Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Captain America & Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: during and post-Captain America: Civil War
Genre: Drama, angst
Rating: T / FRT
Characters: James “Rhodey” Rhodes (War Machine), Tony Stark (Iron Man), Vision, Sam Wilson (Falcon). Mentioned: Steve Rogers (Captain America).
Summary: Rhodey struggles to regain his health after the fall, as well as coming to grips with blame and forgiveness. Meanwhile, his mind actively seeks to be able to fly again, free of the injuries he’s sustained.
Written for: ghiaccio/SilverDolphin’s (DW/AO3) art on round 2 of Marvel Cinematic Universe Reverse Bang.
Warnings: Language, past canonical violence, physical injury (partial paralysis).
Disclaimer: Iron Man, Avengers, and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau, Joss Whedon, Shane Black, Joe Johnston, Anthony & Joe Russo, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras-fire)
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
Tony is there when he wakes up for the first time since the fall. He tries to put on a brave face, but Rhodey knows him. Knows that he is worried.
The pain catches up with him somewhere on the way to the hospital. They give him medicine for it, but not enough to knock him out. They’re keeping him conscious, which he prefers, but they’re not exactly telling him anything about his condition so that makes it worse.
He has a sneaking suspicion that it might be bad, but if he asks, he’s sure he’ll get the ‘we need to wait for the test results’ runaround. It’s not a lie because this type of injury requires certain tests for a reliable diagnosis, and thusly Rhodey tells himself to be patient. No reason to think up alternative scenarios in advance.
When they put him in the MRI machine a few hours later, Rhodey’s attempts at not freaking out begin to fall apart. It’s getting too real, too close to home. His mind keeps going back to the fight at the airport, to the shot he never saw coming.
The way Tony looks, Rhodey knows it was friendly fire.
Falcon doesn’t have a big enough gun to drop him from the sky, anyway.
It feels surreal, all of this. Sure, they went in expecting a fight of some kind, because ‘surrender’ and ‘Steve Rogers’ don’t rhyme. A part of Rhodey didn’t take it as seriously as perhaps he should have, because half of those people had been his teammates for the past few months; the new line-up of active Avengers following the events in Sokovia.
As the MRI machine starts making noise, Rhodey closes his eyes and forces his mind to wander somewhere else – anywhere else. The reality will be waiting for him, but he’d rather focus on something else for a moment.
He dreams of flying, oddly enough. It’s what he knows, though, and has done for most of his life. The idea of climbing into the cockpit and going over the controls in order to prepare for take-off is cathartic, to say the least. It’s a routine he knows by heart, and he’s in control throughout the proceedings.
The eventual take-off is his reward: the hum and roar of engines, G-forces pulling at his body during the acceleration and ascension into the sky… There are nuances to it, depending on the type of plane he is flying as well as the location and weather; several variables contribute to each specific sensation.
All those sensations are vastly different compared to how the armor feels, but he would rather not focus on the tin can he got trapped in mere hours ago…
He envisions the deep blue of the clear sky instead, with a few fluffy white clouds scattered across it. After thousands of hours spent up there, he can remember what his ideal flying conditions are that are equally memorable and enjoyable each time. Rhodey needs that right now, clear skies and a smooth flight – and frankly, why would he think up anything less than perfect in the freedom of his own mind?
- - -
Tony is there when the doctors tell him the results. Rhodey could have received the news alone, forced Tony out of the room, but there is no reason for him to go through that and make his best friend feel even worse than he currently does. Tony’s left arm is in a sling, but Rhodey surmises that the pained expression on his face has little to do with that particular injury.
Rhodey wants to tell him that none of this is his fault, but he doesn’t. It might not be entirely true, and the parts that would be lies don’t really matter in their current situation.
There is no way to predict just how bad it will be, at this point. Barring further complications, it’s still likely there will be some form of paralysis for Rhodey to deal with. That’s never the kind of news one wants to hear, but he knows it could have been worse.
Anything other than the armor, and he probably would have been long dead.
Tony leaves when Rhodey strongly implies he wants to rest. He needs some time alone – and probably some of that rest, too. There are so many things Tony is keeping locked inside right now, and Rhodey can’t deal with the dam breaking anytime soon.
He’s almost drifted off when something appears at the edge of his line of sight; most things don’t just appear out of thin air, but as Vision passes through the wall, that is exactly what it looks like. The android halts, noticing Rhodey noticing him, and they stare at each other for a moment.
Rhodey can see an apology on Vision’s face. He tries to signal in turn that he isn’t ready for it yet.
Vision bows his head and drifts back into the wall, disappearing the way he came.
When Rhodey falls asleep, aided by pain medication, he dreams of the blue skies again, and blessedly there is no falling involved – only smooth flight through the air.
- - -
Tony works hard to get him walking again – to restore them to a sense of normalcy. He doesn’t mention getting back in the suit, and perhaps after what happened with Steve and Bucky in Siberia… Tony is still very much involved with what is left of the Avengers, so it’s not like he’s leaving Iron Man in the past. They just don’t mention War Machine in any of their conversations.
Rhodey has seen war vets going through their exercises after injuries worse than his own. It feels petty to complain, because he still has all his limbs intact. Just because his legs are a bit of a dead weight below the knees…
There are days when he’s frustrated, and seeing as Tony’s hovering a lot of the time, Rhodey ends up taking it out on him. Instead of removing himself from the situation, Tony just soaks it all in, like he thinks he deserves it. But just because they chose to go along with the Accords doesn’t mean this is his fault any more than it is Rhodey’s – or Vision’s, or Falcon’s.
It’s a big mess and they’re all to blame, if any blame needs to be placed.
Rhodey implies, directly and indirectly, that he does okay without Tony’s presence. Doesn’t he have somewhere else to be, anyway? To either run his company or the Avengers, or find Steve and his crew after they escape from the Raft.
The news of the breakout doesn’t exactly surprise Rhodey, seeing as it was only a matter of time before Steve came for his teammates. Tony doesn’t go out of his way to find them afterwards, which ticks off several people, but Rhodey isn’t exactly shocked by that either. Sometimes Tony needs a moment to bring things into perspective; he may be a genius, but he’s also a human being, and sometimes logic goes out the window when emotions are triggered.
For Rhodey, it is a constant battle of logic and emotions. Tony keeps a tight lid on the things he says, and Rhodey tries to follow his lead, but it doesn’t mean his head isn’t filled with thoughts that are often too toxic for their own good. Sometimes it just bubbles over, when he’s frustrated and nothing’s going as he wants it to, and Tony is often the only person around – hence getting a faceful of it before Rhodey is back in control.
It annoys him that Tony just takes it, whenever it happens. He doesn’t deflect or argue, furthermore convincing Rhodey that he blames himself for what happened to his best friend. That he didn’t reach Rhodey in time, or build a better suit to protect him.
Perhaps Rhodey blames him too, deep down, because whenever he dreams of flying, Tony is never there. It’s just Rhodey up in the perfectly calm sky…
- - -
He’s been doing fine for weeks when he falls in the shower. Wet tiles are always treacherous, and he should have remembered to stay alert. Far as he knows, he wasn’t exactly careless, but the moment he starts to slip, he knows he’s going down – hard.
Rhodey lies still for a moment, taking stock of what has happened. He isn’t certain he can get up – or should try even if he can. He’s wearing a light version of the harness Tony’s been perfecting, which helps him to move around when he’s alone in his quarters, but doesn’t exactly support him like the one he uses to walk around during the day.
Before he can actually start forming a plan, he hears the door of his room opening; the tiny little whir of the electric lock carries all the way to him in the silence, even through the bathroom door. Only a handful of people can access the living areas of the compound – and even fewer could just walk into his rooms.
A moment later the bathroom door opens, and Rhodey isn’t really surprised to see Tony coming in. There’s no surprise on Tony’s part, either, so he must have come in knowing exactly what had happened.
“Are you hurt?” Tony asks, reaching for a robe.
“Not sure,” Rhodey replies honestly. “There’s no pain yet, aside from falling on my ass.”
Tony nods and reaches to help him up. Rhodey hesitates, then takes the offered arm, and they work him back to his feet, after which Tony wraps him in the robe while Rhodey focuses on keeping his balance. “Okay?” Tony asks.
Several spots on his body are beginning to ache, and when Rhodey shifts his feet, it doesn’t feel good. Well, it hasn’t felt like anything for a while now, but there’s definitely pain in his back, which is never good, considering he’s still healing.
Tony waits, more patient than he usually is. He doesn’t ask how this happened, or how Rhodey could be so careless. That is why Rhodey decides he’s not going to bring up the breach of privacy that obviously happened here, F.R.I.D.A.Y. no doubt monitoring what is going on in Rhodey’s private space.
“I think I should probably make an appointment with my doctor,” Rhodey finally says. It doesn’t make him happy, far from it, but he’s in pain and it’s likely it will just get worse. Better to get it out of the way now rather than later… Rhodey wants to be optimistic that he is healing, so he doesn’t want to sabotage that in any way.
Tony nods, slowly helping Rhodey out of the bathroom. From a corner near the door, he pulls over a lightweight, collapsible wheelchair he designed early on and has kept tinkering with; Rhodey only uses it when he has to, no matter how easy it is to wheel himself around with it. Not using his feet makes him feel more like an invalid, though, so the wheelchair is almost like the last resort.
His only consolation is that with all this creating and adjusting, Tony is going to make a lot of money with all these inventions once he releases them to the general public – and helps so many people in doing so.
It just would have been preferable if Rhodey didn’t have to be the test subject.
Tony helps him dress after Rhodey makes the call to his physician, getting an appointment for the same day. He is requested to move as little as possible, which Rhodey fully understands, but it doesn’t make him happy. Setbacks like this…
“Stop obsessing over it,” Tony orders as he wheels Rhodey out of his room and towards the main garage. “You fell, it happened, and now we’ll deal with it.”
Rhodey feels like telling him that this is his problem, not Tony’s; he’s the one doing all the work, dealing with the pain, and surviving the day-to-day obstacles suddenly in his way. But that isn’t fair, because Tony’s been doing his damnedest to help Rhodey every step of the way, both literal and figurative. He’s developing new tech to aid his recovery and give him as much mobility as Rhodey could dream up, aside from having his legs back.
There’s a hatchback sitting in the garage, between two of Tony’s sports cars. It has a ramp in the back and a space that is designed for a wheelchair. Normally, Rhodey would want to get out of the chair and take a seat like a normal person, but he’s not going to risk further injury after the fall – and neither is Tony, who resolutely wheels him up the ramp and secures the wheelchair in place.
Rhodey looks at the scenery as they drive out to the hospital. He’s sitting too low to actually see the sky all the time, but the day is a rather bleak one so it doesn’t matter.
Tony makes a couple phone calls on the way, keeping his voice low. He’s not hiding his conversations from Rhodey, but they’re not meant for him either, and Rhodey tunes it out, mind drifting nowhere special until they arrive at their destination. Tony helps him out and to the door, from where the hospital staff takes over. Sure, Tony hovers, but he’s never liked hospitals, whether it’s him or someone he knows that is being treated. Still, he always makes an effort to be there, like when Happy got hurt, and Rhodey is thankful to know he’s out there somewhere, even when going largely unseen while tests are being performed.
They have a room ready for Rhodey, which means he’s most likely going to spend the night. He wishes he didn’t have to, but he’s always been the guy who follows orders and does the right thing; if the doctors think it’s best he stays, that’s what he’ll do.
At least he’s got a room with a view on the top floor, and he’s the only occupant within it. As he’s settling down, he notices once again how naked he feels without some version of Tony’s harness on him; it doesn’t make moving that much harder, while he’s lying down, but as soon as he makes to get up, he knows he can’t. There’s the wheelchair, of course, but it’s positioned far enough from the bed that he can’t reach it without help.
It’s a hint that he’s not supposed to be moving around.
Already it’s starting to piss him off, the idea of calling a nurse just to get a fresh glass of water or to go to the bathroom. That’s what they’re here for, and Tony’s money is paying for the best of care – hence the private room with a view – but it’s still a hospital and he would rather just be independent and at his own place, wherever that is depending on his assignment. That’s why Tony’s been building the harnesses, after all.
Tony pops in before he leaves for the night, giving Rhodey’s room an once-over. Clearly he approves, nodding to himself. “I’m off,” he tells Rhodey. “I’ll come back in the morning, see if they’re ready to release you.”
Rhodey could just call him when he’s ready to leave, or have someone from the staff do it, but he agrees to it. Being in a hospital is far from entertaining, and Tony is a major distraction. Plus, Tony would still come even if he told him not to, the way he’s been acting since Rhodey’s fall. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he replies.
“You got everything you need?” Tony checks.
Rhodey nods, and Tony takes that as his cue to leave. Alone for the time being, before someone from the hospital staff eventually comes to check on him, Rhodey looks at the darkening sky, willing to bet he’ll dream of flying again once he drifts off.
- - -
The sky is blue, the clouds white and fluffy beneath him. He can track his shadow beneath him, against the thin veil between him and the world below; a human shape, gliding across the clouds…
He raises his gaze, to look at the horizon, and the world dips slightly as he wakes up.
Rhodey finds himself still in the hospital, unsurprisingly. However, it is not yet morning, but there is someone else in the room – and that someone isn’t Tony.
“Hi,” Sam Wilson greets him and gets up from the visitor’s chair. “I didn’t mean to wake you.”
“This isn’t exactly visiting hours,” Rhodey replies, uncertain what to say. Obviously Sam is here to visit him, otherwise he wouldn’t show up in the middle of the night. Most people aren’t creepy enough to stand over a sleeping person for no purpose…
“I know,” Sam says, his tone somewhat sheepish. “I wasn’t sure it was a good idea to come, and I wanted to avoid Tony. I’m fairly sure he’s going to greet me with his gauntleted fist for a long time to come.”
“Good call,” Rhodey agrees. There’s no telling just how Tony would react, although Rhodey isn’t sure violence would be his first idea after all this time has passed. “How is exile treating you?” he asks Sam. There’s definitely some hostility in his feelings when it comes to his former teammate.
“It could be worse,” Sam admits.
“You’ll be in trouble if someone learns you’re here.”
“I know,” Sam nods, looking away. “I just… heard you were in the hospital again, and I’ve been meaning to make contact after we escaped...”
Rhodey is a bit surprised by that. “Who told you?” Certainly not Tony.
“Vision,” Sam responds.
That kind of makes sense, although it’s a breach of trust in a sense. Rhodey decides it will be for the best if Tony never learns of this, just to be safe.
“Look, I’m sorry for what happened,” Sam continues. His eyes glitter in the pale green light of the emergency exit sign. “I don’t know what we expected, all of us fighting like that, but… We used to be teammates.”
“Things changed fast,” Rhodey agrees.
Sam shifts. “Until it was over, I don’t think any one of us was really meaning to hurt each other,” he muses.
Rhodey knows how he feels. He also knows how it ended on his part.
“I tried to reach you,” Sam states, voice dropping to a whisper. “Wouldn’t have been enough to pull you up, but maybe to slow you down…” His eyes drift somewhere over where the cover hides Rhodey’s legs on the bed. “I was certain Tony would get there in time.”
Rhodey was blissfully unconscious by that time, but he knows neither of them reached him in time. “Luckily for me, Tony builds his suits tough,” he responds. Otherwise he would have died, for certain.
It had taught them all, however, that the suits were far from invincible, in case that had ever been an assumption. Tony knew how banged up his armors could get, and just how much they could take before it was too much, but Rhodey hadn’t really reached that limit in his time as War Machine.
Hell, he’d had a fuel truck blow up in his face and barely felt the heat.
Sam seems to hesitate, having said his piece no doubt.
“I don’t blame you,” Rhodey tells him, despite his feelings of animosity. “Not to the degree I could, anyway. Vision took a shot, you got out of the way, I got hit.” Saying it like that cheapens his struggles that came afterwards, but it is the simple truth. A bitter pill to swallow, and there are days when he doesn’t feel as positively about it, but that is what happened.
Falcon has always been faster at maneuvering tight turns, compared to the suits.
“Do you blame Vision?” Sam asks suddenly. “I got the impression when we spoke that he hasn’t been forgiven.”
Rhodey doesn’t say anything immediately. His feelings are a bit unclear on the matter. Why he feels like he has to tell Sam the truth, he doesn’t know. Maybe because they were teammates, not so long ago. Their world views clashed, time and again, but they were friends.
“I’m not saying you should forgive him if you don’t want to,” Sam hurries to add when the silence has stretched past his comfort limit. “Or me, because I’m partially to blame.”
“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” Rhodey muses. “We wouldn’t have fought if it weren’t for Rogers trying to protect Barnes and fight the Accords. But there might not have been any Accords if not for the incident in Lagos – or Sokovia, which would have been avoided if Tony had never tried to build Ultron. And Tony never would have felt the need for that kind of a defense system if he hadn’t flown that damn nuke into space.”
Sam stares at him in silence, maybe trying to piece everything together into one large collection of images that will somehow make sense once they’re side by side. “So, it all traces back to the Battle of New York?”
Rhodey shrugs and sighs, leaning back against the bed. “I don’t know, man. All I know is something went really wrong down the line, pitting us all against each other, resulting in this.” He looks at Sam, feeling oddly forgiving considering his situation. “You wouldn’t be here if we weren’t friends once.”
“Is it over, though? All of us being friends?” Sam asks.
Rhodey gives him a wistful smile. “The next time the Big Bad comes a-knocking…”
“We’ll all be there,” Sam nods. “No matter what happened.”
“I understand that Steve made some kind of a gesture to patch things up with Tony,” Rhodey adds. “He’s been less moody.”
“Still can’t believe he went with the Accords,” Sam ponders.
Rhodey can’t believe how hard it is for people to grasp. “If not for the guilt, he never would have signed,” he says. “And if it came down to letting them have his suits and tech, he still would break away, I’m sure.”
“Even if it meant becoming a fugitive like us?”
Rhodey smiles. “You clearly have no idea who Tony Stark really is.”
Sam smiles back. “Maybe not. But I’m happy he has you – and you have him. You guys are tight.”
“Do you ever blame him for this?” Sam asks, voice softer.
“I tell myself I don’t,” Rhodey replies. “No more than anyone else.”
“But he started it.”
“He tried to finish it, but every time something went wrong.” Rhodey stares out the window for a moment, at the dark night with a glow of street lights illuminating it from below. “I’ve known him long enough to know how his mind works – especially since he became Iron Man. There are times I didn’t want to believe it, or accept it, and then his PTSD started coming down with a vengeance. Still does, sometimes.”
“So, Ultron was going to be the ultimate safety blanket?”
“Not just for him, but the world.”
“What a disappointment that turned out to be…”
Rhodey tries to recall that night, when Ultron first made himself known to the Avengers. “It’s taken me some time to understand, the way Tony does, but Ultron was trying to fix the problem.” He looks at Sam. “It’s hard, isn’t it, when you’re part of the problem and not the solution?”
“You believe that?” Sam challenges.
“Right now, I feel a lot more like a problem, yeah.”
“But before? You were doing good work as War Machine. We all were, fighting fights no one else could win.”
Rhodey can see why Sam and Cap get along.
He’s also beginning to see he’s perhaps spent too much time with Tony recently, because he can see why they are both the problem and the way to solve it. The beginning and the means to an end.
If only it were all as simple as soaring in the sky, like in his dreams… None of these over-complicated politics and an unbearable situation where they can’t put forward their best performances anymore. Rhodey knows they signed up to be leashed when they signed the Accords, but the alternative just wasn’t something he could believe in, either.
Not before the Accords proves itself faulty.
He looks out the window again, tired, and Sam takes his leave just as silently as he arrived. Once Rhodey is certain he’s alone, he allows his eyes to drift shut, and he’s almost right back where he left off, flying above the clouds, not bothering to look for the horizon this time.
- - -
Tony comes the next day while Rhodey’s eating breakfast. It’s casual Friday or something, sneakers and jeans and a t-shirt that is advertising a band Rhodey’s never heard of. “You sleep okay?” Tony asks, sitting down. He brought his own coffee, swirling it around in a special edition Stark Industries thermos more than actually sipping it.
“As well as can be expected,” Rhodey replies. He thinks back to Sam’s visit, and their rather disjointed conversation. “Have you heard from Vision lately?”
Tony looks up at him. “Just spoke to him this morning. Why?”
“No reason,” Rhodey states.
Tony lets it go. Clearly it doesn’t warrant suspicion in his mind, or he’s too preoccupied with something else.
“They want to take a few more tests, check for bruising, then they’ll probably let me go home,” Rhodey informs his friend of the news one of the nurses gave him this morning.
Tony nods, eyes now trained on the window. Maybe he already had the same news delivered to him, or there really is something on his mind.
Rhodey watches him, then pushes away the tray of food and clears his throat. “Tony?”
The other man doesn’t react. His hand is still moving the thermos in tiny little circles. It’s possible he didn’t sleep a wink last night, fueling on coffee and work instead.
“Tones,” Rhodey calls out a bit more sharply.
“Yeah?” Tony snaps to attention, turning his head to look at Rhodey as if expecting some major change to have happened while he wasn’t paying attention.
“You know I don’t blame you for this, right?”
Tony frowns. “The hospital trip? Falling in the shower?”
Rhodey sighs. “You know what I mean.”
Tony opens his mouth, then closes it and nods. “Okay.” It doesn’t sound remotely like he believes it.
Rhodey decides the best thing he can do for Tony is to get better and put this ordeal behind them. For everyone else, verbal forgiveness ought to be enough, and he makes a mental note to perhaps have that dreaded conversation with Vision, too. They all have too many problems to hang onto this as well.
Tony has gone back to staring out the window, and Rhodey glances there as well. The sky is beautiful this morning, actually. Fluffy clouds, clear blue in between, sunshine giving it a dash of hope. He slowly moves to pinch himself, to check he’s not asleep. It stings, and Rhodey settles back, closing his eyes, dozing and waiting for Tony to get back in gear and start bouncing new ideas off him that will hopefully spring him to recovery in record time.
Then maybe he’ll have that flight he’s been dreaming so intensely about…