The first time it happens is in 1994. They're both exceedingly drunk, but Rhodey's pretending not to be.
"Double entendre," Tony laughs, hanging on Rhodey's shoulder and leaning into his space, breath warm and sharp with alcohol against his face. "Get it? It was a double entendre!"
"I get it, Tony," Rhodey laughs. "Everyone gets it, trust me."
He's trying to hide his own wobbling and keep Tony upright and unlock the hotel room door all at once, while Happy's hovering in the background. Happy's annoyingly sober still, which makes Rhodey that much more intent on keeping up his own facade of sobriety; he refuses to admit inebriation when Tony's new driver--oh, sorry, bodyguard--has managed to avoid it.
"Where did she go?" Tony complains, looking around and knocking the bottle he's still clutching against Rhodey's temple. "Whazzhername, Nicole, Naomi, something N, where did she go, we were gonna party, right?"
"She went home," Rhodey explains, finally getting the damn key card to work and pushing the door open. "Or rather, I sent her home. On account of her being like fifteen years old, Tony."
"Huh," Tony says, stumbling into the room and physically dragging Rhodey with him. "A mature fifteen though, right?"
"Not nearly mature enough," Rhodey says with a head shake as he pries Tony's grip off his shoulder. Tony immediately trips across his own feet and falls into an ungraceful sprawl onto the King Sized bed, bottle tumbling to the carpeted floor with a muted clunk. Rhodey frowns as its meager contents spill out.
"You got this?" Happy asks from behind him, and Rhodey turns to briefly nod at him.
"I got this. You'll be outside?"
"I'll be outside," Happy confirms, briefly glancing at where Tony's still sprawled on his back on the bed and now singing softly to himself, before backing out of the room and closing the door behind him.
Rhodey looks at Tony, puts his hands on his hips and sighs deeply. "What am I going to do with you, Tony?"
"Come over here and fuck me," Tony sing-songs, looking coyly at Rhodey and smirking.
Rhodey isn't sure he heard that right. "Excuse me?"
"You sent my entertainment for the evening home," Tony explains, and Rhodey's ears feel like they're on fire. "That means you get to be tonight's entertainment."
Rhodey isn't even sure how to respond to that. "You're not gay," he eventually gets out, and realizes only too late that he should have said I am not gay.
"Who keeps track of that stuff nowadays, anyway," Tony says, waving a hand in Rhodey's direction, before dropping it down on his crotch and giving it a rub. "Sexuality, sex, sex, who the fuck cares as long as it feels good, come on Rhodey, come on, you're my--you're, we're good, you know?"
Rhodey has a thousand things he wants to say, about his sexuality, about Tony's, about the military and their relationship and his career, fucking hell, but--but then he thinks about Tony and their friendship and the curve of Tony's back as he leans over his work bench and says shit like I'll be right there, Rhodey, just one more second, I just gotta tweak this one circuit.
Tony still has his hand on his crotch, rubbing it lightly. Eyes open--barely, still, but open--he lifts his other hand and stretches it towards Rhodey.
Rhodey watches Tony, and goes willingly.
The second time happens years later.
They never really speak about 1994 afterwards, and Rhodey never feels the need to. It isn't awkward after, because Tony doesn't let it be. Rhodey will always be grateful for that. Tony kicks Rhodey out of bed in the morning, like he does with all his girls, and then treats him to a four-course brunch and the early schematics for a new grenade launcher, like he does with nobody else.
Rhodey goes back to his military, Tony goes back to his company. And when he lands what the press describes as one of the most lucrative contract renewals in the history of the United States, they go on a bender together that is beyond anything they've done before, and they never fool around once.
Tony drinks and parties and invents amazing weapons that make Rhodey's jaw drop with awe, and he takes women (and sometimes men, Happy discreetly informs him) home. Sometimes he even dates.
Rhodey does drills and exercises and deployments and never dates. Not Tony, not Staff Sergeant Richardson with the scar on his left pectoral, not Charlie Michaelson with his desire for something more. He rises in the ranks, and eventually stops not-dating too, because his life is consumed by work and work and Tony and work, and they overlap so much that it's hard to tell sometimes.
In 1998, he comes home after a particularly long stint overseas in an undisclosed location to find Tony waiting for him by the hangar. He's got a limo, a glass of champagne, and two women on each arm.
"Your world is very strange, Tony," Rhodey informs him.
Tony leans in and whispers conspiratorially, "Don't worry, I got a couple of dudes too, they're hiding in the limo."
Rhodey looks around at the people around him reuniting with their loved ones, and suddenly feels furious. He's well used to Tony awaking certain feelings of annoyance and frustration within him, but this is the first time he's felt pure anger.
"Fuck you, Tony," he spits, and walks past the limo while Tony's arm candies gape after him.
"So I'll see you at the mansion later today, then?" Tony calls after him, nonplussed and carefree.
Rhodey would like to tell Tony to go fuck himself again, but he doesn't. Instead, he goes home and seethes. He unpacks and double checks the information on his leave orders. He watches some bad TV. He orders a pizza because he can and because he's missed it, eats it alone in front of the TV with a beer, and then gets dressed and goes to Tony's mansion.
"I'm not gay, Tony," Rhodey says as they tumble into the master suite.
"Sure, okay," Tony says casually, as he drops to his knees and sucks Rhodey's already rock hard cock into his mouth.
"Jesus Christ," Rhodey gasps at the sensation, and his knees buckle. Whatever smartass remark Tony's got in rebuttal--because Rhodey knows he's got one, it's Tony after all--he can't get it out. His mouth's busy with other things.
The third--and fourth, and fifth--time happens in 2000.
It's not like it's planned. Tony's lived in California for over a year at that point, and Rhodey just--follows him. In his defense, he's the official military liaison to Stark Industries, and it makes sense for him to be near.
Tony invents missiles and rocket launchers and explosive devices that make Rhodey sprout weapon-boners. He designs handguns and rifles and machine guns and calls Rhodey at 3 a.m., rambling and sleep deprived and caffeinated, asking--begging--him to come test the new autocannon he's been working on, right now Rhodey, please!
Rhodey goes because it's Tony asking, and it's during one of those visits that he turns from the lane of Tony's private shooting range to find Tony watching him, wild-eyed and desperate. When Tony falls into him and kisses him, Rhodey yelps, "Loaded weapon, Tony, fuck!" but it's distorted against Tony's lips and Rhodey still manages to get the safety on and the gun safely placed back in its case.
"I love watching you handling my gun," Tony says as he puts aside their ear mufflers, then adds with a leer, "And you don't look bad with my firearm, either."
"That's awful," Rhodey informs him, but he's pushing Tony over to the next lane where there's no loaded weapons nearby, pushing him against the counter, even as he's speaking.
"I know," Tony says, unzipping his own fly and hopping up so he can sit, back to the targets. "You should punish me."
Tony falls silent when Rhodey kneels down in front of him, parts his pants and nuzzles into his crotch. It's nice, the silence, Rhodey thinks, but when Tony starts moaning he thinks maybe he likes the constant thrum of Tony's voice better. He's grown accustomed to it.
Rhodey fucks him bent over the counter, and when he comes he gasps Tony's name.
Rhodey expects that to be it, they'll go their separate ways, to their military and their company, just like the times before--but this time, Tony sits up afterwards and kisses Rhodey again. It's the first time they've done anything, even something as innocently as a quick peck on the lips--after.
"Whew!" Tony says. "That was fun! When do you think you'll be good to go again?"
Rhodey blinks and stares as Tony shakes his ass, cleaning semen off his thighs with his shirt, and intelligently says, "Huh?"
"When can you go again?" Tony asks. "I don't think I'm quite done. Well, I'm done, obviously, but you know how that is? Scratch not completely scratched? Or wait, is that itch?"
"It's itch," Rhodey replies, then, "you want to--go again?"
"Yes," Tony says decisively with a firm nod. "I definitely want to go again. And just to be perfectly clear, when I say I want to go again, I really mean I want you to put your hard cock into me again and fuck me through the mattress, okay?"
It's the closest they've come to actually talking about it, and Rhodey's dick gives a feeble twitch between his legs. He doesn't think about it, just shrugs and says, "Okay." It's crazy and chaotic and he has no clue what Tony's playing at, but as always he trusts that it'll all work out in the end.
Rhodey loses count after that, but it keeps happening.
They're still not talking about it, and it works. Nobody is talking about it, and it works. Pepper smiles at him when he comes and goes, Happy nods at him and spars with him and bitches about Tony. Rhodey works and Tony works and they work, same as they always have, except different.
It's early 2001 and the count is probably in the hundreds by now, when Rhodey rolls over in bed to find Tony looking at him oddly.
"You okay?" he asks, because Tony has a lot of odd looks, but this is a new one. Rhodey's not familiar with this one.
"I made you something," Tony says quickly, as if he's embarrassed by this fact.
Rhodey is instantly curious. "Is it a weapon?"
Tony's odd look is getting more and more severe, and Rhodey frowns. "Then what?"
Rolling over briefly, Tony hastily retrieves some blueprints from underneath the bed and places them on Rhodey's bare chest. "If you hate it, let me know, it's fine, it's probably got flaws, it's an early draft, I can change anything you'd like obviously, if it's too--if it's not enough--if it doesn't have--"
"Tony," Rhodey says, halting Tony's rambling as he really gets a good look at what Tony's presented him with. "Tony," he says again, on a breathy gasp of disbelief. "Is this a fucking plane?"
"I--well--yes." Tony nods. "Merry Christmas. Or happy birthday. Or something."
"It's none of those things," Rhodey reminds him, but his eyes are already taking in the specs of Tony's design, the clean lines, the weapons, the power. "You made me a plane."
Tony shrugs. "I should have worded that better. I haven't really made it yet. But if you want, if your guys want--yes."
Rhodey feels like he can't breathe with it. Later, when he's inside Tony and Tony's hands are clawing at his shoulders, he says, "You're the best, you're so good," and Tony says "Yes," and Rhodey thinks, Yes.
It's early 2002 when Tony wants to renegotiate his contract. Rhodey thinks that's a terrible idea considering the excessive amounts they're already paying him, and at his advice, Rhodey's bosses refuse.
Tony screams at him, "I've got other shit that needs financing, you dick!"
Rhodey screams back, "You do realize it looks like you're profiteering off 9/11, you fucking asshole!"
"I'm trying to help!" Tony shouts, lashing out with one hand and knocking over an engine part that sends DUM-E skittering across the floor to clean it up. "I'm trying to finance good shit! Rescue efforts and hospitals, you cockmongrel!"
"Then maybe tone down on the excessive lifestyle instead!' Rhodey shoots back, gesturing at the way-too-many sports cars that are lined up over by the windows. "Maybe sell some of your shit, maybe not drink fucking Dom Perignon or whatever for breakfast!"
"Get out of my house!" Tony screams.
"Fuck you, Stark!" Rhodey screams, and storms up the stairs. He slams the front door hard enough on his way out that the glass shatters, and Happy fusses in the driveway, looking like the only thing stopping him from saying or doing anything is the murderous expression Rhodey knows he's sporting.
"And I never have champagne for breakfast!" Tony screams after him from inside the mansion. It's a blatant lie, but Rhodey's already getting into his car, tires screeching as he peels out.
It's a couple of months before they speak properly again, when Tony shows up to a White House fundraiser. Rhodey aches with the absence of him, and swallows his pride to approach him in a corner.
"So, hey," he says, and if his spine is a little stiffer than normal, Tony has just enough grace not to comment on it.
"Listen," Rhodey says, thinking about the charitable organizations and the trust funds and the memorial monuments and the research Tony's filled his days with. Rhodey knows it all, because the media and Pepper and Happy have all kept him up to date. "Listen, I just--I wanted to apologize."
Tony squints at him from behind his green-tinted sunglasses that somehow makes his tux look better, and then waves a hand dismissively at him. "No harm, no foul. Did you see my date anywhere?"
"Your date?" Rhodey asks, mostly because of the non sequitur.
"Ah, sorry," Tony says then, misunderstanding completely as he lowers his voice so nobody will overhear. "That is what we're doing right? That was a break-up fight? We're seeing other people?"
Rhodey blinks and Tony looks like a deer caught in the headlights. "Oh, fuck," Tony says, still completely misunderstanding everything.
"No, no," Rhodey assures him, gathering his wits about him. "No. You're right. That is what we're doing."
Tony, predictably, runs away from anything resembling emotions, mumbling, "See ya, Rhodey," as he chases after a blonde in a strapless, little blue number. Rhodey watches as he kisses her cheek and numbly wonders why nobody informed him they were seeing each other in the first place.
He takes a page out of Tony's book and pushes it all down. Next time they see each other, they both pretend nothing ever happened, and things slide back to normal, or at least as normal as things ever get with Tony.
It's 2005 when it happens again--again. They've long since returned to status quo. Tony's returning from a weapons demonstration that Rhodey wasn't a part of due to a problem in an active war zone that required his immediate attention, and Tony walks into Rhodey's field office like he owns the place.
"Everything go well?" Rhodey asks, barely glancing up from his reports.
"Darling," Tony says, planting his butt on the corner of Rhodey's desk, "that went so well, I felt like I needed a fucking cigarette afterwards!"
"That's nice," Rhodey says, distractedly, "get your butt off my desk, please."
"Rhodey," Tony whines. "I'm happy. Ecstatic. Euphoric, even. I made your bosses very happy, and they made me very happy. Let's celebrate."
"I can't, Tony," Rhodey says, pushing at Tony now to get to the papers he's sitting on. "I have three wounded men, a lot of shots fired, a damaged aircraft, and it's going to take me like a year to get this mess sorted out!"
Tony visibly pouts, but he does get off Rhodey's desk. Rhodey takes a deep breath and continues with his work, while Tony just stands there regarding him silently. After a while it's starting to feel weird, and Rhodey glances up. "Did you want something else, Tony?"
It's an innocent question. Tony carefully and deliberately takes Rhodey's left hand, untangles his fingers from the paper he's holding onto, and then brings it to Tony's crotch. Rhodey stares. Under his fingertips, Tony's erection is obvious through the material of his expensive suit pants, and Tony makes a tiny, little noise--this little, breathy sigh in his throat--that makes something hot and heavy swell in Rhodey's chest.
"Tony," he says, finding it difficult to speak all of a sudden. "Tony, I--"
They're interrupted when the door rattles, and Rhodey snatches his hand back just in time before a soldier storms in and salutes.
"Knock, Private!" Rhodey snaps.
Tony's already buttoning his suit jacket and turning away as the private starts apologizing, and the movement, the cut of his suit and the material of his pants are all just enough to hide his erection from obvious view. "Anyway," Tony says casually, as if they were mid-conversation and not mid-grope. "Anyway. You should come see me at the mansion when you're back stateside. We've got much to discuss."
Rhodey watches his back as he moves to leave and nods. "Sure. Yeah."
Rhodey doesn't get back to California until six weeks later, but when he does it turns out they don't actually have that much to discuss. They still know each other's bodies though, and when Rhodey sinks into Tony it feels like the first real homecoming he's had in years.
"I missed you," Tony moans and clenches around him.
Rhodey doesn't say anything in return, just starts thrusting.
It doesn't happen again after that, because it's in 2006 that Rhodey first notices that Tony's no longer looking at Pepper like he used to. Somehow, he goes from looking at her, to looking.
Rhodey deliberately turns down Tony after that, because he can't ever recall Tony looking before, and he wants good things for his friend.
"Why not?" Tony asks, the first time he's got his own dick in his hand and Rhodey pulls on his jacket instead of pulling down his pants.
"I've just got a lot on my mind," Rhodey not-answers.
Tony looks like he might ask what's going on, but then just shrugs and falls back against the pillows. "Suit yourself. See ya, Rhodey."
It's tempting to stay then, when Tony starts stroking himself, but Rhodey's got more self-discipline than Tony's got charms--he always has, it's the only way their friendship has survived for all these years--and he feels oddly happy with himself when he drives home.
In 2007, Tony attempts a shitty trick shot with his pool cue and Pepper laughs fondly as she watches him fail.
Rhodey sits at the bar and pretends he's not drunk, as he watches Pepper watch Tony in the mirror behind the bartender. Next to him, Happy leans his elbows back against the bar and nudges him.
"Hey, you're not jealous, are you?"
Rhodey snorts beer up his nose and pops more peanuts in his mouth. He wishes Happy would get drunk; it would make him feel a lot more comfortable about this conversation. Happy's not drunk, though. Stupid Happy's never drunk.
"I'm not jealous," he lies.
Happy's not convinced. "You seem jealous."
"Happy," Rhodey says, clutching his glass and lowering his voice to a hiss. "Happy, I'm not gay!"
Happy scowls at him then and scoffs, the most condescending expression Rhodey's ever seen on his face. "Colonel Rhodes," Happy says, and he sounds disappointed. "I thought you were a smarter man than this. In fact, I know you're a smarter man than this!"
Rhodey's almost-smile drops off his face and he stares hard at the bar. His beer glass has left multiple rings of condensation, and he idly traces his finger through one of the rings. "How do you know?" he asks, quietly, barely audible under the music.
Happy leans in close, and murmurs to Rhodey, "Tony Stark doesn't keep the company of fools," he says. "He gets bored with dumb people within minutes. You know this."
Rhodey glances around. Nobody is paying attention to them at all. He looks back into the mirror, and between the necks of the liquor bottles and the grime he can see Tony, smiling at Pepper in a way he can't ever recall seeing Tony smile before.
"Don't ask, don't tell," he murmurs.
"I'm not military, you jackass," Happy responds.
"Fuck you, don't talk to me that way," Rhodey snarks back.
"I'll talk to you any goddamn way I please, you're not my fucking boss," Happy shoots back, and Rhodey is infinitely grateful for him.
By the pool table, Tony accidentally sinks the eight ball, and Pepper looks incredibly smug as she collects $100 off him. Tony doesn't even look like he minds.
In 2008, Tony goes missing in Afghanistan.
Rhodey goes to his mansion with a bottle of Tony's favorite scotch, and finds Pepper already there.
"There was a--thing," he tells her, as they share the scotch on Tony's couch. Rhodey doesn't cry at all. Pepper can't stop.
"There was never a thing," she tells him in return, and her tone is mournful.
"Would there have been?" he asks, knowing her and knowing Tony.
She squeezes her eyes shut, more tears delicately overflowing and running down her cheeks. Her makeup doesn't run at all. "Probably not," she says.
Rhodey thinks she's lying, but he's not sure if she's lying to the both of them, or just herself.
He ships back out to Afghanistan the next morning, and Pepper sees him off with the air of a woman who's done crying for good. "Bring him back," she says sternly.
"If it's the last thing I ever do, ma'am," Rhodey responds, and means it to the core of his being.
Tony's last words to him swirl through his head on repeat. When they finally do find Tony, he makes the lamest joke he can think of, and Tony just grins and leans on him, relieved and exhausted.
The arc reactor and the suit and the I-am-Iron-Man thing makes things between them a little dicey for a while, especially when it turns out he's really fucking serious about ending weapons production. Rhodey's bosses are not pleased. However, this is still Tony, and if Rhodey's learned anything at all, it's that life with Tony is always going to be chaos. That's okay, Rhodey thinks he wouldn't want it any other way.
In 2009, Tony kisses Pepper on a rooftop, and the slight stab of pain in Rhodey's chest is surprisingly manageable alongside the happiness he feels for them both.
Of course, the flying weapon that Rhodey's got wrapped around him like a badass cocoon at that particular moment really helps soften the blow. A lot.
First of all, Tony gives him a suit of his own. Tony gives Rhodey a fucking Iron Man suit, and it's better than any damn airplane, than any damn missile, than anything Rhodey's ever received in his life!
Tony takes the War Machine--sure, Tony only called him that once, in anger, but Rhodey likes it, loves it even--and clears it free of Hammer Tech. Then he upgrades it. And then he fucking unveils a brand new mark, all for Rhodey!
"You made... for me?" Rhodey asks, and the fact that he's got breath left to voice his wonder is a fucking miracle. "Tony, I--"
"Hallmark couldn't have said it better," Tony responds cheekily, and Rhodey is unspeakably happy to see him like this again, grinning and tinkering.
There's a catch--of course there's a catch, it's Tony--but Rhodey doesn't mind at all. If Tony wants someone to take turns playing superhero so he can focus his attention on some new monstrosity he's building with Pepper in New York, that's A-OK with Rhodey. He loves War Machine like he's never loved any piece of machinery in his life, and he doesn't even mind much when people keep mistaking him for Iron Man.
Rhodey's in Afghanistan with War Machine when DADT is repealed in 2011, and it's a complete non-event. When he gets back to California just before Christmas, he comes home to discover that Tony has decorated his entire apartment with rainbow flags, from the walls to the carpets. Even his furniture is draped with rainbow upholstery. Rhodey gapes in stunned silence and drops his bag to the floor with a thud.
In the middle of all the color sits Tony on Rhodey's couch, slouching back with a colorful martini in one hand and a rainbow flag in the other.
"What," Tony says, one corner quirked up, "it's a celebration, right? Pride and all that?" He's wearing dark sunglasses indoors, but Rhodey can still see his eyes twitch in amusement.
"You have no fucking tact," Rhodey snarls at him, because he's done saying I'm not gay.
Tony throws his head back and cackles. "Come have a drink, Rhodey!"
Rhodey sits next to Tony on his rainbow couch and drinks fruity martinis and and laughs when Tony waves his little rainbow flag in the air. He loves War Machine and he loves Tony, and that's enough for Rhodey.