Characters: Edwin Jarvis, Howard Stark, Peggy Carter, Daniel Sousa, Ana Jarvis, some OCs, daemons
Warnings/Triggers: swearing, body swapping, later very brief references to the Holocaust
Spoilers: None, really
Pairings: Ana/Jarvis, Peggy/Sousa
Word Count 5,620(this part)
Summary: A forgotten artifact of seemingly Norse origin causes some unexpected side effects when Howard gets it working again. Namely, him and his butler swapping bodies. Which is rather inconvenient, considering Howard's supposed to be negotiating with the ambassador of Symkaria tomorrow.
Author's notes: This chapter's long, but all the parts sort of fit together, and it didn't seem to flow if I split them up.
For reference: Haddie (A Welsh Springer Spaniel), Dejeni (a raccoon), Takeo (a spotted hyena), Hesper (a Chinese Oak Silkmoth)
PART ONE | PART TWO | PART THREE
“Howard, you can’t sit in the back, Mr. Jarvis you aren’t driving,” Peggy barked.
Howard and Jarvis-Him stopped what they were doing, looked at each other, and swapped places, Howard getting in the front seat, Jarvis-Him into the back seat.
Spaniel-Dejeni wriggled in past Howard’s legs and pulled herself onto the bench, peering into the back of the car where Jarvis-Him and Peggy were sitting.
“Riding in the backseat makes me travel sick,” Jarvis-Him said to Peggy.
“I don’t want to drive,” Howard added.
“Tough luck for the both of you,” Peggy declared. “Deal with it.”
Spaniel-Dejeni ducked back from Takeo’s glare and faced forwards again. “She’s grumpy today,” she said. “I thought she’d mellow out now that she’s married. She must be having her ashes hauled every night, right?”
“Maybe What’s-His-Face is Catholic,” Howard said.
“He wasn’t when they got married,” Spaniel-Dejeni said. “I don’t think...you were kind of hungover at the ceremony. Maybe they had a full mass, and I didn’t notice.”
Howard put the car in gear and pulled out of the drive. It was rough going the first few minutes, not because he couldn’t drive but because Jarvis’ arms and legs weren’t the length he was used to driving with, and he felt like he was pressing the pedals with stilts on. He smoothed out as they made the road. At least until they hit good old New York traffic.
They were heading to the Waldorf. There was a time when Howard knew New York like the back of his hand, and he could get anywhere it in and tell you the best way to get there. But Jarvis did that now, and Howard had gotten soft over the years. He never looked at New York as Jarvis drove him through it anymore, and it was different through the windshield.
Dejeni had it in her, still. She stuck her little dog nose to the window and told him which way to go, no hesitation.
In the backseat, Peggy was putting Jarvis-Him through his paces, telling him what they wanted out of the deal, what they didn’t want, what to say, what not to say. Basic stuff; stuff any good businessman would know. But Jarvis wasn’t a good businessman. He was too open-hearted for business.
“Howard will be able to give you a hand through your earpiece,” Peggy soothed him. “If you get stuck, just wait for him to tell you what to say. You’ll do fine. I know you can do this. You’ve done far more daunting tasks for me before. This is important, but at least there’s no threat of death involved.”
“Oh,” Jarvis-Him said, in a weak voice. “How refreshing.”
Howard waited in the taxi queue at the Waldorf and then slid in up against the curb. He hopped out and stretched his legs. Usually, someone rushed up when he got out of a car. No one noticed him today. There was a tap on the rear window.
“Oh, you're supposed to let them out,” Spaniel-Dejeni said. “You’re a servant.”
“Oh, yeah,” Howard said. That’s why no one was fussing. He opened the door for Peggy and tried to look like he cared about it.
What’s-His-Face came out of the front door of the hotel and nodded to Peggy like they probably hadn’t been getting it on a few hours earlier. They were nothing but professional at work. Except, Howard saw the little hyena-thing What’s-His-Face had give Takeo a bump in his side, and he smiled and nudged her back.
“Everything okay?” What’s-His-Face asked.
“A-One,” Howard said, giving him an okay sign and a wink.
“As good as can be expected, Agent Sousa, thank you,” Jarvis-Him said, as he climbed out of the back of the car.
What’s-His-Face looked between them. “Okay. That’s disturbing,” he said, matter-of-factly. “So, we’ve got Porter and Safiq here for security, but I haven’t told them what’s going on. I figured fewer people in on it the better, considering. Start being each other now. And let’s say a Hail Mary that this works.”
“Huh,” Spaniel-Dejeni said. “Maybe he is Catholic.”
Howard closed the back door of the car, handing the keys to the valet and asking him to take the car around in his best Jarvis vowels. He guessed he should go ahead of everyone. Maybe? He didn’t really notice what Jarvis did; Jarvis just was always there when he wanted him to be, having done what he wanted him to do, without him having asked him to do it.
“Ah, Mr. Jarvis!” someone in a hotel uniform greeted him, with the kind of affection people didn’t greet Howard with a lot. Real affection, not the kind they used because he was a big shot they wanted to please. “It’s always good to see you, sir.” His daemon, a formal looking penguin, bowed to Spaniel-Dejeni, and she tilted her head in regal response.
“Hey--uh, hello,” Howard replied, smiling like he was glad to see him, too. Whoever he was. His name tag said ‘Alexander’. “How are you...today?”
“I’m doing very well,” Alexander replied. “And yourself? How’s Mrs. Jarvis?”
“We’re both...jolly good,” Howard said. “Thank you so much for...inquiring.”
“One of the hospitality suites has been laid out for a private meeting,” Alexander went on. “Mr. Stark will be very comfortable in there for his business. We just need to know what you’d like sent up?”
“Sent up?” Howard said.
“Refreshments,” Alexander clarified.
Refreshments. Like...food and drink, probably. Yeah, there was usually that around. Howard supposed it didn’t just manifest itself, Jarvis must take care of it.
“I don’t know, can’t you just send what you usually do?” Howard said. No, that wasn’t Jarvis-sounding, even with the accent. “Which is always so…”
“Well-appointed,” Spaniel-Dejeni suggested.
“Well-appointed,” Howard finished.
Alexander flushed with pleasure, and his little penguin flapped her wings bashfully. He ‘very good’ed him and went off to see to that. Okay, no problem. Being Jarvis was easy. You just had to say nice stuff and use fancy words. No sweat.
Porter and Safiq were by the elevators, slouched and laughing with each other. They hopped to when Jarvis-Him came in. Everyone did. All the staff in the area had a switch turned on. Bellboys ran to see if he had luggage. The concierge straightened and beamed. The elevator girl turned guests away to another one so Jarvis-Him could have this one to himself. It was a dance Howard didn’t ever see.
“I like this,” Spaniel-Dejeni decided.
He joined the huddle as it went to the bank of elevators. The elevator girl looked at him. He smiled back. Nice girl, with a colorful finch daemon on her shoulder.
She had nothing. No smile for him. No batted lashes. No giggles. Her daemon didn’t even glance at Spaniel-Dejeni, despite her wagging tail. He might as well have been invisible.
He might as well have been Edwin Jarvis.
“I don’t like this,” Spaniel-Dejeni declared.
“What floor?” the elevator girl prompted.
Jarvis-Him coughed something that sounded like a number, and Howard said that one. Up they went. The elevator girl smiled at Jarvis-Him, but she was out of luck. Jarvis-Him’s smile was polite, but he only saw Ana when it came to girls. The world consisted of Ana Jarvis and Not Ana Jarvis.
“He’s going to ruin your reputation,” Spaniel-Dejeni said, in horror. “Look at him. He’s just...being polite. God, wink at her or something! She’s an eight, at least.”
Jarvis-Him continued to be oblivious to the elevator girl’s overtures. Howard lamented his fate.
“You two go into the loo and get wired for sound,” Peggy murmured to him, as they approached the right floor. “You know how to set it up, right? I’ve put the radios in your--Jarvis’--the briefcase.”
“I invented it, Peg, I can set it up,” Howard replied.
“Mrs. Carter,” Peggy said to him. “I’m Mrs. Carter today to you. Please, Howard, you have to do this.”
“Sorry,” Howard said. “I will. I promise.”
He and Jarvis ducked into the toilet as security went ahead to make sure all was okay in the suite. Howard took the briefcase to get the radios out. Jarvis-Him tried to play with the wedding ring that wasn’t there because Howard had it (and kept looking at it and getting spooked; ‘what the fuck did I do last night?! Oh, no it’s not mine.’). Jarvis used to play with it a lot when he first got hitched, just before Howard had brought him and Ana over. Getting used to being handcuffed to a girl, Howard had figured, and now it was a nervous habit. Raccoon-Haddie straightened the cuffs of his pants and then straightened them again.
“He’s fussing, Howard, say something,” Spanel-Haddie said.
“What?” Howard said.
“I don’t know! Something Jarvis would say to you if you were nervous,” Spaniel-Haddie said, tossing her ears around.
“I wouldn’t be nervous,” Howard said.
“Howard! Don’t be a dick. Be supportive!”
Fuck, there were the teeth again. Howard couldn’t wait to have his raccoon back, where all he got were scratches when he messed up.
“Listen,” he tried, as he untangled the wires. “This is no big deal, you know. This is child’s play. It’s not going to be hard. I know you can do it. You’re smart. And you adapt. You get on with things, no matter what, and that’s a skill. Tilt your head to the side.” He pushed some of Jarvis-Him’s hair up to stick the receiver in. “I don’t say it enough, but you’re a good guy and a lot of my life wouldn’t work without you. Tilt your head back.” He brushed the hair back over. “I’m sorry I keep putting us in these situations. But it’s not going to be any worse than disarming an atomic bomb, and you did that twice. This is going in your ear now.” He shoved the earpiece in. “So...just...don’t be nervous. Okay?”
Jarvis-Him’s face was weird. His expressions looked different on Howard’s face. The mustache hid a lot. At least Jarvis had trimmed it to look good for the meeting. Some of his rep would remain intact.
“Are you--are you trying not to laugh?” Howard said. “Are you laughing at my heartfelt pep talk?”
Jarvis-Him bit hard on his lip. “No, of course not, sir,” he said. “That was a very touching speech. I especially liked the part where you manhandled me and forced my neck at odd angles. Rousing, really. Better than Henry V.”
Howard felt a kind of mirth bubbling up inside him. Something giddy, from Jarvis’ body not being able to hold his exhaustion like Howard’s could, from the fact that Howard was even finding that out, from the fact his own body was laughing right in his face. He burst into a guffaw and that set Jarvis-Him off. Hearing Jarvis’ giggle come from Howard’s throat was even more hilarious in the awful, ridiculous hilarious way this all was. Eventually, they had to turn their backs on each other to calm down, and Spaniel-Dejeni was on her side on the floor, laughing hysterically while Raccoon-Haddie tittered into her paws.
“Oh, dear,” Jarvis-Him said. “All right. Well, this is an excellent start to diplomatic negotiations. The ambassador is going to think you’re--I’m drunk.”
“Hey, I’ve done this drunk before,” Howard said. “Maybe I should sneak you in a nip.”
“No, my skills are not improved by intoxication. Let’s finish this up before Miss--Mrs Carter gets banging at the door.”
Howard put the mic on himself, hiding it in his breast pocket behind his handkerchief. The earpiece in Jarvis-Him wasn’t invisible, but damn near close, and Howard didn’t think it would be noticed.
“Okay, testing,” Howard said. “You should hear me Jiminy Cricketing.”
“Yes, loud and clear,” Jarvis-Him said. “What happens if I need to speak to you?”
“Wave, I’ll come over and do Jarvis things near you,” Howard said. “You know, nag at you, fix your tie, tell you to stop being silly...”
“Perfect,” Jarvis said. He steeled himself. “All right. ‘Once more unto the breach’?”
Howard looked down at Spaniel-Dejeni to see if she knew what he was on about. She tossed her head in a shrug. “Yeah,” he said. “Whatever.”
“This isn’t going to work,” Daniel said.
“Yes, it is,” Peggy said.
“They won’t be able to pull it off.”
“Yes, they will.”
“Jarvis can’t be Stark.”
“Yes, he can.”
“Stark sure as hell can’t be Jarvis.”
“Yes...well, it doesn’t matter if he can.”
“We should just call it off now.”
“No, we shouldn’t. Stop fussing and go make sure everything’s ready in the room.”
Daniel sighed, pushing himself away from the wall, Eitana trotting ahead of him. Takeo looked up at Peggy.
“It’s not going to work,” he said.
“Yes, I know,” Peggy said. “But, we’ll have tried. And if it doesn’t work, I doubt the conclusion anyone will draw is that Howard Stark and his butler have swapped bodies and we’re trying to cover it up. The worst that can happen that we don’t make a deal.”
“But you need to make a deal,” Takeo said. “Latveria is closed to all outsiders besides the Symkarians. We aren’t getting in there without Howard making this deal.”
“Stop being negative!” Peggy said, exasperated. “Why is everyone so negative! All we have to do is get Jarvis to be Howard for the next hour and be charming enough to convince the Symkarian ambassador to let us put agents into their capital city and give them papers to travel to Latveria.”
Takeo stared at her.
“Well, obviously I know it’s ridiculous, but what other choice do I have?” Peggy said. “And it’s not my fault.”
Takeo rubbed his face into her thigh in comfort. “You know how Daniel thinks you should go on holiday? And you keep saying no? I think you should say yes, next time.”
“I will,” Peggy said. “Actually, maybe he’d like to go right now…”
The door to the loo opened, and Howard and Jarvis emerged. And they looked like Howard and Jarvis. Correctly. Jarvis carried Howard’s body in the strut he’d practised, Dejeni riding on his shoulder, looking around with curious eyes twinkling in the depths of her mask. Howard carried Jarvis’ body straight, chin at a perfect right angle to his chest as Haddie padded, her tail perked up and her big blue eyes looking politely interested. If Jarvis, or Howard occupying him, hadn’t winked at her, she might have thought they’d somehow swapped back.
“You ready to go in, Howard?” she asked.
“Sure thing, Peg,” Howard replied, in Howard’s voice. There was a gentle wince at the corner of his eyes, perhaps at having to address her so informally.
“The ambassador’s name is Horvat,” Peggy told him. “He has two security people with him, members of the group we call ‘The Wild Pack’. Mercenaries. I believe I told you about them.”
“I remember,” Howard said. “Silver Sablinova is their leader. They make it a goal to find Nazis who escaped after the war.”
“That’s right,” Peggy said. “Don’t worry about them. We have our eye on them, and they aren’t here to cause trouble. Mr Horvat has an assistant with him as well, but you needn’t pay much attention to him, either.”
“What about a translator?” Howard said. He sounded a little panicked. “What language do they speak in Symkaria?”
“Several,” Peggy said. “There are multiple dialects, but it’s not important to you. The ambassador speaks fluent English. Just be calm and collected, and How--Mr Jarvis and I will help you through.”
Jarvis gave him a clap to the shoulder.
“Right,” Howard said, swallowing hard. “No problem.”
Peggy nodded for Porter to open the door down the hall, and she fell into step next to Howard. Jarvis trailed behind them. The room within had been set up with a conference table, and a tall man with dark Romani features stood at the far end of it. Much of Symkaria’s population were Roma, and, as such, they’d been devastated by the Nazis during the war, just as Latveria had. The difference was that Latveria had chosen to become a harsh dictatorship to protect its people from further harm. Symkaria chose to rebuild itself as a haven for survivors, and Howard’s relief fund had gone a long way, thus their goodwill toward him.
A grey wildcat sat on the table, her long bushy tail dangling off the edge. She turned her head to give them an unimpressed look.
“Mr Horvat, may I present Howard Stark,” Peggy said. “Howard, this is Alexei Horvat.”
“I have heard of you, Mr Stark, and am honoured to meet you at last,” Horvat replied, with a bow of his head
Showtime. Jarvis squared Howard’s shoulders, put an easy smile on Howard’s face, and stepped forward with hand outstretched. “Pleasure’s all mine,” he said. “Sorry if I kept you waiting. New York traffic’s a pig’s breakfast in the morning.”
“You haven’t kept me at all. You’re right on time. I like punctuality. This is Divana.”
“Ha-Dejeni,” Howard said. He coughed and cleared his throat. “Dejeni.”
The wildcat and Dejeni met on the conference table, nodding their heads to one another.
“Hope your trip here was okay,” Howard went on. “Come on and have a seat, unless you’re tired of sitting from that plane ride?”
“No, I arrived yesterday morning, Mr Stark, and am well-rested now, thank you. I prefer to get down to business.”
“A man after my own heart. Let’s go to it.”
Mr Horvat said something in a hacking, rolling language to his assistant, and then took a seat at one end of the table. Howard made to sit kitty-corner to him, but Peggy heard Jarvis murmur softly into his chest, and Howard strode down to the other end of the table, taking a seat at the head of it, instead. Dejeni sat at his elbow.
“So far, so good,” Daniel whispered to Peggy. “I’m impressed.”
Peggy was as well. Howard engaged Mr Horvat in some discussion of the royal family, and local politics in Symkaria, listened a little too politely to the projects Howard’s money was helping to fund, and inquired into Mr Horvat’s personal life. Married? Children? Mr Horvat had a wife and two kids. Jarvis was once again a little too enthusiastic about hearing about them, but the illusion was holding for the moment.
A knock came on the door. Then it came again. Then a third time. Takeo went over to nip at Haddie’s ear, and Jarvis straightened with a jolt and went to get it. He came back with a tray of coffee and pastries, walking like he was holding a bomb and everything teetering precariously until he got it down on the sideboard with a clatter.
“Would anyone like coffee?” he asked.
Jarvis would never have interrupted the flow of conversation to draw attention to himself like that. He’d slip in, placing the coffee at an elbow, or wait to be addressed.
Jarvis went on to clatter and make a complete mess of the coffee serving, Haddie nipping and biting at him the whole time while Howard looked distinctly uncomfortable and Dejeni all but leapt to do it herself. But both Mr Horvat and Howard got their cups in the end and were soon back to business, Mr Horvat reclining with a cigarette in between his fingers as Divana curled up in his lap, her green eyes peering down the table.
“What’s wrong with Jarvis?” Porter asked Peggy, in a low voice. His doberman daemon, Grega, watched with ears pricked.
“What do you mean?” Peggy replied, all innocence.
“He’s a basketcase,” Porter said.
“I believe Mr and Mrs Jarvis had words this morning,” Peggy lied. “He might be upset.”
“Something’s up with Stark, too. I’ve never seen Dejeni sit so still,” Safiq said, with far less concern than Porter had shown for Jarvis. “Or pay attention. Or...I don’t know. Not look like an unsettled daemon in permanent form.”
Haddie was too alert, Peggy had to admit. Dejeni in meetings was never visible. She was under a chair. She was building something. She was crawling under the table to find things to build with. Peggy had once seen her chew on her own tail in boredom. In fact, right now, she was batting a fallen spoon between her dog paws and not watching the meeting at all. Safiq’s porcupine watched her with a baffled expression.
“Stark’s probably just hungover,” Porter joked.
“No doubt,” Peggy said.
Jarvis relaxed into his Howard role, maybe even having fun with it after awhile. Howard fed him lines when he needed them, but less and less as he started to master the Stark persona. Howard wasn’t always happy with his choices, judging with the furrowed brow on Jarvis’ face here and there.
“Okay,” he muttered, after they’d been at it for about two hours. “Call a break. Let him stew on what a great, entertaining host you’ve been and remember why he likes you, then we’ll go back and get down to business.”
“Hey, let’s, uh, take five,” Howard said. “Have a chance to powder our noses, huh?”
Mr Horvat agreed and the party broke up. The bodyguards and assistant came into to chat with him, but Howard got up and went to get himself another cup of coffee. His hand trembled as he reached for the urn.
“You’re doing beautifully,” Peggy told him, taking the hand and giving it a squeeze.
“Yeah--yes...sir,” Jarvis added, awkwardly. “Uh...remarkable…?”
Haddie gave Dejeni a friendly cuff about the ear, knocking her over. Takeo nuzzled her as he helped her up again.
“Miss--Peggy,” Howard said. “Are you sure you don’t know what dialect the Symkarians speak?”
“Not personally,” Peggy said. “As I said, I think it’s a hybrid. Why?”
“Because I understand it,” Howard said. “Or some of it. It’s very similar to Hungarian.”
“That makes sense,” Takeo said. “They’re right on the Hungarian border, aren’t they?”
“Close enough,” Peggy said. She asked Howard: “Have they said anything interesting?”
“Not said anything, really,” Howard said. “But, providing the language follows the same rules as Hungarian--which are ridiculous by the way--their use of informal and formal ‘you’ is very strange. The ambassador and his assistant are using a level of formality that you would expect colleagues to have--informal but distanced--but one of the bodyguards is addressing the ambassador using the informal vernacular.”
“Maybe they’re friends,” Jarvis suggested. “You and I would probably be informal, wouldn’t we? We’re buddies like that. Erm, chums, I mean.”
“Maybe, but the ambassador is using the formal you with the bodyguard,” Howard replied. “You--I would never use the formal with me--you. It would suggest I was above you. You above me? Oh, Lord, I don’t even know who I am any more.”
Why would a bodyguard warrant formal address? Unless the bodyguard had the power in the situation.
Peggy and Jarvis looked at one another, and then, as one, turned to Howard and said: “tell me what else they said.”
“That’s your third cup of coffee, Edwin, are you sure you should drink it? It’s much more than you usually have,” Haddie said, as Jarvis gulped down another large sip of the cup in his hand. “You don’t usually have anything but tea.”
“I need it, I’m exhausted,” Jarvis replied. “Mr Stark has at least three cups in the morning, and this body wants it. I have to get through this.”
This second half of the negotiations was much harder than the first half. Now they were down to business, pleasantries over. Jarvis, through Mr Stark in his ear guiding his actions, had laid out what they wanted: a place for ‘friends’ of Mr Stark’s in Aniana and papers for them to travel into Latveria at their will. Jarvis was presenting it as Mr Stark expanding his business interests. Not agents of SHIELD putting themselves in position to spy on Latveria, as well as neighbouring Soviet Union countries.
In return, Mr Stark offered further aid to the people of Symkaria. But the Symkarians wanted something else. Weapons. Their army had been shattered by the war, the ambassador insisted. They needed to protect themselves, and Mr Stark was a maker of great weapons, was he not?
Jarvis had been briefed not to offer anything but humanitarian aid. Mr Stark and Miss--Mrs Carter’s suspicions were that the presence of the Wild Pack and the deference Mr Horvat was showing them, meant that the mercenaries were influencing the government in Symkaria. The US government took an officially disapproving stance on the Wild Pack. Hunting down Nazis was all well and good, but they should be brought for trial and punishment. The Wild Pack’s captives did not tend to make it to a jury. And Mr Stark could not be seen to support that.
‘Even if I kinda get where they’re coming from’ he’d said.
So, now they were at an impasse. Mr Horvat wanted weapons. Jarvis couldn’t give him any.
“Jarvis, when I say ‘nothing doing’, I want you to say ‘nothing doing’,” Mr Stark’s voice hissed in Jarvis’ ear. “Not ‘I’m afraid that’s impossible’. Stop being polite! You’re not polite, you’re me! We aren’t having tea, we’re negotiating a deal!”
Jarvis took another sip of the coffee and waited for Mr Horvat’s reply. He was discussing something with his assistant. Jarvis picked out words here and there. His Hungarian was never strong, and this wasn’t Hungarian exactly, but the grammar had strong similarities and some of the words were precisely the same. It was a diluted, mixed drink of a language, and Hungarian was one of the main ingredients.
“It seems odd to me that a company who makes weapons would be so reluctant to sell them,” the ambassador said.
“You’re not asking for us to sell them, you’re asking us to give them,” Jarvis said, in Mr Stark’s chunky, easy accent. “That’s not how business works.”
“You want something and I want something,” the ambassador replied. “That’s how business works. You made money in the war, you thrived while young men died. Our young men. Surely you could share that wealth with those who are left remembering them. Those who didn’t profit from it.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jarvis could see the Other Haddie snarl to show her teeth, and Miss--Mrs Carter put a restraining hand on the Other Jarvis to keep him from speaking out.
“That’s rude,” Haddie said, indignantly.
“Quite,” Jarvis agreed. And he wasn’t going to stand for it. He leaned forward, clasping his hands in front of him and giving an attempt at that cold smile Mr Stark could give to those he didn’t like. “I know young men died. Good friends of mine died. And good friends of mine came back because I gave them what they needed to survive. Those weapons, those were the ones that freed your people from the camps. Those weapons brought freedom to millions. Perhaps you’d like to examine any of the number of charities Stark Industries supports and see how that profit is being used.”
The ambassador’s face twitched in a grin, Divana’s green eyes glittering over the table, and Jarvis felt he’d chosen the right words. He’d responded in the right way.
“Thanks, Jarvis,” Jarvis heard in his ear. “That was...uh...nice.” There was a sharp ‘ahem’, and then Mr Stark was back to himself. Or Jarvis’ self. One of them. It was hard to know who they were any more. “Okay, good volley there, let’s strike the last blow. Repeat after me, and don’t make it nice this time.”
Jarvis spoke the words as they were murmured into his ear. “Now, I think I’ve done a lot of good to help your people. In fact, I’m pretty sure there would be a lot more dead young men without me. But if you think that you’re good on your own, you know what? I know some other countries who could use that money. Maybe I’ll call around and see if I can put it to better use. Spread the wealth, like you said, to other people less fortunate than me.”
Divana’s eyes narrowed. Haddie folded her arms across her chest and stuck her nose in the air. But her tail was trembling. Jarvis resisted the urge to reach out and comfort her. Mr Stark knew what he was doing. Hopefully. Otherwise, not only were they not getting into Symkaria, Symkaria was going to lose a lot of good funding out of a sense of following through on threats. Mr Stark would do that out of spite, Jarvis feared.
The ambassador let out a long plume of smoke from his cigarette. Jarvis, who didn’t smoke and never had, suddenly wanted a cigarette very badly. It was probably the same reason he wanted so much coffee. And that the coffee he asked for tasted wrong, too sweet because Mr Stark didn’t like milk and sugar in his coffee like Jarvis did, and it was his taste buds Jarvis was using. And there was something else, a craving for something else that Jarvis hadn’t figured out yet. Sex? Drink? Fast cars? Moustache cream? Whatever it was, Jarvis wanted none of it. He just wanted his own tastes and cravings back. He was tired of being Mr Stark. It was exhausting being him. More than Jarvis had realized. For a man who seemed to do nothing 90% of his day, the 10% he did do left Jarvis completely knackered.
“The relationship Symkaria has with our friends at Stark Industries is cherished by our people,” the ambassador said, after a pregnant silence. “Please believe me when I say I wouldn’t want anything to damage it. If you will not let us arm ourselves, let us look to another need, yes? There is a great problem with tuberculosis in our country. Many people suffer with it, and we lack the resources to treat and prevent it. I know your company has worked on vaccines and medicines. If you shared them with us, I’m sure His and Her Highnesses would welcome your friends with open arms.”
Mr Stark’s mother had died of TB, and he was a proponent of finding a better way to treat it. Jarvis knew Mr Stark would agree to this as a much better course of action. Stark Industries offering aid to a cause it already supported wouldn’t be suspicious in the least. Worldwide extermination of the disease, that was the goal.
“Huh,” Mr Stark muttered in Jarvis’ ear. “Nice door-in-the-face move there, buddy. He knew he wasn’t getting the weapons. I bet he didn’t even want them. I bet the Wild Pack put him up to asking. Okay, Jarvis, I can work with this.”
Jarvis had thought the negotiating would be over now. Didn’t both parties have what they wanted? But no, he had to keep parroting Mr Stark for ages more before it was agreed that, within the next three days, Mr Horvat would provide travel papers to Mr Stark’s friends, and Stark Industries would start sending out crates of vaccines to Aniana.
Then they were done. All that was left was the handshaking. There probably should have been more chatting, but Jarvis couldn’t take that. He had to get out.
“Please, let’s go,” Haddie begged. “Let’s go home. I want to go home and see Ana. I don’t want to be here.” She clung to his shoulder, her weary head on his.
Jarvis shot Miss--Mrs Carter a desperate look, and she came forth to tell him he had an urgent phone call and whisked him from the room, as Jarvis offered apologies for having to go so soon. She pulled him into another, empty hospitality suite and let him sit down there, but not before she wrapped him in a tight hug.
“Mr Jarvis, that was wonderful!” she said. “Thank you so much for doing this. It is far beyond the call of duty.” She kissed him squarely on top of his head, and Mr Takeo licked Haddie’s ears.
“Yeah, Jarvis, that wasn’t bad,” the Other Jarvis declared, giving him a nod. “You’re never going to have a career in politics, but we didn’t do half bad working as a team.” He held out his hand, and Jarvis shook it.
“I know this is an odd request, but I really desperately need a fag,” Jarvis said. He expected Haddie to object and scold him, but she just nodded her head in urgency.
“I didn’t think you smoked?” Miss--Mrs Carter said.
“I do, sometimes,” the Other Jarvis said. “And considering all I’ve wanted all morning is a good, strong cuppa, and I don’t even drink tea, I get where he’s coming from.”
Miss--Mrs Carter went off in search of cigarettes.
“Hey, I mean it,” the Other Jarvis said. “You did good.” He shifted on his feet. “Did you, uh, mean what you said, in there? About me helping people and...saving lives and stuff?”
“I suppose I must have,” Jarvis said. “I didn’t think about my words beforehand, so I suppose it must be what I think.” It was hard to know at this point what he thought or who he was.
“Oh,” the Other Jarvis said, and that was it. Except Jarvis got a punch to the shoulder, which he assumed was a sign of gratitude.
Miss--Mrs Carter came back with a packet of cigarettes in hand.
“Thank you,” Jarvis said. He removed one from the packet and eyed it. “Now, someone please tell me how to smoke it.”