by elfin

The suit is like puppet strings, and as soon as it's removed he crumples to the hard stone floor like an abandoned Punch doll.  His aching lungs draw in enough air to let lose an agonised cry of frustration and pain which hangs in the workshop for long seconds after he's stopped screaming.  It's one betrayal too many, his own government trying to kill him, however impersonal the attack might have been, and he's too tired, too worn to move.

Robotics sneak into his peripheral vision with anthropomorphised concern but he ignores them, finds he can't care enough in return to speak.  What would he say anyway?  Can't reassure them he's okay, he's pretty damn sure he isn't.  He can feel blood trickling over his skin - drying on his forehead and face, still wet in his hair, on his chest, stomach and thighs.  He tells himself the tears in his eyes are involuntary and in a way they are.  He tries to sit up but white hot shards of agony cause a wave of nausea to roll over him like a juggernaut and he manages to turn his head to one side before throwing up the remainder of the expensive lunch Rhodey bought him a couple of hours ago.  To celebrate… what?  Another year of his life gone by, the only year he might consider not flushed down the toilet.  One to be proud of.  He planned to spend it with Rhodey and Pepper, dinner, drinks in a quiet jazz club.  Nothing's ever that simple for Tony Stark.

Instead he's lying in a heap on the floor of his workshop, surrounded by all the technology he'll ever need and still he can't get up.  Had that plane mistaken him for the enemy?  Or was he rightfully paranoid, no longer able to trust anyone?  Maybe, he considers, he's just losing his mind, going insane like so many journalists like to report on a weekly basis.


To begin with he isn't sure he heard the word.  His ears are still ringing from close up and personal weapons fire.  During the dogfight - fight?  ha! - he had a random, crazy flashback to his final run-in with Stane, ten months ago, relived the feeling of being held, trapped, useless in the Iron Monger's crushing grip, hearing the suit breaking apart under the massive pressure, knowing he was next, knowing his bones would snap, organs would burst, skin would rip… he may be a little nuts but that kind of pain isn't something he ever, ever wants to experience.  Just the thought, the idea, the nightmare….

He shivers and still lying on his side he pulls his legs up to his chest and hugs them with the one arm that's working, ignoring the sharp pain he thinks might actually be a broken rib threatening to puncture a lung.


Not his imagination.  He turns his head against the hard floor and looks around the room.  "Jarvis."

"You seem to be in some distress, Sir, and my scans reveal several injuries.  While not fatal, you should seek medical…."

Tony doesn't know if he's relieved or not to hear those words.  He cuts Jarvis off, "Not fatal?"

"No, Sir."

"So why do I feel like I'm dying?"

"Physical exhaustion would be my best guess, other than that I wouldn't like to say.  Sir.  Your shoulder is dislocated and you have multiple cuts and deep bruising."  Tony's certain he actually hears a hesitation before his home's AI states quietly, "I can help with the shoulder if you'd like."

He knows he should say no, knows he's seriously going to regret it if he doesn't, so his face contorts when he agrees with what he knows is coming.  Somehow he manages to sit up, stomach rolling, guts clenching, every cut and bruise and damaged bone demanding he just stay still.  The pain down his arm and across his back is so bad he thinks it's what a heart attack must feel like, but when metal fingers grasp at his skin in just the right - wrong - places, he sucks in as much oxygen as his lungs can hold and lets out a scream that echoes around the glass panels and fibreglass walls.  Luckily Dummy and Butterfingers don't have ears, and when his shoulder's popped back into place, the sound ends abruptly as he vomits down the front of his undershirt before his head falls back and he collapses again like a broken doll to the floor.



Rhodey takes the stairs four at a time, leaping over discarding scraps of old Iron Man suits and car engines littering the floor to crouch next to the crumpled, broken figure of Tony Stark lying in the centre of the suit rig.  Two robot arms are hovering and he knows Jarvis let him in.  The stink isn't pleasant but he can't really blame Tony for whatever bodily functions failed because it seems like the only part of him that isn't human is the only part still functioning perfectly; the arc reactor glowing brightly under his filthy, stained vest.

"Tony?"  Soldier or not, it almost killed him to watch, helpless, as Tony had been stalked, baited, taunted, tormented and finally attacked by whatever flying nightmare had gone after him.  Not one of theirs, he'd tried to tell him - shouted it, yelled it into the headset but too late, either Tony had dropped the connection or the comms had gone offline.  Not one of theirs.  He watched Tony go down and spent the journey over here praying he made it home, and thank God, he has but only just in one piece.

He doesn't know what to do and even as he looks around at the screens and the scanners and the monitors he doesn't get a clue.  Whatever qualifications and training he might have under his belt, this is Tony's domain, his sanctum, it all responds to him and him alone.

Except… "Jarvis?"

"Yes, Captain Rhodes?"

"What do I do?"

"I should have thought that was obvious."  Damnit, why did Tony have to programme the dominant personality in his life to be so… sarcastic?  Or has he just answered his own question?  "Mr Stark is in need of assistance.  I have relocated his shoulder but it needs strapping up and he has injuries which require rest and he really should take a shower."

"You relocated his shoulder?"  Which explains the vomit and the loss of consciousness, "Tony?  Come on, buddy, you're gonna have to help me here."  He reaches out, touches a shoulder and realises too late it's the wrong one to touch.  Tony regains consciousness with a grunt, tries to sit up, tries to defend himself by blindly lashing out at his assailant and dissolves into wordless sounds of pain as his roundhouse swing turns into hugging his right arm to his chest.  "Sorry!  I'm sorry."

"That fucking hurts!"  He sounds so despairing, Rhodey's heart starts to ache just a little.

"Sorry, but we need to get you upstairs, Tony.  There's not much I can do here."

"There's not much you can do anywhere," he grouches, "you're not a doctor." 

"Want me to leave you here in care of your two friends?"  He nods at the robots off to one side.

Tony swears at him brightly, looks up at him, pupils unevenly dilated in bloodshot eyes and sighs before offering his good arm.  "Just help me up, huh?"


As Tony opens his eyes the opaqueness of the glass changes to let in some of the bright sunlight and Jarvis greets him, "Good afternoon, Sir."  Is that a note of relief in the electronically synthesised voice?

"Hey, Jarvis."  He wonders if he's slept for a day or a week.  His whole body aches, his head's pounding, his shoulder hurts like hell but as he moves sideways across the big, low bed and kicks the crisp Egyptian cotton sheets away from his feet, he smiles all the same.  He stares out at the lopsided view for a while, the open water across the wide horizon.  So often during his captivity in Afghanistan he dreamt of this view and waking to the dim, smoky darkness just chipped away at the hope he clung onto to keep himself alive.  Every morning now he really wakes to the Malibu sunshine and the unending expanse of Pacific Ocean and he resolves over not to waste another day of his life on self-fulfilling delusion and shallow, worthless pleasures. 

Except, maybe today.  Today he thinks he might spend a few mindless hours exploring the comforts of his sofa and the limits of his media system.  He owes himself that, doesn't he?

"Pain medication is to your right," Jarvis informs him, and he rolls his head round to confirm that indeed there are pills next to a glass of water on the table next to his bed.  He has no idea how the hell they got there, or indeed, how he did.  But starting to reach for them, a sudden vivid memory breaks free of the funk in his mind and he drops his abused shoulder back to the mattress to manoeuvre across on his ass until he can reach up with his other arm and pops the pills dry.  Then he lies back again, lets the medication take the edge off and stares out at the view beyond his window until his bladder demands he gets out of bed.

It's only when he gets to the toilet that the fact he's naked actually registers, and as he carefully, gingerly dresses himself in an old Dodgers T-shirt and loose blue jeans, Jarvis tells him, "Captain Rhodes is in his usual room in the East Wing," which explains a lot.  Wrong movements cause various sharp reminders of the previous night and he starts to piece it together as he puts on a roast of Jamaican coffee (and Pepper thinks he doesn't even know where the kitchen is!) and scours the cupboards looking for a frying pan and the right ingredients to make the only recipe he ever learnt from his Mom.  The part of his brain working on reconstructing yesterday's mission works independently, recalling a terrifying high-altitude dogfight with what he thought was an F-17 but was beginning now to wonder if he was wrong.  At the speed he was attacked at it would have been easy to mistake… what?  What the hell looked and sounded and moved… no, not moved like a plane, and that was the problem.  It was too fluid, too agile.  Like something…

"Morning.  Should you really be… cooking?"  There's a note of disbelief in Rhodey's voice as he wonders into the kitchen, blue uniform shirt open at the neck and looking a little like he slept in it, dark blue trousers spotted in what he realises after a second or two's staring must be his blood.

Still he smirks.  "Making me a better offer?"

"Keep on fantasising about that, why don't you?  And do you want to tell me why you're the superhero when I'm the one always saving your butt?"

Truth is, it's good to see Tony up and about.  When he first arrived last night, Rhodey honestly thought thing were really, really bad.  One night, he knows, they're going to be.  But although he looks a little battered this morning, the twenty-four hour sleep seems to have done him good and he's smiling when he asks,

"When have you saved my butt?"

"Afghanistan for starters.  Last night for seconds."  And that first night, the night he first laid eyes on Iron Man up close, the night Stane almost killed him, twice; stole his life support, and then when he came back fighting, broke his suit, broke his body.  That night, as Tony lay on his back in the workshop, as the robotic arms removed the ruined suit as gently as robot arms could.  As he, Pepper and a guy from some ludicrously named department had treated wounds as they were uncovered, the arc reactor fizzling, spluttering, struggling to recharge and reboot with Tony's life hanging in the balance.  Just as the first bolts gave and the battered, brutalised suit had started to come away, Tony's eyes opened wide and he grasped Rhodey's arm with bloodied fingers.  He didn't speak but the question was clear anyway in his bloodshot gaze.  Rhodey grabbed his hand gently, held his wrist and said, "You need to trust us, Tony, we won't let you down, I give you my word." 

But he doesn't mention that night because he knows deep inside in places no one gets to see, Tony's still hurting from the terrible betrayal of the man he considered to be a second father to him.  He doesn't mention it, but they both know it happened.  They don't have to talk about it.

He watches Tony transfer the freshly roasted coffee beans into the grinder, breaths the strong slightly acidic aroma in deep.

"Last night you carried me upstairs," Tony points out as he works, "dumped me in bed and stripped me naked, how is that in any way saving me?"

"I dressed your wounds and gave you a wipe down, not that you're in any way grateful."

Tony makes a face.  "Wipe down?  Makes me sound like hardware."

"Aren't you?"  He doesn't give his friend a chance to answer.  "You'd thrown up over yourself, possibly when Jarvis and Dummy reset your shoulder."

"Ugh.  You cleaned that up?"  He tries not to lap up the awe in Tony's voice.  "That's well beyond the call of duty, even if you sound as if you enjoyed it."  He hesitates.  "Thank you anyway."

"You're welcome."  Rhodey takes it for the concession it is.  "But I only cleaned you up.  Have you been down to your workshop this morning?"  He watches the detail log in his friend's brain.  But there's obviously something else on his mind.

"I thought it was one of yours, that attacked me."

Amusement turns to horror and hurt.  "Tony... we wouldn't...."

"You're not always there."

"I won't let that happen.  I swear to you.  I won't let you down."  It's important, more important than Tony knows that he understands what Rhodey's saying, that he can trust without fear of betrayal.  Rhodey thinks the only person Tony really trusts is Pepper, and he knows he has to work at being added to that tragically short list.

Hard liquor eyes regard him, assessing.  Then he nods and Rhodey watches the genius weapons designer turned altruist work his magic with the ten grand Espresso machine.  He glances out of the glass expanse towards the Pacific - it's a beautiful day, like it usually is, and for no reason at all he thinks about going for a swim in the ocean, wonders if Tony would - could - join him.


Rhodey decides he's staying.  He isn't for Tony's company - he doesn't expect Tony's company.  He doesn't know what it is for; maybe to make sure Tony believed him. 

Tony just shrugs and smiles when he announces his intention, and has Happy pick up some clothes for him from some exclusive store in town - a small selection he's sure cost more than his entire wardrobe at home - including a pair of trunks that he changes straight into, pulling on a T-shirt and cut-offs over the top and heading directly for the beach and the ocean beyond.

Tony's already vanished into his workshop by the time he leaves, and he wonders how long it'll take the tan to fade if he never sees the sun anymore.  He devotes the time it takes to drive one of Tony's jeeps down the treacherous cliff road to the beach - an inordinate and potentially inappropriate amount of thought - to considering it.  The tan in question is the result of hundreds, possibly thousands of hours worshipping the sun, usually in the company of at least four blondes.  Rhodey used to detest Tony for it, emotion born - he admitted - out of green-eyed jealousy.  Even at MIT, while the rest of them had been working out how to pull one woman with all the knowledge and experience at their disposal, he would often leave bars with a leggy blonde on one arm and a shapely red head on the other.  And not always female, Rhodey was sure now.  He never was back then, but as the years have gone by... Tony is more discrete with the guys, but there have definitely been some, Rhodey would stake his military pension on it.

He parks up and slips and slides barefoot through the hot, almost translucent sand toward the ocean, stopping mid-way between the water and the cliff face, looking up at Tony's futuristic home.

There isn't another person, another building, any other signs of life for as far as the eye can see.  Does Tony get lonely out here?  He doubts it.  Before Afghanistan he always had company if he wasn't working (and granted, when the man worked, he worked obsessively).  But not here.  This always seemed to be his sanctuary, and anyone he brought he would be politely shown the door by Pepper Potts (the world's most tolerant and loyal woman) early in the morning, long after Tony had left the party.  It wasn't even his bedroom he took them to, Pepper told him one night in a rare moment of "spilling the beans" when her guard was down, because he hated sleeping with someone else in his bed.  Rhodey recalled asking her what his bedroom was like, because he'd been slightly drunk and he wondered about it.  At university their room had been covered in posters of Black Sabbath and sleek stealth bombers.  He doubted that fad had carried through into Tony's adult life.

He wonders too, obliquely, if Jarvis was always online, even… late at night.  Was everything that went on in the house monitored and committed to a hard drive?  Was Jarvis online while Tony was away?  (Away, like he's been on some wild Italian vacation....)  Did he get lonely?

Thoughts coming full circle, Rhodey turns and starts toward the ocean, wanting to feel the warm salt water on his already flushed skin.


Tony stands and stares at the suit parts where they've been collected and 'stacked' by Dummy and Butterfingers close to the rig.

The robot arms have cleaned up too, leaving a sickly sweet stink in the air he can't quite place but reminds him unexpectedly of the guests' washroom in the house he grew up in.


"Yes, Sir?"  He's not sure when the hint of sarcasm started to hang off the formality, or even where it came from but like always, he ignores it.

"Where's Captain Rhodes?"

"Standing on the beach below us, staring back at the house."

A smile touches Tony's lips as he wonders what's occupying his friend's thoughts right now.  He doesn't know yet why Rhodey decided to stay.  He didn't extend the invitation, but then it's always been an open one for his oldest (only?) friend and after good pancakes and better coffee this morning he just announced his intention to "stay a couple of days.  Don't worry, I won't impose or expect to see you at all." 

He didn't question it, just got Happy to pick up a selection of clothes as he only seemed to have his uniform here, which made sense.  He made sure his driver included a pair of rather fetching swimming trunks as Rhodey was looking longingly out at the ocean throughout breakfast, and where as Tony tended to strip off and just dive in naked, something made him think Rhodey wouldn't.  He thinks about Rhodey's assurance regarding his imposition.  He looks at the ruined suit.  He needs to start on a new design, iron out the kinks, make a couple of upgrades to the weaponry, guidance and defence systems.  Instead he turns and climbs back up the stairs.


Rhodey thinks the California heat's finally getting to him.  A mirage is approaching the edge of the water; Tony Stark - stark naked.  Somehow he knows Tony would swim in the nude, he just didn't expect to get a show.  And this is one he hasn't seen since that one morning after their exams at MIT.

He's orchestrated his whole life since that encounter to ensure that he never has to worry about the 'don't ask, don't tell' mantra his bosses are so keen on.  Now and again Tony pushes him to check his response - like he's doing now, like he's been doing all morning, Rhodey realises - but it's Tony so there's always some low level of flirting to be expected in the same way there's always background radiation in the air. 

Tony's pushing and, for only the second time ever, Rhodey's starting to lean ever so slightly towards 'yes'.  Even 'yes, please'.  Maybe it's because in the last couple of months he's almost lost his best friend at least three times, and there's probably more times he doesn't know about.  Or maybe it's because Tony isn't the same man he was.  Still a self-important egotistical genius billionaire (only now he has something to really be egotistical about - seriously, had they honestly believed Tony Stark would be able to keep his 'secret' superhero identity a secret for more than ten seconds?!), still an shameless flirt who acts like he wants to sleep with everything with a pulse (and maybe some things without one) only these days... he doesn't seem to follow through.  The arc reactor in his chest, something he's never actually seemed self-conscious about with Rhodey or Pepper, makes him seem vulnerable somehow - what's the phrase, wearing his heart on his sleeve?  Or in Tony's case, in a glowing light in the centre of his chest.  But there's always the chance he is self-conscious, or at the very least wary.  The idea that Tony has been celibate for two months is literally incredible to him.

Is that why he's seriously thinking about letting it happen again, after all this time?  Is he reading too much into this?   He watches as Tony strolls happy across the wet sand, the surf lapping at his ankles, darkly haired, strong legs striding into the ocean, muscled torso suddenly lifting into a shallow dive which takes him under the surface.  He comes up close to where Rhodey's treading water, far enough out for the gentle waves to be a threat if they were weaker swimmers, with a grin plastered over his face.

Rhodey ignores it and points at the shining light in his chest.  "I hope that thing's water proof."

"So do I, otherwise I've just electrocuted the both of us and a good portion of the Pacific's marine life."

"What are you doing out here?  I thought you'd be working."

Tony leans his head back and blinks up at the deep blue sky.  "The suit's in need of a few repairs," (understatement of the day) "but if I can't afford the time to take a swim with my oldest friend what's the point in being me?"

"That all this is?"  He can't believe he's said it out loud.  The words were there, at the front of his mind, he's no idea how they reached his throat.

Tony's eyes widen along with his smile and he swims closer, one foot finding Rhodey's leg.  "What else were you thinking it could be?"

"That wasn't what I meant."  He holds his ground - water - with Tony inches from him, the arc reactor giving the ocean around them an eerie blue sheen.  He tries not to think below the water line.


"Really."  His voice holds steady, which surprises him.

Tony hesitates, shrugs and smiles.  "Okay."  He vanishes under the water, and Rhodey finds himself holding his breath until he sees Tony's head rise up closer to the shore.  His heart's pounding, pulse racing, and he lets himself flop back ungracefully, hitting the water's surface hard and hearing Tony's rare, joyful laugh reach him just before his head goes under.


He showers for the second time that morning and pads bare foot into his workshop which, on hindsight as he feels a shard of metal slice painfully into the underneath of his big toe, isn't such a good idea.  Swearing brightly he drops into the chair at his workstation, pulls out the red shard and presses a relatively clean rag to the wound.


"Yes, Sir."

"I need a new suit."

"Whatever for?  You rarely go to the office and when you do you hardly dress for the..."

"The other suit."  He interrupts, glancing at the screens in front of him where a single blue command prompt pulses at the top of each of them.  Softly, he adds, "And I need a drink.  And a fuck."  It isn't true what Jarvis said, he tells himself peevishly, he has been to the office a lot, personally engineering the turn around of the company's vision and strategy!  He just doesn't always dress in a way some of his board members seem to think is appropriate for the CEO of a company the size of Stark Industries.  Not that it matters, because it's his name on the top of the building, and on the electronic payments into their bank accounts at the end of every month.

"Neither of those requests is something I can help you with."  Jarvis quips, "Would you like me to bring up the schematics of the Mark V suit?"

Tony takes a deep breath, moving the rag away, staring for a time at the deep cut in the base of his big toe and at the blood starting to rise, run over hard skin.  Such a small cut, and it hurts like hell.  It reminds him of being five years old and cutting his finger on a lathe in his father's workshop.  Without warning his life comes crashing down, all of it: a childhood privileged and brutally, mercilessly directed; student life, rich in pleasures still technically illegal at the age he went to MIT, crowned with results only a young genius could hope to gain; lavish adulthood garnished with fast cars, beautiful women, so much money he never once thought about how much he spent because it would never run out.

What was it he said to Pepper?  There isn't anything but the next mission.  As he stares at his own blood he starts to wonder if he can really, honestly live like that?  Can he deny himself all those things he used to take for granted?  He likes fast cars, thrilling bikes, gambling in Vegas, sex with beautiful ladies and gorgeous gents.  He never really wanted to be CEO of his father's company but he took the role that was expected of him when he turned twenty-one - without question, without regret - the role he was groomed for from birth.  For reasons he doesn't understand, as the first drop of scarlet blood hits the workshop floor he remembers his fifth birthday party when Obadiah bought him a pedal car designed by Ferrari and he thought it was the best present he would ever be given in his whole life.  He thinks about being lifted high in strong arms and the man's smile as he wished him a happy birthday.  Uncle Obie.  The one man he'd trusted his whole life, who paid a bunch of terrorists to kill him and when he realised they weren't going to, left him in their hands to whatever fate they had in store.  Obie, who came into his home, paralysed him with a weapon he'd fucking designed, and stolen (although stolen seems so inadequate to describe the action of removing) the one thing keeping him alive, leaving him to die slowly, in agony.  All that hatred he never saw until it was far, far too late.  He understands the yearning for power, but to kill his best friend's son for it, looking him in the eyes while he did it… what did he ever do to deserve such vitriol?

A second drop of blood is diluted by tears falling unbidden, unstoppable.  Lowering his head he cries silently, for his old life, for the man he was and never mourned, for what he is now and has to be.  He's only human, and he's the only person asking these sacrifices of himself.  It's so important, but at the same time it's so hard.

After a long time, a quiet voice speaks his name, "Tony?" and he sniffs like a child, wiping his right sleeve across his nose, his left across his eyes.

"Yeah, Jarvis, I'm fine."

"You don't appear to be fine.  Is there anything I can do?"

Applying the rag back to the wound in his foot, Tony closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep, long breath.  He glances up at his car collection and thinks he wants to take the Audi R8 out for a long, long drive, maybe down to the Mexican border, stop for a burger and drive back.  Just for the hell of it, just to contribute to the hole in the ozone layer.  "Bring up the schematics for the Mark V suit.  And start machining a copy just in case."

"Certainly, Sir."  Somehow the electronically generated tones seem to suggest that Tony's lapse may be over, but it isn't forgotten.  There's so much of his own work he no longer understands, and Jarvis is moving swiftly to the top of the list.


Rhodey looks up as Tony walks into the room, leaning forward to reduce the volume using the touch screen incorporated into the glass table his feet are rested on.  The only light comes from the projector mounted in the ceiling and the film playing in perfect High Definition on the screen in front of him.  In here the acoustics are perfect, the cinema surround sound is balanced, the speakers cost thirty grand each and the black leather couch is designed for one purpose only.  Unlike most of the other furniture in the house.

He holds up his third beer and looks at his friend through the green, shaped glass.  "Bad day at the office?"

Tony's freshly showered (again), wearing jeans with a worn and crumpled white shirt possibly designed by some Frenchman to look like it had been slept in.  The wound on his forehead wasn't there earlier and he looks as if walking without tripping is taking every notch of concentration.  Cautiously he seats himself next to Rhodey on the couch and a small smile touches his face when he looks up at the screen.  "Batman?"

Tony's BluRay collection is woefully lacking, so around ten p.m., having seen the tell-tale twin rockets of Iron Man leaving the workshop and knowing he was in for a long one, Rhodey had driven himself to the nearest store and rented a couple of disks.  Tim Burton's vision for Batman, the original Alien movie and the underrated forth in the trilogy.

"Nothing wrong with Batman."  He doesn't mention the mission; Tony will talk about it if he wants to but it's unlikely.  Tony heaves himself back to his feet and vanishes for a minute, returning with a large scotch on ice in one hand and the bottle in the other.  For a few minutes, they sit in a comfortable silence and watch the film, the volume not nearly high enough to present a challenge to the state-of-the-art sound system.

"Don't you think the rubber suit's a bit... kinky?" Tony asks eventually.

"Compared to all-over body armour which has to be fitted by a multitude of robotic arms?"

Turning his head across the back of the couch, Tony gives him a look.  "Seriously."

"Seriously?  It's Batman!"

Tony shrugs.  "Did I miss the butt shot?"

Rhodey closes his eyes.  "That's a different movie.  And besides, the butt shot's too much." 

And Tony laughs.  "I love the butt shot.  Does my suit make my butt look huge?"

A smile slips on to his face.  "That's probably something you should ask Pepper."

But Tony's eyes don't leave his, and he can't look away.  "I'm asking you."

He knows they're not talking about Iron Man's butt any more, not in the way they were, and all joking aside he isn't sure he wants to answer.  "Why?"

"Because I haven't touched anyone, haven't been touched, since I climbed into the back of the seriously misnamed fun-vee.  Because I trust you, I like you - a lot - and I know you won't make fun of my night light when we get naked."  The final word hits him first.  It feels like Tony's spent the day moving in on him, even though he's only been around for a couple of hours this morning, but there's something raw, something decidedly sexual about that word, 'naked'.  Even though he doesn't answer verbally, he thinks his eyes probably give him away, that and the forward shift of his hips to alleviate the sudden swelling....  Whatever, Tony launches himself up and round, straddling Rhodey's thighs, sitting back with an assessing look and a heart-melting smile.  It's the eyes, he thinks to himself and it's far from being a revelation, Tony's always spoken volumes with his eyes.

He's touching before he realises, fingers creeping into the open neck of Tony's shirt, following the line of the material through the open buttons until they reach the hard edge of the arc reactor.  Glancing up he watches Tony's eyes close and wonders how this feels while at the same time being acutely aware of how much trust is being put in him.   He traces the circle of it, clockwise, unfastening the next button down when his movement's hampered.  It's incredible, this futuristic gadget that's not only keeping Tony alive but powers the most fantastic weapon he's ever laid eyes on.  Not that he'd call it a weapon within a mile of its designer.

He can't imagine how it must have been for Tony, paralysed and terrified, to watch helplessly as Stane took it from him; ripped his life support system out of him and left him to die.  A fierce surge of protection rises from his gut and he splays his hand over the glowing power source, at the same time plunging the fingers of his other hand into Tony's still-damp hair, pulling his head down so he can get that first kiss.

He feels Tony's hands on his shoulders, tastes the tongue sliding over his own, and Tony slides forward in his lap, trapping his erection at an angle that's as much pain as it is pleasure.  He shifts his hips and his cock gently strikes Tony's through two layers of denim.  However weird it feels to have the goatie and 'tash scraping his top lip and chin, it's nothing compared to the sensation of another guy's erection pressing up against his own; it's been a long time, over twenty-five years and his last time was with this same man.  They've both changed beyond recognition but the same chemistry that drove a twenty-three year old student to fuck his seventeen-year old roommate drives them now.

Usually the signals Tony gives off are 'look but don't touch' the tailored suits, silk shirts, expensive shoes and designer sunglasses help, and even in ripped jeans and a rag of a T-shirt something about him screams 'rich guy - hands off!'.  Now his hands are everywhere, inviting Rhodey's touch, inviting this intimacy.

Just for tonight - this morning even - Tony's his and he isn't going to waste that. 

Catching the base of the crumpled white shirt, he breaks the kiss just long enough to lift it with one swift movement over the toned body, powerful shoulders and irritatingly grinning face.  They lock mouths again as Tony starts in on the buttons of Rhodey's shirt, spreading material enough to get his hands flat on his chest, fingers stroking over defined abs, thumbs brushing the flat stomach.  They don't stop there; they unbutton and unzip, and he lifts away from Rhodey, up onto his knees to let him wriggle his pants and boxers gracelessly over his hips and down his legs.  Tony's going to have to stand to do the same, and Rhodey reaches for his gorgeous cock the moment it's out of confinement. 

"No underwear.  Wouldn't have counted on this, would you?"

Tony shakes his head and says without pause, "I never wear any."

It's a fact some small part of Rhodey's brain takes note of while he drags his short fingernails up the underside of the erection as it bobs towards him, then grasping it he uses it to draw Tony back to straddle his legs again, cocks clashing like lightsabers.

Tony groans, low and rough, and Rhodey covers his mouth again with his own, large hand wrapping around them both, stroking his other palm up one taut arm, skimming the odd shape of the arc reactor before circling down and round to clamp onto one tight butt cheek and shift him closer, balls touching.

Tony laughs, but the sound's choked off when Rhodey starts to really put his mind to what his hands are doing, and a minute later Tony's head's resting against his own and he's panting something desperate about being too close.  It takes a moment for Rhodey to work out he isn't talking about them and he feels like an idiot. 

It's an old trick but it stops Tony's impending orgasm in its tracks.  But instead of relief, a low howl of something akin to pain escapes Tony's throat.  It makes him wince in sympathy and Rhodey lets up the pressure, curls his fist around his cock and gently starts manipulating it until Tony's half-fighting, half-pleading with him, voice breaking as he comes hard.  It sounds painful and his balls don't give up much, but Tony collapses against him, trembling, sweating.

"Not quite what I had in mind," he mutters eventually, not lifting his head from the back of the leather couch behind Rhodey's right shoulder.

"Hey, that was only round one.  Had to get that out of the way so you can enjoy it."  Tony's head lifts slightly, turns.


"Hell, yeah!  You think that's all we've got?  I think you've got a lot more left inside you."  Tony kisses him,

"It's been a long time."  He's no idea why he says it, but Tony's eyes lock with his own and he nods.

"Yes, it has."  There's a 'too long' maybe implied in his tone.  Then again, maybe not.  The Tony Stark he knew before his abduction wouldn't be here, doing this, it was part of their past.  This Tony Stark was making it a part of their present too.  He's leaning down, grabbing for his jeans and Rhodey's about to take back whatever the hell he said to offend when a small tube is dropped into his palm.  He stares at it.   "Counted on it," Tony says with a wry smile, and he's surprisingly shocked.

"If I wake up to find you gone and a wad of hundred dollar bills on the dressing table, you're a dead man."

"For a wad of hundreds you'd have to be fucking spectacular."  He gets this far-away look in his eyes.  "I had a two thousand dollar male prostitute in New York.  He was fantastic."  He emphasises the word with his hands, which Rhodey grabs and tucks them under his legs.

"Has anyone ever told you, you talk too much?"

"Frequently.  I've told myself on a couple of occasions…."  Holding on to Tony's wrists, Rhodey slowly starts opening his legs, spreading Tony's knees which are still either side of him.  He watches Tony's face, watches the flash of changing emotions, waiting for anything dangerous.  He knows his own limits but he doesn't know Tony's any longer.  He's still no idea as to the full extent of the torture Tony experienced at the hands of Raza's men and he's unlikely to ever know, but as he moves and Tony's thighs part too, there's only heat in the rich brown eyes.

He releases Tony's wrists and immediately the man's hands fly to Rhodey's shoulders.  With a liberal application of lube to his fingers, he reaches between them, between Tony's legs, and presses a single digit against the slightly opened ring of muscle, twisting as he pushes up.  Tony growls, presses down on it and asks, in a rough voice, for more.  Rhodey's only happy to oblige, adding a second then a third and when he meets Tony's heated gaze this time there's something in the look that burns through his patience like wildfire.

"Turn around."  Rhodey issues the command and Tony's eyebrows lift, the corners of his mouth turning up.  He waits, obviously for Rhodey to pull out and when he doesn't, Tony comes up onto knees, bringing one over Rhodey's arm and twisting around, twisting on Rhodey's fingers buried to the hand inside him, lowering back down onto them again as he leans forward.  More lubrication, and Rhodey gently withdraws, one hand on Tony's back, one on himself, positioning himself, waiting for Tony to ease himself back and takes Rhodey's cock all the way inside him in one quick downwards movement, not stopping until he's sitting in the man's lap, leaning back to put his head on Rhodey's shoulder.  They turn to look at one another and those beautiful eyes which never fail to undo him look straight through to his soul.  In that moment he thinks he'd do anything that Tony asked - absolutely anything.  It scares the crap out of him.  And when the moment passes and Tony shifts slightly and closes his eyes against the sensations (emotions?), Rhodey finds he would still do anything, anything he's asked to do by the incredible man sitting on his cock.

He can't move, has to wait for Tony who seems insistent on driving him out of his mind.  When he eventually does start to move, a slow and deliberate rise and fall, it's agonisingly slow.  Rhodey has no control over the pace, even when he reaches around to grasp Tony's reawakened cock all he can do is match it.

It's the sweetest agony, and when he finally, finally reaches his peak he's held there for the longest seconds of his life before Tony drops again and he falls, one arm pulling Tony back against him, the other bringing him to his second climax of the night - better this time by the sounds of it.  Healthier.


"She said, if I keep doing it, I'll keep getting hurt."

They're sprawled on Tony's bed in his bedroom - his real bedroom - his real bed that he's never, ever shared with anyone before.

"Bright woman, your Pepper.  You know she's right."

Tony's got his head on Rhodey's chest, lying at an angle to him.  "I can't stop," he admits, knowing it's the truth and knowing it scares the hell out of him at the same time.

Rhodey's fingers are restless, circling the reactor in his chest, stroking across the front of it, tracing it like some simple Spiro graph.  "Why?"

"Because there's nothing else.  I should be dead."  He closes his eyes.  "When I woke up in that cave in Afghanistan there was a… a mechanical device buried in my chest and it was hooked to a fucking car battery.  When I refused to build their bomb they tortured me and when I finally agreed to do what they wanted I lived for three months, one Jericho missile away from a bullet in the brain.  There's a great big hole in me, Rhodey, a cylinder of metal and a fucking magnet.  I really, really should be dead."

"I'm glad you're not."

He finds Rhodey's other hand and laces their fingers.  It's a strange intimacy this, as the dawn breaks outside the windows.  "It's why I can't stop.  How can I go back to living like I used to?  I'm not even the same person any more."

"I know that."

"I just… I need to make a bigger difference.  I need to make sure when I die people remember me for the right things not the wrong ones.  I've pushed Stark Industries in a different direction, I've destroyed as many of my own weapons…."  He trails off, head suddenly full.


"I was the greatest weapon they had," he murmurs, not to Rhodey but to himself.  "I was their dream ticket."  He lets go of Rhodey's hand and tries to sit up but he's stopped by strong arms around his shoulders.

"Enough with the guilt tripping, Tony.  You're doing enough, Christ, you've already done enough and I know, whatever Pepper and I say to you, you'll do more.  You just need to remember, you're only human.  You need to eat and sleep and fuck like the rest of us.  Do us all a favour and don't deny yourself every pleasure, please?"

It makes sense, it's what he was thinking earlier in the workshop, and he's surprised because it's really that simple.  And it isn't completely true what he's been thinking, that there's nothing but Iron Man.  The company needs him and he finds he wants to lead it.  He wants to remember Pepper's birthday next year and take her to dinner to give her a gift face to face.  He thinks about the pleasures in life, the things he enjoyed before… everything changed.  Vegas is still standing, he could go for the weekend, blow a couple of million on the tables and eat in that steak house he loves just off the strip.  There's still his father's hot rod to finish, not that he ever will, and speaking of cars he remembers looking at the Audi earlier today and thinking…


"Um?"  He's almost asleep by the sound of it.

"Do you fancy a drive?"