"What a wonderful surprise! I'll be here. See you in a bit." Charlotte snapped her cell closed with a smile.
"You seem happy," Methos observed.
"The phone call," he pointed out helpfully.
"Oh, a customer of mine -- VIP, very wealthy, that sort of thing. He's dropping by in a few hours."
"I can't wait to meet him."
Charlotte's head snapped up. "Oh no! We agreed, Methos. You are not hanging around here underfoot one more day!" Not to mention she wasn't quite ready for him to know that her 'wealthy customer' was an old friend. A friend that she had neglected to mention to Methos in the weeks since they'd been reunited. No, better to explain it all to him after the visit. She really couldn't put it off any longer, as much as she wanted to.
"That was before the impending visit of your very wealthy client."
"Which is all the more reason you need to not be here!" She held up a hand, quelling Methos' protest. "If you want me to continue to support you in the lifestyle to which you've become accustomed, I can't have you offending my best customers," she pointed out dryly.
"I would never!" He gave her his patented innocent look.
"You would, and you know it! Now shoo! You promised Duncan you'd meet him at the beach this afternoon. Think of the fun you'd miss if you didn't go; all the opportunities to mock him while he's trying to learn to surf."
"When you put it that way...." He leaned down to kiss her. "Dinner tonight at Standish & Black?"
"It's a date. A girl likes to show off her boyfriend, you know."
"Is that what I am?" He paused to consider. "I haven't been anyone's 'boyfriend' in quite awhile."
"Glad to hear it," was her pleased reply.
He toyed with a strand of her shoulder length ink-black hair. "Are you?"
"Good," he whispered before kissing her again, this time making it count.
Melting against him, the intensity of the kiss almost made her wish he'd break his promise. Regretfully, she let him go, taking a shaky breath.
"I expect to pick up where we left off tonight. Just so you know."
"Oh, I think I can manage that," she replied flirtatiously.
He backed up towards the door. "I'm leaving under protest."
"So noted." She waved her hands at him. "Now go away!"
"I love you," she called out as he went through the door.
"I love you too," Methos called back, his voice floating behind him.
"Where is the most beautiful vintner in California?"
"She's in Napa," Charlotte replied, not missing a beat. "I can give you her address, if you like."
"That's my Birdie, always with the snappy comeback," Tony Stark said as sauntered through her office door.
"You asked!" she protested, grinning.
"But that was the wrong answer!" he told her with mock disapproval, waving a finger at her. He held out his arms. "Don't I at least get a hug?"
"You get a hug." She wrapped her arms around her old friend as he kissed her on the cheek. Tilting her head back, she asked, "What are you doing here, Tony? It's not like I'm exactly in the neigbourhood."
"What? You aren't happy to see me?"
"I'm always happy to see you!"
"Now that was the right answer," he informed her with a pleased smile. "New car that needed a shakedown. Nothing better than a quick trip up One for that."
"If you say so," she agreed, rolling her eyes.
Tony was now prowling her office, picking things up off her desk and setting them down again. "And I haven't seen you in a while." He looked at her. "You avoiding me these days?"
"Of course not! I've just had a lot going on lately – like you," she said pointedly.
"Mmm...a lot going on." He perched on the corner of her desk. "I suppose so with the new boyfriend and all."
"How did you--? Never mind! I don't want to know. Fine, yes, there is someone in my life now."
"And when do I get to meet this someone?"
"That isn't very buddy-like, Birdie!"
"Why do you persist in calling me that? You know I hate it!" She gave him her best glare.
"Not really, you don't," Tony told her with an unrepentant grin. "So, why can't I meet this new man in your life?"
"He wouldn't like you, and the feeling would be mutual." Her mind boggled at the thought of Methos and Tony meeting. Just the snark alone would kill her, Immortal or no.
He leapt off the desk. "Hey, people like me!"
"Women like you, Tony; not men. Men don't generally like you."
Pointing a finger at her, he shot back, "Rhodey likes me!"
She gave him a look. "Only sometimes."
His face fell, realizing she had scored a point there. "Okay, no meeting your honey – this time," he added.
Charlotte shook her head, knowing she'd only achieved a temporary victory against the terrier that Tony Stark was. Changing the subject, she asked, "You had a long drive, can I get you something?"
"Can we go back to your place? I've always liked your very cozy kitchen with its positively archaic design."
"And the food in it." She chuckled, then cast a critical eye over her friend. "Though it looks like you could do with a square meal – or two. Are you taking care of yourself, Tony?" Quiet concern laced her voice.
He shrugged. "Of course I am."
"Even a superhero cannot live by coffee and Red Bull alone," she pointed out softly.
"I can try." He tried to make it a joke, but the attempt rang hollow.
Holding out her hand, she said, "Come on, I'm taking you home."
"That's the best offer I've had in a long time," he replied with a waggle of his brows, taking the hand and letting her lead him from the office.
"For god's sake, Tony, it's just up the hill! Don't tell me you need to drive there?" Charlotte asked as he headed for his car.
"Oh, come on, it's an Aston Martin DBS," he wheedled, dangling the keys in front of her. "I'll even let you drive." Sensing her weakening, he added, "I bet you're still driving that old pickup of yours."
"And you are Miss Practical," he said with a sigh. "Live a little!"
Snatching the keys from his hand, she pulled open the door. "Get in the damn car!"
It was almost an hour later before they finally pulled up in front of Charlotte's large Victorian farmhouse, nestled in a canyon overlooking the Pacific.
"Don't try and tell me you didn't have a blast!"
"Fine, yes! I did," she admitted, caressing the hand carved wood dash. "It's such a beautiful piece of engineering."
"Good, because it's yours."
"Are you insane?" She almost choked on the words.
"That question is up for debate, but in this case, no, I am not insane."
"You can't just give me a car! A very expensive car," she muttered.
"Now that, Miss Sparrow, is a very inadequate response."
She shook her head, getting out of the car. "You cannot give me this car."
"I think you already said that." He peered at her over the top of his sunglasses. "It's a very nice car. Is it the colour? Because I can get you another colour."
"It is not the colour!" She threw her hands up in the air. "I can't...its not...."
"Practical?" Tony offered with a smirk.
Making a sound that was something along the lines of 'GAHHH!', she whirled away, hands on her hips.
Exiting the car, he walked around to where she was standing looking out at the ocean. "Take the car, Charlotte. I already have one, and god knows I don't need two."
"Then you're going to have a very nice lawn ornament. Maybe you could put a salt lick on the front seats for the deer. Make it more practical that way."
"You're laughing at me," she grumbled.
"Yeah, I sort of am." Standing in front of her, he put his hands on her shoulders. "So it's settled. I'll have Pepper transfer the registration. I knew you'd see the light!"
"Tony! Tony," she repeated in a quieter voice. "Will you please tell me what's going on?"
"Why does something need to be going on? Maybe I just want to spend time with my friend. Did you ever think of that?"
She laid her palm against his cheek. "And maybe I'm worried about you." God only knew the last five months hadn't been easy ones for Tony Stark.
"You don't need to worry about me, Birdie. I'm a Superhero, remember?" His voice held a taste of bitterness.
"Uh huh. So I've heard. But I don't care about Iron Man, I care about you."
He turned away. "I'm not sure where I end and he begins," he admitted.
Her heart broke for her best friend. She wished she could do something to ease his burden, to share something of her own experience with him. Of her own death and rebirth in the fire of immortality centuries before. How everything about her life had changed. Instead, she took his arm and said, "Come on, I'll get you some pie."
Charlotte, sipping a cup of tea, watched as Tony ate half a strawberry chocolate cream pie all by himself.
"You could make a fortune selling these," he pointed out as he finished the last bite.
"I'll keep it in mind."
Leaning back in his chair, he stretched out his legs, closing his eyes. She continued drinking her tea, knowing that Tony needed to get to things in his own time. The sound of the old clock on the wall and the crackle of wood in the stove were the only sounds in the kitchen.
"You know that wood stove of yours is incredibly inefficient."
"And it also was responsible for the best pizza you said you'd ever had," she pointed out.
"True." He still hadn't opened his eyes. "Good pizza always trumps efficiency." Then he reached over, taking her hand. Now his eyes were open and focused on her. "Do you remember the night we met?"
"Of course I do, Tony. It was at a party in Monte Carlo. The whole place was abuzz with your presence." She smiled a little, remembering.
"We'd both had a lot of champagne to drink." His grip tightened. "We kissed on the beach and I asked you to come back with me to my yacht."
"Do you ever regret turning me down? Or wonder what might have happened if you hadn't?"
"Tony." Sighing, she gently removed her hand from his, only to cover it with both of hers. "I don't regret it. And I know what would have happened – we would have never seen each other again. Our friendship wouldn't exist. And I value what we have now more than any one night stand."
He looked at her intently. "How do you know it would have been a one night stand? Am I that shallow that you think I couldn't have loved you for the woman you are?"
She knew this wasn't about her, but she wasn't sure if Tony had figured it out yet. "No, Tony. There was attraction; I certainly won't deny that. And the sex would have been great, I won't deny that either. But I'm not what you want, not who you want. And if you're honest with yourself, you know that's true."
He pulled his hand from hers, and Charlotte stood, walking over to the wine bar, busying herself with glassware. Giving him time to collect himself.
Then he said into the quiet, "You're always so certain, Birdie."
Laughing softly, she took a bottle of wine from the shelf, along with two glasses, placing them on the table and handing Tony a corkscrew. "I assure you, I am not. I'm just very good at pretending."
Opening the bottle, he gave her a lopsided smile. "Don't tell me that, it'll ruin the illusion I have of you."
"God forbid," she replied wryly. As he poured wine into their glasses, she asked sweetly, "So, while we're on the subject of regretting sex not had, just how is Pepper these days?"
He was so startled by her question that he slopped wine all over the table. "Now that...that was just mean!"
She just looked at him innocently as she took a swallow of her wine. "Well?"
"I'm not...we aren't...." he trailed off, draining his glass in one hard swallow.
She smiled gently. "When you can answer my question, you'll have an answer to your question."
Shaking his head, he wiped up the wine he'd spilled. "You are a very cruel woman. You know that, right?"
"Cruel to be kind, Tony love." She raised her glass with grin.
"I mean, I just gave you a car!" He was practically pouting now and she couldn't hold back a giggle. A smile tugged at his lips. "Ungrateful, that's what you are." He refilled his glass, taking a single sip this time. Then he took another.
"You approve?" Charlotte watched his expression intently.
"Now that is good wine. No, that's amazing wine! I approve." He looked at the bottle, which was unmarked other than with a year and the stylized three masted ship that was the winery's symbol. "What is it?"
"That is my very personal private reserve."
"And you're going to let me buy some, aren't you? Because we're friends and I just gave you a car." He was smugness personified.
"If you must know, several cases were going to be your birthday present. I'll just make it an early one, shall I?"
"Ah ha! See, you do love me!"
"I adore you, you know that."
He savoured more of the wine, and then said, "If I could just get you to open a whisky distillery, all my worldly wants would be met."
"How much are you willing to invest?" she asked, surprising him.
Laughing, she replied, "Totally! Just to see what you'd come up with for a still would make it worth it." The gears started to turn immediately. She almost thought she could hear them grinding and whirring away.
"I have some ideas," he said with a thoughtful expression. Then his whole face lit up. "That could work!"
"Glad to hear it." She was thoroughly amused and very happy. She had no idea what it was that would work, but she really didn't need to. For the first time since he'd arrived, some of the little lines of stress around his eyes had disappeared, and for that, she would open a dozen distilleries with him.
"You, Miss Sparrow--" he held out his hand "--have a partner."
She took the proffered hand, shaking it firmly. "And you have a deal, Mr. Stark!"
"A toast then." He raised his glass to hers. "To booze, good friends, and a safe journey!"
"Journey?" she asked, puzzled. Then she looked up from her wineglass, and puzzlement turned to nervousness. It was never a good sign when Tony had that look on his face. The totally self-assured, 'I'm richer than god and you couldn't possibly turn me down' one.
"Oh, did I forget to mention that? You're coming with me to Afghanistan."