Characters: Tony Stark, Ezra Standish, Charlotte Sparrow
Notes: PG13, Iron Man/Magnificent Seven/Highlander. Thanks to strangevisitor7 and ninjababe for the beta! This is a bit of back story dealing with Tony and Charlotte's first meeting in 2001. Hopefully this will hold you over till I finally write the sequel to Practical Applications! Other stories in the series may be found here. Many thanks to everyone who has been so enthusiastic about this series and these characters over the last months!
Summary: Resistance is futile -- some friendships are just meant to be.
Added Note: For those of you new to the series, Ezra is an Immortal, as is Maude. Charlotte was Maude's teacher and Ezra's. Some of these stories are set in the Old West, and others are set modern day.
Books and Covers ~ Part Two
“What are you thinking, right now?” Tony asked her, pulling her a little closer as they danced.
“What makes you think it’s anything in particular?” she parried his question.
He laughed softly, and she could feel his smile ghost past her cheek, the touch not quite a kiss, though it felt as intimate.
“You have very expressive eyes,” he told her. “They’re like windows.”
“Do you use that line often?” she asked with a laugh.
“I don’t need a line, or didn’t you know?” he asked, the casualness of his tone masking something deeper.
Charlotte slipped her hand farther up his shoulder, her fingertips brushing up under his hair to rest against his neck. She realized her flippant comment had stung the man who held her in his arms; and her heart clenched a little. No, Tony Stark was nothing like she had expected.
Looking up at him apologetically, she said, “Honestly? I was wondering how you could bear people always watching you; prying and snooping.”
Over the last few hours they had spent together, she had noticed the constant scrutiny they’d been under from the other party goers. It had made her skin crawl, and didn’t know how he could stand it day in and day out.
“Seriously? I thrive on it. Attention, excitement… stimulation,” the last said more than a little provocatively.
She laughed lightly. “Fast cars and fast women?”
“Amongst other things,” he allowed with a smirk.
The music ended, and he held her there just for a moment. But it was a moment that made her realize his eyes were windows too; if you only took the trouble to really look. Then he was taking her hand, leading her off the dance floor. Drawing her hand into the crook of his arm, he led her to the edge of the terrace, looking out over the Mediterranean.
The sounds of the surf twined together with the strains of music, the murmur of voices, and the clink of glassware. She looked up at her companion as he gazed at the sea. Then she asked, “What other things, Tony?”
He looked genuinely surprised at her question. She shrugged. “I answered yours,” she reminded him.
“Yeah, I guess you did.” He looked at her, as if considering his answer. Absently, he twined a strand of her hair around his finger.
She leaned in closer, resting her hand against his chest. “I play the piano and bake. To relax. But not at the same time.” Giggling, she added, “That would be kind of messy.”
“But it would explain the flour,” he said with a wink. Finally, he answered her question. “I have a workshop. Okay, really, most of the time I’m inventing things that explode, because that’s what I do. But when I’m really cutting loose, I work on cars.”
“Really?” Well now I know who to call when my pickup breaks down,” she told him delightedly, imagining Tony Stark working on her beat-up old truck.
“Better than Triple A, sweetheart,” he affirmed.
“Do you wear one of those cute t-shirts with the sleeves cut off?” she teased.
“Sometimes—“ he slipped his hands into her hair, drawing her closer “—I don’t wear a shirt at all.” His voice was a low growl that melded with the sound of the sea as it purred across the sand.
This time, he did kiss her, his lips soft against hers. Absently, she realized that in her four inch heels, he wasn’t that much taller than she was. It took not much more than a simple tilt of her head for her to look into his eyes. And looking into those eyes, she felt a connection that she hadn’t for so long. That feeling was like the heady rush of leaping off a cliff, diving into the ocean below. She’d almost forgotten what this was like; she could lose herself in the sensation so very easily.
His eyes smiled into hers. “Let’s take a walk,” he whispered.
Nodding, she reached down to take off her sandals, Tony holding her hand to balance her. Leaving them on the terrace, she took his proffered arm, letting him lead her down the steps and out onto the beach.
The sand was warm between her toes as she and Tony walked in silence towards the surf. Somehow, they didn’t need words, just the comfort of each other’s company; two lonely souls finding a touchstone in an uncaring world.
They were both a little drunk, she knew that. But she didn’t care. She tightened her hold on Tony’s arm, pushing back the unbidden memory of another man with deep brown eyes who used to walk with her on the beach so many centuries ago.
“I’m sorry,” Tony suddenly said, stopping to turn and look at her.
“Letting Ez set you up,” he admitted a little sheepishly. “I’m used to getting what I want, and I wanted to meet you.”
Laughing softly, she reached up, brushing his lips with her thumb. “I’m quite used to Ez and his penchant for trying to hook me up. You have nothing to apologize for.”
“No harm, no foul then,” he said with a wicked smile before taking her in his arms. This time when he kissed her, it was insistent and passionate.
Holding him close she returned the kiss, letting the moment take her, with no thought for the future. His hands were warm against her bare back, and she shivered as they slipped under the edge of her dress to caress the skin beneath. It would be so easy to let this moment continue on to its obvious conclusion. But… oh, god, but! This wasn’t the man she’d expected when Ezra had introduced them. Not the callow player of the tabloids. He was so much more, could be so much more, if only anyone cared enough to see past the surface.
He rested his forehead against hers. “Come back with me to my yacht.” His voice was full of heat and promise.
Reaching up, she pressed her lips against his, just for a moment; one last time. “I can’t, Tony.”
Shock was the predominate emotion on his face at her reply, but there was also a trace of hurt, before it was quickly wiped away. “Why not?”
“Because this has been a perfect evening, and some moments just can’t be improved upon.” She knew he didn’t understand, not now, but one day, he would.
“That makes no sense,” he practically sputtered.
“I know, Tony, I know.” She took a step away from him. “But if it makes you feel better, if you’d been the man I thought you were, I might have said yes.”
“That doesn’t make me feel better!” he exclaimed.
“It should!” she said with a warm smile, moving away. “Because you can’t just judge a book by its cover, Tony Stark, and your cover? It doesn’t even begin to do you justice.”
Epilogue ~ Three Years Later
Another autumn, another soiree at the Contessa’s. Charlotte stood at the edge of the terrace, remembering that first party. She hadn’t realized at the time that she’d be acquiring a best friend, or that she’d actually be grateful to Ezra for his meddling. Tony Stark had very efficiently and effectively upturned her well ordered and quiet life, and honestly, she’d loved every moment.
Two hands came to rest at her waist, and the scent of Tony’s cologne tickled at her nose. “So this is where you got off to.”
Smiling, she leaned against his chest. “I didn’t want to impede your progress with Super Model Number Five. Or was she Two? I get them confused.”
“Three, actually,” Tony said cheerfully. “And besides, Birdie, it’s no fun without my wingman!”
She turned in his arms, laughing. “And just how did I end up with that thankless job?” she asked, looking up at him with a quirk of an eyebrow.
“Oh, come on on! You love it!” he cajoled.
“Oh, yes, I love it,” she repeated obediently, smirking.
“A little lacking in the sincerity department,” he said archly, “but I’ll let it go this time.”
“You do that.” She kissed him on the cheek before stepping away to lean against the terrace wall.
She greeted Ezra as he came to join them, the two men sharing something of a conspiratorial look. That look always made her nervous. Just what were the two of them cooking up this time?
“What?” she asked suspiciously.
Both men shook their heads innocently. “Really, Charlotte, you needn’t give us that look,” Ezra protested.
“The one that says you’re wondering how much bail money to put aside,” he replied dryly.
Tony’s bark of laughter echoed in the night. “That’s exactly it!”
“It isn’t!” She pouted. “And besides, it’s not like it’s without cause!”
Ezra looked smugly at Tony, an ‘I told you so’ smile on his lips. “Tony and I were merely entertaining the idea of the three of us going on a short vacation.”
“Yeah, you, me, Ez. The jet’s all ready to go and Pepper’s made the arrangements.” Tony was rubbing his hands together in anticipation.
Charlotte gave Ezra a look. “Entertaining?”
“Yes, well, perhaps we had moved onto the actual planning stages,” Ezra admitted.
“Because we knew you’d be grateful for our thoughtfulness and caring,” Tony told her with a wide grin.
It was hopeless. She didn’t stand a chance between the two of them, and they knew it too. Brats! “So when do we leave?”
“Knew you’d see it our way!” Tony told her.
“And you can assure Miss Potts that she can go on her vacation with no concerns,” Ezra added.
At Charlotte’s questioning look, Tony explained, “She seems to think I need adult supervision.” Ezra snorted. “Said she would rest easier knowing you were around to keep me on the straight and narrow.”
Charlotte began to giggle. “Does Pepper think I’ve recently acquired some sort of superpower?”
“Cute, Birdie, cute,” Tony said witheringly. “It’s not that funny!” He shot Ezra a glare, the other man wiping a tear of mirth from his eye.
“Yes, actually, Tony love, it is,” she said, catching her breath. She took his arm. “Now, don’t pout. Didn’t you say we had a jet to catch?”
As the group made their way back to the party, she asked, “Just where are we going anyway?”
Tony snagged a glass of champagne from a passing waiter, handing it to her. “Oh, didn’t we mention that? Bali; you’re going to love it!”