How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?
People say that you never are given situations in your life that you can't deal with. No obstacle is too strong and that uplifting bullshit.
None of them had ever met Toni Stark.
When Rhodey had woken up in the hospital after taking the hit from the beam Vision had tried to use to bring down the Falcon (it is never going to be Sam or even Wilson to him now), with a somber looking Phil Coulson in the room he knew something had gone wrong, absolutely wrong. He had questioned him immediately, wondering where the hell Toni was, and knowing the brunette would never abandon him to the pain of waking up alone as she had in Afghanistan. The agent had tried to skirt around the issue, refute all of his efforts to know the location of his tiny genius companion, but Rhodey had persisted.
Now he wished he hadn't.
He hadn't believed the agent when he first told him the news, thinking that the man was playing some mean joke. He hadn't believed Hill either when she came in and confirmed the story. He hadn't believed anyone.
That is till he saw Pietro.
When he had first met the guy, during the Ultron mess, he hadn't known what to think. Yes he was pissed at the male twin for his helping the enemy and trying to kill the one person Rhodey would die to protect, but he could somewhat see the reasoning. After hearing the story, he cursed Stane to the deepest parts of hell which was something he hadn't done in a long time. So he had no problem with the guy, unlike his unstable sister who had tried to drive his genius mad.
Quicksilver had been sitting against the wall that was connected to the door to the morgue. His blonde hair was in tangles and dark circles framed his lifeless eyes. He wore simple sweats an old band t-shirt that he recognized. He had gotten it at a concert years ago and it had been stolen by Toni sometime during his stay in the mansion after his massive screw up that led to him becoming War Machine.
"I found her." he whispered after Rhodey had dragged him to get some food at the SHIELD cafeteria.
The simple statement made the soldier's blood run cold, realizing that Pietro was confirming the truth that everyone had been telling him.
The blonde let out a humorless laugh. "She told me a few months ago, when this thing was breaking out, that she had a feeling it was gonna come down to her or Steve. She couldn't stop with Ross breathing down her neck. Rogers was too stubborn to stop and listen for once in his life. She knew with the way things were going it was gonna come down to the two of them."
Running a hand through the mess of his hair, Pietro continued. "She told me that she was going to do her best to come back but she was not going to hurt Steve. If it came down to only one of them surviving, she stated that it wasn't going to be her. Then she made me promise after her funeral to make sure the new Accords were instated and that Ross was behind bars with his life in shambles. She wanted him alive though, wanted him to live with the knowledge that she had taken everything. She wanted him to be an example to what happens to people who mess with her family. She didn't need to make me swear it; especially after she riled him up into smacking her across the face so hard she hit the ground."
He felt his eyes go wide. "He what?"
The Sokovian nodded. "After you went down she found out the truth about Barnes' psychiatrist. She knew Ross knew more than he let on and she needed more information before she could interrogate Wilson and get Rogers' location. Add that she was pissed about the RAFT and wanted to get physical assault on the other list of offences she had against him…"
The picture painted in Rhodey's mind as he realized what she had done. "She riled him up to get him to act rashly."
Pietro nodded. "I got the whole thing on video and had FRIDAY add it to the file she had on him. T'Challa and I were going to take him to court in a few weeks. I can't make myself do it now, not with it being so soon since…"
He trailed off, his eyes glassing over in memories. "How?" Rhodey whispered, knowing he didn't need to elaborate on what knowledge he needed.
The younger man nodded. "Ross knew Rogers and Barnes were headed to Siberia and was planning on sending some assassins after them. He let it slip out under his breath as Toni and I were leaving the room after he hit her. She went to Wilson and ended up finding out that HYDRA had more soldiers frozen in their old base, which is where Steve and Bucky were headed. She made repairs on the suit and made sure your leg braces," he pointed to the black contraptions on attached to his pants, "were done before she left."
Pietro was silent, taking a deep breath before continuing. "Right around the time she made it to the base, FRIDAY went ahead and told us to head out. She didn't think it was gonna go well. To start off, she was wrong. Toni was able to get Rogers to listen for a minute and told him she was gonna help with the soldiers. They stood down, and they all went to find them."
"Did they, find them that is?"
The blonde sighed. "Technically yes. Zemo had them killed so they found the bodies in their cryo chambers. They had a confrontation and then he pulled out his big weapon."
Rhodey was apprehensive, knowing that this was the part where everything changed drastically. "What was it?"
With a swallow, the man continued. "A video with footage from a roadside security tape, dated December 17, 2004."
It took a minute for the date to sink in but when it did sent him reeling. "Howard and Maria." He breathed out their names, as his brain came to another shocking conclusion. His eyes snapped to meet the dull blue orbs of his companion. "Barnes?"
He was met with a nod. "He bashed Howard's head in with his arm, fitting if you ask me. After that he strangled Maria. Toni saw the whole thing on the footage, but here's the kicker." He went silent for a minute before his eyes were consumed by absolute rage. "Rogers knew since the fall of SHIELD and never said a word."
Anger and disbelief filled him, quickly followed by disgust. "He knew for almost three years and never said anything. And wasn't he pissed about her keeping Ultron a secret? That bastard!"
Pietro nodded. "I know. Well as you can guess, Toni was pissed and when she found out the Rogers knew, well it sent her off the edge. She went to attack Barnes and Rogers sided with him, as expected. They fought; the super soldier team were giving it all they had while Toni was holding back. Eventually she went in for a blow and Rogers caught her with his shield. He flew off the handle." He choked up, eyes filling with tears. "He started hitting the suit with the damn thing. From the security footage, we know he hit he a total of twenty seven times. I mean he wailed on her Rhodes, absolutely beat the shit out of her. Then he finished it off and left her there with the shield and Barnes' arm that Toni had blown off with one of her repulsors. T'Challa was waiting for them, having gotten a call for before she left. He had Zemo and he left for Wakanda, taking the both of them. From what I understand, Barnes went back under while Rogers is staying there, besides that small visit to the States to break out everyone." His voice turned bitter and Rhodey knew he was thinking of Wanda. If he himself ever saw her, he was going to have to have a lot better control of he might kill himself a witch.
Speedy was silent for a minute before he continued, pulling the soldier out of his murderous haze. "Toni had to pry herself out the suit. The arc reactor was damaged and all power was cut off from FRIDAY. She ended up cutting up her fingers real bad and broke her right arm when she tried to get the thing off with her already sprained wrist. She was covered in blood, more than a few bones were broken and that's not talking about the other injuries. Her chest was a nightmare. The skin was burned from the reactor. Her face was messed up, covered in bruises. Her nose was broken and she had bitten through her tongue during the video. Her jaw was fractured from an accidental hit to her face. It was awful."
He shook his head, trying unsuccessfully to get rid of the tears in his icy eyes. "I arrived on a jet with Coulson, Hill, and Bruce. Because I'm faster than the rest of them, Quicksilver remember, I went ahead." He choked on a sob for a second before continuing. "The room was covered in blood. The shield was just lying there. Barnes' arm was ripped apart. Toni was lying in the corner struggling to breathe. The doctors say her lung was punctured by one of her broken ribs and that if she hadn't died of blood loss that would have killed her before we got her home."
Rhodey flinched with hearing her name being used with the "d" word. It burned raw now and he knew that it always would.
Pietro let out a watery laugh. "She died in my arms. I held her, begging her to stay and for Bruce to hurry up. She asked if I remembered my promise to take down Ross and when I told her yes, she added to it. She wanted the rest of them brought home and all the charges dropped. I told her I would try and then she told me that she left letters and a few videos in her lab at the compound. She wanted me to make sure they got out to the people that had them. You have one, as do Pepper and Happy, Bruce, Vision, T'Challa, Thor, Hope, Hank, Phil, Hill, Fury, Peter, Laura, Everett, Natasha, Clint, Scott, Sam, Wanda, Barnes, Steve and a few others I'm gonna need help with."
He nodded, already having a few names come to mind. Harley had to have one, as did the Fantastic Four and Charles Xavier. Elizabeth Hudson, a friend of Toni's that lived in London probably had one as did her brother Charles who was the UN representative for Britain. There were others he could add to that list as well.
"Have you watched the videos?"
He nodded. "She left four discs. One was of her explaining everything, giving a full rundown of everything she went through. The second was a video that she wants played for the UN. The third was the full story of how she got the information on Ross. And the other is a video of her singing, dancing and playing."
That made Rhodey freeze. After all this time…
Most people didn't know that Tones was musically inclined. Maria wanted her to have a basis in music, one that she had herself growing up in a wealthy Italian family. By the time she was sixteen, Toni could sing as well as play the piano, guitar, and violin. She also knew ballroom dancing, ballet, tap, jazz, and even a little bit of acrobatics and gymnastics. Peggy also taught her to shoot and throw knives. It was a few hidden secrets that Toni hadn't let through her mask in years. After Jarvis' death right after their graduation from MIT, she had closed off and kept the artistic part of her locked up in a vault. It hurt too much. For her to record a video after all these years just showed just how far she had been pushed. She said once that the only reason she would ever sing again was if she was on her deathbed which proved Pietro right about having known that she knew this was coming.
And didn't that sting, that his best friend saw her own death coming.
Pietro laughed, seeing his face. "I know, I know, I was shocked as well. I've never heard her before but I knew she could sing, granted not as well as she could. Thanks for that."
Despite himself, a smile came to his face. "I didn't know how to describe it. You should be mad at Everett really. He knew her longer than I did." Now that really stung didn't it, referring to her in past tense like that.
Pietro nodded. "He's too busy beating himself up. He thought they were gonna get a chance to reconnect after this was all done."
Rhodey wished they had. He had always liked Ev, having known him almost as long as he had known Toni. His father had been assigned as Maria's protector. His mother was Edwin's sister. He had literally grown up with Toni, had actually been her childhood sweetheart. They had been so happy together, that is till Tiberius Stone and Howard Stark ruined it.
Everett had left her after a particularly nasty encounter with Howard. He believed it safer for her if he left. Toni had been devastated. Granted he had been right. Howard's alcoholic rage was not nearly as bad as it was that spring break when he had found out about his daughter's secret romance. Lucky for everyone, Barnes had gotten him that December. He might actually thank the man for that one.
Everett had been devoted to Toni, absolutely invested in her happiness in a way Rogers never had. The soldier had always been looking for his best friend, had actually missed her birthday all three times and had blown her off constantly. Rhodey had begged Toni to dump him but she had refused.
"I love him Rhodey. I know it doesn't make sense and I know that I probably shouldn't after all he has done but I do. If I break up with him, I might never recover from it."
She had told him that around Christmas when Rogers had been late getting in and missed their date. He had pleaded, begged her to end it again but she had refused. This was just before Everett came back in the picture. If there had been more time, he guaranteed there would have been more problems with that. Ev and Toni had a connection that Rogers could never hope to understand.
They sat in silence, both knowing how the story ended. After Toni told him of the letters and with how much blood had been lost, he knew she would have died pretty quickly afterwards. Coulson had spoken of Bruce and Pietro bringing her home and confirming her death at 4:37 AM on May 22, 2016. Pepper had met them on the landing strip and had had a meltdown. Fury had locked himself in his office, trying to shut out the world as he processed the news of his goddaughter's passing. No one was coping. The public was outraged, with Toni having been a favorite of the press and the government. The UN was planning murder as they spoke. It was a mess and Toni wasn't here to clean anything up anymore.
Pietro sighed and moved to stand. "I'm gonna head back to the compound and try to sleep. I'm in desperate need of a shower as well." He moved to leave, before stopping and reaching into the pocket of his sweatpants. "Speaking of letters, I've been carrying yours around, thinking I might run into you." He passed him a cream envelope, with his name written on it in Toni's perfect cursive. His thump moved to trace over the sharp black letters, written firmly on the front in what he recognized as one of Toni's favorite pins.
He waited till he was back in his room to carefully open the letter, not wanting to destroy one of the last things she had left him. After several long moments he was staring at her writing, on a white piece of paper that meant more to him than his uniform.
I know what you must be thinking. Why? Why did I do this? Why did this happen? Why did you let this happen? And let me say that you didn't let me. I honestly admit that you falling is one of the most painful memories I have because I thought I lost you which is something I haven't felt since the issue with palladium poisoning.
I forgive you for that. I'll admit I was hurt at the time. My best friend had chosen the military over me. I understand now but back then it almost killed me. On my 22nd birthday, when we fought, I thought that was the last contact we were going to have. Uncle Nicky hadn't shown up with all of Howard's old shit and I had run out of combinations to try out as a successful replacement for the core of the reactor. I thought I was done for and it damned near killed me that the last thing we did was fight. I honestly have to thank Natasha for letting it slip. I didn't know how to tell you and probably wouldn't have if given the choice.
I want you to help Pietro bring Ross down. He can't do it alone and while T'Challa and Bruce will help he's gonna need your help. Take the bastard down. I already told him he was gonna regret messing with my family. I only wish that I could be there to see it happen. The same with the Accords for in the right hands they will be exactly what the world and the team needs. It will provide that little bit of security for the people and still let the team fight their battles. Hopefully it'll help people and allow missions to run smoother. Also Pepper will be able to rest easy knowing that someone else is paying for all the damage done in fights.
Do me a favor and live. Find a nice girl that you think I would life because knowing how well you know me, you are probably gonna be right. Settle down, start a family and live for me.
Also try and forgive Steve and the others. I love him Rhodey and I know that I have said this before but I mean it. Granted, if I do live past Siberia we will never be able to make it work. Too much has happened and it is best for us to start over. If I live past this Everett and I might finally get our shot in a world where we don't have to worry about my asshole of a sperm donor.
I love you platypus. I know I didn't say it enough but I do. Make sure the team stays in line and actually thinks. I won't be there to make them anymore which sucks but it's the path we have to walk. Keep them safe for me. Thank you for sticking by me all these years. Who knew when I saved your ass from those racist bullies back on out first day at MIT that we would come this far.
Live for me and remember that life is short. Live for tomorrow, make peace with the past, and treasure the now.
I love you James Rupert Rhodes. You will always be my best friend and if we never meet again in whatever is waiting for us when we are done, know that I will always be with you.
He broke down sobbing, feeling the overwhelming pain that had been threatening to consume him since seeing Pietro come at reading her old nickname, a name he hadn't heard since she was sixteen.
Oh god! Why? Why Toni? Why? Why? Why?
He shook with his sobs, facing the bleak future with uncertainty.
How was he supposed to live without her?