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
If Today Was Your Last Day
Pepper stood next to Methos, both of them watching Tony and Charlotte on the dance floor. Glancing over at Methos, she said, "If you'd known Tony before, before Afghanistan…." Stopping, she shook her head, sighing, then continued, "He wasn't so intense… overprotective. And the rest of us, well, I guess we're different too. It changed Tony, and it changed the people who care about him."
"It's hard to imagine those two in the before you describe. My only experience is with that." He pointed as Charlotte broke away from Tony, upset, Tony following, looking determined. Methos understood the fallout from captivity all too well; and maybe that was part of the problem, if he were being brutally honest. Then he went still. Something was wrong. He felt it in his gut as Charlotte turned, her whole stance changing. Methos stood up straight, ready to strike, seeking a target, following her eyes as she screamed, "Stop him!"
Mere seconds after the crack of a shot muffled by a suppressor rang around the room, Methos' knife was in his hand, and moments after that, it was buried deep in the assassin's chest before he could get off a second shot. It all happened so fast, and yet, time seemed to slow to a crawl.
Methos strode over to the would-be killer, making sure he was dead, kicking the gun away angrily. Tanimura now had a gun in his hand, as did Ezra, the two men's eyes scanning the room, making sure all was secure as Amanda went to Tony, who was clutching Charlotte's body against his chest. Stark's eyes were glassy, his face a study of shock and grief. Pepper was sitting in a chair, her face covered with her hands, shoulders shaking.
"You need to let her go now, Tony," Amanda said quietly, Jacob joining her as she gently pulled at Tony's arms. He just nodded dumbly, loosing his hold, Jacob carefully slipping Charlotte's body to the floor.
Ezra joined Methos, running a hand through his hair, looking down at the assassin. "Charlotte said this weekend was going to be a disaster, but even my imagination didn't extend to this."
His body taut, the adrenaline still pumping through him, Methos chopped his hand through the air. "I told her something like this was going to happen, but would she listen? Of course not! Now it's over."
Ezra had a strange look on his face. "It was inevitable," he said, as if to himself.
Methos looked at him sharply; it didn't seem like they were talking about the same thing. Then he took a step closer to Ezra, pitching his voice low. "We need to get her out of this room, and then her body needs to disappear."
"No? What do you mean 'no'?" Methos demanded. "That's how this works, remember? We die publically, then that's it, life over."
"Not this time." His face had a determined look, his green eyes daring Methos to disagree. "Charlotte would want Tony to know."
"I don't care," he said witheringly. The boy was delusional. Charlotte Sparrow was dead, and she had to stay that way.
"That's patently obvious," Ezra snapped.
"Now wait just a minute…."
"With your help, or without it, Tony is going to know the truth," Ezra interrupted. "She's my family, and Tony's my best friend. It's my decision; you have no say in the matter, not anymore."
Throwing his hands up in the air, Methos shook his head in disgust. "Fine, but leave me out of it—you explain to the mortals. I'll take care of Charlotte." Turning away, he motioned to Amanda, who was comforting those same mortals on the side of the salon farthest from the bodies. As she and Ezra passed each other, she reached out, squeezing his shoulder.
"What's the plan," she asked as she joined Methos.
He didn't immediately answer, his fingers stroking Charlotte's cold cheek. Then he said, "The plan is for all hell to break loose."
"What are you talking about?"
He elaborated, "Ezra is going to tell them what she is; what we are."
"Is he insane?" Amanda looked over her shoulder to where Ezra now sat with Tony and Pepper.
"Apparently," Methos snapped. "Hey, he's your boyfriend." Then he sighed tiredly, rubbing at his eyes. "Tanimura," he called to the former Marine, who was examining the body of the assassin.
"Go take a look around the rest of the ship, make sure there are no more surprises in store." The other man nodded. "We'll decide what to do with the body of our party crasher later." As he left, Methos asked Amanda, "Help me clean her up please? I don't want Charlotte coming back lying in a pool of her own blood."
"Sure, honey, whatever you need."
With Amanda's help, he got Charlotte out of her bloody clothes, washing her skin clean with wet towels from the bar. As they worked, he heard Stark's angry voice, along with Pepper's distressed one, and he wondered just what Ezra was telling them. But that wasn't his problem. Gently, he laid her on a couch, wrapping a black linen tablecloth around her like a sarong before sitting next to her. "Always jumping in front of bullets meant for someone else," he said with exasperated affection, brushing a strand of ink black hair from her face. Later, he'd be angry, but not now.
He heard the others approach, glancing up at Stark as they came to a halt at his side. It wasn't hard to read the man; certain Ezra was lying, but desperately holding on to the hope he wasn't. Turning his attention back to Charlotte, he wondered if Jarvis, the AI majordomo, actually had a sense of humour, albeit a dark one, as Nickelback's If Today Was Your Last Day began to play over the stereo system.
And tomorrow was too late
Could you say goodbye to yesterday?
Would you live each moment like your last?
Leave old pictures in the past
Donate every dime you have?
If today was your last day
Taking her hand in his, he thought, Dearest Charlotte, you wouldn't want this to be the last day, the last memories Stark had of you, would you? He might not like it, but Ezra was right; this was what she would have wanted. Aloud, he said, "Anytime now."
"This is for real then?" Stark asked. Methos realized the question was directed at him.
"More real than you can imagine," he answered. As if on cue, an almost imperceptible tremor ran up her body, and then she was gasping for breath, her back arching up off the surface of the couch. "Stark's fine, they all are," Methos told her. It was the first thing she'd want to know. He helped her sit up, the hand he still held gripping his hard. Then the second thing, "Ezra said you'd want him to know."
Nodding, she looked past him to where Stark stood, Pepper clutching his arm, both of them still trying to process what they'd just witnessed. "Are you okay?" Charlotte asked Tony in a voice that trembled.
Stark took a shaky breath. "I don't know."
Wrapping her arms around herself protectively, Charlotte dropped her eyes. "I'm sorry."
His laugh was as sharp as a scalpel. "Honest to God, Birdie, I don't even know which thing in particular you're sorry for."
Ezra was looking like he might be having doubts about sharing their secret with Stark. He stepped in front of him. "Tony, I know you have questions, and I know you're upset, but can you please give Charlotte a moment to gather herself?"
"Tony, come on." Pepper tugged at his arm, drawing him away.
"He hates me," Charlotte whispered.
"No, he doesn't. Cousin, he's just in shock; you need to give him some time."
"Ezra's right," Methos said. "I've seen that look before, and just like then, all will be well once he's had time to let it sink in."
"Before?" she asked.
Methos nodded. "Stark looks just like Jack did, that day of your first death." He kissed her cheek. "You really need to stop jumping in front of bullets." His voice was love and irritation mingled.
"I'll do my best." She tried to laugh, but tears fell instead. Methos gathered her in his arms, holding her tight. Taking several deep breaths, she steadied herself. "I'm fine." Methos drew back, helping her to her feet. Her gaze fell on the dead assassin. "That will have to be dealt with."
"We can dump the body overboard," Methos said.
"No, there's too much potential for complications." She looked at Ezra, and in a low voice asked, "Can you nudge Pepper into calling Agent Coulson instead of the Coast Guard?"
"I think that could be managed," Ezra agreed.
She pulled Ezra close. "Then you need to call Nicholas and tell him what's happened."
"Would you two mind filling me in?" Methos was reminded once more of how little he knew about the lives Charlotte and Ezra had shared over the last century and a half.
"Later, I promise." Charlotte brushed his lips with hers.
They all turned as the presence of another Immortal was felt, Amanda entering the salon shortly after, holding a pile of clothing. She handed a black t-shirt to Tony. "I thought you'd like something clean to wear." The shirt he currently wore was covered in Charlotte's blood. Then she joined the group of Immortals on the other side of the room, giving Charlotte a button up shirt of pale blue cotton and a pair of jeans. "I don't think tablecloths are your style," she said lightly.
Taking the clothing, Charlotte looked down at herself. "No, I suppose not. Thank you, Amanda." As she undid it, Amanda took the edges, holding the table linen like a screen while Charlotte dressed. Once she was done, Charlotte took the cloth back from Amanda, walking over to the body on the floor, studying it silently before covering it.
Methos stood next to her, putting his arm around her shoulder. "It's going to be fine, I promise." She nodded, but she didn't look like she believed him.
Then she looked up at him. "Thank you for not saying 'I told you so'."
"I'm sorry this happened, you know that, don't you?"
"Of course I do." Then she turned her attention to Stark, who was approaching them. "And now, it's time to pay the piper."
Charlotte met Tony halfway, leaning against the bar for support, flinching at the hurt in his eyes. She knew he felt betrayed, and in all honesty she couldn’t blame him. The thought that one day she might tell him about her immortality was something she’d considered from time to time, but it had always been an ephemeral ‘what if?'. All the reasons she had for not revealing her secret still held true, but up against the reality of the pain she’d caused her best friend, none of those reasons made her feel better.
“Tony, I…,” her voice faltered. She looked down at her blood covered blouse, pooled on the floor at her feet. “I’m sorry,” she finally said softly. Ezra put a hand on her shoulder, handing her a tumbler of scotch with the other. Gratefully, she took the glass, taking a long drink. God, she hated being shot.
"Sorry? You think that makes it all better, Birdie?" Tony demanded.
"Of course not," she began, only to be interrupted by Methos.
"You do not get to blame Charlotte for this, Stark," Methos said angrily. "None of this would have happened if you hadn't decided to tell the whole bloody world you were Iron Man!"
"No, you're absolutely right; she would have still been living a lie!" Tony shot back.
"Don't do this," Charlotte pleaded.
Before Methos could respond, Amanda took his arm. "Come on, they need to work it out between the two of them and this isn't helping." For a moment Charlotte wasn’t sure if he'd listen to Amanda, but finally he nodded, letting her draw him away.
She made another attempt. "Tony, please try and understand."
“Oh, I'm beginning to understand a whole lot of things, Birdie! This is why we were never together, isn't it?” Tony demanded. “I never had a chance.” He laughed bitterly.
“No, Tony, it wasn’t like that! Please, let me explain.” She glanced over at Methos leaning against the bulkhead behind Tony. She couldn’t read his expression; his eyes carefully blank of all emotion. She felt trapped between the two men she loved, each in their own way.
Ezra squeezed her shoulder sympathetically. Never had she been so grateful for his presence. She didn’t know what she would have done without him and Amanda there as a buffer between Methos and Tony.
“I think we all need to take a deep breath,” Ezra said calmly. “Too much has happened for any of us to say or do anything we’ll regret later.” He shot Methos a look before turning his attention to Tony. “She’s your best friend and she loves you; nothing about today has changed that. You need to remember that, Tony.”
It seemed as if Tony was going to say something, but instead, he just shook his head, beginning to pace, scrubbing his hand through his hair in a frustrated gesture.
“Is there anything you need?” Pepper asked her, retrieving Charlotte’s bloodied blouse from the floor and placing it in the trash.
“No, thank you, Virginia, I appreciate everything you’ve done already.”
Stopping in front of her, Tony said, “We need to talk, Birdie,” obviously dismissing the others. He turned away, staring out the window at the ocean.
That got a reaction from Methos, and Charlotte quickly tried to forestall any further altercation between the two men. “Yes, we do. Matthew, please?” Her eyes begged Methos to let it go.
“Fine,” Methos bit out, abruptly pushing away from the wall and practically stalking from the room, Amada following.
“I’m sure you have questions, Pepper,” Ezra said into the strained silence. He extended an arm politely, which Tony’s assistant took hold of, looking relieved to be able to escape. He gave Charlotte one last reassuring look before leading Pepper from the room.
“Well?” That one word made her want to cry. It was heavy with accusation and anger.
“I can’t tell you that a part of it wasn’t because I was Immortal; I won’t lie to you.”
“It’s a little late for that now, isn’t it?” he asked caustically, turning around to face her.
“That’s not fair! I never lied to you! Never lied about my feelings for you, or who I was. You may not have known I was Immortal, but you know me better than almost anyone ever has.”
“But you would have, in the end,” he accused. “What was it going to be? A car accident? Your boat going down at sea? And me left to grieve for you! Was that what was going to happen, Birdie?”
Her fingers clenched around the glass she still held in her hand. How could she not have realized he would have already worked his way to the inevitable end? God, how could she not have known that this was at the core of his anger more than anything was? She knew Tony feared abandonment. Under his cocky, self-assured exterior was a man who thought he’d always be left behind.
“That would be a start.”
“Fine! I don’t know! Is that honest enough for you?” she practically shouted before sinking down onto one of the small sofas that dotted the large room. Her hand was shaking so badly that the glass slipped from her grasp. Then Tony was there, grabbing it before it could shatter on the marble floor.
“I’m sorry—dying, it makes you unsteady,” she offered by way of explanation, wiping at her eyes.
He set the glass on a table next to her, looking down at her. “Did you ever think about telling me?”
“Yes, I thought about it; more than once.”
“But you didn’t trust me enough to actually go through with it,” he stated stiffly.
“No! It was never about trust, Tony. Never.”
“Then what was it about? Tell me, Birdie!”
“I don’t know how to explain it to you. It’s just…. We, Immortals, don’t share our secret with mortals as a general rule; for so many reasons.” She sighed in frustration, not able to find the words.
“But there have been those you’ve told.” It wasn’t a question.
“Yes, over the centuries, there have been a few. Some I’ve told, others found out much like you did today. But not for a very long time, not since my last husband was killed and I watched my children grow old and die. Not since then,” she whispered. She pushed back the memory of Chris’s blood soaking into her dress as she cradled his dying body in her arms.
Then he was taking her hand in his, sitting next to her. “You were protecting yourself.”
She looked up into his deep brown eyes, and nodded slightly. “That’s part of it, and part of it was protecting you; though I don’t know if you will believe me when I tell you that.”
“He’s the one, isn’t he?” At her questioning look, he elaborated, “Your husband that was killed. He was the one you told me about that night. You said there had been someone you loved very much and that you would hold him in your arms when he was troubled until he fell asleep.”
Charlotte was surprised Tony remembered that conversation. It had been not long after his return from captivity and he had been drunk and almost incoherent from lack of sleep. “Yes.”
“Maybe you could tell me about him one day?” he asked, seeming to sense she wasn’t up to talking about her late husband now.
“I’d like that.” She placed her hand over his. “Tony, I truly am sorry that I hurt you. I love you so much, and I wish that I could change the past. But I can’t. I just hope you can forgive me.”
“I’m probably the last person who should be judging anyone, Birdie, let alone you.” He kissed her cheek. “And I guess I should thank you for saving my life. But, Birdie, when I thought you’d been killed because of me…,” his voice broke, his grip tightening.
“Matthew’s already chastised me for my penchant of jumping in front of bullets,” she observed dryly.
“Matthew, he isn’t just some guy you met a few months ago, is he?”
“No, he’s not. He was my teacher when I became Immortal in the eighteenth century. He’s looked out for me for a very long time; thankless job that it is. Before we found each other a few months ago, we hadn't seen one another for a hundred and fifty years”
“I still don’t like him,” he told her with a wry grin.
“I can assure you, the feeling’s mutual.”
“I’ve known him since he was a child, helped raise him, and when he became Immortal, I was his teacher.”
“And when was that?”
“He wasn’t a photographer back then,” Tony observed.
“No, he was a gambler and a lawman,” she said with a smile.
“Damnit! No wonder he wins at poker so often.”
“You’re one of the few people he considers a challenge,” she told him. Tony looked pleased at that. "Ezra wanted to tell you about us, but I wouldn't let him, so please don't be angry with him."
"I'm not angry; at him or at you." He hung his head. "As much as I hate to admit it, Matthew's right. This is my fault."
Sighing, she shook her head. "Tony, what's done is done. We can't take back what's past, we just need to deal with it and move on."
"I don't want anyone else to die for me, Birdie." The poignancy of his words broke her heart.
"I know, Tony." She leaned her head against his shoulder, wishing she could tell him a comforting lie. "But that is not within our power to control; the only thing that is in our power is choosing what to do with the time that's given us, mortal and immortal alike."
Tony chuckled. "Thank you, Gandalf."
Charlotte smiled up at him. "You're welcome. And Gandalf or no, it's true."
"Yeah." Then narrowing his eyes, he cocked his head. "Hey, wait a minute; they're not real too are they? Elves, wizards, those guys," he elaborated.
"If they are, no one's told me about it." She laughed.
"Good to know." He joined her laughter, hugging her.
The salon door burst open, Pepper running in, her eyes wide with fear. "Charlotte, Matthew needs your help in the medical bay; Happy's been shot."