Wheatley finally comes to the decision that his human body isn't all that bad.
It's nothing like being in the small, centralized structure of a personality core. Before, not only was he confined to a spherical prison bolted onto a management rail, there were clear cut protocols and constructs to keep him in line. His purpose was shoehorned into a slew of other automated tasks and properties, and on top of it all, both punishment and death were threatened should he step out of line.
With this body, though? Oh, wow, with this body, he has freedom. He can move on his own accord. He can do what he likes. He's got free reign over himself, completely and utterly, and with no repercussions involved. There are no rails, no constraints, no turrets; there are no confining walls, no cords, no darkness, no unexpected shut downs—and most of all, no Her.
It's wonderful. Positively, absolutely, euphorically wonderful. It's the most wonderful thing in the world, he's sure, but he hasn't experienced everything just yet, so maybe he's wrong. Honestly, he'd welcome that. If there's anything more splendid than this, he'd like to see.
However, there is a form of maintenance. He expected that much. In order to continue proper function, he must sleep, eat, bathe, shape a mouth around words, and deal with the vast amount of emotions, sensations, weaknesses, and limitations that come with the human package. It's difficult. It really is. He's still not entirely with the program, but it's much easier now than what it was.
Oh, and what it was. When he woke in the wheat field, it was nothing short of terrifying. Especially the whole emotions part. God, and the things humans can feel and taste and smell. Why had no one ever told him about any of this? With the Shed behind him and his state of being somehow stuffed into the fleshy shell of a lanky human body, everything seemed to have been amplified one thousandfold. He was utterly ravenous and malnourished, yet unable to understand what that meant or what it required of him; walking was a challenge, as was remembering certain things, and constantly feeling was almost too much to bear.
Subjected to sudden bursts of sensory overloads, Wheatley had quickly discovered that pain was not something that he enjoyed. He had also come to the conclusion that humans had to be absolutely mad to suffer all of these things at once. Really, who wouldn't have bats in the belfry after being bombarded with so many sights, sounds, smells, touches, and feelings on a daily basis?
But he's getting used to everything now. He knows that everything has a balance, and it's not so hard to keep a proper equilibrium once you know what to do. There are a few things that still trouble him, but they're not so difficult.
What's difficult is her. Seeing her, being with her, talking to her. It's getting used to her again that's hard. God, is it ever hard.
When she'd found him, he rushed after her. His legs were wobbly and everything hurt and his mind was a disjointed blur, but ran and tackled her to the ground in a heap. With a new heart thrumming against his ribs and with stuttered apologies running down his mouth, he gripped her around the waist and let himself be overwhelmed.
Of course, she'd realized it was him after the initial shock. And yet, in spite of that, she didn't throw him off or give him a broken jaw or anything else she could have done, should have done; instead, she cradled his head in her lap, her hands working circles along the length of his shoulders, and stared as he wept his regrets.
Somehow, Chell has decided to forgive him. And if not forgive, then she's allowing him a chance to vie for it. He still doesn't know why.
But she's made it quite clear that she doesn't entirely trust him. He never really expected her to, because, well, it's not an unusual response after what he did. Succumbing to power-lust and sending her through dozens of lethal tests with the plan of eventually killing her wasn't exactly his highest point, and he can see why it might make her bit tentative to trust him again.
He'd been… well, a monster. More than a monster, really. No excuse for it. He'd gone mental. Worse than Her, if anything, because there had been something there, something nice, a friendship perhaps, and somehow in the midst of all of those terrible things in that facility, he had chosen a wrong path and gone off the deep end.
Regret doesn't even begin to cover it.
It's soft and ephemeral and flitting somewhere in the back of his thoughts, but he finds himself wondering just how much he might have damaged her. She's more than capable of taking care of herself, of course, as she's proven countless times, but that's not what he's concerned about. He can't see mental damage. He can't see emotional damage. And not only can he not see it, she can't talk about it, and so he has no real way of finding out aside from asking her to write her life's story, and if he's being perfectly honest, he doesn't think she'd be too keen on the idea.
Wheatley sits in the den of their flat, biting at his lip and wishing the guilt would go away. He has long since decided that guilt is by far the most awful human emotion in the spectrum. He's felt something similar as a core in the past, of course, but it was muted and muffled and absolutely nothing like this. This eats away at you, slowly and intimately, seeping into every thought and slithering through the cracks, just as Her body had. He shivers just thinking about it.
Funny things, shivers. He's not sure he likes them yet.
He hears the sudden click of the doorknob, and he rises from the sofa, broken from his reverie. It's her, albeit rather fuzzy, and she walks through the threshold with a small plastic bag hung in the crook of her arm, her dark hair tied back in its customary manner. She notices him as he approaches from the living room, and she gives him a slight wave of her hand in salutation.
"Hello," he says, returning the wave. "You were gone for quite a while. What've you got there?"
Chell offers her arm, gesturing to the bag. It crinkles as she slinks it down to the slender shape of her wrist. A smile pinches at the corner of her mouth, he notes; it's small and worn, but still a smile, and he supposes that's something.
"That's for me, then?" With a hesitant finger, he tugs part of it open.
She nods in reply as she starts to shrug off the bulk of her winter coat.
"I'm rather fond of presents," says Wheatley. "Not very good at guessing, though. What is it?"
Before he can peer inside, she spins about and wriggles out of the final sleeve, switching the bag to her other wrist. He's about to protest, but she swats at his him with a playful smirk and hands him the bag.
Wheatley squints inside, and is… well, confused, if he's honest. Different styles of frames are scattered about and folded among one another, sporting lenses decorated with small stickers. "Sorry, I don't understand. What are these?"
Chell presses a finger beneath her eyes. Her face scrunches up as though she can't see, and then she prods gently at his chest.
"Oh." He thinks he gets it now. "Well, yeah, I suppose everything is rather blurry, isn't it? Honestly, I just thought it was a human thing, you know. That all of you saw this awful. Good to know that it isn't. A human thing. Well, not a human thing, sorry, that's a bit insensitive, I meant—"
He's interrupted by a light punch to his shoulder. Wheatley looks up, startled, and finds that she's staring at him with a half-smile, her hands placed on the curves of her hips. He knows that stare—it's one of her you really should stop now stares—and with a nervous swallow, he nods sheepishly and returns to shifting through the bag's contents.
"Wow, there are a lot of these in here," says Wheatley. He pulls apart one set of frames, unsure as to whether he should try them on. "Did you just grab whatever you could find? Not that I'm complaining. I'm not. Not complaining at all. Variety can be a good thing. A very good thing."
She shrugs, plucking one pair out from the bag. Unfolding the ends with a strange carefulness, she slides them over his ears, brushing a few strands of his light brown hair out of the way, and settles the lenses onto the bridge of his nose. She then gives him a questioning look, as if to ask, Any better?
Wheatley narrows his eyes. "I think it got a bit worse. It's hard to tell, actually. Everything's still pretty fuzzy."
Her brow furrows, and then the glasses are gone, quickly replaced with another pair. Another look: What about now?
He widens his eyes, taking in the world through the lenses. Everything seems more defined; he can see the little details of the furniture, the carpets, the light fixtures on the walls and the ceiling. "Oh, much clearer," he says. "Still a bit blurry, but definitely clearer."
She seems pleased, but she reaches into the bag for several more pairs. She replaces one after another, silently asking if his vision has improved with every set. Some pinch his nose, some hurt his ears, and some make the things around him uncoil into blots. When a particularly sleek, thin-framed pair slides over his nose, he releases a shaky exhale in disbelief. No pain, no fuzzies, and everything looks incredibly perfect.
"This is amazing," he says, and spins about the room in a whirl of awe. "It's just like—well, just like before, when I was still—well, you know. A machine. It's all… clean. Crisp, like a display. I can see everything. And you—" He draws up to her, studying her face, "—wow, you look incredible like this. Well, not that you didn't look incredible before, sorry, I meant just through this body. Ah, not that human bodies are bad or anything, I just… all right, all right, quit looking at me like that, I'm stopping. Stopping, see? All stopped."
Her shoulders shake in a silent laugh. Even if he can't understand everything about her, at least he can still amuse her. That gives him a touch of solace.
And then he remembers something. It's small and flickering, flashes of information, images and thoughts, glimpses of things he thinks he might have had something to do with, but he can't be sure. On any other occasion, he might ignore them as per usual when little snippets like this happened to bubble to the surface. They've been somewhat frequent since the procedure. But this… this is different. This is an idea.
Wheatley tries to focus, to reach out and grab hold of it before it slips into nothing. It catches, and he suddenly realizes what it is: a way to have him understand her. He tries to pinpoint exactly where it came from, but there seems to be a block of some kind obscuring the path. He can't figure out a way to break through. Where on earth does he remember this from? Echoes of miscellaneous data left over from when he had been a personality core? And if it is, why hadn't he been able to remember it before?
"Hang on." Wheatley shifts uneasily, gathering his thoughts, and he hooks his long fingers around her wrist to stop her from walking away. "You know, I… I told you I was sorry. A while ago. After everything. And I meant it. I did. I really did. Still do, actually. Hasn't really gone away or anything."
Her expression melds with puzzlement as she turns to face him; the creases in her forehead, the thin line of her mouth, the cool steel of her eyes. He's not sure if she believes him, not with that look, but in spite of what little trust she has for him, he really hopes she does.
"You've done a lot for me," says Wheatley, his thumb tracing the underside of her wrist. "You didn't need to. I mean, if I was you, I wouldn't have had anything to do with me, either. Not after all of those monstrous things I tried to do. You know, the whole maniacal ah ha ha I'm going to kill you thing. Uh, sorry, you… probably didn't need any prompting for that. Understood what I meant. Anyway, you're not me, though. You're you. You're different. And, well, I… I'd like to do something for you. You know, as thanks. And to make amends, I suppose, even though that's probably not possible."
Chell peers up at him, her head tilted to the side. Her fringe frames her thin face, accentuating the arch of her eyebrows, the angles of her jaws, the slopes of her cheeks. She's intrigued. He knows that much.
Wheatley folds his hands and steeples his forefingers toward her. "All right. Okay. Good. Right, now that that's out of the way, I'd like to run something by you. Now, I realize this may come as a shock, so maybe you should hold onto something. Brace yourself." He takes a breath, focuses on the ice of her eyes, and says, "You don't talk."
She crosses her arms gives him another look. It's not just any look, either; it's one of those looks, the withering kind, the kind that shoves a shiver down his spine because it makes him realize exactly how stupid he is; the kind that says, Really?
"Sorry. Was, uh, was trying to be funny. You know. Lighten things up, maybe." Wheatley manages a weak smile. Nipping at the inside of his lip, he scratches at his neck and tries to bite down the nervousness crawling up his throat. "What I'm trying to say is, wouldn't you want to try? Talking, that is. Sorry, should've clarified. I mean, I know it must be frustrating not being able to talk. Don't know how long you've been doing the not-talking thing, probably a while, I imagine, but not everyone is used to all these… ah, hand gestures, body language, all that. I'd be awful frustrated if I was you. And I was thinking about it, you know, and I just had—well, a brainwave. I honestly don't know why or how I know it. It's a bit fragmented if I'm honest, but it's actually a great idea, and I thought, well, maybe you'd want to give it a go. So what do you say?"
She blinks. Once, twice. And then she shakes her head, as if confused. What?
Wheatley rubs his forehead and mentally kicks himself. "Right, right, sorry. I didn't even tell you what it was, did I? It's a simple process. A sort of therapy, really. At least that's what I think it is. And it's designed to help people learn how to talk. From what I remember, it's usually when someone's got a language disorder or something like that. Something that affects their ability to talk. Or when they've got brain damage of some kind. Ah, not that you're brain damaged," he adds, hoping to smooth over the unintentional insult.
Watching him expectantly, Chell holds her palm sideways and moves it in a circular motion. Keep talking.
"Oh, good. Good. Well, it's got a lot to do with music. I'm not really sure how you feel about music, but it goes like this: it starts with a bit of humming and rhythms, and then it slowly progresses into songs. Songs with words, anyway. And you sort of sing along until you're comfortable with the words, 'til you feel like you can do it without the music. After that, it's only a matter of time before you start talking with different pitches and all, like everyone else."
A strange amalgam of apprehension and uncertainty splays across her countenance. She turns her head to stare at the couch, the bookshelf, the throw rug, anywhere but him, and she bites at her lip as she dwells on the idea. Her arms are brought against her ribs as if she's trying to keep everything bottled up between them, encasing her problems in blood and flesh and bone.
"You don't trust me."
He states it without question because it's the truth. He supposes he has to face some sort of repercussion sooner or later, whether it's distance or distrust or apprehension, and he really should have expected it. Regardless, it still tightens unpleasant knots in the hollow of his chest.
"You don't have to," says Wheatley. "It's perfectly all right. The not talking. I mean, I don't think I could live without it, but I'm me and you're you, and you… well, you're brilliant. You are. You're brilliant and you can do anything, so don't go letting me tell you what to do." He reaches out with a bony hand and brushes the pad of his thumb across her mouth. "That being said—I know it's probably not my place, not after everything, but really, wouldn't it be nice to use this for something other than—well, human bodily functions for a change?"
She makes a snorting noise and bats his hand away, but her lips curve into what he thinks might be a smile. It's shy and reserved, but there's a sliver of excitement at its edges, just a little, and it's enough to send his heart pumping beside his lungs.
He arches his eyebrows, hopeful. "Is that a maybe?"
Chell ignores him and instead stretches out her fingers to adjust his glasses, moving them just slightly so they align properly with the rest of his face.
Wheatley doesn't really know what to make of that. "Uh, yes, thank you. I suppose they were a bit off."
The pad of her index finger then presses into the end of his nose and she gazes up at him. It's not a threatening gaze, but it's stern, proud, and somewhat awkward due to his towering height.
"Ah, yes?" he says, expectant. "I'm… I'm going to be quite honest with you, I have no idea at all what that means. Not even the slightest. So if you could just, just… gesture what you're trying to tell me, that would be great. Or write it down. But gesturing is completely fine. Completely."
Her finger moves down to his chest, and crosses in strange patterns across the fabric of his shirt.
Wheatley feels a jolt of excitement skip from his heart and down his spine, and his body trembles a little.
Chell's sketching spells yes.