Characters: Tony Stark, OC Charlotte Sparrow
Notes: PG15, sequel to Real Friends Buy You In-N-Out. Implied Tony/Pepper over the course of the series.
Summary: Burgers, tequila, and the importance of friendship and simple human touch when you're hurting.
'Echoes the Sea' series summary can be found here.
Charlotte stretched her arm out across the bed, not at all sure where she was. They weren’t her sheets -- her sheets weren’t silk. Oh…right. Tony’s; she was at Tony’s. Memory trickled back. They’d gone for burgers. Tony’d had four, leading her to inquire if his Arc Reactor required beef and cheese for fuel. That had earned her a genuine smile. Then they’d come back here and there had been tequila, lots and lots of tequila. She vaguely remembered playing the piano, Tony throwing out requests that got crazier with each shot of alcohol.
Rubbing her eyes, she realized it was still dark. “What time is it?” she muttered to herself.
3:30AM, madam,” a disembodied voice with a very proper British accent replied.
Startled despite herself – though it wasn’t like she shouldn’t be used to the AI majordomo by now – she replied, “Thank you, Jarvis.” She didn’t know why she always felt compelled to thank a machine, but she did. Tony found it amusing. Charlotte couldn’t tell him that his creation sounded exactly like her father’s butler at the estate she’d grown up on in England in the mid-eighteenth century. Or how that voice brought back happy memories of family and love and belonging.
“You are most welcome, madam.”
Sitting up, she looked out through the expanse of glass that separated the bedroom from the cliff and the Pacific below. She realized she could see a small light drifting back and forth in midair. What? Then realization hit. “Jarvis, has Tony slept at all tonight?”
“That’s what I thought.” I should have tied him to the bed. Then she laughed out loud at the thought and what Tony’s reaction would be to that. We won’t share that particular notion.
Getting out of bed, the lights coming up almost imperceptibly at the action, she pulled on her robe, tying the sash around her waist. She didn’t even have to slide open the glass door that led outside to the balcony; Jarvis did that for her as well. The light was gone now, but she headed towards where she’d last seen it. Sure enough, a few moments later, it was back and moving closer. Not long after she was able to make out Tony himself in the soft glow emitted by the Arc Reactor implanted in his chest.
“Tony,” she scolded softly as he drew near, “you promised me you would go to bed and get some sleep!” His feet were bare and all he was wearing was a sleeveless tee-shirt and cropped sweatpants.
“Yeah, I know.” He sounded tired and still drunk. Looking down, she realized he had a tequila bottle in his left hand. “How’d you know I was here?”
Pointing to the Arc Reactor, she said, “It was either you, or this place is haunted. Though very small aliens briefly came to mind.”
“Cute, Birdie, very cute.”
“How long have you been out here?” She put a hand on his arm. “God, Tony, you’re freezing!”
“I’m fine!” he protested.
“You are not, Anthony Stark, not by a long shot!”
“Don’t fuss, Charlotte,” he grumbled. “Don’t like it. Can take care of myself.”
“Oh, yes, I can see what a fine job you’re doing with that!” She hooked her arm into his, pulling him along with her. “Come on, you’re coming inside before you catch your death out here. I assure you that none of us want to put up with nursing you through pneumonia.”
He stopped, refusing to move. “And what if I don’t want to go inside? Are you going to knock me out and drag me in?”
Charlotte arched a brow. “Would you like to find out?”
He considered a moment, taking a swig from the bottle he still held. “No, actually.”
“I guess there’s something to that genius thing after all.” She held out her hand. “Come on.”
This time, he grudgingly took her hand, letting her lead him back into the house.
“Hey, this is your room,” he said as they went through the door.
“Your powers of observation are startling,” she remarked dryly, taking a throw from a nearby chair and wrapping it around his shoulders.
“If I’d known we were coming back to your room…,” he said with what passed for a leer in his current inebriated state. Charlotte plucked the bottle from his hand. “Hey!”
“You’ve had enough.” Setting the bottle down, she sat him down on the bed. “I told you that you could call me at 3am when you’re having nightmares, Tony. So why didn’t you?” Kissing him on the cheek, she sat down next to him.
He scrubbed at his eyes. “What if I can’t even sleep to start with?” He shivered a little, and she wrapped an arm around him, pulling him closer.
“Then you call me.”
“I’d be calling you a lot then, Birdie.”
“When I sleep, I remember. I can’t drink enough to stop remembering.”
“So you don’t sleep.”
“Yeah.” He wrapped his arms around her. “So I don’t sleep.”
“You can sleep tonight, Tony love,” she assured him softly. “I won’t leave, I promise.”
“You love me, right, Birdie?”
“You know I do.”
“I mean, you love me for me. Despite me being me.”
Laughing, she held him close. “You just realizing that?”
“I’ve always known, but maybe I didn’t really always believe it.” He sounded so very tired. Once again, Charlotte was struck by his fragility. He’d spent three months in hell, and he looked it. More than that, he radiated it. “They think I’m crazy, the board, the world. I’m not, Birdie, you know I’m not.”
“I know, Tony.”
Slumping against her, he whispered, “I should be dead, just like Yinsen, just like Jimmy. How come I’m alive and they aren’t?”
How many times had she asked herself a similar question? Why did she get to live forever when those she loved grew old and died in what seemed like an eye blink? “I don’t have any answers for you, Tony love. How I wish I did.”
“They need to be avenged,” he muttered.
Charlotte froze at those last words. From anyone else, she’d write it off as the booze talking, but this wasn’t ‘anyone’. Those words from Tony Stark she took deadly seriously. But that was a conversation for daylight, not for the still hours of the predawn.
“Come on, Tony, time to sleep now.” She scooched him over onto the bed with her, pulling the throw over him. He settled half against her and she wrapped her arms around his chest. “I won’t go anywhere, trust me.”
He sighed. “You’re always so good at this.”
“The tea and comfort thing.”
“I’ve had practice.”
“Mm-hmm. When I was much younger, there was someone I loved very much. He used to have nightmares and he’d drink too much trying to keep them at bay. I’d hold him just like this, and he’d sleep a peaceful sleep.”
“What happened to him?” he asked.
“He died.” Her voice caught just a little.
“I’m sorry, Birdie—“
“Shhhh – it’s okay. It’s okay.”
“We’ll talk in the morning,” he told her.
“We will,” she promised.
He was quiet for a bit, then said, “You won’t tell anyone about this, right?”
“You know; you, me, in your bed…,” he trailed off meaningfully.
“Ah! You mean you and me in bed and no sex.” She giggled. “Have no fear, your man-whore reputation is safe in my hands.”
“Knew I could count on you, Birdie,” he said, amusement tingeing his voice.
“No one would believe it anyway,” she pointed out.
“True.” He sounded very smug.
“Go to sleep, Tony,” she ordered softly. Then to Jarvis she said, “Turn off the lights please, Jarvis.”
”Yes, madam.” It was once again dark in the room and Tony’s breathing took on a more measured pace.
Charlotte shifted to a more comfortable position against the pillows, her mind drifting in the dark quiet, reminded sharply of Chris and holding him just like this on so many nights. And then, as she so often did when the night seemed at its darkest, she wondered if she’d ever see Methos again, or if he were even still alive. It had been so very long and sometimes she doubted that they would ever find each other again in so wide a world. But her pensive thoughts were interrupted.
“Birdie?” he murmured.
“Don’t I get a lullaby?”
She choked on laughter. He really was a brat. “Sure. How about a rendition of ‘Turn On Your Heart Light’?”
He laughed sleepily. “I’m going to get you for that in the morning.”
“Go to sleep, Tony,” she whispered once more.
“Mmm, yeah, that sounds good...,” his voice drifted away, and this time, he seemed to finally fall under the spell of sleep. Soon, she felt the steady rise and fall of his chest under her hand.
“Sweet dreams, Tony love.” The sound of the ocean below and the soft sound of his breathing intertwined, pulling her into down into dreamless sleep where there was no memory and no grief, only peace.
The sequel: The Currency of Trust