Jarvis pushed open the door to the rooftop greenspace, wincing at the sunlight and shading his eyes with his hand. Tony offered up his sunglasses, but Jarvis waved them away.
“I want to see it for myself, sir.” He stepped out into the sunshine, onto the smooth stepping stones that wove between the flowerbeds.
The green terrace had been Pepper’s idea; most of the good touches in and around the Tower were Pepper’s idea. The grass was plush and thick, the flowerbeds filled with a bewildering variety of colors and shapes. Tony couldn’t have said what most of them were, but it looked great and smelled fantastic. He vowed to look up who the landscaper and gardener were and give them embarrassingly large bonuses. This was the first time Jarvis had been outside, barring his trips to and from the hospital, and the one time he’d decided he’d attempt to walk to a coffee shop on the corner. That had been when Loki’s current set of goons had grabbed him.
That had been two weeks ago. Tony would have understood perfectly if Jarvis had never wanted to leave the Tower again.
Instead, second day back, he’d asked Tony to come with him up here.
What the hell, anything to beat the thought of Loki’s sneering words, barren rooms, and wires. If Jarvis himself hadn’t been having nightmares about it (he’d at least been sleeping, which was more than Tony could say for himself), Tony certainly had.
Jarvis stepped from the paving stones to the lawn, his feet as usual bare, and froze. His toes wiggled in the thick grass, and he took one deep breath after another, breathing in the scents. Jarvis’ eyes closed, and his face creasing with one odd, unformed expression after another. It tugged at Tony’s memory, and he suddenly recalled one of the charity events he’d done as Iron Man. It had been at a school for the blind, and he’d let the kids get up close and personal with the suit, touching and building a mental image from everything their hands felt. They’d had the same odd expressions, the not-quite-fixed ways of showing their feelings on their faces. Jarvis was the same, face lit up with fragmented, formless understanding and joy.
He hadn’t been like that in the Tower… but then the Tower was all metal, stone, glass, plastic, fabric, things Jarvis had worked with constantly. Their properties were programmed into him for fabrication purposes; he had the strongest possible analogues for those materials. Tony had never had any reason to give Jarvis detailed files on something as simple as a lawn.
Jarvis opened his eyes slightly and crouched down, running hands over the grass, gripping it and letting go, plucking a few blades and running them through his hands, bringing them to his nose to smell. He must have stayed there a quarter of an hour before moving, and Tony just waited, grinning his damn head off. He kicked off his own shoes and let the grass tickle his feet. He literally couldn’t remember the last time he’d done something as simple as that. Jarvis finally stood and padded silently amongst the flowerbeds, lingering to touch a flower or leaf, stooping to smell a blossom or even the mulch. Tony didn’t even laugh; everything here was new. And nothing here was associated with anything bad. Jarvis, Tony decided, was a damn genius.
Which made sense. Because of… well, everything.
Pepper found them a half-hour later, changed out of her power suit and into simple denim shorts and a t-shirt. She too was barefoot and looked beautiful in the afternoon sunshine.
“Tony?” she called, peering around the door. “What are you-? Oh!” She caught sight of Jarvis and put a hand to her throat, startled.
“Ms. Potts.” Jarvis snapped himself from his sensory reverie and executed a perfect bow in her direction. Pepper was only speechless for a second, and then her natural poise kicked in. Tony was really, really glad for that, because the conversation they’d had a couple weeks ago about where Jarvis had come from had been brand new levels of awkward. Mostly of the “why didn’t you tell me earlier, you idiot?” variety.
She cross the greenspace and drew Jarvis into a hug, which startled him, but Tony could tell he liked it. Who couldn’t help but like Pepper?
“I’m so glad you’re doing better. I saw you in the hospital, but I didn’t think you were awake.”
“I remember, Ms. Potts, thank you,” Jarvis said, smiling. There was something oddly familiar there between them, but it hit a second later that Jarvis had known Pepper as long as Tony. Hell, he probably remembered things about her that Tony had forgotten.
Pepper let go and Tony came up to steal a kiss. “Hey,” she said softly, squeezing his hand, and turned back to Jarvis.
“You know, you look exactly like I thought you would,” Pepper said thoughtfully.
Jarvis tilted his head curiously. Tony noted that he was starting to break out in freckles from the sun. Sunblock next time.
“I cannot say I’d ever given the matter much thought, Ms. Potts, but I thank you,” he said.
“Jarvis was getting back to nature,” Tony commented.
“Introducing myself, more accurately,” Jarvis said. He looked backwards over his shoulder, and Pepper nodded encouragingly.
“Don’t let me interrupt you,” she said.
Jarvis nodded absently and drifted away again. Tony put his arm around Pepper’s waist and pulled her close.
“Tony, oh my God,” she said quietly. “He’s… he’s right here.”
“I know.” God, he knew. Pepper had seen Jarvis in the hospital, sleeping and healing, but that wasn’t the same as seeing him walking around, hearing the voice you’d heard for years over speakers on the house circuits coming out of a mouth. Seeing a person where before there’d just been a loyal, disembodied presence. And not even a human presence, no matter how well Tony had programmed his AI. “I think he’s all right. I’m-.”
Tony paused and swallowed hard. He hadn’t really talked about this to anyone but her. “I’m going to do better, Pepper.”
“Hey, we are,” Pepper corrected. “I’m here, and you have friends, remember?”
“I can’t forget, because they’re all living in my building. Why do they all live here again? I just came home one day and I had a bunch of superheroes taking up my space.”
“I invited them to use my twelve percent,” Pepper said.
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?” Tony asked rhetorically.
“Not ever,” Pepper agreed. Both of them looked over at Jarvis again, drawn there involuntarily as he trailed his hands through the ornamental fish pond.
“I’m surprised he can touch water,” Tony said tightly.
“Maybe he’s testing himself,” Pepper said. “You did.”
Tony turned to look at her, startled.
“After Afghanistan… Rhodey noticed. I asked him, after.”
“Good old Rhodey.”
“You wouldn’t talk, Tony,” Pepper said softly.
“That’s what friends are for.”
“To talk around your ability to communicate without saying anything?” The sarcasm was clearly audible in Pepper’s voice, but Tony had earned it several times over.
Pollen suddenly showered from a few nodding lilies as a breeze kicked up, streaking a surprised Jarvis with yellow, and Tony held back a laugh at his expression.
“Well, at least you’re not allergic.”
“Of course I’m not, sir. I would have known,” Jarvis said calmly, rubbing the pollen between his fingers.
Tony raised an eyebrow. The man had spent most of his short physical existence in the filtered air of the Tower, which wasn’t exactly big on flowers. “You would?”
“Yes, sir. I spoke with my doctor about it.”
“Doctor?” Tony asked, confused.
Jarvis nodded. “I have extensive self-diagnostic protocols and standing orders to obtain premium anti-viral protection. When I found myself as I am, I went to an appropriate medical professional to have a comprehensive series of immunization shots and a round of allergy testing.”
Tony blinked and felt a little faint for a second at Jarvis’ matter-of-factness and all the implications. How stupid would it have been to have saved Jarvis from Loki only to have lost him to the flu? He hadn’t even considered that.
“Who did you see?” Tony asked inanely. Unless Jarvis had been dabbling with getting himself a Social Security number or something, he had no records of any kind. He really had to do something about that; Fury was probably going to insist on it.
“Dr. Banner,” Jarvis said. Tony started in surprise, but Pepper merely smiled. “From my observations and file access, Dr. Banner’s education and experiences are excellent, and he can be counted on to be discreet. You trust him.”
Tony opened and closed his mouth twice. “Hell, you thought of everything,” he said dumbly.
“Strictly speaking, you did, sir. You designed me to operate as an independent partner, based on programmed protocols,” Jarvis corrected. “You trusted me to accomplish tasks in absence of orders. So I did, and do.”
Jarvis sat down on the grass and wiggled his toes again.
“I have a request, sir,” he said meditatively.
“Yes,” Tony said instantly. “I’m-.”
“Don’t apologize, sir. After all, neither of us could have anticipated the current situation.” Jarvis’ eyes closed again, and his chest rose and fell as he breathed in the sweet air. Pepper sat down beside him, tugging Tony down beside her.
“We should go to Central Park sometime,” Pepper said, effortlessly shifting the somber mood back to something easier.
“I’d like that, Ms. Potts.”
They all lapsed into silence, absorbing the sunshine, the quiet, until Jarvis’ head started to nod and his eyes to close. Minutes later, he had lain back on the grass, and soon after, was solidly asleep. He spent a lot of time asleep now, making up, Tony presumed, for his fear of the state when he’d first arrived on the scene. Maybe he was even dreaming now.
“What if I missed something, Pepper?” Tony asked quietly, as Jarvis slept, oblivious to the world around him. “I programmed so much into him, and I don’t even remember everything that’s there. Or not there.”
“If you did, you can teach him,” Pepper said. Her arms tightened around him, and he leaned into her. “He just asked to learn something he didn’t know, right?”
“Yeah,” Tony said. “I just…” He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. For all of his drunken shenanigans in his life, he’d been really damn careful that he hadn’t sowed any wild oats for a reason. The idea of having someone else dependent on him when Tony could sometimes barely keep himself together had been laughable, not to mention his old man hadn’t been able to say one positive thing to Tony except through a nearly thirty-year-old film clip. The idea of fucking up something this important was enough to give him nightmares.
“You’re going to do fine. You told me you’re listening to him, you’re talking with him, which, if you’ll remember, was about when you and I started to do a lot better. Promise,” Pepper said.
He had to believe her. Had to.
The gym echoed faintly with the sounds of the team training, Steve hitting his punching bag for warm-ups, the faint slaps and thuds of Clint and Natasha sparring on the mats, the clinks of weight plates as Bruce slowly raised and lowered the bench press bar. Happy waved to Tony from the boxing ring in middle, and Tony waved absently in return. Jarvis looked around calmly as Steve realized who was lurking just outside of his range.
“Hey, Jarvis,” Steve said, turning and extending a wrapped hand. Jarvis managed to return the greeting with a tentative smile. The team had all met Jarvis in the hospital (well, to be fair, had seen him in various states of consciousness), but Tony figured Jarvis’ request overrode a formal dinner party or anything like that. Here in the gym everyone could see each other, but no one would be crowding him, he wouldn’t have four or five people to deal with at once.
Hell, if the team could figure out how to handle Bruce, they certainly could figure out how to handle Jarvis.
“Don’t go too easy on him now,” Tony said. Well, those were the words he said; he was certain his expression was a lot more worried, more, Please don’t freak out my AI computer friend because he’s very unused to living like a person not to mention he just had some life-changing trauma.. Cap seemed to pick up on some of that at least. Tony knew he’d picked Steve to teach Jarvis for a reason.
“I won’t,” Steve said, and gave Tony a pointed look. Taking the hint, Tony moved to the boxing ring, taking his sweet time in stretching out and getting his safety gear on. He’d been clever when dealing with the acoustics in here; if you paid attention, you could get the sounds from any corner of the gym right here in the middle. It made it brilliant if you wanted to shamelessly eavesdrop on whoever thought they were smart to confine their gossip to the sidelines. If people didn’t think they could hear you, they said all kinds of amusing stuff.
And Tony was a past master at being shameless. He put his head down as Happy advanced and listened as Steve and Jarvis talked.
“Jarvis, did you know why Tony asked me to teach you?”
“He did not tell me specifically, Captain, but I understand his reasoning. Shall I elaborate?” Jarvis asked politely.
“Please do. Look… I’ve never really taught before, and I’m a lot stronger than you.” Steve was carefully unwrapping his hands as he spoke, giving himself time.
“It’s because of who you are. Master Stark believes you would never do anything to intentionally frighten me. Agents Barton and Romanov have histories of psychological warfare in addition to their physical skills.”
“But Clint and Natasha wouldn’t-,” Steve protested.
“It is unlikely, yes, but Master Stark trusts that you will always do the right thing.”
Steve blushed furiously, but Jarvis was relentless.
“In addition, you have had to adjust to a new body once before in your life. That experience is invaluable to me.”
Steve was still red, but also looking thoughtful now.
“Ok. I think I get it. Let’s… start with the basics.”
Tony watched Steve carefully, patiently walked Jarvis through the different work-out stations, testing how strong he was, how flexible, figuring out limits. The divided attention cost him a few blows from Happy, and Tony turned to respond in kind, throwing two sharp jabs and a kick that Happy easily blocked.
The thing was, Tony would have never sparred with Steve. A guy in his forties with a hunk of metal jammed in his chest had no business going up against a twenty-eight year-old super soldier at the top of his game. Accidents could be fatal at that level of play. And he didn’t trust Romanov and Barton to play fair – their specialties would leave him with his spine in knots for days. Not to mention neither really seemed to be able to teach the other agents that dropped by with anything but very painful example. The hazard, Tony supposed, of being spies. It was a little pointless, at this late date, to try to pick up Natasha’s gymnastic skill or Clint’s freakish accuracy; he had targeting computers for a reason. He needed to keep fit to handle the stress and g-force he subjected himself to, but he was never going to toss people around like Cap. And that was fine with him.
But Jarvis… he deserved the best, someone who would teach him to stay alive even in a bad situation. Steve had been a punching bag (instead of destroying them) for most of his life. He knew the dirty moves, even if it hadn’t been until (relatively) recently he could do anything about it. And he would make damn sure Jarvis could handle anything thrown at him. Tony hadn’t been sure he would have been able to do that for Jarvis himself; the idea of tossing punches at him, even for training, made him feel queasy.
“Mr. Stark, are we sparring here?” Happy called. Tony turned his attention back to the now, and tried to concentrate that Jarvis was in good hands.
Tony blinked as the last of his armor came off, the world coming back into focus. Specifically, focusing two of his favorite people coming to meet him at the doorway. Pepper was walking rather stiffly, and looked a little pale. There was a spot of blood on the shoulder of Jarvis’ shirt, and the fabric there was crumpled.
“I thought I was the one in the middle of a life-or-death battle today,” Tony said lightly. It was really the only safe thing to say.
“We both were, sir.” Jarvis looked relatively calm, but Pepper looked like she’d been through the wringer.
“If he hadn’t been there… God, Tony,” Pepper said, throwing her arms around him and hugging him until he was in danger of suffocation. One of her fingernails was broken off, and Tony was sure he’d find nail marks on Jarvis’ shoulder where she’d gripped him when Tony had blacked out.
“It’s ok Pepper. I’m fine, we’re fine.” He hugged her back, running a hand through her hair. He looked over her shoulder at Jarvis. “I owe you one.”
“Yes, sir.” Jarvis nodded sharply.
“Hey,” Tony pulled back from Pepper slightly and kissed her. “Hey, it’s ok. Let me go clean up, then you can yell at me all you want. Or hit me. Or whatever.”
“Whatever,” Pepper said, her smile tremulous. “Don’t be long.”
Tony gave Pepper another kiss, exchanged a grateful look with Jarvis, and quickly went to his bedroom. The cleaning up took only five minutes, but that wasn’t why he stalled for time. He accessed the security footage for the Tower, specifically for Jarvis’ command center he used to help Tony with the Iron Man suit. Specifically for the battle this afternoon. And watched particularly closely during the thirty seconds Tony couldn’t remember.
Tony watched the scene with a sense of the surreal. He saw himself on Jarvis’ screens, saw himself take the hit so hard that all his suit readouts flashed red. He saw Pepper dig her nails into Jarvis’ shoulder hard enough to draw blood as Steve yelled at Tony to respond.
Jarvis screamed his name. Tony hadn’t imagined that, Jarvis had actually used his name in his panic, and then acted. He shot out of his chair, dislodging Pepper and snapped out, “Full VR override – Red.” The virtual reality light suit mock-up flashed into being around Jarvis and Tony’s heads-up display went life size as Jarvis took full control of the suit’s functions, stabilizing Tony’s fall. The whole thing had taken less than a second. While Tony had still been trying to figure out down from up, Jarvis snapped his hands up and fired the repulsors at three of the flying drones, simultaneously calling out other commands to JAMES.
“Unconscious, minor concussion.”
That was about when Tony’s own memories resumed, the world returning in shocking clarity as the drugs cleared his head. He’d found himself in a mid-air hover surrounded by the wreckage of robots, instead of finding himself in a small crater as part of the wreckage.
“Tony?” Steve called again on-screen.
“Master Stark is just waking up. A moment, Captain,” Jarvis said tightly.
“Jarvis?” Clint asked incredulously. “That was you?”
“Virtually, Hawkeye,” Jarvis said.
“I’m back,” Tony said, coughed, and repeated in a stronger voice, “I’m back!”
“Cede controls,” Jarvis said in the control room, and the VR suit vanished. He resumed his position in front of the screens, checking Tony’s heads-up display carefully. On the battlefield, Tony had resumed swatting Doombots, Jarvis now just a watchful set of eyes and a voice in his ear. But in the room, Pepper tentatively came closer to the screen, as if afraid to bother Jarvis. He hadn’t taken his eyes away from the battle, but tilted his head slightly to the side in invitation. Pepper laid her hand back on his abused shoulder, and they both resumed their vigil.
When the battle ended, Tony quipped, “All cleared out here, coming home, Jarvis.”
“Are you certain you’ll be able to make it on your own, sir?” Jarvis’ voice had been aridly dry and ironic, his own brand of humor, or so Tony had heard. But in the video Jarvis’ expression had been stiff, concerned, afraid.
“I’m doing good, Jarvis. Nice save.”
“Anytime, sir.” As Tony turned towards home, Jarvis kept his eyes on the screen, his posture not changing a bit. Tony was surprised; he’d thought Jarvis would have relaxed when the mission was over, but neither him nor Pepper really stood down until Tony had landed.
“You saw, sir?”
Computer people shouldn’t be that stealthy; Tony jumped halfway out of his chair at Jarvis’ voice.
Jarvis sat, or rather collapsed in the chair next to Tony’s. His shirt was sticking to him with sweat, he was starting to shake, and he’d gone incredibly pale.
“Hey,” Tony said, and Jarvis took a second to look over at him. Tony recognized the symptoms he had sometimes seen in himself. “Jarvis, you’re crashing from the adrenaline high. Did you eat?”
“I couldn’t, sir, I wouldn’t have been able to keep it down.”
“Well, you’re going to fall over in a minute if you don’t. I am too, come to think of it.”
“I know.” Pepper came in, swinging a bag that smelled exactly like-.
“Weng’s takeout? I’m nominating you for sainthood,” Tony said fervently.
“Thank you, Ms. Potts,” Jarvis said, holding his hands out for the container she gave him. He stared at it for a long moment, and finally put it on the table. His shaking had gotten perceptibly worse, and Tony set down his own container quickly as Jarvis’s voice came out in harsh, ragged tones.
“I thought- for a second today, I thought…”
“Hey, we’ve been in worse,” Tony said.
“But not when I knew.” Jarvis started to curl up on himself and Tony moved, crouching in front of the chair with his hands on Jarvis’ shoulders. Jarvis’ head came up and his breathing slowed as Tony caught his eyes.
“You did great, you saved my ass, thank you,” Tony said forcefully. Pepper touched Tony lightly, backing him up, and he knew she was giving Jarvis one of her smiles. He shut his eyes for a second, working past the pain in his head. He needed to say the right thing; he couldn’t fob Jarvis off with a high five, a fist bump, and a promise of getting drinks later. “I’m glad you were there. You helped us get Doom out of that power plant and kept me from having to pull up the Mark IX already.”
Jarvis carefully clutched the arms of the chair, knuckles white.
“Clint was impressed with your shooting. I think he’s wondering if you should take over permanently.”
That startled Jarvis into a smile, and Tony heard Pepper laugh softly behind him.
“That would be ridiculous, sir. Someone has to keep you in line,” he said.
“I’m surrounded,” Tony said, putting up his hands in surrender. “Pepper said the exact same thing. Like, two hundred times.”
“With good reason,” Pepper muttered.
“Is it like that every time?” Jarvis asked.
Tony gave it a moment’s serious thought before he answered. “You mean your heart pounding, sweat pouring down your face, and everything clicking like a perfectly tuned V-12?”
“Yes,” Tony said. “It’s like that every time.”
“The team was… pleased with us?”
“Excellent, sir.” There was an eagerness in Jarvis’ expression, a kind of ratcheted-up anticipation Tony had felt himself when he was being Iron Man.
“You’re gonna catch me if I fall again, right? Because I think Pepper’s counting on it.” Pepper slapped Tony softly on the shoulder, but Jarvis only nodded.
“Willingly, sir.” Color began to return to Jarvis’ face, and he released his death grip on the chair. “I believe I am astonishingly hungry now.”
“Saving the world will do that to you. You outta see what Cap, Bruce, and Thor are putting away in the cafeteria downstairs.”
“Why aren’t you with them?”
“Because, despite popular rumor, I am capable of appreciating the people that I care about, and am capable of time management. They’ll be up later. I needed to see you guys first.”
Jarvis nodded, and Tony let go of him, turning to hand him the container of noodles and a pair of chopsticks. Pepper tucked herself next to Tony as they worked their way through Mongolian beef and sweet-and-sour pork.
“You know, you’re disgustingly good with those chopsticks, Jarvis.”
“Years of observation, sir.”
“You’re a man of hidden talents,” Tony said, grinning through a pea pod.
“Just discovering them,” Jarvis corrected. “I… enjoy doing so, sir.” He clacked the chopsticks together meditatively. “I enjoy being here, sir.”
“We like having you here,” Pepper said, and Jarvis blinked rapidly as he took an inordinately long time to fish for something in his food.
“Jarvis, she’s right,” Tony said, when the silence lingered for too long.
“Of course she is, sir. Ms. Potts most often is completely correct.”
Pepper gave Tony a triumphal look, which he conceded readily. “Just so you know. Even if you never touched a computer again-.”
“Perish the thought, sir.”
A faint chime sounded through the air, and voices could be heard from the hallway; Thor’s ringing tones, Bruce’s quieter responses, Clint’s banter with Natasha, and Steve’s laughter at something the others said.
“So, want to go see what they’re up to?” Tony asked, getting up slowly. Behind his back, he could feel Pepper mouthing something at Jarvis.
Jarvis nodded, smiled slowly, and followed Tony out to join the rest of the Avengers.