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.
Real Friends Help You Drink Tequila
Methos threw his duffle into the corner of Duncan’s living room with a snarl. Joe Dawson gave
Duncan a look before both men turned their attention to the new arrival.
“What’s going on, Methos?” Duncan MacLeod asked as Methos dropped into an easy chair across from where the two other men sat on the couch.
“It’s over, that’s what’s going on,” Methos bit out.
Duncan sat up straight. “Over? I thought you were going to talk to Charlotte? Not walk out!”
“That was before one of her boyfriend’s goons tried to pay me off!”
“You’re kidding?” Joe leaned forward. “So just how much are you worth?”
Methos snorted. “Seven figures.”
Joe made a low whistle. “I have always said that you are one huge pain in the ass, old man. Seems like Stark has the dough to match.”
“This isn’t funny, Joe!”
“Just sayin’ is all.” He waved his hands at the irate ancient Immortal. “So that’s it then? You just call it quits, even though your lady had nothing to do with it?”
“Nothing…?” Methos sputtered. “Come on, Joe, you can’t honestly believe that a man would make that kind of payout for anything less than a lover?”
“What we believe isn’t the issue, Methos,” Duncan pointed out, “it’s what you believe – or choose to believe.”
“And what exactly is that supposed to mean?”
“Only that you didn’t give Charlotte a chance to disavow what Stark did. You convicted her with no opportunity for her to defend herself,” the Scots Immortal remonstrated.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but when I finally did get to see her, she was with Stark’s military shadow, Rhodes. It was obvious from their conversation that she had no intention of choosing me over Stark!”
“Choosing you?” Duncan threw his hands up in disbelief. “Why should she have to? Did she make you choose between her and Joe?” He didn’t give Methos a chance to reply. “No, she didn’t! She accepted him as a part of your life, despite her antipathy for Watchers!”
“It isn’t the same thing! I wasn’t sleeping with Joe!” Methos practically shouted.
“Hey, man, you just ain’t my type,” Joe said with a smirk, trying to diffuse the situation.
Duncan looked at Methos intently. “I’m your friend, Methos, and as your friend, I think you’re making a hell of a mistake. You’re throwing away the woman you claim to love out of wounded pride, and I think that you’ll come to regret it. She isn’t the girl that was the wife of your best friend, or your student, or even the woman you were going to marry century before last anymore. She has a life of her own, just like you. The question is – are you willing to try and fit into her life here and now, the way she’s tried to fit into yours?” Getting up, he shoved his hands into his pockets, shrugging. “Think about it, Methos,” he said before leaving the room.
The silence stretched, Joe just looking at Methos with a ‘know it all’ gleam in his eyes.
“What?” Methos demanded. “Just say it, Joe, I know you’re dying to!”
“Nah, man, just thinking is all.” He shifted in his chair, getting comfortable, not revealing what exactly those thoughts were.
“Okay, okay !” The ‘know it all’ look spread to his lips as he grinned at his friend. “I was just thinking that I was looking at the world’s oldest fool. Damned impressive, I gotta tell you.”
“Ha ha,” Methos said sourly.
“How many of us get a second chance, let alone a third?” He jabbed a finger at Methos. “Seems to me, you’re one damned lucky bastard. And yet here you are, throwing it all away because you’re jealous.”
Methos exploded out of his chair. “I am not jealous!”
“You do a hell of a good impression, old man.” He chuckled, obviously enjoying needling the oldest Immortal. “It’s that,” the humour was gone, “or you have an aversion to being happy, and that, my friend, would be a crying shame.”
Charlotte killed the engine, resting her forehead against the leather-wrapped steering wheel of the Aston Martin Tony had given her the day before. Day before? It seemed like years. After leaving Methos in the garden, she’d gone through her day on autopilot, and by the time the sun had set, the mocking emptiness of her house was more than she could bear. So she’d thrown clothes in a suitcase, gotten in the car, and had started driving. Though she hadn’t had any real destination in mind when she’d started, she wasn’t really surprised when she’d found herself on One heading into Malibu.
“Ma’am?” the voice of Happy Hogan, Tony’s Man Friday said through the open window, making her jump, startled. “Are you okay?”
Pasting on a smile, she replied, “Fine, I’m fine, Happy. Just a little tired after the drive.”
He nodded, but didn’t seem to really believe her, opening the driver side door and holding out a hand. “Jarvis told me you were out here. Haven’t told the boss; figured he’d like the surprise.”
She took his hand, letting him help her from the car. “Thank you. He’s in then?”
“Sure is; he and Miss Potts arrived just before you.”
“I know the way,” she told him when he made to follow her to the house, “I don’t want to be a bother.”
“You’re never a bother, Miss Sparrow,” he told her sincerely. “I’ll bring in your luggage.”
“Oh, I won’t be staying, Happy,” she said as she started up the steps to the imposing front door of Tony Stark’s Point Dume mansion. “But thank you.”
Happy watched her mount the steps, shook his head and said softly, “Whatever you say ma’am.” Then he smiled and popped the trunk.
As she waited for Jarvis to announce her, she mused on the irony of the situation. Tony was at the crux of her current distress, and yet, at the same time, he was one of her dearest friends; the kind of friend you went to when you got dumped. Someone who would help you get blinding drunk and let you cry on their shoulder. In the end, that friendship trumped all. This life was comforting in its familiarity, and she wanted it back. Maybe her reunion with Methos had only been a momentary blip, one that was never meant to last. But Methos was gone now, and her life could get back to normal. That was for the best, wasn’t it?
The door was pulled open, surprisingly enough by Tony himself. “Why are you hanging around out here, Birdie?” he scolded. “You could have just come in.”
“Because I have manners,” she informed him with a sniff.
Grinning, he took her arm, pulling her inside. “Yeah, yeah, you’re a real Emily Post.” He cocked his head. “So what brings you to my doorstep?”
“I need a reason?” she asked, repeating his words from yesterday.
“No, of course not,” he said as they walked down the steps into the main living area of the mansion. “But just dropping in is more my thing.”
“I…,” she shook her head, “I don’t know, Tony, I just needed to see you.” Now that she was here, she didn’t even know where to begin. She sank down onto the leather sofa, staring out the floor to ceiling windows, her heart feeling as dark as the night beyond the glass. “There are things we need to discuss.”
He sat next to her, arm across her shoulders, his extended right leg touching hers, and she let herself lean against him. “What’s wrong, Birdie?”
“I need you to cancel the Afghanistan trip, please, Tony.” She tilted her head so she could look at him. “It’s too dangerous right now, and in the remote areas that need help the most, the situation on the ground will make it impossible.”
“Is this you talking, or the boyfriend?” He sounded unhappy, but not as much as she expected.
“Me, Tony – you shouldn’t have to ask.” Pulling away, she slid down the sofa to sit against the armrest. “Matthew is no longer a factor; we’re not together anymore.” She looked at her hands curled in her lap. “We had a fight, about you, and…it’s over.”
She shook her head. “No, you’re not.”
“Okay, I’m not.” She raised an eyebrow, and he hurriedly added, “I’m not sorry he’s gone, Birdie, but I am sorry he hurt you. You deserve so much more and you’re better off with him out of your life. Better to find out now, right?”
She only shrugged, not answering.
He looked at her intently, absently rubbing at the area around the RT implanted in his chest with his fingertips. “We’ll postpone the trip, you’re right. And it isn’t fair for me to paint a bullseye on you.”
She sighed softly, more than a little surprised at his acquiescence, but too grateful to question it. “Thank you, Tony.” Leaning forward, she smiled. “But I will take you up on your offer.”
His lips curled into a lascivious smile. “I’ve been waiting to hear those words for seven years, sweetheart.”
“And you’re going to keep waiting,” she shot back with a grin.
Behind her, she heard the tap of heels on the marble floor, and so did Tony, who turned around to greet the new arrival. “Pepper, just in time for Birdie’s big announcement.” He waved her to a chair across from the sofa.
The two women greeted each other as Pepper Potts, Tony’s executive assistant, sat down, her ever present notebook computer already sitting open on her lap.
Charlotte had thought about Tony’s idea for a charitable division of Stark Industries, and the more she’d thought about it, the more it appealed to her. Yes, there were risks, taking on so high profile a position, but the good that she could do with the resources SI offered far outweighed them. “I’ll head up your division, Tony; it would be my honour.”
Tony’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “You won’t regret it, Birdie, I promise! Pepper, meet with legal tomorrow, and get the ball rolling. And set up a press conference; I want this to make a splash.”
“Will do,” Pepper said, typing into her notebook. “I think we should book the two of you on some of the financial shows too; Neil Cavuto maybe?”
“Perfect!” Tony warmed to the idea. “We should get Ez down here to do an exclusive photo op. What do you think, Birdie?”
“He’d be more than happy to do it.”
“I already have some ideas on how to wrap this into the Expo. We’re going to do amazing things, you just wait!”
“I have no doubts in that regard,” Charlotte said with a warm smile. “I know we can make a difference, and I’ll do my utmost not to let you down, Tony.”
“Letting me down isn’t a possibility, Birdie. This is going to be good for you too; you have a lot more to offer than running a winery. The success of the Black Foundation proves that. It’s time for you to step into the limelight.” He cocked an eyebrow. “And I think you’ll find the compensation more than adequate.”
“No, Tony, I’m not doing this for the money and I won’t accept any,” she said firmly. “Take the money and donate it to charity, or roll it back into the division for special projects or something, I don’t care; but I won’t take a cent of it.”
“Come on now, Birdie, no one, least of all me, expects you to do this for free .”
“Those are my terms, Tony, take them or leave them.”
He sighed long-sufferingly. “Fine! But you will let the company provide you with a place to live when you’re here.” He waved a hand at her as she started to object. “Nope, this one you’re going to agree to. I want you somewhere with top of the line security, and where you can entertain. You know that’s part of the gig.”
She wrinkled her nose. “Fine.”
“Come on, Birdie, the face!”
Her succinct reply was to stick her tongue out at him. Then she held out her right hand. “Do we have a deal, Mr. Stark?”
“We do, Miss Sparrow.” He took her proffered hand in his, shaking it. “Though I think we should seal it with a kiss,” he pulled her a little closer, eyes gleaming, “don’t you?”
“Incorrigible,” she muttered, but leaned in, brushing her lips across his. “There.”
He flashed a saucy grin, releasing her hand. “Pepper, this calls for champagne!”
“No champagne for me, Tony. I still need to drive myself to a hotel, and I’m tired. Rain check?”
“Hotel? You’re staying here,” he stated.
“No, Tony, I’m not. Please, I need some alone time, okay?”
“How about a compromise? You stay here tonight, and Pepper will book you into the Montage tomorrow. Come on,” he wheedled, “it’s been months since you’ve visited, and we need to celebrate!”
“We could always celebrate and Happy could drive me to my hotel later,” Charlotte pointed out with a smirk.
“Any other night, and I’d agree, but tonight is Happy’s weaving class. You wouldn’t want him to miss it, would you?” Tony looked at her sadly.
Charlotte giggled, and Pepper grinned. “Shall I check you in to the Montage tonight, Charlotte?” Pepper asked, at least giving her the appearance of having a choice in the matter.
Charlotte gave in gracefully. “Tomorrow will be fine, Virginia; heaven forbid Happy miss his weaving class! And if I can impose upon you to go shopping with me tomorrow? I didn’t bring a ‘new Stark Industries division press conference’ outfit with me,” she said wryly.
“It would be my pleasure.” Pepper tapped her finger against her chin. “In fact, there’s a new designer who’s set up shop in the Fashion District; I think you’ll love her.”
“That sounds perfect!”
“If you two are going shopping, I guess industry will come to a grinding halt till at least lunch,” Tony told them teasingly.
“At least,” Charlotte agreed. “Now, I think you promised me champagne?”