Characters: Ezra Standish, Tony Stark, Charlotte Sparrow
Notes: PG13, Iron Man, Magnificent Seven, Highlander, a story in the ‘Echoes the Sea’ series. This takes place before Real Friends Buy You In-N-Out. In these stories, Ezra is an Immortal, as is Maude. Charlotte was Maude's teacher, and one of the people Maude would leave Ezra with when he was a child. Many thanks to strangevisitor7, she who shares the 'Immortal Ezra Psychic Connection' with me, for the beta.
Summary: Charlotte keeps telling herself it's all for charity.
San Luis Obispo, California ~ February 2008
"Why did I invite Tony to this again?" Charlotte Sparrow asked mournfully, watching from the back of the ballroom as the billionaire jacked up the bidding for the photograph currently being auctioned off.
Ezra Standish glanced across the room to where Tony Stark was leaning against the wall, a drink in one hand, bidding paddle in the other. "Because you wanted to raise the most money you were able to for the hospital's new trauma unit," he reminded her, putting his arm across the back of her chair, fingers resting against her bare shoulder. “And because he’s your best friend.”
”Oh, yeah.” Leaning against him dejectedly, she sighed. "Okay, a better question would probably be: why did I let you talk me into posing for that?" She jutted her chin at the offending photograph. "God, it's a grape... bikini!"
Chuckling in her ear, he replied, "Because you could hardly refuse my request considering my generosity in providing the portfolio for tonight's little fundraising soirée."
At the turn of the last century, Ezra had won photography equipment as partial payment for a marker in a poker game. While Maude had thought he should sell it for a tidy profit, he had instead begun to dabble in photography, discovering he had a true gift for the art. These days, Ezra, known currently as Edward Zachary Sanbourne, was a renowned 'photographer to the stars'; his original prints highly sought after by the rich and famous. When Charlotte had asked him to volunteer his considerable talent to help her raise money for charity, he'd immediately agreed, creating a collection of photos taken around the San Luis Obispo County area of the people and the land.
She made an inarticulate sound, slumping even farther down into her chair. "But there's so much of me and... grape bikini, Ez!" she repeated.
"As I am constantly reminding you, it is not a 'grape bikini' as you so charmingly refer to it. It is an artistic representation of one’s connection to the land; as are all the photographs in this collection. And it is some of my best work," he finished, sounding slightly peeved.
"It's beautiful, really it is! And I appreciate all you’ve done to make this event a success, you know I do.” She looked up at him apologetically. "But there's a big difference between the concept and seeing it larger than life on a stage in front of all these people. All these people who know me! And Tony's not helping," she finished with a wail.
Once Tony had seen the photo in the auction catalogue, he'd gleefully informed her that it was going to be his. Initially, she'd bid on it for herself, but had soon realized it was futile. She was a wealthy woman, but being a successful vintner and businesswoman didn’t put her in the same financial league as the billionaire weapons manufacturer. Now her friend was systematically crushing his competition and taking great delight in the whole process. She was never going to live this down.
"Yes, well, your Mr. Stark is certainly enthusiastic," he replied with a grin.
Snorting, she said, "That's one way to put it!" Glancing around the room, she shook her head. "I can only wonder what they all must think."
Ezra raised an eyebrow, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "Are you sure you want to know?"
She looked up at him sharply. "I'm probably going to regret this, but yes. Please, do tell."
He leaned in closer, speaking softly into her ear, "Why half of them think you're doing him, of course."
Smacking his hand, she said, "That is an incredibly crude term! I must have failed miserably when you were a child for you to use such language. Obviously I should have boxed your ears more often."
Charlotte had been a second mother to Ezra, raising him when his own mother, Maude, a former student of Charlotte’s, would leave him behind to pursue some con or scheme. After Ezra’s first death, Charlotte had become his teacher as well. More than a century later, the two Immortals were still family to each other and very close.
Ezra just laughed, totally unrepentant at her scolding. “You never boxed my ears,” he reminded her. “In fact, you never once raised a hand to me the entire time I was growing up.”
“I think you begin see my point,” she pointed out with a grin.
He kissed her on the cheek, matching her grin. "Don't censure yourself too harshly, dear cousin. I think we can safely blame Mother for any lack in my morals and manners. And crude it may be, but it is apt and to the point."
Shaking her head at his explanation, she replied, "I don't suppose it’s all that much of a surprise considering."
"No, it isn’t. Your good friend does have quite the reputation with the fairer sex."
”That’s putting it mildly! Fine, what about the other half?" she finally asked.
The smile on his face was positively evil. "I'd say a good portion of those fine people think you and I are ...," he trailed off meaningfully.
"Seriously?" she demanded.
"You needn't look so appalled, Charlotte. I will have you know I have never received any complaints from the ladies I have kept company with.”
"Don't pout, Ez, your face will freeze that way," she chided dryly. "Yes, I am well aware of your popularity; I see the gossip magazines. And you know very well that wasn't what I meant." She couldn't help herself, she had to know. "And the remainder?"
Ezra held back laughter with some effort. "Why, both of us, of course!"
"You're just winding me up!" she accused. He shook his head solemnly. "There are people who think that the three of us—? Together—? Not really!" The last word was practically a squeak.
"Oh yes, dear cousin, really and truly."
Laughing softly, she stretched her legs out, staring at her shoes. "If they only knew."
"What? That in actuality you live the chaste life of a nun?" he asked wryly.
"I don't!" she protested. "There have been men!"
"Oh? Please do enlighten me.” He patted her shoulder. “And World War Two doesn’t count."
"Very funny! And I am not discussing my sex life with you, thank you very much," she grumbled.
"Wouldn't that be your lack of a sex life?"
"Why don't you go hit on that redhead who's been eying you all night?" she told him, ignoring his needling. "You can tell her that you would love to light her, or whatever photographer pick-up lines you use!"
"I assure you, I have never used a line that pathetic," he said archly.
"Hah! Say you lost the coin toss with Tony so he gets to take me home this time."
"Shocked! Positively shocked!" He put a hand against his chest. "As if I would ever utilize such a ploy to acquire female companionship."
"Liar," she shot back with a grin. "And besides, someone should benefit from my apparently varied and active sex life."
"I got here just in time," Tony Stark said cheerfully, dropping into the empty chair on the other side of Charlotte. "We're talking about your sex life!"
"No, we're not," she replied firmly as Ezra choked back laughter. "I see you were victorious."
"Was there ever any doubt?" Tony asked airily. "And now, I need to decide where to hang it. What do you think, Ez? My office at Stark Industries, on the wall above the bar?"
”It would indeed be an excellent placement," he agreed, eyes twinkling with mirth as Charlotte began muttering under her breath.
Tony nodded. "But then I was thinking, what about putting it in the outer office? Right behind my secretary's desk; then everyone can see it!" he teased.
"I'm not playing, Tony. You and Ez have your fun, go ahead." Crossing her arms, she sat up straight in her chair, pouting.
"Come on, Birdie,” he cajoled, using his pet name for her. “Don't be grumpy. I made a lot of money for your hospital charity tonight."
"Yes, you did, and you know I love you for it." She kissed him on the cheek.
"That's more like it," he said, flashing his megawatt sexy smile.
"And now, you get to take me home," she informed him.
"I do?" He managed to make those two words sound like a proposition.
"Uh huh, lucky guy that you are. Ez lost the coin toss, so you have the honour tonight. Then he can hook up with the hot redhead who's making her way over here."
Tony looked at the other man in surprise. "You told her about the coin toss routine?"
She smacked Ezra on the arm. "I was kidding! You mean you two really do that?"
"Well done, Tony." Ezra rolled his eyes. "I hadn't actually told her, as you might have gathered." She smacked him again. "Why am I the only object of your abuse?" he protested.
"Because I expect better of you!" she shot back.
"She knows me," Tony pointed out helpfully, grinning.
"Well, thank you. I think." Ezra looked like he was trying to decide if it was a compliment.
Standing, Tony took Charlotte's hand, helping her to her feet. "So I'm taking you home. Will there be pie?"
"For you, there's always pie," she assured him, brushing his cheek with her fingertips.
"He gets pie?" Ezra sounded decidedly put out.
"Yeah, but you get the redhead," Tony reminded him with a smirk.
Ezra ignored him. "There will be some left over, won’t there?"
"Pie or redhead?" Charlotte snickered at the pained look on Ezra's face. "Have fun," she said, leading Tony away and leaving Ezra to the devices of his admirer.
“As for you—" she put her hand in the crook of Tony's arm "—you can assure me that photo is not going in your front office."
"I don’t know. Depends on how good that pie is, Birdie," he told her as they left the room, squeezing her hand.
"I have full confidence that it will meet with your approval. And then you can tell me about your trip to Afghanistan next week and your shiny new Jericho system. I want to hear all about it!"