She's begun to associate him with the color of the sky and the smell of herbal tea. Glasses, too, and short blond hair in disarray all are him in her mind. Not round glasses though; black, rectangular, modern glasses are his sort of style. He's always in some form of rumpled undress, like he honestly couldn't pay enough attention to get dressed properly in the mornings.
Everything about him, even the idiocy, is endearing to her. She can never take him seriously, which she knows irks him to some extent. But she's never unkind, not on purpose, and she feels like he understands the problem of saying things you don't mean without thinking first. He does it, too, although it never visibly bothers her as much as it does him.
He's so easy to influence, too - a few words here and there and he's strutting about like a pigeon with its feathers fluffed. She doesn't need to say much to get him going, because he still can't quite believe that there's someone out there who isn't leading him on (at least he hopes she isn't) and he's unsure as to how long this fascination will last, so he intends to make the best of it. A little unhealthy, sure, but Wheatley can't bring himself to care because she actually listens, and it's wonderful.
At this point he doesn't doubt she could make him jump through hoops if she wanted, which only makes it all the better when she doesn't. Most people who listen to him tend to want something from him, but she's got no rhyme or reason and she sticks around, he thinks, because he's willing to put up with her if she does the same to him.
After a few weeks and after they're what could be considered friends (a development that surprised both parties), she's much more comfortable with him now and she asks a lot more questions than she did when they started. He, too, doesn't feel like he has to think so much before he says something because he doesn't really fear being judged anymore, not by her. She's possibly the least judgmental person he knows and she can take any topic he throws at her in stride.
It's nice, this mutual friendship thing. Wheatley thinks he could get used to this.
"Why are people so stupid, Wheatley?"
He nearly chokes on his water because he hadn't heard her come up beside him, and he struggles to swallow the liquid before he spits it up all over his front. It burns as it goes down the wrong pipe and he splutters and coughs for a few minutes, eyes watering. The fear of actually dying here, in this moment, passes across his mind before he manages to drag in a ragged breath, then another, and the coughing subsides until he's left with slightly rough breathing and embarrassment sufficient to fill several bathtubs.
"Sorry, what?" is his intelligent response.
She purses her lips, folding her arms around her ribs. She isn't happy; that is her 'I am not happy as of this moment' stance and he can recognize it a mile away at this point. She doesn't employ it often but when she does it's always for a good reason. She repeats her question.
He begins to panic. Is this a segue into the topic of his own stupidity? Has she finally grown tired of him? What had he done wrong?
"Oh, well." Wheatley flounders. "There are, uh, a-a number of reasons why people could be... less intelligent, than others. Um... Education! That's one, yes, a bad education growing up. And laziness, you know, not studying in school and the like." He fiddles with his hands as he speaks, nearly sweating under his collar because a part of him knew this sort of thing was inevitable, it always happens at one point or another, but it's too soon, isn't it? It feels too soon to him. "Oh, also, trauma, possibly. Or some sort of brain damage or - or..."
His voice dwindles as the feeling of giving up overwhelms him. He can't delay this forever by chattering on, although a very large part of him desperately wants to.
He grimaces in an uneasy attempt at a smile, and his voice is small. "Just who are we talking about, here?"
"No one. Everyone. I don't know, people in general." She grimaces, oblivious, as always, to his discomfort, to his mixed relief and irk. "We had a particularly... special test subject in today. He didn't comprehend the concept of putting the cube on the button." She places a hand over her face like she can see the man before her now and she's extremely embarrassed on his behalf. "He kept on standing on the button and waiting until the doors opened before rushing for it..."
"...Oh." Wheatley feels some of his panic subside. The topic hasn't shifted to him yet, anyways. "Didn't you give him hints? You're allowed to do that, aren't you? Hint-giving?"
"We spelled it out for him without explicitly stating it, which would of course render the test a moot point, but he didn't feel inclined to listen. He opposes positions of authority, apparently, kept on shouting up at us that he would do it his way and 'break the system'."
"So what happened?"
"Oh, no, it's still going on, but it's at a stalemate. I was there for two hours before I managed to get transferred to a different track." There's a small smile on her face now, although it's a slightly rueful thing. Wheatley scoffs a laugh despite himself, and she sighs tiredly. "I left feeling greatly discouraged about the collective intelligence of the human race, thus, my question to you."
"That's understandable. Some people just don't have common sense," he says, some feeling of superiority empowering him because even he could follow the simple direction of 'put cube on button'. "There are some who've got it, you know, and some who don't. It's unfortunate but it's true." He pauses, the original reason for his paranoia washing over him again, and he asks timidly, "But... just for the record, okay, so I know where I stand - or where you think I stand, I mean, because I know where I stand, obviously, but I was just wondering - um, have I got it?"
"Have you got what?" She furrows her brow at him, his question sailing right over her head. Blimey, can she be oblivious. It still boggles him that smart people can be so dumb at times. Because she is smart: there's a reason she works in the labs and wears a white coat with one of those fancy laminated IDs pinned to it.
"You know..." He wets his lips quickly out of nervous habit. "D'you think I've got the stuff? I mean, I know I'm not always the sharpest tool in the shed, but I'd like to think that I'm, er, passably clever. At least. I-I mean-" He's bumbling now, and he knows it, but he can't stop. "I don't want to sound presumptuous, but I know I could figure out that test track, and I think that maybe I'd be a decent test subject, too, if it, uh, ever came to that - not that I'm asking to be a subject!" Wheatley adds hastily as she opens her mouth. "No, that is quite possibly the last - well, one of the last - in the general category of things that I do not want, and it's pretty high on the list. Being a test subject. Which is not desired. In any way. I'll stop now." And he bites down on the inside of his cheek to do so, knowing that he'll talk forever if he lets himself.
"You're asking if I think you're smart." He winces; why couldn't he have phrased it like that? She continues to look at him like she's genuinely confused, and he's starting to be confused too, because he thought it was a pretty simple question the way she said it. "I don't understand," she says blankly. "Why does my opinion matter to you?"
He blinks once, twice, clears his throat, and mulls over the question. "I, well." He scratches at the back of his head, staring at the ceiling thoughtfully. "I care what other people think," he says finally, his voice quiet.
"You shouldn't. It's not healthy." Again with the deadpan expression, like not caring is the simplest thing in the world. And for her, it probably is, but Wheatley is not Cadence and he cares too much. And worries too much. And generally thinks too much. "You're over-thinking it," she voices his thoughts, pressing a thumb sideways to the center of his forehead and leaning closer to smile kindly. "Yes, Wheatley, you're not the smartest person I know." His expression falls, but she forces him to keep looking at her, her eyes infinitely patient. "But being too smart is detrimental; it can often lead to psychotic episodes and a lack of empathy or understanding between the geniuses and the common folk. Being too smart causes wars, Wheatley. People die because they're too smart, or other people are too smart, or too dumb. There's no happy medium. You, however, are just the right combination for me."
"For you?" he asks, frowning. She nods sagely.
"Everyone's got a preference. Some people like to surround themselves with people as smart as them, so they feel like equals, or people they feel are less smart than them, so they can feel superior."
"Which are you?" He dares to ask the question, finding himself afraid of the answer.
"The former, of course." She smiles again and casually leans backwards. "You try too hard, Wheatley, but that's what makes you great. Other people can laugh, but the people worth knowing never will."
Wheatley is quiet for a few moments, absorbing this burst of spontaneous wisdom, before looking back up at her and blinking owlishly. "Blimey, you're a genius," he remarks, eyes wide in awe, and she actually looks embarrassed.
"No, I'm not." Cadence shrugs his comment away. "I just ask questions."
It's only when he's sitting back in his cubicle with his fingers poised over the keyboard that he realizes she had answered his question in a roundabout way. The former, of course.
She considers them as equals.
Them. As equals. Cadence and Wheatley. Little, bumbling, insignificant Wheatley, is smart. To her, at least - and in the end, that is enough.
For the rest of the week he has a distinct bounce in his step, and his entire face aches with the smile that hasn't left it for a second.
Very light, very happy. Actually kind of fluffy, in retrospect. Don't worry. I'll fix it soon.