You wouldn’t know it to look at him. The smile, the charm, it all came so easily to him. It was all so fake. He had been doing it since he was old enough to understand what a camera was and what it meant to him. Plaster a smile when you’re hurting, when you’re angry, or sad, when you’re grieving, and when you’re just plain old fed up. He knew the routine and no one questioned it. He was an actor.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. But the pain in his eyes ran deeper than anyone could ever know. The heartless man, the playboy everyone saw, possibly loved and felt much deeper than the rest of the world. Possibly understood love better than the world. Because when he loved, the person he loved was his world. Nothing could change that.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. The Iron Man could be a man of iron. His stoic guise was plastered everywhere. His carefully schooled grief at the funeral was a respectable expression of losing a team member. It gave no indication of the turmoil underneath. He liked to play pretend. Pretend he wasn’t hurting. Pretend he didn’t care. But that’s all it was. Pretend.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Tony Stark had been distracted. For the first time Tony had allowed himself to think of someone else. Tony had argued and wanted to make it right. The argument was his fault. The argument led to a black suit.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. But Tony Stark went home that night and broke.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. A part of him died in the crash.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Steve was gone.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. But guilt was eating him up inside. Every time he thought of getting into a car again he wanted to throw up. Every time he had to travel down that road he would break into a cold sweat. He turned into a child. Scared and alone and no one knew what to do to make it better.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. He got more reckless as the days went on. Each day without him was like a knife to the heart. Each day he drove down that rose several miles per hour faster than he should. Each day Natasha, or Clint, or Bruce, would pick him up off the floor at 3 am, surrounded by whisky bottles and broken glass. Each day he would act like nothing ever happened. And he only felt like he was betraying Steve more.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. But the papers lie. They were more than team mates, more than friends. He couldn’t function without him. He wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep. But no one saw that. Because he made sure that the pictures lied.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. But Tony got mad. The first night he was released from the hospital he had to go back. That night he destroyed his workshop. Bruce found him, slumped against a wall, passed out and covered in blood. Bruce found him with bits of metal and glass embedded into his skin. Bruce found him with the arc reactor almost dead. Bruce found Tony almost dead. And it terrified him how little Tony seemed to care.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Tony had been trying to die. Not initially, not intentionally. But when he first realised that arc reactor was going to fail soon, he didn’t care. He wasn’t actively searching for death. He wasn’t going to try stop it if it happened either. He would rather it washed over him. Sooner would be preferable to later. His teammates were not going to let that happen.
You wouldn’t know him to look at him. He was isolated. In the news he was surrounded by people and smiles. He gave people smiles. He waved at the public. He signed Iron Man masks and posed for photos. He made sure he was a prominent figure in mission clean ups. He made sure he gave back to the world. He built his legacy. At home, he stayed locked away. He disabled any override to let Pepper into his workshop. He disabled the manual lock on the workshop door. He stealthily replaced it with tinted bullet proof glass. No one could see in but he could see out. He chose this life.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. He was turning the last words his father said to him around in his head. They still stung. Even after he’d proved them wrong time and time again. He amounted to something. He found someone who loved him. But the words still ate him up inside. Because deep down, he knew it was right in the end. He had amounted to something. But that something was the man who killed Captain America.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Each night he dreamt of the car crash. Each night his parents were in the car. He knew they weren’t, but he saw them there. Each night he drove them all off the road. Each night they all blamed him. Each night he couldn’t save any of them. While he lived on. They were dead. Unless he kept himself awake with caffeine. Kept drinking it until he passed out from sheer exhaustion. And when he felt that coming, he went to drink. Those were the nights his team found him.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Tony Stark was not fit for missions. But Iron Man always turned up. Always got the job done. Always willing to sacrifice himself to save humanity. The great hero awaiting his fall.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. This was his intention every time he put on the suit. There was no selflessness in Tony Stark. Each move was selfish. Each move was motivated by the pain and the guilt that would not subside. Eventually he was banned from missions. Rhodey took his place.
You wouldn’t know if to look at him. You would still believe it was Iron Man in the sky. Still Tony Stark. Because you wouldn’t know it to look at him. Tony Stark was on lock down at SHIELD.
You wouldn’t know it to look at him. Because Tony Stark was gone.