…Well, here we are again. I hope it is such a pleasure… This story here has been finished for quite some time, but I have been reluctant to upload it. But the few people I showed this to enjoyed it, so I suppose I will put it up here.
This story is a continuation of the little series I have on this account—A Little Test, A Few Repairs, and Rust. I would recommend reading at least the last two of those in order for you to make sense of this one. (The first story is optional; I wrote the second one in such a way that the reader would not have to read the first story to understand it.)
Warnings… Well, there are a few flashbacks relating to torture here (hence why I bumped up the rating from the last story), as well as some repairs. So if you are unsettled by that sort of thing, you may want to turn back. If not, then read on.
Chell was exhausted.
She swore that this had been the longest day of work she'd ever had, and not just because she'd had to work thirty extra minutes after closing. Her co-workers had been getting on her back more often than normal, she'd gotten a nasty bruise on her leg from banging it into some of the equipment, and to top it off, it had snowed an extra five inches while she was at work, making the trek home rather miserable.
But when she stepped through the door, she felt a faint smile cross her face at the excited voice that greeted her:
"Chell! You d-did come back! I-it took you a lot longer th-than normal, s-so I was worried something had h-happened—"
She cut Wheatley off by giving his upper handle a squeeze, and felt any tension he may have had leave him. With a quiet laugh, she hoisted him off the couch and set him on the dining room table. His optic was showing its full range of blue, which was a welcome sight—it meant he wasn't nervous or scared, so she wouldn't have to worry about trying to calm him down right after getting home from work. Patting him lightly on the top of his hull, she made her way to the kitchen to prepare a quick dinner.
"S-still reading that b-book you gave me," he said as he watched. "N-not finished, but—but I'm enjoying it, r-really. Nice t-to be able to do something o-other than… s-sit around, you know? …Th-though I did lose my p-place, a-and it took me a while to get back. Still!"
Chell smiled again as she dumped the contents of a can of soup into a bowl. She had given him a book to read to help keep his mind off of things, and apparently it was working. She put the soup in the microwave and began heating it, finding herself leaning her head against the counter after she did so.
"Y-you all right?"
She stood up straight, nodding quickly.
"Oh! G-great. So…" Wheatley's voice trailed off.
That had her concerned, and she looked back at the core, who stared at her for a second before glancing away. He remained quiet for a while, and just when Chell was debating speaking up, the microwave gave a few beeps, indicating that her chicken noodle soup was ready.
Retrieving the bowl from the microwave and a spoon from the drawer, she sat down at the table and began to eat. Wheatley watched, as he always did, and out of the corner of her eye she noticed a slight hesitance about him.
"Um," he started before simulating a gulp, "s-so are we going with the plans t-tonight?"
Chell coughed at the noodles that stuck in her throat. Great. She'd forgotten that she'd promised Wheatley that she would have a look at him tonight. It had been a while since she'd actually been able to help him, and to be honest, she'd been putting it off. The last thing she'd done after re-enabling his sleep mode was simply peering into his casing, but the mangled poles within him were an intimidating sight. She still didn't know how to fix him.
But Wheatley had been growing impatient. While the idea of Chell's fiddling with his insides seemed to make him uneasy, he probably didn't like having to deal with his broken mechanics constantly, either. She couldn't blame him—the sounds he made whenever he moved were not pleasant, and she couldn't imagine they felt much better.
Swallowing the tangle of noodles and chicken broth, Chell nodded at the core. At the very least, she could take another look to see if there was anything she missed.
"O-oh, great," Wheatley replied, optic contracting a little. "T-tremendous."
She tensed a little at seeing the core's expression, but didn't let it show. She hoped this wouldn't end with him going through a flashback or panicking—she couldn't deal with that tonight. While she knew he couldn't help it, it didn't make dealing with him any easier.
Swallowing another gulp of food, she looked into his optic. "What happened last in the book?"
Wheatley blinked, and his aperture relaxed. "Oh! Well, th-that little guy, Bilbo, fell down i-into a cave, and t-talked to some creepy b-bloke. L-lots of riddles—I t-tried to guess s-some of them, but I w-was a bit off. R-really, though, they were a l-little advanced, y-you know? A—a bit beyond the Machiavellian level…"
Chell smiled a little, letting him ramble on about his book. That would keep his mind off of what she was going to do later, and the less nervous he was at the start, the better. She finished her quick dinner and deposited the bowl into the sink, nodding at every few sentences of Wheatley's monologue. His speech slowed and his stutter increased when she passed out of his sight and headed to the storage room, but she called out to him that she was still listening, and he went on.
When she came back to the table, she had little with her—just a screwdriver and a flashlight—but she didn't let Wheatley know. She set the objects behind him, and gently set him on his side.
"A-and—oh… oh, y-you're going to start, n-now?"
Chell nodded, stepping away so that she was just out of his sight, and leaned against the table. Goodness she was tired, and she knew she wouldn't be able to focus to see much of anything useful. But after taking a moment to rest, she stood up, picking up the flashlight and shining it down into the opening on the core's side.
The usual sight of broken poles, cracked and dented metal, and exposed wires glared back at her, and she knew no more about fixing any of it than she did the last time she'd looked.
"S-so, um, wh-what're you going to d-do, Ch-Chell…?" came Wheatley's nervous voice. His optic had contracted to a pinprick, but that may have been from the light—she hoped it was.
Instead of replying verbally, she let her free hand fall onto one of his handles, rubbing it gently. It was better than admitting she didn't know.
After a moment, Chell let go of the handle and picked up her screwdriver, for all the good it would do her. She used it to move a couple stray wires aside, hoping she might find some part of him she would be able to fix and knowing she would find nothing. She turned the flashlight this way and that, the light bouncing off the abused metal at unnatural angles. It was an annoying effect, so she refocused the flashlight, peering into the wall of his casing. Maybe she could try to do something to smooth out those dents… but she couldn't think… of anything… nothing… at the…
"AAGH—" CLANK "—Uuugh…!"
Chell gave a start, standing up straight and blinking. It took her a moment to realize that she'd dozed a little, letting the screwdriver slip out of her hand. Her stomach gave a jump when she realized that it was now wedged between a couple of the broken poles, and she quickly went to retrieve it. It took a moment, as Wheatley was trembling the entire time she worked to pull the foreign object out of his innards, and he gave a sharp yelp when she finally got it out.
"Ooooh… th-that hurt…" he moaned, optic rolling a little. "D-did… did that do something? D-did you fix…?"
Heaving a sigh, Chell turned so that Wheatley could see her and shook her head. Setting her tools aside, she set the core upright and gently brushed her hand over his upper handle. "Sorry," she said quietly.
Wheatley stared for a moment before an unmistakable look of disappointment crossed his optic. "…Oh." He tried to smile anyway, but it didn't quite come through. He forced a laugh instead. "I-it's all right. B-but are you—d-done?"
She nodded slowly and debated telling him about how horrible and exhausting her day had been, but decided against it. The last thing she wanted was for him to start worrying about her again—he had enough to worry about, and she didn't want to cause him any more anxiety than he already had. It wouldn't be good for either of them. "I'll try again later," she said, stifling a yawn.
"R-right," he said, glancing away.
Sighing again, Chell took a hold of Wheatley's upper handle, lifting him off the table and hauling him to her room. She noted his gaze on her and tried to give him a brief smile as she set him down on his usual spot on her bed. He'd been sleeping there for the past few nights, having made it a little while without nightmares. It was a welcome change, and both of them had been doing better because of it.
"T-time to sleep already?" Wheatley asked, tilting a little in his casing. "B-but it feels like you just got here."
She nodded, covering her mouth as she yawned. "I'm tired tonight," she finally admitted, leaving him on the bed as she walked into her bathroom to get ready for bed. It didn't take her long, and soon she was crawling under the covers, glancing over at the blue light that observed her from the other side of the bed. "Good night."
"G'night," he replied, heaving a simulated sigh. He shut his optic, and with a quiet whir, drifted off into sleep mode.
Chell pulled another blanket over her body and snuggled into the warmth of the covers, relieved to feel her sore muscles finally relax after such a long day. Though… she felt bad for not only failing to help repair Wheatley, but also dozing off while doing so. She would have to make it up to him later.
With one last glance at the sleeping core, she turned away from him and soon drifted off.
"N… n-no, don't… don't…"
Chell blinked, eyes narrowing as she slowly came to. The red digits of her alarm clock blared 12:38, and she heaved a sigh, trying to settle back to sleep.
"P-please… just stop…"
The mattress shuddered a little, and Chell turned to see Wheatley shivering periodically in his sleep and mumbling to himself. "J-just stop… p-please…" he muttered, then shivered again.
Well, great. He was having nightmares again. But it was past midnight, and Chell had a full day of work ahead of her—did she really need to wake him up and settle him down? She watched him for a minute, but he didn't appear to be in any obvious distress—he was shivering, yes, but he was still sitting upright, and his mumbling seemed more tired than upset. But the shivering and mumbling were just distracting enough to keep her awake, which was a problem.
Biting her lip, Chell carefully sat up, debating just what she should do about the sleeping core. She could wake him up, but then she would have to work to calm him down, and that might eat up as much as an hour of her sleep. She could also move him, though that would be tricky, and he would probably guilt trip her in the morning for not waking him up. Still, it would be faster than the other option, and, Chell reasoned, she did need to get a sufficient amount of sleep if she wanted to be able to help him at all.
With a decisive air, Chell slid out of bed, careful to tread lightly on the carpet. Any squeak of the floor beneath might wake him up, and her voice definitely would, so she kept as quiet as possible. Walking around to the other side of the bed (and opening her door so she wouldn't have to do that while carrying Wheatley), she reached out to grab his handle at first, but quickly realized that might wake him up as well, given how sensitive the handles were. That meant she would need to pick him up by his sides, which would be a pain, but if she didn't want to wake him up…
Chell drew in a silent breath, reaching both her hands underneath the core and heaving him up into her arms. He wasn't light, and carrying him in this way didn't make things any easier, but the action did not interrupt his sleep mode. He shuddered again, but did not wake.
Eyes narrowing in concentration, she carried the core out of her room and into the living room, where she carefully set him on the couch. As an afterthought, she moved his book closer to his lower handle to give him something to do, should he wake during the night or before she did. Throughout the whole thing, the core remained unconscious, shivering and occasionally mumbling to himself, but now that he was out here, those actions would not keep her awake. With a smile, she returned to her room and shut the door.
As Chell settled back under the covers, she wondered if she'd done the right thing. While this wasn't the first time she'd left Wheatley trapped in a nightmare like that, it was the first time she'd moved him out of her room. Not that he'd been staying in her room a lot—she'd only let him sleep there within the past couple weeks on occasion to help him with his nightmares. But as the room around her began to fade, she reasoned that she really couldn't help him if she wasn't getting enough sleep at night. It was for the best.
…At least, she hoped so.
When her alarm went off the next morning, Chell woke up feeling rested, but also a little guilty, especially after seeing the wrinkles on her blanket that marked where Wheatley had been sitting before she moved him. But he didn't appear to be so upset at the moment; there were no panicked cries sounding from the living room, so that was a good sign. With a confident nod, she slipped out of bed and began to get ready for her day.
It wasn't until she was putting her hair in its usual ponytail that she finally heard it:
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH! Wh-what—where did—but I was—wh-what—oh no—Chell, CHELL!"
So much for that. Chell quickly looped her hair through the hair tie before rushing out into the living room as cries of "Where'd you go?!" and "D-did she take you—?!" rang out around her. As soon as she approached the front of the couch, the cries fell silent.
Wheatley stared up at her with a look she couldn't immediately place, which was strange, given how poorly he usually hid his emotions. She managed a smile, however, reaching and giving his lower handle a squeeze.
But the core didn't respond with his usual gratefulness or relief. Instead, he tilted in his casing as he looked at her through slightly narrowed eye shields. "Y—you took me outside," he said quietly, and then his expression was clear: confusion, surprise, and betrayal. "I-I was having a—a sleep hallucination, and…"
Chell felt her stomach begin to knot, and she slowly nodded. "I needed to sleep," she began, but it sounded like a flimsy excuse when she actually said it, even if it wasn't.
"Oh." Wheatley blinked. "I-I… I see how it is, then." His eye shields narrowed a little more. "S'all right to l-let poor ol' Wheatley h-have his s-sleep-h-hallucinations if y-you need to s-sleep."
Well, here it goes again. She sighed, trying to further explain herself. "I can't fix you unless I can get enough sleep."
"Oh—oh… sure, sure, I'm sure that' s—th-that's why you did that. 'Cause—'cause you need your sleep, and you're s-so much more important th-than me, r-right?
Chell frowned—this wasn't the first time he'd guilt-tripped her, but something about the way he was talking felt different. Nonetheless she shook her head at his accusations; he was just upset, and he knew what he was saying wasn't actually true.
"D-don't give me th-that—I know h-how you humans think!"
Okay, maybe not. Wait, humans—?
"'Oooh, I'm t-too tired to deal with th-that Wheatley. But who c-cares, he's j-just a—j-just a stupid robot, isn't he? Let's just make up something to tell 'im—s-some excuse, a-and he'll believe it, 'cause h-he's just a gullible moron.' Y-yeah, s'how it a-always is."
Why was he…? Chell's frown deepened, and she shook her head again. "Wheatley—"
"N-no! I-I know how i-it is," he growled, eye shields narrowing further and optic contracting. "Y-you don't r-really care a-about me—th-that's how it always is! Th-that's why"—his voice cracked—"why you h-haven't tried f-fixing me in weeks—lazy—j-just think it's good enough, d-don't you?"
Before she could even open her mouth to counter, he went on.
"Y-yeah, good enough, n-nevermind that it s-still hurts every bloody t-time I move—not th-that you'd know wh-what I'm talking about."
She drew in a breath, fighting against the anger that was boiling within her. He's just upset, he's just upset, she told herself, but that tone combined with that voice filled her mind with images—ones she didn't want to remember—the timer and the bombs and the reek of neurotoxin and the broken panels and the fires in the distance—
"Y-you can move around all you like w-with that body of y-yours, nothing b-broken, a-all in one piece, w-walkin' about without a c-care in the world, wh-while I'm s-stuck like this! Y-you—you don't know a bloody th-thing I went through, b-being r-ripped a-apart by her a-and—" He broke off for a moment, optic contracting sharply and a shudder racking his casing, but he fought to recover, though his voice still trembled with half-suppressed sobs and unsuppressed anger. "A-and obviously y-you don't care wh-when th-those times come back t-to haunt me—no, j-just toss th-that stupid robot b-back on the couch s-so you can go into your bloody sleep mode a-and not have to deal with him b-because you don't really care!"
She'd already reached her breaking point, but before she could open her mouth, he pushed it further:
"Y-you've never cared—AND STILL DON'T!"
The sound of flesh striking metal, accompanied by a shout, rang throughout the small house.
And for a long moment, everything was still.
Chell stared down at the core, whose optic had contracted sharply to a shuddering pinprick, his eye shields wide. His whole body, not just his face, was cocked slightly to the side, and slowly she became aware of the throbbing pain in her hand, which she was still holding off to the side. The handprint—her handprint—on the side of his hull was just starting to fade.
But more than that, she began to realize the two syllables that had left her mouth, ones that she'd wanted to say to him before, long ago, when he'd been ranting at her in that exact same tone of voice but under different circumstances—
She lowered her hand, and he cringed badly, flinching away from her. The mechanics within him ground noisily, but he seemed to take no notice, with his optic—that tiny dot of light—still focused on her.
Part of her wanted to apologize, but the other part was still reeling in anger. Without another word, she stormed into the kitchen to make breakfast. But she hardly paid attention to what she was doing, still fuming over the core's angry rant. He'd guilt tripped her before, usually just to try to get her to feel sorry for him, but to outright accuse her of not caring…
What did he think she'd been doing all this time? Why did he think she'd taken him in, spent so much of her free time fixing what she could, talking with him, being there for him, comforting him, staying up late to help him deal with his nightmares, risking her very life just to save his—how could that little wretch be so ungrateful?!
She was done with her breakfast quickly, and was soon out of the house without as much as a "goodbye." But as she slammed the door shut behind her, her anger began to drain, leaving her with an agonizingly empty feeling within. For the first time in over a month, she began to regret bringing the core home.
He was from there, after all. Why should she have expected any good from him?
Work was slow. Chell tried to ignore her co-workers, too angry and upset to even want to think about dealing with them, but it only seemed to make the clock tick by slower. While she tried to focus on her work—just her work, not anyone else around her—her mind would drift back into unwelcome territory, where she would see that oversized mechanical eye glaring down at her, taunting her, yelling at her, and why did she think he would change, why did she think he would ever be any better than that, why…
At one point she came out of the memory to find herself leaning her head into her arm, and her arm against a shelf, and there was a wetness around her face. Angry at herself, she scrubbed the tears away and resumed her work, trying to force the thoughts out of her head.
There was also a guilt deep within her over how she'd lashed out at him like that—he was still recovering, and it wasn't like she hadn't lashed out at others after she'd just gotten out of there. But she didn't want to think about that, and again forced the thoughts out of her mind.
Work seemed twice as long as usual as she struggled with her emotions, but finally it was over, and she trudged back home through the snow. As she made her way through the darkness, using a small flashlight to guide herself back to her house, she felt an emptiness within, knowing what awaited her. And as she opened the door and stepped into the house, she found her suspicions confirmed:
No cheerful, relieved voice greeted her when she stepped through the door. No whirring and creaking of gears. Nothing.
Stepping over to the couch, Chell found Wheatley where she'd left him. His optic was still contracted to a pinprick, but his upper eye shield had lowered quite a bit, giving him a pathetic, hopeless expression. But when the floor creaked beneath her feet, his optic turned a little, and suddenly he jerked back, his gears groaning in protest. But he kept tugging at himself, looking like he was trying to duck back into his own casing, squirming his handles until he finally tipped over and rolled onto his face. His body shivered periodically.
But still he said nothing.
Part of her felt sick at seeing him like this, seeing him scared of her, but the other part tried to shove the emotion away. She didn't want to talk to him, anyway.
So she made her dinner, took a shower, and tried to sit down and read, to forget about him for a while. At least she wouldn't have to deal with his keeping her up that night.
But when she finally lay down to go to sleep, she found it difficult to settle her thoughts, as tired as she was. Everything felt wrong, and soon she realized it was because of how dead silent the house was, because she hadn't heard his voice since that morning. And she couldn't get rid of the guilt that ate at her for striking him, for yelling at him just for being exhausted and hurt, but her stubbornness held onto the grudge.
It was over an hour before she finally drifted off, but before she did, a thought occurred to her:
Maybe tenacity wasn't always a good thing.
Chell woke up to her alarm, sitting up as she waited for her thoughts to reassemble themselves. Soon yesterday's events came back to her, and she found herself not feeling quite as angry about Wheatley's outburst. As she got ready for the day—her last workday of the week—she wondered if he would say something to her this morning. Wheatley, of all people—of all things—couldn't stay quiet for this long, could he?
But when she finally walked out into the living room, she found him lying face-down on the couch like he'd been the night before, still silent. She approached him, and with a couple of nasty creaks, his optic turned within him until it was peeking out the side of his casing. It looked, she had to admit, absolutely bizarre. He was too scared to even turn to directly face her, and yet too scared to not watch her.
Once again she found herself wanting to do something to help him, but the stubbornness within her tried to smother the urge. She didn't say anything to him—she didn't have time, she reasoned—and went to the kitchen to make breakfast. The guilt still nagged at her, but she tried to ignore it, trying to focus on the fact that she needed to get to work on time. So, once again, she left the house without saying a word to him, but didn't slam the door this time.
She arrived at work fifteen minutes early.
Stop doing this to him.
Chell rubbed her forehead, trying to ignore the guilt that was eating at her. But it was getting harder even for her to keep up her stubbornness, for she lacked the anger to back it up.
He's hurting. He's depressed. You were the same way years ago. You don't have to be so harsh. How long is it going to take you now to get his trust back?
She felt her stomach knotting in guilt, and bit her lip as she looked at the clock. The hours were dragging, but for an entirely different reason than yesterday. I need to go back. I need to make sure he's okay—I need to… apologize.
Part of her wondered if this was how he'd felt before he found her again—waiting, waiting until he'd see her again, just so he could apologize…
Chell left work as soon as the clock struck five. It didn't matter that that particular clock was a few minutes fast—she had more important matters to settle.
When Chell finally got home, she immediately rushed to the couch, and felt sick upon seeing that Wheatley wouldn't even look at her now. He was still turned onto his face, his handles limp. Drawing in a breath, she reached out to him, grabbing him by his upper handle and pulling him upright.
With a horrid grinding noise, his optic turned up, and he began to shake uncontrollably, flailing his handles—or trying to, though it was harder with her grip on his upper handle—and trying to retreat into his casing again, but she squeezed the handle tightly, kneeling down until she was level with him.
"Wheatley," she said, and he froze, though he still shuddered, "I'm sorry."
He stared at her for a while, his optic giving a questioning look, and she sighed, taking a seat on the couch next to him.
"Yes," she said at length. "It's all right."
And the floodgates opened.
"I'm sorr—I didn't mean—I swear I didn—you didn't fix m—and I've b-been so tired and s—everything hurts all the t—and I w-wasn't sure y-you—but I should have known b—you're better than th—and I d-deserved t-to be h—and you t-told me to sh—and I d-did because you told—and I-I didn't want to m-make you m—a-and I didn't want t-to be hit—deserved it, but I-I still didn't want—and I was so sc—you were so angry and—deserve to be left o-out in the sn—never going to get fix—never going to get b—"
He went on and on, his speech high-pitched, barely coherent, and constantly tripping over itself. He hardly got a full thought out, interrupting himself before he could even finish a sentence. But she let him ramble, knowing how awful it must have been for him to not talk for over a day and a half. She pulled him closer to her side until he was leaning against it, and began to gently stroke his upper handle like one would stroke someone's back.
Wheatley continued talking, tripping and stuttering over his words until his voice sounded strained, and finally he broke off, simulating deep breaths. They were plagued with a light static—he'd overtaxed his vocal processor.
Chell moved on to stroke his lower handle, sighing a little as she felt him lean fully against her, his optic shields sliding half-closed. "I know you're hurting," she said finally, and he looked up at her. "And I will fix you."
Wheatley glanced away uncertainly.
"Tomorrow," she said, "I'll try something."
"…Really…?" he asked weakly, his voice still tinged with static.
She tilted him back so she could look him in the optic. "Yes." And here she paused, not taking her gaze off of him. "I care about you, Wheatley."
His optic brightened a little, and she found herself smiling.
Wheatley remained remarkably quiet as Chell made herself dinner and ate, but that was only because he didn't want to break his vocal processor again. It had gotten sore, and he figured he should wait until it felt a little better before he began to ramble like mad again. But, if he was honest, he was still a little scared of talking again.
But not nearly as scared as he had been over the past day or more.
She didn't know—she would probably never know just how hopeless and scared he'd felt. He'd wanted so badly to apologize, but after what she'd said to him, what could he have done? Disobeying her would make her even angrier, and she had already been so angry, and she'd hit him, and… and that was it. She hadn't talked to him, and… as far as he could tell at the time, she never would.
He'd felt like his world was falling apart, because she was his world. Without her, he was just a lonely, half-broken core, sitting immobile on an old piece of furniture.
Hopeless didn't even begin to describe it.
With a shudder, he brought himself back to reality, watching the lady closely. Apparently she'd noticed the shudder, because she briefly gave him a concerned look before going back to eating.
"S'all right," he whispered. And it was—Chell had apologized, and there was no need to think back on what had happened before. It was time to think on the positive. "Th-thanks… f-for not givin' up on me."
Chell looked up, giving a slight smile. She set down her fork and reached out to give his lower handle a gentle squeeze.
Wheatley shut his optic contentedly, enjoying her soft touch. It was always a nice thing to feel after all those years of loneliness, and after… what had happened to him. Whatever it was—it was hard to remember sometimes, but he wasn't complaining.
When she was done eating, she took him over to the couch, where they read quietly for a while. This was not the usual scene—normally Wheatley would be pausing every few minutes to comment about something he was reading, or ask her what something meant. But for once, he was trying to resist the urge.
At one point, he felt her gaze on him, and he looked up to see her giving him a look. Are you okay?
"Um." He glanced away guiltily. "I d—don't want to b-bother you."
Chell frowned and shook her head.
"Well…" His optic turned downward, studying the pages of the book again before he looked up. "I-I think I know, b-but I'm not quite sure—what exactly is a fish?"
He wasn't quite sure why the question was funny enough to make her laugh—not an easy feat—but she answered him all the same, and slowly their evening progressed as normal.
Finally it was time for bed, and she carried him into her room, setting him down on his usual spot. She left to the side-room—he still wasn't quite sure what it was—to get ready for bed, and soon came out in her night clothes and slipped under the covers.
Wheatley glanced around, the light from his optic bouncing off of her form. He found himself wondering if he would wind up waking her up with his sleep-hallucinations again, if he was going to have any of the bad ones. Going into sleep mode when he was near her seemed to help, but not always. Though maybe…
Wriggling his handles a little, he managed to roll himself forward until his casing was pressing against her side. It still wasn't the most comfortable position, especially considering he felt like he'd rolled the wrong way, but…
Before he could finish the thought, Chell rolled over, blinking in confusion.
He stared at her, though she was now upside-down and tilted slightly. "Um… er… I-I was just th-thinking—j-just had this idea, th-that… m-my sleep-hallucinations aren't so bad when I'm closer to you, s-so…"
She heaved a sigh, reaching out to him and setting him upright. Her eyes searched him for a moment before she grabbed one of his handles at the joint, shaking it gently to indicate it. "Don't hit me with these," she said softly.
Wheatley shook his face. "O-oh, no, I won't," he replied, optic contracting a little. "Er, I'll t-try not to. C-can't promise, exactly, s-since I-I dunno what happens when I s-sleep-hallucinate. B-but I'll try."
She nodded, letting go of his handle, and he pulled both of them closer to his spherical body. But she stared at him for a moment before reaching out again, easing his upper handle away from his casing.
"Wh-what…?" Wheatley stammered, though he didn't object.
When his upper handle was back at its usual position, she began to gently stroke it, brushing it with her fingertips.
His optic brightened in a smile before he closed it. "Th-that… that feels nice, thanks," he whispered, leaning closer to her side. The feeling of her fingers brushing his handle tickled pleasantly, and he quivered a little. When he felt her pull away, his optic dimmed in disappointment until he felt her stroke his lower handle. Part of him almost wanted to go into sleep mode right now, since maybe this would give him more pleasant sleep-hallucinations, but the other part of him just wanted to stay here with her like this, enjoying a quiet moment together.
As she continued, he felt her movements begin to slow, and he wondered if she was starting to doze off. But before he could open his optic to look, he felt her grab one of the joints on his handle again. "Er, s-sorry, was that j-jabbing into your side, o-or something?" he asked, opening his optic.
But Chell was looking intently at him, frowning. She shook her head, sitting up a little, and felt around his handles, particularly the joints. After a few moments of this, she felt around the edges of his panels, occasionally returning to his joints. While she didn't appear angry, she did have that certain look about her, that look when she got an idea…
"Wh-what is it?" he asked, optic contracting a little.
Chell continued to stare for a moment, but then shook her head, her expression relaxing. She settled back into bed and resumed rubbing Wheatley's handles.
That was odd, but Wheatley shrugged it off, closing his optic again and enjoying the feeling. Soon Chell's movements began to slow again, and when he cracked open his optic, he saw that she really was dozing off this time. Simulating a sigh, he closed his optic and activated his sleep mode, and was soon as dead to the world as the human beside him.
The next morning, Wheatley awoke to find that, for once, he hadn't had the bad kind of sleep-hallucinations. Chell had gotten up before he had, and he grinned at the thought that he hadn't been the one to wake her. Glancing around, he saw her step out of the side room, ready for the day. "G'mornin'," he hummed, stretching his upper handle toward her.
Chell nodded in greeting, grabbing the outstretched handle and carrying him into the dining room.
Once Wheatley was on his typical perch on the table, he watched the lady begin to make her breakfast. "Aw, wish you c-could've seen it," he said, optic lighting in a grin. When she turned to give him a cocked eyebrow, he clarified: "Th-the sleep-hallucination I had last night! W-wasn't a bad one, actually."
The lady gave a quiet laugh. "The dream?"
Wheatley pulled his faceplate back, narrowing his eye shields a little and slightly contracting his optic. "Wh-wha? No, not—not a dream. I t-told you! Humans have dreams, a-and robots don't. 'S a sleep-hallucination. P-processor actin' funny. O-or something."
She shook her head, but smiled, going back to preparing her meal.
"A-anyway! I-it was a nice h-hallucination—glitch—whatever—th-this time. I-I was with that Bilbo, and my flashlight was working! Used it t-to guide him through the cave. Then that nasty Gollum thing—kinda, kinda looked like a potato, I th-think—tried to get us, but I crushed him with a mashy spike plate. And—and then I led him outside, and there were management rails out there! But then we were in the f-facility—a well-lit part, o-of course—but then…"
He went on for a while as Chell finished cooking and sat at the table to eat. When she was nearly finished, his monologue slowed down, and he glanced off to the side in deep concentration.
"And… then… um… a-actually I don't remember that next p-part. Do you?"
Chell glanced up, rolled her eyes, and went back to finishing her meal.
"N-no? Oh… Oh! Right, s-sleep-hallucinations, right." He gave an embarrassed laugh, glancing away. "Um… So—s-so it's your off day, isn't it? Are… um, d-do we have any plans f-for today?"
At that, Chell held up a finger—wait a moment—and returned her dishes to the growing pile in the sink before turning back to him. She then took a seat in front of him, looking into his optic and sighing a little. "Remember what I said yesterday?"
Wheatley blinked, feeling uneasy at the serious look she was giving him. "Um—y-you don't speak a lot, b-but… Y-you told me s-some of the stuff about that book, a-and, and… no? Um…" He glanced aside again, thinking, before his optic contracted. "Y-you said you would… t-try working on m-me…?"
Chell nodded slowly, reaching out to his lower handle. But instead of grabbing the handle itself, she fiddled with the joint, keeping her gaze trained on him. "I think I have an idea."
"Oh! G-great!" Wheatley replied, starting to look every which way but at her. It wasn't as though he didn't appreciate her idea—being repaired was great, after all. But the actual repairs themselves…? Now that he thought about it, he really didn't want to have to go through that again. It was scary, it hurt, and…
"I want to fix you," she said, "but I need to open your casing to do it."
Immediately Wheatley's optic contracted to a pinprick, and he looked back at her. "Wh-what—no, um, th-that's—that's not, um, really, it's a bad id—I mean, not that you c-come up with bad ideas—heh, no, but…" His voice took on a higher pitch, and he gave her a desperate look. "D-do we really have to do th-this now…?"
Her serious look took on hints of annoyance. Really?
He wondered why she would give him a look like that until he remembered that he'd been the one to ask her to go back to fixing him in the first place… and that was how they'd gotten into that fight. "O-oh… okay, th-then." He was starting to shiver. "B-but… d-do you really n-need to open m-my…?"
She nodded. "I didn't know how to do it before, but I think I've found a way."
Wheatley shuddered and shut his optic. He couldn't open his casing in his current state—he could only do that when he was attached to the chassis, and that obviously wasn't going to happen. So how was she planning to do this? And—come to think of it, he thought he remembered that his casing had been opened once, more recently, but the memory was so fuzzy and he got the feeling it was from that time, and he didn't want to remember anything from back then.
"You'll… need to co-operate with me."
His optic snapped open. The lady had hesitated. If she was unsure, then…! "Um…"
She began to massage his lower handle, sending ripples of artificial comfort through his body and forcing him to calm down a little. While it wasn't true comfort, it did make his frame relax a little, even if his processor was in a whirl. "O—okay, but… j-just… b-be careful, please?"
Chell nodded, stroking her hand across his handle again before picking him up and setting him down on his side.
Well, he thought, here it goes.
He waited as Chell went to retrieve her tools, wondering just what she was getting and how she planned to open his casing. Though he was scared, he willed himself to relax, letting his optic go limp against the inside of his casing. "I-it'll be fine," he muttered to himself. "Y-you felt better a-after she fixed y-your wires b-before, a-and now you'll feel e-even better a-after—after this! R-right. S-so there's no need to be alarmed. Of course. N-no need—"
"AAGH!" he cried, lurching in his casing and cringing at the grinding gears. But sensing the light pouring down from behind his optic, he flinched. "Oh, th-that's…"
Chell rubbed one of his handles absently to calm him before doing something he could not see. But he could soon feel it as her fingers grasped some of the wires within him.
Wheatley gave a sharp gasp. The feeling wasn't quite pain, but it was close to it—the wires were sensitive, particularly the ones connected to his handles. He winced again as he felt her taking groups of wires and tying them together with something. Whatever she tied them with didn't hurt, at least, but—but wasn't she supposed to be trying to open his casing? "O-oi, d-do you r-really n-need to be messing with those?" he asked, voice still tinted with fear. "Th-thought you were tryin' to o-open…"
She didn't immediately answer, but continued putting ties around different groups of wires. Just when he was going to ask her again, she spoke: "Wheatley."
If he had known for sure one of her hands wasn't in his casing, he would have swiveled his optic to look at her. "Y-yeah?"
Chell finally came into his line of sight, looking him in the optic. She hesitated for a moment before gently grasping both of his handles, rubbing them. After waiting for him to relax, she spoke up again. "What I'm going to do next will hurt."
Not literally—his processor did not freeze, but a cold shock jolted through his body, and he found himself shaking uncontrollably. Slowly he turned his optic toward her, giving her a look that was half-hopeful, half-pleading. "W-well, er, y-yes, it… it d-does h-hurt, usually, wh-when—when you repair me, a-and all, but, um, I-I knew that, luv, a-already knew it, s-so… y-you didn't have to m-mention…" Seeing her look never waver, he trailed off, and his eye shields narrowed as a sick feeling coursed through him. "Oh…"
She gave his handles a firm squeeze. "You can do it." With that, she resumed her original position out of his line of sight.
Wheatley went still again, other than the uncontrollable shaking of his frame. He strained his aural receptors, hearing her pick something up off the table, and gasped again when he felt her grab a section of wires. Though he winced, an idea came to him, and his optic brightened a fraction. "Oh! U-um, h-how about this—l-let's count t-to… to three, then, right? G-give me, um, g-gives me a b-bit of time… t-to prepare for… f-for…" His vocal processor simulated a gulp. "Wh-what's to come…"
"Right. I-I'll do it, then. One…" He gave a simulated gulp, shutting his optic. "T—"
And before he could get the word out, he felt a sudden burst of near-agony as several of his wires were severed at once.
"AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGH NO NO NO NO NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING STOP STOP—" But the feeling intensified in less than a second as three more groups of wires were cut, one after the other, and colors flashed and his vision glitched and he was suddenly in that dark room that he never wanted to see again no no NO—
And suddenly he was back in the lady's house, the pain pulsing through what was left of the wires in occasional bursts of sparks. He wanted to wrap his handles around his body, but he couldn't get them to work—he couldn't feel them at all.
He slowly became aware of the fact that he was sobbing, and fought for control of his vocal processor. "Wh-what… wh-what did you do…"
Chell placed a hand on his shaking frame, apparently in an attempt to soothe him—she must have known his handles had gone numb. With her other hand, she gently stroked his faceplate, pausing to rub part of it with her thumb. "I'll fix them when this is done," she said gently. "I need to remove your handles for this."
"Th-that's… what you were…?" He fought to choke back his sobs, but for once he didn't care so much that she was seeing him like this—he just wanted the pain to stop, but she'd cut the wires in his sensitive handles, and…
She had moved away and was fiddling with something inside him. Just what, he could neither see nor feel—well, he could feel a little, but it was something attached to his casing, and he wasn't sure what. He could hear a rattling sound as she fiddled with it, then something on the other side, and then—
One of his handles fell to the table beside him.
With a bit more fiddling, the other one was off, and his casing was loose.
In his current state, he wanted nothing more than to keep his panels tightly closed around his innards. When he was connected to the mainframe, it wasn't such a big deal—what was once his body had essentially become his head, and flaring out his panels made him appear bigger and more threatening. But if he opened them now, all that would do would expose his damaged innards, leaving him completely vulnerable.
Without his handles to wrap around himself, Wheatley felt even more defenseless than normal. He choked back a simulated gulp, compacting his casing tightly around his damaged form, only to yelp at feeling something grab him.
Chell picked him up, but rather than setting him upright, she set him on his back so his port was scraping against the table. He cringed at the feeling, swiveling his optic to look at her, and winced again when she pressed her hand firmly against his side. He remembered the action—stay still.
"Wh… what now?" he asked. His crying had subsided, but his voice still wavered. The position was uncomfortable, his casing was loose, he had broken wires again that were sparking painfully—did she even know what she was doing?
"I can't fix your poles yet," Chell said, "but I can straighten your casing. It should make it easier for you to move."
So that's what this was about. "O… okay," he muttered. "S-so, that means…" Glancing off to the side, he experimentally moved one panel of his casing.
He couldn't see it, but he knew—opening his side would give her a clear view of his internal damage. He could only imagine how it looked—the wires she'd just severed; the dented, cracked casing; all the broken poles… Just thinking about it made him pull the panel closed again.
Chell grabbed it before he could close it entirely and gave him a look.
Wheatley stared back, optic contracting into a pinprick. "I-I don't want to d-do it…! I-I can't…"
She got down lower, looking into his cracked optic. "You stood up to GLaDOS. You can do this."
His optic widened, then slowly closed. "R-right. I… I'll try." With that, he allowed the panel to go limp, letting the lady pull it down to the table. He tried to turn his optic to see what she was doing, but she pressed her hand against him, and he twitched, scattering sparks from his newly-broken wires. "J-just… be gentle?"
Chell took a breath. "Hang on, Wheatley."
She reached for another tool, and out of the corner of his optic, he saw her raise something above the lowered plate—
Colors flashed in front of his optic, though he was too shocked to even feel the pain. Unable to hold the rest of his casing together, he felt his other three panels drop onto the table.
The arms struck him, hitting him both on his already-damaged shell and the sensitive innards within. She had already broken nearly every mechanism within him and about half the wires—the rest she kept strung throughout his body so he could feel her pulling him apart, every strike, every dent, every crack every scar he was coming apart and he could feel every part of it and he couldn't even scream—
He snapped back to the real world, seeing Chell above him, but the memory was still there—the thing he never wanted to remember. "No, no, I-I really can't do it…!"
She put her hand on his faceplate, rubbing it with her thumb again. "If I put you back together now, I'll only have to take you apart again to fix the rest of the panels." With her other hand, she felt around the inside of his left panel. "How does this feel?"
He flinched at the bizarre feeling of something touching the inside of his casing, but oddly enough, he wasn't registering a lot of pain from there. Running a self-diagnostic, he found that most of the dents were gone. "It… i-it feels better."
At that, Chell released a sigh of relief, then went to examine his upper panel.
Wheatley flinched and shuddered at the feeling of her hand examining the few dents there, and simulated a gulp at seeing Chell retrieve her hammer again. Snapping his optic shut, he began to ramble. "O-okay this is j-just going to fix the dents and the lady is doing this and I'm in the lady's house and I'm not somewhere else I'm not anywhere else but—"
"—i-in the lady's house… I-I'm not…"
He could see the yellow light above him but no it wasn't really there but it was so dark except for that light no no no it's not there he was in the lady's house—
But he swore he could feel those mechanical arms but no they couldn't be there but they were hitting him and they weren't there THEY WEREN'T THERE—!
Wheatley felt a soft touch on his faceplate, and groaned. "I-I don't know h-how much more of this…" he muttered weakly, cracking open his optic.
Chell held up two fingers.
He shut his optic again, exhausted from the mental struggle. "I-I'm not there I'm not th-there I'm not th-there," he muttered as she began to work out the dents on his right panel. The phrase was starting to sound like a mess of syllables rather than real words, but he kept going, occasionally opening his optic to reassure himself that he was still in the lady's house and not… anywhere else.
Her hand brushed the welded scar from the inside, and he gave a strangled yelp, slamming his panels shut.
Chell staggered back, holding her wrist defensively, and it took Wheatley a moment to realize that he'd nearly caught her hand in his casing again. "S… sorry…"
The lady heaved a sigh again, approaching him and gently prying his side open. She felt around the inside, this time avoiding the scar, and glanced at him.
"Y-yeah, it's… i-it's feelin' better."
She gave a smile, but it quickly faded as she gazed down at his bottom panel.
Wheatley shut his optic again—he was physically unable to look at the panel at the moment, but he didn't need to see it to know that it was the worst of the four sides. It had sustained the most damage from—from things he didn't want to remember—and it hurt more than anything, almost as bad as his broken innards. But… it had to be fixed sooner or later. "G—get it over with."
Shuddering in anxiety, he waited to feel the hammer strike. It was going to hurt, he knew it was, but just how much—no, he shouldn't think like that; the pain would be over and he would feel better afterward, though it was going to hurt for now, but how much—
"AAAAAAAAAAGH!" he cried, optic snapping open and contracting to a pinprick. His voice was already tinged with static, and he gave a series of painful twitches.
Colors were flashing in his vision again, and nausea coursed through his circuits.
Everything was spinning—
It was some time later that Wheatley found his processor slowly rebooting. Groaning, he rolled his optic as he opened his eye shields, but blinked at the… different feeling around him. His vision was still clearing, and he couldn't exactly see what it was.
He felt something grab his lower handle, and blinked again as his vision came into focus—
"Wh-wha…" Glancing downward, he saw that, one, he was on the couch, two, his lower handle had returned, and three, Chell was holding it. Looking up, he saw his upper handle as well, and noted with surprise that the nasty dents in it were gone. But there was something else…
He tilted one way in his casing, then another.
Chell gave a quiet laugh, and he looked up to see her smiling in relief.
"O-oh you are brilliant, luv!" he cried, rolling forward—astonished at how easy it was now—and nuzzling his face into her side. "Th-thank you so much…!" Sure, his poles still creaked within him, but he felt so much better he didn't care.
"You passed out," Chell said, stroking his upper handle. "I was worried."
Wheatley blinked at the term—"passed out" was a human thing. "I-I… crashed, y-yeah, i-it… My processor does that i-if… I'm in too much pain. B-but don't worry about it." He pulled away for a moment so she could see his smile—the most genuine one he'd had in a while. "I-I thought I'd never b-be able to move properly a-again…"
Chell wrapped an arm around him, and he nuzzled his face into her side again, content to stay close to her.
"A-absolutely brilliant," he muttered. "Y-you're amazing… a-and I'm… I-I'm sorry I d-doubted you before…"
"It wasn't right," she agreed quietly, "but I think you've learned."
"B-bloody right I did," Wheatley said with a nervous laugh. "G-guess if—if I k-keep making mistakes, I-I'll learn a lot, then!"
Chell lightly smacked him on the side, and he jerked away in alarm. But he found her half-grinning down at him, and he gave a slight laugh. "O-or just… t-try to not make th-the mistakes in the—the first place, right."
The lady nodded, rubbing his upper handle. "You're smarter than GLaDOS gave you credit for." When his eye shields widened in surprise, she went on, "You know to learn from your mistakes. She never did."
Wheatley looked away, eye shields narrowing as he considered this. It was true, from what he could tell—GLaDOS had never ceased her cruelty, even after—he flinched and shuddered at the thought. He hated to even think about her, since that usually dragged him too close to things he did not want to remember.
But realization dawned upon him, and he went nearly limp in surprise. "But…" he mumbled, "i-if she—GLaDOS—h-hadn't… d-done what she'd d-done…" He turned his optic back to the lady. "I'd still b-be in space."
The two stared at each other for a long while, and even Wheatley was unusually quiet. The idea cast a new light on everything he'd gone through. For all the pain he'd endured, all the mental anguish he'd felt, all the long moments of endless agony—he'd learned his lessons, fully comprehended his wrongdoings, and, ultimately, it brought him to a closer friendship than he'd ever known.
Wheatley would never be grateful for what he'd endured, and yet, all the same…
He looked into Chell's eyes.
It had been worth it.