Characters: Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark, Maria Stark, Ana Jarvis
Warnings/Triggers: kidney stones, bodily fluids, someone in severe pain, a lot of swearing, [spoilers]mentions of infertility.
Spoilers: Agent Carter Series Two character development
Pairings: Howard/Maria, Ana/Jarvis
Word Count 4,719
Summary: With the newest member of the family due to arrive shortly, stress is high at the Stark household, which makes it an unfortunate time for Mr Stark to pass a kidney stone. Fortunately, Jarvis is there to play doctor, butler, and therapist to his employers.
Author's notes: I started writing this during my week of kidney stones, with a vague idea of where I wanted to go, but didn't get very far. Then we got some character development in the last couple of episodes of Agent Carter, and suddenly the whole thing wrote itself very quickly. For the record, my pain was no where near as severe as the level I've given Howard (sorry Howard, I guess), but it is accurate to the amount many people experience. Drink water, people! Keep yourself hydrated.
When the phone rang, Jarvis assumed Mrs Stark was having the baby. It was still early--her due date was a couple of weeks away--but Jarvis had been mentally preparing himself for the moment since she reached the first week of viability: planning his route to the hospital, and the best way to keep her safe and comfortable on the way there.
It was the middle of the night, so he could only imagine the ringing phone on his bedside table would be Mr Stark notifying him of Mrs Stark’s labour having begun. It would be an unfortunate night for it: Mr Stark had only been home for a couple of hours or so, having been in a late meeting. He’d been working like a madman these last weeks, despite Jarvis’ suggestion that he really should be resting in anticipation of the new arrival. Who must be arriving, Jarvis, concluded, this minute.
“Hello?” he said into the phone.
“Hello, sorry to bother you,” Mrs Stark said. “But Howard thinks he’s dying.”
“Remain calm, I’ll be right th--” Jarvis began, then, realizing to whom he was speaking and what she’d said, “I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” Mrs Stark said. “He’s just in a lot of pain and he’s insisting he’s going to die.”
Jarvis was unprepared for this turn of events, and had to switch his brain to crisis management mode. “Does he want an ambulance?” he asked.
“No, he wants me to shoot him,” Mrs Stark said, matter-of-factly.
Well, that was hardly reassuring. Jarvis got out of bed and looked for his dressing gown. Ana turned on the light, blinding him for a moment. “What sort of pain is it?” he asked.
Mrs Stark said something away from the receiver, and a voice rumbled in reply. “Apparently there are no adjectives descriptive enough for the pain he’s in,” she said.
Something twigged in Jarvis’ memory. “Is it in the back and flanks?” he asked.
“He’s being eaten by monsters from the inside out,” Mrs Stark reported. “And there are corkscrews involved somehow; I’m not really getting anything coherent.”
“Ah,” Jarvis said. “All right, I’ll be over presently, please stay calm.”
He hung up the phone and threw his dressing gown on over his pyjamas.
“Mrs Stark is having her baby?” Ana asked.
“No, but Mr Stark is in some sort of distress,” Jarvis said. “I’m going over to check.” He bent down to kiss her cheek.”Go back to sleep, I’ll ring you if it’s anything worrisome.”
Ana lay her head back down. Jarvis put some shoes on and hurried across the courtyard to the big house, letting himself in with a key. He ran up to the master bedroom, and, as he entered, he tripped the alarm Mr Stark had installed to alert him to Mrs Stark’s sleepwalking. She did it rarely, but it only had to happen once while she was pregnant for Mr Stark to decide it was prudent to set up a system, due to the cargo she was now carrying.
“Everyone else hears that, too, right?” Mr Stark asked, from somewhere. “That’s not just the sound I’d hear before death?”
Mrs Stark addressed the floor on his side of the bed. “I really don’t think you’re dying, Howard,” she said. “You’re talking way too much for a dying person.”
Mr Stark’s response was a low, guttural growl. Jarvis made his way around the bed. Mr Stark was on his hands and knees on the floor, his back arched upwards like a cat. Jarvis stepped around him to turn the alarm off and then crouched down next to him.
“Oh good, you’re here,” Mr Stark said. “That’s good. I want everyone I love around me right now. I love you. Just so you know. In case I’ve never told you. Ana, too. Tell her that.”
Jarvis raised an eyebrow. “Thank you, sir,” he said. “The sentiment is appreciated, but perhaps a little overdramatic.”
“Why does everyone doubt me on the fact that I’m dying!” Mr Stark said. “I am the person dying, I should know best!”
Jarvis exchanged looks with Mrs Stark, who seemed more annoyed than concerned. He could hardly blame her; she was very large and uncomfortable, and he imagined she’d much rather be sleeping.
“Is your pain in your back and/or groin?” Jarvis asked.
Mr Stark made a ‘hnnn’ noise as he nodded.
“And do you feel sick to your stomach? Is it the worst pain you’ve ever experienced?” Jarvis continued.
Mr Stark raised his head to glare at him with the force of a thousand suns, and Jarvis took that to mean ‘yes’.
“I suspect you’re passing a kidney stone,” Jarvis said. “My father had them quite often.”
“He’s dead, right? I remember him dying. Is that what he died of?” Mr Stark asked. He went down from leaning on his hands to leaning on his elbows, and then back up to his hands again.
“No, my mother was insistent that it was the election of Harold Wilson that did him in,” Jarvis replied. “He was a very staunch conservative, I’m afraid.”
Mr Stark let out another low moan, and rocked backwards onto his heels. Mrs Stark now had some sympathy in her face, and sat down on the bed nearby, stroking his hair back. Mr Stark bit into the fabric of her nightdress in desperation.
“What do we do about it, if that’s what’s happening?” Mrs Stark said.
“If the pain is this acute, it should mean it’s passing through,” Jarvis said. “It’s mostly just waiting for it to, erm, come out. I could take you to the hospital to get some pain medicine. Or ring Dr. Cary to come out and administer something.”
“Mmmidmmmoumaammu?” Mr Stark asked, around Mrs Stark’s nightdress.
“He insisted lemon cordial was the only treatment,” Jarvis replied. “My mother used to make quarts up and he’d drink it and pace.”
“Do we have lemon cordial?” Mrs Stark asked.
“No,” Jarvis said. “But we have lemons. I could make lemonade.”
“That’s what you’re supposed to do when life hands them to you,” Mrs Stark said, lightly.
Mr Stark released her nightdress. “I thought pregnancy hormones were supposed to make you caring and nice,” he grumbled. “Why are you making jokes while I’m exploding from the inside out?”
“Howard, when I am pushing your baby through a very small hole in my crotch, are you going to be making jokes?” Mrs Stark said.
“Probably,” Mr Stark admitted. “That’s generally what I do in inappropriate circumstances.”
“Then, just relax,” Mrs Stark said. “I love you, but I’m too huge to do much to help. I can only make jokes in inappropriate circumstances.”
Mr Stark knocked his head against her shins a few times and nodded. “Yeah. Fair enough.”
With nothing better to do, Jarvis did go down and make as much lemonade as he could with what was on hand. There was no shortage of lemons for cocktails, and he filled a large pitcher. Drinking anything would be helpful, he imagined. The stone had to be washed through. He hadn’t thought about his father’s ordeals in years, but they came back in vivid detail now. Some of Jarvis’ siblings had inherited the tendency to form stones, but Jarvis hadn’t. Yet, at least, and, God willing, never.
Mr Stark had pulled himself up onto the bed now. Mrs Stark sat beside him at the head of it, and they were both staring at her stomach.
“Look, Jarvis, you can see the baby’s hand moving around,” Mrs Stark said.
Jarvis knew he did not want to look, and shouldn’t look, and yet found himself looking anyway. Indeed, he could make out a sort of rippling movement under Mrs Stark’s taut nightdress. Jarvis immediately regretted witnessing it.
Mr Stark had once confessed to Jarvis that he found the idea of there being ‘a whole person’ inside Mrs Stark to be ‘really creepy’, but he stared with something like wonder now, albeit a horrified one. His expression switched to pain, and he curled up on himself.
“That’s a good visual for how my insides feel right now,” he said.
“Maybe he or she is being sympathetic,” Mrs Stark said. She pressed on her stomach where the hand was. “Hello there. We’re okay, don’t worry.”
“Ria!” Mr Stark complained. “Pay attention to me!”
“Howard Stark, get used to sharing focus,” she said. Then she softened and rubbed his back. “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to do. I’m really useless.”
“There’s nothing to be done, ma’am,” Jarvis said. “It might be best for you to go to another bedroom and get some sleep. You should be resting at this time. I believe the sheets in the blue room are fresh, but I could change them if you’d like.”
“No, don’t worry about that,” Mrs Stark said. “It’s not like someone’s been doing the deed in there or anything.”
“No one’s been doing the deed anywhere,” Mr Stark grumbled. “That’s probably why I’m dying.”
Mrs Stark chuckled, and kissed his forehead. “Maybe you’re in withdrawal,” she said.
“Why is no one sympathetic?!” Mr Stark said. “I’m not crying wolf here.”
Mrs Stark gave him a helpless look, and Jarvis stepped in to firmly direct her to the blue room. Sleeping had already been difficult of late due to her size, she didn’t need a night up to care for Mr Stark. Not when she would soon be up to care for the Master or Miss Stark to come.
“I’ll let you know if there’s anything to worry about,” he assured her. “There’s nothing for you to do now, and you need to sleep.” He escorted her out into the hallway as he spoke, so she had little choice but to comply, and carried on down to the blue room. “I’ll make up a hot water bottle for Mr Stark, would you like one as well? I know your hips have been hurting.”
“I don’t think I can complain about any pain right now,” Mrs Stark said. “I’ll save it for when the baby comes. Are you sure I can’t help? I feel conflicted.” Her lower lip trembled. “I’m not useful for anything. I’m just fat and tired. And I shouldn’t be complaining about that when Howard’s dying.”
“Mr Stark is not dying,” Jarvis soothed. “You are useful for a great many things. You are the perfect size for a woman at your stage of pregnancy, and you are entitled to complain all you wish, especially as I’m sure you’re very tired.”
Mrs Stark sniffed. “I like you more than the midwife,” she said. “Will you come to the hospital with me when it’s time?”
Jarvis pulled the covers back for her. “I’m happy to drive you, ma’am, but I doubt I’d be much use in the delivery room,” he said.
“I know you’ve been reading baby books. I bet you’ve learned how to deliver a baby, just in case,” Mrs Stark said.
Jarvis had, in fact, done that very thing. The events of his employment thus far had taught him to be ten steps ahead in preparing for all scenarios. “That doesn’t mean I should,” he said. “Mr Stark will be there, you won’t need me.”
“I hope so,” Mrs Stark said. “Though, at this rate, he might be in even more pain than I will.”
“Am I being a wimp?” Mr Stark asked, as he crawled by Jarvis. He had decided to put himself on the floor again, and Jarvis sat on the edge of the bed, not able to do much for him. “Because I know I’m not the sturdiest guy, but I feel like I’ve been through some shit in my life, and this is the worst I’ve ever felt.”
“My brother Bertie’s leg was amputated in the field without anesthetic during the war, and he said he’d rather have the other removed in the same fashion than have kidney stones again,” Jarvis said.
“What did he do to the universe to deserve all that?” Mr Stark asked.
“According to my mother, he voted for Harold Wilson,” Jarvis said. He held out a glass of lemonade as Mr Stark crawled back again. “You really should drink, sir.”
“I am! I have been! I don’t want to!” Mr Stark said, grabbing the glass and downing some of it. He laid down and curled up in a ball on the floor. “How long does this go on for? Maybe I should rewrite my will to be safe. I have a kid to provide for now. Almost, anyway. Jesus, how am I going to do that if I’m like this?”
“You will have passed the stone or stones long before your child arrives,” Jarvis said. “And you’ve already rewritten your will with provisions for him or her. You aren’t dying, as much as it might feel like it. If you’re much longer at this, I’ll ring for the doctor to bring something stronger than aspirin for you, but it’s really a matter of waiting.”
“Stop being calm and British,” Mr Stark said. “You’re fired.” He moaned like a distressed cow. “We should induce kidney stones for interrogations. Remind me to write that down.” He rolled onto his back, his feet bouncing up and down on the floor. “If I survive this, I’m going to be a better person. I’ll eat less sugar. And I’ll stop scheduling business trips so I don’t have to talk to Maria’s parents when they visit. And I’ll give money to...dogs. Sad dogs. Those ones in the ASPCA ads.”
Jarvis held out the glass again, and was ignored. “If you’re planning on making life changes, I’d suggest starting with sleeping more and drinking less.”
“You just told me to drink more. Make up your damn mind!” Mr Stark said.
“I wish you to consume fluids,” Jarvis said, holding out the glass once more. “Healthy ones, not the kind you’ve been imbibing of late. You’ve been very busy, sir. You’ve been working non-stop, eating poorly, and drinking too much alcohol and not enough water. It’s no wonder you don’t feel well. This is perhaps a sign to slow down.”
Mr Stark sat up enough to grab the glass and downed it in one go, then collapsed again. “I can’t slow down. I’m an important person,” he said. “I do important things. Important things for the world. Saving it. And making a lot of money. That’s important, too, because I can’t do one without the other. So, I have to...fuck. Fuck!” He rolled up again and crawled onto the bed, pushing Jarvis off the side and sending him sprawling to the floor. “I’m trying to be a good...you know...I have to...I’m going to be a father and I want to make everything good for the kid.”
Jarvis was hit with the hot water bottle that had been ‘no fucking help whatsoever, do I look like I’m having my period?!’ as Mr Stark grabbed it and flung it off the bed.
“That’s understandable, but--” Jarvis began.
“Do you know how scary the world is?” Mr Stark went on. “And I’m bringing a kid into it. I can barely take care of myself. What do I do with a fucking baby?! Do you know how small those things are? Peggy’s little girl was tiny when she was born. She was adorable and tiny. What if I have an adorable tiny girl? You could just lose one of those somewhere. Set it down and never find it again. Like a screwdriver. How many screwdrivers have I lost in my lifetime? Fuck, I lost a whole jet once, and those are huge.”
Jarvis had been gently trying to pry these feelings from Mr Stark for the last eight months with no success, and now he had them being hurled at him in a great torrent. “You’re not feeling anything an expectant father doesn’t always feel,” he said.
“What do you know about that?” Mr Stark snapped. “It’s not like you’ve ever been a father!”
Jarvis’ body flushed hot with the sudden sting that caused, all the more painful because he hadn’t been anticipating that particular blow. He tried to remember that Mr Stark wasn’t himself. Or perhaps, was a little too much himself.
Mr Stark’s face blanched out. “I’m going to throw up.”
Jarvis grabbed the bedside bin and hoisted Mr Stark up to use it. It would be unfortunate if he choked. Probably.
Mr Stark emptied three glasses of lemonade into the bin, then curled up in a ball again, shivering. “Sorry.”
“I’m quite used to vomit by now,” Jarvis said.
“No, not that,” Mr Stark said. “Well, and that. But I hit below the belt, there. If you want to punch me, go ahead. I’d appreciate it if you avoided my face, but you know, up to you.” He winced, with such force that it seemed his whole body winced with him. “Actually, you might want to wait until I’ll feel it.”
“I’ll take it into consideration,” Jarvis said. “It might be nice to keep it in reserve, as a contingency plan for bad days.”
Mr Stark’s laugh was half-pain, and followed by a low moan. “I wasn’t trying to be a dick. I just wasn’t thinking.”
“I know,” Jarvis said. He’d been hit by a ricochet of words not meant to wound, even if they had hit a sore spot. “But I will keep that punch in reserve.”
Mr Stark patted his shoulder, and then used it to get up again. “You’re not fired.” He climbed down off the bed, setting to pace in a hobbling gait. Jarvis emptied the bin and put a new liner in, and brought some mouthwash for him, chasing him down to get him to use it.
“I never asked if it was hard for you and Ana,” Mr Stark said, as he paced a circle around Jarvis. “That we’re having a baby. I mean, it’s not surprising I didn’t ask. I don’t think about people except myself most of the time.”
“This is an unsettling amount of self-awareness, sir,” Jarvis said. “You’re going to have to stop or I won’t know what to do.”
“I can’t control my mouth,” Mr Stark said. “If I keep talking it hurts less. That’s true about most things, isn’t it? If you keep moving you don’t have to think too much.”
“Yes, and that’s why you’ve been working so hard of late,” Jarvis said. “You’re frightened and don’t want to face it. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.”
“Well, good for you!” Mr Stark said, throwing his arms up. “Give the man a prize.” He sat down on the bench at the end of the bed and rocked back and forth. “You didn’t answer me about you and Ana.”
“We’ve long accepted what happened to her,” Jarvis said, which was the truth. There had been a time when it would have been hard, perhaps, but that time had passed. Like any grief, it dulled as life moved on. “And any regrets we’ve had or might have would never get in the way of the happiness we feel for you and Mrs Stark. Don’t add that to your list of worries. We’re both looking forward to having a child around.”
“Fuck, you’re a good guy,” Mr Stark said. “I made a damn good choice when I decided to save your life.”
“I’d like to think so,” Jarvis said. “I’d hate to think the opposite, at any rate.”
Mr Stark bent over to rest his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. “I did it to stick to the General, mostly,” he said. “But you’ve more than paid back my investment. You’ve got great returns. I may be an asshole, but I do know how to make good investments.”
Jarvis poured him another glass of lemonade and brought it over. “You should speak to Mrs Stark about your fears,” he said.
“No, I shouldn’t,” Mr Stark said. “I should lie and pretend I’m fine, because she’s the one with the human in there, and the sore hips, and the swollen feet, and the swollen boobs--which are actually a bonus, but she says they’re sore--and God knows what else. She doesn’t need me telling her that I’m terrified. Stop giving me lemonade!”
Jarvis held out the cup, and Mr Stark sipped at it.
“I’m sure Mrs Stark has fears of her own,” Jarvis said.
“She hasn’t said anything,” Mr Stark said.
Jarvis raised his eyes heavenward. He’d never met two people so in love who were so uninclined to speak plainly to one another. They neither of them ever stopped with words, words, words the whole of their waking hours together, and yet neither of them said what they should say. Jarvis couldn’t play go between; he’d made a firm promise to himself about that, and, as Ana liked to say, one shouldn’t make promises one couldn’t keep.
“Perhaps she’s as worried about you as you are about her,” Jarvis said. “I may not be a parent, but I know that everyone who brings children into the world doubts themselves. Even Mrs Carter was sure she was going to be an awful mother, and she’s one of the most capable people I know.”
“Peggy’s a swell mom,” Mr Stark said. “Junebug and Mighty Mouse are great kids. She and What’s-His-Face are good people with good kids. Ria’s perfect, she’s going to be amazing. I can’t compete with them.”
“It is not a competition!” Jarvis scolded. “You can only do the best you can, and no one can ask more of that. You will make mistakes, and bad things will happen, and wonderful things will happen, and that is the nature of it. Perfection is impossible. Be prepared to fail, and when you do, get back up and go again.”
Mr Stark looked thoughtful for a moment. “I have to pee,” he said. “Or throw up. Maybe both.”
He hobbled to the bathroom.
“Well, I thought it was a rather inspiring speech,” Jarvis muttered to himself.
From the sounds of it, Mr Stark did the tasks in the order he’d specified. After silence fell, Jarvis knocked on the door.
“Are you all right?” he asked.
“That was unpleasant,” Mr Stark replied.
“Has the stone passed?” Jarvis asked.
“Pain’s gone,” Mr Stark said. “Well, I feel like I’ve been kicked in the dick, but I don’t want to claw through the walls anymore.”
“It’s probably in your bladder now,” Jarvis said. “Would you like more lemonade?”
“Jarvis, if you ever give me lemonade again, I will punch you in the face and not feel bad about it.”
“Sir, stop fondling your kidney stone, it’s unhygienic and disturbing,” Jarvis scolded, twenty minutes later.
Mr Stark had kept up a running commentary on the amount, colour, smell and strength of the urine he passed following the kidney stone’s passage into his bladder, despite Jarvis’ repeated assurances that he wasn’t interested in hearing it. All the urine previously blocked by the kidney had to come out, and from Mr Stark’s description, Jarvis guessed the stone had been sitting there for some time before passing. Then Mr Stark had emerged triumphant with a stone of at least 7mm in hand, as well as several much smaller ones. Jarvis didn’t know how he’d retrieved them, but he sincerely hoped he’d washed his hands afterwards.
“I’m going to study it,” Mr Stark said, giving the offending stone a glare. “And find out what it’s made of. And come up with a way of making sure it never happens again. Something to dissolve it instantly.” He leaned forward as Jarvis put the hot water bottle behind his back. The acute pain was gone, but Jarvis imagined he was sore from being so tensed up. “I bet you could use ultrasonic waves. And blast the bastards. Give me a pen.”
Jarvis handed him the notebook and pen in the bedside drawer, and Mr Stark wrote ‘blast the bastards’ in capital letters and underlined it. He started sketching a machine.
“Can you check on Maria?” he asked.
“Of course,” Jarvis said. “I was going to do it in a moment anyway.”
“Don’t tell her anything I said,” Mr Stark said, pointing with his pen.
“Very well,” Jarvis said, with a sigh.
He went down the hall to the blue room. Mrs Stark had all the pillows padded around her, and her eyes were closed, but they opened when he came in. She turned the light on.
“Sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“I wasn’t asleep,” she said. “I was just dozing. Is Howard okay?”
“The stone has passed,” Jarvis said. “He’ll be very sore, and tired, I expect, but there’s nothing to worry about. I suggest you stay here for the night. Is there anything I could get you to make you more comfortable?”
“A baby that’s not tap dancing on my spine,” Mrs Stark said, with a tired smile. “He or she has the hiccups now. Check this out.”
She took his hand and put it on her stomach, and he felt a series of little jerks there.
“Pop, pop, pop,” she said.
Jarvis was sure it must be uncomfortable, but it was remarkable as well, and it made him smile. “Young sir or madam, stop that at once,” he said. “Let your mother sleep.”
Mrs Stark laughed. “Nanny Jarvis. You’ll be good at it.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “Thank you for looking after Howard. I should have done it myself. I’m just so...pregnant. Do you know that the uterus expands and pushes all the organs out of the way when a woman is pregnant? All my organs are squished, Jarvis.”
Good Lord, could no one in this family keep their inner workings to themselves? “People with squished organs can certainly be forgiven for not being at their best,” he said. “And the truth of the matter is that if I weren’t here, you would have done what needed to be done. But I am here, and you didn’t have to, which is perfectly fine. That’s my job. There’s no need for apology.”
“Do you think I’m going to be able to take care of a baby?” Mrs Stark asked. “What if I don’t care enough?”
Jarvis gave her hand a squeeze in return. “You care more than most,” he said. “You’re going to be a wonderful mother. Please get some sleep. Both you and Mr Stark are going to need it.”
Mrs Stark nodded.
“And may I suggest that you and he speak to one another?” Jarvis said. “Before the baby gets here.”
“About what?” Mrs Stark asked.
Sometimes being a butler was as much about being a therapist and a doctor as it was butling. No one had told Jarvis that when he’d signed up for the job.
“About anything, ma’am,” he said, with a sigh. “About anything.”
Mr Stark had a few more bouts of mild pain for the next few days, and continued to pass small stones without any crises in the process. Jarvis was given unwanted updates each time this happened, and added ‘looking at one’s employer’s kidney stones under a microscope’ to the list of unusual things he’d done in his life, along with disarming atomic bombs, and wrangling tigers.
Jarvis wouldn’t say Mr Stark was calmer, really, but the experience had knocked enough out of him to force him to slow down and get some rest. Mrs Stark joined him when he went for naps after work, and Jarvis hoped there was some discussion happening at some point, but it was out of his hands now. In any case, at least they had a couple of weeks of extra sleep to their credit, and Mr Stark was no longer working himself to the bone.
It was the early morning of May 28th, when the next call came in.
“Edwin,” Ana murmured, and Jarvis awoke with her hand patting his nose. “The phone is ringing.”
Jarvis moved her hand back to her chest, and reached for the phone.
“Hel--” he began.
“Ria’s in labour,” Mr Stark said. “She thinks she is, anyway. Help. Help now.”
“Remain calm,” Jarvis said. “I’ll be there presently.”