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Every Purpose Under Heaven - Part 4 of 5

Disclaimers and information on the master post.

~~~~~

Tony watched hungrily as Pep - no, this Virginia Potts didn't have a nickname - stood waiting for the lights to change and scrolling through her iPhone. Whatever she was reading made her scowl ferociously at the screen.

 

Tony casually sidled closer as she viciously poked at the face of the phone - or as viciously as anyone could poke a glass surface. She turned her scowl on him then pointedly turned one professionally clad shoulder to him as she waited for someone to pick up her call.

 

Tony savored the novelty of not being the one in trouble as he tried to sidle a little closer without spooking her.

 

"Yeah, I saw it," she bit out quietly, glancing at him again.

 

Tony made a point of frowning at the slip of paper in his hand, and blessed Audrey for the idea. The paper had an address scribbled on it, and Audrey had suggested to keep it in his hand, as a reason for following Pep - Virginia. It could, if he chose, even be used as an excuse to speak to her.

 

He kept his eyes hidden behind his sunglasses and hoped she couldn't feel him how hungrily he was watching her as she quietly decimated the person on the other end of the phone.

 

"I don't care, Justin! I am not sleeping with you, I am never going to sleep with you, and you're only hurting your own credibility and the credibility of your entire company with this bullshit! Or don't you ever want to get another federal contract in your life?"

 

Virginia glanced at Tony, who resisted the urge to grab the phone from her hand, then find Justin Hammer and rip his balls off, if only because she looked both pissed off and humiliated to be overheard having the conversation.

 

The light changed and Virginia strode quickly across the street, still berating her errant boss, and leaving Tony behind. He quickened his own pace, but not so rapidly that she'd know he was following her.

 

"I accept your apology," he heard her say as he drifted closer. "I'll be there in half an hour." She stopped walking, shaking her head as she disconnected from the call. "Asshole," she muttered, then quickly glanced around as if she suddenly realized she was still on a public street.

 

She saw Tony, and stared directly at him for a suspended moment. His steps slowed as she hesitated, like she was thinking of saying something to him, then she abruptly turned on her heel and strode rapidly back the way she'd come.

 

Tony kept walking, memorizing every detail of her, every freckle on her face, every hair on her head, the shape of her breasts beneath her tailored suit jacket, and those long, shapely legs in killer high heels and hidden by a demure skirt.

 

But that long moment of staring into her eyes brought the painful truth home to him.

 

She wasn't his Pepper.

 

He crumpled the piece of paper in his fist as he blinked sudden, hot moisture from his eyes.

 

He kept walking and didn't look back.

 

~~~~~

Tony shivered slightly as he watched - well, himself - arrive back at the half-way house with several bags of groceries.

 

Stark bounded up the front steps, keys in hand. Tony waited until Stark had the door open before he went through the fence.

 

"Mr. Stark?" he called.

 

His doppelganger turned.

 

"Mr. Stark was my father," he replied with a smile. "Call me Tony."

 

Tony didn't smile in reply; he was too busy staring.

 

The road not taken, he thought distantly.

 

The man in front of him was him. The same dark, expressive eyes, the same face, the same build.

 

Tony watched Stark's expression change as Stark took a good look at him. His dark eyes widened, and he paled as he suddenly leaned away, his mouth gaping open.

 

"That's not a good look on us," Tony said drily, and Stark closed his mouth with a loud snap.

 

"Who are you?" he demanded, his eyes narrowing.

 

"That's...a long story, and one you probably won't believe."

 

"What do you want?"

 

"To make you rich."

 

~~~~~

 

Stark placed a cup of coffee in front of Tony and took a seat across the table from him.

 

Tony glanced around. "Will you get into trouble if the half-way house isn't open?"

 

Stark shook his head. "Everyone knows I'm running the place alone. Sometimes I'm sick, or I have a job, and I'm not around for a few days. This place is really just a place to meet, get warm, have some coffee, a meal and a shower."

 

Tony nodded, his eyes riveted on Stark's face.

 

"Why are you working here?" Tony asked.

 

Stark shrugged. "I know what it's like to be on the streets. To have nowhere to go and no one who cares."

 

Tony slowly nodded.

 

The man in front of him looked like him, but Tony could easily see the obvious differences. Stark sported a five o'clock shadow but no well-groomed goatee, and Tony was positive Stark's thick, unruly hair had never been touched by a hair product, expensive or otherwise. Stark had an extra wrinkle or two, and a few more strands of gray. He was a few pounds lighter, and Tony suspected Stark's muscles were maintained by hard work rather than by a personal trainer.

 

But the biggest differences weren't physical.

 

This Tony Stark had become used to stillness and silence and confined spaces. His movements were spare, careful and economical. His eyes showed he'd been through caves in his mind and soul that were darker, deeper and longer than any physical cave in Afghanistan could ever be. He held himself still and sleek, even in the ill-fitting work clothes he wore. It was almost like he was doing his best to go unnoticed, and unremarked, only his eyes were sharply intelligent, watchful and wary, and Tony knew he was holding himself ready to move in any direction at a moment's notice.

 

Stark looked him over just as intently.

 

"Are you my twin brother?" Stark finally asked.

 

Tony blinked, then smiled. "No - but I wish I would have thought of that. It might have made this easier."

 

Stark frowned. "So, who are you then?"

 

Tony took a deep breath, and told him.

 

~~~~~

 

Stark shook his head in disbelief as Tony rebuttoned his shirt, once more hiding the arc reactor from view.

 

Stark's hand trembled slightly as he picked up his coffee cup and lifted it to his lips. He took a soothing sip then muttered, "Unbelievable."

 

"I know," Tony agreed.

 

"So. A different universe. How did you end up here?"

 

Tony shrugged. "I'm not sure. We were fighting a supervillain named Dr. Doom -"

 

Stark barked a loud laugh. "Dr. Doom? Really?"

 

Tony sighed and rubbed his temple. "Victor von Doom. And yes. Really."

 

"I guess he was destined to become a supervillain, wasn't he? With a name like that, what else could he be?"

 

Tony's lips twitched. "I would have changed it, myself."

 

Stark airly waved his comment away. "I'm sure there's some bullshit family heritage to be protected or honored or something stupid like that."

 

Tony nodded. "Isn't there always?"

 

Stark smirked and they lapsed into silence.

 

"So - why are you here?" Stark finally asked.

 

"Partly curiosity. I wanted to see..."

 

"The road not taken?"

 

"One of them anyway. But the main reason is because I intend to get back to my universe. I - I left a girl behind."

 

Stark smiled, and Tony blinked at being the target of a genuine Tony Stark smile.

 

"What can I do to help?" Stark asked.

 

"I need your identity. And a favor."

 

Stark's eyebrows rose.

 

"More than just giving you my identify?" he asked drily.

 

"Lending it to me, actually," Tony corrected and leaned forward. "Tell me something. Are you really a genius?"

 

Stark dropped his gaze to his hands. "So they told me." He glanced around the dingy room. "And yet...I ended up in jail three times and face down in a gutter more often than that. And I struggle every day to stay out of both those places. Not sure there's much genius in any of that."

 

"But you won a scholarship to MIT?"

 

Stark shrugged and nodded.

 

"Then the fact that you're about to create the most advanced artificial intelligence system this world has ever seen isn't impossible."

 

Stark's eyes widened.

 

"There are, however, two conditions," Tony continued. "You'll have to share the credit - and the fortune - with two men, Nathan Wuornos and Duke Crocker, from Haven, Maine. Neither of whom know anything about this, by the way. And you'll have to convince a woman named Virginia Potts to come work for you, as your personal assistant."

 

Stark frowned. "What? Who - Potts?"

 

"Justin Hammer's personal assistant."

 

Stark snorted his disdain and Tony grinned.

 

Tony said, "If she's like her double in my universe, she's worth her weight in gold. She'll keep you focused, support you in your efforts to stay sober, and she'll make sure you stay rich."

 

"Just...how much money are we talking about?" Stark asked suspiciously.

 

"Millions. Possibly billions. Eventually."

 

Stark's mouth dropped open.

 

"The first contract is almost ready for us - you - to sign, with an advance payment of two million dollars. Half will be paid to you and me, half will be paid to Nathan and Duke, or their heirs."

 

"In Haven, Maine?" Stark said.

 

Tony nodded. "Do yourself a favor - always meet Nathan and Duke here in New York. Don't ever go to Haven, if you value your life."

 

Stark's eyes widened. "That dangerous?"

 

"That boring."

 

Stark snorted. "Maybe for a superhero," he said drily.

 

He stared into space, his dark eyes stunned.

 

"Why are you doing this?" he whispered.

 

Tony shrugged. "Until I can find a way home, I'm stuck here. I need money - and a lot of it - to build the computing power I need to get home. The problem is, I don't exist here. You do."

 

Stark chuckled. "And I'm a loser, with no money at all."

 

Tony raised an eyebrow. "Loser? You got clean, didn't you?"

 

Stark shrugged.

 

"And you did it on your own? I mean, you sought treatment on your own."

 

Stark hesitated. "I made a promise," he muttered, not meeting Tony's eyes.

 

"You're stronger than I am," Tony said softly. "I don't think I could have done what you've done. Not alone. Not without - help. So tell me - which one of us is the loser?"

 

Stark gaped at him. "You're a freakin' superhero!"

 

"In a suit of armor," Tony agreed drily, "and with billions behind me. I'm no superhero here."

 

Stark and Tony stared at each other in silence.

 

"Does this feel as weird to you as it does to me?" Stark finally asked.

 

"Probably," Tony replied.

 

They each slowly grinned then began to laugh so hard tears ran down their cheeks.

 

"How many more of us are out there?" Stark finally asked once they'd managed to get themselves back under control.

 

"Billions. Trillions. I have no clue how I'm going to find the universe that's mine."

 

"You'll will, though. You're a genius."

 

Tony leaned forward and stared intently into Stark's eyes. "So are you."

~~~~~


 Part Three          Part Five

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Quotes

"All right," said Susan. "I'm not stupid. You're saying humans need...fantasies to make life bearable."

REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE THE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.

"Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little --"

YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.

"So we can believe the big ones?"

YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.

-- Susan and Death in Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

"And no practical definition of freedom would be complete without the freedom to take the consequences. Indeed, it is the freedom upon which all the others are based."

-- Lord Vetinari in Going Postal by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

They thought the Library was a dangerous place because of all the magical books, which was true enough, but what made it really one of the most dangerous places there could ever be was the simple fact that it was a library.

-- Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

As a wizard, it was something that Ponder had only before encountered in acorns: a tiny soundless voice which said, yes, I am but a small, green, simple object - but I dream about forests.

-- Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

---------------------

In the 24th century, there will be no hunger. There will be no greed. And every child will know how to read.

-- Gene Roddenberry, as repeated by Jonathan Frakes in the documentary How William Shatner Changed the World

---------------------

We've got two lives, one we're given and the other one we make
And the world won't stop, and actions speak louder
Listen to your heart, and what your heart might say
Everything we got, we got the hard way.

-- Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Hard Way from the album Come On, Come On

---------------------

Cause when they own the information, oh
They can bend it all they want.

-- John Mayer, Waiting on the World to Change from the album Continuum

---------------------

Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, "I'll try again tomorrow."

-- Mary Anne Radmacher, as seen in Uncle John's Bathroom Reader Tales to Inspire

---------------------

I never loved the soldier
Until there was a war.
Or thought about tomorrow
'til my baby hit the floor.
I only talk to God
When somebody's about to die.
I never cherished freedom
Freedom never cries.

-- Five for Fighting, Freedom Never Cries from the album Two Lights

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It may sound absurd: but don't be naive
Even heroes have the right to bleed
I may be disturbed: but won't you concede
Even heroes have the right to dream

-- Five for Fighting, Superman (It's Not Easy) from the album American Town

---------------------

Had a dream last night took a time travellin' ride
Back to my childhood where those monsters reside
They snack on innocence and dine on self-esteem
But I like to be in touch with what makes me scream
Vampires, mummies and the Holy Ghost
These are the things that terrify me the most.
No alien, psychopath or MTV host
Scares me like vampires,mummies and the Holy Ghost.

-- Jimmy Buffett, Vampires, Mummies and the Holy Ghost from the album Fruitcakes

---------------------

"I want to believe that... the dead are not lost to us. That they speak to us... as part of something greater than us - greater than any alien force. And if you and I are powerless now, I want to believe that if we listen, to what's speaking, it can give us the power to save ourselves."

-- Fox Mulder, The X-Files from the episode The Truth, pt. 2
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