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To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Title: To Sleep, Perchance to Dream
Author: jaune_chat
Fandoms: The Avengers (film)
Characters/Relationships: Jarvis, Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Avengers team
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 6,611
Spoilers: Avengers movie
Content Advisory: none
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for a prompt atavengerkink. Part 5 of my Being Human series.
Summary: Jarvis is more than a bit different than anyone Tony has ever known. But he's not the only one learning how to live with him.

On Ao3 or below the cut


“Man of the hour!” Clint said, raising his glass as Jarvis appeared in the doorway.

“Getting hammered without me? I’m wounded,” Tony said, crossing to sit on the end of the couch.

“Yeah, hammered on mineral water, and stop stealing the spotlight, Stark.”

“We know how hard that is for you. Don’t worry, we’ll all help,” Natasha said. “Feel free to join in the therapeutic ego deflation, Jarvis.”

“Unnecessary, Agent Romanov. I assure you Ms. Potts has the matter well in hand,” Jarvis said. He sat down next to Tony and leaned forward, elbows resting on his knees as he regarded the others keenly.

“If you say so. I say it won’t hurt for Tony to be reminded that he’s not the leading authority on everything.”

“If that’s true, it’s only because I haven’t had a chance to learn everything yet. Give me time and I’ll blow your mind,” Tony said, grinning.

“Is he always like that when he’s concussed? Because if so I vote he sleeps off the attitude first,” Bruce said. He was more in his chair than on it, eyes blinking sleepily in post-Hulk lassitude, but there was nothing wrong with his mind.

“Not possible with Stark,” Natasha said. Tony chuckled and leaned over to pour himself a modest glass of scotch, which Jarvis abruptly plucked out of his hand.

“Hey! I was using that!”

“You should not be drinking with a head injury, sir,” Jarvis said mildly.

“We’re celebrating. I actually should be drinking, heavily, so if I could just get that back-.”

Jarvis passed the glass over to an amused Thor, who downed Tony’s fifty-year-old scotch like it was water. Tony didn’t whimper. Whoever claimed so afterward was a liar.

“You should take better care of yourself, sir,” Jarvis said. And under that mild, diffident voice was a note of steel that made Tony pay attention. Jarvis wasn’t exactly in the mood for games, particularly not after today.

“People have been saying that for years,” Natasha quipped. “Decades, even.”

“Is that an old man joke? You’re doing senior citizen jokes about me when we have a ninety-year-old frostbite victim and a thousand-year-old god in the same room?”

While Steve nearly snorted water up his nose laughing, Tony leaned back against the sofa, as far from the liquor as he could get without changing his seat, and swiped the offending water bottle before the man could drown. Jarvis nodded fractionally in satisfaction as Tony took a drink of something far less fermented than was his usual.

“So, just making sure I have this right, Jarvis, you can actually take over Tony’s suit when you want to?” Clint asked, once Steve had managed to get control over his lungs again.

“If circumstances warrant. We sealed the controls against outside interference after the incident with Anton Vanko, but there was always an override in place for emergencies. There was no need to remove it after I became aware,” Jarvis said.

“Every reason not to. Good job today,” Clint said. “Nice to know we have more people at our backs.”

“Aye, a fellow warrior in spirit, indeed,” Thor said, and thankfully was too far away to favor Jarvis with one of his bone-rattling backslaps.

“I do try, Agent Barton, and I thank you. Your accuracy with the drones was superb, as always. I do believe Master Stark is attempting some variations on your explosive arrows that you may wish to test if Dr. Doom attempts another robot attack.”

“Oh God, don’t start him on arrows or we’ll be up all night,” Natasha said lightly, and Clint snickered.

Tony used the water bottle to cover his amazement as the others talked. Jarvis slotted easily into the group, their conversation flowing comfortably around him. It took him a second to realize why they’d accepted him so easily; they’d never gotten into the habit of addressing the air and knowing they’d be answered with whatever they wanted. They’d never known Jarvis as a computer; they’d only moved in after Jarvis was flesh. Tony’s habits of ten years were hard to break, though it was getting easier all the time. But his teammates, even knowing what Jarvis had been, had no real preconceptions. Hell, Steve and Thor didn’t quite get the whole AI concept in the first place, and the others had never really dealt with one outside of a sci-fi novel.

“It’s entirely possible to get a faster recharge on your Widow’s Bite weapon, Agent Romanov, but I believe you would be better served with a reduction in the cartridge size so more charges can be carried. It would allow you greater versatility if you had less cause to ration your resources,” Jarvis was saying when Tony tuned back into the conversation. Natasha had raised an eyebrow as Thor had described her “little lightnings” taking down some of the ground-based ‘bots before she’d had to switch to bullets, and Jarvis had just leapt in there with a solution before the Black Widow could live up to her name.

Not that Tony wouldn’t have paid good money (with popcorn) to watch Natasha try her thigh-crusher headlock move on Thor, but that probably would have involved at least a broken coffee table if not full room destruction, and he really didn’t want to have to move from his seat right now.

“You can-? Scratch that, if you say you can do it, I believe you,” Natasha said. She shot Tony a look. “At least one of you doesn’t hold a grudge.”

“I never hold a grudge, ‘Natalie,’” Tony said, grinning.

“I believe there is ample evidence to the contrary, sir,” Jarvis said.

And with that, I’m kicking you all out of my living room,” Tony said quickly, before Jarvis could wax eloquent.

Jarvis had really odd views on privacy. Tony had sort of figured that out pretty quickly, but it hadn’t occurred to him to warn the others until… well, possibly now. Because Jarvis was used to watching all the security footage, and though he couldn’t do it all the time now, he still tasked JAMES to play him any alerts or highlights. He thought nothing of accessing anyone’s records, no matter what kind of security clearances were put on them, because he’d been the system core; he created security clearances. He’d seen everything on everyone, and if Tony had no particular parameters on it, didn’t scruple to keep quiet about it if asked. He had been programmed to serve as a database, after all.

Better to talk to him about that when the others weren’t around, though. And maybe not today. It had been a tough one for him.

--

Tony woke up at two a.m., warm, comfortable, Pepper a snug presence at his back, one arm flung over him. He checked himself and his surroundings, wondering why he was up – there were no messages on his phone, no subtle alarms from JAMES, no reason why he should be awake. Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to be able to get back to sleep easily, his mind generally started working too hard the minute he was up. He carefully extracted himself from Pepper, the arc reactor lighting her face in ghostly shadows as he settled her arm back on the mattress, making her stir in her sleep.

He padded out to the living room, and pulled up short at seeing Jarvis there, wrapped in a loose robe, hair sopping wet. He was bent over a tablet, scanning some article, eyes darting rapidly as he absorbed the words. Jarvis hadn’t been making any noise, but Tony knew suddenly why he was awake right now.

“Jarvis?” Tony said softly. When he got close enough, he saw that one corner of the tablet’s screen was taken up by a live video feed from the security cameras. Specifically the ones in Tony and Pepper’s bedroom.

Jarvis looked up abruptly and blanked the tablet. “Sir.”

“You doing all right?”

“I couldn’t sleep, sir. Or rather, I woke up again.”

Tony plopped himself down on the end of the sofa, and realized Jarvis smelled like the bubble bath that was in every bathroom in the Tower.

‘You don’t exactly seem like the soothing bubble bath type.”

“I am not, but Ms. Potts speaks highly of their calmative qualities.”

“Nor so much?” Tony surmised.

“I believe I will keep to showers from now on. I don’t know how to swim.”

“Well, that’s fixable.”

“Perhaps.” Jarvis set down the tablet reluctantly.

“You spying on Pepper and me for a reason?” Tony asked lightly.

“Just making certain you’re all right, sir.”

Tony bowed his head to hide an unexpected smile. He was certain Jarvis meant exactly what he said, but there again was Jarvis’ odd concept of privacy. Tony decided not to mention this to Pepper; she wouldn’t appreciate knowing there had been an audience to their festivities before sleep. Not that Jarvis hadn’t seen that before.

“I’m doing fine. I’m going to sleep insanely late tomorrow and take it all kinds of easy.”

Jarvis was quiet for a moment, and picked up the tablet again, stroking it into life. He turned it towards Tony and handed it over. It was… an article on dreaming.

“You’ve been dreaming?” Tony asked. He’d been wondering.

“I did at first,” Jarvis said. “That was why I slept very little; they were… strange. And after I was hurt, there were no dreams, so I slept longer.”

“And now you are again?”

“It was more… It was frightening. I saw you fall, and I wasn’t fast enough-.”

“Nightmare,” Tony said succinctly. He had a whole variety of images to choose from himself for those. Thank God Pepper was a world-champion nightmare-soother or she probably would have strangled him by now for waking her up all those times.

“I was doing research. I understand it’s normal, but I didn’t want to see it again,” Jarvis said matter-of-factly.

“Jarvis, you can’t always stop it. And didn’t you dream about, you know… Loki?”

“He is only worth remembering for learning purposes,” Jarvis said flatly.

If Tony was only able to do that… “And today? Or, technically, yesterday?”

Jarvis shook his head, water droplets flying everywhere. “Loki had no interest in me. I was merely a means to an end of harming you and those you count as friends. But I have-. I cannot-. I cannot stand to see you harmed. The idea of you not being here is unthinkable.”

Tony swallowed hard. Jarvis’ protocols were so solidly centered around Tony that if he died… That would be Jarvis’ nightmare, not being captured and tortured by Loki, but losing the person who’d made him what he was. That was how he’d withstood the pain when he’d never even felt it before.

“If I ever die-,” Tony began. Jarvis looked like he wanted to protest, but held himself back. “You can still help. You’re smart as me, you’d find a way. I’m not the be-all, end-all, as much as I say so. All the time. In every possible venue.”

That got a small smile out of him. “I would very much prefer you not die.”

“Me too. But you know it’s ok to do stuff outside me and all my issues, right? God knows I need your help, but no one’s on the clock all the time.”

“I was, sir.”

“Yeah, but you’re not, now,” Tony said firmly.

“The first time I chose to do something for myself, I was captured and tortured to be used against you,” Jarvis said sharply. “I allowed myself the luxury of recovery because I needed to be at my best, but since then-.”

“I am not going anywhere,” Tony said forcefully, stomach in a knot of guilt. He had to make Jarvis see that he could be all right, that he didn’t have to take on everything by himself. “I got a hell of a lecture from Pepper after the palladium incident, not to mention the nuke. And I’m damn sure you were recording both of them.”

Jarvis froze, eyes closed as he called up the relevant information and let it play in his mind’s eye. Both of those conversations had been heart stoppers, the first laying out ground rules for what they were going to have as something officially more than boss-and-employee between them, that trusting each other enough to talk about things like immanent death was respectful. Hence Tony’s last-second call while flying into an alien wormhole. He’d still paid for that one later, but Tony didn’t blame Pepper for that. Knowing that you’d probably have to live with your boyfriend risking his life on a regular basis to try to do the right thing was something Pepper had agreed on. Letting his team help him had been Tony’s end of the bargain. Tony was also pretty sure Pepper had had talks with his teammates, individually, about that deal. Jarvis probably had seen those too.

Jarvis finally opened his eyes, and Tony said, “I’ll make you the same promise I did her. I’m gonna go into some dangerous, knock-down drag-outs, but I’m not going in alone. And I’m trying to listen to advice.”

“Excellent caveat, sir.”

Tony grinned, but Jarvis still looked troubled.

“I wish I did not dream. It’s… disturbing.”

“So’s life. Dreams let you get off easy.”

“It doesn’t seem that way to me, sir. They are chaotic, unplanned, unscheduled-.”

Jarvis wasn’t used to not having full control of his memory, Tony realized. He’d never seriously glitched when he’d been silicon, because Tony was too good at designing him. No wonder he hadn’t slept much at first; Jarvis had so much crammed in his head that his human mind must have been doing backflips to try to keep everything on an even keel.

“I know it’s supposed to be normal,” Jarvis finished, staring down at the tablet with defeat.

“It is,” Tony said, trying to find words. He was used to getting up at odd hours and doing random things, but conversations like this, that were this important, didn’t come around that often.

“What do you dream about, sir?”

Tony longingly looked towards the bar, wanting alcohol before he even touched that subject, but Jarvis interposed himself with a stern expression.

“A lot of things,” Tony temporized. “Sometimes a rehash of the day with some Mad Libs thrown in. Sometimes just random strange shit. Sometimes old playbacks, Dad, Mom, school… the cave, desert. Obie.”

“Is there any pattern?”

Tony pointed to the tablet. “What’s your article say?”

“Emotional replays associated with current events, oftentimes with trappings of past events.”

“And other times I just don’t remember,” Tony said.

“I can’t not, sir. I can’t. I can’t delete, can’t defrag. It’s all very personal and immediate and it won’t always stop.” Jarvis paused and took a careful few breaths, stopping himself from hyperventilating. “It won’t stop, files- memories play randomly, associations are attached with them, emotions and images…”

Tony reached out to him, putting a hand on his arm, guilt and pride mingled inside of him. Guilt that he hadn’t anticipated all the layers of complexities of a computer-made-human, even if intellectually he knew it was impossible for him to have thought of everything. Pride that Jarvis was telling him, willing to not suffer in silence. He knew Tony would listen.

“Everything just hit you today?” Tony asked.

“Consciously, and forcefully.”

“Because I was in serious trouble.”

“Yes.”

Tony wanted to look away, but stopped himself. He could do this, he could figure out what to say, and he could damn well say it to Jarvis’ face. It was all things he’d been telling himself for years, more or less, things his therapist made him work on when there had been really bad days. Things that he didn’t tell the Avengers. “It gets better, J. I swear. I know you can’t defrag anymore, but the meat brain does let you deal. If it brings up something bad out of the blue, you pull up something good to counter it. Temporary override; makes it less intense.”

“Example, sir?” Jarvis’ eyes were very bright, his attention laser-focused.

“I get stuck in a dark place, someplace that’s like the cave, I remember Malibu. I remember Pepper.” Bright sunshine through the huge windows, spectacular sunsets over the ocean, Pepper’s hair gilded a brilliant, shimmering copper as she laughed. The depths of the cave-memories were less dark now, at least a little.

Jarvis thought about that for a moment and nodded. “I could see that working, sir.”

“Music helps me sometimes, too. Drowns out some things.” Tony ran a hand through his hair, ruffling up his bedhead even more as something else came to mind. “You ought to talk to Bruce.”

“Why Dr. Banner?”

“Anyone that figured out how to ask the enormous green rage monster inside him to come out when he wants probably figured out a few things to keep nightmares from popping up randomly.”

“Eminently sensible, sir. I shall consult Dr. Banner in the morning.”

“So, do you mind if I…?” Tony nodded hopefully towards the bar.

“Yes,” Jarvis said sternly. “I will not prevent you from risking your life to save others, but I will pour every drop of your unnecessarily expensive alcohol down the drain if you attempt to imbibe with a concussion.”

“You’re breaking my heart, J.”

“Hyperbole, sir.” Jarvis stood and pointed in the direction of the bedroom. “Sleep. Now.”

“You too,” Tony said, trying to look stern. He was pretty sure he failed spectacularly when Jarvis sat back down on the sofa and picked up his tablet again.

“Please?” Tony asked.

“It’s not entirely true, what I said earlier. I did once dream about Loki,” Jarvis said. “It was not quite a nightmare, though. I dreamed he sent me back.” Jarvis’ hand hovered above the tablet, and his expression couldn’t seem to decide between being angry or frightened or relieved. “It has not recurred, however.”

Tony caught a breath as Jarvis looked up at him somberly.

“Good night, sir.”

Even from here Tony could see the security feed was back up on Jarvis’ screen. He went back to bed and settled in next to Pepper, hugging her close enough that the light of the reactor was dimmed.

--

“You wished to see me, friend Tony?”

Thor took up entirely too much space in Tony’s rarely-used office. Tony would have preferred to talk to him in his workshop, or one of the labs, someplace where he could use his hands to distract him as he talked, but that wasn’t going to happen. Not while Jarvis was down there working and had a compulsive tendency to watch Tony closely. He’d rigged the cameras in here to run a feedback loop for a while just to give himself some privacy for this. Jarvis would probably hack it later, but that couldn’t be helped.

“Yeah, needed your opinion on something.”

“If it is on your technology, you know that is not amongst my gifts.”

“No,” Tony said, and plunged ahead with something he might possibly regret in the next five minutes. Not that that had ever stopped him. “It’s on your brother.”

“Ah.” Thor didn’t look angry, but merely nodded gravely. “You wish to ask about the nature of magic.”

Sometimes Thor’s insight was startling for a man who came off as a big, happy meathead. “Jarvis-,” Tony began.

Thor reached out and clapped a hand on Tony’s shoulder. “I should have realized such things would trouble you when you had time to consider them. Come.” Thor, perhaps unsurprisingly, led them to the outside balcony to continue their conversation. The night air was warm and sultry, but that never seemed to bother him.

“I have little in the way of Loki’s powers, you must know. There have been questions before, from the SHIELD agents, about the nature of my strength and toughness, of Mjölnir and my way of calling the lightning and storms. I am unused to thinking of it in your terms, I do not analyze it the way that you and my lady Jane does. I call for the power, keep my purpose keenly in mind, and then it simply happens. It is not an answer such as you are used to hearing, but it is all I may speak of myself.”

“And Loki?” Tony prompted.

“His magic is a deeper part of him. Knowing what I do now of his origins, I can only say he was born with the talent of magic. It does happen, and we of Asgard count it no different than one born with the gifts of strength or battle or song. Illusion, deception, and discord, those were always his strengths. But he practiced diligently, and learned other ways and means of focusing his will.” Thor looked meditatively over the lights of the city, eyes resting on the silvery spire of the Chrysler building next door.

“Does it ever… run out?” Tony asked.

Thor answered slowly, picking his words with care. “You fear he may banish your friend to the walls of your home again. I cannot swear to the answer, but I can tell you this – the battle illusions you saw Loki use never last long, for they do not need to. I saw this many times when we were children. But when Loki fell from the Bifrost-.”

“Bag of cats,” Tony muttered. Thor set his jaw slightly, but didn’t disagree.

“He fell through many worlds and became desperate and damaged. His magic always went where he desired most strongly, and clung where he bent his will. But once such power is truly unleashed, it takes on a life of its own, as my father’s did when he cast Mjölnir from me.” Thor turned to look back at Tony. “My friend, Loki cannot banish Jarvis any more than he could banish you. Freeing something is always easier than binding.”

The feeling of relief was so strong Tony actually felt dizzy for a moment, and he closed his eyes in silent gratitude.

“Even magic has rules, and even Loki must obey them. He made a gamble in giving your friend form, and lost because his spirit was too strong to break. That he will be angry at you both for thwarting him is certain-.”

“Yeah, but he never really seemed like the forgiving type,” Tony said.

“No. His heart is hardened.” Thor pulled off the dramatic brooding face pretty well, so Tony resolved not to mock him for it. He had good reason. And Tony had never had a brother betray him before… well…

“Sometimes you think you know someone…” Tony said.

“Aye?” Thor nodded at him to continue.

“Obie. Obadiah Stane. Practically raised me after my parents died. He tried to kill me three times.” Tony tapped his chest plate in explanation and hoped that Thor had done at least a little reading up on his teammates, because Tony really didn’t want to do a blow-by-blow retelling of the whole sickening mess.

Thor nodded in at least partial understanding. “And after the third?”

“I killed him, because he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop,” Tony said flatly.

Thor looked out over the city and set his jaw. “I have had such thoughts myself, but had hoped that somehow they would not come to pass.”

“Yeah, well, we don’t always get what we want.”

“And that is as true as in Asgard as it is here. I know I must be ready.” Thor turned back to Tony. “Friend, I believe you need not fear Jarvis’ dissolution. Only whatever complications would arise from his presence.”

“Already dealing with enough of that as it is,” Tony muttered.

“I doubt it not. He is a strange man, but a good one. Have I eased your mind?”

Tony nodded and braced himself for one of Thor’s hearty backslaps. At least he’d figured out how to deliver them in a way that didn’t bruise. Or throw him over the railing. Both would have been hard to explain to the rest of the Avengers.

“Thanks.”

“When I first came here, I could only see the differences, but truly our worlds have much in common.”

The sky flickered above them and Tony raised an eyebrow. “The weather guys are going to hate you.”

“It is not me this time, my friend. It is just a storm.”

--

“Hey Bruce, where did everyone go?”

Bruce looked up from one of the workout mats, where he’d managed to tangle himself into some improbable, pretzel-like shape.

“And where’d your spine go?” Tony added curiously.

“I learned some yoga while I was away. Good for stretching out after the other guy gets a playdate.”

“Honestly,” Tony tilted his head, “that looks more painful that the building that fell on you yesterday.”

Bruce laughed and rearranged himself into something approximating a person. It gave Tony a kick that Bruce was actually laughing about the other guy now and again, for which him, and everyone else, was grateful. Any lessening of the fear that lingered around one of his teammates was good in his books.

“I think they’re all down at the firing range.”

“What, someone challenge Barton again? They never learn.”

“Ah, well, yeah, and Steve was teaching Jarvis how to shoot.” The last was half mumbled as Bruce took a determined drink from his water bottle.

For a minute the words didn’t make sense – Steve was so one with that shield of his (Tony had joked he probably slept with it) that he idea of him with a gun was ridiculous. Then his brain kicked in. Steve had been (still was) in the army for Christsakes; the comic books were full of him shooting Nazis alongside the Howling Commandos. And he didn’t scruple to pick up weapons when he needed to; Tony remembered him picking up a rifle to fire back against Loki’s mercenaries, using Chitauri weapons against their owners in New York, turning Doombots to fire against each other. Jarvis had wanted self-defense lessons, and Steve was too smart to avoid what “made all men equal,” in the words of Samuel Colt.

He just hadn’t thought – what? That Jarvis would be willing to use lethal force? Tony hadn’t made the Iron Man suit to fire kittens and rainbows; he’d killed a lot of people with it. Deserving bastards, but still, dead at his hands. Jarvis helped him fire rockets and missiles, of course he’d want to be able to take matters into his own hands if he had to. What was in Tony was also in him.

“Guess I better go down there,” Tony said.

“I’ll pass. Bullets don’t agree with me or him,” Bruce said, arching back in a way that made Tony’s spine hurt.

“I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Hey,” Bruce added, before Tony walked away. “Jarvis did talk to me.”

“Yeah?”

Bruce’s raised eyebrow (even though his head was upside down with his neck pressed into the mat) made it pretty clear that he wasn’t going to kiss and tell any gory details. “He learns fast.”

“I know,” Tony said sincerely.

--

Tony shoved the earmuffs over his head as he stepped onto the visitor’s area of the range. Natasha was practicing firing two guns at once – a Hollywood trick that usually meant accuracy suffered. Which was true unless you, one, worked at it, two, were damn good, and three, were firing at big targets. She was all three. The Avengers’ enemies always seemed to favor size and quantity.

Clint was practicing long range trick shots with his rifle; the bow wasn’t his only weapon, though it was his favorite. Even at simulated ranges of “there’s a target over there?” he was hitting. Other SHIELD agents in the visitor’s area were exchanging money whenever he made a shot, much to Tony’s amusement. If anyone was dumb enough to bet against Barton making a shot, they deserved what they got. Or lost.

Steve and Jarvis were down at the end, using the slightly modified Glocks the SHIELD agents favored. No one could have matched Clint, but Steve was still extremely consistent, putting shot after shot right in the center mass. Next to him Jarvis was watching carefully. When Steve had expended his rounds, Jarvis stepped up to the line and raised his weapon. There were a lot of advantages to having a photographic memory; his stance looked good, and he was very determined to do this. Carefully Jarvis aimed, fired – and nearly did what most rookies did, drop the gun. He stopped, reset, and tried again, the weapon bucking in his hands. Accuracy was not going to come easy, from the looks of it.

“Tony?” He jumped when someone touched his arm. Natasha of course, and she’d had the completely unfair advantage of having him being partially deaf from the hearing protection on top of his attention being elsewhere. “Didn’t expect to see you down here. I didn’t think you shot.”

“I used to design guns for a living,” Tony reminded her shortly, eyes on Jarvis. “I know how to shoot.”

“Hmm,” Natasha said thoughtfully. “I knew that, but you don’t come off as a gun guy.”

“I did the testing, I didn’t bring them home with me.”

“Why didn’t you teach him, then?”

“I’m out of practice with handguns.” His attention was barely on the conversation, and he answered her almost absently.

“And why not ask me or Clint? Steve doesn’t exactly have the kind of experience we do.”

“You’re out of his league. If Jarvis ever needs to shoot like Clint, we’re all seriously fucked.”

“And you’re worried we might corrupt him with our horror stories,” Natasha added blandly.

“He doesn’t need any more horror stories,” Tony said quietly, almost unheard over the gunfire.

“Bullshit, Tony.”

“What?” he turned to look at her.

“You already told us he basically has the entire SHIELD database in his brain. With perfect recall. He knows more horror stories about me than anyone but Fury. You don’t need to protect him from that.”

Tony looked back to the range, where Jarvis was frowning as he ejected his spent clip and put in a new one.

“You don’t trust me,” Natasha said with a snort. “Tony, Steve could break his arm by accident. He spars with Thor, for crying out loud.”

“Bullshit back at you,” Tony said. He’d gotten over at least one or two of his hang-ups about her in the months the Avengers had been together. She knew he trusted her to watch his back by now.

Natasha smirked. “I’m not suitable for all audiences, is that what you’re saying?”

“I’m saying I’d rather he got his instruction from someone whose idea of hello isn’t to put you in a thigh crusher headlock.”

She grinned openly. “Good answer.”

Tony blinked and turned to look at her, drawing his attention briefly away from Jarvis. Natasha was more subtle than this; he’d spent a week or so convinced she was just a girl from Legal, and if she hadn’t needed to, he figured he would have never known otherwise. If she was poking at him so blatantly that he’d noticed, she must figure he deserved a heads-up.

“Are you picking my motives apart for you or Fury?”

Natasha raised an eyebrow.

“Never mind, I don’t want to know. Keep Fury away from Jarvis. What I did to Loki is nothing compared to the number I’ll do on him if he tries anything.”

Out on the line, Jarvis ejected another spent clip, looking frustrated. Steve’s mouth moved as he spoke some words of advice or encouragement, but Jarvis’ expression didn’t change. Tony saw him staring at the gun and back to the target in a rapid cycle and abruptly walked towards the door to the range.

“I can see where the shot is supposed to go, but it won’t-,” Jarvis was saying to Steve, frustration clear in his voice.

“Jarvis,” Tony called, making them both look up as he approached them. “You’re doing the math right, but you have a whole new set of variables.” Tony tapped Jarvis’ wrist as he spoke.

Jarvis blinked and looked down at his hands. And blushed.

“I see, sir.”

“Test runs, and a lot of them. Once you get more data sets, then you can solve the equations better.”

Jarvis nodded and picked up a new clip. “Thank you, sir. Pardon, Captain, I have new test data to acquire.”

Steve looked at Tony like he’d just spoken Greek, but Tony just shrugged. “Tell you out there,” he said and jerked a thumb to the visitor’s area.

“What was that about?” Steve asked, once they were out of the range proper.

“Jarvis helps me with targeting in the Iron Man suit. He forgot that the firing mechanism wasn’t computer-guided here.”

“He…” Steve worked that out slowly, “forgot he had hands?”

“It’s all VR in the suit. It’s like a video game.”

“Oh,” Steve said, wincing. He continually got thrashed at Avengers’ video game nights, despite his good hand-eye coordination. Tony figured if they ever added Jarvis to that mix, he’d probably smoke them all.

“He forgot he had to compensate for recoil and fatigue and adrenaline,” Tony explained.

“Ah. You know, when you try really hard, you can actually speak English.”

“Cap has learned to snark back. I’m so proud,” Tony grinned.

“Can it, Stark.”

“No can do. It’s permanent.”

Steve looked thoughtful as Jarvis patiently squeezed off clip after clip, steadily improving each time.

“But he doesn’t have trouble, you know, moving around or eating or anything,” Steve said questioningly.

“Life or death, it’s a little different than eating rice.”

“Yeah,” Steve said softly. “I hear you. We talked about that.”

Tony looked at him sharply. “About what?”

“Look, you told me once that we’re not soldiers-.”

“Well, we’re not.”

“But I know, and you know, what it’s like to lose someone. I lost my best friend, Tony, he just slipped through my hands. Jarvis put his life on the line for you, and he came really close to dying-.”

“Tell me something I don’t know, Cap,” Tony snapped.

“And he knows what that means right now. Same as you when you took the nuke. He wanted to be able to not have that choice taken from him.”

“Last time that happened to me, I became a superhero,” Tony said, deliberately keeping his voice very even. Steve had the decency to look abashed. “I know why you took him down here. Believe me, I’m trying to keep up with him.”

“It’s kind of your own fault. You made him as smart as you,” Steve pointed out.

Tony didn’t answer that. He wanted Jarvis to not have to feel like he had to hover, and if this helped…

“You want to make him an honorary Avenger, Cap?”

“Honorary, hell. I don’t want you flying without him,” Steve said firmly.

“Deal,” Tony said instantly.

Out on the range, Jarvis ejected another clip, and slapped another in. He took a few deep breaths and raised the gun again. And put five shots directly in the middle of the target without pausing.

“Looks like he just solved that equation,” Tony said, with entirely pardonable pride.

The look on Steve’s face was worth every penny Tony owned.

--

Tony stepped into the workshop and stopped dead. It wasn’t the VR constructs that were scattered all over the place that had startled him, but the warped, artificial sounds that were pinging off everywhere, the fast, driving beat, the unmistakable sounds of synthesizers…

“Jarvis, what are you doing?” Tony asked, loud enough to be heard over the music. If you could call it music.

Jarvis turned away from the screen, blinking in a way that told Tony he hadn’t even heard him come in. He’d been so deep in his work that it had taken Tony’s voice to recall him. And that… was kind of encouraging. It had been almost two weeks since the nightmare incident.

“Pause,” Jarvis said, and the workshop went silent. “I was compiling test data, sir.”

“No, I mean with the…” Tony waved his hand vaguely in the air, as if trying to point to the absent music.

“Listening to music, sir.”

Tony crossed to the screens and scrolled down the current playlist with a growing sense of horror. Techno, electronica, trance, dear God, dubstep. Tony didn’t think he’d listened to any of that since the last time he’d been clubbing, and then he hadn’t gone for the music, but for the company. And the booze. Where were the rock albums? Jarvis had several solid days, if not weeks, of classic rock Tony had downloaded into him years ago.

“New stuff?” Tony asked neutrally.

“I’ve been sampling, yes, sir. I find I like this kind of music.”

Tony felt vaguely betrayed. “And what about AC/DC?”

“It’s well enough, sir.” Jarvis was smirking. Tony was positive about that; it was subtle, but it was there.

“‘Well enough?’ Are you kidding me? Some of the greatest music of this century, and you’re discarding it for…” Tony waved his hands, seeking words. “Synthetic music?”

Jarvis was starting to smile even as Tony challenged him, and Tony was privately delighted at the fact that Jarvis had found something he liked that Tony didn’t. Tony couldn’t stand much in the way of techno. It was a point of difference. It was a sign of independence. It was totally unexpected. Tony fucking loved that.

“I do enjoy the cutting edge, sir, rather than let myself be mired in the past,” Jarvis said.

“Ouch. We’re going to have to settle this through a battle of the bands. Amp to amp. Blow the whole workshop up. It’s gonna be brutal.”

“Or one of us could use headphones, sir,” Jarvis said.

“Nope, gotta blow the speakers out of the wall. Only way to do this properly.”

“You will lose spectacularly, sir, if I do say so myself.”

“I’m gonna get Thor to judge. The god of thunder is the only possible person to handle this.”

Jarvis started laughing as Tony pulled up his own playlist and started to place a call.

“No need, sir. Truly. As amusing as it would be, I don’t believe Dr. Banner would appreciate a decibel battle.”

“Eh,” Tony let himself be coaxed down, despite the awesome potential of said battle. “You’re probably right. Next Halloween bash, we’ll do it then.”

“Of course, sir. Something so frightening should be left until then.”

“You’re sassing me,” Tony said, incredulous.

“Quite so, sir.”

“What put you in such a good mood?” Tony asked, pulling a set of earbuds out of a drawer and setting his iPod to download.

“I had a very good night’s sleep, sir.” Jarvis quickly brought up another spread sheet he’d been working on and moved it into place. “And a very interesting dream.”

“Yeah?” Tony was intrigued, and leaned back against a table to give Jarvis his full attention.

“I… wanted to thank you. I am not- it cannot be easy, with everything I don’t know…”

“We’re the Avengers. ‘Not normal’ is kind of our normal.”

“Very true, sir. They have helped.” Jarvis looked at Tony carefully. “Each of them have helped. I have allies I did not anticipate.”

“Good,” Tony said firmly. “But if anyone gives you shit, you let me know.”

“Assuming I did not get extremely petty revenge in my own fashion?”

Tony laughed. “Even after that.”

“Very good, sir.”

“What was the dream about?” Tony asked.

Jarvis shook his head slowly. “The content is not important. But I wasn’t afraid.”

Tony just smiled as the techno began to play again, pinging around the workshop in a joyful cascade of artificial sounds. He thought that maybe it could grow on him.

-----------------------
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