He was stuck at home again. Again. His foster family had taken their actual kids to the park to watch the fireworks – it was the fourth of July and they had the whole thing planned for ages. There was going to be a cook-out. The whole town was going to be there.
“I’m sure Steve doesn’t mean to ruin our party!” Mrs Harper cooed, while the human equivalent of Dudley Dursley threw a fit. Steve had been hacking up a lung all night, blood on the cloth he’d been hiding from the Harpers and he had a terrible, horrible feeling that the swelling feeling in his legs wasn’t… good. But he’d been sick so often that the family had been having ‘talks’ about him with his social worker. They thought he was faking it for attention. They didn’t believe in allergies, they thought that the best way to overcome those was to muscle through it. His asthma was psychosomatic, they told him. His scoliosis was because he didn’t exercise enough. So Steve had been hospitalised four times in the last 5 months with various issues, and he knew that he was going to be put with another family soon. He hoped he’d be put with another family soon.
“I don’t want to ruin your party.” Steve managed. “You can go without me.” Talking hurt, he could taste the blood on his tongue, metallic and a worrying reminder that he was probably sicker than he thought.
“He’ll touch my stuff!”
“I promise I’ll stay in bed.” Steve sighed.
So Steve had been left at home while the Harpers piled into the car and drove off to go to the big firework display. Steve liked fireworks, his mom had told him that they were all for him – once. When he was younger and she’d been a constant in his life, the kind of thing that you take for granted until its gone.
He listened to the car pull out of the drive, the crunch of gravel and the spread of the headlights over the ceiling of the room he used to share with Gabe before the family sent him away to live with a ‘more appropriate’ foster home. He lay still for a long time, just listening. He didn’t feel right. Not at all – and he’d been sick a lot. A lot, but he’d never felt like this – this hopelessness, so alone. He felt… he felt like he was dying.
It took him a long time to pull on his clothes and get out of the house. He knew where he wanted to go, but it was so hard to move. His heart with thumping in his ears with every step and Steve couldn’t quite catch his breath, but he… he knew. He knew where he had to go.
The bus was quiet, and gave him enough time to collect his thoughts. He’d left his stuff at the Harpers house. They’d call the cops when they got back and found him gone, but he knew by then it wouldn’t matter. By then…
The train was packed, the exact opposite of the bus, and Steve had to stand part of the way there before a couple of rowdy teenagers offered him a seat by them.
“You okay, man?” One asked, and Steve could only nod. His legs were on fire, his lungs were burning. “Yeah? You look like death, dude.”
“M’ fine.” He managed, and he was sure there was blood on his teeth.
It took him a long, long time to get to the cemetery. He fell a couple of times, knees scraping along the tarmac and ripping into his denim jeans. They weren’t his, none of his stuff was really his. They belonged to boys who came before him, and they’d go to boys who came after him, and Steve just wished he’d had something he could call… his. It wouldn’t matter, it didn’t make a difference, but… he still wanted it.
The grave where Sarah Rogers was buried didn’t have flowers. Steve hadn’t been allowed to visit by the Harpers. They thought it was maudlin that he’d even want to – she was gone, and he didn’t need to be reminded. Fireworks were going off in the sky and Steve smiled at the stone, running his blue fingers over the smooth stone.
“Hi mom.” He whispered, and sat down on the damp grass. He couldn’t feel the cold, but he could feel the wetness seep through his torn jeans. “It’s July 4th and there are fireworks.” He added, before his eyes drifted shut.
“Hey, kid.” A voice said, sounding amused. “You can’t sleep here.”
Steve opened his eyes. He felt like he’d been sleeping for a long time, but there were still fireworks blazing overhead – huge blooms in all the colours his eyes could make out. There was a man standing over him, tall, broad – but Steve wasn’t scared, despite knowing he might be in danger from this stranger. “Move, kid.”
“It’s my mom.” Steve said, and… his voice was hardly even a whisper, he could hardly even breathe, and he was warm. Warm like his mom was wrapping her arms around him and kissing him on the head and Steve’s eyes drifted shut again.
“Kid, this aint a place for you tonight.”
“It’s my birthday.”
“I know.” The man said, sounding… amused. “That’s why this aint the place for you. Come back tomorrow. Come back in a week. But you can’t stay here tonight.”
“I wanted to be with my mom.” Steve mumbled. “I didn’t want to die without my mom.”
“Steven Grant Rogers, you really can’t be here.” The man was saying, but he sounded so far away, and Steve could still see the starbursts of fireworks behind his eyelids.
“I’d give anything not to be like this.” Steve mumbled, and he heard the man’s sharp intake of breath.
“Anything?” He asked, sounding both hungry and worried. Not that it mattered. Steve could feel his heart skipping beats in his chest, and his lungs were seizing up.
“Anything.” He agreed… before…
“My name is Buchanan, and I really wish you hadn’t said that.”
Steve woke up.
Which was pretty much the exact opposite of what he had expected to happen. The fact that he woke up in the Harpers house, warm and tucked up in the bed of their sparsely decorated spare room, was even more surprising. The fact that there was a man standing in the middle of the room, looking around him with a grimace – well that was just… weird.
“What-” He started to say, but was thrown by just how easy it was to talk. To breath. To sit up and look around. He’d never – not once – felt... okay. Better than okay. He felt like… like everything was easy. Moving was easy, breathing was easy.
“So, I’ve gotta explain a few things.” The man said, before sitting on the bed that had belonged to Gabe. “You were kinda out of it earlier.”
“Uh, okay?” Steve said. He wanted to ask a million things, why he was here, why he was alive, why this man knew his name, or why he’d known where Steve lived – but every time he tried to open his mouth, the words wouldn’t come out.
“Yeah, I don’t want to have to answer a million stupid questions that you won’t need to ask if you just listen.” The man said. He was tall, and broad, with dark hair that was tied back into a simple tie at the back of his head. He was wearing a black leather jacket and black jeans, with biker boots. “You won’t be able to talk till I’m finished,” He added, waving his hand over Steve, who found his mouth closing without his permission. He glared.
“Yeah, whatever, kid.” The man said, looking amused at Steve’s hard expression. “I’m Buchanan.” He said, with an unimpressed wave over his body. “The Demon of Deals.” A pause. “Formerly a crossroads demon, but man, they had a re-shuffle with the whole… modern times thing… and yeah, whatever. Deals. I make deals.”
Steve still couldn’t talk, so he nodded. It didn’t make sense, but… it kinda… did?
“Awesome. Right, so – deals are funny things, you know? You gotta hit all these… prerequisites… before even get a chance. It’s about as fair as we get, you know? Anyways… let me tell ya, it’s hard to get someone these days. People just don’t seem to get it anymore.” He paused. “I’m getting off point.” He said, pulling himself into a more comfortable position on the bed opposite Steve. His boots were muddy, but they didn’t leave any mark on the bedspread. “Right, so – tonight, you kinda hit all the goals. Virgin, blood, graveyard, birthday… bones of a loved one.” Another pause. “I mean… it’s kinda hard for a reason, you know? You aint supposed to just stumble into a fucking deal.” He glared at Steve. “Man, I told you to leave. I’m not even supposed to do that, but I did.” Another pause. “Anyway… you made a deal. You were kinda out of it, I just had to go with what I thought… people want, you know? It’s been a long time since I was a person.” He looked around the room. “I think you’ve got less stuff than I did. And I was dirt poor man. Like… dirt probably had more going for it than I did. Whatever, the deal. The deal,” He said, clearing his throat, “Goes like this. You get healthy, like, really awesomely healthy. You’re never gonna get sick again, you’ll heal up faster than ever – you’ll be strong and fast and all the things you… aint. You’ll get 10 years.” He looked around the room, eyes flicker over the bare walls and the dresser that Steve knew only contained a couple of shirts and another pair of jeans. “But man, you’re gonna be judged. Like… really fucking judged when those 10 years are up.”
Steve nodded. It was all he could do, his mouth was still firmly closed.
“Now, normal folks, they don’t get judged. I mean, most of em just slide right under the radar as long as they aint fucking terrible. A lot of things just don’t stick, you know? If they ain’t murdering or raping or shit like that, they get a pass – end up where they oughta at the end of it all. You don’t got that option no more. Everything you do, everything you say – you’ll be on record. On trial. You’re gonna be judged by a jury who’ll be more than happy to let you burn for all eternity, for the slightest thing.” He looked at his hands like he expected to see something other than pale skin. “It’s blood on your hands, Steve, and it’s impossible to wash it off.” He looked at Steve, and got to his feet. “You’re damned.” He said, holding out his hand for Steve to shake. “Do we have a deal?”
Steve woke up again, with the morning sun drifting through the thin drapes and lighting up the small room with a golden glow. He could almost think that the night before was a dream, a weird, sickness induced dream, if he didn’t notice the way he could breathe.
Gingerly, he sat up, not quite expecting the heaviness of illness to have left him – but when he swung his legs out of the warmth of the covers, it wasn’t accompanied by a twinge of pain. When he got to his feet, it wasn’t to the crackle and pop of his toes, ankles and knees. He took a deep breath. He took another.
Later, when the social worker came to take him to his new home, he was pretty sure he saw Buchanan standing at the window of his room. His old room. He was pretty sure he waved.
Steve started a new school when he moved in with Mr ‘call me Phil’ Coulson and his wife ‘Melinda is fine’. They had a larger house that had once been filled with other kids, but now it was just Steve. The others had gone off to college. “You’ll meet them though, at holidays.” Phil said, showing Steve the framed pictures. “Skye is at MIT.” He said, “And Gemma and Leo went to Oxford in England.” He paused. “It’s been a long time since we’ve had someone your age here, but I hope you’ll be happy.”
Steve nodded. They’d been filled in with all of his allergies, his medical issues – everything. In the fridge they had soya milk and everything was clearly labelled ‘safe for Steve’. His room was painted a cheerful blue with red and white trims and the bedding looked new – just out of the packet. “We’ll take you to the mall tomorrow, once you’ve got settled in, and get you some new clothes for school.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Please, call me Phil,” Mr Coulson said. “We’re really excited to have you come stay with us, Steve.”
“You landed on your feet, huh?” A young teenager said, appearing out of nowhere while Steve stood out of the way and let Mrs Coulson pay for the frankly shocking amount of clothes they thought he needed. Steve spun around, ready to defend himself, but stopped short when he looked at the teen. He was a little taller than Steve, with long dark hair pulled into a tie at the back of his head. He wore a black hoodie with a big red star on the front, and black jeans. There was mud on his boots that didn’t seem to leave any traces on the hardwood floor of the store.
“Buchanan?” He whispered, pretty sure he couldn’t be looking at the man… demon… he’d met 24 hours before. He was young. Young like Steve – and other people could see him too, going on the way they jostled into him as he stood in the busy store beside Steve.
“Man, I don’t even remember being this young.” Buchanan said, brushing his hands down his sides. “I don’t think I suit it.”
“What… how?” Steve stammered, looking over at his new foster parents, who were chatting to the server with big smiles, not seemingly aware that Steve was talking to a demon.
“It’s not even complicated.” The Demon who looked like a teenager was saying, with a shrug. “I just… I’m keeping an eye out, is all.”
“Steven,” Phil said, suddenly standing on Steve’s left and making him jump a little. Before, it would have set his heart thumping dangerously in his chest, but now… he just jerked in shock before settling down. “Are you okay?”
“Uh, yeah.” Steve managed, looking at Buchanan quickly. “Uh, this is Bu- uh – Bucky.”
“I go to Middletown High.”
“Steve starts there on Monday,” Phil said, sounding… well, just thrilled. “He’s transferring from Lowerville.”
“Yeah?” The demon said, grinning hugely. “That’s just swell. He can sit with me at lunch, if he likes.”
Phil and Melinda talked all the way home about asking ‘Bucky’ over for dinner one night, if Steve liked. They were so happy that Steve had met someone from his new school already, and all Steve could think was how disappointed they were going to be when it turned out Steve hadn’t made a new friend at all.
He shouldn’t have worried. The first day at his new school, he had gym. His new sneakers were apparently ‘cool’ and his new found ability to run for a mile without stopping for breath meant that he wasn’t picked on at all. In fact, the gym teacher asked him if he wanted to try out for the track team. He totally did. He sat on his own for lunch, packed by Melinda and containing nothing that had even touched a nut, milk or wheat, until a dark shadow fell over his tray. “Just so you know, school has really changed from back in my time.” Buchanan said. He was wearing the same hoodie as he had been at the mall, as he pushed his tray of food onto the table opposite Steve. “I’m really pleased you aint got the cane no more.” He said, sitting down and grinning. “Cause man, that sucked.”
“Can you be here?” Steve hissed, looking around. No one seemed to find it weird that Steve was now eating with… well… a demon. He didn’t look like a demon. He looked like a popular kid. The kind who always had a girlfriend – good looking. Steve had been trying really hard not to notice that he was good looking. Steve wasn’t quite ready to think about that yet, he didn’t need a sexual awakening on his first day at a new school. He already expected to be bullied for being a short, skinny foster kid – never mind a short, skinny, gay foster kid.
“Man, no one even thinks twice about me. They think they know me, you know? Like a part of their brain just… accepts me. They think we have classes, they think they invited me to their 5th birthday party.” He shrugged. “Side effect of being me.”
Steve was going to say something, but suddenly another person was sitting beside Buchanan.
“Sup, Bucky?” He said. He was blond, with short spiky hair that stuck up in all directions, and a purple t-shirt that said ‘This is a formal shirt’ in cursive script. Steve thought he might have been in a couple of his classes. “This the new kid?”
“Yup.” Buchanan (Bucky?) said, popping the ‘p’ obnoxiously.
“Right.” The blond nodded. “We’ve got gym and Spanish together.” He said, holding out a fist to Steve, who only floundered for a few moments before knocking his own against it. “Clint Barton.”
Two weeks later, Steve gained 5lbs and grew 2 inches. He was no longer the shortest kid in his class.
A week after that, Steve got into a fight.
“What the ever-loving fuck were you thinking?” Bucky was screaming at him. The nurse didn’t seem to hear him as she patched up Steve’s busted knuckles. “Did you not fucking hear me tell you about the judging? Was that a thing you just forgot?” he yelled. The Nurse, who seemed to be aware of Bucky but not at the same time, tisked as Steve flinched. Her words were lost under Bucky’s hollering. “I mean, I get that you used to be half deaf, but you don’t got that excuse no more, you fucking moron. Oh my god, Steve, I could actually kill you myself.” He roared. “Judging. Are you listening now? You will burn in hell for all eternity, and you’re getting into fights?” He managed to raise his voice even higher. “Fights?”
“He was picking on Peter.” Steve said, defensively. “I’m not going to let him pick on Peter.”
“Everyone picks on Peter!” Bucky roared. “Stay out of it!”
“I don’t like bullies.”
“You’ll like hell less.” Bucky hissed, before vanishing into thin air. The nurse didn’t even blink, just patted Steve’s hand gently.
“That Bucky’s a sweet boy.” She said distantly, before snapping out of whatever aura Bucky projected disappeared. “Your foster mom is coming to take you home.” She told him.
Steve didn’t get expelled from school, although he did get detention for a month. Melinda didn’t seem too fussed by him fighting at all, just calmly asked him what had happened.
“Brock Rumlow was picking on Peter Parker.” He explained on the car ride home. “I couldn’t just let him… you know? But then Brock started on me, and…” He looked down at his scuffed knuckles. They already looked less red and inflamed; the scabs looked older than a few hours.
“You need to learn how to defend yourself better.” She told him, once he’d shrugged again. “Getting into fights will simply result in more trips to the nurse unless you learn how to control yourself and your temper.”
Steve gained 10lbs and grew another 5 inches over the space of two months. He was the tallest boy in his year. He was recruited to the basketball team. Then the football team. He didn’t stop getting into fights with guys like Rumlow – and Bucky didn’t stop yelling at him for it.
“Sometimes, doing the right thing isn’t the best thing for you, Steve.” Bucky said, as Steve let him patch up a cut over his brow. Steve was trying really, really hard not to notice just how close Bucky was, how his hand felt cupping the back of his head to keep Steve still. They were at Steve house, Steve sitting on the closed lid of the toilet so that Bucky could clean the cut.
Steve had been at a party, a designated driver (despite none of them being old enough to drink) and had noticed Batroc, a quarterback on the football team, taking a very drunk cheerleader up the stairs. Steve had managed to give Bucky the slip, Bucky loved house parties – he loved the music and the booze and the dancing. He’d been grinding up against someone when Steve followed Batroc. He found them in one of the rooms, she was slumped against the wall as he kissed her, and Steve wasn’t about to just walk away.
“She was out of it.” He argued. He always argued with Bucky. It was like breathing. “You were there in class when we learned about consent.” He added.
“It was his girlfriend.” Bucky shot back.
“She wasn’t in a position to consent.”
“Dude, she smacked you in the face with a lamp.” Bucky shot back. “She was fine!”
Steve squared his (now pretty broad) shoulders and set his jaw. “I’d rather do the right thing and be wrong, than do nothing and be right.”
Bucky glared. “You know, the whole ‘suffering for all eternity’ really isn’t a metaphor.” He said, eyes flashing. Steve hated when Bucky got quiet and mad. Sometimes when he did, his eyes would change from a stunning navy to a jet black. He hated it because when that happened, all Steve wanted to do was kiss him. Kiss him so that he wouldn’t be mad anymore, so he’d stop looking at Steve like he was worried. He never did, because he knew that kissing Bucky would be the worst thing he could do.
When Steve graduated high school, he was captain of the football, debate and track teams. He was also 180lbs and just under 6 foot tall. Phil and Melinda looked so proud, and he was pretty sure Phil cried a little.
College was awesome. Steve worked two jobs – a weekend shift at a coffee shop and as a bouncer at a nightclub between 7pm and 2am every night. He didn’t need a lot of sleep, and his sheer size was enough to stop a lot of trouble before it started. Sure, he struggled with some of his classes, but his life was absolutely perfect. He shared an apartment with Sam Wilson, a guy he met his first day in the sign-ups for social studies, who was pretty much the epitome of laid back. He didn’t mind that Bucky was always at their place, wasn’t aware of the blazing rows when Steve would limp home with a fading black eye and scuffed knuckles.
Steve joined the college LGTBIA+ group and took part in marches. He joined the student council and got himself arrested three times in his first year (Bucky had gone apoplectic) for protesting at various sites. He got a reputation for stopping fights and sticking up for the little guy – and didn’t feel the slightest bit guilty for the rages he’d pull from Bucky.
He left college with a degree he really had no idea what to do with, a great credit rating thanks to his scholarships and two jobs (not to mention the fact that Bucky could go on for hours about the unnecessary cost of ‘luxury items’ and flipped out over throwing away ‘perfectly good food’ – it meant Steve made a lot of his own food from cheap cuts of meat and wasted nothing) and a small group of good friends.
He moved into his own place once he got a job working for Stark Industries. It paid well, and he only needed the one bedroom because Bucky didn’t sleep. He’d sit up and watch TV all night, and Steve didn’t think much about their domestic routine.
Steve was aware Bucky was being weird, but he ignored it.
“Your boss thinks you’re a fairy.” Bucky told him one day, when Steve was making dinner. Bucky didn’t need to eat, but he liked to try things sometimes, so Steve had gotten into the habit of making things Bucky said he liked ‘back when’. He was trying to make dumplings, which he wasn’t a fan of, but he knew Bucky liked them – when Bucky told him.
“You don’t say ‘fairy’ Steve pointed out. “It’s called gay.”
“Still.” Bucky shrugged. “He thinks I’m your shut-in.”
This wasn’t news to Steve. Most people thought Bucky was his boyfriend. It made it much easier to just left them think that than explain that no, actually, Bucky was just a demon who lived with him after Steve made a deal that put his immortal soul in danger. He wasn’t sure just how well that would go down. “I’ll tell him you’re not.” Steve said, ready to let the matter drop.
“Tell him you aint no fairy too.” Bucky told him, “He can’t be saying shit like that about you.”
Steve paused, just for a second, but long enough for Bucky’s eyes to flash dangerously. “I’ve never lied to anyone in my life.” Steve pointed out. “I’m not going to start now.” He expected Bucky to yell. He yelled at Steve a lot about stuff he thought would get Steve roasted for all eternity. Steve was used to the yelling.
“Oh, Steve.” Bucky said, voice quiet. So quiet. “Oh no, Steve, please.”
He wasn't there when Steve looked up.
He didn’t come back. Not even for Steve’s 25th birthday party.
The same day Steve turned 26 years old, he got hit by a car so hard he broke the windscreen.
“This is the judging.” A man told him. He was wearing a long black leather coat, and had an eye patch. Steve was sitting at a table, the man sitting across from him. The room looked like an interrogation room at a police station – Steve had seen a couple first hand. He was actually pretty sure he’d been in this one. There was a red-headed woman leaning against the far wall. “You’re being judged.”
“I, uh, I feel like it.” Steve said, nodding. Those eyes were certainly full of judgement.
“The actions of your life are being weighed against your deal with the demon Buchanan.” The man said. And Steve nodded, trying to smile even though he knew what the judgement would be.
“On July 4th, you made a deal with the Demon Buchanan.” The man said. “How do you plead?”
“He was unaware of the severity of the deal until after.” The woman said.
“It was explained to you in full within 12 hours, was it not?” The man asked him.
Steve nodded. “Uh, yes.”
“Your counter is invalid.”
“On October 23rd of the same year, you were involved in a fist fight. How do you plead?”
“I… uh, I don’t remember…” Steve said, and blinked as the mirror behind the man suddenly started to play like a movie – Peter Parker being thrown into a locker.
“Guilty.” Steve said, after a few moments.
“The boy Parker counted this moment as a turning point in his life.” The woman said. “He decided not to follow a self-destructive path that would have resulted in his suicide 2 weeks later.”
“Noted.” The man said, as Steve blinked.
“Silence.” The woman snapped.
“On November 2nd you got into another fight.” The man said. Behind him the screen started playing again.
“His actions were based on the belief that he was stopping an act of sexual violence.”
“Your sins have been weighed.” The man said. Steve wasn’t sure just how long he’d been sitting in the room. It felt like a very, very long time. Every aspect of his life had been picked in front of him. He saw fights he could have avoided, protests he could have skipped. Trouble he didn’t need to chase. But something was missing.
“What about Bucky?” He asked, before the man could get any further.
“The Demon Buchanan?”
“Yeah, what about… him?”
“You have nothing to weigh against the demon.” The man said, “You have been judged-”
“Yeah, but what about… you know?”
“No. We do not know.” The woman said. “If you keep information from the judging your soul is condemned to the pit for all eternity.” Her voice sounded a little amused. More amused that Steve would have expected, especially considering she was talking about his soul.
“I love him.” Steve said. He expected it to be hard to say. He expected he’d stumble on the words. But he’d just watched his whole life be picked apart and he had nothing left to be ashamed of.
“You do not love the demon Buchanan.” The woman told him.
“You do not get to tell me what I do and do not feel.” Steve shot back. “You weigh my soul and you add that in too.” He said. “You add in that sin too.”
“It is not a sin to love.” She said. “You have no past of fornication without consent.” She paused. “You have no record of fornication at all. Which is kinda sad.”
“Silence, both of you.” The man said, looking pissed as hell. “You have nothing to weigh against the demon. He has been out of your life for a year.”
“That doesn’t change a thing.” Steve said, glaring.
“You have been found worthy.” The man said, completely ignoring Steve and his glare. He had a good glare. “And you may take a soul to Heaven. I suggest you go now, before your mouth gets you into more trouble.”
“Take a soul?”
“Yeah.” The woman said. “Here.” She held out a white orb. It didn’t look anything like Steve thought a soul would look like, and he said as much. “It’s your soul. You can’t really see it, so your brain is trying to make sense of it.”
“Oh.” Steve managed, and then... “Wait. Does it have to be my soul?”
The man covered his face with his hands and let out a long, exasperated sigh. “Take the soul and go.” He said after a long, deep breath.
“You said A soul. Not my soul. I can take A soul to heaven.”
“I want to take Bucky’s.” Steve countered. “He looked after me for 10 years. I want to return the favour. I want to take Bucky to heaven.”
The orb in his hand was warm, and felt weird, like firm jelly. It was glowing. If he looked at it for too long, his head started to hurt.
“I don’t think anyone has ever done this before.” The woman said. She was walking him to heaven. Steve wasn’t exactly sure how long it would take. It looked like a regular corridor. In fact, it looked like the corridor to his apartment. “I mean, I’ve been doing this since forever, when judging was hard. New people every day. Not like now. You’re the first in ages. Fury thought he was retired.”
“Sorry.” Steve said. The orb was... light and heavy at the same time. It was difficult to hold, and he was being as gentle as he could.
“Don’t be. You’ve made my millennium.” Her smile was small, but genuine as far as Steve could tell. “Now we’ve just got to figure out what to do with you.”
“I don’t really care.” Steve shrugged.
She gave him a look. It was pointed, and sharp, and reminded Steve of knives. “You should.”
Heaven looked a lot like his apartment.
“Steve?” Bucky said, looking around at the apartment. There was a pile of dirty mugs in the sink, and a stack of plates on the counter. Things smelt bad. Steve really hadn’t been looking after things all that well without Bucky around. “What... whats going on?”
“I uh,” Steve floundered.
“He traded in his soul for yours.” The red-headed woman said, before walking out of the apartment. Bucky blinked. Then blinked again.
“How have you been?” Steve asked, feeling strangely light headed. He hadn’t felt like he needed to puke in 10 years and the sensation was messing with his head. “It’s been a while.”
“Wha... Steve... what did you do?”
“I got promoted.” Steve said, picking up the pile of plates that were sitting on the island where he’d been letting them pile up. “Stark loves me, I’m telling you. Hey, you remember Clint? From high school? He works for Stark too – it’s a small word, eh?” He filled the basin with hot water, adding just a splash of detergent. Bucky hated when Steve put too much in, called it a waste. “And Sam got a great job through in DC, man, he’s so happy. He met a nice girl too – she’s called Carol and I’ll admit, she kinda scares me a little.” He rambled. “I only got arrested once this year, and it wasn’t even my fault!” He grinned at the water. There were little bits of dried up food floating around as he worked on trying to get the plates washed. “Phil and Melinda came down after you left m- um, after... you... after.” He managed. “They stayed for a month.” Steve had been a mess. He didn’t add that part in. “Phil loves Broadway. I can’t believe I didn’t know that. I think Melinda got a bit fed up after a while, but then she discovered this fusion food place and now she keeps threatening to show up and run away with the owner.” She called once a week to make sure Steve hadn’t spiralled into a depression. He hadn’t coped well without Bucky around.
“Steve...” Bucky started, but Steve waved a hand, refusing to turn around.
“Hey, you remember that Thai place we loved? It closed. I didn’t even notice until I called them up and the line was disconnected. I should have stocked up on that red sauce you liked, I would’ve, if I’d known.”
The glass in Steve’s hand shattered under the pressure, and red blood dropped into the murky water, staining it for a few seconds before it dispersed. “But I didn’t. I didn’t know it shut, so I couldn’t do anything. Hey, remember Clint from high school? He works for Stark too-”
Bucky was there, pulling Steve away from the sink and carefully cupping his bleeding hand so Steve wouldn’t push the shards in deeper.
“You said that already.” Bucky soothed, and Steve was aware that he was crying, big fat tears rolling down his face and dripping off his chin.
“It doesn’t even hurt.” Steve told him, as Bucky carefully pulled out the glass. “I don’t even know why I’m crying, it’s not hurting. I promise.”
“Yeah, okay tough guy.” Bucky said, and Steve tried to remember the last time Bucky had been in his apartment, tried to remember the last time Bucky had patched him up, because he hadn’t thought to notice until he was gone and then he couldn’t remember.
“Have you been okay?” Steve asked, before he thought better of it. Bucky didn’t stop pulling the glass out, holding Steve’s hand gently.
“Been okay. Hanging out with Natasha mostly.”
“You got a girlfriend you never told me about?” Steve teased. His heart somewhere in his boots. “Man, I thought we were friends. You could have invited her over, hung out. Unless you were worried Sam might steal her from you, but Sam wouldn’t do that – you remember Sam, Bucky?”
“Yeah, I remember Sam, Stevie.”
“I got hit by a car, Buck.”
“Yeah.” Bucky said. “Yeah, I know.”
“I’m a little scared right now.”
“So I was 14 years old and my paw just up and left, you know? My mom just had a new baby, and the three girls, and me too – and man, you try makin’ ends meet during them times, Steve, and the new baby was so small, and my sisters were too young to work, so I had to go out, and one day I got back and the baby was cold and my mom was just... sittin’ there.”
Bucky never talked about his life before. Not once, Steve knew it was one of those things that would make Bucky leave for a few hours if he brought it up so he never asked. They were sitting on the couch, like they used to – back before things changed and Bucky left for good. Bucky’s knee was touching Steve’s and he didn’t want to move. “We didn’t have no money for a funeral, so I took her to the cemetery at night, and I buried her myself.” He paused. “This guy was there. Offered me anything I wanted. Anything.” He laughed, but it didn’t sound too happy. “I asked for my family to be looked after, to be happy.” He glanced at Steve. “My mom got better, met a nice guy – nicer than my paw ever was. He made her laugh on Sunday mornings and brought her flowers on Tuesday afternoons, and my sisters all grew up and married nice boys.”
“That sounds really good, Bucky.” Steve said, smiling. They’d been talking for a long time, but it was still light outside. The sun beams through the window weren’t moving. Steve didn’t want to think too much about that.
“It was. Then there was a war. I got shot, right through the head. I didn’t pass my judgement.” He looked at Steve. “I killed people, in the war. And I stole, stole things cause I could, and I got into bad fights – and not enough good ones. I wasn’t a good person.”
“You made a deal for your family.” Steve said. “That sounds like a good person to me. I just made one for myself.”
“But you’re good.” Bucky said, running his hands through his hair. “You’re so good, and I was... I was... tainting that. Making you bad – making you like me.”
“Bucky, you never made me do anything my whole life.” Steve pointed out, but Bucky was shaking his head and looking like he wanted to be anywhere but sitting on Steve’s couch – their couch.
“But I was.” He whispered. “I’ve been sick for a long time, Steve, and I... I wanted stuff I shouldn’t have wanted, and... you... you thought it was you, but it was me.”
“Bucky, you’re making no sense at all right now.” Steve said, as soft as he could. “You know I’m not sick, you made it so I wasn’t sick. I don’t-”
“But that's just it though, aint it!” Bucky bust out, getting to his feet, hands waving in the air. “I did it wrong! I messed up cause you thought you were... and I never said nothin’ cause I didn’t wanna see you with no-one else an then I realised that you thought... you were...” his voice dropped to a whisper, “gay.” A pause. “But it was me, and I made you like that! I wanted you like that, an’ you were gonna fail the judgement cause I brought you down with me an’ I couldn’t stay!” He was yelling by the end of it, and Steve wasn’t sure what to do, or say. “An now you’ve gone and been so stupid, Steve, so stupid, cause you could have gone where you belong but I messed it up cause I couldn’t leave you well enough alone and you’re gonna...” Bucky was hysterical, face blotchy and red and voice hoarse with yelling, and then he suddenly stopped. “I can’t let you do this.” He said, turning towards the door. “I’m not... I can’t.”
“This is the best thing I’ve ever seen in my entire afterlife.” The redheaded woman said, as Steve sat on the couch, looking at the door Bucky had walked through. Steve didn’t see her arrive. “I mean, the drama.”
“Bucky thinks he made me gay, I think.” Steve admitted, after a long moment.
She nodded. “Oh, god, he really does.”
“No, he didn’t.” She paused. “Were you saving yourself for Buchanan?”
Steve shook his head. “No. I just... I didn’t think he was gay and I didn’t... I just... I never really thought about other people like that.” Steve paused. “Will he be happy in heaven?”
“Everyone’s happy in heaven.” She shrugged. “It’s sort of the whole point.”
“Then I made the right choice. Can you... can you tell him... it’s okay? To be gay? That he didn’t make me any different than I was?”
She shrugged. “Depends. He’s trying to get Fury to make a deal so you go to heaven and he stays here.”
“What?” Steve yelled, jumping to his feet.
“I know, right?” The red-headed woman said, “The drama.”
Steve woke up in hospital.
He woke up again, and saw Sam sitting at his bedside, some slow jazz playing on his ipod. There were balloons bobbing gently against the window.
“Hey Steve,” Sam said, smiling gently. “Hey, you’re in the hospital, man, okay? Don’t panic, but you got hit by a car.”
Later, when he woke up again, and whatever they had injected him with had worn off, he opened his eyes. The red-headed woman was sitting where Sam had been. There was no sunlight coming through the windows and no soft jazz.
“Hi.” She said, wiggling her well manicured fingers at him. “So Fury lost his temper. What with you messing up the original deal, and then Buchanan messing up your messed up deal... and then you messing up that... you see where I’m going with this?”
“Not really.” He managed.
She shrugged. “Not really important anyway.” She said. “You passed your judgement, but on account of you wanting to take Bucky to heaven, and Bucky refusing to go... it was decided that the best thing to do would be to put you both back down here to work things out.”
“Both?” Steve asked, and nearly broke his neck at the speed he turned to see where the red-headed woman was pointing. There was a bed beside his, and in it, Bucky. He had bruising down one side of his face, but he was sleeping soundly, wired up to a machine not unlike the one Steve was hooked up to.
“Here’s the new deal.” She said. “You’ve got the rest of your lives to be good people. He’s human, your human, it’s all nice and normal. He wont remember being a demon, you won’t remember making a deal, you won’t remember this conversation.” She paused. “Basically, you get to grow old and fat together. When you die, you get the same pass as everyone else, and both of you – if you be good people – go where your told. No arguing. Fury doesn’t like being argued with.” She smiled. “I’m going to miss him.” She said. “But I’m going to give you some advice.”
“Take the deal.”
“You got hit by a car.” Sam said, “Crossing the road. They guy was drunk, man, just come from a party. Hit you both – you’re lucky to be alive.”
Steve was holding Bucky’s hand, beds pushed closer so that they didn’t pull on their wires. “I don’t remember.” Steve admitted.
“Yeah, that’s okay, the doctor thinks that's normal.” Phil said. He’d been there where Steve had opened his eyes. “The trauma might cause some memory issues. You gave us a bit of a scare, Steve.” He glanced over at Bucky, who was looking at Steve like he hung the moon. “You too, Bucky. But!” He added. “It’s all going to be okay now.”
“Yeah,” Steve said, looking over at Bucky and squeezing his hand. “It is.”
“Seriously,” Fury said, watching from the side of the room. “I don’t know why I let you talk me in to this.”
“Because,” Natasha said, “Look at it like this, you won’t have to deal with either of them for another 60 years.”
“Hmmm.” He said, sounding unconvinced.
But she was sure she saw him smile as he turned away.