Portal 2: Human Enough
She runs her hands up and down her shins, smiling at the the smoothness under the pads of her fingers. It’s been much, much too long since the last time she’s had the luxury of shaving her legs, and the sensation feels nicer than she cares to admit. After all, it isn’t as if she’s got anyone to impress all the way out here, and Wheatley…well, he wouldn’t exactly know female hygeine conventions if they’d tap-danced on top of his management rail.
The longer she thinks about it, though…Chell isn’t even much sure herself how she’d internalized that taking bits of metal to her skin to scrape the hair off was a female thing to do. She’s sure that the particular salvaged bit of metal she’d used likely wasn’t very safe at all, but hell, she can’t even remember the last legitimately human contact she’d experienced, let alone where she’d learned to adhere to social behaviors. As far as she knew, no one had taught her, and not least in the same way she’s been teaching her hapless android companion. The hapless android companion in question has taken up throwing pebbles at the surface of the pond a few feet off, marveling at the arcs they follow down with gravity and flinching every time they hit the water. Any other day she’d have laughed at how he shies away from the droplets his own efforts send flying; his nervous twitch when they plunk back down yards away across the water is wildly comical. She shakes her head to clear it. Any other day.
The sharp click of a door shutting at her back is the last memory she has of whatever place she’d come from, and even that’s hazy around the edges—the last ephemeral snippet of a life that hasn’t been hers for a long, long time. But she remembers Aperture. The antiseptic white and metal of the room where she’d signed away her life. The sting of sweat that ran into her eyes the harder she pushed forward. A searing, unbearable pain when she’d tried to bend her legs, and the gradual desensitization that followed. Dark chocolate sweetness. Gravity tugging uncomfortably at her stomach. Wheatley. Her.
And somewhere amid the tangled rat warren of the facility, she’d lost everything else.
She watches Wheatley collect another handful of pebbles, his many-jointed spine rolling with minute stop-motion catches as he bends. He sifts the gravel through his fingers with such a focused expression Chell figures he’s committing the texture to memory, filing it away somewhere that’ll undoubtedly get buried amid code he’ll forget how to access. The little things enthrall him almost as often as they strike him with abject terror; just a few hours ago he’d shied away from the dappled shadows that filtered through the leaves, then turned around and marveled at their patterns on the grass. Like nothing about the world, none of this vast, vacant, outside space that had always just been to her, had come into existence until the moment Wheatley’d fixed his optics on it.
He throws another stone and follows it, enraptured, with his eyes, flinching again at the faint sound when it meets the glassy water, and Chell envies him the naivete she can’t recall. She swears he can feel her eyes on him because almost as soon as the twitch in his face’s gone away he looks toward her and offers a sheepish grin. “You’re judging me right now, aren’t you? Right, yeah, for, ah, aheheh, for this ridiculous—and irrational, yes, I know, irrational—fear of water. But it’s not my fault if I’ve been programmed to react like that, y’know? Not everyone can be like you, all turning-off-that-pesky-survival-instinct—w
Wheatley falls silent so abruptly that she has to suppress the urge to retch up the bile rising in her throat. Of course he’d be maddeningly perceptive at every poorly-chosen moment conceivable. And when he starts to stammer with remorse for nothing, she feels guilty for begrudging him his wonder at the world. She wouldn’t say so, not even if she could. It isn’t like she owes him an apology for her finding nothing when she dredges through her memories. But she doesn’t like the silence anymore.
“So I’ll, um—” he scratches at the back of his neck—a gesture so mundanelyhuman Chell wonders where he’d managed to pick it up—and avoids her eyes. “I’ll just, ah, go, for the moment, find something else to do that doesn’t involve tiny rocks or water. And you can sit here, in your solitude, without me bothering you. How’s that sound, yeah?”
She clenches her jaw and releases it, sucking in a long, slow breath before she shakes her head no. Wheatley hovers, clearly waffling between coming closer or putting a good deal more buffer space between the them, his fingertips poking each other while he makes a concerted effort to look at absolutely everything in his surroundings but her. Like he can’t decide whether she’s a person or some kind of time bomb. It’s so pathetic she huffs like the weight of the world’s pushing the air from her lungs, and jerks her head to motion him over.
“What is it? Company?” he asks, brightening just an iota as he shuffles a halting few steps in her direction. “I can do the company thing. I am more than capable of providing you with person-to-person social interaction you humans are so big into. Yes. Although I am not, in fact, actually a person. I’m more of a person-approximating…” He trails off and his face contorts all sorts of ways as he searches for the right word, then droops again as he gives up. “…thing.” He looks at her expectantly.
Chell blinks, eyes on her lap, and a barely-noticeable quirk turns up one corner of her mouth. She grabs the leg of his pants and pulls. Wheatley tumbles down gracelessly beside her, scrabbling to right himself into some sort of sitting position and too busy trying to make himself look less incompetent to notice the faint smile eking back into her eyes.
“Well, what was that for? You pull things like that and sometimes I’m think I’m rather glad I’m not human!” he says indignantly, trying to smooth down his rumpled jumpsuit and giving her a petulant sort of pout; like he’d gone out of his way to do something nice and all she does is abuse him. She feels the muscle impulse in her chest, fighting to laugh past the weight that still sits above her diaphragm. “Feels bad enough, falling hard on synthetic nerves! Imagine how much worse that would’ve felt to actual nerves, why don’t you? Just for a minute!” Wheatley grumbles, but finally gets himself situated, and looks her over. She’s still absently stroking her shins, and he takes note of the gesture.
“What? Why’re you—wait, now, I know there was hair there a day ago,” he says, recoiling a little in what she figures to be a mixture of confusion and distress. “You humans have a penchant for going all bristly in places, and hair doesn’t just up andwalk itself away, now, does it? Doesn’t just go strolling off the skin like that for a bit of adventure, no, definitely not, that’d be ridiculous—” He stares at her legs and roves his eyes over them, and Chell catches the quick flash of alarm while he worries that human hair might actually possess an aptitude for independent migration and somehow the knowledge had corrupted itself in his hard drives. The laugh in her chest ekes its way out into the open.
She rolls up one leg of her jumpsuit past the knee and mimes a scraping motion over her calf, picking up the makeshift razor she’d made from a sharp scrap of metal to show it to him. She cocks her head to the side to watch Wheatley’s face for some sort of realization, and follows the line of his gaze up toward the knotted scars that frame her knee. His expression’s morphed into something that looks like dismay.
“That…had to have hurt, didn’t it?” he asks, touching his fingertips to one of the marks at her knee, then to one of the fresher scars from the boots that’d rubbed matching bands across her shins. “I mean, not that I’d know—don’t think synthetic skin does much scarring. Then again, it doesn’t really do much tearing, either…” Chell shrugs and smooths her hands down her legs again; he snaps his hands back in toward his body as she pulls her knees up to her chest.
Wheatley leans away, processing her reaction, and after a moment or two of uneasy indecision seems to come to the conclusion that there isn’t much else to say on the subject. He fidgets beside her, suddenly uncomfortable. He looks guilty. “I can’t much empathize with those, there, not without being…well.” She gestures for him to let it go. “They’ve, ah, healed up nicely, though,” he offers after a minute, and resumes raking his eyes across everything in the vicinity that isn’t Chell.
She sighs and he falls still at the weight of her cheek against his shoulder; she can feel his construct body uncoil some of the tension in elastane muscles. Chell smiles; he’s human enough for her.
The first one. Not so great, actually.
The second one, which I like tons.
And the third, which I wish I'd drawn bigger.
- Current Mood: drained
- Current Music:If I Could See You Again - Yiruma