Howard Stark wanted, pursued and sired an heir. A male heir. One he could leave his legacy to. One who was strong. Powerful. And above all, could command respect in the cutthroat business world. There would have been no room for feelings, for touch, for love in Tony’s upbringing.
Tony’s first intimate encounter wasn’t with a woman. Or a man. It was with the public. His first kiss wasn’t the soft brush of skin on skin. It was the searing heat of white hot flashbulbs blinding him. He learned quickly, and learned young, to hide what he felt. To subjugate emotion. To hold back.
On learning of Coulson’s death, Tony doesn’t speak. He doesn’t demand answers. He doesn’t so much as let out a silent gasp. He is completely and utterly still. Giving nothing away. Except for his breathing. His jaw is tight and his chest is inhaling rapidly and shallowly. His eyes are overly bright and he is blinking slowly but he will stubbornly refuse to let tears fall. Tony feels. He feels so very deeply and so very much but all those years of hiding his emotions from the public have made self-protection second nature to him now.
Fury knows this. He knows this man that he has watched grow from a child. Fury delivers the most heartfelt part of his speech right by Tony’s side. Cutting off Steve, shielding Tony from the line of sight of the room. Fury is talking to them both but he is speaking directly to Tony. He knows this boy, knows how he will react. Knows what he will need. And so he allows him to leave. Doesn’t call him back. Doesn’t follow.
Cap may be the one who leads the Avengers. The one who commands the team. But every family needs a heart and while Cap is the leader, Tony is it’s soul. The glue that holds them together. Fury knows this. He also knows what it costs the man at it’s center. He seen the baptism of fire and light that Tony was birthed into, grew up in and lives through daily. Fury sees what it costs him and so, while he will call this man onto the carpet when he has to. Will summon him the second he needs him. When he can, Fury will also give Tony the shadows and solitude that he needs.
Redirection and smoke. Staining and eroding gilt edged mirrors. Watch the show not the man behind the curtain. If you look too carefully, if he lets you get too close, the facade will splinter like spun glass.
Tony is brilliant, a certified genius. He knows without a shadow of a doubt that he’s dying. Even without the mural of scarring etching itself in an ever deepening tattoo into his chest, he can feel the blood in his veins turning thick and black. His heart pounding as it works overtime to clear the toxicity from his body. There is no known cure for it. There is no known disease like it.
But he says nothing. Has been trained since birth to keep it inside. Besides, who would he tell? Who will mourn him? His parents have been cold and in the ground for years and showed him little to no affection in life, why would he expect any in death? His small circle of friends may grieve but he knows it will pass quickly. So he does what he can to provide for them. Pepper gets the company, Rhodey gets the suit. And he continues playing up the loud, partying image. Distract, suppress and mislead.
Tony watches the world pass him by as he prepares to leave. Moving loudly through it while he can and screaming in silent panic on the inside. Not letting anyone know that he would maybe like someone to hold his hand, to tell him he will be okay. Because who would ever believe that Tony Stark, that Iron Man, is scared?
“… never told me he loved me, never even told me he liked me… You’re talking about a man whose happiest day of his life was shipping me off to boarding school.”
Tony so desperately wants to believe when Fury tells him he is wrong about his father. His eyes never leave Nick’s face. There is absolute naked want on his face. He doesn’t blink. He swallows convulsively. But in the end the years of constant negative reinforcement are just too much. No matter how much he wants to believe that Howard loved him, that his father wanted him as a son, Tony just can’t do it. Learning your father wanted you and maybe loved you at forty just doesn’t make the hurt any less. If anything it makes the conflict, confusion and rejection worse.
Just one more byline in Tony’s journal of nightmares and shadowed dreams.
Tony Stark has always had a depressive tendency. He can veer into suicidal territory incredibly quickly, usually in the name of the greater good but either way the path is laid in his personality.
He would never have felt as alone and close to giving up as when he knew he was dying from the palladium poisoning. To have survived the kidnapping. To have fought his way out what must have been an incredibly strong trigger on his depression in that cave. To have emerged literally a new man with a new purpose, a new vision on life only to have it snatched from his grasp must have been soul crushing.
In moments of extremes people naturally turn to family. Tony has no blood family left. No mother to love him, tell him him she is there. To hold him close, stroke his hair, let him bury his face in her shoulder and wipe his tears away.And even if she were still alive, his father would never allow it. Tony was raised by his father to never show weakness. To stand up as a man and push through. It. would go against everything in his nature to ask for help here.
No matter how much he wants to curl up into someone’s arms, if only for just a moment, he has no frame of reference to ask for any comfort. So, he pushes down natural tendencies, sublimates emotional needs and turns to the one person he knows he can rely on, the one person who has never pushed him away, who has always come through for …..himself.