When Steve first left the system, he never imagined that he'd voluntarily go back into it.
He and Bucky had been young and dumb and desperate to get out of there. They enlisted together, toured the Middle East together.
They would've died together, too, if Bucky hadn't shoved him out of the way.
Steve lasted another month until Sam caught him pointing a gun at his head.
He was honorably discharged with a clap on the back and a therapist's address. He moped around for a couple weeks until Bucky's voice in his head told him to get up off your ass, punk, you're embarrassing yourself.
Steve takes on any number of odd jobs – cashier, delivery boy, hell, he even sketches people in the park for ten dollars apiece. It is during one of these sticky summer afternoons that he and Peggy stumble across one another.
He and Peggy had gone to school together, back before his growth spurt. She doesn't even recognize him. He knows Bucky will tease him endlessly for it until he remembers that he and Bucky aren't bunk mates anymore.
“So what have you been up to, Steve?” Peggy asks, smiling across the park bench at him in the way that used to make his heart leap when he was sixteen and 5'4”.
“Oh, you know,” Steve says, gesturing vaguely around him with his half-eaten pepperoni pretzel. “Drawing, working on my customer service skills.” He smiles when Peggy chuckles softly. “Hoping to save up enough to go to school. Get an art degree, maybe.”
They lapse into a slightly awkward silence. “Uh, how 'bout you?”
“I'm a social worker,” Peggy says, her face lighting up.
“Really? That's incredible!” Steve says politely. Social workers hadn't done much for him as a kid. “What kind of stuff do you do?”
As Peggy enthusiastically describes her job, Steve finds himself more and more interested, especially when she talks about working with kids. He wanted to be a teacher, growing up, but it seems unlikely to happen now.
When Peggy's lunch hour runs out, she hands him a business card. “It was lovely to see you again, Steve,” she says, smiling like she really means it. “Have you ever thought about working with children?”
“Um, I suppose – ” Steve says, blinking.
“Fantastic!” Peggy interjects. “Now, I really must run, but if you're ever interested, just ring me up!”
She's hurrying down the sidewalk before Steve can think of an adequate response.
Steve calls that night. It's a genuine job offer, not a flirtation, like he had been dreading. It turns out that Brooklyn is in desperate need of foster homes, and would Steve be interested in fostering a child?
Steve, caught up in the suddenness of everything, agrees.
They're a little concerned about his PTSD, at first, but he doesn't get violent or confused about where he is, he's just an insomniac and hates cars. His apartment, while cramped, is barracks neat and in a building populated mostly by seniors. The bedroom is empty. When he does sleep, he prefers the living room floor.
Pretty soon, the first kid arrives.
He's a quiet, nervous eight-year-old named Bruce whose father beat his mother to death in front of him. Steve shows him his room and how to use the shower, then fixes him dinner (tomato soup and crackers) and puts him to bed. He sits in the living room reading C.S. Lewis and listens to Bruce cry himself to sleep.
The next day, Steve calls in sick from work and takes Bruce to a nearby playground. The small, curly-haired boy sits on the swing and rocks himself back and forth, a small smile on his face. Steve draws a picture of that smile and gives it to him, which earns him a shy, “Thank you, Mr. Rogers.”
Steve crouches in front of him. “Between you and me,” he whispers, “it's okay if you call me Steve, Mr. Banner.”
Bruce giggles, and Steve feels his heart swell as he grins from ear to ear.
That night, Steve tucks Bruce in and reads him the first three chapters of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Bruce asks if he can keep the book in his room and Steve says of course he can.