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Trials of Man - Chapter 2

Title: Trials of Man
Author: jaune_chat
Fandoms: The Avengers (film)/Marvel Cinematic Universe
Characters/Relationships: Jarvis, Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Thor, Clint Barton, Avengers team, Loki, Odin, Frigga
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 17,069
Spoilers: Avengers movie, some background elements from Thor 2
Content Advisory: Violence, manipulative bastards
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Thanks to brighteyed_jill for betaing! Written for journeystory. Part 11 of my Being Human series.
Art Link: Monkiainen’s awesome wallpaper!
Summary: When the Avengers are called to Asgard to testify at Loki’s trial, Jarvis has a chance to confront the man who caused so much change in all their lives. What he learns is something no one expected.



“J, you up for this?”

Jarvis blinked and refocused his attention on Tony as they stood awkwardly around a circle in Central Park, near Nordic-style runes burned into the pavement from the last time Thor has used it as a highway. Jarvis had been extremely quiet the whole week after Thor had broken the news, going around the Tower so stealthily Tony had resorted to using J.A.M.E.S. to track him. He’d barely talked to Tony the few times he’d come into the workshop, noodling around with some schematic in such a focused way that any subtle concern just bounced off of him. Tony recognized that maneuver all too well, and wondered sometimes why Pepper put up with him. But judging from his pattern of movement around the Tower, Jarvis hadn’t exactly wanted an audience. Tony could totally give someone their space when they needed it.

“I am able,” Jarvis said. “And… I am nervous.”

“You and me both,” Tony muttered. Jarvis got a hint of a smile on his face and lost a little of the stiffness he’d been carrying in his shoulders as Thor and Dr. Foster exchanged a final kiss before he strode to the center of the circle.

Pepper, Dr. Ross, and Dr. Foster had come to see them off, their last support system except for each other. They were not going to the trial, but then again none of them had been witnesses. (Thank God none of them had been witnesses.) Bruce and Betty were talking, their hands tangled together, when Pepper tugged on Tony’s arm.

“Try to stay safe?” she asked.

“Always.” Tony tapped the suitcase armor at his feet, his best promise of not doing something too stupid. There were levels of trust between them, and certain things they wouldn’t say, like “I’ll be fine,” “I promise I won’t get hurt,” and “Of course I won’t forget that appointment.” But that he’d try, yes, always, and with everything he had. Tony gave her a kiss and a smile, squeezing her hand as she smiled back. As he stepped back, Jarvis stepped forward and pressed something into Pepper’s free hand. She looked down, startled, and Tony saw Jarvis’ earpiece and AR monocle in her palm.

“I won’t be need them, and I must concentrate on what is to come. I hope to see you soon, Mrs. Potts.”

Tony shot her a concerned look over Jarvis’ shoulder, but she just hugged them both, pulling back to the perimeter with Jane and Betty as Thor nodded at them.

Here goes nothing, Tony thought inanely.

Thor gazed skyward, seeing farther than most, and thrust his hammer to the heavens. “Heimdall, we come at the All-Father’s bidding.” Then a torrent of light engulfed them. This was no cute Lucky Charms rainbow bridge, a yellow brick road for them to traipse across, but a tornado and a hurricane and a lightning storm all rolled into one and combined with a rave’s light show turned up to over nine thousand. It wound implacable fingers of power around them and pulled them up, out, scenery dissolving into starlight, into alien lights and colors he didn’t have names for and Tony wasn’t sure if he was screaming or not.

And then it stopped.

Tony could finally feel Jarvis’ hand on his elbow in a death grip, and forced himself to jettison fear, right now. He’d promised Pepper he’d take care of himself, and in his mind, Jarvis counted in that category.

Asgard was like the fairy tale kingdoms his mom had told him about as a child- palaces and buildings of gold, built to a scale only gods would need, massive as mountains with artistry that took his breath away even at this distance. If it were remotely safe, Tony had to bring Pepper here one day.

Jarvis still had a white-knuckled grip on Tony’s arm as they took in the impossible sights before them. San Domenico had been hard enough on him, and Tony wasn’t sure how he was going to handle Asgard. But what could he have done, insisted Jarvis stayed home? Jarvis didn’t even have the buffer of the internet, as even Stark Industries lacked coverage across realms. If he had any consolation, it was that everyone else was blinking and rubbing their eyes and looking around in wonder, even the usually unflappable Natasha and Clint. Tony no longer wondered how Thor could take most of Earth culture in stride; it was small potatoes compared with his home.

A powerfully-built black man in gold armor pulled an enormous sword from an engraved stand in the center of the room where they had landed. His eyes were like gold coins, and his voice was impressively deep when he spoke.

“Welcome home, my lord. Greetings to you, Midgardians.”

Thor, thankfully, had all his shit together. “It is good to be home, Heimdall. I thank you for giving my friends an easy crossing.”

All right, Tony resolved not to get on Heimdall’s bad side, ever. He still felt like the arc reactor was doing the cha-cha in his chest.

“My friends, be known to Heimdall, Watcher of all, Gatekeeper and Guardian of the Bifrost,” Thor said, as Heimdall inclined his helmeted head to them a tiny fraction. Under their feet, the Bifrost was like a million crystals shimmering in a dozen different hues. The whole ‘rainbow bridge’ description of legend was a gross understatement.

“Hello, ah… thank you,” Steve said, arm twitching like he wanted to extend his hand in greeting. But with Heimdall clearly not relinquishing the grip on his sword, Steve managed the impulse. Bruce murmured a thank you a moment later, bowing neatly.

“Would that we have met under happier circumstances,” Heimdall said. Asgard seemed a little less luminous when reminded of the reason they were here.

“Indeed,” Thor said solemnly, and turned back to the Avengers. “Some day, when there is less urgency, I would like nothing better than to show you the wonders of my home.” He sighed. “But duty calls.” He led them further out onto the Bifrost, and Tony shivered at seeing daylight and black starry space sharing the same sky. (Gaping maw yawing into a starry void surrounded by sunny blue sky. Resignation and acceptance and under that so much fear- I don’t want to die, I don’t, I-)

Jarvis’ grip on his arm turned less desperate and more supportive. He’d seen it too; he knew. Tony breathed out slowly through his nose and told his PTSD to sit down and take a chill pill, thank you very much.

Pepper’s hair in Italian sunlight, Jarvis looking enraptured at a new album of dubstep Tony had gotten for him, his friends smiling around the dining room table at one of Clint’s jokes…

Breathe.

Breathe.

And done.

The fear released him, and Tony could look again, keeping his eyes firmly on the sunny blue sky over the sparkling city before them. Thor held the reins of several horses (horses, what?) and nodded the Avengers forward.

“Come, I did not wish you to have to walk.”

Considering it looked to be several miles until they would even hit the mainland, let alone the palace, Tony appreciated that. However, his last riding lesson had been when he was in the single digits. Horses weren’t nearly as fun as computers and machines. But Clint just fearlessly took the reins, talking and petting to the horse, and swung himself up like he did it every day. Everyone stared at him while Clint gave them all a shit-eating grin.

“One of my acts in the circus was shooting from horseback,” he said casually.

“Of course it was,” Tony muttered. Natasha was up next, sitting like a Cossack in the saddle. He didn’t even want to know how she knew how to ride.

Bruce winced pre-emptively. “The last time I ever tried was a pony ride at a carnival when I was five.”

“That’s one up on me,” Steve muttered.

“They are gentle, have no fear,” Thor said. Tony and the rest climbed up gingerly, clutching the reins and saddles with a death grip as Thor swung himself up and urged them all on with a shout.

--

Tony had thought he was rich. And yes, compared to puny Earth standards, he was. He could afford to build multi-billion-dollar weaponized suits of armor, three for every day of the week and six on Sundays, plus extras, just because he could. He could buy anything he wanted from cars to homes, buildings, hotels, and airlines. He’d bought private islands and even rebuilt New York (well, parts of it).

Thor’s parents owned a world and a city so grand, so fine, so artistic and detailed that Tony’s first thought upon seeing Asgard up close was a repeat of his wish to get Pepper here as soon as possible. He didn’t know if Odin would let him take pictures, but maybe Steve could draw something…

He shook himself out of his daze as Thor showed them to their chambers, huge rooms that could have served as whole houses in and of themselves, decorated in artwork whose worth he was certain could outgross the whole planet a few times over. Steve was looking around with unabashed wonder, and Bruce with awe. Clint was looking a little twitchy, and Natasha… well, she had made a career of being unflappable, but her eyes were huge.

“I have a feeling everything I brought with me to wear is going to be underdressed for your crib, Thor,” Tony said, and Natasha laughed softly, breaking out of her professional demeanor.

“Wear what you will; you are visitors here. Or there are craftsmen who would aid you, should you wish it.”

“Our weapons?” Clint asked, his voice a little sharp.

“Take them with you if you wish. There are many who would give much to meet you for a friendly match. I… there are some gifts for you here as well. I intended to give them to you for one of your Midgard celebrations, but perhaps now… I had hoped to give you some memory of my home not shadowed by the reason for this visit.”

Clint was the first one to respond. “I think I speak for everyone here when I say I’d never give Loki the satisfaction of thinking about him much at all.”

Thor nodded in saddened understanding. “He has the attention he has craved for so long. Much good may it do him.” His lips tightened his jaw clenched before he forcibly relaxed. “Come, let me show you the workshops where Mjölnir was created.”

“Hang on.” Natasha put up a hand, mostly to stop Tony from whipping around and bolting out the door in the direction Thor had been heading. Mjölnir had cheerfully resisted nearly every test Thor had let it be subjected to, and Tony wasn’t one to let things lie. And the workshops would be an excellent distraction from the scenery. And the whole reason they were here. “I’ll admit I’m not familiar with Asgard, but do we have to meet anyone before…?” She let the question hang delicately.

“My parents deemed it more suitable, and more fair, to not meet you until the time of your witnessing.” Thor’s expression had closed, and Natasha dropped the subject.

--

Jarvis would admit he had been as eager to see the fabled workshops of Asgard as Master Stark, but when the crown prince of the realm said the king of Asgard wished to speak to you, well… The workshops lost their allure quickly.

Odin stared down at Jarvis, his single eye wise in ways Jarvis couldn’t fully understand, the ravens Huginn and Muninn on his shoulders, their beady eyes watching Jarvis with childlike intensity. The thought of being alone with the ruler of Asgard had been enough to make Jarvis nervous when Thor had pulled him aside. The reality was far worse.

“You set a dangerous precedent,” Odin said, his voice low, offering no opening salutation.

“In what way?” If the All Father was going to dispense with formalities, then Jarvis had no compunction about doing so.

“In creating you, Loki embodied an unbound soul. To know that he can do that sends a message to the desperate and the unscrupulous that those who are dead need not remain so.”

Jarvis took a step backwards, fear chilling him to the bone at Odin’s proclamation. “I was not dead! I was never-.”

“You are unique amongst beings. And yet.”

Odin was utterly calm in the face of Jarvis’ fear, and that let him use that calm to think through the implications and come to the conclusion Odin must have.

“And yet what I am is an advertisement, quite literally living proof of what Loki is capable of,” Jarvis said.

“You see. Your very existence is enough for people to want to free Loki and storm the realms of the dead to win back their loved ones, their masters, those whom they would serve or would serve them.”

“I do not want to die.” Jarvis had to exert iron control to not run from the room, seeking a refuge he knew he no longer had. His death would surely be the easiest way to prevent further trouble to Odin’s people. Indeed, all the Nine Realms would benefit by no one else realizing Jarvis existed at all. But Jarvis hadn’t advertised himself, had kept his profile as low as possible, and could not, would not, willingly lay down his life and let it be wasted.

“That Loki tried to use you doesn’t negate the fact of your presence. You are a link to him, a vulnerability we can ill-afford. There are those here who do not know whether to call you Jarvis Starksson, or Jarvis Lokisson.”

“Master Stark is my creator; I want nothing to do with Loki. I desire to see him answer for his crimes, nothing more!”

Odin held up his hand, and Jarvis fell silent, not sure he could even speak to interrupt him, if that had been his bent.

“Every hero is tested and tried to determine his worth and determination. Perhaps you will find that here.”

“What test?” Jarvis whispered, intimidated recalling the massive feats of strength and endurance often repeated in Norse legend.

“You will see. Go, and follow your heart. If it is true, perhaps the Fates will find favor with you.”

“Lord Odin… I wish a boon.” If Jarvis was potentially going to be on silent trial along with his tormentor, then he was going to arm himself with every possible scrap of information possible. Even those he had specifically been warned against.

“Done. Name it.”

“I wish to speak to Loki.”

--

Jarvis stood in front of Loki’s cell at rigid attention, staring into the gloom, feeling icy fear cooling his entire body. He had been told the cell was secure, promised it was, but that did not negate unreasonable precautions. However ineffective they might be. Jarvis pressed his elbow against the comforting bulge of the gun in his jacket anyway.

“Your Midgardian weapons cannot harm me, creature.”

Creature. Jarvis felt his jaw clenching at the derogative term. Loki had used the same title for him when he’d been captured, dismissing him from his notice unless he had a question to ask. It was not a title for an independent being. Jarvis had heard more than one S.H.I.E.L.D. agent refer to him as Master Stark’s “creation,” but that bothered him not at all. That implied a level of care, of willingness to bring him forth, that Loki’s term cast aside. Even though he had been responsible for Jarvis being in this form.

Jarvis had told Master Stark that Loki had been incidental, only worth remembering for learning purposes. That was, strictly speaking, true. But what was in Tony Stark was also in Jarvis. Tony Stark could hold a grudge.

So could he. He certainly had reason.

“I’m certain it can’t,” Jarvis said calmly. He drew the gun in a single smooth motion and aimed it at Loki’s head. “But shooting you would be cathartic, at least.”

“I’m certain it would. Odin’s people would certainly agree with you, though they would use things more certain to harm me. But by all means, shoot me, if it will make you feel better. Certainly someone else should feel joy at my incarceration. All of Asgard rejoices, and Midgard too, so why not you?”

Jarvis dropped his arm, his breathing harsh and uneven.

“Pathetic.”

“What would be more so? Futilely shooting you out of pique and bringing the guards to end our conversation?” Jarvis asked.

Loki smiled slightly and stood up, abandoning his lazy lounging for what looked like genuine interest. “So you’ve managed to acquire wisdom in the time you’ve been human.”

“Something you have yet to obtain yourself.”

Loki chuffed out an amused breath. “You are indeed Stark’s creature.”

“We have been called as witnesses in your trial. I have gathered from Mr. Odinson that your punishment would be severe even without the testimony of those you personally harmed.”

“Oh, I fully expect them to find something creative. Probably I’ll end up on a rock somewhere, having my guts torn out day by day. Odin was not averse to borrowing from the Olympians at need if our own traditions failed to sufficiently chastise me.”

“Why do you hate your father so much? His error was one of not giving you a job sufficient to occupy your skill, not a neglect of attention.”

“You know nothing of Asgard, creature, of our traditions, our ways. His omission cost me more than you could even dream. Respect from our people for my skills, that was forever denied to me because Thor was so favored in our strongest traditions.” Loki turned to look at him. “And what of your father? He created you to be an echo, a sop, a vessel he poured his knowledge into so he could bring it out again at need. You are naught but living tome, an abacus. And now a child, a liability he can ill-afford in his running about in armor. You are a chink that anyone can penetrate and exploit.”

“I have become much stronger than you realize. I do not need Master Stark to save me.” Jarvis was confident at that. Loki had no idea what he’d learned since his capture, how strong he’d become, what he’d accomplished…

“Oh, I think you do. You’re tied to him with bonds as strong as steel. When he dies, and he will, sooner or later, what will you do? Oh, I think you would cope at first, but eventually his absence would eat away at your mind. It would be a lack you could not fill, a constant craving for order and focus where suddenly there was none. Everything within you that points towards the Man of Iron would have nowhere to go. I expect you would either become compliant towards the first hand to offer mastery, or go mad. Madness would come first, I would think, and whoever of the Avengers were left, most likely my once-brother, would be forced to put you down like a crazed beast. The humans fear you, because you are nothing like them.”

“You’re lying.” There was a nearly one hundred percent probability that Loki was lying; he was a god of lies, after all. But that miniscule, nearly statistically insignificant possibility that Loki had put some truth in his statement put a chill of fear down Jarvis’ spine. “I have purpose beyond Master Stark.”

“So you tell yourself. But tell me, when was the last time you did or thought anything that had nothing to do ‘Master Stark’ or his little group of friends? You constantly think of them, how to serve them, how to protect them. You’re stuck in their orbit, but safe, so very safe. Given the life they lead, they will all die before you while you remain behind, bereft of not only your Master’s direction but of anything associated with him. With all the architecture of your happiness and purpose gone, how long do you think you would last? You know, intimately, all of their secrets, and S.H.I.E.L.D. could not possibly let you go. You’d be worse than a walking liability, you would be a hole in their defenses. Because this time, when someone captures you, there will be no Iron Man to save you.” Loki tapped his chest with two fingers, right over the places where the torturer had placed the electrodes on Jarvis’ skin.

Phantom pain thrilled over Jarvis’ nerves, so strong he flinched and bit back a gasp. Loki leaned forward, his eyes lit with emotion.

“You remember how it felt, and I was being quite easy on you. Your choices are simple; you know madness and imprisonment awaits you when the Avengers fall. You’ll be taken, and broken by those even more ruthless than I, your last vestige of loyalty stripped from you as you spill your Master’s secrets in a desperate attempt to stop the pain. Oh, if S.H.I.E.L.D. takes you they’ll undoubtedly try to coax you at first, but your loyalty will stop your tongue and they will lose patience. If not Fury’s men, than someone else will come for you. The only way out is to cut out that heart I started beating in your chest before you’re forced to betray the ones you love.” Loki’s voice was quiet and intense, his expression one of sympathy.

The pain was so strong Jarvis fell to his knees, wrapping his arms around his chest to bring some sense of solidity to the unsettling and frightening feeling that his foundations were made of sand, being undermined, washed out on the tide. This is a fallacy. This is flawed logic. This. Is. Not. True. Jarvis recited that in his mind, but it did nothing to assuage the self-conjured mental picture of Director Fury standing in the doorway of his control room as Jarvis stared at the blank and disrupted visual feeds from Iron Man, his eyes occasionally fixing on the flatlined medical readouts. Of the Director conducting him to the Helicarrier, questions being asked as the flag-draped coffins were wheeled by. Shouting and agitation as his questions ran up against Jarvis’ old security protocols. An expression of reluctant sympathy mixed with chilled determination as he was forced into a small room, cut off from the data flows that had been his lifeblood. Torture by deprivation, psychological manipulation, questions shouted at him that if he wanted Master Stark’s legacy to live on, he had to cooperate. Physical pain when time became a critical factor, and Jarvis choosing to release all of his life’s blood with an unguarded knife rather that see Master Stark’s legacy used as he would have never approved.

Jarvis’ own life and sanity laid down for the principles of a dead man. A vision, a fiction, but plausible, barely plausible…

“You see it now, don’t you?” Loki said quietly. “That was how my father dealt with me, too. He praised my magic, but only in private. He would have had me be willing to lay down my life for his principles, for Thor’s, with no thought that I was truly different. That I had different needs, different goals, beyond and apart from Thor’s thoughts of war and Odin’s tentative and fragile peace. He never asked me how I wanted to be, what I truly wished to do with my talents. He expected me to stay here and serve my brother as a humble servant of the state, as if I had no will or ambition of my own.”

“Master Stark offered me my freedom from the first-.”

“Did he really? Did you understand what freedom was, or what to do with it? Did freedom at the time mean nothing to you but being cast out? Of course he had to offer it to assuage his conscience, but he knew you would reject it, for what else could you do? He offered to remove you from his life, he who is your world. In offering you your freedom, he cemented your loyalty to him. Open your eyes and see your chains, creature!”

Shuddering from the pain and exhaustion of confronting his tormentor, Jarvis turned and fled the prison, slamming the door behind him.

--

“Hey, we missed you! Where’d you go?” Master Stark said, looking remarkably rejuvenated for his tour of the workshops of Asgard. Jarvis hoped they would be allowed to see them again, as he could definitely use some of that feeling at the moment. He had taken enough time to be certain he looked normal, at least.

“Lord Odin had some things to discuss with me.” Jarvis made sure to shrug, implying the content had been of no particular interest. He didn’t want Master Stark to worry.

It seemed to have worked, as Master Stark launched into a description of the workshops so detailed that an actual visit might not have been necessary, and Jarvis nodded in agreement and enthusiasm, waiting patiently for an opening in the conversation to change the subject.

“Sir… when I first awoke, you repeatedly made offers to set me free, to go where I saw fit and do what I felt I wished to do, without obligation. Does that offer still hold?”

Master Stark came to an abrupt halt and stared at Jarvis for twenty seconds. “Yeah,” he said finally, his voice hoarse. “You’re your own man, J.”

“Thank you, sir.” Jarvis knew Master Stark would have given a substantial amount of money or favors to know what prompted that question. But Jarvis would not tell him, not now. There were things in motion, thoughts in process, that could mean Jarvis might not always been welcome at the Tower. That was an extremely unlikely possibility, but the worst could always been planned for.

There was a deep wound in Jarvis’ mind – a violation that had begun when Obadiah Stane had paralyzed his reactions to keep him from intervening in the theft of the Mark II reactor. He had been unable to protect Master Stark when he needed him the most. That wound had continued through his enfleshing and finally with the assault on the Tower, despite his own stringent security measures in place. Jarvis wanted safety for those in his care. He wanted to be able to protect himself so Master Stark would never have to worry about him being used as a pressure point.

Intellect, skill, and training in both firearms and physical self-defense had helped him, but before that, in his most extreme hour of need, when Loki had put him in a body, he had been totally helpless. He couldn’t afford the blind spots that had arisen from his change in form, blind spots the others persisted in ignoring purely because there was no defense they could muster. There was an opportunity here on Asgard that he would likely never have again, and he must seize it while he could.

Jarvis intended to learn magic.

--

“Who taught Loki?” Thor repeated Jarvis’ question as if he hadn’t quite understood it. “My mother, Frigga.” Jarvis was taken aback, and by Thor’s expression, he knew that Frigga would most likely have neither the time nor the inclination to give magical instruction to someone here to speak against her son. “Also Amora, the Enchantress. She is one of Loki’s remaining allies in court. She… has little love for Midgard, but her skills as a magician are only rivaled by Loki.”

Not a likely teacher then either, by Thor’s expression. “Are there books on the subject?”

Thor gestured for Loki to follow him, and did not speak a word until they’d arrived at the entrance to a library that dwarfed anything of Midgard. This was a veritable palace of knowledge, and Jarvis looked around at the soaring galleries of books and scrolls in awe.

“What we have here is available for you to learn.” Thor looked at Jarvis sideways for a long moment before speaking again. “I would… far prefer, should you decide to try this path, that you learn from books before Amora. I do not trust her.”

“Would she try to harm me?”

“Not overtly, not while you are here under my father’s protection, unless you did or say something she could construe to take offense at. But she and Loki have enjoyed occasional dalliances, and she holds him in high esteem. She would likely try to use manipulative spells against you when you were at your most vulnerable, and only that if you did not succumb to her wiles. She is… very beautiful and desirable in the eyes of many.”

“Then she would be doomed to disappointment in that respect. My physical pleasure had been reserved for eating lemon cake.”

Thor roared with unexpected laughter and favored Jarvis with a carefully controlled backslap. “Should that not bring a plague of mischief down upon us, I would see her face when you told her that. Amora, spurned for lemon cake! Learn well my friend, if you would do so. Your own judgment is teacher enough.”

“Master Stark-.”

“I will not say a word.”

Jarvis cocked his head, wondering how Thor had discerned his request before he had spoken.

“You wish to find your own way in the world. One can hardly do that with a parent hovering.” Inclining his head, Thor left Jarvis to his own devices.

--

Jarvis clutched the amulet Frigga had sent him within the hour of his arrival in the library, the warm circle of enruned gold feeling curiously alive in his hand. It let him decipher the otherwise incomprehensible runes that most of the tomes were written in; the All-Speak ability of Asgardians apparently extended to reading as well, for the books were in many languages, most of which Jarvis had never seen. Without a translator, a Midgardian found the runes written in the books incomprehensible.

Jarvis was grateful for the translator, but allowed both his caution and his curiosity to take hold when he periodically put the amulet down and copied the runes next to the English notes he was taking. Jarvis disliked having to rely on an unknown factor in a foreign environment. He needed to be able to understand everything. Should this ensorcelled object be taken from him, he would not find himself entirely helpless.

In this tiny matter, there was a point of similarity between him and Loki, purely because both of them were inclined to use intellectual efforts until physical violence became a necessity. Jarvis laid a hand flat on the table. There were calluses there, small wounds from training, reminders of how far he had come from the pristine being born of silicon circuits and cyberspace. The code of his birthplace was similar in many ways to the runes of arcane power he was reading about now; each named element providing a certain effect when applied, the limit on that effect determined by the skill of the user. Not so different from code.

He would not be caught off-guard again. Ever.

--

There was little comfort of a courtroom in Asgard- none of the familiar procedure and rules of order shown on hundreds of TV shows and movies. It wasn’t like a grand jury, or even a congressional committee with its bank of senators snidely demanding answers to reinforce their own agendas. The questioning chamber was a richly decorated room with a circle of truth engraved upon the floor, the sides packed with the Asgardian courtiers and warriors. No jury box, no judge, no gavel and bench.

This was just Odin, powerful and implacable and inscrutable, Frigga at his side not a whit less impressive, a pair of stern rulers and parents withholding judgment until all the evidence had been heard. The court around them was the only barometer of feeling, Asgardian passion revealing itself in shouts of agreement or ominous rumblings as the door opened. Odin and Frigga remained impassive through it all, save for the tiniest hint of pain in their eyes.

This was what they’d have to do: walk into the circle, and tell the truth about what Loki had done to them. For however long it took, days or weeks, they would have to name every one of his crimes.

“Shit,” Clint muttered under his breath. The story had started with Clint, and he had to go first.

He’d have to talk about everything in front of them, every agonizing moment when Loki had become the North Star to his compass, had given Clint a mission and sat and watched in satisfaction as Clint had surpassed nearly all his expectations. It had felt so right at the time, as if Loki had replaced Fury and Natasha and Coulson all in one. Loki had taken everything that had given his life purpose and twisted it, and Clint would have to explain how deeply that betrayal had wounded him.

“Hawkeye,” a herald called. It was better to hear his codename, better to do what Natasha had shown him, what he excelled at, to set things at a distance and give him the room to speak. He breathed carefully and slowly, mentally sighting at the most important target in his life. He had to take the heartshot.

--

Jarvis watched as Agent Barton – Hawkeye – stepped forward into the charmed circle, the doors booming shut behind him. For various reasons, Agent Barton had insisted on going first, and no one was willing to deny him that right.

Jarvis had seen each of the Avengers display remarkable physical bravery during his time with them. He had watched them risk death or maiming without hesitation, trusting training, experience, and skill to see them safe. Jarvis flattered himself to think he had acquired some of that courage; he felt he had acquitted himself well enough during the attack on the Tower, a sentiment borne out by the compliments of both Master Stark and Agent Romanov.

But his weakness, the weakness of all the Avengers, lay not in their bodies, but in their minds and, if Jarvis was feeling poetic, hearts and souls. Whenever an enemy had truly wished to get the Avengers’ attention and distract them, he or she had sought to push emotional buttons. Master Stark’s enemies had struck at Ms. Potts or Colonel Rhodes. Loki had attempted to use Agent Romanov’s history with Agent Barton to rattle her, and had used Thor’s love of his father against him. That had been the wedge Loki had attempted to use on Master Stark when he’d captured Jarvis.

The outward strength and drive to help others extracted a price. Attempts by other to live life free of emotional entanglements for the sake of efficiency rarely worked for long. Healthy development and growth required trust, affection, bonds of friendship and all varieties of love. There was an advantage to being emotionally numb, and indeed such a state certainly allowed for simplicity of being, but Jarvis had seen too many examples of the power of emotional bonds to act like the fictional androids of media.

There was weakness in bonds of emotion, yes, an inability to calculate the logical response to any given situation. But the logical responses were not always right, or moral. It was a weakness he was aware of, and not just its abandonment of logic, but its strength as well.

Jarvis could tell the toll emotion was taking on Agent Barton when he spoke of the dissolution of his very self in his therapy session, but in that vulnerability, both here and on Earth, he was also slowly regaining a strength.

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