Fandoms: Iron Man/Marvel Movieverse, Highlander
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.
Charlotte had found a—relatively—quiet corner of the deck to compose herself. This area was off limits to party goers, not far from Tony's master suite. She leaned over the railing, looking down at the cliffs and ocean below, letting the pull of the surf mesmerize her.
"No jumping," Methos called from behind her.
"Just once?" she asked, looking over her shoulder, managing a weak smile.
"Yes, well, maybe just once," he said, stopping next to her and putting an arm around her waist.
"How'd you find me?"
"Pepper suggested you might be here. After Tony showed up and you didn't, we assumed it didn't go well."
"I'm getting predictable, I guess. I like this spot." She turned to lean against the railing, looking up at him. "I'm almost afraid to ask, but just how bad is Tony acting out?"
"He and Natalie blew things up with an arm from the suit, he was unforgivably rude to Pepper, and presumably, he and Natalie have gone in pursuit of more destruction."
Charlotte clenched her jaw, rubbing at her temple tiredly. "At least she's keeping him occupied."
Methos looked confused. "Excuse me, but you're actually glad Natalie Rushman is aiding and abetting Stark's outrageous behaviour? Am I missing something?"
"It's a long story, and I'll explain it all when we get home." She placed her palm against his chest. "I'm sorry, Methos, this wasn't what I had in mind when I asked you to come with me tonight. I know it's hard to believe, but Tony's parties are usually a lot of fun."
He took the hand, massaging the palm. "No apologies necessary, love. I've seen worse, and god only knows, behaved worse in my time. At least he hasn't taken to threatening to shoot his guests." At her questioning look, he elaborated, "When Byron got like Stark is tonight, he could be hazardous to be around."
"Mad, bad, and dangerous to know?"
"Take me home?"
"Are you sure it's a good idea leaving Stark unattended?"
"My being here is only exacerbating the situation. Tony's being handled by professionals, and I have nothing left to give tonight."
"I'm sorry, Charlotte, for everything. I know how much he means to you, how this must be tearing you apart." At the gentleness in his voice, she almost lost it, brushing at her eyes.
"We only just got him back, Methos. Those months after he was taken were so horrible. Me, Pepper, Jim, Ezra, we were a family, we kept each other strong. And then, beyond hope, he was returned to us, and now I have to face losing him all over again? It's not fair!"
Methos had no words that could comfort her, drawing her into his arms and holding her till she had no tears left.
"I'm not that late, am I?" Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes asked, climbing the steps to where Charlotte and Methos were waiting for their car to be brought around.
Charlotte's laugh held no warmth. "It's later than you think, Jim." Hugging him, she said, "It's good to see you."
"You've been crying."
"It's been that kind of night."
"What the hell did Tony do this time?"
"What hasn't he done, might be more the question," Methos offered dryly.
"Tony's sick, Jim, maybe dying." He dropped his eyes, looking uncomfortable. "But you knew that, didn't you?"
"Yeah, I found out last night. He collapsed, needed me to switch out the palladium core."
"So that was it," she said to herself. "I knew something had happened after I saw him yesterday morning," she explained. "Jim, it isn't good. I don't know what else to do. I just hope to God you can make him see reason." She reached up, kissing him on the cheek. "Please be careful, Tony's being…unpredictable."
Nodding, he squeezed her shoulder. "You go home. I'll deal with Tony, don't you worry."
"And just how long do I have to wait to get you out of that dress?" Methos asked cheerfully as they walked out onto the deck of the Malibu house that Stark Industries provided Charlotte, a benefit of her position as head of SI's new charitable division.
"Patience is a virtue," she said primly. "You promised me wine and romance, remember?" She waved the bottle of wine and glasses she held in her hands at him.
"And you know that virtue is something I sorely lack," he said, grabbing her around the waist, pulling her to a halt and nuzzling her neck.
After leaving the party, they'd driven down One to Culver City for In-N-Out, then had grabbed some gelato at Grom in Malibu before heading back home. Considering the way the evening had started, she was in a ridiculously good mood. A good mood that was remarkably short lived.
"You can do the wine, but romance is off the schedule," Nick Fury's voice said from somewhere in front of them. "Unavoidable scheduling conflict."
"Damn it," she said under her breath, slumping in Methos' arms. She looked up at him apologetically. "I swear I'll make this up to you."
He kissed her. "I'll be waiting for you when you're done." He gave her one more kiss before he walked back towards the house.
"And to what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?" she asked coolly.
"Who, not what," Nick corrected her. "You left the party—didn't anticipate that."
"Good to know I can still surprise you." She set the wine bottle and glasses she still held on a side table, before sitting on a cushioned chaise lounge, leaning against the back, and tucking her legs underneath her. "Tony was being supervised by the seemingly very competent Agent Natasha. I, on the other hand, had overstayed my welcome."
Nick sat on the side of the same chaise, one knee on the edge, turning towards her. "I'm surprised you didn't make her before now."
"Don't rub it in. Anyway, I've had other things on my mind, and as I told Natasha, I'm rusty."
"I need you get unrusty, and fast."
She shook her head. "You are unbelievable!" Straightening, she glared at him. "I don't work for you, nor do I intend to change that state of affairs anytime in the foreseeable future, so you can go to hell. Preferably after you've seen yourself out," she added pointedly.
He began to laugh, which just made her angrier. "And let the wine go to waste?" Picking up the bottle, he filled both glasses, handing one to Charlotte. "I belong to your wine club, you know."
"You do not!"
"Truth." He took a sip from his glass. "Now this is good—how come it hasn't been in any club shipments?"
"Because it's my private reserve, shared with only a select few."
"Bet Stark has more than a couple cases in his cellar."
"I am so not discussing Tony with you," she told him, jaw set stubbornly.
He looked at her with his one eye. "Oh, yes you are. You're my wildcard, Charlotte Sparrow, and I'm playing you now." He reached into the inner pocket of his black leather duster, pulling out a tablet, sliding a finger over the screen before handing it to her. "Want to reconsider?"
Her eyes widened as she watched a recording of Tony's mansion seemingly exploding. "Was anyone hurt?"
She nodded, playing it over, taking in the destruction that had occurred after she'd left. "What happened?"
"Colonel Rhodes happened; seems he took exception to Stark using the Iron Man armour as a party favour. He took one of the suits, told Stark to power it down, and when his best buddy refused, all hell broke loose."
"Jim took a suit? He told me he was going to take care of Tony, but I had no idea that's what he had in mind."
"You would have tried to stop him if you had."
She snorted. "I would have helped." Handing the tablet back to her old friend, she asked, "Where's Tony now?"
"Somewhere over the Pacific—but when he comes down to Earth, we're going to have a visit, your BFF and me."
"Why exactly are you here?"
"Me? To ask for your help," he said sincerely.
"Ask or order?" She cocked an eyebrow.
"Ask." At her look of doubt, he said, "Really." She nodded, indicating that he continue. "I'm going to read Stark in on Howard; what he doesn't know about his father."
"Have fun with that," she said dryly.
He leaned in. "I was wrong, Charlotte, when I wouldn't let you tell Stark about your past, the SSR, World War Two…us. I should have trusted your instincts."
"You want something," she accused.
She held up a finger. "No, don't even try, Nicholas. You're trying to soften me up: flattery, that endearing charm that you turn on when it suits you."
"Endearing charm?" He tried not to look smug. "Is it working?"
"Nicholas!" she warned.
He took a swallow of his wine. "Fine, I made a dumb-ass decision, and now, I'm taking it back. You need to tell Stark everything."
"Now? After Tony and I had a fight, when he's least likely to ever forgive me for keeping more secrets, now is when you want me to tell him I knew Howard?" Outrage filled her voice. "No!"
He let out a heavy breath. "Listen to me, what I'm about to reveal to him? It's big, and may hold the key to saving Stark's life. You, you can make that connection with Stark, put a real face on the Howard that he never knew. I need him to be focused, to trust in what Howard left for him, to believe that his father wasn't the heartless bastard that Stark thinks he was."
"Come on, Charlotte, you know the man Howard was. And he had regrets, believe me. He was aware of his shortcomings, and his failures—but he never believed his son was one of them."
Charlotte bent down, picking up Lego pirate Tony from the floor of the ruined great room. An arm was missing, and the body had a crack across it—a little too much symbolism for her taste at this particular moment. Clenching it in her hand, she took a deep breath, preparing herself for what was to come.
"Ma'am?" Agent Coulson repeated. This time, it actually registered. "If you'll follow me?"
"Of course," she murmured.
They walked out to the deck, where Tony sat slumped in a chair, staring down at a storage container.
"You have a visitor," Coulson told him.
Tony didn't look up. "I thought I was grounded, dad?"
Coulson glanced at Charlotte, then back to Tony. "This one has clearance."
"Isn't that special." Still, he stared at the gray foot locker at his feet.
"I'll leave you to it, ma'am," Coulson told her. "The Director would like a word when you're done."
"Thank you, Agent Coulson," she said. Coulson gave her an encouraging smile before walking away.
Tony's head had shot up at the sound of her voice. "I don't think they let you in here to bring me coffee," he said tightly as she approached, putting a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf cup on the table in front of him.
"No, but I don't think you'd turn down a triple espresso regardless," she replied, sitting down on a small sofa across from him.
He twisted his lips, studying her. Then he reached for the cup. "You think correctly." Taking a long swallow, his eyes never left hers.
She tossed the broken Lego figure onto his lap. "It was amazing, what you did with the pirate ship, even if it didn't survive long."
"Yeah, well, you know how it is with cheap mass produced crap."
"Tony, shut the hell up." She pointed a finger at him. "What's in that trunk, what Howard left for you, it's important, and you're going to study every word, every note, every drawing till you figure out what you need to save your God-damned life! You want to hate me, drive me away? Fine, go for it, but I'm not letting you be till I know you’re going to be okay!"
He sat ramrod straight, zeroing in on just one thing. "Howard," he said accusingly. "For a genius, I'm an idiot. Do I congratulate you on playing me for a fool all these years?"
"If you really believe that, Tony, then you really are a fool."
"Fine, then you look me in the eye and tell me you didn't know Dad. If you can't do that, then we're done here."
"We're done when I tell Agent Coulson we are, and not before. So deal with it."
He laughed bitterly. "All this time, you've been one of them—" he waved at two SHIELD agents who were guarding the perimeter "—and I never suspected, not once. Fury must be very proud."
"For the record, I'm not one of them. In fact, I hadn't seen Nick Fury for ten years, not until after you decided to play show and tell and reveal to the whole damn world you were Iron Man. I walked away from that life long before you were born, Tony, and I didn't want to go back. But thanks to you, I ended up back in their sites."
"So this is my fault? Anything else you'd like to blame me for? World hunger, climate change, Justin Bieber?"
"I'm not blaming you, Tony, I'm just correcting the many wild assumptions you seem to be making. Fury contacted me initially to see if I'd be willing to influence you, to nudge you into the fold." She clicked her tongue. "He'd forgotten just how stubborn I can be."
"Not sure how anyone could forget that", he sniped.
"If you care, I told him to go to hell."
He slipped down into his chair, fiddling with the tie of the robe he was wearing. "It hasn't escaped my notice that you still haven't denied knowing my father."
She shrugged. "I knew Howard, I knew a lot of people during the war, he happened to be one of them."
"Happened to be? I think that's a pretty big omission, Birdie, not telling me you knew my dad."
"Tony, I didn't plan this, any of it. Hell, I didn't even want to meet you at that party! I was furious with Ezra for trying to set me up, you know that. I thought you were a philandering egotistical entitled playboy." She stopped, a small smile tugging at her lips. "Well, you were, but I didn't know you had depth then."
"If it makes you feel better, I may have thought you'd be a jerk, but I did think you had very pretty eyes."
"Are you going to tell me how you knew Howard, or what?"
"I don't know, Tony. Are you ready to listen to what I have to say and stop being a petulant SOB?"
He chopped his hand in the air. "Fine, truce…for now."
She sighed, rubbing her temple. It wasn't a given that Tony was going to forgive her, and it broke her heart. But she couldn't allow him to see what this was doing to her. She needed him focused on fighting for his life, and if anger at her helped fuel that, then so be it.
"First, the legal stuff: what I'm about to tell you is classified—even Matthew doesn't know all of it. Ezra and I wanted to tell you, but Nicholas, Director Fury," she corrected, "wouldn't allow us to, reminding us we were still bound by the oaths of secrecy we made during the war. He's decided since then that he screwed up in making that particular decision."
"Ez? He was a part of all this too?"
"He was. Ezra and I were agents in the SSR, the Strategic Scientific Reserve, along with Ezra's wife, Molly Tanner. Molly's brother, Kevin, had ties with the organization, and I was approached at a dinner party about a year and a half before Pearl Harbor. The SSR was a precursor to SHIELD."
It was apparent that Tony was interested despite himself. "Why you? On the face of it, you don't exactly seem the secret agent type."
She laughed lightly. "No, I don't suppose I do. But remember, the Tanners have been Ezra's Watchers since Vin Tanner took up the charge. Kevin, his grandson, was the current Tanner to hold the position. He knew what we were, the talents we had that might not be obvious to the casual observer."
"Okay, so Tanner knew, but what about the SSR?"
"It came as a great shock to me that Colonel Phillips knew exactly what I was. I will admit my first instinct was to run, to drop off the map. The idea that the government knew about Immortals filled me with dread. It was only my trust in Kevin that kept me in the house."
"And how did the government find out about you anyway?"
"From the Nazis; there were several Immortals who were highly placed in their scientific directorate, an organization called HYDRA."
"Fight fire with fire?"
"So you joined up, and…?"
"And that's when I met Howard. He kept a lot of Americans and Allied Forces alive with his weapons technology—including me."
"And just how well did you know him?" The question was half innuendo and half accusation.
"Oh, for God's sake, Tony, I never had sex with your father." She waited for just the right moment, as he took a drink of espresso, to add, "And neither did Ezra." She was rewarded with Tony having a choking fit.
Finally catching his breath, he glared at her. "That wasn't very nice."
"But it was satisfying," she replied serenely. Serious once more, she leaned forward. "I didn't really know your father that well, Tony. You have to remember, I was out with my team, behind enemy lines, a good deal of the time. Your Aunt Peggy was the one who knew him best."
He shook his head. "She wasn't some distant relative from England, was she?"
"No, she wasn't. In fact, that book about pirates you told me she gave you? It was a present from me when she came to visit after the war—small world." She smiled gently. "I'm glad she gave the book to you when you were a child, Tony; Jack would have liked you very much."
Tony seemed startled by that. "I guess—" he stopped, then started again "—I suppose that's a good thing, right?"
"A very good thing," she agreed.
She said a silent prayer, as Tony seemed to lose some of the anger, become more receptive to what she had to tell him.
"How does Fury figure into all this? He made it plain he knew Dad pretty well, but he looks too young for that to be possible. And the way you talk about him, it's familiar, not just the guy who's the current head of the top secret boy band that's dogging you."
She laughed outright of his estimation of Nicholas. "He isn't like me and Ez—Immortal. But his story isn't mine to tell. I can tell you that during the war, he was Sergeant Fury, he led our team, and I owe him my life." Unbidden, memories of her time as a prisoner of HYDRA came to the fore, and she shivered.
Tony reached out a hand across the small table, brushing hers. "You okay?" There was concern in those two words.
"Yeah, fine. Just sometimes, the bad memories sideswipe you. But you know that."
"You were a POW," he stated without a hint of doubt. Tony always had a knack for seeing past any walls she might throw up. "That's why you got it, after I came home, after Afghanistan."
"I was captured during a mission. Nicholas and Ezra, they came after me. If they hadn't rescued me…that would have been my last death." She gave herself a mental shake and continued her story. "After the war, the SSR was disbanded, but later, several of the former members—including your father—founded SHIELD."
"But not you."
"Not me. I walked away from that life, from Agent Charlotte Black, and had no desire to revisit the past, no matter how much Nicholas wanted to get the band back together."
Tony didn't respond, just sat there quietly with that look on his face that he reserved for either solving equations or picking what single malt he wanted to drink. All Charlotte wanted was to know she hadn't lost her best friend. Her heart clenched and she realized that a part of her was already grieving.
Closing her eyes, she took a breath, letting it out slowly. Then she opened her eyes, reaching out a hand to brush Tony's knee ever so briefly. "I don't know how it got so complicated, Tony, or maybe I do. I might be nearly three hundred years old, but that doesn't mean I don't lose my way, that I don't screw up my life spectacularly when the occasion arises. All I do know is that our friendship has been one of the most important relationships in my life. When we met, that night in Monte Carlo, I had no idea my life was about to change; I would have told you I liked my life just the way it was. What I didn't know? That you would remind me of the joy that could be had in living a life spontaneously. And that, Tony, is more precious than you can ever know." There, that was the truth of it; she could say no more that might sway him.
Tony stood up, his eyes searching hers. Then he walked around the table to sit next to her on the sofa. The question he asked, she hadn't expected. "You owe Fury your life?"
He nodded. "But you chose me." He took her hand in his, twining their fingers together, and her heart soared.
Sighing, she shook her head. "What we shared during the war, that will always be a part of us. But, Tony, what Nicholas wanted from me was as director of SHIELD. I would lay down my life for him, never doubt that, but I would never compromise you, our friendship, to serve his agenda—or the Council's."
He bit at his lower lip. "You think the answer's in there, Birdie?" He kicked at the gray foot locker stenciled with Howard Stark's name.
"I do." She brushed back a strand of his hair. "Tony, Matthew told me after my first death that there were so many experiences awaiting me, that this life could be filled with wonder. It took me a long time to believe him, but he was right. The answer is out there, to save your life, and when you do, Tony love, what awaits you…you can't even imagine."
][ PART SEVEN ][ PART EIGHT ][
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