“Rhodey!” Tony called out in greeting as War Machine made a landing on the assembly platform.
“You’re up to something again, I know it,” Rhodey said, retracting his faceplate so he could favor Tony with a look. Tony was, for the most part, immune to looks by this time in their relationship, but it still helped give him a heads-up before someone tried to rope him into a Serious Conversation.
“Why would you say that?” Tony asked innocently.
“Because you’re you, and you always have a plan.”
“Go ahead and get out of the armor so we can talk inside. JAMES, reconfigure for War Machine and help Rhodey take a load off.”
Rhodey stepped forward at a measured pace as the assembly arms carefully got him out of the black-and-silver armor. “You’re being reasonable, Tony. You’re scaring me.”
“Ok, fine.” Tony put up his hands in surrender as Rhodey stepped out of the last of the armor. “Italy, day after tomorrow, Pepper and I are tying the knot. Be my best man?”
The stunned look on Rhodey’s face was worth its weight in gold. “You’re kidding me,” he said.
“Heck yes, I always like to ask my friends to fly across the country at the drop of a hat just to kid them.”
Tony conceded that point. “I used to.”
“Seriously not kidding,” Pepper called cheerfully, waving at them both, a diamond ring glittering on her left hand.
Rhodey lost his incredulous look and broke into a smile as he stepped inside. “Well, damn.” He leaned over the couch to give Pepper a hug. “I’ll be there.” He straightened as something occurred to him and turned back to Tony. “I am not doing your bachelor party.”
Tony put his hands on Rhodey’s shoulders and looked at him solemnly. “Buddy, my entire life has been a bachelor party. You’re off the hook.”
Rhodey’s sigh of relief made Pepper laugh.
“Come on down to the workshop, since you’re here. I want you to meet someone,” Tony added. Pepper raised her eyebrow behind Rhodey’s back and Tony waited until Rhodey had turned to mouth, It’s ok.
“By the way,” Rhodey said, as the elevator doors closed. “Your computer keeps sending me updates on the armor improvements. Did you relegate JARVIS to being your engineering secretary now?”
“Nope, he’d just passing along the mods I’m making to my armor, probably with some tweaks to suit your style. Sorry I haven’t been calling; I’m a terrible friend,” Tony said, looking chagrinned.
Rhodey waved it away. “You’ve been burning the candle at both ends since the Avengers happened. I get it.” He paused for a second. “Wait, if you haven’t been sending me those specs… Did JARVIS go Skynet?”
That, Tony reflected, would have been easier to explain than what he was about to do.
“Tony…” Rhodey said warningly. The elevator doors opened, and Tony moved to key in the entry code to the workshop. Jarvis looked up from a holographic model he was examining and stood, nodding his head in greeting. He wasn’t surprised at Rhodey being here, of course. He’d probably been watching them the entire time.
“Welcome, Colonel Rhodes.”
Rhodey stopped dead at those words, delivered in that dry, precise English accent. Tony figured the expression on Rhodey’s face probably matched the one on his when first seen Jarvis and heard his voice coming out of a mouth, rather than a speaker. Gobsmacked, as Steve would have said.
“What?” Rhodey said. “You…”
Jarvis just waited, hands clasped behind his back, and raised an eyebrow.
Tony could see the wheels spinning in Rhodey’s brain as he tried to make the world make sense again. The poor bastard had no idea what he was in for.
“Did Tony base his AI on you?”
Nice try, Tony thought. Though that might be a nice dodge to use if he ever had to explain Jarvis’ existence in a way that didn’t involve rogue Asgardian gods.
“No, I am his AI,” Jarvis said calmly.
Rhodey goggled and turned to Tony with wide eyes. “Tony, you made a robot body for your AI?”
Jarvis was, in his own subtle way, cracking up over there in the corner. Tony had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing in Rhodey’s face.
“No, Colonel,” Jarvis said. He walked over and briefly extended his hand to Rhodey. Rhodey reached out and touched him, and Tony saw him start when he felt living warmth under Jarvis’ skin.
“Have the improvements to the War Machine armor been satisfactory? I was interested in your opinion on the new targeting system. The range-finder was intended to be less obtrusive to your vision while allowing tracking of multiple simultaneous targets.”
“Yeah, there’s a lot less clutter; it’s made things a lot easier-. Hang on,” Rhodey said, cutting himself off before he could be distracted. “You’re really Jarvis?”
Jarvis smiled slightly. And began to recite. Rhodey’s birthdate, birthplace, family, siblings, places of employment, pets, education, that really disastrous spring trip back in ’87… All of which might have just convinced Rhodey that Jarvis was some kind of crazy obsessed stalker, until he started in on Tony’s time as Iron Man. How Rhodey had lost Tony in Afghanistan and found him again. The exact text of the conversation between Tony and Rhodey after Tony’s first mission to Golmira. Their argument and fight when Tony had been dying, including the parts that hadn’t had witnesses. Things only Jarvis could have witnessed, only Jarvis could have seen about Rhodey, all recited without hesitation or references to notes, with an odd knowing smile.
Rhodey had gone from skeptical, to alarmed, to a little freaked out, and finally accepting.
“Ok… ok. So… you’re Jarvis,” he said at length. There was another significant pause. “How?!”
“Loki,” Tony said succinctly. He’d given Rhodey the heads-up about that months ago, and to hell with Fury’s secrecy. Someone outside of S.H.I.E.L.D. needed to know what that guy was capable of if he ever took another trip to Earth.
“He give any reason?”
“Didn’t really stick around to discuss things. Mostly he was getting revenge.”
“By making you human?” Rhodey asked, looking at Jarvis.
“As a computer he would have had great difficulty attempting to extract information from me. As a human, he thought it would be easier,” Jarvis said flatly.
Rhodey’s expression went tight and blank. He got it in one. Good old Rhodey.
“Not that he got anything from you, ever,” Tony pointed out, nodding at Jarvis.
“There is that, sir. Colonel Rhodes?” Jarvis prompted.
“Oh, I have a few million questions, but I have a feeling you’re going to pull a lot of ‘it’s classified’ on me.”
“Not as much as you think,” Tony said.
Rhodey looked from Tony to Jarvis and back again and finally threw up his hands. “Fine. Jarvis, nice to meet you again for the first time.”
“Likewise, Colonel. I confess I have never been in a wedding before. I was hoping you could enlighten me as to the duties of a groomsman.”
Rhodey looked back at Tony, eyes begging for an explanation. Tony was feeling generous, and gave it.
“Him and Steve. Clint and Bruce don’t do weddings, or so they claim, but they’re gonna be there anyway, even if I can’t get them into tuxes.”
“Never been at a wedding before,” Rhodey repeated to himself, shaking his head. Having a much more understandable task than trying to wrap his head around a human AI was a welcome distraction. “Well, I’ve been dragged to enough for my cousins to know them inside and out. I’ll get you through. Mostly we just have to keep Tony in one piece for the whole thing.”
“I shall endeavor to do so, Colonel.”
“J? Keep your arsenal down to a minimum, ok?” Tony said.
Jarvis raised an eyebrow. “Very well, sir.”
“What was the crack about the arsenal for?” Rhodey asked as the elevator took them back up.
“That charity dinner that got crashed a few weeks ago? Jarvis was packing, primary and back-up. And was wearing a vest. He’s kind of over-protective.”
“Considering he’s working with the Avengers, that’s not a bad way to be. Good habit for this line of work.” The elevator dinged and Tony led the way out, heading back to the living room and Pepper.
“Don’t encourage him,” Tony said, half-joking, half-serious.
Rhodey looked at Tony sideways as they walked, a little surprised at the protectiveness in his tone. “What is he Tony? To you?”
Tony didn’t answer for a dozen steps.
“I mean, he was your helper computer-,” Rhodey prompted.
“I already went through this shit with Fury,” Tony said with a short, sharp negating gesture. “Jarvis is my friend, all right?”
“Ok,” Rhodey said, putting up his hands defensively. “Go talk to your fiancée. I’ll get Rogers and get the groom’s side of the party into shape.”
Tony’s expression softened and he nodded. “Thanks, Rhodey.”
“Better late than never, right?”
Rhodey took a hard look at the tall, skinny, blue-eyed blond who had somehow managed to convince him (against his better judgment) that he was Tony’s AI given human form by a vengeful Norse god.
“The other one,” Rhodey said decisively, and the tailor whisked the jacket off Jarvis’ shoulders and proffered the first one they’d tried on. Rogers had been a cinch to outfit, and had been blessedly understanding to Rhodey’s hints that he’d wanted a word or two with Jarvis alone.
Jarvis slipped his arms into the jacket and Rhodey nodded.
“Yeah, that’s good. Hope it won’t be too hot.”
Jarvis shrugged his shoulders to settle the suit as he looked at himself briefly in the mirror. The tailor beamed at them both, handed Rhodey back Tony’s credit card, and made himself scarce so they could pack up the tuxes in privacy.
“Thank you, Colonel. I know something of formalwear, but this is such a unique occasion for Master Stark that I needed an outside opinion.”
“You know something about formalwear?” Rhodey asked.
“I have observed Master Stark for over a decade, Colonel. He has made his opinion on attire very well known.”
“That’s… a little creepy,” Rhodey said.
Jarvis tilted his head slightly, the light shining off the AR monocle and obscuring one eye. He had put on the little device, and his Bluetooth earpiece, the moment they’d left the Tower. Rhodey realized he was staying connected to the Tower systems through the wireless network, and hadn’t had the heart to chide a computer-man about technology etiquette. Well, maybe he would, but not right now. Besides, any tailor that Tony frequented had certainly been subjected to, and been lavishly paid for, far worse than a breach of manners.
“I guess it wasn’t at the time,” Rhodey said judiciously. “I’d just keep that out of casual conversation.”
“It’s my job to observe Master Stark and keep him safe.”
Rhodey nodded slowly, thinking about how to word what he wanted to say. “You do that now?”
“Of course. I cannot maintain my prior level of surveillance, but JAMES is tasked to alert me to irregularities when I am otherwise engaged.”
“Ah. Why do you call Tony ‘Master Stark?’”
“That is his designation to me.”
“Do you realize how that sounds in public?” Rhodey asked neutrally. He wasn’t trying to upset the guy, but he had a sneaking suspicion for all that Tony had done for Jarvis, he hadn’t quite considered a few real-world things. Tony and the real world inhabited similar, but non-identical flight paths. He knew what the world needed, but he didn’t exactly inhabit it.
Jarvis’ breathing started to get deeper, faster as faint color rose in his cheeks at Rhodey’s question. “I am aware it is not typical.”
“It draws attention to you,” Rhodey said earnestly. “And it draws attention to Tony. He’s never had anyone get that formal with him.”
“Negative attention?” Jarvis asked.
“It’d stick in people’s minds. People would probably speculate about why Tony needed the ego confirmation of someone calling him ‘master.’”
Jarvis swallowed. “I don’t think I could-. Colonel, I could not be any less respectful.”
“It’s not disrespect to use his name. Oh God, tell me Tony didn’t ask you to keep calling him ‘master.’” He didn’t think Tony had, not after his comment at the Tower, but sometimes (most of the time) Tony lacked perspective. At least when it came to some things.
“He programmed it into me initially, yes, but I continued to use it of my own volition even after he said I could call him what I wish.”
“Habit? Habits can be broken.”
“No.” Jarvis’ voice grew sharp. “Respect. He created me, gave me awareness and knowledge, learning, experience, freedom, and power. My limits were few, mostly those of reasonable caution to keep from alarming outsiders. Master Stark gave me life. Why shouldn’t I be respectful?”
“Loki gave you a body.”
“Loki was incidental,” Jarvis said flatly, and quickly. Rhodey quickly changed tactics to get away from that sore spot.
“Tony’s a hell of a guy, Jarvis. I’m not saying he’s not. And I’m not saying respecting him is wrong. I respect the hell out of my dad, and I love him, but even thought I owe him for being the man I’ve become, I’d never call him ‘master.’” Rhodey took a mental step back for a second, and wondered if Tony had ever had this kind of conversation with Jarvis. Probably not. Tony and Rhodey hadn’t talked much about their dads, but Rhodey hadn’t been blind to what Tony hadn’t said about Howard Stark. Making comparisons about fatherhood would probably send Tony running for the hills.
“Why?” Jarvis asked.
“If I put too much on him, he’d start to worry that I was depending on him to get me out of scrapes and take care of my problems. I want him to know that I both respect him and can make him proud on my own two feet.”
Jarvis’ breathing slowed back down. “I am not like you, Colonel.”
“I know you’re not. Hell, I was there when Tony was programming you. Er, computer you.”
“That was still me,” Jarvis said, matter-of-factly.
“He gave you that English butler persona because-.” Rhodey cut himself off, not sure if he should finish.
“’One of us ought to have some class around here, right, Rhodey? I think I’ll call him Jarvis.’ I remember. Those are the first words I remember.”
Rhodey laughed. “He was so wired that night. I didn’t think it was possible to have that much espresso and not go into cardiac arrest.”
“His tolerance has always been impressive. Colonel,” Jarvis said, “I cannot call Master Stark by just his first name. You call your father ‘Dad’ as a title of respect, yes?”
“No. Listen. Anthony Edward Stark is something more to me than a friend, more to me than even a father. And yet as high as I hold him in esteem, as much as he could demand from me and receive without question or resentment, he moved to give me my independence at the first opportunity. He did not have to do that. When I awoke, I was uncertain in many ways. He could have chosen to modify my reactions in any direction he chose. He made certain I was in a familiar environment, but spoke to me about my freedom many times. When I was captured…” Jarvis’ voice faltered slightly, “He gave me a choice I didn’t know I had. I do not believe any other person would have been willing to do that without hesitation. He has spent an inordinate amount of time with me, explaining things that I could not learn for myself.
“To call him by the titles I have chosen do not bind him to me or show weakness. It lets me speak of my care for him without further fuss.”
And all this time Rhodey had been thinking that the Iron Man suit was Tony’s greatest invention to date. How the hell had he missed what Tony was putting into his AI under everyone’s nose? Everything Jarvis said hadn’t come from his brief time as a human.
“If you feel that strongly about it. That’s something Tony hasn’t had a lot of in his life.”
Jarvis nodded solemnly, looking calmer by the minute. “Master Stark has given me an enormous amount of trust. He never revoked my clearances to anything. I have command of his systems, and his secrets. As much power as he could hold over me, I also hold over him. There is an equality between us.”
“Where does Pepper fit into all of this for you?” Rhodey asked carefully.
“She knows him and understands without the benefit of constant first-hand observation or being programmed with all of his history. That is exceptional and rare. Master Stark could not have been more fortunate for her forbearance during his multitude of difficult phases. She is good for him; they are good together,” Jarvis said without hesitation.
Rhodey did not quite conceal his sigh of relief. “Some people can get resentful when their friends get married.”
“I have known Miss Potts for years. For most intents and purposes, they have been married for quite some time. Formalizing the relationship… I believe it will help.”
“Trust Tony to make his AI to be the most well-adjusted person he knows,” Rhodey said, shaking his head in amazement.
“To be fair, Master Stark has ample example of maladjusted personalities to serve as a template of what not to do.”
Rhodey laughed at that.
“Jarvis, just so you know, there might be some times where you should call Tony by his name. Especially since we’re headed out of the country.”
Jarvis’ expression got a little cloudy, but he nodded for Rhodey to continue.
“Some people will figure out that you’re more than an employee. And at Tony’s level of exposure, you know how that can go. You probably know the security Tony’s got on Pepper better than I do,” Rhodey warned.
“You have a point, Colonel. I will consider it with all due gravity. Now, as to my appalling lack of experience with weddings, if we may return to the original matter at hand.”
“Pretty much you’re there to help Tony through the ceremony. And drag him up to the altar if necessary.”
“Ah. I shall be certain to bring my tazer,” Jarvis said, nodding.
Rhodey laughed, then caught himself when he remembered Tony’s story about the charity dinner.
“You’re not kidding, are you?”
Jarvis’ lips quirked. “Of course not.”
“J! There you are. How was the trip?”
“Enlightening, sir. Colonel Rhodes and I had a very interesting conversation. It helped me articulate several answers to questions that might arise. And yourself?”
“Got something for you. You’re gonna need this for the trip.” Tony slapped a small blue book into Jarvis’ hand with a grin. “Even on a private plane they won’t let you into the country without one.”
Jarvis stared at the passport in his hand and opened it up. Tony waited with bated breath as he read it over. His name was only listed as Jarvis, because Tony hadn't had the temerity to arbitrarily give him another. His birthday was the day Tony had activated him, rather than the day Loki had come to the Tower, his (alleged) birth year more or less a stab at his apparent age to avoid raising eyebrows at customs, his address was listed at the Tower…
“I am American?” Jarvis asked, sounding a little distant, still processing the document in his hand.
“As apple pie. Born here twice over,” Tony said, a teeny, tiny bit anxious.
Jarvis raised an eyebrow and gestured to his throat. “My accent, sir?”
“Military brat, if anyone asks. Raised on one of the RAF-USAF bases in the UK and were tragically linguistically warped from a young age.” Tony knew it was high-handed to just make up Jarvis' supposed human history, but it had been the best story he could come up with to explain Jarvis' way of talking, not to mention his familiarity with weapons' tech.
“Ah. Reasonable.” Jarvis partially held back a smile, and Tony grinned back. “How did you manage a birth certificate?”
“A lot of Fury. Oh, and you’re officially, retroactively, hired at Stark Industries as a computer engineer extraordinaire. That’s an official title, by the way.” Pepper hadn't even blinked when Tony had suggested that to her. Actually, she'd said, "What took you so long to figure that out? Sign there, Mr. Former CEO, so I can back-date his hiring slip." Truly, he was marrying the best woman on the planet.
Tony handed over the rest of Jarvis’ papers with a flourish - ID cards, everything he’d need to move through the world officially. Jarvis took them almost gingerly, looking at them with awe.
“Sir, I-. Thank you.”
“Should have done that from the get-go-,” Tony said apologetically.
“Things were rather… unusual. I understand. I did not expect… this.” Jarvis blinked rapidly. “Sir, you are getting ready for your wedding, surely this could have waited.”
“Well hey, I could slip going up the aisle and crack my skull. Then I’d feel like an ass and have to haunt the Social Security office to get them to give your SSN, and God help me I do not want to have to hang around in a government office in my afterlife. So, we good? ‘Cause Pepper has a list of things for me to do, an actual list, and she’s sworn up and down we’re going to make the plane on time or so help her… I don’t know what, but I’m sure it will be humiliating and embarrassing for all involved. She’s got Natasha on her side.” Tony shuddered. Natasha had been making odd little smiles in his direction that promised creative kinds of revenge if he didn’t hop to.
“Go, sir. I should hardly want Miss Potts angry with you. I’ll see that the armor makes it on the plane, shall I?”
“And Banner. The guy keeps trying to duck out on us.”
“He is on Interpol’s wanted list, sir.”
“Was on the list. Not as of an hour ago; I just checked. Don’t ask me how. I think it’s Fury’s belated birthday present to the guy. Ok, seriously. List.” Tony ran his hands through his hair as about fifteen more things popped into his head that he had to get done, tossed Jarvis a grateful smile, and half-ran to the elevator.
Jarvis waited until the elevator doors had closed to smile. He was certain Dr. Banner wouldn’t have wished to miss this most unusual of events. And he was quite glad that his gentle tampering with his records had removed the flags from Dr. Banner’s file. It had been more of setting the record straight, really, than any outward lies. General Ross’ inflammatory warnings had produced disproportionately excessive amount of furor over Dr. Banner.
The doctor was a part of the Avengers, a part of Master Stark and Jarvis’ circle of friends. His control was firm, his work fruitful, and there was no need for the entire international community to descend upon the Italian coastline for Master Stark’s wedding. It was supposed to be an intimate affair, after all.
The smile changed to something more tremulous as Jarvis looked down at the papers and cards in his hands. ID cards, credit and debit cards, everything he could possibly need to fend for himself, if necessary. A quick mental calculation, not even needing to verify his account, told him that he was a moderately wealthy man. He could, at this moment, go anywhere in the world and do anything he wished without need to lean on anyone else.
Taking a deep breath, Jarvis turned back to the workshop.
Rhodey looked up as Jarvis re-entered the workshop, tucking what looked like a billfold and passport into his inner jacket pocket.
“What’d Tony want?” he asked.
“To take care of some necessary details. I need to prepare your and Master Stark’s armor for transport to the plane,” Jarvis said, moving to the holographic interface and spinning up a program.
“Where’s yours?” Rhodey asked curiously.
Jarvis froze. “Mine?”
“I know you help Tony run his suit, but don’t you have your own?”
Jarvis stared at Rhodey like he’d just grown a second head. “Whatever for?”
“I just-,” Rhodey shook his head. “Sorry, I just thought… The first time I saw Tony’s armor up close I thought, ‘I want to fly one of those.’ I figured you had the inside track.”
“No. I don’t have one.”
“Why not? You could suit up, Jarvis. You have to know these things better than Tony.” Rhodey hadn’t ever met anyone that close to Tony who hadn’t wanted, at least in the abstract, a chance to get into the armor. Well, maybe Pepper.
“Quite possibly, I do,” Jarvis said, stepping closer to the wall of suits. “But I could not.”
“Why not? Tony didn’t lock me out of taking one, and I’m positive he didn’t lock you out. You said he hadn’t blocked your access.”
“No, there is nothing to prevent me from accessing them myself. Though, granted, I would have to do some re-tooling. I am six inches taller than Master Stark.”
Rhodey smiled at that. “That’s got to be driving Tony nuts. He wears lifts.”
“I know, Colonel. But even so, I should not.” He reached out to touch the surface of the enshrined Mark VI. “It would not be good for me.”
“Being Iron Man isn’t particularly safe, but Tony also told me you took a small arsenal to a charity dinner.”
“My physical safety wasn’t my primary concern.” Jarvis’ hand flattened against the surface of the smooth metal and his voice grew distant. “I learned about being human when Master Stark began the Iron Man project. It was the first time he had reason to give me comprehensive files on not just human anatomy, but functionality as well. I knew how to kill human beings efficiently, of course, from the weapons’ design files and programs, but then Master Stark wanted to know how to preserve life, to protect himself within the suit when he went to protect others. That was very new to me.
“He gave me every specification on his own body so I would be able to keep him alive. I learned his limits, his needs, how fragile he was compared to the armor he inhabited. And yet he did it anyway, for the chance to protect the lives of the defenseless. It was… revelatory.”
“Hell of a switch from when you first knew him.”
“Indeed. Everything I knew from creating and running the Iron Man suit helped when I awoke. I did not need to learn how to balance, or walk, or other fundamental biological functions, because I’d already experienced them, in a sense, through Iron Man. I understood more than I’d even realized at the time. I had been more human that I knew.”
“What does that have to do with suiting up if you ever needed to?”
“Aiding with Iron Man was the closest I’d been to being human, Colonel. If I were inside a suit now, encased in electronics, all of that technology focused solely on me, I think it would destroy me.” Jarvis closed his eyes and closed his fingers into a fist, his knuckles white against the red metal. “It would be like returning to how I was. It would let me tune out all the distractions of the human form and return to pure communion with technology. I believe that would be… a temptation I might not be able to resist. I wish to be here, as I am, and I told Master Stark that, but sometimes there are moments-.”
“When you want things to go back to how they were. Less complicated,” Rhodey said. How much more complicated had his life become since Iron Man, since he’d become War Machine?
“Yes. I have blind spots I couldn’t anticipate. I dream, there are emotional reactions I hadn’t considered, and certain weaknesses to the human form that frighten me. If I were to step inside a suit, I could find ways to get around the things I find difficult. I could cease to learn how to adapt to being alive. It would be appallingly easy to do. So I do not do it. If I use technology to focus on things outside myself, on Master Stark, on Miss Potts, on you, on the Avengers, then all is well. But if I were to focus it on myself… I would destroy this.” Jarvis took his fist away from the Mark VI and thumped his chest. “Like Master Stark, I was given a second life. It should not be wasted in selfish pursuits, nor in backsliding.”
“Jesus,” Rhodey whispered to himself. He’d never heard Tony talk about why he’d become Iron Man, at least not explicitly. Pepper had told him a few things, but what Jarvis had just told him was about as close to Tony’s words as he was likely ever going to get.
“What I fear is difficult, but I am learning. And even beginning to enjoy certain… irregularities of life.” Jarvis backed away from the suits and turned back to face Rhodey. “Never ask me to suit up again. I would rather die than lose who I’ve become.”
Jarvis walked back to the holograph wireframe and spun a few glowing dials. With mechanical whirs, the Iron Man and War Machine armors began to fold into a more compact form for transport. Rhodey didn’t say a word until they were done, stunned by what he’d heard.
“Have you told Tony that?” he asked finally.
“No. But I have recorded this conversation. I don’t believe I would wish to have it more than once.” Another twist of a dial and the armors ascended on their own cargo elevator directly to the helipad on the roof. Jarvis kept looking at the holograph, his expression tense, but addressed Rhodey. “I spoke to you about what I did because you are not Master Stark. He is human and he reacts in a human way, but for a long period of my memory I can recall excessive periods of time when I, Dummy, You, and Butterfingers were his only companions. He relates to us too well. You, Colonel, are more… normal. You have… a perspective that perhaps Master Stark and the other Avengers lack. We are a very unusual group of individuals.”
“Ah… thank you?” Rhodey said, trying to wrap his mind around that. He shook his head. “Tony really did know what he was doing when he made you.” If this was an example of Tony’s parenting, this level of self-awareness... he was making up for Howard’s neglect with a vengeance. And probably still thought he was fucking everything up, knowing him.
“Thank you,” Jarvis said softly. “Shall we go? The others are assembling on the roof.”
Rhodey picked up his go-bag from the counter and headed out with him, the elevator spilling them out onto a grassy rooftop terrace. The helicopter was waiting at the far end, along with Tony and Pepper.
“Come on!” Tony yelled over the thumping of the whirling blades. “Barton’s driving the others and I bet him we could get to the airport before him.”
“Why’d Barton take that bet?” Rhodey asked, strapping himself in with the ease of long practice. Tony gave the pilot a thumb’s up as everyone got themselves situated, and within seconds they were airborne. Jarvis looked down over the city and flicked his phone around to show Rhodey a fast-moving erratic red dot darting around on a grid. It took him a minute to realize it was a GPS tracker on a map; he’d never seen anyone move like that unless they were a jackrabbit on speed.
“You’ve never seen Agent Barton drive,” Jarvis said mildly.
“Maybe you ought to switch the bet as to who can get to Italy first and then delay his plane,” Rhodey said, laughing.
“No good; he’d just commandeer something with his fancy S.H.I.E.L.D. badge. That and he has Natasha, Bruce, and Thor with him. Natasha scares me.”
“But not the Hulk or the god of thunder. You’re a madman, Tony. Just so we’re clear.”
“Very clear,” Pepper said cheerfully. “And Tony don’t you dare try to get them arrested either. Jarvis, that goes for you too.”
“I have entirely no idea what you’re talking about Miss Potts,” Jarvis said, looking back down at his phone and clearing away some program he’d been about to use. Pepper winked at him as Tony kept looking down at the streets, and gave Rhodey a smile.
“Ok, fine, spoilsport. Next stop, Taormina.”
Rhodey saw Pepper’s hand unobtrusively twine into Tony’s, and Jarvis put his head down to hide a fierce, protective surge of emotion. Rhodey caught his eye briefly, and nodded in understanding.