Theodore subconsciously squeezed the small rubber animal in his hand as he walked. It was supposedly linked to some hippy dippy therapeutic method to ease tension and stress, something his mother gave him as a Christmas present years ago that he never quite found use for until now.
There had been many times before where he'd lost patients on the table, but this last case struck home with him. He'd been where Steve was, watching his mentor attempt to save a life of a mere child before it went all wrong. Instead of taking it personally, the man he then looked up to, Dr. Schultz, sighed before walking away. He was detached from it all: the child, the surgery, the prognosis, the result. Instead of breaking down and bursting at the seams, he carried himself with such composure. Informing the family of their lost, Theo watched on as he wondered where Schultz' compassion lied. The man rubbed backs, hugging the mother and sisters, patting shoulders and backs but not a single emotion displayed on his plain face. It was true he'd only seen Schultz smile when there were successes but Theo always questioned why he seemed so apathetic after the deaths.
Theodore Odinson promised to never be the same, to always treat each and every life the same ... until a few days ago.
What happened on that day was Theo learning the he was becoming his mentor. Holding on so tight to the answers, so anxious for results, Theo had forgotten that there was a life lying before him, not a trophy. Theo simply wanted to be the best. He loved the feeling of knowing that others considered him the very best. But that day, the day he felt not his best, he'd forgotten exactly what he was here for.
Walking past the surgery board, Theo choked as he saw two names that didn't seem to belong together. Marching towards the elevator, he demanded answers.
Steve and Pepper stood bedside, laughing lightly as the three spoke amongst themselves. Theo watched on, his arms folded and his eyes squinted. Pepper dismissed herself, walking towards the door to leave.
"Oh, I didn’t see you there. How are you doing today?" Pepper asked, pulling her purse back onto her shoulder.
Theo smiled, releasing his right grip on the squeeze toy. "Could be better, but your beauty made me forget my troubles. How are you?"
Pepper smiled. "You'd talk your way out of a murder trial, I bet," she laughed softly as he stammered out a hesitant chuckle. "Anyway, I'm just checking in with Tony before his surgery, wanted to see if he needed anything.”
Theo nodded. “Sounds good,” he said while still nodding. “Well, I have to check in with Dr. Rogers there and see if he needs another set of hands on the big day. When is it?”
“Day after tomorrow,” Pepper affirmed.
Theo nodded, extending his arm for a handshake. She caught wind of the salutation, shook his hand in return, and clacked down the bending corridor to the elevator. Theo watched her leave, waiting until her sounds were no more before peeking into the room at the squabbling pair.
They appeared happy, sharing laughs and smiles during their lengthy conversation. It was odd, honestly, seeing Steve with such great bedside manner. Theo felt the anger boil under his skin as he wondered what was said for him to be chosen. Steve was still fairly new to surgeries, only performing a nice handful as an assistant to Theo. He couldn't pinpoint why he was being betrayed, though, a couple of ideas began to brew. The anger was building up, his eyes blinking with a white rage.
Theo burst into the room, angrily at first then calmly to lessen any suspicion. Steve stepped away from Tony, his eyes wide and his hands folded together.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Stark," Theo said with a smile as big as his face. "I see you've decided to take the high road and go for that bypass."
Tony nodded, exaggerated nods that were followed by, "Yep. I realized I had one last fight in me, so I'm using it."
Steve said nothing, tucked into the small corner of the room as he looked at the two men.
"Mind if I steal Dr. Rogers for a quick bit?"
"Go right ahead," Tony insisted as he directed them to the door.
Steve followed the slightly bigger man. He looked back at Tony with a dying twinkle of confidence in his fearful eyes. They were out the door and only slightly down the hallway before Theo swept around, pinning the other physician to the wall with his forearm pressing into his neck. Steve clawed at the limb, fighting to get away as he realized he'd met his physical match in fitness.
"Are you fucking stupid?" Theo questioned as he slammed Steve into the wall again by pulling himself away from the man and the wall to only forcefully push him back into it. Steve was red, bouncing from various emotions as he fought back. There were people watching, nurses gawking in confusion and some passing patients doing what they could to stay out the way and others stopping to stare. "You fucking go and undermine me? You go behind my back and steal my fucking surgery? We're supposed to be friends, you're supposed to have my back - not fucking stab it."
Steve continued to gasp, clawing and pushing away until he finally coughed out, "Give me a second to explain."
Dropping to the floor, he gasped deep and full.
"Let's talk over coffee," Theo declared as he stepped over Steve towards the elevator.
Steve rubbed his neck, tapping the side of his coffee cup as he finished telling the other doctor about Tony and their relationship.
"Shit, so you're the guy he was talking about?"
"He talked about you. I mean, not you but about the guy he was dating and I didn't think it to be you," Theo's voice was low. His eyes glued to the inside of his cup. "Don't you remember what the board said last year about performing surgery on spouses and family? You're not breaking laws here but hospital rules, man."
It had crossed his mind. Actually, it had ran through his mind like a marathon runner. "Which is why I wanted to talk to you," his voice was apologetic. "I wanted you to do it, initially, but I wouldn't feel right taking the credit and he feeling like it's a debt he owes me or something."
Theo sucked his teeth, leaning back into his chair as he looked out the window, his left arm draped over the chair next to him, then back at his friend. "It’s still not really sitting well with me."
"I don't want to make you do something you don’t agree with, but this would mean a lot to me. I got your back, I'll always have your back, and all I ask is that you have mine. It only feels right if I do this. I just … I really want this and I want your support, and help.”
With his thumb and index finger knuckle pinching under his nose, Theo finally came to a decision. Tossing his hands, he exhaled deeply and leaned back in his chair. "I'll talk you through it. I don't like the idea of you being this emotionally compromised but he needs this and one of us needs to do it. And if this is what he wants, fine. You do the surgery and I’ll be there. But listen to me when I say this: if anything goes wrong, I'm taking over."
Steve opened his mouth and Theo raised his hand to silence him.
"Non-negotiable, I step in to do what I have to do."
This time, instead of finding something to say and digging himself into a deeper hole, Steve nodded. "Alright, okay. That's fine with me."
The two didn't speak, sipping their coffees as they stared off into space.
"Can I at least know why I got choked out?" Steve asked with an arched brow.
The other doctor sighed, untying his hair and running a free hand through the long locks. "You ever think you know who you are until something basically shows you the truth?" Steve didn't respond, only looked his friend in the eyes. "I lost my way, man. I watched her die because I was thinking she's 16, I'll put that pacemaker in, her family would be proud because I saved her. And when she died man, I knew I fucked up when the first thing I thought about was wow, her parents are not going to recommend me," Theo mockingly laughed at himself. "I lost myself and I thought you saw it - that I wasn't caring anymore. I was trying to get the fame rather than do my job right."
Taking a sip of the warm Joe, Steve looked out of the window.
Tony flicked through the basic cable channels a million and one times. He was bored of the room, bored of the nonsense the television was providing him with, and really sick and tired of the disgusting food the hospital personnel were trying to shove down his throat. It was his last meal before his surgery tomorrow and he refused for it to be cold beans and lumpy mashed potatoes.
There was someone in the room with him. He’d been asleep since he arrived but Tony did his best not to disturb the man. Leaning back on his bed, he let out a low sigh.
“Nothing good on, huh?” The man asked with his eyes still closed.
Tony looked over at him, an exasperated look on his face from the lack of entertainment the place provided. “You can say that again. I’m Tony, by the way.”
“James, but call me Rhodey.”
The two awkwardly reached over the gap to shake hands. Tony sat back and gave up on television, cutting the box off before taking a deep breath of relief. “What’re you in for?”
Rhodey exhaled deeply, rolling his eyes as he ran a hand over his torso. “Kidney transplant, you?”
Tony did the same gesture, running a hand over his chest instead. “Bypass. Had a heart attack earlier this month from this coronary something, something disease,” he replied with his eyes wide before looking off into nowhere. There was so much more to the story, so much he didn’t even have the energy to tell but told anyway. “I was gonna let it kill me but you start looking at the little thing in life, like … if I die right now, I’ll never have an orgasm again,” Rhodey coughed out a hard laugh before nodding into an agreement, “If I die right now, I’ll never get to pet another puppy.”
The other man pulled his lips into a smile. “I felt the same way too. Well, I was just gonna drink myself to death, really. I figured after I came back from Iraq, I didn’t have any kids, I left my wife while I was away, I might as well just ride it out until it takes me out,” the man looked around the room at nothing in particular as well. Finally sitting up from his previous laying position, he asked, “Do you have any kids?”
Tony’s eyes were wide as his attention was drawn back to his temporary roommate's question. “Uh, yeah, a son. He’s 15 with an attitude like his mother and I’m so thankful because I don’t need two of me.”
Rhodey laughed. “Married?"
Tony shook his head. "Divorced."
"Same. Not by choice but still."
"Is getting married in the first place ever really a choice?"
The two men shared a laugh as Steve came into the room.
"Sounds like you two are getting along," Steve stated as he walks towards Tony's bed.
The two older men nodded, still smiling as Tony began to speak. "He's pretty okay. What's up?"
Steve pulled his lips into a very satisfied grin. "Tomorrow, I am going to be fixing your heart."
"Seriously?" Tony exclaimed.
Pulling Steve into a hug, they embraced for longer than they should have. It's not as if they didn't hug or that they never had a reason to hug but the gesture was rare, and very warm. Steve slowly pulled away, looking Tony into the eyes as he began to nod.
"Seriously," he replied.
Tony slowly began to look over at Rhodey who was awkwardly trying to focus on something else.
Clearing his throat, Steve stepped away. "So no foods for the next 12 hours, no drinking, and get some sleep," nodding without knowing, he felt the awkward grow thick in the atmosphere. "I'll be on my way, nice to meet you..."
"Rhodey," the other man called out.
"Steve Rogers," he said as he backed towards the door.
Within seconds he was gone, leaving Rhodey and Tony to stare at the door. Rhodey was quiet for a bit, biting his lip as he continued to look around the room.
"Okay, I'm not into guys but he was ridiculously good looking. All my doctors look like Roseanne Barr."
Tony sat with his eyes wide for a second before cackling out a deep and hearty laugh.