"Tell me exactly what happened when the convoy got hit."
Rhodey glanced over at Tony as their limo headed west on Sheik Rashid Road. Eventually they would turn to the southwest, following the Arabian coastline until they reached the villa Tony was using until the one on The Palm Jumeirah was completed.
Skyscrapers, rising up on both sides of the road, glittered in the evening light, and the traffic, though heavy, moved along at a steady clip as they skirted the edge of downtown Dubai. Everything looked clean and sharp and vibrated with the energy of a modern growing twenty-first century metropolis. Carefully structured landscapes, filled with lush green palm trees and sparkling pools of water, alternated with sandy desert patches of undeveloped land, architecture that raised the bar on what was possible, and massive new construction projects. Tony stared out at it all; a dark shape slumped against the window, his head pressed against the tinted glass.
Sighing to himself, Rhodey considered how to answer Tony. He had hoped Tony would fall back to sleep once they had gotten him in the limo; Rhodey knew the transfer from the C-17 to the Gulfstream and the short flight to Dubai had left Tony completely drained. However, Rhodey recognized the distracted look on Tony's face, and knew what it meant. Something was running through his head and, exhausted or not, Tony was going to worry at whatever it was that had his attention until his body simply shut down on him.
"Not much to tell," Rhodey finally said. "We got hit, they grabbed you and then it was over."
"A little more detail would be nice."
"Hey, I'm the wrong person to ask. After they hit the first Humvee, a few of us tried to get to your vehicle, but all the gunfire kept us pinned down. And then something blew up and the next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital a few hours after the fact."
"You probably got hit by the same RPG that got me," Tony said. "Sorry about that."
"Wasn't your fault. You didn't shoot it."
"Maybe not." Tony grimaced. "But I'm the one who made it."
Frowning, Rhodey wondered where the hell that comment had come from.
After repeatedly reviewing the attack over the last three months, Rhodey still found one thing that bothered him about how the whole scenario had played out. On the surface, the attack had the appearance of a straightforward snatch and grab, but the way the insurgents had executed that attack…
"What is it?"
Surprised he had drifted enough that he hadn't noticed Tony watching him; Rhodey shook his head and said impulsively, "I don't think they were after you."
Rhodey stared at the back of the passenger seat as he organized his thoughts. "They couldn't have known which vehicle you were in-- for all they knew, you could have been in the lead Humvee simply because it had the best view."
"Someone at the demonstration could have radioed ahead."
"Okay, you shot that down quick. Any particular reason why?"
"It doesn't fit," Rhodey said. "Even if someone had radioed ahead, you don't shoot rocket propelled grenades at the person you're trying to kidnap-- for obvious reasons." He waved a hand at the Arc Reactor hidden under Tony's t-shirt. "And they weren't exactly being selective about where or what they were shooting at." Rhodey shook his head again. "No, I think it was just a random attack that got lucky. Someone must have spotted you after you got out of the Humvee and decided then and there to grab you. Not many people ride around Afghanistan in a military convoy wearing a business suit and drinking scotch."
"Yeah well, I've never looked good in desert brown," Tony said as he turned away.
It took more than thirty minutes to reach the property Tony had purchased off the One and Only Royal Mirage resort. The three mansions that sat on the property, enclosed within a tastefully designed privacy wall, were surprisingly secluded and Rhodey had briefly entertained the idea of flying Tony in on a helicopter to avoid moving him around too much. He ended up tossing the idea when he thought about all the vacationing tourists nearby, and the fact that CNN, Reuters and the BBC all had offices in Dubai's Media City a few miles west of the resort. The press might not be monitoring the place now, but a helicopter flying in would certainly have made them curious enough to start.
As soon as they stopped moving, Rhodey slipped out and walked around to the back of the limo. There was a solid chuck as the lock released, and then the trunk popped open on its own. Rhodey reached in, grabbing the collapsed wheelchair tucked inside and pulled it out. He quickly snapped it back into its proper shape.
Tony was leaning out of the limo and glaring at the wheelchair as Rhodey rolled it his way.
"Okay, we're done with the chair," he said.
Rhodey shook his head. "Nope, you're not done with the chair until I say you're done with the chair." Before Tony could offer up a protest, Rhodey pointed out, "Hey, I'll tie you to the thing if I have to."
That earned him a reluctant smile. "Oh, didn't realize you were into the bondage thing. I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I invite you over." As Rhodey considered an appropriate response to that, Tony reached up and grabbed the top of the limo's door for balance as he climbed to his feet. With a little guidance from Rhodey, he turned and sat in the chair.
Once in place Tony leaned back and paused a moment to catch his breath before pointing towards the door and announcing, "Home, James." He looked up at Rhodey and grinned. With the straggly beard and the dark circles around his eyes, Tony's grin ended up looking a bit demented.
Rhodey gave him a suspicious look. "You're going to be a pain the whole time we're here, aren't you?"
"As long as you're forcing me to sit in this chair I am."
Rhodey rolled his eyes and started pushing the wheelchair towards the mansion. "Great. Thanks for the warning."
As they crossed over the threshold, the interior lights suddenly increased in brightness and a voice said, "Welcome back, sir."
"Hey, Jarvis! How've you been?"
"I have found myself quite bored without you here to constantly harass me," the house AI answered evenly.
"I don't harass you."
"Perhaps pester would be a better definition."
"Yeah, but you like it when I pester you."
"It's what I live for sir."
Tony laughed. It had been far too long since Rhodey had heard that sound and he felt a weight begin to lift off his shoulders-- until Tony snapped his fingers in front of his face and said, "Hey, you're going the wrong way. Kitchen's over there."
"This your subtle way of telling me you're hungry?"
"No, I thought we might have a deep philosophical discussion about the new Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue while we polished the silverware."
Rhodey was beginning to wonder why he thought stopping here was a good idea.
Leaning back in the chair that was on the balcony outside of his room, Rhodey took a deep breath and closed his eyes, enjoying the early morning silence. He hadn't slept much, having spent most of the night checking up on Tony to make sure the man was getting the sleep he needed instead of putzing around in his workroom.
At least that was the reason he kept telling himself.
Tony had caught him once looking in. He had stared at Rhodey then shook his head and smiled as he made a show of pulling the sheet up to his chin and closing his eyes while saying firmly, "Good night, Rhodey."
They both knew the real reason he kept looking in on Tony was simply to reassure himself that Tony was actually there and that this wasn't all a dream.
Eventually-- after making Jarvis promise to call him if there were any problems-- Rhodey had called it a night. Still, he had only managed to get in two hours of sleep before getting back up to check on Tony again. When he found him still asleep, Rhodey had wandered down to the kitchen to grab some coffee out of the pot Jarvis was brewing for him.
As he was savoring his second cup of the morning, Jarvis said, "Colonel Rhodes?"
Rhodey immediately set the coffee down. "Is something wrong Jarvis?"
"Nothing serious, but you may wish to check the master bathroom."
Damn. "The bathroom?" Rhodey quickly headed back into the house. "What happened? Did Tony slip or something?"
"No, but I believe he is in need of some assistance."
Rhodey stopped. "Assistance doing what?" he asked carefully, almost afraid to know what Tony might need assistance with.
"As far as I can tell, washing his hair."
Rhodey groaned and rubbed his forehead. "He tried to wash his hair? Using both hands I take it?"
"Yes. It seemed to cause him… some distress." Rhodey was sure the slight pause he heard in that sentence was Jarvis searching for a term a little less dramatic than screaming in agony.
When he reached the door to the master bath, Rhodey knocked then called out, "Tony? You all aright buddy?"
As he opened the door a crack, he heard Tony mutter "Tattletale."
Jarvis was clearly unsympathetic to whatever plight Tony was in. "You have not moved from that spot in the last ten point four minutes," the AI said. "That in itself is not unusual. However, since this lack of movement was preceded by an impressive number of swearwords, I thought it best to inform Colonel Rhodes of your current situation."
There was an annoyed huff, then silence.
"Come on in," Tony said. "Not like you haven't seen me naked before."
Cautiously stepping into the bathroom, half-expecting to find Tony sprawled out on the floor, he instead found him sitting on a bench inside a shower that looked big enough to hold four people. He had somehow managed to throw a robe around himself, and he looked relatively dry except for his hair-- which still had white streaks of lathered up shampoo stuck between the dark strands-- and his face-- which was shiny from a mixture of water and sweat.
Rhodey walked over to Tony. Tony was doubled over on the bench and holding his right arm tight against his body. Crossing his arms, Rhodey asked, "You tried washing your hair?"
Tony squinted up at him, dark eyes narrow and defensive. "Gee, I wonder what gave me away?"
"You tried washing your hair with both hands less than two days after being shot in the shoulder?"
"Okay, give me a break here; this is the first time I've had to deal with this kind of a problem."
"You knew better!"
"Well clearly I didn't or you wouldn't be in here right now," Tony snapped, clearly irritated and frustrated with his condition.
Rhodey stared at him and then, unable to help himself, he started chuckling. As he sat down on the bench, Tony glared at him.
"Well, I'm glad my pain amuses you."
"Sorry, but you look like a drowned puppy right now." Rhodey waited until Tony had relaxed a little before asking, "Think you can you lie down on this?" He indicated the bench they were sitting on.
Puzzled, Tony said, "Shouldn't be a problem. Gonna to make it worth my while?"
"Yeah, like you're in any condition for me to make it worth your while. Figure it'll be easier to wash out the shampoo if you're lying down; that way your shoulder won't get any wetter than it is right now. Then I'm going to change those dressings and make sure you're using that sling you're supposed to be wearing; you know, the one that's supposed to remind you not to do stupid things like this." He pushed off the bench and rose to his feet. "Any questions?"
Glancing around at the multiple showerheads, Rhodey asked, "Is one of these a handheld?"
"Um, that one." Tony gestured to the showerhead above his head. "It has the deep massage settings. Kind of why the bench is here. You can have a lot of fun with that one."
"I'm sure you can."
After helping Tony lie down, supporting his head with one hand as it hung over the edge of the bench, Rhodey pulled down the showerhead with the other and switched it on.
As he was rinsing the shampoo out, keeping the water pressure low and holding the showerhead close to Tony's scalp to keep the spray to a minimum, Tony asked him, "Was the attack on the convoy the first time you've heard of Stark tech being used by the other side?"
Rhodey shrugged. "Yes. I would have told you if I'd heard about something like that happening. And if we didn't know about it, I'm sure the press would have been happy to enlighten the both of us. It was bound to happen sooner or later though."
Tony frowned at him. "Was it?"
"Tony, you of all people know that you can get your hands on just about anything, if you've got the money to spend."
"I know but…" Tony shook his head, and started to wave his arms in the air as if to emphasize whatever he was about to say; but was forced to stop moving as a moan of pain slipped out of him. Tony closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, the pattern of his breathing going from relatively even to short quick pants. Rhodey turned off the water and waited for Tony's breathing to even out.
"You all right?"
"Yeah, just help me sit up."
Rhodey braced Tony until he was upright, and then gently rested his hand reassuringly on the top of Tony's head before stepping out of the shower to grab a towel.
"Were you done?" Tony asked, keeping his head bowed so Rhodey could dry his hair.
"Yeah, I'm done."
When he finished, he left the towel draped over Tony's shoulders and sat back down on the bench. Tony took a deep breath and leaned against the wall. "How did Obie react when you told him about what happened?" he asked quietly without opening his eyes.
Rhodey frowned, He was beginning to figure out what it was Tony was obsessing over. That wasn't a surprise-- almost being killed by your own weapons would make anyone go through a period of reflection. The problem was, Rhodey couldn't tell what direction those reflections were taking Tony; and that was starting to worry him.
"He was not happy," Rhodey said carefully. That had been one call Rhodey had not wanted to make. Having to tell Obadiah Stane-- chief financial officer of Stark Industries and Tony's mentor in the fine art of running a multi-billion dollar business-- that he had not only lost the CEO of Stark Industries, but had lost him to insurgents using weapons manufactured by the same company, ranked right up there as the second worst moment in Rhodey's life.
Of course, losing Tony had been THE worst moment of his life.
Tony opened his eyes and gave Rhodey a weary amused look. "I'm guessing that's an understatement?"
Rhodey nodded. "There was a lot of yelling involved."
"Actually no. The conversation ran mostly along the lines of 'how the hell did they get our weapons', and 'what the hell did they have?' He was out in the field the next day trying to help us figure out what equipment the insurgents had used and which shipments they might have come from in the hope that it would lead us to your location."
"Obviously it didn't."
"No. As far as Obadiah's been able to tell, no shipments have gone missing. He thinks it might have happened sometime after delivery; he just hasn't been able to pinpoint which shipments went astray."
"Yeah, that's going to take forever without the serial numbers to go off of." Tony stared up at the ceiling. "I'll give him a call this afternoon."
"Uh, no you won't."
Tony blinked. "I won't?"
"Nope. Jarvis has strict orders not to let you talk to anyone right now." When Tony began to frown, Rhodey added, "You're supposed to be resting, Tony."
"I am resting. And, unless you've forgotten, I'm the one who build Jarvis. He'll do whatever I tell him to do."
"Not at this moment, sir," the AI said.
"Really? And why is that?"
"Because you also gave Miss Potts command override authority in the event you were ever incapacitated. You are currently incapacitated."
"Obadiah also said to tell you he won't accept any of your calls if you somehow manage to swipe my cell phone between now and the time we get home," Rhodey said.
"So in other words, you're all ganging up on me."
Rhodey smiled. "Yep."
Tony stared at him a minute, then shook his head and smiled back. "Okay, fine, you win. I know when I've been outmaneuvered." He scratched his beard, and then gave Rhodey a thoughtful look. "Hey, think you can give me a shave while you're here? This is beginning to itch."
"No. I don't think me having a razor blade anywhere near your throat right now is a good idea."
Tony chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, probably not."
Rhodey patted Tony's knee and stood up. "Is there someone in Dubai I can call?"
"Yeah. Just give Pepper a ring, she'll have my barber's number somewhere on file."
"Right. Just let me know when you're ready for me to change those dressings."
"I will be glad to inform you when Mr. Stark is ready, Colonel," Jarvis said before Tony could open his mouth. The AI sounded a bit smug to Rhodey's ears.
"Thanks Jarvis." Glancing back as he stepped out of the bathroom, Rhodey was just in time to catch Tony shooting a glare at the ceiling.
"Remind me to reprogram you when we get back to Malibu, Jarvis."
"Your wish is my command, sir."