The Four Faces of Tony Stark

By Elizabeth Bathory

Tony Stark's Malibu mansion could be a very foreboding place at night in the darkness with the lights turned down low to conserve energy except for the flickering glow from the fireplace. In the silent living room, Pepper Potts sat alone with her laptop trying to keep busy while Tony was gone. Nick Fury had summoned him none too discreetly for the fourth time in a week and a very pissed off Tony flew off nearly sixteen hours earlier, leaving Pepper to wait and worry in silence at home with her hands tied on the Iron Man front. Being the resourceful woman that she is, Pepper turned to another task that could sufficiently keep her busy until Tony returned – maintaining his image.

Pepper sighed as she pulled up Google and typed in Tony's name to see what sort of new crap came up. Over 1.3 million sites came up at the mere mention of Tony's name and Pepper started to methodically sort through them – tabloid, genuine news, Iron Man, fan sites, etc. As she sorted through all the current garbage, she noticed four very distinct people that were housed in the body of her boss – something that she was surprised that she had not taken note of sooner. Dealing with Tony was a full time in itself so trying to differentiate between which version she was dealing with didn't matter too much to Pepper in the long and short of it but not this had caught her interest.

Setting her lap top aside and reclining back on the couch and tucking her bare feet under her, Pepper started to let her mind wander a bit away from her as she mentally examined what seemed to be the Four Faces of Tony Stark. There were three very public images of the man she worked for and one version that nearly no one saw or has seen for nearly twenty years.

The first version was the billionaire playboy genius who went through liquor and women faster than he went through pairs of socks. This version was named "Tony Stark" and he knew how to play it. The charming, suave, irresistible asshole that enjoyed the nickname "The Merchant of Death" and liked to make Pepper's life a living hell. The bunnies, supermodels and wannabe actresses of the world could not live without this version while in Pepper's mind; she had her fill of picking up the aftermath.

The second version was a business legend, the so-called Tiger Shark of Wall Street. The young and brilliant CEO had taken what could have been garbage deals and made billions off of them. This version, "Anthony E. Stark," was not to be messed with. He was cold, calculating and indestructible when he put his mind to it. This version truly fit a theory that all powerful men have one syllabled last names. Pepper could deal with this version because he actually went to meetings and took his job as the CEO of a multi-national corporation seriously but deep down he scared her.

The third version is the newest and by far the most troublesome. As part of the carry-on luggage that came back from Afghanistan with him, "Iron Man" has no care for his own personal safety, as proven by how many injuries he returns home with, as he goes to try to rid the world of terrorism and black market weapons either of his own or others' creations. Through no choice of her own, Pepper puts up with Iron Man only because Tony felt the need to out himself.

The fourth version was the oldest version of them all, the original if you want to call it that, but it had not been truly seen in nearly twenty years. When Tony returned from Afghanistan, Pepper didn't know what version of him to expect. Three months of captivity and torture could change a man. As he got off the plane, she saw the bravado of Tony Stark as he squared his shoulders and pushed away the stretcher and would not hear of medical care. At the press conference, it was Anthony Stark, CEO that bellowed out his orders for the new way of Stark Industries without asking permission or forgiveness from anyone. It was Tony who demanded the party in Dubai only so he could let Iron Man out of the bag. But the truth was these were all facades for the man who actually returned from Afghanistan. Tony Stark really never came back home. He was left among the sand dunes of the desert. Only his shadow remained on the man that did return.

The man that did come home had been carefully hidden away for the better part of two decades since the day that a boy on the verge of adulthood had what little of his childhood ripped away from him and shattered in the wreckage of a car that claimed the lives of his parents. This man was at times terribly turned inwards and shied away from emotional attachment because if you made yourself vulnerable to love it meant so much more pain when it was gone. This was the man who sometimes woke up in the middle of the night screaming from the nightmares that plagued him but was too embarrassed to ask for help. This was the man who padded around his gigantic mansion in an old MIT sweatshirt, ripped jeans and socks despite the fact that the contents of his closet was worth more than the gross national product of many small countries. This was the man who spoke honestly from his heart and didn't hide his emotions, even when asking his assistant to hack into someone's computer to do the right thing. This version, which could simply be called "Anthony" as his mother did when she was alive, only Pepper had truly seen. Not even Rhodey had seen this entire version. This was the version that Pepper had always known that it had existed underneath all the glitz and glamour on the outside. This man was the reason why she had stayed in his employ for so long, that needed her the most and this was the man she was in love with.

Pepper was looking at a black and white photo of Tony that was in a magazine from when he was about eighteen, his clean shaven features weren't as chiseled yet, his hair was slightly spiked as was the fashion of the early 90's but eyes spoke of the pain that no one his age should ever have to face, when the echoing sound of metal on cement rang up through the house. She quickly closed up her laptop that she had reopened during her character analysis of Tony and ran down to the workshop to see how much patching up Tony needed.

The workshop was a dimly lit as the rest of the house but even in the darkness, Pepper could make out Butterfingers and the rest of the robots gathering up the pieces of Tony's armor. It took a few more seconds to find Tony but the soft blue glow from the arc reactor was a dead give away. From the faint blue light, Pepper could see that Tony was stretched out on his couch, still in the neoprene suit he worn under his armor with his left arm thrown over his eyes, seemingly asleep already from total exhaustion.

Hesitant to disturb him at first since he was seemingly uninjured, Pepper's hand hovered over the touch pad before typing in her code to allow her access to his sanctum. From the shadows of the door way, Pepper watched Tony sleep for a few moments with a smile. This was version four. She silently crossed the room over to the couch and placed a short but sweet kiss on Tony's exposed lips.

At the unexpected touch, Tony's arm slid back behind his head as he blinked sleepily to see Pepper smiling down at him. "Please tell me what I did so I can do it again to get a reaction like that," he mumbled.

Pepper laughed and shook her head. "If I told you, then it would never happen again."

Tony looked at Pepper with a thoroughly confused look on his face. "What in hell are you talking about? You know it's not very nice to confuse me like this when I am THIS tired."

She just sighed with a smile. It was truly just her little secret. "It's nothing, Tony. Don't worry," she reassured him as she extended her hand to him. "Think you can make it upstairs to bed or should I get you a blanket?"

Tony thought about it for a whole two seconds before getting comfortable on his couch again. "You know two can fit quite snuggly here…"

Pepper slid the blanket off the back of the couch and draped it over Tony, covering him from his shoulders to past his feet, and kissed his forehead. "Good night Tony."

Tony waved to her sleepily before rolling over to face the inside the couch and snoring quickly filled the room.

As Pepper started back upstairs to stay in one of the guest rooms for the night, one thought stayed on her lips. "That is number four and I definitely like him best."