"All right. Rotate 16 degrees. There. Good. Stop. Stop! Okay. Give me some tilt. More. Mo—There. Stop! Good. Okay. Now…"
Listening to Tony work was like listening to the world's longest one-sided conversation. Tony talked all day long to JARVIS, his robots, and even to himself. For Steve, sitting alone and nearly forgotten off to one side, it was fascinating, educational, and occasionally downright amusing.
He was here on Tony's sufferance today, having expressed a desire to draw Tony while he was at work. Never one to pass up a chance to have his image immortalized, Tony had agreed, so long as Steve remained quiet and out of the way. The conditions on his presence didn't bother him. He was just glad to be here. More and more often lately he found himself looking thoughtfully at Tony, seeing a possible future where previously there had been only speculation and curiosity. From time to time he had caught Tony looking at him that way, too, although with slightly more bafflement, like Tony wasn't quite sure what exactly was happening with them, even though he seemed perfectly willing to see it through to the end – whatever that might be.
So when he had asked if he could join Tony in the workshop today, the answer had not surprised him one bit. Looking back, he supposed he had had vague thoughts of finally bringing this thing between them out into the open and talking about it, but so far that hadn't happened – and Steve was actually quite fine with it. So the time wasn't right yet. There was nothing wrong with waiting a little while longer.
He glanced down at the drawing on his lap. It had started out well, but halfway through, he had stopped to just listen to Tony and watch him move about the workshop, and he had lost steam after that. Now and then he glanced down at the page, but he wasn't really interested anymore – he definitely would not finish it today.
Tony went on talking non-stop, giving JARVIS an endless stream of instruction. The AI usually responded by making the changes Tony requested, but sometimes answered verbally instead, offering suggestions or compliments or challenging Tony to think of a new way to do something. It became a true conversation then, not just a one-sided stream of commands – and Steve marveled to hear it.
He wondered sometimes if Tony had any idea how amazing JARVIS was. Not just his mere existence, but the depth of his personality. The fact that you could have a conversation with him. At times the AI was so humanlike that Steve forgot he was nothing more than an enormous string of zeros and ones, that his only physical form was the computer servers beneath the house in Malibu and this very Tower.
With one eye still on Tony, Steve said, "JARVIS, can I ask you something?"
"Certainly, sir." The AI's voice came from the speaker in the computer in front of him. Across the room, Tony never even looked up, completely absorbed in the new armor he was designing.
He was suddenly curious about JARVIS, all those things he had first wondered when he "met" the AI, but had since forgotten about as he simply accepted his presence and moved on with life in the Avengers Tower. "How long have you been helping Tony?"
"For all my existence," JARVIS replied. "If you are asking for a time frame, then the answer is nine years."
That was longer than Steve had expected. "How did you get your name? I mean, I know Tony named you, but does it mean anything? Do the letters stand for anything?"
"I was named for Edwin Jarvis, the butler in the Stark household when Mr. Stark was growing up," JARVIS said. "I believe the name is meant as an homage."
This was the first Steve had ever heard of such a person. "What was he like?"
"I could not say," JARVIS said. "He returned to England long before my creation. But I believe he must have been a man of singular wisdom and knowledge."
Steve chuckled at the dry humor in JARVIS's smooth tones. And again he felt an incredible awe that such a thing was even possible, that this amazing entity he was talking to possessed a sense of humor and could appreciate irony.
"Where is he now?" he asked.
There was the slightest of pauses. Then JARVIS said, "He seems to be living in a nursing home in Shoreham-by-Sea, England."
Now the questions came to him fast and furious, and still he kept a watchful eye on Tony. Not following him at his work now, but making sure he did not notice this separate conversation JARVIS was holding. "How old is he now?"
"He is eighty-three," JARVIS said.
"Is he healthy?"
"His records indicate nothing more than the usual complaints found in the elderly, although he does seem to be still recovering from a broken hip suffered in a fall four months ago."
Steve frowned thoughtfully. "When was the last time Tony saw him?"
"I would not know," JARVIS said. "However, I can speculate that it would have been around the time of Howard and Maria Stark's death. The household staff at the Fifth Avenue mansion were released from employment then, and given generous severance packages. Mr. Stark relocated both himself and Stark Industries to California, and Edwin Jarvis moved back to England."
So. Twenty-one years. It was a long time.
Long enough, Steve decided.
He set his pencil down. "I don't suppose you could book me a flight to London?"
"It would be my pleasure," JARVIS said.
The home where Edwin Jarvis now lived was called Cliffden House, and it was a large, spacious building with enormous gardens. It was a gray, cloudy day with rain threatening, but there were still several people out for a walk – although some moved faster than others.
Not just anyone could afford to spend their final years in a place like Cliffden House. JARVIS had told him that after leaving New York, Edwin Jarvis had traveled around the world for some time before returning to England and taking a position as a teacher at an all-boys boarding school. Long since a widower, for the last three years he had been living in the nursing home, occasionally visited by his nieces and nephews on the holidays.
They met in one of the gardens, on a smooth path where a lone woman hobbled about. Jarvis had been informed that he had a visitor, but not who it was. His expression when he saw Steve was one of astonishment quickly masked by a pleasant greeting. He glanced once over Steve's shoulder, as though looking for someone else, then his gaze returned to Steve and he smiled in welcome. "Good morning, Captain."
Steve blinked in shock. He knew that voice. He had always heard it before without the quiver of age, and with a faint electronic distortion, but he most definitely knew it.
Then he realized what Jarvis had called him, and he smiled ruefully. "Did they tell you I was coming?"
"Not at all," Jarvis said. "Merely that I had a visitor. But I would have to be blind not to recognize Captain America. And thankfully there is nothing wrong yet with my eyesight."
Again Steve was surprised. Even most New Yorkers did not recognize him when he was out of uniform. He held out his hand. "Steve Rogers. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Jarvis rose slowly from his wheelchair. "Edwin Jarvis." He shook Steve's hand.
Steve studied him for a moment. For his age, Jarvis still had most of his hair, although it was snow-white. He had a long, narrow face dominated by a sharp nose. Beneath his coat he wore a dark gray V-neck sweater and crisply pressed trousers, and a scarf hung about his neck. He looked exactly like Steve had expected.
"Can I get you anything?" Jarvis asked. "They make an excellent tea here, if you get the right person to make it." He smiled.
"No, thank you," Steve said. "I'm fine."
Cautiously Jarvis sat back down in the wheelchair. He adjusted his coat and scarf, and then looked up at Steve. "So what brings you all the way over here to visit someone like myself?"
There was no point in being coy; Jarvis obviously knew who he was, and probably had a good guess as to why he was here. "I wondered if you were up to taking a trip," he said.
Jarvis' warm blue eyes sparked with anticipation. "I would say it depends on where you were taking me."
Steve just smiled.
Half an hour later, he was on the phone to Pepper. "Is there a Stark Industries plane in London?"
She paused for a beat. "What are you doing in London?"
"Actually I'm in Shoreham-by-Sea," he said.
"Okay, what are you doing there?" she asked.
"Picking up something for Tony," he said.
"Oh," Pepper said. She had been the first one to see it, of course, the first one to nudge them toward each other when it seemed like all they were ever going to do was dance around each other, neither one making a move. "How did you get out there?"
He hadn't wanted Tony to catch wind of what he was doing, so his official reason for leaving was that he had a charity function to attend, the kind of thing Tony wouldn't be caught dead at. "I took a commercial flight," he said. And that had worked fine when there was only himself involved. But he did not want to submit Edwin Jarvis to the hectic crowds of Heathrow, and the uncomfortable seats of a commercial airliner. The man deserved better.
"I can have the plane ready in an hour," Pepper said. "Will that work?"
"Yes," he said. He had already called for a cab. It would be a long drive, but far easier on his passenger than any other mode of transportation. "Thank you."
"Should I be worried?" Pepper asked carefully. "Do I need to do anything here?"
"Not at all," he assured her. He hesitated, then said, "Have you ever heard of Edwin Jarvis?"
"Of course," Pepper said. "Why?" Then her breath caught. "Oh. Steve. Oh."
"Yeah," he said. "Don't tell Tony."
"I won't," she promised. Her voice was thick with unshed tears.
For the first time since conceiving of this plan, he dared to say the words out loud. "What do you think? Should I really do this?"
"Yes," Pepper said firmly. "Very much yes."
On the flight to New York, he thought he would bring Edwin Jarvis up to speed on Tony Stark's current circumstances, but he found out quickly enough that there was no need. The modern media made it easy to keep tabs on a celebrity of Tony's status, and even in Cliffden House, Jarvis had been able to follow the adventures of the Avengers. "Heaven knows, there isn't much else good on the telly these days," Jarvis said with a smile.
Seeing it on TV was one thing – seeing it in person was another. Steve couldn't help smiling at the look on Jarvis' face when he first saw Avengers Tower. "So," Jarvis said. "This is where you live."
"Yes," he said. "It was damaged in our first battle together, and when Tony rebuilt it, he gave us each a floor of our own. We moved in shortly after that."
Jarvis smiled a little. "And the mansion?"
"Still empty, as far as I know," Steve admitted. "We can go by there if you want."
"That would be lovely," Jarvis said, but it sounded as though he was just being polite, and Steve did not bring it up again.
The Tower drew closer; the car Pepper had sent to pick them up swung into the private drive that led to the underground parking garage. Jarvis sat back in his seat, thin hands clasped in his lap. He had slept for much of the flight, yet he still looked tired and every bit his age. Steve wanted to assure him not to be nervous, but he didn't dare. Truthfully he had no idea how Tony was going to react.
Pepper met them in the garage, dressed in a simple black suit and heels. She held out her hand and smiled brilliantly. "Mr. Jarvis, it's so wonderful to meet you. I'm Pepper Potts, Tony's assistant."
Jarvis took her hand and shook it. He smiled. "A pleasure to meet you, my dear."
"Tony is in the main workshop," Pepper said. "I can take you to him."
"Thank you," Jarvis said, the faintest tremor in his voice.
As they stepped in the elevator, Steve's heart began to beat a little faster. He hoped the computerized JARVIS would remain silent. He had not mentioned the AI yet, feeling that it was only Tony's right to demonstrate his greatest creation to the man who had provided the name for it.
Pepper caught his nervous glance up at the ceiling. "Don't worry," she said. "We won't be announced."
He relaxed a little; the secret would not be spoiled. Then he realized that Pepper's comment also meant that JARVIS would not be informing Tony he had visitors. They would be able to walk right into the workshop, unseen and unexpected.
Steve nodded. "Good."
"Announced," Jarvis said mildly. "Have I been replaced?"
Steve and Pepper exchanged a look. "Not quite," he said. "You'll see."
Jarvis accepted this without a word.
The elevator stopped and the doors opened. Across from them, the glass doors fronting the workshop were tightly closed. "Are you ready?" Steve asked.
"Yes," Jarvis said, and that quiver was back in his voice.
Together he and Pepper led Edwin Jarvis into the workshop. As they stepped inside, the thundering rock music ground to a halt, leaving the large room in silence for a split second. Then Tony was suddenly there, protesting and gesturing wildly.
"Hey! You can't just do that, you know, and—" He finally seemed to truly see them, and he stopped dead. The color drained from his face, and he just stared.
For a moment Steve tried to see him as Edwin Jarvis must – this grown man standing where once there had been a young boy. The hair and beard just starting to go gray. The arc reactor glowing softly through an old T-shirt. The burn hole in the sleeve of the shirt, and the long tear near the hem. The dark circles under his eyes, a clear sign that he had been down here for too long without stopping to rest.
Then Tony was moving again, actually taking a step back in shock. "What… Jarvis?"
Edwin Jarvis smiled. "It's good to see you again, Tony."
Tony blinked rapidly, like he still couldn't believe what he was seeing. "Oh my God."
Jarvis glanced around the workshop. "I see you're still getting up to no good."
Tony smiled widely. "Well, you know what they say. The more things change, the more they stay the same." He started forward, shaking his head in amazement. "Jarvis."
Jarvis walked toward him, moving much more slowly, favoring his left leg. "Indeed some things don't change," he said. He held out his arms, and they embraced. "I am so proud of you."
Shocking them all, Tony burst into tears.
Pepper touched Steve's arm. There was no need; he was already turning to go. They did not need to be here for this.
The last thing he saw before he walked out was Tony with his head bowed on Edwin Jarvis' shoulder, crying with all the abandon of a lost child.
Steve Rogers was a dead man. That was the one thing that kept running through Tony's head.
Well, after he found a way to thank him. And maybe, if he was feeling especially reckless, kiss him senseless. But then he was so totally going to kill Steve. Because Steve had kept this thing with Jarvis a secret, and that was unforgivable, that had come completely out of left field, that was….
Okay, actually, it was pretty damn amazing. And incredible. No one had ever done anything like that for him before, and Tony simply didn't know what he was supposed to do now.
"So," Jarvis said. "Am I to get a tour?"
A tour. Yes. Tony leapt at the chance. Not only was he very good at showing off his stuff, but it would let them put the whole embarrassing crying thing behind them and move on.
He still wasn't quite sure where that had come from. Well, all right, he had a pretty good idea. Jarvis had been more of a father to him than Howard Stark had ever been, and to hear him say those words, I am so proud of you, had undone him in a way nothing else ever had. But still, he didn't like to think about that, didn't like what it said about him that he could be reduced to tears by such a simple statement.
He grinned now, pushing all that into the background where he didn't have to think about it anymore. "Ready to have your socks knocked off?"
"Oh dear," Jarvis said mildly. "Again?"
"Hey," Tony said. "That only happened once. And it was just your shoe. And to be fair, I did warn everyone to stand back."
"Ah yes," Jarvis said. "I seem to remember it now. You did run at us, yelling and waving your arms."
"Well there you go," Tony grinned. "Fair warning."
He meant to show Jarvis the armor first, because who wouldn't want to see the Iron Man suit up and close and personal, right? But before they were halfway there, Jarvis stopped walking. His breath caught. "Is that… Could that be Dummy?"
Tony followed his shocked gaze and had to nod. "One and the same." He beckoned with one hand. "Yo, Dummy. Come here."
The robot began to roll toward them, his arm raised questioningly.
"Oh my," Jarvis breathed. "You still have him."
The wonder in Jarvis' voice made him suddenly feel bad for all the times he had mistreated Dummy. "Well, you know, turns out he is kinda useful, after all."
Dummy stopped before them and waved his arm. His claw-like hand opened and closed.
"You remember Jarvis, right?" Tony said.
"The look on your mother's face when you brought this one home," Jarvis said. "I'll never forget it."
Tony cleared his throat; he did not want to talk about his parents. He supposed it was inevitable, but he wanted to put that moment off as long as possible. "So. Would you like to meet your namesake?"
One of Jarvis' thin white eyebrows rose. "My namesake?"
He held out his hands. "Jarvis, meet JARVIS."
After a long moment of awkward silence, Jarvis said, "Hello?"
The response came right away. "Hello, Mr. Jarvis."
Jarvis startled back, his eyes wide. He looked around for the source of the voice. "Who's there?"
"I am JARVIS," replied the AI. "I run the Avengers Tower, and assist Mr. Stark with anything he requires. I am very pleased to meet you."
Still bewildered, Jarvis looked carefully at Dummy, then up at the ceiling. Everyone did that at first when they met JARVIS, needing something concrete to look at when they talked to the AI. "Are you another robot?"
"I do not have physical form," JARVIS replied. "I am a sentient computer program, written and created by Tony Stark."
"Sentient," Jarvis repeated. He turned to Tony, and the look on his face was so achingly familiar that for a moment the years rolled back and he was just a kid again, showing off his latest invention, thrilled to see Jarvis' pride and wonder and yes, vindication. Because Jarvis had always known what he was capable of, even if his mother hadn't understood and his father hadn't noticed. Jarvis had always known.
"I was named for you," JARVIS continued. "It is a great honor to finally meet you, sir."
Jarvis' eyes grew even wider. He did not speak, though.
Tony had the sinking sensation that he was going to cry again. Not because he was overcome with emotion at this moment (although he sort of was), but because Jarvis was in tears, and he simply could not stand to see that. He had done his fair share of hurting this man while he was growing up, and thank God most of that could be ascribed to sheer ignorance and childish mischief rather than any real malice, but even thinking about it now made him cringe. The last thing he wanted to do was hurt Jarvis any further.
"Let me tell you about this guy," he said, his voice a little louder than necessary maybe, but only so he could keep from crying again. "He would rather be tortured with hot pokers than divulge his secret recipe for scones. He was the only one who ever called me Tony, instead of Anthony. He had a pair of roller skates, although I never saw him use them – whatever happened to those, by the way? He used to listen to baseball games on the radio but claimed he didn't understand the rules. And when my parents died, he was the only one who told me I shouldn't take over the company, that I should find my own way and do my own thing." He wasn't sure when he had stopped talking to the AI, but that didn't matter anymore, because if he was going to break down crying again, he would at least have his say first. "I never said thank you for that. There's a lot of things I regret in my life, you know. I can't regret taking over Stark Industries, because I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't done it. But I'm grateful you at least tried to show me there was another choice. Even if I didn't take it."
Oh crap, there were tears all right. "My dear boy," Jarvis murmured, and then could not say anything else.
Somehow he was being hugged again, even though he had only intended to help Jarvis sit down because his legs were looking kind of wobbly. But Tony was nobody's fool, and he certainly wasn't about to turn away from another chance to close his eyes and just let himself pretend for a few microseconds. And he definitely wasn't remembering the infrequent times he had been hugged like this as a child, the only times he could ever remember feeling like anyone had truly wanted him around.
And yep, he was crying again. Damn it.
Like a mind reader – and who was to say he wasn't? – JARVIS came to the rescue. "It is as I always thought," he said, smug and proud. "Edwin Jarvis, you are a man of singular wisdom."
Jarvis laughed a little through his tears and stepped back a little, and the moment was over. Tony swiped quickly at his eyes, then helped Jarvis sit on one of the stools that lined the workbench. "And patience," he added, eager to divert the conversation away from too much sentiment. "He'd have to be, putting up with me all those years."
"Yes," JARVIS mused. "I have often thought I have not been properly compensated for that as well. You must share your coping strategy with me, Mr. Jarvis."
"I can do that," Jarvis said. He was still blinking back tears, but it was obvious he had succeeded in mastering his emotions.
"Unbelievable," Tony sighed with suitable melodrama. "Five minutes together and they're already conspiring against me."
"Sir, I believe the flight simulator is ready for the Mark IX," JARVIS said.
"And now he's trying to get rid of me," Tony said with a shake of his head. "I'm only his creator, after all."
"You're a man in need of some sleep," Jarvis said with some reproach. "I could see that the moment I walked in here."
"Er," Tony said, because this was awfully close to not being funny anymore. He truly hadn't expected them to double-team him like this.
"I have suggested that to Mr. Stark myself on numerous occasions," JARVIS observed.
"I see that he listens to you about as well as he used to listen to me," said Jarvis.
"I listen," Tony protested weakly, wondering when exactly this had spun out of control. "I just…choose to ignore you."
"Mmm," Jarvis said in a tone of quiet disapproval accompanied by the old gesture of looking down his nose. Together they made Tony feel like he was six years old again and about to be sent to his room without any supper.
"I believe you and I have much to discuss, JARVIS," said his old butler.
"I believe you are correct, sir," said the AI.
Tony just shook his head and laughed.
It was a little after five a.m. when Steve woke from uneasy dreams about icefields and went down to the kitchen to get something to drink. As he drew closer, he heard the soft murmur of voices, and he stopped so he would not intrude.
"…need to do better. That armor was terribly damaged. Is there nothing more you can do?"
"The titanium-gold alloy cannot be improved upon any further. However there are several structural changes that might be suggested."
"Do it, please. Make sure they are implemented."
"I have tried before, but I will bring them up again."
"Whatever you have to do. You have to keep him safe."
"That is my primary objective, sir."
"I'm sorry. I know that. It must be difficult for you, only being able to talk to him."
"It has long been my experience that Mr. Stark often rejects any advice or counsel designed with his safety in mind."
"Yes," Edwin Jarvis sighed. "I blame myself for that."
"How can such a thing be your fault, sir?"
"I should have done more. It was hard. Howard sent him off to school at such a young age. I did not see him often after that. But I should have done more. Tried harder."
"I am sure you did all you could."
Only troubled silence met this.
It was possibly the most touching conversation Steve had ever heard, these two utterly unique, very different individuals who shared only the same name and the desire to protect the man they loved. It was also the most surreal thing he had ever heard. And given everything that had happened to him in the last six months, that was saying something.
He shuffled his feet loudly so he would make enough noise to herald his arrival, then walked into the kitchen. "Hello."
"Captain." Edwin Jarvis sat at the large kitchen table, a mug of tea before him. "I'm surprised to see you up so early. I thought you young people preferred a lie-in whenever possible."
Steve smiled. "Actually, I'm older than you, sir."
Jarvis smiled back. "So you are. I had forgotten. Can I get you anything? Some tea?"
"I've got it," Steve said. He felt vaguely guilty that Jarvis was offering him something to drink. He moved over to the cabinet and found a clean mug. "Couldn't sleep?"
"To me it's mid-morning," Jarvis said. "I'm afraid I don't handle the time difference like I used to."
Steve nodded as he poured his tea. "I always thought it was harder coming back this direction, going west."
Jarvis nodded. "Yes." He studied Steve thoughtfully. "How are you acclimating to this century, Captain?"
"Fairly well, I think." He sat at the table across from the other man. Even at this hour, Edwin Jarvis was dressed impeccably, his shirt pressed and his thin white hair combed back. "Or I hope. Tony's helped a lot." He didn't say that in the beginning Tony had often mocked his ignorance even while teaching him about things like call waiting and microwave-safe dishes.
"You two are good friends then," Jarvis observed.
"Yes," Steve said.
Again Jarvis gave him that look of sober thought, and this time Steve felt like the other man was seeing right through him, past all his carefully constructed defenses and straight into his heart. It was doubtless a look he had honed while living first with Howard Stark and then with Tony, one that had served him well in his chosen field of teaching. "Perhaps more than friends?"
Steve dropped his eyes to stare at his mug of tea. He had heard several things in Jarvis' voice, not all of which were positive. "M--maybe," he stammered. "But… Do you think..."
"It doesn't matter what I think," Edwin Jarvis said. "What matters to me is that Tony is happy."
I think he is, he wanted to say. I hope he is. He still wasn't quite sure where things were going with Tony. He knew he wanted to spend every moment he could with him, and when he had listened to the two Jarvises discussing how to keep Tony safe, he had wanted to declare that he too would do whatever was necessary. He was pretty sure that Tony reciprocated his feelings, and he definitely felt physically attracted to Tony, another thing he was almost certain Tony felt for him as well.
But beyond that? He just didn't know.
Surprising him, Jarvis reached across the table and patted his hand. "Don't worry, Captain. You're doing just fine."
Afternoon found him in the enormous, deserted mansion on Fifth Avenue. All the Avengers were there, eager and curious to see the house where Tony Stark had grown up. Edwin Jarvis himself led them on the tour, sharing funny anecdotes when pressed for them, while looking a bit sadly at the shrouded furniture and covered windows when he thought no one noticed.
Steve found himself lagging behind the group more and more as the tour went on, and eventually he ended up standing alone in the room that had once been Howard Stark's study. He knew he should catch up to the others, but the past felt close today, and he wanted to linger here a bit longer.
He looked up and saw Tony standing in the doorway. "Sorry," he said. "I'm coming." He started forward, then stopped when he realized that not only was Tony not moving, he was in fact blocking the doorway, keeping him from leaving.
Tony gazed at him, unusually serious. "What made you think of it?"
"I don't really know," he admitted. "I was just talking to JARVIS and I asked how he got his name. It went from there."
Tony looked at him a bit longer, then suddenly approached him, moving fast, his hands already rising. He seized Steve's face between his palms and kissed him soundly.
Utterly shocked, Steve drew back a little.
Instantly Tony let go of him. He looked worried. "Oh God. Did I just ruin this? Please don't tell me I just ruined this."
"No," Steve hurried to say. "You didn't ruin anything. I was just… You surprised me, is all."
"Mmm," Tony murmured. "You had something else in mind for our first kiss, didn't you?"
Over the past few weeks he had in fact imagined it happening a hundred different ways, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember a single one just then. "No," he said truthfully. "This is just perfect."
"Good," Tony said, and smiled. "'Cause I'm gonna kiss you again."
"Okay," Steve said. And this time he did not pull away.
He half-expected Tony to deepen the kiss with sudden passion. Instead Tony kept it light and sweet, kissing Steve's mouth without asking anything in return. Then he was suddenly not there anymore, stepping back and saying, "Thank you. No one ever did anything like that for me before."
"Well, they should have," Steve said. He felt strangely bereft without Tony standing there in front of him anymore, warm breath on his lips. "You deserve it."
Tony made a face. "Yeah," he said, obviously meaning the opposite.
"We should probably go back," he said. "I don't want to miss the story about the dumbwaiter." If they hadn't already, the rest of the team would soon notice that they were missing. And then the stories they told each other would be about far different things.
"That one wasn't my fault," Tony said swiftly. "I'll swear that to my dying day." But there was a light in his eyes that meant he was having fun – and it struck Steve that he had seen Tony smiling more in the past two days than in almost the entire time he had known him. That was when he knew for certain that he had done the right thing in bringing Jarvis here.
"Well," he said with a smile, "how about you let me be the judge of that?"
Tony grinned. "You're on," he said.
"And then," Steve said, "maybe later, we could pick this up where we left off?"
Tony gave him a considering look, as though suddenly reappraising his idea of who Steve really was. "Yeah," he said. "That'd be good. That'd be real good."
Steve smiled. "It's a date."
They caught up to the others on the third floor, standing in what had once been a luxurious bedroom. Edwin Jarvis was just finishing up another story. He looked up as Steve and Tony drew near, and a small smile crossed his face.
"This is the room I told you about earlier." he said. "Where the puppy was hidden."
"Oh no," Tony groaned. "The puppy story? Really?"
"Quiet," said Clint. "I wanna hear about the puppy."
Jarvis continued to smile mysteriously. "Naturally, Mister Stark found out, although I will admit it took him far longer than I would have expected. Nonetheless, he did learn of the puppy's existence, and he was quite angry. He ordered Tony to take it to the local animal shelter."
The other Avengers looked at Tony, amused and curious and maybe seeing him in a different light all of a sudden.
"Let me guess," Bruce said. "He wouldn't do it."
"Of course not," Jarvis said. "What had been conceived as a prank suddenly became a matter of the heart. The animal that had formerly been just another being sharing his living space was in fact quite dear to him."
"Imagine that," Natasha murmured.
"Sometimes," Jarvis said, "even a genius can take a long time to see the obvious."
"Sometimes," Tony said. He gave Steve a sidelong look, and smiled. "But sometimes not."
Edwin Jarvis said nothing. He just looked at Steve and Tony, and smiled.
A man of singular wisdom indeed, Steve thought.