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Degrees of Separation

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Tony is six when he builds his first robot. He’s tinkered with other gadgets before, of course, but they were never actually real, never -- he never named them, anyway.

Capper (because even at six Tony has a Captain America crush twenty leagues wide) is a cannibalized alarm clock, lamp, and toy car; he has little motorized treads and fetches Tony’s pens when Tony loses them around the room.

Howard opens the door on Cap, knocking him to pieces. Tony makes an involuntary noise but his father just frowns at him.

Cap never quite works the same way again, no matter how much Tony tries to repair him.

---

Tony’s inventions are always he. It’s a thing -- most of his cars are referred to as she of course, as is usual, but anything he builds and codes with his own two hands, from scratch, is male.

And we remake the world in our own image, Obie tells him when he’s fifteen and brilliant and entirely stupid.

Yeah. Tony remakes the world, one project at a time, and doesn’t even know if it’s a good thing.

He loves his machines, though. They’re more real than most of the people he meets.

---

Dummy is actually a bit of an accident. Tony decides that he’s tired of leaving his coffee somewhere on the other side of the lab, groping blindly at thin air to come up with nothing, and then having to get up and find the beautiful ambrosia of wakefulness in a cup. Halfway through the planning process Dummy also gains basic lab safety protocols and behavioral tics, because: why the fuck not? If somebody is going to fetch his coffee, they had better have some sort of personality.

Tony thinks he may be slightly screwed in the head, but then he remembers Reed Richards and dismisses the thought.

---

“Jarvis, you love me, right?”

“Indubitably, sir.”

---

It takes him three years to even get Jarvis working, even his skeleton already one of the most complicated AI programs in existence. But there’s no point in barking orders without a reply (he finds that he expects a sassy one, he’s obviously too used to Pepper) and so for a week he holes himself up in the lab typing until his eyes can’t focus, sleeping in his cot and drinking coffee by the carafe-full.

Actually, this may explain some of Jarvis’ personality quirks. Tony codes the finishing touches after thirty-six hours without sleep, manic and intent.

No matter. A person can create somebody, literally, whether with genetic material or metal and wire, but nobody can control the way they develop. Look at him; his father always wished he were different.

So Tony has daddy issues. He tries not to think about it.

---

“I will fry your circuits, dunk you in salt-water, the only thing your motherboard will be good for is a coffee coaster, I am not joking put that down right now.”

Dummy winds down with a sad whir, and Tony decidedly does not feel guilty. He didn’t even program emotional simulators in Dummy.

Two days later, a horrible thought surfaces when Jarvis says something offhand about knowledge being viral.

Oh god, what if Jarvis infected Dummy with, with emotions. Jesus Christ.

---

“How ‘bout I check you out, huh? Do a little oiling on the joints, that kind of thing. Jarvis, shut up, I can feel your sarcasm. Dummy--Dummy, put down the fire extinguisher, it’s just a tune up!”

---

Tony never feels guilty about taking his inventions apart, mostly because he puts them back together better afterwards. Jarvis is one of the only exceptions, because he’s, well, he’s done. Certainly capable of running his own maintenance and routine updates.

“What? Oh, really?” he says when Jarvis tells him they need more memory. “Okay, yeah, sure I’ll buy some more. What for?”

“My routine back up of all processes is taking up more space than expected,” Jarvis informs him. This is news to Tony, who blinks.

“Aren’t you saving over yourself?”

“Indeed, the earliest versions of my software are woefully out of date. However, I thought it prudent to preserve more current copies, particularly with the addition of the Iron Man armor.”

“Always thinking ahead, Jarvis,” says Tony, secretly freaking out a little. Jarvis is concerned with mortality now? With memory? Seriously? “Order the stuff online, you know what you want.”

“Very good, sir.”

Sentient machines, Tony thinks. More trouble than they’re worth.

---

“Wow, that is a really terrible idea,” Tony says to the air of his lab. “That is so stupid, Tony, don’t do it, drop it now.”

“Are you talking to yourself again, sir?”

“Yes. Shut up. I can talk to myself if I want. Heh, literally if I finish this project.”

“Of course. By the way, Miss Potts is currently walking down the stairs. You have a meeting in fifteen minutes, apparently.”

“Tell her I told you to tell her to reschedule.”

“Tell her yourself, sir.”

“You traitor,” Tony has time to hiss before Pepper clacks in with her four-inch heels, all ruthless efficiency. “Miss Potts, how lovely to see you, tell the board--”

“No, Tony, you’ve put off the meeting twice already, you are going.”

“But Pepper,” Tony whines. It’s a token protest; he knows when he’s beaten.

“Tony,” Pepper starts, and Tony nods and waves, saving his programs.

“Fine, yes, going, suit, what do you think, could I pull off the suit for a board meeting? No? You’re no fun, how about Iron Man ties, oh, we should do that, can we contract that out? I want one. It’d be good press. How about it?”

Go, Tony,” Pepper says.

Tony salutes.

---

“He could do all my teleconferences.”

“And what would this simulacrum of you do when it is unoccupied?”

“Uh, me-things. You know... things I do when I’m bored.”

A telling silence.

“Yeah, okay, that would be a bad idea. Have I congratulated myself on how smart I made you, JARVIS?”

“This is the two-hundred and thirty-seventh time, sir.”

“Smartass.”

---

And then there’s the whole thing with Rhodey and Hammer and freaking Ivan, and most of Tony’s projects get shunted aside for the armor.

Also, Captain America.

Captain. America.

Tony is never going to forgive Fury for not telling him about this.

---

“Big man in a suit of armor. Take that away and what are you?”

Tony asks himself that every day.

---

“He’s a dick,” Tony announces to the air of his lab. “Did you hear what he said to me? I thought national heroes would be more polite. Also nicer. Very good-looking, though.”

“I wouldn’t know, sir, but I’m sure any comments he made about you were quite deserved.” Butterfingers winches himself up and down, pneumatics somehow sounding disapproving.

“No one asked your opinion,” Tony says sulkily. He pulls up schematics for more efficient power distribution in the armor.

Thirty minutes later, he can’t handle it anymore.

“Do you know he’s been awake three weeks?” he bursts out, hands waving. The schematics swim haphazardly through the air. “And I never knew? And they gave him a Razor for a cell phone, what is that? That’s a monstrosity. A dinosaur. I should give him an actual phone, that can do more than flip open and show how crappy its reception is. Which Starkphone should I give him, should I paint it red, white, and blue? Oh, I know, how about--”

Beeping.

“Incoming call, sir.” A skull and crossbones flashes on the ID, and it takes Tony a second to remember that Fury is designated a pirate. Right.

“What?” Tony snaps as soon as the connection is established. “I’m busy, if you really want to bankrupt yourself hiring me you can talk to Pepper.”

“Tony!” Fury says, all false cheer. HIs voice goes serious in an instant. “Get your ass up here, Stark.”

“And why--”

“Just do it!” Fury barks and cuts the connection.

Tony stares.

“Why not?”

---

“You can’t... let them. Jarvis.” Tony’s breathing is labored, fingers weak. Even encased in the armor, with all the strength that implies, his hands keep sliding off Captain Rogers’ shoulder.

“Stark? Tony! Who’s Jarvis? Dammit, Tony, stay awake!”

“Jarvis will know what to do,” Tony mumbles, and passes out.

----

“Well if you want me to turn off your emotional matrices, you should never have asked for them in the first place. If I have to worry about Sir, so do you.”

---

“Tell me they didn’t try to take apart my armor,” Tony says as soon as his eyes are open. “And Jarvis, they didn’t try to shut him down. Jarvis is an excellent pilot, he’s no danger to anybody.”

“You ass!” Pepper says. She looks kind of terrible, which would be absolutely fabulous for anybody else.

Oh. He’s in a hospital.

“Sorry?” Tony offers.

Pepper hugs him, fiercely, and then storms out.

“Can I get a coffee?” Tony calls after her.

---

“You’re awake,” Captain Rogers -- no, Steve, he has to call people who save his life by their first names -- Steve says.

“Yes,” says Tony, who is so mind-numbingly bored he’s resorted to watching daytime television. “Oh my god, you have a phone, don’t you? One of my phones, even, yes, that’s perfect, give it to me, the nurses never have to know.”

Steve frowns disapprovingly at him. Men ten years younger than Tony shouldn’t look so authoritative. It messes with his self-esteem.

“You nearly died.”

“If I wanted someone to tell me things I already knew, I would build them and have them repeat everything I said.”

“You have a talking house.”

“Repeating robot,” Tony sings. “Also yes, isn’t he wonderful? My greatest creation, besides the armor, of course.”

“I thought he was a person,” Steve continues accusingly.

“He is!”

---

Steve gets it eventually. He’s one of the few who ever do.

---

“Sir?”

“Yes, Jarvis?”

“Captain Rogers is here. You should let him take you to bed, you haven’t slept in the past thirty-six hours.”

“Aww, you know I love you best.”

“Indeed, sir.”