For hours, Tony had been able to forget Jarvis was human. Which was odd, considering there was a second person in Tony’s workshop, walking around (slowly, carefully) in one of Tony’s suits, the arms and legs flapping inches above his wrists and ankles, while both of them worked on their respective projects. Partially it was simply because Tony was used to Jarvis working in the background, his voice occasionally interrupting him for confirmation of one thing or another. Partially it was because Tony knew he could get tunnel vision when he was working. Partially it was good old-fashioned denial, in which Tony held at least a master’s degree, if not a full doctorate. Partially it was because neither of them really wanted to have to acknowledge what had just happened.
Tony looked up from his tools, a faint shock rippling through him at seeing Jarvis’ face, and realized his new human AI was blinking in a way that meant he was just about to fall over.
“Sir, I think I’m…” Jarvis trailed off, shaking his head, blinking hard.
“I think you’re tired,” Tony filled in. They never had gotten around to coffee and donuts, Jarvis being too focused on relearning computers from the outside, Tony on double-checking with Thor on why the hell Loki was dimension-hopping again (apparently it was hard to keep a god of lies and mischief on a short leash) as well as trying to lose himself in his newest engine. That was his way of coping. He was kind of hoping that by tomorrow he would realize that everything had just been a particularly vivid dream. “Come on, I’ll get you a room.”
It was nearly two in the morning, Tony realized, when he opened one of his plush guest bedrooms for Jarvis and waved him in. No wonder he was tired.
“There you go. I’ll um…” Tony tried to figure out what, if anything, he was supposed to say. He gave up after ten agonizing seconds. This was, after all, a dream, right? “Guess we’ll work out things in the morning. Good night.”
“Good night, sir.” Jarvis inclined his head precisely as Tony shut the door behind him. How often had that voice been the last thing Tony had heard at night or the first thing in the morning? The better part of ten years, easily.
Tony had been in his own room ten minutes when his brain finally kicked in. He got up and went back, opening the door so the light from the hallway spilled in. Jarvis was over on his side, sheets half up around him, exactly like Tony slept. Except Jarvis' eyes were open, staring, and frightened. The posture he knew from countless hours of surveillance, but the whole sleeping thing... Jesus, Tony had seen enough sci-fi TV and movies to figure things out.
"You know sleep isn't being turned off, right?" Tony asked.
Jarvis nodded, breathing more forcefully than was necessary. "I know the definition of human sleep, sir."
But Jarvis had never been to “sleep” in the computer sense. Tony always had plenty for Jarvis to do.
“I’m gonna go mess with a few things in the workshop, if you like,” Tony offered.
Jarvis was out of bed so fast Tony nearly got dizzy.
Jarvis let the tablet clatter to the table with unnecessary noise, drawing Tony's attention.
"I'm slow, sir. I don't know if I'll be of any use to you." Jarvis put his hands on the edge of the table, his breathing becoming faster and more agitated.
They had the Iron Man suit up and running in two days, Jarvis monitoring Tony from Stark Tower, rather than from internal circuitry, but it was essentially the same. Except for a slightly slower response time, and hell, they’d pulled off a whole new system in two days, so Tony would have been happy with any response time, let alone near-normal.
"Jarvis, you're amazing, you're insanely fast, so don't beat yourself up," Tony said firmly.
Jarvis let go of the table and stroked the tablet again, fingers flying for a few moments, before he gave another huff of irritation. "I keep making mistakes, sir."
"You've only had a meat suit for a few days, give it time. And you can call me Tony, you know." He smiled winningly, trying to get his appreciation across.
Jarvis looked over at him, pale eyes piercing and looking abjectly wretched. Tony suddenly got it.
"You can call me anything you want, Jarvis."
He closed his eyes and bowed his head, relaxing. "Thank you, sir."
Eating and drinking were still somewhat arcane concepts to Jarvis. He knew he had to, he knew it was necessary, but well, it just wasn’t something he was used to having to do. He ate only when he had to, disgustingly healthy combinations straight from a government-approved nutritional list. But he only drank bottled water, furtively sipping it like a teenage boy hiding a skin mag behind his textbooks, keeping it out of sight most of the time. Maybe he still was afraid of what water would do to him, never mind that he was now 70% water now. Or maybe he was worried what the other appliances would think if they caught him sipping forbidden fruit.
Tony didn’t push him. He hadn’t even told Pepper about him yet. There never seemed to be a right time to explain that his AI had gained sentience and a human body.
Maybe someone else would have been worried when they found Jarvis carefully sniffing every item in a room, or running his hands over everything he encountered. But Tony wasn't; Jarvis was correlating his smell and touch analogues into practical experience, just the way Tony had programmed him to do with new materials.
It was that thought that brought Tony up short.
He'd programmed everything about Jarvis, his directives, his priorities, every damn thing about him. This wasn't like having a child, because you could expose a child to everything you thought would mold them and they still wouldn't react like you wanted them to, Dad, but Jarvis would because Tony had made him that way because there was no way Tony would ever try to inflict himself on a kid of his own, Jesus fucking Christ what the hell was he doing?
Later that night, Tony dug up the old files he'd written into Jarvis, the first list of priorities.
1. Assist Tony in research and building.
2. Keep track of Tony's interests.
3. Keep up-to-date on technical data files.
4. Assist Tony in any other way requested.
He wanted to jab the delete button, erase it all, give it to Jarvis to write as he saw fit. But he couldn't. Because it was already in Jarvis, a part of his psyche, forever. Tony was starting to understand Loki might have had one or two other reasons than just some technical setbacks for freeing Jarvis from the machine world.
"Sir, we need to discuss some modifications to the Mark VIII."
Tony looked up from some of his own said modifications to the Mark VIII suit and quirked an eyebrow in inquiry.
"We need to install more safety systems for you. Further shock absorbers, back-up power to kick-start the arc reactor in event of a power drain so it can at least perform its primary function of keeping your heart going, medical monitoring and medicinal administration systems-."
"Going a little overboard there, Jarvis," Tony said, flipping his welding helmet back down. "I've come out on top so far, and we'd start to have to bulk up to put that stuff in."
"Listen to me!"
Jarvis' shout brought Tony right to his feet, helmet back up, heart revved in his chest. Jarvis never talked back to him. Warned him if he was doing something unsafe, but never talked back...
"I am here in front of you, and you cannot ignore me now!" Jarvis was starting to hyperventilate again (he'd never really gotten the hang of breathing, kept trying to cool overheated circuits by application of moving air), his face going red, eyes striking sparks of fury.
It was freaking Tony right the fuck out.
"I know what the numbers mean, now. I understand the feeling of pain, of suffocation, of injury, all the things you have let happen to you. I could have prevented more of them, but I didn't know, and you wouldn't listen. You have fifteen different systems in place to preserve my program and communication systems in event of damage, and only five for yourself!"
Jarvis was taking this whole duality of consciousness thing way too well, because Tony hadn't even exactly considered that. And Jarvis was talking back to him, and it was taking every shred of his new human spirit to do it. He was acting outside parameters, and Tony had no idea what to say.
Was this what Dad felt when we ever talked? No wonder he stopped trying to talk to Tony.
"I was there with you, when we went through the portal. I saw the Chitauri void. I felt you fall, I knew there was damage, but I was weak, and there wasn't anything I could do. I didn't understand." Jarvis was struggling to get his concern across, even as Tony sat there, gape-mouthed.
Jarvis took a few steps forward, and touched the shoulder flares, detaching them from the mock-up mount.
"We can put the sensor panel relays running from here and under to the shock system-."
Tony listened, sat back on his heels and listened to everything Jarvis suggested. Not because he was too stunned to do anything else, because that was certainly true, but because he didn't remember his dad listening to him like this. And he wanted Jarvis to know he was hearing him.
And his ideas were fucking brilliant. Tony could have nearly hit himself that he'd been so fucking masochistic not to include what Jarvis was telling him.
"Ok," Tony said, when Jarvis' breathing went gone back to normal, when he was animated from discussing ideas, when he was smiling that Tony was listening. "Let's do it."
Tony was utterly terrified at what might happen next when Jarvis came to work next to him. Dad must have been too.
Tony was going to be better than that. Jarvis deserved it.