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definitions of indefinable things

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James Rhodes loves Tony. They are brothers in every way but by blood. Yes, he gets exasperated, irritated, and the better half of their years together Tony drove him up the wall... but at the end of it all, he would always care for the brunette like family.


His patience, however, has frequently been tested.


Rhodes honestly wondered during their initial years of friendship where he would draw the line. But as he made sure Tony didn’t drown in his own vomit several nights a week during his party day, picked him up at three in the morning in god knows where, fought alongside him during various life-threatening situations, dealt with his quarter-life crisis, middle-life crisis, every other crisis ever in existence... he was starting to get the impression that maybe... just maybe... there was no limit to the love he felt for his friend. A fact he became quite proud of.


But today, that theory was once again tested in ways he never thought possible.


Well, to be fair, he never thought it was possible for his best friend to have not one, but two exes with superhuman abilities.


“Someone please explain to me what is going on!” he cried out to the scene in front of him.


Some immediately turned towards him with what the Colonel can guess as relief. But most seemed unable to take their eyes off of Captain America and Doctor Strange who both looked about ready to commit murder.


There was debris all along the surrounding area of the common room, furniture broken to pieces, and the floor-to-ceiling glass window behind them was mostly blown out by what the Colonel guessed to be Clint’s arrow. That was most likely the explosion he had heard as he entered the compound and what triggered FRIDAY's alert to his presence being needed upstairs.


Rhodes chanced a glance towards Scott Lang. One of the few, if he had to take a wild guess from his experiences so far, was probably not part of the instigator for unnecessary violence. But Scott shook his head quickly, eyes wide as if trying to convey he was just as confused.


“Uh…. Colonel Rhodes….?” Was this kid actually raising his hand?


Rhodes gave Peter a look that he hoped obviously conveyed hurry up kid.


There was momentary guilt. He was usually friendlier to the teen. He definitely liked this polite boy from Queens that Tony has been so fond of in recent years. It was also worth noting that Peter being around actually helped mitigate the billionaire's reckless behavior, which in turn, certainly made his own life a bit easier. But right now he just wanted answers and quick.


“Uh- well… Mr. Stark dated Doctor Strange a while back before he was… Doctor Strange... but after the car accident he sort of just disappeared on Mr. Stark…”


Oh, he already can see where this might be going. He was one of the few in the room who completely knew about Stephen and Tony’s relationship from the old days. Actually, he had been quite taken aback with the whole Sorcerer Supreme thing upon doctor's return for that reason.


“...Mr. Stark moved on and got together with Captain America as everyone here probably already knows but they broke up when he nearly killed him Siberia-”


There were some side remarks from a handful in the room and even Rhodes frowned a bit at the words. He was, of course, there during the Accords issue for the most part but when he asked Tony what happened during the time he was out of action, Tony had been vague. Said that he had followed Rogers and Barnes to Siberia intending to help after realizing Barnes might be innocent, they fought after finding out about Barnes's past, and he lost. Nearly killed? That part wasn’t exactly mentioned.


“Then Thanos happened. And Doctor Strange came back and they are back together again after the war... but things just got really awkward when old Avengers came back to the compound…” Peter was speaking rather fast now. And Rhodey bit back the urge to ask how Peter knew all this, to begin with.


“…and I just don’t want Mr. America to steal Dad away from my other Dad-”


There was a pause.


“Did you just call Tony ‘Dad’?”


Lieutenant Colonel James Rupert “Rhodey” Rhodes had wondered for decades where he may draw the line with Tony’s crazy life.


And this was it.





 “Okay, so my life is a bit messy right now.”


“Did you know the kid called you ‘Dad’?”


“Really?” Rhodes can see his friend’s eyes light up a little. If this whole situation wasn’t as weird and problematic as it was, he may have thought the little happiness on Tony’s face was rather endearing. “I’m adopting the kid.”


“Tony, the kid already has a guardian.”


“Actually May an I had this talk couple days ago. She may have to move away due to work relocation but she wanted Peter to have a choice to stay here and finish school with his friends. And since she already was thinking it might be great for Pete to have a sort of father figure in his life-“


“Wait, wait, Tony are you serious?” He was very well aware that Tony basically treated the kid as his own son but he had not expected an actual legal adoption to be in the near future. That was a commitment, a big commitment. And no matter how much Tony had changed over the years, Rhodes still remembers how much of a commitment-phobe Tony was by nature. But speaking of commitments... “What does Stephen think about that? Then again the kid just called Stephen ‘other Dad’ so-”


“He did?” came the quick response. There was that look again. “Explains why the wizard wasn’t radiating anger after that with Rogers. I knew he seemed too calm. I didn’t even have to sex him up to get -“


“I DON’T NEED TO HEAR IT!” He exclaimed quickly and abruptly but then something clicked inside colonel's head. “So… is it serious? Tony, it’s only been what? 6 months tops since Thanos? You guys just decided to officially start seeing each other again. Look, I had my reserves about you two having another go but you know in the end I completely support you two. But still, isn’t this a bit fast?”


He had thought Tony would spin it into another joke or at least some sarcastic comment along the lines of how much his Rhodey Bear cares but none surprisingly came. There was a pause in which the younger was staring at him with a dead-serious look that only happened very few times in the course of their friendship outside the battlefield.


“We all just lost 5 years of our lives, Rhodes. I seriously thought I was a goner during that battle. We saw first hand that life can disappear from us in a snap. Besides, it’s really not like I’m getting any younger. What are we going to do? Dance around each other like we used to and waste time?” 


Tony started fidgeting with his tools again, “And before the snap, up in space, you weren’t there. He’s changed a lot. Hell, I’ve changed a lot – or at least I would like to think I have. We were a team. It felt like I got everything good we had before back and more but with all the problems we used to have seems possible for us to fix this time. I’m not saying it’s perfect but we have a good thing going right now and if it continues being good I’m not going to fight it for once. Just because it’s not fitting with the normal timeline of what people believe should be moving on, commitment, etc…. I mean since when have I ever normal? And-“ He waved a wrench at the older with that mischievous grin now forming on his face. “-the sex is great! Seriously almost forgot how kinky that bastard can be. I was actually kind of worried with the whole Sorcerer Supreme serious and prim thing he’s got going on but-“


“I. DON’T. NEED. TO. HEAR. IT. TONES!” He shouted as he quickly started towards the elevator door.


“Love you too, Platypus!”


But just as Rhodes reached the elevator, he paused, pacing. “Hey, Tony… about Cap…” He briefly saw the smirk disappearing from the engineer’s face. The genius was always good at reading people and seems to already know what is to come. “Siberia. Did he…?” Rhodes couldn’t find the words.


He knew.


Of course, he knew the way Tony had been around Steve Rogers before then. What he meant.


How they clashed initially during the Alien invasion in New York. Even after that battle, although they were on relatedly amicable terms, there were still a lot of tensions. It was a long while before the two slowly gained an understanding of each other and started to build a friendship.


The breakthrough was when Cap started to live in the present and more willing to let go of the past. Stopped comparing Tony to his father while finally acknowledged the side of Tony that he hid behind the loud humor and faux arrogance; the side that was caring, passionate, insecure, but fiercely loyal to those he called his.


Tony in return let go of his resentment he held towards Cap for his father’s obsession. To be honest, Rhodey knew Tony couldn’t actually ever hate the Captain. In fact, to some degree, Captain America was Tony’s childhood hero. He was just in a bit of pain from all the times his father seemingly choose Captain America over him, all the times he was told he was not like the great Captain America. When Cap also seemed to be telling him how he wasn’t the “hero” material that probably just struck a nerve. Tony was never good at rejections from people he actually cared about the opinion of, whether he wanted to admit it or not.


Cap threw words around, Tony lashed out, the two fought, and things would escalate very quickly. But at some point, Tony seemed to have let go of his bitterness a bit by bit, telling Rhodey one night over drinks he “finally understands why the world needs Steve Rogers”. And although he was disappointed to see the flaws at first, it is comforting to know even Captain America was human after all.


No, Rhodey saw it from a mile away. In truth, a part of Tony just wanted to be accepted by Captain America he grew up admiring especially now that he was part of this Avengers group he couldn't help but care for.


Everything became easier after the two seemed to have developed some mutual respect for each other. They were officially both leading members of the Avengers and the missions ran relatedly smoothly. Some called them friends or partners though the two superheroes rarely spend much time outside of missions largely due to much of Tony’s personal time still being spent with Stephen Strange, now a well-renowned surgeon.


The team knew of the existence of Tony’s boyfriend since several gossip magazines covered much of their relationship every other week but considering Stephen’s workaholic tendency that rivaled Tony’s and the pair’s scene originally vastly different from the rest of the Avengers, they didn’t have many reasons to cross paths. After all, they didn’t even know Clint even had a family until the situation demanded it. They were all, more or less, respectful of each other’s personal life and privacy. No one officially had met Stephen in person other than Natasha, who only ended up in the same room as Tony’s then very public boyfriend while she was parading as Stark Industry employee. She had noted in the initial report for Avengers Initiative Stephen Vincent Strange as one of the potential liabilities of Iron Man.


But of course, everything changed the day Stephen crashed his car. Tony was the first one on-site. Abandoning his own post during a mission nearby the minute Pepper had called to inform him of his boyfriend’s accident.


Captain understood when Rhodey later explained the situation but Tony disappearing on them without a warning did cause some complications. It may have been the reason Cap showed up to the hospital later that night only to have any lecture die in his throat the minute he saw the state Tony was in. The great Tony Stark not even being able to string two words together, shaking while trying and failing to keep his emotions in check.


That was the day Cap became Steve Rogers for Rhodes. And just Steve to Tony. When Rhodes and Pepper came back from getting all of them desperately needed coffee around 4 am they saw Tony crying uncontrollably on the Captain’s shoulders.


Stephen breaking things off with Tony was something Rhodey did not anticipate. He had watched the pair at best and worst. The two enabled each other in the best and worst of ways. But it was Stephen had been there for Tony through a series of life-altering events in ways Pepper and Rhodes, despite their best efforts, just could not handle on several occasions. He really had thought that Tony had met his match in the genius surgeon in more ways than one. That after Tony's an endless amount of one night stands and failed attempts at relationships, this was it. So Stephen couldn't go back to being a surgeon, so what? He was, at least alive and if it was the money... well that was definitely not an issue if you were dating Tony Stark. Rhodes felt tremendous relief as soon as he heard Stephen will live. He quickly realized how naive he had been and Tony was right in being nervous all along.


The only warning the Rhodes got was Pepper’s phone call. He didn’t get much detail either other than finding Tony in his half trashed workshop, sitting on the corner with several bottles of scotch. “He left me, Rhodes,” was all he could get out of his best friend.


The media, of course, spun the story into Tony leaving Stephen. About the multi-billionaire not wanting to be held down by the now-crippled surgeon. Tony never made any effort in correcting the story in what Pepper described as some sort of self-punishment. Only the Avengers really saw how wrecked Tony was by the breakup and how desperately he was trying to salvage their relationship.


Steve tried his best to keep Tony company as he increasingly spent more time in the Avengers Compound resenting the world. Cap also seemed to be enjoying the engineer's antics as Tony tried to distract himself by introducing Steve some new technology or pop culture. Rhodes knows first hand how Tony innately turns up the charm around people he considers a possible friend and how accommodating he can be when he likes you, platonically or romantically. It was a trait that got amplified especially when he felt lonely.


Rhodes knew at some point the way Steve dealt with Tony had changed. It was no longer the careful professionalism or fondness from being a fellow teammate. Rhodes doesn’t make a big deal out of it. If anything, at the time he thought it would be great if Tony can move on with someone like Steve Rogers, America’s golden boy. He saw it that fateful night at the hospital, for once Tony wasn’t carrying all the weight on his shoulders.


Rhodes can clearly recall the day Steve finally asks Tony out on a date. He remembers because he found red roses in Tony’s lab and he proceeded to tease Cap for being old fashioned. Although, even with all his jabs, he was very happy for his friend. Maybe old fashioned is something Tony needs right now. The engineer had doubts and, though he doesn’t outright say, Rhodes can tell even after a year from Stephen’s disappearance he was still a bit hung up over the doctor. He encourages his friend to still give it a shot. Maybe it is time to move on. But whatever doubts Tony had soon disappeared as Steve says all the right things with always that look of unconcealed, open love.


He doesn’t remember exactly when things shifted. Or maybe it was so gradual he just can't pin it. But definitely after Ultron things were different.


“Tony, you said you two had a fight, how bad really was it?” Part of him knew the answer. The Spider-kid had no reason to lie and he wasn’t all too shocked, quite frankly, of how resourceful the kid can be in piecing together all the information. “Tones…”


“Next time,” he can see the smile was now wearing thin, “just not right now, Rhodey.”


“Yea- alright,” he knew better than to push his friend in cases like this. After a bit of awkward silence, he stepped into the elevator. “I’m the one who pushed you to give him a chance. I also pushed you to letting them come back here because I really thought-“


“It’s alright, not your fault," Tony replied easily.


But it certainly felt like it.



There were a lot of raised voices as he approached upstairs once more. One he can distinctly identify as Pepper, making him nearly run out of the elevator once it reached the floor. He had thought the group dispersed after realizing how upset Peter had been but it seems that there was round two in the works after the teens have left. He wonders if FRIDAY already alerted Tony.


“Look, Miss Potts, all due respect, I don’t understand why he is even here. He refused to be part of the Avengers.”


“Doctor Strange actually had access to all of Tony’s property before any of the Avengers existed.”


“I’m very much aware of Tony’s relationship with Strange in the past. We were there when it ended.”


Rhodes turned the corner just in time to see Stephen glaring daggers at the Captain. He had to admit Stephen did change quite a bit from the handsome pretty boy surgeon Tony had met at a gala one year. It was to the point upon re-meeting him during the war with Thanos, Rhodes hardly recognized the other.


He had first thought it was because Stephen looked significantly more mature now: broader shouldered, the facial hair, more graying hair, and the complete change of clothing choices. But the more he observed it was the change in his demeanor that was throwing him off even more.


“The whole Sorcerer Supreme serious and prim thing” Tony had said and he had to admit his friend had a point. It was oddly fascinating to watch Stephen openly challenge Captain America with clearly no intention of backing down. The ex-surgeon had always been stubborn and hot-headed as Tony, Rhodes knew that first hand, but there was now a complete assurance Stephen had of himself that was underlined everything he says and did. It was quite domineering in fact. He seemed to now have a presence that very easily rivaled Cap’s.


Although currently that just meant this might end in much more of a disaster.


“Do not bother, James,” came the deep voice that was unmistakably the sorcerer’s. He was willing to bet Stephen was purposely trying to sound bored just to tick the Captain off even more, “I already asked FRIDAY to keep Tony out of this. I rather not have him nor our child unnecessarily witnessing something unsavory.”


“Your child?” Steve was starting to sound exasperated.


“Well, he definitely won’t be yours.”


Natasha quickly grabbed a hold Steve’s arm to make sure he didn’t lunge forward at the Doctor.


“Okay look, guys,” Rhodes stepped forward trying to put himself between the Captain and Strange. “I don’t know what even started this conversation or why exactly you both are at each other’s throat today but…” he turned towards Steve, “Captain, Tony made it clear his current status of relationship with Stephen and sure maybe Stephen isn’t an Avengers but he had been in Tony’s life for quite some time and he was a huge help during battle with Thanos… and this is Tony’s building.”


“It’s not-“ Steve looked away taking a deep breath. “Where’s Tony? I need to talk to him-“


“You will do no such thing,” Stephen replied coldly not missing a beat.


“You cannot be serious. You can’t be forcing him to -“


“Oh, I am not. I am not you. I am simply making sure you abide by his wish. He does not want to speak to you. Get a hint.”


Steven came forward pushing past Rhodes, “I refuse to believe that. We just fought side by side against Thanos and he was fine. We never even actually broke up.”


Stephen stood at his full height at the Captain’s approach, no longer leaning against what was left of the kitchen counter. “I believe that was implied when you left him for dead in Siberia to chase after your friend who killed his parents.”


“Like you are the one to talk. You left him, ran away to god knows where, and some of us here had to pick up the pieces. He nearly killed himself when you left, did you even know that?”


There was a pause. Pepper had already pulled Rhodes out of the way and in truth, he was very grateful.


“Unlike you, I’m very aware of my mistakes. I acknowledge it,” He certainly dropped the bored act now. “I had quite mistakenly thought that upon my departure that Tony would find someone better. Thank you for proving me wrong, Rogers. Because of you, I don’t ever have to question my place by his side.”