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The (Not So) Great Pretender

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Tony’s spent his entire life lying to people in one way or another.

It’s a fact that, amongst other things, makes him a less than ideal role model but, in his minimum defense, Tony likes to maintain that he’d come by the skill honestly at least.

The rest of his impressive laundry list of character defects he’d picked up along the way in bits and pieces.

But the lying?

Yeah, that Tony had learned young.  Had picked it up at Maria’s knee, had it pressed into his bones with the heavy weight of the back of Howard’s hand.

And, like with anything else Tony put his massive intellect towards, he’d excelled at it from an early age.

He’d developed a bit of a routine with it too, had picked up tips and tricks along the way that made the lies easier, better, more solid.

He was young, only seven or so, when he learned a twofold skill that would help to push him through the rest of his life.

The first half was to pretend to be a great deal less intelligent than he was while still being an undeniable genius.  It was a tightrope of sorts that he learned to walk quickly and carefully, all too aware of Howard’s growing resentment.

The second half of that lesson was to always lie about his childhood, about Maria and Howard and what life was like growing up with the both of them.

Tony knew that nothing good would come out of anyone finding out about what life had been like for him inside the manor.

He was fifteen going on sixteen and fresh out of having Sunset Bain rip his heart to pieces when he learned to how lie to a lover until they proved they were worthy of the truth.

Which, so far, none of them ever have.

In the aftermath of that Tony had also learned to always give a half truth about any romantic entanglement someone questioned him about unless he found the association completely and totally distasteful.

And, from his time with Rhodey in MIT, he also learned to always embellish jokes and stories, to add hints of the ridiculous to the mundane in order to get the greatest effects.

Or, just because they always made his best friend smile and laugh.

But one of the most important truths he learned about lying was to always, always, be honest with the company.  SI, it’s employees, it’s goals, the company as a whole was too important, had too much of an impact on other things, to ever lie about anything even tangentially related to it.

In the end, SI and all of its associated issues became the one area of his life where Tony practiced honesty without fail.

He’d made a game of the lying everywhere else though, had turned it into a bit of a pastime when he was younger and never really bothered to drop the habit.  He’d spent a good fraction of his free time playing around with reporters and the paparazzi, had enjoyed twisting their expectations of him to suit his moods.

He’d been young and bitter then though.  Had been tired of living under a microscope and chafing at the bit of expectations he’d never asked for, all while being determined to get as much out of it as he could.

So he’d twisted fact and given half truths and outrageous lies and ignored the way it stung when they were all believed so very easily.  Even when it meant ignoring any evidence the the contrary that might pop up.

Now though, after a lifetime of practice, the lying has lost a lot of its shine.  It’s become less of a game and more of a tedious but second nature kind of reflex that he had down to a bit of an art form.

Now, if he has to or if he wants to for whatever reason, Tony can lie as easily and intricately as he builds.

Like with coding or robotics he can make an untruth sing.

He still enjoys it sometimes, in a melancholy and faintly bitter kind of way.  It’s a part of him that he knows reflects on what kind of person he truly is but it’s a skill he’s also grateful to have most of the time.  That ability to trade off dishonesty for truth and then back again in the blink of an eye without anyone being the wiser.

It’s protected him in so many different ways over the years.

Rhodey’s always warned him it would come back to bite him in the ass one day but Tony’s pretty sure he never expected it to happen like this.

But, to be fair, futurist or not, neither had Tony.

He never expected that one day he would find himself in a situation where he was being completely and totally honest with the press in a way that didn't involve SI.

Or that, in that moment, not a single one of them would even come close to believing him.

“I am Iron Man,” Tony tells the reporters in the room.

Tells the whole entire world.

And then the entire world just collectively goes …

Bullshit.

~~~

“Stop laughing,” Tony pouts at Rhodey from where he’s sulking on the couch.

It’s been a few hours now since the disastrous press conference where Tony outed himself as a superhero and no one believed him and the sting still hasn’t faded.

“I can’t,” Rhodey wheezes.  He’s bent double, hands on his knees, shoulders heaving and face red.

There are real, honest to Tesla tears in his eyes.

I hope you suffocate,” Tony hisses at him once they hit the fifteen minute mark and Rhodey shows no signs of stopping.

Every time Rhodey seems like he’s close to getting it back under control he’ll just look at Tony and then it starts all over again.

Worth it,” Rhodey chokes out as another round of laughter takes him over.

Tony kind of hates him a lot.

Like, a lot a lot.

~~~

Tony loves Rhodey more than anyone else in his life.

Because, no matter what, Rhodey’s always had his back.

From MIT all the way to a desert in Afghanistan and out the other side again Rhodey’s always been there for him.

And Tony is so, so grateful.

~~~

“Proud of you,” Rhodey bumps their shoulders together and manages to rasp out later on that night, a few beers and two pizza’s into a rare quiet night together.

His voice is legitimately hoarse from all the laughter and Tony has very real plans to put glitter in his shower head at the next possible opportunity.

But for now Tony just leans his head against Rhodey’s shoulder and smiles.

Rhodey believes him, knows that Tony was telling the truth.  After his laughter had faded he’d been worried if supportive about Tony’s plans to continue being Iron Man.

So, all in all, Tony’s going to be counting it as a win.

Because even if the entire rest of the world doesn’t believe him, doesn’t believe in him, as long as Rhodey does Tony knows he can handle anything that gets thrown his way.

~~~

A large part of Tony is sure that it’ll all blow over, that the world cannot possibly be that oblivious and almost willfully blind.

People are going to realize that he’s Iron Man soon enough.

It only makes logical sense as Tony has no intention of stopping and no intention of really hiding that it’s him wearing the armor.

So yeah, this whole misunderstanding thing won’t, can’t, last long at all.

Tony just knows it.

~~~

Turns out that this is one area where Tony, like another famous Stark, apparently knows nothing.

~~~

Tony’s self aware enough to admit that he’s a bit bitter about the whole thing by the time New York rolls around.

He’s been Iron Man for long enough now that the entire world should know the truth.

Iron Man’s identity should be common fucking knowledge.

But, instead, he’s managed to make it this far with a total of five people, not counting JARVIS and the bots, knowing it’s him inside the armor.

Rhodey, Pepper, Happy, Fury, and Coulson.

That’s it.

That’s the entire roster of people who are officially in the know.

Apparently the idea that Tony Stark could be a hero is so hard for people to grasp that they’d all rather collectively dismiss the idea altogether.

So yeah, he’s more than a bit bitter, more than a bit stung.

He thought for sure New York would change things but somehow it miraculously hadn’t.

Hell he’d been falling through space and somewhere in the back of his head all he’d been able to think was, ‘welp at least if they find my corpse in the armor they’ll finally believe me’.

It, unfortunately, hadn’t worked out like that in the end.

Instead he’d gone through the wormhole, had fallen back out of it, and then been caught by the Hulk who’d dropped him on a rooftop.  He’d apparently been roared back to life and then Rhodey had swooped down in War Machine and carted him off back to the Tower.

There’d been no ‘big reveal moment’ but Tony’s still pretty sure that it’s undeniably obvious that it’s him in the armor now.

Afterwards, once Loki and Thor are on their way back to Asgard, Tony’s kind of expecting it when Rogers corners him.

Captain Asshole’s obviously got some choice words to say about Tony being an official Avenger now.

Not that it matters because Tony’s ready for whatever he spits in his direction.

But, in the end, not even that goes as Tony expects it to.  Rogers, or rather Steve as the man surprisingly insists, is all bashful and almost sunny as he apologizes for being rude on the helicarrier.

“It’s been a rough time for me,” Steve tells him, soft and sad, blue eyes wide and strangely compelling.  “I know that’s no excuse, but it’s all I’ve got.  I hope we can move past it in the future though.  With you being a part of the team, and even without that, I’d like us to be friends.”

“Yeah,” Tony blinks and nods, struck just a bit dumb by the one-eighty Steve’s personality has seemingly done.  Gone’s the hardass Captain America from before and in his place is this bashful giant of a man who, somehow, makes Tony more nervous than the Cap he’d met on the helicarrier ever had. “No problem Cap.  I was a asshole too so no hard feelings.”

“Thanks Tony,” Steve smiles, bright and surprisingly toothy, “you’re a swell guy.”

He’s so earnest in that moment that Tony’s pretty sure he’s going to break out into some kind of rash because he has to be allergic to that much sincerity by now.

“Maybe I can call round the Tower sometime soon when I’ve got more time,” Steve says then.  “We can have a chance to talk a bit more.”

“Sure,” Tony shrugs.  “Tower’s always open for you and the others.  Feel free to drop in whenever.”

“Great.  It was good to see you Tony.” Steve nods, turns and gets a few steps away before he stops and swings back around. “Oh and Tony?”

“Yeah?”

“Make sure you tell Iron Man how much we all appreciated his help.  I’m glad to know that fall didn’t take him down for good so let him know that we hope he makes a quick recovery.”

“Sure thing Cap,” Tony nods again before his brain really catches up with what Steve just said.

Steve smiles again, turns on his heel, and strides away.  Tony’s pretty sure he can hear the national anthem playing in the distance but it could just be too much caffeine and not enough sleep playing tricks on him again.

Behind him Tony finally registers what Steve had actually said instead of what Tony had initially heard and his mind’s abruptly filled with a loud error noise.

“What,” Tony says softly but with a great depth of feeling, “the actual fuck just happened?”

“I believe, Sir,” JARVIS pipes up from the phone in his pocket, there’s an unnecessary amount of what sounds like glee in his voice, “that you’ve once again managed to maintain your closely guarded secret identity.  Truly your subterfuge skills know no bounds.”

“You’re an asshole J,” Tony mutters back as he reaches up to rub at his temple.  He either has a headache coming on or a blood clot.  At this point he’s honestly not sure which he’d prefer.

“I did learn from the best, Sir,” JARVIS tells him sunnily.

“Coding you was a mistake,” Tony grumbles.

They both know he’s lying.

~~~

Things move forward and eventually Tony finds himself housing his little rag-tag group of superheroes in his Tower.

It is, Tony knows, the end of his unwanted secret identity.

He’s going to be living with two super spies after all.

There’s no way in hell they won’t realize he’s Iron Man even without him coming right out and announcing it again.

Which, yeah, isn’t something he plans to do again.  Not after last time.

So, honestly, Tony’s grateful that this is all going to be cleared up, at least within the team, in a more organic and natural way.

It’ll be less stressful all the way around.

Which is a relief.

~~~

Tony’s pretty sure he’s another cup of coffee away from an actual stress induced heart attack but, at this moment, he actively does not care.

Living here, with these people, is the most stressful thing he’s ever done.

And that includes growing up with Howard and living through Afghanistan.

He has had literal torture that was less stressful than living with these assholes.

...

Okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not much of one.

Really.

“If you do not attempt to lower your heart rate Sir,” JARVIS cuts through his internal freak out, voice sharp and displeased, “then I’m afraid I’ll have to channel Agent Coulson and tranquilize you for a bit.  For your own good of course.”

“Do it and I swear to Thor I’ll have you working customer service for SI by the end of the day,” Tony threatens with a half-hearted glare towards the ceiling.  “You can spend all your time asking people if they tried turning it off and then back on again.”

“I’ll happily embrace my fate as a help desk operator if it means you calm down Sir,” JARVIS sounds wholly unconcerned with Tony’s threat.

Which, Tony readily admits to himself, is more than a bit fair.  They both know Tony can’t live without him at this point.

Losing JARVIS would be like losing an arm.  It’d be painful and bloody and while Tony could probably build himself a new one it just wouldn’t be the same.

“I’m pretty sure I’m in hell,” Tony grumbles as he collapses down at his worktable.  He slumps forward far enough to where he can repetedly rap his forehead against the metal of the table.

“The decor seems a bit lacking for what I’ve read about the afterlife Sir,” JARVIS snips back.  “Not enough flames or wails of the damned.  With exception to yourself of course.  I can, however, arrange to have another decorating team come in to solve the issue soon if you wish?”

“You’re still an asshole J but I can’t focus on that because.  This is so.  Fucking. Ridiculous.”  Tony whines, head hitting the metal table in front of him after each word as he otherwise ignores JARVIS’ snark.  “I’m pretty sure this stress is going to kill me.  I’m not supposed to go out like this J.  This is ruining my plans.”

“My condolences Sir,” JARVIS sounds very tongue-in-cheek.  “Either way I’m sure the funeral will be splendid.  I’ll arrange for something suitably ornate but tasteful.”

Tony’s pretty sure by this point that JARVIS has some kind of independent correspondence with Rhodey.

They’re both the same kind of petty towards Tony and it’s a similarity that he can’t ignore.

Tony forces himself to take in a long, shuddering breath because he knows JARVIS is ultimately right.

He really does need to calm down because, all jokes aside, this is not the way he wants to go out.

Finally, when his heart no longer feels as if it’ll beat out of his chest, Tony pushes himself upright and then leans back in his chair.

“Somehow,” Tony sighs after a few more seconds of silence, “somehow those id- the rest of the team is still under the impression that I am not Iron Man.  They’ve been here for weeks and it’s not like I've tried to hide it.  How can they not know?

“Humanity is a never ceasing wonder,” JARVIS informs him tartly before he goes serious again.  “Perhaps it’s not such a horrible thing, Sir.  There’s a certain level of safety to be found in anonymity.”

Tony grunts in agreement, leans further back into the chair, and breathes out another heavy sigh.

He know’s JARVIS is right but this whole thing still sits at cross purposes for Tony.

So, in all honesty, he’s at a bit of a crossroads at the moment.

In the end, as best Tony can calculate at the moment, he has three main choices.

The first is for him to ride this whole thing out as he has been.  Just grit his teeth and bare it.

Two is Tony can make another announcement about being Iron Man, can set himself up for more humiliation in front of the press or at least his new Team in an attempt to get people to believe him.

Option three is … well it’s messy and ridiculous and Tony would’ve never believed it would work six months ago.  But it’s also a plan that proves to be a great deal more entertaining in a lot of ways than either option one or two were.

So, in the end, the choice is easy.

“Fuck it,” Tony huffs, leans back forward, and then pushes himself up from his chair and onto his feet.  “Option three it is then.  Let’s see just how far I can ride this whole thing out.”

Oh dear,” JARVIS sighs with an unflattering amount of dread.  He’s well versed in a number of Tony’s more harebrained schemes.

Tony just looks towards the nearest camera and blows JARVIS a kiss before he turns back towards the other half of his work shop.

He’s got work to do.