Thanks to kattabaker
October 22, 2017
“I realize this is probably a stupid question,” Rhodey began, and Tony smirked under his welding goggles, “but have you considered that maybe this isn’t a good idea?”
“It’s not a good idea. It’s a great idea.” Tony hit the switch on his torch and leaned closer to the exoskeleton over Rhodey’s ribs.
“A great idea like filling the dean’s office at MIT with opened condoms, or a great idea like promoting your personal assistant to CEO?”
Tony had to raise his voice to be heard over the welding equipment. “Is there a difference?”
“Yes, Tony. Yes, there is a definitive difference. Anyone can see that. You should be able to see that. This isn’t- ouch!”
Tony snapped off the torch. “Don’t be a baby. I barely singed you. Look,” he pushed up his goggles and examined Rhodey’s ribs. His t-shirt had a hole burned through it, and his skin was – perhaps – a tiny bit red. He might need some aloe. Tony was pretty sure he had aloe. Friday kept his first aid kit stocked overly well. Ridiculously well. It was asinine, how well he was first aid-edly stocked. It was like his AI expected him to get hurt. Which was equally asinine. Workshop injuries were down two hundred percent this quarter. Only seventy days to go and it would be his best reported period ever. Hah. Take that, Friday.
“Tony this is one of those times that you need to listen to me.”
“Unlikely,” Tony said absently. He dropped his torch on the nearest table and pushed off the floor, rolling his stool over to the nearest cabinet. He was pretty sure the first aid kit was in there. Somewhere.
“For the love of – Tony. You are going to regret this. There is nothing, absolutely nothing, about this plan that isn’t going to come around and bite you in the ass. I will stand by you through anything, man, but-”
“I know.” Tony let his hands drop to his lap, aloe forgotten. Of course he knew. He always knew. And Rhodey knew he knew. He knew Rhodey knew he knew. Fuck. This was…Rhodey was…goddammit they were friends. More than friends. Tony had never been demonstrative, always preferring to buy his way out of discussing emotions, but Rhodey had to know. Tony trusted him with his life. More than that. Tony trusted him with Pepper’s life. God, if Rhodey didn’t know – if Tony had to say – he hated to say. But his therapist said he should and Pepper said he should listen to his therapist and Rhodey had been telling him since the turn of the century that he should listen to Pepper in everything and this was fucking important and-
“Tony.” Rhodey couldn’t sit up very well, seeing how he was still wearing part of the new War Machine suit and it wasn’t powered up, but his eyes locked on Tony’s. “You cannot bribe this doctor.”
“What if it’s already done? Theoretically.”
“Theoretically, like you went ahead with your plan even though you told Pepper you would stay out of it, or theoretically like you could maybe still stop things with a phone call?”
“More of that first one? Except I didn’t have to buy her contract. Her company is already renegotiating, and a little birdy told me she is not happy with the terms. So I don’t have to-”
“What the hell are you thinking?”
Tony wheeled over to another table and picked up a wrench, then set it down to play with a few transistors. He had been thinking that Dr. Evelyn Vivas was on his short list – despite having done her undergrad at a state school. In Nebraska. Where the fuck was Nebraska, even? He knew it was one of the middle ones, but seriously, people lived there? Unreal. At least it wasn’t Brown. Bletch. He had been thinking that Dr. Evelyn Vivas was Pepper’s first choice. He had been thinking that the probability that he and Pepper could have a child, even without bringing Extremis into the equation, was low. So low he had forced himself not to memorize the figure after he ran it. He was thinking that he had screwed up so many things in his life, he had screwed up so many things with Pepper, and he loved her. LOVED her. He loved her and he wanted to give her whatever she wanted. He would move the Earth if that is what it would take to make Pepper happy. Rewrite the laws of science. He would apologize to Stars and Stripes and retire from Iron Man and hire Lewis and commit his fortune (some of it, okay, a lot of it) to charity and see a therapist and stop drinking and fucking meditate. Anything for Pepper. She wanted to be a parent. With him. He had to make it happen.
“I can’t let her leave me.”
Rhodey did not hesitate. “That is the stupidest thing I have ever heard you say. And I saw you try to seduce a sixty year old lesbian math professor when you were fifteen. Hell, I was right there last week when you asked Laura Barton if you could put her baby in an anti-gravity force field.”
“That was for science!” Tony was appalled that Rhodey had forgotten such a pertinent detail. The thing with the professor, obviously. And the experiment had been a resounding success. Unmitigated. Groundbreaking. The thing with Mrs. B was for funsies. That was less of a success. She had hit him. In the stomach. With her pitching arm. He still thought his left kidney wasn’t operating at peak efficiency.
“Tony. Do you remember when my dad died?”
Of course he remembered. Rhodey had been devastated. It was shocking to Tony, to go with Rhodey to his family home and see how the man wept – publicly wept – over the death of his genetic donor. People had offered condolences – and meant them. Not just one or two people, and not just people who worked for him and were sad for the loss of a paycheck, everyone. An entire town. A small town sure. Like, fifty thousand, max. But Rhodey had loved his dad and his mom had comforted him and he had cousins and aunts and sisters and nephews and fucking church-goers who shook hands and hugged and cried it out with him and who missed Mr. Rhodes. And Tony had offered to rent out the local Marriott – because that was high-class in that town, a goddamn Marriott – but Rhodey wanted to stay at home. So Tony had stayed there too on a trundle bed. Because that was a thing – who knew that it wasn’t just in weird movies about girls’ sleepovers but that trundle beds were a thing? – and it was so small even his legs were pushing the bottom edge. Nine million of Rhodey’s relatives came in from out of town and filled the hotel (so his money didn’t totally go to waste) but he had stayed in the trundle bed and listened to Rhodey cry in the middle of the night and attended the funeral the next day and didn’t make a single goddamn joke because it was Rhodey. People touched Tony. They shook his fucking hand. People he didn’t even know touched him. He ate casseroles and shook hands and held someone’s sleepy baby. Him. A baby. But what he remembered most was how empty Rhodey had looked when the casket was lowered. It was like a piece of his friend was going into the ground too.
The family didn’t want flowers. They set up an account for a collage scholarship. Tony donated ten million. He should have done more.
“Yeah. I remember.”
“Do you remember I said that I could never be the man he was? And you said that was stupid, because of course I couldn’t. I was already fucking awesome and he had to have known that if he was half the man everyone was saying? You said you wished you could have met him, because he had to have been amazing to have raised me.”
“Yeah.” It barely came out as a whisper. It wasn’t that Tony was embarrassed, exactly. He had said that, and it was true. Rhodey was a good person. A good man. The best friend anyone could ever ask for – and Tony could ask for a lot. He had. Frequently. Damn near daily. It was more that he felt hurt for his friend. Almost more than he had felt for himself when Howard was killed. Rhodey had lost someone he loved. Someone who loved him, was proud of him. Tony could never let his friend forget that gift – that fucking blessing – to have known you were loved and respected and that you returned those feelings. It was fucking sappy.
“Okay. So I say this with the same sincerity. You are awesome. A huge fucking pain in the ass, self-centered, short-”
“-average-sized, tactless aging genius. Even if you fuck this up, Pepper is not going to leave you.” Rhodey eased back down on to the chair and waited a few beats. “That said. You are really kind of fucking this up, asshole.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “Please. Stop. Your effusive praise is embarrassing both of us. I’m blushing.” Rhodey asked Friday for the scores on a few basketball games and Tony handed him some aloe while he reviewed the plans for the suit. Several pleasant minutes passed in argument over the best defensive players in the nineties NBA before Tony spoke again.
“So…dropping her name around town – hypothetically – and having an office set up for Vivas on the twelfth floor with a patient waiting list and pre-vetted paid staff would be overstepping?” His phone was vibrating, but Tony ignored it. Friday knew that he was incommunicado – especially for Pepper – until he said otherwise. There was nothing so important it couldn’t wait until after Rhodey’s exoskeleton was squared away and they had determined the ideal dream team – living or dead players.
“Tony,” Rhodey groaned and covered his eyes with his forearm.
“What about a gift basket? I was thinking a personalized gold plated scalpel set, hypo-allergenic latex gloves and custom blended smelling salts.”
“For anything else I would have your back Tony, but when Pepper asks, I am throwing you under the bus.”