Author: Del Rion (delrion.mail (at) gmail.com)
Fandom: Iron Man (MCU)
Timeline: Takes place between “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2”
Rating: M / FRM
Characters: J.A.R.V.I.S., Tony Stark (Iron Man), Tony’s bots (DUM-E & U). Also: Happy Hogan, Pepper Potts, James “Rhodey” Rhodes.
Summary: Tony Stark is famous – and infamous – for many an adventure, but there are some stories that have never reached the shared consensus of the public – like the “sex bot incident”.
Complete. Part of “Genius, AI & Bots” series.
Written for: Robot Big Bang’s (robotbigbang) round 3.
Warnings: Language, sexual references, canonical violence.
Disclaimer: Iron Man and Marvel Cinematic Universe, including characters and everything else, belong to Marvel, Marvel Studios, Jon Favreau and Paramount Pictures. In short: I own nothing; this is pure fiction created to entertain likeminded fans for no profit whatsoever.
Beta: Mythra (mythras_fire)
Feedback: Most appreciated.
Story and status: Below you see the writing process of the story. If there is no text after the title, then it is finished and checked. Possible updates shall be marked after the title.
In the weeks following his coming out as Iron Man, Tony Stark had been a busy man.
Have an international conflict involving U.S. citizens or troops getting out of control? Call in Iron Man.
Got a mission that would normally have been a waste of resources with a high casualty risk? Send in the guy with the most advanced battle armor in the world.
Tony would have been lying if he’d said he hadn’t built the armor for battle, but he saw many more applications for it – which meant that when he wasn’t working in conjunction with the U.S. military or independently taking down a terrorist cell, he tried to play the good Samaritan and use the armor for things that didn’t include blowing shit up and reading people their rights: aid in disaster areas around the globe, taking help beyond borders and to cut-off areas and being an all-around good guy.
That didn’t mean he didn’t end up spending most of his time in the armor fighting off an attack of some kind, especially when trouble seemed to follow him like a shadow, regardless of the position of the sun.
With that being the case, Tony should have known that attending a technological seminar in Japan would result in a face-off against some hastily-pulled-together band of tech-terrorists.
It was nice to see that he had inspired people, but he would have preferred something other than companies attempting to plagiarize his suit and villains still wet behind the ears trying to make a show of talents they clearly didn’t possess. Just because Tony Stark could become a superhero almost overnight didn’t mean everyone else could do the same – or should try their hand at villainy, which seemed to be a popular career option to pursue for those who lacked the intelligence, skill, and perseverance to try becoming a hero.
Perhaps the problem was that the world thought it had all happened in a heartbeat for Tony, whereas his actual rebirth had required a three-month gestation period in captivity, sprinkled with torture and physical trauma – all ignited by the betrayal of one of the few people he had thought he could trust.
Hell, wasn’t that how real heroes were born in pop culture? Through hardship and trial…
Tony had certainly gotten a taste of that and had the right to frown upon anyone who tried to take a shortcut to instant superhero or supervillain stardom.
While he dealt with the group attacking the technological seminar, he debated whether he should create a PSA directed at future villain wannabes: “If you’re not properly organized, don’t bother,” he narrated at no one in particular while smashing his armored fist through a modified Jeep that resembled a military Humvee. “If you insist on attacking me with inferior weaponry – and boast about its destructive power only to prove it as false advertising a few seconds later – assume that I’ll be ticked,” he went on as he opened the vehicle’s roof like a sardine can and pulled out the driver and the passenger holding a rigged RPG launcher.
“To whom would you like to address this tirade, sir?” J.A.R.V.I.S. asked, reminding Tony that at least in the armor, someone was always listening.
Tony sighed, tossing aside the driver in order to grip the RPG launcher and crush it in his fingers. With the weapon dismantled, he threw it and its owner to the ground and boosted himself into the air, landing on the second vehicle so hard that three of its tires blew out and the windows cracked as the frame collapsed beneath the armor’s weight; the doors effectively jammed, the men inside were going to be needing some help to get out. “Let’s keep it between us for now,” Tony decided, carrying on his conversation with his AI. “Although I am debating whether or not to print out a set of guidelines and hand them out on the street. Where do these people keep coming from?” he mused and proceeded to neutralize the remaining targets with a well-placed gas capsule.
J.A.R.V.I.S. didn’t reply, either searching for the answer or knowing it was a rhetorical one.
With the threat contained, Tony looked around. A crowd was gathering while the whine of sirens from approaching police vehicles neared the site of the battle. Just like in any other modern setting, people had their phones out and were taking pictures of the destruction, fully ignoring the fact that something might still blow up or go off.
Not in a mood to pose, Tony turned to check the battlefield and then aimed his gaze towards the wall of a nearby building which had a hole blown into it. The group had been dragging something out when Tony caught up with them, and he walked over to the coffin-sized and -shaped container. “What’s inside?” he asked, watching the HUD light up as J.A.R.V.I.S. scanned the container.
“Nothing dangerous, as far as the armor’s scanners indicate.”
Tony glanced at the results, a human shape showing up in the scan. No vital signs, though, and it did appear to look like a machine, although not something that Tony would expect from a robot.
Going down on one knee, Tony used the armor to pry open the lid of the container – a job made much easier because the seal had already been broken by someone else. Opening the container, he found himself looking at the flawless features of a woman: she looked like a mix of Asian and Western ancestry, her face too perfect, skin too smooth.
“I accessed the building’s database and the container’s information: you are looking at the latest prototype in a new line of Lifelike Interaction & Love Units.”
“A sex bot,” Tony translated.
“If you must call them that.”
“Does it make you uncomfortable?” Tony chuckled, then stopped to consider it. “Do you think it’s wrong, humans building machines for pleasure?”
“Of course not. However, it seems a bit backwards, seeing as your species is not running out of possible candidates.”
“Ah, but you’re smart enough to know that that’s not always enough.”
“Are we talking about shortcomings in social interaction – or fetishes?”
“I need to start checking which websites you’re browsing,” Tony mused.
“Seeing as human children are taught, in many cultures, that there may be people who would want to do inappropriate things to them, I now notice that you have neglected to educate myself and the bots on the possibility of perpetrators with technophilic tendencies.”
Tony groaned. “You’re trolling me. Stop.”
“Of course, sir.”
“Besides, you don’t even have a physical body, J: what are you afraid of, someone breaking in and humping one of your servers?”
“I shall proceed to erase that comment from my memory, if you do not mind, sir.”
Tony kind of wished he could do the same, then proceeded to track down the owners of the sex bot because it was possible someone had tampered with it and the last thing he needed was a malfunctioning mechanical escort going on a rampage.
“What is it?” Pepper asked as Tony and Happy set down the large wooden crate in the middle of his workshop.
“A thing,” Tony replied evasively.
“It’s heavy,” Happy complained and wiped sweat from his hairline, taking a step back from the crate. “Is it for the armor?”
“Nope,” Tony said, moving around the crate and releasing the fastenings around it, opening it up. Inside lay a familiar looking coffin-sized container – or ‘pod’, as Tony preferred to call it now that he knew what it was.
Happy and Pepper moved closer, peering in.
“It’s not anything dangerous, is it?” Pepper asked.
“Why would you think that?” Tony questioned and punched a security code into a panel at the pod’s side, opening the lock.
“Because you’re being secretive about it,” Pepper pointed out.
“I’m just predicting you might not approve of what’s inside,” Tony explained.
“I think I can be the judge of that, thank you very much,” his PA snapped.
Happy looked even more curious as Tony opened the lid and revealed the contents of the pod. Much as expected, Pepper took one look at it and gasped, one hand covering her mouth. Happy, on the other hand, looked a bit puzzled.
“Is she dead?” Pepper asked in a strained whisper.
“She’s not alive, technically,” Tony explained, then realized that may have not been his smartest comeback. “She’s a robot,” he informed them before Pepper could start to look even more horrified.
“Very lifelike,” Happy mused. “Could have fooled me.”
“The Japanese know what they’re doing,” Tony nodded.
“Why do you have it?” Pepper asked. “What… is it for?”
“It’s meant for… well… companionship,” he tried to put it politely, even though he knew Pepper had a thick skin.
Apparently his attempt at chivalry went right past her as Pepper pursed her lips, shock morphing into disdain and disapproval. “She’s a sex bot?”
“Wow,” Happy exclaimed. “Is she…?”
“Anatomically correct in all the right places, yes,” Tony answered because that was the first question he would have been asking if he was a potential buyer. Not that he was: toys were fine, but when it came to actual robotics, he was too invested in developing it to actually consider sticking his dick into one. It was not what most people would assume, thinking he made all kinds of perverted things in his lab with the kind of playboy life he had been leading for far more than a decade, but making a robot for sex had never seemed right.
Like J.A.R.V.I.S. had pointed out, there were plenty of candidates in his own species, and besides, a robot this fine-looking was a feat of engineering and he was far more interested in how she worked and had been constructed.
“Do I even want to know why you ordered a sex robot?” Pepper mused.
“I’m checking and debugging her – not in the STDs kind of way,” he added before she could get disgusted at him all over again. “That group of tech terrorist morons I battled in Japan got their hands on her, and I volunteered to make sure they didn’t leave any booby traps.”
Happy chortled at the word ‘booby’ and Tony gave him a pointed look. His bodyguard had the decency to look ashamed of himself.
“Why aren’t her… manufacturers doing that?” Pepper asked, clearly having difficulty viewing the bot as just a piece of tech, seeing as she looked very much like a human being.
“They would have, but I talked them out of it. I’ve dealt with those kinds of groups before and some of them have some nasty bugs in their possession. They agreed once I gave them a few examples. I think on second thought they considered it an honor that Tony Stark would put his hands on their creation.”
“How noble of you,” Pepper rolled her eyes.
“I do need to put my hands on her to make sure she’s okay,” Tony told her and stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, the boys and I need to get busy,” he announced and snapped his fingers, the bots rolling over to him, craning their arms to look at the pod and the robot inside. They seemed almost afraid of it, which was comical, and Tony impatiently waited for them to get over it. “She’s not even online yet and you two are treating her like a Terminator. She’s totally harmless.”
“Then why do you feel like you need to check her over?” Pepper reminded him.
“Harmless in theory,” Tony amended. “I don’t think they managed to do much to her, but better safe than sorry.”
“Definitely,” Happy nodded along and shifted. “Do you need help?”
Pepper and Tony both gave him looks at that.
“What?” Happy exclaimed. “She’s very pretty, and I’ve never seen a robot like that before.” He gave Dummy and You a look. “No offense, but your usual robots don’t normally inspire much of anything.”
Dummy and You let out sharp bleeps at that, clearly not taking his words kindly, and Tony proceeded to usher both his friends out of his workshop so that he could get to work without judgmental or lecherous commentary from the peanut gallery.
The sex bot was laid out on a table, wearing the simple red flower-patterned kimono she was originally wearing in the pod; apparently packaging a sex bot naked felt inappropriate even to its manufacturers. Tony had been left to move the robot alone, seeing as his bots had still been acting skittish although they were growing bolder by the minute.
You eventually rolled close enough to examine the kimono the sex bot was wearing, taking a good look at the delicate flower print of the fabric. Dummy looked like he wanted to poke her but had yet to muster the courage to do so.
“Anything to report?” Tony asked J.A.R.V.I.S., who had been running an external scan on the robot’s body.
“Nothing yet, sir. There does not seem to be anything out of place. However, the files sent by the manufacturing company lack much information, so I am keeping my own findings separate for now, for you to peruse and see which one you would like to use later.”
Tony snorted. “Figures. All I did was offer my help and this is what I get.”
“The robot does represent a model not yet revealed to the public: I can understand the caution of its creators.”
“That is a valid point, even though I have no interest in launching a sex bot line. Also, what’s with the ‘it’? You can say ‘she’,” Tony noted.
“If you say so, sir,” his AI replied dispassionately.
Tony wondered about that, but seeing as the bots were intimidated by the sex bot, it was possible J.A.R.V.I.S. was not entirely comfortable with her presence either.
“Alright, let’s boot her up and see what we’re dealing with,” he decided briskly and moved over to the still form of the robot, locating the well-concealed control panel at the back of her head. There was a simple on/off button, which seemed a little simplistic for such a fine piece of machinery, but Tony pressed it and then drew back to wait, not knowing what kind of settings would be in use when the bot awakened.
There were no sounds of interlocking machine parts or the soft whining of servos; all the sex bot did was let out something resembling a sigh, her features twitching, and then she blinked her eyes and seemed to search for something with her gaze. Once she noticed Tony, her lips curved into a small, polite smile and she clumsily sat up on the table.
She greeted Tony in Japanese, her voice softly pitched towards a high note.
“Do you speak English?” Tony asked outright; his Japanese was rusty from lack of use, but he would manage if he had to.
The bot seemed to think about it for a moment, then spoke again: “Good day, sir. May I know your name?” she requested very politely.
“Tony,” he responded.
“I am honored to meet you, Mister Tony,” she bowed her head slightly, the small motion looking almost human compared to her earlier movements as she sat up.
“Just Tony,” Tony instructed. “What shall I call you?” he asked in return.
“I am Lifelike Interaction & Love Unit, model 27 –”
“Okay,” Tony cut her off, “you don’t have an assigned name, then?”
“You may give me any name you please,” she beamed back at him, expression eager. If the rest of her motions betrayed her mechanical build, her facial expressions were eerily human. Looking at a person’s face was one of the key parts of interaction, however, and perhaps that was why they had spent so much time perfecting that.
“Uh, well… I suppose I could call you… L-I-L-U… Lily,” Tony decided and nodded. “Lily is good.”
She beamed at him again. “Thank you, Mister Tony.”
“Just Tony, no ‘mister’ necessary,” Tony repeated. He guessed she had been programmed with the renowned Japanese politeness towards customers, so that lesson might take a while to sink in. However, she wanted to please him more than anything, apparently, and was quick to learn.
“I thank you, Tony, for allowing me to call you by that name. I shall cherish it always.”
There was a distinctive snort that came from somewhere in the room.
Tony looked around, then up. “J, was that you?”
“My apologies, sir,” the AI said, sounding a bit surly.
Lily looked around slowly, clearly trying to locate the speaker.
“That is J.A.R.V.I.S.,” Tony explained. “He is my AI – Artificial Intelligence. You may not be familiar with the term.”
Lily gave a small bow, as if apologizing for not knowing what he meant – then looked up, as if deciding that she, too, should be addressing J.A.R.V.I.S. that way. “It is an honor to meet you, J.A.R.V.I.S.,” she intoned with such reverence one might have thought she was speaking to God.
Well, to her J.A.R.V.I.S. may well have represented a higher life form, had she actually been able to grasp the concept of what an AI was.
Tony looked around, trying to locate the bots. Better introduce them, too, to get them all started off on the right foot. However, the two bots were nowhere to be seen, and Tony turned around to take a better look at the workshop area. “Dummy, You, where did you two go off to?”
A set of questioning beeps met his words and as he squinted, he thought he could see one clawed arm peeking out from around a large piece of machinery before it quickly withdrew out of sight.
With a sigh, Tony moved towards the machine, wondering why the bots were being so skittish when he would have usually thought them to be curious. They had never been afraid of his suits, and those had actual weapons built into them. Maybe that was why: Lily had not been built by him, and she was a stranger in their home environment.
“Come here,” Tony called out. “She doesn’t bite – or turn into a killer robot,” he added. After all, he wasn’t entirely sure if the bots had seen the Terminator movies or not…
The bots protested and he could hear them moving away, still out of sight.
Back at the table, Lily sat still, clearly content to wait for Tony’s next command or request.
“At least someone here has some manners,” Tony noted and began to walk across the room, catching up with the bots as the two of them tried to round another corner to evade him. “Stop being idiots, both of you,” he ordered and snapped his fingers sharply for emphasis.
The bots stopped and sort of looked at him, not really facing him, letting out cautious sounds.
“Come on,” Tony pressed and took a step back, keeping his eyes on the bots.
Slowly, as if it physically pained them, the bots turned around and followed him. They hesitated once they came in view of the sex bot, but Tony was adamant and they knew when to stop testing his ire.
“Lily, these are my bots,” Tony told the sex bot. “DUM-E and U,” he gestured at each bot at a time. “They are my… other creations,” he explained, not sure how else to describe them in a way Lily might understand.
“Hello, I am pleased to meet you,” she said and bowed again.
Both Dummy and You backed away an inch as she moved, their arms drooping low as if they could make themselves so small she would not notice them.
“You likes your kimono,” Tony stated. “Don’t you?” he challenged the bot, who drooped his arm lower still.
Lily looked down at her kimono, as if noticing it for the first time, then smiled. “Thank you, U,” she said, pronouncing the bot’s name carefully.
“Alright,” Tony clapped his hands together, “now that introductions have been made, I need to run some tests. Do you feel out of the usual, Lily? If there is anything at all, I want you to tell me.”
She shook her head, dark hair swaying gently. “I feel fine, thank you, Tony.” And there was the tiny bow again. Tony noticed for the first time that whenever she did that, he could see her cleavage, which was larger than the rest of her lithe stature would have suggested. Of course, she was meant to be aesthetically pleasing, and that did not always mean natural proportions when one could build their imaginary girlfriend.
“Maybe Pepper could lend you some of her underwear,” Tony pondered.
“They are not the same size, sir,” J.A.R.V.I.S. pointed out.
“It’s better than her being half-naked.”
“I am surprised that bothers you, sir.”
Tony gave the ceiling and the cameras imbedded there a sharp look. “What’s with you today?”
“You don’t sound apologetic.”
“Am I making you upset, Tony?” Lily asked out of the blue.
“No,” Tony looked at her again. “My AI is giving me attitude and I don’t like it. You are behaving like an angel.”
She beamed at him, as if the compliment were both unexpected and undeserved.
“Okay,” he breathed, refocusing, “I will perform a thorough check on you,” he told Lily and turned to locate a handheld scanner – then heard a sound and when he turned, Lily was standing by the table, her red flower kimono in a heap on the floor, leaving her completely naked in the middle of his workshop.
All Tony could do for a moment was to blink and stare – and tell his libido this was a very unprofessional time to start acting up. “I did not need you to disrobe,” he finally managed to say, throat a bit tight: she was, after all, anatomically correct, and she had been built for pleasure so every inch of her was unrealistically smooth, round, or… well…
Lily placed a hand on her mouth, a shocked look on her face as if she had just stepped on a baby animal. “I am sorry!” she gasped. “I thought you would like to examine me this way.”
“Well, that is very kind of you, but it is not necessary,” Tony said, still feeling awkward. It was funny how fast things changed; since Afghanistan, he hadn’t really been able to get back into this kind of game. He could fake it and keep it up for quite a while, but at some point he always found himself either backed into a corner or taking several steps away from the situation in order to diffuse it. He had kept up appearances because that was a useful cover, but his womanizing days were over and he did not miss them, oddly enough.
He wasn’t dead, though, and Lily’s body was starting to play his like a finely tuned instrument.
Lily’s next question did not help the situation in any way: “Do you not find me pleasing?” she asked, innocent and almost afraid of his answer, by the looks of it. Her programming was the cause, no doubt, but Tony had trouble remembering that while looking at the forlorn look on her expressive face.
“That is not the issue,” Tony stated. Obviously that was not enough, and he felt like maybe the scientists had gone a bit too far because he was starting to feel like he was giving a confidence boost to an insecure flesh-and-blood woman, not a robot. “You are very beautiful, but that is not why you are here. I merely want to make sure you are okay, and I can do that while you are wearing some clothes.”
Lily lowered her eyes and crouched down without a word, retrieving her kimono. Her motions seemed clumsy again, when compared to the perfection of her facial expressions, and Tony steeled himself, watching the struggle for a moment, then moved to assist her in securing the garment back around her frame.
“Thank you,” Lily uttered, barely above a whisper, still not looking at Tony. “I hope I have not shamed you,” she added.
‘Shame’ was not one of the first things Tony would have thought of.
The scoffing sound J.A.R.V.I.S. apparently could not help releasing revealed that it had not gone unnoticed.
Tony gave the ceiling a vague glare, knowing his AI would spot it, then helped Lily to sit on the table again and went to fetch the scanner. The quicker he worked the faster this would be over, and everyone could go back to their own routines without a sex bot sitting in the middle of his shop.
It was later that afternoon when Pepper entered the workshop, followed by Happy and Rhodey.
Rhodey was the first to speak up: “I had to come and see for myself.”
“This isn’t a zoo, you know,” Tony retorted, instinctively knowing what he meant. “If it were, I would have you paying an entrance fee.”
“Why are you so grouchy?” Rhodey asked, tone still light as he sauntered further inside, looking around – then must have noticed the sex bot that was sitting on the table in front of Tony. He stopped talking long enough to prompt Tony to actually stop working and turn to look at him.
“What?” Tony snapped.
“It looks very real,” Rhodey managed.
“Her name is Lily – at least until she leaves these premises,” Tony corrected.
Lily gave Tony a small smile and bowed her head respectfully at Rhodey, then at Happy and Pepper. “I am honored to meet you. May I know your names, please?”
“No need for that,” Tony cut in. “They are not staying.”
“There’s no need for hostilities,” Rhodey teased him and moved forward. “Or are you wanting some one-on-one time with the… uh…” He clearly didn’t know what to call Lily, especially when she sounded nothing like the machine that she was, and even Happy appeared less willing to toss in a dirty joke than when the sex bot had first arrived.
“I’m busy working, and I don’t need you to come in here and distract me from it,” Tony noted, pointing the hand-held scanner at all three arrivals. “Also, I do not appreciate the depraved insinuations going on here; I’m debugging her, not giving her a test run.”
Happy’s expression twitched, briefly, as if he were envisioning said test run.
Tony narrowed his eyes at him to emphasize how much he did not care for that attitude.
“Have there been any bugs?” Pepper asked.
“None so far,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied rather unexpectedly. “Mr. Stark is, however, conducting a very thorough search for them.”
Happy’s expression twisted again and Tony glared at one of his AI’s cameras. “I’m getting tired of the attitude, J,” he warned.
“Maybe he’s jealous,” Rhodey suggested.
“She’s a visitor, at best,” Tony gestured at Lily. “Besides, J.A.R.V.I.S. ought to be too mature to experience anything remotely resembling jealousy.” ‘Ought to’ clearly being the operative word, seeing as the AI had been acting up ever since Lily arrived on the premises.
“Maybe J.A.R.V.I.S. is simply uncomfortable with her function,” Pepper stated as sagely as she could. It was a valuable skill that Tony liked about her, among other things; she managed to make it sound like she knew things without being patronizing.
“I’m not interested in her functions,” Tony whined with dramatics to spare, seeing as he had tried to tell everyone that from the start.
Lily looked upset at this revelation, although it really wasn’t news to her, either. “Is there something I could do, to make you feel better?” she asked, appearing eager to please.
“Just continue doing what you have been doing and we’ll be fine,” Tony instructed.
“What has she been doing?” Happy asked, unable to keep the grin at bay. It was unfortunate, at times, that he had known Tony for as long as he had – most of those being the years when Tony led the kind of life that felt so distant to him now.
“Sitting quietly and telling me if something feels off,” Tony answered even though he felt like he was being goaded, getting irritated all over again.
“Never knew you were into that kind of stuff,” Rhodey mirrored Happy’s grin, clearly poking fun at Tony.
“Hilarious,” Tony retorted dryly. “Will you leave or do I have to kick you out? The armor’s ready for action.”
Rhodey sobered a bit. “Come on, Tones, don’t be like that. The situation warrants a few jokes, don’t you think?”
“No,” Tony said mulishly.
“Okay,” Rhodey raised his hands as if promising to back off. “So, there have been no problems yet?”
“None,” Tony continued with his one-word replies, turning back to Lily and pretending to go back to work.
“That’s good news, then,” Rhodey attempted to continue the conversation. “You’re shipping her back to Japan once you’re done?”
“That’s the plan,” Tony nodded. He happened to look at Lily’s face when he said it and saw something change in her expression. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I wish you were not so… disappointed with me,” Lily said, bowing her head.
“I’m not,” Tony argued.
“But you are going to send me away, and you did not want to look at me, or touch me.”
“You are not mine,” Tony started. “I am just here to make sure you are okay. Like a physician,” he explained.
“Kinky,” he heard Happy mutter – then get elbowed in the ribs by the sound of it. At least Pepper was on his side.
“You are very handsome,” Lily confessed quietly. “I wish you liked me enough to keep me – like you are keeping J.A.R.V.I.S., DUM-E and U.”
“I built those three – like your creators built you,” Tony said. “The bots and J.A.R.V.I.S. – even when they’re being a group of idiots – are my family.”
He had never noticed how doe-like Lily’s eyes were, or how bright. Was she actually simulating tears? “I wish I was part of your family as well, Tony.”
Tony was tempted to tell her she was not and never could be – and to not be fooled by her programming – but it was hard. Her emotional responses were perfect, and maybe it was a good thing he had always liked J.A.R.V.I.S. better as an AI as opposed to an android because he may have been in trouble otherwise.
Or not: J.A.R.V.I.S. and Lily were inherently different beings, their purpose for existing worlds away from each other. Even if J.A.R.V.I.S. had a body, he would never have Lily’s eagerness to please, no matter their shared purpose for a certain kind of servitude.
“Will she remember her time here when she returns home?” Pepper asked.
It was a good question. “I am fairly certain they will reboot her, or at least modify her memory,” Tony guessed. “This is hardly a sufficient testing environment for her skillset, especially since she is a prototype; this experience is not part of her normal range of interaction, and could be viewed as counter-productive to her development.”
Lily blinked at him. “I have enjoyed your company very much,” she vowed. “I wish I never have to forget it.”
Tony gave her an indulgent smile, seeing as she most likely wasn’t supposed to grasp just how easily modifiable her memories and mind were.
“I can see why you like having her around, as she is such a gratuitous ego-booster,” Rhodey joked.
“Maybe I could borrow her for a bit,” Happy suggested – receiving a swift scowl from Tony. “To have her boost my ego, too!” he quickly added.
“Lily’s not here for that, either,” Tony said with finality. “She is being kind and courteous because her programming tells her to be that way. Obedience and submission. Forcing her to interact is the same as taking advantage of her.” There was silence, which made Tony abort his already distracted attempts at work and look at the three of them. “What?” he asked, because he knew the near-identical looks on his friends’ faces.
The three of them exchanged glances, and Pepper was elected to speak up: “I’m sure we’re all just wondering whether you would be this protective of her if she was a human being.”
“I’ve seen you with human… escorts… and you were never this concerned about their virtue,” Happy stated quite bluntly. At least he stopped himself in the middle to choose a more polite term for the kind of company he was talking about.
Tony sighed. “I would like to think my recent experiences have made me grow as a person –”
“This has nothing to do with you being Iron Man,” Rhodey cut in. “This is about you running maintenance on a sex bot and treating it like a virginal girl you’re unwilling to taint with your usual lewdness.”
“‘Lewdness’?” Tony repeated. “Really, Rhodes?”
“That’s what it looks like, and let me tell you, it’s weird,” his friend stressed the last word.
“Well, for all intents and purposes, she is a prototype, and as such I should tread carefully or I might upset years’ worth of dedication, hard work and superlative engineering,” he snapped. “I don’t know if she’s a virgin, or thinks she’s a virgin – and it doesn’t matter. She’s here so I can make sure no one tampered with her in a way that might later turn her into a homicidal maniac or something equally unpleasant. For some of that, she needs to be awake and running as per her usual programming so that I can determine whether there’s anything out of place.”
“But she’s not running as per her usual programming,” Rhodey replied. “She’s not –”
“Would you get your mind out of the gutter?!” Tony shouted, making them all jump. Somewhere further in the shop, something crashed to the floor, and he suspected one of the bots had dropped said something. They weren’t usually this jumpy, but they were unmistakably leery of Lily and that had already caused some unusual behavior in them.
Taking a deep breath, Tony proceeded to explain to his ignorant friends the finer points of Japanese sex bots: “Whereas in the western world the concept of companionship sometimes eludes us – or seems far less important as compared to the pressing act of getting ones rocks off – the Japanese understand the importance of conversation and interaction. Therefore, she is not only a sex bot, but also designed to listen and converse, and to make her clients feel happy and less crappy about their lives. That is also a function many paid men and women offer, but that never sparks as much interest as the seedy stuff that happens between the sheets.”
The others had the decency to look somewhat chastened – well, Happy and Rhodey at least; Pepper, on the other hand, looked like she had rarely been more proud of him.
“So, thanks but no thanks for your vote of confidence, and may I remind you again that I’m not getting any work done with the three of you distracting me,” Tony went on, making a shooing motion towards the door.
“It was nice to meet you,” Lily chirped and bowed her head, clearly understanding Tony’s hint better than his friends did.
The three of them did leave, though, and Tony went back to work.
It was getting increasingly more difficult to shake the weight of Lily’s artificial gaze constantly following him – and the sensation of J.A.R.V.I.S. glaring daggers at him even though Tony had no idea where the AI’s animosity towards their guest came from.
After having spent two days mostly in the workshop, ignoring sleep and devouring what he considered a ‘we’re sorry for being jerks’ donut box sent by Pepper, Tony was in serious need of rest.
“Alright, power down the equipment,” he told J.A.R.V.I.S.
“Does that include her?” the AI asked. Tony could almost see the virtual finger pointed at Lily.
He hesitated. “No,” he decided. “It may be best if we keep her online until we’re done with the checkup.”
“Of course,” came a very dry reply.
Lily blinked at Tony, something like concern flying across her face. “Are you going to leave, Tony?”
“I’m going upstairs to catch some shut-eye,” Tony replied. “You can stay down here. If you have a hibernation state, you can enter that to pass the time.”
She bit too-white teeth into her lower lip. “I do not like being alone.”
“You’ll have the bots and J.A.R.V.I.S. for company; they’ll be real gentlemen about it, won’t you, guys?” he raised his voice.
J.A.R.V.I.S. said nothing at all, and the bots were unusually quiet, too.
Tony looked around, too tired for this. “Okay, what’s the issue here? She is a guest, and she is extremely polite and kind.”
Still there was no reply.
“Perhaps I could come with you,” Lily looked at him with her wide eyes. “I will not disturb your rest, I promise.”
It really wasn’t what he’d had in mind, but she was in a strange place and Tony wasn’t a jerk – not like this, anyway. “Fine,” he agreed, receiving a radiant smile from Lily as she carefully got to her feet and slightly adjusted her kimono to keep herself covered. After Tony had told her to stay clothed, she had been sure to not make the mistake of undressing again, as if it were a task of upmost importance.
“This way,” Tony gestured towards the elevator, and Lily followed him, motions a little on the stiff side. The material of her artificial skin was flawless, however, making it easy to ignore the unnatural aspects of her movements.
The lights in the workshop turned off before the elevator doors were open all the way – another small hint that J.A.R.V.I.S. was throwing a tantrum – but seeing as the AI had no reason to be behaving the way he was, Tony ignored it like he would ignore a bratty child and offered Lily his hand.
She looked at the proffered hand as if it were something mystical and wonderful, then carefully slipped her smaller hand into his and followed him into the elevator, a light blush on her cheeks. Whether it was a programmed response or something she could initiate herself, Tony didn’t know, but the openly thankful look she gave him was easy enough to interpret.
“Thank you for allowing me to come with you,” she whispered, lowering her eyelashes. “And thank you for being so kind to me, Tony.”
“I like to think of myself as a gracious host,” Tony replied – a line he had often used with female company who stayed at his place after a party. The thought left a bad taste in his mouth and he wondered if Lily thought something was going to happen next that he was not planning.
The elevator arrived at the top floor, doors opening to a hallway right outside his bedroom. He was keenly aware of still holding Lily’s hand and told himself to let go of it once they crossed the threshold to the bedroom; there was no need to confuse her.
“You have a beautiful home,” Lily praised, folding her hands in front of her, taking a look around – then glanced at the window and the view giving out onto the balcony, the dark ocean and the sky full of stars. Her eyes widened and she made her way over there, continuing to look outside. Whether it was the first time she’d seen the outside world, Tony was not sure, but he left her to it, taking advantage of her preoccupation to get ready for bed while Lily gazed out the wide window.
Tony had just slipped into the soft shirt he wore to bed when the window suddenly grew opaque, blocking the view. Lily started, forlornly turning her head, not knowing what had happened to block the view. Tony, however, was not so naïve: “J.A.R.V.I.S., return the window to the translucent setting.”
“I thought you were preparing for bed, sir,” the AI replied, holding back from making the windows transparent again.
“I am, but Lily wants to look outside.”
“I believe she stated she had no wish to disturb you.”
“Starlight doesn’t disturb me,” Tony retorted, narrowing his eyes. “The windows, J. Now.”
Slowly the windows turned translucent again, and Lily clapped with excitement, leaning close to the gently curving glass to see as much as she could.
“Stop being an asshole,” Tony muttered as he went to the bathroom to wash his face and brush his teeth.
J.A.R.V.I.S. was quiet.
Tony knew that as long as the AI’s behavior went unexplained, he would feel on edge. “What’s your problem with her?” he asked, bending over to wash his face.
“She does not belong here,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied.
“She’s not going to stay,” Tony reminded him.
“I do not trust her.”
“What is there not to trust?” Tony asked as he turned off the water and reached for a towel to dry his face.
“She is… calculating and conniving,” J.A.R.V.I.S. replied. “She is programmed to please, by any means necessary.”
“That’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Tony frowned. “Maybe Pepper’s right and you’re actually jealous of her.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. scoffed. “Hardly, sir.”
“Then stop acting like a snide little prick and be your usual self.”
Tony frowned as he spread organic toothpaste on his toothbrush and stuck it in his mouth. “Figure it out,” he muttered. “Otherwise I might start to think maybe you have a crush on her.”
“Hardly,” J.A.R.V.I.S. repeated.
“Boys of a certain age like to pull on pigtails,” Tony spoke from around the brush in his mouth.
“I do not function that way,” the AI replied, and had Tony not known that to be true, he might have taken offense at J.A.R.V.I.S.’s tone.
“Then what’s the big deal? The bots are rolling on eggshells around Lily and you’re being icy and uncooperative.”
“Her presence here is… unsettling,” J.A.R.V.I.S. slowly intoned. “You have not brought a female companion home since your kidnapping. Lily is not a human, yet she is built to resemble a female, and her ideal purpose would be to fill the sexual void in your life.”
Tony almost suffocated on the toothpaste and had to spit it out. “You think that I’m going to keep her and make her my cybernetic girlfriend?”
“It would be logical, considering your reluctance to engage in coitus with other humans as of late.”
Tony groaned and reached out to close the door of the bathroom; this was not a conversation he wanted Lily to overhear. “First of all, she’s here for professional reasons. You know that. I know you’re averse to the idea of humans copulating with machines – especially machines of higher intellectual capacity. She may have been built with that in mind, but I’m purely interested in whether she’s been contaminated.”
“But she appeals to you,” J.A.R.V.I.S. argued. “Your body responds to her, finding her attractive.”
“Because she is aesthetically pleasing – just as she was designed to be,” Tony explained.
“If you did not want her –”
“I can’t just turn off that part of my biology, J,” Tony snapped. “You know enough about human physiology to be aware of that fact. If she flashes me with a glimpse of a thigh or a breast, my eyes are going to take a look. Some of that she’s doing on purpose, as per her programming. Don’t make her into a villain because of that.”
“You could just power her down for the night…”
“And that might affect the results of our investigation,” Tony decided. “The longer she’s active, the more data we are able to collect. I assume you are monitoring her at all times, as I instructed you to do?”
“Of course, sir.”
Tony didn’t doubt that for a second – or the thoroughness of J.A.R.V.I.S.’s vigilance.
He finished brushing his teeth, then exited the bathroom, finding Lily still gazing out the window. There was no indication she had been listening, but at some point one sleeve of her kimono had dropped down, revealing the milky skin of her shoulder.
Making sure to be completely professional about it, Tony crossed the room and gently lifted the sleeve back into place. His fingers brushed against her skin, prompting her to look at him over her shoulder, and Tony gave her a simple smile and turned towards the bed. “You can stay here, or go back to the shop downstairs,” Tony told her. “Ask J.A.R.V.I.S. for instructions for whatever you need.”
Lily nodded, turning to look at him as he climbed into bed and pulled the light sheets up. “Will it disturb you if I continue to watch?” she asked, gesturing at the window.
“Of course not,” Tony replied and settled down.
As always, it took a while before he found a position that didn’t give him pain or a suffocating sensation. There were positions he could sleep in better than others – on his side, usually propped up by pillows – but there were days when he had been moving around too much or taken too many hits in the armor and those made it hard to find a position where he could drift off.
Lily turned back to the window and J.A.R.V.I.S. lowered the light, making the night sky seem even brighter. With his own night-light sunken into his chest, Tony wasn’t bothered by the starlight, but he still turned his back towards it, forcing himself to settle down before Lily could ask again if she was disturbing him.
Tony wasn’t really asleep yet when he heard movement and opened his eyes. Lily had rounded the bed and was standing in front of him, her pale skin almost illuminated by the darkness around her.
“May I lie down next to you, Tony?” she asked in a whisper.
Tony knew that if he said yes, J.A.R.V.I.S. might take it the wrong way, but his AI needed to have some faith in him and perhaps Lily simply yearned to be close to him even when she could not perform the tasks her standard clients would ask of her.
Also, having her hover beside his bed would make sleeping impossible, so Tony chose the lesser of two evils and pulled the edge of the sheet to the side, making it a plain indication that she could join him.
Lily moved slowly, careful not to touch anything she wasn’t supposed to, lying on top of the bared mattress. She kept the kimono on even though the position made the garment slip in places.
Tony tried not to focus on that, and soon enough she was distracting him in other ways: her hand rose slowly into the space between them, the glow of the arc reactor lighting up her skin. She seemed mesmerized by it, and Tony did not wonder why, seeing as a device like that would be completely alien to her.
“May I look?” she asked.
Tony nodded, swallowing. He could not help the tension creeping into his muscles as she scooted a bit closer, and he distracted himself by glancing at the shadow of her breasts as she peered at the arc reactor, partially covered by the shirt, the light shining brightly through the fabric in the lack of an alternative source of luminescence.
“It is beautiful,” Lily stated. “Like a star.” Her eyes glowed in reflection to the light in front of her.
Cautious fingers reached out the rest of the way to touch the surface of the arc reactor and although he could not feel the nonexistent pressure, Tony flinched.
Lily jerked back, eyes wide. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” Tony murmured, a bit ashamed of his reaction. “It’s… a habit. I don’t have people touching it.”
“I am so sorry,” she bowed her head.
“You didn’t know, and besides, I should have told you not to if I didn’t want you to be curious.”
She nodded and slowly looked up again, gazing at the shining light as if she could not look away from it. “How could anyone not be curious about something so beautiful?”
Tony fought back a cringe. Clearly she only saw the blue shine of the device and not the scars surrounding it.
“It is not a decoration,” J.A.R.V.I.S. stated unexpectedly, startling them both.
Lily pursed her lips. “Then what is it?”
“A device of important function – one you do not need to understand.”
Tony frowned. It made sense his AI was protective of the arc reactor, seeing as it had once been stolen under his watch, more or less. They had both taken precautions against that happening again in the future, but this wasn’t such a time. “It’s okay, J. She’s just looking at it.”
“And touching it,” J.A.R.V.I.S. added, clearly unhappy.
“I will never touch it again, if that is what you wish,” Lily vowed to Tony.
“It’s not such a big deal: J.A.R.V.I.S. just likes to be cautious where the arc reactor is concerned,” Tony explained.
“Yet you flinched away from my touch.”
“Like I said: it’s a habit, not just you.”
Lily accepted his reasoning with a thoughtful look, then returned to the serene, accepting, subservient expression she normally wore. “I shall merely gaze upon it from now on, like the distant stars in the sky, far from my reach.”
J.A.R.V.I.S. offered no commentary and Tony decided the case was closed for the night. Lily lay beside him, still and unassuming, and eventually Tony’s brain decided he did not have to be on his guard and allowed weariness to take over.