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Leverage

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After destroying many of the drones left to terrorize the Expo, Tony headed towards the greenhouse. Really, it was a logical decision- no (more) civilian casualties, explosions could be in a contained space, and the drones didn’t really account for treetops when they were flying. Win-win situation.

Plus he didn’t want Rhodey to have the same blood on his hands that Tony has on his

The armor holding Rhodey lands in the middle of the clearing, a taunting reminder that even though the armor that’s shooting at him is wide open for a shot, he would never even consider taking it.

Not even if it cost him his life.

The armor’s arm went straight up. At first, Tony thought it was to start shooting him again and he moved higher up to get in a better position to dodge any incoming fire.

But then-

Rhodey’s arm continued it’s arc backwards at an inhumanly smooth angle. The arm was moving at such a steady pace, there was no way it could be anything other than Vanko controlling Rhodey’s suit.

He was vaguely aware of the drones surrounding them in the air. It was an idle thought- with the increased maneuverability of the Iron Man armor, he’d be able to escape pretty easily if he wanted to.

Even if he couldn't, Rhodey was more important than his survival ratings.

He moved closer to Rhodey, still tense and ready to bolt if necessary.

“Rhodey?” He asked slowly.

“Yeah, Tony, I’m fine.” Tony could hear the strain is his voice- Rhodey’s arm was still moving backwards and Tony knew from experience his shoulder wouldn’t last much lon-

A muffled pop, followed by a far less muffled gasp of pain told Tony the shoulder had been dislocated.

“Rhodey!”

Rhodey’s arm was still arching backwards. The wrist twisted harshly and Rhodey cried out ( wouldn’t that sound be in his nightmares forever ) and something in Tony cried out too.

JARVIS couldn’t reboot Rhodey’s armor and trying to force it to stop would just cause his friend more harm.

( What if the next bone they decided to snap was Rhodey’s neck- and how would he live with that, knowing one of his inventions got his honeybear killed? Knowing that even when he’d tossed weapon designs out the window, he’d never create anything that wouldn’t hurt those closest to him? )

“Rhodey, talk to me Honeybear. Are you okay?” His blood pounded in his ears. A part of his mind whispered of course he isn’t okay, he’s trapped in a body of armor he’s not in control of and his shoulder’s dislocated you idiot, but the other part was screaming RhodeyRhodey’sinpainRhodeyRhodeyRhodeyNotRhodeyplease.

Rhodey’s arm stopped. All that could be heard in the silence following ( why weren’t the drones doing anything ) was Rhodey’s labored breathing. For a few seconds, Tony forgot how to breathe himself.

“Stark,” That was Vanko’s voice- he has control of Rhodey’s armor, of course he’d have access to the comms - “Come down. Now.”

Tony hesitated. How many more people were at his Expo and, just like the kid he saved mere minutes before, were dying because he was the only one who could stop the drones.

It happened so quick he almost missed it. Rhodey’s left ankle twisted past 90 degrees counterclockwise in an instant and not a second later Tony heard his best friend scream.

He shut the repulsors off immediately and dropped to the ground like a stone, not even trying to cushion his fall.

The drones descended soon after him, tightening their circle so the only escape was up.

“I like talking on even ground.” Vanko sounded smug through the comms.

The armor started walking towards him, Vanko deliberately making his left leg hit the ground harder than his right. Rhodey let out a whine at every impact, and Tony’s jaw clenched tighter and the knot in his throat grew wider at every whine.

Vanko stopped moving Rhodey when he was far nearer to Tony than he needed to be.

“You see, Stark,” The armor moved, rolling his left shoulder in an exaggerated manner- Rhodey was whimpering and god dammit that’s his best friend, “If I have him, I have you.”

“What do you want ?” Tony whispered, scared of setting Vanko off in any way.

“I want the world to see you crumble,” The armor backed up heavily, whines echoing through the comms again, “I want to make you feel the pain your father caused my father. The pain we had to live with for over 40 years while you grew up in luxury.”

Some kind of luxury, a part of his mind snapped back. He didn’t dare say it out loud.

Instead, he said the only other thing in his head.

“Please don’t hurt my friend. Your fight is with me, not him.”

No reply. The armor was still.The drone’s weapon systems stayed pointed at Tony.

The armor collapsed, and Tony winced at the cry that rang through his ear, before immediately rushing to his friend. The droids had begun to shift their weapons back towards Tony, but Tony wasn’t moving on the off-chance that one of their weapons would be trained on Rhodey.

He could hear the weapons firing up and hoped that most of the drones were encircling him, before demolishing each drone with his lasers. They didn't stand a chance.

He paused and watched the drones for movement, then hurriedly turned to Rhodey.

He raised his faceplate and raised a hand to gently tap at Rhodey’s.

The reactor flicked back on, and the faceplate raised.

Rhodey’s face was covered in a cold sweat and he was breathing heavily, his eyes closed.

“Hey platypus, you okay? Not passing out on me right?” He asked worriedly, searching every inch of his Rhodey’s face to search for any other indicator of pain.

Rhodey grunted, “Are you okay? Where are all the drones- last I saw they were surrounding us.”

“Well, they're still surrounding us just they're, uh, they’re scrap metal now.” Tony smiled at Rhodey weakly, very gently patting his friend’s right knee, collapsing all the way to the ground beside his best friend, “We won buddy. We won.”

“Don't be so sure, Stark,” Agent Romanoff said, “There's another bogey heading your way. But this one’s different- his reactor signature is significantly higher.”

Tony jerked up, panicking at the thought of his friend being caught in another firefight.

“JARVIS, get him out of here and to the nearest hospital now .” Tony’s faceplate snapped down and the HUD showed the incoming drone.

Just as Rhodey exited stage left, the next drone entered stage right.

--

Ultimately, Tony was lucky he had any power at all when he was done with his battle with Vanko.

“You lose!” Vanko chuckled as the reactor on his suit turned red and started beeping. The drones surrounding them started to do the same thing.

Tony panicked, thinking of his too-kind-CEO who no doubt stayed at the Stark Expo to help wherever she could and his best friend inside one of the armors Vanko had a hand in making.

He shot into the sky at supersonic speed without a second thought.

“JARVIS, send Rhodey back towards me!”

“But, sir-”

“Just do it , JARVIS!”

“Yes, sir.”

He arrived at the Stark Expo in record time, landing next to Pepper and the drone’s increasingly faster beeping.

“JARVIS, give me a location on Rhodey.” The HUD showed him about 2,000 feet Northwest.

He shot into the sky with Pepper in his arms. The beeping increased behind him. His heart beat against his chest arc reactor.

“Eject him, JARVIS!” He shouted as he turned Northwest, quickly depositing Pepper on a nearby rooftop. The drones started exploding as soon as he said this and he prayed Rhodey hadn't been caught in the explosion.

Tony sped up, catching up with Rhodey in his freefall, but there wasn't enough time to safely slow down.

He grabbed his best friend and twirled so his back would hit the ground. He wasn't important anyway . After all, he had the broken armor on. Tony would be fine.

The car caved beneath them, Rhodey’s head slamming back against Tony’s chest.

“Sir, multiple lacerations have been detected.” JARVIS's voice was filled with worry.

He coughed, the taste of iron filling his mouth. He raised the hand not cradling Rhodey and pulled his faceplate up.

He rolled to the side, spitting out blood and supporting Rhodey with his left arm.

He used his right arm to pull the rest of the dead armor off him until he just had the gauntlets on.

He wasn't about to be caught defenseless when he had an unconscious and hurt best friend to protect.

He hobbled towards the nearest hospital, right arm prepared to attack, left arm prepared to defend.

--

The nearest hospital was flooded. Of course it was, Vanko wasn't very considerate of civilian casualties.

The crowd of people parted in the wake of Tony Stark, covered in blood and grime, limping into the emergency room with his unconscious best friend.

The civilians stared at their heroes.

One person started clapping. The entire emergency room was soon filled with applause.

Tony looked around him. There was a woman with her arm in a sling and her head covered in bandages- a grin on her face as her good arm hit her leg. A young child waving as his grin lit up his face. A teenager with his leg in a cast smiled as he clapped gently.

“Please,” Tony whispered through his parched throat, “He needs medical attention.”

It was a surprise he was heard, but someone shouted “Medic!” and pretty soon the crowd parted so a nurse could roll in with a stretcher.

He helped move Rhodey gently onto the stretcher before latching his gauntlet onto the rail.

“Don't even try to separate me from him.” Tony’s eyes burned with intensity as he met the nurse’s gaze over Rhodey’s limp body.

She nodded, “Wouldn't dream of it, Mr. Stark. If you would follow me.”

He followed her, eyes never leaving Rhodey’s face.

--

Rhodey was covered in bandages. It hurt Tony to stare, but he couldn't look away.

Alongside his dislocated shoulder, broken wrist and shattered ankle, Rhodey had 3 broken ribs, a mildly severe concussion and scattered burns across his torso.

Tony never felt worse. Not even when he was dying.

He’d stripped himself of one of the arms, but left the right gauntlet. Call him paranoid, but he couldn't help himself.

A nurse walked in, checking Rhodey’s vitals and his IV.

“Mr. Stark, would you allow me to bandage your wounds?” She asked quietly.

“I'm not leaving him.” He said immediately, gauntlet whirring as his fists clenched.

“Of course not,” She smiled, “I can treat you right here.”

He hesitated, deliberately not looking her in the eye.

“You're not doing your friend any good bleeding out in that chair, Mr. Stark.”

He nodded quietly.

The nurse exited and he was left alone with Rhodey for a few minutes before she returned.

She returned with a large First Aid kit and some non-latex gloves.

“Mr. Stark, could you… remove your shirt?”

He nodded, standing up to take off his shirt, wincing as it scraped against his wounds.

There was an intake of breath behind him. He was pulled gently down as the nurse beside him immediately began fussing over him.

He looked down at his torso and, yeah okay, it looked awful. Nothing he didn't deserve.

There was a rainbow of bruises that made it pretty clear not all of his ribs were perfectly intact. Electrical burns crisscrossed his torso, making bruised flesh raw. There were small cuts up and down his left arm and he was pretty sure the car stabbed into his back when he crashed into it. Not to mention the palladium scarring branching out from his arc reactor.

“Have you… How did you just sit here with this much damage? Mr. Stark, this- you must have been in so much pain and you've just been sitting here for hours!” She kept her tone quiet, but stern and disapproving.

He shrugged, then winced when it pulled on something in his back.

“Call me Tony. Mr. Stark was my father.” He muttered as she started applying bandages to his arm.

She smiled at him, “Of course, Tony. Only if you call me May.”

He nodded, “May.”

They sat like that in silence for about half an hour. It was oddly calming to feel her wiping down his wounds as if they mattered and bandaging them.

May had finished his arm and half his back when she spoke again.

“You saved my nephew.”

“Huh,” Tony, who had been daydreaming, startled at the sudden break in silence.

“My nephew, Peter Parker. Not by blood, I- I haven't even married Ben yet, but… he's such a good kid and he really looks up to you and I love him a lot. And today he could've… Today, he almost… but he didn't. You saved him and… I'll never be able to thank you enough… never be able to repay you.” Her voice cracked at the end.

His brows furrowed, “You don't… owe me anything. Even if you did, helping me with Rhodey is more than enough.”

May sniffed, “Thank you so much, Tony. I'm always willing to help my hero.” Her arm came up to pat his left shoulder gently.

They spent the rest of their time in silence.

--

2 days past. This was standard procedure for Tony. He never went to sleep without at least a full 36 hours in between.

Was it unhealthy? Maybe.

But really, Tony was fine.

--

It'd been 3 days since the Stark Expo. Tony refused to sleep before Rhodey awoke, instead living off the 2 cups of coffee May brought him at the beginning and end of her shift and pure determination.

Pepper and Happy dropped by a few times, but SI kept calling them back.

Tony only left Rhodey’s bedside to use the bathroom 4 feet away from his bed.

May was worrying over him and when she visited to check on Rhodey, she dropped not-so-subtle hints that he needed to sleep.

A human can last 11 days before dying from lack of sleep. He'd be fine

He didn't need to sleep. He'd lasted longer than this being tortured   working in a cave down in the workshop, here he… wasn't doing anything.

He couldn't do anything to help Rhodey.  That hurt him more than anything. Hurt more than everything except the fact that he knew the reason Rhodey was in this bed was because of him in the first place.

He was fine. Yeah, sure, he needed a shower desperately, but the thought of leaving Rhodey alone that long left him sick.

He's fine.

--

It’d been 4 days now. He was still fine, despite May’s pushing him to sleep.

”Tony, I insist you allow me t-”

“No I insist that you leave me the hell alone. You'll have to pry my cold dead body away from him.” He snapped back ( he'd regret it later, May was nothing but an angel towards him, but nothing would let him from his Rhodey) , gauntlet whirring anxiously.

She startled, “If you go on like this much longer, I very well may have to.” She stormed out at that, her voice brittle.

He sighed, rubbing at his eyes, then turning back to stare at Rhodey, “It would be nothing less than what I deserve.” He whispered.

He was fine.

--

Okay, it'd been 5 days. Yeah, he could go for some sleep. In the same way he could go for not having a two-inch hole in his sternum.

Sometimes, you don't always get what you want.

He was still fine. He was always fine.

--

6 days had passed.

His eyelids felt like they gained 5 pounds every 5 minutes.

He took a shower after May told him the grime could infect Rhodey’s wounds and promised to stay with Rhodey. He scrubbed himself raw in a record 7 minutes, desperate to return to him.

May chided him quietly when she bandaged his wounds, which has been scrubbed bloody again.

Whenever he felt himself about to sleep, he'd force himself off the chair to walk around Rhodey’s bed a few times.

Pepper asked how he was doing.

Tony told her.

He was fine.

--

A week had gone by.

He stood up to walk around Rhodey’s bed and almost fainted.

His hands were shaking. His tongue felt heavy. His knees buckled. He sat back down. It didn't matter.

He was fine.

--

8 days.

He was not fine.

Neither was Rhodey.

He would be fine.

--

9 days.

He'll admit it. He was tired .

He refused to acknowledge the pillow and blanket May left for him. She stopped bringing him coffee a day or two ago.

He'd lost track.

He felt a sharp pain in his neck. His bare hand clamped over it, a little yelp escaping him.

He caught a glimpse of red hair and black leather and had enough time to think what is it with you and stabbing me in the neck with things before he was rushing to the floor.

Gentle hands caught him before he slammed his head into the tile below.

--

He startled awake.

He looked around him. There was an IV that he immediately reached for, only for a firm hand to stop him.

He looked up to see Agent Romanoff above him.

“Leave it in.” She raised an eyebrow, daring him to argue.

“Rhodey,” He pleaded.

Her eyes flickered to a sight to the right of him. His head turned that way to see Rhodey dozing in a wheelchair nearby.

“Is he okay,” He whispered, not wanting to disturb his best friend, “How long have I been out?”

“He’s worried about you,” She stared at him, “He woke up a day after I put you out. You've been in and out the past day after sleeping a good 24 hours.”

“Should he be out of bed?” His eyes scanned Rhodey for any sign that something was wrong.

“Technically? No. But technically, you should've been in bed the moment you stepped foot into the emergency room.” Her gaze burned into the back of his neck.

“I'm fine,” He dismissed.

“Clearly not.” Her voice rose in doubt, “Considering you're in a hospital bed.”

“Details,” His voice broke in his parched throat again, “Do we have any-”

He turned to her, but she was already holding out a cup of water for him.

“I don't like being handed things,” His voice shook.

“Of course,” She pulled the bedside table closer with her foot, placing the cup on the surface.

His hand shook as he picked it up but he was grateful when he was able to take a drink and put it back without spilling it all on himself.

“My suit?” He remembered violently dismantling it, but he still couldn't chance anyone getting their hands on it.

“I boxed up the scraps and gave them to Miss Potts,” She said, “Thought that was the safest place to put it.”

“Definitely,” He smiled, “Thank you.”

She looked surprised at his thanks, but nodded.

He took a deep breath, turning to look at Rhodey again.

Rhodey was okay. Tony fell back asleep.

--

He awoke again in the middle of the night. Agent Romanoff was gone. Rhodey was awake.

Rhodey was awake!

“Honeybear!” He startled, jerking towards Rhodey.

Rhodey caught him before he fell off the bed, leaning forward in his chair to gently push Tony back.

“Yeah, I'm here Tones.” Rhodey’s hand rubbed up and down Tony’s right forearm, “I thought-” His voice broke, “I thought I hurt you.”

“You didn't,” Tony smiled a little bit, “as if anything Hammer made could even put a dent in the Iron Man armor.”

Rhodey laughed wetly, “You're an idiot,” He sniffed, rubbing at his eyes, “A complete and utter idiot.”

Tony nodded, “I'm your idiot?” He asked, unsure.

Rhodey patted his forearm, grinning as he leaned back in his chair to get more comfortable, “And don't you forget it.”