Chapter Notes: The moment we've all been waiting for. And if you haven't, well, sorry [g]
Character(s): Methos, Tony Stark, Ezra Standish, Duncan MacLeod, Amanda, Joe Dawson, 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.
My Fic Announce Journal here: ithildin_wood
Shoot Me Now
Charlotte grasped Ezra's arm as they walked down the causeway towards Tony's yacht, burying her face into his shoulder. He heard a muffled, "Just shoot me now," mixed with a groan. Behind them, Amanda's animated chatter floated on the ocean breeze, interspersed with occasional comments from Methos and Jacob Tanimura, who walked with her. Charlotte had leapt at Amanda joining them; his cousin seeming to think there would be safety in numbers.
Making sympathetic noises, Ezra patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. "It's going to be fine."
One eye peered up at him as she shook her head. Then, standing straight, she replied, "You say that now. You're just afraid I'll bolt once we reach the ship."
"Charlotte, it will be fine," he repeated. "Remember, Tony's plan is to be a gracious host."
Snorting, she replied, "And just how long do you think that's going to last? No, mark my words, Ezra; this weekend is going to be a disaster."
"See? Everything's fine," Amanda said quietly at Charlotte's ear. "Everyone's playing nice, and honey, your Mr. Stark is absolutely delicious."
Despite herself, Charlotte giggled, taking a sip of champagne. "Yeah, he really is. But that's our secret – his ego is already too big." She looked across the room to where Tony, Jacob, and Ezra were talking. Tony had approved of her choice of Jacob, and Happy had told her that part of his boss's approval was due to the fact that the former Marine could watch Charlotte's back.
It had gone far better than Charlotte had anticipated, and she had started to let herself relax. Tony actually seemed to be sticking to his plan of being a grownup, and Methos had settled on his amused and charming personality. And really, the two men had had very little one on one interaction, thanks to the concerted efforts of Amanda, Ezra, and Pepper. They'd all had a lovely dinner on deck, and now, they were all gathered in the salon, enjoying the evening and good company.
"Looks like Matthew isn't holding a grudge against Happy," Pepper said softly, as she joined the other two women who were seated on one of small couches in the room. Over in the corner, Happy and Methos were having an animated conversation with much gesticulating. Charlotte had no idea what they were talking about, but they seemed to be enjoying it.
"Happy was just following orders; Matthew wouldn't hold that against him." Charlotte looked at Pepper. "Thank you for everything you've done to make this day go smoothly, Virginia."
Pepper sat on the chair across from them. "My pleasure. And I like Matthew – despite what Tony thinks, he doesn’t reek gigolo." Amanda choked on her champagne, and Charlotte did her best to hold back laughter at Pepper's remark. Seeming not to notice the reaction of the other two women, Pepper said to Amanda, "I'm really glad Ez brought you, it's plain to see that you make him happy. Ez is one of the good guys; he deserves it."
Amanda seemed, for once, speechless. Then recovering, she said with a brilliant smile, "Ez and I get each other, you know? That's special."
"Yeah, it is," Pepper agreed, her eyes drifting towards Tony. A knowing look passed between Charlotte and Amanda.
Amanda raised her voice, assuring that the men of the group could hear. "There's something really wrong when three gorgeous, not to mention very sexy, ladies are left all alone on this big yacht. What do you say, girls? Time to find another party?"
"Agreed." Charlotte blew at her nails. "Bored."
"I believe the ladies are trying to tell us something," Ezra said to his companions.
"I think you may be right," Tony agreed. "Jarvis, House Mix 5, if you please." The unobtrusive after dinner music of before was replaced by something definitely more upbeat as the men joined the women. Tony perched on the corner of Pepper's chair, while Methos slid in between Charlotte and Amanda. Ezra and Jacob remained standing, though Ezra's hand came to rest behind Amanda's neck. "Hogan, find the steward and some more champagne." Happy nodded and left the salon.
"I like the way you operate, Tony," Amanda said approvingly.
Tony flashed his megawatt smile. "I do to, Amanda, I do to." Pepper caught Charlotte's attention and the two shared an eye roll. "So how did you and Ez meet?"
Amanda looked up at Ezra, waiting for him to spin the tale. "Amanda and I have known each other for several years; we run into each other in the course of her work and mine."
"And what do you do, Amanda?" Pepper asked.
"She's a security consultant," Ezra answered quickly. Well, it wasn't really a lie; Amanda sometimes used her skills for non-criminal purposes.
"Oh? And just how good are you?" It seemed like it was impossible for Tony to ask a woman a question that didn't sound like a come-on. He leaned forward, all his attention on Amanda.
She mirrored him, leaning in to say huskily, "Oh, I'm very good, Mr. Stark. The best, in fact." Her tongue flicked at her lower lip and a slow smile curved her lips.
"Is that right? Then how about you and I go steal something one day, and we'll see if you really are as good as you think you are."
Amanda's laugh was like a purr. "You really do know how to sweet-talk a girl."
"There will be no stealing. Tony, no," Pepper said firmly.
"What about just breaking in?" Tony looked down at Pepper with a saucy grin.
"You could come along."
"Tony," she said warningly.
Charlotte decided Pepper needed some backup. "No stealing, no breaking in, Tony, no criminal activity of any kind, or I'll never bake you another pie again."
Tony looked affronted. "You are no fun anymore, Birdie!"
"Yeah, I know, I'm a real killjoy. Deal."
"As long as you realize that about yourself." His eyes twinkled unrepentantly. "Acceptance is the first step to recovery, you know."
Charlotte sighed long-sufferingly. She'd have to speak to Amanda later to make sure she didn't think taking Tony on her next heist was a good idea. "Nice to know you care," she replied with a grin.
"I'm that kind of guy." Suddenly, Tony's attention was focused on Methos. "So what exactly is it that you do, Matthew, you know, when you actually do it?" The casual teasing mood of before was completely gone, replaced with a flinty sharpness.
Damn it, she'd let Tony lull her into a false sense of security. She hadn't even seen it coming. Stupid Charlotte. She squeezed Methos' hand in hers, praying he didn't let Tony push his buttons, and having no idea what his response would be.
"I like variety, new experiences. I have a couple things lined up." Methos' smile didn't reach his eyes.
"Is that right? Lucky you found Birdie then; makes being in-between jobs a pretty comfortable place to be." There was a current of disapproval running through his words.
Methos looked at Charlotte. "Oh yes, she's the soul of generosity." He was enjoying himself. Damn him.
Pepper broke in with a forced brightness. "What do you have lined up?"
"I'm sure we're all interested," Tony added, his eyes practically boring holes through Methos' skull.
"Trains," came Methos' totally unexpected answer.
Trains? Has he lost his mind? Charlotte slumped, closing her eyes in silent prayer.
"Trains," Tony repeated flatly.
"It would be great, wouldn't it? Riding the rails, seeing the continent." Methos warmed to his subject, actually sounding like this was all for real and not just a way to irk Tony. "I could write a book, maybe parlay it into a reality series. I think it has real potential."
Charlotte wondered if it was too late to throw herself overboard. Probably. Leaping to her feet, she held out her hand to Methos. "Dance with me." The unspoken 'now' was clear. Turning, she said, "This is supposed to be a party, right?" Not waiting for an answer, she practically dragged Methos over to the dance floor, asking Jarvis to increase the volume as she went. Ezra and Amanda joined them, both of them giving her sympathetic looks.
"Trains?" Amanda hissed at Methos as the two couples passed each other.
"I happen to like trains," he said with a smirk.
"You are unbelievable!" Charlotte told him in a low voice.
"What? It's okay for Stark to want to play jewel thief with Amanda, but it's trains that are weird?"
"Tony's just worried about me, you know that! The whole idea was to reassure him you're not some gold-digging Lothario, remember? But all you've managed to do is confirm his worst suspicions."
"And you think it would actually make a difference to him if I were a slacker sponging off your money or a neurosurgeon?"
"That's ridiculous! If you honestly think…." She stopped, nearly quivering in frustration. Throwing herself overboard was becoming more and more attractive. "I have an idea – let's just not talk about it anymore, okay?"
"Fine. What would you like to talk about? Botany? North Sea fisheries?"
Glaring at him, she was searching for a snappy comeback when she felt a hand on her shoulder. "Can I cut in?" Tony asked from behind.
"Yes!" she said with a little more strength than she'd intended. Before Methos could mount an objection, she took hold of Tony's hand, pulling him away.
Tony drew her into his arms, and for a moment, Charlotte thought they were just going to dance, but that hope was short-lived. "Seriously, Birdie, that guy…. I don't get it. Is it the sex? If it is, okay, I can understand, but even great sex doesn't mean forever and happily ever after; you know that, right?"
"My sex life is none of your business!" She could not believe they were having this conversation.
He held her tighter. "But it could have been, and you know we would have been great together." She tried to interrupt, but he continued, "I accept the decision we made, I do, Birdie, but when you find the right guy, I want it be spectacular. That's all you deserve."
Charlotte felt the tears prickling behind her eyelids. She knew that all this was coming from love, and no matter how much she wanted to throttle Tony, she couldn't hold on to the anger. "Tony, I love you, and I know you only want what's best for me, but I don't want to talk about this anymore. Please let it be."
"I'm sorry, Birdie, I don't think I can." He massaged her hand in his, raising it and grazing her knuckles with his lips.
She stepped away, gently breaking his hold. "Then I'm sorry too, Tony. You need to tell the captain to take us back to port, because I can't do this anymore." She turned, swiftly walking away from her friend, seeing the steward finally arriving with the champagne. She fervently hoped that he had a bottle just for her. Reaching the bar, she heard Tony coming up behind her.
"Birdie," he began.
Sighing tiredly, she turned… and the world stopped. Crystal prisms of light from the chandeliers shimmered across the metallic gleam of the muzzle as the gun came up, pointing straight at Tony. "Stop him!" she screamed, throwing herself against Tony, the bullet meant for him tearing into her back. She thought she would die at the look of horror on Tony's face as she collapsed against him. Silly, you're going to die from the bullet Oh, right. She wished she could tell him everything was going to be fine, but that would be a lie. "I'm sorry," she whispered between one breath and the last, but she didn't know if he heard her as she died.