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Pepper is giving him looks and yeah he knows. He doesn’t really like Tony spending any kind of time with Tiberius Stone but its not really like he can tell the guy to stop it, that’s not his place. Tony’s grown enough to make his own decisions. Probably a little too grown given that he’s only eighteen but likes to pretend like he’s ten years older than that. Rhodey thinks it makes him feel more at home in spaces where everyone is older than him but most of the people they’re in class with are older than Rhodey too and he doesn’t really feel the need to act older than twenty one. But then his father hadn’t been a piece of shit who liked to abuse him for acting anything less than perfect either so maybe that’s why.

He thinks maybe that’s why Tony likes Tiberius to begin with, because he’s looking for validation and Ty’s plenty happy to give it to him, provided Tony does what he wants. There’s a million and one red flags in how he acts with Tony but Tony doesn’t much listen when Rhodey tells him about it and Pepper has her own methods of dealing with him that mostly involve a lot of convincing him her ideas are his ideas and then once he’s done what she wants reconvening him they were her ideas the whole time. Which, to be fair, they were but that’s more work than Rhodey’s willing to put in. He’s a lot more straight forward than Pepper and he likes things that way. The only thing he does put effort into is hiding the way he feels about Tony. Its not that he doesn’t want to tell him, but Tony has never really been single and if he is Rhodey swears its never for more than a day. So he keeps it to himself.

“Have I ever told you that I hate Ty?” she says and Rhodey raises an eyebrow.

“No you haven’t. Why mention it now?” he asks.

Pepper looks back over to Tony and Ty, “because that isn’t going to end well and you might need my backup in pointing out how much of a skeezy slime bag Ty is. It’s easier if you have immediate examples. Happy hates him too.”

Happy Rhodey knew about because he’s not shy in giving Ty looks but Pepper’s better at hiding it. “What makes you think it’ll go wrong now?” he asks. They’ve been with, and Rhodey uses the term loosely, each other for months now and things have been steady. Its not a good relationship by any means, but its not as bad as it could be.

Or at least that’s what he thought, but the look on Pepper’s face says otherwise. “He tells me things he doesn’t tell you, and even if he didn’t Ty doesn’t act the same around you as he does me. He views you as a threat, I’m just a woman.”

Rhodey snorts because that’s a massive misread of Pepper but okay. He has bigger concerns though. “And you haven’t said anything? To Tony, I mean.”

She shakes his head, “he doesn’t do anything until he’s good and ready to do it, you know that. But things have been getting worse and I don’t know what that looks like because he’s stopped talking to me. He hasn’t stopped talking to you though, which I think is weird.”

Its not, but Rhodey happens to have more insight into why than she does. “I’d be suspicious if he stopped talking to me in a way you wouldn’t be. Don’t look at me like that, you’re here talking to me, not confronting Ty like I would. And Tony knows it too. Isolation only works when your friends aren’t a pain in the ass.”

“Isolation? That shouldn’t even be work, Tony hates people as much as he likes spending time with them,” she points out.

Yeah, Tony the contradictory extrovert. He likes being social, but hates being around people. Symptom of a life in the limelight- Tony wants the social aspect without the headlines and never has managed to find that balance. “Isolation is basically abuse 101- you need to make sure there’s no way out otherwise you don’t get full control over a person. And yes, Tony’s done half that work for Ty but we aren’t nearly as hard to shake.”

Pepper gives Tony a worried look but its fine, Rhodey knows its fine because if its not some shit is going to happen and Ty’s not going to like it much. “Just keep an eye on him,” Pepper tells him. He will, partially because he’s worried about Tony, but also because Pepper’s got a good sense for these things. She always seems to sense when something is about to go wrong in Tony’s life before the rest of them. Rhodey doesn’t know how she does it and he kind of wishes he had that skill for himself. It would be easier, he thinks, to help Tony if he knew when Tony needed the help.

*

Yeah, seeing Tony fawning over fucking Tiberius in his lap kind of made Rhodey want to punch stuff but he leaves it. He hates Ty, and he wants to get rid of him, but he’s not going to do it in a way that will be sure to make Tony act a fool and try and get rid of him out of some misplaced sense of needing to rebel from whatever norm he perceives. Tony has never liked rules, spends as much of his time breaking them or bending them as he can, so Rhodey has gone out of his way to make sure Tiberius isn’t a rule. No sense in appealing to Tony’s sense of rebellion, that’s not going to do anyone any good, least of all Tony.

But he does make sure to check on Tony once everyone leaves mostly out of habit. He’s not sure when he developed the habit of stopping by his room every once and awhile to listen in but he’s been at it for awhile. Most of the time he can hear Tony drawing, or typing, or sometimes working on an actual design though Rhodey has mostly trained him into the habit of working on anything metal in the lab. Today though he doesn’t hear much but the rustling of bedsheets and he wrinkles his nose. He’s not exactly content to stick around and listen to whatever comes next but he hears a soft noise that he’s pretty sure came from Tony so he pauses for a moment.

The continued rustle of bedsheets almost drives him away again but as he’s moving back he hears Tony speak. “Wait, Ty, no-” Tony starts and maybe he has more to say, Rhodey has no idea because that’s all he needs to burst in. He doesn’t recall being able to move that fast, and he definitely doesn’t recall having the strength to grab someone by the scruff of their neck and toss them off a bed but that’s what he does.

Its not until Ty lands on his ass that it occurs to Rhodey that there’s a million things that could have led to Tony saying those specific words in that combination that didn’t equal anything bad per se. Its the fact that Tony scrambles off the bed and behind Rhodey, clinging to the back of his shirt that confirms his suspicions though and Rhodey sees red. “You’ve got five seconds or less to get the fuck out of my sight or this’ll go from assault to homicide,” Rhodey tells Ty and his tone must be something else because he’s never seen anyone that pale, not even Loki and his skin tone is the palest Rhodey has ever seen.

Ty does scramble out though, Rhodey’s eyes on him the whole way out. Pepper walks by a few moments later, giving Rhodey a nod as she moves off in the same direction Ty had. He doesn’t pay attention to whether or not he hears the door open and close as he turns to Tony. His eyes are wide and he looks shaken and a little pale but mostly okay. “Damn Rhodey,” he murmurs, “you’re scary when you’re mad.”

Rhodey doesn’t want Tony to be afraid of him though so he sighs, forcing himself to relax some for Tony’s benefit. Doesn’t seem to do much. “Tony,” he says softly, “are you okay?”

Tony has never liked that question, but today he says nothing about it as he presses himself into Rhodey’s chest, hugging him tightly. Rhodey circles his arms around Tony too, trying his best to convey how much he cares about him into the action but he’s pretty sure he fails.

*

Rhodey can’t sleep but Tony did insist he was fine even though Rhodey knows he’s not. He can’t make Tony do anything though so he leaves him be and now all he has is staring at the ceiling until he either falls asleep or his alarm goes off for class tomorrow. He’s almost grateful when his door opens and he expects to find Pepper there but he finds Tony instead, looking overly shy and extra small on account of wearing Rhodey’s MIT sweater. Its large on him so on Tony its huge because he’s so damn short.

“Can I sleep in here?” he asks in a small voice and that hurts, really. Rhodey extends an arm in a silent okay and Tony closes the door. He makes his way over to Rhodey’s bed fast, crawling into it and curling up next to him with his head on Rhodey’s chest. Rhodey curls an arm around him and holds him tightly, half afraid he’ll run off and do who knows what. Its a ridiculous concern but he can’t help but feel like maybe Tony will ignore all of this happened tomorrow because he’s a little too used to letting bad behavior go. He’s had a lifetime of practice with Howard.

“Thanks,” Tony murmurs some time later and Rhodey’s arm tightens around him for a moment.

“Nothing to thank me for, Tones. Its nothing.” He wants to say a whole lot more than that but he doesn’t, not right now. Tony has bigger problems to consider right now so he doesn’t need Rhodey’s mess of feelings.

“It is to me,” Tony says almost so low that Rhodey nearly misses it but he doesn’t. He doesn’t respond though, letting Tony have his private moment.

They lay like that for awhile, Tony curled up in his arms while Rhodey stares at the ceiling, sleep still evading him. He’s trying to find a good way to bring up maybe never speaking to Ty again when Tony shifts, pressing his face into Rhodey’s neck and nosing at it a little. He frowns, confused for a moment until he carefully presses a kiss to Rhodey’s neck, soft and slow and he’s probably thought about this exact situation enough to be embarrassing. Except now its happening and for the worst of reasons.

Rhodey pulls away a little, titling Tony’s head up before he can give him a sad, hurt look and he kisses him softly. That’s something he’s wanted to do for forever too and yeah, maybe his reasons aren’t exactly great here either but he knows Tony won’t take outright rejection well. So he kisses him, gives him at least a little of the attention he wants so he doesn’t feel put out and react badly. “You don’t need to do that, Tony. Just be here, okay? Just let me feel you here,” Rhodey tells him, shifting a little so Tony’s a bit closer to him. Tony relaxes some at least and settles back into his side, head resting on Rhodey’s shoulder.

He can feel Tony smile and Rhodey does too, genuinely happy that Tony is here even if he wishes it was under better circumstances.

*

Tony absolutely is not a morning person assuming he fell asleep at all the night before, so Rhodey’s not surprised that he’s up before Tony. He has a long morning routine anyway and Tony also hates anything to do with jogging and exercise so Rhodey’s happy to go himself. He is, however, a little surprised to find that Tony’s awake by the time he gets out of the bathroom post shower.

He walks over and wraps his arms around Rhodey’s waist, “hey,” he murmurs. Rhodey smiles and hugs Tony back.

“Hey. You’re up early,” he notes and Tony snorts.

“You know I don’t sleep well.” He pulls away and Rhodey knows he’s got more to say but he keeps quiet for now so he pulls himself out of Tony’s grasp and goes to his closet to find a shirt. Tony stands there awkwardly for a few moments before wandering over and leaning against the door frame. “You kissed me last night,” he says and Rhodey can hear the question in there but he doesn’t know what Tony is asking.

“Yeah, I did,” he says, sparing Tony a glance. He looks nervous, a little confused.

“You didn't need to,” he murmurs and there it is. So he thinks Rhodey has some ulterior motive which, technically he did, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to kiss Tony.

“I don’t do anything I don’t want to Tones, you know that,” he says in way of an explanation.

Tony steps forward and wraps his arms around him again and Rhodey curls an arm around his waist. “Yes you do, you get into all sorts of trouble you wouldn’t if it wasn’t for me,” he points out.

“None that I don’t really want to be in and even if that was true I’ve wanted to kiss you for years.” He figures the confession might do something to abate Tony’s anxiety and also its something of a relief to get off his chest.

Tony looks surprised by that and Rhodey likes to think he shouldn’t, but Tony’s better at recognizing interest in the form of lust, not love. Leads him into a lot of trouble. “Why haven’t you said anything?” he asks and Rhodey shrugs.

“You’re never single and I never really felt the need to drag you into my shit.” And he didn't know how Tony would react. He’s a naturally touchy person, given the chance he’ll spend most of his time stuck to someone so his touchy nature isn’t really much to go by. If Pepper didn’t shake him off so much he’d do the same with her. But Pepper likes space and also Tony is terrible for getting in the way and if nothing else Pepper is single minded in her focus, even when Tony’s trying desperately to get her to pay more attention to him than her text books. Its kind of funny to watch until Tony gets bored of tormenting her and goes to torment him for awhile. Still, point is that Tony is by nature a cuddly guy so any time he spends like that with Rhodey doesn’t really indicate interest.

“Then why say something now?” Tony asks, always the over thinker.

“Because you’ll keep harassing me until you get an answer you’ve decided is good enough. Might as well cut the twenty minute inquisition and tell you the truth.” Tony’s a nosey little bastard, and curious too. In another life he probably would have been a great journalist. Or just his regular pain in the ass self.

“You’ve really wanted to kiss me for years?” he asks, smiling. His eyes are bright, teasing, and its nice to see.

Rhodey nods, “technically you were my first actual crush,” he tells him. He didn’t really get it then mostly because people don’t talk about men being attracted to men and until Tony pretty shamelessly spent time pursuing them Rhodey never really considered the possibility in earnest. Once it occurred to him though he never really stopped thinking about Tony.

“I thought your first crush was Carol,” he says and Rhodey lets out a long sigh.

“One time, one time I have a minor interest in a lesbian and no one lets me live it down. And it was only a minor interest because... well, no one ever really did live up to the bar you set.” Tony’s a tough act to live up to and if Rhodey’s honest he’s not sure he ever let anyone try. Maybe there’s someone that’s better for him, he probably won’t ever know because he’s only really had eyes for Tony.

“Really? Why?” Tony asks, baffled.

Yeah, Rhodey really wished he didn’t do that but he’s met Howard, he knows what Tony is used to. Somewhere along the way he lost all value in himself and Rhodey hates Howard for that, really. He’s never really been one to hate much, its not in his nature, but people who treat Tony like shit make his blood boil. “Because Tony, you’re smart- I love watching the way you work through problems, the way you invent. And you’re compassionate, more than you give yourself credit for. And you’re funny even if you’re also a right pain in the ass, and you might be impulsive as hell but I love your curiosity. You’re easy to love,” he says, shrugging.

He wished that Tony didn’t look so suspicious at that, like Rhodey is lying to him or something but Tony doesn’t accept love as easy as he accept bad treatment. Rhodey knows this about him and he’s long accepted that he’d have to work hard to convince Tony he cares. He’s fine with that.

“What, do my good looks not appeal?” he asks and Rhodey resists the urge to roll his eyes.

Yeah, everyone with functioning eyes knows that Tony is hot but that doesn’t do much for Rhodey. Or anyone else if they’re honest about it. He’s never met a person who hasn’t had a moment where they thought someone was attractive until they opened their mouth and they decided maybe they weren’t worth it. But Tony’s looks are never what appealed most to him. “Tony, you’re probably the most attractive person I’ve ever met but I want you, not the package you come in. That’s a nice bonus though, I’ve probably spent too much time staring at your ass. Made a mathematical equation for the curve of it once and that’s weird, I don’t know why I said that.”

Thankfully Tony finds that hilarious because he throws his head back and laughs.

*

Rhodey hands Maria a wrench and she takes it, giving Carol a worried look. She’s hanging out of the engine area of the plane looking ridiculous like that but she’s the one who knows this plane best so they’ve left her to it. Rhodey could probably fix the issue faster, he’s got a boosted intelligence on his side, but Carol has experience on hers. Also its kind of funny watching her dangle out of the plane. “You think she’ll fall out of that?” Maria asks and Rhodey shrugs.

“Probably, but she’s like a cat. She always lands on her feet,” he says and Maria snorts.

“Someone hasn’t been paying enough attention. Carol’s like a toddler, always landing on her ass. You okay up here?” Maria calls.

Carol shimmies around until her feet manage to find the ladder she used to get up there. “I’m good,” she says and Rhodey shakes his head.

“She says that like she isn’t committing like fifty health and safety violations not using the right equipment to get up there,” he says to Maria, who laughs.

“Carol will be Carol.” She shrugs and she’s not wrong. Carol reminds him a lot of Tony, all wild energy with no real direction to point it in even if she’s got obvious passions. For Tony its inventing, for Carol it's flying. Both of them are nuts but that happens to be their appeal.

“What? It was like a five second fix and if anyone tells Lawson I’ll kick your asses,” she says as she climbs down the ladder. Rhodey and Maria shake their heads and Maria goes off to deal with the Jeep she’d been working on.

“Hey, so what’s up with you and Tony?” Carol asks and Maria turns around and walks back over mid-way to her task.

“What?” she asks when they look at her. “I want the gossip from a reliable source. So far I’ve heard like five stories about how Rhodey tried to kill Tiberius Stone and if there’s a body don’t tell me, I want plausible deniability,” she tells him.

“I’ll help you hide the body. What?” Carol asks when Maria gives her a look. “He’s a total d-bag and Rhodey has done the world a service by strangling him to death.”

He rolls his eyes. “I didn’t kill anyone, but I did maybe threaten to kill him a little. But it was his fault anyway and-” he tells them the rest of the story, plus the extra bits about his maybe relationship with Tony. He’s not really sure what’s going on.

“First of all let me take back wanting plausible deniability, I’ll help you bury him too. Also, I’m pretty sure Tony just doesn’t know what to do with a decent relationship. He’s got awful taste in men,” Maria says and Carol snorts.

“Is there such thing as good taste in men?” she asks and Rhodey gives her an offended look.

“I’m right here,” he points out.

“You don’t count as men, you’ve risen above that,” Carol tells him, punching him in the arm.

“I don’t know if I should be offended or flattered,” he murmurs. 

“Flattered. Also, Maria is right. He’s dealt with a weird amount of shit. Give him time and he’ll probably stop wondering when the facade will drop,” she says and Rhodey frowns.

“What’s that even mean?” He’s known Tony for almost more time than he hasn’t, he knows Rhodey by now so why would he be waiting for the other shoe to drop?

Carol frowns, “what, you’ve never had that happen to you? You know, you know someone for awhile and they seem fine, but once you’re in a relationship they like... go Gremlin on you?”

What? No he hasn’t had that happen to him. “Uh, explain,” he says and Maria rolls her eyes.

“He’s a dude,” she says and Rhodey squints.

“Tony’s a dude,” he points out.

“Tony’s a dude who’s into dudes. Guess guys do it to each other too, but sometimes when meet men they seem fine. You agree on a lot, they seem pretty cool, and then when you date them its like all that was a ploy so they could get into a relationship with you and act like they own you. That person you liked in the beginning? Poof, disappeared,” Maria says, waving a hand around.

Carol nods, “or sometimes you don’t even get to the relationship stage. Sometimes they ask you out and then when you say no they lose their minds like you’ve just murdered their mother right in front of them,” she says, shaking her head. “Point is, Tony’s definitely had this issue. Its what Ty did,” she points out.

Now that she mentions it that kind of is what Ty did. Tony likes attention, provided its the kind he wants, and Ty gave him what he wanted until Tony spent the amount of time with him that he wanted. Then he started pulling back on that validation unless Tony did what he wanted and that’s a pattern?

“What, do women not do that?” he asks. He’s never run into any but that doesn’t mean much. Its not like he’s run into many men who do that either, or maybe he just hasn’t noticed the right patterns like Carol and Maria obviously have.

Maria shakes her head, “no they do, but not usually in the same ways men do. I run into less problems with women.”

“Yeah, me too. Most of the ones I run into that pull that are usually manipulative assholes, but Maria’s right. Its in different ways. They’re usually more subtle about the whole guilt trip do-what-I-want crap. Still, point is Tony has maybe run into too many people who seem fine until they aren’t so give him some time,” she says.

Rhodey sighs, but he long ago accepted that Tony is more work than most. So there’s a little more to it, he’ll deal with it.

*

Tony looks agitated when Rhodey gets home and he sighs. “What’s wrong, honey?” he asks, pet name coming out maybe a little too easily but Tony doesn’t notice as he walks over, flinging his arms around Rhodey’s waist.

He looks over to Pepper, who looks more annoyed than Tony. “Tiberius won’t stop calling,” she says and as if on cue the phone rings. Rhodey holds out his hand and Pepper hands the phone over to him easily. Tony looks worried but he shouldn’t be. Rhodey knows how to handle himself.

“What the hell do you want?” he snaps immediately and shit, he hopes its not someone else.

“Oh great, he’s got you to do his dirty work,” Ty says and Rhodey lets out a sharp laugh.

“Buddy, if he got me to do his dirty work you’d know it so how about you fuck way the hell off,” he snaps.

“Whatever Rhodey. Put Tony on the phone,” Ty tells him and he lets out another laugh.

Fuck no. Stop calling, don’t show up here, disappear from Tony’s life. He doesn’t need you here,” he says, rolling his eyes.

“He’s not that good at sucking dick, Rhodes. Hand the phone over,” Ty says and Rhodey swears to god he sees red.

“I don’t know shit about Tony’s skill at any kind of sex and I don’t need to to have enough basic respect for him to tell assholes like you to fuck off. And lets not act like you’re more moral than he is when you’re out here forcing people into it,” he snaps, hanging up before he says anything he regrets. Pepper raises an eyebrow and Rhodey knows that look. She didn’t like Ty before, but she’s about to ruin his life now. “Know that I endorse anything you do, and if I have to help you hide a body I will,” he tells her.

Pepper turns to Tony, who’s half turned in Rhodey’s arms to look over at Pepper. “Seems like you’ve missed a few important details in that relationship when you told me about the shitty things he does,” she says in an overly cheery tone. “Doesn't matter. I’ll take care of him,” she tells them, pleasant smile on her face and honestly Rhodey would feel bad for Ty if he didn’t think he was so deserving of Pepper’s wrath. Rhodey might be more willing to confront him, but Pepper is about to ruin his life and any possible way he could recover from it too.

Good.

*

Rhodey is attempting to do homework when Tony comes into his room, walking over and sitting in his lap. He shakes his head and wraps his arms around Tony’s waist. “You here to bug me?” he asks and Tony rolls his eyes.

“You love me,” he tells Rhodey, nose in the air.

Rhodey presses a kiss to Tony’s cheek, “yeah I do. But I assume you have a reason for being in here aside from being a bug.”

Tony makes an offended noise, acting more like himself than Rhodey has seen in a long time. Its nice to see. “Can’t I just want to spend time with you?” he asks innocently.

“Sure, but usually when you want that you show up with food,” he points out. “So what draws you in here?” he asks.

Tony shakes his head, leaning into Rhodey. “So uh. Stone International tanked today, something about unethical experiments with pharmaceuticals? Ty got arrested and newspapers indicate there’s more crimes to come,” he says.

“Pepper,” Rhodey says and Tony nods. “Ty’s a fucking idiot for deciding I was the bigger threat.” Pepper might not be the physical type, but damn if she isn’t terrifying nonetheless.

“Ty’s an idiot for a lot of things,” Tony says and yeah that’s true. “He used to tell me that you guys mostly only put up with me for my money,” he admits softly and he’s probably lucky he’s in jail because Rhodey is tempted to punch him. Or worse.

“That is in no way even remotely true,” he says, trying to temper his reaction some because that pisses him off.

Tony smiles a little, “I know. Kind of caught a clue when you listed off all the things you liked about me and my looks and money weren’t on the list. I know when you’re lying and you weren’t.”

“You could have asked before, I would have been happy to set that straight,” Rhodey tells him. “And I don’t just like those things about you Tones, I love you. I have for years, and I genuinely don’t think I could ever love anyone else like I love you. I don’t give a shit about your looks or money.”

When Tony wraps his arms around him Rhodey hugs him tight, hoping that the action conveys his love for Tony.

*

Maria and Carol look more annoyed that Rhodey has ever seen them. “Honey, I say this with love. But there is no amount of money that will make anyone put up with you, we do it out of love,” she says,

Tony gives her an offended look and turns to Rhodey, pouting. “Look baby, you know you can be a handful. Doesn’t mean we don’t love you for it,” he says.

“Am I the only one who thinks his antics are fun? Remember that Justin Hammer? That was great,” Carol says and Maria shakes her head.

“I don’t get you. I love you, but I don’t get you,” she says.

“Justin Hammer is the worst thing to happen to this planet, he’s worse than napalm!” Tony says viciously.

Pepper frowns. “I can think of at least five people in your life alone that are worse than Hammer,” Pepper tells him.

Tony sticks his nose in the air. “Nope, he’s the worst.”

Rhodey shakes his head. “Listen Tones, point is we all love you even if sometimes you get weirdly attached to hating people because they stole your mechanical pencil once.”

Maria frowns, eyebrows drawing together. “That’s what that was all about? We terrorized that guy for four straight months because he stole a pencil?”

“It was the best pencil I ever had! And he’s the worst! Every time I see his stupid rat face I go into a blind rage,” Tony says, emotion evident on his face and Rhodey sighs.

“I’ve stopped trying to make sense of the way his mind works because its fascinating regardless of the ‘how’ bit. Also, in his defense Hammer is actually horrible. Can’t stand the guy either,” he says, shaking his head.

Tony grins, puffing himself up. “See, Rhodey agrees with me!”