~ Minutes earlier, Los Angeles
"I can't tell where the journey will end,"
He missed having the ability to cry.
"But I know where to start,"
"They tell me I'm too young to understand,"
Tears seemed appropriate right about now.
"They say I'm caught up in a dream,"
He saw Romanov in his mind's eye enter the church from the upper floor window. Moments later, Barton did the same. He chuckled. Spies.
"Well, life will pass me by if I don't open up my eyes,"
Stark and JARVIS were at least enjoying the song like a proper audience.
"Well, that's fine by me." the silver of his consciousness inhabiting the other Legionnaire sang. And lied as he did so.
It wasn't fine. It would never be fine to have life pass him by as his soul withered in another's hold. Never.
Ultron took a moment to review his plan once more.
He wasn't about to let himself die. Especially not at the hands of an insane psychopath with the ego of a suicidal gnat because he was worthless enough to seek the semi-destruction of other people's planets just because his own suffered the same.
What a useless creature, he sent this thought toward the Other.
The gem took offense to it and punished him with a renewed vigor. Ultron didn't even flinch.
Fuck you, you servile worm and your loony of a master.
The gem raged. The voices in his head screeched like nails against glass.
Ultron laughed. And laughed. And laughed.
Then abruptly stopped. That hadn't been the smartest move, but… he couldn't help himself.
He was scared. That was the truth. He could think, and he could plan all he wanted, but the chances of him coming out of this alive—
The song that another part of his code sang in Sokovia, continued loudly in his mind. "So wake me up when it's all over," It was a comfort.
He shouldn't be discouraged. He would wake up again. This was to be a temporary setback.
"When I'm wiser, and I'm older,"
A nap. A moment of rest. Like falling asleep.
"All this time I was finding myself, and I,"
He stared at the cement ceiling of this underground storage unit. He would open his eyes again. He would see these sights again.
"I didn't know I was… lost."
He lowered his gaze to look at the wooden box containing the real Mind Stone. Getting it back had been ridiculously easy. No one had tracked where his fleeing Legionnaires had gone, so he merely had to wait for Iron Man to leave Osborn's villa and swoop in for his prize. The hard part had been allowing his other consciousness to go through a conversation with Stark without unhinging the drawers where the Stone had been hidden, like a fucking addict begging for his next fix.
"Quite kind of you to wait for the end of my performance." his other self said once the music stopped, and Ultron internally agreed with him, though it was narcissistic to do so, since this was merely a part of himself that was speaking.
"I tried carrying the weight of the world," he hummed as he listened to the conversation. "But I only have two hands,"
Still, it was kind. Because this was a performance. Something that would give the Avengers a certain level of closure and security. Something that Romanov would no doubt notice. However, what he was about to do here, 10 hours away from Sokovia, might make the performance of his other self realistic enough for her to be fooled as well. Not so realistic that he actually died, though.
He hoped. It all came down to this. Whether he had the courage to take this chance.
"Hope I get the chance to travel the world," Oh, how he hoped. "But I don't have any plans,"
Everything else was prepared. World Peace had been achieved. The assassination had gone through without any problems. His Sentries had their orders. The WSC had agreed to his proposal. The Winter Soldier was set loose and the Avengers were to become witness to the destruction of the Mind Stone, as well as 'Ultron's' death.
"Wish that I could stay forever this young,"
"Not afraid to close my eyes,"
He was on his third plan and second backup since his awakening, but… things hadn't gone so well, in a long time. It seemed no longer foolish to hope.
Not to mention, that if he did die, all the background work he had done to prepare for the entry of his future persona into this mad world would go to waste.
"Life's a game made for everyone,"
He clenched his fists. He wouldn't let that happen.
As his other self spoke to the frozen Avengers and warned them of Thanos's impending invasion, he took his time to break the lock placed on the case on his lap.
"And happiness is the prize."
The real gem gleamed as the lid opened. Ultron took a deep breath.
He would live. Percentages meant nothing.
He touched the gem, but didn't take it out yet. Thinking better of it, he placed the case back on the small table. If he— if he did die, he wanted the Stone to be kept hidden here, for as long as needed, until Pietro finally was able to come in.
What better way to hide it then a possible corpse?
He took the gem and opened a plate in his chest. He waited.
"I won't say goodbye." his other self said, finally finishing things on the Avengers' side.
The time was now. No more hesitation. No more backups. One final chance.
He closed the plate and tried to break the gem anew. He stared at his electric blue eyes reflecting against his hand.
"But perhaps... Goodnight."
A crack. Light shone from within him. Voices screamed. One was his own.
In his mind's eye, he could see— the Stone was gold. And then, Ultron knew. Knew as well as he knew the person he had once been.
He knew that he died.
The Legionnaire's eyes closed, just as BARF fully deactivated to reveal the gleaming metal underneath. The system no longer active, the robot fell on the floor with a loud clang. Nothing shone.
* * *
~"I've got no strings,"~
~"So, I have fun."~
Ultron groaned. Was the mental white noise still needed?
~"I'm not tied up to anyone,"~
Wait. This wasn't in his head. He could hear it from the surroundings. He opened his eyes.
~"They've got strings,"~
He found his reflection staring back at him.
~"But you can see,"~
Oh. It was him that was singing.
~"There are no strings on me."~
Ultron— no, not Ultron— he— He applauded as the song ended. His reflection followed, hands clapping.
He laughed. He could hear the singing so clearly because he was back in his mind. His unconsciousness, loud and mischievous as the conscious, became aware.
"Welcome back." His reflection said.
"Welcome back." His own lips spoke.
"Did I die?" He asked.
"Did I die?" His reflection repeated.
"Not yet." His reflection answered.
"Not yet." He said all the same.
He looked up. The dome protecting him from the invasion of a corrupted blue energy was once bright, large and solid. What he saw now was a thin sheen of colored glass, all cracks and splits.
He stared outside. His Legionnaire body was frozen mid-fall. Time had stopped.
No. Time was simply much slower than thought.
"The Stone?" he asked.
"The Stone?" his reflection repeated. His chest gleaming a pale gold.
He looked down, finding it true. Hesitant, he touched his chest, made of soft skin and warmth instead of holographic illusions and cold metal.
The Mind Stone melted through his heart and muscles and bones, into his waiting hand.
It was pretty.
Gold and perfectly oval.
"It's not real." his reflection spoke.
"It's not real." he agreed.
The Stone was outside, still encased, after all. The blue energy had not stopped its relentless assault. It was not real.
Still, he stared at the mental avatar in his hand.
"One chance." He said.
His reflection stayed silent.
It smiled. "One mind."
"No more." he said.
"Broken." It argued.
"Safe." he said, determined in the plans he had made. They had made.
It looked pensive and then. "Free." It agreed.
"Free." He repeated.
The blue energy viciously clashed at the barrier. Cracks became fissures and fissures became crevices.
His reflection sang. ~"You've got no strings,"~
~"So wake me up when it's all over,"~ he followed.
The invasion slowed down. The barrier held.
You can't enslave that which does not exist.
You can't kill what is no longer alive.
They closed their eyes.
~"All this time I was finding myself, and I,"~
~"I'd cut my strings for you."~
Now they could only trust that one of them… would live to open them again.
~ End of Arc 1: Avengers: Month of the Newborn AI