After the Storm
The splattering of rain on the hospital window drew Steve into a worn-out trance. The sound of machines beeping and sanitized sneakers squeaking hummed all around him as he glanced over his shoulder at his son. Tubes ran from almost every part of his body, pumping life in and toxins out, leaving him a sack of bones and flesh. Steve turned back to look out the window at the rain. It had been days since he’d left this hospital. Weeks since he’d seen Tony. Months since he’d seen his little boy’s smile. The cancer wasn’t just killing Peter; it was killing all of them.
One year earlier
“Peter. Peter. Peter, wake up. PETER!”
The glass door to Tony’s lab swung open as Steve stormed in, brow furrowed and fists clenched. “Tony, I can’t get him up. He won’t get up. You do it. He always listens to you. I don’t know how you do it, but he just listens to you.”
Tony smiled as he looked up from his screen. Steve’s hands were on his hips as he tapped his foot. He always gets so worked up over things like this Tony thought as he spun around in his chair to face his husband.
“Oh, stop grinning like that. You know it frustrates me when he does this. Don’t laugh, Tony! It’s not funny!”
Tony just couldn’t help it. His husband was just so cute when he got all worked up. It was like a little puppy that couldn’t get up onto the couch just yet.
“Tony, I’m being serious. If he doesn’t wake up now he’s going to be late for school, and he can’t afford to miss much mor- Tony. What are you doing? Oh, Tony, we don’t have time for-” His sentence was cut short as Tony softly pressed his finger to his husband’s lips, whispering a soft ‘Shhhh’ before pulling him close to his own body. “Shhhh. It’s all going to be alright. He’s a teenager. He’s sleepy.” Tony murmured against Steve’s lips before lightly brushing his own against them. “He’ll grow out of it.” Steve’s bottom lip quivered as he inched his body closer to Tony’s. The rough hair on his face tickled Steve’s skin as he placed his forehead upon his husbands. “Tony….” “Shhhhh,” Tony soothed again, this time allowing his lips to linger longer. He wondered how much teasing it would take this time before Steve finally gave in. He always did, sooner or later. Tony’s hands massaged Steve’s lower back as he closed the limited amount of space left between their bodies. A soft smile played on Steve’s lips as he trailed his hands up Tony’s chest to rest his fingers on the reactor which fed him life. The reactor that was the only thing standing between the love of his life and death. It wasn’t only keeping Tony alive; it was keeping Steve alive. He couldn’t imagine his life without Tony, even though he was constantly put in a position where he might have to.
When Peter was younger Tony insisted that he went on missions alone. “What if something were to happen, and both of us were involved? We’d be leaving Peter without a family. Again. No. You’re staying here. I’m not losing you, and Peter’s not losing you. Now just sit your sexy ass down and read a story to our child.”
It worried Steve that it was so easy for Tony to leave them. He could never do that. He worried too much. He was the protective parent. He just couldn’t help it. Over time Tony got more lenient on leaving Peter alone. “Jarvis, Steve and I are going to New York for the night. Something about a missile and a car bomb. We should be back before tomorrow night. Watch Peter. When I get back I expect full video surveillance of the past 24 hours downloaded on the big screen, along with DNA matches for anyone who comes within 100 feet of the house. Understood?”
Steve’s train of thought was interrupted as the door to the lab opened and their son stumbled in.
“Ew. Dads. No. I already have a headache. I don’t want to watch you guys making out.” Tony grinned before kissing Steve on the nose and releasing him. “About time you wake up, boy,” he said as he picked his coffee cup off of the desk. “You were worrying your father.” Peter just raised his eyebrows in a ‘whatever’ motion and stalked farther into the room before slumping down into Tony’s chair.
“You look like crap. How late did you stay out last night?” Steve asked, surveying his son. “I went to bed at 9. I feel like crap. My head is killing me. I’m tired. I’m irritated. And now I feel slightly nauseous, no thanks to you guys.” Peter snapped back at him, causing Tony’s eyebrows to raise in surprise. Peter never talked back to Steve. To him, yeah. But that’s just how they were. They messed with each other. Healthy father-son Stark relationship. “Watch your tone.” Steve warned him, setting his jaw. “You’re already on a thin rope, don’t push any farther. Now go upstairs, take some tylenol, get dressed, and your dad will drive you to school. No car today. I want you home right after school to do your homework.” If looks could kill, Peter’s would definitely have killed his father in that moment. “Fuck. You.” he enunciated, looking right into Steve’s eyes which grew to twice their usual size. “Hey!” Tony barked at him in response. “Fuck you too! Fuck both of you! I’m 17, you can’t control every movement I fucking make! God fucking DAMN IT!” And with that he leaped from the chair, knocking it over, and stormed out of the lab.
They should have noticed the changes then. Maybe if they had Steve would be at home with his husband, sitting on the couch with the fire roaring to kill the chill from the rainy outdoors, and his son safe and healthy in his room. But instead he was here, with a son in a coma and a depressed, alcoholic, AWOL husband.
Steve walked to Peter’s bedside and sat down in the uncomfortable visitors chair. His son’s skin was pale, his veins deep blue against the flesh. Steve wrapped his fingers around the delicate bones of Peter’s wrist and began counting the individual pumps of his heart. Tears began to fill his eyes as he counted. 415. 416. 417….
418 never came.
Steve stood outside of the hospitals nursery twiddling his cell phone in his pocket. He should call Tony. But he just couldn’t see the point. He wouldn’t answer. He never answered anymore. He was probably on a binge somewhere, drowning in liquor and vomit. His drinking hadn’t been this bad in years. Whenever they first got together Tony had promised to cut back. 3 drinks a day. Only 1 of them hard liquor. And he’d stuck to that. He’d stuck to that because he’d had a reason to. He knew Steve hated it when he drank and he was willing to change for him.
Steve sighed as he finally punched in Tony’s number and held the phone up to his ear.
“Hey, this is Tony. I’m too busy being Iron Man and saving the world from itself to come to the phone. Leave your info and I probably won’t call back.”
Steve sighed before disconnecting from the call. This wasn’t the kind of thing you leave in a voicemail.
“Ohhh,” came a soft voice from over his shoulder. Steve glanced up from his phone to find a woman in a hospital gown and robe standing next to him, arms crossed lightly and a soft smile on her lips. “Which one’s yours?” she asked nodding towards the nursery.
“Oh, um, no. No, I was just, uh, making a call.” he said holding his phone up. “What about yours?”
The woman smiled warmly. “My little boy’s right there,” she said touching her finger to a baby beyond the glass. The little boy in question lay in his bed peacefully. Warm. Safe. Healthy. Cancer free.
12 years earlier
“Do you think he liked it?” Steve asked his husband as they walked down the deserted street towards their car. “Oh yeah. He loved it!” Tony said, shifting the boy in question from his right hip to his left. Peter was nuzzled against Tony’s chest, arms dangling loosely from his neck. Between the 4th of July parade and the fireworks display the little boy was beat. “Okay. Good. I really hoped he would. I wasn’t sure if all of the noise would bother him or not. You know, with all the banging. I didn’t want him to get scared.”
Tony just laughed softly. “Steve. He lives with two superheroes. There’s basically a government workshop in our basement. It’ll take more than a few fireworks to scare him. Not to mention the fact that he’s a 5 year old boy. Anything that explodes is awesome to him.” Tony took the keys from his pocket and unlocked the car in the distance. The red parking lights glowed like two eyes in the darkness. It reminded Steve of the monsters from the stories Tony told Peter at night. Stories of dreadful dragons and heroic princes. Tony had a connection with Peter that Steve never did. They spent time together in the lab working on Tony’s cars and building computer software. Peter never found much interest in the things Steve enjoyed doing. Baking. Building models. Watching old black and white movies. Peter was a child of the 21st century and Steve just wasn’t. But the boy really seemed to enjoy all of the 4th of July celebrations. Steve couldn’t be happier about that. He’d finally found something they could share. A love for America and a respect for the common people. Or at least fireworks.
When they got to the car Steve took Peter’s sleeping form from Tony and buckled him into his booster seat as Tony packed their things back into the sedan. As they drove in the soft darkness Steve felt completely at ease. He slipped his hand into Tony’s and allowed his head to rest against his husband’s shoulder as he listened to the smooth lull of Neil Young and the soft snoring of his sleeping son.
The woman was looking at him with a puzzling expression.
“Oh, what? I’m sorry. I must have zoned out there for a minute.” Steve said, snapping back to the moment. “Oh, that’s quite alright. Hospitals do that to people. I just asked you if you were here for a friend. Someone in the family having a baby?”
Steve prepared himself in advance for the reaction he would get from his response.
“No ma’am. My son is in the long term care facility two floors up.”
The response is always the same. People feel pity for him. They ask him where his wife is. They ask him how long Peter’s been sick. And Steve has to answer them. My husband’s been gone for a few months. The cancer started over a year ago. No, he isn’t going to get better. Yes, he is going to die. Tony always answered these questions before. He just had a way about him. He could give the simplest, shortest reply possible and people wouldn’t dig any farther. But with Steve, it rarely ever went by so easily.
This woman was no different from the others. She asked about Peter’s condition. How long he’d been in the coma. Why Tony wasn’t there with him. How he dealt with all of it. To these questions Steve really didn’t have solid answers. He’d been in the coma for 3 months. That was solid fact. But Steve really didn’t know why Tony wasn’t around. He assumed it was because he couldn’t handle it. Coming to the hospital every day. Seeing Peter just lie there. Having no real hope. Drinking was Tony’s only way out. Steve guessed he was kind of lucky Tony wasn’t there last night. There’s no clue to what he would have done when Peter coded. When the doctors came rushing in. When they pressed those cold paddles to their skeleton boy’s chest. When they brought him back to the miserable ‘life’ he was currently in.
As for Steve, alcohol didn’t help him escape. He couldn’t drink himself into an emotionless stupor like Tony could, no matter how much he tried in the beginning. No. Steve Rogers didn’t have an addiction. Steve Rogers had a therapist.