It's a beautiful spring day, the sun shining down on him. Steve blinks and pulls himself to his feet.
The lake is there. The tall trees surround him, flowers bloom here and there, and a small, brightly coloured bike is lying abandoned on the grass.
And it feels so right, even more so than the past and Peggy.
Everything is quiet, except for the wind in the tops of the trees and the birds singing.
He heads up the hill to the house. It brings back memories of Tony and for a moment he imagines the man as he’d last seen him, pale and deathly still, finally at rest in his coffin. The weight of it on his shoulder, Rhodey in front of him and Happy and Bruce on the other side, Peter and Harley taking the front. There’s silent tears streaming down their faces.
Now’s not the time. He focuses back on the house, and for the second time, walks up the steps and raises a shaking fist to the door.
‘Coming!’ Pepper’s voice sounds from inside. Steve takes a deep breath in.
She opens the door, Morgan hiding at her side, gripping her hand, and stares at him. ‘Steve?’
‘You- I thought you were gone for good…’
‘I did too, but… Peggy made me realise I have too much here to loose.’
‘I’m so glad you’re back.’ She says, and hugs him tightly. ‘He’s a mess.’
‘How long was I gone? The emergency return thing is dodgy. It hasn’t been too long, has it?’
‘Only a month. Bucky… Bucky shut himself away in the spare room, and he’s only come out of it to go to the gym and beat Sam up.’
‘I should never have left him, God, I should’ve-’
Pepper pulls away, a hand still on his shoulder. ‘It’ll be okay, Steve. It’ll all be okay.’
Bucky hears the door open, and voices at the front door. The part of his mind that is still a soldier is screaming at him to getupgetupgetup and arm himself, but he doesn’t. There shouldn’t be any threat, and Pepper can protect herself anyway.
So he curls deeper into his mess of blankets and misery, gripping tightly to Steve’s dog tag in his flesh hand. Steve had loved Peggy, a lot. They’d understood each other, in a way, and suddenly Steve was spending more time with her than he was with Bucky. And he’d tried to ignore his jealousy, because for a moment, a single joyful moment when Steve had saved him in the fire and chaos, he had thought that maybe, just maybe, they could have a future together.
Really though, a part of him had always known that Steve would find someone one day, a dame who accepted him for who he was, and who he could settle down with. And Bucky wouldn’t. Because he’d found the love of his life, and none of the flings with men in gay bars could compare. None of the women he fake dated as protection for both of them could make him anywhere near as happy as Steve’s friendship.
In the end, Steve would always choose Peggy. Not his queer, broken best friend.
So when he hears footsteps on the stairs he ignores their familiarity, putting it down to a trick of his mind. When they cross the landing he reaches under his pillow, hand clenching around the gun he keeps there, and raises it.
The door opens, and it’s not some SHIELD asshole standing there.
Steve raises his hands, staring at Bucky.
He’s a mess. There’s dark shadows under his eyes and his hair is limp and long. The room looks like a bomb filled with blankets and dirty laundry has gone off, and Bucky is curled in the centre of it, pointing a gun and staring straight back at him.
‘I’m so sorry, Buck, I’m so sorry-’
Bucky drops the gun and launches himself at Steve, tackling him into a bone crushing hug. ‘Steve.’
‘I shouldn’t’ve left you.’ He murmurs into Bucky’s shoulder. ‘I was an idiot. You’ve been my best friend pretty much forever, and I can’t just throw that away.’
‘But you were happy with her.’
‘I was, Buck. But I could never be completely happy without you.’
‘You… what?’ Bucky pulls away from him, his hands still on Steve’s shoulders, and looks him right in the eyes.
‘I love Peggy and I always will. But she made me realise that I had so much back here worth staying for. So much that I’d miss. So much that I love.’
‘Steve, you had a chance for happiness. For the life you’ve always dreamed of. You can’t just… throw that away like this.’
‘No.’ Steve says, and cups Bucky’s face in his hands. ‘This is my chance for happiness.’
And he takes a deep breath, and kisses Bucky on the lips.
For a moment, Bucky freezes, and Steve feels the creep of fear up his spine. You better be right about this, Peggy.
But then Bucky kisses back, surging forward and pulling them together so strongly that their teeth clink. He’s angry and passionate and possessive all at once, and Steve feels his worries dissipate just like that.
They pull apart momentarily to gasp in air, and Bucky grins at him. It’s the old grin, the one that belonged to the Bucky with the Brooklyn accent and the swagger, the Bucky who told stories of wild escapades and who saved Steve’s ass in back alleyways. ‘I have waited so long for this, Stevie.’
Bucky’s voice is gravelly and low as he pulls Steve back to him, and Steve smiles into the kiss. It feels like fireworks are going off in his heart, and he knows now that he definitely made the right choice.
‘Hey, Pepper told me Steve’s back, so I got here as fast- oh.’ Sam’s voice suddenly comes from the doorway behind them, and they spring apart. ‘Oh shit, sorry-’
‘Uh, hey Sam.’ Steve says awkwardly, and waves.
‘Oh thank god. Finally. I thought I’d have to deal with this pining asshole until the end of my life-’
‘Oy.’ Bucky grumbles, and Sam rolls his eyes, already retreating.
‘I’ll just… uh, leave you to it then. See you at dinner?’
‘Um. Yeah. Dinner.’
‘Great.’ Sam says, and pulls the door closed behind him. As soon as he’d out on the landing, there’s a muffled cheer and they can hear him race down the stairs, whooping loudly.
‘Now, where were we?’ Bucky turns to Steve and they can’t help but grin at each other.
They're late to dinner.
Pepper is gleeful and Steve blushes so hard he wants to sink into the floor. Bucky laughs at him and pinches his cheek.
'What did Peggy say?' Sam asks as they sit down, shovelling lasagne into his mouth.
'She... uh- basically listened to my whole story and then told me I was an idiot and I'd never be properly happy if I stayed with her. And then proceeded to tell me about a girl called Jan she was with before the war, and-'
'Wait, what?' Bucky spits his lasagne out all over his plate. 'She never said!'
'Well, you didn't either.'
He huffs. 'Fair fair. No one said in those days.'
'Is Bucky happy now?' Morgan interrupts, looking up at them with big, soft eyes from across the table. Steve's heart melts.
'Yes.' Bucky says. 'Yeah, I'm happy.'
He leans over and captures Steve's lips with his own, Pepper squeals and Sam snaps a photo. Bucky gives him the (metal) finger.
Steve's happy too, as Bucky's hands wind around to the nape of his neck. He's happier than he thinks he's ever been.
He knows, yes, he most certainly knows, that things won't ever go back to how that used to be. There's too much between then and now for that.
But they can make their own time, now, in the peace left in Thanos' wake. They can explore each other and the world, can go places they've only dreamt of. Because they're in this together. ‘Til the end of the line.
And Steve knows that somewhere, Peggy Carter is looking down on them, and smiling.