Before Steve knows it, there’s only one more Infinity Stone to return.
Steve’s gone across all the corners of the known universe. He’s been to Asgard and Morag. He even saw Natasha Romanoff’s corpse on Vormir. And there were times when he believed he would fail, or give in, or let himself fall to his death. Because this was the very last mission, and his friends aren’t there beside him.
But he’s a soldier, and surviving against all odds is what he does.
Steve finds himself back in 2012 in New York. He always thought that seeing Natasha’s dead body would be the hardest thing to face, but he was wrong. He returned the Tesseract and the Mind Stone in Loki’s sceptre, and all that was left was for him to return the Time Stone, which was how he found himself standing on top of the New York Sanctum during the battle of New York.
He looks down at the other version of the Avengers as they valiantly defend the city. The Ancient One looks at him curiously.
“You are not from this timeline, are you?” She asks.
Steve shakes his head. That wasn’t who he was anymore. He’s a different person, changed by the war and the war changed by him. It was at that moment when he knew it was time to go. He knew his story had come to a close. It was time to open another chapter of his life. There was one more opportunity to remake the world in his favour and remake the world he shall.
“No. I’m not,” Steve replies. The Ancient One takes a step towards him and retrieves the Time Stone from the Infinity Gauntlet.
“Are you returning to your own time, then?” She asks.
Steve looks at the Pym Particle and in an instant, he knows where he should be. He should be with Peggy. He should be dancing with Peggy. He swallows hard.
He holds the Pym Particle up to the light so the Ancient One can see it. Wordlessly, Steve places it inside of his suit. He looks up to the sky and lets out a breath of air. The sky is bright blue, like the ocean, like his dreams, like the taste in his mouth after the war. The sounds of the city faded to a hum, and suddenly it was silent.
Steve takes another breath when the ground beneath him materializes. He knows where he is just by the smell of scorched earth. He’s in the battle strategy tent, in 1945. He looks to his left and there’s a cot, the same bed he slept on in his army days. There’s hollering and yelling outside, and the distant sound of gunfire. Deep in his soul, he knows he’s back where he’s supposed to be.
Steve looks down to his hands and sees himself kitted out in the classic, original, Captain America outfit. In every other instance, he had been another version of himself. But right now, he was the version of himself all young and innocent and almost brand-new. For a petrifying, fleeting moment, Steve wonders what happened to the other Captain America. And he wonders if he messes up.
But his worries subside in an instant because Bucky calls for him. “Hey, Steve!” Bucky says from just outside the tent. “We’re ready to go!”
Steve’s eyes flash to the calendar, and he knows what day it is. It’s the first of February, the day when he and the Howling Commandos storm the Schnellzug EB912, the train that Bucky fell off of. He had another opportunity to remake the world. To save the day right then and there. Bucky was standing there in the brand-newness of the situation and life was possible once more.
“Coming!” He exclaims, and before he knows it, he’s back on the train that had haunted his nightmares. Even when Bucky’s existence in the 21st century was made known, it didn’t stop Steve from screaming in the night. This was the moment that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Steve goes through the motions. He goes through his day like it’s a scene from the play. He’s feeling intense deja vu, but he knows that isn’t correct. Because it isn’t deja vu, it’s a second chance.
It happens quicker than a kiss goodnight or a stab goodbye, and it still takes Steve by surprise even if he knows that it’s bound to happen一Bucky slips. He should fall, and fulfil his destiny as the new fist of HYDRA, as the Winter Soldier. But Steve won’t let that happen, because this time he knows what to do. His movements are like clockwork, snapping into focus as he had done time and time again. Steve hangs his whole body off of the train and pulls Bucky up with all his arm strength.
In this world, Steve saves Bucky’s life. Bucky hoists himself up on the top of the train, standing across Steve and looks at him like he’s God incarnate. While he was in a parallel universe’s timeline, his actions made him completely switch dimensions now. For the first time in forever, Steve finally feels in control of his own destiny. He breathes a sigh of relief, and smiles.
History pushes further as expected. Armin Zola is captured, and they take HYDRA on five days later. As did before, HYDRA fell that day. With the storming of the facility and the Howling Commandos fighting at full speed they managed to defeat the Red Skull, and if Steve plays his cards right, he can prevent HYDRA from spreading into S.H.I.E.L.D in all its entirety. There was still fighting to be done, but the war quickly sped to a close by May, with the signing of Germany’s surrender. The work of the Howling Commandos was done, and they were ready to go home.
They’re killing time in the UK, packing up and helping out on the battlefront until May sneaks up on them, and letters come in the post telling the soldiers that they can return home. On his last night before leaving, Peggy Carter is there with a smile on her face and determined to ask him for a drink and a dance. And Steve is determined not to say no. Not to leave before fulfilling his destiny.
“May I have this dance, Agent Carter?” Steve whispers.
Peggy turns a sultry shade of red. She nods with a smirk and holds out her hand. Steve takes it, and leads Peggy to the dance floor.
A hush fell over the room as everyone stared at them, the poster children of the war. Steve leads, even if he knows damn well he’s a shit dancer. Peggy doesn’t seem to mind, because the tempo of the song is so slow that all they have to do is sway.
And Steve doesn’t complain. Because the flesh of Peggy’s waist is soft and warm and real, not just a motion sick daydream that Steve beat to death in the midst of boredom. Because Peggy Carter is a gorgeous, determined, and fierce. Because she’s everything Steve dreamt of, and they’re dancing. This moment here and now was what kept him through the winters. Everyone is looking at him, the photographers for the history books, the onlookers with drinks stalled to their lips. Steve smiles. He wants them all to look. He wants them all to see the fruits of his labour. A beautiful dame on a beautiful night.
This is where the story of Captain America is supposed to end. He saved the day, he found love. And it took a long and hard fought fight over a series of wars and a tumultuous amount of time, but he did it. This is his happy ending, and the story is over. It’s where the curtain should close. It should be where the audience says goodbye and goodnight to Captain America for the very last time.
This should be where the credits roll. With him dancing with Peggy Carter to a song that Nick Fury played to him long ago. This is where the lights go dark, with him pulling Peggy in for a kiss.
There is no more story. No more post credits scene, and no more Steve Rogers.
But life doesn’t work like it does in the movies. So perhaps, just one more scene left to witness.
There’s just one little piece of unfinished business. A minuscule detail that Steve can’t help but want to fix. There’s one more problem, and one more solution. And a whole world to rediscover.
The song ends with a brilliant swell and closes with a thunderous sound of laughter, Peggy is blushing, as Steve pulls her in closer.
Peggy gives Steve a quick kiss on the cheek. “I need to use the restroom!” She exclaims over the sound of loud music. Steve nods, and watches Peggy walk away.
Steve looks around the room, surveying the crowd. Everything looks in order, except for one detail out of place. Bucky Barnes.
Steve squints further, and sees Bucky in an unfamiliar position.
He’s standing near the bar without a dame on his shoulder, not talking up the waitress or trying to slip a nurse the tongue. He’s never seen anything like it. Bucky standing on the sidelines when everyone else is dancing.
Steve chuckled, sauntering over to Bucky with a witty retort already hanging off the tip of his tongue.
“Don’t have anyone to dance with?” Steve teased.
Bucky raised his cold glass of beer at Steve and smiled. “Pretty nurse I’ve found my way with has to patch up a soldier.” Bucky says jokingly. Steve rolled his eyes. He had a lifetime worth of sarcastic Bucky Barnes jokes to catch up on, and Steve’s heart catches.
This was the unfinished business. The person that makes it impossible to walk away from the story of Steve Rogers.
“Then dance with me.” Steve says, all the confidence of a man reborn flowing in his lungs.
Bucky inhales sharply, taking in a breath of air. He takes a look around the room slowly. There are fellas dancing with fellas, dames dancing with dames. In this world, just for a moment everything seems possible. It’s the victory ecstasy that allows people to turn a blind eye. Because when the sun comes up, they’ll never be able to do this again.
Bucky smirks at Steve, and it’s the same smirk he uses to get the soup kitchen server’s home address, or the window-washer’s time of day. But for the first time, it’s directed at Steve. It’s loaded with chemistry and intangible history and an incomprehensible amount of meaning. Steve feels he might go faint. Or weak in the knees, at the very least.
Steve holds out his hand wordlessly, and Bucky takes it. It’s rough, not soft like a dame’s, not veiny and fragile like Peggy’s. It’s full of scratches and scars一that’s all Steve’s doing. It’s years and years of Steve’s being so damn tiny and loving to pick fights. It’s memories of times that Bucky has to step in and take care of business himself. And every one of the scars on his knuckles is another memory between them. Steve could dump their history into the ocean and it would overflow onto the streets of Manhattan.
Bucky guided Steve to the dance floor. Neither of them had room in their hearts to be embarrassed, because they’re still drunk off winning a world war. Bucky kept his eyes trained on Steve, eyes unreadable. Between them, nothing felt forced, it felt like they’ve been doing this their whole lives. But their lives were just beginning, and they’ve never done this before.
“Everyone will look at us.” Steve whispered, eyes downcast to the floor.
Bucky rolled his eyes. Steve’s insides did a somersault. “Everyone is always looking at us. We literally just defeated the Nazis, you punk.”
He wants to argue. Because it wasn’t all his doing. Because it wasn’t him that won the war, but another version of him that should have been in ice by now. But he can’t open his mouth because the music is killing everything he’s trying to think.
Instead, Steve laughed. He placed his hand on the small of Bucky’s back, like he had done with Bucky moments before for the first time. The dance floor was crowded with every human in the war effort, and Steve still felt like all eyes were on him. And perhaps they were
They danced to the beat of the piano. It was just the piano, filling the sounds of the dance hall with its airy, jubilant tones. They danced slowly to the piano, to the beat of their hearts. It was less romantic of a song than the one he had danced with Peggy, but this one felt more intimate.
It felt like Steve’s heart had been cut open for the world to see, and he didn’t know why.
Bucky was still wearing his uniform from the battle, cold and stiff and ill fitting, but it never looked better on him. He had a dashing smile, grown out hair and beard, and a sadness around the eyes. It was the sadness Steve could never account for. It was like chasing a runaway ghost, getting to the bottom of Bucky’s bottomless soul.
The heat swelled around them, filling the air with humidity and moisture. They had only been dancing for less than a minute, but Steve could see the sweat beads on the top of Bucky’s lip. Steve tried to hide the way he drew ragged, abrupt heaves of air, because it was something that Bucky would definitely tease.
He can hear Bucky’s teasing voice now. Jeez, Stevie. You can save me off a train but can’t do a waltz?
Steve can feel Bucky’s hot breath on his cheek, the way that they moved together without saying any words. It was the culmination of knowing each other’s movements like knowing your own.
Steve can feel his mind working into overtime, but he let out a breath of air and closed his eyes. He had to let go. The future was a task for tomorrow’s Steve Rogers.
In any other moment in this time they would have gotten excommunicated. They would have gotten arrested. They would have gotten killed. But everyone is reveling in the post-war bliss. Everything is possible again.
They dance. And this should be where the curtain closes and the story ends. But it’s two men dancing in the 1940’s, so the story is far from over.