Steve tilts his head up towards he sky, eyes closed against the burning light of the sun. Light and warmth wrap around him, filling him up. This is his prayer and absolution to Helios and to Hera.
With it done, he turns back inside where it's still cool and dim. Bucky is stretched on the bed, still tangled in the sheets. His harbinger of death, always carrying inside him the cold of the underworld.
He smiles when Steve touches his shoulder, turning his head to look up at him.
"Are you needed today?" He asks, grazing his fingers over Bucky's shoulder, following scars and burns etched into his skin, marking the line between old and new. There is no obvious sign that his left arm is different, that it was torn from his body, except for the scar tissue. The physical sign of his contract with Persephone, her magic under his skin.
"No," Bucky murmurs. "Today I'm nothing but yours."
Steve smiles and and leans down to kiss his shoulder, covering Persephone's mark with his own. The flesh is dead and Bucky can't feel more then pressure, but he sighs softly. "I'll prove it's worthwhile."
Bucky twists around onto his back, running his fingers through Steve's hair. "You don't have to prove anything to me."
"Yes I do, every day." He presses his lips to Bucky's clavicle, tracing the bone under his skin. "You saved my life-"
"Hera did that. I just-" He gasps when Steve scrapes his teeth over his neck.
"Yea, you just." Steve moves back up to catch Bucky's lips and his hands move over Bucky's body with practiced ease. There are soft sighs and moans between their lips, quickly swallowed up again by another kiss. The sun creeps further into the room as Steve presses slowly into Bucky, his moans growing louder at the heat around him. This is the only time Bucky's skin burns as hot as Steve's. It builds up slow, the day is theirs and Steve wants to take advantage of that. Slow and deep, as close as possible.
Bucky's nails dig into Steve's skin. It hurts, a burning ache but Steve would never have him stop. It still feels like it ends too soon. Steve makes no move to get off of Bucky, enjoying the lingering warmth. Not caring that they're sticky, that he must be a heavy weight on Bucky.
He kisses Bucky's jaw, trailing up to the spot behind his ear. "My Eros," he whispers, barely more then a puff of air against his skin in case anyone is listening in. Bucky laughs softly and turns to nuzzle Steve's temple.
"Yours. Though that might be the wrong comparison."
Steve gets up slowly, not wanting to stop touching. Bucky is rumpled, lips red and skin flushed. He smirks up at Steve and reaches up to trail his fingers down Steve's stomach. "Shower?" His fingers come away from Steve's skin sticky with sweat and come. Steve smiles and takes Bucky by the wrist to pull him along.
Under the water they touch each other, slowly jerk each other off. Bucky laughs against Steve's skin when Steve's fingers find a ticklish spot and for a moment they're children, laughing and grabbing at each other to get the upper hand. When they finally finish up in the shower, they can hear someone in the kitchen. They share a look and immediately go for their guns. But the person in their kitchen isn't someone they can shoot.
Bucky makes a choked noise but Steve doesn't recognize her as quickly. "Persephone?" Bucky sounds horrified and confused. He lowers his gun but doesn't set it aside.
Persephone smiles, small and enigmatic. They blink and they're no longer in their kitchen. This place Steve knows without needing to be told. The throne room of Hades is one of a kind. Persephone makes her way up to her seat, the black himation trailing after her. Their own towels are gone and instead they wear simple white chitons. "I can change your clothes to something more modern if that's more comfortable."
"No, my lady," Bucky says quickly. "We typically wear less around each other." Bucky glances at Steve, brushing his fingers over the back of his hand.
She laughs, a sound that spreads warmth and cold throughout Steve at the same time. "Of course." Her hands are white against the obsidian seat, making them seem like they glow. "Of course." She taps her nails against the stone and looks at them as if she is only now contemplating why they're there. "I have a dilemma, that needs your specific skills, my dear James."
"You know that's why I'm alive."
Steve flinches, it's a sharp reminder that for awhile Bucky wasn't alive. But Persephone just smiles. "Her name is Alice. And the reason I have brought your lover along-" Suddenly they're both looking at Steve and he has to resist taking a step back. "Is because I need to make sure you stay sane after this one. There was an accident and it's crazy how a little thing can change things. She was supposed to be in one place but took a step to the left and disrupted fate."
Bucky looks hard at her and then at Steve. "Sane?" He repeats.
"Alice is eight." Her smile turns sympathetic but it's hard to determine if it's real. "I have never asked for a child before, but even the smallest things can destroy the ravelings of the world. Sometimes especially the smallest things." She moves away from her throne and to Bucky. Steve barely notices her anymore, focused only on Bucky. "If you cannot, I prefer my agents to be open with me. I will send you on to Lethe and this will not stand between us. But I know you can be gentle, my dear James. I did not choose blindly from my subjects."
"How do you gently kill a little girl?" Steve asks, knowing he should keep his mouth shut. This is Bucky's choice, but the question slips out anyway.
"Drugs," Bucky answers, sounding numb and quiet. Already trying to disengage and Steve understands now why he's here as well. "You- something quick and painless. She falls asleep and when she wakes up again she's here."
"Not here, child," Persephone says softly, cupping Bucky's cheek. "She will go to Elysium. A child does not deserve the cold."
Bucky looks at Steve, the words not even formed on his lips. Steve nods. He's there for Bucky, however Bucky needs. Persephone kisses Bucky's forehead and then they are back in their kitchen, towels once again around their waists. Bucky sinks slowly into one of the chairs. Steve moves immediately to be at his side, but before he can reach Bucky, everything slows. The air feels thick around him and his limbs don't move.
"Steven, hear me, ensure the child dies, it is more crucial then even young Persephone knows," Hera's voice echoes in his head. Steve almost stumbles when time speeds up again, but Bucky doesn't seem to notice. He sinks down in front of Bucky, trying not to think about Hera's words, knowing he'll never receive an explanation.
"I'm here," he murmurs, taking Bucky's hands in his, not sure if he's saying the words for himself or Bucky.
"You're so warm," Bucky sighs, lifting their hands to press his lips to Steve's knuckles. "I love you, you know."
"Yea, noticed that." He leans in to kiss Bucky softly. "I love you too."
He asked Bucky once if he ate while in Hades. Bucky laughed and said he tried, but he was only a ghost. Food turned to ash in his mouth. But Steve saw the evasion in his eyes. The half-truth woven somewhere into his words.
It took him two weeks to give Steve the truth. "Yes, I ate. I thought-" he cut himself off with an annoyed growl and kicked at a convenient garbage can. "I thought you were dead. Or would be soon enough, so I'd have you and this way I wouldn't be stuck in that pit. Everything is so empty there, I had to get out through any means necessary and when she offered me this arrangement." He shrugged and looked at Steve defiantly, waiting for judgment.
Instead Steve kissed him because this time he can see the truth there. The one last piece that Bucky had skipped over, because eating the food would also mean he had to come back. "We would still have had time together." He smiled against Bucky's lips even when Bucky scowls at being so easily figured out.
"She amended the agreement. Two months every year, to be served as her pet assassin. A day here, a day there. Not really comparable to traveling back and forth with the seasons."
Steve couldn't stop smiling. "You still tried."
Bucky slowly relented and smiled back. "Yea well, anything for you."
Bucky's preparations for a job are simple. He sends his prayers to Persephone, Steve can always smell the incense, something sharp which he thinks he should be able to recognize but never can. Preparing his weapons follows, in this case nothing more then a syringe.
Steve leaves him alone for the entire ritual, knowing it's what Bucky needs. It doesn't make that moment when he finally steps out, shoulders set and eyes cold, any easier. He hates the way Bucky shuts himself down, drawing from something cold and hard that lingers from his time in Hades. He shies away from Steve's touch as if it burns. But he knows there is no other choice. If Bucky doesn't become the Winter Soldier, shrouding himself in ice, he'll go mad. The blood on his hands will choke him and Steve doesn't know if he'll be able to save him then, not even with all the warmth inside him.
Steve follows when he leaves, burying his hands in his pockets so he doesn't accidentally reach out and disturb the calm in Bucky's mind.
This is pain that Bucky has to bear on his own because if Bucky disobeys, if he backs out of this promise to do Persephone's bidding, Steve will lose him to the Fields. The gods will punish them both by separating them forever. So Steve follows and waits because it's all he can do.
The little girl is in the hospital. There had been a car accident and she had leaned one way instead of the other. The doctors call it a miracle. They don't understand it was all an accident, that little element of human will that can throw off the balance of everything. Sometimes the world adjusts to recover and adapt. Sometimes it tangles up the Fates' strings and other steps have to be taken.
Steve stays by the nurses station, flipping through a magazine. Everyone is too busy to stop to ask him why he's there, if they notice him. One of the ambrosia's lingering effects allows him to fade into the background. Not invisible, just not worth noticing. It's like stepping into another world, something beneath solid reality. He can see the demons which haunt the hospital's halls, feeding off of everything from despair to death to the return of hope. They acknowledge him with a nod but nothing else. He doesn't interest them, he carries too much life for them.
Bucky they avoid entirely.
It takes him two minutes, from entering the girl's room to when he steps out again. His eyes stay fixed on his feet until they're out of the hospital and back in the car. Bucky drives them to an empty lot and barely manages to stumble out before he retches. Steve waits, knowing it's not time yet. There is one more step in the ritual. Bucky throws his head back and screams.
Steve can hear the words easily even with the car windows closed.
"It's done!" Bucky's voice cracks as he yells, letting out something deep and dark. The ice he gathered to protect himself finally starting to melt and shatter.
Only then does Steve get out and make his way over to Bucky. He pulls on the warmth from the sun, wraps himself in it so when he touches Bucky he can melt away the ice completely. Bucky flinches at the first touch as if Steve's touch physically burns him, but a second later he's melting into Steve, clinging to him. His hands worm their way under Steve's shirt, to press against skin and absorb as much warmth as possible.
"She was so small," Bucky whispers. "She was so small and- and she fucking-" He cuts himself off so Steve holds him tighter. He wishes he could fly, carry Bucky up as far as possible, away from this. Away from the constant thought of Hades under their feet. "She smiled at me Steve, as if she knew." He presses his face against Steve's neck.
"It's ok." There's the feeling of thickness again around him and he looks up, past Bucky to see Hera there on the other side of the lot. She nods in approval and disappears. Steve closes his eyes and buries his nose in Bucky's hair. "It's ok," he whispers. He doesn't know how long they stand there until Bucky finally moves, straightening a little to press his lips to Steve's cheek.
"Home," he murmurs. Steve smiles and agrees. "I'm sorry, our day off got ruined," he says, taking the passenger seat this time and letting Steve drive.
"It's ok." He finds Bucky's hand and entwines their fingers, wanting to keep the touch constant. Needing to share his warmth. "Let's go on vacation."
Bucky rests his head against the window and twists to look at Steve, never letting go of his hand. "Where should we go?"
Steve isn't sure if Bucky is just indulging him or just being serious, but Steve takes the time to truly consider the question. "Let's go to Europe. Spain? We've never been to Spain."
"I have," Bucky bites his lower lip. "It was for-"
"You don't have to tell me," Steve says quickly. There are countless errands Bucky has run for Persephone that he has never heard about, and he won't make Bucky talk abut something he's not comfortable with. Just like there are things Hera has asked of Steve that he doesn't tell Bucky. Every single secret doesn't need to be aired, they trust each other.
Bucky nods, accepting that and falls silent. Neither say anything for a short while. Steve wants to ask what's going through Bucky's head but knows he has to be patient. "What about the coast of Spain?" Bucky finally speaks up. "I was in Madrid. So the coast, that would be ok. I haven't been there."
Steve smiles, feeling lighter then he has since Persephone showed up in their kitchen. "Then we're going to the coast of Spain."
"Just like that?"
"Just like that."
Steve stays awake after Bucky falls asleep curled against him. He was once one of Bucky's targets, meant to die on that plane in the Arctic. Except Bucky couldn't pull the trigger once he saw it was Steve. He had once been a knot in the threads until Hera had taken him out of it entirely. He stares at his hand and wonders what color he bleeds, if it's still red or the golden ichor of the gods. He can't remember the last time he bled.
Bucky's skin is warm where they touch, where they've been pressed together but when Steve touches his fingers to Bucky's back where his skin is still cool. A less obvious mark left over by Persephone, but still a lingering sign of who owns Bucky. Steve wishes he could wrap him up and hold him until his skin stayed warm. He wishes he can wrap Bucky up in the sun's warmth like he does to himself.
He wishes a lot of things to make Bucky's life better and easier.
"Y're thinking," Bucky mumbles.
"Sorry, I thought you were asleep."
Bucky hums softly and throws his arm over Steve's side. "Tell me."
Steve looks again at his hand, curling it up and slowly opening it. "I wish- I know the goddesses are the only reason we're here and together. But I wish…" He doesn't even know where to start.
"This is who we are now," Bucky murmurs. His hands move over Steve's skin, over hips and muscles and around to his cock. The cool touch of his hand sends a jolt through Steve. He lifts his head to kiss Steve and it's like a cool glass of water against Steve's heated skin. Bucky shifts his grip as the kiss deepens so he has his hand around both of them, stroking them together. With each roll of their hips, they rub together and heat soon replaces everything else. Steve gasps for air against Bucky's lips, feeling each breath getting stolen away only to be returned a second later, over and over until he's sure Bucky is in every pore and crevice. He's not sure if there is any way to separate them anymore.
Them against everything.
He comes hard and Bucky follows a moment later.
"I would do everything again to be with you," Bucky whispers. "I would go to war against the gods for you." He rolls onto his back and tugs Steve over to rest his head on Bucky's shoulder.
"Don't say that."
"Too late." Bucky's arm is wrapped loosely around his shoulder. "I hope they all hear me, I hope they know what I'd do for you."
He doesn't ask if Steve would do the same. It probably doesn't even occur to him to ask so Steve cups his cheek and tilts his head down to look at him. "I would do the same. I'd tear it apart to keep you." Bucky's eyes get wide and he kisses Steve hard despite the odd angle.
They leave for Spain the next afternoon. Persephone watches them go from far below in Hades and Hera keeps an eye on them from above on Olympus. Steve and Bucky tell themselves they're taking a break, away from gods and goddesses and obligations, but they both know there is no real break.
If they're lucky, Hera and Persephone will allow them the break, but they are so rarely that lucky.
This time they're given five days before it's Hera's turn, appearing in Bucky's chair on the beach when he gets up to get them drinks. She wears sunglasses and a swimsuit, somehow looking perfectly natural sitting there. As if she had always been.
"I'm not leaving Spain, not yet," Steve says immediately. He knows it's wrong to tell her 'no' but he needs this break.
Hera arches an eyebrow at his tone but doesn't comment on it yet. "You'll be back soon. My errand is simple." Steve bites his tongue. "I need you to make a delivery. Unfortunately, the person I need the delivery made to is warded against my peaking in otherwise I would do it myself."
"Why not Iris?"
"She is still a goddess. However, you walk the line." She takes a pendant from around her neck and hands it over to Steve. "It will be but a moment and you can come back to your vacation."
Steve locks eyes with Bucky as he comes back across the sand. He hopes it's enough to express his regret before Hera whisks him away. He's not sure where they end up but they're in front of an office building. "Take it to Pepper Potts," Hera directs. "No one else." Steve feels sick but there's nothing to do but walk inside. He can feel the wards as he steps into the building, they make his skin crawl but otherwise he slips below their notice. There are only a handful of gods who can make wards powerful enough to keep Hera out but Steve doesn't have to think hard about who might have made these. This is Stark Industries after all.
Tony Stark is an agent of Hephaestus. Just like his father before him, back when Steve directed his prayers to Demeter and Athena for life and strength. He wonders what they think of him now, if they ever notice him.
He slips past the secretary and security, barely earning a second glance. Pepper Potts' office is trickier. The wards are strengthened here and there is no sneaking in. So Steve clears his throat at her assistant's door as he lets himself in. Luckily the door to Pepper's office is open and he can speak directly to her.
"What? Who-" She's immediately on his feet, storming towards him.
"Hera sent me to deliver this to you." He holds out the pendant, immediately realizing he has no idea what it does or means. "The wards prevent her from doing so directly."
"You're Steve Rogers?" She asks carefully, touching the pendant with her finger tips.
"Thank you. It is a gift from Hecate, I should have guessed it would not be sent through normal channels." Her fingers close around the pendant and he gratefully lets go. "Tony mentioned you. I know you spoke with him once."
"Once was enough ma'am." Tony is another he met because of Hera's errands, but that was to sabotage a mechanical suit he was building with Hephaestus's help. The conversation had been more threats snarled at each other. Steve was grateful not to have much to do with him, working with the father before Steve even had to be loyal to Hera had been taxing enough.
She laughs in understanding. "Working for the Lady is a tricky business. I know, no choice, but good luck, be careful Mr. Rogers."
He smiles and leans in to kiss her on the cheek. "Be careful as well, Ms. Potts."
"Let me escort you out, it will be easier then leaving the way you came." She takes his arm instead of waiting and leads him back towards the entrance. They talk about nothing while they walk. He almost regrets walking out through the door when they reach it. He steps from the door and directly back onto the beach in Spain. Bucky's sitting on his chair, fidgeting with his drink, shoulders tight with tension and Steve makes his way back to him as fast as possible.
"I'm so sorry," he murmurs, kissing the scarring on Bucky's shoulder, up to his neck. "I'm so sorry, I didn't want to."
Bucky touches his fingers to Steve's lips, cutting him off. "I know." He sighs and nudges Steve so he's leaning back on one of the chairs and Bucky arranges himself on top of him, Steve's arms around his waist. "This is our life. But we're alive and together. It's enough, right?"
"It's enough," Steve says.
"What did she have you do? Anything exciting?"
"Nah, just delivered some jewelry." He runs his fingers through Bucky's hair. "Don't worry about it. I'm here. I'm safe." Bucky's hands find one of his and grip tightly. They sit like that until the sun goes down.
"You know what you are?" Hera said the first time they met. It was on a rooftop in Manhattan, the world at his feet but he was unable to step into it. He shouldn't be alive, Bucky had had his gun pressed to Steve's temple and had instead fled. SHIELD never knew, though they clearly knew of Bucky. They called him the Winter Soldier, a reference to Persephone's control.
"I'm a dead man," Steve answered her.
"No, no, well you will be if you don't accept my offer because then nothing can protect you. Bucky Barnes is not the only way to die in this world." She leaned in and he could feel the net close around him. "You are Ares and Athena, if those two could ever get around all the obstacles between them and tolerate each other long enough to create a child. You are the strength and fury of battle tempered with tactics." There was suddenly a cup in her hand and she held it out for him. "Drink this, your thread will be safe, out of the web and you can be with your beloved."
it was tempting to be distracted by the thought of being with Bucky again without fear of the gods. Without fear of death. "What's the catch?"
She nodded, possibly impressed he thought to ask the question but he grew up on stories of heroes and learned from their mistakes. "You will become a demi-god. And you will be mine. I can take away what I give. For the rest of a mortal lifetime you will reside here and carry out tasks for me. At the end of that lifetime, your debt will be paid."
Steve considered it only a brief moment before he took the cup.