“Thank you,” Sam says stoically, the bright new shield drooping awkwardly from one hand, and Steve knows then that he’ll take it. He’ll accept the shield, be the energized new Captain that America needs, and Steve will be… free. He indulges Sam for several minutes first though, talking through logistics and letting Sam get out his nerves with a few rounds of bravado.
“I mean,” Sam says, “you might wanna bask in your good reputation while you can, ‘fore I steal it out from under you.”
“Oh yeah?” Steve asks, “you think you can out-Cap Captain Rogers?”
“I’m pretty sure the saying goes ‘new and improved’ for a reason.” Sam cocks an eyebrow, and Steve’s confident he’ll be alright.
“You’ll forgive an old man for not walking you to the van, then,” Steve tells him, then, keeping his voice tight and wavery in that way that conveys how many years he’s truly lived. Sam nods, throwing a lazy salute that’s criminally below military standards before hiking over to catch his ride. Steve, for his part, sags against the bench. Not from age, or fatigue, but relief. He only has to keep up this act a little longer before he might, finally, find the one thing he’s given up on all this time: a life of his own.
Only once Sam is gone does Bucky settle beside him, close, but turned away. His eyes track the summer bugs skimming the lake’s surface, instead.
“You look real convincing, like that,” he finally offers.
“Yeah, only so long as I don’t stand up. Be hard to explain why I’m missing a good seven inches.” Steve rolls his eyes, almost expects a lewd joke from Bucky, but none comes. Bucky won’t even look at him. “Hey,” Steve knocks their knees together, voice back to his own, “what’s eatin’ you?”
Bucky finally does shift, then, fingers skimming up along the papery thin curve of his cheek. “So this is what you look like as an old man, huh?”
“Who knows,” Steve says easily. “We’ve got time to find out.”
“Of course we do. Buck, here—” His fingers pick at the edge of his hairline, toying at the loose skin and then, quickly, pulling away the biomimetic face mask that had fooled Sam.
Bucky’s eyes widen, like he wasn’t expecting to see the real Steve under there, like he didn’t know exactly what the plan was. Steve blinks, skin adjusting to the pleasant feel of a breeze without the second skin. He knows what he looks like under the mask; skin smooth but pale, jaw too slender, eyes too big. What he doesn’t know is what Bucky sees. He’s staring, open-mouthed, but he hasn’t said a word.
“Too different?” Steve asks quietly, his gorge rising just a little.
Bucky shakes his head, briefly, but he stays transfixed. “No,” he finally says. “No, it’s just right.” Then his palms come up to cup Steve’s neck, chilly on the one side, before sliding up onto his face, into his hair, just the far side of gentle.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph, Stevie. It’s you.”
“Well I’m sure not Mary,” Steve tries, but Bucky’s having none of it. He swipes his thumbs roughly against Steve’s cheeks, as if trying to pull away another false skin. As if he wouldn’t know this old face better than anyone.
“Stevie,” he says again, his voice reverent and soft. “You tiny little punk. You sure it worked? I mean, this is permanent?”
“Sure is,” Steve says, a little rueful, and then brings a hand up to scrape his knuckles against his chest. “Warts and all.” He can already tell that his allergies do not like the future.
“But how’d you shake the serum?”
“Bruce helped. As it was explained to me, sometimes you move through time, and sometimes time moves through you.”
Bucky laughs, bright and sudden. “Time can do a backflip in space for all I care. God, look at you.”
“Yeah? You don’t mind driving the old model again?”
“Idiot,” Bucky says fondly, and crowds in around Steve. “This is the model I fell in love with.” Steve has to tilt his head up when Bucky kisses him, slow like 1939 on a hot day with the radio on, and he can’t say that he minds.
“Bucky,” Steve whispers into is mouth. “Let’s disappear.” Steve feels him shiver like he just said something dirty.
“Yeah?” he asks, eyes wide again, but excited. Happy. “You know, wasn’t too long ago I was herding goats in Wakanda. Real easy to get lost in the open plains of an invisible country.” Steve has a flash of grief at the thought of all the time Bucky’s missed, of all the ways Steve had tortured himself by thinking he’d never have this again, but he lets it go.
“Wakanda sounds great.” He means it, and his smile is even genuine. He can do that, now. “We can herd goats in obscurity. And even if they do track us down, no one wants me like this.”
“You were always one of the only ones.”
“Maybe. I just never thought you’d put your shield down long enough for me to prove it to you.”
Steve sighs, and settles in comfortably against Bucky’s side. He, now, watches the surface of the lake ripple serenely. “Well, as far as I’m concerned, I already gave my entire life to this country. The second time around’s just for us.”