Chell woke to fingertips on her face. Long, masculine fingers were tracing softly over her lips as she clung to the vestiges of her dream-state. Three fingers were currently gently prodding her bottom lip, not in any kind of insistent way, but in query. She opened her left eye, the one closest to the bed, the meagerest of fractions.
The night prior she'd allowed Wheatley into her nest of found objects, blankets and curtains and clothing scraps and anything remotely plush enough to guard against the hard concrete of the abandoned house they shared. There was a mattress somewhere in there, but Chell liked to burrow and had piled the heap high.
It had been storming, Wheatley's first storm since leaving the perfectly temperature controlled facility. The thunder had set him shivering and he yelped and whimpered whenever lighting flashed. Like his residual reservations about water despite his new fleshy body, electrical discharge was high on his fear meter. He simply wasn't used to not being made of metal, and Chell really couldn't blame him.
So she'd let him slip in beside her, held his hand while he curled into a ball and whimpered. Finally the death grip had slackened, and he'd managed to uncurl himself enough to give Chell back a reasonable sized chunk of the bedding.
Now it seemed that being allowed to sleep beside her was giving Wheatley unreasonable ideas about being able to poke and prod her any old way he liked. Chell was about to sit up and give him a what-for when the look on his face gave her pause. Through her barely opened lid, she could see his expression of total rapt attention, almost reverent, yet inquisitive. It was by far the most focused she'd seen him in their short month in the world together. She hesitated, wanting to savor the sheer novelty of this. She continued to feign sleep.
Apparently satisfied with her lips, he began tracing her chin, then the outline of her jaw. He pressed harder on the connecting joint, testing the connection of bone and muscle. Wheatley would press her face, then release pressure, then repeat. It took Chell a moment to make out that he was feeling his own jaw and then comparing it to his observations of hers. She felt a slight tingle and sense of wonder creep over her at being witness to this path of discovery. She'd conveniently 'wake-up' if he tried to go for anything untoward, she decided, until then she'd let him explore. Chell pondered if being in a human body had increased his capacity for learning. If perhaps now, free from the restraints of coding and automated protocols, he might experience growth, and prove to be more than a mo-, well, more than he had been.
Wheatley had moved to her cheekbones now, carefully avoiding her eyes. He ran his palm over the soft flesh of her cheeks over and over, a look of pure marvel in his eyes. "So smooth..." he murmured to himself, but of course Chell heard. "So soft. How does she do that…'snotfair." And with that, he pressed his own scruffy cheek to hers, rubbing for tactile comparison, or as if he thought her softness would magically transfer over to his skin if he rubbed long enough.
Chell nearly ruined the pretense, so startled was she at his proximity, but her instinctual reaction to tense up went completely unnoticed by the gangly former robot, so enthralled was he. He'd leaned over her more and more over the course of the exploration, and the feeling of his arm pressing against her right breast made her cheeks flare heat.
Finally, he pulled away, pouting a bit to find the stubble still on his jaw. "Guess I'll just have to keep at the ol' shower-scrapey-stick" he sighed, his breath warm on her forehead.
A lock of hair fell across her eyes, disturbed by the sigh, and he brushed it tenderly back into place. Chell felt the nest shift as Wheatley rearranged himself to better observe her. Through the fan of her eyelashes, she saw him looming over her even further, chin pillowed on the flat of his hand bracing up on one elbow. She noticed he wasn't wearing the meticulously picked out set of glasses they managed to procure from an ancient optometrist's office, and this partially explained why he kept shifting closer and closer to peer down at the details of her sleeping face. A tiny flare of anger made her lip twitch infinitesimally. He better not have lost them, they were down to his next-to-last pair…
His fingers were back on her face, tracing timid circles around the rim of what would be her eye socket under the flesh and muscle. He spent extra time ruffling her eyebrows. It took all her control not to twitch from the ticklish sensation.
Trust, despite her forgiveness of past crimes, was still a bit of a novel concept between them, so it felt strange, terrifying and somehow thrilling to lay back and make the first few shaky mental steps towards it. It was almost as if she had started her own experiment under his ministrations, to see if she herself was capable of the act. Training, you might call it, practice for the long days ahead of them while searching for other human survivors. If she could bring herself to trust Wheatley, if she could train him to be worthy of it….maybe they both had a chance of integration.
And if she was completely honest with herself, she was beginning to enjoy the simple sensation of his skin against hers. Of being touched so gently, so delicately, and with such obvious fascination.
That said, Chell still felt a surge of relief when he moved away from her eyes and slid a hand through her hair. Wheatley combed through her bangs, bringing his nose very close to the strands.
She couldn't suppress her mouth going slack and eyebrows shooting up in shock as he…he snuffed her. He stuck his generous allotment of nose into her hair and inhaled deeply, hand curling into it.
From his preoccupied vantage point in her hair, he couldn't see her mask lapse, making a deep, breathily satisfied noise next to Chell's ear. Wheatley dug his fingers further against her scalp, careful not to tug on it, and took another deep breath in. This was apparently even more satisfying an experience than the first, as he gave a sort of all-body wriggle and snuggled close besides her. She could feel his grin through the top of her head.
"Oh, that is lovely…" he murmured, forgetting himself. He curled himself around her shoulders, sliding a head under her neck to press her even closer to his olfactory senses. "All fruity and clean and ohhh something I can't quite place, but man alive, isn't it heavenly" He moaned. "Simply divine."
Chell was through pretending, but she hadn't quite found the energy to interrupt him. She simply opened her eyes and bit her lip, trying to compile a list of things to say…where to even begin…she'd taken his previous inclination to respect personal space for granted, that much was clear. Time to set him straight, but the powers of articulation failed her as he wrapped his spare arm around her shoulders and pulled her tight to his chest.
She 'eep'd, but it was lost in the fold of his pajama top. He had both hands fully entrenched in her tresses, one hand at the base of her skull and the other brushing past the tips of her scarlet-red left ear.
Part of her was screaming and kicking and fuming at being trapped, demanding to know what the rest of her planned to do about it. Her body mumbled something incomprehensible and gave an involuntary wriggle to burrow further into his chest.
This, at last, he seemed to have noticed. At least, if the sudden and complete freezing of his limbs and violently escalating heartbeat was any indication.
"Erm, I know what you're thinking, and um, I can explain." He attempted, winding up for a good long speech. "Well, actually, I have no idea what you're thinking, only what I'd be thinking in your situation. That is, the situation of having a big ungainly bloke pawing at your head, not the situation of say, it being reversed and you shoving my face into your chest because honestly, couldn't say I'd mind at all."
Chell colored at this.
"It's just, bear with me now. It is going to sound odd, not gonna lie to you…you smell…Amazing. And I know that's odd coming from me, having not had a lot of comparison in the field of smelling organic material. You, I'm sure, have had a whole lifetime of sniffling, inhaling, wafflin', snuffles, whiffs, the whole bit, and here's me with barely a month. So, really, should be a huge surprise, that something that's smells so good, well, it's just overwhelming. Can't get enough of it. Dunno why, wasn't this was before, must be that fancy goo you spread all over it in the bath or sommat." He nuzzled the top of her head, inhaling deeply. "Just can't help myself, really."
Suddenly, as if realizing the social faux paus he was committing, he froze. "And there's me doing it again, sorry luv." He pulled his face out of her hair but his arms were still wrapped around her. She could feel the beating of his heart through the thin pajamas she'd scrounged for him.
"Huh, there um, seems to be something wrong with my limbs. They don't seem to want to let go, mate." He confessed shakily, deliberately not looking at her face. "If I'm honest, not sure I want them to either…unless I'm hurting you. Last thing in the world I'd want to do, hurt you. But…if I'm not, and if it's not too creepy of anything…can we stay like this?" He whispered, his mouth inches from the skin of her forehead, giving her the faintest of squeezes.
She looked up at his reddening face, and wondered if she had a similar shade of pink coloring her cheeks. He was warm and solid and didn't smell so bad himself, once she'd explained how soap wasn't meant for eating and that you had to wash everything, not just the areas that felt good to soap up.
Remembering that little episode made her bury her face back into his chest.
Well, it wasn't like this was doing any harm. She mused. He wasn't touching anything particularly awkward….although his hips were making slightly suspicious minute movements against her legs. She sighed, and rolled over.
Wheatley jerked his hands away like he'd been burned. If she had been facing the other way, she could have seen the look of disappointment and hurt etched across Wheatley's face. Instead, she heard it in his dejected speech.
"Oh, ok. Guess, it must have been a bit weird, I understand. I mean, you're a, a young, attractive female human and I'm a Biologically Engineered Artificial Life Form slash Aberration of Nature with formerly homicidal behavior patterns and a bone structure you can hang coats on. Totally get it. No cuddles for Wheatley. 'S not like I deserve um, way I've acted. Monstrously, that is. Monstrous people don't get cuddles, generally speaking, especially not backstabbing friend-types." He sagged. "Even if they are tremendously, massively, sorry."
Her hand on his wrist shut him up. For all of two seconds.
"Oh, sorry, I'll shut up now, got to get your beauty rest and that…Hey, wait, what are you doing with my arm…oh. Oh!"
She twisted around to give him a sleepy little smile, before wrapping his arm more securely around her. His chest was delightfully warm in the late autumn morning, and she wriggled further into his embrace.
She could hear the smile in his gleeful little humming squeak from just behind her ear.
"Brilliant." He worked his other arm under her head, tucking his hand atop the crown of her head. "Lovin' this, mate."
And as she slipped back into a light doze, she thought she couldn't have said it better herself.