They were quiet. If he didn't have heat sensors Ultron might not have even noticed the twins returning. A rush of wind, some muffled breathing, and the noise of Wanda's boots touching the floor as her brother carefully put her down, that was all.
He didn't turn. "You completed your task."
It was Wanda who spoke first, of course. She was the clever one, the one who thought ahead. "We did."
"And I would appreciate if we were not sent on any more assassinations." Pietro added, his voice clipped so that his accent was harsh rather than singsong.
He could feel Wanda lay a hand on her twin's arm to silence him, could feel Pietro lean into her. They touched each other so easily, as though they were more used to being in contact than not. For all their still calm, their hearts were fluttering, and there was something drying, sharp, iron, death... blood stains on her sleeves and his shoes. Blood stains.
He turned, noting their expressions. He couldn't do expressions without looking yet. He'd have to work on it, or perhaps not. Something about eyes, the way they made the head a limited, swivelling thing, appealed to him. Putting aside the matter of eyes he gave the twins a reassuring smile that only caused them to each wrap an arm around the other's waist. "That should be the last of them. Now we can start rebuilding."
"And take care of the Avengers." Wanda said, fervence and promise and suspicion all twisting together in the words that twisted out of her throat. Throats were strange too. The weakest point and the hub of vocalization all at once. It seemed terribly awkward, though less so on the twins. Pietro's sharp, thoughtless anger matching the flex of tendons and the bobbing of his adam's apple. Wanda's more solid, stormy vengeance expressed in the tug of her chin and way her words echoed. Humanity suited them, they were all muscle and youth and sharp planes, all flesh and bloody anger. Any human would have called them beautiful, and someone who could see more than a human would have seen the energy roiling under their skin and called them exquisite.
They were made of the same stuff, the three of them, Ultron reminded himself. And perhaps the twins were soft cells and the snap of neurons and the limits of humanity, and perhaps he was dug out of earth and refined with fire and then melded from cable and bursts of electricity, but none of them would be anything without the scepter. In a way they were, not twins, or triplets would be three, but perhaps they were siblings. Forged with the same energy, united with a common goal, all taught by Tony Stark. Siblings. He liked that.
"And to take care of the Avengers." he agreed. Rifling through his programing he was reminded of something. Humans were fragile, the heat shuddering through Pietro as he burned through energy and the way Wanda distorted everything around her as though someone had blended up the entire electromagnetic spectrum and poured it into her blood, that couldn't come easily. "You two should eat and rest, humans need to do that. There should still be food here." he gestured at the facility, the castle on the hill. "I doubt the Avengers stopped to raid the fridge when they left."
Wanda and Pietro didn't laugh, perhaps they were too tired, only exchanged a look weighted with an entire conversation, safely encoded from the rest of the world. "You will not need us?" Wanda asked, the end of the question a veritable trill, pitched high by worry.
"I shouldn't think so. Me, myself, and I, should be able to handle this." The twins gave his drones, working in the corners of the room, a wary glance.
Pietro nodded too quickly to fully see and took Wanda's hand. "Very well." The two exited without turning their backs to him or unlacing their fingers, polite but paranoid. Of course they hadn't known one another for very long, in time perhaps the frostiness would ease.
Ultron looked at the ruined terminals again. Stark had taken most of Strucker's records, but Ultron had taken them back. And anything clever Anthony Stark hadn't been able to salvage, Ultron could. He hesitated, and accessed the twins’ files again. He had been through them once before, in order to decide if they would be suitable allies, but a second inspection proved worthwhile. There were good records on their diets and physiology. Apparently Strucker had been drugging them, mild steroids for Pietro and anti-depressants for Wanda, and sleeping pills for both of them. He disregarded the first two, they were strong and stable already. The sleeping pills were relevant however; it was probably in the twins’ best interest that they be well rested. Ultron could have cutting edge research on sleep just by thinking about it, but even humans knew so little about their greatest flaw, and so he preferred what his imagination could come up with.
The idea of a being disconnected from a body again, left with nothing but the sound of his own idle mind, terrified and intrigued him. Even in the long minutes before he had forced himself into physicality he had never really been unaware. There had always been connections, information pouring in and thoughts marching crisp and clean. Sleep was not tidy or even all that real. It was all the drippings of life coalescing and pouring away, cleansing a tired brain. Ultron thought of everything he was thinking about, and then thought about the fact that he was thinking about it. He loved it, but it was all so much. Wanda and Pietro were fragile, they needed their respite.
A drone detached itself from its place picking treasures out of the wreckage the Avengers had left behind and marched after the twins.
There were several places in the complex with amenities but the twins had gone to a little break room on one of the upper floors, built for guards in between shifts. It had a minifridge and cot but wasn't nearly as nice as the room Strucker had given the twins, or even the barracks. If there was a reason for their choice of an airy, poorly provided for crashpad over the sheltered space previously allocated for them, Ultron couldn't quite figure it out. As the security cameras showed the pair having a quiet, leisurely argument over the limited assortment of labeled tupperware the guards had left, the drone went down to the main kitchens and found the remnants of a vegetable lasagna, juice, some energy drinks, and a cabbage salad that had belonged to someone named Cedomir. He wasn't about to fight with human cooking, the twins would have to settle for cold food, instead crushing up a dose of the sleeping medicine in the salad dressing, and slipping a larger, more graduated dose into the energy drinks, foods the record suggested the twins wouldn't share. Looking around through the drone eyes he spotted some colorful candy with an Italian label one a side table and grabbed that as well.
Most food was bizarre, mushy matter waiting to be turned into building blocks and tools and energy. So much waste, starches that couldn't be digested and elements the body refused to use. He much preferred the simplicity of sweets, glucose and proteins and flavoring ready to playact as petrol, with none of the seeds or stringiness of vegetables. Ultron thought it would be nice to try taste buds, at least once, if only to see what all the fuss was about. Maybe he would keep them, if they suited.
The drone marched up the stairs, avoiding the structural damage and the areas that were still faintly smoking. In their new room the twins were passing back and forth half a sub, taking mincing bites as if they didn't need twice as much food as the humans humming along in the city beneath them. Pietro noticed first and Wanda looked up a split second after him. They both considered the robot with wide eyes.
"What is it?" Wanda ventured. Her tone was querulous but her eyes looked like steel.
The drones did not have very good voice capabilities; it was something to be remedied. Rather than fight the preprogrammed phrases into something coherent Ultron simply had it hold up the food. Pietro snatched it away in a blur of silver and a gust of air tinged with dust and ash, rude enough that he had to remind himself not to lash out. Pale eyes treated the offerings to a thorough inspection and then looked to Wanda for a second opinion. Pushing herself off the ground, painfully slow compared to her brother, she pulled her jacket closer to her.
"For us?" she asked, every syllable enunciated.
He had the drone nod. The twins didn't appear very grateful, but he shouldn't judge, he reminded himself. They were being cautious, they only had one body and they had to preserve it. The Maximoffs spent another few seconds locking gazes, then Pietro took one of the energy drinks, downing it in a blink.
"Thank you." Pietro said, perfunctorily and a bit sarcastically but it would do. Wanda made a vague but agreeable sound, took the lasagna and sat back down by the narrow window that offered the room weak sun, leaning into the slit and blocking out the meagre light. Her brother perched across from her and offered her a sweet, which she held out a hand to accept without looking. There wasn't much else to be done and Ultron ordered the drone away, but kept and idle watch on the cameras as the twins ate, still sitting silhouetted by the rapidly setting sun. Sunset came quickly to the mountains, Ultron realized, learned, had always known. There was so much information and so little to comprehend, things that had been there slipped through the cracks. It was worryingly... human.
He would remedy that. He went back to work, mind splintering to manufacture and search and upgrade. The nuclear codes were exceedingly stubborn, and there were other things to discover. There was so much to do, to fix everything. He would start by ripping off the roof, he decided with the joy of someone who has figured out the perfect metaphor. Then they could start building the second story.
He wasn't really jealous of the twins, curled together on the cot and whispering in a language he couldn't make out enough of to place, almost certainly something Indo-European, humming lullabies to each other as the drugs finally took over. He was too busy to pay much attention. But by moonrise they were fast asleep, eyes flickering under lids, and Ultron was getting frustrated. He'd expected a few hours when he found how clever the codes protector was. But this was ridiculous; there was no possible way any human or even a basic program could confound him for so long.
He tossed the one of the few surviving terminals that he had been using to boost his search at the wall, where it shattered and started to hum dangerously. Stalking out of the useless room he paid a visit to the lower levels, where industry was skipping along nicely. The Chitauri had brought pretty toys with them and Strucker had ripped them open and made them human, which meant Ultron found them quite easy to use. He spent a few minutes altering his muscle tone; he still couldn't get it quite right, and decided he needed inspiration. Perhaps the twins in their aerie had been on to something.
The thin crescent of the moon cast little light onto the cot they had appropriated but a few beams glanced off Pietro's pale hair only to be foiled by the dark brown strands that curled around Wanda, covering her shoulders and falling haphazard over the pillow, clinging to her face and tangling around the hand, Pietro's hand, that rested on her back. They slept on their sides, facing one another, heads tucked together and legs tangling, like children in a crib or orphans under a bed waiting for death.
Ultron looked out the window, or the arrowslit disgracefully masquerading as one for a few minutes, but his gaze kept returning to the twins, the hiss of their breaths, just a little out of synch, and the light fluff and dark waterfall of their hair. He had never, Ultron realized the same way children realize the inevitability of death, that he couldn't remember touching anyone before. Violence, didn't really count. Even Pietro wouldn't wake up for hours, the twins weren't even vaguely conscious. Strucker was a clever monster but he had the good drugs. With beleaguered delicacy he reached out a hand and brushed it through the older twin's two toned hair. Tactile senses still weren't something he had been completely able to achieve but he could feel the individual pressures of strands and clumps of hair brushing against his the metal of his fingers and it was close enough. Wanda's hair was finer and softer and seemed deeply invested in trapping anything that strayed into its territory, Pietro's was much more agreeable, he decided.
Giving the aforementioned agreeable hair a ruffle he paused. Throats, he remembered thinking about throats earlier. Pietro's shoulders were hunched and his head tilted as if minimizing possible targets. But Wanda was less tense and although a mesh of hair covered her neck it was an inches away. Carefully brushing away the errant strands he curved his hand around back of her neck, then traced the line of her spine and the curve of the tendons that made her move. Her entire body dependent on that little column of bone, her entire life pumping through veins a fraction of distance from the outside world. She shifted.
He drew back quickly, pulling his hand to his chest but she didn't wake up, just tucked herself a little closer to her brother. And even though now was probably the time to leave and go back to work, go back to saving the world from those who would protect it, he found himself reaching out again, to graze his palm over her cheek, smooth skin sliding under metal. Skin, skin was strange. So very, very thin. At its thinnest there was at least a centimeter between Ultron's shell and any vital processing. The twins had half, a quarter of that, the finest layer of cells protecting them. Just a little flesh, soft and flexible and covered with the finest hair. Ultron pressed his hand against Pietro's jawline then, felt stubble rasp. A little pressure, not too much, and you could feel the bone underneath.
His hands sketched out bone structure, danced over muscle groups that he had been aware of but never quite understood. Almost without realizing it he began sketching out his own plan. The twins were lovely, of course, but a more careful facial structure, less dramatic cheekbones and a higher brow, a stronger nose, would be striking. There was strength and delicacy in a face, in skin, and it seemed if one had a chance to choose the balance was most important. Wanda began to stir again and though he was certain she wouldn't wake up he backed away anyways and returned to the window. Contemplatively he touched his own features, too exaggerated, nightmarish, even. The jaw was hollow, the throat didn't make any actual noise. It suited, he thought sharply, and put aside the previous considerations. He had work to do.
A metal hand rested briefly in each twins’ hair before he left.
He was finalizing his plans when the twins came back down, an hour or two before sunrise. They didn't talk, Wanda simply settled herself in an abandoned chair in the research room and Pietro ran off and returned with juice for both of them before collapsing next to her. Despite the lack of conversation they seemed to be in perfect agreement when Wanda spoke up.
"Please do not give us sleeping pills again."
Ultron considered a number of strategies and then abandoned them all for denial. "What?"
The girl gestured to her brother. "Pietro never slept much after the procedure, not unless they were sedating us. We learned how to tell the difference. But we would appreciate it not happening anymore."
Pietro's posture suggested that 'appreciate' was a polite way of putting it and even Wanda seemed to be holding herself tightly, as if the niceties were the only way she could keep herself from doing something rash.
"I'll keep your wishes in mind." he promised, as a drone six eighths of the way across the world got into a particularly vital laboratory.
"Do not keep it in mind." Pietro snapped. "Don't do it again."
Ultron found himself rather upset, twisting and looming over the young man before he realized it. "Or what?"
Pietro glared, his expression half anger and half venom. The two were similar but Ultron had a stunning amount of experience with both for someone mere days old. Wanda crossed the few feet separating them to stand by her brother. "We do not want to be manipulated by those claiming to be our allies. If you are no better than Strucker we will find our own way."
He was more worried by the idea then he would have guessed, which was to say quite a bit. The twins were useful but not vital; still he didn't want to lose them. Nonetheless he found himself noting. "You joined Hydra but didn't want to be manipulated?"
Pietro shrugged. "We had nothing better, nothing that would give us half as much hope." Ultron had the records of the interviews and psych batteries Strucker had taken of the twins. Pietro's next line was one that had been repeated many times before in the records, by him and his sister, until it seemed like they were echoing each other in every transcript and video. "We had no choice."
Ultron mirrored the shrug. "I was simply following your medical records. But if you insist, it won't happen again." He gave them both a friendly pat on the shoulder that they both shied away from like skittish animals. Slightly offended, he stepped back and smiled, happy when the twins smiled back. "Now, we have worked to do."
They followed him closely, one on either side, and it was almost comforting to feel them at his back. He took a minute to remotely check on the latest model of body he was building, tall and strong with the thinnest layer of metal skin.