A/N: I finished this little story a while ago, then forgot about it. Tsk tsk.
"He always was an ungrateful punk," Bucky said.
The Avengers regarded him as if he was crazy. History had practically deified Steve Rogers. How could he have been ungrateful?
"I'd rescue him from a beating and he'd say 'I could have handled it,'" Bucky explained. "I invited him to move in with me after his mother died — he didn't even have a job right then; he gave it up to take care of her when she was dying. But he said he could take care of himself. Ungrateful, like I said." Bucky was only teasing, but Steve looked genuinely downcast. Bucky was suddenly sorry he'd said anything.
"I didn't mean to be ungrateful, Buck," he said quietly. "I just didn't want to be an anchor around your neck like I was with mom. She could have remarried — there were a few guys who asked her out — but all of them got cold feet when they found out about her sickly kid. Times were tight and nobody wanted to take on such an expensive burden. She never had any money to spare, never went out and had fun. She just worked two jobs and took in laundry on the side. Anytime she got ahead, I'd catch pneumonia or have fainting spells because of my weak heart. Then all her savings would go to doctors again."
"Steve..." Bucky started to say something consoling, but Steve powered on, his gaze distant.
"She was dying, could hardly breathe. They didn't want me near her because of the TB, but what the hell, I wasn't likely to live long anyway, so they let me stay by her bed. All the time she was dying, she was worried about me, how I would live, who would take care of me when I was sick. She didn't have a thought for herself, even when she was dying. The last thing she said to me was how much she loved me, how I'd been her greatest joy.
"Joy," Steve scoffed. "Anchor, is more like it. I was an anchor around her neck all her life."
"You were an anchor for me, too," Bucky said. At Steve's hurt look, Bucky continued, "But not around my neck. How many guys in our neighborhood went to the bad, Steve? No money, no jobs. Guys abandoned their families, hopped a freight and moved on. Or they joined the mob — the White Hand Gang or Luciano's boys. The Irish mob tried to recruit me, you know. I had a rep as a fighter, but I couldn't do it. I knew you and my folks would be ashamed of me. And I'd have flunked out of school if you hadn't helped me, or just dropped out so I could get a job. You convinced me I'd get a better job if I finished, and I did.
"You were my anchor, Steve. You kept me from drifting off."