Notes: The sequel to Practical Applications, a story in the Echoes the Sea series. Thanks to strangevisitor7 and ninjababe for the beta!
Character(s): Methos, Tony Stark, Ezra Standish, Duncan MacLeod, Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Nick Fury, Charlotte Sparrow, Other Original Characters.
Summary: Friendship takes work; being friends with Tony Stark requires danger pay. When Tony said ‘I am Iron Man’, he affected the lives of those closest to him – they just never dreamed how much. Like a pebble tossed in a pond, the ripples eventually touch all in their path.
Once Upon A Time
It seemed everyone had an opinion on her current troubles, and all of them had managed to share them with her this morning. It was only 10 A.M. and yet Charlotte was already exhausted as she sought the sanctuary of her rose garden and a pot of tea. It seemed the only person she hadn’t heard from was Methos. But that was probably for the best.
The hinges of the garden gate squeaked and she groaned, wondering who had decided to butt into her personal life this time. Okay, this was getting ridiculous, she thought as Lieutenant Colonel James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes covered the distance between them. Though the fact he was in uniform indicated that this visit was about something other than her love life.
What she felt like saying was, ‘What the hell do you want?’, but what she actually said was, “Jim, what a lovely surprise.” She must have overdone the sincerity, since the man gave her a searching look as he sat in the chair next to her.
“Charlotte, you know why I’m here.”
“Actually, I don’t have a clue, so why don’t you tell me.”
“You, Tony, going to Afghanistan; ring any bells?” He was all business, the stress he was under evident in his eyes.
“And?” Charlotte was tired, aggravated, and in no mood for whatever it was that Jim was here for.
“And? You need to make Tony see that it’s out of the question!”
“Is that what you think?” Her anger flared up. “I am not Tony’s keeper! You’re his best friend, you tell him he can’t go!”
“Damn it, you know that me trying to convince him will only make him more determined. You, on the other hand, can make him see that this whole idea is foolish, that he’s endangering your life. You have a talent for making Tony see reason that I don’t have.”
Charlotte leapt from her chair, rounding on him. “Just what are you trying to imply, Jim? Because I don’t like it! You think I’m going to use my sex to manipulate Tony into doing what the military brass wants?” She was furious. “Or is it you think I’ll use sex to get him to see things your way? Is that it?”
“No!” Now he was on his feet. “That isn’t what I meant, how could you think that?” He sounded hurt.
Her anger fled. “I’m sorry, Jim, it’s just… The last twenty-four hours haven’t been good, and I took it out on you. I’m sorry,” she repeated.
“Me too. I shouldn’t have come in here, ordering you around like you’re one of my airmen. Want to tell me what’s got you so upset?”
“Are you sure you want to know?” At his nod, she gave him an abbreviated version of her woes.
He drew her into his arms, hugging her comfortingly. “I’m sorry, Charlotte.” Letting her go, he sat back down. “You and I both know that being Tony’s friend can push you to the limit.”
“Yeah.” Reseating herself, she asked, “So what corner has he pushed you into?”
“My superiors aren’t happy with a private citizen having the kind of power the Iron Man suit possesses.”
“The same superiors who call Tony in the middle of the night to take care of threats to our security?” Charlotte laughed at the look of surprise on his face. “I’m not a fool, Jim; I know how the game is played.” She shook her head. “And at the same time, I can see why they’d have grounds for concern.”
Nodding, he said, “As long as Tony doesn’t do anything tabloid worthy, keeps it low key, I can ward them off. But Charlotte, him going back to Afghanistan, publically, however noble his intent, that won’t fly.”
She kneaded her temple, a reaction to both stress and the nearing presence of another Immortal. “I’ll go to L.A., talk to Tony, make him see that this isn’t the time. But if I can’t convince him, then I need to go too, Jim. He’s going to need someone by his side.” She was worried about Tony, his mental state, and wouldn’t let him go back to that place alone.
“Agreed, but I have faith in you; I’ve seen you talk Tony down before.”
“But not when the stakes were so high,” she pointed out.
“No, and I’m sorry I’m dumping this on you, but you’re the only one I can turn to this time, so thank you, Charlotte.” The relief in his voice was obvious.
“I always have your back, Jim, you know that.”
Nodding, he sat back, looking at her sidelong. “So, an Aston Martin. How come I don’t get a car?”
“You’d have to look better in heels and a short skirt,” she replied teasingly.
“And I’d have to shave my legs,” he pointed out.
Charlotte laughed, the first laughter in what seemed like weeks. “At a minimum!”
“Hey, you know I can’t give you a car, but anytime you want up in an F-18 again, I’m your guy!”
“Don’t tell Tony, but that’s the best offer I’ve had in a while.” She flashed him an impish grin.
“And I have a cool uniform – I know chicks dig it.” He made a valiant attempt to emulate Tony’s ‘on the prowl’ persona, which sent Charlotte into a fit of giggles. He tried to look affronted, but failed as he started to chuckle. “Maybe it needs work,” he admitted.
She leaned over, kissing him on the cheek. “You don’t need any work at all, Jim.”
“More of Charlotte’s friends,” Methos said snidely from behind them. “I thought we could talk, but I see I should have made an appointment with your social secretary.”
So it had been Methos. Of course, it would have to be, right? She sighed inwardly. This day just kept getting better and better. She wondered how much of their conversation he’d heard, and then decided she just didn’t care. As she introduced the two men, Rhodey gave Methos an appraising once over.
It was obvious Methos wasn’t in the mood for social niceties. “When you’re done,” he said pointedly, dropping into a nearby chair.
Jim’s hand on her shoulder stopped the angry response forming on her lips. “I need to get back.”
“I’ll walk you out.”
As they crossed the lawn, he glanced back at Methos. “Kind of see where Tony’s coming from,” he told her softly.
She winced. “Jim, I’m sorry, there’s no excuse for his rudeness, but this is my fault. I kept secrets from him; he has a right to be angry.”
“To err is human, to forgive divine, remember? And if he really does love you….”
“I think forgiveness is going to be in short supply for the foreseeable future,” she said sadly.
They reached the gate. “Just remember you have friends who care what happens, okay? And that we’re only a call away.” He kissed her cheek. “I’ll talk to you later.”
Charlotte shut the gate behind him, squaring her shoulders, working up the strength to face Methos again. In the cold light of day, she regretted the things she’d said in the heat of anger, worse, even if Methos could forgive that, she still hadn’t told him about Tony having him investigated. That bit of information had not made it into their knock down drag out of the night before. She knew it would be the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. Well, there was no point in delaying the inevitable.
Going back to where Methos sat, she stood in front of him, arms crossed tightly over her chest. “There was no need for you to be rude. Jim’s….”
“I know who he is,” Methos interrupted. “The internet is an amazing thing. Galas, Presidential dinners, Monte Carlo, Paris, Vegas; wherever the rich and famous are. And what a handsome couple you and Stark make – all the tabloids say so. To think, if only I’d known you were a celebrity, I could have Googled you and not wasted time searching through musty old Watcher chronicles!”
“Or maybe you just weren’t that interested in finding me,” she pointed out acidly. Her vow to herself to not let anger overtake her again fell to the wayside.
He narrowed his eyes, “Maybe I wasn’t at that,” he agreed with a tilt of his head. “The couture gowns, and all the jewels you’re decked out in in those photos.., tell me, do you get to keep them, or do you have to give them back when he’s done with you?”
He might as well have slapped her, because his words were like a physical blow. She wasn’t angry anymore; this was a place so far past anger, that the only thing remaining was the bitter dregs of loss and regret for once upon a time when there had been love and joy.
She raised her chin, holding his gaze, refusing to give him the satisfaction of seeing her distress. “I’ll be at the winery for the rest of the day, that will give you time to remove your belongings from the house. And one more thing, Tony had you investigated. Rather, he had Matthew investigated. Your cover is intact, he took you at face value; something I should have done.” She didn’t give him time to respond as she swiftly departed the garden.