Hello again, readers. Welcome to the next chapter of my story. A friend of mine has temporarily broken me out of the facility, so I suppose I should take this opportunity to post this next chapter of the story earlier than expected.
I apologize if I am unable to reply to reviews for some time. I am not sure if I will be able to post again before December.
I hope you find this chapter satisfactory. It is a bit longer than the others…
So he'd said it.
After all those years of drifting in space, rehearsing the same words over and over and over again, he'd finally apologized to the lady. He'd spilled his heart—or, processor, or… whatever his equivalent would be—out to her. For so long he'd been waiting to do that, to say those two words, with maybe two or ten or fifty or more words for emphasis, and now he'd finally done it.
But… it didn't give him the satisfied feeling he'd hoped it would. It didn't give him a release from his guilt. Though he twitched and shuddered at the comparison, it reminded him of when he'd been hoping for another dose of testing euphoria and not getting it, no matter how many tests he ran her through. The difference was, he knew what the problem was this time:
The lady had not forgiven him.
Wheatley stared down at the table in front of him, at the blue light that bounced off the smooth surface. He couldn't wonder what he'd done wrong—he already knew. He'd betrayed her, crushed her hopes, hurt her, tried to kill her… A better question might be, what hadn't he done wrong?
"Well… I… helped her a bit, didn't I?" he mumbled lamely. "Woke her out of cryosleep, led her to the portal gun, busted her out of that chamber… That's something, isn't it?" Twitch, spark. "Maybe j-just enough to warrant th-these repairs."
The core tilted one way, then the other, still getting a feeling for his condition. His innards were still pretty busted up, but there was a bit less of that sharp pain that would flare every time he sparked or moved just the wrong way. He'd forgotten what it had been like to not feel that horrible pain shooting through his frame, but to have that pain lessened was more than he could ask for.
"M-maybe she'll keep repairing me," he said, glancing around and trying to see the door to her room. "Th-that'd be nice—i-if she could just trust me more." Not an easy thing to do after what he'd done, he had to admit, but… there had to be some way to earn her trust. He just wasn't sure what that was yet.
A sharp howling noise startled Wheatley out of his thoughts and made him yelp in surprise. Straining to move his optic, he could barely see the window nearby. That was where the sound was coming from—just outside. It was accompanied by a rustle from the trees, and it sounded familiar… Wind? Yes, that was it. It reminded him of the rush of air around him those times when he'd been sucked through a vent—the first time when he was with the lady, and the second time when GLaDOS—
His optic contracted, and he looked around frantically. For a few blissful hours, he'd forgotten about her, but now her threats were yanked to the forefront of his processor. What about her? He hoped he'd been hallucinating hearing her voice, but it always seemed so real… "Sh-she can't be here, though," he stammered, shutting his eye shields. "She's not. I-I'm not there anymore. B-but that voice—"
He opened his optic again, fearing he might find himself in that chamber again, or seeing that enormous chassis, but he could hardly see anything in the darkness. How did he know he wasn't back there? Or if he really wasn't… how did he know he wasn't actually hearing her voice, somehow? That she wasn't really watching him? That she didn't really have some way she could attack him, even when he was away from the facility?
He hadn't worried about these things so much before, through the long nights he'd sat on the lady's dining room table, but… he'd been going numb then, or hallucinating. It was a relief to not be going completely numb to everything, but without that to distract him…
"N-no, she's not here," he said, trying to sound firm. "She's not here, she's not here, and—and I'm not there. Right. Clearly. Can easily see th—well, no, I can't…" Twitching, he searched his processor for the command to turn on his flashlight, but still found it disabled—and even then, how did he know she hadn't broken it, when—
He froze up, optic dim and processor blank, though it occasionally flickered back to a dark chamber, several mechanical arms in his view, lit from above by a yellow light—
The memory faded, and his frame loosened. "O… okay, d-don't think a-about that… wh-whatever it was…" Twitch, spark. "I-it'd be nice t-to forget all of that, i-if I'm honest. S-still…" His vocal processor simulated a gulping noise, and he forced his optic to shine brighter, attempting to pierce through the darkness. "I-it'd be nice t-to see in… here…"
As much as he tried to convince himself that yes, he was in the lady's house, and no, GLaDOS was nowhere nearby, he couldn't stop himself from shivering and wishing intensely that he could just see. Just to see—to make sure he was still there, that she was still gone, and the lady hadn't left him. Maybe he could ask her—
"No, i-isn't she in sleep mode—er, asleep, now?" He shook himself; he'd been thinking about his own disabled programs too much. "But… it wouldn't hurt to just w-wake her up once, right?"
Wheatley glanced around, staring in the direction he hoped her room was in. He took a useless, simulated breath, but the word only came out in a quiet stammer: "L-lady?"
Predictably, no response.
"R-right. Should've—should've expected that. Um…" He glanced around again before raising his voice. "L—lady?"
He thought he might have heard some noise in her room, but still no real response. "All right, d-doubling the efforts, then." A bit louder. "Lady, c-could—could you say something? S-some sort of—of response, please? Er—j-just giving a suggestion, you know! Th—though it's a good suggestion, I think…"
A few more noises. "A-all right, just another suggestion—c-could you just… answer me? Please? Lady? If—if you're there?"
Well, that was something. It sounded like something hitting the wall, actually, which was a better response than the others he'd gotten this far. He raised his voice again. "Okay, th-that's—that's a little better, but s-still not quite there. D-do—do you think you c-could s-say something? Lady? Please?" The wind howled outside again, making him shudder and spark, and causing his voice to go up a pitch. "Y-you know, it's really—really dark in here, lady, a-and—and could you j-just—"
The door creaked as it opened, and as the lady stepped out and approached him, he was able to make out her face. He couldn't help but notice that she looked just a bit annoyed.
…Oh, right, humans didn't particularly like being woken up during sleep cycles, did they?
"Um. Hello!" Twitch. "It's—uh—j-just a bit dark out here, and, er—I… d-don't like the dark, and—uh—j-just a bit w-worried that I'm… n-not actually here, a-and that she might be—"
He began to feel the stupidity that had been programmed into him. It was not a pleasant feeling.
She stared for a moment and began to walk away. "…R-right. S-so if you could, uh—"
His optic contracted as the room flooded with light, showing that yes, he was still in the lady's house. "Oh," he said quietly, wincing when he saw her roll her eyes. "Th—thanks."
She stepped back into her room and shut the door.
"W-well… that's better, at least." He glanced around the room, blinking a few times as his optic adjusted. The kitchen was in one spot, the living room in another—though that was a bit further out of his sight—and the window was beside him. Yes, he was definitely still in the lady's house. "N-nice to know I-I'm… still here.
With a sinking feeling, Wheatley realized he now had the rest of the night ahead of him, and absolutely nothing to do. No management rail to ride on, no-one to talk to… nothing to do, unless he wanted to plunge into numbness or fall into a hallucination again.
His upper lid drooped. "…Bloody lack of s-sleep mode."
His optic had gone dull by the morning, with his having nothing to do but talk to himself and think—but mostly talk to himself. When the door opened and the lady stepped out, however, his optic brightened. "H-hello," he said, aiming for cheerfulness but not quite getting there.
The lady nodded a greeting, but said nothing as she walked about the house, getting ready for her day.
"…Oh. Y-you're—you're still mad at me, right," Wheatley mumbled. "S-sorry about waking you up like that." Twitch. "B-but thanks for t-turning on the light. You have n-no idea how frightening it c-can get without a flashlight! …N-not that I'm easily frightened."
Much to his surprise, he swore he saw her mouth twitch, as though she were fighting a smile or a laugh.
"Y-you think that's funny, then?" he grumbled, and regretted it when she turned her back to him. "Er—no! I-it's all right, laugh at me a-all you want, I don't care." He glanced aside, feeling the guilt creep up on him again. "I-I guess I really haven't got a right t-to tell you wh-what to do, n-not after what I did." Suddenly he looked up, optic brightening a fraction, though he looked no less guilty. "And I am sorry about that, r-really, a-about what I did way b-back then, b-betraying you a-and all that… Bloody rotten of me. I-I know how much I h-hurt you, 'cause of what I saw you do—wh-what I thought I saw… B-but for you, y-you weren't seeing things. I-I wish you were. Er—n-not that I want you seein' things like I am, b-but I-I wish I hadn't actually gone and d-done all that, and… I'm sorry."
He couldn't be sure she'd heard him, what with her cooking and eating and washing and never turning to glance at him. She did pause when he finished, staring down into the soapy water in the sink, but still never said anything.
Tilting in his casing, he glanced downward. "I—I'd t-take it all back, i-if I could. If… if w-we ever got back t-to that time, wh-when you plugged me in, a-and there was the core t-transfer… I-I would just let you go. I-I'd never do th-that again—b-betraying you, a-and all." The confession made his mind drift back to that time again—how he tested her, and yelled at her, and tried to kill her—he snapped his optic shut. "I-I wish it hadn't happened at all. None of it."
Something touched his side, and he twitched and sparked, opening his eye shields. The lady was staring down at him, though she didn't look so angry now.
"…I'm sorry," he added quietly. He couldn't say it enough.
Her voice was soft: "I know."
And with that, she finally strode out of the house.
Wheatley sat there for a while after the door closed, not saying anything. He twitched once, twice, scattering sparks, and his optic quivered.
"Wh-what am I doing wrong?!" he cried, snapping his handle against his frame and shutting his optic. "I-is there some—some guide to apologies?" His processor skimmed his reference files—he had a few on humans, though the files were mostly corrupt and useless. Even then, there was nothing in there about apologies.
"I-If she knows I'm s-so bloody sorry, wh-why can't she—?" He opened his optic, which had grown dull again. "No, wh-what I did was bloody h-horrible. No, 'horrible' d-doesn't begin to describe it. Worse th-than horrible. I-I don't deserve t-to be forgiven."
He heaved an electronic sigh. "…B-but it'd sure be nice, though."
Wheatley's processor wandered, going back to when he'd woken her up all those years ago. True, he hadn't quite cared for her then—she was just another human he could use to help him escape. But then, she'd actually followed his instructions, and they'd almost gotten out together… and he knew she was different. A little brain-damaged, maybe, but still different. Clever. Smart. Even if she hadn't caught him.
But even then—he got her away from GLaDOS, hadn't he? And—and they'd messed up the turret production lines, and her neurotoxin… and it was actually fun. Not easy, but it was fun working with her, working together to shut down that crazy AI. Probably the most fun he'd had… well, ever.
There wasn't much fun in being tested on endlessly, answering questions, being tweaked and repaired—though he couldn't remember much of that time, other than that he didn't like it or his engineers. Then there was that fuzzy, near-blank spot in his memory—but he'd found out what that was, after she had so kindly reminded him. And then came the jobs—how many, he couldn't even remember anymore. A lot. And a lot of other cores, none of which he really got along with. And then there was his job at the extended relaxation center… and… back to the lady.
Yes. The best time he'd had was when he was with her.
And he blew it.
A twitch, spark, and shudder brought Wheatley back to the present. He didn't want to keep thinking about the core transfer and beyond. He was tired of that weight of guilt—it wasn't doing him any good. He wanted the lady's forgiveness… or, at the very least, her presence.
"Wh-why's she have to l-leave for so long?" he mumbled, straining his optic to look toward the door. He wasn't turned far enough to see it, though, and he didn't want to risk hurting himself by trying to flip over in his casing. Instead, he glanced over to the window, at the trees and the sky outside, and wondered when the lady would come back. He was never really sure—he would usually crash or hallucinate or something during the day, so his sense of time passing was rather skewed. All he knew was that she was always gone for a long while.
A sudden fear seized him—what if… what if she came back while the lady was gone? A shudder wracked his casing. "N-no, no, she can't c-come back, b-because she's not actually there." His vocal processor simulated a gulp. "R-right. Th-the lady said I was safe. S-so, I am. She hasn't actually b-been here th-those other times—" unless he was hallucinating now, but no don't think about that, don't think about that "—s-so maybe she w-won't be there this time." He nodded. "Y-yeah, th-that sounds about right. Not here. Nope. Sh-she's not here. A-and the lady will be back soon. I hope. …I-I really, really hope."
Wheatley closed his optic for a moment before glancing out the window again. It looked a little brighter out there—the sky was blue rather than gray, for once. Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe it meant the lady was closer to coming back. Maybe it meant—
He yelped, freezing up. Slowly he curled his handle over his body, optic contracting. "Sh-she's not there, sh-she's not there, she's not there..."
"If you're talking about the lunatic, you're right. She's not here. She's miles and miles away. Meanwhile, you're still here with me, as you always have been, and always will be."
"N-no, the lady said I was s-safe…" He shut his optic, shivering.
"You still think that?"
"I—" Wheatley paused. He opened his optic again, but kept his eye shields narrow, trying to look as determined as possible. "I-I know that."
The quiet laughter shattered his confidence.
"Go on thinking that for as long as you like. You can do that to pass the time while you wait."
"W-wait?" He blinked, optic darting around. Wait—was there something outside? He thought he saw—
"Yes. I have a surprise for you."
"A s-surprise?" His voice went up a pitch. "Wh-what surprise?"
He shivered for a moment, optic straining to see out the window. "Wh-what surprise a-are you talking about?"
But the laughter had stopped, and he could see nothing of note out the window, leaving him to wonder if he'd actually seen—or heard—anything at all. But if he had…
"Wh-what surprise?" he repeated to no-one. "Wh-what...?"
He sat in that cold house, his pinprick optic darting around as he waited for either the voice or the lady to return—and wished desperately for the latter.
The air smelled of snow. It wasn't there yet, but Chell could sense it coming; five years out in the Upper Peninsula had trained her to recognize just when winter was beginning to rear its head. She would have to start dressing warmer and stocking more food to prevent having to go to the market so often. And, of course, she would also have to prepare carefully for the next few monthly treks, when she would be marching through the snow.
And as she worked, her mind drifted, thinking about what she might find on her next trek. If she'd found Wheatley last time, what would she find next? Come to think of it, why was Wheatley left outside of the facility in the first place, when he had been in space before? It was something she hadn't considered before, not having really cared about the metal sphere or what had happened to him, but now it was bothering her.
Obviously he had been through a lot, given the state he was in and the way he responded to things. But she'd never really asked him for specifics—had GLaDOS left him sitting out there, hoping to lure her back? Was he supposed to accomplish some purpose, or had the mad AI simply left him out there to die?
Whatever the case, she still had several weeks before she would have to return—and it would give her time to find a few other supplies to take, just in case something else awaited her in that dying wheat field. But until then…
Her thoughts turned back to the metal sphere. He'd apologized several times already, and each time he seemed to express genuine remorse—but each time, she'd reminded herself just what he had done to her, and why he had to apologize in the first place. But at the same time, he'd spent however long in the vacuum of space, and then however long back there, having who-knows-what done to him. He'd already paid for what he'd done.
And every day, she was finding herself relating to him more and more. They'd both experienced the worst Aperture could dish out.
Then there was another fact—one that she hated to admit, but… she was almost looking forward to seeing him when she went home from work. She'd never gotten along with her co-workers, or anyone else she'd tried talking to—though part of that was from her quiet nature. She'd never talked back there, and even now found herself loathe to speak. It didn't help that people so rarely listened to her when she did say something.
But he did. When she spoke, he would always react with a sort of stunned awe. Her voice, so ineffective out here, somehow had the power to pull him from whatever horrors his processor conjured up.
Then when her boss and co-workers were unappreciative of her hard work, Wheatley was actually growing thankful for her repairs. The AI that had been programmed to be a moron was more grateful than the humans she'd known out in this cold world.
Not that Wheatley was always the best thing to have around. He was still an idiot; the repairs were tedious; his panic from paranoia and hallucinations were waking her up at night…
Yet there was something about him that kept her going back to help him. And she realized—in spite of all she had thought before, maybe she really was finding something in that broken hunk of metal that was worth forgiving.
She laughed suddenly, her warm breath briefly fogging her vision.
Maybe she was brain-damaged.
It was some hours later that the door opened with a creak, and Wheatley started so badly that he knocked himself to his side. "Ow…"
Glancing around frantically, he spotted the lady approaching him, and his optic shone brighter. "Lady…!"
The lady grabbed his handle and set him upright, looking him over. While she didn't speak up, her expression was clear: Are you all right?
Cringing, he glanced away. He hadn't really been hurt while she was gone, but… "D—do you have to l-leave every day l-like that?"
She gave him a funny look before nodding. "I have a job," she said, as though it were obvious.
"O-oh." He blinked. He hadn't heard of a human's working since the days of the scientists and engineers back in Aperture. After that, he'd only ever seen machines and robots working. "Y—you humans still do that?"
At that, she rolled her eyes and moved away, heading into the kitchen.
"Oh—! I-I'm sorry I-I didn't mean…! I-it's just, I-I…" Twitch. "I-it's kind of… lonely here, a-and…" He lowered his voice, glancing away ashamedly. "I-it's r-rather scary to be a-alone. A-at least… h-here, wh-when I can hear—her."
Feeling her gaze on him, he glanced up. "H-her! I-I mean, y-you know who—sh-she... she's planning something! I-I don't want to f-find out what it is…!"
The lady frowned, but continued to prepare her food.
"P-please, c-can't you just s-stay?" His optic contracted as he gave her a desperate look. "J-just for tomorrow? I-in case she's p-planning something?"
He heard her heave a sigh, and then: "She's not here."
Wheatley twitched. "I-I know she's not—n-not right now, b-but she was…! I-I heard her, a-and she's p-planning something! I know she is! C-can't you listen to me? I-I really did hear her! Y-you have to—"
His eye aperture contracted to a pinprick, his handle hung limp, and his speech processor glitched to silence.
Her voice was not angry, exasperated, or even annoyed. Her gaze was turned on him, and she had a look in her eye—a look that was almost…
"GLaDOS is not going to come back."
Wheatley couldn't speak. He couldn't even emit a burst of surprised static. All he could do was stare at her in shock, and she stared right back. Eventually their gaze broke when she turned around to continue cooking, but he couldn't help continuing to stare.
For once, he had no idea what to say.
She went on with her dinner, and ate at the table with him sitting there. Every once in a while she would glance up at him, but neither of them spoke.
After a while, he found he wanted to speak—to express his worries to her about GLaDOS, to tell her about his anxiety and loneliness—but something held him back. Her words had been so firm, and there was a strength in them that he couldn't comprehend. They'd both been through a lot, but the fact that she had actually said that name, and said it without a trace of fear—
The lady stood up, placed her dishes in the sink, and returned to the table. She gazed into his optic, and tapped him on the right side.
Oh. It was time for that again. "I-I…" he started, finally finding his voice, "D-do we h-have to do this?"
"…All right." His optic and handle went limp in resignation. "G-go ahead, then."
Gently she grabbed his handle and set him on his left side. This was different—but maybe she'd already repaired all the wires on that side? She peered into his side before leaving to retrieve her tools.
Wheatley shut his optic. He hated—hated that she had to work on his wires, but everything had felt a lot better after the repairs yesterday. He just hoped she wouldn't have any slip-ups again, and that maybe it wouldn't hurt so badly this time…
He heard the light click on behind his optic, and drew a simulated breath. "J-just… get it over with," he mumbled.
There was a lapse where he didn't hear or feel anything, and suddenly there was a sharp pain as he felt her grab a wire, making him spark and shudder.
He flinched, opening his optic a little. "I-it's not that easy, y-you know? Y-you try staying still a-and not fidgeting around wh-when someone's messin' with your insides…!" But he complied, letting his optic and handle go limp again, and trying to force himself to not twitch or spark. He couldn't help giving a sharp gasp when she grabbed his wires again and began to twist them back together. His casing shook, and he fought the temptation to strain his optic to watch her.
He recalled that one of the ways humans responded to pain was to leak clear fluid from their eyes, and figured that's probably what he would be doing now if he could leak anything.
She had no idea, he knew, how much it hurt, but even if she did, there was probably nothing she could do to lessen his pain… other than putting him into sleep mode. Which was still disabled.
He shut his optic again and tried to bear it, forcing his mind away from the current situation. But all he could think about was what he'd heard earlier—what he'd heard her say. It was scary, but at least it didn't hurt, so he focused his processor on that until he began to ramble.
"I-I r-really did hear her," Wheatley said, keeping his optic shut, but failing to keep his voice steady. "Sh-she said she had a—a surprise, and—and you know her. No s-surprise is ever good w-with her." Twitch. He felt the lady pull away from him for a moment before going back to work, and the sharp, burning pain resumed. He quickly went back to rambling. "I-I really d-don't want to know wh-what it is… I-I hope you were right, a-about her n-not coming back, b-because I-I really don't w-want to see her again, e-ever…e-ev… er…"
But he was seeing something—but he'd shut his optic, hadn't he? But he was seeing something—a dark chamber, arms, claws, a yellow light, and something was pulling on his wires—
"Are you still there is that you oh no no no please tell me that's you and not her please stop please stop please—!"
Wheatley felt the lady's grip on his handle, and he was back in the house. The grip tightened, and he felt that simulated comfort that had been programmed into him—along with a real comfort of knowing she was there. His voice went up a pitch, though the gratefulness still shone through. "Th-thanks…"
The repairs resumed, and he shut his optic again, trying to shut out the pain. "I-I hope you're almost d-done, back there… are you?"
He tried to relax. "R-right. Almost. J-just—just a few more wires, then, j-just a few more…" He shuddered as he felt her apply the hot solder to another broken wire, sealing the two ends together. It hurt, but she said they were almost done. Almost done… almost…
And she sat him upright.
Wheatley opened his optic, blinking a few times as the burning pain slowly faded. He tilted one way in his casing, then another, back and forth. The poles and gears still grinded and squeaked, and the movement was not as easy as he would have liked, but he did not feel that sharp, burning pain. The only wires that remained severed were the ones where his lower handle used to be, but the rest were repaired.
"Oh… oh, man alive…!" He tilted himself back and forth, nearly knocking himself over. After a while, he actually did. But somehow he didn't care, and for once he found himself laughing. "Th-this feels amazing! It d-doesn't hurt! I-I mean, my casing d-does, a-and some of my other insides—b-but th-the wires don't hurt!" He laughed again, and after a moment, realized he was smiling. "Y-you fixed it! Th-thanks—thank you…!"
When Wheatley felt the lady set him upright, he smiled up at her, and for a moment, it looked like she was about to smile back—but then her expression turned serious. She wasn't staring him in the eye this time, but there was something about her that made him feel uneasy—like something she wasn't telling him. His smile faded, and so did the brightness in his optic. "Wh—what is it?"
She blinked, seeming to start out of her thoughts, and turned to look at the table. He thought she was just avoiding his gaze until he realized that she was actually looking at something—the dirt on the table. "Oh. …Wh-where did that come from?"
But then he remembered sitting in the dirt and leaf piles, back when she'd first brought him here; he'd never really gotten all the dirt off of him. Apparently she didn't like the dirt sitting around on her table, but that meant— "Oh, no. Y-you're not—!"
The lady's expression softened into an amused look, but somehow this was not comforting. He watched anxiously as she returned to the kitchen, grabbing a clean cloth and soaking it in water.
"A-ah, you don't n-need to do that! W-we cores can operate j-just fine w-with a little dirt in our s-systems. N-not a problem! Not a p-problem at all." He gave a nervous grin, but even that faded as he saw her wring the cloth into the sink and bring it over to him. "D… do you r-really have to do this?"
She nodded, and pressed the damp cloth against his side.
Wheatley shuddered, making a disgusted sound. He'd never really felt anything like that before, and found it was not pleasant in the slightest. As she rubbed the cloth against his casing, a thought occurred to him. "Wh-what if I sh-short-circuit?!" he exclaimed, cringing. "Th-that'd be the end of me, lady!"
But she only shook her head, and he swore he heard her give a quiet laugh. She was careful not to get the cloth into his innards, instead carefully cleaning the outside of his casing. She cleaned his panels, avoiding any ports he had, and scrubbed the dirt out of his cracks and scars. A few times she had to return to the sink to wash the dirt out of the cloth before continuing, and throughout all this, the core begrudgingly admitted to himself that it was making him feel a little better.
The damp cloth washed away not only the dirt he'd acquired from his trip to her house, but also the dirt and dust that had come from the facility so long ago. While he couldn't see it, he could feel it, and was surprised at how nice it felt to actually be clean.
When the lady moved on to clean his handle, he began to tremble—and, to the both of their surprise, giggle. "Th-that tickles," he admitted, embarrassed, but unable to stop laughing. By some miracle he managed to keep still enough for her to finish cleaning, and his giggles subsided. He figured by then she was done—until he felt the cloth against his face.
Wheatley froze up, optic contracting as he watched her. Carefully the lady scrubbed into the scratches on one side of his face and the deep scar on the other, and as she moved closer to his optic, he closed his eye shields. "Uh—" he stammered, suddenly feeling the cloth scrubbing against those. She was even more careful as she worked there, getting the grit out of the two scars that crossed over his metal eyelids. He kept his optic shut, even when he felt her stop, and waited until he was certain she was done before opening his optic again.
"W-well, that was—AAAGH!"
Without warning, the lady carefully rubbed the surface of his optic. She did this quickly, then rubbed over his optic again with a dry spot on the cloth. As soon as she pulled away, he blinked rapidly, aperture contracting and dilating back and forth a few times as his optic adjusted itself.
"R-really, lady, was that—wait, everything's clearer!" He blinked again, squinting his eye as he looked around, and his optic brightened at the confirmation—yes, he could see better. Granted, his vision was still split, but still! "Th-thanks!"
The lady nodded, using the cloth to wipe up the dirt on the table, and gave him a curious look.
"Yeah, I f-feel better… th-thanks again. G-gotta admit, though, cleaning's not the most—pleasant experience, b-but I do f-feel a lot better, yeah." He turned in his casing again, giving a pleased smile. "Guess w-we're done for tonight, then?"
She nodded again, setting the cloth aside and turning to examine him again. But then that one strange look came back—the one that he couldn't quite place. After looking him over, she reached out to touch his casing.
Wheatley was slowly getting used to the feeling, and didn't flinch this time. Her hand traveled along his right side until it came to a certain spot—and then he shuddered as she traced the welded scar. She noticed this, and gave him a questioning look.
His optic contracted. "N-no, it's—it's n-nothing," he stammered. "R-really, nothing happened, th-there." But when she gave him another look, he shook his face, shivering. "No—p-please… d-don't make me go back there."
Finally the lady pulled her hand away, nodding.
They stared at each other before a moment, and as always, Wheatley was the first to speak up. "Y-you… you'll keep me safe, right?"
She didn't hesitate. "Yes."
And once again, Wheatley could feel the strength behind her voice. He allowed himself to relax, his upper eye shield drooping. "Th-thanks… Means a l-lot to me," he said quietly.
The lady nodded and gathered up her things to put them away. Once that was done, she stopped by the table for a moment and looked toward her room. She seemed to contemplate something before giving a start, as though struck by an idea, and instead turned to head toward the front door.
"Lady?" Wheatley asked, blinking as he tried to follow her with his optic. Soon she was out of sight, and he could hear the door open and shut. "W-wait! Lady! Wh-where'd you go…?!"
Chell was only outside for less than a minute, but when she stepped through the door, she sighed at hearing the core's distressed cries.
"C-come back! A-are you back now? W-was that you coming th-through the door?"
She probably could have said something to reassure him, but he'd be able to see in a moment. Hoisting up the burden she carried in her arms, she kicked the door shut and marched into the living room, finally setting the stuff—a few logs of firewood—next to her fireplace. She stooped down to open the grate, and tossed the logs in.
"Wh-what's all that? What're you d-doing?" Wheatley called from his lonely spot on the table. At this angle he probably couldn't see what she was doing very well, but that would change in a moment. She ignored him for now, heading into her storage room to grab a box of matches, and returned to crouch down by the fireplace. She retrieved a match, struck it, and tossed it over the firewood. When it didn't light, she tried another one, and nodded in satisfaction when the fire was lit.
"Wh-what's—AAAGH! Th-there's a fire! Run for it, mate!"
Chell shut the grate with one hand and rubbed her forehead with the other. Rising, she walked into the core's line of sight and waved a dismissive hand before heading into her room to retrieve a book.
Though she owned a TV, she didn't watch it much, preferring to read instead. It was something she enjoyed doing every night after dinner, though she'd been reading in the living room until Wheatley came along. Since then, she'd been reading in her room, preferring to stay away from him. But on such a cold night, she felt it might be nice to sit and read by the fire.
And maybe it would calm Wheatley down. While he had few frayed wires left, he still seemed to have quite a few frayed nerves.
Striding back into the dining room and ignoring the core's frantic questions, she grabbed his handle with one hand and hoisted him off the table. She carried him over to the living room area, but stopped when she heard him emit a whimper.
"A—are you g-going to throw me i-in the fire?" he asked, pupil small and frame shuddering.
Chell tilted her head downward and lightly smacked it with the book she carried. "No."
"…O-oh." She heard the plink, plink of his blinking. "Th-then what is it, exactly, y-you're d-doing…?"
She was starting to wonder that herself, given how well the core was responding to it. With a sigh, she set him down on one end of the couch, and sat down on the other, kicking off her boots and settling against a pillow.
"Oh, th-this is… odd," Wheatley said. She glanced up, noting that he'd sunk into the cushion a bit from his weight, and the pillow next to him had tipped onto his side. It didn't appear to be hurting him, though, so she left him like that. "Is th-this what those beds in the extended r-relaxation center felt l-like?"
No, they felt like cheap motel beds. But he probably didn't know what that meant, so she just shrugged and opened her book.
The fire gradually grew brighter, flickering and filling the room with a warm, pleasant light. Chell was relieved to find that Wheatley was not panicking now, and even she was feeling a bit more relaxed. She turned to look out the nearest window, noting that the first snow of winter was finally starting.
"I-I guess, uh, f-fires aren't so bad, i-if you've got 'em b-boxed up like that..." he mumbled. Apparently whatever had happened to him had not involved the incinerator, since he wasn't yelling or dropping off into hallucinations at the moment. She hoped it would stay that way. "Must make things p-pretty warm f-for you humans… er, I-I think? Er—oh, a-are you reading?"
She wasn't, but nodded anyway, staring intently at her book.
"Oh. W-well, I'll just uh, s-speak… quieter then, yes." He resumed his ramble at a lower volume.
Chell glanced up briefly to make sure he wasn't staring at her, and turned her gaze completely on him, looking over his mangled form. She looked at the remaining frayed wires—the ones that stuck out where his lower handle should have been—and at all the dents in his casing. She tried to peer into his side, despite the poor lighting, and could barely see the broken poles inside. When he turned to look back at her, she quickly looked back at her book, frowning.
The truth was, she had no idea where to go from here.
She was not an engineer. She'd picked up a few odd skills from the different jobs she'd worked, but otherwise? She didn't know how to fix his broken mechanics, or even how to open his shell to get to the things. She didn't know how to fix the dents in his hull or the cracks in his casing—and even if she did, she probably didn't have the tools for it. Then there was his missing handle—how was she to replace that?
…But then, she'd never even set out to fully repair him. Chell could still remember what she'd determined to do, the day she dragged him away from that wheat field: give him a few repairs, and see if he was worth forgiving.
She'd fixed his vocal processor. She'd fixed his wiring. She'd cleaned his casing. Those were a few repairs. Those were what she had set out to do, and she'd done it. She hadn't completely forgiven him yet, but—
Chell blinked, turning to face the core, and stared.
"I-I—did you s-see that? I-I'm not sparking! Th-that bloody annoying t-twitch is gone! You m-must've fixed it when y-you repaired th-those wires!"
But that new revelation wasn't what had her staring—it was the fact that his optic was back to its original brilliant blue.
"Wh-what?" he asked, and the blue faded a little. "I-is something wrong?"
Yes. No. She shook her head, glancing down at the book.
"Oh. W-well… I w-was thinking…"
She let him ramble, and stared blankly at the pages in front of her. While he still retained that stutter, he was starting to sound more like his old self. But there was the fact that he was still very broken physically and… probably still very broken otherwise. There was nothing threatening around here now, but she got the feeling that if she reached out to him again and touched a scar, or asked him what had happened, or went to fix some other part of him, that would quickly change. She expected he would probably start seeing things in the middle of the night again and wake her up with his worried calls.
Part of her enjoyed just sitting here, listening to him talk about nothing. Back there, he was the first friendly voice she'd heard in years, and the same held true for the present. And, deep down, she felt a longing just to have someone who cared about her, and that she in turn would care for—someone she could listen to, and, on the rare occasions when she spoke, would listen to her.
Someone who could be a friend.
"So… d-d'you think you could?"
Chell looked up at him. He blinked, then glanced away.
"Oh. E-er, I mean… i-it's just a suggestion..." There was the "suggestion" thing again—why did he have to clarify? "Just… th-thought I'd s-suggest that… y-you might f-fix my s-sleep mode…? O-or my f-flashlight? One of the t-two might b-be nice…"
She nodded, though she had no idea how to fix either.
Wheatley's optic brightened again, and his lower eye shield pulled up in a smile. "Th-thanks...! Th-that would b-be tremendous." And he rambled on, going on about how great sleep mode could be and how handy having a flashlight was.
Chell set her book aside, just listening to the core talk. She wasn't going to get any reading done tonight, but that was fine by her. Maybe if she kept listening, she might have more pleasant dreams.
For once, the night didn't feel so lonely.
Even though the lady had gone to bed, Wheatley didn't feel so bad about staying out here by himself. It had been wonderful to just sit there and talk with her—even if she never really talked back—and not think about the state he was in or what had happened before. Even though he wasn't on his management rail and they weren't traveling through the facility, it still gave him pleasant memories of old times.
True, she still hadn't really forgiven him yet, but that was the key word—yet. She'd seemed content to just sit by him and listen to him talk, and she hadn't gotten mad at him, so clearly he was doing something right for once. And after making mistake after mistake all his life, it felt good to do something right.
It also felt good to sit somewhere other than that cold dining room table. Not that he was really bothered by temperature, unless things got far too hot, but there was something about sitting here that brought a comfortable warmth to his frame. Even though it was a little odd to sit on something soft—he was used to the metal surfaces all around Aperture.
Wheatley lifted his handle, pushing against the pillow that was still tipped against his side. "No, d-definitely not used to th-this," he mumbled. "Not bad, th-though." Anything was better than sitting on that table, or lying in that chamb—no don't think about that.
He shuddered, but settled into the cushion, allowing his optic to go limp. It was hard keeping it up and moving it around all the time, with parts of his innards still broken… but it wouldn't be like that for long! He laughed a little, tilting back and forth as he enjoyed the lack of pain in his wires and the absence of that painful twitch. "Man alive, i-if it feels th-this much better with j-just the wires repaired, then…" He closed his optic.
He still hurt, of course, but now he didn't feel so bad about it. The hurt was not going to stay. The damage was not going to stay. The lady was going to forgive him soon. And that little spark of hope he'd felt before had grown to engulf him completely.
Everything was going to be all right.
Morning came more quickly than Wheatley had expected—not that he was complaining. "H-hello!" he called, seeing the lady come out of her room. She nodded to him in greeting, but in what seemed like a more friendly way than before, and headed into the kitchen.
He turned his optic to try to see her, but she'd gone out of his view. "O-oh, I guess there is a d-disadvantage to s-sitting here," he said, tilting his optic. "D-do you think you could m-move the kitchen?"
"…Okay, n-new plan. Move th-the couch—yeah, th-that might be a better idea—uh, suggestion."
Still no response, and Wheatley was about to suggest that she just try making breakfast in the living room when he felt her grab his handle and hoist him into the air. He cried out in surprise, but blinked when she set him back on the table. "…Oh, yeah, th-that works too."
She gave him an amused look before going back to preparing her breakfast.
"Th-thanks again for fixin' me up a-and all," he said. He shut his optic and turned in his casing. "R-really, feels t-tremendous! D-doesn't hurt so m—urk!"
He froze, eye shields widening and pupil contracting to a pinprick when he realized part of his insides had caught on his dented casing. "U-uh… H-hang on, I've g-got this—" Shutting his optic, he concentrated on getting himself un-stuck, tugging against his broken innards until he broke free, sending a shock of pain throughout his body. "Ow—!"
The lady turned, giving him a concerned look.
Wheatley's vocal processor simulated panting as his optic went limp. "Ow… Uh—j-just got s-stuck there f-for a sec," he said, feeling dazed. But he looked up, optic brightening a little. "B-but you'll be fixing that soon, s-so it's all right!"
She stared at him for a moment before her expression changed, but she turned around before he could figure out just what it was.
It made him a little nervous. "E-er, but if you d-don't want to f-fix that part—uh, y-you could fix my s-sleep mode, n-next? R-really handy thing, that. Then i-it won't be s-so bad when you leave a-and all." He lifted his lower eye shield in a slight smile, but it faded when she didn't respond. "…Or not? I-if you don't—"
"I'll try," she said, not turning around.
"Oh! Brilliant." Wheatley relaxed. "I-it'll be so nice having th-that back!"
He watched as the lady finished cooking and brought her breakfast to the table to eat. "I-I know you have to w-work, and all, b-but it does g-get—er—a b-bit lonely here. B-but if I can go into s-sleep mode, I-I won't have to think a-about that! W-won't think about anything, actually. S'all d-dreamless. And… th-thoughtless. Y-yes."
He watched as she ate, thinking about the things she'd said yesterday. It still amazed him that she'd had the courage to say her name, and that she'd actually said his name! But then…
Wheatley tilted a little in his casing. "D-do you have a n-name?"
She looked up. If she was surprised, she hid it well.
"Oh. U-um, I-I guess I sh-should have asked that—um—a-a while ago, yes," he mumbled, glancing aside. "B-back when I f-found out y-you could talk, but… I-I hadn't th-thought of it, then. O-or before. Only knew you b-by your room name—A113. Th-that's—that's not your name, is—?"
He looked back at her, eye widening in realization. "Th-that's your name? Chell?"
"Chell," he repeated, tilting in his casing as he tried the name. "Chell, Chell, Chell... I-it's a bit odd a-as far as human names go, isn't it?"
She rolled her eyes, standing up and retrieving her plate.
"Oh! S-sorry about—th-that was a bit insensitive. It's—it's a nice name! Y-yes, very nice. Chell, y-yes. Very nice." He watched as she put the plate in the sink and began gathering her things together. "L-leaving already…?"
Wheatley drooped. "W-well… s-see you tonight, then?"
She swung a bag over her shoulder, then grabbed him as she passed by the table. Before he could ask just what she was doing, she set him back on the couch where he'd been last night.
"Oh! Th-thanks," he said, turning to watch her as she headed toward the door. Just before she was out of his line of sight, he saw her turn and give a small wave before heading out.
The door shut, and he was alone.
The fact made him droop again, but he tried to look on the bright side. "W-well… Sh-she'll be back again tonight, and sh-she'll fix my sleep mode! S-so I can just shut down f-for a while next time." He heaved a sigh, but more of a contented one, tilting a little in his casing. This time he was more careful to not get himself stuck, but it was still a nice feeling. "Th-the lady—Chell—sh-she's been doing a b-brilliant job with these r-repairs! Man alive, i-it'll be so nice t-to not hurt anymore, and to n-not get stuck, a-and to move better, and to s-sleep, and to have a f-flashlight, and… and maybe I-I'll get my l-lower handle back! Oh… N-not gonna take my mechanisms for g-granted anymore, th-that's for sure."
Wheatley settled into the couch, though he grumbled a little when the pillow tipped over against his side again. Oh well. Everything was going better now, and soon he'd be back to normal!
He sat there, losing track of time as he thought about how great it would be to be fully repaired, and what would happen after that—maybe he could convince her to build him a management rail or something, so he could move around! And then he would talk to her every night, and maybe she could make one of those fires in that box in the wall again—that was pretty nice—and then maybe she would forgive him soon! And…
Wheatley blinked, slowly becoming aware of a faint tapping noise somewhere nearby. "Wh-what—"
And the window shattered.