It was a cold clear night on the south shore of Long Island. The absence of any significant snow kept the temperature around a tolerable 25 degrees rather than what it could have been. To many in the quiet communities of the Hamptons, this was just another quiet evening in which people were going about their holiday preparations.
Until the sound of ambulances screaming ripped through the silence of the night…
The eleven o'clock news broke the story first of a nightmare of a car wreck on the Southern State. From what was told by state troopers on the scene, an SUV came off an exit ramp at too high of a speed which caused it to plow into a Mercedes and spin it across three lanes of traffic moving at an average speed of 70 mph. The Mercedes was struck once again by oncoming traffic perpendicularly before it was spun into the guard rail facing the opposite direction. The SUV lost control and crashed into a tree off the side of the road while the car that struck the Mercedes the second time was hit itself from behind and shoved into the meridian. Both the drivers of the SUV and the second car died at the scene while the three passengers of the Mercedes had managed to survive and were being raced to Stony Brook hospital, the closest with a trauma unit needed for advanced care.
As the passengers seemed to go in and out of consciousness, the EMTs worked on stabilizing the painfully serious and potentially grave injuries of those who managed to survive the initial impact albeit barely. While checking vitals, the drivers were calling into the emergency room to prepare them for what to expect...first, male approximately 65-70 years old, unconscious, bleeding heavily from both head and chest wounds, several potential broken bones. The second was female approximately 45-50 years old, unconscious, heavy bruising to the body and head, possible internal bleeding. The third was male approximately 18 years old, conscious, potential broken wrist, dislocated shoulder and possible concussion.
The ambulances screeched to a halt at the emergency room entrance and three different trauma teams gathered the three different patients and whisked the two with the most life threatening injuries off to operating rooms to try to save them while the boy was taken to a corner of the ER to be examined and interviewed to ascertain the true severity of what happened.
The chaos of the ER was making the boy dizzy, upset and angry. Doctors were quickly taking vitals and giving him a cursory physical examination to check for obvious signs of a concussion while his wrist, shoulder and rib cage were being x-rayed all while one nurse was trying to get his information and another was cleaning out the bleeding wound on his forehead
"Anthony Stark," he said somewhat distractedly, hissing through the antiseptic being placed on the cut on his forehead. "Where are my parents?" he asked as his head began to spin a bit again as a bright pen light was shined in his eyes.
"Calm down," The nurse responded as she ignored his question for the moment. "Date of birth?"
"April 4, 1974," he responded before asking again where his parents were.
The nurse continued to deflect his questions. "Father's name and date of birth?"
"Howard Anthony Stark, born December 3, 1924," Tony cried out. "Tell me where he is. What happened to my father?" he asked once more, getting more anxious about not knowing about what was going on.
"I can't tell you," the nurse deflected tony as she still refused to answer. "Mother's name and date of birth?"
Tony was beyond annoyed, upset, scared and angry at being ignored because he was only seventeen. He had two Master's Degrees from MIT and this twit of a nurse wouldn't give him the time of day because of his age and as far as he knew his parents could very well be dead and no one was telling him . "My mother is Maria Collins Carbonell Stark, born June 23, 1944 and I want to know what is going on with both of them now!" he demanded as he tried to get off the table. "Are they even in this hospital? Are they alive? Tell me or I will find someone who will tell me."
The nurse was not having any lip from a seventeen year old boy and called over two orderlies to hold him down on the table while the medical staff cast up his wrist and gave him a sling for his shoulder. "I can not tell you what is going on with them because you are not of age. Now sit there and be quiet until we find someone to take care of you," the uptight nurse demanded as the orderlies forced Tony to sit on the hospital bed.
That one move just downright exasperated the seventeen year old and what little control he had on his emotions was failing. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to stand, ignoring the searing pain ripping through his arm and chest and the tears welling up in his eyes. "No, you listen to me," he ground out trying to hide the fact that his voice cracked with the tears he was trying and failing to fight off. "Yes, I'm only seventeen but I am the only family they have. I don't want to find out my parents died in tomorrow's newspaper. Now, you are going to tell me what is going with my parents or find someone who will or I get on the phone to my father's lawyers and you deal with them. Which is it going to be?"
The nurse was dumbfounded by being told off by a teenager and before she could respond to him, the doctor that was in charge of the ER had come over to intervene after overhearing Tony roar back at her in anger.
"Mr. Stark, my name is Dr. Henry and I am the head of the ER department. I understand you are deeply upset about what happened tonight and if you're willing to come with me, I am sure we can find out what is going on with your parents," the doctor said calmly.
Tony eyed the doctor over and from an initial guess, he figured the doctor was actually going to talk straight to him and not give him any more bureaucratic bullshit. "Alright," Tony acquiesced as he harshly wiped at his eyes with his sleeve. "Where can we talk?"
Dr. Henry signaled for an orderly to bring a wheelchair over for Tony. "We'll talk in my office. Mike here will bring you over there. I'll write out the order for any pain meds you may need for your shoulder and we'll find out what happened with your parents."
Tony nodded and slowly sat down in the wheelchair as the anger started to abate within him but fear was replacing it in spades. Were they not telling him anything because his parents were already dead? His stomach started to turn at that thought. What would he do if that had happened?
The orderly parked Tony right in front of Dr. Henry's desk while the doctor calmly sat down behind it.
"Now, while I am waiting for the system to bring up the file, could you please tell me what happened tonight to bring you here," Dr. Henry asked Tony to try to put him at ease as he got him a drink and something to take the edge off the pain.
Tony sipped at the water put in front of him before looking up at the doctor who was actually giving him a look of genuine concern. "My parents and I were driving back from the city. Stark Industries has a holiday party every year about a week or so before Christmas. While we were on the Southern State, an SUV came flying down the exit ramp at like 70 mph and crashed into us. He spun us across the road and we got hit again by another car coming down the road. I think my Dad tried to hit the brakes and nothing seemed to happen. After that, things get a little fuzzy. I remember being thrown in the backseat, hitting the guard rail and parts of the ambulance ride but not much else."
"Thank you Anthony," the doctor said calmly. "Is it alright I call you that?"
"Yeah sure, whatever," Tony brushed him off. "My parents?"
The doctor looked over at his computer. "According to the latest update that I have here, both of your parents were taken into surgery immediately upon arrival here for assessment and stabilization. Your father suffered several broken ribs, a collapsed lung, a concussion and potential neck or back injury but they could not assess it yet due to him still being unresponsive. Your mother was severely bruised and exhibiting some internal bleeding. The bleeding his been stopped and she has been moved to ICU. Both are being listed as very serious condition."
Tony swallowed hard as he listened to what was being described to him and a few tears slipped from his eyes that he just couldn't hold back. "What's going to happen now?" he asked cautiously. He was scared and it was getting hard to hide it.
"They are in serious condition but I don't want to give a prognosis until they are examined once they regain consciousness. They will be spending a great deal of time in the ICU and it will be a long road to recovery. Things may be difficult in your father's case due to his age and potential stress on his heart that I have seen in his medical records. Do you have anyone at home that can take care of you and come get you when you're discharged?"
Tony nodded slowly as he processed everything that was said. "My housekeeper and butler are there," he said quietly. "Can I see them now?"
It was well after visiting hours had ended but the doctor took one look in Tony's eyes and knew that saying 'no' was not going to be an acceptable answer. The boy had already been through Hell tonight and didn't need any more. "It's not listed that they are out of surgery yet. When they are in recovery, they will be in rooms 15 and 16 in the ICU," the doctor explained.
"Why can't they be put in the same room? They're husband and wife. I shouldn't have to leave one parent to see the other." Tony inquired.
"I can't change this one for you. You're lucky that they're next door to each other," the doctor responded sympathetically. "Mike will take you up when you're ready."
"Thanks Doc. I mean that." Tony said as he offered his hand not in a cast to shake the doctor's hand.
It was past four in the morning when Tony was taken via wheelchair to the elevators which led to the fourth floor where the ICU was located. He wasn't able to protest the wheelchair in the ER but he sure as hell could in ICU. There was no way in hell he would see his parents being babysat like this.
When the elevator doors opened, the look that Tony shot the orderly told him not to argue with the boy. The orderly stepped back and let Tony walk off the elevators onto the darkened floor. The lights were dimmed for the most part save for the nurses' station. The only sounds heard were those of various machines keeping people alive. Tony walked right by the nurses without one of them even trying to stop him. He had hoped that the ER doctor had told them he was coming.
Tony walked slowly down the hallway, his footsteps, beeps and whirs breaking the silence. He came to rooms 15 and 16 but found it very hard to walk into either room. Tony looked in both dimly lit rooms, seeing both his father and mother lying in beds, covered with various bandages, bruises and dried blood. There were oxygen tubes in their noses, IVs hooked up on their arms and wires running to various machines displaying pulse rate, blood oxygen levels, blood pressure and various other vitals. He touched the sling on his arm that held his dislocated shoulder and broken wrist and tears fell from his eyes unheeded as he wondered how he got spared from the same fate. Unable to cross the threshold for either room, Tony quietly made his way to a small waiting room at the end of the hall, where he curled up in one of the oversized chairs and fell into a restless sleep.
In the early dawn hours, the nurses of the ICU changed shifts. The in-charge nurse was doing a walkthrough of the floor to begin her shift when she found Tony sleeping on one of the chairs in the waiting room. Careful not to disturb him at first, she noticed that he still had the hospital ID bracelet on his wrist. She noted the number and called down to the ER to find out that he had been discharged some time ago but both of his parents were in serious condition in the ICU.
The nurse returned to Tony and placed her hand on his knee to gently shake him awake. "How long have you been here, hun?" she asked him.
Tony jolted awake when he felt someone touch his leg. Disoriented and with searing pain ripping through his arm, he blinked a few times and looked up at the woman who was talking to him. "A few hours…I think," he rasped out as he tried to straighten up in the chair. "What time is it?"
"It's just after six," the nurse informed him as she helped the boy who was in obvious pain to sit up. "Is there someone I can call for you? Someone has to be worried about you."
Tony silently cursed to himself when he heard what time it was. "By now, my housekeeper and butler have probably flipped out with worry. We were supposed to be home by one at the latest."
The nurse offered her arm to help Tony out of the chair. "How about this…you come with me, we'll get you something to eat and we'll call your house and let them know where you are. Does this sound like a good plan?"
Tony nodded as he accepted the nurse's help to get out of the chair and followed her down to the lounge where she arranged some breakfast to be brought up to him while she made the necessary calls.
Barely an hour later, Tony was slowly making his way through a bagel, juice and a bowl of cereal when his butler, Edwin Jarvis, and housekeeper, Teresa Rinaldi, frantically exited the elevator. Apparently, visiting hours didn't apply to them either.
Ignoring the bloodstains on Tony's shirt and trying not to aggravate the injuries that he had suffered, Teresa ran up to him and hugged him tight to her. "We were worried sick. Why didn't you call sooner?" she gasped out as she held him. "Are you alright?"
"I wasn't able to," Tony said with a slight sniff. Just thinking about what happened was enough to upset him all over again. "What's your definition of 'alright,' Teresa?" he asked as he looked up at her with bloodshot eyes.
Edwin could see the war that his young master was battling with and gave Teresa a look to drop the line of questions for now. "Let's get you home so you can get cleaned up and get some rest, Master Anthony."
"I'm not leaving them," Tony stated firmly. "Not until I know what is going on."
"Tony," Teresa tried to plead with him. "They would not want you sitting around here when you could be at home healing yourself."
Stubbornness ran thick when it came to Tony or Howard and neither one backed down when they had a point. "They wouldn't leave me and I won't leave them," Tony restated, staying firm with his position. "Not until I find out that they will be okay."
There was no fighting with him when he got like this. When a Stark puts his mind to something, there is no changing it. "Then we are staying with you, Master Anthony," Edwin conceded.
Over the next few hours, Tony did manage to go into each of his parents' rooms and sit by their side for a few moments with Teresa and Edwin to back him up. He didn't know what to do in this situation. Did he talk to them? Sit quietly? Was he allowed to touch them? In the end, Tony never said out loud what his heart wanted to but he hoped that it got through some how.
After visiting both his mother and father, Tony couldn't choose to sit in one room or the other just watching the monitors. The constant flash of various numbers was driving him nuts. He quietly went back to the waiting room for some sort of news. There he had at least a vaguely comfortable chair and TV to watch.
The hours seemed to go by agonizingly slow for Tony who was doing his level best not to be bugging people every second for some update. The monotony was only broken up near three in the afternoon when Obadiah Stane, his father's business partner and CFO of Stark Industries, stepped off the elevator.
Dressed impeccably since he had come directly from Stark Industries, he almost made Tony feel uneasy since his shirt was ripped and had bloodstains on it.
"Tony, my boy," Obadiah stated with concern in his voice as he looked Tony over and then pulled Tony into a loose hug. "How is everything? How are you? What's the update on your parents?"
Tony winced at the hug from his injuries but didn't say anything from it. "No change from last night. They're still in very serious condition because they haven't woken up yet."
For the briefest of moments, there was a look of disappointment in Obadiah's expression but it was quickly washed away and replaced with concern and an attitude of getting things done. "Tony, don't you worry about anything. I will make absolute certain that they get the best care possible here. I will meet with all the staff myself if necessary," he stated as he wrapped an arm around Tony's uninjured shoulder. "Now, you should get home and rest yourself, my boy. You look like you need it."
Tony shook his head in refusal. "I should be here for them…in case there's a change."
"Tony, you need to recover as well and sitting around a waiting room won't do that," Obadiah insisted as he waved over Edwin and Teresa to collect Tony. "I will stay here with them and I will have them call you the second there's any change in their condition. I will also clear it so you can come to visit at any time that you wish. You have my word."
"Tony, Mr. Stane has a point," Teresa agreed as she came up. "Let's get you home, get some real food in you and we'll bring you back whenever you wish."
Tony looked between the three adults with him and silently nodded his head in agreement. He was tired, hungry and wanted to really get rid of the bloodstained clothes he was wearing. "As long as I am called the instant there is a change, I'll go."
"Good, you head home and feel better. I will have the hospital call you the instant something changes," Obadiah reaffirmed as he nodded to Teresa and Edwin to take Tony home.
Tony walked slowly towards the elevators, turning back one last time to see Obadiah heading into his father's room.
Once he was home, the only task was to make sure Tony was comfortable and taken care of. With a great deal of pain and a decent amount of embarrassment on Tony's part with how much help he needed, he took a shower, got comfortable in a sweatshirt and flannel pajama pants minus the sling since it was digging into his neck, ate a real dinner and then crawled into bed. It took only minutes before he was dead asleep.
Teresa peeked in on Tony a few times over the hours out of sheer worry. After about the third time, Edwin gave her a look to stop as he poured her a cup of tea. All of them were shaken up and trying not to show it.
"Edwin, what happens if…" Teresa said as she held her teacup, unable to finish the sentence.
"We know what happens 'if'…it has been clearly spelt out," Edwin interjected. "But don't think about the 'if' because we don't want that if to happen. Everything will turn out fine. We will get through this," he reassured Teresa only to have the phone ringing interrupt him.
Edwin got up to answer the phone and a somber, concerned look fell across his face. "Teresa, wake up Anthony," he said as he covered the cordless phone and handed it to her. "It's the hospital."