Tony and Rhodey hid their relationship for years.
Rhodey had a future in the military, was the only place he really wanted to end up, and Tony had Obadiah breathing down his neck about shareholders, so they learned a lot of boundaries. Some things were okay in some spaces. Most spaces, they weren’t.
It was hard, when Rhodey would come home on leave and Tony wanted to kiss him silly, not having seen him in months. A part of him says he shouldn’t be doing that in front of Rhodey’s mom and sister anyways, but, hell, the straight military families are kissing up a storm, and he wants his turn.
It was hard, every time something went indisputably right and Tony just wanted to celebrate. The kind of kiss that leaves you breathless, knocks you off your feet. Shared, private smiles, filled with giddy glee. Instead, he gets private club rooms and strippers and champagne for days, drowning out the want.
It was undeniably hard that moment in the desert, when Tony wants to cry because he tried, he tried to keep hoping and moving, but some part of him worried he’d never see Rhodey again, and here he is, cracking broken jokes about the Fun-vee, and Tony just wants to collapse into him.
It’s hard when he’s dying. Not that Rhodey knows anyways, but Tony spends a lot of time, retooling his will and his legacy as a whole, and Rhodey’s getting stuff, he’s getting a lot, but it’ll be what a best friend gets. Tony will never get to tell the world how much he undeniably absolutely crazily loved James Rupert Rhodes.
February 2011 and Tony’s going to live and they’ve been testing the suits all day, high on adrenaline and giddy joy. Back down to street clothes, they might steal a kiss in plain view of the window. No one knows who started it. A picture gets taken. They can’t see Rhodey’s face, but Tony’s is obvious, and Tony practically ignores his own forcing out of the closet to throw money at lawyers to squash any rumors that the other party is Colonel James Rupert Rhodes.
September 2011, and suddenly the world tilts on its axis. Tony’s elbow-deep in the armor when Rhodey tells him the news. DADT, repealed, it’s official and it’s real and it’s not just talk anymore. And Rhodey gets this look in his eye, the stubborn look people like to pretend he doesn’t have–like Tony’s the only stubborn one–that Tony loves, and says he should set a good example now.
So they go on dates. They go to restaurants and hold hands across the table and Tony doesn’t even bother trying to get them a booth in the back. They go to the Italian bakery and Rhodey smooshes cannoli cream on Tony’s face. They kiss in Central Park and dance together at parties and, finally, next time Tony’s getting honored with an award, he shows up, sober and clean and ready, and reads his acceptance from carefully prepared cards. He’d like to thank his partner, the love of his life, Colonel James Rhodes.