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He’s been friends with Tony long enough to know when his sulky moodiness is a passing thing, when it’s a low simmer that will eventually explode. 

He’s been friends with Tony long enough to know when his anger is pushed at Rhodey, and when he’s just angry , and Rhodey is the nearest safe target. 

He’s been friends with Tony long enough that this--this should sink in, a lot sooner than it does. 

Pepper thinks he’s been friends with Tony long enough because they’re both idiots. 

 

~*~ 

After Vanko, Tony is sulky and short tempered, none of the normal banter and teasing while he works on the armor. He’s quiet, mouth a hard line while Rhodey plays with Butterfingers and DUM-E chirps sadly for attention. 

Rhodey shouldn’t have favorites, of course, but Butterfingers with her shy sweetness has always been his favorite. He rubs oil into her claw and she almost preens for him, and he chuckles while Tony silently codes. 

It takes almost eighteen hours, but Tony finally slumps against the worktable and the War Machine is gleaming and beautiful, deadly. 

“You’re good to go, honeybear,” Tony says, rubbing his eyes. 

There’s a smear of grease on his cheek and in his hair, and a knick on his finger that’s oozing blood, shadows under his eyes, and his smile isn’t quite right, a little tighter and colder than Rhodey is used to. “All that Hammer tech is gone and you’re outfitted with even better weapon systems.” 

Rhodey smiles, and some of the tension in Tony’s shoulders loosen. 

 

~*~ 

He cleans Tony’s hands, bandages them and drops a kiss on his forehead before he steps into the armor and flies away, and he can feel Tony’s gaze on him, chasing him across the sky. 

 

~*~ 

Tony doesn’t make weapons anymore, not for the military, not for private owners, not even for SHIELD. 

But when he opens up the AI Tony has coded into the armor, he’s greeted with an array of weapons that make the Brass pant and his dick a little hard. 

Tony always made the very best weapons. 

“Think you can get him to open the weapons division up again?” his CO asks, his voice hungry and Rhodey laughs because this--

“No. Tony hung up his weapons.” 

“That’s not what the suit says,” his CO objects, and Rhodey shrugs. 

Tony has always had rules, rules he expects the entire world to live by. 

And then there was Rhodey, slipping under them. 

 

~*~ 

The Air Force shoves a new pilot, a pretty bright eyed Academy grad, into the suit while Rhodey is tied up at the Pentagon. 

He hears about it through the chain of command, and there’s a pulse of fury, because that’s his

The suit isn’t like a plane, fit to be flown by any passing warm body. That is his, given to him by Tony. 

And it’s an asset of the USAF and he can’t really throw a fit, because the War Machine saved fifty children in a militant cult’s sway, brought down the charismatic leader holding a gun to the head of his seven year old bride, and all without casualties. 

He doesn’t complain, but it twists, tight and angry in his chest. 

 

~*~ 

“Rhodes. What the hell is going on with the suit?” 

“I don’t know, sir. It’s still in Norfolk and I’m in DC.” 

“It’s not in Norfolk--it took off without a pilot thirty minutes ago.” 

Rhodey sighs. 

 

~*~ 

“You stole property of the USAF,” he says, three days later. It took three days to get away and Tony hadn’t answered any calls in the days since the armor took off without a pilot. 

“I took back something they had no right to use,” Tony answers, his light breezy tone razor edged. “If you don’t want it, it should come home.” 

Rhodey huffs. “I didn’t approve the other pilot.” 

Tony stares at him, something sharp and gleaming in his eyes, something that Rhodey didn’t quite recognize. 

“That suit isn’t for the Air Force, platypus,” Tony says, sharply. “And the next time I find out someone else is piloting, I’ll remote destroy it.” 

Rhodey blinks, and then nods, slow. “Ok, genius.” 

 

~*~ 

Rhodey is halfway around the world, escorting the President back to the States, when Tony flies a nuke into space, and the armor doesn’t feel safe, doesn’t feel like Tony wrapped around him, protective and indestructible. 

It feels like a tomb, a coffin too small for the way he feels, for the way his heart is pounding too hard, for the way the world is going supernova. 

 

~*~ 

Romanov eyes the suit, the way he stands, broad and powerful, his Gatlin gun a heavy weight at his shoulder, protective at Tony’s back, in the aftermath of the attack,and her smile is small and knowing and he shoves it aside, and focuses on this--

Tony, alive, bright and beautiful and alive

His fingers itch, ache to reach out and touch. 

 

~*~ 

“We’re doing a rebrand,” Karen says. 

“It tested well,” Chad adds. 

War Machine is just too--hostile,” Karen says, a moue of displeasure on her pretty lips. 

He doesn’t say, Tony named me that. 

He doesn’t say, Fuck your tests. 

He doesn’t say, I don’t want your goddamn brand. 

James Rhodes is a good soldier and this--this belongs to the USAF, despite the protests and safeguards Tony has raised. 

“We’re calling it Iron Patriot,” Karen says, brightly. 

“It tests well,” Chad adds.

Rhodey hates it. 

 

~*~ 

AIM handles the rebrand. 

The military has accepted that Tony is not getting back into weapons, wants to distance themselves and their personal watchdog from Stark and his tech, his weapons that they can no longer access. 

Rhodey understands the desire--but watching a stranger coding his armor, picking JO apart and pulling her out of the suit, stripping away the weapons Tony built to keep him safe and replacing them with AIM tech he doesn’t know--

He feels nauseated. 

They paint the suit, blue and red, stripes and stars, a callback to their greatest Soldier, and he hates it, hates it, because Tony built this, built him and he doesn’t want to lead a team of armored soldiers or super soldiers or heroes. 

He wants to do what he’s done his entire adult life. 

He wants to walk in Tony’s footsteps, familiar and recognized because of the light reflecting off his best friend. 

He doesn’t say anything, and when they tell him, brightly satisfied, that he won’t be mistaken for Ironman anymore, he chokes his screams behind his teeth. 

 

~*~ 

It goes to hell. 

The suit gets stolen, and Pepper gets stolen, and Tony’s shitty coping mechanisms save the day. 

And when it’s over, when he’s wrapped up in a suit that feels dirty and wrong instead of safe and his , he sees Tony watching him, Pepper curled in his arms, and he doesn’t recognize the look in his friend’s eyes. 

 

~*~ 

Tony isn’t speaking to him. 

He doesn’t notice, not right away. There’s the mess to clean up, the President to return and debrief. 

Tony is busy making sure Pepper doesn’t die, and working with the best in the medical field to get his own heart put back together. 

He’s there, of course he’s there, when Tony goes under the knife again. 

But Tony doesn’t speak to him, not really, not in the hospital or after, and then he’s busy with the move from LA to New York and Rhodey is deployed again.

It’s pushed aside. 

 

~*~ 

“Tony’s pissed at me,” he tells Pepper. 

“I am really not who you should be talking to about this,” she sighs. 

“Pepper--” 

“We broke up,” she says, abruptly, and that makes him go quiet. “So you need to figure out your shit, and get back to him. He needs you.” 

“I don’t know what upset him,” Rhodey says. 

She barks a laugh, because Pepper has never cared about appearances with Rhodey, something that never fails to make him smile. “You know--Tony won’t make anyone else a suit. Not even the Avengers or SHIELD--they asked. He didn’t even make me a suit, when we were dating. You’re it. And that suit--Rhodey. It’s a giant gun toting sign that says ‘property of Tony Stark, don’t fucking touch.’” 

He’s silent and she laughs in earnest, now, delighted and shocked, “You didn’t know. ” 

“He didn’t say,” Rhodey protests and she laughs and hangs up on him. 

 

~*~ 

“Pepper said something interesting,” he says, stepping out of the suit on the landing pad. It gleams, silver and familiar, so close to the Iron man armor that they can be--are--mistaken again. 

“Pepper says a lot of interesting things,” Tony says, his gaze flicking back to the suit, and some of the tension in his shoulders going loose. 

Rhodey extends a sheaf of papers. “The Brass signed off on this, this morning,” he says. 

Tony eyes it warily and then huffs and takes it from him, because Tony’s hangups about being handed things never extended to Rhodey and how had he never known. 

Tony’s eyes flick up to him, shocked and hopeful. 

“Apparently saving the President’s life means I can call in favors. As of this morning, the War Machine can only be upgraded and maintained by you,” Rhodey says. “And only piloted by me.” 

“Why?” Tony asks, and Rhodey huffs. 

Reaches out and draws him close with a hand on his hip, and hope is wild, burning in Tony’s eyes. 

“Because I don’t want anyone else touching what you made me,” he murmurs. 

“Because you keep me safe,” he breathes, and Tony whines, the words brushing over his lips. 

“Because I’m yours and that suit that you gave me--I only want you touching it,” he says softly, lips brushing over his jaw and the corner of his lips. “I only want you touching me.” 

Tony makes a noise, half sob, and Rhodey smiles and kisses him.

 

~*~ 

Later--

Later, after he has spread Tony across his bed, when he has come down Tony’s throat and fingered him open, when Tony has dug crescents into his shoulders and come, white and sticky across Rhodey’s abs, head tipped back, face slack with pleasure, eyes bright and trained on Rhodey, when he’s come, spilled in the tight heat of Tony and wrapped around him, kissed him until his lips feel swollen and bruised, when he scoops his come from where it’s dripping down Tony’s thigh, presses it back in , fingers pressing in and making Tony groan--

After he carries Tony to the tub and cradles him against his chest in the water, Tony leans his head back against Rhodey’s shoulder. 

“You coulda said,” Rhodey murmurs. “Mighta been easier to write it on my forehead-- property of Tony Stark.” 

Tony flushes, still shy and Rhodey smiles, kisses him gently. “It’s fair, you know.”

“Why’s that, honeybear?” 

“You’ve been mine since MIT, genius. Only fair that I’m yours.”