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 4,504 (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: Last chapter! Thanks for reading!
Howard mentions Dr. Erskine's daemon, Ruya in this chapter. She was a brown rat. I don't think I've ever mentioned my choice for him anywhere before.
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 | PART FOUR
“I want my fingers back,” Spaniel-Dejeni declared, for the six millionth time since she’d become a dog. She wasn’t even trying to be helpful anymore. Howard could feel the depression radiating off of her as she sat in the chair by the workbench, her chin on the bench and one of her ears flopped over her eyes because she didn’t care enough to move it to see.
“I’m working on it,” Howard said. “It’s not my fault Jarvis had a nervous breakdown and we lost Haddie’s hands.” Jarvis had gone straight to bed when they got home, and Howard hadn’t seen him since.
“Howard,” Spaniel-Dejeni said. “It’s definitely your fault.”
“Oh,” Howard said. “Yeah. What do you think I should do to apologize for all this? Usually, I give him stuff, but I feel like this is on the upper end of things I’ve done to him, and I don’t think a new watch is going to make up for it.”
Spaniel-Dejeni shook her head, letting her ear drop back so she could see again. “I don’t know,” she said. “You should give him time off, though. A lot of it. Let him take Ana somewhere so they can have lots of sex in celebration of him having his body back.”
“Jarvis doesn’t like going anywhere,” Howard reminded her. “Whenever I give him time off, he just wanders around here like a ghost remembering his past life, and I end up giving him tasks to do just to keep him from haunting me. And it’s not like they can’t have lots of sex here. I don’t care.”
Spaniel-Dejeni knocked her forehead against the bench repeatedly, making Howard’s vision blur until he kicked her to stop. “Maybe you should get him massages for those cramp things,” she suggested.
That wasn’t a bad idea. Howard’s calves still hurt from that torture. Jarvis didn’t need that week in and week out.
“Do you think he’d really lie still and let Masha touch him?” Howard wondered. “She’s a beaut; he’d blush and squirm.”
“Find an ugly masseuse,” Spaniel-Dejeni suggested, wisely. “There’s got to be one out there.”
Yeah. Okay, that would work. Weekly massages for Jarvis. That would show he was sorry, right?
“Hey, get me--” Howard began, and then moaned. “Fuck!” He went to get it himself, Spaniel-Dejeni ramming her head into the bench again. This time he let her go to it.
A tray of food appeared next to him from mysterious origins, sometime later.
“Thanks, Jarvis,” he said.
“You’re welcome, sir,” Ana said, in a deep voice and pretend British accent.
Howard looked over her shoulder to find her grinning at him. “Oh,” he said. “Sorry, I wasn’t looking.”
“I hope not! I know Mr. Jarvis doesn’t look like himself, but I hope I wouldn’t be mistaken for him,” Ana said. “He is still lying down. I’m making him. He feels better, but he needs to rest, so I am your butler tonight. I’ve made you goulash.”
“Swell,” Howard said. He took the spoon and shoved a mouthful in. And…”Christ, woman, that’s a lot of paprika!” Spaniel-Dejeni’s tongue darted in and out of her mouth, and she pawed at it.
“But, I put the normal amount in,” Ana said. Hesper landed on the side of the bowl and peered in. “Just like I always make it.”
Howard tried another mouthful, but no, it tasted like it was swimming in Hungarian paprika. Which was normally how he liked it. Except he had Jarvis’ mouth. Jarvis’ tongue.
“No, it’s fine,” Howard lied. “Thanks.”
Ana laughed brightly. “Now you sound like Edwin, not just look like him,” she said. She touched Howard’s cheek. “You have a scratch, where did that come from?”
Howard winced in memory. “I, uh, bumped into an old flame outside the hotel when I was waiting for the car to come back,” he said. “And it turns out she thinks Jarvis is a bastard for telling her I didn’t want to see her anymore and thought she should tell him in the form of clawing his eyes out.”
Ana laughed so hard at that that Hesper nearly fell into the bowl of goulash. “Oh, my! Serves you right, after all these years!” she said, in delight.
Jarvis had had a similar reaction to Howard’s misfortunes. In fact, seeing Howard get slapped was the first thing that started to bring color back in his cheeks after the meeting with the ambassador. His laughter had drawn the attention of the girl, though, who’d taken a dive at him, but Peggy suplexed her into submission. Dejeni had said she didn’t think Peggy would have taken her down if it had actually been Howard in Howard’s body.
“Yeah, it was a real laugh,” Howard grumbled.
“But it wasn’t that funny,” Spaniel-Dejeni said, as Ana continued to giggle. She glared at Hesper, who wiggled his antennae in amusement.
Ana put an apologetic hand on Howard’s arm. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But if this experience is good for anything, it is for you two to see what it’s like to be the other. Edwin is very tired from talking all morning. He didn’t know what a game you play, I don’t think. He just thought you talked and all was well.”
“No, that ain’t how it works,” Howard agreed. He had another go at the goulash, but his tastebuds still weren’t having it, so he went at the challah instead. That at least tasted good. But he noticed different flavors in it. Being in a different body was nuts. “Hey, can I ask you a weird, possibly inappropriate question?”
“Why not?” Ana said, with a toss of her head. Hesper left the goulash to take a seat on her dress to listen like a moth-shaped brooch. “Everything is odd already.”
“I’m assuming you find Jarvis handsome, right?” Howard said. “I mean, I don’t see how, but you married him and all, so I guess you might think he’s good-looking. So, now that I’m him, do you still think he’s handsome? Are you attracted to me--or this body, still? This isn’t me coming onto you, I swear. I’m just curious.”
Ana’s mirth was gone now, and she took a seat on a stool to answer him. “The things I find handsome about Edwin, come from inside him,” she said. “His body self, I like, too. He has beautiful eyes, and I like his strong nose. But, when I saw him first, I thought he was handsome because his eyes were kind, and his face was soft and gentle. Now that he’s not in there, his body doesn’t look like that. And I don’t feel so attracted, no.”
“My eyes aren’t kind, huh?” Howard said.
“No,” she said, smiling to soften it. “Your eyes are hard, like you. And your face--” She poked his cheek. “All the muscles are hard, like you. You are hard because you have to be, because of how you made yourself growing up. You wear your kindness back in yourself and keep it protected. Edwin, his hardness is deep inside. He uses it to be strong and brave, but he wears his kindness forward through his face.”
“Huh,” Howard said. He took some more challah to chew on. He’d just been curious about the sexual part of things. Now he had to contemplate his inner self. This was why talking to women was never a good idea.
“Can I ask you a question now?” Ana asked.
“Knock yourself out,” Howard said.
“You have Edwin’s body, so do you feel attracted to me in it?” she said. “Do you love me? Or feel like it?”
“That’s a loaded question,” Spaniel-Dejeni complained. “Careful, if you get slapped again today, I’m leaving.”
“Where would you go?” Howard said to her. She opened her mouth and closed it, then tried to shrug like she would if she were a raccoon, but only succeeded in making her ears twitch. Howard turned back to Ana. “I’ve always thought you were beautiful. ‘Cause, you are. That’s not me coming onto you, that’s just a fact. But no, I don’t love you. Not like that, anyway. Not that I’m an expert on that kind of love. But I don’t feel any different toward you. You’re family. That’s all.”
“So, even if you can’t switch back ever, Edwin will still feel like he does now, for me,” Ana said, making it somewhere between a question and an affirmation.
“She shouldn’t be worrying about that!” Spaniel-Dejeni said. Her voice turned stern. “Say something good to make her stop.”
Howard hated when she told him that. ‘Say something good’, but never what he was supposed to say.
“Listen, honey, Edwin Jarvis would still feel like he does for you now even if you put him a desert and took away all his memories,” Howard said. “Nothing’s gonna change that. Not all the wacky science in the world. Whatever people say about the heart and love, it’s crap.” He put his hand on his chest. “I got his heart, but it’s just an organ. Your real heart’s in your head.”
Ana smiled, Hesper fluttering his wings happily. “Very poetic,” she said. “Thank you, Mr. Stark.”
“And we will switch back,” Howard added. “I promise.”
“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” she scolded. She held up her hands. “But put me to work, and we’ll try, yes? I’m your butler tonight. I can be your extra hands.”
Spaniel-Dejeni knocked her forehead against the table. “At least someone has some.”
Howard knew Ana had helped Wilkes with his containment chamber, but he’d only heard about that and figured she’d just held things or handed them to Jarvis. He’d never seen her at work, and it turned out she had skill. She could put things together, saw how things worked, followed direction. She was as good as any Stark Industries intern.
“You’re in the wrong profession, Mrs. J,” Howard said. “Quit this housewife stuff; I should get you on an assembly line.”
Ana’s eyes twinkled as she handed him a drill. “I learn a lot, just by watching and listening,” she said. “Edwin has, too. We learn from being around you.”
“Yeah, I’m a walking educational experience,” Howard said. “Check out the lesson in psychology you’re getting right now.”
“This is philosophy,” Ana corrected. “What do they call this? Metafizika.”
“Metaphysics, yeah,” Howard said. “Erskine liked that stuff. Good versus evil. What makes a good man good. If we’re all just savages waiting to tear each other apart.”
Abe liked to get into that while they were working, Ruya scampering around putting Dejeni through her paces. Howard never cared much about the whys and wherefores of it all, he just wanted it to work.
“What makes us us,” Ana contributed. “Why are you still you even though you are Edwin? Yes, Mr. Stark, you give a good lesson in that today.”
“Do you think you’ve learned anything from Jarvis?” Spaniel-Dejeni wondered.
“Probably not,” Howard said.
She put her head on the table, near to where Hesper was sitting on a jar of nails. “Yeah.”
“Erskine liked Jarvis,” Howard said to Ana. “He thought he was a good guy, and Abe had good taste. Picked Steve out of the pack when no one else saw it.”
“He picked you, too, Mr. Stark,” Ana said. “To help him.”
That was a nice thought. People like Erskine, and Steve, and Jarvis, who saw the good in people, it meant something when they believed in you. Maybe that’s what Howard had learned from Jarvis. How to stand firm when you wanted to run. How to fix your mistakes--or try to. Put the machine back together again when it was your fault it broke, instead of leaving it for someone else to fix. Howard wasn’t that guy before. That was Steve, and it was Peggy, and it was Jarvis. And maybe some of that had rubbed off on him. A little.
“Well, Abe was kinda nuts, too,” Howard pointed out.
Ana gave a tinkling laugh. “All scientists are, I think,” she said. “Just like us artists. This is why we get along.”
“Which one is Jarvis?” Howard wondered. “A scientist or an artist?”
“Neither,” Ana said. “He’s an adventurer. That’s even worse.”
“Mr and Mrs Carter, welcome!” Howard greeted Daniel and Peggy, at the door of the Stark Residence. He then looked horrified, and Dejeni put her face in her paws. “I mean Agent Sousa and Mrs Carter. I’m terribly sorry, Agent Sousa. I will get the hang of things, in time.”
Daniel’s face wore the expression of a man who had just been called by his wife’s maiden name, but Eitana nudged him, and he forced a smile through. “You could just call me Daniel,” he said.
“I’m sure I’ll work it out,” Howard promised. “Please, come in. Mr Stark is ready in the workshop. May I take that?”
Peggy handed him the SHIELD containment box she was holding. After several hours of work, nearly another full day’s worth after the meeting with Horvat, Howard had fixed the machine--or was ‘99%’ sure he had. Daniel and Peggy had come to witness the swap back between him and Jarvis and then to promptly pack the machine up and put it in the Archives before it could do further damage.
In the workshop, the machine sat on a table in the middle of a cleared area, which had traffic cones placed around it in a wide circle. Jarvis stood at the machine and greeted them with the manic look Howard bore when he’d had too much coffee and not enough sleep. Howard’s taste in clothing was evident, too. He was down to his shirt, untucked, and sleeves rolled up to the elbows. Peggy had never seen Jarvis in anything less than a waistcoat at least, except for when he was in pyjamas. Haddie trotted in circles around the bottom of the table, weaving through the legs.
“Hey, Peg...and you,” Jarvis said, throwing his chin up in a nod to Daniel.
“Sousa,” Daniel said. “Daniel Sousa. Why is it so hard for everyone to figure out?”
“Right. Danny,” Jarvis said, and Daniel sighed. “Look! I got the machine sorted. I even figured out how to turn it on and off. See?” He swirled his hand in a clockwise direction and the globe in the centre of the machine lit up in a pulsing blue, making a gentle ‘vrriiip’ noise. Haddie turned in a clockwise circle on the floor. “On. And--” he moved his hand in an anticlockwise direction and the machine went dead, with a ‘vroop’ noise. Haddie turned in an anticlockwise direction. “Off.” Vriiip. “On.” Vroop. “Off.” Vriiip. “On.” Vroop. Vriip. Vroop. Vriip. Vroop.
“Howard! That’s enough!” Peggy said.
“Right,” Jarvis said, lowering his hands. Haddie sat down, her eyes crossed in dizziness. “Jarvis and I have been working out exactly where we were and what we were doing when we got swapped. I’ve marked off an area, which is about the distance from the machine he was at the time. We know for sure it covers that area, so stay out of it while we’re doing this. Ana says the diaries said that the Whoever People of Wherever both touched the machine when they did their ritual thing, but Jarvis wasn’t touching the machine at the time, so I figure it’s actually more about who’s closest. But in any case, Jarvis and me are both going to touch it to be on the safe side.”
“That was my suggestion,” Howard said. “Mr Stark wanted to replicate our positions at the time, but Ana has been working on the machine, and I’m afraid it goes by whoever’s touched it the most recently as I had helped Mr Stark during the day we swapped and touched it myself earlier on. I want to make sure that person who’s most recently touched it is me and not her.”
“That’s probably sensible,” Daniel said. He squinted at Howard. “Which is weird coming out of your mouth.”
Ana Jarvis came down the stairs, holding a bottle of wine in one hand and glasses in the other. “Mr Sousa, Mrs Carter, hello!”
“See, it’s not that hard to get the names right,” Daniel muttered to Peggy.
Takeo gave Eitana a commissary bump of his snout.
“Hello, Mrs Jarvis,” Peggy said. “Are we having a party?”
“Yes,” Ana said. “If it works, we will drink. And if it doesn’t work we will drink more.”
“Amen,” Howard said, and they nodded and smiled at one another.
“Okay, gang’s all here, let’s get me back to me and you back to you,” Jarvis said. “Everyone who’s not us get back.”
Peggy, Daniel, and Ana pushed themselves against the wall. Hesper placed himself inside a wine glass, and Eitana made Takeo get on his belly so she could sit on him in defence. Daniel pulled Peggy to him, wrapping an arm around her back.
Jarvis and Howard positioned themselves at the machine, facing each other. Haddie and Dejeni did the same.
“On three, we’ll go,” Jarvis told Howard. “Not after. On.”
“Yes, agreed,” Howard replied, with a curt nod.
“One, two,” Jarvis counted them in. “Three.”
Their hands gripped the machine, and the blue light in the centre flashed to a blinding level so that all Peggy could see was white. There was a loud thump-thump, two bodies hitting the ground not quite in sync. When her vision cleared, both Jarvis and Howard were crumpled on the floor. Ana let out an exclamation in Hungarian and started to go forward, but Daniel stopped her. Haddie and Dejeni were present and accounted for, which meant Jarvis and Howard were still alive. But unconscious. The globe in the centre of the machine pulsed in rhythmic bursts. Peggy waited a few seconds, then a few more, then pulled herself out of Daniel’s grip and went forward to investigate.
“Hey, careful,” Daniel said, trying to pull her back.
“I’ll be--” Peggy began.
Daniel yanked her backward and pinned her against the wall as the machine flashed brightly again, and the whiteness blinded her. This time, when her vision cleared, Jarvis and Howard were awake. They both sat up and looked at each other.
“Mr Stark?” Jarvis said.
“Jarvis?” Howard said.
They both grinned and said, in perfect unison: “nice to see you again.”
Ana shoved the bottle of wine at Peggy and the glasses at Daniel and went running across the room, tackling Jarvis and kissing him with a passion, pressing him right down on his back and straddling him. Hesper fluttered around Haddie so energetically that her attempts to catch him were unsuccessful until she lay down on her belly and Hesper landed between her paws.
Howard watched them with a big, genuine smile on his face. Dejeni was too busy wiggling her fingers and picking up everything in sight to notice what was happening. Howard looked to Peggy and Daniel. “Okay, which one of you two is going to kiss me?”
“In your dreams,” Peggy replied.
“Actually, not even in your dreams,” Daniel said. “Keep my wife out of them, Stark.”
“Too late,” Howard said, with a wink to Peggy. He stretched his arms and legs out, felt for his moustache, and examined his left-hand ring finger with a satisfied nod. Dejeni climbed into his lap and undid his shirt buttons, then did them up again. Three times.
“Let’s break out the booze,” Daniel suggested to Peggy.
“You should turn the machine off first,” Takeo told her. “Before it gets any more ideas.”
Peggy handed the wine to Daniel so he could serve and went over to the machine. She had to step over Jarvis’ legs to do it, as Ana was still on top of him, though now just resting there, breathing heavily. Peggy moved her hand in an anticlockwise motion and the machine went dead with a ‘vroop’.
“Give me a hand,” Howard said, holding one out to her. “I’m exhausted. What have you been doing in me, Jarvis?”
“Eating properly and getting enough sleep,” Jarvis replied. Ana shifted off of him so he could sit up. His cheeks were bright red, and he was covered in her lipstick. “Which is more than I can say for what you’ve done to me.” He put his hand on his heart. “I think I’m having a coronary.”
“That’s what you get for getting it on in public with your girl,” Howard said. “You’re little British heart is probably overexcited.”
“I have to kiss him a little bit!” Ana said, defensively.
Haddie tried to lick the lipstick from Jarvis’ face, and he rubbed at it with his handkerchief. “Yes,” he said, briskly. “Well. Good.” Ana kissed him again, putting a new set of lips on his flushed cheek.
Peggy offered Howard a hand up. His steps were tentative, like a toddler working out how to walk.
“I never thought I’d feel weird in my own body,” he said. “I was getting used to walking on stilts. Now I feel like a midget.”
“Yes, it is rather like going through puberty again,” Jarvis said, as he tried to get up and stumbled. He balanced himself on Ana’s shoulder.
“I remember puberty being different than this,” Howard said. Daniel handed him a glass of wine. “Well, not that different. L’chaim!” He guzzled at the glass as though it were a pint and not very expensive Bordeaux. His eyes closed in bliss. “Christ, I am so happy to have things taste like they’re supposed to again.” He took Peggy’s glass as Daniel tried to hand it to her and gulped that down too. “Is there any goulash left?” Dejeni stopped her joyful manipulations of objects to listen for the answer.
“Yes,” Ana said. “In the fridge. I put some away for you.”
“Swell,” Howard said. “Be right back. And...I gotta take care of nature, too.”
That was something Jarvis also needed to do. He and Haddie hurried away to the loo.
“How did they...uh...do that up til now?” Daniel wondered.
“We are not to ask,” Ana said. “But really, Mr Stark doesn’t have anything Edwin hadn’t seen before.”
“Howard doesn’t have anything anyone hasn’t seen before,” Peggy said. She was far more intimately acquainted with Howard Stark’s anatomy than she wished to be.
“Yeah,” Daniel said, and Peggy turned to look at him in astonishment. “Don’t ask.” Eitana hid her face in his shins.
“Ask,” Takeo urged her.
But Peggy didn’t ask. She sipped at the second glass of wine Daniel poured for her and set about getting the containment chamber ready for the machine. Jarvis returned before Howard did, looking refreshed and invigorated. He merrily helped her get the machine into the box and locked up. Haddie bounded at his feet like a puppy, tail wagging and jumping up on him, spinning in a circle. Poor Jarvis, Howard had obviously put a lot of caffeine in his body before returning it to him.
“Hey!” Howard’s voice broke out across the room. “What are you doing? Why did you put that in there?”
“We’re taking it to the Archives,” Peggy said.
“Right away?” Howard said. “I need to study it.”
“Oh, good GOD!” Takeo snarled, tossing his head.
“No!” everyone in the room said, in unison.
“Come on!” Howard said. “That thing switches bodies. Do you know what we could do with it? What we could learn? Nature versus nurture. How the brain works. We could swap people with coma patients and ask them what’s it’s like to be unconscious. We could pinpoint personality traits--”
“Howard,” Peggy warned.
“I bet we could even figure out how to make electrical pulses behave like a person. Make something inanimate, like a robot, have a complete personality. Artificial intelligence! We could figure out how to transfer consciousnesses into synthetic bodies!”
“Mr Stark,” Jarvis warned.
Dejeni hopped up onto a table and grabbed a pencil, starting to scribble frantically.
“At least let me send it to Wilkes in Malibu, and let him play with it,” Howard said. “You can’t just shove this kind of knowledge in a box and ignore it.”
“Howard, it’s far too dangerous to have lying around,” Peggy said. “What if it fell into enemy hands? Anyone could swap out, and we could be infiltrated by someone who looks just like an ally because they are them.”
“Why do you have to always see the bad stuff? Why can’t you see the good stuff?” Howard complained. “You never see how it could be, just how it might be.”
“I’m sorry my healthy relationship with reality is getting in the way of your reckless endangerment of mankind,” Peggy snapped.
“People who stick to reality never invented anything,” Howard snapped back. “You gotta dream, Peg, to be a genius.”
“Okay, okay,” Daniel said. Eitana stepped between the two of them. “There’s no need to get hostile. We’re celebrating here, remember. Stark, you aren’t playing with this. You can start by going through me, and then you can go through her, and if you’re still walking by then, I think Jarvis would probably have a go, too.”
Jarvis gave Howard a long look. “You’ve been asking what you can do to make up for this,” he said. “You can follow Mrs Carter’s direction.”
Howard let out a long, tormented sigh. “Fine. But I’m keeping the diaries,” he said, pointing at Peggy sternly. “And you can’t take my ideas.” He poured himself another glass of wine and went to Dejeni on the workbench, leaning over the paper with her.
“Make sure you put that in the archive Howard doesn’t know about,” Peggy murmured to Daniel, who touched his nose in conspiracy.
“Jarvis got your title right,” Takeo said. “He called you Mrs Carter, first try.”
“Oh, my goodness, you’re right,” Peggy said. She turned to Jarvis and congratulated him on his success.
“I told you I’d get the hang of it,” he said, as Haddie preened in pride. “Now all of us have our identities sorted out.”
Peggy gave him a big hug, Takeo bumping his nose to Haddie. “It’s wonderful to have you back, Mr Jarvis.”
“Thank you, it’s delightful to be back,” he said.
“Hey, what about me?” Howard said. “Don’t I get a hug?” He gave her That Stark Smile; the lopsided, charming one, with his eyes twinkling. Dejeni put down her pencil to look contrite. “Come on, let’s be friends, sweetheart.”
Peggy and Takeo exchanged sceptical looks, but he nudged her leg and encouraged her over. She wrapped her arms around Howard’s neck.
“I suppose I’m glad to have you back, too,” she said.
“You know, I haven’t even named that machine yet,” Howard said to her.
“But not that glad.”