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.
"Are you kidding me?" Tony demanded, holding up a cream coloured linen suit, shaking it on the hanger. "I thought this was supposed to be about introducing the new division, not remaking the Great Gatsby."
Ezra took a step forward, reaching out and removing the suit from Tony's grasp, hanging it back on the clothes rack. "If you wanted a pedestrian boardroom spread, you should have called the Sears Portrait Studio," he replied testily. "Considering I had little more than twenty-four hours notice to put this together, I'd think thanks were in order, not ingratitude!"
Tony held up his hands in surrender. "Okay, okay! Geez, Ez, get up on the wrong side of the bed this morning?"
"If anyone got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning, I'd say that would be you," Ezra said, a note of accusation in his voice. "Or would that be the wrong bed?"
At first, Tony was baffled, then realization dawned. "Birdie told you what happened?"
Ezra nodded. "An abbreviated version, but enough for me to get the picture."
"Look, Ez, I'm sorry. Things got out of hand, I'll admit that, but nothing happened!" Tony tried to explain. The last thing he needed was to lose Ez's friendship because he'd almost had sex with his cousin. Tony knew that Ez and Birdie were close, more like brother and sister, and Ez could be fiercely protective.
But Ezra didn't appear to be listening. "I always thought you were the sort of man who could close the deal, but instead, I'm now, thanks to you, consigned to a lifetime of family gatherings with Matthew!" He glared at his best friend. "Seven years I've waited for the two of you to get together, and that's the best you can do?"
Tony was momentarily confused at the one eighty the conversation had taken, before he realized that Ez was ticked off at him for entirely the opposite reason than he'd at first assumed. "If you'd only told me it was all about you, I would have tried harder," he said dryly.
Ezra snorted. "I was so certain," he muttered.
"Certain about what?" he asked.
Seeming startled at Tony's question, Ezra shook his head, then answered, "I don't know; it seemed to me that you and Charlotte...." He shrugged. "Maybe I thought it was written in the stars."
Clapping Ezra on the shoulder, Tony sighed. He wasn't much for talking about his feelings, what had happened in Afghanistan, but Ez deserved an explanation. "I knew a long time ago that we were never going to be together, but now, I finally accept it here." He tapped his heart. "I don't know if I can explain it, but after coming home, all those months of captivity...a part of me wanted to hold on to everything that mattered and never let go. What happened yesterday was a part of that. But I know now that Birdie's right; what we have, our friendship, it doesn't need sex to make it better, to mean more than it does now."
Nodding, Ezra said, "I understand; even though I'm not happy about it." Then he smiled, and Tony knew it was going to be all right.
"Is that's what's with the suit? Revenge?" Grinning broadly, he waved a hand at the offending garment.
Sighing dramatically, Ezra threw up his hands. "Have I ever, in all the years I've been photographing you, failed to produce a spread that didn't grab the public's attention?" Not giving Tony a chance to reply, he continued, "No! And besides, this is about introducing Charlotte and your new venture, and believe me, no one will forget either once I'm done." Then he looked slyly at Tony. "As for revenge, we'll see."
"Oh, I think I can make it up to you."
"Hey, just because I'm resigning the field doesn't mean that I think the loser is going to last long. And I have a plan to expedite the process." He knew what he'd told Charlotte earlier in the limo, and it was the truth. Well, technically. All he was going to do was give Matthew enough rope to hang himself.
"I'm probably going to regret asking, but just what did you have in mind?" Ezra asked warily.
"Nothing complicated; I'm going to be a grownup."
Ezra laughed outright. "And how exactly are you going to accomplish that miraculous feat?"
"Ha ha. I'm serious. I'm going to invite everyone for a weekend on the yacht. We'll go to Catalina, and I'll be the soul of hospitality, prove to Birdie that I accept the loser."
Looking doubtful, Ezra asked, "Reverse psychology?"
"Sure. When she gets to see us together, me being gracious, him not so much, well, how do you think she'll react?"
"Probably not at all as you planned," Ezra shot back.
"Ye of little faith! Come on, Ez, we've been friends for years, compared to the few months she's known Matthew. I promise you, it's only a matter if time before she sees him for what he is and shows him the door."
Charlotte sat on the edge of the star fountain with its colourful Malibu tile, looking out at the lagoon. Unlike Tony, she hadn't complained about the period clothing Ezra had chosen for the photoshoot. Quite the opposite, in fact; she'd always been fond of the era's fashions. The location Ezra had chosen was inspired: Adamson House, built in 1928, on the rugged California coast. She'd never been here before, but now that she knew of its existence, planned to return in the future.
The shoot was nearly finished, Ezra having taken Tony away for a few more photos before it was all officially over. She heard footsteps behind her, and looked over her shoulder, surprised to see Pepper standing there. Tony's PA had done her best to avoid Charlotte over the ensuing hours - not that she was surprised. Truth be told, she wasn't sure what to say to her about what had happened yesterday.
"You look like you've worn those clothes all your life," Pepper said.
Not quite, she thought, smothering a smile. "I've always liked playing dress up."
Pepper stepped closer. "This is going to be a terrific photo spread."
"Virginia, I'm sorry. You have no idea how much I regret the events of yesterday."
"You don't have to...." Pepper began to protest.
"No, I absolutely do," Charlotte insisted. "I lost my way, and in the process, hurt you, hurt Tony. I know you blame Tony more than me, but you shouldn't. In some ways, Tony and I are very much alike, and that can be, as it was yesterday, toxic. I can only ask for your forgiveness, and swear to you that it will never happen again."
Pepper looked at her steadily. "Maybe you shouldn't make promises you can't keep."
Wincing a little, Charlotte took Pepper's hands, pulling her down to sit next to her. "I can keep this one. I love Matthew, and I love Tony, but Tony and I will never be lovers. What happened...it was selfish of me, a moment of weakness. I took advantage because I was hurt and in the process just about destroyed what I treasure most in my life."
"I want Tony to be happy," Pepper said, her eyes looking out to somewhere on the horizon.
"So do I, Virginia, but it won't be me who will make that so." She squeezed her hands. "You and I both know that; and now, he knows it too."
Shaking her head, Pepper looked doubtful. "Do you think so?"
"I'm certain." Charlotte reached into her purse, pulling out a velvet covered box. "A very wise man told me that jewelry is good in these sorts of situations." Her lips curved into a wry smile. "I'd like you to have this." She pressed the box into Pepper's hands. "It's not quite jewelry, but it was treasured by someone once upon a time."
Opening the box, Pepper, gently removed the contents, holding it up for a closer look, the enameled bird glistening in the sunlight.
"It's a hair comb, done in plique a jour." For once, Charlotte had taken advantage of her VIP status and had the estate jewelry shop in the hotel's lobby opened early for her. When she'd seen the Art Nouveau comb, she'd known is was the perfect gift for Pepper. "If I might?" she asked, holding out her hand. Pepper nodded, placing the comb in her palm. Charlotte expertly twisted a section of Pepper's strawberry blond hair into a knot at the top of her head, slipping the comb in to hold it. "Perfect." She fished around in hr purse, finding the compact mirror, handing it to Pepper. "What do you think?"
Pepper held the mirror up. "It's beautiful, the way the light shines through the enamel. Thank you, it's exquisite."
The quiet shared moment ended abruptly. "I don't know why I'm always the one," they heard Tony protest from behind them.
"Oh, yes, because it's so hard being one of the richest men on the planet," Ez shot back, sounding exasperated.
Pepper and Charlotte shared an eye-roll before getting up to greet the new arrivals. Behind Tony and Ezra was Jason Dunne, Ezra's assistant, carrying a variety of cameras and accessories.
"Birdie, he...," Tony began.
Charlotte held up her hand. "Don't care, don't want to know," she interrupted.
"No!" Next to her, Pepper choked back laughter, and Tony looked aggrieved.
"Told you so," Ezra said.
Tony huffed. "Like that's a surprise; she always takes your side."
"She does not!"
Pepper was no longer able to stifle her laughter, and Charlotte joined in.
Tony looked even more put out now. "It's not funny!"
"Is to," Charlotte said. She looked over to where J.D. had divested himself of the camera equipment. "J.D., would you please take a photo of us all?" She waved her hand at the others.
"That's a great idea," Pepper said.
Ezra immediately was at the young man's side, muttering to himself about the light and exposures before picking up one of the cameras and changing the lens. "This one." But he didn't hand it to J.D., instead beginning to set up the shot himself.
"Ez, let J.D. take the photo," Charlotte said. "Get over here."
"Come on, Ez," Tony prompted, when it appeared Ez wasn't going to follow instructions. "The kid can take a picture, can't he?"
"Well of course he can," Ezra began, "but...."
"But nothing! You either get over here now, or I'm getting out the cellphone, and I'll take the picture with that," Tony threatened.
That seemed to have the desired effect. "Fine!" Ezra strode over to the group in front of the fountain, shifting them around as he settled in. "That will have to do. Cellphone. As if."
Charlotte poked him in the shoulder. "Smile, Ez, and say 'cheese' for God's sake!"
"What she said," Tony said from her other side. "Go on, kid, start shooting. If Ez fires you, I'll hire you, deal?"
J.D. had a nervous smile on his face, but he nodded. "Yes, sir, Mr. Stark." He began to shoot, though not without a stream of instructions from Ezra, which in turn led to bickering, razzing, and faux fisticuffs. Finally, J.D. had had enough. "Knock it off!" Everyone immediately stilled, Ezra looking shocked, the others snickering.
"Yeah, Ez, knock it off." Tony smirked.
Ezra straightened his jacket. "My apologies, Mr. Dunne, please, carry on." Then a smile began to tug at his lips. "You're all impossible, you know that, right?"
Tony looked at Charlotte, tilting his head towards the fountain, an evil gleam in his eyes. She answered him with a nod and a wicked look of her own.
"Yes, yes we do know that, Ez," Tony said. "And because we know, we have no choice but to do this." Before Ezra realized what was happening, Tony and Charlotte had dumped him in the fountain with a huge splash.
"How could you?" Ezra was the epitome of 'madder than a wet hen', sputtering with outrage. "Do you know how much this suit cost...and these shoes," he practically wailed.
"That's what you have a MasterCard for," Tony paraphrased the commercial, "but this," Tony and Charlotte jumped into the fountain next to Ezra, "is priceless." He splashed Ezra, who looked torn between apoplexy and amazement. Pepper had very wisely stepped out of range.
Ezra looked back and forth. "The two of you are insane!"
Tony considered. "We might be," he agreed. "Birdie?"
She shrugged. "A little."
"Yeah, okay." Tony put his arm around Charlotte and Ezra. "But you wouldn't have us any other way."
"God help me, but I think you're right." Then Ezra began to laugh, until tears streamed down his face. Then catching his breath, he looked over at J.D., eyes widening in shocked realization. "Wait a minute, you aren't still shooting?"
Tony slapped Ezra on the shoulder. "Yep, priceless."
Notes: Adamson House is a California State Park, and you can visit the website here. strangevisitor7 introduced Jason Dunne in her story, Echoes of a Distant Time (Yes, he's a descendant.) I'd hoped that Casey would have started posting her newest story before I posted this part, since it would have been a nice bit of symmetry, but when she eventually does, there's a small part of this that will make more sense.