He starts doing it as some kind of strange protest after Rhodey’s first deployment, when he’s home and settling into a new posting and they’ve fucked themselves silly. When Rhodey calls him out of the blue and verifies his address and social security number and rings off without an explanation, and it tugs at him long enough that Tony brings it up a few days later, running his fingers over Rhodey’s sweaty, still sticky abs.
“Why’d you need my address, honeybear?”
Tony pokes him, a little bit grumpy, and Rhodey flinches away, snatching at his finger with a reproachful look.
“Paperwork. Next of kin, benefits--that kind of thing.”
It makes Tony still in his arms, because he doesn’t like to think of that side of Rhodey’s work, the side that is dangerous and mortal .
Rhodey rolls over, pins him to their bed and kisses him soft, and says, “It’s SOP, peacock. Nothing to worry your pretty head over.”
Three days later, Marcus Green appears in his office, and outlines the rights and responsibilities and sheer, staggering wealth that will fall to Rhodey, should Tony die. It’s brusque and clinical--Marcus says, a verifying of facts.
Rhodey stares at him, nonplussed, and when he gets home, takes Tony to bed, where he proceeds to fuck him so thoroughly Tony is sobbing by the time they collapse into the sheets.
“You aren’t allowed to die, Tony Stark,” Rhodey says, fiercely, and Tony bites his clavicle, just to hear the pretty noise Rhodey makes.
“Neither are you,” he says.
It becomes a familiar rite--Rhodey updating his will and military paperwork like clockwork every two years, every new deployment and duty station is answered by the arrival of Marcus Green in his office, in his home, and Tony’s defiant, tear sheened gaze.
Pepper looks furious, the first time it happens after she sweeps into their lives, and Happy looks sick.
Harley calls, frantic, desperate to know Tony isn’t dying, and that becomes something of a rite of passage as well--easing Tony’s new people through Green’s first visit. Some--Natasha and Clint and Bruce--barely blink. Steve is adamant that Tony rewrite the will, that there’s something wrong with it--he and Rhodey almost come to blows over it before he backs down.
It’s part of living with Tony, part of being in his life, a sideeffect that he created and every time he’s faced with it, with Tony’s mortality and the future, it terrifies him.
It makes him hold Tony a little bit closer.
Peter is white face and trembling, curled in a corner of the couch when Rhodey comes in that evening.
It makes him pause and almost--almost--call Tony because he’s close to Peter, now, but he isn’t ever going to be close to him the way that Tony is. He didn’t recruit the kid and spend years training him, didn’t watch him die and rewrite the universe to bring him back .
That was Tony.
Still. His eyes are trained on a neat stack of papers on the table, and Rhode realizes, abruptly, what happened.
“Shit, Pete,” he murmurs. He moves to the couch, crouches next to the kid. “I’m so sorry, Pete.”
“When my parents died, May and Ben went to the will reading,” he says, still staring at the papers. “I didn’t even know they left anything, until I was sixteen. When Ben died--there wasn’t anything to leave, except his watch. The lawyer said there was life insurance, but I never really--I didn’t think about it. I never did.”
“Why would he do this?” Peter asks, softly. “I don’t want this. I don’t--I want him .”
Rhodey sighs. “I know, kid. I know. Tony--”
“He wants me to take over R&D,” Peter says, and his voice is sharp and hysterical, and it’s afraid too.
It’s always a shock, to find out just what kind of value Tony puts on you. He plays things so damn close to the chest--and this kid, this kid that is so like him, so damn good and impossibly brilliant--
“I know, kid,” Rhodey says, gently. “He told me that years ago.”
When Peter was still gone and Tony was the only one sure that the Snap could be reversed.
“I don’t wanna know this,” Peter says, hoarsely.
Because that--that is the crux of it.
There is a weight to the knowledge--to knowing that if anything happened to Tony--what that would mean.
It’s what triggered this tradition of theirs that began over thirty years ago--the weight of the knowledge that if Rhodey fell, Tony’s phone would ring.
“In our work, you have to know,” Rhodey says, softly. “But Peter--knowing means you keep him safe. You hold on to what is precious and you protect it.”
They have. Since Thanos and the battle that almost killed Tony--they have all kept him safe.
Marcus Green feels, for the first time in three decades, like a harbinger instead of a humorless joke.
“I don’t want it,” Peter says.
“But if he dies,” Peter flinches, violent, and give Rhodey a wounded look, “you’ll take it. You’ll do what he asks. And that’s why he asks.”
Peter stares at him, his gaze red and wet and finally off those fucking papers.
“C’mon. Let’s find him and order dinner.”
The kid clings to Tony through dinner and a movie, falling asleep against Tony’s side without ever explaining and Tony--Tony doesn’t ask, just pets his hair and holds him close and when the end credits finally run, he twists his head to gaze at Rhodey.
“Marcus saw him, didn’t he?”
Rhodey nods. There’s an indefinable sadness in his eyes, something Rhodey can’t stand to see.
“I knew he’d struggle with it,” Tony murmurs, petting Peter’s curls.
They’re twisted around each other, protective and protected both, and it makes him ache to see.
“Don’t you die on us, peacock,” Rhodey murmurs and Tony smiles at him, star bright and alive.