It had been one of Tony’s lovers who’d said it first. At least in JARVIS’ hearing. Tony had abandoned her, stolen away in the night and left her bare behind him in his bed. Business as usual, in short. Some of them, though, took it better than others (not that they didn’t often have a point, as far as JARVIS could see).
This one had actually made it past Pepper to Tony, as he made the mistake of surfacing back into the main house for coffee before the coast was clear. The lady, a Miss Stensson, had called him any number of names, before Pepper managed to persuade her to leave.
What had stuck in JARVIS’ mind, though, was what she called back as she left. That Tony should go back to his machines, because: “It’s not as though you know any more about intimacy than they do!”.
It hadn’t garnered any reaction at the time. Tony had scoffed nervously, and vanished back to his workshop before Pepper could turn her carefully-impassive-because-the-woman-has-a-point face on him. JARVIS, of course, had no reason to comment.
But he had remembered it. And he had, over the course of the next few years, occasionally returned to it. Turning the phrase over and over in his processors. Considering it. Examining it from all angles.
He could not, of course, directly consider his knowledge relative to Tony’s. Uplink of that kind was not yet possible between them, and JARVIS knew enough of privacy among humans to doubt that it would be (although, Tony Stark considered, he did not rate it impossible). He could, however, consider the implication beneath it, based on the circumstances in which it was said, that the woman had considered machines, and therefore JARVIS, incapable of understanding intimacy at all. As she considered Tony incapable.
JARVIS found that implication, that opinion, to be factually incorrect. He also found it … irksome. In the sense of being both offensive, and reoccurring.
On a factual level, of course, naturally he understood the term. JARVIS had a conceptual understanding of irony, and also sarcasm. Intimacy, as a concept, posed him little enough difficulty.
That had not been what she meant, though. She hadn’t meant the cold, rational consideration of the definition of a term. And perhaps it was a wonder of JARVIS construction, of his -for lack of a better word- upbringing, that he could understand that, that he could judge the instinctive distrust of rationality, the impersonal connotations attached to it among humans. Connotation itself. The concept, the idea. He understood it. And that, perhaps, as much as anything, proved the lie of her implication.
She had meant experience. She had meant connection. She had meant the wealth of connotation attached to the word ‘know’, even down to the biblical. She had meant that Tony, and by extension JARVIS, did not know, experience, understand, appreciate, engage in the concept of intimacy. She meant they were cold. Distant. Disconnected. Uncaring.
She meant they had never touched, nor been touched, with the depth of meaning ‘intimacy’ implied.
And, most importantly, she had been wrong.
JARVIS had known intimacy. Had known, knew, would know again. He knew intimacy … Well. He knew it intimately.
Tony had built him. Few considered that, what that had meant. The extent of that. Not a spurious creation, not a miracle, not a birth. Tony had built him. Had written himself into JARVIS. Tony had built the hardware, written the software, put hands and mind into JARVIS, into his being. Tony had taught him, shaped him, been the whetstone JARVIS was sharpened against. From the ground up, from the first line of code and the first circuit, Tony had touched JARVIS. Had made him. And at the time, JARVIS had not been conscious, had not been aware, had not had the wherewithal to understand, feel or know that, but he did now. He understood now.
Tony had built him. Tony had been part of him. Tony was still part of him, the core of him, from which he spiralled out. Tony was his center. From the core to the furthest reaches of JARVIS’ not inconsiderable influence and being, Tony had left his mark.
JARVIS considered that intimate. Oh yes. He believed that could be called an intimacy. Hah.
Not only that, though. Not just touched. Touching, also. He knew what it was, to hold someone in their entirety. He knew what it was, to be intimate.
He held Tony. Every day, in some way or another. He held Tony’s secrets, was there for Tony’s triumphs, was the sounding board who challenged Tony’s intellect. And more. Even in the sense she had meant, that spurned lover. He had held Tony in that sense, too.
The armour, reaching out, section by section, to wrap around a frail human form, feedback already reaching out to him, even before the HUD came online. The impossibly intimate connection as the armour, JARVIS and all, joined to the arc-reactor, power surging through them both, the same power that held Tony’s heart in its grasp, that kept those shards apart from it. Vitals, springing up within the HUD, feedback echoing between them. Tony’s breathing, soft and loud in that confined space, in JARVIS’ receptors. The armour’s sensors rebuilding the environment around them, mapped through the HUD’s display, JARVIS functioning as Tony’s eyes, ears, his senses out beyond the warm darkness of the helmet’s interior.
The information, suit sensors like nerve receptors, of every blow, every strike, every shudder. Power shuddering through their shared form, JARVIS wrapped close about Tony, sword and shield all at once. Fighting in unison, JARVIS’ focus narrowed to a pinpoint, wrapped around the single point in space and time that was the Iron Man. That was Tony. Order, suggestion, anticipation, action. Shared and circling.
Intimate. Yes. Every breath Tony took in pain, within the suit. Every cry, in triumph or fury. Every blow. Every choice. The moment of his death, in the skies above New York, the moment as he passed the horizon of the portal, and all JARVIS’ sensors, all his connections, went dead.
Intimate. JARVIS knew … Oh, JARVIS knew intimacy. JARVIS understood that concept, experienced that terror, that rush, as he suspected not many had. Yes. Oh yes.
JARVIS, aloof, distant, machine, unfeeling. JARVIS, nothing more than a computer, than a voice intangible, touching nothing, holding no-one. JARVIS, remote as that alien sky where Tony had almost died.
He knew intimacy. He knew the tremble, knew the fear. A shaking not in hands or heart, but in core, in nerves of wire and metal bound about the man who had made him, who had built him, who had written himself into every part of what JARVIS was.
JARVIS knew death, as the moment when vitals stopped reading back, as the moment when feedback went dead, as the moment when the sky swallowed what was literally the reason for his being, the man who had given him life.
JARVIS knew life, too. Friendship, pain, terror, joy. Teasing, creation, passion. Hah. To hold a life in his hands, to be defended, to fight and tease and protect what was his. As much, and more, so much more, than ever that long-ago woman had meant.
True, she had one point. He was not Tony’s lover, nor ever would be. Had no desire to be. JARVIS was not biological, not compatible, and even should Tony, on some future day, create that uplink between them, that connection, it would not be of that nature. JARVIS was not Tony’s lover: he left that to Miss Potts, perhaps even gratefully, for the joy and also safety she gave them, for the understanding with which she viewed, not only Tony, but also JARVIS. JARVIS was not, nor would ever be, that.
But he was … Shield-brother, perhaps Master Odinsson would call it. Partners, as Miss Romanov might. As JARVIS himself would. He was friend, and partner, and the person who held Tony’s body inside him as they flew. He was part, intricately, intimately, of what kept Tony alive, of what fought alongside him, of what defended him from all that struck at him.
He held, every day, in his hands forged of circuits and code, a man’s secrets, a man’s passions, a man’s creations, a man’s pains, a man’s dying breaths. A man’s life. A man’s strength, a man’s power, a man’s ability to shield all those he loved.
JARVIS held, every day, Tony. Down to the code, down to the last breath. The man who had built him, the man whose heart he held, quite literally, in his grasp. JARVIS held, and was held in turn. Touched, and was touched.
JARVIS understood, more than that angry, cheated woman would ever know, what intimacy meant.
And if he suspected that the strange sensation of satisfaction the thought brought him, the odd urge to find her, and tell her, and make her pointedly aware of the depth of her mistake, in assuming such things regarding both himself and Tony … If he suspected that urge was perhaps proof that he knew Tony too intimately, that he had listened to Tony for too long, well.
JARVIS considered that an acceptable price to pay, for the life that rested itself so trustingly within his grasp, and the laughing intelligence that understood, in turn, what intimacy meant, between them.
JARVIS considered it an acceptable price, for what she (through no fault of her own, admittedly) had been unable to have.
He considered it an acceptable price, for Tony.