Ith (ithildyn) wrote,

'Equivocal Coalescence' (06/08)

This chapter is a bit of a long one, but I hope it's worth it. I'm really pleased at how it turned out, and hope you enjoy reading it.

Fandoms: Iron Man/Marvel Movieverse, Highlander
Rating: PG15
Warnings/Notes: WIP, spoilers for Iron Man II as this is set during the events of the movie, gen friendship with background het.
Character(s): Tony Stark, Methos, Ezra Standish, Pepper Potts, Nick Fury, Phil Coulson, Natasha Romanoff/Natalie Rushman, James 'Rhodey' Rhodes, Jarvis, Joe Dawson, Justin Hammer, Original Characters.
Summary: Their whole world changed when Tony revealed he was Iron Man, but that wasn't nearly the end of it.


Chapter Six

As they neared the end of the long winding driveway, Charlotte checked her 'Jarvis-phone' one last time for messages. As she started to put it in her evening bag, the AI's voice issued from the car's stereo speakers. "Madam, Mr. Stark requests your presence in his suite."

"You've got to be kidding me!"

"Indeed not, madam," Jarvis replied. "He was quite insistent."

She shook her head at the facetious note in Jarvis' response—he seemed more real to her some days than actual flesh and blood people she knew. "Please tell Mr. Stark that I hear and obey."

"As do we all, madam," he said, sounding long-suffering. "I shall inform him, madam."

Giving her shiny new phone a look, she shoved it in her purse. "I think that'll have to go. I will not have Tony using his tech, not to mention a present, to issue orders!"

Methos glanced at her before returning his attention to the road. "Realistically, he could use Jarvis to hijack your old cellphone and do the exact same thing."

"You had to say that?" she demanded. "Really?"

He just grinned, shrugging, slowing the car to a stop in front of Tony's Malibu mansion on Point Dume. Valets quickly opened the doors, one helping her from the car as Methos handed the other the keys to the Aston Martin. The car had been a gift from Tony a few months before; a gift Charlotte was looking at now with fresh eyes, realizing the sign it may have been, if only she'd realized.

Methos came around the car, taking her hand. "You look stunning." The warmth of his voice made her heart flutter a little. He leaned closer, saying softly at her ear, "The way you look in that dress makes me regret ever leaving our bedroom."

"I'm glad you approve," she said huskily. Pepper had been the one to convince her to buy the Herve Leger foil-printed corset dress the last time they'd gone shopping in Manhattan. Tony's birthday party had seemed the perfect opportunity to wear something just a little racier than was her usual. "Maybe after my presentation at the Expo, we could go somewhere for a few days, and I promise we won't leave the room at all."

"Absolutely." His hands cupped her throat. "I'm going to hold you to that."

"I hope so." Regretfully, she sighed as he loosed his hold and stepped away. Looking around at the mayhem surrounding them, she said, "This is a madhouse, even for one of Tony's parties."

"Let's do this then," he said, once more taking her hand, joining the throng making their way up the walk and into the house.

From the open door, the sounds of music and hundreds of people talking blended with the crash of the surf rising up the cliffs, and the occasional gull managing to make itself heard over the din As they entered, the roar of sound assaulted them full force, an almost physical sensation. Charlotte led Methos around the perimeter of the great room, towards where Pepper stood by the open patio doors, taking a glass of champagne from a passing waiter as she went.

"Is the entire population of Los Angeles here?" she asked Pepper, kissing her on the cheek in greeting.

Pepper scanned the room. "I'm beginning to think so. But you know Tony. I'm so glad you came, both of you." She smiled at Methos. "I really need the moral support.

"Happy to be here," Methos assured her.

"Do you think you could get me a real drink?" Charlotte asked him.

"Moral support?" Pepper asked with a rueful smile. "Make that two, if you don't mind, Matthew."

"Two martinis—make hers dirty and give her my olives," Charlotte instructed.

"You've done this before." The two women looked at each other and laughed. "I'll be right back."

Watching Methos leave, Pepper said, "You make him happy."

"Do you think so?"

"You doubt?" Pepper asked, surprised.

Suddenly, she felt unaccountably shy. "I guess…maybe sometimes I'm just not sure why he loves me."

"I so do not want to hear that sort of talk! He's damn lucky to have you, and if you have to, repeat that to yourself as often as it takes."

"Yes, ma'am." Charlotte put her arm around Pepper's waist. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." Following suit, she put her arm around Charlotte. "Come on, I have something to show you."


Pepper drew her to a stop at a table to the side of the fireplace. "You made Tony's month with your birthday gift."

"Oh my god!" Charlotte had given Tony a Lego pirate ship for his birthday as something of an inside joke after his discovery of her immortality and her past as the wife of a pirate captain. It was a gift he seemed to have run with. "It's incredible and certainly not what was in the box."

"It's his pride and joy." Pepper had a genuine smile on her face, with none of the stress that had lined it only minutes before.

Charlotte leaned in closer, examining Tony's modifications; there was sound, lighting, and special effects. Laughing, she reached out a finger, touching a little Lego woman that had not come included, one that looked suspiciously like her, swinging from the rigging of the ship, a tiny sword in her hand. Looking up at Pepper, she said, "So that's what I look like in Lego."

"And there's Tony." Pepper pointed to the prow of the ship. Sure enough, there was little pirate Tony, complete with tiny Arc Reactor glowing in his chest.

"That is very cool." She straightened. "Just where is the birthday boy anyway?"

"Getting ready."

"Primping, you mean." She rolled her eyes, and Pepper giggled.

"Well you know how vain he is."

"Don't I!" With one last look at the Lego ship, she said, "I've been summoned to his side, so I suppose I'd best get on with it."

"Good luck with that."

"From your lips, Pepper, from your lips."


In the hall leading to Tony's bedroom, Charlotte paused, hearing voices, his and a woman's. Throwing back what was left of her martini, and setting the empty glass on a side table, she edged a little closer to the entry, not wanting to be on the visual receiving end of one of Tony's hookups.

"If this was your last birthday party you were ever going to have, how would you celebrate it?" she heard Tony ask.

"I'd do whatever I wanted do to…with whoever I wanted to do it with," the woman's voice replied, a voice Charlotte recognized as Natalie Rushman's.

All the little things that had seemed off about Natalie, from that day at Stark Industries in legal, through to the attack in Monte Carlo, coalesced in Charlotte's mind. She'd been more off her game than she'd realized. Backing away again, she waited in the shadows. It was time she and Natalie had a little talk.

She didn't have long to wait. In fact, Natalie almost passed her by, before coming to a halt, snapping her body around to face Charlotte. That was the last bit of confirmation she needed. Those were the instincts of someone with training—and not the kind it took to become a paralegal. But it was the look in Natalie's eyes that was the clincher. It was what she had seen so briefly in Monaco--what Charlotte saw in her own mirror.

"Did I startle you…Natalie?"

She'd already composed herself, now once more Tony Stark's unthreatening PA. "A little, ma'am. Did you need something? I know Mr. Stark's been waiting for you. Shall I announce you?"

"Tony can wait. And why don't you call me Charlotte? After all, we seem to have so much in common."


Charlotte didn't reply, waving a hand at Natalie, indicating she follow her to the adjacent study, which was empty.

"Close the door please."

"Ms. Sparrow—" Natalie said from behind her "—if I've done something to upset you, I'm sorry. I know Mr. Stark thinks the world of you and I really love my job—"

Turning to face Natalie, Charlotte shook her head sharply. "Stop! I know, Natalie, or whatever your name is. I should have realized weeks ago, but I'm rusty, off my game, and you…you're very good. One of the best I've seen." She held up her hands as Natalie began her rote protestation of innocence. "If you try to tell me you have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm going to think less of you, honestly."

The silence that fell was heavy with all the possibilities of what might happen next. Natalie studied Charlotte, as if mentally weighing the options on some internal scale. Then her entire demeanor changed, like a rose going from bud to bloom before her eyes—or from Labrador puppy to wolf.

"The woman who took Ingo Mannus' head wasn't rusty."

Raising an eyebrow, Charlotte replied, "Saw that did you?"

Nodding, she crossed her arms over her chest, leaning against the corner of the glass topped desk. "It was breathtaking," she said with frank appreciation.

"And I'm certain you are pretty damn breathtaking yourself...?"

"Natasha." A small smile curled her lips. "You made me—my boss won't be too happy about that."

She snorted. "It takes one to know one, Natasha. Besides, your boss should have told me he had you in play. It would have made things a whole lot easier."
God damn Nicholas anyway. One day soon, she and her old compatriot needed to reach some sort of truce before someone got hit by friendly fire.

"He didn't want to burden you with more secrets to keep from your best friend."

"His concern is touching," she said coolly.

She straightened. "Will you tell Stark?"

"I'd say that depends."

"On what?"

"On whether or not I discover that SHIELD has been manipulating him." She took a step closer to Natasha, then another. "He's sick, isn't he?"


She clenched her fists. In a deceptively soft voice, she asked, "And is SHIELD doing anything about that? Or are you using it to control him; control Iron Man?"

Natasha looked her straight in the eye. "We're doing something about that, ma'am. We hope to have something soon, get him back to work so he can find a cure."

Taking a shaky breath, she nodded. "I hope to God you're telling me the truth, Natasha."

"I have no reason to lie, Charlotte."

She laughed outright at that. "Please! You have every reason to lie. So maybe I'm being a fool, but I choose to believe you, believe your boss; for now, at least. And for now, I'll keep your secret. It puts my mind at ease that you're watching over him."


"Nice of you to make an appearance. Only took you, what, an hour to make it here." Tony was slumped in a brown leather chair at the end of the large room, by the wall of glass that looked out over the coast, already half drunk.

Charlotte narrowed her eyes, the concern with which she'd entered Tony's room quickly evaporating when faced with petulant superhero genius. "I'm sorry I didn't respond to your summons with enough alacrity," she said sarcastically. "I don't work for you, Tony, so I can show up when I damn well please!"

"You did...well, for a few months at least," he pointed out.

"Did what?"

"Work for me."

"I did not!"

"Yeah, you did," He leaned back in his chair. "Memory going in your old age, Birdie?"

"I never accepted a salary—" she pointed a finger at him "—so technically, I did not work for you!"

"Technically? So we're all about being technical now. Okay, so technically, it's my birthday, and you should be nicer to me for once!"

"For once! When am I not nice to you?" she demanded.

"Tahiti!" he shot back without even thinking about it.

"Tahiti?" she repeated incredulously. "You were drunk, naked and passed out on my bedroom floor! I fell over you when I got out of bed!"

"And you weren't very nice about it."

"I'm nice enough when I bail you out of foreign prisons after you insult the local potentate!"

"Hey, that only happened once!"

"Twice," she corrected smugly.

"Well if you're going to be technical about it," he groused, picking up his martini and draining it. "And where's Rushman with more of these?"

"I sent her away, and besides, haven't you had enough? You haven't even gone to your own party yet."

"It's my birthday, so I get to say when it's enough. And just why did you send my employee away?"

"There are several hundred people out there, Tony. It's her job to manage your party, not to dress you—you're a grownup, aren't you?" She paused. "Oh, wait, that was a stupid question, wasn't it?"

Tony narrowed his eyes. "What the hell is your problem?"

"My problem? I don’t know, Tony, would you like a list?"

"No, you know what? I don't care. What I do want is another drink, another several drinks!"

"Is that what you want, Tony? Fine!" She strode over to the end of the long bureau, sliding open a cupboard and pulling out a bottle of tequila and two glasses. She practically threw the bottle at him when she returned to his side. "Here!"

He pulled out the stopper, slopping the liquor into the glass she'd put on the table next to him. "Happy birthday to me," he said defiantly, taking a swallow.

"Give me that." She took the bottle from his hand, pouring her own glass. "Because I'm sure not continuing this with you sober."

"That's my Birdie, knew you'd get with the program."

She stilled, searching his face. "You did, didn't you? Was that the plan, Tony? Pick a fight, get me mad, distract me?"

He didn't look at her. "I don't know what's wrong with you tonight," he muttered.

"I'm right, aren't I?" She sat on the wide chair arm, facing him. "I let you push all my buttons, and you do it so effortlessly, I almost didn't realize what you were doing!" He tried to get up, but she put her hands against his chest, pushing him back. "Yesterday, when you came to see me, everything seemed fine. But something happened later to change that didn't it? Didn't it, Tony?"

He looked up at her. "You have no idea what you're talking about," he said angrily, pulling her into his lap. "So unless you plan to make this birthday really memorable—" he ran his hands up her thighs "—I have a party to get to."

Sucking in a breath, she shook her head. "Oh no, Tony, that's not going to work this time. You were a bastard to me in Monte Carlo, and I fell for it." Before he could stop her, she pulled his shirt open. "But now I know it was because you didn't want me to see this." She rested her palm against the tracks of the palladium poisoning that marked his chest. "Why didn't you tell me, Tony?"

He was gripping her wrists hard, and she wasn't sure if he was going to push her away, or let her in. Grimacing, he closed his eyes, and when he opened them, they were filled with the same torment she'd seen after he returned from his captivity in Afghanistan. "Because of this, Birdie, because I couldn't stand the thought of the pity, the grief, as you watched me die. Does that answer your question?" he asked bitterly.

"Yes, Tony, it does." She swallowed back her tears. "But this, all of this, we've wasted so much time fighting, you being a jerk. I don't want those to be my last memories, Tony."

"I don't either," he said, pulling her head down, kissing her with an intensity that took her by surprise.

Pulling away, she shook her head. "Tony, no, this isn't what you want. You're drunk, ill, and not thinking clearly."

"You're wrong, this is what I want, Birdie." He kissed her again, this time gently, his hands stroking her back.

"Tony, I can't do this, we can't do this. I'm with Matthew, I love him, you know that, know how long we were apart before we found one another again."

He looked at her intently, holding her face in his hands. "What's a few more months? You're Immortal, both of you. At the most, I have maybe six months, and then I'll be dust, while the two of you, you have centuries to be together." The quiet desperation in his voice broke her heart. "I don't want to be alone, Birdie."

"Stop it, please, just stop." This time, she managed to extricate herself from his grasp, getting to her feet. "I don't accept that there's no hope left, Tony. I refuse to treat you as if you're already dead!" Backing up, she curled her hands together, holding them up, pleading for his understanding. "I won't let you do something that I know in my heart you'll regret tomorrow."

He looked as if she'd slapped him. Hell, she may as well have in his present state of mind. Propelling himself out of the chair, he picked up the bottle of tequila, taking a long hard drink. Then he said, "If we're done here, there's a party with my name on it." He brushed past her.

"Tony, please—"

He looked over his shoulder as he walked away. "Don't worry, Charlotte, I won't be alone for long—I'm not picky."



This entry was originally posted at Please comment here or there.
Tags: charlotte sparrow, ezra standish, fic, fic: highlander, fic: iron man, james rhodes, jarvis, joe dawson, methos, natasha romanoff, nick fury, pepper potts, phil coulson, series: 'echoes the sea'

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