Tony sighed deeply, frowning at the equation floating in the holograph before spinning back to his other desk. "Fri," he said, his fingers flying over his keyboard. "What time is it?"
"It's 3:37 am, Boss," Friday answered. "You have been coding for three hours and prior to that, you had spent eight hours redesigning the left gauntlet of Mark IV, prior to that -"
"Yeah, yeah," Tony said, waving a hand at her sensors. "I get it, babygirl." He closed his eyes, breathing in for a moment. A year ago, he would've been interrupted before 3 am by Jarvis, or Pepper, or - or - He cut his thoughts off, scrubbing a hand over his face and sighing, fighting the urge to dive back into something else.
"What time is Rhodey arriving?" He asked, shaking his head when Dummy perked up his arm eagerly. He swiped a hand through the sequence in front of him, the lines of blue fracturing around him before dissolving, as the lights in the farthest corner of his lab began to dim.
"Colonel Rhodes is arriving in approximately seven hours," Friday said. "You have arranged for the two of you to surprise Mr. Parker at 2 pm."
"Right," Tony said, his stomach almost twisting at the thought. He scrunched up his nose and ignored it, chalking it up to the long hours and nothing else. "Right," he repeated, shoving himself back from his lab bench and stumbling to the elevator, ignoring the pins and needles in his feet. "Lock it down, Fri," he said, watching at the lab dimmed completely before the elevator doors shut with a tiny click.
"Penthouse," he requested, shoving all thoughts of tomorrow from his brain. "I need some fucking sleep."
"Ah," Rhodey said, pining Peter in place with a look. "So you're the infamous Spiderman."
Peter opened his mouth, letting out a tiny squeak before blushing furiously. "Colonel Rhodes," he said, darting an astonished look at Tony. "I'm so sorry, Sir, I didn't know you were coming today."
Rhodey stared at him before shooting a glare at Tony. "You told me that you had asked for permission," he said, his glare deepening at Tony's smarmy grin.
"Well," Tony said, shooing Peter back into his apartment. "Better to beg forgiveness, eh?"
Rhodey turned to Peter. "Spiderman, I am so sorry about this."
"No!" Peter cried, shutting and locking the door behind them. "No please, sit, Colonel Rhodes and- and-" He shook his head at the two of them. "I'm sorry," he said again, biting his lip. "I was doing homework and then I had to do chores for May so - it might be a little messy." Rhodey frowned, mouthing the word homework over Peter's shoulder to Tony. Tony furrowed his brow, his face taking on a distinctly guilty tinge. "But- but don't worry," Peter rambled, snagging the few dirty dishes in the living room and gesturing for the two of them to sit down. "It's all science work, which I can do in my sleep because you know," he said, dropping the dishes in the kitchen sink and coming back into the room. "and, please, call me Peter," he said, grinning shyly at Rhodey. "And - Mr. Stark, don't eat that!" He cried, scrambling past Rhodey to Tony. "May tried to make another bread and well - it's worse."
"Worse," Tony repeated skeptically, frowning at the crumbling slice of innocuous bread in his hand. "How is that possible?"
"Well, for one," Peter said, reaching out and plucking it from his hand. "She tried to make it vegan for no reason." He rolled his eyes, oblivious to the impossibly fond look Tony gave him. "And then, she added kale to it to 'give it some greens'," he said, mocking May's voice. "And then-"
"It's okay, kid," Tony said, sitting down on the couch and waving Rhodey over to do the same. "I get it - I won't eat May's breads."
Peter blinked at him for a moment before sighing and turning back to Rhodey. "Mr. - Colonel Rhodes, uh, sir, can I get you a glass of water or juice?"
"Call me Rhodey," Rhodey said, as he slid into the armchair across from Tony. "And yeah, water would be great."
Peter grinned at him for a moment before nodding jerkily. "I'll go, uh, do that, sir- Rhodey." He turned, heading for the kitchen, shaking his head at himself.
Rhodey waited until he had cleared the doorway before turning to Tony. "Homework?" He hissed. "I swear to God, Tony, if you tell me that boy is in college, I'm going to lose it."
"Oh," Tony said, blinking at him. "What no - Peter isn't in college, Rhodey, don't be silly - though," he said thoughtfully. "He could be."
"Please don't," Peter said coming back into the room with three glasses of water balanced precariously in his arms. "Seriously, Mr. Stark, don't try to enroll me again." He turned to Rhodey, handing him a glass before doing the same to Tony and dropping on the couch next to him. "No," Peter said, glancing at Rhodey from the corner of his eye. "I'm still in high school."
Rhodey stared at him before turning his gaze to Tony who shrugged and bit his lip. He took a deep sip of the water, setting it down on the table next to him when he was done. Neither Peter nor Tony moved, Tony well aware of how Rhodey took things in and Peter simply following Tony's cues.
"High school," Rhodey said after a long moment of silence. Peter nodded once, a sharp dip of his head. Rhodey blinked once before sighing. "You always had the worst ideas," he said, ignoring Tony's indignant hey!, "But they always had the best payoffs." He flicked his gaze over Peter, his new knowledge slotting gently into place in his head. "Okay," he said. "Welcome to the big leagues."
Peter blinked at him, his eyes widening. "The, the big leagues?" He stuttered, shooting Tony another wide-eyed look. "But- I- I don't want to be an Avenger," he said, before flushing. "If that's what you're saying, I don't want to assume," he corrected, holding his hands up.
Rhodey laughed, the sound already fond. "No," he said, shooting a grin at Tony that turned mocking with his next words. "No, I meant, welcome to the big leagues of corralling Tony Stark."
"Hey," Tony said, narrowing his eyes even as his mouth twitched. "That's not very nice platypus."
"Wasn't meant to be," Rhodey said, raising an eyebrow at him before turning his attention back to Peter. "So," he said, extending his hand for a handshake that Peter firmly grasped, looking a little dazed. "Like I said, welcome to the big leagues."
Rhodey grinned broadly when he entered the room, his gaze landing on the teen standing in the center of the room being scanned. "Peter," he called, delighting the way Peter whipped around and how betrayed Tony looked for a beat. "How's it going kid?"
"Rhodey?" Peter said, scrambling to look at him. "Ohmygod, what are you doing here?"
Rhodey laughed, shooting a look at Tony over his shoulder. "Tones didn't tell you?" Peter shook his head, looking vaguely dazed. "I'm here to fight you."
"What?" Peter squeaked, panic rising in his voice. "But- I didn't even do anything," he said, whirling back around to stare at Tony. "Mr. Stark- did you- you're- I'm supposed to fight Iron Patriot?!"
Tony rolled his eyes, stepping around the lab counter and arching a brow. "Okay, first off, it's War Machine," he said, his voice tinged with quiet irritation that faded into a softer tone the longer he spoke. "And second off, you refused to fight me, so I had to bring in the big guns." He eyed Rhodey, sweeping his eyes over his form. "Not, of course," he added, "That his guns are bigger than mine."
Peter stared at him, his face paling. "You called Iron- War Machine to fight me- but- but- I can't fight him, he's a national hero!"
"That depends on your version of a hero," a voice cut in, dragging their attention away. A girl strode forward, her brown curls bouncing and a challenging look on her face. "So you're Colonel James Rhodes."
Rhodey shot a look to Tony, taking in his badly hidden expression of glee before sighing. "Yes," he said, before arching an eyebrow back at her. "Who are you?"
"I'm Michelle," MJ answered, her gaze narrowed. "And I'm leaving now," she said, turning back to Peter and Tony. "Later nerds."
"Bye, MJ!" Peter said, uncaring of the dismissive glance she shot him. "See you tomorrow!"
Rhodey watched her carefully, waiting until she had entered the elevator before turning back to the two men in front of him. "Who was that?" He asked.
"Oh," Tony said, grinning and ignoring Peter's look of sudden desperation. "That was one of Lover-boy's partners."
"One of?" Rhodey repeated, turning his gaze to Peter, only to watch him blush and drop his eyes to the floor.
Peter spluttered for a moment before sighing. "We don't - we - okay," he said, slowly, like he was waiting for Rhodey's admonishment. "I have a girlfriend and a boyfriend, MJ is one and Ned is another." Despite the clear hesitance he had, just the simple mention of them made him grin. "I- they're the best," he finished quietly.
"Aw kid," Rhodey said, sweeping him into a surprise hug. "That's great, I'm happy for you."
Peter flushed a bright pink before a bigger smile broke out over his face. "Yeah?" He said shyly, curling his arms around Rhodeys broad shoulders.
"Yeah," Rhodey affirmed, shooting Tony a questioning glance at the look he was getting. Tony blinked twice before shrugging, the look sliding off as if it had never even been there. Rhodey drew back, clapping him on the shoulder. "C'mon," he said, pulling him towards the elevator and jerking his head at Tony to follow them. "Let's go fight."
"I just- I don't understand," Tony said slowly, his gaze on the skyline of New York. Pepper hummed in his ear, her voice comforting through the StarkPhone. "I thought it was just a one-off thing but, now, it's like, it's like I get tense when I think about it." He shifted, bringing his shoulder up to hold the phone to his ear as he fiddled with his tablet in front of him. "But, I don't want to have it happen," he said, for the fourth time since the phone call had begun twenty minutes ago. "Why is it?"
Pepper sighed, her voice fond. "It sounds like you might be jealous," she said, her tone placating. Tony scoffed and her voice shifted into a sterner tone. "Seriously," she said.
"I'm Tony Stark," Tony said. "And-"
"-And you don't get jealous," Pepper finished. "But you know yourself too," she said quietly, her words almost swallowed up by the sounds of Tokyo's streets. "And can you seriously tell me that you wouldn't be upset if Peter decided to hang out with Jim instead of you?" Tony paused with what he was doing, the words hanging ominously in the air. "Exactly," Pepper said gently. "So, I think, maybe this time, you should take a beat and think about why and what you want to do about this." Her voice sharpened. "Do not get drunk."
Tony scowled at himself in the mirror, taking in his face smeared with oil, the bandage wrapped around his left hand from a minor burn, and the rips in his jeans. He had been in the workshop for a continuous thirty-two hours and had ignored Pepper, Rhodey, and Peter's phone calls. He sighed, glaring at himself even harder in the mirror as he contemplated the minute twinges of guilt he felt.
He frowned at the texts that had rolled in as well, the vaguely panicked texts from Peter that had faded only for Rhodey's texts to pick up in frequency, ending with a single text that read, you're scaring the kid, before he stopped sending them.
He tilted his head back, staring at the ceiling. He hadn't even known that Peter had given Rhodey his number. He swallowed hard, the silence in the tower ringing in his ears.
He hated nights like the one he had just worked through when even though he had exhausted himself physically, he still had thoughts racing in his brain, the same ones he had tried to silence with the hours and hours of work. He felt empty in the worst way, full of brittle bones and hollow spaces, gaps where people could fit but he purposefully kept them out.
He sighed, running his hands through his hair for a moment before he realized that they were shaking.
"Shit," he muttered quietly, glad that Pepper wasn't around to see him like this before the feeling was washed away by sour bitterness.
He just- he wanted his brain to work right, for once, instead of spinning himself off into forgotten corners and melodramatic thoughts that built until the only issue he could see was himself and all his faults.
He swore quietly once again, before turning to the shower and cranking the water on. He caught sight of himself in the mirror again, the steam warping his reflection, making himself look smudged and wavering, like the smallest gesture could take him out. He scowled at himself again but all that did was make him look more abnormal and he turned away, grimacing at the sight.
Tony tensed when he came back from storage to see Rhodey in his lab. The look on Rhodey's face flickered and Tony swallowed back a grimace, knowing all at once that whatever Rhodey had come to talk to him about, he wasn't going to enjoy it.
"Hey," Rhodey said, uncertain in his welcome in a way he hadn't since MIT and Tony closed his eyes, the guilt over making Rhodey feel uncertain like a punch to his gut. "Are- are you okay?" He asked quietly, his gaze never wavering from Tony's.
"Yeah," Tony said brightly, grinning at him as he sat down and began fiddling with metal shards on his desk.
Rhodey stared for a minute before glaring. "Tony-"
Tony arched a brow at him, glancing at him. "What?"
"Don't do this," Rhodey said the glare slipping from his face. "We've been through too much for this to get to us."
"This?" Tony said, faux confusion in his voice as he began to panic. "What do you mean?"
Rhodey blinked at him before sighing. "I don't know," he said, softly, dropping his gaze. "I just know that something's wrong," he said. "You haven't shut me out like this since- since-" He paused, a horrified look coming over his face. "Tony," he said, his voice strangled. "Tony, you're not, please- you’re not dying again, are you?"
Tony whipped his head up, shock clear on his face. "What? No!" He said, lurching upright and stumbling over to Rhodey. "No!"
"Then what is it?" Rhodey snapped, his voice hard. "What the hell could it be? You're not dying, you're not giving me anything, and you're acting like I've betrayed you and if I have, Tony, you have to let me know, because I need to fix it and I can't because you're not giving me anything!"
Tony stared at him for a long moment before snagging his hand and dragging him over to the couch. Rhodey sat, his braces whirring quietly in the sudden silence of the lab.
"I-" Tony swallowed, his face ashamed. "I- Okay," he said, bracing himself. "I-" His eyes flickered over the lab, searching for a way out before he sighed and leaned back, throwing an arm over his face so he didn't have to look at Rhodey. "I'm jealous." Rhodey didn't say anything and Tony swallowed hard. "I- you- you and Pete, you get along so well, so well, and I just- you'd be so good for him Rhodey, far better than a fuck up like me, and I see you two together and my brain is just like,' yep that's who should be there for him, not you', and it- it fucking sucks, okay?" He shifted in his seat, his arm still over his eyes. "You're not a fuck up, you're a, what did he say? A national hero? And I'm just a guy who helped destroy the world and is trying to make up for it far too late, okay?" Tony paused for a beat before continuing. "He just- He deserves better than me."
"Tony," Rhodey said gently. "That's not-"
"It is," Tony said bringing his arm down but keeping his eyes closed. "I know it is."
For a moment, neither spoke before a low voice sounded from across the lab. "What the fuck, Tony."
Peter stood in the lab, his gaze fixed on Tony. Rhodey had sent him a text about talking to Tony earlier in the day and Peter had just made it over in time to hear his rambling explanation of why he had been so distant over the past few weeks.
Tony jolted up, his face flushed and panicked. "I didn't hear you come in, kid."
"Yeah," Peter said, quietly. "I realized." He shot a look at Rhodey, who scowled and shrugged. Peter sighed, tossing his back on the chair closest to him and walking across the lab to sit down next to Tony, who was grimacing at the ceiling.
"Tony," he said softly, his face earnest and open. "I like Rhodey," he said, giving the other man a quick smile before turning back to Tony. "But, I- no offense Rhodey, I love you, like how I love Aunt May." He blinked at Tony. "You're- God, this is not how I imagined telling you, but you're like my- my dad, in all the ways that matter." He lowered his voice even more, as if he was telling Tony a secret. "I wouldn't, I couldn't be who I am today without you." Peter offered him a gentle smile in the face of his disbelief. "Tony, some days it's a struggle to not call you Dad," he admitted, a blushing rising in his cheeks. "Ned and MJ already call you my Dad behind your back, and well, I don't exactly correct them."
Tony cleared his throat, his eyes wide. "You- I'm- Dad?"
"Yeah," Peter said, his voice fond. "Dad."
Next to them, Rhodey shifted, drawing both of their attentions. "Not that this isn't one of the sweetest things I've ever seen," he said, grinning at the glare Tony shot him. "But seriously," he said, his voice turning stern. "Tones, I'm here for you, and Peter, but I'm not here to take Peter away from you." He clapped Peter on the shoulder. "I'm gonna go now," he said, rising to his feet and shooting Tony a smirk over his shoulder. "Congrats," he said as he left. "It's a boy."
Tony stared after him for a beat before he started laughing, Peter following until the two of them were gasping for breath.
"For the record," Tony said when they had fallen quiet. "You're the best son I ever could've wanted."
Peter beamed at him, his eyes bright. "Thanks," he said. "Dad."
A month later, Ned, MJ, and Peter surprise him with a belated father's day gift.
Tony smiles so hard his cheeks hurt for a week.