The knife was out of her hand before she was even conscious, and Natasha woke to see it buried three inches deep in her suite door, a couple flecks of dust falling from the fresh damage.
The AI’s computerized voice came from the hidden speakers in the room, which meant she had probably thrown the weapon at the door as a default, since she hadn’t been able to pinpoint a source of the noise. “I beg your pardon, madam. You requested me to alert you the moment Agent Barton and Dr. Banner returned to the tower. Both are well, Agent Barton has a minor laceration in one arm, and Dr. Banner is suffering his normal symptoms that affect him after a change. They are both heading to their suites now and have assured me they are fine. Body scans to verify general health support this.”
Natasha nodded as the AI finished his report. “Thank you, JARVIS.” She glanced at the door. “Put in an order for a new door for me, please.”
“Of course. Forgive me, madam, I attempted to awake you in as calming a way as I could manage.”
She adjusted her position in the bed, drawing her knees up and resting her elbows on them. “It’s fine, JARVIS. I just might need to have a door made of something different.”
“Is there perhaps another way I could wake you that would not startle you? I have access to any recordable sound you prefer.”
“How did you do it, anyway?”
“I addressed you quietly.”
JARVIS had an unexpectedly soothing voice, given the smooth cadence and tone, so if that still had her arming up…
She gave it thought for a minute. To be honest, the closest she ever came to not throwing her knife at the door when she was awoken unexpectedly, was—
“No. I don’t think so.”
There was a moment of pause, as if the AI were thinking, which was just silly. “No sounds at all?”
Natasha was going to pin Stark down next time she saw him, and interrogate him as to whether or not his “butler” had some kind of lie detector.
With a sigh, she ran her hand through her shoulder-length hair. “Could you take a recording from inside the house?” 'House' meaning the 93-story sky scraper they all lived in when it suited them.
“Of course, madam. So long as it did not bend the boundaries of impropriety.”
“Clint’s voice.” She said quickly, before she changed her mind. “Ask him first, but Clint’s voice. I’ve never put a bullet in him when he’s woken me up, so that’s your best bet. Also, knocking, if you can manage.” The idea that someone was knocking, and therefore not actually in her room, might help.
She almost had the sense that the voice in the ceiling was nodding, tucking that bit of information away. “I will do so, madam.”
“I really hate being called madam. Could you call me something else?”
“Would you prefer Ms. Romanov? Miss? Agent Romanov? Ma’am?”
“Around the others, Agent Romanov is fine. But in here… Natasha.”
“Of course, Natasha. Shall I inform you when I have obtained a recording from Agent Barton?”
“No need. Just use that next time you need to wake me up in the middle of the night. Increasing the light from the windows works just fine in the morning.”
“Very well. Good night, Natasha.”
“Sir, a new door needs to be installed at Agent Romanov’s suite.”
Tony cocked an eyebrow. “She put a bullet through it?”
“She awoke armed, as you expected, and lodged a blade in the door.”
“Oh, she sleeps with a knife in her hand. I was totally expecting a gun. Okay, let’s get a new door, get one that’s thicker. How long was the knife she threw?”
“Five inch blade, sir.”
“Hmm. Putting some kind of padding would probably be too bulky. Should we try for a metal sheet?”
“If I may, sir, I believe that may not be needed as yet. She informed me of a way that may not inspire such a response next time.”
Tony nodded, a bit distracted as he worked up an update for the chest RT in the suit. “Yeah, what?”
“I don’t believe she would be comfortable with you knowing, sir.”
That got his attention. “It’s not kinky, is it? Because if it is, I insist on you telling me.”
“No, sir. Just personal.”
“Oh. Okay, do that then, but ask her in the morning if she’d like something on the door to make it tougher. We can find something. Or a target, if she’d enjoy that more.”
“Yes, sir.” There were a few moments of quiet, save the mechanical sounds of Dum-E and U working on cleaning off one of the fabrication machines. “It is nearing four in the morning, sir. Ms. Potts is still sleeping quite lightly. Might I suggest retiring for the night?”
Tony sighed and glanced over the work he’d done so far. “Yeah. Might as well. You won’t let me focus and she’ll give me hell in the morning if I don’t. I know you’ll tattle.”
There was sarcasm in the AI’s voice was. “I would never, sir.”
“Uh huh. Have the bots take a break too, they’re just scuttling around hoping I’ll let them play with the suit.” It was their favorite toy, even if Tony only let them wipe it down with cloths.
“As you wish, sir.”
Tony stood up, stretching his arms over his head as he slowly made his way to the door. “Oh, JARVIS? Did Bruce find the new stuff in his tea cupboard?”
“He did, sir. He expressed his thanks at the addition of the raw sugar and new tea blends.”
“Good deal. Make sure to keep him stocked, and ask him occasionally if there’s anything else he’d like in there.”
“Good night, sir.”
-Tony and Pepper's Suite-
“How’s the Captain sleeping?” Tony asked as he reviewed the materials request he’d been making, combining all the lists in the house that everyone jotted things on, noting the addition of twenty new punching bags to the list.
“Little, and not at all soundly. I believe nightmares plague him, as his behavior is similar to yours when you suffer them.”
“Well, that would run about par for the course in this tower. Did he respond to your poking about the issue?”
“Not in so many words, but I do have a conversation on record that he had with Agent Barton. Apparently his mother used to sing him Irish lullabies when he was a child.”
“I’d bet there’s all sorts of stuff online, recordings and such.”
“I have made a list of possibilities. Shall I speak to the Captain about them or implement them as needed?”
“Hmm. I don’t know. Whichever would freak him out the least. Not sure he’d find a random stranger’s voice singing in the dark all that comforting.”
-The Tower Gym-
With a snap of metal and a spray of sawdust, the punching bag went flying across the room, skidding to a stop twenty feet away.
His chest heaving with exertion, Steve didn’t even wait until it stopped moving. He was already trudging over to pick up a new bag to hang up.
Three punching bags later, Steve’s knuckles were pounded bloody, even with his accelerated healing, and he had to either call it quits or deal with the unpleasant effects in the morning. Chest heaving, he hauled the spent bag over to the door to sit with its brothers, waiting for the custodial staff to carry them away and sweep up the remaining sawdust. Steve used to bring a broom with him from the kitchen and clean it up himself, but Tony had insisted he stop doing that because it made his staff feel bad for Steve.
In the locker room, he took a seat on one of the long benches between the lockers and the showers, and started untaping his hands.
“Captain Rogers, if I may?” The synthesized voice spoke through the ceiling.
“Yeah, JARVIS?” Steve located the end of the tape on his hands, unwinding the twisted, sweaty strip.
“Please pardon me if this is a sensitive topic, but is there any way I might assist you with your trouble sleeping? Meditation techniques, white noise, music, better sound-proofing in your quarters?”
Steve shook his head, automatically turning the AI down without considering it. “Nah. Thanks though.”
The AI didn’t reply, but Steve had the definite impression it was still “there.” He glanced at the ceiling, even though he really had no sense of exactly where to look. “JARVIS?”
“Why do you ask?”
“Part of my programming is seeing to the welfare of the residents of the tower. Your well-being a is a concern of mine. Assisting you with anything that would improve your overall health would be my pleasure.”
Steve made a noncommittal noise and continued unwrapping the tape. When he was finished, and ready to head to the showers, he paused. “JARVIS? You still there?”
“I am, yes.”
“Do you think… maybe music?”
“Of course, Captain. Anything in particular I might find?”
“Anything nice. Calm, quiet, you know.”
“I will provide an assortment, and a program you can use to filter out what you like. Please don’t hesitate if you require anything further.”
“Yeah, thanks JARVIS.”
“My pleasure, Captain.”
“Cap sleeping any better, JARVIS?” Tony asked as he worked on a new proto-type for a gesture-controlled suit, pretty much ignoring the eggs that he'd just reheated for the second time that were now going cold again at his elbow.
“He does seem to wake less often at night, and not be as restless, yes.”
“Good to hear it.”
“Agent Barton does seem particularly protective of his cell phone, yes, sir.”
Tony was in the middle of a check-in with JARVIS as he replaced a wheel on Dum-E’s chassis. “And it’s on the fritz?”
“Based on his colorful language and number of times he’s banged it on various surfaces, I would assume so.”
“Have a new, upgraded model ordered for him. No, do a few different ones, so he can pick one out. Make sure transferring information from his old phone won’t be a hassle, or he won’t change over. He likes his tech simple.”
“Hey, JARVIS, what are these?” Clint asked, noticing the four cell phones lined up on the table by the window. He dumped his bag of gear on the floor by the bed and walked over to it as the AI replied.
“Ms. Potts dropped them off this morning, Agent Barton. Mr. Stark has ordered new phones for the Avengers, should you wish to use one. He has been employing better voice command systems for easier use, and greater data storage and usage.”
“Cool, I’ve was just about to get a new one. Are these rigged with booby traps and call recording so he knows if I call an adult hotline?”
“No, Sir takes offense to his own data being hacked and tampered with, thus his phones are void of, and resistant to, invasions of privacy.”
Clint picked up the third phone, liking the smaller size and real buttons as compared to a flat screen he couldn’t feel out. “Huh. Never would have thought Shellhead had it in him.”
“Sir, Agent Barton selected a phone from the models Ms. Potts left, and has activated it. He seems pleased.”
“Great. Oh, let him know I’ve got a prototype for the new splinter arrow he talked about. It’s in the range.”
“I shall, sir.”
Up at the outdoor shooting range, Tony stood off to the side, leaning against a wall as Clint looked the new arrow over. He looked impressed, but who wouldn’t? Stark tech was coveted the world over.
“It’s like you’ve worked with weapons before, Stark, who knew?” Barton shot him a smirk, twiddling the splintering arrow prototype in his fingers.
Tony smirked. “I don’t know where you would have drawn that assumption from.”
After a test shot, and some input from Clint, the two headed back down to the lab and Tony noticed Clint’s new phone.
“How’s the phone working?”
“Oh, great, I like it a lot. Short of games though, what’s up with that? At least throw some Candy Crush on there. I have a lot of downtime when I’m hanging around here.”
Grinning as they entered the lab, Tony pulled up the schematics for the splinter arrow, fingers tapping on the holographic keyboard to put in the adjustments. “JARVIS, set him up with a game store or something.”
“Of course, sir. Agent Barton, do I have permission to proceed with a one-way data transfer to your phone, including the installation of Candy Crush?”
“Yep, hit me.”
“Hang around for a sec, Barton, I’m machining a shaft with a reduced width, we’ll see if you like it better.
Clint shrugged and seemed perfectly content with perusing the contents of the new game store on his phone while he waited, and Tony had just sent one of the bots to retrieve the newly machined arrow when Barton suddenly looked like he’d realized something. “Hey, Stark?”
It took Tony a minute to process that he was being talked to, absorbed as he was reviewing the footage of the arrow from the shooting range, then he popped his head up. “Huh?”
“Why did JARVIS ask to put that stuff on my phone? You didn’t have him just do it all sneaky?”
Tony glanced up from a revolving 3D projection of the exploded view of the arrow. “Your phone, your business. Not my place to dig into it.”
“Oh. Well, cool. I appreciate that.”
Bruce busied himself getting a glass canister of sugar out of the cabinet while Pepper poured steaming tea into stout mugs and JARVIS carried on a conversation with her.
“I have confirmed your flight for tomorrow, and a driver has also been arranged.”
“Will you be requiring any food to be prepared for you tonight or tomorrow morning?”
She set the teapot back on the stove. “Nope, I’ll be up in plenty of time.”
“Are your allergies still bothering you?”
Pepper smiled a little as she carried the mugs to the table. “Tell Tony I’m fine.”
JARVIS' voice definitely sounded like it was smiling. “I will, ma’am.”
Teaspoon in his hand to spoon out sugar, Bruce was looking at the ceiling with a peculiar look on his face.
“What?” Pepper asked, sliding the mug of tea towards him. He seemed to shake himself, adding a spoonful of sugar to his tea and nudging the canister towards Pepper.
“Tony was having JARVIS ask those questions?”
She smirked a little. “Yep. Whenever they start to get detailed or personal, I know Tony’s behind it.”
“Why doesn’t he just ask himself?” Bruce took a careful sip of the tea, nodding his appreciation.
“Because he’s Tony. He feels weird about letting people know he cares, and usually people feel even weirder when they think he does.”
Bruce thought that over for a moment. “Pepper… how much of what JARVIS says to us is Tony?”
“Knowing him? Probably a lot.”
“So when JARVIS starts asking me what kind of teas I’m interested in having in my room, and if I want the raw sugar I like and what kind of energy bars are my favorite…?”
Pepper smiled in that way she only did when she was thinking about Tony. “I’d put my money on it.”
"Sir, Ms. Potts insists she is ready for her trip tomorrow. Shall I confirm delivery of the package at the hotel tomorrow?"
"Thanks, J. We specified no strawberries in that, right?"
"We did, sir. No strawberries."
"Great. Pull up the schematics for Veronica. I had an idea for using an orbital delivery system, wanna run it by Bruce..."