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Del Rion [userpic]

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Title: Report

Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)

Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)

Genre: Hurt/comfort

Rating: M / FRM

Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes, Tony Stark (Iron Man), Tony’s bots (DUM-E and U).

Summary: It is the first New Year’s Eve after Afghanistan, and Tony’s year is about to end with a bang – and a whimper.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.

Written for: Hurt/Comfort Bingo’s (hc_bingo) round 5 (square: “post-traumatic stress disorder”)

Warnings: PTSD, panic attack, referenced past torture (with flashback to mock execution and water torture), language.

Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.

Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)


Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.

Report



~ ~ ~




Report


It was the first New Year’s Eve after Tony outed himself as Iron Man. That was how people put it, anyway, and Tony saw no reason to challenge that logic. It was far more pleasant to date things with ‘stuff that happened since I became Iron Man’ than ‘things that happened after the cave’ – or alternatively, ‘post-Afghanistan’.

Frankly, using the name of the country as a vague, general description of his three-month captivity was easier on his psyche than the rather specific word ‘cave’, which held rather explicit memories…

The party was in full swing at his Malibu house: people were drunk and having a good time. They were about an hour away from the big countdown of the year, and Happy was circling the room, an eye out for people getting too festive. It was all just a bit of drunken fun, though, and Tony wasn’t too concerned.

He spotted Pepper in a corner, having a conversation with a bunch of people who seemed to be taking a less enthusiastic approach to the turn of the new year. She had a glass in her hand, though, and a faint blush on her cheeks, so Tony trusted she was having a good time.

Moving to the smaller, unmanned bar on the far side of the room, Tony poured himself a drink. “All set for the fireworks?” he asked, voice barely reaching over the noises of the party.

“Preparations are finished and all is set,” J.A.R.V.I.S. responded, the speakers close enough that Tony could hear the AI. “However, I feel it is my responsibility to inform you that the pyrotechnic operators have opened a bottle of champagne.”

Tony chuckled. “It’s New Year’s Eve. Let them celebrate. Worst case scenario, we can have Dummy go out there and put out the fire.”

“A fire is the least of my concerns, sir.”

“They’re professionals, and I’m paying them well enough to not fuck this up,” Tony decided.

“Of course, sir.”

Tony knew his AI was going to keep an eye on things, and possibly reprimand the fireworks crew if it became necessary.

He turned away from the bar, drifting back towards the party, then glanced at his watch. Fifty-three minutes to go.

People regarded New Year’s Eve as some kind of magical clean slate, and Tony couldn’t wait to put the past year’s events behind him. Not all of them, of course, but the unpleasant stuff.

He already had a few meetings agreed upon for the first days of the year, the suit needed a couple more repairs before he could take it out again, and his holiday spirit had kind of extended way past Christmas, which mean Pepper had a stack of paperwork for him to do, waiting for the first chance she got to pin him down to pay attention to it.

“Woo-hoo!” a man exclaimed loudly as he ran into the room, obviously drunk. The guy stumbled into a crowd of people, got a few steadying hands on him, and all was well again. Tony didn’t recognize him so he must have come in as someone’s guest and had most certainly made himself familiar with Tony’s liquor cabinet.

As he dodged past the throng of people, Tony saw the same man pushing himself through the group he had ran into and out towards him, clearly recognizing a famous face. “Stark!” he called out loudly. “Awesome party!”

“Of course it is,” Tony replied, stopping in case the man could not stop his momentum in time. Indeed he could not, and stumbled past Tony and onto a conveniently placed couch, slumping down there.

A lopsided grin was aimed at him. “You are cool!” the man told him, pointing an unsteady finger at him. “Cool,” he repeated, as if to make sure everyone got it.

Tony tipped his glass towards the man and drank from it, turning away to take his leave. The man would probably pass out momentarily, and Tony knew someone would collect him at the end of the party.

He didn’t expect the man to jump up after him, slinging an arm on his shoulder. A waft of heavy-handedly applied cologne barely covered the underlying odor of sweat and alcohol.

Mildly annoyed, Tony started to push the arm away –

BANG!

A gun went off right by his ear, followed by a tiny cloud of smoke and the smell of gunpowder. A familiar ringing filled Tony’s head, all other sounds blocked from his ears, and his chest tightened in reaction to the oncoming wave of anxiety. He could not feel his body, not properly, but realized he could move even as breathing started to become difficult.

An arm was holding onto him, and he pushed at it and its owner violently to get away.

He could not breathe, and he had to get away now.

Without thinking, he moved away from where he thought other people were. His head was still ringing, the ear that had been closest to the sound throbbing painfully, and the smell of gunpowder was lodged in his nose, persistently wedging him further into the place in his head where he could not think, could not move, could not react.

His hands reached out for the door that appeared in front of him, shaking so badly he almost failed to open it. Lights brightened on the other side as he got the door open and swiftly moved inside, then pressed the door shut behind him with the entire weight of his body.

Lock it, his brain was screaming at him through the ringing. Lock them out.

His fingers fumbled, not locating the lock. He cursed, feeling like he was out of time, and still he could not locate what he knew had to be there.

“Please,” he mouthed against the door, fingers scraping against the handle of the door. He could barely hear himself speak.

Finally, his fingers located the lock and he turned it – kept turning it until he was sure the door was locked and would remain that way. He tried the handle, just in case, and when it did not budge, he backed away from the door, further and further into the room until he met the back wall and slid down, the floor hard beneath his numb body.

His hand landed in something wet, making him start, and he looked down so fast it hurt his neck.

He was sitting on a tiled floor, in a tiny puddle of water. The water was clear and there was no scent to it that he could detect, but he could suddenly feel it soaking into his pants and could not wipe it off his fingers fast enough.

The gun went off by his head and he could not help jumping and crying out in animalistic fear even as the bullet didn’t pierce his skull or even graze his body. Ringing filled his ears, blocking out almost all noises from around him. He could not see the flash through the bag thrown over his head, but he thought he could feel the heat expelled from the weapon and the odor of gunpowder drifted through the fabric of the bag and got stuck inside with him, getting lodged deep within his chest as he began to hyperventilate.

They pulled the bag off his head. He could see them shouting, but the sound barely pushed through the ringing in his head. His fingers were clamped tightly around the car battery in his lap, not even attempting to fight them off, clinging to it like the lifeline that it was even when they dragged him up and over to the trough filled with water and shoved his face beneath the surface.

Tony jerked at the backlash of the memories and scrambled further from the tiny pool of water, needing to not touch it, but he could feel the wet spot on his pants just as he had felt the water trickling down his neck, chest, and back as they pulled him up for air, a pool gathering where he knelt on the cave’s floor.

He could hear himself whimper, a pitiful sound, and his eyes searched the room. It was the furthest thing from a dark stone cave, with its well-lit interior, creamy tile walls and underfloor heating, yet when he heard someone banging on the door, his heart jumped into his throat and he covered his ears with his hands, fingers curling tight, blocking out the noises.

- - -

“What happened?” Pepper called out to Happy over the commotion in the living room.

“Some idiot fired a starting pistol,” Happy shouted back, a little red in the face and a lot angry. “Fucker’s so drunk off his ass he has no idea why everyone is freaking out.” He looked around at the partygoers who were slowly coming back from the brink of panicked frenzy when the gun went off. Clearly enough people had seen what happened that the word was going around and some people were already laughing it off and getting back into the swing of the party.

“At least the bar’s still open,” Pepper noted dryly.

Happy pushed the rest of the way to her and leaned close – then closer to speak into her ear: “We may have a problem. Someone saw that Tony was right beside the guy who fired the gun, and he took off like a bat out of hell.”

Pepper felt the moment of relief wash right out of her system. “Where is he now?”

“I don’t know,” Happy replied.

“We need to find him,” she decided. The last thing they needed was Tony pulling some insane stunt with his Iron Man suit. People might still be high on the idea of a real superhero, but it wouldn’t last long if Tony was too drunk and traumatized to make any kind of rational decision.

They took off together, Happy leading the way towards the spot where Tony was last seen. Pepper spotted a broken glass on the floor, the drink spilled all over the carpet, and on a nearby couch slumped a man who looked like he had had a few too many drinks. From the look that Happy gave the guy, Pepper guessed this was the idiot who had gotten it in his head to start celebrating the midnight countdown a bit early.

Pepper looked around, but Tony was nowhere to be seen. If he had been heading to the workshop, he would have needed to cut through most of the crowd, and someone would have spotted him by now.

“J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Pepper called out, “do you know where Tony is?”

“The bathroom, Miss Potts,” the AI replied rather urgently. “He is not responding to my inquiries, but it is possible he is suffering from a temporary hearing loss due to the discharge of the starting pistol.”

“He’s otherwise unharmed, though?” Pepper confirmed.

“That is debatable,” the AI said, and that was truly worrisome. “Mr. Stark may be suffering from a panic attack.”

“That’s not good,” Happy muttered.

Pepper agreed and began to move towards the nearest bathroom as fast as she could without actually running: if Tony was really having a panic attack, it was best that it did not end up all over the news on the first day of the new year, and that meant they had to keep the people in the house from witnessing what was going on.

At the bathroom door, Pepper knocked and then tried to enter, but found the door locked. “Tony?” she called out. “Are you okay?”

“Maybe he can’t hear you,” Happy mused, looking restlessly over his shoulder; he had years of experience keeping Tony’s worst exploits from entering the spotlight, just like Pepper, but unlike her, Happy was often on the scene, being Tony’s bodyguard and driver.

J.A.R.V.I.S. had said Tony wasn’t hearing well after the gun went off, but Pepper was certain it had to be fading by now. Happy must have come to the same conclusion because he raised his fist and hammered on the door so loudly that Pepper herself was startled by it.

She gave Happy a disapproving look, and he had the decency to appear guilty at his hasty reaction.

“Tony,” Pepper called out again, leaning close to the door, “please open the door. I need to make sure you’re okay.”

“He is not moving from his spot on the other side of the bathroom,” J.A.R.V.I.S. reported. “Mr. Stark has also covered his ears; I think Mr. Hogan frightened him.”

Happy looked ever more ashamed, but squared his shoulders soon after. “We need to get inside. Can you open the door, J?”

“The lock is manual, not electronic,” the AI responded. “I cannot override it.”

Pepper bit her lip. “Maybe we should give him a moment. These things don’t last for very long, do they?”

“What things?” a new voice asked, and both she and Happy turned around to look at James Rhodes who seemed to have materialized out of thin air.

- - -

Rhodey had supposed to have been at Tony’s hours ago, but there’d been a bit of a party at the base and he’d been roped into staying there longer than he’d planned. As he drove towards the house, he knew he would make it in time for the change of the year, which was good: Tony had said the fireworks would be extra spectacular and the way he said it implied he wanted Rhodey to be there to see it.

They didn’t spend all their holidays together, but back in the day, after MIT and before Tony became CEO – and sometimes even after that – Rhodey included Tony in his family’s celebrations because he knew Tony would otherwise be alone. Tony always claimed it was fine, but Rhodey knew he would just be hitting the bottle, order crap to eat and possibly cause a work hazard while operating drunk in his workshop.

At least the bots knew how to stop a fire, and after J.A.R.V.I.S. had been included in the lot, Rhodey felt a bit more at ease.

Spending holidays together was somewhat of a tradition, though, and Rhodey supposed he could crash at Tony’s place after the actual party ended at some late morning hour, and then spend tomorrow with him to make up for his absence tonight.

His phone pinged, and he looked at it to see an incoming call. It wasn’t from Tony, but close enough. He picked up the earpiece and placed it in his ear, then thumbed at the screen of the phone to accept the call. “Is Tony making you call me in his stead?” he replied to the call.

“Negative, Lieutenant-Colonel,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated. “Are you en-route to the house?”

“Give me ten more minutes,” Rhodey said. “I’m almost there.”

“I understand that it is both a safety hazard and a matter of breaking the speed limit, but could you hurry?”

“If I get ticketed, Tony’s paying the bill,” Rhodey snorted. “I’ll be there by midnight,” he promised.

“It is not that,” the AI retorted. “There has been an incident, and Mr. Stark is not well. He has locked himself inside a bathroom and Miss Potts and Mr. Hogan are unable to get to him.”

Rhodey’s foot pressed heavier on the accelerator. “What kind of incident?” he demanded, voice louder.

“One of the guests fired a pistol. The cartridge was a blank, but it seems to have triggered a panic attack.”

Rhodey frowned, but his fingers tightened on the steering wheel as he accelerated further. He knew the road, so he could go a bit faster still. Besides, Tony wasn’t the only one who liked racing… Not that he felt any exhilaration at his current speed: it was strange that Tony would be triggered by the sound of a gun going off, seeing as he had been around them since he was a kid. However, after Afghanistan…

A hundred times Rhodey had wanted to sit Tony down and make the man tell him all that had happened to him, because the arc reactor and the armor had bared a whole section of a mine field Rhodey wasn’t sure he wanted to step on for fear of starting a chain reaction that could swallow them all up. Tony was his friend, though, and Rhodey didn’t want him to feel like he had to bottle it up.

Rhodey had been in combat and had seen things he would carry to his grave. No amount of training made those things easier to rationalize, but it at least granted some perspective and a framework to carry the weight when it started to become unbearable.

For all of his experience and work with the military, Tony’d had no training when he was taken, and the man that was rescued from the desert was, in so many ways, not the man Rhodey had last seen sitting in a Humvee with a glass of scotch in his hand.

He got to the house in five minutes and entered a crowd that had kicked the party mode into high gear. It was bizarre, seeing a celebration in full swing when J.A.R.V.I.S. had just notified him Tony was having a panic attack, but it just goes to show how oblivious people are when they don’t pay attention – or when Tony’s closest friends were keeping things under wraps.

It didn’t take long before J.A.R.V.I.S. sent instructions to his phone, guiding him to the correct section of the building, and he found Pepper and Happy standing together in a deserted hall in front of a bathroom door.

“Maybe we should give him a moment,” Pepper was saying. “These things don’t last for very long, do they?”

“What things?” Rhodey asked, having an idea but needing an update on the situation; a lot could change in a few minutes.

“Rhodey!” Pepper exclaimed as she turned, her face betraying a sudden rush of relief. “Tony’s inside, but he won’t open the door, and he’s –”

“I know,” Rhodey cut her off, deciding nothing had changed since his conversation with Tony’s AI. He moved to the door, tested the handle, then reached into his pocket to find a Swiss Army Knife he had received years ago when he graduated from MIT. He knelt down to take a look at the lock, then selected the best tool try and force the lock to open, seeing as Tony might be in no condition to open the door even if he wanted to – and even if he wasn’t, Rhodey didn’t have the patience to stand outside and wait for him to come out of it.

The lock protested, as did the door frame, but eventually Rhodey forced the door to open with a little excess force and stood up, pocketing the knife as he entered the bathroom. The room was fully lit and there was no chaos of broken things; just Tony sitting on the floor, as far away from the door as he could get, hands covering his ears, knees pulled up, eyes staring widely at nothing.

He must have seen movement or a shadow because he looked up towards Rhodey shortly after he entered, and there was something on his face that reminded Rhodey of those first hours over the Afghan desert, after Tony was starting to edge off the high of being rescued.

“Hey,” Rhodey greeted, talking slowly in case Tony was reading his expression and lips rather than listening. “I’m sorry I’m late for the party.” He walked towards Tony, gauging his reactions. Feeling cornered might not bode well, but Tony didn’t react so he kept advancing. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” he asked, as gently as possible, and moved himself down on one knee in front of Tony in case that made the other feel less threatened.

Pepper and Happy were not saying a thing, perhaps deciding that Rhodey assuming control of the situation was a good thing. They knew as well as Rhodey that it was important no one else saw this, so hopefully Happy had gone to keep watch and usher curious onlookers the other way. With midnight closer by the minute, the party outside was getting louder and that would hopefully keep stragglers to a minimum.

Tony swallowed, shivering a bit, and his eyes dropped away, not looking straight at Rhodey but somewhere past him.

Rhodey turned his head to see if there was something there, but he could not see anything significant. So, he returned his attention to Tony, trying to decide how to best approach the situation without actual cues from the other man.

“Perhaps if you could coax Mr. Stark downstairs, he would feel more secure,” J.A.R.V.I.S. suggested. Once upon a time Rhodey had insisted he didn’t need the AI to be able to speak to him inside the bathroom, but he didn’t mind it so much right now.

Rhodey nodded and slowly reached out, laying a hand on Tony’s knee. “What do you say? Want to go down to the shop instead?”

Tony didn’t look like he was really listening, but his eyes did flicker towards Rhodey so he must have been able to hear something even past the hands still blocking his ears.

“Come on,” Rhodey encouraged and tugged on the knee his hand was resting on, then slowly stood up and held out a hand for Tony.

Tony’s eyes followed his movements – keeping track of his body more than his face, Rhodey noticed. He wondered what kind of threat Tony associated with the sound of a gun, or if it had even been the gunshot that precipitated the attack.

Slowly, Tony moved his hands from his ears and touched the floor. He seemed to dread it down to the last second, even looking down to confirm the floor was indeed there, and slowly pushed himself to his feet. He started moving towards the door, then stepped to the side, and Rhodey frowned, not understanding why – then looked down and saw a miniscule puddle of water on the floor that Tony was avoiding like the plague itself.

Letting it go, Rhodey backed out of the bathroom to let Tony proceed at his own pace. For a moment it looked like all was well, but then Tony hesitated as he spotted Pepper hovering in the doorway and kind of withdrew into himself, backing away again, turning his body away. His hands moved down, fussing with the hem of his shirt, trying to tug it down, and when Rhodey moved closer, to give him a friendly nudge on the shoulder, he caught a faint whiff of urine he hadn’t detected before.

“Uh…” Tony mumbled, visibly uncomfortable with the entire situation.

Rhodey decided discomfort was good, because it meant Tony wasn’t panicking so much. “It’s okay,” he decided. “We’ll get you a change of clothes downstairs,” he decided matter-of-factly, because he was not going to ask Tony what had happened and why.

Tony gave him a sideways glance, a tiny nod – then looked out towards the door again. It was definitely shame on his face, Rhodey could tell, and he moved a bit, getting in between Tony and the door as he leaned out to talk to Pepper: “I’ll take him downstairs and get things sorted. Could you make sure everything keeps going smoothly up here?”

Pepper was smart: she had spent enough time with Tony to know that the look she had just received was not part of Tony’s normal repertoire and that Rhodey’s request was a plea that she not follow them downstairs.

“I’ve got it,” Pepper nodded and took a step away, then turned back. “I’ll ask Happy to clear the way for you,” she said before continuing on.

“Thank you,” Rhodey said, then turned back to Tony. “Come on,” he urged, and slowly Tony followed him out of the bathroom and down the hall. They took the long route to get to the workshop, but by the time they got to the stairs, Happy was ushering people outside in order to watch the fireworks that were going to start in a bit, and Pepper was organizing some game the drunken guests were eagerly waiting to participate in.

Thanks to the distractions, no one was out looking for their missing host, and Rhodey got Tony safely down the stairs and into his workshop without a single person noticing them.

The bots rolled out once the door locked behind them, and Tony seemed to perk up a little, giving You’s claws a tug as the bot came close enough.

Rhodey decided the bots would keep him preoccupied and went to the walk-in closet next to the adjoining bathroom in search of clean clothes. When he had located what he needed, he prepared to return to the main area, simultaneously attempting to come up with a way to suggest Tony go wash up without it coming out as an accusation or shaming. An adult unable to control his bladder was often the brunt of jokes but this was no laughing matter and he kind of wished he hadn’t even noticed it because then Tony wouldn’t have felt so awkward.

When he turned to exit the closet, he found Tony standing outside the doorway, looking awkwardly at him.

“You wanna take a shower?” Rhodey asked.

Tony started so hard Rhodey could see it. “No,” he said shortly.

Rhodey frowned. “I think you should,” he insisted, s softly as he could.

“I’ll wash,” Tony stated, and reached out to take the clothes from Rhodey.

“That’s what I said,” Rhodey frowned even harder, confused.

“You said ‘shower’,” Tony retorted and moved away from the doorway, heading for the bathroom.

“What’s the difference, in this case?” Rhodey murmured after the bathroom door closed. He knew better than to challenge Tony’s logic right now. “Tell me if he… you know, starts freaking out again,” he ordered J.A.R.V.I.S. and sat down to wait.

There was no need for it, apparently; the bathroom door opened four minutes later, revealing Tony in his clean clothes, dropping his bundled up party gear into a hamper. A distasteful look passed his face as he watched the clothes fall in, but vanished by the time he exited and looked at Rhodey. “Drink?” he asked, voice almost back to normal.

Rhodey nodded and watched Tony raid the workshop fridge for two bottles of beer. It was a surprisingly long search, and Rhodey was hopeful that Tony had begun to drink less down here since starting to work on his armor.

Tony offered the bottle to him silently and Rhodey accepted it with another nod, twisting the cap open and tossing it onto a workbench next to him. One of the bots rolled over instantly, hovering over the cap as it tried to grab it, failing twice before getting hold of the tiny object, then carried over to a trash can meant for metal.

Silence filled the room, save for the noises the bots were making, moving around. Then, on the floor above them, sounds of a countdown started. Rhodey felt like he should say something, but Tony was looking out the wide windows of the workshop, a far-away look on his face. He looked serene, for the time being, and Rhodey didn’t want to disturb that.

Shouts of “HAPPY NEW YEAR!” broke out upstairs – swiftly followed by massive sounds of nearby fireworks, and Tony’s serenity came crumbling down. Rhodey watched him start, hand swiftly setting down the bottle of beer in order to grip onto the workbench in front of him. He remained rigid and tense, eyes wide and eyelashes flickering at every whistle and bang of the wireworks.

Rhodey would have done something if there was no way it could backfire, but he opted to sit still, watching Tony until it was over.

It seemed the noises coming in swift succession didn’t disturb Tony nearly as much as the lonely, loud bangs that made the entire building shiver. Rhodey tried to guess the origin of that fear, but knew he would do more harm than good coming up with possible scenarios. So, he waited it out.

Once silence fell again, only occasionally broken by shouts and a loud beat of music from upstairs, Rhodey stood up, making sure Tony saw him moving up and towards him. The closer he got, the more hard-pressed Tony seemed to be to act normal and relinquish his death-grip from around the workbench.

“It’s okay,” Rhodey reassured him. “You’re safe.”

Tony let out a sound that was probably supposed to be a scoff or a snort, but he ended up choking on it and his expression crumbled briefly. “My ears are still ringing from… before,” he said, eyes not meeting Rhodey’s again.

“Wasn’t a real gun,” Rhodey said, knowing that was no consolation.

“I know,” Tony said, spitting it out so fast it sounded like it was a trivial detail. “Sounded real enough, though.” He finally released his right hand from the table and brought it up to his head, shaky fingers poking and prodding at his ear, sliding through his hair and in general looking like he didn’t know what to do with his hand but needed to do something.

“Was it something from when you were held captive?” Rhodey asked. Subtlety wasn’t one of his finer points and he needed to know what had caused this to make sure he would not end up triggering Tony in the future by accident. He already felt responsible for letting Tony be taken; the only way he even slept at night was by not knowing in detail what Tony had endured in captivity.

Tony’s hand jerked, fingers pinching his earlobe so hard it had to hurt. “Sorta,” he replied. It sounded like a ‘yes’.

“It might help if you talk about it,” Rhodey offered.

Tony’s eyes flew at him, still unguarded, lacking the shield Tony had constructed to protect himself over the years. “How?” he frowned, tone accusatory – as if Rhodey were purposefully hurting him or making him mad. “I hadn’t even thought about it until tonight. Didn’t remember…”

Maybe the reason Tony could sleep at night after three months in a cave was because he didn’t remember all of it.

Rhodey felt like he should let it go and let Tony’s brain go back to not remembering. If it helped him cope, then he would gladly let that be the case.

Apparently there was no stopping the flood of information once the dam broke, though, because Tony kept talking after another round of restlessly tugging on his ear and carding his fingers through his hair. It was as if he kept checking for an injury that wasn’t there. “They were trying to make me build them a Jericho missile. Talking didn’t do it. Shoving me around and roughing me up didn’t work. They needed me functioning, after all. Can’t build a damn thing with broken equipment, and I was the main tool at their disposal.”

The fretful tugging continued and Rhodey ached to make him stop. To seize Tony’s hand and hold it until he was done vomiting the things he was apparently going to share come hell or high water.

“I knew the odds from the start. They would not let me go if I built them all the weapons in the world. They might keep me alive, but I had already seen the things my weapons did, to people that should have never been hurt by them. All the people who died in the ambush…” Tony was staring fixatedly at the ocean, but Rhodey was certain he couldn’t see a thing in front of him – just the horror he had endured, and the decisions he had been forced to make.

“They got fed up, impatient. I could tell that whenever they stopped throwing an English word around here and there. I couldn’t understand… I did understand it when they shoved me down on my knees, a bag over my head, a gun pressed to the back of my head. Game over. No more requests. No Jericho, no nothing.” He stopped tugging and stopped talking, as if his brain was reliving the moment. “They moved the gun to… I don’t know… It was close, when they fired it. I could smell it, and feel the heat, even when my skull was ringing from the shot.”

Tony dropped his hand from the side of his head and looked at Rhodey. The walls were coming back up. “I still didn’t say yes.”

Rhodey didn’t realize he had been holding his breath until he let the air escape and drew in a painful new lungful to feed his starving body. He wondered if Tony had said ‘yes’, eventually. He wondered if the puddle of water on the floor had something to do with it, or not.

It didn’t matter.

Tony didn’t look like he needed to be comforted right now, already busy bringing out his armor and getting to work on it, completely dismissing Rhodey’s existence in the workshop. A snap of Tony’s fingers made the music turn on, the playlist oddly familiar from years of knowing the man, and Rhodey finished his beer and went to get another, sitting a bit closer to Tony, pretending that he was situating himself close by in case Tony needed a shoulder to lean on, and not the other way around.





The End