Out of his homeland, stripped of his uniform and barred forever from service, Edwin Jarvis adjusted his hands on his too-light suitcase for the umpteenth time and pushed his hat farther onto his head. When he finally made it to the customs officer's desk and was let by without incident, he gave a polite nod before finding a slightly different spot of the dock to stand on while looking just as confused as before.
"First time in the States?" Crooned a suave voice. Jarvis jumped a bit and turned. Howard Stark smiled at him, arms crossed.
"Mr. Stark!" Jarvis smiled, a bit flustered. "I had no idea that you'd come here yourself – I'm sorry if it's caused you any trouble, I didn't mean to-"
"Oh, you apologize too much," Stark rolled his eyes, pushing himself up off the railing he'd been leaning against. "New country, big city, it's overwhelming, that's okay. I'll show you around before you start work –by the way, I need to get you to my tailor for measurements, and acquaint you with my auto mechanic. And half a dozen other things, I'm sure," he sighed, then smiled after a beat, looking up. "But before all that, I brought you a little housewarming gift." Howard gestured to a point behind Jarvis. The Englishman turned to look, and very nearly dropped his suitcase.
She lit up, red lipstick as wide as her smile could stretch it. Her dark hair bounced in the pincurls she'd put in just for him as she bounded forward. He put down his suitcase and took off his hat, and then her arms were around his neck, white gloves digging into his coat. He laughed into her collar and she grabbed his face for a long kiss. When they drew apart, lipstick still all over his mouth, he asked, "How did you get here before I did?"
"Howard Stark is a miracle worker, that's how. He saves your neck, gives you a job, keeps me from the Nazis, and delivers your fiancé to America before you can even blink."
"He- my- my fiancé?" Jarvis stuttered. Anna smiled coyly at him.
"I hope so?" She asked in a way that begged an answer.
"I booked the chapel this weekend, hope that wasn't too hasty," Howard Stark cut in. "Ordered some damn good cake, too, I'd had to see it to go to waste," he wagged his eyebrows. Jarvis felt a small hand on his chest and looked back down at Anna.
"Edwin Jarvis," she could hardly look serious about it for smiling so wide, "Will you marry me?"
Jarvis looked down at her with the dignified yet confused expression that had made her smile when she was still a hotel worker with a crush on a uniform. "My dear," he said in that proper way of his, "it goes without saying that of course I will."
"I love you," she beamed at him, and drew him back down for another kiss.
Howard had no qualms in playing spectator, and smiled at the happy couple. A war-torn world needed a scene or two like this. "Mozel tov," he said quietly, and meant it.
"Do you know, Miss Carter, that before I met you I had never had actual reason to fire a gun." Jarvis let Anna put a bandage across a persistently bleeding cut on his cheekbone. He gave her a smile even while wincing. "Thank you, dear," he brushed her hand, and she hummed in acknowledgement before moving onto Peggy's bruised knuckles.
Peggy was frowning at him. "Weren't you a soldier?" She asked incredulously, not even flinching as Anna moved her wounded hands and examined her arms for damage.
"I was, but you forget that I was discharged before the war. I saw guns. I was trained to use guns. I handled guns. I cleaned guns far more often than my rank should have allowed, but I never actually fired a single shot at another person until today." He huffed at her, pouting. "I don't like it."
Peggy gave him a small smile. "I'm relieved to hear it, I'd be worried for us all if you did. But if it makes you feel any better, you didn't kill him, and he's been very talkative with Agent Thompson." He conceded the point, and she regarded him with a proud gaze. "Still, I'm glad for your aim. I owe you my life." Anna came back into the room with ointment for Peggy's hands and the patient smiled at her caretaker. "You've done good with this one, Anna," She smiled.
"Oh, he's far more capable than he gives himself credit for," She swiveled to give her husband a look, and he turned bright red. Peggy grinned, and Anna turned to face her once again. "You keep him safe too, alright?"
"I will," Peggy promised, glancing back up at Jarvis, who was still blushing, but now looking oddly satisfied with himself.
"Pregnant?" Jarvis stuttered, eyebrows quirking up in a way that suggested simultaneous shock and composure, forming what was overall an extremely English expression.
"Yes, the doctor says he's sure, like, sure sure," Maria Stark twisted her hands in front her, slim figure not yet congruous with the news of the day. She had pulled Jarvis into a back hallway before Howard returned home, desperate for his help.
"Well," Jarvis said, eyebrows still a picture, not sure what to say. "Congratulations, Ma'am," He wanted to smile, but she looked so worried, he couldn't.
"I just… I don't know what to do," Maria hissed, putting her hands up to her head now. "What do I do, Jarvis?"
"Does Mr. Stark know?" Jarvis asked her. "That would be a good place to start."
"No! That's just it," Maria lamented, "It took him so long to come around to the idea of marriage, to propose to me, can you imagine what it will do to him when he finds out I'm… I'm having his child?" She whispered it.
"Ma'am, you're married, there's no scandal in it," Jarvis reminded her when she lowered her voice. She sighed loudly.
"I know, I know," Her voice wobbled, on the verge of tears. "But I don't want to scare him off. I… I love him, and I don't want him to… to…" She stopped talking, and Jarvis didn't realize she was crying until she heaved a strangled sob. He set down the stack of linens he'd been putting away and put an arm around her.
"Mrs. Stark," He said, ever assured, "If you are insinuating that Howard will leave you because of this, let me assure you that he most certainly will not – and of all things, never because of a child."
"How do you know?" She wailed through her stress. "We've never talked about this, about children, about the possibility of children. We tried- we thought that we were… we weren't trying to have children," She shrugged sheepishly. A married man, Jarvis only sighed for her.
"It doesn't matter what either of you were expecting," Jarvis told her. "But it won't change things. He won't leave, because he didn't leave me. He didn't give up on Captain Rogers, or on Agent Carter. He stopped at nothing to keep his inventions from people who mean to do harm, and is still always on the lookout for ways to help in that fight. Those are not the character traits of a man who gives up so easily." She still looked unconvinced. "Howard did not give up his detestable ways for just anyone, Maria Collins Stark," Jarvis said seriously, which made her look up. "He gave them up for you. And if Howard Stark is ready to give his life up for you, he will be nothing but thrilled to hear that you're going to give him a child."
She sniffed. "You think so?"
Jarvis smiled. "I know so."
Later that night, after Maria told her husband that he was a father and Howard had walked around his entire mansion in a daze, he found his way to the balcony where he stood staring at the New York skyline. Jarvis came to give him a drink.
"You knew about this, Jarvis?" Stark asked, numb.
"Actually, yes, sir. Maria told me this morning. She was… anxious to tell you."
"Hmm." Said Mr. Stark. Jarvis poured a martini in silence. After the glass was in Howard's hand, he asked, "what do you think you would do if Anna told you she were pregnant, Jarvis?"
"Well, I'm not sure, Sir. Given our circumstances, I'm afraid I can't even imagine it."
"What d'you mean?" Howard frowned at him. "Anna would be a perfect mother – does she not want kids?"
"Oh, no, it' not that… we both want, um, it's just- Anna, she's, uh… can't…" Jarvis cleared his throat awkwardly. "We won't ever have any children, sir." He bent to put away the bar tools.
"Oh," Howard said suddenly, awkwardly. "I'm so sorry, Edwin, I had no idea." Any time Howard called him 'Edwin', Jarvis knew he was being serious. The butler gave a small shrug, feeling a bit uncomfortable.
"It's quite alright sir, we're both very happy," Jarvis said. "But, if I may say so," he added at length, "given the chance, I believe that being a father would be a great honor in life."
"Yes… I'm sure it would," Howard said, looking out into the distance, frowning and fiddling with his ring. "But you know how to take care of people, Jarvis," He smirked at the butler, "how to look after another person without making a fool of yourself." Stark sighed. "Hell, you're the one who should be having children," He turned to his butler and friend, "Jarvis, I don't' know the first thing about babies or children. I hardly know anything about people." For the first time in their friendship, Howard Stark looked genuinely scared, petrified at the thought of himself ruining a human life like he ruined so many of his failed inventions and threw out so many of his relationships. "It took me five years to work up the courage to ask Maria to marry me, I only get nine months to figure out how to be a father – how the hell am I supposed to do this?"
"Like you have done all things in your new life, sir," Jarvis told him, "You will do this together with the love of your life and the mother of your child – as a team." It was a sentiment as old as time, but Jarvis made it sound as fresh and poetic as jazz. "However, for what it is worth," the butler added in a far less grandiose tone, "Anna and I will be more than thrilled to help look after the child once it's born. She and I both helped raise our younger siblings, and I realize that both you and Mrs. Stark have little experience with children… I do not wish to impose, but… just know that we are here, sir."
Howard nodded and thanked him, returning to his own thoughts for a time while Jarvis swept the patio. Before the butler left, Howard called to him, "What would I do without you, Jarvis?" He actually did mean it. Jarvis considered the question.
"In all likelihood you would starve to death in your own laboratory, or else grow old wandering these halls wondering where I actually keep your liquor cabinet." Jarvis said matter-of-factly. "But then, Anna and I would both be in the grave without you, sir. You're far more capable than you give yourself credit for."
Howard smiled at that, shaking his head. "Thanks, Jarvis." He took a sip of his martini rather than a gulp, and Edwin felt that he would be alright.
"Will that be all, sir?"
"Yeah – hey, uh, Jarvis?" Howard stopped him before he could get too far,
"What's your middle name?"
Jarvis thought it was an odd question, but he answered promptly and politely as he did with all of Mr. Stark's questions. "It's Anthony, Sir."
Howard swirled his martini, tossing the name around in his head. "Alright, I just… didn't know that." He said weirdly, before smiling at his butler. "Goodnight, Jarvis."
"Anthony, you really mustn't touch those, you'll turn the rest of my hair grey, and leave poor Anna to explain this all to your father."
Anthony Edward Stark picked up another circuit board and stuck it in his mouth, biting down with sharp toddler gums and enough saliva to ruin the entire circuitry.
"Now you see, that's just what I told you not to do," Jarvis sighed, trying to take the board back. Anthony struggled with his father's butler but eventually lost. As Jarvis wiped sticky slobber off of the electric circuits, Anthony screwed up his face and began to cry. "Oh, no no no, please don't, you know I don't know what to do when you do that. Oh, and there you go again. I'm very sorry, but your father will be furious with both of us if this continues."
Anthony wailed harder.
"What's all this then?" Anna came into the room and spotted her husband sitting sprawled on the floor with a towel, surrounded by various machine bits and a crying baby.
"Anthony's found another one of Mr. Stark's stashes," Jarvis explained to her. "To be quite frank, my dear, I had no idea he had so many around the house." He sighed, looking at the red faced, snot-nosed baby boy. "Being outwitted by a toddler is infuriating."
"Aww, the poor dear," Anna knelt and picked up Anthony from his spot on the floor, wiping away tears and snot with the corner of her apron. "There there, bubbeleh, it's alright. Teething hurts, doesn't it?" She held him close. Even as he cried, he grabbed at her like she were a warm blanket. She pulled a plastic loop out of her pocket and gave it to him to chew on. He calmed down slowly, letting out a few more wails before finally latching onto the teething ring Anna offered.
Jarvis watched his wife and sighed. "Teething on circuit boards is bound to hurt far worse," he said, and continued cleaning up the mess of Howard's gadget stash. "Anna, you must remind me to ask Mr. Stark where else he's hidden dangerous machinery bits around the house. If Anthony keeps finding them, he'll seriously hurt himself one day."
Anna laughed. "'Anthony', listen to you, so proper. Mr. Jarvis can be quite silly, can't he, Tony?" Anna poked a pudgy red cheek, and Tony looked up at her with big brown eyes, hand slobbery around his toy. "And who says he'll hurt himself? Maybe he'll learn to build something out of them one day," She teased. Tony gurgled. Anna laughed at him.
"Not before he hurts himself," Jarvis grumbled. "Mr. Jarvis is not silly," Edwin grunted as he stood to his feet, "Mr. Jarvis is a reasonable, worried butler who will likely turn completely grey by Christmas because of young master Tony." He said, sighing as he came over to glare at the young Stark in his wife's arms.
Anna reached up with her free hand to brush his greying temples. "I don't know, I think it's rather dashing on you," She smirked at him. Edwin flustered.
"Perhaps when there is still some brown left, my dear."
"And when there isn't any, you'll still be very silly, and even more dashing."
He shook his head, but smiled a tiny bit. "Put him down to sleep until Mrs. Stark returns – I'll clean up this mess."
"He'll find more!" Anna teased as she left with a doe-eyed Tony.
"Oh," Jarvis laughed despairingly, picking up sharp pieces of circuit board and metal scrap, "I know he will."
A black haired, brown eyed, beaming and insanely proud four-year-old stood with his hands held anxiously behind his back as his father examined his work.
"Well what would you know about that," Howard grinned slowly, putting down his wine glass to examine his son's handiwork. "Just like your old man, huh?" He smiled at Tony, and Tony looked as though he would burst from happiness. "That's a good job, son." The euphoric moment lasted only a few seconds. "Oh, uh oh," Howard was still smiling, but it looked a bit more lackluster, now, "Looks like you've got these two wires swapped, sport. See?" Howard plucked the wire endings out of their mounts and twirled them around, swapping them and rearranging the connections. In his business he missed how Tony's expression fell like a stone. "There you go, right as rain," Howard gave the circuit board back to his son with a smile. "Remember that for next time, eh, kid?" He ruffled the boy's hair and winked.
Tony held the circuit board in his hands like a broken toy and shuffled away, leaving his father laughing with his friends and bragging on Tony's intelligence while Tony himself fought back tears.
Jarvis, who had been tending the wet bar, excused himself and followed Tony to his room. It was a massive, extravagant room for a four year old, decked with every toy, gift, comfort and pleasure imaginable for the Stark's only son. In the middle of the floor, Tony pouted, surrounded by the stolen materials he'd used to assemble his creation, which he now kicked across the floor halfheartedly. Jarvis gave a knock on the door.
"Master Stark?" He called, and Tony turned. Jarvis came into the room. "That is a marvelous little invention you have there," He pointed at the circuit board and came to sit by Tony. He picked up the board and examined it, glancing at Tony occasionally. "Very impressive, very lovely." When he saw that his flattery was having no effect on Tony's mood, he changed tactics. "But I must admit, I have no idea how it works." It was a lie, because Howard had explained it and far more advanced technology to Jarvis upwards of a million times. But Tony hadn't. "Do you think you could explain it to me?"
Tony looked up at him and shrugged apathetically. But once he got talking, he started smiling again, and by the end, Jarvis had even gotten a laugh out of him.
"You know, Anthony," Jarvis smiled at him, "I have a sneaking suspicion that you are going to be very good at this," He poked the child on the nose, and Tony smiled. "And we are all going to be very grateful for it."
The motor Tony built at age seven was good, but gave off too much exhaust for Howard's uncritical approval. His straight As in math and science were exemplary, but his D in History is what kept him grounded for two weeks. His insistence to try and 'improve' his father's inventions cost Howard thousands of dollars, and when he graduated from MIT at the top of his class and adored with every honor the school could afford him, the most Howard gave him was an awkward pat on the shoulder.
In all of these things, as with everything else in life, it was Edwin Jarvis who cleaned up Howard Stark's blunders.
It was Jarvis who insisted that everyone come and see when Tony created an engine by himself. It was Jarvis who tutored Tony in history and the arts so that he could graduate with high enough scores to get into college. It was Jarvis who helped show Howard that all was not lost because of a teenager's ambition. It was Jarvis who always welcomed Tony home from boarding school with a smile and listening ear. It was Jarvis who remembered what Tony's favorite meals were, and helped Anna prepare them whenever he could. It was Jarvis who counseled Tony when Howard did not have the time or guts. It was always Jarvis, quietly, gladly holding the Stark family together with a smile and polite English demeanor.
And then came the accident.
Edwin Jarvis stood shakily against his cane, Anna's arm on his, her grey hair bound in a black scarf. She patted his hand when he sniffed back tears, gazing down at the freshly laid soil. A silver-haired Margaret Carter came by and gave them both a hug and a soft word before moving away to a group of unfamiliar suited men, who seemed to follow her orders.
"It's not right," Anna said, and Edwin looked up and around to where his wife gazed. Anthony Stark stood away from the group, his tie undone and his hair blowing untidily in the breeze. He was staring at nothing.
"Pardon me, my dear," Jarvis patted his wife's hand and began to hobble toward Tony. Now nearing eighty years old, Edwin Jarvis could not stand as straight as he wished, nor appear as proper as he used to. But he still embodied that caring form of dignity that had raised Tony through his dysfunctional childhood, and the younger man, as angry and grief-stricken as he was, relaxed slightly as his mentor neared.
"You are lost in thought," Jarvis observed, adjusting his feet on the soft cemetery ground. "That usually means that I should be running from something about to explode," Tony smiled, just a little, "or, like today, that I ought to be listening very closely."
It took several long minutes, but eventually, Tony took a breath, clenched his jaw, shifted his shoulders, and spoke.
"Is it wrong of me to miss her more?" he asked Jarvis. "Is it… it is evil of me to feel nothing for him?"
Jarvis nodded slowly, now understanding. Like a grandfather, he took Tony's hand, gave it a pat and held it. "I think it is merited," he said at length. Tony turned to look at him in surprise. Jarvis had always been nothing but supportive of Howard, it shocked Tony to hear him admit Howard was deficient in any way. "I also think," said Edwin, "That you will feel something, in time. I don't know what or when it will be. But, as ever, Mister Anthony Edward Stark," Jarvis said in his most butlerish tone, "I will be right here."
Tony nodded, slowly, and then more quickly. He choked, and coughed, and eventually got out a quiet, "Thank you, Jarvis."
Jarvis glanced over his shoulder and caught Anna's eye, nodding in an assuring way.
"Of course, Mr. Stark."
It was only three years later that Tony Stark, now CEO of Stark Industries and heralded as the genius of his time, stood again on the same cemetery ground. He no felt everything in the world for the man he'd lost – not for his father, for whom he still felt so little, but for the man who'd been the father that Howard could not muster out of himself.
"Goodbye, Jarvis," He said, quietly. Anna and Peggy were both there too, looking so much older and more lost than they ever had in Tony's youth. There was too much to say about the man they now mourned, and Tony didn't trust himself to say it all. "Thank you."
Goodbyes to the dead always felt so final. But it wasn't the end. It couldn't be. Right? Tony Stark glanced at the freshly engraved headstone.
Edwin Anthony Jarvis
1913 – 1994
Time heals all wounds
Jarvis had requested that the quote be put on his gravestone. Tony did not agree with it, but he would never dishonor his beloved butler's dying wishes. He glanced up at the name, so familiar but so different now, set in stone. Howard had never told his son that they'd named him after their butler, but Tony had figured it out when he was younger. Now, he wondered what it meant to bear the name of another. He supposed, glancing at the space where they'd laid Jarvis' body to rest, that it was to carry on a legacy much bigger than yourself. It wasn't always pretty. But it did mean something, he felt. Jarvis had had a larger impact on Tony than perhaps any other man on earth.
The thought stayed with him through the rest of the sad day, all the way back home to the mansion he'd built on the hillside. Alone that night in his massive home, Tony Stark did not go to sleep. Instead, he pulled out his brand new personal computer, booted up his raw text processor, and began typing.