Koff, koff, koff.
Steve gasped, hard and deep as the water poured from his nose and dripped out his mouth, urging him to cry. He fought the feeling, coughing out all he could before his mind race to what exactly was taking place.
Steve Rogers, he mentally recalled.
August 12th, 2014, he slowly remembered.
"What happened?" It was the only detail he was missing.
"The kid said you got dunked and drowned," Jane, the waitress from his favorite coffee shop informed him. She was his savior, wearing a more than confident smile as she patted Steve on the shoulder. "Are you okay?"
Steve smiled, gripping her hand on his shoulder in a weak attempt at showing his deep appreciation and gratitude. "I'm fine," he said lowly as he coughed a few more times. "Where's Tony?" His voice was shaky, frantically looking over his shoulder at the growing crowd. Jane stood to help him to his feet.
The rush of blood made all of her words fade into a hum. It was as if he was trapped inside a bubble, noise surounding him but only vibrations and no real words being said.
He had to see him, he had to be there. Whether it was holding his hand or looking at charts, he had to be there, he had to fix this.
"Excuse me," he stated repeatedly as he staggered and squeezed through the tight knit bodies of bystanders.
Theo was there, already in action as he pulled the man unto a stretcher as fast as he could. Steve was frozen, watching as if he was watching a film, it all feeling just too surreal to be his own life.
Peter was crying while Gwen stood close with tears in her own eyea. They walked with the doctors and nurses into the entrance.
Steve still hadn't moved. His mouth ajar, his eyes wide yet narrowed, and his feet were glued to the ground as he realized just how much of a failure he was.
Tony peeled open his eyes slowly, the beeping of machines causing him to groan.
"Can we turn this damn monitor off?" He asked with a croak, his voice raspy and words slurring.
"Afraid not, Mr. Stark. You, sir, just suffered a heart attack. Probably won't be your first if we don't schedule that bypass soon."
Tony shook his head. There was still a pain in his chest, his heart struggling to breath but something in him still said no. He didn't want to get better but, truth be told, after feeling like his heart was ready to explode, that's not exactly what he thought would be the thing to take him out.
Pepper was squeezing his hand, Peter tucked into the corner as far away as he could be, looking out of a window.
"Tony, is this really what you want? You almost died in front of your son. Look at him. Do you really think he wants to live life knowing his father gave up on him?"
Tony was ready with a rebuttal but Peter interrupted the thought.
"You knew you were sick?" Peter asked, his voice shaky and cracking.
"Pete, you wouldn't understand."
"You always say that. You always say its hard to explain or you wouldn't understand when you just don't have a reason. You wanted to die? Really? You get sick one more time in your life and you just say hey, fuck seeing my possible grandchildren or my own son graduating, I'll just call it a day."
Tony said nothing. Pinching his lips, he looked away. Peter was closer but still keeping his distance.
"You selfish son of a bitch. You fucking selfish prick, fuck you."
The tears were burning in his eyes, in everyone's. Pepper quietly begged for Peter to tone down the language but he was saying what they both were thinking and, honestly, this was an exception.
"Mom put her life on hold for you. She turned down cases, and job offers for you. For years. And this is what she gets in the end? How dare you!" Everyone was still, quiet. Peter was in tears, his eyes red and his face even redder. "If you let this be it, then consider these my last words: Eat shit. And Phil has taught me more in the few years I've known him than you have ever taught me."
The door slammed shut after Peter walked out. Theo stood in the corner, watching carefully before slipping out the door himself. Pepper still held on tight, her tears taking up more of her cheeks than her cheeks. Tony hated it when she cried, he hated when everyone cried, but it was only him to blame for it.
"Pep," Tony cooed as he reached his other hand for her.
She pulled away, standing up to her feet and quickly wiping at her tears. "I'm going to get some coffee."
Steve stood outside the door. Tony was asleep, slightly turned on his side with a single pillow under his head. There was something keeping him from going inside. He knew it was because he knew, he heard the slow pace in his heart and instead of saying something, voicing his concern and urging him to see someone, he tried to figure it out himself. That alone went against all he prided himself on being.
Pulling himself away from the window, he sat back down in the chair beside the door. His mind drifted about for a few minutes until a voice interrupted him.
"Can I help you with something?" Someone beside him asked.
Steve looked up, a woman older than himself with strawberry blonde hair, a pencil shirt, and a very stern face stood only feet from him.
Steve jumped to his feet, slowly walking towards her, and said, "I'm Dr. Steve Rogers, I treated Mr. Stark some time ago. I came to check up on him."
The woman sighed lightly, her face growing soft as her shoulders relaxex. "You're Steve. Hi, I'm Pepper Potes, Peter's mother."
Steve sighed himself, finally matching a face to a name. They shook hands, never breaking eye contact as Steve spoke. "I'm glad to meet you. Tony never stops talking about you or sharing some story," he smiled as he spoke until he asked: "How is he doing?"
Pepper sighed again, leaning forward to see Tony still fast asleep. "I could say he's seen better days but I'm not sure that'd be true," they both peeked inside the window. "The cancer was easier to deal, honestly. I think it's just his attitude towards all of this that drives me insane."
"Wait, I'm sorry, cancer?" The words felt odd to say, the new knowledge stabbing him in the stomach and chest.
The woman let out a groan, shaking her head as she let out a low mumble. "Oh, Tony." She sighed yet again, taking a seat when Steve previously sat. "Tony said he was going to tell you but I knew better than to believe that. He was afraid and I," she shook her head, rubbing at her temples. "When we got married, Tony was on meth. I got him to stop, thankfully, but a few years after smoking it for however long, he got stomach cancer. We went to every kind of therapy, tried every kind of treatment before we realized that chemo wasn't the answer. So, radiation was it. A year and a half later, he was cured. But, three years later, it came back in his lungs. More radiation, more time in the hospital, and he was cured again. Then this," she seemed to drift off after she spoke. "Theo says it was more than likely the radiation, Tony says he just doesn't want to deal with it again."
Steve had so many questions, there were so many things that he had to know and needed to know since he felt as if he knew nothing.
"He wanted this to be it," she stated lowly.
It felt like a dagger to the heart, acid to the face, and someone ripping out his intestines. "He ... he wanted this to be it? He knew this was going to happen?" His voice balanced between anger and sadness.
Pepper's closed her eyes, the tears streaming. "I'm so sorry you had to deal with him. I told him to tell you everything. He didn't tell you a thing. Steve, I'm so-"
"No, no, no, it's not your fault," he said in a sort of whisper.
The woman stood with her hands at her chest, her eyes full of sorrow. "I told him to tell you, I really did. I told him that he couldn't build something with you if he wasn't honest."
Rubbing his face, Steve sucked up his a pain. "Are your parents alive?"
"Tony and I went on a date and he said you two got married because you wanted to stay here after your parents died," he was hoping to hear something ring truth from within all of Tony's lies.
Pepper nodded. "They did."
Steve was still in disbelief but more than anything, he began to feel rude and invasive. "I'm sorry it's just Tony said your mother was in town."
"I was adopted. My birth mother and I started talking a few years ago."
There was a sigh of relief, a slight weight off his shoulders before he thought over why they were all here. Tony had secrets, deep dark ones that began to make Steve question just who exactly was he in love with.
Pepper stepped closer to Steve, slowly grabbing for his head as she began to speak. "Tony isn't all bad. When I first met him he was funny and sweet and even now, he cares so much about you that I want to punch him for all of this," she laughed through her tears. "But, you need to know about the things he's been through, the things he's done for me and himself to make it over the years. You deserve to hear them from him. You deserve to see how much of a great person he really is."
Buying back the anger and frustration, nodding as he thought over the words, Steve smiled. "It was nice meeting you," he said as he left. He was out of words, out of things to say, and right now, he just needed some time alone.
Tony picked at the food before him. The chicken was dry, the soda was flat, and the roll was as hard as the table he was eating on.
"You need to eat something," Theo informed him as he checked his vitals.
Tony snorted. "You're around this food all the time, I'm quite sure you know why I physically cannot and will not put this in my mouth."
Theo smiled, his eyes squinting as he released a low, deep chuckle. "It's the worst. I would get you a burger myself but heart attack and greasy food don't mix. So, I'll do you a solid: I'll grab you a nice healthy sandwich with lite mayo if you tell me why you don't want the surgery."
Tony sighed. "Don't think that's fair if I'm forced to eat lite mayo. Have you ever eaten lite anything? Disgusting stuff, let me tell you."
Theo folded his arms. Tony sighed again, this one dragging as he pushed the tray away.
"Have you ever just been fed up? I mean, completely and utterly defeated?" Theo nodded slowly, a kind of shrug accompanying the action. "I've watched everyone suffer with me. My ex wife literally put her entire career on pause so she could be with me. She's married again and still putting everything on hold for me. And I don't want that. I don't want to be the legless soldier on her back that she has to carry six hundred yards. And bless the guy I'm with now. Jesus, that kid has been through the ringer and I'm being some sick asshole by dragging him through it just for kicks."
Theo perched his lips to the side. "Have they ever told you that you were a burden?"
"Of course not, no, but -" he caught on to what was being thrown out.
"I'm not the best at this but I saw what happened in there with you and your son. I see how Pepper walks on eggshells to not cut your throat open and I wouldn't be able to sleep tonight if I didn't find away to say this so bear with me. Fact: Illnesses alters the mind. Not fact: what you think these people in your life feel about you. You're projecting what you feel, Tony. Now, I'm not saying you should do this, I'm your doctor, I can only help you the way that you want, but I can only advise you to make your final decision with a clear mind. Think it over, either get the bypass or die and let everyone you love be miserable because they think they failed you."
The tightness in Tony's chest caused him to cough, a hacking, gasping, nasty cough that pulled him from his light slumber. Steve watched, his eyes sad and wide as he thought about doing something. He wasn't his doctor, he couldn't read his file or administer something without knowing the full history.
Actually, he could.
He could break the oath he'd sworn to live his life by to aleviate a little bit of pain for the man he loved but Tony caught his breath, slowly sipping the water beside his bed. Thank God.
"That's no fun," Tony croaked.
Steve couldn't help but smile. "How are you?"
"Don't exactly know if I can say I've been better but I'm damn glad to see you."
The questions were burning his tongue. "I finally met Pepper," he said. "I can see why you married her."
"She's quite the angel," Tony added reluctantly.
"She was telling me how sad she was. How seeing you like this really tore her up inside," Tony felt the sweat forming on his brow, "and how she couldn't understand why you wanted this to be it," Steve folded his arms as he leaned back in the chair. "I was feeling like shit because some nights ago when I had my head on your chest, I heard something that sounded a bit off. And all I could think about and do was look up why your heart sounded so slow and painful. Then you had the heart attack and I was horrified to even see you because I let you down. I failed you as a doctor and your boyfriend. The least I could do was tell you to get it checked out since I couldn't do it myself. But, to my surprise, you not only saw someone about this but knew the condition and refused to do something about it. I think what's worse is you didn't even tell me."
"I didn't know then," Tony replied quickly though his voice was deep and shameful.
"So," Steve dragged, "we were together and you got sick and didn't tell me?"
Tony sucked in a breath. "It's complicated."
"Astrophysics is complicated. Explaining death to a four year old is complicated. You telling me that once upon a time you used to be a junkie and got cancer from it, twice, isn't that complicated."
"To be honest here, when we went out you did tell me to tell you something that's not in my chart. My medical history was therefore booted from the conversation," Tony said rather matter-of-fact like.
Steve laughed to himself, shaking his head as he looked at the floor. "You're full of shit. What did you think I would do? Tell you that you're too sick for me to date? Kick you out once you said hey my heart isn't doing too well? I care about your past because some people just like to know the baggage. Some people, well doctors, like to know that if their boyfriend gets sick that I should watch him and his prescriptions since he has a history of addiction. It's safety, it's care, it's called being a decent fucking human being."
"I didn't want you taking care of me to be our relationship. I've been taken care of my whole life so far and I'm sick of it. I didn't want you to be with someone again who needs you to take care of them."
"You don't get to decide those things."
"I get to decide if I don't want to live in and out of hospitals. I don't want that for us, for you."
"I already live in this place. I love taking care of people, I signed over my life to this place so I can forever take care of people. I love you, Tony, I'd take care of you and never complain."
"You took care of Bucky and look how that turned out for you," he said with his head turned to the window.
"You don't get to do that. You don't get to point out my fucked up past when you don't even have the decency to be honest about yours. I don't even know who you are and you get the audacity to point out what I've done? At least I cared enough about you to tell you who I am, who I was before you came along. I poured my heart out to you and all I got back was half stories and fucking fabrications of why you come out as fast to your college roommate and marry a woman!"
They were yelling but now they both were silent.
"You know," Steve slowly began to say, "I wasn't mad about you not telling me you were sick. I wasn't even mad that this heart attack was going to be your last moment and you weren't even going to allow me to prepare myself for it. I'm mad because you had this suicide wish and wasted my time. You wasted four months of my life so in the end you can die from some lousy heart condition and I don't even know who you are," Steve laughed. "You wanted to die from this because you were tired of being sick. How pathetic can you be, but I'll never know because I don't even know you."
Tony was red in the face, the color spreading from his forehead and cheeks to down his neck. Steve crossed a line somewhere, a trigger was pulled and the anger inside the older man was festering. "You don't need to know everything. Some things are better left in the past and quite frankly it makes you the asshole to get mad at me for things I didn't tell you about in my fucking past. I did meth, I snorted coke, I got cancer, I got painkillers and then I liked them so much I did them all the fucking time so I wouldn't have to think about my shitty little life. Also, I tried killing myself but it just so happened to be at the time Pepper got pregnant. So I did more pills, then I got more cancer. Now I'm here with a shitty heart and you."
Steve nodded, digesting the words as he readied for the door. "Now you just have a shitty heart."