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.
The Morning After
Methos watched Charlotte sleep, finally, for now at least, peacefully. She had been agitated, muttering in a dialect that had disappeared from the Earth centuries before her birth. He had whispered reassurance in that same language, and she had settled, falling into a deeper sleep. But he wouldn't share the incident with her when she awoke; it would only serve to worry her unnecessarily. Some Quickenings were like eating takeaway Chinese that had sat in the fridge a few days too long, leaving one queasy and unsettled till it worked its way through your system. Unfortunately, there was no Pepto-Bismol for bad Quickenings. The only cure was time.
They hadn't had a chance to talk about what had happened after the duel, Methos warding off whatever Charlotte seemed driven to confess. Not that it was hard to figure out; cologne, expensive cologne, had scented her hair, her clothes, her skin. He didn't need to be a rocket scientist to know what must have happened between her and Stark in the wake of her victory against Mannus, the power of his Quickening still surging through her. The only thing Methos didn't know was how far it had gone. But he would deal with that later.
She had showered, and he'd ordered room service, but Charlotte had fallen asleep across the foot of the king bed before the food had even arrived. She'd barely stirred as he'd righted her, getting her under the duvet, head on a feather pillow. That had been some hours ago. Now, his eyes were becoming heavy, and he sighed, finally letting sleep claim him.
He stirred, feeling her warmth against his chest, once more hearing her speak words from a language she never knew. That pulled him fully from sleep, but this time, she wasn't agitated; just the opposite in fact. He chuckled ruefully -- whoever the woman was, she had been very beautiful, and the encounter had gone on for some days. And it was apparent that this memory was one that Charlotte was enjoying a great deal.
Running his hand across her breast, down her stomach to rest on her hip, Methos kissed her lightly at first, but with more intensity as she returned his attentions. She sighed against his lips, her hands slipping up his chest, slowly waking. "You were dreaming," he said softly.
A blissful smile curved her lips as she opened her eyes, looking up at him. "I was," she agreed.
"And what did you dream about?" He ran his fingers up under her ink black hair, caressing her scalp.
She closed her eyes, breathing deeply. "There were swords and spears, the screams of horses and men. And the sun beat down upon us."
"And afterwards?" He held her tighter.
"After... after, there was always Setia. She loved me....loved him." A tear traced a path down her cheek, Methos wiping it away with a gentle fingertip. Opening her eyes, she took his hand in hers. "I'm glad I remember her, for him. He never forgot, not across all the centuries. He was not always the man I faced yesterday; she knew that, and now, so do I."
Methos cradled Charlotte against his chest, kissing the curve of her shoulder. "Any more doubts on who and where you are?" he asked just a little smugly. After the sex they'd just had, he was absolutely certain she would have no doubts.
She giggled. "None."
"Very pleased to hear it."
"Methos, you know I love you."
"I know you do."
Methos," she began only to be stopped by his lips on hers.
Pulling away, she shook her head, "There's something...."
"Something you have to tell me, yes," he interrupted. "You've been quite determined to confess from almost the moment you walked in." He sat up against the headboard, looking down at her. "I forgive you, Charlotte."
She pushed herself up, sitting cross-legged to face him. "But you don't even know...," her baffled reply began, only to be interrupted once more.
"Know what you did." He shrugged. "I think I have a pretty good guess."
"Finishing my sentences!" The look of guilt on her face was quickly being replaced by one of irritation.
He grinned cheekily, pleased that he'd managed to snap her out of it. "Saves time." At her inarticulate sound of outrage, he added, "You're very fetching when you're naked and angry, you know."
Glaring, she pulled the bed sheet up, wrapping it around herself.
"That's a little extreme, isn't it?" he asked, his voice warm with amusement.
She threw herself back to lie on the bed, staring at the ceiling. "When you're done," she said pointedly.
Reaching for her hand, he squeezed it. "Let me tell you what I think happened." She responded by closing her eyes. "You took Mannus's head, his Quickening, and encountered Stark. And then you, with inhibitions in tatters after your duel, and Stark, I presume, with none at all," the last was said dryly, "proceeded to give in to an attraction that you've very purposefully sidestepped for the last seven years." He lay down next to her. "Charlotte, the only person angry at you for what happened is you."
"How can you say that?" she demanded. "I abused our friendship, used him because I knew I could!"
"And you think he minded?" Methos asked incredulously.
"That isn't the point!"
Sighing, he said, "Of course it wouldn't be to you."
She rolled off the bed, taking the sheet with her, wrapping it around her body as she began to pace.
Methos sat on the edge of the bed, watching in silence for a time before saying, "You're as bad as MacLeod. You hold yourself to an impossible standard, and then, when you have a moment of human frailty, you proceed to beat yourself over it far in excess of the actual sin." He grabbed her wrist, stopping her pacing. "You aren't a saint, Charlotte. You're human, you were emotionally vulnerable, and you had a moment of weakness. That's all."
She looked at him, disbelief written all over her face. "Are you kidding me?" She yanked her hand away. "Forty-eight hours ago, you thought I was the Whore of Babylon, and now...."
"She wasn't, you know, a whore, got a bad rap," he interjected. But he hastily shut up at the look of warning in her eyes.
"And now," she repeated, "I almost have sex with my best friend, and you're okay with it!"
"Almost? It was the one thing I wasn't sure about," he admitted.
"I can't take any of the credit for that; we were interrupted." She covered her face with her hands. "Oh, God, how can Virginia ever forgive me?"
"I always find that jewelry works well," he offered helpfully, attempting to lighten the atmosphere.
Charlotte began to laugh, laughter that swiftly became tears. This time, Methos didn't say anything, just drew her down onto the bed, gathering her in his arms, holding her till the tears stopped.
They had moved into the suite's living room, with its large bouquet of flowers, champagne, and chocolate dipped strawberries, courtesy of the management, and the handwritten note from the general manager welcoming Charlotte back to the hotel and promising anything she might desire during her stay. They sat on the loveseat in front of the gas log fireplace, having traded bed sheets for hotel spa robes, drinking the champagne, Charlotte eating the majority of the strawberries, while Methos polished off the now cold roast chicken from the room service he'd ordered previously. It was the middle of the night, but Charlotte supposed there would be no more sleep to be had for either of them.
Methos looked at her over the rim of the champagne glass at his lips, his expression making plain he wanted to say something, but wasn't sure if he should. Leaning back against the arm rest, she sighed. "Spit it out."
He shook his head slightly, a crooked smile forming. "It might have been better if you had slept with him," he finally said. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad you didn't, but for you.... Sometimes it's just better to...." he trailed off.
"Beard the lion in its den?"
"Yeah, something like that." He took another swallow of champagne. "You were right, about Byron," he admitted. "There are those that burn so brightly that we can't resist falling into their orbit, even knowing that the result will be like moths to the flame. Maybe I was projecting."
"Maybe?" she asked with one expressively raised eyebrow.
"Fine, yes, I let my own past colour my feelings, and throw in a little jealousy on the side," he rubbed at his temple, "I behaved badly, and I'm sorry."
She rested her hand on his knee. "Not sorrier than I am. The things I said to you, I wish I could take them all back, and that I had told you about Tony weeks ago."
"Why didn't you?" he asked quietly.
"I almost did, I was planning to, but you saw his photo that day in my office, and after what you had to say on the subject of Tony Stark, well, I chickened out." Drawing her knees up to her chest, she wrapped her arms around her legs. "I kept waiting for the right time, a time that never came," she finished sadly.
"Okay, we both wish we'd done things differently, so I'll ask what I should have three days ago: why Stark? What strange course of events transpired for you to be best friends with the most notorious playboy on the planet?" His question burned with curiosity.
Charlotte laughed, the sound like bells in the quiet of the predawn. "I ask myself that frequently!" Then she shook her head. "He's more than that, much more. You know what they call him? The da Vinci of our time. And it's true. You spoke of those that burn bright; Tony burns brighter than anyone I have ever met. Yes, there's the women, and the parties, the booze, but those are more of a symptom. The Tony that's my best friend is...well, he makes me laugh, he's spoiled and compassionate, a genius and a lost little boy, one of the most powerful men in the world, yet he sits in my kitchen and eats pie like it's going out of style." A sadness brushed past her eyes. "And then I thought I'd lost him, that day when I was told he'd been taken. As the weeks passed, hope that he was still alive slipped away, drop by drop. And the man who came back from that place...that man I wanted to draw into my arms and ward off the world."
"I wish I'd been with you then," he said sincerely. "No one should go through that alone."
"I wish you had been too." Then she smiled, chasing away the dark. "And now, I have to deal with a superhero. I'm a glutton for punishment!"
Chuckling, he asked, "How did you meet?"
"Ezra - he tried to set me up with Tony at a party in Monte Carlo seven years ago. It didn't quite work out as planned."
"Ezra thought I was all work and no play and needed a man in my life. He believed Tony would be a sure bet, but it was a bet he lost. However, it wasn't a total loss from my perspective. My life became much more interesting, and I've loved every minute."
"I guess I'll get to witness the dynamic for myself in the near future," he said, resignation tingeing his voice.
Rolling her eyes, Charlotte drained the last of her champagne. "And you won't like him, and believe me, the feeling will be mutual. Assuming he ever even speaks to me again." She had no idea how she was going to face Tony in the morning, and could only hope he could forgive her. Despite Methos' words, she couldn't let go of the guilt she felt over what had happened.
"He will - forgiveness comes with love," Methos said softly.
Nodding, she picked up her cell phone from the side table next to her, looking at all the missed calls. From Ezra, Chris, Duncan, and from Methos. All of them trying to contact her after seeing the press conference. Methos had told her he'd already let everyone know she was safe, and for that she was grateful; she hadn't been up to talking to anyone. As if on cue, strains of Turn on Your Heartlight began to emanate from the device in her hand and she took a sharp breath, just staring at it. Methos' snort of amusement broke her from the spell.
"Neal Diamond? Seriously?"
Shrugging with a wry grin on her lips, she said, "It annoys Tony."
"Are you going to answer it?"
Biting her lip, she pressed the answer button on the screen and raised the phone to her ear.
"I'm sorry," they said simultaneously, making them both laugh in relief.
"You don't hate me?" she asked, not able to keep the tremor of fear from her voice.
"That's stupid talk," Tony replied.
"Yeah, well I feel pretty stupid right about now."
"Look at the bright side, Birdie, there were no paparazzi around to capture the moment."
"Don't even joke about the possibility!" she scolded.
"Hey, it's late, but I had to hear your voice, know that we're okay."
"We're okay, Tony."
"We'll talk tomorrow."
"I'll see you at the photoshoot then, a car'll pick you up at nine. Don't be late, or Ez will go all wounded artist on us."
Methos gently took the phone from her hand.
"He wasn't as drunk as I thought he'd be," she paused, "but then, neither am I."
Methos barked out a laugh at that. "One bottle of champagne isn't going to accomplish that." He picked up the empty bottle, swinging it back and forth.
"No, but the bottle of Lagavulin in the bar would help."
"You have Scotch in here and you didn't say?" he said accusingly, getting to his feet and heading for the bar.
"I'm a VIP, darling," she said airily, "of course there's Scotch; tequila and bourbon as well. And probably a few other things we most likely shouldn't mix if I don't want to be completely hung over at the photoshoot later today. I'd never hear the end of it from Ezra."
Methos came back with the bottle of Lagavulin and two glasses. "Oh, I don't know, I'm pretty sure Ezra would forgive you this time around. He was very worried," he said, pouring the amber liquid into their glasses.
"He wasn't the only one," she said quietly, taking a swallow of the liquor. "I was worried too. I'm pretty good," she said with no false modesty, "but I wasn't good enough to beat Mannus."
"And yet, here you are." His voice was deceptively calm.
"He didn't underestimate me because I was a woman - a rarity to be sure, and inconvenient. But, in the end, with death the only outcome, I remembered what he'd taught me. It caught Mannus by surprise, and that proved fatal. I doubt he'd encountered many of our kind who bore knowledge older than he." She held Methos' gaze. "And because of him, I survive."
Very still, Methos took a breath. "Because of Kronos." It wasn't a question.
Charlotte dropped her eyes. She'd told Methos very little of her time with Kronos in the 1920s after she'd once more crossed paths with the ancient Immortal. It had been a period of grief and darkness, memories she had little desire to revisit, and Methos had never pressed her. But from that time with him had come the ability to save her life, a life that in the here and now, she very much wanted to live. "The method of my salvation surely is an irony of fate."
Methos' hand came to rest against her cheek. "And for that salvation, I shall be eternally grateful."
Notes: Tony and Charlotte's first meeting is related in Books & Covers, the time Charlotte chickened out abut telling Methos about Tony happens in Paving the Road to Hell, and the aftermath of Charlotte's time with Kronos is told in Bound.