“There you go ma’am, thank you.” Steve picked up the grocery bag off the counter and made his way towards the exit of the store. He barely held a sigh in as he walked towards his Ford that was parked down the street from the grocery store.
At this rate, he was going to have to cut off the radiator at his house just to be able to afford food, rent and Peter’s school. Peter who hadn’t even told him about the field trip his class was taking in two weeks because of the fee it included. That was the part he hated the most. Although he was a mature for his age, he was still a child who was acting like an adult more and more everyday. He never asked Steve for anything. He never commented if Steve just served him his own portion of lunch for dinner, although he always was unusually full early those nights.
Reaching his car, he opened the back door to put the bag and then got into the driver seat and after three attempts shut the door properly. Steve hoped it wasn’t acting up again, he was tired of asking Bucky to fix it and the other man not taking any money. He let out a sigh of relief when it smoothly got out of the parking lot. Well, it was ten years old, smooth was an overstatement.
He remembered when he heard his sister and her husband had died in a plane crash, he’d been told that since Richard’s bother and sister in law had already passed away, he was to get custody of Peter. It was the first, and only time in his life he regretted joining the army. If he had gone to art school and had a steady job as teacher somewhere, maybe life would be able to provide for Peter better.
Realising he’d already gotten home, he shook his head to clear it and walked up to his apartment. An automatic smile spread across his face as he heard the sounds of Bucky and Sam teasing Peter. He opened the door and let himself in.
“Alright, that’s enough you two, you’ve teased Peter enough for this week.”
“Oh alright.” Bucky said as he stopped tickling the eight year old boy sitting between him and Sam on the couch.
“Oh come on Steve, we just started tickling the squirt right now.” He heard Sam say as he made wide eyes at Peter, who, being used to this behaviour by now, stuck his tongue out at Sam.
“Yes, I’m sure you did, like I’m sure you’ve been teasing him all day.”
“Well, it is Sunday Stevie, teasing Peter is what we do on Sundays.”
“Mhmm...like feeding him ice cream, no doubt.” He said fixing Bucky with a stern look, that Peter called The Look, as he unloaded the grocery.
“You going to go the store again during the week Stevie?” Bucky asked as he walked into the kitchen, which was practically in the living room. “You have to, y’know, you’d become hypoglycaemic during the training sessions otherwise.”
Bucky stared at him.
Bucky continued staring at him. Steve sighed.
“Look, I’ll figure something out.”
“I’ll take care of it.”
“Riiight.....” Bucky drew the word out as he always did. “And what exactly you planning to do? Another job?” He already had two jobs, as a gym trainer and in a cafe.
“I have to Buck, I have no other option.”
“You could always just ask me and Sam for help.”
“You both already do so much.” It was true, Sam and Bucky looked after Peter every evening and all day on the weekends.
At the beginning it had only been Saturday’s, but three months after Peter had moved in and Steve realised working ten hours during the week wasn’t going to be enough to make ends meet. So, Bucky and Sam volunteered (which meant that they backed Steve into a corner until he wholeheartedly agreed with them) and now it was the weekends as well.
“Not enough, if you’re skipping meals to feed the boy.” Steve felt his neck snap as he looked up at Bucky. “Peter told us, he’s worried you aren’t taking care of yourself.”
“Oh God, he isn’t supposed to worry about that.” There was silence for a moment filled in by the sounds of the credits to a Star Wars movie playing in the living room.
“I don’t know what to do Buck.” Bucky had always been his sounding board, so being vulnerable in front of him was almost second nature.
“I’d have to go away for training, and I literally can’t afford it right now.”
“No time, plus it takes so much capital Buck.” He heard Sam’s ringtone filling the room before it was answered and Sam went to the small adjoining balcony as Peter stole some of his popcorn.
“What about the money Pete’s parents left him?”
“That’s his college fund, he’s...he’s so smart Buck, he can’t not go to college.”
“Okay, then take a loan off us.”
“A third job.”
“Steve, at this rate, you’re gonna work yourself to death.”
“Will be completely alone if you die, and will probably end up in the system.”
“Well then, I just don’t know what else I can do Buck.”
“No, you and Sam may be struggling, but you’re not exactly comfortable either. Besides, I don’t wanna bankrupt you two.”
“Seriously, just how much do you earn as a martial arts instructor anyway.”
“More than you, punk.”
“Shut up jerk.” He looked at Bucky, wondering what he would’ve done without him his whole life. “I’m gonna make pasta with shrimp, that okay?”
“Yeah, but me and Sam ain’t sticking ‘round for dinner.”
“I’m not that poor.”
“Yeah, you are.”
“Go away jerk.”
“Try not to burn the food.” Steve shook his head but smiled nonetheless. “Hey, y’know, if nothing else works out, you can always get a sugar daddy.”
“Buck! Peter’s right there!” Sometimes, he really didn’t understand his friend.
“Peter didn’t even turn around cause he’s too busy watching the movie.”
“Still, is this the kinda stuff you and Sam talk about around him? He’s a kid.”
“Well, someone has to spoil him, seeing as grandpa won’t do it.”
“Oh go away, let me make some food.”
“Uh huh, I remember that time you burnt water.”
“Alright, I’m gonna put a stop to this flirting now.” Sam said as he walked in from the balcony.
“We weren’t flirting.”
“Yeah, Stevie’s no longer skinny ass is nothing compared to yours, so chill.” Bucky said completely ignoring Steve.
“Yeah - wait what?” Steve said as they both walked to the couch to occupy the space on either side of Peter.
Steve just shook his head and smiled when he heard Peter’s excited chatter as he quoted all the dialogues in the movie. Sometimes, it was easy for Steve to forget that Peter wasn’t his son but his nephew, the boy was adorable and his excitement was infectious.
“Uncle Steve, get here.”
“Yeah, Pete as soon as dinner’s done.” He heard a set of footsteps running across the small space between the kitchen and the living room, till they stopped right next to him.
“Can I help?”
“Peter.. I can do -“
“No, please let me help, I’ll wash the shrimp, and I can boil the pasta, please.” Peter was now bouncing on the balls of his foot as he occasionally glanced towards the tv and Sam and Bucky, who were pretending not to listen.
“You can watch the movie Pete, I’ll have the dinner ready, don’t you worry.”
“But, I can help, please”
Peter was an adorable kid, but ever since Steve had taken him in, he always acted grateful; apparently some kid Flash had scared him saying he’d have to go to a foster home. No matter what Steve did to assure him that it wasn’t going to happen, he still acted the same way.
“I know what it is squirt, you just don’t like the food I cook.” Steve said crossing his arms over his chest.
“No, that’s not true.”
“You’d rather have something Sam cooked.”
“Of course he would.” A loud voice said boisterously as Sam barraged into the kitchen. “Even the squirt knows I’m a better cook.”
“Well, I’m definitely beginning to think that way, he doesn’t want to eat anything I cook anyway.”
“No, that’s not-“
“Well, it looks like Steve can’t feel the love kid.” Sam said.
“Just go and sit, I’ll make a delicious dinner okay? I promise it’ll be as good as Sam’s.”
“Yeah, right. Let’s go.” Sam dragged Peter out of the room.
Dinner was basically all four of them sitting in front of the tv and eating pasta until Bucky brought out another bag of popcorn.
“You’re really going to spoil him like this, you know.” Steve said disapprovingly but didn’t stop Peter. But, “Peter slow down a bit okay, just because I know how to perform a Heimlich manoeuvre doesn’t mean I want to.”
“Sorry.” Peter said smiling showing teeth that had popcorn stuck. Steve barely contained a laugh and told him it was fine. Yes, he was nearing bankruptcy, no, he couldn’t go to art school and he was working all day, but having Peter and caring for him made it worth it. The kid was the best thing that ever happen to him.
At nine, he made Bucky shut off the tv and made Peter go to the bathroom to get ready for bed.
“Well, you’ve flirted with my boyfriend a lot.”
“I know you’re only joking-"
“Yup, otherwise I wouldn’t tell you about the amazing job opportunity I just heard.”
“What job opportunity? Are you planning on leaving the air force?” Out of the three of them, Sam was the only one who still held his job in the military.
“Not an opportunity for me, but for you.” Steve looked up sharply from the dishes he was loading in the dishwasher while Bucky shook his head.
“No, he’ll drop out of exhaustion if he takes a third one.”
“Yeah, I know Soldier.”
“Then why would you tell him?”
“He’s right here, y’know.” Steve said making sure he was audible above them.
“Cause he’ll have only one job.”
“I can’t just survive on one job.”
“With what it pays, you can.”
“Unless they pay me as much as I earn now..”
“They will, in fact I’m sure they’ll pay double of that. You’ll have to negotiate yourself but I’m sure you can easily get it, then you won’t have to wear the same white t shirt everyday.” Steve snapped his mouth shut, that much money, he could even get Peter the microscope he had been eyeing last week for his birthday.
“What job is this?” Bucky asked incredulously. “If it requires a college degree...”
“No, it’s....have you heard about Tony Stark?” He asked Steve directly.
“Stark? The weapons developer who was kidnapped in Afghanistan for what, three months? Didn’t you help rescue him?”
“Yes, I was a part of the rescue team. He, uh, he was there for four months, kidnapped by a terrorist organisation. They tortured him to such an extent, he lost functionality of his right arm. He’s locked in his home since he got back, PTSD, won’t talk to anyone, wants to shut down weapons manufacturing. They need someone to stay with him.”
“Okay, but what does Steve have to do? Wipe his-“
“Bucky.....Peter.” Steve groaned. His best friend could get an award for his crass.
“No, he just has to spend time with the guy.”
“Just what kind of job is this Sam? That guy has a reputation.”
“He tried to hurt himself last week.”
“What!?” The response was almost simultaneous from Steve and Bucky.
“I don’t know all the details, but he lives alone. he’s apparently suicidal.When they realised this they decided to hire someone to keep an eye on him. They’ve had therapists at the same job but no one stays for more than a week, he drives them away. Apparently there’s some guy named Jarvis too, but all Steve has to do is talk to the guy a little, make sure he eats, doesn’t mix his medicines with alcohol and all that.”
“And how do you know this?”
“Colonel Rhodes, I know him from the air force, he’s Stark’s childhood friend, said he needs someone firm and strong who won’t take Stark’s shit. I told him Steve is ex-military who’s looking for a job and has experience helping me out at the VA. Uh, he was actually offering me the job, but I already have one.”
“Sam, you could’ve taken it, if it could pay that much.” Steve said.
“It’s not about the money, you know I like my job. You need the job.”
“Sam, I don’t how to thank you.”
“Don’t, knowing Stark, you’ll probably never thank me again, but he does need the help. They’ll probably increase the money later, I think cause he can be...difficult. They even have health insurance and other benefits for you and Peter.” Health insurance? Well, he definitely needed that, the one had currently was more a scam and necessity was the only reason Steve took it.
“When is the interview?”
“I got a slot for you Friday afternoon at 3.”
“You should go for it.” Bucky said after being silent for a long time. “You have experience helping me as well.”
“Buck..” They almost never talked about when Bucky was captured and tortured behind enemy lines.
“You should, you could definitely help. And it’s better than the sugar daddy idea I had.”
“What?” Sam sounded incredulous.
“There’s no guarantee I’m getting it.” Steve said ignoring Bucky.
“Maybe not, but you’d be stupid not to try Stevie.”
“Yeah, I...Okay I’ll go, but where is it?”
“At SI, with his PA, Pepper Potts.”
“Alright, I guess I’ll go.”
“Wear a suit.”
“Yeah, sure Buck, I’ll dress up as Captain America.”
“There’s a good idea.” Sam said.
“Yup, that’ll give me the job.”
“Uh huh, you could represent truth, justice and the American way.”
“Sure. I’ll just put a mask on for an interview, that’ll get them to trust me.” There was the sound of a door closing. “I guess Peter’s ready for bed, I’ll see you guys tomorrow evening.”
“Sure thing Steve.” He hugged both Bucky and Sam and then they were gone.
“Peter, did you get everything for school tomorrow?” Steve asked walking into the boys room. It was a small room and he almost had to bend a little to get inside the room. There was a small bed against one wall and a bookshelf opposite to it. The wall near the head of the bed had a window that was dingy and never really opened. At the foot was a closet that was old, rickety and slightly mouldy. Peter was already under the covers.
“I got everything in uncle Steve.”
“Okay good.” It was hard, but it had to be done. “Peter.” Steve sighed and pulled the lone chair from near the bookshelf. Peter didn’t even have a study table.
“Did I do something wrong?” The look of worry in his eyes made Steve want to hit himself. He placed a hand on the boys forehead.
“No Peter, you didn’t do anything wrong. You are the best nephew anyone could ever ask for. You don’t complain, you have a good heart and even at this age your mature and have a good morale. You’re not only a smart kid, but the best kid I know. I want you to know that nothing is ever going to happen that will make me leave you.”
“Yes?” There was silence for a few minutes as Steve waited for a response. He wanted Peter to say whatever he was feeling and take as long as he needed for it.
“I’m a burden to you.” He felt a part of his heart break at the small voice in which Peter was speaking. “Ever since I came, you’ve had difficulty with everything. You don’t even eat. I don’t want you to leave me, uncle Steve.”
“Oh, Peter. We could be homeless and I’d still never leave you, unless it was in your best interest. I can’t promise you that the future’s gonna be better, I can’t promise you I can give you everything you want. But I can promise you that I will do everything within my power to take care of you, to make sure you have th ebest childhood possible, that you have everything you need. You don’t need to worry about me, it’s my job to take care of you, and I promise to keep getting better at my job. You are the most important person in my life Pete, you’re my kid. And I’m never leaving you.”
“Can I also take care of you?” He felt the sting in his eyes as he nodded and moved to hug Peter. The boy obviously had the same idea as got up on his bed and wrapped his tiny hands around Steve’s neck.
“Okay, but you take care of yourself first, alright?”
“Yes.” He didn’t need to see him to know he was lying. He soon got back in his bed. “Alright, where is the field trip your school is taking you to?”
“Alright, so we’ll go there this weekend, that okay with you?”
“But, won’t it be expensive?” He can skip lunch for one day, and he’d just have to beg the afternoon from his job off, but it would be worth it.
“I worry about that, you worry about what you want to do the whole day, alright?”
“Alright. Good night.”
“Good night, squirt.” Steve got up, and turned the light of before he closed the door.
He needed to get that job.