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Did you even wash your tears? ‘Cause mine have been dryin’ for days

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Rhodey is worried, as much as he tries to hide it. We’ve known each other for years, and that particular frown meant Tony was the cause of it. What was worse, it was paired with The Stance™ (though a different form of it since he was now in a wheel chair), his hand raised to cover his mouth and his body expanding to appear bigger than it was, as if to comfort him, or more appropriately protect him.

Rhodey wasn’t the only one worrying and fretting about him, perhaps the least subtle in his actions, more open, more questioning, a silent rage behind the calm demeanour (not angry at Tony, never angry at Tony even though Tony let that happen to him, to his legs) – he had always been that way and at any other time, any other situation, Tony would have been appreciative of it, would have drawn him close and wrapped his arms around him, and Rhodey would have engulfed him and kissed the top of his head like he always did.

Now though, he just wanted to sleep, to numb himself and sleep until he felt better, even if he didn’t deserve to feel better, not when Rhodey couldn’t walk, might never walk again thanks to him and the baby they hastily took out of him was somewhere in the very hospital he was lying in, fighting for their life. The nurses had told him it was a girl, which led to them sedating him after an incredible laughing fight which immediately led to a crying fit. At 46 years old, you shouldn’t be having kids, let alone preemies, despite having Jamie not 2 years ago, that had been under extreme medical supervision and he had at least known he was pregnant. This baby though, he had already ruined their life, bringing them into a world where their sire had smashed a vibranium shield in his chest and had promptly skipped off into the sunset with their grandmother’s killer. But then again Barnes didn’t kill Howard or Maria, the Winter Soldier did but that didn’t change the fact that every time Tony closed his eyes he saw Barnes’ hands and eyes and body murdering his mom. Boy, he should not be thinking about this right now.

It didn’t seem like he was getting out of here anytime soon, what with the post-partum hemorrhaging that’s been lasting the past two weeks and not to mention the impossibility of surviving without all these dumb machines. He wished by some miracle the world would just quiet down until he felt better, strong enough to deal with it. That the beeping of the machines would just stop (then again that would mean he was dead, but whatever, in a hopefully not-dead kind of way) and that all these doctors and nurses and specialists coming in and out of the room, checking vitals, speaking at him, about him like he wasn’t even a person, would just quiet down and leave, like Steve had. Given, they wouldn’t be leaving him in an abandoned Hydra bunker, but maybe before they left, they could drop one of the heavier machines being rolled around he place on his chest, but leave a way for him to survive and feel every aching second of his body going into distress and shutting down, with no sign of help coming, they could get the feel of it right. God, he definitely shouldn’t be thinking about any of that, the doctors said as much, and he’d rather not have them bring in the shrinks like they’ve been threatening to do. For that he was at least grateful, no one was breathing down his neck to speak about everything that happened, to share and to expose himself bare to the world. Stark men are made of iron, but so were the women, and god help him, his kid would survive. Tiny as she – they, she could decide who she wanted to be just as much as he had – was, the nurses had said the fluid in her lungs were drained and that they were keeping a close eye on her and that someone would be by soon to discuss their options going forward. Soon as he could, he had had the best surgeons and specialists flown in to care for them, strong as they were, they needed help and no matter how much iron ran in your DNA, everyone needs a little help weak heart such as that and fluid in the lungs. The both of them needed to get stronger so that they could be treated in the US, not that he wasn’t thankful to his Siberian carers but the first few days were terrifying, how they had kept him alive was still a mystery, but stealing floor space and resources from the locals, people in dire need of help, wasn’t something that Tony wanted to continue doing, he didn’t need more people suffering because of him. Rhodey and the kid should be the last, they deserved more than him but before they left, before they realised he was no good like everyone else seemed to do, he would make their lives better. Give them what they need and give them a fighting chance. Already, his mind was filled with the blueprints of an exoskeleton that could assist Rhodey, he just needed to find a way to make it work with brainwaves, he wanted it to be and to feel as natural as possible, and Rhodey deserved that at least. Tony would make sure the physio went well and gave him the best chance of walking again, and if he couldn’t he’d at least have something to fall back onto. God, Rhodey falling – he should have caught him, should have unarmed Sam himself to make sure the wings couldn’t be used against them but he didn’t want his teammates (ex-teammates, but was Tony ever a teammate in their eyes?) to feel like he was approaching with hostility. He had just wanted them to listen, but as always, Captain America’s word would always trump Stark’s, I mean he was just playing hero after all and Rogers was righteousness incarnate in everybody’s eyes. If only they knew what happened in that bunker, surely the government would be tripping over their feet to further distance from Rogers and his little band of lap dogs. No more, he didn’t need to think of them and their backstabbing and secrets. He needed to figure out an internal prosthetic, a valid and working substitute for his kid’s weak heart. He might not have done anything to fix his heart but his baby deserved to live, to grow up and be even more amazing than they already were, and if they wanted to do that away from Tony, from his poison and selfishness and ego (honestly, fuck Natasha and Fury and every other rat bastard who had ever used that as ammunition against him), Tony would let them and just be grateful that they were alive and well and safe, like Pete, and Harley, and Jamie are. For now, modern medicine would have to step in and do what they can until they can get a donor or Tony can come up with something, he didn’t want them living in pain, they didn’t deserve that and maybe the odds weren’t so great for them having a transplant so soon, but it was possible. He’d let them heal and grow a bit stronger before he had them moved and once he was back in the lab he could come up with something, maybe Helen would help him out and see if they cradle could be upgraded to help beyond tissue repair, if only for the baby’s sake, and he definitely needed to name them. Can’t be calling the kid kid for the rest of their life.

Pete had chosen his own name when he had started transitioning, and damn if Tony hadn’t heard a more perfect name than Peter Stark, May had been a big help and as a nurse, gave Peter and Tony lessons on safe binding and the number of a good doctor that could help with T-shots (Tony had been happy he could share this journey with Pete and his own experience, despite how horrible it was but being able to say “this body is not my own” was the most freeing thing Tony had experienced in his 18 years of life). Tony hadn’t fully transitioned, had always felt like he was tip-toeing around in his own skin and couldn’t make that decision, not with Howard having a say about it and later Obie, who had said that it wasn’t the right time after his parent’s death (murder) and taking over the company, and then Afghanistan and the arc happened and any type of invasive surgery was off the table for him. When he had started doing better and the therapy had finally started working in his favour he hadn’t gotten the surgeries, not after Steve had mentioned having kids, with that look in his eyes were Tony became the centre of his universe, the natural way, of course. They had tried, and yes, maybe Tony should have done more introspection and taken his own feelings into account before jumping head first and trying to make Rogers happy, but Peter, perfect and healthy and strong, with a heart that beat stronger than anyone else’s Tony had ever heard, was born. He’d stopped getting his T-shots during the pregnancy, and perhaps had never felt worse in is life, what with the media instantly jumping and doing I-told-you-so pieces that Tony Stark had never been a man and that “she” was just confused (whether it was “her” mother’s liberal nature or something picked up at MIT, ”she” was just playing around in men’s clothes), I mean, why else would a real man lay down and take it like that. They had a lot to say about him and Steve was spared the media flogging, after all they didn’t know that Tony and Steve were together because what would anyone say if they knew dear old spangled pants was willingly jumping into bed with Tony. Harley, had been a slip up, but a wonderful one and Tony had just not cared about what anyone had to say, he didn’t care that people were still not using his pronouns or that religious groups were protesting against his company and his products, because surely he was the devil incarnate for choosing to “confuse” his kids like this. Harley had always been, well, Harley and Tony had always left the door open for him to choose (plus Steve named him and Tony should have really kicked his ass for naming his child after a damn motorcycle but he had been heavily sedated then and Steve had been smiling so brilliantly at him, like he was something amazing and important, though that could never be true, definitely not now and of course not before). Jamie had been the perfect gender neutral name honoring the shared name of his and Rogers’ best friends (despite Steve still not quite grasping why they had needed to raise their kids in a gender neutral environment, because a boy was a boy and a girl was a girl, Tony - we’ll just confuse them with all this talk of no gender, and hadn’t that hurt. Rogers had no problem sticking it in any one of Tony’s holes and having him, a man birth his children but seemed to share that same attitude Howard had until Pete had come to them at dinner and said that he was a boy. Steve had had a little pinched smile and had excused himself, naturally Pete had taken that as rejection and had burst into tears and it had taken Tony hours to calm him down and get him to bed. After making sure all the kids were okay and in bed, he had found Steve in their bedroom with a laptop open and a frown between his brows. Tony knew (hoped) that Steve’s reaction was just one of shock and he hadn’t meant anything by it, but he was damn well going to apologise to Peter for hurting him, even if unintentionally. “I just- it doesn’t make any sense to me, Tony. You know how I was raised and back then, the only men dressing in women’s clothes were comedians or actors. J is getting me up to speed with understanding all of this though, and I’m sorry I didn’t do it sooner, I should have done more to understand you and how you felt, I know it’s been tough on you but I swear, I’ve never seen you as anything but a man, and I’ll do right by him,” he had rushed out with that kicked look he got when he didn’t do right by one of the kids (in his mind, because the kids definitely worshipped the ground he walked on, yes he was Captain America, but he was also Pops, the guy who tucked them in at night and told them he loved them every chance he got). Steve was nothing but supportive of Peter’s choice and had taken him for his first T-shot so that he could understand what his son was going through and what procedures he’d need. The amount of NDAs signed throughout Ton’s life, especially following his first pregnancy, was laughable but necessary, neither of them wanted to put a bigger target on their heads by proclaiming to the world, hey, Captain America has three bastard children through an unholy union with Tony Stark, of all people, because having super soldier DNA was definitely a beacon for any super-secret evil people with lairs in remote locations and big shiny machines that make you talk, and even now the lawyers were ensuring the hospital’s silence. How did thinking of baby names go down this rabbit role and end with him thinking of Steve, again. Rogers didn’t deserve to even be a split-second thought, it would take time, but one day Tony would burn any and all memory of him out of his head.

Rhodey is still quiet and searching him with his eyes, a calming presence for his not-so-great thoughts. Apparently Mama Rhodes had wanted to come out here but her doctor had advised her against flying, and hey, what about Roberta? It was a strong name and names had power after all, and all he wanted was for her to be strong, and to survive (and in some small part of him, a Rhodes instead of a Rogers). Perhaps Roberta wasn’t gender neutral but they could always have it changed, Roberta Rhodes was strong and fierce, hard where Maria was soft and just as loving as she was. Pepper and Hope were the perfect mix of the two of them and Tony thanked every deity for the amazing women in his life. Perhaps something to honour them all, or maybe saying fuck it and naming them after Happy or Jarvis or Anna. Peggy was too painful to think of, because with thoughts of her came thoughts of Steve and maybe he shouldn’t have taken a man, who in another life would have been his godfather and married to his aunt, for a life partner.

And there they were again, thoughts of Steve (that rat bastard).

James Rhodes had never believed in distracting Tony from his problems, he always believed in taking them head on and dealing with them so that they couldn’t come back to bite either of them in the ass (in the bad way, Tony had always purred). Looking at Tony now though, body beaten and broken, with a million and one machines attached to his body keeping him alive, and no way of knowing what happened (he could guess, Vision brought the arm and the shield back after getting Tony to the hospital and thoughts of Rogers hadn’t been met with anything but rage and the need to go out there and find him, legs or no legs, and make him hurt so that he felt even a smidgen of what Tony must be feeling – and boy did he feel better thinking about the legs than he did a week ago, his therapist would be proud), Rhodey wanted nothing more than to make him feel better, to take away that pained look in his eye and the scrunch in his nose that meant he was over thinking everything and probably finding ways to blame himself for everything that had happened. Not for the first time, Jim wished he could help Tony, take some of the burden and worries off his shoulders, and spare him this world of pain that the last few weeks, years, had turned into. The baby would survive, she was Tony’s after all, and Jim willed it so. Losing the baby would just be another thing to destroy Tony, and the man was suffering through Atlas’ burden already.

He had gone to see her and she was just as beat up as her dad, the sight of all those tubes and machines broke his heart beyond explanation, and, with the nurses giving him the go ahead to hold her (she was tiny), he had teared up looking at the oxygen mask covering half her face. She hadn’t been given the best lot in life, but come hell or high water, she would make it, stubborn as she was. His father’s ring had slipped around her wrist like the bangles Ms Jones had always worn to church, clanging in tune with the band to send praises and hallelujahs to heaven. Rhodey had never known if he had ever truly believed in God, had spent years running from him and hiding from him - he had thought if he didn’t pray, didn’t say his name, God would simply not have been able to find him, that he would be safe from the all-seeing eye in the sky that wiped out all of humanity for disobedience and had men almost killing their sons to prove their loyalty. But, in that moment cradling the little one closer to his chest, taking calmer breathes to help her heart beat match his, and he should really stop calling them her, Tony would slap him with his research papers of the benefits of gender neutral terms and how they positively affect kids in later life, he can’t help but send a tiny silent prayer upwards, to whoever was listening, whoever would help, to help them through this and make them better. He had had several holy men come by to pray for them, the Imam leaving him with an “Inshaallah the baby will grow strong in body and heart, just wait, Allah helps all” and James had been holding onto those words for days now. Thankfully, they had been getting better, their everyday chats during the Kangaroo sessions made her weak heart a little stronger as the days passed and her lungs had been drained with success. This would be the perfect time for Thor to come back from wherever he had disappeared to, and give them a birthing blessing as he had done with Jamie’s birth. Deities and aliens, this little one already had him wrapped around their finger and praying to anyone for help, but he knew they would make it and grow to be tough, a Rhodes in everything but name (and genetics) through and through. They had been eager to enter the world but now had to regain their strength to face another day.

Both Tony and the baby needed to rest and heal. If it meant Rhodey had to step up and deal with everything else, the questions from Ross and the media as to where Tony was, and how the actual hell Rogers had broken his band of misfits out of the Raft (Tony didn’t know about that one yet and Jim would keep it that way for as long as he could, all news stations were barred from being played on the television in the corner and Tony had been too out of it to protest), he would. Vision had taken the kids to Malibu, along with Barton’s wife Laura and their kids (how he had ended up with a saint like that was beyond Rhodes) to keep them safe and away from anyone getting bright ideas to strike with all the confusion going on. Pete and Harley might be missing school for a while but Jim had made sure to explain the situation and have them do the work online. His family would heal, and whether that took months or years, he would be the wall that they could count on to keep them safe and sheltered from the world.