Colonel James Rhodes walked down the driveway of a stunning mansion in Miami, Florida, the sweltering heat of the bright sun bearing down on him. Palm trees swayed in the wind and beautiful flowers filling the air with a sweet scent lined the white pebbly pathway that led to the front door of the mansion.
Rhodes knocked on the creamy white door gilded with golden lions and crests and waited several seconds before he heard a voice behind the door. When the door opened Tony Stark was standing before him wearing a black robe and holding a fruity cocktail.
“Whoa, wasn’t expecting you,” Tony said. He was clearly tipsy.
Rhodes removed his shades. “We need to talk.”
Tony’s eyebrows furrowed. “You’re looking…serious. Come on in.”
Colonel Rhodes entered the house and followed Tony Stark into the breathtaking massive lobby. The floor, made of a pale pink marble was perfectly polished. A circular pit lined with stairs sat in the middle of the floor. The pit was filled with comfy cushions and pretty pillows. A staircase lined the wall, spiraling upward to two other levels. Tall vases and beautiful paintings decorated the room and straight ahead sat a glass door that led to an outdoor area.
Pepper Potts sat among the cushions with a glass of champagne in her hand, a translucent pink smock over her deep blue one-piece swimsuit. Her red hair was wet as if she had just stepped out of a pool.
“Rhodey!” she exclaimed. “How are you?”
He shrugged. “Not bad. Is it okay if I borrow Tony for a minute?”
Her eyebrows furrowed. “Sure. Is something wrong?”
Now Rhodes was confused. “Haven’t you been watching the news?”
“We’re on an internet hiatus for the weekend,” Tony said. “Pepper’s idea. She wants me to get my head away from my work for a little while.”
Rhodes cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”
A nearly imperceptible smile touched Tony’s lips. “Come on. You wanna talk? Let’s talk.”
Pepper watched them leave with a concerned expression.
They walked through the glass door onto a beautiful patio where a sitting area resided alongside a magnificent pool. A small bar sat by the pool. It was where Tony headed.
“Want a drink?”
“No thanks,” Rhodes said sternly.
Tony looked at him with surprise. “You really aren’t in a good mood are you?”
Rhodes looked around. “Nice mansion. This your new house?”
Tony shook his head. “No. We’re just staying here temporarily while we try to figure out where we want to settle down.”
Rhodes crossed his arms. “Pepper says you’re taking a break from the internet but I know better. You could never stay away from what’s going on in the world which means you know what’s happening in Europe.”
Tony shrugged as he continued refilling his glass. “Yeah, I’ve heard.”
“Then why aren’t you doing anything about it?! Why are you sitting here in this mansion pretending like you don’t know what’s going on?”
Tony took a sip of his cocktail. “Look, Secretary Ross already called me and I told him I’m staying out of it so that’s what I’m doing.”
“And you’re really going to stick by that, knowing that there are people who are in danger?”
“I’m enjoying my retreat.”
“Innocent people will die.”
Tony sighed. “Look, I’ve been doing this superhero thing since 2008. I need a break.”
“We all need a break, Tony.”
Tony made a noise of exasperation. “I know that. It’s just, Pepper’s happy Rhodes. She’s happier than she’s ever been because I’m finally choosing her over my suits. Remember, I almost lost her. She told me if I didn’t get my act together she would give up on me. I couldn’t let that happen.”
Rhodes looked unconvinced. “I think she’d understand this.”
Tony’s expression grew serious. “You really don’t think I want to put on my suit and stop this madness? I want to with every fiber of my being but…I know there are others out there who can handle this mess. So…for once in my life, I’m being selfish. So what?”
Rhodes’ eyebrow rose. “For once in your life?”
Tony sighed. “Okay, maybe I’m always a little self-absorbed but I really do need this. I want to get a taste of what retirement feels like. I know there are people who need my help but I can’t be there for them right now. I just…” he sighed, “I can’t. Not after what happened… Can you understand that?”
Rhodes nodded, disappointed. “Okay, Tony. I get it. You want to relax. But we all do. I would love nothing more than to throw away my suits and chill on a balcony in Monaco but I can’t because there are people who will always need us.”
“You can’t make me feel guilty,” Tony said.
“And I’m not trying to.”
There was a bit of silence before Rhodes spoke again. “You’re expecting Steve to handle it aren’t you? That’s why you’re not doing anything.”
Tony took a sip of his cocktail. “Look, if I don’t have anything to do with that man for the rest of my life that would be great but hey, he’s making my life easier.”
Rhodes nodded bitterly. “I see. Well, I guess I’m happy for you, Tony.” He turned as if to leave and then stopped. “But remember this, there will come a day when the world really will need you.”
Tony smirked. “And I’ve got that covered.”
Rhodes became confused. “What do you mean?”
Tony opened his robe just enough for Rhodes to see the reactor sitting in the middle of his chest. “For the past couple of months, I’ve been working on a new suit that incorporates nanotech with my technology. Look at this.”
He tapped the reactor and Rhodes’ eyes widened as the Iron Man suit materialized to life over Tony’s skin from the source of the reactor, covering every inch of his body except for his face.
“It’s still a work in progress but this technology is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” Tony continued. “It’s almost like clay. You can morph the nanotech into various weapons and defensive methods. It’s the next level.”
Rhodes was surprised. “That’s actually pretty cool. I want one.” He looked at Tony who only smiled in response. “But I’m not going to be able to get one, am I?”
Tony shook his head. “I haven’t figured out to how to apply it to those without a chest reactor like mine yet.”
“You always find a way to get the good stuff.”
Tony chuckled as he retapped the reactor and the suit armor dematerialized back into the reactor. “Yeah, it’s nice being great.”
Rhodes rolled his eyes. He walked back into the house where Pepper was waiting for them with her hands on her hips.
“What’s going on?” Pepper asked. “Is everything okay?”
Rhodes looked at her. “Yeah, everything is unfortunately as I expected.”
Pepper stared at him for a second longer before saying, “You came here to ask him to go to Europe, didn’t you?
Rhodes was legitimately shocked. “How did you know?”
“I’m not an idiot, Colonel,” she responded as if she was bored.
He smiled. Tony entered the lobby, holding up his cocktail. “But I’m not going, honey.”
Pepper looked at Tony with disbelief. “You’re not?”
Tony shook his head. “Nope. I’m staying here to be with you. There are plenty of people who can handle the situation.”
Pepper still couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “I don’t know whether to be happy or furious.”
“Why would you be furious?”
“Because there are people who need your help!”
“So now you’re mad at me for not going? Oh, there’s no winning with you.”
“Winning! You think staying here is winning?!”
Rhodes held up his hands. “Okay, okay, I didn’t come here for you all to start arguing with each other. Both of you, rest, relax. Tony’s right. There are people who can take care of this.”
Pepper looked at him. “Who? The former Avengers were clearly outmatched and had to run away. Who’s going to stop her?”
“I am, and so is Vision.”
Pepper seemed shocked. “So you’re still willing to break the rules?”
Rhodes smiled. “Always.”
Tony grinned. “And that’s why you’re my friend.”
Rhodes laughed and then suddenly his phone beeped in his pocket. He pulled it out and his eyebrows furrowed. “I’ve got to go.”
“Be careful, Rhodey,” Pepper said.
Rhodes nodded, hurriedly leaving the house. There was a bit of silence before Tony looked at Pepper with an amused smirk.
“I thought we were having an internet hiatus,” he said.
She turned to him. “You cheated first,” she told him.
He chuckled. She approached him, putting her arms around him.
“You should be going with him,” she said.
“I thought I’ll think about you for a change,” he replied.
Pepper shook her head. “I ought to slap you but I can’t. I’m too happy.”
“If things get too bad I’ll help out. I promise.”
With a smile, she said “I know you will” before kissing him.
Colonel Rhodes exited the mansion, heading to his suit that was standing at the end of the pathway awaiting his return when a circle of amber sparks appeared. In the circle, it looked like a dark room which a bald woman in yellow stepped from. Rhodes instinctively unholstered his gun, pointing it directly at the woman.
“Colonel Rhodes, I don’t have much time to explain but I need you to come with me,” the woman told him.
Rhodes’ eyebrows furrowed. How did this woman know his name? He lowered the gun slowly, gazing at her suspiciously.
“How do you know my name?” he asked.
The woman maintained a calm demeanor. “Colonel, I won’t tell you again. The very fate of the world is at stake but you can change that. Please, come with me.”
Rhodes didn’t know if he was carelessly walking into a trap or not but he walked into his suit, waited for it to latch onto him, and followed the woman through the strange circle.