So, a couple different people asked about the Avengers pairing I’d like to see more of, and I…accidentally a Rhodey/Bucky shipping manifesto? I failed self-control in school, in case anyone had any doubt about that.
HEADS UP SEVEN UP before I get into this—I ship everybody in this SHIELD facility! I’ve written Rhodey/Bucky, and I’ve also written Steve/Bucky, and Tony/Rhodey, and Steve/Tony. I’ve never written Bucky/Tony, because Postcard’s so much better at it than me that it seems ridiculous to bother, but I definitely ship it! I’ve never written Steve/Rhodey, because I have a lottttt of really complicated headcanon about Rhodey’s feelings re: the Captain America mythos/the honesty of war propaganda/stuff that goes back to his childhood and his own heroes and how they were much more personal and “real” than Captain America/a LOT of stuff, and if I was going to write that story I would have to actually like, craft that mythos and that propaganda and figure out how to work it into the narrative without really jarring time jumps and THEN work through the actual romantic plotline, and I haven’t worked out how yet! And I may never work out how, but I DEFINITELY ship it. I ship all the things! You guys can feel free to ship all the things! I AM ALL ABOUT ALL THE SHIPPING OF ALL THE THINGS.
However, Rhodey/Bucky? IS AWESOME. Let me tell you why!
So, okay, to talk about what originally drew me into this ship we first have to talk about Tony & Rhodey as friends and Steve & Bucky as friends, because this is the movieverse versions of them I’m trying to sell you on here and Bucky and Rhodey haven’t actually…uh…met, in the cinematic universe. Which is, now that I think of it, part of why I love them—there is so much freedom!—but that’s not the point. So! Tony & Rhodey first, yeah? Yeah, I think Tony & Rhodey first.
So, within his friendship with Tony Stark, James Rhodes’ most basic function is to be The Balanced Half of The Equation. That particular fact has little to do with James Rhodes himself—that is the most basic function of anyone’s friendship with Tony, up to and including the man’s self-designed AI. Tony…does not exactly make it easy to for anyone to be more unbalanced than him. However! The fact that Rhodey has stuck it out with Tony as long as he has, has continued to be a friend to the guy despite his constant outbursts of nonsense, and in fact sees that Tony isn’t really such a bad guy under all his ridiculousness (that speech in the plane scene in IM1, GOD, RHODEY, YOUR RELENTLESS WILLINGNESS TO SEE THE BEST IN THE PEOPLE YOU CARE ABOUT WOULD BE MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT YOU IF IT WEREN’T FOR ALL MY OTHER FAVORITE THINGS ABOUT YOU)—all of these things indicate that Rhodey is more steadfast, more loyal, and more solid than pretty much anyone else. And the fact that Tony hasn’t managed to dissuade him from being this honorable, duty-bound guy, despite canonically insistent attempts that have, almost certainly, been going on for years…well, hell. That speaks to his strength of character and THEN SOME, does it not? James Rhodes is tried-and-true good dude. This is going to be important. We’ll come back to it in a minute.
Now, let’s talk Steve and Bucky. Bucky’s most basic function within his friendship with Steve is to be the unbalanced half of the equation. This is not, incidentally, to say that Bucky is unbalanced (although of course that argument can also be made—his experiences demand it, to a certain degree); what I’m talking about here is not a “one person is quote-unquote crazy and one person is not” kind of deal. I mean that Bucky’s basic function with Steve—like Tony’s basic function with Rhodey—is to be the person who pushes past the rules and boundaries, the person who is drawn to inherent risk, the person more likely to color outside the lines. The first time we meet Bucky Barnes in the cinematic universe, he punches someone in the face, drags Steve out to a double date without telling him, and then takes TWO women out dancing when Steve bails. He shamelessly hits on Peggy (who shamelessly shuts him down, Peggy, you are the bamfiest bamf in the history of bamfs); he’s constantly giving Steve lip, never taking him as seriously as Steve takes himself. Bucky Barnes is the loose canon of that friendship, and the thing is, someone as solid and reliable and duty-bound as Steve, someone that prone to thinking Honorable Thoughts and Doing What Is Right, NEEDS a loose canon. A loose canon can save someone deeply reliable from becoming a stick in the mud, the same way a deeply reliable person can save a loose canon from becoming a danger to themselves or others.
Do you see where this is going? I HOPE SO, BUT JUST IN CASE, LET’S HAVE SOME MORE WORDS ABOUT IT.
See, the thing is, there are a lot of pairings in a lot of fandoms that rotate around the idea of people being opposites. I think it’s a big part of why Steve/Tony is so popular in Avengers fandom, but it’s hugely visible in other fandoms, too—look at Harry/Draco, look at Dean/Castiel (which admittedly I know about in a gleaned-from-tumblr-gifs-only kind of way), look at Arthur/Merlin, etc etc etc. People like that structure! And people like that structure because it generates a certain amount of inherent conflict, and also because it does, in its way, mimic real life—after all, in reality, human beings tend to find human beings who are just like them irritating, hard to deal with, or out-and-out impossible. Most people don’t like themselves enough to date themselves, and thank god, because that shit would be boring as hell to write about.
Of course, that’s also a huge simplification—actual polar opposites would never work in a relationship, because human relationships are founded on shared interests, ideals, or desires. Legitimate polar opposites would have nothing to talk about or do. So! What’s ACTUALLY going on, in that heavily-favored “opposites” structure, is the combination of two characters who have a number of complementary differences, as well as an assortment of connecting points that eventually draw them together. This is why there are so many stories—including canon stories!—where two characters butt heads at first, but end up bonding over a shared interest/ideal/desire and realizing those differences that made them butt heads can, in fact, be good differences. Can be eye-opening and valuable and sometimes immensely frustrating, but overall worthwhile. Can, in fact, be necessary, on both sides of a given equation. You with me? Yeah, you’re with me.
SO NOW THAT I’VE SAID ALL THAT, WE WIND BACK AROUND TO JAMES “BUCKY” BARNES AND JAMES “RHODEY” RHODES, WHO ARE FUCKING. PERFECT. FOR. EACH. OTHER.
- Because they both know what it is to be a solider—not a hero, not a focal point, not the center of attention, but a solider. They both know what it is to beone of many, to stiffen their upper lips and do the goddamn job in front of them, to go out and serve their countries—not for credit, not to prove themselves, not to be in the spotlight, not because they’re the last hope, but because they have to. Because they signed up for this and they’re damn well going to get it done. Because it’s what needs doing.
- Because by the time he gets to the future, Bucky’s been conditioned out of trusting anyone (and is, consequently, desperate to find someone he feels he can trust), and Rhodey’s the most trustworthy guy you’ll ever meet. Because by the time Bucky gets to the future, Rhodey’s been trying to wrestle honesty out of someone loathe to give it for years, and Bucky’s hunger on that front is the flipside of that deeply frustrating coin. Because Rhodey wants to feel like he’s earned someone’s trust just as much as Bucky wants to find someone to give it to.
- BECAUSE OF ALL THE PHONE SEX WHERE RHODEY SAYS “HELLO, JAMES” AND BUCKY SAYS “HELLO, JAMES”
- Because Rhodey sees the best in the people, and Bucky sees the worst. Because Rhodey told Tony he was more than the front he put up, and Bucky told Steve he was following the dumb kid from Brooklyn. Because Rhodey’s faith in people necessitates someone jaded, and Bucky’s harsh history necessitates someone with faith in people.
- Because neither one of them would hesitate to go to bat for their friends, and neither one of them would hesitate to go to bat for each other.
- Because THEIR FACES
- No, really, because their faces. Because Bucky’s smirk and Rhodey’s raised eyebrows; because Rhodey’s rolled eyes to Bucky’s bedroom ones; because Bucky’s rare unguarded smile and Rhodey’s warm, surprised laugh. Because. Their. Faces. For real.
- Because Rhodey worries, but doesn’t push. Because Bucky needs worrying after, but can’t handle being pushed. Because Rhodey’s spent all this time applying that worry to someone who tends to throw it back in his face; because BUCKY’S spent all this time worrying after someone who is now, horribly (if not incorrectly) in the position of worrying after him. Because Bucky would never ask for help, but Rhodey’s always been willing to offer. Because Rhodey would never admit that feeling useless, helpless, is his biggest fear, but Bucky would never call him on it.
- Because Rhodey would order plain black coffee for the rest of his life if you let him, and Bucky makes him drink half of his strawberry frappucinos and white chocolate mochas.
- Because Bucky would joke everything off for the rest of his life if you let him, and Rhodey makes him taste-test dropping that defense until he’ll order it for himself.
- Because HOW MUCH FUN DO YOU THINK THEY’VE HAD WITH THE ARM AND THE SUIT, GOD
- Because neither one of them scares off easily. From anything.
- Because the things they ARE scared of are hard enough to understand, on both sides, that nothing really surprises them anymore.
- Because oh my god the snark, THE SNARK FOR YEARS
- Because they’re both realists, even though it kills them a little.
- Because at the end of the day, the bottom line for both of them is doing the best they can with what they’ve got. For all their differences, that’s their biggest connecting point—they are adaptors and survivors, men who maneuver within the environment around them and make it dance to their tunes. And the truth is, in a lot of ways that’s harder than being the breakout star or the leader of the pack; it takes more finesse and more care, is less about brief bouts of exertion and more about long, drawn out plans. And that means that when they go home—or to whatever is passing as home right now, anyway—they want something that resonates with that, something that feels long and drawn out, something that takes the work they’re both willing to put in.
- Because I am only stopping now for reasons of time. Because I could literally go all day. BECAUSE THEY’RE SO PERFECT IT HURTS ME A LITTLE.
In conclusion: JAMES RHODES/JAMES BARNES FOR LIFE. That is all.