“I thought Howard was coming today?” Rhodey had avoided the conversation as long as he possibly could but he had been pretty steamed when he’d gone to DUM-E’s first presentation and the elder Stark had been conspicuously absent.
His roommate shrugged a bony shoulder at the question, never stopping from his work recalibrating the robot’s arm. The demonstration had gone off mostly without a hitch but there were still a few bugs that needed to be worked out before the actual science convention in a couple of weeks.
“Jarvis was there.” Tony conceded. In some ways that had meant more to him than his absentee father anyways. The man that had actually raised him had always been by his side through everything.
Rhodey shook his head in acknowledgement and leaned against the table Tony was working at. He eyed him carefully as he worked and even though he acted like Howard’s absence hadn’t bothered him, Rhodey knew that it did. Tony was still a kid in many ways try though he might to pretend he wasn’t the 15 year old he was. He was still desperately seeking that parental approval.
Tony bent around the robot, his long dark hair falling in front of his eyes, hiding any further emotions that Rhodey might have been able to discern.
“What was the excuse this time? Last minute board meeting?” That excuse alone had been used twice in the last year.
Tony snickered. “Nah, even better.” He put the screwdriver he was working with in his mouth as he pulled out a mess of multi-colored wires. When he spoke next it was muffled, spoken from the corner of his mouth. “Hot tip on the final resting place of Captain America.”
Rhodey didn’t miss the tinge of bitterness that fell across his words. From what he learned in the last year Captain America had always been a shadow looming over everything that Tony did.
At first Tony had told him that he had been a big fan growing up and it was one of the few things he and Howard had bonded over. Howard told him all the stories, and they collected all the memorabilia together. As he had grown older and more aware though, Tony said he began to see his father’s descent into negligent obsession for what it was and that bond had turned bitter. Howard had been searching for the man since he went into the icy Atlantic in the 40’s with nothing to show for it but broken promises and empty memories.
“As hot a tip as all of the other dead ends?” Rhodey quirked.
They were silent again after that, Tony concentrating on his project and Rhodey trying to push away the anger on his friend's behalf.
The kid had practically become a brother to him in the last year and all but adopted by his Mother when he had convinced Tony to spend the holidays with them. His family always asked about Tony when he spoke to them on the phone and his Mother always included cookies and gifts for him when she sent Rhodey care packages during the busy midterm weeks.
Tony’s Mom and Jarvis were always good for calls and letters too, but Rhodey could count on one hand how many times Howard had made an appearance or signed a card. And for what? To chase a ghost? Didn’t Howard see what he had right in front of his face?
Tony was brilliant. A literal genius in his 2nd year at MIT when his peer group was still navigating high school, and here he was building artificial intelligence like it was some basic weekend science project. Not to mention the kid still had relentless optimism in the face of any obstacle and the biggest heart of anyone he knew. How anyone, let alone a parent, could ignore this kid’s worth, Rhodey would never understand.
“You know Tones...there’s something I have always wondered,” he trailed off and waited for Tony’s quiet hum to indicate he was listening. “So, if Captain America was so great, this brilliant strategist and amazing superhero, perfect in every way...then why did he crash the plane?”
Tony frowned and stopped working for a minute, pulling the screwdriver from his mouth to rest on the table. His floppy hair fell in front of his eyes again and he flipped his head to the side to try and clear his vision. “You know the story same as I do, platypus. There were bombs on board.”
“True,” Rhodey said pursing his lips.
Tony raised his eyebrow at his friend. “But?”
Rhodey smiled. “BUT… if he was so smart, why wouldn’t he have bailed out of the plane before it crashed? He didn’t need to stay on board to guide it down. He could have radioed his coordinates, grabbed a ‘chute and made a jump for it. Or even if there wasn’t one, he was a super soldier, right? He would have survived the impact and help would have arrived and saved him. End of story.” He held both of his hands up and shrugged.
Tony’s mouth was actually slack jawed as his mind processed what Rhodey had told him. Then without warning he was laughing. Not just any laugh but a true honest to god guttural laugh, the likes of which Rhodey had rarely seen. It was infectious and he soon found himself laughing along with Tony who had reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder in support as he doubled over, shoulders shaking.
They had found the seemingly perfect super soldier’s flaw. His logic.
Finally the laughter began to ease and Tony righted himself, swiping away the tears from the corner of his eyes from all the laughing. A short chuckle escaped every now and again as they both tried to catch their breath again.
“Rhodey bear, that is the best damn thing I have ever heard. You have to promise me if my father’s crazy obsession ever pays off and they are able to find this guy, who by some miracle of science is still alive, to ask him exactly what you just said. I mean really, what was he thinking? There were millions of other things he could have done now that I think about it.”
Another laugh escaped his lips as he began rattling off different ideas and inventions he could have whipped up if he had been in the Captain’s place. Rhodey wished he could take a snapshot of this moment so he could always remember what it was like to see a happy Tony Stark, unburdened from the weight of the world, if only for a moment.
“He was no Tony Stark, that’s for sure,” Rhodey said with a smile and slapped his friend on the shoulder, offering him a gentle and reassuring squeeze.
Tony’s grin faltered for a moment and he brought his chin down against his chest, unable to meet his friends eyes. Knowingly, Rhodey brought his hand up from Tony’s shoulder and pulled the teen into a hug.Tony reciprocated easily and Rhodey held him a little tighter when he buried his face in his shoulder and silent tears soaked his t-shirt.
He didn’t know how long they stood like that, alone in the robotics workshop, but when Tony finally pulled away and wiped at his eyes, Rhodey thought he could begin to see a change. Tony stood a little taller, his shoulders squared and his chin up.
Rhodey just smiled at him. “Okay, Tones, what can I do to help?”
Howard Stark may not have seen his son’s value but James Rhodes did and he would be damned if he ever let anything happen to this kid.