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It's Been a Long, Long Time

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"We've got to get out of here, get you to a doctor," Charlotte said, once more pressing down on the bullet hole in Tony's shoulder. "I need to find Methos." She wouldn't let herself dwell on the possibility he might also be dead. "We need to get Pepper to safety. She's still in Paris, right?"

Paling, Tony nodded. "You don't think…."

"I'm not taking anything at face value, Tony. The only person I trust who's with her right now is Happy." She waved behind her, at the bodies littering the floor. "SI has been infiltrated. It's not just them, no way."

"You have a plan, Charlotte?" Bruce asked, crouching down next to Tony. "I found a first aid kit. I can get you patched up enough to move you out safely."

She gave Bruce a once over. He was pale, and a little unsteady, but she only saw him in his eyes. Nodding, she replied, "It doesn't quite qualify as a plan yet, but I have a place to start." Letting Bruce take over with Tony, she got to her feet, and started checking the fallen HYDRA agents. They were all dead. Pausing over Jacob's body, she shook her head. "I have no idea if this is a permanent state of affairs."

"There's one way to make sure," Tony pointed out.

She shook her head. "I can't afford the effects of a Quickening, and we don't want to draw any more attention here than we have to. Those agents Sitwell was sending will be here any time now."

"Then what?" Tony gasped a little in pain as Bruce worked on him.

"We lock him up in the vault, where we kept Loki before Thor took him back to Asgard."

"So if he's dead, no problem, and if he isn't…." Tony trailed off.

"If he isn't? Then he'll have some quality time with no food or water to contemplate the error of his ways," Charlotte finished, her eyes cold.

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

With Bruce's help, Charlotte had dragged Jacob's body into the vault. The last time she'd been in this room was when Loki had been secured here after the Chitauri invasion. She had insisted on confronting her captor that night, having questions she was determined that Loki would answer.

"Foolish little Immortal, do you think this is the end? It is the beginning, for you, for your race, for us. We will find one another again soon enough, you have my word."

Wrapping he arms around herself, she shivered, closing her eyes, hearing Loki's voice in her head, as if he were in the room with her still.

"Loki's dead, Charlotte." Bruce squeezed her shoulder. "He can't hurt you anymore."

"You're right, I know." She said the words, but in her heart, she didn't believe them. However, that didn't matter now. She looked down at Jacob's body. "Let's lock it down, Jarvis," she said as she and Bruce left the vault.

"Beginning quarantine procedures now," Jarvis replied. The AI had come back online, telling them that Jacob had used a device to disable him and other security measures in place. The same blast of energy that had killed the young Immortal had also destroyed the device. The vault door thudded shut, the hiss of the airlock engaging, as the room was made secure.

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

They rejoined Tony in the R&D lab; he was pale, but was holding his own. "Taken care of?"

"Yeah," Charlotte said, Bruce nodding. "Now we have Jarvis again, we can make some real plans. First, we need to get out of the building."

"Chopper's still the best bet," Tony said.

"And who is going to fly it? We can't be sure the pilot isn't HYDRA," she pointed out.

"I shall take over piloting duties," Jarvis's voice issued from above them.

Charlotte looked doubtful. "Hey, if J can pilot the armour, he can fly a chopper, right?" Tony said confidently.

"It's not like we have many choices, so okay, Jarvis flies us out of here. Can you walk?" she asked Tony.

"Sure, with a little help." Tony put a brave face on it as she and Bruce got him to his feet. "Jarvis, clear the way."

As remarkable as it seemed, Jacob's crew had been so efficient that no one seemed aware of what had transpired over the last hour. Had it really only been an hour? Soon, they were on the roof, the propellers beginning to turn. They got Tony settled in, putting a headset on him, and then themselves. As the chopper lifted into the air, Charlotte gave the AI coordinates that Nick Fury had provided her with more than ten years earlier. If anything qualified as 'worst case scenario' this was it.

"Where we going, Birdie?" Tony's voice was weak, and she flashed a look of concern at Bruce.

"I don't know," she said honestly. "Nicholas told me, when he arranged for me to be Charlotte Sparrow once more, that if I ever found myself in a situation that was dire, I could find refuge."

"What about Pepper?"

She nodded. "Now we have Jarvis back, we can make sure communications are secure." She took Tony's hand in hers, surreptitiously feeling for his pulse.

"Not dead yet, Birdie," Tony told her with a tired grin.

"Of course not, don't be silly," she said, holding his hand in a tight grip. "Jarvis, I need to speak to Pepper."

It took a few minutes, but finally, Charlotte heard Pepper's voice in her ear. "Virginia, I need you to listen to me, no questions. You must only share this with Happy, do you understand?"

"Where's Tony?" Pepper demanded.

"I'm here. Do what Birdie says, it's important. There's not much time."

"Tony…"

"You need to do this, Pep," Tony insisted.

"Tell me."

Charlotte gave Pepper an address outside of Paris. "Go there, with Happy. Use whatever excuse you need to get away from your staff, do you understand? Maude will meet you, and get you to Ezra and Amanda. Do whatever they tell you, and we'll be in contact as soon as we can." There was no response. "Virginia, do you understand?"

"I understand. Charlotte, take care of Tony, promise."

"With my life, you know that."

"I love you."

Tony swallowed. "Love you back, Pep." The line went dead.

"She'll be fine," Charlotte assured him. Jarvis was already connecting her with Ezra.

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

Jarvis had set the chopper down in an empty field, a few hundred yards from the coordinates Fury had given Charlotte a decade before. It didn't look like much of a bolthole.

"Maybe the gophers have laser rifles," Tony snarked.

"I wouldn't put it past Nicholas." She flashed a smile at Tony.

"What now?" Bruce asked.

"I go find what we're looking for; you get Tony out and settled so Jarvis can move the chopper away from here. It sticks out like a sore thumb to anyone looking."

"But what if you can't find it? It's been more than ten years since Fury gave you the coordinates—how do you even know it's here anymore?" Bruce demanded.

"Because I trust Nicholas," she said simply.

Bruce scratched at his head distractedly, looking at Tony, who just shrugged. "You heard the lady. Jarvis, once we're clear, get the chopper out of here." Tony brushed his hand over Charlotte's. "Go do what you need to."

Nodding, Charlotte climbed out of the cockpit walking towards her destination. Holding out her 'Jarvis phone', she asked, "Any thoughts?"

"There are the remains of a small structure at approximately the same place as Director Fury's coordinates," Jarvis's voice emanated from the speaker.

It took only a few minutes for her to reach what appeared to be the ruins of an old stone house. Behind her, she heard the sounds of chopper blades whirring as it lifted into the air. "All right then, Nicholas, just where is the secret door?" she muttered.

"There is a faint energy signature coming from under the floor, approximately ten feet to your right, madam."

Reaching the spot Jarvis indicated, she saw a root cellar door in the remains of what had once been the kitchen floor. "Now what?"

"Voice recognition confirmed," a disembodied female voice said. Charlotte jumped despite herself. "Welcome, Agent Sparrow."

"Consultant," she shot back. Even from death, Nicholas was messing with her. "I need medical assistance immediately—Tony Stark has been shot."

"Please stand clear," the voice instructed, as the cellar door began to rise from the floor, becoming an elevator as it climbed above Charlotte's head. She hadn't been expecting a literal secret door. But the surprises weren’t over with yet, the elevator door sliding open to reveal its occupant.

"Methos?" Charlotte said in disbelief, as he gathered her in his arms. She held him tight for just a moment, before pushing away. "Tony's hurt; we need to get him to safety."

"What's happened? How did Stark get himself shot? What are you doing here? What the hell is going on?" Methos rapped out questions as he followed Charlotte back to Bruce and Tony.

"HYDRA is what's going on, but I'll explain everything once we're in a secure location."

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