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the moment after

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There comes this moment. He’s learned to recognize it, to wait for it. 

He’s learned, over the years, to ache for it. 

It comes after. 

After MIT tries to throw him out, accusations of cheating in the air. After the funeral. After the fight with the board for control of SI. After Ty, after Sunset, after Page 6 outed him, after his first and second and third stint in rehab. 

After. 

When the crisis is over and the stress drains away, when the fear and panic and adrenaline drain away and it’s just him and Tony, and the shaking panic trauma. 

There comes this moment, he loves. 

He hates it almost as much as he loves it, because he hates what it takes for them to reach it, hates the hurt and the fear, the way Tony comes to him bloody and bruised. Sometimes, it’s a soul deep hurt, something no one can see but him, and sometimes it’s blood and broken bones and a ribcage crushed by someone he called brother. 

Rhodey knows all of the hurts hidden in Tony, knows the orgin story of every panic attack and every scar. 

There comes a moment when Tony unravels. 

When the facade falls apart and his breathing hitches and catches and his lip wobbles and he collapses. 

And when that moment comes--it’s into Rhodey he falls. 

It’s into Rhodey, he curls, trusting and desperate and afraid. 

It’s into Rhodey he screams and sobs, his shirt Tony bunches in silent desperation, Rhodey he clings to with a fierce terror. 

It’s Rhodey who holds him while he’s silent and while he screams, when he sobs drunk and sober and high on pain meds. 

Rhodey has picked him up, has held him together, when Tony knew it was safe to fall apart, for over thirty years. 

He hates Steve, for catching him as he stumbles off that damn spaceship. 

He hates Steve because that’s his job. 

But there comes a moment--after. After the checkup from Bruce and the soup from Pepper and the debrief from the team, and Tony’s fury, the tears and desperation and terror and it clings to his mouth, a bad taste. 

Tony warned them. 

He warned them. And no one listened. No one ever bothered to pay attention because Tony was talk talk talk, and Steve could trust a Red Room defect, an assassin with seventy years of blood on his hands, a girl who volunteered for Hydra’s experiments--but he couldn’t trust Tony. 

And the world actually ended. 

He almost wants to laugh. 

He doesn’t. 

The team is busy planning, a plan that will come to nothing. They’ll hunt down Thanos, and Rhodey knows, deep in his gut, that it won’t solve anything. 

It can’t. 

The time for fixing things is over--they had their chance and they fucked it up. 

He closes his eyes and breathes slow and when the room turns away from Tony, when they’re busy and distracted and intent on saving a doomed world--he slips away. 

Slips into Tony’s room and curls around his friend, his lover, his whole life. Tony gasps, twists into him, and his voice is broken, broken in a way Rhodey can’t fix. 

“I lost him,” he says. 

“I know,” Rhodey murmurs. 

“I don’t know what to do,” he says. 

Rhodey closes his eyes and the dreams of their future--the ones he never quite dared to ask for. The wedding, the life away from the fight, the peace they’ve earned--it feels impossible, now. 

“I know,” he murmurs. 

Tony shakes, silent tears soaking Rhodey’s shirt. The silent tears are the worst, the very worst--the kind of grief that Tony rarely ever reaches. Jarvis and JARVIS and Cap’s betrayal drove him silent, a deep pervading thing that terrified Rhodey. 

He isn’t surprised that Peter is doing the same. 

“Rhodey,” Tony says, hours, days, later, his voice rusty and unused. Rhodey shifts, gentle, his arms sheltering but giving Tony room to wiggle and peer up at him. 

“I’m done, honeybear,” he says. “I can’t do this anymore.” 

Rhodey nods and Tony licks his lips, cautious. 

“Marry me,” Rhodey says. “Marry me, and let’s get the hell outta here.” 

Tony doesn’t smile, not really. 

But there’s a moment--after. After every trauma. When the shadows in his eyes lighten and Rhodey can see him

He breathes, and stares at the man he loves, and knows--it’s not ok, this world they’re living in. But they are. They will be.