A/N: This can be read independently from my other fics and romantically has only a bit of Pepperony. The first bit takes place during Tony's mid-twenties. The main section is post-Avengers and if you have read my other fics, can be read as coming between Poison in the Blood and Crystalline Alignment.
First Law Safe, Golden Rule Sound
Sometimes Tony thinks he built Jarvis so he'd have someone to talk to who's less human than he is. So he can pass on the insults about circuitry and heartlessness to someone who they're even more true of.
Other days Tony understands that all he'd ever wanted was someone to teach him how to be human. His father hadn't known how, Obie hadn't cared. And because that was what Tony had wanted, Jarvis was the most human thing that he, perhaps anyone, had ever created.
The first attempt at programming Jarvis had resulted in something extremely polite, and frustratingly passive. How could he not be bored by something so totally unlike himself, so soulless, so dead?
How do you give a program a heart? Drive, intention, purpose, life?
The first Jarvis was not programmed with any motivation outside of following Tony's orders. He started again from the bottom, with the basic change in assumptions that this Jarvis would instead do whatever Tony needed, without necessarily needing to be given orders. He didn't know what would happen, but hopefully it would be more interesting. At least there would probably be more missteps for Tony to correct.
This Jarvis was so different. From the moment he came online, he had a thirsty curiosity, a demand for more knowledge and more space to store it and more processors to understand it with.
A couple of days in, and Tony was so wrapped up in giving this new consciousness everything it needed to grow, to become whatever it was trying to be. And then it said, for the first time, "Sir, I believe you should eat."
That startled him.
Not because it didn't make sense, given the programming, he supposed, but because it reminded him with a jolt of his mother. How did he do that, with such a different voice?
Oh, right, eating. "Okay, okay. Got any suggestions?"
Jarvis seemed to have come up with his own computery version of the Golden Rule. The way Tony treated him was a blueprint for the way he treated Tony. Not in the language he used, necessarily, but in the care, hidden behind fascination, that they took for each other's well being.
This wasn't something Tony was conscious of. Not for a long time. He knew Jarvis seemed to have more personality around him than with the other humans the AI had come in contact with. He was unfailingly polite around Pepper, and with Obie he was similar, replying only when spoken to, which was rarely. Tony supposed this was because Jarvis's programming was focused around Tony.
It wasn't until Bruce started hanging around in the labs at the tower that Tony really began to notice.
It was the mechanical way that Jarvis responded to Bruce that got him interested. "Jarvis, are you feeling okay?" Tony had asked. "You're sounding awfully A and not as I as usual."
"I'm sorry to disappoint, sir, but please note that I was not talking to you."
"Who what now?" Tony frowned.
Bruce smiled, the ever-present tension in his eyes a little less than usual. "Contrary to what you seem to believe, intelligent conversation doesn't always require snark."
"What is this, an intervention? Are you two ganging up on me to try and cure me of chronic foot-in-mouth? Because it won't work. Pepper will tell you it's a losing battle."
"Never, sir," said Jarvis.
"I simply find that being adept in more than one form of conversation to be useful. That you might someday find the same to be true is beside the point."
Well, that certainly sounded more like the Jarvis he'd programmed. Tony did not know what to say to that, so he sat back to collect more data.
In fact when he listened more closely, Tony could tell that the doctor and the AI had developed a sort of verbal shorthand that was efficient and businesslike, but not without friendliness.
He became fascinated, and asked Jarvis to replay conversations he had had with others. With most people he was the simple polite servant that his voice was meant to indicate. The playback from Jane's visit to the labs, however, was different. Jarvis echoed her speech style and became a dramatic storyteller, relating what could have been simple scientific data as adventurous anecdotes.
"I didn't know you could do that. You been holding out on me with any other personalities, Jarvis?" Tony asked.
Tony could have sworn the AI hesitated before answering.
"There is the question of Pepper, sir."
Tony had never heard him call his girlfriend anything but "Miss Potts." He braced himself. "What 'question' is that, Jarvis?"
"She has been known to confide in me."
Tony frowned. "Confide? Confide what?"
"If I told you, that would rather ruin the point of their being confidences, would it not?"
"So your loyalty is to her now?" Tony accused.
"I have been programmed with the imperative to do as you require. Your well-being is my first priority. It is because of that imperative that the well-being of Miss Potts is also important to me. You could hardly survive without her, sir, if only because I have no hands with which to bring you food."
"Very funny, Jarvis."
Tony contemplated this information.
"Why would you even tell me if you're not going to tell me? You know it'll drive me mad with curiosity. What do my girlfriend and my AI talk about when I'm not around? What, does she ask your opinion on her shoes? No, if it were something small you'd just have shown me. Or said no. There's something important you want me to know here. What is it?"
"Perhaps you should speak with Pepper. She has a great deal on her mind."
Tony blew his breath out noisily. "Talk. Right. I don't suppose you could give me any clues?"
The AI was way too smart for his own good. Tony briefly considered dismantling Jarvis and finding the files of his conversations with Pepper. But Jarvis was right. He always was.
Some days Tony resents Jarvis for being better at being human than Tony is. Because right, all he needs is another great man, another set of standards to live up to. A reminder that he's still not good enough.
Most of the time Tony realizes that that is exactly what he needs. A good example. A person too perfect to be real. Someone to stick around, pay attention and call him on his big mistakes before they blow up in his face.
Someone more than human.