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The world has changed, and none of us can go back.

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He feels light without the infinity stones. But now, finally, they are all back, scattered throughout space and time. Safe.

 

The wooden steps are solid beneath Steve's feet. Solid, real.

He's here. He's actually here. And for good.

'For good' sends a flash of doubt through his mind, and he thinks about Bucky's face, worried and sad but accepting of his choice. But he's here, now, so he shakes Buck from his head, gulps, and raises a shaking fist to the white door.

 

He knocks.

 

The sound echoes in his ears. He hears someone inside, muffled noises, footsteps, a lock clicking.

 

The door opens. Peggy stares at him.

Steve smiles. It's small, hesitant, hopeful, and Peggy stares.

 

'Steve?'

 

'Want a dance?' His voice cracks on the last word, and she rushes forward all at once and hugs him tightly.

Steve breathes in deeply, and holds her close. She smells the same- that elusive perfume he'd though he'd never smell again, sweetness mixed with gunpowder. Her hair is soft, and in the afternoon sun, it shines.

And all of a sudden he's sobbing, face buried in her shoulder, tears running down his cheeks, choking him, drowning him.

 

'Steve. Oh my god. Steve.' She pulls away, still holding him, and stares at his face. There's a tear running down her cheek, smudging her makeup, and her eyes are glistening, but Steve thinks she still looks perfect. 'I thought I'd never see you again. H-how? How are you here? How are you alive?'

 

'It's a long story. Very long.'

 

'Well, uh, let's go inside then.'

 

He follows Peggy into the house, gripping her hand tightly. It's a nice house, light and bright and airy, with a warm, homely feel. They stop in the middle of the lounge room.

 

'I... I came a long way to see you. A lot has happened. But we're both here now. And that's what matters.' Again, it doesn't feel quite right, and Bucky appears in his mind, but again, he shakes it away.

 

'Oh, Steve.' She says, and pulls him into a hug again. 'I missed you so much. So much.'

 

'How about a dance while I tell you the story?'

 

She grins at him, happy and loose and excited, lets him go and heads over to the record player. Notes fill the room, and Steve closes his eyes. He's back. He's back he's back he's back.

 

And they dance. They dance for hours, while Steve talks of times Peggy can barely dream of. He talks of aliens, heroes, and most of all, sacrifices. He cries, for all he's seen and done, for all he's lost and for everyone he's left behind.

At long last, when it's dark outside and they're exhausted, Peggy guides him over to the couch and they curl up together.

 

'You're here for me? You've given up everything for me?'

 

'Yes.' He says, and he means it. 'I love you.'

 

'I love you too. But you... you- how could you? How could you give up so much? We love each other, but our time has passed, Steve. It's gone. You have a life, a place, there in the future.'

 

'The world has changed, and none of us can go back.' Steve says, and it catches in his throat. 'You said that to me, in the future. But I had the chance, to come back, back where I belong, here, and I took it.'

 

He reaches out, touching the side of her face gently, but she curls her fingers around his and pushes them back, to his chest. His heart beats beneath their hands, big and strong and longing. 'No, Steve. You belong there. You have such a big heart, so much love to give, but it can't be torn any more.'

 

'No.' He whispers, voice shaking. 'No. I'm here. We're together. I can live out the rest of my life here, with you. We can grow old together. I love you.'

 

'More than anything you left in the future?'

 

'Yes.' One word, and his heart tears.

 

She shakes her head. 'No. You love him.'

Steve breaks. Peggy holds him to her chest and lets him sob into her shirt. 'You've loved Bucky forever. Much longer than me. You two are closer than we'll ever be. Closer than brothers. You share a love deeper than anything I could imagine, a love that's lasted through poverty and sickness and death and time and brainwashing and war, and so, so much pain. You've spent so long looking for him, and you can't leave him now, just as you finally have the chance to have time together again.'

 

'God.' Steve says, muffled into her shirt.

 

She smiles sadly and rubs his back gently. 'Shh. It's okay.'

 

 

It takes a while, and a lot of tears, before Steve is coherent again.

 

‘But- but I love you too.’

 

‘I know, Steve. And that’s okay. But your heart belongs more to him than me. You need to come to terms with that.’

 

‘I- I… I do, but-’

 

‘You love him, Steve. And I guarantee you, he loves you back. The universe has given you a chance to tell him. Take it.

 

‘Peggy…’

 

‘Promise me. We can have some time together, now, but at the end of it you have to go back.’

 

‘Peggy, I can’t promise that-’

 

‘He needs you. And you need him.’

 

‘Okay.’ Steve sighs, and as his heart breaks in two it somehow also feels whole. ‘Okay. I promise.’

 

Peggy smiles and kisses him gently on the cheek. ‘Thank you. Now, did I ever tell you about that girl I was with back before the war?’

 

‘Wait, WHAT?’

 

-

 

He stays a week with Peggy. Just one week, all to themselves.

And at the end, just like he'd promised, he kisses her goodbye through tears, and walks into the back garden.

 

Autumn leaves swirl around him as he takes one last look at Peggy, standing on the back steps in the sunlight.

 

'I love you.'

 

'I love you too.'

 

And Steve presses the emergency return button on his suit, and is once again sucked into the swirling, twisting chaos of time.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

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.

He's back.

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?’

‘Hi, Pepper.’

‘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.

It’s Steve.

 

-

 

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.

‘Steve?’

‘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.