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It's Been a Long, Long Time

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Bethesda Naval Hospital, Bethesda, Maryland

"They need to take him," Maria Hill said quietly.

Natasha Romanoff nodded, not really seeming to hear what Hill had said. Reaching out a hesitant hand, she touched Nick Fury's forehead. The SHIELD director's body was on a gurney, partly covered with a sheet, the gunshot wounds that had killed him stark on his chest.

"I'm sorry," Methos said, his voice gentle, as he entered the room. He was still dressed in surgical scrubs stained with Fury's blood. Stopping to stand next to Agent Hill, he shook his head, extending his hand across the gurney to where Natasha stood. "I did everything I could."

From behind Natasha, Steve Rogers said, "We know you did, Doctor Adamson." He shook his head. "I was there, saw the damage…." He fell silent.

Natasha finally looked up, eyes dark with grief. "Does she know yet?"

Methos swallowed, not needing a name to know who 'she' was. "No, not yet."

"She's in Manhattan, with Stark." It wasn't a question. "Charlotte needs to be told. Her and Nick…." She put her hands on her hips. "They fought a war together. She deserves to hear the news from a friend, not from agents showing up to debrief her."

"And she will," Methos said reassuringly. "As soon as I wrap up here, I'll call her."

Natasha shook her head sharply. "I'll tell her."

Methos looked at Hill, who shrugged slightly. "As long as Agent Hill has no objections?"

"No, none," Maria answered.

"Okay, Tasha, if that's what you want, then you can break the news to Charlotte. You're right, sooner is better than later." Methos looked at Steve. "We need to take Nick now."

"Come on, Tasha," Steve said, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"Okay." She looked down at Fury one more time. "Let's go."

Methos pulled the sheet over the body as the two agents left the room. "Charlotte's going to kill me."

"It's better this way," Hill said firmly. "Her grief will be genuine; no one keeping tabs will doubt it."

"You're more than welcome to be the one to tell her that," Methos replied acerbically.

"She's an old hand at this, Doctor, she'll understand."

Methos just grimaced, grasping the gurney. "Come on then, let's get this show on the road."

====================O====================

Stark Tower, Manhattan

Charlotte slumped in her chair, looking dejectedly at the Asgardian crystal in her hand; hours of experiments, and there hadn't even been a flicker. She'd wanted to keep trying, but Tony and Bruce had overridden her. Tony had reached his limit on seeing her repeatedly sliced open, and Bruce was concerned she'd lost too much blood to focus properly. She hadn't really argued, because Bruce was right, not that she'd admit it. She was feeling extremely light headed. And while all the wounds had healed fully, the blood loss would take a bit longer to recover from.

"It was only the first round," Bruce said. "We just need to give it time." He handed her a glass of orange juice, which she accepted gratefully.

Tony looked frustrated at their lack of progress. "You have been practicing with that thing, right?" He pointed at the lavender crystal.

Finishing her juice, she nodded, placing the empty glass on the table next to her. "Yes, of course I have." Sighing, she wrapped her hand around the uncooperative gem. "I don't know. Jack always said I didn't believe in anything I couldn't see with my own eyes. He may have been right." Truth be told, she hadn't really believed half her late husband's tall tales until long after his death.

"But you controlled Loki's mirror when he held you captive," Tony reminded her.

"I know! But I had no memories of who I was. It could be that because I didn't know it should be impossible was how I could." Feeling wholly discouraged, she sighed. "Maybe Loki was wrong about Immortals being able to control our Quickening, our life force."

"I think this is where I tell you to stretch out with your feelings, feel the Force flowing through you." Tony waggled his fingers at her, flashing a crooked smile.

"Ha ha, very funny." She rolled her eyes.

Bruce looked thoughtful. "You know, I just thought of something." Tony and Charlotte looked at him expectantly. Fighting back a grin, he said, "If you're Luke, and Tony's Kenobi, then I'm Han Solo."

Tony snorted, making a face. "In what universe? Han Solo, as if. With your hair and fashion sense? Not a chance."

"There's nothing wrong with my hair!" Bruce protested, smoothing down recalcitrant strands with his hand.

Charlotte had a pained look on her face, choking back the laughter that threatened to overwhelm her. "Well, you know, the…errr….unkempt look is really in fashion these days, Tony." A giggle escaped and Bruce shot her an accusing look.

"Yeah, Bruce Banner, fashion icon," Tony said derisively.

Charlotte's cellphone began to play 'Dance of the Swans'. Picking it up, she walked a little away from the two men, who were now bickering over which Star Wars character Bruce was. Grinning, she slid her thumb over accept. "Tasha, what's up?"

"There's no easy way to tell you this," Tasha began.

The smile on Charlotte's face slipped away. "Matthew?" She couldn't stop the note of fear in her voice. Had something happened to Methos?

"No!" Tasha replied instantly. "He's fine. But, Charlotte…." Her voice broke, and Charlotte felt as if her heart had stopped. "It's Fury. He's dead, Nick is dead." There was so much raw grief in those few words that it was physically painful.

"How?" Had she actually asked? She wasn't sure. She must have, because Tasha was answering, but Charlotte couldn't hear the words over the roar in her ears. Tony was on his knees next to her, taking the phone from her hand. On his knees? Then she realized that was because she was sitting on the floor, but she couldn't remember how she'd got there.

From far away, she could hear Tony's voice, random snatches of sound. "Assassination? Any suspects? If you need anything. Okay, I will. I'll tell her. Tasha, I'm sorry."

Bruce was helping her to her feet, walking her over to the sofa, making her sit back. She closed her eyes as Bruce left her. At the other end of the room, she could hear Tony's voice again, this time, filling Bruce in.

Nicholas couldn't be dead. This wasn't right, this shouldn't have happened. He'd survived World War Two; nothing that the Nazis or HYDRA had thrown at him, none of it had been enough to kill him. They'd had a deal….

Marseille, France, August 1944 ~ Operation Dragoon

"Nicholas!" Charlotte pushed through the crowd of French troops. "Nicholas, you're alive!" Reaching her quarry, she threw her arms around him. "They told me you were dead, that the building took a direct hit."

"Takes more than a few mortars to do me in," he replied cheerfully.

She let go of him, looking him over, taking inventory of the torn fatigues, the soot and grime that covered almost every inch of him. "You're bleeding." She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket, pressing it against the wound on his cheek.

"I'm fine," he reassured her. He took the square of linen from her, folding it over and wiping the soot from his eyes.

"It's a miracle." She brushed at the tears that were streaking her cheeks.

He winked. "More like HYDRA. There was a secret passage under the lab, used it to get out just before the explosion." He reached into the inner pocket of his coat. "And I found this as I was leaving," he said, pulling a bottle of brandy out. "Thought we could sit on the beach and share it."

"The enemy has excellent taste in booze, I'll grant you that." She took a deep breath. "You're really okay?"

"Would I lie to you?"

She just raised an eyebrow in response and he grinned. "You don't get to die on me, Nicholas, that's the deal, remember?"

"Hell, no; who would watch your back if I bought it? Without me around, you'd run off halfcocked every mission that came your way. I'm the cautious one, after all…."

"Charlotte, drink this," Bruce's insistent voice buzzed at her ear, pulling her away from memories of the past. "Electrolytes." He pressed the glass into her hand. "I said you'd lost too much blood." Obediently, she drained the glass, Bruce taking it from her numb fingers when she was done.

"Who will watch your back?" she whispered, remembering her words to him just a few weeks prior. "Oh, Nicholas." The tears began to fall, and Tony was there, sitting next to her, holding her in his arms, her body wracked with sobs..

"I'm sorry, Birdie, so sorry," he repeated over and over.

"I know." She nodded against his chest. She let him hold her for a few minutes longer, before gently pulling away. Taking several deep breaths, she fought to compose herself. There would be time for sorrow later. Now though…now, she had a friend to avenge.

====================O====================

Secret SHIELD Facility, somewhere in Virginia

Methos collapsed into a chair next to Fury's bed, scrubbing at his face. He was past exhausted, but there was no time for sleep. No rest for the wicked, old man. he said to himself.

"What's the prognosis, Doctor Adamson?" Hill asked, standing at the foot of the hospital bed.

"I've finished stitching him up, the compound we used to slow his respiration is wearing off, and sleeping beauty should be awake in a few hours," Methos told her with a tired smile.

"Good work, Doctor."

"That's what you pay me for." He looked at the SHIELD Deputy Director enquiringly. "Just what the hell is going on, Maria?"

Shaking her head, she sank down into the chair next to him. "I don't know, Methos. Nick called me yesterday, telling me to go deep shadow, but he never had a chance to tell me why."

"I guess we'll get answers when he wakes up."

"I guess we will." She looked at her boss, lying deathly still on the bed. "He shouldn't be alive, should he?"

"Not a bit of it. You can thank the Infinity Formula for that miracle. Without it, he'd have never survived the damage that was done to his body." He stretched out his long legs, leaning back in the chair. "He's not out of the woods yet, though. I'll be relieved when he comes out of it."

"Me too." She looked over at Methos, who had a faraway look on his face. "What are you thinking about?"

"What Charlotte must be feeling right now. How much I wish I could have spared her this."

"I don't know, aren't you used to it? Immortals, I mean. We grow old and die and you go on." She shrugged.

"There's a difference between a life lived in full, and one cut down before their time, Maria. Your lives are already so short. And as for Charlotte, she's lost more than her fair share of loved ones to violence."

Nodding, she said, "I suppose I can see that." She yawned. "Sorry."

He shook his head. "No, get some sleep, doctor's orders. I'll wake you if there's any change."

"Okay, sleep would be good." She closed her eyes.

As she drifted off, Methos stood, walking to Nick's bedside, remembering a Christmas morning not so long ago, when he'd made the pitch to get Methos to join up, to be a doctor again. The promise of knowledge and an ironclad identity had been more temptation that Methos had been able to resist. "Just what have you gotten us into?" he asked the comatose man. Because whatever it was, Methos was sure that nothing would be the same once it was over.

====================O====================