this moment—the lack of a companion.

He’d felt the absence of it keenly, as if far above his head, someone walked the earth, their steps reverberating down to rumble in his bones. It was like a memory of sunlight on his skin, something he knew once but had forgotten to miss. He had only remembered when he felt the longing tug at his skin, an itching to return to the mortal realms and search for—something. He didn’t quite know what.

He enters a wooded glen and pauses to admire the trees unfurling at the approach of the new day. Their branches are full of new blossom, and the scent of green and growing things is almost intoxicating after centuries of funeral oils and dust. The sound of a burbling stream in the distance—he ventures deeper in search of the source. It’s still early in the season, but the day is hot on his neck. Apollo’s baleful eye. He sighs. Has his brother set all his children to watching his every movement?

In the glen, the animals scatter before him, trained by generations of instinct to flee death when it approaches. But the young flowers don’t balk, too engrossed in the sun and earth to notice his passing. He should plant a garden, he thinks. His realm’s soils are rich and arable—miles of uncultivated land waiting for him. He’s always enjoyed the vaguely sweet scent of the asphodel fields in bloom, but that is the only flowering thing in the underworld.

The trees give way to a meadow—no, a garden. It’s easy to mistake this for a wild place upon first look. The plants flourish freely, but here and there, he sees the hints of a guiding hand. He leans over to admire a rose bush, its flowers fat and sun-drunk. The larkspurs hold their pale heads high. And at the center of the garden is a proud pomegranate tree sinking its roots deep. He walks closer to take a look. Its blossoms are such a bright red they turn orange in the sunlight, the petals so delicate he’s hesitant to touch them lest they crumple under his hand. He reaches forward and carefully pinches the base of a flower, pulls it free.

"Who are you?" a voice says behind him.

He turns to the source, and before he can think better of it, says, "Bucky."

Then he sees the other man and stops to catch his breath.

It’s obvious that the garden is this man’s domain. It’s not simply the sun-flushed skin, the fresh dirt smudging his hands, the almost adoring way the hyacinths turn their faces toward him. It’s the power positively radiating from him, the easy confidence of a god well within the confines of his own territory. He doesn’t recognize this one, however. So a minor deity or an extremely young one. Or perhaps both. But minor or not, this is no doubt another god, and so the lie will instantly be revealed for what it is.

His own aspect is wrapped around him like a cloak, deepening the shadows, chilling the air. It’s obvious to any other god that he isn’t some random mortal named Bucky but rather Hades, he who presides over the underworld.

The other man is arching his eyebrow. "Really? Well, I’m Steve."

A lie in return for one given. Bucky suppresses a wince. Normally, he wouldn’t worry about accidentally slighting a minor god, but his brother is looking for even the slightest excuses. Even the obscurest of gods’ grievance will be enough to bring the heavens’ wrath down upon Bucky’s head. And now, he won’t even know the name of the god responsible.

But then, the other god smiles and says, "It’s a pleasure to meet you—Bucky."

"And you," he returns cautiously, "Steve."

He understands the game they’re playing now. Don’t acknowledge the obvious, the truth. They’re simply two young mortal men, meeting for the first time in a garden. The maneuverings of the gods hold no stake here. He can do that.

The man settles back on his heels, the tension draining out of him like ice thaw. He regards Bucky with curiosity but nothing more malignant than that. And well, he’s beautiful. Evocative of bird song and green buds pushing above snow. There is the sun-gold skin and the ruffled hair. The flushed cheek. The curved mouth. Here in daylight, Steve steals the breath from his lungs just by looking at him.

"Your garden is beautiful," he says.

And Steve smiles, bright and happy. "Why thank you."

Bucky nods dumbly and realizes he’s still holding the pomegranate blossom. "Ahh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have—"

Steve reaches forward and takes the flower into his own hand. It uncurls, spreading its petals wide, the stamens straight and proud. And then, he tucks it into his own hair. The sun catches it at just the right angle, and the light filters through red to fall over his ear and the curve of his right cheek. His contentment is so tangible Bucky can almost feel it against his skin. It’s freshly turned topsoil, the curling of a root, an ewe nudging her lamb with her forehead. Steve is a creature of sunlight and outside places. He imagines what it would be like for that brightness to be stifled, to be hidden away in some dark cold place—Bucky shudders just thinking of it.

It isn’t hard to guess his aspect, and then Bucky recalls some vague announcement a millennia ago. The birth of Demeter’s child. He who presides over new life and growing things—Persephone. And now that Bucky knows his name, he understands how futile his fledgling attraction for this young god are. It’s not just that a god of new life would never look upon the god of the underworld with favor. Persephone is his mother’s son, and Demeter is a caring but prideful god. Fiercely protective of her own and suspicious of all that might threaten those under her care, and Bucky most certainly is a threat. And the final straw—Persephone is a child of Zeus.

He takes a step back. He shouldn’t linger here. Already Steve’s parents will have been alerted of Bucky intrusion on their child’s domain. No doubt they are rushing over here at this very moment, and their wrath will be truly terrible. Bucky is powerful, yes. But he’s far from the sources of his power, and here, greenery tangles underfoot for miles around and the great blue sky opens above him like a maw.

Bucky turns to leave. A hand on his wrist stops him. "Stay for a while," Steve says, that bright smile still on his face. The gold of his hair glints next to the red flower. The temptation to lean in and bury his nose next to the curve of his ear. But he doesn’t. Steve is not his to have and hold, but someone to be admired from a distance. Forbidden.

"Come," Steve’s saying, "Stay with me."

He looks up at Bucky through long, pale lashes and keeps smiling that little smile of his. Clever fingers play along his wrist, and the strength of them is surprising. He really shouldn’t, Bucky thinks. And then, Steve tilts his head just so, his bangs falling across his forehead and into his eyes, the pomegranate blossom slipping down to rest against his ear.

So Bucky stays.

 


 

The sun is dipping close to the horizon by the time Bucky notices the passing hours. How quickly they’ve gone. Steve had taken him all throughout the garden, showing him every blossoming thing. He’d plucked flowers here and there as he went, and now, as they lie together in the shade of the pomegranate tree, he weaves their stems into a garland. Bucky watches idly. Here, Steve twines in the spreading lavender flowers of Minthe, and then, the white poplar’s distinctive red-stained petals next to the narrow white blooms of the asphodel. Lastly, Steve untangles the pomegranate blossom from his own hair and twists it onto the end.

"Here," he says, then drapes the garland on Bucky’s shoulders.

"Thank you."

Steve shows him that entrancing smile of his again, and Bucky can only helplessly smile back. It’s what’s kept him here all afternoon. Every time the beginnings of doubt creep in, or he feels the need to return home, that smile appears and he can do nothing but stay. He dips his head down, inhales the sweet scent of the garland.

The high call of a screech owl breaks the silence as the bird wings down and snatches a mouse from the tall grasses. It swoops away, its prey in its clutches. It calls again, and the swallows settling down to roost for the night chatter nervously. Bucky smiles fondly at the lone hunter. As all gods are, he’s fond of his sacred animal, and he always enjoys the opportunity to witness one of his own in flight. He’s rarely in the mortal realms long enough to watch their hunts in the twilight hours before night.

His smile fades. The red sky is giving way to the blues and indigos of evening as Hekate takes hold of the sky. She is the daughter of Nyx, a being older than all of them, older than the Titans themselves. And so she cares little for the petty squabbles of the Olympians. Nevertheless, Apollo will soon leave his post and go to his father’s side to inform him of Bucky’s location. He can’t afford to linger any longer.

"I must leave," Bucky says, standing.

Steve blinks up at him from where he’s braiding long blades of grass into a plait. "Already?" The disappointment in his voice is a keen point that drives into Bucky’s chest.

"Yes."

"Why don’t you stay the night?" Steve says, setting aside the plait. The smile is quick to return to his mouth. "Please?"

Bucky takes a step back, conscious of the sun sitting just above the horizon. "I really shouldn’t."

"It’s already getting late, and I know it’s a long journey back to the underworld."

It’s the first time either of them have acknowledged the truth. They are not Bucky and Steve, two young men enjoying each other’s company. They are Hades and Persephone, two gods of diametrically opposite aspects. No matter how much Bucky wants—he can’t.

"Yes, but the pathways are shorter in the dark."

"It’s not a journey you should make alone," Steve insists.

"I always have."

"At least wait till morning. My gardens will shield you from unfriendly eyes."

That gives Bucky pause. "Have you been hiding my presence this whole time?"

Steve blinks up at him. "Why yes. Did you think my father would let you linger so long?"

"It’s your mother I’m worried about."

"And she is busy planting this year’s wheat fields. She will not look for me yet."

Bucky sighs and rubs a hand over his eyes. It’s a tempting prospect. Steve is radiant and warm and everything Bucky misses about the mortal realm. He is life personified. Bucky can’t deny that he wants.

But his rational mind speaks louder than the growing longing for Steve. He can’t hide in these lush gardens forever, no matter how much he wishes it. Eventually, Demeter will visit her child and discover him here. More importantly, Bucky has his responsibilities and obligations to his own realm. He can’t abandon it for a dalliance with a god still growing into his abilities, beautiful as he may be.

"My place isn’t here," Bucky says, gently unwrapping Steve’s fingers from his wrist. "I will always be but a visitor in this world. Even now, my realm calls me home."

He can feel the tugging in the core of his being. The movements of the Erinyes and the Moirai as they go about their duties. The few brave souls who dare to make their suit are waiting for him in his court. It was not their time! They left too early—please, just one more hour! He rarely accepts their pleas and bargains, but he listens to them all personally and judges them. He prides himself for always giving them a fair hearing.

Bucky steps back and away, memorizing Steve’s features before he turns around. The catch of light on the bridge of his nose, the bow of his lips, the wide-eyed disbelief on his face. It will likely be a good few millennia before he returns to the mortal realms again. He begins to make his way out of the garden, a strange lightness to his step. He may never have this again, but just a small taste of it was enough. The sweet-faced, sweet-mannered man. It will linger in his memory long after their parting.

Behind him, a faintly trembling voice: "You can’t leave." A hand grabs hold of his wrist once more, and Steve steps in front of him with a determined look on his face. Before Bucky can speak, a mouth presses against his, slow and deliberate. The scent of freshly turned soil and sweat washes over him, and he can only helplessly lean into it. Steve’s hand curls onto his shoulder, the other on the back of his neck, and they’re walking deeper into the garden until Bucky’s back is pressed into the bark of a tree.

"Don’t leave," Steve murmurs into his mouth.

"I have to," Bucky says.

Steve pulls back and gazes at him for a long moment. That bright levity that’s been in him the whole afternoon has disappeared without a trace. This is a more sober, more perceptive man than Bucky originally thought he was. And he realizes that at the start of it all, Steve had asked who he was when he already should’ve known. Bucky’s is the disquieting aura of one touched by thousands of passing souls. A sensation of the deepest recesses of the earth. Even mortals, blind as they are, shy away from him out of some hidden deep-rooted terror. It’s obvious who he is even when his back is turned.

A loud crack rings through the air, and for an instant, Bucky thinks it’s the earth rumbling underneath him in response to his roiling emotions. Then something coils around his wrist and his torso, ensnaring, entangling. It pulls him back, and his legs are sinking into the trunk of the pomegranate tree, the branches twining around his arms. He wrenches forward, but this is Steve’s domain, and Bucky’s all but cut off from the sources of his own power. The tree shudders as it settles back into the ground.

Steve leans closer to inspect his handiwork, trailing a finger up the bark curving around Bucky’s chest. The garland is still draped over his shoulders, and Steve plucks the pomegranate blossom from the end, tucks it into Bucky’s hair. "Sir Hades, why don’t you stay a while," he whispers and presses another light kiss against the corner of Bucky’s mouth.

 


 

He roars until the earth shudders and cracks underneath him. Around him, the garden tears itself apart. The dirt writhes, uprooting and shredding every scrap of greenery in the glen. He can hear the screaming of birds as they flee the trees as one. The earth tries to rip at the roots of the pomegranate tree, but it alone stands staunch and tall against the onslaught. Bucky pulls at his bindings, but they’re unmoved, and he slumps forward, exhausted.

Steve still stands before him. A frown crinkles his brow, but other than that, he seems unruffled by the complete destruction of his garden. He tilts his head and says, "Are you finished?"

Bucky growls, but the earth doesn’t respond when he tries to draw on it again. In his rage, he’d drained all of his reserves of power, leaving him well and truly at Steve’s mercy. It’s an alarming prospect.

"What is this?" he snarls. "Your father’s scheme? If you think you can trap me here, so he can come to—" Bucky trails off when he hears Steve laughing.

"My father? You’re not as clever as I thought you’d be."

He blinks. It can’t be Demeter. She holds no vendetta against him, and she would never consider exacting revenge now. Demeter wouldn’t abandon these vital weeks of planting this year’s harvest. So another force is at play here—or Steve is acting alone.

"What quarrel could you possibly have with me?" Bucky asks, bewildered. "I have done you no harm. I’ve never laid eyes on you before today."

"You’re not very observant," Steve says. "I have no quarrel with you."

Bucky arches an eyebrow and nods his head down at his bound torso. "I find that difficult to believe."

Steve just smiles and settles on the ground, his knees folded neatly underneath him. No grass to cushion him. A puff of dust eddies around his body. He picks up an uprooted lily and strokes the torn petals. For a moment, Bucky allows himself to feel regret for destroying the garden. It truly had been beautiful. Then Steve glances to him with a wry smile and presses a finger to the earth. A small sprig of greenery forms under his touch, growing and unfurling until another lily proudly opens its petals.

At the sight of Bucky’s incredulity, Steve simply tilts his head and says, "You’re not the first irritable god to wreck my garden."

He frowns. "You make a habit of capturing other gods?"

"No," Steve says and tugs a rose bush into being. "Just you."

"But you hold no grudges against me."

"None."

"Then what could you possibly want from me?"

Steve stops what he’s doing and turns to Bucky with an amused cant to his mouth. "What could I possibly want from an attractive and powerful god like you? Even the greatest minds must wonder still."

Bucky groans and lets his head thud against the trunk of the pomegranate tree. "You really shouldn’t follow my brother’s example in this. Your idea of courtship is very misguided. Violently so."

"It could be worse. I could’ve swooped in and plucked you right from your own home, then spirited you off to my domain."

Bucky arches an eyebrow. "You’re not nearly powerful enough to do that."

Steve snorts and lets out an amused huff. "You’re right. I really couldn’t." A narcissus springs to life under his hand.

Now that this situation is revealing itself to be more of an amorous misadventure than one of his brother’s machinations, Bucky begins to relax. It really could be much worse. Gods aren’t exactly known for resolving disputes sensibly. He’s heard of some truly horrifying punishments for indiscretions—has had to mete out a number of them himself.

And considering the courtship methods his own brother has employed in the past, getting tied up by a pomegranate tree is almost pleasant. He’d rather not endure the showers of gold, the transformations into swans and bulls, or the swallowing whole of pregnant women. Bucky shudders.

Steve busies himself with a hyacinth shrub, drawing its buds out with quick flicks of his hand. Bucky watches as the garden slowly comes to life around them. Disastrous courtships aside, it’s truly wondrous seeing this god at work. His attentiveness, his devotion, his clever fingers coaxing the tightly furled flowers to reveal themselves to him. There’s an intensity to him that had been hidden before, veiled from Bucky’s eyes as if Steve had been afraid that it would blunt any growing affections.

He shakes those thoughts from his head. "As flattering as the attention is, there’s very little I can offer you that you’d want. I have wealth aplenty, but I doubt gold or precious stones hold any allure to you. Not when you have—" he casts his eyes over the light-drenched garden, the flowers more vibrant than any jewel, "and I live in a dark and cold place. I have not seen the sun in millennia before coming here. You would be truly miserable at my side."

Steve’s hands slow to a stop as he casts a look at Bucky. "But you would be happy at mine," he says.

He blinks. "What?"

"I’ve said nothing about accompanying you back to the underworld. And I see no reason why I would need to when you so obviously adore this world. Why not stay? Why not remain here beside me?"

Bucky scowls. "I have duties and responsibilities that I must uphold. I can’t simply abandon them because I like the mortal world. What future can you possibly envision for us if I refuse to stay and you refuse to go?"

"One of compromise," Steve says.

"And perhaps it might work. Perhaps. But you have your parents to think about. I could maybe convince my brother to accept my suit if I grovel, but your mother would never abide this. She would sooner let all life in the mortal realms wither and die than let me have you."

"I’m neither beholden to my mother nor my father," Steve says, his jaw setting stubbornly. "This is my choice alone to make, and I’ve made it. I simply need your answer."

"My answer is no then. One of us should be considering the consequences."

Steve stares him down, his head high, his back straight. "You’ll stay regardless. I left my parents’ guardianship long ago, as will soon become apparent to you. And you’re sorely mistaken if you think that the underworld will collapse entirely in its master’s absence. It has grown too fond of functioning to simply stop now."

"So I stay here against my wishes."

"A guest," Steve replies, "unwilling as you may be."

 


 

Bucky learns that within the sheltering shade of Steve’s garden, he truly is hidden from the eyes of all who might look for him. He can feel them searching for him—his own subjects, the waiting souls, the gods on their mount. He appeared one day in the mortal realms and promptly disappeared, no sign of him within the underworld nor the heavens. Even Hekate’s eyes can’t reach him, and she is a being of night and obscuring magics. Of all the gods, she would be the one to pierce through the illusions hiding him from the world.

And she would look for him, he knows. They are of twin aspects, she and him. She watches over the souls lingering on earth, and he presides over those who moved on to the underworld. Sometimes she would wrap him in a cloak of confounding magics, and together they would roam the earth. They would take on false names and mortal shells, both of which Bucky is using even now. She’d shown him many wondrous sights—the grand temples, the festivals, the cities bursting with life. Hekate would turn to him, and she would be Natasha then, and she’d say, "Look at this. Have you ever seen anything like it?" And he hadn’t. Neither of them had. The earth before mortal men walked it was less volatile, less unpredictable, but so much less interesting for it.

She’s been looking for him for months, and she still hasn’t found him. To beings as old as they are, a month means little. Barely the flick of a wrist, the batting of an eyelid. But the scope of her vision is so broad and detailed, she should have sighted him inside a week. That she hasn’t by now means that she likely never will—not until the veils hanging over this garden come tumbling down.

It says many things about Steve. More than Bucky had learned of him in the hours of that first afternoon. Steve is not a powerful god. His sphere is too small to be any match for those who rule over dozens, hundreds of phenomena. And yet, he’s managed to ensnare Hades himself, one of the most powerful of them all. It tells Bucky that Steve is clever. Careful, perceptive, and frighteningly adept at leveraging what little power he has. It’s enthralling as it is daunting, but that only seems to draw Bucky in further.

He’d been right where Bucky had been so sure he’d be wrong. Even though Bucky’s realm calls for him and reaches out for him still, no harm has come to it. His servants have carried out their duties without him. The souls are greeted and sorted, the wicked punished, the heroes offered the chance to start anew. The underworld quietly awaits his return, but it continues on without his guidance. It’s simultaneously a sobering and freeing realization.

Steve truly isn’t the giddy young thing who whiles away his days picking flowers and making garlands. He’d been setting a trap. A beautiful garden to draw a sun-starved god into its fold, an enchanted tree, and Steve himself, the honeyed bait at the center of it all. One doesn’t capture a god like Hades lightly. It’s an undertaking that would take months of preparation.

"Why?" he asks one day.

Steve looks up from where he’s plying Bucky with sweet fruits and wine, the finest cuts of freshly hunted game. He holds a grape in his fingers, hovering just over Bucky’s mouth, silently offering to feed him while his own hands are unable to. Despite it all, Steve is a remarkably good host.

"We’re quite well-suited to each other, don’t you think? Steve replies after some thought.

"We really aren’t," Bucky says. "We oppose each other by our very nature."

"Do we really?" Steve cocks his head. "Have you truly thought of it? We mirror each other. You are of death, and I am of new life. I welcome a mortal life into this world, and you are the one who ushers it out."

Bucky stops to consider as he often does in conversations with Steve. He doesn’t know how he ever thought the bright but flighty youth of the first day was who he truly was. In truth, Steve’s is a methodical mind. Quick like a bird in flight but attentive to the smallest detail. His insights are startling in their simple brilliance, cutting complexities down to the root. He’s certainly never felt idle in Steve’s presence. He always feels like he’s reevaluating the truth of some long-held assumption or another during these talks.

And Steve is right. They do parallel each other in their own strange way. Forever dancing around each other at arm’s length, the span of a mortal’s life between them. It’s no wonder Steve eventually took notice of him. Bucky has always followed where he walked, picking up the souls that Steve brought into being. Steve is the first to greet a mortal, and Bucky is the last.

"You knew me. Long before we first met, you knew me," Bucky says and pauses. "And I knew you."

Steve nods, toying with a pomegranate hanging low in front of him. Bucky’s been here long enough for the flowers to plumpen into round fruit, ripe almost to the point of bursting. "I first saw your influence during lambing season. There was one young ewe. It was her first labor, a difficult one. I eased her fears and her toiling as much as I could, but there are some things even we gods can’t change." Bucky nods. He knows this truth well. "The lamb was born still and silent, and his mother had exhausted herself to the point of death. I could feel their souls clinging on, their suffering, and I could do nothing to ease them."

Steve’s gaze has gone distant as he remembers, his hand clenching and then relaxing. "And then, I felt you," he continues. "You guided both of them out of their bodies, so that they may pass on peacefully. They died in violence and pain, but yours was a gentle presence. You helped them as I could not."

And Bucky does know Steve. He’s never known him in the way he does now, but he remembers a moment many millennia ago, when he’d touched a soul and felt another’s presence on it—that must’ve been the moment when Steve came into being. He only touches a mortal once, but it lingers with them over the whole span of their lifetime until they meet Bucky, and he draws the breath from their body. Every time, he feels the warmth of Steve’s influence flood through him.

It’s what drew him to the mortal realms in the first place. He’d felt that presence flare like a beacon, and he’d followed it up the grey pathways of his realm until he was standing in sunlight. The longing had struck him like a physical blow when the first fresh breeze touched his skin, and he realized how much he missed it.

“How many centuries have we known each other without knowing it?” Steve murmurs, holding Bucky’s gaze. The intensity of it sends shivers down his spine.

“Longer than I care to remember,” he replies, his voice hoarse. “You’ve always been there, haven’t you? Since the moment you entered the world, I was reaching out to you.”

“And I you.”

Steve’s looking at him with a contemplative expression on his face. He steps closer and reaches above Bucky’s head to tug a pomegranate from its branch. For a moment, Steve stares at it thoughtfully before murmuring, "They say that the foods of a realm tie you to it. It grounds you, binds you close, makes you its own." He splits the pomegranate in two, juice spurting out over his fingers.

"It’s why I will always be of Hades," Bucky says.

"Yes, but—" he trails off and plucks a pomegranate seed from the pith, holds it up so that it glows like a red jewel in the sun. "You miss this world. I know you do."

Bucky closes his eyes. Steve speaks the truth, but he realizes now that it won’t be the only thing he’ll miss. He feels a loosening, a rumbling in his very bones, and when he opens his eyes again, he’s free. The trunk of the pomegranate tree is a smooth mass behind him.

"Why don’t you stay a while," Steve says, holding out half of the pomegranate in silent offering.

Bucky accepts it and cradles it in his hands. The seeds wink brilliantly in the midday sun. He looks at the man standing in front of him, and how Bucky’s first impression of him pales in comparison to this relentless dazzling person. Someone who truly could ensnare a god. He draws a seed out and eats it, savoring the tartness of it on his tongue. Another soon follows and another until he’s eaten six in total. His feet feel more firmly rooted to the earth, he can feel the warm air in his lungs. Steve kisses him gently, and Bucky can feel the smile against his lips, slow and joyful.

"Welcome home, my dear Hades."

"Thank you, Persephone.”