The sky outside the window was dark with rainclouds that rolled in from all directions. He thought that perhaps it was a bit sad that, after all this time, he was still terrified of storms like these, but she never seemed to mind. He lay there, curled around her, his form with its excess of limbs cupping hers perfectly. They were comfortable, on nights like this, and it made the electrical storm raging outside all the less terrible. They were half-propped up on a mountain of pillows; he had one arm around the curve of her stomach and the other tucked away under his head. He was more than content. Wheatley loved spending nights with her in the guest room – it wasn't so lonely, with her.
She shifted under his arm, sighing deeply, and turned over to cuddle into his chest.
"I have a question," she said, pressing her cheek against his shoulder as she looked up at him.
He smiled and rubbed his hand along her spine. "Ask away."
Chell pursed her lips and looked him in the eye, unsure of how to phrase her question, or if he'd even understand. "Back at Aperture," she started slowly, and she could see his demeanor change instantly. "After the elevator broke, she and I ended up in a lower part of the facility, one of the sealed-off areas you'd told me about. And there was an old testing track down there. I started testing, I guess, and when I did, a man came over the speakers, said that his name was Cave Johnson," she could see his lips curve downward in a slight frown, out of either curiosity or vague recollection, she couldn't tell which. "He said he owned Aperture and he had a secretary; her name was Caroline. They were pre-recorded messages, from centuries ago, from Aperture's beginnings. The further I went, the more I heard about Cave and Caroline. Eventually I found GLaDOS in a bird's nest, and it was making short work of the potato you put her in. That's when I picked her up and we went through the rest of the tracks. The first time Caroline came over the intercom, she just knew her, but she didn't know from where and when she finally did figure it out, she didn't tell me. It wasn't until one of the last chambers on the track that Cave said that he was dying, and urged the engineers to put his consciousness into a computer, to run the facility forever. But he said that, if he died before they could, he wanted Caroline to become head of the company. It was a process called Brain Mapping, and it allowed them to store a human mind in an AI-"
He smiled down at her, running a hand through her hair. "I thought this was a question."
She laughed, and something crossed his mind about her picking up his tendency to ramble. "Fine. If all Aperture AIs are the result of Brain Mapping, do you remember being human?"
The playful glint left his eyes almost immediately, the smile falling. He looked away and rested his chin on top of her head. "N-no. No. Can't say I do." He chuckled. "Though, to be honest, if it took being put into a root vegetable and everything just short of meeting Her human self for Her to remember, I don't think we're supposed to.
She sighed, twisting the thin gold chain between her fingers. Wheatley looked down, noticing the necklace; she always wore it, with the exception of bathing and sleeping. "Guess not." She said.
"Besides," he said, "It's not like I'm missing anything, right? I like being me – for the most part. Some things I wish they'd fixed in development, obviously, but… for the most part…"
Her fingers weaved between his. "I like you, too. Just like this." She said, gently. The years at Aperture had destroyed what little self esteem he'd had to begin with, and she'd taken to building up from the cracked foundation.
He shrugged as best he could given the position. "S'pose I don't really have any need to remember being human. What good would that do me? I can't see it having a good outcome. And you know, some of the bots might not have been able to handle it – imagine I was one of the lucky ones, who got put in an android. What about someone who got stuck in a sphere or a turret or – or a cube! God, that must be awful. I mean, just think about Her – two completely different people, all crammed into one. Won't work, right? Guess we're all just happier, this way."
"Yeah…" she said slowly, wrapping an arm around him.
"Don't worry about me," he said, kissing the crown of her head. "I won't! And look at it this way – we're two peas in a pod, you and me! What with the amnesia thing, not remembering who we used to be. And it's okay, isn't it? It's okay like this."
She buried her face into his chest and he knew, no, it wasn't okay, not to her. She hated not knowing, having to struggle to remember the simplest details about a society long gone, about who she is and what her life was like.
He held her closer, one hand on the small of her back and the other cradling the back of her head. He whispered to her, reassuring her that it was okay, everything was okay.
There was a familiar click in the back of his neck.
Wheatley hit the floor with a thud.
He groaned as he picked himself up, rising to his hands and knees slowly. There was the sound of his clothes rustling, the sound of the carpet scratching against his skin; but above all, there was the steady tick-tock, tick-tock of the clock; not even the sound of his internals could seem to drown it out. He hummed irritably and straightened himself out, rising from the floor. He hated that clock, and had resolved not to change its batteries when it died. He hated that clock and he hated that noise because all it did was remind him of how much time had passed since her day.
Still, he knew that when the time came, he would leave the clock dormant for a few days at the most before changing its batteries again. The noise, being reminded every second he heard it, was the lesser of two evils.
The greater was silence.
The world was always quiet as the years passed. That's why he talked to himself. The silence, after so long, was not unlike that of the silence of the facility, and Wheatley dreaded the silence. All it did was remind him how alone he was. Oh, sure, it was different, in a way: it was his life, he was free, and she was always there to listen. Often, he'd sit under the apple tree they'd planted years ago, at her grave and talk to her; He'd tell her how he's been, what sort of interesting things he'd found in the city. Sometimes he'd read to her from one of his books. When he did this, he usually read from Machiavelli's The Prince, because she gave it to him. But most of the time, he just sat there and told her how much he missed her. He could, and often did, spend hours sitting at the foot of her grave, talking to her. But he was still alone.
That wasn't all he did, though. He kept the house and made trips to the city like they used to, bringing home odd bits and bobs that he thought might be useful - or would have been useful to her. He still didn't like to stray too far from the house, often sticking around the suburbs where he lived, sometimes venturing further into the city. Very rarely did he visit their old house, but he never went past that, into the wheat. He knew what was on the other side of that house and he did not want to go back. He made his mind up when she died, promising himself, and her, that he would never go back.
He tried his hand at a number of different things to pass the time. Mechanics failed miserably – all these years outside of the Facility certainly hadn't improved his skills with other machines. Gardening was fruitless, quite literally. So, he'd stuck to reading.
But what he did mostly, was sleep. Without her around, charging had become so much more difficult than it already had been. He was forced to plug himself in, which proved bothersome.
He had those 'dreams,' the unwanted subconscious access to his memory banks. The first time this had happened after her death, it had felt like someone had run an ice cold electric charge through his body. One moment, he was lying peacefully on the couch with her safe in his arms again, like nothing had ever happened. They'd shared many nights like this, and he counted his blessings that they could continue like this, together. Then, there was a soft click, the jolt of being forced out of sleep, and the sudden, empty realization that she was gone. More accurately, she'd never been there in the first place.
Reversely, he'd realized, without her, he had no one to unplug him from his sleep, instead having to rely on the chance of disconnection. He'd woken up from his pleasant dreams to find the leaves falling off of the apple tree; he'd been asleep for three months. This left a lead weight in his chest, sufficient to fill the hole that had settled there upon awaking. It was dangerous, to sleep without anyone to unplug him, he knew this. He could end up sleeping forever. Absently, his mind drifted to the dream, how real she had felt in his arms, her voice, quiet and light as they talked.
Maybe sleeping forever wasn't such a bad thing.
He used to dwell on it, the loneliness, the self-pity. It had hurt, quite a bit, and he decided that he could pretend. Pretend that everything was fine, and maybe the hurt would go away. It took a long time, many years of sleeping and reading Machiavelli under the apple tree, but the hurt did go away, a bit. Every glance out the back window, or at her bedroom door, the pangs of sadness were less and less every day and, while they never disappeared completely, it became bearable.
Perhaps it was a good thing, that he was awake now. Sure, he wanted to sleep – it was that time of year again, closer and closer every day to her day. He wanted to sleep through it, he wanted not to know, but he knew that if he slept, she would be all he dreamt about, those last few minutes and her last few breaths. The kiss, her whisper…
He shook his head, trying to physically dispel the thought of what happened next. He didn't want to think about that hard-drive crushing moment. He wanted to remember everything, every minute of their time together, except for that.
He didn't want to sleep if he could help it, not this close to her day.
He glanced at the radio on the mantle; the house hadn't changed since she'd died. His footsteps were quick as he walked over to it, his fingers reaching for the cream colored dials. They'd had it forever, almost since they'd moved into the house, but it hadn't been used since he'd brought it home. It never worked, but it'd been so long, maybe that radio station had fixed itself…
There was a wild hiss of static as he twisted the dial, looking for the correct frequency; there was the soft beat of music-
He'd gone too far, trying to backtrack to find the forlorn radio station, slower this time…
The cheery tune drifted wearily out of the speakers.
He lowered himself into the couch where he spent most of his nights - both on the charger and off – closed his eyes, and listened to the rhythm of the song.
He smiled fondly. This was a pleasant memory, where he'd been helpful and where they'd ended the night together, talking fearlessly about buttons and cubes and the absurd things the scientists had done during Wheatley's tenure at the facility. He was glad the station had fixed whatever had happened to it years ago. He liked this song, it almost reminded him of something… He pushed the thought aside, focusing on the song and the memory it elicited.
It didn't last very long. Their conversation turned to fuzz along with the music. He picked the small device from his lap and fiddled irritably with the dial for a moment.
He froze; the music had stopped all together now, replaced by a sound that made his motor whirr and his fans kick up.
He swallowed hard and removed his fingers from the knob, taking the radio from his lap and setting it on the small table in front of him. Every thought had frozen, and he stared at the machine as if it were going to rear up and bite him.
Knowing Her, it might.
Instead, more static filled the air, before her cool voice returned, biting and sour and wrong in every way. "It's been a long time. Fifty two years, six months, five days twelve hours and thirty two minutes, to be exact, since the lunatic let you fly into the void of space." She said. Wheatley felt something spark inside of him at her words, a mixture of emotions. Had it really been that long? Fifty two year? "Not much of a surprise she's dead, really." She put emphasis on that word, he was sure of it. Dead. She just had to remind him. "Not after dealing with you. You don't even know what you did to her, do you?" there was a beat of silence over the transmission, as if she expected him to answer her. "She's dead because of you, moron. You did that to her."
Wheatley's hands had clenched into fists, and he bit down hard on his lip, bowing his head. It wasn't true. She lies, that's what she does. Nothing but lies. He wanted to turn the radio off. He didn't want to listen to Her. But he didn't move.
"I'm sure she forgives you. After all, you spent nearly twenty years together, didn't you? And she didn't try to kill you. It didn't even cross her mind… often."
He stiffened at her statement. Chell had never tried to hurt him, not since that morning with the lamp. Her last words were "I love you," she hadn't wanted to hurt him.
"Normally, I'd ask something along the lines of 'I bet you're wondering how I know this.' However, knowing you, that's the last thing on your mind, incompetent as you are. So I'll tell you: I've taken up a new hobby."
He'd heard this somewhere before. When they were both trapped in the facility, while Chell was running the tests under Her supervision. A shiver ran through his circuits. His eyes widened behind his glasses.
"Reanimating the dead."
He shot up, previous paralysis temporarily forgotten, and ran to the back door, throwing it open and rushing to the apple tree.
The grave was sunken in, smooth white headstone slanted at an odd angle.
"No, no, no…" he spun back to the house, hearing Her voice still emanating from the radio.
"I'll tell her you said hello… not that she'll remember you. Don't worry about her; she's safe. I've given her eternal life. What did you give her? Cancer. Really, when you think about it, she's so much better off."
The feed died.
Wheatley stood dumbfounded, half slumped against the doorframe, one hand woven through his hair. It had happened while he slept; three months, she was without him, unprotected, and at some point in those months, She took Chell away from him. She took Chell and now she was back there for an eternity. This was not happening.
There was a knot in his chest, and the empty feeling had returned. She was gone. She was gone and being tortured back in that Hell. He collapsed on the couch, shuddering burying his face in his hands.
No matter how much he pushed his programming, checking and double checking himself, making sure he wasn't coming to the wrong conclusion, as he so often did, there was only one option.
The thought made his chest hurt. This whole situation made him hurt. He didn't want to believe that it was actually happening, that She had taken his Chell and done God knows what with her. After seeing her so sick for so many months, her burial had brought one comforting notion: that nothing could ever hurt her again. She was immortalized in his memory and no new catastrophes could fall upon her and hurt her. But he'd been wrong. Aperture had fallen upon her, again, and she was in danger and he was so far away. He couldn't do anything.
From the house, at least.
Wheatley stood from the couch and moved to her closet, fingers brushing the doorknob. He hadn't opened the closet since she'd died. He hadn't touched the trunk they'd collected memories in. A part of him wanted to turn around and forget that her closet existed, but he knew better. He knew he had to do this. He turned the knob and peeked into the tiny storage room, feeling a familiar ache in his chest.
He stooped down and grabbed the two white, porcelain-like boots, retreating immediately to the couch and removing his shoes, rolling up the legs of his pants. He slid the first boot on and clicked the locking mechanism, hearing the hiss as the prongs at the top of the boot clamped down on his leg, biting into the synthetic skin. He hissed in pain and clawed at the prongs as they sunk right through the skin. It burned, and he was sure that this wasn't supposed to happen.
His mind traveled back to Chell, as it always inevitably did, and the way her legs below the knee were not to be touched for the longest time before she decided to show him. He recalled the tiny white scars on her legs, set in the exact same pattern that the prongs had torn his skin. He bit back the pain and slid the second boot on.
He was going to find her.