San Luis Obispo, California
"Can I come in?"
Methos nodded at his unexpected guest, pulling the door wider, letting Tony Stark into the house. "Charlotte's not here," he began, only to shake his head. "But you know that since she's in L.A. – where you're supposed to be."
"Yeah, I thought we could talk," Tony said as he followed Methos down the hall towards the kitchen.
"Did you now?" He looked at the other man speculatively. "And what exactly do you think we think we should talk about?"
Entering the kitchen, Methos went to the fridge, pulling out two beers, handing one to Tony.
Laughing, he shook his head. "I don't know; football, the stock market, maybe the weather?" Opening his beer, he took a drink, looking around the room. "Why is it whenever you come here, you always end up in the kitchen?"
"It's always the heart of wherever Charlotte lives."
"The heart? I always thought it had more to do with my stomach."
"That too." Methos snaked a foot under a rung, pulling out a chair, and dropping into it. Tony followed suit, and silence fell, the two men drinking their beer.
"Hard to believe," Tony murmured.
Shrugging, he answered, "That it wasn't that long ago I sat in this same chair, interrogating Birdie about her new boyfriend, planning to drag her off to Afghanistan with me." He looked down at the bottle in his hands. "Seems like a century ago."
"A lot has changed."
"No kidding—I thought having to share my best friend with you was going to be the biggest thing I'd have to deal with."
"Yes, well, Charlotte will insist on jumping in front of bullets," he said lightly.
"Can't say I have a problem with that." A few weeks before, an assassin had made an attempt on Tony's life, an attempt that was thwarted when Charlotte took the bullet meant for him. Even though he'd found out in the aftermath that his friend was Immortal, the experience had left him shaken. "Look, I know we're never going to be BFFs, but I owe you; and not just for saving Hogan's life."
Methos looked puzzled. "How do you figure?"
"I know she loves you, and I know that you could have made it difficult for her to stay friends with me. I'm glad you didn't."
"I only want her to be happy."
"Then we do have something in common." Tony seemed uncomfortable. "Look, I just wanted to say, that as much as it surprises me, I'm glad Birdie has you in her life; that she's not alone. I just needed you to know that."
Methos didn't immediately reply. Then he sighed, leaning forward. "How long have you got?"
Tony's mouth opened and closed again as he searched for a reply. "I have a few hours before I have to head back," he dissembled.
"Come on, Stark, I'm a doctor remember? Not to mention, a student of human nature. You've been giving away your stuff, including your company, your overprotectiveness of those close to you, the moodiness; even for you apparently, and last but not least, coming here to see me."
He looked away. "Does Birdie know?"
"No, and she won't, not from me. It isn't my secret to share."
Tony nodded. "Six months, maybe a year, if I'm lucky," he said, finally answering Methos' question.
"It's the palladium." It was a statement, not a question.
"I'm not one given to platitudes, Stark, but I've also lived long enough to know that there's always hope."
"You really believe that?"
He shrugged. "Some days."
"You'll have to believe for me then, because I'm out." He drank the last of his beer. "You coming to Monte Carlo with us?" he asked, changing the subject.
"As if I'd miss seeing where it all began!"
Standing, Tony held out his hand. "I better be getting back."
Methos shook his hand. "I was hoping you had a little time."
"Thought we could start over—go down the saloon, have a couple of real drinks and set off on a different foot this time."
Smiling broadly, Tony said, "I think I'd like that."
"Good! And then maybe you can tell me exactly what it is that happened on that trip to Bali…."
Monte Carlo, Principality of Monaco
"Looks like Amanda and Ezra are already here," Charlotte said to Methos as they walked into the Hotel De Paris dining room behind Tony and Pepper.
Methos looked over to the far corner of the bar where Ezra was holding court with several admirers, Amanda hanging on his arm, appearing to be enjoying herself immensely. "Who was it that thought letting the jewel thief come to Monaco with us was a good idea?" he hissed in Charlotte's ear.
"Tony's, of course," she replied as if it should be obvious. From in front of her, she heard Tony tell Pepper for the next twenty minutes to just go with it. She took the gin and tonic the waiter offered her and took a swallow. This was going to be a day. "Just smile, darling, and drink your drink," she told Methos with a laugh.
Monaco was where Charlotte had first met Tony eleven years before, and they'd come every year since. It was, as Tony always told her, 'their place'. But this year it was a little different, even putting aside Iron Man. Charlotte was bringing Methos for the first time since they'd been reunited, Ezra had brought Amanda, and Pepper, who usually took her vacation this time of year, was front and center as the new CEO of Stark Industries.
Their procession into the room paused as Tony and Pepper stopped for the photographer, and then it was her turn, Natalie Rushman taking her drink and moving her next to Tony. The hot pink of her Emilio & Coco pencil dress contrasted nicely with Tony's grey suit and Pepper's navy blue dress with pink polka dots; which was exactly as planned. Nothing at these at these sorts of high profile events was done without thought to the details. She smiled and posed obediently—it was all part of the deal.
"Don't flare your nostrils," Tony said to Pepper, both of them with fake smiles pasted onto their faces as they bickered. "Tell her she needs to chill, Birdie."
"Don't drag her into this," Pepper shot back.
Tony just laughed, walking away with Natalie. Pepper and Charlotte retrieved their drinks, looking at each other with a mutual sigh. "When did she become his assistant?"
"Apparently right after I told him he couldn't have her," Pepper replied in exasperation.
"That would explain it," she remarked dryly as she took Methos' arm, following Tony and Natalie to the back of the room. Tony always wanted what he shouldn't have.
"Make it us," Tony instructed Natalie before turning his attention back to them. "While they're getting our table ready, we need champagne." He gestured towards the bar, walking around the back of the table.
"Sure, why not?" Charlotte and Methos followed Tony.
"Love those Merlin engines," Tony said as Elon Musk, the CEO of SpaceX greeted him.
"I have an idea for an electric jet engine," he told Tony.
"I bet you do!" Tony slapped him on the back, not stopping his momentum towards the bar. "You want a massage?" he asked Pepper. "Natalie can schedule you a massage."
"She looks like she's ready to kill him," Methos observed.
"Tony has that effect on his nearest and dearest." Charlotte looked up at him. "She's probably moved on to trying to decide where to hide the body."
The group reached the bar. "Here we go, Pepper's going to relax, and we're going to help her, right?" Tony asked.
"You really are unbelievable," Pepper snapped.
"Anthony, is that you?"
"My least favourite person on Earth, Justin Hammer," Tony said as the Hammer Industries CEO came up, putting a hand on Tony's back. Tony was obviously disgruntled by the man's appearance, but Pepper seemed to be enjoying her former boss's unhappiness.
"Hey, how you doing? You're not the only rich guy here with a fancy car," Hammer said. "And you, Charlotte, you're here too. And you're dating and everything."
"I didn't realize you cared, Justin," Charlotte replied with mock sweetness.
"Me, I'm all about caring, you know that. I just thought that you and Anthony here had a falling out. Glad to see I was wrong."
"Now, Justin, we're all modern men and women here, aren't we? Tony and I have an open relationship." Then she pitched her voice low and sultry. "You know what Tony always says, don't you, Justin? Why can't you have quality and quantity?" Behind her she heard Methos choke back a laugh. Leaning into Tony, she kissed the corner of his mouth. "I'm a woman who likes to have it all."
Tony's eyes were dancing with mischief as he snaked a hand into her hair. "She really is," he confirmed. Hammer seemed like he'd forgotten how to breathe, his eyes focused on Charlotte's lips. "And if she's happy, then I'm really happy, if you know what I mean."
Hammer cleared his throat. "Yeah, sure." Gathering himself, he waved behind him, "You know Christine Everhart from Vanity Fair, you guys know each other?"
Breaking from Tony's hold and drawing back from the group, Charlotte slipped under Methos' arm. "I love you."
"I'm very glad to hear it; though I think you may have given me performance anxiety."
"I can't stand that little weasel. I'm afraid I just couldn't help myself," she said apologetically.
"I have to admit, as much as I hate to, this has proven to be very entertaining so far. I'm glad I came along."
"That makes me happy, love."
Then Pepper was grasping her arm. "Let's go wash up," she said, pulling Charlotte away with her.
As they made their way to the ladies room, Charlotte asked, "You holding up, Virginia?"
"Barely—Hammer and that woman in one sitting. But, Charlotte, what you said to Hammer, priceless. Where'd you learn to do that anyway?"
"The Spanish Court," she replied with a wink. "My first husband was a Vizconde, and I barely eighteen, an English girl far from home. I was a quick study."
"You should give classes."
"It's a thought," she agreed with a laugh.
"What's it like? Being married, I mean," Pepper asked unexpectedly.
Charlotte came to a halt in the anteroom of the ladies lounge, looking at something only she could see. A wistful smile settled on her lips. "When it's right, Virginia, it is more perfect that you can imagine."
"And was it always right?"
"More than I deserved, more than I ever dreamed. God has truly blessed me, Virginia." She brushed Pepper's cheek with her fingertips. "And one day soon, I know He will bless you as He did me."
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