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Nothing Matters (Except You)

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James Rhodes, anybody who knew him would describe him as the man who is just and fair, the man who achieved medals and awards despite the prejudice against his skin, the good soldier and an even greater man. However, if they were to choose anything that would like to be changed, it would be his… obsession with one genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist.

 

So, it stood with good reason that when he saw Tony, bruised and broken Tony—Tony, Oh Tony— brought in by Vision, he was sagged with relief. Tony may be bruised and injured, but he would live, he would live and give a few months, he would be back to his cheerful obnoxious self. He ignored the small nagging part of his brain which took in the dent on the armor which looked vaguely like a shield, because that couldn’t have happened, right? Right.

 

Except it did.

 

Three days after Tony was brought in, Tony was still in coma, the media and public was having a field day crucifying Tony, because of course Captain America is the right side, who was Tony to oppose him, for Tony to take responsibility, to stop hiding like a coward and justice would be served. If James was not feeling frustrated with Tony still not waking up, frustrated with the beeping machine, frustrated that he was only sitting around when his best friend was in critical condition, frustrated with his uselessness, his useless legs, his useless wheelchair, he was just so fucking useless, he would have understood that the public was scared and with Cap and his merry band in hiding, the only one they could reach was Tony, that it was normal and understandable, but he was not given the time to understand.

 

Because after a painstaking three days, FRIDAY was finally online again and the recording from the suit of what happened in Siberia before FRIDAY was cut off was the last straw that broke the one named James Rhodes, because if the world denied the existence of Tony Stark so much, then the world should just burn.

 

-

 

The first step of world domination was, as any attempt of world domination should be, call Virginia Pepper Potts.

 

“Ja—“

 

“I’m doing it.”

 

Silence reigned the other side for a few second and James didn’t explain any further, because Pepper understood and there wasn’t any need to explain anything.

 

“…Okay, I’ll pack and get to New York as soon as possible, meet you at the compound?”

 

“I’ll be there,” Then he hung up, because he was fixated on the security footage replaying over and over again, because he wanted to burn the image of Tony feeling betrayed and hurt by one of his own friends and this was his fault, for being blinded by his own admiration and handed Tony with reckless abandon to a bunch of fucking traitors. And just like his mistakes with Stane and palladium incident, he would make up for it. In his own way.

 

-

 

Funny how people thought of him as a man of justice and Tony as the erratic troublemaker who had one foot in to the making of a supervillain, when he was the one planning so called world domination for years and no one had a clue about it.

 

When he first started planning it was after palladium poisoning incident, he had been feeling so heavy with guilt that he had once again not been there and betrayed the most important person in his life. His guilt and the need to make up for Tony result in the idea of making a plan to protect Tony from anything even from himself should it be needed.

 

When he looked the broken form of his friend, the most important person in his life, it was clear that if he wanted to protect this one person he needed to go against the world, the choice had never been easier because James would do anything, anything, for Tony and burning the world who had been so cruel to Tony was a delight James wouldn’t pass off.

 

He gripped Tony’s hands gingerly, eyes burning the image of his one friend, “Need to go for a while, Tones. Wait for me.”

 

His voice might have shaken, but his determination didn’t.

 

Justice needed to be served after all.

 

 

-

 

 

Pepper could only tremble after watching the video, though she only needed one calming breath before she was back to her usual efficient self.

 

“What do you need me to do?”

 

Sometimes he understood why Tony fell for Pepper all those years ago.

 

-

 

When he was going through all the plan with FRIDAY, he got a pleasant surprise by the sentient android.

 

“I have come to a decision to help your plan.”

 

“…You know you don't need to, right?”

 

“Yes, but I want to help… for Dad”, the smile, albeit small, he gave was positively blinding in its expressiveness for an android.

 

Well, that’s one potential enemy crossed off the list.

 

(He had one less friend that he needed to kill.)

 

-

 

When he arrived in Tony’s lab in Malibu, he was overwhelmed with emotions, because even after all his mistakes and betrayals Tony still gave him, him, access to everything and the guilt was festering more and more space as he was using the project with the opposite goals of what Tony had in mind. Then he remembered, the media, the public, of Howard, of the fucking traitors.

 

He pressed <Project: Iron Legion> without any more hesitation.

 

The sound of melting vibranium in the background was music to his ear.

 

-

 

He had been plotting on how to eliminate SHIELD to the root, when Coulson was the one who offered SHIELD in a silver platter, well he was not one to refuse such an offer.

 

The thing is he found it ironic that wheelchairs had made his life difficult in all kind of ways, from eating to everything—flying, War Machine, helping Tony, Tony, Tony,Tony.

 

But when he finally found the one thing that it had made easier, it was when he decided to be a supervillain.

 

Because if he was not injured, then Coulson and Fury wouldn’t let their paranoid self to be in the same room, wouldn’t let the meeting be in SHIELD’s new base, they would be more vigilant of their surroundings, it wouldn’t have been so easy for him to paste the device under the table, to hack them, but it didn’t matter in the end.

 

He watched as the building and ex-comrades was burnt to the ground, with nothing but a stealth armor for a company.

 

It didn’t matter.

 

-

 

 With the data from the hack, it was easy to pluck out all the remaining agents, retired or otherwise. He just made an exception for the family in the farm house, just in case.

 

FRIDAY and Vision had covered most of the ground needed and he had perfected the drugs and his production was going as well as it could be, the test subject would be due tomorrow if Pepper’s estimation was right and it was always right.

 

In the blink of an eye, two weeks have gone by after Tony was brought in, but the sweetness of the almost-victory was stained by the bitterness and rage of the footage he got from Wakanda.

 

He gripped the glass of water so tight, it broke uselessly to the ground.

 

He took in the baseless accusation, the delusions, the self-righteous words, the arrogance.

 

And the horror struck. Had Tony always been treated like this? For years?!

 

The notion horrified him that he needed a long time to calm himself down, because he just got another reason to make this work and he swore, as a single tear cascaded down his cheek, that he would make their death especially slow and painful.

 

-

 

After another teeth-grinding conference that— Yes, Tony is still in a coma. No, we don’t know where the rest of the avengers are. If you once again said that Tony is lucky, then in five seconds you would be very lucky too—he expected the hunched form of Doctor Banner in the hospital room, after all Pepper never made a mistake.

 

Eyes heavy with guilt and bones hunched with the burden of the world, with his voice cracking around the edge, begging for something to help Tony, to lift his own guilt, that he was sorry, that he would do anything, anything.

 

James only wheeled himself closer to the broken man, one hand holding the slumped shoulder until the doctor held his gaze, begging—

 

“But it’s already too late”

 

As his other hand pushed in the needle that would make the man lose consciousness.

 

-

 

The Hulk made a very good baseline, he noted, if he couldn’t resist the drug, then nobody else could.

 

He made a humming sound as he observed the green, raging, monster encased in the room especially created to contain him, sprayed with heavier dose of the drugs he made each time it didn’t produce the expected result.

 

Well, he had always been a patient man.

                                        

-

 

He received a package for Tony, he took one look at the flip phone and promptly made the packet a source of fire for DUM-E to roast his marshmallows.

 

-

 

After finally succeeding in making even the giant fell asleep, he tinkered a little bit more for a version to be used for his revenge.

 

He smiled, but it was cold and sharp, his former self couldn’t be seen.

 

A stealth armor was beside him, ready to do as commanded.

 

-

 

The start of the plan had officially started, as he absently took in the flood of people coming in for another UN conference of the matter with the Accords and shook hands with whoever was considered important.

 

But the man he had been waiting for hadn’t come y—Oh there he was.

 

“Your Highness,” he gave the man a (fake) polite smile, his handshake firm, he may have been in a wheelchair and the man looked very intimidating, especially with the two women behind his back, drilling holes into him with their eyes.

 

The man, however, just nodded and gave a polite smile in return. “How is Mister Stark’s condition?”

 

James tensed, but forced himself to relax, reminding himself it was not a threat and just a genuine question. Still he couldn’t help the smile that looked even more forced than it was before, “He’s recovering well.”

 

If the other man realized anything odd about his tense and clipped answer, he didn’t show it or inquire any further. “Come, it’s about to start.”

 

He relaxed minutely and nodded.

 

Pity, if the circumstances were different he thought they would have gotten along. He watched unblinkingly as War Machine embedded itself to him and his vision was flooded with fire.

 

-

 

“The attack on UN conference by unidentified robot had taken the life of—“

 

He switched off the TV, now he just needed to wait for Pepper.

 

-

 

Before he landed in Wakanda, he injected himself with the antidote and took a calming breath.

 

It’s the big day, he needed to control his rage and act like his former self.

 

He can do this.

 

The hatch opened with the sound of gunfire and explosions, then came barreling to the jet is the familiar forms of the supposed heroes. He felt proud himself that he didn’t smile or cackle sinisterly like he wanted to, because it was all so easy, too easy.

 

After the target had all come in and the hatchet was closed, he let the quinjet go onto auto-pilot, before he came face-to-face with his soon-to-be victims.

 

“Welcome back, Cap,” he nodded to the blonde and reminded with glee that he had melted the abomination of a shield back at the compound.

 

Rogers made his way to James and intended to shake hands with the man, even though his body felt like lead with each second.

 

James didn’t take his hand and just put on a gas mask, but his muddled brain couldn’t understand why James did it before his body fell like a broken doll that he realized with a horror of what was happening. When he struggled to look behind to check the condition of his teammates, he was proven true by the prone forms of his comrades, Bucky!, but he couldn’t do anything as his body decided that his head was too heavy, just as he was about to lose his consciousness for good he heard something vaguely—

 

“I mean, welcome to hell, Cap.”

 

-

 

It had been three months since Tony was brought in, his plan had been going smoothly and he just needed to wait for Tony to wake up, but he wasn’t showing any sign of waking up and James felt heavy from guilt for Tony that he spilled everything to Tony’s still sleeping form.

 

About how he had been planning from the palladium poisoning, how he had made a drug that made people lose their memories for their whole life, how he had used the Hulk as a test subject, how FRIDAY and Vision had hacked to every technology in existence to start World War III, how he had used the Iron Legion to make the survivors forget their whole life, because it’s easier to control them when they’re confused.

 

Of how Pepper efficiently juggled the paperwork for the accords and seduced Shuri, the sister of T’Challa, by taking advantage of her jealousy and ambition to be the Black Panther and the ruler of Wakanda in exchange for the group of fugitives.

 

How he had made the fugitives, with the exception of Wanda, to be thrown in the middle of nowhere with their memories intact and labeled as criminals throughout the world, because nothing hurts more than their loved one not remembering them and scared of them because they’re highly dangerous criminals.

 

How he had made Wanda worn the collar that he got from RAFT and made her suffer like she deserved and because he knew Tony wouldn’t do it, he killed her a week ago.

 

How he had the world served in silver platter for Tony, so can Tony please, just please, wake up.

 

Then, and only then, he felt the stroking of calloused hands to his cheek where tears cascaded down without any care.

 

He slowly looked up to tired eyes, but soft around the edge that he had missed for the past three months so much and his tears came flooding down even more.

 

He hurriedly gave Tony a glass of water and only after that, he tensed as he remembered all his sins and the despicable things he had done for the past months.

 

Tony, beautiful and kind Tony, just smiled, playful and mischievous. “Honey bear, if you give me the world, how can I top that? Do you expect me to conquer Asgards?” He rasped, voice still cracking around the edge from disuse.

 

He couldn’t help the unbidden laugh that came out of his mouth, it might sound maniacal and it may have cracked around the edge at the end— because of course, Tony would say that in this fucked up situation— but it was the first genuine laugh he had had for a very long time.

 

“You… keep being you, Tones.”

 

He didn’t regret what he had done for the past months, because everything that matters is here and nothing else matters.

 

Nothing, as he gripped Tony’s hand as if it was his lifeline.

 

 (He felt less like 'James' again and more like 'Rhodey')