It was more than heartbreak. Heartbreak wasn’t a strong enough term for what Bucky was feeling. His heart was gone, ripped out of his chest and burnt to ashes before his very eyes.
Steve wasn’t supposed to die. Steve was supposed to be safe at home, safe from the war, safe from everything. But of course Bucky didn’t factor in that Steve couldn’t ever be safe from his own body. And of course, that’s what got him in the end.
Bucky arrived at the cemetery in the dead of night, his flashlight glancing off of every headstone as he searched. His bleary eyes, tired from holding back tears, strained to read each name.His mother had said Steve had gotten a plot, that he hadn’t been tossed into the potter’s field somewhere. The Rogers family plot was small, and out of the way, and in his grief Bucky couldn’t for the life of him remember where it was.
He did find it, of course. It took him half an hour, fighting back the tears the whole time, but once he’d gotten to the grave and gotten to work, he didn’t have to struggle with his tears anymore. He had focus. The work was good. It was hard, and it was good.
Digging a grave took a long time. The dirt had long since settled, and Bucky was only a few feet down when the blisters started forming. But the pain was good focus too, and he didn’t mind it. It kept him from thinking about the hole in his chest where his heart should have been.
When his shovel finally hit wood, Bucky’s tears came back, and he was nearly blinded by them as his fingers scrabbled to pull the lid of the coffin away from Steve, trapped within.
Trapped. Because he didn’t belong there. He belonged with Bucky, alive and laughing and fighting and…
There was a soft tsk from above. Bucky looked up, and a man looked back.
No, not a man. Bucky had never met him before, but his whole body tensed and he knew the Devil when he saw him. He knew it like he knew his own skin. He knew it like he knew Steve. He knew it like he knew how to strip and clean a rifle in a minute flat. Bucky’s whole being wanted to reject what he was seeing, wanted to crawl away in terror, but he was six feet down and the Devil was grinning at him.
“What are you doing here?” Bucky demanded, his voice raw from sobbing.
“You summoned me, James,” the Devil said, and it was almost insulting how normal he sounded. “With your blood and tears and your heart’s desire, you summoned me.”
Bucky frowned and looked down at Steve’s corpse through his tears. He swallowed hard, his throat rough and coarse. His heart’s desire. The Devil was here for a reason. The Devil was here with an offer.
“You can bring him back,” Bucky said slowly, as the realization dawned.
“There’s a cost,” the Devil said, and Bucky could feel the amusement in his voice.
“I’ll pay it,” Bucky said. “What do you want? My soul? You can have it. I don’t care.”
The Devil laughed, and the sound vibrated through Bucky’s entire body until he could feel it rattling his bones. “That’s no way to negotiate, James.”
“I don’t care,” Bucky snapped. “I need him back.”
The Devil grinned, all sharp teeth and glinting black eyes. An oddly calm thought passed through Bucky’s head that if it had all been on a demon’s body, he might not have been frightened. But the fact that the Devil looked so normal apart from those little things that made him so abnormal was what left Bucky truly unsettled. He willed himself to keep his breaths steady, his hands making fists into the deteriorating material of Steve’s best shirt to keep from shaking.
“James,” the Devil said, and it was gentle, like velvet in his ears. Bucky shivered. “I will bring him back for you.”
Bucky heaved a sob of relief. “Thank you. Thank you.”
The Devil laughed again, but Bucky didn’t even care this time. He was going to get Steve back.
“Bucky,” and that did get Bucky’s notice, because the Devil hadn’t yet called him by his nickname. He looked up and right into the void of the Devil’s eyes and nearly lost himself in their depths. “Bucky, I will do this for you, and you will be mine. Both you and Steve. Mine, for all time.”
Bucky swallowed and nodded. “As long as we’re together. I’ll do anything.”
The Devil smiled and shook his head. “You really don’t understand what anything means, do you?”
“Nothing could be worse than being without him,” Bucky said.
“You’re not terribly imaginative.”
“Are you bringing him back or not?”
“Tsk, James, that’s no way to speak to me. I’ll expect more respect when the transaction is complete.”
Bucky bit his lip and nodded. Right. Don’t yell at Satan.
The Devil closed his eyes a moment, then sighed and hopped down into the grave with Bucky. He got down on his knees and put his hand on what was left of Steve’s forehead. Bucky held his breath and stared down at Steve’s body.
“Steven. Wake up.” The words were simple, and it could’ve been a parent waking up a child for school. But Bucky could feel the weight of the power behind the words, and they rattled their way through Bucky just as much as Satan’s earlier laugh had.
Steve woke up, and heaved a deep, shuddering breath, and coughed. Bucky had a moment of panic at the sound of it, because it was so similar to how Steve sounded when he had the flu, but it was just dust and rotten air being cleared out of his lungs now. Bucky helped him sit up, and as he did, he watched in awe as the life returned to Steve’s skin, and all was renewed until he was pink and glowing, his hair golden and his eyes the beautiful blue Bucky remembered. All that remained to remind Bucky of what had been were the molding clothes ready to fall off of Steve’s slim frame and the fact that he was still sitting in his own coffin.
Steve gasped for a little longer as he caught his breath, and Bucky was so overcome with the joy at seeing him again that he almost missed the feeling of something catching in his chest. He would have mistaken it for happiness if it didn’t feel so much like something was being tied around his heart, like a belt. Or a collar.
“Bucky? What’s going on?” Bucky could have cried at the sound of Steve’s voice, but he didn’t have the chance to. Before he could even answer, the Devil was speaking.
“He’s made a deal, that’s what’s going on.” Satan was smiling his big, sharp-toothed smile, and Steve blinked at him, and frowned. He opened his mouth, but Satan was speaking again. “The two of you are mine now. Together forever, and mine forever. Go ahead and catch up. I’ll be in touch.” He winked, and then disappeared, a small puff of red smoke and a strong smell of sulfur the only sign he had been there at all.
Well, that, and the fact that Steve was alive.
Steve was looking around, and his frown deepening as he saw the coffin, the dirt, and his clothes. But as soon as he looked at Bucky, his face softened, and he reached out and gently touched his face, and Bucky’s tears returned, even though he could have sworn he couldn’t cry anymore.
Later, they walked hand-in-hand through the quiet streets of New York. The streets were nearly deserted, and even when they saw someone else walking, or driving, or staggering, they found they didn’t care to let go of each other. Bucky felt it like a coal burning in his chest--where his heart had been ripped out, it had returned, and it was glowing with a strange feeling. Love, maybe. Or… confidence? He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that he didn’t care what anyone else thought. He had lost Steve, but they were together again, and they’d be together forever.
Bucky did have to explain it to Steve, but Steve took the news with a simple head nod.
“I would have done the same,” was all he said about that.
They quietly agreed they couldn’t stay in the city. Enough people knew Steve was supposed to be dead, and they hadn’t bothered to fill the hole of his grave, and what did they have left in the city anyway? Bucky couldn’t face his family now, and he didn’t want to.
They walked all the way to the train yard and hopped a freight train slowly pulling away to who knew where. They were lucky enough to find an open car, with just enough room for them to curl up together in the corner.
“So what are we now?” Steve asked, after a while of no sound but the train and the boxes in their car shifting with its motion.
“What do you mean?” Bucky hadn’t let go of Steve once, and Steve hadn’t seemed keen on being moved.
“I mean… our souls belong to the Devil now. Does that make us demons? Or… what?”
Bucky frowned into the darkness. He’d been trying hard not to think about the consequences of his bargain beyond having Steve alive in his arms again, but he should have known better than to think Steve would let the subject be ignored. Steve always made him stop and think, just as he had always done for Steve.
Steve turned, and Bucky could feel him looking--or trying to look--at Bucky’s face.
“I don’t know.” Bucky sighed and buried his face in Steve’s shoulder. “I guess it depends on what your definition of a demon is.”
“Well we aren’t fallen angels, and I think that’s the standard Biblical definition,” Steve said, and Bucky laughed, but without a whole lot of real mirth.
“No, we sure ain’t.”
“But we do belong to Satan.”
Bucky sighed again. “Yeah.”
“So what does that mean?”
Bucky shrugged, morose. This was why he hadn’t wanted to think about it. “Whatever he wants it to mean, I guess.”
Steve was silent a long moment, and Bucky fidgeted in the quiet, unable to see Steve’s face and so gauge his reaction.
Finally, Steve said softly, “you sure are a terrible negotiator,” but he didn’t sound upset, so Bucky laughed in relief.
“Yeah, I think he mentioned that. I didn’t care much at the time. Still don’t, to be honest.”
“You really care so little about your immortal soul?” Steve didn’t sound accusatory. Just curious.
“You’re the only thing that really ever mattered to me, Steve,” Bucky said softly. “I’d give the whole world away if it meant I could stay with you.”
Steve made a soft sound, and Bucky hoped it was a good one. Since Steve moved to settle back against him again, Bucky decided it definitely was.
“A fella could get a big head, he hears somebody talking about him like that,” Steve said.
Bucky grinned and kissed the top of Steve’s head, resting his face in his hair. “Well that’s a right shame,” he said, and they fell back into silence.
With no plan and no idea where the train was going, they got off when it felt right and found themselves on the outskirts of Chicago.
“How did we get this far and not realize it?” Steve asked quietly as they picked their way into the city proper.
“I don’t know,” Bucky replied. “I don’t even feel hungry, do you?”
“No. I thought we were on the train for a couple hours, maybe.”
Bucky nodded slowly. Time had felt almost nonexistent on the train. It was just them and the boxes and the train car, and sometimes the train had gone fast and sometimes it slowed down and sometimes there was light between the cracks of the wooden walls and sometimes there wasn’t. Bucky chewed his lip nervously. He wasn’t hungry, he wasn’t thirsty, and they had to have been on that train for at least two days, and they hadn’t realized it. It hadn’t even mattered.
It was dark and nothing felt real. They had come off the train different people than when they had gotten on. If they even counted as people anymore.
What was happening?
What were they becoming?
The questions clattered around in Bucky’s head, but as they walked, they started to fade as Bucky realized that he didn’t care.
The only thing that mattered was Steve.
It was dark in Chicago. It felt like it could have been the same night that they left New York. Everything felt strange and unreal, like they were walking through a dream, and Bucky’s realization that nothing really mattered only grew stronger.
As they made it into the city proper, the first lightening of the sky into dawn began, and Bucky felt a little sorrowful at the ending of the night. He’d always felt more comfortable in his own skin at night, and the prospect of morning and facing himself in the light of day was daunting. Would he care about who he was when he couldn’t hide in the dark anymore?
The city was beginning to stir, but only just. Bucky and Steve walked hand in hand without fear, and Bucky thought he was beginning to understand why. What other people thought just wasn’t important anymore. Let them judge. Let them hate. Bucky and Steve weren’t one of them anymore.
That didn’t stop a group of men--haggard at the end of the night and more than a little drunk--from shouting obscenities and slurs at them.
Bucky and Steve stopped at the same time and turned to look at the group--four of them--snarling from the dark, filthy alley.
“What did you say?” Steve asked, very quietly, but just loud enough that the men heard, and sneered.
“You heard me,” one of them said, and then spat out a string of slurs viciously.
Bucky suddenly felt a crawling, gnawing hunger inside. It rolled around in his stomach and chest, and when he looked at Steve, he could tell that Steve felt it too.
Bucky wasn’t sure where the hunger came from, but he knew, instinctively, what he needed to do to sate it. And, looking over, he could tell that Steve knew as well. Steve squeezed his hand and then let go, and they both stepped forward.
“You should go home,” Steve said quietly, “before you get into some real trouble.”
The men laughed, low and mean and drunken. “Oh yeah, like a couple of fairies could do anything to us.”
Bucky felt a smile spread across his face, and his heart picked up in anticipation. There wasn’t any question of what was about to happen next. It felt as natural and right as breathing--he didn’t even have to think. They stepped forward and his fist flew into the nearest guy’s face, and he felt bones crunching beneath his hand and he wanted more. There was blood on his fist and the man was shouting in pain and he needed more.
There was a moment where the men couldn’t believe what had happened, but once the shock wore off, they were spurred into action. Even through the adrenaline of the moment, everything seemed to move slowly, and Bucky could see and feel where each fist would be going, and it was easy as anything to move out of the way and counter with his own attack. Three of the four men were trying to gang up on him, and he laughed at the hubris of it. They had no chance.
He felt rather than saw Steve taking on the other man. In the past, Bucky would have been afraid for Steve, who had lots of anger and will, but not much physical strength. In the past, Steve would’ve been no match for most people. But tonight, Bucky knew he didn’t have to worry. These simple, stupid people couldn’t possibly stand against the hunger that burned inside them.
It was quick work to leave three of the men lying on the ground while the fourth fled.
“Useless,” Bucky said.
“Disgusting,” agreed Steve.
They considered the men on the ground.
“Are they still alive, do you think?” Steve asked, and flexed his hands. They were red with another man’s blood, and Bucky wasn’t sure he could ever be more in love with Steve than he was right at that moment.
Bucky squatted next to one of the men and looked over them all. “They’re alive,” he said.
Steve hummed thoughtfully. “Should we kill them?”
Bucky blinked, and stared up at Steve. The hunger inside him roared in approval, but the more rational part of his mind caught up with him and he realized what it was Steve was asking, and that it was Steve asking it.
“Should we what?”
Steve blinked back, and seemed to realize what it was he was saying. “I… I don’t know why I asked that. We should… we should go. Before the other one comes back.” Steve’s hands were shaking, and Bucky could hear the horror in his voice. He just nodded and stood and put an arm around Steve’s shoulders and steered him away.
Steve shoved his hands in his pockets as they walked, and once they were several blocks away and the sun was really starting to rise, he threw himself onto a bench at a bus stop and stared up at Bucky.
“What just happened? What did we do?”
“I don’t know, Stevie.” Bucky sat down next to him and ran his hands through his hair.
“I wanted to kill them. I really did.”
Bucky wet his lips and said quietly, “a part of me still wishes we did.” It was the hunger. It hadn’t gone away. It had lessened the further away from the men they got, but it still itched in the back of his head.
They stared at the sidewalk in silence for a long time, and the city began to wake up around them. Bucky suddenly cared very much what other people thought, and stood up.
“We should keep moving.”
Steve nodded, in a daze, and he stood. “Yeah, let’s go.”
They walked aimlessly until they found themselves at the edge of the lake. It extended so far that Bucky could believe it was actually an ocean, except for the distinct lack of salt in the air. Bucky missed it.
“You felt it too, right?” Bucky asked as Steve threw rocks out into the water.
Steve didn’t have to ask what Bucky meant. “Yeah.”
“Do you still feel it?” Because it still hadn’t gone away. It was still there, an ache that wouldn’t fade, an itch he couldn’t scratch.
“Yeah.” Steve threw another rock.
“They couldn’t hurt us,” Bucky mused quietly.
“Couldn’t even land a hit,” Steve agreed.
“You’ve never been able to down a guy like that before.”
“It was easy.”
They fell silent.
“You think this is what he wants?” Steve asked suddenly. Bucky didn’t have to ask who he meant.
“Wouldn’t be surprised.”
“They deserved it,” Steve finally said, a low tremor of malice ringing through his words. Bucky looked at him, frowning, and Steve stared back, unblinking.
Slowly, Bucky nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “They did.”
They didn’t talk about it any more after that.
Bucky didn’t stop thinking about it, though. He kept thinking about the feeling of crunching bones beneath his fist, the sound of it, the rush of blood against his skin and the knowledge that he could have easily ended a man’s life and he would have deserved it.
They found a diner and ate pancakes and bacon and talked quietly about their next move. Chicago was nice, they agreed, but they weren’t interested in hanging around. Steve did want to see the Art Institute before they left, and they spent the rest of the day walking the museum’s halls and admiring the collection. Bucky couldn’t focus completely on the art, because a part of him kept wondering if he was going to suddenly crave to commit more crimes. But it never happened.
Even after the museum closed and night began to descend, Bucky didn’t feel any particular desire to steal art or pickpocket or go on a murder spree. But as they slowly made their way back to the train yards, the one thought wouldn’t leave him: they should have killed those guys.
They found another open boxcar on a freight train and crawled inside as it slowly started its journey. They fell asleep curled up in each other’s arms, and when they woke, they were in another city.
It was Seattle this time, and this time, Steve and Bucky didn’t question it when they started wandering through the city, even though they couldn’t have possibly slept for that long, and again they weren’t at all hungry, or had to go to the bathroom, or anything.
But Bucky still wondered why they had decided to spare those men in Chicago.
It was night, and it was raining, and Bucky and Steve again walked, holding hands, and Bucky wondered if they were intentionally trying to duplicate what had happened in Chicago. He didn’t question it. He welcomed it. He longed for it.
He wondered, a little, what that meant. But he decided it didn’t matter.
It didn’t happen that night. When the sun rose and the rain cleared, Bucky felt disappointed, and they found their way to a park to sit by the pond and watch the ducks.
They sat there all day. They didn’t go to any museums, they didn’t eat, they didn’t sleep, they barely even talked. They just sat and watched the ducks.
Bucky realized he hadn’t thought about his family since he and Steve were walking through New York.
Bucky realized he didn’t care about them anymore.
When night fell, they finally stood, and hand in hand they walked through the city again.
This time, two men tried to attack them.
This time, they didn’t hesitate. With their own bare hands, they killed them.
It was satisfying, feeling a man’s life end beneath his bloodied hands, Bucky realized. It was right. He’d felt it during the war, but only rarely. The rest of the time it was just… business. This… this was more than that. This was fulfilling. This was pleasure.
They sat and stared at the bodies for a while, then, unhurried, uncaring of how they were wearing the blood of their victims on their skin and in their clothes, they stood, clasped hands again, and walked away.
They used their victims’ money to buy a room in a seedy hotel where the proprietor didn’t care what they looked like, then fucked for hours. They licked the blood off of each other’s skin and fell asleep still covered in blood and come.
When Bucky woke, Steve was staring at the ceiling.
“I think we were always meant for this,” Steve said quietly. He rolled onto his side to look at Bucky.
Steve nodded. “Yeah. I think it’s our job to bring justice. Not to everyone, not to the whole world, but the people who deserve death. It’s our job to send them where they belong.”
Bucky scratched gently at some dried blood on Steve’s arm. “What if it’s not? What if we’re just doing it because it doesn’t matter anymore?”
Steve shook his head. “That doesn’t explain the feeling.”
“Doesn’t it? Haven’t you always wanted the guys who beat you up to get what was coming to them?”
“Not like this. Not… needing it like that. I might’ve thought it sometimes, but I never felt that… whatever that was.”
“Yeah, that’s a good word for it.” Steve picked at the sheets, which probably hadn’t been washed for a couple weeks at least. “That was different. That was new. And after… that was new, too.”
Bucky made a face. “Not all of it.”
Steve rolled his eyes. “No, not all of it. But I don’t think before we would’ve been so… energized, after something like that. No, we definitely wouldn’t’ve. We would’ve panicked.”
Bucky nodded slowly, coming around to Steve’s theory. “So what do we do now?”
Steve chewed his lip, considering. “I think we keep doing what we’re doing. We hop trains, we travel. If it’s right… we kill some people. And we keep going.”
“Well, for now, anyway.”
“So what, we’re The Shadow now?”
Steve shrugged. “Yeah. Why not?”
Bucky thought about it, and realized what Steve was suggesting… it sounded right. It seemed to click into place in his head. He wasn’t sure they were always meant for it, like Steve had said, but that didn’t matter. Whether it was their own choices that had brought them there or fate… it didn’t matter. They were there now, and if the Devil wasn’t going to tell them exactly what he wanted them to do, well, they could make it up on their own.
Bucky kissed Steve, soft and gentle, and Steve smiled a little as they parted. “Is that you agreeing with me?”
Bucky smiled back. “Yeah, I guess it is.”
Steve grinned a little more. “We should probably get some new clothes.”
Seventy years later
They sat at a table on the outdoor patio of the cafe, drinking their lattes in the sun. Bucky was reading the paper, but he felt it when Steve stiffened and put his drink down, and he felt the presence of the Devil pulling up a chair and sitting next to them. It was unmistakable--Bucky had never forgotten the feeling, even after seventy years.
He feigned nonchalance and looked up, just enough to look at the Devil over the rim of his sunglasses. The Devil smiled, toothy and sharp, and Bucky flashed a strained smile back.
“Hello James, Steven. It’s been a while.” He still sounded so normal. It jarred with the aura of his presence, and Bucky couldn’t stifle a shiver, even in the sunlight.
“Yeah, it has,” Bucky said.
“You’ve been busy,” Satan said.
“It’s good to have something to do,” Steve said carefully. “Especially since it looks like we’re immortal now.”
“You’re not disappointed with that, are you Steven?” The Devil winked. “You seem to be enjoying the benefits.”
Steve shrugged. “Well I’m not complaining.”
Bucky sighed and put his paper down. “Do you need something, or is this a social call? Because you haven’t seemed to care about us or what we were doing this whole time until now.”
The Devil waved a hand dismissively. “Seventy years is nothing, James. Not compared to eternity. I wanted to make sure you were comfortable with yourselves before I came back to chat. And I have cared, James, and it wounds me that you’d think I wouldn’t. I always keep an eye on my things. I’m considerate like that.”
Steve and Bucky traded glances. They’d gotten so familiar with each other and their expressions and presence that they could very nearly read each other’s minds.
Bucky sighed. He leaned his elbows onto the table. “You still haven’t answered the question.”
Satan raised an eyebrow. “I did tell you to work on that respect.”
“It’s been a long time. I wasn’t sure I’d need it.”
The Devil laughed, and both Steve and Bucky winced, but no one else seemed to notice the sheer sense of wrongness that filled the air and echoed in the laugh.
“Well said, James. I suppose this visit is a little bit business, a little bit social call. I wanted to say I’ve been impressed with your work. I appreciate your dedication, and your, ah, enthusiasm.”
“Thanks,” Steve said dryly, and took a sip of his latte.
“You’re welcome. Now, the business part. Up until now I’ve let you wander off the leash, so to speak, to get your footing and get used to things. Now that you’re comfortable, I think it’s time you started getting assignments.”
Bucky and Steve blinked at each other in surprise.
“What… kind of assignments?” Bucky asked.
The Devil shrugged. “Exactly what you’re thinking. I tell you who to kill, and you go and kill them. How you do it is entirely up to you.”
“You want us to be your hitmen,” Steve said.
The Devil snapped his fingers. “That’s exactly it, Steven.”
Bucky frowned. “Who exactly are you going to be asking us to kill?”
The Devil rolled his eyes. “Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m not asking for you to kill saints for me, James. No, it’ll be more of what you’re used to--judgement on the wicked and so on. Except now you’ll have more direction. And possibly a few toys to do it with, if you do a good job on the first few.”
Bucky and Steve looked at each other for a moment, then Bucky shrugged and Steve put his latte down.
“Well it’s not like we have much choice, is it.”
“Not particularly, no.”
“What do you mean by toys?” Bucky asked.
“Do a good job and you’ll find out.”
Bucky rolled his eyes, then sighed. “Yeah, alright. Who’s the first?”
Later, as they lay sated in their hotel room, their stained clothes soaking in the tub and their skin still sticky with blood and semen, Steve hummed in thought. “I suppose we really aren’t human anymore, are we.”
Bucky blinked and looked at Steve. “Probably haven’t been since we climbed out of that grave, babe.”
Steve looked back, then rolled on top of Bucky, and they both shifted to get comfortable. “Does that bother you?” He asked.
Bucky considered that a moment. “No,” he said. “You?”
Steve smiled, and though it started soft, it turned wicked. “No,” he said. “It really doesn’t.”
Bucky grinned back, and rolled them both to pin Steve underneath him. “Hey Stevie, you think we’re demons now?”
Steve laughed. “Yeah, I think we are.”
Bucky licked Steve’s ear and murmured, “me too. And I like it.”