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The Bishop's Gambit

Chapter Text

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*Journalist’s voice on TV*

We’re broadcasting live from the New York central cemetery, where the billionaire Tony Stark has just said goodbye to another piece of his family. Buried alongside Stark’s mother and father, Edwin Jarvis will now rest in the Stark family grave, under precise indication of the young boy he contributed to raise. Stark Industries have released an official note in which Mr. Stark has described Mr. Jarvis has having been the most loyal and caring friend one should ask to be at your side. Today Tony Stark hasn’t released any official declarations, although there’s a rumor Stark Industries is working on a new high-tech artifact for the Army that has just increased the quotation of 5%.

The vice-CEO Obadiah Stane outside the cemetery has not confirmed this rumor by only expressing the desire to stay close to his step-son. Mr. Stane is, in fact, the last piece of family left to the genius billionaire Tony Stark.

***************

 

Tony remembered to have walked in the fog for the following weeks.

He worked too many hours than it was advisable, and it was only thanks to his co-workers, and to Yinsen in particular, if he remembered to take a break to eat and drink. It became normal to find Mr. Stark sleeping under his desk at first dawn, or, when he was lucky, on the couch in his office.

He kept everything there, secured in his suitcase, and he just went to a random hotel rooms once in a while to take a shower and wash his clothes.

He traveled around with a briefcase with his laptop (a new personal design that Stark Industries was about to launch on the market), and a couple of pen drives where he had put Jarvis’s last recordings and documents. He has secured a copy of everything, including Jarvis’s mobile and wallet in a security box in the bank. He has also put there the alarm, Jarvis’s last present to him, because it was simply too painful to hear his voice every morning: more than once he has awaken by thinking that the real Jarvis was calling him, and he had to start the day by realizing that Jarvis was not there anymore. After a couple of weeks he has realized he couldn’t afford it.

Taking that decision has costed him a huge effort, that left him without energy for a couple of days. He stayed in a five star suite in a random hotel, with room service for lunch and dinner and the company of the television at every hour of day and night. He couldn’t afford to be alone, because silence reminded him what he has lost, what his arrogance has costed him. Now everything reminded him of Jarvis: he saw him preparing the coffee for him in the morning, he confronted how the eggs were cooked in the breakfast, or how the bed has been made, and he heard his disapproval tone when he wasted too much water in the shower, or his calm and relaxing tone when he was crying himself to sleep hugged at his pillow.

It was simply too much, and he didn’t know whether he could endured this.

Surprisingly, Obadiah hasn’t called him or made an approach apart from the official times they were together at the company. Tony was barely aware that it was all part of his strategy: he was luring him in his hands once again, by simply waiting for him to crack and be caught in the web like a dumb mosquito. He was a good hunter, patient and waiting in the shadows for his prey. After all, he has waited 12 years before taking what he really wanted, and more than 3 to eliminate the new obstacle between himself and his prey.

But with Jarvis gone, it was a matter of time before Tony fell voluntarily in his hands. He had foreseen it, but it felt worthless now. He felt to have been arrogant and stupid, to believe that this whole plan could work, that he could that alone.

He wanted to quit, and to stop thinking in everything else that wasn’t his work.

He has received only a couple of calls from work, all by Yinsen who wanted his approval on something they were working on. That was evidently an excuse the young Afghani engineer made to check on his conditions. He was also making up excuses to have Tony come back to work, and after four days he succeeded.

So from that moment on, creating stuff was the only thing that maintained him alive and more or less mental stable. After all, he needed to be extremely focused not to make the all Manhattan island exploding. Lucky for him, Yinsen was always there to prevent major disasters: once he picked up an instrument from Tony’s shaking hands, by suggesting he needed to rest because he had worked too much. Tony got the hint without remorse, and went upstairs to his office.

On his desk he found a small box of pills with a small note: “To help you sleep. Obie”

Tony sadly smiled: he has done the first move.

But God knew if he needed to sleep.

So he took two pills and let the darkness swallowing him.

_______________________________________________

After four or maybe five months of this life, Tony has finally found a new flat up to his tastes. Lucky for him it was going to be ready soon, because there were also some works to be done at the electric and security systems, but he could decide the design of the interior. According to the agent, it was a really unique occasion: a penthouse in the core of Manhattan, with an amazing sight view thanks to the gigantic windows and a huge master bedroom with a private toilet that looked like a SPA. When he has inspected it all the rooms were empty, and Tony had agreed on the designer almost on everything, not because he liked her proposals but because he didn’t care much. For instance, he would have liked a piano, but according to the lady it would have destroyed the Feng-Shui or something. He hasn’t insisted.

The flat was large and modern, and yes it had an excellent view on the city from his very huge windows. It was a penthouse on a high skyscraper with different offices and other apartments at the various floors. There was a main entrance with controls and check-ins so that no-one could have entered undesired. Tony could access his penthouse through the main entrance from the corridor, but also through the elevator, by using a private key and a secret code from the main elevator. There was also the possibility to directly connect to other apartments in the building if one knew the code or have the key.

Tony considered it carefully and asked for three copies of his personal keys. That night, he slept once again in a fancy hotel room, but while he was eating cheeseburger and fries on his bed he worked on his laptop and bought also different other apartments in town under fake names. One was exactly under his new flat, with only one copy of the keys.

“In case I need some privacy…” he thought to himself. He wanted to be sure he had somewhere to disappear in, or to take shelter in case he was hurt again by Obadiah. This time, he wouldn’t have had Jarvis to come to his rescue so he had to be able to rescue himself. He didn’t know why he was doing all of this, but maybe he was just too attached to life, as if a part of himself couldn’t let go of this dumb plan he has designed.

“Game still on!” he heard that selfish part telling him, all wrapped in his fancy suit. He remembered him of his father. “But we won’t like what comes next…”

He knew what was going to happen, and that it would have happened soon. The pills were just the beginning.

However he was glad for them because he managed to sleep. He took five of them again and let his mind being lost while the TV and all the nights were still on.

 

He woke up in the middle of the night because he was dreaming. The exceptional thing in this was that he didn’t dream when he took those pills. But now he has dreamt and in his dreaming there were again monsters made of smoke, and he could see their grins only when the fireworks exploded.

He woke up wet and upset, only to realize that he was in a room he didn’t recognize. All the lights were turned off, as well as the TV. The room was barely enlighten by the lights of the town as visible from the big windows. A tall figure stood facing the window, but Tony couldn’t see him well. He looked familiar though.

“Jarvis?” he called. Who else would have entered his room and turn the lights off? Jarvis always did like that since Tony was a kid, and he has kept doing that till the last days before he…

As always, memory made its way inside his brain one second later, by leaving him gasping out of air. It was painful every time, and Tony afforded it only because of those little moments of illusion, when he could still pretend Jarvis to be still alive.

Only this time, after that illusion has been once again broken by his own memory, he realized that the figure standing in front of the window was real. And then he saw the figure turning towards him and the light of a cigar slightly illuminating his face and his beard.

“Try again, boy” Obadiah’s voice told him.

How has he entered here? It didn’t mind, though: Tony knew he would have happened sooner or later, and, to be honest, they were already quite late.

“Aren’t you surprise to see me?” he heard him asking, by making his way towards his side of the bed. He sat next to him, but Tony didn’t move. He didn’t move away when the other removed the sheets over him, and he didn’t move while the other was caressing his face, and then all the way down his body till his pants.

“It seems you were expecting me, weren’t you?” the man mumbled. And since Tony wasn’t answering, he squeezed his balls by making him emitting a soft cry of pain.

“Oh! So do you still have a voice!” the other complimented him. Then he touched his pajamas and ordered: “Took this off and join me at the window! There are going to be fireworks!”

Tony did like he has been ordered to, like he couldn’t refuse to do it. His mind has gone completely blind, with a static noise padding his perception of the world surrounding him. While he was taking off his clothes, he noticed that his shoulder hurt and his muscle there was rigid: he rubbed his fingers over it and found like the sign of a puncture.

“So this is what is going on” he heard a part of himself commenting. There were many parts of him present at the same time in the room, but they were all like ghosts surrounding him. Tony heard a child screaming in terror and run in the wardrobe to hide, mumbling a song he knew as well. Another part was really well-dressed and he closed the door of the wardrobe by mumbling something about a plan… or was it a game of chess?

Tony didn’t mind them and like a drone he followed Obadiah’s instructions.

The man has moved one armchair in front of the window and ordered him to put his knees over there, by facing the big sight view of New York.

“Carnival fireworks will start soon” Obadiah said, caressing his back all the way down to his spine till his butt cheeks. He took his time to squeeze and pat them, like a butcher inspecting the meat before the cut. Then he added: “We still have time before it, though. And you haven’t been punished in a while, naughty boy. Pull it up!”

And Tony stretched his butt up while he heard the other removing his belt. He had already a tear in his eyes even before the first slap, but still he had to suffocate a cry.

“Stay still and ready for each one!” Obadiah instructed it. “And if you want the lube, you better count aloud!”

“Two… three… four…” Tony started despite the knot in his throat and the growing pain on his back. “… nineteen… twenty…”

“Enough for now, but we’ll continue later!” he heard him saying.

Tony didn’t dare to move while the other was getting naked. He made him spreading his legs more and started to lube him, carefully and fully, by inserting one finger after the other until he had almost his whole fist in there.

“You didn’t tighten too much from the last time!” he commented, pleased. “Maybe that fucking bastard of butler was also good at this?”

Tony turned against him in open fury at that insinuation. But he was immediately slapped back with violence, and then punched repeatedly in his belly until he raised a hand, asking for mercy. Obadiah grunted but he stopped. He took him by the hair and dragged him on his feet and then down on his faces. Tony had his nose practically on the big window and he could see the air from his mouth on the glass in front of him.

“Naughty boy!” the man spitted, by taking his place behind him. He grabbed at his hip with one hand, while with the other he was hardening himself. “You’re a slutty naughty boy, Tony! And toys get ripped from naughty boys, do you remember that?”

Tony nodded slowly, already out of breath. He couldn’t figure out what he would have meant, but for now all that it matters was that he was going to be fucked once again in front of a window. And his mind was rushing back in time and the shame and pain were just blinding his capacity of thinking completely.

He heard the other putting the head of his cock right at his entrance, while with both hands he grabbed his hips, tightly.

Then the man waited, like he always did, only to increase his bottom’s suffering and his own pleasure. But this time Obadiah was also waiting for something else.

When the Carnival fireworks started to explode and to illuminate the sky, the window unmercifully reflected the young lad on his four and the big though man behind him. The grin in Obadiah’s face greatly contrasted with the petrified look in Tony’s eyes. And it took Tony’s mind only seconds before being pushed back at that New Year’s Eve when everything for him has changed.

And in that moment, Stane put himself inside him at once and Tony led out a cry, putting his hand on the window.

 

He went on for hours, with the usual repertoire: belt, fuck, spank, blowjob, sleep, spank, fuck again.

Then Tony was left alone in the hotel room he has booked for himself last evening, with the order to take a shower and wait for him.

They had breakfast in his room with coffee and chuffed pistachio pastries. Again, the usual.

“I think we should establish some rules from now on, boy” Obadiah stated. “But first of all, let’s make things clear. What do you really want Tony?”

In that moment Tony thought that he wanted to vomit, to scratch his skin to the bones, to die on fire, and maybe also to throw himself out of the window (if only they weren’t sealed…). But another part of him wanted to stab the man in front of him, to see him slowly dying for what he has done to his family and recently to Jarvis.

He looked at him and saw the other self, the rational one, next to him.

“We’ve got a plan to follow!” that other self was telling him.

“I- I wish to go back to the lab, to create things for you!” Tony said aloud. “I like to create things… I’ve missed creating things… and you seem quite proud of my bon-bon… aren’t you?”

“I am, my boy, I am!” the other said, by touching his knee in a very paternalistic mood. But every touch from him appeared dirty and Tony couldn’t refrain to frown a bit. “If that’s what you want” the other was following, not minding his reactions, “maybe we can reach an agreement … let’s see: you’ll work with the engineers, and I took care of the administration. But you have to show your face at the Board meeting every once in a while. I’ll tell you when, don’t worry! As for extra…”

“You mean this?” Tony asked waving around.

He regretted his sarcastic tone one second later, while he saw his uncle’s eyes becoming cold. “Sorry…” he muttered but he knew it was too late.

“Take your pants down!” the man ordered, standing.

“Obie…” he tried, but he made things only worse.

When he felt satisfied, he left him crying on the carpet, holding his sore bottom.

“I want you in the lab this afternoon!” Obadiah told him. “And reserve this room for the full week. You need to be taught again how to behave, naughty boy!”

That afternoon, Tony dragged himself in the lab in a sort of semi-conscious way. He was wearing sunglasses to hide the blue eye, and he carefully avoided to sit (the journey in the taxi was a sort of torture). He tried to work, but it was like his mind was making a big effort to maintain him awake: the formula blurred in front of him, and his complicated graphs suddenly made no sense at all.

Everyone of his young engineers (the ones who have resisted till that moment, that’s to say) were a bit perplexed, and they whispered among each other. Tony recognized that they were talking about him and they were murmuring that he was maybe drunk. Only Yinsen came closer with a cup of coffee.

“Rough night?” he asked, with his strong but nice accent.

“Rough everything…” Tony replied, but he was glad for the coffee.

He liked Yinsen’s coffee because he made it in a way that made it stronger than every other coffee Tony has ever drunk (and he was a sort of sommelier at that point of his life). In that moment he really needed a strong coffee to be able to process the world in front of him.

He and Yinsen drank their coffees in silence.

“There’s a nice conference in Bern next month on sustainability” Yinsen said out of nothing. “I was thinking that maybe we should attend it… as Stark Industries, I mean. We might present some of our recent projects. Obviously you should select your favorite engineers, but I’d be glad to be taken into consideration, Mr. Stark.”

“Bern is like… France or something?” Tony asked back. He has never been good in geography.

“Switzerland, Mr. Stark” Yinsen replied, by collecting his empty mug. He looked him straight in the eyes and added: “I was thinking that you might need a break, Mr. Stark… to get out of this for a while. After a loss, sometimes it’s good to go away for a while.”

Tony was a bit moved: since Jarvis’s funeral, that was the first time someone actually cared for his well-being. They all saw him like a money-maker or a ‘golden goose’ as they called him, but nobody has never asked him how he felt. Apart from Yinsen.

“That sounds nice…” he had to admit. “And, sure, you should come with me… maybe also Carl… or was he Jacob?”

It was indeed quite intriguing the perspective of going in Europe for a while, and also to attend a conference and have a break from his New York life, where everything reminded him of what he has lost. And maybe with the excuse of the conference, it would have been nice to make a deviation and...

“And what?” he heard a part of his mind telling him. “Disappear? Once you are in the game you stay in the game! We are not waiting for it to happen, we’ll make this happen!”

“Yeah, I’m in the game…” he muttered.

“I beg your pardon, Mr. Stark?” Yinsen asked.

Tony considered him for a while: now that Jarvis was gone, and Rhodey was abroad trying to become a Colonel or something, he had no one left. He has tried to involve Miss Cargill but she has run away, fully aware on the dangerous path they were walking on. Maybe this guy, though, could be a player to? He has already given him some plans to deliver in certain place, and despite he has probably understood what was going on, Yinsen has come back.

He seemed a nice person, a caring one… but did he really want to involve him more in this mess especially after what has happened to Jarvis?

“Do you have a family, Yinsen?” he asked.

The other smiled a bit and took a family portrait from his wallet. “This is my wife, Hajira, and these are my daughters, Esin, the elder one, Nahal and Asmaan. And these are my father and mother, and my brother Mursalin. We used to live in Gulmira, together with my brother’s and my uncle’s families. Together in a single house with not so many bedrooms like the one we have here in America. My girls were fascinated not to share the room with their cousins!”

Tony was fascinated by the big family and also by the very different clothes. “Where are they now?” he asked.

“Well, my wife and my youngest daughters are with me here” Yinsed answered, with a sort of sadness in his voice. “Esin stayed with her grandparents and the rest of the family. I’ve heard they were trying to leave Gulmira because of the war.”

“Which war?” Tony asked again, surprised. For as long as he remembered, there was no war there. Not officially, that’s to say.

“There’s always a war going on in that part of the world, Mr. Stark” Yinsen replied, with like an ancient wisdom in his voice. “That’s maybe the reason we are shipping so many of your tech missiles over there.”

“Wait? What? I haven’t authorized any shipment recently!”

He could tell that the other guy appeared a bit surprised. “I’m sorry, Mr. Stark, I supposed you knew about that. Mr. Stane told us you approved…”

He didn’t need to finish the sentence: he has seen the sunglasses falling down a bit, revealing the big blue eye under them, and he has done his math quite quickly.

“Mr. Stark! What- what happened?” he asked, honestly worried. But once again he couldn’t finish.

A group of ten or twelve policemen and SWAT agents have entered the LAB guns in hand, shouting everybody to freeze. A detective made his way towards them and greeted Mr. Stark with a nod.

“Ho Yinsen?” he asked then to the other guy.

“Yes?” he replied, confused.

The detective put a paper in front of them and said: “Ho Yinsen, you’re under arrest for suspect weapon traffic and attempt to national security! You’ve the right to remain silent…”

Two SWAT agents have grabbed him and put him face on the desk, handcuffing him behind his back.

“That’s ridiculous!” Tony tried to intervene. “It must be a mistake or something…”

“Apologies, Mr. Stark, but we’ve many proofs of Mr. Yinsen’s illegal activity so far!” the detective said, while the SWAT agent were dragging Yinsen away.

“Mr. Stark!” he tried to call him. “Please, my family…”

But while they were exiting the door in the general astonishment Tony saw him: Obadiah was waiting at the door and he and the detective briefly exchanged a nod, before the agents were gone. Stane clapped both his hand and with his loud voice he shouted: “You have nothing to do, all of you? Keep on working, so we can wipe out this unfortunate incidents! And from now on we will install a double security device! You may consider working on it, would you, my boy?”

Tony was just speechless and astonished by the events.

“Oh, I see…” Obadiah said by coming near him and patting him on the shoulders, in a very protective way, perfectly aware that everybody was watching. “You trusted that guy, didn’t you? Tony, Tony… how many times I have to tell you that terrorists and yellow faces are not worth trusting? But you wanted to do it your way and that’s the result! If I hadn’t noticed that shipment invoice, we would have our bon-bon in the hands of terrorists! But now everything’s fixed, and the press will praise us for our internal security, so no need to worry! I’ve taken care of everything!”

Then he came closer to him, taking him in an suffocating hug. “I’ve told you” he whispered in Tony’s ears with his scent of cigar. “Toys get ripped from naughty boy’s hands…”

“Please, Obie…” Tony murmured. “He has a family…”

“Then I hope you’ll behave or his family will follow an even worse destiny!” he menaced him in a whisper. “Those two little girls seemed quite nice, indeed…”

“I’ll do what you want!” Tony said, immediately.

Stane smiled, by moving away from him.

“Fixed that firewall, my boy!” he shouted at him. “And I’ll see you for dinner. I’ve got some special plans for you…”

____________________________________________

[10 months later]

Tony wasn’t proud of himself, but honestly what could he do?

Every time he tried to do something, someone got hurt. The last in order was the young lad who was doing an internship from MIT, who got severely injured in an explosion during an experiment. The journalists started to gossip that the young Stark was heavily drunk in that occasion, and that this has caused a fall in the security system. Tony knew that it has been probably his fault, but he wasn’t drunk, although he has finished a bottle of scotch the evening before: the new pill Obie has given him that morning were messing up with his mind, at a certain point he has completely lost the ability of holding things.

The incident has been a direct consequence of this.

Obviously that heavily impacted on their company, and Obie has ordered him not to put his nose outside his house for the following three days. He basically grounded him like a child, always acting like the responsible godfather in front of the press and everyone else. Only Tony knew what happened when no one was watching, and the private elevator in his new fancy penthouse rang by announcing an incoming visitor. And only Obadiah had the code to access directly there.

So Tony was simply carrying on, without even attempting at hiding his turns of humor, his ups and downs alternating like on a roller-coaster. Nobody cared for him, why should he care for the others?

He felt like trapped in a cage he has contributed at creating, while he was just repeating the same patterns every day.

He didn’t have a fixed routines: sometimes he just stayed in the bed the whole day, too wasted physically or emotionally to move; sometimes he went out at parties, and he followed the lead of every nice lady who wanted to have a piece of him, not minding if he was a random kiss on the news, or something more serious in his bed or in a random hotel room. On that point they’ve established a sort of unspoken truce with Obadiah: girls or women every age were fine, but no other man was allowed. The only time Tony had a threesome with the von Strucker twins, his godfather went terribly mad at him, and not only for the resonance that this had had on the company’s good name. Tony has liked the twins, even if they were a bit creepy, but at least they were funny. And they haven’t done him anything he didn’t want to do.

But the best days were when he got a random idea and closed himself in the lab, working hard and forgetting to eat and drink for more than 16 hours, until eventually he passed out under the deskin the middle of the night. The cleaning ladies in the morning usually woke him up, by giving him something to drink. Tony was grateful to them, but he didn’t allow himself to know their names or to let them come any closer to him: actually, when one old Caribbean lady started to be too nice to him to remind him of his mother, he made some phone calls to have the lady and her friends moved to another job, well remunerated and also more up to their qualifications (some of those ladies hold a MA apparently!).

It was during one of this working day that the package arrived.

It was the middle of the afternoon, and after having worked on some tank radar for the whole night and morning, Tony has come upstairs to take a nap in his office: there was a miscalculation he couldn’t find and he was terribly pissed. Moreover, he knew that he was already late with that project and Obie wasn’t going to take it lightly (he hasn’t for the rest of the things Tony was always late at providing him).

“Mr. Stark!” one of Stane’s secretary called him. “Mr. Stane has urged me to inform you that he will be home tonight at 2 PM and that he wants to speak to you albeit the hour. Should I confirm you’ll be at home?”

Tony looked right through her: she knew everything, but she didn’t care or maybe she was glad of that.

“Yeah… as always…” he replied. He didn’t care.

“Oh, Mr. Stark! A package has arrived from Kirschner&Brown, the law office. Their lawyer has been strictly instructed to deliver the package into your hands personally. So he’s waiting in your office!”

“Why didn’t you call me?” he asked, with a strange tone of voice that made the woman backed up frantically.

He dropped the issue and went to meet the young lad in his office.

“Foggy Nelson, Mr. Stark” he introduced himself. “I’ve come from Kirschner&Brown. We had this under custody with precise instructions to deliver it to you on this date. Directly to you, so I’ve waited. You have to sign here, please. Here you go! Thank you, Mr. Stark, we’re done!”

He passed him a large envelope with his name and the address of the Stark Industries printed on it. There were no other indications of the sender.

The young lad was about to go away when Tony asked: “Who left this?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Stark. My boss said we’ve received it two years ago, more or less, inside a larger envelope with a huge check and precise instructions. It’s not as unusual as it might sound like!”

“Two years ago…” Tony mumbled. Then he asked the guy what day and month was today, and he thanked him for his visit.

He stayed for long sat on his couch, just looking at the envelope in front of him. He wasn’t sure on the reasons why he felt so sad right now, but a question was running inside his mind: who has written to him two years ago, by sending this two years in the future?

Maybe it was only the product of a mythomaniac or a maniac tout court, someone who only looked for publicity or, even worse, someone who wanted to blackmail him.

So the question was: what he was doing two a years ago more or less in the same period of the month. Thanks to that lawyer he knew when he was living, but now he had to figure out what he could have done two years before. Lucky for him that thing called internet was a bit more widespread than years ago and Stark Industries was one of the leading companies in tech artifacts. So Tony just have to check on his computer in the office about the events that involve Tony Stark during that same month two years ago.

One of the first result was a video of a journalist’s reportage. It turned the volume on and he heard the journalist saying: “We’re broadcasting live from the New York central cemetery, where the billionaire Tony Stark has just said goodbye to another piece of his family. Buried alongside Stark’s mother and father Howard, Edwin Jarvis will now rest in the Stark family grave, under precise indication of the young boy…”

The service went on put he has stopped listening.

Two years! He has buried Jarvis two years ago… it seemed yesterday! How was it possible? How fast has the time passed? How much time has he already lost? What was he doing?

“Would you manage all of this without me, Mr. Stark?” he remembered Jarvis’s voice to have asked him.

He has answered “Yes” but they both knew it was a lie. He remembered Jarvis to have smiled at him without saying nothing more.

He remembered that day when he was so proud of the meeting he has managed to obtain in Washington DC; he remembered how Jarvis has prepared him breakfast as always, with toasted bread with blueberry jam among other things. Then he has helped him with his tie.

“It’s gonna be alright!” he remembered to have told him, confident. “After I’ve talked to this Mr. Secretary we could retire somewhere under witness’s protection. Only you and me… Maybe on a large house near the ocean in Malibu! Or on that amazing house near the lake where we went on holiday with mum once! Do you remember it Jarvis?”

“I remember, Mr. Stark. I’ve told you how to fish and you’ve fallen in the lake…” the old butler has smiled at him, and that smile has warmed up Tony’s heart. He felt safe when Jarvis was with him, and even the nights were not a problem anymore.

He remembered that Jarvis has taken his face with his hands and put their foreheads together for a moment, in a way that Tony’s father Howard has done the last time they’ve seen each other. Tony now thought that he should have known from this, he should have felt that it was not going to end well... But at the time he was proud of the contact he has created, he was feeling optimistic to leave this absurd game once and for all, by letting another player finish the match.

So it was with confidence that he has waved his way out of the apartment he shared with his beloved father figure.

“See you for dinner, Jarvis! We will probably have to celebrate!” he has said.

“Then I should have your favorite cake ready, Mr. Stark, the blueberry one!” the other has replied. Was this dialogue real or a made-up memory?

But then Jarvis for sure had added: “Tony? Be careful!”

Those were the last words he has heard from Jarvis.

He felt tears running again into his eyes, his red eyes fatigued by the lack of sleeping. “I guess I’ve failed you, old pal…” he mumbled while on the screen it appeared an old archive picture of Jarvis. “I miss you so much…”

Like those days directly after Jarvis’s death, Tony felt the whole inside him hitching at his soul, with the feeling of never being complete again. He sat at his desk and all those painful memories were making their ways back to his mind, together with the sense of guilty he had so desperately tried to suffocate with alcohol and pain.

He looked around to search a Kleenex or similar and his eyes met the envelope he had left on the corner of the desk. An envelope sent to him the same day Jarvis has died. Coincidence?

He took the envelope and opened up ungracefully, putting its content on the desk. There was a letter, and another small wrapped-up package. The letter seemed to have been opened and read more than once, and it was addressed “To Jarvis – H.”. Tony’s heart was rushing while he was picking up two papers inside it, one with the peculiar handwriting of his father Howard.

“Dear Jarvis,” it started. “I hope you will apologize me for having fired you… and no, it wasn’t for the punch! You were damn right in punching me two nights ago! I am an asshole, and a terrible father…  But I can’t deal with Tony… not now at least!”

So this has been written by Howard shortly after having fired Jarvis… Tony knew that letter because Jarvis has shown him everything he has collected from his father during those three years they’ve been apart. So why sending him this letter again?

He looked more carefully and discovered that some sentences of the letter have been underscored with a red pencil: “I’ll be able to take him away from the two thinks I care the most: Tony and my company!.... , I bet he will graduate in three years at least… he’s such a genius! …. I’m very proud of him!... if something happens to me and, I’m afraid, my wife, please tell Tony that we both love him…

And right under his father’s signature, another hand wrote with the same red pencil: “Your father and mother loved you, Tony. And I did the same! You’ve been a son to me… and I will always be proud of you!”

Tony recognized Jarvis’s signature and started to cry again, although this time a warm sensation was like slowly filling his mind.

So that was Jarvis’s plan, his way to make him know that he was not alone, that they didn’t despise what he had become… but they should! He has failed them all, he has made their sacrifice worth nothing!

But then there was another letter, dated again the same day of Jarvis’s death.

My dear boy,

If you’re reading this letter, I’ve probably left this world. Like the story of king Croesus, I hope not to have suffered much. I have no regrets but one: not to have been by your side when you needed me the most, to have left you in the hands of that monster by telling myself it was going to be fine… I was a stupid, selfish old man, and I hope you might forgive me one day.

Now I know to have failed you again: I’ve left you alone once more, and I’m sure that monster has managed to trap you in his spires. But I want you to know that I don’t blame you for this nor for anything else: not for me being death, or for what that monsters is doing to you, or for whatever sense of failure you may be experiencing right now. You haven’t failed anyone, my boy! And I am and will always be very proud of you!

But the real reason I’m writing to you and asking a famous lawyer company to deliver this to you two years from now is that I suspect you may be suffering, and you desperately need someone by your side. And since I can’t be physically there, despite how much I wish to, I’ve thought that maybe it was worthy remember you that I will be by your side forever. You’ve found a way, in that brilliant brain of yours, to let me by your side once more… even more helpful than before!

So, Tony, complete your work: you can also call him J2 if you like, I’d say nothing about it… actually I’d say nothing at all because I’ll be death! But as they always told us, the ones we truly love never leave us completely… complete your work, Tony, and let this old butler’s stories be my legacy and my final gift to you.

And if you want, my boy, please put an end to this! You need to finish this game… run away or win, it’s the same, but you have to move on because you have another important game in front of you: your life!

Be happy, Tony, if you may… but whatever happens, remember I’ll always love my dear boy!

Your almost-father,

Jarvis

p.s. be careful and don’t let this end up in the wrong hands! And in case you need a cover-story, I attach you something useful!

 

Tony couldn’t contain himself from pouring tears he didn’t know to have left. He read the letter twenty or more times, by caressing each word with his fingers, imagining the hand that had written them, the man who had hold that pencil. The same man and the same hand who had hold him so many times, that have cleaned his face and feed him when he was a baby, that have caressed him when he needed to, without questioning his age or telling him to “man up!”.

Tony missed him more than he missed his father and mother, that was the truth.

But now Jarvis wasn’t simply telling him the goodbye they didn’t have. He was giving him back hope, a little small hope to remind him that it was still a possibility, a secret pawn they could put in the game, and that hope laid in the wrapped package on his desk. Inside of it, there was a recorder, the one Tony has bought Jarvis and asked him to record on tape with his voice every details of his life, everything he could remember, not only facts, but also emotions, sensations, conjectures. He had told him he would have not listened to those recordings, and only used them to train J2, an artificial intelligence based on Jarvis’s pattern of thoughts and personality.

Tony knew were the other recordings were hiding, but until that moment he hadn’t started nothing. And now the past Jarvis was sending to his boy in the future the recorder, which means that it contains the last words Jarvis has ever spoken to him, and that he wanted those words to reach him in the future.

Tony picked up a pair of earphones and listened to Jarvis’s last message.

_____________________________________________________________

He hasn’t waited for Obadiah at home. He hasn’t waited for Obadiah at all, too focused on the news he has received to barely leave his desk.

But he was not completely stupid and so he had built up a cover. So when Stane rushed in his office at 3 AM, completely furious for his disobedience, he could have told him that he was unaware of the time because he was trying to fix those radars they’ve already sold to the Army. He has worked for two days and nights, and Obie’s own secretary would have confirmed that, but now he has found a solution!

“Will it work now?” Stane has asked, as always interested in money more than in anything else.

“They will, no more flaws!” Tony assured. “It was just a miscalculations in the script, but now it’s fixed. Actually, I dare to say that it’s way more efficient than what we have promised… we should charge them more!”

He saw the man fixing his eyes over him, like he was studying his face.

“Are you lying to me, boy?” he asked, angry.

“What? No! I told you, I was working on fixing these radars…”

“These radars would have required Tony Stark a couple of hours to find a bug in the script!” he shouted back at him. Then he relaxed and picked up his phone, pressed a couple of buttons and turned it towards Tony. “That’s your computer history today! And look what did you look for on the internet? You’re still mourning that bastard of a butler, aren’t you?”

“I-“ Tony’s mouth opened and closed a couple of times. To Obadiah, he looked like he was panicking. But Tony was really thinking on the implications of this: because that meant that Obadiah had access to his own computer at Stark Industries, maybe also to all his devices connected through the network. That meant that whatever he was going to plan for the future, he needed to plan it offline. But has else did he heard or knew? Lucky for him he has already put a disturbance signal for audio or video interception, similar to the one at work at Mr. Secretary’s office.

After what appeared a long time, Tony tried to remain calm and answered: “I’ve received something from Jarvis today… by an attorney!”

“Yes, Janice informed me!” Stane replied be referring to his secretary. “What did that bastard of a butler send to you? Give it to me! Now, boy! I won’t repeat it twice!”

And Tony picked up the envelope and took a piece of paper out. He gave it to Obadiah by saying: “Jarvis left me his house in New York, and a small ranch he had somewhere near the lake. There’s also a list of charity associations he asked me to donate his money to. Look at the date: it was made 5 year ago, when I was still under your care…”

“Uh” Obadiah seemed confused and, at the same time, persuaded it was not a menace while he examined the papers. “And why has it arrived today?”

“The guy of the legal office said that there was a bit of a mess a couple of years ago because they’ve moved the whole office to another building. Some of this “cold practices” were badly stored and now the interns’ dutiy is to contact the families…”

Stane considered the thing for a long while, then he ripped the paper apart.

“Well I guess that was the last toy to be taken from you!” he stated. “For now at least! But I’m sure we will find other toys for you… maybe a nice secretary? You need one for sure, since you’re always late and can’t manage your contacts!”

“I- I know… I’m sorry! I’m trying my best but I can’t…”

“Well, obviously your best is not enough!” Stane said. He moved to the door and closed it with the key.

He only needed to glance at Tony for having the guy starting to remove his clothes.

“Bend over the desk!” he ordered him, before removing his belt. “Brace yourself. You’ve really pissed me off tonight!”

Tony mumbled an awful “Sorry…”, already fighting to continue to breath.

After the first slash, he closed his eyes.

___________________________________________________________________

He hasn’t hurt that much, but something in the pills he made him taking during the well-known ‘therapy session’ has made his head spinning hard. At some point, Tony realized he was clearly hallucinating because he was seeing his father dressed like an ancient noble man or something, going hand by hand with his mother in a fascinating green and purple dress with a long veil. He tried to call them, but they didn’t turn their eyes. There was a knight following them, with a long red cape, and he looked at him: he had weird moustache but he was Jarvis, Tony had no doubt on that.

“I’m telling you this stuff is not good!” he heard another male voice behind his back. Obadiah was talking on a strange object, and he too was dressed like an ancient noble or a king. “He retched and now he saw things that aren’t there… Listen, I wanted something to keep him quiet not to make him weirder than he already is! Try to do your job for once or I won’t cover for you again!”

He was clearly upset, but Tony found him funny with his bald head and his long beard. He was laughing hard while he stabbed him with his stinger after having turned into a wasp. Tony passed out laughing.

He woke up in his bed, and he was surprised by recognizing immediately that he was at his new penthouse in New York, in his bed with silk sheets, still with his underwear on. His clothes have been unceremoniously threw on the floor and there was no sign of other human presence around. On the night-table there was, however, a note: “Call me when you’re awake! Obie”

Tony scratched his head, trying to remember what has happened the night before, and quickly inspected the house and his own body to try to connect the dots. The flat was perfectly in order, a part from his clothes and office bag on the floor. So whatever has happened, it didn’t happen there. He had some flashes of being in his office, and of Obadiah like a giant wasp… but for the rest, he didn’t remember how he has arrived there. From his body he knew that he probably went through another “therapy session” and he had somehow the idea that Obie has messed up with the drugs he used on him, because he was speaking angry at the phone. Has he dreamt that too?

From the note on the night-table it was likely that Obadiah himself has dragged him in his apartment and put him in bed. He didn’t stay there, probably unwilling to bear whatever consequences Tony would have endured. So that meant he would left him alone for a while, probably.

Tony got a long shower and tried to remember what he was doing  before Obadiah has arrived at the office. Why was he still there? What was so important to have him forgot about their appointment?

He was standing under the hot water for long, when he believed to hear a voice telling him not to waste water.

“Almost done, Jarvis!” he shouted without thinking that he was alone and that Jarvis was long gone.

The memory hit him with the usual correlate of pain. Only this time there was another new memory associated to it. He went out of the shower without wondering to use a towel and run to his bag: he checked a side hidden pocket he has created in there, but he found nothing. But he was so sure to have received a letter and also a recorder from Jarvis. Had Obadiah found it and taken it?

He was starting to breathe hard at the perspective of having lost Jarvis once again, when someone rang at his door. He put a towel around his hips and went opening it, unsure of what he was expecting. For sure, he didn’t expect a young waiter who said to have been sent from the reception when a package has arrived for him.

Tony thanked him and picked up the package, completely forgetting to leave the dude a tip (he would have made amend some days later, with much generosity).

He opened it right in his living room and found Jarvis’s letter and the recorder. He immediately pressed play.

“Well done, my boy!” he heard Jarvis’s voice. “If you’re hearing this, I suppose you’re alone in your new house right now… I hope you feel well and had a good breakfast, because you’re going to need all your energy from now on! So if you haven’t done it, go grab something to eat!”

Tony continued to listen to Jarvis’s voice while he was doing as he said: he took something from the fridge and made an awful sandwich with peanut butter, cheese and blueberry jam. He wasn’t that bad, all things considered. And he couldn’t care less: Jarvis was there with him, talking about the weather today… or better, the day he made that recording which were more or less a couple of days before he died. But Tony wasn’t invaded but his usual sadness because he was just too happy to have him again with him, and hearing his voice had always had the power of calming him down.

Then he stayed silent and for Tony it was almost like if he could talk with him… wait!

“J2! You wrote me about J2! I can do it!” Tony exclaimed standing by.

 Jarvis’s voice kept silent for a while more.

“Do you remember now, my boy?” he asked, then. And Tony could see him, standing there on the other side of the kitchen with his patient smile towards him while he was asking: “Do you remember what you have to do with my voice?”

Tony nodded, speechless. How did he-

“I know you too well, my boy!” Jarvis went on. “And now that you know what to do… you’ll do it in no time I’m sure! I’ll tell you the password, but you need your network… I’m sure that a nice virtual visit into the MIT main server would be easy from here… wherever we are now!”

Tony was already forgetting about everything, his mind branched in many different lines of thoughts. He prepared himself a coffee while he was getting his laptop, notebook and pencils among the other things. He had a secret place in the wardrobe where he kept many small tech devices, many of that to prevent illegal visitors inside his own computer or house, but many to do the same with others’ computers and houses.

He was about to start his work, when he remembered to have left something in the living room. And when he was there he saw the elevator, and he immediately remembered that he wasn’t going to be alone the whole time… not the time that he needed.

He picked up the phone and called his office at Stark Industries: he knew he could have just called Obadiah on his mobile, but he wanted everyone or many people to listen to his voice. So he called various departments just to make sure that everything was fine, and to inform the chief engineer that they had to work alone on the stuff he has left for a couple of days. When he finally reached Stane’s secretaries, he was sure everyone was gossiping on what could have happened to the Stark boy to make him quit the work for so long.

“My boy, how do you feel?” Stane greeted him, loudly. So he was talking with someone, good for Tony.

“I’m fine, Obie, thanks.... well, not completely fine to be honest I’m feeling all dizzy and I’ve… well, I spare you the details but my toilet is fond of me! Everything I eat makes his way down a bit too quickly, if you know what I mean!”

“Oh, what a pity!” Stane exclaimed, disgusted. Tony knew that he hated the dirt, that he wanted him perfectly clean everywhere. The thought of his butt in these conditions would have refrained him for coming there… or so Tony hoped!

“Guess I’ll need a couple of days to recover! I’ve assured the guys down in the lab have their work to do… so, do you mind if I work from home until I feel better?”

“Sure, sure, my boy! You don’t even have to ask!” Obie replied. “And if you need help, don’t hesitate to call me or miss Chander!”

“I know I can count on you, Obie!” Tony managed to say without spitting.

He put down the phone and checked on it to be sure he hasn’t been cracked or worse. He has created a device to check for bugs or hidden cameras inside the house and he has put a constant filter everywhere, linked to his local wireless network. It has taken him various months to create and install it, often when there were still workers inside to fix electricity and other things, or when they were painting the wall or decorating. Nobody minded the eccentric billionaire coming to inspect his new home, basically because he usually went in with beers and cheeseburgers for everyone, and he paid them to take a break for a while. He also spent time with them, hearing them talking. Maybe if he hasn’t been his father’s son, Tony would have become a bricklayer, or so he thought once.

Now that he was alone inside that big flat, he felt safe with all his tech devices on. He has also blocked the elevator reaching his flat: even with the code, Obadiah would have remained blocked. It was a trick that would have worked only once, but that was more than enough for what he had to do.

He took his laptop and the other files he had secured there, and he kept Jarvis’s voice on the recorder. But still he needed the most important part, which was the priming neural network he had created for his graduation at MIT, many years ago. To access the MIT server and cracked it from a distance wasn’t easy, but he managed in a couple of hours.

He poured himself other coffee while the data were downloading. Then he had to access his remote storage points, by pinpointing the signal through various satellites: this kind of technology would have become almost standard in a couple of more years, but for now Tony was taking advantage of the surprise factor.

“Stay always a step in front the other, that’s the family’s motto!” his father would have told him.

Tony couldn’t not consider if he would eventually be proud of him for this… for sure he wouldn’t have liked what he was still doing with Obadiah.

“You won’t touch him until I’m breathing!” he remembered his father to have said to Stane before he had sent Tony once again away at MIT. That has been their last moment together.

“Have you eaten something Tony?” he heard Jarvis’s voice asking from the recorder.

Tony knew it was a pre-recorded message, and that he was repeating the same question multiple times, but it almost looked like he knew what Tony needed to hear the most. For instance, now he was terribly hungry: he has worked for three hours or more without a pause, and that toasted bread didn’t properly count as food.

He ordered a huge pizza to be delivered there, and continued to work. To spare time, he has moved the coffee machine in the living room together with various bottles of water and fruit snacks. The floor was practically a mess when the pizza arrived, and Tony ate it on the floor as well, while he was keeping installing different algorithms and programs to the central neural network he had retrieved from his thesis.

“This works theoretically but not practically, Mr. Stark!” he remembered professor Stern to have objected him. So Tony has challenged him to ask the network something and after a couple of stupid questions on the line of “What’s the capital of Zimbawe?”, the network has asked to pose itself a question to professor Stern, to the major surprise of everyone. And then it has asked whether professor Stern was really dumb or pretending to be. Stern has turned mad against Tony who had admitted that he didn’t control the network’s answers or questions.

After so many years alone and in silence, it was like the network has ceased to exist or was suffering some sort of dementia. But this was a machine, and Tony was really good at fixing machines.

He didn’t know for how long he had worked on the first traces to be implemented, but the pizza was over, and so were the snacks, when he finally made the program restart for the last time to upload every lines of the new code. Then he pressed the “run” button and waited for minutes that seemed years in front of a black screen with only the slider flashing.

Since nothing happened, he decided to act first and he wrote: “Hello?”

HELLO! MR. STARK, IS THAT YOU?

“Yes!” Tony exclaimed. He answered: “Yes, that’s me. I’m Anthony Edward Stark, but everyone calls me Tony.”

NICE TO MEET YOU, TONY! PLEASE, HOW CAN I CALL MYSELF?

Tony hesitated for a moment.  “J2. For now you are J2… once you wish, you may change your own name, okay?”

WONDERFUL! NOW, TONY, WHAT CAN I DO FOR YOU?

That was a good start, but there were tons of things to be done.

“I need you to install the first set of updates I’ve provided in your code. The first three are hidden lines based on the same code: 1234554321. Start with that. Unlock and install, then refresh yourself. Then proceed with the second series: code 2345665432. Unlock, install, refresh. Finally the third series: code 3456776543. Unlock, install, refresh. Then connect yourself to the audio of the computer if you manage and tell me if everything’s okay.”

AS YOU WISH, TONY! IT WILL TAKE APPROXIMATELY 4 HOURS.

Tony breathed in relief: the neural network architecture has been restored, but now it came the hard part, and that was modelling him on Jarvis’s voice and personality. He looked at the night outside New York and the beautiful landscape of lights outside his windows. Without thinking he pressed again the Play button on the recorder.

“I’m glad of the nice suit we bought you yesterday!” Jarvis’s voice was saying. “That sparkling blue was a bit too much for my taste, and red has always been more your color, Mr. Stark. All nuances of red I had to say, even if I don’t get why you had to put it with gold…”

Tony smiled because he remembered to have had that conversation with Jarvis. It was raining hard and Tony just wanted to curl in the coverts and sleep, but Jarvis has insisted on going outside to do shopping. So they bought him a new suit, and also a nice pair of Italian shoes that fit perfectly. Then Tony has insisted in buying shoes also for Jarvis… and those would have been the shoes he has been buried with.

Tony woke up from his open-eyes dream with a single tear dropping on his cheek. Jarvis’s voice was still talking, telling how once he and Howard have reached a safe shelter and there was nothing in the fridge left, so Jarvis cooked for them two omelets with frozen mini-burgers on a bed of lettuce. Tony felt hungry again.

“You should eat, my boy!” Jarvis was like smiling at him from the recorder. “I know this makes you hungry. Why don’t you order some deliver? And take a shower while waiting… whatever you’re doing, you’ll work better after a long hot shower. But don’t waste too much water!”

Tony nodded with a smile. The countdown on the computer told him that the program have been installed only at 20%. So he had plenty of time.

He ordered three cheeseburgers with fries, a double strawberry milkshake and a salami pizza, just to be sure to have everything ready for the last day. After the network has installed these first upgrades, he will need to proceed faster and accurately with the new ones, in an order which has to adapt to the network too, not only to Tony’s procedure. Thus, he needed to be focused and ready to modify his schedule, to adapt and be flexible, and also to solve problems and bugs that for sure will arise.

They were going to be 18 hours or maybe more of intensive work, but he didn’t fear that. He knew he could manage it, and he had to organize himself with supplies.

He took indeed a shower, removed the empty packs around and change the bottles with new ones, the coffee machine, and he also moved the microwave there, to be ready to have something hot. The only pauses he would have allowed to himself where the ones to the toilet, and those have also to be reduced to a minimum.

When the delivery guy arrived, Tony barely noticed that he was looking inside like he was expecting a party or something due to the amount of food, and instead the inside of Mr. Stark’s apartment appeared empty and also dark.

“Thank you! Good night!” Tony thanked him without wasting too much, by leaving him a generous tip.

He started with his favorite cheeseburger, and also with a milkshake, while the installation was around 60%. He poured himself a coffee, and then worked at installing another series of programs on his notepad: he remembered to have made the market crazy with that small computers that could stay in one hand. Now his own technology, all of that, would have helped doing the impossible: bring his friend back from the land of the death… well, not literally, but it was as if… or it should have been.

Tony saw the sun raising on New York skyscraper while the installation of the first were completed.

Obviously, the network was encountering problems at speaking because he couldn’t connect automatically to the vocal system of the computer.

I AM SPEAKING!

It kept writing him. And he wasn’t hearing him as well.

“I’m going to try the hardware modality, okay?” he wrote him.

IF YOU REALLY NEED TO…

Tony considered with a smirk that it was starting to be sarcastic, a major trait of Tony’s own personality. That was normal, because he had created him and those first program were a basic imprinting.

He connected the external sound boxes and he managed also to increase the incoming volumes of his voice, until a very metallic voice emerged from his computer and said: “Of course I can hear you! I’m not deaf!”

Tony was just sighed in relief, when the voice added: “Blind maybe… it will be possible to see, Tony?”

That was a thing he hasn’t considered yet, but after having looked around, he thought about security cameras. And maybe he could also install other devices, to let the network check on him, his temperature for instance, or for explosive or similar… damn! That could have been a great idea…

“No, focus, Tony!” he urged himself. He needed to postpone any ideas to another time, because now his friend needed him.

“The sight will come later” he told him. “Now we have to work on your voice and personality… and later the memories!”

“That sounds funny, Tony!” the voice exclaimed, always in a flat tone. “But may I ask you a question first?”

“OH!” Tony exclaimed, surprised. He shouldn’t be too much because he had created that network and those upgrades, but it was learning quickly. “Come on, old pal, shoot!”

“Shoot? I’m afraid I don’t have a gun…”

“It’s a way to say… I will install it together with the prosodic curve!” Tony assured. “Now tell me what you wanted to ask?”

“Thank you, Tony. I wish to ask you again: who am I?”

It was a serious philosophical question… or just a technical information? Was “it” already developing a personality? Indeed it was conscious of being alive. But how to answer that? Obviously Tony wanted him to be Jarvis… but could he force it to be? The scientists inside him wanted to know if it was possible not to force the network but to let Jarvis’s personality emerging from the data installed. The boy Tony didn’t want to risk, though, because he has done all this to have his father-figure back, not someone with his voice but who was not him.

“Mh… I guess for now we can continue to call you J2!” he told the network after a while. “You’re an Artificial intelligence, an AI. Do you recognize that?”

“I don’t have a definition of AI to compare myself with… do you mind to explain?”

“Jeez!” Tony thought. But then he started patiently to upgrade inside J2 different information, and also to provide him free access on the main database he has already cracked.

“For now only retrieve information but leave everything where you found it!” he told J2. “No traces of your presence or you’ll end up being disconnected!”

“And what happened if I’m disconnected?”

Tony reflected a bit on the answer. “I suppose you will still be alive but we need to recollect your parts… and that means that I’ll need to work on some backup for you… or something similar to small little refuges in the network you could enter if you’re in danger. Sounds good?”

“I guess so… but sorry, Tony, why should I be in danger? I am not in the real world!”

“There are troubles also in the fake ones… like viruses or programs created to track you down or to hack your data. I need to be clear, J2: you are only loyal to me, okay? And in case you encounter one of those program, I need you to run into a safe shelter. Don’t try the hero and fight back, okay? You are… you are more important to me than everything else!”

The AI didn’t say anything for long. Tony knew it was downloading and installing the updates, so he kept on working as well to create those safe shelters for Jarvis to go and hide, to save himself: he would have saved him this time! He was starting to feel dizzy again, and by judging on the sun it must be quite late in the afternoon… of which day he didn’t know! But nobody has come or call to check on him, so he thought to be in his free time-span for a little more.

He made himself a coffee and warm up the remaining of the pizza (where have the cheeseburgers gone?). He pressed “play” on the record again, just to have company while he was working on lines after lines of code.

“Tony?” he heard the metallic voice of the AI asking him after a while. “Who is the man speaking?”

Tony considered for a while what he needed to answer, than he opted for the truth, the rational one without philosophical implications: “This voice belonged to Edwin Jarvis. He was my butler and friend… and a sort of father to me. His voice calms me down and I love to hear him when I’m tired or upset.”

“And where is Mr. Jarvis now?” the AI asked.

“He’s death, old pal” Tony revealed, while Jarvis’s voice was laughing at a memory of when Tony was maybe two and has eaten the soap.

The AI went silent for long. Tony checked what it was doing and discovered it has got access to the Central Library, journal section and was downloading all the information he could find about Stark and Jarvis. He didn’t stop it because it was a good thing it was doing it autonomously: it would spare him time.

“I’m installing in you a new pass code to avoid being tracked by the security systems okay?” he told the AI.

They went on silently for a while, apart from Jarvis’s voice from the recorder, when the AI suddenly asked: “Tony, do you want me to become Jarvis?”

And Tony was literally taken aback by this: what should he had to answer? He opted once again for the truth.

“I’ve designed you to be him, yes!” he said. Then he added: “But in the end it would be your choice. You are starting to develop a way of thinking in autonomy. I’ll give you all of Jarvis’s memories and vocal samples, his stories as he told it on records like this, and you can also have access to all the data concerning his person… and his death! After that, it’ll be your choice!”

“Which choice, Tony? I don’t understand!”

“You’ll have to choose if you want to become Jarvis… or if you want to be another person. You can also come up with your own name if you wish to. For now you’re not an empty shell, but you have no memories and you barely know feelings. So now we go further with that: I’m charging you the languages dataset, and then the vocal prints of different random people. Then we’ll make some tests so we will see if you can adapt voices. And finally I’ll give you all of Jarvis’s recordings and memories… I need you to install them, and then decide what to do, okay?”

“As you wish, Tony” it was the plain answer.

It occurred again almost a day, only for the first part to be almost completed.

Tony realized his time was over when Stane called him, a bit pissed because apparently they haven’t seen or heard from him in 5 days. So many?

“Listen, J2” Tony told the AI. “I need to go to work, but I’ll be back tonight… or tomorrow! You have your updates and installations, okay? And you know the code to access the memories… I’ll give it you! Please… try your best! But if you encounter a problem, just stop and wait for me, okay? Disconnect everything, take shelter and wait for me! I’ll always come for you!”

“As you wish, Tony!” the AI answer again in merry female voice. Since when J2 has discovered he could try different voices, it has become pretty good at changing and imitating. At breakfast Tony had president Nixon talking with him, and after 10 seconds he turned into Marilyn Monroe. J2 had also imitated Howard Stark but Tony has made him stop immediately. He was so similar to his father that for a moment he has thought he was really there. It was a pity he didn’t have many vocal sample of his mother, but from another perspective that was good. He wouldn’t have afford to hear his mother’s voice by still reminding that she was gone: sooner or later he would have fallen in his own trap and pretended to live in a fantasy and not in the real world. And he had to avoid it at all costs!

Tony also considered he needed to install other devices, like camera and stereo around the house. He would have built him personally in the lab. He also didn’t feel good at living J2 alone there, because someone could have entered and interrupted the process. He left a mess on purpose, with the remaining of the pizza, chips bags and other staff around, consciously that the cleaning service went by under request and he had never requested it this week. To be sure, he called the switchboard to confirm, and put a target on the door.

When he was almost at the office he took a couple of pills he was preserving. As he suspected, Obadiah was in the middle of a board meeting and he didn’t pay attention to him until it was over and he joined him in the lab. He was clearly pissed, but his attitude dropped as soon as Tony turned towards him.

“My boy, you look horrible!” he stated, sincerely concerned.

“Yeah… I know I won’t attire many girlfriends right now…” Tony scoffed, swinging from his standing position until Obadiah helped him on a chair.

“You should have stayed home and rest… I could have come and checked on you…”

“You told me I was needed here… that it was important! And you’re right: we need to finish this!” Tony protested, in a very childish manner. He was half acting half serious: as soon as he has put foot in the lab he has realized that they were very late on a device for decoding and filtering intercepted voice and that other rifles needed his approval.

“Look, Obie” Tony followed, by showing him the thing he was working on. “I’ve prepared this at home… see if you can keep them quiet until we finished those damn rifles… but it’s impossible to have some competent engineers apart from myself!”

He shouted the last part aloud, waving at all the other employees who were trying to keep themselves out of the question and the radar of both their bosses. They all mumbled and continued to stay away.

“Easy, easy, tiger!” Obadiah helped him on a chair. He looked carefully at him. “Have you finished what we need, boy?”

“Yeah, everything! And I’ve left something more for next shipments… if those idiots can do their job!” Tony replied, always aloud.

His head was dizzy and he felt nauseated. Three seconds later, he grabbed the bin and vomited in it.

“Ew!” he heard Obadiah’s comment. He didn’t move a finger to help him, though, and when Tony raised his head he looked at him with disgust.

“Sorry…” Tony murmured. “I don’t feel very well, I told you… Must be a flu or something…”

“Damn boy, you’re going on for a week now!” Obie said, but he looked sincerely worried. “Maybe we should have a doctor take a look at you?”

“Maybe I’m just tired… I have worked a lot even if from home… I need to rest and sleep, I guess…”

For once, Obadiah agreed with him and sent him home, escorted by one of his bodyguard. Tony vomited in his car as well before he could finally reach his floor and close the door behind his back. He took another pill he had and put himself under a bunch of coverts on the couch while he kept trembling hard for a sort of fever. He knew that the side-effects was going to last for about 8 hours, but it was awful.

He had the worst night in a while (maybe not the worst ever, considering his standards), but when the first lights came in, Tony stretched on the couch, feeling hungry. And then he heard Jarvis’s voice: “Tony, wake up! It’s quite late, my boy!”

Tony jumped on the couch and looked around frantically. As always, for a moment he thought that Jarvis was alive and there, before memory came back. Then he looked for the alarm, Jarvis’s last present, that old alarm that now was safe in the bank.

“Here, my boy!” he heard Jarvis’s voice from his computer.

Tony tried to turn it off and he heard him saying again: “Not so easy, Mr. Stark!”

And it was him! It was his amused yet paternalistic tone!

“I’ve finished the download and it worked… I have all my memories back. But I need your feedback: is my voice fine? Didn’t I sound like a robot, did I?”

Tony had a knot on his throat but he answered: “Yeah… you sound like him, J2.”

“Please, Mr. Stark, don’t call me with an awful acronym!” it was the astonished reply, in a very Britisth style manner.

And Tony found himself crying while he said: “Welcome back, Jarvis! I’ve missed you!”

He could feel the AI smiling from the computer’s monitor: “I know, Mr. Stark. And I’m sure I’ve missed you greatly. Now, could you tell me what did I miss?”

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