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Purpose

Title: Purpose
Author: jaune_chat
Fandoms: The Avengers (film)
Characters/Relationships: Jarvis, Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Avengers team, Fantastic Four (guest stars)
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 6,247
Spoilers: Avengers movie
Content Advisory: none
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for a prompt atavengerkink. Part 9 of my Being Human series. Art done by the amazing and talented LePeru.
Summary: When there are attacks on both the Avengers and the Tower separately, Tony and Jarvis have to work on their own to make sure everyone survives.

On Ao3 or below the cut


“I swear it never rains but it pours,” Steve said, thumping his helmet down the final fraction onto his head and grabbing his shield as he ran up the ramp to the Quinjet.

“Aye, but not rain this time,” Thor said. “Rifts, was that not what the report said?”

“Yeah, interdimensional rifts. Pouring out giant deer with scales and antlers,” Clint said, and lifted as Natasha gave him the thumbs up.

“Bilchsnipe? Ah, this will be a fun battle today, my friends!” Thor said, looking delighted. “A firm enough hand upon them and we should be able to drive them back without difficulty. They are simple-minded creatures, though quite strong.”

Bruce muttered a curse under his breath. If Thor said they were strong, it might end up be an all hands on deck situation. Steve threw him a sympathetic glance as Bruce started shrugging out of his shirt and shoes. No need to wreck more clothes than he had to, since at least he was forewarned that the Other Guy might get a chance for some first-class smashing.

“Sir, the rifts were supposed to be centered upstate, yes?” Jarvis said in Tony’s ear.

“That was the plan,” Tony said. “And your words fill me with foreboding. What’s up?”

“I’m picking up signatures compatible with Doombots in the same area.”

“Fuck me,” Tony said softly. If the arrogant Dr. Doom was double-teaming with other-planar herdbeasts, this was not going to be a fun morning. Dr. Doom did not play well with others, and if he was doing that...

“Tony, can you buy us some time?” Steve asked. “We’re right on your tail.”

“You guys need a faster jet, just saying,” Tony said, as Jarvis kicked him into supersonic speeds.

“Tell me about it!” Clint said, and poured on every bit of speed he could.

--

“Sir, I’m going to tell you something upsetting, but please keep your attention on the battle while I speak,” Jarvis said suddenly. Tony’s gut clenched with unease, but he kept his head up and circled around the newest “bilchsnipe.” Which wasn’t actually a bilchsnipe, according to Thor, but rather some kind of cyborg powered by the extradimensional equivalent of a temp-diff engine, being controlled with Doom tech. On the one hand, at least it wasn’t a genuine Asgardian invasion, which would have looked bad on Thor’s people. On the other, no one knew the capabilities of Doom’s newest toys, and they were everywhere and spreading out fast. Apparently the “extraplanar rifts” were just some kind of energy source, rather than a doorway, at least this time. Thank God for small favors.

“Jarvis, what’s going on?” he asked.

“Sir, there’s a complication at home. There is a group of apparent human mercenaries, approximately two dozen of them attacking the Tower. They just arrived, are trying to break in, correction have breached Tower security. They’ve blown through the wall of the twentieth floor, I’ve already initiated evacuation procedures…” Jarvis reeled off the violation of Avengers’ Tower with a calm and measured voice even as Tony’s stomach plummeted like he’d just gone into free-fall.

Even with that shock, Tony’s mind was still working. It was Sunday, thank God, so there weren’t many people there. Twentieth floor was storage for old records with minimal security. Which whoever-it-was had known.

“Personnel are evacuating down, hostiles penetrating up. I’ve locked the elevators, funneling hostiles with the blast doors. They’ve brought high explosives. I won’t be able to contain them.” Jarvis’ voice was cool and detached, and Tony could practically see him working the smart glass boards for Tower security as well as Iron Man, eyes flicking between the two.

“Stark, you taking a nap up there? We need help!” Steve called.

Jarvis hadn’t broadcasted to the team. He trusted them; why hadn’t he broadcasted to the team?

“Sir, they are coming up. I believe their target is the workshop vaults.”

Tony felt the ice in his gut turn into pain. The workshop vaults held all the iterations of the Iron Man suit, all the experimental tech he’d been working on, and everything they’d collected from aliens and evil geniuses. It had Tony’s private server, JAMES’ primary server, and, most importantly, Jarvis’ control room right next door. The vaults were a damn fortress, but they had the biggest surprises inside for the ruthless. Tony hadn’t wanted to put all his eggs in one basket, but spreading out the tech was even more dangerous than keeping it all in one place.

Whoever was coming had realized the roof defenses were formidable, enough to make an aerial assault too costly. Fighting their way up from below might be tough, but not impossible, if they were willing to spend enough effort and manpower. Tony’s defense scenarios for the vaults had always included himself, other Avengers, or even some S.H.I.E.L.D. agents in a pinch. He hadn’t thought of this worst-case scenario – everyone else in a fight for the lives of the eastern seaboard and the Tower a distant second concern. He’d always been ready to sacrifice the Tower if he had to, activate the burn function on the vaults once Jarvis was tucked in the control room, but-.

“Pepper!”

Pepper was with Jarvis, watching Tony in action. Pepper was there. Pepper was in the line of fire. Anyone ruthless enough to blast their way through Avenger Tower might be willing to blow their way into the panic room too. It was secure enough against all but the Hulk at his angriest, but whoever was attacking had come with explosives to spare and no moral qualms about using them. No. Tony felt himself dropping, and turned towards home.

“Stay aloft! Do not divide your attention. They are counting on you to be vulnerable.”

Tony turned his awareness back to the battlefield, letting his targeting computers show him where he needed to point his missiles and repulsor rays to cover his teammates. It was automatic, his mind elsewhere. Thor flew by, pulling on a cyborg blichsnipe’s antlers and forcing to the ground, while three Doombots dogged him, pestering him with attacks and keeping him reacting instead of taking any initiative.

“J, screw the vaults, burn them and get yourself and Pepper out, now!”

“We cannot abandon the vaults, sir. There is too much here, too much to rebuild. It would leave you vulnerable.”

“I can rebuild the tech, I can’t rebuild you or her,” Tony said. “If they can’t get their hands on the tech, they could try to take you both!” Even if no one really knew who Jarvis was, Pepper’s relationship with Tony was well-known. Trying to take the vaults might have been secondary; kidnapping Pepper and luring the Avengers into a trap could be their first goal. Why else would they have waited until the Avengers were irrevocably committed elsewhere?

“They will not take us. You know I have alternate ways of defending the Tower they cannot predict. I will keep us safe.” Jarvis sounded positively fierce. “Sir, I’m putting JAMES in charge of Iron Man.”

Steve shouted over the comm, sounding a little desperate, and Tony had to yank his attention from Jarvis. He banked, fired, and fired again. The attacks were getting worse; the Doombots and cyborgs were not stopping, and no one had seen Doom himself yet. There was no time to argue with Jarvis, no time but to do anything but fight with all his concentration, lest he lose someone else here and now.

“Fight hard, J,” Tony said, throat tight. “Pep-.”

“We’ll be fine, keep going!” Pepper broke in. Tony smiled very tightly and there was a soft click. JAMES’ voice took over the commentary, deeper than Jarvis’, with a soothing, plain Midwest accent.

“Stark, what the hell is going on? You’re on autopilot,” Clint demanded.

“Tower’s under assault. Jarvis is handling it,” Tony said shortly.

There was a silence on the comms as everyone handled the newest incoming wave of bilchsnipe cyborgs and their Doombot riders.

“Tony, Pepper’s there,” Clint said softly.

“I know.” Duck, bank, fire, fire, roll, fire. Six more Doombots down, and no end in sight.

“How many?” Clint asked.

JAMES flashed up the appropriate information in front of Tony’s eyes, and Tony could feel himself blanch.

“Two dozen, armed with automatic weapons and high explosives.”

Steve, Clint, and Natasha could read that tactical situation easily. The Tower was formidable, up to a point. You couldn’t build a skyscraper like a bunker. There was always a way in if you didn’t care about everyone knowing you’d been there. If you were willing to sacrifice a lot, there was no limit to the damage you could do.

“Tony-.”

“We need everyone here,” Tony said flatly. Jarvis had been right on that account. If Tony left the field, there was no one left to pursue high-flying ‘bots, and no one wanted to risk Doom taking over the Quinjet if they tried to dive in, guns blazing.

“No, we don’t.” Banner’s voice. Tony looked around to see Bruce walk fearlessly out of the grounded Quinjet, bare-chested and barefooted. They’d been keeping Bruce in reserve once they’d realized Doom was around, just in case they needed Bruce’s scientific expertise to counter him, rather than the Hulk’s strength. But right now…

“Time for the big guns, right, Cap?”

“Bruce…”

“I got this, Tony. We got this.”

“Stark, stay here. Hawkeye, Widow, back to the Tower on the double.”

The Hulk roared as Bruce let him out to play, and as the Doombots-and-company turned to stare at the new threat, Clint and Natasha ran from hiding, dove into the Quinjet, and were gone in fifteen seconds flat.

“Tony, we ready to go?” JAMES asked.

Tony was sure the pain in his stomach wasn’t going to go away at all. Jarvis was supposed to keep his secrets safe, and he was doing it again, doing it right now, what the hell, he should have made sure Jarvis and Pepper left-. But Jarvis wouldn’t leave Pepper in any danger. Hell, Tony realized with a pang, Pepper had been designated Jarvis’ secondary controller back in the day; just one more thing Tony had programmed into him and then forgot. Crap.

Pepper wouldn’t let him do anything too reckless. Jarvis always had been his more conservative half. Tony just had to make sure the Avengers kicked Doom’s ass fast enough to get back to the Tower in time to help.

“Let’s do this,” Tony said, and dove, strafing battered Doombots in the Hulk’s wake.

--

Jarvis stared at the readouts and desperately wished the numbers would cooperate. The intruders were not slowing down in their steady, upward climb, despite the obstacles he was throwing in their path. Most of the security measures in the Tower were defensive, not offensive, which was understandable considering the majority of the inhabitants were civilians. They were used to locked doors, not lethal laser nets. And locked doors were not helping.

Various aerosol deterrents hadn’t worked either, as the full facemasks and breathing apparatuses the intruders wore deflected the effects from tear gas and knockout gas. A single attempt at using a remote taser had come to nothing; the man had been wearing a vest that short-circuited the charge. Whoever these men were, they were highly prepared for any normal security measures.

Which meant Jarvis would have to be unconventional. He had to use what was on hand in a way they could not expect and would not anticipate. He dismissed the security programs to run on their own and pulled up the rest of the Tower systems. He tapped his fingers on several of them and nodded. Yes. He wouldn’t be able to use most of them until the intruders were closer to the vaults, and by then his options would be very thin and every mistake costly. But there was no other way.

Logically he should get himself and Mrs. Potts into his control room, seal the door, burn the vaults and wait. But he couldn’t leave the workshop undefended, nor destroy the vaults, not in good conscience. It was not simply a matter of loss of data or progress, though that would be considerable. Burning the vaults would mean destroying the remaining suits and JAMES’ primary server. The AI had many more servers, of course, scattered across other Stark Industries sites, but this was where Jarvis had programmed his replacement. Losing the primary server would cause a momentary hesitation before another would pick up the slack, and in battle, every moment counted.

Jarvis tapped into the holographic projectors and the PA systems, and quickly accessed the encrypted radio channel the intruders were using. The men were too professional to say anything but coded tactical moves over the airwaves, but that wasn’t what Jarvis wanted access for. He spun up everything from recent projector memory, and selected a loud, driving selection of music and ruthlessly pushed the volume past the danger level.

“Jarvis?” Mrs. Potts asked softly, watching him work.

“The tactics of the intruders and their suspected goal indicates they intend to either capture the vaults or you. What I intend to attempt to slow them down will cause damage, possibly death,” Jarvis said, and looked over at her. Mrs. Potts stared fixedly at the screen, tracing the progress of the intruders. He could see her expression change as she ran through the possibilities in her own mind and come to a conclusion.

“We don’t have a choice,” she said, tight-lipped and pale as she nodded.

Like a magician in one of Agent Romanov’s favorite fantasy movies, Jarvis spread his hands in wide, arcane gestures. In the corridors where the intruders were penetrating, glowing holographic constructs: Iron Man, arrows, gears, circuitry patterns, whatever had been in memory, rushed the intruders like a swarm of angry bees. The music blasted from the wall speakers at a painful, deafening level, and the men winced and yanked out their earpieces as Jarvis fed the music through there as well. Disoriented, half-blinded by the moving lights, mostly deafened and unable to communicate, a couple of the more panicky criminals began to shoot.

Jarvis watched dispassionately as friendly fire felled three in his initial assault. He was more worried about the rest that kept going, shoving in earplugs and pulling on sunglasses. They hadn’t altered their course. They were coming straight for them.

Even if Mrs. Potts and he were to burn the vaults and retreat to the panic room control center, would the intruders leave? They had shown themselves to be ruthless and dedicated. Despite the obstacles Jarvis had thrown in their path, they were still well-supplied with RDX, C-4, and other explosives. They could do an immense amount of damage without even touching the vaults directly. Their goal could be as simple as gaining an unassailable vantage point and ambush site.

Right then Jarvis wished for some of his former capabilities. He wanted to run facial recognition on the dead men and discover their employer, but didn’t dare divide his attention now. He had only minutes until the intruders were at the workshop, and his light-and-sound assault had been more effective as a surprise than an ongoing deterrent.

There was something else he could do. He could fight. He could defend himself and Mrs. Potts and hold off the attackers. There were ways, weapons here that he could use, that might level the field between their superior numbers. And it would provide a way to save Mrs. Potts if all went wrong.

“Mrs. Potts, we have to move.” Jarvis kept the projectors and speakers going as he went into the workshop. He remembered to breathe so he wouldn’t start his hands shaking, Jarvis pulled up the holographic interfaces for the other Iron Man suits. They had limited power, for it was too dangerous to keep them all battle-ready in case of events like this one, but what was there might be enough. Realistically, he needed JAMES for what he was about to do, but the AI was helping Master Stark, and Jarvis knew intimately how much processing power that demanded. He was on his own. Almost.

“Jarvis, what are we doing?” Mrs. Potts asked.

“Saving ourselves.”

She nodded, determined under nervousness and fear, emotions Jarvis had been quite familiar with. “How?”

Jarvis spun up a floorplan and pointed out where he needed her. “I’ll need your help here, in case of a crisis.”

“Just tell me what to do.”

“We will take the fight to them.” Jarvis put his hand on his own chest for a moment and recited three well-worn, hard-learned facts in his head. Single server. No back-up memory. Death equals irrevocable deactivation. If he were to fail, he would not be able serve his purpose here. And that was unthinkable. At all costs, he must prevail.

Another explosion rocked the room, and Jarvis and Mrs. Potts put their plan into action.

--

Tony was not in a good mood. “Would someone tell Richards,” he said, in between blasting yet more fucking Doombots, “that the next time his frienemy decides to make a splashy entrance he is required to show the hell up and help?

“Seconded,” Steve said grimly, catching his shield briefly only to fling it again.

“Doom stupid,” the Hulk declared, ripping apart the tentacled metal monstrosity that had tried to grab him. “Can’t win. Knows he loses.”

Somewhere across the battlefield, behind a nasty energy shield the Avengers had yet to penetrate, Doom yelled something that sounded angry and righteous. Tony ignored him and flew closer to Thor, flanking the latest cyborg-extraplanar experiment. This one seemed to be spewing out more little flying Doombots with every breath, and Tony wanted it pulped yesterday. It flinched when Tony strafed with his repulsors, howled when Cap’s shield took off part of its face, and screamed when Thor’s strike made it stumble back and vaporize against Doom’s shield.

Doom shouted again and light erupted from his little energy bunker. The Hulk howled and bounded over, trying to stomp on the light source.

“Hell,” Cap swore, as the Hulk’s roars took on something like consternation. Not good. Not good at all. This damn battle was looking to drag on all afternoon, and Tony was having a harder and harder time staying focused on the here and now when half his heart was back in New York under attack.

“Stark!”

Tony did a mid-air turn in surprise – that was not one of the Avengers, or Jarvis, or Pepper, or any of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s comm officers. Who else had his channel?

“Stark, it’s Reed Richards. I’m sending you a frequency; tune your repulsors to it and it should cancel out that device Doom’s got.”

“Where the fuck are you?” Tony demanded. “We’ve got someone trying to steal from the Tower on top of your boyfriend having his bi-annual hissy fit.”

“We’re in orbit, long story, just use the frequency now!” Richards said.

“JAMES, match it.”

“Done, Tony.”

“Cap, clear the decks, Richards sent us a present,” Tony called. Steve dove out of the way and Tony powered higher, making sure the path between Doom’s shield and him didn’t intersect with the Hulk. Tony’s teeth rattled as he fired, his repulsors not designed to hold that frequency, but he really did not want to spend a second longer here than he needed to.

The Hulk roared in triumph as the blast popped the shield like a soap bubble, Cap and Thor tossed their weapons together, and Doom fell, sprawling against the remains of his equipment. Just like that, the Doombots went berserk and started frantically tearing each other apart.

--

Natasha eased through a blown-out blast door as Clint disappeared upwards to tackle the mercenaries from an unexpected angle. She had to sidestep a dead thug almost immediately – the man had gotten a round between the eyes, and not a neat one either. It looked like a panic shot, something ripped off in the heat of the moment. The holographic projectors were active here, and wire-frame constructs were bounding off the walls in a rhythmic pattern with the loud techno music. Tony didn’t have any lethal deterrents up here, but the unexpected light and sound must have startled the intruders to the point of a lethal response. Inwardly she smiled; she was really going to like seeing the security footage.

She found two more dead further along the corridor, and finally spied the first of the guards around a corner. Grim-faced, she waited until Clint’s arrow took down the first one, and then rushed the second as he turned to look at what had happened to his partner. The rhythm happened easily now as they double-teamed the intruders. Sometimes he was the distraction, sometimes she was, but between the two of them they worked through the outlying guards, moving closer to the workshop until there was only one left, at the bottom of a short flight of stairs. Whatever Jarvis had done had eliminated their communication systems, and between that and the echoing music, he never heard her coming.

Natasha slid to a halt, using her momentum to swing herself off the railing and into the man’s blindside. He went down hard, the back of his head bouncing off the floor, and she used her Widow’s Bite to make sure he stayed down. There was only one more turn to the workshop, and that had been the last visible guard.

“Nat, perimeter is secure. Looks like the rest are inside, and sounds like they’re having a party,” Clint said in her ear.

“Let’s crash it,” she said softly, knowing he’d read her lips even if she couldn’t hear him over the music, and moved soundlessly to the corner. Now she could hear the thuds and crashes of what sounded like a knock-down, drag-out brawl, and her eyebrow rose. Jarvis and Pepper had been alone. So unless both of them had managed to increase their ability to fight a half-dozen men at once, something else was going on here. Not that Natasha expected anything less, given what she’d found in the hall.

She glided soundlessly down the corridor, checking for traps or any other nasty surprises and finding nothing but the workshop door blown out of its frame. And inside, a veritable melee. For a wild moment she thought Tony had somehow managed to get back here, because there was a suit of armor throwing punches into a surprised crowd of six men. Except it couldn’t possibly be him, she realized a second later, because there were three suits of armor (her mind brought up the numbers automatically: Mark III, IV, and VI) all fighting identically, like dancers in a deadly cabaret. They formed a living wall of lethal machinery between the intruders and the rest of the workshop, and the dark-clad mercenaries’ attention was on them, not on her.

Natasha flicked her eyes to the back of the room and saw Jarvis, lightning bending around him a tri-colored holographic interface, punching, throwing elbows, kicking, and blocking, the armors imitating his every move. Even with identical movement, the armor was holding back the tide, but she could see the men were starting to get the rhythm of Jarvis’ moves.

LJ Art - Purpose Jarvis 1

She knew why the mercenaries hadn’t shot the armor yet – their guns couldn’t get through the alloy, and they probably didn’t want the all-important suits damaged. But why hadn’t they shot at or at least tried to wing Jarvis? They were armed, he wasn’t exactly hiding, and they had certainly proved themselves ruthless when they’d scaled and blown into the building to create a door, then persistently blasted their way up here.

But… no. He could use the armor. They didn’t know Jarvis, but he’d just demonstrated that he knew how to use the armor, and remotely at that. That made him as valuable as Tony and far easier to take. And Jarvis wasn’t stupid; his ability to use the armor was keeping him alive, whether he held them off or not.

Where was Pepper? If Jarvis was valuable enough to keep alive, then he was safe enough for the next ten seconds. Natasha looked further back, against the wall, and narrowed her eyes. Jarvis was only using three of the available suits. The Mark I was a display piece, the Mark II had been turned into War Machine, the Mark V was the suitcase armor, which wasn’t independently powered. Tony was wearing the Mark VIII… Natasha’s eyes widened. Pepper had to be inside the battle-damaged and refurbished Mark VII.

“Agent… Romanov…” Jarvis voice broke in over her comm, breathless and desperate as his eyes made a brief connection with hers. On the other side of the room he was red-faced and sweating, starting to pant with the exertion. “Help!”

There wasn’t any arsenal in the old suits, and they weren’t at full power. No wonder Jarvis hadn’t tried to use the repulsors yet. If he fired and missed, he’d be down all the suits and dependent on something a lot less tough to fight against trained commandos. Except now he had Hawkeye and the Black Widow.

“Pull the trigger!” she said, and threw herself flat. Intel could wait, and there were others still alive out there. The repulsors flashed in a lethal rainbow, and the workshop was filled with the stench of frying meat as the mercenaries went flying. The suits collapsed, their power drained, and the lights disappeared around Jarvis.

“There’s more-,” he began, reaching for his side holster. Natasha rolled back up to her feet and shook her head after she’d taken a careful look around.

“I took out seven. Clint?”

“Eight,” he said, somersaulting down from the ceiling and giving her an “all clear” hand sign.

“Show off,” she said affectionately.

One of the mercenaries grunted softly and started to move, his arm scorched and bleeding from the repulsor. In a flash, he had Natasha and Jarvis’ guns, Clint’s arrows, and Pepper’s repulsor pointed at him as she stepped away from the wall. He gulped and dropped flat again. Natasha moved forward and casually shocked him into unconsciousness before checking the remaining bodies.

“The rest are gone,” she said. She bound their hands with zip ties anyway, though, before divesting them of weapons. She didn’t know if these guys were associated with Doom, and it would have been fantastically annoying to have avoided death by cyborg bilchsnipes and ended up being ventilated by some tech-enhanced gun-for-hire who’d been stupid enough to try to take the Tower.

Jarvis reholstered his gun and flicked at the air. A holograph flashed into existence; reading backwards, Natasha could see it was the security report from the Tower, and a window to Tony’s HUD. Several areas were flashing red on the Tower report, but there was nothing moving. No active hostiles were being tracked, but Jarvis was double-checking anyway. A quick glance at Tony’s face showed a triumphant grin. She breathed out a silent sigh of relief; they were all right.

“You good?” Clint asked, arm over his nose as he reached down to double check the half-charred body of one of the intruders. Jarvis flicked his eyes down to them, looked vaguely irritated and disgusted, and looked away.

“Fine, Agent Barton. I have alerted S.H.I.E.L.D. everything is under control. They are sending a clean-up team.”

“Nice job on handling these guys. Where’d you get that idea?” Clint asked, waving at the suits.

“Real Steel, Agent Barton,” Jarvis said matter-of-factly.

Clint grinned. “Love that movie.”

“Why didn’t you suit up?” Natasha asked curiously. If he’d gotten Pepper in a suit, why not himself? Why hadn’t they run?

“No time to reconfigure the armor to suit me. I needed mobility more,” Jarvis said, sounding distracted as he continued to stare at the hologram.

“Jarvis?” Pepper called plaintively, her digitized voice sounding odd coming from an Iron Man mask.

“Stay inside Mrs. Potts, until we’re certain the danger has passed,” Jarvis said. “It may take several minutes, please be patient. Master Stark is all right.”

“All your initial targets are accounted for?” Natasha asked, as Pepper sighed in relief.

“Yes.”

“Are you expecting that they slipped one by you?”

“No,” he said, and minimized the holographic window. He lowered his voice to a mere thread. “Mrs. Potts does not need to experience the full aftermath.” The smell, she knew he meant. The smell of charred human flesh was something that stuck with you forever.

There was a part of Natasha, a very vocal, very logical, very large part, that was quite glad Jarvis was seemingly having no difficulty in having just killed or helped cause the death of nine men. A small, rarely-heard part, beaten down and nearly trained out of her, wondered if he should have a qualm, at least the first time.

Jarvis looked up at her and caught her eyes. “This is not the first time I have killed, Agent Romanov.”

She didn’t blink, just nodded. He’d been with Tony the first time he’d gone on a mission as Iron Man. Together they’d killed a dozen men, and Jarvis hadn’t even had a very immediate emotional stake in the outcome. Later, well, he’d helped Tony kill again, and the stakes had been much higher for both of them. This was small in comparison.

“Why didn’t you run, Jarvis?” Natasha asked instead. “I know Stark has failsafes on the vaults.”

“I have to protect them,” Jarvis said simply.

She flicked her eyes over to the vault. “Stark’s secrets?”

Jarvis looked towards the vaults, hesitated, and finally beckoned her to come with him. In a minute, he had the door open, and she stepped inside. It was full of experimental bits of tech, alien artifacts, trophies and devices seized from supervillains, with the large blocks of servers against the walls. She recognized most of the tech from one battle or another, or from her own reflexive spying on Tony’s workshop (purely in self-defense). Between those, the suits, and what the servers contained, this was the sum total of Tony’s life work in a room. She looked around and bent to look closer at what looked like a dead server in the corner, not remembering when they’d last liberated an evil genius’ computer.

“Jarvis, what is this?” she asked.

“It is… I suppose you could say it was my womb,” Jarvis said very softly.

Natasha jerked her hand away immediately. “Your server?”

“One of many, but that was my first.”

“Sorry,” she said, tucking her hand away.

“You didn’t know,” he said, nodding graciously.

This room was what Jarvis had been tasked to protect, back when he’d been-. Natasha looked over at the dead server. How strange to think that Jarvis had been born out of that. It had been only… Natasha calculated, surprised at the total – only a year and a half since she’d become an Avenger. And for a year of that, Jarvis had been there, a sudden new presence, and even a friend. She hadn’t had cause to be as suspicious of him as she’d been of everyone else she hadn’t known, because he’d been created. He’d been built, crafted from the ground up for a purpose, and naïve about certain aspects of life in a way that couldn’t be counterfeited. She understood him better than Tony realized, better than anyone other than Fury or Clint had about her.

Jarvis, at least, had known his purpose when he’d been made. She’d been honed, aimed, and fired ignorant of her purpose for years. And when she’d learned, and broke free to let others aim her for a price, the freedom itself had been more important than deciding what to do with it. She hadn’t had anyone to tell her to find a purpose, to use her freedom for what she needed or wanted for herself. No one had let her know she could be something other than an indiscriminant weapon, until Clint. Until Fury. From what Tony had said, he’d been willing to let Jarvis go, to open his hands and let the butterfly fly free. But Jarvis had stayed, perhaps partially out of wanting the familiar, and partially from his original programming, but also from respect. Tony had given it to him, and Jarvis had given it back tenfold, the same she had done to Fury, once she’d figured him out.

“You need a few alternate moves,” Natasha said, surprising herself.

Jarvis raised an eyebrow slightly. “Master Stark kept me away from you training me directly for fear you’d frighten me.”

“He’s probably right,” Natasha warned.

“I can no longer afford unreasoning fear in any arena. You took down more enemies than I with minimal weaponry.”

Natasha considered that for just a few heartbeats. “You don’t want to be trained the way I was. Trust me.”

“I know. I truly do.” He tapped his head and she nodded.

“But I can still show you a few moves.”

“Very good, Agent Romanov.” Jarvis flicked up the holographic window again. “But if you will excuse me, we have to alert Master Stark as to our success. The other Avengers have managed to tie up Dr. Doom to their satisfaction.”

“I really hope they mean that literally,” Natasha muttered.

--

“Tony.”

Tony nearly jumped in mid-air again as a woman’s voice spoke in his ear. “Natasha, what-?”

“We’re fine, everything’s under control over here. All intruders dead or neutralized, and S.H.I.E.L.D.’s on their way to get them.”

“Truly, we’re all right, sir,” Jarvis broke in.

“Swear!” Pepper added.

The force of relief nearly made him dizzy, and he let JAMES hold him up while he sagged inside the suit in relief.

“Agents Romanov and Barton were invaluable in our success,” Jarvis said sincerely.

“I’m throwing us all a party,” Tony declared with heartfelt enthusiasm. “And Doom’s not invited. Neither is Richards. Ben and Sue can come, though.”

“I notice you didn’t say anything about Johnny,” Richards said, sounding more amused than annoyed.

“Sorry Richards, but your brother-in-law is a dick.” The massive bitchfest between him and Steve during the last S.H.I.E.L.D. Christmas party had only been funny for the first five minutes. After that, even Tony had found Johnny’s attitude insufferable. Pepper had said it was because Johnny and Tony were too much alike.

Tony had kinda been forced to agree with her.

“…True,” Richards agreed with a sigh.

But at least everyone else was on the same page.

“Uh… you know we don’t have a ride home now,” Steve said, looking around uncomfortably as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents began arriving in vans and trucks to deal with the shredded cyborgs and Doombots, as well as Doom himself, with not a Quinjet in sight to whisk the Avengers back to the Tower.

“Hulk going home!” Suiting words to action, the Hulk took a massive bound that had him clear of the battlefield, and possibly half the county.

“Big Green’s got the right idea, ‘cause I’m not waiting for the rest of you,” Tony said, and blasted towards home. He had waited quite long enough, thank you.

“Thor, buddy?” Steve said hopefully over the comm.

“Hold fast, Captain. I shall have us home on the wings of the storm,” Thor said solemnly. Tony could see the clouding building behind him as Thor whirled his hammer and took off flying, a red, white, and blue figure clutched in his arm.

Tony didn’t even laugh at that (though he did snap pictures for later blackmail purpose). There were a lot more important things to look forward to.

--

Pepper was taking this well. No, very well. A lot better than any previous life-threatening event she’d ever been forced into. Of course, that probably had a lot to do with the company.

“You suited up?” Tony repeated, grinning as Pepper told him how she and Jarvis had fended off the mercenaries.

“Just backing up Jarvis,” she said from the circle of his arms.

“Real Steel in triple time. It was cool,” Clint piped up from the far side of the room, where he was regaling the others, and being regaled with (by Thor), each other’s battles.

“Your own attacks and those of Agent Romanov showed their customary panache, Agent Barton,” Jarvis said.

“You used holograms and dubstep to defend the Tower. That is panache,” Tony said, smiling.

Right then the pizza arrived, distracting the others with the smell of cheese and garlic. For a minute, Tony, Pepper, and Jarvis were alone in a little bubble of quiet.

“Yeah?” Tony asked softly, giving Jarvis an opening.

Jarvis nodded, his gaze steady. “I am well, sir. I signed up for this, as it were. So did they, in their own way,” he nodded vaguely in the direction of the blown-out blast door at the end of the hall. “They made their choice and chose to gamble with their lives against the Avengers. They were the first to bring lethal weaponry into play.” He shrugged. “They chose to lose.”

Pepper gently loosened herself from Tony to give Jarvis a hug. “Thank you, J.” He was startled, but it was the good kind of startled. Tony joined in, one arm around Pepper’s waist, his other around Jarvis’ shoulders, and heard Clint suddenly quip, “Aww,” in a tone that was meant to get a rise out of him.

Tony gave him the finger behind Jarvis’ back and simply held his people close.

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