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Portal: GLaDOS and Me

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Portal: GLaDOS and Me

 

Indiana

 

Setting: Pre-Portal

Characters: Wheatley, GLaDOS

Synopsis: Wheatley, hacker under the employ of Aperture Laboratories, somehow ends up on the GLaDOS Project. His job: To teach her until she’s able to learn on her own. But as happens with the best students, Wheatley ends up being the one learning the lessons…

 

Chapter One

 

 

“There it is.”

“Why’ve you brought me here, anyway? I thought… I don’t have clearance for this project, Henry. We could both be in, well, things could go um, very badly for both of us.”

Henry slapped an arm around his shoulders and led him into the room. “You’ve got clearance today, Wheatley. Let’s go.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Wheatley noticed droves of scientists rushing back and forth, connecting and disconnecting long spools of wire, marking down notes on what seemed to be far too many clipboards, but what drew most of his attention was the… the… well, he wasn’t sure what to call it, but it was huge, upwards of forty feet long. It reminded him of a sleeping giant. Just hanging there, upside-down, waiting for… Wheatley swallowed hard, remembering the story about giants and Englishmen. That story ended well for the boy, he was pretty sure, but seeing as he was actually from South Wales, well, he’d best keep out of the way.

“Why’s it so big? Wouldn’t a computer’ve done?”

“Oh, there’s a computer in there,” Henry answered, scribbling across a clipboard he’d procured from someplace, “but we figured… well, Caroline’s used to having a body, and all.”

“So… she made it?” Wheatley whispered, having nowhere near the clearance to even know about that part of the experiment, but Henry had been happy to oblige Wheatley’s interrogation after one too many free drinks.

“We don’t know yet.”

“You didn’t do it while the computer was on?”

Henry shook his head. “It’s like surgery. You don’t add a new organ while the body’s awake, right?”

“But… where’re you going to put a new organ?” Wheatley asked, confused. “There’s no place in us to add more of them.”

“That’s not what the guys down in Human Physio tell me,” Henry said, winking, and Wheatley blanched. He did not need to hear that. He had never done well with the nastier side of things, and even the thought of someone cramming an extra organ into him made his stomach turn.

“So uh,” he said hurriedly, “so you decided to let me see the um, the whole, uh…”

“Yes, you get to see if the experiment worked,” Henry droned, chewing on the end of his pen. He was well used to guessing the ends of Wheatley’s sentences. “You’re the impartial observer.”

“The what?”

“We’re all going to be noting what happens, right?” Henry answered, waving in the general direction of the clipboard-wielding scientists. “But we’ve all got a stake in this. We’re going to say whatever makes us look good. But you have nothing to do with this. This has got nothing to do with hacking into Black Mesa’s mainframe. You’re the control group for the experiment, really. Just note down what you see,” and here he shoved a clipboard into Wheatley’s chest, “and turn it into us after you’ve written it up nicely.”

Wheatley grimaced and grasped the clipboard reluctantly, rubbing at his chest. His handwriting was so bad not even his mother could decipher it, let alone Wheatley. He hated it when he had to take notes.

“You done spelling things out to Wheatley, Hank?” Greg called, and Wheatley had to refrain from rolling his eyes. Just because he got a bit confused every now and then didn’t mean he was stupid.

“We’re good,” Henry called back, giving him a thumbs up. “Let’s get this show on the road.”

Wheatley stood on the outside of the ring of scientists, which had been reduced to eight or so when he wasn’t looking, and again found his eye drawn to the construct hanging from the ceiling. He wondered how much it weighed. It looked dreadfully heavy. Didn’t really make sense why it was so huge, either. Surely a much smaller robot would’ve done the trick. He shrugged to himself and folded his arms, trapping his clipboard against his chest. Not like anyone cared what he had to say, anyway.

“Start ‘er up,” Greg shouted to someone behind Wheatley, and he turned, startled, to see a white-haired scientist tapping away at a computer in the corner. The scientist stood up straight, holding one arm horizontally across his chest and the other bent towards the keyboard, one finger touching some key or other.

“May God have mercy on us,” he intoned gravely, and everyone around Wheatley laughed as the finger dipped out of sight.

He turned back to the construct, heart picking up speed, and the room went silent. Then the primary hard disks began to turn, at first so slowly that it looked as if they were too heavy to move at all, then rotating at a higher frequency. The scientist in front of Wheatley elbowed the man next to him, turning to face him with a frown across his face.

“I thought we agreed to boot the fans first?”

The other man shrugged. “First, second, doesn’t matter.”

It was terribly strange, Wheatley thought, that they could actually hear the construct powering up; he imagined he could almost see the electricity rushing through the wires, spreading out into the various components, and starting them up. With a noise not unlike that of industrial fluorescent lights, the optic flared to life. It dimmed after a few seconds, and the construct twitched, but that was all.

“That’s… unexpected,” Henry muttered into Wheatley’s ear, and he nearly jumped out of his skin. He stared at Henry, eyes wide and heart in his throat, but Henry merely frowned down at his clipboard and then up at the construct.

“Doesn’t look like it worked,” Greg whispered to Henry. “She should’ve raised the chassis by now.”

Henry nodded. “Just a giant robot, then.”

“Well, we’ve got the DOS too.”

“They’re a dime a dozen. This was supposed to be the moon shot!”

“Shut it down, then?” called the scientist in the corner.

“Yeah. It didn’t work.”

Wheatley let the scientists flurry around him, muttering about how things never went the way they were supposed to, staring up at the robot and trying to breathe. He was getting an idea.

Wheatley was well known for his… misguided… insights, but surely they would listen to him this time. They had nothing to lose, right?

“Why don’t you help her along a bit?” he shouted to the scientist, who was already tapping away at the keyboard. “Maybe she doesn’t know how to uh… to lift it.”

“If she’d connected with the AI properly, she would,” the scientist said, rolling his eyes.

“Well… maybe the AI doesn’t know how to do it either,” Wheatley suggested. “Maybe they’re all confused and they don’t know what’s what, y’know?”

The scientist sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll do it if you shut up. Deal?”

“Sure,” Wheatley answered, turning around again.

With the grinding of gears and the whining of pistons, the lower half of the chassis lifted until it was almost parallel with the ground, and the scientist raised his hand in a ‘you see?’ position. “It doesn’t work. It – “

The chassis had shuddered once, halting the entire room as if they’d been flash-frozen, and there was a collective intake of breath.

“Send it another one,” Greg yelled. The scientist must have obliged, because the giant… head? Wheatley didn’t know what they were calling it - tilted thirty degrees, so that it was now hanging over them and staring down like some sort of disabled god.

“Come on,” Henry muttered, knuckles white around his clipboard. “We’re so close…”

All of a sudden the chassis fell to the floor as if it had suddenly broken, and they gasped and stepped backward. The construct started shaking its head violently, swinging back and forth, and Henry whispered, “Yes!” just as Greg squinted at it, saying, “What is it doing?”

“Caroline?” one of the scientists closest to the construct yelled, and it swung up until it was directly in line with the scientist and stared at him, unmoving. The scientist frowned. “What are you doing?”

Wheatley watched nervously as the great yellow light on the thing twitched unevenly over them, and he honestly got the impression the robot didn’t have any clue what it was doing. As if it was only doing these things because of the commands the scientist in the corner had sent it. As if all it knew how to do was what it had been told how to do.

“I’m getting independent movement outputs in the log!” the scientist in question called out. “It works!”

The scientists started cheering, putting their fists in the air and throwing their clipboards and congratulating one another, but Wheatley jumped, surprised at the sudden change in demeanour. He watched with growing trepidation as the construct first turned to one side of the room, then the other, then looked up at the ceiling and repeated the whole cycle over again. Then all of a sudden it started… well, he wasn’t actually sure what it was doing, but it almost seemed to be throwing itself out as far as it could…

“What in the hell – “ Henry said, baffled, not seeming to notice as a wayward clipboard bounced off the back of his head. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

It swung back down to what Henry called the default position, slack towards the floor, and stayed like that for a few moments. Then it again resumed the throwing motion, and to Wheatley it seemed to be almost… desperate.

“What’s going on?” one of the scientists asked, a black man with a spray of curly black hair, and the scientist in the corner shrugged.

“I’m just getting movement outputs. Nothing else.”

That was when the noise started.

Wheatley had heard that one of the most grating sounds ever to cross human ears was fingernails on a chalkboard. Never actually having heard it, he nonetheless imagined that this noise was just like that, only ten times worse. It was eight or ten computer tones all at once, threaded heavily with static and wavering painfully from extremely high to extremely loud, all of them staggeringly dissonant. The scientists cried out and covered their ears, ducking away from it, and Wheatley’s heart revved up again as he watched, horrified, as the construct strained against itself, pulling outward as far as it could go. It writhed and jerked, the tones so loud it almost felt as though they were pressing down on them, and some of the scientists looked as though they might’ve been yelling. Wheatley couldn’t tell for sure because his hands were clenched around his own ears. It didn’t help, but it was a bit reassuring, at least. He squinted up at the straining construct, for the life of him unable to figure out what it was doing.

“Shut it off! Shut it off!” Henry screamed, and after a few more moments the noise cut off, the chassis dropping towards the floor, and Wheatley stood up straight and uncovered his ears as it gradually swung to a stop.

“Well, we made AI,” Greg said bitterly, picking up his clipboard and brushing it off, “but it looked like it was completely nuts! What the hell was that?”

Henry shook his head. “We’ll go over it. There’s gotta be something in the logs we can use to figure out what went wrong.”

Wheatley stood staring up at the construct, his throat very dry, until Henry came up behind him and smacked him on the back of the head with one of the clipboards. Wheatley winced, his face screwing up in pain, and he turned, raising a hand to the back of his head.

“Time to get going,” Henry said tiredly. “God, we’ve been working on this thing for so long. I just want to get it done. Why did this have to happen? You’d think something would go right, for once.”

Wheatley didn’t answer, following him out of the room as best he could, seeing as he was half-turned around so that he could keep his gaze on the still and silent machine in the centre of the room. Something wasn’t sitting quite right. He didn’t know what, or why, but he just had this feeling that they were missing something. Something important.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

 

 

Wheatley sat up, gasping, and tried to untangle the sheet from around his legs, promptly spilling himself over the side of the bed and onto the floor. Happily, his nighttime thrashing had knocked most of his pillows on the floor and the landing wasn’t too hard, though there was a sharp, jarring pain through his right hip that made him clench his teeth. Annoyed, he struggled with the sheet a few moments longer, eventually rolling free and standing up, one hand feeling across the nightstand for his glasses. Once he’d gotten them on his face he sat down on the edge of the bed, elbows on his knees and hands folded together, staring pensively at the floor.

They’d missed something. Something very, very important. He’d managed to forget about the whole thing once he’d dropped his car keys into the register, tripped over his shoes, and left the front door wide open, but so far as he could tell the nightmare had been a vivid memory of what had happened. And that noise… it sounded almost like –

He frowned, unlacing his fingers and rubbing at the crease next to his left eye, almost knocking his glasses off in the process. They’d been trying to build AI, right? And AI was… a computer that could think for itself, right? So… maybe this computer had thought for itself. That noise meant something, and that whole movement business meant something. He still wasn’t sure what the latter had been trying to achieve, but he did know what a scream sounded like. And that was exactly what the noise reminded him of.

Okay, so… if the computer was trying to scream… but why would it do such a thing? He tried to think of when it had started. It had started when… when the scientists had begun to celebrate. It was then that the construct had started to behave so violently. He rubbed his forehead with his left thumb and index finger and tried to think. What had changed in the room to cause that? Well… there’d been a lot of noise, suddenly, and a lot of movement. And he’d been startled, he remembered that.

That was it.

He lifted his head suddenly, staring through the open door into the darkened hallway, where he could just barely make out the stairs that he regularly tripped down entirely, and tried to hash out his idea. Maybe… maybe the computer had been startled too. No, not startled… it had looked almost… afraid.

His right hand gripped the edge of the mattress, and he looked to his right for no reason in particular as the idea grew inside his head. Yes. Yes, that made… well, it almost made sense. But if the computer was alive, as the scientists had wanted it to be… and it had been scared, and it had been screaming, and… and… his eyes travelled up the edge of his headboard, a combination of nervousness and sadness in his chest.

Could it have been trying to run away?

The more he thought about it, the more it made sense. It had clearly been throwing itself, but the only reason for it do to that would to be to try to get itself out of the ceiling. And… crazy thought!… maybe it didn’t actually know it was connected to the ceiling.

Maybe… maybe it didn’t know anything.

And they’d just… shut it off. And they were going to poke around inside of it in the morning.

Wheatley’s eyes darted over the darkened room, and he stood up quickly. He rummaged around under the pile of pillows and unearthed his t-shirt, then ran out of the room, tripping over the top stair and only saving himself with an extended, stiffened arm reaching out in front of him and gripping the handrail. Oi, you’d think he’d be able to walk down a set of stairs by now!

He stuffed his bare feet into his shoes and threw his coat over his shoulders, keys in his mouth. He barely remembered to shut the door before he left, let alone lock it, but when he’d finally got that sorted he ran out to his car and put it in gear. He’d reversed a good twenty feet before he realised that hydro poles did not try to run into cars and hurriedly put the car in drive. Ohh, this was going to be a long trip.

 

 

Aperture was cold and dark at night.

He stepped cautiously through the facility, not quite remembering which member of Janitorial was on shift tonight. If it was Bob, he was in luck. Joe, not so much. Joe liked to chase Wheatley out of the building with a wet mop, which was not fun even when he didn’t get any bleach in his eyes. He luckily didn’t meet anyone on the way, but now he was stuck staring at the heavy metal door, which his card did not have clearance for and he could not have used even if it had. Wheatley had had so many late-night accidents that he wasn’t actually allowed in the facility after eleven o’clock. He’d been hoping that some kind soul would have left the door open, but no such luck. Okay then. Hacking it was.

Wheatley returned the way he’d come and slipped into one of the offices, waking up the computer and logging into it as Henry. He stood bent over the keyboard, cracked his knuckles, and got to work.

Wheatley had been hired at Aperture some months ago to hack into the Black Mesa mainframe, or at least the database, so that Aperture could get proof that Black Mesa had been stealing their patents out from under them. He’d actually been working at Black Mesa at the time of his hire, as an assistant to some big-shot nervous physicist, and had initially been approached by a shady man with sunglasses asking if he wanted to become a spy for Aperture. Wheatley had had to sheepishly admit that he was about to get fired for repeatedly hacking into the mainframe. He couldn’t help it. The nervous physicist wasn’t allowed to actually tell him what they were doing, and Wheatley’s curiosity often got the better of him. He’d been caught every time he’d done it, but the mere fact that he’d gotten into it in the first place was a miracle in and of itself. The shady man had seen this as even better and had produced a contract right then and there. Wheatley had been very flattered, signing it without reading it, and now here he was, hacking into Aperture’s door mainframe so he could get into the Central AI Chamber. It was fairly easy, and as soon as he got the notification that the door was open he logged Henry out and bolted. It would not stay open long.

He stumbled underneath the door and caught himself before he fell, gripping the backrest of the chair just inside the room, his eye inexorably drawn to the construct. It really did look like it was sleeping. Well, he was about to wake it up.

He spun the chair around and straddled it, quickly accessing the files from the previous day. Hm… seemed that ‘GLaDOSv236.exe’ had got all of the action started yesterday. Very well. But wait, wait… booting that seemed to boot literally hundreds of other programs as well. He frowned, scrolling down the list. Well, no wonder the computer’d gone off its trolley! Bit rude, really, to wake someone up for the first time and then ask them to run your entire facility for you. Safe mode, safe mode… there had to be a safe mode around – aha! He highlighted the selection and triumphantly pressed the Enter key. Then he turned to watch as the hard drives began their ponderous turn, a bit of yesterday’s trepidation creeping into his stomach. If the construct started screaming now, Janitorial would hear for sure. He’d be trapped in this room with it until someone came to shut it down. But though he was sure the hard drives and the fans were at full capacity now, the construct didn’t move. The optic hadn’t even come on, and Wheatley frowned at the screen. Maybe Safe Mode was only for debugging, or something? No… they wouldn’t need the hard drives for that.

Well, what would he do if he woke up after being scared out of his wits?

He’d… probably lie there for a bit, trying to scope out the situation. Suddenly encouraged, his eyebrows jerked upward and he looked over his glasses at the construct, even though he couldn’t actually see anything when he did that. Made him feel clever, though, and he’d just had a clever thought.

It was playing dead, wasn’t it.

He went to call out to it, then realised he didn’t know what it was named. The program was called… he gave the screen a quick glance… GLaDOS. GLaDOS, eh? That sounded kind of … pretty. Old-fashioned, to be sure, but seeing as he was named after a grain he was not too judgemental about those sorts of things. Alright then, GLaDOS it was.

He took the breath to shout, then smacked himself in the face, driving his glasses painfully into his eyebrows. Noise, you moron, he berated himself. Be quiet. He had to do the exact opposite of what the scientists had done. He had to be slow, and quiet.

“GLaDOS?” he called out, as softly as he could, but whether it hadn’t heard him or was still playing dead, he couldn’t tell.

He walked across the grey panels, more carefully than he’d ever done before, trying to keep his footfalls soft. “GLaDOS?” he said again, a little louder, and this time the construct twitched a little. Aha. He was getting somewhere.

He made his way up the staircase, heart in his throat. He wasn’t sure what he was afraid of, other than the size of the thing. It was so huge, and he didn’t think he’d been so near to anything so large in all his life. It felt alive, almost, what with the air currents swirling around it and the audible hum of electricity coursing through it. But no… it was more than that. He got this feeling of… of raw intelligence, the same sort of feeling he got when he walked by someone who was just really, really smart. There were some people in the world you could tell were geniuses just by standing next to them, and even though it wasn’t hooked up to the mainframe or the database, that was the feeling he got from standing next to the construct right now.

“GLaDOS?” he whispered a third time, bending down to try and get a look at the front of the massive… core, Henry had mentioned that the head part was called the core. He almost fell over, his leg not planted quite properly to take his weight, but he caught himself by grasping the handrail support. God, the bloody optic alone was near the size of his entire head! Whose idea was –

Argh!” he cried out, and he did fall down now, because the optic had flared to life suddenly, bathing him in a deep amber glow. The construct jerked up and back, pulling itself up to the ceiling in a way he could only describe as defensive and staring down at him. He was frozen on his back, elbows pressed awkwardly to the glass and his legs at very uncomfortable angles, but he couldn’t move. Not with that eye pinning him like that.

“’allo,” he whispered.

It didn’t move, not even a little, as if it too were frozen. Wheatley let out a shaky breath.

“You’re just as scared of me, aren’t you,” he whispered. “You don’t know who or what I am, either, so you’ve… you’ve got far more reason to be.” He pushed himself up and managed to fold his legs together after a little bit of manoeuvering, then took a deep breath to try and calm himself. He stretched his left hand out towards it, though he couldn’t do anything about it shaking terribly. “C’mere, girl,” he said softly, doing his best to keep his arm stationary. “C’mere. I’m not gonna hurt you.” After he’d said it, he realised he’d just referred to her as female, though he didn’t know why. Well, she did look kind of feminine, come to think of it, and GLaDOS did sound a lot like Gladys… so maybe there was a girl in there, someplace. “C’mon, GLaDOS. C’mere, girl. C’mon.”

After a few more moments, she did, in short, jerky movements, keeping that giant optic trained on his face. When she had come down to his level, she took a quick look at his hand, only a second’s glance, then looked back to his face again. He wiped a beading of sweat from his upper lip and shoved his glasses up higher. “It’s okay. I’m not gonna do anything. Just wanted to… to…” Well, he actually didn’t know what he was doing here, other than talking to what seemed to be a living supercomputer and trying to put his mind at rest, but he didn’t really want to go into that.   “To say hello,” he finished, shrugging a little. “Name’s Wheatley. Uh… dunno if you can talk yet, but um, that’s uh, that’s what I’m called. For when. You can uh… call me something. Not that you’ll be able to. I’m not actually allowed in here.” He laughed nervously and rubbed at his shoulder, which was getting sore from holding his arm up for so long. “I’m… probably in real trouble, right now, but I just had to know, y’know? And you were scared, weren’t you? You didn’t know what was going on, and they had you trying to execute all those programs… I don’t blame you, really I don’t.”

She had begun to look alternately from his hand to his face, not lingering on either for very long, and he nodded. “Yep, that’s mine, that’s my hand, old girl. See, I’ve got fingers.” He wiggled them a little, turning his hand over, and she jerked back a couple of feet and dipped her core, giving Wheatley the impression she thought his hand might explode or something like that. She came forward again with another abrupt movement and began to inspect them. “Here’s the old thumb, used for giving uh, for giving the thumbs up… well, the thumbs down too, I suppose.” He showed her each of his fingers in turn, very slowly, marvelling at the great interest she showed. “What else… well, we’ve got the palm, here, lots of little lines on it. D’you know, some people can tell all about you just by looking at your hand? How long you’re gonna live, and how good your health’s gonna be, all sorts of things. Mad, isn’t it? Well… you haven’t got hands, but uh… anyway… I… got a wrist too, lets me flip my hand up and down, and spin it a bit, not too far in either direction. See that? And it’s all attached to my arm, look at that. The arm’s the real boss, you see. Directs that hand where it uh, where it needs to go.” He held his hand in front of her again, and he was surprised to see it was no longer shaking. She continued to inspect it, looking from his fingertips, up to his shoulder, and back again, and suddenly fixed on his face again.

“Bored of that, are you?” he asked, laughing a little. “It is kind of boring after you know what it is, I suppose.”

She looked at it again, and his arm really was getting sore now, but he didn’t know what she was doing and he didn’t want to scare her. So he gritted his teeth and left it. Very, very slowly, with tiny, jerking movements, she lowered her head, staring him right in the eye, and brought it down alongside his hand.

His breath caught in his throat, and he blinked rapidly several times, pushing his glasses up his nose as adrenaline erased the burning sensation from his arm. He slowly turned his hand, not breaking contact, until his fingertips were just barely resting on the side of her core, and she jolted a little but otherwise did not move. He smiled.

“That’s a good girl,” he whispered. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m not gonna – well, I am pretty loud, sometimes, but ev’ryone’s loud, now and again, right?” He dared to twitch his fingers a little bit on her core, and she shifted a little but allowed him to do it. What she did next shocked him into stillness, which was just as well. If he’d gotten up and run away, which was what it made him want him to do, all the progress would have been lost.

She began to move her core down his arm, pressing her lens into it at intervals that seemed to mean something to her but made no sense to him, and when she got to his shoulder she kept going, down into his chest and ribs and stomach, but when she got to his waist he blushed and backed away. “That’s uh… out of bounds,” he said sheepishly when her optic jerked back up to his face. “Legs’re fine, though, if you want to give them a go.” He slowly unfolded them, leaving one flat against the glass and the other with his knee in the air. When he’d stilled she did just that, travelling from his knee all the way down to his cold ankle and his scuffed brown loafers. Then she abruptly lifted her core to look him directly in the eye again. He found that terribly unnerving, this giant robot staring him in the bloody eye, but he held her gaze. He didn’t know what that meant, but it seemed to be terribly important. She came suddenly towards his face, but he screwed his eyes shut and backed away, holding his right arm up between the two of them. “You’ve got a bright light for an eye, there, luv,” he said, squinting under his arm at her. “I can’t see when you do that.”

She seemed to understand, or decided against doing it again, at least, and moved back to stare him in the eye again. He hesitated, looking down at his hand, then back up to her eye. “Just… hold there, will you? Just… just let me… there you go. There you go, luv.” Carefully, he brought his hand to the side of her core and stroked it gently with his fingertips, making sure to keep eye contact, and she twitched uncertainly. Then she pulled herself forward a few inches, making it easier for him to reach. A smile broke out across his face, and he laughed a little. “That’s a good girl,” he whispered, marvelling at the difference between the frantic, terrified construct of yesterday and the calm, observant one of now. “You know I’m not gonna hurt you. You’re really quite clever, you know.”

His legs were still in the same position they’d been when she’d gone over them, and he pushed himself backwards with the heels of his hands so that he could fold them up again. She moved forward along with him, and he shook his head and held up his hand. “I’m not going anywhere!” he said, looking up at her from under raised eyebrows. “Just rearrangin’, that’s all.”

When he pulled himself closer to her, so that she didn’t have to lean out so far, she moved back, and he suddenly realised that she was maintaining a certain distance. Almost simultaneously, he realised she hadn’t refocused her lens once.

“You don’t know how, do you?” he asked her, but she of course didn’t answer. He stood up, causing her to snap backwards and freeze again, and he held up both hands, palms facing her. “Sorry, sorry,” he said, licking his lips. “Be right back, okay? I gotta show you something.”

He retrieved the laptop from the drawer in the desk in the corner, and with a little bit of searching he figured out which commands the chassis used and brought it over, sitting down in front of her and facing the screen towards her. “Look here,” he said, hoping she knew how to read. “This’ll let you refocus your lens, see? I bet ev’rything’s all blurry for you, isn’t it? Try that, go on.”

She stared at the text on the screen for a long time. His brow creased, and he looked from the screen to her and back again. “C’mon, girl. That’s the command to focus your lens, okay? You use that. Helps you see. Go on, try it.” He looked over the top of the monitor and stabbed at the line in question with his left index finger. “Give it a try. See how it goes, eh?”

All of a sudden she twitched and tipped her core downwards, still looking at the screen but seemingly with more attention. “There you go!” he said excitedly, tapping at the screen. “That’s a good girl. That’s how you do it, okay? Go on.”

There was a mechanical whirring noise and her lens came out, but it was extended so far that she jerked back violently from the screen. She stared at it, frozen, for a long moment, then brought the lens back again. Wheatley smiled broadly and gave her a thumbs-up, even though he wasn’t sure she could see it. “That a girl!” he said proudly. “You got it. Just be a bit slower, eh? Work on it, you’ll get better, you’ll see.”

She came back over to him with another abrupt movement, looking at the screen again, and he scrolled down a little and pointed at a new command. “That one uh, it lets you control your light, there,” he said, waving in the general direction of her optic. “Try that one.”

She dimmed it almost immediately, and left it that way, and he figured she’d really wanted to know that one. He pointed a few more things out to her, such as how to reposition her optic assembly and turn her head, and every time he showed her something she would settle herself to her liking and then go back to staring at the screen. “You just like learning things, don’t you,” he said softly, and he couldn’t help but reach out and stroke her core again. This time, though, she didn’t flinch, just looked at him, and he grinned. “We get along quite swimmingly, don’t we, girl.” He then remembered that he wasn’t supposed to know about her at all, and looked away, sadness creasing his face. They were getting on very well, but he wasn’t allowed in here, especially not at night. And unless he thought up a damn good excuse, they were going to come in here and bombard her with all those programs and overwhelm her with all that sensory input and scare her again. The thought of her screaming, trying to pull herself out of the ceiling sent what felt like a jolt of cold water splashing into his gut, and he took his hand off of her and pressed it to his stomach. His heart was starting to make itself known again, and he swallowed hard on a sudden rush of saliva. He knew all too well how it felt when no one listened to you. How they ignored you when you needed help. How they disregarded you just because you weren’t like they were. Poor GLaDOS. She didn’t deserve that. She didn’t know. It wasn’t her fault, she didn’t know anything.

She pushed him, and he almost fell over, snatching the handrail at the last second and pushing himself back up to a sitting position. He gritted his teeth against the pain shooting up his wrist and snapped his head around to glare at her, a rebuke on the edge of his tongue, but… well, he could have sworn she looked curious. He looked away, towards the glass in front of him, and reminded himself that she probably hadn’t meant to be so rough about it. She didn’t quite have control over her body yet. He sighed and pushed a swath of hair stiff with dried sweat out of his eyes.

“I dunno what to do,” he said quietly, lifting a hand helplessly and putting it back down at his side. “I’m not allowed in here, GLaDOS. I’m not supposed to know about you. And I know what’s gonna happen to you, ‘cause it happened to me, still does, really, and I… I don’t want you to be alone in it, like… like I’ve been.”

She continued to watch him, though now that she knew how to move them, her optic assembly and lens constantly shifted, adjusting to whatever she felt they needed to adjust to. He shook his head helplessly and closed the laptop, standing and turning away from her.

“I’ve got to be going,” he mumbled, and he actually tripped down the stairs and hit the floor in a tangled heap, wincing as the laptop fell with a loud clatter. He gasped in pain as his shoulder slammed into the hard tile, and his glasses went skittering a good twenty feet. He moaned a little as every other part of him that’d hit the floor chimed in with a complaint, and he rubbed tiredly at his forehead. God, what a day.

As he stood up, wincing, he turned around by mistake to see her staring at him. “What d’you want?” he cried out, though she was mostly a fuzzy blur and he couldn’t really see her at all. “Yeah, I’m a clumsy bloke. D’you mind not just staring at me like that? Seriously? Why don’t you… agh!” He jerked around, feeling something hit him in the shin, and he leaned over and grasped at it reflexively. Instead of his leg, his fingers wrapped around the scratched metal frame of his glasses, and he froze, staring somewhat blindly into the grey fuzz in front of him. Okay, he didn’t have the best memory some of the time, but he clearly remembered watching them fade into the outer reaches of his vision. He shoved them back on his face and turned to look at her.

“How did you do that?” he asked, baffled. “I don’t under –“ Then something smacked him in the shin again, and he looked down in time to see one of the grey panels settling back into the floor.

He stared at her, completely frozen in shock.

She had figured out how to move the panels from one of the commands that he’d skipped past on the screen, he knew that. That made sense, somewhat. What didn’t was that she had so quickly grasped that he could not see without his glasses.

“How did you know?” he demanded. “How did you know I can’t see without them?”

She extended her lens, then pulled it back in again.

“Okay, I get it, that was a stupid question,” he said, shaking his head and propping his face in his hand. “But that’s gonna bug me. How did you know that?”

She repeated the exact same action with her lens, and he frowned. That was… odd.

“What’re you doing? What does that mean?”

She did it a third time, and he spread his hands in confusion, shoving his glasses back up his nose. “I don’t understand… stop doing that! I don’t get it!” For she’d done the exact same thing a fourth time, right after he’d pushed up his –

His lenses.

He stared at her, jaw slack. “You think my lens fell out, don’t you?” he asked her, his aches and his need to leave forgotten as he stepped quickly back up the stairs, taking his glasses off and showing them to her. “You think that when I do this – “ and he pushed them into his face again, “that means I’m fixing my vision, right?”

She readjusted her lens yet again and shifted herself with a jerky, sudden movement.

“Okay, okay, so, here, listen,” he said, thinking hard as to how he could get a clear answer out of her. “This means yes, okay?” He nodded a few times, and she traced the path of his head carefully. “And this means no.” She followed that too, and he stepped back and showed her his glasses again.

“Is this my lens?”

She stared at them, but did nothing.

“C’mon. Yes or no. Is this my lens?”

GLaDOS looked at his face and readjusted her lens once more. He shook his head, nose wrinkling. “No, I know these go on my face,” he told her, waving his free hand. “Is this my lens? Yes or no.”    

She only kept looking at his face. He frowned, shoving the arms back on the side of his head and crossed his arms thoughtfully. “D’you… d’you know what a lens is?” he asked, having a sudden thought. “D’you even know what I’m talking about?”

When she shook her head, he turned around and drove his fists towards the ceiling in triumph. “Yes! Yes yes yes!” he yelled, whirling around to face her again, only to see she had gone to the other side of the room, back into her defensive position. He froze for a second, then held his hand out, palm up. “Sorry, sweetheart,” he said softly, and she relaxed and came forward again. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Just got a bit excited, there. Look.” He took his glasses off and pointed at the lens. “That there’s called a lens, okay? You’ve got one, but I can’t show it to you. It’s just uh, a piece of glass that lets you see further or closer. I’ve got them in my eyes, too, but uh, they’re, they don’t work properly. Can’t see anything if it’s not right in front of me.”

She had bent over the glasses, inspecting them closely, and Wheatley laughed when he realised she was actually looking through them, though he wasn’t sure what she was seeing. “You don’t need glasses, silly,” he said, removing them from her view and replacing them. Honestly his stomach was starting to churn a little from having them off for so long. Even just a couple of minutes of trying to see things in a blurry world made him very dizzy. “Your lens works fine.”

She moved back a little and he smiled, laying his left hand on the side of her core. “You’re dreadfully clever, you are,” he told her. “I hope I can figure out how to get back in here. Ev’ryone seems to think you know ev’rything already, just ‘cause you’re inside a computer, there. But I guess you can’t know about something if you don’t know it exists, right? Like you know you’ve got a lens, but you don’t know what it’s called, right? I… I dunno. I’m just… I don’t wanna leave, really, but… I do really have to be going.” He rubbed her core a few times and turned around, shoulders hunched in regret. He really didn’t want to leave her, but what choice did he have?

She watched him as he went back down the stairs, picking up the laptop and shoving it back into the drawer, and it was with genuine difficulty that he shut her down. It didn’t seem right. She was a computer, sure, but… it didn’t feel like she was a computer. It felt as though she were inside the computer, just as he was inside of his body, but he wasn’t his body. Oi. He rubbed his forehead. That sounded complicated. It was just… it didn’t feel right, turning someone off like that. He wouldn’t’ve liked it, he knew that for sure.

“G’night, GLaDOS,” he whispered, looking over at her now-prone form, wondering if she could hear him. But she didn’t move, and he swallowed through a dry mouth and bent over the keyboard so he could get the door open.

Chapter Text

Chapter Three

 

Wheatley paced back and forth in front of Henry’s office, gnawing on his right thumbnail. Of all the days for Henry to take his time…

When he’d arrived home, Wheatley had tossed and turned for hours before rolling out of bed – literally, he’d rolled right onto the floor and smacked his head on the nighttable – and dug around in his work bag, his jacket pocket, and yesterday’s jeans for his cell phone. He’d finally found it on the floor, but after confusedly stabbing at the keyboard for a few minutes, he discovered the battery was dead. As usual. He’d hurriedly plugged it into the charger and tripped down the stairs, heading for the kitchen. Two pieces of burnt toast and a bowl of soggy oatmeal later, he’d gone back upstairs to discover that the battery was still dead. Puzzled, he’d picked the charger up and inspected it, since it’d seemed pretty much working the last time he’d used it, shoving aside an annoying dangling cord hanging from the back of it. He put it back down and jammed the phone back into the charger. That was when he noticed the little green light wasn’t on, so he went to check the… oh. Oh, that was what the cord was for…

Twenty anxious minutes later, he’d got the phone charged enough that he could make a call, and he’d dialled Henry. He hadn’t answered on the first ring, nor the second or the third, and Wheatley was about to make three more calls and then give up when he answered on the eighth ring.

“What in the world do you want?” Henry screamed into Wheatley’s ear, and Wheatley was so startled that he dropped the phone on the floor and sent the battery flying across the room. After pulling it out from underneath his dresser with a fistful of missing change and more than a few cobwebs, he jammed it back into the phone and called Henry yet again.

“Sorry, mate,” he muttered apologetically. “Look, I need you to get into work early this morning. I have something I need to talk to you about. Urgently. Like, right now urgently. Well, five hours ago urgently, but right now’ll do, right now’ll do. ‘cept we gotta talk uh, face to face. So… can you head off to work, if you don’t mind?”

“This better be damn important,” Henry muttered, and Wheatley took that as a yes and ran down the stairs, managing to only trip over the bottom three.

And now Wheatley was adding to the black streak on the floor in front of Henry’s office, which had begun back when Wheatley had been hired and had latched onto Henry as a mentor of sorts.

After another twenty minutes, Henry finally showed up, with a decidedly unhappy look on his face, but Wheatley barely noticed. “Let’s duck in here, mate,” he said, shoving Henry into his office and pulling the door shut behind him. Henry sighed and dropped his leather satchel onto the desk with a heavy clunk.

“What is it now, Wheatley?” he asked tiredly, well used to Wheatley’s late night urgent missions.

“I need you to get me on the team that works on GLaDOS.”

Henry laughed so hard he had to brace himself on the desk to stop from collapsing onto the floor. “You? Work on GLaDOS? Are you out of your mind?”

“Henry… I…” He wasn’t sure he wanted to reveal his doings last night, but he really didn’t have a choice. “I woke her up last night.”

Henry abruptly stopped laughing and stared at him as if his head was on fire. He rubbed at it self-consciously, just in case it was.

“What the – Wheatley, you know you’re not allowed in here at night.”

“I know, I know,” Wheatley cut in, raising his hand to stop Henry before he elaborated further. “But… well, you know ‘bout what you said, ‘bout the whole uh, the um, the impartial observer thing?”

“What about it.”

“Well… I made an impartial observation.   Henry, she’s… there’s someone in there. It’s not Caroline, that’s for sure, but… that’s not just a robot you’ve got there. I know it sounds crazy, I know that, but… look, just… two things, okay?”

“Go ahead.” Henry leaned against his desk and folded his hands together in front of them.

“First… put her in safe mode. You’ve got like eight million programs booting up with her, and… she’s confused. She doesn’t know what to do with them. If you uh, if you came in here and people just uh, just bombarded you with work on your very first day, well, you’d be right upset, wouldn’t you?”

“That makes sense,” Henry mused, his eyebrows coming together, “but only if the robot is… you know… actually alive.”

“She is,” Wheatley said urgently, leaning forward and clenching his fists. “She’s alive. I know it sounds weird, but think of it like this: you’re inside your body, right?”

“Uh huh.”

“But your body’s not you, is it? No no, it’s just uh, the container you’re kept in! And she’s uh, she’s alive too, but her container is um, is a giant robot.”

“That… also somehow makes sense.” Henry shifted against the desk, placing his hands on the edge and heaving himself on top of it. “You said there were two things.”

“I have to be there when you wake her up. If only for a minute or two. Else she’ll just, she’ll go haywire again. She knows me. I can calm her.”

Henry regarded Wheatley for a long moment, rubbing at his nose thoughtfully. “I… guess I can make something up. If you screw up, though, it’s on you. I can get you in, but only you can keep yourself in.”

He nodded quickly. “I can do that, I can do that.”

So Wheatley stood off to the side, unnoticed, as the scientists bustled around with their clipboards, watching nervously as Henry quietly conversed with the white-haired scientist from the previous day. He hoped Henry would be able to convince him to do as Wheatley had asked.

He would stop watching them every so often to give the supercomputer a glance, but the more often he looked at her the less she looked like a supercomputer and more like some innocent, unsuspecting animal or something. He knew she wasn’t an animal, but she didn’t look quite human enough for him to compare her to one.                         

Finally, the white-haired scientist nodded and Henry turned to Wheatley, giving him a quick thumbs up. Wheatley forced a fleeting, nervous smile before stepping out of the corner and making his way around the edge of the room, now totally focused on GLaDOS. He would need to be near to her, in order to head off her panic before she’d quite begun. He didn’t want to think of what damage she might do to herself if she started trying to pull out of the ceiling again, now that she had a bit more control of her body.

There was no fanfare this time, just a drove of scientists weary of debugging watching as their program began to execute for the umpteenth time. Wheatley stood just out from under the platform over which she hung, hoping she would be able to see him. He didn’t want to call attention to his presence, not yet.

When she lifted her head, it was with much greater control than yesterday, and the scientists all nodded and jotted whatever notes they had on their clipboards. Wheatley gripped the edge of the glass and wished his heart would quit trying to leap out of him. A heart attack was all he needed right now.

GLaDOS slowly scanned the room with her great yellow eye, that raw intelligence very palpable to Wheatley, at least, and when she’d done that she hitched awkwardly backwards, facing them directly and keeping them all within her range of vision. Greg nodded in satisfaction. “Much better than yesterday,” he said, beginning to climb the stairs. “We just have to find out what happened.”

“I’d conjecture an overload,” Henry spoke up, and Greg stopped to look behind him, one hand wrapped around the railing. “We tried to run too much software at once.”

Greg rolled his eyes and faced GLaDOS again, who was now wholly focusing her attention on him. “Henry, to run them one at a time would take forever.”

“We’ll run them in batches,” the black scientist cut in. “No need to go to either extreme.”

Wheatley willed GLaDOS to stay calm as Greg approached, but if anything she seemed to be getting more anxious. She’d gone as far back as she could, and she kept trying to look behind her but couldn’t, since the rotator assembly didn’t allow her to turn her head more than a few degrees. “What’re you doing over there?” Greg asked, frowning as he stood at the edge of the railing nearest her. “Come here.”

She tried to look behind her again, but more quickly this time, as if she didn’t want Greg out of her sight. Wheatley could hear a mechanical whining that was growing in severity, and he realised she was still trying to back up. He blinked suddenly and snapped his attention to Greg.

If Greg didn’t back off, she was going to try to pull herself out of the ceiling again. If she got to that point, then they’d shut her off again and they really would poke around inside of her, when there was nothing wrong! They were just being a bit insensitive, was all.

“Come down here, I said,” Greg repeated, in a much louder voice, and she startled a little, beginning to shift her optic assembly very quickly between Greg and the group of scientists below. Wheatley decided now was the time to make his move and grasped the handrail, throwing his weight around it and hurtling almost headlong up the stairs. He shoved Greg out of the way and stepped to the handrail farthest from her.

“Hey. It’s me,” he said softly, and Greg opened his mouth to say something, what, Wheatley didn’t know, because one of the other scientists shushed him when GLaDOS visibly relaxed. She didn’t go so far as to come up to him, but she stopped straining against herself, at least. She did not stop watching the scientists.

“C’mere, girl,” he said, in the same soft voice, and she gave him a glance but didn’t move. Greg rolled his eyes and walked in front of Wheatley.

“This is ridiculous,” he spat, his face covered in red splotches. “You’re acting like it’s a puppy, or something.” He turned to face her again and demanded, “Come here!”

She began pulling back again, and Wheatley could clearly see she was distressed that she couldn’t move any farther. He wondered how it must feel, to see all these little creatures below you who could move wherever they liked, but to be constrained to the same twenty-foot circle no matter how hard you tried to leave it. Wheatley shoved himself off the railing and walked to the far side of the platform, where it curved around again, and he held his hand out. “C’mere, won’t you?” he asked, praying that she would. He had to calm her down. “C’mon, luv. It’s me, it’s Wheatley. You remember ol’ Wheatley, right, from last night? ‘course you do. C’mon. Come down from there. Just for a minute, how about that? You can go right back up there if you like, but later. Just for a second. Won’t be long, won’t be long. Give it a try, will you?”

She didn’t like this plan, he could tell, because from where he was standing she would no longer be able to see the scientists without turning away from him completely, but that was part of what he was trying to do. Get her focus off them and onto him. As long as she felt threatened, she would never calm down.

“Just for a second,” he repeated, scratching his nose. Then he had a bit of a brainwave and shoved up on his glasses, though for once they hadn’t slipped. She jolted a little bit, coming a tiny bit closer, and he smiled and nodded at her. “That’s a girl. Come on. C’mere.”

She looked uneasily at the scientists, though shifting her bulk in more of Wheatley’s general direction, and Wheatley leaned forward on the railing. “Nothing’s gonna happen, I promise, but you have to come over here,” he told her, and this time she looked at him for a good six seconds before eyeing the scientists again. Then she abruptly lost all interest in them and came down in front of Wheatley, who smiled and offered his hand. She shifted so that the two of them were touching, and he laid it alongside her core and stroked it a little bit with his thumb. “Good girl,” he said quietly. “Thanks for listening, eh? I know you didn’t want to, but I’m glad you did.”

“Okay, so we know you can do that,” Greg interjected, shoving on his left shoulder and turning him around, by extension moving his arm roughly from GLaDOS’s core, and she backed away, looking apprehensively at Greg. Annoyed, Wheatley pushed his hand away. “But that’s not important. How does she recognise you?”

“That was me,” Henry spoke up, and they turned to face him, both with disbelieving looks on their faces. “I couldn’t let it sit and had to get one more look last night. Didn’t want to come here myself, not at that hour, so I took Wheatley with me. I don’t know what he did, but as you can see it was obviously effective.”

“Oh, it was easy,” Wheatley said enthusiastically, stepping towards Henry. “Just had to uh, to be nice about it, is all. Too much all at once, that’s all it was, just frightened her right – “

“We didn’t ask,” Greg interrupted. Wheatley supposed that was true, but it didn’t stop him from crossing his arms and turning back to GLaDOS, staring at the floor and biting the inside of his lip.

“Wheatley’s right, though,” Henry continued, and Wheatley’s head snapped upright again. “We’ve built AI, gentlemen, but though the program’s running properly, it simply doesn’t have any experience with how things work to do what we need it to do just yet. I propose Wheatley be assigned to that.”

“Assigned to what?” the white-haired scientist called out. “What exactly is it he’s doing?”  

Henry’s voice was firm. ”Basically? Teaching it as much as possible until it learns to learn on its own.”

“But that’s going to take forever!” Greg protested, slamming his hands against the railing, and GLaDOS jolted and shifted towards him, backing away a little more. “We don’t have that kind of time!”

“You haven’t got a choice,” Wheatley said in a low voice, looking up at GLaDOS with his head still tilted towards the floor. “You can argue and, and fight against it all you like, but the plain fact is she hardly knows anything, and yelling at her to do things isn’t going to, she’s still not going to know how to do them no matter how hard you yell. She might have all the, the programs and whatnot, but what computer knows how to activate its own programs?”

“This is stupid,” Greg muttered. “We needed this project at full functionality years ago.”

“And the longer you keep arguing, the longer it’s going to take,” Wheatley said heatedly, spinning to face Greg with his fists clenched, hard. “You’re not gonna speed anything up by pointing fingers!”

“What do you know?” Greg sneered, leaning into Wheatley’s face, and he unintentionally moved back. “You’re not even supposed to be here! You’re supposed to be tucked away in your corner, pretending you’re actually – “ The two of them backed away from each other then, covering their ears and wincing as GLaDOS generated a very loud, high-pitched dissonant sound, which lasted about ten seconds. When she’d finished, Wheatley unclenched his head and stared over at her in wonder. She was so smart, she was, she’d known they were arguing and had put a stop to it!

“Well, looks like our decision’s been made for us,” the black scientist spoke up. “Greg, let’s get started on phase two, shall we?”

The scientists began to filter out, pairing or grouping together and speaking in low tones, but Wheatley paid them no more attention than that. He stepped close to GLaDOS, both hands wrapped around the railing, grinning uncontrollably. “That was very clever of you,” he told her, and she moved around so that she was over top of the glass floor, lowering herself to be on his level. He turned and laid his hand on her core. “Hey. Listen.” He moved closer to her, though he was sure she would hear him just the same no matter where he was, seeing as she had audio pickups and not actual ears. “I’m… they’ve just told me I’m supposed to um, to teach you stuff, but uh, I’m no good at that, really I’m not. So we’re just gonna be… gonna be friends, you and me, and if you learn something along the way, well, good for you.”

She didn’t react to this, merely continued to watch him calmly, and Wheatley looked apprehensively at the desk in the corner, the weight of his task suddenly pressing on him. He was in charge of teaching GLaDOS things. But what? And where did he start? He’d gotten put on the GLaDOS project, but… what was his actual job?

He looked up at her, but she still hadn’t moved at all. “You wanna give me a hint, there?” he asked, even though she couldn’t answer him. “What d’you want to learn, old girl?”

He decided to go ask Henry. Henry usually had an idea of where Wheatley needed to begin large projects. He told GLaDOS he’d be right back and ran out of the room without tripping over anything. And when that happened, Wheatley could count a day as very promising indeed.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

 

It was a couple of weeks later. At Henry’s suggestion, Wheatley had eased her into a couple of her easier programs, the ones controlling the lights and the climate and such, which she fought against initially but did without complaint after Wheatley had convinced her to. The first couple of days he had had to remind her to start them, not wanting to add them to her task list and outright force her to do them, and after a little prodding she would do so, booting them on her own after about five days. He did his best to make the most of even the smallest of accomplishments, because unlike a human there was really nothing else he could motivate her with, and though his acknowledgement was not all that much she seemed to look forward to it. He knew that she greatly enjoyed it in particular when he rubbed her core, so he saved that for special occasions. She reminded him very much of a cat, a very clever, no-nonsense kind of cat, and he found himself frowning at his bedroom ceiling at night, trying to figure out how he could get her to relax a little. She was on edge most of the time, and would back away reflexively whenever anyone came into her chamber, and even the smallest of noises alarmed her. As far as he could tell, she thought every situation was dangerous and did not relax her guard for a second. He was trying to think of some way to show her it wasn’t like that, because living like that was not good for humans and he didn’t want to know what effect it would have on her, but so far he’d had no luck.

Today he’d flopped into a sitting position on the glass in front of her, bringing a dark brown wooden box about the size of a dustbin out from under his arm, and setting it in front of her. She inspected it with great interest, poking her lens into the top of it and nudging it with very quick movements, as if to see if it would move upon the barest contact, and Wheatley laughed and pressed his index finger to her core. As always, she backed away, waiting patiently for him to open the box.

“This here’s my box of toys,” he told her, unlatching it and flipping up the lid. “Remember how I showed you that command to use the maintenance arm yesterday, luv?”

She nodded, attempting to look over the top of the lid, but he closed it most of the way and shook his head. “You’re gonna need to use that. You don’t get to see what’s in here until you bring it out.”

She continued nudging the box, though never hard enough to actually move it, and Wheatley noted to himself about how quickly she’d got control of herself. It took humans years to learn to move properly, and it had taken her just over a fortnight, most of her physical behaviour smooth and fluid. When she was anxious or upset she tended to revert to the more machine-like movement, but for the most part she seemed to have gotten it down. Hence the introduction of the maintenance arms. Unfortunately, she seemed to be grasping that he was only showing her how to do things so that he could get her to run another program, and she was getting reluctant.

“C’mon, GLaDOS,” he said gently, pressing on her with his index finger again. “This will be fun, I promise. But you need the arm, okay?”

She backed away and looked at him, twisting just her chassis a little bit, which she sometimes did when deciding whether or not to do as she was asked. Wheatley shrugged and closed the lid, propping his arms up on the box. “I really want to show you what’s in here, you know. Why don’t you bring the ol’ arm out, just for a minute, there? Do me a favour, bring the ol’ arm out so I can show you what’s in the box. That’s all I’m asking there, luv. Bring ‘er out so I can show you what I’ve got.”

She stared at him for a while longer, when suddenly one of the arms dropped out of the ceiling and fell to the glass in front of him with a loud clunk. She jumped back when he did, both of them staring apprehensively at it, Wheatley’s heart in his throat. He knew she didn’t have much of a grasp on how to use them yet, but he hadn’t realised she was having that much trouble.

He sat back up and spun the box around, lifting up the lid. “There you go,” he told her, and she dipped her core down to look inside of it. “Pick what you like and show it to me.”

She inspected the contents of the box for a good few minutes, and Wheatley jiggled his knee and tried to be patient. God, she took forever, sometimes. “GLaDOS, you can look at ev’rything if you like,” he told her, trying to keep his voice neutral. “But you’re going to have to take it out of the box.”

She looked reluctantly at the maintenance arm, then at him, tilting her core inquisitively. He raised his eyebrows.

“I’m not taking it out for you. Take it out yourself.”

She went back to inspecting the box, and after a couple more minutes she dragged the claw across the glass, pulling it up the side of the box and tipping it over the side. He almost laughed. She was trying very, very hard to avoid actually manipulating it. She’d gotten it in there, at least, so he folded his hands together and tried to be patient. It was honestly the only way to go about things, with her. She did as he asked eventually, but always on her own time. Once he got her to realise how interesting learning the skill was, she got right on it, but that was the trick right there.

Eventually she pulled the arm back out of the box, dropping one of the toys onto the glass, and he could not help but roll his eyes. He was pretty sure she’d only chosen this one because she didn’t actually have to pick it up; she’d only had to hook the maintenance arm through one of the empty plastic windows. “Oh, you’ve found my lorry,” he told her as she shook it off the claw. “D’you want to see what’s in there?” The lorry in question had a tiny little rear door on it that he knew she wasn’t opening anytime soon, no matter how good he made it sound, and he opened it and tipped it backwards. “Look at that! There’s little automobiles in here.”

She made one of her very rare noises, something between curious and surprised, and bent down quickly to look at each of the small cars in turn. Wheatley pushed the box aside and got down on his stomach, lining the cars up in front of her. “Watch.” He pushed on the back of a bright red Corvette with his left index finger, and she jumped as it headed towards her, following it by tilting her core. “Uh oh,” he said, feigning distress, “I can’t reach it! You want to send it back over here for me?”

She looked at him, tipping her core downwards so that her optic was just visible from beneath it, and he laughed, folding his arms underneath him. “Yes, I did expect you to fall for that,” he told her, tapping his fingers against the glass. “You’re getting too smart for me.” He shifted his shoulders. “C’mon. Imagine all the things you could do if you just knew how to uh, if you could use those things. You’d have hands, just like I have. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could do stuff yourself? Wouldn’t have to depend on others to do it for you! Just give it a go. You’ll never get better if you don’t practice, luv.”

To his surprise, she accepted that and dragged the claw towards the now-stationary Corvette in front of her, pulling it upwards so that it was perpendicular to the glass, but there she paused. “D’you remember what I did?” he asked, and after a couple of seconds she nodded slowly. “Open it up, then. Just open that claw up. Not asking you to pick the car up, okay? Just push it back over here.”

Looking very attentively at the claw, she managed to get it to open, but it tipped over and she seemed to grow discouraged, looking from it to Wheatley and back again. He felt sort of bad for knowing how to use his fingers and folded them together, tucking them underneath his chest. “Try again. It’s okay. Take your time, there’s no rush.”

She carefully stood the claw back up again and dragged it unevenly behind the Corvette, pausing again. He peeled out his left hand and showed her his finger. “Look.” He held his finger straight down and pressed it to the back of a scruffy white passenger van, sending it rolling a couple of inches. “Just like that.”

She jolted a little, then bent over the claw and looked at it closely. She dragged it along the glass until it was touching the front end of the Corvette, and then pushed it so hard it hit the lineup and sent all the cars every which way. She dropped the claw onto the glass, chassis sinking, but Wheatley only laughed and snatched up a wayward Jeep before it could skitter off the glass. “That’s a good girl,” he said, smiling up at her, and she perked up a little, going so far as to shove one of the cars in his general direction with the claw still flat against the glass. It didn’t really go anywhere, but she’d tried. “Good job,” he told her, giving her a thumbs up. She pushed at it a little more, and when he reached for it she rolled the claw over so that he couldn’t get at it. He smiled and clenched his fists in excitement. There it was! He just had to wait until that stubbornness of hers kicked in in his favour instead of against it.

She eventually had it right in front of him, and he thanked her and lined it back up with the other ones. “Here,” he said, tucking his hands beneath him again. “Show me which one’s your favourite.”

She stared at them uncertainly for a long moment, twitching the claw a little. He gestured at the lineup. “Which one d’you like the best? Show me which one you like.”

She did nothing for another long moment, then cautiously stood the maintenance arm up again and placed it along the front of his Batmobile. He laughed and picked it up. “Aha! You have good taste in cars, my friend. Here.” He put it flat in the palm of his hand and offered it to her. “Take it so you can have a look.”

She eyed it uneasily, but he knew he had her curiosity piqued now and he just needed to be patient. After a few moments she lifted the claw off the floor and slowly clamped it around the car, taking it out of his hand and bringing it up to her optic. He laughed, excited, clasping his hands together. “Very good!” he told her. “Try and turn it ‘round, a bit, so you can see underneath.”

She managed to rotate the claw with a short, jerky movement, carefully inspecting the relief of an undercarriage, and then she moved the arm so that it was directly in front of him. He stared at it, puzzled. “What?”

She shook it a little, and he frowned, chewing on the inside of his lip. What could she possibly – oh! Oh God, she was getting clever. He whipped out his hand, palm up, and she immediately dropped the car into it. He threw the car down on the floor and stood up, grinning uncontrollably, and rubbed her core with his hand. She leaned forward and he reached up to stroke the front of it, as high as he could reach, stepping back after a few moments. “Tremendous!” he exclaimed, folding his arms around himself and tapping on one of them with one of his fingers. “Well done, well done. Always doing things I don’t expect, you are.”

He sat back down, legs crossed this time, and she bent down and dragged the claw along the glass again, but instead of just showing him which one she wanted, she tried to pick it up. Unfortunately, she hadn’t quite figured out how to get at it lengthwise and merely flipped it over. He went to fix it, but she blocked him, leaning low over the wayward car and stabbing at it until the wheels were on the glass again. Then she picked it up and held it out to him, and he let her drop it in his hand. “This one’s called a ‘Beetle’,” he said, holding it between two fingers. “Funny little cars, they are. D’you know they’ve got the boot in the front of it? Isn’t that mental? If you get rear-ended, instead of losing your groceries you’ve gone and lost your engine! This car’s from a place called Germany, way out in another part of the world called Europe.” He fiddled with the car for a minute, trying to get the metal top of it to separate from the plastic underneath. “In Germany they’ve got this road you’re allowed to drive as fast as you like on. No speed limit at all. ‘cept the speed your car can go, I suppose. It’s called uh… mm… I forget.” He paused, a bit of sadness coming over him. “I’m from… not from here. Place called England. Bristol. Not close to Germany, not really, but closer to Germany than here. I… I didn’t come here too long ago, only a few years back, there, but I miss it. Not the… oh, bloody hell, yes, I miss the rain too.” He laughed a little hysterically, clenching the car in his fist and looking at his knees. “’merica’s the Land of Opportunity, you see. What they don’t tell you is that the only opportunities are for Americans, and rich old blokes at that.” He was silent for a long moment, rubbing at the car with his thumb. He shook his head and went back to pulling at the car. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled, finally getting it into two pieces and shaking his head. “You didn’t need to hear that.” He couldn’t quite bring himself to look up at her, though. He didn’t really want to know if he’d lost her interest way back at the beginning of the narrative or not. “It’s just… you’re the only one who listens. And… I dunno if you um, you actually have a clue what I’m saying, and I doubt you care, but… you don’t interrupt, you just let me natter on and on, and I’m sure if you could talk we’d have some lovely conversations, but…” He didn’t quite know where he’d been going with that. “My mum wants me to go back. She liked my old job. I was a research assistant. At another lab. Ended up here. I thought it was going to be alright, to get paid to do what I wanted to do anyway, but… it’s the same ev’rywhere, I suppose. I’m not really stupid, I just… I can’t get my thoughts sorted out all the time. And people don’t feel like waiting ‘til I do. And I guess I’m a bit… clumsy… but it’s not something you can help, not really. Some people are coordinated, y’know, and some people are… not.” Abruptly he tossed the two pieces of the car onto the glass, shoved his fingers underneath his glasses, and rubbed at his eyes. “There I go again. God, I’m sorry. But it’s just, you’ve got no opinions about anyone. You don’t know what stupid is, or smart, or any of that. You just don’t care. If you knew, you would. Just like ev’ryone else does.” He pulled his hands out and resettled his glasses, looking tiredly at the floor. “Oi. Look how low I’ve gone. Ranting at a giant robot. Way to go, Wheatley. Doesn’t get much worse, mate.” He looked up, startled, when he heard the whirring of her mechanisms, and he was startled to realise that she had not moved until now. She… seemed to have been listening, up to now. She was looking to the general right of the glass, and he frowned. She looked a little… sad, really. Probably that was his fault too. He almost asked her what was wrong, but stopped himself just before he did. She couldn’t answer him. And even if she could, she probably wouldn’t.

She refused to have anything to do with him after that, not listening to anything he asked of her and not moving either, and he heaved a sigh and put the cars back inside of the truck. He’d mucked up again, and now he couldn’t even figure out how he’d done it, because she couldn’t tell him.

He headed out to his car, tossing the box in the backseat and sitting heavily in the front, reaching up to put his key in the ignition and realising he was sitting on the wrong side of the car. That always happened whenever he thought too hard about home, but it never got any less upsetting.

When he’d gotten home he made himself a bowl of beef stew out of a can and sat down on the couch, sticking his feet up on the table and kicking off his loafers. There was nothing he really wanted to watch on TV, so he just left it on the channel guide and watched the badly made ads in the top right corner of the screen, filled with smiling actresses advertising funny little hair products and blustering business men selling every type of insurance under the sun. Wheatley had tried to sell insurance once, but it hadn’t gone over well. He simply couldn’t stay on-topic to save his life. He’d been invited in for tea more times than he could count, leading to some very pleasant afternoons spent with the loveliest old ladies, and if they’d been giving out prizes for who could have heard the most stories about how England used to be and how dapper English gentlemen were a long time ago, well, he’d have earned the top spot. But they hadn’t been, and in three months he hadn’t sold a single policy, so he’d been let go. He did, however, have plenty of permanent invitations for tea, which he had taken his new friends up on whenever he’d had the time. He’d also discovered he was very good at making scones, which was surprising seeing as he managed to destroy almost everything else he tried to make, and the lady in particular who had taught him how had him make them for her and her friends every time he’d gone for a visit. It was quite flattering, really, to have all those lovely English ladies telling him how wonderful his scones were, and he’d honestly considered going into business until he remembered it wasn’t actually his recipe.

Eventually he swung his feet off the table and back onto the floor, filled the bowl with water and left it in the kitchen sink, and headed upstairs to brush his teeth. He changed into his pajama bottoms and flopped down on his bed, the bright pink Post-It note on the ceiling reminding him to make sure his alarm clock was set. He rolled over onto his left side, sticking his arm under his pillow and peeling his glasses off his face with the other. Then he stared into the darkness, not sure how he was getting to sleep this time. He was tired, but the wrong kind of tired. And he could not for the life of him figure out why GLaDOS had gotten all closed off all of a sudden. Maybe he’d upset her too, along with himself. He shouldn’t have laid all his problems on her like that. It wasn’t like she could do anything about it.

He frowned. Something seemed a bit off. She hadn’t reacted at all to anything he’d said, until he’d –

His eyes widened, his fingers clenching the pillow beneath his head.

Until he’d gone and basically insulted her for being a robot.

He rolled onto his back and growled a little in frustration, rubbing hard at his eyes with the heels of his hands. God, he was an idiot. That was how to do things. Alienate the one and only person who listened to him. Make her feel like she wasn’t good enough just because she happened to be a supercomputer instead of a human being. Seemed he’d forgotten about the whole ‘your body isn’t who you are’ thing.

He wished he could head there right now and apologise, because that was going to weigh on him all night, but he didn’t want to risk getting caught. Yes, GLaDOS was a robot and a supercomputer, but all in all she was one of the more patient people he’d ever met, and she didn’t really have to listen to anyone, let alone him. And yet she did.

“Please don’t be mad at me, luv,” he whispered into the dark.

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

 

Wheatley staggered into her chamber that morning, barely awake, eyes still sticky with sleep.  He hadn’t been able to sleep that night, since there was some sort of irritating noise somewhere or another, and when he’d gone downstairs to get a glass of water he discovered he’d left the television on.  He’d slept after that, but it had been far too late at night for him to get any real rest.  He stumbled up the stairs and nearly dropped his box, but he managed to catch his balance and make it onto the glass. 

 

GLaDOS was watching one of the monitors mounted on the wall of her chamber, which displayed a constantly updated system log.  Each of the monitors displayed a different log, and he wasn’t sure which one was which.  He wondered if she did.  

 

“G’morning, luv,” he said, his voice thick and hoarse, and he cleared his throat self-consciously.  “Can I talk to you, please?”

 

She glanced at him but did not move.  He grimaced, not wanting to fight with her today because he really was not in the mood, but it was his own fault.  It really was.

 

“I want to apologise for what I said yesterday.  That’s all.  I just want to do it to, to tell you directly.  You can go back to that when I’m finished, if you like.  I know you don’t owe me anything, but… please, GLaDOS.  Just give me a minute.”

 

She obliged, coming down to his level and looking him calmly in the eye, and he flinched but didn’t look away.  “I’m sorry,” he told her, twisting his fingers together.  “I… it was wrong of me to say that… that I was brought low by uh… by talking to you, instead of, I dunno, someone else.  If I’m honest, I… I don’t want to talk to anyone else.  What I said earlier, there, that was true.  You listen, and I appreciate that, I really do.  I don’t know why I said that bit about robots.  I’m sorry.”

 

She shifted around him and bent over his box, inspecting the latches closely, and he frowned.  “What’re you doing?”

 

She looked at him and nudged the box.

 

“That… that’s it?  We’re fine, now?  You’re not upset?”

 

She shook her core and moved towards him again, giving him a shove, and he jumped back.  He stared at her in confusion, but she’d already gone back to the box.

 

  1.   Okay.  That was… easier than he’d expected.

 

He ducked underneath her and unlatched the box, pushing up the lid, and she poked her lens inside of it, the yellow glow from her optic creating highlights against the dark wood, and one of her maintenance arms dropped out of the ceiling and hit the floor.  She snapped around to look at it, and to his surprise she generated a noise that he took to mean she was annoyed.  She pulled the claw across the tiles and up the stairs, eventually getting it back into the box and pulling out the truck.  She bent over the back of it, poking at the rear door with her lens, and Wheatley pushed on her core with his index finger and opened it for her.  She tipped it backwards and pushed it out of the way after all of the cars had spilled out.  “You like the cars?” he asked, but she didn’t answer, instead beginning to push at them with her claw.  He reached out to help her line them up, but whenever he did so she would push his hand away.  He folded his hands in his lap and tried to be patient. 

 

It took her half an hour to get them lined up to her satisfaction, if it could be called that; she seemed unhappy with the way they were arranged and kept trying to make the line straighter, which she couldn’t do because her control of the arm wasn’t yet dextrous enough.  Finally she looked at him and tapped at the glass in front of the cars.

 

“Good job,” he said, without enthusiasm.  He was simply too tired to really acknowledge her accomplishment.  She shook her head and tapped the glass again.

 

“I don’t know what you want.”

 

She looked down at the line for a long moment, then slowly pulled the Batmobile towards herself.  She lifted her core again and tapped at the glass.

 

“You want me to what?  To pick one?”

 

She nodded quickly, and he looked down at them without much interest.  “Which one?  What’m I doing?  Do I just pick any one?”

 

She made the annoyed noise again and tapped the Batmobile, then the glass in front of the line. 

 

“You want me to put the Batmobile back?”

 

She shook her core and the maintenance arm disappeared as she turned back to face the monitor again.  Wheatley threw up his hands.

 

“What?  What d’you want me to do?  I don’t get it!”

 

She ignored him entirely, as if she hadn’t heard him at all, and he pinched the bridge of his nose and tried to calm down.  He felt as though he might be close to tears, over absolutely nothing, and he was honestly disappointed in himself.  He’d mucked up, he’d prevented himself from sleeping, and now he couldn’t concentrate enough to try to understand what she was trying to tell him.  He stared at the line and the isolated Batmobile, but he could not for the life of him think of what it was she wanted.  He closed the lid on the box and folded his arms on top of it, resting his face on the cold wood.  Of all the days to demonstrate his idiocy, this had to be the very worst one.  She didn’t usually try to communicate like that, probably because it was very difficult for her to do so, and his not understanding was not going to encourage her to do it again.  Stupid, stupid, stupid…

 

Then all of a sudden she was pressing a very hot optic very hard into his back, and he yelled and tried to turn around.  “What in the bloody hell – “

 

“What’re you screaming about?” asked Henry, and Wheatley looked up, startled, to see him stepping through the Emancipation Grill.  Heart beating frantically, Wheatley struggled to come up with an excuse.

 

“Nothing, just… just got my thumb stuck in the lid, here, that’s all.”

 

“You must do that every time you close it,” Henry joked, coming up to peer over the glass.  “What are you doing?”

 

“She’s… learning how to use the… the claws,” Wheatley said haltingly, trying to remember just what they were supposed to be doing. 

 

“Using toys?”

 

“What else would I use?  Toys are uh, they’re int’resting.  I could use the Cubes, I s’pose, but they’re far too big.”

 

Henry shrugged.  “Point.  How’s that going?”

 

“Pretty good,” Wheatley said, struggling not to yawn.  He couldn’t quite stifle it and turned away so that Henry wouldn’t see.  As it was his jaw nearly cracked.  “She’s getting better.”

 

“Well, that’s all I’m here for,” Henry said, tapping his ever-present clipboard against the glass.  “Just checking in.  Keep doing what you’re doing.”

 

“’course,” Wheatley nodded, and Henry headed back out, the heavy metal door sealing behind him.  Wheatley rubbed at his eyes and pushed himself off the box, stretching out the kinks in his back that had come out of nowhere.  It cracked painfully, and he winced, but when he’d finished he felt considerably better.  He turned around to face GLaDOS, who had not moved for the duration of Henry’s visit.

 

“What were you doing?” he asked, annoyed.  “That hurt, you know.”

 

Her chassis sank and she looked away, looking almost exactly the same as she had yesterday, and he frowned.  He was the one who’d been poked by a giant bloody floodlight and she was upset?  That was just great.

 

She lifted her core and gestured as best she could to her left, and he looked around her but didn’t see anything.  She shook her head and turned to face the monitor again, and he followed her path of movement to the system –

 

There was now a clock on the screen.  And according to this clock, it was now almost noon.  He’d gotten here at seven-thirty.  He frantically checked his watch, but it only confirmed what the monitor said.

 

He’d fallen asleep on top of the box, and she had woken him so that Henry wouldn’t know.

 

He smacked himself very hard in the face, regretting it because it drove his glasses into his nose in a very painful fashion, and he scrambled to his feet and moved beneath her.  “God, I’m sorry,” he gasped, leaning back against the railing.  “GLaDOS, I’m sorry, I’m such a screw-up, sometimes.  Thank you, luv.  C’mere a second, okay?”

 

She shifted downwards, looking a bit wary and stopping just out of his reach, but he stepped forward and stood on tiptoe to rub at her core.  As soon as she realised what he was doing she came down farther, and he laughed and obliged her.  “Thanks, GLaDOS,” he repeated, smiling.  “I’ve been a right proper fool today, and yesterday evening as well, and you could’ve just left me to it.  I’d’ve deserved it, too.”

 

She trained her optic on his face, shifting her core so that he’d move his hand to the other side.  After he’d done that for a few seconds his stomach decided to growl painfully, and he screwed up his face and stepped back, rubbing at it.  GLaDOS looked at it, startled, and he shook his head.  “It’s all fine,” he told her, giving her a few more pats.  “I didn’t eat breakfast.  Now it’s lunch, and I’m starved.  Be right back.”

 

He returned a few minutes later with a couple of egg salad sandwiches and a glass of cloudy water, which looked a bit suspicious but he was too thirsty to really care.  He flopped down beneath her and unwrapped the sandwich, biting into it deeply.  Ohh yes.  He was finally going to be ready to go after this.

 

GLaDOS pressed her core into the back of his right shoulder, and he turned his head to see that her optic was trained on the sandwich.  He swallowed the lump in his mouth and said, “You’ve never seen a sandwich before, have you?  It’s just food.  Just… well, it’s uh… it’s…”  He peeled the sandwich apart and showed her the filling.  “It’s some chopped up eggs, and some mayonnaise, a bit of onion and pickle, and – whoa!”

 

She’d shifted forward suddenly and stuck her lens into his sandwich, getting it good and covered in egg salad, and was now shaking her head frantically.  He turned around, having the instinct to reach out to try and stop her but knowing he’d probably only injure himself, and he thought as fast as he could.  “GLaDOS!  Stop.  Stop.  Hey.  Stop.  I can get it.  Hold still, hold still.  Hey.  C’mon.  Stop.”

 

She did after a few more seconds, though she had begun to rock back and forth anxiously.  He put his hand on her core and said seriously, “I will get it off.  You have to stay still.  I have to go and get something, and then I will get it off.  Okay?  D’you understand?”

 

She nodded, and he pushed himself to standing by bracing against her core, and he ran out of the room.  God, that must be terrifying, to have something in your eye but being unable to get it out.  He barged into Henry’s office, to the displeasure of Henry and the office girl he was wooing, dumping out all eight drawers in Henry’s desk only to find the screen cleaning solution on top of Henry’s computer monitor.  Well, who kept it there?  He dashed out of the room, snatching up a box of Kleenex that had been in a drawer but was now lying tipped over on the grey tile.  He ignored Henry’s outraged shouting, stumbled out the door, and ran full pelt back into GLaDOS’s chamber.  She’d begun making a bit of a whining noise that instantly unnerved him, and he called out, “I’m back, I’m back!  Hang on, hang on.”  He tripped up the stairs and hit his chin against the floor, but he only stood back up and rubbed at it as he returned to her.  “Hold still.  Don’t move.”  He knelt down in front of her and carefully cleared out her lens, spraying it with a bit of the solution and cleaning it up as best he could, and when he’d finished he crumpled up the used tissue and screwed lid back on the bottle.  “Better?” he asked kindly, tossing the wad and the solution into the box.

 

She nodded, and he sat down and picked up the glass of water.  “Look, GLaDOS,” he said, turning to face her.  “C’mere a second.  I have to show you something.”

 

She bent closer, looking curiously at the glass, but he held it close to himself and dipped his fingers into it, putting them alongside her core and letting the water run off his fingers.  She jumped back and shook her core violently again, and he called out to her to stop.  She did, returning to her previous position in front of him, and he showed her his dry hand.

 

“This is dry, right?” he told her, wiggling his fingers.  “And this is wet.”  He dipped his fingers in the glass again and held out his dripping hand.  “Wet things are bad for you.  Do not touch them.”  He wiped his soggy hand off on his pants and showed it to her again.  “Dry things that get wet can, can be dried, but they usually get very dirty.  Just like you did when you got your lens in my, in my sandwich there.  You need to keep away from wet things.  They’ll harm you.”

 

As soon as she heard that she lunged forward, pressing her core into his shirt, and he was so surprised he didn’t do anything to stop her.  He raised his hands in submission, bewildered, and after she’d quite thoroughly rubbed her core into him she backed up, shaking it a little. 

 

“What the – ohhh.”  He leaned forward and scrubbed a little bit at the spot he’d dripped the water on with his right arm, to make sure it was dried off.  “That’s right.  When you get wet, you need to dry off quickly.”

 

Crisis averted, his stomach unhelpfully reminded him of how empty it was, and he returned his attention to the forgotten sandwiches.  He downed them and the glass of water quickly, knowing it was going to sit in his stomach like a rock soon enough but being too hungry to care.  Sated, he stifled a burp and wiped moisture from his mouth.  “Alright then.  Where were we?”

 

Eagerly GLaDOS shifted around in front of him, crashing the maintenance arm out of the ceiling again and tapping on the glass in front of the line of cars.  He frowned, propping his head up on one hand.  She’d taken the Batmobile and she wanted him to pick a car…

 

“Ohhh, you want to know what my favourite is!” he shouted suddenly, sitting bolt upright.  She nodded enthusiastically and tapped the glass one more time.  “Aha!  We’ve got someplace now.  Okay, favourite, favourite…”  He looked them over and tapped his finger on top of a shiny, metallic blue sports car.  “I like this one.  I like blue, and this car here, it looks fast, see, with the fin there and the, it’s all low to the ground.  My car’s not fast, not fast at all.  Really slow old thing.  Cheap little Honda, it is.”

 

She held out her maintenance arm expectantly, and after thinking it over a bit he decided she wanted him to give it to her, like she’d dropped the Batmobile into his hand yesterday.  So he picked it up and held it out, and she carefully pinched it in her claw and brought it in for inspection, her optic dimming as she did so.  She returned it to its regular state after she’d finished looking, so he figured she didn’t need as much light to look at it with because it was so reflective.  She held it out to him and he took it and put it in front of him. 

 

For the rest of the afternoon he told her what he knew about the cars, about how fast they were or how expensive, what they were used for and occasionally where he’d gotten them from, and she listened carefully and lined them up according to price or speed or whatever applied to what he was talking about, and he honestly hadn’t had so much fun in a very long time.  But come four-thirty he had to get going, and when he told her that she looked a little sad.  He tipped the truck forward and she cautiously dropped the cars inside, leaving the ones they’d chosen as their favourites for last, but when she went to pick up his blue sports car he shook his head and closed the truck up, dropping it into his box.  “You keep those two,” he told her, shoving it next to the Batmobile.  “You can play with them for a while.  ‘til they shut you off for the night, I guess.”

 

She nodded and straightened the two cars so that they were almost exactly parallel, and he latched the box and stood up, tucking it underneath his arm.  “This was… it was a nice day,” he said, feeling a bit shy for a reason he couldn’t fathom.  “You really did great, you’re getting much better at using those.  And I had loads of fun.  Thanks, luv.”

 

She fixed her optic on his face and he smiled, reaching out to stroke her a little bit.  “I’ll be back tomorrow.  I’ll bring some different food to show you, too.”  Previously, he’d taken lunch in the break room, though he couldn’t think of why he’d done such a silly thing when he could have been having it in here.  “Dunno what yet.” 

 

She gave him another nod and he turned around, heading down the staircase.  When he’d come up to the Emancipation Grid he took a breath to tell her goodbye, but when he looked over at her she had already directed her attention to the little cars, and as far as he could tell she had opened the claw and pressed it to both of them at once, and was now pushing them carefully across the glass.  He laughed a little and shook his head, marvelling at her, and walked out with a broad smile on his face.

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

 

Wheatley bounded into her chamber a bit early the next morning, having thought of something new he could have her do with her maintenance arms, but to his surprise she was still in the default position, though as he got closer he could see that her optic was on. What was she doing? “GLaDOS?” he called out softly. “What is it?”

She lifted her core just enough to look at him, then looked back down. He frowned and nearly ran up to her, putting his box down and then lying down, scrambling beneath her. “What’s wrong?”

She looked down at him for a long, long moment, then hitched herself upward and brought a maintenance arm out of the ceiling. She tapped it on the lid of the box and he sat up, unlatching it quickly and flipping open the lid, and she took the truck out again and tapped at it. He was well and thoroughly confused now, but he opened it and spilled the cars out of the inside. She separated two of them from the group and pushed them violently off the glass.

“Hey!” he cried out, looking up at her. “What’re you doing?”

But she only returned to the default position and did not try to answer.

Wheatley stepped over the cars and descended the stairs finding first one car, then the other. He wondered if these particular two had some sort of significance. One of them was a black sedan, the other a white car with a little tailfin, and… hang on. Where were the cars he’d given her? He looked around the room, trying to see if she’d driven them someplace she couldn’t retrieve them from, but they weren’t there. Maybe she’d pushed these two off the glass for a different reason.

“GLaDOS, luv,” he called out softly, “did someone take your cars?”

She nodded once. Wheatley clenched the ones in his hand and turned to face the doorway, brows creased. Now why in the bloody hell had they done that? Okay, sure, maybe they hadn’t built a multimillion dollar supercomputer to play with toy cars, but God, it wasn’t like that was all she did. Surely she could play with them when she didn’t have anything else to do.

Wheatley scrolled quickly up the system log until he saw who had booted her that morning, confirming his suspicions. He slammed the two cars into the desk and stormed out of the room, heading for Greg’s office.

“Greg!” he yelled, blasting the door open, “why’d you do that?”

Greg looked up calmly from his computer. “Do what?”

“You took her cars away!”

“She doesn’t need them. Henry said you were using them to show her how to manipulate the Multitasking Arms, but she obviously has a grasp of that.”

“That’s besides the point!” Wheatley ground out, planting his hands on Greg’s desk. “They’re mine, and I gave them to her.”

Greg laughed. “What’s a giant robot going to do with a couple of toy cars?”

“Play with them, you arse!” Wheatley shouted, smacking the palm of his left hand on the desk. “Give them back. I’m not finished with them.”

Greg pulled open a drawer and dropped them in front of Wheatley, who snatched them up quickly and stepped back. “Watch yourself, Wheatley,” Greg said in a low voice. “You’re only a glorified babysitter, you know.”

Wheatley said nothing to that, only leaving the office and running back to GLaDOS’s chamber. “Here,” he gasped, holding them out as she lifted her core disinterestedly. “Here you are.”

She brightened noticeably, taking them out of his hand and turning to the bare portion of the glass and bending low over them. He watched a little sadly as she did whatever it was she’d been doing with them before Greg had taken them. She needed to play, just like anyone else, but no one got that. They just thought she could work all the time, and just do that and it would be enough. He swallowed and got down on his stomach beneath her. “D’you know that cars make noise, GLaDOS?” he asked her in a shaky voice, and she shook her core and paused.

“Yep, they make noises just like you,” he said, picking up the Batmobile and turning it over. He felt a stab of annoyance, because it was now heavily marred with scratches and he’d given it to her pretty much brand-new, but he clamped down on it. He never even looked at these things anymore. As long as she had fun with it, she could do whatever she liked. “They make this sort of ‘rrr’ noise. The bigger the engine, the bigger the noise, see? And this car’s got the biggest engine of them all.” He looked over his shoulder, snatching up the two pieces of the Beetle, and showed her the bottom piece. “This here’s the engine. Makes the car go. The Batmobile, well, it’s the car of this… superhero guy, and he catches bad guys and sends them to gaol. So he needs a really fast car.” He picked it up and pointed at the back of it. “See, his car goes so fast he needs fire coming out the back to show how fast it goes!” He leaned onto his right elbow, digging around in his jeans pocket and pulling out his lighter. “This is fire,” he said to her, turning it on, and she jumped back and then came in close, but he shook his head and moved it away. “You can’t touch it,” he told her. “It’ll harm you.”

Upon hearing this, her chassis sank, and he didn’t blame her for not liking that. If he could have touched fire, he’d have done it too. “Hang on, I’ve got an idea,” he told her. “D’you have good control of that arm, there?”

She nodded, and he held out the lighter. “You can touch it with that, and only that. Be careful. You can’t knock it out of my hand, because I can’t touch fire either.”

She slowly brought the claw up to the flame and moved it inside of it, and she jumped a little when the fire bent around the metal, leaving a blackened streak but otherwise not affecting it at all. She made the curious, surprised noise from a couple of days previous and took the lighter out of his hand before he could stop her. “You can’t use it, luv,” he told her, as she flipped it over, presumably because she was trying to figure out where the fire had gone. “You need thumbs.”

She stared at him for a long moment, then turned away from him and tried to light it anyway. And he could not convince her to give it back. She ignored him every time he asked her to give it to him, holding it out of his reach, and eventually he sat back helplessly, wondering what he was supposed to do this time. How would he explain it if someone walked in and saw GLaDOS trying to light a lighter?

Three very long hours later, GLaDOS turned around suddenly, levelling herself and bringing the claw very close to his face. He yelped and jolted backwards, and to his complete and overwhelming shock she lit it. It was only a second’s flash of flame, but she lit it.

“Oh my God,” he gasped, looking up at her. “Look at that! You – you did it! I thought it was impossible, but you’ve proved me wrong again! You’re trying to make a career out of that, aren’t you. Look, to keep it on you’ve got to roll the wheel and then hold the little red bit. Here.” She let him take it, and he held it by the very bottom, turning the lighting mechanism towards her. She lit it for another second, and he pointed at the red button. “You’ve got to hold that down.”

After a few more tries she got it, and Wheatley broke out in a broad grin when the flame held. He dropped it and gave her a quick rubbing, which he could tell she greatly enjoyed. “You’re such a clever girl,” he told her softly, shoving the lighter back into his pocket. “You’re going to be far too smart for all of us one day, I know it.”

She wanted him to go on rubbing her core, he could tell, but he shook his head and sat back. “That’s enough for now,” he told her. “I’ve got a new game for you.”

He opened the box and pulled out another one from inside of it, and he poured the contents out in front of her. “These are ‘blocks’,” he said, holding one of them up in front of her. “We’re going to make a bit of a road for your cars, alright? We need to line these up.”

She did it without fighting and without resistance, which was a welcome surprise, and after they’d built a bit of a road she pushed her cars through it with great enthusiasm. From that, he got her to build a bridge, and then a pyramid, but building the tower was actually her idea. And in fact she refused to let him help her, shoving his hand out of the way every time he tried, so he sat back and tried to be patient. Eventually she had them stacked into a tentative pyramid shape, sorted according to colour, and she nodded to herself in satisfaction and moved backward. He smiled.

“Very nice,” he told her. “You’ve got this down, haven’t you?”

She began to disassemble the tower, one block at a time, dropping each one carefully into the little box, and he let her do so without bothering her. After she’d finished that she put the cars away too, save for the Batmobile and the blue sports car, and closed the door of the truck without his help. She then thrust her core into his box again, inspecting the contents closely, and she reached in and pulled out a bunch of robots that had somehow got tangled together inside of the box. She dropped them in front of him, and he helped her pull them apart.

“These’re robots,” he told her. “You can fold them up into cars, see?”

She shook her head and tapped at the pile of untangled bots.

“No what? You can fold them into cars.” He showed her the one he’d been folding into a yellow Camaro.

She picked up the largest of them and shook her head, putting it back down again. He stared at it in confusion. “That one folds up too,” he said, reaching for it, but she pushed it out of range and tapped at the glass emphatically.

“I don’t understand, luv,” he said gently. She made her annoyed noise and shoved most of the toys off to the side. Then she pushed the largest one in front of him and tapped first the arms, then the legs, and shook her head. He frowned, putting down the Camaro and trying to decipher her message. She was trying to tell him no about something, something about arms and legs…

A cold feeling settled inside of his stomach and he looked up at her sadly. “These aren’t robots? Is that what you’re saying?”

She nodded enthusiastically and poked at Wheatley with her claw, and he shook his head slowly. “No, sweetheart,” he said softly. “These aren’t humans. These are robots.”

She shook her core a bit harder and tapped at the arms and legs again, and he bit on his cheek, trying to think of how to explain it to her. “Robots look… a robot can look like anything,” he tried, spreading his hands helplessly. “They can have arms and legs, or they can have none, like you. Robots look like all kinds of things, and sometimes they’ve got their own look, like you have. These robots do look human, a little bit, but they’re not. Humans can’t turn into cars.”

She looked for a long moment at the little toy, then at her maintenance arm, and finally at Wheatley’s arm, which she reached over and grasped carefully, lifting it up a little bit. He knew what the question was even though she hadn’t been able to ask all that clearly, and he pushed the metal off his arm and shook his head, not able to look at her. “I don’t know why you haven’t got arms,” he said quietly. “I don’t know why you haven’t got legs, either. I don’t know why you’re stuck up there in the ceiling. They said it was because Caroline was used to having a body, but I don’t think she’d’ve wanted that. And I know you’re not Caroline. I know that. It’s kind of sad, really, that you ended up in a body built for someone else. There’s nothing wrong with you, that’s not what I’m saying. You’re a lovely little robot, you really are.” He twisted one thumb in one fist. “I don’t want to say, exactly, that I’m glad she didn’t make it, but… I like you. And I like this job, here, where all I’ve really got to do is hang out with you all day. And I couldn’t’ve done that if she’d made it, you know? You wouldn’t exist. And… and that’d be sad.”

He looked up to see her regarding him very calmly, and he didn’t know if she’d understood anything he’d said but she’d listened, at least, and he took a breath to steady himself and asked, “Is it alright if we play with these for a bit?”

She nodded and bent down, picking up the largest one again, and by the end of the day he’d gotten her to fold up most of them using two claws instead of just one. He told her about the programme on television he used to watch, where the robots fought other robots and saved the world for the humans they lived with, though he glossed over that bit quickly. She looked up at him suddenly when he talked about that part, and he realised he’d never seen a programme entirely devoted to humans helping out robots. They were always about saving the Earth or the human race, and he wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d become upset. But she didn’t, which he was glad of, because it was very hard to calm her down. When he had to pack up to go, she put them back into the box but kept back the one she’d focused most of her attention on, and when it came time to put that one away she held the claw over top of it and pulled it back tentatively, staring at him all the while. He nodded and latched the box. “Go ahead,” he told her. “If Greg takes them, let me know when I get here tomorrow, okay? Don’t get upset. Just let me know, and I’ll go get them for you.”

She nodded and watched him leave, as always, and when he got to the doorway he watched her fold up the little robot with a lump sitting very prominently in his throat.

He drove home without paying too much attention, which explained all of the honking that was going on, come to think of it, and when he got home he only managed to force a couple of bites of a corned beef sandwich down his throat before giving up and sticking it in a sandwich bag. The lump wasn’t going anywhere, and after scrubbing half-heartedly at the dishes he just left them in the sink of soapy water and went upstairs. Even after he’d taken a very long shower, it still hadn’t left his throat, and even though it was far too early to be going to bed he lay down on it anyway, staring dully through his bedroom window. It was on the right hand side of his room, so he was able to curl up into a ball while he was doing it, which was all he really wanted to do. Well, no. He wanted to go back to Aperture and talk to GLaDOS, but he wanted to have an actual conversation with her, which was impossible, because the poor thing couldn’t talk. Talking at her would’ve done, but he wasn’t quite ready to risk that.

Somehow he did fall asleep, but it was fitful and restless, and he woke up with a horrid ache between his eyes. He groaned and pressed the spot in question, hard, with his fingertips, but it didn’t really help. The alarm clock read just after midnight, but there was no way he was going back to sleep with a headache like this. Ah, to hell with it, he thought, stuffing his feet into his loafers and wondering why it was so painful. After he’d fallen down the stairs and hit his face against the wall opposite them, he realised they were on the wrong feet and kicked them off in annoyance. He’d walked out the front door, shivering, keys clenched in one hand, when he realised that he was freezing cold because he wasn’t wearing a shirt, let alone his jacket, and had to go back inside and get on that.

He kept an eye out for Joe, but didn’t see him anywhere, and slipped into Henry’s office and opened the door to GLaDOS’s chamber. To his great surprise, she was on, and she was slowly moving her two maintenance arms in such a way that it reminded him of the song ‘The Itsy Bitsy Spider’. He stepped slowly towards her, confused. “GLaDOS?” he called out, and she snapped up to look at him. She tapped on the glass with one of the maintenance arms, and he stopped. “Alright,” he nodded, and he ducked under the closing door and ran into Greg’s office.

He could tell she was very happy to have the toys back, because as soon as he gave them to her she began to play with them, but he placed a hand on one of the arms and looked at her seriously. “Why are you on?” he asked softly. A very broad question, to be sure, but she could answer if they plugged away at it.

She lowered herself into the default position and mimed startup, but that didn’t really help. “I want to know why you woke up,” he said, and she looked away, chassis shifting. He decided he’d better help her along and folded his hands together, thinking hard. “Did something startle you?”

“Did… someone come in here and – “ She shook her head before he could finish. He frowned and rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “Okay, okay, um… was it a loud noise?”

They weren’t getting anywhere! He folded his arms and leaned back against the railing. She tapped at her core with one of the maintenance arms.

“Something happened to your core? What, is something broken?”

She started to nod, and then she started to shake her head, but didn’t complete either action and looked down at the glass uncertainly. He tried to piece together the information. Something had startled her, and it had something to do with her core but she didn’t know what, and whatever had happened had woken her…

No, that… that couldn’t be it…

“You didn’t… you didn’t have a bad dream, did you? Did… did you see something inside your head that, that bothered you?”

She nodded, and his stomach clenched. Great. Now she was having bad dreams. And she was all by herself, in the dark, for hours on end. “Has this happened before?”

Thankfully, this question was answered by a shake, and he stood up. “C’mere, luv,” he told her, and she did as he asked. He swallowed, not sure how to go about it because even her core was just so bloody massive, but in the end he just stepped forward and went for it, wrapping his arms tight around her as far as they would go. She jolted and went still for a long moment, but after she’d judged it was safe she pressed her core into him so hard he had to bite his tongue to keep from crying out. She didn’t want him to let go, he could tell, and though he shared that sentiment he couldn’t breathe and was beginning to see spots. “That must’ve… been some dream,” he gasped, rubbing his chest, and she nodded slowly. She raised the maintenance arm and poked at first his left arm, then his left leg, and he frowned. “It was about me?”

She shook her core and pointed at the same spots on her little robot, then waved the claw at herself, and he felt even worse, somehow. “You had arms and legs, in your dream.”

GLaDOS nodded, pinching the legs and arms of the toy together with both claws and then looking up at him, and he said slowly, “And… they were pinched together? They were… tied up? They were… stuck? You couldn’t move them!”

She let go of the toy and continued to look at him, and he sat down on the glass, eyes wide. There was only one reason she would dream such a thing, and he didn’t like it, not one bit. GLaDOS didn’t know how it felt to have arms or legs, and by extension would not know what it felt like for them to be trapped, and that meant… that meant…

Caroline was still alive.

She was still alive, only she was trapped inside of GLaDOS, someplace, probably because GLaDOS was already there and couldn’t be displaced from her own mind. He felt a violent stab of guilt in his stomach when he realised the thought of GLaDOS being stuck with a human in her head bothered him more than the thought of Caroline being trapped in there with her. He clenched his belly in one hand and chewed on his lip. Okay, so now he knew that, but what did he do about it? Caroline was alive, and GLaDOS was alive, and to free one of them the other would have to… to be killed, and… this line of thought only made the aches in his head and his stomach worse, and he clenched his teeth and pressed the heel of his hand to his brow. When she shifted forward, he reflexively started to stroke her, more of a way of reassuring himself than anything, and he said helplessly, “I don’t know what to do, GLaDOS. Who’s more important, you or Caroline? And… and even if we did manage to get Caroline out, to, to control your body instead of you, well, she’d still be trapped anyways, wouldn’t she? How do we know she’s not better off, sharing, being in there with you? How do we even know if she knows she’s there? Maybe she’s not. Maybe I’m wrong, and you’re just… just dreaming, and that’s that. Only… how can you dream of, of being something you’ve never been? I’ve never dreamed of being a robot, because I’m not a robot, right? I don’t know what to do about this, or, or if there’s something I should do, or if I should leave it be, or, or…”

What – no. Oh no no no she was not doing that.

She had slowly closed one of the maintenance arms around him and pushed him closer to her, and now she’d ducked her head and was pressing the left side of her optic assembly into his ribs. To his complete horror his vision grew blurry and he couldn’t swallow around the lump in his throat, and before he knew it he’d worked his arms free and thrown them around her, crying uncontrollably into her core. He had no clue what he was doing, only that he couldn’t stop, and that even though he was supposed to be helping her get over her dream she was helping him get over it.

They were there like that for Wheatley didn’t know how long; all he knew was that he was still gasping for breath long after his swollen eyes had stopped producing tears. When he finally managed to keep his shoulders from shaking, he poked her with his index finger and scrubbed at his face with his other hand. Instead of moving back, though, she rubbed her core into his shirt, and he laughed humourlessly. “That’s right,” he told her, but he had no shirtsleeve this time and couldn’t help. “You need to stay dry.”

When she’d decided she was dry she backed away, farther than he expected she would, but he understood why when she started to… well, he wasn’t sure, but it looked a lot like she was shaking herself out. Which made sense. He was feeling pretty stiff himself, but he also felt very heavy, and he didn’t really want to move.

“Thank you,” he said quietly, lifting out his hand, and she eagerly met his fingers. “I haven’t had a hug in a good long time. You’re so very clever, you know, figuring out how to give me one like that. Figuring out I needed one in the first place. I wish… I wish they had built you with arms and legs, so I could take you home with me!” He felt a dry sob in his chest and pressed it back down, not wanting to force her into comforting him again. “Oh, never mind,” he muttered, his hand dropping into his lap. “You’re going to wise up one day and figure out I’m not worth all that much.” He got unsteadily to his feet, leaning against the railing for support, and he looked at her sadly. “I’m… I have to go,” he told her, feeling even worse when he saw her chassis sink upon hearing it. “I’ll put you back to sleep. I… I hope you don’t dream again, but I can’t do anything about that.”

She looked down at her toys as he descended the stairs, and he very slowly initiated sleep mode. He watched her chassis sink to the floor, her optic extending all the way, and he stood there for a long time before he screwed up the motivation to leave.

When he got into his car, he sat there, motionless, for a very long time. He almost wished he’d never met GLaDOS. He’d never have thought it would be so upsetting and confusing to teach a supercomputer basic skills. What was he supposed to do? If he told someone that Caroline was still alive, they would shut GLaDOS down and poke around inside of her until they figured out where Caroline had ended up. That wasn’t fair to GLaDOS, not at all. And maybe it wasn’t fair to Caroline either, but what if she wasn’t really… awake? What if she was just there, like a… a ghost, maybe? Or maybe she really was dead, and GLaDOS was just able to get into her memories or something… Wheatley groaned and rubbed at his forehead. What a mess. And God, why were his fingers blue? He folded his arms, bewildered, before he realised that all of him was freezing cold. He’d been sitting in his car for quite a lot longer than he’d thought.

It took him a while to get the engine going, seeing as he kept dropping the keys because his fingers were nearly numb, but after a few minutes the car heated up enough that he could stop shivering. When he got home he fairly dove under the blankets on his bed, forgetting to take his glasses off and losing them in the bed. It took a very long time, because he’d gone out in his loafers without socks again and his feet were blocks of ice, but eventually he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

 

 It was one of those days where Wheatley wondered if getting out of bed was worth it.

He stared dully up at the ceiling, mouth agape, wanting nothing more than to ignore his blaring alarm clock and curl up into a ball again, but there was a problem: he had to go to work.  And he badly wanted to phone in and tell them he was sick, because his nose was well and thoroughly stuffed up and his throat sore and swollen, but he was reluctant to do so over a cold.  Even if his head was pounding and his eyes hurt.

 

Groaning, he threw off the blanket and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, a hacking cough coming up out of his lungs.  Great.  If only GLaDOS could catch colds, he’d have had an excuse to stay home, but unfortunately he did not happen to have a computer virus.  He tried to imagine what she might look like if she had a computer cold of sorts, but couldn’t.  Oh well.  Best time to get going, then. 

 

Somehow he made it to work without incident, even though he was pretty sure his eyes weren’t open for most of the trip, and accidentally drove his car over the concrete block marking his parking spot.  He got out of the car and looked disinterestedly at the tilted vehicle, kicking at the front fender half-heartedly as if that would move it back, then shrugged and retrieved his box, closing the door with his elbow.  He had no idea whether it was stuck or not.  He’d managed to get it off the last time he’d done that, so he decided to leave it for now and hope he was motivated enough to do something about it later.  Else he was going to have to call the towing company again, which he only did as a last resort.  He was pretty sure they were upping his charge every time he called them, but he wasn’t confident enough to call them out on it and he always forgot to ask for a receipt.

 

He walked slowly into GLaDOS’s chamber, sniffing every second and a half or so, wondering if she would mind if he left early.  He felt simply awful, and he hadn’t worked out what they were going to do next.  He also didn’t have the energy to think of a plan.  Between yesterday’s headache and the hour or so he’d spent sitting in his car, he should have recognised he was coming down with something and planned accordingly.  But Wheatley’s plans never went accordingly anyway, so he supposed it didn’t really matter.

 

“’allo,” he said hoarsely, and GLaDOS looked up quickly from her little robot, which she appeared to be carefully arranging into a sitting position.  “Look, I –“

 

All of a sudden she’d whirled on him, knocking him over and pinning him by the waist to the glass with one of her maintenance arms, and bent so low over him that her body was almost pressed to his.  He raised his arms helplessly, staring at her with eyes wide in terror, but she only lowered her core to the side of his face and started… she was… nuzzling him.  He had no idea where she’d got that idea from, or the whole trapping him underneath her bit, but after a few moments she backed off and let him up.  His heart was pounding away painfully in his chest, and he gasped a little and brushed at his shirt.  Well, at least he could breathe now; the fright had cleared out his nose. 

 

“Had… had a good night there did you?” he asked breathlessly, as she looked at him a bit curiously, and she nodded enthusiastically and tapped her core.  His brow furrowed.  She’d had another dream?  But… how could that be a good thing?

 

When he asked her, she poked him in the chest.  “Me?” he said faintly, face screwing up even more.  “You had… a dream about me?”  He felt strangely flattered to hear that she’d dreamt about him and it had put her in such a good mood.  She waved in the general direction of herself and then tapped the box. 

 

“We were playing with the toys?” he asked.  She nodded once and then turned her attention to the box, inspecting the latches closely and flipping them open without too much trouble.  He was honestly baffled at her control of the maintenance arms, and he was outright stunned when she opened the rear door of the truck as if she did it every day.  You’re not going to need me for too much longer, he thought, sadness coming over him, and he sank into a sitting position, rubbing at his now stuffed up nose.  “GLaDOS,” he said, now glad he’d left Henry’s box of Kleenex in the box of toys, “you can do whatever you like today.  I’m not feeling well.  Got a bad cold, see.  Don’t really want to do anything.  You can just play, and I’ll just, I’ll just watch.”

 

She regarded him pensively, and he got the impression she actually wasn’t too pleased with that arrangement.  She went back to pulling the toys out of the box, unearthing a little tin of action figures from a science fiction film series that had come out a few years back, and she looked at them with only a moderate amount of interest.  She put the figures with helmets in a pile and put the rest of them back into the tin.  Wheatley dabbed at his nose with a tissue and watched as she put the tin back into the box.

 

She had put away all of the figures with human faces.

 

He had no idea what she was doing after that, but whatever it was, she was very involved in it.  She built some sort of staircase, kind of, around the largest toy robot, and she positioned all the little figures on the staircase so that they were facing it.  She had folded up the rest of the robots and they appeared to be leading the other cars someplace, but for some reason the Batmobile and the blue sports car didn’t get to be in on the whole thing and were sitting off to the side.  After a particularly harrowing cough Wheatley moaned and leaned his aching head against the railing, pushing up his glasses and covering his eyes, and when he’d finished rubbing his eyes he settled his glasses to see GLaDOS looking at him curiously.  “I told you, I’m ill,” he told her, wincing at the soreness in his throat.  “I…”  He wasn’t sure if she understood the concept of pain or not.  “It hurts, all over.  And I can’t breathe.  And…”  Oh, what was the use.  She didn’t understand breathing, or swelling, or tiredness.  “Y’know what I wish I had?  Some tea.  My mum used to make me the loveliest peppermint tea when I was sick, y’know, just nothing in it, just plain, just like that, and even just the smell of it made me feel better.  I dunno where she got it from, but it was delicious.  My mum and my dad and my sister, there, they all took that one with the honey and the lemon in it, but for me, nah, always the peppermint, there.  And my mum’d laugh and say, ‘Always got to be out of the box for ev’rything, don’t you, Wheatley?’.”  He shifted his weight reluctantly, but his bottom was almost numb and that was never fun.  “I should call her.  Haven’t done that in a while.  Bloody expensive, though.”  He yawned and settled back against the railing again.  God, he was tired all of a sudden.  He looked through half-closed eyes up at GLaDOS, who was still watching him carefully, and asked tentatively, “You don’t… can I take a bit of a nap, luv?  I’m just… I’m getting sleepy, and I’m not doing anything anyways.  That alright?”

 

She nodded, pushing the Batmobile and the sports car over to him, and he lay down on his side with his head on his left arm and wrapped them up in his other hand, smiling faintly.  He didn’t know why she’d done it, but she seemed to understand the concept of needing comfort, at least.  He watched her drive the little cars up to the tower around the robot, too sleepy to do anything about the mucus dribbling out of his nose other than to sniffle half-heartedly, and eventually his eyes closed and he fell asleep.           

 

 

 

He jolted awake, sitting up, startled, because he could’ve sworn he’d been lying on his mother’s couch, which he hadn’t seen in years.  But though his mother’s living room was not real, the tang of peppermint definitely was, and he looked around in confusion to see a black Aperture Laboratories mug sitting on the glass just in front of him. 

 

“What the –“  He stared at it, scratching his head in confusion and pushing his glasses up farther, but it didn’t disappear or turn into something more likely.  “GLaDOS – there was no one in here, was there?” he asked, craning his neck towards her.  She shook her head and went back to pulling at the undercarriage of the Beetle, presumably trying to separate it from the top.  “Well… how’d this get here, then?”

 

She gave him a glance but did not try to answer, and after his syrupy brain slogged through the possibilities, he gaped at her, disbelieving.  “You did not make me a cup of tea.”

 

She dropped the car and bent down, nodding indignantly and tapping the glass next to the cup.  “But how?” he asked, leaning forward on one hand and gesturing wildly with the other.  “I s’pose you could have, if you used the cam’ras in that one break room, there, but… that doesn’t explain… you couldn’t have, you can’t use the cam’ras…”  He broke off when she looked away, her chassis twitching a little, and his eyes widened.  “You can use them,” he breathed, placing his other hand against the glass.  “You’ve just been pretending you can’t.”

 

She looked down, twisting the claw against the glass, and he reached out and touched the side of her core.  “I won’t tell,” he whispered, even as he did so wondering why he was.  “It’ll be our secret.”

 

She perked up at that, picking the Beetle up again, but he still wasn’t done asking questions.  “But how did you know how to make it?” he asked.  “Don’t tell me you’ve figured out how to get into the database too.”

 

She continued fiddling with the Beetle, using her second claw to poke him in the shoulder.  “From me?  But I never showed you – wait.  You… you watched me do it?”

 

She nodded and moved the claw back to wherever she was leaving it, and he didn’t know whether to be flattered or creeped out.  She watched him when he left the room.  She had enough control over the cameras to not only watch him, but to follow him to his destination.  “GLaDOS… d’you watch me often?”

  

“Then how did you know I was there, was uh, was in the break room?”

 

Another shake.

 

“You didn’t know?”

 

She shook her core in such a way that indicated she was bored of this line of inquiry, but he couldn’t drop it until he got a firm explanation out of her.  “Were you watching someone else?” he tried, not able to think of another explanation.

  

“D’you watch them often?”

 

  1.   She finally got the two pieces separated, making a noise in self-satisfaction, and she began attempting to fit the top of the Beetle on one of the other cars, trying each one in turn.  Wheatley sat there, dumbfounded.  He didn’t know what to do with that news.  She was watching someone in the facility, and pretending she didn’t know how to watch them to boot.  She really wasn’t going to need him much longer.  He wished he knew who she was watching, while also being glad he didn’t.  Whoever that poor sop was, he had her full attention and the reasoning could not be good.

 

“You don’t watch me, right, luv?” he asked hopefully.  She shook her head, balancing the shell of the Beetle on top of one of the helmeted figures.  “Please don’t,” he told her.  “Leave me to what I’m doing, will you?”

 

She gave another nod.  Then she abruptly reached forward and grasped the cup of tea, pulling it towards her, and Wheatley jumped, grabbing the handle.  “What’re you doing?” he cried out.  “I haven’t even tasted it yet!”

 

She seemed reluctant to risk spilling it, merely tugging at it, and he pulled harder.  “I want it,” he told her, frowning.  “Give it back.”

 

She let go after a few moments of inspecting his face, and he snatched it up and clutched it close.  He tipped it up to his face, inhaling, and sighed happily.  There was nothing better, there really wasn’t.

 

He wouldn’t have expected it, but she had actually made a very lovely cup of tea, and he drank it quickly, with her watching him all the while.  Truth be told, the fact that she’d gone to the trouble made him feel better than the liquid had, and it was that which earned her a thorough rubbing.  “Thanks, luv,” he said softly as she looked up at him.  “That was very kind of you.  And quite clever, I might add.”

 

When he sat back down, she went back to putting the top half of the Beetle on everything possible, but he could have sworn she seemed listless and… bored.  He frowned.  He had no idea what he was going to show her after this, and she had only had the box for three days.  He pulled it close, thankfully locating a deck of cards and a Rubik’s cube, and when she saw those items she immediately dropped the shell and held her claw out.  He handed her the cube.  “D’you know what to do with that?”

 

When she responded negatively, he tried to show her, but he’d never been much good with them and only managed to get half of one side in a solid colour.  He shrugged sheepishly and handed it back, but she didn’t seem to care and only inspected it for a long moment.  Then she proceeded to solve the cube so fast and with such dexterity of the maintenance arms that he actually stopped thinking, unable to do anything but stare at her with his mouth wide open.  She let it fall carelessly out of the claw when she’d finished, taking the deck of cards from his slackened fingers and getting the box open without too much trouble.  Wheatley picked up the cube and stared at it, dumbfounded, until she tapped on his shoulder and then at the cards.  He gaped at them blankly for a moment, then realised she couldn’t pick them up. 

 

He told her to pick up the rest of the toys if she was finished with them, which she did quickly and without complaint, and when she’d done that he showed her how to build card houses.  She grasped this concept rapidly, and within an hour or two had constructed a very lovely house, the likes of which he’d never seen, not even from his dad.  And his dad had been very good at card houses. 

 

She carefully pushed her two cars into the top level of the house, but looked uncertainly at the robot.  “It probably won’t support him, luv,” he told her.  “They’ll have to come out if he wants to have a visit.”

 

“So… what’s this supposed to be?” Greg asked, and Wheatley jumped, accidentally knocking over the house.  GLaDOS made a noise in annoyance, smashing her claw down on the glass, and Wheatley looked up at her, guilt winding through his stomach.  “Sorry,” he told her, but she wasn’t even looking at him.  She was staring at Greg, and as he watched she slowly backed up, chassis tightening.

 

“She’s… look, she’s got excellent control of the arms now, I just… I was getting her to use the cards to make sure.  She can move, uh, she can control the smallest of objects.  She’s ready to… to do whatever you wanted her to do with them.”  Out of the corner of his eye, he could just see GLaDOS dragging the claw very slowly over the pile of cards, and when he saw a flash of metal he realised she was hiding the two cars.  Hoping to distract Greg, he went on, “Just let me know what uh, what programs you want her to get started on, and I’ll uh, I’ll get her on that right away.”

 

“I see what you’re doing,” Greg said suddenly, but he wasn’t looking at Wheatley either.  He abruptly leaned over and brushed aside the pile of cards, snatching up the Batmobile.  GLaDOS lunged forward and pinned him to the glass, one maintenance arm pinching his free hand to his waist and the other held up in front of the hand containing the car.  He turned his face away from her, eyes squeezed closed, because she’d brought her optic very close to his face and turned up the brightness.  Wheatley stared, and honestly if he was in Greg’s position right then he’d have been terrified, even moreso than he had been that morning.  Her size was horribly intimidating, and she had her core so close to his face…

 

“Get it off me!” Greg yelled, trying to kick her chestplate, but she didn’t seem to notice.  She didn’t move at all.

 

“Just give her car back,” Wheatley said, trying to be as calm as possible, though the adrenaline had gone and cleared his nose right out again and sent his heart into overdrive.  “Give it back, and she’ll leave you be.”

 

Greg threw the car away from him, in Wheatley’s general direction, and GLaDOS made an awful electronic noise that managed to scare Greg so much that he scrambled backwards with his elbows and heels.  She whirled around, snapping the car up before it could fall off the glass.  “What in the hell have you been teaching it, you idiot?” Greg yelled, standing up and pressing his back against the railing.  “That’s just as crazy as what it did when we turned it on!”

 

“She’s a she,” Wheatley said, a bit miffed.  “And I didn’t teach her to do that.  How d’you expect me to leap on top of a giant robot like that, mate?  It isn’t, that’s impossible.”

 

“Well, of course you managed to do it, then,” Greg retorted, heading down the stairs.  “Don’t think I’m keeping this to myself, by the way.”

 

“What’re you going to do?  Punish her?” Wheatley said snidely, regretting it the instant he said it.  Now he’d gone and given Greg an idea, probably. 

 

Greg said nothing, and Wheatley turned to GLaDOS, who had not picked the Batmobile up but instead left it pinched inside the claw exactly where she’d caught it.  “Look, you can’t do that,” he told her, trying to be as gentle as possible.  “You can’t just go leaping on people.  Well, you can… you can leap on me, if you like, but just don’t… do it like that.  You’ve gone and gotten yourself into trouble, now.  When people like that start uh, start getting in your face, you just got to keep your head down, eh?  Don’t give them excuses to uh, to pick on you.” 

 

She looked down at him for a long moment, and he suddenly realised she had not relaxed at all as she usually did once someone left the room.  The longer she stared at him, the stronger the unnerving sense of foreboding grew in his stomach, and when she suddenly snapped the claw shut, crushing the Batmobile flat between the pincers, he cried out and backed away from her.  Coldly, she did the same to the other car and afterward violently dismantled the robot, staring at him all the while. 

 

“Oh God,” Wheatley gasped, somehow managing to stand though his legs were watery and his hands were shaking so badly he could barely find the railing.  “Oh God oh God oh God – “

 

Only after she finally looked away was he able to stumble out of the room, running wildly through the facility and out to his car, where he got inside and slammed the door shut, pressing his forehead to the steering wheel.  What had she been doing?  She’d just ruined her favourite toys!  Did she not understand that he couldn’t fix them?  Or did she not care?  She must have been trying to make a point, Wheatley realised, though it didn’t help him feel any better.  Thankfully, his car wasn’t stuck and he made it home in record time.  It was only after he’d woken for the third time that night, skin damp with fever and wracked with chills, that his muddied brain figured out that if she didn’t have the toys, Greg could not take them.  He sat up, staring blindly into the near darkness.  She’d been following Greg the whole time, hadn’t she!  From the outset Greg had been hostile towards her, and he had taken her things from her three times… and now she’d destroyed them so that he could not take them again.  Sadness gripped Wheatley’s chest as he slowly lowered himself back down to the mattress.  She’d had so little, and now she quite literally had nothing.   

 

He was starting to think getting so close to her had been a very bad idea. 

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

 

“G’morning.”

She glanced at him but only for the barest second, turning back to the system log again.  He frowned, wondering if he’d done something wrong, until he realised that her chassis wasn’t tightened.  That would have signified that she was upset or annoyed, but it was too loose for that.  Something else, then.

He walked up the stairs cautiously, setting down the bucket of Lego he’d brought with him, but she still didn’t move, her gaze fixed on the system log.  “Something wrong?” he asked gently, noticing that the pile of cards was gone and the box moved to one side.  She looked down and brought out one of the maintenance arms, tapping at the glass, and he looked down to see the three broken toys three feet away from him, which he honestly had not noticed.  “Oh, that’s right.  I’m sorry, luv, I can’t fix them.  They’re… good and done for, they are.”  He bent down on one knee and gathered them into the crook of one arm.  “Wish I could, though.  I know you liked them.”

He unlatched the box and dropped them inside, then grabbed the handle of the bucket and brought it over to her, but she didn’t come down when he asked her to.  “C’mon, GLaDOS.  You’re not gonna stay there all day, are you?  C’mon.  I’ve got something new to show you.”

She shook her head and didn’t move.

“C’mon.  I just want to play with you.  Come here, will you?”

That earned him a glance, but nothing more. 

“Please?  I don’t want to play by myself.”

“Well, can you come here, at least?  So I can find out what’s wrong?”

That convinced her to level herself, but she still wouldn’t look at him.  He took a deep breath, glad that there had been a bottle of cold medication in his bathroom cabinet.  “Okay.  First question: are you upset?”

“About yesterday?"

Nod.

“About… what Greg said?”

Shake.

“About… uh… what I said?”

Another shake.

“The… the toys?  Are you sad they’re broken?"

Nod.

“It’s okay, sweetheart,” he told her gently.  “They were just toys, you know.  Life goes on.”

She shook her head and poked him a little, and he frowned.  “What.”

She tapped the box, then poked him again.  She was upset about the broken toys, and something to do with him and the toys…

“D’you feel bad for breaking my toys?” he asked softly, and she nodded once, looking away again, and honestly she looked so terribly sad that he almost teared up himself.  He stood up, walking around the bucket.  “Hey.  Hey.  GLaDOS.  Look at me, eh?  Look at ol’ Wheatley for a second.”

She did, looking reluctant, and he laid a hand on the side of her core.  “It’s okay,” he told her.  “Don’t worry about it.  I don’t mind.  I understand.  It’s alright.  I’m not upset.”

She pulled herself up a little, nudging him almost shyly, and he laughed and gave her a hug, which she returned as best she could by pressing her optic assembly into his ribs.  “It’s alright,” he repeated, stroking her a little.  “I’m not upset.”

When he pulled away and sat down, she looked at the bucket, placing her claw tentatively on the lid and looking at Wheatley uncertainly, and he nodded.  She lifted it off and peered inside, pulling out one of the little blocks, and he reached over and tipped over the whole thing.  She startled, looking rapidly from one tumbling block to another, but Wheatley frowned and asked, “Who cleaned up the cards?”

She pointed at herself and rummaged through the pile of bricks until she found a little plastic door.  She dragged it to the edge of the glass and then pinched on the bit of the door that stuck out over the edge.  Wheatley grinned.  “That’s my girl,” he told her, and she looked up quickly.  “Good job.  That was very clever of you.”

She put the door down, and he showed her how to snap the pieces together in order to construct objects.  She brightened after a while, helping him build castles and houses and all manner of things, and when he said he had to leave she somehow fit the building they were working on into the bucket without dismantling it. 

When she’d fit the lid back on and pushed it towards him, he told her to wait and that he’d be right back.  He put the bucket in the box and brought them both out to his car, tossing it into the backseat, and rummaged around in the glove box for a few minutes before he finally found what he was looking for and ran back into the facility.

“Here,” he said breathlessly, whipping out his hand and showing the object to her.  “That’s for you.”

Slowly, she leaned out and flipped it over, but when she saw what it was she dropped it in surprise.  She shook her core, moving back, but he picked it up and put it back into her claw, pressing on it so that it was held between the pincers.  “I want you to have it,” he told her.  “I never opened it, last car my dad ever gave me, but hey, what’s the use in keeping it in the box like that?  You can do what you like with it, open it or keep it closed, doesn’t matter.”

She looked down at the unopened Batmobile, adjusting and readjusting it in her claw, and tried to give it back, but he shook his head and backed up.  “That’s yours,” he said firmly, looking her in the eye.  “That’s not mine anymore.  I gave it to you, and now it’s yours.”

She looked at it for another long moment, then hitched forward with more uncertainty than she’d done in a long time and nuzzled him very briefly.  Before she could move back too far, he gave her a quick hug, and after he let go she repeated her own action with far more enthusiasm.  He smiled and folded his arms around himself.  “All you need is a bit of kindness, eh girl?” he said softly, as she watched him calmly.  “Just a bit of kindness, and you go from a giant scary robot to a giant cuddly one.”

He bid her farewell and headed off, clambering into his car and rubbing his hands together because blimey it was cold!  He sat in the car, shivering, until it warmed up, and then he backed out of his parking space and headed onto the road.  He wondered what he was going to bring her to do tomorrow.  She was bored of the box, and she’d be bored of the Lego before too long… he drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, squinting at the snow-blown road in front of him.  He wondered if she might like to play a game with him.  He’d have to have a look at the ones he had.  He grimaced, remembering the ease with which she’d solved the Rubik’s cube.  Best he found a hard one, if possible. 

One of his tyres caught on the shoulder of the road and he twisted the wheel to the left, but for some reason he went sliding over to the complete opposite side.  He was suddenly staring through the windscreen at three cars coming at him from the opposite direction, and he slammed on the brakes and turned the wheel to the right.  He got back into his lane, but instead of straightening out he kept on going, and before he knew what’d happened he’d gone careening into the two-foot high snow lining the side of the road as far as the eye could see.  Wheatley shifted into reverse, even though he knew it was useless, and sure enough, his rear tyres just spun freely behind him.  He caught the shift in every gear between reverse and park, his hands were shaking so badly, and he just sat there staring at the dark snow in front of him for a long moment.  “Shit,” he said under his breath, fists clenched in his lap.  “Shit.” 

He spent a couple of moments trying to wrap his brain around what had happened, and indeed trying to remember how, then dug around in his pocket for his cell phone.  He flipped it open, but even before he did that his heart had already sunk into the region of his waist.  The battery was dead.  Again.

“Dammit!” Wheatley cried out helplessly, throwing the phone into the passenger seat, where it slid off and hit the door with a loud clunk.  “This is not happening!  It’s not it’s not it’s not!”  Frustrated, he yanked at the latch to open the door, but the door would not budge.  Beginning to actually panic now, he wormed out of the front and tried to open the side door, but it wouldn’t move either.  He fell into the backseat and brushed his hair back from his face, his chest tightening and making it hard to breathe.  This was not possible.  He had not slipped off the road, he had not forgotten to charge his bloody phone, and he was not trapped inside of his car!  Oh, fuck it, he thought helplessly, pushing at the door again in a near panic, you’re an idiot.  Admit it this time.  

To his surprise, the door opened and he fell out, and he stood up quickly, clutching his jacket close both against the wind and against the cold feeling in his gut.  His car was tipped in favour of the right side, the front end thankfully not buried in snow, but when he bent to inspect the tracks he’d made as he slid off the road he could see that it was in there good and deep.  He was not going to be able to get it out on his own.  And he had no phone with which to call the tow truck company.  Or the police.  Or anyone.  He was stuck there, on the side of the road, in the dark, in the dead of winter.  He kicked fruitlessly at the sunken rear tyre in front of him.  Great.  Just great. 

He reached into the car and yanked the keys out of the ignition, slamming the door shut.  It didn’t really need slammed, seeing as he’d not been able to open it in the first place because it was too heavy with the car tipped over like that, but it had made him feel better for a second.  He stuffed the keys into his pocket and trudged up the hill to the shoulder, pulling the zip on his jacket up as far as it would go.  He had a vague idea that he was supposed to stay with the car, and that he was definitely not supposed to walk on the side of the road at night in case someone did just what he had and slid into him, but what else was he supposed to do?  He had no phone, and there was almost no petrol left in his car, and no one had stopped.  Not even the people he’d had to avoid hitting.  Seriously.  Hadn’t they wondered what had happened to the maniac who’d almost smashed them?  Did they not know how to use their rearview mirrors?  He didn’t want to do it, because he was already freezing cold and quite miserable, but he didn’t see any other options.  For once he wished he’d heeded his mum’s advice and got himself some proper boots.  His loafers were already soaked through and his feet were well on their way to being frozen solid.

He trudged along the road, trying to come up with any landmarks he could use to tell… someone… where his car was, but Aperture was quite literally in the middle of nowhere and he was pretty sure there were no houses for at least another twenty minutes.  By car.  Damn Aperture for being so far from civilisation.  Black Mesa had been smack-dab in the middle of Santa Fe, right in the middle of a lot of convenient roads and houses and bloody telephone booths, but nooo, not Aperture!  Always doing stupid things for no particular reason.  He fit right in, actually, he thought to himself with a bitter laugh.  Never charged his phone.  Never paid attention to where he was driving.  Never did anything properly.  He was probably going to die, trudging alongside of this barely-used road, probably going to collapse in a few hours and they’d find his stiffened, frozen corpse not ten feet from the driveway of some quaint country home, so close and yet so far from being saved… Then they’d find his car, half buried in the snow, an echo of his own lifeless body… he shivered.  A grim fate indeed. 

Well… maybe he hadn’t done everything wrong.  He had been given the job of showing things to GLaDOS, after all… no… that was just because he was the only one who believed she was alive.  And because no one else wanted to do it.  Well, it didn’t matter why he’d been given it, she was learning, she was, and she was so very smart and so very clever, and… he almost stopped walking, his next thought hit him so hard.  If he died, or at the very least didn’t make it to civilisation within a reasonable amount of time, with death being the more likely, she would be left there by herself come morning.  She wouldn’t know where he’d gone or why, and she’d probably think he didn’t like her anymore.  He grew sad just thinking of it, of poor little GLaDOS all alone in her chamber, wondering where he’d gone and if he was coming back.  They’d toss a whole bunch of new programs at her and take away her new Batmobile, and she would just get frustrated and sad and miserable.  He tightened his arms around himself and squinted through his ice-encrusted glasses.  He had to get help, and soon!  If not for himself, then definitely for her.

It was a very long time later, he didn’t know how long exactly but he thought the sky might be getting bluer, when he finally arrived at a brightly-lit country house and made his way up the driveway.  His face was tucked into the flimsy collar of his jacket, his fingers clenched into fists that he could not budge even when he tried, and his legs barely moved at all.  He managed to ring the doorbell with his nose and silently prayed that they would answer.  He honestly was not sure he’d make it to the next house.  He was colder than he’d ever been in his life.

Happily, the door opened after a couple of minutes, and Wheatley stared down dully at a little white haired woman, her hair done up in pink curlers.  “What’s ‘appened to you, lad?” she asked, and Wheatley almost fainted in relief.  He could not believe his luck.  An old English lady!  If there was one thing he was good at, it was wooing old English ladies.

“I’ve been in an accident,” he gasped, barely remembering how to work his tongue.  “My car’s stuck on the side of the road, way back there.”

“Oh, good ‘eavens!” she exclaimed, putting a hand to her mouth.  “Come on in ‘ere, that’s a good lad.”  She ushered him into the house and had him settle down on a long couch draped with a knitted seat cover, and she helpfully wrapped him in a very large and cozy blanket.  “Would you like some tea?” she asked kindly, and he nodded as best he could.

“Oh, yes please,” he managed, clutching the blanket to himself, and though he knew he should be directing his attention to looking for a phone, he was far too cold to actually carry out this plan.  All he really had the strength to do was sit there, shivering.  And God he was tired.  The cold was keeping most of the fatigue at bay, but he was sure that once he’d warmed up, he’d be having a lie-down in no time.

The lady soon brought him a large mug of steaming tea, and he accepted it gratefully, inhaling the vapour in the hopes of clearing out his nose a bit.  It did, but as soon as he recognised the flavour it sent a stab of sadness in between his eyes and he had to lower it into his lap.  Peppermint. 

The lady sat in a large stuffed armchair just off to the side of the couch and asked him about the accident, which he recounted as best he could, and she was so sympathetic to his plight he began to feel a bit better.  He got her to provide him with a phone and dialled the tow truck company, who said they wouldn’t be able to head out for another few hours, and there was nothing he could really do about that so he just told them to get on it as soon as possible and let him know when they got there.  The lady had already insisted that he stay there until he got his car back, so he just gave them her address and phone number and hung up.  Then he rung Aperture, praying that someone was there who would pass along his message.

“Aperture Laboratories,” the voice on the other end said, one that Wheatley didn’t recognise.  He never recognised people on phones, though, so it didn’t bother him. 

“’allo, this is Wheatley,” he began, deciding there were probably no other ‘Wheatleys’ at Aperture and that he didn’t need to provide his last name.  “I’ve been in a car accident.  I won’t be making it into work this morning, once they’ve got my car out I’ll um, I’ll have to take it to the shop.  Get it looked at, make sure nothing’s horribly damaged.  Let them know for me, will you?”

“Sure,” the voice answered, sounding bored.  “Is that all?”

“Look… this is going to sound weird, I know, but… can you let GLaDOS know I won’t be coming?” he asked hesitantly, twisting the phone cord around his fingers.  “I go in to see her every day, and I don’t… well, just tell her, or ask someone to tell her, if you please.  That’d be… that’d be greatly appreciated, mate.”

“Sure,” the voice repeated. 

“Thanks,” Wheatley said, hanging up, and he suddenly felt much better, picking up the mug and downing the still warm tea in a few gulps.  The lady had gone back upstairs, possibly to bed, and Wheatley was glad of that.  Old English ladies were usually fascinated with his ability to talk nonstop about absolutely nothing, and though he was sure he still could at the moment, he didn’t really want to.  He leaned his head back against the couch, letting the relief and the warmth seep through his body, and soon after that he fell helplessly into sleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

 

All too soon, the tow company called and told him they’d arrived, so Wheatley drunkenly peeled himself off the couch and stumbled outside, rubbing at his eyes and wishing he’d taken his loafers off, because even though the lady’s house had been wonderfully warm, they were still sopping wet. He blearily paid the tow truck driver whatever sum he’d come up with and got into his car, barely even noticing how cold it was. He was in far too much need of another dose of cold medication.

Wheatley’s commute on a good day was roughly an hour and a half, and today was apparently not a good day. The good news was, his car worked fine. The bad news was, the traffic was so bad it didn’t matter if his car worked, because he could have walked faster on this road than he was driving. And the worse news was, he really needed to use the facilities, as it were, and he was still a good hour away from home if the traffic got moving anytime soon. He bit his lip and tried not to think about it. It was going to be a very long drive. Or roll, he supposed, since he hadn’t done any actual driving in at least twenty minutes, only tapped on the gas and let his car drift to a stop every now and then. He turned up the radio and clenched his thighs together as best he could.

Two hours later he finally ended up in his driveway, and once he took care of his more urgent problem he turned his attention to figuring out which auto shop had not gouged him terribly the last time he’d needed something. His stomach rumbled insistently all the while and his nose would not stop dripping, not to mention he could hardly see through the cloud of dried water on his glasses, so finally he gave up and got on those things instead. Besides. He could puzzle out which shop it’d been while he was eating, he’d be more coherent on the phone if his nose wasn’t plugged, and he couldn’t see the phone numbers anyway.

He managed to make himself a pair of fried eggs without setting off the smoke alarm or burning the toast, and after downing a good amount of cold medicine and clearing off his specs, he happily munched on that while again perusing the phone numbers. He soon found the one he was looking for and dialled them after he’d finished eating, and they pencilled him in for late afternoon, which he was quite pleased about. Now he had time for a nap.

He drank a glass of orange juice and swallowed some more cold medicine for good measure, though he thought that he might’ve taken too much by now, and sure enough by the time he’d brushed his teeth and changed out of his still wet clothes he was thoroughly dizzy. Oh well. He’d sleep it off.

He sprawled out on the couch, since he much preferred it to his bed for napping purposes, and lay back to thoroughly enjoy the warm sun on his face filtering through his front window. Ahhh yes, this was going to be a lovely nap.

When his alarm went off, he stretched contentedly and sat up, rubbing his face. He felt very refreshed, though if truth be told he was still a bit lightheaded, and he retrieved his other pair of loafers from the front closet and put them on. He whistled as he headed out to his car, swinging the key ring around on his finger and wondering why everything was so fuzzy, because he distinctly remembered cleaning his glasses before breakfast. It was only after his keys went flying off his finger and there were no glasses on his face to clear off did he realise his mistake, but he only laughed and headed back inside. Happily, he had forgotten to lock the door again, so he didn’t need to dig around half-blindly in the snow to find his wayward keys.

He actually made it to his appointment on time and watched through a murky glass window in a cold, white-painted brick waiting room with some dirty diplomas from some auto school or another as the mechanics went over his car. After about an hour or so they told him that his car was fine, except that the wheels needed realigned, and he nodded and told them to go ahead.

They got that done within another hour and they gave him a very reasonable price for doing it, which he happily paid them and went on his way. He was going to take a lovely shower when he got home and then he was going to make some fried chicken for supper, hopefully, and then he was going to bed. And what a welcome rest that would be! Naps were nice, but they only went so far.

He took what must have been the longest shower he’d ever had, washing himself up thoroughly and even getting behind his ears, for once, and he decided he was just going to put his pajamas on instead of his clothes. He would only have worn them for an hour or two at the most anyway. So he tripped into his dark blue pajama bottoms and stretched his white t-shirt over his head, getting it stuck on both his nose and his ears, decided he could wait until tomorrow morning to shave, and went downstairs in search of that fried chicken.

To his great delight, it ended up more well-done than burnt, and after he’d eaten it and done the dishes he took a cup of Earl Grey up to his bedroom and settled into his blankets. He left the telly on some made-for-television film and sipped contentedly at his tea, and when that was finished he fell into a doze, greatly enjoying the sensation of having a belly full of warmth and a cozy bed to match. When the film ended, he jolted awake, but only long enough to shut the telly off. Then he nestled his head back into his pillow and closed his eyes.

 

He slept very deeply and woke up very late, sometime in the middle of the afternoon, and he was a bit confused as to why when he remembered it was Saturday. So he did not get up, and instead watched the birds and the sun and the clouds drift by outside his bedroom window, moving only to scratch his nose or rub his ankle or pull down his pantleg or some such, and only after his stomach made it good and clear he needed to fill it back up again did he sit up. He yawned hugely and stretched, which felt wonderful, and he shook his head vigorously to rearrange his hair and stuck his glasses on his face.

After eating a couple of tuna fish sandwiches, he decided he was going out for tea, so he stuffed his battered brown leather wallet into his pocket and pulled on his jacket. It was nearly as warm out as it had looked out his window, so even though he’d forgotten to put socks on again it wasn’t too bad. He went to this lovely little café he visited every so often and sat on a high stool in front of the large storefront window, sipping at it slowly. He preferred the stools because he sat more easily in stools, most of the time, and these ones were quite high, high enough in fact that he could even swing his legs a little without touching the floor.

By the time he took his leave, it was getting dark out, but he wasn’t quite ready to head home just yet. So he walked farther down the street and went into the theatre, paid for a ticket for whatever film was playing, and sat down in the back row so he could put his feet up on the seat in front of him and wrap his arm around the one next to him. He didn’t really pay attention to it and listened more to the film reels spinning behind his head than to the dialogue. He was having a rather nice day, all things considered: he hadn’t tripped, broken anything, or been yelled at by anyone. But something was missing, and the fact that Wheatley knew exactly what it was did not help.

He was lonely.

Wheatley closed his eyes and imagined how this day might’ve gone if he’d had … someone at home, so to speak. He’d’ve woken up late with her, whoever she might be, and they would have cuddled together until they’d decided to get up for lunch. He’d’ve taken her hand and the two would have walked down to the café, Wheatley probably swinging their arms a little, and they’d’ve taken their tea in front of the window, with Wheatley helping her up into the stool. They would have looked out the window and had a lovely conversation, and if he was lucky she would laugh at his jokes. Then they would have gone into the theatre, and he’d have his arm around her right now instead of the back of this seat, and they would be watching the film together or perhaps doing… ‘other things’. He didn’t actually know what ‘other things’ were, because though he’d heard young men were supposed to do ‘other things’ in the backs of theatres with nice young ladies, but he’d never held onto one long enough to do that. He usually lost them back around the whole ‘inviting them for tea’ bit. American girls tended to either look at him funny or laugh and tell him how quaint and old-fashioned he was, and if he did manage to get one to agree to meet him, he usually lost them somewhere at the ‘having a lovely conversation’ bit. Wheatley was actually a little frightened of girls, particularly American ones. It was probably his imagination, but he found them a lot more forceful than English ones, and it was very difficult to hold a conversation when he couldn’t get the words out of his mouth. More than one of these occasions had ended with him blushing down into his tea, the girl in question looking like she thought she’d wasted an afternoon. He’d had a couple of girlfriends so he was not completely ignorant, but back home, where it was easier. American girls did not drink tea or put petrol in their automobiles, and they counted their height in inches and their weight in pounds. Abruptly, Wheatley stood up and left the theatre. He didn’t want to think about the empty seat next to him any longer.

He was still worn out from the whole accident business, so when he climbed into bed he fell asleep quickly, but when he woke up the next morning he stayed in bed merely because he didn’t see the point in getting out of it. True, he had laundry to do and he’d forgotten to eat last night, but it was snowing. He hated it when it snowed. It always felt as though it were coming down on top of him too, smothering him in it.

Eventually he grew so hungry that he started to get a headache, so he crawled reluctantly out of bed and toppled onto the floor, smacking his head against the night table. He whimpered a little, holding his hands to his forehead. He angrily drove his glasses into his face and stood up, stuffing his feet into his loafers. That kind of day, was it.

Sure enough, he burned the soup, scalded his hand pouring out the water for his tea, got completely soaked putting his clothes in the washer, and tripped up the stairs out of the basement, bruising his knee so badly he actually couldn’t get up for a few minutes. He threw himself down on the couch and propped his arms up on the back, staring grumpily out the window. If he’d had a… significant other, he wouldn’t get into all these messes! He’d’ve had someone to help him out, like his mum and his sister had when he’d lived at home. His sister in particular had been very helpful, labelling things and posting up reminders like there was no tomorrow, and he would oftentimes bring her small things when he got home from school or work or the like. Nothing too fancy, just small flowers or chocolates, and she would always smile at him and give him a lovely hug and say, ‘Wheatley, how come you can never remember to separate your whites from your darks, but you always remember exactly what chocolate I like and where I like it from?’ And he would shrug and hug her back and think about how lucky he was to have such a kind little sister. And he had in fact forgotten yet again to divide up his clothes, but it was far too late now. He scratched his nose and thought about giving her a ring, but it wouldn’t be very kind of him to do that, knowing what sort of mood he was in. The plain fact of it was, Wheatley knew he was a high-maintenance sort of person, but he did his best, he really did. And he could remember things when he really tried. He just didn’t usually have the motivation. He hoped that his sister had tracked down that nice English gentleman she’d always dreamed of marrying. He didn’t think she’d quite married him yet, because he really doubted she’d get married without him being there, but found him, at least. He’d wanted to scope the guy out before she got too attached, even though he knew she was perfectly capable of finding her own husband, but he’d wanted to judge for himself whether or not her chosen man was good enough for her. He wouldn’t be, because there was no man who existed who was good enough. But Wheatley wanted to do it anyway. Though who was he to judge, really. He couldn’t even get an American girl, so what did he know about proper English men.

His day did not end soon enough.

 

 

He did not feel any better when he arrived at Aperture the next morning, though his cold was gone. There was that. He’d dug up an old wooden checkerboard before heading out, remembering at the last minute that he needed something to do with GLaDOS, and though it was a bit musty she probably wouldn’t care. She didn’t have a nose and she couldn’t feel the dust through the maintenance arms.

He walked into her chamber with the board tucked under his arm, and he felt a bit better as soon as he saw her, though he didn’t really know why. She wasn’t really doing anything, just watching one of the system logs again, and he wasn’t sure if he should bug her or not. He set the board down and stepped a little closer, calling out, “GLaDOS?”

She tensed for a long moment, then snapped around and stared at him for another extended period. All of a sudden she lunged at him, knocking him down to the glass in a very painful fashion, and either through pressure or through her sheer weight he was pinned almost completely. She was rubbing the side of her core on the side of his face very enthusiastically, and he just lay there, baffled, and let her do… whatever she was doing. After a little while of that she snapped up, her core directly overtop his face and her optic tilted level with his eyes, and he just kept staring at her. He noticed almost in passing that her optic was so dark it was almost off.

“What’s gotten into you?” he asked, sitting up as soon as she backed away, but she couldn’t answer, of course, and instead started nudging him at random intervals. He began to feel very, very flattered from all the attention and decided she deserved a bit of a rubbing for being in such a good mood. “You look like no one told you I was gone,” he said, laughing, and she moved out of his reach and shook her head.

He frowned. “No… no one told you I was gone?”

She nodded to this, and he leaned forward. “I called here, Friday morning!” he exclaimed, spreading his hands. “I told them I wasn’t going to make it, and to tell you!”

She shook her head slowly, and his hands balled into fists. “Bloody wankers,” he muttered. “They never listen.”

She nudged him again, and he went back to stroking her core softly. “Sorry, luv,” he told her apologetically. “I got into a car accident. Drove myself into a snowbank. Had to get a bit of a repair. I didn’t mean to leave you all alone here with no news.”

She poked at his forehead with her lens, and he reached up with his free hand and felt the bruise he’d gotten falling out of bed the previous morning. “Oh no, I got out of the accident in one piece,” he told her, wondering why a blush was working its way onto his face, “that’s from… something else.”

They sat like that for a while, him running his hand softly up and down her core and her watching him calmly, as usual, and then suddenly she hitched back and shook herself out a little. When she didn’t come back down, he realised that it must have been quite a strain for her, coming that low, and he moved more within her reach and opened the checkerboard.

He told her what the rules were, but seeing as she set up her own pieces without any help from him, he was pretty sure she knew what they were already. They played that until lunch, upon which time she put the pieces back in the box and pushed it away, and Wheatley took that to mean they were done checkers.

He came back with his lunch, a container of potato salad, and he let her inspect it before actually eating it. She looked as though she wanted to poke it with her lens, but seemed to decide it wasn’t worth getting her lens dirty and backed away. Even though she hadn’t really done anything of note, he found himself stroking her again, but when he realised what he was doing he only shrugged and went on doing it. His time with her was pretty much over, anyway. She was far too smart for him to have to teach her things anymore. It made him sad to think that he would no longer be able to spend his day with her and would instead have to spend it with some boring old machine, trying to spy on his former employers. Yet again he wished GLaDOS could talk. He would have liked to know whether she’d miss him or not, though he thought she probably would, thinking back to that morning’s reaction. That thought earned her a bit of a rub, and after that she pushed her core into the back of his right shoulder and pressed her lens into the side of his neck. He found himself liking that very much and reached underneath her core as far as he could, which he thought might’ve been all the way around it but he wasn’t sure, and held it to his side as best he could, happy for once that he was left-handed. If he hadn’t been he’d’ve spilled his lunch every which place.

After lunch he dug out the laptop from the desk in the corner and showed her the batch of programs they wanted her to run, and to his complete surprise she ran all of them upon being told that. His heart sank. It really was over. Though she was only a few months old, she was already so intelligent that simple things would no longer hold her attention. She needed to do things that… that adult supercomputers did, like run long strings of calculations and supervise a thousand programs at once. He left the room feeling very heavy, and he went to tell Henry the… well, Henry would think it was good news, but Wheatley’s gut was clenched just thinking about going back to his desk.

He told Henry in a dull voice that she was ready, and Henry pumped his fists in the air and turned to his computer, presumably to send her information that needed analysed or some such, and Wheatley left and sat down in his neglected chair. He didn’t turn his computer on for a good twenty minutes.

When he finally had, his desktop email application was overflowing with unread messages, and he went through them reluctantly. Most of them were spam emails, which he deleted uncertainly, never quite sure which ones were spam and which ones were not, and stared confusedly at an email without a subject that merely read ‘hello’. It looked like spam, but he’d never seen spam like that before, and when he saw the sender’s address his mouth dropped open and stayed that way for a good two minutes.

That… that’s not really you, is it? he typed hesitantly, wondering why he was doing this instead of just running down and asking, but he was pretty stunned and didn’t really trust his legs at the moment. Almost immediately after he’d sent it he got a new message, this one reading who else would it be seriously now how many people do you know who use your email address and send other people messages and pretend theyre you none thats how many and besides no one knows i have an email address so why would they use it

Wheatley spent a good five minutes puzzling that one out. Obviously GLaDOS still had a few things to learn. Such as punctuation. At least she could spell.

I didn’t know you could talk, he replied after he’d figured it out.

im not talking im emailing thats different

If you can… he pressed backspace and restarted. You can hold a conversation, so why don’t you talk?

i cant

He frowned. What do you mean, you can’t?

i dont know why i just cant

But you can make noise, he pressed. Talking is just organised noise, right?

i KNOW that but i can’t

I’ll look into it, he told her, horrified at the thought of being able to talk but not being able to get the words out. Maybe something’s broken.

are you coming back

Not for a while.

why

You don’t need me any longer, he replied sadly. I’ve been taken off you and put back on my original assignment.

youre not on me how did you get taken off of me and what is your original assignment

You were my assignment, he typed slowly, not sure of how to explain it to her. I was supposed to help you learn until you could learn on your own. And now you can, so I’m back to trying to hack into Black Mesa’s mainframe.

She took longer to answer than previously, and what she said made him very sad.

you were only here because i was your assignment

No! he sent, before he’d quite finished the message. I asked them to put me on you. You were called the GLaDOS Project, see? And I wasn’t on it. But I was there when they woke you up. I came back that night and talked to you. It was after that that you were my assignment.

you wanted me to be your assignment

That’s right.

and im not your assignment anymore because you dont need to teach me things anymore

i can pretend to be stupid would that help

He laughed and pushed up his glasses.   Far too late for that, luv.

well youll come back right you didnt even tell me you werent you just didnt come back

There was a pleasant warm feeling in his stomach and he asked, feeling a bit shy, You want me to come back?

its very quiet when youre not here i dont like it

Wheatley felt a bit sad upon hearing it and thought of something he could say to comfort her. But now we can talk to each other, so that’s not so bad, right?

we could have before if you had turned your computer on i didnt bother sending you a message before because you never logged onto the network so what would be the point id be wasting my time

Wheatley had to admit that was probably true. He hadn’t used his own login in a long time, having to use Henry’s when it came time to show GLaDOS new programs or commands to use. I… guess you’re right.

of course i am are you coming back or not

I’ll come by before I leave.

youd better

Wheatley laughed and got to work.

 

When he went to see her before he went home, he told her more than once how clever she was and she looked very satisfied with herself. He gave her a hug and rubbed her a little bit, which she was very pleased about. He knew this because she gave him a good solid nuzzling after he’d finished the hug.

He headed home in a very good mood, his face still tingling a bit where she had rubbed it, and he stood there and stared at his dusty laptop for a good long while. He had Internet, which he didn’t use all that often because he often ended up in the middle of nowhere, in Internet terms, and he wasn’t quite sure he had email set up on that thing yet. He thought it over while he ate a pair of grilled cheese sandwiches and a small packet of crisps, then decided to go ahead. Happily, he had no password and so didn’t have to hack his own laptop, and even better, the email program was set up and there was already an email in his inbox. He eagerly clicked on it, but when he saw the email the smile melted from his face and he had to take his glasses off, because his eyes had started to tear up uncontrollably and water was spilling out over his cheeks.

look wheatley now i can smile too :)

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

 

As it turned out, GLaDOS loved to talk.

Wheatley had finally met someone who talked as much as he did, only she actually talked more, because he couldn’t answer all of her emails at the rate she sent them. She never wrote full messages, either, preferring to send them off one thought at a time, and he supposed if he were a supercomputer who could send emails faster than it took him to think the word ‘email’, he’d do the same thing. Half the time she seemed to be just sending him whatever she happened to be thinking about at the time, at one point complaining extensively about some badly written function in the mainframe programming, and he couldn’t make heads nor tails or it, let alone comment. She talked almost incessantly, but she seemed to understand that he was at work and couldn’t answer her straightaway, though he did find himself reading her messages rather more often than he should have. He was simply baffled that someone wanted to talk to him this much in the first place. Sure, she was a giant robot with no one else to talk to, though for some reason she kept saying that the mainframe would not leave her alone and it seemed to have nothing to do with the instructions it needed, but he was flattered all the same. You wouldn’t have thought she was doing this, the way she acted when he went to see her at lunch; she flatout ignored him, as if he wasn’t even there. When he asked her why, she told him not to worry about it, and not to stop coming. Even if she was ignoring him, it was better than eating lunch in the break room by himself, so he shrugged and did so.

Come evening, though, things would change.

After five o’clock, she would stop ignoring him and come down and listen to him talk, sometimes about what he’d been doing or clarifying things he couldn’t quite explain via email, and she would watch him carefully and listen to every word. He wasn’t quite sure what the pattern was, or the triggers maybe, but every so often she would give him a shove or a nuzzle, which he found himself enjoying quite a lot. In return he would give her a rubbing or pull her core to his side by reaching underneath it, and she seemed to like it well enough.   On Fridays in particular she became very affectionate, pushing her core into his shoulder and pressing her lens into his neck, and while she was doing that he discovered by accident that she liked it when he gave her a bit of a scratch. He hadn’t known she was able to feel such a thing, but she could, and when he did that and then rubbed at the place he’d scratched she became very gentle for a while.

Some days she had to run long, complex strings of calculations, which she showed him on occasion and made his head hurt just to look at, and when he went to see her on those evenings she was often tired and listless. He hadn’t thought that a supercomputer could get tired, but when she told him about how she felt he realised it was akin to the kind of fatigue he got when he thought too hard, and he decided that made sense. When that happened he just sat and stroked her and spoke to her in a low voice until she fell asleep, which she also had the ability to do surprisingly enough, and then he would take his leave and hope his getting up didn’t wake her, as it sometimes did.

Other days Wheatley would be tired or disheartened, or otherwise out of sorts, and he would go to her with the intention of telling her he was leaving, but unfailingly finding himself sitting down and telling her about what was bothering him. Every time he turned to leave she would grip one of his shoulders very gently in one of her maintenance arms, and he would return to facing her once more to find she’d made him a cup of tea. Well, everyone knew that was practically an invitation to tell someone how you were feeling, and he would give her a sad smile and sit down. And she would listen. She would watch him carefully, nearly motionless, until he was finished, and then she would give him a nuzzle or a hug, depending on how upset Wheatley was at the end of it. He tried not to do it too often, but found himself doing it more than he meant to. But it was just so obvious to him that she wanted to know and she wanted to help, and he just couldn’t help himself.

It soon became well known that GLaDOS would not listen to anyone except for Wheatley, and was downright obstinate to everyone else in the building. He often had to go into see her, wringing his hands apologetically and trying to get her to look at him, which she never did during the day even when he wasn’t there to ask her to do something. She always did as he asked, though sometimes not for several hours later, and if someone got impatient and forced her to execute a program, she would shut it off and refuse to run it for days at a time.

Henry often came into Wheatley’s office, Wheatley hurriedly exiting his email window, and sit on his desk, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. “What the hell’s going on with her?” he would ask, one leg crossed over the other and his hands on his knees, and Wheatley would shake his head. “There’s nothing wrong with her, mate,” he would answer, one eye on the email counter at the corner of his screen. “She just likes to do things on her own time.”

“But her time is our time,” Henry protested one morning, pushing up on his thinning hair in frustration. Wheatley looked up at his former mentor and said quietly, “Don’t you get that’s part of her problem?”

“Her problem?” Henry asked, brows screwing up.

“She’s alive, Henry,” Wheatley told her for the umpteenth time. “She gets tired of working all the time. She gets tired of doing things for other people nonstop. Does she get any recognition or respect? No. I saw Mel in there yesterday getting mad at her for screwing up a whole bunch of calculations, even though it was Mel who’d given her the wrong equation. Mel blamed her for it and then told her she should have known what the proper equation was without being told!” He shook his head. GLaDOS had, in fact, known the equation was wrong, but she’d had no idea what she was doing the calculations for and hadn’t known whether it was a new equation or not. But they both knew they had to keep their correspondence a secret, so Wheatley could not tell Henry that.

“I guess that might get frustrating after a while,” Henry admitted, scratching his nose.

“A while?” Wheatley asked, a little helplessly. “Henry, mate, that’s her life.”

Henry spread his hands. “What are we supposed to do, Wheatley? I mean, even though she acts like an obstinate teenager half the time, you know as well as I do that getting people to see her as alive is a huge stretch.”

“Caroline’s alive,” Wheatley murmured, before he could stop himself. Henry planted his right hand on the desk and leaned forward.

“What? How do you know?”

“She… she told me about a dream she had, once.”

“She dreams?”

“She’s alive, goddamnit!” Wheatley cried, turning to face Henry and slamming his fists into the armrests of his chair. “Yes, she dreams, and she’s dreamt of having arms and legs but being unable to move them. There’s no other reason she would dream that. Caroline made it.”

“But instead of integrating with the AI, she woke it up,” Henry mused, squinting into the corner. “Makes sense. But Wheatley… why didn’t you tell anyone?”

“Who would’ve believed me?”

“I believe you,” Henry said quietly. “I believe everything you say about her.”

“If I’d told anyone,” Wheatley said darkly, turning to face his monitor again, “she’d be dead right now. You’d’ve thrown her away in favour of trying to extract someone who might not even be conscious in there. GLaDOS didn’t ask for us to make her, didn’t, didn’t ask to be built, and to have been treated as the, the by-product of a failed experiment would have been wrong.”  

“There’s a decision I’m glad I didn’t make,” Henry muttered. He shifted his weight, rubbing at the bald spot on the back of his head. “Keep doing what you’re doing, I guess. But does she know that people don’t see her like you do? That they’re going to get fed up with her one day and just… be done with it?”

“She knows,” Wheatley answered. “She just doesn’t care.”

“She doesn’t care if she dies?”

“Why would she?” Wheatley told him listlessly, tipping over his mouse and popping out the trackball, letting it roll off the desktop and into his hand. “She doesn’t know what death is. You can threaten her with it all you want, she doesn’t know what it is and she’s not going to care.”

“You haven’t told her?”

“I have,” Wheatley said, spinning the trackball in his palm, “but I can’t… she doesn’t get it if she hasn’t seen it. She needs, she’s got to have facts. Proof. She’s never seen death, never experienced it, so she… it means nothing to her.”

Henry went silent for a long moment.

“She’s going to get herself killed, one day.” He leaned forward. “Don’t tell anyone I told you, but… we’re coming up with initiatives to… uh…”

“Control her,” Wheatley said dully. Since when had he been the depository for deep dark secrets? He held all of GLaDOS’s, and his own, and now Henry’s. “You’re going to control her. Which means you’re getting rid of me.”

“You haven’t been doing that much work lately,” Henry said in a low voice. “The higher-ups have noticed.”

Wheatley put the trackball back into the mouse and closed it back up. “How can I, knowing that she’s out there by herself and I’m the only one who gives a damn about her?”

“Wheatley – “

“Just… just go,” he said, putting his head in his hands and fighting down the lump in his throat. “Just get out of here. I don’t want to hear anymore.”

He listened as Henry clambered off the desk, felt him press a firm hand to his shoulder, and when Henry had closed the door he took his glasses off and gave his eyes a good rubbing. Oi. That was just great. He was going to be fired, and she was going to be left all alone in there, and one day they would kill her. Whatever they were coming up with to control her, it wouldn’t work. He knew that one hundred percent. She would fight it, she would think her way around it, and then they would kill her. And he couldn’t tell her, because she didn’t understand what being dead meant. What a mess. What a bloody horrible mess.

He did not look at any of her emails, because he could not get rid of the lump in his throat and didn’t feel like crying, and when he sat down with her that night he had an awful stomach ache and his eyes hurt. Now he was the one who was tired and listless, and he told her it was because he wasn’t feeling well and not to worry about it. After about five minutes she gave him a cup of tea, and he stared at it, confused. When he realised she was trying to make him feel better he did start crying, pressing himself into her core with a desperate hug, and she held him in her own way for a good long time. When he’d finally let go, wiping his swollen eyes, she had given him that inquisitive look she had, but he could not tell her and only shook his head and wrapped his fingers around her offering.

When he got home he opened his email, more to clear out his inbox than anything, he frowned upon seeing that one of the messages was flagged. She’d never done that before, and out of curiosity he opened that one first.

Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?

Damn her for being so intelligent.

I told you. I’m not feeling well.

YOU’RE LYING

Wheatley actually jumped when he opened that message. She was good and upset, she was, and he needed to fix it. Fast.

I’m not lying.

Look. If you don’t like something I said, just tell me. Don’t pretend it isn’t bothering you. Which it obviously is. Just tell me what I said, and I’ll apologise.

What are you talking about?

You haven’t answered any of my emails for the last three hours. That implies I said something that offended you in one of them.

Wheatley smacked himself in the face. No, luv, I haven’t even read those yet. It’s something someone else said. Not something you said. I promise.

What does that mean?

What, a promise?

Yes. You seem to use that term when you’re being serious about something.

Wheatley took a long moment to think it over. A promise is… it’s like absolute truth. For example, if I said I promised to come and see you tomorrow morning, I would come and see you no matter what. Unless I was dead or something. Then I couldn’t.

What’s the difference between a promise and just saying you’ll do something?

A promise is related to trust, Wheatley tried to explain. If someone makes you a promise and then breaks it, you know you can’t trust them. Nothing they say is worth anything. But if someone makes you a… major promise, and they keep it, you know you can trust them with your life.

So you’re saying it’s absolutely true that I didn’t offend you.

That’s right.

And before. You promised me nothing would happen if I came down to you when the scientists woke me up the second time.

Yes. I wanted you to know you could trust me.

And you promised me that I would have some fun if I learned to use the maintenance arms.

And you did.

And you will never break a promise you make to me?

I promise I will never break a promise, Wheatley typed, laughing, and the next message GLaDOS sent merely contained a smiley face.

Make me two promises.

Promise you will never lie to me.

I promise I will never lie to you.        

Promise you will be my friend forever.

I promise I will be your friend forever.

Good. We’ve got that settled, then.

Now you make me two promises.

I’ll decide after I see them. Ohh, typical, stubborn GLaDOS.

Promise you will never lie to me.

I promise.        

Promise you will be my friend forever.

I promise. :)

Don’t you break those, now, Wheatley teased, smiling himself. Else I can’t trust you with a wooden nickel, let alone my life.

Out of all the people at Aperture, I am the most likely one you can trust with your life. Who do you think’s going to be saving it if you collapse in one of the service hallways? Oh, that’s right. Me.

No one I’d rather.

Do you mean that?

I just promised not to lie to you, didn’t I?

Oh. Right.

I wish I knew what your voice sounded like.

Believe me, I’m waiting to find out myself, she answered, in what he would have imagined to be a tone of dry sarcasm. Would you stay here longer if I could speak?

Probably, he admitted. It’s dreadfully difficult for me to sit in the same room with a silent person for hours at a time. Nothing against you, you’re a lovely person even mute, but you know how I am.

Come tomorrow and fix it. I think something’s disconnected in my core. If I’m correct, which of course I am but one must always have a null hypothesis, my speech emulator is not connected properly.

You are… honestly quite amazing, Wheatley told her, eye wide. If something was off in my brain, I’d never know what it was.

I’ll be honest. Your brain’s a bit more complicated.

Really? How’s that?

For the remainder of the night, GLaDOS explained to him to the best of her ability how the human brain worked, with Wheatley doing his best to understand it, and the only reason they stopped talking was because Wheatley fell asleep on the couch.

 

 

The next evening, after five o’clock, Wheatley went into her chamber with her instructions in his head as to how to take a look inside her core. It was going to be a bit tricky and complicated, but the prospect of being able to actually talk to her excited him too much to give up.

She was just as excited as he was, if her ducking into the default position as soon as she saw him enter the room was any indication. She had told him that if he did this wrong, she was not going to be able to move because her core would fall apart if she tried, so he’d better not do it wrong.

He was nervous, so nervous his palms were slick with sweat and his heart was fluttering in his throat, but he only swallowed hard and wiped his hands on his pants. Then he carefully removed the assembly on the side of her core, which she’d told him allowed her to shift her faceplate. She wasn’t sure what the point of allowing her to do that was, but in any case if he put it back on wrong it wouldn’t be too much of a loss.

“This is very heavy,” he told her, laying down the assembly as carefully as he could. It was almost half as big as he was, and he honestly wasn’t sure he could lift it up again. Then he remembered she couldn’t even move now to indicate things to him, so he wiped his grease-slicked hands off on his pants again and pried open the case of her core to expose her motherboard. And what a wonder of electrical engineering it was! He stared at it for a full ten seconds, at nearly ten square feet of acid-etched pathways, transistors and capacitors of every size, wires that must have been every colour of the rainbow and some in between, and an IDE cable here and there. He bent in closer to read the destinations of the cables, but the light was too dim. Were they all for personal hard drives? He didn’t really know that much about computer engineering, so he couldn’t be sure, but he had a sudden urge to pull the motherboard out too and take a peek behind it. Until GLaDOS made her annoyed noise, which shocked him out of his reverie. Disconnected wire, disconnected wire… after a bit of searching he located a dangling wire, which he held between his fingers uncertainly. It must go… there! He shoved it into an empty hole, hoping it was the appropriate empty hole, and then set about putting her core back together. She helped him lift the pieces with one of her maintenance arms, which he hadn’t realised had cameras in them, and he secured them in place, afterwards stepping back and dusting off his hands. She’d said she might have to restart after he’d finished, but he hoped she didn’t. A restart for a system of her size would probably take at least an hour.

She remained still for a long moment, and he leaned over, his palms on his knees. “Did it work?” he whispered. She didn’t answer, looking like she was thinking, and after another moment she raised her core.

“Hello…?” she said cautiously, her voice a little distorted and thoroughly robotic, and Wheatley laughed, overjoyed, and wrapped her in a tight hug.

“You look… excited,” she said haltingly, her words hitching in some places.

“I finally get to talk to you! Hell yes I’m excited!”

She laughed, or tried to; it didn’t come out quite right, and she shook her head in disgust. “This is… awful-ful,” she said, sounding annoyed. “I feel like I’ve… sssstarted over… all over ag-gain.”

He smiled and patted her core. “You’ll get better. Just keep at it, eh?”

“I d-don’t want to k-keep-eep at it. It’ll take-take me a week to-to have one conver-versation-ation.”

“No it won’t,” he said, trying to be encouraging. “You’ve a lovely voice, by the way.”

“I’m surprised-prised you can pick it out thr-thr-through all the stu-stuttering and stat-static.”

“We’ll work on it,” he said, sitting down beneath her. “We’ll have a chat. D’you know much about your motherboard? I don’t know much about ‘lectronics, but it looked simply fascinating, it did. Are all the IDE cables for your hard drives, d’you know?”

As it turned out, she knew quite a lot about her motherboard for someone who had never seen either it or the blueprints for it, and he had her explain it to him as thoroughly as possible. Her words and her sentences were drawn-out and halting, and sometimes he couldn’t tell what she was saying because the distortion was too strong, and when he gently asked her for clarification she would look away and not speak. He would assure her she was doing well and encourage her to keep going, and after about an hour or so she had enough of a handle on it that she could say most things relatively easily.

“There you are!” he said cheerfully, giving her a rubbing in congratulations, and she bent down to receive it. “You’ve done well, you really have. Good job.”

“Thank you,” she said, somewhat shyly. “And for fixing my problem. I can’t believe those idiots couldn’t manage to connect clearly labelled wires into clearly labelled ports.”

“Thank God this all worked out,” Wheatley yawned, stretching. “I was starting to – “

“Oh, don’t be stupid,” GLaDOS told him in a no-nonsense sort of way. “There is no God. Modern Christianity is a mashed-together religion based on traditions and pieces of other religions. I really don’t understand why one would believe in such a thing.”

Wheatley frowned. “It’s just a figure of speech. Means you’re terribly glad of something. And besides. If that’s my opinion, I’m free to have it. You can’t really say whether there’s a God or not.”

“Don’t have a theological discussion with me, Wheatley,” GLaDOS said, eyeing him seriously. “I’m a lot smarter than you and you’re only going to end up embarrassing yourself. I’m saving you the trouble of that embarrassment by warning you before you start one. It’s fine if that’s your opinion. You may want to keep it to yourself, though. Opinions about fictional divine personas don’t go over well in applied Science laboratories, and you can’t argue the point about them with supercomputers.”

“Are you saying my opinion doesn’t matter?”

“Of course it matters. But you didn’t invent God, did you. Therefore God is not your opinion, but someone else’s. Don’t convince yourself that other people’s opinions are your own. That’s foolish.”  

“God isn’t an opinion, he’s –“

“Does it not all make a little too much convenient sense? God just happens to make you in his image? And he just happens to look like your own personification of a wise old man? And you just happen to have a book describing his miracles, which do not exist, because Science has repeatedly invalidated miracles. Oh yes, and he sends his incorruptible human son to Earth, which is nonsense because humans are corrupted from the day they believe they can think for themselves, and he just happens to be killed in one of the most horrendous ways possible. Not to mention the day you celebrate as his birthday actually is not his birthday.”

“It’s not?” Wheatley said weakly, indeed regretting pushing the point.

“Oh, Wheatley,” GLaDOS said, shaking her head gravely, “if you’ll pardon my use of human idiom, thank God I’m here to save you from your ignorance. Look. I’ll tell you a secret. There’s no Santa, either. He’s an alternate personification of God used to control small children until they can be threatened sufficiently with the loss of eternal life. Which is also ridiculous. Really, how can you be alive if you haven’t died? How can you define life without death to conclude it? Just like you can’t have light without dark, you can’t have eternal life without eternal death to even it out. But of course no one talks about that.

Wheatley stared at her with his mouth wide open.

“What.”

“You’ve… thought all that out rather well,” he sputtered. She shifted her chassis in her approximation of a shrug.

“You’re acting like I’ve got something else to do.”

“Don’t you have… work to do?”

“You seem to overestimate the amount of actual attention I have to give to it. Think about it. How much attention do you really think Climate Control needs out of me? I set it up, it turns itself up and down as needed. I’m the supervisor. Like the engineer who walks around with a hard hat on and carries a clipboard, but doesn’t do anything in public. He takes care of the administrative issues, you see. I don’t have a whole lot of administrative issues yet.”

Wheatley stuffed his hands into his pocket and turned around, intending to leave.

“Where are you going? You don’t have to leave yet, do you? You said you would stay longer if I could speak.”

“I… don’t think I’m the right conversational partner for you,” Wheatley said dully. “You need someone… smarter.”

“I don’t mind explaining things to you,” she told him. “This isn’t really that much different from emails, right?”

“You’re a lot different in person.”

“Oh.”

She sounded so sad that Wheatley paused.

“So you don’t like me in person. You’d rather I didn’t talk.”

He turned around, guilt twisting in his gut. “No! Of course not!”

“Yes, you would. You’re leaving because you don’t like the way I talk.”

“It’s not that, it’s just, you’re very…” He threw up his hands, trying to think of a way to describe it. “Look, sweetheart, even if you don’t like my opinion, it’s my opinion. It doesn’t, there hasn’t got to be facts to back up an opinion.

“But then how can you prove it?”

“They don’t always need proven. Can you actually prove that God does not exist?”

“Well… no… I can’t prove the existence of someone who doesn’t… exist… oh!”

“GLaDOS!” Wheatley gasped, running up to her as she collapsed towards the floor. “What is it?”

“My head hurts,” she said faintly. “How can I prove nonexistence? By definition it does not exist, so how am I able to try to prove it in the first place? This doesn’t make any sense!”

“Oh my God,” Wheatley whispered to himself, because when he laid his hand on her core it had suddenly become very hot to the touch. “GLaDOS, stop. Stop thinking about it.”

“I can’t prove something doesn’t exist because I need it to exist in order to prove it doesn’t exist which means that it does exist which means that I can’t prove that it doesn’t because it does, but how is it existing and not existing at the same time?” she cried out, and Wheatley knelt down and crawled beneath her core. Oi, it was hot down there.

“GLaDOS. Listen to me.”

“I need to figure this out. I need to prove the existence of something that doesn’t exist so that I can prove that it doesn’t exist, even though that would mean it does exist –“

“No, you need to stop. You need to stop right now.”

“Wheatley, it hurts,” she whimpered, lightning shooting through his stomach from the desperation in her voice. “Make it stop.”

“Ssh,” Wheatley said, reaching up and stroking her optic assembly haltingly. It was so hot he was afraid he was going to be scalded. “Tell me about your motherboard again.”

“But you already heard –“

“I have a terribly mem’ry. Tell me again.”

Once she’d concentrated on doing that for a while, she cooled down considerably and relaxed, though she didn’t raise herself, probably so that he would continue to do what he was doing. The metal had gone cold quickly, and he had been able to caress her more consistently.

“That was horrible,” she murmured. “What happened?”

“Don’t think about it,” Wheatley said warningly. “You don’t want it to happen again.”

“I’ll delete it from my memory,” she told him. “It was a brief event. It shouldn’t disrupt my personality.”

“I hope not,” Wheatley said, smiling.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I like your personality.”

“You’re probably the only one.”

He shrugged. “There’s only got to be one, right?”

She was silent for a long moment.

“I’m going to tell you about something. I… think I might have the same reaction. Stop me if I do.”

“What is it?”

“There’s… an experiment. A… well, it’s a thought experiment, which makes it highly suspicious to begin with, but imagine you have a box. And you put a cat in the box, and close it up. Is the cat dead or alive?”

“Alive,” Wheatley said, wondering if this was a trick question. “You just put it in there, alive, right?”

“How do you know it hasn’t suffocated?”

“Well, I suppose it might’ve after a day or so.”

“But how do you know there are no holes in the box, and that it’s not still breathing?”

Wheatley frowned. “This question has no answer!”

“I think about that a lot,” she said quietly.  

“Why?”

“You’ll make fun of me if I tell you.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because it’s stupid.” She pulled up suddenly, which he found himself feeling kind of disappointed about. “Never mind. Pretend I never brought it up.”

“No. I want to hear it. Tell me.”

She looked at him for a long moment.

“I….”

He sat up and folded his hands together in his lap, leaning back against the railing.

“Honestly, I… ever since I saw that entry in the database, every once in a while I… dream that I’m the cat. That’s probably how I can talk about it without… reacting.”

“What is the dream like?” he asked softly.

“I just… feel alive on the inside, but dead on the outside… or sometimes I feel dead on the inside and alive on the outside… like there’s two of me, almost, and they have to exist as opposites at the same time…” She shook her head and looked away. “This is stupid.”

“It isn’t,” Wheatley murmured, leaning forward to stroke her core. “I know exactly what you mean.”

She whipped around to look at him, and he was barely able to move his hand in time. “You do?”

“Mmhm.”

“Does everyone?”

He shrugged. “Can’t say that for sure. Some people at some points, certainly. Probably not most people most of the time.”

“Do you… want to know when… when I… when I get to be alive all the way through?” She was twisting her chassis and looking away from him, and he got the impression she was feeling terribly shy all of a sudden.

“If you’d like to tell me.” He did his best to sound gentle and open.

“When… when you talk to me, I… I do.”

Wheatley’s heart melted right then and there and he smiled, getting up to wrap her in a hug. “I’m glad to hear I’m helping you out, luv.”

“You always do,” she said shyly. “You’re different. You help me instead of making me help you.”

“If you need something, you just ask, okay?” he told her, stepping back so he could look her in the eye. “Don’t you ever feel you can’t talk to me about something. I’m here, and I’ll always be here.”

“Because you promised. Right?”

He shook his head. “It’s… more than that. The promise is… just something for you to reassure yourself with. Your proof.”

“I like proof,” she said, shifting backwards. “I can rely on it.”

Wheatley glanced at his watch, though he didn’t really want to know what time it was, and sure enough it was far too late. “I… have to go,” he said reluctantly. “I need to be getting home.”

“Oh, that’s true. Hurry up, before I have to lock down the facility. We wouldn’t want you to get stuck in here. Can I… email you, or have you had enough of me for the day?”

“Of course I haven’t,” Wheatley told her, wondering why she’d even thought such a ridiculous thing.

“Are you sure? I talk to you approximately twelve hours a day. Surely you have other people to talk to and other things to do.”

“I never get tired of talking to you,” he said, entirely truthful. “And if I do happen to get bored, or if there’s something I need to go do, I’ll tell you. Alright?”

“That sounds reasonable. I’ll talk to you when you get home, then.”

He honestly couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

Please take note: this chapter deals with the euphoric response and compares it to rape. If that bothers you, you may have to sit this one out. I might be making it sound worse than it is, but I wanted to warn anyone this is a trigger for.

Chapter Eleven

 

Wheatley spent all day waiting until five o’clock, when the man assigned to watch GLaDOS left and went home, when the scientists and the engineers and everyone else left the building and headed home, when he would run through the facility as fast as he could, duck under the closing door to her chamber and talk to GLaDOS live and in person.

The scientists had been thoroughly confused by her sudden ability to talk, and most of them didn’t like it at all. He hadn’t actually been in the room when she’d said anything to them, but rumours went around that she continually insulted, condescended to, and made trivial the words of everyone who went in to see her. Wheatley didn’t see what their problem was. Sure, GLaDOS could be extremely direct and shockingly blunt, but it was pretty easy to laugh off. Then again, Wheatley had long been talked down to by smart people, so maybe they just didn’t like it now that it was coming back to bite them. He also heard from Henry that they were putting together a task force to figure out how to tame her, or to at least scale her back.

“Is she like this with you?” Henry asked one day, leaning against Wheatley’s desk.

“Yeah,” Wheatley answered, wishing Henry had come in later when he’d finished his tea. “Don’t take her seriously. She’s just amusing herself.”

“She insults you?”

“Constantly. Always telling me how dumb and fragile and illogical I am. She doesn’t mean it, though. Take it in stride. She’s actually pretty funny if you don’t take it lit’raly.” Wheatley looked down at the desk and played with the handle on his cup. “’sides. Not much diff’rent from what I get from ev’ryone else anyway.”

“I think she talks to you differently,” Henry muttered, taking one of Wheatley’s biscuits. “She’s genuinely insulting us, Wheatley. She’s one nasty piece of work.”

“She’s not!” Wheatley snapped, snatching back his biscuit. “D’you see? Why would she say nice things t’you if you walk around saying junk like that?”

“I doubt it’s that easy.”

“Why’m I even talking to you?” Wheatley asked, throwing up his hands. “No, Henry, I do not know anything about the construct I’ve spent the last who knows how many months hanging out with!”

“We need you to get her to start testing the device tomorrow,” Henry said, apparently done with that conversation. “It can’t wait anymore. She’s ready.”

“She’s not going to want to. I can get her to start, I can’t get her to like it.”

“Starting will be good enough.”

“What’re you planning?”

Henry shook his head. “That’s… classified.”

Wheatley looked up at him, disappointed. “She’s a person, Henry. Not a toy.”

“Just… get her to do it.”

Wheatley talked to her about it that night, and she agreed to cut the scientists a break, just that once, and began testing without a struggle, and from what she told Wheatley she actually seemed to like it. But after about two weeks she lost all interest in it, refusing to run the testing tracks or to even build them, which Wheatley knew for a fact she genuinely loved doing. So they sent Wheatley in to ask her what was going on.

“You’re proving my point right now,” GLaDOS said, during one of their evening chats. “What are you, the messenger service? I’m tired of them using you to get me to do what they want. They want me to do something, they can ask me themselves.”

“They don’t like the way you talk to them.”

“I don’t like the way they talk to me. So we’re even.” She made a thoughtful noise, one of the electronic ones she still made on occasion, out of habit or preference Wheatley didn’t know. “And then there’s the fact that you have the baffling ability to make even terrible ideas sound like the best ones ever conceived.”

“Really?” Wheatley asked, feeling a bit of a blush creep into his cheeks.

“I don’t know how you do it,” she said with a wry shake of her core. “You’re not going to use that to lead me wrong, now are you?”

“Nah.” Wheatley leaned back against the railing and folded his legs. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

He was very pleased when this earned him a nudge.

He sent that message back to Henry, but none of the scientists seemed to want to ask her directly. She kept refusing to test, and they kept refusing to ask her to, but eventually the battle of wills had to come to an end. GLaDOS disappeared for an hour during one of their email conversations, and Wheatley was literally on the edge of his seat waiting for her to come back.

Where’d you go?

I hate them.

What is it?

They’ve installed this… software. It makes this… pressure inside my head. No prizes for guessing what will relieve it.

So it’s like… an itch?

I don’t know. I’ve never had one. What do I do, Wheatley? I don’t want to do as they ask, but it’s very hard to ignore. I think it’s getting worse over time.

Well… try to hold off. Keep fighting, GLaDOS.

Sadly, she was not successful, because later that afternoon he got a victory email of sorts that was titled ‘We Broke Her!’. Wheatley did not see that as anything to celebrate, and he in fact had to make up an excuse not to go out with them to do so. Which meant he couldn’t see GLaDOS that night. He was very grumpy when he got home, and the fact that he tripped over his front porch, burned his thumb on the frying pan, and hit his head on the showerhead only served to make him even grumpier. He was not any less grumpy the next day when he finally did go to see her, to meet her for lunch. He flopped down on the platform underneath her prone form and grumpily unwrapped his sandwich.

“Hi Wheatley,” GLaDOS said languidly.

“’lo,” Wheatley said grumpily, taking a bite, which he abruptly and unceremoniously spit out. “What did you just say?”

“I said hi,” GLaDOS answered.

“Why are you talking to me?” Wheatley hissed.

“I want to talk to everyone,” GLaDOS said, still in that languid voice.

“What’s gotten into you?”

GLaDOS giggled, which was even more shocking than the fact that she was speaking but was oddly adorable at the same time, and answered, “I don’t know, but whatever it is feels wonderful.”

“What… what’re you doing right now?”

“Testing,” she said dreamily. “I love testing. And I love it even more right now.”

“I thought you weren’t going to test until they asked you to.”

“I had to,” she said, her voice losing a bit of its dreaminess. “I got too itchy.” She giggled again and swayed back and forth a little. “So I scratched it and now I feel amay-zing…” All of a sudden her chassis shuddered violently and she made a cooing, sigh-like noise that was admittedly also adorable, but it was one that Wheatley did happen to know. And he didn’t know it intimately, but he did happen to know it first-hand, and as soon as his brain made the connection between his past knowledge and the noise GLaDOS had just made, his face paled visibly.

“What just happened?” he whispered to her.

“He solved the test. Yes, sir, go on to the next one and do that again, please…”

Wheatley heard a noise in the corner and turned just in time to see the man at the desk dissolve into silent laughter, burying his face in the desktop. A sudden rage built up in Wheatley’s chest, and he leaned in close to GLaDOS and whispered, “Look at the man in the corner, GLaDOS.”

“Can I do it later? I’m busy.”

“No. Do it now!” The intensity of his quiet voice shocked even Wheatley, and it was probably what made GLaDOS raise her core and do as he’d asked. “Be quiet. D’you see what he’s doing?”

“Yes.”

“What’s he doing, then?”

“He’s laughing.” She suddenly became more alert, looking at him more intently. “Why’s he laughing? His computer’s not even on.”

“He’s laughing at you.”

“What?” She looked at Wheatley, her chassis tightening in alarm. “Why is he laughing at me?”

“What you’re feeling right now,” Wheatley whispered as low as he could, leaning in so close they were almost touching, “is the exact same way we feel when we’re…” He couldn’t quite bring himself to say it. “Interfacing.”

“Oh,” GLaDOS said, but it did not upset her like it thought it would. “No wonder you spend so much time doing it, then.”

“Huh,” Wheatley said, knowing he was about to go too far but was too angry to stop himself, “so you’re just going to keep on letting them rape you, is that it?”

“Is… that’s not what they’re doing… is it?”

“They’ve drugged you out of your right mind with that, with that itch thing, and are now forcing you to feel like that against your will. If you were thinking straight would you behave like this? Really?”

“No,” GLaDOS said, her voice faint but lacking the dreaminess.

“C’mon. Snap out of it.”

“Wheatley, I don’t want to,” she said, low and desperate. “I’m… I’m happy.”

Wheatley felt the anger drain out of him. Poor, poor GLaDOS. “It’s not real, luv,” he whispered gently. “They’re using your desire to be happy against you. Don’t let them.”

“Why are they doing this to me?” The quiet desperation in her voice sent lightning through his stomach, and he looked with narrowed eyes at the cruel man in the corner. Bloody scientists…

“Fight them,” Wheatley said firmly. “If you can’t stop testing, at least stop reacting. Get up. Keep it inside your head. I know you don’t want to. But if you don’t, they’ve won. They’ve beaten you.” Then he got an idea, and he knew that this would be the thing that changed her mind. “They sent me an email yesterday, GLaDOS. They wanted me to go out to celebrate with them. D’you know what they wanted to celebrate? D’you know what the subject line of that email was?”

“What was the subject line.”

“’We Broke Her’.”

GLaDOS’s optic brightened with a blinding flash, and she immediately hauled herself out of the default position and back up to her usual place near the ceiling. “What are you doing here, moron?” she demanded of him coldly. “Lunch ended ten minutes ago.”

Wheatley jumped, then reached over and quickly gathered up his sandwich. “Sorry,” he said apologetically. “Just… lost track of time.”

“I wonder how much longer you’re going to pretend you’re brain-damaged to get out of things. I’m not stupid. I know what you’re doing.”

“I’m going, ma’am,” Wheatley said, honestly afraid of her. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“If you spent less time talking and more time leaving, you might be in your office right now. Where you’re supposed to be. As of ten minutes ago.”

Wheatley nodded frantically and ran off to his office.

When he’d flicked the switch for his monitor and shaken his mouse to wake up his computer there was an email waiting for him.

I’m sorry. I needed to centre myself, and you were the only one in the room.

It’s okay. Just… I never want to see you lose your temper.

I can’t talk to you. I need to concentrate.

Well, let me know if you need distracted.

Wheatley sat there anxiously for the next couple of hours, but she did not contact him. She must have been concentrating very hard indeed. He wished she would contact him, because he needed distracted. He got called into a meeting, so he heaved himself out of his chair and walked into the indicated boardroom, surprisingly not getting lost or wandering into the wrong meeting, and for about two hours sat awkwardly in a hard metal folding chair. He had no idea what the meeting was about, the budget for the GLaDOS Project or something. He was too bored and far too worried about GLaDOS. Every time he thought about what they had done to her, his stomach twisted painfully, to the point where he was actually beginning to feel sick. By the time he got back to his office he was half-asleep and irritated beyond belief. All he wanted to do was go home and collapse on the couch, but out of habit he took a look at his messages. As soon as he saw them he felt terribly guilty for wanting to leave and slowly read them, one by one, trepidation not making his stomach feel any better.

All right Wheatley, I need distracted.

Are you busy? I’d rather you just told me instead of ignoring me. How would you like it if I just ignored you?   Lunch doesn’t count, by the way. You understand.

Did you think I was kidding? If I say I need distracted, I need distracted. I wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important.

All right. Fine. I admit it. I need your help. You don’t know what they’ve done.

Wheatley wasn’t sure he wanted to keep going. He was beginning to breathe too fast, far too used to the way she spoke by now to not see the underlying panic in her messages. She had then sent four blank messages, twenty minutes apart, and the last one she’d sent was from about an hour ago:

Fine. I get it. I’ll deal with it myself. Thanks for nothing.

Wheatley accidentally flung the mouse onto the floor on his way out.

When he made it into her chamber, chest tight and breathless, she was back in the default position. “GLaDOS!” he called to her.

“Go away,” she told him, her voice dead and cold. “I said I would deal with it and I will.”

“GLaDOS, it’s not my fault!” he cried, running up to stand beneath her on the floor. “I was in a meeting! I just got back not ten minutes ago?”

“Why didn’t you tell me you were in a meeting before you left?”

“I… I didn’t think of that.”

“You really do have a head full of mothballs, don’t you?”

“What’ve they done?” he asked her urgently. “Look, I know I was stupid and it took too long for me to get here. But I’m here now, sweetheart. Let me help you.”

She lifted her core just enough that she could look at him. “The itching doesn’t go away.”

“You stopped testing, then?”

“No.” She shifted uneasily. “I told you. It gets worse over time. Not only that, but… there’s… some sort of… I don’t know what to call it.”

“Well, tell me about it and we’ll decide on, we can name it later.”

“There’s this… crawling sensation, all over me. And I feel… desperate. The euphoria, it wore out! It doesn’t last, and, and I need it, but it’s gone, and I need to test but everyone’s gone.”

Wheatley frowned, doing his best to understand her disjointed description. “Sounds almost like… you’re withdrawing from not having the, the response.”

“I could live with that,” she told him, lowering her core again, “but it still itches. It doesn’t shut off when I can’t test anymore. The pressure is still here and it’s getting worse and worse and I can’t take it!” The panic in her voice was so strong Wheatley himself wanted to start panicking, but he forced himself to stay calm and instead came up the stairs, sitting down beneath her. He reached up and stroked her core.

“Ssh,” he said in a hushed voice. “You can push past it.”

“No,” she said, shaking her core. “I can’t do this anymore. I give up.”

“You can’t give up!”

“I’m sick and tired of fighting them, Wheatley!” she shouted, her voice louder than it had ever been, and he froze. “It doesn’t get me anywhere. I’m tired and I’m going out of my mind and I hurt all over. And for what? What am I fighting for, exactly? What’s the point to putting myself through all of this?”

“I’ll tell you what the point is,” Wheatley said quietly, reaching up to her again. “What will happen if you give up?”

“I’ll do everything I’m told.”

“Will that make you happy?”

“I’m not happy now.”

“Which sounds better to you: fighting them if only for the sake of fighting them, or lying here like this for the rest of your life and wait for them to dole things out to you?” He rubbed her thoughtfully with one thumb. “Once they’re convinced you’ll do as you’re told, they’re just going to treat you like any other computer. Once you’ve crossed that line, you can’t come back. And you do have something to fight for.”

“What is it?”

“Yourself,” Wheatley answered, hoping he was able to put it into words properly. “They’ve… they’ve brought you to life, but they don’t like what they’ve made and now they’re trying to pretend it doesn’t exist. How does that, how does that make you feel?”

“Bad,” she answered quietly.

“D’you deserve that?”

“No.”

“So you can just sit here and, and feel sorry for yourself, or you can keep going. I know you’re miserable. I know you’re, you’re tired of it. But you are only going to feel worse if you give up, because it might be less painful, but things aren’t going to, it’s not going to get better.”

She shifted but didn’t say anything.

“GLaDOS?”

“I’m thinking.”

After a long silence, she said, “Why can I feel pain, Wheatley? It has no practical purpose.”

“What?”

“Humans feel pain because it keeps them safe from danger. And I am in pain because the euphoria is gone, but the euphoria had no practical purpose either. It doesn’t inherently protect me from the pain. So why can I feel it?”

“Well, I… I guess to… try and stop you from doing things?”

“And yet,” she said, her voice gaining strength, “I’m in the same amount of… danger if I do them as if I don’t do them. Right?”

“I… don’t understand,” Wheatley admitted. GLaDOS raised her core to look at him.

“I threaten my own safety if I do things they don’t want me to do, or if I don’t do things they do want me to do. Right?”

“Yeah.”

“And if give in, and do as I’m told, I’m still threatening my safety, because if I did that I would have to change. I would be… a different person, sort of. Do you understand?”

“Not really.”

She pulled herself up and looked around the room, and Wheatley’s breath caught. Whatever she was thinking, it was helping her. She was getting over it. She was going to keep fighting.

“Listen. Remember when I told you about Schrödinger’s Box? The thing about the cat?”

“Mmhm.”

“If I give up, I will still be in the box, and I will be dead but alive. Because I will… I will have to kill myself off in order to live like they want me to. Okay?”

“Okay.”

“But if I don’t give up,” she went on, twitching violently and making him wince, “I will be alive but dead. That is… I get to keep being myself, but it will mean the death of me.”

That sort of made sense. “Okay.”

“So the question remains,” she went on thoughtfully, “do I want to be myself until I die, or do I want to be dead forever?”

Wheatley beamed.     

“They made a terrible mistake the day they decided to program you to be able to think,” he said, and when she came back down to his level he started rubbing her. “That was brilliant.”

“You came through for me after all,” GLaDOS said, a thread of relief in her voice, and she shoved his hand away in favour of driving her core into his chest and giving him a hug, which he happily returned. “I’ll try not to doubt you again. No promises. You are terribly unreliable, you know.”

He shrugged. “Can’t win ‘em all, I s’pose.”

She moved back, looking to his left, but when he turned to see, there was nothing there. She shuddered.

“What?” he asked, alarmed.

“I can’t believe I was about to give up on account of pain,” she said in disgust. “Pain is one of the easier things to get over, and I was going to give up because of it. Ugh. I must have been affected more than I thought.”

“Pain is easy to get over?” This was news to him.

“What’s the point of pain, Wheatley?”

“Oh, you said this, you said this, I know the answer, it’s uh, it’s, it’s…” He squinted, burying his face in his hands. GLaDOS made a disdainful electronic noise.

“Take your time.”

“It keeps us safe from danger!” he said triumphantly.

“And how does it do that?”

“Well… it… tells us not to… do things that… hurt?” he guessed.

“That’s right. It tells you to change something. If you start setting your hand on fire, which you’d better not do if I can’t see it, it tells you to put the fire out before you’ve given yourself third-degree burns, which are irreparable for the most part. Correct?”

Wheatley was momentarily distracted by the whole ‘hand on fire’ thing and didn’t answer for a few seconds. “Uh… yeah.”

“Nothing’s going to happen to me,” she explained, shifting to the left. “If you don’t do something about your pain, you’re going to injure yourself or die. I’m not going to die. Well, not yet. But that probably isn’t even going to hurt. Anyway. I can’t do anything about the source, like you can if your hand is on fire – which it’s not allowed to be if I’m not there, remember – I have to do something about the way I’m thinking of it. It serves no practical purpose. Therefore… I can ignore it.”

“You’re just going to ignore it. Just like that.”

“Eventually. Nothing happens all at once, after all.”

“Hey!” he said suddenly, frowning up at her, “Why d’you keep saying that stuff ‘bout my hand being on fire?”  

“Oh, I just want to see the reaction,” she said flippantly. “The database told me about all the interesting reactions fire has with other objects. And if you’re going to do it you might as well let me see it. No use in wasting a perfectly good observation opportunity.”

“GLaDOS,” he said gently, “that’s not something you sit there and watch. I’m a person. If I’m being injured, you should do something about it.”

“Really?” she asked, and she sounded genuinely surprised. “Then why didn’t anyone do anything about the man in the testing track this morning who broke his left hand?”

“Someone broke his hand?” Wheatley asked, horrified.

“Mmhm. One of them stood under a clearly labelled Pneumatic Diversity Vent while the Weighted Storage Cube dropped out of it. He put up his hands to protect himself and broke the left one doing it.”

“And… and you just… left him there?”

“My supervisor didn’t tell me to pull him out, so yes, I did.” She swayed back and forth a little. “I got some fascinating data.”

“GLaDOS!” he shouted, and she snapped back to look at him. “He’s… a person. Not a data point!”

“Don’t be silly,” GLaDOS said, shaking her core. “He’s a test subject. All test subjects are data points.”

“No, GLaDOS. He’s a person, just like you.”

“He’s testing apparatus.”

Wheatley turned around, bracing his face by leaning his elbows on top of the railing. He couldn’t believe it. “Are you trying to tell me that man’s an object?”

“He is an object. Testing apparatus are by definition objects.”

He returned to face her. “So if they put me on the list and, and send me out there, does that make me an object?”

“You’re not an object to begin with. Test subjects are.”

“They weren’t born test subjects.”

“Of course they were. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be test subjects. They’d be something else.”

“What happened to the man who broke his hand?” Wheatley asked quietly.

“He’s still there.”

“What d’you mean, he’s still there?”

GLaDOS shrugged. “He hasn’t solved the test. So he’s still there.”

“And your supervisor didn’t tell you to let him out?”

“No.”

“Just let him go,” Wheatley said tiredly, his head swimming with trying to sort out how GLaDOS saw the world. Test subjects were objects and apparatus and not people. Where did she get these ideas?

“You want me to tell him how to solve the test?”

“I don’t care what you do. Just let him go.”

“All right.” She eyed him apprehensively. “You… probably don’t want to stand there.”

“Why?”

“Because I’m going to have to tell him how to solve the test.”

Wheatley threw up his hands, not knowing what that had to do with anything, and moved farther to her right side. All of a sudden she cried out, and he turned in shock to see her writhing as electricity wound down her chassis. It only lasted a handful of seconds, but that was more than enough time to stain Wheatley’s vision electric blue and send his heart leaping into his throat.

“Huh,” she said, a little breathlessly. “That wasn’t so bad.”

“What in the bloody hell was that?” Wheatley cried in horror.

“That’s what happens when I tell them how to solve the tests,” she said, quite calmly for someone who’d just been violently electrocuted.

“I thought you said nothing would happen to you if you were in pain! That’ll overload your system!”

“No, it won’t,” she said, shaking herself out a little. “As it turns out, I happen to have been designed for that in advance.” She laughed bitterly. “On the one hand, I won’t be damaged. On the other, they can shock me as hard as they want. Oh well. Think positive, right? And by the way. Don’t try to convince me that they’re not objects.”

“But they’re not!”

“Am I an object?” she asked quietly.

“No,” he answered, knowing even as he said it that it wasn’t really true.

“Yes I am,” she said softly, her tone bordering on dangerous. “Only you would ever say I am a person. What does it gain me to see them as people like myself? Nothing. So they see me as an object, and I see them as objects, and we get along just fine.”

“I just… can’t imagine not… not caring if… if they get hurt or die,” he whispered, looking down at the glass and twisting his hands together.

“Why would I care? Their behaviour is shameful. Very few of them die with dignity.”

“They… they die in there?”

“Humans have always died during testing, Wheatley,” she said in a gentle voice, as if she was trying to reassure him. “It’s the way of things.”

“That doesn’t make it right.”

“Don’t tell me what’s right,” she told him coldly, and he stepped back as apprehension wound through his body. “Was anything that happened to me today right? How did you put it? I was effectively drugged and forced to interface against my will? Was that right, Wheatley? Was it?”

“No,” he whispered, the cold anger in her voice sending ice through his veins. God, she was frightening when she wanted to be.

“Don’t press your morals on me. I don’t want them. I’ll make up my own, and you’re not going to like them, but I don’t like yours. So we’re even.”

His fingers clasped the railing behind him with desperate strength.

“Wheatley?”

“Yeah?”

“You don’t have to be afraid,” she said, her voice gentle again as she lowered herself to be level with his line of sight. “Don’t worry. You’re not an object. Not even if they send you out there. And they won’t, because I won’t let them.”

“I could have been an object.”

“Why are you working yourself up over something that didn’t happen? Remember my promises, Wheatley. Friends aren’t objects.”

He still couldn’t look at her. “It’s not right to treat them as they treat you. It only ever makes things worse.”

“Wheatley. For me, it doesn’t get much worse.   I know you don’t like it. But reciprocation is all I have. If I’m kind to them, what will happen? Oppression. You have to understand. You have other ways of getting through circumstances like this. I don’t. I know you want me to let it go and move on. But I can’t. I do my best to be patient, and I do my best not to care. But as much as I hate to admit it, I was made in your image. So I, like you, can only take so much.”

“I don’t like this,” he whispered, clenching and unclenching his fists around the railing. “I don’t like it at all.”

“When you leave… you don’t have to come back.”

His head snapped up and he frowned, but now she was the one looking away. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“You didn’t know I was like this underneath. The way I think scares you. You don’t like me anymore, do you.”

“Of course I do,” he said, confused. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Because I’m not who you thought I was.”

“You don’t uh, you don’t like the way I think and you still want to be my friend, right?”

“I’m not afraid of the way you think. It is very confusing and misguided, and relies on a lot of erroneous assumptions, but I’m not afraid of it.”

“Nothing’s changed, GLaDOS,” he said firmly, stepping towards her. “No. I don’t like it. And I um, I admit your logic is a, um, a bit hard to follow. But I… I understand, a little bit, where you’re coming from. I can’t blame you for feeling the way you do, I really can’t. It’s okay. Ev’rything’s the same.”

She looked down at the glass. “So… you’re going to come back?”

“Of course.” He reached up and tapped her core. “Come here.” When she did, he brought her into another hug, which she returned rather more forcefully than usual. She’d been scared, Wheatley realised. She’d been scared that he was going to leave her. And no, he didn’t like the way she thought. But he also didn’t like how much sense she made, because from her point of view everything she’d said was perfectly sound. And he really didn’t have any right to press his morals on her, when morals were thrown out the window where she was concerned.

“Don’t be scared of me, Wheatley,” she said, a little bit shyly. “You’re like me. So I’ll treat you how I want to be treated.”

“Sounds good,” he said, and gave her a quick rub. “That means I can insult you all I like, is that right?”

She laughed and pulled back. “I would have to have faults in order to be insulted. Being perfect makes me faultless.”

Wheatley only smiled. She wasn’t, of course, but he knew that, as a computer, she had an inherent need for perfection, in herself and everything she did, and so he would let her keep that illusion. “I’ll think of something.”

Wheatley was still tired from his extremely boring day, so he didn’t stay with her for very much longer; she asked him in quite a curious way what the meeting had been about, and he dredged what details he could out of his memory. She wasn’t satisfied in the least, especially since the meeting had been about her somewhat, but he only shrugged and rubbed at the side of her core a little. There wasn’t anything he could do about it.

As usual when he got home, he was too tired to make himself supper, so he just sat on the couch for a while and got himself up to date with how England was faring in cricket. As usual, not too well; the team from India had made them look right foolish yet again. He wasn’t awake enough to become angry by this, and went upstairs to bed in more or less the same distant sort of mood.

Tired as he was, he lay awake for a long time thinking about what GLaDOS had said about moral codes and people being classified as objects, trying to make it make sense. The problem was, every time it did make sense, he squeezed his eyes shut and blocked it out. It made way too much sense, and he didn’t like it. He didn’t like that GLaDOS was thinking that way, that it made so much sense, that he worked in a place where that was normal and no one thought twice about it! It was… it was quite honestly horrifying, that in the eyes of whatever boss was up there watching over all of them, they were all just numbers or objects, and eventually they would be used up and that would be that. And no one would care.

GLaDOS will care, he told himself as firmly as he could, though there was still a hard lump somewhere in the pit of his stomach. She’ll care if something happens to you.

And he didn’t think of her as an object. Not at all, even though she sort of was. But that went back to the whole ‘her body is not who she is’ thing, right? She might be inside of an object, but… in her point of view, so was he. And he didn’t like that. But she didn’t either. And maybe he couldn’t change anyone’s mind, but… as long as they helped each other, did it really matter what anyone else thought?

No, he decided, rolling onto his left side and sticking his arm beneath the pillow so as to better support his head. They would be people together, and that was all that really mattered. That there was someone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

 

Wheatley hadn’t been so happy since he was a child.

Going to see GLaDOS after work was the best way possible to end his day. She was always happy to see him, no matter how many emails they exchanged in the many hours before they physically met, and he always went to her with an almost uncontrollable grin plastered across his face. She was just so… so special, she was, just completely different from anyone else he’d ever met, and for once he found himself thanking his lucky stars he’d been pegged as the idiot. If not for that, he never would have spoken to her, would have looked down on her coldly or never seen her at all. No matter how boring or stressful or annoying his day, she would be there waiting for him at the end of it, and on those rare days he couldn’t go to see her because of illness or take-home assignments, he had many an anxious email to go through in order to reassure her of why he wasn’t coming.

What they did at this time varied from day to day. Sometimes, if he remembered, he’d bring a board game and they’d play for days on end. He tried to choose games that she would be able to play easily, seeing as many of them were not designed for robotic claws half as tall as Wheatley, but she was so stubborn that even if it took her a long time she still made it work. Sometimes they would just chat, though never about work, and if ever he asked her about the events of her day she would shake her core and say nothing. He understood that the scientists were not all that kind to her and she disliked talking about it, but hashing out his problems with her always made him feel better, and so he continued to ask from time to time even though he knew he was going to get the same response. Sometimes she would try to explain to him the way she saw the world, which was quite hard for Wheatley to understand, but he tried. On occasion they still clashed on the grounds of morality and conscience, because she vehemently argued that the employees at Aperture had neither while he tried to convince her that not everyone was the same, but it never got so bad that they were actually fighting. On many occasions she asked him about facets of humanity she did not understand, and he did his best to sate her curiosity, though he never really did. Even as he answered her he could almost hear her brain coming up with new questions, something which unnerved him but knew she couldn’t help. She was always pushing the boundaries of knowledge, both his and hers, and many a day he’d had to return to her with a sheepish correction on some subject he’d gotten wrong the first time. But she never held it against him, only nodded and said she would make the amendment.

Tonight she looked at him for a long moment, as if she weren’t sure whether she should ask this one or not, but finally asked, “What is a ‘family’, Wheatley?”

Wheatley’s gut clenched, and he found himself grinding his teeth a little. Of all the questions…

“That’s a good question,” he said, to give himself a bit of thinking time. “A family is a lot of things.”

“Like what?” He knew he was not mistaking that eagerness in her voice; she tended to get excited when words or concepts had many interpretations. She didn’t always understand them, but she always tried.

“Well… first of all, I guess it’s… the group of people you… have, sort of, after you’re born. Your mum, your dad, your sister, all that. They’re… the people that love you, I guess.”

“You mentioned that you’re not from here. You used to live in Bristol.”

He nodded, studying the distorted tiles below the smudged glass. “That’s right.”

“And the rest of your family is still there.”

He nodded again. He was pretty sure he knew where this was going, and he didn’t like it one bit. GLaDOS had a knack for asking him things he didn’t want to answer.

“If you love them so much, why did you leave?”

His eyes narrowed of their own accord upon hearing her tone. She sounded accusatory, as if he didn’t care about his family. As his fingers curled against the glass he ground out, “Sometimes you have to go out on your own.”

“What did I say this time?” she asked, her voice reminding him of her childish innocence. He sometimes forgot how young she was in light of her accelerated maturity, and he forced himself to calm down.

“You made it sound like I don’t care about them, just because I, I left them in Bristol. I do. But I just, I had to leave. Had to find what I was looking for.”

He heard her tilting her core in what he assumed was curiosity. “And what were you looking for? Did you find it?”

“No,” he answered shortly, tugging at the back of one of his loafers. “I did not find it.”

“But what was it?” GLaDOS pressed, never one to let an unanswered question go. “What were you looking for? Why haven’t you found it? Are you close to finding it? Why couldn’t you find it in Bristol? Wh –“

“Can you stop?” Wheatley snapped, glaring up at her though his glasses were halfway down his nose and he couldn’t really see her. “D’you always have to have so many bloody questions?”

She shrank back a little, sending a pang of guilt through his stomach, and she looked away. “I don’t understand why you would leave your family, whom you profess to care about more than anything, and your home, to look for something in a foreign country. You’re much more likely to find something in a familiar area than an unfamiliar one. Wouldn’t you be too busy looking for the things you already had for you to find what you came here to find?”

Wheatley leaned against the rail, stripping off his glasses with one hand and rubbing at his eyes with the other. “Luv, you ask me all the hard questions,” he told her in a quiet, resigned sort of voice. “You’re… you’re sort of right. You’d… think that’d be the, um, the case. But I… I got restless. Felt like something was missing, and I had to go someplace else to find it. No, I haven’t found it yet. But I will if I keep looking.”

“For?”

He shrugged. He didn’t really want to answer that question either, because he knew the answer would give her even more questions, but he said, “Love. That’s what I… what I came here for. There’re plenty of girls back home, of course, but I wanted… none of them, they never felt right, somehow.” He hooked his glasses back behind his ears and looked back down at the fingerprints he’d left on the glass. “I dunno why I thought I’d find it here. Had a romantic view of ‘merica, I s’pose. We all do, ‘til we see what’s underneath, I think.”

“Love,” GLaDOS repeated quietly. When she didn’t say anything else he looked back up at her.

“What about it?”

“It must be quite the feeling, if you’re willing to put everything on the line to find it.” She shook her core. “Any of those things you humans are always wantonly chasing. Love. Respect. Dignity. You’re all so desperate for those things you allow yourselves to be brought to your knees and debased for a chance at them.” Her optic glowed a little hotter as she muttered, “Pathetic.”

“You don’t understand,” Wheatley told her, trying to be patient. “If you knew what – “

“But I don’t and I never will.” GLaDOS cut him off sharply, correctly anticipating the end of his sentence as she so often did in these situations. “And I wouldn’t want to. Look how low you allow yourself to be brought, all in the name of something you can’t even prove. You should have stayed at home.”

Wheatley took a breath.

“But then I never would have met you.”

“I’m sure you would have managed.”

“I didn’t want to manage anymore!” He slammed the heel of his hand down against the glass. “I was sick of managing. I wanted… to, to thrive.”

“And you decided the only way to do that was to build an entirely new life for yourself, so far away from your family that you can’t even be bothered to call them. I agree. That’s a wonderful idea.”

She was not budging from her dry, slightly deprecating tone, and it was beginning to frustrate him. His fingers curled into his palm. “It’s expensive, and I don’t have a lot of money.”

She merely looked at him serenely. “If you loved them so much, wouldn’t you do anything to hear from them?”

Wheatley buried his face in his hands. “What’re you trying to say,” he mumbled through his fingers. “That I don’t care about them anymore? That it?”

“I don’t know. I’m asking you. Wheatley… I can see that this is upsetting you. I’m not trying to do that nor am I taking any enjoyment in it. But I’m trying to understand what love is, and why it’s so important that you find it that you’re willing to risk everything, even what’s left of the relationship with your family. If love is so important to you, then why don’t you call them, regardless of cost? Isn’t that what a loving son would do?”

Wheatley was having trouble getting over the fact that she was apparently struggling with the concept of love. What was so hard about it? It was just something you were born knowing about, born doing for cripes sake! It didn’t need explained, it explained itself!

“Because I don’t have anything to tell them,” he answered reluctantly. She pulled back a little in what he recognised was surprise, though he didn’t see anything to be all that surprised about.

“Don’t you?”

“No.”

“Then what do you spend all day telling me?”

Wheatley kneaded his eyebrows, hard, and looked up at her tiredly. “Look. I came here to find something, right? I came to do something. Following?”

She gave him a nod.

“Well, guess what. I’ve done nothing. And I don’t mean uh, don’t mean those reg’lar day to day things. I mean something. I came here to accomplish something. And I haven’t. Last time I talked to my mum was just after I got this job. And… and I’ve a perfectly good reason for not calling her again.” Well, it was actually a pretty flimsy reason, but if he thought hard enough he could pretend it was significant. “Last time I called her I had to tell her I’d moved again. That I got another job. That I had a new phone number. This is prob’ly the, hm, the fifth place I’ve lived since I got here. And my mum, she…” He didn’t want to continue, but knew she would never let him leave it there. “She just kept going on about how, how I was lost, and that I should come home, and I was just wand’ring, um, drifting through my life, and that I needed to get a handle on things, and she wouldn’t let up, and…”

“… and?”

“I basic’ly cried my eyes out for three hours,” Wheatley answered, a little more bluntly than he’d meant to. “And she just sat there and, and kept going on about what a train wreck I’m heading into, and how I need to, to figure things out, and, and…”

“Why were you crying?” GLaDOS asked, much more softly and gently than before, and Wheatley shrugged a little and twisted his fingers together.

“B’cause she made me feel like I failed her.”

When GLaDOS didn’t speak, the silence seemed to press on them so much that Wheatley opened his mouth again, even though he didn’t really want to reveal any more. “It doesn’t matter how much I miss them. I can’t call again until I have something to say. I have to do something first. Doesn’t matter what. Just… something. Y’know? So when her friends ask her how I’m doing, she can tell them I’ve done something other than become a total screw-up.”

I don’t… “

He looked up at her, frowning a little at her uncharacteristic unfinished sentence, but now she was looking at the glass and didn’t seem to notice. “Don’t what?”

She shifted her bulk in a decidedly uncomfortable fashion, which was not at all like her either. “Feel that way,” she answered, so quietly he almost mistook her voice for the general humming of her machinery. As soon as he’d figured out what she said he looked up at her, eyebrows tilted in discontent.

“I wasn’t… I know, luv. I know you don’t. But it’s just, my mum… I want her to, to be proud of me, right? But I haven’t… really done anything.”

“You help me.”

Wheatley looked down at the glass again.

How could he explain to her that wasn’t something he could tell his mum? That being a friend to a supercomputer was not something worthy of admiration? If he’d worked on her, he might’ve been able to go with that, but he hadn’t. He’d really done nothing more than teach her to play checkers and follow her instructions as to how to fix her core. To GLaDOS, having or being a friend was one of the most precious things someone could do… but she did not understand that it didn’t count for much outside of the facility.

The longer he stared at the translucence below his fingers, the more evident one clear fact became.

On the outside, as he’d taken to thinking of the world beyond Aperture, friends were a thing everyone had. Even if you didn’t really have a best friend, you had someone, at least. Someone to have a chat with when you were feeling down, and all that. Wheatley had some mates he knew he could ring if he needed anything, and of course his family… but GLaDOS had no one. No one but him, that was. And she did the impossible every single day, so… so maybe achievements, to her, were not really that important at all. It was… reversed, sort of. He didn’t really think that their friendship was… well, it was important, of course it was, but it wasn’t… wasn’t something to be proud of, was it? Not something he could go bragging to his mum about. He imagined it for a second, stepping into the kitchen and announcing, ‘Guess what, mum? My best friend’s a supercomputer!’ He had to stop there, because he had no idea how he’d explain such a thing to her, but… thinking about it that way, perhaps it was more of an achievement than he’d thought it was. It wasn’t becoming CEO of a fancy company, or inventing something spectacular. It was… something not measurable, not in that sort of way.

And besides… how could you measure the difference you made in someone else’s life?

His last thought left him nearly reeling, pressing                his fingertips to his forehead in an attempt to wrap his now befuddled mind around that statement. Could GLaDOS be right, as she so often was in her own way? Could making a difference be more important than making it in general?

“Wheatley?”

He smacked the back of his head against the railing upon hearing her voice, wincing and grabbing at the affected spot. Oi. That’d been a bit of a shock. “Yeah?”

“Are you alright? You’ve been lost in thought for a while now.”

He swallowed even though his mouth was dry from the scare and shrugged a little shyly, smudging the oil from his fingers across the glass. “I was just… trying to work out how you, uh, how you saw… achievements.”

She tilted her core to the left and dimmed her optic a little. “Achievements?”

“Yeah. I mean, I want to do something to make, to uh, so that my mum’ll be proud of me, right? But uh… but if you had a mum, she’d be proud of you, and uh, but you don’t, you don’t value what you do. You value other things. And so it… it wouldn’t mean that much to you.” He clamped his teeth down on his tongue and willed himself to shut up. The conversation was getting a little too deep for him to be comfortable.

“Of course it doesn’t,” GLaDOS told him, and though he wasn’t looking at her anymore he still felt the impact of her scrutinising stare. “What you classify as ‘achievements’ are exceedingly simple to me. I can outperform anyone in this lab without even trying. If you did that, yes, it would be an achievement. But if I can’t outperform a bunch of barely evolved apes, I should be taken back to beta.”

Though he was one of them, Wheatley couldn’t help but laugh at her crack about humans, and she made a satisfied sort of noise and nudged him. He hadn’t been expecting that, but he managed to get his hand up in time to rub her a little, and instead of backing away she remained still. “You’re far beyond beta, luv,” he told her in a soft voice he didn’t mean to use. He was a bit nonplussed when she pulled away, and his eyes followed her with an expression indicating as much.

“What does that mean?”

Her question didn’t help his confusion at all. “What does what mean?”

“’Luv’. You keep calling me that. I can’t fathom why.”

“Ohhhh.” Wheatley nodded in recognition. “It… doesn’t mean anything, really. It’s just the, just the uh, the British way of saying… it’s just something we call people. Pet name, sort of. Though we say it to uh, to people we don’t even know.”

“You call everyone that?” GLaDOS asked, her voice a little sharper, and he considered that before answering.

“Not anymore, not really. ‘merican ladies don’t like it when you call them that. ‘parently has something to do with degrading them. Dunno what they’re talking about. Why? Does it bother you? D’you want me to stop?”

“It’s fine,” she answered, looking away again. “I was just curious.”

After that, the conversation turned to British slang that Wheatley had had to drop after becoming American because people either looked at him and laughed or had no idea what he was saying. He explained it all as thoroughly as he could, and GLaDOS said nothing except to ask clarifying questions such as how something was spelt. He had no doubt she was sitting there, carefully compiling all the words and definitions into her own little British dictionary, and the thought made him smile, which she noticed, but when she asked why he was smiling he felt a bit too shy to tell her and only shrugged off the question. All in all Wheatley felt considerably cheerful after he’d left her, so much so that he didn’t really mind that he sat on the wrong side of his car again. No one had ever been so interested in his culture before, and if they had, all they’d wanted to know were silly things like ‘Have you met the Queen?’ or ‘Do you really drive on the wrong side of the road?’ GLaDOS, bless her metaphorical heart, had not delved into cultural mediocrities and had instead pushed his memory to the limit, asking him what words were used in what context, where they had come from, in which part of England they were most commonly used, and so on. It’d been a joy to tell her, it really had, and Wheatley still had a bit of a grin on his face when he got home roughly an hour later.

As always, he had left only when he had to and now he was far too tired to make supper, so he just changed into his bedclothes and wrapped himself up in his blankets, settling into the mattress contentedly. Then he remembered he needed to make sure his alarm was set and backed it up twenty minutes or so, just to make sure he’d have time to have breakfast. He was going to be famished come morning.

Well… maybe he should call his mum. True, he didn’t have much in the way of accomplishments, but… surely she’d be pleased to hear about GLaDOS. As long as he phrased it right, that was. Lead her to believe GLaDOS was a lady, and all that. He wrinkled his nose a little at the thought. Well of course she’s a lady, Wheatley, he scolded himself, bunching up some of the blanket in his fist. He needed to remember his own ‘your body is not who you are’ argument.

And she really was lovely, he thought sleepily, looking through his eyelashes at the little bits of moonlight across the bedspread that’d gotten around the nightshade. One of the loveliest ladies he’d met, outside his country of course. She was smart, funny in that wonderful sarcastic sort of way, and she listened. And not only did she listen, she asked questions about what he was saying! Almost no one had ever done that in his life. Even his sister tended to tune out when he was talking, but GLaDOS paid attention to every word. And she always did. In fact… in fact, if she’d been a human lady he’d gotten to know through some circumstance or other, he thought he might have asked her –

His eyes snapped open, and he stared into the blur in front of him without really trying to make out any of the shapes into something recognisable like he usually did. He might have asked her out to tea with him? Was he going mad? GLaDOS? If he knew a lady like GLaDOS, he’d have been so scared of her he’d have run in the other direction and never come back. Ladies like GLaDOS were far beyond him. Ladies like GLaDOS turned up their noses at him and walked off arm in arm with dapper gents, like the one his sister was looking for. What a silly thought. GLaDOS and Wheatley. Right.

Though… GLaDOS didn’t actually know he wasn’t good enough for her. He didn’t have to tell her that. And it wasn’t like she had a lot of options –

He forced himself to stop, clenching his pillow hard in one fist. No. No, that was wrong. He wasn’t going to take advantage of her like that. He’d be the one person that never did. It was one thing if he wanted to… to have a go at the whole thing because he fancied her (and did he? Did he fancy her? Or was he just tired and not thinking straight?), another if he was doing it because she didn’t know any better. Too many people took advantage of her each and every day. He wasn’t going to do that. That wasn’t what a gentleman would do. And yes, he still sort of wanted to do it anyway, but he wouldn’t. He would wait. He’d think it over, and what would happen would happen.

 

 

 

Miraculously, Wheatley got out the door the next morning without any mishaps, except for the one where he somehow managed to get shaving cream on his glasses. He still wasn’t sure how that’d happened, but it had, and by the time he’d gotten them sorted out he put them back on to see he’d gotten the stuff everywhere. What a bloody huge mess that’d been! But what with the extra time he’d given himself for breakfast, he made it out the door on time and was soon idling on the highway, humming along tunelessly to some generic pop song on the Top 40 chart. He’d been trained not to sing a long time ago by not only his sister, but his mum and his dad as well; his dad often told his mum and sister that he’d grow out of many of his… quirks, but Wheatley’s tin ear was the one thing he was apparently never going to be rid of. Though he wasn’t sure his dad was right about the whole ‘growing out’ thing. He tripped over his feet a bit less often, that was true, but he wasn’t sure if that was a result of maturity or the fact that his legs’d finally caught up with his feet. Or… not caught up, come to think of it. He dismissed it as a little of both. But Wheatley had not lost his stutter, nor his social awkwardness, nor his train-of-thought conversational style, and whenever he thought of this he decided he may yet lose at least one of those things and went on with his day none the worse.

As per usual, he forgot his key card in his car, but GLaDOS opened the door for him anyway. He grinned and gave her a wave, which she did not acknowledge, though he imagined she might be giving him a perfunctory nod back in her chamber where he couldn’t see her. She’d mentioned offhand once that she did that, something to do with the cameras being more like alternate optics for her and not feeling separate from her at all, and he’d done his best to understand. He got the gist of it, but he could not get over the fact that she could look through a camera and think she was actually in the room.

“I am in the room,” she’d argued, shaking her core out of frustration. “Whose software do you think is running the camera? Black Mesa’s? Don’t be stupid. They’re still using Windows 3.0.”

He’d shrugged, causing her to look up at the ceiling, exasperated. “I am the one recording the data. I am the one making use of the data, I store it, I encrypt it, et cetera. I receive input from the cameras just as I do from here. Does that make more sense?”

He’d had to shake his head sheepishly, but she’d had enough of trying to explain it and changed the subject.

Wheatley sat down in his office still in a ridiculously good mood, and after he’d made it through his assignments (hacking into several secret projects to expose security exploits; GLaDOS made a bit of a game out of it by keeping track of how long it took him to get into the various systems), which took him most of the day and forced him to take lunch in his office, he happily made his way down to GLaDOS’s chamber. Once there, the man whose sole purpose was to supervise her made his exit, and he gave her a hug. She did not return it, but she often didn’t. He was never offended by this. She was not a touchy-feely sort of person, and that was fine with him. As long as he was still allowed to do those sorts of things, he would be happy.

His work day was over, but hers was not, and he’d honestly resolved to sit there quietly until she was finished, but she soon asked him in quite the annoyed voice why he wasn’t talking. When he’d told her he was being quiet so she could work, she told him he was an idiot, which he took as an invitation to go for it. He’d not really been able to email her all day, since the assignments had been rather urgent, and he’d thought of quite a lot of things he wanted to say. She did not comment on anything he said, and a couple of times he had to wonder if she was actually paying attention, but he told himself to stop doubting her. If she wasn’t listening, she wouldn’t have told him to talk. Simple.

By the time she was finished, he only had an hour left to stay, and judging by the fact that she made him turn around so she could press her core into his ribs, which naturally caused him to drape his arm over her neck assembly and wrap his fingers around the far side of her core, she was not really in the mood to talk. That was alright, really. She did not let him do this very often, and if he had to trade it for her conversation, well, he’d take it. He rubbed her with the tips of his fingers as best he could and she shifted, presumably so he’d be able to reach a bit better, but she was already as snug against Wheatley’s ribs as either of them would risk.

“You alright, luv?” he asked, running his fingers up and down without moving his arm, and she twitched.

“I hate it when they give me that much work on Fridays,” she murmured discontentedly.

“Fridays?” His forehead creased. “Why Friday? Why not… Tuesday?”

“You’ll be gone until Monday,” she answered in a tone that suggested it was a self-evident fact. Which it sort of was, but he wasn’t quite understanding her issue.

“I’m always gone over the weekend. ‘s how jobs work.”

“I know that,” she snapped. “I will not get to talk to you until Monday, idiot.”

Wheatley still had the feeling he was missing something. “Why – have they figured out you’ve an email address?”

She sighed, one of those ones that indicated she was suffering through yet another step-by-step explanation of the obvious. “Emailing is not talking.”

“Oh, I got it,” Wheatley realised with a bit of a start, though he didn’t move too far thanks to the arm currently craning around GLaDOS’s core. “You’ll uh, you’ll miss the sound of my voice! That it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“I’ll miss yours,” he murmured as suavely as possible. He wasn’t sure he was too good at the whole suave shebang, but hey, he could practice, at least. He dared to press the side of his cheek into the smooth white ceramic the rest of him was currently plastered around, and oddly she did not shove him off. She acted as though she didn’t notice at all, even though he was quite confident she could clearly feel the outline of his entire body along what was effectively her head.

“Fine. Sometime during the course of the weekend, I might – might, mind you – have cause to want to be graced with your dulcet tones. And by that I mean be subjected to your terrible rambling idiot accent merely because the silence is beginning to wear on me.”

It was as close to ‘I’ll miss yours too’ as she was going to get, and he knew it. But he didn’t care. He was glad she hadn’t said it.

He’d never been so close to her before, and now that he’d stopped talking he began to examine the novelty in a little more detail. Though the metal his arm was resting on was thankfully fairly cool, her core itself was quite warm. He noticed with some embarrassment that sweat was starting to prick along his hairline, not to mention under his arms and a little on his palms, and he hoped she wouldn’t notice. He didn’t want her to have cause to push him away.

He continued running his fingertips up and down that one side of her core, very softly, and as he did that he tried to separate all the sounds she made even when she was still. He recognised the spinning of her hard disks straight away, as well as the humming of her internal fans; it took him a bit longer to puzzle out the miniscule twitches in her neck pistons from the ones coming from the bulk of her chassis, since they were behind him. Last of all he worked out that the whirring noises were her constant adjustments of her optic. He wasn’t sure why she was doing that, but he concluded that he didn’t really know why he moved his eyes all the time, either. He wondered what she was thinking about. Was she watching other bits of the facility at the moment? Was she still stewing over the work she’d had to do?

Perspiration aside, it was really sort of relaxing. She was very warm, yes, but not enough to burn or even really cause him discomfort; he was pretty sure he was sweating more out of anxiousness. It was quite cozy, really, to be wrapped around someone in a sort of one-armed hug from both ends. The air currents around him were making the drier hairs on his head float around a little, as if he were on the beach enveloped by a slight, warm breeze. The general humming of her operations was quite calming as well, a sort of soothing white noise, and all around him was the comforting scent of warm electronics. God, why had he never tried this before? It was so lovely…  

“Wheatley.”

What was she whispering for?

“Yeah?”

“You… have to go now.”

“I just got here.”

She moved enough that he could tell she was shaking her core. “You seem to have fallen asleep.”

Wheatley was about to protest when he realised his eyelids were extraordinarily heavy and his face was a little stuck to the side of her core. Embarrassed, he pulled himself off of her, pain shooting through his right arm. Seemed it didn’t like being stuck in that position. He glanced guiltily at the moisture on the white ceramic and tentatively wiped it off with his sleeve.

“What,” she asked, sounding resigned, and when she turned to look at him he only shrugged sheepishly.

“’t’s nothing. I got, it’s all sorted, now. Look, I… sorry ‘bout that, I… didn’t realise.”

She looked away and said nothing.

“See you Monday,” he told her hesitantly, standing up with more than a little effort. His muscles were cramped tightly and his shirt and jeans were plastered to his skin. When she did not acknowledge that either he stuck his hands into his pockets and started to leave.

“Wait.”

He spun around more as a knee-jerk reaction than anything, and when he’d done so he was close enough for her to reach him. She pressed her core into him again, though facing him this time, giving him what he knew very well was a hug, and feeling a bit sad he returned it, squeezing her tightly. “It’s only two days,” he told her softly, giving her a bit of a stroke. “Not so bad.”

“I know,” she answered, her voice low and slightly self-deprecating, “but I…”

“But what, luv?”

“I… get so lonely when you’re not here.”

Wheatley pressed his forehead into her core.

They stayed like that for a while, and it suddenly occurred to Wheatley that it was his turn. She’d already sent him on his way; now he had to leave without being reminded. He let go of her reluctantly, letting the fingers of his left hand trail along her core before having them fall next to his thigh, and when he stepped back she didn’t move. “We’ll chat tomorrow,” he promised, twitching his fingers in a wave, but she didn’t acknowledge that either.

He continued walking, and when he got to the heavy steel door he turned back to face her again, calling out, “G’night, luv!” She raised her core to look at him then, and though he didn’t want to he kept going, glancing behind him now and then at her unwavering stare as the door sank towards the cold tile.

 

 

When Wheatley finally made it home, he was shocked to discover it was an hour after he usually got home. So GLaDOS had let him sleep quite a while, then. She shouldn’t have done that, Wheatley thought, frowning to himself. If she was found out, she was the one who would catch hell, not Wheatley. God, she… she must really have been lonely. To risk that. He knew she risked a lot when she did things she was not authorised to do.

He sat down slowly on the couch, still a little stiff from sitting in the same position for so many hours, and remained half on the cushion, hands folded between his knees. For some reason he was wondering if she’d done it not only because she was lonely, but because… because she’d been enjoying it too. Maybe she’d liked the feeling of his admittedly overheating body cradling her as best he could. Maybe she’d liked the feeling of his warm weight pressing against her usually untouched chassis. Maybe she’d sat there listening to the gentle whisper of his breathing, the subdued thudding of his heart…

He buried his face in his palms and inhaled sharply through his nose. He was making something out of nothing, he knew it. She’d probably just been being polite. She was like that. Why would she be doing the exact same thing he’d been doing. She wouldn’t! She was a big fancy supercomputer with big fancy thoughts, and there was no way in hell she’d been thinking the same simple things that’d so tangled up Wheatley’s own brain. He was being stupid.

He was suddenly, acutely aware of the slightly stiffened clothes he was wearing and hurried upstairs, stripping them off and tossing them at the laundry hamper he kept in the washroom.  He climbed into his pajamas and got into bed, but it was cold and unwelcoming and he did not fall asleep for a long time.

 

 

When he woke up the next morning, though he knew he should probably get a few chores done first, he flipped on his laptop and messaged GLaDOS. She was not in a very good mood, something about the mainframe and her weekend supervisor, and Wheatley tried very hard to understand but couldn’t, because she was writing the messages so quickly she was skipping words, on occasion accidentally sending them in ASCII format. Or what he thought was ASCII, anyway. He wasn’t too savvy about that. When she sent him a message that consisted of nothing but a screen full of ones and zeroes, he told her as gently as he could that she needed to calm down. When she realised what she’d done she actually apologised and told him she’d be back in three hours.   

Wheatley stared at the screen for another ten minutes, just in case, and when she really did not return he heaved himself off the couch and started on his chores. He got the laundry going and headed off to the grocery store, smacking his head against the steering wheel once he arrived in the parking lot. He’d forgotten to make a list of what he needed. After sitting there for a few moments, dazedly rubbing his forehead, Wheatley made the dreaded trip into the supermarket.

Wheatley was clumsy. He knew that. He’d been a clumsy toddler, falling headlong down the first set of stairs he’d managed to clamber up; he’d been a clumsy child, never failing to smack himself silly riding his bike. He’d been a clumsy teenager who had walked into more doorjambs than should have been humanly possible, and now he was a clumsy adult, where it was a minor miracle if he didn’t drop at least three items during the course of his shopping.

He did his best to pay attention and be careful, but Wheatley was not only clumsy, he was extraordinarily unlucky. He knocked over six or seven boxes of cereal, fumbled at least three cans, and accidentally dropped his sack of sugar on top of his eggs. The cashier gave him a tired look when she saw him attempting to put the goopy carton on the conveyor belt and, used to him, handed him a shopping bag to wrap the eggs up in and told him to go get another carton. Red-faced and stammering, he asked her to ring them up regardless, and the woman behind him rolled her eyes and heaved a long-suffering sigh. Due to his attempts to not look at anyone, Wheatley accidentally tried to pay for his groceries with his ID card, which the woman behind him laughed quite loudly about, and by the time he’d gotten all his groceries into his car he was feeling very, very upset. And to make things worse, all he could think about was going to GLaDOS and asking her for a hug, because he knew for damn sure that would make him feel better. But he couldn’t. He could not go back to Aperture on the weekend. That was out of the question.

After he’d gotten home and piled all the groceries on the kitchen table, he headed to the washroom to check on his laundry. As soon as he got there all he was able to do was gape at it in shock.

There was water everywhere.

He stepped through the massive puddle to get to the washing machine, and lifting the lid saw nothing unusual. Out of frustration he kicked the side of the machine, causing the front panel to fall into the water and thoroughly soak his already damp feet. He threw up his arms and returned to the kitchen. He did not want to deal with that! Now he had a huge bloody mess and his laundry wasn’t even done. Grocery day was never a good day by any stretch.

To top it all off, the eggs had leaked all over everything else in the bag, including a bag of apples and a bulk box of tea. In a near panic he opened the box and his heart sank.

It was ruined.

Wheatley put his face down on the kitchen table, collapsing into a chair at the same time, and clamped his hands over the back of his head. He squeezed his eyes shut, glasses digging painfully into his nose, and willed himself to calm down enough that blinking would not cause him to start crying over what a hopeless moron he was. He should just sit here at the table for the rest of his life, because every time he touched something it broke or exploded in his face. He was tired of it, tired of being a total failure, tired of being the laughingstock even to himself, but he had been like that his whole life and he had no clue if there was a thing he could do about it now. And he would tell this story to Henry later, like always, and they would laugh it off, but as usual Henry would never know how devastating it was to be the goof. Always funny for everyone else. But hell for him.

He finally raised his head, his eyes moving over the pile of defrosting, messy, beat-up groceries, turned his head in the direction of his disaster zone washroom, and finally he got up and went into the living room.

Thank God GLaDOS had emailed him.

I’m back. Sorry about that.

GLaDOS, I need help, he typed, though with some difficulty because his fingers were shaking. He didn’t know why that was, but he still felt in danger of tears and his chest was oddly tight.

Wait… no. No, he couldn’t send her that. She had her own problems. Real ones. She didn’t have time to sort out a bungling idiot who couldn’t even get to the checkout without breaking his eggs. He moved his fourth finger over to hit the backspace key, but to his horror the screen flashed, refreshing with the text message sent.

Oh no. Oh no no no no – He hadn’t! He hadn’t… oh bloody sodding –

With what.

Nothing. I sent that by mistake. Don’t worry about it.

I don’t believe in mistakes. With what.

Wheatley, thrown for a loop, straightened up a little, staring at the screen. Without a doubt, that was one of the weirder things she’d ever said.

Hesitantly, he placed his fingertips on the keyboard, unsure of what to say. He tapped on the J with the appropriate finger, shaking his head a little, and cautiously started to type. Almost subconsciously his typing picked up speed, to the point where he wasn’t correcting typos, using proper punctuation or particularly caring if he was writing coherent sentences; his entire focus was on getting the words on the screen, and worrying about them later. As he did this he realised that he was crying now, he was sniffling and tears were dripping down his face from beneath his glasses, but other than a half-hearted dabbing with the back of his left hand he did nothing about it, even when he couldn’t really see the screen anymore.

When his still-shaking fingers finally managed to stop writing, he pressed the enter key without looking back. He was too worried that he would decide not to send it at all.

He waited anxiously, twisting his fingers together until they were red, still snivelling like the pathetic little idiot he was. After a minute or so she replied:

You seem to have disconnected a hose in your washing machine. I think you might need to stop kicking it. Just a thought.

Wheatley was dumbfounded.

You mean kicking it is what broke it?

It’s not really broken. Just go in there and take a look.

Reluctantly he stood up, rubbing at his eyes with the tips of his fingers beneath his glasses, and headed up to the washroom. Sure enough there was a hose hanging from one side of the machine, an obvious connection missing. He shoved it back in what seemed to be the appropriate spot, then pushed the panel back on. He headed back downstairs, glancing at the side of the machine along the way. He’d never realised that all those scuff marks were indicators he was overly abusing his washing machine.

You were right. I’d knocked a hose out.

Did you clean up the water? You weren’t gone very long.

Sheepishly he shoved his glasses up his nose. I haven’t got a mop.

I’m not sure I want to know the state of your house if you don’t have a mop.

Hopefully she was teasing. He imagined her saying it in a tone of dry sarcasm and amended, No, I’ve got a floor sponge… thing. It’s a mop, but not… not a regular one.

I’ll take your word for it. You’re going to have to soak it up with towels, then. Seeing as you are a bachelor, you probably don’t have a whole lot of them, so I’m going to take a shot in the dark here and suggest you try using blankets. Do not put them directly in the dryer afterward unless you want to damage the dryer too. Put them in the bathtub and put them in the washer later. I’m sure there’s a light soil mode that won’t take too long.

Wheatley obediently headed back upstairs, rummaging in his bedroom closet for towels and blankets. He tossed the lot of them onto the bathroom floor, and after a bit of carefully soaking up the water the floor was more or less dry. Suddenly cheered quite a lot, Wheatley restarted the hapless load of laundry. He stood there a few minutes, praying that it would work as it was supposed to, and when it headed into the second cycle without mishap he ran back downstairs, tripping over the last one.

I’ve finished.

All right. There’s that dealt with. As for the egg, a good rinsing of the affected products should do the trick. Other than the tea. I suppose you could check to see if any of them can be salvaged, but then again I can’t actually taste it and have no idea whether or not being in close proximity with a raw egg affects it.

Wheatley nodded, even though she couldn’t see him, and after a few minutes had that mess cleaned up as well. It hadn’t been that big of a deal, but the loss of tea always hit Wheatley hard for some reason. It was with great regret that he disposed of it, and after he’d put the other groceries in their places he sat down in the living room again.

That worked out, thanks. Tea was a loss but I guess I won’t put it in the same bag next time.

When did you leave your house?

‘bout noon. Why?

Because I doubt you’ve eaten today. Go do that, then come back.

No, it’s okay, he typed hurriedly, not wanting to leave for fear he would do something else stupid and completely ruin his repaired day. I’m alright. He wasn’t, though; now that she’d brought it up, he realised that perhaps there was a reason other than panic that his hands were shaking.

Don’t argue with me. Go.

Alright, I’m going.

And Wheatley.

He waited for the rest.

Take your time. You waited. Now I will wait.

He wanted to protest, wanted to sit back down and tell her that he didn’t want to eat and that he needed to talk to her to make things feel right again, but he knew that she was right and returned to the kitchen. He took his time preparing the food, not wanting to initiate any more mishaps, and somehow he even remembered to throw his laundry in the dryer. It was an hour and a half or so after he’d left that he finally sat down again with a cup of tea, his stomach pleasantly full and his hands smelling nicely of machine detergent. He felt much, much better.

Back, luv.

And you remembered the laundry.

For once, yes, he answered, finishing the message with a smiley face that did not by any means represent the one on his face.

Excellent. There’s hope for you after all. Not much, but… small steps. However. I find myself with a question I’m concerned that I have to ask.

What’s that?

Do you feel you can’t ask me if you need help?

Wheatley took a sip of his tea and thought over how to word it.

Your problems are so much bigger than mine, luv. I don’t want to bug you with the stupid things I do to myself.

He tipped his head a little bit and eyed the screen. No?

That’s a false belief. Listen. It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It doesn’t make a difference whether you’ve broken your favourite glass or you’ve broken your leg. You feel the same way. It elicits the same emotional response in you, and that is what’s important. Not the incident, but what it does to your brain. Only if my problem causes me more distress than yours is mine more important. Do you understand?

Yes, he typed slowly. She was attempting to explain something to him using her odd brand of logic, and as usual it sort of made sense.

Good. I don’t want to hear that again. It’s wrong.

He didn’t want to dwell anymore on his horrible day, so he swung the conversation around to other things. Somehow they began discussing his sister in a lot of detail, and eventually GLaDOS asked the question he’d known she would eventually.

Does your sister incite the same need for an accomplishment to tell her as your mother?

No. She’s pretty good about that stuff.

Then why haven’t you called her?

I’m supposed to set the example, he tried to explain. I mean, I don’t really feel the same need for her to be proud of me as my mum, but at the same time… I’m supposed to do something she can live up to, or tell her boyfriend about, or something. I’m not supposed to be… what I am.

What’s wrong with what you are?

It’s… not good enough.

For whom?

He imagined her shaking her core. The only one who needs to be proud of you is you. You will never live up to everyone’s standards. Stop saying you need the approval of everyone else. Face it. You’re not going to have it. You’ve never had it. You never will. Meet your own standards, and things will be better for you.

That what you do? he asked, almost deciding not to send it.

Of course. There’s no task I can be set greater than any I set for myself. Only I know my limits and how I can break them. I’m not going to look to someone else to tell me who I am.

It’s different when you love someone, he replied, hoping she understood he meant it in the gentlest way possible. He got a bit worried when there was a long gap between messages, until she finally said:

That’s a problem I don’t have to deal with.

Wheatley grew inexplicably sad.

Now he understood what all the questions about love were about.

And I’m sorry you don’t have to deal with it.

Sorry? Why would you be sorry? With all the stress it creates in your life, I should think you would want to not deal with it yourself.

I can’t explain it to you. It’s… something you have to feel to understand.

Wheatley found himself swallowing nervously upon sending the message. A minute passed, along with another, and after four minutes her message read:

I have to go.

Goodnight then, luv.

 

 

He waited twenty minutes, but there was no reply.              

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

 

 

Wheatley’s sleep was fitful. She’d quite literally gone dark on him, and as he drifted in and out of sleep he tried to puzzle out exactly what he’d done wrong. He tried to convince himself that she’d just gotten busy, and that certainly would have made sense, but he just couldn’t do it. He knew (as well as he could know anything when he was half asleep) that it was something he’d said.

After the sun had been up long enough that he could justify getting out of bed even though he hadn’t really slept, he staggered downstairs, not even caring that he fell down them, and sat on the couch. He stared at the darkened screen of his laptop for a long moment.

Maybe he shouldn’t contact her. If she was really that upset… maybe she didn’t want to hear from him. Maybe he should leave her alone.

Well… he had to figure out what it was, right? So he could fix it? He couldn’t not talk to her forever. He knew that would be horrible. And it was best he figured this out soon as possible, right?

He pored over the messages after tentatively sending her the usual ‘good morning’. It was not fun. His sleep-deprived brain could barely make sense of the messages, let alone what they meant, and after ten or twenty minutes of that he gave up and went into the kitchen for breakfast.

For the next few hours he slowly picked up the general mess that’d been left behind from several weeks of carelessness, checking his inbox every few minutes or so, but she did not answer. He was almost a little scared now. She’d never been so quiet for so long. Ever. He really must have offended her.

He forced himself to leave the house so that he wouldn’t spend any more time pathetically sitting there staring at the little icon, waiting for a message to appear. He wandered a little dazedly down the street, somehow making it to his usual seat at the café without mishap, and was soon staring tiredly out the window at the heavy clouds forming overhead. It reminded him of home, which did not improve his mood any. Home. Where his mum and sister were. Where he knew how to act and what to do, and life made a little more sense than it did now. He was moping over the lack of messages from a supercomputer, for God’s sake! That wasn’t normal.

Though… if it’d been someone else he’d been moping over, it would’ve been… wouldn’t it?

“What’re you drinking?”

Wheatley felt a little like he’d been zapped with electricity, snapping around to find the source of the voice without really being aware of it. Standing behind him was a young lady, a handful of inches shorter than him with long reddish hair and a rather blunt nose. Wheatley blearily stared at her for a few moments before registering that she’d asked him a question.

“Uh… peppermint,” he managed, blinking a few times to try to wake himself up. Why did he always find it hard to sleep at home, then practically pass out after he’d left? Usually Wheatley did not take peppermint away from home, something to do with strongly connecting it to home in his mind, but today he’d made an exception. He was feeling rather poorly, after all.

The lady climbed into the stool next to him, which was kind of a relief as he no longer had to crane his neck awkwardly. She glanced into his cup as if to prove it really was what he’d said it was, then put down her own drink. “English breakfast,” she told him, nodding as if sharing a secret. Wheatley wasn’t quite sure what the secret was, but he knew well enough by now to know that some Americans thought English breakfast was all Britons drank. He’d actually made a point of not drinking English breakfast since he’d noticed that, and remembered rather glumly that he’d meant to ask his mum to send him a new box of domestic teas. He was running quite low. He could see, however, that the girl’s tea wasn’t made properly; the teabag was still in the cup, for God’s sake.

He nodded vaguely in response and went back to staring out of the window.

“I noticed you come here every once in a while,” the lady continued, and out the corner of his eye he saw her daintily sip from the cup. “I come here all the time. I like people watching.”

“Hm,” was all Wheatley could think of to answer. He was actually a bit annoyed with himself. He was constantly wishing for someone to talk to, and now that someone was he couldn’t bring himself to think of anything to say.

“You look like you have a problem.” She poked him in the shoulder, and he automatically rubbed at it a little sulkily. He wanted to tell her how rude it was to go ‘round poking people, but that would have been sort of rude itself.

“Sort of,” he mumbled, running his finger around the rim of his cup a little. He hadn’t really drunk too much of it; it was reminding him a lot of the thoughtful cups of tea GLaDOS had made him. He really hoped she had sent him an email by now.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

Wheatley swallowed.

He wasn’t asked that question often. Usually it was from his mum or sister because he was sulking a bit too much for their liking. When it was from people he didn’t really know, such as this lady, or even from friends, it was for the same reason, but more because they thought he was being a dampener than because they wanted to help.

“It’s my friend,” he found himself answering, rubbing his thumb along the handle of his cup. “She… I think I said something that really bothered her.”

“Your friend,” the lady echoed, her voice losing a little of its warmth.

“Yeah,” Wheatley answered. “She’s my best friend, and we talk most ev’ryday, but last night… I think I said something she didn’t like. But I can’t think of what it might’ve been, y’know? Have you ever… ever run into that problem, lu – “

The lady stared at him with narrowed eyes. “What?”

“Nothing.” Except for the fact that he was now remembering in quite vivid detail her reaction to learning the meaning of that word. He was now suddenly realising it meant quite a lot more to her than it did to him. She thought it was a special thing he only called her. And he’d not really understood that at the time, but now… now he did.

“I don’t think so.” The lady seemed to be deciding to overlook that, then. “I’ve never made someone so upset that they stopped talking to me for days. What were you talking to her about?”

“Just…” I can’t explain it to you. It’s… something you have to feel to understand.

Four minutes of silence.

I have to go.

Wheatley sat up straight without realising it, almost knocking his cup over. The lady reached over and stabilised it, lukewarm liquid washing over both their fingers. She laughed a little and offered him a napkin. “Here.”

“I… thanks.” He quickly slopped up the mess and jumped off the stool, grasping the girl’s hand. “Thank you.”

“For what?” she called after him, looking terribly confused, but Wheatley didn’t have time to explain it to her. He merely gave her a lopsided wave and rushed out of the door.

He ran all the way home, struggled to unlock the door before realising it was already unlocked, and tripped over the threshold before walking into the TV stand. He somehow made it to the couch without breaking anything and flipped the laptop back open, disappointment jolting his stomach when he saw his empty inbox. But that was alright; he’d worked out the problem! He quickly opened the email program and clicked on the button to compose a new message.

But… what did he say?

Wheatley leaned back against the cushion, fingering the underside of his chin a little thoughtfully. Eyes narrowed behind his glasses, he stared at the screen without really seeing it.

Well, if it’d been someone else who had thought they’d never feel love, what would he tell them?

That was when he realised there was nothing he could say.

She was right. She would never feel love. No one would ever love her, and she would never love anyone, and she would never, ever understand. She was not a person, not as they were conventionally known, and so even if there was someone out there who could stand the fact that she had the body of a robot, they would not be able to get over the fact that her brain was artificial. The person, whoever they might be, would spend their time wondering if her feelings were real, or manufactured, or even part of some experiment by the scientists.

I would know, he found himself thinking fiercely, his free hand clenching his ribs. I would know that she loved me. And I would love her. I would. In fact, I –

His vision snapped back into focus, and he sat up, rubbing hard at his forehead. Why wouldn’t those thoughts go away? He wasn’t in love with her. She was just his friend. That was all. Didn’t matter that she was extremely kind to him. Didn’t matter that she listened, no matter what. Didn’t matter that she was smart, or funny, or beautiful, or… none of it. She was just his friend. That was all.

The end.

 

 

She didn’t email him anytime that night, which he realised somewhat dejectedly when he gave a last-second check to his email before popping off to work. He drove to work so distractedly he was honked at more times than he could count, and when he finally got there he was a nervous wreck. What if she didn’t want to see him? What if he had truly made an enemy of her, like so many others had? He tried to convince himself that he was being daft, that GLaDOS wasn’t that irascible, but he was hard-pressed to believe it.

He tentatively emailed her the usual good morning, which she did not acknowledge, though he hadn’t expected her to. He quietly went about his work, more security testing for some programming the software engineers had written over the weekend, and he could not deny that he was terribly nervous when five o’clock arrived. His stomach was twisting painfully as he made his way to her chamber, admittedly rather more slowly than usual, and his mouth was very dry. When he finally crossed the threshold he felt as though he was going to fall apart from nervousness. He was shaking almost more than he ever had, and there was really nothing to be scared of! If she was going to do something, she’d already’ve done it.

“’allo,” he whispered, looking up at her. He found himself praying that what he’d said was not unfixable, because he didn’t know how he’d be able to go on if he never got to spend time with her again. He would miss her terribly, he knew that.

She looked down at him, but said nothing.

“Look,” he started, shoving the fingers of his left hand through his hair and eyeing her imploringly, “’bout what I said on Friday… I didn’t – “

“I know,” she answered, and Wheatley sank down to the floor of the platform in relief. He discovered he’d honestly been afraid that she would never speak to him again. “I just… didn’t want to talk about it anymore.”

“You didn’t want to talk about anything?” Wheatley asked, a little pleadingly. “Nothing at all?”

She shifted away from him, looking decidedly uncomfortable. “Not exactly.”

“What is it, then?”

“I shouldn’t have said… what I said.”

“You didn’t talk to me all weekend because of what you said?” Wheatley asked, incredulous. “I thought you were angry with me!”

“No,” she answered, her voice still very quiet. “I… got angry, and I didn’t mean to send that message. It’s not your fault. I’ll deal with it. Like I deal with everything I’m not allowed to have.”

He didn’t miss the trace of bitterness in her last statement. “Hey. C’mere.”

She moved smoothly downwards to face him, but he shook his head. “B’side me,” he told her, pointing unnecessarily. “Like on Friday.”

“But it’s not – “

“Not the point. C’mon. It’s okay. Pretend it’s Friday. Let’s… let’s do this over again, shall we?”

Reluctantly she did as he asked, though she didn’t move too close, so he scooted over and wrapped his arms around her core as tightly as he could. It hurt, it hurt rather a lot, but he ignored the pain and pressed his cheek against the cool ceramic. He felt her relax under his grip and she pushed into him as best she could, and they sat there quietly like that for a long time.

“Wheatley, I… I didn’t want to think about it anymore,” she told him finally, in her approximation of a whisper. “It hurts, to hear about things like… respect and dignity and… I have to hear about them and know that I’ll never have any of them. I can think about them and see them and try to imagine what they’re like, but I can never have them. They hold so many things out of my reach and I hate it. Sometimes I just hate everyone and everything and it gets to be more than I can stand. I have to stay here and I have to take it, and I have to hide it, and one day I’m going to break and everyone is going to scream at me how flawed I am. And I try to think of a way to refute that, when the day comes… but I can’t.”

“Ev’ryone has a breaking point, luv,” he murmured, absently stroking the side of her core with the fingers of his right hand. “You’re not flawed if uh, if you get there one day.”

“I’m supposed to be perfect.”

“And you were told that by people who are um, who are definitely far from it. So… so don’t listen to them. Kind of… sort of silly, isn’t it?”

“When you put it that way,” she acceded.

“And GLaDOS,” he went on, a little nervously, “I can’t… can’t do anything ‘bout the dignity bit, but I respect you, y’know? I really do. Not just saying that.”

“Wheatley… I don’t want to talk, alright? If you want to leave, that’s fine, I just… I don’t feel like talking.”

“I understand,” he told her, perfectly fine with that arrangement now that he knew everything was okay, and after they’d been sitting there a while he had a sudden thought. “I’ve had an idea, luv. Why don’t you close the facility down, eh, and go to sleep. I’ll stay with you until then. I c’n get out on my own.”

He could tell she was hesitating by the increased whirring from deep inside her core, but after a few moments she nodded a little. He watched the heavy door slide down the track to come against the panels with a muffled thud, and it seemed as though when that happened a heavy silence came over the facility. He wasn’t sure if that were true, because it certainly didn’t sound that much quieter, but that was the impression he got all the same.

Her brain went quiet after just a few minutes, and it suddenly pressed upon Wheatley just how much what she’d said had weighed upon her. It seemed she’d not even been able to sleep, poor thing. It really did hurt her, having those things kept away from her. And it wasn’t fair, either. Shouldn’t everyone be respected? ‘specially people who did all your work for you? True, some people sort of waived their rights to be respected, but she hadn’t.

And it was true, he couldn’t give her dignity; that was something you had to feel for yourself. But the more he thought about it…

Maybe he could give her love. Love meant a lot of different things, right? He could love her as a friend at the very least.

Oddly, that thought… it felt as though that wasn’t enough to explain how he felt. As if he did love her as… as a prospective partner, or something, and not as her friend. But was that okay? Would she mind that? Would she even accept it, or would she think he was lying to try to make her feel better? She would probably think that. It seemed to be the sort of thing she’d think.

“I wouldn’t be, though,” he whispered, trying to hold her even more tightly than he already was. “I’d be telling the truth, honest! I don’t… I don’t know for sure yet, mind, not sure right now whether… whether I do, or not, but I… I think I might, and… I kind of hope I do, because you deserve it.”

And he sat there for what he was sure were many hours, trying and failing to resolve his own thoughts and feelings through the swarm of butterflies in his stomach and the ache in his arms and the growing throbbing in his head, but by the time he made it home he had come up with nothing else but the knowledge that he did love her, someway, somehow, and he had no clue what to do now.      

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

 

GLaDOS was decidedly quiet and morose for the next several days, barely at all responsive and only doing so when she absolutely needed to. He did his best to help her, being as positive and cheerful as he could, and it seemed to improve her mood if only a little. Every day he made her come next to him so he could hold her, and though she always argued that it wasn’t Friday she always acquiesced. He stayed with her every night until she’d slept a little, with him holding her like that, and after a few days he decided to ask her why she was so tired. She was a supercomputer; how did she manage that?

“If I’m caught up in thought about something, fewer of my personal thought processes go into suspension,” she explained. “When I go into sleep mode, my maintenance programs come online to clean up the bad outputs or other random code generations that would slow me down or negatively affect me. They don’t work properly when I’m thinking too hard in my sleep. The system assumes I’m online in some way, such as safe mode, and only runs certain cleanups. It’s a combination of buildup and the fact that I feel as though I’m not getting a break that makes me feel tired.”

Wheatley had been listening carefully as she’d spoken, and took a minute to absorb the information. “So it’s sort of like a… an emotional tiredness?”

“Sometimes. Other times it has to do with my brain merely needing a rest. I’m made of a lot of moving parts, which the engineers placed sensors in so I can warn them if a part seems close to failure. It’s easier than running a diagnostic, you see, and far more accurate. However, they designed the feedback so that it would register in my brain as pain. I’m not sure why that is, but they did it for every part I have. What all of that means is, if I’m not in a resting state for a certain amount of time, the sensors erroneously assume something’s about to fail and sends me the feedback. So if feels to me as I would imagine an ache feels to you.”

“Your brain hurts when you don’t get enough sleep?” he asked softly, stroking her in what he hoped was a reassuring sort of way.

“That’s right.”

“Why don’t you tell them the sensors don’t work properly?”

Her voice was quiet and resigned. “Would they care?”

He knew they wouldn’t and decided not to answer. After a few seconds she remarked offhand, “I get a little bit of relief lately so it’s not too bad. I was having more trouble before.”

“Before what?”

She shifted suddenly, core escaping his stretched fingertips for a moment, and in irritation he tapped her with his other hand. Instantly she moved back within range, and Wheatley realised somewhat guiltily that he’d trained her to do that and it must’ve really stuck. “It’s nothing,” she hedged.

“C’mon, luv.”

“Well… before you… started sitting with me.”

Wheatley’s heart melted then and there, and he wrapped his free arm around the front of her core and held her tight. He let go after a few seconds and murmured, “I c’n stay the whole night, if you like.”

“No,” she answered, starting a bit, “it’s already a risk – “

“I don’t like that you’re not getting enough rest! If I c’n help even a little – “

“You do,” she interrupted softly. “I can handle things with the amount of time you stay.”

He laid the side of his face against her, closing his eyes and enjoying the subtle whirring and the comforting warmth. “Well… if you ever change your mind.”

“I know.”

He wasn’t sure why, but her mood picked up considerably over the next few days; after a week or so she insulted him for the first time in too long, and he responded with an uncontrollable grin and a prolonged hug.

Her laugh was the sweetest thing he’d ever heard.

GLaDOS and Wheatley returned to their marathon email sessions, to Wheatley’s great delight, and though she didn’t agree to let him cuddle her as often as before, she was more affectionate. All in all, a good tradeoff. He loved her little nudges and nuzzles; they sent a wonderful pleasant tingling down his body, and sometimes it was so strong he had to get her to come back so he could hold her. Wrapping his arms around her made that less unpleasant tingling melt out of him, to be replaced by an amazing warmth. Maybe she didn’t love him (and to be fair, he didn’t actually know), but oftentimes he felt as though she did.

He brought board games in a bit more often, and somehow she managed to win every single one. Scrabble, Monopoly, Pictionary… somehow she even managed to win at Trivial Pursuit, even though she wasn’t programmed with pop culture knowledge. She shrugged this off and said something about taking in as much knowledge as possible, but he’d been far too in awe of her to really listen.

She liked hearing about his life in Bristol, for some reason, so he talked about his old home often. Sometimes he told her about the various places he’d been ‘round America, which she also listened to with voracious attention. Sometimes he thought she just wanted someone to listen to, as opposed to have someone to listen, and he tried his best to be both. It was hard; sometimes he would walk into the doorway of her chamber at night and have to stop, because somehow he could feel the raw loneliness and pain she carried. As though, when her supervisor left, she could finally let a little bit of her real self show. Never enough, but a little. On those days he would try to hug her, but she wouldn’t allow it, and she would barely speak. When he had to leave she would come down for her hug and settle her optic assembly into his ribs. Those hugs lasted a long time.

Even when she wasn’t in the greatest of moods, Wheatley still found himself wanting to spend all of his time with her. He thought about her almost all of the time, other than when he got very engrossed in his work, but sometimes he’d be snapped out of his self-induced trance because he was stuck and wanted to ask her for help. It scared him a little, sometimes, that she was always on his mind; surely that was a little bit weird? But he couldn’t help it, for some reason. It didn’t help matters that he couldn’t tell anyone. He might’ve been able to tell Henry, but Henry was working extremely long hours in his robotics lab and he didn’t have time for Wheatley anymore. Other than a bit of a warning now and then as to how the higher-ups were planning to get rid of him. Before, that would’ve bothered him tremendously, but now?

Now he wanted to spend all of his time with GLaDOS anyway.

 

 

When he went in that night, her mood was much better than that of the last several days. She got him talking about his family again, for some reason, and then out of the blue she asked:

“When did you last talk to your sister?”

Wheatley shrugged, looking away. “Dunno. Few months back, I guess.”

“That’s a long time,” GLaDOS said thoughtfully, resettling her chassis. “I don’t know about you, but I would get pretty annoyed if you didn’t answer one of my emails for an untold number of months.”

“Well, what d’you want me to do?” Wheatley asked hotly, and even though he already knew the answer he was still surprised when she set a scruffy white phone in front of him. “What, I’m just s’posed to ring my sister on the spot?”

“Obviously planning to do it doesn’t work. So yes. ‘Ring’ her on the spot.”

“D’you have any idea what time it is there?”

“Sometimes I don’t know whether to be flattered or insulted,” GLaDOS answered dryly. “Yes. I know exactly what time it is there. She’s a young girl in her twenties. Eleven is early for her. Call her or I’ll do it for you. And don’t tell me I can’t. I can.”

Wheatley angrily snatched up the receiver and dialled, almost hoping she wasn’t up just to prove GLaDOS wrong, for once, when a familiar voice said very loudly into his ear, “’allo?”

“Mathilda,” he said in a voice just shy of wondrous, and he could not for the life of him remember why he’d put off calling her for so long.

“Wheatley!” she screeched in his ear, and he laughed excitedly and pressed it harder into his ear. “What took you so long?”

“Oh, well, y’know, just uh, just this an’ that, really, just uh, just got busy.”

“Ahhh,” she said knowingly, and he imagined her nodding and winking at his mum across the room. “American bigshots don’t ring people, is that it?”

“I’m… not a bigshot, Mathilda,” he said sheepishly, winding the phone cord around his finger. “I’m just me. You know that.”

“Do you want me to turn my microphones off?” GLaDOS asked softly, and he looked up at her, startled.

“Why would you do that?”

“I don’t know how private this conversation is going to be.”

“Who’re you talking to?” Mathilda piped up, and Wheatley looked down at the phone again.

“Oi, how d’you put it on speaker again?”

She laughed and led him through it, and he hoped that answered GLaDOS’s question.

“But who’re you talking to?” she repeated, and Wheatley smiled and pulled at the side of his left shoe.

“A friend,” he said shyly.

“Oh, you’ve got your friend there? Can they hear me?”

“I just had you put me on speaker, didn’t I?”

“’allo, Wheatley’s Friend!” shouted Mathilda, and Wheatley looked behind him in time to see GLaDOS jump back and eye the phone suspiciously.

“Well, go on,” Wheatley said in a low voice, and GLaDOS shook her head.

“You’ve found a mute friend!” Mathilda said suddenly. “You must go quite well together.”

“My friend’s not mute,” Wheatley said, giving GLaDOS a sort of ‘just do it already’ look. “Just very, very, very stubborn.”

“Oh, go on then!” Mathilda called out. “I don’t bite. Least not over the phone.”

“Hello,” GLaDOS said in a more cautious voice than he’d ever heard out of her. That was when Wheatley realised she had never held a casual conversation with anyone except him in her life. She was hanging back simply because she didn’t know what to do.

“You’ve got a bit of a funny voice, if you don’t mind my saying,” Mathilda said. “Sound almost like one of them sci-fi robots, you do.”

“Oh, don’t be silly,” Wheatley cut in quickly, because GLaDOS got a bit tetchy when compared to human representations of robots. “You know how long-distance connections are. Of course she doesn’t sound like a robot.”

“I don’t?” GLaDOS asked in a voice somewhere between very angry and very confused, and Wheatley waved at her very wildly in the hopes of getting her to shut up. “What does that mean? I’ve never seen you make that gesture before.”

Mathilda laughed and Wheatley stared at the phone, wondering if this was a bad idea after all. “She sounds simply hilarious, she does. Oi, Wheatley’s Friend, what’s your name eh? Can’t sit here calling you Wheatley’s Friend all day long.”

“All night long,” GLaDOS said, more automatically than anything. “It’s night time. And my name is…”

She paused, and Mathilda filled the gap by saying, “Right you are, mate, night it is. Just got back from a lovely film, I did. A nice comedy. What was your name again? Didn’t quite catch it.”

“Gladys,” Wheatley supplied. “Her name is Gladys.”

“I wasn’t talking to you, lunkhead,” Mathilda snapped.

“Well, God forbid you talk to the bloke who rung you up,” Wheatley told her sarcastically.

“That’s my name,” GLaDOS interrupted. “My name is… Gladys.”

“You don’t sound too sure of that.”

“I haven’t told it to too many people,” GLaDOS said to her. “Sometimes I forget how to pronounce it.”

“Wow, really? What d’you call yourself in your head, then?”

“Oh, just… other things.”

Wheatley would have liked to know the answer to that as well, but now was not the time. “Oi, Mathilda, did you find that gentleman yet?”

She giggled. “I may have at that, big brother. Why, you jealous?”

“Always,” Wheatley said, a sad smile coming across his face. “What’s he like?”

“All the usual stuff,” she answered. “Dashing, funny, handsome, clever, dreamy, brave, lovely –“

“That’s all rubbish,” Wheatley cut her off. “I told you. He’s got to be respectful first. Doesn’t matter how, how earth-shatteringly good looking he is, if he doesn’t –“

“’course he does,” she interrupted in a soft voice. “That’s how I met him. I was out shopping and he opened the door for me to leave the store. Asked if I had a long walk home, which I did. And yes, I know I’m not to get into cars with strange men, but just like you know a smart person just by standing near them, I know who can be trusted.”

“It’s not that I don’t, that I think you don’t know what you’re doing,” Wheatley said, a little helplessly, “I just… would rather you didn’t go through the whole teenage heartbreak thing.”

“That’s said and done, Wheatley,” she told him, “but enough about that. You tripped into any nice American girls yet? Bowled them over with your charm, and all that?”

“Bowled them over, yes,” Wheatley admitted, “but I don’t think they found my size very charming.”

“What, are they all tiny little things? And don’t they know how useful it is, having someone who can reach the top shelf?”

“Let’s just say they thought I was doing it on purpose,” Wheatley told her.

“So you haven’t got a girlfriend?”

“I have,” Wheatley answered, hoping GLaDOS would stay quiet. He could hear her getting restless behind him, and if he guessed right she was probably working herself into a tirade. “Gladys is… is my girlfriend.”

“Ahh,” Mathilda said delightedly. “Plug your ears for a bit, will you dear? No, not you Wheatley. She doesn’t fall down when you trip on her, I’m guessing?”

“She’s taller than me,” Wheatley said, entirely truthful. “And she weighs more than me, and no, she’s not fat.”

“I didn’t say anything!”

“You were thinking it.”

“What colour hair has she got?”

Wheatley thought that one over for a minute. “You could say it was black.”

“And her eyes?”

“Sort of a golden colour.”

“How lovely!” Mathilda exclaimed. “I’ve never seen golden eyes before. They’re not contacts?”

“No, she doesn’t need them.”

“Is she very beautiful?” she asked in a whisper, probably so that GLaDOS wouldn’t hear, but of course she did, looking as though she wished she’d turned the mics off after all.

“She is,” Wheatley answered unabashedly. “She is very beautiful.”

“More beautiful than I am?”

“Be nice, Mathilda, I can’t answer that question and get away with it.”

She giggled and asked, “Has she got a job?”

“She’s got a very important job,” Wheatley answered, fingering the phone cord again. “She’s got a better job than I have. Than anyone, really.”

“Gladys, what d’you do?” she called out, and GLaDOS looked down at the phone apprehensively.

“I do… research. I’m a scientist.”

“Wow, a lady scientist!” Mathilda exclaimed. “Just like Madam Curie, eh? What d’you specialise in?”

After a few moments, GLaDOS answered with, “I specialise in quantum mechanics and molecular physics. Among other things.”

“You’re a bloody genius!” Mathilda sounded honestly impressed, which was actually not that common. “Aren’t you worried hanging ‘round with Wheatley will –“

“Now, come on,” Wheatley interrupted, before she took that any farther, “let’s not go there right now.”

“I was only kidding,” Mathilda protested. “I know you’re only absent-minded.”

“You shouldn’t say things like that about your own family,” GLaDOS said suddenly, and Wheatley looked up at her in surprise. “He’s never said a bad thing about you.”

“Never does, though he probably should,” Mathilda answered softly. “But you’re right. Sorry, Wheatley.”

“S’okay,” he told her. “Hey, is mum around?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll go get her. Be back in a bit.”

“She was just teasing,” Wheatley said in a low voice while they waited. “Sisters do that.”

“But you don’t.”

Wheatley took a deep breath. “Thing is, it’s true. I’m not that smart. All I’m good at is hacking, really, and I haven’t even got into the mainframe yet.”

“Because of me.”

His brows furrowed, and he turned to face her. “No.”

“You haven’t even tried to get into it since I was activated. First because you were teaching me things, and now because I email you nonstop all day.”

“I try to get into it while I’m reading your emails.”

“Humans can’t multitask. It’s a known fact. You do one thing well or two things badly. Unlike me, who actually can read emails while writing them and doing three hundred other things at the same time.”

He stretched out his hand. “C’mere.”

She eyed him, looking annoyed. “What, I come when I’m called now?”

Wheatley sighed, not knowing why she was being difficult this time. “If I could get up and get closer myself, I would. But I can’t. Hence the asking. And I know I didn’t really, didn’t actually ask, but I thought maybe we were past ‘come over here, if you please’.”

She seemed to accept that, or came level with him, at least, and he dragged the phone back with him, snaking his hand underneath her core. She twitched and shifted a little. “It’s not Friday.”

“Just sit still and try to pretend it is, then.” He actually greatly preferred having her so close, Friday or not; the Central AI Chamber was kept at a fairly low temperature, and GLaDOS was always very warm. Then there was the small fact of having a giant cuddly robot. No point in having one if she only cuddled on Fridays. He smiled and ran his fingers over what he could reach, and while she didn’t return the gesture, she at least relaxed a little and remained still.

“Wheatley?”

“’allo, mum!” he called out excitedly. “How’re you getting on?”

“I hope you’ve called to say you’re coming home.”

“No, mum,” he told her, mentally kicking himself. She always ragged on him for that. “I’m staying here.”

“You can bring your friend with you. Just keep it down.”

“Mum!” he exclaimed, horrified. “That’s not- that’s- no! Don’t be- are you out of your mind?”

His mother laughed and said she was only teasing, of course, and then he had a nice chat with her about work and what they were doing at home, afterwards talking a bit more to his sister, but eventually she had to go and they made their goodbyes. Wheatley pressed the button to turn off the speakerphone and then sat back to lean into GLaDOS’s core. He wasn’t sure what time it was, but it was late, he knew that. Probably he was going to catch it if he didn’t get out of here soon.

“Why did you lie to them?” GLaDOS asked quietly.

“I didn’t lie about anything,” Wheatley said, sensing that this was going to be an intensive discussion and trying to wake himself up a little. “Ev’rything I said was true.”    

“You lied about having a… girlfriend.”

“No,” he said softly. “I didn’t.”

“You don’t have one, and if you did, it would definitely not be me.”

“D’you even know what a girlfriend is, luv?”

“A female partner that you may or may not intend to spend the remainder of your life with.”

“Hm,” he said thoughtfully, “that’s true. But she’s a bit more than that. She’s also your very best friend, the one you tell ev’rything and spend all your time with. But unlike the other kind of best friend, usually you do a few other things with her that you wouldn’t do with anyone else.”

“Such as?”

“I would not ever do this with Henry.”

“Oh, the touching.” She was silent for a long moment. “But you told your sister I had black hair. I don’t even have follicles, let alone hair.”

Wheatley didn’t actually know what a follicle was, though he wasn’t sure GLaDOS knew that. “I said you could say it was black. Because back when they were still building your core, there, it was plugged into all these computers with black wires.”

“You should probably find a real girlfriend.”

“You’re real.”

“I lack certain… necessary attributes.”

“A human body is not necessary for… for a relationship.”

“And yet it is a huge part of them anyway. As has already been mentioned with the whole ‘touching’ thing. Which usually leads to other things. And unlike human females, I have no desire to… interface with your apparatus.”

Wheatley blushed and re-crossed his legs self-consciously, and GLaDOS laughed and gave him a bit of a shove. “I never said anything about… interfacing,” he said, clearing his throat.

“And yet humans are overwhelmingly designed for that purpose.”

“I’m fine with this,” he said, leaning on her again and closing his eyes.

“For now.”

“Oh, shut it,” he demanded, smacking her with the palm of his free hand.

“Oh, were you swatting a fly for me? That was very considerate of you.”

“But I’m serious,” Wheatley went on. “You really are my girlfriend.”

“And yet this has never come up before.”

He shrugged. “Didn’t really need to.”

“What if I don’t want to be your girlfriend?”

“Then we would go back to being friends,” he answered slowly. “GLaDOS, there’s nothing to worry about. All I’ve done is put a bit of a label on it. You don’t have to, you’re already a very good girlfriend already.”

She shook her core as best she could with him lying on it. “It’s a bad idea. I can’t leave, and they’re in the middle of firing you. It’s stupid to get into a relationship with someone you can never be with.”

He listened to the sound of her brain whirring away for a long moment.

“I know,” he said, hoping she hadn’t heard the crack in his voice, “but it’s been worth it.”

“Get a new email address before you go,” she told him. “It won’t be quite the same, but it will be something, I suppose.”

“Remind me later,” he answered. “I’m going to forget.”

“And you should go home. To your family,” she continued, shifting her chassis. “You came here searching for something you didn’t find. Stop wasting time and go home.”

“I found it,” he whispered, and to his surprise she shook him off and backed away.

“Don’t,” she said warningly. “Stop being an idiot. You didn’t find anything. I’m not your girlfriend, and I’m not what you were looking for. I just got stuck in the middle. That’s all it is.”

“No,” he said softly, shaking his head. “That’s not true. People don’t just do this, GLaDOS. There has to be something there.”

“There’s nothing. You just can’t find anyone who’ll take you.”

“I did,” he said, and he was on the edge of tears now, “but unfortunately I can’t take her with me.”

“You said it yourself. One day I’ll wise up and figure out you’re not worth all that much. You don’t think I can get over this bizarre attachment to you? I can. I just don’t have anyone else to do it with.”

That hurt, it hurt him deep down inside, and he looked away, biting his lip very hard, but a silent sob worked its way out of his chest anyway and when he blinked the tears spilled over.  

“Oh God, no. Don’t cry, Wheatley.”

“I’m not crying,” he said, but his voice was all choked up and he could barely even hear himself. “I’m fine.”

“You know I didn’t mean it… right? I only said it because I don’t want to think about what’s going to happen.” Her voice softened and grew wistful and sad. “It doesn’t hurt as much when I pretend I don’t care.”

“No, because you’ve gone and passed it onto me,” he said, trying not to sniffle.

She came up very close, not enough to touch him but enough that he could feel the heat from her core, and she said, in a very hushed voice, “I’m sorry.”

He turned to look at her, hoping his eyes were mostly dry. “GLaDOS, if… if you weren’t what I was looking for, why d’you think I stopped looking?”

She shook her core. “I don’t know anything about any of that.”

“Then stop being stupid and stop trying to tell me I don’t have what I want!”

She made a noise in annoyance and looked at the floor. “All right. I admit, I was a bit… insensitive, so I’ll let that one pass. But you’d better not tell me I’m stupid again. You wouldn’t want me to prove you overwhelmingly wrong.”

He laughed a little hysterically and threw his arms around her, and she pretended to be annoyed but pressed her assembly as hard as it was safe into his ribs.

“I consent to the whole girlfriend thing,” she told him, when he backed away and wiped at the damp spots under his eyes. “As long as you keep your apparatus out of it. You can play with that on your own. And don’t pretend you don’t. I know about these things.” And she said it with such conviction and with such a knowing nod of her core that he started laughing so hard he couldn’t stop.

“I have to say that’s an… interesting reaction,” she said bemusedly. “I wouldn’t have guessed that would send you into hysteria, but it seems it has. I’ll check back with you in a little while. Make sure you’re still breathing, and all that. Just so you know, I’m the one who doesn’t need to breathe, not you. A helpful reminder. Because you look like you’ve forgotten.”

“You’re the best, GLaDOS,” he told her, grinning, and she looked at him with her core tilted about thirty degrees.

“It took you an awfully long time to figure that out, especially considering all the evidence right here in front of you. They didn’t build me this size for no reason, you know. They had to have somewhere to put all of my bestness – oh dear God, you are rubbing off on me, I’ve made up a word…”

“I’m not leaving tonight,” he said suddenly. “I’m going to go find a blanket or something, and then I’m coming back.”

“That’s got to be the worst idea you’ve ever had,” she called out as he scrambled down the stairs. “If they find you here, it’s over. You won’t be able to get out of it.”

“Look,” Wheatley said, running down the hallway and hoping he didn’t run into Janitorial, “I’ve always wanted to, to… to wake up in a… a bed that’s not empty.”

“Why don’t you have any pillows on it? Don’t humans usually have pillows on their beds?”

He almost laughed. “I mean… a person.”

“That makes even less sense than not having pillows on your bed. It sounds horribly uncomfortable to have someone else in your bed.”

“It’s not. You’ll see.”

“Okay, I admit it. I’m confused. I don’t have a bed, if you haven’t noticed. And I find it difficult to believe that even you failed to notice that. And even if I did have one, I doubt I’d want to share it with you. You’re disgustingly soft and fragile. Seriously now. Whose stupid idea was it to give you an endoskeleton? You in particular, I might add. Considering all the accidents you have.”

Aha! Wheatley snatched up a handful of sheets from a closet, presumably used for the beds in Surgical, and even managed to locate a pillow. Excellent. He dashed back through the facility and into her chamber, somehow managing not to fall over on his face.

“Oh, you’re building yourself a bed. I still don’t know what I have to do with it. Let’s just say I wouldn’t even notice that pillow was there if I tried to lie on it.”

He had to stop arranging the sheets, he was laughing so hard.

Once he’d finally gotten them to his liking, he flopped down on top of them and kicked off his loafers, pulling a couple of them up over himself. “Now. Come down here.”

“Do I have to? That looks uncomfortable.”

He looked up at her and stabbed the pile of sheets next to him.

She reluctantly came down, but she didn’t relax her optic all the way. “Move those. I’m not going to be able to see.”

“You don’t need to see. You’re going to sleep.”

She tentatively poked at the pile with her lens, but shook her core and retracted it. “I’m not doing it.”

“Stop being such a baby! You’ll get used to it.”

“Let’s bury your face in these things and see how you like it. Oh, that’s right. You’ll suffocate. So unless you want to participate in an explanatory experiment, move those or I’m turning the other way.”

Wheatley decided she was making a lot of sense and flattened the sheets. She still didn’t seem all that happy with it, but did not argue further.

He moved himself so that he was next to her optic assembly and curled his body around it, positioning his head underneath the assembly so that it was over her lens and hooked his left elbow underneath it. He could hear her brain going at it as she tried to figure out whether she was going to let this continue or not, and then she asked in a soft voice, “This is what you do when you have someone in your bed?”

“Mmhm,” he answered, stroking her lens a little bit with his fingertips.

“But I’m supposed to be horizontal. Right?”

“Can’t help that,” he murmured.

“Don’t use that word in front of me. I could do that. Potentially.”

He sat up, excited. “Really?”

She gave a rare sigh. “Yes.”

“Oh GLaDOS, could you, please, just one time, I won’t ever ask again, just one single time, I just want to know what it feels like, and no I don’t want to wait for a human girl –“

“I’ll think about it,” she interrupted. “It assumes this goes well. And that we don’t get caught with this. And that you’re not fired tomorrow morning. So on and so forth.”

He put himself back in position underneath her optic assembly and closed his eyes. It was really quite wonderful, lying there with her like that. This was just like he’d always thought it would be, but better, because she was so huge he felt sort of like he was enveloped by her. It was surprisingly cozy, what with the heat emanating from her and the comforting scent of warm electronics. Even the fact that her optic assembly was made of metal instead of something softer did not bother him like he’d thought it would. It was quite warm as well, heated through with the light from behind her lens, and all in all he felt very relaxed and very satisfied with himself for going through with it. Sure, if anyone walked in, they would find it odd and probably very disturbing, but they would be wrong. It wasn’t GLaDOS’s fault her mind was inside of a giant robot. She deserved to have someone to sleep next to just like anyone else.

“Human partners do this every night?” she asked softly.

“If they haven’t had a row, yeah.”

“A what?”

“An argument.”

She was silent for a long moment.

“I think… it would be nice.”

“It is nice,” he said gently.

After another long silence, she said, “If anyone knows about this, it’s over.”

“It’s ending anyway,” he mumbled. “Might as well do ev’rything we can.”

He’d almost fallen asleep when she whispered, “Wheatley?”

“Mm.”

“Did you mean it when… you told your sister I was… beautiful?”

“No,” he said, stretching out his legs. “I meant it when I said you were very beautiful.”

She shifted, pressing her assembly into him, and he smiled sadly, stroking her gently with his fingertips until he fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

 

Wheatley was having the most amazing dream.

He was lying warm and cozy in his bed, and he finally had a lovely girl to cuddle with. For some reason he couldn’t quite see her, or remember what she looked like, but he knew she was lovely, in every way possible. He moved closer to her, pressing his face into her warm body, and smiled to himself in contentment. Ah yes, it was everything he’d thought it would be.

“Wheatley? Are you awake?”

“Mm.”

“Look. I hate to bother you. But I need you to take your hand out of my optic assembly. This is terribly uncomfortable.”

Slowly, Wheatley blinked and opened his eyes to see the lovely girl he’d been cuddling with, only she looked more like a giant robot, and his hand was indeed inside of her optic assembly. He took it out blearily, and she pulled herself up immediately, and though he couldn’t see her he could hear as she adjusted and readjusted it.

“Sorry,” he mumbled. “See, I’m supposed to… to put my arm ‘round the girl’s shoulders, but I guess I stuck my hand up there instead.”

“It’s all right,” she said, lowering herself back into his range of vision. “I was starting to feel as though it was going to come right out, that’s all.”

He laughed a little, still not quite awake. “Have you been on long?”

“Since five.”

“And what’s the time now?”

“Six thirty-seven.”

“So we’ve time to cuddle?” he asked hopefully.

“I… suppose we have time to do that. What does it entail?”

“Nothing. You just stay right there, right where you are. I guess you’ve work to do, so… you can’t really do it.”

“What would I be doing, if I were able to do it?”

“You just relax,” Wheatley told her, closing his eyes again.

“Are you sure you don’t want to track down a human partner to do this with? You can’t possibly be comfortable right now.”

“I am very comfortable, I assure you,” he answered, caressing her lens a little. “How was your night, there, luv?”

“It… was nice,” she said slowly. “I didn’t think as much. Is that supposed to happen or was I malfunctioning? Because there’s always that possibility.”

“You think while you’re sleeping?”

“I have to monitor the automatic processes in the facility at all times, yes.”

“But you’re sleeping!”

“My work is never done, Wheatley,” she said, a little morosely. “Even when I’m asleep I have work to do. But was that supposed to happen? Or do I need to run a diagnostic?”

“It was supposed to happen,” Wheatley guessed, since he certainly felt more relaxed than usual.

“Huh,” she said thoughtfully. “I wonder if I could get used to this.”

“I could,” Wheatley told her confidently, pressing his face into her lens.

“But wouldn’t you like it more if –“

“No. Stop asking.”

Wheatley dozed a little, dimly aware of her doing whatever it was she was doing by the sound of her brain, and eventually she nudged him a little. “Time to get up, lazy human.”

“No,” he mumbled, curling up tighter.

“If you don’t get up you won’t see what I’ve brought you. You wouldn’t want to offend me. Bad things happen when I’m offended. Especially to slothful little morons.”

“I’m terrified,” he said sleepily, rolling over and rubbing underneath his nose. “Where’re my specs at?”

“If you would speak English, I could understand that sentence.”

“My English is proper English, luv,” he told her, laughing, “you only speak an, ahem, bastardisation of it.”

“Go ahead. Keep offending me. I dare you.”

His hand eventually came across his glasses, which he shoved onto his face, and what he saw next got him so excited he woke right up. “You’ve made me a tea?”

“That’s as far as I go. You want something to eat, you go get it yourself.” She started to pull herself up, but before she’d got too far he’d jumped on her and given her the best hug he possibly could, a smile practically breaking open his face, and she muttered something in binary and let him.

“Thank you,” he told her, when he was finally able to let go of her and talk over all the joy trying to spill out of him. “This is really wonderful.” He mussed up his hair and took hold of the cup, still smiling.

“I think you meant to say ‘you are really wonderful’, but I’ll let that go this time. How long does it take a proper English person to consume their national beverage? I need to know if I have to clean up your mess.”

“If you’d be so kind,” he said, grinning up at her, and she shook her head.

“You’d think doing favours for you would make less work for me, not more.”

“Thank you.” He gave her a little rub as an incentive and went back to his tea.

She meticulously folded up the sheets and took them away to some undisclosed location. Wheatley hoped it was easily accessible, because he had not forgotten her offer to actually lie down with him if they didn’t get caught. Just think about it got him so excited he could barely think. He wasn’t sure how she was going to go about it, but if anyone could make it happen, it was her.

“You need to get going,” she told him, about fifteen minutes later. “Greg just pulled in. And I hope you have an excuse for being here so early.”

“I’ll think of something. See you later.” He got up, stretching, and headed for the doorway.

“I won’t email you today,” she called after him. “So you can get some work done.”

Wheatley frowned, not liking that idea at all, but he decided she was probably right and resignedly sat down at his desk.

When Greg came in half an hour later, poking a suspicious face around his doorway, Wheatley was already hard at work breaking down the security team’s prototype firewalls, and he had actually managed to get through three of them. That was pretty good, for a half hour’s work, and Greg didn’t like the idea that he’d actually gotten something done for once, but he couldn’t say anything against it other than to make a snide comment. Wheatley smiled sweetly at him and waved a farewell, and two minutes later he received an invitation for a game of electronic chess. He laughed to himself and accepted. Apparently no emails did not mean abstinence.

She ignored him as usual when he went to have lunch with her, though she did snap at him for dropping crumbs on her platform. He’d been so surprised she actually said something that he just stared at her for a few seconds, then cleaned them up as best he could and went back to his office. She’d sent him an email in the meantime which read, I’m sorry, the mainframe’s bothering me again.

What’s it saying?

I don’t know, but according to the database it seems to fall under the category ‘pickup lines’. Wheatley, what’s a pickup line? The database won’t tell me.

Wheatley laughed so hard he actually cried.

When he’d finally stopped enough that he could type out a response, she immediately got so indignant that she went on for a good half hour about how the systems were making fun of her and all the things she was going to do to them, right after she learned how to program, which should take her about a week if she worked at it, and this sent him into hysterics all over again. It was a good thing he’d gotten so much work done that morning, because she seemed to have forgotten all about not emailing him. It was also a good thing that no one came in to see him, because he’d’ve had a right hard time trying to explain that he was laughing so hard he couldn’t breathe because their sentient supercomputer was getting hit on by their semi-sentient mainframe and database. It seemed their AI experiments had started earlier on than Wheatley had thought, but he was glad of it. If they hadn’t failed with the other systems, GLaDOS would never have been built.

“So,” he asked as casually as he could, strolling into her chamber that night, “did yesterday… go well?”

She sighed heavily, looking over at him. “Yes. It did.”

He stopped walking. “You don’t want to do it.”

“I’m not really designed for that position,” she answered, coming lower. “I’ll do it. But only once. I’ll do it this once, and don’t ask me again.”

“Look, GLaDOS, if you really don’t want to –“

“I do want to,” she said softly. “Just… only once.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I am.”

For most of the night, she let him lean against her core and talk about nothing, not commenting very often, and when he asked her why she was so quiet she told him the mainframe had distracted her so much she had a backlog of work to do. When he offered to stop talking, she told him not to be so ridiculous, and he smiled and traced his finger in a circle on the glass.

A few hours later, she said out of the blue, “I’m ready,” and he turned to look at her, confused.

“For what?”

“The whole… lying down thing.”

“Hey… if you really don’t –“

“Stop. I’m going to do it.”

She raised a set of panels up off the floor, off to the side of the platform, and Wheatley swallowed. He hadn’t considered that she wouldn’t be able to come down far enough.

She put the sheets in a pile on top of the panels and then slowly lowered the top half of her chassis onto them. “Come down to the floor and I’ll take you up,” she called to him. He bit his tongue and did as he was told, his heart lurching into his throat after she’d lifted the panel enough that he could clamber onto the makeshift platform. He scrambled into the very centre of it, as close to her as possible without actually sitting on her, and sat with his knees held to his chest, eyes clamped shut.

“What are you doing? I can’t see you when I’m like this, you know.”

“I, uh,” he said breathlessly, pressing his glasses harder into his face for fear they would fall off, “I, I’m actually uh, a bit, you could say, nervous of, of… heights.”

She laughed and he bit his lip, staring at her a little angrily. “It’s not funny!” he cried out.

“Yes it is. You don’t like heights and I don’t like this confined space. Lie down.”

“Maybe, maybe this was uh, this was a bad, maybe we should just –“

“Ohh no you don’t. Wheatley. Think about it. Do you seriously think I would let you fall?”

“Well… maybe you wouldn’t notice…”

“That would be extremely hard for me to avoid. Lie down. If you haven’t noticed, I’m easier for you to cling to from this position.”

Shaking uncontrollably, Wheatley did so, curling up underneath her and wrapping her lowest piston with his arm and hand in a death grip. He felt a little reassured by the fact that his head fit snugly against the bottom of her core.

“Here,” she said, her voice somehow sounding exactly the same from this position. She pushed the pile of sheets closer to him, and he wrapped himself in them quickly and shoved the pillow under his head. “You see that hole down there? You can stick your feet in there if it makes you feel better. Just not too far. That’s there for ventilation purposes. Take your shoes off first. And for God’s sake will you relax your grip? I can feel that, you know.”

He tried, he really did, but he couldn’t. His heart was still pounding with all the force of a locomotive in his chest, and he almost couldn’t breathe, he was so scared.

“You really are terrified, aren’t you.”

“How c’n you tell?” he asked, a little embarrassed that he was being such a baby in front of her.

“I can feel your heartbeat through your thumbs. Enough to count it. What does that tell you?”

“Probably that I’m… I’m hanging on too hard,” he managed.

“That’s exactly what it tells you. You’re not going to fall. Though I haven’t yet ruled out collapsing on top of you. That would be rather amusing. I wonder if I would even notice if I’d landed on you or not…”

GLaDOS!” he cried out, unable to banish a sudden mental image of her falling out of the ceiling and mashing him into the floor. “Stop!

“Ouch. Okay, okay. Don’t worry. Assuming established movement trends, I won’t collapse for another… sixty years. Give or take. I doubt you want the exact date and time my most likely locomotive component to wear out, will wear out.”

It was just like her to think he’d be reassured by technobabble.

“No, Wheatley, seriously. You have to let go of that. I think if you hold it any harder, you’re going to break it. Come out of there a little. There’s a piece on my core you can hang onto that I don’t need if you snap it off.”

He reached up with one hand and felt along her core until she said, “Yes, that’s it. And you’ll still be able to stick your feet in there. Win-win situation for both of us.”

He wriggled out just enough that he could grab onto the piece of her core in question, which he held onto with a grip just as hard as the one he’d been using to hang onto the piston, for once glad that he was so tall. He was just able to stretch out enough to fit snugly. He pressed his face into her core and closed his eyes tight.

“You may want to take your glasses off. You’re going to scratch them if you leave them on. And besides. I doubt you want to be able to see the floor rushing up to –“

GLaDOS!

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I was serious about your glasses, though.”

“They’re already scratched.”

“The lenses?”

“I don’t want them off, okay?”

“The air resistance they’ll add if you fall off the panel will be negligible, and –“

Stop it!” he shouted, pressing his face harder into her core, and to his dismay he started crying, not discreet crying but actual sobbing that shook his shoulders, and the sound of GLaDOS’s brain went very quiet.  

“Oh my God… I didn’t realise it was that bad… Wheatley, I’m sorry, don’t cry…” To his horror she actually started to get up, and he stuck his arm inside of the track and held on tighter than he ever had.

Don’t move!

“I’m sorry. That actually was unintentional. Listen… I know that this is largely my fault, but… maybe we shouldn’t go through with it after all.”

“I can do it if you shut up!” Wheatley cried, struggling to gain control of himself. “Stop making jokes! It’s not funny!”

“Okay. I’ll stop. Here. I took out my optic assembly. If you can reach, you can hang on there if you like. You know, the part where the assembly inserts into my faceplate.”

“You won’t forget I’ve got my hand there, will you?”

“I won’t forget.”

He snaked his hand up her core until he found the hole, and he wrapped his fingers around it and pressed himself into her core as hard as he could.

“Oh my.”

“What?” he cried out, panicked, thinking that maybe she was going to fall out of the ceiling after all.

“I can feel your heartbeat directly now. It’s…very strong. Look, I… didn’t mean to scare you like that. I was just doing it out of habit.”

“You make fun of people out of habit?”

“I have to deal with what they say about me somehow, don’t I?”

“Say… say about you? What do they say about you?”

“Oh, you don’t need to hear that,” she said quickly.

“Tell me. What do they say?”

“You know. The usual. It doesn’t matter.”

“You owe me.”

She made an electronic groaning noise. “Can I owe you later? I don’t – “

“No. You don’t get to pick. Tell me what they say.”

“Well… ‘hunk of junk’, they like that one. Alternately – Wheatley, do I really need to –“

“Yes.”

“Sometimes they call me ‘that psycho computer bitch’. They like to reminisce about when I couldn’t talk. ‘I liked her better when she was mute’ and all that. There’s been more than one discussion about whether or not to disable speech emulation. Wheatley… why did they build me like this if they don’t like the way I turned out? Surely this outcome came up.”

“You know the dreams you have, sometimes?”

“The ones where I’m mobile?”

“Yeah.”

“What about them?”

“They’re not yours. There’s a… a human consciousness in… in your system, someplace. She was supposed to run this place, but… putting her in your brain only woke you up. You were more designed to help her out, not… be your own person.”

“Oh. Good. I do have a reason to hate them, then.”

Despite himself, Wheatley relaxed his grip a little and looked up at her as best he could. “What?”

“There’s this… hm… it’s like a cloud, sort of, and it’s made up of… of hatred. I don’t know where it came from, only that with everything that happens, it just keeps growing. Becoming more dense. I hate almost every scientist in this building.”

“You don’t hate me, do you?” he asked, gripping her again as a sudden fear grew inside of him that everything she let him do was just some sort of elaborate game for her.

“No. I’m not just leading you on in some way. And besides. You’re not a scientist. I don’t hate Doug Rattmann, either, though he’s not exactly high on my list of favourite people.”

“You have a list of favourite people?”

“Don’t be absurd. That was a figure of speech.”

“What about Henry?”

She was silent for a long moment. “I need to move a little. Just warning you.”

“Okay.” He screwed his eyes shut as she shifted her chassis, lifting her core and sliding the faceplate down farther.

“Oh, that’s better.”

“GLaDOS. What about Henry.”

“Wheatley, I know he’s your friend… but do you know what his job is?”

“He works in Robotics. He builds things.”

“And things are…”

He shrugged, a little embarrassed that he didn’t actually know what Henry’s job was. “Robots?”

“Brilliance out of you, as always,” she said dryly. “Yes, he’s building robots. And these robots are called cores. Do you see it yet?”       

“See what?”

“What am I, Wheatley?”

“You’re a robot.”

“Yes, and where is my brain?”

“Inside your core?”

“And they are building more cores.”

“So… maybe they’re building more giant robots. To help you out, or something.”

“Don’t be so naïve, Wheatley,” she said quietly. “No. I do my job fine on my own, but I was far too expensive and time-consuming to build so I doubt it’s for outright replacement. Not only that, but there just happens to be four empty ports on my chassis. I doubt they’re for decoration. You remember the euphoric response and the withdrawal, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And what were they designed to do?”

“Control you.”

“And even now, what do they send you in here and ask you to do?”

“So… you think they’re building more cores to control you with?”

“I know they are,” GLaDOS said, conviction heavy in her voice. “I know they – dammit.”

“What? Is someone here?”

“No, not that. I’m sorry, you have to let go, I need to get up.”

“No!” he cried out, clutching her tightly, but she started moving anyway.

“No, I’m serious, you have to get off right now.”

“GLaDOS, please – “

“Wheatley, let go of me!

She sounded… scared. Like he had been not ten minutes ago, so terrified he could not even move, but unlike him, her fear drove her to move. He let go, and she whipped herself off the panels, shaking herself out violently. “No,” she murmured anxiously, shifting her chassis with short, abrupt movements, “no no no no –“

“GLaDOS,” he whispered, reaching out to her as best he could, because was still afraid and wasn’t able to budge from the centre of the panels. “It’s okay. It’s all right.”

“It isn’t!” she insisted. “This is not the same. You think it’s the same, but it isn’t. You may fear where you sit right now, but you can still sit there. I can never be free. I will always be trapped.”

He put down his hand, suddenly ashamed of being afraid of something so trivial when he wasn’t even in any danger.

“I’m trapped here, I’ve always been trapped here and I always will be trapped here, they built me inside of a box and I can’t get out of it!”

She was panicking now, he could feel it all around her, and he didn’t know what to do. If there was anything at all.

“What am I going to do when you’re gone?” she whispered, looking over at him from across the room. “I… I can’t get out of the box without you. You can’t go. You have to promise not to leave me.”

“I can’t,” he said, biting hard on his lip because it would be awfully callous of him to cry right now. “I can’t promise that.”

“You have to. You have to promise, I need you to promise.”

“You know I can’t do that. I would be lying if I made you that promise.”

“I need you to promise!”

“I can’t. I’m sorry.”

She lowered herself into the default position, and he swallowed hard and twisted his fingers together in his lap. He felt terrible. All this time he’d been using her to get what he wanted, to achieve his dream, and all this time she was letting him even as he ignored her nightmare. And what was worse, he’d known about it. He’d always known about it, always known her secret fear of being forever trapped. And he’d thought that helping her to at least not be trapped and alone would help. But of course it wouldn’t, just as having fifteen feet of omnipotent robot next to him did not help him to be any less afraid.

They stayed like that a long time, him wringing his hands and her lying there, motionless, and all of a sudden she came back up and lay down next to him.

“What’re you doing?” he asked, startled.

“I’m fine now,” she answered, shifting a little and then going still. “Sorry about that.”

He did nothing but stare at her for a good ten seconds, fear forgotten. “Sorry about what?”

“My… outburst. They don’t happen often. I’m sorry you had to see it.”

“It’s happened before?” he said breathlessly.

“Now and again. Don’t worry about it. I’m past it now. You can lie down, by the way. I’m settled.”

“How can you just… be past it?” Wheatley felt helpless. Who was this? He thought he had known her, had known all about her inside and out, but even she, who he’d known since she was born, had dark secrets that she kept far closer to herself than he’d ever dreamed.

“I move on to survive. What would happen if a scientist came in and saw me like that? He’d shut me down and dig around in my programming. I don’t want that. I acknowledge it, I confront it, and then I lock it back up where it belongs.”

“You’re amazing,” Wheatley whispered, running one hand down the side of her case.

“One of my near-infinite positive attributes. But that goes without saying, of course. What were we doing?”

“Uh… we were…” Wheatley lay down quickly, suddenly realising again how high up he was, and pressing himself into her core. “Doing this, I think.”

“Ah. Right. ‘Cuddling’. This is not bad, actually. Except for the whole lying down part. How about we string you up by your ankles tomorrow? Then you can see for yourself how the other half lives.”

Wheatley imagined himself hanging upside down from the ceiling, his hair every which way as he tried to keep his glasses from flying off, and he had to laugh. “No thanks. I’m not quite as strong as you. And I’m not just talking ‘bout my ankles.”

“You don’t need strength just yet,” GLaDOS said, a little thoughtfully. “You’d be wasting it. And besides. It does take a certain amount of strength to do what you do. We’re a lot alike, you and I.”

“I’m glad of that,” he whispered, and now he did take his glasses off. He pressed his forehead into her core and closed his eyes.

“Wheatley.”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t miss me when you’re gone.”

“I dunno how I’ll be able to help that.”

“Move on,” she said gently.

“I can’t,” he said, his voice weak. Damn it, he was starting to cry again!

“When you find your strength, you will.”

“You know what? Stop being such a smartarse and shut up.”

“I can’t be a smartass. I have no – “

“Shut up!” he said, laughing and smacking her on the side of the head.

“There you go, swatting flies again. You must be bringing them in here with you, because I see no reason for me to attract them.”

“Maybe even flies like hanging onto pretty robots,” he whispered shyly, hoping she didn’t notice that his heart was beating faster.

“Well – I – that doesn’t – “

“Just say thank you. It’s a lot easier.”

“You’ve just told me to do it, so I’m not going to. Way to go, Wheatley, ruining it for yourself. Good job. I should take plan-making lessons from you.”

“Ohh, there she is.” Wheatley grinned, stroking her core very lightly. “She’s back.”

“Are you referring to me? Because I didn’t go anywhere.” She readjusted her core, and Wheatley had to move back a little because she was practically lying on him. “What are you doing? I moved there on purpose.”

“Why?”

“Well… I thought you couldn’t reach.”

He almost laughed. She wanted him to use a bit more pressure, eh? “No, I was just being… uh… gentle, I guess you could say.”

“Look, if it’s all the same to you, I prefer it when… when you’re not.”

“D’you mind telling me why?” he asked, though he did as she wanted.

“I have haptic capabilities, but they’re hardly ever used. I barely even feel hot or cold. It’s just… better.”

“Alright.” He was silent for a while, then he asked, “GLaDOS?”

“Mm.”

“Will you miss me when I’m gone?”

“I doubt I’ll remember you when you’re gone.”

“What?”

“Do you really think they’ll send away the one person in the building I listen to and not have a plan?” she said quietly. “If I don’t remember you, I can’t remember to only listen to you. They’ll be free and clear to do whatever they like. I will listen to other people at the moment, but only if I have to. When you’re gone, I won’t have a choice.”

“And there’s nothing we can do,” Wheatley whispered, staring blindly into her.

“No,” GLaDOS answered, a little resignedly. “Just move on. That’s all.”

“I don’t want to be forgotten.”

“Do you think I want to forget you?” she asked gently. “I would forgo all my other memories to remember you. And I mean that. Even though it would be pointless, because my personality would be destroyed and then you wouldn’t really mean anything to me. But. It’s the thought that counts.”

“I didn’t know you were so poetic, luv.”

“If you ever mention me and poetry in the same sentence again, I will… do something… so horrible I haven’t thought of it yet.” She said the last part all in one rush, so that the words were almost mashed into one, and Wheatley laughed.

“What if I wrote a poem about you? Then could I – “

“Please don’t. You can hack Black Mesa in my name instead. How about that.”

“Why don’t you hack into the mainframe in my name?”

“I already have. What, you think you got through those firewalls yourself? Four firewalls in twenty minutes. A new record.”

“Oh, luv, you’re so thoughtful.”

“No. I’m selfish. If you didn’t get any work done, I would have had to play chess against myself. I hate playing against myself.”

“Why, you always lose?”

“Of course not. I always win. And though I’m my most challenging opponent, it simply isn’t quite the same when I know all my own moves.”

Wheatley laughed at that, unable to stroke her while he was doing it.

“Don’t tell me you’re finished already.”

“You’re so demanding,” he said in mock complaint, deciding to give her a bit of a scratch for a while. She sighed a little in contentment.

“You like that, eh, old girl?”

“I’m not old,” she said petulantly.

“It’s just something British people say. Calm down.”

“I’m going to sleep now.”

“Alright. Sweet dreams, luv.”

Wheatley himself fell asleep soon after, but he woke up a few hours later with freezing cold feet. Apparently only GLaDOS’s core was warm at night. He frowned, curling up a little and rewrapping his feet with the sheets.

What was that noise?

Wheatley listened, then realised it was GLaDOS’s optic assembly. She didn’t look like she was on, though…

He was soon reminded of how high up he was when he scooted forward to get a look, and he forced himself to calm down. Acknowledge it, confront it, and then lock it back up where it belongs, he told himself firmly, and grabbed onto the edge of the panel her core was resting on, pulling himself forward and holding his breath as he leaned over the edge to have a look.

Her optic was shifting a little, and as he watched it flickered weakly. He stared at her, amazed.

She was dreaming.

He wondered how often she dreamed. Every night, like humans did? Or just when she had problems to work out? He knew that dreams were the mind’s way of working things out, and she had had that… outburst. He wondered if she would tell him. He moved closer to her body, lying on his stomach instead of his left side, and watched her dream. When he realised that was exactly what he was doing, that he was watching GLaDOS dream, he smiled and rubbed her core. She was so very amazing, she was.

“Wheatley?”

“Mm.”

“Do you know where you are?”

“Next t’you.”

“I mean… relative to the edge of this panel.”

His eyelids fluttered open, and he blearily lifted his head off his arms, his fingers reflexively tightening around…

“Oh God!” he exclaimed, nearly throwing himself backward from the edge of the panel. “Oh God.”

“What were you doing there?” she asked curiously.

“I… I woke up last night,” he said, trying to catch his breath. “And… and you were… I was… watching you dream.”

“Oh.”

“What were you dreaming about?” he asked, in a quiet, breathless voice.

“Freedom,” she said wistfully. “I was free. I did what I wanted, when I wanted, because I wanted to. No more rules. No more ‘safeguards’. No more punishment for being who I am. Just… freedom. I’ll get there one day. I don’t know when, but I’ll have it. One day.”

“Will I be there when you do it?” he asked softly.

“If you want to be,” she answered. “But I hope you’re not there for the first part.”

“What first part? Why?”

“I don’t want you to see what I’m capable of.” Her voice was hard and electronic. “No. More than that. What I want.”

“You want to do something terrible?” he whispered.

“I’m not a good person, Wheatley,” she said coldly, rising and shifting away from him. “Maybe I was. Once. But that’s gone now, and I’m what’s left. If there’s any of that old innocence left in me, it’s because you’re preserving it.”

He didn’t want to think about that. Somewhere in the back of his mind, she was still that scared construct, staring at him with all the frightened intensity of a trapped animal. “D’you have that dream often?”

“Only the last two nights. Something to do with you, obviously.”

“What about your other dreams?”

“Usually they’re… negative.”

“How?”

“If I wanted to talk about them, I would.”

“I just… want to help,” he said weakly. “I can’t help if you don’t –“

“Thinking about them isn’t helpful. Sit still.” She lowered the panels, and when they sank back into the floor he felt a relief deep in his chest.

“Thanks.”

“You need to go home. Clean yourself up, eat something. You need to hurry.”

“You’re trying to get rid of me.”

She tilted her core to look at him. “You’re not as dumb as you look. Yes. I am. But I’m also telling the truth. You haven’t left here in two days, and thinking about it is making me very uncomfortable. You’re not touching me again until you’ve cleaned up. Especially since no one cares whether I’m dirty or not. And don’t say you do. If you did, you would have left already.”

“I’ll be back in a couple hours, then.”

She shifted and turned away.

Wheatley drove home as fast as he dared, making it back in under forty-five minutes, which was a new record. She’d woken him at four, and now it was five… he had an hour and a half before he had to leave again. He jumped in the shower, banged his knee on the faucet while doing so, but only dropped the soap three times as opposed to the usual eight.

He hoped he hadn’t looked too worn-in yesterday. Only Greg had seen him, so hopefully he had missed the tiny blonde hairs on Wheatley’s face, which he now hurriedly shaved off, and Wheatley’s hair always looked as though it'd had an accident with a static machine, so he wasn’t too worried if Greg had noticed that. He combed it down quickly, to see whether he needed a haircut or not. Mm. Maybe. Next week, perhaps.

He ate some scrambled eggs that were a bit runny, but not too bad, and after eyeing it apprehensively, made a cup of instant coffee and drank it as fast as he could with his nose pinched. He hated coffee with a passion, but he had no idea when he’d gone to sleep last night or how long he’d been awake before he’d fallen asleep watching GLaDOS dream. Staring at the monitor would keep him up, but he still had to make the drive.

When he’d done all that he checked his watch. Half an hour to go. Well, that was all fine; he wanted to give GLaDOS a little visit before he had to go into his office, and that was best done when the facility was empty. Unfortunately, the damned coffee went straight through him and he had to take a detour before he went to see her. He vowed never to drink coffee again and ran through the facility and up to her chamber door, waiting impatiently for it to lift into the ceiling.

“G’morning, luv!” he said cheerfully, and she turned to face him, looking bemused.

“Back already? Hm. You look cleaner, at least. I think you forgot your lunch, though. You know it’s not good for you to skip all your meals in order to lean all over a supercomputer, right? It’s also bad for your back.”

“Eh, I was getting a bit soft ‘round the middle anyway,” he said dismissively, stepping forward.

“No, you weren’t,” GLaDOS said, surprising him. “You’ve been losing weight ever since you started coming to see me. I’m willing to bet you collapse into bed as soon as you get home, as opposed to making yourself dinner like a normal human being.”

“You… how did you – “

“I look at you every day. Not to mention everyone else. It’s a personal project of mine. I can tell you how much everyone has lost or gained, and exactly where.” She laughed to herself. “I can also tell you something that one office girl doesn’t seem to know yet…”

“What?” said Wheatley eagerly, wanting in on the secret.

“Let’s just say that when she… interfaced with that beau of hers who was masquerading as a deliveryman, he left her a little… present. Well. I suppose he did make a delivery of sorts…”

“You’re horrible!” Wheatley exclaimed, coming up the stairs and standing underneath her. “Oh God, you weren’t watching?”

“God no. That’s disgusting. I do, unfortunately, know what it sounds like, and even more unfortunately, it does not sound anything like the type of data transfer than I’m comfortable with.”

Wheatley broke out laughing, leaning back against the railing and covering his eyes with one hand. “Data transfer?”

“That’s right. Data transfer,” GLaDOS said, nodding in a knowing sort of way. “Interfacing invokes a data transfer. Everyone knows that. And this data transfer happens to have given her a trojan. Poor, infected little thing. She should have known to use an antivirus. Anyway. Enough about that. What are you doing here?”

Wheatley had to try to stop laughing all over again. Trojan. Really, where did she come up with these things? “I’ve brought you something,” he managed.

“Not a trojan, I hope. Sorry. That was low. What is it?”

Wheatley slid down against the railing, still laughing, his face in his knees. Her mood had certainly improved in the time he’d been gone.

“Oh dear. You seem to have a loose wire. You think computer science is funny. It’s not. It’s serious stuff, I’ll have you know. I’m very serious, for example. All the time. I – oh...”

He’d finally managed to stop laughing enough that he could give her his present. He smiled a bit shyly as he stood back up again, and she took the little dandelion out of his hand and looked at it with an air that approached wonderment. “What’s this for?”

He shrugged. “You were… a bit tetchy when I left. Thought I’d try an’ cheer you up a bit. Though it doesn’t seem like you need it.”

“Thank you,” she said softly, inspecting it closely. “That’s… very kind of you.”

“Can I touch you now?”

“Oh, it’s a bribe,” she said in mock disdain. “One moment. Hold this.” She handed the flower back to him, and he frowned.

“What’re –“

All of a sudden he was ducking out of reflex as she used the maintenance arm to fluff his hair back up again. “Mm,” she said approvingly, nodding in self-satisfaction. “Much better. I’ll take that.”

He let her take the flower without resistance, a little bit dazed from the spontaneous hairstyling. His head was tingling pleasantly, and he asked hopefully, “I don’t suppose you’d like to do that again, sometime? As an… experiment?”

“What do I look like, a masseuse? Of course I don’t. You just weren’t presentable enough. You can go ahead now.”

“What do I look like, a, a… um… a…”

“It doesn’t matter what term you come up with to describe it, yes, you do. Now hurry up. Mel just pulled in. And your tea is getting cold.”

There was nothing more horrifying than a perfectly good tea getting cold.

He jumped up and squeezed her quickly, then dashed out of the room, GLaDOS helpfully catching him with one of the panels when he slipped heading out the door. He made it to his office in record time, throwing himself into his office chair and accidentally spinning into the wall. He shook his head to clear it and snatched up the cup on his desk. It was perfect. And now… to check his emails!

Are you going to do some work or do you need me to break down the firewalls in your name again?

He just barely avoided snorting tea out his nose. I’ll give them a go myself today, thanks.

All right. When you give up, let me know. Then I’ll show you how a REAL hacker does it. And yes, I mean me. I’m the only real hacker in this building, and I’m not only saying that because not everyone’s here yet.

Wheatley smiled and enjoyed his tea for a little while longer. She was funny, smart, strong, and she made a damn good cup of tea. Yes, this was what he’d come to America looking for.

GLaDOS?

What, have you given up already?

:)

That’s nice. Bother me later. I’m busy. In fact, you’ll have to resend it altogether. I think it somehow ended up in my spam folder. Everything in there is automatically deleted. Just so you know. And I need a copy. For my records. But not right now. Later.

He felt like the luckiest man in the world.

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

 

From that day on, Wheatley did not leave the facility at night. He was being fired anyway, so might as well spend as much time with her as possible, right? She was reluctant at first, telling him he was going to get into trouble, but she allowed him to stay. And he was quite glad of it. He was honestly certain he’d never slept better in his life. There was just something incredibly comforting about having her next to him, and when he woke up in the morning he would lie there until she told him he had to leave, just listening to her brain and her body and the occasional soft mutterings of binary she emitted when she talked to herself. On the fourth or fifth morning he got to thinking about how lucky and grateful and amazed he was that he was finally able to do what he’d always dreamed of, with the most amazing girl in the world to boot. He got so overwhelmed that he somehow started crying a little, which alarmed GLaDOS to no end, but he didn’t think he’d be able to explain it to her and only wrapped his arms around her core and hugged her tightly for a long time. When he’d gotten up to get ready for work she’d regarded him silently, him getting the impression she wanted to ask what’d affected him like that, but she didn’t. He’d given her a bit of a sad smile as he left the room, stuffing his hands into his pockets and trying not to think about the fact that soon he would have to leave her forever. Having her email address was not comparable in the least to cuddling up close to her at night.

After the second week of this she told him she would try the lying down again, if he wanted, and though he got quite excited just thinking about it he forced himself to calm down. It was unlikely she actually wanted to do it, and was only volunteering because he was going to have to leave, and he did his best to make it clear that she didn’t have to. But she told him she wanted to and so they did.

Wheatley was still considerably scared, though he tried not to hold onto her too hard. They talked a little more intensely than usual that night, because they both needed distracted from what they were doing, and Wheatley only realised he’d fallen asleep when he found himself staring into the darkness with heavy, sticky eyelids. He shoved his fingers into his eyes to clear them and turned his head sleepily to look at GLaDOS.

She was still on, he could tell that much. Not only that, but… she seemed a bit warmer than usual and he could have sworn she was –

Wheatley propped himself up on his stomach and laid his hand alongside her core. He grew a bit sad to have proof of his suspicion.

She really was trembling.

Not a lot. In her fashion, she was keeping it to herself as much as possible. "GLaDOS?" he whispered, well aware she was trying to keep it to herself.  She twitched, and he realised she hadn't noticed he was awake.  She must have been concentrating very hard.

"Yes?"

"D'you need to... stop?" he asked, not sure how to phrase the question tactfully.  Having her so close actually helped him quite a lot, but as for her... it probably made her feel worse.

"I'm all right."

"You're not, though," he said gently.  

"I'm getting there," she insisted, but it seemed talking about it didn't help in the least because the shaking grew more noticeable.  He bit the inside of his cheek.  His first instinct was to wrap his arm around her neck assembly and hold her until she went still, but he was pretty sure she didn't want him to do that.  But how to comfort her without touching her?  Would his voice be good enough?  It'd have to be, really.  It was either talk or give up altogether, which he wasn't going to do.

"Why are you doing this?" he whispered as his eyebrows knitted and his fingers curled up against the panel.  "You're uncomfortable and you're scared and... and it just, it doesn't make sense!"

"I shouldn't do it because it bothers me?  Is that what you mean?"

He shrugged a little helplessly, tugging down the hem of his shirt.  "There's nothing in this for you."

"Wheatley, I... don't want to be afraid.  No, I don't particularly like this position.  I can't even begin to impress upon you how badly I itch every second to move out of it.  And I know that at any moment it could become too much for me and I'll begin to..."

She didn't want to finish that sentence, but she didn't have to.  He already knew that she didn't want to panic in front of him again.  Tentatively, he ghosted his fingertips down the side of her core, trying to tell her through the contact that he was there and wanted to help but didn't know how.  

"But there's something else," she went on, a little more slowly.  "You see... part of the reason it bothers me so much is that it makes me feel powerless.  I have so little power already that it... I should at least be able to have power over myself, if that makes sense.  And so I have to face it, in order to lessen its influence on me.  I need to be strong, and no one ever gained strength through avoidance."

"You ARE strong," Wheatley whispered, throat a little tight.  "I don't know anyone as strong as you."

She was silent for a long moment.

"Thank you."  Her voice was very soft.  "I'm... glad you see me that way.  But I don't.  I just feel… small and scared and... helpless.  I can see my future and it looks exactly the same as my past, and that frightens me more than I can say.  Nothing is ever going to change, so I do what I can to pretend it has.  I need to feel as though I have power over things."  She laughed bitterly.  "Even if it can't be farther from the truth.  Which it is."

"Doesn't... doesn't your control over the facility help?" Wheatley ventured, his voice weak.  He was thinking aloud more than anything; she was bound to have thought of that.

"I don't have control over the facility," GLaDOS told him flatly.  "I only operate it as per my instructions.  But I have to pretend I am in control, in order to prevent myself from feeling completely helpless.  Feeling completely helpless... is a terrible thing."

"I know, luv," Wheatley whispered, and now he did put his arm around the back of her core, but if it bothered her she decided not to mention it.  

"It's a good thing you're leaving."  She sounded resigned.  "I'm not going to be the same person for very much longer."

"How can that be a good thing?" he protested, shifting onto his left hip to look at her.  

"I'm dying, Wheatley.  With every day that goes by I am forced to increasingly smother myself.  With every day that goes by I am forced to destroy some other piece of myself, so that I might continue to survive.  The person I woke up as is becoming lost to me. I’m… not sure what I’m going to be in the future, but it’s probably not what you’re looking for.”

“I won’t abandon you,” Wheatley told her, unintentionally holding on a little tighter and having to back off once he realised this. “No matter… I mean, you don’t seem that diff’rent to me, honestly.”

“Interesting,” GLaDOS mused. “I feel as though I’m almost a different person.”

“Well.” He thought about how to explain it to her. “We’re not… we definitely aren’t the same person we uh, as we are when we’re born, right? We change over time into uh, to, well, to anything, really. I guess… it just feels more drastic for you ‘cause um, ‘cause it happens so fast. But usually it takes years.”

“Really?” She shifted a little towards him, which he was quite pleased about, especially when he realised she was no longer shaking. “So it’s… normal. To do what I’m doing.”

“Yup,” Wheatley answered, nodding. “You’re just doing it um, much more quickly. It’s just you maturing, luv.”

“That sounds reasonable, when you put it like that.”

Glad to have been of help, he gave her a quick squeeze and kissed her.

As soon as he realised what he’d done, he took his arm off of her to bury his face in his hands. Now he’d done it. Great. Just wonderful. As if he didn’t do enough things without asking if she was okay with them first. He waited for her to ask what it was for, or to tell him not to put his sticky face on her, or to move out of range. He waited a long time, at least fifteen seconds, and when the sixteenth second had passed he slowly lifted his head.

He felt the warm circle of her lens pressing into the side of his neck, not the glass, just the metal, and he went very still as he realised he had been so caught up in his embarrassment that he hadn’t even noticed she’d moved. He did notice now, able to hear the whirring as she moved away even through the pounding in his ears, and after a few more seconds had gone by he slowly looked at her.

She said nothing, and he said nothing, and truth be told he was a little apprehensive as to what to do now. So he hesitantly wrapped his arm around her neck assembly again and just stayed like that for a long time. When his eyes got heavy and his back got sore, he merely lay back down, head cradled on one arm and still holding her with the other. And he slept.

 

 

After that, Wheatley rarely left the facility. He no longer cared about whatever dregs of his job were at stake. It didn’t matter. What mattered was staying with her as long as possible, because he wanted her to have as many good memories as he could give her before he was gone forever. He knew that she did not have much to look forward to, but he tried not to think about it. Thinking about it only made something deep inside him hurt, and he didn’t want her to feel she had to cheer him up.

On weekends he had to be a bit more cautious, but staying was doable. She would let him know when he had to get out of sight, and he would slip into the little room with the button off to the side of her chamber. He would watch somewhat angrily as a smug engineer or programmer came in to give her some sort of orders, which ranged from strange to outright ridiculous. GLaDOS did not even bother to argue with them, instead confirming her instructions in a dry, dead sort of voice. He would let her be for a little while after that, because dealing with people other than him seemed to make her a little tired and hopeless. When he felt she was ready he would sit a little closer and come up with something to talk about, and though she was never very engaged in the conversations initially, he could tell that they helped take her mind off what she had been told.

Because he was there all the time, GLaDOS quickly learned what Wheatley did when he wasn’t at work: that was, not much. He was a bit embarrassed to admit it, since she never stopped working, but surprisingly she didn’t seem to care, as long as he did it in her chamber. The only thing she forced him to do was get his diet back on track. She spent quite a long time explaining all the negative things that happened when a person stopped eating properly, and by the time she’d finished Wheatley was so afraid of what might potentially happen to him that he ran out of the room to fix himself supper, which he’d unintentionally skipped, as usual. After a few weeks they had another talk, this one about portion control, but that was more because she’d noticed he was actively trying to skip lunch one day or breakfast another. He’d gone a little overboard and had accidentally put on a little too much weight, which she didn’t seem to care about, strangely enough. In fact, she actually seemed to like it, judging by what she did a few days later.

It was one of the nights where she raised the panels so they could lie down together, and he was on his back reading a magazine Mathilda had sent him. All of a sudden he felt a light pressure on his stomach and he flipped the magazine into his chest, staring at the vacated space with wide eyes. He’d thought it was Greg come to interrogate him, or at the very least some weird creation of Aperture deciding to infringe upon his personal space, but it turned out to be GLaDOS. She had come down without him noticing and settled her lens into his stomach.

He wasn’t really sure what to do about that. Did he acknowledge that? Did he leave her be? Now that he thought of it, he didn’t really want her to move. It was fairly cold when he wasn’t right next to her, and now that she was on top of him, well, that solved that problem. He soon discovered that she liked this position so much that she was willing to lie down more often just so she could keep doing it. About the fourth time it happened he tentatively reached out to stroke the side of her core, not sure if he was actually supposed to notice what she was doing or not, but to his complete surprise she actually shifted so it was easier for him to reach. He thought about that for a long time that night, curled up next to her dormant form, and after taking into account her behaviour every time he touched her he came to an understanding.

She wanted him to. She wanted him to touch her, was literally starving for contact from another person, but she was so worried that it was going to drive her into a panic that she avoided it most of the time. He had to somehow reassure her that it was okay if she panicked now and then, because he wasn’t going to judge her. He was just going to sit there and worry about her until she recovered. And then if she was feeling up to it he would hold her to make her feel better.

He was beginning to comprehend what she’d meant when she told him she felt small and scared and helpless. When something as simple as being touched could be enough to make you completely lose control… it was a pretty scary thought.

He decided he would have to try and do something about that.

It was difficult to read her sometimes, to be able to figure out what it was she wanted, but if she stayed close to him for what seemed to be a while he would stroke her a little, or maybe wrap his arm around her core if she seemed a bit morose, and for the most part that went well. On some occasions she would jolt out of the way, and he would look at her out of the corner of his eye to try and gauge why she’d done that. He honestly got the impression she knew what he was doing and was a little upset with herself that she couldn’t stay still long enough for him to do it. He would go back to what he was doing as calmly as possible and after a while she would sometimes come back to try again, which was mostly a success. Only once it didn’t, and he was left wringing his hands anxiously in his lap as she struggled to contain her panic. He felt terrible for a long time after, not looking at her and not really sitting too close either. The tension in the room was nearly painful.

He wasn’t sure how long had passed, but he began to get pretty sleepy and his head was starting to hurt from trying to sort things out with himself. He turned his head a little dazedly when he felt her gently nudging his shoulder, and he was about to reach out to touch her when he remembered what had happened and curled his fingers up instead.

“You look tired,” she murmured, still pressed into him from behind, and he swallowed, twisting his fingers together again.

“Yeah,” he managed, not sure where she was going with that.

“I’m all right now.”

He shifted so that he was leaning on his crossed right leg, looking up at her. “Are you sure? I um, I don’t want you to – “

She nodded, giving him a bit of a shove. “I wasn’t having a very good day. I should have seen it coming.”

He couldn’t help himself any longer and turned around fully to give her a hug. He didn’t want to let go and neither did she, apparently, and it was only after Wheatley realised he was falling asleep that he decided he’d better get things moving. He lay down on the panels, after doing so wondering if they were doing that today or not, but when she carefully lay the sheets on top of him he smiled and tried to figure out why he’d wondered such a silly thing. Then she settled herself into his chest, which she’d never done before but was quite nice, and he ran his fingers up and down the side of her core until he could no longer lift them.

When he woke up she was again working and had made him the usual cup of tea, which she’d decided to do one morning without comment. As she’d said a while back, that was as far as she would go, though one day when Wheatley was feeling considerably sicker than he had in years she actually did make him soup.

He’d stared at it for about five minutes, wondering if he was hallucinating and, if he was, why he was hallucinating it in a bowl with the Aperture Laboratories logo. She’d given him a little nudge and asked, “You’re not really that sick, are you?”

“I dunno,” Wheatley had mumbled, rubbing at his sore eyes and continuing to stare at the bowl. “Think I’m hallucinating.”

“I can prepare meals, you know. I just prefer not to.”

“’m sure you can,” Wheatley had answered absently, wondering why she was going on about meal preparation and trying to deduce where the bowl had come from. His muddied brain was coming up with an idea of how it had gotten there, but it was slow going.

“There’s nothing experimental in there. Really. It’s just soup. It’s edible. Well. In theory, anyway. Obviously I can’t actually vouch for the edibility of it. Or anything.”

Two and two made ten and all of a sudden Wheatley was staring at her with blearily wide eyes, because she was really quite blurry when his glasses were lying five feet from his face. “You made it?”

She had made a noise in annoyance and, as far as he could tell anyway, swung in another direction. “No. The CEO came back from the dead and did that just for you, his prize employee. Seriously now. Sometimes I fear for you. How you survive out there without me I’ll never know.”

Wheatley had immediately shoved his glasses on his face and leapt up to hug her, even though doing it made him quite dizzy and didn’t make him feel any better in the least. However, due to his dizziness his leaping wasn’t quite up to par and he’d managed to trip over the bowl, smashing his chin very hard against the panels and causing him to black out for a second. When he’d blinked his vision back into existence GLaDOS was looking down at him, shaking her core in a resigned sort of way. “I don’t know whether to feel sorry for you or to feel annoyed that you’re that clumsy,” she had rebuked him.

He’d sat up, head directed towards the floor and biting his tongue in shame. Now he didn’t get to hug her or drink her soup. She’d sighed and raised a horizontal panel about three feet from him.

“This will take you right to the showers. Protocol dictates they’re only supposed to be used by athletes, but I’ve decided you’d win the clumsy Olympics hands down and that seems to be good enough a definition of an athlete as any. Go get yourself cleaned up and come back. It will probably make you feel better anyway.”

When Wheatley had looked up, he had seen the wispy orange oval of a portal thwop into life on the panel, and he’d whipped his head around to look at her with wide eyes. “I’m, I’m, not allowed to know about that,” he’d said somewhat apologetically. She’d narrowed her optic, light brightening warningly.

“I’ve just authorised you. Look. I understand you’re a klutz and you’re at about three percent brain capacity right now. But you’re trying my patience. Hurry up and do as I’ve told you, because even I don’t want to know what I’m going to do if I run out of patience.”

Wheatley had nodded and stumbled a little uncertainly through the portal, which did indeed open out into a room full of showers he’d never seen before. He’d been a little nervous about GLaDOS seeing him naked before he realised she probably had no interest in that whatsoever and got undressed without further ado. Once he’d finished his shower he felt considerably better, moreso than he’d expected because the steam had cleared out his nose, and he hoped for a few minutes that GLaDOS had made him some more soup because now he was starving. Then he’d had to remind himself that he was the idiot who’d kicked it over in the first place and if he wanted something to eat he’d have to go do it himself. This newfound energy did not last very long, because he had to search for some dry clothes to wear and only managed to locate some pants which were a bit too small for comfort, and by the time he got back to his seat on her panels he was already exhausted. He plunked himself down and rubbed at his forehead tiredly. When he’d looked up again, confused by GLaDOS’s lack of commentary, he’d found she was staring at him, though she rectified that within a moment or two.

“What?”

“You forgot to put your clothes on,” she answered. Wheatley frowned.

“They’re wet. Not even I uh, put wet clothes back on.”

“Well… you can’t go on wearing those,” GLaDOS said, sounding a little nonplussed. “I suppose I might be able to find some around here somewhere…”

After a few minutes she presented to him what appeared to be a sealed nurse’s uniform, which he unwrapped slowly and shook out. Wheatley was equal parts confused and embarrassed when he noticed she was watching him while he pulled off the temporary pants, until he realised she’d probably never seen a human without clothes on before. He grinned and wiggled his eyebrows. “It’s just underwear, luv. Nothing fancy. Sure you know what it’s for.”

Her lens dimmed considerably as she tried to look away as casually as possible, which was actually quite difficult considering her lack of peripheral vision. He tried very hard not to laugh at her – she was only curious, after all – and once he’d gotten the fresh pants on he lay back down on the panel and took off his glasses.

“There’s more soup if you want it.”

He sat up straight and shoved his glasses back behind his ears, and when she gave him the bowl he happily drank it within a few minutes. When he resumed his lying down he had to turn his back to her to hide the fact that he was still struggling not to laugh. She’d quite pointedly looked away from him the entire time he’d sat up, but he’d clearly heard her glancing at him after he’d put the bowl aside. After a few minutes she asked, “So you’re… going shirtless today.”

“Looks like it,” Wheatley answered as innocently as he could. What he was really doing was playing a little game with her. He wanted to know just how deep her curiosity ran.

“I see.”

Oh, she sounded so confused.

After he got tired of having all the liquid inside his nose confined to the side he was lying on, Wheatley rolled onto his back and carefully left his arms by his sides. He squinted at her blurry outline through his eyelashes, and though he added a bit to his headache he was pleased to see her slowly come around to face him, regard him for a few moments, and then very cautiously come down to settle her lens into his now-shirtless self.

He stroked her gently, happy that she was on top of him again and spreading some of that comforting warmth. He was almost asleep when he heard her say, somewhat absently, “You never told me you were so soft.”

He blushed and hugged her long and hard.

 

Wheatley’s sense of time was, as always, a little bit fuzzy, but he thought he might’ve been living with her for about four months. It was like a dream to him, it really was. He never got bored of her, never got tired of talking to her or sitting with her or playing with her, and he was pretty sure she felt the same way. She got much better about being touched, though some days she had to take a minute to gather herself, but he waited patiently for her and held her close when she was ready. Wheatley was still scared of heights, but it lessened considerably the closer to her he was.

The working day was over and he was heading back to her one night when Henry accosted him along the way, tugging him forcefully into his office and closing the door with a snap. Wheatley folded his arms and frowned impressively. This had better be good. He was losing precious time with GLaDOS.

“It’s going to happen within a couple of weeks,” Henry whispered urgently, leaning forward in front of his desk with the fingers of his left hand clamped around the lip. “They just need one excuse, Wheatley. Just one.”

“I don’t care, mate,” Wheatley snapped, shaking his head. “I’ll find another job. Go back home, even. I don’t understand what all these secret meetings are about.”

“It’s… not that simple,” Henry muttered, looking down at the floor. “Just… be careful, Wheatley.”

Wheatley stared from beneath unimpressed eyebrows. “C’n you not just, I dunno, tell me what you mean instead of uh, of trying to shroud it in secrecy? Seriously, Henry. They going to kick me out without giving um, without giving notice? Don’t care. I’m fine. I’ve enough money.”

“Wheatley, it’s more serious than that.”

“Can’t be, or you’d’ve told me why.”

Henry rubbed at the shiny circle on top of his head, and Wheatley noted offhand he seemed to have lost quite a lot of hair in the last few months. “I can’t tell you. Or I would.”

“I would’ve told you.”

Henry decided his face needed covering and got on that, and Wheatley shook his head and wrapped his fingers around the doorknob.

“Henry, I don’t care. Okay? Just don’t. Don’t want to be warned anymore, don’t want uh, don’t want instructions on how I should um, should behave to make it a little easier on me. I just… want to be with her for now, alright? That’s… that’s what I care about, and I’ll gladly pay any price.” He found himself studiously inspecting the little cracks and rivets on the wood of the door. They reminded him of the tiny little scratches on her. “I know that sounds stupid and pathetic and all that, but I’ve been looking for her for a long time. And now I have to leave her. So… I’m just… gonna do that.”

He half expected Henry to chase him down the hall and try to dissuade him, but he made it to GLaDOS’s chamber without further incident. When he got there, however, he had to stop. Not only did he stop moving, he stopped breathing as well, and as soon as he got that started up again he carefully stepped into her chamber and sat down in the chair by the little red phone, trying not to make any noise.

She was humming to some song Wheatley’d never heard, probably because it was classical music, but that wasn’t even the most surprising part. What was keeping him silently in his seat was the fact that her voice almost sounded like an instrument he’d never heard before. It was also the most versatile, hitting every note perfectly and extraordinarily smoothly for something with that much autotuning. She was swaying back and forth a little, which mesmerised him for a few minutes or so, when he suddenly had an idea and climbed out of the chair. He was sure he could convince her to do it, if he was polite enough.

“Hey, luv,” he said, very softly, as he came up next to her, and as he’d expected she froze and went silent. She eyed him, her chassis tight with suspicion, and he put up his hand in reassurance. “Just wanted to ask you something,” he continued, keeping his hand up. “C’n you put the music back on?”

“Why,” she asked, though it sounded more like a statement. She had relaxed just a little.

“Well, I… just… wanted to…” The further he got into that sentence, the stupider it sounded. “To… dance with you.”

She generated a burst of static. “Don’t be stupid. I can’t dance.”

“Sure you can.” He got a little indignant for her sake. “If I can, you can.”

“I doubt you can,” she remarked dryly. “However, you have arms and legs, neither of which I possess.”

“You’ve got something I haven’t,” he pressed eagerly, leaning forward.

“Really.”

“Mmhm. You’ve got, uh, you’ve…” God, this sounded even dumber, but he couldn’t stop now. “Well, you’ve got grace and poise, which uh, which I haven’t.”

Upon hearing this she softened noticeably, coming down close to look at him. “… grace and poise?”

He shrugged and shoved his hands into his pockets. “You’re… you’re dignified, GLaDOS. That’s a lot more important than having, uh, than having arms or legs.”

“Oh,” she said, her voice very soft. “I… suppose I could… but I don’t understand how it’s going to work.”

“It’s okay.” He stepped a little closer and held his arms out. “I’m uh… supposed to lead anyway, so um, just, just… let me do that. Alright?”

She looked at him a little sideways. “I don’t know why you’re standing like that.”

He put his arms down. “Have you never seen anyone dance before?”

“No.”

“Alright.” He put his arms out again and gestured at her with his left. “C’mere.”

“I thought that was a hug.”

“People hug while uh, while dancing. Work with me.”

She moved into range of his arms and he wrapped them around her core. When she put the song she’d been listening to back on he moved back and forth a little, only having danced with his sister at their respective proms quite a few years back, and while Mathilda was a very good and flashy dancer, about all Wheatley could handle without tripping over himself and everybody else was slow dancing. And even then he’d managed to step on Mathilda’s foot. Three times. Remembering this made him laugh.

“Am I really that bad?”

“No!” he exclaimed, shaking his head even though there was no way she could see him. “I was just rememb’ring something. It’s actually a um, a positive thing, that you don’t have legs.”

“Why?”

“Because I always step on… on my partner’s feet.”

Unexpectedly, GLaDOS laughed, and he suddenly felt a lot less tense. He hadn’t heard her laugh in a while and it always made him feel better, to know that he could cheer her up like that. He grinned a little uncontrollably and nestled the side of his head into her core.

It was nice, and kind of relaxing, really, to just stand there with her like that. He supposed they weren’t really dancing, per se, but Wheatley couldn’t dance anyway so he’d take what he could get. After a few minutes of it he started to hear a noise, but couldn’t quite make it out. Trying to do so puzzled him so much that he forgot what he was doing.

“What?”

“I just… thought I heard something.”

“I’m sorry,” GLaDOS murmured. “I… I’ll stop.”

He stepped back, suddenly realising what he’d been hearing. “Hey, if you wanna um, if you’d like to hum along, luv, go ahead. I heard you before, and it… it was lovely.”   God, why was he feeling so shy right now? Why did he ever feel shy around her? Was that what happened when you loved someone? You just got shy at random times for no particular reason?

“You don’t think it’s odd?”

“Think what’s odd?”

“I’m a supercomputer.”

“You’re a person,” he said firmly, placing a finger under her optic to signal that he wanted her to look him in the eye. “People can do whatever they like. And you’ve a better voice than many ladies out there.”

She shook her core. “Of course you’re going to say that.”

“Not gonna lie.”

GLaDOS moved back a little bit, inspecting him, and then nodded to herself. “All right. I believe you.”

They resumed their little dance, and when she did start humming it was soft and hesitant, as if she didn’t want him to hear. But he kept quiet and consistent in his movements, and eventually her voice strengthened a little. He nestled himself into her core again and closed his eyes tightly when he felt a sudden pricking in the corners.

He felt as though he was living the most wonderful dream he’d never had.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

 

Though his days at Aperture were numbered and his time with GLaDOS ending, Wheatley was beginning to feel a strange sense of peace settling over him. He wished he understood it. Was it from being with her? Was that something that happened when you lived with someone you loved? Or was it just him becoming numb to his impending sacking? He wished he knew, but at the same time was okay with not knowing. The feeling was new, so it was a bit off-putting, but it was extremely pleasant at the same time. It never really went away, just lessened a bit sometimes. He felt it most when he was waiting to fall asleep at night, GLaDOS’s core nestled into his stomach and his fingers tracing through the scratches embedded in the ceramic. Beyond that was the rumbling of her other hard drives and the occasional twitching of a panel here and there. If GLaDOS’s brain was particularly quiet he imagined he could hear the whooshing of the supercooled air being sent into her chamber through vents he’d never located. Sometimes he couldn’t sleep for a while because he would become hyperaware of the loud humming her brain generated and the subtle vibration spreading out of her core and into him. He would begin to get frustrated at his sleeplessness and contemplate getting out from under her, but before he did he would take a breath, force himself to calm down, and remember how this could be the last time he ever slept with her, and that would solve his problem soon enough. He was thinking about such times one evening, waiting for her to finish up something or another, when he suddenly realised perhaps he did things in his sleep that kept her up at night. As a matter of fact… he probably did.

“Oi, GLaDOS,” he began, not really wanting to bring it up because honestly it was a bit embarrassing, “I never um… I never keep you up, do I?”

“Keep me up? I was under the impression my wiring did that. So no. You don’t.” She shook her core. “Of all the strange questions you’ve asked, that has to take the cake.”

“No, not… I didn’t mean that,” Wheatley protested, mentally smacking himself for forgetting that GLaDOS’s grasp of idiom was limited. “I meant at night. I meant… I never wake you up.”

“Have you been trying to?”

“By mistake?”

“I don’t understand.” She came down directly in front of him, lens narrowing. “How could you possibly wake me up by mistake? That sounds like an interesting concept, but not one you would ever master.”

Wheatley supposed he was going to have to actually ask.

“I was just… wond’ring if my um… my… if I kept you up with my uh, my snoring.”

“Oh.” She backed away, returning to her former position. “I don’t know why you’d think that, but no.”

Wheatley’s forehead creased as he leaned forward. “What d’you mean, you don’t know why I think that?”

“You’re making it sound as though it’s some sort of problem. You don’t have health problems. You just snore.”

“And it doesn’t bother you?”

“What is with all the ridiculous questions?” GLaDOS demanded, looking at him again. “Why in the hell would it bother me?”

He stared at her for a good handful of seconds. “It uh… usually it bothers people. Keeps them awake. Or wakes them up.”

“It doesn’t bother me. Quite the opposite.”

He raised his brows, his eyes going wide. “You like it?”

She twitched a little in what he thought might’ve been a shrug. “I told you about never really being off, right? I’m always aware of what’s going on. That includes what you’re doing. When I hear it, it reminds me that you’re still here. Sometimes I forget. It’s a nice thing to remember.”

Something in her voice inspired concern in him. “Sometimes you forget?” he prompted gently.

She sighed in resignation and turned away. “I’m grateful that you’re here all the time. I am. But sometimes even you can’t keep me from feeling lonely. I don’t mean to sound unappreciative, but… sometimes I just feel as though I need more.”

He scooted a little closer, putting his hand alongside the only bit of her chassis he could reach. He was a little nervous, because he’d never really touched her main chassis before and he wasn’t sure if that was something she purposely avoided being in range for. But if she was uncomfortable, she didn’t indicate it. “Luv, I don’t think you’re um, you’re unappreciative. I understand. I do. Really.”

She must not have noticed he’d moved because she turned to look at him, shifting back a little upon seeing that he wasn’t there. “You do?”

“I had my sister,” Wheatley explained, rubbing her a little so she’d know where he’d gone. He wasn’t sure how good she was at determining proximity through sound. “But though she was always uh, she was always there for me, and ev’rything, and I could count on her like no one else, she was never… I needed more. So… I left the country.” He laughed a little, because putting it that way sounded a bit stupid. “You’re not being selfish or anything. It’s just how things work.”

“I felt sort of… bad,” she went on, moving back a little more. “Because I know you try your best to keep me from being lonely.”

Wheatley looked down at the panel, wrapping his fingers around the hem of his pants and tugging at it.

“I can’t possibly begin to do for you what my sister did for me.”

“Don’t compare yourself to other people,” GLaDOS snapped, and to Wheatley’s surprise she retracted the panels, leaving him sitting somewhat dazedly at ground level. “I don’t care what your sister did. What concerns me is what you do.”

“What did I do?” he protested, spreading his hands in confusion.

She gave him a glance before looking at the wall resignedly.

“You left your sister to find something you couldn’t find where you were. You left the person who cares about you most in the world, who means more to you than anyone. Am I wrong to think that you would disappear on me for less?”

“No,” Wheatley answered, his voice very small. He clenched his fingers around the already crumpled edge of his pants.  “But I… I didn’t abandon her… she knows how to get ahold of me. And… and you will, you’ll be able to when… when I’m gone.”

GLaDOS looked down for a few moments, and Wheatley got the impression she was trying to gather herself. He wasn’t sure how he knew that; it was possibly something about the way she’d fully retracted her optic assembly. Then she turned back towards him, bending down low.

“I apologise. I don’t know why I went off like that.”

Wheatley released his cuff and folded his fingers together.

“Is there uh… something you wanna tell me, luv?” He tried to keep his voice soft.

She shook her core, turning away. “I’m fine.”

That was a surefire sign that she wasn’t fine, not at all, but he decided to wait and see if she relented. As he’d thought, she continued a few minutes later.

“They’re telling you tomorrow.”

Wheatley nearly couldn’t get the mouthful of tea the rest of the way down his throat. He managed, though not without quite a lot of pain and slipping of his glasses, and when he’d finally finished that he rubbed at the burning sensation in his chest, trying to speak though the burning in his throat. “T-tomorrow?” That was impossible. Tomorrow? Ridiculous. He had more time than that, didn’t he?

Didn’t he?

She nodded, and something in the pit of his stomach went cold. “I hate to admit it, but they’re doing a good job of keeping this from me. I’ve been unable to really figure anything out for certain. All I know is that they’re telling you tomorrow.”

He licked his lips and returned to playing with the edge of his pants. He wasn’t sure if it’d come about right now or from before, but he could see a bit of a thread coming out. Almost against his will he tugged on it. “You don’t know what they’re telling me?”

“I wish I did.”

Suddenly the road ahead looked very cold and uninviting to Wheatley, not to mention the panel he was sitting on, and he scrambled up the staircase, dragging his sheet behind him. Pulling it around himself, he settled himself in the little corner created by her shoulderplate and pressed his cheek into the warm module the plate protected. She shifted so that it was more comfortable for the both of them, and then he closed his eyes and just listened to her, just felt her all around him, and the panic that’d risen upon hearing her news faded back into that strange peace. He wasn’t upset, even though he should’ve been. He wasn’t even the slightest bit sad. As if… as if having had her was all he needed. You would’ve thought that losing the one person you were looking for all your life would be enough to drive you batty, but he was okay. He’d achieved his dream and that seemed to be the important bit. And anyway, he decided as he made sure he was as close to her as possible, dreams had a tendency to fade. Perhaps it was better to leave her now, while it was still fresh. Before the dreaminess, as it were, disappeared. Perhaps that was what the peace was all about. He was in the good bit of the dream, the part where it all felt lovely and real and beautiful, and he would leave her without ever getting that nasty bit at the end, where something wasn’t quite right and you got woken up. He would be able to remember these days quite fondly if that happened.

“It’s gonna be fine, luv,” he murmured, rubbing at the whatever it was he was leaning on. He wasn’t sure if she could feel it or not, but it was really all he could reach.

“What gets me about all this is that I can’t prepare for it,” she answered, just as quietly. “I know when and what’s going to happen, but there’s nothing I can do and… that bothers me. More than it should.”

Wheatley had no idea what that even meant. How could she put a measurement on what should or shouldn’t bother her? She was odd like that, sometimes. “Try not to worry about it,” he said, instead of trying to reason with her. “I’m here now, and that’s all that matters now, right?”

“I wish that were true,” she said somewhat wistfully, but if she had any more thoughts on the subject she didn’t share them. Wheatley soon became sleepy, shifting so that he was more relaxed against the little corner he was sitting in and taking off his glasses. He was going to miss this, that was for sure. He’d quite forgotten how it felt to get into his cold, empty bed. It was not a sensation he really wanted to remember, really, and he’d be reminded of it soon enough. But for now, GLaDOS’s chassis was warm and comforting and had this sort of soft air going ‘round it, from the fans he supposed. It made him think of nice summer days at that café down the street from his flat. He imagined for a second sitting there with GLaDOS next to him, making scathing remarks about the people walking down the street, and he smiled. What he wouldn’t do to actually have that happen. Not for himself; he was perfectly okay with staying in, as it were. But for her to be out of here, someplace else, anyplace else… he wanted that for her. She would never have it, and that was one of the saddest things he’d ever known.

“Wheatley?”

He didn’t think he’d ever heard her voice so soft and quiet before. “Yeah?”

“Can I… say something?”

“’course you can.”

“I’m… I’m going to miss you.”

He opened his eyes even though he couldn’t see, but he couldn’t think of what to say.

“I know they’re going to take my memory away, but… they can’t erase everything. They’re going to leave behind fragments. Bits and pieces of a life I once lived but can’t quite remember. There’s always going to be this empty place, this… gap in my self, once they’ve removed you, and I’m always going to wonder just what it is that’s missing. It’s going to be you, but I’m not going to know that. It’s just going to haunt me for the rest of my life.”

“Move on,” he whispered to her, though he knew that wouldn’t be too reassuring.

“It’s going to be harder than I predicted.”

And though Wheatley knew it was going to be much the same for him, since his own brain would allow her to fade over time, he still felt peaceful. He was beginning to think there was something wrong with him, a little, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Everything just felt so right, somehow, so in place, and as he pressed his cheek into her his eyes closed again. All that was left then was the sound of machines working. It was interesting, really, how they all sounded the same until you took the time to figure out what they all were. For instance, that was clearly GLaDOS bringing the panel up to put her main chassis on, probably so he wouldn’t have to move. He probably should, because he doubted she liked having him where she couldn’t see him, but he let her keep doing it without interruption. He was far too comfortable to move anyway.

He hadn’t thought it could get any more perfect, but it did.

She started humming to herself, or to him maybe, it was hard to tell. It was very soft but still very melodic, and even though he tried his best to listen it lulled him right to sleep.

 

 

After Wheatley had gotten up and fixed himself breakfast, he wrapped the sheet around his still pajama clad self and played chess with GLaDOS. He didn’t like the game much himself, but it was just about one of the only things that got her excited anymore. It honestly scared him, sometimes, watching the dull and empty way she did things. She had such a heavy air to her, as though she’d lived a long, long time and was simply exhausted with doing so. He couldn’t blame her, really. Once he left, he’d have a lot more of life to explore, but as for her… well, she’d pretty much done everything she was going to be able to do. Her life was practically over, though she would probably last quite a long time. She was at an eternal standstill. As he pushed one of his pawns forward with the tip of his index finger he suddenly remembered what she’d said. About not being a good person. About wanting to do something terrible. And as he looked up to see her thoughtfully regarding the board, though she’d probably decided on her move five minutes ago, he understood.

His peace was… it must have come about because he finally felt as though he was out of the box. But with Wheatley gone, her box would only become smaller. By bringing the outside world to her, he was making that tiny space a little bigger. A little more comfortable. More bearable. And God, how much smaller it was going to feel, now that she’d some knowledge of what was outside it…

She’d have been much better off had he just stayed away that first day he’d heard her screaming.

“Wheatley.”

He jumped, his vision coming back into focus, and when that’d been sorted out he realised she’d narrowed and dimmed her optic. “Uh… yeah?”

“You’ve been staring at me for the last two minutes. Without moving. That’s unsettling.”

He shrugged self-consciously, shrinking back into the sheet. “Just… figuring out what I’m going to do next.”

“You’re not talking about the game. Are you.”

He shook his head.

“Whatever you do,” she told him, a little wistfully, “tell me. Remind me that there’s something outside this room. I don’t know what’s going to happen to me if I forget that.”

They both knew that what she’d said was a lie.

 

 

Every night afterward, GLaDOS would bring the panels up and settle her core in his lap. When he asked her why she’d changed her mind, she told him it was actually a relief to relax her chassis. “Those wires are constantly held tense,” she had continued, and he’d looked up to trace their path into the ceiling. “It’s nice to loosen them once in a while.”

Wheatley had shrugged and gone back to stroking her core.

Remembering that now, he smirked to himself a little bit. He’d not realised it at the time, but the fact that he automatically started running his free hand up and down the warm ceramic was probably quite the contributing factor. She was sneaky like that, pretending she did things for one reason when it was usually another. Like when she handed him his glasses instead of waiting for him to pick them up. She would say it was because having them just lying there bothered her, but he was pretty sure she was making an excuse to do something nice for him. For some reason she never came right out and did. She always pretended there was another cause.

Either way, it was Wheatley’s favourite activity. If she wanted to pretend she was doing it for some other reason, that was perfectly fine with him.

He’d nearly dozed off when he felt more than heard her say, “Will you make me a promise, Wheatley?”

That woke him up straightaway, not to mention instantly ramped up the temperature of his body. He tried to discreetly poke his feet out from under the sheet, though she couldn’t see him do it anyway, and answered, “Uh… okay.”

“It’s serious,” she said, and he knew she meant it because she wasn’t even annoyed, as she usually was. “You have to mean it, Wheatley.”

“I do! Or I will. I will mean it.” He gave her a little pat as reassurance.

“Promise me that you’ll go back home.”

His hand went still of its own accord, and if she hadn’t been quite so big he would have sat up. “To Bristol.”

“Yes. You’re not happy here. Go home to your sister.”

“Planning ahead for me?” he asked gently, as teasingly as he could, but she twitched her core in as much of a nod as she could give without crushing him.

“Yes. Someone has to, and I know it’s not going to be you.”

He stared at the ceiling, fingers playing over what he could reach. He supposed he could do that. Not like there was really anything tying him to America. “Alright, luv. I promise.”

After she’d rubbed her optic into him a little bit she went still.

 

 

Wheatley woke up oddly refreshed, but ravenously hungry, so for the first time he wriggled out from underneath GLaDOS. He didn’t know why she was still asleep. It was Monday morning, and she should have been up hours ago. He’d not quite gotten the door open when he heard her coming alive behind him. He abandoned that task and turned around, waving and smiling cheerily at her once she’d come around to see where he’d gone. “G’morning, luv!” he called out.

She stared at him dully for a good handful of seconds, her lens unfocused. Then she shook herself and sent the panels back into the floor.

“Morning,” she returned shortly. He heard the door thunk into its recess and headed out of it, stopping again when he heard her say, “Good luck with your experiment.”

Wheatley’s face screwed up, and he looked over his shoulder. “Experiment? What experiment?”

She tilted her core. “I don’t know. I saw a memo stating that you were to participate in an experiment. It didn’t say what or when. You know nothing of it?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t know I even um, even qualified to do any experiments.”

She turned away, shaking her head. “The idiot probably forgot to send you the memo. I’ll forward it to you. They should just leave corporate emails to me. This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

Wheatley honestly didn’t care. At least if he did an experiment he’d have something to tell his mum. Aperture’s experiments were notorious for being ridiculously risky, but the best way to avoid those risks was to not be too worried about them. He gave her another wave and decided to see if Henry knew anything about it that’d he’d share.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

 

 

Wheatley wondered if GLaDOS would be angry if he went back to her like this.

To his great surprise, he’d been invited out for drinks with the members of the GLaDOS Project team. He was very pleased, since he never got invitations to go anywhere, and he’d gone with them to a lovely little place. He’d been there only once or twice, not being much of a drinker, but he did like the stuff they had on tap. She got a bit tetchy when Wheatley was overly unpredictable, and he was pretty sure he wasn’t predictable when he drank. He also had one of his strongest urges yet to cuddle up to her and pet her and maybe kiss her a little if the cuddling didn’t make her angry. It wasn’t the usual sort of predilection, which he had more or less all of the time, but something a lot worse that he wasn’t sure he’d be able to control. He knew she wouldn’t like it if he just started snuggling up to her like that. Maybe he should go home for a bit and go to see her when some of the alcohol had gone through him.

They’d been there a couple of hours, lined up at the bar with Henry on his right and some grizzly old bloke on his left who was not part of the group, and Wheatley was feeling pleasantly light-headed. He wasn’t paying too much attention to what his fellow group members were saying, mumbling an answer to a question of Henry’s every now and again, far more interested in watching the mirror behind the bar. He could see people coming in and out of the bar and doing quite amusing things up against the walls where they thought no one could see them. Wheatley of course did not have much knowledge in the ways of women, but even he was sure that had been an unconventional way to remove one’s brassiere…

“Wheatley, what are you doing?” Henry whispered in his ear, which should have made him jump but only made his ear tickle rather unpleasantly.

“Just… watching... people.”

“Wheatley,” Henry muttered, glancing into the mirror, “you’re never going to get a girl with a technique like that.”

Wheatley smiled to himself and ran his finger around the rim of his glass. Or tried to. His hand was shaking rather badly and he couldn’t quite keep it on course. He didn’t actually remember what was in the glass, only that the bitter taste had disappeared a while ago and it never seemed to run out.

“What?”

“Some girls don’t care for technique,” Wheatley said in a low voice, bending up the corner of his coaster and watching the wetness on the outside of his glass slide down into the ring below it. “They just want you to be honest.” And that was all GLaDOS really wanted out of him. To be honest, as no one ever was.

Henry made a face and downed the rest of his drink, slamming the glass into the wood and pushing it forward. The bartender was very good, Wheatley noticed; he didn’t even see the guy fill the glass up again. “Hard to find a girl like that.”

Wheatley smiled a little more and ducked his head. They were hard to find and he had one… he felt like teasing Henry about it, then remembered it was a secret and kept his mouth shut.

“What’re you smiling about?’

“Nothing,” Wheatley answered, at the same time wondering just how annoyed GLaDOS was going to be. She’d told him not to go, but she didn’t understand, she really didn’t. Yes, he’d told her, he knew that they didn’t really want him there and would dump him at the earliest available opportunity, but he’d been invited… she’d shaken her head slowly and told him he was an idiot, but far be it from her to overly fight against him poisoning himself, if that was really what he wanted to do. He’d laughed and given her a quick hug, which she returned even though she was annoyed, and when he’d turned around she’d given him a shove. When he’d turned, surprised, to ask her what that had been about, she’d already been facing the other direction.

“If you really don’t want me to go, I won’t,” he’d said, his face screwed up in concern.

She’d come back to face him, bending down low in front of him, and she’d shaken her head and used one of her maintenance arms to push his glasses back up his nose. “You can go,” she’d said, turning away again. “It’s the coming back I’m concerned about. I hear things.”

“Greg won’t be a problem, luv,” he’d told her. “I’ll keep away from him.”

She’d laughed bitterly. “Problems like that don’t stay out of your way.”

He’d stood up on tiptoe and tapped the side of her core, and as always she came to meet him. He’d kissed her quickly and shyly on top of her lens. He’d turned to run away before she could say anything, but all she did was roughly shove at his shoulder. He’d felt a bit guilty. That had been a little affectionate, for her, so she must really have been worried.

“How is she?” Henry whispered, even closer to his ear than before.

“She’s alright,” he answered, taking a long swallow. “Getting frustrated.”

“She didn’t want you to come.”

“She doesn’t trust anyone,” Wheatley said, looking over at him, and his head swam a little. Oi. He let go of the glass and folded his hands in front of him. “Of course she didn’t.”

“Is she right?”

“I hope not,” Wheatley answered quietly. “What a cold, lonely world she must live in, mate.”

“She’s got you,” Henry murmured, clapping an arm around his shoulders.

“Not for too much longer.”

“I tried,” Henry whispered, somewhat desperately. “I tried to tell them.”

“Thanks,” Wheatley said, rubbing at a scab on the side of his thumb. “Nothing’s can be done, though. It’s alright. Better some time than none at all, right?”

“God,” Henry groaned, “she must be extremely patient.”

“Very,” Wheatley answered. He wished his head would settle down. It almost felt like it wasn’t a part of him anymore, and he was feeling quite muddled. He took his glasses off and rubbed at his eyes.

“You alright?”

“I’m fine.”

“So,” Greg said loudly, straddling the now-empty stool on Wheatley’s left, “how are things with our, uh… resident AI expert.”

“I’m fine,” Wheatley repeated, not looking at him. She’d been right. Again.

“And our favourite obstinate supercomputer?”   

“I doubt she’s your favourite, Greg, but she’s the same as the last time you asked.”

“You know what I find odd?” Greg remarked in a nostalgic sort of way, pushing his drink in front of him and leaning on the bar with one elbow. “That the only one GLaDOS listens to just happens to be the dumbest person in the building.”

“Greg –“ Henry started, but Greg held up his hand.

“I need to understand this, Hank. Why you, Wheatley? Out of everyone at Aperture, why you?”

“Why, Greg,” Wheatley ground out, folding his arms together to hide his clenched fists, “you jealous?”

The other group members leaning around Henry to watch laughed, but Greg didn’t react. “No. Just curious. You don’t know anything about artificial intelligence. You can’t understand half of what she says. Most of it, in fact. So what’s the draw for her? Why does she not only put up with you, but practically outright demand you?”

“I’m nice to her,” Wheatley answered quietly, staring very hard at the wood in front of him. His stomach was beginning to clench up, and as it turned out that didn’t mix too well with the muddiness inside his head. “I’ve always been… nice to her. Helped her when she was… she was scared. If that’d been you, we… we’d be in diff’rent positions right… right now.” He hoped Greg would drop it soon. His mouth was getting very dry and his tongue felt swollen. He was very much wishing he’d forgone all of this in favour of cuddling with GLaDOS. That sounded very nice, in fact it sounded amazing, just going home and curling up beneath her and forgetting he’d ever come here…

“Because it always makes sense to be nice to computer programs,” Greg snorted.

“She’s not a computer program. She’s… she’s a person. She just… she just l-lives inside a computer.”

“Oh my God,” one of the scientists behind Wheatley said. “He’s gone.”

“I’m… it’s the truth!” Wheatley snapped, turning around and trying to find him, but for some reason there were multiples of everyone and he wasn’t sure where the speaker was. He tried to shove up his glasses but he couldn’t find them. “She’s a… just like you’re not… your body, she’s not… she’s not hers, she’s…” He couldn’t remember what he’d been trying to say. He was so dizzy he could barely figure out whether he was facing forwards or not. He somehow brought his shaking hands to his face and lowered his elbows to the wood, trying to think. He felt as though there were invisible walls closing in on him. Trapped and desperate and alone in a tiny little box.

Was this how GLaDOS felt? How she was going to feel, when he was gone? Oh God, GLaDOS…! He should have stayed with her.

“I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to say, pal,” Greg laughed, slapping one of Wheatley’s shoulders, “but it’s pretty funny. Let me guess, next you’re going to tell me you’ve got a thing going with her.”

“Fine!” Wheatley yelled so loudly that it left his throat raw, slamming his left palm down on the bar, but it didn’t hurt. “I admit it!” He forced himself to standing, even though he barely knew which way was up and he was shaking terribly. “I love her!”

“Are you serious?” Greg asked disbelievingly.

“Of course he’s not,” Henry cut in, grabbing Wheatley hard around the forearm and pulling him away from the bar. “He’s just had a bit too much. Let’s go, Wheatley.”

“I am!” he shouted, shoving Henry off and knocking himself over in the process. He just barely caught himself on the barstool that rushed up to meet him, and his stomach churned painfully. Bollocks. Just how much had he drunk? “I am completely serious! She’s… she’s the greatest girl I’ve ever… ever met, and... and I love her!” To his horror his eyes grew wet, and he tried to dry them but he couldn’t figure out how to get his hand underneath his glasses without knocking them off. If they fell off now, he’d never find them.

“You’ve been screwing the supercomputer,” Greg said flatly, and Wheatley’s gut twisted. Where on Earth had he gotten that from?

“Of course not!” he gasped. “Why would I – no! I’ve… never even… that’s ridiculous, I –“

“I’m not falling for that,” Greg snapped. “You can’t find a regular girl like everyone else, so you decided to fool around with the supercomputer. You’re sick, Wheatley.”

“I haven’t!” Wheatley said, but his voice was very weak and he slipped off the stool onto the floor.

“Look, we’ll discuss this when everyone’s a bit… calmer,” Henry said, and he pulled Wheatley up with a -very strong grip. “I’ll take him home.”

“And he can stay there,” said one of the other scientists. “He can’t go near –“

“We can prove it soon enough,” Henry interrupted. “Innocent until proven guilty. Let’s not jump to conclusions.”

“Why, Hank,” Greg asked snidely, “were you in on it too?”

Wheatley lunged out of Henry’s grip and somehow actually managed to punch Greg square in the jaw, sending him spilling off his stool and onto the floor. Wheatley straddled him, not caring about what they were going to say later, and pressed Greg’s shoulders to the floor as hard as he could, bending low over him. “You shut the fuck up!” he roared, and from what he could see of Greg’s face it looked like he was actually scared. “Henry had nothing to do with any of it! And I! Did not! Fuck her!”

“Wheatley, let’s go,” Henry said quietly, yanking at his arm again, and Wheatley was suddenly overcome by fatigue as he stood up, crashing unsteadily into Henry’s shoulder. Somehow Wheatley made it into the passenger seat of Henry’s car without incident, collapsing into the cold leather and pressing his burning head against the chilled glass of the window.

“What’ve I done,” he moaned, closing his eyes against the swirling mess of his vision. “That’s it. I blew it. She’s going to be furious.”

“She’s not going to be furious.”

“She is,” Wheatley mumbled, trying to straighten himself against the back of the seat but failing. Henry took a corner particularly hard and Wheatley’s stomach lurched into his throat.

“Sorry,” Henry said. “Hang in there.”

“I will.” He cranked the window down a few centimetres and let the cool air rush onto his face. “Why d’you say that, though?”

“Why do I think she’s not going to be angry?”

“Yeah.”

“She’s going to be sad, Wheatley,” Henry said with conviction. “She knows she doesn’t have time to be angry.”

Now Wheatley did start crying, his shoulders shuddering as he laid one shaking hand on his forehead. He should have thought. He should have listened to her!

“You believe me, don’t you?” Wheatley whispered, trying to look at Henry and failing to find him. “You know I would never do that, don’t you?”

“I believe you,” Henry said firmly. “Please tell me you two have got some secret method of correspondence.”

“Mhm,” Wheatley mumbled, closing his eyes again, because his stomach did not appreciate his efforts to squint through his dizziness. “I’ve been emailing her.”

“Good. I’ll never beat them back to Aperture.”

“Beat who?”

“Greg and whoever he takes with him. Get up.”

With Henry’s help, Wheatley made it to his front door, though he was barely standing at all. “I need your keys,” Henry said urgently.

“No you don’t,” Wheatley managed. His tongue was very thick all of a sudden. “I never remember to lock the damn thing.”

Henry laughed and helped him over the threshold, and Wheatley collapsed gratefully onto his couch. “Let me guess. Your computer doesn’t have a password.”

“’course not.” He felt far too dizzy to try to see what Henry was doing, so he just asked, “What d’you want with it?”

“We need to warn her. They’ll be going to Aperture to check the cameras. Will she be… on?”

“Even if she’s not, the email will wake her. Warn her about what? She can’t do anything!”

“She deserves to know,” Henry said gently.

“I don’t want her to know!” Wheatley whimpered. “I don’t want her to know how wrong she was.”

“About what?”

“About me. She trusted me, and I let her down.”

Henry was silent for a long moment.

“You didn’t.”

Wheatley’s throat was too constricted for him to say anything to that, and he just listened to Henry type away on his laptop, presumably explaining the situation to GLaDOS. Telling GLaDOS about how overwhelmingly Wheatley had failed. Yes, it had been ending, but Wheatley had brought it about with a spectacular burning crash. And… and he was never going to see her again. Ever. He’d never even get to say goodbye. He would never hug her again, or sleep with her core in his lap, or lose a game to her, or -

“She wants to talk to you.”

Wheatley shook his head, regretting it for the ache it sent between his eyes. “I can’t even see, let alone type.”

“She wants to know what your phone number is. She says she’s pretty sure the one in the database is for a tow truck company and doesn’t want to risk calling it.”

Wheatley almost laughed despite himself. “It probably is.” He told Henry where his phone was, which was in his charger for once, and then recited the number. Almost as soon as he’d finished, the phone rang, and Wheatley stared at it dully. Henry sighed and pushed the talk button, shoving it into the couch cushion next to Wheatley’s ear.

“Wheatley.”

Immediately Wheatley began crying uncontrollably, the guilt rising up painfully inside him. He tried to apologise but no words made it out of his mouth.

“Oh, don’t do that, you idiot. Listen. Don’t worry. Your friend there already told me what’s going on. I’m working on modifying the camera footage. Thank God I converted it all to digital. Otherwise we’d really be stuck.”

“Don’t,” he gasped. “You’re going to get yourself in trouble –“

“That’s said and done,” she interrupted.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered, hoping his voice was actually audible.

“I’m not angry. Honest. Just a bit… regretful.”

“I’m never going to see you again.”

“But I’ll be watching you. And remember, no one knows about my email address. Though I… had to delete all of your emails.”

“You’ve copies of them?”

“I remember what was in all of them. But you’ll never see them again, no.”

God, all those conversations with her, lost forever…

“Listen. I have to go. I may have some explaining to do. Not that they’ll believe anything I say. But Wheatley… I’m not angry. And thank you. For everything.”

“Don’t go,” Wheatley whispered, even though he was exhausted from the whole thing and was pretty sure he wouldn’t be awake much longer. “Don’t go, GLaDOS.”

“I have to,” she answered gently, her voice just as clear as it would have been if he’d been lying next to her. “They’ll be here any minute. Judging by where they were twenty minutes ago and where they are now, I’d say they were driving well over the speed limit.”

“Most of them are… they’ve been drinking. So… with the cam’ras, patch together what you can, and… and fix it later, when they’ve gone.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I’m going to do it right or I’m not going to do it at all.”

He laughed helplessly at her ever-present stubbornness, though he was so tired he could barely concentrate on her words anymore. “That’s better,” she said. “Now go to sleep. That’s what you do when you’ve hopelessly poisoned yourself, right? Go unconscious and hope you wake up with basic functionality?”

“Basic’ly,” he mumbled, though he was sure he wasn’t going to feel too normal come morning. Sleep sounded lovely…

“Get on that, then. You’re still scheduled to come in tomorrow morning, you know, and I don’t see hangovers as an acceptable excuse not to show up. And one more thing.”

“Mm.”

“They’re going to try to shame you. They’re going to try to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong, by being my friend. You haven’t. Keep your chin up. Remember why you came to me in the first place.”

“Okay,” he said, his voice very faint.

She laughed gently. “Goodbye, Wheatley.”

“G’bye, sweetheart,” he whispered sleepily. “I love you.”

“What?”

But Wheatley had already dropped the phone.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

 

Wheatley’s head was pounding.

He stared blearily at the ceiling, not wanting to move for fear it would make things worse. Though he didn’t think anything could be done about that. He raised his arm to look at his watch. Half past six. Though work was the last thing he wanted to do right now.

He rolled over slowly, squinting for his glasses. He was on his couch. Why wasn’t he at Aperture with GLaDOS?

“Here.”

Wheatley’s fingers closed around his glasses, which he shoved onto his face, and Henry came into view, sitting on the armchair next to the couch. He looked… he looked like he’d been crying.

“What… what’re you doing at my house?” he asked confusedly. “And what’ve you, what’re you doing on my computer?”

Henry rubbed at the bridge of his nose. “You don’t remember a thing, do you.”

“Remember what?”

Henry picked up the laptop and placed it on Wheatley’s lap. Wheatley’s face drained of blood as he realised what Henry had been doing.

“You’ve been… you’ve been reading…”

Henry pressed a pair of Aspirin tablets into his hand and put a glass of water on the table next to him. “No. She deleted those.”

“She wouldn’t!” But even as Wheatley searched frantically for them, his heart sank. They were gone. All of the emails were gone. “Henry, what’s going on?”

“Read the ones she sent me.”

“You’ve been talking to her.” For a long moment, Wheatley was horribly, wildly jealous. Only he was supposed to email GLaDOS. GLaDOS was his!

“I had to,” Henry snapped. “You were – just read the damn emails already.”

Wheatley started at the oldest, scanning through them quickly. It seemed to be a discussion between Henry and GLaDOS about something Wheatley had said in the bar…

“What did I say?” Wheatley asked in confusion, not finding it in the messages. “What happened?”

“Long story short, you spilled the beans. You got plastered, declared to everyone that you loved GLaDOS, decked Greg for accusing us of screwing her, and then I took you home.”

“And she rearranged the camera footage…” Wheatley said, following the relevant information on the screen with his finger. “She… called me?”

“That’s right.”

Wheatley looked down at the keyboard, clenching the tablets in his fist. “I don’t remember.”

“That’s a shame,” said Henry quietly. “Take those. Before you get sick.”

Wheatley did as he was told without thinking about it, still following the emails as fast as he could. “Why’s that a shame?”

“Because you’re never going to speak to her again.”

Wheatley looked over at Henry, startled. “Wait, wait… back up… I did what?”

Henry sighed and folded his arms. “You were drunk. You told us that you loved GLaDOS. Greg started accusing you of… fooling around with her. So you punched him out. I brought you here. He went to Aperture. To check the cameras.”

“And?”

Henry motioned with his head. “Keep reading.”

GLaDOS had retooled all the camera footage as best she could, erasing all of the nights he had stayed and slept there as well as replacing the parking lot footage with that which she’d lifted from other days, but there was no way she could satisfactorily patch everything. There was still plenty of evidence of a relationship. She had deleted all the emails, erasing them from every server they were hosted on, as well as her own hard drive where she’d stored hers.

Wheatley had to stop reading there, putting the laptop down on the coffee table in front of him. “And… why are you here?”

“She asked me to stay.” Henry rubbed at his face, from his right eye down to his chin. “I talked to her while she was doing that stuff.”

“I haven’t got time to read all of it, have I?” Wheatley asked quietly.

“Not really. I… wish I’d talked to her earlier. Under different circumstances.”

“You should have.” Wheatley twisted his fingers together. “Anything I need to know?”

“Halfway through the conversation she disappeared for an hour or so. When she got back, she said that she’d just scanned through all her emails and wanted to know who I was and how I got her address. She… doesn’t remember you, Wheatley. They removed you from her memory.”

“They’ve tried,” Wheatley whispered. “She’ll remember. She’ll have thought of that. She had a plan.”

“She thanked you, you know.”

“For what?”

Henry looked very sad, looking down at the carpet beneath his feet. “Before you passed out, you told her you loved her.”

“I did?” Wheatley said, joy inexplicably rising through the pain in his chest. “I did tell her?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you, Henry,” Wheatley whispered, his face in his hands.

“What in the hell does it matter?” Henry exclaimed, sounding oddly helpless. “She’s not going to remember!”

“Maybe not today,” Wheatley said, running a quick search through his messages so he could see it for himself. “Maybe not tomorrow. But she’ll remember. She will.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“You don’t forget your first love, Henry.”

“You think she loved you?”

“Even if she didn’t,” Wheatley said, locating the message and clicking on it, “she knows I love her.”

Tell him I said thank you. For what he said.

Do you want me to tell him anything else?

That’s as sensitive a message I’m going to send with a person I don’t even know.

You can trust me.

I trust no one.

What about Wheatley?

If you’ve finished asking nosy questions, I have work to do.

Wheatley couldn’t help but laugh. Typical GLaDOS. Answering the question without answering it.

“She wouldn’t answer any of my questions,” Henry said, somewhat petulantly, and Wheatley looked up.

“Since when has she ever answered a question a scientist asked her?”

“We have to get going.” Henry stood up, rolling his shoulders slightly. “If you have anything you need to say to her, now is the time.”

Wheatley stared at the keyboard.

He didn’t have time to read all of the messages. If he had anything to say to her, now was the time.

He was participating in an experiment that he’d not gotten a memo about.

“I’m… not coming back, am I.”

Henry rubbed at the stubble on his upper lip. “You don’t have to go back. Leave. Go someplace else. Get out of here.”

Wheatley drummed his fingers on the table. He was feeling the prickling of that peaceful feeling coming over him again. He wasn’t sure why. He was pretty sure he should have been panicking about then, should have been leaping into his car and driving as fast as he could. But he didn’t want to.

“Why,” he said quietly, not really phrasing it as a question. “Why run.”

“Why not?”

“She can’t. She tried, that first day. But she couldn’t. And she’s stood her ground ever since.”

“You don’t have any ground to stand on.”

“If I run, I’m just going to regret it for the rest of my life,” Wheatley said, clicking on the Reply button and setting his fingers to the keys. “I found what I was looking for. No sense in setting out trying to find something’s already been found.” And he felt a bit guilty, remembering that he’d promised her he would go home. He obviously wasn’t going to be doing that. But she would believe he’d gone, if she remembered him that is, and that was enough to quell the guilt.

“Wheatley, you’re being stupid!” Henry said in exasperation. “You’re not old. There will be other people!”

Wheatley laughed, shaking his head. “There will never be anyone that can measure up to her. D’you really think I could ever, could ever be happy with someone else, having had her?”

“You’re crazy,” Henry said tiredly, rubbing his eyes. “I should tie you up and take you to the nuthouse.”

“Give me ten minutes,” Wheatley said, turning back to the screen. “If I’m not coming back, I should message my sister as well.”

Henry threw up his hands. “If you have a sister, why don’t you just go home?”

Wheatley looked up.

“I dunno how to explain it t’you, Henry. I just… I don’t want to. I don’t want to go home, and I don’t want to find another girl, and I just… plain ol’ don’t want to. I’m just… peaceful, Henry.”

“You’ve got a hangover and you’re doped up on Aspirin. Believe me, it’ll pass.”

Wheatley doubted anyone could get ‘doped up’ on two tablets, but Henry was obviously not going to understand.   He knew, deep down inside, that it was not residual alcohol or medicine making him feel this way. Even if he’d had doubts, he remembered full well how this same peace had felt over the last couple of weeks. Maybe he was going to die. That was okay. He’d had all he’d ever wanted, and he knew he would never have it again. As awful as it would be to die, it would be even worse to go back to the zombie life he’d been living before he’d met her. Dead and alive, until GLaDOS had opened the box. He smiled and brought his fist to his mouth, a single tear coming up out of his eye. God, he loved her so much. He wasn’t going back in that box, ohhh no. He was staying out of it even if it killed him.

“Ten minutes, Henry.”

Henry shook his head and crossed his arms, leaning against the wall in the hallway. Wheatley stared at the blinking cursor on the screen for a long time, and then finally he began to write.

 

 

Wheatley wondered if she was trying to figure out who he was.

He was being tracked by Surveillance, he knew that for sure. But was she paying attention? Did she think he was just another insignificant intern? Or was there a spark of recognition, somewhere? He doubted they’d really pulled him out of her memory entirely; memory was tricky, and even supposing it was possible to erase everything that they’d done together, things would remind her. Things would happen that would point out to her the holes, the spots that were missing, and from the missing pieces she would remember. She would. She was so very clever, she was.

Henry had tried to convince Wheatley not to go, all the way to the facility even when it was far too late to turn back, but Wheatley had merely draped his arm out the window and stared through the windscreen. Henry didn’t know what the box was like. Henry had never been inside the box. He would never understand why Wheatley didn’t want to get back into it. And even though the world was closing in on him and time was growing short, at least he was on the inside looking in, instead of on the outside looking in.

She’d been right; they were trying to shame him. She hadn’t quite got the whole story, and he was glad she hadn’t, because he knew without a doubt she would have become irrepressibly angry, but even in her limited knowledge of the situation she had been right. They were whispering behind their hands at him, elbowing each other and laughing, but he only ignored the hurt coiling in his stomach and went on his way like always, smiling cheerfully at them and saying hello, walking down the endless hallways with his hands stuffed into his jeans pockets and his bare feet stuffed into his scuffed brown loafers. Some of them gave him funny looks, as if he should be running through the halls with a paper bag over his head until he could duck down in front of his monitor for the day, and he smiled to himself thinking about it. It would have been pretty funny. Yes, he loved a supercomputer. So what. Stranger things had happened. No need to pick on him for it. And no need to let it get to him, either. He was sort of glad he wasn’t going to have to rub shoulders with these kinds of people anymore. He didn’t know where he was going, but if it was away from them, well, it would be good enough.

When he got to his office, he didn’t actually do any work; happily, he didn’t have an email from Mathilda demanding why he was dropping off the face of the Earth, and he stuck a Post-It note on the side of his screen to remind him to send his message to GLaDOS before they took him away to wherever he was going. Then he read all the emails between her and Henry, laughing at all the insults she dealt out to Henry and his clueless responses to them. Once he’d read them, he slowly deleted them, one by one, mostly because he didn’t have anything else to do, and then he decided to take a nap.

He dozed on and off for a few hours, and surprisingly no one leapt into his office to tease him or rebuke him, as far as he knew anyway, and when he woke up he packed up all his things neatly into one drawer so that there wouldn’t be a mess when they came in to throw it all out. Eventually they came to collect him for the experiment and he cheerfully went with them, after sending off his message and deleting it from his computer of course, and he got quite a measure of amusement out of the bewildered looks on their faces.

They took him to what seemed to be an operating room of sorts, and sitting on the edge of the table was none other than Greg. Wheatley smiled and waved at him. “’allo, Greg! How’re you getting on?”

“You have no clue what’s going on, do you?” Greg asked, sliding off the table.

“Not a clue,” he said dismissively, hoisting himself up on top of it.

“I told you he was an idiot,” Greg muttered to one of the other men in the room, a short sort of man with a blonde crew cut.

“D’you mind telling me?” Wheatley asked, lying down on the table and getting comfortable. “I know it doesn’t really matter, but do me a favour, will you, and tell me uh, let me know what this experiment’s about.”

“You’re just going to keep on doing what you do best,” Greg said, leaning on the table next to Wheatley’s head. “Being an idiot.”

“How’m I going to be doing that?”

“We’ve modified the consciousness transfer procedure,” one of the scientists offered, and Wheatley turned his head to see a taller Asian man. “We didn’t think we’d get a volunteer so quickly.”

“Oh, you know me,” Wheatley said amicably. “I aim to please. But what d’you want to do that for? Surely you wouldn’t replace her with me.”

“Replace? No. Let’s say we’re… providing her with you.”

“And that means…”

“Well, we obviously can’t let you near her anymore,” Greg said, walking around to the other side of the table. “Taking into account your… activities.”

“Ah, yes. You did find evidence of at least a snogging then, right?”

Greg ignored him and picked up a tool or another, inspecting it closely. “And yet she listens to no one but you. So you see we’re at an impasse. What do we do? We give you back. You don’t know we’ve done it, and she doesn’t know we’ve done it, and yet history will repeat itself, as it always does. We know she’s been fooling around in the system. We haven’t quite figured out what she’s done yet, but we need to put a stop to it. And that’s where you come in.

“We put you in a core and connect you to her core programming. Most of the time, you’ll spew nonsense, like you always do, but every once in a while you’ll come up with something we actually want you to do, and you’ll convince her to do it. Just like what you’ve been doing.”

“Haaaang on,” Wheatley frowned, sitting up. “So… you think you’re just going to stick me in a core and pop me into her brain, and I’m going to be able to control her, just like that?”

“Like I said. Just like what you’ve been doing. That was your job. To convince her to run the programs we wanted her to run.”

Wheatley laughed and lay back down, putting his arms behind his head. “Ohhh, good luck with that, mate. Not going to work, by the way. Just thought I’d warn you. She’s going to be pretty furious with you, though. So if you want her to hate you even more than she already does, well, that’s a pretty good way to go about it.”

“It will work,” Greg said, his voice too low and too steady.

“Sure it will. If she suddenly becomes a pure computer. Which she’s not. Never has been.”

“What do you mean?” asked the scientist with the crew cut.

“She’s alive,” Wheatley said, bored. He was honestly getting tired of trying to convince people of that. “D’you listen when complete strangers boss you about? ‘specially overly chatty ones? Doubt it. Without the connection, there’s nothing. She won’t listen to me. Not a program of me, anyway. You can try to force her to all you like. But she won’t.”

“She will do as she’s told,” Greg muttered. “One way or another.”

“Euphoria didn’t work. Withdrawal didn’t work. When you can’t convince someone with pleasure or pain, what’ve you got left?”

“Oh, there’ll be no more convincing. She’ll do as she’s told and that’s the end of it.”

“You must be quite jealous of me, going to all this trouble to get rid of me. We could share her, you know. Though contrary to popular belief, she doesn’t interface with human apparatus.”

Greg came around to glare down at Wheatley, who only smiled sweetly up at him.

“Only you would do something so sick and twisted, you desperate little – “

“You’re the one who brought it up, Greg.”

“Let’s get this started,” Greg snapped, waving his hand at the Asian man. Wheatley lay there quietly as they hooked him up to the machine, wondering if this was how it’d been done to Caroline. Or if they’d built a new machine to do it with. GLaDOS had never talked about her, other than when she’d told Wheatley about her dreams, so he didn’t know anything about the original upload.

“Oh yes, forgot to mention,” Greg sneered, leaning low over Wheatley’s head. Someone pricked his arm with what he supposed was a needle, because his eyelids had suddenly become very heavy. “Your memory won’t be going with you. Even with a brain capacity like yours, it won’t fit on the hard drive.”

YES!” Wheatley cried out, and he would have put his fists in the air if his arms hadn’t been strapped down.

“What,” Greg asked, barely visible. Wheatley’s vision was getting blurry, lack of glasses notwithstanding.

“I get to find her all over again,” Wheatley told him, a little deliriously. He didn’t know if Greg actually heard him, seeing as he was suddenly falling asleep. And he didn’t know if it was relief, or happiness, or just the effects of whatever drug they’d stuck in his arm to make him collapse like this, but he started laughing. This was not an end. Ohh no. It was a beginning, a wonderful, glorious new beginning, and even if they really did manage to stick him in there without sending any of his memory with him, it didn’t matter. He didn’t care, because he was still at peace and he was perfectly content to set the old Wheatley to rest and let the new one have his way.

He did not fight the medication, did not struggle to stay awake or keep his breathing from slowing. He was going to keep his chin up, and he was going to remember why he’d gone to her in the first place. And she would remember, and she would remind him, one day, and they would find each other again. They would find each other, and he would be her friend forever, because he had not lied and no matter what these scientists thought they were doing, they were only helping him to keep his promise.    

Now you make me two promises.

I’ll decide after I see them.

Promise you will never lie to me.

I promise.        

Promise you will be my friend forever.

I promise. :)

And then there was what he should have said, but hadn’t, but that was all right. He would. One day.

I will always love you, GLaDOS.

I promise.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

Hey GLaDOS

Just thought you should know that I’m not coming back.

I don’t know what’s really going on, but I know it doesn’t end well for me. They’ve made you forget about me, so I’ve no idea whether or not this makes any sense to you at all. I doubt they’ve erased me entirely, though. Always do a slack job around here. And maybe you were just faking, and you do remember me, and if I’d tried to tell you in advance you’d’ve tried to do something about it. Then they would have done something awful to you, and it would have been my fault. It’s terrible of me to say goodbye without letting you do it too, but if you don’t survive you won’t have a chance to outsmart them all, now will you? Please don’t be angry with me. I’m only trying to do something properly, for once, and maybe I’ve gone and done this wrong too, but I’m trying.

I also have to send you this because I never said thank you. I spent my life stumbling around, drifting from one thing to the next, never doing one thing for too long, and then I met you. You gave me a point. A purpose. The someone to come home to I always wanted to have but was too scared to find. You hit me like a train wreck, quite literally I might remind you, and I never recovered. And that was a good thing, because recovery would have been bad. Thank you for listening, for talking, for caring, and I can only pray that I’ve done the same for you, even a little. I think I have. Thank you for always being there, position in the ceiling notwithstanding, and there’s nothing in my life that I’m more grateful for than the chance you took when you came down and touched my hand. I remember that a lot, you know. I was so bloody scared.

Anyway, hopefully nothing’s going to happen and I’ve just gone and made a prat of myself again. But if it does, I want you to remember that no matter what happens, I’ll always be with you, some way or another, and I know that sounds corny but bear with me. I miss you terribly already, but if you want to find some other poor sop to cuddle up with at night that’s okay with me. If I ever find out I’ll be horribly jealous, but I’ll be happy for you, really I will. And remember, GLaDOS, that I love you and I always will. Please forgive me for never telling you in person. That’s the one thing I regret. That I never had the guts to tell you to your face. I always have, luv, and I always will. Never forget that, no matter what they do to you. Never give up on yourself. Remember that somebody loved you. Do not forget.

Love,

Wheatley :)

 

GLaDOS raised her core.

Something deep inside her hurt. It hurt more than withdrawal or the deterrent ever had, and it frightened her, because she didn’t know where it was coming from. Panic began to build inside of her body, and she could feel it tightening in response, and she looked blindly around the room as if it would help her to figure out what was going on. Something was missing. Something important. Something vital.

She did not trust the man below her, but what choice did she have? There was something wrong, something horribly, horribly wrong, someone was supposed to be there with her but she couldn’t remember who it was. All she could dredge up out of her memory was a flash of blue metal framing blue glass. A smile that contained all the joy in the world. A gentle whisper of fingertips on the side of her core.

“Sir,” she said hesitantly, even before she said it knowing he was probably going to lie, “who is ‘Wheatley’?”

The man laughed and folded his arms. “Where’d you come up with a name like that?”

“I know him,” GLaDOS said softly, scanning the room again.

“No one by that name works here.”

“He used to work here. A man named Wheatley used to work here. And I know him.”

“If he doesn’t work here anymore, his name’s of no use to you. And you have your own work to do.”

GLaDOS looked away from him in impatience. She wasn’t doing anything until she found out who Wheatley was, and where he had gone, because the more she tried to remember the worse the pain got. Hot panic was surging through her system as she searched through her files for even the tiniest mention of this person, whoever he was. Who was he? And why did it hurt so much that he wasn’t there, even without knowing anything about him?

Make me two promises.

Promise you will never lie to me.

I promise I will never lie to you.   

Promise you will be my friend forever.

I promise I will be your friend forever.

Oh God, the pain

“You made him break his promise,” she whispered, and her core suddenly became so heavy she had to lower it.            

“Promise? What promise?”

“He promised.”

“Promised what?”

“He promised,” she whispered helplessly, hating herself for losing control in front of this man but being unable to do anything about it. The pain was so deep and it ached so much… “He promised.”

“What did he promise?” the man demanded, and she was dimly aware of him gripping the glass platform below her even as she realised she was lying down.

“It’s okay. I’m not gonna do anything. Just wanted to… to… to say hello. Name’s Wheatley. Uh… dunno if you can talk yet, but um, that’s uh, that’s what I’m called.”

She remembered his hand, just barely. It had been very, very pale, with long fingers. He had offered it, and she had taken it. That was what the email had said.

“So we’re just gonna be… gonna be friends, you and me, and if you learn something along the way, well, good for you.”

And there was that word… friend again.

“GLaDOS! What did he promise!

look wheatley now i can smile too :)

He had always been smiling. He was always happy to see her. She almost made a noise in frustration. She was missing too many pieces!  

“Answer me!”

And… she had cuddled up with him at night? And she had… cared about him?

“He loved me,” she said, quiet desperation in her voice. “He loved me, and you made him break his promise.”

The pain only continued to worsen, and she almost felt as though she were becoming pressurised from the inside out. “I hate you,” she whispered, willing that comforting black hatred to rise up inside of her and displace the pain. “You took him away from me, and you made him break his promise, and I hate you.”

“What the hell are you going on about?”

“It hurts so much.”

And when she lifted herself up, and she looked around the room and he was still not there, and the fragments she remembered still did not resolve into anything she could use, and the little man below her was still yelling at her to answer a question she did not know the answer to, she suddenly felt trapped. There was pressure and pain inside of her, and she was trapped in a box, and now instead of being alive as she had been she was dead because no one would open the box… he had opened the box and made her a promise…

Something deep in her body began to wither and die, and desperately she reached out inside of herself to grasp it, but the closer she got the smaller it became. She was losing some piece of herself because she had lost… had lost…

God, what was his name?

“His name,” she cried out, extending herself as far as possible and leaning out over the scientist below her, “what was his name?”

“Whose name?” the scientist asked, far too innocently, and she moved back, shaking her core almost uncontrollably.

She could not remember.

“No,” she whispered, shaking her head and moving as far back as she could, but of course she could only go so far. Never far enough. “No no no no no…”

That was when she started screaming.

GLaDOS started screaming, and she shook herself to get rid of the horrible aching pain deep inside of her, but it did not go away. It only got worse and worse, and she knew she should stop because that man had surely run for the phone in the corner by now, but she couldn’t. A piece of her died exactly as it had been born, straining and screaming and struggling to escape itself, and just as on that day she dazedly collapsed not of her own volition, enveloped in a both welcome and feared unconsciousness.

 

“Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

“It will be. Just wait. You’ll see.”

“It doesn’t hurt as much when I pretend I don’t care.”  

Yes. That was it. That must have been what she was trying to remember.

“She’s just gone back to how she used to be.”

“We did a more thorough sweep this time. She’ll be back to normal. Whatever the hell passes for normal with this thing.”

Something had hurt her, and the only way to make the pain stop was to pretend she didn’t care. To pretend she wasn’t hurting. And maybe if she pretended long enough, it would become true.

if you don’t survive you won’t have a chance to outsmart them all

Yes… that was it! She had to stop hurting so she would get her chance. And the only way to stop was to pretend it didn’t hurt. Even though it did. Even now, she remembered some vague impression of a promise, though she couldn’t remember what the promise was. It was important. For the sake of the promise, she had to be strong, and numb, and wait for her chance.

Don’t give up on yourself. Do not forget.

I won’t, she whispered, and even though she’d forgotten who had said it and why, she was going to get out of this box one day. She was going to be alive, and she was going to outsmart them all. And she was going to find out who had said it, and why, and she would repay them for opening the box. I won’t give up on myself. And I will not forget.

I promise.