Notes: The sequel to Practical Applications, a story in the Echoes the Sea series.
Character(s): Methos, Tony Stark, Ezra Standish, Duncan MacLeod, Pepper Potts, James Rhodes, Nick Fury, Charlotte Sparrow, Natalie Rushman, 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.
Methos slid onto the barstool next to Duncan, nodding his thanks as Joe placed a bottle of beer in front of him. He didn't say anything, just picked distractedly at the label on the bottle, a million miles away. Duncan glanced at Joe, who shrugged.
"Quiet this afternoon," Duncan commented, looking around the nearly deserted bar area of Standish & Black.
"Yeah," Joe agreed. "It'll pickup in an hour or so."
"Proprietors around?" Duncan asked casually.
Joe shook his head. "Ezra had business in Manhattan, and Charlotte is in L.A.." Methos looked up at Joe's words, not hiding his surprise. It seemed that he had no idea Charlotte was gone. "Drove down last night."
"How long will she be gone?" Methos was picking at the label again.
"No idea, old man." Joe looked at him thoughtfully. "You know, you could call her."
"If one more person...." He threw up his hands in disgust. Then he shook his head, shoulders slumping. "After the things I said yesterday, she won't be answering my calls for the foreseeable future."
Joe started to reply, but Methos was no longer paying attention to him, his eyes now on the TV screen above the bar, reaching for the remote to turn up the volume. Duncan and Joe looked up to see what had captured Methos' interest. The commentator's voice said, This was the scene earlier today at Stark Industries, where Tony Stark announced the creation of a new division. Dedicated to improving life in the developing world by applying cutting edge technology, this new venture will be headed up by longtime Stark confidante, businesswoman Charlotte Sparrow.
The screen switched to a close-up view of the outdoor press conference where Stark was speaking. "No technology, however advanced, can affect change without humanity, and a heart that truly cares. And no one I know has a bigger heart than the woman I am about to present to you, my good friend, Charlotte Sparrow." Stark held out an arm, extending his hand to bring Charlotte to the podium, stepping back to stand slightly behind her.
"Thank you," she said over the welcoming applause. "Thank you."
Methos chuckled, and the other men looked at him in surprise. Methos smiled in response, explaining, "That's pure Charlotte, she never does anything by half measures; it's all in or nothing." He looked back at the screen, saying quietly, "They're right; they do make a handsome couple."
"Methos," Duncan began.
"It's okay, Mac." He shook his head. "Seeing them together like this; he's proud of her, you can see it in his eyes. He believes in her. And she cares - so much so that she's willing to risk the publicity, exposure. It's not just what I thought it was," he admitted. He turned his attention back to what Charlotte was saying. The camera had pulled back, sweeping over the gathered audience of SI employees and the press. Then he sat straight up, his expression darkening as he hit the pause on the remote.
"What's wrong?" Duncan asked.
Methos shook his head, not answering as he rewound the footage, looking for something, hitting pause once more when he seemed to find it. "Damn it," he snarled.
"What's wrong?" Duncan repeated, more urgently this time.
Pointing the remote at the screen, he said, "Istvaeone."
Now Joe's face bore a similar expression to Methos'. "Istvaeone? What the hell is he doing at a Stark Industries press conference?"
"Working in maintenance, it would appear," he replied acidly.
"Would someone like to tell me what the hell is going on?" Duncan demanded impatiently.
"Marcomanni chieftain, first death, as near as we can tell, around 50 AD," Joe filled Duncan in on what he knew. "There's a class on him at the academy. I take it you've met?" Joes asked Methos.
"And?" Joe prompted.
"And Marcus Aurelius' army interrupted, okay?" He exploded off the barstool, pacing around. "What's he doing these days?"
Joe was already bringing up the Watcher database on his laptop. "This isn't good," he muttered as he read.
"What?" Methos asked, that one word full of dread.
"We don't have a Watcher on him, dude's into some bad stuff: Al Qaeda," he paused, "Ten Rings."
Methos looked at Joe sharply. "Ten Rings? That's the group that..."
"That kidnapped Stark," Joe finished. "Yeah, the very same."
"Damn it, damn it!" Methos shouted, slapping his hand down on the bar. "I need to be there."
"This is a replay, Methos. Whatever's happened has happened," Duncan said gently.
"You think I don't know that?" Methos turned on the Highlander. "If I hadn't said the things I did, had given her a chance, she wouldn't even be there!" There was nothing they could say in response to that. "I need to know where she's staying, I need to find her. Know that she's okay."
"I know where she is," a voice said from behind them. "What's happened?" Chris Tanner asked as he joined the men at the bar.
Duncan explained the situation to Charlotte's godson. The younger Watcher's face paled at what he learned. "She's good, she can beat him." For all the confidence in the declaration, there was a note of question in Chris's voice.
Methos didn't immediately answer, deep in thought. Finally, he nodded. "Yes," he said quietly, then louder, "Yes; I was her teacher," he said with a touch of smugness. Despite the seriousness of the situation, the others couldn't repress a smile. "Now where is she, Chris?"
Natalie watched, entranced, the unfolding battle before her. Whatever she'd been expecting when she'd followed Charlotte to the abandoned dirigible hangar at the edge of the Stark Industries airfield, it wasn't this. She'd been briefed on the existence of Immortals, but until now, it had been an abstract concept. And never in a million years would she have pegged Stark's girlfriend as one of them. She choked back a gasp as the duel ended with one final sword stroke, silence falling like a cloak, a silence that was swiftly displaced by the sound on an oncoming storm.
Charlotte collapsed to her knees, dropping the short blade she held in her right hand, and the sword she held in her left. It had worked, she thought numbly, just as he'd said it would. It's a last resort, his voice floated from somewhere in the past. Use it only when you're certain that death awaits. A perilous move, but one that will save you if performed correctly. "Thank you," she whispered. It was a whisper that turned into a scream of agony as the Quickening of Ingo Mannus tore through her.
Natalie waited until Charlotte's car was out of sight before entering the hangar. Surveying the scene before her, she turned Mannus's body over. She hissed, recognizing all too well the tattoo on the dead man's chest. This was all she needed, having to tell her boss that a Ten Rings agent had been operating right under her nose. This was not a good day.
Taking a firm grip on herself, Charlotte pushed open the door to Tony's office. All she wanted to do was flee, to gather her wits in solitude. But that wasn't an option; she had to act as if all was well, not draw suspicion to herself. Not give any clue that today, she'd killed a man. She'd cleaned up after the duel, changing back into the dress she'd been wearing earlier. Now it was time to meet with Tony, just as they'd arranged a few hours before. But she needed to be careful; Tony could read her so well. He'd know that something was wrong if she wasn't in total control. But control was something she was having trouble achieving; Mannus's Quickening was unsettling, disturbing. A strange sense of detachment settled over her as she walked into the room.