“I’m with you until the end of the line.”

That was always Captain America’s promise.

Avengers: Endgame gave fans a lot to think and talk about when it came to Steve Rogers, who’s had one of the more emotional arcs over the past decade of Marvel storytelling.

Chris Evans delivered something to remember…

***Spoilers Below***

It’s one of the most tearful moments of Endgame, and yet — what could be a happier ending?

The battle is won, Thanos is thwarted, and Captain America has a briefcase full of Infinity Stones borrowed from the pasts of other dimensions. Returning them to the moment they were taken will “clip the branches” and restore them all to the prime timeline.

“I’m going to miss you buddy,” says Bucky, the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), who has known Steve Rogers since they were Depression-era kids in Brooklyn.

But Cap is only supposed to be gone for five seconds in their timeline. (Directors Anthony and Joe Russo have a tantalizing explanation for this. More on that in the days to come…)

Then the two old friends trade insults:

“Don’t do anything stupid until I get back,” Steve tells Bucky.

“How can I? You’re taking all the stupid with you,” his friend replies.

This exchange is the reverse of what Bucky Barnes said to skinny little Steve when he left him behind to fight in World War II in 2011’s original Captain America.

Cap Doesn’t Come Back

When Cap doesn’t return right away through the time portal, Professor Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is perplexed and explains that he blew past his time stamp. That means Cap — at least as they knew him — isn’t returning at all.

The Falcon (Anthony Mackie) is enraged, demanding Hulk do something. But Bucky is calm. He points Falcon toward a figure sitting on a ridge, overlooking the water. “Sam…” Bucky says.

They approach, and find Steve Rogers — decades and decades older. He’s frail.

He’s at the end of the line.

For those wondering, this is actually Chris Evans in old age makeup, augmented with some digital effects to slim his frame, just like Marvel did before his character took the super-soldier serum in the first Captain America.

“So did something go wrong, or did something go right?” Falcon asks the elderly figure.

“I put the stones back,” Old Man Cap says. “And I thought maybe I should try some of that life Tony was telling me to get.”

“How did that work out for you?”

Cap smiles wistfully. “It was beautiful.”

“I’m happy for you,” Sam tells him. “Truly.”

Cap whispers, “Thank you.”

Sam laments that he only regrets that he will no longer live in a world with Captain America, but that reminds Steve Rogers of something. He has his old red, white, and blue shield, fully restored.

He gives it to Falcon — fulfilling a beloved storyline from Marvel Comics, in which the Falcon takes on the mantle of Captain America.

“How’s it feel?” Old Cap asks.

“Like it’s someone else’s,” Falcon answers.

“It isn’t,” Cap tells him. That’s when Falcon notices the gold band on the old man’s finger.

“You want to tell me about her?”

“No,” Steve Rogers says softly, keeping some secrets for himself. “No, I don’t think I will.”

Into the Past

From there we fade into the past, and zoom in on a small bungalow. Inside the living room, two people are dancing. It’s Steve Rogers and Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell).

At the end of the first Captain America, when Rogers was facing certain doom by steering his ship full of deadly cargo into the Arctic ice, he and Peggy said goodbye with a promise — he would return and meet her for a date at the USO’s Stork Club.

Then he vanished into the ice.

When he was revived in the present day, Peggy was still alive but frail, and suffering from dementia — a ghost of herself. Then she passed away in Civil War, and Steve didn’t even have that shadow of her anymore.

Steve may have missed that particular dance at the Stork Club, which allows for all the events of the show Agent Carter to have played out, but he finally found her again. A man no longer out of time.

The song that plays as they dance is “It’s Been a Long, Long Time,” recorded by trumpeter and big band leader Harry James with singer Kitty Kallen.

The song became a massive hit in 1945 as soldiers who were lucky enough to survive World War II returned home to the ones they loved.

♬ Never thought that you would be

standing here so close to me

There’s so much I feel that I should say

but words can wait

until some other day

Kiss me once, then kiss me twice

Then kiss me once again

It’s been a long, long time

Haven’t felt like this, my dear

Since I can’t remember when

It’s been a long, long time… 

Other Worlds Than These

As the movie’s time-travel tutorial explains, no one goes back to their own past. Cap’s journey to return the stones was to the past of other dimensions, and by restoring the chronology they sync back up with the main timeline.

But when he stayed behind, it was within one of these branched realities — and refusing to tell Sam the full story was a wink toward the audience: Yes, something happened there. Cap had a life, and perhaps some adventures. But no, we don’t get to find out what they were.

Still… Bucky knew. Somehow, and it’s probably more than just intuition. He was aware that Cap was going to live in the past. Maybe he had run into that older Cap before. The Falcon certainly hadn’t.

So how did Old Cap jump back into the main timeline for this goodbye with his friends?

There’s a Disney+ streaming series called Falcon and Winter Soldier. Maybe we’ll find out more then.

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