Gods were well versed in greed, spite and pride; they were connoisseurs of it really.
Gods were ambitious, all of them in competition for importance, for reverence by their mortal charges - how big the ceremony or parades in their honor, how lovingly the shrines were erected, how often they were prayed to in good faith and for mercy.
Tony could understand, he envied them for it really.
Here he was, slaving away shaping the landscape of the world; coaxing flowers into bloom and fruit into maturity, listening to the pleas of the land and the earth and the inhabitants thereof; pulling spring and abudance through the dedicated suckle of winter's lips. And for what? Where was his parade?
His father, the God of Spring and Life Besides, was honored instead. Even if he'd only had Tony so he wouldn't have to do any of the work himself.
Tony just wanted some recognition, some respect that he felt he earned, and it came one day from an unlikely source:
Death was swarthed in black with eyes so pale blue they looked a shade off the colour of the moon.
As Tony coaxed the sun from its bed on the horizon, Death observed the gentle lift of the sunflowers' heads and with tenative, snow white fingers, he reached over to caress it.
Promptly, the flower died, and Death recoiled, ashamed.
"Hmm," Tony hummed, and in that careless moment, Death was startled by his presence. Tony flashed a smile in assurance, but wary still, Death watched him. "I'll take that as a challenge," he declared, gesturing at the wilted shrub.
"I didn't mean to, I...forgot," Death admitted. Not embarassed, just reluctant, and Tony could understand that.
"I suppose all things have already died where you're from, no worries, it's an easy fix." Uncaring for the small distance between them, Tony leaned over with a whispered wish, "I'm sorry about that, darling, he didn't mean it. He was just admiring you is all. Won't you smile for us again?" And blushing at the attention, the flower bid her master, and rose slowly to attention once more, petals pressed wider as if to grin.
"There, that'll do for now. But a flower that can withstand winter, that's a new one," and the idea once spoken took hold, and the god was off, dreaming and scheming up an answer to a question no one but Death had yet asked.
Death did not seem perturbed at being ignored rather his attention was to the flower and its siblings which seemed to bloom wider in greeting the longer he lingered. Eventually, as Tony settled in to fabricate the flower that wouldn't die, Death whispered into the wind, "Thank you, you create such beautiful things."
It was Tony's turn to be startled, but he was saved his bewilderment as Death turned away.
Eventually, the flowers bloomed and Tony referred to it as a constellation of spring, a collection of green starburst and tightly wound purple-pink nebulas. It was everything winter was not, and Death was pleased.
"Bucky," he said one day, almost as if he remembered that Death was his title and not his name.
"Tony," he said in turn. "I make things."
"I kill them."
"You take them home," Tony corrected patiently, all too aware of the uses mortals had come up with for Tony's creations, his flowers used in death wreaths, to adorn houses and coffins, and given in solemn apology for debts that sat like stone and could not be repaid through the veil of Death. "All I create will die some day and it will go home to you."
Tony would not be so foolish as to think those were the only ways his creations could be used, he just found it ironic that he created things to live yet people took so much pleasure in them when they were dead.
"These flowers do not," Bucky corrected.
"Flowers live many lives, but they find themselves with you eventually." Then, a thought occurred, "Do you have a garden there?"
"No," Bucky replied though it sounded like a question, as if he were unsure what the right answer was.
"Ah, then maybe that's why you don't receive them!" It was decided that Tony had to pay a visit to the Underworld, and at the gates, a three-headed dog greeted them.
"Spotty," Tony repeated, incredulous.
"Named for the spot on his back," Bucky said by way of explanation, a confused note in his tone as if he were surprised that his companion didn't understand the reference.
Tony snorted, waltzing passed the terrifying creature and the lines of souls watching as he bypassed them and claimed a boat for himself to cross the River Styx.
Tony had never been to the Underworld, ancient as he was. The gods upstairs found Death and his domain stifling and dour, and Bucky, equally so. The form Bucky took as Death was frightful rather than depressing, in Tony's opinion anyway so he figured whether or not there was a basis for the rumor, Tony was sure it couldn't be as bad as the other gods made it out to be.
If he had thought of the Underworld as a place of punishment then Bucky's appearence, the military build, dress and posture would go together perfectly.
Death was a handsome devil besides, all broad shouldered and defined features, and eyes the color of winter. Tony wouldn't hold it against anyone if they made up those rumors out of jealousy.
There was nothing dull or boring about Bucky or the realm he held domain over.
As it was, Bucky seemed more content to indulge in Tony's enthusiasm about their location - the shimmers of precious stones seemingly embedded into an endless ceiling in place of stars; of pillars constructed from marble and gold; of his seat of power on a black throne made of obsidan and platinum.
His eyes sparkled, lively and excited for the first time ever as he gestured and spoke, and Tony found himself designing in his mind's eye - the strongest, most beautiful thing he could ever dare to create from the same shade as Bucky's eyes.
A plot of land was decided on near Bucky's place of work: "To judge souls," he'd said solemnly. "Some are terrified when they arrive, some deservedly so. But they should have something beautiful to remember this place by before they are placed in the Underworld, wherever that may be."
Tony toiled and worked his magic for days, for weeks, he was a god, and time was not his master.
Bucky kept him company between his duties in the Underworld as its ruler, and every day they would speak - share stories - laugh.
For the first time, Tony felt purpose beyond the needs of others, beyond a small trill of pleasure at his capabilities. Tony found himself creating for a goal, and in the occupants of the Underworld, his talents brought admirers.
Some weeped because the flowers Tony grew were familiar to them, held meaning in their lives Before. Some smiled in admiration of their beauty while others were bewildered at their existence in such a place as this, and to that, Tony soothed, "Death is not the end, it is a place to rest for when you are ready. And if you never are, you'll find home here."
"Will you take care of us?" they would ask, and having never had anyone but his creations to rely on him, Tony decreed, "We will."
"We," Bucky repeated with the same inflections, the same innotation that Tony had used earlier that day, tasting its oddity on his tongue.
"Well, it's already your responsibility, and I don't mind the work," Tony replied, shrugging carelessly.
"You are a god of the living."
"And all living things must die, 'tis the cycle of existence, and you and I are hardly trapped in that."
Still, Bucky looked troubled, and Tony continued, "Does my work here make you happy?"
"Good, then it's settled."
"But Tony -"
"I am happy here," he interjected. "I have purpose, I am recognized, I am appreciated."
"You were not there?" and there was something about how he said it, as if he couldn't believe it to be true; that Bucky could be so baffled that he found the notion of not valuing or appreciating Tony's contributions automatically absurd made Tony blush bashfully.
"I am happy here," he said instead. Tony's fiddling led to a chain of flowers arranged in a circlet, and amused, Tony offered it up, swiping cheekily, "Besides, why would I go back to the wide, lonely world of the Living when I could be here being adored beside Death instead?"
Bucky chuckled and accepted the makeshift crown with an incline of his head.
Tony's fingers brushed the cool darkness of Bucky's hair, hooked behind his pale ears and traced the smooth, cool column of his neck until their breathes were shared, and between their lips, a promise of allegiance was uttered.
It was done then, officially from that day on, Death was suitably adorned with a crown of flowers and a companion at his side that roused the living amongst the dead.
By the sixth year with yet another abysmally answered harvest moon come to pass, Tony's father called him home with decrees that Tony never return to the Underworld.
Tony assented to a visit above, and his father, as always did not take him seriously.
Then again, no one else seemed to either.
At the gates, Cerberus whined with all three heads, and Bucky stood at attention with his jaw locked and his hands firmly behind his back.
Tony remembered how eagerly Bucky came to him, how he grasped and palmed and moved Tony in all the ways he wanted him. Unyeilding but patient, strong and assertive but not demanding and dominating but still loving as he kissed, tugged, licked, worshipped and adored in all the ways mortals and gods alike did when seeking companionship - affection - love.
Neither of them said the words, gods lived too long for such a promise to be made, yet they felt it all the same, and Tony would not abandon it, or the kingdom he was unwittingly given as a result.
"I'll be back in three months." A blink, a glance away; in a god's lifespan.
Bucky's lips lifted in a faint, poor imitation of a smile, but still Tony grinned, waved and turned on his heel.
As if coming to life at the sight of Tony's back moving further away, Bucky called out, "Three months?"
Looking over his shoulder, a pomegranate seed on his tongue, a whole fruit ripe with them in his hand, Tony winked. "Count 'em."