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.
Stuck With Me
"Tony, what...," Charlotte began as she slid into the limo on the seat across from him.
"I thought it would be less awkward doing this now, instead of with an audience at the shoot," Tony interrupted, explaining. "That, and I was afraid if given the choice, you'd avoid being alone with me." He shrugged. He'd had a lot of experience dealing with embarrassing incidents, but while he was something of an exhibitionist, he knew the same was not true of his friend. "So I decided to take the initiative."
"A little warning would have been nice," she grumbled.
"Would kill the spontaneity."
"Wouldn't want to do that," came her facetious reply.
"Besides, I wanted to share."
"Share what?" she asked suspiciously.
"I got to thinking, what if we were a couple?" He paused for effect, enjoying needling her; grateful that he still could. "We'd need a cool mashup, like 'Brangalina'!"
She slumped in her seat. "You've got to be kidding. This is what occupies your thoughts?"
Ignoring her, he began to list his ideas, "Birony, Tonirdie..."
"No one calls me Birdie but you," she pointed out.
"Fine, how about Charony! Or maybe Tolotte?"
Groaning, she ran a hand through her hair. "What will it take for you to just stop?"
"You've lost your sense of whimsy," he said with mock disapproval. The, switching gears, he asked, "Rough night?"
"You're still wearing your sunglasses," he pointed out teasingly, determined that they would work out what was between them before they left the limo - even if that meant they drove all day.
With deliberate care, she removed the Tiffany sunglasses, setting them on the seat next to her. "There, happy?"
He just smirked, handing her a Highball glass of pink tinged orange juice. "Hair of the dog."
She tapped her fingers along the armrest, considering, before reaching out to take the cocktail from him. "What the hell," she muttered, before taking a long swallow. Grimacing a little, she said, "It's a good thing I know just how strong you make a drink, or you'd be wearing that. God!"
Tony's grin widened, "Just a little OJ to go with your tequila."
She took a sip, then sighed. "Sorry I'm being a grouch."
"That's okay, Birdie, I'm used to it," came his lightening response.
A smiled tugged at her lips, and then she began to laugh. "I suppose you are at that." Then, becoming serious, she asked, "Pepper; how mad at me is she?"
"She's not." At Charlotte's look of disbelief, he said, "She's not mad - at you, at least. Me, on the other hand, I'm in the Pepper Potts designer doghouse for total losers."
"I'm so sorry, Tony. I'll talk to her, make sure she knows it was all my fault."
Wincing, he shook his head. "It wasn't, not really."
"Of course it was! I was the one who didn't tell Matthew about you, I was the one who abused our friendship." She looked stricken. "I swear that I'll make this right, Tony. I promise, I will. I'm sorry for all of it..."
"Birdie, stop." He put up his hand, halting the rush of words. "There's something you don't know, and when you do...when you do, you may not be so forgiving." This was it, the real reason he'd met her this morning. He'd debated telling her, but in the end had realized it was something he needed to do. God only knew he didn't want her to hear it from anyone else but him.
"Tony, what did you do?" she asked, trepidation in her voice.
He took a deep breath before explaining how he'd sent Happy to San Luis Obispo to pay off Matthew, certain that the guy was after Charlotte's money. He waited, waited for the explosion that he was certain was coming. But she made no immediate reaction, her eyes staring past him as she finished her drink. "Birdie," he began, stopping at the sharp shake of her head.
"Don't." At that one word, his heart fell, but then she surprised him again as she slipped next to him, taking his hand. Searching her eyes, he saw only love and he sighed in relief.
"I'm sorry," he said simply.
"Me too." She squeezed his hand, her smile touched with sadness. "I know you had the best of intentions, Tony, but we can't protect those we love like art behind glass, no matter how much we wish we could."
"I hate that."
"Yeah, so I gather. I don't like it much either." The words were casual, but she couldn't mask the pain in her eyes.
"Pepper was right, I don't like to share, but, Birdie, it's more than that; I don't want us to change."
"Tony, change is inevitable, you know that." She shook her head. "But what's important; our friendship, what we've shared, nothing will ever get in the way of that."
"In here," he tapped his head with a finger, "I know that." His jaw clenched. "But here," now he touched his heart, "in here.... When I was in that cave, I used to imagine what was going on at home, it kept me sane. But as the weeks went on, a little voice whispered that you'd all forgotten about me, had moved on." Her hands held his tightly, but she didn't say anything. "I knew it wasn't true, but I couldn't stop the voice."
"What did you think about?" she asked softly.
He exhaled sharply, relieved she hadn't given him any platitudes about it being normal for captives to fear being forgotten, of life back home changing while they were prisoner. Tony had heard it all before. "I imagined a lot of things; some of them didn't even involve sex." He shot her a cheeky grin, one that she matched. Then, more serious, he said, "Playing cards in the back room of the saloon with Ez, eating pizza baked in your anachronistic wood stove - I really wanted a piece of pizza in that place, dancing with you at the Contessa's, taking the yacht out to Catalina for the week."
"You mean your floating penthouse?" she asked wryly.
"The very one!" Charlotte always made fun of his yacht - she has some strange obsession with sails that he didn't get. Though one day, he'd buy a ship with sails, just to see the look on her face. "You?"
"The first time you visited the winery and gave my foreman a stroke when you started tinkering with the machinery." She punched him lightly on the arm. "A sign of what was to come, if only I'd realized! That road trip to Mexico you and Ez talked me into; and the first time I had to bail you out of jail. The last time I saw you, after the charity auction when you and Ez played poker for rights to the last pie." Leaning her head on his shoulder, she said quietly, "Those memories are mine, and no one can take them away."
"We'll be there in a few minutes," Happy's voice issued from the speaker.
Charlotte realized she could no longer delay telling Tony about Methos being back in her life. "Tony, now I have to tell you something."
"I'm not going to like it, am I?
"I can pretty much guarantee it," she said with forced levity.
"This is about the loser."
"Fine!" He waved a hand at her. "Just spit it out already.
"Matthew, he was waiting for me last night." She ignored his muttered 'I knew it'. "He's sorry, for everything that happened. I told him what happened in your office, Tony, and he forgave me. We're going to try and make it work this time."
"Is this where you tell me we can't see each other any more?" He wasn't looking at her. "Nice."
"Oh for God's sake, Tony, stop acting like you're five, will you?" He grimaced, but didn't respond. With a sigh, she answered his question, "Of course not. Matthew realizes he can't dictate who my friends are. You're stuck with me, you idiot! And what about you?"
"What about me?" He sounded petulant.
"Are you willing to accept Matthew in my life, even if you don't like it?"
"Do I have a choice?"
Throwing her hands in the air, she threw herself back onto the seat across from him. "Why I put up with you, I'll never know!"
His lips twitched. "Masochist, probably."
"That would explain it." She looked at him. "Well?"
Closing his eyes, he scrubbed at his forehead. Then he met her eyes. "Yes, okay. But that doesn't mean I have to like him, or that we're going to be buds, or bond, or any of that crap, got it?"
"Gee, now that's a real disappointment; I'd already booked a fishing trip for the two of you," she said sarcastically.
Tony barked out a laugh at that. "We're still going to Monte Carlo next month, right? That's our place - you, me, and Ez."
"As if I'd miss it!"
"That's something, I suppose," he said grudgingly.
She smiled fondly. "Don't ever change."