Italian leather shoes click on the shining floor of the conference room. Rhodey remains seated at the table, alternating between flicking through the stacks of files and following Tony’s hurried gait.
“It’ll be okay Tones,” he says lowly, grimacing at the slight echo that reverberates despite his attempt at the quiet platitude.
Tony had petitioned to have this meeting to discuss the terms of Captain Rogers’ team reentering the United States; the presence of Tony Stark and Colonel Rhodes in Wakanda would have been suspicious had the engineer neglected to dress up the conference as a simple business meeting.
Pepper had worked tirelessly to set up contracts and proposals and public press releases in order to create the backdrop of legitimacy; thus far Ross hadn’t come sniffing around their trip or their proposal to meet with T’Challa but...things could always go wrong…
Tony picks at the nail of his right index finger before bringing the digit to his mouth; Rhodey fights the impulse to reach out and tug the hand away to soothe the slight tremor with a soft press of his lips.
He hates seeing Tony like this.
“We haven’t spoken in almost eight months Honeybear,” Tony mumbles around the finger, eyes trained on the door, “I have no idea how this is going to be...but ‘okay’ doesn’t seem like a strong possibility…”
Rhodey opens his mouth to respond when the door to the conference room swings towards them with a soft snick.
He had been getting better over the last few months. The nightmares had subsided, to a certain extent, and the Manic Nights spent working on Rhodey’s exoskeleton leg system or the new web slinger modifications for that Parker kid had become Driven Days. It had been an improvement, something Rhodey was ecstatic to see.
Once they had begun planning the meeting however, the sleepless nights increased and Tony’s anxiety tripled. Twice Rhodey had caught his lover staring off into space, a cold cup of coffee clutched in his fists.
Rhodey waited for the inevitable crash.
He waited and worried but Tony remained afloat, bailing out the water with sheer determination and copious amounts of caffeine at this point.
The inevitable crash never came.
Rhodey takes in the glazed brown eyes he loves, the ones that used to shine with passion and fire, and the tense line of Tony’s shoulders; he sighs and clutches to the hope that they aren’t back to square one.
T’Challa enters first, flanked by his two personal bodyguards, and nods at Rhodey and Tony with a small reserved smile.
All the same Tony moves back towards the table and the seat next to Rhodey, unconsciously seeking out his familiar presence. One by one Steve and the rest of his team file into the room. Rhodey feels his pulse quicken at the glares Clint and Wanda level at the pair of them.
They all stand, staring, for a moment before T’Challa clears his throat and gestures for everyone to sit. Sam, Scott, Clint, and Wanda pull out their chairs on the opposite side of the table; Steve and Tony remain standing.
Rhodey shifts to look back at Tony to try and catch his eye; Tony stares resolutely ahead as though the rest of the room has fallen away.
Steve does the same.
“Come on Tones,” Rhodey says softly before pushing the chair on his left out for Tony to take.
Tony blinks, coming back to himself, and looks to Rhodey who nods slightly. The engineer lowers himself into the seat without a word.
Steve does the same.
Rhodey takes in the captain's appearance with a critical gaze. A thick beard has settled over the man's jaw while deep bags occupy the space under his blue eyes; he has aged since the last time Rhodey had seen him.
T’Challa clasps his hands together in a muted clap.
“Well let’s get started. Firstly I want to thank Mr. Stark for his efforts in putting this meeting together,”
“Pepper worked much harder setting this up believe me,” Tony interjects quietly.
“Oh we do,” Clint mutters, sotto voce; Tony stiffens in response.
“Yes well, we certainly owe Stark Industries a favor for the distraction, Secondly I want to thank Mr. Stark and Colonel Rhodes for traveling down here in order to discuss our terms--”
“As though we could travel anywhere to meet them under the circumstances,” Wanda growls as she crosses her arms. Two red sparks pop near her left hand; Steve raps his knuckles on the table and levels a glare of his own at the girl. The look is a wordless ‘knock it off’, Rhodey recognizes it as one he has given to mouthy soldiers in the past.
The Colonel glances at Tony who stiffens at the barb but relaxes once more as T’Challa begins to speak once more.
Rhodey slides his hand to Tony’s knee under the table and squeezes once. He is about to pull away when Tony’s own hand grasps his, he interlocks their fingers.
“Colonel Rhodes has agreed to not press charges in order to make the transition easier,” T’Challa continued, nodding to Rhodey with a grateful smile.
Sam’s head shoots up.
His eyes flick from T’Challa to Rhodey and Tony in quick succession before he mumbles a shocked thanks.
“And because Stark has been paying to fund construction to repair and upgrade the airport in Leipzig, authorities in Germany are finally agreeing to revisit the case--”
“Yeah throw money at the problem, that sounds like a Stark,” Lang scoffs, grinning at Clint who grimaces back.
Steve closes his eyes, his mouth a thin and unimpressed line.
Tony’s hand trembles slightly in Rhodey’s own, he runs his thumb across the back of it in an attempt to sooth the other man’s nerves. Tony breathes deeply in through his nose and his jaw moves slightly forward in an attempt to halt the downturn of his mouth.
He hasn’t seen Tony this visibly upset since receiving the news about his parents and even then Tony was reluctant to break down in front of anyone let alone Rhodey...
Tony had called him in a broken voice.
“Tony what? What’s wrong?”
“Jim, Jim my-my-they’re they’re gone”
“Who’s gone? Tones what’s going on?”
“My...they,” Tony’s voice cracked over the line and halted all together.
“Okay, I’m coming over, you’re at home?”
For a moment Rhodey thought the call had been dropped but a soft sniffle punctuated the call.
“Yeah,” Tony’s voice finally breathed out wetly, “Obie just left but I just...I..”
“Stay there, I will be right over okay? Twenty minutes tops.”
“Okay...thank you,” he whispered.
An inevitable crash...all the signs are there: the wide red eyes, the shaking hands, the twitching mouth…
Rhodey mentally curses and fights the fury that courses through his chest. After everything, all the shit they were willing to compromise on, and this was the crap they were pulling?
T’Challa is of a similar mind.
“This is counterproductive to our meeting. If you do not have something useful to contribute I suggest you wait outside--”
“I can’t sit here with him and pretend to be nice about what happened!” Clint hisses cutting off their host. Steve opens his mouth but Clint continues on with a slam of his hand of the varnished surface of the table.
“No! Come on Steve?! T’Challa? He threw us to the wolves, I haven't seen my family in months, and now he comes slinking back here with his tail between his legs? After the state you and Barnes came back in? He’s lucky we don’t--”
“That’s enough,” Rhodey grounds out, standing for the first time since entering the conference room a half hour prior. It had been a long walk from the helipad down to the conference room, despite the elevator, and Rhodey still wasn’t as practiced as he wanted to be with his exoskeleton.
“Jim, Honeybear, it’s fine-” Tony whisperes, any louder and his voice would break entirely.
“No Tony, for chrissakes I can’t sit here and listen to this and neither should you,” Rhodey narrows his eyes at Steve specifically before he continues in a low tone, “Clint. You should ask the Captain about that jaunt to Siberia. They found out a lot about each other that day.”
Steve stiffens in response as four pairs of eyes slowly turn to look at him; he deflates further.
“We’re leaving, thank you T’Challa for the opportunity.”
Rhodey wraps an arm around Tony’s shoulder and begins to lead him away from the table; he pauses momentarily.
“Steve,” Rogers looks up from the table and grimaces in anticipation.
“Honestly man, I always thought you were better than this. That you were better than all of us…”
Rhodey shakes his head and moves ones more to the door; it closes heavily behind them.
They don’t look back.
Tony shudders, breathing harshly. Rhodey runs his hand up and down the man's back, whispering softly as though to a spooked animal.
Tony cries silently.
His shoulders heave in muted, breathy, sobs and Tony suddenly stops moving, almost sending Rhodey to the ground, as his sense of balance shifts.
“I can’t, I c--fuck, Jim,” he hisses out in sharp gasps.
“I know, I’m sorry Tony, can you make it to the jet?” Rhodey looks down at the other man’s red eyes and feels his chest constrict.
“You know it’s okay to let go, let it out if you need to Tony...this isn’t healthy--”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about Platypus, it’s fine.”
Rhodey glares softly, taking in the sunglasses and stiff posture Tony is sporting.
“It’s not weak to-”
“What would you know about weak?” Tony snarls suddenly, stalking towards Rhodey in three quick strides across his apartment’s kitchen. It has been a week since the funeral for his parents and since then Rhodey has only seen his friend break once and it was only over the phone.
“Huh? What the hell do you know about it? You go off to the army like you always wanted, you get to leave...I’m stuck. I’ve always been stuck in this life but now its actually real and I can’t afford to fall apart Jim. Starks don’t do that remember?”
Tony nods weakly, but continues to shake in his arms.
The door behind them opens and Rhodey curses softly at not being able to get them farther down the hall; Tony is vulnerable like this -like he hates to be- and extremely visible.
“Colonel Rhodes-- Tony !”
Steve slips into the hall, letting the heavy door fall closed behind him, and moves towards the huddled pair. Rhodey bristles and turns them so that Tony is behind and shielded from view. Tony freezes entirely, the gasps and shuddering sobs cease.
“Stand down Captain, we’re leaving--”
“What’s happened? Is he alright? I can--”
“Rogers,” Rhodey says, in almost a whisper, “Stand. Down. Go back inside.”
Steve halts, a crease forms between his eyes which flick back and forth between Rhodey and Tony’s huddled form. He opens his mouth, the corners of his lips turn down as he does so but nothing comes out. The Captain nods once before looking to Tony once more.
Silence engulfs the hall as Steve moves back towards the conference room and through the door without a backward glance.
Tony shudders once and releases a long breath.
“I want to go home Honeybear.”
Rhodey nods and they begin to ease their way down the hall once more.