tony stark is seven years old.
he’s just drawn up his first plans to build an artificial intelligence; they’re crude and barely decipherable unless you’re used to cracking the code that was a seven year old genius’ handwriting, but they’re his, and that fact is so much more important than the fact that he’s the only heir to stark industries. as he holds the finished plan in his hands, he feels hope where his hands touch the cheap (well, as cheap as a multi-millionaire like howard stark would be willing to buy) printer paper, and sees a future where he is feverishly, undeniably happy where the pen made marks that turned into outlines and words. tony vibrates within his skin, joy palpable and almost visible within the very air, and feels himself glowing green with bay wreathes that seem to wind themselves around his chubby children’s arms and crawl up to his fingers, oddly long and thin. tony stark has inventor’s fingers at seven years of age, and the dim light of his bedside lamp piercing the darkness of the room isn’t bright enough to illuminate all of the plans that he’s too young to understand but old enough to know that he will inherit set out in front of him.
padding down his corridor, tony hopes upon all hopes that his father won’t mind him showing the finished plan. he hasn’t named the artificial intelligence yet, but he hopes that the plan will be good enough to win his father’s approval, and maybe they can make his father turn around to face him before laughing and hoisting tony up onto his knee like he’s seen all the daddies do in the commercials of programs he watches on television when jarvis is too busy to play with him. he finally reaches the room downstairs that his father uses as a lab when he can’t be bothered to go all the way to the stark complex and takes a deep breath, closing his eyes before knocking exactly three times. he lets himself imagine the bay wreathes curling protectively around him
“come in,” says the booming voice on the other side of the door. the voice of tony’s father was unfamiliar to him, the boy unaccustomed to hearing his father when he wasn’t shouting at him. tony is too young to know what being drunk means, but he doesn’t think he remembers a time where howard didn’t slur his words and didn’t smell like something sharp and forbidden.
“hello, dad! i made a plan for an artificial intelligence. do you want to look at it with me?” tony’s words sound stilted, even to him. the nervousness he feels at being confronted with a man who’s both his greatest fear and best protector cuts him like an icy knife to his core, and he can feel the bay wreathes wrapped around him wilting.
he takes a step closer to the desk at the other side of the room, anyway. maybe his father just didn’t hear him, or is containing his excitement. tony’s wide brown eyes fix on the man in the chair with his back turned to him.
suddenly, the chair scrapes back, quick as lightning and not much quieter.
without the man himself turning around to even look at tony (like the boy isn’t worth his father’s time- as if the boy isn’t worth anything) he shouts, the sudden noise so loud that tony almost flinches. he almost flinches before he catches himself in time; flinching always, without exception, made whatever punishment howard deems necessary worse.
“what have i told you about interrupting my work, anthony?” howard blares, sounding like every single nightmare tony had woken up from, gasping in the middle of the night, sheets soaked with sweat and urine and shame.
“i’m sorry, father,” tony mumbles, taking small steps backwards until he’s out of the makeshift lab and in the hallway, where he lets himself break down and sob, bambi eyes spilling over onto his face and staining everything he loves with his childish weakness.
he feels the imaginary bay wreath die between his fingers, green leaves rotting away and crumbling until he’s too alone in a world that can’t seem to love him.
tony stark is thirty-eight years old, and he doesn’t have to beg iron to love him. well, it’s a titanium alloy, but it’s not like the general public are all too interested in technicalities where his creations are concerned. all that matters is that tony stark saves people, and he does it well. he has to, or the burden of self-hatred and guilt becomes too heavy for him to bear, which is where the alcohol helps. it’s all too fitting that the poison of his choice, whiskey, was also the favourite of his greatest fear and best protector, howard. tony grins darkly, feeling bitterness wind deep down into his chest, into his very heart to nestle right next to the arc reactor. howard hadn’t protected anyone, but tony hadn’t known that at the wide eyed age of seven. howard took away tony’s childhood, and for that, tony will never truly forgive him.
the roar of music grows deafening over the speakers. it’s too loud, especially as he’s been exposed to it for the entirety of the forty hour bender he’s been on, but tony doesn’t care.
he barely cares about anything but his scraps of metal and his women and his alcohol. that’s all that tony cares about, all that’s safe to care about. tony stark scratches a hand across his chest, trying to lessen the pull of the black hole inside his chest that takes and takes and takes until he’s not sure where it starts and he ends. he thinks he will never care about another human being again. he’s been literally kicked and beaten down one too many times to ever take that chance.
he thinks of the bay wreaths he imagined for himself so long ago in blessed childhood naivety and cries.