"Welcome home," Duncan said as Methos slid onto the bar stool next to him. "How was L.A.?"
"You know what they say, Mac, California is on a tilt and all the nuts roll south" He took a long swallow of the beer Joe placed in front of him before continuing, "You should see the house Stark's company is providing for Charlotte when she's in town. Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous." He grinned. "I could get used to it."
"Why doesn't that surprise me?" Duncan shook his head. "So you two are okay?"
"We are; better than okay, really. It isn't going to be a walk in the park, but the best things in life are worth working for, right?" Then he became serious as Joe came around the bar to join them. "Listen, Mac, I've already talked to Chris and Joe about this, and we're in agreement. Charlotte doesn't need to know about Istvaeone's ties to Ten Rings."
"Now wait a minute, Methos." Duncan sat up straight. "I don't think this is something we should keep from her."
Methos scrubbed at his hair, irritated. "You explain it to him, Joe."
"Look, Mac, I don't like it either, but what purpose would it serve? I haven't known the lady long, but I think it's a safe bet that she'd feel honor bound to warn Stark. And the only way she could share the information would be if she told him what she was."
"And how is she going to do that?" Methos interjected testily. "Oh, by the way, I decapitated a man in your dirigible hangar? Yeah that would be great."
"Still," Duncan said stubbornly, "what about Stark?"
"What about him? For God's sake, Mac, he's a bloody superhero!"
"And he has security, not to mention that he and the U.S. Government know that he's a target." Joe looked unhappy, but resigned. "Methos is right, Mac, it's better for her to never know."
"I don't like it."
"You don't have to, MacLeod! I haven't liked it from the moment I found out she was involved with Stark, but we all have our burdens to bear!" Methos snapped.
Duncan threw up his hands in surrender. "Okay, I won't say anything, but for the record? I think this is a bad idea."
"So noted," Methos replied sourly.
"Lily, a Jacob Tanimura will be calling at some point today to set up an appointment for an interview," Charlotte told her executive assistant. "Jim Rhodes recommended him, and Pepper agreed. She thinks that he's the one to head up my staff at Stark and wants us to meet."
"When would you like to see him?"
"I don't have anything scheduled tomorrow, do I?" Lily shook her head. "Tomorrow then, anytime." She took her leather bomber jacket off the coat rack by the office door, putting it on before pulling the door open. "I'll be at the winery if anyone needs me."
Charlotte reached the winery, pausing at the entrance as she felt the presence of another Immortal. Looking over her shoulder, she saw the familiar figure of Ezra striding down the path towards her.
"Cousin," Ezra greeted her as he drew closer.
"Ezra, I wasn't expecting you till later today." She hugged him. "How was Paris?"
"Rainy." He returned her embrace. "How was the rest of your week?"
She shrugged. "I can't complain. Tony insisted that Stark provide me with housing when I'm in SoCal, and let's just say the house he came up with is as over the top as I'd expected." Grinning, she unlatched the cast iron gate, entering the winery as it swung open, Ezra following. "On the bright side, Methos didn't have a single complaint - I think the accouterments appealed to him"
"That's something, I suppose."
"Ezra --" she turned, taking his hands in hers "-- have I ever thanked you? For trying to set me up with Tony all those years ago? I know things didn't work out quite as you planned, but I'll always be grateful that you butted into my life."
"Can I get that in writing?" Ezra flashed her an impish smile before kissing her on the cheek. "My pleasure, Charlotte."
She leaned against one of the massive wine barrels. "And of course, you will be in attendance next weekend?" It was quite clear she didn't think there was anything optional about it.
"As if I'd leave you to deal with Methos and Tony meeting for the first time all on your own."
"Good answer." She sighed, reaching for the clipboard hanging on the wall next to her. "It's going to be a disaster. Methos hates the ocean, so that's not going to improve his mood."
Ezra followed her down the line of barrels as she made notations. "But I thought he sailed with you and your husband?"
"Oh, he did, but what choice did he have if he wanted to travel?" She stopped, a smile touching her lips. "When we hit rough seas, Methos was impossible; drove Jack round the bend. So Jack would spike Methos' rum with some sort of sleeping draught he claimed was from a voodoo priestess, to put us out of his misery. It may well have been, and to this day, I have no idea what was in it, but it put him out like a light. When Methos had particularly vexed Jack, he'd sit by Methos' bed and chant Psalms in an abominable Irish accent." Laughing, she shook her head. "Afterwards, when he awoke, Methos was always a wee bit twitchy."
Ezra joined Charlotte's laughter. "I'm sure the weekend won't be as bad as that."
"Seriously? Believe me, Ezra, I wish I had an ample supply of Jack's voodoo draught for this particular voyage."
"For you, or for Methos?" he asked, quirking an eyebrow.
"Me, of course!"
"Trying to break us up," she shot back. "Come on, Ezra, I know what the plan is; it's classic Tony." She'd already been suspicious when Tony had first brought up the weekend getaway, but his totally innocent and sincere look confirmed he was up to something.
Deciding that there was no point to dissembling, he shrugged. "Tony is suffering from the misapprehension that you've only known Matthew a few months."
She pointed her pencil at him. "There's nothing I can do about that." Shaking her head, she strode down the aisle, tossing the clipboard onto the desk against the back wall.
Following, Ezra placed a hand on her shoulder and she turned to look at him. "Isn't there?"
"No." She shrugged away his hand. "We are not telling Tony what we are."
"Why not? It wouldn't be the first time we've told our friends."
"That was an exception, and one that you emotionally blackmailed me into, in case you've forgotten."
Ezra recoiled slightly from the sting of her words, stiffening. "I hadn't forgotten, Charlotte, but I would have thought that you'd have forgiven me by now."
"Oh, dearest, it isn't about forgiving you." Her irritation melted away. "There was never anything to forgive. But our time there, in New Mexico, it was an exception in so many ways. We can never recapture that place in time, no matter how much we might desire to." There was a sadness in Charlotte's eyes that seemed to reach right to her heart. "It's better for him not to know, and I think, deep down, you understand that."
Nodding, he reached out, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. "But he could find out, despite everything."
She shrugged. "Accidents happen, of course, and nothing is certain, but it's just as likely that Tony will never discover our secret."
Sighing, he acquiesced. "Very well; we will just have to let the future take care of itself."
"This one will be the cover," Ezra said to Methos and Charlotte, pointing to the photo on the large wood plank kitchen table.
They had gathered in Charlotte's kitchen to look at photos from the prior week's shoot in Malibu. The scent of fresh coffee and cinnamon rolls permeated the cozy room, and the distant sound of the surf floated in through the open window.
Surprised, she said, "The cover? I thought the photos were for an article?"
"Come now, Charlotte, when have you ever known Tony to not be on the cover of any magazine that contains an interview he's given?" Ezra asked reasonably.
"But... " She didn't look happy.
"You wanted to be famous," Methos said, apparently enjoying her discomfort.
"I did not want to be famous!" she objected heatedly.
"You do an excellent impression."
Ezra interrupted. "It will be fine, Charlotte." He stroked her arm soothingly. "You look stunning."
Charlotte looked down at the photo critically. Tony was sitting on the floor, leaning against the leg an ornately carved cherry wood table, one knee bent, and she was sitting on the edge of the table, one leg tucked under, the other over Tony's shoulder, her bare foot resting against his chest. "Well, Tony always photographs well."
Methos made a noise of frustration, taking her face between his hands. "You are an idiot, and I love you." Before she could react, he kissed her firmly. Pulling away, he said to Ezra over the top of Charlotte's head, "You have rare talent, Ezra."
Ezra seemed discomfited by the unexpected praise. "I.... Thank you."
Then all three looked towards the door, just before a knock was heard, followed by a voice. "It's Mac."
Charlotte went to the door, opening it. "Duncan, come in. You're just in time for fresh baked cinnamon rolls." She pointed towards the platter on the granite counter.
Duncan looked a little sheepish. "Methos may have mentioned something about that."
Laughing, Charlotte took a plate from the cupboard and picking up a spatula, slipped two of the warm rolls onto it, handing it to Duncan. "Help yourself to coffee." The other men took the opportunity for seconds.
"Putting together a scrapbook?" Duncan asked, gesturing at the kitchen table.
"Ezra's showing me the photos he's chosen from the photoshoot last week," Charlotte explained.
Duncan moved closer, looking down at the photographs. "You have an amazing gift, Ezra." Methos and Charlotte grinned at Ezra's now palpable embarrassment.
"Don't you have one of his originals?" Methos asked Duncan.
"Yeah, I do: 'Sunset in Bali'."
Ezra tried to smother his laughter, and Charlotte rolled her eyes. Methos looked at them suspiciously. "What?"
Charlotte gave Ezra a warning look, and he grinned impishly, answering, "Oh, just a memory of a trip that we took with Tony. Which was when that particular photo was taken."
"And?" Methos asked, seeming certain there was more to it than that.
"Just your usual," Ezra said nonchalantly. "Tony losing Charlotte to a sheik in a poker game, me getting shot...."
"Ezra!" she practically screeched. "You gave me your word you'd never discuss that trip!"
"But, Cousin...," he began.
"Ezra," she warned, "I can always share stories about Daisy."
The younger Immortal paled, quickly replying, "I take your point."
Nodding smugly, she said, "I thought you might."
"Hey," Methos protested, "you can't leave it like that!"
"Watch me," was her succinct reply. But before Methos could protest further, the sound of the front doorbell echoed down the hall and into the kitchen. "That must be my interview."
As Charlotte entered the foyer, she stopped suddenly, grimacing. Couldn't anything ever be easy? She heard footsteps behind her, Methos' voice calling down the hall, "You forgot your file." Then he too stopped, just behind her. "You've got to be kidding!"
Covering her eyes with her hands, she slumped, shaking her head. Then she said, "It'll be fine." Methos' snort was eloquent on just what his feelings were on the subject. She looked back at him. "I'm answering the door."
"Fine. But this interview just gained a participant,' he warned.
Charlotte wanted to object, but it was pointless. "Fine," she repeated back. Squaring her shoulders, she walked across the foyer and opened the door. "Major Tanimura, this is a surprise."
Charlotte studied the Immortal sitting in the chair across from her. The former Marine held himself ramrod straight, his eyes wary, but not fearful. Slightly behind her, Methos perched on the corner of her desk, not saying anything, but exuding a cold menace that left no doubt that any threat would be dealt with swiftly and with no mercy. The atmosphere of the study was heavy with tension. "Matthew, I know it's early, but I think we could all use a drink. Major?"
"Yes, thank you, ma'am." He relaxed ever so slightly.
"Colonel Rhodes personally recommended you, and that's good enough for me. You have nothing to fear here," Charlotte said quietly.
Nodding sharply, Tanimura replied, "I appreciate that, ma'am." He took the glass Methos handed him with a thank you, before returning his attention to Charlotte. "Last one of you I met didn't share your feelings."
One of you. His words only confirmed Charlotte's initial appraisal; Jacob Tanimura hadn't been immortal long.
Seeming to read her mind, he amended, "Last one of us. First one, I guess." He took a swallow of his whisky. "I apologize, ma'am, sir. I wasn't expecting...."
"To meet others of our kind," she said the unspoken words. "You said you'd met another. Tell us about it."
"I didn't know. You have to understand. I thought I'd only been knocked out. I woke up with a headache, but that was it. My third tour in Afghanistan and I thought I was one damn lucky bastard." He brought himself up short. "Pardon my language, ma'am."
"You're fine, Major." Behind her, she heard Methos' soft chuckle.
Nodding, he continued, "A few weeks passed, and things happened, started to think I was losing it. Cut myself shaving, and I healed, just like that. It was just little things, but they all added up to something big. A few months later, I was in Kabul, walking down the street, and there was this feeling, like broken glass was scraping each nerve ending raw. And then he was there, challenging me. It didn't take long for him to realize I didn't know what he was talking about, or what I was." He fell silent, remembering, looking down at his hands.
Smiling softly, she looked over at Methos, with memories of her own, memories he shared. They didn't need words; they both knew exactly what Jacob Tanimura was feeling. "Then what happened?" she asked, once more focused on Jacob.
"He seemed to find the situation amusing. Then I guess he gave me the Readers Digest version of what we are, before telling me he didn't kill children, but that if I survived my first century and we met again, he'd take my head. That was over a year ago."
"Did he say who he was?" Methos asked curiously, speaking for the first time.
"He did; he told me his name was Istvaeone."