Tony wished he could say that when Iron Patriot was shot out of the clouds, something inside him knew the moment it happened. He wished he could spout some flowery romance novel shit like the very fabric of his soul trembled, or the chill of terrible knowledge overlook him, or an invisible punch to the gut robbed him of his breath. But the truth was, when Colonel James Rhodes was struck from the sky and proceeded to bounce across a quarter of a mile of desert in a tin can, Tony was in New York having a fight with DUM-E.
“You can’t whine like this every time I fix you,” Tony said. “If you don’t want to be fixed, then quit being a giant lemon, ever think of that?”
DUM-E let out a mournful whirr and half-drooped into Tony, who rolled his eyes expansively.
“How did you even get to be such a drama queen?” he said. DUM-E’s hand mechanism opened and shut convulsively on the front of Tony’s t-shirt. “Hey hey hey! Watch the merchandise, pal, you know I’ve got delicate skin.”
DUM-E ducked and weaved like any squirmy toddler, and eventually Tony had to do the thing he hated most and power DUM-E down for maximum cooperation during tinkering.
“This hurts you more than it hurts me, you big hunk of scrap metal,” he said as DUM-E went offline.
He didn’t know how many hours he lost in his workshop blasting hair metal, but he only came back to earth when it was cut off and his ears throbbed with sudden, overwhelming silence.
“What the hell, JARVIS?” he said, but the answer came in the form of Pepper striding into his workshop looking frazzled. Her hair was a mess of fly-aways and her face was mottled in the kind of uneven flush that plagues the very pale. Tony was about to riff on allergies and strawberries and pink, whatever came out of his mouth would have been gold, absolutely, but his mouth dried right up when he caught sight of her eyes, bright and stricken.
That’s when he knew. He clapped his right hand into his left palm as if the name that followed the curve of his lifeline there had burned him straight through to the bone.
“It’s Rhodey,” she said.
“Where? How?” He was already moving, stripping off his tatty work clothes as he hustled his ass back to his apartment. “Get the jet ready, call Happy, wait should I go in the suit, would that be faster, Pep—”
“It’s all done and ready,” Pepper said. He could tell by the clicking of her heels that she was keeping up with his pace easily. “A helicopter’s about to touch down to take you to the jet, and you’ll arrive in less than a day. “
“Not good enough.”
“You can’t go in the suit, Tony. There’s still armed conflict in the region and you don’t want to end up in the same hospital room just when he needs you to be okay.”
“To answer your first questions: Iraq, insurgents, missiles.”
“Critical, but stable. Medically-induced coma, expected to make a full recovery, but looking kind of rough.”
Tony almost stumbled with relief. The knot of nausea that had risen up to grip him by the diaphragm loosened. He was surprised to find that he had stopped walking, and he was listing dangerously to one side while clutching one of Pepper’s shoulders. And Pepper, that fucking rock star goddess sun queen ruler of the entire universe, Thor’s dad be damned, was holding him up. He heaved in a ragged breath and wondered if her eyes had always been as green as they were right now, when she was full of sympathy and damnable understanding.
“You coming with?” he asked. He watched her swallow and tilt her chin at a proud, defiant angle. She had no tears for him — for them. And for his part, Tony was pathetically grateful.
“I go where you need me, Tony,” she said. “I’ll always be your friend, okay?”
He took her hand, and he kissed it. In the soft flesh of her palm, he knew, was no name at all.
So here he was. Alone in his own personal lab. The fucking hunchback of Cambridge, MA.
He was tinkering with his latest attempt at an AI — it was going to be able to follow commands, and learn, and even anticipate his needs. It was going to be a helper bot, and Tony was going to love it forever and ever. If he could just get the damn code working.
“Come on!” he shouted, the words bouncing off the walls. The great arching arm thing didn’t so much as twitch. “Why don’t you just move?”
There was a shuffle at the door, and then someone muttering, “Sorry.”
Tony’s head popped up from his code work.
“Hello?” he said. “Is someone there?”
He heard steps, and he got to his feet behind his AI just as a gangly figure emerged in the doorway to his lab. It was another boy, younger than most of his classmates but not as young as Tony, with high cresting cheekbones and his hair buzzed short. He looked nervous, one strap of his book bag dangling off his shoulder, and he shifted his weight from scuffed high-top to scuffed high-top.
Tony’s first thought was that he must be lost, wandering into Tony’s fortress of solitude. Tony’s second thought was that he was really pretty, and maybe Tony wouldn’t mind helping him find his way into Tony’s condo. And pants.
“Sorry,” the kid said. “You’re working. I’ll get out of your hair.”
“No, hey, I’m due a break, that’s cool.” Tony practically tripped over himself and all his AI parts getting over to the door, but the kid didn’t snicker or scoff, he just smiled at him like Tony was a cheat sheet on exam day. “Are you lost, do you need help, can I help?”
“You’ve got—” The kid pointed to his own nose, the universal signal for ‘you’re fucking covered in schmutz,’ and Tony felt his whole body heat. Oh God, he probably had grease all over himself. He had no clue what day it was and even less of when he might have had his last shower. He bet his hair looked like a drunk wood chipper had chewed him up and puked him out. And then he realized his mouth was actually saying all these things his brain was spitting out at him, because the other kid was pressing his mouth together the way people did when they were trying not to laugh.
“Sorry,” Tony said. “Jesus, spend some time with robots and go completely feral, why don’t I?”
“You’re fine,” the kid said. “Seeing actual hard work around here is… refreshing.”
Tony’s chest bloomed with heat. To hide the thudding of his heart, he wiped his right hand on his jeans and stuck it out.
“I’m Tony Stark,” he said. “And you might be the first tolerable person I’ve met in the entire state of Massachusetts.”
The kid took a deep breath and slid his hand into Tony’s. It was dry and big and strong, his grip was firm, and Tony’s whole spine lit at the touch.
“I’m Jim Rhodes,” he said, and Tony’s heart just stopped altogether. Jim’s smile widened, and his eyes were so warm and clear, the color of maple syrup. “And I’ve got your name on my hand.”
“Oh, fuck,” Tony said faintly. He kept shaking Jim’s hand way longer than anyone was supposed to, and Jim’s grin just got bigger. He had really white teeth behind a pair of very luscious lips that Tony couldn’t quite tear his eyes from.
“Gotta say, you’re not exactly what I was expecting.”
Tony shook himself and blinked out of his stupor. He dropped Jim Rhodes’s hand. Jim Rhodes. Jimmy. James. Jimbo. Jimmerooni. Jim Jams. Tony shook himself again and found Jim Rhodes, his destiny, looking at him with a healthy amount of amusement in his face. Tony clenched his jaw.
“Yeah?” Tony said when his brain caught up with the conversation. “And just what were you expecting?” Big surprise: ‘Anthony E. Stark, Disappointment to All,’ was going to be etched onto his tombstone someday when he died shriveled and alone, surrounded by half-finished robots who wouldn’t even know he was gone.
Jim Rhodes dropped his gaze to the floor only to look up again from under a long fan of eyelashes, abashed.
“You know, it’s not exactly normal to be from the bad part of Philly and find out you’ve got the son of a billionaire in your future. My ma about had a heart attack when your birth was announced in the paper, to hear my dad tell it. They’ve always been a bit worried about the whole thing, couldn’t see how any son of theirs would suit, and I got anxious about it too even though they put on a good front. But you’re…”
“What? What am I?”
There was a pause while Jim’s Adam’s apple bobbed in his throat, and the tip of his tongue flickered out over his lower lip.
“Sweet,” Jim said, and it was quiet, but the word seemed to chase itself around the walls of the lab anyway.
“I don’t know!” Jim threw his hands up as if helpless, shoulders up to his ears. “Just — I get up all my courage, you know? To come out here, where word around campus is you’re working all the time, and I figure you’re gonna be mad because you’re this big important guy doing big important work and I’m interrupting, but I just don’t know where else to catch you so I’ve got to take this chance, I’ve got to see, and… And I get here, and you’re just this, this shape hunched over your robots, talking to them like they’re your babies, and you’ve got motor oil all on your face and your hands and your clothes, and then when I do, in fact, interrupt you, you’re not mad, you ask if I need help and you’re excited to see me even if we’re strangers and you don’t know what I know, and I just… I don’t know. It’s.” Jim splayed a hand over his heart and twisted his fingers in his shirt before shrugging. “It felt…big. In here.”
Tony’s mouth had gone dry, and he found it difficult to tear his eyes from Jim’s. He had nothing to say to that, which was probably some kind of record, he should get the Guinness people on the line. He stepped into Jim Rhodes’s personal space and reached for his left hand. He cradled it — long-fingered and graceful, but hardened by work — in both of his own. He thought he could hear Jim’s heartbeat like thunder in the lab. He turned Jim’s hand palm up and found Tony Stark arching along his lifeline in very familiar handwriting. Tony’s breath left him in a shudder, and he traced the letters with his fingertips. They felt like nothing — skin and warmth.
“Can I?” Jim said, voice pitched low. Tony swallowed and nodded. He allowed Jim to take his left hand, so, so gently, and he opened his fingers to reveal Jim Rhodes in sturdy, neat print. He had always thought of the mythical Jim Rhodes as practical and clear, just like the writing on his hand. Tony had always thought he’d want to crow from the rooftops that he was right, but the moment was here and there was nothing he wanted more than to guard this feeling, this strange and heady intimacy, from the world. He wanted it to be him and Jim alone together in this lab forever.
Jim let out his own breath slow and measured.
“Wow,” he said.
“I tried to look, you know,” Tony blurted. Jim’s gaze snapped up from their tangled hands to meet Tony’s eyes. Tony licked his lips. “I tried to find you, but even having more money than God won’t actually narrow down the search. You know how many Jim Rhodeses there are?”
Jim Rhodes snorted, and one side of his mouth tilted up in a wry smile.
“There’s only one Tony Stark,” he said. “And shit, I’ll always come for him. You shouldn’t have worried.”
Tony practically melted right then and there, and he didn’t even feel like a giant girl’s blouse about it, to quote Jarvis. He stood there, filthy, holding hands with his manu hominis and looking into his big brown eyes and he said,
“So how married are you to ‘Jim?’”
Jim tilted his head.
“Because I gotta say, I think we can be a lot more creative,” Tony went on. “How do you feel about Jam Slice, or Jimble Jamble, or Jim Tim a Lim?”
“Okay, different tack, how about Rhodey, what are your feelings on Rhodey? I feel like I feel good about Rhodey.”
Jingle Jangle Mint Ting-a-ling Jimminy Jambob Rhodums just shook his head with that intoxicating little smile on his face and leaned down to stop up Tony’s words with a kiss and it was perfect, it was electric, it was soft and dizzying and there was nothing left to say.
“I realize this is a futile endeavor, but why don’t you try to get some rest, Tony?”
Tony kept tapping his fingers but he fixed her with an assessing look. She had been typing on a tiny laptop, but she set it aside and folded her hands in her lap to regard him with her usual aplomb.
“How are you not mad at me?” he said.
She expanded and contracted with a deep breath, and she took a moment to look at the fine carpeting on Tony’s jet before raising her head again to meet his eyes.
“I’m a grown woman, Tony,” she said. “And what we had was good, great even. I’m grateful for it. We were happy and it was real. But I’m manibus nudis, and you’re not. I knew that going in, and I went in anyway. I don’t regret that, and maybe I’ll be bummed for a while, but I can’t hold it against you when you have to do what you have to do. I do understand, Tony, and I’m not going to be juvenile about it.”
“I would,” Tony muttered.
Pepper smiled at him, a touch of sadness around the eyes.
“I know you would, Tony,” she said, fond.
“Even if I don’t get back together with him…”
“I’m sorry, Pep.”
Pepper drew up straight and elegant and Tony wondered what he’d ever done to deserve someone like her.
“I’m not,” she said. “This will be good for you, and I love you, Tony, I really do. Nothing will change that.”
“I love you, too.” And he did. It was just different from what he had — used to have — with Rhodey, and it was a pale specter in comparison. He could no longer ignore that. He could no longer keep all her light to himself. Pepper deserved someone whose very presence in her life made the colors of the world brighter and more joyful. She deserved someone who lifted up everything inside her and made her feel like she could conquer the world. She deserved someone like Rhodey. And Tony — he probably didn’t deserve Rhodey, but he was going to make another run at him all the same.
Pepper pulled her laptop back into her seat with her and held it up like a piece of paper.
“Well,” she said, “your company’s not going to run itself.”
“We’ll get you on the best of those manibus nudis dating sites,” Tony said. “Premium membership, promoted profile, the whole nine yards.”
Pepper arched one finely sculpted brow at him, mouth quirking.
“Maybe I should be single for a little while,” she said.
“Freeballin’, I get it, totally understand, go Pep, be safe, no glove no love.”
Pepper rolled her eyes and opened the laptop.
“I’m ignoring you now,” she said. Tony laughed, and it hurt a little, because Pepper was in his heart, and so was Rhodey, who was unconscious somewhere in a military hospital far from home, but it was okay. It was going to be okay.
“He’s not gonna like this,” Obi said with that infuriating daddy knows best tone of his.
“I gotta take care of him,” Tony said. He twirled the phone cord in his hand and pitched himself into the couch cushions.
“Tony, money’s not the only—”
“Money makes things easier. I want him not to worry, because he’s got me now. Anything happens, he’s set. Security, Obi. Why wouldn’t I give him that?”
“Tony, you’re young, you’ve led a certain kind of life, and you don’t know what it’s like to—”
“What, work for something? Because I’ve never worked a day in my life, is that it, Obi?” Tony twisted the cord around his hand until it hurt, until it was almost purple.
“I’m just saying, maybe you should talk this over with him before making any unilateral decisions that will affect the both of you for the rest of your lives.”
“Look man, just because you fucked shit up with your manu hominis doesn’t mean the rest of us have to suffer along with you. Some of us have things like thought and foresight.”
That shut Obi right up. Tony could imagine him now, sitting back in his desk chair, clenching his left hand into a fist. Remembering how it had gone with Renata. The brief triumph at having jabbed Obi good faded away as Tony remembered, too.
“Hey.” Tony softened his tone. “Silver linings, right? I learned from your mistakes, so thanks for that. And you’ve still got some good years in you, don’t give up, big guy! All right, Rhodey’s gonna be home soon, catch you later, okay?”
Tony hung up before Obi could say anything else, and he rolled off the couch and sprang to his feet. He flung open the doors to his liquor cabinet and took a solid swig of something older than God before taking out two glasses. He poured four fingers into each, and he was halfway through his when Rhodey came home looking bedraggled. Tony glided up to him, divested him of the bag that weighed approximately seventeen tons, and pushed the glass of whiskey into his hand.
“Tony, we’re both underage.” He said it every time, but he stuck his nose in the glass and took a deep whiff every time, too.
“Who’s gonna know, honeysuckle?”
Tony met his eyes over the rim of the glass, half-lidded and dark as molasses. He took a slow sip and Tony chubbed up in his shorts. Tony rocked up onto his toes to chase the whiskey with his tongue, and Rhodey let him in, one big hand sliding down his side and around his hip to squeeze at his ass.
“I’ve got homework,” Rhodey mumbled into his mouth, but it was half-hearted if the boner he was sporting was any indication.
“Mm, me too,” Tony said. He manhandled Rhodey onto the couch, where he sat in Rhodey’s lap rubbing their dicks together through the fabric as they made out. Their shirts came off, and then Tony’s pants. Eventually, Rhodey got pretty grabby with Tony’s ass, and who could blame him, but Tony had a pretty desperate wet spot going himself, so he pivoted on the couch so he was kneeling no the cushions, ass in the air, hunched over Rhodey’s lap.
“Tony,” Rhodey gasped, and Tony sent him a winning smile before easing Rhodey’s sensible, hideous khakis open to let his dick free. Rhodey’s dick, Tony was sure, was a work of art. It inspired in him nothing so much as the desire to put it in his mouth. He was sure, too, that someday when he wore Rhodey down enough to get him to put it in Tony’s ass, Tony would turn into some kind of cock-hungry nympho, begging to be railed all day every day. He was sure — he just had to get Rhodey to relax enough to do it.
Tony buried his nose in the soft, springy pubes at the base of Rhodey’s dick and breathed deep. His eyes rolled back and slid shut at the deep earthy smell filling his lungs, and he let out a little groan of contentment just before feeding himself a solid helping of dick. It filled his mouth just right, head budging up against his soft palate as if it was designed to be there. Above him, he heard Rhodey moan. Tony hummed in satisfaction and got to work sucking and slurping and tonguing every sensitive velvety bit he could reach. One of Rhodey’s hands settled in Tony’s hair, carding through reverently. Sometimes Tony wished Rhodey would yank at it or throw him around a little, but Rhodey liked being tender and Tony found he reveled in the gentle treatment so much that it hardly mattered.
Rhodey leaned over him to fiddle one-handed with Tony’s underwear until Tony’s ass was exposed and the shorts were bunched down around his thighs. He moaned around his mouthful of cock as Rhodey alternated firm grips with admiring strokes over the swells of Tony’s ass cheeks. Rhodey’s cock was leaking fiercely now and Tony redoubled his efforts. He pushed back into Rhodey’s hand until he felt the tips of Rhodey’s fingers graze his hole.
He made a loud, desperate sound and wriggled his ass back even as he shoved Rhodey’s cock further down his throat. Rhodey took pity on him and rubbed two fingertips against Tony’s asshole. He swirled them over the tight ring a few times before taking his hand away, which elicited a muffled whine from Tony. But his hand was back soon enough, fingers slick with spit, and he eased his middle finger into Tony’s ass as much as the angle would allow.
Tony fucked himself back onto it with hard, desperate thrusts even as he committed himself to swallowing the generous length of cock down his throat with zeal. It wasn’t enough, Tony felt like he would die from the emptiness in his ass, but Rhodey knew — he always knew. He cupped the back of Tony’s head and pressed one more finger inside him. Tony shouted around Rhodey’s cock and squeezed up around his fingers.
“Oh shit, Tony, you’re so—” A burst of salt spread across Tony’s tongue and he swallowed it down.
Rhodey’s hips began to stutter, and the hand at the back of Tony’s head held him steady, and then he was coming with a single hoarse cry. Tony stilled, his mouth filling with come, ass clenching around Rhodey’s fingers. He swallowed most of it, but some dribbled out of his mouth as he slowed the bob of his head and the force of his sucking. Rhodey twitched beneath him, breath faltering, until finally he winced and drew his dick from Tony’s mouth. Tony popped up and Rhodey’s fingers inside him fell away, but Tony spat on Rhodey’s hand a viscous mixture of saliva and come and then turned around to present his ass. He propped his shoulders on the armrest and pulled his ass cheeks apart and said, “Please. Please.”
Rhodey groaned and Tony felt lips on the small of his back and the curves of his ass, a bite on the chub he may or may not have on his hips, and then two slick fingers fucked him open again and his eyes fluttered shut.
Rhodey knew just what he liked: the stretch and fill of fingers against the walls of his ass, a steady pump at his prostrate that managed to be firm and gentle at once, and a tongue teasing the rim of his hole as it was all happening. He gripped Tony’s cock with his free hand, and jerked him off in time with the thrusts of his fingers and the swipes of his tongue. Soon Tony’s whole body seized up and he spattered the armrest with come.
“Keep fucking me,” he said weakly, slumped over the armrest. Rhodey let his dick go, but he gentled the thrusts of his fingers and kept it up. Kisses trailed up Tony’s spine and then Rhodey was plastered against his back, sliding his lips over Tony’s shoulders, his neck, the side of his face.
“You’re so good, Tony,” Rhodey said, voice a low rumble. Tony preened, tilting his hips back. Rhodey hummed out a single laugh. He withdrew his fingers from Tony’s ass and Tony whined, but then Rhodey sat back against the couch cushions and dragged Tony in to sit on him. Tony finally kicked off his shorts.
“I’m gonna wear you down, you know.”
They kissed for a long time in the humid, sex-strangled air. Tony got hard again, and so did Rhodey, but they were in no hurry.
“Wanna watch Dynasty?” Tony said.
Rhodey laughed at him, groped for his glass of whiskey, and tossed it back. Tony’s heart felt so big he thought he might cough it up any second. Tony tucked himself into Rhodey’s shoulder and wondered how he had lived fifteen whole years of his life with while half of himself wandered around Philadelphia.
“We should get married,” he blurted.
Rhodey stroked a hand through his hair and down his spine to rest contentedly on his ass.
“We will,” he said.
“I think you’ll find I’m super rich and can do whatever I want,” he said. “Now tell me where Colonel Rhodes is.”
Some of them persisted in insisting he didn’t belong there, but most were rattled and let him go without his employing subterfuge. Not a single one would reveal the whereabouts of one James R. Rhodes, flyboy. Tony couldn’t even find it in himself to be impressed at their sticking to their guns, because somewhere in this cardboard box was his favorite person and he was being kept from him.
“What the hell does it take?” he shouted on the third floor, arms flung wide. Eventually a tall bald doctor man came up to him all loomy but Tony Stark didn’t do size-based intimidation. He’d gotten over his own personal Napoleon complex when he was a kid. He was fun-size and proud of it. Besides, Rhodey always seemed to like it, back when the future sprawled bright before them.
“Can I help you, sir?” the doctor said.
Tony puffed himself up.
“I’m looking for Colonel Rhodes. He’s my manu hominis and I demand to see him.”
Baldy’s eyes flickered and he shifted on his feet.
“May I?” he said, holding his right hand palm-up.
Inwardly, Tony recoiled, but he steeled himself and stuck his left hand out at the doctor. The doctor touched him lightly and inspected him way too intently, but eventually he stepped back with a sigh and tilted his head at Tony as if Tony were a child who’d gotten into the motherboards again.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said. “There’s a special note on Colonel Rhodes’s file about it.”
Tony went cold all over, and his stomach threatened to bust from his body.
“But I’m on his paperwork,” he said. “I should have been called. I could sue you for not following protocol.”
“It looks like the Colonel requested otherwise, Mr. Stark. I’m sorry.”
“Why the hell would he do that? That’s ridiculous, this is a scam, what kind of operation are you running here, Doctor—” Tony flicked the guy’s ID card. “—Martinez?”
“Look, I’ll tell you what,” the doctor said. “How about I let you in to see him, and when you see he’s in good hands, you go ahead and go home and wait for him to call you?”
“Fine,” Tony said. And as soon as he was led into a room on the fifth floor, where Rhodey lay inert in a hospital bed hooked up to Heimdall knows what and looking like a wax figure of himself, Tony threw himself into a chair and yelled, “Squatter’s rights, I’m never leaving, it’s totally legal!”
Martinez rolled his eyes.
“I’ll give you a minute,” he said. The door shut behind him, and then all Tony had to look at was Rhodey, diminished in the starchy white sheets of the hospital bed. He looked worried, his mouth turned down, his skin sickly and ashen. There were cuts and contusions around his eyes and on what he could see of Rhodey’s chest and arms, though nothing looked particularly terrible. Tony reached out, hand hovering a moment while he psyched himself up, but in the end he patted down Rhodey’s hair as if there were anything to neaten.
“We’ll get you better sheets,” he said quietly. “Egyptian cotton, one million thread count, Iron Patriot colors because I’m nice like that. Maybe a fun pattern, I don’t know.”
Tony’s voice cracked, and he shut his mouth and dipped his chin down. He trailed a hand down Rhodey’s arm until he could tangle their fingers together. Cautiously, he turned Rhodey’s hand over. Tony Stark, his palm read. Same as ever. Tony lifted their hands to his lips and kissed Rhodey’s knuckles.
There was an insistent new beep from one of the machines, and Tony could see Martinez hovering outside the door, but he didn’t let go.
“Why didn’t you want me to come if you got hurt?” he whispered.
“Quit it,” he said, only his mouth didn’t work so great. “I said quit it.”
“Wake up, Tony,” he heard Rhodey say from a galaxy far far away. He sounded tinny and flat.
Tony cracked an eye and found himself looking askew at Rhodey, who sat in a chair by their bed, legs spread wide, fingers drumming on the armrests. His hair was kind of puffy, like he hadn’t been keeping it strictly regulation, and he looked like a raincloud.
“Don’t rain on me,” Tony said.
“I missed a really important class today, Tony. Again.”
“What, why?” Tony blinked and blinked. When he flopped around trying to get up, he heard the clinking of bottles in his bedding.
“Because I had to stay here and make sure you weren’t going to choke to death on your own vomit.”
Tony forced himself to sit up even though it meant there were now one thousand drills boring into his skull.
“You didn’t have to do that, look, I’m fine, see?” Tony waved both his hands around.
Rhodey’s jaw clenched, and so did his fingers on the armrests.
“I couldn’t know that last night, or this morning.”
“Look, no one asked you to. You made that choice yourself, you don’t get to blame me about it.”
Rhodey stared at him. Tony slid back down and pulled the covers over his face. The bottles in the bed rolled wildly. The covers were yanked off him, and Rhodey was glaring down at him with that thundercloud look on his face.
“I’m glad the universe saddled me with an ungrateful little shit who only thinks of himself and can’t understand what love is.” Then Rhodey’s hands were on him, rough and pushing him up, and Tony squawked. “Get up, Tony, you’re taking a fucking shower, and then I’m marching you to class, because you’re going to fail if you miss any more.”
“I don’t fail things.”
“You do if you don’t fucking show up.”
“Look, tests and papers and grades and stuff — that’s for losers who don’t do things. I live in the real world, man.”
“You live in a world where if your professor has nothing to grade, you won’t get a degree, no matter what shit you build in your lab.”
“They’re not shit, they’re fucking achievements!” Tony shoved Rhodey hard enough that Rhodey let him go, and Tony fell back into a sea of bottles while Rhodey thudded against the wall with a crack of his head. Tony was breathing hard, and Rhodey’s mouth went flat.
“Maybe you don’t care about your degrees because you’ve got an empire Daddy’s gonna hand you whenever you stop being jailbait,” Rhodey said. “But I, for one, have to make my own future, and I can’t compromise that for someone else, Tone. Not even you.”
“Look, waffle cone,” Tony said, sliding out of bed onto his knees and swallowing down his nausea at the movement. He put his hands on Rhodey’s hips and nuzzled his face into some killer abs. Rhodey winced away from him, but Tony held fast. “You don’t have to worry about anything. I’ll take care of you forever. You can be my trophy husband and just stand around looking pretty.”
Rhodey dislodged himself from the tangle of Tony at his feet. He leaned over to grab his book bag.
“I’ve got a future, Tony,” he said, “and I’m making sure it happens the way I’ve envisioned it. Whether or not you’re a part of it—” He cleared his throat at the threat of a croak. “Well, that’s up to you.”
He left Tony in the condo they shared. It was two in the afternoon, their bed smelled like rum and cigarettes, and Tony was sure there had to be some left.
“Look, bumwads, that’s why the manu nomine is on everyone’s paperwork,” Tony said. He threw up his hands in the universal sign for ‘what can you do?’ “Proximity breeds healing, science says so, you should look it up.”
“We don’t induce comas in people just to bother their loved ones, Mr. Stark,” a doctor who was not Martinez said. This one was small and female and not too interested in the very winning way Tony could bat his eyes. Martinez appeared to have been suspended or killed for sport or whatever the hospital overlords did to people who displeased them. “The Colonel may appear to have only minor superficial injuries to you, but the little trip to Earth he took in your tin can gave him brain swelling we need to keep under control.”
“Well, maybe my magical aura fixed that too, did you check?”
“He’s on the mend, yes, but—”
“Butts are for groping,” Tony said, “and all I hear right now is ‘blah blah blah, malpractice suit for unnecessary medical interventions, blah blah blah.’ So chill out and let him wake up, ’kay? ’Kay.”
The doctor, Something Something Sarkissian, deflated with a sigh and left without saying anything. Smug, Tony sat back in his chair and propped his feet up on Rhodey’s bed.
“Don’t worry, dew drop,” he said. “No muscle atrophy for you.”
Hours later, Tony was deeply involved in a text message argument with Pepper about where the best silk in the world came from when he heard a groan from the general vicinity of his elbow. He was plastered to the bedrail in a nanosecond, and he grinned when he saw Rhodey’s eyes open into narrow slits.
“Hey, butter lamb,” he said. “How’s your brain, is it pressing into your skull?”
“Tone,” Rhodey said, voice like gravel, but also how Tony imagined angels singing. Rhodey’s eyelids slid back shut, but the corners of his mouth curled up and deepened the little nest of crinkles at the corners of his eyes.
Tony kissed his knuckles and left them pressed against his lips. He reached out and smoothed down hair that definitely didn’t need smoothing.
“I’m here,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”
“Not s’posed to be,” Rhodey slurred. Tony’s heart stumbled.
“Yeah well,” he said lightly. “You got me anyway, sorry not sorry.”
“Not sorry,” Rhodey said. He couldn’t keep his eyes open, and the clutch of his fingers in Tony’s slackened. Tony let out a shaking breath. He leaned over and brushed a kiss against Rhodey’s brow. After a few long moments of just breathing him in, he got up, tucked Rhodey’s covers around him neatly, and left the room to find a doctor.
Rhodey turned the lights in the lab off.
“Hey! Changing the course of the universe over here, creamsicle, gonna need to see, don’t worry I’ll give you a cut of the profits, there’s a whole bank account and everything, we’ll call you the wind beneath my wings, we’ll get Bette to do the inauguration party.”
The lights came back on, and Tony was about to dive back into a mess of wires and code when Rhodey’s big boots clunked into his field of vision and two hands closed around his wrists.
“Look at me,” Rhodey said. His voice was low and controlled, the kind of thing that made Tony want to back his ass right onto Rhodey’s fine specimen of a cock, but he was too busy, way too busy right now.
“Busy,” he said. The hands around his wrists tightened. “Ow, okay, what? Jesus Christ, Rhodey.”
Rhodey let him go with more force than seemed necessary, and Tony’s ass plopped back onto the floor hard. He pouted up at Rhodey, who didn’t smile. He never smiled anymore.
Rhodey stuck a hand in his pocket and produced the baggie in which Tony’s ten grams of coke had resided before he’d blown through a significant chunk over the weekend. Tony snatched it away from him.
“You wanna explain this to me?” Rhodey said.
“Tony.” And Rhodey didn’t sound angry anymore, didn’t look angry, just looked so goddamn sad it tore at Tony’s heart, but then he was angry, because he needed that stuff to do his sharpest thinking and it was nothing, nothing, nothing, and who the fuck was Rhodey to act like the world’s biggest wet blanket when Tony had work to do?
“Look, it’s no big deal, right?” Tony said. “Everyone around here does it, it keeps you on point, and you should look into being less of a giant square and more of a York peppermint patty, as in cool as a mint, as in not a fucking square, okay orange slice? Chill out, maybe have some, I didn’t mean to Bogart it all, baby, have as much as you want.”
“Tony, I can’t do this anymore,” Rhodey said, and fuck him for looking so tragic while he was saying it.
Tony twisted away, soldering iron in hand.
“Can’t do what, sugar plum?”
“Can you please look at me?”
“Yeah,” Rhodey said, quiet. “Yeah, I know you are, but maybe you could take a moment and talk to me right now.”
“Because I miss you, and I want to talk to you, and this is important.”
Tony whipped around and sprang to his feet. Rhodey’s shoulders were slumped inward and his spine sagged. His face had the haggard look of someone who’d spent a lot of time crying but had nothing left to wring out.
“Oh you miss me now!” Tony threw his hands up. “We live together, but you can’t even be bothered to get your nose out of a fucking book long enough to hang out with me unless you’re fucking lecturing me like someone’s fucking grandpa, and I’m good enough to swallow your fucking load once in a while, unless I took one little fucking sip of beer to relax, and then you’re clutching your fucking pearls, and now you miss me and you want to talk? Spare me, Rhodes, and just fucking leave like I know you want to. I bet you’re all fucking packed and everything!”
Tony was pacing and shouting and waving his arms around, which he realized belatedly when he found himself out of breath.
“Tony, I’m done fighting with you. I’ll be gone when you get home, whenever that is. I hope you can get it together. I don’t actually wish you ill, you know.”
“Who fucking says that, ‘wish you ill?’ Who are you, Jane Austen? Jesus Christ, Mr. James get out of my lab and my face and maybe I’ll have fun for the first time in two fucking years.”
Rhodey only blinked at him, looking bleak. “I tried really hard, Tony. I tried so hard, but I can’t be the only thing that holds you, and us, together, do you get that? I can’t bleed myself dry hoping it fixes everything.”
“I said get the fuck out of here are you fucking deaf now too?”
“Yeah, guess so,” Rhodey said. He took one last long look at Tony before he turned and moved toward the door.
Tony wanted to throw up. Just before the door closed behind Rhodey, Tony called, “It won’t change, you know. You’re stuck with me on your hand forever. I hope you choke every time you see it.”
Rhodey paused, just for a second, but then he was gone and the lab echoed with the click of the door in the jamb. Tony made a fist of his left hand, weighing the pros and cons of soldering Rhodey’s name right the fuck off — pro: wouldn’t have to look at it anymore; con: mangled hand couldn’t work on shit — when he realized he was still holding a battered Ziploc half-filled with coke, and he was crushing it to boot.
He smoothed the bag out and checked for holes. It was miraculously intact, and Tony got his razor to tap out some lines.
Never let it be said Jim Rhodes had never done anything for him.
“Oh my God, I built that thing myself,” Tony said. “I thought it had no weaknesses, but your weird long toe nubs are hurt, I’ll make the next one better, maybe some adamantium, I know this guy, really hush hush though, okay?”
“Tony, it’s fine. For being shot out of the sky, I’m really in pretty good shape. I can’t be complaining about your workmanship when I won’t even need casts or PT.”
“It’s not fine! Your poor toes!”
Rhodey was sitting up and feeding himself hospital jello, and he looked at Tony with the same sort of fond exasperation he’d been casting at him for the last fifteen or so years, which was an improvement on the previous expressions of intense disappointment and, for a terrible period in the late ’90s, indifference. Tony resisted the urge to offer him gourmet French jello flown in from France, macarons sent in a special climate-controlled box, and fourteen dancing girls in all different colors. Instead, he plucked up Rhodey’s chart from the foot of the bed and began flipping through it without reading anything.
“That’s private, you know,” Rhodey said, but he didn’t even sound grumpy, so that was a win.
“Just trying to figure you out, lovelump,” Tony said. He found his own name in the box marked manu nomine. It wasn’t blocked out or marked with an asterisk or anything. It was just there, same as anyone else. Rhodey’s emergency contact was his mother, which wasn’t unusual, but it still gave Tony a little pang about the ribs. He liked Roberta, loved her even, but it was something else to see in plain black and white that Rhodey still didn’t trust him after thirty years of trying to make amends. Okay, twenty proper years of amend-making, but when was it gonna be enough? When would Tony have done enough penance to satisfy James R. Rhodes?
“Don’t know what there is to figure out,” Rhodey said. “I’m an open book.”
Tony snorted and put the chart back in its slot at the foot of Rhodey’s bed.
“You, my dear, are the closiest of closed books,” Tony said. He sat in his chair, popped his feet up on the edge of Rhodey’s bed, and laced his hands together on his stomach. Tony cocked his head and didn’t bother stopping the smile that came over his face when he looked at Rhodey, all functional in his hospital bed. “For example! I’m totally wondering why no one informed me when my best guy or my second-best suit was blown to kingdom come, even though I’m on all these papers of yours, and then I’m wondering why I was completely stonewalled from seeing you when I got here. It boggles the mind, snap pea, it hurts my feelings, it gets this little goat I have in my heart.”
Rhodey sighed and sat back against his mountain of pillows.
“I just didn’t want you to worry about me,” he said. “I’m glad you’re here and all, but I didn’t see the point in your dropping everything you were doing if I ever got hurt.”
“Didn’t. See. The point.”
Rhodey huffed and cocked his head.
“Don’t be that way,” he said. “Look, I’m fine.”
“You’re not fine if you seriously thought there was anywhere I’d rather be than by your side when you were down.”
“It’s just not that big a deal, Tony, could you drop it?”
“Not that big a deal! Rhodey, for a split second, I thought you were dead, and it destroyed me! Do you have any idea what that’s like?”
Rhodey let out one clap of a laugh and crossed his arms over his chest.
“Yeah, Tony, I kinda do. Again and again, as it happens.”
Tony dropped his feet from the bed and planted his elbows on his knees. He scrubbed his face with his hands before lifting his head up again to look Rhodey in the eye.
“Okay, point taken, sorry for the multiple heart attacks, but did you seriously think I wouldn’t care the same way? Did you think I wouldn’t want to be with you if anything happened?”
Rhodey only stared, and Tony guessed that was his answer. His heart clogged up his throat before making its slow descent into his belly.
“Right,” he said faintly. “I’m a heartless tin man and I’ll never stop paying for the shit I pulled when I was kid. Dumb of me, I guess, to think otherwise.”
“I think these things are bullshit, you know?” He raised his left hand, the name on his palm open and vulnerable. “Because there they are, telling you you don’t have to worry about anything, that there’s someone out there just for you, but they don’t tell you how to actually make it work. They don’t even help, they just make things seem like they’re set, but there’s not a damn thing in the world you can do if you’re an idiot with no idea how to deal with other people, or if your hominis is dead, or in jail, or in some remote village in Mongolia you’ll never find in a million years. It seems like it should be easy, when it’s the hardest damn thing in the world to look at the name on your hand and know that you’re a fuck up who can’t have nice things.”
Tony got up and fiddled with Rhodey’s chart again.
“Whatever!” he said. “Fuck these marks, and fuck acting like I never had a choice in this, because I will always choose you, Rhodey. My pathetic devotion is here to stay, and it is not contingent on you even liking me. I’ll keep you in jello and clean hospital gowns and tiny toe casts. I’ll be best man at your wedding. I’ll pay someone to water your ficus and walk your dog. But Jimmy Jackeroo, I’m not going anywhere, so you just have to deal with that.”
“I don’t have a ficus or a dog or a wedding.”
“Symbols, custard pie, didn’t you ever take a literature class in all that schooling you did?”
“I guess if you tell me to go away for real I will because I may be an asshole but I’m not one of those people who ends up on the news for stalking, but Rhodey, you shouldn’t make me go away, I will bring you cupcakes from Belgium, I can give you laser eyes on your next suit, I can do pretty much anything you want at any moment, and if I can’t, I’ll throw money at it until it happens. I’m just saying, I’m pretty useful to have around and you should—”
“When you went missing in Afghanistan and the brass wanted to call off the search, I assembled my own search party and went AWOL to find you,” Rhodey said. Tony’s words dried up on his tongue. “I told them they could court martial me after I’d found you, but I would never, ever stop. They said you were dead and I said they could go fuck themselves. The only reason I was never formally reprimanded was because after you came back, they couldn’t find a way to justify punishing the manu hominis of the newest hero in the United States for his daring romance novel rescue, and it would be, quote, ‘politically unsavvy.’”
Tony was aware that his mouth was hanging open, and he snapped it shut. Rhodey picked at a thread on one of his sheets.
“I don’t think ‘unsavvy’ is a real word,” Tony said.
“Anything the military says is a real word is a real word.”
“Is that in the Constitution?”
“Just let me, okay? Just let me say this.”
Rhodey closed his eyes and Tony watched him take a deep breath. When he let it out and opened his eyes again, he nodded at Tony. Tony took a deep breath of his own.
“What we’ve got now, where we pretend we’re best friends, that’s been great, especially since I thought it was more than I could ever have for a long time. But we’re not best friends. You’re the love of my life, and I’m done trying to act like that’s not true, and I’d like to know if there’s any chance, like even a .00001% chance, of you ever forgiving me enough to try this again. I could have a powerpoint made up about how I’m not the same dick I was when I was sixteen if you want bullet points.”
Rhodey had a line deepening between his brows.
“What about Pepper?” he said.
Tony’s heart pumped faster.
“She’s fine with it. As fine with it as someone can be, I guess. She’s like some kind of saint or something, I don’t know, I’ll have a fifty-foot statue made and we can put it in a park somewhere with a plaque that says ‘Divinity has red hair and takes no shit.’”
“If you had to be with someone, I was glad it was Pepper,” Rhodey said.
“Rhodey, I recognize the irony in my being the one asking to have some real talk, but can we, please?”
Rhodey rubbed a hand over his face and when he dropped it, he looked tired.
“You’re not the only one who was a dick, you know,” he said.
“Uh, I think I recall correctly that I was the one who stopped being able to function without some cocktail of substances in my body, and also I was the one who was making you not go to class because I was a huge brat who wanted you to party with me and then you had to take care of my dumb ass all the time, and also I yelled at you a lot, and also—”
“You were a kid, Tony. And so was I. There’s a reason the statistics show that the highest success rates in marriages between manu populi occur in couples who meet each other as fully developed adults. We were a disaster, and you’re not the only one to blame. I could have gotten you help, but all I could think about was AFROTC, and how we were underage, and how we’d get in trouble. Any one of those nights I stayed up to make sure you didn’t die, I could have called an ambulance and had your stomach pumped. But I was a kid, Tony, and everything was scary and I didn’t know what to do except nag you and try to take all your problems on myself. I thought that was what love was. I thought if I loved you enough, I could fix you by myself. And when I couldn’t…”
“Okay, so for two whiz kids at MIT mad early, we were both idiots,” Tony said. “We don’t have to be tied to that anymore.”
“It’s part of our history, Tony. You can’t just start again.”
“So no starting again,” Tony said. “Just — picking up, as the people we’ve become, with all the things we’ve learned about ourselves, and each other, and being in a relationship. I think we have it in us to get it right this time, don’t you?”
“No, I think we’re a pair of stubborn old fools too set in our ways and we watched our ship sail a long time ago. Burned it down, even.”
“Are you joking right now? Tell me you’re joking right now, because you’ve got this poker face and I’m never sure—”
“Lord give me strength.” Rhodey rolled his eyes. He scooted over in his bed. “Get over here before you hurt yourself.”
If Tony had had a tail, he would have sprained it in happiness. As it was, he toed off his shoes and hopped into the space Rhodey had made for him on the bed. The fit was tight, and he had to be careful not to jostle any toes or bruises, but Rhodey slung an arm around him and something jagged in Tony’s chest eased up.
“This is a trial run,” Rhodey said.
“We should hold regularly scheduled State of the Reunion addresses, open clear lines of communication, and keep all results in an easily-navigable Excel spreadsheet."
“Are you taking this seriously right now? I’m serious right now, Tony.”
“Serious like a cast on your toe, maple sugar leaf.”
“I don’t have a cast on my toe!”
“Hey, you should kiss me and stuff. For our spreadsheet.”
“Why do I like you so much?”
“Uh, fantastic ass that won’t quit, awesome pain au chocolat hook-up, great at inventing things that fix temperamental espresso machines, can and will build you a fancy super hero suit even if your colors are gauche—”
“Oh my God,” Rhodey said, but Tony couldn’t say anything back because for the first time in almost three decades, Jim Rhodes’s mouth was on his, and his lips were lush and soft, and he tasted like cherry jello, and his hands cradling Tony’s face were big and warm. Tony’s entire life narrowed into the point where the tip of Rhodey’s tongue touched Tony’s, and then: supernova.
“We need to talk business, Tony,” he said. “Give me a call when you’re feeling better.”
“Can you take care of it? Just — everything. I don’t want it. I can’t.”
Obi smoothed out the lapels of Tony’s suit and gave him the kind of smile people give kids at their parents’ funerals.
“I’ll take care of it ’til you’re ready,” he said. He cuffed Tony lightly on the chin. “And you take care of you, all right?”
Tony nodded, because that was what you were supposed to do when someone asked you fake questions like that. Obi gave him another pat just the wrong side of too rough and then climbed into the limo that pulled up for him. When Tony turned around to look for his own ride, he found Rhodey instead.
“Oh,” he said. “Hi.”
“What are you doing here?”
Rhodey looked off to the side, where Tony supposed some trees were really interesting or something.
“I heard about the accident, and I’m so sorry, Tony. I thought you might need… something.”
“Look, I’ve come to some conclusions, and I think it’s important to get them out there. So do you want to get a coffee or something and talk it out?”
“I want to get a drink or twelve, but I know Saint Jimmy doesn’t approve.”
Rhodey sighed and shifted, looking at his feet.
“Okay, I deserve that. But I just… I wanted to let you know that I think this—” He held up his left hand so that Tony could see his name arching along the lifeline. “—makes us family, whether we’re together or not. And that means you can depend on me if you need anything. I’ll always be your friend, Tony. It was a mistake to behave otherwise. So let me take you out for a drink, and we’ll just… have a do-over. All right?” And then, as if steeling himself for some terrible fate, he stuck his right hand out.
Tony swallowed past the thickness that had gathered in his throat, but his eyes were dry and all his heartbreak was spent. He looked into the great yawning abyss that was his future, and he saw that he could either have nothing and no one, or he could have Rhodey. Maybe not how he wanted him, and maybe it would never quite be enough, but if crumbs were all he could have, then he’d be grateful to chase them.
Tony took Rhodey’s hand and shook it.
Friends. He’d never had one of those before. Maybe it would be fun.
“So seriously, Tony, I think we need to consider the big picture here. With a boost of the oxygen and minor modifications to the gauntlet system, we could get to the moon. The moon, Tony!”
Tony turned his blow torch off, and lifted up his mask.
“I can’t believe I’m being the voice of reason here, but you can’t go to the moon in this thing, butternut.”
“Don’t even tell me Tony Stark isn’t dreaming big enough right now,” Rhodey said. “I refuse to believe it.”
“Statistically, I was due.”
“Come on, Tone. You can’t tell me you don’t want us to be the first people to have a date on the moon.” Rhodey nudged him with a shoulder, and Tony saw the flash of teeth that meant Rhodey was giving him his version of sly, flirtatious smile. Being as he had no game, it didn’t work, but being as Tony was 1000% gone on him, it did, so Tony figured that canceled things out. “Or, you know, the first people to get off on the moon.”
“Your sci-fi romance novel brain has overtaken your logic,” Tony said. “I can’t say I don’t approve, I’ve been waiting for this day since 1985, but no, my favorite fuzzy kiwi, we’re going to have to defer to safety and temperance on this one.”
“Oh my God, are you a pod person? Do I have to mount a daring rescue of the real Tony Stark from your people?”
“I know you, flyboy,” Tony said. “You put up a good front with that respectable Colonel Rhodes ‘we are not amused’ face, but the truth is, you just want to see what it’s like to blast 200,000 miles into space and then back again as fast as you can.”
“Okay, that’s not a secret, but I’m still not hearing your super logical reasons for denying me this one joy in life, Tony.”
Tony began ticking off his greasy fingers.
“Number one, the suit straight up does not have the capacity to hold enough oxygen for the entire trip there, much less putzing around up there for however long and then getting back. Number two, even full speed, it would take days, and your fine ass would get bored and hungry and need to pee and you wouldn’t be running on that sweet sweet adrenaline cocktail that gets you through your entire military career. Number three, I’d need to develop some kind of artificial gravity, and I guess that’s fair, I could do that, but pineapple upside down cake, that still wouldn’t make this suit fit for an astronaut. Number four, if anything went wrong, any tiny little thing, you would be stranded somewhere up there until I paid Russia or China or someone with more money than sad sad NASA to go get you, and that’s if said tiny little thing wasn’t a chink in the armor or an oxygen leak that would result in your tragic and untimely death. Number five—”
“All right, all right, stop crushing my dreams, Tony, jeez.” Rhodey sighed and smushed against Tony’s side. “I still remember watching the first moon landing live on my parents’ big clunky tube.”
“Holy shit, kumquat, no you don’t.”
“Yes I do!”
“You were a year old!”
“So? It was a big moment for me.”
“You’re a lying liar who lies, but don’t worry, I still love you.”
Rhodey flicked him on the ear and Tony yelped, but Rhodey hushed him up with a hand on his face and lips on his. It was no fair how Rhodey was such a great kisser, and had way better lips than Tony, but among Tony’s problems those ranked pretty low. They kissed until they were breathless, and Rhodey pulled away.
“You’ve got grease,” he said, drawing his thumb over Tony’s cheekbone, “just here.”
“Admit it: you like me best covered in motor oil and wearing thrift store clothes.”
“Also not a secret. But now who’s lying? You’ve never been to a thrift store in your life.”
“I’ll have you know I once walked by Goodwill and didn’t even make a face.”
“Truly, a saint walks among us,” Rhodey said. He dragged a sucking kiss over the pulse point in Tony’s neck and Tony’s breath hitched. Rhodey’s hand swept up his stomach under his shirt, and then clever fingers tweaked a nipple. Tony shifted enough to catch Rhodey’s lips in another kiss, and he slung a leg over Rhodey’s hip. Rhodey twisted so he lay half on top of Tony, his hard-on obvious and pressing into Tony’s own, but when he lifted his head, he thumped it right into the Iron Patriot armor. He winced and made a pathetic sort of sound, but Tony could only laugh at him.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said. “But you know people falling over or bumping into things is the funniest shit in the world.”
“Glad to be of service,” Rhodey grumbled. He shimmied out from underneath the armor, and then Tony felt hands close around his ankles before he was yanked out, too. Tony may have squeaked, no one could prove that. He was hauled up to his feet by his hands and then Rhodey was leaning down and plundering his mouth again. Tony’s spine felt like it was melting, and the only thing holding him up was Rhodey.
“Couch,” Tony muttered into Rhodey’s mouth. It took all his strength to remain upright enough to drag Rhodey over to the workshop couch where he spent way too many nights.
“This a full service couch, complete with lube?” Rhodey asked.
Tony drew back and blinked up into Rhodey’s face.
“Are you saying I’m finally gonna get railed with this thing?” He slid a hand down over Rhodey’s abs to close over the hot column of his cock through his shorts. Rhodey inhaled sharply, and Tony got the pleasure of watching his eyelashes flutter.
“Jesus, Tony,” he gasped. “You sure know how to sweet talk a guy.”
“Sweet talk’s out the window when you make me wait so long for a dick in the ass.”
“I had to wait for my toes to heal,” Rhodey said, the corners of his mouth curling wickedly. His eyes were half lidded and sparkling with fondness as he looked down at Tony, hands on Tony’s hips. They’d known each other so long, but Tony’s heart still skipped a beat when Rhodey looked at him like that.
“If you’d have let me kiss them…”
“You know I’m ticklish,” Rhodey said. “I didn’t want to kick you in the face.”
“Kisses speed healing, science says so.”
“Is ‘science’ Bruce Banner, and also a lie coming out of your mouth right now?”
“Are we gonna bang on this couch or not?”
“Does the couch have lube, yes or no? Real lube, Tony, not some weird car lube.”
“We can make DUM-E go get some?”
“Oh my God, Tony, no.”
They relocated to Tony’s bedroom and then Tony was naked on his back while Rhodey lay between his legs, Tony’s knees rucked up over his shoulders. He sucked intently on Tony’s cock, slurping sloppily as he bobbed up and down and moaned around his mouthful. Tony didn’t bother keeping his own moans down; that’s what soundproofing the tower was for, and he knew it got Rhodey off to hear the exact effect he had on Tony. Rhodey reached a hand up to rub roughly at one of Tony’s nipples, and the pounding of Tony’s blood grew hotter, heavier. He felt it in his ass, the insistent need to be lavished, to be filled up. He writhed beneath Rhodey’s hands and mouth.
Rhodey kept his hair annoyingly short, but Tony stroked through it anyway, thrusting up into Rhodey’s throat. But it wasn’t enough — with Rhodey, it was never enough. He pressed gently on the crown of Rhodey’s head, and Rhodey flicked his eyes up to meet Tony’s. Rhodey’s were half-mast, beautiful lighted brown beneath lush lashes, and Tony’s breath shuddered out of him.
“Please,” he said. It was all he could manage. One side of Rhodey’s mouth tilted up as he rose onto his knees. He stroked his hands down Tony’s sides and over his legs before shoving them into the backs of Tony’s knees and rocking Tony up onto the resulting curve of his back. Legs open and cheeks spread, his asshole was exposed, winking, aching with need. “Please,” he said again.
“I’ve got you, Tony,” Rhodey promised, voice a rumble that set Tony’s blood pounding. Tony’s eyes fell shut as Rhodey bent over to lick a stripe over his hole with the broad flat of his tongue. He grunted and pushed into the contact while Rhodey obliged him with the tip of his tongue flickering around the rim. He sealed his mouth over Tony’s asshole and sucked greedily. Tony gave a loud shout and clutched at the back of Rhodey’s head. Rhodey only hummed in contentment and wriggled his tongue further inside while keeping up the suction.
Tony was babbling benedictions and curses and who even knew what. Rhodey’s arms were locked around his hips and Tony’s knees were locked around Rhodey’s ears, but when Tony reached down to yank at his own leaking cock, Rhodey was still prepared to bat his hand away. Tony whined, but gave up easily enough. He squeezed his eyes shut even though Rhodey was beautiful, a vision of dark rippling muscle and skin. He had to focus wholly on the way Rhodey’s mouth felt on his ass, the way it slackened the muscle and made his blood seize up with need. A good tongue in his ass always got him too riled up, but he didn’t care, not when it felt so good he always wondered if he might pass out from the intensity of it, not when Rhodey’s arms and mouth and eyes and attention made him feel warm and secure and and full of feeling.
When finally Rhodey stopped moaning and groaning as if eating Tony’s ass was his highest pleasure, Tony was a red, sweating mess, wrested of all dignity and begging for dick. Rhodey let his ass slide back down onto the mattress and he trailed nipping kisses up Tony’s stomach and chest until he reached his mouth. Tony kissed him deep and long, licking the musk of himself out of Rhodey’s mouth as Rhodey slung Tony’s knees back into his elbows.
“Need you so bad,” Tony said. “Need you, Jim, please.”
“Where’s that lube?”
Tony twisted enough to reach the bedside table and then tossed the little bottle in Rhodey’s direction. Flyboy caught it like a boss and still had the brain power to smirk at him.
“Just be quick about it,” Tony said. “I can’t hold out much longer.”
“I’ll fuck you when you’re good and ready, babe,” Rhodey said, and Tony drummed his heels into Rhodey’s sides. Rhodey shushed him with a kiss even as he slid slick fingers over Tony’s balls and down his crack. He tucked two inside him and pulled gently at the anterior wall, which wrenched a ragged shout from Tony’s throat.
“Fuck,” he gasped.
“I got you,” Rhodey said, and pushed another finger into him. Tony’s moan reverberated between the walls as Rhodey built up a steady rhythm that had Tony loosening as he slicked up, rocking back and begging for more.
Finally, finally, Rhodey settled his hips evenly into the cradle of Tony’s open legs. He wiped his hand and cupped Tony’s face.
“Look at me,” he said, and Tony forced his eyes open. Somehow, meeting Rhodey’s gaze felt like cracking open all over. He looked into Rhodey’s eyes and all he saw was awe. Tony’s breath caught and his heart felt like it had stopped.
“Jim,” he said.
Rhodey set his forehead against Tony’s and they closed their eyes. Tony could feel the sweet of Rhodey’s eyelashes. Tony put his arms around Rhodey’s back, and then Rhodey was guiding his cock into Tony’s ass for the first time since the heady honeymoon days of ’86. Tony squeezed his eyes shut and bore down against the stretch and burn, and after a second, Rhodey’s cock slid in, perfect and hot and hard inside him. Tony’s ass clenched around the intrusion, and Tony keened from the sharp sweet goodness of it. He had waited so damn long.
Rhodey let him adjust for a moment before lifting his head up again and meeting Tony’s eyes. Tony’s chest felt small and constricting, or his heart felt full enough to burst out of his ribs, or both. Rhodey took Tony’s face in both hands and rubbed along his cheekbones with his thumbs.
“I’ve got you,” he whispered, and Tony felt his breath leave him in a sob.
“I’ve missed you,” he said, voice ragged. “Fuck, Rhodey, I’ve missed you so fucking much. Missed you inside me, missed you near me, just fucking missed you.” He stroked his hands down over the sheen of sweat on Rhodey’s back and pulled his hips into him.
“Never be apart again,” Rhodey murmured into his mouth. “With you, always.”
“God,” Tony said. “Please.” He tilted his hips up and Rhodey sank further into him. He cried out.
Rhodey pushed Tony’s knees up until they were hooked over his shoulders again, and he set a steady, rolling rhythm that Tony met eagerly, stroke for stroke. Having Rhodey inside him again made him feel like the world was quiet and new, that he had split his heart open only to find it overflowing with all the possibility of the universe, as if love were a bright, shining new thing the two of them had created between them.
When Rhodey closed his fist over Tony’s cock, Tony’s orgasm barreled through him from the prickling top of his head to curling tips of his toes, and his ass clenched hard. Distantly, he was aware of the way his come spattered his stomach, and then Rhodey hitching up his hips to fuck him harder. Rhodey’s hands came up to cradle his face again.
“Tony,” he said, voice tight and urgent. “Tony, look at me.”
Tony opened his eyes through the daze, and he saw Rhodey rising above him like some glowing god, and he smiled at him. Rhodey’s voice cracked on a groan and his eyes slid shut. His head fell forward into Tony’s collarbone and then he was shaking, his hips grinding into Tony’s ass, his hand clutching at the back of Tony’s head. Tremors rippled through him until finally he slumped into Tony’s chest. Tony’s legs fell open around him, but he held him close and stroked down his back with lazy circles.
Later, after Tony had let Rhodey wipe the come off his chest, but not out of his ass — “I like it in there, leave it alone!” — they lay in tangle on the ruined bedding, Rhodey idly drumming his fingers on Tony’s ass as Tony snuffled into Rhodey’s stomach. The sun threw shafts of pale light across the bed and made anything seem possible.
“Okay, you wore me down,” Tony said. “I’ll get you a rocket for a honeymoon in space. But! We have to paint it Iron Man colors, that’s a deal breaker.”
Rhodey quit playing ass bongos and smoothed a palm over Tony’s cheeks instead.
Tony took a deep sniff of Rhodey’s pubes, where he smelled dark and earthy and delicious.
“Listen. Not that I don’t want to bounce around the moon with you, but you know you don’t have to buy me things to make you like you, right?”
Tony turned his face so it was mashed completely in Rhodey’s fine fine abs. He grunted, and then Rhodey’s fingers were petting his hair.
“I know you think it’s generous to offer crazy shit like buying Steve the Dodgers, but Tony, we’d all still love you even if you lost everything and had to busk for money on the street.”
“What would I offer passersby, tiny personalized robots?”
“Tony, seriously, come on.” Rhodey’s hands in his armpits, urging him up. Sudden onset gravity made the come leak out of his ass in a way that was both thrilling and slightly gross. He resisted the urge to press it back inside. Rhodey gathered him in a hug, and Tony sagged against him.
“I just don’t want to overstay my welcome,” he said, quiet into the skin at Rhodey’s neck. “I have to be useful. There needs to be an incentive for keeping me around. Remember how I’m an annoying dick?”
The arms around him tightened, and Rhodey’s whole body expanded and contracted with a deep sigh.
“You need so much therapy,” he said, and kissed him where his neck met his shoulder. Tony hummed out a laugh and let his head fall further to the side. Rhodey kissed up behind his ear and along his jaw.
“Guess you won’t be glad to hear about the trust I set up for you?”
Rhodey stilled, and then pulled back to look Tony in the face.
“I may have been putting ten percent of my earnings and my parents’ remaining estate into an account for you for the last…twenty nine years. Also all that rent you gave me when we lived in the condo.” Tony made his eyes big and innocent because that worked maybe 20% of the time, and that was good enough odds for him.
Tony expected him to be angry, maybe cuss Tony out and talk about how he could earn his own keep, but instead, Rhodey threw his head back and laughed, and it was the most beautiful sound Tony had ever heard.
“Oh Christ, Tony, what the hell am I gonna do with that?”
“Build us an anti-grav dome so we can bring this moon picnic to us?”
Rhodey threw himself back into the pillows, still laughing, and pulled Tony on top of him. Tony slotted himself into Rhodey’s side like a suckerfish and buried his face in his neck, one leg thrown over Rhodey’s hips. He pressed his left palm into Rhodey’s, lifeline to lifeline, until Rhodey tangled their fingers together and held them tight over his heartbeat.
“Yeah,” Rhodey said. “Yeah, we can do that.”