Author's note: This chapter is sort of a mix between some different suggestions, along with my own plans. Of course, they had to deal with Tony's dislike of being handed things, and someone also suggested a story about how much Tony relies on his precious robots. :D
Bruce was back at work in the Helicarrier's lab when Natasha came in. "Dr. Banner," she said. "We'll be approaching the safe location in approximately thirty minutes. Anything you need to conduct the investigation should be packed up and moved to the unloading station."
"Thank you, Agent Romanoff," Bruce said tiredly, pulling his glasses off and looking around the room wearily. "...I haven't had any luck yet," he said. "I've been running the energy signature through every search I can think of. It's like… she's disappeared off the face of the planet."
Natasha nodded her acknowledgment. "Well, we know you're doing your best," she said. "Do you need any help packing up?"
"Sure," Bruce said putting his glasses back on. "We'll start with this right here…"
As Bruce and Natasha packed up the little they needed and Bruce transferred the crucial files to his Starkphone before erasing them from the SHIELD database, they didn't do much talking.
Once everything was packed up and they stood in the lab, Bruce looking around absently. "I think that's everything," he said.
"Good," Natasha said. "Now we just need to get Tony ready to move."
Bruce hesitated. "That's gonna be difficult," He said. "Especially since no one can touch him."
"Yeah, it's one part of the move I'm not looking forward to," Natasha said. "I think… I think we should have the med team do the actual preparation and move while we stand by, in case of accidental Playback."
"That sounds good," Bruce said. "Let's go tell the rest of the team."
They quickly located the others and told them their idea. Steve nodded, pursing his lips. "I think that would be a good idea," he said. "Notify the proper people, please."
Natasha nodded and took off, and the others returned to Tony's room. No one said anything, they simply waited, bracing themselves for the move, which would no doubt be difficult.
Finally, Natasha returned with a small medical team of their most trusted doctors and joined the other Avengers as they stood against the wall.
The medical team began preparing Tony for the move, and although they were careful, the inevitable happened, and one of the doctors touched Tony's wrist, and the world was whisked away.
Tony loved Pepper with all of his heart, and there was nothing that could change that, even when Tony did or said something he would later regret, she still loved him.
Not to say that she didn't find certain...quirks... of his to be silly or just plain ridiculous. But she loved him anyway, that was what made their relationship so special.
So whenever Tony insisted that he didn't like to be handed things, she just went with it.
Of course, after Pepper had worked for him for a few years, he started letting her hand him things, and since she was his PA and handled most of his stuff anyway, everything worked out.
But every once in awhile, someone would try to hand him something, and he wouldn't reach out and take it.
Luckily, he had perfected his persona of being generally difficult, so whenever such an event occurred, whoever tried to hand him anything would just inwardly roll their eyes at his insufferable nature and let Pepper take it from there.
But Tony wasn't trying to be snarky. He really didn't like to be handed things. Call it what you will, a psychological block, conditioning, or a simple eccentricity, he just wouldn't do it.
He supposed, when he thought it over to himself after such an event took place, that it was probably the second one, conditioning. Because really, it made sense. Usually, if he was handed something, it didn't turn out very good.
Like when he had been following his mother around at age five, and Maria, being rather bored and having had one too many drinks herself, had given Tony a glass of Tequila. Tony had taken it eagerly, always looking for ways to please his mother. He had spit his first sip back into the glass, but he had gotten angry when Maria laughed at him for it, and so finished it off, clenching his eyes shut as he tried to ignore the taste.
Jarvis had been furious when he found them too late, but Maria had only laughed harder when Tony announced he was feeling funny, and then she had spent the rest of that evening and the following morning teasing Tony throughout his first drunkenness and subsequent hangover.
Or the time at age eight when the new butler had handed Tony a "Present," only to grab Tony's wrist as he reached out to take it, and knock him out with chloroform. Tony had awoken later to find himself locked in a small room with no windows, where he stayed for a few days, alone except for when someone came in to give him food or to take his picture, until his father paid several ransoms and Tony was returned.
He still remembered his first day at college, when, completely oblivious to the ways of the world and overeager to make friends, he had introduced himself to one of his new classmates, along with an exuberant smile and an outstretched hand. The youth, a good four years older than Tony, who had gone to college at fourteen, had reached out to shake Tony's hand, and had then clenched his own, squeezing Tony's hand and sending a jolt of pain up Tony's arm, making him cry out.
The boy had then released him with a laugh and had mocked him for a little while, much to the overall amusement of the rest of the freshmen, who then began a very animated discussion, the sum of which consisted of bashing Howard Stark.
Tony's young age didn't help him in college any, and his height also played a role in his being bullied, which led to keep-away becoming a favorite among his freshmen classmates.
"Hey, Tony, I found your notebook," they would say, and Tony would reach out for it only to have it pulled out of reach. "Well?" The classmate would say. "Come and get it!" They would lower it within reach, and Tony would reach for it again, only to have it pulled away a second time, while whatever friends had come along with the classmate would stand by and laugh at him, which only served to frustrate Tony and make him desperately try and get it while it was constantly pulled out of reach.
After college, Tony's parents had died, and he found himself with absolutely nothing to do. College was over, and he and Obie had agreed that he wouldn't be ready to run Stark Industries until he was twenty-one. That left him with a lot of time on his hands.
At first, Tony had felt lost. He had nothing to do, nothing to keep himself busy. He had learned long ago not to leave the grounds without a bodyguard, and he didn't really want to be around people anyway. He had been feeling a deep hatred for people in general at the time, because he felt that they were all just out for a story.
With the death of his parents so recent, all the papers were clamoring for an interview with Howard Stark's "Survived by" only son, Tony. Sympathetic aristocrats visited often, wearing their somber dark colors and offering their condolences. Even at the funeral itself, Tony had had to keep himself together, because of the many cameras and flashing lights of people who didn't know Howard or Maria at all, and still dared to attend.
Even at the mansion, Tony wasn't really allowed to let himself go and really grieve, because of all the maids and butlers and cooks hanging around. Because, through any and all faults they might have had, Tony really did love his parents, and he felt a deep sense of emptiness and bitterness over their deaths. The house and everything in it seemed stained with silence and things unsaid, and it was driving him crazy.
So he had taken to the workshop, spending hours and hours down there where he could be alone. Since Obadiah didn't live at the mansion, and Tony didn't go anywhere, the cars were left unattended. And Tony owned them all now anyway, so he didn't feel it wrong for him to start working on them.
But there came the issue of tools. Since he often found himself working on parts located deep within the car, he soon became tired of having to stop his work to go in search of a tool. Obadiah suggested hiring an assistant, but Tony refused. Assistants were only human, after all, and Tony hated humanity at the time. After a few weeks of fetching his own tools, Tony had a stroke of inspiration, and began work on creating robotic assistants, assistants built for the sole purpose of fetching tools.
And so, Dummy, Butterfingers, and You were built. At first, he faced the problem of them never giving him the right tools, but after years, it seemed, they finally were able to tell the difference between a screwdriver and a wrench, and he began teaching them to do other things, like help him hold bits of machinery down while he worked on them, or work on one half of a project while he did the other, keeping a watchful eye on their progress as well.
He kept them around even after he took over the company, for when he wanted to get away from it all and hide out in the garage to work on his cars. He began to view them as... not really human, but... definitely more than simple unfeeling robotic arms. They were his pets, I suppose you could say. And he watched as they themselves developed hints of a personality over the years, until at times he almost forgot that they didn't feel, when he was engrossed in his work and found himself having one-sided conversations with them while they whirred and chirped in a half-language all their own.
When he finally took the job of running SI, he found himself slightly overwhelmed by the responsibility and having to deal with people. And so when Pepper came along and tried to hand him something for the first time, he was just as startled as she was when he ordered her to set it down on the table before he would pick it up. He masked it with a smirk and a snide comment, and she had rolled her eyes and asked if there were any other idiosyncrasies she should know about, and life had gone on. Tony had always said that someday, he'd work to get over this little quirk, but he had never gotten around to it, and really, it wasn't harming anything.
So now, Tony didn't like to be handed things.
When the elevator doors opened, Tony realized that the adrenaline rush that had kept him walking was spent. The few moments of being still while the elevator went down had been enough for him to shut down. But he had to get to the desk, he had to... to stop Obadiah from using his Arc reactor to power his suit.
Staggering forward, he didn't make it a step before he was down, on the floor. Still he tried to keep going, he crawled desperately toward the desk, where the old Arc reactor was encased in glass.
He needed no proof of his heart anymore, he could feel it himself, as it raced and pounded away in pain. He could barely breathe, it hurt so much, let alone stand up.
Reaching the desk, he stretched out his arm. It hurt so much... he couldn't do it... he HAD to do it...
It was so close, He could touch it with the tips of his fingers...
It was pushed away, and he fell hard. Just like always. He pushed away what he so desperately needed, and fell hard as a result.
He gasped and closed his eyes, the cool hard concrete a welcoming bed as everything began to go dark. At least he was here, in the workshop. At least he was at home.
There was a chirp and a whir. He looked up. Dummy had seen or, had sensed through the computer systems and heat signature monitors, what Tony was trying to do. And there, lowered within Tony's reach, was the Arc Reactor.
Tony smiled. You couldn't get that kind of life-saving trust with other humans. "Good boy," he rasped before taking the glass case and smashing it down to the ground. Glass flew everywhere, but he ignored it as he clutched the Reactor, clicking it into place. There was only one set of shrapnel he cared about right now.
Thank goodness his dependable, predictable pets were here to hand him things.
The room swam back into focus and Bruce took a deep breath in through his nose. Everyone shifted in their spots and pursed their lips, but having braced themselves, didn't show much more of a reaction in front of the SHIELD agents.
Natasha, observant as always, looked at the others inconspicuously, starting with Bruce, who was their biggest present concern. He looked a little green in the eyes, but seemed to be controlling himself very well. Next to him, Steve looked stunned. Knowing of the Super Soldier's own past, he was probably upset about the bullying that Tony had experienced as a child.
On the other side of Clint was Thor, who looked grieved, but slightly nonplussed, as if he weren't entirely sure of the circumstances surrounding the Arc Reactor, or the kidnapping. Clint, however, looked livid. Natasha felt the corner of her mouth turn up slightly, guessing that her partner was probably wishing once again that he had been there to do away with Obadiah himself.
"Excuse me," Bruce muttered then, and left the room. Natasha exchanged a glance with the others and then followed. She found Bruce a little ways away, leaning against the wall.
"You alright?" She asked him.
Bruce nodded. "...Yeah," he said. "I guess so. I just… It's so wrong."
"What is?" Natasha asked gently.
Bruce sighed and stood, pacing a little. "Everything about what we saw," he said quietly. "I don't even know where to start."
He paced a few more steps, and then turned to face her. "Actually, I do," he said. "His mom… giving him tequila? He was five. Five! How is that alright!?"
Natasha nodded, and Bruce continued. "I mean, my dad… Well, he… he drank. And when he drank, he did some… pretty bad stuff. But even he never… she just gave it to him! I've always resented that Tony drinks so much. I never really said anything, it's not my business, and for as long as I've known him, he's kept it mostly under control."
He glanced at Natasha again. "I know, he wasn't always like that, I read his file," he said. "But, I think he learned his lesson, he doesn't take more than he can handle, not anymore. But… I still resented it, having seen first hand what alcohol does to people… what it makes them become. And now I find that he hardly had any word in the matter, if he got his first taste when he was five!"
He spat the last word out with venom, and then resumed pacing. "And the kidnapping," he said, a little more softly. "I didn't know he'd been kidnapped as a kid."
"Well, he was a famous kid," Natasha said. "Always in the public eye, ever since he was born. And with his father's wealth and intelligence, it made him an easy target."
"That doesn't make it any easier to take in," Bruce said. "And college… I mean, I went through some tough times in college, but… I wasn't fourteen. No wonder he didn't like his classmates."
Natasha waited patiently for Bruce to continue.
"Honestly," Bruce said after a short pause. "If I had gone through everything Tony has… I wouldn't like to be handed things either."
Natasha nodded. "Everyone has their triggers," she said. "I guess Tony just knows how to pass his off as eccentricities."
Bruce nodded. "You know," he said. "Tony's never really done that with me. Refused to take things I've handed him, I mean. Even when we first met on the helicarrier, we worked together in the lab and it wasn't an issue."
Natasha tilted her head, considering it. "...I think," she said. "He was going out of his way to prove to you that you weren't a monster."
When Bruce just looked away, she continued. "What we considered reckless endangerment of the entire crew, he considered a challenge to be overcome. And he showed us all he was right."
Bruce still said nothing, and Natasha stepped forward. "I only wish I had believed him," she said. "Like I do now."
Bruce turned to her with a small smile. "Thanks," he said. "...That means a lot."
Natasha offered a small smile in return, still feeling a little surprised that she actually felt it. "We'd better get back in there," she said. "They'll be getting worried."
Bruce nodded, and together, they stepped back into the room.