Finding the Path

Disclaimer: I do not own any of these characters, as they belong to Marvel.  Also, this may not be exactly accurate with the timeline, as I have adjusted certain events for this story. 

The world is not fair.  That was one of the first lessons that Tony ever learned.  Seriously, it was as if his father had whispered it in his ear every night.  Of course, there was no need to be that blunt.  Tony could see it clearly enough when his mother had tucked him in, promising him that his father would be back tomorrow.  Always tomorrow.

Why? But he had kept that part to himself, instead only smiling for her.  And if his heart was a little tougher, and his walls built up a little higher, well she was none the wiser to it.

People would always look at him, at the long hours Tony spent locked away, trying to make his ideas a reality, but none of them would truly observe.  Because if they did, they would see the calluses that had been there for years, the faraway look in his eyes.   They might realize that his movements were smooth not because he was graceful (as far from it as possible actually), but from years of practice.

But nobody sees it, because no one cares long enough to observe.  And so little by little, the hours build up.  And little by little, he finds his home in the wires and panels of the machines he builds.  Tony really likes them though, likes them for their definite answers and reliability. They become part of him, as much a part of him as the face and hair and eyes that stare at him from the mirror.  As much a part of him as the genes in his cells.  In fact they are almost more than a part of him as he can trust them more than any human alive.  And in a world full of machines, who can argue that they aren’t more reliable than people?

And his mother never notices that it had started around the time Tony realized that his father was a very busy man, and didn’t have time to read to him or play ball with him. Well, she doesn’t say anything anyways.  But it was fine, because Tony had his mind and his machines and he didn’t need anyone to tell him good night.

Maybe for some, leaving home to go to school is terrifying.  But for Tony, it was like a breath of fresh air.  Because acting had always been rather natural to him.  And in the social environment, he excelled.

Between his tedious classes, the maps and blueprints of his mind, and the facade of a crowd pleaser (or arrogant rich boy, whichever you prefer), he had his work cut out for himself.  And when Tony lay in his dorm room at night, he did not think about his silent phone or the quiet night air closing in on him.  He did not.  Because Tony’s mind worked best alone.

By the time Tony had left boarding school, the novelty of the spotlight had worn off, but he kept it up anyway.  Perhaps he was trying to hide something behind it, though he had no idea what. Tony had long given up the hope that his father looked his way when he did something.  It had died when he made his first robot.

And as the years went on, Tony found that adding a biting insult or sarcastic comment helped when he just wanted the silence.  Helped when his mind overloaded and thoughts imploded inward, and his head was a mess of numbers and he just couldn’t think.  Helped when he found out his closest friend had joined the military.  Helped when he got the call from the hospital that his parents had gotten in a car accident.  When Tony realized that he was now the CEO of his father’s business.

Well, maybe they didn’t always work (but no one would ever hear him admit that), but they worked every time it mattered.

—————————————————

Tony is not an easy person to get along with.  And he knows that.  In fact, he makes an effort to let everyone around him know.  Why?  Because it honestly makes his life easier.  With no one to bother him, he can focus on his next idea, his next creation.  And, for a while, this works.  He purposely doesn’t think about Afghanistan.

He purposely doesn’t think about how being alone that time didn’t help him at all.  That maybe having someone with him when he demonstrated his tech to the military could have changed the horrible events that came after.  Or about the desperation that drove him to build what might be his greatest creation, the Iron Man suit out of  a box of scraps in a cave.  But what Tony does think is the fact that the event had only proved what he had always known.  That the only person he could truly count on was himself.  Because it was his own ingenuity that had managed to  him out of there.

Of course being involved with S.H.I.E.L.D. changed everything.

Tony should have known the first time he had seen S.H.I.E.L.D.’s director Nick Fury that it was a bad idea.  But he hadn’t had much of a choice.  The secret agency had him up against a wall, and they wanted him to join them, of his free will or not.  Tony could see that he had no choice, and so snarks at the director with a casual smirk on his face.   His insults are only fueled further by the fact that the look in the man’s eyes reminds him way too much of his father.  And that’s never a good thing.

Tony almost doesn’t notice the fiery redhead.  But maybe it would have been better if he hadn’t, because the S.H.I.E.L.D. agent’s glare in return to his smart comment makes him wonder if he’s going to die inconspicuously in the next couple days.

Unfortunately for him, the redhead, Natasha Romanoff, is also the one writing up his file.  And she’s clearly not impressed with him.  And no, it’s not a surprise that the agency only wants him for his tech.  Tony’s completely used to that.  It’s how it always is. It’s always about his money.  He doesn’t think he can name off a single person that is around him for a reason that doesn’t involve money.  And no, his A.I. doesn’t count, no matter how much Tony wishes he did.

He’ll admit that it stings a little that while they want his suit on board, they don’t want him.  But he never wanted to be a part of the Avengers anyway.  If he has to be a part of this project of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s, tech consultant is probably his best option.

Also, Tony will be the first to admit that the suit is the best part of him.   It’s probably the most brilliant thing he’s ever made, the technology miles ahead of anyone else.  The suit itself runs on clean energy.

And to make another point, while Tony Stark is quite frankly, a jerk, Iron Man is considered a hero.  And even if it’s rather pitiful, Tony would be happy to hide behind the façade of a hero for just a little bit longer.  And it’s quite symbolic, that Tony would be hiding behind another mask.  But he’ll take it, because it gives his life more meaning than anything else.

Meeting Steve Rogers, the famous soldier Captain America, and Dr. Bruce Banner, the scientist who just happens to turn into the Hulk when he gets mad, goes just about the way Tony expected.  Banner actually doesn’t seem too upset by his remarks.   But Rogers seems to be on Romanoff’s side and only glares more when Tony can’t seem to keep his mouth shut.  But basically, it seems that none of the Avengers seem to trust him.  And then they have to fight.

Glancing around him, Tony wonders what he is doing on a team of superheroes.  Because honestly, between Captain America, Hulk, two former assassins (because Romanoff seems to have found a friend) and Thor (because apparently Norse gods are real), he kinda stands out.  While he’s not the only human, he is the only one who’s hiding away in a metal suit.

Somehow this ends up leading to all of them moving in with Tony.  Apparently they fought pretty well all together, so now they have to bond or something.  And so Tony turns one of his company headquarters into the Avengers Tower.

It takes him a while to get used to the fact that he is now living with five other people.  Despite the space in the tower, Tony still manages to run into at least one of them ever once in while.  Even so, it still shocks him every time either Romanoff or Barton (Clint Barton being Romanoff’s friend assassin) comes around a corner.  Or when Tony comes into the living room only to see Banner teaching Thor about Earth’s culture.

On one memorable day, he comes up to grab coffee only to see all five of them eating breakfast together.  Rogers is cooking eggs, and there’s bowls of sugary cereal all over the large counter.  The team looks extremely happy, all of them relaxed and without a care in the world.

But instead of walking over, he simply turns and takes his coffee cup back with him down to his workshop. Tony will leave them to their bonding time.  That’s what this is all about anyway, the team coming together.   He didn’t need to be present for that anyway.

Besides despite the fact that they had all fought together, he knew what his job was here.  Those machines don’t build themselves.

Only he doesn’t know when Monday movie night became a thing. Or when Natasha and Bruce started dragging him out of the workshop every night.  Or when Thor decided that Saturdays were going to be team bonding days (and wasn’t that thought terrifying, knowing what hi- no the team could get up to).  But what was even more scary was the fact that Tony didn’t protest when Clint trapped him on the couch, and forced him to watch reality shows.  Or that he didn’t mind when Steve wanted him to spar with him.  And when had he started calling them all by their first names?

But all Tony knows is that suddenly he’s wishing that he was more than a consultant to the Avengers.

But he’s not, and so Tony just goes on with his life.  And he doesn’t think about how much they all smile at him when he leaves his workshop for the living room. And Tony would like to think he’s getting pretty good at ignoring it.  But Tony would also like to forget the joke Clint made last night, and that’s clearly not happening.

Instead, Tony goes back to his tech.  It’s been a habit for years, why not continue the trend?

But something has changed.  And the most obvious evidence is in the fact that suddenly the amount of projects he has skyrockets.  Because suddenly Tony finds himself not only repairing his own suit along with stuff from Fury, but also working on projects for the team.

During one battle, Natasha almost dies, and Tony remembers suddenly how vulnerable they all are.  Remembers how not all of them have a metal suit to protect them.  And the next day he’s working to create a material that can be extremely tough yet flexible.  Then one day Tony notices how the silverware in the kitchen seems to be mysteriously disappearing.  The cause turns out to be Thor’s strength, as he is continuously breaking them.  A couple days later, the problem has been averted, and Tony has a new blueprint for enhanced spoons filed away in his brain.

And all while, Tony keeps adjusting his suit.  It’s come so far since that first suit, that he made all those years ago.  But he needs it to be in pristine condition.   One malfunction could cost not only his life, but the whole teams’.  However, the extra work means his hours are stretching longer into the nights, and he’s gathering quite the collection of coffee cups in his workshop.

Tony regrets this fact later, because maybe if he had been more awake, he would have remembered that the repulsor in his left boot (you know, the ones that allow him to fly) was slightly glitched from a previous battle.  But somewhere in between designing new arrows for Clint, because even S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Barton has to admit that his arrows are much better than anything S.H.I.E.L.D. engineers can produce, and improving the security of the tower, he had forgotten all about it.  And as he crashes through a nearby window, he can hear his communication unit, voices shouting loudly through, cut out along with his suit.

Tony stares in slight shock as his helmet is pulled off, and suddenly he can see his whole team gathered around him, casually ripping off pieces of his suit.  He’s still trying to figure out where the building went, as he’s now in the street.  Looking to the side, he realizes that the building in question is now in flames.

Later he might wonder about what Director Fury thinks as they carelessly toss his expensive tech into the flames.  But instead he simply stares at them.  Stares at them, trying to picture why the Avengers are saving their consultant over helping with the rescue efforts.  Tony can only imagine the damages this last villain might have dealt.

But none of them are leaving.  And as they check his body over for injuries, all he can ask is “Why?”

“You know, I thought you were smarter than that?  Aren’t you supposed to be the genius?”  Tony looks blankly at Clint, who simply gives him an exasperated glance.  In fact, the whole team, even the still hulked out Bruce seems to be giving him the same look.

“Hey, this is a team.  And I don’t know if you noticed, but you happen to be part of it.” Steve says it slowly, as if explaining it to a small child.  Tony wonders if he missed something.  Nevertheless he decides to play a visit to Fury, because as far as he knows, his file still says not recommended.

—————————————————

Still, it isn’t until they’re in the middle of a another fight when Tony finally realizes what they meant.  And in that moment, he realizes that’s exactly what he wants.  Realizes that being here, fighting with these people and covering their backs while they cover his is exactly where he wants to be.  Realizes that here is a place that he fits in, where his jagged edges are not forced to smooth but are instead embraced.

That being here with his team (and now it’s official, the document was even signed by Fury) has finally given him a path, a road, a direction.  That they’re now the thing he thinks about, the thing that connects him to reality.  That they have managed to do what only his work could do before.  And that this is so much better.

Tony understands what they really mean when they talked about being “part of the team”.

And instead of running away and hiding away behind blueprints and tools and Iron Man suits, he throws away the nicknames the media gives him.  The ones that say he is a selfish, rich CEO who only cares for himself.  And he throws himself into the battle.

Because they’re more than his team, they’re his family.  And he would never chose any machine, even his suit, over them.  

 

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