Author's notes: Set after Avengers, AU in that I make up quite a few "secrets" about Tony Stark, which will mainly come up in flashback mode, as will be seen in this chapter. I have up to 13 stories planned; but if you think of a good prompt, go ahead and suggest it. If I don't already have something similar planned, and if I like it enough, I might write a chapter for it.

Warnings: Throughout the course of the story, there will be mentions of bullying, child abuse, depression, suicidal tendencies, and some graphic descriptions of violence, but nothing too severe. There will not be any romance in this story, although there might possibly be a few hints of Pepperony or Clintasha in passing.

Hawkeye was, to no ones surprise, the first to see the girl.

Perched up on top of a nearby skyscraper, he had been surveying the rather unusual fight below, loosing a few arrows when the situation arose and calling warnings into the com when needed.

The Avengers had been called out to fight a threat downtown, apparently, there was some sort of electrical storm flying around destroying things.

Tony had quipped his disbelief at their team being sent to fight a rain cloud, but had flown off ahead like usual, and by the time the rest of the team got there, had reported that whatever this thing was, it wasn't so much of a storm as a highly pressurized field of energy, causing storm-like symptoms in its wake.

Mainly, all the Avengers had done so far was protect the rest of the citizens in the area, seal off certain streets, and manage to get the field to change directions to avoid causing destruction, all while Iron Man tried different experiments and scans to figure out what it was and how to stop it.

He'd finally decided that it was some form of magic ("Did I ever tell you guys that I hate magic?") and had suggested they keep their eyes open for anything suspicious, hopefully, the source.

"Possible source, on Franklin Street," Hawkeye reported to his teammates. "Young girl, standing dead still, staring at the sky."

"Roger that," Iron Man said. "I'm on my way."

"Avengers, assemble on Franklin," called Captain America, and Hawkeye looked down to see the Captain making his way to the girl on Franklin Street quickly, but cautiously.

Iron Man sped out of nowhere and hovered a few feet from Hawkeye. "Need a ride?" He asked, and it may have been the voice synthesizer messing with Hawkye's head, but it almost sounded like Iron Man was laughing at him.

"No thanks," Hawkeye said with a smirk. "I got this."

Pulling his zip-line arrow from his quiver, Hawkeye shot at the building two buildings down from the girl on Franklin without looking, and then, staking the other end into the wall next to him, he clicked his bow into position and rode down to the ground, being sure to seem bored as the wind whipped at his face.

Captain America sighed as Hawkeye and Iron Man both landed near him at the same time, and immediately glanced at each other, obviously trying to determine who had gotten there first.

A rivalry of sorts had sprung between Hawkeye and Iron Man that Captain America just had to turn a blind eye to. It was like the two of them were brothers, constantly trying to outdo each other for no other reason than to get a satisfaction out of winning.

They had gotten into the habit of keeping a count on any robots they took out, racking up a point system and comparing notes at the end of the day, almost always leading to a sort of half-hearted bickering when there was a noticeable difference.

They were constantly showing off for each other, it seemed, and Captain America didn't understand their need to push. He allowed it because it caused both heroes to strive to perform better than usual, but sometimes he had to step in and stop the game, because sometimes, they were so caught up in making sure the other had seen this or that thing they had done that an enemy slipped by unnoticed.

For now, however, there were more important things to deal with.

"What's with the girl?" Iron Man asked as he looked over at the possible source. The young girl had not moved, she continued to stare at the sky with large grey eyes, long blonde hair tangled and dirty as it fell into her face.

"I'm not sure," Captain America said.

Thor fell into place beside him and narrowed his eyes at the girl.

"Thor, what's your take on this?" Captain America asked. "Do you know what this might be?"

Thor shook his head. "There is definitely strong magic within her," he said. "But I have never come across her or anyone like her before in my travels."

The Black Widow fell in silently behind the group then, and Captain America nodded to Thor. "Thanks," he said. "We'll wait till Bruce gets here and then try to figure out what to do."

After a few moments, Bruce came into view. He hadn't transformed yet; since the threat was some sort of energy, he decided "smash" wasn't a good strategy, and began trying to figure things out through the com with Tony.

"This it?" He asked, nodding toward the girl.

"Yes," Captain America said. "She hasn't moved yet."

Bruce frowned. "I wonder why?" He wondered aloud.

"Because I was waiting," the girl said, suddenly looking down and smiling at them.

The only person who didn't react was the Black Widow, everyone else at least raised their eyebrows and Clint even stepped back a second, quickly recovering with a glance at Tony, who seemed too preoccupied himself to notice.

"...Waiting?" Captain America asked cautiously. "What were you waiting for?"

"I was waiting for you," she said. "I was waiting for all of you to get here. It only works when you're all here."

"What only works when we're all here?" Clint asked. "Are you the one responsible for that... energy field thing?"

"Oh, yes, the scout," the girl said with a laugh. "Don't worry, it came back to me when it found what I wanted."

"...I see," Steve said.

"So, what were you looking for?" Bruce ventured calmly.

"I was looking for a reivarinthiol," she said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

"A... what?" Hawkeye asked.

"A reivarinthiol," the girl said again. "It's how I feed."

"So, you're alien, then?" Iron Man asked.

The girl laughed. "Alien?" She repeated. "Yes, I suppose that could describe me. Alien. Haha, I like the way that sounds. You species have the most fun words."

"Well, what made you think you would find a... reivarithiol here?" Steve asked.

"A reivarinthiol," the girl said, putting special pronunciation on the 'n', "Can be found wherever a creature of consciousness and intelligence resides. Your species is ripe of reivarinthiols, your social system is especially conducive of the qualities desired to produce them."

"So, let me get this straight," Iron Man said. "You are an alien, and you came here to the Earth because you're hungry and want to eat humans, because we're the most delicious?"

"For someone as smart as you, you got most of that wrong," the girl said. "I came here not to eat a human, no, my people are not meat-eaters. We require a different form of energy. And I did not say your reivarinthiols were more... tasty... than others, I simply said there are a great many deal here."

"Well, I'm sorry, but we can't let you... consume... any of these... reivarinthiols here." Steve stated bluntly. "The species here are very protective, and we don't want any trouble, but you'll have to find your food source elsewhere."

"Oh, but I've already set everything up," the girl said. "Besides, it won't cause any damage. In fact, most beings end up thankful that my people cause them to deal with their reivarinthiols. To keep such a thing bottled up causes many beings to go... insane. Heehee, that word is fun to say. I like this species, you are all so funny and so full of reivarinthiols. The scout went rather wild at finding so many in one place, but once you got close enough, it calmed down and returned to me."

Steve didn't like where this was going. "I'm sorry," he tried again. "But you can't feed off any of our... reivarinthiols."

"Yeah, seriously," Tony spoke up. "That is messed up on so many levels."

"Heehee," the girl giggled again. "Hold still, the longer you avoid it, the longer it will last."

Suddenly, she disappeared and was directly in front of Iron Man, literally an inch away from his face mask, and before anyone had a chance to react, a light burst from her hands and she grasped his helmet with both hands. The light multiplied and grew brighter, the energy from it causing everyone near to fall backwards as if it were the aftershock of a bomb.

"Tony!" Steve heard Clint yelling, and then-

Everything was calm. The street was calm, the light was gone, the girl was gone, and yet, nothing had changed. It was like the light and the girl had never even happened, and if it weren't for Tony lying unconscious on the floor, the helmet shattered into a million pieces and scattered on the concrete surrounding him, he would have thought the girl hadn't been there at all.

Everyone, Natasha included, reacted this time, and they all rushed forward.

"Wait," Steve ordered, and they all waited, looking to him for orders as he stepped forward. He reached his hand to Tony's neck, intending to feel for a pulse.

But no sooner had his hand touched Tony's skin then everything fell away into nothingness.

Tony laughs at Fury's face as he stands up on the stage, cameras flashing, and he stares down at his notecards. Well, he would laugh at Fury's face if he could see the director right now, and if he could let his emotions loose long enough to let out a laugh. As it is, he knows what he's supposed to do, so with all seriousness, he looks at the reporter.

"I am Iron Man," he says.

The room goes wild.

The cameras flash faster than ever.

The reporters all gasp and shriek and jump up and start yelling questions.

The security guards have to move forward to try and stop the loud people from reaching Tony.

And Tony almost lets enough of his emotions out to manage a small smirk.

Just a little one.

He meant what he said about not being a superhero, and he's not doing this because he wants attention, or likes the gossip, or anything that he knows Fury will accuse him of wanting or liking. He's doing it because really, it doesn't matter if the world knows he's Iron Man or not.

Tony Stark knows why such things as secret identities exist. He's known for years. Secret identities exist to protect the people who are close to someone in power. For some superhero to reveal his identity would mean that the man behind the mask would now be as much of a public figure as the mask he hid behind. Anyone close to the man would be targeted as a means to reach the mask.

But Tony wasn't an anonymity. To be honest with himself, Tony was probably even more of a target than Iron Man, and if he was planning on continuing Iron Man's work (which he was, thank you very much) it would be far too obvious that the robot suit with Tony Stark's one-of-a-kind Arc Reactor sticking right smack in the middle and Tony Stark with Iron Man's mannerisms and mechanical and weapons expertise would somehow never be seen in the same room.

Alibis and testimonies aside, even the dumbest of the dumb would put two and two together and get "Tony Stark is Iron Man." And then everything he ever did or tried to do would be undermined by the scoffing of the general public, because if Tony stuck to such a blatant lie, he must be either unintelligent or working a con of some kind.

And really, who did he have to protect anyway? Obie? Turns out, that was who he should have been protected from the whole time. His family? Ha. He hadn't had a family since he was seventeen. Maybe even earlier. His friends? As if. Nobody was friends with Tony Stark. Tony Stark was, as he'd already mentioned, far too famous to let anyone close. The only people he had ever cared for he had loved since he had learned to talk, and they were all dead now. If anyone wanted to hurt Tony or Iron Man, they'd have to find a new way to do it.

Not to say that secret identities were underrated; Tony did still have a few secrets up his sleeve.

Namely, Jay Harrison.

He'd made up Jay when he was in college, it was his senior year and he still hadn't begun to enjoy himself. At all. When everyone you knew hated you for being young and smart and rich, what was there to enjoy? One night, after a particularly rough reminder that he was different, he'd looked into the mirror and studied himself.

What was it about him that made him so universally hated, he'd asked himself. And of course, as it always did, his mind provided him with a ready answer: itemized to improve comprehension, along with a ready stream of ideas that formed into suggestions that formed into solutions that matched themselves with the items on his list, all in the few seconds after his initial question.

Item number 1: he was young.

Solution: he acquired a secret stash of theatrical disguises and make-up, and after a time locked away in a stall in a public bathroom across town, he managed to convince even himself that he looked like an old homeless man.

Item Number 2: he was smart.

Solution: He'd seen enough videos to know the part; he didn't act drunk, but he was a far cry from intelligent. With his gruff voice, his barely perceptible lisp and his blank stare, his own mother wouldn't have recognized him. You know, if he'd had this revelation a year prior.

Item number 3: He was rich.

Solution: He left all his money behind. He left Tony Stark behind. When he stepped out of that public bathroom, all of his identity safely tucked behind a rented locker and a fake beard, he was nobody. Nothing. Worthless. And boy, did it feel great.

He walked through the park without anyone snapping pictures at him. He got several dirty looks from some of the higher-end folks (some of them his classmates) and even one rather rude suggestion that he go take a bath, among other things, but it was so much better than if he had walked through the park as Tony that it made the billionaire chuckle to himself.

He did whatever he wanted for quite a few hours, going where he wanted to go, doing what he wanted to do. He even stood in line for a soup kitchen when he got hungry, and ate the simple, yet meaningful bowl of hot broth with a few chunks of vegetables that was handed him with a stale roll, already making a mental note to donate something to the soup kitchen when he was Tony again.

After dinner, he wandered around a bit until he came across a couple of guys hanging around a dumpster, all talking animatedly about his classmates, and how the rich little snobs had reacted upon bumping them earlier that day.

Tony found this extremely funny and had ended up joining the conversation, only to walk away that night with the unexpected feeling of having two new friends. He never saw them again after that night, of course, but he didn't forget them. Joe and Ted, they'd called themselves. Rather vulgar, not the crowd he was often pressured to mingle with, but they'd been far better friends to Jay than anyone had ever been to Tony Stark.

The small excursion had cheered him up considerably, and he'd gotten through the rest of the school year by laughing at the "little rich snobs" behind his sleeve. Whenever they showed up to teach him a lesson, he would just remember that even the dirty, vulgar hobos who would never meet these people he called classmates had laughed at their expense, and that, somehow, made it bearable.

Even when he left college behind, every couple of years or so, Tony would find an excuse to have a night off sometime when he was feeling particularly enraged at life, and would sneak out as Jay Harrison for a bowl of soup and a bit of real conversation.

He was always very careful, and once JARVIS had been built, he'd always had JARVIS keep tabs on him in case something happened, but it was something to look forward to, something to remember with a smile.

So no, Tony wasn't trying to get attention or cause a field day for the paparazzi or anything like that. He actually hated the attention, really, he did. But it didn't matter if he was Iron Man or Tony Stark, they were both already too famous to have it matter. He already had a secret identity, he already had a persona he could be when he wanted to be the real him.

The world could do what it wanted to Tony Stark and Iron Man, it was penniless dumb 'ol Jay Harrison who was the real alter ego. And that would just make it all the funnier next time he went out, and laughed at Tony Stark and Iron Man along with the rest of the world.

Steve gasped and pulled his hand back, finding himself back on the street in New York.

What on earth had just happened!?

Looking around in shock, he saw all the other Avengers were just as stunned as he was.

After a few moments, Bruce swallowed. "Did..." the scientist started. "Did you all see...?"

Steve nodded numbly.

Clint looked a mixture between confused and horrified, his face almost comical, if this had been a laughing moment.

"I think..." Captain America managed. "I think we were just in Tony's mind."

"That's not all," Bruce said, frowning in confusion. "I think we were in a memory. A memory containing a flashback, no less."

Natasha let out a deep sigh and clicked on her communication device for SHIELD. "Get Fury and a med team down here," she said into it. Her face was paler than usual as she looked down at Tony. "NOW!"