Steve really isn't sure if he wants to bless Howard Stark or curse his name. He figures maybe he'll split the difference and punch Tony in the face. As soon as he can move again. He should probably be concerned that this is what's going through his mind right now, but the rest… the rest is too enormous to contemplate.
Howard had left behind literal warehouses full of tinkerings and half-designed projects, many of which Tony has adopted and expanded on over the years. At the same time, he seems to place a priority on pretending that he has no value for his father's work, a weird piece of psychological tap-dancing Steve prefers to ignore whenever possible. It does mean that Tony's workrooms in the newly restored and improved Stark Tower (Clint calls it “The Arc Reactor Boogaloo” for some reason) are filled with things that should probably never be touched but are frequently used as coffee coasters.
All in all, Steve could never have imagined that reaching out ins.txttively to grab at a blinking device falling from the top of a pile of odds and ends would lead to the sight before him, the one his brain is now prepared to let him focus on. Standing in the middle of Tony Stark's main workshop, in New Stark Tower, New York, New York, in the year 20whatever, are Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter.
They look even more confused than he does, naturally. In fact, as Steve's brain clicks over into super-soldier observation mode, he notices that they look the same as when he had last seen each of them. When he had lost them. Bucky still clutches the metal railing of the train, sweating and shaking as he crouches on the floor. Peggy's hair is still faintly windblown from the desperate car chase to catch up with Schmidt's aircraft, and the collar of her jacket is soaked from the tears trailing down her face.
Tony appears to have swallowed his gum, and possibly his tongue. Bruce looks mildly startled. The guys in suits and Ray-bans who had been getting the Grand Tour remove their sunglasses slowly and check the lenses as though they might be defective.
They all stare at each other in absolute silence for a moment, and then all hell breaks loose.
Later, when S.H.I.E.L.D. has been called in and debriefings have been held and Nick Fury has threatened to skin them all and taxidermy their pelts for his den, Steve paces an empty corridor and waits for the okay to see his friends, his dearest friends in the entire world. The friends he hasn't seen in seventy years. He thinks he can be forgiven the need for a little pacing.
He's eventually escorted in, and the staring continues for a moment more, until Peggy reaches out to touch his cheek softly and he sweeps her up into a gigantic Thor-style hug, holding her tightly to his chest and pressing his lips against her hair. The twenty-first century is still foreign to him in many ways, but he's adopted the breakdown in personal space between close friends with ease. For her part, she clings to him fiercely, as though she's afraid that letting go might allow all of this to disappear.
When they finally release each other, Bucky steps forward for a double-handed clasp and is vaguely surprised to be yanked into a similar hug as the one bestowed on Peggy. His hands come up to wrap around Steve's back nonetheless, and Steve can practically feel his wide grin against his shoulder. He knows there's a matching one on his own face.
They talk long into that night, sorting out the small amount of whys and wherefores available to them. If S.H.I.E.L.D. knows how the device did… what it did, they aren't telling. Tony swears he doesn't have any idea, that he might have run some unstable isotopes through the thing, just because, you know, but he had no active part in turning it into some kind of weirdo emotion-based time machine.
The job appears to be pretty thoroughly done at this point. Neither Peggy nor Bucky are showing any physical effects of the transportation process, except shock, of course. The research division report from Agent Hill, which Fury had certainly not left open in full view of Steve while he refreshed his coffee, shows that Sergeant Barnes remains listed MIA after the train job, but Agent Carter is now also listed as missing and presumed dead after the final assault on Hydra. There are no records for Margaret Carter from that point onward.
Steve feels.txtredibly guilty about this for a very long time. Bucky, he rationalizes, gets a new start and a future that never would have happened without The Thing, as they take to calling it. But Peggy… the original Peggy had still been alive prior to The Thing, and he has taken that time away from her. All her experiences, all her happiness and sorrow from the time he had ditched Schmidt's plane into the Arctic onward. He feels like a thief, and it's all the worse because he's so damned overjoyed to see her.
Peggy tells him to stop being ridiculous. In the first place, he didn't mean to do anything, and can hardly be held responsible for what Howard's bizarre brain dreamed up and his equally bizarre son's penchant for reckless science achieved. In the second place, she is perfectly capable of making up her own mind about her unusual double life, and even though she has no personal memory of the one lived out in real time, she wouldn't go back if someone offered her the opportunity. She's here, and she intends to make the most of it.
So they carry on, and if it's not quite the fantasy Steve has cherished in his private thoughts .txte waking up in fake-1943 and learning that the world had gone on without him, it's still a damn sight better than the alternative. Bucky and Peggy adjust to the twenty-first century slowly, but surely, just as he had. In some ways, they have it easier with Steve to act as a guide. In others, it's much harder. They aren't super-heroes, not the way Captain America is. They lack the sense of utter purpose Steve and the other Avengers can fall back on when the loneliness and isolation get to them, though they can certainly identify with the sensation of being totally unprecedented.
But there are reasons why Peggy was a standout in the S.S.R., and reasons why Bucky's men would follow him anywhere, and a lot of reasons why not only Captain America the hero but also Steve Rogers the man is proud to call them his friends. Slowly they are integrated into the modern S.H.I.E.L.D. and become part of the support team that keeps the Earth and beyond safe from all the Weird Shit life can throw at it. They make acquaintances, then friends. Somehow Clint gets Bucky hooked on video games, and Natasha looks frankly astonished the first time he swings her into a jitterbug on the dance floor. Peggy gets along famously with Maria Hill, and has a standing yoga date with Bruce.
For a long time, probably longer than he'd like to admit, the biggest stumbling blocks to the reinvention of Peggy and Bucky are their relationships with Steve himself. In his dreams, he had often romanced Peggy, the way he had wanted to back in 1943 when there had been so little time. Now that he has the time, he can't manage to declare his feelings, though he thinks they must be written all over his face. Between his guilt and joy, her disorientation and uncertainty about his new life, they seem to be hanging in yet another suspended animation.
Bucky, too, appears unsure of what his place is in Steve's life now.
In their shared past, they had been best friends, then brothers in arms,
the transition from Bucky-and-Shrimpy-Steve to Bucky-and-Captain-America-
In the end, it's Bucky himself who breaks the general impasse. After an especially frustrating day, he invites Steve and Peggy both to his new apartment for dinner. They all have a few glasses of wine, though Steve's don't affect him, of course, and end up having a not-quite-fight about Steve's inability to follow up on the good luck kiss Peggy had given him months (or decades, depending on your reckoning) before. The culmination of this is Bucky hauling Steve to him and kissing him full on the mouth. It had been intended as half-challenge, half-joke, but it quickly turns passionate.
When they break apart, Steve turns almost fearfully to Peggy, expecting a repeat of the Private Lorraine.txtident. He briefly wonders if Bucky has any loaded weapons in the apartment. He is dumbstruck to see in Peggy's eyes not anger but understanding and more than a little lust. She reaches for him and draws him down for a kiss, a proper one this time and not a goodbye peck on a moving vehicle. Steve wonders what saint he has to thank for tripling his kiss count in the space of thirty seconds, but the thought flies away as he discovers how agile her tongue can be.
If they had any sense at all between the three of them, they'd stop and talk about this, figure out what in the blazes they think they're doing. But full steam ahead has always worked as a strategy for this crew, and so they decide not to break from tradition.
The night passes in a tangle of limbs and kisses. Steve only remembers brief moments when he tries to recall them later on. Steve stroking Peggy's breasts and watching avidly as Bucky slides his tongue and fingers into her, storing up tips for later. Peggy layering kisses along Bucky's jaw as she rides Steve's cock slowly, the sensation so good he thinks he might die from it. Bucky and Steve moving together, listening to Peggy as she directs them with a stream of affectionate filth, Bucky's cock gliding between Steve's thighs on a slick of mingled come and lubricant scrounged from his wank drawer.
Afterwards, they lie together and Steve wonders if this has been a mistake. He can't imagine that anything leaving him so contented could be, but still, he worries. He's a worrier by nature. Bucky grins and thumps him on the shoulder just as Peggy orders him to stop thinking so loudly. As Steve slides down towards sleep, he decides that it doesn't matter what anyone would have said or will say, in any century. For the first time in a long time, perhaps ever, his life feels complete. It's a feeling worth fighting for.