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Mother Knows Best

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Fifteen.

 

In between pulling on her scrubs and finding her keys, Sarah Rogers had managed to scarf down a peach as she rushed through her morning schedule. This had been before five in the morning, when her shift had been due to start.

It’s now just before noon, and Sarah’s stomach had begun to growl hours ago.

This lessens but doesn’t erase the guilt she feels when she zeroes in on the lunch bag dangling from her son’s hand before she notices Steve’s new war wounds.

“I’m fine,” he assures her when she opens her mouth. He looks about as tired as she feels.

She sighs, but takes the paper bag from him when he holds it out. “Let me guess: it looks worse than it feels.”

“Always,” Steve says, deadpan, with just enough bitterness in it that it sets off the familiar worry in Sarah’s throat.

Steve gets in enough fights that ‘new’ means that there are bruises and scrapes covering the old ones- new purpling bruises sit over the yellowing marks that have adorned Steve’s left cheek and forehead for the past week; there’s a cut over his eyebrow that’s freshly crusted over.

When Steve had been born, Sarah had been told in more optimistic words that they’d be surprised if Steve made it to the age of twenty.

Five more years to go, Sarah thinks as she examines the sharp lines of his body, the sagging of his hand-me-down clothes hanging too heavy off his frame. Might get there if you don’t get your damn self beaten to death first.

They turn wordlessly to the hall that will lead them to the break room. “I’m taking my ten,” Sarah calls to the nurses behind the desk, none of whom look up despite one of them- the newbie, Sarah thinks her name might be Jan- giving a thumbs up as she taps away at a computer that’s about as old as she is.

When she opens the paper bag, Sarah barely manages to hold off the urge to bury her nose in it and breathe in. “Shit. I never realize how much I miss non-cafeteria food until I eat some. So, who was it this time?”

Steve gives a shrug that Sarah watches distractedly. His shoulders are thin enough that it looks like it takes effort to shrug in the heavy jacket he’s wearing.

“Same as it always is, Ma. Some jerk thinking he can get whatever he wants-”

“No, I mean who it for? Who were you sticking up for this time? Was- oh, god.” She cuts herself off and lets her eyes drift shut. “Blueberries. They still have blueberry muffins down at Bennigans? What, that selfish, blueberry-hoarding bastard didn’t come through like he does four morning out of five and order all of them like usual? Bastard.”

“Language,” Steve tells her with a smile that he inherited from her: weary, but as bright as their shared shade of hair.

She snorts and squeezes his shoulder together before they slide into the same side of a plastic booth, their arms pressing.

“Muffin?” She tilts the last of it towards him.

He shakes his head. “I already ate.”

Sarah nods and swallows the last of the muffin and trying to decide if it’d be pathetic if she tore the bag open to lick the last of the crumbs away. I really need to start carrying those energy bars around in my pockets again, she thinks as she picks crumbs out from the bottom of the bag.

“So,” she starts, licking crumbs from the tips of her fingers.

When she looks over at Steve, he’s itching the side of his face in that way he does when he’s avoiding a question.

Sarah points at the cut that he’s close to touching. “Does that need cleaning?”

“Hmm?” Steve drops his hands to his lap. “No, it’s fine. It was just some guy in my year, he’s a freshman even though everyone’s saying he should get bumped up at least a few years. Apparently he’s some sort of genius.”

“Did some jerk try and pick on him?”

Steve blinks. “What? Oh, he’s not- Tony’s not the kind of guy you’d expect when you picture a genius. He’s- he can handle himself.”

“Just not this time?”

“I-” Steve pauses. One of his too-thin shoulders twitch backwards.

Sarah watches his jacket pull with the motion. It’s heavy, but the material isn’t thick and it does nothing against the wind that’s been slicing everyone to pieces all winter.

As Sarah is mentally tallying the extra shifts she’ll need to pull in order to buy a jacket that does its damn job, Steve continues, “He could’ve. Handled it himself. But he just- didn’t. And he got all angry and confused at me after I stepped in.”

Sarah nods to give herself time to find a tactical way to phrase it. Honey, you pick enough fights that sometimes I worry you go around inventing reasons to throw yourself into one probably wouldn’t work.

“He didn’t want you to step in? Or he didn’t think there was a reason for you to step in at all?”

“The latter,” Steve says. Then: “Both, I guess. Some assh- some jerk,” he corrects himself, earning himself a gently-knocked ankle, “Was going on about how Tony should be lucky his one friend puts up with him. And he’s going on about it all joke-like, but you could tell he meant it, and it was obvious that Tony was- that he didn’t like it. So I stepped in and knocked Justin- that’s the jerk- so I knocked him one-”

“After exploring every other option, I’m sure.”

“Sure,” Steve says after a moment, gaze dropping to the table. He clears his throat. “Anyway, Tony came up to me after, when I was waiting outside the office, and somehow we got into a shouting match over it. I don’t… really know how it happened.”

I love you but you have the emotional capacity of a monkey and I’m really hoping it’s one of those things you’re going to grow out of and that I didn’t ruin you for life, Sarah doesn’t say, fighting hard against the swell of worry that has been swarming her on and off since a doctor told her she was pregnant, now closer to twenty years ago than ten.

“Well,” she says. She reaches up to rub his shoulder. “You can work it out on Monday, right? Or do you hate each other now?”

“No, he’s…” Steve scratched at the side of his face, wincing when his nail caught over a cut. “I mean. We never got along before, and we’re hardly getting along now, but- I’m going to try to talk to him about-”

He trails off, lips pursing. “He didn’t deserve it, getting talked to like that. No one deserves that.”

Sarah watches him. She’s worked hard her whole life, for all it’s felt like climbing up an ever-steepening hill with a boulder of ever-increasing heaviness on her back. But she’s never worked harder at anything than she’s worked at raising her son: her sweet, sickly son with determination running thick in his veins and a brand of stubbornness that can only be inherited.

Sometimes Sarah worries that Steve inherited his father’s fists, too. The man had always had the gentlest hands, right up until he was war-addled and beating her into the kitchen floor.

In turn, Steve has an artist’s hands. Sarah has watched him trace charcoal into the shapes of faces, but she’s also held bags of ice against his bloody knuckles as he apologized for instigating yet another fight he insisted was necessary.

Steve translates her gaze correctly and sighs, turning his face so the bruises are partially hidden. “I’m really fine, Ma. It’s no big deal.”

She nods, though he can’t see it. “You know therapy is always an option, right?”

Steve makes a derisive noise in the back of his throat. “Sure, right after we get that new dishwasher. And re-carpet the halls. And replace everything in the car that needs replacing, or better yet get a new car. And fix the shower nozzle so half of the water doesn’t come out in a drip. And-”

“Hey, the school counsellor’s still free, right?”

“I’m not talking to Helen, Ma, quit trying to make me go see Helen. I’m fine. Really.”

He tries a smile. It’s flimsy at best, but she kisses his cheek anyway, the good one that isn’t laced with old and new bruising. Then she lays her head on his shoulder, not bothering to say it: god, I’m tired.

He tilts his head on top of hers.

Me too, she imagines him saying.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

Sixteen.

 

It’s only after Sarah burns her finger on the casserole dish that she realizes she is, in fact, nervous about the kid tagging along with her son to dinner tonight.

Get a grip, she tells herself, sticking her burned finger under a running tap. Just because this is the first time he’s brought anyone around that wasn’t Bucky doesn’t mean you have to lose your head over it.

The thought is accompanied by a wash of pride. She probably shouldn’t be this proud about her sixteen year old son making a friend, but it took him nine years to make one friend and another seven to make a second. Sarah thinks she deserves a little excitement over the occasion.

She cranes her head to look over at the casserole, which is sitting on the stovetop after Sarah had dropped it there upon getting burned. It’s the first casserole she’s made in six months, as just having enough time to make dinner is a miracle in their household, let alone anything that takes that amount of chopping.

She dries her hand on her shirt and goes to grab the dish when she hears footsteps and voices coming up the stairway to the apartment, then curses quietly and grabs a pair of makeshift oven mitts.

Steve’s voice drifts in along with the sound of the door opening. “Hey, Ma!”

“Hi, honey,” Sarah calls back. Shit, her burned finger hurts. “One second!”

She tucks a salt shaker into the crook of her elbow before carrying the casserole out into the living room-slash-laundry room. Usually the table in the living room has a heap of laundry piled on it waiting to be folded, but Sarah has relocated that pile to her bedroom for the time being.

She makes a note to actually fold that laundry later as she sets the casserole down on the table and tilts her head so Steve has better access to kiss her cheek.

“Dinner smells good,” he says as he pulls back.

She gives his shoulder a quick squeeze. “Doesn’t it always?”

“Oh, always,” Steve says, grinning.

She swats at the same shoulder she had squeezed, pulling off her makeshift oven mitts. “Shuddup, you. Go sit down.”

Steve looks around, eyebrows raising when he spots the chairs. He meets her eyes in a silent question: we have chairs that go with the laundry table?

Sarah shrugs back and turns to where the new kid hasn’t moved from just inside the doorway. “You must be Tony!”

The kid looks eight kinds of uncomfortable, despite how hard he’s obviously trying to hide it. “That’s me,” he says with a smile he must’ve picked out at the movies. He unpockets a hand to hold it out to her. “It’s, it’s nice to meet you.”

Sarah can’t help the glance she darts over at Steve, who mouths just go with it, so she shakes Tony’s hand like that’s a thing people do outside of job interviews.

She finds herself regretting the glance as soon as she looks back at the kid- Tony’s- face. He seems so utterly at sea that Sarah has to bite down on the urge to get all maternal over him.

Still, she takes pity on him. “Come and sit, Tony. Steve tells me you moved here last year from Malibu?”

There’s a short pause where they all arrange themselves around the tiny table, but then Tony’s clearing his throat and saying, “I did, yes.”

“How’re you liking it in New York?”

“It’s living up to its reputation,” Tony says, flashing a smile that looks more genuine than the plastic one he had been giving her before.

Sarah reaches for a spoon to dole casserole onto her plate. “Aw, you’ve been mugged already? And in your first year here, that’s rough.”

Tony laughs. “No muggings yet. Here’s to hoping it stays that way.”

“Cheers to that,” Sarah says, handing the casserole spoon to Steve. She starts to dig in, but watches Tony as Steve takes a portion of casserole. The kid can’t seem to stop glancing around the apartment with something that looks like bewilderment, eyeing the two of them with anxious eyes like he’s experiencing a new culture for the first time and he’s worried he’s going to accidentally insult someone’s gods.

Sarah spares a look over at her son, who seems nervous, but less so than his new friend.

Sarah guesses that even if Steve doesn’t invite people around much, Tony isn’t the guy who tends to get invited around.

Great, Sarah thinks. They can be awkward together. Should be a fun dinner. “So, son of mine. Get into any fights recently?”

Tony barks out a laugh and hastily smothers it with his hand.

Steve glares at him, but it’s lacklustre. “Ma,” he says, turning the glare on her.

“What? It’s been nearly a month since the last one, I thought I should cover all my bases. A month is a record. Tony, you must be some sort of good influence.”

Steve’s laugh turns into a coughing fit. Sarah pounds him on the back and looks expectantly towards Tony, who has her fixed with an incredulous look that he tries to flatten out when he spots her looking at him.

“Oh, uh. Yeah. That’s me, good influence extraordinaire.”

“Good god,” Steve says, voice strained from the recent choking.

Tony waves him off with his fork. “I’m making a good impression, Steve, hush. Yes, I’m a very good influence, thank you for noticing, Ms. Rogers.”

“Sarah.”

“Sarah,” Tony corrects himself. “Um, so much good influence…ing. Yeah, I’m pulling Steve away from fights left and right, it’s a full time job, really.”

Sarah sighs loud enough to drown out Steve’s spluttered protests. “Tell me about it. I’d come to pick him up from kindergarten to find he pushed a kid over for shoving a bug up some other kid’s nose. Remember that, honey?”

“No,” Steve says, looking between them with something like suspicion.

Tony’s nodding. “That sounds like Steve. Last week me and Bucky had to drag him away from a guy who was yelling abuse at the vending machines. They’re vending machines, it’s not like they have feelings.”

Steve throws up his hands. “It wasn’t like I was gonna walk up to him and punch him, I was just gonna tell him to stop swearing so loud! We were in a mall, there were kids around!”

Tony’s laugh abruptly cuts off when Sarah lies a hand across his, the one that isn’t holding a fork.

“You seem like a nice kid, Tony.”

Tony’s uncertain smile gutters out for a moment, and Sarah wonders if she’s messed up. But then the smile is back, soft and small and surprised.

“Um,” Tony says. “Thank you? You… seem like a nice mom.”

He winces after he says it, but Sarah just laughs and pats his hand before going back to her meal.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

Eighteen:

 

Sarah is finally, finally on her way to the break room and considering just curling up in a hallway somewhere when she glances into a room to see a familiar face.

It takes a moment to register, but when it does, Sarah is hurrying back up the hall and into the room where Tony is lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

She immediately goes to reach for his chart when a voice comes from the side of the room: “Ma?”

She spins to see her only son straightening up from where he had been crouched over in a plastic chair. “Steve! What the hell?”

“I know,” he says, and pulls himself to his feet in time for her to wrap her arms around his thin shoulders. He gives just as good as he gets, hugging her hard enough she worries about him bruising. Then he’s pulling back and rubbing a hand down his face. “I should’ve texted, but I know how busy you are and the situation isn’t critical, it-”

Sarah takes the patient chart from the end of the bed and flips through it. “Alcohol poisoning.”

Steve flinches. It’s minute, but it makes him look even smaller as he hunches into his shoulders. “I told him to go easy, but he wouldn’t listen to me. I’m only glad I got him to the hospital- everyone else but me and Buck wanted to let him sleep it off.”

Sarah takes in his defeated slump and hugs him again. “You made the right call,” she says into his hair, even if she only gets a hum in return.

He leans against her for several seconds before pulling back, face rearranging into something determined. “So, uh. I know it isn’t important right now, but are you- I mean, is it okay that I…”

He trails off, then shakes his head. “No, nevermind. Yell at me later, it doesn’t matter right now.”

Sarah puts this through her Steve Translator and comes up with, “There won’t be any yelling about the two of you- three, I assume Bucky abstained- getting illegally drunk. There will, however, be a very stern talk during which I might raise my voice to the point where it might as well be called yelling.”

Steve nods. There are dark smudges under his eyes that make her wonder just how long he’s been here- this is the tail end of her double shift, so god knows it could’ve be a while. “How long have you been here?”

Steve frowns. “Since I checked Tony in.”

“And when was that?”

“Uh.” Steve rubs a hand through his hair. “What time is it?”

Sarah checks her wristwatch. “Just after nine am.”

“…Ah.”

Sarah sighs and kisses his forehead. “I’m guessing you’ve been here a while, yeah? How’s about you go home and get some rest.”

“But-” Steve stops. “I- guess I could. Not right now, but in half an hour or so. Rhodey’s driving up from his parents’ place, he’s there for the break. He should be here soon.”

His face twists. “Hey, a girl who was visiting someone else tried to take a photo of Tony when she realized it was him. Can you-”

“I’ll put the nurses on alert,” Sarah assures him.

From the doorway, a throat clears.

Both Steve and Sarah look over to see Bucky leaning against the doorframe with a packet of chips in his hand. “I can take over until Rhodes gets here. Your doritos,” he adds, throwing it to Steve, who fumbles but catches the packet.

Bucky waits until Steve has left until he rocks sideways to bump his shoulder against Sarah’s. “Hey, Ms. R. You look lovely.”

“Excuse you,” Sarah says, pushing back lightly. She examines the unconscious kid in front of her- he’s almost a man, now, with his goatee growing in in a way that doesn’t shame the concept of goatees. Despite this, he somehow looks younger than she’s ever seen him.

Beside her, Bucky sighs and pockets his hands. “Guy doesn’t know when to stop, sometimes. I had to carry him into the car after he passed out, then in here.”

Sarah hums. “How has he been,” she asks. She hasn’t exactly been Tony’s confidant since he and Steve had fallen into friendship last year, but from what she’s gleamed from his visits, he doesn’t have the best home life.

Bucky shrugs. “Same as ever. I thought he was getting, y’know. Better. Apparently not, if he feels like he’s gotta drown himself in this much booze. And he knows how much he can take- started way too young, I think he said one time that he had his first drink when he was four. I don’t know if he got drunk, but that’s still messed up, right?”

Sarah opens her mouth to say well it’s not not messed up, that’s for sure, when the door creaking cuts across it.

She turns to either tell Steve to go home or welcome Rhodey in, but instead she’s faced with a woman that she has never seen before in her life who seems vaguely familiar despite the fact.

It’s only when the woman speaks that Sarah realizes.

“I’m- sorry,” the woman says, stilted. She’s wearing sunglasses indoors and a blue, flowing dress that looks like the kind of thing Sarah used to cut out of magazines as a teenager. “I didn’t expect anyone to be here.”

She pulls up a polite smile that Sarah has seen carved into Tony’s face too many times to count.

“I’ll come back,” the woman says, and Sarah has heard Tony lie often enough that she can tell where he learned it from.

She hears Bucky say, “Um, I’ll be here or whatever,” as she leaves, and spares a moment to wave over her shoulder in acknowledgement.

She catches the woman- what did Tony mention his mother’s name was- just down the hallway, and the woman seems startled when Sarah taps her shoulder to get her attention.

“If anything, we should leave,” Sarah says before the other woman can speak. “You’re his mother, after all. I’m Sarah, your son is friends with my son.”

“Maria,” the woman returns, and this time Sarah expects the handshake. “Was- that boy in there, was that your son?”

“No- no, that’s B- James. He’s another of your son’s friends.”

Maria blinks. “Right,” she says, slow. Then, hesitantly: “I… wanted to thank whichever one brought him to the hospital.”

“They both did.”

“Oh.” Maria’s neat curls bob as she nods. “Okay. I just- too many people would’ve just left him to get over it himself. I wanted to thank them for making sure he was okay.”

“Tony’d do the same for them.”

Maria smiles. It’s more than a little confused. She pauses before asking, “Have any reporters show up? Photographers?”

Sarah shakes her head. “Someone tried to snap a photo, but we’re taking care of it.”

“Good.” Maria breathes out through her nose. Her eyes close momentarily, and for a second she looks so much like Tony that it coaxes a smile onto Sarah’s face. Then Maria’s eyes are opening along with her mouth: “I didn’t expect anyone to be with him after they dropped him off.”

After a moment of floundering, all Sarah can come up with is a repeated, “Tony’d do the same for them. And Rhodey’s heading here as we speak.”

“Oh, good. I met him once, he seems good for Tony.” Maria’s hands are clutched tight against each other and Sarah notices she’s wearing gloves. She reminds Sarah of an old movie star, all poised glamour.

“It’s… good to know Tony’s being taken care of,” Maria continues with a tight smile.

It sounds like a goodbye. Sarah watches her turn to leave and hears it leave her mouth before she makes the conscious decision to voice it: “Tony cleans up my son after he gets into fights, sometimes.”

Maria turns back. She looks at Maria as if she’s a puzzle she can’t hope to solve.

Sarah doesn’t quite know what she’s saying until the words come into coherence in her mouth. “They take care of each other,” is what she comes up with.

It makes Maria’s head duck, her gaze falling to the floor before she meets Sarah’s eyes through the thin black of the sunglasses. “Good,” she says.

For a second it seems like she’ll say something else, lips parted on the edge of speech, but then they’re stretching in another tight smile. “I’ll just come back, shall I?”

“I think he’d want you here,” Sarah tries.

“No, I- I’ll come back,” Maria says, flashing another smile.

Her heels click against the linoleum as she leaves, and Sarah watches her hands shake as she clenches them at her sides.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

Nineteen:

 

“You are, without a doubt, the absolute love of my life.”

Both of Sarah’s hands are otherwise occupied, so she settles for bumping her elbow gently against Tony’s head as she slides another pancake onto his cake. “Are you talking to me or your breakfast?”

“Whichever is sweeter,” Tony says, straight-faced. “So you, obviously.”

“Aw, you lug.” She beams at him until Tony’s face dissolves into a grin.

“Seriously though,” he says as he cuts his pancakes into pieces, because he’s a freak who likes to have all his pancakes cut into bits before he starts to eat them. “I’ve eaten at five-star restaurants that offer worse breakfasts than you.”

Bucky enters the living room with his jaw cracking around a yawn. “You tryin’ to come onto my woman, Stark?”

“She’s mine, Barnes, and you’d feel so much better if you’d finally admit it.”

Sarah ducks in to kiss both of their cheeks. “Quit it, you two. You can share.”

Steve’s voice drifts in from the bathroom down the hall. “I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU’RE DOING BUT LAY OFF.”

“My love for your mother is eternal, get over it,” Tony calls back distractedly, eyes on the TV, which is playing repeats of last nights’ news.

Steve appears in the doorway still holding a toothbrush to glare at Tony and Bucky. “Come on, guys.”

“Eternal,” Tony repeats, and spears another piece of pancake onto his fork.

Sarah bumps him fondly with her elbow again and heads back into the kitchen. Over the last three years, Tony has become something of a permanent fixture at the Rogers’ apartment, even moreso than Bucky, who has his own home full of family to go to.

Tony has a family to go home to, but Sarah has come to learn that more often than not, Tony goes home to an empty apartment. An apartment which, granted, has a living room twice the size of Sarah’s whole place, but an empty apartment nonetheless.

In any case, Sarah is happy to have him around. For all of his joking around, he actually turns out to be a good influence on Steve most of the time, and vice versa. They can also rile each other up to the point where Sarah has been called in at 3 in the morning to bail her son out of jail, but that’s a very small outlier compared to the usual outcome.

“Mornin’,” Steve says as he comes into the kitchen. He spits his toothpaste into the kitchen sink.

“You’re disgusting,” comes Tony’s voice from the living room.

“So’s your face,” Steve calls back. At Sarah’s look: “Shuddup, it’s 7 in the morning, I’m not at my best. Pancakes?”

“Comin’ right up,” Sarah says, pouring another several onto her pan. “C’mere, I have to concentrate on not burning them.”

Steve does, and allows himself to get a forehead kiss. “Need any help?”

“Nah. Go sit with the others. Hey, Steve?”

“Mm?”

Sarah considers the possible outcomes and then does it anyway. “So. Tony.”

Two innocent words, but it has Steve hunching and stepping away from the entrance to the living room. “Ma,” he says, hushed.

She lowers her voice to match. “I was just wondering-”

“Haven’ttoldhim, shutupaboutit,” Steve says in two rushed, quiet bursts. Then, a little louder: “Please stop bringing it up? If I do end up talking to him about it-”

“When.”

Steve fixes her with a droll look. “If I do, I’ll let you know.”

Sarah snorts and turns back so she can ease her spatula under the nearest bubbling pancake. “Yeah? I doubt it. You ain’t doing such a great job at telling me about telling him, so-”

“It’s embarrassing-”

“Yeah, so’s telling your mother you have a boyfriend-”

“Ma, shut-” Steve inhales sharply and shakes his head. “I’ll- I’ll let you know if anything- you’ll know, okay?”

Sarah flips the rest of the pancakes. A little burned, but Steve can scrape it off if he’s too bothered by it. “Sure. And by ‘you’ll know’ you mean Bucky will tell me.”

Steve lets out a noise that isn’t the word maybe but isn’t not that word, either.

Sarah laughs, then nods towards the living room. “Go sit down, there’s a plate there for you already.”

She follows him out to the living room, frypan in hand, when she sees the front door close as a figure darts out.

Sarah looks around the living room. Neither Bucky or Tony are there, and the TV is no longer on. Sarah’s trading a look with Steve as Bucky emerges into the doorway tying the drawstring on his sweatpants so they stay on his hips.

“What,” he says when they both look at him.

Steve asks, “Where’s Tony?”

Bucky makes a face. “How should I know? He was here when I went to take a leak. Did he leave?”

“Looks like it,” Sarah says. “That’s strange.”

Bucky shrugs, sitting down and grabbing the remote. “Whatever. He kept ignoring calls last night, I bet he listened to a voicemail and found something he had to do.”

He switches the TV on.

It takes precisely five seconds for Steve to shove his plate down on the table and race for the door.

Sarah listens as Steve yells Tony’s name down the stairs, wonders if Tony has had enough time to hail a cab and go- go-

Identify the bodies? Arrange a funeral?

“Jesus fuck,” Bucky mutters beside her, and heads to join Steve, who sounds like he’s halfway down the stairs.

Sarah goes to join them, but then realizes she’s still holding the pan and goes to put it down on the table, but it starts sizzling and Sarah swears as she lifts it up to find she’s just burned a circle in the wood.

On the TV, the reporter continues to report on the lethal car crash that occurred last night. Words scroll across the bottom of the screen- both dead and son set to inherit the company and tragic accident, all of which is drowned out in Sarah’s head by her son hollering Tony’s name into the early morning.

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Twenty-One:

 

“You didn’t have to come, you know. I’m sure you’re busy.”

Tony waves her off. “It’s always nice to have a legitimate reason to blow off Board meetings. And seeing you isn’t terrible, either. What do you need done?”

Sarah bites back a sigh. Everything. “Dishes. Dishes are a priority.”

“Right,” Tony says, and follows her to the kitchen. After a pause, looking out over the sea of crusty plates and bowls with oatmeal that dried on them before last week began, he clears his throat. “Yeah. Definitely a priority. Jesus, Sarah.”

Sarah nods and starts lifting plates out of the sink so she can fill it up. “Ever since Steve moved out last year- well, I usually don’t let it get this out of hand, but all my free time nowadays has been spent sleeping. I’m even more tired than usual.”

“Menopause,” Tony suggests with a straight face.

Sarah shoves him lightly. “I’m not that old yet.”

“You don’t look a day over 25. 26, at most.”

“Aw,” she says, rolling her eyes. She leans in and he tilts his head so she can kiss his cheek before she starts to clean out the sink drain.

“I’m not surprised, though,” Tony says. “With the tiredness. You work even harder than I do.”

Which is saying something- Sarah hasn’t seen much of Tony these past few years after the initial near-constant seeing of him in those first few weeks after his parents died. For over a month, Tony had all but lived at the Rogers’ apartment, and then none of them had seen hide nor hair of him for the next year, and then he had re-appeared with a new hairstyle and CEO position.

Sarah had watched Tony slack off at high school over the years, but that was due to the fact that Tony was lightyears ahead of any of the material being taught. She’s still unsure why he insisted to stay in high school so long instead of graduating college at the same time that everyone else his age would be in Junior year.

Well. She has an inkling as to why, but she doesn’t want to confront him with that just yet. Though she might, if both of them continued not to make a move.

She had seen the start of it before either of them or even Bucky had- the glances that caught and held, the too-bright laughter, the undeniable fondness that went deeper than friendship.

By the time Steve had admitted to her- years back, woozy after his painkillers to make his ankle feel less like it hadn’t recently been broken- about his maybe-plan to tell Tony he had Feelings for him, Sarah had been waiting for the two of them to get together for months.

At this point, she’s about ready to tell the both of them that their feelings are obviously reciprocated and lock them in a room to let them talk it out.

But she’s trying to be mature about it, so she’s settling for letting the two of them go about it at their own pace. It hasn’t exactly been the best time, anyway, what with all Tony’s had to take on, not to mention Steve taking art classes at the local college whenever he isn’t working. Community college, but it’s not like either of them is made of money. Besides, Sarah is just happy Steve made it past twenty- she’d be happy if he decided to be a hermit, if he kept on living.

Tony and Sarah settle into a comfortable silence as Sarah washes and Tony dries and puts away. Sarah examines him on and off, and she’s sure he’s doing the same to her. Their worry is mutual, an interconnected highway caught between them all, with all of them working themselves ragged.

“How have Steve’s classes been going,” Tony asks after Sarah has filled the sink. “I haven’t been able to see him much, with- everything.”

Sarah sighs. Her head beats with a headache at the same pace of her heartbeat. “You’re probably seeing about as much of him as I do, we’re all so damn busy.”

“Language, Sarah.”

She nudges a wet plate into his sleeve. “Fuck off, Tony.”

It coaxes a laugh out of him. “Last I heard, he’s struggling to fit in school and work and not bail out on one of them.”

“I’ve heard the same. Oh, he made some friends.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Natasha, Clint, Thor- his actual name is Thor, apparently, it’s on his birth certificate- and some guy called Sam. That one wants to be a psychiatrist.” Tony is silent for a moment as he scrapes dried fruit from a plate with a fingernail before drying it. “He won’t let me hook him up with my art connections.”

“What, the psychiatrist wannabe?”

“No, Steve.”

“You have art connections?”

“I didn’t, but I made some.”

Sarah snorts. “You know Steve doesn’t take hand-outs.”

“They’re not hand-outs,” Tony says, undercut with exasperation.

Sarah doesn’t blame him. The kid’s been hiding money under their couches for them to find for years, hoping that they’d think it was their own. Offering to buy a new fridge for them when theirs crapped out, offering new shoes when Steve was walking around for a whole winter with several toes peeking out through his sneakers.

Last year, their washing machine had broken down and a suspiciously cheap laundromat had conveniently opened underneath their apartment. Tony had insisted it wasn’t his doing, but neither Sarah nor Steve had been convinced.

“I just,” Tony says, and sighs. “You know how good he is, you’ve seen his work. There are people out there who would buy it, but Steve insists nooo, he has to make it on his own, all the while he’s scraping for rent money and going hungry when someone doesn’t leave leftovers at work. I just- I want-”

He cuts himself off and goes back to drying the dishes.

Sarah watches him. “Hey.”

“Mm.”

“Remember when I told you that if you broke something, then you could pay for it, and you immediately went to the dryer and kicked the crap out of it?”

Tony turns his laugh into a cough. “Uh, yeah. Still sorry about that.”

“Yeah, I should’ve seen that coming. Shit.”

“I got it,” Tony says, and takes the plate Sarah had nearly dropped in her fumbling.

Sarah pushes her hands back into the suds. Her fingers scrape cutlery at the bottom. “How’ve you been, Tony?”

A beat, then: “You know me, Sarah. Living the life.”

“Ha. Yeah.” Sarah raises her hand to her face and uses her dry wrist to push her hair away from her eyes. “Last time I talked to Steve, he said he missed you.”

“He did?”

“He did.”

“Huh.” Tony takes the wet cutlery Sarah hands him and spends a moment brushing the tips of his fingers across the tines of a fork. “I miss him too.”

Sarah watches the smooth lines of his face as he looks at his own fingers pressing into the metal, something wistful in his eyes.

He draws you, Sarah thinks. He’s been drawing you since he was fifteen years old. You’re his favourite subject.

She doesn’t say it: Tony knows her son too well. It’d sound too much like a confession that Sarah doesn’t have the right to make.

Her head prickles. Her headache begins to beat more violently.

At first she thinks it’s the heat from the water, so she draws her hands out. But then her vision begins to tunnel, and Sarah’s name is being said, then shouted, and Sarah finds herself on the floor and Tony has his phone in his hand and-

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

 

Twenty-One:

 

It never gets less odd to have her co-workers treat her like a patient.

“If it helps, you’re the model patient,” says one of the young, new nurses, when Sarah voices this.

“Only because I know what not to do.”

The newbie- Bruce laughs. “Just how many people don’t know very simple things they shouldn’t do in a hospital, Sarah?”

“God.” Sarah lets her head fall back onto the pillow. “How many people have masturbated while attached to heart monitors since I’ve been here?”

“Here as in working here or here as in-” Bruce stops and coughs.

Sarah supplies, “Riddled with cancer?”

“You put such a great spin on things, Sarah,” Bruce tells her, wincing in apology as he inserts her IV. “Sorry. Taking it like a trooper. And the answer to the latter question is none, surprisingly.”

Sarah lifts her head. “Really? Not one person in how many months?”

“Jesus, Ma.”

Sarah bursts out laughing at the sight of her son’s face as he stands in the doorway. “Aren’t you glad I left that out of my stories whenever you asked about my day?”

“I’m eternally grateful,” Steve tells her, coming over to bend and press a kiss to her forehead. To Bruce, he asks, “How is she?”

She is right here, and a qualified nurse,” Sarah says.

“Yeah, but Bruce has your chart, Ma.”

“You think I haven’t stolen that thing already?”

“Pretending I didn’t hear that,” Bruce says with a smile. To Steve, he says, “She’s good, Steve. Just finished this cycle of chemotherapy. You should be able to take her home before the week is up, and then we’ll have to wait and see what happens during checkups.”

Sarah waits for Bruce to leave before she sags back into the pillows, letting Steve pull them up and fluff them behind her. “Don’t ever get cancer, Steve.”

“Not planning on it, Ma.”

She kisses his chin. “Chemotherapy is worse than the actual cancer.”

“So you’ve mentioned,” Steve tells her, with a brave attempt at a smile. “But one of them heals you and one of them doesn’t, so.”

Sarah thinks about making a smart alec comment about how chemotherapy slowly kills you until it doesn’t and it sure as hell feels like it, but holds back. She’s said it before, anyway.

“Has Tony visited?”

Sarah shakes her head. “Not this week.”

“Really?” Steve’s face pinches before he forcibly straightens it out.

Sarah squeezes his shoulder. “He’s running a multi-billion dollar company, Steve. I’m sure he’s trying to make time for little old me.”

Steve hums, but his eyes are distant, so Sarah sighs and says, “How’s about we visit him once I get out of here.”

It’s not the first thing she wants to do- she’d rather go home and sleep until she feels like she doesn’t have literal poison in her veins, but Tony has seemed even more strained than usual during his latest visits, which stopped abruptly around two weeks ago, and he hasn’t been answering any of their attempts to contact him.

Sarah thinks it’s time for a home visit.

-

“Mr. Stark is in his workshop.”

“Thank you, disembodied voice that will definitely not turn into Skynet and kill us all.”

“Ma.”

“What? It’s a legitimate concern,” Sarah tells him. She rolls his eyes as Steve takes her arm to help her into the elevator. “Steve, I’m fine.”

“Oh, sure. Just finished up a cycle of chemotherapy, but you’re fine.”

“How the turntables,” Sarah mutters, then pitches her voice deep. “No, Ma, my ankle’s not broken, that swelling is from an insect bite. Ma, my arm is okay, really, just don’t touch it. I’m not sick, Ma, my voice sounds like this ‘cause of puberty.”

“Okay, you have to admit that last one nearly worked.”

“I raised a dirty liar.”

Steve snorts and is in the middle of bumping their shoulders together when the elevator doors slide open. The hallway to the workshop is as inviting as the first and only time Sarah had been through it, which is to say it’s dark and blank as anything.

“JARVIS, could you please open the door?”

“Certainly, Mr and Ms. Rogers.”

Sarah is wrinkling her face at the strangeness of that phrasing when she spots Tony through the glass doors that are sliding open. He’s standing with a set of holographic screens in front of him, his fingers flying from screen to screen. As the doors settle open, his voice floats through, sharp and manic as he babbles something that sounds familiar and medicinal, something about-

“Tony?”

Tony doesn’t react to Steve saying his name, instead continuing to babble, his voice dropping to a mutter as his words trip over each other until he’s almost slurring. Upon closer inspection, Sarah notes that he’s filthy- not just his clothes; there’s what appears to be coffee grounds smudged into his hair.

Steve clears his throat. “Tony?”

Nothing.

Steve trades a look with Sarah before reaching out and gently touching Tony’s shoulder.

“Ton-”

Tony jerks, whirling around and nearly stumbling before he straightens up to squint at the two of them. It seems to take a second, but then recognition is sparking and his eyebrows are creasing together.

“Shit,” he says. “Shit, not right now, gimmie like another week, okay, this is harder than I thought it would be, I mean obviously I didn’t think this would be easy, but there’s a LOT to learn before I even start to get into the actual mechanics of-”

He scrubs a hand down his face, pinches the bridge of his nose as his sentences blur together.

“Tony?” Steve talks over him. “I’m gonna need you to- Tony- What are you even talking about-”

It’s only when Sarah turns her gaze to the screens and starts reading that it clicks. The realization is accompanied by a swelling urge to laugh.

Good lord, she thinks. Only Tony Stark.

“He’s trying to cure cancer,” she tells Steve, who does a double-take in her direction.

“He’s-” Steve turns back to Tony. “What-”

He steps back to look up at the screens. Sarah doubts he understands them- she can only understand most of the words, nevermind what they all mean in that order and context- but she guesses it’s sinking in, since Steve’s face turns soft and incredulous as his gaze drops to stare at Tony, who is still babbling- something about circumstances and differences and not being an actual doctor despite his multiple PHDs.

The babble stumbles to a stop as Steve takes several steps forwards, takes Tony’s face in his hands and kisses him.

Tony’s eyebrows hit his hairline, but then his eyes are drifting shut, his face going lax in pleasure as he kisses back, hands coming up to rest on Steve’s bird-bone shoulders.

Sarah doesn’t know the right response when your son has what Sarah presumes is his first kiss with one of his closest friends less than five feet in front of you, but she thinks it’d be impolite to interrupt, so she holds in her laughter and waits for the two of them to remember the situation.

It takes approximately four seconds for the kiss to end, at which point Steve and Tony stare at each other until Steve is jerking back, glancing between Tony and Sarah.

“Uh, I- that wasn’t- um,” he finishes, and then just stands there while Tony blinks owlishly and- Sarah assumes- tries not to fall asleep standing up.

“Um,” Sarah agrees, feeling the smile tug at her face. She pats Steve on the shoulder before pushing him towards the door. “Look, if this was any other time I’d tell you to talk it out, but I think Tony’s setting the world record for lack of sleep. Tony, come here.”

Tony steps forwards silently, looking dazed. “Is this a dream?”

“Go lie down,” Sarah tells him.

“Mrgh,” Tony says, but goes obediently towards the cot she’s pointing at and curls up on it. He’s snoring within seconds.

When Sarah turns back to Steve, his ears are flushed red.

“I’m sure Tony won’t mind if you sleep in one of his spare rooms tonight,” she tells him.

“Ma-”

“That way you can be there to explain things when he wakes up,” Sarah continues. She looks over at Tony, who has one arm dangling down to the floor. “Which will probably be in over a day, so you have some time to prepare. I’m going to head home.”

He’s at her side in an instant. “I can help you th-”

“If I need any help, I’ll call Bucky. Or your new friend Natasha, she seemed lovely when she came to visit.” She pats his cheek. “Good luck, honey. Let me know how it goes. And find something for Tony to use as a blanket before you go, yeah?”

She leaves him standing in the workshop looking like he’s just been punched in the face and isn’t sure if he’s happy about it.

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Twenty-Six.

 

“Do you think I’m young?”

“Yes.” Sarah answers instinctively, then grimaces down at her coffee. “Yowza.”

“Yeah, sorry, I ordered two of what I usually get, didn’t think about it,” Tony says, rushed. He turns to an employee behind them and asks for milk, then turns back and asks: “But do you think it matters that I’m young? Am I tooyoung?”

Sarah looks at him. More often than not, Tony will ask questions that are leading to things that make total sense to him, but are incoherent nonsense to the people he’s asking them to, but after a decade of exposure to the man, Sarah thinks she’s getting the hang of interacting with him.

“It depends on what you’re… talking about? Yes, I think you’re young, and I think that matters under certain circumstances.”

Tony starts tapping his spoon against the handle of his cup and then looks down at the action and stops. “Do you think I’m too young to do certain things?”

Sarah pauses to consider. “You mean legally, or-”

“No, just…” Tony shrugs, trying for casual and failing miserably. “In your opinion.”

“Okay,” Sarah says slowly. “Let me think about it.”

“Sure,” Tony says tightly. Then he proceeds to stare at her, realize he’s staring, and then force his gaze around the coffeeshop in order to not stare at her.

Sarah finds herself going over things he might get his worked up over instead of answering his question. But this soon turns to Tony looking close to vibrating out of his skin, so Sarah takes pity on him.

“I think as long as it makes you happy and you’re not hurting anyone, you should do whatever you want.”

“Great,” Tony croaks. He clears his throat. “That was incredibly non-specific.”

“Well, I’m answering a very non-specific question,” she says, and takes another sip of coffee. God. How much caffeine are they legally allowed to put in one cup? “Do you mind getting specific for me?”

“Right,” Tony says. He starts picking at his flawless cuticles, then stops. “Right.”

“Anytime you feel like it,” Sarah says, biting back a smile.

“Right,” Tony repeats for the third time. “Well.”

He takes a breath inwards. “So I’m in love with Steve.”

Sarah waits. When he doesn’t continue, she nods encouragingly. “Yeah, I figured that. What with the five-year-relationship and the decade-long friendship and the fact that you routinely say that you love each other.”

“Mmmmm,” Tony says. He starts ripping a napkin to shreds, then crumples it up. “I. It. Your hair looks great.”

Sarah touches it reflexively. She’s been in remission for almost a year now- not by Tony’s doing since despite all his effort, a foolproof cure to cancer remained undiscovered. Remission has been kind to her so far, and her hair is growing back in. Right now it’s in a pixie cut, which Sarah’s been told is very fashionable nowadays. “Thank you. Now cut the bull, Tony. What do you want to tell me?”

“I’d- like to ask something, actually.”

“Okay. So ask.”

Tony is opening his mouth when a staff member approaches the table with a small cup of milk. “Hi there! Which one of you wanted-”

“I did,” Sarah says as Tony says, “She did, put it there, thank you so much bye,” and smiles at the staff member almost threateningly until they leave in mild confusion.

Sarah starts stirring milk into her coffee. “You were saying? Or, asking?”

“Asking,” Tony nods, voice pitching. He coughs and lowers it. “Yeah. Yeah, I- was wondering if I could have your… blessing? To ask Steve to marry me?”

Sarah stares at him. Well, this is definitely one of the better options she had concocted when he had started acting strange today.

“You want to marry Steve,” she says.

Tony nods.

“You want my blessing to marry Steve,” Sarah continues.

Tony nods again, tight and small.

Sarah looks down at her coffee. She wipes her spoon off on a napkin before swatting Tony lightly on the hand with it.

“Ow,” Tony says after a moment, sounding more hurt than a spoon thwack warrants. “Um. Is that a-”

“You don’t need my blessing, dumbass, this isn’t the forties,” Sarah tells him, a wide grin stretching her face, her eyes filling embarrassingly.

Tony hesitates. “So-”

“You have it,” Sarah says, and stands up so she can reach across the table to hug him. “Dumbass.”

“Language,” Tony says, but it’s muffled by her shoulder. Then: “Oh god, are you crying? Please tell me you aren’t crying. I feel tears on my neck.”

“I’m not crying, shuddup,” Sarah says, but it’s undercut with tiny sobs that undermine the validity of it. She pulls back to cup his face in her hands, stroking a thumb at the base of his hairline.

There’s a moment where Tony’s smiling up at her, soft and disbelieving and everything she’s had the pleasure of coaxing out of him over the years.

Sarah sniffs. “My ultimate gold-digging plan worked.”

“Ouch!” Tony grins. “Not funny.”

“Aw, I’m hilarious,” she says, and gathers him in for another hug that he stands up for this time. When they pull back a second time, she asks, “Hey, whose name are you guys gonna take?”

“Sarah, I don’t even know if Steve will say yes yet.”

Sarah waves it off. “He’ll say yes, he’s been in love with you since he was fifteen. Also, just saying, Tony Rogers has such a clean ring to it, don’t you think?”

“You and your hidden motives,” Tony sighs. “You really think he’ll say yes?”

“Tony.” She locks eyes with him. “I bet you a million dollars he’ll say yes.”

“You don’t have a million dollars, Sarah.”

“That’s how confident I am. Also I will have million dollars when you marry my son.”

“We’re not just going to give you a million dollars.”

“You think Steve isn’t going to buy me a house? Hell, I’ve been fending off offers from you for years.”

“True.”

 

 

 

 

-

 

 

 

Twenty-Seven.

 

“Bucky’s crying.”

“I am not.”

“There are tears rolling down your cheeks as we speak, Barnes.”

“Fuck you, Wilson.”

Sarah flicks them both in the forehead as she stands. “Behave, you two. Can you manage not to drown out the music with your arguing?”

They both reply with, “Only for you, Ms. R,” and then glare at each other.

Sarah feels a touch at her elbow, and she turns to find her son looking happier than she’d ever dreamed he could be.

“Your speech was amazing, Ma.”

“Way better than ours,” Bucky agrees, hooking a thumb at himself and Sam, who shoots an annoyed look at Bucky before nodding and admitting, “Fair enough.”

Tony comes up behind Steve and links their fingers together. Sarah watches the glint of their new wedding bands graze each other as they hold hands, and by the look of their smiles, they’re noticing the same thing.

“I’m going to steal my husband away for our first dance,” Tony announces. “But our next dances are going to be with you, okay? Don’t let anyone steal you away until we’re done with you. After that, anyone’s free to sweep you off your feet.”

“Dibs,” Sam says, provoking Bucky to smack him in the ribs.

“I think I can fend off suitors until you come for me,” Sarah assures them.

With that, she sits back down and watches: Tony had insisted it be a small wedding, which had surprised everyone until he said, oh, I mean small in terms of people. I want a big-ass wedding venue, I’m splurging so hard, there’s gonna be a chocolate fountain, at which point he had gotten distracted by Steve cutting in to question whether their wedding really needed a chocolate fountain.

If Sarah’s remembering right, she thinks Tony’s answer had been a blank look and a reply of no one NEEDS a chocolate fountain, Steve.

They had compromised by getting a very small one, which Sarah eyes from across the room and makes a note to visit it later.

The hall is grand, grander than anything Sarah has stepped foot in without wearing an employee’s uniform and carrying a tray, but there’s more than enough room to fit all the wedding guests twice over.

Friends and family, they had said. And since neither of them have much or any family, everyone but Sarah is a high school friend, a college friend or a co-worker, some of whom Sarah knew but mostly just knew about from talking with Steve or Tony. It seems they’ve made themselves quite the circle of friends, albeit a small circle.

She shakes herself out of her thoughts as the newlywed’s first dance is announced, and sits back to watch.

It worries her, at first- Tony’s used to being in the centre of attention after a lifetime in the spotlight, but Steve has always been uncomfortable with all eyes being on him unless he was in the middle of a fistfight. Also, Steve has never been the best dancer.

But as Sarah watches, Steve miraculously manages not to step on his new husband’s feet once, and even manages to look graceful.

“I know,” Steve tells her when he brings her out to the dancefloor. “I started taking lessons after I got engaged. Thought it might dull the mood if I broke my husband’s foot right after the ceremony.”

She grins at the flush in his face. “How’s it feel?”

“What?”

“Saying ‘my husband.’”

Steve looks every bit the lovestruck groomsman that Sarah used to worry he’d never live long enough to be. “It feels- god, Ma. It feels like- like everything has finally fallen into place. Like this was always how it was meant to be.”

“You’re so dramatic.”

Steve gets a grin to match hers, and after another minute of Steve dancing and Sarah attempting to follow his steps, there’s a tap on Sarah’s shoulder.

“May I cut in,” Tony asks, bowing slightly, hand held out like a gentleman in an old movie.

She takes it, and watches him give Steve a glowing look.

“Give him back soon, okay,” Steve tells her.

“No promises. I heard he’s rich,” she says, and Tony’s laugh is bright in her ear as he whisks them into a dance.

“How’s married life?”

“I’ve been married for about ten minutes, Sarah, give a guy some time.”

“Pretty great so far, then.”

“More than great,” Tony says, and Sarah doesn’t have to look back to know that he’s meeting Steve’s eyes over her shoulder. “Hey, do you think I can say I married my high school sweetheart?”

Sarah considers. “You didn’t get together in high school.”

“Yeah, but we were both stupid in love with each other, does it count?”

“If you want it to count.”

They sway with the music for a moment before Tony says, “So how do you feel about being called my mother in law.”

“What else would you call me?”

“I always just let Steve introduce you as his mother. Me saying ‘mother in law’ sounds weird to me. Does calling me your son in law sound weird to you?”

“Son in law,” Sarah says, trying it out in her mouth. It sits awkwardly, but she supposes it’s from disuse. “How’s about we start by calling each other family and go from there.”

“Done and done,” Tony says.

They spend another minute with Tony kindly not pulling any fancy footwork and Sarah struggling to keep up before Sarah says, “Okay, I know you’re staring at Steve over my shoulder every chance you get, you’re not very subtle about it, you do know you’re allowed to excuse yourself from this and go and be with the man you just married, right?”

“I enjoy dancing with my mother in law,” Tony says, and pulls back in time for Sarah to see his nose scrunch. “Yeah, no, I’m going to need time to get used to that. Love you, though.”

“Love you too, kid.”

He kisses her cheek before excusing himself and heading over to where Steve is pretending not to admire the mini-chocolate fountain.

Sarah is just close enough to hear Tony say, “See? What’d I tell you,” and her son reply in a tone he doesn’t bother disguising as anything but deliriously happy.