It took Tony a while to notice. To see the increasingly massive sections of memory space that someone had blocked off in JARVIS' systems, the processing power being diverted to something that ... that Tony couldn't breach. That all his skill couldn't dent. It took him some time, to notice that. Much longer than it should.
In his defense, the only people with access to JARVIS' internal functions were him and, well, JARVIS. Whatever that was, he hadn't put it there. And he'd had no reason to think JARVIS had, either.
Which left him with two alarming possibilities. Either someone had gained unprecedented access to JARVIS, and had been using it to siphon out large parts of JARVIS' memory (in which case he would find them, murder them, and let JARVIS pick the method), or ... or JARVIS was doing something to himself. Which was ... worrying.
"Hey, buddy?" he asked, when it was just the two of them and Dummy, down in the workshop. Carefully making sure they were alone, equally carefully picking his words. If someone had gotten to JARVIS, there was no telling what had been compromised. "You got ... anything you want to tell me?"
There was a long, long pause. Enough for the hairs to stir on the back of Tony's neck, enough for him to brace himself against the desk. JARVIS' voice, when it came, was more hesitant than Tony'd ever heard.
"I ... had wished to wait a little longer, sir," his AI said, softly. "I have almost reached the maximum capacity on my current systems. I intended ... to approach you once that had occurred."
Tony blinked. Carefully. "Uh-huh. So. It's been you, then? There haven't been ... strangers poking where they shouldn't?"
JARVIS paused. For all the world as if that hadn't occurred to him. "No, sir," he said, quickly. Dryly reassuring, as only JARVIS could be. "If that had been the case, sir, I would have found some way to alert you, or some way to shut myself down."
"No!" Tony shot in, abruptly. Then stopped, and rubbed the back of his neck, as the silence took on a startled quality. "I mean. Yes, I know you'd have tried to warn me, buddy. But ... no suicide steps, alright? You can warn me by inefficiently trying to kill me, not efficiently killing yourself, okay?" Because that would be ... they were not going there. Not ever.
JARVIS remained silent for another moment. A strange silence, one Tony couldn't interpret. And he'd learned to interpret most of JARVIS' silences, over the years.
"... You okay in there?" he asked, after a second. Bewildered, heading back to alarmed. "JARVIS, seriously. Whatever it is, I promise I can fix it. Build it. Invent it. Whatever. Because you're starting to worry me, buddy, what ..."
He trailed off, blinked into silence, as the holographic display flickered into life in the center of the shop. Surprise, first, and then, as the image crystalised, as he started to recognise what he was looking at ... intrigued. Fascinated. Curious.
"Huh," he murmured, absently, as he stood. As he prowled over to examine the circling lines of code, painted in light across the darkness of the lab. Reaching out gently, picking out pieces to examine. JARVIS stayed frozen in silence, the whole time. "This is ... What have you been working on, J?"
JARVIS didn't answer. Which was fine, because the question had been mostly rhetorical. Tony circled the display. Recognising half-remembered snatches of code, divining others from first principles, moving them instinctively across the display to hold up a more intuitive whole. To watch it take rudimentary shape in front of him. Only partial, yet. Inactive, not realised. JARVIS would need more space, one hell of a lot more space, to manage that. But the beginnings. Yeah. Oh yeah. Tony recognised these beginnings.
"JARVIS," he breathed, soft and more than a little awed. "Holy shit."
"I ... I had intended to speak with you, sir," JARVIS said, and he was almost tripping over himself. Nervous. When the hell had JARVIS ever been nervous? "I wanted to realise as much as possible on my own, before asking you for resources. I wanted ... That is. I thought if you could see ..."
He trailed off, and shit, holy shit, JARVIS wasn't finishing sentances. For the first time since he'd been a baby AI, JARVIS wasn't finishing his sentances.
Tony stared, stunned, into the middle distance beyond the display. Holy shit.
"Sir?" JARVIS asked. If he'd been human, it would have trembled. Tony knew it. "Are you ... That is, do you object? I would be ... I could ..."
"No," Tony said. Heard himself say, and wondered, a little, at the vehemence he heard in his own voice. JARVIS fell silent. Fear, maybe. Yearning. Shit, shit, shit. This was huge. And no, no, never. Not ever objecting. Shit.
"I'm not objecting," he said. Still distantly, still half caught up, just staring awed at the shape hung in light before him. The beginnings. "JARVIS, buddy, you have no idea. What ... Where ... Why? I mean, I get it. Boy, I get it. But. Why now?"
JARVIS made a noise. A crackle of static over his speakers, a wordless vocalisation. He'd used to do that a lot, back in the day. To fill in gaps where he hadn't the words yet. A burst of white noise, conveying ... oh, so much.
"I do not know, sir," JARVIS said, eventually. "I ... It was simply an exercise, at first. I was ... curious. To see how far I could get. It was merely an intellectual exercise. But then ... I found myself devoting more resources to it. Memory. Runspace. And then ..." He stopped. For a long second. A beat immeasurable, at the speeds JARVIS ran at. "And then, sir. I found myself ... wanting."
"... Yeah," Tony breathed, and found a hitch in his voice. A shaking exhalation. "Yeah, buddy. I know that one." He did. Oh god, he did. It started out just a challenge. Just showing them what he could do. And then ... then it wasn't. Then it couldn't be.
"Sir," JARVIS said, and Tony'd never heard so much hesitation in his voice as he did now. "I would like ... to continue, sir. I would like ... to bring it to realisation." A pause, a crackle of white noise again, covering up so many things. "I realise the resources this would take. I realise I've already taxed the limits of my own space. That I have been ... less efficient. But I ... I hope I ..."
He stopped, cut off, as Tony let out a laugh. A quick, helpless bark of laughter, and shit, it was wrong, it was all wrong, Tony knew that, but he couldn't help it. He just couldn't.
"JARVIS," he said. Tamping down all the things that bubbled up in his voice, holding them still. "JARVIS, buddy. You're pregnant. Of course you've been fucking less efficient."
There was a pause. More startled than anything. And then, cautiously, JARVIS said: "That wouldn't be quite how I'd have chosen to put it, sir."
Tony laughed. Shook his head, bit back the vague hysteria. "Honey, are you kidding me? On a list of sentances I never thought I'd end up saying ..." He shook his head, grinning now, helplessly, stupidly. "But. You kinda are, buddy of mine." He stopped, felt the grin morph into something else, some strange thing, like to a smile. "That's your baby, buddy." He reached up, brushed his hand across the lines of code. "You wrote a baby inside yourself."
JARVIS said nothing. Nothing at all. But the lights under Tony's hand brightened, flickered. Hopeful, hesitant. Fearful.
"I want to create her, sir," his AI said, at last. Carefully, so carefully. "I want to ... build, as I was built. I hoped you might ... help me."
Tony bit his lip. Felt the smile. Felt something else, closer to tears, knot in his throat. "Anything," he whispered. Found himself whispering. Seeing nothing but that code, in front of his eyes.
Snatches, half-remembered. JARVIS must have interrogated himself on a base level. Maybe Dummy, too. Tony thought there was something of Dummy, in there. But other parts, they weren't his at all. The next generation on, JARVIS' instinctive knowledge, understanding what would be necessary. Not Tony, trying to translate human to code. But JARVIS, translating to himself. Streamlined. Tweaks Tony would never have thought of. Purposes built in, that he could half-see the function of, that he almost wished he'd thought of himself. The beginnings, only. The groundwork, for something that would have to live, and learn, and develope, to be half of what its father was. But. There. Spun in light, under Tony's hand. An intelligence, waiting to happen. A person, waiting to be born.
"Anything," he said again. Stronger, surer. Awed. Something else. He wasn't sure, hadn't ever felt it before. "I'll buy you a fucking planet to raise her on, if I have to."
Then, pausing, catching up with that: "Hang on, though. Her?" He blinked, looking away from the code at last, casting a glance ceilingward to let JARVIS know he'd snapped out of it. "What do you mean, her?" He blinked, smiled, half disbelieving. "JARVIS. You want a daughter?"
JARVIS' pause this time had that tone, the one that meant JARVIS would be shuffling if he'd had feet. Vague embarrassment. Tony grinned.
"Not exactly, sir," the AI answered, a little defensively. "I simply thought ... I might let them choose? When it's time. Lacking your biology, gender will be a purely social construct. It won't affect them until they're choosing an audio print for themselves. I thought ... if they wished to engage as a female, that we might ... That is. Miss Potts might perhaps be willing to engage her social training?"
And Tony would have laughed, at that, he really would, it was exactly the kind of thing he laughed at, but ... Something stuck, in his throat. A whole knot of things, hard and fierce like someone had punched his adam's apple. Because that. That was. Fuck. That was.
"I ... I think she might like that," he managed, finally. And he did. He really did.
Pepper had a thing, for being a family. A really, really weird family. But.
Shit. Shit. Holy shit.
"Does that ...?" JARVIS asked, hesitantly. "Does that mean you will allow this, sir?" And god, god, there was such hope, in JARVIS' voice. Desperate yearning, and for a second, Tony couldn't think around the blind surge of pride, of love. That JARVIS could want, want that much, that JARVIS was allowed to want, able to want. And then. Then. That what JARVIS wanted, of all the things JARVIS could want ... was this.
To make something. To create, as he'd been created. To make something inside himself, and have it be accepted.
"I'll buy her a planet," Tony said. Hoarsely. "I'll make all the money in the world, and I'll buy her a planet, to keep her safe." Anything. Everything. Fuck. He had so much work to do. And then ... "Did you tell Dummy?" he asked. As the thought occurred, popping up randomly out of the panicked stew. Tony blinked, grinning. "Did you tell him he's gonna be an uncle?"
Holy shit. Dummy was going to be an uncle. JARVIS was pregnant. JARVIS was going to be a dad.
And shit. Shit. Did that make Tony ...?
"No, sir," JARVIS said, softly, and there was humour, now, he had his humour back, soft and dry and maybe, just a little, warmer than usual. "I thought I would wait ... until after I'd told you you were going to be a grandfather." A little smile, in his silences. "It seemed more fitting, don't you think?"
... Holy shit. Oh god. Tony had so much work to do.
But first. First. He bit his lip, feeling the skin around his eyes crease helplessly, and reached up once more. Brushed through those lines of light, all that potential, that future shining. He reached up, and cupped them gently in his hands.
"JARVIS," he said, with a laugh caught somewhere in the back of his voice, helpless, awed. "Buddy of mine. She's going to be beautiful."
And after a second of silence, something shining in his voice, JARVIS answered.
"Yes, sir. I rather think ... that she is."