Actions

Work Header

On Duty and Off

Work Text:

It was possible James had had more than a little too much to drink. Christ, though, this school could do that to you. Still, he usually tried to drag his ass home sometime before dawn, so tonight was definitely being put on the list of nights when he unwound a little too hard. This still counted as night, right? The east sky was just a little too light of a blue, he didn’t think there was any actual sun up yet. Passing through campus back towards his dorm he heard a noise, and stopped. Through the fog of a little booze and an increasing quantity of hangover he wasn’t 100% sure what he’d heard, and he listened in case it happened again. It did. It sounded a little bit like somebody crying.

He looked around, but didn’t see anybody. He zeroed in on the sound source- not really crying, more like just a really unsteady series of breaths. Somebody trying not to freak out or panic, maybe. After a little wandering he found it, a figure huddled out of sight by the entryway of the nearest classroom building. It jumped as he approached, bringing it’s…his, face up towards the intruder. It was a kid, early highschool age.

“Hey, kid. What are you doing here?” He tried to keep his voice calm, non-accusatory. Was the kid a runaway? Somebody's little brother who came to visit at the wrong time and got separated?

“I can sit where I want.” The kid retorted, going right for defensive anyways. “You’re not security.”

James tried to give the kid a skeptical look. “Yeah, sure. Just wondering if you’re ok. You look a little young to be out here alone at 4am. Where are your folks?”

“New York” the boy replied acidly.

“You want me to help you get in touch with them? Maybe they can help you find whoever it is that’s supposed to be keeping an eye on you.”

The boys nostrils flared and he scowled. He shoved himself to his feet. “Nobody is supposed to be keeping-“ he faltered on his feet, stumbling a little, and he steadied himself against the wall. He glared at the hand James unthinkingly reached towards him in case he pitched over. “-An eye on me.”

“Runaway?”

The boy glared outright, yanking on the edge of his hoodie and gesturing to the MIT insignia. “Student.”

James’s eyebrows raised. “You’re a frosh? Sorry. In this light you look, like, 16.”

The boy kept glaring. “I’m 15.”

James blinked at him. “I thought you said you were a student.”

“Genius.” The boy answered, as if that explained everything. He took a few steps towards James, clearly planning to pass him and be on his way. James frowned at the kids walk- he was unsteady on his feet, looked pretty shaken.

This kid was not ok. As he got closer he reeked of booze, and he looked like he hadn’t slept in a week. Ok, end of midterms, most of them looked like they hadn’t slept in a week. Mostly because they hadn’t. But this kid had a haunted, fractured look to him. Something had gone down with this kid and nobody else seemed to be around to deal with it. Not that James knew how to deal with it either.

“You’re not walking so good. Party a little too hard?” The kid grunted a vague agreement. “Need some help getting home? I could find security for you. They could give you a lift.”

The kid shook his head, looking down. His hands were shaking. “Don’t call security.”

James hesitated over the next words, but he had to do something. “Which way are you headed? If it’s on my way I could help you out for a bit.”

The kid told him his address without thinking. He didn’t seem like much of a genius. It was the exact opposite direction from where James needed to go, but what the hell. He was already going to sleep till dinner tonight. “Yeah, ok. Right on my way.”

“You’ve got a car?”

“Not that I’m driving like this. We can walk.” He reached out a hand, hesitantly. “You wanna lean on me a little?”

The kid hesitated, seemed to be taking stock. He turned his head away so James couldn’t see his face in the streetlight. He nodded. James looped an arm under the kids arms and they started out.

It was only about a quarter of a mile, but it took them quite a while. Up closer the smell of booze was palpable and the smell of sex was noticeable, which did nothing to calm James’s growing sense of fury at whoever this kid had been hanging around with, and whoever he was supposed to be with. By the time they dragged themselves up to the really nice apartment building matching the address the kid had given James was ready to kill somebody. He decided to make sure the kid was an at-the-door delivery, so he could at the least give the stink-eye to whatever brother or aunt or somebody this kid was supposed to be living with. The kid didn’t argue with him. At the door, he fumbled with his keys a little, but eventually managed to get them into the building, then into his apartment. There wasn’t anyone waiting up for him. The kid pointed towards the kitchen, visible through the passthrough. “Kitchen.” He instructed. James did as he was told, and deposited the kid in a chair at the kitchen table.

The kid slumped down, eyes closed, and James got him a glass of water and shoved it in front of him. “There. Start with that.”

The kid downed the glass with an uncomfortable amount of proficiently at dumping liquid down his throat in one go as James looks around the apartment. The place is a wreck. It had been decently decorated, but whoever lived here clearly didn’t give two shits about their living conditions. There was paper and blueprints and tech parts scattered all over the place, pinned to walls, and a pile of dirty laundry in the living room. Damn. The frat houses were better than this. He kept his voice down. “Who else lives here?”

The kid gave him a look clearly intended to pity James for his low IQ. “Just me. I told you that.”

“Just you.” James echoed. The kid nodded. “And you’re 15.” Another nod. And now James was mad all over again. He could understand if the kid slipped the leash now and then, but nobody was even trying to keep tabs on him? He pressed his lips together, no point in yelling here, now. It wasn’t the kids fault. He shook his head, then looked at the kids empty glass. He looked at the fridge. The kid was a twig under that baggy hoodie. Maybe he’d have some juice or something. James got up and went to the fridge, the kid watched him warily. Oh, now he was wary? After letting a complete stranger into his empty apartment? He opened the fridge.

Beer, open chinese takeout leftovers, something moulding in a bowl that might have been macaroni at some point, catsup and…more beer. He looked back at the kid, who shrugged. What did you expect?

He hadn’t expected this. Hadn’t meant to get involved with a situation this messed up. He snagged the empty glass and refilled it at the sink, dropping it back in front of the kid, who immediately started drinking it. He was watching James like he was a mystery- like it was so strange for somebody to be looking after him. For his part, James was too pissed off to say anything.

Eventually the kid piped up. “What’s your name?”

“James.”

“James?” the kid made a disapproving face. “Nuh-uh. That’s not gonna work. I know like, 3 dozen James’s. Unless you wanna end up as ‘bla-“

“Don’t.” He interrupted. “Don’t go down that road, kid. You haven’t got a map.” Yeah, he was “black James”. Not to his face, most of the time, but when people reached for a signifier, that was the one they used for him. That was what they thought of.

The kid just nodded, seeming to approve. “What about your last name?”

“Rhodes.”

“Rhodes? Ok. That I can work with. I’m Tony.”

“Hi. You really live alone here?” Tony nodded. James rubbed his eyes. “Why?”

Kid shrugged, eyes to the side again as he fidgeted with his glass on the table. “Because I live in Boston and my folks live in New York. I’m a genius. I don’t need to be told how to take care of myself.”

“Your fridge begs to differ.”

“I mostly eat in the cafeteria.”

“I hope so.” James ran a hand over his head. “Look, you seem like you had a pretty rough night. Maybe you should, like…I don’t know. Report it?”

Tony eyed him skeptically again. “Report what?”

James felt sick. He didn’t want to say out loud what he was thinking. “Seems like somebody’s been…rougher with you than they should. Especially a kid your age. That’s not cool. They deserve some trouble over it.” James’s didn’t know exactly what had gone down, but he knew fifteen sure as hell wasn’t the age of consent, and the obvious presence of booze, combined with how shaken up Tony was…it painted a pretty bad picture.

Tony was toying with his glass on the table again, both hands poking around it’s base. “Nah. Just partied a little too hard, like you said. It’s fine. Tomorrow I’ll be right as rain.”

James wanted to argue. This was not ok. Tony was not ok. But he didn’t feel like he had any right to talk to this kid he didn’t even know about things he probably wouldn’t want to say to anyone. “It already is tomorrow.” He answered instead.

Tony glanced out the kitchen window. Dawn was well underway by now. “Looks like it. Maybe the day after tomorrow, then.” Tony gave him the side-eye. “Y’know. You don’t look so hot, either.” He nodded towards the livingroom. “You can hang on my couch if you want, catch a nap.”

There was juuuust enough hope in Tony’s voice to sway him. He was dead tired anyways, and if he went home he’d just end up banging around his dorm being pissed off on Tony’s behalf. If he stayed here he could at least keep an eye out for a little bit. Maybe make sure he got to the caf ok for breakfast. Or dinner. James nodded. “Yeah, thanks. I do feel half dead.”

He napped on the couch, drank Tonys really good coffee when he woke up, and promised himself he’d keep half an eye on this kid from now on.

By Christmas break he realized he’d acquired a crazy little rich white boy as a kid brother.

Tony was insane. Certifiably nuts. Practically every time James saw him he was building something that nobody had ever built before, starting fights he couldn’t possibly win, or running like hell. If he was running looking scared, James got behind him, ready to intercept whatever Tony was running from. If he was running and grinning James stood by for whatever show Tony had cooked up. The kid treated smoke bombs and flares the way other kids treated flaming bags of dog shit and he was an epic prankmaster. James’s favorite was when he rewired the security PA system to a tapedeck and then hid the tapedeck in an obscure piece of ceiling and controlled the overhead music in the student center for three solid days. Tony had great taste in music.

They fought a lot. Because Tony seemed hell-bent on destroying himself and James (who everybody started calling Rhodey, taking a cue from Tony) wouldn’t let him. It was like if he lived badly enough, dangerously enough, he was hoping somebody would stop him. Put some limits down. Maybe even make him go home. Nobody ever showed up, and Rhodey couldn’t make Tony stop, but sometimes he could pull damage control- letting a drunk girl at a party know how old Tony really was, interrupting a game of keep-away with a cutting remark about the idiots involved acting like jr. High kids. Periodically making Tony remove the mould out of his fridge. He tried to get Tony to sleep, but neither he nor anybody else at MIT had room to throw stones as far as that went, so that didn’t really go over so well.

He couldn’t be there all the time- especially since Tony was in constant motion. And James had to go home sometimes. He saw his people over breaks, and long weekends. Tony said he’d go home for Christmas, but when Rhodey came back from his own break he found Tony up to his elbows in robotics parts in the same clothes he’d been in when Rhodey left, and mumbling something about being too busy with work for a kids holiday.

Rhodey didn’t know whether it was just Tony avoiding his parents, or rejecting them, or if maybe they really just didn’t care. It seemed plausible that they just didn’t know what all was going on down here. Tony could be charming and put together and speak up for himself from time to time, and tended to be able to handle the school administrators effortlessly. He wouldn’t be surprised if nobody on the staff ever told the Starks what their son got up to. Tony really was brilliant, and tough, to. If he’d met the kid differently, he might even have believed that Tony could manage on his own.

Spring break was the final straw. Rhodey had stayed on campus this time, since his folks were going out west a week before him to visit gramma and there wouldn’t be anybody home. He went to some parties, had a few drinks, relaxed with the knowledge that Tony should be at his parents house by now. And once they saw him, he hoped they lay it on the line with him about how he was living. He was hopeful about it.

Till a friendly acquaintance pulled Rhodey aside at the party and said Tony was outside. That he’d gotten in to some of the shit going on upstairs and somebody needed to go deal with him right away. Rhodey was the acknowledged babysitter.

Tony was outside, on the side lawn of the frat house, huddled against the building and shaking violently. He’d already puked up whatever had been in his stomach a few feet back, and even that reeked of booze. A little further inspection turned up the inevitable conclusion that Tony had been into something harder than alcohol tonight, and it didn’t look like it was agreeing with him. His eyes were wide and round, his pupils taking up most of them. He was sweating and pale and breathing in short, shallow bursts punctuated by high, nervous laughter and a stream of babble that was mostly about robotics but partly about waffles. There was a girl sitting next to him, rubbing his back, who told Rhodey that they’d found him being led off with a group of boys she didn’t recognize but that, for reasons she didn’t want to elaborate on, she didn’t trust.

He arranged for a few other partygoers to get them a cab, and dragged Tony back to Tony’s apartment to wait this out. It took Tony a good few hours to clear his system, and then he crashed, sleeping like a corpse. At least he’d stopped throwing up.

Late the next afternoon Tony finally shuffled into the kitchen where Rhodey was drinking coffee and worrying. Tony dropped down into a chair, avoiding his eyes. There was a dense, uncomfortable silence that drug on till Rhodey couldn’t take it anymore. “What the hell were you thinking?”

“Something about waffles.” Tony answered flippantly, and fast enough it was clear he was expecting the question, still avoiding eye contact.

“I mean, getting involved with that shit upstairs. Do you even know what the hell you took?”

Tony slumped down further in his chair. “I didn’t take anything. It was in my drink or something.”

Rhodey put his hands over his face. “Oh my God. Tony. Tony. You can’t keep doing this shit. Being in these situations. Do you even understand what could happen to you in a situation like that?” Stupid question, of course Tony did.

“Settle down, mom, I-“

“Mom? Mom? Do you even have a mom? Where the hell are your parents? Do they have any idea what sort of shit you’re getting into down here?”

“It doesn’t-“

“I swear to God, if you say it doesn’t matter I am going to beat your ass, Tony. Do not hand me that.” Rhodey stood, grabbing the phone on the kitchen pass-through. He slammed it down on the table with a faint ringing noise, right in front of Tony. “Call them.”

Tony’s chin got that stubborn set. “What?”

“Call. Your parents. Right now. I want to see you call them, and explain the shit that has been going on here with you. Now.”

“I’m not-“ Tony started to argue.

“Call. Now.” Rhodey interrupted. He stood with one hand next to the phone, frankly looming over Tony where he sat.

Tony started to object, but James stared him down. And stubborn as Tony was, he was shaken, and Rhodey was sure.

With a resentful glare Tony grabbed the phone, punching the numbers in viciously. He settled in as it rang, and Rhodey sat back down.Tony’s head was tilted down, resting on one fist, broadcasting how much he hated this with every line of his body. Too bad. This shit needed doing.

Eventually there was a faint noise on the other end, and Tony actually seemed to brighten for a second, sitting a little straighter.. “Jarvis? Hey, J! How’s it hanging?” a pause, and Tony’s lips tightened a little. “Yeah. Whichever of them, I don’t care.” Another pause. Tony drummed his fingers in the kitchen table, getting tenser by the second. He must really be expecting them to blow up.

Tony closed his eyes when the next faint voice came up over the receiver. “Hi dad. No, there’s no emergency… Fine? Well, I don’t know if I’m-“ another pause. Tony had the phone pressed hard against his ear with a white-knuckled hand, and Rhodey couldn’t make out what the voice on the other end was saying. “No. No immediate danger, just-…I know. I know. Work stuff, yeah. Well, I just-… Actually, a lot of the guys here do talk to their parents more than once a month. No, I know you’re busy. I know.” Tony’s eyes opened, and he trained them on the ceiling. His voice was sounding completely calm, totally casual, even through his breath between words was shuddering and looked painful. Even though his eyes were shining and he looked like he might throw up. “Is that Obi? Do I hear Obi there with you? Put him on, I-…Look, I just need to-“ his eyes snapped shut again as he tilted his head back. He shifted his head, as if trying to relax his neck or throat. “But dad- no, don’t-”

Tony huffed a pained, nearly silent sigh, and looked like he was waiting. He didn’t look at Rhodey. Tony swore under his breath. His face was starting to go red, humiliated that probably the best friend he had was watching this, and Rhodey started to regret this plan of action. Tony got his voice back to normal again by the next time he spoke. “Mom, Hi. No, I didn’t upset him. Thats-…he was already like that when I called. It’s his default state. That’s not backtalk it’s-…no I just wanted to talk to-…” he went silent again, hanging his head, crimson to his ears. He looked in obvious pain, now. “But-…” Tony curled inward, blinking fast, looking so lost, so hurt. He still kept his voice almost completely level. Rhodey’d wondered where Tony picked up such a steady voice to go with such an expressive, transparent face. How many years had he been making these calls? Tony’s expression shifted, anger taking over. That, he did let into his voice. Rhodey thought about taking the phone, trying to explain for Tony, but- “Ok. We’ll skip next months call and call it even, ok? Ok, fine! We can skip the one after that, to!” Another painful silence as Tony’s jaw went tight. “ ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you’. Right… No I’m not.” He added defensively. Finally his face contorted in a furious, heartbroken grimace and he slammed the phone back down on it’s receiver hard enough to shake the table.

Tony didn’t look up. He kept his face towards the table, resting on two fists against his crown, his shoulders dawn up tight.

Shit.

There was no backup. Not for Tony, and not for Rhodey dealing with Tony. Nobody cared. Rhodey’d listened to Tony fly through every adult Rhodey’d ever heard him speak fondly of in a matter of minutes, and none of them so much as asked him what he was calling about.

Rhodey got up, went to the fridge, and grabbed three beers. He put one in front of his chair, and two in front of Tony’s. “I need a beer after just listening to that. So you get two.” He opened all three bottles, and sat back down, heavily. This wasn’t what he’d wanted. He hadn’t meant to humiliate Tony like that, make him show in front of someone else just how little his parents cared. He hadn’t meant to rub it in Tony’s face. Guilt knotted him up and he took a long pull off the bottle.

After a moment, Tony reached over and grabbed one of the bottles, downing most of it in one go. This was not good surrogate big brother behavior but holy shit. Rhodey had no idea what else to do. His own parents were stern but they loved him, no question. He didn’t know what to do with an abandoned child. He was 19 for christsakes.

But if Rhodey didn’t take care of the little maniac, it was obvious nobody else would. And Tony was a great kid. A legitimate pleasure to be around. He liked him. He had to do something to mitigate this mess. “Tell you what. Next year, I’ll save up, and let’s you and me go someplace over spring break. Someplace out of the country, maybe. Find a better party.”

“Pity for the poor little psudo-orphan?” Tony challenged, taking another long pull.

“I think you and I are both better off if we stick together. That way I don’t have to end my night early rescuing your sorry self, and you don’t get in over your head. Besides.” He leaned back, trying a grin for Tony. “You know I’m going to enlist. I want to see what kind of mayhem Tony Stark can get up to on foreign soil. Especially with backup. Consider it weapons testing.”

Tony looked him over, assessing, then his mouth curled into a considering half-smile. If Rhodey knew anything about Tony, the boy genius would spend the next year figuring out exactly how to maximize his impact.

By the time next years spring break rolled around, Tony was a party master. Rhodey'd been able to curb some of Tony's worst party habits, and Tony had developed a reckless charisma that drew people without fail. He knew how to cut loose, make people laugh, and make girls giggle and blush better than Rhodey did. His swagger was brittle, but it worked. And he grew another couple inches, stuck out less like a vulnerable kid that attracted the wrong crowd.
 
They fought the week before their planned trip. A bigger one than usual. Tony kept trying to pay Rhodeys way and he wasn't gonna let that happen. He already thought it was pretty messed up the way Tony talked about the family butler with more affection than anyone else, and Rhodey was not going to turn into "the help." He never let Tony buy him anything more than a cheap meal, which was a consistent source of tension between them. He hated the way other people let Tony buy them off, used him that way.
 
Then, once they were on spring break Tony drunkenly offered him a BJ and Rhodey flipped the fuck out. He'd yelled at Tony for at least 20 minutes about how incredibly inappropriate that was and how Tony needed to grow some God-damn self respect, like now. And Tony had yelled back, calling Rhodey uptight, bigoted, boring, and a babysitter. He accused Rhodey of only hanging around him out of pity or duty, and of not caring about him. That pissed him off that Rhodey went down to the hotel bar to try and relax, and a few drinks later came back up to find an empty hotel room. He kicked himself for yelling but it freaked him out. For the kid he thought of like a brother to offer him that. It just wasn’t right. Why would think that thats what Rhodey wanted from him?
 
When Tony finally wandered back at 3am he had not one but two barely dressed women hanging off him. Rhodey expected a subtle cue to vacate but to his surprise Tony grinned at him and informed the women with him that Rhodey was the brother he'd been talking about all night, and by their smiles he was guessing the review had been positive. One of the girls peeled off Tony and asked Rhodey to go join him in her hotel room and it occurred to him that Tony had the weirdest way of making up after a fight of anyone he would ever meet. And it was good to hear Tony call him his brother, effectively retracting his earlier offer in favor of the relationship Rhodey’d always felt they’d had.
 
After spring break, Rhodey had some idea of what he was dealing with. Tony kept pushing him, prodding him, and clearly had no idea whatsoever how to show that he cared about somebody. He made do with trying to get him laid, throwing the best parties on campus and making sure Rhodey was at them, and saying awful things about any girl who didn't let Rhodey take her out, and any staff that didn't give him good grades. It was warped, but it worked for them. He got it.
 
But not long after, they both graduated. Rhodey enlisted, like he'd planned. He was overseas when he heard that Tony's parents had died. He tried to call, but couldn't reach anyone. He tried over and over, but Tony never returned any of his messages. He wrote a letter. Five months later he got back a brief scrawled response assuring Rhodey that he was fine, he lived in Nevada this month, and giving a long list of alternate phone numbers all over the US of places Tony might maybe end up. He didn't say anything about his parents, or why he was in Nevada, or what he was doing now after graduation, and he didn't ask how Rhodey was doing.
 
It hit like a blow. A year and a half they'd been inseparable. Rhodey had tried so damn hard to take care of Tony, cover the gaps other people had left in his life, and this was the next thing to a dear John letter. Rhodey was discarded like one of Tony’s one night stands, much less to Tony than the brother he’d claimed he was.
 
Years passed. Every now and then Rhodey'd send a letter out, saying how he was doing, saying he still thought about Tony sometimes and hoped he was ok. He wrote again after Tony inherited his fathers company, congratulating him and telling Tony he was stateside again. Still nothing.
 
In his late 20s he was working in supply and got a notice he was being transferred. A woman who'd graduated from MIT the year after he and Tony had said that someone had remembered that Rhodey could keep Tony Stark in line back in the day, and wanted him as the Stark Industries liaison assistant. He objected, saying they weren't really friends anymore, and was told they didn't need him to be Starks friend, they needed him to be the young CEOs babysitter. Fine.
 
He felt tense and sick all morning before they were set to meet again. He wanted to see Tony and he didn't. Truth be told he was still mad. But it'd be nice to finally get some idea how Tony'd turned out. He knew from tabloids that Tony still drank too much and partied too hard, but he would have assumed that anyways. That didn't tell him what he needed to know.
 
He at least got the satisfaction of Tonys wide-eyed panic and immediate recognition when Rhodey walked into the boardroom. "Rhodey?" he looked at the tall, heavyset older man with him, who was studying Rhodey carefully. "Is this an intervention? What is Rhodey doing here?"
 
Rhodey offered his hand for a handshake. "Mr. Stark. I'm the new assistant liaison for the US military to Stark Industries. I look forward to working with you."
 
Tony still had a lousy poker face. He shook Rhodeys hand, acutely uncomfortably. "Right. Sure, ok. Work, then." Rhodey was told later that that was the fastest, most on-task meeting anyone could remember having with the man.

That went on for about 6 months, till Tony eventually cornered him in a hotel bar after a weapons expo. "Ok. This is making me crazy. What are we doing here?"
 
Rhodey didn’t want to have this conversation. “I’m just sitting here enjoying a rum and coke. I don't know what you're doing." he said, not bothering to look at the guy.
 
Tony was still standing behind him. He slid onto the stool next to him. He ordered a martini, drumming on the counter and shooting Rhodey glances out of the corner of his eye. "Everybody still calls you Rhodey."
 
"It stuck. You were right, it was better than black James."
 
Tony nodded uncomfortably, sipping his drink. "You still mad?"
 
"I'm not mad. I'm indifferent. You made you side of it clear, so that's fine. We can work together."
 
Tony swore under his breath, turning his stool away for a second before swinging back and looking at him. "Would it help if I apologized?"
 
"I don't need you to get me women, Tony. I do fine on my own."
 
"No like a...normal person apology. Glad that you recognized that one, though. I wasn't sure."
 
Rhodey shrugged, leaning away a little, keeping it relaxed. "No apology needed. It's fine. Like I said, you made your end of things clear. It doesn't have to be a big deal."
 
Tony gave him wounded eyes, and Rhodey started to second guess this whole interaction. "Maybe we can talk in private?"
 
Rhodey raised an eyebrow at that one. Tony had finally developed some sense of privacy. Maybe a little maturity was finally kicking in. Well, criticizing him for immaturity wasn't really fair, was it? He'd been just barely 17 when Rhodey'd last seen him. In light of that... "Sure." he said, finishing off his drink. Tony downed his martini in one go.
 
Tony's hotel room was a suite, of course it was, so that's where they went, sitting on the couch as Tony raided the minibar. Tony kept shooting him evaluative glances. "So, ah. Ok, not my finest hour, ignoring your calls." he handed Rhodey a fancy imported beer. "You were worried about me."
 
He took it. "I thought I should be."
 
"Probably." Tony sat across him, took a breath. "But you couldn't have done anything about it."
 
That riled him a bit. "I could have listened."
 
Tony's smile was bitter. "Only if I'd wanted to talk."
 
"Seen you on leave, then." he persisted. He would have done something. He couldn't have fixed it, but at least he would have known there were a few days when Tony didn't have to be doing everything alone, without backup.
 
Tony waved him off, and Rhodey wanted to punch him. "That's for seeing family."
 
Rhodey leaned forward, seeing if he could still pin Tony with enough resolve on his face. "I would have come to see you."
 
Tony actually leaned back, eyes wide, as if Rhodey was threatening him. He watched Rhodey in the silence for a second, then his posture shifted, as if he hadn't ever leaned away. "Duly noted." he set his drink down on the table and Christ, was that empty already? "And now?"
 
Rhodey kept his sigh silent. "Now I see you a lot. And read about you in the paper."
 
"Checking up on me, mom?"
 
Rhodey frowned, thinking how he'd checked on Tony a lot more than his mom did. "Someone'd better."
 
"Do I get to check on you?" Tony asked cautiously.
 
Rhodey gestured slightly with his beer, not really believing Tony’s display of concern. "I'm right here."
 
Tonys eyes flicked over him, lips tightening. "So, ah. How are you?"
 
Rhodey watched Tony for a second, so anxious, fidgeting with the empty bottle. Expecting Rhodey to shut him down. Part of him wanted to. He didn't have to deal with Tony's bullshit anymore. The man was old enough to look after himself. But part of him was still just too invested in Tony for that. For that year and a half, at least, Tony'd been his best friend. He'd cared, in his own high-strung, confused way, and Rhodey liked him. He just had to decide whether to trust this again.

A litmus test, then. "Well, my girlfriend of a year just broke it of with me."
 
Tony's back straightened immediately, and his eyes flashed- instantaneously offended on Rhodeys behalf. "After a year? What the hell is the point of dating for a year if your going to break it off? What grounds did she give? No, forget it, it doesn't matter. Look, Rhodey, she's an idiot. I know I don't know her but she's an idiot. You can do better. Youknow what? It's almost my birthday. Let's go to...I don't know. Tijuana or something. Monaco.” He stood up. "I'll book a couple flights, you'll forget her by Saturday night, I guarantee it. I will personally ensure- are you laughing?"
 
Rhodey stopped fighting it. He let the grin out, laughing quietly. "Oh man. You never change at all, do you? I swear I'm surprised you finally let go of that hoodie. Oh my God, Tony."
 
Tony quirked the corner of his mouth, looking a little calmer. "Just trying to help out."
 
"Yeah, well, forget it. I haven't even been seeing anyone. I'm just messing with you." Tony sat back down, glaring very halfheartedly. He grabbed a fistful of peanuts from the bowl on the table and chucked a few at Rhodey, who laughed. "You know you're twelve, right? Like, I don't think you ever even were fifteen. You're twelve and you've always been twelve." he picked up a piece of shell and flicked it at Tony's face.
 
"Hey, you're the one faking breakups for attention, here." Tony objected, flinching melodramatically at the bit of shell bouncing off his face.
 
"Yeah, allright." He grinned. Fancy clothes and company aside, Tony was still Tony. A mess, but Rhodey’s mess. "Look, Tony. We can do this again. That's fine. But you've got to promise me something."
 
Tony spread his hands the way he did when he was preparing to cut blank checks. "Name it."
 
"You don't fall off my radar like that again. I don't want to babysit you, but just stay on the radar for me. Can you do that? No more disappearing."
 
Tony smiled, a little more touched than he wanted to let on, but transparent as always. "Square deal. Still wanna hit Tijuana?"
 
He laughed. "Lemme see about getting the time, ok?"
 
"Hey, your my government-funded nanny now. You don't need leave for this."
 
"Nuh-uh. I remember vacationing with you. I definitely want to be off duty for this."
 
Tonys grin only widened. Rhodey made a note to himself to make sure to also try and get off the week AFTER his trip with Tony.