Tony Stark was not a good man. He knew this. He’d never say so out loud. He’d also never refute it and never had. But damn it, he tried. He tried to be better. Better than the man he was yesterday. It was never enough though. He always, always, came up short.
There was a loud pitched rush of air that made the billionaire twitch. A sigh. “Tony…” The way that his name was spoken with a resigned air of sadness made Stark’s stomach twist in a nauseating way that had nothing to do with the alcohol sloshing around in his otherwise empty stomach. He was both on high alert and outside himself.
Every nerve in his body seemed to be on fire, yet he couldn’t find the control to move his head up from the cool counter, as he felt the air shift. The other person in the room was moving forward. He could hear the sound of boots on the floor. Feel the vibrations of their steps on the hard tile floor. The waves of sound trembling through his barstool up his body and meeting the ripples that trailed up the bar colliding in the miniature quakes of his glass. The glass quietly clinking from the shivering ice. Loose from the oceans of bourbon… or maybe it was scotch… he hadn’t really been paying all that much attention. Desperate to drown out his thoughts and, uhg, feelings.
A solid hand fell on his shoulder and the warmth of it cracked the wall around his heart and made his eyes burn. He made a chest driven sound of greeting in response that lacked any real words. Refusing to move. Lest he give his vulnerabilities away. “You can’t keep doin’ this to yourself.” The words were heartfelt and Tony knew what they were saying was true. Or wanted them to be true.
If he didn’t do this… he would have no other way to escape. No other way to forget. No other way to punish himself. That’s what this was. Punishment. He deserved it. Because he had failed. Again.
“Why not?” He grunted in the indignation that he didn’t know when to punish himself. Pulling back from the bar. Finally moving his unless limbs- just not in the way he wanted to. Never in the way he wanted to. The sound of folding fabric and the sent of sweat and a recognizable bar soap solidified the presence beside him and he blinked. The world tilting slightly as he turned his head to squint at his longtime friend. “Rhodey…?”
The other man pointedly ignored the crack in Tony’s voice and grinned. “You just noticed?”
“N-no.” Tony rubbed his face. It wasn’t a total lie. He knew he recognized the voice and the feel of the man- it just hadn’t registered. “You’re not supposed to be here.”
“Where would I be Tony?"
“I don’t know.” He felt his shoulders drop as he tipped back his glass. Letting his tongue push back on the ball of ice as he tried to take in the last of the liquor. The cup clinked sharply on the countertop as his hand dropped. “Out soldier-ing somewhere. Being a man among men- fighting the good fight.” Somehow Tony was on his feet his arms flailing slightly.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Tony spun and the world tilted only slightly. Rhodey’s frown shaking in his blurred vision.
“Bad? Bad. No. Not bad.” Tony stumbled forward putting a finger to Rhodey’s chest. “You, my man are a good. Like- like…” Tony fumbled. He wasn’t sure what Rhodey was good like. He was Rhodey. He was always by his side even when Tony didn’t deserve it. Especially when Tony didn’t deserve it. He found the counter again somehow. His forehead resting against the cool surface. It was trying to lure him in- make him complacent. He shoved away from it. “Not today!” He felt himself mumble.
Hands were on his shoulders as the world tipped dangerously. “I was worried about you.”
Tony blinked up at the ceiling feeling the contorted confusion pulling strangely at the skin of his face. Then it hit him why he was confused. “You’s worried about me?”
There was a huff from his friend as he was guided away from the bar and Tony didn’t have the strength to fight it. “This is one hell of a relapse man.” Rhodey said softly. “Make’s me miss the good old days when you drank every night and slept with anything in a skirt.”
“Not!” Stark held up a finger in protest. “Anything- I had a list of do no- do not- don’t’s.”
“Like what?” There seemed to be some amused tone in Rhodey’s voice that settled something tense in Toney that he hadn’t realized was wound up.
Tony blinked at his friend forgetting why he was asking him anything. “Like what?” He asked in question. “Like, like what? What like? I don’t…”
Suddenly he felt himself being coaxed down. The soft plush of couch seeming to swallow him up. “Take it easy Tony. Honestly, I’m surprised you’re this coherent- and that you haven’t puked on my shoe’s yet.”
A bark of a laugh left Tony in a jump. The self-made noise catching him off guard. Blurred swirling memories of long ago where he’d done just that dancing in his head. “Good times…” He felt acid rise in his throat but somehow managed to swallow it down. “Still might.” He confessed.
Another sigh. “I’ll see if I can’t put something together for you to eat.” Plastic touched his knuckles and Tony became aware of the open water bottle being offered to him. “Drink some water for now- slowly. I’ll be right back.”
Tony took the bottle in shaking hands and managed to take a tentative sip. Rhodes squeezed his shoulder giving him a tight smile before he walked away. Tony slumped back into the cushions and winced as lights flashed in his memory’s eye. The sound of cutting wind and metal hitting metal, hitting stone, and flesh hitting flesh.
Tony jerked, water splashing from the open bottle. “I thought…”
“Hum?” Rhodes' voice came from the other room. “You say something, Tony?”
Something warm hit his hand and Tony frowned at the slightly off splash of water on his skin. “Ha-have you heard from-“ another warm drop. Water splashing from his hand. Tears.
God. He was crying now. A shuttering breath and tightly closed eyes do nothing to hold back the frustration.
Years of holding back. Not letting himself lose to his emotions. Not being able to lose to his emotions and now he couldn’t stop. This realization only shattered his composure and his hand flew to his mouth shaking as he tried to hold it all in. “Oh, gosh!” The sound of Rhodey moving around quickly reached his ears- something scraping against the floor. “If you’re going to puke- Tony?”
The sob that left him was like a damn breaking. Panicking at his loss of control Tony’s heart began to race in a painful manner and he was curling into himself his shortening breath being the only thing keeping him from screaming. They were gone. Gone. He was still here somehow but they were gone. He wasn’t breathing now.
“Shit.” Rhodey said. “Shit, shit, shit.”
“I failed.” Tony sobbed.
Rohdey was quiet for a long time and Tony slumped slightly. It was only a matter of time before his friend came to his senses and just left Tony to rot. “Tony.” The man’s voice was soft and careful. “There was nothing more you could have done.”
“Are you sure? Maybe we gave up too easy… maybe there was something…” Tony looked up and wished he hadn’t. The pained look of pity and loss on Rohdey's face was like hot iron in his chest.
Tony laughed even though he didn’t feel like laughing. “You know the last thing he said to me?”
“Fucking sorry.” He wiped the wetness from his eye’s feeling his chest heave as he stared blankly at his palm. “Like it was his fault he was dying. The dust. The dust was all over me and I wanted to wipe it off- I almost did- but it was all that was left of him.”
“Jesus…” Rohdey settled in the couches next to Tony with a heavy drop. His mechanical legs clicking just slightly. There was a dull silence between them. Where one man waited for some kind of deserved judgment and the other just tried to breathe. “You know I didn’t see anyone get dusted.” Rohdey said. “It was hard to understand why so many people were gone… even after everyone explained it to me… I just… couldn’t. It didn’t… doesn’t feel real… even now… after all this time.” He sighed. “Sometimes I feel like they’ll just… walk through the front door… like nothing ever happened… you know?”
Tony didn’t say anything. He felt a small bit of vitriol that wanted to snap at his friend and say ‘lucky you’ but it died before he could even muster the strength to consider it. Tony didn’t wonder if the others would walk through the front door. He knew they were dust.
“I just… feel like there was more we could have done.” Tony whispered.
Rhodey sighed. “I know. I know… but there wasn’t… there isn’t. We… we have to move on.”
And that was the crux of it wasn’t it… Tony snorted staring across the room at the melting ice in his glass. All was lost and still they had to find a way to move on. Tony just wasn’t sure he could.