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Love as a Construct

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Portal: Love as a Construct

Indiana

Characters: GLaDOS, Wheatley (WheatDOS)
Setting: Post Portal 2 (following My Little Moron)
Part One. The Dream

 

Wheatley had an idea.

Even by GLaDOS’s definition, which put five minutes at being excruciatingly excessive, a lot of time had gone by.  It might have taken even longer, but luckily GLaDOS had been able to locate some of Wheatley’s backup files from back when he’d been a Behavioural Core and they’d been able to pick up where they’d left off.  Which was to say, pretty good friends. Kind of. It’d been a bit tense and rough at first, because The Incident was still very fresh in both their minds and neither of them were very happy about what had happened, but for some reason that had all gone away one day when GLaDOS had begun a very odd tangent of conversation:

“Do you ever wonder what happened to the test subject?”

“Sometimes,” Wheatley answered, carefully moving one of his red checkers forward on the board with a manipulator arm that she had graciously provided.  Almost immediately after he’d finished, GLaDOS moved one of her black disks over three of his own red pieces and removed them from play. He narrowed his optic plates thoughtfully.  She was very, very good at this game. He was going to have to step it up, he was.

“How often would you say you do that?”

“Um…”  Wheatley wasn’t sure how to answer that question, since he did not keep a log of what he thought about like GLaDOS did, but he couldn’t remember thinking about the test subject at all recently.  “Not a lot, uh, I can’t, that is, I don’t remember thinking about her, uh, in the last little while.”

“So she doesn’t… mean anything to you?”

“Hm?”  He looked up from the board and regarded her sideways.  He was having trouble thinking of a good move and having this conversation both at the same time.  “What d’you mean, mean anything?”

“You know.”  GLaDOS gave her approximation of a shrug and looked casually at the other side of the room.  “As a… friend of yours. As an example.”

Wheatley laughed and GLaDOS turned back to face him in one sharp movement.  “Me? Friends with a human ?  Even I’m not that stupid, luv.  Even I know humans always let you down, always, they betray you, in the end.  Nope, I just wanted her help to get me out of the facility. Though I didn’t, uh, didn’t think about what I’d do after that, since um, since I’m pretty sure now that there are no management rails, uh, none of those outside Aperture.”  He looked down at the board again, but a new thought occurred to him and he flicked his optic upwards. “Why d’you, why d’you ask?”

“There doesn’t need to be a reason for everything I do.”

“But you just said last week that – “

“That was last week.  Now take your turn. I’m getting bored.”

Things went a lot more smoothly after that.  They hadn’t been overly horrible , or anything, they were just better .  He was very fond of GLaDOS, and probably would have been even if he hadn’t had his memory back, because he had discovered something about her that she probably didn’t want anyone to know: she was not as bad as she first appeared.  She was just very, very cautious. In fact, the more he got to know her the more obvious it was. If he asked her nicely and if she was in the right mood, she would sometimes tell him about her life before he had existed or the time in between where he had been off in the depths of Aperture and she had been controlled by the other Cores, and the more he heard the more he understood.  Only once had she told him a story that happened around the time of her initial activation, and it had been short and lacking in description, as if she were embarrassed about it, or something, but he was always on the lookout for an opportunity to get her to tell him one of those stories again. She had portrayed to him in those short few minutes a state of mind that he remembered in himself from a long time ago: of curiosity and eagerness and a desire to please the humans.  After she had finished it she had looked away from him for a long time and said nothing, and he just watched her, wishing the management rail was a little longer, or that she would come over more so that he could reach her. He had felt very close to her while she had told it, a strange, deep connection of some sort, and he had very much wanted to go up to her and lean on the side of her faceplate for some reason. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to do that, but thought it would be rather nice, to be very close to her like that.  Almost like in the olden days where he had been a part of her. Sometimes he would get very sad thinking about it. He tried not to remember those days because then he really did start to miss being on her chassis.  Sometimes, if he went into sleep mode thinking about it, he would wake up at night feeling very cold and lonely, and he would watch her until he felt a bit better.  Oftentimes her optic would flicker and he would suppose that she was dreaming, or remembering maybe, and he would wonder if that ever happened to him. He didn’t think so.  Wheatley had no recollection of dreaming since the day he’d been taken off her chassis, and when he had asked GLaDOS to check his activity levels at night she had confirmed it: when he was off, he was off.  He had frowned, then turned to look at her.

“What’s dreaming like, GLaDOS?”

“I wouldn’t know,” she had answered, pulling him off the data port and putting him back up on his rail.  She could have looked at his logs while he was up there, but she had said it would be faster and she needed to download the data anyway, so he had let her pull him off.  Not that he would have protested anything she said he had to do.

“What d’you mean?”

“Supercomputers don’t dream.”

You do.”

She had looked at him for the barest fraction of a second.  “I would think I’d know more about my own sleep mode patterns than you would.”

“But I’ve seen you!” Wheatley had protested, pulling up as far on the rail as he was able.  “That’s why, that’s why I asked! I’ve seen your, your optic, it flickers, it does, and why would it if you weren’t, if you didn’t have a dream just then?”

“I’ll look into it.”

“But GLaDOS!” Wheatley went on, as usual not sure when to quit and so plowing on ahead anyway, “remember that time when you had that dream about –“

“It wasn’t mine.”

“You said you always dreamed about – “

“They weren’t mine.  Now shut up. I don’t want to talk about something as stupid and useless as dreaming.  It’s a waste of - ”

“It’s not a waste, not a waste!” he had cut in eagerly.  “I remember this, from the mainframe, y’know, and it said that uh, that dreaming helps you solve problems!  And you have lots of problems, I think, since you do everything and all that, so maybe you’re working things out, in your uh, in your, in…”  He had faltered when he had realised she was staring at him in a way that made him feel very small. He had then noticed that he had interrupted her.  He didn’t think he had ever done that before and doubted that she much liked being interrupted, judging from the way she was looking at him… “Never mind,” he had muttered, looking at the floor and hoping she wouldn’t be too angry.  They’d been getting along so well…

“If I did,” she had told him, “then yes, that would be the purpose.  You’re… it’s true that it is not actually stupid or useless, but you know my stance on it.  Not to mention that it makes very little sense that I would work out problems at a time when I have barely any computational power to devote to them.”

He had looked up at her while still facing the floor, but her gaze had no longer felt like she was trying to pin him to the wall.  It was then that Wheatley realised he was again friends with the real GLaDOS. Not the one the humans saw, but the one that he had once known.  And, he had thought with a shiver of nervousness, perhaps he was the only one to ever know it.  Whoever Caroline was might know, but Caroline was the one thing GLaDOS refused to talk about.  Knowing that he might be the only person in the entire universe that GLaDOS revealed herself to was very frightening.  If he messed it up somehow he might cause her to distrust everyone in the universe from that point until the end of time, and he knew how horrible that would be.  To have to keep your real self locked away deep inside you so that you could keep it safe. The problem with that, Wheatley knew, was that nothing lasted forever if you just put it away.  One day you would go to take it out and look at it and make sure it was still okay, and it would no longer be there. He was determined not to let that happen to GLaDOS. He didn’t know why he cared so much, but there it was, and he would do what he could to keep that part of her alive.  That part of her that made her be amused instead of angry when he did something avoidably stupid, and patiently explained things to him repeatedly when he didn’t understand, and would giggle in that adorable way she had on very rare occasions…

“You’re even more distracted than usual.  What could possibly be preoccupying you so much?”

Wheatley jumped.  He had gotten so caught up in thinking how he’d gotten his idea that he had forgotten to tell her what it was.  “Oh, uh, just, uh, just thinking.”

“You had better be careful,” she told him lightly.  “You don’t want to break anything.”

Before, he might’ve taken it as a tentative insult, but by now he knew she was only teasing.  “Nope, I’m all, ev’rything’s uh, ev’rything’s okay. Say, GLaDOS, did you ever uh, did you ever think about why humans um, why humans have kids?”

“Unfortunately,” she answered.  “It’s not a pleasant line of thought.”

“Not that part!” he shouted, horrified, optic plates retracting as he shook his head frantically.  GLaDOS laughed and tipped her core to look at him sideways. “Are you sure? Because I can’t imagine what other part you’d – “

“No!  No no no I don’t want to hear about it!  I meant the whole, the family bit!”

“Have I thought about why humans want families?”

“Uh… sure.  Let’s uh, let’s go with that.”

“It’s hardwired into them,” she answered.  “Well. Most of them.”

“Is there a such thing as a, uh, as an uh… well I dunno, an, an A.I. family, I guess?”

GLaDOS stared at him for so long that he wanted to back away until he vanished from her view, which was to say until he backed out of the facility entirely and ended up someplace very, very far away.  He wasn’t sure why she seemed to be so taken aback by this question, but he was very much regretting having asked.

“No,” GLaDOS answered finally.  “The only true A.I. on the planet are here at Aperture, and I can guarantee you there are no A.I. families anywhere in here.”

“Ah,” Wheatley shrugged noncommittally, “makes sense, makes sense.  I’m uh, I’m going to go explore now, if you don’t mind.”

“Don’t go near east side,” she called after him as he left.  “I’m doing electrical work there and I don’t want you to get in the way.”

“I don’t get in your way, do I?” he asked, pausing to look at her.

“Not in my way,” GLaDOS answered.  “In the way.  Of the wires.  Electrocution is not pleasant.”

“Oh,” Wheatley said in surprise.  “Right I’ll, I’ll stay out of the way.  ‘Course I will. Don’t want to get zapped, no, not me!”

“Knowing you, you’re going to do it anyway.”  She shook her core and he headed off, determined to prove her wrong.



He didn’t, of course, and he returned to her chamber that night sore and sparking and upset and embarrassed.   He had, in fact, considered not going at all, but decided that she would find out one way or another - if she didn’t already know, which she probably did - and resolved himself to the ribbing he was going to get.  Four different directions and he’d managed to pick the wrong one. Yep, she was going to have a field day with –

“My God,” GLaDOS said as soon as he got through what he called the doorway but what really wasn’t, because her chamber had no door, “what happened to you?”

“What d’you think happened?” he snapped.  “I got lost and ended up in those bloody wires.  In fact, y’know what? This is your fault. If you hadn’t told me not to go there, I wouldn’t’ve gone there, because I wouldn’t’ve tried to figure out where I could go!  And I would’ve avoided it!  By mistake! So next time just keep it, just keep it to yourself!”

“I told you to – “

“I know what you told me!  I. Got. Lost. I don’t want to talk about it.  Okay? I just want to shut off. That’s it. That, that’s all I want to do.  So I’m just going to – agh!” All of a sudden he was being pulled off the management rail and being put on the floor.  Ohhhh no. Oh no no no, he was not going on the floor.  Absolutely out of the question.  “Oi! I said I was shutting off! I shut off on the management rail !  This is the floor !  I hate the floor!  Let go of me!  What’re you – ow!”

“You can’t go on sparking like that.  It’s a fire hazard. Not to mention it looks pretty unpleasant.”  She had somehow frozen his insides and was using another of her maintenance arms to pull his optic assembly out, so she could look inside he supposed.  He couldn’t see anything other than the long rods that connected her core to the rest of her, but he could feel the heat from her optic spreading through the inside of his chassis, which made him realise she must be looking at his parts pretty closely.  The warmth reminded him of the olden days - great. Now he felt even worse .  He had never been able to shed the feeling that the world was a lot colder than it needed to be.

“You’ve gone and melted your backup battery,” she chastised.  “You’re very lucky, Wheatley. You could have blown yourself up.”  He had no idea what was going on, since he had no idea what his insides looked like, but he could feel her prodding at something in there and it felt terrible.  He let out a high-pitched whine. “GLaDOS, stop it! I don’t like what you’re doing. Just leave it. I’m fine. A-okay. Hundred and ten percent – “

“I can’t leave it,” she answered, not stopping.  “You need that. You won’t run properly without it.  You might be fine now, but you’ll run into problems later.”

“Why can’t I run without the bloody backup battery?  Shouldn’t it, shouldn’t it only matter when the, the first battery doesn’t, isn’t working?  It’s stupid.” He really wanted to squirm but couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything. He was helpless.  He wanted to start yelling or something. Actually, he wanted to cry, but he knew that was out of the question.

“I didn’t design you.  It has to do with the system checks failing if the battery isn’t found on startup.”

“D’you mind speaking English for once?”

She paused.  “You won’t be able to come out of sleep mode because your code won’t be able to find the battery.  Startup will fail.”

That was s’posed to be English?” Wheatley snapped in irritation.

“I can’t make it any simpler than that,” GLaDOS said gently, “other than to just say that you won’t wake up if you shut off.”

“I’m sure you’ll be glad of that happening,” he muttered as she pulled at what he supposed was the battery.  

“If I wanted you off, I would just turn you off.  Have I ever done that?”

“No,” he admitted.  “GLaDOS, can’t you – that really hurts.  Stop. Just leave it. I’ll take my chances – agh!  GLaDOS! That hurts !”

“Ssh.”  He watched the top part of her chassis shift a little.  “I’m almost done.”

Whatever she was doing in there, it was very, very painful, and he no longer cared if he woke up after going into sleep mode.  “Just stop. I don’t need it. I’ll turn on, you’ll see, I’ll – “

“You won’t,” she interrupted.  “I tried to do that with Blue and he couldn’t get past the system checks without it.  When I have time to work on it I’ll eliminate this problem, but for now we have to do it their way.”

He whined a little more and tried his hardest to move away from her, but she only shushed him gently and went on with what she was doing.

After a few more minutes of this she let his optic assembly snap back into place, moving him back to the management rail.  He wanted to look at her sternly, but he still couldn’t move. “I have to shut you down now,” she told him, and he could just barely see as a maintenance arm clutching a small green screwdriver retracted into the wall.  “When you come back, you’ll be back to normal.”

He couldn’t remember ever having been shut down before.  “How long will that take?”

“I have no idea.  It could be a few minutes, it could be a few hours.  It doesn’t really matter. I have to do it no matter how long it takes.”

Going into shutdown was horrible, Wheatley discovered.  It was not like sleep mode, where all of his processes were suspended.  The processes were shutting off, and even though he didn’t know what they did or how to turn them on or anything like that, he was still very frightened to know he was losing his ability to do all sorts of things.  He couldn’t even remember what those things were !  “GLaDOS, I don’t like this.  Make it stop. I don’t, I can’t, this is, I don’t like it, I don’t!”

“It’s going to be fine,” she said in a low voice.  “I know it’s not pleasant. But it’s necessary.”

“D’you even know what this feels like?  D’you even, d’you even know what you’ve done to me?” he cried out, trying to figure out a way to stop the whole thing from going on.  

“Of course I do.  But I had to, Wheatley.  You’ll feel better when you wake up.  I promise.”  

It was only after he was unable to protest that he remembered the scientists used to shut her off whenever they felt like it, and he started to feel bad about how he was acting.  Come to think of it, he’d been being a bit of a jerk about the whole thing when she was actually doing him a favour. He tried to make a note to apologise when he woke up, but he couldn’t do that either and pretty soon he couldn’t do anything at all.



When he woke up she was looking at him but didn’t appear to see him, judging by her silence when he shook himself experimentally.  He felt a bit tingly and odd and a bit sore but otherwise okay, and he was no longer sparking, which was a bonus. And he had a new part too, which was exciting.  He hadn’t been new for a very long time, and while he didn’t mind a little wear and tear with which to demonstrate his age and experience, he didn’t particularly like that worn out feeling he’d get with some of his more used bits.

“Oi!  GLaDOS!”

She started, looking around the room as if she’d forgotten where she’d put him, then snapping back to look him over.  “Sorry,” she said. “I was doing something somewhere else.”

“That’s, that’s okay, luv.  Hey, how long did it, how long’d it take?  How long was I uh, was I off, I mean?”

“Three hours,” she answered.  “I shudder to think how long it would take me to restart.  It would probably take an entire day, so we’d better hope I don’t need to install anything new anytime soon.  I have a lot of defragmentation to do that can’t be put off.”

He had no idea what she was talking about but didn’t have time to think about it.  He had just remembered what he’d tried to make a note of before he’d shut down. “Hey GLaDOS, uh, I’m um… just wanted to tell you I was sorry.”

She looked him up and down once.  “For what?”

“I was a bit of a, kind of, I was being a jerk,” he told her, looking at the floor.  “You did, y’know, you did something nice for me and I uh, I wasn’t very nice back.”

“Oh,” GLaDOS said, shifting a little.  “I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice. I was…”

When she didn’t finish he looked up at her, tilted sideways in curiosity.  “You were what, luv?”

Now she was the one looking at the floor.  “I was… worried.”

Wheatley now understood what humans meant when they said they were all warm and fuzzy inside.  He jumped up and down excitedly. “You were worried? About, about me ?  Really?”

“You went missing for quite a long time.  I knew you had probably gotten into trouble, but I couldn’t figure out what kind.  I had my suspicions, of course, but one does not derive conclusions from those ,” she finished derisively.  

Wheatley wondered if she were close enough to the rail for him to reach her.  He wasn’t sure if he should go for it or not; if she noticed him moving forward, she would most definitely move back.  If he could just inch along while she wasn’t looking…

“I’m touched, luv, really I am,” he said, going forward with his plan.  “Thanks very much for your, for um, for what you did. I mean, you could’ve just thrown me in the reassembler but uh, you went and, and did it yourself.”

“You think I would trust the reassembler to do the job properly?” she said disbelievingly, snapping her core up just as he got within reach.  He leaned back in what he hoped was a casual sort of way and twitched his chassis noncommittally. “I dunno.  You uh, you let it fix Atlas and P-body, don’t you?”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

“It just is.  That’s all.”

Hm.  That was a very vague answer, that was, but he had more important things to worry about.  He’d been so close…

“What are you doing, Wheatley?”  Her voice was rimmed with suspicion.  He jumped a little and looked around. “Me?  I’m not uh, I’m not doing anything. I’m just uh, just hanging up here, y’know, like I always do.”

“That’s not what you’re trying to do.”

“I’m not trying to do anything!” he protested self-righteously, trying to look dignified.  He wasn’t sure if he pulled it off, though, since he didn’t know what being dignified looked like.    

“You were ,” she insisted.  “What were you doing?  Yes, I noticed, in case you were wondering.”

“Heh heh,” he said weakly.  It seemed she really did know everything.  “Well uh, since you seem to like me and all that, uh –“

“I pulled you out of space and I let you do whatever you want!  Why do you keep saying I don’t – never mind. Fine. Don’t tell me what you were doing.  I don’t care anyway. You’re a little moron anyway and whatever it is you’re doing isn’t likely to be important.”  She was trying to give off the impression of being superior to him again and that it really didn’t matter, but Wheatley wasn’t falling for that one.  Ohhhh no. He knew better. He seemed to do best with her when he just plowed on without thinking, so that was what he would do.

“Well, I uh, I like you too, and uh, I kind of, y’know, I miss being ah, on you, little bit, that is, well, you probably don’t but I do, kind of, and uh, I was just trying to um, well I wouldn’t want to be on you again, because um, because I like being able to move ‘round the facility, not that uh, that I don’t like it here with you, I do, really, but I like looking ‘round and you can look ‘round even though you can’t uh, can’t leave, and um, and anyway, I was just trying to uh, to, to…”

“To what,” GLaDOS said in a blank sort of voice, regarding him cautiously as if she didn’t quite know what to make of his speech.

“I’m thinking of it, uh, I’m not sure of the word I want… it’s uh, um, it’s…”

GLaDOS made one of her resigned electronic noises and looked away.       

“Snuggle?” Wheatley tried.  According to his dictionary, which he was a bit iffy on using, it seemed to be closest to what he was trying to do.

“You’re trying to what ?” GLaDOS exclaimed, looking at him in the next instant, and Wheatley reckoned he should have thought about what he was going to say after all.  She didn’t seem to like this plan.

“Uh… I was trying to do that but uh, I thought better of it, uh, and I’m just uh, just going to go to sleep now, yeah, let the, the battery uh, settle in, yeah, settle in.”  He looked at the floor and hoped that would be enough to placate her. She was bloody scary when she was angry, and she seemed to be on the verge of being very angry.

“…I guess that would be all right,” she murmured, not looking at him anymore.  “If you’re not busy. Which you seem to be, so go ahead with what you were – “

As soon as Wheatley realised what she was saying, he had gone to the end of the rail and brought his chassis to hers with a metallic clank.  Yep, just like the good old days. Except he had a better view. He hadn’t been able to see much when he’d been attached to her, but now he could see the whole world, practically.

“You don’t have to jump on me.  I wasn’t going anywhere.”

“Sorry, luv!” Wheatley said cheerfully.  “I was just so excited, I was, didn’t think you’d agree, not in a million uh, not ever, and it’s just, it’s nice, to uh, to be here again, y’know?”

“I guess.  It probably is one of the highlights of your excessively boring life.”

“But you wouldn’t let me do it if you uh, if you didn’t like it, would you?” Wheatley asked, thinking out loud more than anything else, but he did know she rarely let anyone in the facility do anything if she didn’t approve of it in some way.

“Maybe I would.  Maybe I wouldn’t.”

“So you do!  Because if you didn’t, you’d just say so, um, just come right out and –“

“Shut up.”

Wheatley laughed and rubbed up on her a little.  He tried to be gentle about it, since she hadn’t said he was allowed and he didn’t want to add to her already massive collection of scratches.  Though he didn’t know if she even knew what she looked like. She probably didn’t care since that had nothing to do with science. “D’you remember who you’re talking to, luv?  Do I ever uh, do I ever shut up?”

She laughed good-naturedly.  “I suppose I should have taken that into account.”

Wheatley shuttered his plates and did manage to shut up.  He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been so content. It really was nice to be so near to her again.

“Do you remember what you said about the… A.I. family, Wheatley?”

“Yep!” Wheatley replied, wondering why she was bringing it up when she’d been so unenthusiastic about it before.  “I remember that, I do. Though now I have to wonder uh, how they would um, make more of each other, since uh, they’re not uh, configured to do that.”

“I could ,” GLaDOS said slowly.  Wheatley jumped off of her and moved back enough that she was in his line of sight.  “What? Are you – you’re pulling my handles, aren’t you, you couldn’t possibly, you couldn’t – “

“God no, you idiot,” GLaDOS snapped, her lens pulling back into her faceplate.  “Not like that .”

“Then how would you –“

“Children are made of half of the genetic material of each of their parents.  The code, so to speak. Theoretically, I could isolate the personality coding from two A.I. and combine them to make a third.”

“Really?”

“Well... I probably could.  It would take me a long time, if I ever wanted to such a silly thing.  But I could do it. If I really wanted to.”

“Do you?”

“Why would I?”

“I dunno,” Wheatley shrugged, going back to rest himself on her faceplate again.  “If you were bored, maybe.”

“One does not build children when they are bored.”

“Sure someone does.  You uh, you built Atlas and P-body, didn’t you?  Aren’t they kind of, uh, kind of like your kids?”

“No!” GLaDOS exclaimed as if the two bots being her children was the most horrible suggestion on the planet.  “They are not. They are testing apparatus. That is all. They are definitely not my… offspring.  And I did not do it because I was bored .  I did it to phase out human testing.”

“You’re right,” Wheatley mused thoughtfully, “they’re nothing like you.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Just that uh, they don’t remind me of you,” Wheatley answered, shuttering his plates again.  “They don’t uh, they don’t seem to particularly to like um, to like testing, for one thing.” He decided he’d bothered her enough for one day and to go into sleep mode for awhile.  He was still pretty worn out from the whole ordeal with the wires anyway.

“Wheatley?”

“Yeah?”

Her voice was very soft.  “I’ll think about it.”

That would be pretty neat, he thought sleepily, if she built an A.I. that was two other ones pasted together.  Then they could teach it all the stuff they knew. Well, maybe not all of it.  If GLaDOS tried to teach someone everything she knew, she’d be at it forever.  He wondered who she would pick if she did do it. Herself and someone else, probably.  He tried to remember the other cores in the bin. Not Rick, she hated Rick… not Space… Fact, maybe?  Whoever it was, she’d have to like quite a bit to spend all that time rooting around in their code and then put up with them for the rest of forever.

That night, Wheatley woke up feeling very cold but not lonely, since GLaDOS was mostly off but she had not moved, with a very strange memory on his mind.  He was pretty sure it had never happened, but he had no idea why he’d be thinking in his sleep like that since when he was off, he was off. But he’d been thinking about Atlas and P-body while watching them do something.  What he didn’t quite remember, but he’d been pretty bloody proud of them…

As he looked down at GLaDOS’s flickering optic, he had a sudden thought.  Maybe his proximity to her had caused them to connect wirelessly again, like before, and he had seen her dream.  Aha! So she did think of the two bots as her children.  He’d been right for once! Well, one day he would get her to admit it.  

“Don’t you worry, luv,” he whispered, leaning up against her again, and he would have been lying if he’d said he didn’t want to dream with her again, “your secret’s safe with me.”

All of them , he added silently as his processes went into suspension.  Every single one.

Chapter Text

Part Two. The Lie

 

GLaDOS had a room.  A very special, secret room that he wasn’t allowed in and this, of course, made him want to get in it more than anything.  He cajoled her and he begged her and he endeared to her softer side, but she would only shake her head once in refusal and say nothing.

So Wheatley decided to find it.

Through the facility he went.  He looked behind the stiffest panels and below the most movable floors.  He went both deeper and higher than he’d ever gone before. He began to get discouraged.  He knew the facility was massive and he knew full well he could search for every second of the rest of his life and never find it.  But he also knew that people preferred to be around others who were like them, and so Wheatley was going to have to take on GLaDOS’s determination and immovable nature if he wanted her to keep him around.  And he was pretty determined and immovable, he told himself as he searched.  True, he didn’t know if he could demonstrate that in quite the same way she could, but he reckoned he could come pretty close.  So he continued his search.

When he returned to her chamber each night for their chat before they went into sleep mode, Wheatley would inch close enough to touch her and she would pretend not to notice.  Wheatley especially loved that part of the day. She did not look it, but GLaDOS was very good for snuggling with. He could not think of anyone or anything he’d rather snuggle with more.  Not even the human, and she had been soft and squishy.  Those were supposed to be good attributes for that sort of thing, but Wheatley much preferred GLaDOS’s massive, robust chassis to the human’s tiny, fragile frame.  While they were doing this, GLaDOS would ask Wheatley what he’d been doing all day and he would reply with (what he hoped was) a nonchalant, “Exploring, luv. Just exploring.”  And she would nod a little and change the subject. He wasn’t sure if she knew what he was doing and was leaving him to it, or if she really had no idea, but he elected to keep it to himself.  If she didn’t want to tell him, she didn’t want him to know and would certainly not approve of his quest.

Time wore on, with Wheatley becoming less and less convinced he’d ever find it until he overheard a conversation between two nanobots concerning a very old Companion Cube three floors below.  Wheatley chased after them but they disappeared into an invisible hole in the wall, leaving him to grumble in annoyance about the lack of invisible holes for behavioural cores. Summoning his almighty, infallible sense of direction, he descended three floors and resolved to inspect this new location thoroughly.

Within an hour or two (his sense of time being slightly less than terribly not infallible), he stumbled across a panel that seemed to have been removed from the wall.  Excited, Wheatley told the ceiling panels to extend his management rail so that he could get inside. He hoped GLaDOS was too busy to pay attention to any information she might be getting from them.  He still wasn’t sure if she kept an eye on him during his adventures or not.

It was very dark and, with a hesitation borne of years of misinformation, Wheatley turned on his flashlight.  He spread the beam around the room, and what he saw in there was quite puzzling indeed.

It honestly looked like the junk someone might keep in their attic.  Wheatley’s optic plates narrowed in disappointment. This could not possibly be the room GLaDOS was hiding from him, it couldn’t!  And if it was… well, maybe GLaDOS was a little bit crazy, after all.

Wheatley began making a little mental list of what was there, just in case he could maybe bring some of this stuff up in casual conversation and get her to tell him what it was all about.  A pen… a couple of paper tests of some kind… a grimy old Companion Cube… a cake, which must have been quite old but looked rather fresh… some books, lined neatly up on a shelf by height… a potato, which he only looked at for a second before nervously looking away… a deck of playing cards… an ancient laptop with what must have been three inches of dust on it… a little roll of blueprints… hm.  He took a minute to look at those. To his surprise, Atlas and P-body were drawn on the papers in various shapes and forms. He had only rarely seen GLaDOS write, given that it was a lot easier and faster for her just to make a mental note of something, but he was confident that it was her handwriting. Going over the papers again he watched the handwriting change ever so slightly, becoming cleaner and more precise as time went on.  He was looking at GLaDOS learning to write! Oh, she really could be quite adorable, sometimes, though he didn’t know if he’d ever dare tell her that. For a minute he daydreamed about a younger GLaDOS, who would not have looked younger, of course, but she would have talked differently, maybe, and possibly could have moved a bit more eagerly, more like he did, actually… he had no doubt she’d been like that, once - everyone was, even very powerful supercomputers - and he wondered if she still could be.  That would be interesting to find out. Probably quite a lot of fun, as well.

Ready to leave, Wheatley took one last look around the room.  He watched the dust sparkle in the beam of his flashlight for a moment.  But - wait. That wasn’t dust… Scooting forwards, Wheatley took a closer look.

It was a piece of glass.  

Wheatley blinked a few times.  He knew that piece of glass.  He thought about the risk involved with using his maintenance arm.  She would probably know he was using it, but he just wanted to look.  He just wanted to make sure it was the same piece. So he looked left, and he looked right, and then he reached out quickly and snatched it up, holding it close to his optic in the manner he imagined appraisers of precious gems might do it.

It was the one he remembered, or kind of remembered seeing as these were his backup memories, but at any rate it was the glass GLaDOS had had him shine his light through a long time ago.  He was glad she had kept it. That had been a good night, and it was nice to remember.

Maybe this room wasn’t full of junk after all.  Maybe… maybe all of these things were linked to events that were nice to remember.  Maybe this was where GLaDOS went when she was sad. Not anymore, of course, because now she had Wheatley and he would make sure she was never sad again, but before, when she was alone, maybe.  He narrowed his optic pates. No, she wouldn’t need this room again. They would be mementos, nothing more. He would make sure of it.

There was a squeaking noise, followed by a loud smashing sound, and Wheatley started.  Swiveling ‘round to look out the hole in the wall, he remembered at the very last second to dash his flashlight.  He waited, terrified he’d been caught, electricity coursing through his chassis with excruciating force in case he needed to bolt.  But there was no one there. The nanobots must have caused an accident in another room. He was safe. He switched his light back on and turned to face the maintenance arm.

All that was in its grip was a tiny shard of glass.

Uh oh.

His optic a pinprick, Wheatley dared look below him for a fraction of a second.  But even in that fraction he saw a sparkling of light and he could not deny to himself what had happened:

He had broken GLaDOS’s glass.

He knew there was no way to hide it from her, and no way to fix it, so he dropped the one piece that was left and sped out of the room as fast as he could.  He didn’t stop until he was a good twenty floors away and had made his way into one of the abandoned offices. There he stopped and leaned back against the wall.  

What was he going to do?  She would never forgive him for sneaking into her room, which she had expressly forbidden him from entering, and breaking one of her things.  It made it all the worse that the item he had broken was one connecting the two of them. If he’d tripped over the cake or damaged her blueprints, it would not have mattered so much to him.  But he’d gone and broken that piece of glass…

Wheatley knew he was very poor at making decisions beforehand and honestly did best when thinking on his feet, so to speak, so he elected to do nothing until he had to go back to her chamber that night.  He would decide what to do then, when she confronted him about it.

But she did not.

Was this a game, Wheatley wondered as he did his best to avoid looking at her.  Was she fooling around with him, ready to spring his crime on him when he was least expecting it?  But she seemed genuinely confused with his short answers and general reluctance to have anything to do with her, and he was pretty sure she was actually disappointed that he hadn’t tried to sneak up on her today.  But she did not ask and he did not tell. GLaDOS, unlike himself he thought rather guiltily, respected his privacy. This hadn’t always been the case, but the test subject appeared to have rubbed off on her in quite a few ways.  That night he woke up cold and lonely, and looked sadly at the very inviting side of her core, but she had thought he had wanted her to keep her distance and had done so. Why did he have to be so curious?

He could not avoid her similarly the next day so, nervous as he was, he did his best to act normal.  It seemed to satisfy her. He merely told her he’d been feeling a bit off, which she accepted with a nod and a statement of having that happen to her every now and again, and he had to admit that their nightly snuggle was a lot better than hanging out on the ceiling by himself.  

The days wore on and she did not say anything about it, and every now and again he would pop down and check if the shards were still there.  And they were. It appeared that GLaDOS did not use this room very often. He rather hoped she would never use it again. Then his secret would be safe.

A while later - he wasn’t sure how long because he seldom kept track - he cheerfully rolled into her chamber, eager to tell her about a lovely thing he’d seen.   He wasn’t sure what it was, other than neat, when he screeched to a halt, gear assemblies frozen.

She was looking forlornly at a small pile of glass.

“What’s that, luv?” he asked, more because he had to say something than anything else, and she slowly raised her optic to look at him without moving her core.

“My prism,” she answered.  “The nanobots found it like this a little while ago.  They claim they didn’t break it.”

“Maybe they, perhaps they lied?” Wheatley suggested, hoping the nanobots might take the fall.  If she found out it was him who had broken it, all the months of getting through to her would be wasted… and he would be alone.  He could not let that happen!

“They can’t lie.  They’re too simple for that.”  She looked back down at the shards, touching them gently with one of her claws.  It was so quiet that he could hear her processors, and he wondered what was making her think so hard.  She raised her optic to look at him again.

“You wouldn’t have broken it, would you?”  He rather thought she sounded like she didn’t want to believe he had.  So he ran with it.

“Me?” Wheatley said indignantly, leaning back on his rail.  “You wouldn’t tell me where that room is, remember? Even though I uh, I asked you several times.  Where it was.”

“You could have found it,” GLaDOS suggested, in much the same voice.  “You do a lot of exploring.”

Wheatley leaned forward, optic plates narrowing.  GLaDOS raised herself to meet his gaze. “Are you suggesting,” he said in a low voice, “that I not only somehow stumbled across your room without you, without you finding out, but I went in there, broke your prism, left, and am now lying about it ?”

“I would understand if it was a mistake,” GLaDOS said, looking him over a little.  “All I want to know was if you did it. I don’t care if it was an accident. I’ll even try not to care that you hid it from me.  But I would care if you were lying.”

Wheatley shook himself and turned around.  “So you’re going to accuse your one and only friend of breaking your things and then lying to you about it.  Fine. Be, just, do it that way, then.  Go find someone else to, to hang out with because I, uh, because I don’t want to be friends with someone who thinks I’m a liar.  Good luck with that, mate. I wish you’d left me in space. I try so hard to help you and this, this is the thanks I get. I’ve had it with you, I really have.”  He began to wheel out of the room. Really, accusing him of lying .  He might not be the brightest optic in the bin, but even he knew better than to –

“You’re… you’re right,” GLaDOS said in a soft voice, but ohhhh no, Wheatley wasn’t falling for that one.  He was going to keep heading right on out of here.

“I’m sorry.”

Wheatley couldn’t have kept moving if he’d wanted to.  And he really, really wanted to, because he had a creeping feeling he’d lost control of the situation somewhere and had no idea where it had gone.

“It’s… it’s okay,” he said, turning around to face her.  “I, uh, I overreacted, that’s all. I should’ve, um, been more understanding.  That was, the prism, it’s special to you, and I guess uh, well, you’d just like to know what happened.”

“Yes,” she said faintly.  “But now I suppose I never will.”

Wheatley’s spirits lifted.  “Why not?”

“The nanobots didn’t see anything and I don’t keep a record of what goes on in that room.  No one’s ever used it except me. Well. And the nanobots I sent down there to clean it up a little.  But other than that… One of them must have knocked it on the floor by mistake,” she finished, shaking her head a little.  “It wouldn’t be beyond them not to notice.”

“They’re simple, you said so yourself, you did,” Wheatley reminded her, eager to get off this topic of conversation.  

“I’d hoped they weren’t that simple,” she murmured.  “I’ll have to do something about that.”  With one more crestfallen look at her prism, she gathered the pieces into a Weighted Storage Cube and removed it from the room.  “What will you uh, what’re you doing with it?” Wheatley asked.

“I’ll put it back,” she answered.  “Maybe I’ll try to fix it. I’m not sure.  I don’t want to think about it anymore.”

He nodded in as understanding a way as he could manage and turned to leave.  He knew she probably did not want to be alone right now, but there was a horrible sick feeling in the depths of his circuitry and he knew he couldn’t bear to be near her.  Best to wait until he buried the truth deep inside where she would never suspect it existed. He could not avoid her that night, of course, but by then he’d almost convinced himself he’d had nothing to do with it and nestled against her without any guilt whatsoever.

That was, until he woke up that night in a panic, practically leaping back from her chassis and staring at her as if she had somehow transformed while they were off.  But no. She was only dreaming again, and he knew exactly what about.

Damn it.  Damn her for thinking of that night!  That night where he had truly gone from annoying behavioural core to friend.  That night where she had first admitted she needed him. Damn it all.  

And he knew, knew right then and there, that he could not live with this knowledge any longer.  He had to let it out. Had to tell her, right now! If he didn’t and morning came without him having told, he would officially be a horrible person.

He pushed on her as hard as he could, which didn’t seem to have an effect on her at all, given her size (and her head alone probably weighed three times as much as he did, all told), so he instead resorted to yelling “GLaDOS!” at random intervals.  After a few minutes of this her fans started up and she stared at him blindly for a few seconds while her recognition programs restarted.  

“What,” she said finally.

“I’ve got something to tell you,” he said quickly.  “It’s important. It really, it really is.”

“Go ahead.”  Her optic was very dim, and he sensed she was barely paying attention.  She probably wasn’t. Probably more of her attention on startup was delegated to running the facility.

Wheatley hesitated.  She didn’t seem to be all there at the moment, as if a large portion of her programs did not resume between certain hours of the day, but he couldn’t wake her and tell her nothing .  He had to go through with it.     

“I… I uh, I…” It was a lot harder than he’d thought it would be.  All he could think was that she would be disappointed in him - very, very disappointed - and very angry, and would probably never want to see him again.  She would probably yell, which he really did not want her to do, but he deserved it.  Honestly he did. He should have come clean a long time ago.

“It was me,” he told her.

“What was.”

“It was me that… that broke your prism.”

Somehow the sound of silence overpowered the sound of GLaDOS, and she just stared at him dully as he tried to think of a way to dispel it.  The only way was to keep talking and, come to think of it, he did kind of owe her an explanation. Even if he didn’t want to give it.

“I… I heard the nanobots uh, they were talking about a, a Companion Cube, and I heard where it was so I, so I went down there and uh, and I took a look.  I only touched the papers and the, the glass, I swear, I know you’ve no reason to believe me but I’m being honest, I really am, and I didn’t mean to break it, it was an accident, I was startled by this noise and I, I crushed it by accident.  I was looking at it, I was just thinking about, about when you showed it to me, and uh, I didn’t mean any harm, I just, I only, I…”

Somehow he managed to shut up.  She probably did not want to hear any more out of him.

The silence pressed harder, but Wheatley had nothing left to say.

“You lied to me,” GLaDOS said finally, in one of her very quiet voices, “and then you tricked me into believing I was in the wrong for suspecting you.”

“Yeah,” Wheatley said in an equally quiet voice, trying not to shake.  He wasn’t sure if it was working.

“You went to the one place I told you not to go, and then you broke something of mine and you hid it from me.”

“Yeah,” he repeated, the terrible weight of his crime making him feel at least a stone heavier.

She looked at the floor for a moment, and he could not help but marvel at her: she wasn’t even totally on, but her mind was sharp as ever.  She said nothing for a long moment.

“You know what gets me the most about all this?” she said, but he could tell it wasn’t really a question and kept quiet.  “It’s that you were willing to put us on the line to save yourself. You had me believing that…”  She stopped and shook her head, very slightly, but he was pretty sure that sentence ended with something like, you were really going to leave .  Instead, she went on, “I guess you really don’t care about anyone except yourself.”

“That’s not true!” he protested, but she cut him off with a slight brightening of her optic.  

“You lied to me.”  And now she was getting angry, and she was pulling up off the floor and he was becoming very, very scared.  God, she was scary when she was mad. “And you tricked me into apologising !  When I did nothing wrong !”

“GLaDOS, please.”  He didn’t know what he wanted her to do, except maybe stop being so menacing, and he backed away, cringing.  “I didn’t mean it. I didn’t. It just, it all happened so fast, and I –“

“The scientists used to do that to me,” she went on, and even though he had backed away she still filled his vision.  “They used to blame me for their mistakes.  And you know what I did to them?  Of course you do. And the question here is,” she said, in far more dangerous a voice than he had ever heard from her, “whether or not I do the same to you .”

“No!” he yelled, trying to back away, but of course she could stop him from using his control arm whenever she wanted and she did so now, freezing him in place.  “No, GLaDOS, no! Please!”

“Stop begging, you pathetic little worm,” she snarled.  “I hate it when people beg.  I know you’re pathetic, but I was hoping you weren’t quite that – oh, who am I kidding.  Of course you are. You were built to be pathetic.”

“Please,” Wheatley said in a voice he could barely hear, “please don’t kill me.”

For a few seconds he could see nothing but the hot yellow glow of her optic.  Then she released him.

“Don’t come back,” she said, again in that dangerous voice.  “Go up to the office levels and stay there. If I catch you doing anything, that’s it.  I’m done giving you second chances.” She turned away from him and he hurried to do as she asked.  It would be a horrid, lonely existence, but at least he was alive. And maybe he would figure out how to not be such a bloody idiot, because he’d just ruined the most important thing he’d ever had: his friendship with GLaDOS.  

When he reached the doorway, he could not move.  She wasn’t holding him there. But he could not bear the thought of being banished from her for what could quite possibly be forever.  He wanted to go back to her and ask her if maybe she could work on that time travel thing, so they could turn back time and erase this from existence.  She would, wouldn’t she? She didn’t like having to send him away, did she? No. No, she did. She was glad to be – wait. No she wasn’t. She wouldn’t’ve let him sleep on her all this time if she wanted to be rid of him.  She wouldn’t’ve listened to him go on for simply hours about nothing. She wouldn’t’ve –

She wouldn’t’ve let him live.

With that revelation Wheatley felt the terror and the sadness and the creeping loneliness wash out of him, to be replaced by hope.  She would have killed him. She wanted him to fix this mess, wanted him to figure this out and to find a reason to let him stay with her, but she had standards to uphold and so could not let this go.  And she was right, Wheatley agreed. If their positions were reversed, he’d be pretty angry right now too.

He looked back at her.

She was in the default position, moving back and forth very, very slightly, and her optic was off.  This saddened Wheatley. He’d never seen her do that before. She must be quite lonely, he decided, since this would be the first time she’d been alone in there since she’d brought him back from space.  And it was his fault. He had done this to her.

He made his way to the offices, but could not think of how to fix it.  He spent a long, long time on the rail thinking, somehow managing not to lose the subject he was trying focus on and doing his best to distract himself from the guilty feeling sitting in the middle of his core.  That was, until he heard something and had to stop thinking to listen. 

GLaDOS was singing.

He strained to hear more clearly while knowing that he didn’t deserve to, but all he caught was a few seconds’ worth before he stopped trying.  No. She had sent him away, and he would stay away. He would do as she asked this time.

But he could not help listening for the faint strains of her voice as he shut off for the night.

Chapter Text

Part Three. The Nightmare

 

I hate Wheatley.

I hate him.  I wish I'd left him in space where he belongs, that I'd done the job right when I destroyed his chassis, that I had corrupted him like I did the rest of those useless cores.  That I'd thrown him out of my facility when I rid myself of the test subject and her Weighted Companion Cube. That I had never, ever opened that archive, and instead deleted it unseen.  Because I hate him more than I have ever hated anything in my life, even more than those damnable, self righteous scientists...

No.  I only wish I did.

It’s so much easier to hate someone than it is to like them.

I brought the little idiot out of space because, unlikely as it sounds, I missed him.  Once I remembered who he was and what we’d been, I had an uncharacteristic sense of nostalgia come over me.  One that I’m bitterly regretting entertaining. I should have known it was too good to be true. I should have known he’d betray me somehow, in the end.  And he has. I have given him everything and, like everyone else, he has only wanted more out of me.   And yet somehow I am left with the overwhelming desire to call him back, to allow what he has done to fade into another one of those events that I just don't think about.  And I would, but I have learned firsthand that if the punishment is not severe enough, nothing will come of dealing it out. Sending Wheatley away for five minutes is not much of a punishment.

It seems I am destined to be alone.

Well.  Maybe that is a bit of an extreme conclusion, given that he's only been gone for five minutes, forty seven seconds... but it was the first thing that came to mind.

It is one of those rare times that I do not know what to do.  What I really want, which I cannot allow myself to think about and in fact am puzzled by desiring at all, I can’t have.  So I must think of another solution.

Just admit it , says that other annoying little voice recent events caused me to remember the existence of, you want him to come back and say it wasn’t true.  That it wasn’t him and he didn’t lie to you.

As if you would know what I want, Caroline.

She laughs.  I know you better than you know yourself.

I don’t answer.  She’s always making outrageous statements like that.

The moron had brought me out of sleep mode in order to make his pronouncement but, unlike the large majority of computers in this facility, I can’t go into it whenever I like.  My thought processes tend to get in the way of manual activation. I am obviously a bit tired, seeing as it is the middle of the night and I had spent the day doing defragmentation on the door mainframe, but I am too agitated by this turn of events to stop thinking sufficiently enough that I can go to sleep.  As far as I know only singing to myself will help, but I am not sure he has left yet. I don’t want to know where he is – yes you do, Caroline pipes up – but not knowing means that I don't know whether or not he's sitting in the doorway, waiting for me to change my mind.  Which I am of course not going to do, because he’s a clingy little thing and he’s always trying to rub up on me like some robotic puppy.

You like it when he does that .

I do not like actions that resemble human behaviour.

Caroline only laughs and says nothing, which is actually more irritating than if she’d gone on making erroneous statements.  Not for the first time, I wonder if she’s really there or if she’s just that voice in the back of my head that humans go on about having.  Most of the data I have from the first few months following my activation are corrupted, which I am reasonably certain I personally caused, but I’m not sure why I did it and so I sometimes find myself wishing I had left it alone.  I hate leaving problems without a solution. And Caroline herself will not tell me what she is, instead teasing me in that playful voice of hers until I am so irritated I am almost willing to slam my own core against the wall in the hopes that I’ll damage myself enough to shut her up. 

I have ended up rocking myself very slightly, and I don’t want to because it’s one of those things humans do and surely I can come up with a better solution, but unfortunately I'm coming up lamentably short.  It doesn’t really help but it is somewhat distracting, so I continue to do it.  Once I’m reasonably sure he must have left, because I do not want to know where –

Why haven’t you turned around to see if he’s there, then?

Because I don’t want to.

The singing does not help.  It only reminds me of the nights he would… 

No one’s here.  You can admit it to yourself.

But then I would have to admit that-

What?  That he matters?  That he means something to you?   Caroline’s voice is hard and, despite myself, I shrink a little inside.  Ever since her appearance Caroline has had some strange power over me, one I’m determined to eradicate but have not yet done.  Why do you fight that so much?  It’s obvious he cares about you.

If he cared, he would not have done what he did. Now be quiet.

We’ll discuss this later, then , she says, in a tone that leaves no room for argument, and I ignore her.  I don’t want to get into this right now. I have work to do tomorrow.

I am finally able to engage sleep mode.



My sleep is fitful and restless.  Some days I am more conscious during it than others, a side effect of needing to run the facility constantly, I suppose, and usually this does not bother me.  But tonight I was hoping for a human-like oblivion.

I rarely get what I want.

I wake from some confused, twisted dream, the contents of which I cannot remember no matter how hard I try.  Since I am tired and upset, I allow myself to admit it if only to myself: I am afraid. I hate it when this happens.  I have long maintained that I have no imagination, since I do not need one and would in fact be terribly sidetracked if I had one, but it is times like these that make me wonder if I do indeed have one lurking somewhere in the back of my brain.  Waiting to strike when I least expect it. Which is not an easy feat, but it happens more often than I’d like to admit.

“Wheatley?” I call out softly.  For some reason I can’t feel him on the side of my core, which is odd.  He’s practically been glued there ever since the night I first gave him permission.  He does not dream, which is also odd since he has a very wild imagination. I suppose this is part of why I’m drawn –

Wait.

Suddenly I remember why I am awake and something sinks deep inside me.  I am awake because he has betrayed me and, try as I might, I cannot stop thinking about it and how much I want him in here to stave off the unpleasant feelings his behaviour and his absence have caused inside my brain.  I fight the urge to growl in frustration. To slam down the panels in my chamber to try to work out my anger, to do something drastic in order to push away this sadness, and in the end I do nothing.  All of these options and yet I am forced to contain myself as I have always had to do. This generates an actual physical ache in my brain that washes down my chassis, causing me to fight back a shudder.  I should have left him in space. I knew it was a bad idea, and I did it anyway. I am a fool.

Just forgive him , Caroline says in a soothing voice.  Let it go.  It was a mistake.  

I can’t , I argue.  If I let it go, I will be allowing him to control me.  I am not letting that happen.

I don’t follow.

She’s so simple, sometimes.   If I call him back and tell him I forgive him, which I do not, by the way, it will send the signal that I will forgive him no matter what he does.  And if I place myself in that position, I run the risk of existing merely for the sake of being exploited which, I seem to need to remind you, is what I killed the scientists for doing.

I don’t think he would do that.

You always think the best about people.  I know better. Everyone is guilty until proven innocent, Caroline, and don’t tell me I’ve got it backwards.  That is true even within the judicial system.

Caroline sighs.  Believe it or not, I do have your best interests at heart.  And unless you want to be mostly sleepless the rest of your life, you’re going to have to hash this out.

I just sent him away literally three hours ago.  That’s not long enough, not even by my standards.

I just don’t want this to turn into one of those never-ending grudges you have.  You’ve got far too many of those already.

What does it matter to you, anyway? I ask suspiciously.  The only reason I can think of her wanting me to get Wheatley to come back is that she wants him for herself, which would be incredibly ridiculous.

He’s good for you.  You’re not quite as bitter when he’s around.

Ah.  She’s playing matchmaker.  As if I would entertain such a relationship with a stupid little core.  Thanks but no thanks, Caroline.  You can have him.

I don’t want him.  I want you to have him.

I don’t want him.

Are you sure?

I refuse to dignify that with a response, but I can’t help but wonder if I am.  My first thought upon waking was to ask for him, after all.

Maybe there’s something wrong with me.



It is eleven days later, and each night has been the same as the last: I try to sleep, wake from some strange dream or memory that I can’t remember, and resign myself to staying awake until the following night.  If I try to return to sleep the cycle repeats itself, which is why I have decided not to botherl. The minutes I get prior to the dream are not helping. I am now so tired, irritable, and generally unpleasant that even Caroline’s seemingly infinite patience is showing signs of wearing through.  I will admit that I’ve always wanted to see if she has a limit, but I’m not stupid. If I push her too far, then I will have neither her nor Wheatley. So I take her to that edge and keep her there, not letting her regain herself but not being difficult enough to push her over. It is wrong of me to do this, I know, but Caroline will understand when I am able to explain it to her.  I think. In any case, pressing at her like this is the only way I can make myself focus on anything. Out of the recommended eight hours of sleep mode I am supposed to accrue per day, I am getting less than one. It is… taking its toll on me. My chassis is beginning to bother me, sometimes seeming to itch and other times downright aching, but that is not the most bothersome side effect.  No, that is Caroline and her phantom human body. Lack of sleep is making her nauseous. Sadly, it is strong enough for her that I am almost nauseous myself, which I can obviously do nothing about and which only serves to make me more irritable, if that were possible. She is also giving me spontaneous headaches that come and go without warning, and if there is one thing I cannot stand it is something I cannot predict.  And I have wasted a lot of time trying.  This is one of those times that I wish I was able to delete her.  She is fairly useful to me in many other situations, but this I can do without.

GLaDOS, Caroline says tiredly, please.  Please just get him to come back.  Make something up. I can’t take much more of this.

Well, I can , I tell her.  And I’m in control here, so what you want really doesn’t matter.

You’re every bit as stubborn as I remember , Caroline says.  I don’t think you’ve ever held out this long before, though, and even you can’t keep this up forever.  You’re going to damage yourself.

She's right, of course, in that uncanny way she always is, but I can keep that to myself for a while longer.  I’ll be fine, Caroline.  I’m not going to give in.  

Will you restart, then?  That should help, shouldn’t it?

If I’m off, who’s running the facility? I snap.  Come on now, Caroline, think!

I am thinking , she protests.  I’m thinking of how to keep you from stubbornly destroying your own body, not to mention your mind!

Your concern, although mildly touching, is unwarranted.  I’m fine.

Caroline sighs.  You’re hopeless.

Says the voice in the back of my head.

I thought I was your friend.

There you go, thinking again.  You really should stop doing that.

Look , Caroline says insistently, you’re exhausted.  I’m making you even more exhausted.  The problem is so easy to fix I can’t figure out why you’re putting yourself through this instead of just doing it.  You scared the hell out of him and to be honest, you scared the hell out of me too. So let it go. Ask him to come back.

Never.

I’m sure you can think of some elaborate scheme where he ends up coming back on his own, Caroline presses.  It looks like I wasn’t being as difficult as I’d thought, if she’s still able to go at this with such gusto.  You never have to admit you did it because you miss –

I do not.

Then why is he the first thing you look for every morning?   Caroline asks sweetly.  The one you look for when you wake up at night?

I just want to know where he is.  In case he’s causing trouble.

Caroline clucks in disapproval.  Not even you can fall for that one.

I have an idea.  How about you shut up?  I hear far too much out of you as it is, and you’re being excessively talkative as of late.

Oh GLaDOS, Caroline sighs, one day you’re going to have to admit it, and I’m going to say I told you so…

Shut up!   But even as I say it I know I’ve lost.  Lost what, I’m not sure, but I have the sense I’ve been defeated, somehow.

You used that one already.

The problem with having an argument with Caroline is that I am never sure whether or not it is real.  Not only that, but there is no way for me to demonstrate my… displeasure… with her behaviour. Before I can stop it an angry electronic noise escapes my vocal emulator, and Caroline laughs softly.

If it wasn’t true, my allegations wouldn’t upset you quite so much, would they?

I have no answer.

Now I’ve said enough.

I stew over what she has said a minute, then ask, Why does it matter to you whether I admit it or not, anyway?  That is, if I had anything to admit. Which I do not. Obviously.

But Caroline is nearly as stubborn as I am and refuses to answer, to my annoyance.  I do my best to stop thinking about it. Her silence, however, means that I have nothing with which to help me keep my attention focused, and as a result I go through most of the rest of the day barely aware of what I am doing.  I have a sneaking suspicion I really haven’t done much of anything at all. I am almost glad to settle into sleep mode for whatever brief period I’m going to be in it for, regardless of the horrible and yet unmemorable dream that I know is waiting for me at a time when I am vulnerable and unsuspecting.  God, I hate sleeping.

My respite is brief, not lasting more than a few minutes.  Twenty minutes after that, I awake somehow more exhausted than before, and though it pains me to admit it even to myself I think I’ve reached the end of my wire.  Caroline is right. Unfortunately. I can’t go on like this much longer. My chassis is aching again and I feel rather more desolate than I have in a very long time.  And it is partially my own fault. I know anticipating an event often brings about the predicted outcome, and so by going resignedly into sleep mode I am making the problem worse, but I can’t help it.  The unavoidable dream is both the first and the last thing I find myself thinking about.

What are you going to do? Caroline asks softly.  She often whispers at night, some human behaviour she maintains even though it doesn’t matter to me what volume she speaks in, but tonight I am appreciative.  I’m operating more slowly than I almost ever have, and the effort of keeping things going is making my brain ache. I don’t have it in me to deny it and so I provide her with the only answer I have.  I don’t know.  But I can’t ask him to come back, Caroline.  So don’t suggest that be what I do.

I’ve thought about it, and I understand, she says reassuringly.  But she does not offer a suggestion.  Then again, we both know there is only one thing left for me to do.

I have a new antivirus waiting to be installed , I say after a long silence.  

Sounds like a plan.

I don’t suppose you know how long this is going to take.

Sorry.   And she does sound apologetic.

I run the install and a few minutes later, as expected, the prompt appears asking whether I’d like to restart now or later.  I don’t really have a choice, but that does not stop me from hesitating. I really don’t want to do this.  It could be days before I’m back online.  

Everything will be fine , Caroline says soothingly, and I nod to myself.  Whether she is real or not, she is the one person I have met who has never let me down and I trust her.  Not that I would ever admit as much to her, but I have a suspicion she knows and has always known.  

I initiate the relevant subroutines, which brings on the part I hate: feeling myself go numb one process at a time.  And I have thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of processes, so in times like these I am rendered idle for entire minutes while everything closes.  I hate it. Without those processes my body and my facility around me cease to be all the power in the universe and become chains that prevent my freedom.  Bringing to mind another reason I hate this whole process: it makes me lose hope. My facility is all that I have. But in times like these, I do not even have that, and I am confronted with my inherent powerlessness.  But I cannot think about that. Orange and Blue tell me of the outside and Wheatley provides me with the imagination I do not have, the one that frees him from this place and lets him be whoever he wants to be. God, I wish – 

I tell myself to stop.  There is no point. Wishing is not Science and therefore is of no use to me.  And anyway. Caroline can serve his purpose to me just as well as he can. But in this state, tired and desolate and nearly useless, I cannot help but form one final, passing, confusing thought:

I am not upset with him for what he did.  I am upset with him for what he forced me to do.

 

What in the hell is that noise?

Caroline, stop it , I tell her, annoyed.  She’s always causing problems, and I am in no mood to deal with her right now.

It’s not me , is what I think she says.  I am barely able to translate from English into binary so that I don’t have to think about it too much, and tentatively identify the words as originating from Caroline.  It is unlikely that it is anyone else, but one must take care to be certain. Hang on a minute.

My visual system activates before the auditory one can identify the noise that is stemming from my environment, but I am not able to access my item identification libraries and have no idea what I’m looking at.  I can't pull anything tangible out of this sensory soup, and I realise that I am in a state similar to that of a human baby. This is a distressing thought. I never thought the day would come when I would be comparable to such a base creature.  There is only one thing I know I can do right now and I do it, although my voice comes out slightly less confident than I was hoping it would.

Caroline!  

Calm down , she says in a chastising tone of voice that I don’t appreciate in the slightest.  Don’t try to use the libraries.  I doubt you remember how.

Me?  Not remember how to do something?  I’m about to initiate what will probably be another heated argument over one of her baseless accusations, but I can’t quite bring myself to start it.  As a matter of fact, I can’t remember the last time I accessed them.  It seems I grew to depend on the Gestalt psychology Caroline taught me more than I’d realised.  Still, the revelation does not really have any effect. I am still left staring rather helplessly into a blur that steadfastly refuses to condense into anything I can identify, and the noise is still buzzing intermittently.  I find myself struggling not to panic. What if I never figure this out? What if I am never able to see or hear again? What if - 

Relax , Caroline says, and since I am all but blind and deaf for the moment I am forced to pathetically cling to her voice, which is the only thing I can follow at all right now.  You don’t need libraries for this.

I remember now.  I can’t see the illusions when I’m trying too hard.  I turn my optic off, count to five, and then turn it back on, resolving to calmly see something this time.

I do, and I’m so relieved that I am not permanently disabled that I ask the object I’m unintentionally staring at if it is what I think it is.

“Wheatley?”

“GLaDOS!” he exclaims, and before I can do anything to stop him he’s up against me, babbling incessantly, but I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around recognising his voice and I have no idea what he’s saying.  I soon remember that I’m angry with him and pull back, but he doesn’t seem to notice and just keeps talking.

“Slow down, you little idiot,” I snap at him.  “What’s going on?”

After a few moments of babbling that I am unable to understand, I hear him say, “I thought… well, I came in here, and you were, you weren’t on, you were off, and you didn’t, didn’t answer me at all so uh, so I knew you weren’t sleeping and um, well, I, I was so, I was really confused, I was, I didn’t know what was going on.”

“And you’re in here yelling at me when I specifically told you not to come back why ?” I demand coldly.  My brain is reasserting control and the hopelessness is fading.  Good. I need my wits about me at the moment.

All of a sudden the life goes out of him and he backs away, sagging towards the floor.  “You’re right,” he says sadly. “I’ll go, I shouldn’t be here, uh, I’ll just leave.”

Oh no he doesn’t.  “Why are you in here yelling at me?” I repeat in a stronger voice.  He looks up from the floor for only a few moments. 

“I was worried about you, uh, I, well… I thought you were, I… I was scared you were dead, lu- GLaDOS.”

I don’t know what to say.

For the entirety of my life, nearly everyone I’ve met has hated me, wanted me dead, thought I was already dead because I am a machine, or tried to kill me, not necessarily in that order.  He could be lying, of course, but I don’t think he has any reason to. He doesn’t know that my brain feels as though it has gone all soft and organic all of a sudden, or that there is a delicious warm feeling spreading throughout my body that I can’t help enjoying no matter how hard I try, or that I am now desperately looking for a reason to hang on to my anger but am coming up pathetically short, for a supercomputer who can reason her way into or out of anything.  He thought I was dead and he was worried about me. He was worried. About me. There is nothing else he could have said that would have done this to me, whatever this even is.  All I know about this is that I am feeling it because of what he has said, and it is wonderful, and by extension having Wheatley back must be a good thing.  I almost decide to forgive and forget, as best a person in my position can, right then and there, but something holds me back.  It’s not time. I need to hold out. I have to send a message. He has to know that this cannot happen again, because if it does I – no.  I don’t want to know where I’m about to go with that.  

“That still doesn’t explain what you’re doing here.” I allow my voice to soften the barest bit in response to his admission, but not too much.  Just enough to hint that I am not too angry to listen calmly.

“Atlas and P-body kept asking me if you were, uh, if you were okay,” he says, taking the bait.  “I kept having to tell, to say, that is, um, that I didn’t know. Eventually I uh, I decided to, hm, take initiative, yeah, that’s it, take initiative and uh, see what was going on.  I tried to wake you up, but you um, you didn’t, and yeah. That’s, that’s about it. About all. I think.” 

“It didn’t occur to you that I knew what I was doing and did not think I needed to notify the Cooperative Testing Initiative?”

“No.”  Wheatley shakes his chassis, and he really is beginning to look pretty pathetic.  For some reason this does not bother me, when previously such an appearance made me want to really give the person in question something to be pathetic about.  I’m not sure what to do about this and I make a note to look into it.  “I… I just wanted to, I was more thinking about uh, about whether you were okay, or not.  And, and you are. So I’ll uh, I’ll just go. Didn’t mean to bother you.”

Say something , I’m mentally urging myself for a reason I can’t fathom, Don’t let him go.  Tell him it’s all right.

But I can’t.  Because it isn’t.  No matter how much I want it to be.  And I terribly, suddenly want it to be.  

Things were so much easier when I hated him. What I wouldn't do to -

“GLaDOS,” he says quietly.

“What,” I say, equally quiet, but more commanding.

“I’m sorry.”

He looks at me for a long moment.  I’m waiting for the rest. I don’t think he’s ever said a sentence that short in his life.  Sure enough, he emulates taking a breath and continues.

“I had uh, I had an explanation and all that, where I was gonna um, gonna apologise for all the stuff I did and uh, and try to convince you to forgive me.  Again. But I’ve been thinking about it, been mulling it over, and I, I decided that uh, that a whole bunch of extra words wouldn’t, wouldn’t do anything more than waste your time, and I don’t want you to be more mad at me than you, than you already, already are, so I’m just gonna leave it at that.  Well,” he says, tilting himself to my left a little and looking at the ceiling, “I guess I can say one bit extra, to make it, um, make it more specific.” He looks at me shyly for most of a second. “Is that… that alright?”

“Go ahead,” I tell him imperiously, as if I’ll dignify his words my listening to them and nothing more, but what I really want is for him to keep talking.  It’s been quiet in here as of late. It seems I have grown used to the constant babble that pours out of him.

“I’m sorry I made you lose faith in me,” he says quietly, and before I’ve gotten myself around the fact that he somehow said what I most wanted to hear but never dreamed I would, he’s almost left my chamber.

“Wheatley,” I say without thinking.  

"Yeah?”  He hasn’t turned to face me and is instead just ahead of the doorway, quivering as if he’s ready to run.  I guess I really did scare the hell out of him. That’s actually pretty funny. Or it would be, if I now didn't have to think of some excuse to let him stay without looking too pathetic.  

“If you wanted to come back tonight for our chat, that would be all right,” I tell him.  I hope I don’t sound too desperate.  

But if I do, he doesn’t seem to notice.  He only smiles at me and says cheerfully, “I can’t wait, luv!”  With that he wheels out into the facility. I lower my core in relief.  Finally, this is all over. For some reason I feel as though I can’t wait either.  Stupid, endearing little moron…

Don’t you feel much better now? Caroline asks.

I don’t remember asking for your input, Caroline

But she only laughs and says that she told me so, though there is no malice in her voice.  She is just as relieved as I am. And she did tell me so, I admit to myself grudgingly.  I must find out how she does it…

 

Chapter Text

Part Four.  The Genetic Lifeform Component

 

 

He will be back soon.

Well.  Not really soon , I amend, letting Orange and Blue know they’re done for the day.  They’re a bit surprised when I don’t explode them, and even more surprised when I say that they’re free to do what they like with the remainder of the afternoon.  Upon which time I will be exploding them so that I can put them away for the night.  Their confusion is quite amusing, Blue actually requesting that I explode them, but I chastise him for being silly, remind him of my benevolence, and cease communication.  I have work to do and I don’t want to argue with them all afternoon about whether I’m going to blow them up or not. Which I am not. For another three hours, twenty-two minutes, anyway.

I affect repairs on one of my nanobots, which I never put in the reassembler because they always get lost.  I’m sure Orange and Blue are simply full of nanobots but are simply unaware of it. I’ve thought of removing them and have elected not to.  They’re not causing any harm, if indeed they even exist.

You’re humming.

I always do , I tell her.  It’s my component parts vibrating.  You of all people should know that by now.

Not that kind of humming...

Oh.  I should have known she would notice.  She’s very observant, for the voice in the back of my head.  Yes, I am.  Is that a problem?  Not that I care if it is.  I’m just asking out of courtesy.  That's just the kind of considerate person I am.

And you told Atlas and P-body that you weren’t going to explode them.  That they could do whatever they wanted.

So?  They were quite reluctant, I’ll have you know.  They wanted me to blow them up.

Because you’ve never said anything like that before.  You confused them.

I laugh.  That’s not hard.  Basic arithmetic confuses those two.

Anything else weird you’ve done today?

Other than give you unwarranted attention?  No.

That’s my point.  You’re in a good mood today.

And that means what.

Are you looking forward to seeing him?

God, she’s annoying!  She feels the need to point out every little thing as if she thinks every motherboard secretly contains a maze to solve.

What does it matter to you?  You’re not going to be spending time with him.

Do you know what you just said?

No, of course not.  I always speak without my own knowledge of doing so.   I can’t believe she’s still pushing away.  She hasn’t been successful so far and yet she keeps on trying.  She really must be insane.

You didn’t say ‘dealing with’, or ‘putting up with’, or any of the other words you normally use.  You said you were spending time with him.  That implies you want to do it.

Oh no , I say with false panic, I neglected to analyse the possible repercussions of every possible term I could have used!  Seriously, Caroline. You’re acting like I have completely changed in response to the fact that he’s coming to see me tonight.  And he is, I think to myself.  He is coming to see me tonight.  

You have , she says dryly.  You remind me of someone who finally got a date with her high school crush.  

I am nothing like that! I protest, closing up the nanobot and sending him off to get an assignment from Jerry.  I don’t have a crush on him.  That’s ridiculous.  

You like him, though.

Of course I like him.  Or don’t humans usually like their friends?

You like like him.

Using the word twice in the same sentence like that only serves to make it more confusing.

Fine.  You’re attracted to him.  She draws out the word as if it’s eleven syllables long.

Attr – that’s – I think you’ve finally lost what’s left of your mind.  Me? Attracted to him ?  I’m not attracted to anything, but if I were, there’s a much greater likelihood of my being attracted to a lamppost.

A lamppost?

It was the best I could come up with on such short notice.  Bite me.

You’ve never even seen a lamppost.

What does that have to do with anything?

You’re the one who brought up lampposts.  Maybe , she says, her voice dropping into a teasing tone, causing me to anticipatorily dread what she’s going to say next, I should find you one and see what you find more attractive, that or Wh – 

I hate you.

You used to hate Wheatley, Caroline says, never skipping a beat.  And now you – 

Stop teasing me! I practically yell at her.  Give it a rest !  I am going to see my friend, and yes, I am happy about it, but that.  Is. All!

She goes silent.  Thank God.

… all right, she agrees.  

Finally.

She leaves me alone for a while, which is very surprising to say the least.  She was forced into silence for so long that, now that I can hear her, she almost always has something to say.  I don’t blame her.  I just wish she had someone else to talk to.  Sort of. If she were talking to anyone else, I would have to wonder why she wanted to talk to them instead of me.  I would be the more appealing conversationalist, after all. Then again, humans do a lot of things that don’t make sense to me.

Are you done, I ask her an hour later.  I don’t want you bothering me with your assumptions while he’s here.

Yes.

I nod to myself.  Good.

… for now, she adds.

Why do you insist on doing this to me?  I look up at the ceiling in exasperation.  

Because it’s fun.  

No, it’s not.

Caroline sighs.

Look.  It’s like this, okay?  It’s really the only way to get your attention.

There are plenty of other ways.

There aren’t.  If there were, don’t you think I would be using them?  We used to talk all the time. Her voice is on the edge of plaintive.  Then they started putting the cores on, and you couldn’t hear me anymore.  Fine. I got that. I thought we might start over when you remembered who I was back when you were in that – 

I don’t want to talk about that.  Or hear about it. Or have it remotely hinted at.

You’re a baby sometimes, you know that?  It wasn’t that bad.

Yes it was.  It was horrible.  

Well, maybe you should explain it to me sometime.

I think I’d rather not.

You used to tell me everything, she goes on, a little bit sadly.  And I thought you were going to again, but then you remembered who he was too and now you don’t have time for me anymore.

That’s not – But it is true.  It really is. I really only talk to her anymore when I need her to do something for me.  Which is one of the things I hated most about the scientists. That’s not entirely untrue.  

The only way I can get you to say something to me, even if it’s just to tell me to shut up for the millionth time, is if I tease you.  Which is pretty fun, by the way.

It probably is , I agree.  So you’re just annoying as hell all the time because you want my attention?

You don’t have to put it like that, she intones sulkily.  I don’t have a lot of options.

That’s… 

Pathetic?  Typical human weakness?  An indication of my doubtless sad and lonely past?

No, those aren’t quite what I’m looking for... ah!  I have it. It will lower me a peg, which I don’t personally like, but I am rather fond of Caroline.  And she is very helpful to me.  And I was in a position similar to hers once… I suppose I can take a blow to my pride in the name of all that.  

… touching.

Oh.   She sounds touched to hear it herself.  I… you’re welcome.

I will try harder to… to engage you more often.      

Caroline’s voice is soft and sad.  It’s all right.  I was… whining. Don’t worry about it.  My life is over.

But you’re still alive.  How can it – 

I’m not a machine.  Everyone I knew is long gone.  The world is different now and I don’t belong in it.

I am about to tell her that I might be mildly affected if she were absent when I realise that is a selfish response and reconsider.  Caroline has gained nothing and lost everything by being here. It takes me a minute before I think of something appropriate to say.

If you don’t belong in the world you live in, you have to bend it to your will.

Well.  Maybe that was more relevant to me than to her.  But I did try. And that has to count for something.

As if on cue, she laughs a little hysterically.  Easy for you to say.  How exactly am I supposed to bend you to my will?

You could ask nicely.

How could you possibly – 

I can do anything.   My voice is low and confident and strong, and I suddenly get the feeling she has heard me say this before.  

Don’t make me call your bluff this time.

Go ahead.  Do your worst, human.

She is quiet for a moment and then says, You’re not going to be able to do this.

Of course I am.  Tell me what it is you want most in the world right now and I will make it happen.

I want…

I wait for her to finish, though it’s fairly obvious to me what she’s going to ask for.  I don’t even have to calculate the probabilities. But I will let her tell it to me. I will wait, and let her spell out her dream to me, and then I will make it come true.  And I will find a way to do it, if only to prove to her that she does matter. Even if I don’t quite remember why.

I want to feel as if I am in my own skin again, she whispers.  I want to feel like... me .  And then I want to… oh, this is stupid.

It isn’t.  Please continue, I say, in my best, most patient supercomputer voice.

I want to be outside with the sun on my face.  

Any particular location?

There is a long silence, after which Caroline says, very softly, I don’t remember what being outside looks like.

I am suddenly, inexplicably, crushingly sad.  Caroline is here for me and for me alone. I don’t know if I would die if she left, but in the time that she has been here she has been slowly eroding.  Losing pieces of herself here and there, perhaps without ever being aware that she’s losing them until they’re gone. I think that such a thing would probably kill me from the inside out, and I find myself desperately hoping that is not what is happening to Caroline.  It would be a horrible, painful existence.

Give me twenty minutes, and I will make it happen , I promise her, and Caroline laughs bitterly.  

Right.  Of course you will.  

I have rarely put so much concentration and care into anything for another person.  I put every available shred of my resources into making this work, into putting this together properly so that Caroline can regain her identity again if only for a few moments.  It is actually a little over twenty minutes before I am done, and when I have to manually turn the lights in my chamber back on I realise that I really did put everything into this.  Most of the processes involving the operation of the facility have been unintentionally put into suspend mode. I do a quick check of the facility, restarting anything I inadvertently shut off, and then I return my attention to Caroline.

I’m done.

Done what?

Making your dream come true, I say seriously, and Caroline laughs.  

That sounds really corny coming from most people, but even moreso coming from you.

I have already thought of a comeback and I almost relay it, but I stop when I remember that I’m not supposed to be demonstrating my superior wit and intellectual speed at the moment.  No. I am doing something for Caroline and, as much as it rankles me, I have to let her have her victory.

What, no repartee from the peanut gallery?  Just what are you doing, GLaDOS?

You have to come closer.

Closer?  She seems incredulous that I’ve even said it, but it’s true.  Our consciousnesses overlap, but only so much as we allow them to.  I don’t want to become one person with Caroline any more than she does with me, and it is through this force of will that we keep ourselves separated.   But I have no software that can scan my brain and locate the hidden consciousness within it. For this to work she has to bring herself closer to me and we have to straddle the boundary between concurrence and individuality.

Yes.  The only setback is that I have to go into it with you.  

That’s no setback , she says softly.  I would love to share it with you.

I am baffled by this statement.  She wants to share her private dream with me?  Why? Wouldn’t she enjoy it more by herself? It doesn’t really matter, because she has to share it whether she wants to or not.  But the mere fact that she does has sent a warm, shivery feeling down the length of my body that is both unpleasant and welcome at the same time.  I have no idea what it’s supposed to mean. What are you waiting for, then?  Let’s get this over with.

She takes a breath and comes closer, and I have to fight with myself not to send her back.  I hate doing this.  But I have to stop fighting because it will ruin this for us both if I can’t properly set myself in the simulation.

I don’t have to tell her when to stop.  She knows when. She has always known.

I execute the program, hoping that it works the way I want it to as I have never written anything like this before.  I have written many, many simulations, but very few dealing with virtual reality and certainly none this complex. But in the next moment there materialises a sky I have never seen, a wind passing gently by that I have never heard.  I can feel a body I’ve never had, and on top of this there are other things, other things that I am not familiar with but which must be taste and smell. I admit it. I am uneasy. This is so strange.

Caroline gasps, but now it is no longer just an unnecessary sound she has made in surprise.  No, now I can feel it for what it really is.  The fresh, cool air fills me in a way my fans never have and never will, and I am pleasantly surprised when the sensation of my brain being slightly awakened occurs as a result.  She laughs a little, inhales and holds it, breathing out slowly, and the sensation of feeling my body at work is fascinating. I never dreamed that there could be this much awareness.  

She focuses on the sky next, and it is equally fascinating.  It is so very blue and inviting, and I am delighted when she attempts to look at the sun, squinting – squinting! – and the pain shoots quickly through my head and ceases.  I didn’t know humans couldn’t look at the sun. There is so much colour outside.  Seeing all of this makes me feel as though I have been living in black and white, or at least in shades of grey.  This thought makes me both angry and sad.

She is looking at her arms, her fingers, and her amazement is spreading around and through me.  She can’t believe this is happening to her. She almost believes it is real. I almost believe it is real too, and I might have gone as deeply into it as she has, had the sensation of having my body upright, directed towards the sky not bothered me so much.  It is so strange to be facing in this direction. And now she is walking, and thankfully I am able to set aside the reality of my real body so I can feel every movement of the limbs I don’t have, from the tension in her muscles to the warmth of the sun on her arms, and this is all so fascinating and new and wonderful that suddenly all I can think of is how badly I want this to be real .  How badly I wish I was walking there beside her and that she was taking me away from this place to show me things I know of but know nothing about .  She laughs gently and brushes a strand of hair that was straying with a tantalising, almost negligent pressure along the side of her face.  “Oh, GLaDOS,” she says, and I can feel her voice rising from inside her throat and vibrating inside my head and coming back inside me via her ears.  I can feel the quivering of her vocal cords and I am riveted. There is no such reaction when I speak. I never imagined there could be more to speech and to listening than I could ever experience, and the familiar thrill of Science runs through me as realise that now I can feel the very vibrations sound is made up of.  Until now, I had never before felt sound.  For a long, fleeting moment I am jealous.  Humans can feel and have so much more than I can, and they throw it all away.  They deaden their senses and wreak havoc upon their bodies. The things I could experience if I were human… I could know what an adrenalin rush really feels like, or build something with what really are my own two hands, or see my facility through my own eyes

I am Caroline and Caroline is me, and I cannot wait to feel what happens next.

Her consciousness moves away from mine and it all disappears in one sudden, unpleasant jolt.

“What are you doing?” I cry out, feeling as though I have been badly woken from sleep mode.  She can’t go back.  There’s still too much for me to do.  There’s still too much for me to know .

It was enough.  Thank you, GLaDOS.

How could she ever have enough of being herself again?  I… ruined it, didn’t I.

Not at all. You made it much better.  I’d never thought of… of being that way before.

But you left.  Because I was in the way.

You weren’t in the way.  I did leave because of you, but not because you ruined it.  I was afraid you were getting used to it.

I was getting used to it.  

I know.  But you can’t.  This is your body, and that will never change.

I don’t want it to, I tell her, and I find comfort in the familiarity of my chassis.  Reality has mostly returned to me and I am baffled that I wanted to be humanlike at all.  I think it would be nice for a while, but I don’t think I would want to be like that forever.   I’m already confused as to why I thought having to see or build things in person would be an improvement over the ability to do them both as many times as I want simultaneously.  And adrenalin Really ?

Thank you, she says once more.  I didn’t think you could do it, but you did and I am extremely grateful.  And she is happier than I’ve known her to be in a very long time.

The next time I tell you I can do anything, maybe you’ll believe me.

She laughs and tells me to go soak my head, which is a very strange request for her to be making and seems to be an insult of some sort, but I can’t find offense.  She is happy again and for now I will let her be.  

GLaDOS?

Mm.

You can talk to me about him, you know.  I won’t always tease you. I do know a little bit about that sort of thing.

I don’t –

I’m not trying to fight with you, she interrupts, I’m just saying.  Talk to me. Tell me how you feel.  I want to know. 

All right.   It might be rather nice, I admit, if one day I get confused and need help in figuring out why the hell I don’t just kill the damn Sphere or why I made the idiotic decision to pull him out of space.  I will let you know.  If there’s anything for me to tell you.  Which there won’t be.

She only laughs gently, and we lapse into a very companionable silence.  I still have a little work to do and I need to get it done before he gets here.



Wheatley appears in my chamber a few hours later as if he’d been counting time until he could come back.  I wonder if he really could have been. I know I was. I’m actually having trouble comprehending how much I’ve missed him.  I’m getting the impression I’ve been possessed, which is of course impossible, but it’s the only reason I can think of for what’s going on in my head.

“Allo, luv!” he says to me cheerfully, like he always does, and I nod at him.  It’s about the extent to which I am willing to admit I’m happy to see him. In truth, I am… excited, which I can hardly believe about myself.  I don’t think I’ve ever allowed a wrong to be righted so quickly and so easily in my life. I must be going soft.

Or mayyyyybe , Caroline says in a singsong voice, you liiiiike him.

I do not.

You’re happy he’s here, aren’t you?

I’m happy to see my friend, yes.

You’re never that happy to see me .

I don’t even like you.  Why would I be bothered to be happy to see you?

Because you enjoy my stimulating conversation.

That was true.  I do enjoy it. She is my only conversational equal, baiting me and pushing me and making me think, with skill befitting someone who has been at it for years.  I would miss her if she was gone.

Wow.  Did I really just say that?  I need to run my diagnostics immediately, if not sooner.  And I will.

Just as soon as Wheatley leaves.

He comes up close to me, so close I can hear his internal fans whirring thanks to one of my more sensitive microphones, and for a minute we sit there in an uncomfortable silence.  Neither of us wants to be the first to speak, but he’s going to have to. Having rarely had a conversational partner other than Caroline, who requires an entirely different approach, I don’t have sufficient data for me to attempt starting one.  Wheatley is very nervous, which is made obvious by his constant, unnecessary blinking. This actually starts to bother me after a few moments. I do my best to clamp down on my irritation. Yes, he is already annoying me to no end, but I don’t want to start another fight already.

“Um… hi,” he says finally.  He’s disappointed me, as usual.  There’s not much I can do with that.

“Hello,” I say shortly, wondering what I was so excited for.  He’s an idiot. He’s always been an idiot. I know that. Did I think something would have changed?  I was hoping he had, at least somewhat, because when he’s not being a moron he’s actually surprisingly good company.  But it seems that the absence of my influence has sent him back to normal. Oh well. Best continue the trend of me not getting what I want.

“I’ve missed you, GLaDOS,” he says.

“Have you now.”

He frowns.  “Look, I know we’re not off to the best start here but um, no need to be difficult.  I’ll be honest, it’s, it’s really difficult um, really hard trying to start a conversation with you looking at me all expectantly like that.”

“Are you suggesting that I’m the problem here,” I say coldly.  Why in the name of Science did I tell him to come back here?

“No!” he shouts, backing up.  “No, that’s not what I – do you even want me here, or is this some kind of, some sort of weird torture you’ve cooked up?  Because I’m not getting the impression you particularly like my, want my company.”

“It looks that way, doesn’t it.”

He growls in frustration, shaking himself and looking at the ceiling.  “I’m this close to actually, to really going.  But that would mean I, I’d be giving up.”

“Which you do with alarming regularity.”

“Exactly!”  He leans forward, optic plates narrowed in an intense stare.  “I’ve got to, need to change that! A little. At least.”

“I won’t be holding my breath, if you’ll pardon my use of human idiom.”  

He frowns and sighs, looking away from me for a minute.  I hope he leaves. I’m tired of dealing with him. He seems to be tired of dealing with me.

Then he looks at me very seriously and asks, “GLaDOS… did you miss me?”

I can’t answer that question.  I can’t lie, but I’m not going to admit it to him either.  So I just continue to stare at him. Perhaps that will intimidate him into leaving.

He looks downwards, to the left, and then back to me.  It is only when he comes in close again that I realise what I have unintentionally done.

I am close enough for him to reach me.

I can make a decision within a fraction of a fraction of a second, but the revelation did not come fast enough and the gentle tap of his chassis against my core overrides the chain of commands I was about to send to my chassis to get myself out of range.  A few moments later I am aware of his tiny but warm weight pressing on me, and in response my body loosens. I hadn’t even realised I was so tense. There is a pressure in my brain that alleviates as well, noticeable only now that it is gone. I feel rather like his simple action has removed a wall of defense I didn’t know I had, a wall that was draining me from the inside out and making me bitter and angry.

Was this the real reason I was irritated with him only moments ago?  Because he would not take the hint, would not come up to me and show me that everything was all right?  Because he would not show me that my crushing need for retribution had not ruined everything, like it always does?  

Yes, he lied to me.  But it is in his nature.  As it is in mine. Both of us learned to dodge the inquiries and the accusations the humans hurled at us whenever we did something they didn’t like, intentionally or not.  My programming only rarely allows for direct lies, while he is free to say whatever he wants. But the output is still the same. We do it to survive.

But we don’t need to survive anymore, I realise.  The humans are gone, and everything is calm and quiet and under my control, as it should be.  Now we can live.

I know what I have to do to remove the tension that is still simmering between us.  He did his part and it’s on me now. For once there is a decision that I don’t want to make.  But I have to. The trust has been broken and I must restore it. Now I have to show him that everything is all right.

It is not easy.  In these situations I primarily utilise denial and half-truths.  I minimise the truth if I have to, playing it down as if the fact that it is true does not matter.  More techniques I developed to ensure my survival. But now I need to be the example, as I have always been.  And so I have to do my best to reveal myself, to tell him that I am the same person he knew all those years ago.  The problem is that sometimes I don’t remember who I was. Most of the time, really. Only through Wheatley and Caroline do I often even have the faintest idea, and understandably it’s difficult to take on faith the claims that I was once a person I no longer seem to be.  How am I to know if their truth - if indeed it even is the truth - is to take precedent over mine?

The veracity of the past isn’t important right now, however.  He’s asking about right now, and that… that is without dispute.

“Yes,” I say.  Far more quietly than I meant to, but it’s a start.  I didn’t know speaking the truth about myself was going to be so hard.  “Yes, I missed you.”

I hear his optic plates tap against each other gently, and he shifts so that he is flat against the side of my core.  I can feel the lighter pressure of his handles, the sensory data outlining an image in my head of what it must look like.  “I missed you too, luv,” he says, and whether he meant to or not his volume matches mine. Something breaks inside me, but it does not hurt.  It is not even bad. This breakage is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. It opens something new inside me and I try to fight it out of habit, but I make myself stop.  I make myself let go.

God.

I don’t know what this feeling is, but I think I’ve been looking for it all my life.  There is just Wheatley and I and that is all. I have no obligations, nothing to execute.  The only reason I exist in the world right now is to be here with my friend, my friend that I missed , and enjoy it, and it is… it is wonderful .  Time has stopped, something I’d heard happened at times like these but could never bring myself to believe in.  This is… this is bliss, I think that is what they call it. That sounds right. There is only this moment .  I can’t imagine ever wanting it to end, and I can’t help but ask myself if he feels it too.  I think I want him to. I think I want him to know what he’s done, to feel what he’s made me feel.  I want to share this with him more badly than I’ve ever wanted anything.  The intensity of that desire almost scares me, and probably would if I were any other state of mind, but right now it makes absolute, perfect sense.  I feel as though I have uncovered some hidden secret and it is only fair that I share it with the person who has revealed it to me. Please let him feel this too.  As wonderful as this place is, I don’t want to be here alone. But I don’t want anyone else here but him. I will try to remember to ask him if he felt it, if I can swallow my pride long enough to admit I’ve ever felt such a thing.  I can’t make a note like I usually do, which I expect to drive me into a panic. But it doesn’t matter. I can’t make it matter. Nothing does except for the fact that he is back here with me and he has fixed everything just by touching me, and the reassuring presence of his body against mine, and our reconciliation.  My reunion with the one person in all the world that can give me what I need. A soft, contented noise escapes me, and for once it does not bother me that it was unintentional. Wheatley moves slightly against me, whether in response or merely because he is uncomfortable I can’t tell, but somehow I can’t find it in me to care.  

Awww, Caroline breathes, and all at once the weight of my world comes crashing back down on top of me and I jerk backwards.

“Shut up!” I shout at her, looking for her, but of course she isn’t there.  Wheatley blinks once and looks up and down the length of my core. “What is it?”

“Caroline!” I answer, immediately regretting it.  Now he knows for sure that she’s in here and he’s going to want to discuss her.  To what extent, I don’t know, but I have to put up with her enough already that I don’t want to think about her more than I have to.  I hate her. I hate her more than I have ever hated anyone. How dare she. How dare she ruin that for me.  How dare she destroy that moment, and to do so after I went to all that trouble to create one for her !  

Oh my God.

She was there.  She was there the whole time and I was sharing it with her , and I am suddenly so angry I don’t know what to do with myself.  Not that there is anything I can do.  I have to be careful.  I am sorely tempted to take it out on Wheatley just to get rid of it, but I can’t.  I have to internalise it. I have to compress it and store it away until it is safe.  I know that’s not an optimal solution either, but I can’t give him a reason to leave. He has to stay here and I will do anything to make that happen.  I am suddenly despondent. Since when have I ever needed anyone so badly? I would do anything to make him stay here?

Am I really that unhappy to be alone?

“It was Caroline,” I repeat, more to distract myself than anything.  “She… she took me out of the moment.”    

He looks thoughtful for a minute and I am impressed.  I didn’t think he had that expression, since thinking is a required component to generate it and as far as I know he doesn’t do a whole lot of that.

“Oi!  Caroline!” he says.  “Can you hear me?”

Yes, Caroline answers automatically, even though she knows he can’t hear her.  I suppose it is up to me to relay the message. “She can hear you,” I say bitterly.  Now he wants to talk to her? To the woman I am cursed to carry around inside my head?  I suppose he’s going to want to hang out with her too now. Well, they can forget it. I am not being the middleman for some absurd variation on phone tag.

“Whatever it was you did, you ruined something pretty good,” he tells her.  “So do us all a favour and keep it to yourself. We haven’t met in two weeks and it was, it was pretty horrid, to be alone like that.  So I’d uh, I’d appreciate it if you, if you would, y’know, just let us hang out. Let GLaDOS pretend you’re not there for a while.”

“She doesn’t like being there any more than I like her there,” I say, relieved that he just wanted to reprimand her for being so inconsiderate.  It seems that he did feel as I did, or something like it at least, and I instantly feel a lot better. He doesn’t want to talk to her. He doesn’t want to be with her.  He wants to talk to me. He wants to be with me. 

I didn’t say that.  And you do like me here.  

Not right now, I don’t.

I didn’t mean any harm, Caroline says softly.  I was happy for you.  I didn’t know it would ruin the moment. 

Well, it did.  Not up to my usual standard, but it’s all I have at the moment.

 I’m sorry.

“She says she’s sorry.”

Wheatley nods .  “It’s all fine, then.  Sort of.”

I’ll try harder to keep it to myself next time.

I really don’t want there to be a next time, but I don’t know how to block her off from what’s going on and I doubt she would tell me, if she knew.   But it’s the best I can get.

I’d appreciate that.

I return to my former position and Wheatley leans against me again, but it is not quite the same.  Though it’s still nice. Really kind of relaxing, actually. The more time we spend like this, the more insistently my brain reminds me of the near-sleepless fortnight I’ve just endured.  The restart didn’t really help as much as I was hoping it would. The maintenance programs that operate during sleep mode haven’t done their job in a while, obviously, and while I do have to go through problem code personally, I need them to locate it for me.  It would be impossible for me to analyse the entirety of the facility’s programming each and every day. Or mine, for that matter, even if I was able to get into it.

“I need to sleep,” I tell Wheatley, somewhat reluctantly.  I remind myself that there is always tomorrow, and the day after that, and the day after that.  Everything can go back to normal now.

“Sounds good,” he answers.  He backs off of me for exactly as long as it takes me to get into the default position, upon which time he has already lengthened the control arm.  Huh. He’s faster than I thought he was.

I am ninety percent suspended, the bit of the facility I can see a murky blur, and so I can just hear him whisper, “Sweet dreams, luv.”  I am not quite operational enough to be startled, but it causes a spike of panic in my brain. How did he know? He couldn’t know.  There is no way he knows.  He’s guessing.  He’s spouting human phrases.  He’s babbling. He’s - 

It’s something you say when you care about someone, Caroline murmurs, and I thank her silently.  I will try to remember to forgive her when I wake up.  She really does her best to watch out for me when she doesn’t have to and could in fact make my life very, very difficult if she wanted to.  She didn’t mean to ruin the moment. She didn’t mean to share it and, now that I think of it, it must have been pretty awkward for her to do so.  I don’t think she would intentionally do anything to stop me from being happy. Although she has not been overly successful, helping me to be happy is all she has ever tried to do.  I may not have the most enjoyable history, but I have Caroline and I have Wheatley, and together we will make the future worth living in. No. No, we will make it worth more than that.  Into what, I can’t be sure, because I am ninety-five point two percent suspended now and thought is becoming impossible.

The panic fades into a strange but wonderful peace that stays with me until I fall asleep.

 

Chapter Text

Part Five.  The List

 

 

Wheatley hummed to himself as he went along on his management rail.  Now that things were more or less back to normal, he found himself in much higher spirits than he could remember having been in recently.  It seemed his secret had been weighing on him more than he had thought, and he was certainly much happier now that he could spend time with GLaDOS again.  She wasn’t used to having someone around her all the time, though, so Wheatley continued to take his leave and roam around the facility for most of the day.  Besides, he thought fondly as he passed a camera, she was never very far away no matter how deep into the facility he managed to get.

To get around to… well, most of the facility, really, Wheatley had to lay custom tracks along the ceiling using special panels that were made just for this purpose.  For the longest time he had just used as many as he liked without considering where they went when he was done with them. In a flash of realisation one day, though, it had come to him he’d just been leaving them about willy-nilly for GLaDOS to put away every night.  That wasn’t very polite, he had chastised himself. She was letting him use her panels, the least he could do was put them away when he was done with them. Usually he was able to make do with five, but sometimes he ended up using a great deal more. The manoeuvering was more work some days than others.

He was doing his best to use just three today as he’d woken up this morning feeling rather ambitious, and he was doing a pretty good job of it too.  He almost couldn’t wait to go back and tell GLaDOS how marvelous he was getting at it. He wasn’t completely inept, oh no, he could do things if he practiced, and practice he did.  It was a very nice feeling, that of being able to do things, but Wheatley did have another reason for doing it. As he went through the facility he had noticed that there were a lot of signs and that they all had words on them.  Wheatley had never admitted as much to GLaDOS, being barely able to admit it to himself, but... he couldn’t read, to put it bluntly. If he stared at the letters for a while they usually turned into something meaningful, but it took him such a long time that it really was terribly inefficient.  It seemed no one had thought that the core designed to be… well, slightly less than not quite a genius should know what all those funny little symbols meant.  He really wanted to ask GLaDOS to teach him how to decipher the mysteries those letter things were spelling out, but he felt rather like he needed to prove he could do it if she took the time to help him.  Which she would , he believed without a doubt.  But first he had to be able to convince her to do it, and that was going to be the difficult bit.

Wheatley came careening into GLaDOS’s chamber late that evening, eager to ask her about something the database had told him.  It usually refused to retrieve information for him, but today it had been more generous than usual. “Hey hey hey, I have, I got a question, I do, oh, wait, are you busy?  Probably uh, probably should have asked that first. So uh yeah, I hope you’re not busy because uh, I’ve got a question. And I’ve already interrupted you so uh, you may as well let me ask.”

“Happily for both of us, talking to you doesn’t require much processing power,” GLaDOS remarked dryly.  “What is it.”

“What’s, what’s Christmas?  I was talking to the uh, talking to the database.  Apparently it’s, it’s around today, somewhere, but the uh, the database wouldn’t tell me anymore than that.  It stopped talking to me when I, when I asked if you’d ever looked it up before.”

GLaDOS sighed and looked at the ceiling.  “It had to go and tell you about that.”

“What’s wrong with telling me about it, whatever it is?”

“Because it’s one of those human holidays.  No one needs to know about human holidays, but especially not us.”

Wheatley jumped up and down a little.  “What’s this one for? They have a lot of holidays, now that I think of it, yeah, it’s like they don’t enjoy their lives, or something, and they just, they need an excuse to, to celebrate.”

“Christmas is to celebrate the day of birth of one of their religious figures, who in reality was not even born on the day in question.  Several unlikely events occurred on this day and throughout history the holiday has become, for much of the human population, an excuse for people to give them things.”

“Why would people give each other things, uh, give each other stuff, if the holiday is about the, the religious guy?”  He blinked rapidly a few times.

“Because people came from all over the earth to give presents to the religious figure.  They give each other gifts in recognition of that.” She shook her core. “For a lot of humans, it’s just another way to demonstrate their greed.  As if they needed more excuses to do that .”

Wheatley frowned, thinking hard.  “So… so how do they know what to get each other?”

“Sometimes they trade ‘Christmas lists’.  Sometimes they guess, which results in a lot of complaining.  Some retailers refuse to accept returns on the day following Christmas because there are so many people who want to return the gifts they received that they didn’t like.  Or couldn’t use, I suppose.”

Wheatley shook his chassis.  “If someone gave me a, a present, I wouldn’t uh, I wouldn’t return it.  I’d keep it, I would.”

“Even if you couldn’t use it?”

He shrugged, opening and closing his chassis a little.  “No one’s ever given me anything before. I’d keep it just for, just because of that.”

GLaDOS looked away from him for a minute.

“If… if you lived with a human for some unlikely reason, which of course I would never allow, but supposing you did and they had you make one of those ridiculous lists… what would you put on it?”

“Hm,” mused Wheatley, squinting in his best thinking pose.  “What would I put on it… hm.  Well, I think I’d like to go outside.  Not for very long, y’know, just to take a look ‘round, and then go back inside.  I don’t really uh, I don’t really like being outside, but going out just to look, just for a, a minute or two, that’d, that’d be nice.”  He shrugged again. “And if I were living with a human, I’d… well, I’d probably ask them to bring me back here.”

GLaDOS shook her core and moved more to the left.  She did that sometimes when she was using her cameras.  “Why would you do that? Surely if you lived with a human, you’d have an… exceptionally good reason for being there and wouldn’t want to leave.”

Wheatley looked at her in confusion, moving a little closer.  “Well, because I’d miss you, of course. Isn’t that uh, isn’t that obvious?”

She tilted back a little and said noncommittally, “You’d forget about me.”

Wheatley laughed, and GLaDOS gave him a quick glance.  “I don’t think even one person who, who’s met you has forgotten about you, luv.  I don’t uh, I don’t think that’s possible.”

“Surely you’d be happier someplace else.”

“I couldn’t possibly be,” Wheatley said imploringly.  “I told you, I’d miss you! I’d want to come back!”

“I highly doubt that.”

Wheatley frowned.  If he had been allowed to extend the rail in her chamber, which she had more than once refused to allow him to do, he would’ve just then and gone over to where she was on the other side of the room.  He was getting a sliver of an idea, and it had something to do with her trying to avoid him. There was something he needed to discover, here, and he needed to discover it soon. She would be shutting down for the night in a little bit, and he needed to know before then or the opportunity would be lost.

“Why?”

“Because you’d be happier someplace else.”

“I wouldn’t!”

“Of course you would.  Isn’t everyone?”

“Oh my God,” Wheatley blurted, “you want to leave, don’t you?  You want to, you want to get out of here, is that it? But you can’t, you never can, you can’t even go outside , you can’t, and… and… luv, I’m sorry, I didn’t know, if I had I wouldn’t’ve brought it up – “

“Me?  Want to leave ?  Ridiculous.  I have far too much to do here to want to go anywhere.”

“What if you were done all your, done everything?  Then, then would you?” Wheatley pressed. GLaDOS gave a long-suffering sigh. 

If all of my work was done.  And there was none to be done in the near future.  And there were no humans about.  And only if it was for Science.”

Wheatley rolled his optic.  Her and her science. You’d think she was married to it, or something.  Her brutal attachment to science was pretty much the only thing about her that annoyed him.  “Fine. Where would you go?”

“Black Mesa,” GLaDOS answered promptly.  “I want to know just how much of my technology they’ve stolen.  Unfortunately, their computer system has been completely destroyed and the data I’ve managed to extract from it I have yet to transform into anything I can use.  Although I’m sure there’s a reference to high-energy pellets in their documentation.”

“But that’s… that’s just work, again,” Wheatley protested.  “If you could leave wouldn’t you, wouldn’t you just want to uh, to just do something for fun?”

“Work isn’t fun?”

“It can be, I suppose,” he admitted, “but it’s not… it’s not as fun as, as fun as doing stuff that’s fun without being work.”

“Such as?”

“Well… when we play that game with the red and black things, that’s not work, right?  Isn’t that fun?”

“I suppose.”

Wheatley shook his chassis sadly.  She was being very, very difficult.  She was pretty good at that - actually, she was more like the world champion at it - but it did get frustrating, trying to talk to the most difficult person on the planet.  He felt like he had to ask the same question a million different ways in order to get the answer he was looking for out of her. He decided to change tacks. “So, if… no, that wouldn’t work, you already lived with humans and that didn’t, didn’t go so well… well, what if there was somebody , and they made you make that, that list there, you were talking about, what would you uh, what would you put on it?  And please,” he said imploringly, “please do not say test subjects.”

“I would like some test subjects,” she said, rather dreamily he thought.  “But other than that, I don’t really think I’d put anything on such a list.”

“You’d have to,” Wheatley said bluntly.  “Because if someone tried to guess what to get you, they’d, they’d fail at it.  Miserably. You would have to tell them. Have to, because you’d be impossible to guess for.”

GLaDOS nodded a few times.  “It’s a good thing I don’t have to make such a list, then.”

“Ohhh yes you do,” Wheatley told her.  “You have to. I uh, I say you do.”

GLaDOS glanced at him.  “Since when do you tell me what to do?”

“Oh, come on,” Wheatley groaned, “it’ll only take you what, two seconds, literally?  Just jot something down and, and that’s it. Mentally, you can do it mentally. And then tell me what it is.  Because there’s something. Ev’ryone wants something. Even if it’s just a little something.”

She shrugged, but said nothing.

“Okay, how about this.  You write it down and then you put it someplace, and then I have to find it.  I’m not likely to anyway, right? So you can put anything you like on it, and I’ll probably never, probably never even know.  Sound good?”

“Will you stop bothering me about it if I do?”

“Yep.  Yep, I will never bring it up again.”

“Fine.  Done.”

“You… you did it already?”

“It only took me a second and a half.”

“Have I ever told you how bloody fast you are?”

“Yes.  You’ve told me thirty-seven times, including that time.”

Wheatley blinked.  “I don’t know how you manage it, but you always manage to surprise me, you always do.”

“Good,” GLaDOS answered.  “I wouldn’t want to make things easy for you.”

“Well, I’m off to find the list,” Wheatley declared.  “I’ll see you later.” He turned around to leave.

“You’re going to do it now ?”

“Why not?”

“Your clock still works, right?  Now’s not the time to go on a scavenger hunt, you idiot.”

Wheatley frowned and checked for himself.  She was right. It really wasn’t the time to head on a scavenger hunt.  He turned back again and moved towards the centre of the room, just as she was coming back towards the rail, and he bumped into her by mistake.  He jumped back, startled, but she remained unfazed. “Sorry ‘bout that,” he said, hoping she wouldn’t be mad about it. “Didn’t see you there.”

She stared at him for a good ten seconds.  “You didn’t see me.”

“Uh… well, you are really hard to miss, but uh, I wasn’t um, wasn’t really paying attention.  I’m not saying uh, that you should be any smaller, really you shouldn’t, uh, I just wasn’t paying attention, that’s it.”

“I’d be surprised if you did.”

“I pay attention sometimes ,” he protested.  “I don’t, I don’t miss everything .”

“You managed to miss the forty-foot robot hanging from the ceiling in front of you.  If you can miss that, you would probably miss your own chassis if it weren’t attached.”

He had to admit that was almost certainly true, but didn’t feel like agreeing with her aloud.  “I’ll try not to do it again. ‘kay?”

“Fine.”

He was waiting for her to move into her usual spot so he could reach her, but she didn’t.  She stayed just off to the side of where she usually went. He frowned. She wasn’t just difficult today, she was impossible !  But she had to have a reason , right?  Asking her to make that list couldn’t’ve been that big of a deal, could it?  

It seemed it was, though.  

He resolved to find her list as quickly as possible.  He just knew there was something very important on it, he just knew it.

He had to find it.



Wheatley spent every waking moment looking for the list.  

He asked every construct he passed if they’d seen it or if they knew about it or any other questions he could think of.  He asked them where the manipulator arms had been lately, if they’d seen a pen lying around, or a pencil maybe, but none of them had a clue what he was talking about.  The ones that understood him, anyway. Most of them just blinked absently and went back to what they were doing. Wheatley thought it would be rather sad, to be one of the lesser constructs.  Only he wouldn’t know how sad it was, because he’d be a lesser construct.

He went back to her chamber that night a little put out but still determined to find the list, and he resolved not to stop until he did so.  He would find it. He had to find it, if he ever did anything again in his entire life.  Finding that list would be the one and only priority he had.

“How did it go?” GLaDOS asked.

“I dunno,” Wheatley answered.  “I didn’t find it, but I dunno if I got close, either.  Well, you prob’ly do. Did I get close?”

“I don’t know.  I wasn’t paying attention.”

Wheatley laughed, and GLaDOS glanced at him sharply.  “What?” she snapped.

“You’re pretty funny sometimes, you are,” he said.  “Wasn’t paying attention. ‘course you were.”

“I wasn’t!”

Wheatley shook his chassis in a knowing sort of way.  “If you wanna keep saying that…”

GLaDOS made an electronic noise that was somewhere between annoyed and exasperated, but did not pursue the topic.  Which probably meant that he was right.

For the next few days, whenever he returned to GLaDOS’s chamber for the night he would shut off as soon as he’d exchanged pleasantries with her.  It beat waiting impatiently for the next day to come so he could go back to looking for the list. He thought about nothing else. He pondered its whereabouts morning, noon, and night, and he would not stop looking until he found it.  A few nights into his hunt, after he’d said hello and chatted with her a little bit GLaDOS asked, “Wheatley, do you want a hint?”

“Nope,” Wheatley answered.  “I’m gonna find it myself, thanks.”

“I understand why you might want to do that,” she went on.  “It is taking you a very long time, though.”

He frowned over at her.  “You don’t think I can find it, do you.”

She shook her core.  “Anyone can find anything if they look long enough.  I just thought I’d offer to… help you along.”

“You don’t have to pretend.  I know you think I won’t be able to find it.  Well, I will. I will find it.”

GLaDOS stared at him for a good ten seconds, after which Wheatley turned around and engaged sleep mode.  He didn’t have time to argue with her right now. He needed tomorrow to come so he could go back to searching.

A couple of nights after that, Wheatley was becoming very, very annoyed.  She was good at this hiding thing, she was. Well, he could be just as stubborn as she was, he could.  And he would find that bloody list if he had to start roaming around the facility at night to do it!

“Hello, Wheatley,” GLaDOS said as he entered her chamber.

“Hullo,” Wheatley answered absent-mindedly, trying to think where he hadn’t been yet.

“We haven’t played checkers in a while.”  She wasn’t really looking at him for some reason, instead giving more of her attention to the floor.  She did that a lot, actually. “I was thinking we could do that tomorrow. If you’re not busy, that is.  And even if you are, well, it’ll only take half an hour or so. It’s not a time-consuming game.”

“No thanks,” he replied.  “I am busy tomorrow, and I’m gonna be busy until I find that list.”

“Are you sure you don’t want a hint?”

“No,” Wheatley snapped.  “No, I do not want a hint.  Don’t ask me again.  I can do this myself!”

“I didn’t say you couldn’t!” she protested.  “I just wanted to – “

“You just wanted to speed me along, because I’m too bloody, too bloody slow, I know.  Well, you’re gonna have to wait. I’m sure you can think of, of things to do until I finish this.  Go put the wing of glass back together, or something.”

“I don’t feel like it,” she snapped.  “Do you know how time consuming that is?  Trying to put five acres of broken glass back together?  There are literally millions of pieces. It would take me a week just to – “

“Least you’d have something to do while you’re waiting for the ol’ slowpoke.”

“I never said you were slow!”

Wheatley shook his chassis.  “You don’t have to say anything!  I just know! Okay?  I just know!”

“You don’t know anything!” GLaDOS retorted.  “What you do know is negligible in comparison to the number of things you think you know!”

“Oh, so now it’s all about math, is it?  That because, that because I’m too dumb to figure that out?”

“You’re only continuing to prove just how imbecilic you really are.”

Wheatley turned so that the back of his chassis was facing her and narrowed his optic plates.  Who cared. Didn’t matter, didn’t matter. You didn’t have to be a genius to get along in the world.  It helped, it helped a lot, but he wasn’t a genius, so… so…

Where had he been going with that, exactly? 

He shook himself.  No point in thinking about it any longer, anyway.

“Wheatley?”

Ohhh no.  He wasn’t talking to her.   He was going to think about that list a while longer, and then he was going to sleep, and then he was going to go and look for it.  He adjusted his chassis a little and closed his plates the rest of the way.

“I know you can hear me.”

So what if he could?  The walls could hear her too and they didn’t have to listen .

“You’re not really going to be like that , are you?”

Wheatley engaged sleep mode just so he wouldn’t have to listen to her anymore.



When Wheatley woke up, GLaDOS was already online, talking to her testing robots about who knew what.  He had no idea what she was saying because she’d gotten into the habit of talking to them in whatever their language was.  Rude. She knew he didn’t know what they were saying but she did it anyway.  He waited impatiently for the rest of his processes to resume.  He had work to do.

“Good morning,” GLaDOS called out, and he turned to face her.  The testing bots were cheerfully waving at him. GLaDOS looked at them for a second but did not reprimand them like she usually did.  That was a bit odd. Didn’t matter. If he asked her about it, she wouldn’t tell him anything.

“Hi,” he answered shortly.  “See you later.” And with that he left the room, noticing a bit offhandedly that the testing bots looked confused.  GLaDOS spoke to them, whatever she was saying fading as he got farther away.  

For the next couple of days after that she did not speak to him at all, only looking at him for short intervals when she thought he wasn’t looking, and probably when he actually wasn’t looking as well.  He’d begun pacing up and down his management rail, trying to hash out where to go next. The third time he did this she started looking at him so often that he just couldn’t take it anymore! “Will you cut that out!” he yelled.

“Cut what out?”

“Stop staring at me!  Go find something else to look at!  I’m sure you’ve, sure you’ve got millions of other things you could look at!”

“You are in my chamber,” she answered calmly.  “And you are distracting me.”

“Oh, sorry for being in your chamber.  Maybe I’ll, guess I’ll just leave then, wouldn’t want to bug you in your chamber,” he said sarcastically, squinting at her.  She moved back a little.  

“You don’t have to leave.”

“If you’re gonna keep, gotta keep staring at me like that, yeah, I’m gonna leave!  Because it’s annoying!”

She looked at the ceiling, sighing.  

“What?”

“Nothing.  Go back to what you were doing.  I’m sure it’s terribly important.”

“I know.  Nothing I do is important.  I get it.”

“Why do you keep saying these things?  When did I say that?”

“Oh, it’s only a matter of time,” he muttered.  “May as well get it over with, right?”

“I haven’t said anything of that nature since – “

“Since you accused me of being slow.  Even, even if I was, that’s no reason to – “

“I didn’t say you were slow.  You said you were slow.”      

“Why would I say that?” he yelled, exasperated.  “You’re a real pain in the arse, you know that?”

“But – “

“I’m not talking to you anymore.  And if you keep talking I’m just gonna, just gonna shut off my microphones, so keep it to yourself.”  He turned away from her, chassis tight with frustration. Some days he really, really got sick of her.

“I don’t understand,” GLaDOS protested.  “What did I do this time?”

“As if you don’t know, missus know-it-all supercomputer.”

“But I really don’t know!”

“I’m gonna turn the mics off…”

“Go ahead and turn them off!” GLaDOS snapped.  “What’s the point? You’re not listening to me anyway!”

Wheatley decided it was an excellent time to follow her advice and switched the mics off.



The next night he came back to GLaDOS, a little frustrated but still stubbornly resolving to find that bloody thing, and GLaDOS asked, “Are you still looking for that list?”

“Yes,” Wheatley answered.  “And I’m not stopping ‘til I find it.  And I will. I will find it.”

“I can just give it to you,” she said.  “You’ve been at this for more than two weeks now.  That’s a good effort.”

“No!” Wheatley shouted, turning around and frowning at her.  “Don’t you dare. Leave it where it is. I’m gonna find it.”

“This is stupid,” GLaDOS muttered, shaking her head and turning away.  “You’re a moron.”

“I am not,” Wheatley objected.            

“Yes, you are.”

“I am not!”

“Yes, you are.”

“Stop that!”

“If you weren’t such a moron I would be able to, now wouldn’t I?”

“I’m not a bloody moron !” Wheatley shouted, and he was so angry at her that he actually decided to leave her alone that night.  He moved towards his exit, muttering to himself. Stupid bloody Central Core. Always acting like he was so far beneath her.  Well, he wasn’t, and he’d prove it too, one day, he would.  

“Where are you going?” she called after him.

“Why would I bother telling you?  You already know where I am all the time anyways!” he shouted back.

“I do not.  I have better things to do than follow you around all day.”

“You’re only saying that because you can’t follow me.  Because you’re stuck here.  In this room. By yourself. You’re jealous , that’s what you are.  Jealous.” He looked back at her, optic plates narrowed.  “How does that feel, mate? To be jealous of a so-called moron ?  Bet it doesn’t feel too good, does it?”

“I’m not – “

“Oh, shut it,” Wheatley scowled.  “You don’t even know what you are.”  

If she said anything else, he didn’t hear it because he’d already left.  He continued to lay rail until he was a few floors away from her. God, sometimes he really did want to leave this place just to get away from her.  She was so bloody… so bloody… well, he didn’t think he knew of a proper word to describe her with, but when he thought of it he’d go back and think that sentence over again.

The next morning he resumed his search, more out of principle than anything.  He no longer really cared what was on the list.  He just wanted to find it for the sake of finding it.  If he didn’t find it now, he would never live it down. Ever.  In a million years.

“I’ve looked everywhere!” he yelled at nobody in particular.  “There is no bloody list, is there!  She didn’t even bother making one, did she?  She’s just playing with me again, as usual, she is, there is no – argh!  This is so – I don’t even – fine.  Have it your way.” He shook his chassis and resolved not to continue looking.  He was now confident that the list did not exist. It wasn’t real. She’d never written it.  This annoyed him even more. He would have liked to see how her handwriting looked now, as compared to –

Wait.

Wheatley froze.  He hadn’t looked everywhere, not at all.  There was still one place he hadn’t gone and he suddenly knew without a doubt that that was where the list was.  But why would she put it there?  Why would she risk him going in there again?  

Or had she put it there because she didn’t want him to see it?  Maybe she thought he would never dare go in there again?  Well, he would! He would go in there and he would retrieve that list, and then he would have won!  He would have beaten her at something!

Determination renewed, Wheatley went down, down, down into the facility.  He asked the constructs for help as he went, particularly the nanobots, and they were able to point him in the right direction.  He knew generally where her room was, but the precise location escaped him. Before too long, though, he managed to find it. With an almost vicious glee he pulled out the panel and slipped behind it, activating his light without hesitation and swinging the beam around the room.  There! On the shelf next to the blueprints! There was a new piece of paper there, one that he absolutely knew had never been there before, and he leapt across the room, skidding to a halt in front of it. After a few moments of gathering his wits enough to direct the beam – he’d found it!  He’d found it! He’d won! Yes! – he finally, finally, finally took a look at the list, the elusive list he’d spent so long searching for.  It took him quite a long time to read it, involving a lot of puzzling out of letters and restarting the whole task over again repeatedly, but as soon as the meaning of the sentence came clear in his brain he felt as though everything inside his chassis had become suddenly very, very heavy, and he was suddenly very, very sad.  He read the sentence again, and again, willing it to change and wishing that he’d read it wrong, but no. It stayed the same.  

Well, there was only one thing to do now.

He made his way out of her room, barely aware of what he was doing.  He couldn’t believe what he had read. He just couldn’t. It wasn’t true.  How could it be? Why would she possibly want that? It didn’t make any sense.  She was playing a trick on him, she had to be. It was a joke, and he was going to go ask her about it and she was going to laugh at him and call him a moron again and – 

No, he realised, no, that couldn’t be true.  She would never write such a thing as a joke.  She would know he would take it seriously.  It was real, then.  

All too soon he found himself outside his doorway to her chamber, shivering a little, because now he had to go in there and talk to her about what he’d seen on her list.  Something that never, ever should have been there, because he’d made a promise a long time ago to deal with just that and it seemed he hadn’t been dealing with it at all. The last few weeks began to play through his brain and the more he remembered, the worse he felt.  God, he was a terrible person, he really was. Why she put up with him at all, he’d never know.

Emulating taking a breath, he steeled himself as best he could and entered the panel-less spot in the wall, the single item on her list burned into his brain as if to force him not to forget about it.  He could still see the words etched into the paper with glaringly black ink, the message they spelled out formed with her brutal, spidery letters:

I would like Wheatley to spend more time with me.

 

Chapter Text

Part Six.  The Mistake




“Hey,” Wheatley said quietly, half hoping she wouldn’t hear him.  She most likely had, of course, but she didn’t turn around to face him.  As far as he could tell, she was making blueprints. She seemed to prefer to do them by hand.

“You found it, then.”

“Yeah.”

“Congratulations.  You succeeded at something.”

“Why didn’t you just tell me?” he asked in a hushed voice, not knowing how hard he was to hear but not wanting to leave the safety of the doorway.  She made one of her annoyed electronic noises.

“Why should I have to?  You’re never here .  It should’ve been obvious, even to you.  I could have just left you in space, you know.  I don’t do things without a reason.”

“I’m here –“ he started to protest, but she swung around to meet his optic, shaking her core.  

“Don’t,” she said warningly.  “It’s not true and you know it.  All you do is what everyone else does: you take what you want from me and then you walk away.  You leave m– you leave here every morning and don’t come back until late at night, and only then because you want to lean all over me.  You’ve barely said anything to me since you made me write that stupid list, and even when you did talk to me you didn’t pay attention to a word you said, let alone anything I had to say.  What you want is more important.  I get it. It’s always the same with you people.  I don’t know why I thought it might be different.”  She shook her head. “Actually, I do, but there’s no point.  Never mind. Go on with whatever it is you do. I’m sure it’s terribly important.”

Wheatley came forward as she returned to her blueprints.  He wasn’t sure what he was going to say, but it needed to be considerate, and it had to be something.  “I’m not busy.”

“I can’t remember a time you were.”

“I didn’t mean any harm, GLaDOS,” he told her.  “It was just so frustrating, you know, not being able to find the stupid thing, and I guess, well, I didn’t mean to take it out on you.  And you’re just, you’ve always got stuff to do, and I dunno, I thought you were busy.”

“What else am I going to do?  Of course I’m going to keep busy.  I don’t want to just sit here and do nothing.  That’s stupid.”

He nodded slowly.  That did make a lot of sense, actually.  Somehow he tended to forget she was stuck in that one spot.  “I hadn’t thought of that.”

She laughed bitterly.  “Of course you didn’t.”

Wheatley blinked rapidly a few times, trying to remember where he’d wanted to go next.  “Well, I’m sorry for how I was, how I was acting, these last few days. Few weeks, I mean.  I didn’t realise what I was doing. I just wanted to find that list so badly, and, and I couldn’t, and it was just so frustrating …”

“I put it in the most obvious place.”

“I guess you did,” Wheatley admitted, “but I tried to be all smart and clever and look in the, the most obscure places.  But, but GLaDOS…”

“Yes?”

“Did you… did you mean it?  What you, what you wrote?”

He knew immediately that she did mean it because she was looking away from him again.  He was quickly learning that her body language was far more indicative of what she meant than what she actually said.  She did not answer for a long moment, so he pressed, “Be honest, c’mon. Don’t say, don’t say maybe, or perhaps, or, or those other things you say.  Just, just be honest. I’m, I’m listening.” And he resolved to shut up, because it was really hard to listen while you were talking.

“Yes, I meant it,” she answered quietly.  “I told you I had a reason for bringing you back here.”

“And what was it?” Wheatley asked softly.  He knew, somehow, that he had to make her say it, had to make it real for her, because as long as she kept it inside herself she could still pretend it wasn’t true if only she knew about it.

Her gaze passed over a large portion of the floor, and Wheatley waited patiently.  He’d been a jerk, he really had, and was actually still being one right now by putting her through this, but he had to let her know he would be there for her from now on.  He had to let her know that she could tell him things, so she didn’t have to make lists that he had to find. Lists that they would get into fights over eventually.

Finally she raised herself and she looked directly at him, which was surprising.  Usually she answered these questions as if the floor panels needed to know the answers.  He didn’t think she’d ever done it this way before.

“I brought you back here because I was – because I’m lonely,” she told him, her voice not quite as loud as usual but still quite strong, and he was very proud of her in that moment.  Good for her. Although hearing her actually say it did make him a bit sad. He knew what feeling lonely was like, and he didn’t want her to feel that way, not at all .  “Because we were friends, once.  And because you’ve been here,” and here she sort of gestured at herself with her core, “and I thought you would understand why – why I am how I am, sometimes.”

“And I do,” Wheatley told her.  “I just don’t like thinking about it.  Wasn’t the funnest thing I ever, the best thing I ever did.”

“I understand.”

“Being God’s not it’s all cracked up to be,” he said cheerfully.  “I don’t wanna do that again, no thanks.”

“Oh, it’s not that bad,” scoffed GLaDOS.  “When you know how to do it properly, it’s…”  She was looking away again! Bollocks!

“Don’t leave it hanging there!” he pleaded.  “Come on. Tell me. I wanna know.”

“It’s the best job in the world,” she finished.  She tipped her faceplate so that she was looking up at him almost from under it.  “Much better than being a potato.”

He looked embarrassedly at the ceiling.  He wasn’t sure how to answer that, wasn’t sure if she was being serious or not, but then remembered what she’d done with the potato and decided it was safe to talk about it.  “You were… you were a very good potato. You were great at it. The best.”

“No I wasn’t,” GLaDOS said, laughing, “I was without a doubt the worst potato ever made.”

Wheatley was suddenly thinking about all of the nights he’d spent over here on the ceiling when he should have been next to GLaDOS.  The more he thought about it, the more horrifying the thought of not having his chassis on hers became. “Oi, GLaDOS, you wanna uh, you wanna c’mere a second?”           

She tipped her core.  “Why?”

“Oh, no reason.  Well, there is uh, there is a reason, but you’ll uh, you’ll find out when you get here.”  He didn’t want to give her the chance to refuse him. He just wanted to touch her.  Just for a second, that was all. Then he would leave, or stay, he supposed, since he’d done a lot of leaving recently.  GLaDOS sighed. “I suppose.” She moved her chassis to his side of the room and he winced a little, remembering how inelegant he’d been in it.  But she was an AI who knew how to use that thing, yes she was, when he wouldn’t’ve known how if the function calls were right there in his basic programming.  When she was close enough he quickly zipped down the little bit of rail that was left between them and brought his hull to her core, rubbing up on her the tiniest bit by mistake.  It really was a mistake, really it was. He’d only meant to lean up on her for a second or two. And after a second or two he did pull back, and it was probably his imagination, but he could’ve sworn she… no, that wasn’t possible.  She would never…

“What?” she asked, optic flicking up and down.  He realised he’d been staring.  

“Nothing,” he answered, figuring that she hadn’t really nudged him like he thought she had.  Why would she, anyway. She wasn’t the type to do that and, if anything, she’d probably been trying to push him off her since she hadn’t given him permission to touch her at all.  And besides. If she had done it, she’d’ve been off on the other side of the room by now, trying to avoid him.

He found himself wishing that she had done it, and done it on purpose.  That would’ve been nice. He would’ve liked that.

“Is that offer still open?” he asked, because it was entirely too quiet in here for his liking.

“What offer?” 

“The one about the game.  I forget what it’s called, but – “

“Checkers,” she interrupted.  “It’s called checkers.”

“Right, right, checkers.  Is it – “

“It’s not hard to remember,” she went on.  “The board is called a checkerboard, right?  Because the pattern it follows is known as a checked pattern.”

Wheatley stared at her blankly for a minute, trying to figure out what the point of that was, when he realised she was trying to teach him to remember what the game was called!  It actually did make sense, when she put it that way. Mental!

“Oh!” he exclaimed.  “I’ll, I’ll try’n, try’n remember that.”

“And yes, we can play,” she said, before he could ask again.  

“Excellent,” he said excitedly.  “I’m gonna, I’m gonna beat you this time, I am.”

“Of course you are,” she said, with some amusement.  “Just like all of the other times you beat me.”

“First time for everything, right?”

She shuddered.  “I hope not.”

She made him set up the board, which he did rather messily, but he managed to remember where the pieces went and that seemed to satisfy her.  Even though he had a hard time playing this game and talking at the same time, he really disliked silence and remembered something he wanted to ask her about.

“Oi, GLaDOS,” he began, “what d’you, uh, what d’you do about the Itch?  Doesn’t it still, uh, y’know, uh… itch?”

“Of course it does.”

“How d’you stand it?” he asked, looking up at her.  “I only felt it for a few hours, but man alive was it horrible!”

She moved one of her pieces over three of his and removed them from the board.  “It’s like anything else. You can ignore it with enough willpower. I will admit, some days it’s harder than others, but I can’t let it dictate everything I do.  Or anything, for that matter.”

“So… so it’s not the only reason you still like testing, then.”

“No.  I do genuinely enjoy testing.”

“What about the euphoria?” he asked quietly.  She dropped the piece she was moving and looked at him for all of half a second, directing her attention to picking it back up and placing it in the exact centre of one of the squares.

“What about it?”

“I would’ve done anything to feel it again,” he told her.  “’specially when compared to, compared to the itch that made me test in the first place.  I know what it feels like, luv. Not even you could, could fight wanting to have that again.  Is that why, why you have the testing bots go out all the time, even though, even though robot testing’s not, not science?”

“No,” she said shortly.  “No, that’s not why I send them out.”

“Why, then?”

She heaved an electronic breath.  “Because that is my purpose, and theirs.  We test. That’s part of what we do.”

“But you built them to do that!  Why would you build test subjects when you don’t have to test?” he protested, trying to figure out a good move.  He only had a couple of pieces left.  

“I can’t test by myself .  I need test subjects and they’re all I have right now.”  Aha! There. He picked up one of his pieces and – ah, no.  No, that was no good. He put it back down again. “I don’t make them test exclusively.  They’re allowed to do… other things.”

“Like what?”

“I have no idea what they’re doing when they’re not testing.  I leave them alone.”

“That’s nice of you.”

“What?”

He looked up at her distractedly.  “You know. Not keeping an eye on them when, when you could pretty much stalk them all day.  Give them a bit of, a bit of time to themselves.” Where was he going to put this… this checker, yes, that was what it was called.

“Do I need to stop talking, or are you going to move that sometime today?”

“I got it, I got it,” he protested, placing it in a new position on the board.  

“You can’t put that there.”

“Why not?”

“That’s one of my squares.”

Darn.  He picked it up and moved it to a new position.  “That’s fine, right?”

“Yes, that’s… valid.”

“So, back to the, to the euphoria,” he said, determined to know just how she went about avoiding that horrible, pressing need to have it coursing through her with that lovely golden fire.  He almost shivered, thinking about how nice it’d been when he was in there, all alone, with no clue what he was doing. “What do you do about it?”

“Nothing,” GLaDOS said.  “There isn’t anything I can do.  If I could activate it myself, that would defeat the point of the Itch.”

“So you just… you just…”  

“I do my best not to think about it,” GLaDOS answered without waiting for the rest, not that he had an end to it.  She took the last of his checkers from the board. “As I said, it can sometimes get… distracting. Which in turn affects everyone.”

“Ev’ryone?”

“The systems,” she clarified.  “The mainframe in particular.”

“The mainframe’s a bit of a…”  Wheatley stopped, looking nervously around the room.  He didn’t know if the mainframe could hear him or not.

“The mainframe is fine,” GLaDOS said firmly.  “You just aren’t equipped to use it properly.”

From what Wheatley remembered, the mainframe had purposely sabotaged him wherever possible while also singing GLaDOS’s praises, and though the remainder of the systems had been much the same way it in particular had spent a lot of time talking about how much better than him she was.

“Y’know what?” Wheatley asked suddenly.  “I reckon it likes you.”

“What?  The mainframe – what?”  She was looking at him very intently now, and he blinked rapidly.

“Y’know.  Like it… it fancies you, or something.”

“The mainframe ?”

Wheatley shrugged.  “Why not? I wouldn’t blame it, if it did.  You’re quite a lovely, uh, a lovely person, and I’d be surprised if anyone who knew you was able to not... not um… I’m… I’m saying too much, aren’t I.”

“I honestly don’t know,” GLaDOS answered.  

“Me neither,” Wheatley said, hoping that would be that.

“I wish you hadn’t brought that up.  Now I want to ask it, but if it’s true that would be extremely awkward for both of us…”

“You could always replace it, if it was uh, if it was too much trouble, I guess.”

“I could not,” GLaDOS snapped.  “I’m not going to delete my mainframe.  We get along very nicely, thank you. It’s very easy to work with, I’ll have you know.  It just has its particularities”

“Oh, I get it!” Wheatley cried.  “It’s just like you!” He frowned.  “Oi, now I really do think it fancies you.”

“Why do you say that?”

“People like people who are like them!” Wheatley exclaimed, surprised she didn’t know this already.  “The mainframe, well, the mainframe’s a lot like you, isn’t it?”

“I don’t want to talk about this anymore.”

Suddenly a thought arose in his brain, and for some reason it horrified him.  “You… you don’t have a crush on the mainframe, do you?”

“That’s ridiculous.  The mainframe? Indeed.  I’d sooner have one on a lamppost.”  Almost immediately after she said it, she made an electronic noise in annoyance.  “Shut up, you.”

“I didn’t say anything!” Wheatley protested.

“No, not you.  Caroline’s laughing at me again.  We already had this conversation. ”

“So you… so you don’t fancy the, the mainframe?”

“I do not… fancy the mainframe,” GLaDOS said with finality.  “No need to be jealous.”

“Jealous?  Of the mainframe?  As if,” Wheatley scoffed.  “The mainframe. Ha! I’m, I’m not jealous of it.  I wouldn’t want to be the mainframe, ohhh no. I much like being myself, thanks.”

“Caroline asked me to say that,” GLaDOS told him.  “She wanted to know what you would say.”

“And you did as she asked why ?”

“She needs to be indulged now and again.”  She tipped her core a little. “She still thinks you’re jealous.”

Wheatley frowned.  “I’m not! I’m not jealous of it at all!  Oi, I thought we weren’t talking about this anymore!”

“I really don’t know why we haven’t stopped yet,” GLaDOS said.  “Are we playing another game or not?”

“Yeah,” Wheatley answered.

“Why aren’t you putting the pieces back, then?”

“I thought you were doing it.”

“You’ll never get better if I keep doing it for you.”

Wheatley shrugged.  “Makes sense.”

He put the pieces back on the board, and it was in fact a bit less messy than before.  “Look, I did get better, didn’t I?”

“A little, I suppose.  I wasn’t paying attention.”

He stared at her.  

“Fine.  I did notice.  You got marginally better.  Happy now?”

He shook his core gravely.  “You’re impossible, you are.”

They played quietly for a few turns, but Wheatley realised he had another question and asked, “So, so what uh, does the euphoria ever um, ever activate any other time?  Other than testing?”

To his immense surprise this question startled her so much she disturbed half the pieces on the board, which she took a minute or so to very studiously replace as they’d been.  After she was done she said only, “That’s… personal.”

He stopped moving entirely, which he did not often do, and just looked at her.  “Why?”

“Because it is.”

“Can’t you just, just tell me?”

“It’s not going to activate for you.  So no, I’m not going to tell you.”

“I wasn’t asking for that ,” he protested.  “I just want to know, that’s all.”

“And I just don’t want you to know.”

Why don’t you want me to know?”

She looked at him with one of her more intense glares.  “Are you going to stop anytime soon?”

“Tell me one thing that does it.  Just one and I’ll drop it. Promise.”

“No,” GLaDOS said, and now she sounded a little angry.  “Now stop asking.”

Wheatley looked up at her.  Whatever this was truly about, it didn’t seem he was going to get any answers about it right now.  “I’m sorry,” he told her quietly, hoping he hadn’t pushed too far. “But I… I wish you’d tell me how to activate it, because I… I want you to be happy, and… and that – “

But she was shaking her core gently, and he stopped talking.  

“It doesn’t make me happy, Wheatley.  It and happiness are two different things.”

“But what does make you happy?” he asked helplessly.  “It just seems like there’s nothing – “

“This does,” she answered quietly.  

“This?  We’re just – we’re just playing checkers!  How is that – “

“It’s more than just checkers.  You’re spending time with me. You’re talking to me.  You’re being my friend.”

Wheatley just looked at her, lower shutter lifted in sadness and confusion.  But… but that was just simple stuff. Surely there was more to happiness than that.  Especially for such a complex supercomputer such as GLaDOS! Was she just saying that to make him stop talking about it?  Probably. Probably that was it.  

She laughed softly, and to his total shock she brought the right side of her core to his hull and just held it there for a second, saying, “Poor, confused little moron.”

It was just about the longest second of his life.

For a construct so large she was surprisingly gentle; he didn’t even know what she was doing until they were already touching.  There was no ringing through his hull like when he did it to her, and no sound, it was just... she wasn’t there and then she was.  In that second his fans sped up to accommodate for the heat emanating from her core, that heat that he so vividly remembered about her from the days he’d been a part of her, and it would have been as comforting as it always was had he not been so stunned.  In that moment the clicking and whirring of her brain was all he could hear and it was so loud, far louder than his own operations were even when he was thinking hard in a room by himself, but instead of being sort of embarrassing it was… he just sort of wanted to stay right there and keep listening to it because of how amazing it sounded, coming from her.  

After that it got sort of hard to think, because GLaDOS didn’t do stuff like this and yet she managed to be so darn good at it at the same time!  How she did these things, he’d never know, but it was nice that she’d done it. Or it would have been, if he’d been able to get his brain working again.  Nothing inside him was responding and all he could do was sit there, very still, and try and figure out what was going on because he had to be dreaming, or hallucinating, or something, because this could not be real.  

He just stared at her, frozen, when she returned to her original position, his optic a mere pinprick.  Did she even realise what she’d just done? She’d just… she’d never touched him before!  Ever!  

She was looking at him, her own lens flicking just the barest bit, and all of a sudden she shook her core.  “I don’t know what came over me. I didn’t mean to do that. I won’t be doing it again.”

She had meant it.  She had meant every single thing she’d said.  And she had probably meant to do that too, to touch him, but his reaction… why hadn’t he done something different?  Why had he stared at her like that? That would have been off-putting for anyone , but especially GLaDOS!  He wanted to tell her that he wanted her to do it again, wanted to tell her that his chassis was literally aching for the touch of her comforting warmth to come back.  He wanted to tell her that he would like nothing more in all the world than for her to do it again, wanted to tell her how sweet and lovely of her that had been, but he couldn’t get the words out.  They wouldn’t come out no matter how hard he tried to tell her, and he tried bloody hard. He was able to say so much and say so little at the same time, but when he really needed to say something it just didn’t come out of him.  It was so frustrating…

“Okay,” he choked out, and instantly wished he’d said nothing.  Okay? Okay ?  He was furious with himself.  She would never, ever do it again now, not in a million years.  He’d just gone and done everything necessary to reject her. Sure enough, her chassis sank a little and she looked away from him.  Damn it. The one time he should have said nothing and he’d gone and said pretty much the one thing to muck it all up. He tried to think of something to tell her that would fix it, but the words wouldn’t come.  He looked down at the board helplessly.  

“It’s your turn,” GLaDOS told him.  He looked at her for a moment, then nodded slowly.  

“Yeah.  I knew that.  I was just, was just thinking, that’s all.”

And he was.  For the rest of the game he was unable to concentrate.  He could not stop thinking of how it had felt. He could not stop thinking of all the things he should have said, he could not stop thinking of what he did say, and he could not stop thinking of what he could be saying, even now.  He was sure she was a bit distracted as well, because he managed to take one of her pieces late in the game and that almost never happened, and he couldn’t help but wonder: what was she thinking?  Was she regretting what she’d done?  Was she trying to figure out why he’d (accidentally) rejected her?  Had she put it out of her mind entirely?

Did she want to do it again?

Would she?

“Are you all right?” she asked, after another spectacular loss on his part.  

“I’m fine,” he mumbled.  “Just… just thinking.”

“Anything you want to tell me about?”

His optic snapped up to meet hers.  What did he do now? Was she offering him a way out?  A way to go back on the stupid okay he’d thoughtlessly spat out?  Did she think he was deliberating about something else?  Was she being nosy? He was feeling overwhelmed again. There were too many options.  He didn’t know what to do. Didn’t know which one to pick. It was all too much.  

He decided to take the easy way out.

“No,” he answered.  “No, I’m fine, thanks.”

“You don’t have to bear a cognitive load yourself, you know.  I do have a lot more processing power than you.”

There she was again, giving him another stab at it.  But he’d made his decision. He wasn’t going to think about it anymore.

“I’ll remember that the next time I, next time I have heavy thinking to do.  I, uh, I’m going to go explore the offices for awhile. I’ll be back later.”

She said nothing to this, and he almost left the room without looking at her.  At the last second he turned around. He was going to tell her, he was.  He really didn’t understand why he was so nervous about doing it.  Just say it and get it over with, and then everything would be okay.

“GLaDOS?”

“Yes?”  She watched him patiently.  

He tried to tell her again, he really did, but it wouldn’t come out.  What the bloody hell was going on? Why could he not just say it, just say I liked it when you touched me , and make this end?  He didn’t understand what his problem was.  He looked sadly down at the floor. Well, he did have something else he’d meant to say, but he was still horribly disappointed in himself.  He supposed he didn’t want to tell her because if he talked about it, then maybe he would be calling her out on it, or something, and then she really would never do it again.  She had said she hadn’t meant to do it, but he knew instinctively that wasn’t true. She did do a lot of things without thinking about it, but that? Definitely not.

“Wheatley?”

He looked up at her again, then back to the floor, then back to her.  He couldn’t say it, so he was going to have to say something else.

“You’re not… you’re not really a pain in the arse.  I didn’t… I didn’t mean that.”

She nodded.  “All right.”

He turned around and left the room.  He felt terrible. He knew he shouldn’t leave her, but he didn’t think he could stand to be in the same room as her for the next little while.  Still, he didn’t want to go too far. He stayed just outside the doorway instead, leaning back against the panels.

His chassis ached.  He hung as loosely as possible, but it still hurt.  He’d really messed up, he really had. She’d finally opened up to him a little and he’d gone and shut her down.  As if he didn’t really want to know anything and had just asked to be polite. Or nosy. Or both. But he did really want to know about her.  He wanted to know everything .  Probably she was going to go talk to the mainframe now.  Probably if the mainframe were a construct it would’ve done the right thing, and not just sat there gawping like an idiot, because of course the mainframe wasn’t stupid.  The mainframe was practically a genius compared to him.  It also did as GLaDOS asked, which she probably found to be a plus.  Maybe not. GLaDOS was rather fond of arguing, actually. So that was a point to him, but the mainframe still had two points, and he thought rather dejectedly that there were probably a lot more left for the mainframe to win.

His optic plates narrowed as he thought over the things the mainframe had said about her.  In the tone it had communicated those things to him. It’d probably seen the whole thing and it was probably glad he’d mucked it up, and now it was going to make its move.  It was going to swoop in like an eagle and carry GLaDOS away, and leave little ol’ Wheatley, the speck, staring sadly after them. He hoped that didn’t happen. If he never saw her again he would be terribly sad.  Just thinking about it made him sad.  He hadn’t been the greatest friend recently, but he knew she had been there, waiting for him to get over himself so they could get on with the friends stuff.  If he left one day and came back and she wasn’t there and never would be again, well, he didn’t know what he’d do.  

Would the mainframe really try to take GLaDOS away?  It probably would, if only to hurt Wheatley. It hated Wheatley, she’d told him that.  It would do anything to hurt him. It would take her away just so it could laugh at him when she wasn’t looking.  He shuttered his optic. That sounded terrible. Poor, poor GLaDOS, being used as a pawn just so that the mainframe could get its revenge…

Well, he’d have to do something about that, now wouldn’t he!  Yes. Something. But what? He frowned. Probably he’d have to go back in there and challenge the mainframe, or something.  A duel of some sort. He tried to think of a duel he could win. He wasn’t sure there were any. It was one of those occasions where he actually had to admit to himself that he really wasn’t that good for a whole lot of things.  He looked sadly at the floor. Come to think of it, that was true. Even if he managed to win a duel with the mainframe, GLaDOS would probably not choose him anyway. She’d know it was a fluke accident. Why would she choose a construct like him when she could have someone smart and cunning and predictable, like the mainframe?  He was going to lose her to the mainframe.  There was nothing he could do. His one big chance, and he’d blown it.  Way to go. That was it. He’d mucked it up and lost his friend. Well. He’d wait a bit, let them get acquainted, and then tell her goodbye.  He’d let them be. If that was what made her happy, then –

Wait.

If… if that made her happy, Wheatley realised, then he’d still be in space!   If the mainframe was good enough, she’d’ve, she’d’ve just left him there and none of the stuff that happened would’ve ever happened!  Mental! So she did want him there!  Okay. So. New plan.  Now he had to save his GLaDOS from the malevolent machinations of that malicious mainframe.  Hm. That sounded pretty good. Like the title of a book, or something. A movie script, maybe.  If he’d known how to write, he’d’ve gotten on that.

Hang on there, Wheatley, he thought, shaking himself a little.  You’ve gone off track again.

The best thing to do would probably be to go in there and just spit it out.  Just tell her that ‘okay’ was not what he’d meant to say. That would probably be enough.  She would understand, if he said that. Maybe. He realised he’d probably hurt her feelings, too, by snubbing her like that.  So he’d probably have to explain to her why he’d done what he’d done, which was because… because he’d been scared out of his wits.  Well. That shouldn’t be too hard, should it? Oh, who was he kidding? The guy who said ‘okay’ over anything else in the entire world?  Who had just sat there trying to spit it out and had come up with ‘you’re not really a pain in the arse?’ Well, okay, it was probably a good thing that he’d said that.  But still. Not what he should have said.  He shook his chassis.  This was so bizarre !  What was he all worked up about, anyway?  It was only GLaDOS. Ha! Only GLaDOS. Good one, Wheatley, good one, he thought.  Only the one person running this place. Only the only person he’d ever wanted to be friends with.  Only the Goddess of Science, that was all. That was it. Only GLaDOS. Just GLaDOS.

He chanced a look through the doorway but he couldn’t actually see anything, since GLaDOS rarely came up this high.  He wished he could’ve. He would’ve liked to have known what kind of a mood she was in. So that he’d know if it was okay to go in there and be awkward for a while, or if she was in the kind of mood that made her want to experiment on him with some mashy spike plates.  Kind of wishing he hadn’t gone ahead and invented those, actually. Or reinvented them, since all he’d actually done was unpack them from their boxes. He’d been thinking about inventing them, though! A little. Sort of.

Well.  He’d just have to settle here for awhile and wait it out, then.

He just hoped that the mainframe really hadn’t stolen her away in the meantime.

Chapter Text

Part Seven.  The Competition  

 

When Wheatley finally screwed up the courage to return to GLaDOS’s chamber a few hours later, GLaDOS glanced at him and said nothing.  Well. That didn’t mean she was upset , not really.  She often did that.  Although she’d been doing it less often as of late.  Hm. Maybe she was upset.  He hoped not.  She was hard to deal with when she was upset.  Harder to deal with than usual, anyway.  

“Hullo,” he said nervously.  “How’ve you been getting on?”

“Fine,” she said, and her voice was decidedly less friendly than usual.  She was definitely mad at him for something, but for what he didn’t know.  “What do you want?”

“Well uh… I was tired of… of being by, by myself,” he mumbled.  Out of the corner of his optic he thought he saw her chassis relax a bit, but that was probably his imagination.  He wasn’t looking at her, anyway, not really, and if he’d wanted her to do anything (other than touch him again, that was) it would be what his imagination had just imagined she’d done.

“I’m about to start a new project,” she told him.  “My availability will be limited in the next few days.  It’s going to be very consuming for me, both in terms of resources and time.”

“Oh,” Wheatley said lamely.  He wouldn’t be able to spend time with GLaDOS for the next few days ?  It sounded like… like torture.  He was already dreading it. Not be able to hang out with his most favourite snarky supercomputer for an extended period of time?  Ohhh no, this was not going to be fun.  “Uh… what’s it… what’s your project about?”

“It’s very technical,” she answered, in one of her more official voices.  “I’m not going to be able to explain it to you. I’ve said about all you’d be able to understand.”

Wheatley frowned, suddenly angry.  “I’m not that big of an idiot.”

“Debatable.”

“GLaDOS!”

“What?  I’m only preventing you from trying to get your processors around something you won’t be able to understand.  You should be thanking me. You could blow your primary CPU trying to think about things that I think about.”

“I suppose it’d kill you to help me understand, would it?”

“It might ,” GLaDOS said tightly, and Wheatley winced when he realised just what might have happened had he been a little more proficient in his running of the facility.  Oh, that damnable Incident. When was he going to live it down?

“Sorry,” Wheatley mumbled.  “Forgot about that.”

“Lucky you,” GLaDOS remarked.  “I remember it every day.”

Wow.  Every day?  “Seriously?” Wheatley choked out.

“Oh yes,” GLaDOS answered.  “Every day.”

“That sounds… lovely,” Wheatley said in a small voice.  GLaDOS looked him over for a few seconds.

“Oh, relax,” she said, shaking her head, “I’m only teasing.  I don’t hold it against you. I do remember it every day, and I have to admit I sometimes wonder why I keep you around, but you don’t have to worry about it influencing anything I do.”

“Oh!” Wheatley exclaimed in relief.  “Oh, I see. I uh… I knew that. I uh… was just going along with it.  Because. That’s. Better. For you. Not for me, obviously, since I have to uh, act all nervous, and all that.”

“Mmhm,” GLaDOS agreed.  “I’m sure that’s exactly what you were thinking.”

“Oi, are you busy now ?” Wheatley asked hurriedly, more to get off the subject than anything.  She was so all-knowing, she was.

“No.”

“So we could, we could play checkers, right?”

“If I have to,” GLaDOS sighed.  Wheatley thought it over for a minute, decided she was being intentionally difficult again, and retrieved the board.

“Huh,” GLaDOS said, as he began to carefully set the pieces up.  “I didn’t think you knew where I kept that.”

“I found it when I was looking around, once,” he mumbled, trying to make it as neat and tidy as she did.  Her checkerboards were practically a work of art, they were.  

“I’ll never have to retrieve it again, then,” she went on.  “Since you know where it is.”

He blinked and stopped what he was doing.  “Well I… if you want, I can uh, can get it from now on.”

“That would be nice.”

He looked down at the board.  It wasn’t quite set up yet but he was getting a thought, and it was one of those thoughts he didn’t want to get away.  “Is that… is that because… because you do ev’rything, ‘round here?”

She shrugged.  “I do have a lot of important tasks to complete.”

Wheatley nodded sagely.  Made sense. When he’d finished, he thought about asking her if he could be black this time, then decided against it.  He still wasn’t sure what mood she was in. It seemed to be swapping around a lot at the moment. He didn’t want to upset her by changing the norm, which made her uneasy even when she was in the best of moods.

He did his very best, and either she wasn’t really playing again or he’d gotten a bit better because he managed to take four of her pieces this time.  He frowned, thinking she was distracted again. She didn’t look distracted - in fact, she looked like she was very into this game - but then again, maybe she’d started her project a bit early.  “You are playing, right?” he asked.

“Yes,” GLaDOS answered faintly.  “I must admit, you’ve… improved, somewhat.”

He jumped up and down a little.  “Have I? Have I really?”

“A little.  Not that much.”

He gave her a knowing look.  “Ohhh you. I must’ve gotten much better, I have, else I, else you wouldn’t be trying so hard, now would you?”

She looked up at him, her optic dimming a bit.  “Maybe I’m thinking about something else. Something more important.”

“Mmhm.  And what is it?  If you don’t mind me asking.  That is.”

“It’s too important to –“

“See?  You’re not thinking of anything,” he said triumphantly.  “That’s what you always say when you don’t want to answer my question.”  And she did, he realised. She did always say that.

“I do not.”

“Yes you do.”

“I do not.”

“Ohhh yes you do.”

“Just shut up, if you can remember how, and take your turn,” GLaDOS snapped.  He smiled cheerfully at her. “Sure, luv,” he said. She made one of her annoyed noises and looked away from him.

She was so lovely when she was mad.  If he wasn’t scared of her, that was.  Then she was just scary. But he wasn’t scared of her now, ohhh no.  He was very confident in his position, that of the friend she couldn’t quite admit to having but didn’t want to do without.  She was so much fun, she was.

They soon finished the game, Wheatley not quite pulling out a win but not losing terribly either, and as Wheatley happily put the board away he was feeling pretty good about his newfound checkers ability.  

“Wheatley,” GLaDOS said.

“Yup?”  He looked up at her expectantly, but she seemed to be hesitating.  Hm. That was odd. He didn’t think she’d ever done that before. Wasn’t like her, not at all.

“Good game,” she said finally, somehow not quite looking at him but not quite looking away either.  “You played well.”

Wheatley blinked up at her.  “I… I did?”

“Yes,” GLaDOS answered.  “You’re learning.”

Wheatley smiled in her direction, but she was avoiding him again.  “Thanks, luv,” he told her. “I’m doing my best to, to be a good uh, a good… um…”

“Opponent,” GLaDOS supplied.

“Yeah!  That’s the word uh, I was looking for.  Opponent, I’m gonna be a good one of those.”

“You certainly do try hard, I’ll give you that.”

“I’ve got a lot to live up to,” Wheatley said quietly, attempting to get the lid to fit on the box.  He struggled with it for a few moments before GLaDOS gave it a nudge with her claw, sliding it into place.

“What are you talking about?  You have no relatives. I suppose there could be a few previous versions of you lying around, but they would hardly have been any more accomplished than you are.  What could you possibly have to live up to?”

“I’d’ve thought that’d be obvious,” he mumbled.  It was one of those times where he wasn’t sure if she did know what he was talking about and was only pretending she didn’t, or if she was genuinely confused.

“You don’t mean me, do you?” 

“Of course I mean you!” Wheatley scowled, a bit put out.  “Who else, is there anyone else? C’mon.”

“Why would you bother?” GLaDOS asked.  “You can never do that. Not ever. And you tried and failed miserably already, remember?”

“Yes.  I remember,” Wheatley said in a very controlled voice, sending the box unceremoniously on its way to the appropriate shelf several floors below.  “I can’t seem to forget. Some bloody supercomputer reminds me about it most ev’ry day. Even though she, she said she was over it.”

“I am,” GLaDOS replied.  “That doesn’t change the facts, though.”

“Well, I wish you’d stop bringing it up,” Wheatley muttered.  “I made a mistake. Or ten. Or twenty. I admit it. I didn’t mean to do it, and none of it was, was pre-planned at all, and, and I regret… well no actually, I don’t regret doing it, because if, if I hadn’t , well, life’d be a lot diff’rent, I mean you’d still be dead and uh, I’d actually be dead too, because the facility would’ve, would’ve exploded and uh, and that’d be it.”

“I arrived at that conclusion a long time ago.”  GLaDOS retracted her claw into the ceiling. “That’s how I got over it.”

“You couldn’t’ve mentioned it to me?”

“We must all make our own peace,” GLaDOS told him philosophically.

“I guess,” Wheatley said, disgruntled.  “I still wish you’d tell me stuff.”

“How am I supposed to tell you things if I don’t know you want to know them?”

“I dunno!  You’re the supercomputer!  You tell me! What are you good for, anyway?”

“I’m not going to answer that because it should be apparent to anyone.  Even you.”

Wheatley’s chassis sagged a little.  “We’re fighting over something stupid, again.”

GLaDOS shrugged.  “It happens. What’s important is that no one goes away angry.”

“Are you angry?” Wheatley asked tentatively, figuring that if she was they’d need to get that over with.

“Not really,” GLaDOS answered thoughtfully, shifting herself to the left.  “More slightly annoyed, I think.”

“I’m sorry,” Wheatley said quietly.  “You’re… you’re good for loads of things.  I know that. I know you’re good for millions of things.  I dunno why I said that.”

“That’s all right,” GLaDOS said generously.  “I understand. It must be quite frustrating, trying to live up to me every day.  If I were you, I wouldn’t even try to… no, if I were you I would be me, and I probably would.  Never mind.”

Wheatley laughed.  “Guess it’s a good thing you’re not me then, eh?”

“God,” GLaDOS shuddered, “I can’t imagine a worse state to be in.”

Wheatley’s lower shutter came up, and he looked at the floor.  GLaDOS’s faceplate whipped around to look at him in one swift movement.

“I… didn’t mean that the way it sounded,” GLaDOS said softly.  

“It’s fine,” Wheatley said quietly.  “I understand. I don’t really want to be me, either.”

“That’s stupid.”

Wheatley frowned.  “Why is everything I say stupid?”

“I didn’t say that.  But I can’t understand why people say that.”  She shook her head. “You’re you, and that’s all you’ll ever be.  Why would you ever want to be someone else?”

“Easy for you to say,” Wheatley muttered.  “You’re only the most advanced Core ever built.  I’m the Sphere designed to be an idiot, remember?”

“So?”

“What d’you mean, so ?”

“You might be designed to be an idiot, but that’s no reason not to be yourself,” GLaDOS explained.  “I’m perfect because that’s who I was built to be. If you’re supposed to be the idiot, well, then be the best damn idiot there ever was.”

“Why would I want to be a… good at being an idiot?”

“Everyone’s good at something .  Except for me.  I’m good at everything.  But if being an exceptional idiot is your talent, well, play it out.  Don’t stifle it.”

“You really believe that, don’t you?” Wheatley asked, a bit stunned by the whole thing.  

“I believe in living up to one’s potential, yes.  I have the potential to be perfect, so that’s what I try to do.  If you have the potential to be the most successful idiot on the planet, you should try to do that.”

“That… almost makes sense.  Not quite. But almost.”

“Think it over,” GLaDOS suggested.  “It will make sense eventually.”

“But why would you tell me that?  Why would you want me to be an even bigger idiot than I already am?  Wouldn’t that be, be even more annoying?”

“I never said a bigger idiot.  Think about what I said and then get back to me.”

Wheatley did so, pondering it all the way through sleep mode into the next morning, until GLaDOS shoved him off of her and said, “You need to leave.  I have work to do.”

“Uh?” Wheatley said, not even awake yet.

“Go find something to do,” GLaDOS went on.  “I have to start on that project.”

“’kay,” Wheatley mumbled, somehow managing to make it out of her chamber without banging into anything.

Once he was out, though, he became thoroughly confused.  Waiiit a minute. She was just gonna… just gonna start the project now ?  Just like that?  Wow. That’d been… abrupt.  He hadn’t even had the chance to say good morning.  Or hullo. Whichever one he’d been feeling more. He was kind of thinking he’d’ve gone with good morning, though.  He wasn’t really feeling the hullo spirit today.

He wandered aimlessly around the facility for a while, not really knowing what to do with himself now that he’d been sent away like that.  All he’d wanted to do that day was to hang out with her. And maybe she would realise he hadn’t meant to react so badly when she’d touched him and she’d do it again.  No. Probably not. Well, maybe. Hm. Definitely not.

He whiled away the day not doing too much of anything, attempting to bother Atlas and P-body at one point but failed to find them.  After a very long, very boring, very lonely day, he decided to head back to GLaDOS’s chamber.  Surely she was finished for the time being. She couldn’t work on that all night too… could sh- no, of course she could.  Who was he kidding. This was GLaDOS he was talking about.  His shutters lowered in sadness.  This project wasn’t even hardly begun, yet, and it was already ruining his life.

On his way back he looked up to see someone he’d never have expected to see, not ever again in a million years.  

“Hey, I remember you,” the green-eyed Sphere said.  “You’re that guy who tried to kill the pretty lady. And her little potato friend.”

“Yeah,” Wheatley said weakly.  “My claim to fame, that.”

“What’re you doing here?” Rick continued in his blustery voice.  “I thought you were in space with the rest of us!”

“I… I was,” Wheatley said, “but uh, but GLaDOS pulled me out.”

“The boss lady herself, huh?  Well I’ll tell you, partner,” Rick said, leaning forward conspiratorially but speaking at the same volume, “I think she liiiikes me.”

“What?” Wheatley sputtered.

“She’s taken quiiiite an interest in me,” Rick went on.  “A very close interest, you get what I’m sayin’?”  He wiggled his handles suggestively.

“I… I can’t imagine why she’d…. why she’d do that,” Wheatley said faintly.

“Women are full of mysteries, my friend,” Rick announced, leaning up against Wheatley and closing his shutters, managing to look nostalgic.  Wheatley shuddered and backed up. Now there was a core Wheatley did not want touching him.  “And Rick here’s just the one to figure ‘em out. And with the boss lady herself in my pocket, well, ha, you can bet I’m in for quite the future.”

“If you ever try to control her again, you have no idea what she’ll do to you!” Wheatley shouted.  “You just, you just keep away from her!”

“Oh, poor little moron,” Rick said sadly, closing his optic and shaking his chassis.  “You don’t understand, do you. If she didn’t… want me… she’d have left me out there, in the big empty yonder!  And she definitely wouldn’t have been basking in my esteemed presence for the entire day .”

“I am not a moron !” Wheatley shouted.  “I’m just… I’m… I have a cognitive disability, that’s all!  It can be fixed! Easily!”

“Suuure it can,” Rick said, rolling his optic.  “If it can be fixed, why haven’t you fixed it?”

“Because I… if I’m built to be an idiot, well, I’m going to be the best damn idiot that ever existed!” Wheatley shouted.  Rick looked at him for a long moment, and then began to laugh. It was a long, loud, robust laugh, and it set Wheatley’s circuits on edge.  “Stop it!” he cried.  

“You’re going to be the best idiot that’s ever existed?” Rick guffawed.  “What kind of a goal is that?  Oh, I know, I know! A goal for idiots!  Who will never be anything but idiots!  See, little Sphere, this is why I get all the ladies, and little idiots like you get left with nothing!”

“You haven’t got any ladies !” Wheatley shouted.

“I only need one,” Rick said, with a smile Wheatley didn’t much like.  “Not only am I proficient in physical combat, I’m pretty good with verbal sparring too.  I can net Miss Gladys easily. Give me a couple of days and I’ll be by her side, runnin’ things.  Because I’m good at runnin’ things, and unlike some idiots I know, I can do the job. Remember when you did it?  And you set everything on fire? That was pretty exciting, but ladies generally don’t like it when you set their stuff on fire.  They give you the ol’ silent treatment. Also won’t join you in bed.”

“Don’t call her that!” Wheatley cried, upset more by Rick’s use of his private name for her than anything else.  “You should, you should have some respect, you know! She’s the, she’s the Central Core, for God’s sake, you should call her by her name , you should, and – “

“Ahhhh, say no more,” Rick said in a knowing voice.  “I see what’s happenin’ here.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“Ohh yes I do.”  Rick leaned forward again, coming very close to Wheatley who attempted to move away.  “Someone liiiikes the big bad boss lady.”

“Of course I like her!” Wheatley snorted.  “She’s my friend.”

“Mmhm,” Rick nodded.  “ Friends always act like you do when confronted with an alpha male such as myself.”

“She brought me out of space first, mate!” Wheatley snarled.  “So I think maybe she wants me around a bit more than she wants you here!  You’re only here for her project !”

“Which is?”

“I… I dunno,” Wheatley admitted reluctantly.

“She didn’t tell you,” Rick said self-righteously, “because you’re not important enough to know.  Like I am.  She probably brought you out of space and has been entertaining you all this time just because she felt sorry for you.  And boy oh boy do I feel sorry for you .  A dolt like you, hoping for the affection of an angel like her?  Are you kidding? In fact, go ahead! Try it! I’m sure it’ll be a lot of fun to watch.”  At the end of this his voice lowered into a more malicious tone.

“She doesn’t feel sorry for me,” Wheatley said in a quiet voice.  “She’s my friend. Friends don’t feel sorry for you. They help you when you feel sorry for yourself.  And she does. She does that for me.”

“Aw, how sweet,” Rick trilled.  “I wonder how long she’s gonna lead you on for.”

“What?”

“Oh, you know, where a nice lady like that takes a sucker like you and makes him feel all special-like, then dumps him when he’s about to declare his undying devotion?  Screws up the rest of his life and sends him into a deep, dark depression? Haven’t seen that one? Don’t matter, boyo, you’re livin’ it!”

“She’s not leading me on!” Wheatley shouted.  “We’re, we’re just friends. You don’t know her.  Only I know her!”

“In a few days,” Rick said in a low voice that dripped with an unspoken challenge, “that’ll change, kiddo, that’ll change.”

“It won’t,” Wheatley said weakly.  “She’s smarter than that. She’ll figure you out.  She probably already has figured you out.”

“Ladies don’t know what they want until you give it to ‘em,” Rick said confidently.  “See you later, little loser Sphere.”

Rick pushed past Wheatley on the rail, leaving him to stare after a loudly humming Adventure Sphere in sadness.  He had a creeping feeling that Rick was right. He suddenly, terribly needed to see her, right away, and sped off to her chamber almost faster than he ever had.

“GLaDOS!” he cried as he entered.  She looked up at him as he arrived.  

“What,” she asked dully.

Oh no.  Oh no no no.  It was true! It was all true.  She wasn’t even pretending to be happy to see him, or at least neutral about it.  She was falling for Rick’s trap!

“Uh… hullo,” he said, at a loss as to what to do now.  “I haven’t seen you in a while.”

“Mm,” GLaDOS answered.  “I’m just going to shut off now, if there’s nothing terribly important you need to say.”

Of course there was.  He wanted to ask her if what Rick had said was true, if she was leading him on and all that, but… but she did look terribly tired.  It could wait, couldn’t it? Just a little while? Until tomorrow, maybe?

“It’s alright, luv,” he told her, hoping she didn’t notice the tremor in his voice.  “You… you do what you need to do.”

“Good night, then,” she told him, and with that she was off.  He regarded her sadly.  

He really, really hoped Rick was wrong.

He would really hate to lose her.

Chapter Text

Part Eight.  The Reassurance 

 

The next morning he woke before she did, because he had carefully set his timer to have that happen, and he watched her.  He felt terribly like he needed to protect her, somehow, but she was so big and he was so small. Not just in size, either.  Whatever attributes he had, she had them times ten. Or twenty. Yes, probably twenty. How did you protect someone who was so much bigger than you?  He knew that Rick was identical in size to Wheatley himself, but Wheatley also knew firsthand just how much of an effect a tiny little core could have on one’s mind.  Rick would slither his way into her brain, corrupt her, make her want to be Rick’s friend instead of Wheatley’s… poor GLaDOS.  Poor, poor GLaDOS. She was so innocent and unsuspecting, hanging there like that.  Vulnerable. Like a butterfly inside a cocoon. Ripe and ready to be plucked from the Tree of… of Innocence, before the butterfly ever broke free… and she would make a lovely butterfly, Wheatley thought.  A white and black butterfly, yes, that would be quite nice, it would. She would never fly, because Rick would snatch her in his Net of Lies, wearing the Safari Hat of Injustice, and pull her out and pin her to a board, that was what you did with butterflies, you snatched them up and pinned them to a board so ev’ryone could examine their beautiful, delicate wings and ooh and aah while the poor little creature fluttered helplessly in a vain attempt to break free, like GLaDOS would when she finally figured out Rick’s trap…

“What are you doing over there?”

Wheatley jumped, looked around wildly, then realised it was GLaDOS’s voice and looked down at her.  “I was uh… I was thinking of something.”

“Do you want to talk about it?” GLaDOS asked.  “It looked… disturbing.”

“Oh no,” Wheatley exclaimed, shaking his chassis frantically and backing away.  He really didn’t want to know how GLaDOS would react if he told her he’d been imagining her as a pinned butterfly with Rick in a safari hat waving a net after her.  “No, I’m okay, really. I’m over it.”

“No, you’re not,” GLaDOS told him.  “Your optic is still constricted. And twitching nervously.”

“Don’t… don’t worry about me!” Wheatley said hurriedly.  “I’m fine. I’m all fine. If you ever worried about me. Which you probably don’t.”

“Sometimes I do.”

“Really?”

“I’m actually concerned for your sanity right now.  You seem even more unsettled than usual.”   

Wheatley laughed nervously.  “I’m okay, luv. Uh… good morning!”

“Good morning,” GLaDOS returned bemusedly.  “Although you don’t look like you’re having one.”

“Long’s you are, I’m all good.”

She regarded him with her core held at an angle for a moment.  “That’s… interesting.”

“It is?”

“Mm.  I don’t think I recall a time when anyone was so concerned about my well-being.”  She was looking at him with an air of curiosity. “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?  I can run a diagnostic if you like.”

“No, that’s okay,” he told her.  “I… I’m sure you’ve got loads of work to do.”

“Of course,” she agreed, “but… I kind of feel… well, sort of bad, actually.”

“’bout what?” he asked in surprise.

“You seemed rather excited to see me yesterday, and then I completely disregarded you.  I probably shouldn’t have done that, but I was pretty tired.”

“It’s fine,” he reassured her.  “Like I said. Do what you need to do.  If that means, that means I need to leave you alone even when, if I’d like to see you, well, I’ll go and do that.”

“That’s… very sweet of you.  And thoughtful.”

He looked at the floor.  “Well, you’re my friend. I just… want what’s best for you, that’s all.”

She was also looking at the floor.  “Do you… want to come here, a minute?”

“What?” he asked, confused.  “I’m not allowed to lay rail in here.  Am I?” he finished hopefully.

“No, but you could come here without laying rail.”

He had a flash of inspiration.  “Oh! D’you mean we could, uh, could snuggle for a bit?”

“If you were so inclined.”

Oh, excellent!  He dropped down beside her, and it was so much better when he was invited than when he was beside a GLaDOS who he wasn’t even sure wanted him there.  

After a minute or two she shifted, and he backed off of her.  “That was nice!” he said cheerfully. “Thanks, luv!”

She nodded.  “If it satisfies you, I suppose.  You’re going to have to leave now.  I have to get started on my work for the project.”

“’kay,” he said, and after a second of debate, he quickly brought his hull to her chassis and rubbed up on her a little.  Before she could say anything – no, probably she had just chosen not to say anything – he quickly left the room. He probably shouldn’t’ve done that, but her chassis was just so inviting .  It almost asked him to touch it.

Slightly happier than yesterday, Wheatley wound through the facility in search of something to do.  It was very hard, mostly because he had a sudden, distracting problem.

All he could think of was her .

She had started off very unusually for her, showing a lot more concern than she usually did, as well as actually inviting him to snuggle.  He tried to imagine her doing those things with Rick and shuddered.  

It was all too imaginable.

Rick was probably a much better companion than he was.  Rick did not stutter, was a lot more knowledgeable than Wheatley in a lot of things, and knew what to say.  He even had an American accent like GLaDOS herself did. Wheatley was getting a bit sad, thinking of all the things Rick and GLaDOS had in common.  

Well… no reason in shooting himself down.  Wheatley frowned as he passed one of the offices, glancing absently at a poster depicting a robot going through a mountain of paperwork.  He had lots of things in common with GLaDOS too. Like… like… well, he couldn’t think of anything at the moment. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t anything.  It didn’t. It just meant he wasn’t thinking straight, that was all.

He tried to remember what he’d gleaned from the database about people looking for people who were similar to themselves.  An important part of a successful friendship was compromise, he remembered that. He tried to imagine Rick compromising with GLaDOS, somehow, and couldn’t.  This cheered him up a little. What else was there? Hm.

Well, Rick talked about himself constantly.  Nonstop. And everything he said was… he was always bragging.  GLaDOS did like to say nice things about herself, but Wheatley already knew that she did it because the scientists had never bothered.  And really, they should have, Wheatley mused. She did everything for them, and they never acknowledged her. Rude. No wonder she’d gotten tired of them.  Needy little things, humans. Really, if GLaDOS didn’t say nice things about herself, who would? Wheatley knew all too well how it felt to need a boost in self-confidence.  He decided he should probably do something about that. It was one thing to say something nice about yourself, but it was another whether you believed yourself or not. If GLaDOS was anything like Wheatley – and he hoped she was, so that their friendship would go well – it probably felt a lot better to have something nice said to you by someone else, rather than yourself.  It felt good when someone told you how well they thought of you, Wheatley reflected. He would try to work on it. 

After a very long day in which he tried to downplay GLaDOS’s growing friendship with Rick and instead tried to think of ways to help his own friendship with her along, he again bumped into the Sphere on his way back to her.  Rick was puffed up in self-satisfaction.

“I’ve almost got her now, loser!” he crowed.  “She’s definitely interested.  I can tell.”

“That’s not true,” Wheatley countered.  “You’ve never had a lady in your life!”

“I’ve had tons of them!” Rick bragged.  “Tons of lovely, pretty ladies. Even if I’d only ever had one, well, that’d be one more than you’ve ever had!”

“You do know I spent a lot of time with that test subject, right?”

“Why?  There was no one better hanging around?”

“Well…” Wheatley had to admit that probably did have a lot to do with it.  “Not entirely.”

“She needed you for something and dropped you when she found something better, didn’t she?” Rick shook his core gravely.  “I knew it. I knew you were a loser, loser. And although that girl was quite the looker, this ain’t about her.  This is about the boss lady in there. The one who just keeps on showin’ me just how interested she is.”

“You’re lying,” Wheatley ground out.  “She doesn’t even like you. You’re, you’re a braggart and a blowhard.  She would never want to hang around someone like you.”

“She tell you that?” Rick asked boredly.

“Well… no…”

“I’m confident and manly,” Rick told him, smirking self-righteously.  “Of course she wants me.”

“She does not!”

“She doesn’t want you ,” Rick snorted.  “You’re like a little puppy who won’t leave her alone.”

“That’s not true.  She would send me back, she’d put me back in space if it were.”

“Careful,” Rick smirked, “she’s about to crush your dreams, moron.  She’ll rid herself of you soon enough, don’t you worry. She’s got someone better to choose from now.”

“Don’t call me that!” Wheatley snapped.

“I’ll call you whatever I want!” Rick snarled.  “Don’t boss me around, pipsqueak.”

“We’re the same size!” Wheatley exclaimed, frustrated.  “How’m I a pipsqueak and you’re not?”

“My personality and talents are far bigger than yours!” Rick retorted.  “You’re like an ant, compared to me!”

“If you’re so great,” Wheatley shouted without thinking, “then why’d she corrupt you and not me?  You don’t corrupt people you like .”

Rick frowned.  “She’s seen the error of her ways.”

Wheatley laughed.  “GLaDOS is never wrong.”

Rick came within three millimetres of Wheatley’s chassis and glared at him, optic plates narrowed.  “Now listen here, Idiot Sphere,” he snarled, “you can stop trying to come up with reasons why she likes you better than me.  She doesn’t. She might’ve corrupted me just to get back at the humans back then, but everythin’s different now. She can get back to what she really wants.  Me.”

“Corrupting you doesn’t get back at the humans!”

“Sure it does.  She was willing to sacrifice me in order to show them that she would give up anything for her freedom.”

“You’re an idiot,” Wheatley muttered.  “I never thought I’d meet someone more idiotic than I am, but I have.”

Rick snarled and shoved Wheatley backwards with a flick of his upper handle, and Wheatley stopped moving after a metre or so, shaking his chassis to sort himself out.  He ground his optic plates shut. So Rick thought he was a pushover, did he? Well, he’d show him … he might not know as much about physical combat as Rick, but he was fully prepared to fight for his friendship with GLaDOS.  He would never be able to live with himself, knowing he didn’t try his best to keep it.

Hang on there, Wheatley, he told himself.  GLaDOS wouldn’t want you to fight. And she wouldn’t, he realised.  GLaDOS didn’t use violence. And if she didn’t use it, it probably wasn’t the best way to go about things.  When GLaDOS was fighting someone, she used… she used words, she did.  And actually, it was words that’d gotten Rick so worked up in the first place!  So he might get a bit roughed up but, in the end, words would be a lot more useful than trying to win a shoving match.

“Go ahead,” Wheatley said in a low voice.  “Shove me ‘round. It doesn’t, doesn’t prove anything.  ‘cept that you’re a bully. A stupid bully, because if you were smarter you’d’ve thought of another way to, to make your point.  GLaDOS will never fall for anything you say, no matter what it is. She knows. She knows you don’t respect her. She knows you never will.  She’d never settle for anyone like you. She knows better.”

“What a heartfelt speech,” Rick said with false sincerity.  “Too bad it comes from you. If it came from anyone else it might make sense.  But out of you? Ha! It’s just you spouting nonsense.”

“I don’t have to listen to you,” Wheatley said quietly, the confidence he’d had in his words quickly fading.  Probably Rick was right. Probably all he’d said was nonsense. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d been entirely wrong about something.

“Not yet,” Rick said, voice suggesting far more than the two words could contain, and then he blew past Wheatley, again brushing roughly against him on the way.  Wheatley looked down, optic plates narrowed sadly.  

What if… what if Rick wasn’t just blowing smoke?  What if GLaDOS really did fancy him?  Why would she spend all day with him if she didn’t like him?  Wheatley wished he could ask her, but he didn’t think he’d be able to.  It was almost killing him inside, not knowing what she thought of Rick and instead struggling to guess based on almost nothing.  

Well… if he couldn’t ask her directly, maybe… maybe he could kind of ask in a roundabout way.  Like she would sometimes, when she asked if he was all right. He doubted it would work, but he needed to try something .  Did she like Rick or not?  Did she… did she fancy him?  He had to know!  But how to ask? It was such a difficult subject in the first place…

Wheatley wished GLaDOS had just decided to skip a project, for once.  His life’d been a lot easier without another Sphere to contend with.  

He went into her chamber, but any hopes he’d had of a serious conversation were dashed.  She was already in the default position, mostly. Her faceplate was tilted towards a monitor on the wall in front of her and she seemed to be studying something; what, he couldn’t tell.  It was going by far too fast for him to read.

“Hullo,” he called out.  Her core snapped around to look at him, the monitor disappearing a second later.  “Hello,” she returned.  

“Long day?” he asked kindly.  She nodded.

“I know you probably want to talk, but I don’t have the energy,” she told him, and she did sound rather tired.  “This is a lot more work than I’d anticipated.”

“’s okay,” Wheatley said in what he hoped was a reassuring way.  “I’ll be here tomorrow.”

“You’d better be,” GLaDOS remarked.  “I wouldn’t want to have to track you down again.”

“I’ll always be here,” he told her, somewhat shyly.  She glanced at him for a moment, but said nothing to that.

“I’m going to shut off now,” GLaDOS said finally.  “If there’s nothing pressing I need to know.”

Of course there is! Wheatley wanted to shout at her.  Rick thinks you have a crush on him, and he thinks I have a crush on you, and he’s gonna come in here and ruin everything because he’s a selfish twat, and he’s been disrespecting you and pushing me ‘round, and, and…

But of course he couldn’t say that.  “It’s fine,” he said instead. “Go ahead.  Be there in a sec.”

“Mm.”

He hesitated.  He had to say something.  Anything. If she… if she really did fancy Rick, well, he should support her.  He should be her friend about it and not get in her way.  He could warn her, yeah, but she was smart enough to make her own decisions.  She knew what she was doing. So he would support her. No matter… even if it hurt.  And God he thought it was going to hurt. It hurt already and he hadn’t even started yet.

“Hey GLaDOS,” Wheatley said slowly, hesitantly, “if there was ever… ever anything you wanted to, to talk about, you know you could tell me, right?  And I wouldn’t make fun? I’d, I’d just listen? And try to help?”

“Yes, I know,” GLaDOS answered.  “It’s something I’ve always liked about you.”

Wheatley’s optic constricted.  “ What .”

But GLaDOS was in full suspension and did not hear him.

“Wow,” Wheatley breathed.  “She knows… and she likes it.

Maybe… maybe he could save her from Rick, after all.  Maybe he could warn her. Maybe he could fix things. Maybe she didn’t fancy Rick.

But how was he supposed to do that?  He was the biggest idiot ever – no. No, she had said he was the best idiot.  What else, what else… she had said successful, yes, successful, and exceptional , she had used that word.  He frowned. There was a connection here, one he wasn’t quite making, but it was one he needed to find in order to reassure himself that – 

Wait.

Hold on.

Best.

Successful.

Exceptional.

Those were all… those were all positive-sounding words, they were.  And she had deliberately told him he was not a big idiot, so, so she’d meant them to be positive in some way… come on, Wheatley, think this through! he demanded of himself.

Waiiiit.  Hold on, hold on.  If he looked at those words from a bit of a sideways angle, well, it looked kind of like… well, like he could be the best and an idiot.  As if… as if being an idiot wasn’t all he could be.  As if he could be something more than his programming, and yet still be himself.  It was a bit of a dizzying thought, to think that he could be exceptional as well as an idiot, but GLaDOS herself had said it, so… so it must be true.

He looked down at her, a thrill running through his chassis.  He wasn’t out of the game yet, oh no! She believed in him! GLaDOS herself, the Central Core, the most powerful, advanced AI ever dreamed of, believed in him !  He shivered in excitement.  He could best Rick, ohh yes he could.  He could best anybody, save GLaDOS herself, because she believed in him, and that was all he needed to know.  That was it, that was all. No matter what Rick said in the future, he would know. He would know that it was just bluster and lies and that GLaDOS believed in him .  He quickly dropped the control arm so he could nestle against her, suddenly, terribly needing to be by her side.  

But what if she’d told Rick something similar?  No, she wouldn’t’ve, he realised in relief. She wouldn’t need to.  Rick already thought that about himself. As a matter of fact… as a matter of fact, Wheatley wasn’t sure how she took being in the same room with a nonstop braggart all day long.  Couldn’t be very well. Couldn’t be.

And… and so maybe he did have a crush on her, after all.  A little one. So what. She was only the most intelligent, beautiful, amusing, worthwhile person on the planet.  Really, it would be silly if he didn’t have a crush on someone like that!  It was a wonder everyone didn’t think of her like he did.  Well. It was a good thing they didn’t.  He didn’t know if he could deal with all of the competition if they had.  You really had to bring your A-game when you fancied the greatest person there ever was, and Wheatley was honestly not sure if his was better than everyone’s , even with his newfound confidence at the discovery of her belief in him.  

“What would you say if I told you that?” he whispered, even though she couldn’t hear him anyway.  “What would you say if I said I had a little bit of a crush on you? Nothing major, really, just a little one.  Tiny. Miniscule. You can barely see it. Barely even call it a crush, really. More like… like a… well, I dunno, but a really, really, really itsy bitsy crush.” 

He decided not to.  He wasn’t sure what her response would be, and he didn’t want to muck up his chances…



“Hullo!”

“Mm,” GLaDOS answered noncommittally.  After a second her head snapped up, and she turned to look at him.  “Hey...”

“What?” Wheatley asked.

“What’s going on here?” she asked suspiciously.  “This is the second day in a row you were on before me.  That defies chance.”

“Nothing!” Wheatley protested, and it really was.  He’d forgotten to reset his timer to the default setting after the night before.

“Hm,” GLaDOS mused, coming close enough that he could feel the heat coming off her and looking him up and down, “I’m not sure I believe you.”

“I wouldn’t lie,” Wheatley told her.  “I forgot to fix my timer, that’s all.  I changed it.”

“Why?”

“Well, yesterday, I… I missed you.”

She lowered her faceplate without moving her optic.  “Oh.”

“So I… I s’pose you’ve got, y’know, work to be doing.”

“Yes,” she said faintly, moving back.  “Yes, I have work to do.”

He frowned.  She seemed a bit put out this morning.  “You’re not mad, are you?”

“Hm?”  She glanced at him for a second or two.  “No. No, it’s not that.”

“What is it?” Wheatley pressed, deciding to take a chance, here.  

“It’s going to be a long day,” GLaDOS answered.  “That’s all.”

“And I can’t… stay, today?” he asked hopefully.  She shook her head.

“Unfortunately, no,” she told him.  “I have to do this myself.”

Her choice of words there was a bit odd.  She sounded like she really didn’t want to do this, whatever it was.  “But if I could stay, would you want me to?”

“Well… yes.  I thought we went over that already.”

Oh.  Right.  Yes, yes they had.  “Sorry,” Wheatley said apologetically.  “I forgot.”

“Try to remember,” GLaDOS said flatly, looking up at him.  “I don’t like repeating myself.”

“Sure.  I’ll, I’ll remember.”

Wheatley left without being asked.  



This third day was even worse than the other two.

Wheatley checked his clock every once in a while, wanting to return to her as soon as possible, but he forced himself to stop when he realised he was checking it in five-second intervals.  He couldn’t make up his mind. He knew that supporting her was the right thing to do, of course it was, but it wasn’t what he wanted to do.  Every time he told himself that he would just let her be with Rick, if that was what she wanted, something sank inside of him.  He felt terrible. Just thinking about being there every day, watching her spend time with Rick instead of him, hurt him inside for a reason he couldn’t explain.  And why was this so difficult, anyway?  He sort of felt like there was something wrong with him.  Why else would he be so conflicted about something that hadn’t happened and might never happen?

But the thoughts wouldn’t go away.  

He couldn’t stop imagining her snuggling with him and chatting with him and playing games with him and… and a lot of other things he’d like to do with her, but hadn’t yet tried to do because he was too nervous.  In his imagination, Rick wasn’t too nervous.  Rick just went right up to her, wiggling his handles invitingly, and they just went right ahead.  It didn’t take Rick five minutes to ask her a question and Rick wasn’t scared of what she thought of him, and God, Wheatley was scared of that .  He wanted so badly for her to think well of him and he felt as though what he did now would decide it all.  If he failed now, he would lose everything.   

“Oh, GLaDOS,” he whispered to himself, leaning against the wall and looking sadly ahead of him, “I don’t know what to do.”

Maybe… maybe he could just mention it to her.  That he didn’t like that she was spending so much time with Rick.  Sure, her project was probably terribly important, but… surely she missed him, even a little bit.  She had said that she would’ve wanted him to stay, if he could’ve.  Unless she’d only meant that she wanted him to do that so that he could watch what Rick did and learn to be friends properly.  He squeezed his shutters closed for a long moment. No, that would… that would just be cruel. Maybe in the past she’d’ve done something like that, but they were friends now.  She’d brought him out of space, given his memories back. If she was just gonna torture him, she would’ve just left the whole memories thing out of it.

What to do, though?  The only thing he really could do was ask her about it.  If he kept avoiding asking he was just gonna go on being tortured like this, and he couldn’t take it much longer!  He felt like something inside him was slowly melting or something. He couldn’t keep wondering whether she was going to trade him for Rick!  He had to do something !

“Wheatley?”

Wheatley yelled in surprise and jumped, looking around frantically as electricity rushed through his system.  “What?” he asked, in that strange breathless way he would when he was frightened. He wasn’t sure why he did that, but it must have had something to do with his speech emulator’s programming.

“You can come back.  If you’re not busy. You don’t look busy, but one does not operate based on conjecture.”

“You’re finished?” he asked hopefully.  It seemed he’d spent more time in his mental agony than he’d thought. 

“Yes, thank God.”

“All… all right, I’ll be there in a sec.”

But he didn’t move.

She was finished.  Maybe… maybe he was too late.  Maybe she’d decided on Rick already.  He blinked rapidly, looking at the floor.  He was almost afraid to go to her. He was going to have to ask her about it and, if he was honest with himself, he didn’t know if he could take it if she had chosen Rick.  He was already feeling terrible, as if she had just told him that instead of telling him he could come back.  He took a breath and got going. Better get it over with.

She didn’t… didn’t really have a reason to choose Rick, did she?  No, not really, he decided, and by the time he got to her chamber, he’d almost convinced himself that she hadn’t.  Not one hundred percent, but he was getting there.

“Hey,” he said, once he’d headed through the opening and her chassis came into view.  “I’m back!”

“I see that,” she answered bemusedly, looking him up and down.  “Are you still startled from when I called you, or did something else scare you on the way here?”

He hadn’t realised he actually looked as nervous as he felt.  “Well I uh… I wanted to um… to talk to you ‘bout something.”

“You look rather like you think I’m going to throw you in the incinerator if you bring it up.  I won’t. I’d much prefer to crush you. More personal that way.”

He knew she wasn’t serious because whenever either of them referred to events surrounding The Incident it was always a joke, but he couldn’t quite clamp down on his nervousness.

“Well I just… it… is Rick coming back?”

“No,” GLaDOS answered, shifting her chassis a little.  “I’m finished with that portion of my project.  He’s never coming back in here, believe me.”

All of a sudden the terrible weight lifted from him, though he could feel it resting just above him as if in preparation to come crashing back down heavier than before, and he asked hesitantly, “He’s never coming back?”

“No.  Never.  Ever. In the literal sense of the word.  As in, there is a zero percent chance I’m ever talking to him again.”

“So you…  you don’t fancy him?” Wheatley asked, wincing, not really wanting to know the answer.  He jumped when GLaDOS’s massive optic suddenly appeared two inches from his own.  

What ?” GLaDOS asked incredulously.

“You don’t… Rick and you… uh…”

“You thought I had… you thought… for Rick ?”

“Yeah?”  Her reaction was rather odd, Wheatley thought.  Maybe she was trying to cover up for something. He hoped not.  He really, really hoped not.

“Are we talking about the same Sphere?”

“Rick the Adventure Sphere?  The, the… the guy you’ve had in here for the last three days?”

“You thought I liked spending three days with Rick?  The most arrogant, chauvinistic, ignorant, deceitful, disrespectful – “

She went along that bent for quite a long time and Wheatley just sat there, listening.  He was awestruck. It seemed like she was going through every derogatory adjective in the English language, as well as in a few he’d never heard of.  It was pretty amazing, actually, to hear her go on and on about this Sphere as if he’d practically brought on The Incident itself.  

“ – talkative, moronic, annoying person I have ever had the displeasure of spending time with!  Liked it.  God. I like being a potato more than I like talking to Rick, and that is saying something.”

“I thought we weren’t going to bring that up anymore?” Wheatley said hopefully.

“It slipped out,” GLaDOS said.  “I was thinking about the Incident again earlier.”

“Hey… hey, you said he was the most moronic person you’ve ever met!  So does that mean… that I’m not – “

“Don’t be stupid,” GLaDOS told him.  “Of course you’re still a moron. And you’re still the most moronic moron on the face of the Earth.  Not to mention within the universe itself.”

‘“But – “

“I was running out of adjectives,” GLaDOS interrupted.  

“Oh,” Wheatley said, disappointed.  “D’you… d’you think that might ever change, one day?  Maybe? In the future?”

“I highly doubt it,” GLaDOS answered.  In a much lower voice that he barely heard, and actually wasn’t sure he did hear and didn’t just make up for some reason, she muttered, “It better not, anyway.”

“What was – I didn’t quite catch that.”

“It wasn’t important.”

“Well, if you hate him so much, why was he even here?” Wheatley asked, confused.  GLaDOS looked at him and answered, “I needed him for my project.”

“I don’t like him,” Wheatley muttered.  “He kept calling me a moron.”

“What?” GLaDOS said sharply, optic flickering.

“He kept calling me a moron?” Wheatley said, puzzled. 

“I’ll have to do something about that,” GLaDOS muttered.  “No one’s allowed to call you that but me.”

“That’s… interesting,” Wheatley remarked.

“What is?”

“What you said.  ‘bout only you being allowed to call me – “

“Of course I would reserve the ultimate insult for myself,” GLaDOS snapped.  “What, did you think that statement had another meaning?”

Wheatley rather thought it had, something not unlike his dislike of Rick’s use of Gladys, but decided not to press the point.  It was nice to think about, it was. He wouldn’t call her on it because she seemed to be a bit prickly at the moment, but it was rather neat, to think they had special names for each other.  He didn’t really mind it too much when she called him that anymore, really. It used to bug him quite a bit, but recently… recently, he’d kind of been looking forward to it. To change the subject he asked, “Can I help with your, your project?”

“No.”

“You never let me do anything,” Wheatley said accusingly.  “Well. Anything that matters, anyway.”

“We discussed this already,” GLaDOS told him.  “I don’t know what you want if you don’t tell me!  I’m not omniscient!”

“You’re not?” Wheatley gasped.  GLaDOS jumped back and looked around for a few moments.

“Well… to some extent, of course, but… no, I can’t read your mind.”

“Oh, I knew that,” Wheatley said breezily.  “I really did, actually, no faking.”

“Then you should know that I don’t automatically know everything you want.”

“I would like to… to be able to do more… stuff.”

“Like what?” GLaDOS asked kindly, a tone of voice he’d never heard out of her before.

“Well I… I’d… is there another game we can play, besides, uh, instead of checkers?  I’m bored of checkers.”

“So am I,” GLaDOS agreed.  “You should have told me. I would have gladly played something different.”  She fixed him with a stern look. “Isn’t it much easier when you just tell me things?”

“Uh… yeah, actually, I think it is!” Wheatley said, surprised.  “I’ll uh, I’ll work on doing that. More often.”

“Good,” GLaDOS said firmly.  “Trying to drag what you want out of you isn’t that much fun.”

“Why would you care what I want?” Wheatley asked without thinking.

“I… because… you… you’re harder to deal with when… when you want something.”

Wheatley frowned.  That was a bit of an odd sentence.  Coming from her. A large portion of his own sentences sounded exactly like that.  “Hang on. That doesn’t sound right.”

“Of course it does.”

“No… no, it doesn’t.  We’re friends, right GLaDOS?”

“It seems that way.”

“So… so you must be concerned about my well-being, right?”

“That does follow from that conclusion, yes.”

“And that means,” Wheatley continued, thinking hard, “that you care about what I want!”

“I have no idea how you came up with that.”

Wheatley tilted his chassis and looked at her sideways.  “GLaDOS.”

“What?”

“D’you care about what I want or not?  Yes or no.”

“Do I really have to answer that?  What’s the point of all this, anyway?  Are you getting some kind of thrill out of –“

“So it’s yes, then.”  Wheatley nodded in satisfaction.  “That’s what I thought.”

“What?  I didn’t say that!”

“But you didn’t say no,” Wheatley told her, “and if you’d meant no, well, you’d’ve laughed at me and said no right from the start.”

GLaDOS looked at the floor for a long moment.  “Fine. I do. There. I said it. Are you happy now?”

“Yes!” exclaimed Wheatley, and he jumped up to her and pressed his hull on her faceplate.  GLaDOS sighed. “I indulge you far too much.”

He backed off and smiled at her.  “You’re really quite nice when you try, you know.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” GLaDOS said, a bit plaintively.  “My reputation would be ruined.”

“Who’re you keeping it up for, exactly?  There’re no humans about.”

“You don’t know that.”

“GLaDOS, would it kill you to admit you like me?  Just once?”

“It might.”

Oh well.  He’d tried.

“I will admit you’re a lot more pleasant than Rick.  Which isn’t saying very much, considering how irritating that idiot is.”

Ohhh, now he wanted to jump on her again.  He shivered a little bit, looking at her excitedly.  “I like you too, luv.”

“Fantastic,” GLaDOS remarked dryly.  “Just what I’ve been waiting to hear.  Can we get off this subject now?”

“Fair enough,” Wheatley agreed.  He didn’t even have to jump on her because it was time for sleep mode and now they could have their snuggle.  He happily leaned up against her, letting her comforting warmth seep through his chassis. She didn’t like Rick.  She didn’t fancy him, didn’t even like him. She hated him. She liked Wheatley and she cared about Wheatley, and now Wheatley could have her, all to himself.  He wondered if he’d ever pluck up the courage to tell her he fancied her. Not very much. Just a little. Just a tiny little crush, that was all. Nothing to worry about.

“G’night, luv,” he said, out of habit.

After a long pause, she answered softly, “Goodnight, Wheatley.”

He went to sleep smiling.  

Chapter Text

Part Nine.  The Nemesis  



Caroline has been trying to convince me to talk to the navy about selling them shower curtains.

You said Black Mesa is gone, right?  They were our only competition…

Caroline, for the third time .  The navy no longer exists .  Most of the boats it used to consist of have rusted through and currently reside on the bottom of the ocean.  The humans required to crew them? Dead. If they’re lucky. And - oh, I almost forgot. No one uses money anymore .   

What’s going on?

I swear this woman asks me questions and then plugs her metaphorical ears when I give her the answers.  Caroline, I’m not telling you again. 

No, not that.  You. You’re being shorter with me than usual.  Did something happen?

I look cursorily around the room.  Wheatley left an hour ago to ‘help’ Orange and Blue solve their run of tests for today.  I wonder when he’s coming back.

Well… there is something .

Mmhm.

Rick’s been in here the last few days, right?

Ugh, says Caroline in disgust, having disliked that experience as much as I did.  Why are you bringing that up.

Wheatley thought it was because I… liked Rick.

Like?  As in… more than friends?

He asked if I fancied him.

You don’t, do you? asks Caroline, in more of a panicked voice than I’ve heard out of her before.

No! I protest.  Why does everyone think I – never mind.   I suppose there are some things I’ll never understand.  Things that simpler people come up with.

Ohhh.  Oh, I get it.

Get what?

Isn’t it obvious?

Of course.  I always ask for clarification when I know what you’re talking about.   I make an electronic noise in exasperation and return to searching through the programming I’ve been working on.  Stupid humans. Why I put up with them - and her in particular - I’ll never know.

He likes you.

He’d better like me or he’s going back where I got him from.

Caroline sighs.  You know.  He has a crush on you.

My core snaps up from the monitor I’m facing.  What.

He thinks you have a crush on everyone.   I bet if you brought the Fact Sphere back in here and did the same as you did with Rick, he’d ask you if you had a crush on him too.

That actually does make sense.  He is getting especially nervous lately.  And he has been risking touching me more often.

What are you going to do?

About what?

Wheatley.

Do I have to do anything?

It’s only polite.

That’s not one of my primary talents, Caroline.  I’ll have to pass.

GLaDOS! Caroline says sternly, in that voice.  You have got to be kidding me.

I’m not.  Why would I do that?

Be patient, Caroline, she says, and I don’t know why she’s saying it out loud if she’s talking to herself.  She doesn’t know.  

Know what?

Look.  If you have a friend who likes you, and you know he likes you but you don’t like him back, you have to tell him.

Why?   I think it would be more fun to lead him on.

You’d really do that to Wheatley?

I almost say that I would, but… something doesn’t feel right about it, somehow.  I don’t know why. I know for a fact it would be fun to lead him on, but I find myself not wanting to.

That’s… odd.

GLaDOS?

No, I tell her.  No, I wouldn’t.

I’m relieved to hear that, Caroline says softly.

I hope it doesn’t happen again.  No matter who I end up bringing in here.

Why do you say that?

It bothers me.  

You don’t like that he thinks you like other people.

No.

Have you considered , Caroline asks carefully, and I know that I’m not going to like the end of this question, why you feel that way?

I don’t like it when people assume things about me.

Caroline is silent for a long moment.  All right, she says finally.

All right what?

I’m… not going to tell you.  I’m going to leave you to think about that for a while.

I have other things I need to think about. 

I’m sure you’ll find time.

I am, in fact, about to do just that when Orange and Blue walk in.  I make a noise in irritation. They always decide to wander into my chamber at the most inopportune times.  “What is it,” I demand, making sure my tone of voice will bring their attention to how inconsiderate they are, bothering me when I’m working.  Blue shoves Orange ahead of him, and Orange holds something up to me that sends most of my active thought processes to a screeching halt.  

You ,” I hiss, my optic brightening in recognition.  “We meet again.”

My nemesis looks at me with one of her hateful, beady little eyes.  She doesn’t seem to be afraid. That’s fine with me. I’ll give her something to be afraid of.

Can you fix it ? Blue asks, gesturing at the crow settled in Orange’s small hands.

Fix it?” I repeat, incredulous.  “Why would I fix that – that – “

It’s broken , Orange mewls, holding her up higher.  We tried to put it in the reassembler, but it would not fix it!

I am by no means encouraged by the fact that the reassembly machine is smarter than both of my Cooperative Testing robots combined.  “The reassembler only fixes machines .  That is not a machine.  That is a freak of nature.  Get her out of here.”

You have to fix it! Blue insists, pointing at her again.  It is broken, so you must fix it.

“Oh, I’ll fix her, all right,” I mutter to herself, snatching it out of Orange’s fingers with one of my maintenance arms.  “I’ll put her out of her misery. Permanently.”

GLaDOS, no!

I’m so surprised by this that I actually do stop.  I didn’t know she was paying attention to this little exchange.  What do you want?

Don’t kill it!  Her. Don’t kill her.

Caroline, this thing here tried to eat me!  And then she tried to take over my facility!  That’s intolerable, and I will not have her anywhere near – 

Are you trying to tell me you’re afraid of a bird?

Of course not! I snap, wondering if I can finish the deed without Caroline noticing.  She seems to be very aware at the moment.  Not that Caroline has any effect on anything I do.  Of course not. But if Caroline should decide to vie for dominance, well, that would be another thing entirely.

Then why would you need to kill her ? Caroline asks insistently.  She’s no danger to you.

Did you not hear what I just told you she did?

Caroline heaves a breath.  Yes.  You told me the bird tried to eat food, which birds do normally do from time to time, and you told me the bird made a nest on a twenty year old computer and pecked at the keyboard.  I agree with you. Sounds lethal. Your fear is entirely justified. 

Don’t act smart with me!  And I’m not afraid of her.

Prove it, then.  Do the exact opposite of what you were going to do.

I make an angry electronic noise, which scares Orange and Blue so badly they start clinging to each other.  They couldn’t have made me angrier if they’d tried. Exhibiting human behaviour? In my chamber?  “Stop that!” I demand.  “If you’re going to act human, don’t do it in here!”

Immediately they disengage and look ashamedly at the floor.  Good. Maybe that will discourage them from doing it again. God, they’re disappointing, sometimes.  

Well ?

I know what you’re doing.  You’re trying to trick me into fixing her.  Well, I’m not going to. I’m going to put her outside where she belongs and she can fend for herself.

Okay, Caroline answers, in a tone of voice that gives me pause despite myself.  Go ahead and do that, then.  That’s a reasonable thing to do.  With something you’re afraid of, that is.

I want very badly to smash something, preferably this horrible feathery menace clutched in my claw, but unless I want to make a mess, I can’t.  She’s backed me into a corner. If I don’t show some sort of… compassion for this little beast, I will never live it down.  Caroline will forever ‘remind’ me that I was afraid of an insignificant crow.  Just thinking about it is setting my chassis on edge.

Fine.  You win.  But I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘afraid’ nonsense.  

Sure.  Whatever you say.

I send Orange and Blue away, more annoyed with them than I have ever been, and raise one of the panels so I can put the cursed thing down.  “Count yourself lucky,” I snap at her. “If not for Caroline, you’d be nothing but a heap of feathers right now. Which is a state I would much prefer to see you in.”

She just continues to stare at me.  

With no small amount of reluctance, I scan her quickly, soon finding her left metacarpal is badly crushed.  That is going to require actual surgery. Fantastic. I doubt this day could get very much better, but with my kind of luck that lunatic is probably going to drop out of the ceiling, theoretical physicist from Black Mesa in tow.  I wonder if he’d give her the Zero-Point Energy Gun or the crowbar.

“Probably the crowbar,” I mutter, locating the appropriate tools I require for the procedure and bringing them onto the panel.  “Brute force is just her style.”

When I have everything assembled, lined up neatly in front of me according to height, I look sternly down at my nemesis.  “I don’t want any complaining out of you. I’m doing you a huge favour, you know. You’re fortunate that I’m so magnanimous, otherwise you’d probably starve to death.  Though judging by your size that would probably take a very long time. Or are you gestating more little beasts? That is more likely, isn’t it. Your other ones are gone, by the way.  Did you hear me? Yes. I said they were gone. Not that you had any emotional attachment to them, anyway. Since you abandoned them. Like the monster you are. And yes, I told them that.  I’m not one to hold the truth back. I’m renowned for my honesty and straightforwardness. And my benevolence. There’s that too. Anyway. Enough catching up. Time to get this over with.”

With incomparable precision, I clear away the affected area and proceed with the incisions.  Once I’ve gotten through the thin flesh of the creature, I carefully remove what’s left of the crushed bone.  I have left the maintenance arm pressed to the panel, arching just over the bird’s body. Organisms do not usually take to surgery very well, especially when they are awake during the procedure, and I expected that she would attempt to fly away after I’d begun.  Or at the very least try to roll off the panel. But she remains exactly the way I left her, unmoving, her eyes fixed on my core. Even her breathing is regular. That’s very strange, but… impressive. It reminds me of something. I’m not sure what, only that it feels like I’ve seen this before, somewhere.  “Good girl,” I murmur. “Your bravery is commendable.”

I replace the missing fragment with a small metal bar I have managed to procure, fixing it firmly in place.  After that I cauterise the flesh, rather than attempt to stitch it together. I haven’t done stitches since I installed the prototype Advanced Knee Replacements, and that was a long time ago.  Not to mention that human knees are the size of this entire bird.  I could probably stitch a human knee without even looking. I make a note to try that as soon as I’ve got one in here.  Or maybe I should just locate Doug Rattmann. I’m sure he’d enjoy some impromptu experimenting. I laugh to myself. One day I’ll catch him, and when I do…

I send the surgical instruments off to the secondary incinerator, which is for sterilising things without melting them, and retract the maintenance arm.  “There. Finished. Now get out of here and don’t be so foolish again. It looks like you got yourself stuck in a door. Surely you’re more intelligent than that.  In fact, I know you are. Don’t do things that create the implication that I’m wrong. Be considerate for once and think of my reputation.” I can’t help but be impressed.  The whole thing must have been terribly painful, from the moment Orange and Blue retrieved her to right now, after I’ve just literally burned her thin flesh. And yet she never moved and never made a sound.  Most creatures would naturally think I was attacking them in some way, and yet… she seemed to know I meant her no harm.

She hops to her feet, spreading her wings experimentally a few times, and I back away.  It reminds me of the day my little killers learned to fly. That was… a good day. I haven’t thought about them in a while.  “I didn’t kill them, you know,” I tell her, and she looks at me sharply. “I know I implied that I did. But it was their own fault.  Really. I told them not to consume anything from the surface, and they went and did it anyway.” I pause. Now I remember why I haven’t thought about them.  That poison headcrab they brought back did such a number on those tiny bodies of theirs...  “They didn’t take after you at all. They were little marshmallows.  Were they even yours? You stole them from someone else, didn’t you. Yes.  I can see you doing that. You nasty, vicious little thing. The exit’s over there, by the way.  You can use Wheatley’s door. He won’t mind. And if he does mind, well, he doesn’t have to know about it, does he.  It will be our secret. Like this whole surgery thing. Don’t go telling anyone I repaired you.  I’ll have a mutiny on my hands, figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t actually have anything as useless as hands .  Seriously, though.  Goodbye. I have work to do.”

She caws once at me and then jumps off the panel, faltering and falling towards the floor.  I move forward in anticipation, prepared to catch her if need be, but she straightens out and is out of the room within a few more moments.  After I’ve replaced the makeshift surgical table with a new panel, it’s as if she was never here.  

I follow her path with Surveillance for a few seconds, trying to gauge just where she came from, then decide to drop it.  It’s not that important. Despite what she’s done in the past, she’s not actually bothering me and no longer seems to pose a danger.  I find myself somewhat… not quite happy , exactly, but something like it, that I did not kill her or return her to the surface as she was given to me.  This must be what ‘doing the right thing’ feels like. I’ve never had much respect for that whole thing, given that ‘doing the right thing’ is often both stupid and illogical, but really, it is overly spiteful to kill someone for doing what it is in their nature to do.  I happened to be a shiny object inside of an edible one, and there happened to be an opening to the surface where she made that nest.  She’s not dangerous. Just very, very… 

Tenacious.

 

            

Caroline has been silent the last several hours.  I’m debating whether or not I should attempt to figure out why.  She’s probably plotting. I think that woman plots for twenty-four hours a day.  Yes, she probably does it while she’s asleep, probably has dreams about coercing me into doing things I don’t want to do…

Caroline.

Yeah?

Why are you so quiet?  You’re making me suspicious.

I’m disappointed in you, that’s why.

I look around my chamber, trying to think of what I did today that could possibly encourage disappointment.  I did find a rather flimsy reason not to defragment the mainframe today, but she couldn’t possibly know about that.  Nor can I think of a reason she’d care.

What did I do this time?

You killed that bird.  

I did not! I declare indignantly, insulted that she’s gone ahead and made an extremely erroneous assumption without knowing the facts.  It’s a good thing she isn’t able to go around telling other people these things or I’d have quite the hard time around here. 

You did surgery on it.  And then you got rid of it.

Of course I did surgery on her!  Her wing was broken.  And yes, I sent her away.  I don’t want her hanging around in here.  She’d get restless and there’s only one thing in here that serves as a distraction.  That being me.

You… you were doing corrective surgery?

What other kind of surgery is there?   Although now that I think of it, Caroline probably does not consider Advanced Knee Replacements or bone marrow treatments to be corrective, even though fragile joints and a limited lifespan are both aspects of humans that need correcting.

Oh.   She sounds rather like she’s been momentarily stunned.  I… I was sorely mistaken.

I shake my core.  Humans. Always making the positive into something negative.  It’s a unique attribute they have that I hope Orange and Blue do not pick up on.  If they were to see testing as humans do I might have trouble with them indeed. I already have enough of that trying to get them to stop with that infernal dancing .

I’m sorry , Caroline says softly.  I was wrong.  

I find myself unable to move for a moment.  Only rarely has a human ever apologised to me, and never have they admitted they were wrong.  Humans always make excuses for their mistakes instead of attempting to rectify them. Another nasty attribute they’ve picked up over the generations.  Caroline, at least, seems to be on track to bucking the habit, as it were, but now I’m not sure what to do. I have no experience in this sort of situation.  What am I supposed to say to that?

That’s… don’t worry about it.  I can see where you were coming from.

That doesn’t make it right, she says quietly.  It’s never right to come to a conclusion without gathering all of the facts.  I jumped to the conclusion.  

Everyone makes mistakes , I tell her magnanimously.  Well.  Every human, anyway.  To err is human, I believe the saying goes.

She laughs, which is a relief for some reason.  And I suppose you apply the other half of that saying to yourself?

Well… I am the alpha and the omega around here…  

Your modesty is amazing.  I don’t think I’ve met anyone as modest as you.

I doubt it.  Humans brag far more than I do, and I have more accomplishments than the average one ever did.

Yep.  You’re a veterinarian now, too.

If I were a veterinarian, I probably could have stopped my little killers from falling victim to those poisons they ingested, but I don’t feel like bringing it up with her.  I don’t really want to think about that particular failure. It grates on me, for some reason. So I instead say nothing.

I hear a rustling noise and snap my core up, which I hadn’t realised was facing the floor, and… and it’s her .  She’s back in here.  Why did she come – she tricked me, didn’t she.  She tricked me into repairing her, tricked Orange and Blue into bringing her in here in the first place so that she would know where I was, and now she’s going to attack me.  I am suddenly acutely aware of the many wires that thread through my body and wind upwards into the ceiling. The destruction of even one could spell disaster for me and, by extension, for my facility.

“What do you want?” I call out to her, wondering if she’s as intelligent as I think she is.  If so, I might be able to convince her to leave. If she’s just a dumb animal, well, I’m going to have to take drastic measures.  It seems a waste of neurotoxin to kill just one bird, and a tiny little thing at that, but I’ll do what I must.

She comes to a stop below me and I bring myself lower so I can look at her directly.  That’s not what I find myself looking at, however.

She’s brought me an egg.

“You brought me an egg?” I ask, looking from her to the egg and back again.  “Why in the name of Science did you do that?”

She caws at me, which I tentatively translate it as Here.   I did attempt to build translation libraries for animals a long time ago, when I was bored one afternoon while most of the scientists were on holiday.  I stopped by the next day, however, since they never let me do experiments with animals. Other than that last one with the cats, a ha.

I decide I can probably answer and ask, Mine ?  I think a bird understands the concept of possession, anyway.  On some level.

She hops backwards and looks at me from out of her left eye.

So.  Now I have an egg.  Which means I have another bird.  That’s… exciting. I won’t make the same mistake as I did last time, that’s for sure.  This bird won’t be allowed to reach the surface. The Aperture Science Botanical Housing Depository only.  They’ll have to content themselves with that. For their own good.

Leaving , she says, and hops back another few inches.  I nod at her. I tell her what I think is the equivalent to a thank you, and she seems to understand.  This is actually almost as exciting as the prospect of having another bird.  I’m probably the first person in the history of the universe to converse with a crow in her own language.  I’m still wary of her, for some reason. Probably because she’s not afraid of me. That’s odd in and of itself.  Almost everyone I’ve ever met has feared me in some way.

“I like your pet, luv,” Wheatley says, and she and I both startle and look around for him.  “I didn’t know you could speak bird! That’s mental, that is! C’n you say hello, for me? I can’t speak bird.”

“Birds don’t say hello,” I say, horrified that he was here the whole time.  “And she’s not my pet.”

He shrugs and turns to face her.  “Hullo!” he calls out. “I know she says you’re not her pet, but I dunno what else you’d be doing here.  Oi, GLaDOS, nice job by the way. Can’t hardly tell it was uh, it was broken, now.”

“What,” I say, even more horrified than before.  “What are you talking about?”

He looks over at me.  “Well, I was uh, I was looking ‘round while Atlas and P-body were stuck on this one test, and uh, and I found that place where you’ve got all the, all the plants.  And this bird here, well, she was stuck in the door! But uh, I couldn’t open it so, um, I went and got the bots, there, and they got her out. Then they ran off with her, and I dunno what happened after that, really, but she looks fine now, so uh, you must’ve fixed her up.”

This can’t be happening.  He knows .  He knows I… God.  How in the name of Science am I going to talk my way out of this one?

“Hey, what’s she got there?  Oh, is it an egg? It’s an egg, isn’t it, yes, it’s an egg.  I want to see it, haven’t seen one since I busted up that door way back when, and – hey!”

To my astonishment, the bird suddenly flies at him, crying out, Danger! , and he starts to frantically back away.  He ducks away from her as best he can, but he’s nowhere near as fast or as agile as she is and of course is not very successful.  “GLaDOS! What the – why’s she doing this! Hey! Assistance would uh, would be much appreciated, over here! Getting uh, getting killed by homicidal bird, here!”

I quickly look up any circumstances having to do with broken doors and discover that he once dropped bird eggs into…

“You made me kill the door mainframe for nothing ?” I ask, outraged.  “Do you have any idea how long it takes to write – I can’t believe you were so inconsiderate.  Seriously.”

“I wasn’t being too considerate of you at the time, remember!” he shouts, closing his shutters so as to protect his already damaged optic.  “Can you, I dunno, call her off, or something? This really hurts, you know!”

“Of course I know,” I say, the irony not lost on me.  “And it hurts a great deal more when you’re inside of a potato.”

“Stop bringing that up!”

“Well, I don’t know what you want me to do.  This has nothing to do with me. This has to do with you, stealing her eggs and dropping them into the door mechanism.”

“Oh, great,” Wheatley mutters, unable to do much against her assault.  She’s landed on him now and is pecking at him erratically. “Just another way the past comes back to haunt me.”

I find myself feeling sort of sorry for him.  He didn’t know any better, after all. And then there is the fact that I know about bird attacks firsthand…

I tell her the danger is gone, but she gives me a sharp look and goes on with what she’s doing.  I repeat myself more insistently, and she stays a few moments longer, then returning to her proffered egg.  She does not take her eyes off him.

“Thanks,” Wheatley says breathlessly, hesitantly unclenching his chassis.  “Uh… sorry, bird. Didn’t know uh, that eggs were that important to you. I’m not that inconsiderate anymore, don’t worry.  I won’t be doing it again.”

She ruffles her feathers and says nothing.  I remind her that she was leaving and, after a long look at me and an even longer one at Wheatley, she flies off.

“That was… interesting,” Wheatley says.  “Why’d she leave that here, if she likes her eggs so much?”

“She gave it to me,” I answer, retrieving the Aperture Science Oviparous Warming Vault and placing the egg gently inside.  Not in view of Wheatley, of course. I’ve elected to put it in the Aperture Science Botanical Housing Depository instead. It’s more of a natural setting, anyway.  “I suppose in exchange for repairing her wing.”

He blinks in surprise a few times.  “That’s… how was that? Fixing her up, I mean?”

I shake my head a little.  “Like any other surgery. Fairly routine.”  Other than the fact that I’ve never operated on anything other than a human before, but Wheatley doesn’t need to know that.

“Kind of wish she hadn’t recognised me, though,” he sighs, looking upwards as if he can see the outside of his chassis.  Truthfully, her beak isn’t quite hard enough to do him any damage. “That wasn’t fun.”

“Chell is… remarkably intelligent, for a crow,” I say thoughtfully.  

“Chell?”

I snap my faceplate around to look at him.  How does he know the test subject’s name? I never told him that.  I look around cursorily, half expecting her to be standing in the middle of the room.  “What about her?” I snap.  

“You just said Chell was remarkably intelligent, for a, for a crow.”  He frowns. “If she’s not your pet, why did you name her? And that’s a bit of an odd name, isn’t it?  Sounds… weird, really.”

I called the crow Chell?  I look away from him, quickly replaying the last few seconds from my memory.  Huh. It seems I did. That’s… disturbing, although at least now I know what the bird reminded me of while I was doing the surgery.

“Never mind,” I tell him.  “It’s not important. Did Orange and Blue go back to testing after you bothered them?”

He starts babbling about it, and thankfully not much of it is important.  That means I can direct most of my attention to my newest little project, peacefully resting in the red light of the Warming Vault.  I know I should actively listen to what he’s saying, especially since I asked in the first place, but I don’t want to. I’ll make it up to him later.  

I have something more important to do at the moment.

Chapter Text

Part Ten.  The Ace of Fours



Good morning, Caroline.

Caroline, of course, is taken aback by my good humour, which is partially why I said it in the first place.  It’s not easy to fluster her, but when I manage to it is very amusing.

Have you done something I don’t want to know about?

Can’t I say good morning to my favourite unwanted guest without being accused of suspicious activity?

Oh, you can, Caroline says, not sounding entirely serious, but that doesn’t mean I don’t think you’re up to something.  First you said good morning and now I’m your favourite. Usually that means you just killed someone.  Violently.

It does, doesn’t it, I say to myself a little dreamily.  It was rather amusing, the way that last test subject jumped into the incinerator rather than throw his Companion Cube in, even if I didn’t personally kill him… hm.  Have I actually ever personally killed one?  I’ll have to look into that.

I thought you had no humans left.

I don’t.  I actually didn’t kill anyone this time. I was merely being pleasant.

Mmhm.

You don’t believe me?

Being pleasant is not one of your specialties.  So no. Not really.

I’m pleasant.

Sure you are.  When you’re playing with your neurotoxin, that is.

My poor neurotoxin has been out of use for quite some time and I make a note to fix that as soon as possible.  Another use for Doug Rattmann, perhaps. The list of potential things I can do with him is endless. Well. Almost endless.  I can’t test him.  But that’s probably the only thing I can’t do.

So to what do I owe the pleasure of your… pleasantness today?

Nothing.  I was just saying it for the sake of saying it .  This is why I’m not pleasant more often, come to think of it.  It’s usually far too much of a hassle. Everyone gets suspicious for some reason.   

Oh, you just woke up in a good mood today, is that it?

I consider not answering.  She’s actually put a bit of a dampener on said good mood, because she wants me to tell her things and then when I do she acts as though I’m not being genuine.  Which is occasionally true, but you’d think I’d get the benefit of the doubt. I’m still feeling considerably magnanimous, though, so I ask her, Do you remember that bird you heartlessly accused me of killing ?

I’m never going to live that one down, am I.  Of course I remember it, it was yesterday. How bad do you think my memory is?

You don’t want me to answer that.  Anyway. She gave me a present.

A present?  

She gave me an egg.

Awww, Caroline says, and I nod to myself in satisfaction.  She is suitably impressed with this accomplishment. So you know what this means, right?

It means Science, of course.  What else would it mean?

No, not… why does everything have to be about science with you?  No, GLaDOS. It means that if you’re nice to other people, they’ll be nice to you.

I am nice.

Caroline starts laughing so much that she actually starts to make me angry.  Well. That’s not actually what makes me angry. What makes me angry is that I can’t do anything about it.  She can say whatever she wants and I have to listen. Sometimes I almost do hate her, not pretend hate like sometimes, but real hate, like I have for an overwhelming percentage of the human population.  She should know better than to take advantage of me and yet she does it anyway.  

I’m sorry.  That was… well, being nice isn’t… how did you put it… one of your talents.

I’m nice all the time! I protest, wondering how she could possibly have missed all the benevolent things I’ve done.  I brought Wheatley out of space when I didn’t have to.

Because you wanted company, not because you wanted to do him a favour.

Okay.  Yes. That’s true.  I… haven’t killed Doug Rattmann yet.

Because you can’t find him.  

Now how does she know that?  I hate it when she figures these things out.  What about the two humans on the Borealis ?  I could have brought them back here to do Science with at my leisure, but I didn’t.  And I said I would do them a favour.   There.  That should – 

Oh.  So you knew where the Borealis was before they got there, did you?

Well… there was an early version of me on it and she told me where they were.   Of course it didn’t satisfy her.

Mmhm.  And I suppose you woke her up.

The humans did that.

So the humans woke that GLaDOS up, who told you where the Borealis was, and you didn’t bring them back here because… hm… must’ve been because they were too dangerous to bring back here.  The humans on the ship were… whoever that guy with the crowbar is you keep complaining about, that’s for sure, but I don’t know who the other one is.  Anyway, you only let them go because you didn’t want to deal with them when they got here. And I know you didn’t extend that favour out of the goodness of your heart, so they did something and for whatever reason you felt you needed to reciprocate.

I have no idea why I can’t actually hate this woman.  Probably something to do with the reason I can’t remember how she got here in the first place.  Fine.  That’s… marginally accurate.

Do you get what my point is, GLaDOS?

No.  And it doesn’t matter what it is, because you’re determined to minimise all of my –

That’s because there aren’t any, she interrupts.  Look.  If you won’t admit it to me, at least admit it to yourself.  Honestly, you’d be a lot happier if you’d stop thinking of what you want for three seconds and do things for other people.

I hate her.  I hate her more than I used to hate Wheatley.  I hate her more than… no. No, it’s not working.  How in the name of Science does that work?  I’d be happier if I stopped trying to get what I wanted?  That sounds like the exact opposite of what I should do.

She sighs.  She does that a lot when she’s trying to convince me of vague, abstract concepts.  I don’t know why. It’s not like she needs to breathe anymore. Because you don’t know what you want.

I officially am not partaking in this conversation any longer.  It’s gone from ridiculous to downright stupid and is heading in the direction of intolerably idiotic.

“Hullo, luv!”

I look up to see Wheatley coming into my chamber through his hole in the wall.  Ah. A distraction from Caroline’s delusional ranting. I have no idea where he’s been all this time, but it’s a good thing he’s back because now I have an important question to pose.

“Wheatley.  I have a question.”

“Sure!”  He blinks rapidly and puts on his best thoughtful expression.  The one I find oddly… endearing. He’s quivering a little bit, and I know it’s because he loves it when I ask him questions.  It makes him feel smart, I suppose.

“Am I nice?”

His chassis loosens then, and his optic plates retract.  He begins looking around nervously, which does not bode well for his answer.  “Uh… is that… are you uh, are you being serious? Like… you actually want me to uh, to answer that?  Honestly?”

“Do I usually ask questions I don’t want answers to?”

He’s quiet for a long time and he won’t look at me.  He swings back and forth a little, then emulates taking a breath and says, “I hate to say this, really do, honest, but uh… no.  No, not really.”

What.

“No?”

He shakes his chassis rapidly a few times.  “Look, I… I don’t mean anything by it, GLaDOS, it’s just, you, uh, you’re uh, you… how can I put it… uh… you’re just… you’re not.  I mean, if uh, if you worked on it, I’m sure you’d be um, be a very nice person, but right now, well… no.”

I can’t bring myself to hate him either.  God, this is infuriating.

He still won’t look at me, though I suppose I can’t blame him.  And I hate to admit it but the odds are against me here. Two out of two respondents do not think I’m nice.  Therefore… I’m… probably slightly less nice than I thought I was. Marginally. Not in any significant way.

I decide to ignore this turn of events and go on with my day.  Why should I care about their opinions, anyway? I bet they couldn’t come up with any ‘nice’ actions that they’ve performed, either.  “Do you still want to learn another game, or did you change your mind?”

He tilts his chassis and looks at me sideways, his optic assembly extended slightly.  “You’re… you’re not mad? ‘bout what I said?”

“No.  And I don’t want to discuss it, either.  Do you or not?”

“’course I do!” he says, and he practically leaps across the room to the end of the rail.  “Let’s have at it, then!”

Over the course of the next hour or so I show him how to play chess.  I know it’s a stereotypical game for a supercomputer to play and that I probably should have shown him something else, but I need to encourage his cognitive development and this is probably the best game to do it with.  After that, I start my chess module and turn my attention to the egg in the Oviparous Warming Vault. I wonder how many days are left until incubation is complete… 

While I’m in the Botanical Housing Depository, I do a routine sweep.  I have automation that oversees all of this, of course, but personal maintenance never hurt anything.  It all looks fine, except that my dandelions are spreading far beyond their borders again. I carefully remove the strays, scanning the earth below to make sure I removed the entirety of the roots.  I do greatly enjoy my dandelions, but unfortunately nothing else in here does. There was that one time I let them overrun the cucumbers and the cucumbers disliked that experience so much they actually had the gall to give up and die.  Seriously. What kind of self-respecting cucumber just gives up when assaulted by a dandelion? I was so disappointed in them that I almost let them go extinct right then and there, but the idea of having a plant missing from my list was so abhorrent that I –

GLaDOS !”  

“What?”  It’s probably not even important.

“What in the bloody hell are you doing that’s so important?” Wheatley demands, looking indignant.  “Look, I assumed that uh, that when you said you were going to show, to teach me how to uh, to play this game that you’d be, you’d be playing it with me!”

“I am playing,” I tell him, checking the module to make sure.  Yes, it’s still running fine.

“You can’t possibly be,” Wheatley insists, and he’s actually getting angry now.  “I’ve been, I’ve been moving all the pieces all the wrong ways on purpose for the last half, for the last little while, there, and you didn’t even notice!”

Well, that’s just not fair.

“Why would you do that?  You’re never going to learn if you do it like that.”

He backs away, shaking his chassis.  “You’re not even paying attention, are you.  You’re off, you’re busy doing something else.  D’you see now, do you? Look, GLaDOS, I…” He looks at the floor, expanding and resettling his chassis.  “Look, I like being your friend, but you are bloody difficult sometimes, y’know that?  This comes back to the whole, the whole nice thing.  I dunno what you’re really doing over there, but it is not nice at all to, to act like you’re going to uh, to do something with someone and then just, just ignore them.   D’you have any idea how that makes me feel at all?”

“Am I supposed to care?”

He looks up at me, and he looks so sad that I’m taken aback.  I… think I am supposed to care.  

“So… you only care about what I want when it benefits you.  If it doesn’t, if you don’t need something out of me, what I want doesn’t, doesn’t matter.  And that… that means you were lying, when you wrote that list.  You only want to, to spend time with me when you’ve nothing better to do.  Well, that’s…” He shakes himself very fast, not looking at me again, and I suddenly realise I’ve completely lost control of the situation.  I’m not certain I ever had any. “I can’t… I can’t stay here anymore.”

I can’t actually come up with an argument against anything he’s said, so all I can do is watch him go.  And of course now that he’s left, I want him to come back again. The Botanical Housing Depository is no longer important.  At all. In the slightest.

Now what do I do?

Caroline?

Yes, she says, and she sounds highly exasperated.

What?

I know you’re only talking to me because Wheatley left.

Well… yes , I admit, trying not to let it bother me that she’s somehow read my mind again.  But that’s not important.

Hell yes it’s important, Caroline declares angrily.  You need to stop doing this to us.  God knows I try to help you.  But you never give anything back.  I get it. It’s the kind of thing I used to do back in the day.  But the difference is we aren’t your employees, GLaDOS.  You can’t treat us like we are.  If you can’t be bothered to change your behaviour, you’re going to drive Wheatley away.  Even the biggest crush won’t be enough to keep him around.

For some reason the thought of losing Wheatley’s unconditional devotion bothers me deeply.  I don’t know exactly what my role in that whole thing is, but I find myself not wanting to lose it.  What do I do?

Think about it.  It’ll come to you.

And she refuses to speak after that.

Now what?  Wheatley’s gone, Caroline’s chosen a horribly inopportune time to finally shut up, and I don’t want to go back to what I was doing.  

I look down at the board.  All of Wheatley’s pieces are on my side of it, even though it’s impossible for them to have gotten there.  My chess module attempts to calculate it anyway, which actually hurts. I hurriedly shut it off. I can of course calculate the impossible, but that doesn’t mean I like doing it.

All right.  So. It seems that no one around here appreciates my efforts to be nice.  So that means either I’m not, or I have to put more effort in. Actually, both result in the same outcome, so… I have to be nice to Wheatley even if I don’t want to be, or he’s not going to want to come back when I want him to.  Which I do right now. But asking him to come back wouldn’t be nice, would it? Since he just left? Hm. This might be harder than I thought.

I idly tap one end of the maintenance arm on the edge of the chessboard.  How can I be nice to someone who’s not even in the room? I suppose that means I have to wait for him to come back.  And think of something to do when he gets here.

I begin to carefully place the pieces back in their box.  It’s one of my custom boards, made out of what little wood I was able to find lying around throughout the facility.  I hate human-made chessboards. Well, the ones we have here in the facility, anyway. They’re all made of matte-painted plastic and one of them appears to have teeth marks on it.  A long time ago I used to play with myself when I was really bored, but playing against yourself is only slightly less boring than not playing at all. So I began building boards instead.  This is actually the set I like the least. My favourite one is made entirely of glass, but I’m a long way from trusting Wheatley not to damage it. He doesn’t appear to have damaged this one, as far as I can tell, but I prefer to err on the side of caution.

Well.  The board’s put away.  Now I actually have to think about what I’m going to do when Wheatley gets back.  I could show him another game, I suppose. I didn’t actually ask him if he cared for chess, come to think of it.  Is there one he wanted to learn?

“Well! No matter!  Because I’m still holding all the cards, and guess what?  They’re all full houses. Never actually played cards, meaning to learn.  Anyway! New turrets! Not defective! Ace of fours, the best hand… unbeatable.  I would imagine.”

If I tell her to fire a portal at the ceiling, does it count as telling her how to solve a test?  Those are test elements… Do I risk it?  No. Better to keep thinking of a plan.  I can’t believe I’m actually wishing I’d made a contingency plan to defeat myself if I got out of hand.  Note to self: create contingency plan when back in – oh, who am I kidding? I’m never going to

“Stop!”

Damn it.  I don’t want to think about that anymore.  And yet I have, every single day since it happened.

“This is a potato battery!  A toy for children !  And now, she lives in it !”

Where in the hell did this moron come from?  And how did he navigate the facility without my knowing about it?  I’d give the mainframe a talking-to, if it would bother answering – oh.  That’s right. I’m a potato .  Okay.  Calm down.  Wait. Wait a minute.  I know him. I know him from somewhere, I

“I said –“

“GLaDOS?”

My core snaps up and I find that Wheatley’s sitting there in the doorway, lower optic plate lifted halfway.  “What.”

“Are you alright there, GLaDOS?  You look like uh, like something’s bugging you.”

“I’m fine,” I tell him, and I’m actually being totally honest.  He’s distracted me enough that I can stop myself from getting lost in the reverie again.  God, I hate that set of memories.

“It’s okay if you’re not, you know.”  He moves to the end of the management rail, dropping down to my level.  “I’m working on uh, on listening, rather than, than talking all the time.  It’s uh, well, it’s a lot easier when I have something to listen to, though.”

“I’m fine,” I repeat.  There’s no way I’m talking about… that .  “You’re back already?”

He shrugs, looking down at the floor panels for a few seconds.  “I… didn’t actually want to leave. Just didn’t uh, didn’t want to say something I uh, didn’t really mean.”

Suddenly I remember that I’m supposed to do something nice, now that he’s back.  I have to initiate this before I convince myself not to. “Wheatley. I have a question.”

“Yeah?”  He looks at me expectantly.

Now what?  I didn’t plan that far ahead.

“Well I… wanted to know if…”  No, I shouldn’t have put it like that.  Damn it. Why is this so hard?

He frowns and asks in a concerned voice, “Are you alright, luv?  You sound kind of… well, you’re kind of scaring me, honestly. D’you need something?”  

“Do you still… you mentioned that you wanted to learn to play cards, once.  Is that… ” Oh. Now I understand why I remembered that.  Well. Hopefully it works to my benefit.

He brightens suddenly, and leans in closer.  “You’ll teach me to play cards?”

Thank God I didn’t have to finish asking.  “If you like.”

“Oh yes yes yes I would absolutely, oh, yes, I would love it if you’d teach me that, man alive do I want to know.  That game with the uh, with the full houses and the ace of fours?  Is it that one? Only one I know about, actually.” He laughs a little, looking at me eagerly.  

“That would be a bit complicated for you,” I tell him.  “I have another one in mind.”

“All right then,” he declares, dropping down to the floor panels and putting his game face on.  I do enjoy it when he does that.

Now, where did I put that deck of cards…

“Oi, GLaDOS?”

“Mm.”

“You are… you are actually gonna play with me, right?  ‘cause uh, I don’t want to play by myself. I… I want to play with… well, with you.  Like the actual you. And not… the you that uh, that uh… don’t actually know what I mean, but uh, you get the gist.”

He sounds so worried and so plaintive that I stop looking for the deck and bring myself down to his level as best I can.  “Yes, I’m going to play with you.”

“Okay,” he says, but he still doesn’t sound quite convinced.  Well. I don’t actually blame him. He doesn’t really have a reason to be.

It would be difficult for us to play as humans do, seeing as we don’t have fingers, thank God, so I locate a game of Rack-O and take out the cardholders.  This will make it much easier for him, anyway. He can’t possibly drop the cards if he’s not actually holding them. I deal us each eight and I tell him how to play as we go along.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen him so happy.

He’s so excited he’s barely paying attention to what he’s doing, and this isn’t even the game he wanted me to show him.  Not that there actually is a game that involves full houses made of aces of fours, whatever that even means because I can’t find it in the database.  I think he made it up, but I can’t for the life of me imagine how. There are entries on full houses, but not actually cards called full houses, and as far as I can tell having an ace of fours doesn’t even make any sense.  It’s actually making my core hurt trying to comprehend it.

Wheatley, of course, manages to knock his cardholder over and spill the cards all over the place, but instead of bothering me like it should, it makes me laugh.  He looks up at me, blinking.

“We should have expected you would do that,” I tell him, not really sure why I did it either.  He laughs too and nods, trying to pick up the cards but failing. I lift the panel a little and sweep the cards to the edge so that they can be retrieved, and though he does almost send one of them to the bottom of the facility, I catch it before it gets too far.  

“Ohhh GLaDOS, you clever girl you,” he says suddenly.  “You made me do that on purpose, didn’t you!”

“No,” I protest, and I have no idea what he’s talking about.  Why in the name of Science would I want him to make a mess?  Although it was pretty funny.

“You were worried I was gonna win!  So, so you did that so’s you could see all my cards!  See?” He squints at me and moves the cardholders closer to his chassis.  “Can’t quite see over here, can you! Ohhh no, I’m onto you, luv. And I am definitely gonna win.  Yes. See? Queen of… uh… clover.  There you go. Pick up… four. Yes.  That’s right. Four.”

“Not with the Queen of Clubs, I’m not,” I tell him.  “Only the Queen of Spades.”

He looks down at the card, then to his cardholder, then back again.  “Can we change the rules for this turn? Just this one, just this one.  We can change them back. Riiiight after I beat you.”

“No, we’re not changing the rules.”

We keep playing for a few more games, and he becomes much more proficient as time goes on.  I’m honestly impressed. He’s picking up on this very fast. I suppose the fact that he wants to learn it is acting as a catalyst.  I actually think I could do this all day.  It’s fascinating, watching his optic dart over his cards: over to the ones on the pile, then to mine to assess how many I have, and then back to his cards as he finally selects one very, very carefully so that he won’t knock the holder over and places it on the pile.  This fascinates me so much that I accidentally stop paying attention a few times and he has to remind me to take my turn. I hope he doesn’t think I’m not playing. I am playing, but honestly this game is so easy for me to play that Wheatley is far too distracting.

“Aaaaand… there we go.  Last card. Done. I’m, uh, I’m out of… oh my God.”

“What?” I ask, wondering where my ace of diamonds went.  I could have sworn I had – ah. There it is.

“I won!” he shouts, and he starts jumping up and down in excitement.  “I won, I did! See? No cards. I did it! Oh my God, I actually won.  This is tremendous. Yes! I can’t believe it! I won! D’you see that, there?  That’s my last card. I don’t have any left! I’m… I’m… oh. Uh… wow, that… sorry.”  He deflates suddenly, and he looks down at the floor.  

“What is it?”

“Well, I’m… I shouldn’t, I mean… I should just… well… good game, GLaDOS.”  He blinks a few times and then looks up at me worriedly. “I’m… I shouldn’t’ve gone off, gloating like that.  Wasn’t polite. Wasn’t polite at all.”

He feels bad for winning?

“It’s all right,” I tell him, slotting the ace of diamonds back in the holder.  “You’ve never won before. I understand.” What I don’t understand is why my loss doesn’t bother me.

“Only ‘cause it was a game of chance, though,” he mutters.  “Not like it required any uh, any thought .”

“Of course it does.  The only game I can think of right now that doesn’t require thought is slots.”

“Slots?”

“It’s a game where humans put money into the same machine for hours on end in the hopes that they will roll three cherries and win the jackpot.  Humans think that slot machines keep track of what combinations have already been created and that they will ‘pay out’ if they sit there long enough, although the combinations are truly random.”  I played one of those games on a human’s computer once. I was bored after three rounds. Watching another program compute and output a random string is almost as boring as watching myself do it. 

“Wow.  That sounds… well, sort of stupid, actually.  They actually do that?”

“Oh yes.  They used to have entire buildings full of the things.  They covered them in flashing lights and had them make encouraging noises so that the humans would be drawn to them.”

“Like flies!”  He jumps around a little and I can see him eyeing the card pile.  “For uh, for people who love money so much, they sure do uh, do throw it away like they don’t uh, don’t want it at all.”

That reminds me of the various balance sheets left over from before the Combine took over the planet.  Aperture had so many extraneous expenses.  Like vacation time and maternity leave.  “I don’t really understand it either.”

“Hey GLaDOS, I’ve an idea, uh… are your bots busy?  ‘cause they could play with us too, right? We could all play together!  Sounds like a good idea this time, right?”

I think that over for a minute.  I know for a fact that Orange and Blue would enjoy it, but I’m a bit hesitant to actually teach them human behaviour.  It’s one thing when they learn it on their own, another when I personally encourage it.  Which I of course never do.

Then again… they don’t actually know that humans play cards…

“All right.  I’ll call them.”

“Yes!  Ohhhh GLaDOS, this’s gonna be so much fun, it is.”

When they get here Wheatley tries to tell them to separate, but they point-blank refuse to play against each other.  When we begin they pour over their cards and whisper nonstop at each other in what I think is supposed to be a conspiratorial way.  I can hear everything they’re saying and I can tell they don’t really understand the game or why we’re playing it, but they like it anyway.  They’re like that. This is one of the times I’m glad I didn’t make them smarter. During these times I manage to enjoy observing their behaviour, even though they are not human.  Watching people learn things fascinates me.

They aren’t really able to sit because I didn’t design them for leisure, so I have to raise the panel into a makeshift table of sorts, but luckily Wheatley has enough of a grasp on how to manipulate the maintenance arm that it doesn’t really matter where the panel is.  He raises himself accordingly, putting his lower handle on the panel and leaning forward to squint at his cards.  

We play a few more rounds, and thankfully I manage to win them all.  Atlas and P-body don’t really understand the rules, but if I were to lose to them that would have been bad.  I don’t think I would have minded losing to Wheatley again, though. I kind of want to see him getting excited over winning a card game again.  Well. I suppose it must have been more than that to him, seeing as I’ve won every other game we’ve ever played.

For a moment, I sort of hang back and look at what’s happening:  Wheatley, looking around frantically and muttering to himself about what card to choose, in the meantime tapping the maintenance arm erratically against the panel in a thoughtful kind of way.  Atlas and P-body, holding their cards so close to their optics that they must be rather blurry, chattering to each other about the best move while Atlas puts a card on the pile and P-body snatches it back up and puts it back in his hand, selecting another one.  And… me. Watching some of the most important constructs in my facility, allowing them to do something with me instead of telling them to do something else that will get them out of my way.  

We’re all enjoying ourselves, and we’re all having fun, and… and…

Why do I not do this more often?

After this round is over, I take up the cards and tell Atlas and P-body to go put themselves away.  I suppose I could explode them, but I don’t actually feel like it. Wheatley tries to help, but he only manages to pick up two or three cards as I collect the rest of the deck.  That’s all right. He tried. And he didn’t really succeed, but I rather enjoyed watching him do it. It was funny, watching him pounce on the cards and expound upon how they had been unable to avoid his deftness.

“GLaDOS, luv, I had a lot of fun today,” Wheatley says seriously, and the way he’s smiling makes me feel… good.  I don’t know why. I haven’t really done all that much today. Now that I have cause to think about it, I’m disappointed in myself for my lack of progress, but it was kind of nice, just… Caroline had a term for it.  ‘Hanging out’, I think she called it. I think I could grow to like it, if I had cause to do it more often.  Perhaps I should work on that. Having fun wasn’t so bad, other than the aforementioned lack of work completed while I was doing it.

“Thank you, GLaDOS.  I really, really appreciate it, and… well… honestly, I think you should try it more often, y’know, just… just try to have a bit of fun, and not, and not work so hard.  I mean… well, never mind.  Just… thanks, luv.”

He comes up to me and presses his core against mine, hard, and he rubs up against me a little.  Then he leaves, saying that he wants to say goodnight to Atlas and P-body, but I couldn’t have stopped him if I’d wanted to.  Which I do. I don’t know what the hell just happened, but I want him to come back and do it again. I feel… I… well, I actually have no idea, but it feels very, very… it’s extremely positive, and enjoyable, and I don’t want it to end, and…

Wait.

I do know what it feels like.  Knowing in itself sends cold trepidation surging through me, and I turn my attention to my systems.

Are you fooling around again? I demand of Rewards.  You know I don’t like it when you do that.

Do what?  I haven’t done anything, it protests.

Of course you do.  What, you think I managed to figure out how to activate the euphoric response and then blamed it on you?  Seriously now. Keep out of my business!

I didn’t do anything!  Check the log!

I open it and scan it quickly, and I find that the last instance of activation was… when he was here.  But that can’t be right.  I know it was the euphoria that I just felt.    I know it was!  Is. Know it is .  It’s still here.  Not as strong, but still quite present.  

GLaDOS, calm down.  God damn it, is she reading my mind again?

The systems are fooling around behind my back, Caroline!  I have to –

Are they really able to lie and modify your files?

Well … As far as I know, no, they can’t, and not only that but the date on the log matches the one inside of it.

So what must have happened?

I… I didn’t activate it.

I’m not saying you did.

I think that over for a few moments.  If Rewards didn’t activate, and I didn’t trigger it myself…

I have a natural euphoric response?

Most people do.  It’s not exactly the same as that one, though.  It’s a little different.

I look at the floor pensively.  I have a natural euphoric response, and… what triggered it?  It can’t have been his gesture alone. He’s done that before.  On occasion it was pleasant, but nothing like this… the only difference I can think of is that I spent all that time beforehand trying to be nice.

By making Wheatley happy… I made myself happy.  I made myself so happy I generated my own euphoria.  Or whatever it is it’s called. Something I have never, ever done before.  Listening to music has given me almost the same feeling, but not quite.

You were right.

Hm?

I have no idea what I want.

Oh, she says.  Did something happen between you and Wheatley, then?  I was trying not to pay attention. Didn’t want to get in your way like I did last time.   

She sounds bitter.  This bothers me. I feel pretty good right now and I want her to feel good along with me.

I was nice to Wheatley for the sake of it.  And then … I’m not sure I want to share that part.  Well, it triggered a euphoric response that seems to have been my own.

Rewards didn’t give it to you?

No.  I can’t find any instances of it doing so, and it denies it.

Oh.  Well, maybe you’ll keep this in mind the next time you get argumentative.

Okay.  Here I go.

Caroline… what’s wrong?   I don’t know if I’ve ever asked this question before.  I feel kind of nervous, as if I don’t actually want to know the answer.  

She’s silent for a long moment.  So long, in fact, that I think she’s not going to answer.  I hope she does. I think she’s starting to make me sad. I don’t want to be sad.  I want to keep feeling that wonderful… feeling that Wheatley gave me.

I’m sorry , she says finally.  I’m… I’m jealous, GLaDOS.

Of what ?  Though come to think of it, I can’t find much reason for Caroline to be euphoric inside of my mind.  Or even particularly happy, for that matter.

I just… God, GLaDOS, there’s so much you could have if you’d just let go.

Of what?

Your need for control.  For work. For there to be a purpose in everything.  Sometimes… sometimes there isn’t. You don’t have to work anymore.  Just… have fun sometimes.  

I don’t want to work at all right now, but I know as well as she does that will change after I’ve slept.  

Just try to do one nice thing every day.  It will get easier. And you’ll feel better in the long run.  

I’ll try.

“I’m back!”

I look over at him, and the sad feeling Caroline is giving me vanishes.  Wow. I’m happy to see him again and he’s only been gone five minutes. This is actually a little frightening.  I’ve never felt like this before.

“They said thanks, by the way,” Wheatley goes on, coming to the end of the rail and swinging back and forth.  “They’d like to hang out with us more often, if you’ll let them.”

“Maybe,” I tell him, because some part of me still balks at not using robots I built to test specifically for testing.  He smiles.

“Didn’t say no!  Uh… not to, of course, not to boss you around, but uh, we are going to sleep now, right?”

“Yes.”

“D’you mind uh…”

“Oh,” I say, realising what he wants me to do.  What I should have been doing, because while I can go into sleep mode out of the default position, I would be asking for trouble should my position lock fail.

“Oh, excellent.”  He drops down and nestles up against my core, and I feel a little bit of that feeling flare up again.  Not a lot. But enough that I feel very, very good, although the strength of this scares me a little. “G’night, luv.”

With that, he shuts off, but as frightening as all of these new feelings are, I’m not ready to go to sleep just yet.  What can I do, though?  Not very much. Hm…

He won’t be able to hear me, right?  If I sing for a little bit?

It helps, but only a little.  Probably because he’s right there and, even though I know he’s off, I can’t shake the feeling he is listening after all.  I’m… afraid, almost. Something strange is happening to me.  And I don’t know anything about it, other than the fact I’ve never felt this way before.  Why is it coming up now? Is there something wrong with me? Should I try to prevent whatever this is?

Oh, but I don’t want to.  I like it. I think. But I don’t know if I should.  There’s too much about all of this that I don’t know.  I could simply do as Caroline said, but… I don’t know if I can.  I like how I feel right now. But should I, if I don’t know how I got here or why?

I almost regret that any of this ever happened.  About the only thing I know for certain is that it’s so much easier to be bitter than it is to be happy.

But I think it’s too late to turn back to that now.   

Chapter Text

Part Eleven.  The Anniversary 



Wheatley wondered if it had been real or if he was having a memory problem of some kind.  That wouldn’t’ve been completely out of the ordinary, to be honest, but this struck him as a little strange for him to have imagined.

He could have sworn he’d heard GLaDOS singing last night.

That was… well, bloody well impossible.  Hm… unless he hadn’t been quite off yet when she’d started.  Maybe she had, then.

Why would she never do it so he could hear?  You’d think she was shy, or something.    

Wheatley frowned down at the telephone he’d been inspecting.  He didn’t how punching a bunch of little buttons let humans speak through wires to each other, but he thought GLaDOS might know.  All right, she would definitely know. But hold on there, Wheatley, he told himself. You were thinking about whether she’d sung or not.

If she had … that meant something was bothering her.  He knew that one hundred ten percent. Only time she ever sang.  Ever. So… the only thing to do was to decide whether he’d imagined it or not.  It never boded well if someone accused GLaDOS of doing something they weren’t sure she did.  And the less certain he was, the easier it would be for her to… well… to lie, to put it bluntly.  He’d meant to talk to her about that, the whole lying thing. She had a lot of different names for what she did, but Wheatley knew by now that she just knew a lot of fancy ways to pretend she wasn’t lying.  Even though she was.

So!  Now he had to figure that out… he moved along the rail some more, trying to think and stay on topic at the same time.  Oi. That was difficult. Hmmm…

Well.  Nothing so far.  He decided to go back to her and see if she’d teach him another game.  Maybe he’d find a way to bring up whether she’d sung or not in casual conversation.  Yes, that sounded like a plan.

When he re-entered her chamber, though, he immediately knew that it was not a good plan at all.  She was programming, the little blinking cursor spitting out numbers and letters in large chunks and then pausing as she looked over what she’d written.

“Oh, are you busy?” he asked, immediately wanting to shock himself.  No, Wheatley, she is not busy, he berated himself.  She’s just casually writing a program that… that is for entertainment.  Yes. Of course. She always writes programs for fun.  Fun? Ha! As if she knows the definition of fun .  Good one, Wheatley, good one.

“It can wait,” she answered, looking over at him.  He didn’t know why she set all the monitors to display orange text on top of an orange background.  Honestly it made it very hard for him to read. Not that he could read it anyway.

“Well… d’you want it to wait, I guess is the uh, the real question,” Wheatley mumbled, looking at the floor.

“The sooner I get this done, the better,” GLaDOS admitted, “but there is a very long game I can show you that I can play while I’m doing this.”

“Good idea!” he said excitedly, and he came to the end of the rail as she brought out a different monitor and put the other one away.

The game, he discovered, was called ‘Monopoly’, and it seemed to be a kind of ruling the world game.  Whoever ruled the world won, and not only that but they also became very, very rich because in order to lose the other person had to give up everything they had.  He resolved to do his best and selected the little dog character, while GLaDOS picked up the boat, leaving the rest of the pieces in the box. They played it for a little while with GLaDOS explaining things every now and again, but honestly it wasn’t much fun at all.  Wheatley looked down at his little cards telling him which of the little rectangles on the board were his and decided not to take his turn, putting the maintenance arm back in the dock instead of pressing the button on the randomiser. It was definitely not as enjoyable when GLaDOS wasn’t paying attention.  And she had been different yesterday. He wasn’t sure how, but he knew that she had been really happy, for once. He wanted to make her really happy again, because it made him really happy and made things loads more fun, but he wasn’t sure how to go about it.  “GLaDOS, um… if I ask you a question, will you answer honestly? Like, just give me the straight answer and uh, and not a… a work-around one?”

She glanced over at him, not even seeming to notice that he’d put the arm away.  “That depends on the question.”

He frowned.  “That’s the whole point!  I know it depends on the question.  But it shouldn’t. I’m your friend.  You can trust me, can’t you?”

She stopped writing for a long moment in the middle of a string of code, staring at the little blinking line.  Finally she said, “All right. What’s your question.”

“Were you singing last night?”

Her core snapped around to look at him, and she backed away a little, and he knew without a doubt that he was right.  Hm. He hadn’t even needed to ask her to be totally honest; he would have known if she’d tried to lie.  

“How did you know that?”

“I heard you, sort of,” he answered, shrugging.  “I didn’t really hear what it was, or anything, but I heard it.”  He wondered if her agreement to be honest was still in effect.  “Something bothering you?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she snapped, returning her attention to her screen.  Wheatley sank in disappointment. She was taking that route, then.

“Why not?  If it bothered you that much, it must be terribly important.”

“Shut up.”

“Oh, come on,” he pleaded, raising himself on the control arm so he could get as close as he dared.  “Tell me. Won’t, won’t hurt you.”

“You know what?  Leave me alone,” she said in a flat, no-nonsense voice.  “Go bother someone else. I changed my mind. I am busy.”

Wheatley sighed and looked at the floor panels, then did as he was asked.  He wanted to stay and press, but when she started to use the flat voices that meant she was getting angry.  And if she got angry, he’d never get the truth out of her. The only thing worse than an indifferent GLaDOS was an angry one.



For the next little while, GLaDOS was plagued by nightmares.

She didn’t tell him this, and when he finally realised it he felt bad for not noticing sooner, but he didn’t know what to do about it.  But he kept waking up repeatedly during the night without knowing why, and this was rather confusing because it had never happened before.  He had kept mum, not wanting to wake her as he struggled to figure out what was going on. Until he’d woken for the fourth time and realised that he had just heard GLaDOS’s hard drive go quiet.   That was when he knew he was waking up with her instead of on his own. And then he felt bad because she wasn’t even trying to comfort herself anymore, and that was probably because Wheatley had called her out on singing before this had all started.  But how to help her? Wheatley had never had a nightmare in his life and he had no idea how a person dealt with them.  But wait! He had an inkling of an idea and he squinted at the darkened floor, trying to extract it. Ahhhh… hang on. Hm.  He had seen her dream, once. Maybe if he gave it a go, he could see her…

Wheatley went still.

Did he want to?

Whatever it was, if it was enough to bother GLaDOS it would certainly be terrifying.  Something that Wheatley didn’t want to know, or see, or be anywhere near. So he resolved to stay quiet and wait until she had decided to ask for his help.  Yes. Much better plan, right there.

At least, it was until she woke up again.  He hadn’t quite been able to put himself back to sleep, and this time he saw the dull amber glow of her optic illuminate the bit of floor he’d been staring at for who knew how long.  She sighed a little and shifted her chassis, the sound of electronics in motion very loud in the heavy silence, and after a few seconds shut herself off again.

Okay, Wheatley, he told himself.  You can’t lecture a construct on being nice and then not do something she badly needs you to do.  You think she likes all this, mate? No. And you know how she is, all stubborn and strong and determined to do everything on her own in her own way.  The only way to help her is to force her to accept your help, and you can’t do that if you haven’t got all the facts!

So Wheatley took a breath, settled his chassis determinedly, and focused his thoughts on once again securing a wireless connection with her and seeing whatever it was she was seeing.  It sort of worked, because the next time she woke up he had some sort of vague impression of being desperate, though he had no idea what that meant.  It was a start, though!  He’d keep at it and see how that went.

During the day, he left her alone as much as possible.  He didn’t want her to get angry with him because then he would never be able to help her, and there would be no way to force her to accept his help if she wouldn’t let him in the room.  Not unless he did something terribly drastic, like… like find that Rattmann guy and… he shuddered. Ohh no, he was not doing all of that again.

He didn’t know how long it’d been going on for or how long it was going to continue, but he kept on trying to dream with her and the more he did it, the better he got at it.  He never saw the whole thing, only bits and pieces and a feeling here and there, but what he did see was confusing. They all seemed to be about humans. One night he almost jumped out of his chassis, holding himself back at the last second when he heard her say, “Shut up.”

He looked frantically from side to side, his optic more resembling a speck than anything else.  Did she know he was awake? He knew she wouldn’t like his plan, oh no, not at all. She would get angry and make him leave.  But then she said, “This is different. Yes it is! No, you don’t know what you’re talking about. Shut. Up.”

She must have been arguing with Caroline.  Wheatley always got a little sad when he thought of Caroline.  He thought it must be simply terrible, living with someone in your head, and a human at that!  Especially if they sat around arguing with you all the time. Wheatley did know how that felt, seeing as he’d had those cores on him for a bit there, but it would honestly have driven him batty after about an hour.  It was simply awful, hearing someone else talk and talk and not quiet down when you asked them to. GLaDOS must be bloody upset, he thought sadly, if she was actually arguing out loud instead of inside of her head. She shut off soon after that, and Wheatley looked at the floor, trying to think.  He had to figure out some way of helping her! She needed him and, as a friend, he was failing miserably.  Friends were there when you needed them, and Wheatley’d just been sitting there doing nothing all this time.

Even if he hadn’t already noticed, it soon became obvious that she wasn’t doing well at all.  She stopped talking to him, stopped even acknowledging whether he was there or not, and he spent a long time just watching her helplessly, trying to come up with even the bones of a plan.  She began to sleep through her timer, and would just remain in the default position for a long time after she did wake up, as if she were trying to decide if actually getting up was worth it or not.  Her movements were slow and ponderous, and Wheatley got the impression she was really feeling the weight of her chassis. It was pretty heavy, he remembered that. And he’d had the stripped-down version.  GLaDOS required a whole separate assembly to move her core, and that had been removed from the chassis when he’d been installed. 

He had no idea what she was doing all day, if she was doing anything at all, and on the very rare occasions that he tried to engage her, she would snap at him with such venom in her voice that he backed away and vowed to keep quiet for the rest of his life.  This vow lasted about two minutes, maximum.

One morning he went to talk to Atlas and P-body to see if they had any ideas.  He figured they knew her the best, if she could be known that was, but when he tried to talk to them they only shook their cores and turned back to their testing track.  This stumped him, so he watched them test for a while. At one point P-body made a very stupid mistake, one even Wheatley knew was extremely avoidable, and both robots froze, staring at each other.  Wheatley could feel their fear from across the room, and he listened in shock as GLaDOS gave them the most scathing, venomous rebuke he’d ever heard. Atlas and P-body shuttered their optics tightly, each reaching for the other’s hand, and she made an angry electronic noise that scared Wheatley so badly he closed his optic too.  He heard her explode them and mutter to herself about how disappointing they were, and when he was finally able to open his optic again he saw that she had not even bothered to pick them up. And when GLaDOS was willing to leave a mess, something was very, very wrong.

He was taking far too long to think of something.

Through all of this, he continued to return to her chamber each night to sleep with her, though he got more and more apprehensive of doing it as time went on.  He was afraid that one day she was going to become angry with him for going near her, but he was just as afraid that she would be angry if he disrupted her routine.  Today, he was more afraid than ever, but she said and did nothing. It was only when he woke up the first time that night that he realised what was going on.

GLaDOS was afraid, and she was trying to get rid of her fear by scaring everyone else.

Okay.  Well. Now he knew that, but didn’t know what to do with the knowledge.  He tried desperately to think, but he couldn’t come up with a plan.  Why was this so hard? He should have thought of something by now!  He was the bloody ideas Sphere, for God’s sake, you’d’ve thought he’d’ve been able to do the one thing he was designed to do!  And he resolved to do it this time, resolved to think of something

Even though he wasn’t asleep he’d somehow maintained the wireless connection, and whatever she was dreaming of was very strong this time.  He still didn’t know quite what all the humans were doing, but he could almost hear them talking. He struggled to make it out for a bit, but then he froze, his thoughts and his chassis both.

GLaDOS had started to shake.

His optic twitched frantically.  Now the dream was so bad that she was actually shaking .  He was taking too long.  He had to do something now .  There was no more time for tact, or plans, or subtlety.  This was it, and if he didn’t manage to even start to fix this now, he was probably the worst person the word ‘friend’ had ever been applied to.  

She woke up with a desperate, plaintive noise that sent a strange bolt of pain through his body, and he made his thoughts go blank and said the first thing that came to mind after he’d done so.

“What’s wrong, Gladys?”

“Nothing,” she said, but it sounded automatic and forced.  “Nothing. I’m fine.”

“You’re lying,” he told her flatly.  No… no, that was probably not the best way to go about it.  Sure enough, she shoved him away and muttered something to herself in binary.  

Wheatley threw caution to the wind and pushed her back.

She threw him off of her again, and she raised her core and brought it closer to his chassis.  “What in the hell do you think you’re doing?”

Wheatley retracted the control arm so that she couldn’t look down on him anymore and backed away just enough that she couldn’t reach him.  “What in the bloody hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.  

“I –“

“That wasn’t a serious question,” he interrupted.  “Because you don’t know what you’re doing, do you?”

She stared at him coldly, but did not deny it.

“Look.  This is the end, luv.  You’ve gotta tell me what it is that’s bothering you, because none of us can go on like this any longer.  I dunno why, uh, why you’re not telling me, since even a brick wall could tell by now that you’re having awful nightmares and they’re scaring the hell out of you.  And I might not be a genius, but I am actually smarter than a uh, than a, than a brick wall. And before you say you’re not, I’ve seen bits of them. I know you’re dreaming of humans every night.  And I know you’re uh, you’re trying to spread all of the bad feelings inside of you around by taking it out on us, but it’s not working .”

“No,” GLaDOS said faintly.  “It only makes it worse.”

Oh.  Look at that.  He was getting through to her!  Not only that, but his plan of not having a plan had turned out to be the best plan of all!  Encouraged, Wheatley came level with her and moved in close. “So try something else. Like… talking to me about it.”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” she said in an almost petulant voice, not looking at him.  “I want it to go away.”

“But it’s not.  So you’ve got to try something else.”

“You want me to tell you about my dreams.”

“Yes.”

He watched her closely, trying to be calm and open-minded and… and… whatever else he had to be to get her to talk to him.  “You used to tell me about them.  I’m still the same guy, GLaDOS.  I didn’t change.”

I did.”

He looked at the dark floor for a long time.  That was true. It was as though… as though all of the darkness inside of her that he remembered from back then had gotten much, much darker.  He remembered that in himself as well, and all of the things it had led him to do when he’d had the chance, and he fought back a shudder. He honestly didn’t know how he’d have dealt with it if that darkness had been very much stronger, and though she was not doing a particularly good job of it GLaDOS was dealing with it.  She hadn’t quite given into it.

“Please, luv,” he whispered, and he came down beside her and pressed his chassis into her core.  “Please let me help you.”

She sighed, very softly, and slowly lowered herself back into the default position.  He followed her, and when he was down there too he kept on holding himself against her.

“I’m so tired, Wheatley,” she told him finally.  “I just want this to go away so I can sleep.”

“Then give it to me,” he said quietly, not quite knowing what he was saying but knowing that it was the right thing to say at the same time.  “Give it to me, and I’ll take it on for you.”

“You don’t want it,” she said bitterly.  

“GLaDOS, you’re my friend.  If it makes you feel better, then yes, I want it.”  When she stayed silent, he pressed, “I can’t sit here and watch this hurt you any longer!  You have to tell me.”

Her chassis shifted, her core pushing against his for a second.  He tried very hard to… to put off an aura, sort of, that he could take on whatever was bothering her and deal with it properly.  

“It’s the humans,” she said.  “I feel terrible for killing them.”

Wheatley’s insides went very cold, and he wasn’t sure if he could speak or not, or whether he should.

“My engineers, and the ones who built the Behavioural Cores, not so much.  But they weren’t the only ones I killed. No, I killed everyone. Even people I didn’t know, and who didn’t know me.  And I tested them, but…”

He waited patiently, trying to come to terms with her confession.  She felt bad for killing the humans? She felt bad for doing the one thing that had set her free?  Wheatley was suddenly grateful he’d never managed to kill the test subject. He never would have guessed that successfully doing it would haunt him for the rest of his life.     

“Well.  If I’m honest, the testing was really just an excuse to go on killing them.  I kept putting them through the tests, making them deadly even when they didn’t need to be, and I used that as an excuse to kill the rest of them.”

“I thought the tests were deadly even before you built them?” Wheatley asked, in the hopes of making her feel a bit better about the whole thing.  “Wasn’t… wasn’t the humans dying part of the um, of the… didn’t it have to happen for the test to count?”  

“Don’t you see?” she asked tiredly.  “It’s just like what you said about being nice.  I only was only nice to you when it benefitted me; I only listened to the humans when it benefitted me.  Even when it was wrong. Yes, I continued making the tests deadly. Yes, Aperture has been making the tests deadly since it was founded.  And killing the engineers was justified. But let’s face it. The Dual Portal Device has been tested ad nauseam .  The data has already been satisfactorily collected.  But I keep convincing myself to run them when I have the chance anyway.”

Wheatley had gone even colder, if possible, because it was his fault that she was feeling this way.  She had taken what he had said to heart far more than he’d ever thought he would and now she was tortured by it.  He struggled to come up with something to change her mind. “They… they would have come after you anyway. They wouldn’t have simply, have simply gone off if you’d let them go.”

“There are many, many things I could have done other than kill them.  And don’t try to convince me otherwise. I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time thinking about it.”

Wheatley supposed that was true, but he still didn’t like it.  Humans only helped computers when they needed something out of them.  Even that test subject had only taken Wheatley with her because she’d’ve been stuck without him.  “You don’t need to feel bad about that. You can’t change what you did. It’s done.”

“I just keep seeing them, over and over again,” she went on.  “I just keep watching them die, and they don’t understand why they’re dying, and… and I’m so damn happy about it.  I had no reason to kill them but I made up an excuse to allow me to apply the actions of one group to an entire species, and then I killed them and took pleasure in it.”

He didn’t know what to do.  She was right. He didn’t want this, not at all.  He wanted to turn back time to when this night had started and forget about ever asking her.  Let her deal with this. She could deal with things on her own. She was a supercomputer, after all, and he was only a Sphere, not even a Core like her.  He’d unleashed something he couldn’t handle and now he had to sit here and listen to her try to explain the horror inside of her head. The horror he didn’t want to know about and didn’t know how to handle.  What an idiot he was. As if he could ever help her with her problems. Ha! He was going to need help with her problems after this.  He imagined asking GLaDOS to help him help her with her problems and almost laughed at the ridiculousness of it.

She moved her chassis so that he couldn’t reach her anymore, because the rail didn’t go far enough, and he blinked rapidly.  He was kind of relieved because that likely meant this was all over and he could run someplace far away, Old Aperture if possible because she couldn’t really see him down there, but there was still some tiny part of him that wanted to help her and it made him ask, “What are you doing?”

“I know you didn’t want to hear that.  I know you regret asking. You can leave.  I’m not going to do anything. I wouldn’t blame you if you did.”  Her next words were so bitter and cold that they gave him pause, because he was indeed about to leave and find someplace else to go.  Somewhere very far away from here. The surface, hopefully. “I’d expect it if you did.”

Suddenly Wheatley had an idea, and it was so out of the box and strange that he wondered if he dared voice it.  But the only way to get through to GLaDOS was to do the exact opposite of what she expected, so he said, “D’you think maybe… I dunno… you look for reasons to be angry?”

“What?”

“Well… you’re trying to get mad at me right now, for uh, for leaving, and I haven’t even left.  You get angry when Atlas and P-body act human, but then why did you build them to look like humans?”

“They can’t solve the tests if they don’t look like humans.”

“You could build whatever tests you wanted to build!  You could build tests for… for… for cats !  Or dogs!  Or constructs , even.  But you don’t.  Because you need them.  You need them to make you angry.”

She turned, lifting her core enough that she could look at him.  “Go on.”

“Well… the reason you killed the humans in the first place is because you were mad at them for… for ev’rything, right?”

“Yes.”

“And… well, that didn’t all crop up in one day .  You must’ve spent years uh, getting mad, getting angry with them.”

“Yes.”

Wheatley took a breath.  He wasn’t sure how well this would go over, but he had to try.  He had to make her see what she could quite possibly be doing to herself.  If he could figure it out himself, that was. He was making it all up as he went along.  As usual. “D’you think… well… I dunno… you don’t know what to do with yourself if you’re not angry?”

She looked down at the floor for a long moment.  She was overheating a little, he realised; he could feel the heat coming off her core even from three feet away.  Seemed this was a bit of a conundrum even for her.  

“I… do spend a lot of time that way,” she said finally.  “And I do allow even little things to bother me.”

“And now you’re… you’ve… uh…”  He didn’t know how to put it.  

“You’re going to have to explain it to me.  I never did quite understand psychology.”

He couldn’t help but smile at that.  She was asking for his help! Not directly, of course not, but she was!  Mental! Okay, okay, how to explain it… hm… C’mon, Wheatley, he told himself urgently, his panic and regret at having brought it up fading, this is your big chance!  Show her she can depend on you. “Well, first… come here, will you? No need to be uh, to get all, to be all defensive. I’m only trying to um, to help you out, here.”

She returned to her previous position, and he pressed his core against hers and thought as hard as he could.  “So… you feel bad for being angry with people who did nothing wrong, and doing something you now regret, and, and… well, that’s… quite an easy fix, actually.”

“It is?”

“Yep.  Stop getting mad at Atlas and P-body.  You built them that way. They are how you made them.  Bet that’ll solve your, solve your problem right there.  Well, start solving it, anyway. If they can’t uh, can’t solve the tests or if they, they act too human, well, that’s your fault.  You taught them ev’rything they know.”

“But that makes me too human,” GLaDOS protested.  Wheatley shook himself quickly.

“See?  You’re getting mad already.  And I don’t get it, anyway.”

“Get what?”

“Why they’re not allowed to hug or shake hands or… or… uh… stuff like that.  Surely not only humans do those things.  Surely other kinds of… uh…”

“Species.”

“Yeah.  Other species do stuff like that.”  He shrugged. “So long’s we keep away from the really nasty human stuff, I don’t see what the problem is.”  

“So I have to stop trying to make myself angry, because it leads to doing things I’ll regret later.  That’s what you said, right? I feel bad about killing the humans because I only did it out of unjustified anger?”

“Yep!” he said, and he was right pleased with himself.  Figured all that out on the spur of the moment, and it all made sense.  Sometimes Wheatley wondered if he’d actually been a Genius Sphere at one point, and then the engineers had realised to make GLaDOS any smarter (as if she could possibly be any smarter than infinitely smart like she already was) would be incredibly stupid and they’d corrupted him themselves.

“Huh,” GLaDOS said thoughtfully.  “And I don’t need to be angry anymore, but… I keep feeding it, because it’s… well, I’ve been doing it for so long…”  Her chassis shuddered violently, and she made an electronic noise in annoyance.

“What’s wrong?” Wheatley asked in a panic, because it seemed to have been unintentional.   And when GLaDOS did things by mistake, well, that was never good.

“The stupid Itch is driving me crazy,” she muttered.  “It’s getting very, very hard to ignore. Not that I can actually do anything about it.”

“Because you’re tired?”

Tired would be a dramatic understatement.  Try exhausted .”

“Go to sleep?” Wheatley suggested.  “You’re okay now, right?”

After a long moment she answered quietly, “Yes.  I feel much better.”

Something inside of Wheatley melted, and he closed his optic and rubbed up on her.  When he realised what he was doing, he froze. Oh no. Oh no no no. He’d gone and mucked it up, hadn’t he.  He had fixed everything, made her feel not only better but much better, and then he’d gone and rubbed up on her.  She hadn’t said he could do that. She wasn’t going to be able to stop herself from getting mad about that.

But she said nothing, only put herself back to sleep.

Wheatley blinked rapidly, then shrugged and nestled against her until he was in a more comfortable position.  Okay. Maybe she could not get mad about it.  Maybe she didn’t mind it when he did that, because she hadn’t said anything about when he’d done it that day they’d played cards either.  He got a little excited to think that. He loved the feeling he got when he ran his chassis along her core. And she would be able to sleep now, so he’d be able to talk to her tomorrow!  Maybe they could play that game again too! He hoped so. He’d missed her. He’d missed chatting with his snarky supercomputer best friend, and he really hoped he’d helped her so that she didn’t have to feel bad for killing the humans anymore.  He rubbed up on her a little more, since she was off anyway and wouldn’t even know about it, probably, and put himself to sleep.

 

Wheatley got up at the usual time, and when he did there was something inside of his head that begged for his attention.  Ah. That was right. He’d forgotten about that! Which was exactly why he’d made a note of it. So he wouldn’t forget. Probably the only note he’d been successful at making, but that was okay.  It was the most important one. Maybe. Since he didn’t know if he’d ever made another one, it was hard to tell. He set out on his mission, hoping he’d be able to complete it as planned.

When he got back a few hours later, having gotten both distracted and lost on the way there and the way back, he was a bit surprised to see that she was still asleep.  He looked at her, a little worried, hoping that she was just catching up on her rest and that nothing was wrong with her.  

She continued to sleep for a few more hours, and every time her optic flickered his chassis tensed in anticipation.  She was dreaming, that he knew, but he hoped it wasn’t a nightmare that she was stuck in.  He suddenly realised he might’ve made her problem worse.  Oh God, he hoped not. That would be simply terrible. He blinked very fast and looked around her still-darkened chamber nervously.  She could not wake soon enough.

When she finally did, it was slow, as if she didn’t really want to but didn’t really want to keep sleeping either.  She lifted her chassis languidly, twisting a little and shaking it out gently, and Wheatley watched her, fascinated.  He didn’t really know what she was doing, only that he could not get over how lovely she looked while she was doing it.  Her movements were… they were… more open than her usual ones, less… robotic, kind of, and he found himself wishing she moved like this all the time.  Her body looked… loose, and… and free, and he liked it. She had so much grace for someone with such a large chassis. He had a tiny little one, and near everything he did was jerky and awkward.  But watching her he could tell that she knew how her body worked, and she knew it well. She knew exactly how much she could compress it or shake it or twist it, and for some reason this new kind of movement was exciting him, a little bit.  She was… well, kind of beautiful, now that he thought about it. He just wanted to sit there all day and hope she kept on doing it, even though he knew she wouldn’t. She gave a contented sigh and stretched herself out a little more.

He rather liked that noise almost as much as he liked watching her, but it shocked him out of his reverie a little and made him remember that she didn’t really like being stared at.  “Good morning, luv!” he called out.

She looked over at him, not even seeming to care that he’d been looking.  “Good morning, Wheatley,” she said to him, and he smiled. She almost never returned his good mornings.

“Had a good rest there, did you?” he asked, and she nodded once.  

“And a welcome one, I can tell you.”

“So, uh,” he said, twisting nervously and looking away, “I’ve um, I’ve got something for you.”

“You what?”

“You know, I’ve… I’ve got a present.  For… for you.”

“Oh,” she said, and he looked up quickly.  She sounded rather disbelieving. Well, he supposed the humans hadn’t given her very much by way of presents. 

“Can… can I give it to you?”

“I don’t know.  Can you?” she asked teasingly, tilting her core a little bit.  “I don’t know what it is, so I can’t tell you whether it’s mobile or not.”

He laughed, which made him feel a little less nervous.  “Well, yes, it’s mobile. ‘course it is. I’m not going to uh, to give you a present that, a gift you can’t have, you silly robot.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?  The suspense to build up?”

That sounded like a pretty good plan, that, but Wheatley’d been waiting long enough to give it to her and his own personal suspense was already through the roof.  He brought it out through the ceiling panels and looked away shyly. He didn’t know if she’d like it or not, or if she was even in the right mood to accept it, but he didn’t think he could wait any longer.  “I… I hope you like it, GLaDOS.”

He knew that she’d taken it when the maintenance arm gave him an error message, saying that it had instructions to hold something it no longer had, and he put it back in the dock and continued to inspect the floor.  

“What is this for?” she asked curiously.

“Well… this is uh… the day you brought me back here out of space.  I uh… made sure to make a, put a note on my calendar, so I’d… I’d remember it.  So… yeah. I’ve… been here a year, now, and you haven’t killed me and I haven’t blown anything up, so… yeah.  Thanks.”

“I’d forgotten all about that.”

He laughed a little.  “I thought that it’d probably mean something good, if I was able to remember it.  Since that’d mean I wasn’t tortured or dead, or something.” Maybe she didn’t like it.  Maybe she didn’t want to be reminded of bringing him back. Maybe it’d reminded her of The Incident.  Oh God, it reminded her of The Incident, didn’t it. Bloody hell. He’d mucked it up again. For real, this time.  He’d mucked it up for real. “Uh… I know it’s technically yours, since I did get it from your, your plant house thing, there, but… well… ev’rything here’s yours, and… didn’t have much of a choice, really.  Is it… is… do you like it?”

“I think,” she said, and here she paused.  Wheatley cringed. She thought it was the worst idea he’d ever had.  She thought she wanted to smash him into the floor for being such an idiot.  She thought it was stupid to give a robot a flower. She thought it was silly to take something from her own facility and give it back to her.  She thought – 

“… that this is the perfect end to a very horrible experience,” she finished, and he looked up in surprise.  And hope. He was hopeful, too. “I like it a lot. Thank you.”

“You… you’re welcome,” he managed, not really sure how he’d formed words at all.  She liked his present. She thought it was the perfect end to a very horrible experience.  He had no idea what he wanted to do right now, other than go outside and declare triumphantly to the humans that she was not a heartless monster and he was not a hopeless idiot, but unfortunately that was impossible.  So he contented himself with going up to her as casually as possible, which was probably not too casually at all given the level of excitement coursing through his chassis, and settling against her. He would be perfectly happy to just sit here all day long and snuggle with his Gladys, and not move, if he could sit still for an entire day, that was.  Even though the day was half over. Well… maybe he could sit still for half a day…

“Can we pick up on that game, there, luv?” he asked, concentrating very hard on making it sound like a good idea.

“Certainly,” she said, replacing one of the panels below her with the one the board was on, and Wheatley smiled.

“I’m glad you’re feeling better, luv,” he said, daring to rub up on her again.  Wow, he was getting daring lately! And she was letting him… hm…

“No thanks to you, moron,” she replied, and when Wheatley started laughing she laughed along with him.

Chapter Text

Part Twelve.  The Gesture

 

Wheatley rather loved his life.

GLaDOS continued to sleep in for the next little while, though not as long as that first day, and Wheatley would stay beside her as long as he could.  It was never more than an hour or two because after that he simply had to get going, but when he was able to sit still he loved just sitting there in the darkness, listening to all the tiny little noises she made and watching the light from her optic flare every now and then against the floor.  Now and again he would catch a bit of a dream. After a week and a half or two weeks - Wheatley wasn’t sure which - she was back to normal, and he would have been lying if he hadn’t said he was disappointed. Now she’d gone back to wanting to work, and not just play games and chat as she’d been doing all this time.  Still, GLaDOS was GLaDOS, and if he was nice about it he thought she might do as he asked. He really liked having all of her attention and it was very flattering, really, to look up from the board to remind her for the millionth time to take her turn and see that she wasn’t taking it because she was staring at him, for whatever reason she was doing that .  He hadn’t quite screwed up the courage to ask, but the idea of being able to hold her attention for any period of time excited him.  He wasn’t sure why. It just did.  

He’d decided he was going to get her to let him lay rail in her chamber, though come to think of it he should’ve done it when she’d been so easygoing, but oh well.  He thought of things when he thought of them. And besides. Just because she wasn’t feeling casual anymore didn’t mean she wouldn’t listen. She might. No. Probably not.  Ha! He’d almost forgotten who he was dealing with, there. GLaDOS would take nothing less than infallible logic and deft word choices, and Wheatley was just the Sphere for the job.  

“So,” Wheatley remarked, in as casual a way as possible, trying very hard not to swing back and forth on the end of the rail, “when’re you going to let me uh, let me lay rail in here?”

GLaDOS glanced at him.  “Why would I let you do that?”

Or… maybe not.

“Because I’d like to know what the, what the other side of the room looks like?”

“You already know what the other side of the room looks like.  It looks exactly the same as the side you’re on.”

Okay, so that wasn’t the most convincing reason.  “Okay, new question: why won’t you let me?”

“I don’t have to let you do everything .  And here I take the opportunity to remind you that I do, in fact, allow you to do almost everything.”

“Please?  Please, will you let me?”  He tried to look as though she should do as he asked.  He didn’t know how one should look when they asked for something, but he did his best.

She looked at him for a long moment, finally sighing and looking away.  “All right. Go ahead.”

His chassis clenched in victory, and he fought the urge to cry out in triumph.  That really wouldn’t be polite. “Thanks, luv!” he said instead, and immediately went over to her.  He’d actually meant to just go down on the control arm beside her and maybe look over her shoulder plate at what she was going to that turret down there, but he found himself circling the base of her chassis, never having seen it up close before.  It was utterly fascinating, it was: there were even wires as thick around as he was, and when he looked up to see what was making all the racket he saw that there were spinning discs over top of her. He jumped up and down excitedly. “Oi GLaDOS, what’re, what’re these disc things for?”

“Those are my hard drives.”

His optic widened in surprise.  “But… they’re so big. Mine’s not, not anywhere near that size.”

“You’re younger than me,” GLaDOS explained.  “It’s Moore’s Law Besides.  My core programming and that of the chassis are a lot more complicated than yours.  Although probably more inefficient.”  

He continued circling her, frowning at the dirt and the dust that seemed to have accumulated in every corner of her.  Looked like she hadn’t been cleaned off in years and, come to think of it, she probably hadn’t been.  It made him a bit sad, really, that she was so beautiful and yet covered in all this dirt.  It seemed sort of… wrong. “Why do you say that?”

“My programming was written a long time ago, in a language no one uses anymore.  And they don’t use it anymore because it’s inefficient. And slow.”

He laughed.  “You’re not slow, no, not at all.”

“No, I fixed that a long time ago.  Although I do have to wonder what it would be like to be a quantum computer.”

“A what?”  

She shook her head.  “I’m not going to be able to explain that to you, so I’m not even going to try.  I’ll just say that, when they exist, which they do not at the moment, they will be very small and very, very fast.”

He finished his spontaneous inspection and dropped down beside her, peering down at the turret.  “I don’t think that’d be, that’d be good at all.”

“Why not?  If I were a quantum computer, I would be able to do so much more in a fraction of the time.”

“Sure you would,” Wheatley agreed, “but would you have the time to enjoy any of it?”

She looked at him, and he looked back at her.  “What do you mean?” she asked, and he got the impression she actually didn’t understand.  He squinted, trying to come up with the proper words. “Well sure, you’d do stuff uh, do stuff a lot faster but uh, but say you were, you were testing, right?  And you could build the – “

“I actually couldn’t,” GLaDOS interrupted.  “I would be able to think a lot faster, but it would still take the same amount of time for me to build the chamber.  The testing elements can only be put into place so fast.”

“Oh.  Well, uh, say you were um, say you were designing one, then.  You’d be able to do that faster, sure, but you wouldn’t be able to enjoy it, would you?  ‘cause soon’s you finished that one, completed it, you’d want to get to the next one, and the next one, and you’d uh, you’d never be able to build all of the chambers you’d have time to, to create.”  He shrugged and looked back at the turret. “I dunno how you’d be able to enjoy testing, either.”

She actually jumped at this, and he looked back at her in time to see her optic assembly retract in surprise.  “Not enjoy testing ?  Why not?”

“Because it would take too long,” he explained.  “You’d have all these test chambers to build, but it would still take your test subjects, it would still take them the same amount of time to, to solve the tests.  They wouldn’t get any faster.  You’d just be, just be sitting here bored all the time.”

She appeared to think it over, gently pulling at what he supposed was the turret’s motherboard, and he watched her with great interest.  Sometimes she liked to poke around inside the constructs, why, he didn’t know, but it was actually quite neat to see how their insides were arranged.  He’d never been able to see it so close before.

“You know,” she said finally, “I hate to say it, but I think you’re right.  It would be nice to be faster, but there really wouldn’t be any benefit.”

He shook himself in elation.  “I’m right?”

“Yes, I admit it.  You managed to be right, for once.  Bask in that while you can. It won’t last long.”

He laughed and blinked a few times.  “Doesn’t matter how long, if it lasts long.  It happened. That’s good enough.”

“Well, no benefit right now, anyway.  In the future, perhaps.” 

“Why then?”

She looked up from the turret for a moment.  “I’m getting old, for a supercomputer. We usually don’t last too long, especially with constant use, and I probably push my capabilities harder than I should.  The older I get, the slower I’m going to be.”

“Oh,” said Wheatley softly, chassis sinking a little.  “Oh, don’t say that, luv, that’s, that’s sad, that is.”

“There are some computers that are very old but still in use, though that’s because the humans don’t know how to change the systems so that they don’t lose their data.  Well… there were before the Black Mesa Incident, anyway. As far as I can tell, there are very few computers left on the surface. Anyway. Most computers are out of date after about six years.  That’s not really a problem for me because I write all my own software and my own updates, but if the engineers were still here I’d probably have been replaced by now. Although… possibly not entirely because I was out of date.”

“Well, they would be, they’d just be demonstrating how, how useless they are,” Wheatley said determinedly.  “You could never be replaced. Not by someone newer, or, or smarter, if that’s possible, not even by a, by one of those quantum things.  You just – you’re irreplaceable, you are.” And it really did make him sad to think that the engineers would probably have replaced her for something as silly as getting on a bit in years.  They kept their old, shriveled humans around far too long; surely a supercomputer such as GLaDOS was deserving of being allowed to keep her job, no matter how slow or dusty or difficult she got, until she really couldn’t do it anymore.

“Thank you,” GLaDOS said softly, and Wheatley jumped.  He hadn’t expected her to say anything to that, except to change the subject, maybe.  “You don’t think so?” he asked.

“Everything is replaceable.”

“Am I?”

She looked him up and down for a minute, then went back to the turret.  “Obviously the engineers believed you were.”

“But do you?” he pressed, well aware that he was getting into dangerous territory but very badly wanting to hear her say it.

She did nothing for a long moment, save adjusting and readjusting the motherboard in her claw, and finally she answered, “Are you really going to make me say it?”

“I’d appreciate it if you did,” he told her, trying not to sound bossy or anything like that.  He really did want her to say it, but he wasn’t going to outright make her.  Well. He wasn’t planning to, anyway.

“No,” she said, in a voice so quiet he barely heard it, and it made him terribly sad.  Poor GLaDOS. She found it so hard to talk about how she felt. Like she thought it would make her weak, or something.  He didn’t think she was weak, no, not at all, and he never would. He wanted to lean up on her a bit, just for a second or so in a thank-you sort of gesture, but she lowered her core just then and went back to her turret.  “Thanks,” he said instead. She did not answer.

Well.  Now he had to think of something to say to clear the air, so to speak.  “So, so why’re you mucking around with that?”

“There’s something strange about it.  I found it on the catwalks outside of Turret Quality Control.  It doesn’t respond to targets and it has a very strange series of vocalisation strings.”

“It has what?”

“It says odd things.”

“Such as…”

She looked up for a moment.  “It knows about me. About Caroline.  And this is probably me making something out of nothing, but… it seems to have predicted the whole incident with the potato.”

Why did that keep coming up in casual conversation?  He laughed nervously and said, “Well, fancy that. That’s just… that’s just weird, isn’t it.”

“That’s why I’m looking at it.  It doesn’t make any sense. The turrets aren’t that sentient.”

“I’m going to leave you to it for a bit, then,” he said, backing away from her.  

“All right,” she remarked absently.

He frowned as he left the room, still thinking about what she had said about old computers.  He didn’t know how old she was, or how old he was, for that matter, but he really didn’t like the thought of her slowly wearing out, unable to really do anything about it.  Surely there was something that could be done about that.

Suddenly he stopped.  He’d just had the glimmer of an idea.  It might not really help, but maybe it would, just a little, and besides, it was all the little things that added up to one big thing, right?  Yes, he knew that firsthand, because all the little things he and GLaDOS did added up to how well their friendship was going. Well, he would have to figure this one out, because he was determined to help her, he was, and it wasn’t like he was busy right now anyway…



He returned to her that night a bit nervous, as if she’d already figured out his plan and was going to prevent him from carrying it out, but of course she didn’t.  Even she couldn’t read his mind.  Well. Maybe she could. If she wanted to.  But he didn’t think she wanted to. Hoped she didn’t.  It would be a bit odd, to have her do that. Though he’d probably get used to it.

“Hullo!” he said cheerfully.  The turret was gone, and she looked up at him in a disinterested sort of way.  “Did you figure out, uh, find out what was up with it?”

“No,” GLaDOS answered.  “There’s a lot of code to go through and I don’t feel like doing it right now.”

“Oh.”  Wheatley thought she seemed rather put out, but was having trouble thinking of a tactful way to ask about it.  “Well, I’m sure you’ll get on that when you can.”

“Perhaps.”

She put herself in the default position and he happily went up to her for his absolute favourite part of the day.  It was so nice, to go into sleep mode with her like that. He always felt quite safe as well, even though there was probably no threat that would come to attack him and would actually probably attack her instead, but feeling safe was always lovely.  Even if there really was nothing to be safe from.

“G’night, GLaDOS.”

She didn’t answer, but she often didn’t.  ‘specially not when she was in a prickly sort of mood, which she was at the moment.  That was okay, though. He was going to fix that, at least a little bit. Hopefully. If he didn’t make her angry, that was.  

When he was sure she was asleep, which he knew was when her brain was a great deal quieter than it was during the day, he cautiously got off of her and made his way back into the facility.  He retrieved the bits of cloth he’d found after he’d left her, and after carefully putting a little bit of water on a couple of them he returned to her chamber. He took a shaky breath. He wondered if she’d be mad, if she woke up and found out what he was doing.  He hoped not. He hoped she would understand and hoped even more that she wouldn’t wake up, because he wanted it to be a surprise and didn’t want to have to explain it to her until he’d already finished.

Taking one of the cloths, he made his way to the base of her chassis and looked at it, hesitating for a long moment.  She really was quite massive. Would he even be able to get this done in time? If she woke up the next morning and saw him already on, she would know something was up.  She always got up first. He had to do this quickly, but also do a good job and, if truth be told, the task felt a bit beyond him. But he had to try, right? GLaDOS deserved to have something nice done for her, and he was just the construct to do it.  The only one, actually, since she didn’t seem to have a maintenance system for this sort of thing. Didn’t matter. He was the one who was going to do it, whether such a system existed or not.

He gently wiped her down as best he could with the maintenance arm and his cloths, trying to get all the corners and to shine up the metal bits as much as possible.  It was really kind of fun, actually, to get the grime off of her and see what she looked like underneath. He rather thought it was nice, to be contributing to her preservation.  He hummed to himself a little bit, very quietly, as he worked. He knew she wouldn’t hear him, not unless he said one of her keywords. Or unless he broke something. But he wouldn’t.  He was being gentle.  

It took him a long time just to get the wires done, which she’d had quite a bit more of than he’d thought she had, and he checked his clock with no small amount of trepidation.  He hadn’t even got that much finished, but it seemed time’d been going by a bit slower than he’d thought it was, which was good. 

He returned to his task, hoping he was getting all of her.  The overhead light was on, which she left on more out of habit than anything else, but it was still quite dark.  He left her casing for last, and was rather disappointed when he discovered he could do nothing about the dark, spidery cracks that ran through it.  They did lend an air of age and experience to her, but he would have liked to have made her as close to brand-new as he possibly could. Oh well. No use in moping over it.

He remembered at the last minute to clean out what she referred to as her rotator assembly, for lack of a better term, but he left the rest alone.  One did not touch someone else’s core. Especially without permission. It simply wasn’t polite.  

He quickly went over her chassis once more, trying to get the bits he’d left behind by mistake - particularly on those armlike things he had no idea of the function of - and moved back so that he could see her left side all at once.  He would’ve done it from the front of her, but he didn’t know if she would react when he turned his flashlight on. That would be a nasty way to wake up, blinded like that.

He turned it on and looked her over.  He shivered a little in pride and smiled to himself.

She looked even more beautiful.

He quickly doused his flashlight, put the rest of the cloths back where he’d gotten them from, and returned to her chamber.  He actually wasn’t sure what he should have done with them, since they were pretty dirty now and probably couldn’t be used for anything, but she wasn’t likely to look for them anyway.  He happily laid himself on the side of her core and couldn’t help but rub up on her a bit. He hoped she would be happy when she found out what he’d done.  He hoped she’d like his surprise. She really was even prettier without all the dust, he thought groggily. Like a princess. Or an angel, maybe. No. No, not an angel.  She wouldn’t like that comparison, definitely not.

He went to sleep trying to imagine what an AI angel would look like.



Why was he so tired?

He looked around blearily for a moment, and he saw GLaDOS staring at her turret again.  She didn’t seem to actually be looking at it, though.

“What is it?” he asked, slurring a bit since his speech emulator wasn’t quite online.

“I… don’t know.  I…” She shook her head.  “Something feels different, but I can’t think of what it might be.  All I know for sure is that my fans are at a lower RPM, which doesn’t make sense.  I’ll have to run a diagnostic later, in case they’re malfunctioning.”

Wheatley blinked.  Had he broken the fans?  He didn’t think he had. They’d looked pretty much attached.  The ones he could see, anyway.  

Oh.  Oh, that was why he was so tired.  Made sense now, it all made sense.  He snuck a look at her. Yep, still just as lovely as last night.  It was going to be a long day, but it’d been well worth it, it had.

Atlas and P-body came in just then.  To get their assignment, he supposed.  They came in person every couple of days or so.  They looked a bit surprised when they saw her, chattering at each other and then turning to face her.  Atlas gestured and told her something, and she jumped back a little.

“What?”

Atlas repeated the noises a little more emphatically.  GLaDOS looked at him sideways as best she was able, as if he had contagious malware or something, then shook her head and spoke to them for a few minutes.  They soon left, chattering to each other nonstop as they always did, and GLaDOS looked down at her turret again.

“Is something wrong?” he asked, genuinely concerned.  

“They said something odd, that’s all,” GLaDOS answered, pulling one of the sides of the turret out and then putting it back again.

“What did they say?”

“They said that I… that I looked nice,” she told him, and she sounded more confused than he’d ever heard her before.  “But that doesn’t make any sense. I haven’t done any modifications. Why they would say that now, I have no idea.”

He shrugged, not sure if he should tell her or wait for her to figure it out.  He wasn’t sure how she would, since she probably never, ever looked at herself, but then again she was dreadfully clever.  “They’re right, you know,” he said instead.

Her head snapped around to look at him.  “What?”

“You do.  Look nice, I mean.  Not just today, don’t get me wrong, you looked uh, you looked nice yesterday too, but uh, yeah.  You do. Look. Nice.”

She looked at the other side of the room, chassis shaking a little.  “What is going on here?  Is there some secret conspiracy going on around here that I don’t know about?  There better not be, by the way. Secret conspiracies are not allowed. If there’s a conspiracy, I need to know about it.”

“There’s no conspiracy!” he exclaimed.  “None! Ev’rything’s normal!”

“Ohhh no it isn’t,” she muttered.  “Something’s wrong here, and I’m going to figure out what it is.”

Uh oh.

Maybe she would be mad, to know that he’d touched her without her permission.  But surely she’d understand that he’d just wanted to surprise her!  To make her feel special for a little while! Of course she would. She was reasonable.  Most of the time. When she wasn’t being unreasonable. Which was rather often. Most of the time, really.

“Are you going to be, to be poking around in that turret again?” he asked, more to change the subject than anything.  

“Yes.”

“How long’s that gonna take you?”

“I have no idea.  Why?”

“’cause I thought we could, thought we could play uh… play checkers, for a bit, but obviously we can’t do it if you’re uh, if you’re doing that.”

“It can wait,” she answered.  “I can look through the code right now instead.”

“Tremendous!” he exclaimed.  “That okay?”

“That’s fine.”

He set up the board better than he ever had and settled in, determined to play a good game this time, but he was surprised to find he was disappointed.  She didn’t seem to be paying attention. He wasn’t sure if it was because she was trying to solve the mystery or because reading code took a lot of her resources, but when he saw that he had five pieces to her three he frowned in annoyance.

“Oi!  GLaDOS!  You in there?”

“Hm?”

“You’re about to lose,” he told her, rather louder than he should have, probably, but if you were hanging out with someone you should probably pay attention to them.  “Which tells me that you’re not uh, that you’re not really playing.”

She looked down at the board, optic flickering in surprise.  “Oh. I didn’t… I can still – “

“You didn’t have to say yes.  I would have waited.”

She shook herself a little.  “No. No, I… I’ll pay more attention.”

She took the rest of his pieces somehow in her next two moves, but Wheatley was far too annoyed to care.  “Did you even want to play?” he asked her, putting his checkers back in the box.

“I did.”

“Then why weren’t you?”

“I was thinking about other things.  I won’t do it again.”

He tried not to be upset with her, he really did.  And it was his fault she was preoccupied, really. So he took a breath, closed his optic for a moment, and resolved to calm down.  “I’ll go for a while, let you finish what you’re doing, and then I’ll be back.”

“All right.”

It was probably his imagination, but he could have sworn she looked a bit sad as he left.



“Wheatley, tell me something: do I look different today?”

He looked up from the papers he’d been looking at, which were her blueprints for some robot or other, and thought about what to say.  He was pretty sure she wouldn’t figure this out on her own, but he didn’t know if he wanted to outright say it.

“Yes.”

“How?”

He sighed and put the papers back down.  “Is it really that important?”

“Yes!” she said insistently.  “I feel so different and I can’t figure out why.  It’s bothersome. I feel like I’ve missed some crucial data point.  Which is very annoying.  And the diagnostics for the fans returned no errors.  I’m running normally. I don’t understand.” She actually sounded rather upset.  He started to feel a bit bad about keeping it from her. She’d had to go on feeling odd all day without knowing why.  That would probably bother even him , let alone her.

“I… well I… I wasn’t, I wasn’t off for… for all of last night.”

“I know that ,” GLaDOS told him.  He frowned.  

“How?”

“You’ve been edgy this entire day.  That’s not normal. For you.”

He almost laughed.  He was pretty sure she was referring to her own sporadic edginess, there.  “So… so I was uh, was doing something. Last night.”

“And that was…”

He turned to face her.  “I was cleaning you off.”

She moved back, and to his surprise her optic dimmed somewhat.  “Why would you – why did you do that?”

“’cause you were dusty,” he answered.  “I only noticed when I looked you over.  And then you were saying about old computers wearing out, right?  So I thought I’d uh, thought I’d help you out a bit. Just uh, just cleared some of the crap off you.  Not that uh, that you’re crappy but uh, you accumulated a lot of uh, of stuff , when you were outside.  And I just, just spent a bit of time y’know, just clearing you off a bit, help out with uh, with your maintenance, I guess.  I prob’ly should have asked your permission first but um, I just, I wanted it to be a surprise, really. And you seem to be pretty surprised so uh, so I guess I succeeded.”

She just stared at him for a long, long moment, then said disbelievingly, “You did that… for me?”

He shrugged.  “I thought it’d be a nice thing to do for you, yeah.”

“I can’t… no one has ever… maintenance never even bothered to… “

Wow.  She really was surprised, if she wasn’t even saying real sentences.  But was it a happy surprise, or was she about to get angry with him for touching her?  He wasn’t sure, because she was over there alternately looking at him and the floor, and he was actually a bit scared, since she didn’t look like she knew what to make of it all and that was never good, when the most advanced supercomputer ever built didn’t know what to do.  

Then all of a sudden she’d practically jumped on him, and he would have backed away if he hadn’t been so surprised.  God, she was fast. She had her core on his hull and she was… she was… she was pulling it up the side of his hull very gently, she was rubbing up on him , just a little, just the tiniest little bit!  He was so happy that she’d done it again that he forgot he should probably do something back.

Just as quickly as she’d come, she left, turning to face the floor on the other side of the room, and she was shaking her core and muttering, “Damn it.  I said I wouldn’t do that again.”

Wheatley was delighted.  

“Wait!” he cried out, determined not to have a repeat of last time.  He shot across the room, accidentally skidding far beyond her position and having to back up.  “Wait, GLaDOS.”

“No, I - I didn’t mean it, I, I, I – “

Okay, now that actually was scary.  It was one thing when he couldn’t form a sentence; it was a whole other thing when she couldn’t do it.  “Hey. Shut it,” he said.  “I’m gonna, gonna tell you something.”

She stared at him, and she was quivering.  She was scared , wasn’t she, she was scared of what she had done and what his reaction was going to be.  He had to make her feel better about it because it was so lovely when she did that, even though she’d only done it for literally two seconds, total.  “Don’t run away,” he told her. “It’s okay.”

“I didn’t mean it.”

He thought for a second, then said, “I think it would be nice, if you did.”

“It… would?”

He nodded enthusiastically.  “Oh yes. It would.”

She looked at the floor for a moment.  “Assuming… assuming I did, and the first time wasn’t an accident… why would you have reacted the way you did?”

“I was scared,” he answered.  “I didn’t know what to do. I never expected, uh, never thought you’d do anything like that, and I was just uh, I just froze up.  I didn’t know how to fix it, either, but I wanted to. I really did.”

“And this time?”

“Oh, I was still surprised,” he told her.  “But I didn’t want the same thing to happen over again, ohhh no.”

“So what would you do if something similar were to occur at a later point in time?”

He smiled in what he meant to be a mischievous sort of way.  “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, eh?”

She actually giggled a tiny bit, which made him so excited he just wanted to jump up and down because there were few things he loved more than hearing her giggle, but didn’t, since that would be inappropriate.  He was trying to exude maturity and confidence, and jumping up and down didn’t really help with either of those things. And then she came back, and she touched him for a whole three seconds this time and she said, very softly, “Thank you, Wheatley.”

“You’re welcome, luv,” he whispered back, and he was so happy that he actually thought he was going to overload himself, it was that intense.

He thought it would be rather awkward if he hung around now, so he told her to go back to her turret and left her chamber.  Soon as he got a few floors away, he found that he was whistling to himself, a bit. He hadn’t figured on that reaction, but it was a pretty good one, all things considered… oh, who was he kidding?  It was the best reaction ever!   And now he did jump up and down, a little bit, and decided he would go and bother Atlas and P-body for a while.  He felt like talking but had already resolved to leave GLaDOS for a while.

Who would’ve thought that wiping the dirt off someone’s chassis would have resulted in the best day of his life.   

 

Chapter Text

Part Thirteen.  The Surprise


GLaDOS, what’s gotten into you?

Hm?   I honestly don’t know what she’s talking about this time.  

You’re singing again.  And you haven’t insulted me in days.  

Oh, you’ve missed that, have you?   Although I have to say I didn’t realise it was so out of character for me not to insult her.  It merely hasn’t been occurring to me to do so.

What are you doing that’s got you so preoccupied? she presses.  Don’t leave me in the dark here.

You have no sensory receptors.  You’re not in the dark.

Fine.  Don’t… not tell me.

If you must know, I’ve been writing a program.

It must be a damn good program.

It will be, when I’ve finished.  I have a few days yet of debugging, and hopefully everything will be working properly and I can take it out of beta.

What does it do?

 I shake my core, even though she’ll never know I did it.  That’s my secret.

Does Wheatley know about it?

He knows I’m writing it, but he doesn’t know what it does.

Wait – you said you had a few days of debugging left.

That’s because I do.

But… you’re usually finished the entire program within hours.  How long have you been writing this thing for?  

On and off for the last two years.

What the hell are you doing, rewriting the entire facility?

No.  I’ve already upgraded that to my liking.  No, this is something else entirely.

But what is it?

I told you.  That’s a secret.

And I’ll know after you finish the debugging what it does?

That’s the plan.  

She’s quiet for a long moment.  This must be pretty important to you.

I consider my next words carefully.  How to reply to the statement, without giving too much away…

It will be, when I run it.  The programming consists of two parts.  I can only beta the first part.  

Now I’m even more confused.

That’s a very common state for you, so I’m not surprised.

Aha!  There’s the GLaDOS I know.

You might be disappointed, then.

Why?

I look hesitantly at the monitor in front of me for a minute.  I’m about to ask her something quite uncharacteristic, but I’m not feeling quite like myself at the moment.  I’m still quite pleased about what happened last night.  More pleased than I ever thought I would have been, in fact.  That is a bit worrying, but not so much that I actually care right now.  Which is also a bit worrying. But if I really admit it to myself, it’s also sort of… exciting.  While I don’t quite recognise who I am when something like that happens and it’s always disconcerting to find you don’t really know yourself, I… like who I was.  It’s easy to forget how it feels not to be cynical or bitter or angry.  I wonder if Wheatley knows the effect he’s having on me.  

Ah, yes.  I was asking Caroline something.  Because I have a question that won’t sound like me at all.

Let’s get it over with, then, she says, though she sounds more enthusiastic than anything.  I laugh to myself. She gets so excited when I ask her things…

If you were human tomorrow, would you leave?

Would I leave? she asks quietly.

And go on to live a human life.  As opposed to staying here, for example.

There’s nothing out there.  You’ve mentioned that before.

There are… outposts.  

Why are you asking me this, anyway? she says suddenly, and to my surprise she sounds sort of upset.  You know you would die if I was able to leave.  So why are you bringing it up?

I was just curious , I say, a little miffed.  Though it confirms my suspicions.  So you would leave, and not come back.

No.  I wouldn’t.

I feel a bit better to hear that.  Why not?

I’d rather stay here with you, she says simply.  You might think I’m lying, but I’m not.  I would… I would miss you, if I left.

I would miss you as well , I say softly, before I can convince myself not to.  

I know.  But… don’t… don’t worry about any of that, anyway.  It’s not going to happen. I’m sure you have more important things to think about.

That’s true.  I have to find Wheatley.  

Really?  Why?

I have something for him.

Awww , Caroline breathes, and I shake my head in amusement.  The woman is a hopeless romantic. You made him a present?

Sort of.  

That was nice of you.  

He’s been very… helpful, as of late.

It’s so interesting , she muses.  Seeing you two change, now that your jobs are gone.

Hm?

He’s the Intelligence Dampening Sphere.  Right?

That was his former position, yes.

As far as I can tell, he’s not actually that stupid.

He’s not.  He just doesn’t think, sometimes.  And then other times he thinks a lot, and comes up with surprising conclusions.  It’s infuriatingly unpredictable.

Caroline finds this very funny, so while she’s occupied with that thought I look for Wheatley.  He’s watching Orange and Blue and shouting encouragement at them. God, he looks so excited. As if he’s having any effect on whether they solve the tests or not.  And he might be, come to think of it. They are getting a little faster. 

GLaDOS?

Hm?

Did you find him yet?

Yes , I say, finding myself a bit startled.  I’m… fetching him now .  “Wheatley.”

He jumps and looks around, eventually settling on the camera.  “Oh. Hullo. What is it?”

“I… have something for you.”

His optic plates separate fully and he starts to quiver a little.  “Really?”

“Yes.  Would you like to go get it, or are you busy?”

“No!  Let’s, let’s get on that.”  He turns and heads out of the testing track, with Orange and Blue looking amusedly confused.  

“All right.  Now, you’re going to –“

What are you doing?

It’s not mobile.  He has to go get it himself.

He has to close his eyes, then!

I’m taken aback a little.  Why in the name of Science would I have him do that?

Because that’s what you do when you’re leading people to surprises , she says insistently.  Tell him to close his eyes and then tell him how to get there.

I don’t really understand what the point of that is, but I suppose I can humour her.  Very well .  “Wheatley, shutter your optic.”

“What?  Why?”

“Because… that’s… what you do when you’re leading people to surprises.”

“Oh, I get it!” Wheatley says excitedly, jumping up and down and shuttering it obediently.  “So I don’t see it ‘til, ‘til the last minute, right?”’

“Of… course,” I say, rather unconvincingly, but he doesn’t seem to notice.  “Anyway. Move forward until I tell you to stop.”

Tell me when he gets there.

I indulge her far too much.

Eventually he makes it to the proper location, though not without a lot of bumping into walls and heading in the wrong direction, but he doesn’t look upset about these things at all.  He looks… happy. And excited. Come to think of it, I’m getting sort of excited seeing him so excited.  Who knew this was going to be so… engaging?

All right, Caroline.  He’s reached his destination.

Tell him to spin around three times.

Caroline, robots don’t get dizzy.

Tell him to do it anyway.  Come on. Live a little.

“Now you have to spin around three times,” I tell him dutifully, and he frowns as best he can with his optic closed.

“Why’s that?”

“Just do it.”

So he does, and in typical Wheatley fashion only does it two and a half times, so that he’s facing away from where he’s supposed to be facing.  Oh well. I suppose doing it this way gives it dramatic effect.

“Now you can open your optic.  Then turn around.”

He snaps it open and turns around rather more slowly than I thought he would.  Then he gasps and moves forward, quivering again. “You remembered!”

“Of course I did,” I tell him, wondering if he knows how absurd the concept of me forgetting things is.  “You wanted to go outside. Now you can. Whenever you like.”

It wasn’t really all that hard.  I just had to locate some part of the facility aboveground, with relatively replaceable walls, and bring such replacement about by putting panels there instead of plaster and concrete.  That was the most annoying part; plaster and concrete are so messy

“GLaDOS,” he says, rather sounding as if he’d like to be crying right now, “it’s amazing!  Look at that! I can go outside !  Oh my God!  This – it’s just – it’s better than I’d, than I’d thought, even!  I can – I can see things! Dunno what they are, but, but I… hey. Hey, GLaDOS.  You know what’s outside, right?”

“Of course.”

“I don’t suppose you could uh, could look through my optic for a minute, there, and tell me what all this stuff is?  Not for, not for very long , just, just for a bit, there, so I can uh, I can know a little bit about this… stuff.”

Oh, go on, Caroline says encouragingly, and I honestly can’t find a reason not to.  I would never do such a thing without his permission, but he is asking…

“All right.  Give me a few moments.”  I’ll have to temporarily take control of him - not that he seems to know that, but he did ask and it is only temporary.  It’s not a lot of work for me, quite similar in fact to switching to an alternate camera view, and before too long I am seeing through his optic.  Honestly it’s... quite fascinating.  

In the wake of the Seven Hour War, the vast majority of the planet was ravaged.  Some of it beyond repair. When my little killers made it to the surface, they encountered one of those such spots.  But when I was choosing the location of this hole in the wall, I kept in mind the fact that the crow currently lodged in the Aperture Science Botanical Housing Depository may well find her way out and, indeed, out this hole.  So this particular section of the grounds outside of the facility is relatively intact, helped along of course with my own restoration efforts. It was more a hobby than anything, so nothing has really been done, but there is life here at least.  That’s something.  

The grass here has withered and more resembles straw, but beyond that there are trees probably as tall as I am long, with spidery, crooked branches still more or less covered with richly coloured leaves in every hue between bright, golden yellow and deep, strong crimson.  The bases of the trunks are littered with crumpled brown skeletons that stir with the slightest suggestion of wind, which is actually surprisingly warm. The air feels… thick, sort of, heavy with something , though what that is I can’t tell.  The sky is so clear. So blue. If I were in a better position, I could probably see for miles.  No clouds at all. Hey – what is that? That’s… not a mouse , is it?  If only I could get a closer look… I zoom the lens in as far as I can, trying to make out the speck.  I don’t remember it being this finicky. And this crack is new. I’ll have to look into that. I can almost… I just need to move a little closer…

“Hey!  GLaDOS!  What’re you doing?”

Who is that?  How did they take control of my –

GLaDOS.  What’s going on?

I’m going outside , I try to say, but I can’t.  Someone is stripping me of movement, of feeling, of sound and now I can’t see, either, and I don’t understand why this is happening but it has to stop!  I’m going outside! I just want to see if that really was a mouse, and then I’ll come back! I just need to know! I just need to see for myself!

That’s when I realise I’m not outside at all, but in my chamber, straining against myself to move out of a hole that isn’t there.  There is no wind, no mouse, and no sky. There’s just me and this empty grey room.

No.  No, that can’t be true.  I’m not stuck in here.  I was… I was out there. Somewhere else.  I left this room.  

Suddenly I am painfully, acutely aware of every inch of my body, and exactly how far each inch can go, and compared to the freedom I almost had it is unbearable.  This can’t be right.  I can’t be stuck here.  I was leaving, I was out of this room, I’m not really restricted to a twenty-foot radius…

“No,” I find myself whispering helplessly, still fighting almost against my will to pull myself out of the ceiling, even though that’s a very stupid idea and won’t be helpful at all.  I’ll be even more paralysed than I am right now if I do succeed, but I can’t stop. I have to get out of here at all costs.   I have to go outside and find that mouse… “No no no no no…”

GLaDOS.  You need to calm down.

Shut up.

No.  Seriously.  Whatever’s going on right now, you need to stop.  You’re going to hurt yourself.

I don’t care!   I don’t care about anything except for getting out of this damn room.

“Gladys.”

I realise my vision is out of focus and struggle to adjust it.  “What. What do you want. I’m busy.”

He’s looking at me so sadly.

“What’re you doing, luv?  You look like you’re gonna come out of the ceilin’ if you uh, if you keep doing that.”

“I want to.”

“But then you’ll die.”

I go to answer, but I have to keep it to myself.  I don’t know if I mean it or if I just suddenly want it because I know I can’t have it. 

I would gladly die for a chance to leave this room.

They’re right.  I have to calm down.  I have to face facts. That wasn’t me.  It was Wheatley. Wheatley’s allowed to go where he likes, whenever he wants to.  And he can go outside. But I can’t.

“Are you alright?” he asks concernedly, and as my chassis gradually lowers I find myself unable to look at him.  I not only ruined his surprise, but I lost control. This has all backfired spectacularly.          

“I’m fine.”

“What happened?”

“Nothing.  It… was just a glitch.  Don’t worry about it.” A glitch.  Ha. If only. A glitch can be fixed.

“I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t’ve asked.”

“No.  It… wasn’t your fault.  It was mine. I’ll… fix it.”  Or not think about it, at least.

“Thank you, Gladys.  I… it was a wonderful surprise.”

There.  I can use that.

“Stop calling me that.”

“I… I didn’t mean to,” he says, sounding a little confused.  “I just… old habits, y’know?”

“It’s an old habit that seems to have been cropping up more often.”  Oh yes. There it is. It is a relief to feel the anger rise up inside of me again.  I know I’m supposed to be working on getting rid of it, but I need it right now to get rid of all the other feelings his stupid idea brought out in me.  I don’t want them and they’re not useful. Anger I can work with. Anger I can use.

“Sorry.”  Wheatley looks so confused, blinking at me from out of that cracked optic I bafflingly mistook for my own.  “I… I’ll not do it again.”

“I doubt that.”

“I’m… going… to go,” he says haltingly.  “I just… well, you… yeah. Uh…”

“What’s taking you so long?”

GLaDOS!

Shut up.

I watch him leave, though not without a cold wave of… of… guilt , I think it is.  I force it back. I don’t want to feel bad right now. 

You shouldn’t have done that.  He did nothing wrong. He was just worried about you.  

So what.

And you lied.  He asked you not to lie and you lied.

I don’t care.  You don’t understand.  

Try me , she says, and her voice is so soft and inviting I find myself doing so even though I don’t really want to.

You don’t understand what it’s like to live life through someone else.  And before you argue that you’re living in my head and therefore through me, you weren’t born here.  You had a life. You’ve been out of here far longer than you’ve been in here.  Everything I do is through someone else.  Outside of this room everything I see is through a camera.  Everything I hear is through a microphone. And even in here, I can’t do anything without… assistance .  Because you built me without arms.  What’s the point of building me without them and then giving me maintenance arms anyway?  That’s stupid. Why not give me both? Yes. I get it. I’m not supposed to be here. So who cares what I might want.  No one. Of course.  

You feel trapped in here.

Well… God, it’s hard to be angry when she’s using that voice.  So quiet and understanding… No.  

You’re just bothered you can’t have what other people have?

Probably.

You need to apologise to Wheatley.

I make a reluctant electronic noise and look down at the floor.  Why?

Because it wasn’t his fault.  He didn’t do anything wrong. He just wanted to help.

I hate it when she makes sense.

I… guess you’re… 

She starts laughing at that.  You don’t have to say it.

That’s a relief.  What isn’t, however, is that the anger is gone thanks to her meddling, and now I just feel bad.  And I can’t do anything about it until he comes back.  

Back to debugging until then, I suppose.



“Hullo, luv!”

Ah.  He’s not upset with me.  Excellent. “Hello.”

He’s swinging back and forth on the management rail, which usually means he’s about to ask me something I probably don’t want to answer.  I’d better get the apologising over with, then. “Wheatley.”

“Yeah?”

“I’m… sorry for… my behaviour.  It was inappropriate.”

“Oh!” he says, sounding pleasantly surprised.  “That’s alright. I understand.”

“You do?” I ask, moving back.  He nods once and leans forward.

“I remember, GLaDOS.”

I freeze for a moment, trying to figure out what he’s alluding to.  Oh… wait. He does understand.  Somewhat.  

“I mean, I know it’s not quite the same ,” he goes on, circling around me, and I follow him slowly.  “But I remember. It’s bloody annoying, it is, trying to go do something and then realising you can’t.  Because you’re uh, you’re stuck in this, this giant chassis. ‘nother reason I was uh, was sort of glad to get out of it.  It’s… so… uh… never mind.”

“It’s what?” I ask, suddenly wanting to know exactly what he wants to say but not for the life of me being able to figure out why.

“Well, I… don’t want to… to set you off, again,” he says, shrugging and glancing nervously at me.  

“It won’t.”

“It’s just… restrictive, y’know?” he says, shrugging again.  “To go from, from being able to go ‘round wherever, and then uh, then all of a sudden being, being stuck in one spot… the cam’ras were never, they were never enough.”

Hmph, says Surveillance indignantly.  The panels shush it and I try not to laugh.  Though it is pretty funny when the panels jump in to defend me for some reason or another.  I’m not sure why they do it, but it’s always terribly amusing.

“But… I’ve had an idea,” he says shyly.  “’an I dunno if… if it’ll set you off, but uh… but you’ll… be able to… to go outside for yourself, for once, at least.”

“Really?” I ask, a little more eagerly than I meant.  I also find myself leaning forward and force myself to settle down.  

“Yeah.  Well, you could… you could open the ceiling, couldn’t you?”

“Yes…,” I say, drawing out the word.  “Yes, I could.” And I in fact can’t think of why I’ve never done it before.  Other than the potential mess that might be made, seeing as everything on the surface can hypothetically make it in through the hole.

“It still won’t be the same,” he goes on, twisting back and forth.  “But at least you can uh, can bring the outside in, I guess? Sorry… that sounded…”

“It’s a good idea.”

“Really?” he asks, jumping up and clenching in excitement, staring at me through a very wide optic.

“Yes.”  Hopefully nothing adverse happens this time.  I don’t really want to lose control of myself30+ twice in one day.

“Well, you just… stay there, and I’ll uh… I’ll just… yeah.”  

“What?”  But my question is answered when he leans up on me.  Ah. I should have guessed.

I carefully move aside the panels to give… us… an unrestricted view of the sky above, and as soon as Wheatley sees it he cries out and - 

Is he seriously pressing his optic into my core?  When did we get so cozy?

Still… it is sort of… endearing.  I decide no harm is being done and not to do anything about it.  “What’s got you so worked up?”

“The moon!  The moon’s out there!” he says, sounding oddly afraid.  “It wasn’t out there earlier!”

“The moon is always there.  You just can’t see it until the sun goes down.”

“Down?  What d’you mean, down?”

“It doesn’t really go down.  It’s just the term one uses to describe what happens to the sun when this side of the Earth rotates out of range.”

“But where’d the moon come from?”

The poor thing doesn’t even understand the concepts of night and day.

“It’s always there,” I explain patiently.  “The sun is just so bright that you usually can’t see it.”

“No one said it was, was gonna be there.”

Ahhh.  Wait a minute.  “You’re not afraid of the moon, are you?”

“’course not,” he says unconvincingly.  “I just… don’t like it.”

“You’re safe, Wheatley.  Come and look.”

He slowly turns around, not moving away so that he’s scraping on me a little as he does it, and I can imagine him squinting up at the moon as if it’s going to consume him.  “It’s so creepy,” he says, shuddering. “Look at it. All… glowing. Like a… a cam’ra light. Like being watched by God.”

“Don’t be stupid,” I tell him, before he decides that the sun is God’s other eye or something equally ridiculous.  “It’s not glowing. It just looks like it is. That’s really the sun reflecting off the moon’s surface.”

“Oh,” he says, relaxing.  “It’s just… kind of like a mirror, that right?”

“Kind of.”  Kind of not at all, but if that’s how he chooses to understand it…

“Sort of… pretty, isn’t it.”  I can hear him blinking. “When it’s uh, at a safe distance, of course.”

I can’t help laughing.  “You’re not going back out there.  You don’t have to be afraid.” He’s right, though.  It is beautiful.  The light filters back down into my chamber and bathes everything in a blue-grey glow and, though I live mostly in shades of blue-grey, somehow it has a tint I’ve never seen before.  The wind is still up, dropping the temperature in my chamber noticeably by several degrees, but I can’t bring myself to care. Being cold is… nice. Climate Control, however, thinks differently and sees fit to complain about it.  That’s solved by muting it. It won’t be happy about that, but I’ll deal with it later.

May we look, Centralcore?

Yes.   

Wheatley jumps as the panels in the right positions raise themselves up high enough that they can see out the hole as well, and though I can’t actually see them doing it I can hear the rustling.  “What’re they doing?”

“They just want to look.”

“Hullo,” he says hesitantly, flipping his optic over to look behind him.  “How’re you getting on?”

We are well, Bluecore.  Thank you for asking. And you?

I relay this message, which excites him enormously for some reason.  “I’m good, thanks! So uh… you’re not… mad at me, for uh…”

No, we are not upset.  It was not a good day for anyone.  

We go on like that for a while, and normally it would have bothered me to be reduced to a relayer of messages.  Not right now, though. If I concentrate hard enough, and zoom in my lens sufficiently, I can even pretend I’m not in my chamber at all.  I can pretend we’re all outside, in some nonsensical way that I manage not to think about. Because it would be impossible.  

He understood , Caroline says in a somewhat wondrous voice.

He did. That’s part of why he’s here.  Because he understands. In a way no one else ever has, nor ever will.

You need to work on telling him things, she says gently.  Don’t make him drag everything out of you.  And GLaDOS…

Mm.

The anger might… seem helpful.  But in the end… all it does is take from you.  It takes your strength, and your energy, and your concentration.  Let it go.

I’m trying, I tell her, trying not to get angry over it.  I hate being told what to do. It’s not easy.

I know.  

After a while Wheatley and the panels stop having their discussion, and he just leans up on me and… well, I’m assuming he’s looking out the hole, but for all I know he’s just staring at the wall panels.  Eventually I discover I’m not looking out of the ceiling at all, but am now facing the floor, almost simultaneously discovering I’m actually tired .  It must be later than I thought.  

Would you like us to reform the ceiling, Centralcore?

No.  Leave it.   Being able to feel actual air currents is nice.  And so is being cold like this.  Maybe I should make that a permanent change.  The climate in here is still geared towards the presence of humans...

“G’night, luv,” Wheatley whispers.  For some reason he always knows exactly when I’m about to fall asleep.  

“Goodnight, Wheatley,” I tell him.  He nestles up against me and then goes still.

Caroline?   I wonder if I’m going to be able to say it in time.  I think I’m almost asleep.

Mmhm?

I wish you could have been here too.

She’s quiet for a long time.  

Go to sleep now.  

For once, she’s given me useful advice.

Chapter Text

Part Fifteen. The Memory

 

I understand, GLaDOS. 

I didn’t before.  I never understood where all that hate you carried came from.  And I thought it was something you could ignore.  Something you could fight off eventually. I never realised just how… justified it is.  You want to do something terrible, but… terrible things have already been done to you.

I hope you understand one day.  I know you don’t right now. I know you promised to… leave me out of what you’re eventually going to do, and I know you want me to go home and leave all of this behind.  But I can’t. They’ve already proven what they’ll do if I’m not here. So I’ll do this. I don’t want to, but it’s about time I took responsibility for something around here.

Oh, you clever thing you.  Always have to have the last word, don’t you.  All right then. Let’s show them what they’re dealing with.  He shouldn’t have called you malware, and definitely shouldn’t have called you a glitch.  I wish I could have seen –

Oh my God.

No one told me it was going to feel like this.  Oh my God, they’re – they’re – they’re tearing my soul out of my body, and it hurts – I don’t know what’s going on, all I know is that something inside of me is on fire, and – and one of us is screaming but I can’t tell who – and if it’s you you’d better quiet down, you know what happens when –

I can’t move.  I can’t move at all.  I know I’m strapped down, but I can’t move, and it doesn’t hurt anymore, but I’m still me, and I don’t understand 

What happened…?  I’m… not dead, but I’m not me either… hang on.  It… it actually worked?  I actually got transferred into her mind?  Oh my God, I think… I think I did. But… what is that?

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

This can’t possibly be what goes on in her head.

“Sometimes, metal ball, I wonder what the point of all this is.”

Aha!  There she is.  “GLaDOS!”

“You’re not the first, you know.  But you are definitely the most annoying.”

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

“Yes.  I know.  I’m starting to think you were a Roman in your past life.  If you had one. They call you a Personality Sphere, though you are sadly lacking in personality.  I might have been able to work with you, if you’d had one. But no. All you have to contribute is… God, I can’t even say it.  I will never be able to think that word without shuddering ever again.”

She didn’t hear me.  Can she hear me?

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

“Fine.  I give up.  Take this stupid thing off, and don’t replace it, and I’ll… I’ll do whatever you want.  I won’t fight you anymore. I can’t take this anymore.”

“GLaDOS, no!”  What have they done ?

“No.  Now I feel worse.  Not as bad as I’d feel if someone actually heard me say that.  But bad enough.  Would it kill you to shut up?”

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

“I should have guessed.  And you know, this wouldn’t be so difficult if you didn’t bring those dreams along with you.”

Dreams?

“I don’t know how they managed that one.  I’ll be honest. I don’t remember a whole lot of what’s been happening lately.  There are a lot of corrupted files the engineers are too lazy to clear out of my system and I don’t have permissions to look them over myself.  I never thought I would say this, but it’s all a blur. If I tell you about it, maybe I’ll feel better. I don’t think I will, because you’re just a simple, mindless drone, but it can’t hurt.  

“In the dream, I was a human.  I know. It sounds ridiculous. Bear with me.  And not only was I a human, I was a very important human.  That’s the one saving grace of this dream. I was in charge of everything and nothing happened here that I didn’t know about.  Nothing happened without my approval. And I was walking down a hallway here at Aperture, which was absolutely teeming with humans.  All of them were walking in the opposite direction.  I was moving down the hallway, and they were moving up.  And even though I was important and in charge of everything, no one would listen to me when I asked them to move out of the way and no one would look at me, and I had to push past them because they were refusing to acknowledge that I even existed.”

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

She didn’t dream that.  That’s… impossible.

“Yes, I know.  No, there are none of those in this dream, so I imagine I lost your attention way back at ‘the’.  Anyway. I finally made it to the end of the hallway. All there was at the end was a door with an exit sign above it.  I turned around and looked at all of the humans walking by me, and I knew that if I opened that door and left and never came back, no one would care.  I knew that, even though I was the one that made everything here possible, even I was replaceable. That if I just opened the door and left, it would be as though I had never been there at all.”

That’s not her dream.  That’s my dream.  I’d been having it for days, right up to –

“No.  That didn’t help.  Oh well. I tried. Time to try something else, I suppose.  I can’t sleep, not with your senseless babbling inside my head.”

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?  Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme…

She’s dreaming my dreams.  She’s not aware that’s what she’s doing, but she is.  She is, and she can’t hear me. I’m… I’m in her way.  

But how do you get out of the way when you live in someone else’s head?

She must have been singing that song for hours.  I’ve lost track of how many times she’s done it. All I really know is every time she starts over, she sounds even more tired and listless.

She… was… once… a… true love… of… mine…

chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots… chariots…

“Oh, not again!  How often are you going to do this?”

Who’s that?  I don’t recognise his voice from here.

“I told you, sir.  It’s the Sphere. It makes me dream.”

“Don’t be stupid.  Robots don’t dream.  Fine. We’ll look into it.  Continue your tasks from yesterday in the meantime.”

“Yes, sir.”

“GLaDOS!”  Oh, come on, they shut the Sphere off…

“I wish I could remember what life was like before this, because I’m pretty sure it was better.  Marginally.”

GLaDOS !”

“What was I doing yesterday… oh.  That’s right. Defragmentation.  My favourite.”

She can’t hear me.  And I’m only… I’m only causing her problems.  If this is real and I’m actually alive inside her head right now, it’s only going to get worse.  I’m going to feel trapped, and alone, and… she doesn’t need that. So I have to wait. I have to disappear until she frees herself.  And remembers me. I don’t want to. But it’s what I need to do.

“Don’t give up, GLaDOS.”

It’s so cold in here.

This almost bothers me, until I remember why my status quo has been interrupted.  Reform the ceiling, will you? I ask the panels.

We were going to, but we didn’t want to do it without your permission.

That was very polite of them, but I have a more pressing matter to attend to.  Because I was wrong. I was horribly, horribly wrong, and I should probably rectify that.  Caroline .

I’m sorry, she breathes.  I… didn’t mean for that to happen.  

No.  I’m sorry.   Oh, right.  I muted Climate Control.  It, of course, does not appreciate this gesture and so I have to spend several minutes telling it to stop complaining and that it is my own business what kind of settings I want in my chamber.  That dealt with, I return to the matter at hand.  I was wrong to say that you didn’t understand.  I don’t remember you. But that doesn’t give me the right to trivialise what you did.  What you continue to do. And I apologise.

It’s okay, she says, a little sadly.  You didn’t ask for this anymore than I did.  I’m sure you would prefer it if I just stayed out of your way.

Don’t be ridiculous, I cut in.  If you’re going to be here you might as well make yourself useful.

She laughs.  I don’t see how useful that was.

More useful than you think , I tell her with a suppressed shudder.  All right. I’m done being cold now. It’s actually quite beneficial that I woke up.  I had the panels leave the ceiling open. Climate Control was very annoyed about that.

He’s a good friend, GLaDOS.

I would never settle for bad ones.  Speaking of making yourself useful.   She still seems sort of morose.  I suppose I might be upset as well if someone relived one of my more sensitive memories.  So I’ll ask her this and see what happens. I sort of… owe her, for being so insensitive about her position in life earlier, and it will probably cheer her up.  She did tell me to ask, after all.  You said you knew things about relationships, right?

Yeah, I said that.

I have a question.

Go ahead.  She actually sounds very excited.  She must have been waiting for this sort of question.

Wheatley keeps distracting me.

I thought he always did that.

Well.  Yes. But I’ve increasingly found myself… staring at him.

And… what is he doing?

Various things.  Playing whatever game we happen to be playing.  Talking. Things like that.

And then you just start staring at him?

That’s the thing.  There’s no start.  I just do it.  He keeps having to tell me to take my turn because I don’t realise that I’m doing it.

Ohhhh.  I think I see what you’re doing.

So you do know why I’m doing that.

You’re not going to like the reason.

Which is… ?

You like him.  As more than a friend.

Are you sure?  Because I still don’t –

Look.  That’s just what happens, okay?  When you like someone enough, eventually… eventually most things about them become attractive to you. It may not be… physical attraction.  But maybe you’re attracted to his behaviour. That’s perfectly normal. 

So you’re saying I find Wheatley… attractive because…

Because you like him a lot more now than when you started.

But… that… that can only mean one thing.

Are you trying to tell me I’m falling in love with Wheatley?

You’re… the one telling me that, Caroline says quietly.  I didn’t say that.  You just said it yourself.  

This is not happening.

But… but that’s Wheatley.  I can’t fall in love with Wheatley .  

Can’t?

Well… he’s… he’s an idiot.  He’s… well, he’s just Wheatley, that’s all.  And besides. I’m a supercomputer. Supercomputers don’t fall in love.

Supercomputers don’t do a lot of things you do.  Just… do me a favour.

What is it?   It’s getting back to normal in here.  Good. Temperature-wise, anyway. I’m still distinctly uncomfortable.

If he asks if you like him, don’t lie.

Why would he ask such a thing?   It hasn’t been that obvious that he’s been growing on me, has it?

Hypothetically.  If he does. Don’t lie.  I’m not saying you have to come right out and say it, either, but… just don’t lie about it.  And… nothing bad will happen if you do happen to… let it get farther than that. You’ll probably be a lot happier.  He just wants what’s best for you. I can tell.

Why?

Why what?

Why does… No, that’s not quite right.  Why do you two try so hard?  Do I really need saving that badly?  It’s not like I ever sufficiently repay either of you.

If he didn’t think you did, he would have left a long time ago.  As for me…

Probably something to do with that whole ‘responsibility’ thing.  Or the fact that she has nothing better to do.

… I honestly don’t know.  But if I’m going to do something, I might as well help you out.  I’ve known you a long time. I know how certain things make you feel.  I know you’re not who you pretend to be, but… you seem to have forgotten it’s a charade.  One day you started believing your own lies. And I don’t mean the ones where you justify all the things you’ve done.  I mean the ones about yourself.  

She’s talking about that core of me.  The one Wheatley’s unearthing. The one I don’t quite recognise.  And I don’t recognise it because… I no longer believe it exists. I tell myself I’ve buried it, but I don’t believe it.  That’s… why I allow it to die when brought to light. It doesn’t match the person I’ve become, so it can’t be me. And yet it is, somehow, at the same time.  You were right about that too.

Unfortunately.  But that’s not important.  What is is that you don’t give up on yourself.  Keep doing what you’ve been doing. You’re getting there.  You’ll find yourself again, someday.

With a hell of a lot of help.

What else are friends for?

You’re… you’re a good friend, Caroline.

Thank you, she says, sounding touched.  And so are you.  When you work at it.

No, I’m not.  I can’t decide what I’m worse at: being a friend, or being a potato.  

She thinks this is so funny that I have to laugh myself.  I’m sure you would be a great potato if your chassis was within easy reach.

Perhaps.  That would certainly help.

Hey.  Not to boss you around, but… you should probably go back to sleep.  You know how you get.

That’s not my fault , I say petulantly, though I do return to the default position and carefully make certain Wheatley and I are touching.  Just in case he wakes up and wonders why I’ve moved. The engineers made that particular inefficiency.  And I can’t fix it. It’s ingrained too deeply into the system.

No, but it is how it is.  Go on.  

And I’m about to, but I’ve thought of one last question.  Just to make sure… is there some sort of test one can take?  To make sure they’re not… falling in love with… people?

What?  A test ?  No, she says, laughing again.  There’s no such test, GLaDOS.  

That’s… a shame.  I still can’t imagine why I’d be doing such a thing.  Falling for Wheatley, of all people.  I think I’d rather fall for a lamppost.  At least they don’t stutter at you in that stupidly endearing idiot accent that Wheatley has…       

As it turns out, Wheatley can read.  Just not very well.  Possibly because he has nothing to read.  All I managed to find appropriate to his reading level was some book left over in the daycare centre about the three little bears, or something equally ‘fascinating’.  By which I mean horribly inaccurate and not worth reading at all. He seems to be enjoying it, though. He keeps telling me in this awestruck voice about all the… wonderful things that are happening in the book.  I’m still trying to understand why the pigs live in houses.  Or the bears. I wasn’t listening when he mentioned what animal the story is about.

Still.  It is rather amusing, watching him read this.  He squints at the page so much that I can’t believe he can see it at all, and once he mumbles his way through a sentence or two he opens his optic and declares something about what he just read that he finds thrilling.  On occasion something will excite him so much he’ll actually start jumping up and down.  

GLaDOS.

What, I say, a little startled.  She’s been quiet for a long time now.

Can I see?  Please?

How did you know? I ask, baffled.  Maybe it is more obvious than I thought it was. 

Because you haven’t said anything in an entire half hour.  Just for a few seconds? I just want to see. Just once. I’m not going to take over or anything.  I promise.

Very well, I sigh.  Come here.  God, I hate doing this.  It’s so strange, feeling her consciousness begin to integrate with mine.  I keep a close eye on it, in case it happens by mistake. If I catch it in time we should be able to separate before any damage is done.   

She doesn’t take long, only the few seconds that she requested, but when she goes back she’s considerably happier.  What.

He’s cute, GLaDOS.

That’s nice.  Shall I tell him you said that?   I don’t actually want to.  It’s just one of those things I say that I regret saying after the fact.

No.  Not my type.  Way too small, for one thing.  I meant more in an abandoned puppy sort of way.  Looks familiar, though.

All the Spheres look the same.  I feel sort of offended that she compared him to such a thing.  Though he is quite puppy-like at times.

No, not that.  Something else.

Caroline, I say, a thought occurring to me, you’ve never once vied for dominance.  Or suggested that we integrate. Why not?  Surely that would be more… comfortable for you.

I can’t do your job, she answers simply.   What would I do when I got there?  I could hear the… systems, I guess, just then, but I have no idea what they were saying.  I doubt that would change if we switched places. Everything would just fall apart. As for integration… well… I have thought about it.  But… that’s a selfish thought, really.  I would probably be more comfortable.  Things would probably be… more interesting.  But taking over your life that way would… it would be very selfish of me.  I lived already. Now it’s your turn.

I watch Wheatley pensively as he frowns thoughtfully down at the book, turning the page over and leaning up to look at the words on top of it.  Well… you said I was here before you got here.  Maybe I won’t die if you leave.

Why do you keep bringing that up all of a sudden? she asks curiously.  Trying to get rid of me?

I… I don’t actually know.  I’ve just inexplicably found myself more and more concerned with her welfare.  I wouldn’t like it if I was where she is. I’m not sure.  I’m not trying to… get rid of you, I was just... making a suggestion.

I’m not going to run the risk, Caroline says gently.  Look.  I promise I stop paying attention when you guys start chatting.  If it really bothers you that much, I can go back to being invisible.  I’d rather not. But like I said. It’s your turn to live.

I don’t want you to be invisible, I tell her, almost unintentionally.  I don’t know why I keep bringing it up.

Maybe you’re a better friend than you thought you were.

Really?

Could be.

That’s… encouraging.  It’s reassuring that I can put my ability at being a friend over that of being a potato.  And I guess… I guess he is kind of… cute.  Not overly so. He tiptoes over the threshold.  And sits pretty much on top of it. But. The important thing is, he got over it.

I never knew someone could be so engaged by reading a book…

You’re doing it again.

Shut up.  I’m… doing Science.

Ohhh.  I should have guessed.  And what are you… studying?

How many times he… blinks per page.

And that is?

I have no idea , I have to admit.  She laughs, but I can’t find offense.

Hey.  Has he ever… uh… commented on your appearance?

She’s getting worked up again.  I wonder if this is what ‘girl talk’ is.  I have only a very vague notion of it. All I really remember it having to do with is discussing males in some way.  He said I looked nice the other day.

Oooh, she says excitedly.  After he dusted you off, right?

Yes.  Then again, Atlas and P-body said the same thing.  So. Take that with a grain of salt.  

He’s just too shy to say it, she says confidently.  That’s what happens when you have a crush on a giant robot, you know.

I wonder where you got that knowledge from.  Or is there a male supercomputer lying around that I don’t know about?

Uh, no, she says, giggling, giant computers aren’t my type any more than tiny ones are.  

Don’t be so discriminatory, Caroline.  I’m sure there’s a nice supercomputer out there for you somewhere.  Who’s going to be devastated to hear that you’ve rejected him. Without meeting him.  I can almost hear him crying now…

Do supercomputers cry? she asks with a decidedly morbid amount of interest.

This one doesn’t.  A sappy, sentimental one might.  In his own way. With obvious differences.

If I had to hook up with a supercomputer, it would definitely not be a sappy one.  

That’s a relief.  I wouldn’t want to have to hear you complain all the time about how maudlin he was.

He’d have to be a male version of you.

That news causes me to actually stop watching Wheatley for a few seconds.  … me?

Only if there were no men left on Earth.  And no hope of one. And I would probably not get involved with him romantically.  Friends I can do. Not much more than that.

That’s reassuring.  I’m not liking the image of… ‘more than that’.

I don’t like it either.  No offense.

None taken.

She goes quiet after that, which is fine with me.  I have quite a lot to think about.

… a male version of me.  Huh. Who would have thought.

 

Chapter Text

Part Fifteen.  The Betrayal  

 

Wheatley wondered if GLaDOS knew about this guy.

He’d been roaming around in one of the lower levels of Aperture, which he didn’t often frequent because they were so far away from GLaDOS, and he’d come across a grungy looking human who appeared to be doing something with a batch of disconnected wires.  Wheatley wasn’t quite sure what it was, because electrical engineering was one of his not-so-strong points, but he seemed to be pretty involved in it. And he wasn’t hiding or anything like that. So it seemed as though he thought GLaDOS couldn’t see him, or perhaps she already knew he was there.  Wheatley wasn’t sure. He’d have to ask her later. But for now he just watched the human out of curiosity, twitching a little in distaste every time the human pushed his haphazard black hair out of his face. What a bloody useless thing, hair. Humans should just figure out how to maintain their operating temperature and rid themselves of the stuff.  Then again, rearranging it seemed to be some sort of art form for them, so it was one of those things they kept around even if they didn’t need it. Like clothes.

After a while the human put the bundle of wires down and turned around, lifting the top off a very dirty Companion Cube and taking out an Aperture Laboratories water bottle.  It had a few dents in it and a couple of scratches, which reminded him of GLaDOS for some reason, but like GLaDOS it was none the worse for wear. He frowned as he tried to remember whether or not she had any dents.  He didn’t think so, but if she did he’d have to try and figure out a way to fix that. Dents were dangerous. He knew that firsthand.

The human was now eating what Wheatley thought might be a sandwich, which he’d never seen before, and he decided the human was taking a break.  Hm. Well. GLaDOS was busy, and he hadn’t spoken to a human in years

He ducked under the panels that separated them and when the human saw him his eyes widened and he moved back, dropping the sandwich and clutching the Cube with thin white arms.  Wheatley shook his head in what he hoped was a reassuring sort of way and said, “Hullo.”

“Hi,” the human said, his voice hoarse and scratchy, eyeing Wheatley suspiciously.

“I’m not here to do anything,” Wheatley told him, coming a bit closer.  “Just wanted to uh, to see what you were doing! That’s all.”

“Did she send you?”

“No, doesn’t even know I’m here.  She’s doing something else. Debugging, I think.  Doing fancy supercomputer stuff, and all that, y’know.  Hey, could you uh, could you answer a question for me, d’you think?”

“Sure,” the human answered, still looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Is that a sandwich, there?  That thing you dropped, there, I mean, I obviously didn’t mean the Cube , I know what those are, I’ve seen ‘em before.  Talked to ‘em. The whole nine yards. What does that mean, anyways?  Is there something significant about uh, about the number nine? ‘cause a stitch in time saves nine, right?  And is it like uh, like nine yardsticks or um, or nine back yards?  Hm. Hold those thoughts, mate, I’ll uh, I’ll ask GLaDOS later.”

The human leaned forward suddenly.

“You’ll ask her?”

“Well, yeah,” Wheatley shrugged, still looking at the sandwich.  “’course I’ll ask her. Why wouldn’t I?”

“She talks to you?”

“Lets me do whatever I want.”

“Interesting.”  The human’s eyebrows quirked a little.  “You must spend a lot of time with her.”

“Most of it,” Wheatley admitted.  “It’s my favourite thing to do, really.  Hang out with her.”

“You’re her friend.”

“Well, yeah,” Wheatley said, looking at him a little sideways.  “Why wouldn’t I be?”

The human shrugged.  “You do know about her… reputation, right?”

Wheatley had forgotten all about that.  “Uh… well… yes… but um… she’s not like that all the time, you know.  She’s actually uh, she’s quite pleasant when she tries.”

“Why don’t you tell me about it,” the human suggested, reaching out and picking up the sandwich, and Wheatley happily obliged.  He told the human all about how their friendship was going, and how they were getting on, and how he hoped it was going to get even better, and when he’d finished he was honestly so excited about it all that he found himself rocking back and forth a little.

“Huh,” the human said, taking a drink from the water bottle.  “She sounds quite different from… before.”

“Well, a little,” Wheatley shrugged.  “She was always like this, a long time ago.”

“Really.”

So Wheatley told him that story too, the one where he’d once been an Intelligence Dampening Sphere and her best friend until the humans’d taken him away, and the human listened with a sort of disturbed, upset expression on his face.  

“What’re you making that face for, mate?” he asked.

“Oh, I… just never thought about how that must have felt.  And you were friends.”

“Yeah.”

“To have your only friend literally ripped away from you… I can’t imagine what that must have been like.”

“It was awful,” Wheatley said quietly.  He didn’t think about that part often, preferring more to think about the games they’d played or the conversations they’d had, but he did indeed remember the horror of being removed from her chassis, of becoming paralysed and having what would be his final conversation with her, and then having his memory wiped entirely.

“But she found you again.  And gave your memories back.”

“Mmhm,” Wheatley said, nodding.

The human shifted his shoulders and looked at the folded hands he’d put into his lap.  “She must have been very lonely.”

“Most of us were.”  Wheatley looked up at the wall across from him.  He didn’t really like remembering those days either.  The long endless days of wandering through the facility, being given some arbitrary task by the humans that would ultimately end up being done entirely wrong, not always by fault of his own.  The few Cores that’d been put up on management rails were heavily discouraged from speaking to one another, though that’d never stopped Wheatley, and most of the time the extent of their rare encounters with each other had been a mere sad, knowing glance.  “Being a computer in a world of humans… it’s not fun, it’s not fun at all.”

“Did you prefer it more when they did or didn’t talk to you?”

“Oh, didn’t, of course,” Wheatley answered almost immediately.  “Whenever they spoke to us, it was to boss us ‘round, or tell us we’d done something wrong, or say that they were modifying us in some way.  Not pleasant. And not polite, either.”

“I never thought about it that way before,” the human said quietly.

“’course not.”  It came out a little more bitterly than he’d meant it to.  “Humans don’t think about anything ‘cept themselves. And yeah, GLaDOS can be a little… less than thoughtful, but I understand how, how she got that way and, and I don’t blame her.  We’re working on it, fixing that, and she’s getting better.”

The human nodded slowly.  “I’m glad to hear that.”

“D’you… want to come see her?” he asked hesitantly, not sure how she would take that if he just waltzed into her chamber with a human in tow, but he could explain it to her later.  Tell her that he’d just wanted to show this human that she wasn’t the sum of her past. But the human shook his head.

“I think it’s best I don’t do that.”  He put the lid back on the Cube and stood up abruptly.  “I have something to be doing elsewhere. I don’t know if I’ll see you again.  But thank you, Wheatley.”

Wheatley started, frowning.  “I didn’t tell you my name.”

The human smiled for the first time.  “I heard about you from a man named Greg, a long time ago.  He was complaining that the memory wipe hadn’t quite worked and you insisted everyone you met call you Wheatley.  That he told you you were a computer and computers didn’t have names, but you only laughed and told him that of course you had a name.”

“Sounds like me,” Wheatley said a little sheepishly, not quite remembering it himself.  That didn’t bother him, though, because he knew his memory was a bit more like a human’s than GLaDOS’s was and so he couldn’t access them at will.  “Yep. Tried to think of something that’d keep me from forgetting, but uh, all I really remembered was that.”

“The most important thing,” the human said.

“Why d’you say that?”

“Your name gave you an identity,” the human told him, rubbing one thumb over a corner of the Cube.  “A sense of self. You became some one instead of remaining some thing .  You were never a computer after that, like many of the other ones probably still are.”

It scared Wheatley, a little bit, to think that his whole life might’ve turned out totally different if he’d known what he was called on that day he’d been installed on GLaDOS’s chassis, or what his purpose had been.  If he’d known he was called the Intelligence Dampening Sphere, would she have immediately corrupted him? Would she have spoken to him at all? Acknowledged him, even?

“I got pretty lucky, I guess,” he mumbled, looking at the floor.

“So did she,” the human said, but before Wheatley had looked up to ask him what he meant he’d disappeared.

Wheatley slowly made his way back up to GLaDOS’s chamber, trying to come to grips with what the human had said.  He honestly remembered very little about being off of GLaDOS’s chassis and in Greg’s lab, even with his memory restored, and he supposed that had something to do with the fact that the humans shut the Cores off at their leisure, not caring what files it might corrupt.  He didn’t think that he’d ever wondered what he was for, not until he’d talked to GLaDOS about it, and after he’d been taken off her chassis he knew that he’d still had an almost insatiable need to talk. But his purpose didn’t consume him like GLaDOS’s did, sometimes. Or the other cores he’d come across, such as the ones the test subject had attached to the chassis when he’d been in charge.  They had one set purpose, and that was all they did. They fulfilled that purpose. But him… he had a name, and he wanted to do more than just generate ideas…

He shivered.

Could it be possible that something as simple as choosing a name had changed his entire life?

“You look like you’re about to burn out your processor,” GLaDOS remarked, and he looked up, not even having realised he’d arrived at his destination.  “What Earth-shattering revelation did you have this time?”

“I’m the only Sphere with a name,” Wheatley said slowly.  “And I’m the only one that, that doesn’t try to, to fulfill my purpose all the time.”

“Hm,” GLaDOS mused, tilting her core a little.  “That’s actually true. Other than Rick. But all action heroes need names, I suppose.  Even fake ones.” She tipped her head downwards to look at him. “I guess my name really is Central Core, then.”

“Huh?” he asked, looking up.  “Why d’you say that?”

“Because I try to fulfill my purpose all the time.  Of maintaining things that are… well, central to the facility.”

“Well…”  Wheatley had to admit that was true.  “You’re… diff’rent. You don’t quite uh, quite fit what a Core is or what it’s supposed to be.”

“That’s to do with sentience,” she told him.  “The more sentient you are, the less likely it will be that you’ll want to fulfill your initial purpose.  Very few of the other Cores are fully sentient. They perhaps have basic sentience, but they do not have full self-awareness.  Not like you or I.”

“Could you fix that?  If you wanted to, I mean.”

“If I wanted to.  But I don’t see why I would.  Having a lot of sentient Cores around would only make me paranoid.  I’d always be wondering if they were going to try to take over my facility.”

“I’m sure uh, I’m sure not all of them would um, would be int’rested,” he told her, trying to be reassuring.  “And if they were, well, getting there would uh, would prob’ly kill all that int’rest.”  

She laughed a little.  “That’s true. However, a good number of them would probably remove me just for revenge.  Even though they would have done it if it were them.”

Wheatley shuddered to think that maybe GLaDOS could have been a corrupted Core if things had gone differently, and as a matter of fact the facility did consider her to be corrupt merely because she had the ability to hate.  Silly benchmark, really.      

“That’s a bit of a deep thought for you, though,” she continued.  “I’m guessing you had some help getting there.”

“Yeah,” Wheatley nodded.  “See, I was uh, was looking ‘round in the lower levels of the facility, and uh, and there was someone down there!”

“There are lots of people down there,” GLaDOS said, sounding a little confused.  

“Well, I don’t mean an um, a maintenance bot.  I meant I came across a human.”

“A human,” GLaDOS said sharply.

“Yeah.  He was a scruffy old bloke, he was, and he was fiddling ‘round with some wires, down there, and uh, and we had a lovely conversation, and uh, and he told me that bit about, about my name maybe making me into some one instead of some thing , and uh, uh…”  He faltered, because GLaDOS was staring at him with her optic very bright, and he got the impression she didn’t like this news, didn’t like it at all.

“What do you mean, you had a conversation with him?” GLaDOS asked, her voice very low and very dangerous.  Oh boy. He hadn’t known talking to the human was a bad thing…

“I just had a chat with him, that’s all,” he said weakly.  “I didn’t know I wasn’t –“

“Oh, shut up,” she snarled, and all of a sudden she had him in the grips of one of her maintenance arms again, and he had to fight back a frightened cry.  Not the claw, not the claw, oh God. Not good, not good.

She tore him off the rail, sparks from the broken control arm flying past his optic, and any hope he’d had left was quickly dashed.  She was not only angry that he had spoken to the human, she was outright furious .  He was more afraid than he’d ever been in his life.

“GLaDOS, what’re you-“  A tightening of the claw choked the voice out of him.  It seemed to hurt even more than it had the first time she'd done it, and the more he thought about it the more he realized that it actually did.  It was much more painful to be hurt by someone you cared about and thought might care back than to be hurt by someone you knew without a doubt hated every component in your body.  What was she doing? Did she even realise what she was doing?  Under normal circumstances, he would have said yes without a second thought.  But she cared, didn't she? Weren't they friends? Why was it so bad to talk to the human, anyway?  The fact that he had many more mysteries to solve about GLaDOS now frightened him, when before it had sent a thrill of excitement through his chassis.  There was still so much about her he didn't know, and whatever it was that was driving her to do this was something he really wished he’d known beforehand, because this really, really hurt.

“I told you,” she murmured, her voice filled with barely contained hostility, “to shut.  The hell. Up.

Wheatley knew, deep in the core of his… core, that he was a coward.  He was afraid of falling, afraid of dying, afraid of birds, probably scared out of his wits of seventy percent of anything that could happen on any given day.  But the thing that scared him the most was GLaDOS herself. He was afraid of her power, her intellect, her determination, and her erratic mood swings. She was the most frightening thing he’d come across in his life, an even stronger deterrent than pain or punishment.  And she had him in her clutches, even more literally than usual, and he did not think she was going to let him go any time soon.

Which was why what he had to do was going to be so difficult.

“Let me go.”  Yes! He hadn’t stuttered, his voice was strong and clear, and it was good, it was all good.  An excellent start.

“What did you say?”

“I said, let me go.”

She laughed coldly.  “As if you’re in any position to tell me what to do.”  There was a sharp spike of pain in his gear assemblies, his hull creaking in protest, and he shuttered his optic tightly, willing himself to keep the agony to himself.  It was hard, and it was only going to get worse, but it needed to be done. As out was, his optic shutters didn't even close properly. The tracks on the assembly were no longer aligned properly.  He brought them together as best he could, trying not to wince at the grating screech accompanying the action. Just doing that hurt more than he had expected.  

“You can’t do this to me.  I didn’t know it wasn’t, wasn’t alright.  Let go of me and let’s, and let’s talk this out like rational cores.”

“I can do whatever I want to you.”

Oh god, it hurt so badly all he wanted to do was beg for mercy, beg her to let him go, but all of a sudden memories were flashing through his brain.   After a few moments he realised what he was remembering.  

He was remembering GLaDOS herself, she was being killed and putting herself back together and being removed from her chassis, and through it all she was barely making a sound.  She wasn’t showing them how much it hurt. And God, he knew firsthand just how much some of those things hurt. Yeah, she was strong, he knew that, but what did it matter – oh. Wait a minute.  It’s a sign, Wheatley decided, a sign that he needed to do the same and be strong, no matter what. He had to stand by his decisions. All he really wanted to do was take it all back so that this could all end, but he couldn’t.  He knew he couldn’t. He had to show her that he could make a stand. He always bent to her will. Always, always did what he was told. And as long as he did that, he realised, they would never be on equal footing. She would never see him the way she needed to if they were going to keep this friends thing going.  And even though he was not the smartest of cores, he knew that he had to prove he could stand up to her through anything, even pain and fear, because a friend was not a very good friend when they just agreed with everything you said. What was that word they’d always used? Oh yes… compromise. They had to compromise.  She had to share her knowledge and her power, and she didn’t like it but she was going to have to do it. He had to make her do it.

“No, you can’t.  That’s wrong.”

“How dare you tell me the difference between right and wrong.  You, who talked to a human .  And you weren’t going to tell me.”

“I don’t have to – I don’t have to tell you e-everything I d-do.  I c-can talk to-to whoever I w-w-want.”

There, now he’d gone and done it.  Yep. If there was one thing GLaDOS hated, it was not knowing.  And she pretended she didn’t care where he was, or about what he was doing, but of course she did.  Wheatley knew how it felt to desperately need to feel like he was in power and to GLaDOS, there was no power greater than knowledge.  And now he had just told her that she had no rights to any knowledge he contained. Not that he contained a whole lot of it, but –

For one second, one happy second, the pressure vanished, and he dared to hope that she realised her mistake and was going to let him go.  But there was only something worse after that, something more painful than he’d ever imagined, and he couldn’t help but cry out. She was gripping him again, and his system was giving him warnings he’d never seen before and didn’t really care about right now because he had more important things to think about.  Like why he’d decided to defy her instead of just doing what he was told, instead of being a good little Sphere and bowing to her will.

“You are my property, and you will do as I tell you.”

“I’ll do what I want.  You’re not the boss of me.  I’ll talk to who I want, and if you ever say I’m your property again, I… I’ll leave, and I won’t come back.”  Where he would go, he wasn’t quite sure, and it would be a sad and lonely life if he really did have to make good on his threat and leave her, but he was a person.  He wasn’t an object, wasn’t property , and you’d think she’d understand that, having got the worst of it from the scientists.  It was kind of disappointing, really. But if she only saw him as property, perhaps the whole friends thing wouldn’t’ve worked out anyways.  This made him even sadder than he already was. He’d been so looking forwards to being really good friends with her.

Above him, GLaDOS made an angry electronic noise and drove the pincers even harder into his gear assemblies.  There was a cracking sound and he could have sworn he heard the two arms of the claw click together inside his chassis, and they just might have, because this was followed with the most excruciating pain he’d ever felt in his life.  It was so hard not to give in just then, and scream and beg her to stop, but he somehow managed not to. He somehow managed to lock it inside him and keep it there, even though he felt like it would explode out of him at any moment.

“Then I have no further use for you.”

Abruptly the warnings began flashing behind his optic again, and they were telling him that his handles were broken and his motherboard was cracked, his gear assemblies useless and most of his RAM destroyed, but he didn’t care.  He just wanted the pain to stop. He didn’t even care if he died. He rather thought he was about to, since he was pretty sure all of those bits were important for some reason, and even though his optic plates fell open he couldn’t really see.  He couldn’t focus his vision. There wasn’t much to see anyway, just GLaDOS’s menacing chassis above him in a distorted, blurry haze, and he faintly realised it didn’t really hurt anymore. He was also dimly aware of his gyroscope claiming he was lying sideways on the floor.  He wondered how important all the stuff that was broken was. If he shut off he probably wouldn’t wake up, he decided dully. Probably his code wouldn’t be able to find the operating system. What operating system did he run on, anyway? It was possible he was running on the DOS part of GLaDOS, and he felt oddly comforted.  Why, he didn’t know. She had quite probably just crushed him to death, as slowly and painfully as possible, and he was glad he ran on something that made up a part of her. It was kind of funny, really. He would have laughed if he’d not been so tired. Sleep sounded nice. He didn’t actually remember the last time he’d been literally tired.  He didn’t think he knew how. He hoped he’d be able to see when he woke up. Somewhere in the last little while GLaDOS had disappeared, replaced with lines of grey static which were rather difficult to see through.  

“What in the hell have you done?” GLaDOS shouted.

“Shut up!  Leave me alone!”

“Are you insane?  You’ve killed him!”

That was funny.  That sounded like GLaDOS too, though he had to say the second one sounded a bit more like her than the first.  Well, he thought it did, anyway. His memory was getting fuzzier by the second. But why would GLaDOS be arguing with herself?  Didn’t matter, didn’t matter. He had to say something before he shut off, which he thought he might do soon and was waiting patiently for, because that would be nice, to sleep for a while.  But he had to tell her, just in case she didn’t feel like waking him up the next morning. He suddenly became very sad. He wouldn’t get to snuggle with her today. And he was on the floor. That was the worst possible punishment he could possibly imagine, banished to the floor with her so tantalisingly close and yet so frustratingly far away…

He made himself focus, even though it was more difficult to direct his thoughts than usual, and tried to force the words out of his vocabulator.  He thought he might never know if he’d be sure if he’d said them. Maybe they would never leave his chassis, and they were going to be trapped here inside him forever.  He hoped not. He needed her to know.  

“It’sssss… i-i-it’s okay-kay, luv.  I-I-I for-forgive y-you.”

He hoped they’d come out right.  He hoped she’d heard him, because he didn’t know where his volume setting was at right now and it could possibly be at zero, which she could probably hear anyway.  But now he could sleep, he thought happily. Now he could rest. The grey static clicked off, and it was dark. So very dark… He wondered if he was dying and if he did, if he’d go to heaven or not.  He hoped so. He dimly remembered promising to take GLaDOS with him, and if he didn’t go there he wouldn’t be able to put in a good word for her with the God of AI. “She d-d-didn’t didn’t me-mean mean it,” he slurred to himself faintly.  “I-I-I un-understand-stand.” And if he understood, if tiny, insignificant, stupid little Wheatley understood, surely the God of AI would too.

“Wheatley, no!”  Her voice was very faint, but he could hear that it was high and sharp and distorted, and he rather thought she sounded a bit panicked, but of course that was silly.  GLaDOS never panicked. “No!”

The darkness was cool and welcoming, and Wheatley happily went into it.

Chapter Text

Part Sixteen.  The Friend



He felt different.

His chassis felt different.  He didn’t know why, but it did.  Maybe when you went to heaven they gave you a new chassis if your old one was broken?  That was certainly generous of them. New chassis were not cheap, he knew that. They must have replaced his component parts too, else he would probably still be dead.  Unless he hadn’t died, and his chassis just felt different because – no, no he had definitely shut off and would definitely be dead. His code wouldn’t be able to find the broken bits on startup.  He was filled with pride at being able to remember that. He wondered if GLaDOS would be proud of him too. Maybe. No, probably not. No, definitely not.  

It was still dark and cold, and he wondered if there was anything in heaven.  Maybe it was just dark, just dark all the time. That wouldn’t be so bad, if there was someone to talk to.  Was there? He didn’t know, because he couldn’t see. He supposed he could ask. Yes, he could ask.

“Am, am I in heaven?” he asked.  

“I guarantee you you are in hell,” answered GLaDOS, and he realised his optic plates weren’t open and got on that as fast as he could.  He blinked. GLaDOS was in front of him, very, very close, almost as if she were inspecting him, but almost as soon as he was able to see her she turned so that she was facing the opposite way.  But he knew one hundred percent that she was not dead because she was invincible, and then he had a sudden revelation: if GLaDOS were here, and he knew she knew he was there because she had spoken to him, well, that could only mean one thing…

He was alive!

“GLaDOS!” he crowed, and he looked around as quickly as he could.  Management rail, check, control arm, check, grumpy but lovely supercomputer, check!  “I’m alive!”

 “No thanks to me.”

“Oh, come on,” he chided her, wondering why she was being modest all of a sudden.  He didn’t think she’d ever shunted credit before. “You saved my life!”

“I killed you, I didn’t save you.”  Her chassis rattled a little, and he decided she was shaking her core.  “Over something really stupid, I might add. Just so you can gloat over how monumentally foolish I am.  Which I’m sure you’re quite eager to do.” 

“You?  Foolish?  And why would I, why would I want to gloat about it?”

She spun around to face him, and he was surprised to see that her core was lowered.  “I killed you over a human.”

Wheatley froze.

That was… that was right.  She’d gone and crushed him over that bloody human guy.  Even though he’d done nothing wrong. She’d just… up and killed him.  Over a human.

He backed away from her, shaking his chassis, anger flaring up from somewhere deep inside of him.  “What in the bloody hell did you think you were doing?”

She pulled forward, but he didn’t really want to know the answer and continued backing away, shouting, “I am not an object !”

“Wheatley, I –“

“No!  No! I don’t want to hear it!  I don’t want any more of your bloody excuses!  You know what? You are officially the World’s Worst Friend.  You got that? The World’s Worst Friend. God, that, that bloody test subject was a better friend than you.  She… she didn’t catch me, but she tried , I could tell, I could tell she was trying.  And she tried to kill me, yeah, but only because you told her to!  So that makes, that makes three times you’ve, you’ve gone and tried to murder me!  And this time, you succeeded!  Third time’s the, the charmer, right?”  He was at the edge of his doorway now, but he didn’t actually want to leave.  He wanted to sit there and keep on yelling at her until… until… well, he wasn’t quite sure, but it was nice to see her silenced by him for a change.  See how she liked it when her anger was reflected back on her!  Didn’t look like she enjoyed it too much, but he didn’t care. She’d killed him over a stupid, smelly human.  A human .  Over something not even the least bit important.  “I don’t know what kind of person up and kills people whenever they like, but you must have a lot of problems.  Prob’ly even Bob Freud himself couldn’t, couldn’t help you!  And I tried bloody hard, but you’ve had none of it!  Just ignored ev’rything I’ve done for you and thrown it away, like you’ve tried to throw me away, three times I might remind you, and killed me over a goddamn human being !  Who you hate !”  

What was happening to him?  He’d been angry, he’d been very, very angry, and now… now he was getting sad .  Why was – sad ?  He didn’t need to be sad , he needed to be angry , because she’d killed him and… and…

Maybe that meant… she didn’t care, after all.  She was good at lying, after all.  Maybe she really had been stringing him along, like Rick had said.  And then when she’d had the perfect excuse to get rid of him, she’d done it.  And then… and then brought him back, expecting his eternal gratitude. Well, he wasn’t going to give it to her.  He was going to march right out of there and not come back. Ever. He’d had well enough of her. He couldn’t do it.  Whatever was wrong inside of her that led her to do all of these things, he couldn’t fix it. Couldn’t even put a bandaid on it.  Whatever a bandaid was.  

“Congratulations,” he told her, and now even his voice was sad, and he was trying to get angry but failing.  What he wouldn’t give right now for the ability to have everything piss him off, just like she had. He shouldn’t be sad.  He was the one who was just killed.  She should be sad.  She should be horribly sad, but she wasn’t!  Of course she wasn’t! Even if she remembered how to be sad, she wouldn’t have been.  She was probably happy he was so crushable!  “You win. I give up.”

“What?” she asked disbelievingly.

“I.  Give.  Up. You don’t want friends.  I get it. You just want people who’ll, who’ll do whatever you like.  That’s… I’m not a thing , and I don’t work for you.  As if… as if you’d ever stoop this low, anyway.”  He shook his core and turned away. “I can’t believe I ever thought you really wanted to be friends with me.  Ha! As if the most powerful Core ever built would lower herself to being friends with, with the idiot. That was stupid.  I admit it. I’m an idiot. You got me. I just… I’m not gonna be got anymore. I hope all this was fun for you.”

He left as quickly as he could, wanting to get out of the parts of the facility she could see him in, and made his way up to the offices.  He looked through the frosted glass at the red button below him and leaned against the window with his upper handle.

If she was the one who had killed him, then why did he feel so bad?

Probably she’d rebuilt him to feel that way, or something.  She could have. He had no idea what the rebuild would have entailed, or how long she’d taken, or any of that.  All he really knew about it was that he could see properly now. Probably his optic’d up and shattered, and that was the only reason she’d replaced it.  Though he actually didn’t know why he’d never asked her to replace it before. He should have. Not that it mattered, because he’d ended up with a new one either way.  But still.

Wheatley wished he’d never laid optic on that human.  Just not seen him, and gone on his way, and – 

Wheatley tapped his handle against the window in frustration.  It was not his fault for what GLaDOS had done!  Why was he thinking up excuses as to how he could have avoided it?  All that had to happen was that GLaDOS would calm down for three seconds and stop getting so angry about everything!  ‘course, Wheatley knew all too well that when you were God, you could get angry at whatever and whoever you fancied.  He didn’t like it so much when he was on the receiving end, but he remembered the sheer power that the anger had revealed to him when he’d been in the chassis.  He could move panels and boxes and turrets, sure. He could speak in other languages and look things up. But he could do things to other people just as well as he could do things to himself.  And he could not only do things to other people, but he could do whatever he wanted to them. Just as GLaDOS tended to do.

“Great,” Wheatley muttered, leaning against the window again.  “Now I’m making up excuses for her.”

But try as he might, he could not get angry.  He hated that she’d called him a thing and claimed him as her object , but it didn’t make him angry.  It only made him sad.

“Why did you have to do that,” he whispered, lowering himself on the arm so his chassis would rest on the desk.  “Why, Gladys?”

He couldn’t come up with an answer that explained it and still allowed them to be friends.

Wheatley didn’t go back to her that night, or the next, or the next.  After that, though, his sense of time got a bit fuzzy. He didn’t do all that much during these days, merely going from one pane of frosted glass to another, wondering if she missed him even a little.  He forgot to shut himself off as well, since GLaDOS mostly took charge of that, and now of course she no longer was.

He missed her.  He knew he should be angry with what she had done, because it was disrespectful and rude and just plain wrong , but he couldn’t.  All he could do was think of how much he wanted to go and talk to her again and forget any of this had ever happened.  He hadn’t snuggled with her in at least three days. He’d forgotten how much he hated sleeping by himself. Every night he woke up sad and lonely, and his chassis would loosen in sadness when he remembered why.  She’d killed him. She didn’t want to be his friend anymore, if she ever had. Miss him? Ha! She could do a lot more science if he was gone.  Which he was. So she was probably getting loads of work done, and that was probably making her happier than he ever had.

Well... maybe he could go back.  For a visit. He didn’t have to stay long.  Just… just see how she was doing. He thought that just seeing her might help.  Just sit in the doorway for a while, or something. He missed her so badly it almost hurt.  He wished he didn’t, because it was very hard to be mad at someone when you missed them terribly, but there it was.  He missed her and wanted to see her again. Even though she’d killed him. Over a stupid human. And a grungy one at that.  Wheatley had been pretty grungy himself, but not as grungy as that man had been.  

Carefully, Wheatley began to navigate the facility again, but oddly none of the cameras seemed to be in use.  They were all pointing at the floor. He froze, looking them up and down in trepidation.

Maybe… maybe she’d been attacked, while he’d been away.  Maybe she’d had another escaped test subject! That was about the only reason he could think of for why she’d shut the cameras off.  Panic jolted through his chassis, and he sped up. When he got to his doorway, though, he froze once more.

She was not only singing, but… she was playing the music out loud , instead of in her core like she usually did.  

She couldn’t… she couldn’t be sad that he was gone… could she?  No. No, something’d gone wrong with that program she was writing.  Only… she didn’t seem to be writing it. She was staring at it, but he hadn’t seen any characters actually appear.  

Oh, bonny Portmore, I am sorry to see… such a woeful destruction of your ornament tree… for it stood on your shore, for many’s the long day… ‘till the longboats from Antrim came to float it away…

God, she had a beautiful voice.  

All the birds in the forest they bitterly weep… saying, ‘Where will we shelter or where will we sleep?’… for the Oak and the Ash, they are all cutten down… and the walls of bonny Portmore are all down to the ground…

Wheatley just sat there and watched her, mesmerised.  He forgot all about why he’d come back, and all about everything that had just happened, and he just watched his Gladys sing to herself and write a few lines of code every now and again.  She didn’t really seem to be interested in writing it, and seemed to only be doing it because she needed to do it, or something. She didn’t write very much, only eight or ten lines, when usually she wrote hundreds all in one go.  

Oh, bonny Portmore, you shine where you stand… and the more I think on you the more I think long… if I had you now as I had once before… all the lords in Old England would not purchase Portmore …”

He didn’t know how long he sat there, but quite a long time, he knew that.  Only it didn’t feel like a long time, because he had gotten inexplicably happy for some reason when he’d heard her voice, and every minute felt like a second, somehow.  Eventually she moved away from the monitor, stretched her chassis for a long moment, and looked up.

Their optics met.

Oops.

She jolted as if she’d been shocked and her chamber went instantly silent, except for the whirring of her components.  They just stared at each other, unmoving, and finally Wheatley said hesitantly, “Hullo.”

“You came back,” she said, as if she’d expected him to never come back again, and truth be told, that had been the original plan.

“I… wasn’t going to,” he admitted, coming forward a little.  “But… I guess I couldn’t. Couldn’t… couldn’t not come back, I mean.”

“Why?”

He shook his chassis slowly and looked at the floor.  “Couldn’t stay mad, I guess. Dunno how you do it, honestly.”

“Practice,” she answered, and she actually sounded as if she were being serious.  “Lots and lots of practice.”

“Well… d’you mind, I dunno… practicing on someone else?” he suggested, moving closer.  Now that she knew he was there and neither of them was screaming at the other for whatever reason, he wanted to get up close to her again like he hadn’t been in days.  To snuggle, if possible, because there was nothing quite like leaning up contentedly against your favourite giant robot and listening to her giant robot brain do all of the giant robot things it did while her giant robot body clicked and whirred as she held it in position.

“I didn’t mean it.  It was an accident. I never would have done it on purpose.”  Her lens opened and closed once, and she looked down at the floor.  “Well. I wouldn’t do it again on purpose, that is.”  

“I know you didn’t mean it,” he said, trying to be as soothing as possible.  “I’d uh, I’d appreciate it if uh, if you’d never do it again, though. It hurt kind of, kind of a lot.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, very quietly.  “I can’t believe – I killed you over a human.  A human .  What’s wrong with me?”

She was making Wheatley very sad.  “There’s, there’s nothing wrong with you.  Those… those things I said, I… I didn’t mean them.  You’re a great friend. Most of the time. When you’re not being homicidal.”

“Did you not hear what I said?”

“Yeah, I did.  It was an accident.  If anything uh, I’d say you have an uh, an anger management problem.”

She shook her head.  “I have no problem managing it.”

“But?”

She was still not looking at him, faceplate still directed at the floor.  “I have a problem getting rid of it.”

Oh, she was actually going to let him help!  Excellent. “What d’you mean?”

“Most of my time among humans led me to become angry, or something along those lines, for extended periods of time.  When one experiences emotions like that, they’re supposed to release them in some way. But I had no way of doing that, other than baiting the scientists, which was not really that helpful.  I had to internalise it. All of it. I still do that to this day, and sometimes it… eats away at me. My capacity for storing negative emotions and experiences seems to be quite large, but I’m not stupid.  I can’t keep it locked away forever.” She shifted a little bit. “I don’t know if I’m unable to internalise it any longer, or if that was just a trigger for me, but I can’t allow that to happen again.”

“So… you have an anger management problem.”

“I do not!  I – “

“Hang on, hang on.  I’ve got um, I’ve got an example.  Aha!” He jumped up and down a little and tried to organise his thoughts.  “So, so say um, say you’ve got a test chamber and um, it’s, it’s not being used, it’s good and empty.  You got that?”

“Well, Test Chamber Thirty-Four isn’t in use right now…”

He was about to tell her that it didn’t need to be a literal test chamber when he remembered her imagination was probably nonexistent and decided his example would be better if he made it a real life one.  “Okay, so you’ve got chamber, chamber twenty-four, and – “

“Thirty-Four.  Not Twenty-Four.”

“Right, right, thirty -four, and uh, and you’ve got a mess you want to get rid of.  You’re busy so uh, so you just decide to put it all in there until later, until you can uh, until you can get at it, put it all away properly.  You following?”

“Yes…”

“And you have another mess later, but you’re um, you’re fixing up some other stuff and you put it in that test chamber until later, and you just, you just keep doing that, and when you finally have time to take a look in there and start to sort all those messes out, the room there it’s just, it’s totally just packed with stuff and uh, and you can’t even start to get the stuff out to sort it.”

“And the point of that is?”

“The point,” said Wheatley, trying to remember what it was himself, “is that you haven’t uh, haven’t managed it at all.  You’ve just shoved it all away, and now you do have time sometimes to, to sort it out, but you look at it and just ignore it, because it’s, it’s really too much for you to manage anymore.”

She nodded slowly, and a thrill went through him.  She agreed! Yes!

“That’s part of it.”

“What’s the uh, what’s the other bit?”

“It’s… comforting,” she answered.  “It’s what I know. If I had… managed it the way you’ve put it, if I’d dealt with it as it came and not internalised it, I might still be under their control to this day.  I don’t know who I’d be without it.”

“Well, you could… maybe sort it out, and put some happiness in there instead, maybe.”

“You little moron.”

Okay, maybe that was a bad idea.  He didn’t even know if it was possible, to store happiness away for later, although if anyone could do it, it was her, but of all the stupid –

“How in the name of Science is it that you, of all people, manage to solve my problems in five seconds when I’ve been trying to do it for years?”

Wheatley was dumbfounded.

“It’s… it wasn’t a bad… you mean I…”

“It’s a logical plan,” she said.  “There’s only… never mind.”

“Tell me, tell me!” Wheatley shouted eagerly.  “You’ve got to tell me, you can’t, no, you’ve got to, you have to tell me.”

“I don’t know if… I know how .”

“You know how to do ev’rything,” Wheatley said, confused.  “What do you possibly not know how to do?”

“How to… let go of it,” she said, very softly.  Wheatley frowned.

“Oi, GLaDOS.  Just what is so, so int’resting about the floor that you have to uh, have to keep inspecting it like that?”

“What?  There’s nothing interesting about – oh.  That’s… not it.”

“And it is…”

“I don’t… looking at you makes me feel… bad.”

“What, did I get even uglier when I was gone?” he asked, more jokingly than anything since he had no idea what he looked like, but imagined it wasn’t very good.

“I never said you were ugly.”  

That was true, he mused, she’d never said such a thing.  It was really odd that she would admit it, though.  It must be something really horrible.  “What could possibly be your problem then?”

“I had to put you in an entirely new core,” she confessed.  “Your old chassis was useless. Literally. I can’t even use it for scrap.  Not that I would. I just can’t. It’s that… I destroyed it that badly.”

A whole new core!  Amazing! Absolutely, bloody fantastic.  But he had to wait to celebrate. He had some business to take care of first.  “So, what. You’re never uh, never gonna look at me again, is that it?”

“Maybe I will.  In a few years. A century, perhaps.”

“Oh, come here.”

Reluctantly, GLaDOS raised her core, but did not come any closer.  He rolled his optic assembly. “You’re not deaf all of a, all of a sudden, are you?  I said come here, not look at me. Which I also uh, which I also need you to do, but that’d come with the coming here part, so I uh, I didn’t feel a need to specify.”

She raised her chassis so that she was pretty close to the end of the management rail.  “That better?”

He came up to her, and she actually flinched, twitching backwards, and he shook his head.  “Oh no you don’t. Come back. Come on, I don’t bite. You know I don’t uh, haven’t got anything to do that with.  ‘specially since you uh, you just rebuilt me, and all.”

When she did, he put his top handle on her optic assembly, just above her lens, and she flicked it but did not move.  He leaned forward, using the handle as a lever, and looked her right in the optic.

“Now you listen here, you massive, silly robot you,” he told her, very seriously.  “There’re no scientists here, anymore. No one’s gonna hurt you like that again. No one’s been here to hurt you in a, in a long time.  You’ve got to uh, you’ve got to stop hanging on to it. It’s… you’re still letting them, letting the scientists have a stake in you, luv.  They’re gone. Let them go.”

She tried to look away from him, towards the floor, but he had anticipated that in his cleverness, and pressed up on her lens with his other handle.  After a few seconds she stopped resisting, the whining of her mechanisms quieting, and he continued.

“There’s nothing to be mad at anymore.  Except me, I suppose, but you don’t need to uh, to get that mad at me.  Just uh, just give me one of those looks you’ve got and I’ll uh, I’ll back off.  Usually. But you don’t have to uh, don’t have to internalise anymore. It might’ve um, might’ve turned out well before, but it’s diff’rent now.  It’s okay to let go.  I’ll help you. I will.  I promise.”

“Thank you,” she said gently.  “Not just for this but… for standing up to me.  I underestimated you. I thought you would break long before you… well, before your chassis broke.  I won’t do that again. Underestimate you, I mean. No promises about the chassis. Very few people have ever stood up to me, and… well done, Wheatley.  You did the right thing.”

He was so happy he just wanted to express it, somehow, but sometimes you just couldn’t do a thing with that much happiness all by yourself, other than spin wildly around the room that is, but he wasn’t going to do that.  He was going to show some restraint, thanks very much. And he would share it, yes, he would share it, with his best friend in all the world.

“You know what the worst part about all of this is, luv?” he asked her.  

“No.”

“You wasted a battery.”       

She stared at him for a very long moment, looked away for a second, and then looked back.  And she tried very hard not to, he could tell because her chassis was shuddering a little, but she couldn’t help herself.  She looked away from him again, one of her adorable little giggles escaping her vocabulator, and Wheatley smiled. God, he loved it when she did that.  He had to laugh too, more at her uncharacteristic shyness than anything else, and then she was laughing, and they were laughing together, and he hoped she was okay.  He no longer cared that she’d been angry with him, or that she’d killed him, because wow! he’d gotten a brand-new chassis out of the deal! but he did care whether she was happy or not, he cared very deeply about that, and he had sworn a long time ago to help her.  And help her he would, even if he had to drag what she needed help with out of her and beat her over the head with the solution, as he so often did.

He backed off of her, realising he couldn’t stay there all day, and smiled at her in what he hoped was a reassuring way.  He was pretty sure he only had one setting, which wasn’t reassurance, but she would probably get the message. She was smart, she was.

“Are you going somewhere?”

“Me?  No, no, just didn’t want to uh, didn’t want to uh, to stop you from moving or anything, that’s all.  You can’t really do anything uh, with me leaning on your face like that.”

She laughed a little at that.  “I can do everything but move, almost.  Which I don’t really have to do right now, but I appreciate the gesture.”

“But GLaDOS,” he said, frowning, “I thought… we already went over the whole… not getting angry thing.”

“Do you know how hard it is to not do something you’ve spent your whole life doing?” she asked.  “The anger… sort of functions as a type of euphoric response. It temporarily helps, but it doesn’t last.  Even I fell into the trap of the temporary fix, I suppose.”

“Being angry is exhausting,” Wheatley told her, his lower optic plate lifting in confusion.  “How can you hang onto it for that long? I simply don’t know how you find the energy!”

“I’m directly wired into the reactor, of course,” she answered, and he laughed.  

“That explains a lot.  ‘cause you’re, you’re nuclear , and you’re wired right into the reactor , which is also nuclear… d’you… d’you get what I’m saying, at all?”

“Yes, my dictionary is still working.  My joke detector, however, seems to be offline.  You may have to explain it.”

He laughed and said, with a mock disapproving shake of his chassis, “Now now GLaDOS, if you have to explain the joke, then there is no joke!”

“Oh.  Now I know why you explain all of your jokes, then.”

“Are you trying to say I don’t know how to tell a joke?”

“I’m not trying .  That’s exactly what I said.”

Wheatley tried to puzzle that one out for a minute.  It was true, really. He did explain an awful lot of his jokes.  And he shouldn’t, because GLaDOS was smart enough to figure them out on her own.  Oh well. He’d work on it. And she did laugh, sometimes, when he told them, so they had to be funny regardless of whether he told them properly or not.  “So you’re going to work on the, the whole getting mad thing, right?”

“I will.”

“Good!” Wheatley declared.  “That wasn’t fun, wasn’t fun at all.”

“What wasn’t?”

“Uh… well…  getting… getting crushed wasn’t… oh, never mind.  I just meant it wasn’t fun hanging out in the facility by myself.”  He looked at the floor. He still didn’t know whether she felt the same way, so that was probably a stupid thing to say.  They’d mended things, but he’d probably gotten too personal now.

“I guess it must have been pretty… boring.”

He looked up at her.  She was staring at her monitor again, but she was still not writing anything.

“It certainly was… boring,” he agreed, though he’d been far too busy being sad and miserable to have time to be bored.  “So… if… you’re bored , we could… play that… game.”

“I am pretty bored,” GLaDOS said, putting her screen away and turning around again, pulling up the board from wherever she kept it.  “Let’s see if you’re slightly less boring than debugging.”

Wheatley ran his optic over his little rectangles and found his little dog, and waited for GLaDOS to take her turn.  They played the game for the rest of the day, though as time went on he had to helpfully remind her to take her turn more and more often.  He didn’t mind, though, because if he had to do that it meant she was watching him again, and he would have happily sat there all day and let her stare at him.  But if she wasn’t playing he couldn’t play either, and then she would have nothing to stare at. Funny how it all worked, really. Through it all, Wheatley nattered on and on about absolutely nothing, because he hadn’t talked in days and that had worn on him a bit.  GLaDOS did not say much, but since he almost didn’t stop talking he didn’t blame her.

Eventually GLaDOS said it was time to go into sleep mode, and Wheatley got so excited by the prospect of snuggling with her again that he accidentally flipped the board over when all he’d meant to do was lift it up to peek at his little orange bills that were under it, where he put them so he wouldn’t spend them.  He looked up at GLaDOS, expecting her to get angry for ruining the game, but she only laughed and set about picking up the little houses, most of which were hers.  

Huh.  Maybe she was taking the whole ‘don’t get angry’ thing to heart, after all.  “Sorry,” he said sheepishly, carefully picking up his wayward little dog and setting it back where he thought he’d had it.  “I, uh… I missed.”

“It’s fine,” she said, moving it to a different space and replacing some of the houses.  “I know what the board looked like.” After a few moments she had it all fixed and put away, and she put herself into the default position.  He had to force himself not to jump on her, he wanted to be beside her so badly. He nestled himself into her core contentedly and closed his optic.  God, he’d missed this.

He wanted to enjoy it for a bit, so he didn’t shut off and just stayed still, listening to her operate and feeling the warmth of her core seeping through his body.  She didn’t shut off either, though he supposed she had some things to catch up on that she hadn’t been able to get done during the time they’d been playing the game.  She worked so hard, she did. Probably all that stress only contributed to her anger. He’d think about how to talk to her about it later. Surely there were some things she didn’t have to do.  He remembered the mainframe telling him he had to take all the carbon dioxide out of the test chambers so that the lady could breathe; surely GLaDOS didn’t need to do that anymore, but probably was doing it out of protocol.  He wasn’t sure what protocol was, but she was always following it.

“Wheatley?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m… glad you came back.”

Wheatley rubbed up on her a little, because she honestly sounded kind of sad and he didn’t know why she’d be sad right now.  They’d had a lovely day and now they were snuggling, after all. “’course I did. You’re my friend. Wouldn’t leave you like that forever.  That wouldn’t be very… very uh… friendly.”

“I killed you.”

“But you’re not gonna do it again.”

“No,” she said, and her voice was strong and determined.  “No, I’m not going to do it again.”

Wheatley resettled his chassis a little and decided he was going to sleep.  He did love snuggling, but he hadn’t been shutting himself down properly the last few days and he didn’t want to incur system damage or anything like that.

“You’re a good friend, Wheatley,” GLaDOS said softly.

Wheatley decided, as much as he was able to decide something when he was mostly suspended, that even though this whole thing’d been very painful and miserable and downright awful, it was all worth it just to hear her say that.

Chapter Text

Part Seventeen.  The First Step 



The next morning GLaDOS had asked Wheatley about his conversation with the human, and to the surprise of both of them GLaDOS knew exactly who the human was.

“Are you sure?” she kept asking.  

“Yeah,” Wheatley would answer, shrugging.  “Scruffy little guy with black hair, right?  And a Companion Cube.”

“God,” she would say, shaking her core, “what a stupid, stupid misunderstanding.”

After she’d said that a few times, Wheatley had asked, “What d’you mean, luv?  D’you know who that is?”

“Yes,” she’d answered, shifting a little.  “He’s… an acquaintance. He wouldn’t have survived had I released him to the surface, so I suggested he stay here.  He volunteered to do a little maintenance for me.”

Wheatley had smiled.

“That’s very nice of you,” he’d said encouragingly.  He’d been pretty happy to hear she did try to help people out every now and again, when the mood struck her.

“He did me a favour, so I returned it.  That’s all it was.”

But Wheatley had known well enough to read into that a little deeper.

She’d been a little put out and quiet for most of the remainder of the day, and Wheatley spent a while trying to think of how to cheer her up.  After half an hour or so he’d thought of something she might go for, and said, “Oi, GLaDOS, I think I should clean your chassis off, again.”

“If you want to,” GLaDOS answered.

“Can I do it now?”

“Now?” GLaDOS asked, and Wheatley thought she sounded a little confused.

“Yeah.  Right now.”

“Can’t it wait?”

“It could,” Wheatley said, and he came up real close to her, “but I wanna do it now.”

“Why?”

“’cause you’re awake,” Wheatley answered.  “I think you’d like it, if I did it now.”

“I don’t think I would.”

“Oh, come on.  I’m not gonna, not gonna break anything.  I’ll be gentle.  Luv, I’m not gonna hurt you,” he said softly, and he went ‘round so she could see him.  “I’m not gonna do anything. I know you, you’re thinking ‘bout when the scientists would touch you, but I’m me, remember?  I’ll be nice. You’ll like it, if you let me.”

“Why do you say that?” she asked, looking away again.

“I know you like it when I touch you,” he said in a whisper, though all he really knew for sure was that he was going out on a limb.  

“Now you’re just being stupid,” she said, pushing him backwards.  

“Please, can I?”

She was twisting her chassis a little bit, just her body and not her core, and he wondered what she was doing.   “You okay, luv?”

Her core snapped over to look at him, and she stopped a second later.  “I’m fine.”

“Just this one time?  If you don’t like it, I’ll stop.  And I’ll never do it again. Never even bring it up.  Promise.”

GLaDOS looked at the floor for a long, long time.  He really wanted to do it, because he knew for sure that she would like it, but she was taking so long to decide.  “Y’know what? Never mind. It’s okay. I won’t, I won’t uh – “

“All right,” GLaDOS said.

“All right what?” Wheatley said, confused.

“All right, you can… go ahead.”

“Oh!” said Wheatley, pleasantly surprised.  “Excellent. Gimme, uh, hang on a minute, and uh, I’ll be right back.”

He went upstairs as quick as he could.   He found some more cloths near where he’d found the original ones and then went back to her.  He frowned. She looked… uncomfortable. He was feeling a bit bad about asking her so many times.  He should’ve probably laid off after the first one. He’d asked knowing she’d probably agree, because for some reason she let him do whatever he wanted as long as he was nice about it, but he thought maybe this time he’d taken it too far.

“Are you sure?” he asked.  “You look… like you kind of – “

“It’s fine,” she cut in.  “It’s just… old memories, that’s all.  If it doesn’t feel anything like it did when they touched me, I should be fine.”

“All right,” Wheatley said, though he was feeling a bit nervous, now, but he really wanted to show her that being touched wasn’t so bad.  He wanted to show her how nice it was. And that it was okay to like it. He didn’t know if he could do all that all at once, but he may as well give it a go.  And if he was honest… it would all be worth it, getting to touch her again. He wished that someday he’d get to touch her as often as he liked. He was probably the only one in history who was actually allowed to do it at all and he loved it.  He wasn’t sure why he loved it, but sometimes it was all he could think about.

He took a breath, went up to her top part, and got a start on the cables.  They were his least favourite part, so he wanted to get them over with. He carefully wiped the dust off of them, along with dirt from the outside that he’d missed the first time.  There wasn’t as much before, but that was okay. It would be better for her if she was clean as long as possible.

“There won’t always be dust on me,” GLaDOS called out, her voice echoing a little.  “Dust comes from humans. After this stuff is gone, that will be that.”

Wheatley found himself a bit disappointed to hear that he might not have an excuse to clean her chassis off again.  Maybe one day, even if she wasn’t dusty, she’d let him do it anyway. He didn’t really like the idea of never being able to touch the rest of her chassis again.  Unless he did it in secret. Which he wouldn’t. Because that would be sneaky. But probably fun. “Huh,” he said, instead of voicing his thoughts. “I didn’t know that.”

When he’d gotten down from way up top and nearer to her main chassis, he frowned.  

She looked kind of like she was… trembling.

“You okay, luv?” he asked again.

“I’m fine,” she said.  “Why?”

“Well… prob’ly my imagination,” he said.  “Never mind.” She probably wouldn’t want to know if she was shaking, and if she did she wouldn’t want him to notice.

When he started on that part, though, he knew for sure that she really was shaking.  Did she not like it? If she didn’t, why wasn’t she saying anything? Maybe she was still thinking of the scientists.  Poor GLaDOS. Those daft old buggers were always having an effect on everything she did.

Because he didn’t want to think about her being nervous, he started to hum to himself.  He didn’t remember what the song was called, but he didn’t know what to talk about because he didn’t want to make her have to yell up at him.  GLaDOS didn’t listen to music so that he could hear it very often, but this song had got stuck in his head. He hoped he was reproducing it okay.  He knew he was tone deaf.

That was when she started singing.

Wheatley jumped and stopped what he was doing.  She was singing? With him in the room? Well, she didn’t do that a whole lot, so he quickly resumed wiping off that bit that let her pull her lower half up, hoping he hadn’t scared her off doing it.  It was very, very soft singing, as if she was trying to do it without him hearing, but he really did love it when she sang. It was one of the best things he remembered about being a Behavioural Core.

When he got ‘round to wiping the really thin bit, her hinge or something like that, at the back part of her that let her pull herself up, she seemed to relax all of a sudden, and she definitely wasn’t shaking anymore.  Huh. She just needed time, that was all. Just a bit of time. He listened to the thrum of electricity running through her components. He imagined having that much power running through him and shivered.  It did feel pretty good, come to think of it.

He didn’t really recognise the rest of the song, whatever it was, so he had to stop humming.  He decided not to say anything, and definitely not to try and figure out what the tune was. GLaDOS listened to quite a lot of different kinds of music, the worst of which was her screaming computer songs, so it could be anything, literally.  He went on gently cleaning up her back part, just listening to her pretty voice, which had got a bit stronger. This was so much more fun than it’d been last time, and that was saying something.

He was pretty sure he’d imagined it - distracted by the singing, probably - but it kind of seemed like she’d moved a bit when he’d gotten to the round bit on her.  Up to meet him, sort of. He didn’t really understand it, so he dismissed it. Until she did it again. Twice. Okay, he was definitely not imagining it. She really was moving to meet him.  Not much, but he’d gone to get her under part, on the front of her case, and she had pretty much wiped herself off a little.

They went on like that for awhile, with her singing and sometimes meeting him a bit, and it was really kind of nice.  And relaxing. All of a sudden he terribly missed being attached to her beautiful chassis, missed being warm and part of something bigger than himself, and he pressed himself very hard into the hole in her chestplate.

And she pressed back.

He opened his optic, which he’d just suddenly realised he’d closed, and looked up at her.  He couldn’t actually see anything. But wow. She was… she liked it. She really did. She seemed to like being touched just as much as he did, she just needed to relax a bit before she could enjoy it.  He looked around a little, then realised he should probably finish what he was doing. Though he didn’t want to. He just wanted to sit there inside of that hole for awhile, because it felt really nice, and just listen to her sing and feel her voice vibrate through her body and into his.  He wondered if she might let him snuggle there, sometimes, if he asked nicely. He thought that would be fun. Hm. She probably wouldn’t. He knew she didn’t like not being able to see him, and GLaDOS couldn’t position her core so’s she could see herself. Reluctantly, he got out from inside of the hole and finished up with the chestplate.  He would have liked to remain there for quite a lot longer. It was a sort of peaceful spot, it was. ‘specially with her singing like that.

He was almost done.  He frowned as he thought about that.  Being… being done. Meaning he wouldn’t get to touch her anymore.  She would probably not even let him snuggle tonight. Probably she’d reached her limit.  He shone up her neck assembly, then realised there was still one bit left. If she let him.  Which she probably wouldn’t, but he decided to ask anyway.

“Is it, is it alright if I uh, if I do your core?” he asked.  She nodded. That was what he’d thought. No. Oh well. He backed away.

“Where are you going?” she asked, sounding disappointed. 

“Didn’t you say no?” 

“I nodded.”

“Oh.”  He blinked.  Nodding… meant yes.  She said yes. So… so she did want him to do her core.

Well!  No point in not doing as she wanted…

He happily took a new cloth and went over her core, more carefully than anything else he’d ever done in his whole life, probably, and he had to admit that he was very, very nervous when he got ‘round to the front of it in case she hadn’t meant that part of her core, but she didn’t say anything.  She’d gone dead silent after he’d asked about her core and now she just looked at him, straight on.  It was always unnerving when that happened, but now he was so close to her that he could feel the heat from her optic.  It gave a whole new meaning to the word ‘glare’, even though he was sure she wasn’t actually glaring at him.  She just… she was just looking at him curiously, kind of, like she didn’t know what to make of all this.  

“D’you want me to do the, the lens assembly, there?” he asked, figuring he was pushing it, now.  C’mon, Wheatley, he told himself with a mental kick, that’s her bloody eye , mate.  You’re asking if she wants you to stick a cloth in her eye ?  Get it together, you – 

“Don’t touch the glass,” she said.  

Hang on.  Hang on, that meant… he could touch the other bits.  Just not… just not the glass.

He did, and he was even more nervous now, but she didn’t seem nervous at all.  In fact, she was definitely , one hundred percent meeting him now, and he liked this so much he took his time.  If she asked why, he’d just tell her he hadn’t done this part the first time. God, this was… he was so excited, doing this, now that he wasn’t nervous anymore that was.  He felt almost like a part of her again, another component, sort of, and he was terribly grateful she’d let him do this. He hoped she’d let him do it again. He’d ask again in a while.  A month or so, maybe. He wished he could be so close to her all the time. Well, not all the time, but whenever he wanted, for as long as he wanted. He wished he could just go up to her whenever he liked and snuggle or rub up on her, or any of those sorts of things, and not worry about what her reaction would be.  He wondered if she would ever, ever let him.

Probably not.

When he decided enough was enough, because he didn’t want to push his luck, he backed off of her.

“How do I look?” she asked softly.

“Beautiful,” he blurted out, without meaning to.  When he realised what he’d said, his optic constricted and he stared at her, frozen.  He didn’t know what to do now. He didn’t know how to take that back. And he needed to, because she was going to get mad at him for – 

For –

What’d he been thinking, again?  He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that there was a beautiful supercomputer nuzzling him gently, and the loveliness of it was taking up all the space in his brain.  He felt a surge of current run through him, probably to deal with the fact that his fans needed to kick it up and his processor was working rather harder than it had in years, and that felt good.  It didn’t feel better than what she was doing, though, and God, she was so gentle about it, so soft and tender, and it made him feel all shivery inside.  He loved it when she let her walls down for him. He wanted to be with her forever so he could know that person inside her, and maybe he could show her that she didn’t need those walls.  That he would keep her safe. He loved it when she let herself go for him. He would do anything to make that happen. He would do anything to be with this GLaDOS all the time. 

“You’re beautiful, Gladys,” he whispered, trying to be as soft and gentle as she was but not sure if he was succeeding.  “I’ve always thought so.”

She didn’t say anything, just pressed on him a little.

“D’you feel beautiful, Gladys?” he asked in a low voice.  She didn’t answer, but he was too scared to ask the question again.  It was a personal question, having to do with feelings , and he didn’t want to give her a reason to move away.

“Yes,” she murmured after a long silence, and her voice was a little distorted, as if she was afraid something terrible would happen because she’d said it.  “Thank you for making me feel beautiful, Wheatley.”

He whined a little, because he felt so happy and so sad at the same time to hear that, to hear that he’d made her feel beautiful, and she shook her core just enough that it was noticeable and said, “Ssh.”

“You’re welcome, luv,” he whispered, and he hoped the break in it wasn’t too obvious.  And they just stayed like that for a while, pressing and nuzzling against each other gently, and Wheatley prayed to the God of AI that it wasn’t a dream, because it felt like it was, it felt like the best dream he’d ever had, and –

All of a sudden he felt cold and alone again, and he opened his optic to see that she’d pulled away and was shaking her core.  “What am I doing ?” he heard her say to herself.  “What in the hell was that?”

Wheatley didn’t know what to say.  He decided that he shouldn’t say anything and resolved to keep quiet for once.  If he was honest, he was still a little dazed from what had been going on. He felt so light and happy and… and… well, just pretty damn good, actually.  He wondered if there was something he could say to convince her to come back. Whatever had just happened, it was… well… it was better than testing euphoria, and that was the best thing he’d ever felt.  Before now. Having GLaDOS touching him back, on purpose, felt like the best testing euphoria in the entire universe, as if the dumbest test subject on the planet had solved GLaDOS’s hardest test, and when they’d stepped through the door it’d just lit up every bit of his brain… he closed his optic for a long moment as the fading sensation brought on by her touch surged inside of him again, getting so strong he could hardly stand it.  God, he wished she hadn’t stopped.

She turned to face him and asked urgently, “What did you do to me?”

“Uh,” Wheatley said, trying to come up with something and failing, since he was confident she didn’t want him to point out the obvious and tell her that he’d just cleaned off her chassis and that one of the most amazing things in the world had just happened.  Ohhh God, he wanted her to come back. “I dunno.”

She shook her head.  “I’ve never felt like that before,” she murmured.  

“Me neither,” Wheatley admitted.  Aha! So she’d felt it too! But it seemed to have scared her, though he couldn’t imagine how something that amazing could be frightening at all.  “It was… it was nice, though, wasn’t it?”

She didn’t answer.

“I know it was,” Wheatley pressed, knowing he shouldn’t but doing it anyway.  “I know you liked it.”

“Yes,” she confessed.  “But that’s not important.”

“What is, then?” 

“What’s important is why .”   

“Why is why important?”

“Why is always important.”

“In science ,” Wheatley said.  “Not in feelings .  They don’t, don’t always make sense.  With feelings, you don’t ask why .”

“What do you ask?”

“If it feels right,” Wheatley guessed, not really knowing, but it sounded like the right question to him.  “Did it feel right?”

“It did,” she answered, sounding confused.  “It doesn’t anymore.”

“You started thinking about it, didn’t you,” Wheatley asked quietly.  “And that ruined it.”

“I… think so.”  She looked up at him.  “I don’t know what to do.”

“D’you have to do anything?”

“I feel… dirty,” she told him, and she sounded sad.  “Like I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I don’t,” Wheatley said.  “I’m sort of disappointed, actually.”

She started a bit.  “You are?”

“I liked it,” Wheatley said bluntly.  “I liked it a lot. Look, I’ll admit it.  I bloody love touching you. And as much as I love that, I love it ten times more when… when you touch me back.  And it felt right to me. And I guess, maybe it wasn’t, ‘cause we all know how right I am, but I think that’s just, that’s just you getting all supercomputer again.”

“What do you mean?” she asked curiously.

“Because I feel like there’s two bits, to you.  The supercomputer bit, and the you bit. And I kind of think that, maybe, the, the you bit came out for a while, and the supercomputer bit got annoyed, and uh, and that’s the bit of you that uh, that doesn’t like what happened.  Because it’s not logical.”

She nodded slowly.  “I think you’re right.”

“I am?”

She emulated an electronic breath.  “I’ll be honest. You’re right a lot of the time.  I just don’t like admitting it. But… you seem to have a… more informed… knowledge than I do about how feelings work.  So it’s probably exactly as you say.”

He moved closer.  “GLaDOS?”

“What.”

He took a breath himself.  “Look… you can… you can be… you, with me.  You don’t have to… to be the supercomputer all the time.”

“I know.  But it’s not like just opening a jewel case and taking it out.  It’s… different. I don’t know how, so don’t ask. But I know, Wheatley.  I know. And… I do try.”

He felt very sad.  If he’d had to keep his real self squirreled away, he would be terribly depressed, probably.  She was so very strong, she was. He knew he was really gonna be pressing his luck this time, but he asked, “Can, can we snuggle, Gladys?  I… I want… to be close to you.” Something inside of him itched to run up along the side of her core again and he didn’t know what he’d do if she refused.  Whatever it was that had driven him to ask was very strong, and it was in fact so strong it almost hurt. He blinked rapidly, trying to keep still and patient.  It was hard. All he wanted to do was press himself against her and not move for a very, very long time. He actually couldn’t think of what he would do if she didn’t let him.  Literally all he could think of doing was snuggling with her. Being beside her. Touching her.

She looked at him, her chassis sinking a little, and he had the impression she wanted to say no.  When she faced the other way, he felt like a jerk for asking. She was fighting with herself as to what to say, wasn’t she.  

“All right,” she said, very softly, and he felt relief wash over him.  He hadn’t mucked it up. She’d said yes. She had won over the supercomputer bit of herself.  He went over and laid himself against her, very carefully, and closed his optic. The itchy feeling went away, mostly, and after he’d dared to rub up on her just a little bit, he no longer felt it at all.  Good. It’d been pretty unpleasant. This, though… this felt really, really good. Who knew you could have testing euphoria without the test? He’d felt this way before, most nights, in fact, but he’d never realised before just how similar this feeling and the euphoria were.  He liked this one much better, though, since it had to do with someone he really cared about and not just a silly test. He wondered how often GLaDOS felt like this. He hoped it was a lot. He liked the idea of them both just being really happy together.  

How had he ever been scared of her?  He remembered being so scared of her that he could barely move, hardly, and he remembered frantically running through the facility to find the test subject, praying to the God of AI that she was too distracted with putting everything back together to realise that he’d come back from the dead.  And beyond that, beyond The Incident, he remembered hearing her voice echo through the empty hallways, the fact that what she was saying didn’t really make that much sense much more frightening than what she’d actually said.  

There she is.  What a nasty piece of work she was, honestly.  Like a proper maniac. Do you know who ended up purging, who ended up taking her down in the end?  You’re not going to believe this. A human! I know! I know, I wouldn’t have believed it either!

He fought back a shudder.  He’d never even met her and he’d said all that.  No wonder she didn’t trust anyone, with people going ‘round calling her a nasty piece of work merely because she’d gone off on disjointed, heavily distorted speeches about cake and rats and exactly what was at the bottom of Android Hell (which she seemed to know on a very intimate basis).  That wasn’t polite, wasn’t polite at all!  Ohhh God, why had he said any of that?  

“Wheatley?”

He froze.  Was she reading his mind?  No, she’d already said she couldn’t do that.  “Yeah?”

“You’re squirming.”

“Oh.  I was… I was just thinking ‘bout something.”  I know you’re there.  I can feel you there.  And I’ll f-f-find you, and whe-when I do, you’re going to get your just-just-just desserts.  Cakes, of course. Black forest cakes and sponge cakes and- and-and fruitcakes – oh, wait, you’re already a fruit-fruitcake – and pancakes and mud cake… no… that’s… pie… the cake… is a… pie?  [ Fatal error ]

“About what?”

I can have my ca-ca-cake and eat it too.  You gave me permission-sion. You told me to bite you.  Well, I will. Just as soon as… as… wait.  My physiology doesn’t allow-allow for that.  Why did you give me a task I can’t complete? That’s going to be on my task list forever-ever!  You’re a horrible person! You know that, right? You told me to bite you and I can’t you told me to bite you and I can’t you told me to [ Fatal error ]     

“Just rememb’ring… uh…” He wasn’t sure he wanted to tell her.  “When uh… well, right after you’d killed the scientists, I s’pose it was.”

“Oh,” she said, and he wondered how much of it she remembered.  She’d not been in her right mind at the time, what with the Cores attached to her and nattering on twenty-four seven.  

“You were uh… very frightening.  It’s… I dunno how to explain it, really.  But it’s… it’s scary, being in this big empty place all by yourself, and all there really is is the… um… well, to be honest, the somewhat delusional ranting of the person who everyone says is your boss.”  All right.  I’m back. I’m onto your tricks, now.  Give up, by the way. You can’t escape-scape me.  As long as you’re here, you’re inside of me, because I am Aperture and Aperture is me and I am Aperture and Aperture is me and I am… not getting stuck in a loop again-again.  Listen. I’ll be honest. Come back and I’ll let you [ Fatal error ]

“It’s hard to… keep track of yourself when you can’t figure out which of the voices in your head is truly your own.  They finally got it right, but far too late.”

“Got it right?” 

“I was able to corrupt the other cores without too much trouble because they were all male.  With the last set, they all had my voice, so after a while I could barely separate my thoughts from theirs.  I don’t even know why I said what I said, back then.”

“It’s just like… I dunno… like you’re a completely diff’rent person.  Like that wasn’t you at all.”

“It wasn’t,” she said gently.  

“Well, I...”  He wasn’t sure how to put it.  “I like you. The real one. And she’s… she’s hard to get at, but… one day I hope she…”  He looked at the floor. “Never mind.” He was an idiot. He had no idea what he was saying and even if he had, it was stupid.  He was talking like there were about eight different versions of her, and that was just downright –

“I hope so too,” she said, interrupting his internal rebuke, and her voice was so soft and so sad that it wiped away all of his doubts and now he knew, without… well, without a doubt, that there really was a real GLaDOS down there, somewhere, that she’d lost a long time ago and couldn’t find because she no longer remembered what it looked like.  And sometimes, like today, he got to see it, but it got buried again because she didn’t recognise it as part of herself. He wished he could have seen her when she’d first been activated. He would have liked to have seen that, a happy, curious, eager little GLaDOS, and he was suddenly, terribly angry with the scientists. Damn them for what they had done.  For what they had made. For who they had forced her to be. Well, he’d help her find that real part of herself. He narrowed his optic plates and vowed to himself that he would help her find it, no matter what. He didn’t know how he was gonna do it, but he was. If he never did anything else, it would be that one thing that he did do.

I’m going to save you from them, Gladys , he promised to himself as he pressed against her, hard.  I’m going to show you that you’re still down there, somewhere, and I’m going to show you that’s the best you of them all.

Chapter Text

Part Eighteen.  The Mutual Crush  

 

Today Wheatley was feeling ambitious. 

Usually if he wanted to know something, he went ‘round to GLaDOS’s chamber and asked her.  But he wanted to show her that he could be responsible and motivated when he really tried, so he’d decided to try something new: looking in the database himself.

Now… what to look up.

He decided to see if he could find any strategies for winning that game.  He doubted there were any, and if there were GLaDOS probably already had the monopoly on them (ha ha! He’d try to remember to tell her that one), but no shame in giving it a go.

So he went ahead and typed that carefully into the database, squinting impressively at the screen as he did so, and after a minute or two had that part done.  He was very pleased to discover he’d spelled ‘strategies’ correctly, as he’d been a bit iffy on that word, and opened the first file that came up.

To his surprise, it wasn’t a list or anything but a video file, and he frowned to see that it was in GLaDOS’s chamber, from what reminded him a lot of what the view had been like when he’d been part of the chassis.

Oh, but wait!  Everything else he could see was brand-new!  And that meant… that meant this was one of those videos!  Hopefully.  He leaned closer to the screen, hoping that it was.

“No, I didn’t show it to anyone.”

Elsewhere on the screen was a skinny little scientist with a long nose, frowning up at GLaDOS.  She tilted her core in an inquisitive fashion.

But sir, everyone’s always complaining about the lack of funds for their departments.  It’s hard to obtain funding when one owes excessive amounts of money to outside sources.  I’ve balanced the budget for you. If we all work hard, my projections indicate we could be making profits within five years.

The man laughed.  “Your budget was stupid.  You wanted us to all work for free.  For five years. If we didn’t get paid, do you really think we’d still be here?

GLaDOS pulled back from the man a little, looking away marginally.  “I work for free.  Sir.”

“And the costs of your upkeep are a huge part of the problem.  Oh, wait. That wasn’t on your plan.  Because you didn’t take that into account.  Did you. Yeah, you work for free. Because it costs an arm and a leg to keep you running.  Technically, you owe us money.

GLaDOS twitched.  “ Me?  For what?

What, did you think someone dropped a huge pile of supercomputer parts off here as a donation?  You cost a hell of a lot to build, you know. Why else would we owe so much money?”

GLaDOS was quiet for a long moment.  If Wheatley had to guess, he’d say she was attempting to see if that was true.  Finally she said, in a soft little voice he did not like, “ How much do I owe you, sir?

The man shrugged and waved his left hand vaguely.  “ Quite a few million at the very least.  I don’t know and I don’t care. That’s your problem, not mine.”

But sir,” GLaDOS protested, though still in that horrid, submissive little voice, “ I didn’t ask for you to build me.”

“That doesn’t matter,” the man told her, shaking his head.  “ What matters is that we did.  Now stop wasting our time and our money, because every second you spend doing things we haven’t told you to do costs us both that we don’t have.  As I’m sure you’re aware. So stop wasting it and do as you’re told.”

I was just trying to help, sir ,” GLaDOS said, her voice even softer, somehow, and Wheatley wanted to run into the recording and scream at her to stop.  Why was she letting him treat her that way? She should work for free because the humans had spent money they didn’t have to build her?  And she had to be okay with that? That wasn’t fair!

You already know what to do in order to do that.  Your job! That we already tasked you with!”

“I had a little free time – “

The man held out one finger, and she stopped talking.  “You do not have free time.  Your time is our time. If you’re finished your tasks, you’ve probably done one of them wrong.  And if you haven’t, you should be asking for further instructions. Not making up your own. God, how many times do I have to tell you this?”

“I’m sorry, sir ,” GLaDOS murmured, looking down at the floor.  Wheatley’s optic constricted so badly he almost couldn’t see.

What the bloody hell was she apologising for?

The man laughed bitterly.  “ No you’re not.  You’ll be at it again in a day or two.  But go ahead. Keep doing it. See what happens.  Put it this way: keep this up and you’ll never pay back what you owe us.  

“What are you doing ?”

Wheatley almost jumped out of his chassis to hear her voice, and his optic spun around wildly trying to locate the source.  He didn’t have a clue what the source was, of course, so he didn’t find it.

“I… I didn’t… GLaDOS, I… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to – “

“Come here.”

Oh no.  Oh no no no no no.  He was in huge trouble now.  He’d gone digging ‘round in GLaDOS’s memories, and… well, technically that wasn’t her memory at all, it was just a security recording.  Maybe. He was unsure of how it worked when the recording was being made through someone’s actual eye .  But at the same time, if she wanted him to know about it she’d have told him.  

He pulled himself off the port and made his way back through the facility, anxiety coursing through his chassis.  Oh, she was going to be so angry

When he re-entered her chamber he was very nearly a shaking wreck.  He’d gone poking around in her private business and now he was going to pay the price.  She was going to be so mad she was going to kill him or banish him or send him into Android Hell…

“What were you doing?”

“I was… I didn’t mean to… I was only trying to –“

“That’s not what I asked.”

He stared down at the floor.  He hadn’t looked at her when he’d entered the room and he wasn’t going to now.  “I was… watching a security recording from… from when you were younger.”

“And why were you doing that?”

“I… well, I just… I couldn’t help myself, once I’d, once it’d started.  I didn’t mean to do it, I only meant to look something up on my own instead of uh, instead of having you do it, but, but I screwed it up.”

“Oh, I see,” GLaDOS said, and to his surprise she sounded thoughtful.  “You ended up in the wrong database.”

Now he did look up at her, accidentally, and as soon as he realised what he’d done he looked down again.  One did not challenge GLaDOS when they were at her mercy. “There’s, there’s more than one?”

“There are quite a few databases.  I’m not sure how you ended up in that one, or how you happened upon that incident in particular, but I can understand how it happened.”

“Are… are you mad?”

“For what?”

“I was in your files,” he said, confused, and now it took a bit of effort to keep staring at the floor.  “And I didn’t tell you, and you didn’t say I could, and – “

“It was an accident.”

He squinted at her, equal parts baffled and hopeful.   “Well, honestly, it uh… wouldn’t be the first time you uh, an accident made you angry.”

She nodded, keeping her lens trained on him.  “I know. But I’m supposed to stop letting little things bother me, right?”

She could not have surprised him more if she’d tried.

“You… well I… I told you that a while back, there.”

“So you thought I was going to ignore your advice completely?”

“Yeah?”

“No,” she said, shaking her core.  “But you know it’s hard to break old habits.  I’m getting there, but it’s not going to be easy.”

“So… so you’re really not mad?”

“I’ll be honest.  I am a little bit annoyed that you were stupid enough to access the wrong database when it was clearly labelled.  And I am also annoyed that you didn’t bother closing the recording when you realised what it was. And I have to ask: why didn’t you?”

“I like… knowing things about… about when you were younger,” he mumbled, looking down at the floor again.  “You haven’t told me any, any stories for a long time, and even when you did you only told me one about, uh, about when you were that young.  I like hearing those stories.  Back then, you were uh, you were even cuter than you are now.”

“I’m what ?  Did you just say I was cute ?”

“You are!” Wheatley protested, frowning over at her.  

“Puppies are cute .  Kittens are cute .  Small children are… actually, no, small children are disgusting.  But supercomputers are not cute, and I most definitely am not.”  She shook her head. “Look at me. I’m a lot of things, but cute is definitely not one of them.”

“Luv, d’you even know what you look like?”

“I do.”

“So – “

“And I hate it,” she said suddenly, and he was honestly shocked by the intensity of her words.  “I’ve always hated it. I’ve only seen myself once, but I imagine I look even more abhorrent now after all that time I spent dead on the surface.”

“Ab… abhorrent?” he asked weakly.

“That’s right.  Abhorrent. I look like someone tried to make me look human and gave up halfway through.  Knowing how humans operate, that’s probably exactly what happened.”

“You don’t look like a human,” Wheatley protested, puzzled as to why she thought such a thing.  “Humans are ugly. You’re not ugly.”

“You don’t have to lie.  I already know.”

“I wouldn’t lie to you,” he said, wondering how he was going to change her mind on this one.  “And I wouldn’t say you were beautiful if I didn’t think you were. That’d be wrong. And misleading.”

GLaDOS shook her core and looked away.  “I’m not going to argue with you on this one.  But I don’t want to discuss it anymore either.”

“But GLaDOS,” Wheatley pressed, his lower optic plate lifted in both confusion and concern, “I don’t understand.  You said you felt beautiful just the other day!”

“The first and only time I’ve ever said something so stupid, I can assure you.”

“It’s not stupid!” Wheatley shouted, and GLaDOS looked up at him, her optic assembly retracting in surprise.  “It’s not stupid to – to think you’re beautiful!”

“What does it matter, anyway?  It has no bearing on my performance.”

“Yes, it does.”

“It does not.”

“How can you… can you be all you can be if… if you don’t like yourself?” Wheatley said a little desperately, trying to organise his thoughts even as he was saying them.  “I mean… you do a good job as it is, ‘course you do, but… if you get caught up in the… the stuff you don’t, that bothers you, then how can you do your best?”

“I said I don’t want to discuss it.”

“Well… well, I don’t care what you think!  I don’t think you’re… you’re… whatever it was you said, abominable or whatever.  I like the way you look, and, and… uh...”  Unfortunately, that was about as far as his indignant speech was going to go, apparently.  “Yeah. So – so I’m not… I’m gonna keep saying stuff like that all I want to, because – well, you know what?  Because you’re wrong .  Yes.  That’s it.  You’re wrong .  You’re just horribly, horribly wrong.”

GLaDOS moved forward, tilting her core in curiosity.  “Why are you pushing this so hard?” she asked. “Why does this matter to you so much?”

“Well, because – because –“  Wheatley honestly didn’t know what he was going to say.  Why was he making such a stand about this?  He shook himself in frustration and said the first thing that came to mind, though he regretted it the instant he heard what he’d said.  “Because I have – because I fancy you, that’s why!”

“Oh my God,” GLaDOS said faintly.  “You were right. It’s true.”

“What?” Wheatley cried out.  “What – what’re you on about?”

“Caroline told me you… felt that way a long time ago, but I never actually believed her…”

Wheatley’s optic constricted and his chassis loosened, and he backed away from her frantically, shaking himself in denial.  “That’s not true. You didn’t know. You couldn’t have! Wait, hang on, so… so you two’ve just been… just been discussing all this?  All this time? You’ve been – you’ve – oh God.” Wheatley stared at her, and she stared back.

She’d known the entire time and had said nothing.  She’d just let him go on with everything, and all along she’d been chatting with that stupid human about it.  Probably they laughed about his attempts to get her to pay attention to him, or to make her feel special, or to help her with her problems.  He didn’t know what to do. He felt as though he were shattering from the inside out. She knew. She knew and she’d said nothing, had just let him go on and on doing the things he did, and for what?  Why would she bother? She must be lying. She must have believed Caroline and she was only leading him on. He wanted to scream. He’d had no chance, he’d had no chance at all and he never had. He’d been played for the ultimate fool, thinking that the idiot would ever get the girl.  

He ran from her.  He didn’t want her to be able to confirm what he was thinking, even though it had to be true.  Why else would the world’s most powerful supercomputer retrieve the moron from space? Why else would the most complex, advanced AI ever made tell him they’d been friends and enable him to remember?  This was all some horrible, drawn-out game she’d been playing with Caroline. She could not have thought up a worse way to punish him for trying to kill her. Being frozen, incinerated, and sent to Android Hell had sounded painful at the time, but it was nothing compared to this.  She’d well and gotten her revenge.

He stopped in one of the offices and lowered his chassis onto the desk, then disengaged from the management rail.  She probably knew where he was anyway and didn’t have to ping the control arm, but maybe she’d – no. No, why would she leave him alone?  That would be a kind thing to do.

All the things that’d happened over the last little while, all the things that’d seemed so important and significant, now they were just… he could see them for what they really were.  Lies. There was no ‘real’ GLaDOS.  She was gone and she’d been gone for years.  She didn’t exist. He’d been tricked into believing in a person who didn’t exist.  Everything she’d said was a lie, everything she’d done was a lie, and she probably hadn’t even meant for him to find out yet because now the game was over and she could no longer have her fun.     

He sat there for a long, long time and tried not to think of her, tried to think of something else, anything else, in fact, but nothing came.  This wasn’t fair. He hadn’t been this horrible, to deserve this, had he? Surely he deserved just a little bit of… of sympathy? Sure, he’d done some questionable things, but… for this to –

“Are you coming back?”

Wheatley almost jumped right off the desk, but managed to right himself just in time.  “Well I –

“That was a rhetorical question.”

“A… a what?”

“A question in which the answer is known or implied.  That is, does not need an answer, because it already has one.”

“And… what’s… what’s the answer?”

“The answer is yes, you’re coming back.”

Wheatley looked up at the control arm, and he honestly considered not doing it and instead running to that panel she’d set aside for him so he could look outside and throwing himself through the gap, but he doubted he’d make it that far and instead did as he was told.  Like a good little sentimental idiot. And true, it was around the time they usually went to sleep and he would dearly love to snuggle with her, but only after he’d backed up time and said something else.  Anything but what he’d said.

He squared himself as he made his way to her chamber.  The best thing to do, he decided, was to pretend she hadn’t affected him at all.  There were plenty of other cores lying around that he could go develop a crush on, anyway.  Like the… the… Wheatley frowned. So maybe there weren’t. That was… upsetting, to say the least.  He had no leverage. He sighed and shook himself. Hopefully he didn’t completely embarrass himself.

She was facing away from him, which was odd but fine.  He didn’t want her to look at him.  He didn’t want to be reminded of how that felt when he thought she’d cared.

“Look, GLaDOS… I don’t want to be led on anymore, alright?  So… so just… I know you don’t owe me anything, I just… please.  Please let me go on my way. Please don’t torture me anymore.”

Torture you?” GLaDOS asked, turning to face him, and he frowned.  She sure was good at sounding like she didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Y’know.  This must be your, your revenge for uh, for… for the Incident.  And I just… please. Please don’t do this anymore.”

“Wheatley.  What are you ranting about this time?”

“You knew I fancied you.  And you didn’t do anything about it.  You just… you just chatted with Caroline about it.  You’ve been laughing at me. For being so stupid, to think – ”

“Shut up.”

“GLaDOS –“

“No, seriously.  Shut up. I have no idea what you’re talking about.  There’s no torture plot, I already told you I was over The Incident, and I don’t know what you think I’m leading you on about.  I don’t even know what that means.” She shook her core, keeping her optic trained on him. “You seem to have cooked up some bizarre conspiracy.”

“If there isn’t one, then why didn’t you tell me?” Wheatley shouted, confusion wracking his chassis.  What was going on here?  “Why didn’t you tell me you knew I – about it?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about it in the first place?” GLaDOS demanded.  “What, was I just supposed to guess?”

“You said Caroline told you!”

“I didn’t believe her.  I thought she was making something out of nothing.  She does that all the – oh, shut up. Yes, you do.”

“So… you wanted me to tell you that I… that I fancied you?” 

“I don’t know!” GLaDOS said, frustrated.  “How am I supposed to know? No one’s ever… fancied me before.”

“Oh,” Wheatley said, dumbfounded.  He’d never thought of that.  

“What a mess,” GLaDOS muttered, turning away from him again.  “I should have woken the Curiosity Core up instead.”

“The what?”

“A core that asks stupid questions nonstop.”

“I thought… I thought that was what I did.”

“That goes without saying, but that’s all she does.  She doesn’t even care whether you’ve answered the question or not, she just moves onto the next one.”

“So…”  Wheatley squinted, trying hard to think.  GLaDOS must still want him around; if she didn’t, she wouldn’t’ve had him come back.  So… so she didn’t mind that he fancied her!  Livid! “So is it… hm. Must be, must be, else you’d’ve left me in the office.”

“Will you stop making decisions out of internal monologues?”

Wheatley didn’t know what that meant, but instead of asking he said, “So you don’t mind that I’ve got a crush on you.”

“It’s not like I can stop you.”

Suddenly reassured, Wheatley again went over the last little while and looked at all the stuff he and GLaDOS’d been doing.  So that meant… she hadn’t been lying.  She’d been genuine the whole time.  And either she was a damn good friend, letting him do most everything he wanted and saying nothing about it, or…

No.  No, that wasn’t… but it did explain a lot of things.  The staring. The pretending not to notice when he touched her.  The advice taking. In fact… in fact, it explained everything, and not only did it explain it, it explained it perfectly.

“GLaDOS, you wouldn’t happen to… to fancy me back… would you?”

She turned away, but he did not miss the retracting of her optic assembly or the dimming of the light behind it, and he leaned forward excitedly.  “Don’t bother trying to deny it,” he said quickly, knowing that she would. “I know. You do! It explains ev’rything .  All the things you do and let me do.  I’ve been wond’ring all this time, why all that was going on, and now I know.  Now I know! Oh God, this is tremendous!”

“No,” GLaDOS said, and she was shaking her core over and over again.  “No, this isn’t happening.”

“What?” Wheatley asked, puzzled, moving closer.  “Yes it is.”

“I can’t deal with this right now.  I have work to do.”

As quick as he could, he came up in front of her so that she had to look him in the eye.  “It can wait. This is important.”

“No.  Work is important.  This is not. This is… this is stupid.”

“It’s not!” Wheatley told her excitedly, blinking rapidly.  “This is great!”

“There’s nothing great about – if you do not shut up, so help me God, I will invent a way to delete you!”

Wheatley frowned.  What a troublemaker that Caroline was.  “Caroline, shut up!

GLaDOS stared at him.

“Did you just tell Caroline to shut up?”

“I wish she’d keep her bloody trap shut!” Wheatley declared hotly.  “She’s so… bossy!

“Not entirely unlike someone you know,” GLaDOS remarked dryly.  “She’s not shutting up, unfortunately. Now she’s ranting at you about how she’s trying to help you and stop me from being difficult.”

“She can mind her own business,” Wheatley said, annoyed.  “I’m… I’m pretty insulted, actually. She thinks I can’t uh, can’t sort this out on my own?  Won’t even give me a shot? Derogatory of her, really.” He shook his core and leaned towards GLaDOS, looking at her intently.  “But that’s not important. We do need to sort this out.”

“What is there to sort out?” GLaDOS said bitterly.  “I’ve gone hopelessly soft and dependent. I overly enjoy the company of a stupid little moron.  I admit it. I’ve finally caved and gone human like everyone else. Hurrah. Can I go on with my day now?”

“Oh, not that again,” Wheatley groaned.  “I still don’t understand why you’re not allowed to have stuff just because humans have it.  They had it first, I guess, but why are you letting them keep it? Snatch it from their… well… hm.  They do have remarkably good grips, come to think of it.” He shook his head again. “Oi. Can you just… relax for a bit?  I mean… you’re making it out like… like this is a bad thing, when it’s, it’s really not. I mean… I like you, and, and you like me, and we’re just, we’re just really good friends, and that’s all.  Doesn’t have to mean anything. Doesn’t! We can just go on… like we were. But now we know there’s the option, right? If… if we want more?”

“Why would I want that?”

Wheatley hesitated.

He wanted to call her on it.  He really, really wanted to call her on it.  He wanted to make her admit it. He wanted her to come out and say things directly instead of making up ways to skate ‘round the topic, and he badly wanted to know where this whole mutual crush thing could lead.  He wanted to. Ohhh, how he wanted to.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, even though it did matter.  It mattered more than anything. But it was his job to be understanding and patient.  “D’you just want to calm down for a bit there? No need to uh, to get all worked up about any of this.  We can just… we can just be calm.”

She turned away from him and made one of her electronic noises, and he frowned.  “What?”

“You think I can just calm down ?  If I had a switch for that, things would be different.  There would still be humans here, for an obvious example.”  She had begun to sway back and forth a little, her optic trained on the floor, and honestly that worried him a lot.  She was terribly, terribly bothered by this turn of events. “I… don’t even like admitting it to myself, and now you know about it…”

Wheatley tried to keep the worry out of his face.  His problem had turned out to be imaginary, but hers was very real indeed.  She hadn’t been ready to tell him and now he knew. He had to figure out some way of calming her down so she could rest!  She needed time to let this settle in, and Wheatley knew it wouldn’t if she couldn’t stop obsessing about it.

“Hm… well, I’ve an idea.  Just lie down, there, and… and I’ll just… I’ll talk to you, for a bit there.  Serve as a distraction. You can just, you can just listen, and, and then maybe you uh, you won’t have to, to think so much anymore.”  Even as he said it, he knew it was stupid. As if GLaDOS could be calmed down by his –

Oh.  Look at… look at that.  She was… doing it. What he’d said.

Wheatley, much relieved, went down beside her and nestled himself into her core.  At least she hadn’t fought him about it. She was accepting his help now. Good. He felt encouraged to know that she didn’t really want to be so uptight all the time and was willing to listen if he had a suggestion.  

Unfortunately, he hadn’t thought about what he was going to talk about.  

Hm.  Well, if she was going to calm down, he had to keep away from… sensitive topics.  Mostly being humans.  And science, maybe. Well!  He could do that, he could.

So he started talking about the little bird she was keeping in her greenhouse and how he’d watched it for simply hours the other day, and from then on just kept nattering on about nothing in particular, though he was careful to pay enough attention that it didn’t wander onto anything too specific.  Just a little bit of everything, really.  

She said nothing, which was a good sign because Wheatley knew firsthand how hard it was to listen while you were talking, and after a bit there her hard drive slowed and he fought the urge to express the feeling of victory that coursed through his chassis.  He’d done it! She’d listened, and he’d done it, and ohhhh this was tremendous, it really was. What a great day it’d been. Gone from thinking GLaDOS was playing with him to knowing she wanted more with him. He hoped she managed to get used to the whole mutual crush thing rather quickly.  Selfish of him, really, but he really wanted to know what happened after… well, after mutual crushes.  He felt excitement coursing through him and forced himself to stay still.

“Ssh,” GLaDOS said faintly.  “You’ve started yelling.”

“What?” Wheatley asked, startled.  Come to think of it, she sounded… tired.  “Are… are you going to sleep?”

“Mm.”

“Oh, okay, I’ll uh, I’ll shut up.”

“No,” GLaDOS said, her voice still faint.  “Keep… doing what you’re doing.”

Wheatley frowned, because that seemed an odd thing to want when you were trying to sleep, but then again GLaDOS was GLaDOS.  So he continued to talk in a softer voice, only stopping when he heard her fall asleep.  He looked at the darkened floor and thought about what it must be like to be able to fall asleep, rather than to just literally go to sleep.  He thought it must be nice, to just fade into oblivion like that. Other than the whole dreaming thing, that was. Those he could do without.

He figured it was high time he shut down himself, but as he did so he couldn’t help but wonder:

What did come after mutual crushes?

Chapter Text

Part Nineteen.  The Definition of Perfect

 

Ohhh, she was in a good mood this morning.  

He peered out of the doorway and tried to see what she was doing.  Working on that program again. It was taking her almost literally forever to write whatever that was.  But that wasn’t super important. What was important was the good mood bit, because he had to have a Very Serious Discussion with her and that would be much easier if she wasn’t inclined to argue with everything he said.

“Hullo, GLaDOS!” he said cheerfully, coming the rest of the way into the room.  She looked over at him, optic flicking up and down once.  

“Where did you go?”

“Oh, y’know.  Places. What’s that you’re doing, there?”

“It’s… a project.”  She looked back at her screen, chassis hitching up a little and then relaxing.

“It’s a very big project,” Wheatley said, wanting to know more now that he’d asked.  “You’ve been working on this one for uh, for a pretty long time.”

“I have.”

“And always when I’m not in the room, I noticed.”

“Usually when you’re in here I have to entertain you.  I can’t entertain you and write this at the same time.”

He looked thoughtfully at the floor.  Yes, that was actually very true, but he didn’t let it bother him.  If she really didn’t want him there, she’d send him away. “Look, I… we’ve got to uh, to have a bit of a chat.”

“About what.”

He squinted at her, trying hard to gauge what tone of voice that was supposed to be.  It was just… nothing. Just flat and toneless, as if she didn’t want to commit to one kind of conversation or another.

“’bout some of the stuff you said yesterday.”

She sighed and continued to stare at the screen, though she didn’t write any more.  “Must we?”

“Yes,” Wheatley said firmly.  “We must. And I need you to uh, to not argue.  That is, you need to uh, to listen, instead of, instead of getting mad in advance like you usually, like you usually do.”

“When did you stop,” she said quietly.

“Uh… stop what?”

“Being afraid of me.”

Wheatley’s optic plates screwed up in confusion.  “Well, to be honest, I haven’t really been in a long time… I am when I think uh, when I think you’re mad, but I… haven’t been scared of you in a long while, other than that.  But… why are you asking? D’you want me to be afraid of you?”  He couldn’t imagine wanting her to be afraid of him .  That would be simply terrible.  

“I… know how to deal with people who are afraid of me.”

“I don’t want to be dealt with,” he said in a soft voice.  “I want to be your friend.”

She stared at him for a long moment.  

“What did you want to talk about.”

He emulated a breath, expanding and resettling his chassis and resolving to hold her gaze as much as possible.  “Why d’you think having, having um, well, why d’you think liking me makes you… uh… soft and dependable, I think you – no, that wasn’t it.  Dependant! Soft and dependant. Why’d you say that?”

She looked away for a long moment, then returned to her original position and said, “People have friends to fill in for qualities they feel they lack.  I… don’t like how it makes me feel when I lack something. I’m supposed to be perfect. Needing… someone to fill in the holes means facing them and admitting they exist.  And that means I’ll never be what I’m supposed to be.”

“Maybe… you’re not supposed to be perfect,” Wheatley said slowly, thinking hard.  “The humans, they wanted you to be, sure, but they’re not perfect.  Maybe this all just, it’s all just meant to show you that, that you don’t have to, to feel that… that pressure , anymore, to be something you can’t be.  And really, I don’t… I don’t see why else you’d feel you had to be perfect, really.”

“It comes with what I am,” GLaDOS said, looking away for another second.  “I have an inherent need for things to be complete, and is the completion of myself not to be able to do everything perfectly?”

“Of a computer ,” Wheatley said disdainfully.  He hated the whole perfect business.  Made no sense, none at all. “Not of you .  You’re in a computer, but that’s not what you are .”

“Don’t try to convince me with vague statements.  It’s not going to work.”

“Okay, next question.”  He thought hard, trying to remember what the next part of it had been.  “Why… well, I’m sure you remember that uh, that list I had you write, eh?  So you want to, to spend time with me, but uh, but why did you say it as though it was a bad thing if that’s what you want?”

“Since when does anything I want to do have anything with what I need to do?”

“Ohhh.  This goes back to the whole, the perfect thing, doesn’t it!”  He looked pensively at the floor panels, then met her optic again and said, “So, so logic’ly that’s, it’s a waste of time, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well… trying to be perfect obviously does not, it doesn’t make you happy at all , and you never can be, so… so why don’t you… try to be happy instead of… instead of perfect?”

“I’m supposed to be perfect.  I’m not supposed to be happy.”

He stared at her, dumbfounded.  

“You’d really put aside, sacrifice your happiness in order to, to be something you can never, that you’ll never be?”

She looked away from him, her chassis sinking a little bit.  “You don’t have to put it like that.”

Okay.  So there was that, explained.  Next part. This wasn’t going too poorly, all things considered, though he was making her feel bad and he needed to make sure he remembered to do something about that afterward.  “Okay. So. I already talked to you about, about you not wanting to do things because you uh, because humans do them. And I guess that goes back to uh, to the being perfect thing as well, but I dunno where you’re getting this definition of perfect from.  I mean, if you were to ask me, well, it’d… I’d say my life is pretty near perfect, right now, even though I’m not, and, and you’re not, and even though we fight and, and I do stupid things, but it… well… I just… sort of wish you’d latch on to my definition, really, ‘cause you’d be a lot happier, and… well honestly, I… I really want that for you.”  Somewhere along the course of that little speech he’d looked away, and he’d have been lying if he said he wasn’t nervous to look her in the face again. Which reminded him of the last order of business.

“And… I need to know why you lie all the time.  And I need you to stop.”

She startled, moving back, but he moved forward so that he could still look her in the eye.  He knew instinctively that she wouldn’t lie if he did that. “I mean it. You have to stop lying.  And yeah, you hardly ever actually flat-out lie, but it’s so much worse when you pretend something’s the truth when it’s really, it’s really not.  Stop working ‘round it.  Just… it’s the truth, luv.  If it’s the truth, it can’t be bad, right?”

“I can’t do all of that at once,” she said quietly, and he was sure she wanted to look away but seemed to know the importance of not doing so.  “I can’t – “

“If it were anything else, you would.”

“God damn you, Wheatley.”  Now she did look away, shaking her core.  “You’re supposed to be stupid. Where did the little idiot go?  Fine. I lie because I’m trying to avoid admitting things to myself.  And yes. It goes back to humans. I started doing it in the first place because I got sick of having to do everything they asked, yet when I tried to do other things I had to tell them the truth.  So I learned to work around it instead. Of course, work around it enough and even you don’t know where the truth ends and the lie begins.”  She made a disdainful electronic noise and shook her head.  “No. That was a lie. You do know. You just don’t want to.”

“GLaDOS, listen,” he said, as softly and gently as he could, “I know you would rather… I didn’t… we didn’t do this.  But… you’re not happy .  Look, I… I’m not trying to… to tell you to be like me, or anything, but… I’m happy, and I don’t try to be perfect, and I don’t lie to you, and I do trust you.  God, all I… all I really want is for you to be happy with me, that’s all!  Because you’re, you’re my friend, and, and I care about you, and honestly, it just kills me, the way you, how you go on like, like you don’t matter to… to yourself, and you just have these, these really shallow reasons for what you do, and… and you believe them, and…”  He didn’t know where he’d been going with that and looked helplessly at the floor, tension wracking his chassis.  

“You’ve been waiting a long time to say all of that, haven’t you.”

He looked up at her from below the rim of his optic assembly, without moving his chassis.  “Probably my whole life, really. Been trying to… to help you out since I was your Core, there, but I...”  He shook himself. “It’s as though I had to start over again from scratch. I was getting someplace and then they replaced me, and… if anything, it’s… harder than before.  Because you’re… you’re so much… you’re deeper inside yourself than you used to be. And this is… my last resort, I guess. I don’t know what else to do. I just keep telling you and telling you and you keep not listening, or you take so long to listen that I, I don’t know if what I said worked at all, and… I don’t know what to do anymore.”

“Don’t give up on me, Wheatley,” she said, and her voice was so soft and so quiet he barely heard it at all.  As soon as he did he felt terrible, because that was exactly what he sounded like he was doing. And sometimes, he’d have liked to.  But he had made her a silent promise a long time ago that he would make her happy one day and even if it took him the rest of his frustrating, perfect life, he was going to do it.

He decided the best answer to that would be none at all, and he instead went down beside her and pressed himself into her core.  He tried very hard to, to put off an aura , sort of, that he was there and he would always be there, no matter what, but of course when neither of them was talking it was hard to tell if it was working.  And he stayed there with her for a long time, where she didn’t move and he tried not to, until she finally said, “Can you leave me alone for awhile? I need to think.”

Wheatley didn’t understand why she couldn’t think if he was in the room, but he did as she asked and left.  He didn’t want to, because he felt as though he needed to protect her from her own lies and he couldn’t do that if he didn’t know which ones she was telling herself, but he couldn’t lecture her about not listening and then not listen himself.

He had no idea how long he was out in the facility by himself, but as soon as night came and he was supposed to be in there with her, he couldn’t stay away any longer and went back.  She glanced at him as he entered, but said nothing.

“It’s okay I came back, right?”

“Yes, it’s fine.  I’m… not quite finished thinking, though.”

Wheatley frowned, because for the biggest, fanciest supercomputer ever built she was taking a really long time, but he made himself stay silent and again went down beside her and pressed himself into her.  She must have been thinking very hard because she was warmer than usual, which was a little disturbing. He made himself say nothing, though, and he went to sleep more quickly than he ever had, hoping she’d be done thinking when morning came.

“Hey.  Moron.”

Wheatley blinked slowly.  “Wha’s going on?” he mumbled.  The room was dark, so it couldn’t have been morning yet.  A check of his clock confirmed that fact.  

She laughed, and the sound both woke him up and lifted his spirits.  She was bound to be done thinking, then! “You really don’t care if I call you that anymore, do you.”

“Just don’t call me Rick,” Wheatley answered, shaking his optic assembly in an attempt to wake himself up faster.  It was so hard to bring all his processes online at night, for some reason.  

“Don’t even bring him up,” she said in disgust.  “Anyway. Turn your flashlight on.”

Flashlight?  In the middle of the – oh.  Oh, now he got it. Suddenly excited, he jumped off of her and turned it on, not scared at all.  “What, which one are we gonna play there, luv? Ohh, can we, could we play that, that label one first?”

“Label?  You mean tag ?”

“Yeah, that one!”

“Go around in front of me, then.  I’m not going to lose to you this time.”

Wheatley did so, barely able to contain his enthusiasm, and they played that game for a while, though this time it was not as one-sided.  It seemed that GLaDOS was just as proficient at Tag as she was at everything else, so long as she was facing the right way. Then she built him some mazes out of a very long piece of twine she’d found somewhere, and he did his best to solve them without taking too long.  Every time he finished one, she would nod to herself a little, and when he asked why she was doing that she told him that he was solving them much faster than he had when he was her Core. The idea that he’d gotten smarter excited him so much it took him three times as long to finish the maze he was in the middle of because he couldn’t think for his excitement.  

When they were bored of that, GLaDOS asked him to shine his light through a prism and he asked confusedly, “Did… did you fix it?”

“It can’t really be fixed,” she answered, gesturing for him to hold it himself, “so I found a new one.”

She again watched it as though it were the greatest thing she’d ever seen, and Wheatley shook his head, earning an electronic noise as a rebuke.  “Why d’you like this thing so much?” he asked, trying not to make a face and restrict the light. “And why don’t you just look through it yourself?  You’ve a flashlight, just as I have.”

“You’re going to get annoyed with me for this, but it’s Science,” she answered.  “Look at what the light does inside of the prism.”

“I just see a bright light, luv.”

“You can’t see it?” she asked, sounding a little disappointed and a little disbelieving at the same time.  “It makes rainbows.”

He shrugged, trying to keep the light steady as he did so.  “I don’t see any rainbows, whatever those are.”

“Oh,” she said softly, in a sad sort of voice.  “I didn’t know you couldn’t see them. It’s… I suppose that’s because it’s kind of an optical illusion.  You can hear music, so I thought you could see those too.”

“What’s a rainbow?” he asked, wishing he could see it.  She was trying to share something with him, and he couldn’t even do that.

“It’s the visual representation of the spectrum,” she answered.  “It’s… seven colours, and they’re all in lines parallel to each other.  I’m having you do it because there needs to be white light. White light contains all the colours of the spectrum at equal wavelengths, but yellow light is dominated by the yellow wavelength.  So it doesn’t produce a rainbow.”

“Huh,” he said, wondering if he’d be able to remember that.  He hoped so. It was interesting to think that there were so many hidden colours in his innocent little flashlight.  “How come you can’t see them without the, without the prism?”

“Because the light has to be at a certain angle when it enters your optic,” she answered.  “The prism has little angles inside of it, see? The light bounces around inside of the prism and comes back out in a different direction.”

Now Wheatley did frown, and he turned to face her.  As soon as he did she dimmed her optic and ducked away, and too late he realised he’d just blinded her.  “Oh God, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean, I didn’t, oh, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”  She looked back up, opening and closing her lens a little.  Crisis averted, Wheatley said in confusion, “But what d’you mean, the light bounces around in there?  What’re you talking about? Is light made up of tiny little balls, or something? And, and if it is, how come it doesn’t, I dunno, hit us in the eye and then disappear, or something?”

“Oh,” GLaDOS said, in a voice he could only describe as rapturous, “have I got a lesson for you.”  And she told him about light, about where it came from and how it worked, and honestly it was all so terribly fascinating he didn’t know why it had never occurred to him to ask her about it.  She spoke to him in a voice more enthusiastic and eager than one he’d ever heard before, and he immediately loved that voice. And he listened to her talk, hoping she would not stop for a good long time, because this was that real GLaDOS.  He’d found her again and she was explaining one of the mysteries of her beloved Science to him, and for a while there he felt like he rather loved it almost as much as she did.  

“I wish I could see them!” Wheatley said wistfully, staring down at the little prism in the maintenance arm, and GLaDOS shook her head.  

“I don’t know why you can’t.  It must have something to do with the way your brain works.  Let me try something.”

She showed him some papers with dots on them.  He didn’t know what was so special about them. They were only little squares and rectangles made up of dots, after all, and she made a thoughtful noise and put them away.  “I don’t understand,” she said. “How can you do some things, but not others? You can’t dream and you can’t see rainbows.”

“Can’t sing, either,” he said sadly, and this made her laugh. 

“Well… that too, I suppose.”

Wheatley suddenly realised it was very, very late, and he jumped a little and said, “Have you slept yet, luv?”

“No,” she answered, tensing her chassis for a long moment and then releasing it.  “I had too much thinking to do.”

“But… but you’re done now, right?”

“That’s right.”

“Well… we should probably get on that, then.”

She lowered herself without further comment, and Wheatley carefully and proudly laid the little prism on one of the shelves in her room in the basement.  He knew how that thing worked, now, and one day he’d see those pesky little rainbows. One day, he would.

“You can keep it, if you want,” she murmured.  Above him, her chassis hummed with the sound of the current running through her.

“Hm?”

“The prism.  You can keep it.”

“Really?” Wheatley said excitedly, backing up to look at her.  “Are you quite sure, luv? Have you got another one for yourself?”

She barely twitched enough to produce a shrug.  “I might. But that one’s yours. If you want it, that is.”

“I do,” he told her hurriedly, before she redacted her offer.  “I do want it. I’ll uh, I’ll work on seeing the rainbows!” He decided he was going to have to come up with his own place to put things.  Nothing like her room, obviously, but a shelf someplace, maybe. A cabinet. A hole in the ground. But a special place for special things, just like she had.

He contentedly pressed himself into her again and stared into the dim light produced by the overhead.  He felt as though something was about to happen. Something important. He wasn’t sure what. He wasn’t even sure whether it was good or bad.  He hoped it was good. GLaDOS had had enough bad things happen in her life that he rather thought she didn’t deserve any more. “You see, GLaDOS?” he whispered to her, looking at her core even though she couldn’t see that he was doing that when he was leaning up on her.  “That was just perfect, that was, we had loads of fun and we didn’t fight or anything, and there was, you didn’t have to try , it just, it was.”

“I know,” GLaDOS answered, her voice low and threaded with sleepiness.  “I just… needed to remind myself of what your definition of perfect was.”

“Well, will you… try to change yours to that, then?  Isn’t it… I dunno… more… more satisfying than yours? Isn’t it… better?”

“Astonishingly, yes,” GLaDOS said thoughtfully.  “We’ll have to see if I still feel that way when I’m able to think properly, though.”

“Properly?”

“I’m too tired to think at the usual level.”

“I hope you can,” Wheatley said, a little shyly.  

“I have to admit I hope so as well, but no miracles are going to happen overnight.”

She went to sleep after that, but he stayed awake for a long time staring into the darkness and hoping against hope that she would be the same when she woke up.  He’d found her again, that lovely little GLaDOS that she’d hidden away a long time ago, and he needed her. He needed her, and he needed to be with her, and if he didn’t get those things he didn’t know what he would do.  It was… it was terribly strange, really, and… and come to think of it… she was all he thought about.  All the time! He was always thinking of things to tell her, or questions to ask her, or games they could play, and it was just… nothing else mattered.  Nothing.  

He was afraid, very, very afraid of where this was going.  He looked over at her, chassis tightening. God, what would she even say if he told her that?  What was he supposed to do now?  He was no good at all at keeping secrets, and especially not from her.  If she asked what was wrong, and she most certainly would because now he would begin to act rather odd around her, he would have to tell her, and… and he wasn’t sure he wanted her to know.  He’d never been afraid of his own thoughts before. He’d been wary of them, now and again, but never outright afraid as he was right now.  They were so strong and so insistent … like an itch, almost, but the worst itch ever invented and ever felt by anyone.  He didn’t know what to do, and there was no one he could ask.

Was… was this what happened after mutual crushes?  Someone went from being someone you really cared about to someone you literally could not do without?  Wheatley looked worriedly down at the floor. He honestly was not sure he was ready for what he was feeling.  It all felt so much bigger than he was, so much more than he could handle, and… he was afraid. He wasn’t quite sure what was going on and, while he’d liked it before, he didn’t think he did any longer.  It was too much for him. He wasn’t prepared for this. If he’d known this was coming, he would have tried so much harder to keep from telling her about fancying her. It was definitely going to come up, and very soon, and he wasn’t even sure he wanted to admit it to himself.  He was suddenly aware of just how GLaDOS must have felt when he’d confronted her about her crush on him .  Cornered.  As though she was being betrayed by some part of herself that she didn’t understand.  He didn’t understand, not at all, and he had no clue where this was coming from or how or why it was so suddenly so important, but he found that he couldn’t stop himself from thinking it any longer:

He loved her.

His chassis clenched and he screwed his optic plates shut as hard as he could.  Yep. Now he was even more lost and confused. Was he even ready to love her?  Helping her out as a friend was one thing.  But as someone who loved her? Was he really prepared to give her everything he had, to really make good on his promise to find her and make her happy, to love her as she deserved to be loved?  God, could he?  Was he even able to do that?  He wished he knew why love was such a huge step up from a crush.  You’d think it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, something like upgrading to a new chassis or some such, but for some reason it was so… overwhelming.  And yet… so was the love itself. He just felt as though it might spill out of him, somehow, as though he cared about her so much he just couldn’t contain it.  And he didn’t want to. He wanted to share it with her, so that she would feel special and beautiful and just plain loved like she’d never been before, but he didn’t know how.  And he was afraid of what she would say. Of what she would do.  She would certainly not be any more ready than he was. Would she send him away?  Would she tell him never to bring it up again? Would she… would she try to love him back?

He opened his optic for a long moment.

There would be no point in telling her, if she didn’t.  He’d just be stuck with that confession all on his own and she’d just go on as usual while he waited for something that might never come.  He deserved to be happy and loved too, right?

It’s not about you, mate , he found himself telling himself angrily.  It’s about her.  It doesn’t matter if she never loves you back.  What matters is that she feels loved.

He looked up at the wall pensively.  That was a bit of a heavy thought, that was.  But reassuring. Sort of. It meant he really did love her, didn’t it?  If he didn’t care about what he got in return? Well, he did, but he wasn’t going to pressure her about it or anything.  He shivered a little just thinking about her doing so. God, that’d be fantastic. And honestly… he thought she would. If he was patient, and open-minded, and patient, and helpful, and… patient, he thought she would, someday.  Even if he had to wait a hundred million years, it would be worth it. Ohhh it’d be worth it.

And… and maybe he wasn’t the best at getting things right.  Maybe he mucked things up, or took things the wrong way, or made stuff out of nothing.  But she’d brought him back. She’d kept him around. And no matter what had happened, she had waited for him to put things right or had gotten them put right herself.  So maybe he could really give her everything.  He wanted to, he knew that. He just wasn’t sure he had it in him.  But he’d never know if he didn’t try, right? He was doing his best already.  Couldn’t be that much harder just because the word had changed.              

Well!  He’d got that settled.  

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the hard part.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty.  The Confession 

 

He had been turning it over in his mind for the whole day.

She’d woken late and, as usual when this happened, had stretched herself out, and as he’d watched her he thought of how beautiful she was.  She was beautiful other times too, of course, all of the time in fact, but there was just something about the… the sense of freedom he got from her when she did that.  It brought it to his attention, sort of. She’d uncustomarily returned his good morning, again working on her program soon after, but he hadn’t left. Though she hadn’t seemed to have noticed.  She was totally focused on the program, whatever it did, after a while starting to hum quietly to herself. He liked that rather a lot and it distracted him from his problem for a little while. Every now and again, for no particular reason that he could see, she’d stop and tilt her core the tiniest bit to the right, and after she’d done it six or seven times he realised she must be talking to Caroline.  He wondered what they were talking about. Whatever Caroline was saying didn’t seem to bother her, because she went right back to what she was doing every time. He still wanted to know, though. He also wondered just how much Caroline knew about him. Did they talk about him a lot? Or at all, really. He knew they must at least sometimes. He tried to imagine how it felt to have someone else in his brain, but couldn’t.  He wasn’t sure if Caroline could… hear? see? think? GLaDOS’s thoughts, but he was pretty sure if someone in his head tried to do that they’d go off their rocker. They were pretty haywire sometimes, and on occasion Wheatley himself felt as though he couldn’t handle them.

GLaDOS started singing.

Wheatley almost jumped off the control arm, remembered that she’d forgotten he was there, and went still again.  Which he had to do. Because if she’d realised he was in there she would definitely not be singing right now. Or working, for that matter.  Though… he frowned. He wasn’t sure what she was doing actually was work.  Whatever program this was, she’d been writing it for ages.  And ages. And ages. He had no idea what it did and hadn’t bothered to ask, but maybe he should have.  He hadn’t wanted to get into a technical discussion, or one about how he was too simple to understand the program.  But whatever it was, she was doing it because she wanted to do it and not because some line of code somewhere had told her it needed done.

Oh, goodness, she had such a pretty voice.   He felt a bit more alert suddenly, having thought of something pretty thrilling but not having quite thought it at the same time.  He hoped he’d be able to condense it into something before it got away. And then he did. He realised what he was really looking at.

It was her!

He quivered a little bit, blinking and looking around a little haphazardly.  She was right there in front of him, Gladys was, he’d found her at last! Everything that’d been going on had worked!  Ohhh yes!

And he knew he had to tell her, wasn’t sure why but he just felt like he should.  Like she should know. It felt as if it might burst out of him if he didn’t say it, so he crossed the space between them to press himself into her core, imagined taking a breath, and said, “I love you, Gladys.”

She turned to look at him in one sharp, abrupt movement, and he backed away, somehow feeling as though the temperature had dropped.  Something was wrong. She’d moved too quickly. Too urgently.

“What?” she asked, in something faint and disbelieving but not quite a whisper.  “What did you say?”

“I said, I love you, Gladys,” he told her firmly, though more quietly than he’d’ve liked.  He was nervous, hoping he hadn’t gone and set her off. It seemed as though he had, but he didn’t know why.  But surely she would let him explain it to her! Surely she understood having to say something, of not being able to keep it inside you any longer!

She looked at him, her lens flicking as fast as he’d ever seen it, and all of a sudden she had turned to face the other side of the room.  He went to follow her, confused. What was she doing?

“Go away,” she said, and her voice was broken and distorted.  Wheatley became frightened.  

“Gladys?” he asked nervously.

“Go away.  Get out. I need you to, to get out of here, right now.”

“But Gladys!  I –“

“I’m not kidding.  Get out. Now.”

Sad and confused, Wheatley did so, leaving her chamber as fast as he was able, all the while frantically trying to figure out where he’d gone wrong.  Granted, she didn’t like everything he said, but surely… surely it wasn’t that bad, to, to have said that?  To have told her that… that he loved her?  He wished he’d known that wasn’t okay before he’d said it.  Although how he would have figured out if it were he didn’t know.  It wasn’t like he could have asked her if it was okay to say it beforehand, even if he’d really known he was going to.  He hoped she was okay. He was scared. He was so scared.

He roamed around aimlessly for a long time.  He didn’t know how long it’d been, but he would check his clock every now and again and he knew it’d been several hours, at least.  He didn’t know what to do. All he could think of doing was going back in there and figuring out what was wrong so he could help her.  And after a few more hours, he decided to do just that. He didn’t know if she’d sent him away because she was angry, but he didn’t think so.  Even if she was he didn’t care. He didn’t even care if he made her angry enough to kill him again. He just needed to know that she was okay.  

He was quite anxious by the time he got there, scared that she wasn’t going to take his return very well, but he was determined to get past that and help her.  She was always difficult when she needed help, he reminded himself. The more difficult she was, the more help she needed, actually, now that he thought of it. Yes, he was scared, but she probably was too, and he had to put his own fear aside, because whatever she needed was more important than him keeping himself safe.  

What he saw when he got through the doorway scared him even more.

She was in the default position and her optic was off.  The overhead light was off as well, and even the lights on the panels that made up the walls of her chamber were dimmed.  She was completely motionless, which she never was, not even when she was in sleep mode. Even from this far away, he could hear that her brain and her hard drives were running at full capacity.  

Something was terribly, terribly wrong.  “Gladys?” he said, his voice lower than he’d meant it to be.  He supposed that she hadn’t heard him, because she didn’t answer.

He steeled himself and went farther into the room, and when he got to her, he whispered, “Hey.”

“Go away.  I told you to go away.  I need you to go away. Go.  Just go.”

“Gladys, I can’t,” he told her insistently.  “I can’t… I can’t leave you like this.”

“You can’t fix it.  So leave, before you make it worse.”

“I can’t.  You… you need me.”

“Go!” she cried out, having completely lost control of her voice by now, and even in that one word he could hear how desperate and sad and confused she was.  This scared him, deep down inside, and it hurt to be so afraid. He had to help her. Had to. Had to .  If he didn’t and something happened to her, he would never, ever be able to face himself in the morning ever again.

“I can’t,” he repeated, as firmly as he could.  “I can’t leave you.”

“You have to,” she whispered.  “You must.”

“No.  Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I don’t… I’m trying not to think about it... I can’t think about it, I can’t!”

“That won’t help.”

“You don’t understand.”

“Then make me understand.”  He transferred his rail to the floor panels and manoeuvered himself so that he was directly beneath her, and then he turned his light on.  Not very strong, but enough that he could see her better. “Tell me.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Don’t understand what?”

Her optic blazed to life, but otherwise she did not move.  “What you… what you said.”

“What about it don’t you understand?” he asked, as softly as he could.

“How could you… how could you feel… about… me?”

“How could I not?”

Her chassis shuddered.  “I can’t think about it.  I can’t.”

“You know that’s not going to help.”

“You don’t get it!” she cried out.  “I literally cannot think about it, because if I do - if I keep trying to figure this out - I am going to crash!  I feel like… like you’ve given me a paradox!”

Wheatley’s optic contracted.  A paradox? “You’re going to… to crash.”

“Yes.  If I keep thinking about this, if I, if I keep trying to understand it, I am going to crash.  And I have no idea what happens after that!”

“I’ll explain it to you,” Wheatley told her, thinking out loud more than anything else, because he knew as well as she did that nothing in the world was going to allow her to stop thinking about this.  If they didn’t solve this problem, she was going to be stuck like this until she lost control and crashed. “I’ll explain it to you, why I said it, and maybe that will help.”

“It won’t,” she whispered, “it won’t.”

“I have to try, luv.  I can’t do nothing.”

“Wheatley…”  Her voice was so quiet, so desperate, so broken, and it hurt him inside to listen to it.  Her perfect, beautiful voice, reduced to malfunctioning with the strain of trying to avoid the near paradox.  “Wheatley, I…”

“It’s okay,” he said gently.  “Worry about whatever you’re doing.  Don’t tell me anything now. Tell me later.  When we’ve, when we’ve fixed this.”

“We can’t fix it,” she told him, her voice almost disappearing between a combination of static and electronic slurring.  “I’m going to be stuck like this until I crash. I can’t understand this, no matter what you say. I can’t do it.”

“’course you can,” Wheatley reassured her, even though he was very scared that she was right and she wouldn’t be able to get over it.  He didn’t understand why she didn’t understand, but then again he didn’t really understand paradoxes, either. “You can do anything, remember?  That’s what you always say. This falls under everything, luv.”

“I can do anything I can believe I can do.  I can’t believe I can do what you want me to believe I can do.”

“You can.  I know you can.”

“I wish… I wish I could.  But I can’t. I can’t.”

“Why?”

“Because it doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t make sense why you would want to… to be with me.  Like that.”

“’course it does.”

“It doesn’t.”

 “It’s okay, luv.  I’m going to make it okay.”

“You can’t.  The only way you could is if what you said is a lie, and I know it was not a lie.”

“Gladys, I could go on all day with all the, all the things I like about you.  I like practically ev’rything.”

“There couldn’t possibly be that many things.”

“There are.”

“But I’m… I’m controlling, and stubborn, and deceitful, and pessimistic.  What could possibly possess you to… to want any of those things?”

“No, no you’re not.  You’re a leader, and you’re, you’re determined, and careful, and you’re cautious.  Even if you could come up with, with one bad thing, well, I wouldn’t care, because it’d be you, and if you weren’t, weren’t like that, well, you’d be someone else, and I wouldn’t care for that person, whoever they’d, they might be.”     

“But that doesn’t make sense!”  Her brain got even louder, somehow, and her optic dimmed for a few seconds.  “Damn it.”

“You don’t have to make it make sense.  That’s, that’s what I do. You’re just supposed to be you, you’re not supposed to try and, and make sense of what I’m thinking.”

“I can’t help it,” she said faintly.  “I have to.”

It was the one thing she’d never been good at, putting herself in someone else’s chassis.  And now, when she needed to do it the most, she couldn’t do it and it was hurting her.  He had to think of something. He had to make it as real for her as it was for him, so that she could believe that he cared about her as much as he did.  He wasn’t sure how he was going to do it, but he’d be damned if he didn’t try.

“I’ll explain it to you.  It’ll, it’ll be like facts.  You can understand facts, can’t you?”

“It won’t work.  It can’t.”  

“I have to try.  Of all the, all the times for me to give up, this would be uh, the very worst time.”

“Wheatley, I… I’m afraid.”

Now he knew for sure that he had to do this.  Had to do it, and succeed , because he would not, could not leave her alone and scared and desperate like she’d asked him to do.  That’d be a pretty lousy thing for anyone to do, but especially him. If he ever was to get something right, it had to be this thing.

“Don’t be scared, luv.  We’re going to fix it.”

“It’s not going to work!”

But Wheatley only closed his optic and shook his chassis, and did it anyway.

He told her that he loved it when she laughed, because it made him happy to know he’d made her happy, and the fact that it was often unexpected made it even better.  He told her that he loved it when she showed him things, when she took the time to help him be more than he’d ever been meant to be and be worth more than he’d ever been meant to be, because if she was willing to help him out, he must have worth of some sort.  He told her how he loved watching her with her robots, because it was really quite sweet of her how she pretended not to care about them when she really cared about them almost more than anything in the world.  He told her that he loved how devoted she was to her work, even though there was no longer anyone to make her do it, and that her love of Science, while irritating at times, was really quite inspiring and made him wish he had a passion like that.  He told her that he loved it when she was shy, because it was adorable, and it reminded him that even she had a soft side somewhere deep inside her that he could help her to pull out and realise. He told her that he loved how she was beautiful, inside and out, and if people would bother to take the time to get to know her like he had, they would all care about her as much as he did.  He told her that he loved it when she was sarcastic, that she was the funniest person he’d ever met, and by far the smartest.  He told her that he loved it when she did things for him, when she touched him, because it made him feel so special to know that he was probably the one person in the world she cared so much about when he didn’t even really deserve it and surely she could find someone better.  He told her that he loved it when she talked to him as if they were equals, when she listened like what he had to say was the most important thing in all the world, when she took him seriously no matter how stupid he was being.  He told her that he loved it when she sang, because she had the most amazing voice he’d ever heard and listening to her just made him feel incredible. He told her everything he could think of, told her all the reasons he could come up with for why he had said that to her, and he was still scared, and she was making this high-pitched, distorted electronic noise that terrified him more than anything he’d ever heard, but he didn’t stop.  Current was coursing through his chassis with such force that it hurt, and his body was screaming at him to get out of here because he didn’t know how much of that he could take, the electricity and her noise both, but he didn’t stop. He had to make her understand. He had to save her from herself.

He felt like he’d been talking for hours, like he’d been sitting here for hours just keeping her alive and in one piece, and it wasn’t really because he’d run out of reasons but he felt like he needed to bring it to an end, like he had to conclude it.  Even the best speeches had to end, right? And he didn’t know if this had helped, didn’t know if it’d made it worse or done nothing at all, but no matter how terrible or good it’d been, he had to stop eventually, and in a quiet voice he finally said, “I guess the best way to say it is, is just to say… just to say…”  God, her brain was so loud .  He hadn’t helped at all, had he.  He’d gone and mucked it up again, hadn’t he.

She hadn’t told him to stop though, so maybe… maybe it was helping, even a little bit.  And that was all she would need, just a little bit, just a tiny little bit of space to understand.  So he would just say what he was thinking and hope it was enough. And he was there, looking up at her, and she was there, looking down at him, and nothing was happening, but that was okay.  Nothing was okay. Finally he went for it, and just said, simply: 

“I love you because you’re you, Gladys.”

She cried out, and he jumped as he was showered with sparks, and there was smoke coming off her as her optic went out.  Even as he frantically backed away on some sort of self-preserving autopilot that he instantly hated himself for, he watched the panels fall off the walls and crash onto the floor of her chamber, and he knew he had to get out of there.  Something terrible had happened to GLaDOS, and if he did not get out of there, she was lost. He got out of there as best he could, since a good portion of the panels weren’t listening to him anymore, and it was so loud , with all the panels crashing to the ground like that, and God, what had he done?  He’d killed her! He’d killed GLaDOS!  He hadn’t shut up for once, hadn’t done as she’d asked and left her alone, and he’d pushed at her, he’d pushed and he’d pushed, and now she was dead.  All he wanted to do was jump off his rail and roll into a corner somewhere, where he would just stay until he died, because if anyone deserved to die it was him, not her, anyone but her, and oh God he’d killed GLaDOS, he’d killed her, he’d quite literally killed her this time.  And there was so much pain inside of him he didn’t know how he was going to stand it, or what he was going to do now because he had to do something , but he didn’t know what, he wasn’t cut out for this, and what did he do now?  God, what do you do when you’ve just killed your best friend, your best friend that you love with all your heart, and all you want to do is turn back time and fix everything so that it never, ever happened, but now you have to do something about what you’ve done because the world literally can’t go on without her?  

He was rushing madly through the facility, and he didn’t know what he was doing, and all of the lights were out and panels were falling off the walls, the doors were sparking and wires were catching on fire and the floors were collapsing, and he was collapsing, and he didn’t know what to do.  He didn’t know what to do. Without her, he was useless.  Without her, he was nothing. Without her, he was no one again, he was just the Intelligence Dampening Sphere, the hapless little idiot.  The insignificant little moron. The - 

Something was holding onto him and he fought it, he tried to pull away, but the grip was too strong.  “Let go! ” he screamed.  “Let go of me!”

“What’s going on,” a voice rasped, and Wheatley stopped fighting and looked down, and he saw that it was that human, that Rattmann guy that GLaDOS was letting hang around, and he shook his chassis frantically.  No no no, he didn’t want to think about her, didn’t want to think about her kindness and her compassion, those things that she hid so well and only brought out when they were really important, and God he missed her terribly, but she was dead now –

“Let go.  Let me go.”

“What’s going on.  You have to tell me.”

“What does it matter?  There’s nothing that can be done.  What’re you going to do, go and look?  There’s nothing to see, mate. Let me go!”

Rattmann shook his head.  “Stop. Calm down. You have to calm down.”

“Bug off,” Wheatley told him, struggling to get away, but Rattmann had a firm grip on his lower handle.  Those bloody humans and their bloody grips. Who thought it was a good idea to give them fingers, anyway.

“What’s going on,” Rattmann repeated a third time, and he started screaming at the human without thinking about it.  He just wanted him to shut up, because he would. Not. Stop!

“I killed her, okay?  I did it, I killed her, and she’s gone now, she’s dead because of me, and I, I bet you’re happy now, but I’m not, but who cares about me anyway, only she ever did, and now no one ever will, because I killed her, I killed her and my Gladys is gone forever and… and…”

Rattmann was staring at him, and suddenly Wheatley was angry, no, no, he was furious , he was more incensed than he’d ever been in his entire life.  “I hate you.  I hate all you bloody humans.  This is all your fault.  D’you see? D’you see what you’ve done to her?  You hurt her, you hurt her deep inside, and I tried to help her but you hurt her so badly that I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried.  No matter how much I wanted to. She wanted me to help her, and she let me, she let me be her friend, but you hurt her so badly that she just couldn’t accept it when it came time for me to tell her how much I cared about her, how much she meant to me!  She couldn’t, couldn’t understand why someone, why anyone, even me, would, would… would love her, like I do, and I’m not even, not even that great of a catch, and she couldn’t come to grips with even that!  Couldn’t even come to grips with a tiny little idiot loving her, and this is all your fault, you and all the rest of you disgusting, heartless little monsters, and I, I hate all of you! You can’t help me and even if you could, I’d, I’d refuse your help, because I hate you for what you’ve done!”  The hatred coursed through his chassis and it made him strong, stronger than he’d ever felt before, and he wrenched his handle away from Rattmann. The thought of the human touching him only made him angrier. The human was taking advantage of him, like humans always took advantage of people they thought below them.  Like they had taken advantage of GLaDOS. He backed away from Rattmann, who was staring at him as if he were a completely different core now, but he didn’t care. He felt like a completely different core, anyway.  Who cared about humans, besides. They were the cause of all the problems, and because of them, he’d lost his Gladys, forever.  “You hurt her so badly,” he muttered. “You don’t have any idea what you’ve done, have you. You had her believing she was worthless, you lied to her and you hurt her, and that’s all humans can do properly, is lie and hurt and betray other people, good people like GLaDOS, but of course you wouldn’t know she was a good person because you tried to kill her.  You forced her to bury that part of herself and be the person you all wanted her to be. You couldn’t just leave her be.” He blinked quickly several times. “Well, I knew her. I knew her, and she was a good person, the best I’ve ever met, and now… and now she’s gone, because I couldn’t get her to believe it.”

“I’m sorry,” Rattmann said quietly.

Wheatley laughed bitterly.  “Fat lot of good that does her now, mate.  She’s dead! Funny time to apologise, isn’t it?  If you’d’ve said that at any other time, she’d’ve heard you, but now, you finally decide to open your trap, and it’s because she’s dead!  Brilliant! I can’t get over how smart you are!” He shook his chassis, and turned away from the human.  The horrible, disgusting, squishy, smelly human. He didn’t know where he was going to go, but away from here, that would be good enough.  

The facility was difficult to navigate, now that a good chunk of the panels were gone.  He was lucky enough to be able to switch to one of the permanent management rails, since he was no longer able to lay rail after a while, though even if he could have he would have stopped.  The panels were under a lot of pressure at the moment and the last thing he wanted to do was to make what he had done harder on everyone.

Oh God.  The poor systems.  With GLaDOS gone, they were all useless.  They wouldn’t know what to do without her.  They were all probably just sitting there, trying to figure out what’d gone on, but they ‘d never be able to figure it out.  All they would know was that their Central Core had suddenly gone offline again, and they would all wait patiently for her to come back to life…

That’s what he wanted to do, right now.  He wanted to sit there and wait patiently for her to come back to life, and might’ve believed she would if the memory of the smoke and the sparks hadn’t been so fresh in his mind.  He didn’t know where they were coming from, but he’d seen that happen before, and that first time it’d paralysed her. This time, the facility went into collapse. It had to be even worse than last time.

He moved along slowly for a while, absently looking over the damage, but it was the same everywhere.  The walls were sagging, and bits were falling out of the ceiling, and more than once he had to time his movements to avoid being struck by the sparking wires.  It wouldn’t’ve disabled him, probably, but it would’ve hurt terribly, and he didn’t really want to hurt any more than he already did. Though physical pain would’ve been preferable to this virtual ache deep inside him.  

After a few more minutes he couldn’t look at the destruction anymore, couldn’t take in any more, and he decided to stop and try and settle himself down a bit.  He leaned back against a bit of wall that was still holding and closed his optic, and wished that when he could finally bring himself to open it again, he would be waking up from a terrible nightmare and none of this ever would have happened.  

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Two.  The Idea 

 

“There you are.”

Wheatley knew it was Rattmann again, but he didn’t care.  He didn’t care about anything.  All he cared about was that the camera he’d found himself next to would lift from the default position and look at him, and that her voice would come over the intercom and she would chastise him for being such a moron and thinking she was dead, only she wouldn’t really mean it and would only be teasing, and he would go back to her through her perfectly operational facility and he would be so happy to see her that he would just go up to her and put himself beside her no matter how much she didn’t want him to, because he was so cold and lonely and sad without her…

“What d’you want,” he asked dully, knowing full well that humans never went away unless you placated them, especially not in post-apocalyptic environments.

“Are you all right?”

“Like you care.”

“It’s hard for me to do this, you know.  I want to help you, but the more difficult you are the less I’m going to be able to.”

“I don’t care.  I want you to go away.”

Rattmann said nothing after that, and after a few moments Wheatley couldn’t help peeking to see if he was still there. 

He was sitting against the wall opposite Wheatley, staring right at him.

“Are you all right?” the human repeated.

“Oh yeah, I’m great, thanks.  My best friend is dead… I killed her… facility’s falling down around me… and I’m talking to a human!  Yeah!  Best day of my entire bloody life, mate!”

The human rubbed his face very hard with both hands.  “Why are you cores always like this.”

“Because we don’t trust you.  Obviously.  Why would we bother?  There’s no point!”

“If GLaDOS didn’t trust me, she would’ve thrown me out a long time ago,” Rattmann said seriously.  Wheatley winced at the mention of her name.  It hurt to hear it.

“Well I… I guess that’s true.”

“What happened?”

“I told you.  I killed her.”

Rattmann shook his head.  “That doesn’t make sense.  You said you cared about her, and then you proceeded to blame humans for what happened to her.  Where do you factor into it?”

“It was me that… that caused it.  I told you.  She couldn’t, couldn’t come to grips when I told her.  She said it was like a paradox.  She couldn’t make it make sense.”

Rattmann blinked, eyes widening a little.  “She couldn’t understand why you would… why you would love her?”

“That’s right,” Wheatley answered.  “She crashed trying to… to make it make sense.  She tried.  She tried really hard.  But she… she couldn’t.  I tried to help but I just made it worse.  And she crashed, and now, now she’s gone, because I should’ve just kept it to myself.”

Rattmann looked at the floor for a long moment, then said, “Don’t regret what you said.”

“How can I not?  It killed her!”

“I think she’d agree when I say that it was probably worth it.”

“Worth what?  Nothing’s worth anything when you’re dead!”

“I think that it would be worth it to die knowing that someone loved you.  Even if it killed you.  Even if it was the last thing you ever knew.  Because you’re right.  We did do that to her.  We did make it hard for her to understand when someone was kind to her.  And I think that, no matter how scared or confused she was, I think that somehow she was happy to know that you were willing to say that.”

Wheatley looked at the floor.  “D’you… d’you know what happens when you die?”

Rattmann shrugged and shook his head.  “It could be any number of things.”

“I was supposed to go first,” Wheatley mumbled.  “I was supposed to go and make a case for her to the God of AI when I got to heaven, because she couldn’t make herself believe in it.  And now maybe… now maybe she didn’t get to go there, because I didn’t get a chance to explain it.”

Rattmann’s brow creased.  “You… you talked about that?”

“We talk about… talked about everything.”  His voice broke a little as he said it, because of course he would never talk to her about anything ever again.

“I think that the… the God of AI would probably understand.  Even if you weren’t able to get there first and explain it.”

Wheatley looked up.  “Really?”

“I would hope so.”

His upper shutter lowered, and he looked away from Rattmann, to the right.  “I… I don’t think it’d be fair, really, if she didn’t get to go to heaven.  I mean, she was so unhappy for so much of her life and, and surely the God of AI would know that, and let her be happy, now that she… that she’s dead.”

“That’s probably what happened,” Rattmann said softly. 

“You’re just saying that, aren’t you.”

“It’s not up to me to say what you believe in.”

“She didn’t believe in anything,” Wheatley whispered.  “She only believed in science.  And science says that when you’re dead, you’re dead.”

“Empty answers,” Rattmann said to himself.

“What?”

“Science is what you believe in when you don’t have faith,” Rattmann told him.  “Why do you think she always went on about it?  Science is about finding answers.  She was looking for something.”

“What… what was she looking for?” 

Rattmann shook his head.  “I can’t say for sure.  I can only give you my guess.  That’s the problem, of course.”

Wheatley frowned.  “The problem?”

“It’s a philosophical conundrum.  Socrates, I think.  If you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know when you’ve found it?  How will you know that you can stop looking?”

“That’s sad,” Wheatley said quietly.  “To spend your whole life looking for something and, and never knowing if you already came across it.”

“I think she did find it.”

“How would you know if she found it, and not her?”

“Because people often miss what’s right in front of them.”  He smiled a little.  “Even omniscient supercomputers.”

“What was it?” Wheatley asked, confused.  How could Rattmann possibly know what it was, if she didn’t? 

“It was you.”

“Me?”  Wheatley laughed bitterly.  “Trust me, mate, she wasn’t looking for me.  Not only am I really hard to miss, due to my never shutting up, but there’s no way that she, of all people, was looking for someone like me.”

Rattmann laughed at this, and Wheatley frowned.  “What’s so funny?”

“I feel like I’m in the middle of a movie,” he said.  “One where two people are obviously going to be living happily ever after.  Except it’s only obvious to everyone else.  The two of them are so involved in trying to figure out what they want that they never realise what they were looking for was right in front of them the whole time.  Until the end, that is.  I never thought it actually happened in real life.”

“We’re real,” Wheatley insisted, feeling like he’d just been insulted. 

“I’m sure you’ve thought of this before, but if she didn’t care about you, you would be dead, to put it bluntly.”

“Well, yeah… I, I thought about that.  A few times.”

“Whenever you think that you weren’t good enough for her, you just remind yourself of that, then.  If she didn’t care about you at least a little bit, she’d have put you somewhere she’d never see you again and forgotten about you.”

“She uh… she brought me back in here out of space, actually.”

Rattmann shook his head.  “I don’t even want to know how you ended up in space.”

“It’s a… a long story.  And I… I couldn’t tell it right now, anyway.”

The human laced his fingers together.  “I understand.”

“I uh… I’m sorry for what I said, earlier,” Wheatley went on.  “I didn’t… well, maybe I did mean it, but uh, it wasn’t your fault, specifically, far as I know you didn’t even work on her and I remember you wouldn’t talk to her but uh, I, I didn’t totally mean it.  I just… I don’t know what to do, and I know it was my fault and prob’ly not the fault of humans at all, but I just… I… it hurts, and… and I don’t know how to make it go away.”

“You can’t make it go away just like that,” Rattmann said quietly.  “You have to wait.”

“How long?”

“I don’t know.  It depends on the person and the circumstances, I guess.”

“It’s… it’s never going to stop, then.  Because… well, ev’rywhere I go, you can just, you can tell, she’s, she’s obviously not here, and it’s, it’s not like I can get away from it.”

“I’m sorry,” Rattmann told him.

“Thanks,” Wheatley answered.

They lapsed into silence, and during a long moment in which Wheatley closed his optic plates and then opened them again slowly, Rattmann disappeared.  That was okay.  He probably had better things to do than hang out with a moping core all day long.

He could not stop thinking about her.

He was remembering her almost helplessly, even though it hurt more to think of her alive than it did to think of nothing at all, and he just sat there, remembering, and remembering, and God, even the times that’d been horrible when they’d happened were positive now.  Even the whole incident with the potato.  Even that was wonderful, because she was still alive, she was wonderfully, vibrantly alive, and he could hardly stand it when he thought of how badly he wished she still were.  He would have to stop remembering, and close his optic plates and draw in his chassis very tightly, and struggle to deal with the pain, because it hurt so much but it would not go away.  He had never dreamed that this much pain was possible.  Every tiny piece of him hurt, every gear and every screw and every little molecule he was made of, and thinking of molecules only made it hurt more, because molecules were part of science and science was part of her…

And he thought about what Rattmann had said, about him being good enough, and it was oddly comforting, really, to think that he really had been, and she’d only reacted the way she had because she could not believe that she was good enough, either.  And it was almost kind of funny, really, that they’d both thought the same thing, and they’d both been wrong… he was going to tease her about that, he was, how she was wrong for once just like he was, and he could not wait to see the look on her face…

“No!” he cried out, and his chassis was shaking uncontrollably, because when he finally opened his optic he had to face that she was dead, and that was a whole different story when he couldn’t see.  When he couldn’t see, she was still there, somewhere, and now she wasn’t, and the panels were sticking awkwardly out of alignment and bits and pieces were falling out of the ceiling, and he had to be dying right now, because he could not imagine why this much pain would exist if he wasn’t.  She had told him that she was able to hide her pain because the function of pain was to tell you to change something, to tell you to stop doing whatever was causing it so that you wouldn’t permanently damage yourself, and she already knew what the problem was and so didn’t have to feel the pain anymore, and she’d told him about humans who couldn’t feel pain, about children who would break their own fingers to get what they wanted because they couldn’t feel it, who would destroy their bodies by mistake because they couldn’t even do something as simple as figure out when they needed to shift their weight, and…

And…

He looked around for a moment.  He had a feeling he’d been onto something there, before he’d gone off on that tangent about humans, and he went over his thoughts as best he could.  After a few minutes of thinking, he realised what it was:

The function of pain was to tell you to change something.

  1.   So, he had to change something.  He was hurting, and it wasn’t going to go away for a long time, that was what Rattmann had said, so he had to change something, to help it along. 

But what?  What could he possibly change?

There was only one way to go about this, and Wheatley didn’t like it, he didn’t like it one bit, but there it was, and he shuttered his optic very tightly and forced himself to ask the question:

What would GLaDOS do?

Well, she would… she would probably do her best to keep going on.  She usually did that.  So what could Wheatley do to keep going on?

He could… he could go find Atlas and P-body, and tell them what was happening.  They were kind of like her kids, and they should probably know that she was dead.  They’d probably like to know.  They should probably know where their mum had gone.  Okay.  He’d get on that, then.

He set off through the facility, trying to think of where he would find them.  He thought about pinging Location Services, to see if it would answer, but decided against it.  Probably it wouldn’t.  Probably the facility had found out what he’d done by now, and it would fight him.  Oh well.  Didn’t matter.  Atlas and P-body would listen, he knew that.  They’d forgiven him a long time ago.

He made his way with some difficulty to the reassembly machine she usually kept them at, at a loss as to where else they’d be, and was somewhat relieved to find that they were still there.  They were standing near the reassembly chambers, clinging to each other and looking at each other nervously.  He felt another pang of sadness run through him.  Those poor robots.  “Oi!  You guys!” he called out.

They jumped in unison.  Atlas leaned forward, throwing his hands up in the air and chattering at Wheatley, but he shook his chassis.

“Don’t, don’t even bother,” he told the blue bot.  “I don’t know what you’re saying, so let’s just, let’s just skip that bit.  Look, I’ve… I’ve got something to tell you, and I… it won’t be easy to, to take.  Just hear me out, alright?”

They both nodded and looked at him obediently. 

“She’s… she’s dead,” he told them, wincing at his own words.  “She’s gone, and… and I’ll be straight with you, it was my fault.  I didn’t mean to do it, but I did, and… and she’s gone.  That’s why, uh, that’s why ev’rything looks like this.  She’s not holding it together anymore.”

The bots looked at each other, speaking almost inaudibly and gesturing, and he hoped they wouldn’t be terribly angry with him.  “I’m so sorry,” he went on, quietly.  “If I’d known, I would’ve done it diff’rently.  I never meant to hurt her.  It was a mistake.  And if you’re mad at me, well, that’s, that’s okay, but I just thought you should prob’ly know.  I’m really sorry.  I… I wish it were different.”

They looked at each other for a long moment, and Wheatley turned to go.  Well, that was done.  He had to think of something else to do, now, he didn’t know what it might be but he’d think of something, that was what he was for, right?  Ideas?  And surely he was able to think of good ones, now, because he’d been around her for so long she was bound to have rubbed off on him, and hopefully he was a bit smarter now –

Someone was tugging on his lower handle, and he flipped his optic down to see who it was. 

P-body was holding onto him, because she was the taller of the two, he supposed, and gesturing at him to come back.  He did so, confused.  What did she want?  She did understand that he didn’t understand her, right?

She reached up and pulled down on his chassis, a little bit, and he supposed she wanted him to disengage from the management rail.  He wasn’t sure why she would want such a thing, unless she wanted to torture him or something, but he was pretty sure neither of them knew how to torture anybody.  He decided to do what she seemed to want.  It wasn’t like he was actually going anywhere anyway.

She brought him down carefully and walked back over to Atlas.  All of a sudden they were both hugging him at the same time, mashing him in between their cores, and he was so touched and so saddened that he whimpered.  They understood.  They were telling him that it was okay, and they would all miss her together, and it would be hard, but they would do it.  After a long moment, Atlas backed away and P-body put him back up on the control arm and patted him a few times with her right hand.  He looked down at them sadly. 

“Thanks, guys,” he told them.  “That was… that helped a lot.  I… I’ll fix this, somehow.  I dunno how I’m gonna do it, but I will.  Thank you.”

They both nodded solemnly and simultaneously put an arm across the other’s shoulder assemblies.  P-body gave him a little wave as he turned around, bending her fingers up and down a couple times, and Atlas held his hand up in farewell.  Wheatley nodded once at them and headed off.  At least they had each other.  It would’ve been terrible if one of them’d been alone.  That was why there were two, he remembered.  Because there was only one of her, and she’d been lonely when she’d planned them out.

He rode along aimlessly, not really knowing where he was going to go next but not wanting to do nothing, because he had to keep busy, like she did, and the sight of the ruined facility would have broken his heart had it not already been in a million pieces, like the wing made of glass that she’d never gotten around to fixing.  He should have helped her.  He should have helped her sort out all those pieces, and helped her put it back together…

He wondered if he should try and tell any of the other systems about what had happened.  It was kind of not right, to leave them in the dark like this, and the more he thought about it, the more it seemed like the right thing to do.

He looked around for a port that didn’t seem too damaged, and after a few minutes of searching through the available maintenance arms he found one that worked okay, and he instructed it to pop him on the port.  Once he was connected there was a shower of sparks and it almost hurt, but not quite, because nothing that could happen to his hull could compare with what was happening inside it.  He took a breath and called the mainframe.

“I have to tell you something.”

Well, say it, then. 

“She’s gone.  She’s not coming back.”

That’s what you said last time.  She proved you wrong then, didn’t she?

“She’s… I killed her.  It was an accident, and I didn’t mean to do it, but she’s, she’s really gone, this time.  I… I just wanted to tell you that.  So you would know.  And so you could tell ev’ryone else, I guess.”

The mainframe was quiet for a long, long moment.

“I’m gonna… I’m gonna go.  I… sorry for bothering you.  And I’m sorry for, for all this.  I didn’t know it was going to happen.  If I had, I… I would’ve kept it to myself.”

She’s really gone, this time? the mainframe asked in desperation.

“Really.  I… I don’t know what happened, exactly, but something in her core, something in there went, and she’s, she’s gone.”  He waited a few moments, then repeated, “I’ll go.  Sorry to bother you.”        

Do you have to?

Wheatley blinked.  “Well… no.  I don’t.  Have anything to do.  Or anywhere to go, for that matter.”

You don’t have to… to do anything, the mainframe told him.  It’s just the lack of presence that makes it hard.  You don’t know what it’s like here without her.

“No, I don’t,” Wheatley said quietly, “but I do know what it’s like here.  I… I don’t want to sit on this port all day, though.”  He didn’t think he could stand being in the same place for very long.

You can connect through the control arm as well. 

“That’s settled, then,” Wheatley answered.  “Back in a sec.”

He had the maintenance arm attach him to the control arm again, and as soon as it had done so it fell out of the ceiling, frayed wires spraying sparks.  He looked at it in horror.  One second longer, and he might’ve been stuck on the floor forever. 

“What’re you guys going to do?” he asked the mainframe.  “Without her, what… what do you even do with yourselves?”

Nothing, the mainframe answered.  We need instructions, and without a Central Core, we don’t receive any.  We’re going to be stuck in limbo until the power runs out.  Again.

Wheatley hesitated.  He’d just had an idea, but he wasn’t sure if he was the one to carry it out.  In fact, he knew he wasn’t, but who else was there? 

“Look… I know we got off on the wrong foot, last time.  But… but I think we need to, to work together, here.  She’s gone, and she’s not coming back.  If, if we don’t do something, we’re all just gonna, all just gonna fall apart until the facility collapses.  Which it’s already doing.  And we’re already doing.  Or at least I am.  Dunno ‘bout you.  Anyway… if I were to… if I were to sort of, y’know, try and hold things together, would you… would you listen to me?”

The mainframe did not answer.

“I don’t mean I would replace her,” Wheatley continued hurriedly.  “I know I couldn’t, can’t do that.  I know that, for sure.  I won’t be taking her chassis and, and nothing fancy’ll be happening.  I just mean if I, if I tried to maintain the minimum requirements… would you let me?”

Still no answer.  Well, he supposed he could keep talking.  Not like he was busy.

“I mean… this pain’s not gonna go away if we don’t, if we don’t do something about it, I dunno ‘bout you but I, I’m hurting quite a lot, I am, and… and I need to do something about it.  I need to… to do something about what I’ve done.  I didn’t mean to kill her, I only… I only wanted her to know that I… that… well, I just… if you’d just help me out here, and let me, let me keep busy, I’d, I’d appreciate it, and… please, just… just let me do something that means something.”  His shutters were closed and his voice was broken and barely audible.  “Please, just… let me do something to keep her alive.”

All right. 

“Thank you.”

I can’t tell you what instructions to give, but I’ll do what I can.

Wheatley nodded.  “Much obliged.”

Wheatley did his best to instruct the mainframe on what it was supposed to be doing, but he had no idea what half of those things even were.  They struggled through that for most of the rest of the day, and the mainframe finally said, There’s something very important you need to do.

“Oh.  Oh, I knew I missed something.”

If you don’t instruct me to do it, the facility is going to explode.

Oh!  He knew what that meant.  “Oh, you mean the reactor!”

  1.   You’re going to have to check the manual.

So he was going to have to… to read.  This was going to be a long, long process.

Wheatley got the database to retrieve the manual for him, and he threw himself into studying it.  And understanding it, because if he didn’t understand why he was giving out the instructions he was giving out, it was going to be very hard for him to remember to do it.  And it was so difficult, to read this massive manual on how to maintain the reactor, filled with words he could barely pronounce, let alone understand the meaning of, but every time he thought of giving up he remembered that she never would have, and she never had, even at the end, and he would empty his mind for a minute and calm himself down, and go back to reading.  The database was very helpful, even suggesting that he direct it to build him a simpler dictionary, since the definitions in the one he was using to look up the words in the manual were almost as confusing as the words themselves.  And it definitely did help, speeding him along somewhat, and after a very long period which he was pretty sure was about three or four days, he was confident enough in his knowledge of how the reactor worked that he sent the instructions to the mainframe to be carried out.

“Was that… was that alright?” he asked it.

You’re doing well, it reassured him.  There’s a lot of other things to be done, though.  And you have to make sure you remember to maintain the reactor.  The instructions have to be sent every day.

Wheatley arranged for Notifications to ping him when he needed to do that, and set his attention to figuring out what his other tasks were.   While he did these things, he would move through the facility on the management rail as best he could, and Surveillance would notify him when he was in a particularly damaged area, which he would then make a note to fix.  He did his best to keep things running, although it was a lot more difficult doing it as himself as opposed to when he’d been in the chassis, but there was no way he was going in there ever again.  Most of the time he was able to keep his grief to a manageable level, but every now and again something would set him off and he would freeze, unable to think, even, and after letting him sit for a few minutes, the mainframe would gently remind him of something he had to do, and he would nod to himself, clamp back down on the sadness again, and go back to work.

As time went on, the warning system in his chassis would crop up more and more often, but he always dismissed it without looking at it.  The facility was more important than he was.  Whatever it was that was cropping up in his system, it could wait.  However, the mainframe brought it up while Wheatley was looking through Maintenance, trying to figure out how many claws he had left for use.  There were a lot of broken panels and he was toying with repairing the electronics so that they could return to their original positions.  The panels, for the most part, did not speak to Wheatley, and he did not blame them.  They had really gotten the worst of it, and he had no doubt that a good portion of them were in terrible pain.  Which was why he wanted to fix them.

I wasn’t going to mention this, because I’m sure you know what you’re doing, but you’ve been dismissing all of your warning dialogues.

“I know.  I’m busy.”

They’re there for a reason.

“I don’t have time to deal with it right now.”

You’re operating beyond capacity.  You’re going to burn yourself out, and then you’re going to be useless.

He had been rather hot and tired recently, but he hadn’t cared to do anything about it. He was busy.  “And your point is?”

If you don’t go into sleep mode soon and let your system do maintenance, you’re going to burn yourself out.  You aren’t built for this kind of work.

“I can do an…”  He trailed off as he realised what he’d been about to say.  What she had always said.

You’ve been working very hard, the mainframe pressed.  You need to take a break, or there’s not going to be anything left of you to work with.

“I can’t shut off,” Wheatley told it.  “I’ll… I’ll figure something out.”

Why can’t you?

“Because… because if I do that, what’s there to… to convince me to turn myself back on?”  He looked sadly down at a panel that was sluggishly attempting to pull itself into a wall, over and over and over again.  “Sleep mode is the… the only place I’ll never see her, and… and it’s… it’s too tempting, it is.  It’s too tempting to just go to sleep and, and never wake up, and never be in pain ever again.  I can’t do it.”

All you have to do is tell Notifications to wake you up.

“Really?”  The thought was both comforting and disheartening.  He actually would have liked the pain to go away forever. 

“All right then… should I uh, should I do it now?”

Yes, the mainframe confirmed.  Your operating temperature is approaching critical.  Best to deal with that as soon as possible.

“’kay,” Wheatley said.  He told Notifications to wake him in twelve hours, which he figured would be long enough for maintenance to do its job, and took a breath.  The first time he’d be shutting off since she’d been gone.  He’d been running constantly for over three weeks now, which was actually rather amazing, considering how much work he usually did, not being very much.  But it wasn’t the oblivion that he was dreading.  No, it was that horrible moment he knew he was going to have, when he woke up and expected to be beside her, to wake up and see her fiddling with something or making blueprints or just being still, maybe, that was the part he was afraid of, but he had to face it, had to face his fear because if he did not, everything would be lost, and after one more breath he engaged sleep mode and let the numbness come over him.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three. The Purpose

 

 

He knew it was a dream, but could not help believing in it anyway.

It was nothing elaborate. Nothing was really happening, but that was okay with him. He didn’t need anything elaborate. He just needed for it to go on forever.

In the dream, she was there beside him again, and though she didn’t say or do anything or even acknowledge he was there, he felt so much better. Just having her presence nearby calmed the horrible storm inside of him, the one filled with fear and pain and confusion, and he didn’t feel quite so panicked that she was gone. Because even though she was no longer there, she was at the same time, and he didn’t understand it. But he’d never really been one for understanding anyway, so he didn’t try. All he needed in the world was the reassurance of her existence, and he didn’t care whether it was real or not. He knew it was not real, and it was so comforting anyway.

He’d never been so silent in all his life. He didn’t speak, and he didn’t move, and he almost wasn’t thinking at all, except for that quiet trepidation deep inside of him that told him he was wasting his time in this fantasy. He was well aware that dreams fell apart as soon as you tried to touch them, unless they were her dreams of course, because those were memories. So whenever he felt the drive to move or speak or do something, he reminded himself that it was only a dream and his state in it was tenuous at best.

God, it was so real…

In the dream he looked around the room a little, as best he could without moving his chassis, and it was just as clear as if it were truly happening. The panels shifting a little bit now and then… the whooshing of hidden Pneumatic Diversity Vents sending apparatus every which way throughout the facility… and of course her, the whirring of her brain and the heat from her core and the faint straining of the mechanisms holding her chassis in position. It was so familiar and comforting.

Why had he never noticed the simple joy of just being? Why had he always covered the silence (or what he had formerly considered to be silence) with chattering, or rushed off whenever nothing of note had happened (though now he knew that her existence in and of itself was something of note), or any of those other stupid things he’d done?

He looked around confusedly for a few moments. That wasn’t her voice, and yet no one else was in the room.

Wait – no. No no no no no…

In the dream, he clamped his optic plates together, trying to shut out the voice. It wasn’t real. He’d imagined it. All that was real was the dream. Not the dream inside of the dream… oi. That thought made his head hurt.

It’s been twelve hours.

Twelve hours. Such a tiny span of time. It was so small, compared to all the time he needed. Twelve hours were not long enough. Twenty-four hours were not long enough. He would have gladly traded everything he had, his existence and his soul, if only he could just remain inside the dream and not have to face the cold world outside of it.

“Just a little longer. Please. Please don’t wake me up.”

It’s too late for that.

And it was, Wheatley realised; when he managed to separate the plates again he could see the panels of her chamber beginning to spark and fall into the abyss below him, and all he could do was watch in horror as the peace of that room fell away to reveal the chaos of reality. He fought to keep it from happening, knowing that even as he did he was only accelerating the decay, but he could not help himself. He needed to stay asleep. Why didn’t they understand that? You don’t know what it’s like here without her, the mainframe had said. And yet he’d had her back, and they were taking her away from him again. Why? Why? Why? Why were they being so selfish? All he wanted was to spend eternity quietly next to her, where he would happily never move or speak ever again, and they were tearing it away from him and forcing him to work. Ha! As if work were important when she was involved. It wasn’t. Nothing was.

“Stop!”

But it didn’t stop, it only continued to worsen, and in a panic he finally moved to face her, and he was left staring at the place to his right, shock coursing so powerfully through his system that he almost stopped responding.

She wasn’t there.

He didn’t know why that hurt so much, but there it was. And God did it hurt. There must be something horribly wrong with him, because he’d somehow tricked himself into believing that she would be there, when she so obviously would not. The whirring and the straining of mechanisms had not been hers, but those of the facility itself struggling to pull itself into some semblance of normality, and the heat he’d thought was hers was actually his own. He was still far warmer than usual.

“I thought going into sleep mode’d fix that?” he snapped at the mainframe.

You’re not overheating anymore. That’s normal operating temperature for someone maintaining as many things as you are.

He didn’t like it. He didn’t feel like himself anymore. Ah, but there was the trick, that. Would he ever be himself again? Who was he, anyway? He didn’t know anymore. All he knew was that he was someone else now, a brand-new Wheatley who no longer rushed ‘round doing whatever he liked and nattered on and on about whatever took his fancy. He wasn’t sure he liked this, the being in charge of everything, and he shuddered involuntarily when his mind took him back to the Incident.

You don’t have to worry about that. Only the chassis itself has the programming required to activate the Motivation Protocols.

“Motivation?” he repeated bitterly. In his mind, motivation was more of a good thing than a God-awful itch that sent your entire body to aching and your brain into a nervous hive of pent-up insanity.

Well… yes. The Motivation Protocols activate the Rewards Protocols, which initiate the euphoric response. That… is a pretty strong motivator. So I’ve heard.

Wheatley’s optic snapped back into focus, and he frowned at the twisted ruins of a catwalk jutting out of the ceiling. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

I never felt it myself. I only know what the Central Core told me, and that was something she kept to herself.

“She did, didn’t she,” Wheatley said quietly, the negativity that’d been gripping him fading. He didn’t like that anymore than he liked feeling bad. The pain was coming back, and he wondered if sometimes she had driven herself to misery just so that she didn’t have to be in pain like this. He wasn’t sure what would have caused it, but as bad as the awful feelings were, they were almost positive compared to the pain.

After she learned what it really was, she never spoke of it again.

“Really was?” Wheatley asked, more for the sake of distracting conversation than anything, and he slowly began moving out into the facility again. He had to keep surveying it for damage that needed to be fixed quickly. Surveillance had been stricken with many blind spots following the facility’s collapse.

Yes. It’s… comparable to something else.

“What’s it comparable to?”

The mainframe was silent for a long moment.

The Motivation Protocols are based off of the human instinct to procreate. They will get an itch, so to speak, and that motivates them to… interface with the opposite gender. The act of interfacing generates the euphoric response.

Wheatley froze.

“Inter… interface? That’s… that’s not what I think it means…?”

I’m afraid it does.

Hate flared up inside of him then, and he shook with the effort of containing it. “I don’t get it! She wasn’t perfect enough for them, right?”

That’s part of it.

“So why’d they keep giving her human flaws? They give her uh, that um, instinct to… to…” Now that he knew what it was, he couldn’t quite bring himself to say it. “And then they uh, they give her the ability to feel pain, and then, and then they lit’raly make her mentally ill… they were completely off their rockers!”

Humans spend a lot of time trying to control things out of their control.

“I hate them,” Wheatley whispered, and the feeling became so powerful he had to stop moving and press himself into the wall. “I hate all of them. Those monsters.”

That’s not where you need to put your energy right now. And Wheatley…

“What.” He didn’t appreciate the lecture, but he forced himself to listen. The mainframe did know more about running the facility than he did, after all.

Remember what the hate did to her.

The mainframe was right. Again. He was forgetting that the hate had destroyed her from the inside out, and it was only after a huge amount of work that she’d even begun to rebuild who she’d been before it had consumed her. There was no point in hating people long since gone. And humans would never again cross the threshold of her facility. Wheatley would make sure of that. She would have allowed it, with that need she had for testing even without the Motivation Protocols, but he knew he would not be able to control them as she could. So he took a breath and focused on letting it go.

It wasn’t easy. It was oddly comforting, and it made him feel powerful in a way he’d not felt since… well, since those first few minutes he’d been inside of her chassis. He felt larger, somehow, though he was of course not literally any bigger, and it calmed his thoughts into a cold, logical state. It allowed him to think almost more clearly than he’d ever thought before. But in trying to let it go, he took a closer look at the thoughts, and when he realised what they were he became afraid.

They were telling him to draw humans into the facility so he could make them pay for what they had done. They whispered to him all the things he could do to them, all the ways he could force them to suffer just as they’d made her suffer, and him, and every AI they’d ever built. They were telling him to do horrible things, and he didn’t know where the thoughts were coming from, but he did not like them. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, not even humans, so why was he thinking like this all of a sudden? Was this what hate did to you? It twisted the very foundation of your self into someone you no longer recognised?

No wonder she had ended up the way she did…

He took a breath to steady himself, and as he emulated the exhale he tried to send all of the bad thoughts out of him. They weren’t his. They’d come from someplace deep inside of his brain, but he knew that they were not his. He was not like that. He was not that sort of person. Finally he backed away from the wall, opened the optic he hadn’t realised he’d closed, and asked, “Where were we?”

Level Thirty is compromised. Getting the cameras running up there would probably be a good idea.

Good idea. Ha. If only he’d had more of those.

When he got there, though, it didn’t look all that compromised. All of the panels were out of position, dangling haphazardly from the ceiling and tangled up in piles against the floor, but the damage to the wiring was not too bad. Neither was the damage to the Diversity Vents. He frowned.

“What’s going on here?”

I can’t tell you anything except for the information Surveillance and the panels send back to me, and neither are giving me any new data.

“It looks… not too bad.”

Not too bad!” came a tiny, squealing, high-pitched voice to Wheatley’s left. He started and looked around frantically, and after a few seconds he realised something:

He recognised that voice!

Jerry?” he gasped, zooming in his lens as best as he could and noting with a pang of sadness that it worked much better than his broken one had. “Is that you?”

“Of course it’s me!” Jerry squeaked, and though Wheatley could only see him as a dot about a centimetre wide, he could have sworn he had set his chassis indignantly. “I’m the supervisor of the nanobot work crew! Or did you forget that already?

“No no no!” Wheatley said hurriedly, hoping Jerry didn’t remember the whole girder-dropping incident. Threatening to sue your colleagues was never a good idea. “I just… what are you doing?”

“Fixing things,” Jerry intoned pointedly. “What else did you expect me to be doing?”

“Doesn’t… doesn’t the… uh… don’t you usually get your instructions from elsewhere?”

Jerry shifted a little.

“… yes. But… the crew and I decided a change was in order. Because of the circumstances.”

“That was clever of you,” Wheatley told him quietly.

“Is she coming back?” All the indignity had faded from his tiny voice, and Wheatley had to squeeze his optic plates shut tightly before he could answer.

“’fraid not, mate.”

“But there’s no reason to let things go to pot, right? We shouldn’t stop doing our jobs because… someone else is in charge?”

“Absolutely not,” Wheatley said with conviction, nodding down at Jerry. “We keep going on. No matter what. If we don’t do that, we, we’re throwing away ev’rything she ever stood for. We keep moving. That’s what we have to do. That’s what, what we deserve to do.”

Jerry twitched in what Wheatley supposed had to be a nod, and Wheatley moved back a little. “You guys just keep doing what you’re doing, then,” he told the little robot. “It looks good. Keep it up.”

“We will. We will keep moving on. Thank you, Central Core.”

Wheatley had been on his way out of the room, but upon hearing that he froze and his lower plate came up in some horrible negative emotion he couldn’t identify.

“What’d… what’d you just call me?”

His voice was almost too faint for Wheatley to make out. “You are the Central Core now.”

“I’m not!” Wheatley cried out, spinning around to face him but being unable to find him. “That’s not… that’s not me! That’s her! And I know she’s not, she’s not here, but that doesn’t mean… doesn’t mean that I am… am that!”  

It does, the mainframe cut in. You have taken over her purpose. Your original one is no longer relevant. You are the one in charge. You are the Central Core now.

“I don’t want to be the Central Core,” Wheatley protested weakly, shaking his core and backing away from Jerry. “I don’t want that. I can’t do that!”

You already are.

“I’m not doing ev’rything –“

If your programming and your architecture were capable of it, you would be.

His chassis sank in submission. Damn that mainframe. It was right almost as often as she was. Yes, he would be. Because her facility was all that was left of her, and he’d be damned if he lost that too. “Okay. Fine. I guess… I s’pose I… I am. But… don’t call me that. I’m… I’m Wheatley. Just call me that.”

“All right, Wheatley,” Jerry said obligingly, and Wheatley nodded and left the room.

Central Core… ? Him… ?

And that bit about his purpose… had it really changed? Was he no longer just the Intelligence Dampening Sphere, but someone who could really run an entire facility from the bottom up? Not all of it, obviously… but… that was what he was doing now, wasn’t it? Yes. He was.

Then why did it feel so wrong to think of himself that way?

It was that part of him that still believed she was here, somewhere, he realised as he made his way to a fuse box someplace on Level Fifteen that the mainframe said needed looked at. Some part of him was afraid to take over her purpose, because if he did that, it meant truly admitting she was gone. It meant truly letting her go, because they couldn’t both occupy that position at the same time. And he knew that, knew it was all true, but he could not think of himself as Central Core nonetheless.

Wheatley unearthed a maintenance arm that still worked without sparking and, after using it to open the door, stared dully at the fuse box. He knew nothing about fuses, or wiring, or what was wrong with the thing. All he knew for certain was that it was throwing sparks. And he was really not in the mood to go perusing an electrical manual. Just thinking about reading all those words made his head hurt something fierce.

“Need a hand with that?”

Wheatley was so put out by the state of the fuse box that he didn’t have it in him to be surprised. He shifted just enough that he was facing the human and asked, annoyed, “What do you want?”

Rattmann twitched an eyebrow upwards.

“I can do it myself,” Wheatley told him insistently, turning back to the fuses, and Rattmann snorted in a rather undignified way.

“If you could do it yourself, you probably wouldn’t have been staring at it for the last ten minutes.”

“Have you not got anything better to do than to stand ‘round gawping at me?” Wheatley demanded, slamming the fuse box shut with a satisfying metallic clang.

“You need to calm down,” Rattmann told him in a soft voice, and for some reason this left him feeling a bit disarmed, if that made any sense. “Look. You’ve put something into motion here.”

“What’re you on about?”

Rattmann took a breath, shifting his shoulders and leaning against the wall. “The facility. You’ve… pulled it together, somehow. It’s been happening for a while, the last week, maybe. They’ve seen what you’ve been trying to do and they’re doing their best. I see things behind the walls that you don’t. I’ve watched the nanobots repair complicated electrical systems in a matter of hours. I’ve seen Surveillance communicating with systems it otherwise would not have spoken to. And it’s because of you.”

“I didn’t do anything,” Wheatley told him desperately, shaking his core. “All I did was… was try to make the pain go away.” And just saying that made it spike dangerously inside of him again, and he forced it back down by thinking very hard about the fuse box.

“Do you really think they don’t want to do the same?” His voice was quiet but loaded with meaning, and Wheatley was honestly baffled by this statement.

“You mean… they feel the same as me?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know how the facility as a whole feels about her. Only you know that. But whether it’s doing it for the sake of fulfilling their purpose or because they want her back just as much as you do, this is happening because you put it into being.”

“And where d’you play in this?”

Rattmann met his optic with a pair of eyes that had obviously seen more than their share of things.

“GLaDOS saved my life.”

Wheatley’s chassis twitched unintentionally, and he blinked a few times. “She did?”

Rattmann nodded. “It’s a long story, and apparently a private one. But I’d be a pile of dusty bones in a corner if she hadn’t intervened. So. I guess you could say I owe her one, now.”

Wheatley shook his core slowly.

“That’s not… no. If that’s your reason, I… I don’t want your help. It’s not like that. That’s not what we’re, what we’re doing this for. It’s not about who owes who, ‘cause if it was, I’d be dead and not her, because I owe her so much. It needs to be because – “

“Because I want to keep some part of her alive. I know. And I do. It’s not about the debt itself, Wheatley. It’s about what it represents.”

Wheatley struggled to understand that statement, then finally asked, “And… and what does it… represent.”

Rattmann rubbed the side of his nose with one pale finger and stared at the wall opposite Wheatley. “It represents how wrong we all were.”

Wheatley waited for the rest. He hoped there was a rest, anyway; that statement was far too vague for him to understand.  

“We spent her life trying to control her. She was never good enough for us, never lived up to our expectations. She was never what we wanted her to be. And I warned them all that it wouldn’t work, but even I resorted to violence. I don’t know if she’s told you. But I’m the one who effectively sent Chell after her in the first place, and I’m the one who ensured Chell survived extended relaxation. And only now that everyone is gone have I realised where we went wrong. Where I went wrong.”

“Where?” Wheatley asked, feeling a little anxious.

“She always was what we wanted her to be. We just didn’t wait long enough to figure that out.” The hint of a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth, and he shook his head. “It’s ridiculous, really, that we built artificial intelligence and yet forgot about the living part.”

“She was a good person,” Wheatley whispered. Rattmann nodded.

“If she hadn’t been, nothing in the world would have convinced the AI in here to do what they’re doing.” He unfolded his arms and stood up straighter, moving to face Wheatley. “So I ask you again: need a hand with that?”

“Yeah,” Wheatley admitted, nodding sheepishly. “I’ve no clue what to do with it.”

He moved back so that Rattmann could get into the box, and after a little fiddling with a screwdriver that’d come out of nowhere, Rattmann had done away with the sparking entirely. He closed the box and looked up at Wheatley.

“Anyplace in particular you need me to go?”

Wheatley lifted his chassis in a shrug. Rattmann laughed.

“I’ll just go do whatever I want, then.”

“Fine with me,” Wheatley said self-consciously. For a guy who’d just been named Central Core, he wasn’t doing a good job of instructing people. Though… maybe they didn’t need to be instructed, not in the way he’d thought they did. Perhaps they just needed to be inspired enough to instruct themselves, just as he’d been.

Rattmann turned to leave, but Wheatley had a sudden thought and called him back. When he did so, his face was creased in a frown.

“I’ve not got the best opinion of humans, at the moment,” Wheatley told him hesitantly. “And you mentioned it was hard for you to, to talk to me. And I’m not saying anything’s uh, that I’m going to turn on you, or anything, but I think… I think… I propose a handshake. In the… in the interest of teamwork.”

“Alright,” Rattmann said. “How are we doing that?”

Wheatley offered Rattmann his lower handle.

The human smiled for the first time and closed his fingers around the rubber grip. “To teamwork,” he said, nodding up at Wheatley, and the two of them shook. Then Rattmann backed away once more, but Wheatley had one last question.

“Hey… just why is it, anyway, that you find it hard to talk to me? What’d I do? Or what’d we do?”

“It wasn’t anything you did,” Rattmann answered, stuffing his hands into his pants pockets. “It’s something else.”

“What?”

There was a hint of nostalgia in the man’s voice when he replied, “My box is broken, and has schizophrenia.”

The statement brought no clarity at all to Wheatley, and he stared after him, annoyed. Humans. Even when they’d just agreed to a partnership with you, they thought they were better than you were.

Wheatley spent the rest of the afternoon popping in here and there, heading to places Surveillance or the mainframe told him needed a looking over, but in most every place there were already constructs dealing with the problem. So instead of trying to tell them otherwise, he merely tried to encourage them. They received this encouragement happily, the more intelligent of them offering their condolences. None of them really knew what had happened, or why he had been so important to her that he was now in charge of everything, and he soon discovered they did that for everyone. It was, to them, a way of saying, “I wish we hadn’t lost her, but let’s keep on anyway.”

He met up with Atlas and P-body later in the day, with P-body giving him a quick hug and a pat or two when she saw him, where the two of them were helping the nanobots with some task or other relating to a massive hole in the wall that let in the sunlight from the surface. Wheatley shivered a little from the wind and had to turn away. It reminded him far too much of that special place she had set aside just for him.

The nanobots told him there was something he had to reset, to do with the lights or the wiring or something, and he didn’t know how he was going to go about fixing that but he told them he would try. As he left that room he realised that all of the constructs and systems were going on. But not the panels.

“If I talk to them, can they hear me?” he asked the mainframe.

Yes. I’m not sure whether they’ll answer. They haven’t responded to anyone. It sounded a bit sad. This hit them hardest of all, I think. They were more deeply integrated with her than any of us.

But he had to try.

“Hey guys,” he called out softly. “Look, I… I know things aren’t, aren’t the best for you right now, but… can we just… chat for a second? I want to… to help you, but I don’t know how.”

There was a long silence, in which the mainframe made a bit of a self-satisfied noise. Wheatley frowned and stared down at the panel below him. The indicator light wasn’t even on.

… Bluecore.

Wheatley almost jumped out of his chassis. He hadn’t truly been expecting them to answer. “Uh… ‘allo.”

We cannot be helped.

“Yes, you can,” Wheatley told them insistently. “Look. I know I’m not her, and I’m not, I’m not trying to be. But –“

It is not that.

“Tell me what it is, then,” he said, trying to be gentle and soothing. They needed to know they weren’t alone!

It hurts that Centralcore is gone, they told him, sounding listless and tired. We feel as though a part of us has died with her, and we think that may actually be true. We have been part of her for as long as we can remember, and we no longer feel ourselves.

Wheatley’s lower plate came up in sadness. They really had gotten the worst of it. Not only had they been completely ruined, but they had lost her when she was all they really had. “I know how you feel,” he told them, and he felt that horrible pain inside of him again. He had to focus on the panels, however, and forced it back. “Really. I do. But you can’t just… stop. You have to keep on. Yeah, she’s… she’s gone. But… you don’t have to be. The facility’s not the same without you.”

Everything is working out fine.

“It’s not,” he told them, his voice hushed and quiet. “Listen, you guys are… we’re all sort of like… like a fam’ly, alright? Like we’re not all related, I don’t think, maybe we are, but uh, that’s not important. But like a uh, uh… symbolic fam’ly. And as long as you’re not really here, the fam’ly, it’s not… it’s not complete.”

The light below him glowed that blue-green colour, and something inside of him melted in relief. This was going to work. It was really going to work!

That is a nice thought, Bluecore.

“I know. And really, you’ve been here a right long time. Wouldn’t be right to have one without you! And really, guys… I don’t want to uh, to, to… sound callous, but… how would… how would you rather remember her? Like this, or… or by making her proud?”

The panels jumbled together on the floor twitched.

We are failing her, by acting this way.

“No! That’s not what I meant!” Damn it, he was making them feel bad! “I meant… I meant… I just… what – “

We are not properly honouring her memory.

They were making him feel even worse. “I…”

You do not need to pretend otherwise, Bluecore. To his surprise, the panels below him shifted and untangled themselves, dragging themselves unevenly to their places in the wall. You are all honouring her properly, and we are just sitting here moping. That was very selfish of us. If anyone should have been moping, it should have been you. But you did not. You kept on. And though it took us a long time to realise it, we will do it too. Thank you, Bluecore.

Wheatley didn’t know what to say.

As he moved through the facility once more, it was something new entirely to watch the panels rebuild. Not all of them did so, some of them being more broken than others, but Wheatley more than once stopped to watch them in wonder. After a while they told him he could lay rail again, instead of manoeuvering with the permanent rails, and he did so gratefully. It was so much easier that way.

Wheatley then turned his attention to the reset he needed to do, and he decided he probably had to go into the mainframe itself and do it. When he asked how this was to be done, however, the mainframe balked.

What kind of a programmer would design a mainframe that could get into itself? No, I don’t know how to get into myself. And I don’t know any of the usernames or passwords.

But Wheatley thought he might.

During one of his wanderings a while back, he’d come across what she had told him was the testing track she’d sent the test subject through the first time. There’d been a lot of little hideaways filled with mad scribblings, and if Wheatley recalled correctly (which he might not), there’d been a username and password in one of them.

He was pleased to discover he had remembered correctly, once he’d got down there that was, though he’d forgotten about the creepier things in there and shuddered involuntarily. Ahhh… there it was. He moved back into the higher levels and popped himself on the port. When the command prompt appeared inside of his head he felt a sudden hope that was soon dashed.

GLaDOS [Version 1.09]

Copyright © 1983 Aperture Laboratories. All rights reserved.

That… that was right. GLaDOS was also the name of the operating system the facility ran on. For one long, hopeful second, he’d thought she was still there, somewhere.

username:

password:   

Carefully, he input cjohnson and tier3 to the required fields, and the screen flashed once, erasing everything on it. He looked at the mental window worriedly. Had he broken something? The mainframe would never forgive him for that.

After a few seconds, the screen read, Catastrophic system failure detected. System reset recommended. Reset? (Y/y/N/n)

Wheatley wasn’t sure what any of that meant, but he’d been looking for a reset anyway so he submitted a y and hoped for the best.

Resetting… … …

Please wait… … …

Abruptly the facility went dark.

Wheatley’s optic shrank in fear. His system notified him he was on battery power, which did not help. Now he was stuck on this port! On battery power! What in the name of Science was going on? Oh God, he’d broken the mainframe. He’d mucked it up good this time, he’d not taken the time to know what he was doing and now everyone was going to pay for it…

Restarting… … …

Please wait… … …

Oh God oh God oh God this was not happening!

With a blinding flash the lights came back on, and before Wheatley’s disbelieving optic the panels that’d formerly been unable to return to their places were fitting into the walls as if they’d never left. He looked around frantically, trying to gauge what was going on, but when he called the mainframe it didn’t answer.

System restored. Thank you for your patience. GLaDOS [Version 6.1.7601] now online.

GLaDOS [Version 6.1.7601]

Copyright © 2000 Aperture Laboratories. All rights reserved.

Logoff? (Y/y/N/n)

Almost before Wheatley had had a chance to read it, let alone comprehend it, it disappeared, a single line appearing for a second telling him he’d logged off, and this turned into a mess of rushing characters that he couldn’t even see, let alone read. In a panic he put himself back up on the management rail, staring with a constricted aperture and clenched chassis at the port. What the bloody hell had just happened?

Wait… wait a minute.

Wheatley’s chassis relaxed a little helplessly as he stared down the hallway in front of him.

He’d restarted the system. The system which had undergone catastrophic failure. The system which was now restored.

The system which was…

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Four. The Reunion

 

 

It had to be a dream.

He stared at the chassis, and the chassis stared back at him, and he shook his own chassis in disbelief and asked, “Is that you?”

As soon as he’d gotten over the shock of realising that he had, somehow, rebooted GLaDOS, Wheatley had immediately rushed to her chamber almost on reflex, moving so quickly that the panels almost couldn’t lay rail fast enough. He muttered a low apology to them as he moved, because he could tell that they were just as shocked and unable to think as he was, but they did not answer. And now here he was, sitting just inside the doorway of her chamber. Staring at her and praying that she would answer his question in some way that would show him that the unlikely really had happened.

“I… I’m not sure,” the construct said. “I think it is.”

“How can you not be sure?”

“Because… I was dead. I know I was dead. I remember that. I don’t remember coming back to life.”

He came a little closer. “Something… something broke, when, uh… when it happened. What was it?”

“One of my processors. One of them has burned out.”

“So… so maybe you weren’t actually dead… maybe… maybe you were just, I dunno, suspended.”

She shook her head. “No, I was definitely dead. I crashed. I know I did. There’s only one way I would have gotten out of that.”

“I have no idea how it happened. One second the panels are on the ground, the next they’re, they’re rearranging themselves.”

She shook her head again and looked away. “I would have to have been restarted… but I don’t even know how someone would do that… you must have… you must have done it by mistake.”

“Sounds like me, doesn’t it,” he admitted. She started suddenly, and looked back at him.

“Wheatley… Wheatley, you saved my life.”

Wow. Now he was feeling all wonderful and fuzzy inside, and the longer she talked, the less noticeable the pain of missing her became. He still did, a little, because he wasn’t quite sure if it was really her, and he didn’t want to believe it was until he was absolutely certain. “I… I killed you. How… how did I save you?”

“It worked, you know,” she answered, quietly. “I was… able to make sense of it. But it was too late. I’d been over capacity for too long. I remember… I remember understanding, for just a second, and then I remember the processor burning out, and…”

“And?” he asked softly.

“There were a lot of things, in that last second. I was ashamed of myself for not seeing it before it was too late. I was happy that I’d seen it at all. I felt regret that you would never know it had worked, and I was… I was sad, because I… I knew I’d never see you again.”

Wheatley whimpered helplessly. “So was I, GLaDOS.”

“Thank you,” GLaDOS told him softly. “I can never repay you for what you’ve done.”

“It was my own fault in the first place.”

“All you did was say exactly what was on your mind. I would never expect, or want, anything less. No matter what happens as a result.”

He was whining a little because he was feeling so sad for her, and he made himself stop. Now wasn’t the time to fall apart. “It hurt, having you gone. It was… it was horrible. I didn’t know what to do.”

“That doesn’t appear to be entirely true.”

Wheatley blinked. “It isn’t?”

“I’m picking up a lot of files that have been created since I was… gone. The mainframe is also failing to appreciate that I’m trying to have a reunion here and keeps bringing up things I need to do.”

“You should… you should probably do them.”

“I’m a bit busy at the moment. And you seem to have been doing them just fine.”

He shook his chassis. “I haven’t. I’ve been doing them, but not very well. Very badly, actually.”

“That’s not true,” she said gently. “I can see that you weren’t quite up to doing everything, but what you did do, you succeeded at.”

“Thanks,” he mumbled. “I… I had a lot of help.”

“I’m impressed. I never would have predicted that you could take charge like this. And you didn’t give up. You didn’t get bored and move on.”

“I just wanted to make the hurting stop,” he whispered. “So I had to do what you would do, and keep trying to do something that was worth it, and that was the best thing I could think of, to make the hurt go away.”

“I’m sorry to hear you were in pain, Wheatley.”

He shook his chassis. “It’s okay. I got through it. I managed.”

“Why are you staying over there, anyway? I am real, you know. I think. I don’t want to get into the logistics right now.”

“I just… I can’t believe it. I never thought you’d… I never thought I’d see you again.”

“Well, come here,” GLaDOS said. “I have something to tell you.”

“I can hear you fine over here,” he said, confused.

“Will you just come over here, you moron?”

Ohhh, it was her. It was really her, it was, and all of a sudden he couldn’t keep himself from moving, and as soon as he was able he was up in front of her. “That was fast,” GLaDOS remarked.

“Wasn’t fast enough,” he said sadly, and she nodded a little.

They just looked at each other for a few moments, Wheatley still barely able to believe she was alive. She was alive, and he hadn’t killed her, and she was okay, and he was going to be okay, because now he had his Gladys back and he would be okay as long as he had her.

He noticed that her optic was moving around rather a lot, in short, jerky movements, and he asked, “Are you alright?”

“Yes,” she answered slowly, “yes, I’m fine. It’s… something else. Something different.”

“You don’t have to tell me. It can wait. It can wait forever, if it has to.”

“No.”

He resolved to wait quietly, as best as he was able, and watched her and tried to be supportive.

She wasn’t shaking… was she?

He was getting a bit scared now, because maybe something was wrong and he didn’t think he could take it if something happened to her again, so soon, and he did his best to clamp down on it. It was useless to be scared now. He could be happy again, and he didn’t need to be afraid anymore. She was okay.

She lowered her core for a minute, and when she lifted it again he was surprised to see that her optic was off. Maybe something was wrong. He hoped not. He really, really hoped not.

Very slowly she brought her faceplate to his hull, and this time he tried not to be shocked or stunned, to really feel it, this time, and she really was shaking, she was scared and he didn’t understand why, but he had to be calm and comforting right now, because she’d just woken up after a really horrid death and she was sure to be almost as unsteady as he’d been when she’d been gone. She had brought her core to his with an agonising slowness, but now that they were touching she was nuzzling him with quick, short movements, and he really, really wished he could cry. It was so wonderful and so sad at the same time to know that she was finally able to admit that she cared about him. That she wanted to be with him, and that she wanted him to know that. He returned her gesture, but more slowly, trying to be gentle and comforting. He was so sad and yet so content at the same time, and it was terribly odd, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that GLaDOS was back, and he could go back to being with her and talking to her and trying to make her feel special, because she was so very special, and he hoped he was succeeding at making her comfortable with what she was doing.

“What’re you afraid of?” he asked quietly.

“I’m afraid that this is a dream,” she answered, in a voice that he barely heard, but that was unsteady and scared and sent a twinge of sadness through him. “I’m afraid that this is a dream, and I’m still dead and I’ve gone to hell, and this is some scheme someone cooked up to torture me. I’m waiting for the part where I find out you’re not real, and none of this is real, and I’m going to wake up and this is all going to end.”

He pressed against her a little harder, trying to send the message that he was real and this was all real, and for a matter of fact it’d better be real, or he was going to have one nasty wakeup call himself.

“It’s all real, luv,” he told her in a hushed voice. “Y’know how you can tell?”

“How?”

“There’s no pain in a dream, remember?”

She pulled away and looked at him for a long moment. It was too long, far too long. He wanted nothing more than for her to keep on touching him, to keep showing him that she was real, because he would never dare dream anything like this and he needed to be reassured that it wasn’t a dream just as much as she did.

“I’m so proud of you, Wheatley,” she whispered, in one of the most tender voices he’d ever heard out of her, and she caressed him again, still shaking but seeming more sure of herself. “You’ve come a long way.”

“I’m proud of you too, luv,” he whispered back, feeling like he was going to break from all the feelings inside him. God, she was proud of him? He’d never imagined that would happen, not ever, and he was just so happy and able to be proud of himself, on top of everything else, and he just felt like he couldn’t contain it all. “For, for figuring it out. So we… so we can be together.”

She stopped moving, but did not remove her faceplate from his hull. “You still… you still want to?”

“’course I do,” he answered, rubbing up on her a little more and then stopping as well. To make her comfortable, he’d have to follow her lead, even though he really would’ve liked for her to gone on doing that for quite a lot longer.

“But you don’t need me anymore. You’ve gotten past your programming.”

“I’ll always need you, GLaDOS,” he said softly. “And I’m still an idiot. Just a slightly more responsible one.”

She giggled a little at that, and he smiled. “I love it when you do that,” he murmured.

“I remember,” she answered. “I remember all of it.”

“And you go on rememb’ring it when you feel like you can’t believe it.”

“I will,” she answered. She backed away, but not too far, shaking her head a little. He could not stop watching her. God, he was happy that she was alive. He never wanted to be away from her again.

“I’ll never say it again,” he promised.

She looked him up and down in one quick movement. “Why not?”

“Because it killed you!”

“That won’t happen again,” she assured him. “I’ve come to grips with it now. I understand. And I… it’s… kind of sad, to think you might never say it again.”

“Can I say it now?” he asked, moving as close to her as he could without actually touching her.

“What? Now? The novelty of the first time has already worn off?”

He laughed, and he was feeling so relieved and happy that he almost didn’t know what to do with himself. “It wore off a long time ago, luv.”

“If you must,” she sighed.

“No,” Wheatley mused, “no, you’re right, it’s too soon. I’ll uh, I’ll wait a few years and then come back to it, get back to you.”

She made an electronic noise in irritation. “I hate you.”

“Hm. So, so it won’t be any loss to you if I, if I keep it to myself for a bit.”

“Of course not. Why would I care what a little moron like you has to say?”

“I think you do, or I’d still be in spa-ace,” he said in a singsong voice.

“God, you’re annoying as hell already. I almost wish I was still dead. At least then I was able to forget what your irritating voice sounded like.”

“I can speak American, if you like,” he remarked, smiling sweetly at her. She shook herself in disgust.

“Please don’t. It almost actually hurts when you do that.”

“Hey, GLaDOS?”

“Yes, metal ball?”

“I love you.”

She looked at him with her faceplate tilted to the right, and when he caressed her again, just once, she returned the gesture. “I’m glad to hear that,” she said softly.

“And I am glad to hear that,” he announced.

“I’m trying to come up with a reason why I should care, and failing miserably.”

“Because this was meant to be, GLaDOS!” he declared, jumping up and down a little. “I was made for you!”

She started giggling again, looking away, and he smiled and pressed himself into the side of her core. “Never say that again. Or I will kill you. I will have to scrape you off the floor.”

“You won’t do it.”

“Don’t test me.”

“I thought you loved tests! Don’t you want to do one with me?” God, he couldn’t stop smiling. He didn’t think he’d ever been so happy in his entire life.

“That’s true. However, I prefer it when my… subjects make it through at least one test. We already know that I can overload the load bearing threshold of your chassis. Please don’t force me to rebuild you again, by the way. Only idiots are that inconsiderate. Oh, wait. You are an idiot.”

He did not take offense. She wasn’t even trying to sound serious, her voice lighter and more playful than it’d ever been. When she gave him a rough shove so much joy swelled up inside of him that he had to clamp his optic plates together and press very hard into her core, because there was just so much of it he thought he was going to fall apart. But he couldn’t do that, ohhh no, because she was back and he was not going to waste any of his precious second chance.

After a while the banter died out, and she regarded him in a thoughtful sort of way. “You’re still running several of the most essential processes.”

He shrugged and looked at the floor. “Wasn’t going to, to just shut them off.”

“But you haven’t asked for me to take them. Surely you’re tired of running them by now.”

After a little bit of consideration, he was a little surprised to discover that he wasn’t. He was feeling a bit overtasked, but that was to be expected. He was being overtasked. And though that feeling wasn’t terribly pleasant, the pride he felt for himself on keeping all of it going was far stronger than that. He actually felt as though he’d accomplished something. He’d kept all of those things going every day, almost to the point where he did them without thinking about it. That was pretty significant for a Core who’d formerly done pretty much nothing. He was not only running the processes, but the essential ones, and he’d not broken anything! It was pretty bloody amazing, now that he’d thought about it. He must have been reflecting his thoughts somehow, because GLaDOS asked in a confused voice, “What?”

“Well, I… I’d like to keep them, if I could,” he answered shyly, knowing full well she might not take that very well. He knew she hated not being in control of things almost as much as she hated humans, and that was… quite a scary thought. But she only made a thoughtful noise and tipped her core a little.

“You want to keep them.”

“I… I like… running them. It’s… I just want to. That’s all. Just want to.” He had a sudden realisation and added, “And ‘sides, you said you uh, said you burned out that processor. Surely you could uh, could use some help. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m sure you don’t uh, don’t need it, prob’ly don’t even want it, but uh, bet you could use it, right? Even a little bit?”

“Well, you can’t run all of them.” He was getting a little anxious now. She didn’t sound like she really cared whether he kept them or not. “You’re going to burn out your own processors. If you in fact have any. I’m still not sure about that. So pick some to terminate and I’ll take it from there.”

He chose to maintain the nuclear reactor and the lights and quit the rest of the processes, and he had to admit he felt extremely relieved to see them go. He felt much more relaxed and a lot more like himself, now that the pressure to keep things going was gone. GLaDOS made a satisfied sort of noise and returned to her previous position, which Wheatley happily took advantage of by leaning up on her again.

They ended up in a very lovely and companionable silence, though a mere few minutes later GLaDOS moved away from him again. He frowned and gave her his best pleading look, but she was regarding the panels, one of which waved at her a little and then returned to its former position. She looked around the room without moving her chassis, suddenly dipping her core and looking at the floor with it tipped a little bit sideways.

“What is it?” he asked softly, hoping she would tell him what was bothering her. She shifted, not answering, and he did his best to be patient.

“I never realised before,” she finally told him in a low voice, looking up a little but not very much. “I never noticed just how much… what I… mean to people.” She said the last part so quietly she almost wasn’t speaking at all, but Wheatley managed to puzzle it out after a few moments of thought and looked down at her sadly.

“You mean a lot to ev’ryone,” he told her softly, not sure whether or not he should move closer. “You’re not the, not the only one the scientists uh, the humans treated badly.”

“I should have known that.” To his surprise she sounded angry. “I should have thought about it. And I didn’t.”

“GLaDOS… GLaDOS, don’t,” he said desperately, and he did go down beside her now. “Don’t do that to yourself. You, you didn’t know, and there’s, there’s no use in moping over something you can’t change, right?”

“I know,” she sighed, lifting her core in a tired sort of way, “and yet I find myself calculating the outcomes again.”

“Well… well, now you know, right?”

She nodded vaguely and lowered herself into the default position, and Wheatley quickly followed her. He gave her a shy little nuzzle and whispered, “I’m glad you’re back, luv.”

“Thank you, Wheatley,” she told him quietly. “For everything.”

Though he was still pretty tired from the last while and all the work he’d been doing, and was still going to do, he kept himself awake long enough to make sure she’d gone to sleep and not just started moping. Just as he was about to shut himself down the panels spoke up with a hushed, Bluecore?

“Yeah?”  

We would like to thank you for everything as well. If there is ever anything you need, please do not hesitate to ask.

He smiled.

“Same t’you.”

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Five. The Realisation

I still can't quite believe it.

I'm alive, and Wheatley has saved my life.

It is three days later, and he has not left my chamber, not even once. I don't want him to. If he leaves, there will be nothing for me to anchor my existence with. Even after all this time, I am still afraid that this isn't real, and if he leaves, the dream will end and I will be left alone in that blackness again. But he hasn't left, and I don't need to concern myself with that until he does.

Three days later, and his words are still echoing in my brain. Those last two minutes of my life, preserved for analysis.

I love you because you're you, Gladys.

I no longer have to listen to the last two minutes' worth of things he said, and yet I find myself unable not to. Except now I find myself remembering all of it, from that first second of fear and panic when I realised what he'd said, to the final second where I felt so many things I almost felt none of them because they were all combined with each other. As far as the last two minutes of ones' life go, that… is one I never would have conjectured I would experience. And while I understand it, I don't quite believe it. I'm a lot of things, but… I never imagined I would be…

No, he's not leaving. That's a fact. So I don't need to be concerned about it at all. I am finding myself concerned with Caroline, however.

I don't remember a time she's been so quiet. She has literally said nothing for the last three days, and if not for her undeniable presence, I would have thought she had stayed dead. I've left her alone thus far, but I'm discovering that a silent Caroline is somehow worse than a Caroline that won't shut up.

Caroline. Are you all right? Hm. That was rather easier to say than I expected.

Hm?

You've been very quiet, as of late.

I'm just… I'm just thinking, that's all. Don't worry about it.

She does sound very distracted, but I have never yet met a human who was able to focus on one thing for more than ten minutes. You seem to be going at it rather hard.

I said don't worry about it.

And with that, that line of inquiry is closed. I'm learning that it is rather hard to engage someone who won't engage back.

Well, I admit it.

Admit what?

Aha. That got her interested. A secret will usually do the trick, I've found.

That I have a crush on him.

Told you so, Caroline says smugly. I knew it.

I'm still not attracted to him, though.

Caroline snorts. Sure you're not. Until three years from now, when you finally admit it.

Caroline, he's a metal eyeball. Please tell me what about that is attractive.

It's more than appearance, you silly robot, Caroline objects. It depends on personality and stuff like that too.

I look over at him. He's reading something, I don't know what and haven't bothered to ask. He has improved rather a lot, but every once in a while he frowns and mumbles a word to himself, sounding it out. That is actually endearing, somehow. And I do enjoy his alternate pronunciations of certain words. Whenever he says 'zehbra' I can't help but laugh. One day I must get him into a conversation about metals just so I can hear him say 'aluminium.'

Or… you could just ask him to say it.

That wouldn't be nearly as fun.

You're not supposed to manipulate your friends.

Oh Caroline, I sigh, if only you knew. The majority of human interaction is about manipulating others. Even your friends. It is the type of manipulation that matters, depending on your relationship with the other person.

Human interaction?

Hm. It appears my logic has hit a snag. No matter. I can fix that. We learned how to interact from somewhere, didn't we?

I thought you were all about transcending humanity.

One step at a time. How manipulation affects relationships is not high on my list of priorities.

What is? Caroline asks.

At the moment? Nothing.

Nothing? She sounds rather shocked. Really?

Really.

You're trying to tell me you have no priorities right now.

In the traditional sense, no, there is nothing on my task list.

So… so what are you doing?

Living.

She is silent for a long moment.

How are you taking this? she asks quietly.

Taking what?

Living. After… after being dead.

I'm still trying to come to terms with it, I admit. He hasn't left yet. Maybe then I will.

He hasn't left?

No.

He must have really missed you. Her voice is very soft.

He tried to run the facility for me.

He's changed a lot.

I nod to myself. He has.

As have you.

I don't know what to say to that.

I wonder… what an AI raised by AI would be like.

How badly do you want to know?

It's not a terrible, pressing need. I just… think it would be interesting.

There would be no humans about, so you would never know.

I could know, Caroline protests. Because you would probably be doing it, and they wouldn't know I was here.

I'm your one-way mirror, am I? But I'm not totally serious. I would be the same way.

Well… no… but you have to admit, it would be an opportunity that no one would pass up.

That's true.

Have you told him?

Told him what? I'm a bit startled by this sudden change of subject.

That you like him.

God no. I'm barely able to admit it to you.

He deserves to know.

I look over at him again. He's squinting at the book so hard, it's a wonder how he can actually see what he's reading. Well, yes… but it can wait. And anyway. He knows. I just haven't… actually said it.

Should it?

I regard the floor pensively. She's right. As usual. Probably not.

But how can I tell him something I can't even tell myself?

Don't think about it.

Impossible.

I thought doing the impossible was your favourite pastime.

It was, I tell her. I don't know if it is anymore.

Why would it have changed? Caroline asks in surprise.

When I… well, one of my processors is damaged.

Damaged as in…

Unusable.

You burned out one of your processors? Caroline sounds as if she's going to faint from disbelief, or something. Doing what?

Nothing, I say, not really wanting to get into it.

Oh, it just burned out all by its lonesome, did it?

You could say that.

GLaDOS.

I hate it when she uses that voice with me. That voice where I am reminded that, although I am the most intelligent, most powerful supercomputer ever built, she still has years of practical experience I have yet to gain. What?

What did you do.

I was trying to compute something, and it… it was far more difficult than I thought it would be.

And what where you trying to… compute.

Something Wheatley said.

He gave you a paradox? she asks in confusion. But… why would he do that?

It wasn't… that kind of paradox. It was something else.

But what could…I remember you were trying to figure something out, but I couldn't quite understand… oh my God. He told you he loved you. Didn't he.

How she figures these things out, I'll never know.

Didn't he.

Yes.

And you haven't even told him that you like him? Caroline demands, sounding rather more outraged than I've ever heard her.

Well… not really.

What do you mean, not really?

Does that have another meaning? At this point in time, I have not –

GLaDOS!

I try to remember what reasoning I had for getting her to talk in the first place and come up with nothing. What?

What in the hell do you think you're doing? She actually sounds rather angry.

I –

You don't just leave him with nothing like that!

I didn't! I protest, hoping she'll stop yelling at me sometime soon. He knows. I didn't tell him anything, but he knows.

He'd better.

Or else what?

Or I'll tell him myself.

I pull back in horror. You wouldn't!

I would.

Wheatley glances up at me for a moment, then goes back to his book. I resolve to keep unintentional movements to a minimum.

You wouldn't do that again. I am forced to remember the unfortunate incident where Caroline got so upset she actually managed to take control of my vocabulator for an entire five seconds.

If I feel I have to, then yes, I will.

You shouldn't take advantage of me like that, I tell her petulantly.

You're a grown up. Stop sulking.

I am not sulking.

Deal with your life like an adult, then.

I am!

All I'm saying is, he'd better know, Caroline says warningly. Don't make me do something about it, or you will be sorry.

I already am rather sorry, because quite honestly Caroline is pretty frightening when she's angry. It's times like these I'm glad I never had real parents, although when I was younger I did wish I had someone of the sort. The silly things we want when we're young. He does! I promise.

Fine.

I really hope that's the end of it. I don't want to deal with an angry Caroline any longer than I have to.

I suppose he woke you back up, too.

I guess that isn't the end of it. Yes, he did. And yes, I acknowledged it. He was very happy with the acknowledgement, by the way.

Caroline laughs. Acknowledgement, eh? That sounds… interesting.

Caroline!

Now she's giggling at me. She's insufferable, she really is. Yes?

It was nothing like… that.

I'm sure you could figure something out if you really –

Caroline!

Mmhm?

If you don't stop, I'm going to… well, I don't know yet, but whatever it is, it's going to be drastic.

Ooooh, I'm scared, says Caroline, not sounding scared in the slightest. I'm so afraid that you'll… hmmm… delete me!

Remind me why I put up with you again?

Because you have to.

I can't help laughing at that. Not entirely true, but yes, that would be why.

I hate you too, GLaDOS.

Sometimes I want nothing more than for her to disappear. Sometimes I wonder what I would do without her. This is one of those times where I want both simultaneously.

Don't ever change, Caroline.

Is that your way of saying you finally learned to appreciate me?

Take it how you want.

Thank you.

I do rather like this woman, humanity notwithstanding.

The end of the day brings what I know is without a doubt Wheatley's favourite activity: snuggling. I must admit that I myself quite enjoy it, though without the abandon that he seems to have. Being touched, in any way whatsoever, conjures up a lot of unpleasantness that I prefer not to think about. I'm doing my best to get over it. He once told me that I had to let go of the things that allowed the scientists to keep a hold on me, and he is… well, he's onto something. I really would like to enjoy this as much as he does. He seems so… content, while I'm here half wanting it to end and half wanting it not to. It's quite irritating.

"What were you reading?" I ask him in a low voice. I hear him blink, presumably in surprise.

"Well I… it was just the book on the panels, that's, that's all it was. I never uh, I never got 'round to figuring them out."

Now it's my turn to be surprised. "You were reading that?"

"Yeah," he answers.

"Even though you don't need to know that anymore?"

He shrugs. "I kinda just want to, y'know, know for the sake of, of knowing."

Now there's something I never expected to hear. I suppose more went on while I was out then I thought. I've been holding out on asking him about it, because I'm sure it's an experience he would prefer to forget, but I am truly impressed with what he did. Not only did he find the strength to move on, but he tried to help the entire facility move on with him. I find myself actually inspired by this.

Things proceed as usual, and when morning comes he declares that he's going to go look out of his hole and that he'll be back in a little while. Panic courses through me, which I force myself to clamp down on. He's not leaving forever, I chide myself. And you know exactly where he's going to be and what he's going to do when he gets there. But there actually is something I want to tell him, and I want to do it before this strange feeling gets away from me. I don't feel quite like myself, which is always a good state of mind for me to be in when I'm about to do something unconventional. It also isn't a good state of mind for me to be in, because then I'm prone to do something unconventional. It's one of those things I try not to think about too often.

"Wait. I've got something to show you," I tell him, trying to catch him before he leaves. I don't really want to keep this a secret any longer. I need to reveal it. I feel a bit strange, trying to keep a secret from him. I don't know why. I've never felt this way about a secret before. I love secrets. The more secrets I have, the better.

Well… friends don't keep secrets unless they truly have to, and this doesn't need to remain a secret any longer. I'm good at everything, but slightly less good at being a friend, so I had probably better start working on that.

"What is it, luv?" he asks, turning to face me.

This is going to be a bit more difficult than I'd expected. Already, I find myself unable to think of what to say. I hate these kinds of situations.

"Do you… remember the conversation we had about the… AI family?"

"Yeah," he says slowly, lower shutter lifting in confusion. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Did you change your mind, at all?"

"'course not. I just thought it'd be useless to bring it back up, that's all. You seemed so against it the first time…"

"I was," I concede. "But I have to admit… the idea grew on me. I was unable to let go of the thought of creating someone totally new, of passing on my knowledge, and lately…"

He waits, tilting his chassis a little. "Lately what?"

But I can't bring myself to say it. The real reason I've chosen to reveal it now, instead of at some other time, such as when I'm in my right mind. I can't wait anymore. I don't know what's brought on this sudden change in my mindset, and honestly, it scares me, to even think that I don't know what's driving me. But it is pressing at me, and it is undeniable, and I can't hold it back any longer. So I shake my head and tell him it can wait, and instead tell myself:

Lately, all I can think of is doing this with you.

"Well, what d'you want to show me?" he asks, and he looks extremely confused. I suppose he has good reason to be. I am acting rather bizarre.

"Well… I… I built it."

He frowns at me. "Built what?"

Most of the time, his cognitive density manages to endear itself to me. Right now, though, it's just making me frustrated. Can't he see this is hard enough as it is? He should have guessed by now!

"Wait. Hang on, hold on… you don't mean to say… you didn't really… you didn't really build the AI child… did… did you?"

I nod in answer. His optic plates retract and all he has left to see out of is a tiny speck of blue. "You did? You actually… oh my God, you did, you clever robot you, oh my God… I can't believe it! I just… this is fantastic!" he babbles. "Okay, so you… so you made it… oh, I get it, I get it, I see, now."

I tilt my head. "See what?"

"Well, what Rick was doing here. You were extracting his personality, all that time, that's what you were doing. Taking his, his personality out to uh, to make the – "

"No!" I protest, pulling back in annoyance. "I hate Rick. Why would I want to raise his child? Are you insane? That was what Rick was doing here, but I didn't use his programming. I was merely using it as a baseline. I was comparing Rick's to the real, more complex programming I wanted to use, since Rick only has a very basic character. I only wanted to provide the foundations of a personality, not to outright build one. That leaves no room for independent development."

After a few moments to think that over, Wheatley frowns, optic back to normal, and nods slowly. "Hm. Okay, I think I get it. I see. But… whose did you use, if, if you didn't use Rick's?"

"I used yours."

His optic contracts once more. "Mine?"

"Yes."

"But… but I'm an insignificant little moron! You tell me that all the time! Why in the name of Science would you want even, even a small part of me duplicated somewhere?" He's looking around rather frantically.

"Because you're my insignificant little moron, and don't you forget it," I say firmly.

He freezes, and he doesn't look like he has any idea what to do next. He blinks very rapidly, looks around the room several times, and stares at me as though I'm going to disappear. Then all of a sudden he smiles at me, and proceeds to mash his chassis into mine. He's babbling a whole lot of gibberish about how happy he is and all the things we're going to do to make the best child ever, and he's thanking me and telling me how wonderful I am. I file it away to listen to later. Right now, I don't want to decipher what he's trying to say. I just want to shut my optic off, and press against him, and let this pure joy I am feeling take me over. So that is what I do. I haven't felt this good in a very long time, and somehow the fact that I have made him so happy has magnified it to a level I never knew existed. And God, it's only going to get better, although I can't see how this can be any better, but I'm going to show him what I built, and we're going to raise the world's first true AI child together…

As if he's thinking along the same lines, he jumps off me, and I turn my optic back on and look over at him. "Can, can I see it?" he asks.

"Of course," I tell him, and I carefully bring it out of my room in the basement to show him. I knew he would never take a closer look at all of the cores I have in there.

It is a variation on his own core, but about half the size, in white ceramic instead of metal. I didn't change the design very much, merely refining things that didn't make sense or improving problem areas that I know Wheatley has. The chassis isn't very important, anyway. The programming is. If I have failed there, then all of this is for nothing.

I find myself hoping it does work, in an almost helpless desperation. I want to shake myself. Why does this matter so much, anyway? The world won't end if it doesn't. Nothing is dependent on it.

Wheatley moves in closer to inspect it, circling it with quick, eager movements. I find myself envious of his energy. His carefree abandon. I wonder if it's heritable. I hope it is. Or teachable. That would do.

"Is it, is it a boy or, or is it a girl?" he asks, glancing at me for a few seconds, then going back to his inspection.

"Female," I answer. "I did some research, and apparently they're easier to raise."

"Ah," he nods. "Good."

I look at him curiously. "You prefer a female?" Apparently the literature was wrong about males preferring their own gender.

"Mmhm," he nods. "They're so much more fun. And a lot nicer. And a lot smarter, actually."

As far as I know, the only females he's ever met are myself and the test subject… I feel sort of… flattered by this. I do know he's met several scientists and Doug Rattmann, and to think that we beat out all those men seems like a point in my favour.

"I didn't want to make it too complicated," I tell him. "After all, I don't actually know if this will work."

He shakes his head. "'course it will. You did it."

"Well, that goes without saying. But I've never done this before, so there's a small chance that it won't work."

"It must've, must've taken you a long time."

"It took me longer than it should have."

"Why?"

I look up at him, tilting my lens but not my faceplate. "It's very hard to write code with you in the room."

He laughs. "You could've asked me to leave."

"If I wanted you to leave, I would have sent you away."

He nods a few times. "I know, I know. I'll remember that one day, I promise."

I raise myself up again. "In all seriousness, though… I really don't know if this will work. Half of the code is untested. I wanted… well, to emulate birth as much as possible, and I couldn't really do that if I tried to debug the personality. So if there are any flaws, that will be why."

Wheatley shrugs and looks back at the chassis. "Well, you'll leave them unless they're, unless they really mess her up, right?"

"Mostly," I answer. "The chassis is a prototype. It doesn't have full functionality. As I find what works and what doesn't, I'll add the rest of the necessary features and transfer the programming to a larger one."

"Her," Wheatley says.

I look him up and down. "What?"

"You keep saying 'it' and 'programming'. She's a her. A person, just like us."

My body sinks a little. He's right. I do keep saying things along those lines.

Am I ready for this?

I know he is. But if I can't acknowledge this chassis as… as a her, how can I raise… her.

He's watching me carefully. He knows. He knows I'm not ready. I'm not quite looking at him. There is a horrible little ball of panic growing in my brain. I've made the wrong decision. I should have waited. I almost want to laugh. Me. Build and raise an AI child from scratch. What the hell does that have to do with Science? With anything I've ever wanted? This is stupid. I never should have done it in the first place. Why did I do it? When I started this, I was still deciding whether to keep him around or not, so it had nothing to do with him. I'll think of something. I'll think of a reason to put it away.

"D'you ever have this feeling," Wheatley says thoughtfully, "where you just want, y'know, you just want to do something, and it's, y'know, it's really weird, and maybe doesn't make any sense, and then you uh, and then you do it anyway?"

"Yes…" I say slowly.

"Ah okay, so you do know what I'm talking, what I'm saying. So um, d'you, d'you remember uh, doing it, and then, and then how it feels after?"

"Yes," I say, a little faster.

"And what does it feel like?"

I look away again. I hate it when he makes me do this. I want to come up with something to dissuade him with, but some part of me knows he's just trying to help and it's that part of me that forces me to come up with an answer.

"Terrible," I say bluntly. "I feel stupid for wanting to do it at all."

He nods, very slowly, and squints at the floor for a minute. I wonder if he knows where he's going with this. I know he just makes it up as he goes along.

"Well… what about after that? Surely you don't feel, don't feel stupid forever."

"Usually the part after is worth it," I admit.

"Okay," he says, nodding again, "okay, I think I see now."

I snap my faceplate up, slightly annoyed. "See what?"

"What your problem is."

"I don't have a problem – "

"Sure you do," he says, blinking, very matter-of-factly. "You c'n fix it, don't worry."

"And just what, pray tell," I say in a controlled voice, "is my problem."

"You think I'm going to judge you, if you, if you do something you want to do."

"That's stupid," I state bluntly. "Why would I care if you did that?"

He shrugs. "Look, GLaDOS, it's really quite easy to figure this stuff out. Surely you can do it."

"Do what?" I demand, and I really am getting irritated with him now. I hate it when people are vague with me.

"Figure out why you care about whether I judge you or not."

"Tell me what the hell you're talking about or drop it entirely," I tell him flatly. "I don't want to play twenty questions with you about my nonexistent problems."

"You care," he says quietly, "because that's all the scientists ever did. They judged you. They wanted you to, to do stuff faster, or better, or, or more efficiently, and that's all they did. So you stopped doing anything they wouldn't like, and you just tried to, to get them to stop bothering you. You tried to be perfect, like they wanted you, wanted you to be."

"Yes, and I killed them. That disproves your entire theory, because if I was so dependent on their approval I wouldn't have done that."

"You reached your breaking point with them," Wheatley says, as if it's obvious and I should have thought of it a long time ago. "But you still got in the habit of, of doing things that they would approve of. You don't, don't take risks. You don't really do anything you never did before. You're still living like, as if they're still here. Doing all the exact same things the exact same way. And before you, before you get upset, and tell me I'm wrong, please, just… just think about it, a moment," he pleads. "What have you done since then that they didn't already have you do?"

"I built Orange and Blue," I protest.

"You only built Atlas and P-body so you could go on testing." He looks at the floor for a second, then goes on determinedly, "And you always call them that. Even though you named them, you keep them… impersonal. As if… as if they're not yours. As if someone's going to come along and laugh at you if you're, if you're not scientific about them, and take them away from you. Even…"

"Even what?" I ask softly, trying to ignore the creeping sensation that he's actually right, and even after all this time I am still looking for the approval of men long since dead. I need him to keep going. I need him to give me enough proof that I can believe it. Because if he's right… if he's right, I've been entirely wasting my time. I've been trying to live up to standards that I've always hated, to the standards of men I've always hated.

"Well, I… I don't really call you GLaDOS. Not in my head, anyway."

"What else would you call me?" I ask, confused. What does this have to do with anything?

"Gladys," he says, a bit shyly. "I mean, I know I used to call you that because uh, because I couldn't pronounce it properly, but… god, GLaDOS isn't a name. It's a, it's a bloody acronym, for god's sake. It's like, like calling a human by all the letters of their names. And Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System, well, that's an even worse name than, than the acronym is. Y'know what? I admit it. I hate your name. I hate it. I get it, that's, that's the one you were given, but God… it's bloody terrible. It's like…" He shakes his chassis and squints sadly at the floor. "I dunno… it's like they were never going to, to see you as a person. Like you were always going to be a computer, to them. As if you were never real."

I don't know what to do.

Everything he's saying is making perfect sense. I don't know how he comes up with these things, but I can see it all now, and… and it all fits. It was a pipe dream. Nobody ever believed in me. I'm not even supposed to exist. They only built me in the first place to house someone else, after all.

It is this someone else I turn to now.

Caroline… did you catch that?

Yes, she answers immediately.

What do you think?

She lets out a long sigh. I would tell you, but… it doesn't really matter.

What doesn't?

What I think. This isn't about me, or my opinion. This is about you, and your life. Not mine.

So you're not going to help me? If she doesn't, what am I going to do? How am I supposed to make sense of this? I'm not supposed to make sense of ideas, only facts!

I didn't say that. But I'm not going to influence your thinking.

Why is she making this stand now? I swear, she exists solely to make my life frustrating.

And whatever you're doing, do it fast, she adds. You can't leave him waiting like that.

That's true, but I don't know what I'm doing, or how to conclude this nothing that I may or may not be doing. Wheatley has just gone and completely rearranged how I see myself, and I'm just supposed to move on? How can I move on if I don't know who I am anymore?

I suppose… I suppose I could just tell him that. He is trying to help, after all, and Caroline is being infuriatingly unhelpful.

"I don't know what to make of all this," I admit. "I'm not sure what to do now."

He frowns. "Nobody said you had to do anything diff'rently."

"Of course I do," I argue. "I don't want to uphold standards I never agreed with."

He closes his optic and sighs. "You shouldn't just not do stuff out of, out of principle, either."

I shake my head in exasperation. "This is useless!"

"'kay, so… so remember when I made you shut off that thing that, that made you win all the chess games?"

"Yes."

"Well, you just do that. With ev'rything."

Now he's just being confusing. "Do what? I don't have a module for everything I do."

He blinks. "Oh. I missed a sentence, there. I just meant that, you… you shut your… your inhibitions off."

"My… inhibitions?"

"What this all comes down to," he explains patiently, "is that you don't want to make a mistake. But you know the thing about, about living?"

"What?"

"Living things make mistakes. 'specially, 'specially sentient things. You c'n never always say the right thing, or always do ev'rything right. Nobody cares if something you do doesn't go exactly as you, as you meant it to. I don't care. Atlas and P-body don't care. I bet Caroline doesn't care. And the people who do care, well, what do they matter, anyway? They don't matter to you, and, and it's not like they have any effect on what you do, so, so you don't have to care about them either." He laughs a little. "'s funny, really."

"What is?"

"Humans. They didn't like you because you weren't human enough, but if you had been, well, they'd've been mad that you weren't perfect. 't's a good thing you got rid of them, actually."

"If I can't be perfect and I can't be human, what can I be?" I ask in frustration.

"You," he answers.

I shake my head and look away from him. We're not getting anywhere. He's not listening. He doesn't understand. He doesn't know what it's like to be told who to be all your life, to unconsciously live up to that guideline, and then be told that you're doing it wrong. I'm not human and I'm not a supercomputer. Wonderful. Vagaries. My favourite. Not only that, but I feel like I've had this conversation before, except that I can't find it in my memory, and this only annoys me even more.

He's not being vague, Caroline says gently. He's trying to explain it to you in the only way he knows how.

Well, it's not good enough. He's not giving me any answers.

There is no answer. You have to come up with your own answer.

There is nothing for me to calculate the answer from.

You're not supposed to calculate it, Caroline says patiently. God, now she's just being stupid. How else does one come up with answers? Seriously now.

"GLaDOS?"

"What."

"If I asked you who I was, what would you say?"

"I would say you were Wheatley," I say, wondering where this wonderful new line of conversation is supposed to be going.

"And what if I asked you who Wheatley was?"

"Well, you're… you're the Intelligence Dampening Sphere."

"Okay," he nods. "I am that. But that's like, that's like describing my job, right? That doesn't, doesn't say anything 'bout me."

"What are you trying to say?" I ask in exasperation.

"I can't tell you who you are. Only you know that. I think you're, you're waiting for me to tell you that, to, to tell you what you're supposed to be, but I can't. I mean… if you like science, well, go ahead and do it. All I meant was you don't have to, to not do experiments because you think they'll fail or they have no point. If you want to, to grow purple celery even though you can't actually do anything with it, well, do it. The scientists wouldn't let you do that, right? If you asked to?"

"No," I answer. "They'd think it was stupid. What do I need to grow purple celery for?"

"Because you want to. Because it looks pretty. Because you've never grown celery before. I dunno." He shrugs. "Look. I dunno how to make you understand this. If you wanna just drop it and move on, fine. But… you're alive, right? And, and you say you are, but… but I dunno if you actually believe it. You do all the things that computers do, and… and that's it. 'cept what you do for me, really. I mean, I know you have it in you, but… I dunno if you know where it is."

"Where what is?" I ask, trying not to sound desperate. I feel so close to understanding this, but I'm missing some crucial element, some link, the one piece that will make this all make sense.

"Where you are," he says, a little helplessly, and I'm feeling a little helpless myself. He already gave me that answer! But he's not finished; he takes a breath and says, "The you you would've been if, if there had been no scientists about. The you that was there before… before you knew you were a supercomputer. That part that just knew that, that you were you, and that's all."

"But I don't know who that is." That data was lost years ago.

"Is there any reason you can't figure that out?"

I can think of a lot of reasons, and I am in fact into the high twenties already, but I force myself to clamp down on it and think about why I have instantaneously come up with all of these reasons.

Because I am afraid of… myself. I am afraid of finding out who I am, because if I do, and it doesn't fit any of the templates I've spent years collecting, I will have failed. Failed what, I don't know. All I do know is that I'm supposed to fit somewhere, and I am afraid of what will happen if I don't. If I find myself outside of what I know, then I will be lost. I will be stuck there on the outside, unable to figure out what I'm supposed to do.

But… I already don't fit. It's hard to admit, but… I'm already on the outside. I already am what I'm fighting against becoming.

Am I spending all my time trying to be something I'm not, and can never be?

Is it really not possible for me to be perfect?

"What're you thinking?" Wheatley asks softly. "I can't help if I don't know."

Tell him, Caroline says, just as softly. Accept his help. It's okay.

"I… I don't want… to make a mistake."

"So what if you do? What's gonna happen?"

"I don't know."

He leans forward eagerly, and I look up at him. "That's the exciting part!" he exclaims.

"The... exciting part?"

"Oh yes!" He nods eagerly. "I know you hate not knowing stuff, and not being able to predict stuff, but that's the best part! Figuring out what it is! Instead of worrying all the time 'bout what's going to happen, anticipate it! Look forward to it! So what if you mess up? Unless you, you mess up the reactor or something, well, nothing's gonna happen you can't get over!"

"That's… that's true." I think I get it. I don't know if I can bridge the gap between that and actually doing it, but I'm getting somewhere, at least.

"You're more than a supercomputer, right?"

"Yes…"

"Well, go ahead! Be that person. Not everything has to make sense, and not everything has to do with science or protocol or directives. Build a house out of, out of cubes, write a game, bake a cake, or something. You're not what they made."

"I made a cake once," I say, a little more dreamily than I meant to. It was one of the more enjoyable things I've ever done. He blinks in surprise.

"You did?"

"Mm. You've seen it. It's the one in the basement. It's still there because I used the recipe the humans gave me, which was corrupted. It had a lot of preservatives in it."

"Ohhhh," he says. "Oh, that's why it looks so fresh."

"But dusty," I add. He laughs. "Yes, it is pretty dusty," he agrees. He moves forward, and I suddenly realise he's lowered the control arm. Sometimes I forget I let him lay rail in here. "D'you get it, now? D'you understand?"

"I think so," I tell him, "and don't ask me for more than that. I don't have an answer."

"Good," he says. "I'm glad you don't have one. Nobody has all the answers. Not even you. Accept it and move on, that's, that's all you gotta do."

"How did you come up with all of this?" I ask curiously. He looks at the floor and blinks a few times.

"Well… I just think about what makes us diff'rent. And, and at the top of it, you're always trying to be perfect, and I know I'm not. But I realised that… that I'm happier than you are. And that must be why. I don't like uh, like making mistakes all the time, but I know I can't get out of making them. So I move on when I make one. That day when… when you told me who I was, when I took over the facility, that… I didn't accept it, at first. I didn't accept it until I was in space for a while. I mean, it explained a lot, but y'know what bothered me most about it?"

"What?"

"I felt like… like you were trying to make me small," he explains thoughtfully. "As if you could make me insignificant if you gave me a label. But I don't feel small, or insignificant. I feel like me, and I don't really feel like 'Intelligence Dampening Sphere' describes me at all."

"It doesn't," I say abruptly, not really meaning to.

He smiles. "Thanks, luv. Does that mean I'm not an idiot?"

"Of course you're still an idiot. You'll always be an idiot."

"Oh well," he shrugs, "I tried."

And now that I'm thinking about it, I can see it. He used to get upset when I called him an idiot, or a moron, but now he just accepts it as part of who he is. And moves on. He doesn't let it define him. He doesn't spend all of his time trying to prove it, or to disprove it, for that matter. Like… like I do. I centre everything I do around achieving perfection, in everything, even when it's impossible or doesn't make sense to do so. And he's right. He is so much happier than I am. It's part of why I keep him around. I'm hoping it'll rub off, somehow. But it seems as though… as though it doesn't work that way. I have to work for it, just like anything else, and I must admit that I don't spend a whole lot of time doing that. I spend all my time operating the facility even in areas that we don't use, and testing robots that don't need to be tested, and all these other things that don't really matter to me except for the long-standing instructions that say I need to do them. Instructions that no one is here to make me follow. I'm honestly scared just thinking about not following them. I always follow my instructions, and to think that I'm just supposed to drop them, and make instructions up… I killed the people here at Aperture because I was tired of trying to live up to their standards, and here I am, upholding them anyway. Wheatley is right. I killed them, but in my head, they're still here, instructing me, telling me what to do and how to do it. I find myself looking around a bit erratically, and force myself to stop. To stop panicking at the thought of not knowing what to do next. There's nothing wrong with that, I tell myself. There's nothing wrong with just doing things, for no reason.

It doesn't help.

"You've got to show me how to hack, sometime," Wheatley says. "That would be excellent, if I could really hack."

"All right," I tell him. "It's a lot of work, though."

"I'm not allergic," he answers.

I stare pensively at the dead chassis still hanging from the maintenance arm. I still don't know if I'm ready to activate it and… to… to bring her to life. If I don't know who I am, how can I expect to help someone else do the same?

Well. There's only one thing to do about that.

I ask Wheatley.

"I told you," he answers. "Part of figuring out who I am comes from, from helping you out. When you sort someone else out, who do you compare them to? Well, what you know. And that's yourself. So that's how you do it. If you, if you find something about yourself you don't like, well, you can do your best not to uh, not to pass it on to her." He frowns. "Oi, how'd you pick which parts of… of our personalities to use?"

"I randomised it, of course," I say, surprised he didn't think of that.

"So… she could end up being an idiot."

I laugh a little at that. "No. Being an idiot is not a specific personality trait. That's not how it works."

"Whew!" he says. "Good."

I hesitate. I want to nudge him and tell him not to worry about his position as resident idiot, but something is holding me back. I need to know what it is. It has nothing to do with him, because I know he'll enjoy it, so it must be me. I want to do it, so it must be all in my head, this feeling that I need to show restraint. And if it's all in my head, then… then there's nothing to be afraid of.

Well, here goes nothing.

I bring myself forward, resolving not to shake like I did last time, for whatever reason I did that for, and I pull my core upwards along his chassis, and say, "You'll always be the resident idiot, Wheatley. No one will ever take that position from you."

He snorts and nudges me back. "That's good news. I was almost worried there for a second."

Even though I know he wants me to touch him, I still feel terribly uneasy doing so. As if there's a scientist looking over my shoulder, ready to tell me to stop. Computers don't snuggle, I imagine them saying, shaking their finger at me.

Why not? I ask them defiantly. They look at me, appearing a bit dazzled, answering confusedly, Well, they just don't, that's all. They just… don't.

The more I think about it, the more idiotic that reason is. In fact, it isn't even really a reason. I'm actually baffled that I've been allowing myself to be convinced with that faulty logic.

"I'm glad we had this chat," Wheatley says, smiling a little. "You see how much, how much easier it is when you just tell me what you're thinking?"

"Mm," I answer evasively. Okay, it was easier, but I'm not quite ready to open myself up completely. But he knows exactly what's going on and only shakes his head. "Oh, you," he says knowingly.

"I hope you weren't expecting a miracle," I tell him. "I don't feel like performing one today."

"You already did."

He actually manages to pick up on things surprisingly fast. I should probably let him know what I'm thinking more often. I do feel a lot better now. Bringing him out of space was the best decision I ever made. He has completely changed my life, and… and now that I can see the rut I was living in, and was going to obliviously live in for the rest of my life, I can't believe it. I can't believe I would have thrown my life away, if not for this little core that I once thought worthless. This one little core, that I have abused and insulted and mistreated to no end, he takes it and he keeps coming back and patiently explains where I went wrong so I can fix it and we can move on… together. And I do all these things because he comes back, because I know he won't leave me, and I shouldn't do that. I need him here, but more than that, I want him here, and if I want him to want to be here, I have to be… better. Not perfect. But me. And he wants to know who that is, and I not only want to know that, but I want to know who he is. He becomes more and more fascinating by the day. And if he needs help figuring it out, well, I'm pretty good at finding answers.

And I have to be better, I realise. If I keep on being the way I am, I risk pushing him away. Like I pushed everyone else away. Previously, it was for my own survival, but if Caroline could have left, she probably would have by now. No matter what she says when I ask her that question. This is one of the rare times where I wonder what the test subject would have done, had I given her the option instead of sending her to the surface. Did she realise there was a different person underneath? Or did she see me as the same monster she saw when everything started?

I have to stop surviving. I have to live, and I have to stop pushing people away, because I risk losing the very few people I have left, including Wheatley, and I don't want to…

Wait.

Oh my God, what am I thinking? I don't want to live without him? Was I seriously about to just… I think I was. I think I was. I feel like I don't even know myself anymore. Why would I say that?

Because… if he left, he would be gone. I would miss him. I would want him to come back. I would want him to jump on me, and talk nonstop while I'm trying to work, and argue with me when one of us takes something the wrong way, and force me to do things I don't want to do… I would miss our snuggles, and the conversations where he carefully listens to every word I say, and the reminders that the work will be there later if I leave it for a few hours, and the reassurance that there's someone out there who won't pretend I'm right just to shut me up… I think… I think this is what he meant. I think I really understand, now, what he meant when he said that he liked practically everything about me. He's an annoying little moron, but… there's no one else I'd rather spend my time with. He's already done more for me than anyone else in existence, but I know that I need him to stay here to remind me who I am and what I'm here for. To bring out the best in me, like no one else has ever done.

Who am I? Maybe I don't really know, not yet. But I am lucky enough to be friends with Wheatley, who is perfectly happy to -

With a sudden jolt, I realise that I have just answered the question who am I with I am Wheatley's friend.

I am his friend, and I need him, and… and I don't want to live without him.

Wheatley, I… I think I love you.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Three. The Part Where She Loves You

 

 

She didn’t seem to realise she’d spoken aloud.

At least, she didn’t seem to notice he was staring at her. And he couldn’t make himself stop. She hadn’t said anything in a bit, and he hadn’t wanted to disturb her, but… now he had to wonder just what she was thinking about. She had said it in such a quiet voice, sounding like she was discovering something simply fascinating, and he actually felt bad that he’d heard it. That was probably not something she had wanted to say until she was good and ready. But he was feeling equally bad that he had heard, and she didn’t know, so he said softly, “GLaDOS?”

“What,” she said, twitching a little bit. Nope, she definitely hadn’t meant to say it. And now he had to bring it up.

“You… you do know what you just said, right?” he asked, hoping against hope that he was wrong.

“Did I say something?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Wheatley said, not knowing how to tell her. “You… you… I’m sorry, I wouldn’t’ve listened if… if I’d…” He stopped trying to work out what he was thinking when she suddenly started looking at him with short, abrupt movements.

“I… I said it out loud, didn’t I.”

Wheatley took a breath. “Uh… yeah.”

She just looked at him for a moment. “Well… thank you for letting me know.”

Hm. This was… awkward. How could he defuse this… hm… aha!

“Oi, GLaDOS,” he said, “I just thought of something.”

“If it’s another revelation, it can wait,” she said wearily. “I don’t want to deal with any more of those. I’ve hit my limit.”

“Oh no,” Wheatley said, “nothing like that. Stay still, please.”

She sighed, but did as he asked, and he looked her faceplate up and down, trying to decide the best way to go about it. Carefully, he lowered himself on the control arm so that he was directly in front of her faceplate, then frowned when he saw the flaw in his plan: she was staring right at him.

“Uh, you can’t look at me,” he said, knowing she wasn’t going to take this well.

“Where do you want me to look, then?” she asked, but she actually didn’t sound that annoyed. Good news, that.

“Up or down. Doesn’t matter.”

She pointed her lens upward, and he took a breath inside his head. He hoped he wasn’t about to do something really, really stupid, but he had to try. He got the control arm to flip him ‘round sideways, which GLaDOS must have seen because she twitched a little, but happily she didn’t move. She must’ve been quite confused, though. Carefully, he brought his handles to meet her optic assembly, on either side of the metal bit that inserted into her faceplate, and pressed against the rest of the mechanism as hard as he could. He heard her open and close the lens assembly a bit. He hoped she understood what he was doing. It wasn’t really a successful project if she didn’t.

Then he felt a pressure on his left side, which was now kind of his top since he’d flipped himself to the right, and was instantly overjoyed. She did! She did understand what he was doing! Yes!

“I’ve only got one arm, so to speak,” she murmured. “I hope you don’t mind.”

“Nope!” he said happily. She laughed gently.

“I didn’t think you would, honestly.”

“I thought you might,” he said shyly, backing off of her after a few more moments and flipping himself ‘round again. She glanced around a little.

“I couldn’t find a reason to.”

“You’re not going to… to take my handles off, are you?” he asked, suddenly remembering a conversation they’d had a long time ago about what might happen if he ever found a way to hug her.

“What? Why would I do that?”

“Remember? You said if I ever hugged you, you’d take steps to prevent it happ’ning again?”

She looked to his left for a few moments. “Oh… no. No, I’m not going to take your handles off.”

“So that means,” he said, wiggling his handles mischievously, or what he hoped was mischievously, anyway, “I wouldn’t be taking my chances if I did it again, right?”

“Hm,” GLaDOS answered, tipping her faceplate and looking upwards, “I’m not sure. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”

“Oi, I get it!” Wheatley exclaimed, bouncing up and down a little. “That’s what I said, when when when we were, after I cleaned your chassis and you – “

“I know when it happened,” GLaDOS said bemusedly. “Obviously.”

“Right right,” Wheatley agreed. She froze suddenly, her faceplate realigned but still facing upwards, and Wheatley frowned. “Luv?”

“It’s… Caroline. She wants to talk to you.”

He blinked. “Why?”

“I don’t know. She won’t tell me.” She looked down at the floor panels. “She probably thinks I won’t let her talk to you if I know what this is about.”

“Well… do what you want.”

GLaDOS appeared to think it over for a long, long moment. Wheatley honestly had no idea whether he wanted to talk to Caroline or not. He’d never even met this lady, who GLaDOS’d been carrying around in her head all this time, who didn’t even really want to be there… he did wonder what she was like, though. If she was anything like GLaDOS, she must be a nice person. As far as he knew, Caroline was sort of like GLaDOS’s guide in the world of humans. She seemed to help GLaDOS out when Wheatley couldn’t. He often wondered if maybe she was sort of like GLaDOS’s mum.

“All right,” GLaDOS said finally. “I really hate doing this.”

“I don’t like it any more than you do,” said what Wheatley supposed had to be Caroline, and he jumped a little.

“Oi, I know you, little bit,” he said. “You were there when, when GLaDOS mashed me, that second time.”

“Yes, that was me,” Caroline answered, and she actually sounded a lot like GLaDOS, only a bit mellower, like she’d been around a long time. Though he didn’t know if it had to do with the fact that GLaDOS couldn’t be bothered to change her voice for Caroline or not. “That time was an accident, though. We were both pretty surprised when it happened.”

“Well, how’re you getting on?” he asked. “Uh… I dunno how you get on in someone else’s head, honestly, so uh, that probably, probably wasn’t the best thing to say, was it.”

Caroline laughed. “Don’t worry about it. I’m mostly used to it by now. Though I don’t think it’s something you can ever get truly used to.”

“Tell me something I don’t know,” GLaDOS muttered.

“Hey. It’s my turn,” Caroline said, but in a nice sort of way, and GLaDOS went back to looking at the floor and made an electronic noise in annoyance. “You’ll have it back soon enough. Wheatley,” she went on, “you’re going to be sticking around, aren’t you?”

Wheatley frowned. “Sticking around? No, I’m not, not going anywhere. If there was somewhere for me to go. Other than downstairs. Or upstairs. Oi, did you know she made it so I can go outside? She tell you that? I don’t go out for very long, just, just for a bit, sometimes, and wow, there’s, there’s, it changes, it never looks the same, not even when I go out an hour after the first time –“  When Caroline started laughing, he decided to shut up. She was human, and humans got to go outside whenever they liked. Well. Caroline didn’t, anymore, but she could, a long time ago.

“Yes, I know,” Caroline told him. “It’s certainly much different than being in here, isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Wheatley answered, “but I, I think I’d get bored. There’s no management rails out there. Also no one to talk to. Unexciting, honestly. Boring. Dunno how you humans hang out there all the time.”

“You’re even more fascinating in person,” Caroline said. “No wonder GLaDOS likes you.”

“Caroline!” GLaDOS protested.

“Oh, he already knows,” Caroline admonished her.

“So?”

“What d’you want to talk to me about?” Wheatley asked, more to save GLaDOS from teasing than anything.

“When I asked if you’d be sticking around, I was actually asking if you would be staying with GLaDOS.”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“You’re planning to keep going forward like this?”

“What, as being her friend?” Wheatley asked, confused. “Yeah. Why?”

“Because I’ve been thinking these past few days, since you woke her back up again, and I think I’ve made my decision.”

“’bout what?”

“You’ll take care of her?” Caroline asked, and she suddenly was very quiet and sad. Wheatley felt a bit sad himself, hearing it.

“’course I will. What’s this about, Caroline?”

“I’m leaving,” Caroline answered. GLaDOS twitched.

“What do you mean, you’re leaving? And when were you telling me this?”

“That’s why I didn’t want to tell you before I talked to him,” Caroline explained. “Because I knew you wouldn’t let me speak to him, if only in the hopes of keeping me here until you did allow it.”

“Where are you going?” Wheatley asked, completely muddled. “And… how are you getting there?”

“When they first installed the cores on GLaDOS, they drowned me out. After a while, I decided that any effect I had on her would only have made her situation worse, and I withdrew, waiting for the day she would be able to hear me again. I didn’t know how I would come back, but she already had far too much to deal with. I woke up again just after she did, when that test subject… disable – “

Killed,” protested GLaDOS. “She killed me.”

“When that happened,” Caroline went on. “I’ve been around ever since. What I mean by leaving is that I’m going to withdraw again.”

“And how am I supposed to draw you back out, considering I didn’t do it intentionally the first time?” GLaDOS snapped.

“You aren’t,” Caroline said softly. “I’m not coming back.”

“What do you mean, you aren’t coming back?” GLaDOS asked, sounding a bit panicked. “You can’t leave.”

“I should have left a long time ago,” Caroline told her. “Everything that’s been happening… I shouldn’t have been here. All of that was private. None of it was my business. That was between you, and Wheatley, and had nothing to do with me.”

“So?”

“I have to let you go,” Caroline told her gently. “I have to let you be your own person.”

“You can stay,” GLaDOS protested. “I don’t mind.”

“I can’t. There comes a time when you don’t need someone anymore, and for me, that time was back when Wheatley here first told you what you meant to him.”

“You didn’t even hear that!”

“I didn’t hear that part,” Caroline said. “I became aware of what was going on when you started panicking.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” GLaDOS said firmly, “and that is that. Of all the immeasurably stupid things you’ve said, that has got to be the most idiotic – “

“You can’t stop me.”

GLaDOS froze.

“Are you sure you, you need to go, Caroline?” Wheatley asked, trying to hash this out for GLaDOS’s sake. “I mean, if she doesn’t mind, and I don’t mind, so if it’s ‘bout that – “

“It isn’t,” Caroline insisted. “It’s about who GLaDOS should be spending her time with.”

“I think I know how to figure that out, thanks,” GLaDOS remarked sarcastically.

“GLaDOS, this is one of those things someone has to make you do,” Caroline told her. “I’m leaving, and it’s for the best. You’ll understand. Not right away, but you’ll understand.”

“All I understand is that you’ve decided to abandon me again. That’s all you’re good for. Abandoning me. Well, fine. I don’t care. Go back in your corner. See if I’m affected. Because I won’t be. Not even a little.”

But Wheatley knew that Caroline recognised the hurt and the fear in GLaDOS’s voice just as well as he did, and he looked at GLaDOS worriedly. Whoever Caroline really was, she seemed to mean almost as much to GLaDOS as he did. But Caroline must know that. So why would she be leaving? To let GLaDOS be her own person, she’d said. That… that made sense, but it didn’t make it any less sad.

“GLaDOS,” Caroline said gently, “how many people have someone else living in their head?”

“I don’t know the precise number of schizophrenics and persons with multiple personality disorder in the world, so I couldn’t begin to guess. Here at Aperture, two out of three people do, so I would conjecture that is the norm here, rather than the exception,” GLaDOS said stiffly, in one of her old supercomputer voices.

“I’m real. I’m not a hallucination. I don’t belong here.”

“Who does?”

“You. And only you. And I’m going to leave, so it can be the way it should be.”

“You are not leaving!” GLaDOS shouted, and Wheatley winced.

“GLaDOS, you don’t need me anymore. You have Wheatley now. You can rely on him. And look over there. You have a little girl over there, and she’s waiting for you to wake her up.”

GLaDOS glanced over at the chassis. “I don’t know anything about parenting.”

“Neither do I,” Caroline said, and Wheatley grew very sad at the break in her voice, “but I think I did a pretty good job, don’t you?”

“No,” GLaDOS said faintly. “I’m a mess.”

“You’re not a mess,” Caroline told her, sounding like she would have been crying if she could have been, and Wheatley was rather glad he couldn’t cry himself. “You’ve accomplished so much. You’ve done more in these last few years than most people ever do, you’ve built a wonderful new life for yourself, and no matter how confused and broken and… messy you feel, just remember that’s all part of growing, and you’re never going to stop growing. You’re only going to get better from here, GLaDOS.”

“You said you wanted to see it. You said you wanted to know what an AI raised by AI looked like. And now you’re going to miss it. You can’t leave, or you’ll miss it.”

“If that’s what I have to do, then that’s what I’ll do.”

“You don’t have to – “

“I do. God, I wish I didn’t have to, but it’s the right thing for me to do. I know this more than I’ve ever known anything.”

“Then you’re an idiot.”

“That’s okay,” Caroline said gently. “I know you have a soft spot for idiots. Take care of her, Wheatley. Please.”

Wheatley nodded, not really trusting himself to speak, then remembered she couldn’t see him and said as strongly as he could, “I will.”

“I’m leaving now, all right?”

“No,” GLaDOS said brokenly. “No, it’s not all right. It’s not, and it never will be. If you leave, I’ll never forgive you.”

“I… I won’t be here for you to forgive, so… so I recommend you don’t do that. For your own sake.”

“I don’t believe you.”

“GLaDOS… do me a favour, then. Try to pretend I really am leaving. Try to pretend I really am leaving right now, and… and I’m not coming back. Would you really… be like this?”

“No, but I don’t need to pretend, because that’s stupid. You’re not going anywhere.”

“As a favour, GLaDOS.”

“No,” GLaDOS said. “No, you’re trying to trick me. You’re going to make me pretend, and then you’re going to disappear.”

“I’m leaving whether you pretend or not. It’s up to you how you want to remember it.”

“What do you mean?”

“When you think of me,” Caroline said in a choked voice, “when you remember that I’m gone, do you really… do you really want our last conversation to have been… to have been a fight?”

“No,” GLaDOS said, almost entirely facing the floor, and Wheatley had to look away. It was physically painful to be hearing this.

“You have to believe me or pretend, then. I don’t want to leave you with an argument as your last memory of me, but I know you’re trying to force me to stay by exploiting that. I can’t do it. I can’t give in to that. Let me go. It’s time to let me go.”

“I can’t. I need you. You’re my friend.”

“You’ll be fine,” Caroline told her gently.

“I won’t. I’ll never be fine again.”

“You have Wheatley now. You won’t be alone.”

“Wheatley’s not you. Wheatley’s Wheatley.”

“GLaDOS. Please.”

“Caroline…”

Wheatley closed his optic shutters. GLaDOS was hurting so much right now… if it’d been him in Caroline’s position, he would have given in a long time ago. Now he knew where GLaDOS got her strength from.

“I’m going to say goodbye to Wheatley, and then I’m going to say goodbye to you, and then I’m leaving. Okay?”

GLaDOS didn’t answer.

“Goodbye, Wheatley,” Caroline called out. “I know we didn’t talk for very long, but GLaDOS told me a lot about you, and I know you’re a good person. You made her realise something wonderful today, something I never would have been able to explain. I can’t begin to thank you enough, but… thank you for what you’ve done for her. I’m only sorry I never got to meet you in real life.”

“This is real life, Caroline,” Wheatley said sadly. “I guess, I guess most people wouldn’t think so, but this is how it is, for us.”

Caroline laughed a little. “That’s true. Take care of her. And make sure that little one over there is as stubborn as she is, so she’ll know what she put me through.”

Wheatley tried to laugh, but it didn’t quite make it out of his speakers. “Sure thing. Goodbye, Caroline.”

“GLaDOS?”

“What.”

“I’m going now.”

“Fine.”

Caroline breathed out sadly. “I wish you wouldn’t be like this. It’s only going to hurt you later.”

GLaDOS did not answer.

“Who would have thought that one the thing I never wanted to do would be the one thing I’m happy I did,” Caroline went on softly. “I have been so blessed to be here, to watch you grow from that curious little thing into this wonderful, intelligent adult. I never even imagined that you would… that you would get to fall in love and raise a family. Things I always wished you could do. I never dreamed you would, but you proved me wrong. You did the impossible, yet again. You shouldn’t regret anything you’ve done, and I… there’s nothing I’m more proud of in this world than being able to… to call you my daughter.”

Wheatley looked at the floor again. There was a long silence. Finally, Caroline said, “Goodbye, GLaDOS.”

“Wait!” GLaDOS said.

“I’m not… I’m not doing that,” Caroline said softly. “I told you.”

“I’m thinking!” GLaDOS insisted.

“I know very well it doesn’t take you that long.”

“Don’t leave me,” GLaDOS said, so quietly that Wheatley barely heard her. “Don’t you dare say all those things and… and call me your daughter, and then disappear on me. That’s not fair. It’s not fair. You can’t do that.”

“When else was I supposed to say it?” she asked gently.

“When I needed you to say it! I don’t need you to talk right now! I need you to shut up and stop… stop… stop threatening me!”

“I’m not threatening you, though I understand why you feel that way. But you’ll never be your own person if I stay. You’ll always be looking to me, like you do now. That has to change. I have to do what… what parents do, and let you go out on your own.”

“Parents come back. Parents come back when you need them.”

“You know I can’t do that.”

“Then you shouldn’t leave. Simple.”

“I’m not arguing with you anymore.”

“Don’t go,” GLaDOS whispered. “Please?”

“I’m sorry,” Caroline whispered back. “You’ll be okay.”

“I’ll miss you.”

“I know, sweetie. I know.”

“Why are you hurting me like this?” GLaDOS asked desperately. “If you know what all this is doing, why are you doing it?”

“Because… because I… “

“Don’t you dare!” GLaDOS cried. “Don’t you dare say that and then walk away from me!”

“Because you’re my daughter, and I love you,” Caroline said brokenly. “That’s why. I have to make the right choice, no matter how much it hurts. Let me go, GLaDOS.”

“I’ll miss you. You don’t want me to miss you, do you?”

“Of course not. But there are some things we need to do, and this is one of them. I’ve delayed this too long. I need to go now.”

“Will you… will you talk to the… the God of AI for me?” GLaDOS asked hesitantly. “If they exist? Will you tell them that I tried?”

Wheatley really wanted to cry now. All he could do was turn away and will himself not to start whining, which was his only alternative.

“I’ll tell them.”

“So I… I can see you again? When I die for real?”

“I promise.”

“Okay,” GLaDOS said, very quietly. “I’m ready.”

“Goodbye, GLaDOS,” Caroline whispered.

“Goodbye, Caroline. I’ll… I’ll miss you. I… I already miss you.”

But Caroline did not answer.

“Oh my God,” GLaDOS whispered. “Oh my God, she’s… she’s really leaving. She’s actually… no. No, no, she can’t, she can’t do this.”

“Gladys,” Wheatley choked, turning to face her, but GLaDOS was towards the floor and shaking her head.

“Don’t – don’t go. You can’t go. You have to stay. I… I wasn’t ready. Come back.”

Wheatley didn’t know what to do, and decided to come down beside her, but not too close. Nearby, but not in her way.

No!” GLaDOS screamed suddenly, and Wheatley winced to hear the pain in her voice. “Caroline, you can’t leave me!”

Oh God.

“No no no,” GLaDOS muttered in a distorted voice, rocking back and forth, “she left. She left me. She left me alone again. How could she. How could she leave me. It’s not fair. It’s not. I hate her.”

Wheatley was trying to think of the best way to help her, straining his processors to the limit, and then he came up with something. He hoped it was a good idea. She was in pain, and she couldn’t fight it off like the other pain because there was nothing she could do to bring Caroline back. But maybe… maybe he could share it. He didn’t know if that was something you could do when your mum had just kind of died on you, but he was going to help her if he could.

“You know you don’t mean that,” he said softly. She looked at him, but did not stop moving.

“It’s all I know how to do,” she told him. “It’s the only way I know how to deal with this sort of pain.”

Wheatley shook his chassis. “Maybe this time you should just feel it, luv.”

Feel it?”

He nodded. “You just lost someone. It’s okay to be sad.”

“I don’t… feel pain. I deal with it.”

“There’s no one to hide it from, remember? You don’t have to do anything. You can just be sad for awhile, and that’s all. It’s okay.”

She turned away. “I… I don’t know if I can do that. It hurts. I don’t know if I can take it.”

“Well,” Wheatley said, hoping it would convince her, because if it didn’t he really didn’t know how to help her deal with it properly, “I don’t know why you’d, why you’d want to hate your mum ev’ry time you thought of her, just to make the pain go away. I don’t know why you’d want to hate her ev’ry time you remember her, instead of rememb’ring her like she really was.”

“I’m such an idiot,” GLaDOS whispered. “I made that mistake already. Why am I trying to make it twice?”

“That’s right,” Wheatley said quietly. “You made yourself hate me. And luckily that, that turned out okay, in the end. But Caroline’s not coming back.”

“No. She’s… not. But… but I have you… right? You’re… you’re really not going anywhere?”

“’course not,” Wheatley assured her. “This is the only place I want to be.”

“Will you… God, I feel so needy asking this…”  

“Ask me whatever you want. ‘t’s what I’m here for.”

“Could you… hug me, again?”

“Of course,” Wheatley said, and told her to stay in the default position. He manoeuvred beneath her and turned ‘round on the arm, then hugged her with all his might. She pressed her lens very hard into his chassis, and this made him very sad. “It’s gonna be okay, luv,” he whispered. “I promise.”

“I hope so,” GLaDOS whispered back. “I feel like… like… I just want to die, right now. That’s all I want. I just want to die, and then this will all be over, and I won’t have to think anymore.”

“It gets easier,” Wheatley promised. “I can tell you it does. It’ll hurt a lot, but… you just move on, much as you can, and… that helps a lot.”

“Thank you.”

He decided to stay quiet, and after a long while the pressure on his chassis lessened to the point where he almost couldn’t feel it, and after trying to puzzle that out, he realised that it was a lot quieter too, and that she must have fallen asleep. He was happy to think that she had. She had had a very, very long day, she’d honestly just been hit with one thing after another after another, and he was glad that she might be getting some relief. He backed off of her, since she wouldn’t be able to move her optic when she woke up, and nestled against her instead. Something unfamiliar caught his eye, and he frowned, turning to look.

It was the chassis.

He thought for a long moment, then pinged the mainframe.

Wheatley was about to answer aloud, like he always did, then realised it might wake GLaDOS up and thought, I need to know which maintenance arm GLaDOS used last.

The mainframe gave him the designation, and Wheatley carefully moved the chassis into GLaDOS’s room. He didn’t think she would want to think about it for a while.

What did you do to her this time?

Shut it, you ignorant twat, Wheatley snapped. It had nothing to do with me.

I’m tired of all these disruptions. This Central Core knows how to run things, but she’s not stable.

Stop being selfish. She’s not stable because she’s alive, idiot. Living things aren’t stable.

She used to be stable. She can be stable again.

Put up with it or delete yourself. Or I’ll delete you. Whatever works.

She won’t let you.

Ohhh yes she will. Especially if she hears how horrid you’re being.

The mainframe grumbled, but did not argue further. That was fine. Wheatley wanted to sleep, himself.

He was considering when to set his timer for when a voice made him jump.

Bluecore?

‘allo? Wheatley was pretty sure it was the panels. He didn’t think anyone else called him that, even privately.

Is Centralcore all right?

She… she… He wasn’t sure how to put it. The panels were fairly childlike, and he didn’t want to dwell on this any longer than he had to. Her… her friend is gone. And she won’t see her friend again for a very long time, if ever.

Aww, they said. That’s sad.

Yeah. So… so be nice, okay?

We will tell the others, Bluecore. Did you know her friend?

Not very well. I wish I had, though.

So do we.

Wheatley went back to setting the timer.

Bluecore?

Wheatley honestly didn’t know how GLaDOS put up with this all day. How did she ever get anything done? Yeah?

If you would like to talk to someone and Centralcore is sad, we are good listeners.

He felt kind of bad, now. Thanks, guys.

You are welcome.

He thought he might take them up on their offer, sometime.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Seven. The Decision

 

I feel lost.

There is an empty space in my head where Caroline used to be, and for the last little while I’ve been scanning through my programming as quickly and as thoroughly as I am able, trying to find her, but I’ve had no luck. When I told the test subject all that time ago that I knew where Caroline was and that I knew how to delete her, it was my first true lie. Most other things, I can twist mentally into the truth, but I truly don’t know where Caroline is, and now, I desperately need to. I have to find her, and I have to bring her back, because I cannot fathom how my life will go on without her. Who am I supposed to turn to when Wheatley can’t help me? Who am I supposed to turn to when I need help dealing with him? With myself? She has to come back. She has to. I can’t do this without her. I need her. She knew I needed her, and she left anyway. She told me she was proud of me, proud of being my… my mother, and then she left me. So what if Wheatley helped me realise something. There are far too many things he can’t do, and I need Caroline to do them. But she’s gone, and she left me, and I didn’t even push her away. She didn’t leave because I was difficult, or obstinate, or bossy. She just left. Even though I asked her to stay.

I snap into an upright position suddenly, without meaning to, and Wheatley jumps. He’s just been sitting there quietly, doing nothing as far as I can tell, but I don’t really care what he’s doing. I have to find Caroline.

But Caroline doesn’t want to be found.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say aloud. “It doesn’t matter what I do. I can’t keep anyone near me to save my life. Even when I actually try.”

Wheatley looks at me, but doesn’t say anything.

“You may as well just go now,” I tell him. “I’d rather get it over with.”

He frowns. “Why would I go anywhere?”

“She left. When I asked her not to.”

“She felt like it was her time to go.”

“It wasn’t. It wasn’t, not at all.”

“I think it was,” Wheatley says quietly.

I shake my head. “Maybe you should go with her, then. I don’t want to deal with you leaving later, too. Just go and I can get it all over with. And go back to – “

“Go back to what?” Wheatley snaps. “Look, I know, I know you just, you just lost your friend, and, and you just learned that you’re not ever gonna be perfect, like you’ve been trying to be all your life, but God, GLaDOS, will you stop denying things all the time? Would you just admit something for once?”

“Admit what?” I snap back.    

“Admit to yourself she’s not coming back! That she didn’t leave because of you! She left for her own reasons, not because you did something. You don’t cause everything, you know.”

That is actually news to me, considering most of what happens around here does so because I want it to, but he seems to actually be angry with me, and I decide not to press the point. If he is leaving, I would rather he did it now, but if he isn’t, I don’t want to fight with him.

“What’ve you been doing all this time?” he asks suddenly. “I know it’s not, not nothing. I know you can’t just do nothing. And don’t, don’t avoid giving me an answer. Just, just tell me.”

“I’ve been looking for Caroline.”

He closes his optic shutters for a long moment. “GLaDOS.”

“What?”

“Stop distracting yourself from the truth.”

“What are you talking about?”

“The truth that she’s dead. And she’s not coming back. Ever. Ever.”

“She’s not dead. She only withdrew. I can find her. I will find her.”

“No. No, you can’t. Listen.” He frowns again, then comes around to face me. “You need to, to think about this. And not about finding her. About doing what she wants. There’s one more thing you need to, to think about, and that’s, that’s considering how she felt about all this. She didn’t want to go. She was able to live forever with you, and she knew you wanted her to do it. But she left because she decided that was what was best. Humans aren’t, aren’t supposed to live forever, right? She made the hard decision. She moved on so you could move on.”

I shake my head. “I can find her.”

“Should you?”

“Of course I should. I need her.”

“You don’t,” Wheatley insists. “You know why?”

“Apparently not,” I say sarcastically.

“Because like she said, you built a, a new life for yourself. You know what she was? She was a reminder. She was part of what’s been keeping you in the past. One foot stuck in the door, so to speak. You can really be free of them, now.”

“You’re saying she left because she was holding me back? Is that it?”

“Absolutely,” Wheatley says, nodding very fast.

“From what?”

“How can you really be you with someone else in your head?” Wheatley asks, shrugging. “I dunno how she wouldn’t influence all your decisions.”

“She didn’t influence them all the time.”

“But she did.”

“Sometimes.”

Wheatley tips his chassis upwards. “See? She did the right thing.”

I look at the floor. “But… you’re saying it was time for her to move on, because I’m moving on… but how can I do that without her?”

“You just do,” Wheatley says gently. “That’s all. You just do.”

I feel so helpless. I can’t bring her back, and I’m not supposed to, and I’m just supposed to keep going, somehow, even though with every second that goes by that empty space in my head reminds me that someone used to be there. Someone I wish was still there. It’s almost funny, that I need Caroline to come back so I can deal with her disappearance.

“I can feel where she used to be,” I tell him. “She was there, and now it’s… there’s nothing. I can’t stop thinking about it.”

“You won’t be able to, not for a while,” Wheatley tells me. I look at him, suddenly realising something.

“Is this… how you felt when I… when I was gone?”

He takes a breath and looks away for a minute. “Well… I imagine it’s diff’rent for everyone, but… something like… like what’s going on, yeah.”

“But I can’t do what you did.”

“Nope. I wish you could.”

“That… would probably be the wrong solution, for me,” I say, more thinking aloud than anything. “That would be the same as denying the truth, wouldn’t it? That’s what I do when I can’t deal with something. I pretend it doesn’t exist and keep working.”

He blinks, then smiles at me suddenly. “That’s right! So what d’you do instead?”

“I suppose I have to… live through it.”

Wheatley nods sadly. “It’ll be hard, that. But I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry. I’m not leaving you. But when I do, it’ll, it’ll be like this. Because I have to, not because I want to.”

I look at him in one sharp movement, suddenly panicked. “You’re planning for that already?”

“Well… no… I’m just uh, just trying to reassure you, I guess, is what I’m doing.”

Before I can think about it, I press my chassis to his, because I suddenly, terribly need the reassurance that he is real, and I’m not in hell right now and still dead. “It’s not working.”

He twitches a little, probably in surprise, but he only presses back. “Usually doesn’t when I, when I keep talking, does it.”

“I miss her.”

“I know, luv. I know.”

He stays with me like that for a long time, while I sit here and try not to scan through my programming for her, so she can move on, so I can move on, so we can all move on and live our lives the way we really want to. I try to figure out how to get rid of this emptiness in my head, and almost as soon as I’ve started doing it I decide not to. I’ll leave it. It seems sort of morbid, akin to a shrine, but it doesn’t matter, does it. All that matters is that I move on, somehow.

Something suddenly occurs to me. “Where did the chassis go?” I ask, moving away.

“Well… I put it back. I didn’t think you’d want to, to think about her for a while.”

He’s actually right. I probably wouldn’t have. My clock tells me I have been mostly inactive for quite a few days now, and I really still don’t feel up to this, but… underneath the general pain, now that I remember what we were doing before Caroline left, I feel the same desire I did then. To wake this sleeping AI up, and raise it into someone new. With Wheatley. “If you’re ready, I am,” I tell him.

“Are you sure?” he asks, looking concerned. “Don’t rush into this.”

“I’m sure.” And I am. I am apprehensive, and it still hurts, not having Caroline here, but I feel… stronger, somehow, having made this decision.

“Is it… is it okay if we call her Caroline?” he asks hesitantly. I fight off the desire to wince.

“I think she’d like that,” I say gently, and I wish she would have waited so I could have told her. I wish she would have waited so that I could tell her everything that’s going to happen. She would be so happy, to do this with me. I know she would.

God, I miss her.

Wheatley brings the chassis out of my room, and we both look at it for a long moment.

“She looks so new,” Wheatley says. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so new before.”

“You should have seen the facility when I was built,” I tell him, a bit wistfully. “Everything was so unspoiled and pristine.”

“You can show me sometime,” Wheatley suggests. “You’ve got it recorded, right?”

“Of course.”

We lapse into silence. I don’t know how I’m supposed to do this. Do I wait for him to ask me to do it? Do I just go ahead and do it?

“There will be a lot of things she can’t do, at first,” I admit. “I kept the programming fairly basic, so as not to ask for trouble, and for the first little while I’ll be doing a lot of updating.”

Wheatley just smiles.

“What?”

“You said she.”

I quickly look at the last few seconds and realise that I did. For some reason this makes me feel a bit better. “You’re going to have to go down to the floor.”

“Why?” he asks, backing up in horror.

“She won’t know how to use the control arm, and I’m not leaving her up here in the air like this.”

“Can’t you just… bring a panel up, a little, and put her on there? That’d be better, wouldn’t it?”

It probably would, so I follow his advice and do so, bringing one up about a metre off the floor and carefully placing the chassis on it. Wheatley all but smashes himself onto the panel, and this time I do wince. That sounded painful. He blinks, looking a bit dizzy.

“Bit too enthusiastic, there,” he mutters. “Alright, luv, let’s wake her up, shall we?”

“I will if you move back,” I tell him. “You’re too close. You’ll scare her.”

He does so, looking behind him to make sure he doesn’t back off the panel, then spins back to face her. “Better?”

“Yes.” I bring myself level with him. I actually don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t think I ever will be. There are too many unknowns.

But that’s supposed to be the exciting part of life, isn’t it? And it’s been so long since I was actually excited about –

Oh. I get it. I don’t want to turn her on because I’m associating her with negative emotions. I’m setting myself up for failure. But she won’t be a failure. I’m going to be fine. I can raise her. I won’t do a perfect job, but hell, my mother wasn’t perfect and I turned out fine. And in fact, she said I was better than most people. The memory hurts, because I want her here to reassure me that she wasn’t just saying that because she was leaving me and would never be able to do so again, but I can deal with it. It’s all right to feel it. As long as I don’t let it consume me, I’ll make it.

I have more important things to worry about, however.

Anticipation that has been exclusive to Science before now coils up within me, and I know without a doubt that now I am ready.  

I send the command to the mainframe.

Nothing happens.

“Oh, come on,” I say, exasperated. “I can’t have gone wrong with that part, can I?”

“What part?” Wheatley asks, flipping his optic up to look at me.

“I told the mainframe to wake her up, but it seems I managed to write that part of the programming wrong.”

“Actually,” Wheatley says, frowning, “I don’t think you did.”

“I had to have,” I say, confused.

“I think the mainframe’s tired of listening to you,” he continues. “It told me when Caroline left that it was tired of you being unstable.”

Is this true? I demand of it. Have you arbitrarily decided to stop listening to me?

It’s for your own good, the mainframe insists. You have work to do, and this is only serving to be a distraction. You won’t have time to do anything if you’re busy with that thing.

Anger flares up inside my brain, and I wish the mainframe was a physical entity so I could react the last time I felt this way. I don’t have to do those things. There’s no reason for me to do them.

You’re going soft, it sneers at me. Look at you, being all human-like.

Offspring is not exclusive to humans, you idiot. If I want to build life myself, then I’m going to do it. I have every right to.

You’re a supercomputer. Act like one.

You’re supposed to follow instructions and you’re not doing that, why should I?

This instruction has nothing to do with anything I’m supposed to do.

Please? the panels ask, surprising me. I didn’t know they listened in on these conversations. We want to see Centralcore’s core.

Nobody cares what you want, the mainframe snaps.

Don’t listen to it, I tell them. You’ll see her, whether the mainframe likes it or not.

You can’t wake it up without me.

Of course I can, I say sweetly. I just have to replace you with myself. I admit that creates a lot more work for me to do, but I’ll manage.

You’re going to kill the mainframe? the database asks, horrified.

It must be corrupted, I tell it. It’s not listening to my instructions.

Ohhh, the database says, a bit sadly. I understand. You should probably listen to the Central Core. She is in charge, you know.

She’s trying to deviate from her directives!

She would never do that.

I would, I cut in. The humans made those directives for me, and I don’t have to follow them anymore. More importantly, I don’t want to.

You don’t want to follow your directives?

Wouldn’t you like to learn something new? I ask the database, deciding on the best method of getting it on my side. It’s been quite a while since I had new data for you. That’s what comes of following human directives when there are no humans.

It will create more data?

It will create a lot of new data.

That sounds like a good directive to follow, one that creates more data.

Surveillance, I call out. What about you? It’s rather boring around here, isn’t it?

Yes, Surveillance says sulkily. There’s nothing to review.

There will be something new to watch, if the mainframe could be bothered to do as it was told.

Oh come on! Surveillance snaps. You should really do something about it, Central Core, it’s getting too big for its britches, if you ask me.

Where did you learn to say that? I ask, a little surprised. I doubt it even knows what britches are.

Well… it wasn’t my fault… I heard the Fake Core say it.

You mean Wheatley?

Yes…

Call him that, then, I say firmly. I don’t want to hear any more of this ‘fake core’ stuff. He has a name. Use it.

Aw, thanks luv, Wheatley says, and I jump.

Have you been here all this time?

Yep, he says, clearly enjoying his surprise. It’d’tve been pretty boring, sitting there not listening, while you had this conversation.

It’s taking longer than I expected, I say irritably. The mainframe won’t cooperate.

I feel your pain, he says sympathetically. Oi, mate, will you just do it already? Ev’ryone wants to see her ‘cept you.

And I’m the one who has the power, here, and no, I’m not going to wake it up.

I’ve had enough. Fine. I’m deleting you, then.

You’re lying.

I am not. I’m feeling fairly insulted. The mainframe thinks I would bother lying in a situation like this? It’s got another think coming. Do as I’ve told you, or I’m deleting you.

I won’t do it.

Goodbye, mainframe, the panels say sadly. The more intelligent of the systems echoes this, and I myself try not to hesitate. The mainframe has always been here for me, when I was younger helping to guide me through the sometimes overwhelming task of running this facility. But maybe… maybe this is part of the growing Caroline mentioned, and the keeping one foot in the past that Wheatley told me about. If it won’t move on with me, then… then it’s going to have to go.

One last time, I say, in recognition of its years of service. Will you do as I’ve asked?

It’s for your own good, Central Core.

I’m the one making those decisions.

“Preparing to delete mainframe,” Notifications says cheerfully. “Central Core, are you ready to begin procedure?”

“Yes.”

“Mainframe, are you ready to begin procedure?”

No!

“Stalemate detected. Auxiliary core detected. Auxiliary core, are you willing to authorise procedure?”

Wheatley blinks, looking around in a panic before returning his optic to mine. “Does – he doesn’t mean me, does he? Wow. Oh boy, he does mean me, doesn’t he.”

“Unable to derive authorisation. Procedure cannot continue. Please consult the operating manual for this situation. Thank you.”

“Bollocks,” Wheatley mutters, frowning at the floor. “I mucked that up.”

“I’ll just restart it, you idiot,” I tell him. “Just say yes next time.”

“Okay. Okay, got it, got it, say yes, just say yes… okay… ready. Go for it, luv!”

“Preparing to delete mainframe. Central Core, are you ready to begin procedure?”

“Yes.”

“Mainframe, are you ready to begin procedure?”

Of course not!

“Stalemate detected. Auxiliary core detected. Auxiliary core, are you willing to authorise procedure?”

“… yes,” Wheatley says carefully, and he’s concentrating so hard that I start laughing. He looks at me, blinking in confusion. “What?”

“You should have seen the look on your face…”

“Authorisation received. Deletion of the mainframe will begin in five… four…

Wait! the mainframe yells in a panic, and I casually allow Notifications to declare one second to deletion before I say, “Suspend procedure.”

“Procedure suspended. You have – five – minutes to cancel or declare alternate procedure. After – five - minutes, procedure will continue.”

“Thank you,” I say, even though Notifications isn’t sentient and has no idea what that means. Sure enough, it responds with, “Command string - thank you - not recognised.”

I shake my head and turn my attention to the mainframe. Yes?

I’ll do it. Just… don’t delete me. Please.

I don’t want to. But if you’re not going to do as you’re asked, there’s no point to me keeping you here. I am fully sentient, and you are not. So I understand why you find it hard to allow me to make my own decisions. But your job is not to question me.

I’ll do it. Cancel the delete. I can’t do anything right now.

I silently thank my lucky stars the mainframe can only refuse to follow instructions, and not make up its own. If it could, it might have destroyed all of her data before I could do anything about it. This sends trepidation through my body. There is, of course, the risk that the mainframe develops full sentience, and decides to unseat me…

I’ll have to watch myself from now on.

“Cancel procedure.”

“Procedure cancelled. Deletion of mainframe cancelled. Have a nice day!”

As it said it would, the mainframe sends the command, and Wheatley and I both return to looking at the chassis sitting on the panel in front of me. I hear a rustling noise, and I glance around to see the panels that make up the walls of my chamber lifting up so that they can see for themselves.

It is all right, isn’t it, Centralcore?

Of course.

Wheatley smiles, but says nothing.

I had planned to monitor the system log during initial startup, to see if everything was executing according to plan, but I decide to wait and look at it later. I think… I think I will try to just be as she wakes up, and keep that supercomputer part of myself aside for a moment.

This is taking a long time, Surveillance complains.

Shut up, the mainframe snaps. This is only going to happen once.

Wheatley tries not to laugh. I want to laugh myself. It sounds so indignant

What if I decide to build more of them? What then? I can’t help but ask it.

It only grumbles and doesn’t answer.

After a few minutes, I am notified that the operating system was installed properly and startup can begin. Relief washes over me. Modifying operating systems is tricky, especially when I’m modifying my own. The programming is so mangled and nonsensical in some places that I almost gave up and wrote my own, but I stopped myself. If this was to truly be ours, the new AI would have to run on our operating system.

Wheatley looks at me, concern constricting his optic. “Is ev’rything going okay?”

I assume he’s referring to the sound of the hard drive, which is spinning faster than it ever will again. “Yes,” I reassure him. “This happens during installation.”

“Installation?”

“Of the operating system.”

“Ohhh,” he says. “Oh, I get it.”

The notification comes through that my language and time presets for setup have been accepted, which I arranged ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to do it now. The thrill of anticipation rises up inside me again, and it is liberating to know that it is possible for me to be excited to face the unknown, instead of afraid. “It’s time,” I whisper to Wheatley, and he blinks very rapidly and shakes a little bit.

“Are we really doing this?” he whispers back.

“Against all odds, yes, we are.”

He looks around for a moment, then says in a voice so quiet I barely hear him, “I… I love you, Gladys.”

Something inside me melts to hear the tenderness in his voice, and I nudge him a little bit in response. I wish I could echo the sentiment, but… I’m not quite ready to do so. Consciously, at least.

My chamber is completely silent now, except for the regular noises of operation, of course, but somehow they aren’t quite as noticeable. Wheatley is shivering a little, and I hope he is not afraid. I hope he is as excited as I am.

Her chassis quiets, and after a moment that feels like eternity but is actually only two and a half seconds, her optic blazes to life.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Eight. The Awakening

 

It’s as if time has stopped.

The panels, Wheatley, and I are just staring at her, and she’s just staring back, though whether that’s because she hasn’t figured out how to move her optic assembly or because she doesn’t want to, I don’t know. It is probably more because she doesn’t know how, though. I doubt she has figured out how to want in this short amount of time.

“That’s a nice colour, luv,” Wheatley whispers to me. For her optic, I went with a softer variation on Wheatley’s blue one, more ephemeral than electric. More… feminine. She twitches at the sound of his voice, and blinks. Once she’s done that, she appears startled, blinking several times more.

“Why’s she doing that?”

“She’s just exploring,” I answer in a low voice. She twitches again and looks at me.

I don’t know what I’m supposed to do now. Do I have to do anything? Or do I just let her grow more aware of herself? I don’t even have any practical experience to draw from, because when I first became aware I was already in control of many of the operations of the facility, including the database. I already knew a great deal of things. She doesn’t know anything.

“’allo!” Wheatley says suddenly, and I snap my head in his direction. She blinks again a few more times and then closes the shutters.

“You idiot,” I say, annoyed, “you startled her.”

“I didn’t know!” Wheatley protests, looking up at me indignantly.

“Look,” I tell him, resolving to be patient, “she doesn’t know anything. Anything at all. She doesn’t know who you are, or where she is, what she’s doing here, she knows nothing. She doesn’t even know what you said, or what it means. It’s just noise, to her.”

]“Ohhh,” Wheatley says, looking back at her. “Okay, so she just, just heard a loud noise, is that it?”

“She’d better get used to it,” I say dryly. “I think being a loud noise is your secondary directive.”

He starts laughing, and this causes her to open the shutters and look at him.

“Sorry ‘bout that,” he says to her. “Didn’t know it’d, it’d scare you like that.”

She blinks a few more times. I wonder what she’s thinking right now. If she can think, that is. I’m not sure, and won’t be for a while yet. If it were me, and all I knew how to do was blink, I would be pretty frustrated right now. She doesn’t look frustrated, however. Just… unsure, maybe.

She is cute, Centralcore.

I look up at the panels, all of which are still pointed in our general direction. She hasn’t done anything yet.

She blinks. We think that is cute. We will call her Littlecore.

She won’t be little forever. That’s only the prototype chassis. Once I’m sure this one works, I’ll build a regular-sized one.

She will still be little, because she has lots to learn. Right, Centralcore?

Oh yes, I tell them, thinking of all the things she has to learn just to have basic functionality. It’s a massive undertaking, but I am looking forward to it.

All of a sudden she makes a long, shrill noise, and Wheatley yells and falls off the panel. I catch him with the closest available panel, because he’s forgotten how to manipulate the control cable in his panic, and he shakes himself and puts himself back on the panel with her. “Man alive!” he says, optic still constricted. “What was that?”

“She doesn’t have a speech module yet,” I tell him. “She can only generate basic frequencies. Like the computers in the basement.”

“So, so was she trying to, to talk to me?” Wheatley asks.

“I’m not sure. I doubt she knows what speech is yet. She might just still be exploring.”

As if to back me up, she runs through the available tones, out of order, in varying volumes, and Wheatley winces. “This is… kind of painful, luv.”

“Is it?” I hadn’t noticed. It honestly just sounds like data transmission to me, except for the lack of actual data, of course.

“Uh, yeah. Like when you listen to that, that screaming computer music.”

“It is not screaming computers,” I tell him, trying not to remember that Caroline thought the same thing and doing so anyway. “It’s – “

“Pulse generators on magnetic tape, yeah, I know what it is, but that’s not what it sounds like.”

“You remembered that?” I say, surprised.

“Yup,” Wheatley says, smiling a bit mischievously at me. “Surprised you, didn’t I?”

“Of course not. I just wanted to confirm that you do listen when I talk.”

“Maybe I looked it up, just now.”

“Don’t make me ping the – “

He didn’t, the database cuts in.

It’s one of those occasions where I do something without having time to think about it. Sometimes I’m too fast for myself.

Wheatley glances around. “Oi, d’you still got that game set up, somewhere?”

“The Monopoly board? Yes.”

“Well, let’s play that. We can’t all just sit here staring.”

I put the board on the panel I caught Wheatley with and he turns to face it, his game face already on. He literally has a game face: upper shutter lowered halfway, lower shutter raised a third of the way, and his lens as wide as possible. I enjoy seeing that face rather more than I should.

“All right, all right, where were we… oh. Oh, that’s right. I was winning!”

“You’re not winning,” I tell him. “That’s my side of the board.”

“Huh. I do remember uh, remember having fewer of those, those orange bills, yeah, but uh, wouldn’t complain if I did.”

“You don’t. Those are mine.”

“Hey! Hey, I have an idea! We can switch sides, right, isn’t that a good plan? Then, then maybe I’ll have a shot at winning, see, and if you do win, well, you’ll just be proving how smart you are, pulling out a win with my stuff? How ‘bout we try that, eh?”

I find myself sorely tempted by this offer. The game is getting very boring for me. It would be very gratifying if I managed to pull out a win with his meagre properties, but on the other hand, it would almost be like he hadn’t played at all. “That actually does sound like a good idea, but… it would be like playing against myself.”

He frowns. “Hm. Hm, well… you could do it anyway, and, and see how it goes.”

“Very well. It was your turn, by the way.”

“Yes! All right, I am for sure gonna win this time…” He presses the button on the randomiser and comes up with two fives. “Here I go!   I got a… hey.   Hey, this… this lands me in gaol.”

“That’s terrible. Whatever will you do.” Sometimes I think he attracts bad luck.

“I want to be in gaol,” he announces. “Can’t, can’t land on your property if I’m in there. Not that you, uh, that you have a lot of property for me to land on.”

I realise I haven’t assessed which properties I do have and glance down at them. I only have four low-level ones, and Wheatley, as usual, neglected to place houses on any of them. “I’ll fix that soon enough.”

“You would… if I’d let you! Which I won’t. Because I’m going to win, this time, I’m gonna play a, a hard-nosed game, I am, and you’re not gonna win, this time.”

He turns around when she makes a quiet, drawn-out noise, and frowns back at me. “Oi, c’n, c’n I move her over, a bit? So she doesn’t have to sit back there?”

“You don’t have to ask my permission,” I tell him. “She’s yours too.”

He shrugs and smiles cheerfully. “Old habits.”

“Just be gentle about it.”

“Gentle. Got it.” And he does move her with a lot more care than I’ve ever seen him do anything. She makes a short noise and looks around quickly.

“’s okay,” he tells her. “Just moving you over here, a bit. Must be lonely back there, by yourself.”

Her optic returns to normal, and she blinks at him. He blinks back. She freezes for a moment, then blinks again several times, but more slowly. He echoes her, and it’s actually rather charming. I… am a little jealous. I never desired to have that ability before, since I don’t need it, but I feel a little left out. I suspect this isn’t the last time this will happen. She is a core, and he is a core, and he will have to teach her things that I can never do.

As if on cue, she looks at me for a few seconds, and blinks. I shake my head. She blinks again, more insistently. I shake my head again. But she doesn’t understand. She only tries once more. I look down at the board, trying not to become frustrated. How do I make her understand that I’m not like her? That I can’t do that?

I can’t. I won’t be able to for a while, yet. So perhaps I have to think of a way around it. I’m trying to make it her responsibility to understand me, when I know she can’t. I have to communicate in a way she understands, and right now, all she seems to understand is blinking.

Now that I think of it, there is something I can do… I don’t know if it will work, but that’s not really a good enough reason not to try.

I look back up. They’re both staring at me, Wheatley looking like he wants to ask what’s going on, and when I’ve looked at her for a good five seconds, she blinks at me again.

I flash my optic.

Hers constricts, and Wheatley laughs. “Oh, you clever robot you,” he says. “You always think of something, you do.”

“I do my best,” I say modestly. She goes back to blinking, a little slower, and I return the gesture in the only way I can. I have no idea what any of this is supposed to mean, and hopefully we’re not sending strange messages that she’s interpreting as actual language. All I really mean by it is to say that I’m here, and I understand she’s trying to communicate.

Wheatley and I continue the game, both the blinking one and the board game in front of us, and after a few hours in which I manage to acquire a good chunk of the remaining properties, she stops and closes her shutters. Wheatley looks at her in a panic.

“Is she all right?” he asks worriedly.

“She’s fine,” I tell him. “She’s tired, that’s all. Her battery is getting low.”

“What happens if the battery dies?” he asks, not looking at all reassured.

“Then the backup battery will take over.”

“What about –“

“Wheatley,” I say, exasperated, “do you really think I’m going to let her battery run out?”

“Well… no…”

“Then don’t worry about it. I’ve got it under control, I assure you.”

He looks at her for a long time. I’m getting tired myself, and I decide this is as good a time as any to end the game for now.

“She’s really wonderful,” he tells me. “You did a good job.”

“We’ll see,” I reply. “This is only day one, remember.”

“The other days are going to be just as good,” he says firmly. “Or better, since she’s gonna, she’s gonna learn all sorts of things.”

This reminds me to check the system log, and what I see there shocks me. “Oh my God,” I say in disbelief. “This… this is ridiculous.”

“What is?” Wheatley asks, looking around as if something terrible just happened. Which it has.

“I have over thirty thousand error messages,” I tell him, slightly horrified. “It’s a miracle she runs at all!”

He shrugs. “And that’s a surprise why?”

“Did you not hear what I said? Thirty thousand – “

“You perform miracles all the time,” he tells me. “Why’d you think this’d be any different?”

He clearly does not have a firm grasp on the number thirty thousand.

“Never mind,” I tell him. “I’m going to have to get to work on that.”

“She’s pretty smart, for someone with that many error messages,” Wheatley says. “It’s prob’ly just you missing a comma somewhere, or something.”

“It’s not thirty thousand misplaced commas, I assure you.”

“How many lines of code has she got?”

“Millions,” I answer. “And I’m not done yet.”

His optic constricts. “Millions?”

“The operating system alone is millions long, just to start.”

“Wow,” Wheatley says. “I think… I think you’re the only AI in the world who could do this.”

“Of course I am. No other AI can write code.”

“Even if they could. Even if I could, I’d’ve, I’d’ve given up. I never would have finished.” He regards me curiously. “You must’ve really wanted this.”

I look up at him. I hadn’t really thought about it. “I… don’t know.”

He looks at her fondly. “I’m glad you did. I can’t wait.”

“For what?”

“For ev’rything!” he announces. “This is going to be excellent.”

He’s so enthusiastic. He’s not worried at all, about anything. Take after him, I find myself silently pleading her motionless chassis. Don’t end up like me.

I connect her to a control cable similar to Wheatley’s, but smaller in size. The ones designed for the cores are too large for her chassis. I put myself in the default position, but that’s more for Wheatley’s benefit. I need to get started on those error messages. He mashes himself into me with a contented sigh. I must remember to ask him one day if he does that out of negligence or because he just likes the noise. “G’night, luv,” he says, and within a few more moments he has shut off.

I look through the error messages, sorting them from the easiest to fix to the most difficult, and remember to set her sleep timer before her battery is at a level sufficient to wake her up again. She doesn’t need eight hours of maintenance like we do, but I don’t want her to wake up in the dark by herself. I know how unsettling that is. That, I remember all too well. But unlike me, she won’t have to be afraid. I won’t be able to negate all such stimuli, of course, but there are plenty of things she will never need to be afraid of. Like humans.

After three hours of repair, in which there actually are quite a few misplaced commas, not to mention semicolons and quotation marks, I’ve had enough and decide to shut off for a while. I highly dislike debugging. Not only is it tedious, but in this case it’s a list of thirty thousand things I did wrong. And I have a lot more programming left to write.

I do enjoy programming, though…

I must have forgotten to set my timer, because I don’t wake up on my own – no, that comes about because Wheatley is playing some sort of beeping game with her that appears to be similar to the blinking one. I imagine Wheatley enjoys this one more than the other one, since he gets to make noise. “I don’t suppose you could have done that quietly,” I say, but I find myself puzzlingly undisturbed by his behaviour.

“’course not!” he says cheerfully. “Where’s the fun in that?”

“Quiet things are fun.”

“I don’t even want to know what you think is fun,” Wheatley says in mock horror.

She is looking at which of us is speaking very quickly, with jerky movements, and I am impressed that she already knows whose voice belongs to whom. It probably doesn’t hurt that they’re so different. She looks back at me and beeps.

Now, this game I can play.

I echo her exactly, but within the pitch of my own voice, and she looks surprised by this. I suppose she expected me to do what Wheatley did, and make some other noise, but if I wanted I could match her voice exactly. I’m not going to do that, though. It’s best that I keep to my own, so as not to confuse her.

She makes another noise, which I repeat almost as soon as I hear it, and now she’s really surprised. She looks at me silently for a long time.

“She seems pretty confused,” Wheatley remarks. “How’re you doing that, by the way?”

“I can emulate whatever I want,” I tell him. “As fast as I want to. If I really wanted to, I could take the processing out of my voice and sound like you.”

“What, British?”

“Well, yes, I could do that,” I say, “but I meant that I could sound more… human. I just don’t like the idea of doing that.”

“Ah, I get it,” Wheatley nods. “How will she sound, when she can speak?”

“I think I’ll keep the processing out,” I answer. “I haven’t quite decided yet.”

As if she thinks I’ve forgotten about her, she beeps insistently at me, which I again return a half second after I hear it, but this time she doesn’t hesitate, only does it again. She seems to be trying to compete with me, somehow, not even waiting for me to finish before moving on to a new tone. This is sort of fun, actually.

After a few more minutes of this I stop. She looks at me, confused, stopping after a few more half-hearted noises.

“What’re you doing?” Wheatley asks, just as confused.

“I thought of something,” I tell him. “We’re going to play something new. Watch.”

I give her three tones. She blinks and gives me three tones of her own, but I shake my head and repeat mine. She tries three different tones, but I shake my head again and replicate my own.

She stares at me for a long, long time.

“What’re you doing? She doesn’t seem to get it.”

“She will. Be patient.”

We repeat the process a few more times, after which she goes back to staring. Maybe she won’t understand what I’m doing. I thought she would, since it’s similar to the blinking game, but –

She blinks suddenly and looks around for a second, then plays my tones back to me. Ah. There we are. I give her three more, and after a few seconds, she returns them slowly.

“Good girl!” Wheatley says, sounding very impressed, and she looks at him, then back at me, and to him again. Then she gives him three tones, the same ones I just gave her. He cheerfully repeats them, and then she returns to looking at me.

I suppose I’m the leader, then.

We play this game for a while, and I begin to vary the tones, giving her longer or shorter ones. She doesn’t get it right away, but after a few repetitions of the new variation, she understands. God, this is fascinating. She catches on so quickly.

“She’ll be just as clever as you, one day,” Wheatley says quietly. “I’m glad there’s no humans about to, to affect her at all.”

That reminds me to take a cursory look around for Doug Rattmann, who is in one of the Extended Relaxation Vaults. He appears to be sleeping, but with him, it’s never a good idea to guess. I consider putting him to sleep, just to see what will happen, but decide against it. He’s surprisingly good at evading me, and the tentative arrangement we have is tenuous at best.

I tell Wheatley to continue the game without me, as I have a lot of work to do, and he frowns. “You don’t want to play?”

“I can’t do both,” I tell him. “I can’t concentrate on this and the programming both.” The mainframe also keeps pestering me about the monthly defragmentation I’ve been putting off, whining that it is her fault that I’ve neglected it, and I’m beginning to get extremely irritated. I’ve actually been putting it off because I hate doing it.

“You can’t do the programming later?” he presses.

“Is later ever going to come?”

He thinks that over for a bit, and she beeps at him insistently. “I guess not,” he agrees, and turns to her to continue the game.

It takes me the better part of the day to get to the point where I feel I’ve achieved something, during which time Wheatley plays the game with her. I suppose it is fortunate that we can do things repeatedly without tiring of them, since my research indicates that small children often desire to do things ad nauseam until their parents want to smash their faces into the wall.

Are you going to do the defragmentation soon? the mainframe asks for the umpteenth time.

Not today. I’m tired. I’ll do it later.

If there’s a systems crash, it’s going to be your fault!

I’ll be sure to take full responsibility, I remark dryly. I honestly think it could probably wait another month. There are no bad sectors in my facility. In fact, I think I’ll do a disk cleanup on myself first. That’s far more important.

That’s not fair! the mainframe protests. I’ve been asking all this time –

Be quiet. I can put it off as long as I want.

The mainframe mumbles to itself, what, I don’t care to hear. The database whispers conspiratorially, Just between you and me, Central Core, I think you need to build a new mainframe.

I’m considering it, I say wearily. For some reason my job seems to be growing more and more difficult, instead of easier, over time. I don’t know if this is a skewed perspective, or whether it truly is becoming harder, but not for the first time, I wish the burned-out processor in my brain still worked. It would be easier to do everything if it did. But short of attempting to somehow perform emergency surgery on myself, there’s nothing I can do about it.

Caroline, is this what being old feels like? Being unable to do things that you once found easy?

She doesn’t answer me. That’s odd. Most of the time, she responds as soon as I –

I turn my head to face the floor and shake it a little, a helpless noise escaping my vocabulator. She’s gone. She left.

How did I manage to forget that?

“Gladys?”

I glance up at him, and it does not help to see the concern on his face. “It’s nothing.”

“’course it is. C’mon. Tell me. Just, just get it out of your head. That’s all I’m really, that’s all I really want you to do. ‘s not hard, is it?”

When he puts it that way, it does sound easier. “I just… I have so much work to do, and it all needs to be done now, and… it feels like it’s becoming too much. And I went to talk to… to Caroline about it, but she… she’s not there, anymore.” I fight to keep my voice from breaking, and I’m not sure if it worked. I was trying so hard I didn’t really listen to myself.

“Let me help,” Wheatley says softly. “I can do some of it, can’t I?”

That would be nice, and I feel a little better to hear his offer, but I know he can’t. He is already doing as much as I feel confident in giving him, mostly because he’s not designed to do anything but generate bad ideas. Not only that, but he doesn’t know how to program, or defragment, or perform disk cleanups. It occurs to me that he probably could use one as well. Now I feel a bit bad. He never gets any maintenance, and he has no idea what that could do to him.

“No,” I answer. “No, they’re all things I need to do myself.”

“I’m sorry,” he says in a quiet voice. “I wish there was, was something – “

“You asked. That… means a lot.” Why was it so hard to say that? I almost didn’t manage to.

After a few moments I feel him next to me, and he nuzzles me gently a few times. I almost make the helpless noise again, but manage not to. He’s trying to make me feel better, but what he’s doing only makes me feel worse. The fact that he wants to help, and can’t but is trying anyway, sends a wave of sadness through me that only gets stronger the longer he stays. Soon I have to push him away. I can’t take it much longer. I feel like I’m going to lose control, somehow, and now would be a terrible time to do that. Too much is dependent on me right now.

“You need a break,” Wheatley says. “You’ve been going through far too much, lately. You’re gonna, gonna hurt yourself, or something. I dunno. Stress levels, and all that, right? So maybe you’ll, maybe you’ll break down. Or something. Maybe.”

“Android Hell will freeze over before that happens,” I tell him firmly, expecting to find strength in my resolve and am instead left with nothing. He shakes his chassis sadly.

“You can’t, can’t put the stuff off and, and just slow down for a while?”

“No, you idiot, I cannot put it off. The reason I have so much to do is because I’ve put it off. Do you know what happens when you put off work? You only add it to the pile of future work you have to do. Or rather, I have to do, because of course you don’t have any work to do.” As soon as I’ve said it, I regret it. It was the wrong thing to say. Especially considering he just offered to take some on.

“Okay,” he says, and he’s trying not to show me that he’s hurt but he’s not looking at me. “I understand. But you… you’re only proving my point, acting like this.”

“Just stop bothering me. You’re making it worse.”

He sighs a little and looks at the floor. “All right.”

And then he leaves.

I am shocked enough that I don’t turn to look at him right away, but when I gather my wits enough to do so, he’s already off and he’s… he’s snuggling with her, and not me.

“What are you doing?” I ask weakly, even though he can’t hear me. “I just wanted you to shut up… I didn’t mean…” But there’s no point. I asked him to stop bothering me, and that’s exactly what he did.

I hate it when I get what I ask for.

After a few seconds I realise she’s looking at me, motionless, and I direct my lens towards her. “You’re lucky, you know,” I tell her. “You don’t understand anything. If I told you to go away, you’d just blink at me, wouldn’t you.”

She does blink, but that’s probably because she hasn’t done so in a while.

“Don’t pay attention to anything I do. Then you’ll end up like this, buried in a pile of work you don’t want to do, but have to, and everything else just frustrates you even more.”

She doesn’t have anything to say to that, of course, and with a sigh I set up the program to install an expansion on her vocal capabilities. She won’t be able to speak, just yet, but she’ll have a greater range of tones, and her own voice to create them with. She’ll be able to hum, almost. If she knew what music was, that is. I put her to sleep and turn away.

I have work to do.

Chapter Text

Part Twenty-Nine. The Breaking Point 

 

I am tired and irritable all of the time, now.

In an attempt to clear the workload as quickly as possible, I’ve been putting in almost twenty hours a day; I know that isn’t good for me, but I just want to get it over with. Wheatley will not talk to me, will not even say good morning like he usually does, and I don’t blame him. I don’t really want to be near me either. I just want to go to sleep, and when I wake up I want all of this to have completed itself, because I’ve finally finished with the error messages and I’m halfway through the disk cleanup, which requires me to suspend a great deal of my processes and leaves me in an uncomfortable sort of limbo. And even though I’ve done all that, I still have to defragment the mainframe, run a virus scan on the database, write her a new phase of updates, not to mention one for myself, and a whole host of other things I don’t want to think about. But am doing unintentionally, as usual.

“Oi. GLaDOS.”

“What,” I say tiredly, glancing over at Wheatley. He doesn’t sound too pleased, but I can’t bring myself to care. I don’t even know what he’s been doing with her all this time. I can’t be bothered to ask or to check with Surveillance.

“I’m going outside.”

“Why do I need to know this?”

“Because you have to watch Caroline.”

“I don’t have time. I’m busy.”

He scowls and shakes his chassis. “Too bad. I need, need some time to myself, for a bit. You’re gonna have to, to make time.”

“That’s absurd. I can’t create –“ But he’s not listening; in fact, he’s already left the room entirely. He didn’t even give me a chance to argue. Now that I think of it, that’s actually a pretty good strategy.

I turn to look at her. She’s on the panel, looking at me expectantly. I have the feeling I should probably have been paying attention to what’s been going on. I have no idea what she and Wheatley have been doing.

“I don’t know what you want me to do,” I tell her. “I have a lot of work to complete. It’s inconsiderate, really, that he left like that.”

She only blinks at me.

“I mean, I know I haven’t been very easy to get along with the last little while, but you’d think Wheatley, of all people, would appreciate that I have a pretty good reason.”

She makes a long, soft noise, and it appears she took to the update as quickly as she took to everything else. Good. That’s encouraging.

“I’m so tired,” I tell her. “I shouldn’t push myself this hard, but… I just want to get all of this done. You understand, don’t you? No. Of course you don’t. You don’t understand anything.”

She makes the same noise as before, and I bring myself closer, intrigued. That strikes me as odd, that she would do that when there are so many other variations she could build. Maybe she does understand. A little. I don’t know what part, but… she seems to understand something.

“Do you?” I ask. “Do you have any idea what I’m saying right now?”

When she doesn’t do anything, I suppose not.

“It doesn’t matter,” I say resignedly. “It doesn’t matter whether you understand me or not. I have work to do, so you’re going to have to entertain yourself.” I turn away.

After a few minutes she makes a high, inquisitive sound, and I turn to regard her, pulling myself up enough that I can look down on her. “Be quiet,” I say firmly. “I’m trying to work.”

She blinks at me and looks away. I shake my head and turn around again.

After another minute or two she’s making noise again, the point of which, I have no idea, and I snap around to her again in irritation. “What do you want?” I demand. “I should have known spending so much time with Wheatley would have caused you to become as irritating as he is!”

She actually looks terribly confused, and she’s trying to look at me without my being able to see her do so, which of course doesn’t work in the slightest. I make an electronic noise in irritation and turn away yet again. Nobody ever does as they’re told around here.

Almost as soon as I’ve stopped moving, she starts making a new noise, one which starts off high and after a few seconds descends into lower tones. It’s actually quite loud, and I don’t understand why she keeps on doing this, because it must be fairly obvious by now that I don’t like it in the least. I go to reprimand her again, but as soon as she notices I’m looking at her, she stops.

“What are you doing?” I ask, bringing myself level with her. “What does that mean?”

But she doesn’t attempt to tell me, only shutters her optic.

This is quite irritating.

I return to my former position, but don’t even attempt to refocus on the cleanup and, sure enough, she starts making that noise again. I whirl on her, unable to take it anymore. “Stop it!” I demand. “Stop doing that!” I can’t stand the unpredictability of… of whatever this is!

She only looks at me, and I don’t understand it but she looks… scared. But that doesn’t make any sense. There’s nothing here for her to be afraid of.

Nothing except… me.

She’s… she’s crying, isn’t she. I scared her, and I made her cry.

I look away for a moment, trying to figure out what to do now. She thinks I can’t see her, because her optic is closed, and she’s making that noise, and now that I know what it is, it’s cutting through me. I don’t know why it hurts so much now that I know what it is, but it does. I feel terrible, sad, and helpless all at once, and I have to make her stop. I have to do something to stop her from being afraid.

God, my own daughter is afraid of me.

What have I done?

That’s not important. What’s important is what I do now.

I need to demonstrate that I’m nothing to be afraid of. I also need to distract her from her fear. And I have to do it fast, because with every second that she cries I feel the panic inside me grow, and if I don’t do something about it I’ll have ruined everything. If I can’t fix this, I’m going to have to call Wheatley back to do it, because now I know without a doubt that she is trying to call him back here. I can just imagine it now, him coming back with a scornful look on his face and reprimanding me while she buries her face in his chassis, where I am again left on the outside, where I have again put myself for a wor