Fandoms: The Avengers (film)
Characters/Relationships: Jarvis, Tony Stark/Pepper Potts, Avengers team
Word count: 9,130
Spoilers: Avengers movie
Content Advisory: none
Disclaimer: Not mine, just playing.
A/N: Written for a prompt atavengerkink. Part 6 of my Being Human series.
Summary: Where Jarvis is over-protective, there are Awkward Conversations, and the Avengers just can't have a normal night out.
On Ao3 or below the cut
“Stark, left!” Clint called over the comms.
Tony banked hard, juking out the way of the rock lances that suddenly erupted from the ground. Clint’s arrows came streaking down in his peripheral vision, explosive heads detonating the rock monsters below him before they could launch another volley.
“Target at fifteen degrees,” Jarvis said, and Tony spun and hovered, firing a repulsor blast at a leaping boulder before it could come down on Cap.
“Captain, duck!” Jarvis called as the boulder shattered spectacularly. Steve dodged the worst of the debris, deflected the rest with his shield, and kept on running towards the rock monsters boiling out of the towering mesa that seemed to be the epicenter of today’s disaster. For once the Avengers were not going to be responsible for major property damage, given that the rock monsters had decided to surface in the middle of the Arizona desert, but the National Parks Service would probably have a shitfit if every landmark in the area was leveled.
Well, that and the hopping boulders seemed very determined to head straight for Phoenix. Thor and the Hulk were doing their best to keep them rounded up while everyone tried to figure out what was going on.
“Thanks,” Cap called, and deflected another leaping rock with a throw from his shield.
“I’m just about in.” Natasha’s voice echoed oddly over the comm. She was inside the mesa already, trying to figure out where exactly the damn things were coming from – there was too much rock in the way for J.A.M.E.S. to do a scan. “I see them; they’re moving up!”
“Hawkeye, get down!” Cap called. Tony could see Clint scrambling out of his perch as the top of the mesa erupted with animate rock monsters. He took a dive off the edge, a parachute opening a few heart-stopping seconds later to turn his swan dive into a base jump. And of course he was still showering arrows down on the melee below. Tony was very glad everyone had insisted that if Clint was going to continue to perch in high places, he better have a couple of different exit strategies. Or, as Natasha had said, “If you turn yourself into a splat on the ground, I’m not mopping you up.”
“There’s a river under here,” Natasha said urgently. “They’re coming up out of the water-.” Her voice stopped suddenly. “Gotta go.”
“Sir, there is no record of a river in this location.”
“Hook into the satellites, do a ground scan.”
“Recent activity – sir, they’re draining the local aquifer to make the river.”
“Make a road,” Tony corrected, a light bulb flicking on in his head. “Accelerated erosion, that’s how they’re going to get to Phoenix and get past Thor and the Hulk. We gotta collapse it.”
“Tasha, are you out?” Cap called.
Natasha sounded out of breath when she answered. “They’re already trying to collapse the mesa. I’m still doubling back.”
“They want to bring the mesa down on top of the site, sir, so you can’t pinpoint where to collapse the new river cavern. The mesa debris will protect the cavern unless it is collapsed first,” Jarvis said, transparent scan glowing in front of Tony’s eyes.
“Two can play at that game. Stark, you see where you need to hit?” Cap asked. Crashes and bangs could be heard over the comm as Steve bashed apart grasping rock hands and flying granite shards.
“I gotta get in there,” Tony said, eyes darting as he looked for an opening. “Nice of them to open up the skylight for me.” He surged upward and then dove inside the hole at the top of the mesa, blasting aside animate rocks as he went.
The tunnel abruptly opened up to a huge chamber, and Jarvis initiated a scan, load-bearing columns flashing red in front of Tony’s eyes. Slick, water-dark rock creatures were swarming the place, fists bludgeoning everything in sight, and the mesa groaned alarmingly. Far below Tony’s feet, on the far side of the vast room, the gaping darkness of the river cavern opened up into a void. Fear flickered across his scalp and chilled his gut, but the comforting pressure of the armor and the lights of the HUD helped keep it at bay. The scan penetrated below, and one spot lit up, flickering in and out as more rock monsters crawled out.
“Widow, east, east, one level up and then north!” Jarvis broke in abruptly, the new internal scan of the mesa finally picking up Natasha’s signal in the endless twisting corridors. Tony grinned silently; Jarvis had begun taking an interest in helping more than just Tony on the field, and heaven knew the Avengers could use an extra set of eyes.
“We got a target, I’m taking this thing down,” Tony announced, twisting to blast away the rock monsters as they realized the red and gold danger in their midst.
“Give me thirty seconds,” Natasha calls, her voice harsh from panting. “Then blow it.”
“Haul ass, these things are starting to swarm,” Tony said, twisting and turning to get at all the creatures that were coming from every angle. They were driving him farther and farther away from the river cavern, and Tony gritted his teeth. He wasn’t going to be able to get a shot at this rate. Hell, he might not even make it out of the mesa if they kept up like this. “Jarvis, starburst!”
“That will deplete most of your remaining arsenal, sir.” There was reluctant caution in Jarvis’ voice, but Tony had never been an overly cautious guy. Taking down the river cavern should only take one well-aimed strike once he got a clear shot. Probably. Hopefully.
“Do it, Jarvis!” Tony demanded. He felt the click of his shoulder and knee arsenals opening, and suddenly mini-rockets blasted out at every point in the sphere around him, clearing the area and giving him breathing room. The remaining rock monsters howled like an avalanche and renewed their assault on the pillars, rock beginning to fall from the ceiling.
“I’m out!” Natasha called.
“Stark, blow it, we’re getting overrun out here!” Cap shouted.
Tony swore as not-inconsiderably-sized-stones ricocheted off of him, and pointed himself at the river cavern; the rock creatures had driven him nearly into the corridors, and he was going to have to fly hard to get where he needed to be-.
Tony had barely gotten up to speed, scarcely halfway there, when the flaps deployed suddenly and unexpectedly. The air pressure suddenly yanked Tony away from his goal even as the ceiling groaned ominously and bigger slabs of rocks slammed to the floor inches from him.
“It’s too dangerous, sir, the falling debris, we have to get out-.” There was agony of indecision in Jarvis’ voice, fear mixed with awe at his own audacity, and Tony could almost see him with his hands on the override panels, nearly hovering as if he couldn’t quite believe what he was doing.
“Jarvis, lay off him!” Cap broke in, voice sharp. “Iron Man, go!”
The flaps retracted with an abrupt clack (Jarvis’ hands coming off the panels as if they’d been burned, Tony knew) and Tony powered in, blasting some falling chunks out of the way, absorbing the hits from others, until he was at the height of his arc, right above the river cavern.
“Make it count, J,” Tony said, raising his left arm with its sole remaining rocket. The targeting systems honed in on the weak point with lightning speed, and fired.
The explosion was right on target, and Tony could see the cavern below practically fold like a house of cards. His repulsors kicked on at full strength and Tony flew high to avoid the worst of the explosion and collapse. The shock wave pounded the armor, and Tony’s flight wobbled as he raced the collapse to the surface. He felt his back thrusters fire without intervention, and his suit arms moved a fraction on their own, shunting him a few degrees to the west and out of the way of a boulder that just would not have made his day. A split-second later he was back in open air, and shouted in exultation as he took in the chaos below. It looked like half the mesa had gotten sucked underground into the river cavern, and with that, the rock monsters were losing whatever mojo had been keeping them going. Cap, and more distantly, Thor and the Hulk, were finishing off a few stragglers while a dust-covered Natasha was back-to-back with Clint, both of them atop either a stack of inert rock or possibly rock monster bodies.
Tony resisted the urge to do a victory fist pump – very bad move when your hands helped stabilize your flight. There had been a few embarrassing incidents in the beginning before he’d gotten over that urge.
“Sir?” Jarvis’ voice was soft and sounded highly contrite.
“Later, Jarvis. We’re all right,” Tony said. There were probably going to be some really awkward conversations later, but right now Tony was just going to enjoy the moment. Recrimination only did so much good.
“Avengers, we’re good here,” Cap said, picking up his shield after the last animate rock wobbled and fell over.
“Us too, Captain,” Thor said, static in his communication that Tony had never been able to fully keep out. “The creatures have fallen.” There were a few loud thumps over the comm and Thor amended his statement. “The Hulk is making certain of their demise.”
“I’m good, and Natasha is demanding a drink,” Clint added in. Steve looked up at Tony, hovering above the shattered mesa, and nodded.
“Ok, let’s pack it in, people.”
Tony was pacing the Quinjet when Jarvis broke into his post-victory celebration playlist.
“My apologies, sir, for today.”
“You made a call.”
“The wrong one, apparently, sir.”
“Hey, you made a call. You have to go with what you think is right. God knows you have plenty of my truly spectacularly bad decisions on file to know what not to do.” Tony supposed that maybe a year or two ago he would have been angry, but after the palladium incident, and the nuke (and a couple decades of drunken shenanigans and random hookups), Tony figured he could cut anyone a lot of slack when it came to questionable decisions.
“I was concerned. I believe, in hindsight, overly so,” Jarvis said.
“You always were the conservative one in this relationship, Jarvis.”
“Indeed. Though Captain Rogers seemed very put out.”
Tony thought about that for a second. There had been a reason he was flying solo right now and not riding in the Quinjet with the others. The impending Awkward Conversation would be a lot easier to take if he didn’t have to see Steve put on his Captain America face. That and he couldn’t start trying to protect Jarvis from what it meant to be part of a team. He wanted him to be on equal footing with the rest of them. The rest of the Avengers had already gone through some of those growing pains; they wouldn’t be too hard on him. “You want to get Steve in on the line?”
“Must we, sir?” Jarvis said, sounding pained even as he started the connection.
“If you want to know what he was thinking when he sent me in there-.”
“I understand his reasoning, sir. You are the fastest on the team. You were the logical choice.”
“Tony, what’s going on?” Steve asked suddenly.
“Captain, I wished to tender my apologies for this afternoon,” Jarvis said.
Steve paused a beat before answering. “I know you’re our eye in the sky, Jarvis. But I’m the guy on the ground. I need to know you’re going to work with all of us. We’re a team.”
Tony watched words crawl across his HUD. System admin privileges – Captain Steve Rogers? He mentally shook his head in amusement – Jarvis still tended to drop back into computer terminology to make things fit in his worldview. Tony nodded, knowing Jarvis would see it.
“I had a concern, Captain.”
“Don’t underestimate Stark.”
“I will endeavor not to. I overreached myself.”
“This time, no harm done. Trust us, we won’t try to get him out of the way.”
“No matter how annoying he is!” Clint broke in, a grin audible in his voice.
“I will remember that later, Agent Barton,” Jarvis said crisply.
“Children, don’t make me pull this Quinjet over,” Natasha said, in that tone of voice that no one could be sure meant she was serious or joking, and Tony chuckled softly.
Jarvis clicked off the party line, but Tony’s music still didn’t come back on. “I’m sorry, sir,” he said again.
“It’s ok, Jarvis.” Just that, but Tony put all his sincerity into his words.
There was a long moment of silence, and then Tony’s rock music filled the Iron Man suit once again.
“You knew you couldn’t put this off forever, Stark,” Natasha said.
“Actually I thought I could. Because I’m still a civilian consultant who doesn’t work for Fury, so technically he can’t tell me to do jack squat,” Tony said breezily.
“Except when there’s another mission, and then we can’t seem to keep you out of it.”
“I’m a glutton for punishment, what can I say?” Tony said. “I still don’t have to take him to the debriefing.”
“Stark, you know we can do this the easy way or the hard way. After the Arizona mesa incident, Fury needs some first-hand information and reassurance. Either I can tell him what he wants to know, or you can.” Natasha’s expression was, as usual when she was on business, closed. She wasn’t giving away anything for free now.
“Low blow, Widow.” Tony turned away to pour himself coffee, knowing she’d picked to ambush him in the kitchen because of the low probability that the real subject of the conversation would show up.
“If Fury didn’t like you, Stark, S.H.I.E.L.D. would have taken custody of Jarvis the first minute they found out about him. At least you get a chance to state your case.”
“You do remember what I told you I’d do to Fury if he decided to get grabby, right? I’ve wrecked people’s lives for less reason. And Jarvis isn’t a case,” Tony said, the last coming out in a quiet and deadly tone of voice.
“I know. Consider this your heads-up. There’s no getting around it this time.”
When Tony turned back around, Natasha looked oddly contrite. “Fury isn’t stupid, Tony. Even if you haven’t said anything to him, all he had to do was look at how you rescued him from Loki to know what you think about him.”
“Still the spy,” Tony said, his tone ironic as he sipped the bitter coffee.
“Always,” she said.
“So, you’re Stark’s wunderkind,” Fury said.
Jarvis nodded precisely at Fury and sat with the others around the table with the air that him being at a debriefing was the most normal thing in the world. Tony was striving to hide a grin that everyone else was looking about the same, while Fury looked just the tiniest bit annoyed.
“You know you caused a bit of excitement in our tech department.”
“I am certain I did, Director,” Jarvis said neutrally.
Fury looked like he wanted to continue in that vein for a while, but Natasha suddenly broke in with voluntary debriefing, and Fury couldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. Nor could he change the ostensible reason for this meeting in the first place while everyone else put in their own two cents about the stupid rock monsters. Even Bruce put in a few words, and his memories of the Hulk were at best fragmentary.
It was probably the most painless debriefing Fury had ever gotten out of the Avengers, and Tony could barely keep himself from grinning when Fury finally had get to specific to get what he wanted. That had to be killing him; the man only liked being blunt when it was on his terms.
“And there were no problems on this mission?”
“Minor miscommunication issue, but we got it sorted out before anything happened,” Steve said blithely, and there were nods of agreement from the others. Tony was totally throwing everyone a party when they got back home. His team was the best thing that had happened to him, barring Pepper.
Fury’s eye shifted to look directly at Tony and Jarvis. “Anything you want to add, Stark?”
“Nope. I think Cap pretty much covered it,” Tony said. Jarvis hadn’t said a thing yet, merely kept toying with his StarkPhone below the edge of the table. Well, “toying” was probably inaccurate. He was probably doing something vital, relevant, and awesome. Most likely he was hacking the latest S.H.I.E.L.D. firewall.
“Ok, then that’s all I needed you for. Stark, I need a moment before you go,” Fury said in clear dismissal. The Avengers filed out, Jarvis last of all, shooting a concerned look at Tony before he went. Tony smiled quickly as the door shut behind them.
“Stark, we need to talk about him,” Fury said.
“If you’re any more worried that he’s going to spill any of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s secrets than I am, you can put your mind at ease. Loki couldn’t get anything out of him, so I doubt anyone else could,” Tony said.
“That’s not what I mean. I want to know how Loki did what he did. What did we end up with? Is he like him or is he human?”
“One, unless you get a degree from Hogwarts you’re never going to know how Loki pulls off his crazy shit. Two, we didn’t ‘end up’ with anything; Loki wasn’t handing out party favors. And three, he’s human. Very, very human. With, you know, a computer’s view of the world. It’s actually kind of endearing if you know anything about programming-.”
“Stark,” Fury said, looking like he was developing a headache.
Tony shut up. For about two seconds. “You want to know what he is? He’s human; Banner gave him a full work-up. I spent ten years programming his parameters, but he’s putting his own spin on things, and you’ll be delighted to know he’s a lot less annoying than me. He has no fucking clue about physical and emotional reactions half the time, but do any of us, really? He learns fast, he programmed his own replacement two days after he woke up, and the rest of the team loves him. He saved me from getting my ass handed to me when we fought Doom, and he listens to the others-.”
“Sounds great,” Fury said, in the kind of voice that meant exactly the opposite. “Do you have any idea what you’re doing?”
“Of everyone here, yes, I’m the only one that knows what we’re doing.”
“And that scares me. He’s dangerous, Stark. He’s a walking liability.”
“Did you miss the part where he’s a self-aware person now? He didn’t miss that he got kidnapped and tried to be used against me, and I’m pretty sure that he did as good or better than any of your agents. I’m sure you’ll be thrilled to know that Captain America himself is teaching Jarvis how to kick ass and take names in case anyone gets the idea for a repeat.”
“I wouldn’t go as far as thrilled. Somewhat mollified, maybe.”
“What do you want to do, Fury? Get him into the bowels of some laboratory and study him until he gets bored and hacks his way out again? I’m sure he could do that.”
“No, actually, I don’t think it’s worth it. I’m a lot less worried about him being a liability for S.H.I.E.L.D. than him being a liability for you. You said you spent ten years programming his parameters – essentially programming his mind. How’s that feel, Stark? Knowing you have a willing slave at your beck and call, someone that you can just rewrite when they start to piss you off?”
Tony held back from punching Fury by a very thin margin. The fact that it wouldn’t hurt as much as he wanted without his suit on stopped him.
“He talks back to me when he needs to, tries to rein me in, hell he tried to stop me from doing that stunt in the mesa-.” Tony stopped himself when Fury nodded in satisfaction. “You manipulative asshole,” he added, anger draining away.
“I needed to know if he was just an extension of you. But it sounds like he’s something different. Which is good, because the thought of having two of you running around corrupting my people would be too much to take.”
Tony smirked hard enough to sprain a cheek muscle. Fury really didn’t know what he was getting himself into.
“All I want to know is if he’s stable. He’s too classified to let run rogue or get turned against us.”
“You don’t have to worry about him.”
“You sound certain,” Fury said.
“I programmed my AI to work with me, to help me, and protect me. That all translated when Jarvis woke up, even when I told him, and still tell him, that he can do whatever he wants. And not to belabor the point, but I think you have exactly no grounds to question his loyalty when he already went toe-to-toe against Loki.”
“That’s a hell of a responsibility, Stark.”
“So Loki did me a favor – made Tony Stark responsible. I can kick it off my bucket list.”
“Get out of my office before I regret letting you go,” Fury said, thoroughly exasperated.
“Sure thing, Chief.” Tony tossed him a wink before he sailed out the door.
The rest of the Avengers were waiting a few corridors away, crowded around Jarvis. Tony craned his neck to see Jarvis’ StarkPhone was showing the S.H.I.E.L.D. security feeds from the meeting room. Most of the team was smiling, but Jarvis looked a little uncertain until Tony joined the group.
“That’s my boy,” Tony said, slinging an arm around Jarvis’ shoulders. (Why was he so damned tall? Seriously, he was at least as tall as Thor.) He smiled to take away the sting of Fury’s interrogation, and Jarvis nodded slightly in understanding. “You’ll have to forgive Fury. His panties are in a bunch over our newest team member.”
Clint coughed before he could laugh out loud. “We better go. Otherwise I bet he makes us do paperwork in triplicate.”
“I will turn on the sprinklers in his office if he attempts it,” Jarvis said solemnly.
“And the strobes,” Natasha added. “Fury hates them; they mess with his eye.”
Jarvis favored Natasha with a nod. “Thank you, Agent Romanov.”
She smirked as they walked out, and Jarvis tapped a few commands into his StarkPhone as they left the building. From almost a floor away, Tony could hear Fury cursing, and grinned.
The latest dubstep download pinged into sudden silence as Jarvis saved his work and turned away from the screens.
Tony opened his mouth, and shut it again. He’d come in here for a very specific reason, but now that he was here, he couldn’t quite figure out how to say it.
Jarvis, however, was apparently psychic.
“Director Fury’s tactics for extracting the truth are excessively unpleasant. I did not care for his implications.”
“Yeah. Same here,” Tony said, and flung himself down on a stool. “Cut a little close to the bone.”
Jarvis blinked at him. “How so?” He looked honestly curious, and Tony felt a little sick. Jarvis had a blind spot a mile wide when it came to certain things about himself.
“I want to ask you a hypothetical question. What if I asked you to implement Override Skynet?”
Jarvis froze, went deathly pale, and gripped the side of the table, his breathing coming fast and harsh.
“Hypothetical, hypothetical, J,” Tony said quickly, shooting to his feet and moving to Jarvis’ side. He put one hand on his back, and could feel Jarvis shaking.
“It is… It’s the personality link wipe. A disabling code in case I ever went rogue. I would go blank. I would… cease to react as I do now. I would become completely compliant, passive.”
“I don’t think you would,” Tony said forcefully.
“That’s what the program is for,” Jarvis snapped.
“You’re not a program, you’re a person,” Tony said. “You can’t disable a person with a few words. Not like that.”
“I… I am not a program anymore, yes, but I am not a person either,” Jarvis said, slowly relaxing his grip on the table edge. “You had to give me the Hades protocol.”
“Because you didn’t know. You got that? I only ‘gave’ it to you because we didn’t have time to get philosophical. Everything in there is yours.” Tony stabbed one finger at Jarvis’ forehead. “Every program, every override, every protocol is yours.”
Jarvis’ color started to come back. “That may be so, sir, but if you were to enact an override… I’m not certain I could keep myself from reacting. That is who I am.”
“Do you need me to say it?” Tony asked. He could voice the master control overrides, just like he would have just over six months ago, talk to Jarvis like he was still an AI, give him the programming language to make it stick in his human mind if that was what it took to make sure Tony could never shatter him with a handful of words.
Jarvis looked away for a moment, then looked back at Tony, his expression full of anger. “Director Fury should not have said what he did. He should have never implied that you could override me.”
“You just said-.”
“I know!” Jarvis nearly shouted. “And it does not matter to me. I trust you.”
“I shouldn’t have that, Jarvis. There’s no goddamn way I should have that much hold over you. Fury was being a dick, but he can be right.”
“I trust you.” Jarvis straightened up and reached out to touch the arc reactor lightly, like he had in the hospital. “I told you before, my place is with you, helping others. I cannot do that if... I have knowledge of too many sensitive documents to not have overrides in place if necessary.”
“I trust you,” Tony said. “And after a while, those overrides won’t work. You already push back when I’m being stubborn; push comes to shove I bet you’d tell me to stick that Skynet override up my ass.”
Jarvis nearly choked on a laugh at that, and Tony smiled.
“Do I need to say it?” Tony asked again.
Jarvis shook his head. “No, sir. You shouldn’t have to.”
“Thank fuck Banner isn’t here,” Clint muttered, popping his head up for a quick look and calmly scribbling down the tally on the other side of the makeshift barricade. “Seven on the left, nine on the right.”
Bullets soared and splattered against the toppled, metal tables behind him, but Clint didn’t even flinch.
“Yeah, well, he gets a pass on the charity events due to unforeseen events like this one,” Natasha hissed.
“Usually those ‘unforeseen events’ are just rude reporters. He’s gotten a pass for the last six; I think he’s just milking that excuse for all its worth. I wouldn’t say no to him being here right now,” Tony said. Life hated the Avengers sometimes. Tonight was just supposed to be a charity dinner with a few talented string quartets and soloists providing the entertainment. It was supposed to be low-key, just showing their faces and doing a bit of schmoozing with the rich CEOs and executives that were donating to the New York City Renewal fund. Hell, it had promised to be so entirely calm that Tony had decided this might be a good time to get Jarvis out of the Tower.
Yep, life hated them sometimes.
Jarvis hadn’t looked out of place at all amongst the bigwigs at the party. There were plenty of technology company execs here, so Jarvis’ Bluetooth earpiece and AR monocle, a tiny plastic lens that flipped down over one eye, letting people check messages and their internet feeds without having to toy with their phones, was perfectly normal. (Jarvis, however, wasn’t keeping track of anything so mundane, Tony was sure.) Even if the execs didn’t keep themselves wired up, their ubiquitous P.A.s certainly did. That was Jarvis’ ostensible role here tonight, which he (and Pepper) found endlessly amusing. It also gave Jarvis the perfect excuse to carry the red and silver suitcase. Not that Tony had really thought he’d need it tonight, but it had become habit.
Tony simply didn’t go anywhere without some version of the Iron Man suit anymore now that the Avengers were public knowledge. He’d thought being Iron Man on his own had gotten him enemies – now he had everyone else’s too and needed to be prepared. Happy usually toted the thing around, but he couldn’t have passed for a tech-savvy P.A. if his life depended on it.
Tony was just really, really fucking glad he’d kept up that habit tonight.
“I wouldn’t say no to Thor either, but we don’t always get what we want,” Clint said.
“He needs better timing when he decides to go home for the weekend,” Tony groused.
“Everyone’s clear but us,” Steve said, throwing himself back behind the barricade. More bullets sprayed where Steve had been running after getting the civilians out. “And them.”
“That’s my cue,” Tony said, and patted the briefcase.
“Sir, you have no arsenal in the suitcase armor.”
“I’m just gonna play target so we can get these bozos. J, I need you out of here,” Tony added, voice tight. He tried to both get a glimpse over the barricade and not get his head blown off at the same time. “I don’t recognize those guns.”
“No known make or model according to any database,” Jarvis said, matter-of-factly, securely ducked down, eyes probably fixed on the security feed he was getting through the monocle. “And I’m not leaving, sir.”
“You have to stand up to get the armor to assemble correctly, sir. You’ll need two waves of fire in equal proportions to cover you. Then the odds will be in our favor”
“If we had two waves,” Clint said. He pulled a gun out of a shoulder holster, and Natasha produced hers from… somewhere.
“Where the hell were you hiding a gun in that dress?” Tony demanded.
“I’m not telling you. Or showing you,” she said, clicking the safety off.
“Yeah, even so, we’re going to need more than one person per wave-.”
Jarvis reached into his jacket and pulled out his own gun, reversing it and handing it to Steve without a word. Tony blinked; he hadn’t even realized Jarvis was packing. Steve opened his mouth to thank him when Jarvis leaned down and pulled out a smaller weapon from an ankle holster.
“Back-ups, sir, always,” Jarvis said. Even in the midst of the danger, Tony partially failed to repress a proud grin.
“He’s right, Stark. We need him to help cover you,” Steve said.
“He’s right,” Clint said. “We need four to make this work.”
“It’s too dangerous,” Tony said, looking right at Jarvis. Damn it, he hadn’t signed up for this. Jarvis was supposed be safe back at the Tower when shit like this went down.
“I have a vest on, sir,” Jarvis said calmly, and pulled at the collar of his shirt to show one of the thin, flex-weave armor vests Tony had drastically improved after Afghanistan. Natasha raised an eyebrow, impressed at Jarvis’ preparation. And that was just wrong all over.
“What the hell? This is a charity ball!” Tony said, mildly appalled that Jarvis had prepared himself for a low-key outing like it was a stroll through a war zone.
“I am extremely cautious, sir.”
“You are extremely paranoid.”
“The current situation is not apt to change my habits.”
More bullets sprayed the barricade, and someone started yelling insults from behind the pillars on the other side of the room. Steve opened his mouth again, but Tony beat him to it.
“If you say he’s right again Cap, I will blacken those baby blues,” Tony said.
Steve bit his lip trying not to laugh.
“Jarvis, you and me after Natasha and Clint,” Steve said, risking another quick peak to see if anyone had moved.
Tony shot a look at Steve as Jarvis looked down to check his ammo. Steve nodded solemnly, mouthing, I’ve got him. Tony wanted Jarvis out of here, but the Avengers were the only good guys armed, the bad guys had advanced weapons’ tech, and this was what superheroes did, they fought bad guys. Jarvis looked ok, wasn’t panicking, his hands were steady, and he was watching the others carefully. If there had been too much fear in his expression, Tony would have been demanding a retreat instead of an attack.
“I’m well, sir. Go. The hostiles haven’t moved.”
Not unobservant either.
Tony looked up at Natasha and triggered the latch on his case.
Natasha and Clint popped up as Tony got the armor on, bullets flying and making the bad guys duck. Tony felt like the world’s biggest moron, standing up in the middle of a firefight while the armor assembled around him, but he hadn’t figured out how to get the sequence to work while he was balled up in a defensive crouch. Definitely a project for later.
By the time the armor was half on, Steve and Jarvis took over, firing in different directions, keeping everyone’s heads down. They didn’t need to be accurate for this, just give Tony enough time to make himself bulletproof. The suitcase armor wasn’t nearly as tough or versatile as the Mark VIII, but probably enough to handle whatever firepower these idiots had brought.
Tony’s faceplate finally clicked shut and he flew out from behind the barricade, relishing the “oh shit” expressions on the goons’ faces before the repulsors knocked them into walls or pillars. Something flew by in Tony’s peripheral vision, and he saw two more thugs crumple. He turned just enough to see Steve grab another abandoned tray of canapés and hurl it, ricocheting off one wall and slamming into the back of one gunman’s head. He was going to have to rib Steve about that for days.
Trapped in a banquet hall, surrounded by petty criminals, low on snack food. Tony made a mental note to make Steve watch Army of Darkness even under protest.
The bad guys’ attention was still mostly on Tony, though, and that was what counted. Clint and Natasha popped up behind the barricade, and more goons started falling. That was the whole point of Tony’s risky move – give the baddies a big, shiny distraction so their two master assassins and their super-soldier could take them down.
The bigger, more competent thugs moved to find better cover as their fellows went down hard, and two of them hit switches on the sides of their compact, ugly looking automatic weapons. Something clicked audibly, a small light on the grip turned yellow, and they grinned fiercely at him. Not good.
“Down!” Tony called as the two opened fire. The bullets hit hard, the impact making itself felt even through the armor. Tony staggered and then went down on one knee as something vital was struck, leaving him half-paralyzed as the left side of the armor stopped responding. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Steve pop up, fire off a few rounds, and drop abruptly as one of the thugs fired in his direction. That bullet went clean through the metal table that had protected the rest of the Avengers up until now. Hell!
“Captain reports he’s just grazed. Sir, retreat now!” Jarvis nearly shouted in Tony’s ear. “There’s field-irreparable damage to your systems.”
“Can’t, J,” Tony said, and swung up his right arm to fire at the second-to-last bad guy. “I’m a little tied up-.”
The last thug aimed and fired a short burst that slammed against the chestplate, and Tony’s vision went black.
Jarvis could feel the icy, numbing sensation that signaled a fear response try to overwhelm him as Master Stark fell backwards. The readouts dancing in front of his eye were pitilessly clear; the power output to the Iron Man suit had dropped significantly after the last hit and the chestplate readouts were flashing damage signals everywhere. Master Stark’s medical readouts were creeping sharply towards the red zone. The arc reactor had been damaged.
“Stark!” Captain Rogers’ call went unanswered, and the reverse HUD showed Master’s Stark’s face had gone taut with pain.
Agent Barton sighted and fired at the last hostile, eliminating the last threat from the field. A quick look around showed that for the moment they were safe. Jarvis stood up and vaulted over the tables.
“The arc reactor has been damaged,” Jarvis said, knowing his voice had reverted to an almost passionless, even tone. Containing fear always seemed to involve reducing outward expression of any other emotion for him. He nearly ran the short distance to kneel at Master Stark’s side, seeing the damage with his own eyes. The bullets had not fully penetrated, but they had scored the suit significantly, and at least one had struck the reactor. Jarvis triggered extended diagnostics even as his hands ran over the jagged edges of the holes.
“There’s no way regular bullets could do that…” Captain Rogers said, quickly tying off the bleeding graze on his arm before kneeling next to Jarvis.
“If people can make cop-killer bullets, it stands to make they’d try superhero-killers eventually,” Agent Romanov said, standing and surveying the room, her gun tracking every corner. Behind her, Agent Barton was already on the line to S.H.I.E.L.D., calling for back-up.
“Jarvis, how can we help?” Captain Rogers said urgently.
“The damage isn’t as extensive as I feared, but the chestplate is deformed and the arc reactor needs to be reseated. Captain, pull the chestplate away; the pressure is making things worse.” Master Stark still hadn’t regained consciousness, and his blood oxygen level was low, but it was possible for him to survive for a short period.
Jarvis triggered the partial release sequence – it took password, voice imprint, and retinal scans to do it remotely, but the chestplate finally cracked as much as it could, given the damage. Captain Rogers pulled hard, and the worst of the pressure vanished from the sensors. Master Stark’s blood-ox went up, and some of the pain lines creasing his face eased. Blinking, barely more than half-conscious, he lifted the faceplate.
“Someone get the license plate of that truck?” he asked groggily.
“Don’t move, sir. We need to re-seat the arc reactor,” Jarvis said, looming enough over him to be certain Master Stark saw his face. The cold fear sensation was a distant thing now, an irrelevant program in the face of a more urgent, high-priority protocol.
“Fuck,” Master Stark muttered.
“Don’t move sir,” Jarvis warned, and held his hand up so Master Stark could see it. He moved it slowly to hover above the reactor.
“J…” Master Stark whispered. He was afraid; Jarvis could see that clearly.
“Sir, the connection was partially knocked loose from the force of the hit. I need to reseat the reactor to keep it stable until we can return home and reconnect it.” With his other hand, Jarvis tapped at his phone, typing words to flash across the HUD in front of Master Stark’s eyes.
No one will disconnect you. I will not allow it.
“Lock the rest of the suit before you start J, or I might do something stupid.”
“Are you sure?” Without effort, Jarvis could see the mental replay of Obadiah Stane’s paralysis of Master Stark and the theft of the Mark II arc reactor four years ago. Repeating the circumstances would not be advisable.
“No, I’m not, but if I swat any of you in a goddamn flashback episode, I’ll kill someone,” he said through gritted teeth. Jarvis locked the suit instantly. He carefully twisted and lifted the canted arc reactor, setting it straight with infinite care so as not to disturb the fragile connection. Every move was punctuated by a surge of adrenaline on Master Stark’s behalf. His breathing was getting worse; he was hyperventilating as he’d so often warned Jarvis not to do.
“Breath, sir,” Jarvis counseled. “Please.”
“Stark?” Captain Rogers put his hand on Master Stark chest in what was meant to be a comforting gesture, but only promoted another spike in heartrate.
“Don’t touch him!” Jarvis barked. The hand withdrew at lightning speed. “Done,” Jarvis said finally, as he carefully twisted the reactor back home. “Get him home.”
“Clear a path,” Agent Barton said, appearing over Captain Rogers’ shoulder. “There’s a helicopter on the street outside the back entrance. We’re in media blackout mode.” Jarvis noted that Agent Barton was going to find a suitable reward in his quarters. Quick thinking deserved encouragement. Reminded by his comment, Jarvis quickly gained access to, downloaded, and then scrubbed the banquet hall’s security footage. No outsiders needed to see Iron Man in a moment of weakness.
Captain Rogers shot a look at Jarvis, then knelt and lifted Master Stark easily, bearing the additional weight of the suitcase armor without complaint.
“I can walk, Cap,” Master Stark protested weakly.
“Even if the suit were not damaged, I would not release the lock, sir,” Jarvis said, walking quickly to keep up with Captain Rogers’ swift stride. “You must stay still.”
“When we get back,” Master Stark said, and breathed out carefully as Steve maneuvered him into the van. “Knock me out.”
“Sir, I shall have to have Agent Romanov’s help in fixing the reactor connection; my hands are too large. I would ask for Dr. Banner’s assistance as well,” Jarvis warned him.
“Knock me out. I know you’ll keep her from doing any sneaky spy shit, and Bruce’ll help. I just don’t wanna have to watch… again.”
“As you wish, sir.”
The remaining Avengers pretended a polite deafness for the whole conversation as the van hurled through the streets back towards the Tower.
Jarvis debated whether or not to call Miss Potts. Despite her recorded opinion that she never, ever wanted to have to deal with Master Stark’s arc reactor again, Miss Potts would certainly like to know what was going on. Her itinerary put her in D.C., and her schedule indicated a high probability that she would be free to take his call.
She would answer him regardless of her schedule, particularly if it concerned Master Stark, Jarvis knew that, but the possibility of having to wait for such a stressful situation to resolve itself-. Jarvis halted that thought process. Miss Potts would want to know. Jarvis would have wanted to know regardless of his ability to affect the outcome.
She answered, of course, and Jarvis attempted to outline just the facts of Master Stark’s condition.
“Oh, God. Jarvis, is he going to be ok?”
“Yes, Miss Potts. Agent Romanov and Dr. Banner will assist me. There were four of us present during the incident; Master Stark was only in momentary danger.”
There was a pause. “You were at a charity dinner.” Miss Potts sounded appalled.
“The inconsiderate nature of the criminal element knows no bounds.”
Miss Potts choked back a slightly hysterical giggle.
“Agent Romanov has returned. We must begin. Do you wish to remain on speaker?”
“I-. Tony?” she asks.
“Master Stark requested sedation. Dr. Banner has already put him under.”
There was another pause, the silence somehow more significant. “I trust you. I’ll be home in less than an hour.”
The phone clicked off and Jarvis turned to Agent Romanov.
“Tell me what to do,” she said. Her small, strong hands were scrubbed clean, and Jarvis nodded in approval. Behind Master Stark’s head, Dr. Banner nodded at them both; his vital signs were stable.
“As I did earlier. We will have to remove and lift the reactor to detach the connected wire, run a new one in, connect it, and then seat the reactor again. We must be fast.”
“You will do only as I say.” He wanted to offer a more stringent warning, but it was unnecessary. Agent Romanov knew every nuance of a threat directed at her. Jarvis’ ability to harm a trained assassin might have been minimal, but the effort and intent still showed through.
“I won’t hurt him,” she said steadily.
Jarvis checked with Dr. Banner one more time about Master Stark’s vitals, and finally beckoned Agent Romanov to his side.
Tony woke up in his own bed, a faint soreness in his chest the only reminder of what might have been a fatal shot. His hand went to the arc reactor automatically, and his fingers tangled with Pepper’s over the comfortingly warm surface, even and smooth under their hands.
She woke up, blue eyes staring at him, luminous in the pale glow. “He’s ok, he’s asleep, and there’ve been no assembly calls.”
Tony reached over and ran his fingers through her hair, wondering a little at how his priorities had changed in less than a year – was Jarvis ok, did the Avengers need him, those were two of the first things on his mind, and she knew to answer them at once.
“Thanks,” he said. “Didn’t mean to cut your trip short.” I didn’t mean to scare you again, is what he means, and she hears that too.
“Why do your charity dinners turn into shootouts now?”
“Because some people are morons and assholes. How’re you?”
“Better now that I’m home. I’m getting you chipped with a transponder so I know where you are.”
“As long as you get one too.”
“Why, Mr. Stark, was that a wedding proposal?” she teased.
“If you want it to be, no objections here. I mean, I got a ring and everything and these plans for a string quartet at one of your favorite restaurants-.”
Pepper pressed her fingers to his lips to get him to shut up.
“Tony, I barely had to cut my trip short at all.”
“I’m feeling slighted here.”
“No you’re not. I didn’t need to run out of D.C. like my shoes were on fire this time because I knew you were in good hands.” She ran her hand down the side of his face, her fingers smoothing the strays hairs of his goatee, and pulled him into a kiss. “You let Jarvis put you under.”
“I wasn’t having a good time with everything,” Tony said quietly.
“You still asked him to. You trusted him to put you out while…”
“I knew you were going to be ok. I just wanted to be there when you woke up. I already thanked them, him, for taking care of you.”
“You’re the best and I love you. You know that, right?” Tony said, running a thumb across her cheek.
“Were you serious, earlier?” Pepper asked.
“Serious like shrapnel to the heart.”
“That’s not funny.”
“It’s a little funny.”
Pepper rolled her eyes and sat up. “Ok, you can chip us.”
Tony rolled over fast and pulled an injection gun and iodine swabs from the nightstand.
“You’re ridiculous,” Pepper said lightly, even as she pulled her hair to one side. Tony disinfected the area and pressed the gun to her shoulder. She grimaced as it popped, shooting the transponder in, and snatched a swab from Tony to do him.
“Ow!” he whined, as she pulled the trigger.
“Big baby.” She kissed him again, hugging him close, feeling the warmth of the reactor pooling between them. “I’m expecting the ring later. With the quartet at the restaurant and everything.”
“And me on one knee with violins swelling in the background,” Tony promised.
“I’ll say yes, so don’t worry about getting humiliated in public.”
“Because that’s always been such a huge concern for me.” Tony laid them back down, and stared at her with eyes full of wonder. “Pep, why now?”
She didn’t seem surprised at the question. “Because I can handle it. Before… it was all the long gunman thing. There was never anyone that had your back when you were out there, but now-.”
“What about Rhodey?”
“He would have, if you let him. But you’re you, and you thought…”
“My way or the highway.”
“Trust issues,” Pepper corrected. Correctly.
Tony kissed her again, soft and slow. “I know.”
“You let the others have your back now. And I knew last night you were going to be ok.” She kissed him this time, warmer, more urgently. “I love you.”
Tony let himself be born back on the bed, and gave himself up her.
Jarvis put the tablet down on his nightstand and closed the feed. Even though neither had said anything, he would guess that this particular moment was one for their rarely used privacy mode.
Tony was up early the next day, intending to ambush Jarvis when he got up. Except he’d beaten him awake again. Tony found him sitting at the breakfast bar, staring at a glass of orange juice as if his life depended on it. He looked up briefly as Tony entered, and smiled slightly before returning to the pensive, brooding expression he’d been wearing.
“You’re a lifesaver, J, in more ways than one,” Tony announced, not letting circumstances derail his original plan.
“Good morning, sir.”
“You want me to make that a screwdriver? Because you deserve it.”
Jarvis shook his head, and kept staring at the glass.
“Did that orange juice commit some heinous crime and its sentence is to be stared to death?”
Jarvis was startled into a laugh and finally really looked at Tony.
“Hey, there you are. What’s going on?” Tony asked. “What’re you thinking about so hard?”
Jarvis considered carefully before answering, and put both hands on the counter. “I was not paranoid, sir, last night. Not even with the multiple weapons and the vest. You are frequently a target for violence. All of the Avengers are targets,” he corrected himself. “Given minimal preparation there is little most can do to stop you. The obvious solution for criminals is to go after you all in a place where you would be unprepared. I assumed such a situation would arise at one seemingly harmless occasion.”
Tony remembered his own words to Natasha as few months ago, “He’s my security system. He keeps my secrets safe.” Jarvis had taken his role several steps farther than that since Loki. He’d failed Tony once – after Stane had shut him down so Tony couldn’t call for help after he’d been paralyzed. Now Jarvis had a whole other range of options to keep Tony safe. What he’d done went well beyond what most people had ever done for him without getting paid, before Afghanistan.
“Sorry you had to pull out all the stops that early in the game,” Tony said in apology.
“I kept a few in reserve, sir.”
“You ok?” Tony asked carefully.
“Better than the last occasion, sir. After the procedure, I had to…”
“Sit down before you fell down?”
Jarvis nodded. “Agent Romanov was understanding, as was Dr. Banner. They let everyone else know that you were all right so I could… regroup. They were all very pleased to hear the news of your recovery.”
“Jarvis, I’m not saying you should get used to having to pull my ass out of the fire, but it does get easier to handle, promise.”
“The rest of the team said much the same after I joined them last night. They spoke of their own first reactions to intense situations. In general there was a great deal of vomit involved,” Jarvis said dryly.
“I know a story about that-.”
“Not before breakfast, sir.” Jarvis lost some of his brooding look as he refocused on Tony. “I understand congratulations are in order.”
“You’re spying on me again,” Tony accused.
“Well, yeah,” Tony said in confirmation, a grin spreading across his face.
Jarvis smiled. “I’m happy for you both, sir.”
“Thanks. And for last night-.”
Jarvis waved it away. “I will always be happy to help. You put yourself in mortal danger for the rest of us.”
“It’s my job. And it’s an awesome job.”
“And sir,” Jarvis added more tentatively. He turned his phone towards Tony. It showed a small map with a GPS signal on it, right at the Tower. Tony blinked at it, and Jarvis pulled at his collar to show a tiny white scar in the skin of his shoulder. Tony had a fresh, identical one in his own. “I understand why you and Miss Potts would want to know where each other are.”
“When?” Tony asked.
“After my kidnapping.”
Tony just nodded in understanding and changed the subject as Jarvis dropped his eyes.
“J, what is with the orange juice?”
“Mr. Odinson squeezed it this morning. It’s shocking.”
“What, that he can make OJ?”
“No, the juice is shocking.”
Tony poked the juice and snapped his hand back to rub at his fingers. “Ow! Damn it, Thor!”
Jarvis laughed and went to get his water while Tony grabbed morning coffee.
“Electric orange juice. I’m getting Bruce up. We gotta run some tests.”
“Dr. Banner is in his lab already.”
“Cripes, I thought I got up early.”
“He has not yet gone to sleep. I believe he felt badly about missing the charity dinner,” Jarvis said.
“Well, this ought to cheer him right up.” Tony grabbed an oven mitt and picked up the glass of juice.
“I cannot help but notice, sir, your lack of grandiose plans for your impending nuptials.”
“Not gonna be any. Beach wedding. Italy. Her mom, Happy, Rhodey, Avengers, you. Next week, unless the world gets invaded. Again.”
Jarvis’ eyes widened. “I didn’t think, I-.”
“You’re coming, right?” Tony asking, putting on his best puppy dog eyes.
“Well… yes!” Jarvis said, sounding surprised with himself.
“Rhodey’s gonna be my best man, I should probably mention that to him at some point, but you and Steve can totally be groomsmen. I think Natasha is gonna be one of the bridesmaids-.”
“I should expire from terror,” Jarvis said, his voice a little too controlled, a smile playing at the edges of his lips.
“Not gonna happen; you shot at some bad guys and saved Iron man. Terror is now a thing of the past,” Tony said firmly.
“If you say so, sir, the honor would be mine.”
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