god, tony stark and his COMPLICATED BEHAVIORAL REWARDS SYSTEM, OH MAN
okay, i promise that one day i will learn to control the tony feelings, but the thing is, i have been trying to put my finger on this one for such a looooong time. because, see, tony stark is weird about stuff, isn’t he? and i don’t mean like, the existential version of stuff, i don’t mean “stuff” in the most general sense (although, let’s be honest, TONY STARK: WEIRD ABOUT STUFF is true in pretty much every context)—i am talking PHYSICAL stuff, INANIMATE stuff, i am talking stuff that a person can possess. i am talking things. i am talking tony in IM springing a lavish personal plane party on rhodey, clearly both because he felt like it and to prove that he could; i am talking tony in IM2 giving pepper the company out of the blue, clearly both because he knew she was the best choice for CEO (UGH PEPPER I LOVE YOU) and because he genuinely wanted her to have it. i am talking tony at the middle of the avengers offering to fly coulson to portland, i am talking tony at the end of the avengers with plans pulled up to build everyone on the team their own FLOOR—you see what i am saying here. tony stark expresses a considerable amount of emotion through gestures like this, and that in and of itself shouldn’t be enough to give me pause. i mean, canonically extraordinarily wealthy emotionally repressed genius expresses affection with cash? it’s not a stretch. fine. done.
ONLY THE THING IS, it’s…really so much more complicated than that, because there is also the shit in the above gifs, and there’s the thing he has about being handed things (seen in IM2 and in the avengers), and it really came together for me during that scene with bruce and the blueberries. because the thing is that quirks, no matter how random they are, COME from somewhere—even if you don’t remember the impetus of an unusual behavior, you did, at some point, learn to do it/find comfort in it/become dependent on it/get so used to it that you hardly notice it. that’s just how quirks work. and if you’re tony stark, and you put a valuation on everything because that’s been literally your entire life experience, there’s a certain amount of implied cost/benefit analysis that has to go into the way you look at emotional interactions, right?
so look at what this shit says about the way tony looks at himself. people who tony doesn’t completely, 100% trust emotionally (this is why pepper is the exception) can’t even hand him things, because on some level tony associates the exchange of physical goods with the exchange of emotional response, and he won’t be capable of giving it; people who have showed tony affection or friendship deserve these lavish, over-the-top gifts, because putting up with tony is such a struggle. and tony himself? well, for surviving a kidnapping and the insertion of car battery, and then an arc reactor, in his chest, he has earned an american cheeseburger. for fighting off an invading army and making the sacrifice move neither he nor steve believed he would, he has earned himself some shawarma. because that is totally what he’s doing, when you really think about it—tony stark doles out physical rewards for behavior, without even noticing it, and the best he ever honestly thinks he deserves is something delicious when the carnage is over.
and this is what makes that blueberry scene with bruce (shut up i know calling it the blueberry scene is ridiculous, I KNOW IT IS IN FACT A SCENE ABOUT THE AVENGERS NOT TRUSTING NICK FURY, i can’t help that i look at the world through stark-tinted glasses) so interesting, in that it’s that behavior-reward system on a much smaller scale. first bruce is offered the blueberries, clearly as a reward for making a point that supported tony’s argument; then steve, clearly as a TEST, is offered those same blueberries along with tony’s admitting to hacking the SHIELD system. and it’s when steve doesn’t even acknowledge the offer that tony goes from “hey look I’m trying to explain this to you and get you onboard” to “who’s in a spangly outfit and not of use?” because he’s got all these emotional cues tangled up with all these physical ones and always has, and because on some level this is just how he does relating to human beings, because stuff is so much easier and everything always has a price and just, augh, tony.