“Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist.” These were the words Tony Stark would have once used to describe himself. And he wasn’t that fond of the title any more. After being abducted in Afghanistan, it became, “Genius, billionaire, playboy, philanthropist, Iron Man.” Then came his palladium poisoning scare, and the words changed to something along the lines of, “Genius, billionaire, in-a-steady-relationship-with-my-former-PA-that-I’ve-secretly-been-in-love-with-for-years, philanthropist, Iron Man.” Didn’t quite have the same ring to it, but at least it was true. After Loki’s moronic attempt to take over the world, his words to describe himself had changed -- again. Now it was, “Genius, billionaire, still-in-a-steady-relationship-with-my-former-PA-thank-you-very-much, philanthropist, Iron Man/Avenger.” Of course, not all of those were said out loud, nor were all of them common knowledge, either.
It was pretty easy to say that he was a genius. Everyone knew that. He had made international headlines when he made his first circuit board at the age of four and again when he created his first fully functional A.I., “DUM-E,” when he was 17. Now, in his mid-forties, Tony Stark had developed weapons for the military, and managed to make a “battle suit” and a compact ARC reactor out of scraps in a cave after getting kidnapped in Afghanistan. When he escaped and returned home to the United States, Stark turned the clunky prototype into a sleeker armor, exposed and destroyed the under-table dealings that had been going on in his company without his knowledge, and became the superhero, “Iron Man,” all in less than a year. Yeah, no one could deny that Anthony Edward Stark was a technological genius.
It was also commonly known that Stark was rich beyond belief and had more money than he really knew what to do with. (Considering how smart he was, you couldn’t really say he had “more money than brains” without someone laughing at you.) His father had made millions working with the military during World War II, and then Tony had pushed it well past the billion mark when he inherited the company, Stark Industries, at twenty-one. Tony had continued with his father’s legacy as a weapons manufacturer, building smarter, more advanced weapons for the protection of the United States. Then, Afghanistan happened. Tony Stark saw his weapons take the lives of a couple dozen Marines in front of him, some of them just into their early twenties, and it scared him. Then he saw his weapons in the hands of terrorists, realizing that his tech was being used to slaughter innocent people, military and civilian alike, and it sickened him. Then he saw his weapons kill his only friend in that cave and learned that his weapons had been used to murder his friend’s wife and children, and it angered him. He changed tracks when he got home. Stark Industries would not be making weapons any more. He had seen the horror his weapons had caused, and he refused to make himself and others rich through war profiteering. Tony Stark would not be the “Merchant of Death” any longer.
Before he had his eyes opened, Tony Stark had practically turned philanthropy into an Olympic sport. He had donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charities he didn’t even know the names of. He didn’t care, though. He hadn’t even bothered to ask what the charities did. He just threw his money at them because it was good press. After Afghanistan and the horrors he’d witnessed there, Tony still donated his money, but this time his heart was in it. He gave hundreds of millions to support relief programs that helped those caught in the cross-fire. He founded one of his own programs, and called it the “Yinsin Project.” He named it after his friend from the cave in Afghanistan. Ho Yinsin had had everything ripped from him and then willingly gave everything he had to help Tony, a man Yinsin should have hated, but didn’t. Yinsin’s dying words had been to tell Tony that he’d been given a second chance and to not waste his life. Tony Stark would be thrice damned to Hell before he let Yinsin down.
Being an Avenger started with being Iron Man, and being Iron Man had stayed a secret for less than a week before his big mouth got in the way and he’d blabbed his secret identity at a press conference. The press conference had originally been called to discuss the explosion of the giant ARC reactor powering his factory and the odd death of Obadiah Stane. (Tony’d be lying if he said he wasn’t the least bit vindictively happy about that last one.) Agent Phil Coulson, of S.H.I.E.L.D., had given him cue-cards and an alibi to work with, but who needs an alibi constructed by a secret government agency so your superhero moonlighting can stay a secret when you can just say, “The truth is… I am Iron Man”? Smooth, Tony, real smooth. He was pretty sure Pepper was going to strangle him when they got home.
Then again, Pepper, a pretty strawberry-blonde who had been his private assistant for years, had wanted to strangle him several times. It was usually after she’d had to “take out the trash” from one of his numerous midnight romps with some girl he’d met the night before and whose name he couldn’t bother to remember, but she never let on that it got under her skin. He could tell, though. He liked to think it was because she already liked him as much as he already liked her at the time, but he never voiced the idea. She would just not-so-subtly make him pay for the remark at a later date. (She had done so before.) He pretended to not remember her birthday most of the time, and admittedly he sometimes really did (like before he got kidnapped in Afghanistan), but it was to keep up with his “devil-may-care” facade more often than not. Other times it was because he was too much of a coward to summon up his courage to simply tell her he was in love with her. Who knew it would take a near-death experience on both their parts, a crazy Russian with an ax to grind, and a near melt-down on some roof after he saved her life to finally get Tony to spill the beans? Of course, his new, romantic relationship with his former private assistant turned co-CEO (she didn’t feel she could run the company herself) was something that needed to stay a private matter, for both their sakes. Pepper had never really been in the spotlight, though people had certainly heard of the “famous” Virginia “Pepper” Potts; and while Tony had grown up in the spotlight, he didn’t want anything to mess up his chances with this relationship. Yinsin had once said that Tony was “a man who has everything, and yet has nothing.” Now, Tony had something, someone to fight for, and he wasn’t going to let her be put in harm’s way.
“Genius, billionaire, in-a-committed-relationship, philanthropist, hero.” Yeah, that was the sort of title Tony could deal with.