Summary: Anthony was Hydra-born and raised, given to the organization by his own father. But despite all his training and conditioning, his handlers were unable to keep him from thinking for himself. Once he'd grown, Anthony left it all behind. As it turned out, however, leaving was the easy part. Staying out and learning to be a person was the challenge.
Story Notes: In which Tony and Arno are in no way related yet look virtually identical (but Tony keeps the brown eyes because I adore RDJ). Contains Marvel 616/Comics references, but is mostly MCU-based. Summary update 2/16/20.
For those not familiar with the comics: For the purpose of this story, it's okay to view/read Arno as an alternate Tony of sorts.
For those familiar with the comics: Arno was born healthy here. No 451. Since he'd have lead the life that Tony originally did, he is a lot more Tony-like, especially starting out. As the characters grow and develop, they should become more distinct, but Arno will probably still be a lot more like Tony than in canon, just due to the universal differences.
Chapter One: Who the Hell is Arno?
Anthony drew in a breath of the cold New York air, looking up towards the sky only to grimace at the cold drops of rain falling against his skin. He received a few strange looks from passersby, but he was determined to enjoy this, his first true day of freedom, cold weather and near-freezing rain and all. It wasn't as though he hadn't endured worse things - he'd been raised and trained to endure interrogation and torture, after all. Compared to all that, dreary weather was nothing.
Taking another breath, he turned his attention back to where he was going, tugging his cap down over his eyes and pulling his coat tighter around his shoulders. It was sort of nice. Being just another member of the crowd. Not that he'd entirely dropped his guard, of course, but one didn't really get to appreciate such things when they worked for an organization like Hydra. Or maybe he just needed to get out more.
He had just finished frowning at and circling around someone giving him more attention than he felt comfortable with, when a shout rose up from further down the street. Anthony tensed, ready to fight or flee as warranted, looking around to locate the source of the commotion, only to find - with much alarm - that it was him .
"Mr. Stark! Mr. Stark!" Several people brandishing cameras and voice recorders shouted as they thundered towards him.
"Arno! Look over here!"
"Stark, can you tell us how SI is dealing with the death of your father?"
"How long before you take over as CEO?"
"Has Stark Industries-" "Mr. Stark, have you-?" "Arno-"
What the ever-loving fuck.
Anthony threw up an arm to shield his face. The last thing he wanted was for his image to be plastered across some tabloid or another, betraying his general location to his former associates. Could they even be considered his former associates, yet? He'd only just left early that same morning.
"You've got the wrong person!" he declared loudly. This only resulted in an increase of flashes and questions from the mob of reporters pressing in around him. "No comment!"
This was not at all how this day was meant to go. As the group crowded in closer, trying to get a clear picture or a soundbite, the young man felt his nerves winding tighter and tighter. These idiots had no idea just how close he was to introducing each of them to the pavement.
Anthony retreated back, reluctant to cause more of a scene, seeking a viable exit strategy. He could contemplate the hows and the whys and the what-the-bleeding-hells once he'd gotten out of this mess.
There! A few more hastily maneuvered steps and he was at the mouth of an alley. He wasted no time in whirling about and fleeing, pulling over garbage cans to slow down his pursuers. Vaulting himself up onto the edge of a dumpster, Anthony leaped up to catch the bottom-most platform of a fire escape and hauled himself up.
It wasn't until he arrived, rather breathlessly, on the roof that he allowed himself to stop. He didn't dare peek over the edge, lest one or more of the journalists had a telephoto lens, but after listening long enough to assure they hadn't managed to follow him up the escape, he did allow himself a moment to think.
"Bloody hell," he mumbled to himself, removing his cap and dragging a hand through his hair. "What was that about?"
He knew about Stark Industries, of course - everyone knew about Stark Industries. Anthony himself was quite adept at replicating and improving their weapons. Naturally, he also knew about Howard Stark and his recent death (murder). Hell, he'd even heard about the man's son - Arno, apparently - and his supposed genius (and okay, the work credited to said Stark did seem pretty top notch, if Anthony said so himself).
What Anthony didn't know was why random reporters on the street were mistaking him for the heir to one of the largest and most renowned weapons manufacturers in the world.
Allowing himself only a few minutes to catch his breath, Anthony decided that whether he was being pursued or not, it was probably best not to loiter on top of random buildings. Also, his clothes were starting to get rather damp. In any case, he had some research to do.
… He probably needed a disguise.
The fake mustache kept peeling off his face. He kept surreptitiously pressing it back down but the little boy at the computer across from him was starting to shoot him suspicious looks. It had been awhile since he'd done any spy work, okay? Hydra had found him to be more useful in the labs maintaining and designing equipment. The last time they'd sent him into the field had been when they needed someone to infiltrate some hoity toity private school over in Britain. That had been nearly three years ago. A guy got rusty.
After what felt like an eternity, the library computer finally coughed up the search results he'd typed in. Hydra had a lot of faults, what with being full of a bunch of fanatics with very troubling beliefs (raised there or not, Anthony was a genius; he'd eventually noticed), but their technology was not one of them.
At the moment, however, Hydra was not his foremost concern. Second most, certainly - someone would have definitely noticed that he'd gone AWOL and stolen some information while he was at it by then. But no, his primary concern was Arno Stark.
Arno Stark, who had recently inherited an empire. Arno Stark, who apparently had a knack for catching the media's attention on a somewhat regular basis. Arno Stark, who at the tender age of 21 - Anthony's age, in fact - was already well-known and recognizable across the country and in much of the world.
Arno Stark - who had Anthony's face.
He skimmed through article after article, pausing now and again to stare at the face he'd grown up seeing in the mirror. It seemed unreal but it was. It was very disconcertingly, inconveniently real.
"Well, shit, " Anthony whispered more loudly than he'd intended. The little boy's mouth dropped open and his eyes went wide at his language. "Sorry," the man mumbled.
Quickly logging off the computer, he hurried out of the library. Keeping his head down and cap pulled low, Anthony walked hurriedly along. A litany of shit, shit, shit played in the back of his head.
How on earth had he lived his entire life without realizing he had a goddamned doppelganger?! Sure, Hydra could keep their people pretty secluded, but he hadn't been that sheltered. Had he? He had, hadn't he? Obviously, he had. He'd run away from freaking Hydra, well aware of just what they were capable of, without a single clue that his face was known everywhere .
"Fuck!" Anthony burst out. A little old lady gave him a gimlet eye. "Sorry, sorry," he muttered, ducking his head further down.
This was not how things were supposed to work out. He hadn't been away from Hydra for even one whole day before running into a problem. It couldn't even be a small problem. Oh, no, he just had to have one of the most recognizable faces in the country. How could that possibly complicate matters?
Anthony groaned. Fishing around in his pocket, he pulled out the new ID he had created for himself, his thumb brushing over the name. Anthony Strong. His mother's surname. Well, her stage name, anyhow. 'Anthony Armstrong' was a bit alliterative for his tastes.
His mother's name had been Amanda and she had been a singer and a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent - a real S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, not like his father Jude No-Known-Last-Name. His father who, it turned out, had murdered his mother and had stolen him away to be raised by an organization that would use him like a tool.
He wished his life had been different.
"Could've been billionaire playboy train-wreck," Anthony muttered to himself. He couldn't decide how much better that was than a Nazi-raised human tool. His guess was that it was still in the 'a lot' range.
Shoving the ID back into his pocket, he focused on reorienting his plans. First things first, he had to get out of New York and as far from the Eastern seaboard as possible. It wouldn't change the fact that he had a celebrity lookalike, but hopefully being far away from where the other man lived would cut down on the number of people thinking that they recognized him.
He could go overseas, but that was the sort of thing his soon-to-be old friends with Hydra would expect of him. Granted, they would also expect him to try to hide within a large populace or disappear to some small town. It was hard not to be known by a group of people who'd raised and trained and studied one from infancy, but he was trying, alright?
Besides, Anthony had no other choice than to disappear. He'd ensured that the moment he'd learned the truth about his mother and decided to betray everything he had ever known. Anthony knew very well what happened to insubordinate assets - and despite how he'd been trained, despite how vaguely well he had been treated, Anthony was well aware that he was an asset.
To be captured and taken back now would mean death - or worse. His only choice was to outsmart Hydra while somehow keeping his face from being recognized at every turn.
Keeping his head down, Anthony boarded a bus and disappeared.
Two Years Later, Sometime in June
Tony was only half-listening to the barista as she chatted at him. To be fair, he was far more interested in the coffee she was making for him. She seemed friendly enough, he supposed.
"Say, but you must be real excited about Stark Industries expanding out here to California, huh?" she asked amiably, finally passing over his cup of life-giving nectar.
He offered a crooked smirk, winking as he shoved a large tip into the jar. "Less than you might think," he told her, playing up the British accent he rarely used anymore. Her brow puckered in confusion as he turned away.
People still mistook him for Stark, despite his best efforts. Of course, it didn't help that Arno Stark had decided to build a second set of offices in L.A. and move to the area. Why wouldn't he? Tony was just trying to keep a low profile. No big deal.
To be fair, though, Tony had taken the time to study and learn Stark's mannerisms. It hadn't been intentional, at first. He had just spent so much time reading articles and watching newsreels and videos about the man that he'd started to pick it all up.
At that point, Tony had decided that if he were going to do a thing, he was going to do it well. Who knew when being able to impersonate Arno Stark might come in handy? He really could have been the man's twin. They had the same hair color and skin tone, same features, the same height and build. The only notable physical difference between them, near as Tony could tell from photos and video clips, was their eyes. Tony's eyes were brown, whereas Arno's were blue.
That could be easily changed with colored contacts, not that it seemed necessary for everyday purposes. Eye color was definitely lost on most people. Granted, most people hadn't been trained to notice such small details in strangers.
Stepping out of the coffee shop, Tony made his way up the street, weaving between fellow pedestrians. It was probably about time for him to relocate. Stark had been in the area for around two weeks, increasing the number of people mistakenly identifying him as the billionaire. Tony had been in Los Angeles for longer than he'd initially intended, anyway. It wasn't the best idea for him to remain in the same place for too long.
Where to go, however. It would probably be best to go someplace small and out of the way, or at least somewhat less obvious. Tony had found that he rather liked the lively bustle of a large city, however. Perhaps a compromise? A larger city, but not a major one. That would surely suffice. It wasn't like Hydra was anywhere close to actually finding him. When he checked a couple days before, they were trying to track him down in South Africa. (He was actually a bit surprised that no one had gone after Stark believing the man to be him, yet, but he was sure that would happen eventually.)
Thus decided, Tony mentally cataloged what he needed to get done before moving on. There were a few people he needed to meet with before heading out of town and a couple bits of business to be settled. He was just pulling out his phone to make a few calls when someone abruptly stepped into his path.
"Oh, my god. You're him, right? You're totally him! I'm, like, your biggest fan," they gushed.
For the love of-
"Um," Tony said uncomfortably, backing away - not that it increased the distance between him and the other person, since they followed. "No. You're mistaken. Sorry." At least they weren't pointing their camera at him. Yet.
"What?" they squawked, looking scandalized by his denial. They were also very loud. It was starting to draw attention. "No way. You look exactly like him - you have to be Arno Stark!"
Now, he could be wrong, but Tony was relatively certain that identity didn't quite work that way. "I'm pretty sure I'm not," he insisted, trying to remain diplomatic while searching for a way out of the situation.
"Hey - isn't that Arno Stark?" Someone else piped up and Tony resisted the urge to groan. He should have left the minute it was announced that Stark Industries would be coming to L.A.
Now the phones were being raised in his direction and he managed to hide behind his coffee cup before flashes started going off. Not for the first time, he wondered how Stark constantly dealt with such invasive attention. Did the man have no private life? Could he? Judging by the frequent articles online and in the tabloids, the answer was a resounding no.
And Tony had thought his old life was disenchanting.
The number of people crowding around him was still relatively small, but their respect for his personal space was rapidly dwindling. All this despite his protests that he was not Arno Stark. It was ridiculous. There were celebrities who lost their own lookalike contests and here he was not even the person in question.
It was really starting to look like his best escape option would be to dart across traffic, when someone at the back of the group piped up, "Wait - he's not Stark!"
That's what he'd been trying to say.
"Stark's holding a live press conference right now. See?" Several people crowded around to peer at the guy's phone, murmuring in confusion and reluctant agreement.
Tony didn't stick around to see if anyone wanted to argue current events. He took off the moment attention wavered from him. The attendant of the lingerie store he'd slipped into shot him a dubious look but otherwise ignored him. That suited Tony just fine.
He loitered around the shop, discovering a few rather interesting things, just long enough for his would-be fans to fully disperse. Then he slipped back out onto the street, pulling out his phone even as he made himself scarce. There were arrangements to be made.
In his own defense, Tony wanted the record to show that even though he had rather thoroughly, uh, studied Stark, he never had any real intention to meet the guy nor interfere in his life in anyway. Bad enough that he sometimes got mistaken for him. It was simply better not to make things any more complicated.
The most frustrating thing Tony had learned about life outside of Hydra was that things rarely went to plan.
It was his last night in L.A. and he was making his way back to his apartment. He had just completed the last of his business, cutting his final tie to the city before he left. There was no knowing when or if he'd return, besides, he would be leaving his current identity behind. Tony Babbage would disappear and Nathaniel Edison would take his place. He would miss going by his real name, but concessions had to be made.
As he turned down an alley beside a local club, a door at the side of the building slammed open and a voice called out, "Hey, you!"
Tony still wasn't sure why he dove behind the dumpster rather than hightail it out of there. Really, his survival instincts ought to have been better than that. Nevertheless, he did just that, which is why he was still close by when he realized the man wasn't addressing him.
There was a grunt as someone was slammed into a wall, as well as the door opening and closing to let somebody disappear back inside. He missed the first bit of the conversation, but his questionable decision to sneak closer soon remedied the problem.
"-think you're so clever," the first man was sneering, "hiding in plain sight, but I know who you really are."
"See, that makes one 'f us, 'cos I've got no idea who you are," the other replied, words slurring.
Tony knew who both of them were. The one was Hydra. He'd never caught the man's name, but he'd often supervised when they had him do maintenance work. To be fair, the man probably didn't know his name, either. He'd only ever called him 'mechanic.'
The person shoved up against the wall was none other than Arno Stark.
Stomach twisting into knots, Tony seriously considered just walking away. Was it really his problem if some goon mistook Stark as him? Surely Hydra realized they looked alike, by now. It wasn't exactly rocket science. Either way, it wouldn't take them long to figure out.
That still left one problem: Arno Stark was still a genius like himself. Furthermore, he was the head of Stark Industries. He was the one designing most of the weapons.
Hydra wouldn't need Stark to be Tony. It was more than enough that he was Arno Stark.
One goon, a drunk billionaire, and an otherwise empty alleyway. If the goon had backup, he'd probably have called them by now, so he was likely planning to bring in Hydra's runaway asset on his own. So, one on one with possible assistance? Sure, the guy was built like freaking wrecking ball, but with Tony's training and smarts, he should be able to handle him. What could go wrong?
So much could go wrong.
And yet, he had snatched up a can and beaned the goon upside the head with it before he'd even thought about it. "Hey, numbskull," Tony taunted, and it wasn't exactly the most original insult but a better one probably would've been lost on the guy, anyway. "I think you've got an eye problem."
For a moment, the Hydra goon gaped between Tony and Stark, clearly at a loss. But then, Tony was the one speaking with a British accent. Just like he had when he was with Hydra - one of the few things he had taken from his father and the first thing he had dropped.
"You," he spat, releasing the billionaire to turn on Tony.
Tony gave him a smug grin. "Me," he replied, feigning confidence he didn't quite feel. "Though, I do have to ask: you aren't alone, are you?"
The goon snorted. "Like I need assistance carting in a lab monkey like you."
"Right, then. So you aren't on the team assigned to bring me in," said Tony.
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"Well, that depends. If you were part of said team, for instance, you'd probably be better informed," Tony pointed out. "I mean, you know I'm smart - you've seen me be smart - but you seem to be ignorant about the other thing."
"What other thing?" the Hydra agent demanded, eyeing him suspiciously.
"The fact that I've had at least as much hand-to-hand training as you," stated the genius. The other man scoffed and Tony shrugged. "I did try to warn you."
Then, the goon launched himself at him, a fist already flying. Tony dodged the blow, ducking right and in to deliver a kidney shot with his elbow as the man's reckless momentum carried him forward. The agent let out a sound that equal parts pain and annoyance.
"Now, I can see how you might think that was a lucky move on my part," Tony remarked as he danced away. "But there's a very good reason why being left-handed won't be as much of an advantage as you're probably used to." He knew he should just shut up. Angering one's opponent was simply a bad idea in anyone's book, but he couldn't seem to help himself.
"Shut up!" the goon snarled, agreeing with Tony's subconscious. He lunged again. Admittedly, he was less obvious this time, but Tony still managed to deftly evade and deliver a couple more blows. He had to wonder how many drinks the goon must have had. Hydra agents usually held up a bit better.
"I'm only trying to let you know what you're-" Tony didn't quite avoid the next strike, catching a glancing blow to the ribs that still managed to steal his breath for a moment. "What you're up against.
"I didn't just-" He was forced to break off to focus on the next volley of attacks. Dodge, dodge, again, parry, jab to the spleen. "Just work on the Asset's arm. I was also… Shit."
The goon kicked out unexpectedly, taking Tony's leg out from under him. He wheezed as his impact with the ground forced the air from his lungs. Nevertheless, he was rolling a second later, only just avoiding a boot to the gut.
Now, Tony was getting angry, too - as much fear as adrenaline-fueled temper.
He struck out with his heel, hitting close enough to the goon's knee to do the trick. Then the rest followed fluidly, a lifetime of training taking over. For better or worse, he was Hydra born and raised. He finished the fight in three more moves.
Punch to the liver. Blow to the solar plexus. Elbow to the back of the neck. The strikes had been quick, efficient, brutal - just as he'd been taught.
"I was also trained by the Asset," Tony finally concluded, winded enough that he knew he needed to add physical training back into his routine. He straightened carefully, grimacing in discomfort. Definitely time to leave L.A.
Limping slightly for a few steps, Tony made his way over to where Stark was slumped against the wall of the alley. "Hey," he said loudly.
"Five more minutes," his lookalike mumbled.
"Don't tempt me," Tony muttered. Heaving a sigh, he crouched down and pulled one of the other man's arms across his shoulders. "Come on. Can't sleep here, genius. Where'd you park? Or did you take a cab?"
It took some doing, but Tony eventually got Stark into the passenger seat of his vehicle before climbing behind the wheel himself. Another couple of minutes were dedicated to rifling through the man's pockets for his car keys - of which he had way too many. Nearly an hour later, they were pulling up in front of Stark's shiny new Malibu mansion. Which Tony technically shouldn't know how to find.
Look, Tony knew his interest in Stark had long since crossed the border into stalkery. But the man was now home safe in one piece and not abducted by Hydra, so really, his thoroughness ought to be considered a good thing.
Wrestling Stark into the house and to the nearest sofa was another chore altogether. It was like trying to maneuver a large bag full of fish. He was unwieldy, ungainly, and not the least bit helpful in the endeavor, but somehow Tony managed.
Tony settled the man into the corner of the couch, making sure he was mostly upright in case he vomited on himself. That done, he turned to leave. A hand shot out before he was able to do so.
Blue eyes peered blearily up at him as the intoxicated billionaire took notice of him for the first time since the alley. "Hey," Stark addressed him. To the man's credit, the words were only the slightest bit slurred. "How come you've got my face?"