For what must have been the millionth time, the fluorescent light over head flickered, plunging the room into darkness for just a few seconds. Eventually it came back to life, casting out the shadows and dousing the cold room in a harsh, bright glow that gave everything a surreal feeling. This couldn't be happening. Out of all of them, that entire unit, he never would have thought...
"Captain Rhodes, I'm sorry... But we really need you to I.D.-"
"Yea, it's him." Rhodes cut the mortician off, not really even able to look down at the body on the slab. His face... it was so calm. He'd never seen it that calm before and it unnerved him... Because he'd always been the one to tell the jokes, to keep everyone's minds off of where they were, what they were doing... But now? Now there was nothing.
"Alright. I shall inform the family. Thank you, Captain Rhodes."
James shivered at that and nodded, turning his back on the mortician and the body.
The rank... Captain. He'd just recently been promoted and he wasn't used to hearing it. For ages James had been First Lieutenant... Long enough to where he'd begun to think he was never getting promoted. At the age of twenty-seven, he'd finally gotten it. Just two days ago he'd been out with his buddy, celebrating the new rank... and now? Now he was dead.
"Rhodey. Come on. You can't keep me locked out forever."
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Rhodey. Rhodester. The Rhode man. Seriously. I need to talk to you. Come on. Dinner? Board games? I'll do that physics homework for you that I never finished in college!"
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Seriously. I know you're in there. You haven't been answering my calls. Or my emails. I'm beginning to think you hate me. You don't want me thinking that, do you Rhodey?"
Knock. Knock. Knock.
"Rhodey! I have hot women and booze and-"
Tony shut up when the door swung wide.
"Hey there buddy! I was... beginning to... think... that..." Tony quietly trailed off as he looked at his friend, his dark eyes narrowing in scrutiny. There were circles under the other man's eyes, his expression was gaunt, and he looked overall exhausted.
"Shit. What did I do this time? I swear. There were no explosions. Whatever Obie told you was a lie. I only caused a small fire, but I put it out immediately. No damage done. Honest."
"You didn't do anything, Tony." James replied, shaking his head. One heavy, calloused hand was curled around the edge of the door, most of his weight leaning against it as he stood there looking out at Tony. "I'm just not in the mood, alright?" And without anything else, James stepped back and began to close the door.
Tony's eyes narrowed and he shook his head, sliding forward so that his foot stopped the door from connecting with its frame. He leaned in close, pressing his face to the small crack so that he was looking into the small apartment, but just the barest of glimpses.
"Rhodey, come on. I'm sorry for whatever I did. But look, there's this dinner tonight. Another one of Obie's. It's for the company. I don't want to go alone..."
"Then get one of the many girls you keep around, Tony." James snapped, immediately regretting the words as they escaped. Eventually he sighed and stepped forward, looking through the crack back at Tony, but making no move to open the door wider.
"I just can't, not tonight. I'm sorry."
"Please? Don't make me go by myself. It's going to be so boring..."
"Tony, you are twenty-three now. You aren't seventeen anymore. Be a big boy. I have faith in you."
"Rhodey... please. I swear, I'll pay to fix whatever I broke... Whatever made you mad."
"I told you, you didn't do anything."
Tony arched one eyebrow then and stepped forward, placing one hand flat against the wooden door and applying pressure. Within a second or two he'd opened the crack enough so that he could slip inside, leaving James to close it with his counteracting pressure once he was out of the way.
"Then why are you so mad?" He questioned, stepping over towards the kitchen. Within seconds he was rooting around the cabinets, finding two glasses as well as a bottle of scotch... One he'd bought and stored here for whenever he came over. Carefully he opened it, pouring out the amber liquid into the glasses before snatched them up and walked back towards Rhodey, offering one out.
James pushed the glass back at Tony, shaking his head as he sighed.
"Really, I'm not mad. Just not in the mood to play babysitter tonight."
"You don't play babysitter. I am perfectly-" Tony was cut off by a sharp, challenging look from James... one that had him sighing as he took a drink from one of the glasses in his hands. "Alright, maybe you do a little bit. But come on, you don't want anything to happen to me, do you? You'd be lost without me, Rhodes. Face it." He tried to offer the glass out to Rhodey...
And was shot down once again.
"I don't want that, Tony." Rhodey managed, shaking his head before he turned his back and moved towards the couch in his living room. On the coffee table lay a picture, one of him and a buddy, both in full gear during a deployment overseas.
Tony followed Rhodey to the couch, setting the glasses of scotch down on the table before he scooped up the picture, ignoring the protests from Rhodey as he tried to snatch it.
"Who's this? You got other friends? So that's why you've been ignoring me."
"Of course I have other friends. And I haven't been ignoring you." Rhodey tried to snatch the picture, but Tony fell back and away, now practically lying out on the sofa with the picture held an arm's length away from him.
"Sure. That's why you haven't answered a single phone call. Or an email. Or-"
"He died, Tony." James interrupted, bringing a hand up to pinch the bridge of his nose as he breathed out and closed his eyes. "Two days ago I had to identify his body."
"...Oh." The word was so quiet, Tony himself wasn't even sure he said it. The struggling stopped and he gave the picture back, watching quietly as Rhodey walked across the room and set it on a small table. "I... I'm sorry." He managed, furrowing his brows. "I can... I can arrange a funeral. Give the family the money to make it really nice."
"No. They don't want your money." Rhodey replied quietly, staring at the picture for a moment longer before he crossed back to the couch and sat down, finally taking up the glass of scotch that Tony had poured from him.
"Maybe a nice gift? Something that expresses condolences or-"
"You didn't even know them." James cut Tony off, knocking back the glass in damn near one shot. Something that normally would have made Tony proud, but not today. Instead he sat there quietly for a moment, looking over at the picture before looking back at James as he set the glass down on the table.
"But you did..."
That seemed to give the Airman pause, his fingers lingering on the empty glass.
"Yes... I did." Rhodey murmured quietly. "We served together... He saved my life more times than I care to count. And I... I couldn't be there to save his."
Tony sat there, watching his friend come apart. This... had never happened before. Tony was usually the one coming apart at the seams, dealing with a crisis, needing to be bailed out of jail. Rhodey was always the stable one... The reliable one. And now here he was, bending forward with his elbows to his knees and his face buried in his hands.
Hesitantly, Tony reached out and placed a hand on Rhodey's shoulder, squeezing gently in a gesture that he hoped was comforting... He wasn't good at this.
"James... I'm really sorry."
"Don't be." Rhodey murmured, shifting. Tony had used his name, is actual name... Which meant he had no idea what he was doing or saying. "Forget it." He added a minute later, shaking his head. "Forget I said anything." James was pushing himself up from the couch then, grabbing his empty glass and moving towards the kitchen, intent on getting more scotch.
Tony sprung up as well, followed Rhodey into the kitchen where he hovered around the counter, watching as another glass of alcohol was poured.
"Well, at least let me do something. I can send them money, so that they have something to fall back on. Or... or a robot. To help them out. Or-"
"No, Tony." James shook his head, waiting a moment before he brought the glass to his lips and took a drink. "Just forget it." He recapped the scotch and slid it back into the cabinet, glancing once at Tony before he moved back into the living room and sat back on the couch. "Go to that party, have a good ole' time. Tell Obadiah hi for me." He called over his shoulder.
"No." Tony stated, causing Rhodey to jump because he'd suddenly appeared behind the couch. Without a word, Tony leapt over the back, landing on the seat beside Rhodey. He bent forward and grabbed his own scotch from the table, as well as the remote. With one flick of his wrist the tv came on, crackling to life and displaying some news program.
James looked over at Tony, watching the other man as he settled comfortably back into the couch, now flipping channels to find something suitable to his taste. Not another word was said, nothing more on the party or what Rhodey had told him. He just sat there quietly, content to stare at the television.
It wasn't until a minute or so later that he finally looked at Rhodey. They sat there, staring at each other for a long moment before Tony offered up a small, reassuring smile.
James couldn't help it... He smiled back.