Notes: PG13, Iron Man with the concept of immortality from Highlander, a story in the ‘Echoes the Sea’ series. Sequel to Tequila Lullaby, set just after Rhodey blows Tony off, and the day before the Board of Directors meeting that Stane attends in New York. Implied Tony/Pepper. Many thanks to ninjababe and strangevisitor7 for the beta -- it's much appreciated!
Summary: The bright light of day can’t quite dispel the darkness that surrounds Tony, so the people closest to him do their best to help with a little love and a few chocolate chip waffles.
My thanks to the folks over at ironman_lounge for helping out every time I had a question!
The Currency of Trust ~ Part III
"Is it a… gauntlet?" Charlotte asked uncertainly as she ran a finger down the gleaming metal device lying on the table.
"You could call it that," Tony replied. "But the best way to explain is by demonstrating."
After reassuring Pepper that they hadn’t spilled any blood, they had come downstairs to Tony's workshop, what Charlotte called his 'inner sanctum and toy box', so he could finally show her what he'd been working on with such intensity. Last night, when she'd arrived, there’d been some sort of robot leg on the worktable opposite the one with the gauntlet.
Glancing around the work area, she said, "Looks like you're building C-3PO. I can have one, right?" Grinning, she looked up at him, batting her eyelashes.
"Not C-3PO, but it's a thought. And yes, if I ever build one, you can have one of your very own,”
he promised with grin.
"Very cool!" She turned her attention back to the gauntlet. "So you were going to demonstrate?"
"If by demonstrating you mean having you try it out—" he took her wrist, drawing her arm across the table "—then yes, I'm demonstrating."
"Me?" She shook off Tony's grip. "Absolutely not! Do I have 'sucker' written on my forehead or something? I didn't hit my head hard enough after the last time you convinced me to try out one of your experiments that I have amnesia, you know!"
"That was an accident! This—" he pointed "—is perfectly safe." She just looked at him. "There isn't enough power in it right now to be dangerous. It will be powered by this." He tapped a finger against the Arc Reactor in his chest. "Right now, it's just hooked up to regular AC; a dribble of power."
"A dribble of power," she muttered.
"Fine, you don't believe me? Jarvis, will you tell her it's safe? This time," he added under his breath.
"In this case, madam, it is indeed within acceptable parameters and should be non-injurious to your health.."
"Okay, okay!" She threw up her arms in surrender. Why on earth did she always let Tony talk her into these things? Because he knows exactly how to sweet talk you. That and his big brown eyes and boyish charm. Pushover! she mentally scolded.
"This is going to be awesome, trust me!" he told her with his patent maniacal mad scientist grin.
Soon, he had her arm encased in metal and wires, acting all the while like it was Christmas morning. "Okay, move over to the left." Standing behind her, hands on her waist, he moved her to the clear space in the center of the work area. "Now, gently,” he said softly, “just put your arms at your sides like you're pushing down on something."
Still not sure she totally trusted Tony's assurances, she very cautiously did as instructed, startled when it felt like something was pushing back. "What did it do?"
"It utilizes Repulsor technology."
"Like what you used in the Jericho system?"
"Hah! So you do pay attention!” He poked her in the ribs with a finger. “Yeah, just like in the Jericho."
She stepped away from him, studying the web of metal. Then she held her palm up, pushing with a little more pressure this time. The reaction was stronger as a result and she was pushed backwards just enough to make her lose her balance. Tony's hands came to rest on her shoulders, steadying her.
"Now tell me that isn't cool!" he said gleefully in her ear.
Nodding, she didn't answer immediately, deep in thought. Then, looking over her shoulder at him, she asked, "So there would be Repulsors in the leg you were working on last night?"
"In the legs, in the arms."
"And with a stronger power source, someone could actually hover off the ground?"
"Yes!" He squeezed her shoulders. "But better, you’d be able to fly!
"That is cool!" she agreed, finally answering his question as he started to remove the gauntlet from her arm. "To have the ability to actually fly!"
When she’d been a child in the eighteenth century, she had loved climbing the rigging of her father’s ships and sitting in the crow’s nest – much to the dismay of the long line of governess’ her father had retained. For Charlotte, it had been like flying, high above the world. She remembered her first trip in a hot air balloon and the very first time she’d flown on an airplane. The highlight of her life had been when Tony had convinced Rhodey to take her up in an F-18 a few years back. It had been like she was that little girl again. And now Tony was creating something that would allow a human to fly. It was absolutely amazing!
“I knew you’d appreciate it.” The pleasure in his voice brought a lump to her throat. She remembered all over again the nightmare of the last three months, and silently thanked God for bringing her friend back home.
Once he had her unhooked from the device, he took her hand, leading her over to a gleaming metallic round table that lit up at his approach. “Bring up the schematics, Jarvis.” A 3D projection of what looked like some sort of space age version of a suit of armour appeared.
Peering down, she asked, “What is that?”
“That is what’s going to let me fly. More agile than a jet, but able to fly at the same speeds. I’ll have a prototype completed and ready to test in a few days." He waited for her reaction.
She looked at him, then at the projection, then over at the parts on the worktables, then back at Tony. “You? Tony, you aren’t a pilot!” Now he had her back to worried; the thrill of human flight pushed abruptly to the back of her mind as she realized what Tony was contemplating.
He brushed aside her concern. “How hard can it be?”
“Okay, don’t bite my head off, but what about Rhodey? Have you asked him? He is an actual fighter pilot.” That closed look was on his face again, his eyes shuttered.
“I went to him.” He didn’t say anything else.
“And?” she prompted. “Did you two have a fight?” Was she going to finally find out what was going on between the two men?
“No, we didn’t fight.” Obviously, he was going to make her drag it out of him.
“Oh, so you only fight with me. I’m touched by my specialness,” she said peevishly.
That got a crooked half smile from him. “You shouldn’t sell yourself short, Birdie.” Okay, this was more like the old Tony, and she breathed a mental sigh of relief. He shook his head. “He blew me off, told me I needed to get my mind right.” There was hurt in Tony’s voice at his old friend’s reaction.
Get my mind right. Those were the words Tony had hurled at her earlier. Now the pieces were finally beginning to fall into place. Brushing her thumb across his cheek, she took a step closer. “I’m sorry he reacted like that. But please try and cut him some slack? The last few months have been hell on him too, you know. It didn’t do his career a lot of good when he fought the brass over stopping the search for you.” He looked at her sharply. Ah, it seemed he hadn’t known the lengths Rhodey had gone to. “Yeah, Tony, it’s true. You are more important to Jim than his career. Go figure.” She punched him lightly on the arm.
“I guess I need to think about some things,” he finally acknowledged.
“Yes, you do. And thankfully, you have that nice big brain, so I think you’ll do just fine.”
"I'm going to cancel my Paris trip," Charlotte told Tony.
"No, you're not! No way! You're going and you'll give the best keynote speech ever." Tony pointed a finger at her. "You've been talking about this since last year, so no, Birdie, you are not canceling."
They had moved to the seating area at the far end of the workshop, Charlotte sitting on the large leather sofa with her legs tucked under her, leaning against the arm rest, with Tony next to her. There was music playing over the sound system, though what it was, she had no idea; she rarely did when it came to Tony's musical selections.
"It's just a speech for an audience of mostly stuffed shirts who don't think a woman can run a successful winery anyway. It's not a big deal.”
"It's a big deal to me. I want you to go, and when you get back, you can tell me all about it. And if any of those guys disrespect you, I'll buy their wineries and make you their boss."
That made her laugh. "Please don't, that would be way too much work!" More serious now, she asked, "So what are you going to do with the suit when it's done?"
"Take it for a spin." His answer was glib; sounding almost rehearsed.
"Anywhere particular in mind?" She didn't have to be a genius to realize that Tony's latest creation had the potential to be a weapon, and in his present state of mind, that caused her real concern.
"Nope." He wasn't looking at her anymore. And he said she was a lousy liar!
Sighing inwardly, she realized there was nothing for it but to lay it all out on the table. She put a gentle hand on his thigh. "Tony," she said softly. "You said some things to me this morning when I brought you inside. You were pretty drunk." He tensed, flashing her a look then away again. Did he remember what he'd said? She wasn't sure. "You talked about Jimmy and someone named Yinsen and how they needed to be avenged." Would he bolt? For a moment, she thought so, but instead he slid his leg up onto the sofa, turning halfway towards her. "I'm not trying to pressure you into talking about anything you don't want to, Tony, honest. It's just that it scared me a little, you know?"
He nodded, covering her hand on his leg with his, twining their fingers. "Yeah."
"I know Jimmy was one of the Airmen killed in the ambush. But I didn’t recognize the other name." Come on, Tony, talk to me. He would either talk, shut down, or get angry like he had earlier. She was praying for the first one.
Swallowing a few times, his eyes darted around the room before they dropped to stare at their clasped hands. "Yinsen...” He took a breath before starting again. “Yinsen was the doctor that did the surgery on my heart. After the ambush. Saved my life." He stopped, and she thought that was all he was going to say, but she was wrong. “I wouldn’t have made it out if he hadn’t been there.”
“He didn’t make it out alive.” It was a sad statement of truth, not a question. There was no doubt in her mind that the unknown Yinsen had died in that place that had almost taken her dear friend’s life.
A sharp shake of his head, then, “He said I was a man who had everything but nothing.”
“Do you believe that?” she asked in a carefully neutral voice.
“Sometimes. Yeah. I do.”
“So what is this about, Tony?” She waved back at the parts of the suit scattered behind them. “Revenge? Redemption? Both?”
“Does it matter?”
“I think so. But then I don’t think you’re a man who has nothing.”
“Don’t!” That one word was harsh and raw.
“Don’t what? Remind you that your life matters to me? To Pepper? Or isn’t that worth enough to think about before you take that suit of yours to go wreak your own personal vengeance?” She kept her voice cool and matter of fact.
“Do not lecture me about revenge! I don’t want to hear about letting justice take its course! Just don’t!” He pulled his hand from hers, his body taut with anger.
She laughed softly. “You should know me better than that, Tony. I’m not going to lecture you or tell you what’s right and what’s wrong. You’re a grownup. Well, mostly,” she said dryly. “You want to deal with this yourself? I can’t say that I blame you.” He looked surprised at that. Oh, how much easier this would be if she could tell him that she had been down this road, and more than once, over the centuries. But that wasn’t possible. Her immortality was a secret she couldn’t share. “No, no lectures. But counsel? Yeah, that you’re going to get. You constantly leap into situations, into life, with no thought for what the ramifications might be. And truthfully, it’s one of the things I love about you. But not this time, Tony. What you’re contemplating will have major consequences; you need to think first, act second, just this once. Please.”
“So that’s it? If I want to go halfway around the world and blow crap up, that’s okay with you? As long as I think about it first.” His mouth had fallen into a sulky pout that made her want to shake him.
“For god’s sake, you’re going to do what you want, like you always do! So don’t get all bent out of shape because I won’t argue with you about it!” she snapped at him.
“I just… Okay, fine, I’m being a jerk. So sue me,” he grumbled.
Leaning in, she put her hands on his shoulders. “If I sued you every time you were a jerk, I’d have that very nice corner office of yours.” She kissed him on the cheek. “Despite the fact that I could cheerfully strangle you sometimes, never forget that I adore you and I always will. Nothing will ever change that.”
His eyes dark with emotion, he didn’t immediately reply. Finally he said, “I just want to make it right.”
“I know you do, Tony love. But you can’t fix the world all by yourself; I think you know that though.” Sighing, she placed her cheek against his, whispering, “Just be careful and remember that you are a man who can have everything.”
“It was good seeing you again.” Charlotte gave Pepper a hug. “And don’t forget, we have plans!”
“I won’t!” Pepper returned the hug.
“Okay, okay, I’m feeling like you don’t care now,” Tony protested at being left out.
“Such a baby,” Charlotte said, rolling her eyes. “Come here.” She held out her arms.
“That’s more like it,” he said as she held him close. “You really smell good, you know.”
“That’s because you have excellent taste in perfume,” Charlotte said. “Actually, it’s Pepper who does, but it is the thought that counts after all.”
“So was that your birthday or Christmas?”
“Christmas,” Charlotte and Pepper said in unison.
“Right, Christmas!” He stroked her hair, his eyes locking on hers. “I’m going to be okay.”
Charlotte nodded. “I know.” Brushing her lips against his, she said, “Try not and do anything that puts you on the front page of the paper, okay?”
“Not a problem,” he assured her breezily.
“I’m going to hold you to that,” she warned.
His arm around her waist, he walked her to the Rolls. “Happy’s taking you to the airfield and the company chopper’s going to take you back to San Louis Obispo.”
“Tony, I can take a commercial flight!” she protested.
He squeezed her waist. “Don’t argue.”
“Uh uh! No!”
“Seriously, no, not up for debate. Happy, take Miss Sparrow to the SI airfield – and you have my express permission to bodily toss her in the chopper if necessary.” He gave her a little push towards the open door.
Tony’s chauffeur stifled a laugh. “Of course, Mr. Stark. Ma’am?” He held the door for her.
“If you’re good, the pilot might even let you take the controls on the way home,” Tony told Charlotte with a smirk.
“Fine!” She flopped onto the back seat; Tony closing the car door once she was settled. Leaning out the open window, she said, “You’ll call me?”
“Yes, I’ll call you,” he assured her as Happy walked around to the driver’s side.
“Good,” she told him cheerily, a wicked gleam in her eye. “Very good.”
“What’s with the look?” Tony asked suspiciously.
“What look? Don’t know what you mean!” she protested, all innocence, as Happy started the Rolls. “Love you, Tony.” She waved as the car slowly began to make its way down the sweeping drive.
“Yeah, me too.” Eyes widening as if he’d just realized something, he took out his cell, hitting the speed dial. Strains of Turn On Your Heart Light could be heard accompanied by peals of delighted feminine laughter as the car pulled out of the gate.