Rhodey accepted Stane’s invitation to go into his office more out of curiosity than anything else. They tended to keep their interactions on the level of the most superfluous small talk, and now he had been summoned for ‘a very serious and necessary conversation.’ Undoubtedly about Tony, the one important thing they had in common.
Obadiah Stane’s office was what every big-name executive in the world dreamed theirs to be: spacious, with an excellent view, furnished with the newest and most technologically advanced items. Very impressive, almost as much as Rhodey’s need to appear unimpressed. He sat down on a soft leather chair and followed his host’s movements as Stane sat on a far more luxurious one and placed his clasped his hands on the glass desk at the time he leaned over it, toward Rhodey. A power play. Everything in this fancy office was a carefully crafted power play designed to stack the deck on Stane’s favor starting at the door, which Rhodey already knew. It worked well under normal circumstances.
Most people did feel intimidated and small under the weight of the serious air of the room and of Stane’s overwhelming persona as soon as they stepped inside. Three exceptions to this rule were Rhodey himself, who didn’t care; Tony, who seemed not to even notice, and the latter’s newest staff member whom Stane kept calling Tony’s guard dog behind his back. Rhodey suspected it was because he didn’t dare to say it to his face. That Tony had managed to find the one person more intimidating than Stane to be his bodyguard felt like divine retribution regardless of his personal thoughts on the guy.
“So, what is it?” Rhodey asked, crossing his legs.
Stane lowered his head and separated his thumbs to show the empty palms of his hands. “I’ll go straight to the point: I’m worried about Tony. He’s been working too much lately. He barely comes out from that workshop of his some days, and when he does, it’s to work more!”
“That’s hardly news. You know how he is when he gets inspired.”
“This time it has been too much and for too long.”
“You think? Because I believe it was about time he was more hands-on with his own company. He’s even going to the board meetings now, isn’t he?”
“Yes, some, but —” Stane shook his head. “That’s not the point. Think about it this way, James,” he added after hesitating before saying Rhodey’s first name, which felt weird and like a crossing of boundaries. But Rhodey refrained from commenting on it for the time being; he wanted to know where this was going. Stane continued. “When was the last time Tony went to a party?”
“He went to an event just last week,” Rhodey began, but then stopped to think about it. That had been an official event, not one of the parties Tony usually spent all his time in. As a matter of fact, in the past few months, Tony had made appearances to most of the official events he was an important part of when in the past he used to skip them, and he hadn’t even wandered around wasted among the guests. Worse yet, in that same period, Rhodey hadn’t even gotten any calls at three in the morning asking him to join the fun at a nightclub nor Tony’s house.
It was weird.
“See?” Stane said.
Rhodey shook his head. “This is good. All of this is good. He’s growing into a more responsible person.”
Stane looked disappointed. “Do you think so?”
“I believe so, yes. There’s nothing wrong with what he’s doing.”
Stane’s frown made Rhodey think the man was upset because Tony was finally — finally — doing his job and that in turn took responsibilities out of Stane’s plate. But he couldn’t dwell on that for long because Stane struck again.
“When was the last time you saw Tony with a pretty girl at his side, huh? Do you remember the last time he dated?”
Rhodey stopped to think again. It had been… months too. And he now realized that it had been months as well since he had seen that annoying couple Tony called his best friends after him.
“See?” Stane insisted, more firmly this time, his expression growing sad. “I’m afraid Tony has lost his joy to live.”
“It’s not just me.” Stane reached out to the corner of his desk for two sheets of paper. They were black-and-white photocopies from a magazine, each with one paragraph circled with red ink.
Rhodey took it and scanned both pages before focusing on those paragraphs. They belonged to an article that described the symptoms of clinical depression, and one of the highlighted parts named the sudden lack of interest in things that were a previous source of joy as a huge red flag. The other talked about how some people went through a manic phase before going down on a spiral that ended up in tragic and horrific consequences. Once Rhodey finished reading them, he raised his eyes to look at Stane. “What exactly are you implying here?”
Stane shrugged as the very picture of concern. “What I’m trying to say is that perhaps it would be a good idea for our dear Tony to spend some time in a quiet place where he can rest and go back to being himself.”
Rhodey’s eyes widened. “You want Tony committed —?”
“I want him well!” Stane hurried to say. “I want him to be his happy, worry-free self again! Don’t you want that for your friend? Just talk to him. He’ll listen to you! You can convince him that it’s for the best!”
Rhodey pushed the piece of paper back on the desk, mostly disgusted but also kind of amused. Tony listening to him — or anyone, for that matter — and doing something he didn’t want to, yeah, right. That was going to happen.
“I don’t feel comfortable with this,” he said, ready to get up and leave.
Stane looked at him with disapproval but, once again, Rhodey shrugged it off. Not only that. He had to stop and tease the man. “Besides, if you want to drag Tony to some kind of institution, you’d have to go through Grant. From what little I’ve seen, I’m not sure that’s something you’d enjoy.” Of course, Stane would have to go through Rhodey himself first, but it was more fun to leave it at that and see him squirm. Which he did, in that big and expensive chair of his.
“Of course,” he mumbled, trying to regain composure. “Everything is his fault. He came into the picture and all of this began to happen,” he explained when Rhodey failed to ask.
“Or Tony began to be more responsible and then he hired Grant.”
“What do you even know about this guy, James? I did a background check on him and came up with nothing!”
“I’m on the process of doing a background check myself.” The third one, since the previous two had produced nothing too, but Rhodey wasn’t going to admit that out of principle. “And, please, stop calling me James.”
Stane huffed. “As you wish, Rhodey. ” He stood up, buttoned up his jacket, and gestured at the door. The audience was over. “Let me know if you change your mind. Or if you find out anything. For Tony’s sake.”
Rhodey gave a noncommittal nod and left, not sure of wanting to share whatever he might find with Stane. He still believed Tony was on the right track while looking happy, and if it was because of this Grant person, then so be it. Even if it was suspicious that he seemed to have manifested via spontaneous generation as a grown man the day Tony hired him.
Just in case, better to keep an eye on him. On them. As much as possible.
A week into his self-assigned mission, Rhodey began to regret having taken it.
Despite using his influences and asking for several favors he was owed, Rhodey hadn’t been able to find Grant’s name in Star Industries’s payroll record anywhere, which was unusual. Everyone else who worked for Tony got paid through the company, and they also handled the contracts and everything else Tony didn’t like to deal with. As a logical consequence, Rhodey would be unable to find Grant’s contract to confirm that the man’s last name was indeed Smith. Rhodey didn’t entirely buy it because it would explain why no background check gave any results.
On the other hand, what he did discover were glances, hands barely touching, encouraging tiny nods that made Tony relax whenever he did something he was supposed to. No one else seemed to notice, but then again no one else was paying as much attention to the finer points of the interaction between Tony Stark and his employee. His alleged employee.
Rhodey hated to agree with Stane, but once the initial shock wore off, he began to worry about the extent of Grant’s influence on Tony. However, before he could confront either of them, he’d have to gather more conclusive and meaningful evidence than a mere, ‘I suspect he’s turning you into a responsible adult.’ The moments where Grant growled at people who confronted Tony with negative feedback didn’t count. On the one hand, Grant never did anything beyond that, and Rhodey himself felt like kicking off the ones with the meanest comments. He wasn’t that much of a hypocrite.
Thus, his vigilance continued.
Some days later, Rhodey had the chance to invite himself to a trip to Northern Europe where Tony would check on a small company SI was looking into acquiring. Both things were Stane’s ideas following the tune of giving Tony more responsibilities. This gave Rhodey hope that he had recapacitated about that nonsense he proposed. Or it could be a test. Either way, he wasn’t going to let his best friend go through that alone.
Once on-board Tony’s private jet, he saw Grant taking a window seat instead of heading straight to the cockpit. Weird. He normally tended to steamroll everything in sight and take over everything that might result in Tony getting hurt, no matter how small the odds. Perhaps they had reached the limit of his skill set? In any case, he seemed at ease as he folded his hands on his lap and idly looking out the window.
It was a rare occurrence to see Grant without his sunglasses. His eyes were of a clear blue that cut deep into whoever saw them. One glance was enough to cast judgment, and the only softened when he saw Tony. Otherwise, he remained stoic and stern in the background, not quite blending in, reminding everyone that Tony was always protected. Rhodey had to admire the guy’s dedication to that front.
Tony shoved a glass in his hand before dragging him to a seat across the aisle from Grant. “Want a date? I’m pretty sure I could hook you up!”
“You’ve been staring,” Tony said, pointing at Grant with a quick movement of his head.
“No, I haven’t!” But he stopped because he had been. He lowered his voice and took a sip from the whiskey. “Not like that.”
Tony grinned but had the good graces of lowering his voice as well. “I’m not blaming you. He is hot.”
Rhodey shot a glance at Grant. He hadn’t moved and apparently hadn’t heard anything. Little blessings.
But Tony kept talking. “Come on. He’s tall, strong, handsome, is the owner of a luxurious beard, has a stable job with a great salary — which I know because I pay it myself... Don’t let shyness rob you of a great catch.”
Rhodey let out a drawn, suffering sigh at the tease. However, it gave him an opening to talk about what he felt was an overdue topic. “How did you hire him, anyway?”
“He fell on my lap showing great qualifications for the job.”
“And great references too?”
“The best,” Tony replied and immediately hid his face behind his own glass of whiskey.
“Did you check them?”
“And double-check them. And triple check them. He’s alright, Rhodey.”
Rhodey shook his head. “Can’t blame me for worrying.”
“Of course not!” Tony replied, smiling and passing a gentle arm around Rhodey’s shoulders to shake him gently. “I love you and you love me and that’s what we do.”
“Right.” Rhodey began to smile but then he froze. Grant was staring at them. No, he was staring at him. The more Tony held him, the more Grant stared. He only stopped when Tony let go of the half-hug, but with how touchy-feely his friend liked to be, Rhodey realized this was going to be a very long flight.
At some point, Rhodey began to think Tony did it on purpose. Leaning against him, whispering, giggling. Patting his arm. It turned out that glares could be as heavy as a dozen wet blankets one on top of the others. Despite not having moved, it felt as if Grant was breathing behind his neck. The whole thing was getting too ridiculous. But Rhodey could now empathize with the guard dog sentiment.
After forever, they landed. Without a word, Grant stood up, put on his glasses, and took care of all the luggage, carrying it in a cart not to the handsome limousine that waited for them, but to a sturdy, black van parked a little further away.
“Aw! Come on, Grant!” Tony whined loudly, struggling to catch up with Grant and match his strides. “I wanted the limo!”
“This is better, sir,” the bodyguard replied without slowing down. “I called in a few favors to make sure.”
“You’re so mean!” Tony grumped but fell back to grab Rhodey and drag him to the van without pressing the issue.
Rhodey let himself being hurried and didn’t say anything, but he decided that he didn’t like this. SI was already providing them a perfectly good vehicle but instead, they would take one that this guy had procured himself without even consulting it with his boss. Rhodey’s defenses reached peak alert. He would hate to be dramatic, but this was a situation where he preferred to be safe than sorry.
The last part of their journey began on the main highway, but as Grant kept driving they went through less and less transited roads until it had been an hour since they saw another human being. Furthermore, they were about to enter a path in the middle of a dynamited mountain full of boulders and possibly loose rocks. It all matched the map Rhodey had studied previous to their departure, but he could understand why Grant had stopped glaring at him — oh, he could so tell, sunglasses and all — and why his shoulders had tensed up.
Tony, meanwhile, looked out the window, holding his chin on his hand. Anyone else in Rhodey’s place most likely would’ve berated him for not reviewing the documentation he got from the other company now that they had time, but Rhodey knew him better than that; he was sure that Tony had already memorized all of it before even leaving the house. Being a genius had its perks. A genius who liked to show off and now could do it in other areas he hadn’t explored yet. Rhodey smiled, feeling proud of his friend.
Of course, it was then that the shooting began.
Not only shooting, either. A pile of rocks from above on the mountain fell down on them. Grant accelerated, giving himself just enough time to grimace. The van responded better than Rhodey, who placed an arm in front of a confused Tony as a seatbelt, would’ve expected. As the rocks fell behind them, they saw a couple of cars forming a barrier and flanked by armed individuals in uniform waiting for them.
“Hold on,” Grant said and went faster.
At first, Rhodey thought he planned to play chicken, but this assumption was soon disproved when Grant didn’t stop.
Tony grabbed Rhodey’s arm and squeezed it as Rhodey himself closed his eyes when impact became imminent. They both heard the clash of metal on metal but no pain came. When Rhodey opened his eyes again, he saw that the three of them were unharmed. There was no way to know right now how damaged the van was on the outside, but things seemed fine on the inside. This thing was sturdy and definitely better than a limousine.
However, this wasn’t over. A glimpse of the back showed that their attackers had gotten over their initial shock and were getting into their still working vehicles. Then, a helicopter came out from behind the mountain.
“Of course,” Rhodey muttered.
“Under your seat, lieutenant!” Grant said, his eyes never leaving the road ahead of them, with such a commanding voice that Rhodey didn’t even think about it. He just followed the instructions and stuck his hand underneath hum to find a case. He took it out, opened it, and found a military-grade gun in pristine condition next to its ammo.
“Now we’re talking,” Rhodey said, grinning as he readied himself. This was not the right time to question Grant about how he had gotten it. They needed it and he had it and that was it.
“What do I do?” Tony asked.
“You stay down,” Grant replied, more softly. “You’re the target.”
“How do you know?”
“I just do. Now, do as we practiced, Tony.”
Despite the urgency in his bodyguard’s words, Tony looked at Rhodey asking for support and maybe even for instructions, for a way to help. However, no matter how many qualities Tony Stark may have had, he was a civilian not trained for a gunfight.
“I have to side with him on this one, Tony. Do as he says; this is what you pay him for: to be the security expert.”
“I hate you both,” Tony mumbled, frowning and visibly frustrated. But he did lie down and kept still.
The road was sinuous and unpredictable, but Grant kept going at full speed, swerving left and right with utmost precision and great reflexes. Even the helicopter had problems keeping up and missed most of the shots. If they kept this pace, they would be able to reach their destination and get reinforcements or at least shelter. An opportunity to regroup.
However, the van came to a sudden halt as they got to a dead-end that wasn’t on the map.
“Dammit!” Grant grunted, getting rid of his sunglasses, jacket, and tie. Then, he opened the door. “Stay here!” he said before leaving the safety of the car. Not the brightest move, but it wasn’t like they had that many options available. Besides, Grant didn’t specify who should stay in the car: only Tony should stay in the car or both of them.
Rhodey tracked Grant’s movements with the corner of his eye and saw him lean on a pile of rocks taller than him as he finished loading the gun. Perhaps he meant to push them to hinder their attackers. But it wouldn’t be enough and it wouldn’t work against the menace up in the air. “Wait here, Tony.”
“Relax. He’ll take care of this.”
Rhodey grunted. “I don’t know what he sold you or what qualifications you think he has, but there’s no way he can handle that alone. They’re too many and they have a helicopter!”
As he said that, they heard a loud crash coming from nearby. A quick peek revealed a column of smoke coming from the side of the mountain, right where the helicopter had crashed.
“What the —?”
“Grant probably threw a rock at it,” Tony said, sounding proud.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“You’re just jealous because he never enrolled in the Air Force.”
“What does that even mean? No. Stop right there. We have no time for this.”
After shaking his head, Rhodey looked around for the bodyguard to find him engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a handful of the attackers. He soon lost sight of him when he moved behind the same pile of rocks from before — that also seemed to have reduced in size. The implications of which couldn’t be right. He must have misjudged it and now he was influenced by Tony’s babbling. No time to check now though: over a dozen more people were rushing in to help their buddies. It didn’t bode well for Grant, wherever he was.
“Just stay down,” Rhodey repeated and, without giving Tony any more time to reply, went out to help, making a point to close the van’s door behind him.
Weapon at hand, Rhodey sneaked all the way to the natural barrier the rocks provided and risked to look around the rocks right on time to see one of the attackers fly against the side of the mountain while Grant, as an unstoppable fury, kicked and punched everyone who came near him with terrifying brutality and precision, all while brandishing an actual car’s door as a shield to deflect the bullets.
A shield… That tugged something in the back of Rhodey’s mind, but he lost that shred of thought when he saw the bodies that piled around Grant’s feet. However, once he paid true attention to them, he realized that they were breathing. Grant ignored the ones that tried to crawl away, but he showed no pity to those who charged against him a second time. With this, Rhodey arrived at a couple of conclusions. One, he was gladder that Grant was on their side than ever before. Two, the guy wasn’t a ruthless killer, which was always good news.
But enough of that. It was time for action. The new group was approaching fast, so Rhodey took a step forward, aimed at the shoulder of the one in front, and shoot. The bullet hit its mark, throwing its target to the ground and making everyone else recoil.
“Lieutenant! Go back to the car!” Grant bellowed. He had stopped fighting to do so, although he held one of the enemies high by the collar of his shirt. This was a man that expected to be obeyed — that was used to be obeyed —, but Rhodey was not going to give him the satisfaction. He was Tony’s employee, for fuck’s sake! Rhodey outranked him in all accounts.
“You need backup out here!” he yelled, although less resolute than he would have wanted, but nevertheless Rhodey held firm.
“I have it under control,” Grant replied, casually tossing the man he held toward the regrouping goons, throwing three of them out of balance, including one who was in the process of unsheathing a knife and that Rhodey had until then failed to notice. “Go back to the car,” he repeated, more slowly and gravely, nearly a growl, remarking every word.
Yes, that had been impressive if not a bit terrifying. But this had become a matter of principle. “Tony will be fine,” he said, and he knew himself to be right. The van was next to a steep dead end and there was no way to get there unless they went through Rhodey, something that would not happen.
“Think again,” said a man dressed from head to toe in camo that came from behind Rhodey. The newcomer had Tony by the neck with one hand and pointed a gun at his head with the other.
“In my defense,” Tony said, “I had all intentions to remain in the car. He forced me out.”
Rhodey felt the weight of the world falling on his stomach. “How —?”
“Doesn’t matter, Rhodes,” Grant said, dryly. “Drop the gun.” His words were followed by the thud of the car’s door hitting the ground. Then, he raised his hands and let himself be overpowered.
Surprise and worry showed on Tony’s face, but they lasted only for a second before he went back to look as if he didn’t care about anything.
And, well, Rhodey had been kind of demoted from Lieutenant to Rhodes, which was kind of on him. Rhodey grunted inwardly and opened his hand to drop the gun before raising both arms at head level.
One of the goons grabbed the weapon while another handcuffed him.
“Only this one is wanted alive, you know?” the man who held Tony hostage said, shaking him a little.
“Touch them and you won’t even get that,” Tony replied, steady and matter-of-fact.
The man grinned and pushed Tony forward roughly. “As you wish. Take them all.”
With that, they yanked Rhodey from where he stood to the back of one of the surviving vehicles. On the way, Rhodey risked a glance at Grant. What he saw scared him more than what he would ever admit. If he had thought that the glares he got on the jet were creepy, those had nothing on the one he had fixated on the leader of the attackers, the man who manhandled Tony. It should have been enough to make anyone fear for their lives and send them running to the other side of the world. Hence — probably — why the three captives’ heads were suddenly covered by a black hood.
So they would get the full kidnapping treatment. Nice.
After what felt like forever riding that truck on all kinds of bumpy roads, the mooks took Rhodey down and made him walk exactly thirty-two steps. Then, they began to cover him in chains.
“Okay,” Tony said, not that far from him. He retained the carefree tone, which was a relief. “I’m all for chains, but only when it’s consensual and I don’t remember anyone asking me. Did they ask you, Grant?”
“I’d rather not share the details of my private life, sir,” Grant replied, deadpan. All his previous fury seemed to have vanished. Either he had a plan or it was just the effect Tony had on people.
“You’re such a boring oaf,” Tony continued. “How about you, Rhodey?”
Since this was Tony’s idea of a roll call and a health check, Rhodey replied to the actual question. “It was a surprise for me too, yes.”
“Two out three, then. Can we talk to the manager?” Tony said, but no one responded, which was probably for the better.
Once the chains were all in place, someone pushed Rhodey to the ground. By the sounds of it, they did the same with the other two. At the same time, they turned on some engine that pulled the chains and the captives with them, until they were hanging upside down at a respectable high. It was only then that the hoods were removed. It took Rhodey a moment to get used to the light again, but soon he was able to assess the situation.
Tony hung next to him, and Grant was on the other side. They were in a warehouse, empty except for themselves, a handful of their attackers, and some choice equipment. The leader stood before them and regarded them thoughtfully.
“You’ll have important visitors in a short while,” he said. “When they arrive, they’ll have some questions. Mr. Stark better cooperates and answers them or any of you could pay with a nail, a tooth, or even an eye.” As he spoke, he made a gesture with his hand and one of his subordinates rolled in a cart with surgical tools on display to add to the psychological torture. “For now, you have some time to think about what you’ll do. Choose wisely.” Then, he turned around and left followed by his minion. To his credit, he spared them the melodrama of a maniacal laugh.
Once they were left alone, Rhodey turned his head to see his companions. He managed well enough. “Hey, you okay?”
“Other than very disappointed, not that bad, actually,” Tony began and Rhodey got ready to get berated by his friend. He had been supposed to look after him. If he had stayed in the van, they wouldn’t have had to surrender. However, said friend had other things in mind. “Grant, I didn’t hire you to get kidnapped. You’re so useless.”
“My apologies, sir. I got distracted.”
“By my big, warm, soulful eyes, I hope. Say it was because of my eyes and I won’t dock this from your check.”
...were they flirting? Oh, please, not in front of him.
“Tony, this isn’t the time,” Rhodey said.
“If not now, when?” Tony sighed. “Fine. Grant, get us out of here.”
“On it, sir.”
Tony swung back and forth and looked around them. “There is nothing close by to help us do it the smart way. On the other hand, I see no cameras, so you get to do it the fun way.” Grant grunted and Tony hurried to add, “I know what you’re thinking, but this is Rhodey! If we can’t trust Rhodey, then who? Besides, you like the fun way much more.”
“I know he’s trustworthy despite everything. He’s right next to you, isn’t he?”
“Alright, I’ll take it,” Rhodey said. “But why don’t we focus on how we’re going to get out of this?”
Tony swung again, now in excitement. “Just watch!”
Grant, then, followed his cue and growled — and, one by one, chain link after chain link broke open under the pressure put on them by the guy’s massive arms and chest.
“Now you’re just showing off,” Rhodey said, but he was indeed impressed.
Grant didn’t answer. He kept going and freed himself all the way to the waist. Next, he bent up to unhook his feet and jumped to the ground with cat-like grace. The bastard wasn’t even out of breath.
“Now you,” he said walking toward his boss and tore Tony’s ties just as easily with his hands.
“I’m not sure I want to ask,” Rhodey mumbled.
“I keep telling you: it’s always worth it to invest in quality,” Tony replied from his bodyguard’s arms. He looked far too comfortable there.
However, the real kind of relationship between those two was not relevant right now. The important thing was that Tony had indeed chosen the right person for the job.
“Now him, Grant,” Tony said.
Grant took his time to stare at Rhodey, to the point that the latter almost expected him to ask if he had to. But common sense prevailed. Grant placed Tony carefully on the ground before getting to work on Rhodey’s chains, which came off as easily as Tony’s. However, Rhodey didn’t get the same treatment. However, as soon as Tony gave them his back, Grant let Rhodey fall down on the floor without even bothering to pretend he wanted to catch him.
“Thanks,” Rhodey said as he stood up by himself, hoping Grant caught the ‘you asshole’ in his voice.
Grant didn’t seem to notice. He kept his expression blank and turned to go to Tony. “Keep close.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Rhodey grunted and followed after a quick check that revealed that he had gained nothing more with a few scratches with that fall. Enough to be a minor inconvenience, but he would be fine. It was as if Grant had planned it just like that. Hell, by then it wouldn’t have surprised him.
“I’ll find us a way out. Stay here,” Grant said, his voice full of implications Rhodey didn’t have enough face to argue against.
“I will, I will,” Rhodey replied, raising both hands and heading to join Tony.
Appeased, Grant left the warehouse to put those over-the-top abilities he had to good use.
“Where’s he going?” Tony asked, staring at the door his bodyguard had closed behind him.
“To get us a way out.”
Tony nodded but his brow didn’t unfurrow. Rhodey realized that this was as good as an opening as he was going to get under these circumstances.
“So, is he —?”
“Fucking me? Yes,” Tony replied as if he was telling his friend the time instead.
Rhodey waved his hands fast in front of him. “I didn’t —” he began, more loudly than he should have, which he realized and prompted him to lower his voice. “That’s not —!” He got stuck again when confronted with Tony’s expression of fake innocence. Sighing, Rhodey stopped and tried again. “I wanted to know if he’s even human!”
“Well, he does have all the required body parts to count as one. I’ve been testing it thoroughly and often to my entire satisfaction each time.”
Rhodey groaned and rubbed his face with his hands. “I didn’t need to know that.”
“You did! You’re my best friend! Who else am I going to talk about this with?”
Rhodey sighed again and dropped his shoulders half in defeat, half because he felt moved. Tony didn’t have the right to do these things and at the same time, he had all of it.
“Is he good to you?”
“The best,” Tony admitted. Then he turned his head and looked at Rhodey from the corner of wide-open eyes, the way he did when he opened his heart. “It’s really been the best.”
Smiling, Rhodey rubbed Tony’s shoulder. “Let me know if it ever isn’t.”
Tony smiled back. “Do you think you could take him down?”
“I can drop a bomb on him and hope for a miracle.”
Tony laughed and clapped his back. “That’s my Rhodey, always an optimist!”
“Maybe you should stop calling me that where he can hear.”
Rhodey stared at Tony trying very hard to convey his annoyance through his eyes, making the other man laugh again.
“He does have very sensitive hearing, you know?” Tony said instead of apologizing.
“I didn’t but I don’t think I’ll be surprised by anything ever again.”
Tony laughed then, so happy that Rhodey began laughing himself. That made him feel better for real; if they could do it after being kidnapped and so close to being caught again, they would be fine.
They sat down on the floor with their backs against the wall and waited until the door opened again, which happened after a short while. When it did, Rhodey placed himself between it and Tony in a defensive stance that relaxed when Grant came into view. The bodyguard nodded at him and Rhodey thought to see a glint of approval in his eyes which made him feel a little proud. Just a little, though.
“Lieutenant,” Grant said, offering him one of the guns and confirming Rhodey’s coming back to his good graces.
Rhodey stood forward, took the gun and checked it, making sure it was ready in case they needed it during their escape.
“I found us a vehicle. Follow me and keep close.”
Once more, Tony swallowed a protest but complied. He walked between Grant and Rhodey, reaching out to stroke Grant’s fingers with his own before they left the warehouse, which earned his hand a quick squeeze. It was then that Rhodey realized what had happened.
Tony’s confession, while making clear what Rhodey had suspected but was in denial about and bringing him some peace of mind to a degree, since it was reciprocal, had done nothing to clear up his initial set of questions. It had brought more into the mix. Tony had done it on purpose to deflect Rhodey’s attention and he would do it again. Which meant it would be pointless to ask him anything about Grant again and it also made more imperative to get some actual information about the man.
The warehouse was not attached to any other building, at least not from the door Grant led them through. The few guards Rhodey saw were tied to trees or fences or anything attached to the ground. They seemed relatively unharmed, only unconscious and sporting a few bruises.
“Wait there,” Grant told them, opening the passenger door of one of their vehicles. He went inside and went through it in and out. It didn’t take that long for him to call them inside. “It’s just as I left him,” he announced. “We should be alright.”
Tony jumped right in without questioning him. Rhodey followed, keeping his gun within reach despite everything. Just in case. Grant then drove them away, staying out of main roads, going in circles at several points in an attempt to confuse those who would likely chase them. They wouldn’t know if it worked until they were back in New York, but it was worth the try.
After several hours of driving through the wilderness, forests, and hills, just when the car was running on fumes, they arrived at an ancient airstrip that was in better condition than it had the right to be. A man just as ancient received them, exchanging hugs with Grant, and calling him sir once or twice despite Grant’s half-hearted protests. He agreed to fly them to France, where they would contact the local SI branch and the US embassy, in exchange for the car they had brought with them, no questions asked.
“Anything for you! You know that!” he said, clasping his hand on Grant’s shoulders before addressing Rhodey and Tony. “My family — my entire village! — would be long gone if it wasn’t for him. You’re so lucky to have him on your side.”
“I think we kind of have an idea,” Rhodey said in earnest and at the same time filing all of this in the mental folder he was making about Grant. But when he turned to look at Tony, he discovered his friend with his jaw tense, his eyes narrowed, and his lips as a thin line. Weird, yet amusing when seen from outside.
“Are you jealous?” he teased him once Grant and his old friend disappeared into the house to discuss routes and supplies.
“What?” Tony replied startled, his expression changing into a pout. “No — Why would I be? What kind of nonsense is that?”
Rhodey grinned. “I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. Why would Tony Stark, of all people, be jealous of an old geezer who probably fought in World War II?”
Tony’s eyes opened wide for a fraction of a second before he folded his arms and turned away. But he blushed. Rhodey had made Tony blush. That was new. He wrote down one point in his tally and enjoyed it despite — or maybe because — Tony’s score was still too far ahead. Maybe that was the reason behind his wanting to go for another point.
“Really, modesty aside, it makes more sense that he’s jealous of me.”
Tony turned his head slightly toward Rhodey again. “What do you mean?”
Rhodey did his best not to explode in a cackle. “You didn’t notice the way he was looking at me on the plane? I thought he was about to hit me.”
“He often looks like he’s going to hit everything in his path,” Tony replied but he didn’t sound too convinced.
“Yes, but that was different.”
Tony’s face became difficult to read, as if every feeling in the world had just come up to the surface and they couldn’t agree which one should dominate at the moment. This didn’t last long, though, because Grant and his friend called them to get on the plane.
Tony remained quiet most of the trip, but pretty much staring at the way Grant kept exchanging pats and laughs and inside jokes with the old man. He looked so serious that Rhodey refrained himself from teasing him further and limited to watch the landscape from the window. It seemed they had made it, alive and relatively unharmed. This adventure left many questions unanswered, and he'd get to that. But after a shower and a nap. A long, long nap.