I woke up on an exam table. I sat up with a start, Tony placing a hand on my shoulder to keep me down. "Easy does it," he said. "I'm not done with my exam yet."
"Shoulder," I said quickly before Ultron could stop me. "Left shoulder blade."
Tony had me roll onto my stomach and pressed down on the shoulder blade I told him.
I bit back my cry of pain as he pressed down on the tender skin around whatever was placed inside of me.
"I don't have time to sedate you," Tony said. "Please, bear with me. The skin healed over whatever it is, so this is going to hurt. A lot."
Right before Tony began to cut into my skin, a gloved hand entered my view and I quickly grabbed it without thinking.
Vision kneeled down in front of me, stroking my hair gently. He nodded to Tony to begin, that he'd help me.
I felt the knife cut into my skin and I bit down on my lip to muffle my scream, unconsciously gripping Vision's hand tightly. Involuntary tears came to my eyes.
"It's only going to be a few moments," Vision said gently as he wiped the tears away. "Go in, get it out, and bring the skin back together. That quick. Few seconds."
I let out a choked sob as Tony got the object out, having to cut around the tissues because they had started to fuse with the object. "It hurts, Vision," I whispered. "Really bad."
"I know it does," Vision replied. "But it's almost over. Almost over and then you can rest. Less stress."
"But my blood," I said. "He's still in me as long as he's in my blood."
"I'm going to take a blood sample," Tony said, already filling a vial up with my blood and then using Helen's tissue-restoration technology to heal the wound. "Done."
My body eased up as I rested my forehead on the table, breathing heavily. "That was horrible," I mumbled.
Vision got to his feet, patting my back. "It's all over," he said. "No more surgeries."
I rolled onto my back again and saw Clint and Steve nearby, watching Tony examine the object that came out of me.
"Destroy it and you're dead."
Ultron's voice was in my mind. But it was easier for me to ignore and fight against.
"I see nothing with this right now," Tony said, dipping it into a solution to remove my blood from it.
"Whatever you do, don't destroy it," I said. "At least, not until I've gotten this stuff, whatever it is, out of my bloodstream."
"I won't," Tony replied, drying it off.
"What is it?" Clint asked as he and Steve stepped closer in.
"A chip," Tony answered. "One used to control humans. One-of-a-kind. That's all I can tell you."
I sat up with Vision's help.
"When did he put this in you?" Steve said, turning to me.
"The day I was captured," I said. "After the twins left, he came in, forced me against the wall, and put it in."
"Give her a break, Cap," Tony said as Steve opened his mouth to say something. "She needs some time to recover. Especially since Ultron had succeeded in controlling her and put her through a really rough fight with Vision."
"Unfortunately," Vision put in.
"Steve, Clint, you can return to the base," Tony said. "I'll stay here with Rose and Vision. We'll join you when I deem that she's ready for the base."
Before he left with Steve, Clint came to me and hugged me, careful of my shoulder. "Be careful," he whispered in my ear. He placed a kiss on my forehead and then he was gone.
Tony and Vision helped me to my feet, making sure I didn't get dizzy from standing.
"Vision, take her to the living room," Tony said. "No stairs for her. You can move the couches and chairs around to make a bed for her. I'm staying here for the night, working this out."
Vision nodded, picking me up and going to the living room, putting me down gently on a chair before moving the furniture around. Once he got everything in place, he picked me up again and laid me down before going to get a couple pillows and a few blankets for me.
"Are you going to sleep tonight?" I asked softly as he put the pillows under my head and covered me with the blankets.
"I'm not too sure," he admitted. "I feel tired, but at the same time, I'm wide awake. Why?"
"Ultron said he would keep me awake at night to make it easier to control me," I said. "I was going to ask if you would stay with me again, to help me."
"In that case, then I'll get some rest, as well," Vision said. He laid down next to me and I curled up next to him, my back on his chest. He draped an arm around me, pulling me close and kissing the top of my head. "Goodnight, Rose."
"Night, Vision," I whispered.
Clint paced around his room at the base. Everyone was settled in, but since he and Steve had gotten back, he had heard nothing from Tony or even Vision on how I was doing or what was found in my body.
He turned as there was a knock on the door.
"Clint, come have dinner," Natasha said as she opened the door.
"I'm not hungry," Clint replied, turning and walking to the window.
"You know she'd want you to eat," Natasha protested.
"Well she's not here," Clint said. "I'm too worried about her."
"If something bad happened, then Tony would've told you," Natasha said. "Knowing him, he's probably not going to sleep tonight, too busy examining what he found."
Clint didn't reply, looking out the window.
"When was the last time you went to the farm?" Natasha asked. "Since Ultron was defeated?"
"I haven't gone back, not yet," Clint said. "I was going to take Rose after she got settled in so she could meet her step-sister and see her niece and nephews for the first time. She's never met them and I've briefly told her about them, and them about her."
"Call home," Natasha said. "Talk to Laura. It'll take your mind off of things."
"I sure hope you're right, Nat," Clint said. "Because it's going to take a lot to take my mind off of this."
Natasha walked over to Clint and gave him a quick hug. "If anything, it'll give you something to do while waiting for Tony besides walking around, making a hole in the floor," she said. "If you need me, I'll be eating with the others." She turned and walked out the room, door closing gently behind her.
Clint looked out the window for a little bit more before walking to his bed and sitting down. He looked at the time and decided it was still early enough to call. He took out his cell phone and dialed the number he was so used to dialing and waited for Laura to pick up.
"Hello?" Laura answered.
"Hey honey, it's me," Clint said. "Just need someone to talk to."
I woke up to the sun streaming through the windows, bathing me and Vision in the warm rays, something welcoming considering winter was on the way.
Slowly, without waking him, I rolled onto my back and looked at Vision, seeing that he was still asleep.
Wishing not to disturb him, I remained still, eyes closed, thinking.
A hand was placed on my arm and I opened my eyes to see that Tony had silently walked to us, bags under his eyes indicating he hadn't slept, but a triumphant gleam in his eyes. "I've got a breakthrough on the chip," he whispered, also not wanting to wake Vision. "When you both are awake, come to my lab."
I did a small nod and Tony walked away silently.
I felt Vision tighten his grip slightly around me. Glancing at him, I saw that he had a frown on his face, eyes darting under his eyelids. He mumbled something under his breath, something that sounded like my name.
"A nightmare?" I thought as I gently placed a hand on his arm, rubbing it slowly, as if to reassure him that everything was alright. "I didn't know that he could dream. Then again, he's not a total robot. Because of the stone, he can feel and experience like any other human being."
At my touch, he eased up, going to a more relaxed state.
I smiled slightly, content to just stay in this position for awhile.
"You will fail, and you will lose everything and everyone you care about."
"Go away, Ultron," I growled in my mind. "Tony's working to get rid of you. Once he succeeds, then we won't have to worry about you anymore. You'll be gone. I won't be your puppet. As you once said, 'There are no strings on me.'"
"That's what you think."
Ultron's voice faded from my mind, but his response confused me.
I decided to push it aside for the moment: I was just going to relax and wait for Vision to wake up.
After a little bit, Vision started to stir. He slowly opened his eyes and smiled when he saw me. "How long have you been awake?" he asked as we both sat up.
"A while," I replied. "But you needed rest. I let you get it."
"Any updates from Tony?" Vision said.
"Told me for us to come when you woke," I said.
We both got to our feet and walked to where Tony was, the chip laid aside as he worked on the blood sample he took from me, the sample already separated into several different dishes. He acknowledged us with a nod of his head and gestured to stay back but was silent as he added a few drops of something to one dish and placed a lid on it. He added something else to all but one of the dishes and put lids on them before getting to his feet. He motioned we could step forward.
"What have you found out?" I said as we walked over to the table.
"I will start with what I uncovered about the blood while I was waiting for you two to come," Tony said. "That'll lead up to the chip." He typed some things into his computer and a hologram appeared, a microscopic version of my blood. Next to it was a normal sample. My blood had metal pieces in it. "Rose, your blood that I collected from your body has something in it. That much we know. But the question was what? Well, it has very tiny robots in it, communicators, if you will. These communicators send and receive messages from the chip. I still have more research on the blood to do, but I had to explain this before moving into the chip. Now, any guesses, knowing about the communicators, what the chip is going to do?"
"Ultron tells it what to do and it sends the communicators to the location to get it done," Vision said.
"That's the simple explanation, yes," Tony said. "It mostly has to do with the brain. Yes, it can also control other parts of the body, like when it came to hand-to-hand combat between you two, but the main focus of the communicators is to go to the brain and get him to control her. Especially with the magic. He wants her to lose control. That's exactly what he's looking for. He doesn't care the aftermath. As long as he gets her powers unstable, he'll use that to form a new body and then he'll be back, but even more powerful than before."
"There are strings on me," I whispered before I could stop myself.
"What?" Tony said, confused.
"After you came to tell me that you got something and before Vision woke up, Ultron came into my mind again," I explained. "Said that we would fail, everything would be lost. I had said what he told us before he got into power: there are no strings on me. He replied by saying, 'that's what you think.' These communicators, those are the strings."
"In a word, yes," Tony said. "But I'm working with your blood right now, testing different things to see if I can disable the bots and destroy them. What you said about the chip: if something happens to it, then it'll send a message to the communicators and they'll swarm your heart, clot it and cause it to swell before it explodes in your body. It'll be a long and painful death."
"You are going to keep it protected, right?" Vision said as I grew pale, sitting down in a chair as I felt sick.
"Of course I am," Tony said. "Nothing's going to happen to it until I know that she is one hundred percent safe from any and all attacks. It's like when he created the robot army: if there's only one left, then I've failed. The less robots there are, the more difficult it'll be for her."
"I think I'm gonna be sick," I said, quickly getting to my feet. Before the other two could respond, I darted off.
"Rose!" Tony called to stop me, but I was already gone. He frowned. "Maybe I shouldn't have told her how they could kill her. Vision, make sure she's alright. She can't go to the base yet so take her to get breakfast and try to distract her. I'll let you two know when I've gotten another update."
"Tell Clint what you told us," Vision said before flying off after me to catch up with me.
"They could do what to her?!" Clint exclaimed after Tony told him what he had told me and Vision. "You're going to stop it, right?!"
"Of course I am," Tony said. "I'm not going to let her die on my watch. It's just that this research is taking longer than I anticipated without Bruce here. If he was here, we'd most likely be done by now."
"Well, he's gone to someplace we have no idea about," Clint said. "Nat's been awaiting a message of some kind from him. Nothing yet."
"I know, I know," Tony said. "Let the others know about Rose's condition. I know they're really anguish about it."
"I will," Clint said. He paused, not wanting to ask the next question, but feeling that he has to, anyways. "Tony, if something happens to the chip and it sends the robots to her heart, if it possible to wait until they're all there and then do a heart transplant? Or to put some kind of shield around the heart to begin with?"
"I haven't gone too deep into any of those ideas, but I'll look into it," Tony said. "With the way my tests are always turning up a failure, I might have to risk that. Both would be extremely dangerous and could result in her dying anyways."
"I was scared you'd say that," Clint said.