Includes a scenario from in Big Bang Theory, and a passing reference to Pushing Daisies. It was written to be gen, but slash goggles can be applied.
Written as a response to a prompt at AvengerKink. The request was for a fic where Tony has never been hugged properly before.
The Group Hug Project
When he was young, Tony had run away from home and pretended to cry in the middle of the street. He had hoped that a stranger would take pity on him, ask what was wrong, and give him a comforting hug.
He had learnt about stranger-danger in school, somehow Tony associated his parents with strangers and actual strangers with potential and hope.
But he lived in a big city, with people rushing around the streets with places to go, and no one had spared him a glance. Each person assumed that the next to cross his path would have the time and patience to talk down a distraught child. Tony had cried so hard and for so long, that he threw up on his sneakers. From there the tears became real, because the young boy realized that no one would help him.
Tony had sat in front of the mall from opening till closing. He was half asleep when the security guard, on the way to his night shift, had noticed the child curled up under a discarded specials catalogue.
When asked where his parents were, Tony was too ashamed to tell the truth, so he shrugged and said he didn't know. If he wasn't wearing $600 clothes he would have claimed he was an orphan.
He'd fallen asleep, or passed out from hunger, while the guard was waiting for the police to come. When he woke he had been relocated to the police station, curled on the couch with a uniform jacket draped over him.
Tony had started crying again. He had missed being carried during the journey, and slept through the physical contact that he'd so desperately wanted.
When his mother had come to take him home, she hadn't even held his hand as they'd walked out of the station.
Tony watched Bruce shiver, although the movement was more a convulsion than anything. A prolonged transformation had left him weak, but each of the Avengers had done their part to make sure he was safe. Thor had carried him home, Clint had wiped him down, removed dirt from the skin, Steve had bandaged him up and Natasha had tucked blankets around his battered form.
It was Tony's job to watch him. The others had joked that it shouldn't be too hard a job for the playboy. It didn't require that he actually care about Bruce, just that he care about his own sheets, as Bruce was in Tony's spare bed.
So he watched as the other scientist curled up, his body screaming out for the same physical comfort that Tony had desired when he was young.
After a few moments, he towed the shoes off his feet and approached the bed, unsure of how to proceed.
He crawled above the covers and over to the shaking form. Gently, he lowered himself down, his body covering the other's with his arms on either side. He felt like a makeshift blanket, but held himself stiff so that he was not putting too much pressure on the injured man. It was awkward and uncomfortable, and lasted only a few minutes before his back cramped from his own injuries and he was forced to roll off.
It was no use, Tony decided. He was supposed to watch over Bruce but he couldn't do that without feeling guilt and wanting to comfort the man, and he couldn't provide Bruce with the comfort he needed because... because he just couldn't.
Swearing under his breath, Tony shuffled from the bed, rose and replaced his shoes.
"JARVIS," he called, "keep me updated on Banner's condition." He stalked across the room and flung open the door. "I've gotta get out of here."
Going down the hall and a brisk pace\ Tony aimed for his laboratory, but took the longer way around the building. He had hoped to run into another one of the Avengers, whom he could direct towards Bruce's room to provide the weakened scientist with what Tony couldn't.
He was on his second lap of the halls when he came across Thor, who was dressed in only a towel and was glistening from his recent shower.
"Son of Stark! I was just about to relieve you of your duty, so that you might have the opportunity to bathe." His bright smile faltered slightly, "But I see you have left your post already. You have been granted reprieve?"
Tony shrugged. "Not really, I just need to head to the lab." He caught the look on the god's face, "but he's doing fine. He's sleeping... You're welcome to watch him sleep if you're into that sort of thing; I'm not one to judge."
"You would abandon your comrade in his time of need? You are not the man I thought you were, Anthony Stark." Thor shook his head, looking downcast as he moved off towards Bruce's room.
Tony felt something indignant rise in him, and he moved himself into the god's path. "Hey, it's not like that. I..." He swallowed, "It's not like I can do any good in there anyway."
"You can support your friend in his time of need. That is to do good." The Asgardian spoke in a much softer tone than Tony would have thought him capable of, "Allowing oneself to comfort another, just as needing that comfort, is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of respect for the other." He clasped a hand on Tony's shoulder briefly, "If I respected you then I would feel no shame in seeking your aid, nor in providing you with anything you required. It is a friend's duty"
The words rang in his brain. 'If' he'd said, 'If I respected you'.
"I'm not ashamed," Tony snapped.
"Yet you refuse Bruce the solace he desires."
There was a tense moment, where Tony decided if he would be smote for telling the god to fuck off and Thor simply tilted his head. The billionaire knew that the muscle bound blond was not half as dim as most thought. He had the bluntness and morals of a slightly advanced child, but he was nowhere near lacking in intelligence. It took a moment, but then realization spread across the taller being's face and his form slumped slightly. It was clear he was struggling to keep the pity from his face.
"You are as my brother."
"Loki's first instinct is to withdraw from affection, yet I believe it is what he craves beyond all else."
And then Thor stepped forward, pulling Tony close to him and against his bare chest, arms pinning Tony's to his sides. It took a moment for the playboy to realize what was going on; that he was being hugged.
He wasn't able to move, nestled in the middle of a giant muscular felt like he was trapped in a human crawl-space, sheltered from the world and its complexities.
"I failed Loki," Thor's chest rumbled, "I refuse to lose another brother due to my inattentiveness."
When he was six, Tony had given up on human contact and instead turned to machines. His first circuit-board hadn't provoked the pride and affection from his father that Tony had hoped for, and so he kept his first motor to himself, not willing to admit to what he was planning to use it for.
He stole his mother's long formal gloves, and a fluffy towel from the bathroom. He put the motor into the back of the device and pressed the 'On' button.
As he leant into the machine, the mechanical arms circling him, Tony closed his eyes. He knew of the studies with monkeys, where their infants would choose a towel covered mother over one who supplied food. An ideal mother, Tony knew, would have provided both, and so he had installed a little cupboard inside his robot where he could store snacks that he'd smothered from the kitchen.
He had ripped apart one of his pillows, and used the filling to stuff the long gloves, so that his robot's arms were not simply cloth covered metal bars. He'd studied human anatomy, the bones and joints in the arms and replicated them exactly.
The mechanical limbs circled him awkwardly, and he leant against the towel covered body and tried to imagine the beating of a heart beneath his ear.
For all he knew, it was as comforting as a real hug would be.
Tony decided that the failure in his robotic design, all those years ago, was that he had focused too much on the arms that he hadn't realized it was the chest which made a hug.
But he did now, thanks to Thor; although said chest could probably have been covered by a t-shirt or something without loosing any intimacy.
After the hug, the god had gone to take care of Bruce so that there was no damage done there.
The next day, Tony discovered that Thor seemed to think a grievous error had occurred. However, it was not in relation to Tony's treatment of Bruce, but rather of everyone's treatment of Tony.
The billionaire playboy had been making coffee; the expensive and chocolaty kind. There had been some left over in the pot and Natasha had been coming into the room. She was limping slightly from a past fight, her hair dishevelled from sleep, but she had still smiled at him in a warm greeting.
He had offered her the remnants of the coffee in return.
Then, two arms had gone around his neck and red curls blocked his vision. "Thank you, Tony."
With one limb holding to coffee pot out so that she wouldn't get burned, he placed one arm around her waist.
It reminded him, slightly, of being in the clubs. Both his hands would be resting just on the top curve of the woman's behind, but her hands would be on his neck at arm's length and their lower bodies the only part that pressed together. Occasionally there would be boob contact, but that was only when leaning in to whisper dirty things.
Tony kept his hand at a respectful distance from the assassins behind, but didn't need to push themselves together as he would have otherwise. She stood close, naturally flush against him. It only lasted a moment, but it finished with a friendly peck on his cheek before she stole the coffee pot from his grip.
Steve had been less subtle that Natasha, and somehow less awkward too. It may have been because Natasha's affection had seemed a strange and random experience, where as Steve at least explained what was going on.
The super-soldier had sought Tony out, coming down into the laboratory that afternoon with a ham and cheese sandwich balanced on a plate. He knocked on the glass door rather than using the bell and speaker. It had taken a moment for Tony to hear the thumping over the sound of his music, only noticing the disturbance when it went out of time with the bass.
Tony turned his music down, looking over to the man clad in olive green with the most earnest bright blue eyes. He opened the door to allow Steve access to his inner sanctum, something that the other seemed reluctant about. Whether it was because of the amount of technology in the room or Tony's presence that disturbed him, Tony wasn't sure.
"Yeah, 'Hi'," Tony mocked. "Nice sandwich."
"It's yours," Steve took a few steps in and put the plate on the table. "I mean, it's for you."
"Thanks man." Tony said casually, somewhat worried about why the Boy Scout was making food for him. He took a bite of the sandwich to show Steve that he was going to eat, thinking that if he demonstrated that he was actually consuming the food that Steve would go back to wherever he came from. Except for the part where he didn't, and instead stood like a lost pup waiting for some kind of cue.
"I'm sorry, did you want half or something?"
"No it's fine, but thanks for the offer... I... Err... Thor's told all of us that we have to be more," he made a vague gesture, "physically affectionate with you."
Tony blinked. "I'm sorry: who said what?"
"Men... weren't really affectionate with each other where I come from," There was slight crease between Steve's brows as he drove himself to continue, staring at the floor several feet behind and to the side of Tony, "But everyone deserves to know that they're cared about, and they say actions speak louder than words, so..."
Steve looked Tony in the eyes for a moment, who realized a moment too late what was going to happen. Steve threw one arm around his shoulders, the muscular limb reaching right around his back to clasp his hand onto the opposite shoulder. He gave it a few hearty pats, and then supplied Tony with a tight squeeze against his broad chest before releasing him.
It was a quick and friendly hug, which didn't feel as out of character as Steve had preempted.
Hawkeye surprised Tony the next day by jumping him from behind. The billionaire had been walking through the main entertainment room when he heard something heavy drop from the roof behind him. He suspected that it was Clint, as the man was always hanging in the rafters like some kind of... well... bird.
But before Tony could turn around a pair of arms wrapped around his chest from behind.
He felt Clint shrug and press his cheek against Tony's shoulder blade. "Just accept the love, man."
Tony shifted a little, feeling a little like he was getting some kind of emotional Heimlich. "... Are you stoned."
The laugh sent vibrations through his back, "Nah. Banner's cleared to go back to work, though, so I'm kind of happy about that. You should go see him."
"Yeah, I'll do that."
"... You kinda have to let me go first."
When he was in college, Tony didn't have any friends. People assumed he was arrogant and an alcoholic, even though he wasn't quite old enough to drink. He would fall asleep in class, his focus soft and unable to be attracted to anything. He was always tired from partying, they said, and too arrogant to even attempt to study, even though he consistently got the highest marks in the class.
He was also given special allowances in regards to his dorm. While normally students were not allowed pets, because of the money Tony put into the college they overlooked his golden retriever.
However, Tony never went out at night; he was too sluggish and drowsy to party. He took three times the amount of allergy meds specified on the box, just so that he could be in the same room as Tesla.
He would wake up sneezing, his whole body aching from the convulsions, and eyes swollen shut and itching.
But he would pop open the lid of his prescription and down a near handful of pills. He would lie in bed, trying so hard not to scratch at his eyes and clutching tissues to his nose. He would wheeze reassurances at Tesla, who would sit in the bedroom door and whine at his master's distress, knowing he was not allowed inside until he got the all-clear.
Then, Tony would smile, and Telsa would cautiously approach the bed so that the genius could throw his arms around his dog's form and bury his face in his fur. He would press the warm, breathing form close to him.
Even with the pills and the regular shots, having a dog that close to him wasn't entirely comfortable, but it was worth it. Unconditional love was worth a few sneezes.
Bruce was working quietly in his lab, Tony watched him from beyond the glass for a while, feeling a little disconnected. Apart from the surreal, yet touching efforts of his Avenging teammates, Tony felt guilty and inadequate. Sure, he was getting more used to affection, and he now knew a few different hug types that he could deploy if necessary, but it still remained that he had left Bruce alone because of his issues.
He seemed okay though. The scientist was moving gingerly around the benches, but still handled the work with his usual grace.
Tony wiped sweaty palms on his jeans before knocking on the door. He could have easily hacked the lock, but considering he had come to apologize it wasn't the smoothest move he could have done. So he showed the due respect to the occupant, who seemed surprised at the consideration as he approached the door and poked his messy head out into the hall.
"Hi, Tony, is something wrong? Did I forget another meeting?"
He snorted, "I wouldn't care if you did, that's Fury's problem. Can I come in for a sec?"
"Yeah, sure." He pushed the door open and gestured for Tony to come in, the lines on his face were deep with suspicion. "Do you need help with a project?"
"No, no." Tony scratched the back of his head. "I just wanted to apologize for a few days ago."
"Ah," Bruce took his glasses off so he could scrutinize Tony. "You're forgiven, I suppose, if you just tell me what you're apologizing for."
Shifting, Tony frowned. He had assumed Thor would have told Bruce about him abandoning his post. Apparently he had underestimated the god's tact, and he was now left in the position to own up to his failings as a caregiver. However, there was something about Bruce that made Tony want to impress him. He'd never been around another scientist that could keep up with him, and such a massive personal failing was not something he wanted to reveal.
Then again, Bruce had his own demons in his closet, and not all of them were green. He'd read the buried files about Bruce's family; his mother's murder by the hand of Bruce's abusive father. It wasn't something that Tony wanted to think of too deeply.
So instead of thinking, Tony took a step towards Bruce and wrapped one arm around his shoulders and the other around his waist.
It had, Tony hoped, the friendliness of Steve's hug coupled with the security of full body contact.
It was awkward. He wasn't sure if he was squeezing tight enough, or of his hand was placed at the right height. The other man's waist didn't have the same definition as Natasha's, and so he wasn't sure where to place his hand. It was well above the hem of Bruce's pants, though, so that was something.
But he was holding his neck stiffly, unsure of which direction to turn or lean his head. It probably didn't help that Bruce was standing rigid in his arms.
Tony wondered if this was how he had felt in the arms of all his friends, or whether he was hugging wrong.
"Is this, you know, okay?"
"No. I-It's fine."
"I've..." Tony swallowed feeling small, "I've never actually done this before."
"That's okay," Two hands rested themselves hesitantly on Tony's back, "Neither have I."