This Pepper/Tony/Rhodey fic was meant to be a light, funny misunderstanding fic, where Steve unintentionally butts in on their relationship just by being the saddest man alive, but then it turned unexpectedly feelsy. -- Actually, now that I look at that description, I PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED THE FEELS. Anyway, I lost interest when everything got heavy right away.
Jim’s phone buzzes in the middle of a briefing. The general is rehashing information about drone strikes that Jim already knows, so he slips the phone out of his pocket and checks it.
It’s just his Google alert on Tony, though. There’s the usual set of colorful headlines, but one catches his eye: “IRON MAN BROMANCES CAPTAIN AMERICA.” When he follows the link, he finds a series of paparazzi shots of Tony with Steve Rogers at a Mets game. Tony looks like he’s about to be bored right out of existence; Rogers drops a hot dog and gets mustard all over his Mets t-shirt.
Jim covers his smirk with his hand and sends Tony a quick text.
I see you’re bromancing Captain America with baseball, he writes. He copies and pastes the link and sends it. Then he types a quick follow-up:
How’s that working out for you?
He expects a flippant response, but Tony replies,
Holy fuck, that guy’s life is sad as hell. You should come out here and cheer us both up, sugarplum.
Huh, Jim thinks. He taps the phone against his thigh and slips it back into his pocket.
“Tony seems to be spending a lot of time with Steve Rogers,” Jim finds himself saying to Pepper during their call the next day. He’s sipping a beer on the couch, watching Tony and Steve “out and about in Central Park” on Entertainment Tonight.
Pepper laughs. “You know how Tony gets every now and then,” she says. “Remember how much he hovered after That Christmas?”
“Yeah,” Jim says, but he’s thinking about all the crazy sex, not the hovering. He buries those memories quickly. “But we’re his family, or close enough. I didn’t think he had this kind of friendliness in him for someone new.”
Pepper’s quiet for a moment. “Tony’s changed,” she responds at last. “I think he’s growing up.”
“Well, it’s about damn time,” Jim says, and she laughs again. “But -- I mean, the paparazzi haven’t shown the two of you out much lately.”
She sighs. “Yeah, I’ve been so swamped with the new energy initiative that I’ve been too exhausted to leave home.”
“But things are still good with you two?”
“Yeah,” she says. He can hear her smile. “They’re really good, actually. Better than I ever imagined.”
Jim remembers. He swallows hard. “Please don’t tell me any more.”
“Not until I can ply you with appletinis and paint your toenails,” Pepper agrees.
He grins and takes another swig of his beer. “I liked that gunmetal gray polish you used last time.”
“I know you did. I can’t imagine why.”
“War Machine rocks, baby.”
“You won’t get any argument from me,” she says, laughing, and then, “Oh, Tony’s home.” Her voice gets a little muffled. “It’s Rhodey, Tony.”
Jim hears Tony say, “Gimme.” There’s a rustling noise, and then Tony’s voice comes through, clear and full of laughter. “Hey, honey graham, when are you coming back to New York?”
Jim swallows. “Soon. Later this spring, I think.”
“Unacceptable. Not soon enough. I’ll call the Secretary of Defense, I’ll work something --”
“Tony, no,” Jim says. “I’m in the middle of something here, I have responsibilities.”
“You always have responsibilities, sourpatch.”
“Yeah. Funny how that works, what with being the only member of the military with a superpowered piece of proprietary technology.”
“Nah, you were like this even at MIT.”
“I didn’t hear you complaining when my sense of responsibility pulled you out of a desert.”
Tony gives a quick shout of laughter. “So true, so true,” he says. “How long will you get to stay this time?”
“I can stretch it to about a month,” Jim says, and he smiles as Tony repeats this to Pepper.
“Not long enough,” Tony says to him then. “Story of your life.”
“I’ve never had any complaints,” Jim replies dryly.
“Hey-o,” Tony says, and Jim can imagine the cheesy wink that goes along with it. “Oh, and when you get here we’ll set you up with Steve.”
And just like that, the warmth empties out of Jim’s chest. “Sure,” he manages. Then he clears his throat and gets a hold of himself. Tony wants him to hang out with Captain America, and that will be amazing. “Miss you two,” he adds.
“Oh, we know, gumdrop,” Tony says. “We do, too.”
“I’ll let you go,” Jim says. “Talk to you soon.”
“Sure thing,” Tony says, and then Pepper grabs the phone to say goodbye, and Jim really wishes he were in New York instead of Colorado Springs.
I can’t remember where this bit of conversation between Steve and Rhodey came from -- it might be a cut scene from one of my other fics. But it’s basically IM2 Rhodey meta in the form of a conversation. Or really in the form of a monologue. So you can see why it didn’t end up in a fic.
“I’m just saying,” Rhodey says over his beer. They’re eating pizza in Rhodey’s hotel room because they know their conversation will end up being too sensitive to be overheard. “You gotta understand Tony. His whole life, he tried to live up to his dad’s impossible standards. After his parents died in that car crash, he came back and turned out the best weapon designs the US military has ever seen. Better than his old man's ever were. And then -- well, you know about Afghanistan, right?”
“Yeah,” Steve says. “I read his file.”
“Yeah,” Rhodey says. “I found him wandering in the desert, and I brought him back, and he was -- he’d changed, you know? And I feel bad, one of the last conversations we had before he was kidnapped was all about how I knew he could do more with his life, how he could be better. And then our convoy was attacked and he just vanished.” There’s a pause, and then he adds, “I should have saved him.”
And, oh, does Steve know that feeling.
“When he came back,” Rhodey continues, “he announced that Stark Industries was going to stop making weapons, and, I mean, that was my job. I was the Air Force liaison to Stark Industries. I had almost ruined my career looking for him in Afghanistan. My COs were all over my ass that whole time. It was just -- I wanted him to be better, you know? To live up to his potential for greatness. And he started doing so but in the way that most threatened my entire livelihood. I love the guy, but it was -- it caused kind of a rift.”
“I can imagine,” Steve replies. He takes a swig of beer. “But it worked out, right? I mean, you’re still here, and you’re War Machine now.”
Rhodey snorts. “Man, you do not even want to know how that happened. Ask Agent Romanoff sometime, she was there.” He frowns into his pint. “I should have realized what was going on. I should have known -- okay, he was dying, right?”
“What?” Steve says, his voice sharp.
“Last year on his birthday. I got back to Malibu for his party, and he was so sick he nearly collapsed in his lab. His arc reactor was burning through cores. He was dying from palladium poisoning. I knew he was sick -- I saw the smoking cores -- but I was just so frustrated with him because he seemed to be back on this self-destructive course. And I think I was in denial, too. He miniaturized an arc reactor and installed it in his chest in a cave in Afghanistan, you know? I didn’t want to believe that anything could really hurt him. Now I know he was just -- he was dying with no hope of a cure. He gave his art collection to the Boy Scouts, he gave his company to Pepper, and he cooked up a ridiculous plan to get me to fight him in the armor so that he could give me the suit. He knew I’d never take it if I knew.”
Steve is frozen, horrified, imagining Tony dying and trying to hide it from everyone while still preparing for the inevitable.
Rhodey shakes his head. “We destroyed a huge chunk of the Malibu house. It didn’t occur to me for ages afterward that he’d adapted the armor specifically so I could fly it. I mean, he’s incredibly tight with his security. I was such an idiot, thinking I’d taken it from him. I couldn’t have stolen one if I’d wanted to.” He finishes his beer. “Jesus, even that fight was a sort of training exercise. I learned to use the suit because Tony made me.”
“But he’s not still sick,” Steve says. He cracks open a new beer and hands it over. “His file would say so if he were.”
“Nah, Fury brought over some of his dad’s old files, which apparently held the solution Tony needed. Fury is a piece of work. He couldn't have done that sooner? Anyway, Tony built a particle accelerator in about a day and created a new core. I have no idea how. That science shouldn’t work.” Rhodey sips his beer, his gaze suddenly piercing. “Look, I’m not telling you this to have a good gossip about my best friend. You’re his CO now, and he’s -- well. For his own safety, you need to know some of these things that I happen to know for a fact Tony redacted from his own file.”
This is a doomed fake relationship fic -- an Avengers/White Collar fusion. It was going to have it ALL: identity porn, fake dating, that Peter/Neal sort of dynamic that hits all my buddy-cop buttons along with my reformed-rake-falls-for-upright-citizen buttons. I actually have a sort of outline with it (unusual for my stories). Its working title was “Undercover,” because I am SUPER GOOD AT TITLES. I also started writing this story just as my interest in Steve/Tony as a pair started to dwindle.
- basically I love buddy cop AUs and fake relationships as part of buddy cop AUs
- BUT I think we can all agree that Tony Stark would never, ever, in any universe EVER become a cop
- SOOOOO I think he’s maybe like Neal on White Collar -- let’s have him be young, in his 20s, and Steve’s the FBI guy who catches him as he’s just unleashed JARVIS on an unsuspecting world, and Steve says “look, you may be a genius billionaire, but you can either go to jail for breaking through FBI security or you can come work with me” so Tony agrees to consult
- Everybody knows who Tony is, and the way Tony chooses to explain Steve’s constant presence is as his latest boytoy (Steve wants to be a bodyguard, but Happy will have none of that, and also Tony thinks this is hilarious)
- Maybe I could work in a little identity porn here if Tony is working on the IM armor because he likes fighting bad guys but he knows how much Steve would frown on vigilante justice?
- And of course loooooove and sexxin’
Special Agent Steve Rogers stared through the tinted windows of Tony Stark’s limo at the enormous bank of paparazzi outside Stark Mansion. He would never get used to this.
“Let’s go, Rogers,” said Tony Stark as they pulled through the gates and came to a gentle stop outside the front door. He held out his hand imperiously. “Time for the show.”
Steve sighed and took Tony’s hand. He was used, now, to the slide of Tony’s fingers between his, the feel of Tony’s calluses and the way he absently twitched his thumb from time to time. He was used to these things in the same way he was used to Tony’s casual kisses and the pressure of Tony’s hand at the small of his back.
Which is to say: not used to any of it at all, not in the sense that he could ever think of these touches as commonplace and everyday.
Steve closed his eyes and let himself imagine, just for a moment, that Tony actually wanted him.
Happy opened the door, cleverly angled so that the paparazzi could get some decent shots (but not great ones). Tony vaulted out of the car, dragging Steve behind him.
“Come here,” Tony said, pulling Steve closer. “You are so unconvincing.”
“I am not, I’m just not a public showboat,” Steve retorted.
Tony laughed as if Steve had said something adorable, and then he groped Steve’s ass, planted a kiss on his cheek, and ushered him into the house.
“There, that should keep them happy for another week or two,” Tony said as soon as the door closed behind them. He dropped Steve’s hand like Steve was actually made of hot lava. “Now. Justin Hammer. Tell me the latest.”
The whole thing had started back when Steve was assigned to liaise with the Cyber Division.
“Ma’am,” he said. His supervisor, ASAC Maria Hill, was eyeing him in a way that he thought was meant to discourage the question he was about to ask. “I have no experience that would suggest that I would be a good fit for Cyber.”
“Yes, Rogers, but you’re hardly a Luddite,” Hill said. “You’re also quickly becoming one of Organized Crime’s best agents. You know as well as I do that Justin Hammer is inches away from blurring all the lines between Cyber and Organized Crime. If we’re going to bring him down one day, we need the case agent to have strong links with Cyber.”
“The case agent?” Steve said. “You’re going to put me in charge of the Hammer case?”
Hill leaned back in her chair and shrugged. “It has to go to someone,” she said. “I mean, technically we don’t have a case yet. If you can get us something -- anything -- you can have the case.”
The Justin Hammer case. This would make Steve’s career.
“What’s the catch?” he said.
“You’ll be working primarily with Agent Pym,” she replied.
Steve rubbed his forehead. “The AI guy?”
“He thinks the Bureau is being hacked by a new AI,” she said. “He suspects there’s a connection with Hammer, since the Hammer files are most frequently targeted.”