The first time it happened—or rather the first time Edwin Jarvis was aware of it happening—Tony Stark was only three and a half years old.
The boy had entered Howard’s lab and had managed to scavenge enough parts to make a small circuit board.
Edwin had been very impressed and so had his wife Ana and the boy’s mother Maria.
In Howard’s case, however, that wasn’t the case at all. The man had been furious and had dragged his son off to somewhere.
When Tony returned to Jarvis, he was crying and rubbing his cheek.
Edwin knelt down next to Tony and did his best to comfort the boy, but Tony just wouldn't look at him, so he gently moved the small jaw slightly upwards with his index finger.
That turned out to be a mistake, because as soon as they made eye contact, Tony flinched and started crying again. He curled himself into a ball, grabbed his hair with both hands, and muttered under his breath.
“What seems to be the problem, young Master Tony?” Edwin asked as he stroked the boy’s back. “I am afraid I cannot help you if you don’t tell me the problem.”
The boy’s head moved, but he seemed to be focusing on the butler’s forehead.
“When I looked Dad into the eyes, I saw him crashing in a car,” he stuttered, still crying. “And I saw the same thing when I looked into your eyes. You died. You died and you left me behind.”
Edwin moved his arms around the boy and pressed him towards his chest.
The rumors James Rhodes had heard of Tony Stark were shockingly far from the truth.
He was well aware that the media and school gossip got many things wrong, but it was hard to believe that anyone could be so wrong.
Tony Stark did try to flirt with him—and just about everyone else—but James could see in the boy's eyes that it was more out of duty than out of interest.
He proposed that they leave together and—once they were alone—clarified that he was not interested.
“Thank God,” the boy responded.
“Why are you doing it if you hate it?” Rhodey questioned, looking the boy into the eyes.
Tony flinched. “It is preferable to the consequences. And, please, don't ever do that again.”
“What, look you in the eyes?”
Tony nodded. “Exactly. I just really don't like it.”
While that was admittedly quite odd, Rhodey just accepted it as one of the many eccentricities of Tony Stark.
It wasn't until years later that he discovered that there was actually a good reason behind that behavior.
When Tony was eighteen, he had his very first kiss.
The rumor mills and media had everyone believe that he had lost his virginity before even arriving at the MIT—and he had gotten there when he was twelve. Anyone they imagined he had sex with would have been committing pedophilia.
But now he finally felt ready to slip into this role and actually do something like that. It was only after he had gotten to know Sunset—he had laughed, too—really well. He hadn’t dared to look into her eyes out of fear what he might have seen.
In retrospect, that was the wrong choice.
They kissed and she had dropped dead.
Then a paramedic who had been trying to comfort him had stroked Tony’s hair aside with a bare hand and had done the same.
Further experiments proved, that he did indeed kill everything he touched, though thankfully he didn’t rot his food.
There were many things Pepper Potts expected when she started working with the newly appointed head of Stark Industries—as he had finally turned twenty one—Tony Stark.
Being told to wear gloves was not one of them.
“I sometimes experiment outside of my lab,” the genius tried to explain and Pepper knew he wasn't looking into her eyes, even if he tried to pretend he did. “Occasionally, I leave chemicals out and about and forget about them.”
She didn't believe it for a second.
“Alright. Anything else I should know?”
“I forget appointments, deadlines, and meetings like they're going out of fashion. I have terrible impulse control. I don't like looking people in the eyes, being handed things or any other form of physical contact—sex excluded, of course.”
Pepper might not be a genius, but she was good with people. She could tell that that smile was forced. He did not really mean what he was saying, but she choose not to ask as it really wasn't her place to do so.
“Will that be all, Mr. Stark?” she responded instead, careful to keep a professional tone.
“That will be all, Miss Potts,” he confirmed, his smile growing into a real one.
“Don't touch me!” Tony yelled in protest. All the pain didn't matter. He couldn't let that happen.
He had actually wanted to die for a long time, tried it even, but Death apparently didn’t want him.
The single man that wasn't glaring at him—the one that looked like a Doctor and seemed to be trying to help—held up his hands.
He wore gloves and gave him a tired smile.
“After several of their man dropped dead while carrying you, they gave me these. Will you let me work now? I am trying to save your life. I hate loosing my patients.”
And something about the man just made Tony want to please him.
He dropped his protests.
Three months later, the man died.
And maybe, Tony could have prevented it, if he had dared to look the man into the eye.
The Loki incident was horrible, because of many reasons.
All those lives lost, all the destruction.
And Tony had looked the god in the eyes during their little confrontation.
It was the first time Tony had done that since, gosh, Rhodey—and had seen him falling out ot the sky in a suit just a bit too similar to the War Machine one—so that was about a decade, give or take a few years.
So yeah. He had not been prepared for what he had seen at all.
When Tony’s and Loki’s eyes had connected, the mortal had seen a man crying and begging on his knees for freedom of his children. Loki had pointed out that they weren’t at fault for his behaviour, that they had nothing to do with his actions agai—
Then, he had been stabbed in the back by a man with only one hand.
It happened a few weeks later in his lab, in the very space he had created to comfort, the very place where he had created the suit and the gloves that helped him avoid skin contact. The place where he had gotten the idea to wear sunglasses so people thought he looked them into the eyes when he wasn’t.
The place where he was meant to be save from dooming other people or seeing it happen.
Tony had cracked a joke to get his mind away from the news he had discovered earlier today. The two of them were working together on some project or other, he honestly couldn’t be bothered to remember.
Bruce laughed and clapped Tony on the shoulder. A tiny bit of his pinky had reached over the hem of Tony’s shirt and touched his skin.
The younger man flinched and spun around, an expression of horror on his face.
“You touched me. Actual skin to skin contact.”
Taken aback, Bruce frowned. “Yes, I did,” he responded slowly. “Is that so unusual?”
Tony shook his head—not to deny the statement, but to order his thoughts. “You're still alive. You shouldn’t be.”
Bruce frowned. “What do you mean? Nothing happened.”
“You touched me,” Tony argued. “No one had survived that since I turned eighteen.”
Bruce blinked once, twice, three times. Both he and the Hulk could tell that Tony wasn’t joking. “Say what?”
Tony took a deep breath. “Once I turned eighteen, anyone who made skin contact with me dropped dead. About a year ago I discovered why. When I turned exactly six months old, apparently a demon visited me and dropped a drop of his blood in my mouth as a part of his plan for the literal Apocalypse which by the was is in progress as we are speaking.” At some point during this, he must’ve sat down, because he was leaning against the wall and his knees were pretty much eye-level.
Bruce slowly sank down beside Tony and hugged him. The billionaire flinched—it was pretty much instinct at this point—but Bruce showed the same immunity as earlier.
This was something new and Tony found that he really didn’t mind it.