Chapter Eleven: Tony's Story
The next morning, Natalie went to class, trying to ignore the stares of people who had seen the news. Natalie was pretty well known within the college, since she was considered a prodigy. Most people didn't realize that the real reason behind her success was lots of hard work and studying. Natalie took her studies very seriously, since she knew the first step to achieving her dream was to graduate and get her degree to practice. She was the top of her class, and had plenty of opportunities.
Just before the end of class, as the others were packing up, the professor said, "Natalie, a word, if you don't mind?"
"Sure," Natalie said. She followed her professor to the woman's office, and sat down in the chair she pointed to.
"Natalie, I saw the news last night," her professor said.
"I think the whole COUNTRY saw the news last night," Natalie groused.
"I know you don't particularly love the spotlight, and I won't ask how you know Mr. Stark, but I wanted you to know that I and all your other professors are really proud of that speech we heard last night," the professor said. "I know your main motivation for becoming a therapist, and I want you to know that I am very proud to have such a dedicated, thoughtful student. It's refreshing to see someone with such a noble goal from a young age. I think that once you graduate, you're going to do great things."
"Thank you," Natalie said. "I just want to save as many people as I can, so no one has to go through what my family did."
"And that is why I'm so proud of you," her professor said. "I look forward to watching your career. You can go, but if you need anything, come to me, okay?"
"Thanks, Professor," Natalie said. She got up and left, headed to the dining hall.
Her friends immediately converged on her as she sat down with her lunch, and Amelia asked, "Natalie, why didn't you tell us you were friends with Tony Stark?"
"Because no offense, but you and Marie would go into fan girl mode, and I'd have you following me everywhere," Natalie replied. "Also, he asked me not to tell anyone, since it would cause problems for both of us. Can you drop the issue, please?"
"Aww…" Marie said. "Do we have to?"
"Just pretend I'm fully certified and he's my client," Natalie said. "You know we'll all have to sign CDAs at some point- think of this as practice."
"Oh, fine," Marie said sulkily.
"On a more amusing note, I think Loki is starting to be wary of my mom," Natalie said.
"Why?" Amelia asked.
"She goes into full-blown mother hen mode whenever he's around," Natalie said. "Do you know what he asked the first time she said he was too thin and she was going to fatten him up?"
"What?" Marie asked.
"He asked her if she was planning on feeding him to something," Natalie giggled. Her friends started laughing, and soon all talk of Tony was forgotten, much to Natalie's secret relief.
After her classes were done, Natalie made her way to Stark Tower. She found Steve in the kitchen with Loki on her way up, and stopped briefly to say hi. "Hey guys," she said.
"Good, you're here," Steve said.
"Any particular reason, or are you just happy to see me?" Natalie asked.
"Tony's been pacing around like a caged animal all day, and won't tell anyone why," Steve replied. "He's acting kind of nervous, too, which is unusual. We're all hoping you can help."
"I hope he's not having withdrawal symptoms," Natalie said. "Where is he?"
"He's in the training room," Steve said. "He said something about burning energy."
"I offered to spar with him, but he was not interested," Loki commented.
"Odd," Natalie said. "Where's the training room?"
"I will show you," Loki said. He led her to the elevator, and JARVIS took them down a few floors. Loki led Natalie to a sliding door, and as he was about to knock, the doors opened and Tony came out, drying his hair with a towel. "Hey," he said. He looked at Loki, and asked, "Can Natalie and I talk alone?"
"I don't mind; Natalie?" Loki asked.
"I don't mind either," Natalie said. "Where do you want to talk?"
"My lab," Tony said. He noticed Loki's raised eyebrow, and said, "It's soundproof, and no one can get in besides me."
Loki shrugged and headed off. Natalie followed Tony to another elevator, and a few minutes later, they got off at a floor Natalie had never seen before. Tony led the way to his lab, and let Natalie in, then said, "JARVIS, make sure no one comes in, and don't interrupt me unless it's a dire emergency, got it?"
"Yes sir," JARVIS said. Tony waved Natalie to a seat at the worktable, and sighed, sitting down in the other chair. After a few minutes of silence, he asked, "Can I tell you a story?"
"Of course," Natalie said.
Tony took a deep breath, and said, "I didn't have an easy childhood. My father was obsessed with Captain America, who had gone missing during World War II. He didn't really pay much attention to me, and when he did, nothing I did was ever good enough. He wasn't abusive, but he never seemed to have time for me, and it was obvious he was more interested in Captain America than he was in me. I was a child prodigy; I joined the undergraduate program in physics and engineering at MIT when I was fifteen, and it was easy to get Master's degrees in physics and electrical engineering. I didn't really do anything with my life until I was 21, though, and that was when my parents both died in a car crash. I inherited Stark Industries, his company, and made it into a multi-billion dollar industry complex. The company specialized in weaponry for the U.S. government."
Tony paused, and then continued, "I went to Afghanistan to supervise a test for one of the weapons I designed. I was an idiot, and ignored everyone's concerns that the security was insufficient. That idiocy nearly cost me my life."
He sighed, and said, "I tripped on a booby trap, and I got shrapnel lodged in my chest. I was captured, and the leader of my captors offered me a deal. If I built him a new weapon, he would let me go free. I knew he was lying, but I hoped I could gain time and access to tools, so I agreed. They gave me a small lab, and another captive of theirs, Yinsen, became my assistant. He helped me design a suit of electrically powered armor with built-in weaponry. It also had a device that would keep my heart beating. I put the suit on, but I was helpless until it was fully charged. The leader of the revolutionaries obviously realized I was plotting something, and came to attack."
Tony paused again, and Natalie could tell this was painful for him. "Yinsen confronted the guy, giving me enough time to fully charge the suit- but Yinsen died. I couldn't save him, and I realized that he knew he was giving up his life, and he still did that anyways. I avenged his death using the suit, and Iron Man was born. After I escaped, I ended up crashing in the desert, and got rescued by my friend Rhodey."
Sighing, Tony continued, "I redesigned the chest plate of the armor after I returned the U.S., and I still have to wear it. I made it so it could fit under normal clothing. I originally meant to manufacture the suit and sell it, but when I first used it to stop thieves from taking parts, I realized it was too dangerous to be put on the market. After that and the fiasco in Afghanistan, I turned Stark Industries into a different kind of company. Now we make useful technology and work with clean energy, instead of making weapons. The first time I became Iron Man, it was for vengeance, but now…. I guess I'd say I became Iron Man again to atone for past mistakes. You were right yesterday, though; I never tried to heal. I never went to anyone to ask for help, either with PTSD or alcoholism. There was never anyone I felt that I could let in, and I'm not exactly the type to willingly go to therapy. I've got really severe trust issues, and I'm not comfortable sharing my feelings."
Tony stopped talking, and while Natalie had a feeling she knew the answer, she asked, "So what changed for you?"
Tony looked at her, and said, "You came into my life, and within hours of meeting me, you managed to at least start tearing down the walls I built around myself. You saw through me like it was nothing, which no one besides Bruce has even come close to doing. Everyone else assumes that the personality I have is my real one, but you didn't, and told me straight out that you knew I was faking. And you were right, I can identify with Loki. When I saw how happy he was around you, just because you were there for him and he had someone to listen to him, I started thinking. And then you saved my life, and I decided that if I HAD to get this off my chest, I'd rather have you listen to my story than anyone else. I had a feeling you were the only person who would sit through a story like that without crying, interrupting me, or walking out. And it looks like I was right."
Natalie smiled. "I'm glad you felt you could trust me," she said. "The only way you'll recover is if you don't hold everything in. This was a great first step for you."
"Glad you think so," Tony said. "And thanks."
"Anytime, Tony," Natalie said.
"Ready to rejoin the others?" Tony asked.
"Sure," Natalie said. "I hope Loki isn't the jealous type; I've been spending way more time with you than him lately."
"I wouldn't peg him as the jealous type," Tony said, leading the way out of the lab. They found the others in the living room, and Loki and Steve were playing with Evergreen while Bruce, Natasha, and Clint were reading. They all looked up as Tony and Natalie came in, and Loki said, "You've been gone for three hours; did you get things settled?"
"Working on it," Tony said.
Loki lifted an eyebrow, and then seemingly remembered something. "Has Natalie told you what we are getting Thor for his birthday?" he asked.
"YOU'RE getting a present for THOR?" Clint asked incredulously. "I thought you didn't like him."
"I am not as fond of him as he seems to be of me, but I do not dislike Thor," Loki said. "Besides, this gift is not exactly the sentimental type."
"What are you getting him then?" Tony asked.
"We're getting him a hot pink leash for Mjolnir!" Natalie chirped cheerfully. "See, we noticed he treats that hammer kind of like a favorite pet or toy, so we thought since he can't seem to let go of it, that we would get a leash for it."
Tony and Clint were in hysterics, and the others were all showing at least some sign of amusement. "A LEASH?" Tony gasped. "That's priceless! I can't wait to see the look on his face!"
"It should be quite amusing," Loki agreed. "It's a pity his birthday isn't till next month."
"I still find it amusing that YOUR birthday is April Fools' Day," Tony said.
"What is April Fools' Day?" Loki asked.
"The first of April is April Fools' Day," Natalie said. "It's a pranking holiday. When I still lived with my parents, my brother and I would prank our parents. You should have heard my mom scream when Kevin dropped a plastic snake on her at five AM."
"You enjoy pranks?" Loki asked, sounding hopeful.
"Yup," Natalie said. "My parents set pretty strict limits after the bungee cord incident, though."
"This I need to hear," Tony said.
"Kevin decided that he wanted to try bungee jumping off the roof of our house," Natalie said. "I talked him out of it, but that put an idea in our heads, and we decided we'd scare our parents. So we made this really realistic life-sized doll of Kevin, and waited till my mom was in the kitchen. Kevin's window is right above the kitchen window, and so we got a bungee cord, tied it to the doll's ankle, and started dangling the doll out of Kevin's window. The movement must have caught our mom's eye, because about two minutes later, we heard her screaming bloody murder. We locked her out of Kevin's room, but she picked the lock, and when she found out Kevin and I had set up the whole thing to scare the living daylights out of her, she blew her top. We got lectured for HOURS, and when Dad came home, he lectured us too. Needless to say, our pranks got limited to April Fools' Day only after that, and we both got grounded for a month. It was still fun while it lasted."
"Did you have a name for that plot?" Clint asked.
"Yeah, it was 'Operation Give Mom a Heart Attack'," Natalie said.
"I would have liked to see the look on your mother's face," Loki said thoughtfully.
"It was pretty hilarious," Natalie said. "Or are you just looking for blackmail material on my mom?"
"Now whatever would give you that idea?" Loki asked innocently. You could almost SEE the halo over his head.
"You think she's going to feed you to something, so I figured you wanted a way to blackmail her," Natalie said, smirking.
"I am still not sure why she insists on fattening me up if she is NOT planning on feeding me to something," Loki said. "Isn't that normally why people are 'fattened up'?"
"I can't think of anything my mom would feed you to," Natalie said dryly. "And before you say anything, I highly doubt it's Lucky. She mainly eats fish and meat."
"Who's Lucky?" Tony asked.
"My cat," Natalie said. "Although now she's my brother's cat, since I don't live there anymore."
"I did not think it was Lucky," Loki said somewhat defensively. "I am simply pointing out that your mother has an unhealthy fascination with fattening people up."
"Actually it's just you she does that to," Natalie said as Tony and Clint fell to the floor laughing their heads off.
Loki glared at Tony and Clint and asked, "May I ask what is so amusing?"
"You!" Tony snickered. "You seriously believe Natalie's mother is going to feed you to something?"
"That was the main reason people were fattened up on Asgard," Loki said. "I cannot think of any other reason one would need to be fat."
"It doesn't necessarily mean becoming fat; it usually means that the person who needs fattening up is too thin- which perfectly describes you when you first met me," Natalie explained. "Just as it's unhealthy to be too fat, it's also unhealthy to be too thin. I'm sure now that you've filled out a bit more, Mom will stop."
"I hope so," Loki said. "Can we go home? I am tired of these two laughing at me."
"Alright," Natalie said with a smile. "We'll leave them to calm down."
Loki smiled back, and took her hand. The next thing she knew, she was in their kitchen, and Loki was looking at her hopefully. "You ate the rest of the chocolate last night, remember?" Natalie asked.
Loki got this look of utter and complete horror on his face, and Natalie barely kept from snickering when he ran to the cabinet where she kept the chocolate. After flinging it open, he saw that she had been joking, turned, and said, "That was cruel, Natalie."
Natalie just burst out laughing.