He’d been a rambunctious baby, always getting into things he shouldn’t have. Sometimes he stared at his parents as if he couldn’t believe that he had them. Other times he was so fascinated with the radio that it was almost impossible to turn it off without him bursting into tears. He was also inordinately fond of sweets, getting into everything sugary (and if it was chocolaty all the better) and driving his nanny to fits because he shouldn’t have been able to get into the pantry, I’m sorry, sir!
So Tony Stark was a wild baby, although he became rather quiet later when it became clear that Howard Stark didn’t approve of him being loud and very obvious.
But he hated the quiet. He didn’t know why, but he always expected to hear people talking when there was no one around. When he was alone and not another soul was around, he would talk to himself, trying to fill up the silence with words. It just felt so wrong, and he had no idea why.
Still, Howard’s approval was terribly important, so he did his best to be quiet when he needed to be, even when he desperately yearned to be seen. Sometimes he looked over to Maria and wondered why. But then he didn’t know why it felt so odd to be the only son in the house; he would look over his shoulder, expecting to see someone behind him, only to be brought up short when there was nobody there. Sometimes, when he was working, he would look up, anticipating someone's voice, only to face utter disappointment when there was no one present.
He needed to not be alone, though there were times when he couldn’t stand to be around others because they never understood. He turned to inventing, making things with his hands because that was something he could do without needing to interact with others. And to fill up the silent spaces in his head, he played music – any kind of music he could get his hands on. Eventually he settled on the loud rock bands because those worked best to drown out what should’ve been there but wasn’t.
Then again, he had no idea what he was missing, only that something was. It was like you’d left the house and had the foreboding feeling that you’d left the oven on. Yet it was a dozen times worse, because Tony had the feeling that it was something essential for his sanity that he was missing.
Although he didn’t outgrow his desire for Howard’s approval, Tony did learn to hide it under a veneer of cockiness and a devil-may-care attitude. When he went to MIT, he gained the reputation of the crazy genius teenager who was always hyped up on sugar because he always had some sort of candy on him.
Although he was surrounded by people at MIT, he felt alone, adrift in a sea of people. It was why he built Dummy when he was seventeen, for sheer want of having someone there who could be with him without judgment. While Dummy couldn’t talk – Tony didn’t have the technology yet to make that possible – he was the silent companion that Tony needed.
After his parents passed away several weeks after he built Dummy, Tony felt even more alone. It also thrust him directly into the spotlight because he would now be expected to helm Stark Industries when he was old enough. The media, already so intrusive, became even more invasive in his everyday life, scrutinizing his every move. They noticed when he drank too much, trying to drown out the silence in his head when the music couldn’t; they noticed when he had too much sex, trying to find companionship when Dummy was unable to fill that space; they noticed when he didn’t sleep for days on end, too hyped up on sugar and the thought that he didn’t need to sleep, although he crashed hard for hours after those benders.
He met James Rhodes on one of those benders, and the man turned out to be the brother Tony had always wanted. Tony wouldn’t have wished his childhood on any siblings, but still Tony couldn’t help but think it would’ve been better if he had someone to talk to. Someone to fill up the silence in his head where there should’ve been a whole chorus. James Rhodes helped with that, although he was less accessible after he graduated and joined the army.
While Obadiah Stane took control of SI for the period of time Tony would need to finish grad school, Tony built two other artificial intelligences to keep him company. These two also didn’t have vocal capabilities, but he wanted Dummy to have brothers. You and Butterfingers were twins, having been built around the same time, but all three bots were extraordinarily close. It made Tony’s throat close up and him yearn for something he didn’t know he was missing.
When he took over Stark Industries after turning twenty-one, Tony didn’t stop trying to make himself a companion. Because of his busy status as one of the most important CEOs in America (if not the world), he couldn’t devote as much time to it as he would’ve liked. Even then, he went through dozens of PAs before finally hiring Virginia Potts, who actually managed his hectic and erratic schedule while putting up with his quirky nuances and eccentric habits. The one thing she never understood was why he had to have music playing at all times, but that seemed to be a general problem with everyone he knew.
Tony gave his best friends (and faux siblings) nicknames because that was just who he was. They were his family, albeit the ones he flirted with because he couldn’t help himself.
It was when he was thirty that Tony finally succeeded in building an AI with vocal capabilities and that he could always keep with him. JARVIS didn’t have a body, but that just meant Tony could carry him everywhere. JARVIS was the only one who understood that Tony couldn’t handle the silence because he’d been programmed to (which was slightly sad if you thought about it too hard, but then again JARVIS was also able to learn, so it wasn’t all bad).
Outside of his little personal bubble, Tony designed weapons. He never felt comfortable in doing so for whatever reason (he’d been raised to do this), so he scaled back the designs he could make that would result in mass destruction on a scale not seen since the first atomic bomb had been dropped. And the words Sodom and Gomorrah stuck in his head as his mind ran away with terrifying weapons while his hands designed run-of-the-mill bombs, camouflage suits, advanced surveillance equipment, and more that the army was demanding.
If the angel Gabriel had been responsible for destroying (smiting, something in him whispered) two sinful cities for a crime the Bible had never specified, Tony would be responsible for bombing the areas the United States went to war against.
At age thirty-seven, Obadiah pushed for him to travel to Afghanistan and demo his most dangerous weapon yet: the Jericho. Tony ordinarily wouldn’t have agreed, but something – that same sense that told him his head was too quiet – told him to go.
As it turned out, he probably shouldn’t have listened to that little voice. When it was all done and over, he woke up in a cave with an electromagnet in his chest that was powered by a car battery. Thus followed three months of torture, pretending to give up, building the arc reactor, and then building the most badass metal suit ever to have existed in order to escape.
His friend and savior died as he escaped, but his parting words did tell Tony that he should do more with his life than just try to get by with roaring silence in his head (so much worse than it had been before because there was nothing to fill it with) and the sense that everything was wrong, wrong, wrong.
It’s at the point where he blasted out of the hold of the terrorist cell that had captured him and crash landed in the sand of the Afghanistan desert that this story truly begins.