Title: The Dynamics Of Danger And Dedication
Characters: Tony/Rhodey (Slash)
Summary: Rhodey gets a call from Jarvis, and that's never, ever good.
Author's Notes: Follows "The Relationship Of Fact To Fascination" in my larger Tony/Rhodey series (series ranges from ratings T to M). This one is for the tentinyfandoms challenge prompt of "Fight."
Being Tony Stark's friend means getting used to a new idea of normal. Trips on Tony's private jet, spontaneous visits to houses in Montecarlo or Capri or Dubai, fancy gadgets, expensive cars, beautiful women… it's like tagging along with James Bond. Which Rhodey realizes is suddenly even more accurate than it was before.
But one thing Rhodey still finds incredibly unnerving is getting phone calls from Jarvis. It doesn't happen often, and it's always for the same reason.
Something is wrong.
"Mr. Stark's vital signs show distress," Jarvis says, "and Miss Potts is away and not answering her phone. There is no-one available to help him, and Mr. Stark made adjustments to my programming that prevent me from calling an ambulance."
Christ, of all the stupid—
"I'm on my way," Rhodey answers, grabbing his keys from the counter and locking the door behind him. "Can I override—"
"No, Colonel, I'm afraid not." Jarvis almost sounds regretful.
"Don't know why I even asked," Rhodey mutters, slamming open the stairwell door and taking the stairs two at a time. He and Tony are going to have a serious talk about the importance of personal safety. Again.
Rhodey makes it to Tony's house in seven minutes, shattering traffic laws and his own personal sense of civic responsibility along the way. Fuck Tony for living in his castle in the middle of nowhere—it's always too far away when it counts.
Jarvis lets Rhodey in, guiding him downstairs. "Mr. Stark seems much better now, however, and I apologize for the inconvenience."
Rhodey shakes his head. "Better safe than sorry." Both of them know what Tony's capable of, even if only one of them understands where it can lead.
When Rhodey opens the door to the lab, Tony is nowhere in sight. It's not until Rhodey looks down and takes a few steps forward that he sees him, propped up against one of his own tables and looking thoroughly wiped out. Rhodey reaches down a hand to pull Tony up, a macho formula they've exercised too many times over the years, back when friendship was the only thing between them.
Tony looks at him with such weary soulfulness that Rhodey can hardly move, lost in those eyes and the feeling of Tony's hand in his. But then he recovers, pulling Tony close and holding him tight enough to quiet the savage pounding of his own heart. Tony grows steadier inside the circle of Rhody's arms, and when Tony finally pulls back, his color is better and his expression is ablaze with new purpose.
"Obi has the arc-reactor, the new one, and he's up to something. Pepper found some files on his computer earlier, and he came over here to steal the reactor right out of my chest."
Rhodey's throat clenches and he looks down quickly, checking for the now-familiar light of the machine that keeps Tony alive. It's right where it belongs, but somehow different—duller, more crudely fashioned. Jarvis was right—Tony had been in trouble. "Are you okay?" Rhodey asks hoarsely, thinking about all the what-ifs Tony just barely escaped.
"I'm fine now," Tony says, patting Rhodey's arm. His voice is stronger and his movements are already showing impatience.
Rhodey squeezes Tony's shoulder reluctantly and lets him go. "So then your plan is…"
"Gonna get the bastard, of course."
Yeah. Of course.
What comes next is a first for Rhodey. He's seen Tony in the suit before, and the suit itself in various pieces and formations. But he's never witnessed Tony getting into the suit, and he supposes he should have expected something like this—the suit being assembled onto Tony, as if Tony were being run through an automotive plant. It's pretty damn impressive.
"You ever get pinched when the parts are joined together?" Rhodey calls out.
"If Dummy were running the show I'd be dead by now, but it's all Jarvis' doing. Kind of rocky the first time, though."
Rhodey chuckles. "I'll bet."
Tony's got that focused look in his eyes, and his mouth is grim. He's about to face off with a man he's known and trusted most of his life, the man who tried to kill him just an hour ago, and Rhodey knows how bad that's got to hurt. He also knows that Tony can be ruthless when he needs to.
"I'm going to Stark Industries," Tony says, the suit almost complete. "Obi probably plans to use the reactor for something he's worked up in the lab."
"I'll meet you there," Rhodey promises, stepping forward and brushing his fingers over Tony's face. "Be careful," he adds.
Tony kisses him, and it's quick but sincere. "You always say that now."
Rhodey remembers all the times he'd be leaving for a dangerous mission, and Tony would call to tell him the same thing. "Now you know what it's like."
Tony grins, and then the faceplate goes down and he's all business. He motions Rhodey back away from the platform, and then blasts off out through the roof, the light from his propulsion boots already a pinprick before the ignition echo dies.
Rhodey shakes his head, and turns to head back upstairs. His own suit waits right there in front of him, gleaming and untested. If the damn world could just behave itself for half a day, Tony would have led him through the basics on the suit already. Rhodey swears that when this Obi crisis is over, he'll hound Tony nonstop until they make that happen. A man can stand having his brand new toy kept on ice for just so long, and Rhodey's patience is wearing thin. It's all he can do to keep from putting it on and trying to use it on the spot.
"Next time, baby," he says wistfully.
He shakes his head and runs up the stairs and out to his car. He hopes to God Tony doesn't need his help, because Stark Industries is halfway across the city and the land route's going to take longer than either of them would like.
It's a week night, but people are driving like they're high, or maybe they're too busy yakking on their cellphones to pay attention to the road. Either way, the trip is slow and damned aggravating, and Rhodey needs that rocket-powered suit, like yesterday. Why the hell does he ever let people think he's a patient man? He lays on the horn and skirts around a jeep with a bunch of hopped-up frat boys in it. Another mile of this, and he might just start driving on the sidewalk.
After two more blocks, the traffic breaks up a little and moves more smoothly. Ten minutes later, it's even better. Rhodey's within two blocks of Stark Industries now and breathing more easily.
Until the flames rise into the sky up ahead and an SUV suddenly becomes airborne. What the hell?
It's got to be Tony or something to do with him, though Rhodey wishes it wasn't. If Tony needs that kind of firepower against Obadiah Stane, things have really gotten out of hand.
Rhodey can't afford to get trapped in traffic, so he eases over to the side of the street and parks the car. Then he gets out and starts running. Only a crazy man or a soldier runs toward danger, and right now Rhodey's a little of both. He's not sure whether he can even help Tony, or exactly how, but he's got to try. The bus exploding off to the left only slows him down for a second, and then he keeps on going.
The front entrance of Stark Industries is locked—no surprise there. Rhodey runs around to the back, and comes up against a group of Feds.
"Colonel Rhodes," one of them greets him.
Rhodey blinks. Who the hell are these people, and how do they know who he is?
Violent sounds echo from the rooftop, and Rhodey strains to see beyond the random flashes of light blazing against the sky. He knows Tony must be battling Stane up there, but shouldn't it be over by now? What's taking Tony so long?
A noise like an explosion of breaking glass filters down to where everyone's gathered. Rhodey's heart feels like it's stopped. Whatever that was, it can't be good.
He's stuck waiting with the crowd, worry chewing him up in pieces while he wonders how bad things are. When Pepper cracks open the door and waves him over, Rhodey plows his way through the mob like a runaway bus.
Stane's dead, Pepper tells him. The man built himself a robotic suit like Tony's, and the two of them squared off. Tony made it, Obadiah didn't.
Rhodey has known Stane for years, but he can't begin to care about the man's death after what he did to Tony earlier. The part that matters is that Tony survived, and survival is neither simple nor guaranteed, no matter what Tony likes to think. Unfortunately, the metal suit has only served to make Tony's attitude even worse.
Unbelievably, Rhodey and Pepper are still walking. So many fucking security doors in this place—how much longer until Rhodey finally reaches Tony and can see for himself how he's doing?
"Here," Pepper says suddenly, turning a corner and sliding her key-card for a door marked 'Lab.' "Now remember, it looks worse than it is," she cautions.
Rhodey's heard that a million fucking times—even said it himself—and the look on Pepper's face offers no reassurance. He takes a breath and pushes through the door.
Glass—shards and shattered panes of it everywhere—and Tony's in the middle of it, lying on the floor in his battered suit. "Jesus Christ!" Rhodey chokes.
"It's not that bad," Tony protests, but Rhodey notices that he doesn't get up.
"Why the hell is the suit still on? You could be bleeding and we'd never know it!"
"The suit broke the fall—well, that and the boot rockets—and it comes off the same way it goes on. I.e, at home."
Rhodey finishes picking his way across the floor and crouches next to Tony, scanning his face for signs of deeper trouble. "Why did you let him drag it out so far?" he says, brushing his fingers over Tony's cheek. "You look terrible," he adds accusingly.
"Fucking patent infringement, is what it was." Tony strains to sit up, and Rhodey helps him. "His suit was a replica of mine, but a whole lot bigger. Fortunately, he was missing some of the improvements I made after testing the prototype."
"How can you joke about this?" Rhodey's frustrated and relieved at the same time.
Tony pats Rhodey's arm. "It's been a lousy fucking day." He smiles at Rhodey the way he always does when he's about to get what he wants in spite of Rhodey's better judgment. "Let's go home."
Once the suit is off, Rhodey can see that Tony's right. There are no broken bones or major injuries, just some bruising and a fair amount of fatigue. Nothing that a few days in bed won't take care of.
There's the press-conference fiasco, which Rhodey could seriously kill Tony for: "I am Iron Man"for God's sake—as if sticking to the cover story was so impossibly hard. But after that, Tony gives Pepper a couple of days off and sleeps around the clock. Rhodey's more than happy to join him—he's not sure exactly how much Tony's staff knows about their relationship, but when the house is empty he doesn't have to care. They have sex in Tony's bed for only the second time, and it's definitely more comfortable than the lab floor. Not that Rhodey would complain—he's bedded down on desert and rock before, and he'll do it again if he's called to. He didn't join the military looking for luxury, and he wasn't raised that way to begin with.
"So what do you want to do today?"
Tony sounds surprisingly alert, given that it's before seven. Rhodey knows—he checked his watch about ten minutes ago, resigned to wakefulness with the sun blazing in through Tony's windows (and what the hell is wrong with blinds and curtains anyway?)
He rolls closer to Tony, who's smiling devilishly like he already knows what the answer will be. "Well," Rhodey says, tracing patterns against Tony's shoulder, "there's this suit downstairs with my name on it…"
"Breakfast first, or d'you want to go right down? Wait, scratch that—definitely breakfast. One of us needs coffee, and the other needs to be sure he's thinking straight before we start messing around with rocket thrusters and weapons."
Rhodey leans up on an elbow, and raises an eyebrow. "Are you implying something? Because I've played with heavy artillery before."
"This one doesn't have an ejector seat. Or a parachute."
"Really." Rhodey says. "Because I could swear someone fell through a roof in one of these things just the other night. On purpose."
"Yeah, well." Tony waves his hand disarmingly. "Mitigating circumstances."
Rhodey laughs. "With you, there always are."
Tony's smile brings out a low heat in Rhodey's belly that spreads like wildfire, and just like that, it's clear that breakfast will be delayed.
"Wait, where are you going? I want these robots supervised before they break my knees off sealing me up in this suit!"
"It'll be okay," Tony says nonchalantly. "And I'm just moving the cars out of the garage."
Rhodey remembers the scorch marks on Tony's prized vehicles about four weeks ago. "Oh." Great—now that he's thinking about it, his head is filled with visions of himself accidentally frying half the lab. God, he hopes that doesn't happen. He'd never live it down.
Dummy starts trundling over in his direction, and Tony's remark from the other night rears its head. "Get back!"
"Dummy, go back to your corner and wait," Tony says calmly. He climbs inside the Porsche and drives it around the corner, while Rhodey resigns himself to helplessness as the suit-assembly on the left leg-unit completes.
Ten or fifteen minutes later, the whole thing's finished. Thank God Rhodey doesn't suffer from claustrophobia, or he'd be panicking right now. The suit isn't tight, but it's a damn close fit, and there isn't a lot of free air left to circulate inside it.
He's seen the reflection of the helmet display from the outside, with Tony's suit. It's more detailed than he realized—distance-data, altitude, proximity, his own vital statistics (a distraction he doesn't need), and there'll probably be more when he's not just standing around on the ground.
"What do you think?" Tony calls out between cars.
"Still in one piece," Rhodey answers. "Do you actually even use half the stuff on this display?"
"Does it bother you? I can have Jarvis turn it off."
Rhodey laughs. "Air Force jets, flight simulators—hell, even video games—and you think this is too much for me to handle? Absolutely not."
"There's that competitive spirit. Let me get this last car out of the way, and then we can start."
Rhodey counts the minutes off by trying to pick up a paperclip with his big metal hands. He's already dropped it three times when Tony finally comes back.
The first thing Tony does is activate Jarvis inside Rhodey's helmet, which… damn. Those creepy-ass robots are everywhere, part of the suit itself even, but what really bugs Rhodey is when they talk. Now that's distracting. Next, Tony goes through the basics of initiating flight and how to land again—like Rhodey never read about jet packs in comic books and sci-fi novels, and never dreamed of someday having one of his own. Tony's still talking when Rhodey gets tired of waiting (he's been waiting for days) and starts putting it all into practice.
The boot-rockets are a little tricky at first—
"You should have seen what the prototypes were like, before I calibrated them," Tony comments.
Rhodey gets the hang of them pretty quickly, though. The hand-rockets add more sophisticated horizontal movement, which Rhodey uses to make a circuit of the ceiling. He finishes with a fast rotary spin, and that's almost as much fun as hearing Tony yell at him not to get crazy. Shoe's on the other foot now—about fucking time, too.
"Damn, baby, this is sweet," Rhodey announces once he's on the floor again. "Put yours on, and let's go outside."
Tony blinks. "It's still daylight, you know—I have a certain obligation to the public not to do stuff that'll make them wrap their cars around trees."
"Listen to you, getting all civic-minded…" Rhodey goes for another lap around the ceiling, then swoops down toward the floor and up again, testing out the parameters of control.
"I know—half the time I don't even know who's saying the things that come out of my mouth."
Rhodey lands again. "I think that problem started long before your Superhero project."
Tony smiles dangerously. "Careful, or I'll let Jarvis run medical tests on you while you're sleeping. You know he wants to."
"Man, why you gotta bring shit like that up?"
"Because when it comes to Artificial Intelligences, you're the most paranoid guy I know."
Rhodey clomps around in the boots, getting used to the heavier movements. It's not as bad as he expected. "When one of these robots—or whatever—hijacks your bank accounts and buys half the free world, you'll be singing a different tune."
"Nah. I already own half the world, and I never know how to accessorize for it anyway." Tony crosses his arms, suddenly thoughtful. "Try running a little," he suggests.
It's awkward at first, but the suit's hinges and joints are actually fairly fluid. It seems almost familiar—a little like training with a full eighty-pound kit, and a little like running in shallow water. Not quite as bad as either one.
"About done for now?" The farther away Tony is, the funnier his voice sounds inside Rhodey's helmet.
"Yeah. What else you got planned?"
Tony guides Rhodey back to the staging platform. "A little time on the beach, maybe a movie, and a personal inventory of all your moving and non-moving parts. And you are so lucky that sunset happens around six o'clock this time of year…"
Tony's home theater system is nothing short of awesome, of course, which is not strictly necessary for something like Terminator but no-one will ever catch Rhodey complaining. He always thought the couches were great too, and that was when he was just sitting on them. He and Tony work through several more challenging activities and positions before watching the movie, then start all over again once it's finished. It's like having sex on a cloud.
Tony's game room has a pool table and several arcade video games and pinball machines, but only Rhodey knows that it also has boxes and boxes of dominos. Being engineers, neither he nor Tony can resist setting up complex trails and patterns for domino-tipping. They get one lined up halfway around the room, break for an early dinner, and then come back to finish it. Tony uses books to set up ramps and cascades, and Rhodey works an in-and-out spiral and several paths of parallel-to-single and back again.
After all that preparation, it takes only seventy seconds for the domino chain to run its course. Still worth it, every time.
He catches sight of the sun setting outside. "It's getting dark."
"Well okay then, let's go."
Twenty long minutes later they're both suited up and ready. Tony opens the roof hatchway and gestures for Rhodey to go first. Rhodey activates the boot-rocket ignition, and then he is soaring up and away, ever higher until he joins the sky.
It's not as much like flying a plane as he expected, not really. It's slower—or at least, he chooses for it to be slower, here without parachutes and feeling more exposed than even his first time in a jet. The G-force thrill is less, but everything else is amazingly more. This is like every flying dream Rhodey's ever had, the ones where he remembers the lost secrets of movement or concentration or whatever mystical forces allow the human body to achieve the impossible.
It has all the magic and intimacy of something Rhodey's been chasing his entire life.
Tony comes up from below to join him. "These won't support breaking orbit, by the way, if you were thinking along those lines. And there are a few altitude restrictions."
Rhodey laughs. "Just getting carried away, I guess. Is this too high?"
"You'll know it's too high when Jarvis starts nagging you about the suit icing-over. Still working on that problem."
"A uniform radiating surface layer, maybe? It'd add a few millimeters of thickness to the suit, but not much."
Even in the dark, Rhodey can see Tony blink inside the illuminated helmet. "How do you stand your job, Rhodey, seriously? I know you love the flying and you're true blue and all that, but don't you miss being an engineer? I promise I won't tell."
Rhodey levels off, and Tony shoots past him and then slows and drifts back down again. "I build shit in the garage sometimes," Rhodey admits. "Stuff I've scribbled down on note pads and Post-Its during the week."
Tony grins from ear to ear and reaches out to tap Rhodey's arm. "Good God, man, you're human after all."
"Damn straight," Rhodey chuckles. "Now c'mon baby, I know there's more to this suit than just flying, unless you kept it out of mine. God, please tell me you didn't."
"What, leave something out? Like what?"
"Weapons, man, weapons. Major-league blow 'em up and burn 'em down weapons. 'Cause I am itching to go out and find something to practice on."
"Yeah?" Tony takes Rhodey's hand, metal clinking on metal. "C'mon then. I know this quarry…"
It's possible that Tony and Rhodey spend at least an hour blasting random shit in the quarry and carving new roads that will never be needed. It's also possible that some headlights finally show up on the rim above them, and the two of them speed off into the night like guilty ten-year-olds caught throwing rocks at the windows of an abandoned house.
Tony's giggling like a maniac, and Rhodey's full of the kind of giddy happiness he hasn't felt since the day he found Tony again in the middle of all that desert. He knows exactly what he wants to do with it now, too:
"Let's go home."
Tony's house is a pinprick, a color, a structure, a mansion with a hole in the garage roof that Rhodey slips through like he's been doing it forever.
The suits can't come off fast enough.
Tony's project table is the perfect height, papers pushed aside with the sweep of an arm as frantic kisses lead to lube and then Tony's legs are wrapped around Rhodey's waist. They move together, hot and tight and still new, but so incredible that Rhodey wonders again why it took him so long to see what was always there in front of him.
They finish in a heap, Rhodey draped over Tony with his face pressed into the side of Tony's neck. He strokes Tony's jaw with his thumb, then slides his fingers down to twine softly through Tony's hair. He'll have to man up and try the receiving end of this soon—he owes it to Tony to be fair, no matter how nervous the idea makes him, and he figures if Tony can do it and like it, then surely he can too.
Hell, he survived boot camp in San Antonio in fucking July—he can make it through this, it's not like it'll kill him. Tomorrow, he decides. Always better to jump out of the plane feet first anyway.
After some lazy kisses and cleanup, the two of them get dressed. Rhodey's just bringing over some pretzels and a couple of beers when Tony turns up the volume on one of the 30-plus TV stations he's got going. The news is sobering: rebels are murdering civilians in the capitol of Angola.
And on another channel, an earthquake has buried an orphanage in Kazbekistan.
Tony's head swivels back and forth between the two screens, tension radiating from his posture. "Fuck."
Rhodey comes up behind him and grips Tony's shoulders. "You take Angola—I'll handle the other one."
Tony looks at him in surprise. "Seriously? You'd be willing to do that?"
"Why do you think I joined the military in the first place? Flying planes wasn't the only reason, not by a long shot."
"Okay." Tony exhales in a gust of relief. "Okay," he says again, walking over to the platform to begin the suit assembly all over again. "Jarvis—"
"Hold it." Rhodey moves in close, kissing Tony with everything he hopes will make him careful to return home safely. "Now you can start," he says.
"You'll be all right?" Tony asks.
"I'm sure Jarvis will see to it, whether I like it or not. So stop worrying—it's not my first time on a rescue mission. I found you, didn't I?"
"Sure did." Tony smiles, a shy kind of gratitude showing in his face.
Couldn't stand the thought of losing you, not then, not now. Rhodey's neck grows hot, and he heads for the bathroom. He takes care of business, then ducks down toward the sink and scoops water over the back of his head until that edgy feeling fades. By the time he dries himself off and comes out again, Tony's just about ready.
"I'd ask you to lock the place up when you go, but we've still got to be able to get in again."
"Never heard of anyone needing keyless entry for a roof before," Rhodey teases as the robot assembly finishes sealing Tony's helmet. "Be careful," he can't help adding.
"You too," Tony says fervently. He waves in a half-salute, then activates the blast-off and disappears up through the roof.
Rhodey steps up onto the platform to take his place, already wondering how much the suit can lift and just how he'll get those kids out safely. He'll blast the top layers off the mess if he has to. Can't make the problem any worse.
He's about to become someone new, he realizes—someone who can help the world run better without worrying about national borders and government limitations. Neither of those can stop him now.
"Put the suit on, Jarvis. I've got people waiting on the other side of the world."
He's ready to be that person, to make that difference. He always was.
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