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Variations on a Theme for Cowboys

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We'll Always Have the Revolution

"I think your Halloween party should have a theme this year," Tony Stark said as he dropped into a chair in front of Charlotte's desk.

She looked up from the financials she was going over. "We had a theme last year, remember? The pirate one you insisted on."

They were in Charlotte's Stark Industries office in Los Angeles, where she had gotten far less work done than she'd hoped due to her close proximity to Tony. Her best friend's constant interruptions had made her think that maybe telecommuting would be a better idea in future.

"And it was great!"

It was hopeless; she was never getting any work done today. She put down the report, leaning back in her chair. "It was a good party."

"And you made a lot of money for charity," he reminded her. Then he pointed a finger at her sharply. "Proving that people love themes."

"I'm pretty sure the two aren't connected, but fine, what's your idea?"

Tony rubbed his hands together. "The Old West."

"Of course; what else could it possibly be?" Ever since Tony's time travel adventure to New Mexico, and her past, in the 1860s, he'd had an obsession with all things Western. Before that, after he'd discovered her and Ezra's secret, that they were Immortals, his obsession had been pirates. "Tell me, Tony, do you plan on a theme from every era of my life? Because I'm telling you right now, I'm skipping the Civil War."

Grinning, he leaned forward. "How about the Revolution?"

"I could go along with that," she said with an answering grin. "I've always had a thing for a man in breeches."

"Tell me more." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

Ignoring him, she said, "I don't know, Tony, if I was doing a theme, I would go with something else."

"Like what?"

"Oh, I don't know, I was thinking superhero." She paused for effect, before adding, "You could go as Thor."

"Funny, Birdie."

"Oh come on, it would be fun!"

"And who exactly would you be going as?"

Charlotte stood, walking around her desk, sitting on the edge in front of Tony. "I was thinking I'd go as a female version of you, actually." She gently swung one bare leg, the toe of her black patent leather pump tapping the arm of Tony's chair. "Antonia Stark; a sexy suit, those sunglasses you like, and I'm sure that between Jarvis and Dum-Dum, they could whip me up a fake Arc Reactor to stick on my chest."

Tony's attention, which had been fixated on her leg, moved a little further up. "I'm warming to the idea, I have to tell you."

She leaned in, her hair falling across her shoulder, putting one finger under Tony's chin, tilting his head up. A wicked gleam in her eyes, she continued, "But then Matthew would have to be Pepper and I changed my mind." With a giggle, she slipped off the desk, patting Tony on the shoulder.

He slid farther into his chair. "You're really evil, Birdie," he protested. "Way to lead a guy on, then ruin the fantasy with that mental image of your boyfriend."

"Don't pout. I'm sure there's something in the Superhero Handbook that forbids pouting."

He snorted, but didn't say anything.

"Oh, fine, you big baby! Old West theme it is."

Tony leapt from his seat. "That's what I'm talking about!" he exclaimed. "You won't regret it, Birdie, you just wait. It's going to be legendary!"

"That's what I'm afraid of," she said with a long-suffering sigh.

 

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The Practical Applications of Petticoats and Automatic Weaponry

The annual Halloween party was in full swing at Standish & Black, the San Luis Obispo saloon and eatery owned by Charlotte and Ezra. The popularity of the event grew every year, increasing the amount of money that was raised for local charities.

"I can't believe how easy it is to kick in petticoats," Natasha Romanov said, looking down at her emerald green silk skirt. The SHIELD agent had surprised everyone by not only attending, but going all out on the ladies clothing of the period.

Charlotte nodded. "Not to mention there's ample room to conceal a variety of weapons. Back in the day, I always had openings sewn into my skirt so I could access my knives and pistol."

"I'm not sure there's any hiding places in this outfit," Pepper said doubtfully of her dancehall girl costume.

Laughing, Charlotte replied, "You'd be surprised how many places there are to secrete a weapon; even in what you're wearing."

Unnoticed behind them, Methos and Tony stood side by side, with drinks in their hands. Tilting his head towards Methos, Tony said softly, "You can't tell me that isn't hot." Tony was dressed as a gentleman gambler of the era, in black with a silver brocade vest and dove gray silk cravat.

Methos, whose only concession to a costume was jeans, worn boots and a plaid shirt, glanced over at Tony, a smile forming. "No, Stark, I can't."

The two men shared a grin, before turning their attention back the ladies' conversation, where Agent Phil Coulson had joined them. The SHIELD agent looked much as he always did, having only traded in his tie for a string tie, and his black shoes for black cowboy boots.

Quite seriously, Coulson studied the women's attire, before saying, "I think you could realistically hide a semiautomatic weapon in those petticoats."

He looked confused when the gathered group burst into laughter.

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With a Hearty Hi-ho, Silver!

Charlotte stood next to Steve Rogers as he listened to The Comstock Cowboys play. The group had quite the following in California, and Charlotte had been thrilled when they'd agreed to play at her party. As the first strains of Shenandoah sounded, she turned to him. "Might I have this dance, Captain Rogers?"

He looked startled. "Ma'am?"

Smiling, she held out her hand. "Dance, Captain; you wouldn't turn a lady down, would you?"

"Of course not, ma'am," he said, taking her proffered hand and tentatively taking her in a dance hold. "I haven't really danced much, ma'am."

"I know, Captain, and it's Charlotte," she remonstrated gently.

"Steve," he said, this time with a genuine smile.

As the dance progressed, Steve began to relax. "This is a great party," he admitted. "I'm glad Tony made me come." As Charlotte began to laugh, he tried to backtrack. "I mean, not that I didn't want to come…ma'am."

"It's all right, Steve. I understand. I'm very pleased that you came; I've always had a soft spot for the Lone Ranger." She grinned up at him.

Behind his mask, Steve's eyes smiled. "I used to listen to it on the radio every week."

"Me too."

"I'm glad there's someone else who remembers." He took a breath. "And not just the Lone Ranger."

She tightened her grip, trying to offer comfort. "I won't tell you that living on through the ages doesn't bring sadness, but there's also joy, Steve, and love."

Nodding, he looked down into her eyes. "Do you remember all of them?"

"Every husband, lover, and child. Yes, Steve, I remember them all."

"I'm glad."

"So am I."

They fell into silence, moving across the dance floor till the music ended. Breaking apart, they applauded, and Steve led her from the floor. But their introspection was interrupted by a hearty, "Hi-ho, Silver!" as Thor and his girlfriend, Jane Foster, joined them.

"The Lone Ranger, a worthy man," Thor said with a laugh, pounding Steve on the back. "I have watched his television show on Nick at Nite."

"He's addicted to late-night TV," Jane said, looking up at the God of Thunder with fond amusement.

"Tell me, Lady Charlotte, did you ever meet him?" Thor asked with keen interest.

"I'm sorry, no, he's actually a fictional character." Next to her, Steve chuckled.

"A pity." But he swiftly overcame his disappointment. "Thank you for your most generous invitation to this celebration," he said formally, taking Charlotte's hand and bowing over it. "Of all the festivals of Midgard, I find this to be one of the most enjoyable."

"Yes, thank you," Jane agreed. "I love costume parties! And this is really awesome."

"The pleasure is all mine," Charlotte replied, smiling warmly at the couple who had come as the sheriff and the schoolmarm. Over the last months, she'd become very fond of them, and their enthusiasm for life and love.

"And now, my lady," Thor said as the music began again, "I would be most honoured if you would consent to this next dance."

"I can think of nothing that would please me more, my lord," Charlotte replied, taking his hand.

"Lady Charlotte," he said as he led her away, "what can you tell me of Zorro?"

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There's Nothing Quite Like a Man in Uniform

"I approve, Colonel," Charlotte said as she joined Nick Fury at the bar.

"Of what?" he asked.

"The uniform, of course!" She smoothed down the collar of his jacket. "I've always had a soft spot for the Cavalry." The SHIELD director was wearing a perfect replica of a U.S. Army Cavalry dress uniform.

"You look pretty good yourself," he told her.

"This was my favourite dress in 1875," she said of the lavender silk dress with bustle she was wearing.

He grinned. "I think it's my favourite too."

"Flatterer." Then she said, "I think half of SHIELD is here tonight." Looking up at her old compatriot, she asked, "Was there some sort of memo?"

Nick shook his head. "It's a good cause, and Stark talked it up." He shrugged. "It's beneficial to socialize with your teammates, forget the job for a while. You remember what it's like."

Nodding, she said, "I do." Charlotte had served with Nick in the SSR during World War Two. The bond they shared went back more than seventy years. Looking across the room, she saw Ezra, clad in a recreation of his favourite red jacket from their Four Corners days, demonstrating his Derringer ejecting from its wrist holster to a group of his new teammates and smiled at his enthusiasm. The younger Immortal had recently rejoined SHIELD, and it seemed to be agreeing with him.

Nick followed her gaze. "It's good to have him back." Then he looked down at her. "Could be even better though."

She laughed gaily. "Do I look stupid, Nicholas? I have no intention of being saddled with managing Tony! But nice try."

"That obvious?" he asked.

"Just a little. But on the bright side, Ezra didn't see it coming, so well done."

He grinned broadly. "Thank you. Would it make a difference if I promised that Stark wouldn't be your responsibility?"

"Not really. I'm perfectly happy to be an occasional consultant. But you can check back in twenty years."

"You're a hard woman, Charlotte."

"It's good for you," she replied with a smirk. "Besides, it's not as if you're lacking in recruits. Isn't Duncan close to joining up?"

"I think so, I know the work we do appeals to him." They looked over to where Duncan MacLeod was standing with his girlfriend, Tess Helm, having an animated conversation with Agent Barton.

"But?"

He laughed ruefully. "But, you Immortals are a wary lot; some might even say paranoid." Charlotte snorted. "He'll decide on his own time. Something I've come to expect from your bunch," he said pointedly.

"Glad we're living up to your expectations, Director Fury," she said unrepentantly.

He just shook his head before taking a sip of his drink. Then he asked, nodding towards Tess Helm, "Was her great-great-grandmother really the Queen of Swords?"

Charlotte looked at Tess, who was dressed as the legendary Queen, standing with Duncan, who had come as Tessa Alvarado-Helm's husband, Dr. Robert Helm. "She really was. Tessa had passed on just before I moved here originally in 1875, but I became close friends with her daughter, Marta. She told me all about her mother's exploits."

Nick chuckled. "The other thing about Immortals? You're sure never boring."

 

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Come For the Party, Stay For the Mischief

It was nearly midnight, the witching hour, she thought. And while it might have been midnight, the party showed no signs of flagging. Needing a bit of a break from the festivities, Charlotte had snuck out to the saloon's back patio, and from there, down to the walkway along Morro Creek. It was a clear night, with not even the hint of fog, and down here, while not exactly quiet, it was peaceful. The sounds of the creek melded with music that floated down from several parties being held in the district.

She crossed her arms, shivering a little. A chill had developed; enough that she wished she'd brought her wrap. Maybe she should go back, as the chill twined itself around a growing sense of unease. Witching hour? You silly goose, she scolded herself, you're letting your imagination run away with you. But the unease spiked into terror as a rose, a white rose, materialized in front of her; she choked back a scream. Then the hand holding it became visible, followed by a voice she remembered all too well.

"For you, dear lady; I remember your fondness for roses."

Charlotte felt as if her heart would burst from her chest. She batted the offending flower away angrily. "What the hell are you doing here, Loki?"

"You wound me," he said dramatically, laying his hand against his heart. "Why, I'm here for the party, of course. Though I am quite certain the lack of invitation was an oversight, and not a snub."

"It was a snub, believe me!" she snapped.

Loki looked hurt. "Such hostility."

"And you're surprised?" Unbelievable. Her fear was now mixed with a healthy dose of anger. "You poisoned me! I almost died—permanently!"

"And then I provided the antidote and made you all better," he reminded her with a negligent wave of his hand. "That has got to count for something."

The irony of it was that Loki probably did think it made a difference. It made her brain hurt. "Why are you really here?"

"I give you my word, that I mean neither you, or any of your guests, harm." He smiled winningly. "And you do know, if nothing else, I am a man of my word."

This was true, she had to admit. But she was still suspicious. "You have an entire planet's worth of places to go, yet you come here. Somewhere full of people who, let's face it, aren't your biggest fans. Why?"

"You need ask? Where else can I see my idiot brother playing at being human? Not that you don't all do it," he observed, pointing a finger at her. "Even Methos, who is among the most ancient in the Nine Realms. You wear humanity like a cloak, fitting into their world instead of making your own. It seems such a waste."

"Are you done?" She was not going to spend the rest of her evening discussing philosophy with the God of Mischief, no matter how cute he might be. She swallowed a smile. While Thor was very handsome, she had to admit that his brother was much more her type. And what does that say about you, my girl? her little voice asked.

"For now." Then he sighed. "And, really, I don't know many people on Midgard. I was getting rather tired of my own company."

"Hard to believe," she said dryly.

"It is, isn't it?" Then he flashed her a brilliant smile. "You wouldn't be as cruel to consign me to such a solitary existence, would you?"

Despite herself, she felt her resolve weakening. And it wasn't as if she could keep him from doing exactly as he wished; though maybe, she could control the potential damage. "Fine, you can go to the party."

"I knew you'd come around."

"There are conditions," she warned.

"Name them."

"If you go in there as yourself, you'll start a panic. So use your hocus pocus to be someone else."

"Agreed."

"Hold on, I'm not finished." She fixed him with a stern look. "You will not impersonate any of my friends, family, neighbours, or acquaintances, or anyone else's for that matter." Hopefully, that would cover any potential loopholes.

He was pouting, actually honest to god pouting. And she'd thought Tony was bad. "You really do know how to put a damper on my fun, don't you?" He considered. "Very well, I will abide by your terms." He held out his hand. "Are we agreed?"

She took his hand in hers, shaking it. "We are."

"Good." The pout was gone now, replaced by pure glee. He took the hand he still held, bringing it to his lips and kissing the back. "Many thanks, my lady."

"Please don't make me regret this, Loki."

"I shall do my best." He winked at her—and transformed into one of the most beautiful women she'd ever seen.

Uh oh, she had missed a loophole. He was still Loki, but not. Anyone not knowing he was here would think she looked very familiar, trying to place where they'd seen her before. "Loki, no seducing my guests!"

Waving a finger at her, he said with a mischievous smile, "Oh no, Charlotte, that was not a part of our agreement." He curtsied. "I shall see you inside." With that, he was gone, disappearing in a flash of green and gold.

Briefly, Charlotte considered warning the others, but to hell with it. If any of them let themselves be seduced by a strange woman, that wasn't her problem. If nothing else, the rest of the evening would be very entertaining.

End

If anyone wants to write about Loki's 'adventures' at the party, feel free. Just drop me a link so I can read it!