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The Resurrection Project

Chapter Text

It should be said that if there’s one thing you shouldn’t do inside of Aperture Science, it’s poke your nose where it doesn’t belong.

Curiosity killed the cat, and Aperture didn’t have the best history with cats.

Still, GLaDOS never had the need to worry about that sort of thing.  Aperture was her kingdom. She knew everything there was to know here, and anything she didn’t was her right to know.

However, she was well aware that she hadn’t always been ruler of this place. She knew full well that humans had ruled this place long before the GLaDOS project was even started. And while they’d clearly been doing an inferior job, the core could not deny that some of their projects had been interesting.  Most of them were failed attempts, but even those were intriguing in their own right.

Sometimes, GLaDOS would look them over and mentally correct all their mistakes. Because of course it didn’t work if they mixed those chemicals, you needed to mix these chemicals, then apply within less than an hour and let it sit for a week before testing it again.  It was all so obvious that it made her wonder how they could have ever messed any of it up.

But, as much as she hated to admit it, GLaDOS wasn’t perfect. She couldn’t solve everything, and even some of those failed projects were beyond her abilities. Some of them irritated her- she still wanted to figure out proper time travel- and others she couldn’t care less about.  Yet in a way, finding these unsolvable questions was humbling. It reminded the core that there was still science to be done, more answers to be uncovered in the world, and that knowledge was comforting.

That being said, GLaDOS had never run into any… problems when searching through these old files.  Almost none of it was protected by anything more than a four digit PIN, and anything that was hidden better could be easily cracked open by GLaDOS and her extensive list of the passwords used by Aperture Science over the years.

Everything was at her disposal, every Aperture asset available with a few simple commands and passcodes.


Except for this.


GLaDOS had started her searching from as far back as possible, and had been moving her way forward on the timeline up until the GLaDOS project was first being worked on.  She had nearly gotten through all of it at this point, with the Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device showing up more and more as it progressed in development.

However, as she was looking through these files, one in particular caught her eye.

The file was named ‘The Resurrection Project.’

Now, the name didn’t sound familiar in the slightest, which was what got GLaDOS’s attention.  She checked the date, and the first occurrence of this name being used was the same month as they had first brainstormed ideas for the GLaDOS project.

For a moment the core wondered if this other file was simply a code name that was briefly used by the scientists for the same thing.  After all, while it wasn’t properly executed, the original plan for GLaDOS was to completely transfer a human’s personality and consciousness into a robotic body. In a way, that could be considered a resurrection, could it not?

But, as she opened the main file, she found multiple entries, some lining up with the dates of GLaDOS’s creation and her first attempted take-over.

If that was the case, these projects could not be the same thing.  This knowledge served only to interest GLaDOS further.

She opened the first entry with little hesitation, excitedly reading what it had to say.


ENTRY #1: RESURRECTION PROJECT

“First attempts failed, though we think we’ve finally done it. Samples of different kinds of skin and muscle tissue helped. The body aged properly, and is being held in stasis fairly young. Oxton argued that it almost doesn’t look right seeing it so young, but this makes the most sense.  If we end up actually needing to use this thing, who knows how long it’ll be in use. No point giving it a short lifespan, right?  Still, even I have to admit it’s somewhat unnerving to look at. Almost doesn’t feel right. I suppose we can only hope this one stays stable.”


If GLaDOS had eyebrows, she would’ve raised them into her hairline.  Now this was interesting. The information here was vague; a personal log, only giving brief details.  If she had to guess, this was a small team assigned to this project, hence the informality.

That only made it more of an interesting read to the core. Like a story that you would eagerly read, eyes glued to every page, unable to put it down and promising yourself just one more chapter.  That was the excitement GLaDOS gained from these things. Mini mysteries, little puzzles, or something in-between.

And so, the second entry was opened.


ENTRY #2: RESURRECTION PROJECT

“The body is stable. We’ve held it in this condition and it hasn’t faltered in the slightest. Organs intact, bones strong, and no skin falling off.  That last one is definitely a relief, I think Lacroix was going to be sick last time.  But the body is only the first step, so we don’t really get to celebrate just yet.  I’ll be honest, the boys working on the GLaDOS project are moving faster than we are. Turns out it’s easier to build a big metal trashcan than a human body from scratch. Who would’ve thought?  But we’re trying not to worry about their speed, we’re making good progress.  Only problem now is how the hell this thing will work.”


GLaDOS paused now- opting to ignore the fact that they had referred to her as a trashcan, as unfortunately they were already dead and she couldn’t kill them twice-, her optic squinting a small amount. Were they cloning? It sounded somewhat like that, yet they only seemed interested in one body, for one purpose.  Why had she never heard about this? It sounded like, regardless of what happened from this point in their logs onward, they were at least somewhat successful. So why was this information simply hidden in a single file, seemingly appearing nowhere else in GLaDOS’s sources?

She did not know, and while this whole ordeal ought to have only excited her more at the chance of revealing the unknown, for some reason she felt oddly uneasy.  

But even still, she did not falter when she opened the next entry.


ENTRY #3: RESURRECTION PROJECT


“We’ve come to a standstill. We’re trying every single thing we can think of, nothing.  The closest we’ve gotten has been taking what they plan to do with the GLaDOS project and trying to reverse it, but we don’t know how that will work.  I’ve tried talking to the ones in charge of the GLaDOS project, but they won’t listen. They’re almost ready to go ahead with the transfer, and I’ve warned them that we need this to fall back on. They don’t think it will fail. They’re overconfident, and impatient. I know time is precious, but we can’t just run blindly into this; we’re burning funds at this point.   I’ve gathered my team together to try and pull something together tonight, and hope our brains combined can do something more productive than what we’ve done so far.”


GLaDOS was somewhat stunned. She had been partly correct in her first assumption. This project was indeed connected to the GLaDOS one, though not as closely as she once thought.  Still though, she was unsure of exactly what they were trying to do.  Her mind raced with hundreds of possibilities, trying to pick the most likely one and make sense of it.  Were they attempting to bring Cave Johnson back from the dead?  No, surely that would’ve had more scientists working on it.  Were they creating someone to stop GLaDOS? Was this their idea before the cores?  No, that didn’t seem right either.

Despite her best attempts, GLaDOS could not place her non-existent finger on exactly what fit in this scenario. None of it seemed to make sense, yet she felt like she was so close to the answer.

Luckily for her, there was one last entry, and a folder with a program.  She opened the entry first.


ENTRY #4: RESURRECTION PROJECT

“They failed.  The GLaDOS project failed.  She tried to kill all of us within a fraction of a millisecond of being activated. Everyone is scrambling to try and find some way to fix her with what they’re calling ‘personality cores.’  We’re still trying to finish our own project. I’m positive that if we can get this right, it would buy us more than enough time to perfect the GLaDOS project without the threat of neurotoxin. We haven’t perfected it yet, but we’ve set up the first draft of the program just in case we need it. Worse comes to worst, hopefully it’ll be easier to kill like this, if we have to.”


This was the last log entry made under that name. It was made shortly before GLaDOS had fully gained control and killed the scientists.  Whatever this team had been planning, they did not succeed.   

GLaDOS was, partly happy to know this. Whatever they were planning sounded like it was being made to hinder her in some way. If they failed, that only meant that she was better. Stronger.

And so, that meant there was little harm in looking through that folder for the program. It was defective, a failed project.

Upon opening, the core’s screen briefly showed a program with seemingly endless lines of code and smaller files that could be looked into-

The screen went blue.  White text popped up as well, reading in capital letters,


“GENETIC LIFEFORM AND DISK OPERATING SYSTEM DETECTED: EMERGENCY PROCEDURES ENGAGED”


GLaDOS recoiled, as if she had been physically struck. There were defensive measures put on this project?  More importantly, ones that detected her presence?  Well, that was irritating, she’d have to go to the trouble of resetting everything and-


“CENTRAL CORE REMOVAL IN PROGRESS”


The text changed. And what GLaDOS saw made her freeze in place. No. No. NONONONONO-

She pulled her body up to the ceiling, as high as it would go, trying to run but knowing that she was bound to this chamber.  Even still, as she looked down and saw the panels beneath her shift and open to reveal hundreds of mini claws and robotic arms, all trying to grab her, she struggled to avoid them.

Her fight was short lived.  Before she could dodge them for much longer, her chassis went rigid, then limp. She couldn’t move, and her head was forced to hang close to the ground, where she could be grabbed.

This was a familiar, yet horrifying sensation. Being pulled, grabbed at, ripped from her body.  It was one of the worst things she had ever felt.  Like burning fire and freezing ice both at once. She knew she was screaming, despite the fact that it hardly registered in her mind that she was doing it.  All she knew was that it hurt. Everything hurt so badly.  She wanted it to end, she wanted to be back in her body-

It suddenly stopped.  Not just the pain- everything stopped.  GLaDOS herself stopped. Never in her life had something like this happened. Not even death.  In death at least, she was conscious of herself, replaying her own death over and over.  This? She was nothing. She could feel nothing, think nothing, be nothing.  It was as if she no longer existed.

Time did not exist for this moment, and so it was impossible to say how long GLaDOS had been in this state of being.  But slowly, her mind returned.  Everything was black, she could not properly think or move, but somewhere in the back of her mind, she was aware of herself once more.  She could form a train of thought, albeit rather derailed, and could understand that she was currently existing.  In what state she existed in, she was not sure.

Slowly but surely, time passed. She could do nothing but wait as her thoughts became stronger and stronger, until soon she was nearly conscious. It felt now as if she were simply blinded and bound, but awake.   Her optic would not turn on, despite her multiple attempts to send a mental command, so instead she started trying to move her head.  She screamed at her body to move, vainly trying to swing her chassis around.  It didn’t exactly work.

She kept trying.  Finally, she felt her head twitch at her command.  Progress, at least.

This process was continued over and over until soon, movement of her head became easier.  She could twitch it left and right, and feeling was starting to return in her body.  She was confident that if she could put all of her strength into one last effort to move, she’d break this paralysis that this program seemed to have placed on her.

So she braced herself, and attempted to jerk her whole body all at once.  The result was… unexpected.

For a second, the core experienced a sensation that felt like falling, then, she hit the floor with a loud ‘thud.’ The pain wasn’t serious, so she knew her inner workings were not damaged by the fall. Perhaps it had severed her connection to the ceiling?

Once more she attempted to turn on her optic, and it worked.  Only, it wasn’t one optic. She had… two?

She squinted, only to find that she could do something new. She could close her optic, without turning it off.  Had that machine edited her chassis?

GLaDOS shook her head to clear it, finding the action suddenly much easier, as if the spell on her had been broken.  Surely this was just a small defensive mechanism, set to briefly discourage her from looking into these files. It took her offline for a bit, fiddled with her chassis, and left her paralyzed.  But no doubt it was a minor setback, at worst.

She would open her optic again, and she would be in her chamber, with a bit of damage control to do, and nothing else.

And so, the AI opened her optic, its vision almost completely clear at this point.

What she saw when her gaze traveled down, was not her chamber floor, nor was it her chassis on the ground as she expected after the fall.

Instead the sight that met her gaze was a pale, naked, human body.  

Rarely in GLaDOS’s existence had she ever been stunned to silence. One might say she was near impossible to shut up, and if she WAS quiet, she was likely plotting something involving death.

Seeing GLaDOS, of all beings, stunned to silence would’ve been quite the sight, if anyone had actually been around to witness it.

Instead, it was just GLaDOS, completely silent, staring down at what lay before her.  She was looking at a human. A human body. A human body that wasn’t just in front of her- she was attached to it.

A few moments passed.

To say that GLaDOS let out an undignified, strangled cry that sounded more akin to a dying goose than anything you’d expect from the world’s smartest AI would be… not fully inaccurate. In fact, it was quite accurate.  One might even add that she managed to practically throw herself backwards in a strange, lurching motion that resulted in a flailing, scrambling mess as she tried to distance herself from what she saw.

Unfortunately, when one is attached to a body, moving said body is unlikely to get you any further away from it.  Typically, it comes with.

“What on earth-?!”

The words escaped her involuntarily, though she stopped herself before she finished her thought, recoiling at the sound that greeted her.  Acting beyond her control, an instinct that she did not know she possessed, she moved one of the arms of this body, the hand coming to hold her throat in shock.   That had been her voice, but it hadn’t sounded right.  It didn’t have a robotic filter. It sounded…

Human.

The reaction she had just given, the movement of a limb she had never had until this moment, was human. She could feel the skin of this body underneath her hand; smooth and almost silky, yet covered in what appeared to be a clear blue gel, presumably the same matter as the fluid that now coated the floor.

But what was worst of all, in this moment?  She was breathing.  She had not told herself to do such a thing, but she was.  Quick, short breaths, causing the chest of this body to rapidly rise and fall, and the sound of gasping and panting filled her ears.

This couldn’t be real.  This thought played through GLaDOS’s mind over and over, as she repeated to herself, trying to calm down.  Surely this was… fake. Somehow, it had to be.  Computers could not dream, but perhaps that program had installed some feature in her that allowed her to?  Perhaps this was all in her head, and she was actually just unconscious in her chamber, waiting to reboot and leave this imaginary world.

That must be it. That was the only explanation that made sense. This program was supposed to be defective, so this was no doubt only an illusion, created to ward her away.

All GLaDOS would have to do was wake up.

She told her mind to reboot her systems.

Nothing happened.

She said it out loud the second time, demanding a system reboot and refresh of any currently running programs.

Still nothing.

Panic was quickly rising in the core once more, as her explanation that she had created for herself started to crumble, any sense of safety in her mind going with it.

“No. No no NO! I SAID REBOOT!”

Terror started to rise in her tone, her voice almost cracking at the sudden change of pitch.  It shouldn’t do that. She didn’t do that, humans did that. She wasn’t human. She wasn’t. She wasn’t she wasn’t she wasn’t-

She slapped herself.

She could not explain what forces in the world compelled her to try it, but in a moment of genuine panic and a last ditch attempt at hoping this was a dream, her brain struggled to think of a way to wake herself, and settled on what she knew humans often did when they believed to be dreaming.  They invoked physical contact, typically pain, to see if they would feel it. If they could feel it, they were awake.

GLaDOS had definitely felt that slap.  It had been rather weak, as she had suddenly jerked her arm into the motion, giving a smack hard enough to sting, but not enough to sound like the crack of a whip and leave an angry red mark.

Part of her supposed she should be thankful that it didn’t hurt as much as it could’ve.  But right now that didn’t matter.  She still felt it. She felt the hand against her skin, and the stinging that followed.  If her chassis had been slapped, she wouldn’t have had that problem. It was metal.  This was not metal, it was flesh.

This was real.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS sat in a stunned silence for a good long moment, her throat constricting and preventing any further speech.    This was what they had been trying to achieve? They wanted to place a robot into a human body?  It seemed… insane.  Why would they bother? It seemed pointless. A human body could die, age, grow ill. A robot didn’t have that problem. At least, not typically.

Not until now.

GLaDOS paused her train of thought, realizing that she didn’t feel well.  She felt lightheaded. It took her at least a minute to realize that she was still breathing far faster than normal, and this body seemed to be hyperventilating.  

It was exactly as GLaDOS had thought. Human bodies were not the most convenient thing, especially with things like this happening.

She needed to calm down. If she didn’t want to pass out cold, she needed to calm down.  She could handle this.  If this was a program intended to move her to this body, no doubt there was a way to move her back.

Slowly, she took a deep breath. It was the first one she had taken voluntarily instead of instinctively, and it felt incredibly strange. Alien and new, yet she did not struggle with the action. It came easily, as if she had been doing it her whole life.   She took another, feeling the lightheadedness slowly fade with each careful inhale and exhale.

She would be all right. She had to be.

Thankfully, after a few minutes of careful breathing, she felt better.  The heartbeat that she had been trying to ignore had calmed down so it wasn’t pounding in her ears, she no longer felt lightheaded, and she was desperately trying not to think about her current situation, staving off the horror of this predicament for a moment longer.

However, GLaDOS was well aware that she could not just sit here forever. Not only was it not productive in her goal of fixing this problem, but she was… cold.

She hadn’t noticed it at first, but it was growing worse with time.  The fluid that this body had been encased in- judging by the test tube that was across from her and coated with the same substance- left her skin and hair damp, and combined with Aperture’s naturally chilled temperatures caused her to grow progressively more and more uncomfortable, with little bumps appearing along her arms as every hair on her body seemed to stand on end.

If she was going to get anything done, she needed to dry off, and hopefully find something to wear.  

A quick glance around the room she was in revealed a few things.  Firstly, a locker up against the wall across from the empty test tube, and secondly, a desk and computer in the corner of the room.

GLaDOS had to restrain herself from jumping up and running to the computer instantly, desperate for something familiar.

Instead, she reluctantly decided to check the locker first.  Unfortunately, that required getting up and walking, which she had not properly tried yet.

First time for everything, isn’t there?

Carefully, GLaDOS tried to move her left leg.  It followed her command, albeit a bit stiffly.   If this was the body that those scientists had been talking about, it had been in stasis for a very, very long time.

Still, she moved both legs around a bit, finding that, despite the relative stiffness, she was able to use them without much problem.   So the next step was to pull herself up into a standing position.  It didn’t seem hard. Human children could manage it, surely she could as well.

As well as she could manage, GLaDOS tried to move the legs underneath herself, and lift the rest of her body off the ground at the same time.  The result was her crouching awkwardly with her legs so far apart that she might as well have been doing the splits.

Yet she was off the ground, and the ruler of Aperture considered that a success.

As slowly as possible, she started to try to straighten her legs and move them closer together, all while not falling to the ground.  It was an embarrassingly long process, as GLaDOS took great efforts to not fall, resulting in the process of standing up taking no less than five whole minutes.

Even then the AI looked a lot more like a newborn deer standing for the first time than anything resembling a dignified human.

However, considering GLaDOS’s current situation, she deemed it acceptable to be something slightly less than dignified if it meant she could fix this mess.  She had been stuck inside a root vegetable before, this was not the first time she had been in a less than satisfactory form.

Even if last time, at least she was still technically mechanical.

She tried her best to be optimistic about all this- despite the very concept of optimism being foreign to her- and decided she was lucky that this body at least had a way of movement that wasn’t reliant on traveling by way of hungry bird.  

So, reluctantly, she counted her blessings, and started to try to walk forward.   

It was difficult and rather awkward, but after the first couple of steps, she started to stabilize. While she was inexperienced, this body’s muscles were fully developed and had a much easier time catching on to what they needed to be doing than a child’s.

And thankfully, the room wasn’t very large; she had stumbled her way over to the locker without too much strife.

She reached for the handle and gave it a gentle tug.  It was not locked, but took a bit more force to open as the old, rusted metal groaned and creaked in protest at being moved for the first time in many, many years.

Inside the locker were a few items.  Directly in front of GLaDOS were some neatly folded towels, a bottle of water, and what she assumed was some clothing.  However, it was the inside of the door that GLaDOS was avoiding looking directly at.  It was a mirror.  She had noticed it for a second when she opened the door, and was now making a valiant effort not to look at it.

GLaDOS knew she was in a human body; she had no choice but to acknowledge that. But somehow, deep down, the AI felt- or hoped- that maybe, just maybe, if she didn’t look, it wasn’t real.  A childish hope, really, but one that she grasped onto with desperate hands.

Still, curiosity was starting to eat away at her.

Curiosity was what got her into this mess; surely she would’ve learned her lesson.  But as she turned to look into the mirror, it became very clear that no, she hadn’t.  She needed to know, even if she didn’t want to.

She closed her eyes as she turned, her body suddenly tense.  She was just going to look; it wouldn’t harm her any more than this whole situation already had.  She would look, she wouldn’t be curious anymore, and then she would fix this, and things would be fine.

GLaDOS opened her eyes, and stared into the old, dusty mirror.

The sight that greeted her was enough to make her newfound heart skip a beat.

Confined within the silvery surface of the mirror was the image of a ghost.

Or, what resembled a ghost, to GLaDOS at least.

Caroline stared back at GLaDOS.

The AI blinked, raising a hand to furiously wipe the mirror off, hoping that the image that greeted her was hidden by dust, and that GLaDOS was merely seeing things.

It only served to make the reflection clearer, and even more striking.

It was Caroline’s face; there was no doubt in the core’s mind about that. The bone structure looked the same, the hair and skin color identical, and the body shape was spot on.

There was only two differences that the core could spot.

Firstly, her age.  If this truly was the body that was spoken of in the scientist’s entries, then they had succeeded in one thing. Keeping her young.  While the body resembled Caroline greatly, she looked far, far younger than she had looked in any portrait in Aperture.  

The second was her eyes.  The primary color was the same as it ought to be, a warm chocolate brown. But what was unusual were the flecks of gold that dotted the irises like little sparks.   They were the same shade as what GLaDOS’s optic had been.

GLaDOS could hardly believe it all, despite the fact that she was staring directly at it.  She brought a hand to her face, feeling the skin in a mixture of awe and horror.

This was what ‘The Resurrection Project’ was meant to do; at least partly.  They intended to recreate Caroline’s body and leave it in storage on the off chance that if they needed to put her back into a human body, they would be able to.

But they didn’t bring Caroline back into this body. They brought GLaDOS instead.

“This is a far bigger mess than I wanted to deal with today,” GLaDOS grumbled, still trying to adapt to her own voice.  She sounded much like how Caroline had in the recordings, but she reckoned that her tone was far more cynical and sarcastic than Caroline’s ever had been.

With a few more disconnected and irritated grumblings, she reached for one of the towels and started drying herself off.  The action was as strange and uncomfortable as any of the others she had performed since waking up, but she was at the very least thankful to be dry.

Next, she reached for the article of clothing she saw first, unfolding it to get a closer look.

“Oh for the love of-”

Why couldn’t it have just been a labcoat? No, instead she was stuck with what almost looked like the exact same white dress that Caroline had been pictured in.  Clearly these scientists were sticklers for accuracy, but that didn’t exactly make GLaDOS feel any better.

Rather reluctantly, she got dressed, stopping when she reached the last piece of clothing.

A red and white ascot.

The AI stared at the item in her hands for a good minute or two, her brow furrowed.  Eventually, she placed it back in the locker.  It was unnecessary, and besides, she planned on being out of this body by the end of today, so why bother with such an item?

Instead, she grabbed the water bottle and closed the locker door, her eyes quickly traveling to the nearby computer.

Carefully, the AI made her way over to the desk- with at least a small amount less stumbling than before- and searched for the power button to the somewhat old piece of tech.  To her surprise, a slight nudge of the mouse jumpstarted the screen to life, showing that the monitor had merely been asleep, likely having been turned on in the process of this program’s usage earlier.

However, the screen was not very helpful.  A large pop-up filled almost the whole screen, keeping GLaDOS from doing anything with it.

It required a password for usage.

A password that GLaDOS didn’t have.  She was no longer connected to all of Aperture, with its programs and long list of password archives.  And considering she hadn’t known about this project until very recently, it wasn’t exactly one that she had memorized.

“Damn it!”

The core swore, too frustrated to be all that surprised at how quickly and easily the use of a more casual phrase had come to her.

If she couldn’t access this computer, she might not be able to reach any further information about this project, including how to reverse it.

Angrily, she let out a noise akin to a huff, kicking her foot across the ground in a vain attempt to burn off some of the irritation that was quickly building inside her.  She couldn’t just crush things or blow up the testing bots like this, she had control over nothing.  Nothing but herself, and even that she felt somewhat helpless with.

Still, despite the frustration that bubbled around in her head, she took a deep breath.  She’d figure this out.  If she could just get back to her chamber, she’d be able to access the main computers and files, find a password or a way to access this computer without one, and she’d be fine.  It required a little more work than she had been hoping for, but she could do it.

She turned and made her way to the only door in the room, testing the handle to find that it was, thankfully, unlocked.

It let out a loud creak when opened, and she could tell that like everything else inside the room, it likely hadn’t been touched since the scientists were alive.

Still, it seemed to be just her luck that it wasn’t too far from her chamber. It was a bit out of the way, placed in one of the unused hallways that GLaDOS hadn’t ever gotten to destroying or rebuilding.  It was a bit disorienting at first, taking steps outward into her facility, experiencing it for the first time on her own.  She had only ever looked at it through cameras, or been carried by…

She jolted herself from that train of thought.  Now wasn’t the time; she had a place to be.

With traces of hope in her heart, mild directional issues, and occasional tripping, she started to make her way back to the central chamber.

It wasn’t a particularly long walk, and she couldn’t mentally time exactly how much time it was taking, but after what she guessed was about fifteen minutes, things started to look a lot more familiar, and she knew she was reaching the areas surrounding her chamber.  She had seen these halls and room many times through the lens of a camera, but never in person.  She might’ve dawdled more to take closer looks if she hadn’t been so eager to get back to her own body.

However, while she was making a good pace, she wasn’t running. Walking with purpose perhaps, but not running. No, it was the sound that suddenly echoed through Aperture that made her start to run.

The announcer’s voice rang out, and its suddenness and loud volume was enough to get GLaDOS to jump a small bit, not even having realized just how jumpy she felt in this body.  It wasn’t her body, and that would be enough to put anyone on edge.

“No central core detected! Aperture Science will begin a security shutdown in thirty minutes to ensure the safety of any and all Aperture tech and information. The facility will be completely powerless until a certified Aperture personnel reboots the system manually.  Until then, please evacuate the facility, as the elevators will be offline shortly.”

GLaDOS felt her heart stop.  She wasn’t in her body, she was in this… thing. If she wasn’t in her body, the facility would shut down.  If she was trapped down here when it did, she might not be able to get back out.  And while in the past this might not have been as much of a problem- technically she had been ‘trapped’ in Aperture her whole life- she wasn’t a robot right now.  This was a human body, and as far as she could guess, it would need food, water, and oxygen. Aperture had been devoid of food and drinkable water for years, replaced by adrenal vapors. And recycling air worked fine when the facility was online, but both that and the adrenal vapors would go down the moment the power did.  This body would not last long down here.

Suddenly, moving without thinking, she broke into a run.  It was awkward and quite a strange looking gait, but the core cared little.  She needed to get to her chamber, now.  She didn’t know what else to do, but she needed to get there as fast as possible.

Somehow she didn’t need to think about where she was going anymore, as her body seemed to move in the right direction on its own.  She was moving based on pure fear, fueled by the dread of what would happen to her if she couldn’t get there fast enough. And somehow, her subconscious helped guide her in the right direction.

Before she knew it, she was standing outside her own chamber, panting and wheezing as she struggled to catch her breath.  This body was not used to activity, being in stasis for so long, and especially not such sudden, extreme activity.

Still, she pushed forward, opening the doors to her chambers, only to be met with an… unsettling sight.  

Her body.  Her chassis, hanging completely limp in the middle of the room, unmoving, lifeless.

She forced herself to walk towards it, despite her limbs suddenly feeling as if they were made of stone.

The closer she got, the more unsettled she felt.  There were few things as unnerving as seeing your own body practically dead.  That was where she belonged, yet she was stuck in someone else’s form, forced to stare at herself as if she were nothing more than a broken machine.

“Fifteen minutes until total Aperture Science facilities shutdown! Please evacuate the facility as soon as possible!”

The second warning rang out, causing a stab of panic in GLaDOS’s chest. Had it already been fifteen minutes? She thought she had more time!

Alarmed, her head shot back and forth, trying to find something that would help.  She forced herself to run her hands over her own chassis, looking for some kind of button or switch that she had been unaware of, possibly connected to this ‘Resurrection Project.’   But there was nothing to be found.

“Ten-minutes until total Aperture Science facilities shut-down! Final evacuations should be made, as the elevators WILL be out of service!”

GLaDOS ran to one of the manually accessible computers, grabbing the keyboard and furiously searching for anything with the name ‘Resurrection Project.’ Still, nothing.  Nothing she hadn’t already read.

Once more, her heart was pounding in her ears, and her breathing had quickened to a pace that was far from normal.

She had to find something, she was running out of time-

“Five minutes remaining until Aperture Science facilities shutdown!”

She was out of time.

GLaDOS desperately looked around once more, until her eyes caught sight of the elevator shaft, open, waiting.  She had a choice.

A choice, and little time left to make it.

As the seconds passed, the core braced herself, then ran to the elevator, sending it up to the surface.

The ascent was slow, agonizing.  Each moment that passed the AI wondered if it would power down, leaving her stuck in this tiny little space forever.

Thankfully, that was not the case.  It reached its destination, and the doors opened to the inside of a small, rusted metal shed.

She stumbled out, still in a blind panic, only to turn around and watch as the lights of the elevator flickered, then died.

Aperture had lost power. It was down there, as still as death. And she was up here, tragically, alive .

The core was unsure how it had happened, but she had sunk to her knees. Her legs gave out beneath her, and she was now on the ground, shaking.  She couldn’t stop trembling, despite how she tried.  She clenched her hands into fists, digging her fingernails into the skin on her palms, trying to get a grip on herself and this body.

GLaDOS hadn’t even realized she was crying until she noticed the droplets of water hitting the ground.

That was the final straw.

Once a powerful AI, able to act emotionless, control a facility at her will, and deny any feelings of sadness or fear within her, now sat a human upon the ground of an old shed, any facade of power suddenly shattered.

She sobbed.  She didn’t wish to; she tried not to.  Deep in her brain she attempted to remind herself that this was irrational, that she needed to calm down.  But she couldn’t.

All in one sequence of events GLaDOS had lost her body, her home, and quite possibly, any chance of fixing this whole mess.  In her mind, she had lost everything.  Who wouldn’t shed a few tears?

GLaDOS cried and cried until she had no tears left to cry.  She could feel, for the first time in her existence, hot tears streaming down her face, and the hiccuping breaths she had to take with every passing moment to keep herself from getting lightheaded once more.

She hated this feeling with all of her being, but she could not stop it.

It must’ve been hours before she calmed down.  She had gone silent as her breathing slowed and exhaustion started to settle in her body.  It was a dull, numb feeling now, and she simply stared at the powered down elevator, as if unable to look away or move.

Could she just stay here?  Sit in this shed until she either died, or the facility magically came back online?  Would that not be… easier?  Easier than stepping outside to the surface? Easier than accepting that she might be stuck outside forever? Easier than trying to survive?

Maybe.  Maybe it would be easier.

But GLaDOS had died once, and she wasn’t keen on doing it again.

With all the energy she could muster, she pulled herself up on shaky legs, forcing herself to stand.

She was going to survive. She wasn’t going to die in here.

But the surface was unknown to her.  She had so little data about what happened after the scientists died, she knew not what awaited her out there.  For all she knew, all of mankind could be dead, and the world above nothing but a wasteland.

However, one thing she knew was true.   There was at least one human alive on the planet, she had no doubt.

If Aperture couldn’t kill Chell, nothing could.

And if GLaDOS wanted to survive in what could be a world gone mad, she would need the help of a lunatic to do it.

Chapter Text

To say that GLaDOS was hesitant to take her first step outside would be untrue.  She was terrified and deeply wished that she didn’t have to.  No one was forcing her, mind you- which was no doubt why she agonized over it for so long, even after deciding that it was necessary for survival- but she still found herself having a mental argument with the rational side of her brain, questioning if it would really be so bad to try and survive in this shed for awhile.  Surely she could find some way to live off of a single bottle of water and concrete, and then she’d never have to go outside.

That was the emotionally charged, and frankly, ridiculous side of her brain.  The one that she was normally able to simply ignore, block out, or try to delete.  She could direct all her attention to science, pretend that her emotions didn’t exist, and soon enough, they would stop bothering her.  She could become numb.

Not anymore.  Now the rational side of her brain had to fight for control with the fear-ridden, emotional side, which seemed to be winning the battle.  It made her hands shake, her heart race, and her legs refuse to take a step forward.  She hadn’t been in this body for any longer than a handful of hours, and it was already malfunctioning.

GLaDOS let out a noise of frustration that might’ve been an odd mixture between a scream and a groan, coming out as a muffled, guttural sound that wasn’t particular to any human language, but somehow managed to convey a general sense of anger and frustration regardless.

“Just… move !” GLaDOS snapped at herself, now standing directly in front of the shed door, her hand on the doorknob, completely frozen. She had been like this for far too long.  She needed to move, or nothing would get done.  The sooner she could move, the sooner she could find some way to fix this mess and get back home. All she needed to do was open the damn door.

She closed her eyes, hoping that somehow, that would help.  It didn’t really, but she still tried to gather herself together.  Deep breaths, just like how she had been practicing.  This body needed air, and it would not benefit from a lack of oxygen. If she didn’t get the air she needed, her brain wouldn’t be able to function, and she wouldn’t be able to think straight.

It was just science. That was simple.

She knew the human body, in theory. It was easy and almost comforting to go over all the little details in her head.  She knew how this body should work, and that meant she could control it.   

Slowly, GLaDOS gained control of her breathing once more.  She was getting the hang of this, at least. While even she could admit that being able to control her breathing was a small victory at best, a win was still a win, and considering her current state, the AI predicted that she’d have very few victories in the near future.

With her heartbeat relatively regular, her breathing stabilized, and her brain still trying to focus on anything but the task at hand, GLaDOS opened her eyes, and forced herself to turn the doorknob.

The metal shed door was heavier than expected, and required a bit of effort to push open.  Still, once she managed to give it a few good shoves, it yielded to her efforts.  The result was blinding.

Almost literally, as the core quickly had to cover her eyes at the sudden change of lighting.  It was so… bright.

Aperture had almost always been well-lit, but it was always consistent. Light enough to do science, never changing, only the same shade.  Then of course, she was knocked into the dim, dark old Aperture, and was forced to adapt to that.  But at least the dark was easy to adjust to, especially with an optic that didn’t take very long to do so.  This?  GLaDOS was afraid to even dare to crack her eyes open, lest she risk going completely blind.

Carefully, she removed her hand, but kept her eyes shut tight.  She didn’t even need to open them to know that it must only be about midday, judging by how strong the sun’s light was against her eyelids.

She stood there for a long moment, waiting for the initial shock and brightness to soften as she hopefully got used to it.

Wind blew into the shed through the open door, a light, cool breeze that played with her long brown hair, tickling it against her skin.  It wasn’t… unpleasant.  GLaDOS would never dare to say that she liked anything about the surface- being stuck up here felt like a punishment from the universe more than anything- but… the wind was not horrific. For now, she reserved her judgment on that aspect of the world.

Now that she had felt a sample of the outside world, she knew that the next step was to see it.

Despite how scrunched up her face must’ve been in an attempt to avoid seeing the sun, GLaDOS started to part her eyelids, gaining a sliver of vision.  Then, she opened them a little more.  And a little more.  She kept this up, bit by tiny bit, until she was no longer staring at nothing, or the inside of a shed.  She had to blink a fair number of times to adjust, but she was staring at the surface.

In front of her was a vast golden wheat field, swaying against the wind and contrasting the bright sky, which was a light shade of blue. Dotted along it were the occasional clouds, white and fluffy, looking like bits of cotton that were pulled from the ground and placed in the sky, forming shapes that humans would no doubt liken to animals or objects as they watched them go by.

GLaDOS didn’t do that, but she was awed regardless.  She had never seen the surface in person, only in pictures.  She knew what it was supposed to look like, so surely this ought not to be so surprising to her.  It looked how any field of wheat was supposed to look, did it not?  There was nothing especially particular about this field, nothing special.

So why couldn’t she stop staring at it with this odd, tight feeling in her chest?  Why did she step forward without thinking, leaving the shed without the hesitation that had weighed on her shoulders a moment ago, suddenly able to take a step or two outside, just so she could better see the view?

GLaDOS blamed it on curiosity.  She was built to be a curious creature; one would need to be if they ever wanted to be a scientist.

Anyone would be curious seeing something like this for the first time. That didn’t mean she liked it.  She just...wanted to know more.

She looked around, and was greeted with more of the same.  Either Aperture had built this exit in a large wheat field on purpose, or some farmer had been too stupid to check or remove the metal shed before planting his crops.

Either way, GLaDOS couldn’t see any clear path to any one place.  There was no city in the distance, just more wheat.  She had no built-in navigational devices, no compass, no map.  She had no knowledge of where she was, and only a vague idea of where she needed to go.

If GLaDOS wanted to find Chell, she’d need to at least try to follow in her footsteps. As much as she loathed the idea, the AI decided that in order to find a lunatic, she needed to- temporarily- think like one.

Which way would a brain damaged human go if they were just set free from what they considered to be a horrific, torturous prison?

Forward.

GLaDOS gave her head a small shake, surprised at how simply that answer had come to her.  There were plenty of ways that Chell could’ve gone; what made her so confident that the girl had just walked head-on from the shed and kept going?

The AI couldn’t say.  She had no real proof; it wasn’t like the human had left a trail of breadcrumbs behind her- she no doubt would’ve eaten them all first- so there was no proper way to know where she went.  But something, an odd feeling deep in her gut, told her to just...go. To start walking and let her feet decide which way to go.

Now, on any normal day, GLaDOS would not listen to that feeling.  She would find the source of the feeling- likely a flaw in her system- delete it, and forget that she ever had such a ridiculous, baseless, flighty feeling.

But today had been far, far from a normal day.  And she had nothing else to go off of, so…

She turned back, catching one last glimpse of Aperture’s shed.  The door had closed behind her without her even noticing, as if to further remind her that she was trapped up here.

Fighting back the uncomfortable tightness in her throat, the core turned back towards the wheat field, and started walking.

The sun was warm on her skin, though she found that she wasn’t as unpleasantly warm as she would’ve expected.  Despite clear skies and the strong presence of the sun, the actual temperature was rather cool.  Every breeze that came her way was light and comfortable, but held the slightest trace of a chill. She reckoned that if it was dark, she’d be much colder.

Thankfully, she had all day to travel, and with any luck, by then she would have found… something.

Besides looking for the only human she could properly assume to be alive, GLaDOS was not fully certain what she ought to look for. A town? A city?  More humans?  She could not say for certain.  Being in the middle of a wheat field didn’t give her the best judge of what the rest of the world was like.

As much as she hated to admit it, it seemed that she’d just have to figure things out as she went.  

That thought alone made GLaDOS grimace.  Not having a carefully calculated plan at all times?  That sounded horrible.  She’d have to trust the world around her, luck, and worst of all, these… instincts that kept popping up.  None of that was founded in certainty. It was all grounded in nothing but chance.

Truly, the universe was punishing her.

Still, she pushed onward. The wheat field felt endless, though GLaDOS knew that was impossible.  Eventually, it would end, and she’d be one step closer to fixing everything.  She… hoped.

Hours passed like days. GLaDOS forced herself to keep moving, but exhaustion had started to settle into her body.  She tried to ignore it, deny that it was happening and pretend she was fine, but soon it became far too difficult to do so.  This body was human, and it was a human body that had been held in stasis for many years. While it had some muscle tissue, it was far from athletic.  After hours of walking, it was due to get a bit tired.

GLaDOS had taken to mostly only staring at the ground in front of her, trying to focus on taking each step forward instead of looking to the distance and no doubt seeing nothing but more wheat.  Yet as the warmth of the sun started to fade and the brightness of the day started to wane, she forced herself to look up at the sky.  The sun was setting, casting the color of the once-blue sky into a series of oranges and reds. The AI scowled.  With the sun soon to be absent from the sky, it would be cold and dark- two things that made traveling, let alone trying to navigate, very difficult.

Was she just going to have to curl up in a pile of wheat and wait the night out?

No, as it turned out.

GLaDOS looked down from the sky, her eyes suddenly catching sight of something in the distance. An outline of… trees?  Her heart skipped a beat.  That was new- she could only hope that meant she was going in the right direction.

Despite her growing exhaustion, the core did her best to pick up her pace, shifting her gait into a slow run.  

Thankfully, the trees were closer than the AI had expected, and she was doubled over in front of them, gasping for breath, before she knew it.  Finally.

Desperately, she looked around for somewhere to take shelter. A small house, perhaps? An abandoned science facility if she was lucky?  No such luck.  Disappointment came crashing down on the core and her face fell.  Of course.  She couldn’t have stumbled across a patch of trees with some human’s cozy little cottage, she had found a regular, boring forest.

Grumbling under her breath, GLaDOS started to look around.  She would prefer to find somewhere to wait the night out, as the sun’s light was only barely still present, casting long shadows on everything it touched, but right now, she would be content with at least having somewhere to sit down besides the ground.

It took a bit of searching, but around the inner borders of the forest, GLaDOS spotted something that looked like an ivy covered rock, and approached it, ready to practically collapse upon the thing.

However, as she sat down, she realized that the surface was much too flat, and the edges far too sharp and defined. She got back up, and eyed the thing a little closer.

Peaking out from underneath the ivy was grey material, and the corners of a very faint heart.

A small gasp escaped the core upon noticing this, quickly grabbing the plants and ripping them away as much as possible.  The more she pulled away, the clearer the image became.

This was a companion cube.  Alone and abandoned, miles away from Aperture.  And not just any cube, this one was familiar.  It was covered in scorch marks.

“...So she left it behind?  After all the trouble I went to get it back for her. Typical.”

GLaDOS spoke as she examined the thing, barely hiding her excitement of this discovery.  The cube had no doubt been here for quite awhile, but it meant at least one thing: Chell had come this way. If she had been here, GLaDOS was on the right track.

Any thoughts of sitting down here suddenly abandoned, GLaDOS straightened her back and looked around, ready to begin her search anew.   She started to wander, looking around for any further traces of human life, and more importantly, any traces of her human’s life.

She found herself digging around deeper and deeper into the forest, until she realized she could no longer see the wheat field when she turned around.  Not only that, but the chill of night had finally started to set in. The sun was gone, replaced by the soft glow of the moon.  Which, as GLaDOS was discovering, was not all that helpful for looking for small details. It was bright enough that she wasn’t stumbling around in complete darkness, but she’d never be able to properly see small traces of anything in this lighting.

Maybe she ought to just… find a tree to sit under and call it a night.

The core shuddered at the thought, as the buzzing of insects was one of the only consistent sounds, and the earthy scent of the forest was almost suffocating.  This was one of the last places she’d ever want to be for extended periods of time, let alone fall asleep here.  It made her long for Aperture’s cool, calm safety.  She felt a strange pulling at her heart as her mind wandered to the facilities long hallways and well kept chambers, its never-changing rooms and near-deadly silence.

She missed it deeply.  That was where she belonged, and the surface was where a human belonged.  She was not human, despite any visual evidence given to the contrary.

With a sigh, GLaDOS spotted a large oak tree, and started to walk over to it. It would have to do for now-

A twig snapped, and the AI nearly jumped out of her skin, a startled cry escaping her lips and echoing through the woods around her, seeming impossibly loud.

Her head snapped back and forth, looking for the source of the noise before looking down and realizing with a sigh of relief that she had merely stepped on a small branch.  

“I swear, I hate the surface-”

The core spoke as she raised her head, but found her words stop in her throat as her gaze traveled upwards.  The sound of the twig snapping had been hers, but the ragged wheezing that the AI now noticed had not.  It, in fact, belonged to what looked like a very large bear.

GLaDOS found her body frozen in place as she could do little but stare at the creature that towered before her. It stood up on two legs, reared up and staring down at her with what she could only assume was either complete hatred or bloodlust, neither of which sounded appealing to the AI.

With each moment of staring at the beast that passed, she realized that the creature was definitely not… normal.  She had no access to her database of known mammals, but this thing was far, far too big for a normal grizzly bear. Not to mention that it just didn’t look quite right.  Its fur was incredibly patchy, with large parts of its body completely hairless, showing cracked, almost scaly looking skin. Its face, too, looked off, with a longer snout and bigger ears, giving it an almost canine-like appearance.

Whatever it was, it gave her little time for gawking.

It opened its mouth and let out a loud roar, the sound grating on her ears like nails on a chalkboard. This noise was enough to snap GLaDOS back to the present and out of her own head, but it was a little too late.  She moved to take a step back, to hopefully gain distance between herself and this… thing, but her attempt was halted, as the beast suddenly swung a front paw at her, landing a blow against her shoulder, hard.

“Agh-!”

GLaDOS let out a yelp of pain as the force of the blow practically launched her to the ground, knocking her to the side and gaining her a small amount of distance away from the thing.

This blow had not been to kill- she noted that it hadn’t used the massive claws that it sported on each paw- but merely to stun, to weaken, and to make a lot easier to defeat.

It was not finished with her. Whether she had stumbled into its territory or it was simply hungry, GLaDOS could not tell.  She desperately struggled to push herself up, but almost instantly failed, her arm still throbbing with pain.  Instead, all she managed to do was turn her body in such a way that allowed her to stare directly at the creature as it tried to murder her.

Instinctively, GLaDOS tried to will turrets to drop from the ceiling or appear from the walls, or for deadly neurotoxin to fill the air.  But there was no ceiling, nor vents. She wasn’t in Aperture. She wasn’t in her body.  She had no weapons; there was no way for her to be able to kill this thing.

She had ruled Aperture with an iron fist, killed plenty of humans, and kept everything under her thumb- for the most part- because she was connected to the facility. That gave her power.  But she had never won a direct fight with anything.  She had always sent something- be it deadly gas or a small robot with bullets- to kill her targets for her.

So now, despite her former confidence in being a cold-blooded killer, she simply lay upon the ground, struggling to get away like…

...Like a pathetic human.

She wasn’t sure what made her feel more sick; that thought, or the realisation that she was, very likely, about to die.  That thing was approaching her, lips pulled back in an ugly snarl, showcasing its many sharp teeth, and the drool that dripped down its chin.

GLaDOS could feel the blood pounding in her ears, and her heartbeat seemed desperate to make itself known by thumping almost painfully in her chest.  In this moment of panic, she found herself simply staring at what would soon be her executioner, trying desperately to pick the creature apart with her mind.

Long canines- no doubt they’d be used to pierce her flesh wherever this thing bit her. They could be used to dig deep, slice her skin like it was nothing but air.  

It got closer, prowling towards her like it was enjoying her fear.

Its lower jaw seemed strong, the muscles tense and coiled as it prepared to strike. With a bite like that, it would no doubt be able to bite onto its prey and not let go, despite the prey’s best attempts to escape.

Suddenly, the beast was close enough to touch, and reared up once more, letting out a bellowing cry that shook GLaDOS to her core.  This was the end. This was how she’d die again.

As yet another reflex she didn’t know she possessed went off, she hid her face with her good arm, turning away from the sight as if to brace herself for impact.

Then, a crack of thunder shot through the air, followed by a deafening roar of what sounded like agony.

GLaDOS looked, only to see blood spurting out of the beast’s shoulder , which had caused it to fall back a small amount, snarling and spitting.

That hadn’t been thunder- it was a gunshot.

The bear-like beast also seemed to realize it was under attack, as its attention on GLaDOS was all but lost as it looked for the source of the shot.  GLaDOS did too, craning her neck around for a moment before spotting someone standing about fifty feet away, with the slight glint of a scope under the moonlight being the only thing that gave them away as being the one to which the shot belonged to.

The beast must’ve noticed this too, as despite its wounded arm it suddenly charged at the figure, letting out another roar that might as well have been a battle cry-

Another shot rang through the air, and GLaDOS watched as the bullet struck the beast in its opened mouth, bursting out the other side of its skull in an explosion of blood.


If GLaDOS wasn’t certain her heart had almost stopped, she would’ve been impressed, and wondered how she could incorporate aim like that into turrets if she ever returned to Aperture.


The monstrous creature fell to the ground with a loud thud, lifeless.  Blood still spilled out of both wounds, but the beast was not moving. No more ragged breathing, no snarls, not a twitch of the paw.  That shot, as well placed and lucky as it was, had done this thing in for good.

The core couldn’t help but stare at its body for what felt like forever, eyes wide with a mixture of awe and horror- though it was mainly the latter. It was dead. She wasn’t.

GLaDOS wasn’t sure if she was supposed to feel joyful or relieved, but she currently felt like her stomach had been turned upside down.
She had nearly died.  What would’ve happened if she did?  Would she still have to suffer the way she had last time? Would her new personal hell be reliving this moment of terror and shame over and over, only this time, in a body that would rot and disappear, leaving her no chance of ever coming back?  Or would death be final? Would her consciousness cease to exist? What happened then?

It had not taken long for the core to get lost in her own thoughts, so suddenly spaced out that she momentarily forgot that she wasn’t alone.  Whoever fired that gun was still here. In fact, they were approaching.

GLaDOS didn’t notice until the footsteps were almost right next to her head, signalling to her that the person was standing in front of her.  She didn’t want to look up.  All she could see was their boots, and she feared that if she looked up, she’d be met with the barrel of that gun.

Instead, the figure crouched, and a hand was extended to GLaDOS.

The AI’s first thought was that the hand looked worn, rough, and distinctly human, not like anything artificial, and not belonging to some strange, gun-using cat creature- which she supposed should be comforting.

Her second thought was to slap that hand away.  Perhaps old habits and feelings die hard, but there was something deeply infuriating- and familiar- about lying in a compromised situation, reliant on a human’s hand to help her.

She didn’t need to be helped up. Surely she could do it herself.  And yet, GLaDOS still took the offered hand, albeit reluctantly.

She had almost forgotten that she was in a human body- that to any stranger, she would look just like anyone else.  This human clearly must’ve thought they were being polite, and for some reason GLaDOS got the feeling that refusing the politeness of someone with a gun and aim like that might not be her wisest decision, especially since she had no idea who they were.  

The human pulled her up with enough force to help, but enough care not to move GLaDOS’s sore shoulder around too much.  GLaDOS was a bit unsteady for a moment, but quickly regained her footing.  Nothing felt like it was broken, though she’d likely have a nasty bruise.

Yet, she was still alive.  And, though she was loath to admit it, that was because of this human.

So, she raised her chin to look the figure in the eye, say something mildly akin to ‘thanks’ and be done with it.

Unfortunately, any words in her throat seemed to keel over and die the moment she made eye contact.

The human standing in front of her, face to face, was none other than Chell.

Chapter Text

“You.”

This was the first word to tumble forth from GLaDOS’s lips, her mouth hanging ajar with shock as she couldn’t help but stare at the figure across from her.

A look of disbelief that was matched, if not surpassed, by the expression on Chell’s face.

For a moment GLaDOS wondered if she was mistaken, but those thoughts were swiftly quelled as she looked into the eyes of this woman.

Steely blue, as wild and dangerous as a savage animal, but normally as cool and collected as a calculated hunter. Those were her eyes. Her brow, normally furrowed with focus and determination, was raised in shock, like she couldn’t believe what she was seeing.

While the woman no longer wore a bright orange jumpsuit, nor did she have the Aperture logo plastered all over her body- she seemed to favor dark browns and greys for her wardrobe now- she was still Chell.

GLaDOS would admit that while she had technically been looking for Chell, she hadn’t expected to find her so quickly, or in a situation such as this.  Seeing Chell so soon was a surprise, certainly, but surprise didn’t begin to describe Chell’s reaction.

She looked as if she had seen a ghost.

GLaDOS had momentarily forgotten exactly what, or rather, who, she looked like.

Caroline.

A woman that, to Chell’s knowledge, ought to have been dead many years over, not walking around on the surface getting attacked by strange, mutant bear creatures.

Chell blinked a few times, and gave her head a small shake, as if she was convinced that she was seeing things.  GLaDOS wished that were the case.  What she would give for this all to be some very strange hallucination, something that could be dispelled by a shake of the head or rubbing at your eyes.

Alas, this was very much real, as GLaDOS partly judged by the ache in her shoulder.


“I… Before you do anything that we would both regret, you should know that I’m not here by choice.”

GLaDOS hated how nervous her voice sounded. How it trembled a small amount when she further examined the woman standing across from her. How she noticed that Chell was armed to the teeth, with a rifle on her back, a knife strapped to her leg, and a pistol at her hip.  How she could tell that the ex-test subject’s hand hovered over that pistol, not quite grabbing it, but clearly ready to do so on a moment’s notice.

GLaDOS had to choose her words very, very carefully- something that she wasn’t exactly good at, given her affection for any and all things sarcastic.

She found it difficult to maintain eye contact now, her own gaze only briefly darting to Chell’s face to check her response.

Some of the initial shock had faded from her face, but she still seemed to hold a general air of disbelief and unease.  After a few more moments of agonizing silence, Chell furrowed her brow into its usual place, her gaze questioning as she caught GLaDOS’s eye and pointedly stared at her, silently asking what GLaDOS could only assume was

‘Who or what are you?’

GLaDOS opened her mouth to respond, but stopped.  What exactly was she supposed to say? It wasn’t like she could lie about who she was; there was no chance that Chell could mistake her for anyone other than herself. The resemblance was too stark, in appearance and voice.  So that meant GLaDOS had to tell the truth.  Easier said than done, as the core shamefully remembered how she ended up in this state.

“Alright. I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think I’d ever have to see you again. I’d stay and do science, and you’d stay up here, no doubt going about murdering things.  It appears that I was only right about the ‘you murdering things’ part.”

The AI paused, trying her best to gauge Chell’s reaction as she spoke.  The gun hadn’t been drawn, and the woman’s facial expression hadn’t changed much.  She seemed intent on listening to what GLaDOS had to say before deciding on doing anything.  That, GLaDOS hoped, was a good thing.  So, she continued.

“Do you remember that time you had me ripped from my body and put in a potato? Yes? That’s called a core transfer, in case you couldn’t tell the obvious. As it so happens, I… might’ve run into a small problem that resulted in what I can only assume is a very similar process. Turns out before they created me, they had this… thing in stasis, on the off chance they needed it.”

GLaDOS gestured to her body as she spoke, not afraid to show the disdain in her voice as she did so.  This body was no more appealing to her than the potato. The only good quality it had was the ability to move, and the size being big enough to avoid being carried away by birds.  Everything else was good for nothing in the core’s eyes.  It was a prison, a temporary state of being that she was eager to be rid of.

“Long story made simple for your brain to understand, I’m currently stuck like this.  I’d be in Aperture fixing this mess if the facility hadn’t lost power shortly after this all went down.  So I came up here to…”

The core trailed off, realizing what she had been about to admit.  She had come looking for Chell. Looking for her help.  That thought alone caused the AI to shudder, her lips pulled downwards into a scowl.  It sounded pathetic now that she thought about it, running the thoughts through her head.  She had come crawling onto the surface, desperate for the help of a human that she had already needed the aid of once.  She was definitely not going to give Chell the satisfaction of knowing that.

“To try and survive long enough to figure out how to get things back to normal. I… am uncertain just how I’m going to fix this, but I’m positive that I can figure something out, if I have time. Unfortunately, that thing messed with my plans a small bit.”


Her head turned to look at the bloodied corpse of the creature Chell had just shot, a small spike of fear wedging itself into GLaDOS’s heart at the sight, as if her subconscious expected it to come back to life and try once more to attack her.

Thankfully, it didn’t.

With that, the core turned back to Chell, waiting for some kind of response, anxiety building in her chest with every passing moment.  Chell was armed; GLaDOS wasn’t. If the ex-test subject decided she wanted revenge, or simply didn’t believe GLaDOS, she could easily kill her.  Caroline’s body, while adequate by human standards, was far from being Chell’s physical superior.   In fact, as GLaDOS suddenly realized, she was shorter than Chell.  Not by much, which perhaps was why she hadn’t noticed it sooner, but even still, Chell seemed to have at least an inch of height above hers.  This knowledge alone caused a spark of annoyance in GLaDOS, internally longing for the height and intimidation that her chassis had granted her.  She could tower over any human, strike fear into their hearts with her size alone.

Now, some humans would have to tilt their heads down a little to speak to her.

Resisting the urge to grumble about this under her breath, the AI was soon distracted from this train of thought by Chell moving.

The woman raised the hand that wasn’t resting above her gun, gesturing to GLaDOS, then to herself. She followed this by tilting her head slightly downwards, and giving GLaDOS a questioning look.

‘You want my help?’

GLaDOS could only assume the translation once more, as even on the surface, this lunatic seemed intent on not saying a word.  The core was positive she could speak- she had heard the small grunts of pain the girl had made in her early test chambers- but decided not to press that matter for now.  Instead, she tried her best to swallow her pride and respond.  This turned out to be a very difficult task.

“I don’t… need your help, per say. I could manage just fine on my own. That is to say that I... could , if I had to. Though I suppose I would not be...against your aid.”

The core shifted in place as she spoke, moving from foot to foot, and slowly moving her good arm to reach across her chest and gingerly hold onto her injured arm, both cradling it and attempting to cover and shield her chest. A defensive reaction, she noted in the back of her mind, realizing more and more of the little things this body was having her do on instincts alone.  It was infuriating that she wasn’t even thinking before doing some of these things, though she supposed as a scientist it was mildly interesting. It’d be much more so if she wasn’t the one experiencing it.

Still, GLaDOS tried to push these thoughts aside for now, doing her best to focus her scattered and currently fried mind on the task at hand.  Watching for Chell’s reaction, once more.

She supposed this was to be expected. If the woman refused to talk, she had to react and respond in other ways, namely body language and through expressions.  That was all fine and good for the one doing it, but not so much for the one who had to hope that she was interpreting it all correctly.  

It didn’t help that Chell’s expression had just shifted into a small frown.  A thoughtful one, GLaDOS hoped, but even still, the human’s gaze was admittedly intense.  She hadn’t taken much note of it before, as she had always been watching from far enough away that it didn’t have the same impact.  But now, face to face, it was nothing short of unnerving.

Minutes passed.  Slow, agonizing minutes.  Minutes that felt like hours as more and more anxiety boiled in GLaDOS’s gut, as she internally fought with herself on whether or not to break the silence and simply say something, anything to confirm that Chell had heard her the first time.
Finally, after what the AI could only assume was careful observation and thought, Chell seemed to have made up her mind.   She stood up a little straighter, looked at GLaDOS once more, then turned around and started walking away.

A stab of what GLaDOS could only describe as pure panic shot through her heart.

“Wait! If… If this is about the whole ‘testing you’ thing, I thought we’d gotten past that! You saved me, I saved you, I even let you go!”

Desperation suddenly laced her voice, and the core decided that she hated the feeling of fear that was quickly rising from general unease, to genuine anxiety.

These woods were not safe- that much had been made blatantly clear to GLaDOS.  She had nearly been killed, she had no weapons, it was dark, she was basically lost, and-

Chell had stopped, turning only her head back at GLaDOS, looking slightly confused, and almost a bit exasperated. She raised her hand, and gestured forward with it.  She wanted GLaDOS to follow her.

Shocked but relieved, GLaDOS hurried over.  She chastised herself for being so eager, but she was eager to move as soon as she possibly could. The beast that Chell killed smelled awful, and was already attracting a large amount of insects. She did not want to wait around here for any longer than she had to, lest it attract something bigger than flies.

With her point made, Chell continued walking, cutting into the bushes and thicket on a path that only she seemed to know.  She walked with purpose, her stride never faltering, never slowing.  It was a trait of the ex-test subject that GLaDOS had known about ever since they had both plummeted into old Aperture, and the woman had carried GLaDOS around effortlessly.

Back then, the AI had seen this trait as one of the human’s few good qualities. Time was of the essence then- if they hadn’t moved as swiftly as they did, they likely would’ve both been blown to pieces.

But now, that trait was a lot less endearing.  GLaDOS struggled to keep up, as she was now forced to match the human’s pace rather than simply being carried along.  This body already ached from a long day of traveling, and even that had been relatively flat, easy terrain. This wasn’t.

The forest floor sloped up and down in different places. Logs, rocks and hidden tree roots scattered their path, making each step feel like a minefield for GLaDOS, as somehow she managed to trip on almost all of them. And that wasn’t even mentioning all the plants.  They weren’t walking a road well traveled. It was covered in bushes that either needed to be stepped over, or walked through.

Chell seemed to be coming out of all this fine, managing to push the plants aside in just the right ways to avoid getting snagged by the often prickly plants.

GLaDOS was not so lucky.

They walked and walked for a good chunk of time, as GLaDOS judged by the occasional glance upwards to look at the moon’s placement, and after what she could only assume had been a good forty minutes to an hour, she decided she had just about enough.  Was Chell just leading her to nowhere? Practically dragging her through this forest to see how long it took for her to give up, or get lost?

The AI had been just about to say something, when Chell suddenly stopped dead in her tracks, and sharply raised her hand to get GLaDOS to stop as well, nearly hitting her in the face in the process.

GLaDOS went still as well, though was uncertain as to why.  She saw nothing around them, but decided to keep her mouth shut regardless.

Chell seemed to hold her breath as she listened carefully, her shoulders tense and free hand hovering back over her pistol.

The night was silent. Well, silent aside from the insects, which GLaDOS was now having to slap off her skin every few minutes to keep them from biting every bit of exposed flesh she had.

A few moments passed, and Chell relaxed.  She turned back to GLaDOS for a moment, nodding her head forward, before continuing to walk.

GLaDOS opened her mouth once more, ready to start the complaints that she had been building up, when they got to a dense clump of leaves from both low-hanging tree branches and a few different kinds of bushes.  Surely they weren’t going to walk through that?

They were.  But lucky for GLaDOS, Chell actually pulled them aside for once, leaving a gap for them both to walk through.

Once they did, GLaDOS found herself in what she could only describe as a very small clearing.  It was no larger than fifteen feet in diameter, and was surrounded by trees and other plants, shielding it off from the rest of the woods. The ground was grassy and mostly flat, surprisingly free of the mud, rocks and roots that covered the rest of the forest.

In the middle of the clearing was what looked like a somewhat simple shelter: a strong-looking tarp, held up by sturdy branches, the edges pinned down by large rocks. It didn’t look any longer than six feet, and only about four feet wide.  Close to this was a small circle of rocks, inside of which were a few partly burnt logs. The core leaned slightly forward, tilting her head and trying to get a better look at the inside of the shelter. The bottom of it seemed to be covered in various animal furs, and there appeared to be a few bags inside as well.

“Is this-”

GLaDOS started to speak, her curiosity piqued upon seeing this place. However, Chell cut her off by walking past her and into the middle of the clearing, gesturing for GLaDOS to follow.

The AI huffed a small amount at being brushed off so easily, but said nothing further.  Chell seemed intent on doing… something, so for now GLaDOS would play along. She had no choice.

Chell ducked her head inside of the shelter, grabbing two of the furs off the ground, and brought them over to the small fire pit, laying one down and holding onto the other.  She then proceeded to look at GLaDOS, then back to the fire pit, then back to GLaDOS. She wanted the AI to sit.  Reluctantly at first, the core obliged, carefully walking over and sitting down, her movements stiff.  

The ground wasn’t exactly comfortable, though it wasn’t horrible either. The fur and the grass were soft enough to be passable, and at this point, anything felt better than standing for any longer.

GLaDOS hadn’t even realized just how tired she had been until she sat down, and all of a sudden everything came crashing down on her at once.  She had been exhausted for hours, but adrenaline had kept her going. Now, though, she felt as if she were just going to melt into the ground.   Her shoulders sagged and she lost anything close to good posture, fighting the urge to just lay down and sleep, as she suddenly found it difficult to keep her eyes open.

Chell thankfully kept her from doing so, as she had walked away and only just now returned, dropping some sticks onto the fire pit, arranging them carefully, and reached into one of the pockets on her jacket and pulled something out.  It took GLaDOS a moment to see what it was, but upon closer inspection, and the sudden tiny sparks that were coming from it, she deduced that it was likely flint and steel.

It took a few moments, but eventually Chell managed to catch some of the kindling she had added on fire.  Carefully, she tended to it, taking great measures to make sure it wasn’t suffocated or blown out by the wind.  GLaDOS supposed she could break the silence by speaking, but there was something oddly fascinating about watching Chell work.

She eyed this task with the same determination that she’d had when she was going from test chamber to test chamber.  The same focus and skill that made her such an interesting test subject was still present here, earning GLaDOS’s attention once more.

Before she knew it, the core was staring at a steady, albeit small, fire.  Chell sat down now, across from GLaDOS, but still close enough to the fire to tend to it, gradually adding bigger sticks to grow the flames.

“If this is all you’ve managed to do in the time you’ve been out of Aperture, I can’t say you’ve been doing too well.  Is this really where you live?”

GLaDOS spoke after a while, deciding that she could no longer stand the silence. Quiet became unnerving after a time, especially in these woods, only lit by the moon and the light of the fire, which casted shadows everywhere.  She’d have given anything for the safety of Aperture.  She wasn’t afraid of the shadows there; she had no reason to be.  But out here, everything seemed to be a threat.

Chell didn’t seem worried.  The woman looked up from the fire as GLaDOS spoke, raising an eyebrow and slowly shaking her head, gesturing to her little camp before pointing to the distance.

“What? You just travel around? Can’t find a place that wants you?”

Part of GLaDOS knew she was trying her luck with the comments, but they came almost instantly to her, like a reflex.  A defense mechanism perhaps, but a dangerous one to use in a situation such as this.  Even after she said it she found herself nervously watching Chell’s reaction, her eyes quickly traveling to the human’s many weapons.

Chell blinked, giving GLaDOS a blank, unaffected stare before shrugging and going back to poking the fire.

GLaDOS wasn’t sure if she was relieved or annoyed.  Part of her wanted her comments to have more effect. Then at least she could feel like she still had a fraction of her power, even away from Aperture.  But Chell wasn’t shaken in the slightest.  This was, as far as GLaDOS could tell, her element.  She was comfortable out here, and in control.  GLaDOS was the opposite.   No matter what she said, it couldn’t change the fact that without Aperture, GLaDOS felt like a cat without claws.  All she could do was hiss and try to make herself seem as intimidating as possible, but faced with a real danger and she…

Needed to be saved.

A small sigh escaped her against her will, and the core pulled her knees up to her chest, feeling the sudden urge to make her body as small as she felt.

She simply stared into the fire for a while, watching the flames dance, licking at the air and giving out wisps of smoke. The AI focused on it, trying her hardest to ignore the world around her.  She had long since given up the hope that this was a dream, but a part of her still wished to deny herself the acceptance of her situation.  Giving in to the notion that she could be stuck like this for a long time would only hurt more. Lying to herself and pretending that she didn’t notice everything going wrong stung ever so slightly less.

The core was only snapped out of her thoughts by the soft sound of something rustling, which got her head to snap upwards, and she found herself suddenly on high alert.  

Thankfully, the source of the sound didn’t come from another creature trying to eat her. Instead it was only Chell, who seemed to be fiddling with what looked like a small scrap of crumpled paper.  Upon closer inspection, GLaDOS could tell she was writing something.

Slowly, the ex-test subject stood up, walked around the fire, and held the paper out to GLaDOS, waiting for the AI to take it.

GLaDOS looked at the note with slight disgust, noting how the paper was ripped in certain places and slightly dirty.  Whatever it was Chell had to say, could she not have spared slightly nicer paper?  Still, the core took it anyway, as Chell didn’t seem like she was going to give up until she did.

‘Sleep. I keep watch, we discuss this tomorrow.’

The statement was blunt, but the handwriting was surprisingly legible. If she was being fully honest, GLaDOS hadn’t even known if Chell could read or write, considering the very real possibility that those skills had been lost or damaged after her excessive periods in cryosleep, and the lack of needing to do either of those things while inside of Aperture.  

GLaDOS made a motion to stand up, only for Chell to hold her hand out once more, this time indicating her to stay put.

“You want me to sleep out here? But you have a shelter right-”

Chell shot her a glare, crossing her arms and standing her ground.  She didn’t seem keen on letting GLaDOS near any of her supplies, most of which were stored in her makeshift tent.

Still, she grabbed the extra animal fur she had brought over earlier, and handed it to GLaDOS, presumably to use as a blanket.

“...How do I know you aren’t just going to kill me while I sleep? Surely you could still want revenge, and you expect me to leave myself wide open?”

The AI huffed, doing her best to hide the unease in her voice.  She couldn’t say she expected Chell to kill her; despite the human’s murdering pastime, she never seemed the type for silent assassinations.   Even so, the core had the right to be nervous.  Who could sleep in a place like this?

Well, apparently she could. Or rather, she was supposed to.  Without reacting to GLaDOS’s statement, Chell walked away to the edge of the clearing, sat down on a tree stump, and pulled out her rifle.  She didn’t aim it at anything, nor did she seem particularly tense.  She just sat there, silently waiting.

For awhile,  GLaDOS watched her. She waited for something to change, but it didn’t.  Slowly, despite her best efforts to deny Chell’s wishes and stay awake, the core found herself moving to curl up on her side, just for a minute.  Then, she decided to close her eyes, but only for a few seconds.  She’d only need a minute or two of rest, and then she’d be fine.

No more than five minutes had passed, and GLaDOS was dead asleep.

Chapter Text

Pulling downwards. A tugging, insistent at first, then quickly becoming harsh yanks with chains, attempting to drag her down. There was pain, too, and it was hot, burning like fury.  Fire? No, it was too dark for fire.  In fact, it was completely pitch black.

Oppressive darkness, surrounding and consuming all around it.  GLaDOS could feel it, slowly wrapping itself around her, a dead weight suddenly saddled upon her.  She couldn’t move, she couldn’t speak; she wasn’t even sure where she was.  

Then, the pain spiked.  What had been painful was now excruciating. It felt as if she was being pulled apart at the seams, violently ripped in half.  She wanted to scream, she needed to, but she couldn’t.   She could do nothing but lose herself in the sea of black, slowly, painfully drowning-

A snap to reality like a slap to the face.

GLaDOS jerked herself upwards with a strangled cry, finally able to move.  She looked down at herself, then back and forth. She could see. She wasn’t in her chassis, she wasn’t being ripped apart.  She was sitting upright on a forest floor, panting as her mind reeled. That hadn’t been real.  She felt it, but it hadn’t been real.

A dream. No, a nightmare.

This realization crawled over her in a deeply unsettling way, hanging over her shoulders.  She knew now that what she’d just experienced wasn’t real, yet she could still feel it. It still hurt somehow, despite her best attempts to tell her brain that it could relax.

She stared at the ground in front of her for a moment, noting that the fire had long since gone out, leaving nothing but ashes.  Her heart hammered in her chest once again, and it left GLaDOS wondering how harsh all this strain would be on this body.  She needed it alive just long enough for her to get back in her chassis, so a heart attack was not high on the list of things she wanted to happen.

The AI tried to use the method of calming herself that she had already picked up- deep breathing- but found it wasn’t quite enough.  With every breath she took, her chest seemed to tighten and her throat felt like it was closing up, resulting in her taking another, shallower breath, followed by another, and another... and before she knew it, she was only making things worse.

She was lost in her own mind.  She would’ve thought the waking world would be better than the nightmare, but not by much. Now instead of darkness, her mind conjured memories for her to sift through against her will.  The core transfers. The personality cores. The scientists. Her own death.

GLaDOS was able to picture them all vividly before- in her chassis the memories were stored like video, replaying over and over the same way every time.  Now, though, they warped and twisted with her fear. Some melded together, faces blurred, and the only consistent thing was the throbbing pain in her head.

The core did her best to curl this body as tightly in on itself as she possibly could, and gripped her head with her hands, vaguely hoping the action would make the thoughts go away.  She could just block them out before. Delete things she didn’t want to think about, and they’d be gone, at least in the moment.  She could distract herself so much more easily then; she didn’t have to face anything if she didn’t want to. It could always be pushed aside for later.

Now, she couldn’t.  She was stuck in a loop of thought, as this… useless human brain seemed to run in circles of panic.  She needed to snap out of it and focus on reality. She needed something to bring her back to the present-

The sound of a gun being cocked would definitely do it.

As if someone had just punched her, GLaDOS practically fell backwards at an unseen force, her head giving a hearty shake as she was thrust back into the current moment.

The sound of the gun had come from Chell, little surprise, but upon a quick glance, GLaDOS noticed that it wasn’t pointed at her.  In fact, Chell seemed to be looking around the little camp, seeming slightly alarmed.

On second thought, GLaDOS realized that Chell… hadn’t been here when she woke up, had she?  The core had been in such a state of panic that she hadn’t really checked, but this was a small space; surely she would’ve noticed the girl.

Chell slowly lowered her gun, now looking more confused than anything, turning her gaze to GLaDOS.

“W-What?”

GLaDOS loathed the way her voice cracked as she spoke, and she cleared her throat in an attempt to fix it.

She watched as, in response, Chell’s brow furrowed, and she reached into her pocket, pulling out another crumpled scrap of paper and scribbling something out before slowly approaching GLaDOS and showing it to her.

I wasn’t far from here, heard you scream. Is there danger? 

For a moment, GLaDOS was confused.  Then, with embarrassment creeping over her, she remembered.  She hadn’t exactly woken up quietly, and there was no telling if she had made noises in her sleep.  She might not have felt able to scream inside her dreams, but it was possible that physically, she had been completely able to.

The core could not see herself, and thus could not see the hint of pink that had risen to her cheeks, but she could feel the heat in her face, and knew enough about human reactions to embarrassment to get a pretty good mental image of just how ridiculous she looked right now.

“I...I didn’t scream . I was just… a bit… startled.”

As GLaDOS spoke she found herself subconsciously rubbing her arm, the nervous action being a small help, but it was the closest thing she could get to anything soothing in this moment.  Her eyes avoided Chell’s for the most part, fixating on the ground, the trees, or even Chell’s boots, anything but looking at her face.

How pathetic she must look. How silly Chell must feel, for she once must’ve seen GLaDOS as a threat, a powerful AI, a worthy foe. Now she must surely be kicking herself, looking down on a sad human body, housing an AI who couldn’t even protect herself from her own mind. How very powerless GLaDOS felt.  She was just waiting for Chell to laugh and walk away.  Laugh at the foolish AI who flew too close to the sun and was punished for it.

But she didn’t.  Chell was silent, and the only movement she made wasn’t to walk away, but to crouch down in front of GLaDOS, her expression complex. It remained, for the most part, stony and neutral, but for the second that GLaDOS caught her eye, she could’ve sworn she saw something akin to concern.

The woman flipped her piece of paper over, and scribbled a new message down, taking little time in showing it to the AI.

You should eat and drink, then we discuss what to do next.

As GLaDOS read the paper, Chell slipped a small bag off her shoulder, opening it up with her free hand and rummaging around in it for awhile before pulling out what looked like a tightly wrapped lump of cloth.

GLaDOS blinked in surprise for a moment, as upon reading the message she remembered that yes, this body was technically human. It needed food and water, and despite her constant access to water through the water bottle she had, she hadn’t drank so much as a drop.  On second thought, that might be part of the reason behind the throbbing headache.

She looked around for the bottle for a moment, before noticing that Chell had brought it over as well, and placed it in front of her.  The core took it quickly, but upon unscrewing the cap, she paused.  She had never drank anything, not once in her whole life. As a robot it was impossible, not to mention dangerous- robotics and water never did mix well- and as a potato she didn’t have any means to do so either, unless you count lying in a puddle of dirty water at the bottom of an elevator shaft before being carried away by a bird.  Which GLaDOS didn’t.

Reluctantly, the AI brought the bottle to her lips, forcing herself to part them just enough to allow a small trickle of water in her mouth, before promptly shutting it and putting the cap back on the bottle.  She didn’t swallow right away, instead sitting there with a mouthful of water, internally debating if she wanted to swallow it.

It didn’t taste like much. But then again, GLaDOS had no idea what tasted strongly and what didn’t; she never had tasted anything. This was, technically, another first.

The water was cool, and it tasted… clean?  The word was quick to pop into her head, though she couldn’t place why.  It reminded her of Aperture, somehow.  A slight taste of what she could only assume were preserving chemicals no doubt being the cause.

Slowly, GLaDOS swallowed it.  The action alone was strange, and she knew she had pulled a bit of a face while doing it.   However, despite her reluctance, upon having her first drink of water, she became acutely aware of how thirsty this body was.  It was like she had suddenly become aware of something she had needed since she first woke up in this body.

This time without hesitation, the AI reopened the bottle and eagerly took a drink from it, relishing the cooling, soothing effect it had on her throat.

She nearly drained the whole bottle by the time she stopped, finding that she needed air at this point more than she needed water, putting the bottle down and taking a deep gasp.  Next time she’d pace herself a little better, she decided.

As she’d been doing this, Chell had sat down and made herself comfortable across from GLaDOS, and had unwrapped the cloth bundle, and once she noticed that GLaDOS had put her water down, held it out to the core.  Inside were thin, strips of… something.  It was dark brown and almost looked like tree bark.

“What on earth is that .”

GLaDOS made no effort to hide the disgust in her voice, leaning forward slightly to get a better look at whatever it was, before casting her gaze up to Chell, looking for some kind of answer.

In response, Chell rolled her eyes and gave a huffy exhale, taking one of the strips and putting the end of it in her mouth, before biting down and tugging on it a little to rip a piece off, which she promptly started chewing, and swallowed a moment later.  This was followed by her gesturing towards GLaDOS again with the bundle, seeming slightly exasperated that GLaDOS wasn’t picking up on what she was trying to get her to do.

“You want me to eat that? Is it even food, or did you just take something you found off the ground? Because if so, that’s disgusting.”

The AI’s comment earned no further response from Chell, who simply bit off another piece of whatever she was eating and continued to hold the food out for GLaDOS, waiting for her to take it.

With a grimace, GLaDOS reached forward, only using her index finger and thumb to pick up a strip so as to touch it as little as possible.  She gingerly brought it closer to her face, hoping that eyeing it closely would give her some more information on it.  It didn’t. It looked just as much like bark as it had from a distance.

On one hand, the core was quite tempted to throw this back at Chell and refuse to eat it.  On the other, she was quickly becoming aware of this body’s needs.  Drinking water had helped her realize how thirsty she was, and now, having something that apparently counted as food directly in front of her nose, she noticed the pangs of discomfort in her stomach.  Had it felt like this yesterday?  Was she just not paying attention?

The AI had been in varying states of panic since she had been placed in this body, and had been fueled by adrenaline alone up until this point. Then, when she woke, she had been in such a state of panic that she hadn’t paid any mind to minor discomforts like the hollow feeling in her gut.  Now, though, she had been snapped out of her daze, given a chance to calm down, and thus, this body’s needs were catching up with her.  She was going to eat, and perhaps it would be better to just get it over with.

With a grimace, GLaDOS brought the ‘food’ to her lips, and sunk her teeth into it, trying to copy what Chell had done and rip off a piece so that she wouldn’t choke attempting to eat the whole thing at once. After a bit of a struggle, she managed to tear the end off, and actually start chewing.  However almost instantly after she got the thing in her mouth, she recoiled.

If the water she drank had a mild flavor, this was the complete opposite.  The second it hit her tongue she felt thirsty again, as the strong flavor of what she could only assume was salt filled her mouth.  The second flavor to be noticed was slightly weaker, but still present- and, in all honesty, far from enjoyable.  It tasted like how the forest smelled.  With this information and the texture of the thing now known to GLaDOS, she was able to deduce that this was likely salted, dried meat of some kind.  She no longer had scanners that would tell her exactly what animal it came from, but she could tell it wasn’t from a cow.

“If this thing… came from that thing,” GLaDOS spoke slightly muffled with the food still in her mouth, gesturing back in the vague direction of the beast Chell had killed somewhere in the woods, “I swear I will kill you.”

Chell, in response, cocked an eyebrow, and then… smiled.  It was more of a smirk, really, and it was quite small, but GLaDOS was momentarily stunned regardless.  She had only seen Chell smile one other time, and that was when she was finally being set free.  That had been joyful, excited, with tears practically welling up in her eyes.  This, however, was almost impish.  She seemed amused by GLaDOS’s comment, despite the fact that she shook her head, dispelling the core’s concerns about the origin of the meat.

“...Hmph.”

GLaDOS huffed, seemingly not convinced, but resigning to eating it regardless.   She reluctantly swallowed it, and quickly washed it down with another mouthful of water.

The rest of the meal was predictably quiet.  Aside from GLaDOS’s irate grumblings, neither of them spoke.  Chell finished her food quicker than GLaDOS, but didn’t seem particularly impatient, and simply waited for the AI to eat her fill.

Despite the unpleasant flavor, GLaDOS found it became easier to eat with each bite. Slowly, the pangs of hunger in her belly disappeared, and she deemed that the body had been sufficiently sated, for now at least.   She downed the last mouthfuls of water, then put the empty bottle at her side.  Now, it was on to the ‘conversation.’

Chell had already started scribbling something down on one of her scraps of paper, and showed it to GLaDOS as soon as she finished.

‘What is your plan?’

GLaDOS paused, suddenly realizing that, up until this point, her ‘plan’ had been to find Chell.  And that was it. She had no idea what to do next.

“I… Well…”  For a moment, the AI trailed off, searching her brain for some kind of answer.  She started thinking out loud, forcing Chell along on her train of thought.  “The facility shut down due to a lack of active central core. It said that the facility could be restarted, at least in part… by a manual overdrive, with an outside device. If I could get my hands on a computer of any kind, I should be able to hook it up to Aperture’s main server, and from there gain access to the facility’s programs, turn the power back on, and figure out how to get back in my body!”

GLaDOS all but jumped up in excitement, smacking her fist against her palm in a moment of excitement.  That sounded reasonable; she could do that.  She’d be back in her body in no time and-

Chell was shaking her head.

“What?! Come on, that’s a perfectly reasonable plan! What’s your problem with it? Surely we can’t be that far from a civilization, and at least someone there will have a computer. Humans aren’t that primitive. ”

The AI crossed her arms over her chest, hardly even thinking about the action before she did it.  A human defensive reaction, typically used in social situations rather than combat related ones. It came naturally to the core, and she was certain she hated that.

She watched Chell write with irritation boiling inside her, waiting for the human’s explanation for shooting her plan down so quickly.

‘There is no civilization.’

The morning air suddenly went cold as Chell held up these words, her expression stoic and almost pained.

GLaDOS’s eyes widened, and she felt whatever hopes she had completely shatter.

However, after a moment of consideration, Chell took the paper back, adding a note.

‘Well, not really.’

GLaDOS’s head snapped back up to attention at this, still holding onto scraps of hope for her idea. It might be her only way back home, and she wasn’t going to let that go too easily.

“What do you mean, ‘not really ?’ What… What happened up here?”

GLaDOS’s voice got quiet as she spoke, a mixture of intrigue and apprehension accompanying her tone.

Chell took a deep breath, raising her eyebrows slightly as if to say ‘Where do I start?’  This time, it took her a while to write her message.  She seemed to be picking her words carefully, and clearly had a lot to say.

‘There was a war. Most humans, dead. Towns and cities in rubble. Some wildlife mutated, some didn’t. Remaining humans are either wanderers or merchants. Have gone weeks at a time without seeing a single living person.’

GLaDOS read with rapt interest, finding herself both fascinated by the events that still seemed so shrouded in mystery, and horrified at the realization that if most civilizations were destroyed, so were most of her chances at finding a working computer.

“So you’re telling me everyone has just completely scattered?”

Another shake of Chell’s head, followed by a thoughtful look passing her face.

‘No, you’re right.  There might be something. There are settlements, groups of people who built themselves a place to try and live normally. Not many in the world though, ten at most.  There is one in this country, though I’ve never been. I’ve run into those going there, so I know the path they take.’

GLaDOS’s hopes had been going up and down more than a turret in a room of repulsion gel, but they finally seemed to have been raised at this discovery, her eyes lighting up with excitement that she hadn’t noticed quickly enough to try to hide.

“So we could go there, couldn’t we? How far away is it? A couple miles?”

For the third time, Chell shook her head.

‘Think more like a couple weeks worth of walking, at a good pace.  Maybe a month, it’s hard to say.’

GLaDOS wasn’t able to hold back the noise of contempt that escaped her.

“You’re joking. Surely, you’re joking.  You’re telling me that I have to spend upwards of weeks just to try and get this computer, only to walk all the way back?  That could be months of being stuck in this body! I can’t stay like this!”

The core was aware that what she was doing likely sounded like whining, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. She glanced down at this prison of a body, pulling her lip back with disgust.  It was weak, squishy, inconvenient, and not hers. It was supposed to be for Caroline, not GLaDOS.  GLaDOS was meant for her chassis, for a metal body, suspended with wires and gears.  That was where she belonged; this just felt… wrong.  She was in a body that didn’t belong to her, longing for nothing more than to be back in her chassis, her home .

Her hands tightened into fists, and in a moment of blind frustration, GLaDOS punched the ground beside her.  It did nothing of course, nothing but make her knuckles hurt.  The ground hadn’t done anything to her, and it lacked reaction to her aggression.  But GLaDOS had to do something , and punching herself wasn’t exactly the smartest thing she could do in this moment.  She was angry, not stupid.

Chell simply watched this display. She frowned, writing something else down and holding it out.

‘That’s really your only option if you want to get a computer. So it’s either travel for a while, or just sit here in the woods. Your call.’

GLaDOS opened her mouth to argue, but promptly shut it. Was this lunatic sassing her?  The AI let out a small grumble of annoyance, clenching and unclenching her fists as she tried to come to terms with Chell’s point.  As much as she hated to admit it, the woman was right.  Complaining about it wouldn’t get them there any faster.  ...Of course, that didn’t mean GLaDOS wasn’t going to complain about it, she’d just have to complain and walk at the same time.

“...Fine.  Fine, you’re right.  If that settlement might have what I’m looking for, then it’s worth it.”  The AI paused, the corners of her lips twitching downward in a thoughtful frown.  “Are you… are you seriously going to take me there? And you don’t… want anything from me?”

Chell nodded, slowly putting her papers back into her bag.

“...Why?”

GLaDOS got no answer to that, as Chell abruptly stood, making her way over to her makeshift tent and starting to deconstruct it and pack it up.  It seemed that Chell was wasting little time getting ready to move out.

And so, GLaDOS took this chance to just… breathe.  She watched Chell as she worked, packing large amounts of items into bags that looked like they’d be too small, but somehow managed to fit comfortably.  Part of the core wondered if Chell viewed it like a puzzle, a test.  The look of determination on her face was the same, albeit far more tame than anything the woman had worn during her time as a test subject.  

GLaDOS did not know why, but she felt a twinge of pain in her heart at the memory of Chell’s time as a test subject.   She instantly brushed it off as phantom pain at remembering her own death- which was Chell’s fault, she reminded herself- but couldn’t help but feel that something else lingered.


She wasn’t sure how long it had been before she closed her eyes.  Maybe only a couple minutes, maybe longer.  But after some time, the core felt her eyes flutter closed.  She wasn’t asleep, but she found herself instinctively relaxing as a cool breeze blew in through the trees, passing through her hair and across her face with ease.  The sun was still rising into the sky, its warm rays creeping over the tops of the trees and starting to shine down, hitting GLaDOS with a comfortable contrast to the cool, almost chilly winds.

While the AI would stand by her opinion of never wanting to be on the surface again if she could avoid it, she couldn’t deny that this feeling would be the closest thing to something that she’d miss.

In Aperture, the air was stale, unmoving without the aid of recycling units filtering it in and out.  There was no breeze, no sunlight, just the same temperature.  Of course, that was better; Aperture was far superior to the surface in every way. But… she supposed that the surface had some features that... might come in second place.

The sound of someone clearing their throat caused the core’s eyes to snap open, shaken from her momentary peace.

Chell was standing in front of her once more, holding two somewhat large bags. One was on her back, and she held the other in front of her, looking expectant.

GLaDOS let her eyes travel from Chell, to the bag, then back to Chell.

“...You want me to carry that? What am I, a pack mule? -Don’t answer that.”

Chell scoffed a little at the comment, but didn’t budge.  She looked down at GLaDOS, slowly raising her eyebrow in what GLaDOS perceived as a challenge. A sort of ‘I’m the one doing you a favor, so I dare you to try my patience’ look- a look that GLaDOS hated, because it wasn’t easy to beat.

With a string of complaints being muttered under her breath, the core stood up, snatching the bag from Chell and slinging it over her back.  It was somewhat heavy, though not unbearable.  If she had to guess, this was the bag where Chell stored food and other supplies, and not the tent and ammo that she no doubt had.  The human likely wanted to keep those things a little closer to her chest, obviously not trusting GLaDOS enough to carry them.

It never once crossed the core’s mind that Chell was possibly giving the AI the lighter of the two bags to simply be nice.  Because that would be ridiculous. Murdering mute lunatics weren’t nice. They were tolerable at best, on a good day.

With that thought in mind and one last look around the former campground to check for any important items left behind, Chell had already started walking, gesturing once more for GLaDOS to follow.

It didn’t take more than ten paces into the thick of the woods for GLaDOS to get smacked in the face by a tree branch, and she could already tell that this was going to be a long journey.

Chapter Text

If she hadn’t been certain before, now GLaDOS was completely, positively, absolutely sure that she hated the surface.

She hated having to walk seemingly nowhere, she hated all the insects, she hated the blister forming on her foot, she hated the sounds of birds being present at all times, and she hated all the things she kept tripping over.

It was only barely midday, but GLaDOS had not hesitated to make all her discomforts perfectly clear to her traveling companion.  She had been at least somewhat quiet in the morning, only grumbling at the occasional tree root or thorn bush that caused her difficulties. But other than that, she kept her mouth shut, under the logic of hopefully not attracting any creatures.  The woods were dense and dangerous, and as much as the core loved to talk, she loved not being something’s meal even more.

However, they didn’t stay in the forest forever.  After only about an hour or two, they broke out of the line of trees, and came face to face with… a road? Not dirt or mud, a real, paved road.

GLaDOS would’ve been excited if this road hadn’t been the only thing she’d seen for the past three hours.  It was crumbling and cracked, the paint had long since worn off, and the only interesting things to be seen were the occasional signs off to the side of the road, but even they were rusted or graffitied over.

So now, instead of a dense, shady forest, they stood on a long open road, with absolutely nothing as far as the eye could see.  No visible threats meant GLaDOS was not afraid to complain.  She spoke partly out of the desire to make herself feel better, but also to fill the silence.

Sure, birds, bugs and the wind were constant noises in the AI’s ears, but that was it.  Chell made no sound besides the noise of her boots hitting the pavement, and it wasn’t like there was anyone else with them.

GLaDOS almost found herself missing the turrets- as mindless and annoying as they could be, their prerecorded chatter was good for giving Aperture the illusion of life. Silence was no good company, so even if it was pointless, meaningless words, GLaDOS would prefer to speak.

Every once in a while, she’d throw something akin to an insult Chell’s way.  Nothing as bold as what she had once said to the ex-test subject; the core knew better than that, but still something with a hint of a sting to the words. Rude at most, but not cruel.

“I honestly can’t believe you’re fine out here. I always knew you were a savage, but this exceeds even my expectations- surely the only time you’ve done that.”

Chell didn’t react much. For the most part she just seemed to ignore the comments and keep walking. If GLaDOS said something particularly rude she might turn her head back a little and roll her eyes, but that was about it.

Most of GLaDOS’s insults went ignored, but not all of her complaints did.  Sure, the AI being irritated that the sun was in her eyes didn’t gain any attention from the human, but her comments about her shoulder still hurting did.

Chell had actually stopped, turned around, and looked GLaDOS over.  She eyed the shoulder in question, and put light pressure on it, which GLaDOS flinched away from. It was still sore, but the intensity of her reaction came more from the sudden contact than anything else.

After apparently deciding that it wasn’t serious, Chell turned back to the road and started walking once more.

Surprisingly, this interaction had shut GLaDOS up for at least a good half-hour.

Surely Chell was just worried that GLaDOS would be a burden if she was badly injured. The former test subject just wanted to get this all over with as quickly as possible, and didn’t want any injuries slowing GLaDOS down.  Yes, that was surely it. A logical explanation, just what the core loved most.

Yet for some reason, it remained unsatisfying, leaving her to mull it over as they walked.

She stared at the ground as she went, lost in thought and knowing that she didn’t really have to check if she was going in the right direction so long as she was still following Chell.  Sure, the human could definitely get them lost, but GLaDOS, unfortunately, didn’t exactly know the area any better, so it wasn’t like she could correct the woman.

And, luckily, GLaDOS found that watching her feet helped, at least in part, to keep her from tripping over cracks in the road.

What it didn’t do was alert her to things in the distance.  Chell did that, by stopping abruptly in front of her.

“Hey! What’s your problem-”

GLaDOS had nearly bumped into the human once again, as Chell proved to be rather bad at alerting her before suddenly going completely still.  But despite the complaint that started to leave her mouth, the AI went silent as she looked up.  On the road up ahead was a large… something.  It was hard to see from this distance, but it wasn’t moving, and took up at least half of the road.

With shoulders suddenly tense, Chell started walking again, motioning for GLaDOS to follow.

Unease had suddenly settled between them, covering them both like a wet blanket.  There was no immediate danger, no seen threat, yet something in GLaDOS was telling her that this wasn’t a place they ought to be in. Instinct again? She hoped not. Instead, she did her best to blame the nervousness on the human brain she was stuck with, and its fear of the unknown.  The thing in the road was likely just a rock or fallen tree. Maybe an old, rusted car. If it wasn’t moving, it wasn’t dangerous.

As they got closer, the details of the object become clearer and clearer.  It seemed to be some kind of wooden cart tipped over on its side. Small boxes and bags were scattered around it, some of which appeared to be busted open, their contents spilling onto the ground.  That wasn’t the interesting part.  What caught GLaDOS’s eye was all the blood.

A dead animal lay next to the cart, which she quickly identified as a horse or mule. Nearby were two human bodies.

GLaDOS felt Chell stiffen next to her, the woman only getting more and more coiled as time passed, a tightly wound spring, ready to act at any moment.  GLaDOS, however, let her curiosity get the better of her.

She got a little closer, examining the bodies. Both the horse and one of the humans seemed to have been shot, while the second human appeared to have been stabbed- multiple times.  The bodies didn’t smell, and the blood looked wet and fresh.  This was recent.

The core had been about to take yet another step closer, when suddenly Chell’s arm swung out in front of her, hitting her in the stomach and stopping her from moving.  The AI was about to turn and look at the former test subject for some kind of answer to her sudden movement- and why she couldn’t stand to be a little bit less extreme, the core was getting tired of being nearly or actually hit by Chell’s warning signals- when something rang out that kept her completely still.

“Hands where we can see ‘em! Now!”

A voice.

It was male, gruff, and slightly raspy.  GLaDOS didn’t have to second guess her sanity and wonder if that somehow came from her companion, as the origins of the voice quickly became clear.

Three figures emerged from the line of trees along the road, the one in front no doubt being the speaker.

He was a somewhat short and stout man, with straw-like blonde hair, sunken eyes, and an unshaven face.  His clothes looked worn and patchy, covered in dirt and what definitely looked like splotches of blood.  He was also the only one of the men with a gun in his hand.

Behind him were two taller men, though both seemed noticeably scrawnier than the first. The one farthest away had long brown hair and a scowl on his face, along with a small pocket knife in his hand.  It seemed unused, but that could soon change.

The final thug, who was right behind the man with the gun, held a large, bloody knife. His hair was black, messy, and falling out in certain places. His face held an unnerving grin, and his eyes flitted around, darting between Chell and GLaDOS. If the first man had been splattered with blood, this man was covered .  His whole right arm was soaked, along with most of his chest.  And, judging by the body with stab wounds at GLaDOS’s feet, she assumed the blood wasn’t his own.

“I don’t think you heard me correctly. Hands. UP.”

The core was shaken from her thoughts as the first man spoke again, now standing about fifteen feet away from them.   He sneered at both of them, holding his gun tightly with stubby, dirty hands.  It wasn’t aimed at either one of them yet, but something in GLaDOS told her that he was perfectly ready to change that at any time.

However, GLaDOS didn’t move. A sarcastic comment sat on her tongue, and she felt an old instinct bubble up in her chest. If she’d still been in her chassis, she would’ve started to insult all three men. She wouldn’t even know where to start with them, though she was already going through plenty of wonderfully biting comments. But instead, she very slowly let her eyes wander to Chell, to try to see what the woman was doing.  After all, who better to know what to do with what looked to be murdering lunatics than a murdering lunatic?

Chell wasn’t making any motion to raise either of her hands. She kept her arm in front of GLaDOS, and stared intently at the three men.  The AI might’ve thought she wasn’t moving at all if she hadn’t noticed the very slight movement of the woman’s free arm, which was slowly and carefully moving to be closer to her handgun.

If you asked GLaDOS, that seemed like a terrible idea. Pulling a gun when you were outnumbered? The chances didn’t exactly seem to be in your favor. In fact, she would’ve chastised Chell for it, if she had been given time to say something. She wasn’t.

In the blink of an eye, she suddenly felt a heavy blow hit her on the side, knocking her to the ground.  Chell had shoved her to the side, leaving her down behind the fallen cart, no doubt for cover. She landed on her uninjured shoulder, which she couldn’t decide if it was for better or for worse, as no doubt both of them would be sore now.

She was about to scramble up to her feet when she stopped, staring up at Chell. Despite how illogical it was, the AI couldn’t help but feel like things had suddenly been put in slow motion.  She watched as Chell pulled her gun, flicked her wrist up, and fired.

BANG.

GLaDOS was just barely able to push herself up enough to see the man with the gun crumple over, blood gushing from a newly added hole in his face.

A mixture of angry and shocked yells came from the other men, who both tried to rush Chell by running forward.

BANG.

The one with the bloody knife was hit in the neck, sending him sprawling to the ground.

BANG.

BANG.

Two shots were spent on the last man, one hitting him in the stomach, and the other in the chest.  He clawed madly at his own injuries as he fell to his knees, coughing and sputtering as blood trickled forth from his mouth.  He struggled for a few moments longer than his companions had, but soon he slumped over like the rest. Dead.

GLaDOS could only stare, looking at the gore from over the side of the wagon. The blood of these men oozed out onto the pavement, joining the pools from the humans before them. These were the first humans besides Chell that GLaDOS had seen in years. And in a blink of an eye, they were dead.

Slowly, the core turned her gaze up towards Chell, finding herself transfixed by the ex-test subject’s face.

It was cold, calm, determined. Her eyes looked as sharp and deadly as live steel, calculating each and every move.  It was the face of a survivor. One who could- and would- do anything to get out alive.

GLaDOS had seen that look before.

She had seen that look over and over and over, as she replayed her own death for years, watching those eyes work.  That expression was one of the last things she had seen before she died, and they had been imprinted on her mind like a white hot brand, burned in and unable to be removed.  No matter how hard the AI tried, she would always remember that face.

She didn’t even notice that she had scooted herself back a small amount. Leaning away, even only slightly, from the one familiar thing she had seen on the surface so far.

Chell hadn’t noticed. She gave the area in front of her one last sweeping gaze before turning to look down at GLaDOS.  For a moment, the core’s eyes darted to the gun in the human’s hand, wondering if she’d be staring it down next.

Thankfully, Chell carefully placed the weapon in its holster, then reached her hand down to offer her aid to GLaDOS getting back up.

For a moment, GLaDOS didn’t move.  She didn’t accept it until she saw that look fade, cold steel shifting into a warm grey once more.  Then, and only then, did she take the help she was being given.  Perhaps the AI ought to learn to trust the hand that fed her, but she could not bring herself to forget that it was the same hand that had torn her apart once before.

Chell pulled GLaDOS up to her feet, tilting her head from side to side as she looked the core over, searching for injuries.  Other than what was now two bruised shoulders, GLaDOS was fine. A look akin to relief flashed over the human’s face, and she exhaled slowly, seemingly trying to shake the tension from her body.

GLaDOS couldn’t. She was still profoundly in shock.

“You… murdered them.”

She finally brought herself to speak, though the first thing that left her lips wasn’t ‘thank you for saving both our lives’ or anything even remotely close.

Any softness was lost from Chell’s expression once more, though this time it was merely guarded.  Her face quickly and clearly gave the message of not wanting to speak about this. Despite her efficiency and ease in killing the three men, she seemed to want to avoid the subject completely.

GLaDOS couldn’t deny that it had been the right course of action- those men had had weapons, and were clearly already responsible for the death of two humans today already.  It wasn’t so much murder as self-defense.

And yet, GLaDOS kept talking.

“Honestly, I knew you were good at murder, but I thought it was restricted to killing innocent supercomputers. I had no idea you would be so good at killing your own kind.”

She was pushing her luck now, she knew.  Chell scowled at her, and turned away.  She walked over to some of the boxes and bags spilled on the ground and started rifling through them.  

“First murder, and now looting? It never ends with you, does it?”

Now GLaDOS was kicking herself. She was speaking without thinking, letting words tumble from her mouth before she had the chance to think about what she was saying. Why? She didn’t understand why she was acting so foolish, until she realized that her hands were shaking. She was… nervous?  This human body was trembling still, even after the danger had passed. Her heart was pounding and her hands clammy after the hair-raising experience she’d just had.

 

When humans got nervous, all common sense seemed to be thrown out the window. Their brains were scrambled, making them do and say stupid things.  Well, stupider than usual.  And now, GLaDOS was victim to the same problem.

Without thinking, she bit down on her lip in a vain attempt to keep herself quiet.  Despite the urge to let out a noise of discomfort at the action, it worked.  She simply stood there, breathing in and out through her nose, and trying to keep herself together.  

How long had she been on the surface again? Two days?  She had been on the surface for less than 48 hours, and somehow everything that could happen to her, had.  Nearly getting killed by a bear, walking for hours only to find dead bodies, nearly getting killed by murderous lunatics, getting saved by a murderous lunatic, proceeding to mouth off at said murderous lunatic.

With luck like this, she supposed she ought to just wait until lightning struck her.

Thankfully, the remaining logical side of her brain reminded her that, at the very least, she could take comfort in how statistically unlikely that last one was. If she was going to die, that likely wouldn’t be the cause.

About ten minutes passed of GLaDOS standing in place, letting her mind calm itself down before Chell came back over.  She had packed her bag with some things she had taken from both the fallen cart and the bodies of the men she had killed.  She hadn’t touched the bodies of the humans who had been dead when they got there, though.

She gestured for GLaDOS to follow, and started back down the road.

GLaDOS, however, didn’t move.

“Wait a minute. You can’t be serious.”

Chell turned back around, eyebrow raised, as if prompting GLaDOS to better explain herself.

“We’re just going to walk off like nothing happened?  I could’ve died just now!  The first humans we’ve seen could’ve killed us.  And you’re content to just keep walking?”

GLaDOS felt her tone gain more and more confidence, as a mixture of fear and adrenaline fueled it.

In reaction, Chell simply shrugged, nodding her head towards the rifle on her back, before gesturing to the gun and knife on her leg.  She didn’t seem overly worried about their safety.

“Yes, I’m sure you can keep your own skin intact, but what am I supposed to do the next time men like that decide to sneak up on us? If I’m going to stay alive long enough to get that computer and back, I need a gun!”

That earned a change in the former test subject’s expression.  Her eyes widened slightly, then narrowed.  She walked back over, standing across from GLaDOS and crossing her arms over her chest, giving her head a hearty shake.

“No? Do you want me dead? What am I saying, of course you do. You seriously think I’m going to survive out here without any kind of weapon? This… pathetic body wasn’t exactly made for fistfighting, you know.”

The AI raised her voice, suddenly not afraid that anything would hear her. She was pissed.  Surely Chell could see that she needed something to protect herself. This place was horrible. Everything up here wanted her dead, and if she was going to avoid that fate, she couldn’t rely on Chell. If Chell wanted her dead so badly, she could’ve just killed GLaDOS herself.  There was no reason to not let her at least have the handgun unless-

“...You think I’m going to try and kill you.  You won’t let me protect myself because you’re afraid I’m going to turn around and shoot you? Are you serious?!”

Rage flared up in her chest like a burst of fire, and she threw her hands up, practically stamping her foot down in a moment of pure anger.

How dare she? GLaDOS had been nothing but humiliated since she’d been thrust into this body. She’d been forced to stumble through this world helpless, forced to rely on the aid of not only a human, but a human who had killed her once before, and forced to exist in a pathetic body, unable to protect herself in any of the ways she had once been able to.  All this, and Chell still wouldn’t let her do something, anything to give herself at least a little peace of mind?

Sure, she hadn’t exactly ever fired a gun before, and its effectiveness would only go so far in the hands of a body that had likely never touched a firearm until this point, but surely in the face of another murderous creature, GLaDOS would find some way to make it useful.

Yet Chell stayed strong on her point.  She only scowled further, jabbing a finger towards herself, then to GLaDOS, then back towards herself. As if to say ‘I will keep you safe, that’s it.’

“That’s not good enough! What happens if next time, all of them have guns? Or if they aren’t so slow on the draw and they shoot first?  What keeps me from becoming a bullet sponge in that case? Absolutely nothing!”

As she said this, the core felt her eyes travel to the ground, where she spotted the gun of the thug Chell had shot.  Her companion noticed it too, as she took a step towards it, and picked it up.  Without so much as looking at GLaDOS, Chell took the ammo out of the weapon- presumably to see if it’d be worth something to her- before looking the gun over, turning to the side of the road, and chucking it as hard as she could.

GLaDOS couldn’t help the small squeak of shock that left her as she watched the piece of metal fly off into the distance, landing somewhere amongst the leaves, mud and grass.

“I… I can’t believe you just did that. I suppose I could understand you not giving me your own weapons- you humans are so possessive about your things- but you won’t even let me have his? You weren’t going to use it, and you’d still have more weapons than me!  You really think I’d try something when you have two guns and a knife, while I’d only have one?”

Chell didn’t answer. Instead, she busied herself by kicking the two thugs’ knives off the side of the road as well.  Once she was done, she turned back to GLaDOS, shooting her a hard, pointed glare.  Her opinion was final, and it seemed very clear that the ex-test subject was giving her a choice: deal with Chell’s judgement and trust her to keep her safe, or go get those weapons and figure things out on her own.

Defeated, GLaDOS opened her mouth, then closed it.  Even if she did find those things and hold onto them, she’d have no idea where she was going.  She needed Chell’s help, and that meant playing by her rules.

With that, Chell turned back to the road and started walking, not looking back this time.  GLaDOS hesitated for a moment, before moving to catch up.  She had no choice.

If the journey had been boring earlier, it was downright miserable now.  The air between her and Chell would’ve been thick enough to cut with a knife, if GLaDOS actually had one.

Anger and frustration boiled inside her as they walked, and she kept going over and over in her head how she was right and Chell was wrong, desperately trying to think of something wonderfully witty and profound to say just to put Chell in her place and make her realize how stupid she was being.

But hours passed, and she didn’t say anything.  She grumbled to herself under her breath about little annoyances- including cursing out a particularly persistent fly for about five whole minutes- but the core didn’t bring anything up to Chell. Chell didn’t make any attempt to bring the subject up, either, nonverbally or not.

Slowly, and much to GLaDOS’s annoyance, her anger started to die down, from burning rage into irritation, then just annoyance.

The sun had started to set when Chell went off the road, looking for a good place to stop.  She silently set up the tent and started the fire, completely quiet, as always. GLaDOS expected the woman to just ignore her the whole night.

However, the tension had slowly started to fade.  While this morning still seemed downright peaceful in comparison, the mood had gotten better, and as Chell sat down across from GLaDOS by the fire, she could see the human’s expression had lost its hardened edge.  

Chell sighed, looking GLaDOS in the eye as she did so.  She reached into her bag and handed the core a blanket, along with a few furs. More than she had been given the first night, the AI noted.

They both sat there in silence for a while, until the moon started to make its way high into the sky and Chell deemed it time for her to head over to her tent.  Yet, before she did, she pulled two more things out of her bag: GLaDOS’s water bottle, and what looked like her own, dented one.  She unscrewed her own, and poured a good amount of what appeared to be fairly clean water into GLaDOS’s.  With that, she put the lid on both the bottles, and put GLaDOS’s in front of her, before putting the other back into her bag and walking over to the tent.

The AI blinked for a moment, staring after Chell.  The annoyance in her gut was still present, but it seemed to… flicker a small bit at this action.  Was that Chell’s version of an apology?

She looked to her water bottle, gingerly picking it up to see how much water she had been given. More than half a bottle, at least.

With one last, lingering look in the direction of the tent, GLaDOS moved to lie down. She struggled to hold onto her anger, but as she found herself drifting off, her grip on the day’s earlier annoyance slipped away.

She wouldn’t admit it to herself, but the core’s subconscious was becoming more and more aware that this deal would have compromises on both sides. And that was something GLaDOS would have to learn to cope with.

Chapter Text

Chell hadn’t been kidding when she said this journey would take a while.   GLaDOS had been carefully keeping track, and it had already been nine days since she left Aperture.

They had been walking together for eight days, and they still weren’t there. Apparently not even halfway.

Thankfully, the past seven days had gone a lot more smoothly than GLaDOS’s first two, as they hadn’t run into as much trouble.

After running into the raiders, both GLaDOS and Chell were on edge for the next few days. Chell was tense and constantly kept a hand on her gun, and GLaDOS did her best to keep her voice down when complaining, wanting to avoid possibly being heard by anything less than friendly but not quite ready to be completely silent.

She had a lot of things to complain about, after all.

For starters? The past week, while thankfully uneventful, was dreadfully boring. Sure, she prefered boring to deadly, but that didn’t mean she liked boring.

It was just walking. Walking on the road, then sometimes walking through a field, then to a dirt road, then back to a paved one. Sometimes they’d go through patches of woods, find a place to sleep for the night, and then it was back to walking.

Even changes of scenery weren’t all that exciting, as GLaDOS quickly learned that almost all the plants were varying shades of brown or yellow. It was getting cold and most of them were dying off, but it wasn’t quite cold enough for everything to be completely dead. Just slowly withering away, inching closer and closer to death with every chilly evening.

GLaDOS had to wonder if she was the same. Inching closer and closer to death with every day she spent away from her facility.  She knew it was safe; no one could get in, all the files were secure, nothing could happen to it while she was away. But… something could happen to her , and then what?  The facility would slowly fall into disarray again, metal would rust, plants would overtake anything they could reach, and all of GLaDOS’s hard work, her science, would be for nothing.

The core found herself thinking about this a lot. She’d go quiet for periods of time as she and Chell walked, letting her mind create and visualize new and horrible outcomes of failing in her task of returning to her facility.  It was good motivation to keep walking, if not slightly morbid.


And if there was one thing she desperately needed at this point, it was motivation to keep walking.

This body had not been made for exercise. It had been made as a temporary body for a woman who was supposed to be in a computer.   And so, after walking ten to twelve hours a day for more than a week,  GLaDOS was quite positive that her legs would fall off, despite the unlikeliness of that actually happening. They ached with every step, the only break she got being their nightly stops, and even those were far from restful.

Unfortunately, it seemed that her nightmares were not a one-time event.  So far, each night she suffered some variation of a horrific mix of memories and imagined events, warped and twisted together to feel so real that every morning GLaDOS found herself in a cold sweat.   Thankfully, she had trained herself not to awake with a scream, but the AI had no way of knowing what noises she made while still unconscious.  Thus, she was unaware of the concerned looks being shot her way before she awoke every morning by a certain mute.

This morning was no different.  The core’s eyes snapped open, and it took a few deep breaths to help her remember that whatever she had just experienced wasn’t real. She focused on the feeling of dew on her skin, and how there was a particularly annoying rock underneath her, digging into her shoulder as she slept.  Those things were real; her dream wasn’t.

Slowly she sat up, rolling her shoulders and stretching her neck, trying in vain to work out the tenseness that had built up. Chell had given her blankets and furs to sleep on, but she was technically still on the cold, hard ground. As the AI quickly learned, that did few favors for already sore muscles.

Part of the core debated complaining to Chell, trying to convince her to let them stay in this camp for at least a couple more hours, just so she could rest a little longer.  But GLaDOS had long since decided it wasn’t worth it. The longer they waited, the longer she’d be stuck in this horrid body. She was eager to get this over with, and clearly Chell was too.  She kept a steady pace, and a fairly rigid schedule.

She looked over to where Chell’s tent was, expecting to see the woman already awake and packing up.  GLaDOS had been right about the ex-test subject already being awake, but she certainly wasn’t packing. She was sitting in front of her tent, drinking some water rather idly, almost like she was waiting.

The AI moved to stand and fold her blankets, and this caught Chell’s attention.  The woman’s head snapped to attention as she noticed GLaDOS, and she pulled herself up to her feet and walked over, a piece of paper in her hand with a note already written.

‘We’re not traveling today, just put the blankets by the tent.  We’re almost out of dried meat, I need to go hunting.’

GLaDOS scanned the note once over before looking up at Chell, eyebrow raised. While she didn’t like waiting around when they could be making progress, if they had to stop, she definitely wasn’t opposed to using this as a chance to rest her legs.

“Great. You go do that, but what am I supposed to do?”

Sarcasm laced her tone; she couldn’t help it.  She had the feeling Chell would just tell her to stay by the camp and watch the supplies, no doubt without any kind of weapon, and just hope that if anything came by trying to eat her, Chell’s magical sixth sense would kick in and she’d come back in time to keep GLaDOS from becoming something’s dinner.

However, as Chell wrote a new message and turned it towards her, it turned out that wouldn’t be the case.

‘You’re coming with me.’

GLaDOS blinked, not sure if she had read what Chell wrote correctly. She looked at it again, and saw the same message.

“I’m sorry, what? You want me to come along with you and do what, exactly?

Surely Chell wasn’t actually serious.  There was no way she would let GLaDOS handle any of her weapons, and unless the woman intended to use her as some sort of live bait, the AI didn’t understand the mute’s thought process.

‘You’ll just watch. It’ll be good for you to get an understanding of how to do it, just in case you’re stuck in this body longer than you expect, or if I end up needing your help once winter hits.’

GLaDOS couldn’t help the disgruntled noise that escaped her at this, not being particularly keen on the idea of sitting and watching Chell do literally nothing until something walked by close enough to be shot.

Chell hardly seemed to notice- or at least, didn’t care about- GLaDOS’s reaction, giving her a small smile. It seemed that she viewed this little errand in a much better light than GLaDOS did. Maybe she found it fun, hiding in bushes for hours on end. GLaDOS, however, didn’t.

Still, despite her grumblings, she found herself being dragged along.  Chell had her carry a bag of supplies, while she gathered her rifle and what appeared to be homemade snares. With that, they were on their way into the thick of the patch of woods they had been staying in.

Thankfully for GLaDOS’s sore legs, it wasn’t a far walk.  Chell occasionally stopped to set up some traps, but that didn’t take long. The human only stopped and settled down once they reached the edge of a large clearing, where she informed GLaDOS of two things via another note.

One, this ought to be a good spot to try and find large game, while the snares could be good for catching rabbits or other small animals.

And two, GLaDOS was going to have to be quiet now that they were here.  They were upwind and well hidden behind shrubs and thickets, but sound could carry just fine and scare away any potential targets.

The core knew this to be true, and thus couldn’t find any grounds for arguing with the human about it, but that didn’t mean she liked it.  There wasn’t exactly much she could do to keep herself busy out here, and at least talking would’ve provided some mental stimulus.

But then again, this body needed food, and the thought of today not being successful caused a pang of hunger in her gut.  It was a feeling she was still getting used to, but it was quickly becoming common.  Chell made sure they had enough fuel to get through the day, but only just barely. Every meal thus far had been dried meat, water, and on two occasions, a couple tart but edible berries, and some leafy plants that tasted so bad GLaDOS ended up spitting them out.

Eating might not have been the most pleasant experience she had endured thus far, but it was certainly preferable to starvation.

And so, the core sat and waited.  She had her back against a tree, watching as Chell crouched a foot or two in front of her with her rifle at the ready.  There was nothing around them, yet the woman seemed alert and aware of her surroundings.

She was interesting to watch, at least for a time.  GLaDOS let her eyes travel across the ex-test subject’s body, taking in every detail. Muscles tense and ready, honed even further than they had been in her time at Aperture. The woman had been athletic then; she looked far more akin to a warrior now.

Eyes darted back and forth from time to time, checking her surroundings before returning their gaze to the clearing. They were focused, intense, but calm. Not the same expression worn by the woman after a battle, that was something similar, but in the same way, very different.  That expression struck unease and fear into the core, reminding her of her own experiences with that gaze.  This one however, brought the AI’s interest, curiosity, and a sort of fascination.

Chell watched the clearing the way she had once sized up test chambers. She picked up on small details, ones that other humans would perhaps ignore or discount.

The plants towards the eastern side seemed to be favored by whatever animals passed by, as the tall grass around them was flattened and many of the leaves were partly eaten. She held her gaze there longer, watching for any further signs of life.

How different was that from her time as a test subject? Stopping before she turned a corner as she noticed tiny specks of blood left uncleaned on the wall directly across from the hallway she nearly entered, signifying a turret’s presence and a former subject’s foolishness.

Chell was observant, there was no denying that. And while that made for something that GLaDOS could watch for a while, it still didn’t take too long for the core to get bored.

At least an hour had passed and nothing had happened. Not a single animal had so much as poked its head out in the clearing.

GLaDOS let out a huff, biting back the complaints that sat on the tip of her tongue. She was used to being a supercomputer, multitasking ten different experiments at once. She could make test chambers, watch the co-op bots, invent new devices, and still consider it an uneventful morning.

Now GLaDOS was expected to keep herself busy while staying in one spot and keeping quiet with nothing around but dirt, plants, and rocks.

Dejected, she resigned to counting how many pebbles there were within a two foot radius of her body.

The answer was eleven ones that were around an inch big, eighteen that were half an inch or slightly less, and exactly thirty-seven that were a quarter of an inch or smaller.  

And since even after this task was completed, there was still no sign of dinner, GLaDOS moved on, deciding that the next most interesting thing she could do was to take a stick and write out various complex math equations in the dirt, to see how fast she could solve them now that she wasn’t actually inside of a supercomputer.

She was disappointed to find that she wasn’t even half as quick at it, but decided to try to be optimistic, as that meant it would take up more of this waiting, and she could use all this time to practice. It wasn’t exactly like she needed to be able to solve these equations- she doubted the remaining humans knew basic multiplication, let alone advanced algebra- but there was something almost relaxing about doing it. The answers came a bit slower, but still relatively easily. It reminded her that despite this human body that she was stuck in, she was not, and never would be, human.  She was an AI, and she took comfort in that thought.

Unfortunately, hours passed of her doing this, the only thing that changed being that Chell stopped for a drink of water once or twice, gave the bottle to GLaDOS to let her do the same, then went back to waiting.

GLaDOS enjoyed what she had been doing, but even she couldn’t do it for hours and hours on end. She stopped after the two hundred and twenty-seventh problem, deciding that she was content with her sharpened skills, and unluckily, also now bored with the activity.

She glanced up at the sky, trying to get an idea of what time it was by searching for the sun through the trees and clouds. Late afternoon at the earliest. The sky hadn’t started to shift its colors of blues and greys to ones of orange and pink, but the sun was slowly creeping lower and lower, peeking in and out of the clouds as it went. Whenever it showed, its warm rays felt admittedly quite nice against GLaDOS’s skin, as without it, the air had actually started to gain a bit of a bite to it.

The core gave a passing glance to Chell and the clearing, and after determining that shockingly, still nothing had happened, she found herself letting her eyes flutter closed.  Her head leaned back against the tree and she vainly tried to pretend it was slightly more comfortable than it really was, stretching her legs out a small amount, and before GLaDOS knew it, she was drifting off.  Her sore body eagerly welcomed the rest, even in a somewhat uncomfortable position.  And while being in the shade was a bit chilly, the sun was out just long enough for the AI to get at least a little comfortable.

She wasn’t able to fall into a deep sleep, instead finding herself drifting pleasantly in and out of consciousness, lazily letting her brain recharge while thankfully managing to avoid the nightmares that came with actual sleep. It was good to just… rest.  She was shocked she hadn’t done this earlier in the day, and was quite convinced that she could stay like this for several more hours if she needed to.

Of course, though, it was shortly after this thought passed through her mind that she was abruptly thrown from her state of rest by the sound of a rifle being fired two feet away from her.

In a series of actions less than dignified, she jolted upwards, about to scramble to her feet, but remembered what they were doing and tried to keep low, which resulted in her practically landing with her face down in the dirt. She turned to look at Chell, her heart having calmed down once she realized that after the first shot, Chell seemed relaxed. Whatever she’d hit, it must’ve been a good shot.

Chell stood up, holding her hand up in a ‘stay here’ motion, before walking out into the clearing.

GLaDOS spat the bits of dirt out of her mouth, sitting back up and craning her neck over to watch what Chell was doing, and hopefully get a glimpse of what she hit.

The human walked forward for a while before crouching down once more, heaving something over her shoulders before walking back.

From a distance, it was only really recognizable as a large bloody lump of hair.  But upon getting closer, it appeared to be something akin to a goat. It didn’t look horrifically mutated, though it wasn’t exactly a species that GLaDOS was familiar with.  Still, it looked like it could be made into something edible, and that was enough for her.

She stood up once Chell got back, grabbing the bag they had come with and following in Chell’s path back to check the snares they had set earlier in the day.  Two were empty, and Chell simply took them back to use at a later date, but the third and final one wasn’t.

The sound of soft rustling could be heard before they even approached, causing Chell to carefully set down her kill and pull out her knife, walking closer to see what was trapped.  GLaDOS was hopeful for something normal, like a rabbit, or even some kind of bird, so long as she was absolutely certain it was trapped.

However, as Chell walked over, spotted the animal, finished it off, and brought it back, GLaDOS was quickly made aware that this wasn’t exactly normal.

“...Is that a raccoon?”

It was a rather large, plump mass of grey fur, with a masklike pattern on its face and a striped tail.  Despite its somewhat large size, it was most definitely a raccoon- otherwise known to GLaDOS as a creature that was known for its affinity for eating garbage.

She curled her lip at the thing, ignoring Chell’s slight grin and confirming nod.  She didn’t seem to mind in the slightest, and GLaDOS supposed she shouldn’t be surprised that the lunatic was eating trash animals. It seemed just up her alley.

“You can’t seriously tell me you’re planning on having us eat that.”

GLaDOS didn’t hold back her complaints now that she was allowed to speak, voicing each and every (mostly negative) thought she had as Chell picked up the other corpse and they both started walking back.

To her surprise, Chell seemed to be in a relatively good mood.  Her shoulders weren’t as tense, her face was relaxed, and her eyes occasionally held a sparkle of amusement at GLaDOS’s words, as she listened to the core verbally rip the raccoon to shreds. She would even crack a small trace of a smile when the AI made a particularly clever comment on the poor thing’s ugly appearance.

And while GLaDOS wasn’t exactly thrilled that one out of the two things Chell had caught looked like something she wouldn’t want to touch with a ten-foot pole, let alone eat, she had to admit that this detour hadn’t been… horrible. In fact, while she wouldn’t say it aloud, this had been the closest thing to a pleasant day that she had experienced on the surface. Chell’s good mood was, unfortunately, appearing to be contagious.

When they got back, Chell started a fire and joined GLaDOS in sitting beside it shortly after with the goat-like creature in front of her, a knife in her hand, and the raccoon slightly off to the side.  She made surprisingly short work of the goat, skinning it, cutting the meat into pieces, and readying the pieces to be salted and dried.  GLaDOS ended up simply watching her work, finding that she was a lot less disturbed at the sight of the lunatic’s hands covered in blood than perhaps she ought to be.  She figured it was due to the fact that when Chell had murdered her, she hadn’t exactly had any blood to shed in the first place.

The core made small talk, though it was understandably one-sided. Chell couldn’t exactly write out a note with both her hands busy, so GLaDOS just made short comments, and occasionally threw in a question along the lines of ‘do you butcher innocent animals often?’ which generally earned a nod or shake of the head, depending on what the AI had asked.  It wasn’t exactly intelligent conversation, but even GLaDOS supposed she couldn’t ask much of someone who had just sliced up, salted, and put aside practically a whole goat. While that was impressive, GLaDOS couldn’t help but wonder what they were actually going to eat tonight. They would have to wait for the goat’s meat to be properly dried, so that wasn’t an option. And to her knowledge, there was hardly any of the meat that they had been eating prior to this.

GLaDOS was about to ask this very question, the slight rumble in her stomach urging her onward, when she noticed that Chell was taking a different approach to how she was slicing up the raccoon.  She had taken the fur off and was cutting the meat into pieces, but she was proceeding to skewer the chunks onto sticks instead of salting them.  Then, she propped them up over the fire.

“Wait… we’re eating that one tonight?”

A nod followed this question, as Chell pulled water out of her bag, pouring some of it on her hands and wiping them off with a rag, cleaning off the blood and bits of fur.  Chell seemed perfectly content cleaning her knife, disposing of the bones and other bits of the bodies that she had no use for before plopping herself down by the fire and watching the bits of meat cook.

“Ugh, really? Couldn’t you have covered that one in salt? Maybe that way it won’t taste as much like garbage or rotting carcass.  Because believe me, I’m sure that’s what that thing was getting into. Scavengers-  they’ll eat anything they can get their grubby little hands on. Just like you.”

Chell rolled her eyes, shooting GLaDOS a look of annoyance. However, as the core looked at it for a moment longer than necessary, she noted that the girl didn’t look truly irritated. The annoyance almost looked… playful?  Like the woman found a hint of amusement in the AI’s joke. Albeit it was one of GLaDOS’s weaker ones, but she couldn’t help the odd feeling that flickered in her chest at the thought of Chell finding what was intended as an insult funny.  She looked away, letting out a huff and deciding to watch the fire instead.

It didn’t take long for the meat to cook, earning a good char on all sides and starting to smell of… something.  GLaDOS couldn’t exactly say it smelled good , but it certainly smelled cooked.

Chell carefully removed the bits of meat and sprinkled a small pinch of salt on top before sitting down.  To GLaDOS’s surprise, she sat next to her instead of across from her.  The human inspected one of the sticks with meat on it, looking it over before handing it to GLaDOS, who took it, reluctantly.

She brought it up to her nose, sniffing it cautiously.  Her sense of smell was another thing that took getting used to, as she now had to experience the scent of each and every thing on the surface, almost none of which were pleasant. This one was no exception.  It smelled strongly of smoke and the fire it was cooked over, but underneath that was a rather unpleasant odor; something gamey and almost sour.   GLaDOS looked to Chell for some kind of confirmation that this was actually edible and not some kind of sick joke, but when she turned her head she noticed that the mute had already started to eat her own portion, not holding back as she bit off pieces of the meat with some amount of difficulty. It looked… stringy to say the least.

Unable to fight the grimace that passed over her face, GLaDOS tried not to look at the meat as she bit into it, finding that it was incredibly tough.  Part of the core debated openly blaming this on Chell’s cooking, but somehow she got the impression that no matter how this thing was cooked, it’d likely only end up being varying shades of disgusting.

She finally managed to get a chunk of it off, but quickly wished that she hadn’t. It tasted worse than it smelled. It wasn’t as bitter as the leaves they’d had with their food a few days prior, and unlike those GLaDOS forced herself not to spit this out, but even that wasn’t exactly easy.

If for some reason she were to ever try taking a bite out of one of Chell’s boots, she expected they would taste similar to this.

“Ack-! That’s revolting !”

GLaDOS forced herself to swallow the food she had in her mouth, shuddering as she spoke.
In response, Chell simply gave her a look that GLaDOS could only describe as a mixture of pity and sadness, followed by a shrug as the human took another big bite.  She didn’t seem to be loving it either, but Chell appeared to be taking the ‘eat it as quickly as possible with no complaints and it’ll be over soon’ method.

For once, GLaDOS agreed with her, and tried her best to follow suit.

The meal was mostly silent after that, though in between bites GLaDOS found herself making small noises of disdain.   Still, it ended up being the quickest meal the two of them had ever shared together.

“...Never again. Next time, we go hungry for the night.”

GLaDOS tossed the now useless stick into the fire, sticking her tongue out as the taste of dinner refused to leave her.  She had half a mind to try and find some more of those edible plants, as she almost would’ve preferred those, at this point.

Instead, she reached for her water bottle and took a few drinks, looking to see if Chell was doing the same.  She wasn’t.  Instead, she was rummaging around in her bag, and after a moment pulled out a different, smaller bottle than her usual water bottle.  Chell unscrewed the cap and took a small sip, pulling a bit of a face and shaking her shoulders before swallowing.

“What on earth are you doing?”

Before GLaDOS had even finished speaking, Chell started writing something down. But instead of just handing GLaDOS the paper, Chell handed her both the note and the bottle.

‘This should help get the taste out of your mouth, if you’d like some.’

GLaDOS squinted down at the bottle upon reading the note, vainly attempting to make out the color of the liquid in the now fading sunlight and flickering firelight.  Upon realizing that this was a futile attempt, she simply brought the drink to her lips and took a large sip, not noticing Chell’s grimace upon seeing her take such a bold gulp.

The reason for that quickly became clear, as GLaDOS attempted to swallow it, only to be met by a strong bitter flavor, followed by a burning sensation as it went down her throat.  She got most of it down, but it resulted in a bout of coughing.

“What...Is... that?!”  

GLaDOS choked this out, trying to gather herself and get a few stable breaths before pausing to try and better taste the lingering flavor of whatever was just in her mouth.   It was a completely new taste, like nothing she had experienced thus far.  Yet, it tasted awfully similar to a flavor she had seen described in text multiple times.

“Is that… alcohol ?”

She couldn’t help the stunned edge to her voice as she spoke, shocked that Chell not only managed to get her hands on something this, but also that she took the bottle back and easily took another sip.

The former test subject nodded in response to GLaDOS’s question, indicating that yes, that was exactly what it was.

“I’m not even going to ask where you found that. But… give it here.”

GLaDOS held her hand out and Chell handed the bottle back, letting GLaDOS try it again.  She took a smaller sip this time, and found that while it was strong, it wasn’t so bad in smaller amounts. It burned her throat, but once she got past that it felt pleasantly warm going down into her stomach.

As the sun went down, they fell into a routine of passing the bottle back and forth, each of them taking small sips before handing it back.  GLaDOS wasn’t sure when, but at some point it wasn’t really about washing the taste of dinner out of their mouths.

She hadn’t had all that much, but she found that by the time the sun went all the way down, she felt considerably more… relaxed.  She knew what the effects of alcohol could be, and thus made sure she wasn’t drinking too much, but she had overestimated this body’s tolerance a small bit, forgetting that while the average human could have a certain amount with little effect to their functions, this was a body that had only been ‘living’ for a little over a week.

Chell took the bottle away before the either of them could get too bad, but GLaDOS hadn’t missed how her tongue had been loosened considerably, how her cheeks burned a little, or how her head felt light, airy almost.

“You’ve… really been surviving out here all this time, haven’t you?”  

GLaDOS looked at Chell as she spoke. It seemed humans didn’t call alcoholic beverages ‘liquid courage’ for no reason. Somehow, the core found herself bringing up topics and asking questions that she normally wouldn’t have bothered to even try. Chell usually didn’t seem to want to give out large amounts of information about her life up here anyway.

But to her surprise, Chell nodded, scribbling down a- much messier than usual- note and showing it to GLaDOS.

‘I have. Stayed close to the wheat fields for a while, wandered away after about a week or two. Traveled for a while, found out what happened. Only just happened to be close by when I found you.’

GLaDOS let out a small hum at this, finding herself somewhat surprised. She would’ve expected Chell to run as far as she could the second she set foot outside the facility.

“I see.  After… after all… this is over-” the AI gestured to the both of them as she spoke- “Where are you headed? Just going to keep camping in random forests?”

Chell smirked a bit, giving what looked like a silent chuckle before shaking her head and writing out her response.

‘I’m not sure. If the settlement seems nice when we get that computer, I might go back there. But I’m not exactly in a rush one way or another.’

GLaDOS mulled the mute’s response over for just long enough to think of her own, but not long enough to actually think about what she was saying before her slightly intoxicated mind pushed the words past her lips.

“You could stay in Aperture for a bit.”

She only realized what she had said once she saw Chell’s eyebrows raise in mild surprise and slight disbelief.

“I… I mean… not for long. And not as a test subject- there’s a good reason why I kicked you out, I really don’t want you in my facility, so it’s not like I’d be forcing you to stay. I just… supposed you might enjoy spending a night with an actual roof over your head. It could be... payment for… helping me with all this.  I could find something more like an actual bed for you to sleep on, or… something.”

The core trailed off, feeling her cheeks grow even hotter. It was a stupid suggestion. She was just slightly tipsy, and this human brain couldn’t help itself from saying ridiculous, foolish things-

Chell didn’t look mad. She didn’t look disgusted or uneasy.  She seemed thoughtful, and slightly cautious, but not revolted.

Slowly, another note was written.


‘I’ll think about it.’

“I… all right.”

GLaDOS couldn’t help but sound slightly stunned, not having expected that reaction.  She had made the suggestion on a mildly intoxicated whim, and while she could argue that Chell wasn’t completely sober herself, she was certainly more so than GLaDOS was, yet here it seemed like she was genuinely considering it.

GLaDOS decided to blame the alcohol for the smile that briefly wormed its way onto her face.

Still, it didn’t last, as it was soon broken by a yawn as the core felt a wave of exhaustion wash over her. She was certain that the small amount of drinking had certainly done a good job of lulling her, as she noticed that her shoulders were slack and her whole body felt loose and relaxed. While this felt nice, that combined with the soft furs she was sitting on and the warmth from the fire were all doing a quick job of putting her to sleep.

She did her best to fight it, blinking heavily to try and keep awake, but even that was failing.

GLaDOS was positive she would’ve just passed out right there if Chell hadn’t touched her arm.

The core shook her head a little, turning her gaze to the woman curiously.  Chell had stood up, and given GLaDOS a gentle tap on the shoulder, before holding her hand out for the AI to take.

Without question, GLaDOS did.  She wasn’t sure why she was putting her trust in Chell for seemingly no reason, but she was curious of the mute’s intentions.


No explanation was given, but it wasn’t needed.  They crossed the small camp in just a few strides, soon standing in front of the tent.

“...Yes? What do you want?”

GLaDOS fought back the ever so slight slur that tried to make its way into her sentence, trying her best to remain completely coherent, despite how difficult that was becoming with a mixture of exhaustion and intoxication.

Chell gestured to the tent, then took a small step back.

“You… you want me to sleep here?”

A nod, followed by a small smile. Chell nodded her head back towards the fire, where the furs GLaDOS had been sleeping on the past few nights were. She then pointed to herself. She’d sleep by the fire tonight; GLaDOS could have a turn staying in the tent.

Slowly, GLaDOS kneeled down, poking her head inside.  The bottom of the tent was lined with furs and multiple blankets, and while it wasn’t drastically better than the plain ground, it definitely felt marginally more comfortable- and a lot warmer, even without the fire.  Carefully, she sat down, looking back up at Chell, almost expecting this to be a joke, or for there to be some kind of catch.

But Chell made no indication of anything of the sort. She seemed honest and genuine in her action.

“...I… Thank you.”

Once again, GLaDOS found alcohol pushing the words she might not have otherwise spoken out of her mouth.  Had this happened on a normal night, she would’ve likely just called Chell a lunatic and gone to bed. But without thinking, she had thanked the woman- an instinct, though this one wasn’t something born into this body. That had come from her mind and her mind alone.

She decided to be even more thankful for the fact that they were far enough away from the fire that it was unlikely that Chell could see her already flushed cheeks going an even darker red.

With that, Chell gave her a final nod before turning back to walk over to the fire and settling herself down.  She had taken her weapons and one of her bags with her, so GLaDOS could tell she hadn’t completely lost her mind, but she had left one of the bags with the tent, seeming content leaving it unsupervised with the AI.

GLaDOS couldn’t be sure why, but as she drifted off to sleep, surrounded by warm furs and a scent that was slowly becoming familiar, that thought caused a spark of warmth in her stomach that had nothing to do with anything she had drank.

Chapter Text

Things changed on the surface. They shifted, moved, adapted. You could be alive one day, dead the next. At someone’s throat, then at their side.  Aperture didn’t change as much as the surface did. Little things changed, but overall, it was steady, hardly moving. Like a rock in a river, standing firm despite the rushing waters.

GLaDOS appreciated that about her facility. She could always rely on it to be a certain way; she didn’t have to worry about having to adapt to it changing.  

While she deeply missed that, she hardly had a chance to dwell on it.  After all, she was on the surface now, and she had to adapt to keep up.

Almost four weeks had passed since she left her beloved facility. Almost four weeks she’d spent traveling, living alongside someone she once called her enemy.  It was not the first time they had worked together, but back in Aperture, it had been survival that pushed them together. They had needed each other if they both wanted to get out alive.

Chell didn’t need GLaDOS now.  At any point she could simply leave GLaDOS behind and walk away, or kill the AI in her sleep to be rid of her for good.  She didn’t have to stick around.  But she did.  

And she changed.  Like the surface, she shifted as the days went by.   She was still the stubborn, mute lunatic GLaDOS had come to know, but she was different. Four weeks together, and Chell had started to warm to GLaDOS. And what was worse? GLaDOS was warming too.

Chell no longer ignored half of what the core said- she listened, even if the AI was just going on about how she hated the surface. Chell was starting to give small bits of trust to GLaDOS, even if only in little ways. She gave the core jobs to do, responsibilities to have and keep. While GLaDOS outwardly might’ve complained about the work, she was secretly thankful. It kept her busy, let her do something. Something to help in her own survival.

After the second week, she helped collect water when they found it, making sure it was safe and drinkable before filling their bottles. That much was easy. And while Chell still wouldn’t give her a weapon, she helped with getting food. She couldn’t hunt, but she could certainly look for edible plants.  While the core had some difficulty at first, she learned quickly. Even without the use of her chassis’s infinite sources, with some trial and error as well as Chell’s help, she gained her own little database of what was edible and what wasn’t, what tasted good and what didn’t.

By the third week of traveling, she had managed to collect a fair amount of berries, herbs and roots, which she combined with Chell’s most recent catch- an old, wiry fox that had been trying to steal food from them-  to try to make a decent meal.  It had been stringy, greasy and all around somewhat unpleasant, but Chell had admitted that the addition of GLaDOS’s plants certainly helped the flavor.  GLaDOS had felt a familiar surge of pride in her chest at this, and she was reminded of doing science, of completing an experiment. It was that same rush of satisfaction, except… warmer.

And now, during the fourth week, Chell had her helping with setting up camp every night. Chell would often handle the tent while GLaDOS worked on the fire, filling the evening’s silence with idle chatter.  Every night they would switch off who got to sleep inside the tent and who slept out by the fire.  GLaDOS had expected sleeping inside Chell’s tent to be a one-time thing, but after a night of GLaDOS not stealing or destroying her things, it seemed that Chell trusted the core enough to let it become a regular occurrence.  

The walking hadn’t changed much. Each day was still long and tiring, and her body was often still tired, but she had noticed a bit of definition coming to the muscles on her legs, and was left to question why that thought brought a smile to her face.  She’d be out of this body as soon as possible, yet the knowledge that she had changed this form for the better was… endearing. Even if it would soon be abandoned and likely destroyed, GLaDOS could say that she made the most of this pathetic shell.

However, one thing in particular had changed about the daily walks, and it was something that the core appreciated deeply, even if she didn’t admit that was the case. They’d started to have conversations while they walked.

Not real conversations; the speaking was purely one-sided. But now, instead of trailing behind her, GLaDOS walked at Chell’s side. When the core spoke, Chell would respond with changes in her expression, nods or shakes of the head, or even hand gestures. The days were still long, but they felt considerably less so now that GLaDOS didn’t feel like she was just endlessly trudging forward. She could fill the silence and not feel as if she was only talking to herself.  It might’ve seemed like a minor change, but to GLaDOS, it meant the difference between wanting to bang her head against a tree by the end of the night and actually being in something akin to a pleasant mood.

Today in particular happened to be one of those days. They’d made good ground during the morning and early afternoon, and Chell had informed her that they were getting close to the settlement. It was just a good few more days of travel left, and GLaDOS couldn’t contain her excitement. Once they got to the settlement, she’d be halfway back to her body.

She spent most of the morning and afternoon telling Chell about all the experiments she wanted to run once she was back in her chassis. How she’d be fascinated to experiment on some of these mutated animals, to deconstruct them and understand what had changed and how.

She talked about the tests she could run on this human body once she was out of it, to better learn what the old scientists had done to create it, how they had replicated Caroline so well.

Chell’s curiosity seemed to spike at this comment, though GLaDOS didn’t miss the hint of unease in her gaze. Did she find it odd that GLaDOS would be experimenting on this body?  There was no reason not to; it was merely a shell, a temporary prison. Once GLaDOS was back in her true body, there would be no reason to be attached to the form. It’d be as meaningful as a corpse.

Still, GLaDOS slowly moved the conversation elsewhere, taking note of Chell’s odd attitude towards it.  Instead, she filled the test subject in on what she already knew about ‘The Resurrection Project.’  She had told the girl the basics of it awhile ago, but never went much into detail.  And granted, it wasn’t like she was an expert on it, if she was, she wouldn’t be in this position in the first place.  But at the very least, the story seemed to hold Chell’s interest.  

By the time she finished, it was getting late. The sun was starting to set, but Chell made no signs of stopping.  When GLaDOS questioned this, Chell pointed out where they were. They were walking across what looked like a marsh, covered in tall, thick grasses, rotting logs, and mostly hardened mud. It was far from a suitable place to camp. There was no shelter, no sense of safety. And starting a fire here would be far too dangerous, but not having one could be equally so, as each night was getting progressively colder, and a fire was greatly appreciated by the one who was stuck sleeping outside that night.

There was a line of trees in the distance, it would be best for them to get there, despite the extra time it took.  But the more the sun set, the more it cast shadows.  It became harder and harder to see, especially amongst the thick grasses. Logs and roots somehow looked more threatening in the dark, as the fear of the unknown nipped at the corners of her mind.

GLaDOS could tell that Chell had become tense too, but still she walked with purpose, seeming intent on getting to their destination as quickly as possible.  GLaDOS tried to keep pace, but found herself opting to be at least a step or two behind the human instead of directly at her side, just in case.

Her eyes darted around the marshy ground, flickering around her surroundings at the slightest sound.  The wind rustled the grass, nearly causing the core to jump out of her skin.

It seemed that, despite spending nearly a month out here, the surface hadn’t become any more pleasant than the first day she had spent on it. It was still dangerous and completely unpredictable.  You could spend the whole day feeling uneasy and end up completely safe by the next morning.  Or, you could be at peace, and nearly get attacked by a half-dead vulture- GLaDOS hadn’t recovered from that all too quickly.

The surface was hard to judge, and sometimes everything felt like the opposite of what it ought to be.

But sometimes, the human body’s gut feeling proved to be worth something. GLaDOS only wished it was quicker.

She should’ve noticed the slightly louder rustle amongst the grass. Slightly too loud to be the wind, but only just barely.

No, she didn’t notice the subtle warning, but she did notice the loud hiss that suddenly cut through the night.

The core’s head snapped to the side just quickly enough to see a large, dark brown shape amongst the grass. Then, in what felt like the time it took to blink, something jumped out at them. GLaDOS stumbled back, ready to bolt. For a second, she got a glimpse of the thing:  nearly four feet long and scaly, with a thick, meaty tail.  It looked reptilian, but species was difficult to identify in the mere seconds GLaDOS had to properly look at it.


She watched as Chell whipped around to face it and started to go for her gun, only to be stopped dead in her tracks.  Moving almost snake-like, the creature struck, darting forward and clamping its jaws down, right onto Chell’s side.


GLaDOS felt her heart stop, suddenly frozen in place.  The reptile bit down hard with its clearly powerful jaw, and used talonlike claws to further get a grip on Chell’s leg, managing to block her access to her handgun.

Chell didn’t make a sound, but GLaDOS watched as she took a sharp intake of breath, and saw how her face tensed up in pain, her hands instantly going to her side, trying to grab the thing by the mouth and pry it off.  But the more she struggled, the harder this thing bit down.  GLaDOS could see blood starting to soak through the ex-test subject’s jacket, as well as coating her hands as she tried to get the beast off her.

The AI couldn’t move.  This was all happening in a matter of seconds, but each moment dragged on like hours.  She didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t like she could shoot the thing herself, nor stab it.

For a moment, the core debated running. Going around, making a beeline for the trees- Chell could surely get out of this on her own, and even if she didn’t, GLaDOS held a bag with some supplies in it, and they weren’t far from the settlement. It was possible for her to survive, if she was extremely lucky, even if Chell didn’t make it.

But GLaDOS’s legs didn’t move. She couldn’t just run; something inside her wouldn’t let that happen.  Instead, her eyes darted around, desperately looking for another answer to her predicament.

She wasn’t sure what brought her gaze down to a large, slightly rotten stick at her feet, but that could be explained away by stating that it was, in fact, a somewhat large object in her field of vision. What GLaDOS couldn’t explain was what force on earth compelled her to pick the thing up, and further, what guided her steps forward as she lunged towards Chell and the animal and swung the stick as hard as she could at the reptile.  

It made impact with the creature’s head with a loud ‘thud,’ the wood turning to splinters and going everywhere, leaving the core’s makeshift weapon completely useless.

With an angry hiss, the beast spun around, letting go of Chell and facing GLaDOS.  Its eyes were a greenish yellow, and the pupils were near unnoticeable black slits.  It opened its mouth, a mixture of blood and saliva dripping off its maw. It had long rows of teeth, each one short but wickedly sharp.

GLaDOS quickly tried to back up, becoming acutely aware that she had just pissed this thing off, with no real way to defend herself.

She stared the beast down, heart hammering in her chest.  She wanted to look away, to see anything else besides this disgusting beast, just in case it was the last thing she ever saw.  But that thought alone struck a chord of panic that made her nauseous. She was so close . Nearly halfway back to her body.  She couldn’t die now; she couldn’t .

The beast let out a loud snarl and lunged. GLaDOS forced herself to close her eyes, her arms raising to be held in front of herself defensively, under the vain hope that it would somehow help. She braced for impact, wincing and readying herself for the stabs of pain that would come from this thing sinking its teeth into her. But instead…

BANG.

BANG.

BANG.

The AI’s eyes snapped open, looking straight ahead to see not the jaws of a predator, but Chell, holding her pistol with a shaky, bloodstained hand. Quickly, GLaDOS looked down, catching sight of the now lifeless body of the reptile only inches away from her.  Chell had hit it twice, missing the first shot, landing the second on its hind leg, and only hitting a vital organ with the third shot, killing it just in time.

GLaDOS was fairly certain she forgot how to breathe for a moment, staring open mouthed at the beast at her feet, then back to Chell.

The human didn’t waste time standing there, making her way to GLaDOS in a half limp, half run, crossing the distance in two slightly uneven but bold strides.

Her face looked pained, with every muscle in her jaw clenched tight, and deep, shallow breaths passing through her lips. But her eyes were what struck a deep uneasiness in GLaDOS’s stomach.  Chell looked… worried.

Her normally calm, steely eyes looked GLaDOS up and down with a lingering fear, as if she were searching for something.  It took GLaDOS’s scrambled brain a moment to realize what on earth the human was doing.  She was looking for injuries.

If the way Chell’s arm was shaking now, not to mention just the fact that she had missed one of her shots, was any indication, GLaDOS assumed the woman was afraid that she had grazed or actually hit GLaDOS with the stray bullet on accident.

“I… I’m fine! You’re the one who looks like you have some of your considerable mass missing !”

GLaDOS found her voice raise a pitch, and crack somewhat on the final word of her sentence.  Was she afraid? The beast was dead, there was nothing to be afraid of.

It was with a strange turning of her stomach that the AI realized that part of her was worried about her traveling companion, afraid of the severity of the injury she had obtained.

Chell looked down at her wound, her free hand clutching it tightly.  She pulled it away for a moment, revealing her hand to be just as bloodstained as the other, if not more so.  

With a hiss of pain, the human looked at GLaDOS, then nodded her head to the line of trees.  They still needed to move, and quickly. Chell needed to patch this up, but they couldn’t stay here.

GLaDOS felt a protest bubble up in her throat, wondering if Chell moving around was really the best course of action.  But one quick look glance at the dead reptile at her feet quickly chased that protest away.  Chell was right; they needed to move.

The pace Chell set was fast, as she tried to walk as briskly as possible, despite the limp in her step.  GLaDOS kept her pace this time, walking closely at her side as they closed in on the small cluster of trees.

The ground was harder here, and while it could hardly be called a forest, the evergreens looming over them provided some shelter, and there was enough flat, open ground to be able to start a small fire without burning the whole place down.

GLaDOS put her bag down and got to work starting the fire, a part of her mind still expecting Chell to start setting up the tent. Instead, though, Chell dropped her bag by the small firepit and plopped to the ground, leaning against it and catching her breath.  She shut her eyes and bit down on her bottom lip, breathing in and out through her nose. She was in pain; she clearly wasn’t going to be moving around much more tonight.

Once GLaDOS got a small fire going, she started unpacking the tent on her own, trying her best to copy what she had seen the human do dozens of times before.  It required a small amount of trial and error, but lucky, with the last rays of sunlight, GLaDOS managed to get the shelter stable. It wasn’t the prettiest it had ever looked, but the furs and blankets were set, it wouldn’t blow away, and it wouldn’t fall on the head of whoever was under it. That was good enough.

With that, she shuffled over to the fire, which had picked up considerably and was now giving off steady heat and a warm glow of light.

Chell was still resting, though she wasn’t just sitting there with her eyes shut. Much to GLaDOS’s relief, the ex-test subject seemed to be addressing the pressing issue of her injuries, in what the core could only hope was the most effective way possible out in the middle of nowhere.

The human had removed her jacket and pulled her shirt up, revealing her bare torso. She inspected her wound for a moment or two, before searching around in her bag for a moment and pulling out a rag and her water.  She dampened the cloth and carefully dabbed at the punctured skin, letting out small hisses as she cleaned the blood away.

GLaDOS couldn’t help but stare- not just at the wound, but at the other scars visible on Chell’s torso as well, some old looking, and some fairly recent.  They littered the former test subject’s abdomen, which GLaDOS privately had to admit wasn’t as flabby as she had teased the woman for in the past. In fact, it was anything but. Toned muscles held tense as the girl worked through the pain, trying to get as much blood off as possible before bandaging the wound.

Once it was wiped down, the wound looked marginally better. The cuts weren’t pretty, but they weren’t too deep, and thankfully their bleeding had slowed to a near stop.  There were already traces of bruises around the wound, though, no doubt from the strength of the creature’s jaw clamping down.  It certainly looked like it hurt, but it wouldn’t be enough to take down her test subject.

“You… you should get some rest.”

GLaDOS spoke up after too many moments of dead silence between them, her gaze quickly shifting away and deciding to stare intently at the fire as Chell wrapped her wound.

She pulled her water bottle out and took a few drinks, but found her stomach turning and twisting too much to swallow much more than that.

As hard as she tried, the core couldn’t seem to put her finger on just what was so… upsetting about what she had just seen.  She wanted to just blame it on the human body’s natural reaction to a stressful situation, but this wasn’t the same as the other times they had gotten into scuffles.

No… because this time, Chell was actually hurt. She had sometimes been scratched or bruised a little up until this point, but nothing that she couldn’t simply brush off and go about her day.  This was the first real injury GLaDOS had seen on the girl, and it was unsettling.

Despite how irrational it was, a part of her brain had almost seen the woman as untouchable.  She had survived GLaDOS, a power hungry moron, and the terrors of the surface up until this point. She almost seemed invincible, unable to be taken down by any mortal threat.  But if this evening made anything clear, it was that no, Chell wasn’t.  She was skilled, but her body was just as vulnerable to sharp teeth as anyone else’s.   

GLaDOS scuffed the ground with her foot, trying her best to distract herself from these troubling thoughts. Chell was fine; the wound wasn’t that bad.  They’d still be able to make it to the settlement soon. This was only a minor setback.

But if she had moved slower, would it have only been something minor? How bad would it have gotten if she had done nothing?  Would Chell have gotten out fine, or…

She shook her head, refusing to let the last line of that thought visualize itself in her brain.  This was ridiculous. An overgrown lizard would not have taken down Chell, of all people. It just might’ve caused a bit more damage, then Chell would’ve done something to kill it.

But even still, GLaDOS couldn’t shake the uneasiness in her stomach.

She found herself staring into the flickering flames for some time, zoning out and letting her mind wander.  It didn’t help much, her overactive brain rushing to new scenarios with each passing minute. Yet she kept doing it, hoping to take some kind of comfort in imagination instead of reality.

Chell didn’t let her do this for long, as she shook the core out of her mindset by giving her a careful nudge on the shoulder with her hand, which was holding a small scrap of paper.

The AI looked up, finding that as she met Chell’s gaze and took the note, the girl’s expression had changed.  The look of pain in her eyes had not left, but overall her face had softened, looking somehow gentler. For a lunatic, anyway.

‘Thank you for the help back there. That was good thinking.’

The praise sat oddly with GLaDOS, as she stared at it for a good, long moment, letting the words sink in properly.  Slowly, it helped to untie the knots her stomach had turned itself into. A warm, almost fuzzy feeling started in her chest and moved throughout her body, relieving some of the built up tension.  It felt… good. She felt proud, though she wasn’t sure why.  The praise of a mute lunatic ought not to mean anything to her; what Chell considered ‘good thinking’ was likely far from an actual good idea.  And yet…

GLaDOS smiled.    She could not see herself, and thus couldn’t see how the smile, no matter how small, reached her eyes, and lit up her face. But she was fully aware that she was doing it, and in the moment, couldn’t bring herself to stop.

“Well, it’s not like your corpse would be a very useful bodyguard and navigator.”

While dipped in her trademark sarcasm, GLaDOS found her words to be without a bite. Harmless, teasing almost. She wanted to be irritated with the way that Chell smirked at her statement, how the girl wasn’t damaged by her comment.  But she couldn’t. After all, it hadn’t been intended to harm in the first place.

There was a moment of silence between the two of them, and GLaDOS found herself studying Chell’s face for a moment longer than she needed to, only looking away when the human started to push herself to her feet.  She did so with a grimace and a sharp intake of breath, clutching her newly bandaged wound. GLaDOS assumed she was going to make her way over to the tent, which, despite having been used by the ex-test subject the night before, was rightfully hers.  She was hurt, and that gave her a sort of default right to the most comfortable spot.

GLaDOS knew she couldn’t complain about it, but that didn’t mean she was happy about being outside tonight.  The sun had gone down, and it was already getting cold, even next to the fire.  

An annoyed comment lingered on her tongue, waiting for the ex-test subject to be in the tent and out of earshot of the core’s mutterings.  But Chell didn’t move. She just stood there and looked at GLaDOS. Then, she gestured for the AI to follow her, and started walking to the tent.

“What, just want to rub it in? Yes, I’m sure the shelter will be nice and cozy when compared to the cold, hard ground. I am aware of this, you don’t need to point it out-”

GLaDOS got up and followed Chell, the sarcastic comment she had been saving for herself making its way out of her mouth regardless. Old habits die hard, she supposed.

Yet she stopped before she finished her thought, confused at Chell’s intentions.  The woman had carefully lowered herself down to sit on the furs, but she was sitting closer to one side of the tent instead of sleeping in the middle like the two of them had been doing on their own up until this point.  She was leaving extra room, and patted the open space, looking at GLaDOS expectantly.

“You want me… to sleep here?”  

A nod followed this statement, as well as Chell pointing to herself, and then to the space in the tent she was currently occupying.

“...Are you offering for us both to sleep here? To share it?”

GLaDOS blinked in surprise, uncertain if she was correctly interpreting the mute’s intentions.  The tent was technically big enough for two people- despite GLaDOS’s teasings, Chell didn’t exactly take up that much space, and the body GLaDOS was stuck in was even smaller, both shorter and less muscled- but it would be a bit of a tight fit.

“You expect me to lie down and leave myself vulnerable directly next to a mute lunatic?”

Chell nodded again, though pointed at the injury on her side as well, as if to say ‘I’d be just as vulnerable as you when I’m asleep, if not more.’

This was, admittedly, a fair point.

Admitting defeat, GLaDOS moved to sit down beside Chell, her movements slightly stiff and nervous.  She had never done anything like this before. She had sat next to Chell by the fire, but neither of them had ever fallen asleep directly next to the other.  GLaDOS already feared going to sleep, as every night she still found herself haunted by nightmares of varying intensity. But… it had been four weeks and Chell hadn’t killed her yet. In fact, she had risked her own life to save her, and help her get to their destination.  

As GLaDOS carefully laid down, she decided that she had already put enough faith in Chell at this point. Sleeping next to each other was just going to have to be the next step.

She did her best to get comfortable, grabbing one of the blankets and covering herself- there was no way she was sharing blankets, Chell could use her own- trying her best not to close the couple inches of space they had between them.  She moved to be on her side in hopes of taking up less space, but Chell had to stay on her back to avoid further pain.

This meant that, while they had a couple inches separating them, GLaDOS could still notice Chell’s presence next to her. She could the warmth from her body radiating off, and hear the sounds of slightly heavy breathing. It was impossible to ignore that she was directly next to a human while she tried to fall asleep.

It took her a while to do so, her mind racing and wide awake. The events of the day and the current situation left her brain unable to shut up.

But as Chell dozed off and her breathing steadied into a gentle pattern, GLaDOS found herself doing the same. The tent was more comfortable than the ground, and even when alone it was slightly warmer.

Sleeping with someone beside you, however, made for a much, much warmer tent. And despite her earlier uneasiness, GLaDOS found herself drinking in this new comfort quite quickly.

Would she have tried this a month ago? No. There would’ve been at least fifty turrets between her and the lunatic. But was she enjoying it now? Yes.

Not that she’d ever admit that.

Chapter Text

Despite Chell’s injury, they made good ground. They kept up a steady pace for two days, both of them eager to reach the settlement as soon as possible. GLaDOS had expected Chell’s wound to slow them down, but she powered through it, only stopping occasionally for a minute or two to catch her breath. She had reassured GLaDOS that the faster they got there, the faster she could get the injury on her side properly fixed up, which would make the return trip a lot easier.

With this in mind, they crossed more ground than expected. By the end of the second day, Chell had commented that if they woke up early the next day, they would likely be able to get to the settlement by late afternoon.

This left GLaDOS bubbling with excitement, and aided her in waking up at the crack of dawn, forcing herself to sit up despite how heavy her eyelids felt and how comfortable the furs and blankets seemed.

She wasn’t exactly surprised to wake up alone.

Ever since Chell’s initial offer for them to share the tent, they both decided that it was far warmer to just make this the new regular. Neither one had tried to murder the other in their sleep, and they each kept to their respective side of the tent and avoided physical contact of any kind.

GLaDOS still found it a bit unsettling to fall asleep so close to Chell, but it was getting a little easier with each night.  She could almost forget they even did it, since for the past two mornings, Chell had been up and out of the bed before the AI even stirred.

When GLaDOS had woken up each of those mornings, she had found Chell either packing up the rest of their supplies so they could hit the road as soon as GLaDOS woke up, or a little bit off into the woods, likely taking what she somehow called a shower, despite it really just being standing behind a tree and wiping herself off with a wet cloth. GLaDOS only hoped they had some kind of running water at this settlement, as she wasn’t quite as content as Chell was with their bathing options.

But this morning seemed to present neither of these situations.  As GLaDOS poked her head out of the tent, Chell was nowhere to be seen.  

GLaDOS frowned thoughtfully, pulling herself out of the tent and starting to pack it up.  It wasn’t normal for Chell to be completely gone, but it was unlikely she had gone far.  She had left in the morning before, often to try and find more water or edible plants.  It wasn’t common, but in the time they had traveled together, it wasn’t an all time first.  Chell likely wasn’t far, and most of the supplies were still here.

The weapons were all gone, likely strapped to Chell’s body, as always. Along with those, a small portion of the supplies were missing. As the core peered inside Chell’s bag, she noticed it looked considerably emptier. Her water bottle was gone, along with the smaller bag she’d often bring when they stopped for hunting or collecting berries. It contained some basic supplies, like a small portion of food, bandages, and her flint and steel. GLaDOS supposed it was her bare minimum of supplies that she liked to keep on hand. If something went wrong and she was separated from the rest of her gear, she’d still have something to survive with.

Why Chell took it this morning, GLaDOS couldn’t say. Perhaps she was hunting, but they were fine on supplies, as GLaDOS confirmed by rifling around her own bag and pulling out a portion of the dried meat Chell had given her. Most of it was kept in Chell’s main bag, but after a little while- and a handful of times in which GLaDOS complained about her hunger when they were on the road- the human had decided that it would be good for GLaDOS to carry a bit of her own, just in case she happened to get hungry when Chell wasn’t around, or when they were traveling.

The AI sat down by the long-dead fire, staring at the ashes as she slowly ate her meal.  She had been more than ready to bolt out of camp and start sprinting to the settlement this morning, but her plans were slowed to a stop now.  She couldn’t exactly go anywhere without Chell- well, she could try, but she wasn’t foolish.  They might’ve been close to the settlement, but they weren’t close to Aperture. Even if she did get her computer, she’d still need to walk back on her own, and without weapons, that journey would likely be cut quite short.

And besides just needing Chell for survival, GLaDOS had to admit that she’d rather travel with the woman than travel alone.  If she thought walking all day with Chell around could get boring, walking alone would no doubt be maddening.

As much as it pained her to say it, she had not only grown accustomed to Chell’s company, she had learned to enjoy it. The surface was cruel. It was harsh, painful, and unforgiving. Chell took the pain of that away, even if only a little.

GLaDOS couldn’t help the snort of laughter that escaped her at that thought.  The very same person who had caused her so much pain before was now taking it away. It seemed ridiculous. Impossible, even.  But of course, everything on the surface had found some way to surprise GLaDOS. This surprise was just one of the only pleasant ones.

She finished the rest of her meal in peace with this thought still stewing in her head.

Shortly after she was done, the soft crunch of footsteps alerted her to Chell’s return.  She snapped her head up, ready to question the woman on her whereabouts and insist that they start moving now to make up for lost time, but kept silent when she caught sight of the ex-test subject.

Chell wasn’t looking at GLaDOS, probably not expecting her to be awake, and seeming too lost in thought to notice her presence.  She was walking a bit stiffly, and clutched her wound with one hand while resting the other at her side, tapping her fingers against her leg, almost… nervously?  She didn’t look tense; at least not the kind of tense she got when there was danger around, but she looked uncomfortable.

Her expression reflected this. She looked a little far off, like she had been deep in her own mind mulling a difficult question over for some time. GLaDOS was, admittedly, curious.  Part of her wanted to point out the strangeness in the woman’s behavior, but the other part of her didn’t want to alert Chell to her presence, as she wanted to study her human companion for a little longer.

Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed as Chell looked over and caught sight of GLaDOS, seeming momentarily startled, then relaxed. She lost any trace of her previous expression, giving GLaDOS a small smile before walking over.

She gestured to GLaDOS, then to her bag, silently asking if she had already eaten.

“Yes, and I’ve packed up all the supplies. Are we heading out now?”

GLaDOS’s curiosity over Chell’s momentarily strange behavior was briefly forgotten in favor of the excitement of moving forward and getting on the road. It was still early; if they started walking now, they could get to the settlement by the time Chell had promised-

Chell shook her head, and reached into one of her many pockets.  Before GLaDOS could protest, she pulled out a piece of paper and showed it to the core. It was prewritten, and the paper looked slightly smudged, as if she had written and erased her words multiple times before deciding on what was now written.   This made GLaDOS wonder if there was anything that she’d initially written that ended up left out, but she could debate that later.

‘I’ve been thinking, and you’ve earned some of my trust. You haven’t tried anything, you’ve been a mostly cooperative traveling companion, and you might’ve saved my life a couple nights ago.  And so I think that now is a good time for me to teach you how to use-’

“Your handgun ?!”

GLaDOS read the last word aloud, hardly believing what she had just seen. She read it over once more, but it still said the exact same thing. Chell was offering to show her how to use a weapon- and not just any weapon, a gun. The very thing she had been so adamant about the AI not having only a few weeks ago.

Chell simply nodded in response, her expression calm.  She had clearly put a lot of thought into this, as her face showed no sign of hesitation. This had not been a spur of the moment idea.  The human no doubt thought this was a good idea, but… what had sparked this change?

“Why? Why now do you want to teach me? Besides, you said before that you’d keep us both safe, what’s changed? You can still shoot just fine.”

As GLaDOS spoke, she realized that Chell hadn’t actually had to shoot anything since their fight with the reptile. They hadn’t run into any problems, and hence, the AI hadn’t actually seen Chell fighting. Did her injury hurt too much? No, it couldn’t be that bad; she was still walking around fine.

In response to her question, Chell’s expression shifted for a moment. It was quick, but GLaDOS noted a strange look in the human’s eyes: an emotion that the core couldn’t put her finger on, but one that felt oddly unsettling nonetheless.

She didn’t have long to dwell on it, as before she could even blink, the look was gone, and Chell had turned her gaze to her paper, which she flipped over and scribbled a new note on the back of.

‘I can, but my accuracy isn’t as good as it could be. We’re almost there, but just in case, I think it’s time you learned the basics. That way, if I’m having difficulties again, you can protect yourself.’

The note resonated strangely with GLaDOS. Part of her felt as if she should be happy. Chell trusted her enough to let her use a gun, and was willing to teach her how to use it. She’d be able to feel safer with that knowledge, right?  So why was it that Chell’s offer made her feel as if she’d be even less safe than before?

She shook that thought out of her mind. She was being ridiculous. They were almost to the settlement; Chell was just being careful.

This was a good step to take, but there was one big problem.

“...I don’t suppose you’re going to be actually talking, are you? How are you supposed to teach me if you can’t- or won’t- talk?”

GLaDOS raised an eyebrow skeptically, crossing her arms over her chest.  She didn’t believe Chell was truly mute, but she couldn’t prove anything. Her time in stasis could’ve messed up her vocal cords, but even so, she had the feeling the girl was just being stubborn.

Chell answered her question with a shake of the head and another addition to her note.

‘No, but I can show you what to do. Trust me, I can show you the basics without it getting too complicated.’

While GLaDOS had her doubts of this fact, she decided not to voice them. She was an expert on many things, but properly aiming and firing guns was not one of them. Chell had impeccable aim and a good form. This was her area of expertise, not GLaDOS’s.

“All right, fine. Lead the way.”

GLaDOS threw her hands up in defeat, deciding to simply wait and see just what it was that Chell had planned.

And with that, Chell gestured in the direction she had come from and started walking.

They didn’t need to walk for long to reach a small open space, all flat ground with no trees or bushes in the way.  It was about twenty feet wide, with a few large trees directly across from where they were standing. Upon a closer look, she noticed that the tree closest to them had a crude looking bullseye carved into it. Chell must’ve set this up earlier.

She turned to the human for confirmation on what to do next, curious to see just how Chell was going to do this.

Slowly and carefully, Chell removed the handgun from its holster at her side and held it out for GLaDOS to take. The safety was on, but it was likely loaded.  The core took it, gingerly.  The weight was strange in her hand, and she simply held it in place for a moment, unsure what to do. It was a powerful weapon up here, but in comparison to what Aperture created, it was almost puny.  Despite that, even GLaDOS knew that simply letting poisonous gas fill up a room and kill your humans for you was a lot easier than personally aiming and shooting at something. That took practice, or set AIs built for that purpose.  Unfortunately, GLaDOS did not have the leisure of having the lock-on aim of a turret in this body. She’d have to learn like a human.

Trying her best to mimic what she had seen Chell do before, she raised the gun at the tree, pointing it at the target. She moved to turn the safety off and fire, but was stopped by the sudden pressure and warmth of a body being pressed against her back.

She gave a small jolt of surprise at the sudden contact. It took her a moment to realize that it was only Chell, but even remembering that, she was still startled. What on earth was she doing ?

A hand slowly snaked around and placed itself on her arm, carefully moving it down about half an inch.

That’s when GLaDOS realized.  Chell wasn’t going to show her what to do with an example- she was going to actively move GLaDOS into the right position.  The core supposed that made sense, but for some reason, even with this knowledge, it was suddenly very difficult to focus.

Chell’s hand adjusted her arm for a moment, moving it up and down until she was satisfied. She moved down to her wrist and made sure it was in place before moving to her shoulder, pressing gently to loosen the tension that was being held there. Her hand was larger than GLaDOS’s, and while her fingers were calloused and rough, that was hardly noticeable under the fabric of GLaDOS’s clothing. All she could feel was how tender each movement was, how it was deliberate and precise, but never harsh or jerky.

GLaDOS stared intently at the target, but her mind was far, far away.  All she could think about was what she was feeling.  She could feel Chell’s chest pressed against her back, her heartbeat faintly noticeable. She felt the woman’s knee press against her leg, moving and adjusting her stance as she saw fit.  Chell was careful with each movement, pausing after each adjustment, as if to let GLaDOS remember exactly what had been done, so that she may replicate it again in the future. GLaDOS wasn’t thinking about that. She was thinking about just how warm Chell’s body was. At first, she had been stiff and reluctant to let the ex-test subject pose her around like a ragdoll, but now her limbs were starting to feel like jelly, relaxing under the warmth that Chell gave.

Despite herself, there was a desire slowly bubbling in GLaDOS’s mind to drop the pose Chell was fixing her in and to just lean back and melt into the woman’s arms.

She was appalled at this, shocked that her brain would ever think such a ridiculous thing. She decided it was no doubt due to the human body she was stuck in. It was a cold, crisp morning; her body was simply seeking a heat source. It was acting irrational, that was all.

She forced herself to stay in place, taking a deep breath and desperately attempting to focus on what Chell was doing. How were her limbs being positioned? Where were they being moved to? Why was Chell resting her chin on her shoulder-

The AI’s breath hitched as Chell did this, as the woman was trying to stare down the sights of GLaDOS’s gun as accurately as possible, and moving her hand up to tilt the core’s head just a little to the left.

The core complied wordlessly, suddenly becoming aware of just how silent it had gotten. The only things she could hear were the wind, and Chell’s breathing close to her ear. It tickled the hairs on her neck in a way that almost caused GLaDOS to jerk her head out of position at how very strange it felt.

Yet… she didn’t dislike it.  Chell’s breath was like the rest of her body- warm. While it was startling at first, GLaDOS could feel herself slowly adjusting and growing almost accustomed to it. It was a steady sound, albeit a bit heavier than usual.  The former test subject’s chest moved with each deep breath, and GLaDOS could feel it all.  Every twitch, every shift in movement that Chell made, she noticed. How could she not? They were practically molded together.

It was easy to forget for a moment that she was even holding a gun in her hand, but she was reminded of the situation she was actually in when suddenly, the warmth was gone.

Chell had taken a step back and to the side before moving up to stand beside GLaDOS so that the core could see her out of the corner of her eye without moving.  She made a gesture to the AI to fire, and GLaDOS scrambled to get her mind in check before she did so.

She tried not to move from the position Chell had put her in, turned off the safety, then pulled the trigger.

BANG.

The gunshot echoed in her ears and rang in her head, and the recoil of the weapon threw her shoulder back, causing her to let out a hiss of pain at how sudden the jolt was.  She held onto the gun with one hand, but the other quickly came up to massage her shoulder as she winced, still feeling the ringing in her ears.

Chell started walking towards the tree to get a better look at it, and after a moment of recovery, GLaDOS joined her, only to see that she… hadn’t hit the target.  She hit the tree, but it was nowhere near the bullseye, despite its rather large size.

She felt her face heat up with frustration, and she resisted the urge to fire at it point blank just so she could say she hit the damn thing. She should’ve been able to hit it. She was a supercomputer, the smartest being in the world. She was able to master any skill- at least she had been, back when she was in her body.  Now, she was in a human body with a human brain. It was slower, weaker, and it took time to train and build muscles.  She wouldn’t be able to get something perfect on the first try. And that just wasn’t fair.

GLaDOS looked to Chell for a reaction, unsure what to expect- perhaps a smirk, or silent laughter.  She was met with neither.  Instead, the human gave her a patient smile, and gestured back to where they’d been standing before to try again.

GLaDOS didn’t follow right away, instead watching Chell walk. She had a bit of a limp in her step, and her hand was once more pressed against her injury, only dropping back to her side once she reached the spot and waited for GLaDOS to catch up.

With a heavy sigh, GLaDOS got back into position.  She had the feeling this would take all morning, if not longer.  Her hopes of getting to the settlement before sunfall were quickly becoming further and further from a reality.

However, as she raised the gun at the tree once more, trying to copy the position Chell had put her in before, she got it slightly off, prompting Chell to press against her and adjust her stance once again, making small changes.  Perhaps this taking all morning wouldn’t be… the worst thing in the world.


By the time they were finished, the sun had almost completely risen. GLaDOS was a far cry from a sharpshooter, but she actually managed to hit the target a few times in the end- never directly in the middle, but any shot actually on the target was good enough.

Chell gave her a grin and a pat on the shoulder, which GLaDOS had hardly been expecting. She looked up at the human in surprise for a moment, before letting her face relax into a small smile to respond.

Chell was proud of her progress, even if GLaDOS was still bitterly wishing she had actually hit a bullseye.

She went to give the handgun back to Chell now that they were finished, but Chell shook her head and wrote down a quick note to the AI as they walked back to camp to grab the rest of their supplies and head out for the day.

‘I want you to hold onto it until we get to the settlement. Keep the safety on so you don’t accidentally shoot yourself in the foot, but I want to make sure you’re comfortable carrying it, in the case that we find you one to keep for yourself on the trip back.’

GLaDOS had to admit she was intrigued by the possibility of getting her own firearm, and wondered under what circumstances that would actually happen. If they ran into raiders again, it was possible they could get one off of them, or maybe they’d have them for sale at the settlement? It was hard to say. GLaDOS hadn’t been on the surface long enough to really get an idea of what the economy was like, if there even really was one. Perhaps that would be the subject of discussion for today’s travel, if Chell knew anything about it herself.

As they packed up and started to walk, GLaDOS found herself in an oddly pleasant mood. She thought she ought to be more irritated that her first day of training had gone… less than ideally, but somehow she found that wasn’t the thought lingering in her mind. The annoyance from that faded, leaving only the leftover warmth from everything else.  She couldn’t explain it, but something in her chest just felt… light.  She spoke with enthusiasm and excitement, despite running on less sleep than usual. Her brain felt sharper and her body felt like it had more energy and endurance.

While she couldn’t place just what this feeling was, if it made her feel so efficient in everything she did or spoke about, she’d have to find a way to artificially reproduce it once she was back in her chassis.  Humans might have been fickle in their motivations and willpower, but their moments of inspiration and determination were something she wanted to bottle and recreate, hopefully without all the drawbacks of everything else that came with humans themselves.

Mainly how unpredictable they were at times, and their tendency to suddenly change their behavior if even the slightest thing was wrong.

For the first hour or so, Chell was responsive to GLaDOS, nodding her head and reacting as usual. But as late afternoon started to creep up on them, she started responding less and less, to the point where GLaDOS stopped talking for a while, just to see if the girl would notice.  She didn’t.  She just kept walking, the slight limp in her step from earlier becoming slightly more noticeable.

GLaDOS kept quiet about it for the time being, deciding to study the girl further before making any comments.

The human’s expression shifted to one that was positively neutral. Too neutral. She looked like she was making herself look a certain way, actively trying to hold an expression.

Her movements, too, seemed slower, perhaps just because of the limp, but even that seemed more sluggish than earlier in the morning.  She had woken up far earlier than GLaDOS; was that the reason? Was she really so exhausted?

Another hour or so passed, and their pace had slowed still.  Chell kept her gaze fixed forward, but she was walking ever slower, and would pause every couple of minutes to catch her breath and clutch at her wound, letting out a small hiss of pain every time.

Eventually, GLaDOS got tired of it.

“All right, what’s wrong with you? How early did you wake up if you’re this tired?” she snapped at the human, finding that her mood had quickly shifted throughout the course of the day. She might’ve started it optimistic, but now she felt anything but. If Chell was going to sleepwalk the whole way there, they might as well just stop and get there in the morning.

But Chell brushed her off, waving nonchalantly as if to say ‘I’m fine, let’s just keep moving.’

This earned a series of frustrated noises from the core, who reluctantly agreed. Fine. So long as they made it there before both their bodies died of old age, GLaDOS decided she could be content.

They walked in silence from then on. GLaDOS kept her sarcastic comments to herself, and Chell was as quiet as ever. Well, aside from the breathing.  Her breathing was heavier than GLaDOS’s, and while at first it was barely noticeable, by the time the sun started to set, it almost sounded like panting.

When GLaDOS was about half a second from pointing it out to Chell, along with how she was now positive the girl was just doing it to annoy her, she spotted something in the distance: a large mass standing against the sky, with the exact shapes making it up difficult to make out. She was confused for a moment and tried to study it from afar, when it finally struck her, and any trace of irritation was wiped from her mind.

“Is that it?! Is that the settlement?”

She turned to Chell, pointing to the silhouette in the distance.

Chell took a moment to respond, leaning forward and squinting at it for what felt like minutes before nodding. That was it.

GLaDOS felt her heart skip a beat. It was right there. If they hurried, they’d be there before it got too late in the night.  They were practically at the halfway point now. Sure, the journey back would be long, but this was a milestone that felt so good GLaDOS could practically taste Aperture- which was something that she’d have to consider doing while still in this body. She’d always wondered what repulsion gel tasted like, and it wasn’t like she’d need this body afterwards, so she wasn’t afraid of the possible toxic nature of the substance.

She was ready to practically sprint down the road in the right direction, and started walking forward, only to realize that Chell wasn’t following.

GLaDOS stopped and turned around to see Chell standing in the same place, catching her breath. She was clutching her side with one hand, and with the other, wiping her forehead, as if she was trying to get hair out of her eyes, or sweat off her brow.

“What are you doing? We’re almost there! You can rest once we get there- we’re so close; we can’t stop now.”

GLaDOS didn’t even try to hide the slight plea in her voice as she spoke, eager to get to this settlement and see if they really would have this computer. To see if all this traveling, the struggling was worth it. She had to know; she had waited long enough.

Chell took a deep breath and started walking again, and GLaDOS stayed in place, waiting for the girl to catch up, tapping her foot impatiently. Normally she was the one trailing behind, but now Chell was dragging her feet.  Was she just trying to be cruel?

The core huffed, tapping her foot impatiently as she let Chell lead the way before starting to walk again herself.

However, Chell got about ten steps ahead before stopping once more.

GLaDOS supposed she was glad she hadn’t bothered to go far; it was pointless.

“Fine! You want to make your point that badly? We’ll camp out in the middle of the road if you’re that tired.”

The AI threw her hands up in frustration, spitting out her words and looking for some kind of response from Chell to either feed her annoyance or calm it.

Chell did neither.  She stood in place for a moment, breathing heavily and not turning back to look at GLaDOS.  She brought her hand up, presumably to wipe at her forehead once more. But instead, she seemed to be gripping it, like she had a headache of some kind.

Somewhat confused, GLaDOS took a step forward to approach the woman, feeling the flame of anger in her chest flicker a little as a fog of unease- and what might’ve been concern- slowly began hanging over her.

She was about to say something, to change her tone and seriously ask if it’d be better if they just pulled off to the side and set up the tent to sleep for the night, when suddenly, her voice died in her throat.

She watched, stunned, as in one, sudden moment that somehow felt like an eternity…

Chell collapsed, and silently crumpled to the ground.

Chapter Text

“CHELL!”

The name was pulled from GLaDOS’s lips without a second thought or hesitation.

An ice-cold panic gripped her chest as she watched the former test subject fall, digging freezing talons into her heart as Chell hit the ground and didn’t get up.

She moved as if her limbs weren’t under her own control. Something pulled her forward without her command, throwing her body into a lunging motion, getting to the human’s side in an instant.  She wasn’t sure if she kneeled down or simply fell to her knees in a moment of panic.  Her heart was racing, pounding in her chest like it was ready to explode, and her head felt like it was ringing again, as if she was surrounded by white noise.

“What are you doing, you lunatic?! You better not die on me now, not after I’ve tried to kill you myself multiple times and failed!

Chell’s form didn’t move to get back up, but her chest went up and down with heavy breaths. She was still alive, but unconscious.

Even so, that did little to ease GLaDOS’s mind. The woman had collapsed in the middle of the road, and that wasn’t exactly normal.

She grabbed Chell and moved her so that she was lying on her back, studying her face for some indication of what was wrong with her.

As the core did this, a voice in the back of her mind questioned why. Why was she doing this? Sure, she needed Chell for the journey back to Aperture, she had established that in her mind a long time ago.  No, what she wanted to know was why she was letting her heart race and her hands shake. Why she felt so afraid- not for herself, but for Chell.  She was worried about the human, and she knew that wasn’t right.  She wasn’t supposed to worry. She wasn’t supposed to care. She ought to view this as little more than an inconvenience, something to be fixed calmly and quickly. Not something that formed a lump in her throat and made it difficult to speak.

And yet, here she was.

There were no new injuries visible on Chell’s body, and there didn’t seem to be any blood loss. The cause of her sudden unconsciousness, though, wasn’t too difficult to find.

GLaDOS’s next reaction was to feel the woman’s forehead, since she had been clutching it so much.  She nearly jerked her hand back in surprise the moment she touched it. The skin was burning hot, and slick with a sheen of sweat.  A fever? So suddenly?  GLaDOS supposed it was possible; she had no idea what illnesses were common on the surface nowadays, and any of them could certainly be fast acting.

Still, something nagged at GLaDOS’s mind.  Chell had been fine this morning, or… had she?  She hadn’t been burning to the touch or staggering around like a walking corpse. But she had been acting weird.

With shaking hands, GLaDOS moved her touch away from the human’s forehead, hovering for a moment before grabbing her jacket and shirt the underneath, carefully pulling them both up enough to reveal the woman’s bandages.  She had been gripping this wound for most of the day, and the AI had a sinking feeling it was related to the sudden fever.

The bandages were loosely wrapped and slightly dirty, a mixture of brown and red, and fraying at the edges.  Chell only had so many supplies, and wasn’t able to change her bandages frequently, lest she run out- a dangerous and unsanitary habit, GLaDOS noted.

With little hesitation, she unraveled them, curious to inspect the wound she hadn’t actually seen since the day Chell got it.

GLaDOS recoiled upon seeing it, a gag reflex suddenly jumping up in her throat, which she struggled to ignore.

The skin around the wound was red and inflamed, and the bite itself was crusted and oozing a yellowish green color, as well as still looking somewhat bloody, and not healed in the slightest.

It was infected. Of course it was.  GLaDOS nearly threw her hand against her own forehead with how foolish she felt.  She should’ve known. She should’ve thought of this the moment Chell was bitten.  She was attacked by a wild, partly mutated animal, with god knows what in its saliva.  And instead of properly sanitizing the wound, Chell had simply wiped it off with a wet rag.  She didn’t even have soap to wash it off with. What was she expecting to happen-

She knew.

This thought suddenly echoed in the core’s mind, breaking through the buzz of panic as clear as a ringing bell.  Chell knew, and she didn’t tell GLaDOS.  That was why she’d been acting strange. Why she’d suddenly thought it was important to make sure that GLaDOS could protect herself.

GLaDOS reckoned she had the patience of a saint for being able to stop herself from slapping Chell’s unconscious body in the face.

“You… you lunatic ! You didn’t think to let me know your wound was infected?! You didn’t think that might be something important? Did you think your body would just wait for you to get to the settlement so you could pass out there? Or were you expecting me to drag you?!”

GLaDOS’s voice was shrill with emotions she didn’t want to label, but she couldn’t bring herself to care. Nor could she care that she was talking to an unconscious body.  She’d have plenty of choice words for the human when she woke up- and she was going to wake up, GLaDOS was not letting this mute die from an infected wound of all things- but for now, GLaDOS needed to vent her frustrations at something.

After all this, after traveling together for nearly a month, Chell still didn’t trust GLaDOS enough to let her know that her injury was infected. She pretended she trusted the core enough to teach her how to protect herself, but only because she didn’t want to feel guilty about breaking her promise to keep GLaDOS safe.  Did she seriously hold no trust in her? Not even the smallest amount?

For some reason, that thought caused a burning feeling in her chest, one that she wanted to label as anger, but knew was more complex.  She felt… hurt.  Was it because she was now suddenly aware of the bits of trust she had given to Chell, and felt scorned by the idea that she was completely alone in that sentiment?   She could not say for certain, but the twinge in her heart gave her a good indication.

Still, she knew she couldn’t sit here all night. Chell was only looking worse by the minute, with her breathing getting more and more shallow and her fever no doubt staying the same, if not getting higher. If they stayed here, the chances of Chell miraculously getting better were basically nonexistent.

GLaDOS had a fairly good understanding of medical procedures, but there was little she could do with no supplies. She had nothing she could treat Chell with, and it wasn’t like she’d be able to just find antibiotics sitting around in the wild.

From what Chell had told her, this settlement had medical supplies, and ‘professionals.’ GLaDOS was hesitant to call them that, as she expected their knowledge to be primitive compared to what Aperture had, but so long as they knew something about medical science, she supposed they were a cut above the raiders and wanderers on the surface.

If they had the supplies, Chell could be treated. The settlement was in sight, its silhouette standing stark against the fading light of the sky. Unfortunately, Chell wouldn’t be walking on her own anytime soon. That meant GLaDOS was going to have to move her.

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, hissing under her breath.  This was going to be impossible. She’d be dragging the former test subject the whole way.  This body, while it had gained muscle definition on the legs from constant use, had very little upper body strength. She couldn’t exactly carry Chell around bridal style, and any sort of piggybacking would be highly unlikely.

With a groan, she hastily rewrapped Chell’s wound and grabbed the woman’s arm, pulling her limp body up into a somewhat upright position, before trying to get Chell’s arm over her shoulders and standing up, bringing her companion with her.  She struggled with effort and felt her legs shake, but managed to stand, Chell’s body half-draped against her own but technically propped up.

The combined weight of both bags and Chell’s body weren’t easy on GLaDOS’s back, as she gritted her teeth in a vain attempt to stay focused.  This would be a lot easier if Chell was even half conscious, so that maybe she could keep her feet on the ground and do something akin to walking, instead of being dragged by GLaDOS. But, unfortunately for the core, that wasn’t the case.

So with that, GLaDOS walked down the road towards the settlement- or rather, she started to, but stopped after about five paces, already out of breath.

“I haven’t commented on your weight lately… but I think now is a good time to mention that you should lighten up.  At least when you needed to carry me around, I weighed practically nothing.”

GLaDOS panted this out, not expecting a response. Chell really wasn’t fat, she was fairly lean, but she was also a full-grown adult woman who was slightly taller than average. That happened to add up to a whole lot more than the weight of a single potato battery. Chell owed her for this, though how she’d repay the core, GLaDOS wasn’t sure of yet.  She’d no doubt figure something out on the walk. After all, she had the sinking feeling it would take a lot longer than expected.

The sun had fully set and the moon was already rising into the sky, and GLaDOS still felt no closer to the settlement. She had been walking, dragging both herself and Chell forward, but seemingly to no avail. Perhaps her eyes deceived her, but it felt as if the buildings were somehow getting further and further away with every step she took towards them, like the universe itself was somehow taunting her.

She had to stop for breaks every five minutes or so, but she kept going. She briefly wondered if it would be best to simply lie low for the night and try in the morning, but the sound of Chell’s labored breathing next to her ear was a strong reminder of why that could be a bad idea. She had no idea how much worse the woman’s condition would get, and while there was the chance it would stay stable, she didn’t want to risk it.  She couldn’t have Chell die on her; she just couldn’t.

So the core pressed on, huffing and struggling the whole way.  Her eyes were fixed on the road, looking at her feet as she dragged them forward. She counted the steps, trying to keep a rhythm of some kind. Something to focus on, to use as a motivator. She would move her right foot, breathe in, move her left foot, breathe out. Repeat over and over until either they got there, or she collapsed as well.

GLaDOS knew she ought to be more alert, but she was finding it difficult.  She was horribly sore, and felt like she could fall over at any minute and start napping on the cracked and crumbling pavement. She couldn’t focus on much, only on the thought ‘keep moving.’  If she stopped, her exhaustion would fully catch up with her. If she kept moving, then maybe…

Who was she kidding? GLaDOS stopped, using one hand to keep Chell from slumping over, and the other to hold her stomach as she wheezed for breath, her throat dry and her head dizzy.   She stared at the ground and found herself having to blink back the beginnings of tears.  

She chastised herself for letting this human brain be so emotional, allowing itself to cave in to frustration, but how could she help it? In her chassis, she could just ignore those feelings- or better yet, she wouldn’t have them in the first place, as she could’ve solved this problem far better than this useless human shell of a body ever could.

They were getting nowhere. It felt pointless to even bother. She was tired, angry, and worst of all, she was scared. It was dark, and with Chell out of action, she felt positively alone. Sure, she had the handgun Chell gave her, and she could easily take Chell’s other weapons off her body, but then what? She wasn’t exactly a very good shot, so if something came to attack them now, it was unlikely that they’d both go without injury.

GLaDOS fought this human body’s urge to just fall to its knees, feeling her legs tremble under the effort it took to remain standing. If they stopped, they could be in danger, but continuing forward seemed like such an impossibility.  Despite being the less rational option, the idea of simply lying down and curling up here seemed oddly appealing to the core. It made less sense, but maybe it would just be easier to-


“OY! YOU THERE!”

Cutting through the night air almost as loud as a gunshot, a voice called out, causing GLaDOS to suddenly raise her attention upwards, looking forward. About fifty feet away was a huge metal gate that was currently closed.  Walls were connected to it, forming a line of defense… for the settlement.  She could see some figures standing near the entrance, only barely lit up by what appeared to be very dim, flickering streetlights. Guards, perhaps? What did it matter- she didn’t care who they were, she cared about what was behind them.  

With renewed energy, she moved forward once more, her chest heaving with each breath she took.  She knew she’d feel this in the morning, but she was finally here. It was worth it.

She got about twenty feet away from the entrance before one of the guards walked forward, a gun in hand. He wasn’t pointing it at her, which she assumed was a good sign, but he seemed more than ready to use it if he needed to.

“Greenfield’s closed for visitors after sunfall. Security reasons. Unless you have residency here, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until morning- wait, is that a dead body? You better not be one of those raiders. We don’t tolerate that kinda shit here.”

The man raised his gun. Cautiously pointing it at GLaDOS, he moved a few steps forward, while his buddy behind him seemed to tense up as well.

GLaDOS found herself, oddly enough, somewhat offended on Chell’s behalf- she didn’t look that much like a corpse- but that was quickly overshadowed by frustration.

“No, I’m not a raider! And she’s not dead, she’s hurt , and we need to get into this settlement so that she can get help! So either you let us in, or-”

GLaDOS wasn’t sure what she was going to threaten to do if they refused her, as she guessed there were more than just two guards in this whole place, and she’d be easily outnumbered. But the guard cut her off before she even got to placing a threat, no longer pointing his gun at her, and holding his free hand up defensively.

“Whoa, whoa, easy, calm down. If that’s really the case…” He paused, leaning in a little closer to get a good look at Chell, before pulling back with a scowl on his face.   “Yeah, she certainly doesn’t look too good.”

GLaDOS let out a small ‘tch’ upon hearing this. Yeah, no shit. She adjusted her shoulders, trying to keep Chell upright and also to relieve some of the strain on her back.  If this man didn’t stop standing there and staring and let them in soon, she was not afraid to throw Chell at him and hope that the mute’s unconscious body managed to kill him.

The guard looked back at his partner, who seemed to be thinking this all over as well, and gave a stiff nod.

“All right, you can both come in. We’ll have someone come to help you get your friend to our medical center, and one of our doctors can look her over. Follow me- and keep your weapons in your holsters, or we’re gonna have a problem.”

GLaDOS let out a sigh of relief, dragging herself towards the gate, making sure to keep a small distance between herself and the guard in front of her. She didn’t expect any trouble, but she couldn’t help but be wary of men with assault rifles.

The guard she hadn’t spoken to mumbled something into a radio, and shortly afterwards, the large gate creaked and groaned as it slowly opened, the sound of rusty, mechanical parts clattering and struggling to operate.  

Despite the shabby construction- compared to Aperture, at least- it did its job, as after a minute or two, the gate had been raised enough for her to get in. The guard gestured her forward, but didn’t follow her in. There were already two new guards on the inside waiting for her, though both of them only had a handgun each, safely holstered at their sides.

The taller of the two, a bored-looking older woman with sandy blonde hair, approached GLaDOS first, her gaze slowly traveling to Chell, then back to GLaDOS’s face.

“Hello Ma’am, we’re here to help assist your friend to the medical center, as they seem… currently unable. We ask that you carry all of your belongings yourself, and follow me, as the doctor will need to ask you some questions about your friend, since they are incapable of answering.”

She spoke in a slow drawl, in a way that made GLaDOS wonder if she had just been woken from sleep, or if she was simply wishing she was anywhere but here. Regardless, she gestured to her partner, a young man with messy brown hair who looked much more lively. They both looked at GLaDOS, expecting her to hand Chell over.

She stared at the two of them for a moment, before slowly shifting Chell off her shoulder so that the two guards could carry her in a more comfortable fashion.  GLaDOS had taken Chell’s bag as well as her rifle in this process, and now felt rather strange strapping all of it on. If her heart hadn’t still been pounding and her brain scattered, she might’ve scoffed at what she looked like. Caroline’s body, relatively small in stature and wearing a nice-looking, albeit slightly dirty, dress, suddenly decked head to toe with weapons and large travel bags.

Still, she was given little time to dwell on that thought, as the guards started moving and GLaDOS picked up her pace to follow them. While they had started in what looked like a relatively grand entrance, the path they took seemed to be some kind of back alley, as they turned away from the main path in the settlement and were now walking behind most of the buildings. From the occasional guard walking past them, GLaDOS could only assume this was a path meant for guards to use to get to different parts of the area without having to deal with large crowds of people during the day.

GLaDOS had to admit, she was a little disappointed.  She was curious to see what human civilization looked like now, so that she’d be able to compare it with her current information when she returned to Aperture. It would be a fascinating thing to study.  However, that could wait.  She had the feeling that they would be spending more than one day here, so she’d have to look around the main settlement when she got the chance.

They walked for about ten minutes in near complete silence. It was only broken once, by the shorter guard, who spoke into a radio, alerting the medical center of their arrival. Other than that, neither human made an attempt to talk to GLaDOS, and GLaDOS returned the favor.  She wasn’t keen on the idea of small talk with humans, not when she had so much on her mind. So many more important things. Things like finding that computer, getting home to Aperture, and Chell’s health.

Thankfully, it didn’t take long to reach their destination. They stopped outside of a large-one story building that was made of brick, and covered in a partly chipping white paint. There were signs reading ‘Medical Care’ on the backside of the building, and, as she saw when they moved around to the front entrance, on the doors as well.  Said doors were locked, and it took the older guard a moment to fumble in her pocket for a ring of keys with her free hand, and search for the correct one before practically kicking the door open, and gesturing for GLaDOS to go first.  Reluctantly, she did.

To her surprise, this looked like an older building, one that might’ve been standing before the war, unlike some of the shanty houses she had glanced at on the way here, which had clearly been built alongside the community.

In front of her was a run-down looking desk with no one at it. Against the wall there were chairs, though they almost all looked mismatched.  The room wasn’t lit very well either, the only light being a lamp on the desk without a shade and the faint glow of lights somewhere down the hall to the right of the reception desk.

She took a step forward, trying to crane her neck to look down the hallway to get a better look, when sudden, fast footsteps echoed from the other end, and she jumped back into place. She looked over to the two guards to see if they looked concerned, but they seemed anything but. The taller of the two was tapping her foot impatiently, and the shorter was adjusting Chell carefully so that he could stand more comfortably.

Soon, the footsteps grew louder, until a figure practically jumped out from around the corner, taking a brisk pace towards the guards and Chell.

“Peter, is this the woman you mentioned? How long has she been unconscious? Has she moved at all? Any struggles with breathing?”

There was suddenly a flurry of questions coming from the mouth of the figure, who had stopped in front of all of them, allowing GLaDOS to get a good look at their appearance. It was another woman, younger than the tall guard, but older than the shorter one. GLaDOS guessed she might be in her early- to mid-thirties. She had black hair tied back into a messy bun, with a few strands hanging in front of her face, causing her to hastily brush them back. Her face was dotted with freckles and etched with worry. She had hazel eyes, and beneath them sat dark circles that told stories of many sleepless nights. A wrinkled white lab coat looked as if it had been thrown on last minute, and beneath that she wore a blue turtleneck sweater and dark grey pants.

Almost in contrast to her air of nervousness, the taller guard spoke up, her voice in just as much of a drawl as it had been earlier, clearly not showing much urgency.

“Natasha, relax. She’s been unconscious this whole time, and you can direct any other questions at her friend here. Just tell me where to bring this one so Peter and I can get back. We were supposed to get off five minutes ago.”

The woman with the lab coat, Natasha, shot the older woman a dirty look, rolling her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose. “I… All right. We have an open room nearby where you can bring her. Just follow me, and try not to move her around too much.”

With that, she started off back down the hallway, leaving GLaDOS and the others to follow. The core was practically standing there with her mouth open, feeling ignored. She hadn’t even said anything, and they were already being whisked away again. She’d almost forgotten that she didn’t exactly command attention anymore. None of these people knew who she was- what she was. They thought she was just another traveler, not the world’s most powerful supercomputer in an unfortunate situation.

The hallway was lit slightly better than the main room, with lightbulbs placed along the ceiling every couple of feet, most of them working.

“You know, you’re all very lucky I happened to be here late helping clean up. Everyone else went home. If you had radioed fifteen minutes later, I’d be in bed by now.”

Natasha spoke as she walked, briefly turning back and giving the taller guard a somewhat pointed look, as if to one-up the woman’s earlier statement about wanting to be on break.  This earned a snort, but little else.

They soon reached a room with an open door, which Natasha looked into, before walking inside and turning on two different lights- one by the door, and one by what looked like a bed. Well, more accurately, a slightly old-looking mattress on top of a table, with neatly folded sheets and blankets sitting nearby.  Against the wall there were a few chairs and a small cabinet.

“All right. Yvette, Peter, just put her on the bed carefully, and you can leave.”

Natasha pulled one of the sheets out and covered the bed quickly with it before letting the two guards place Chell down, and quickly hurry out of the room, with ‘Peter’ giving Natasha a fake salute and almost dorky-looking grin before bounding down the hall.

And with that, GLaDOS was now alone with this doctor. She crossed her arms over her chest, almost defensively, and waited for the woman to say something.

The doctor’s attention seemed to be focused on Chell, and she seemed eager to look the ex-test subject over, but she spared GLaDOS a quick glance before letting out a small sigh and turning around to properly face her.

“My name is Natasha Grey. I’m one of Greenfield’s doctors, and the one who’s going to be helping you and your friend out. I’d love to make small talk, but I’m afraid it’ll have to wait. Your friend doesn’t look good, and she’s going to need treatment soon. If you can, please sit on one of those chairs, and answer some of my questions while I work.”

GLaDOS reluctantly nodded, and moved to sit down in one of the least rickety-looking chairs available, keeping a close eye on both Chell and the doctor.

“What is your friend’s name, and do you have any information for me on what you think might be wrong with her?”

Natasha had turned away from GLaDOS at this point, removing Chell’s jacket and placing it aside, before moving to feel her pulse.

“Name? How about ‘idiot who gets her wounds infected and doesn’t tell me? ’”

GLaDOS hissed this out, feeling her earlier anger spring up once more now that she had a moment to sit down and clear her mind a small amount. She might have been relieved to finally be here, and to have gotten Chell to someone who could properly take care of her, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t still angry about this.

This earned a small noise from Natasha’s direction which sounded a lot like a snort.

“Right. Is that a first name, or last name?”

GLaDOS bit the inside of her cheek to keep from saying what was on the tip of her tongue. She was aware that it would be best to be kind to the woman who was possibly going to be keeping Chell alive, but it was incredibly difficult to do so.

“Her name is Chell, all right? First name, that’s it. She was bitten by a large reptile a couple days ago, and passed out a little over an hour ago when we were walking here. She wasn’t able to clean the wound when she got it, now it’s infected, and she has a fever. I only found out about the latter recently, because she didn’t think to tell me.”

She said this through gritted teeth, struggling to keep composure. GLaDOS knew that she had to behave here. If she messed this up, she could lose her only chance at getting back into her body. She needed to be, at the very least, civil with the humans here.  But she was tired, sore, and not in the mood to deal with questions.

Thankfully, that seemed to be enough for the doctor, who simply nodded and continued with her examination, removing Chell’s shirt and her dirty bandages. She made a small noise and muttered something under her breath, but GLaDOS couldn’t make out what it was.  She watched as the woman went from the cabinet and back multiple times, bringing various bottles out and placing them on the table. The labels were impossible for GLaDOS to read at a distance, but she had a guess they were a mix of antibiotics, pain medicine, and rubbing alcohol.

Natasha worked mostly in silence, though she’d occasionally say something under her breath to herself as she worked. She seemed to be focused intently on what she was doing, despite the late hour. GLaDOS could admit that she was fairly diligent and dedicated to her work, for a human.

She worked fast, but even at a steady pace, it took quite some time before she was finished. GLaDOS had been surprised, but thankful, to see a clock on the wall. It allowed her to keep track of just how much time had passed, unlike how it had been on the road, where everything was just a vague guess based on where the sun was.

Right now it was around a quarter past one in the morning, and GLaDOS was falling asleep in her chair.  She forced her eyelids to stay open, shaking herself awake every time she felt herself drifting, but that was getting harder and harder to do. She would’ve fallen asleep completely if Natasha hadn’t finally turned around  and cleared her throat as GLaDOS’s head was slowly sinking into her hand.  GLaDOS suddenly sat upright, blinking heavily to clear the sleep from her eyes.

“Sorry to wake you. I just wanted to tell you that I’ve done what I can for Chell right now. She’s best off staying here for tonight, and possibly longer, depending on how she looks in the morning. Her wound has been treated as best I can. Now it only needs time and to be kept clean. As for her fever, it should hopefully go down with time. My guess is that her passing out was from lack of sleep combined with the fever, not just the fever itself.  Now, since she’s staying here overnight, that means I will be too. I’ll be staying in the room across from this one, if you need anything. You are free to leave and figure out sleeping arrangements in Greenfield, or, since it’s quite late, you can just stay here. There are extra blankets on the bed. If Chell wakes up and needs something, come get me. If she wakes up and seems fine, give her water. She’s likely very thirsty, and she needs to stay hydrated.”

It took a moment for GLaDOS’s half-awake brain to process all of that, and she found herself once more longing for the near instant processing power of her software in her chassis. Still, after a moment or two, she gathered what the woman was saying.  Chell was… fine.  She hadn’t said that Chell was doing great, but she wasn’t dying. That helped raise GLaDOS’s spirits, though not by much.

“Good. I’ll be content staying here,” she answered curtly, standing and stretching before realizing something. She bit her lip before turning back to Natasha, who was halfway out the door. “...Thank you for helping her, doctor.”

The words felt strange off her lips, and she resisted the urge to pull a face. She knew it would be polite to thank the woman that might’ve just saved Chell’s life, but that didn’t change how very odd it was for GLaDOS to be thanking someone. Thanking Chell was something she had done before, though not often. At least that had felt slightly more natural, she supposed. This was a forced move, as she subjected herself to momentarily playing a human puppet. It would be in her best interests to fake politeness for long enough to get what she wanted and needed out of these people. Once she was back in her body, she could curse them all to android hell if she needed to.

However, despite how uncomfortable the core was with the action, her words earned a small smile from the doctor, who waved her comment off with a statement of ‘just doing my job’ before disappearing into the hallway and closing the door behind her, leaving GLaDOS completely alone with Chell’s sleeping body.

She walked over to the bed to grab some blankets, but paused and looked at the former test subject. Her shirt and jacket were placed aside, leaving Chell’s torso covered only by new, clean bandages, and a sports bra keeping her chest covered.  Her face looked far more relaxed than it had earlier this evening, as if she had fallen into a more peaceful rest.  Her forehead had a wet cloth carefully placed on top, presumably to try to keep her fever down. Still, the building wasn’t exactly toasty, so without thinking, GLaDOS carefully pulled the blanket on the bed up, making sure that Chell was covered.  She paused for a moment, questioning herself and her sudden action.  

But… it was too late to care. It was cold; she was simply keeping her traveling companion from further harm.  That was all.

With one last passing glance at Chell, GLaDOS returned to her chair, and did her best to get comfortable, draping the spare blanket around her body and finding herself falling asleep the moment she closed her eyes.

They were finally here.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS had been here before. An oppressive, crushing darkness. A nothingness that had become almost familiar, after visiting it every night. She was suspended in place, feeling as if the chains that held her were white hot, and every attempt she made to struggle only dug them in further.  

Each night it was the same, but different. She could never move or see, but what she heard and felt differed from night to night. Sometimes, it would be eerily silent, and other times, her head would be filled with indistinct yelling. Something was screaming at her, but no words could ever be made out. It simply rang in her ears, tearing at her mind like nails on a chalkboard.

Tonight, she could hear nothing. Not her own breathing or heart beating, and certainly not the screams she wished to let free from where they were caged in her throat. She was forced to hear nothing, and focus only on the hurt.

It pressed down on her, like she was slowly being crushed under an unseen amount of weight on her shoulders, causing her back to ache with sharp pains and her bones to feel as if they were about to crack under the pressure. Her body was overcome with the need to gasp for air, but it felt as if she were underwater, and upon her attempts to breathe, the darkness seeped into her lungs like thick ink.

She wanted to thrash in place, her newfound instincts urging her to fight for air as it was taken away, but she didn’t move an inch.  Her head grew light and dizzy, and she felt herself slipping until-


GLaDOS’s eyes snapped open, shaken from her dream just before she fully slipped off that invisible ledge. She did not know what would happen if she ever allowed herself to fall, but she did not want to find out.

The crushing pain on her spine was mostly gone, though the cause of the dramatization in her dream became suddenly clear. She had fallen asleep sitting up, in an old, rickety wooden chair, and the amount of weight she had been trying to drag to the settlement last night didn’t help the soreness.

Her muscles cried in protest, having been worked far more than they were used to the night before.  She was certain that she had pulled something in at least three different places, and everything else seemed to throb with a general, resonating pain.

A yawn forced its way through her mouth, and she squeezed her eyes shut as she sat up straight and stretched as best she could, trying to relieve some of the remaining tension in her muscles. A few joints cracked uncomfortably, and she let out a low hiss.

When she opened her eyes again, she was properly greeted by the sight of the room she had fallen asleep in the night before, this time no longer only lit by flickering lights, but instead, bathed in the glow of the late morning.


Sunlight poured in through a dusty window beside the bed, and a quick glance to the clock on the wall told her that it was well past the time she and Chell normally woke up.

Chell.

As the name echoed through her head, GLaDOS turned her gaze to the bed, expecting to see the still-sleeping form of the former test subject.  Instead, she noticed that the woman appeared to be wide awake, propped up into a partial sitting position with a few pillows. She was staring out the open window, seemingly deep in thought.  Her face was not etched with pain, though she did not look particularly relaxed either. Even from a distance, GLaDOS could see that her skin looked flushed, and strands of her hair stuck to her forehead with sweat.  She looked better, but not good.

For a moment, a twinge of relief flashed in GLaDOS’s mind, seeing her travelling companion actually conscious. That relief was near-instantly crushed, however, replaced by a stab of fury twisting inside her gut as she remembered the events that had brought them to this point.

Abruptly, she stood up, pushing the bags and weapons that she had kept close to the side. She crossed the room in two aggressive strides, the sudden sound of her shoes against the tile floor being enough to get Chell to turn her head and face GLaDOS, her expression momentarily confused, until she locked eyes with the core.

The human’s expression shifted into an expression GLaDOS could only liken to something like pity. That did little to calm the core’s anger.

YOU! 

 

She spat the word out, her lips pulled back in a furious snarl.  She stood right next to the bed, practically hovering over it. GLaDOS only wished Chell was wearing her jacket, so she could grab it by the collar in the hopes of choking her.

Chell leaned back a little upon hearing GLaDOS, though she didn’t seem shaken- as if she’d expected something like this as a reaction.

“What the fuck were you thinking?! You brain damaged lunatic! What made you think any of what you did yesterday was a good idea?”

Well, that earned a reaction from Chell, though not due to the intensity of GLaDOS’s tone, but rather her sailor’s mouth. Her eyes widened a little, and she blinked, stunned. But of course, she said nothing.

This did little to stop GLaDOS.

“You knew that wound was infected! You were acting weird all day because you knew , and you wouldn’t tell me?! You didn’t think I’d want to know why my travelling companion was going to collapse in the middle of the road? You didn’t think that would’ve been helpful knowledge?!”

GLaDOS’s voice quickly raised, almost to a shout, but she couldn’t be bothered to lower it. She didn’t care if the whole of Greenfield heard her; she was prepared to give Chell a piece of her mind.

Chell simply sat there as GLaDOS yelled, her expression hard to read. GLaDOS couldn’t tell if she was being ignored or if Chell was simply forming a response in her head. This reminded GLaDOS of the girl’s refusal to speak, and so she whipped back around, rifling through their bags until she found a piece of paper and Chell’s pencil. Both items were thrust into the human’s hands without a hint of gentleness, and GLaDOS glowered down at Chell as she spoke again.

“Go ahead. I want to see you try and explain yourself.”

These words came out quieter than the last, a low, seething hiss chilled with a now icy fury. She forced herself to hold her composure, not for the sake of calming down, but instead, to keep any unneeded emotions from slipping into her words.

She didn’t need to think about or act upon the tiny stabs of a hollow hurt in her gut. She only needed the anger that sparked up because of it.  The underlying reason for anger could be ignored, so long as the fury burned just as bright.

Chell’s hand moved slowly across the page, either due to exhaustion or a careful choice of words; GLaDOS could not say for certain.  She was about ready to snap at Chell to hurry up, but Chell turned her paper around before she could.

‘I thought it would be for the best. There was nothing you could’ve done, I didn’t need you to panic.’

If that had been meant to calm GLaDOS down, it did quite the opposite. It fanned the flames, and she felt her nostrils flare as she attempted to prepare the most intelligent variation of saying ‘you’re out of your damn mind.’

“Yes, I could’ve! We didn’t have medical supplies, I’ll give you that. But if you’d told me, I would’ve made sure you got more sleep, took breaks, and stayed hydrated! It wouldn’t have fixed the problem, but maybe you would’ve been able to hold out for a bit longer, instead of making me drag you the rest of the way here!”

Surely, surely Chell could see she was being ridiculous.  She couldn’t genuinely think what she did was justified. It was dangerous, stupid, and… downright frightening, in the moment.  GLaDOS avoided letting her mind wander too far in that direction, but she couldn’t help but be reminded of the terror that had shot through her heart when she watched Chell fall.  How everything in her world stopped for the moment before she hit the ground.  How she was blinking back tears as she struggled to get them both here.  They both could’ve died out there. And that was more than enough to strike fear into GLaDOS.  She didn’t know what would happen if she died in this body, and frankly, she didn’t want to find out.

But somehow, despite all that, Chell stared at her with an expression that clearly stated she felt that she had written the most obvious thing down on the paper, and GLaDOS was the crazy one. Her eyes seemed to shift, changing from what had been a relatively relaxed gaze- no doubt somehow expecting that GLaDOS wasn’t going to make a big deal out of this- to a more guarded one. She looked… defensive.

“No. Don’t you dare look at me like that and pretend like you were in the right. You couldn’t be bothered to give up just a scrap of trust? Did you think if I knew, I was going to try and finish you off? Do you expect me to turn on you? After all the shit I’ve gone through to get here, just so I can get back in my body, you seriously still think I’m out to get you? Is that it?!”

She was definitely shouting now. GLaDOS felt her voice crack on certain words. She knew her face was no doubt red with anger, and noticed the sharp sting of tears at the back of her eyes.  She refused to let them fall.  She was furious, and this body wanted to reflect that.  Yet what this human form wanted to show wasn’t just blind fury, it was genuinely upset.  GLaDOS could feel a lump in her throat and a tightening in her chest.  She had never experienced this before.

She’d certainly gotten angry before, but it had never felt like this.  In her chassis, she could be as cold as ice with her anger, or as loud and violent as she wanted. She never needed to show any signs of it bothering her. Anger was anger, and so long as she struck fear into the heart of whoever she was shouting at, it didn’t really matter where that anger came from. No human could really tell the difference.

Now though, GLaDOS wasn’t so sure.  She knew that this body, this traitorous form, was giving her away, at least in part.

And so she fought it.  She fought to keep a snarl on her face, and her fists clenched at her sides. She stared Chell in the eye, hoping to see something, anything that would soothe her anger. For Chell to admit she was wrong, ask for forgiveness for her idiotic behavior.

She didn’t. Or maybe she just didn’t get the chance.  Chell hardly had the time to move her hand to her pencil before the door was suddenly thrown open, and GLaDOS nearly jumped, whipping her head around to see who this intruder was, instinctually preparing a scathing comment for the moment she saw them.

“What on earth is going on here?! I heard shouting and I assumed the worst.”

The doctor from the night before, Natasha. She stood in the doorframe, her eyes holding deep exhaustion, but also wide with concern.  She looked as if she had expected to walk in on a murder taking place. And in all truthfulness, GLaDOS was quite ready to make that a reality.

Natasha crossed the room in a few quick strides, making her way over to the bed before GLaDOS could so much as open her mouth.  She looked between Chell and GLaDOS, seemingly waiting for some kind of explanation.

“I’m terribly sorry if I woke you, but I believe I’m quite justified in chewing out this lunatic for her idiocy.”

GLaDOS didn’t care to stop the sarcasm that dripped from each word out of her mouth, anger overriding logic. She shot the doctor a harsh glare, longing to see her cower beneath it.

No such thing happened. Any sane human ought to be afraid of GLaDOS, the world’s most powerful, and dangerous AI. But they weren’t afraid of the human woman she appeared to be.

“I don’t know what went down between you two, but I’d suggest you wait to discuss it! I’d be a very poor doctor indeed if I let you stand here and yell at one of my patients. You need to calm down, or I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

GLaDOS gawked. She was stunned, albeit briefly, into silence. She had half a mind to grab this woman by the neck and-

She took a deep breath. No. She needed this place. It wouldn’t do her any good to get kicked out, or worse, shot at.  She needed to get that computer, and she couldn’t risk her chances.

GLaDOS bit her tongue, fighting down the rage in her chest, which roared like an angered beast at being ignored.  It clawed at her throat, urging to be listened to and obeyed.  But she forced her lips into a thin line and held it back.  She wasn’t a human; she could control her emotions. They did not rule her.

Bitterly, she stepped back, letting Natasha approach Chell to give the former test subject a check-up.  Reluctantly, GLaDOS sat back down, hoping that if she glared at the back of this woman’s head long enough, she could burn a hole in it.  Unfortunately, that was not the case, despite her attempt lasting upwards of fifteen minutes.

She waited and stewed in her anger, feeling the blaze begin to simmer down into a deep, irritating, slow-burning flame in her stomach. She gripped the fabric of her clothes, tightening and untightening her fists in a vain attempt to release the growing pressure she felt on her chest.


She was so lost in her head that she almost didn’t hear when the doctor spoke again, only catching the second half of her sentence.

“-- and you’d be best off staying here for a couple days. I don’t want that fever getting worse because you ran off too early.”

Natasha stepped back, having just finished changing Chell’s bandages, and quickly disposing of the old ones in a nearby trash can.  GLaDOS hadn’t been paying attention, but she assumed the woman had cleaned Chell’s injury again, and possibly given her more painkillers.  

GLaDOS held back a snort of annoyance. If you asked her, she would’ve told the doctor to let Chell deal with the pain. Perhaps it would teach her a lesson.  But for now, GLaDOS decided to keep that thought to herself. However she couldn’t keep herself from speaking up about what she had caught of the woman’s sentence.

“You said she’ll be stuck here for a couple days? Bedridden?”

GLaDOS’s tone must’ve sounded more disappointed than angry, as Natasha turned around and gave her a sort of pitying smile, apparently forgiving or dismissing GLaDOS’s earlier sarcasm in favor of what GLaDOS could only assume was some form of professionalism. Or perhaps she was just naive and believed that GLaDOS was a person worthy of pity. Many humans would beg to differ.

“At least. If she moves around, it’ll only take longer. Besides-”

The woman stopped mid-sentence, and GLaDOS watched her brows furrow with confusion for a moment. She eyed GLaDOS curiously, as if she had noticed something that she hadn’t before. For a very brief, irrational second, GLaDOS wondered if Natasha had somehow discovered the core’s less than human roots.

“My pardon, but I don’t believe I ever got your name. Last night wasn’t the best time for pleasantries, admittedly, but I haven’t completely forgotten my manners.”

For a moment, the anger in GLaDOS’s chest was replaced with confusion, as she watched Natasha hold her hand out to her, offering to shake it. Why did this woman care who she was? GLaDOS wanted to be in and out of this place as soon as possible, and with as little human contact as possible.  She had no interest in meaningless exchanges.

But, despite that, she answered.

“My name is-”


Her name is Caroline.”

A voice like a hoarse whisper answered the question, not belonging to GLaDOS or this doctor. It was an alien sound, gruff and raspy, and seemed to belong to a stranger.

Only it wasn’t a stranger. The name it had given ought to only be known by one person besides GLaDOS herself. And despite everything in her head telling her that this couldn’t be right, GLaDOS knew what she’d heard.

Chell had spoken, and GLaDOS’s heart all but stopped.

The human was staring at Natasha, not sparing even a passing glance at GLaDOS.  In fact, it almost looked like she was pretending the core wasn’t there. Her face was unreadable, a blank slate.

How very ironic it was, GLaDOS thought. The mute could speak, and GLaDOS took her place, her own voice having died in her throat. She simply let her mouth hang open, without a single sound escaping it.  She couldn’t even question, let alone correct, this complete inaccuracy, as the doctor nodded, accepting it easily.

That was her name, not GLaDOS’s.  However, that was the last thing on GLaDOS’s mind.  She tried to will herself to say something, anything. But she couldn’t. She only managed to open and close her mouth for a moment before snapping it shut, realizing that her attempts were in vain.

“Well Caroline, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Though, as a doctor I’m obligated to say that I hope I meet as few people as possible, as they only ever come to me unconscious or bleeding.”

The woman chuckled under her breath, and if GLaDOS had actually been paying attention she might’ve questioned if her tone had been bittersweet.  But it went in one ear and out the other.  The world around her felt deadly silent, as she drained out any other noise in an attempt to hear that voice once more. To see her lips move along, as proof of what GLaDOS had sworn was impossible.

But Chell’s mouth was firmly shut. She almost would’ve looked as if nothing had just happened, if she hadn’t been avoiding GLaDOS’s gaze so intently. She knew what she had just done, and was acknowledging it, even if it was unintentionally.

The sudden static of a radio cut through the air, which Natasha hastily pulled out of her lab coat’s pocket.

“Apologies, this is probably Yvette and Peter bringing someone else in.  I’m going to have to go, but I’ll be back tonight to check up on Chell. Caroline, you’re allowed to leave and wander Greenfield, or you can stay here with your friend.  If you need something, I shouldn’t be far.”

And in an instant, Natasha was out the door and halfway down the hallway, the sound of her footsteps gradually getting softer until they were out of earshot, and GLaDOS felt the silence settle in. This time however, it felt thick and heavy. It was deafening.

“You… You can speak.”

GLaDOS wasn’t sure just how long they both sat in silence before she forced herself to break it. Her own words came out in an almost awed whisper, as if she had only just now fully processed what this meant.  Chell could speak. She was physically capable, and yet… the first words out of her mouth hadn’t been to GLaDOS. They were aimed at the doctor.

A woman who had held her silence for so long broke it for the sake of someone that she’d known for less than a day.  Yet in the time they had spent together, inside and out of Aperture, she hadn’t made a single peep in GLaDOS’s direction.

“You can speak! Why hold your tongue now? I already know that you can!”

GLaDOS stood again, though she didn’t approach Chell.  She stared at her, willing the former test subject to meet her gaze, instead of adamantly staring at the opposite wall. She needed to find some truth in her eyes. She needed to see something, some kind of answer in those steely orbs.


Slowly, Chell turned her head. Silver eyes met golden-brown ones, and they held her gaze with matched intensity. But with them, no verbal answer was given.

For a moment, GLaDOS waited, expecting something from the woman. A brief answer, maybe. But something. Why play cat and mouse? She wasn’t fooling GLaDOS, so what was her game?

The anger from before was quickly rekindled in her chest, and GLaDOS felt another stab of what felt like betrayal.  


Chell truly didn’t trust her. She didn’t trust her enough to let her know when something was wrong, and she didn’t even trust her enough to speak to her.

It didn’t take long before GLaDOS realized what she had been doing this whole time- putting her trust in Chell, even if only in the smallest of ways. She had come to trust Chell to keep her safe, to make sure she was fed, to help get the computer that would put GLaDOS back in the body she belonged in.  She was giving her trust to someone who couldn’t- or wouldn’t- do the same in return.

What a fool she was.

“...Why? Why after all this? Do you think this is all some elaborate ruse? Do you genuinely think I risked my life to save your hide just so I could kill you myself?”

GLaDOS didn’t raise her voice this time. She kept it as level as she could, only feeling it waver a few times despite her best efforts.

Chell’s expression shifted as she listened to GLaDOS speak. It was quick, but the core caught it- a haunted look passed through the woman’s eyes, and her lips twitched downwards into an old but familiar scowl. A look of determination… and defiance.

It was gone in the time it took the core to blink, but she knew that face. The face worn by Chell, the test subject, not the free woman. A shielded, protected expression. It didn’t need to be accompanied by words in order to speak volumes.

“...So that’s how it is.”

GLaDOS took a small step backwards, towards the door. Chell’s expression shifted once more at this, to a look of realization, as GLaDOS could only wonder if she knew what the AI had seen in her.  They both had seen a version of the other’s past self, it seemed.  No matter how warped it was, there were still hints. Things that even time couldn’t erase.

Chell could still look at GLaDOS and see an archenemy. And through that, GLaDOS could see a test subject. A test subject who would trust a nest of vipers before she trusted GLaDOS.

Good.

GLaDOS turned on her heel, grabbing the door handle and throwing the door open, feeling it slam behind her.

If that was what Chell wanted to see, then GLaDOS wasn’t going to stop her. GLaDOS ought to be feared, hated, and never trusted. It was what she had wanted, wasn’t it?  They would work together until this was all through, but neither one of them would have to put any faith in the other. GLaDOS would get back in her body, only accepting Chell’s help because she needed it, and soon, they’d be rid of each other for good.

And as she walked down the hallway of the medical center with a throbbing pain in her chest and a stinging of tears in the corners of her eyes, GLaDOS reckoned she was happy they had had this discussion sooner rather than later.  She wouldn’t make the same mistakes again.

Chapter Text

The next two days passed in a haze. GLaDOS hardly kept track of the time, only bothering to sleep when it got dark and eat when she was hungry, but not caring enough to glance at any of the clocks. She didn’t need to. She hadn’t left the medical center.

She had been told multiple times by both Natasha and other various humans who passed through that she was allowed to explore the settlement whenever she pleased, but she hadn’t taken a single step outside.

It wasn’t because of the fact that Chell couldn’t join her- GLaDOS assured herself that she couldn’t care less about the lunatic joining her in seeing Greenfield. In fact, she hadn’t so much as spoken to the former test subject since their argument two days prior. She had gotten occasional updates on her health by listening in on Natasha when she walked by the room, but for the most part, she ignored them.

Instead, her reason for staying in place was… somewhat embarrassing, when she thought about it.

She was loath to admit it, but this place reminded her of Aperture.

On a minor scale, of course; this tiny medical facility was about as impressive as one of Aperture Science’s bathrooms. But something about it still felt familiar. The white walls and floors, though dusty and cracked. The smell of chemicals and the medical equipment in various empty rooms.

It wasn’t just like Aperture, but GLaDOS found that, despite that, she already felt far more comfortable here than she ever had on the road.

However, that comfort was bittersweet, for as she was reminded of Aperture, she was in turn reminded of just how badly she missed her home.

The journey here had been long, and there’d hardly been a moment she hadn’t wished she was back home in her facility. But now, this was giving her a taste of what she was missing. A glimpse at the life she’d had, making her crave the real thing. Sitting in these rooms and closing her eyes almost let her feel like she was back home, and while the illusion never lasted too long, it was a feeling that became addicting. Never quite enough, but just satisfying enough to keep her in place.

And so she stayed here.  She would wait for Chell to heal, but that was only the excuse she gave. She was very good at staying in one place for long periods of time, and this was no exception.

Unfortunately, GLaDOS’s time was up. It was the third day they’d been here, and she had actually started to make herself comfortable with her surroundings. So, of course, that was when she’d have to leave.

She had snuck into the room Chell was staying in, intending to only get some food from their bags and then get out without having to interact with Chell, and at first, it seemed like that’d be easy. The human noticed her entering, but didn’t make eye contact, and, of course, didn’t say a word.

GLaDOS felt a bitter taste in her mouth and a pang of uncomfortableness in her chest, and she narrowed her eyes, swiftly turning away and focusing on her main task. Get food, get out. She didn’t need to be in here longer than she had to, and the longer she stayed, the heavier the air became with the unspoken tension.

Once she had grabbed her meal, she made a beeline for the door, and reached for the doorknob, only for it to be opened in her face.

She leaned back suddenly, just barely stopping it from hitting her.

Standing in front of her was Natasha, who seemed surprised at seeing her, but quickly shifted her expression to an apologetic one.

“Oh! So sorry Caroline, I didn’t expect to see you in here, but it’s good that you are, I need to talk to both of you. Sit down, please.”

GLaDOS blinked, finding that the address of Caroline was still something that threw her off, even after a couple days of various people calling her such. She would’ve corrected them, but eventually decided against it.  She was still far from happy with any of Chell’s actions as of late, but she did understand why the woman had objected to GLaDOS giving her real name.

While it was unlikely that anyone would question it, it was possible that telling someone that your name is GLaDOS, or ‘Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System,’ could raise suspicion. It was easier to just use a fake name for the short amount of time that they would be staying here.

The core was given little time to dwell on the name, though, as she found herself being practically pushed back into the room as Natasha bustled past her, and over to where Chell was sitting in bed.

GLaDOS didn’t sit as she was asked, but reluctantly agreed to stay and listen to whatever the doctor had to say. Even so, she made sure to turn her body away from Chell as much as possible without looking completely ridiculous.

Natasha looked between the two of them, and a brief spark of curiosity flashed through her eyes. GLaDOS stared back, silently challenging the woman to speak. It was clear the doctor was curious about the two of them, but she wasn’t going to get any answers out of GLaDOS even if she asked.

“I’ll be quick, I don’t want to waste either of your time. Chell, you’ve made miraculous strides in your recovery, and I think you’ll be fine leaving medical care. Your fever is gone, and so long as you keep a close eye on your wound to make sure it heals properly, you should be safe.”

GLaDOS watched Chell out of the corner of her eye, and noted how the woman perked up as she listened, a trace of a smile crossing her lips. She had mostly been in bed these past few days, and for a former test subject, no doubt that was maddening. She was used to constantly moving, so coming to a full stop must’ve been strange.  For a moment, something akin to pity flickered in GLaDOS’s chest.  She squashed that feeling as quickly as possible.

Natasha moved to one of the cabinets, speaking up once more as she rummaged through it, pulling out various items.

“I can’t give much, but I am allowed to give you a small amount of clean bandages for when you need to switch them, and a small bar of soap. These things are hard to come by when you’re out traveling, so you’ll want to use them wisely. If you need more, plenty of merchants sell them, so just take a look around Greenfield and I’m certain you can find something for a good price.”

As she promised, Natasha handed two items to Chell: a small roll of clean bandages, and a (frankly tiny) bar of soap wrapped in paper.  Annoyance sparked in GLaDOS’s chest, and she bit back a scathing comment. Surely the doctor could spare a little more; that was a pitiful amount.

But to her surprise, Chell seemed extremely thankful for the miniscule gift.  She held both items like they were made of gold, and gave the doctor a look of awe and gratitude. To be fair, GLaDOS hadn’t seen Chell in possession of soap once in their entire journey.

So, reluctantly, GLaDOS held her tongue. It was difficult to be thankful for such a seemingly small thing, but that was also very difficult to judge when she didn’t know just how valuable it was.

Chell stood, holding her free hand out to the doctor, and giving it a hearty shake- her way of saying thanks, GLaDOS supposed. But of course, she could just say it, couldn’t she?

GLaDOS’s shoulders tensed, and she felt the slow burning flame in her heart flare up, crackling and hissing angrily. She knew Chell could speak, and the more she thought about that fact, the more it ate away at her. All the chances Chell had, times she could’ve said something and didn’t.

Sure, fine. GLaDOS could accept the girl’s voluntary silence when they were at each other’s throats. Call it an intimidation tactic or just stubbornness, GLaDOS could at least understand that. They had been enemies then. But not once after that had GLaDOS proven herself worthy? After trekking through Old Aperture together? After GLaDOS saved Chell from a space-bound fate? After all the time they had spent on this journey? All the various moments, big and small… None of them were enough, it seemed.

GLaDOS narrowed her eyes, hardly listening to Natasha anymore. She was saying something about how to clean the injury and how to prevent further infection, all while Chell was gathering her things and packing up.  GLaDOS was content to stew in her anger.  She had every right to be angry, and she intended to stay that way.

She only snapped out of it when Natasha called her name- or rather, called Caroline’s name- to grab her attention.

What?

The core snapped as she spoke, whipping her head to the side to face the two humans. The irritation she had been building up lapped at the surface of her mind, threatening to spill over. She harbored each and every scrap of it, holding on to it and refusing to let go. And while that was the easy option, it was far from the smartest one.

Natasha blinked in mild surprise at the tone, but Chell gave no reaction. She was already halfway out the door, only turning back to look at Natasha and see what it was that she had to say to GLaDOS.

“I simply wanted to ask that you make sure Chell doesn’t overwork herself. I’ve already told her what she can and can’t do, but it’s up to you to make sure she follows through, all right? Take care of each other out there; it’s a rough world.”

GLaDOS grumbled under her breath in response. Oh, she’d take care of Chell, all right. Though what she was tempted to do was likely the opposite of what Natasha wanted.

This earned a sort of resigned sigh from the doctor, who pinched the bridge of her nose and looked between the two of them once more before turning for the door again.

“I’ll take that as a yes. And remember, Greenfield Medical Center’s doors are always open to you, should you need our help.”

With that, Natasha gently pushed past Chell and exited into the hallway, leaving GLaDOS alone with Chell.

Silence hung heavy between them, and GLaDOS grabbed her bag off the chair without a word, slinging it over her shoulder.  Chell had already strapped her rifle and knife to her body, but the handgun had been left next to GLaDOS’s bag.

For a moment, the AI held it in her hand, feeling the cool metal against her skin, and the weight it provided. Then, with little hesitation she shoved it towards Chell, her lips pulled back into a snarl.

“I don’t think you want me to have this. I could shoot you in the back.”

She couldn’t help the sneer in her tone, and she could practically feel the hairs on the back of her neck bristling with the upset energy that built inside her.

Chell seemed surprised for a second, grey eyes widening for a moment before narrowing once more as she took the gun from GLaDOS, placing it in her holster without any questions. Her expression was guarded, but for a moment, GLaDOS saw a trace of something that almost looked like disappointment.  However, she was quick to brush it off.  She didn’t have time to dwell; they needed to get moving.

She walked past Chell and into the hallway, taking a deep breath. She let the scent of the place wash over her. That clean, distinct smell. It was likely going to be the last time she’d be in a place like this until they returned to Aperture, and that could be upwards of a month away. She closed her eyes one last time and pretended she was in her facility, just for a moment.  Of course, the sounds of human doctors talking in the various rooms killed that illusion, but it was worth a shot.

With a sigh, she walked into the reception room with Chell following behind, and pushed the two main doors open.

Sunlight streamed in, and a cool breeze hit her face.  She blinked a little, squinting at the sudden shift. The medical center had been lit well enough, but it wasn’t bright.  Today was a clear, autumn afternoon, with the sun’s rays just barely keeping the crisp chill of the season from the air by beaming down brilliantly.

Admittedly, the sun felt somewhat nice on her skin after being inside for the past few days. She blamed that on this human body having adapted to constantly being outdoors, where GLaDOS herself preferred being underground.

But her preference didn’t change her curiosity.  She stepped outside and eagerly looked around, excited to take mental notes of what she saw in this place in hopes of studying it further once she returned to her body.

The immediate area wasn’t overly interesting, though she made sure to observe it as they passed.  The medical center was somewhat close to the wall that wrapped around what GLaDOS could only assume was the entire settlement, and because of its distance from the heart of the place, its surroundings had little excitement, just buildings that GLaDOS guessed were mainly residential. Some of them looked old, likely built before the war. Others seemed to be constructed recently, and were pieced together with mixtures of wood and metal. Closest to the medical center the designs were larger and sturdier, but the farther away they got, there were more small and shabby-looking buildings. Some had yards- if you could even call them that, as they looked a lot more like patches of dirt to GLaDOS- and some even had little pieces of decoration, like dirty, broken plastic lawn ornaments.

They even passed a few people on the way. A woman dressed in blue sat on a chair in front of her house, affectionately stroking a large dog. Passing by on the street were two men with dueling accents who appeared to be in some sort of heated discussion that GLaDOS only caught the tail end of as they stormed by- something about hats and their great importance.


The longer they walked, the more frequent seeing people was becoming. They walked down a main road to the Merchant’s Square, as directed by several shabby looking signs along the way, and while they had started in a mostly quiet area around the medical center, it seemed that the closer they got to the center of Greenfield, the noisier it got. There was a general, faint sound of chatter from a distance, and more people crossed their path, some even offering a friendly ‘hello’ or ‘the weather is lovely today, isn’t it?’ GLaDOS mostly ignored them, but she noticed that Chell would turn back towards them and nod or smile, sometimes even offering a polite wave as they walked past.

It was… fascinating, in a way. GLaDOS had never seen Chell interact with other humans- without shooting them, at least. Chell wasn’t beside herself with excitement, but she was downright polite to most of the people they passed.

However, as soon as they were walking on their own, the tension from before returned. Her smile faded into a neutral expression, and she didn’t bother to so much as look at GLaDOS.
Every once in a while, GLaDOS found herself forgetting that Chell was even there; she almost felt more like a shadow than a traveling companion.

Still, the core didn’t have much time to dwell on that thought, as the once-distant sound of chatter started to grow louder, and the signs indicated they were practically to the center of the settlement. GLaDOS could hear hundreds of voices all talking or yelling, blending together into one, big mass of sound, only muffled by the few buildings around them. She picked up her pace, finding that her eagerness was sparked once more at the chance to see such a large group of humans in one place, alive.

They turned the corner on one of the streets, and GLaDOS was greeted by the sight of a mass of humans.

It was a big space with no buildings, but it was far from empty. There were carts and tents everywhere, and people swarmed around each one. The colors here were bright and vibrant in comparison to the murky browns of the outside world, as many merchants had banners and long strips of colorful fabric adorning their stalls, drawing the eye and catching attention of many.

If GLaDOS had thought the sound of this place from a distance was loud, this was near deafening. Merchants loudly shouted about their merchandise and prices, dogs barked, adults talked with each other, and the occasional excited screams of children would echo through the air as they ran past, avoiding their parents with mischievous glee.

It was impressive, if not overwhelming. The last time GLaDOS had seen this many humans in one place, they had been screaming in pain and struggling to escape deadly neurotoxin. This was different. This was a community, born and built up despite the tragedy of the world’s fate after the war.

GLaDOS slowly walked forward, breaking into the mass of people. She knew she needed to look for that computer amongst the merchants’ wares, but first, she just wanted to look around at the people. She didn’t like mankind, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t interested by them. They were fascinating creatures, in how they shifted and adapted, thriving in seemingly impossible situations.  And of course, it would be good to get data on what they were like outside of deadly test chambers.

The stall closest to her seemed to be selling weapons. Various knives were on display, as well as a few guns, ammo, and what looked like armored vests. The merchant was a middle-aged man with a beard that reached down to his collarbone, and the smile of a trained sweet-talker. He was speaking to a group of potential customers, each of which seemed to be eyeing something different in the shop. A blonde man with a scar on his lip eagerly pointed out the armor; a pale, redheaded woman observed the knives with a skeptical gaze, and a woman with a heavily tattooed hand argued about the price of ammo.

Nearby, GLaDOS’s attention was caught once more by the sound of someone shouting about newspapers. Various topics were barked out into the crowd by an enthusiastic journalist with a press cap and a bright red coat, going on about events inside and out of Greenfield.

A few men and women in guards’ outfits walked past or stood stationary around the square, keeping a careful eye on the goings-on, but none of them seemed overly tense. Some were armed, but others simply patrolled around and told off any people loitering for too long in the middle of the busy walkway.

As GLaDOS walked past one of the merchants’ stalls, she caught sight of one of the guards, a burly looking woman with scruffy hair, leaning up against the cart, enthusiastically chatting with the woman who likely owned it, a brown haired woman with brilliant green eyes. Neither one of them seemed to be focused on the jobs they were likely supposed to be doing, too wrapped up in whatever it was they were talking about to focus too much on the world around them.

GLaDOS simply rolled her eyes and moved along after deeming that the merchant’s wares weren’t to her liking.  She needed to find someone selling a computer, or at least, enough computer parts for GLaDOS to use to make her own once she got back to Aperture.

As it turned out, electronics weren’t in high demand. Hardly anyone she passed had anything more advanced than a flashlight or light bulbs.

There were vendors selling clothes and food, weapons and survival supplies, but almost none of the traveling merchants seemed to have anything that wasn’t post-war era.  Disappointed, GLaDOS moved further into the crowd, hoping that she’d find something on the other side of the square.

There were slightly less people on this side, though that was made up for by the presence of animals, some mutated, some not.  Five or six mutated cattle, some of which had missing or additional limbs or lacked fur, stood tied up nearby a merchant, each one only about half the price of the normal ones being sold a few stands away.

Horses whinnied and tossed their heads at the passersby, ranging from stocky and strong to light-footed and swift.  GLaDOS paused for a moment to look at one of them- a tall, black stallion. It wasn’t horrifically mutated, but it wasn’t normal either. Bits of bone that made up what looked like antlers pointed from its head, and GLaDOS noted its unusual body shape. Broad-chested and brawny, but taller and longer-legged than some of its companions.  It stared at her, meeting her eyes with its own, mismatched ones. It didn’t make a sound, simply examining her.

For a moment, she wondered if the drastically reduced travel time from riding back to Aperture would ever be worth sitting on the back of a likely flea-ridden, smelly animal. It could mean getting home faster, but… She wrinkled her nose. She wasn’t certain she’d ever feel clean again if she did, even after getting back into her chassis.

With a huff, GLaDOS kept walking. She noted that many of the merchants here had dogs at their feet, and some of them even had birds .  She grimaced at the sight of them, despite the fact that they were safely locked up in cages. Their beady little eyes seemed to follow her as she walked past, causing a cold shiver to go up her spine. She hadn’t forgotten what those feathered devils could do, nor would she ever.

Lying in the sun on top one of the merchant’s carts was a black and white cat, lazily snoozing away and basking in the light.  For a moment, the core had half a mind to see if she could coerce the cat to follow her around for awhile, just to ward off any unwanted avian attention.  But one glance at the sleeping feline told her it wasn’t going anywhere.

GLaDOS pinched the bridge of her nose and looked around. She was almost through the area she was currently in, now approaching the edge of the merchant’s square. It was already getting to be late afternoon, and she had made no progress. Instinctively, she turned her head back to look at Chell, a sarcastic comment of ‘what now’ sitting on her tongue.

Only Chell wasn’t there. She wasn’t even nearby. The former test subject was lost amongst the sea of people.  How long ago she had broken off from GLaDOS, the AI couldn’t say. She hadn’t been paying attention, and they had been here for at least a couple hours.

“Great. Just great.”

She hissed this out under her breath, practically grinding her teeth together. Of course Chell had to go and run off right when-

No. GLaDOS dropped her hand back to her side, puffing her chest out and narrowing her eyes. She didn’t need Chell to find a computer. They were already here; it wasn’t like she needed the woman’s muscle to keep her safe. She’d find her own damn computer, and she’d rub it in the human’s face.

The only problem? She had no idea where to start. She could try to mix back into the fold of people, but with no clue of where to go, she could end up going in circles. The masses of people made getting a grip on one’s surroundings difficult, and unless GLaDOS wanted to risk wasting time, she would have to… ask for help.

She pulled a face at the thought of sinking low enough to pick a complete stranger, a human , out of the crowd and ask for help, but she had little choice. It would hopefully be the fastest way to find what she needed.

So, she looked around, trying to find the most intelligent-looking person possible. She decided against asking the merchants, since most of them were travelers, and it was uncertain just how well they knew this place. Instead, she settled on finding a guard.

To her surprise, she stumbled across the scruffy-looking guard she had seen slacking off earlier, who was now standing post near the edge of the square.

GLaDOS braced herself, and walked forward, trying her very hardest not to grimace as she spoke.

“Pardon. By any chance… would you know where I could find a computer?”

She spoke through her teeth, trying and failing to give a ‘friendly’ smile. In reality, it looked more like she was two seconds away from snapping this poor woman’s neck- and if she actually could in this body, she would have.

The guard, to her disappointment, looked baffled. She stared at GLaDOS with a sort of concerned, dumbfounded expression.

“A what?”

GLaDOS found herself tempted to hit this woman over the head. How on earth could someone not know what a computer was? Even just the base knowledge of the concept of a computer ought not to be that hard to grasp. She breathed in sharply, feeling her eye twitch a little.

“A computer. Electronic? One of mankind’s only useful inventions?”  GLaDOS paused,suddenly remembering just where she was, hundreds of years in the future from the last time she interacted with non-test subject humans. “...It was made and used before the war.”

This addition seemed to turn the light on in the guard’s brain, and her face lit up with realization.

“Ohhh, pre-war stuff. I get it. You a collector or something? Ah, either way, you probably won’t find that in the merchant square. They’ve got good wares here, but most of them are practical. If you want fancy trinkets, you’ll want to check Derick’s shop. He owns a little place down the road. All kinds of pre-war junk. Be careful though, that man’s a weasel, he’ll pick your pockets clean if you don’t keep an eye on him.”

GLaDOS fought the urge to deck the woman upon hearing the word ‘trinket’ being tossed around. If anything, humans were more trinkets than a computer was. A computer was ever useful, a miracle of science, and most of all, far better than any human would ever be. Was she getting defensive? No, she most definitely wasn’t.

She didn’t bother thanking the guard, simply turning and starting to walk in the direction that she had gestured in. She’d gotten the information she needed, and now?

GLaDOS was going to get that computer, and she was going to get back in her body, with or without Chell’s help.

Chapter Text

As it turned out, the guard hadn’t been lying when she said that this ‘Derick’ fellow owned a little shop.  GLaDOS had managed to walk past it twice before finding it, not even noticing its presence amongst the other buildings.

It was a pre-war building, a two-story brick structure that might’ve been a house at some point. Now, though, the top floor was almost completely rubble, the majority of the walls gone. There was a lawn chair on the top, along with various pieces of trash, which GLaDOS assumed meant that someone actually wanted to sit up there. For some reason.

The ground level, however, was mostly intact, though the windows were boarded up, and there was only a small shabby sign indicating that this was, in fact, the right place. Written on a thin piece of wood that was propped up against the building were the words ‘Derick’s Pre-war Valuables, for trade or sale.’ It was written in paint, and looked hastily done and old. The color was fading, and it was only barely readable.

All in all, first impressions? Bad.

GLaDOS narrowed her eyes and pulled her lip back a little, subconsciously letting her disdain be known to the rotting wood of the door in front of her. If she had a choice in the matter, she wouldn’t enter a place like this for all the computers in the world. The roof over this floor looked like it could cave in at any time- very likely on her head- and she was certain that if she opened the door with too much vigor, it would be ripped straight off its hinges. But unfortunately, she didn’t have the luxury of deciding if she would have to enter or not. According to what Chell had told her on the trip here, this was one of only two settlements in North America, with the other one being in the complete opposite direction. This was the closest and most realistic chance she had to get what she needed.

So, with an annoyed grumble muttered under her breath, she opened the door and walked in.

The interior was somehow even less appealing than the exterior. From what GLaDOS could see from the doorway, there was a small hallway with a few boarded up doors off to the side, leading into one main room straight ahead.  The whole place was dimly lit, but the hallway in particular was almost completely dark. All the windows were covered, and the only light came from the main room, but even that was sparse.

She held her chin up and walked forward, determined to just get this over with as quickly and professionally as possible, without having to linger, make small talk, or stay in this place any longer than she had to.

But as she took just a few steps down the hallway, her facade cracked a little, as she felt her eyes start to water. The whole place was hazy with smoke that seemed to hang in the air like a heavy blanket, and it all reeked of tobacco. Even just breathing burned GLaDOS’s lungs, and she fought the urge to start coughing.  Still, she pressed on, wondering for a brief moment if the ascot that she’d left in Aperture Science would’ve been useful to cover her nose and mouth with.


The main room seemed empty when she reached it- or rather, void of people; it was far from empty. There was stuff everywhere.

The room was big, and might’ve once been a living room of some kind. Now, though, it had been cleared of any normal living accommodations, and filled to the brim with various items, either grouped in piles on the floor, stacked on shelves, or haphazardly placed on one of the few tables that littered the room.

The only light seemed to come from three sources. Two lamps on opposite sites of the room- one without a lampshade, and the other one with one that had a hole in the side and looked oddly fuzzy- and a flickering, old neon sign on the furthest wall from the door that seemed to be advertising some brand of beer. Combined, they left just enough light for the items amongst the room to be just barely visible, but still cast the room with long shadows and kept the whole place feeling dark and almost damp. It didn’t help that the old carpet made an odd, soft squelching noise when she walked on it.

Giving a shudder and being mindful to watch where she stepped, she started to explore, feeling every hair on her body raise. Whatever human instincts this body possessed seemed to be telling her to get the hell out of here, and for once, she wanted to agree with them.

Slowly, she started sifting through the nearest pile of stuff, hopeful to find something electronic in the mix.

A few broken dolls with chipped paint and tattered clothes, a couple of old, dusty hats, gloves with no matches, and various pieces of silverware, but no computer. So she searched the nearest table.

Several china plates with faded, floral designs, and a few books. She checked to see if they were of any interest, but to her disappointment, found only an old phonebook and a collection of children’s literature. Along with these, she also found a slightly sticky stapler that seemed to be stained a suspicious shade of red, three different pool balls with the numbers scratched off, a ring of keys that likely belonged to locks that no longer existed, and a tiny throw pillow covered in cobwebs.

For a moment, the core paused in her search, looking around once more and craning her neck to make sure there was no one behind her. Surely someone owned this place, and they had to be nearby. She supposed she could call out and attempt to grab their attention, but her voice seemed to die in her throat. She’d just keep looking.


The next pile yielded more interesting results. A flashlight, a metal flask, a couple scented candles that all smelled the same and gave her a headache, and a keyboard. The latter was useless without the computer it likely came with, but it still fostered hope inside of GLaDOS that the rest of the equipment would be nearby.

She rifled through a few more piles with that same hope, but with no results. More useless trinkets. Childrens’ toys, tableware, odds and ends, and the occasional book. She had gone through most of the piles in this place now; she was certain she had been here for at least half an hour, and the smoke in the air was starting to make her feel slightly ill.

Annoyed and vainly attempting to relieve the pain of her headache, GLaDOS rubbed her forehead, gritting her teeth. This place was cramped and cluttered, leaving her feeling like she was just going in circles and searching the same piles over junk over and over again, never finding anything new. But she knew there had to be something else. There had to be-

She cracked an eye open, and then she spotted it. Near the middle of the room was a desk that she had ignored earlier, assuming it belonged to whoever owned this place. Hidden behind it, another pile of junk: a teddy bear that was missing a limb, a mostly deflated football, but most importantly? Something that looked a lot like a computer.

The AI made a beeline for the pile, practically throwing the other items in the pile off to the side to get a better look at the item in question. It was large, bulky, and old, even considering the tech available before the war. But it was most definitely a computer. She brushed the dust off the top of it, feeling the excitement bubbling inside of her chest washing away the unease and annoyance that had been building since she entered this place. It was all worth it. The smell, the headache, the effort it took to get here? All of it, worth it.

GLaDOS had half a mind to grab the thing and run, but refrained. Instead, she decided to remove the top with the use of a screwdriver that she had spotted on one of the nearby tables, and get a look at just what kind of hardware this thing had. But when she stood, a voice cut through the silence.

“What are you doing in here- Oh, a customer.”

A raspy male voice echoed out from behind her and GLaDOS turned her head towards the source of the sound, just barely stopping herself from jumping. From one of the few doors that wasn’t bolted up, a large figure had emerged and was slowly making his way over to GLaDOS.

He was a rather short man- though he was still a little taller than GLaDOS, much to her annoyance- with a large belly and thick head. His face was covered in unshaved, patchy stubble, and the slightly thinning hair on his head looked so greasy GLaDOS wondered if he dipped his head in car oil every morning.  A cigarette stub hung from his lips, but he grabbed it and flicked it to the side when he approached the desk and eyed GLaDOS up and down with a gaze that made the core’s skin crawl.

“Well, aren’t you a pretty thing. What’s a little bird like you looking for, hm? I’ve got all sorts of nice little things that I’m sure you’d love.”

He spoke with a slow tone, a less than professional interest dripping from each word. His smile revealed he was missing multiple teeth, and the ones that remained were stained an almost dark yellow.

Swallowing back both the urge to vomit and to spit in his face, GLaDOS spoke.

“I’m here for that computer.”

She jabbed her finger in its direction, pointing it out amongst the clutter.

“What, that old thing? No, I’m sure you don’t-”

GLaDOS cut him off before he could continue, knowing that if she let him, he’d no doubt try and convince her that she’d be better off buying one of the various plastic flowers or nice teacups.

“You heard what I said. I want that computer. Is it for sale or not?”

She crossed her arms over her chest defensively, and found herself standing up a little straighter. She wasn’t afraid of this man, but something inside of her kept telling her to back up and change her body language to a more protected stance.

The man blinked his beady little eyes, a small frown crossing his face momentarily before shrugging.

“All right then. That’ll be fifty dollars.”

For a moment, GLaDOS gawked at him. Not because of the price, but because she had come to the sudden realization that she didn’t have a single cent of money on her. In fact, she hadn’t even thought about the idea of currency being a factor. She assumed it had all fallen out of use and the people here paid for everything in human teeth or animal pelts. She had both of those things, although one of which she would prefer not to remove until she was back in her body.

But if these places used actual currency, then she didn’t have anything. In fact, she hardly knew if Chell had any. She had never thought to ask if the woman actually had the elements required to buy things for herself, or if she had acquired all of her supplies through simply looting the various people she had no doubt shot while up here. Regardless, that didn’t matter. Chell wasn’t here.


The shopkeeper- Derick, she could only assume- must’ve interpreted her stunned silence as something besides ‘I have no money,’ as he spoke up after a moment or two.

“What, you use something besides American money? I don’t exactly like having to deal with you foreigners with all your fancy money. It means I have to sort through that shit.”

He grumbled under his breath, any of his attempts at flattery having quickly died. He didn’t even give GLaDOS a chance to say anything to combat his statement before he opened his mouth again, giving a huge, heaving sigh at the seemingly great effort that this would cause him. This was followed by a coughing fit, and it sounded like he was about to hack one of his lungs up onto the carpet. Honestly, GLaDOS would’ve preferred that.

“F-Fine, fine.” He pounded on his chest for a moment and cleared his throat before continuing.  “I can deal with whatever money you give me, but I gotta go into the back and make sure I know just how much you owe me in whatever you’re paying. I ain’t giving this thing away for anything less than it’s worth, ya hear me?”

GLaDOS gave a stiff nod, watching the man turn around and waddle back in the direction of one of the doors, disappearing into the other room. This bought her time, but not much. She bit her bottom lip, trying to figure out what to do next. She could just steal the computer, but he would quickly find out, and she wouldn’t be able to escape Greenfield before he sent the guards on her. She could try and trade for it, but she didn’t have much anything of interest in her bag. A water bottle, some furs, a bit of dried meat, and a couple dried herbs- nothing that would be worth as much as the price he was offering.

Hissing under her breath, GLaDOS moved to grab a screwdriver that she’d noticed before. Maybe if she could figure out what kind of hardware this computer really had- it definitely looked old- she could convince this man to trade lower. She didn’t really need food, water, or a source of warmth; she could trade all of them. It would make for an uncomfortable trip back to the facility, but a bit of hypothermia could be ignored so long as she made it back to Aperture with the computer and got herself back into her body.

So, moving as quickly as possible, she crouched down and started to unscrew one of the sides, hoping to get a look before the man came back. It was relatively easy to remove, and she noted that the screws looked dented and scratched, like she hadn’t been the first one to take it apart recently.

It came apart with a creak, dust scattering as it was disturbed.  GLaDOS turned her head to the side, coughing into her arm.  Once the dust settled, she got a look at the insides and saw…

Nothing.

It was the plastic outer shell of a computer, but the insides had been scraped. Only a few wires remained, tangled up in the middle in an attempt to look like there was actually something of worth there. In fact, the core noticed that some of the wires didn’t even belong inside of a computer in the first place, nor were they connected to anything. They had just been tossed in there in a tangled pile.

It was essentially worthless.

GLaDOS’s grip tightened on the screwdriver, and her knuckles went white.  Her shoulders shook, and she resisted the urge to throw the tool in her hand at the wall.

That man had scooped this thing of anything of worth and was still selling it. And she had little doubt that it was Derick who did it, as GLaDOS doubted that any regular customer on the surface would even know to check the insides. Even if they did, would they even know the difference? It wasn’t like computers were commonplace anymore, and as she saw with the guard she had spoken to, some didn’t even know what they were.

This would make it incredibly easy to take all the valuable parts out and sell unsuspecting people the useless plastic shell with a couple mismatched wires. And he would get away with it. At least, with any other dumb human. GLaDOS was neither of those things, and would not be fooled so easily.

GLaDOS abruptly stood up when she heard the man’s voice from the other room, calling out that he’d only be another minute. She squared her shoulders and narrowed her eyes, choice words sitting on her tongue for the moment the disgusting little man came back and asked for her money.

She watched him walk back towards the main desk, some papers in his hands and a newly lit cigarette held between his lips.  He tossed the papers onto the desk, and GLaDOS could see various scribbled notes comparing numbers and symbols for currency. She was fairly certain that every bit of math he had done was wrong, but she didn’t bother checking. Whatever he was going to ask for that piece of junk, it was too much. She wouldn’t give him a thing unless he coughed up the rest of the computer.

“Okay, little lady, what’re you paying with?”

GLaDOS stared the man down, flexing her hand in and out of a fist.

“Nothing. Not until you show me an actual computer for sale.”

Her tone was icy and sounded far calmer than she felt. The core fought to remain as cold and intimidating as possible, hoping to scare this man into doing as she asked. But inside, she was furious. She had not come all this way, traveled a post-apocalyptic world on foot and been attacked by bandits and mutant animals alike only to be scammed out of her only chance of making everything right in her life again.

Unsurprisingly, she watched surprise pass through the shopkeeper’s expression, and his eyes darted to the computer on the ground, still left partially open. Quickly, his face shifted, a sly smile gracing his lips and a nervous laugh escaping them.

“I’m sorry, are you confused? That’s a computer right there. Genuine, pre-war era technology. I know it all looks real confusing for you, but trust me that’s-”

“A scam. You’ve taken out the hardwire and stuffed it with wires. Don’t attempt to fool me; I know far more about computers than your tiny little mind could ever imagine. So either you tell me where you put the rest of those parts, or you regret it.”

GLaDOS had stepped forward as she spoke and was now face to face with the man, only the desk between them. In this moment, she didn’t care that the putrid smell of smoke was right under her nose, or that she could practically hear his ragged breathing. She glowered at him, expecting to see him quiver under her rage.

But he didn’t. Her words had no effect on him- Or at least, not the effect she was hoping for.

“...Is that so?”

His voice had shifted once more, no longer sounding nervous or friendly. His eyes narrowed, and his lips were pulled downwards into an angry scowl. Slowly, he walked around the desk to approach GLaDOS, and she found herself taking an instinctive step back. Instantly, she chastised herself for doing this.

She wasn’t afraid of him. He should be afraid of her .

...Shouldn’t he?

GLaDOS suddenly became aware of the lack of weapons on her person. She had given the handgun back to Chell earlier, and she now mentally kicked herself for doing so. The closest thing she had to a weapon was the screwdriver in her hand, and even that was blunt and would be most effective used with brute force- something that, in this body, she did not have.

While the man slowly approaching her was short, he wasn’t small. He was big, and how much of his body was fat or muscle, GLaDOS couldn’t say. But she knew that whichever it was, he could likely cause a lot more damage to the body she was in, than she could cause to him.

“What are you gonna do, huh?”

He spoke as he took another step forward, and despite herself, GLaDOS took two steps back. Her eyes darted to the shopkeeper’s hand, and saw a glint of metal- a switchblade or pocketknife of some kind.

“Because I think that you’re gonna keep your mouth shut.”

His voice sounded more like a low growl now, and GLaDOS found her heartbeat picking up. Everything in her body was telling her to just run, but she found her back hitting a wall instead. Vainly, she tried to pull her lips into a hopefully threatening scowl, swallowing the lump in her throat.

“I don’t think so. You’re going to back off and give me that computer!”

She spat, starting to raise the screwdriver upwards in an attempt to hopefully jab it somewhere painful. But unfortunately, Derick seemed to notice what she was doing and ripped it out of her hand, tossing it to the side with a clatter.  He was only inches away from her now, and she could feel his hot breath against her face, causing her to vainly turn her cheek away, wrinkling her nose at the smell.

Her heart was pounding, and she felt the man shift, the hand with the knife moving closer and closer to her body.  She flinched, closing her eyes for a split second as she felt the tip of the weapon just barely touch her chest.

But before it could even begin to puncture the skin, she heard the sound of footsteps hitting the ground and bounding closer. She hadn’t even heard the door open, but this got her to open her eyes and look in the direction of the noise.

A blur of a brown jacket was the first thing she saw, as someone seemed to ram into the shopkeeper, and the knife in the man’s hand was smacked away with enough force for the sound to practically echo in GLaDOS’s ears.

The core blinked, stunned, only to see Chell in front of her, holding the shopkeeper by the front of his shirt. The human’s eyes burned with silver fury like fire, and her mouth was twisted into a furious snarl, giving her an almost savage, animal-like appearance as the dim lighting cast her face in shadows.

GLaDOS wasn’t sure who was more surprised at this development- herself, or the shopkeeper.

Chell was the last person she expected to come barging in, especially considering the woman ought not to know where she had gone. They went in different directions hours ago. Yet despite that, there the human was.

And as much as GLaDOS hated to admit, she was incredibly happy to see her.

“W-What the hell?! Let me go!”

Derick squirmed and struggled against Chell’s grip, and GLaDOS watched his face pale as the former test subject met his eye. He seemed to shrink under her grip, and with it, any fear that GLaDOS felt towards him melted away. He was far from threatening like this, and the core’s confidence came back swinging.

“Still want to scam me?”

GLaDOS held her head up a little higher as she spoke, crossing her arms and moving away from where she had been backed up against the wall. For a second, her gaze travelled to Chell’s face, and she met the woman’s eye. The tension shared between them before was gone in this moment. Any anger or frustration they may have still harbored was directed at this man instead.

“No! God, just- I’ll sell you the whole computer! I have the parts in the back, just let me go!”

A smirk played at the AI’s lips, and as she watched Chell slowly release her grip on the man, she held her hand up, telling the woman to keep her hold. She wasn’t done yet.

“I don’t think you’re going to be selling me anything. What I think is, you’re going to get the rest of the parts- all of them - and you’re going to give us that computer. In return, we won’t tell the guards about how you pulled a knife on a poor, defenseless young woman .”

GLaDOS just barely held the glee out of her tone as she batted her eyelashes at the man and watched his eyes widen. The mixture of frustration, realization, horror, and finally defeat all passed through his expression in the matter of seconds. She even saw Chell’s eyebrows raise a little and the tiniest of smiles flashed over her face as she listened to GLaDOS’s words.

While GLaDOS was quickly realizing that she couldn’t physically harm people with ease in this form, she still possessed a wit far sharper than most and a knack for verbal intimidation. So long as she had the muscle to back it up, it seemed.

The shopkeeper opened and closed his mouth a few times, looking very much like a fish out of water. He stumbled over his words, hopelessly attempting to combat what GLaDOS had said.

While GLaDOS would never be thankful for being in a human body, she did have to admit that looking so harmless occasionally had its perks. All she would need to do was play dumb and timid for a moment, flash a faux scared look at a guard, and she had no doubt in her mind that they’d be on her side. Caroline- despite the morally questionable activities she found herself involved in later in life- had a wonderfully innocent sort of face, at least when she was younger; the face of a sweet, polite young woman. GLaDOS was neither of those things, but she didn’t mind faking it for a moment if need be.  She had done worse things to get here.

Dejected, the shopkeeper let out a groan of frustration, clearly unhappy with this arrangement.

“I… But… Fine. I’ll give you the computer if you don’t tell a soul.”

He spoke through his teeth, shooting a glare GLaDOS’s way before wilting under Chell’s gaze once more, as the former test subject momentarily tightened her fist threateningly before letting him go.

Once released, the man smoothed his shirt and made his way to the room in the back, grumbling under his breath as he went.  

There was a moment of silence between Chell and GLaDOS, and the core found herself looking to meet the human’s gaze. To her surprise, Chell didn’t avoid it, turning to look GLaDOS in the eye. She was silent, but her eyes softened a small amount, and her expression looked strange- thoughtful, and almost relieved.  She looked like she wanted to say something- or more likely, write it down- but there was little time, as the man returned rather quickly, a mess of electronic parts in his arms.

Instantly, Chell’s expression turned to stone once more, a scowl returning to her lips, and she puffed herself up to stare down at the man with as much intimidation as she could muster.  However, she did nothing. Instead, gesturing for GLaDOS to inspect the parts that were placed on the man’s desk, trusting that the former AI would know if he was trying to skimp on any of the parts.

Thankfully, after a quick search, GLaDOS found it all to be in place. The parts were old and dusty, but would still work. She delicately scooped them off the desk and gingerly placed them in her bag before moving over to where the computer’s shell was, tossing the unneeded wires out and to the side, not really caring if she made this place any messier than it already was.

The computer’s casing didn’t quite fit in her bag, so she picked it up on her own instead, walking back over to where Chell seemed to be having a stare-off with the shop owner.

Satisfied, GLaDOS let out a small, prideful ‘hpmh,’ meeting the shopkeeper’s eye for just long enough to smirk in his direction.

“A piece of advice; next time, pick a fool to try and scam.”

And with that, she turned on her heel, marching down the hallway and towards the door with Chell in tow.

The moment the door closed behind them, GLaDOS whipped around to face Chell, unable to stop the grin from gracing her expression.

“Did you see his face? He looked like he was about to faint when you grabbed him, and oh, the look in his eyes when I got him to give this to us for free? What I wouldn’t give to have that mental picture saved to the mainframe!”

GLaDOS couldn’t help the spring in her step as she felt her excitement bubble forth, a mixture of the adrenaline rush she had just experienced and the satisfaction of walking away from that encounter on top.  She saw Chell grin as well, and while perhaps not as energetic, she looked rather pleased with herself as well- no doubt with her good timing, at least.

However, that thought brought questions to GLaDOS’s mind, followed by the reminder of the tension that they had last parted on. She turned her gaze to the ground, adjusting her hold on the computer casing. There was a silence between them, and GLaDOS felt it slowly growing uncomfortable. One of them had to address this, and she had the sinking feeling it would have to be her.

“...Thank you for… helping me out there. I don’t know how you knew where to find me, but I… appreciate you keeping me from getting stabbed.”

She didn’t keep eye contact as she spoke, only briefly looking up after she was finished speaking to see if Chell’s expression had changed. To her surprise, it had. The former test subject looked relieved that GLaDOS had spoken first, and pulled her pencil out of her pocket, as well as a scrap of paper, where she hastily wrote her answer.

‘I asked around about finding a computer after we split up, and I was directed to this place. I just happened to get here a little later than you did.’

A small noise escaped GLaDOS, almost sounding like a snort of laughter.

“Well, you had good timing. The threat of being punched or strangled by you seemed to change that man’s attitude about scamming and/or murdering me. I hate to admit it, but we make a pretty good team.”

GLaDOS mumbled the last bit of her sentence, feeling a rush of warmth in her cheeks, despite her best attempts to stop it.  She even opened her mouth to counteract what she had said with something sarcastic, but before she could say anything, she caught sight of Chell’s face once more.

She was smiling almost uncharacteristically softly at what GLaDOS had said. However, her eyebrows looked slightly furrowed still, and she seemed to be reaching around in her pocket again before pulling out another piece of paper. This one, however, was folded, and she made no attempts to write anything on it.  She had apparently done this earlier, and needed only to hand it to the core.

‘I wanted to apologize about the other day. I should’ve told you when I found out my wound was getting infected, and I know that by not telling you, I caused you a lot of grief trying to drag my body around. We’re traveling partners, and we should be communicating about these things. I’m sorry.’

GLaDOS read and reread the words, stunned into silence. Her throat felt uncomfortably dry, and her chest tight. All the anger, the frustration and the annoyance that had built up so aggressively the past few days seemed to be slowly seeping out of her, washing away as she let Chell’s words sink in.

Chell, the most stubborn human she had ever met, had just apologized to her, admitted that she had been in the wrong and that her actions had caused GLaDOS difficulty.  GLaDOS almost wondered if she’d written this in jest, but a quick look into her eyes confirmed this thought to be false. There was nothing guarded about Chell’s gaze this time, and it seemed to ooze with sincerity. It wasn’t a judgement gaze by any means, yet GLaDOS still found herself fidgeting under it, growing uncomfortably hot under her skin, until eventually, words were pulled from her throat. Words she wouldn’t have expected to even think over the past couple days, let alone say.

“Well… I… I suppose I wasn’t… Maybe I was a bit harsh with you too.”

For once, the intelligent AI found herself saying a jumbled mess of an apology that somehow sounded less eloquent than the mute lunatic’s version. She took the note and carefully refolded it. For a moment, she debated handing it back to Chell. But instead… she slipped it into her bag.  She could not say for certain, but something inside of her was telling her to keep it.  She wanted to hold onto it, despite its purpose already being fulfilled, leaving it essentially worthless.  

Chell only seemed to relax more at GLaDOS’s positive reaction, tension lost from her shoulders and a soft sigh of relief escaping her lips.

A few more moments passed in silence, but already, GLaDOS could feel the difference.  So much of the tension had been lifted, and it was almost comfortable again. She wanted so desperately to hold onto her anger, but for some reason, this body seemed thankful to be rid of some of the grudge. Like there had been a weight on top of her shoulders this whole time, and only now was it being removed. It actually felt… good.

But even with the silence being more comfortable than before, GLaDOS didn’t wish to dwell on it. The uncomfortable air between them might’ve lessened, but GLaDOS hadn’t forgotten what happened. Chell had apologized for what she did wrong, yes. But there were still matters between them that hadn’t been addressed. And GLaDOS was unsure if they ever would be. Chell wouldn’t speak in front of her. The reason behind that was something the core would have to keep in mind. Still, she broke the silence soon after, speaking up after only a minute or two.

“So… Where are we headed now?”

Chell smiled, and gestured for GLaDOS to follow, giving no further answer.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS found herself led by Chell in a completely new direction, as they didn’t try to merge back into the busy masses of the merchants’ square. Instead, they walked along one of the main streets, passing by various buildings that GLaDOS found herself glancing at: a few houses, and a couple shops apart from all the traveling merchants. One specialized in books, another focused on clothes, and there was even a butcher for selling various, slightly dubious meats.

People occasionally came in and out of the shops or walked past them on the street, but this street was downright quiet compared to the noise of the merchants’ square.  

Even so, GLaDOS didn’t understand where Chell was taking her until they abruptly stopped in front of a large building, and Chell gestured towards it.

‘Greenfield Hotel’ was painted over the door, and it appeared to be one of the slightly better kept buildings. The outside looked a bit shabby, but it wasn’t falling apart. It even had windows that weren’t boarded up or broken. But even despite its average appearance, GLaDOS found herself a bit confused, and glanced at Chell with a puzzled gaze. What were they doing here? The core expected they’d be leaving the settlement tonight and setting up camp somewhere on the road. They had the computer, after all; they had no other reason to linger.

Chell pulled her paper out of her pocket as usual, scribbling down a quick message.

‘I thought we’d stay another night in Greenfield. This place is for travelers like us, and it’ll be a little more comfortable than sleeping on the road. I figure we’ll be doing plenty of that soon anyway. Besides, it has something else you might like.’

GLaDOS couldn’t help but raise a curious eyebrow at that rather cryptic addition to what otherwise would’ve been a fairly straightforward message. As she glanced up at the sky and noted the slowly setting sun, she supposed she could understand the appeal of staying one more night. And if she was being truthful, the idea of sleeping on something other than furs piled on the mostly frozen ground did sound rather nice.

But whatever it was that Chell thought she’d especially like was apparently going to be kept a secret for a little longer, as Chell simply went for the door without giving GLaDOS the chance to ask questions.

Letting out a huff, GLaDOS followed her. She didn’t particularly like being left in the dark on anything, no matter how minor, but as they entered the hotel, she decided that causing a scene by arguing with Chell on something like this was unnecessary.  Besides, the relative peace that had been created between them only minutes prior was still somewhat shaky, and as much as GLaDOS wanted to stay angry, something in the back of her mind kept reminding her to try to work to keep things going well.

The main room of the hotel wasn’t overly impressive, with a reception desk in the middle, a few chairs scattered about, a staircase leading upwards, and a hallway that led to a closed door with a sign that GLaDOS couldn’t quite read from the distance she was currently at.

Chell walked up to the front desk, and GLaDOS slowly followed, though she stopped before getting too close, watching Chell.  She saw the woman open her mouth, then pause. Her eyes betrayed her, briefly glancing in GLaDOS’s direction with an emotion that the core couldn’t quite place, before sharply turning back to the man working reception.  She mumbled something under her breath about a room, and reached into her pocket to pull out a handful of coins Most of them were rusted and old, but that hardly seemed to be a problem. The man looked them over before sweeping them into a box behind the counter, and handed a key to Chell, pointing her to where the room was.

Chell turned back to gesture for GLaDOS to follow her up the stairs, but GLaDOS didn’t miss the lingering look in her eyes, nor did she miss the now-familiar pang in her chest. It was far lesser than it had been a few days ago, but despite the newly kindled peace between them, it still stung a little.

She said nothing, though, wordlessly following Chell up the old, creaky stairs.  The thoughts stewed in her head, but now, with an odd clarity. No longer blurred by the white hot rage of before, she dwelled on them with curiosity.

Chell had spoken in front of her twice now, but not to her. Chell was no longer holding complete silence, but she seemed adamant in not addressing GLaDOS directly. Why that was, GLaDOS could not say with complete certainty.

Though, she had a hunch.  

Chell just didn’t trust her. Or at least, not enough.

She had enough faith in the core to trust that she wouldn’t end up with a knife in her back or a bullet in her head, and GLaDOS supposed she should be thankful for even that much, but she didn’t trust GLaDOS enough to let her in that close.

But still, in that same vein, she trusted strangers enough to speak to them, didn’t she?

GLaDOS grumbled under her breath, scrunching her face up a little at the beginnings of a headache that started to nag at her mind. Chell was an oddity, there was no doubt about it. Sometimes she seemed as unmovable as a rock, impossible to read or work with. But then, GLaDOS couldn’t help but remember what she had seen earlier today. The look of fury on the human’s face as she practically slammed into the shopkeeper, keeping him from running GLaDOS through with his knife.

Chell had shown raw emotion there, and not just any emotion. She seemed concerned for GLaDOS’s safety, and angered at the man who threatened it.

Chell was many things, and for now, a mystery remained one of them.


The core was shaken from her thoughts when, having been only somewhat paying attention to where she was going, she nearly bumped into her companion, who was unlocking one of the many doors on the upper level. It took a few tries, but after the third attempt, the lock yielded and the door slowly opened.

The inside wasn’t exactly impressive, but compared to the pigsty GLaDOS had just been in, it looked downright nice.

The floors were wooden, and the only three things in the room were a nightstand with a lamp, a dresser, and a bed frame with a mattress. The bed was void of anything like pillows or blankets, only covered by a single surprisingly clean-looking sheet.

Chell shuffled in, dropping her back next to the bed and opening it up, pulling out the various blankets and furs she had, and placing them on the bed as she normally would if they were sleeping on the ground.  It wasn’t much in the grand scheme of things, but even GLaDOS couldn’t deny the inkling of excitement she felt at the idea of being able to sleep on a soft surface that wouldn’t have tiny rocks or roots to dig into her back as she tried to get comfortable.

GLaDOS walked inside after her, placing the computer casing on the ground near the bed, and carefully placing her bag down beside it, mindful of the delicate parts inside. Perhaps tonight she’d be able to put it together so she wouldn’t have to carry them separately. But, for now she focused on pulling out the furs and blanket that she had been carrying in her own bag, placing them on the bed as well and trying her best to arrange them in the most comfortable-seeming way possible. This was likely going to be the only time she’d get to sleep on something even halfway decent, she was going to make the most of it.

She caught sight of Chell after a moment, who gave a small, silent chuckle at GLaDOS’s efforts. It was good-natured; endearing, almost.  Still, GLaDOS felt a rush of embarrassment, and quickly straightened up, ready to defend her actions or brush them off.

Yet Chell practically waved her off, offering an understanding smile. It seemed that, to a certain extent, Chell felt the same way about this luxury.  It was unlikely that she had been able to enjoy this in her time on the surface either, and she had been up here longer than GLaDOS had.

“So, is this it?  It’s not dark yet; are we just going to sit here and stare at the wall for a couple hours?”

GLaDOS spoke up after a moment of silence, looking around the room. It was incredibly simple, without any sort of decoration or anything particularly special, aside from the bed.

Chell shook her head, and GLaDOS could’ve sworn she caught a glimpse of excitement in the human’s gaze as she pulled out the scrap of paper she had used earlier, turning it over and writing something down on the back.

‘No, there is something else that I think we’ll both appreciate. Follow me, and leave your stuff here. I’ll bring a small bag, but we aren’t going far.’

After writing this and handing the paper to GLaDOS, Chell dug through her bag and pulled out her smaller one, hastily shoving a few things inside it that GLaDOS didn’t catch sight of.  The message she had given was still somewhat cryptic, especially for someone who was normally rather straightforward with her notes.  A part of GLaDOS was tempted to poke at the issue further and make Chell explain herself, but she couldn’t even open her mouth before Chell was already halfway out the door, gesturing for GLaDOS to follow her once again.

GLaDOS let out a noise somewhere between a groan and irritated grunt, jogging over to join Chell and allow the former test subject to lock the door behind them and slip the key into her pocket.  GLaDOS was just going to have to wait, it seemed.

They went back down the stairs, and ended up in the main lobby once again, with the same half-awake looking man working reception, who hardly even seemed to notice them.  There was someone sitting in one of the waiting chairs, but they didn’t look up at either of the two as they came down the stairs.

Chell didn’t linger in the main hall for long, starting down the hallway with little hesitation. Confused, GLaDOS followed. She had expected this area to be either more rooms, or perhaps maintenance or storage. But instead, as they made their way down the hall, the sign on the furthest door became readable.

‘SHOWERS: 1.00 PER FIVE MINUTES (SOAP AND SHAMPOO 8.00)’

It took GLaDOS a minute to take it in, rereading the sign, stunned. She looked to Chell, feeling excitement bubbling up inside her.  Chell simply grinned and moved forward, opening the door and entering the room in question.

GLaDOS eagerly followed, the prospect of finally being able to properly clean this disgusting human body dawning on her.  She didn’t care much about the state of this body in the end; it would likely be destroyed once she got back in her chassis. But for the short term? Having to deal with only being able to wipe oneself off with a damp cloth for the past month was one of the most frustrating things about this whole ordeal. Going from clean, sterile Aperture to a grimy, sweaty human body was not an easy transition to make. This, however, would definitely help ease that pain.

The room in question was large, bigger than the main reception area. Unlike everything else in the hotel, the floors were all tile. Some of them were mismatched and a couple of them cracked, but it seemed as well-cleaned as anything could be in a world like this. There were about ten different stalls, each of them about 4x4, sectioned off from each other with metal sides and shower curtains in the front. Drains littered the floor, though the ground was mostly dry, and the room seemed empty at the moment. GLaDOS guessed that once the merchants packed up, a large portion of them, and the crowd surrounding them, would end up here.

Chell walked towards the furthest side of the room, picking the stall closest to the wall and furthest from the entrance, hanging her bag up on a hook next to the stall, and grabbing two of the folded towels that were placed on a nearby rack.  They were, like most things here, all mismatched and varied, indicating that they had been found and donated over time, allowing for use by anyone who needed them.

If GLaDOS didn’t think so little of humanity, perhaps she would’ve considered that thought nice; a kind gesture, perhaps.  But for now, she just decided to accept it and move on, preferably moving into hot water.

Chell pulled a small sack out of her bag, and it jingled as she moved it, rummaging through and pulling out various coins, inserting them into a slot inside the stall.  It took her at least a minute or two to finally finish, putting the bag away and pulling out a piece of paper, hastily writing a message.

‘I got us about ten minutes, and I already have the soap Natasha gave me, you can use some of that. However I can’t afford to pay for us both to take separate showers, so we’re going to have to share.’

GLaDOS blinked, the realization suddenly hitting her. The fact that they would have to share should’ve been obvious; if this cost money, it would be best to spend as little as possible. Yet somehow, that hadn’t occurred to the AI until Chell pointed it out.

She didn’t have much time to dwell on this, though, as by the time she looked up Chell was already pulling her jacket off and hanging it next to her bag, quickly moving on to removing the rest of her clothes shortly after.  GLaDOS did a double take, surprised at how little hesitation Chell seemed to have.  The only moment that she faltered with was removing her shirt and carefully taking the bandages off her wound.  Besides that, Chell simply moved on, making sure to place all her clothes back in her bag for the time being and then casually stepping into the shower stall.

GLaDOS still hadn’t even moved. It took her a moment to slowly undress, feeling an odd sort of hesitation lingering in her mind.  She was eager to finally get properly clean, but the thought of doing it with Chell left a strange feeling bouncing around inside her.  By all means, this was the most practical, logical way of doing things. She was surprised she hadn’t suggested it herself.  But now that she was actually here, taking her clothes off in front of someone she had been both killed and saved by, she found herself having difficulty.

Still, Chell seemed intent on giving her privacy. She was facing the wall, staring rather intently at the showerhead, patiently waiting for GLaDOS to join her before turning it on.

Pushing back the ball of nervousness that she couldn’t quite explain, GLaDOS carefully peeled her clothes off, hanging them up on one of the hooks next to Chell’s bag.  She felt exposed like this, shuddering at the chill that passed through her body and noting how goosebumps covered her skin.  The tile was cold against her bare feet, and the room was rather drafty without steam from any running showers.  So, eager to warm up, GLaDOS stepped into the stall beside Chell.

The human didn’t look at her as she entered, but turned the water on once she noticed GLaDOS’s presence.   The both of them nearly jumped back and knocked into each other as the water came out cold, earning a small yelp of surprise from GLaDOS and a look of shocked displeasure from Chell, who hurriedly moved to turn the knob as far into the hot section as possible.

It took a few moments of fiddling, but thankfully, the water finally came out pleasantly hot.

Chell wasted little time getting under the spray, eagerly letting the water hit her face and running her hands through her hair in order to make sure that it got properly soaked. Her whole body seemed to melt under the water, and her tense, coiled muscles relaxed, allowing her posture to slump a little.  She didn’t seem bothered in the slightest by all this. In fact, she appeared to be having a downright good time.

GLaDOS, on the other hand, not as much.  She stood as close to the wall as possible, only getting a bit of the water hitting her. It wasn’t out of any uneasiness around water- this form, as annoying as it may have been, could actually handle being exposed to water- but instead, out of something she hadn’t expected to feel when in this form.

Self-consciousness.

At first she had doubted that was even the right name for it, but as she stood there, she couldn’t help but accept it. She ought not to care about this body, how it looked, or even who saw it. Why did it matter? It wasn’t even hers. Sure, if ghosts existed, perhaps Caroline’s ghost would be terribly embarrassed that a version of her younger body was naked in front of someone. But ghosts weren’t real, and that wasn’t the source of GLaDOS’s embarrassment.  For some reason that she couldn’t explain, something in this human brain was telling her to be flustered.

About a minute or two passed, and GLaDOS still hadn’t moved. She was trying to look anywhere but at Chell, lightly chewing her bottom lip. It wasn’t until she felt someone touch her that she practically jumped and nearly fell on the slippery tile.

Chell was facing her now, having gently nudged GLaDOS’s arm, gesturing to the core to actually get under the water, before tapping her wrist in a silent reminder of ‘we’re on a time limit.’

GLaDOS gave a stiff nod and stepped forward, though she found herself stealing a glance at Chell for a few moments longer than she needed to, taking in the details of the human’s body up close.

Scars littered the woman’s body, ranging from small to big, some old, some new. Despite GLaDOS’s teasing, Chell was anything but overweight. She almost looked like she was nothing but muscle, judging by the way the defined parts of her arms shifted when she rubbed soapsuds into her hair, or the way that her stomach tensed as she carefully washed her injury, gingerly moving her hands around the tender skin.

GLaDOS felt her body heat up, and she was quick to mentally blame it on the hot water that was now hitting her skin.  She tore her eyes off of Chell, realizing that she had been staring- and that Chell had noticed.  The woman didn’t seem to react much, though GLaDOS could’ve sworn that the former test subject’s face was little bit darker red than it had been only moments before.

Slowly, GLaDOS tried to relax, mirroring Chell and running her fingers through her hair, trying to work out any of the knots. It was a calming motion, and felt incredibly good paired with the hot water on her skin. But her heart was still beating far faster than what she deemed normal. She found herself still stealing glances at Chell, watching the woman move. They were fluid, relaxed, and confident.  At first, it looked like she hardly noticed that GLaDOS was there. But upon a second glance, GLaDOS noticed that Chell was doing the same thing that Chell was- occasionally sneaking a glance at the other, and locking eyes every few moments.

Was that lunatic doing this on purpose?

GLaDOS was stunned for a moment, trying to both answer the question she had just posed and figure out what prompted her to think it in the first place. Chell wasn’t doing anything on purpose; that would imply GLaDOS was reacting to something that she was doing in the first place. Which she wasn’t.

Hurriedly, GLaDOS focused on the tiled wall, only barely registering Chell handing her the small bar of soap.  They hadn’t been in here for that long, but somehow it felt like an eternity.

The core shook her head, trying to focus on actually getting clean. The soap had a light, citrusy smell, and despite GLaDOS’s best attempts to focus on that, she still found her mind wandering. She ran her hands over this body, finding the action alien. She had been in this body for about a month now, and yet, in this moment, it still felt strange. To be stripped bare, and not only properly examine the form for herself, but to know that someone else was examining it too.

She gathered soapsuds in her hands, running it across her skin and feeling it wash away the layer of grime that resided there. GLaDOS found herself almost fascinated with herself- or rather, this body- as she noticed all the little things. How the shape of this body, Caroline’s body, differed from what she had just seen of Chell’s form… and what they had in common. If GLaDOS had been watching from afar, perhaps it would’ve been easier to look at this with a curious, professional eye.  But she was living it.

Eventually, she found herself satisfied with how clean she was and started to wash the soap off her body, making sure that she got it all out of her hair. Chell, it seemed, was doing the same. However, there was only so much space directly under the water, and they both knew that they were likely running out of time. And so, while GLaDOS knew she ought to have expected it, she found her heart skipping a beat each time they accidentally touched.  It couldn’t be helped, and she wanted to simply ignore it. But something about it made her blood pump and heart race.

If she leaned back a little, she’d be pressed up against the woman. Any shift in movement from either of them resulted in GLaDOS’s arm brushing against Chell’s shoulder, or Chell’s chest pressing against GLaDOS’s back.  The first couple times it had happened, both of them gave a subtle jolt away from the contact, as if they had been shocked with tiny bolts of electricity, but after the fourth time, the fifth time, and the sixth time, that stopped happening.  GLaDOS hadn’t even noticed it right away, finding herself too preoccupied in the hot water- or maybe, she had just gotten used to it. In fact, she wasn’t even sure that Chell had noticed either, as neither of them made any attempt to move this time.  The feeling of wet skin against wet skin was difficult not to notice now, yet it wasn’t addressed. There was only silence between them, and for a moment, GLaDOS found herself relaxing against the shared heat.

And then, of course, the water turned off.

The two of them abruptly moved apart, as if shaken out of a trance. Despite the lack of hot water, GLaDOS’s skin felt very, very hot, and if the light flush present on Chell was any indicator, the feeling was mutual.

“I…”

GLaDOS opened her mouth to say something, but found herself choking on her words, resulting only in a mix of noises that didn’t form a coherent sentence, so she promptly shut back up.

Chell looked up at her for a moment, before quickly turning away and pulling the shower curtain open, fumbling around for a moment before grabbing the two towels and tossing one of them at GLaDOS, hardly looking at her in the process.

GLaDOS was quick to grab it, drying herself off as promptly as possible before wrapping the fabric around her body to cover it as best she could. Chell seemed to do the same, awkwardly shuffling back over to her bag and clothes and sorting through them. For a moment, GLaDOS thought she was just finding her clothes, but to her surprise, she saw Chell grab a piece of paper and a pencil and start to write something down, before handing the paper to GLaDOS.

‘When I was looking around today I was thinking about the trip back to Aperture, and how we’re going to be out there when winter hits. So I got you some more suitable clothing to wear. And it’s clean.’

As GLaDOS read the note, Chell pulled said articles of clothing out of her bag, carefully placing them on the towel rack for GLaDOS to take.

The core was admittedly surprised. She looked from the paper to Chell, then to the small pile of clothes. Chell had thought about that? About her? While she was certainly right- a dress was already a bit too cold for the current weather, let alone what it’d be in a month- GLaDOS still couldn’t help but find herself a bit shocked that Chell had actually gone out of her way to help her like that.  She didn’t need to, but… she did.

Slowly, GLaDOS moved over to look at the clothes she had been given, spreading them out to get a better idea of what Chell had gotten for her.

A pair of dark blue pants, a long sleeved black undershirt, and a warm looking flannel shirt. Alongside that was a pair of thick socks, and some gloves. It wasn’t exactly a snowsuit, but it would definitely be far, far warmer than the sleeveless dress she was currently stuck with.

She turned to Chell, her mind racing in an attempt to think of something to say and her throat feeling oddly tight. But when she met the human’s gaze, she was surprised yet again.

GLaDOS had expected Chell to look nonchalant about this, or even a little guarded. To avoid GLaDOS’s gaze, or, at most, brush it off with a small smile. Instead, she was watching the AI almost nervously. Like she was waiting hopefully for a positive reaction to her gift.

“T...Thank you.”

The words came strangely out of GLaDOS’s throat- not forced, but not coming easily. She hadn’t expected the rush of gratitude that had hit her so suddenly, the odd feeling of warmth that was lingering under her skin, despite the drop in temperature since the water had been turned off. She felt both confused and excited, worried and relieved. This feeling wasn’t something she had experienced often in her lifetime, and thus she found herself unsure of just how to react to it. A simple ‘thank you’ was the closest she got to anything dignified.

And, it seemed, a ‘thank you’ was all that Chell wanted. The human perked up, her grey eyes sparkling with relief. She nodded in response to what GLaDOS had said, before turning back to her bag and pulling out some clothes for herself, some of which, GLaDOS noted, were also new.

They both continued dressing in silence, and though it wasn’t as heavy as it had been before, it felt weighted- this time though, for a very different reason. Something still seemed to hang in the air between them, unsaid, uncertain.  And even after they had pulled themselves upstairs, eaten  dinner and gotten into bed, the feeling hadn’t quite left them. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was noticeable.

Just how long would it last? Or rather, how long would it last before one of them said something?  GLaDOS was uncertain, but the strange feeling in her chest instinctively made her not want to find out.

This human brain was starting to affect her, and that was what scared GLaDOS.

Chapter Text

 

GLaDOS was eager to leave the settlement, and she and Chell did so the next morning at the crack of dawn. While the core was admittedly curious about the settlement, and wondered what it would be like to further study this post-apocalyptic society, her desire to be back in her body far outweighed her curiosity. Chell seemed to agree with her about moving promptly, as she pointed out it would be nearly a month-long journey back, and it was only getting colder with every day. The faster they moved, the easier the trip would be.

And so, with one last passing glance towards Greenfield, they started back on the path they had started on, their bags a little heavier and an inkling of hope being fostered in GLaDOS’s chest.

The computer was added weight on her back, but it would be worth it. Once they got back to Aperture, she could hook it up to the facility and get the place running again. Then, all she needed to do was undo whatever process it was that got her in this mess in the first place, and all would be right again.


To her surprise, the trip back was already looking to be easier than expected. She found herself recognizing the scenery as they passed. This made it feel faster, and allowed them to take shortcuts in certain places, being more familiar with the area. Their pace was consistent, with Chell’s injury healing well and not being as much of a hindrance as GLaDOS would’ve thought. And furthermore, it had already been a week, and somehow, they hadn’t run into any trouble.

They hadn’t been jumped by bandits or attacked by mutant animals. The tension between her and Chell had greatly lessened, to the point where it almost felt normal again. GLaDOS had gone back to chatting with Chell as they walked, and while Chell still stubbornly kept her mouth shut, she reacted as much as possible through facial expressions and gestures, seeming committed to actually carrying a conversation. While the lingering thoughts around Chell’s silence hung in GLaDOS’s mind and left a bitter taste on her tongue, she couldn’t deny that she was thankful for Chell’s attempt at compromise. In fact, the past week had been almost pleasant as a result.

 

So of course, GLaDOS was waiting for something to go wrong. It had to. The surface was unpredictable and cruel, and GLaDOS had come to expect that something would turn on its head soon.

And, on the eighth day, something did. Just… not what GLaDOS expected.


The weather had already been getting progressively colder, but they had been hit with a sudden decline in temperature the night before. It dropped alongside the sun, leaving the two of them bundled up a little tighter in their furs as they slept. Even in the morning, it didn’t seem to warm much. The sky was overcast, and everything was grey and dark, even as the day progressed.

The wind was biting, nipping at their faces as it passed. GLaDOS had to admit, she was very thankful for Chell finding her new clothes while they were at the settlement. While the chill in the air was impossible to completely avoid, GLaDOS took comfort in tugging the thick flannel closer to her body and relishing in the warmth it provided. The dress that she had been wearing up until recently was fine for warm weather, but quickly became unbearable against cold wind. This outfit, while not perfect, was a vast improvement. Chell had done well in picking it out, GLaDOS could give her that.

Still, even warm clothes didn’t make today’s travel much better. The sun seemed to be stubbornly evading them all day, and from the way the clouds hung in the sky, GLaDOS couldn’t help but openly voice her concern about the very real chance of rain.

They had been rained on only twice before on their journey to the settlement, and neither time had been pleasant. Thankfully, both of those instances had been short showers, and in the morning or evening, meaning they could either wait it out and have a late start, or stop traveling a little early and call it a night. But now, it was late afternoon. If they stopped now, they’d likely have to just stay put for the rest of the day, unless they wanted to risk going out and traveling in the rain, which they definitely did not.

While rain was annoying, it wasn’t exactly dangerous. At least, not until the weather started getting cold. Now, if they ended up getting drenched by freezing rain, they’d be soaked, freezing, and with little chance to properly dry off. Wet clothes and hair plus cold wind was not a good combo. One or both of them could easily catch a cold, or worse. And while, in the long haul, GLaDOS didn’t care what happened to this body, in the short term, it was pretty important. She could show up on Aperture’s doorstep bleeding, vomiting and having lost a limb, but as long as she could transfer back into her chassis, she didn’t care. Still, she needed this body to hold up long enough for that to happen, so getting sick after only the first week of travelling was unlikely to be a wise course of action.

Chell seemed to agree, as when GLaDOS mentioned it, she looked up, nervously. It was dry for now, but that could change at any time. So, with a small nod of her head in the right direction, Chell picked up her pace. She hadn’t needed to write anything down for GLaDOS to get an idea of what she was thinking. ‘Let’s move a bit faster so if we end up getting held up by a storm, at least we made some good progress.’

GLaDOS allowed herself a snarky comment and rolling of the eyes, but for the most part, couldn’t complain. She agreed with Chell, and, to make things better, this body had greatly adapted to the amount of exercise she was putting it through on a near-daily basis. She was still tired by the end of the day, but she wasn’t waking up horrifically sore either.

This journey was far from fun, but even GLaDOS had to admit, it was slowly becoming… bearable. Not that she wanted to prolong it any longer than she had to, but she supposed she could at least be thankful that it wasn’t as rough to endure as it had been. Though, that made her think. What would it be like once this was all said and done? Once she was back in her body and Chell was back on the surface, alone? Would things really go back to normal? Would GLaDOS’s life in Aperture really go on as if nothing had happened? She couldn’t say. She wanted to believe that the answer was yes, and that she would simply move past this little setback and store it away in her memory banks, not having to ever think about it again. But… doubt still resided within her- a small seed for now, but growing with time.

GLaDOS walked with her mind deep in thought for awhile, letting herself fall quiet as she went. However, something shook her from her musings. That something was a sudden prick of something cold on the tip of her nose. She gave her head a brisk shake, blinking to attention. For a moment, she thought it might’ve been a raindrop, and looked up at the sky, expecting to see heavy drops of water cascading down from the clouds. But instead, she noticed small, slowly drifting white flakes.

“Snow?”

She couldn’t help herself from voicing her thoughts aloud, her tone surprised. She watched as a couple more flakes drifted down, and she reached out to let one sit on the palm of her gloved hand, where it stayed for a moment before slowly melting.

It probably shouldn’t have surprised her to see as much as it did- it was perfectly reasonable that it would start snowing around this time of year, as the leaves had long since changed colors and most of them were free from their branches, already decomposing into the ground. Autumn was over, and winter was coming. Yet somehow, GLaDOS still found herself momentarily awed by the sight. It was… beautiful, in an odd way. She knew everything there was to know about weather phenomenons, but she hadn’t experienced all of them herself. Rain had been unpleasant, but this? This wasn’t so bad.

GLaDOS turned to Chell to see her reaction, knowing that the human had paused and looked up as well when GLaDOS had spoken.

The former test subject looked at the sky with a mixture of emotions, though with considerably less awe than GLaDOS. A small smile crossed her lips for a moment, but it was quickly followed by a furrowed brow and worried expression. No doubt she was concerned about the chance of this turning into a snowstorm, but GLaDOS wasn’t as worried. The snowfall was light, and most of it melted upon hitting the ground, as the earth beneath them had only partially frozen.

Chell frowned at the sky for a moment before seemingly making up her mind, gesturing for GLaDOS to keep walking with her. It wasn’t late enough to turn in for the night, and the snow was light enough that it wasn’t likely to be a hindrance.

As they walked, GLaDOS still couldn’t help but observe the world around her. She had seen these locations quite recently, yet somehow, they looked considerably different since she last saw them. Many trees that had been covered in bright red and orange leaves now looked bare and dead, the only traces of green in sight being the occasional evergreen. Everything felt considerably more still, like the world had slowed down and gone to sleep. Insects no longer buzzed insistently around her face as they walked through patches of woods, and any muddy spots in the ground had hardened up into firm terrain. Everything was just so quiet. And, while GLaDOS would normally find herself eager to break a silence like this, she kept it going for now. She walked a pace behind Chell and allowed herself to watch the world go by as they walked, and casually keep track of how many snowflakes would land in Chell’s dark brown hair.

Eventually, though, they came to a stop. The sky had been dark all day, but it was getting considerably darker. The days were shorter now, and while it didn’t feel like they had been out for long, it was time to call it a day.

Chell found them a sheltered spot to set up camp, making sure GLaDOS set up the tent and beds while she tried to look for dry firewood. It took the human considerably longer than usual- GLaDOS was already finished setting up camp and sitting at the soon-to-be firepit by the time Chell returned- but thankfully, they had enough dry wood to last them the night. Not having a fire on a night like this was the last thing either of them wanted, so GLaDOS watched with eager eyes as Chell fumbled with her flint and steel to get a spark going, shielding it from the wind that threatened to put it out. The flame was small at first, but neither Chell nor GLaDOS were willing to give up on it, both of them using their combined efforts to keep it going long enough to build into a size that could sustain itself.

Soon, the tiny fire had grown into a roaring one, crackling and providing a steady source of warmth. Still, GLaDOS had grabbed one of the blankets that she usually slept with and wrapped it around herself as they ate dinner and warmed themselves. It was getting dark, but neither of them were overly tired, and GLaDOS had the feeling that they’d be lingering around the fire for longer than usual tonight.

Chell was, unsurprisingly, quiet, simply staring at the fire or perhaps focusing on something else. GLaDOS, however, decided that she had spent enough time in her own head for today, and spoke, needing to fill the air with something besides the crackle of a fire.

“We’re about a quarter of the way back to Aperture, right?”

Chell nodded in response, raising an eyebrow at GLaDOS’s statement, knowing that there was more to the core’s words than just a simple question, and prompting her to continue.

“I know we discussed this a little before, but I just thought I’d… bring up my offer again. For you. Staying in Aperture. Not permanently, but maybe long enough to… wait winter out.”

GLaDOS played with the fabric of her blanket, looking away from Chell’s face. This had been on her mind for a while, and while she had breached the topic a while ago, at the time she’d only offered a couple night deal. This was different. Chell was hard to read, and she hadn’t been given direct confirmation, but GLaDOS had a feeling that last winter had been difficult on the human, living out here. It would be cold and snowy, and no matter how well prepared she was, it was likely to be unpleasant. And while the core couldn’t guarantee that staying inside Aperture would be a preferable option, maybe it would seem a little more appealing. When GLaDOS got back in her body, she could keep the facility at a comfortable temperature, and make sure Chell had a hot shower whenever she wanted it and a proper bed to sleep on.

Briefly, she brought her eyes up to look at Chell, curious to see how she would react.

To her surprise, there wasn’t as much hesitation in Chell’s reaction this time. She smiled, and gave a slow nod, pulling out a piece of paper and quickly scribbling a note.

I think I’d like that.

GLaDOS felt a wave of relief crashing over her, though she was unsure why. It didn’t matter if Chell said yes; once she was back in her chassis, it didn’t matter what Chell did. The human’s life was her own, and if she wanted to brave the winter alone, so be it. But something inside GLaDOS relaxed considerably upon knowing that Chell agreed to this. She pondered it for a moment, mulling over the thought and the feelings attached in her mind, trying to find their source.

A part of her felt that she almost… owed it to Chell.

Not in a literal sense, of course; Chell hadn’t asked for anything when she agreed to help GLaDOS. But that was part of the problem. GLaDOS hadn’t understood then, and didn’t understand now, why Chell had agreed to do this. Why she agreed to help GLaDOS with no incentive in the slightest. They had butted heads for so long, only working together out of necessity. By all means, their debt was settled when GLaDOS let Chell go. Their deal was finished, and they had parted on even terms. Chell owed GLaDOS nothing when she found her in the woods, nearly being eaten alive by a mutant bear creature. She could’ve simply killed the bear and left GLaDOS alone. Or, even if she still agreed to help, she could’ve asked for something in return- weapons or supplies from Aperture, a favor, shelter, anything. She could’ve made any request, and GLaDOS would’ve accepted it. She needed Chell’s help to get back in her body and she would’ve made many a sacrifice for that. Yet, nothing.

It was slowly driving GLaDOS mad, not knowing why. She didn’t understand. Any other human would’ve surely asked for something in return, wouldn’t they? GLaDOS herself figured that she would’ve as well. If Chell had come back to Aperture and needed a favor, no doubt the core would’ve been prepared to ask for repayment in some way. It was only fair, wasn’t it?

The core stared at the fire, watching flames hungrily lick at the wood and send small sparks into the air. She stared for a while, but after a bit, realized she wasn’t really seeing it. She was lost in thought, and slowly, it was becoming too much for her to keep in her head.

“Why?”

She spoke bluntly at first, as if this word had been sitting on her tongue for far too long, building up pressure inside of her and suddenly bursting out without warning. Chell’s confused face was what prompted GLaDOS to continue, finally letting forth the questions that had been weighing on her mind for so long.

“Why are you doing all this? You’ve never given me a reason as to why you’re helping me. We’ve been out here for well over a month, and not once have you explained why you agreed to all this. You have nothing to gain from this journey but some new scars. So… why?”

GLaDOS’s voice raised as she spoke, not quite to the point of yelling, but a tone that demanded answers. She had been quiet for far too long in her eyes. While perhaps it would’ve been best not to look a gift horse in the mouth, she couldn’t help it. GLaDOS was many things, and curious was most definitely one of them. That was what had gotten her into this mess in the first place, but even that couldn’t stop her desire for knowledge, for explanations. She hated leaving a question unanswered, a riddle unsolved. She wanted to know the nature of how things worked, why they happened. It was the nature of a scientist, was it not?

And yet, for all the time she had spent out here, she had been traveling with an enigma. A mute lunatic who, for all her usefulness to GLaDOS, seemed to hold things so tightly to her chest that GLaDOS wondered just how much it was that she did not know.

Chell didn’t talk about herself much, only occasionally telling some stories through notes around the fire, but even that was only when GLaDOS prompted her.

The tension between them had lessened, and Chell seemed to have put some trust in GLaDOS. But even then, she picked and chose what she wished the core to understand. She would sleep next to the AI for a whole night with no suspicion, but she would not speak to her. She would go on a journey that could easily take two months in total, but she never once explained why.

And now that GLaDOS had finally spoken about it, she could only wait and see if she would even receive a proper response. She watched as Chell’s face scrunched up in deep thought, as she casually played with her bottom lip between her teeth, gingerly chewing on it as if that would help. After a few moments of silence, she reached around in her bag for a mostly clean piece of paper, and stared at it, not quite moving to write anything yet. Her grey-blue eyes were both expressive and closed off; GLaDOS could see the gears turning in the human’s head so clearly, yet she couldn’t seem to understand what was making them tick.

She waited with bated breath as Chell slowly put her pencil to the paper, the gentle scratch of the tip scribbling against the paper sounding impossibly loud in a silence that was nearly deafening.

It felt as if Chell took hours to complete her message, occasionally pausing, narrowing her eyes, and erasing a sentence, only to start anew. GLaDOS was expecting a short, simple explanation, as was commonplace from Chell. But either Chell was taking a ridiculously long time with a very simple answer, or she was taking her time to write something longer, more thought out.

The former test subject didn’t just turn the paper around for GLaDOS to read, either. When it seemed that she was finished writing it, her eyes scanned the note one last time, checking it carefully before handing it to GLaDOS, letting her hand linger in place for a moment longer than she needed, before slowly retracting it.

I wasn’t going to leave you out here on your own. I knew you needed help, and if I left without doing anything, your blood would be on my hands. I wouldn’t let that happen to a stranger, let alone someone I know. We haven’t exactly had the best times together, and I won’t deny I had second thoughts. But the last time we met, you saved my life. You didn’t have to, but you did. You earned my respect, GLaDOS. And throughout the time we’ve spent together, I’ve come to consider you as a friend. I’m not going to ask for payment for helping a friend.’


There were notable marks on the paper, smudged spots where words had been erased multiple times, leaving a faint, grey mark, making GLaDOS question what had been written before. ‘Friend’ was what caught her eye the most- not only for how much it had taken her aback, but for how smudged the paper was around it. How many things had Chell written and changed her mind about there? GLaDOS couldn’t say for certain, though she doubted anything the human could’ve written would’ve shocked the AI any more than what was there now.

Friend. Chell considered her… a friend? It was a strange thought, one that left an odd taste in GLaDOS’s mouth as she mulled it over, momentarily speechless. It was an odd label to put on their relationship, in GLaDOS’s mind. They had been test subject and scientist, and perhaps even enemies. Then, partners, forced together by an unfortunate situation. When Chell left, GLaDOS had no title for her. She had simply left as ‘Chell.’ Not a test subject, not an enemy, and no longer a partner. Just Chell.

And, come to think of it, GLaDOS hadn’t really labeled her much since then. ‘Traveling companion’ was the closest thing, and even that was merely stating a fact of their current situation. She hadn’t even thought to put a more personal spin on it.

Now, though, Chell had. And, as GLaDOS looked up from the paper, she couldn’t help but wonder if the human’s face looked… nervous. Like she waiting for a proper reaction from the core about the message as a whole, but maybe more specifically for the terminology that she used. Was Chell uncertain if she genuinely counted GLaDOS as a friend? Or… was there something else behind it?

A warm sensation sparked to life in her stomach at that thought, flickering and licking at her insides much like the fire in front of her, sending a rush of heat throughout her body. Unlike the fire, though, she couldn’t give an explanation of why she felt this way. Was this seriously what it felt like to have a friend?

The thought alone in its sappiness nearly caused GLaDOS to wrinkle her nose. It sounded so much worse when she tried to put it into words. Yet she couldn’t deny that what she felt for Chell wasn’t the same as what she felt while they were in Aperture. It wasn’t hate, and she wasn’t simply tolerating her presence either. She found herself enjoying Chell’s company, taking comfort in the protection she gave, and resenting the time they had spent apart with tensions high. By that logic, wouldn’t that make Chell her friend?

As GLaDOS began to formulate a response, she couldn’t help but feel a note of hesitation in her mind at that label. Not disgust, as she might’ve felt had this been mentioned a month ago, but something else completely. It hung in her mind and her heart, lingering even as she spoke.

“I...wasn’t expecting that, I’ll be honest. You baffle me, Chell, and yet…” She paused, bringing a small, almost amused smile to her face, watching Chell drastically relax as she did so. “...I appreciate this. What you’ve said here, and… everything you’ve done. Thank you for...putting my mind at rest. And I know you said I don’t owe you anything, but I don’t like leaving unpaid debts with mute lunatics, so… the deal still stands.”

Chell gave a silent chuckle at this, her body posture going from upright, rigid and thoughtful, to relaxed and comfortable within a matter of seconds. Had she really been that worried about what she’d said? Or, was she worried about something she didn’t say?

GLaDOS shook the question from her mind. She had asked enough for tonight, and she had the feeling that pressing further wouldn’t yield any results. Besides, by this point, the sun had gone and the moon replaced it, occasionally peeking out from the thick clouds, with snow still occasionally drifting by.

They had both started to yawn by the time the fire began slowly dying, acting as a good cue for climbing underneath their blankets and furs and getting some rest. Without the fire’s roaring heat, they’d no doubt need every single one to keep warm. Even just starting to walk away from the firepit, GLaDOS could feel a profound chill in her bones, causing her to practically jump underneath the bedding and pull it close to her body.

She could only hope it’d be enough to keep her from shivering all night long.

 

Chapter Text

One would think that it’d become easier to deal with nightmares the more one experienced them. The same hell inside your head that you visit almost every night, always waiting just beyond the borders of consciousness… GLaDOS expected- she hoped- that she would just become numb to it.

Yet that still hadn’t happened.

The dreams would shift in seemingly small ways, never once allowing for adaptation to them. What might be blazing pain and ghosts of memories that weren’t quite hers one night could be an icy cold grip on her body as she felt herself drowning in nothingness the next night. It was as if this brain was trying to torment her, scrambling to think of new, horrific scenarios to put her in every night.

She would try to fight them, to struggle, to remind herself that none of it was real before she fell asleep each night, hoping that one night, her sleeping brain would act rational and laugh in the face of the images and sensations it conjured to frighten her. If she could wake up each morning and so obviously know that what she had experienced wasn’t real, why couldn’t she do that when asleep? Robots didn’t need sleep, but even when she’d been reliving her own death over and over, as nightmare-like as that was, GLaDOS could recognize what situation she was in. She knew that she was, in a way, dreaming. Time wasn’t really going backwards; she was just reliving her own experiences. GLaDOS wanted so desperately to be able to do that now, to realize that what she saw at night was little more than twisted versions of things that had already been.

Yet here she was again, in a far-too-familiar place.

She was surrounded by darkness, brief flashes of twisted versions of the past lurking in the shadows. Images of dark chambers and hazy rooms, flickering lights and faceless men in white coats. She could hear the scientists, their voices all talking over each other, growing louder and louder until it became so loud that GLaDOS didn’t even notice that their words had shifted to screams, echoing out in the darkness like they once had in the halls of Aperture. The sound rung in her ears, high, shrill and panicked. All humans, even monsters among men, sounded the same when they screamed, begging for their lives.

She tried to cover her ears, feeling as if the sound would split her head in half if she heard it any longer. But she couldn’t move her arms, as they seemed to be tied to her sides with heavy, metal chains. The chains were cold against her skin at first, but slowly seemed to heat up until they were white hot, burning brands onto every inch of skin they touched.

The core struggled against the restraints, opening her mouth to let out a cry of protest to the growing pain. Her voice was lost amongst the other screams, and no matter how hard she tried, her own voice sounded muted inside her head. With each movement she made, the chains grew tighter. With each scream that left her throat, the other voices grew louder, as if to drown her out. She could feel her throat going raw, each scream starting to hurt.

Then, she could feel them. Their hands, cold and clammy, grasping at her body.  They clawed at her like rabid beasts, clutching to her as if for dear life, digging their fingernails into her skin until GLaDOS could feel hot blood running from the scratches. She could see glimpses of their faces, twisted in wails of fear and agony, their eyes sunken and ghastly. They were only inches away from her face as they screamed at her, their breath hot against her face and smelling distinctly like a certain toxin.

She thrashed in place to get away from them, wanting for nothing more than to run from this place. She tried to move her legs, but they felt as if they were frozen, holding her very tightly in place, and ever so slowly dragging her downwards. She craned her neck to see what was pulling her, or what was beneath her. The AI saw nothing at first, and then, with a single spark, the ground erupted in flames.

The fire licked at her ankles, threatening to consume her with its hunger. The screams still echoed in her ears, but now they were accompanied by the roar of the blazing inferno beneath her. Thick, black smoke filled her lungs, slowly choking her screams inside her throat and suffocating her. She gasped and sputtered, desperately trying to breathe something other than smoke. Her eyes burned and watered, and she threw her head back, one last scream about to be ripped from her throat as the fire swallowed her whole-


Suddenly, it all stopped. But GLaDOS was not awake, as was usually her only relief from these dreams. For some reason, the nightmare had just… stopped. The chains had suddenly loosened and clattered to the ground, and the fires were gone, their unbearable heat reduced to a soft, gentle warmth. The screaming no longer echoed in her ears, instead replaced by a gentle sound, almost rhythmic in nature.

For a moment, she was dumbfounded. This had never happened; was it some perverse trick from this human brain? The only nights she hadn’t experienced a nightmare were the ones in which she simply floated in nothing- feeling, seeing, hearing, and thinking absolutely nothing at all. Other than those, the only solace she had from nightmares was the waking world.

This, though; this was different.  She was no longer chained in place, she could move, but a gentle pressure surrounded her body. Not crushing or uncomfortable, but steady. It took a while for her brain to relax, but when it did, GLaDOS let her body go limp and stopped squirming in place. The sensation was like that of being surrounded by hundreds of soft pillows, suspended in a comfortable cushion of warmth.

A sigh left her throat, a sound very different from the screams she had been so used to. She felt the tension drain from her body as she pressed into the warmth and tried to listen to the soothing sound that surrounded her. It was not distant, but it wasn’t loud either. She could hear it close to her ear, but it was never startling or abrupt in nature. No longer could she smell the acidic scent of neurotoxin, nor the thick, suffocating smell of smoke. Instead, she could smell evergreens, and a light hint of burning wood, like that of a campfire. It was dark, but this darkness didn’t frighten her; it wasn’t oppressive and smothering like it had been before.  Instead, she almost found it comforting. It was... familiar in a way, reminding her of something that she couldn’t quite place.

Slowly, GLaDOS tried to shift her body, attempting to further immerse herself in the warmth. It was all around her, but she felt that if she only shifted a little closer, it’d be just right. She wanted to be closer, more tightly nestled against this feeling. She breathed deeply, trying to remember where it was that she knew this scent from.

However, movement could lead to the waking world, and as she shifted, she could feel herself starting to fade from the dream, slowly becoming aware of her current state. For a moment she almost panicked, not quite ready to leave the one and only pleasant dream she had ever experienced. She had no idea if something like this would ever happen again, and ached at the thought of having to go back to nothing but nightmares after this. Still, even as she found herself inching towards consciousness, the warmth remained. She still felt snugly pressed against it, and could still hear that rhythmic sound.

It stayed steady, and she listened closely, trying to figure out what it was before she awoke.

A soft thump, almost like… footsteps? No, not quite. GLaDOS searched her brain for an answer, feeling it dancing on the tip of her tongue but not quite coming to mind, until it struck her.

A heartbeat. Her own? No, she wouldn’t be able to hear her own heartbeat so clearly, that wouldn’t make sense...

This thought was what finally shook GLaDOS awake, and she became aware of the world around her, although distinctly groggily.

She was warm, nuzzled up to her furs and blankets, feeling their gentle weight on top of her. She moved to open her eyes, expecting to be met with the sight of an empty tent. Instead, she opened her eyes and saw… very little. Her face was pressed closely to fabric, giving her limited vision.  

It took a moment for GLaDOS’s still-waking brain to realize that she wasn’t pressing her face up to a bundle of furs and blankets. She was pressed up against fabric, more specifically, the heavy, thick fabric of a jacket. Not only that, but there was a weight attached to that jacket. A firm, warm mass. GLaDOS was cuddled up to someone, not something. And that someone was Chell.

GLaDOS was stunned for a moment, piecing things together faster and faster as her brain woke up.

The warmth and gentle pressure, the heartbeat? She was being held.

Her head was pressed against Chell’s chest, buried in her jacket. A quick inhale brought the scent of evergreen trees and campfire smoke to the core’s nose, and, taking only a moment to listen, she confirmed it with the continued thump of a heartbeat, soft and steady, accompanied by a gentle rise and fall of the chest as she breathed.

Chell’s arms were wrapped around her, holding the AI close to her body in a firm but not overly tight grip. It encompassed her in body heat and a feeling of safety. It was quite possibly the strangest situation she’d woken up in so far. The only thing stranger than that? GLaDOS was returning the action.  Her own arms were wrapped around Chell’s torso, balled up fists clutching the back of her jacket. Her body was partially curled up, pressing up as much as possible against Chell’s form. The chill of winter was hardly noticeable like this, as the shared furs and blankets between them helped to keep the warmth of both their bodies in.

It actually felt… nice. It was warm, and shockingly comfortable. For a second, GLaDOS stayed there, almost tempted to fall back asleep. Then, she repeated the situation in her mind once more. She was being held. By Chell. They were… cuddling. And GLaDOS was enjoying herself.

The core quickly retracted her arms and practically threw herself away from Chell, wriggling out of her grip in a rather sudden movement. It was enough to shake Chell, who looked positively bewildered at her current situation, awake.

“W-What was that about?!”

GLaDOS finally spoke, her voice a little more unsteady than she would’ve liked. She had moved away from the warmth of Chell’s body, but her cheeks were burning with embarrassment and she somehow still felt very warm.  She could still feel Chell’s arms around her, still had the lingering scent of her in her nose.

Chell looked like a startled deer, having sat upright and gone slightly wide-eyed. She too was blushing as red as a tomato, opening and closing her mouth like a fish out of water, but giving no words to explain herself.

To be fair, GLaDOS had no idea how that had happened, and exactly who had been responsible for it. A part of her brain liked to think that it was because of the sudden cold spell. It had dropped in temperature so drastically lately that their bodies had simply gravitated towards each other, desperately seeking more warmth than the furs and blankets provided. That was the logical explanation, and thus, the one that was most comfortable- and least likely to cause a wave of confusion and guilt.

Chell fumbled around for her bag, rummaging through it and looking for a piece of paper and her pencil, furiously trying to scribble something down in the early morning light. She seemed a little groggy as well, though not as much as GLaDOS was, as if she had only been sleeping lightly.

‘I’m so sorry about that, I wasn’t thinking. I partially woke up an hour ago, you were tossing and turning, making noises in your sleep. You’ve… done that before, but it sounded really bad this time so I thought I’d try and calm you down and then let go once you seemed ok, but you kinda latched on and then I fell back asleep.’

The note was hastily written and difficult to read in the dim light of the tent, but GLaDOS managed- though she partly wished she hadn’t, as it didn’t exactly make her feel much better. It only brought another wave of embarrassment over her. She suddenly wanted nothing more than to simply hide underneath one of these blankets.

How long had Chell known about this? GLaDOS knew these were violent nightmares, but she thought if she was moving around or making too much noise in the waking world, Chell would’ve told her before. She had just been putting up with all this? Or was she just too embarrassed to say something before? Either way, they were both pretty red in the face at the moment, and GLaDOS found herself running a hand through her hair, still avoiding Chell’s gaze.

A supercomputer, the queen of Aperture, had been weak enough to cuddle up to a human for comfort. She let silly dreams control her to the point where she had needed to be comforted, coddled, by a human.  She felt a heat burning in her stomach, which twisted and turned uncomfortably at the thought. It stirred thoughts inside her that she didn’t want to think about, thoughts that were becoming harder and harder to ignore. She recognized this feeling too, which made it worse.  She had felt this before, and she had been noticing it more and more recently.

She was, or perhaps this body was… reacting to Chell. In ways that GLaDOS didn’t appreciate.

Now, human emotion wasn’t something that GLaDOS was experienced in. It was confusing and complex, and while plenty of studies had been done, it was a different thing to experience it for yourself. From a distance it was easy to look at the chemical reactions, the changes in brain activity, the movements of the face and body. One could look and recognize many emotions through a scientific eye.  But experiencing them was raw. They came and went, hitting hard and digging deep. There was little time to study something when you found herself unable to hold a coherent thought.

But it wasn’t just the emotional response, either. If it was only in her head, perhaps GLaDOS could hide it, if not ignore it completely. Unfortunately, this human body seemed fit to betray her at every turn, and was content with throwing her for a loop and making her insides feel as jumbled as if she’d gone through a portal freefall for ten minutes. Her skin would flush and her heart would race, and she felt this itch under her skin- not like the one the scientists had forced upon her, though almost equally frustrating.  This feeling, this desire, yearned for contact.  GLaDOS would find herself subconsciously scooting a little closer to Chell when sitting around the fire, and she could feel a small jolt of excitement whenever she brushed up against her.

GLaDOS had always laughed at humans and their desires for such simple, animal pleasures, but now, she was feeling the brunt of it all.

The surface had been turned on its head, made into a living hell for almost all inhabitants, but humans were still humans. And even a lab-created clone body of a human still fell into the same traps.  

Humans, unlike AIs, were naturally social animals. They craved interaction and the ability to form relationships. Affectionate contact was important, too; some could even become touch-starved without it. In her chassis, GLaDOS had never had this problem. But now? She found herself yearning for things that, when she actually stopped to let her brain do the thinking, made her recoil with shock. She had been able to keep from acting on them until now, but that was becoming steadily harder to do, especially in this moment.

GLaDOS’s eyes met Chell’s after doing her best to avoid them until this point, finally giving up and facing the human. She felt her breath hitch as she did so, her heart skipping a beat.  The lighting was dark, and it was hard to make much out, but she could see the way Chell was staring at her.  She looked flustered, but underneath that, there was something else.  Something that GLaDOS was able to put a label on the moment she saw it, much to her horror.

Affection.  Chell was looking at her with an affectionate gaze, laced with embarrassment, concern, and pity. Chell felt bad for her? For the nightmares, no doubt. They had been enough to prompt her to hold the core until they passed, so clearly, the former test subject held some sort of concern over the matter. Her eyes, for as soft as they were in this moment, held a flame of something quite akin to protectiveness.

Chell had promised to guard her on this trip, to keep her safe.  GLaDOS could only assume that the woman felt that extended to protecting her from nightmares as well. They could not harm her in the waking world, but they did make each night difficult.  She needed the rest if she wanted to travel, and getting rest was increasingly difficult when you knew what was coming once you shut your eyes. Perhaps Chell knew that, and was only looking at this logically.

...GLaDOS knew that wasn’t true; she could see it. But that was what she was going to decide to believe right now.

“It’s… unfortunate that… you’ve had to witness me like that. It’s not my finest moment. And this human body is at fault for its behaviors. I don’t like doing this, but I believe it’s customary to apologize for the actions of my resting self. It won’t happen again.”

GLaDOS shifted in place, letting the words fall from her mouth with only a second of planning before she said them, hoping they sounded as collected as she had wanted them to.

She watched for a reaction, looking at Chell as she spoke, despite how much she desperately wanted to look anywhere else.

There was a flash of something in the human’s eyes, there and gone so quickly that GLaDOS had almost missed it.  She searched Chell’s silvery orbs for an explanation, but found none.  Chell had relaxed her gaze, turning it more neutral and casual, as opposed to the almost passionate stare she had fixed on the core a moment ago. She didn’t look guarded, but GLaDOS had spent enough time around her to know that she was.  Something that the core said- it hadn’t upset her, but it had given her reason pull her walls back up a little.  Whatever Chell had been thinking, what she might’ve been planning to say or do, GLaDOS couldn’t say.

But she knew that Chell was dissatisfied with something. She just didn’t know what.


Chell moved away from her blankets, stretching and quickly poking her head outside.  GLaDOS shivered at the sudden winds, pulling her blanket back up to her chest to try to block out the air.  It wasn’t even light out yet; surely Chell wasn’t actually thinking about having them get up and leave now?

She looked to the human, disbelief evidence in her gaze as she watched Chell grab her bag and sling it over her shoulder.

“You can’t be serious! I know we’re both awake, but it’s hardly dawn! We normally sleep for at least two more hours than this, there’s no way we’re-”

GLaDOS paused as Chell waved her off, holding her hand out and pointing first at GLaDOS, then to the tent. Then, she pointed at herself, her rifle, then outside. She wanted to go hunting?  GLaDOS raised a skeptical eyebrow. They had plenty of food, and it wasn’t like Chell was likely to find much of anything in the next two hours.

“Really? What, you see a herd of deer outside that I don’t?  It’s cold out there, and it’s warm in here. You really are a lunatic.”

GLaDOS rolled her eyes as Chell shrugged, scribbling a quick note of ‘Need some fresh air ’ in response, before grabbing the supplies she needed and swiftly leaving the tent, trying to let in as little cold air as possible.  The core listened to her footsteps crunching against the frozen ground for a few moments until the sound was lost to the soft howl of the wind. While not horrible, the wind had still picked up from the night before, leaving GLaDOS incredibly thankful for the the shelter that the tent provided along with the location that they were set up in, which was mostly shielded by large pine trees, with thick, hefty trunks acting as barriers from the elements.

With a yawn, she slowly settled back down. She had some time, and her body was still slightly tired. It would do her well to get some extra sleep.

For a moment, she hesitated. She questioned whether, if she fell asleep, she’d be brought back into the nightmare from before, or possibly something worse.  But… as GLaDOS snuggled back up in her spot, she realized that Chell’s blankets were still warm- and up for the grabbing.  With little hesitation, she pulled them over her body, relishing in the extra warmth they gave, and taking note that they seemed to share that distinct smell.

Maybe the nightmares would leave her alone for a little while.

Chapter Text

The journey back to Aperture seemed to take forever and no time at all.  GLaDOS was eager, antsy to get back in her body. This was the longest she had ever been away from her chassis, and she found herself more than a little homesick. She longed to be back in her facility, surrounded by those white walls and bright lights, and knowing that she was almost there, she felt as if each day were dragging by.

But, at the same time, it all melded together. What she could’ve sworn was only a couple days before had been a week and a half ago. The journey back, while difficult to withstand while being so impatient, went by much quicker than the core had expected, and surprisingly smoothly as well.

They had run into a scuffle or two with a particularly hungry and bold animal, but even that felt far less threatening now than it had before. The reason being that, after a conversation, Chell had decided to let GLaDOS carry the handgun- and, furthermore, took time to give her a few more lessons to get her a bit better at using it. Chell still did the hunting and most of the combat, but GLaDOS had managed to take down a rather aggressive vulture that had been trying to steal their food. She had been shocked, but very proud of herself. Neither of them wanted to stop for too long when they could be traveling, but even just taking a couple hours out of the day to practice was helping quite a bit. GLaDOS’s aim was still far from as perfect as she wanted it to be, but it was improving.  

Chell was a surprisingly good teacher, despite her continued silence. She’d write down important tips and give them to GLaDOS directly, but general guidance was given in the form of physical touch, directing her towards the correct stances and movements. And, while neither of them had said it out loud, both found themselves looking forward to getting a little closer than usual for the sake of training.

The weather only got colder as the days and weeks passed, with icy winds blowing in and chilling the world around it. It hadn’t heavily snowed yet, but there was often a light dusting of white on the landscape, as small snow clouds would drift in and out and leave small traces. It had, unfortunately, lost most of its appeal. While it was interesting to watch, snow meant cold weather, and cold weather meant hard, frozen ground to sleep on.

That was less than favorable, and GLaDOS had made her displeasure openly known with continued comments on how badly her back hurt after being forced to sleep on a root all night long. But despite her complaints, GLaDOS had gotten better sleep for the past few weeks than she had for the entire rest of the time she had been in this body. Nightmares, once waiting for her right outside of the corners of her mind, were infrequent now, almost rare.

The reason for that was one that GLaDOS wasn’t keen on admitting, but she knew to be true.

Under the very valid reason of keeping warm in the dropping temperatures, she and Chell had started sleeping in close contact- very close contact.  They shared blankets, and pressed up to each other for body heat.  This much was effective, as while it wasn’t exactly toasty warm in their tent, this made sleeping through the night bearable.  And, as GLaDOS had discovered, it had a very nice side effect of keeping her nightmares at bay. She couldn’t quite say why, what it was about physical contact that soothed this human brain so well, but she supposed that, if it worked, she wasn’t going to complain too much.

They had fallen into a routine, and that was becoming… comforting, in a way. GLaDOS had come to expect to see an empty tent in the morning, so waking up still cuddled up to a warm body was strange to get used to at first, but far from unpleasant. Of course, if asked, she would only attribute her enjoyment of the action to the warmth it provided.

Perhaps GLaDOS would be jumping to conclusions to assume this, but she found herself wondering if this had an effect on Chell as well. Ever since they had started doing this, Chell’s general attitude towards her had slowly started to shift.  It wasn’t a drastic change; nothing about Chell was ever overly so. The former test subject was a subtle creature, at least when it came to her thoughts and feelings. Her actions were bold and blunt, but the motivations and emotions behind them were so frequently hidden under a mask of neutrality.  Recently, though, that had changed.

Chell seemed more open than she ever had before.

In conversation, she wouldn’t just smile and nod at what the core said.  She started to make an effort to write her responses down- even when walking, which resulted in Chell nearly kissing the pavement more than once- and continue the conversation properly. She’d give GLaDOS her two cents, even on small, seemingly meaningless things. If GLaDOS was going on a rant about how much she hated eating raccoon- which had, unfortunately, been on the menu more than she would’ve liked- Chell would silently chuckle and write down her own humorous story about how the taste would stick to you for days, and how the first time she had eaten it, she had gone through a whole bottle of water trying to wash the taste out. When it got particularly windy, Chell dug through her bag to find a slightly tattered scarf, and showed GLaDOS the most effective way to wrap it around one’s face to reduce windchill against the skin.

And, to GLaDOS’s surprise, the human had gotten personal more than once.

They had been sitting by the fire as the sun went down, watching the flames and huddling close while they waited to be tired enough to sleep.  After a long silence, Chell had pulled out her paper- which was already littered with various notes that she had to erase when she wanted to write something new so as not to run out of paper- and written something down for GLaDOS to see.

She had asked about GLaDOS’s nightmares. More specifically, how they had been, and if they had improved at all. They hadn’t actively talked about them for awhile, and GLaDOS, while she gave up on keeping them a secret, still wasn’t keen on admitting their contents to Chell.  Nor was she overly excited to admit that they were gone, lest she be prompted to answer why. Both the content of her dreams previously and their current state were things that she wished to keep to herself.

Reluctantly, GLaDOS vaguely admitted that they had improved, eyeing Chell warily to see if the topic would be poked further.

Thoughtfully, Chell paused, writing something down after a minute or two of silence.

‘I used to get them too. Nightmares, almost every night for the first month or two I was out here. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, toss and turn, and I’d be shaken up all morning.’

GLaDOS was, momentarily, stunned.  It was, in a way, hard to imagine Chell suffering from nightmares. When the core tried, she couldn’t help but picture the same, stoic human she was so used to seeing when faced with a problem. To try and picture the human acting and feeling similar to how GLaDOS felt was odd, to say the least. It didn’t seem right, yet as her eyes travelled to Chell’s, she saw a sincere, almost relaxed expression. Chell seemed comfortable with the topic at hand, which GLaDOS couldn’t understand. She knew her dreams hadn’t been real, yet she had avoided thinking about them during the day. The thought made her uncomfortable, like her skin was crawling at the first thought of the things she had seen when she closed her eyes. On top of that, she was almost ashamed to admit she had them. If Chell hadn’t been the first to bring it up, she likely would’ve never said a word about it.

But if Chell was willing to share, the curious side of GLaDOS wasn’t going to say no.

“...What made them go away?” the core prompted after a moment, only holding Chell’s gaze for a second or two as she spoke before looking away, a small hint of heat rushing to her cheeks.

Chell pressed her lips together, mulling the question over before writing again.

I felt safe. The surface had been so daunting that my subconscious must’ve reflected that. Once I felt secure, they started to go away .’

It took GLaDOS a moment to realize the implications behind that message, intentional or not.  What had been a light dusting of pink on her cheeks had quickly shifted to a dark red, and she decided to go to bed early that night, ending the conversation as swiftly and painlessly as she possibly could with her dignity still intact.

But even so, that didn’t change the fact that something had changed. Something about Chell, or perhaps only about how she interacted with GLaDOS. And, after noticing it, GLaDOS couldn’t say she was complaining. It made the journey go far more smoothly, and to her surprise, it actually felt good to know that she wasn’t being left in the dark on everything. She was being shown how to fight so she could defend herself instead of being solely reliant on Chell, she could help with setting traps for hunting, and even with preparing the food- cooking or salting it.  And, most of all, she had insight to what was going on in Chell’s head. The ground, while still rocky, was slowly becoming more even underneath their feet.


However, GLaDOS couldn’t help but wonder if that would soon change, as, after setting up camp in a forest one day, she noticed something odd in the distance, covered in a light layer of snow.

A strangely… cube-like object.

GLaDOS’s heart nearly stopped, and she bounded over to it, brushing the snow off as quickly as she could to get a better look. And, lo and behold, there it was: the same scorched companion cube that she had seen on her first day on the surface. Which meant...

“We’re here!”

GLaDOS practically jumped up with glee, her whole face lighting up.  Had it really been a month of travel already? She hadn’t been counting the days like she had when she first started this journey, and recently, she hadn’t been taking proper note of their surroundings until now.  She darted back over to where Chell was sitting by the campfire, giving the human a shocked expression at how on earth she could just be sitting there when they were mere hours away from Aperture.

Chell gave her a small smile and a raised eyebrow in return, shaking her head and patting the ground beside her for GLaDOS to sit down. For a moment, GLaDOS considered going over there and trying to drag Chell up off the ground and get her moving again.  But it was getting late, the sun having long since gone down, and only the light of a mostly-full moon and their campfire providing any proper visibility.

So, reluctantly, GLaDOS sat herself down, glancing longingly across the camp to the companion cube. It signified what was almost hers, lying just on the horizon. Or, more accurately, underneath it, she supposed.

The core was practically bouncing in place as she ate her dinner and warmed herself by the fire, finding herself nearly humming as she thought about all the science she could do as soon as she was back in her body. Of course, she’d have to make sure the facility was all right, as she worried for it after being left abandoned for this long. But it was nothing that dedication and hard work couldn’t fix. Soon, GLaDOS would be back in charge, and all would be well. Tests would be up and running, and she wouldn’t have to so much as look at this body ever again. The surface would be a distant memory, and she’d never have to leave the facility again. She had learned her lesson, been burned, but she would recover, and be able to forget all of this soon enough.

That thought caused her stomach to feel as if it had done a flip, and she couldn’t help the grin on her face.  Still, something felt… wrong. Off.

While she hadn’t noticed it at first, GLaDOS could feel a difference in Chell’s attitude. Perhaps it was just the prolonged exposure they had to each other, but GLaDOS had found herself starting to pick up on shifts in the human’s mood far faster than before.

She briefly glanced to the side, curious to catch sight of the former test subject’s face without the woman noticing that she was looking.  Thankfully, Chell seemed distracted, and didn’t notice GLaDOS’s gaze lingering.

She was staring at the fire, occasionally giving it a gentle prod with a stick and watching the little shower of sparks that would flicker up as she did so.  Her brow was furrowed, and GLaDOS could see the reflection of the fire in her grey eyes. She didn’t seem particularly unhappy, but her face was twisted into a thoughtful, almost uncomfortable expression. Like she was dwelling on something that she’d rather not.

For a moment, GLaDOS wondered if she should ask. For Chell to shift in mood so suddenly meant something was up; was it possible that she noticed something that GLaDOS hadn’t? The core could only hope that the human would’ve notified her if she had found mutant bear tracks in the snow, so that was likely not the case. GLaDOS looked to the sky, but saw no trace of heavy clouds either, so a snowstorm was just as unlikely to be the source of Chell’s unease.

GLaDOS chewed her bottom lip, fighting herself to decide what she wanted to do. Chell had been opening up so much more lately, so it was possible that if she said something, she’d get an answer. But then again, maybe she wouldn’t.

Chell’s body was not as tense as it would’ve been if they were in danger, but it was closed off. She wasn’t quite angling herself away from GLaDOS, but her shoulders were drawn in, her legs pressed together. She was very contained like this, as if surrounded by her own personal bubble.

It took at least a few more minutes of complete silence for GLaDOS to finally decide to speak up, opening her mouth and turning to Chell to say something, only to find herself interrupted.  Before she could say a word, Chell stood up, somewhat abruptly, scribbled something down very quickly, and practically tossed it at GLaDOS before walking over to the tent.

Going to bed early. We can head out tomorrow morning.’

GLaDOS’s words died in her throat, and she gave a small scoff of disbelief as she watched the human’s form disappear inside the tent. For a moment, the core just stared, almost expecting the former test subject to come back out. But she didn’t. There was the gentle sound of rustling from the tent as Chell made herself comfortable, but that didn’t last long, and soon the camp was silent once again, aside from the gentle crackle of the fire.

If she was being honest, GLaDOS was a little offended.  She pressed her lips together in something that was almost a pout. Fine. If Chell was going to be all huffy tonight, GLaDOS would simply ask her about it in the morning.  

The core stayed and sat by the fire for a while longer before heading into the tent herself, moving cautiously and quietly. Chell was on her side, facing her side of the tent, and only using her own blankets. GLaDOS wasn’t sure why, but that caused a small pang of discomfort. Concern . It lingered in her chest, a heavy, wet blanket to the excitement she had felt earlier.  She couldn’t say why- by all means her enthusiasm to get home ought to outweigh the mild concern around Chell’s current behavior. After all, she was likely just having a bad evening. But still, GLaDOS found herself wondering what the cause was, and the uncomfortable twisting in her gut didn’t go away, even as she drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

The next morning wasn’t drastically better.  GLaDOS woke up alone for the first time in weeks, and found Chell packing things up at a rather early hour. This only set off more of the AI’s mental alarms, as it was a rather brisk morning, and no sane person would be out here longer than they had to unless something was up.

Thankfully,the human didn’t seem completely walled off, as she did offer GLaDOS a good morning in the form of a small smile and nod, though it seemed a little more curt than it needed to be. GLaDOS was bubbling up with the desire to say something, but she saved it until they were on the road for a little while longer, curious to see how Chell’s behavior would change when they got closer to Aperture.


After about an hour, the line of trees broke, and they found themselves staring across a vast, snow-dusted wheat field.  GLaDOS felt another surge of joy in her chest, but that was quickly squashed when she glanced at the former test subject beside her.

Chell’s jaw was clenched now, and she stared out at the field while seeming not to really see it. Her fingers tapped nervously against the side of her leg, and she was absentmindedly shifting her weight from one foot to the other, almost like she was ready to take off in the opposite direction at anytime.

GLaDOS considered this a good thing, though, as it only provided more evidence for her current theory on the human’s sudden shift in tone.

“...Are you going to have a problem going back to Aperture? You seemed fine with it when we talked about it before, but I’m getting the feeling you’re having second thoughts. Which, if that’s the case, we can just part ways here. I like to think I can navigate a field fairly well, and I’ll be able to handle everything inside the facility on my own. Besides, if you’re going to be all grumpy about it, I’m not exactly forcing you to-”

Chell cut her off before GLaDOS could finish, waving her hand in a dismissive action, and momentarily relaxing her face, as if to try and prove the core that it wasn’t a problem.

GLaDOS however, wasn’t taking that as an answer.

“You’d better not be trying to tell me that nothing is wrong. Something has been up with you since last night. I’m not blind; I notice these things. And if you do intend to come with me and stick around until I’m back in my body, I don’t want you huffing around with that scowl on your face- you know the one I’m talking about.”

GLaDOS crossed her arms over her chest defensively as she spoke, trying to stand up as straight as possible to be as close as she could to Chell’s height, hoping that would somehow help.

Chell looked taken aback for a moment, surprise flashing across her features. Then her face shifted through multiple different expressions so quickly that GLaDOS barely caught them all.  Chell seemed to be battling with her decision of either keeping GLaDOS in the dark or telling the truth. Her eyes shifted from hardened grey to soft silver, uncertain of which way to go. GLaDOS met her gaze, hoping to sway the girl in the direction that she wanted: getting a real answer.

Slowly, Chell seemed to cave a little, reaching into her pocket for her paper and pencil. Unfortunately, her response was not long or thought-out. She wrote quickly, and the message seemed short, blunt. That didn’t sit well with GLaDOS, but she read the note regardless.

‘It’s just a little weird to be here, that’s all. I wasn’t really prepared for how it feels.’

Chell held the note with hands that wavered just a little as GLaDOS let her eyes scan the paper, skeptically. It seemed believable enough, and GLaDOS found herself slowly giving in, letting her arms fall back to her sides.  It was entirely possible that Chell was telling the truth, and that was all it was. After all, it was expected for the ex-test subject to be a bit strange upon returning to the place she spent so long trying to escape. Just a knee-jerk reaction.

Reluctantly, GLaDOS sighed, momentarily throwing her hands up in a sort of ‘fine, I give up’ motion, indicating that she’d stop grilling Chell on the matter.  She had the feeling that even if she continued, she wouldn’t get more of an answer than that.

And so, with a note of dissatisfaction still sitting inside her, stewing away, they started to walk once again, making their way through the seemingly endless field.  This time, the conversation was near nonexistent. GLaDOS was excited, but she knew this sentiment was not shared by her companion, and thus she decided against talking about it.  In fact, they were both eerily silent for about an hour. The silence was only broken when, in the distance, GLaDOS spotted it:  The metal shed. The entrance to Aperture.

This time, she didn’t care if Chell didn’t share her enthusiasm. GLaDOS let out a cry of excitement- somewhat undignified, but she couldn’t care- and picked up her pace to a near run towards the shed, watching it slowly get bigger and bigger in her line of sight as she approached. With the added weight of the bag on her back, she was completely out of breath when she reached it, feeling the icy air stabbing her lungs with each deep inhale she took. She was partially bent over as she gasped for air, but she still took a moment to look up at it, admiring the thing. It was old, rickety, and rusted in every visible spot, but right now, it was one of the most beautiful things in the world.

For a second, GLaDOS turned back to look at Chell, who was still several yards behind her, having only picked up her pace into a fast walk rather than running like GLaDOS had. Tapping her foot against the frozen ground, GLaDOS waited impatiently for her to catch up.

While she waited, she ran her hands along the metal outside of the shed door, feeling the grooves of the material under her fingers. It had once been smooth, but had turned to a rougher texture with time and exposure to the elements. Inside Aperture, though- that would be different. Smooth walls and floors, spotless glass, and the same recycled air, over and over.

She let out a loving sigh, moving to open the door as soon as she heard Chell’s footsteps behind her.  It took some effort to haul the door open, but with enough force and a couple attempts, it creaked open, letting them inside.

The inside of the shed was just how GLaDOS remembered it: small, empty, and dark. The elevator stood, still open, directly in front of her, as if it had been waiting for her all this time. The whole facility, waiting with open arms for its queen to return. GLaDOS was here now. She would make things right again.

But first she had to rewire this elevator, and that might take a little longer than expected.

Chapter Text

The process of getting the elevator to work was not an easy one. While the facility still had a power reserve, it had all been shut down when GLaDOS left. The only way to properly reboot the system was to connect an outside computer and restart it manually; a sort of failsafe to make sure that, if there was a problem with something going on inside of Aperture, whatever was causing the problem wouldn’t try to cause more damage. GLaDOS figured they had put this into place because of her. They’d probably thought that, if something was wrong with her, they should have an outside source fixing it, instead of letting GLaDOS have control.

But thankfully, that was mainly centered around Aperture’s records, computers and main functions. An elevator, while stubborn, could be fiddled with. It took her at least a good hour to do, but eventually, it flickered to life.  GLaDOS allowed herself a celebratory smirk, turning to look at Chell, who had been leaned up against one of the walls of the shed almost this whole time, seemingly trying to amuse herself by looking at the dirt underneath her fingernails. GLaDOS hadn’t exactly let her help- she wanted to handle this herself, as it was more or less the first thing they had come across in their journey together that GLaDOS knew how to do better than Chell- so she wasn’t surprised the human was a little bored.  And unfortunately, it seemed that Chell still carried the air of unease from earlier, despite the little talk they’d had.

Nevertheless, GLaDOS didn’t let that dampen her mood, eagerly stepping into the elevator and gesturing for Chell to follow.  Somewhat reluctantly, Chell did.

For a moment, in the dark shed, only barely lit up by the lights on the elevator, GLaDOS saw the way the shadows landed on Chell’s face, how they framed her slight scowl and furrowed brow. It was a face that GLaDOS remembered too well. It was the face of the mute test subject that had killed her, and saved her life. Who had defied all odds to escape this place, all with her head still attached to her shoulders. GLaDOS saw how Chell moved, and she remembered it. The tense, coiled muscles, like a cobra ready to strike; the way her eyes darted around at the slightest noise. It was as if a switch had been flipped in the human’s mind, and she had suddenly been thrown into a year or two earlier.

“...Are you really going to be all right with this? I know you have a… less than favorable opinion of this facility.  If you don’t want to do this, you can just… go.”

The last word felt sour on GLaDOS’s tongue as she said it. The idea of Chell simply walking out of the elevator and leaving right now felt wrong. GLaDOS knew they’d be parting ways soon, but this didn’t seem like the way to do it.

Thankfully, Chell shook her head in response, momentarily putting her hand on GLaDOS’s shoulder in a sort of reaffirming action, as it was much too dark to try writing anything down.

GLaDOS held back the sigh of relief that threatened to leave her.  She couldn’t place what it was, but something in her told her that she’d feel most comfortable saying goodbye to Chell for good once this was actually finished, once she was back in control of Aperture.

So, with a command she had to enter manually, GLaDOS sent the elevator down to the main chamber. It didn’t move right away, and for a moment, GLaDOS was mildly concerned that it would malfunction and send them both crashing downwards. To her relief, though, it gave a small hum of confirmation that it was indeed working and slowly began its descent.

“My apologies if this isn’t quite as grand as last time. I’m sure you understand I couldn’t get a turret opera on such short notice.”

GLaDOS spoke after about a minute of slow, silent travel downwards, cutting through the silence that had grown almost heavy and uncomfortable.

To her relief, her comment earned an actual reaction from Chell: a small, silent snort of amusement, followed by her eyeing GLaDOS with a semi-amused expression. Or at least, that was how GLaDOS interpreted it. The further down they went, the darker it got, as, while the elevator was now working, nothing else was. Almost nothing was visible outside of the glass, aside from the occasional shape outlined in the very faint light from the elevator itself.

It was a little strange, almost eerie; even GLaDOS had to admit as much. It was as if the whole facility were asleep, just waiting for her to return. Everything was still and unmoving, like the world had been put on pause in this place, unaffected by the events and passage of time on the surface.  It only served as more of a reason for GLaDOS to get to work fixing things, she supposed, though the chill up her spine wasn’t helping.

The elevator doors opened with a soft hiss, though it was far less dramatic than GLaDOS had envisioned.  The central chamber was very dark, and GLaDOS could only see the very faint outline of a large, crumpled form in the middle of it. Her body.  GLaDOS breathed in through clenched teeth, swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat. Even though it was dark, the knowledge of what she was standing in front of was enough to unsettle her greatly. Her own corpse, lifeless and unmoving. Quietly, she turned to Chell, curious to see if the human was even aware of what she was looking at.  However, Chell seemed to be avidly avoiding looking around the chamber, and was instead crouched directly outside of the elevator, using its dim light to dig around in her bag.

After a moment of watching the human work, GLaDOS realized that she was crafting a sort of makeshift torch- which was, admittedly, a good idea, since, while the core was certain she’d have the lights on soon, it would be much easier to get those lights on if she could actually see what she was doing.

“Good thinking. If you can get that lit, I’ll show you where I need the light to be. There should be a manual terminal on the wall furthest from here. I’ll get this set up, and we should at least have lights soon.”

After waiting a couple moments for Chell to put everything else she didn’t need back in her bag, GLaDOS watched as the human set fire to the torch.  It wouldn’t last forever, and it was made on short notice and without the best supplies, but for now, it gave a soft, orange light that would be far better than the near-crushing darkness that had surrounded them only a moment before.

So, with that, GLaDOS walked forward, gesturing for Chell to follow her.

The room was large, but not giant. In fact, it felt rather small when GLaDOS realized she had been subconsciously trying to avoid walking too close to her chassis, which took up a large portion of the room. She was unsure just what it was about seeing the room like this that made her so adverse to approaching her own, crumpled body, but perhaps it was the shadows her chassis cast on the wall, or the sheer fact that she felt like a ghost staring at her own grave.

Luckily, they reached the correct wall rather quickly, as they had both picked up their pace to a fast walk.  It took some fumbling, but after a moment, one of the panels pulled back to reveal the terminal that GLaDOS had been talking about. It hadn’t been used properly since the human scientists had been alive, but it still functioned.

GLaDOS set her bag down gingerly, carefully pulling out the computer and its parts. On its own, it was basically useless, but hooking it up to the terminal would likely do the trick just fine.

In a tangle of wires and various attempts to make sure Chell was holding the light in just the right spot, GLaDOS eventually managed to get everything plugged in Then, with anticipation making every nerve in her body tingle, she turned the terminal on.

The screen flickered, fluttering like the wings of a butterfly trying to take flight. It struggled, old systems having been asleep for far too long. GLaDOS waited with bated breath, watching and listening as it made a loud buzzing noise, slowly humming to life. It took nearly five minutes, but finally, the screen came alive with a white background and black text, accompanied by the Aperture logo.

It had multiple options on screen, some of which were locked behind a password- which luckily, GLaDOS remembered. She may not have been in a supercomputer body, but she had made very sure that she held closely onto the most important information that she normally had instant access to.  While she couldn’t exactly list every single type of frog found in north america in this body, she decided that for now, she could settle for keeping track of the essentials.

She worked on booting the lights up first, as that was the first option being presented. As tempted as she was to try setting the test chambers up, lights came first- and after that, the databanks. GLaDOS was going to have to search for every single piece of information she could find on this ‘Resurrection Project’ if she wanted to figure out how to reverse it. And, worst case scenario, she knew she had one option to turn to: the same process they used to transfer Caroline’s brain in the first place.

She hadn’t touched the programs or technology involved in that since she came into power, and thus it was still stored away within these halls, intended to never be used again. Yet desperate times might call for desperate measures, would they not?

GLaDOS shook her head to clear it. She could dwell on that later.

After a few commands were sent, her fingers furiously typing against the old, clackety keyboard, the lights flickered to life.  It was almost startling, as GLaDOS had found herself adapting to the relatively dim lighting that they had been in since they got down here. But still, she whipped around as soon as the room burst into light, turning to look at the center.

She didn’t know what she expected to see, but nevertheless, there it was. Her chassis, unmoved since she last gazed at it, now fully lit up. It was crumpled into an almost ball-like shape on the ground, wires limp and lifeless. It wouldn’t be any good to mess with now; GLaDOS needed to focus on the terminal. Yet her feet still pulled her forward, and she found herself cautiously approaching.

It had not gotten any easier to look at, but GLaDOS held her gaze this time as she got closer, her footsteps seeming impossibly loud as they echoed throughout the room.  She barely registered Chell following her, having already put out the fire on her torch and tossed it aside.

Soon, GLaDOS stood directly next to her chassis, and, as if by some unknown force, ran her hand along the smooth metal.  It was cold, and held no sign of the usual warmth and hum that came with working robotics.  For some reason that she could not place, it made her sad. It was irrational, as she was not dead, no matter what this corpse suggested. She was merely misplaced. But she was here, she was home. She’d be found again soon.

Carefully, GLaDOS gave her chassis one last loving stroke, momentarily resting her forehead against it, as if pressing herself to it would allow her to instantly transfer herself back. It didn’t work that way, of course, but that didn’t help the somewhat childish belief from briefly dancing across her mind, giving a hint of hope in all the wrong places.

With a soft sigh passing her lips, GLaDOS pulled back, looking her body over once more before turning back to the terminal, only to almost run directly into Chell in the process. It seemed that GLaDOS hadn’t been the only one looking the chassis up and down, and one glance at Chell’s face gave GLaDOS a pretty good inclination that the human was having a reaction all her own. Different from GLaDOS’s, but still very raw and real. She stared at the chassis with a mixture of many things, horror being the most notable. Chell stared up at the chassis as if it was some, separate creature; the body of a beast long since dead, and in no way connected to the being standing beside her.

“...That’s still me, you know. There’s no need to gawk.”

GLaDOS glanced at Chell briefly as she spoke before pushing past her and walking back to the terminal, not waiting for Chell’s response.

It ought not to sting the way it did, but something in GLaDOS felt distinctly annoyed upon seeing Chell’s reaction. It was almost as if the woman had forgotten that she wasn’t travelling with another human. Like she saw GLaDOS as a person and not a machine in an unfortunate situation; like this was some kind of slap to reality for Chell, informing her of a fact that she should’ve known this whole time.

GLaDOS was not human. She reminded herself of this as she started typing again, working through passwords and commands to slowly bring the facility back to life. GLaDOS was not human. She repeated this thought as she worked, ignoring Chell, who came back over and sat down against the wall. GLaDOS was not human. She was the machine across the room. She was a construct, made of ones and zeroes, of metal and wires. She was just as much a human as she had been a potato. This body was temporary. Its reactions were temporary. Its instincts, feelings and desires- all temporary.

And that, as GLaDOS told herself, was comforting.


About another hour passed in almost complete silence.  Aside from the clicking of keys and occasional faint humming as GLaDOS brought the facility back online, the chamber was near deathly still. Chell simply stayed in place, fidgeting with her hands or subconsciously playing with the straps on her bag or the edges of pieces of paper. She’d twirl her pencil in her fingers, the occasional clatter of it being dropped being the only thing that tore GLaDOS’s attention away from her screen.  As much as she loved to talk, there was nothing to say. At least, there hadn’t been until now.  With one last command, the facility fully hummed to life. Everything essential was back online. Unfortunately, many features involving tests were currently unavailable- those duties had been given to the central core, and would only be brought back online when she was- but at the very least, everything that GLaDOS would need was running smoothly.

“Everything seems to be in order, in case you haven’t noticed.”  

GLaDOS finally spoke up, breaking the silence and catching Chell’s attention. The human had been spacing out, her body in Aperture, but her mind seemingly elsewhere. This, however, brought her back to reality, as her head snapped to attention rather quickly when she heard the core’s voice.

She glanced around briefly before giving an understanding nod. No doubt a human wouldn’t be able to fully understand just how much GLaDOS had done manually. GLaDOS let out a scoff.

“I’ll congratulate myself, then. ‘Well done GLaDOS, I think that was record time!’”

She briefly raised her pitch as she spoke, shooting a look in Chell’s direction.  The woman’s only response was a small smile and a brief thumbs up, indicating her approval, or at least her recognition. Unsurprisingly, Chell didn’t exactly seem enthusiastic about any of this. Still, GLaDOS continued, even if she was mostly talking to herself.

“Now that the systems are back online, I should be able to double-check for any other mentions of this... experiment . I was in a bit of a hurry last time, so it’s possible that I missed something. If they have records on how to put me into this body, surely I can figure out some way to reverse whatever it is that they did.  I just need to understand what was done in the first place.”

GLaDOS stretched her shoulders a bit, finding herself silently wishing for a chair to sit at, as she knew this was a process that would take quite awhile.  She cracked the joints in her hands- an annoying habit she had unfortunately picked up from Chell- and started to search.

Only to be interrupted.

Chell had poked her in the side. She hadn’t gotten up, but she held out a note nonetheless, reaching upwards for GLaDOS to take.  Her expression held traces of curiosity, but most notably, a deep underlying concern. GLaDOS had learned to recognize that look, though she wished she hadn’t. It appeared far too often for her liking, especially when she was involved in the reason for its appearance.

What happens if you can’t figure out what they did? What if there’s not enough information to go off of?

GLaDOS raised her eyebrow upon reading this, a skeptical look crossing her face. Either Chell was being paranoid and didn’t trust the AI’s skills, or… there was something else pushing that question.  Chell was thinking of something different, GLaDOS could feel it. Something was on her mind, and what she had written here was a coverup question. As if she had hoped GLaDOS would stumble into the answer she wanted on accident.

“I highly doubt that I’ll be unable to find the information I need. But, if for some reason I can’t, I have something else in mind.”  GLaDOS was ready to leave it at that, but she could practically feel Chell’s questioning gaze prompting her further, so she decided to save Chell the trouble of writing another note.  “If I can’t fix this the way it was originally intended to go, then I’ll simply go to plan B. This is Caroline’s body, more or less. I’ll just redo the transfer that they did in the first place.”

That was the answer Chell had been looking for. Or, at least, it had been the answer to the question she was asking. But it most definitely wasn’t the answer she had been hoping for, judging by how quickly her face shifted from curiosity and mild concern, to something that almost looked panicked .

Chell fumbled for a new piece of paper, furiously writing something down, and almost ripping the paper in the process. Upon a closer look, her hands almost seemed to be trembling.

But that didn’t go right when they did it. You aren’t a perfect transfer of Caroline’s brain and personality. The transfer made Caroline into you. You didn’t even remember her until recently. What happens if something like that happens again? You could forget everything.’

For a moment, GLaDOS paused, holding Chell’s gaze for a moment as she read the last line, noting how it was underlined and written in heavier strokes than the rest, drawing attention to the phrase. Chell held the paper a little tighter than she needed to, her fingers digging into it and nearly crumpling it in a vain attempt to keep her hand from shaking.  Was Chell… afraid? Of what?

GLaDOS blinked, taking a moment to mull it over instead of answering instantly. It didn’t matter if she forgot; the data for the chassis would still be available. She’d have the same capabilities and information available to her, and she’d still be functional. She’d still be alive.

But something still troubled Chell, and it took a second- and another glance towards her chassis- for GLaDOS to catch on.

“...I’m assuming you’re worried about something bad happening? Like me flooding the place with neurotoxin? You expect that if I don’t remember you, I’ll kill you on sight? Well, while I appreciate your survival instincts here, they are misplaced. Despite what you may say, I’m not a monster. I killed those men for a reason. I was angry for a reason. Surely, you know why.” GLaDOS paused, not even bothering to gesture at her own body, as Chell knew the person she spoke of. “If I end up having to transfer myself willingly, I’m fairly certain I’ll be aware of that, at least. I won’t exactly have reason to be upset. The worst that will happen will be that I have to look up your file, which, need I remind you, currently has you marked as NOT a test subject. I made a footnote mentioning how you were intentionally let go, and how any attempts to test you again would likely result in death. So put your mind at rest.”

With that, GLaDOS turned back to the terminal, decidedly happy with her answer, assuming that Chell’s fears had been quelled.  While the AI would find the loss of her memories irritating, anything that happened in her chassis was saved as data, which she would be able to simply replay if she needed to. It wouldn’t be exactly the same, but she could gather the same information. And, as for the possibility of losing the memories of what had happened on the surface?

A part of GLaDOS felt a pang of sadness at the thought, and she had to admit that she had gathered quite a bit of interesting information: about the surface, about humans, and about Chell. It would be a shame to lose all of that.  But… GLaDOS took a sharp inhale, clearing her mind.  This was all hypothetical, anyway; she need not dwell on it.  If it really came down to it, she could simply ask Chell to fill her in on the details.  While none of the things she heard or watched would be real to her in that case- simply hearing someone else’s stories instead of her own- she supposed it did not matter. So long as she had the information she needed, and nothing important was lost, she would survive.

So, after clearing her head, GLaDOS turned all of her attention back to her work.

GLaDOS only spared one passing glance back at Chell, who was sitting against the wall. She was slightly curled in on herself, and was fiddling with a crumpled piece of paper, staring at it with a distant expression. Her silver eyes looked dull in this light, expressionless and hollow, like the walls had come back up all at once, guarding Chell’s thoughts from being easy to read, and guarding her from harm.

GLaDOS tried to not let that thought bother her, but that proved harder than expected.

Chapter Text

Combing through Aperture’s database when one isn’t a supercomputer is a lot harder than one might expect. GLaDOS had found herself so accustomed to being able to absorb data in the blink of an eye that actually having to scroll through file after file was shockingly boring.

While the core was admittedly excited to finally be in her element again, it really took the wind out of her sails to have to spend hours just looking for a trace of a lead on what to do next.

As she worked, Chell had eventually moved away from her and left the main chamber a couple times, seemingly needing to stretch her legs, or perhaps needing to get some distance between herself and GLaDOS’s chassis, which she would occasionally eye with an unsettled expression that didn’t go unnoticed. And while GLaDOS was hesitant to stray away from her current task, she did take the time to get the cameras working again and turn on one of the chamber’s monitors so that she could keep an eye on the human’s movements.  While she liked to tell herself it was out of concern for her facility’s safety, the worrying twist in her gut reminded her that this wasn’t the case.

It had been hours since they got here, and Chell had shown no sign of relaxing. Her attitude was just the same as it had been, if not worse. Her brow was fixed in a furrowed state, as if she were constantly going over something in her head, dwelling on it more and more until it ate away at her, and she needed to walk around to try to direct her attention elsewhere.
Multiple times GLaDOS had paused in her work, watching as Chell leaned up against a hallway wall and ran her hands through her hair. GLaDOS watched and her gut twisted. While outwardly, Chell appeared only uneasy, not upset, GLaDOS knew better. Spending two months in close quarters with the human hadn’t been to no effect. She could see that Chell was distressed, and while GLaDOS hoped she’d quelled those worries earlier, it seemed that no, she hadn’t.

With a bite of her lip and a small exhale, GLaDOS turned back to her work. Chell would survive.   And once GLaDOS was back in her body, maybe they could talk this out.  But GLaDOS had waited too long for this. She had been away from her home, away from her own body, for two months, and she wasn’t eager to be away any longer.

While searching for any trace of this elusive project was difficult, GLaDOS believed she was onto something. She’d found a system activity record: it kept track of anything and everything that the facility did, be it the creation of a new test chamber or the use of an elevator. If GLaDOS’s thinking was correct, it would have a record of the transfer that had put GLaDOS in this situation in the first place. And if that was the case, GLaDOS could take a closer look at what that program actually involved.

It took a while of combing through hundreds of minor bits of useless information- mainly records of lights being turned on and off, turret production and facility repairs- but finally, GLaDOS managed to find it: a record of a transfer, labeled ‘trp.coretransfer.’ After hours, finally, GLaDOS felt like she was onto something.

Lines of code flooded the screen as she looked into the process, a jumbled mess to the untrained eye, but an almost comforting sight to an AI. It was familiar of course, something she had been used to seeing on a daily basis. But that wasn’t the only reason that it comforted the AI. No, the familiarity was not the reason for the slow grin that crossed GLaDOS’s face.

She had been right. This project, the transfer, was near identical to the one they used on Caroline all those years ago.  They had edited some of it to fit their needs, but it was essentially the same. They had been running low on time, and, in their desperation to make the project work, they’d simply recycled the process. This likely explained why GLaDOS’s unfortunate encounter with it didn’t result in Caroline coming back to life inside of a cloned body, but GLaDOS instead. They used a flawed program, and thus got the same result.

So, if the transfer from human to robot created GLaDOS, and the transfer from robot to human body kept her that way, then surely…


GLaDOS allowed herself an admittedly childish cry of excitement, practically jumping up and punching the air. All she needed to do was copy the original transfer process. Nothing new needed to be made or fiddled with; she could simply drag out the old equipment and fire it up. Two months of strife, being thrust into a new and unfamiliar world in a new and unfamiliar body, struggling to adapt to each new thing the surface threw at her, and this was the solution? After all that, GLaDOS had almost expected this process to be long and grueling. Sure, the transfer was unlikely to be a... comfortable experience, but that aside, it was possible, practically set up for her with a little bow on top. She couldn’t realistically ask for a better situation to be in right now.


Eagerly, GLaDOS typed commands as fast as she could, shifting the panels around and moving equipment in. It took a good few minutes to locate the materials needed- as they hadn’t been used in hundreds of years, they were somewhat stashed away- but regardless, GLaDOS managed to get her hands on them.

And they were… admittedly, a mess.  While in fine condition, Aperture’s tech had been slightly bulkier back then compared to what it was today. The contraption in question almost looked like an electric chair, complete with hundreds of wires and multiple restraints. The back was covered in buttons and switches, and dozens of little lights covered the whole thing, though none of them were currently on.  It needed to be plugged into the mainframe, and since GLaDOS couldn’t exactly remote control giant claws to plug in tiny wires, she realized it would have to be done manually.

Slowly she got to work, trying to ignore just how strange it was to be plugging wires into her own corpse. Furthermore, something deep set inside GLaDOS felt profoundly unnerved by looking at the machine in question. It was her salvation, yet something in the very back of her mind seemed repulsed by the sight of it. In particular, the restraints made her stomach turn in ways she couldn’t quite explain, but could attribute to a certain someone.

Shaking her head, GLaDOS tried not to dwell on memories that weren’t hers. Instead, she focused on carefully plugging in each wire to its respective place, then going through the painful process of actually starting the machine up. Flipping switches, pressing buttons- even hitting it a couple of times- and then, eventually, it came to life. It gave off a loud buzz as it did so, a metallic sort of groan of something that had been sleeping for many, many years, perhaps not ever expecting to be dusted off and awoken again.

GLaDOS stared at it for a good, long moment. It simply sat there; open, inviting. There it was, like an answer to the prayers she would’ve said if she didn’t know better than to waste her time doing so. She need only set herself up and begin the procedure, then this could all be over with.  But for some reason, she hesitated.

That may have been a good thing, as in the time she had spent staring at it, Chell had come bursting through the door, eyes darting from GLaDOS to the machine to GLaDOS’s limp chassis, then back to GLaDOS herself.  The former test subject looked alarmed, but quickly relaxed upon seeing that GLaDOS hadn’t done anything.

“What? Worried I’d start without you?”

GLaDOS tried to let a hint of sarcasm carry into her tone, hopeful that it would break the awkward tension that now hung in the air as Chell walked over. Her joke had little effect on Chell, though.The human crossed the room in long, brisk strides, eyeing GLaDOS with an anxiety and uncertainty that GLaDOS hadn’t seen from the woman in a long time- if truly ever. Chell had always come off as confident, or at least determined and driven. Now, though, she seemed to be questioning herself, as GLaDOS watched her face shift through multiple emotions, as if she were going back and forth on doing or saying something.

But after a few moments of standing face to face, Chell did nothing. So GLaDOS took action.

“Listen, I can do this myself, though it would be a lot easier if you could give me a hand.  I’m going to hook myself up to this thing, and when I say so, press the big red button. It’s not hard, and won’t even require much effort or involvement on your part. All right?”

GLaDOS didn’t wait for a response. She looked away before she finished speaking, only just seeing the flash of an emotion she didn’t want to see in Chell’s eyes before looking away and making her way over to the machine.  She settled down in the chair, not bothering to so much as touch the restraints. The process of being attached to this thing was not a particularly pleasant one. She tried not to squirm at just how strange it felt; little pinpricks like needles being poked into the back of her neck and head. It was uncomfortable, but not outright painful. No, that would come later. While nothing formed a complete memory, sitting in this chair, attached to this machine brought a thought to mind, a feeling, reminding her that last time she had done this- no, not her, she reminded herself- the pain had been the worst when the transfer was in process.

It was similar to the core transfer GLaDOS had experienced when Chell had swapped her out for that little moron, but this one was worse. A deep feeling in her bones, a preexisting ache of something that had never happened to this body, lingering like a memory, or perhaps a warning of what was to come.

Still, GLaDOS took a deep breath, and looked up, glancing at the monitor that hung in front of the machine, with its bright white text flashing ‘BEGIN CORE TRANSFER?’ over and over, as if prompting her to just get it over with.

“Chell. You… you can press it now.”

She swallowed the lump in her throat mid-sentence, finding her voice shaking more than expected. She was afraid.  And it seemed she wasn’t the only one. Chell appeared to have made up her mind about whatever she had been dwelling on, as instead of pressing the button as asked, she moved around the machine to stand in front of GLaDOS, fishing around inside the pockets of her coat and pulling out a crumpled ball of paper, which she slowly worked to unravel and flatten out. It was a pre-written note, based on how she simply turned the paper around without writing anything down.

The note was slightly smudged from being crumpled, but GLaDOS couldn’t help but notice a few places in which the paper was particularly smeared, little splotches of what looked like water stains.

I’m scared for you GLaDOS. Not for my own life, for yours. I don’t want this to go badly. I don’t want you to forget all of this. I won’t try and stop you if this will make you happy, but I just want you to be careful. I don’t want to lose you.’

Chell’s hands seemed to be profoundly shaking as she held it this time, and GLaDOS looked up to meet the human’s gaze once she had finished reading the note, finding a lump in her throat, choking her up for a reason she couldn’t quite explain.

The former test subject’s face was etched with worry, silver eyes shining a little brighter than before, slightly wet, as if she were on the cusp of tears.

It was almost stunning at first; GLaDOS found herself unable to understand just why the woman was so emotional. But then she dwelled on the thought for a moment longer. She found herself asking herself the question in reverse. If Chell were in a similar situation. If it were possible the human could lose all memory of the time they had spent together.

The thought caused a feeling like someone had seized her chest and squeezed it painfully, and GLaDOS’s first thought was that of displeasure.  She wouldn’t want Chell to forget this. To forget her. It would just be wrong .

Slowly, GLaDOS read the note again, taking a deep breath before speaking.

“...I’m going to be fine. This probably won’t even take that long, and it’ll be over and we can just laugh and laugh about how silly it was for us to worry. But I… I understand your concern. And it…”  She paused, forcing herself to hold eye contact, and refusing to give in to the urge to lie. “It means a lot to me. That you… care.”

While the words coming from her lips were not familiar to GLaDOS, for once, they didn’t feel wrong. She knew she never would’ve said something like this two months ago, yet still, the words she spoke were genuine, and they felt right. It felt good to see the way Chell smiled a little, eyes still holding a trace of unease, but clearly making an effort regardless. It felt good to feel Chell’s warm hand on her shoulder- likely for the last time, as her chassis didn’t contain sensors quite like the ones that she had in this body. She leaned into the touch a little, offering her own, small smile in response.

But all things must end, and so must the moment between them.  After a minute or two, they both resigned to the fact that it would be best to get started now. GLaDOS felt a coil of excitement in her stomach- though something nagging at the back of her head warned her that excitement didn’t normally feel so tense- and she closed her eyes, listening as Chell walked around to the back of the machine.  Slowly, she exhaled, readying herself for the pain that was soon to come.

Chell pressed the button. There was a moment of silence and GLaDOS tensed every muscle in her body waiting for the pain. Then, a buzzer rang out, cutting through the air with a loud, blaring sound, causing GLaDOS’s eyes to snap open, only to be met with the sight of the monitor in front of her.

‘NO ELIGIBLE CANDIDATE AVAILABLE’

For a moment, everything was quiet. The buzzer had stopped, and hardly a breath was audible throughout the room. GLaDOS felt something like an icy rock drop into her stomach, sending a chill throughout her veins.

What?

She almost whispered the word, her voice having died somewhere in her throat.  That wasn’t right. That wasn’t how this was supposed to happen. She knew how it was supposed to happen. She had done research on all this shortly after she found out who Caroline was, and she knew how the human to robot transfer was supposed to go, and this was not it.

Slowly, moving like she was in water or a dream, GLaDOS unplugged herself from the machine, wincing a little as she did so. She was very careful with her actions, being far too confused to be angry in this moment.  The storm would come later; for now, she was stunned to near-complete silence.  

She moved back to where Chell was standing, who gestured to the machine as if to say ‘I swear I did exactly what you told me to.’ GLaDOS believed her.  Nothing Chell could’ve done would’ve resulted in this.

“This doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t . I… I had everything plugged in, the machine is running fine, it should be working!”

GLaDOS raised her voice a little, though she still couldn’t bring herself to quite yell. She would’ve been furious if there was an obvious problem, if the machine broke down or she hadn’t properly connected herself to it. That would be cause for annoyance. This, however, this just didn’t seem right. It caused only confusion, and a growing feeling of something hanging over her shoulders. A feeling a little too similar to the weight and chill of dread.

“No. NO. I must’ve done something wrong.”

GLaDOS shook her head.  She was being ridiculous. This was a minor setback, nothing major, just a small inconvenience. With a brisk pace, she walked back over to the terminal, unable to accept what had just happened. No doubt if she only checked, the system would notice a bug in the program, or perhaps she had actually done something wrong that was preventing the program from operating properly.

A scan showed nothing. There the program was, as plain as day, completely intact, no sign of errors, waiting to be properly activated.  GLaDOS looked for the records of how the transfer was supposed to work, confident that if it wasn’t a problem with the program itself, she had set it up wrong. Perhaps she had missed a wire, or attached it incorrectly.

That wasn’t right either. Every record she could find showed that she had done it exactly right, and that after pressing that button the transfer should’ve started instantly, no error messages. The machine connected to the human brain, registered it, and began to transfer the data- with varying success in Caroline’s case. But none of that had happened, and now that feeling of dread was starting to get worse.

GLaDOS couldn’t help herself as she stamped the ground with her foot, frustration finally starting to rear its head inside her. She pulled away from the terminal for a moment, tapping her foot against the ground with increasing speed and intensity as she tried to tame her raging nerves. Her mind jumped from thought to thought, not letting her focus on the problem. What ifs danced around in the forefront of her mind, making it difficult, if not impossible, to think straight.

Chell must’ve noticed this, as she approached GLaDOS with a curious but befuddled expression. The whole thing likely made even less sense to her, but right now, GLaDOS was willing to listen to any idea of what was going on, ridiculous or not.

She turned to face Chell, who scribbled a message down rather quickly on a new piece of paper, handing it to GLaDOS and looking hopeful, yet still uncertain- like she wanted to help, but wasn’t entirely sure how to.

Maybe it’s not this program, but something with the process that got you in this body to begin with?

GLaDOS bit her bottom lip as she read the message, knowing that it was quite possible that Chell was right. She may have known more about this ‘Resurrection Project’ now than she did before, but even so, her knowledge was limited.

“I’ve searched for this project and I’ve gotten very limited information. But…” Something struck GLaDOS suddenly, and her eyes lit up with realization. “There might not be a lot of information under this name, but I could most certain trace it back to the scientists involved! They might’ve spoken about it in less formal records, things that wouldn’t show up in searches, especially if they weren’t referring to it by name. And while I don’t know the name of the main scientist at the head of all this, I do know the name of a couple that were mentioned in journal entries. Oxton and Lacroix, I think their last names were.”

With a small spark of hope fighting against the cold chill that still resided in her bones, GLaDOS turned back to the terminal, setting her fingers to the keyboard and typing once more. Employee records, a search for their last names, and there they were. Both of them worked in the robotics department for a time, though a few years into their time in Aperture, both were switched to an unnamed project at the exact same time. Checking that date, at least ten other men and women were switched off various departments to this ‘unnamed project.’ And, looking even further, GLaDOS found that these dates lined up perfectly with the GLaDOS project’s development.

And, looking closer into the list of scientists added to this unnamed project, one stood out in particular.  ‘D. Dalus.’ A man in his late forties or so when he died with the other scientists, who’d been with Aperture for a good many years, first working in robotics for a couple years, and then human testing for at least ten. Then, like the others, he was switched to an unnamed project. However, he was the first to be added by about a day. The head of the project, perhaps? Quite possibly, he was the the one who wrote the log entries that GLaDOS had read before this whole mess started.

Easily slipping past old firewalls and password protected files, she gained access to the man’s personal files. Anything and everything he had done on his personal computer, work related or otherwise- if it was typed up and saved on an Aperture computer, she had access to it.

Of course, there was a ton of boring information to sift through, including how this man apparently spent his spare time creating ridiculously elaborate labyrinths for the testing mice to run through, as he believed it was good for their wellbeing to be properly challenged every once in a while.  She couldn’t care less, but she looked through it all just in case, searching for any mention of this ‘Resurrection Project.’

It took time, but eventually, GLaDOS struck gold- or at least close.  She found that the entries she had read about this project back before this happened were, indeed, written by this man. The first four entries were there for her to scan over once more- checking to see if there was anything that she had missed- but more importantly, there were a few new files. One appeared to be a documentation of the cloning process, which, while interesting, was something that she would have to look at later, as it likely didn’t pertain to the information she currently needed. The other file was unnamed, and hadn’t ever been submitted. A simple note written for himself, or perhaps something he intended to send out, but couldn’t, as a quick look at the date of when it was written confirmed that he wouldn’t have been alive for much longer.

Cautiously, GLaDOS opened it, finding that her fingers were shaking. She didn’t know why; she had no right to be nervous. Unlike last time, nothing inside this file could put her into a worse situation than she was already in. It couldn’t just transfer her to something worse than a human body.

And, to her relief, it was just a text document, written hastily, but readable.

I won’t apologize for what I did. It’s the right thing to do, and possibly the last thing I’ll do. The GLaDOS project failed, and I don’t think the personality cores will fix it. In fact, I don’t know if anything we do will, which hopefully shines a light on what I’ve done.

If we transfer Caroline- no, not Caroline anymore. That machine, whatever it has become, is not Caroline- if we transfer ‘GLaDOS’ into this human body, that’s the end. I don’t think anyone would let me do it if they knew, but it’s the last thing I can think of that might stop things from getting worse. We made that body to house Caroline if something went wrong, so we could transfer her back once it was fixed. But Caroline isn’t in there anymore.  

In the brain of the body we created, there is a chip. It’s connected to the functions of the brain, keeps it running. As of the time I’m writing this, it’s also a severing device. Whoever’s consciousness ends up in that body, be it Caroline or that robot, they aren’t getting back into the mainframe.  That chip keeps the mind from being registered as a possible candidate, and thus, from ever coming back into control of this place. I know that means possibly destroying our chances at using Caroline’s brain like Johnson wanted, but I don’t care anymore.  That thing wants us dead , and if I can stop it, I’m going to. If anyone is reading this, that probably means that I succeeded, and we’re all not dead. I’m also probably fired, but I’d rather be fired than dead. And if nobody reads this, then I was right anyway, and that thing killed us before I got the chance to stop it.


GLaDOS’s world stopped for a moment. Everything had come to a screeching halt, and for a heartbeat, her life was on pause. Her breath was caught in her throat, her eyes wide and almost glassy as she read the note. The ground beneath her feet didn’t feel solid, nor did the space around her. It was like she had tunnel vision, only able to see the words on the screen in front of her, everything else around her fading into a dark, blurry mass. Silence so loud it had become a sort of white noise was ringing in her ears, and all she could feel was the weight of dread from before crashing down upon her shoulders like blankets made of stone.

The ice in the pit of her stomach spread, until she felt as if every inch of this human body was burning with the cold, as it travelled through her body, to her fingertips, her neck, and her head. It stung, but in a numbing sort of way.

She took a step back from the terminal, hardly registering the movement aside from nearly tripping over herself. Her actions didn’t feel like her own; she didn’t even feel like she had control over this body. It moved of its own accord, stepping away from the screen, stumbling backwards. She was shaking too, and her breath had been found after being caught in her throat, though it now came in quick, short breaths, which swiftly became shallow and almost gasping.

GLaDOS’s voice was lost, as if something was choking her, killing any attempt at speech. As if in a trance, she stared unseeingly forward, only snapped out of it once she backed up far enough to bump into cold metal. The back of her legs had hit her chassis, the sudden jolt acting like a slap to the face.

A sound like a strangled cry escaped the core, a broken sob echoing throughout the chamber as her legs failed her and she crumpled to the ground, her knees banging against the cold metal floor. With the force of a bullet, everything had hit her.

All of this. The travels, the hardships, the pain. GLaDOS had gritted her teeth and pushed past it for the sake of the light at the end of the tunnel, for knowing that she’d be able to come home, to be back in her own body where she belonged. She hadn’t known that the moment she had been transferred to this body, that future had been stolen away.  She was never going to be able to go back to normal again. She had only placed a false hope in the idea that it would all sort itself out in the end.

Her life was no longer her own. She was kneeled in a broken state in front of herself. The body she inhabited now was nothing to her, just a husk. She was an AI. She belonged in this facility. She was not, and never would be, human.

But this body was. This body lived and breathed, its heartbeat pounding and shoulders shaking with each sob that was pulled from its throat, regardless of GLaDOS’s intentions. Now, more than ever, she felt like a stranger to herself, trapped inside of a prison instead of a body.

And she cried. GLaDOS cared little about how she looked, or how Chell was most definitely still in the room with her; she didn’t give it a second thought. Her mind was swarming with thoughts, with only one clearly repeating, over and over like a broken record: You’re stuck like this, forever.

She sobbed, letting the hot tears carve paths on her cheeks, grabbing fistfuls of fabric from her pants and digging her fingers into it, desperate for something to hold onto. The AI screamed like she was in physical pain, and perhaps she was. It felt as if she had been struck in the chest with the force of a wrecking ball, shattering against the impact, and unable to pick up the pieces. Nothing could be done. She had nothing left, and all because of a stupid mistake.

Her thirst for knowledge, her curiosity, it had brought her too close to the sun. And as a result? She fell. Fell from power and fell from grace, stripped of wings- or in her case, wires.   


GLaDOS didn’t even care to notice what Chell did, how she was likely extremely confused and moved to look at the abandoned screen, searching for context to GLaDOS’s sudden breakdown. The AI’s eyes were fixed shut, like if she closed them tight enough, she’d be able to open them again and find herself back in her chassis instead of beside it. She hit the ground with her fist, as if pounding the metal panels would somehow bring retribution for the suffering she was forced to endure. It didn’t. All it did was cause her hands to hurt, but that didn’t matter. GLaDOS did it again and again, almost wishing she could cause this body pain. A nonsensical thought that she could make it pay for all this, by making it hurt as much as its very existence had hurt GLaDOS.

Unfortunately- or perhaps fortunately- she didn’t get a chance to carry that idea out very far, as when she tried to hit the floor again, a warm hand caught her wrist, keeping her from slamming it into the ground.  GLaDOS didn’t even want to look up. She pulled her arm away, yanking it out of Chell’s grasp.  Still, despite this, she could tell that Chell was crouched down beside her and not showing signs of moving, even without opening her eyes.  The core gritted her teeth, wanting to tell the former test subject to leave her alone, but the only sound that escaped her was another hoarse sob. Her throat stung with the effort all this had taken, rubbed raw by her screams. It almost hurt to breathe as she continued to take quick, panicked breaths that did no favors in terms of calming her down.

She struggled a little when she felt herself being slowly brought to her feet, gently lifted up off the ground by Chell. She wanted to pull away and remain on the floor, crumpled up into a form as small and pathetic as she felt. But it seemed that Chell wasn’t having that.

Finally, GLaDOS opened her eyes, as red and tear-filled as they were, and she stared at Chell, her confusion and hurt manifesting as something almost like anger, building up inside her and not letting go, no matter how much she screamed.  She stared into Chell’s eyes, knowing that her gaze was burning with emotion, and expecting that to scare the human off.

Instead? Chell hugged her.

In a careful movement, but one with deliberate strength behind it, she pulled the core into her arms and held her, as if she were trying to take all the pain in the world away with a simple embrace.  For a second, GLaDOS wanted to hit her. To punch the girl’s chest and scream, anything to release some of this hurt inside of her.  But one thing kept her silent for a moment longer, and very, very still. A soft, slightly rough voice that caused a slight rumble in the chest she was pressed against.

...I’m so sorry.

Chell’s voice. It hung in the air: gentle, real, and for her ears alone.

GLaDOS almost crumpled to the ground again as another cry was torn from her lips, only barely held up by the strong arms that held her close, and hands that ran up and down her back in a comforting motion.  

GLaDOS buried her face in the fabric that smelled of campfire and evergreen, letting her tears leave stains on it, and allowing herself to listen to the soft voice that murmured something soothing as she cried until she had no tears left to shed.

Chapter Text

Days passed. Or it might’ve been days. Time didn’t pass the same in Aperture as it did on the surface. You couldn’t see the sun or moon, feel the chill of dawn or the warmth of late afternoon. It was cold and still, the only light being bright and artificial. The only way to know the passage of time was to check the central system’s clock, but GLaDOS had not brought herself to do that.

She hadn’t left the main chamber. In fact, she’d hardly left the chassis’s side. She sat by it, knees pulled up to her chest and head lightly resting against the cool metal. GLaDOS did not know if this brought her comfort or more pain, but she couldn’t bring herself to move away from it. Screams and cries of pain had quieted into sullen silence that grew heavy with the sorrow that filled it.

Chell had been in and out of the central chamber, though she never left for long. She’d leave to stretch her legs for a bit, but always quickly returned.  She had stopped flinching at the sight of the chassis, her attention now focused on GLaDOS’s presence beside it. GLaDOS could feel the pity in her gaze, and every once in a while, she’d feel a flare of anger at the thought of it.  But that brief flame never lasted long enough for her to do anything about it, quickly being put out by the heavy chill that hung around her like a thick fog.

When Chell did approach, GLaDOS found herself mostly ignoring her. The human would cautiously offer her food or water, but GLaDOS refused them. She wanted nothing to do with it, and the thought of ingesting anything made her feel even more sick than she already did.  She didn’t sleep much, either. Not knowing what was night and what was day, and fearing what would happen when she closed her eyes, GLaDOS kept herself up. The adrenal vapors weren’t running in the facility- she hadn’t been bothered to set them up- so the task of going a long period of time without sleep became increasingly difficult.

Chell had tried to help with this, too, periodically coming over with a blanket and trying to coax her into taking it and at least closing her eyes for a bit and taking a nap.  Again, GLaDOS refused. She wanted nothing to do with any of it- eating, drinking, sleeping. It was all disgustingly human, a reminder of her dreadful fate.

The only attempt of Chell’s that she had even reacted to was after what she could only assume was a few days, when she heard the ex-test subject speak again.  Despite Chell finally speaking to her a few days prior, it hadn’t become the new normal. GLaDOS would almost have wondered if she had gone crazy and imagined it, if not for this.

Chell crouched down next to her, worry firmly etched into her features, far surpassing just pity, having long since delved into genuine concern.  Once again, in her arms was a blanket, accompanied by GLaDOS’s water bottle.

As before, GLaDOS turned away, fixing her gaze on the metal casing of the chassis that she was leaning against, actively ignoring Chell’s attempts.

GLaDOS… please.”

Hearing the human’s voice was surprising enough to grab GLaDOS’s attention for a moment, looking back and briefly meeting Chell’s gaze.  The woman’s voice was still rough and slightly raspy with lack of frequent use, but it was soft, giving an air of gentleness. It was far from unpleasant to hear, and for a moment, GLaDOS let the thought cross her mind that she would like to hear it more often, if possible.  

Chell prompted again, placing the blanket down directly next to GLaDOS, but holding out the water bottle for the core to take. It seemed she wasn’t going to be discouraged so easily this time; even as GLaDOS turned her gaze away, Chell didn’t make any attempt to get up and leave. She insistently nudged the bottle towards GLaDOS, gently touching her arm with it.

GLaDOS bit the inside of her cheek, refusing to make any move to take the water or the blanket.  She didn’t know why Chell even bothered. None of it mattered anymore. Not really.

The throbbing pain in her head and the hollow, empty pangs in her stomach were like pinpricks compared to the ache in her chest. GLaDOS didn’t care that this body suffered, not really.   When she had been transferred into a potato battery, she hadn’t grown any positive feelings towards the root vegetable. Once she was back in her chassis, she had crushed the thing into a starchy paste and promptly burned it to ash, never wanting to think about the pain it had caused her again.

Now, it was much the same. But this time, she couldn’t go back.  She wouldn’t be able to destroy this human body from the luxury of her chassis. She was stuck inside this fleshy prison. And, perhaps aided by her starved, sleep-deprived and addled brain, she almost found it fitting that this body slowly withered away. As if she could punish Caroline for a body that wasn’t really hers, or perhaps the scientists, for creating it.  Yes, if she couldn’t get what she wanted, perhaps she could at least spite them in death, by letting their creation rot.

Of course, that didn’t mean it was a particularly enjoyable experience. It hurt, and it only hurt more as time went on. GLaDOS had started feeling dizzy a long time ago, and her only solace from that was the fact that she was sitting down, and thus wouldn’t feel the world spinning around her. She could press her head up against the metal of her own chassis and let that act as a steadying force. Of course, that didn’t help the gnawing hunger pains in her belly, or the sore, scratchy feeling in her throat. She had rubbed it raw with screams and sobs, and had not taken the care to soothe it with something to drink for quite a while.  And, as much as she despised herself- or rather, this cursed body- for thinking this, she couldn’t help but feel a yearning to take the water that Chell was offering, if only to alleviate some of the discomfort.

There was a small shift in movement, as Chell seemed to give up on crouching in front of her, instead moving to sit down beside her, still holding the water bottle. She was persistent, GLaDOS would give her that.

Only partially giving in, GLaDOS looked at Chell once more, hoping that she could will the human away with a look alone. But Chell seemed prepared for the look of exhausted defiance on her face, as she held strong, shifting a little bit closer and pressing the water bottle into GLaDOS’s hands.

Resigned, GLaDOS took it, convincing herself that maybe if she just took a small sip, Chell would leave her alone to sulk in peace. She pressed the bottle to slightly chapped lips, and took a small drink. It was cool and soothing against her dry throat, and, almost like a drug, GLaDOS found herself craving more of it the instant she swallowed the first mouthful.  Feeling almost shameful for giving in, she found herself draining the whole bottle in an extremely short amount of time, just about choking herself in the process.

Chell’s warm hand was against her back in a moment, gently patting her to soothe the small coughing fit that was induced by GLaDOS partially inhaling water.  The coughing was unpleasant, but it had felt beyond amazing to drink something.  It was almost shocking just how desperately this body had needed it, and by extension, the sheer relief that it exhibited once some of that need was tended to.   

Of course, for as interesting it may be, it only served to make GLaDOS feel worse in the end. Bitterly she lamented that she was forced to feel any of this in the first place. If only, she thought. If only she was back where she belonged, in her real body. She wouldn’t feel hunger or thirst, wouldn’t need to rest; she could just exist, free of the restraints given to mortal bodies.

But her what ifs hardly mattered now.  She had two options. Live in this body, cursed to exist in a human body forever, or die.  She didn’t know what would come after death this time. She wasn’t in her chassis, so perhaps she would be freed of the horrific fate of reliving the experience over and over for eternity. For all she knew, this version of death could be peaceful. No scientist knew what came afterwards for humans, and wouldn’t it be fitting for GLaDOS to solve that last big mystery?  There wasn’t much else she could do for the world of science anymore, anyway.

Death ought not to scare her anymore, but GLaDOS still hesitated in that thought, and still felt a chill through her bones at the idea of everything ending. If she died, the last real ruler of Aperture, everything that she knew- all of it would be gone. While it was unlikely she’d be able to progress science much in her now-limited lifespan, she certainly wouldn’t make any progress if she was dead.


No, no matter how horrible it was, she would have to live. Even if, in this moment, the AI felt like simply curling up and dying.

GLaDOS felt Chell nudging her side again, and she was snapped out of her train of thought. Now that she had drank something, Chell was holding out food for her to take as well, her expression hopeful.  A part of the core still felt like denying it, as despite the pangs of hunger in her stomach, the idea of eating made her feel equally nauseous. The idea that she would have to fuel this form over and over until the day she died was just another reminder of what she was stuck with, and what she had lost.

Still, the AI found herself reluctantly taking what Chell offered her, knowing that no matter how horrible she felt, she had to live. She wasn’t a computer anymore, and she didn’t have access to all the databases. But she was still the most intelligent creature on the planet, and she still had more than enough scientific research and knowledge to warrant her staying alive.

And… maybe the not-quite-mute lunatic at her side might be a good reason to stick around too.

The human was persistent in her attention, but not overbearing. While GLaDOS could argue that all she wanted was to be left alone, she had been alone plenty. Chell had given her the space she needed, but it had been days now, and the feeling of company, even if only shared in relative silence, felt surprisingly good. A slight soothe on the aching pain in her heart, a spark of warmth for each time Chell shifted just a little bit closer.


By the time GLaDOS finished eating, she was surprised at just how much better she felt.  There was a lingering cloud that still hung around her shoulders, a weight on her heart and mind. But no longer did she feel dizzy or actively in pain. She even found herself dangerously close to falling asleep, days of depriving herself of it finally catching up. Her eyelids started to flutter, and despite how she tried to stop it, she could feel herself dozing off.

Somewhere in the journey from awake to asleep, GLaDOS felt a blanket being wrapped around her form, and an arm around her shoulders that held her in a warm grip. The core feared falling asleep, but that fear was ever so slightly lessened with the cocoon of warmth she found herself in.

However long she slept- hours, minutes, or what felt like a whole day- GLaDOS danced on the edges of nightmares. Not violent, screaming, burning ones, but nightmares that filled her with a sense of dread and sadness, wishing that she could wake up and escape it, despite that, in this case, waking up wouldn’t fix the problem.

She balanced on the precipice between nightmare and peaceful sleep, resulting in an odd, unsettling night of rest that wasn’t quite bad, but far from good.  The only saving grace was the consistent warmth. Chell didn’t leave, staying by GLaDOS’s side and letting the core take some level of comfort in her presence.  Even with her brain asleep, there was something in the back of the AI’s mind that was comforted by it. The slight pressure, the subtle, barely noticeable sound of steady breathing. Little things that just barely kept her from letting her current state of mind devolve into a twisted, altered mirror of recent events.

Unfortunately, when she awoke, she didn’t feel nearly as good as she had hoped she would.  While the headache was gone and GLaDOS felt physically better, she still felt hollow. She shifted closer to Chell, hopeful that maybe she’d be able to fall back asleep. But Chell was observant, and turned to look at the core, knowing that she was awake, and pulled away and stood up.

A complaint bubbled up in GLaDOS’s throat, though it came out sounding more like an annoyed whine than anything else. She didn’t see why Chell had to move, and didn’t much appreciate the sudden loss of warmth.

She glanced up at Chell, her face scrunched up in a slight pout, hoping for a good reason behind the human’s actions.

Though, Chell’s expression… unnerved her a little. The human looked indecisive for a moment, before letting her face settled on a concerned but deadset expression. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, clearly still not quite comfortable with the idea of speaking regularly. She’d give small vocal reactions, but it seemed that for more complicated sentences, GLaDOS could expect a great number more scribbled notes.

GLaDOS. I know… this isn’t going to be easy for you to hear, and I don’t want to rush you. But we can’t stay down here forever. We only have so much food and water, and we’re going to need to go back to the surface soon if we want to survive.’

GLaDOS felt something catch in her throat as she read the note, something very much like fear.  She stood up rather abruptly- despite the way she wobbled a bit at the sudden movement- and fixed on Chell with a defiant stare.

“No! I’m not leaving! I… I can’t just leave!”

A part of the core knew that what Chell said was true, but that truth caused nothing but a negative reaction within the AI. She couldn’t leave; she wasn’t ready to leave her home again. She had been gone for so long. It felt like she had only just returned. This was where she belonged. This human body be damned, she was meant to stay underground. No matter what she appeared to be, she did not belong in the world of humans. The surface was not meant for her. It was vast, and changing, filled with humans and uncertainties. There was none of the reliability of Aperture. How on earth could she ever think to live up there permanently?

Instinctively, GLaDOS ran her hand along the metal of the chassis behind her. Like standing next to a grave, she had mourned the loss of it. Of herself. And, if left unchecked, she would not leave. Nothing would ever fully be able to make the AI ready to leave Aperture again, this time with the knowledge that even if she came back, things would never be right again.

Eventually though, she would have to. Or rather, Chell would have to, and something in GLaDOS told her that Chell wouldn’t just leave her down here alone. If Chell left, GLaDOS would go with her. But…

The AI turned back to her chassis, facing away from Chell and staring at herself through the reflection of her faceplate. No golden optic shone with life, no processors hummed. And they never would again.

A fresh stab of pain wedged its way into GLaDOS’s heart, and she felt new tears welling up in the corners of her eyes before she blinked them back. Lovingly, she pressed her forehead to her own faceplate, taking in a deep breath, inhaling Aperture’s clean scent. She closed her eyes and let it surround her. For a moment, she could pretend that all was right. She could see herself through the single optic of her chassis. She could see a life that was once hers, but was now just out of reach. It hurt to think about, to see. But she bit her lip. If she stayed down here wallowing in self pity, she’d never do anything worthwhile with her existence. She was created to do science, to be useful. If she wanted to come even a little close to fulfilling that, she couldn’t stay.

At least, that’s what the logical side of her brain told her. It spoke loudly in her ear, trying to be the dominant voice of reason for the first time in days. Letting the emotional side of herself rule had been all too common in the past few days, this human brain making it quite difficult to actively control. She couldn’t just shut it off if she felt herself getting too irrational.

However, she took another deep breath, and opened her eyes, deciding that maybe the logical side would be able to take over again, at least long enough for her to get into that elevator.


“...Can you give me a little while? An hour, at least.”

She turned back to Chell as she spoke, knowing her gaze was heavy with sorrow, but equally so with a growing acceptance.

The former test subject nodded, her face softening into a look of understanding that GLaDOS was both surprised and relieved to see.  She knew she would have to leave, but she couldn’t do it just yet. Not before saying goodbye.

She gave a last, longing look at her chassis, before letting her feet carry her towards the exit to the chamber. A last walk through some of the halls: something that she had scarcely had the ability to do when in her chassis, but still something that she longed to do. She had spent plenty of time in her chamber as of late, and she wanted to at least see some more of Aperture, to keep the image fresh in her mind, so that she would not forget a single detail of its twisting halls.

Each panel, each bright, white light. Every pane of glass and every chirping turret. Each weighted storage cube or companion cube, and every last drop of gel. GLaDOS almost wished she could see it all, despite knowing that it would take weeks to see every single inch of Aperture. Still, she tried to take it all in, letting out a sad sort of sigh as she passed by an observation room for a test chamber that wasn’t running.

This was her home, her kingdom. Parts of it ran without her, yet so much of it remained asleep, waiting for the day that its Queen would return, not knowing the day would never come.  The facility could not feel, yet somehow GLaDOS could still feel a pain and sorrow echoing through its walls as she passed through, as if each time she murmured a soft goodbye, the facility returned it. An impossible thought, of course, but one that was… almost comforting.

As she started to make her way back to her central chamber, she ran her hand along the walls, feeling how parts of it hummed underneath her fingertips. She wanted to believe that somehow, the facility knew that this was her. That it knew its ruler was just out of reach. For as silly as that idea was, GLaDOS found that it gave her the strength she needed to re-enter the chamber and see Chell, all packed up and ready to leave. It helped push her through the doorway and walk over, knowing that soon, she’d be in an elevator, and after that, she’d be on the surface again. Away from her precious facility.

She approached her chassis, and to her surprise, noticed that Chell joined her.  The human looked down at the AI’s former body, but this time with no trace of fear or unease. She looked at it with a sadness of her own, though the core wondered if that were only for GLaDOS’s sake.

Still, the human reached out and gently stroked the metal faceplate before stepping back, having paid her respects, and letting GLaDOS do the same. A part of GLaDOS was surprised that Chell even took the time to do so, but that surprise was followed by gratitude.

She fixed her gaze on her chassis, and after a moment of thought, spoke aloud, no longer letting her words remain a soft murmur, and raising her voice so that it was as clear as the ringing of a bell.

“...I’m still alive.”

The words echoed through the chamber, bouncing off each wall and resonating in her ears.  She wasn’t dead.  The body in front of her may have been lifeless, but GLaDOS herself was not dead. Not yet.  She still had a place in this world.

With a heavy heart, the core turned away from her body and walked with Chell into the elevator with their bags, trying not to look at the chassis as they ascended to the surface.

Some time during that trip upwards, GLaDOS felt Chell’s hand carefully enveloping her own. Though she couldn’t say who had initiated it, she wasn’t complaining, and found herself giving it a gentle squeeze as the facility slowly left their view and the surface approached.

Chapter Text

The surface was even colder than it had been a few days prior, the light dusting of snow that had covered the earth previously being replaced by at least a foot more, and the air gaining even more of a biting chill. If she didn’t know better, perhaps GLaDOS would say that it ended up this way because of what it represented. While she had felt at home when she came back into Aperture after a long absence, coming back to the surface felt cold and unwelcoming, like even the winds and snowstorms knew she didn’t belong and greeted her with harshness and resistance.

Perhaps even the universe was confused, having expected her to stay deep underneath the earth and never see the light of the sun again. Her one trip to the surface had been enough for many lifetimes, but now it was going to be all she knew for the rest of her now-limited one.

When she first left Aperture, she had been heartbroken, nervous and uneasy. But there had been an inkling of something. She had set off to find Chell because she knew there had to be something. It might not have exactly been hope at the time, but that was what it had turned into.

Now, she felt no such thing. No possible hope for the future, no drive towards a specific goal. All she had to do- all she could do- was just survive. The AI feared the thought of a mindless, meaningless existence, simply living each day by ear and only focusing on the bare minimum of keeping the worthless meat sack of a human body alive. Running around looking for water, food, and shelter, keeping clean, getting rest- it was all mostly the same, the only exciting changes being getting into scuffles with wildlife or raiders.

That was no way for the world’s most intelligent being to live. GLaDOS needed to survive, she couldn’t stand to throw away so much of the knowledge she possessed. But she needed to do more than just exist; she needed to live.  She couldn’t do science, not like she used to, but she needed a purpose.

But for now, that purpose would have to wait long enough for them to get out of the snow.

It was late afternoon by the time they set off into the snow-covered wheat field, and evening by the time they reached the nearby forest.  They could’ve gotten there faster, but GLaDOS found herself dragging her feet.  She could pass it off as exhaustion- walking through snow and battling the biting wind was harder than it looked- but she knew that wasn’t the reason.  She dragged her feet because she knew that with each step, they got closer and closer to leaving the ground that was on top of the facility. Soon, she’d just be out in the wilderness again, away from any place she might’ve once called home.

Soon it got to the point where it felt like Chell was dragging her through the forest, as the human was insistent that they needed to get somewhere sheltered enough to set up camp for the night, and that they ought not to stay out in the open for too long.

GLaDOS bitterly muttered something about how very not in the open Aperture was, and how they would certainly be sheltered from wind and snow if they were underground.  While the AI understood Chell’s reasoning to a degree, she still didn’t see why they couldn’t just stay in the shed. While Aperture couldn’t exactly sustain human life for all that long- especially with a handful of the facility’s features offline- at the very least the shed would provide some kind of shelter.

Chell was silent for a while, and GLaDOS almost wondered if her comment had goneunheard, until suddenly, just barely audible, Chell spoke.

“...I don’t think being there is the best thing for you right now. We won’t be staying far. If there’s an emergency, we’ll take shelter there.”

The human’s voice was uneasy, as if she were stepping very lightly around a subject that she had hoped not to bring up- perhaps for good reason, as GLaDOS found a distinct tugging on her heart and a momentary flare of anger in her chest as she fought the urge to protest. Being there would be the best place for her; it was where she belonged.

But then again, as she looked into her traveling partner’s eyes, she couldn’t deny the reasoning she saw behind them.  The woman looked tired, but equally concerned. She looked at GLaDOS as if she suspected that the AI would break under the pressure of all this, and sought to lead her away from the thing that caused her pain.

The problem was, GLaDOS didn’t know what hurt more: being away from the facility, or being inside of it.

Reluctantly, GLaDOS brought her gaze back to her feet, silently admitting defeat on the matter, at least for now. The core was exhausted, in mind and body both. She wanted to argue and bicker and complain, but everything in her body felt heavy and lethargic. She needed time, space and rest if she was to regain her biting attitude and sharp responses. Right now, she could muster up little more than a cold sadness festering in her chest.


Chell didn’t make her help set up camp once they found the right spot. Sheltered against the wind and snow on the inside of a small ravine, Chell tried to start a fire as quickly as was possible with damp wood, letting GLaDOS sit next to it while she got to work on everything else. Chivalrous was never a word that the AI would use to describe the mute lunatic, but she certainly seemed to be making an effort to make things more comfortable for GLaDOS.

She could never understand exactly what it was that the core was feeling, but she seemed to be trying. And that, at least, brought a flicker of warmth in GLaDOS’s stomach. Nobody else had ever tried to do anything for her sake, other than try to control her. The idea of someone- let alone someone who had every reason to want to be cruel and cold to her- making an effort to make her happy was… strange.  It almost didn’t make sense. Chell had claimed before she helped GLaDOS because she saw the core as a friend, but something in GLaDOS felt that this wasn’t fully true. She could believe that the human saw her as a friend, and perhaps GLaDOS simply didn’t have enough information on friendly relations between humans- though she highly doubted that- but her actions seemed to go beyond the ‘requirements’ of what other humans considered to be a good friend. She could chalk Chell’s efforts up until this point to being some kind of demented heroism, taking pity on the poor AI and helping her out in order to make herself feel good about her kind deeds, but the former test subject’s actions had gone far, far beyond that.

It didn’t fully make sense, and that confusion stuck with the core as the evening went on. As Chell sat next to her and made sure she ate dinner, as she crawled into bed, shivering at first, only to feel a now familiar and wonderfully warm body swiftly move in beside her. GLaDOS repeated the question in her head as she fell asleep, mulling it over and examining it every which way, wondering why this was the puzzle that was leaving her stumped.

The answer felt as if it were on the tip of her tongue, but danced just out of reach, infuriating the AI. The more it eluded her, the more she longed to understand. She needed an answer, and could only hope that she would get one.

She just didn’t expect it so soon.


The next morning was just as cold as the day before, but thankfully the snowfall had slowed to a light drifting, and the winds had finally stopped their relentless howling. Chell had hardly moved from the night before, using her body and its generousness to keep GLaDOS considerably warm. Even as the sinking feeling in her stomach returned upon remembering where she was and where she wished she could be, GLaDOS found an odd sort of comfort in feeling Chell’s steady breaths when pressed against her.

Slowly, GLaDOS pulled away, feeling a strange twist in her gut the longer she stayed in place. It was not particularly unpleasant, but it was odd, something that she couldn’t explain, and that unnerved her.  She sat up, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment before slipping out of the tent.  She knew Chell would be awake soon, as her movement had likely roused the woman from any kind of deep sleep, and it was only a matter of time before she awoke proper.

Still, GLaDOS headed outside, pulling her clothes a little tighter to herself as she braced for the drastic change in temperature that came with leaving the confined warmth of the tent.

Going through the motions, GLaDOS found herself poking around for any dry-looking bits of wood and doing her best to start up the fire once more, hardly even thinking about what she was doing. It was a mindless task- boring, simple- but she needed something to occupy her time, lest she allow her thoughts to run wild once again. The forest around her was near-deathly quiet, with hardly a creature making a sound, giving the entire place an unnatural stillness that she hadn’t come to expect from the constantly changing surface.  Even the blanket of white across the ground caused a stab of something icy in her chest, as she bitterly wondered if this was the universe’s way of taunting her yet again. As if she needed to be reminded of what she had lost.

She grabbed a stick and aggressively poked at the small fire she had started, stirring it and watching the little sparks fly up as she did so. Despite her attempts to keep her mind from wandering, it ignored her commands. She thought about Aperture, about science, about what would happen to her, what would happen to the facility in her absence. GLaDOS asked herself a seemingly neverending stream of questions that she had no answers to, and she found it did little but agitate her further.

While the AI felt as if she had no more tears left to cry, the thought of Aperture still made her heart clench and her throat grow tight.

Finally, with one last jab, she tossed her stick into the flames, watching as it slowly caught fire and burned, staring at the fire as it consumed the wood, crackling and spitting as it went.

Her brain had nowhere to go. Everywhere she turned was another difficult subject, another question without an answer. If not Aperture, if not herself, then it was Chell. The woman asleep in the tent behind her. The lunatic she had been travelling with, the former test subject who made no sense, who seemed to be an enigma at every turn. There were few things as frustrating for GLaDOS as not knowing something, and even more so when she felt the answer was right under her nose.

With a small huff, she abruptly stood up, deciding that she had let her thoughts stew for too long.

She needed a walk.

Rubbing her hands together to try to keep them warm, the core set off into the nearby trees. She didn’t intend to go far- not having grabbed Chell’s handgun on the way out made her cautious of wandering off- but she knew that at least the immediate area was mostly safe. Chell had checked it the night before, and they had stayed here before with little trouble. While she would watch her step and keep alert, of course, the relative safety of this chunk of the forest gave her a chance to think.

The snow and frozen ground crunched underneath her feet, the only sound in the forest other than her own soft breathing.  The icy air stung her throat and lungs at first, but eventually GLaDOS found herself able to ignore it.

She stared out into the seemingly neverending line of trees covered in snow, the vast, frozen wasteland that was the surface. Once dirty, dying and grimy, now it almost looked fresh, clean. Like a blank canvas. Pure white snow that was waiting to be tainted with blood or dirt, ashes or footprints.  There was beauty in how the snow was now, but GLaDOS knew it could not last.  The stillness of winter reminded her of home, but it would never be the same. Winter would come and go, snow would melt away. Aperture would forever remain frozen in time, a relic that would now far outlive its former queen.

GLaDOS wondered if that thought ought to make her feel happy or sad.  To know that her precious facility would survive, but in a lifeless state. Like a coma victim, it would simply lie there, forever suspended, never fully dead. But at least it would survive. GLaDOS would not. Not forever, anyway. She would die, and likely stay dead this time. She would live on the surface for as long as she could, die, then rot away, her life merely a meaningless speck in the scheme of it all.

The bitterness rose inside the AI again, leaving a sour taste in her mouth and an uncomfortable twisting in her gut. The longer she let her mind obsess over it, the worse she felt. Over and over she reminded herself of how horrid it would all be. To live up here, to die, to contribute nothing to science. She would live, for the sake of perhaps one day figuring out something she could do with the knowledge she still possessed, but what a burden that would be, to live like this.

But… something gave her pause. Something that held back the bitterness from consuming her fully, lingering like a flame in her chest, keeping a small light amidst the darkness.

The past two months had been hard; they had been painful, being away from her facility and body, but they were made a hell of a lot easier with Chell at her side. GLaDOS could not deny her anger and hatred of the surface for what it stood for in her mind, but at the same time, she realized that it had one thing that Aperture would never again possess.

Chell.

The human had done something that GLaDOS thought impossible. She made the surface bearable. She had stood beside GLaDOS when her world came crashing down, and held her up through it.

Chell was many things: stubborn as a bull, tenacious to a fault, and quite often so guarded that she wouldn’t accept help, even when it was needed. But just as much as she was those things, the former test subject could be shockingly kind. In little gestures, small smiles, or the fiery protectiveness that shone through her burning silver gaze. The little ‘conversations’ they had on the road, or the human’s repeated attempts to make the best out of cooking whatever strange meat they were stuck with. The way it had become normal to feel Chell’s arms around her at night, to breathe in that now oh-so-familiar scent of smoke and evergreen, to let it coax her to sleep, to spite the nightmares that formerly plagued her.

GLaDOS still ached for the fate of herself and her facility. She felt a hollowness in her soul, an empty feeling in her stomach. And a part of her knew that there would always be something missing.  But even so, there was something- someone- who came quite close to mending that hole.

As if on cue, GLaDOS heard the familiar crunch of boots against icy ground, and turned her head to see none other than her lunatic in question.

She was fully dressed, handgun at her side. Concern flashed through her features before being dispelled once she met eyes with GLaDOS. Had Chell been worried?

Of course she had.

The whisper in the back of her head spoke reassuring words for once, and GLaDOS felt a strange flutter of warmth in her stomach as Chell approached.  The morning sun was only just barely starting to rise, with only the tiniest hints of golden light beginning to shine through the trees, casting long shadows through the branches, and giving Chell an almost ethereal glow.

The morning was cold, the chilled air nipped at GLaDOS’s fingers and toes, left her face feeling almost frozen. But something about Chell was just warm.

GLaDOS hardly moved as Chell approached, feeling her heart skip a beat once the human stood directly in front of her, holding her gaze with one that was far too soft. Silver eyes gave a compassionate glow, a small, gentle smile tugging on her lips.

A calloused hand brushed against GLaDOS’s cheek, gently moving stray strands of hair out of the way, before resting in place, cradling her face. Despite the chill in the air around them, Chell’s hand was still pleasantly warm against her face, sending a rush of heat to the rest of her body.

The AI lost track of time- it might’ve been seconds or hours before Chell slowly moved closer, resting her forehead against GLaDOS’s own and letting out a gentle sigh as she kept eye level with GLaDOS long enough for it to grow intense. Something in the human body that GLaDOS was now forced to call her own sped up her heartbeat, until it felt as if it were nearly beating out of her chest.

It was as if her brain had been put on pause. The world’s most intelligent creature couldn’t seem to think coherently. Perhaps if this had been happening to anyone else, if she were watching from afar and studying it with a clinical gaze, she would’ve been able to easily predict what would follow.

But as it stood, GLaDOS would’ve never guessed that Chell would kiss her.


A gentle brush of the lips, really, barely more than a whisper of an action, but even the smallest touch was still warm. Chell’s touch suddenly burned like white-hot flames, spreading through GLaDOS like a wildfire. Slightly chapped lips pressed against her own, spreading their heat with each passing second.

For such a careful touch, it was somehow one of the most intense things that GLaDOS had experienced in this body. It was new, and exciting, and felt good-

But she pulled away.

Stunned, GLaDOS stepped back, and Chell released her instantly, pulling away as if she were afraid to have harmed the AI.

GLaDOS couldn’t breathe. Something in her chest seemed to keep her completely frozen, as all at once her brain kicked back into action, with at least a million thoughts racing through it at once.  She couldn’t even meet Chell’s gaze; she simply stared at nothing, momentarily dumbfounded.

If Chell had been going to explain herself, GLaDOS didn’t hear it.  It was irrational, childish even, but GLaDOS ran.  She bolted back off in the direction of the camp, growing realization weighing heavier and heavier on her shoulders with each step.

She forwent the idea of sitting out in the open nearby the fire, and quickly darted inside the tent, grabbing a blanket and wrapping it around herself, as if its warmth could ever compare to what she had just felt.

The core could hear her blood pounding in her ears, and each breath she took felt shallow.

She had just been kissed by a human. The more she repeated that thought in her head, the more panic set in.

Not because of Chell; GLaDOS was not afraid of her. Amidst her racing thoughts, she was aware that the human had been quick to pull back, seeming to not want to do anything that she thought would make the AI uncomfortable. She likely meant nothing ill with her actions.

And it wasn’t even the concept of a kiss that frightened GLaDOS so much. A simple piece of human affection, as unsanitary as it was, only stood as an act of showing preference among humans. No, the idea of the act wasn’t what shook GLaDOS.

It was her own reaction. She’d frightened herself with whatever it was that had shot through her body when Chell kissed her.  Her initial thought hadn’t been disgust, it hadn’t been to throw Chell off in repulsion. She had been shocked, but she had liked it.  The blazing fire that had threatened to consume her earlier had now simmered down into a pleasant, buzzing warmth that sent pins and needles across her fingertips. And worst of all, she wanted more.

An AI wasn’t supposed to want things like this. She wasn’t supposed to enjoy it. It was a distinctly animal trait to crave carnal pleasures, not something that should be felt by a robot in human skin.

It made GLaDOS question her situation more than she already had been, and that was frightening. This body, this human form, was consuming her. Its wants and needs were becoming her own.

She felt human for the first time in her life, and that was more than enough to cause a little panic.


The sound of footsteps across the camp alerted GLaDOS to Chell’s return, and she found herself stealing a glance through the tent flap to see what the human was doing. She dreaded the idea that the former test subject would come in here to confront her about all this, as GLaDOS knew that if she was forced to talk about it, there was a very real chance that she would say something she would regret.

Thankfully, Chell came no further than the campfire, staring down at it and warming herself. She took her hands in and out of her pockets, and scuffed the frozen dirt with the tip of her boot. The normally fearless woman looked… nervous.

For a second, GLaDOS felt confusion wash over her. Chell had nothing to be nervous about; what was she afraid of?

Then, the answer hit GLaDOS with such force she was shocked she hadn’t realized it instantly. Chell was afraid of GLaDOS. Or, more specifically, her reaction.  Chell, the human who seemed to fear nothing, facing every threat head-on with a grim, stoic scowl, was afraid of rejection. She looked almost sheepish by the fire, shoulders slumped and body drawn in on itself. It was almost amazing just how strongly these things affected humans. GLaDOS would find it even more fascinating if she weren’t experiencing it firsthand.

Absentmindedly, GLaDOS chewed her bottom lip, conflict ripping her apart from the inside. More and more the thoughts repeated in her head, reminding her of what she had just done, trying to convince her to be disgusted and to reject the very notion of ever even thinking about it, let alone doing it again. She struggled to listen to that part of her brain, trying desperately to focus on the words she knew to be true.

You are a robot, not a human. These feelings will pass.

Yet, despite her best attempts, something pulled her back out of that tent. It was a force that she couldn’t name, but one that was far stronger than the voice in her head that was now screaming at her. Something inside the core dragged her back outside and towards Chell, an instinct that wasn’t supposed to be her own, but shone through nevertheless. She approached Chell before the rational side of her brain could tell her to stop.

Upon hearing her approach, Chell turned to face her, paranoia etched on her features, along with a look that GLaDOS could only describe as guilt. Taking a sharp inhale of breath, Chell opened her mouth to speak, seemingly deciding that writing it down would not suffice.

“GLaDOS I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have-”

GLaDOS didn’t let her finish. In a moment of recklessness that the AI knew she would hate herself for later, she practically crashed her lips against Chell’s, shutting up the apology before it was fully spoken.

Where Chell’s action had been careful, inquisitive and thought-out, GLaDOS’s was anything but. One would think the computer would be the one over-planning things, but GLaDOS knew that if she stopped to think about this, she would likely end up throwing herself into the nearby campfire, or doing something else as equally ridiculous and impulsive as all this.

She hardly knew what she was doing, and her movements were stiff and uncertain. Trying to mimic an action that she had only felt once before, and only for a couple of seconds, was not proving to be easy. And for a moment, GLaDOS panicked. Chell was still at first, and the core wondered if she had shocked the human as much as Chell had shocked her before. Then, she couldn’t help but wonder what she had cut off. Maybe the former test subject had come to her senses and was apologizing, intending to admit that what she had done was an accident, and she wished to never speak of it again-

Chell kissed back. She had been still for only a moment, though it had felt like an hour, before returning GLaDOS’s action with a fervor that burned even brighter than before, bringing both her hands up to cradle the AI’s face, then run through her hair. Her heat was blinding, burning to the touch. But GLaDOS was quickly discovering that it was intoxicating as well, as the more she allowed herself to melt against it, the better it felt.

Chell only pulled back once their breath had been stolen and dizziness threatened to consume them both, like swallowing a mouthful of sweet neurotoxin. The lack of air in return for something dangerous was tempting, but thankfully not as deadly.

The crackling of the fire beside them was no longer the only sound in the forest, as heavy pants shared between the two of them filled the silence, as both struggled to recover.  Still, though, Chell looked at her with a hint of uncertainty, like she wished to ask the question that GLaDOS was avoiding asking herself.

“GLaDOS-”

She spoke again, but this time GLaDOS cut her off with a look alone- something that might’ve been a glare if not for GLaDOS’s flushed skin and tousled hair giving her golden-brown eyes a different kind of intensity.

Shut up.”

Her voice came out as a breathless hiss, two words she never thought she’d ever have to say to the once-mute lunatic. There was a time, undoubtedly far too soon for her liking, when GLaDOS would have to face what just happened; when the rational, robot side of her mind would have to grapple with the horror of what she was doing.

But that time wasn’t right now, and the newfound disturbingly human part of the core’s brain had convinced her that their mouths had better things to do.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS was uncertain how to process what had just happened.  She found herself sitting inside the tent for the third time that morning, with no more answers than before, and in fact even more questions.

Her heart was still racing, her blood still pounding in her ears. She was still struggling to catch her breath, despite the fact that she had been the only one in this tent for at least ten minutes now, as Chell had left to scrounge up something close to a breakfast before noon. Though GLaDOS had the feeling that it was just as much about gaining a bit of distance and busying herself with a task to keep her mind occupied.

GLaDOS could join her outside- the air inside the tent almost feel too warm now, near suffocating the longer she sat in it- but the AI felt frozen in place as her brain scrambled to catch up to the actions of an impulsive body.

Chell had kissed her. GLaDOS had kissed her back. GLaDOS had gone against better judgement and let it continue. She followed Chell back into the warmth of the tent, and let Chell continue to- no, let wasn’t the right word. As easy as it was to blame the human in this scenario, no matter how hard she tried, GLaDOS had not so easily forgotten that it was her arms that wrapped around Chell’s neck and pulled her in closer, her hands that undid the woman’s ponytail and played with her hair, and her lips that pressed back so eagerly, inexperienced but excited to feel more of the touch that made her feel so strange.

She had not let Chell do anything; she was just as guilty.

GLaDOS had let her charade of humanity continue, playing the part of the body she was stuck in, all for the sake of falling weak to these simple rewards. A quick thrill, almost like the testing itch, in a way. Pleasurable- addictive, almost. Though she found herself thankful that this did not cause her physical pain as that had, she was still being punished; just this time mentally.

Her mind jumped from thought to thought, letting the fear of what she had just done weigh on her shoulders like heavy stones. Her better judgement, her voice of reason- they both screamed at her for what she had done, making the pleasure she had felt feel soured by the aftermath.

She had been eager to receive the gentle touch that Chell offered, the warmth from her lips and the security of being in her arms.  While so much of GLaDOS was telling her that it was wrong, in the moment something had clicked, and it couldn’t have felt more right.

GLaDOS was, at least passively, aware that humans needed to be touched. Some more than others, but most required at least some form of physical contact. Infants could die without it, and older humans seemed perfectly content to make fools of themselves for the sake of it.  

GLaDOS had feared this instinct for some time, having recognized this body’s unusual reaction to physical affection over a month ago. Back then, she had felt the occasional lingering touch of their bodies, and she had noticed the strange jolt of what felt like pleasant electricity every time, but she had been able to ignore it. Shake it off and move on, make excuses.  But now she couldn’t ignore it. This body, what she was now being forced to call her body, wanted physical affection just the same as any human would. It prompted her forward, offering the reward of a pleasant feeling when the touch was given as requested.

However, GLaDOS found herself hesitant to fully blame the physical form.  She was not being controlled like a puppet by these desires; she knew that in part, her head was to blame. She technically had full control of her body, but her own head betrayed her; a human brain, so easily swayed, without the cold, calculating abilities of a robot. It gave into the whims and desires of the body and let itself be crippled by emotion. It was far weaker than the database that the core was created with.

GLaDOS found herself struggling without the abilities she had grown so accustomed to over the years: the ability to remove herself emotionally by simply crushing any feelings with one hundred other things to think about, to deny herself the chance to dwell on them by deleting the thought process as soon as it came across her mind.

It hadn’t been perfect; even as a robot she hadn’t been quite as emotionless as she would’ve wanted, but at least she had felt somewhat in control. It had been natural to push things down; small or big, she could block them out, ignore them until they went away. That had become her preferred method for dealing with anything, and so without it, she struggled.

Now she felt helpless against her own emotions. Like her brain and body were teaming up against her, working together for their own gain rather than hers. She could try to deal with her feelings, but she couldn’t ignore them. She didn’t have to act on every thought, but the temptation of things she would’ve once been able to easily turn away from now seemed irresistible. Her problems couldn’t be solved with the press of a button anymore.

If Chell had kissed her chassis, GLaDOS would’ve been able to turn away. She would’ve made a scathing comment about what a lunatic Chell was for seeking affection from a machine, and then gone on with her life. She could ignore the butterflies of warmth that she would’ve felt regardless of her body, and pretend that she felt nothing at all.

But things were different. GLaDOS could’ve pushed Chell away; she had the same power to do so as she would in her chassis.  But she hadn’t wanted to. She hadn’t been able to convince herself that she didn’t want Chell’s touch. She hadn’t been able to lie to herself, and that was something GLaDOS was used to being very, very good at.

She sat in the tent, disheveled and riddled with a feeling of guilt- but for as ashamed as she felt, there was still the feeling of satisfaction. Whatever it was that Chell had stirred within her, she didn’t want it to stop here, as much as she wanted to make herself feel that way.

With a small sigh, she bit her bottom lip and tried her best to make herself more presentable, fixing the top two buttons of her shirt, smoothing the wrinkles from the fabric, and quickly running her fingers through her hair in an attempt to tame it before slowly poking her head out of the tent.

Chell was sitting by the fire, slowly cooking something over it, seemingly deep in thought.  She stared at the fire, her expression hard to read. One who hadn’t spent so much time with the human might’ve guessed that she was indifferent, based on the almost stoic look on her face, with eyebrows furrowed and lips pressed into a line. But GLaDOS knew that wasn’t the case.  She saw how Chell’s eyes flickered; she could see the softness behind them.  And so, the core decided to bite the bullet and join her.

She walked as quietly as she could, but it was little use. Chell heard her the moment she left the tent, and she tried to hide the way her eyes briefly darted towards her and then nervously back towards the fire. GLaDOS doubted that Chell was even half as conflicted as she was, but she could tell that the human seemed a little anxious.

When GLaDOS sat beside her, Chell didn’t stiffen, didn’t visibly show any discomfort.  That much was good, she supposed.  But then, of course, there was the matter of speaking. GLaDOS knew they had to talk about this, and she was also quite certain that she was going to have to prompt it.  While she couldn’t be positive, the AI found herself wondering if Chell had a harder time speaking up when stressed, as while the human had spoken to GLaDOS a handful of times recently, now it seemed as if her lips were sealed.  

“...That happened.”

By far not the most eloquent thing that had ever come out of GLaDOS’s mouth, but she decided to try her best to ignore that in favor of focusing on saying what needed to be said.

“As much as I’m sure we both want to pretend that didn’t happen, we-”

I don’t.

Chell’s voice sounded forced, strained even, as she cut GLaDOS off, shaking her head and refusing to tear her gaze from the fire.

“I don’t want to pretend that didn’t happen. I didn’t kiss you for no reason.”

GLaDOS was surprised to hear the woman’s voice crack a little, and she saw Chell’s jaw clench as she took a sharp inhale. To make things worse, Chell’s eyes gave a light shine against the firelight, indicating that they were damp with unshed tears. She didn’t seem sad, nor angry. But if there was one thing that Chell definitely appeared to be, it was concerned, conflicted about what she would say next.

That, GLaDOS supposed, they had in common.

She watched as Chell fiddled with a piece of paper in her hands, currently blank. GLaDOS couldn’t help but wonder if the former test subject had planned to write this all down and couldn’t, or if she felt unable to say it all aloud. So GLaDOS continued, though with noticeably more difficulty, unable to shake what Chell had just said from her mind.

“We… You… One of us needs to understand what the hell is going on so that they can fill the other one in, because I have no idea what to think or feel, and I hate it.”

GLaDOS gripped the fabric of her pants as she spoke, desperate for something to hold onto to keep herself steady. Chell was making her feel things she didn’t know how to handle, and letting it hang unaddressed for any longer would surely drive the AI mad. They needed to do one of two things today: put a name to whatever it was they were doing, or stop it before it went any further.

Chell scuffed the dirt with her foot as GLaDOS finished talking, putting her pencil to her scrap of paper, but not writing anything. She stared at the blank note for some time, the gears visibly turning in her head as her mind raced to think of something to write, before slowly, reluctantly, she put the paper away, took a deep breath, and turned to face GLaDOS directly.

Her heart skipping a beat, GLaDOS found herself knowing exactly what the human was going to say before she even opened her mouth, and she felt a mixture of what felt like excitement and dread bubbling up inside her.

“I care for you. Nothing has to change if you don’t want it to, but I know where I stand. Do you?”

Chell’s words were brief and her tone was not accusatory, yet GLaDOS still felt herself pale against the question. Did she know what she wanted? She knew what Chell was offering, the human didn’t need to spell it out, yet her mouth went dry before she could answer.


A romantic entanglement. It was commonplace amongst humans, to find someone that they deemed appropriate and woo them, sharing possibly exclusive benefits to their relationship, things not normally done between friends and acquaintances. Of course the level of such actions depended on the people involved and the amount of time that had passed, but that got into complicated territory that GLaDOS doubted Chell was attempting to discuss now.

For the time, Chell appeared to be offering a starting point. Something similar to how they had been going about their lives, but with more… physical contact, perhaps.  GLaDOS couldn’t say she didn’t feel a trace of excitement at the thought of waking up with pleasant feelings like what Chell had given her earlier with her lips alone. Still, though, the feeling of guilt lingered.

She couldn’t do this. It was wrong. She was an AI, stuck in a human body with a human brain. She was bending to the will of those two forces- but not anymore. She couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t getting worse. If GLaDOS were ever to stop this in its tracks, it would have to be now. GLaDOS knew that all it would take would be to just refuse to admit she had felt anything at all, watch the hopefulness drain from Chell’s eyes, and let things go back to normal. They could both build their walls back up, and GLaDOS could distance herself from this new, frightening emotion.

Yet… the tempting little demon that had seated itself on GLaDOS’s shoulders made her stall, murmuring what-ifs and causing her to bite back the refusal that had lingered on her tongue.  She couldn’t engage in romantic relations; that would be far too human. But… maybe it didn’t have to be. Maybe she could just… explore it. From a purely scientific perspective, she assured herself.

Yes, so long as it was for science, it would be all right, wouldn’t it? It wasn’t like she could test the ASHPD up here, and no longer being in a robot body made science so much more difficult to do. But surely this counted; she could get a firsthand account of things she had never been able to fully understand. It would be educational. So long as she kept telling herself that, everything would be fine. So long as she ignored the excitement that she knew had nothing to do with science.

“I...Would not be opposed to… trying what it is that you’re offering.” GLaDOS paused to clear her throat, finding a blush rushing to her cheeks as she caught sight of the almost childlike glee that had crossed Chell’s face for a moment, excitement and hope dancing through silver eyes like the fire they sat beside.

“Just… don’t you dare start giving me disgusting nicknames. If a single petname leaves those lips you’re going to wish you were mute again.”

GLaDOS found herself returning to thing she found most comfort in: sarcasm. This time, she earned a laugh from Chell, a soft, good-natured sound that resonated through GLaDOS the moment she heard it. It pulled a smile to her lips, despite her attempts to hold an expression with some semblance of dignity.

Chell gently put her arm around GLaDOS, pulling her into a sort of side hug and giving a gentle squeeze.  She looked… happy.  Pressed against her, GLaDOS could feel the human’s heart racing a little, yet she could equally see the content expression that had settled across her face. While the nervousness of the moment had clearly not fully left the woman, she seemed to be quickly adapting. Relief came off of her in waves so that even GLaDOS could feel it.

How long had the former test subject felt like this?  She had been the one to kiss GLaDOS, after all. And while Chell could certainly be spontaneous when she had to, she didn’t strike GLaDOS as the type to have done something like this without thinking about it at least a few times.  

A part of her considered asking, but the other part of her brain decided against it, choosing to pick apart recent events to try and see if she had missed anything.

The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the former test subject hadn’t exactly been overly subtle. Sharing physical contact with GLaDOS through training, sitting together, sleeping next to her, offering to go into Aperture despite her own disdain for the place, and trying to do what was best for the core.  Had it really taken a kiss for GLaDOS to catch on?

Perhaps if GLaDOS had been watching from afar, studying this all with a scientist’s eye, she would’ve noticed. Maybe if it hadn’t been her, but some complete stranger, she would’ve seen it earlier, in Chell as well as in herself.

She used to have access to every bit of knowledge available to man. Of course she knew the signs of attraction. The flush of the skin, the racing heartbeat, the lingering touches. The way two bodies gravitated towards each other, how they responded to touch. It was all very scientific... if you weren’t experiencing it firsthand.

Watching from afar and feeling it yourself turned out to be two drastically different things. It was easy for GLaDOS to scoff at how easily humans fawned over each other for the sake of their relationships, but it wasn’t so easy to laugh at when she felt like jelly, pressed against Chell’s warm body and feeling a soothing hand running up and down her arm.

The two of them fell into silence for a moment, and GLaDOS couldn’t help but feel that they were both using it as a chance to exhale and let everything that had just happened settle in. GLaDOS could still feel the hints of uncertainty in her gut, but she was quick to battle them down with the reminder that this was for the sake of science. She didn’t have emotional stakes in it; she was just making the most of her situation in this human body and exploring something she wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

GLaDOS couldn’t read minds, but a quick glance up at Chell’s face told her that the woman likely wasn’t thinking the same thing. If Chell had been uncertain about her choice before, she didn’t look like it now.  She had thought about this, debated it with herself. GLaDOS could only guess at how many times she had called herself a friend when tempted to try something else.


Even as they ate their breakfast, GLaDOS still found herself deeply lost in thought, resting against Chell for comfort and support, but also because she found the feeling of Chell’s hand running through her hair to be quite comforting. She leaned into the touch involuntarily, giving a small hum of contentment to make sure that Chell continued.

The air between them had lightened considerably, and GLaDOS could feel the warmth coming off Chell both physically and emotionally. On one level, it was comforting to feel- exciting, even.  But on the other, it stirred something in her gut, something unsettling.

A feeling far too akin to guilt for her liking.

She tried her best to shake it, reminding herself that she wasn’t doing anything wrong. They both wanted this; GLaDOS had just found a reason for it that suited her needs, even if it was likely a little bit different from Chell’s. Besides, Chell would understand. She knew GLaDOS wasn’t human, and it wouldn’t make any sense for GLaDOS to be doing this for any human reason.

It all made perfect sense, and yet… GLaDOS didn’t say anything. She kept her mouth shut, pushing the thought to the back of her mind. It likely didn’t matter to Chell anyway. It wouldn’t affect how GLaDOS acted or how Chell would treat her. They would simply go about this… however it was to be gone about, Chell for her reasons, and GLaDOS for her own.

That way, both parties could get their fix of the addicting feeling of physical indulgence, and neither would have any of the guilt that came with those actions. Or at least, so GLaDOS hoped.

Chapter Text

Changes in GLaDOS’s day-to-day life were slow, but steady. After their conversation, GLaDOS had been admittedly at a loss as to what to actually do with Chell as ‘romantic partners.’  Apparently, according to Chell, she could start by actually using the term ‘girlfriend,’ though the core had yet to adapt to that. The word felt alien on her tongue, somehow too informal for her tastes. She didn’t stop Chell from using it herself, as she knew it was the preferred human way of going about labeling these things, but she didn’t think that she’d be using it anytime soon, if ever.

Other than that, the changes had been surprisingly minor.  GLaDOS couldn’t say for certain what she had actually been expecting- Chell never struck her as the type to suddenly get obnoxiously affectionate- but this wasn’t it. The former test subject treated her as normal, and they went about their day more or less the same as they always had.

At night, they still slept pressed against each other, though GLaDOS had taken note of Chell’s arm around her being slightly lower on her waist than it had been a week prior.

During the day, Chell had taken to giving smaller, more noticeable acts of affection. When she dragged the AI out to help gather firewood or water, she’d hold GLaDOS’s hand in her own, keeping it from getting too cold.

And when sitting by the fire to eat their meals, Chell would be sure to wrap an arm around GLaDOS and stay close. While GLaDOS had already made many a snide comment about the human’s sudden cuddly attitude, she wasn’t exactly complaining. They had been given a few warmer days, but it was far from cozy. Body heat was one of their best options for keeping warm.

Despite this, Chell was mercifully good at giving GLaDOS space, and seemingly even better at knowing when she needed it.

Multiple times over the week or so that they had been away from Aperture, GLaDOS found herself taking long walks through the forest, letting her feet naturally guide her. Each time, she ended up at the edge of the woods, staring out at the snow-covered wheat field, knowing the rusted metal shed lay in the distance, just out of line of sight.

Chell had come to check up on her once, but GLaDOS hadn’t even needed to explain herself.  The woman had given her a gentle pat on the shoulder, then walked back to camp, promising a warm fire and a hearty meal when she returned. Not once had GLaDOS put her foot back into the field and attempted to go back, but there was a near constant tugging on her heart each time she imagined it.

The thought of slipping back to Aperture, or at least back to the shed; to sit inside it for a while, even if she could not fully, properly, return… she longed for it, but couldn’t follow through. For, as much as she wanted it, she knew that going back and being forcefully reminded that she couldn’t ever truly be a part of it again would likely hurt even more than the absence.

And so, each time, she returned to the camp with a still-pained heart, no more comfortable with her situation than before.

Chell had tried to be helpful, tried to speak words of comfort to the core. But of course, words were never Chell’s strongest suit, and in the end, they did little.  There was nothing Chell could say that would change GLaDOS’s situation, no carefully written note or encouraging phrase that could make this hurt less.

For now, the only thing that GLaDOS could foresee dulling the pain was time. No matter how intense the pain was, eventually, it dulled. Even death itself, when experienced enough, could become the norm. Whether the pain would truly lessen or if GLaDOS would just grow numb to it, she couldn’t say.

Either way, GLaDOS could only hope that it took effect soon, as she was uncertain she could deal with the pain in her chest as it was for any longer.



Today was an unusually clear day, the sky void of heavy grey storm clouds and the sun shining brightly. The air was still crisp and the snow still present, but GLaDOS and Chell both counted their blessings for the reduced windchill. And, as Chell had pointed out, the lack of heavy snow meant better visibility with a rifle. GLaDOS had agreed with this statement absentmindedly, not catching the way Chell’s eyes lit up, as if she had been suddenly granted permission for something.

And that was how Chell had managed to drag GLaDOS away from the warm fire off on a hunting trip to catch their dinner. The human insisted that there was no better time for GLaDOS to actually try it herself than now, and promised that she would lead the core through the whole thing and help her out whenever needed.

Despite this reassurance, GLaDOS was less than thrilled.

The last time they had gone hunting together, GLaDOS had at least been given the chance to simply sit around and do whatever she wanted, albeit quietly- not to mention it had been considerably warmer at the time than what it was currently. This, however, was going to require her holding a rifle in place for possibly hours on end, crouching in dead bushes, hoping that some creature would be dumb enough to walk into her crosshairs.

‘It’ll be fun,’ Chell said. ‘It can be relationship building,’ she said.

GLaDOS snorted under her breath as Chell found them a good place to wait in, downwind and hidden in a mixture of tall grasses and bracken. She doubted that this would be anything but painful to sit through, but she tried to keep herself positive with the thought that she’d have a chance to kill something, and it had been a very long time since she had been able to do that.

However, first came overly extensive rifle training, at Chell’s insistence.

She went over in great detail the amount of recoil, the proper and improper way to hold the rifle, how to reload, where to aim it, and then how to reload it again, just for good measure.  GLaDOS listened as patiently as she could, though that wasn’t exactly saying much- by the end of it, a part of her was tempted to knock Chell in the face with the butt of the weapon just so they could get on with it.

After at least half an hour, Chell decided they were finally ready.  To do absolutely nothing, as far as GLaDOS was concerned.

Well, almost nothing.

Wanting to make sure that GLaDOS could ease into the use of the weapon, Chell positioned herself behind the core to help keep her steady and coach her along. It ensured that the AI was less likely to throw out her shoulder, and that the chance of them completely missing their chance at eating a fresh dinner was significantly lower.

Not that GLaDOS thought she’d miss without Chell’s help. She was perfectly confident in her skills, even with something she had never actually done before. She was only accepting Chell’s help because… because she was exceptionally warm.

Chell’s body pressed against hers was not a new feeling at this point; GLaDOS would even say she had grown accustomed to it.  But even so, she found new things to observe. The way her stomach muscles tensed anxiously every time there was a rustle of leaves nearby, or how she slowed her breathing each time she caught a glimpse of something moving in the corner of her eye, or even how her heartbeat picked up whenever GLaDOS repositioned herself and shifted against the human.

It was… fascinating, in a way.  GLaDOS had observed humans many times before, both in Aperture, and recently, outside of it, and she was admittedly quite surprised at just how much she hadn’t been able to properly study before.  Humans reacted differently on the surface than they did within the pristine white walls of Aperture. Or at least Chell did.

Despite how she’d tense and ready herself for whatever was needed, she seemed, overall, more comfortable with life up here. No matter how cold the mornings were, how tedious it could be eating dried meat for five days in a row, or how frequently they needed to deal with the possibility of being jumped by either man or mutant beast, Chell seemed like she belonged.

GLaDOS supposed that was only one of the many ways in which they differed.


Lost in thought, GLaDOS found herself spacing out somewhat, hardly paying attention until she felt a hearty nudge in her side that nearly pulled a disgruntled ‘what?!’ from her lips. Thankfully, before she opened her mouth, she actually looked down the sights of the rifle. There was a buck, a good distance away, but still well within the range Chell had pointed out previously.

A hitch in her breath, GLaDOS moved the gun to where Chell had silently gestured to, and spared a quick glance backwards, earning a nod of approval from Chell.  She pulled the trigger and fired.

The sound cut through the quiet winter evening like thunder, and the recoil caused GLaDOS to flinch, even with Chell supporting her.

She had hit the deer, but hadn’t killed it. A shot in the shoulder had injured and startled it, but it was still very much alive.

Hastily, Chell took the rifle from her hands and held it on her own, following the animal’s sporadic movements for a moment before firing again before it could get too far away. This one landed as well, but if GLaDOS had to guess from the way Chell wasn’t hastily readying to fire again, it had actually hit something vital, and the deer wouldn’t make it far.

Chell gestured at her to get up and follow, and they both headed in the direction that the animal had staggered off in. GLaDOS took note of the way its bright red blood left a stark trail in the snow.

While GLaDOS was somewhat impressed by Chell’s good aim on the second, much more difficult to land shot, she currently found herself more intrigued by the deer’s reaction, if anything.

She looked at how the trail it left behind had been made, zig-zagging through the trees, moving as quickly as possible. It ran with such purpose, as if it could escape the two bullets it had already been hit with. While it was possible it could’ve survived GLaDOS’s shot, there was no way it would live very long after Chell’s. Did it know this? Surely not; it was little more than a dumb animal. So what was the purpose of running? To avoid the quicker, less painful death that would come with just getting it over with and drag its slowly ending life out for no reason?

Or did it do it simply to spite the hunter? To make one last show of rebellion against its fate, just to make things more difficult for the one that had bested it?

GLaDOS let out a small hum, amused by her train of thought. In a way, it almost reminded her of Chell.  She, too, had been hunted before, zig-zagging her way around to try to avoid oncoming death, even when it was seemingly apparent that her attempts only prolonged the inevitable. GLaDOS had been certain that it was only a matter of time before her attempts killed her.

Yet, unlike the deer, Chell had surprised her.


Eventually they found the thing, laid down next to an old fallen tree, having finally given in to exhaustion and bled out. It was quickly getting dark, and Chell gave it a quick once over to make sure it was properly dead before grabbing it by the legs to carry it. However, she stopped rather suddenly, going tense.  Even in the low lighting, GLaDOS could see her eyes narrow.

The former test subject nudged GLaDOS, briefly directing her gaze to the handgun that she had been letting the core hold onto recently.

Hastily, GLaDOS pulled it out of its holster, not needing an explanation. Chell had heard something that GLaDOS had missed, and if there was something in close range, a shot with a pistol would be better than a rifle.

Chell kept one hand still holding onto their kill, as they’d lost their food in scuffles with wild animals before, while her other went for the combat knife she kept strapped to her leg.

A few seconds passed, and GLaDOS was about ready to call Chell paranoid and start heading back to camp.  Then, she heard it: a low snarl, and the slight crunch of snow.

Her hand tightened on the handgun, and she swallowed a lump in her throat. The last time she heard any kind of snarling in this forest, she had nearly been eaten by a mutant bear, and she was not particularly excited for round two with another member of its species.

Like a shadow slowly coming out from the trees in front of them, GLaDOS could see movement; a creature of some kind, stalking closer.  While she couldn’t identify it at a distance, that didn’t seem to be a problem, as soon enough, it crept out into the small, clear area near the fallen tree.

A wolf. Or rather, some kind of canine; GLaDOS had no doubts that it was likely some strange mutant half-breed, considering what she had seen on the surface thus far.

It had a long snout and thick, somewhat mangy grey fur that didn’t quite hide the way its bones showed so starkly, almost poking out of its body.  The eyes were a murky brownish-green, and its lips were pulled back into a vicious snarl, showing long, pointed teeth.  

It did not charge them, but it slowly stalked closer, wide, hungry eyes darting occasionally to the deer that Chell was holding, and low growls slowly growing louder the closer it got.


BANG.

GLaDOS didn’t think. She pulled the trigger, and, at a relatively close range, she managed to hit the beast in the head.

BANG.

BANG.

Two more shots for good measure, even as the thing crumpled over.

Even more blood gushed forth to stain the already scarlet snow, and GLaDOS stared at the thing, as if waiting for it to get back up.

It didn’t.
Letting out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, she holstered the handgun yet again, finding that her hands were shaking with anticipation.  She had actually done it. She’d killed something with her bare hands, on her own. No neurotoxin or turrets, just her own shot.

It was strange, to think that this was a milestone for someone who already had already taken hundreds, maybe thousands of lives. But it was well and truly a first.  And it was… exciting, in a way.

The cynical side of GLaDOS would remind her that she had almost grown into a habit of killing things, hence why this felt good. She was feeding an old addiction, scratching an itch.  But the more quizzical side of her had the realization that this had nothing to do with the act of murder itself.

This was simply one of the few true victories she had against the surface. One of the only times so far that she had properly bested something it threw at her without help.

And that, at least, earned a twinge of a smirk on her lips as she turned away to start walking back to camp.  

Chell soon followed, though GLaDOS found that the woman seemed to be insistent on bringing the wolf’s corpse with them, as while it was mostly skin and bones, it had some salvageable fur that they could use, maybe even a bit of meat.

As the AI had unfortunately learned, one needed to take whatever they could get to eat on the surface.

At least the thing wasn’t too heavy and Chell managed to sling it over her shoulders, though the added weight meant that GLaDOS found herself having to help Chell drag the deer along.


By the time they got back to camp, the sun had completely set, and the moon had already started to creep into the sky, easily visible without a single cloud to hide it. It was only that moonlight and the orange glow of the fire that lit up the world around them, and while GLaDOS knew she had little to fear from the shadows that crept just outside of the fire’s glow, she couldn’t help but be a little bit uneasy by the thick darkness between the clusters of trees.

It was quiet, with only the crackle of the fire and their breathing to fill the night air. Chell sat close by, though she was avoiding being too cuddly as she finished up skinning the wolf’s corpse, and instructing GLaDOS to cook some of the deer for their dinner.

It was a relatively easy task- just cook it so it wasn’t raw or burnt to a crisp- so GLaDOS found herself able to let her mind wander.  

These woods weren’t especially dangerous, at least not compared to any other place they had been in, and they had two firearms between them to scare off or kill anything that tried to mess with them. By all means, they were as safe as they ever could be up here. Yet even with that knowledge, GLaDOS couldn’t help feeling like she was being watched.

Trying to shake the thought from her mind, the core brought her attention back to their dinner, pulling it away from the fire to see if it was actually done.

While it was nothing special, she had been holding onto some herbs that she tied onto the pieces of meat, hopeful that they would infuse some flavor into it. To her surprise, it actually smelled and looked somewhat good. Maybe she had just grown accustomed to having plain salted meat for at least one meal a day and this was a pleasant change, but she liked to think she was just better at cooking than Chell was.

Thankfully, Chell had good timing, as she now washed the blood off her hands and seemed to be finished dealing with the wolf, having taken every bit of the body that they could use and disposing of the rest.

She looked over GLaDOS’s shoulder expectantly, a warm smile playing on her lips.

“No, you don’t get any. You can just eat whatever’s left of that wolf; I get the perfectly cooked, actually seasoned venison.”

GLaDOS turned her head back to throw a smirk in Chell’s direction, who responded with a mock-pout that quickly turned into silent, amused laughter.

There was a moment, GLaDOS noted, as Chell settled into a playful, yet comfortable smile, that her gaze briefly darted to and lingered on GLaDOS’s lips. Their faces were close, and all it would take was a little movement forward for the two of them to be caught in another kiss.

It would be their first one since they started this whole ‘relationship,’ the AI noted, as Chell seemed to have been hesitant to try and kiss her since, as she still did now. She didn’t close the gap, but lingered, as if waiting for approval.

“...You can… do… it.”

GLaDOS spoke with an almost awkward uncertainty, as somewhere in the back of her mind she was aware of the fact that most humans likely didn’t give verbal permission when in situations such as this, typically responding by closing the gap themselves and letting their actions speak louder than words.

But of course, GLaDOS wasn’t human, and thus, didn’t need to hold their customs. She’d do whatever she-

Chell moved forward, a small smile on her lips as she brushed hers against GLaDOS in a light, chaste sort of movement. GLaDOS hardly even had the chance to respond before Chell pulled away and sat back down beside her.

GLaDOS still found herself stunned for a moment, despite the fact that the action was so small and simple in concept.  It took her a moment to recover, her lips tingling as if they had been shocked with tiny lightning bolts.

It was with slightly shakier hands that she took her share of the dinner and handed the rest to Chell, finding that heat had rushed to her cheeks and her heart had skipped a beat.

She was really going to have to get used to things like that, as she wasn’t keen on being a blushing mess at the slightest show of affection. Especially if this arrangement were to go on for longer, and get more… intense.

The rest of their dinner wasn’t quite as awkward for her, thankfully, as she managed to brush the embarrassment off after a while and engage in normal conversation with Chell.

The human brought up her performance with the rifle earlier, and while GLaDOS was ready to defend the fact that she had needed help to finish it off, she found herself not needing to.  Chell praised her for a good first attempt, and gave a few pointers on how she could’ve improved.

However, Chell seemed to be avoiding one thing: the wolf they had encountered.  She didn’t bring up GLaDOS’s kill, neither praising nor scolding her on her actions.  GLaDOS could guess why; that much was easy.


Chell likely had no problem with the action itself- the beast was aggressive, it could’ve killed them if one of them hadn’t acted- but she probably wasn’t used to seeing GLaDOS killing things again.

GLaDOS could only wonder if it brought up bad memories.


As time passed and the fire began to die down, GLaDOS found herself surprisingly content. She was full, warm, and leaning against Chell’s shoulder- which she had found made a very good pillow. By all means, she could easily have fallen asleep where she was, if not for the strange feeling that still lingered in the back of her mind. Like a tickle on the nape of her neck, it lingered, occasionally sending chills down her spine that she knew had nothing to do with the winter cold.

While she had tried to avoid thinking about it, she couldn’t shake it. And the longer it lingered in her mind, the more on edge she found herself becoming.

She was about to mention it to Chell when something made her blood run cold.

A rustle. Something moved.

With a yelp pulled from her throat, she practically fell into Chell’s lap, fumbling for her handgun before Chell stopped her with a hand on her wrist and an expression that asked ‘what’s wrong?’ Or, perhaps more accurately, ‘what the hell is your problem?’

While GLaDOS admitted that she might’ve overreacted as a result of building paranoia, she still refused to believe that it was nothing. She had heard something, and she still felt like she was being watched.

She waited a few moments longer, then it happened again- only this time, a little louder, a little closer.

The AI sat back up, her head turning to the direction of the sound and her hand hovering over her holster.

A moment passed, and the nearby brush was silent. She stared intensely at it, waiting to hear the snarl of a predator or the caw of a vicious bird.


Instead, she heard a whimper.


For a second, she just blinked, stunned. It had been a small sort of sound, almost pathetic. But, surely, SURELY the sound was still attached to a huge, dangerous animal.  So she kept her hand as close to her weapon as possible, holding her breath.

The bushes rustled one last time, and a figure stumbled out of them and into the dying light of the fire, finally making itself visible. It was a four-legged, hairy, completely dangerous, probably blood-sucking-

Puppy. It was a puppy.

The sound that left GLaDOS’s mouth was somewhere between choking on disbelief and embarrassment, as she could only stare at what was in front of her. She had been on edge, ready to either fight or flee, because of a puppy.

Suddenly, hiding under some blankets in shame was sounding like a good idea. After elbowing Chell in the gut for the bout of silent laughter that she had broken out into, that is.

“Oh, quit it, I didn’t know what it was!”

She turned to Chell briefly, snapping at her before bringing her focus back to the hairball in front of them both.

It stumbled closer bit by bit, though wasn’t moving particularly quickly.  It was small, with paws that were far too big for its tiny body, its creamy colored fur taking up most of its mass. It took a few steps closer, then raised its tiny snout into the air, sniffing quizzically.

GLaDOS could only assume it was here to steal their food, just as every other creature that approach them was.  With an angered huff, she figured it was best to just put the sad-looking scrap out of its misery so they wouldn’t have to worry about it coming back to steal from them while they slept.

She reached for her gun once again, but Chell stopped her, her motion surprisingly quick and her grip firm.

The human’s expression had softened, and she nodded her head to the side, before looking pointedly at the pup.  

Chell had gestured towards the pelt of the canine they had killed. Or rather, the one GLaDOS had killed.

That thing probably belonged to the wolf, and, not knowing where its parent had gone, it followed its scent back to here.

“Alright, so that mangy thing had an offspring. How does that change anything?”

GLaDOS let out a snort, reluctantly letting Chell take the handgun away- as apparently the human didn’t trust her not to just off the thing the moment she let go of the core’s wrist- and crossing her arms over her chest.

She expected Chell to do something disgustingly ‘heroic’ and shoo the little creature away, maybe even throw it some of the bones they had left over from their dinner.

What she didn’t expect was for the human to pick up the recently-removed wolf pelt and throw it into the fire.

“What the hell are you doing, you lunatic?! We could’ve used that!”

GLaDOS jumped to her feet as well, nearly sputtering in disbelief.  Sure, that thing had been a little matted and dirty, but if they washed it a few times it would’ve been perfectly serviceable, at least as much as every other animal pelt they had.

But Chell shook her head, looking over to the somewhat confused looking pup nearby and giving it an expression that GLaDOS could only describe as pity.

“Oh, I think I’m going to throw up. You can’t seriously be...Chell, no!”

GLaDOS could only protest as she watched her partner take a scrap of their well-cooked food and gently toss it in the direction of the little pup.

Chell wasn’t content just giving that scruffy-looking adult wolf some kind of ‘proper burial’ by burning the thing and creating a frankly horrible smell, she was actually feeding its offspring.

“Chell, this isn’t a petting zoo, last time I checked. That thing probably has fifty different diseases, will probably die in a couple weeks anyway, and all it’s doing is eating our food. You know, the stuff that we need.”

The former test subject paused, another scrap of meat in her hand, and turned to look at GLaDOS, her expression thoughtful. She tossed the meat to the pup before grabbing a piece of paper out of her pocket, scribbling something down and hastily handing it to GLaDOS, seeming much more focused on coaxing the creature closer.

‘No, it’s not. But look at it. Thing’s little enough we could still train it. How helpful would it be to have a natural hunter on our side? It’s not like we’d be keeping it as a housepet.  If it wants to run off and get killed by something else, we don’t have to stop it. We’ll keep it around and try to train it, and if it doesn’t work out, we’ll deal with that as it comes. I’d say we have little to lose and plenty to gain.’

GLaDOS frowned, opening and closing her mouth multiple times in protest, but found herself unable to form the perfect argument that she was looking for. Chell did have a point, but at the same time, GLaDOS wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of sharing her food and space with a flea-ridden little hairball.

Scoffing, she turned away from both Chell and the slowly approaching pup, eager to get into the tent and away from the lingering smell of burning fur.

She didn’t think Chell would even be able to coax the thing over, expecting it to just eat from afar and run off as soon as it was full.

But, to her surprise, she glanced to the side and saw that it had gotten surprisingly close, its round eyes wide as they flitted from Chell to GLaDOS herself.

“What’s it looking at me for?” she quickly hissed to Chell, unease still prickling up her spine.  She had dealt with baby birds before, but not baby canines. And if they were anything like their adult counterparts- slobbery, gross, and violent- then she wanted absolutely nothing to do with them.

Chell simply shrugged, though her lips twitched a little into something that was almost a smile before she spoke.

“Maybe it likes you. Animals like people who don’t like them.”

GLaDOS was certain if she rolled her eyes any harder they would fall out of her skull.

“Yes, and that’s why you ended up interested in me. You animals are strange creatures.”

The core’s comment was laced with sarcasm and she knew that Chell was aware she was at least partially joking. Surely Chell was joking as well. There was no rational reason for that little scrap to want to be anywhere near her. She had killed its parent, after all.  Sure, it might not understand that, but at the very least, Chell was the one with the food.

Unfortunately, Chell’s words seemed to have some amount of truth to them- as if on cue, the pup fixed its gaze solely on GLaDOS, tilting its tiny head to the side as it stared at her, almost expectantly.

With a ‘tch’ leaving her lips, GLaDOS scowled, picking up one of the almost completely picked clean bones from their dinner and tossing it in a vague direction away from camp, watching how almost instantly, the pup trotted after it and back into the bushes.

Finally. I’m going to bed.”

She gave a dismissive wave in Chell’s direction, knowing that the woman would likely want to stay up until the fire died down a little bit more.


Eager to dive into the warmth, GLaDOS nestled herself amongst the pile of blankets and furs, piling them all on top of herself since she didn’t need to share them for once. Or, at least not for a little while.  Their gentle weight on her body and comforting warmth was quick to lull her to sleep, and she was hardly there for five minutes before she was out cold.

It didn’t last more than an hour.

She had been sleeping somewhat deeply, but still lightly enough that she could be roused by a snort of laughter and a slight gush of cool air from the entrance of the tent.

Groggy, GLaDOS cracked an eye open. Chell had likely come to bed, but she was uncertain as to why the woman who was normally exceptionally good at being quiet was suddenly holding back laughter in the middle of the night.

The answer came to her when she took note of one of the furs that was amongst the pile that GLaDOS was using for warmth. A still living piece of fur. A cream colored, tiny, breathing piece of fur with the very same bone GLaDOS had thrown into the woods sitting directly in front of its tiny little snout as it snoozed away, curled up against GLaDOS’s side.


“Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Chapter Text

Saying that GLaDOS moved the scrap of living fur outside would be putting it gently.

She just about punted the thing like a football once she realized that it was sleeping beside her, only being stopped by Chell, who seemed insistent on keeping the thing, and keeping it alive.


It was a relatively short- and sleepy- debate that ended in a small victory for GLaDOS, as she insisted on making the canine sleep outside of the tent, not being keen on having it drool on her, or worse, transmit fleas.

So, thankful to be somewhat rid of the beast, she settled back into her usual position, pressed up to Chell for warmth, and curled up as she held the blankets and furs close to her body to make sure that no bit of heat escaped them.

GLaDOS was almost comfortable and content enough to forget about the new hungry mouth to feed that was lurking outside.

This, of course, only meant that she awoke with an angry twitch in her eye as she discovered that the cream-colored pup had snuck his way back into the tent overnight and slowly wiggled his way back up to the two of them like a heat leech.

Since Chell was still half-asleep and not quite able to stop her in time, GLaDOS took the opportunity to grab the animal rather roughly by the scruff of its neck, holding it up in front of her face to try and lock eyes with it, her lips pulled back into a scowl.

“Listen here, you little mongrel, I want nothing to do with you. The only reason you’re here is because she wants you. But if you ever come near me again- Oh, come on! At least try to look intimidated!”

GLaDOS gave up mid-speech, realizing that the pup was simply hanging comfortably in her grip, and it took the core a second to remember that it was likely quite used to being carried by the scruff, and that it couldn’t understand a word of what she was saying. It simply looked at her with round eyes that held no malice, only a naive trust and foolish excitement. Yellow-orange eyes met golden-brown ones, and GLaDOS found herself frustrated at how the dog’s tail cautiously wagged in response, slowly, but deliberately. It was mocking her.

With a grunt of frustration, she practically dropped the canine onto the ground. She had better things to do than to fuss with Chell’s new plaything.

She got dressed and marched outside without another word to either Chell or their unfortunate tagalong, deciding to focus on going about her day as usual.

Thankfully, the skies remained clear from the day before, and GLaDOS knew that they would have to take advantage of this good weather to get work done. She busied herself with some of their morning tasks, poking her nose around their supply of firewood to see how much they had, collecting extra and setting it up to dry, and building a small fire. While they wouldn’t need the fire going until the evening, it would be nice to take the chance to clean some of their clothes as well as themselves.

Being in a forest in the middle of nowhere in the winter made this difficult, but not impossible.  They didn’t exactly have loads of spare clothes- GLaDOS only had her current outfit and the old dress that was technically hers- but Chell did have enough various pieces of clothing for the both of them to wear when their main clothes were wet.

It was no laundromat, but something was better than nothing. And that, combined with being able to wash herself off with a damp cloth, made GLaDOS feel at least slightly less grimy.


By the time Chell shuffled out of the tent, GLaDOS was mostly done, having changed into different clothes, dried off, and wrapped herself tightly in a blanket to make doubly sure that she was as warm as possible.  Her other clothes dried slowly by the heat of the fire, and she eagerly waited to change back into the outfit that suited her far better than these slightly-too-big clothes of Chell’s.

She looked up upon hearing Chell’s arrival. Having assumed that the woman would want to do the same as she had, GLaDOS had already made sure there was warm water and some dry clothes set aside for Chell. But, of course, the core had forgotten to factor in one little problem. One furry little problem.

Chell was carrying the newly adopted puppy in her arms, and while it seemed slightly tense, it at least wasn’t foaming at the mouth or biting her. It was as understandably nervous as a formerly wild animal would be in the presence of new creatures, though young enough that it hadn’t quite learned to fear them yet.

GLaDOS resisted the urge to scoot away as Chell sat down next to her, focusing on rummaging through her bag and pulling out something to eat for breakfast while Chell washed herself and her clothes off.

Or… as she washed the dog off.

GLaDOS made little effort to hold back the frustrated snort as she watched Chell take the warm water intended for squishy humans that didn’t already have fur to keep them warm, and use it to dampen a rag to slowly clean the puppy’s fur.

“You know, Chell, while a part of me appreciates you trying to make that thing smell slightly better, you forget that I’m equally opposed to you smelling like sweaty roadkill. Here I figured you’d want to use the warm water I went out of my way to prepare for you, but apparently you’d rather remain smelly. Or cold.”

She huffed, watching Chell carefully working with the dog that was trying to squirm out of her grip. It was a noble effort, but Chell wasn’t giving up any time soon, and eventually, the pup gave in.

Chell shot a smile in GLaDOS’s direction that might’ve been semi-apologetic, but GLaDOS ignored it, sparing once last glance at her partner before bringing her focus back to her food and the warmth of the fire.

Luckily for Chell, by the time she was finished washing off the dog, there was still enough water to warm again and use for herself. However, unfortunately...

No. I am not carrying that thing. Just put it on the ground, I don’t care.”

Chell had finished washing her canine companion, and had wrapped him up in a blanket to dry him off, insistent on making sure that he stayed warm too.

“It’s not for very long, GLaDOS. I just don’t want him getting cold. Keep him on your lap; you’ll be fine.”

The core hardly had another moment to protest before the bundle of fur was plopped onto her lap and Chell was already in the process of hastily disrobing, clearly not wanting to be exposed in the cold air for any longer than the couple quick minutes it took to wipe herself down and dry off.

GLaDOS gave a sound somewhere between a surprised squeak and a frustrated groan, recoiling somewhat and looking down at the animal on her lap. It couldn’t move much as a result of the blanket wrapped around it, though it thankfully wasn’t squirming too much. It shifted around a little on her lap, clearly trying its hardest to make itself comfortable despite the restrictions that the blanket provided.

Reluctantly, GLaDOS gave it a little bit of help, letting it sit more comfortably, if only to get it to stop moving around. Its body was surprisingly warm, and she found her gaze occasionally drifting downwards to look at the beast as it turned its head back to look at her from time to time, its expression uncertain at first, before relaxing. It almost seemed comfortable with her. Well, that made one of them.

Chell was true to her word, moving as quickly as possible so that GLaDOS wouldn’t be stuck with the dog for too long. Or, more accurately, Chell was focused on moving quickly enough to avoid catching her death when exposed to the cold air. While perhaps at any other time, place and temperature, your average human might show some kind of embarrassment at disrobing in front of their romantic partner, any such thoughts were clearly far, far away from Chell’s mind, as even from a distance GLaDOS could see the goosebumps on her skin. It almost earned a chuckle from the AI, as she glanced up to see Chell drying herself off with a fervor fitting for someone being exposed to freezing temperatures.

With one hand, she tossed the dry clothes in the human’s direction, not failing to notice the way the dog in her lap suddenly perked up as she did so.  Something told her that if not for the blanket making movement difficult, it might’ve tried to run after the thrown items. An obnoxious trait, certainly. But Chell was right that if it could be funneled into hunting… well, GLaDOS couldn’t say she’d be against letting a dog do all the work.

Eagerly, she waited as Chell got dressed and wrapped herself in a blanket as well, and the core looked expectantly for her to take the dog off her lap. Admittedly, it was being somewhat well-behaved- for an animal, at least- but that still didn’t mean she wanted it close to her for any longer than it had to be. To her dismay, though, as Chell came over to pick the pup back up, the animal moved from a seated position to lying down, resting its head on GLaDOS’s leg and looking up at Chell with an expression that spoke of not being keen on moving.

GLaDOS didn’t find this nearly as funny or cute as Chell, who broke out into a grin upon seeing it, did.

“I told you that he likes you.”

Her tone of voice was almost uncharacteristically smug, and GLaDOS could tell that the human was quite proud of herself- though for what, the AI couldn’t say.

“Congratulations, a misguided animal finds me comfortable.”

Her tone was dry and devoid of any of the humor or lightheartedness of Chell’s, but the former test subject didn’t seem to notice or care, as she promptly sat back down without taking the dog back.

“Oh no, I am not keeping him. I held him while you were busy; now you’re not. Take him back.”

GLaDOS scooped the dog up and held him as far away from her body as possible, as if he were a live explosive.  This was not received well, as the pup let out a soft whine at being moved, squirming once more.


Chell still made no move to take him, and a small part of GLaDOS’s brain suggested just throwing the thing at her, but refrained, not wanting to cause tension between herself and Chell.

Grumbling curses under her breath, she reluctantly put the animal back down on her lap, which got it to shut up and stop moving almost instantly, as it curled up in a ball and settled right back in.

There was a moment of silence that followed, and GLaDOS was about to break it with some other degrading comment towards the dog, but before she had the chance, she took note of Chell’s expression.

The woman looked thoughtful, staring at the dog in GLaDOS’s lap, then up to GLaDOS herself.  A slow smile spread across the former mute’s lips, and before she said a word, the AI knew that whatever she said was going to be a bad idea.

“You should name him.”

GLaDOS blinked.  She hadn’t expected that, and admittedly, hadn’t even thought about it. She was perfectly content just calling it ‘dog,’ as she held no real attachment towards it that would require a more thought-out name.

“And why should I name it? You’re the one who wants to keep it so badly.” She raised a skeptical eyebrow as she spoke, though a part of her already knew what Chell’s answer would be, and she spoke up once more before Chell had the chance to open her mouth. “No, wait, don’t tell me. He ‘likes me,’ and that’s why. You do know my suggestions right now are likely going to be pretty far from anything you would like. I’m considering ‘flea-picnic’ at the moment.”

Chell shot a slightly more sheepish smile her way, nodding. GLaDOS supposed she ought to have been surprised, yet somehow found herself anything but. For whatever reason, Chell seemed insistent on not only keeping this dog, but making GLaDOS buddy-buddy with it.

With what must’ve been the fifth time she’d rolled her eyes this morning alone, GLaDOS turned her gaze back to the dog, studying it a little more closely.  While she certainly wasn’t lying about her brain coming up with less than affectionate nicknames, she supposed she could at least try to think of something that Chell would deem suitable.

While the pup’s fur had looked somewhat ragged and dirty when they first met it, now that it was clean it was soft and fluffy, almost resembling downy feathers. And its eyes were more stark in the morning light, a slightly strange color for either a wolf or a domesticated pup that likely only came from who knows what kind of mutations running through its genes- a brilliant shade of yellow that mingled with warm orange, giving off an appearance like fire or sunlight.

GLaDOS searched her brain through the hundreds of names that came to mind, before her thoughts came to a screeching halt, settling on one in particular.

“Icarus.”

Her voice was soft for a moment, as she had practically spoken without thinking, her thoughts translating to speech absentmindedly.  She only shook herself back to attention when noticing Chell’s inquisitive gaze, which seemed content with the choice, if curious at the core’s thought process behind it.

“It… It’s a foolish creature, that’s all. And I hope that it drowns at some point.”

GLaDOS stammered out a retort, puffing her chest out a little, defensively. Aperture had tended to reference Greek mythology at times, with the occasional project getting a codename related to one of its many figures. Perhaps that was the only reason her mind had settled on this one in particular, though a nagging thought suggested that the story of Icarus had been sitting in the back of her mind for quite some time.

Shaking the thought from her head, she met eyes with Chell once more, and was thankful to see the woman nodding, a small smile on her face.  While it was unlikely that she agreed with GLaDOS’s follow-up comment, it seemed that she was, at the very least, happy with the name itself.

The newly named Icarus didn’t seem to react much, but then again, GLaDOS supposed he didn’t really understand or care about what he was called. Instead, the pup seemed content on her lap, for now at least.

GLaDOS had little experience working with dogs, but she had her fair share of knowledge on canines as a whole, and she knew that puppies wouldn’t just sit around quietly forever.


And, over the course of the next couple weeks, that couldn’t have made itself more clear.

The first few days of having the pup around were relatively relaxed. Still adapting to the both of them and his new surroundings, Icarus was fairly quiet, and mostly sat either around GLaDOS or Chell, or on top of the bed that Chell had made for him out of a slightly older and more ratty blanket that they weren’t actively using.

GLaDOS almost forgot he was there a few times, and for a bit, was lulled into a very false sense of security on what their life was about to become.

It was about a week in when she and Chell were rather rudely awaken by the pup, who had been staying outside, but had evidently decided that they were asleep for far too long and wanted his breakfast. This meant chewing on their blankets and tugging them off, as well as getting his face less than in an inch from GLaDOS’s own, allowing her all the joys of experiencing dog breath.

That was just the beginning.

Deciding that he ‘liked’ the two of them apparently meant that he had little qualms about bounding around the campsite to follow either of them whenever they moved, stumbling over his paws with excitement. GLaDOS didn’t mind him following Chell, but she found herself sick of him following her absolutely everywhere very quickly.  She couldn’t so much as cross the campsite without Icarus at her heels, panting happily and even tugging on the bottom of her pants if she wasn’t moving fast enough.

While GLaDOS couldn’t say for certain exactly how old he was, if she had to guess by his appearance, she’d place him somewhere around two or three months, as his ears were still flopped over. As he got older, they’d likely stand up on their own.

Breed was nearly impossible to pinpoint; Chell had asked her one night as they sat by the fire, while Icarus played a game of tug-of-war with Chell and a stick. If the surface wasn’t the way it was, and most animals weren’t some kind of mutated half-breed, GLaDOS would’ve been able to say with complete certainty.  But still, she gave it her best shot based on what the mother had looked like, and her pre-existing knowledge on various canines.

“If you want my educated guess- which are the only guesses I make, mind you- I’d say he’s mostly a mixture of domesticated breeds. The mother clearly had wolf, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she was a wolfdog of some sort. Mix that with a mutt, and you could get whatever Icarus is. At the very least he looks like he has German shepherd in him, based on his snout and ears.”

GLaDOS spared the pup another glance, watching as Chell let out a silent laugh at the pup’s repeated attempts to pull the stick from her grasp.  Of course, if they were in Aperture, she could just run a couple tests and figure out exactly what he was. But that thought was only a bitter reminder that no, they weren’t in Aperture, and they might never be again.

She would’ve been content to spend the rest of the night sulking after this- as had often been the case whenever Aperture crossed her mind- but it seemed that Chell, ever observant, thought that she’d ‘help’ by pulling the stick away from Icarus and tossing it at GLaDOS’s feet, causing the puppy to bound over and pick it up, followed by looking at GLaDOS expectantly, as if he expected her to play with him.

GLaDOS pulled her lip back at the pup, scowling. While Chell might’ve been perfectly content to play with a slobber-covered twig, GLaDOS liked to think she had slightly higher standards.

Unfortunately, Icarus didn’t seem to get the message, and promptly dropped the stick on her lap, much to the core’s frustration and disgust.

“Ugh! Really?!”

She grabbed the end of the stick with her thumb and forefinger, trying to touch it as little as possible, and tossed it across the camp and as far away from her as she could, trying her best not to think about the saliva that she had just touched.

Wiping her hand off on a rag, she hoped that this would be the end of it, and that Icarus, who had bounded off after his stick, would be content to gnaw on it across the camp and leave her alone. She was not so lucky, as less than a minute later, he had stumbled back over to her, stick in his jaw and tail wagging.

This time, GLaDOS snatched the stick from his mouth before he could put it on her lap, and tossed it again, a little further this time, hoping that maybe more distance would discourage him.

It didn’t. It took a little bit longer, with Icarus tripping over his paws at least a handful of times, but he still came back, stick held pridefully in his jaws and ready to place in GLaDOS’s lap once more.

It was almost embarrassing to think that this process continued at least a few more times before GLaDOS realized- due to catching a glimpse of Chell trying to hide a smile out of the corner of her eye- that she was essentially playing fetch with the canine.

The AI wasn’t happy about that realization, and made an effort to ‘accidentally’ throw the stick at Chell when Icarus brought it back, shooting her partner a glare and huffing about going to sit in the tent. But… to Chell’s credit, GLaDOS hadn’t been thinking about Aperture, at least.


Another week passed, and yet again, there were problems.

It had snowed again, harder this time, and as winter progressed, it was only going to get colder, or at least stay the same wonderfully face-numbing temperature. Because of this, Chell had started to insist that Icarus be allowed to have his bed set up at their feet inside the tent, as he wasn’t fully grown, and even with the warmth of his blanket, he could freeze.

GLaDOS’s counter argument to this, while not exactly the most considerate one, was that the tent was small enough just with the both of them, and that there wouldn’t be enough room for Icarus without having him pressed up against them. Chell didn’t seem to think this was a problem; GLaDOS did.

Eventually a compromise was made, in which Icarus would sleep in-between Chell and the tent wall, so that the AI could still cuddle up to Chell but wouldn’t have to deal with the pup.

In theory, this worked. For the first night, Icarus stayed in place, curled up on his blanket and snuggled up next to Chell. GLaDOS almost gave Chell a compliment on her good idea- though she was glad that she didn’t, as the next night, Chell’s idea proved to have… flaws.

Puppies were curious creatures; they liked to explore. And while Icarus could be completely conked out after a long day, it was also quite possible for him to wake up in the middle of the night. Multiple times.

While perhaps a trained, adult dog would simply either lie in place and wait for its master or go outside on its own, a puppy- or at least, their puppy- seemed to enjoy the idea of climbing all over both Chell and GLaDOS.

First, he just wanted to see what GLaDOS was up to. He climbed over Chell and on top of the core- waking her up in the middle of the night, mind you- sniffed around, then eventually went back to sleep. Then, deciding that he wanted attention, he’d start nibbling on their fingers, or whining in their ears. Chell hastily got up and took him outside each time- she didn’t even need GLaDOS’s death glare to be reminded that this was her idea and she was going to have to deal with it- but despite that, GLaDOS was also having to deal with the results of it all.

By the end of the first week of keeping him inside regularly, the two of them had already lost more hours of sleep than they could count, and GLaDOS had decided that the darker the circles under her eyes became, the more willing she was to strangle either Chell or the dog. Possibly both.

The formerly mute lunatic’s half-awake apology kisses were the only thing keeping her from doing just that, even if GLaDOS was loath to admit it.


A little over a month had passed. A little over a month since they picked up the hairball, and a little bit longer since they had started their...relationship. GLaDOS still found herself having difficulty labeling it at such, and while she only did so within her thoughts, she took comfort in reminding herself that she was only doing this for the sake of science. Calling it an experiment, a test- it quieted the voice in the back of her head that spoke in protest. There was a complexity in that voice that GLaDOS could not listen to. Not now, not ever.

While Icarus’s arrival in their lives had been distracting, with far fewer moments for GLaDOS to get lost in her own mind, it could not take away the sting completely.  The quiet moments in the camp were few and far between, but when they came, GLaDOS found herself in the same place.

Her mind would wander to Aperture, wonder what she could be doing in that very moment if she were only back in her precious facility. Sometimes, she’d let herself daydream, pretending, even for a short amount of time, that she was back in her body. If she closed her eyes and focused, she could still easily remember the feeling of the gears in her body turning, the hum of her processors, the complete stillness that came in a never-changing body.

She tried not to dwell on them, knowing that each time she brought herself back to the past, it only hurt more. Each time she tried to pretend, it only felt more hollow, as she was only reminded further that it wasn’t real.

Daydreams could be ignored, shaken away as she brought her focus to something, anything else. She’d busy herself with a meaningless task, anything to keep her mind away from longing thoughts of what she couldn’t have.

But as GLaDOS had learned months ago, dreams were not so easy to ignore when one wasn’t in the waking world.

The nightmares had stopped. While unpleasant dreams would still poke into her head every once in a while, they were never as vivid and painful as the nightmares had been. And while she had never openly admitted it to her, she had Chell to thank for that. The woman’s presence was grounding, and the warmth and gentle weight of her arms was more stabilizing than the AI could have ever imagined. No longer was sleep a prison, a punishment. GLaDOS could close her eyes and not have to fear what happened next.

But a bad dream didn’t have to be a nightmare. A bad dream didn’t need to strike fear into the heart of the one it plagued. A bad dream could just as easily be tragic as it could be terrifying.


Chell was out that night. She had left to hunt at sundown, and while GLaDOS originally intended to stay up and wait for her, it was getting late, and the core decided to simply turn in on her own.  Icarus trotted after her and made himself comfortable in his spot, and GLaDOS tried her best to follow his example, and get some rest.

Sleep had come easily, but so had the dreams that followed.

Not nightmares; they hardly even felt like dreams. In a way, they simply felt like replayed memories. Visions of Aperture, its test chambers, turrets, portals and neurotoxin. She saw her own chamber, and her own body.  She watched images go by, all so familiar she swore she knew them forwards and backwards. But she saw them all from afar. Detached from herself, from her chassis. And as she watched, a lingering sense of sadness only grew in her chest.
She tried to wake herself, to struggle away from a dream that might’ve been pleasant if it didn’t hurt so much. But she couldn’t. By some cruel force, she could only watch, watch as Aperture moved along, both with and without her.  She could see it, smell it, and almost touch it- but not quite. It was just barely out of reach, taunting her with its existence.

The core was hardly surprised to find tears on her face when she woke.


Chell was knelt beside her, form only barely visible in the dark. Still, a gentle hand had been placed on GLaDOS’s shoulder, waking her up, and staying in place in a comforting gesture. GLaDOS didn’t need to see Chell’s face to know what her expression was; she could feel it through action alone. Concern.

Slowly, she sat up, hastily wiping her face, despite knowing that it wasn’t the tears Chell had likely noticed, but the sounds she had made.

“...You all right?”

Chell’s voice was as low and quiet as it ever was, but somehow, it seemed even more so now. Soft, easy on the ears. GLaDOS could only shake her head in response, and wordlessly, leaned forward as Chell instinctively wrapped her arms around her. Maybe she could blame it on still being tired, maybe she could claim it was a moment of weakness. But GLaDOS couldn’t help it, and she pressed her face into Chell’s shoulder, knowing that her tears were soaked up by the fabric of her partner’s shirt.

She hadn’t talked much about Aperture since they had left it, and if GLaDOS knew how Chell thought, she was certain that the woman would find that suspicious and odd. The core had talked frequently about it on their journey to and from the settlement, either complaining about being away, reminiscing on old memories, or fantasizing about what sorts of experiments she’d do once she got back. To suddenly go quiet about it wasn’t normal.

In truth, GLaDOS hadn’t been sure if she’d be able to. While the thoughts of Aperture and her fate away from it hurt more than she could say, the embarrassment and shame she felt with the idea of opening up about it hurt, too. She took comfort from Chell without a word, but scarcely explained why she needed it.  She wanted to pretend to be indifferent, to handle this on her own.

But there was something so inviting about her current situation that she wasn’t able to stop herself from starting to speak.

She spoke with jumbled thoughts at first, the words possibly senseless, but she hardly cared. She knew Chell would never fully be able to understand what this all felt like, what it meant. No one would, and she couldn’t expect them to.  She was the only one of her kind, the only one who would ever know suffering exactly like this.

So it didn’t matter if Chell couldn’t relate. All that mattered was that she listened.


It turned out to be a late night for the both of them. What GLaDOS had intended to be a brief rant, a small release of some of the pent up emotions inside herself turned into a tidal wave of almost everything she had been holding onto since she found out about the truth in the Resurrection Project.

It was nearly dawn by the time she fell asleep. Mentally and physically exhausted, she ended up passing out in Chell’s arms, the former test subject in question following soon after.

GLaDOS knew that she ought to deny that this ever happened when they both awoke- for the sake of whatever scraps of pride she still had- but she had surprised herself with just how good it felt to get everything off her chest.

Or… almost everything.  GLaDOS had revealed to Chell how it felt to be trapped outside of her former life, how it haunted her. She had explained how the ache in her heart to return to Aperture sometimes felt worse than death itself.

But she had not touched on the oddity of a feeling that Chell had been giving her ever since they started this relationship, nor how she was dealing with it.

Chell didn’t need to know that bit. Besides, the unexplained guilt that it caused was ignorable enough that GLaDOS felt no need to let it slip. For now.

Chapter Text

Puppies grew quickly. That was one of the first things GLaDOS took note of in the now two months that had passed since they adopted Icarus.  While he was still a long while away from being fully grown, it was easy to tell that he wasn’t going to be a lap dog of any kind.

Once having been able to curl himself up in a relatively small ball at their feet, he was now only taking up more and more space.  They could fit him for now, but that wouldn’t be true for very much longer. Well, not without him being completely nestled up between the two of them- an arrangement GLaDOS was not fond of.

She had admittedly… adapted to the puppy’s presence, and no longer felt the urge to kick him, but that didn’t exactly mean that she wanted his horrid breath only a couple inches from her face every morning.  And furthermore, GLaDOS could definitely say that between Icarus and Chell, she greatly preferred one of their kisses to the other.

This, coupled with the increasingly unpleasant weather- the snow was at its worst, at least a few feet deep- was what sparked a conversation between GLaDOS and Chell about a more permanent shelter. A tent was survivable when placed in the right spots, but neither of them wanted survivable to be their state of living forever.  They weren’t on the road anymore, they didn’t have anywhere to go, so why not set up something a little more sturdy?

Of course, while dreams of a log cabin with a fireplace inside and running water were… a little bit unrealistic, building a basic shell of a shelter to go around the tent wasn’t impossible.  Nothing permanent would be able to be built while the ground was frozen solid, but that didn’t mean there weren’t options.

According to Chell, there was a road on the other side of the forest that connected to the main path to and from Greenfield. Merchants frequented this road in the spring, summer, and fall, and while they were less common in the winter, she had come across some last winter when she had been up here alone. Each caravan had their patterns and timing, and while Chell wasn’t aware of each and every one of them, she did know of at least a few that travelled with the cycles of the moon (as not many travellers had calendars on hand to keep track of dates) that would likely have some supplies that would help.

They could probably find tarps to build temporary walls with, poles, pipes and 2x4s to build the structure with, and various tools to help bring it together. It wouldn’t be the prettiest creation, but it would be something to keep the snow and the wind off their tent, and that was good enough.

And, as an added bonus, they could stock up on ammo, and maybe even get some different kinds of food.

However, those things cost money. And while Chell had some, she didn’t have a lot of funds to throw around. The only real way to make money out in the middle of nowhere was selling and trading animal hides, bones, and meat, and considering that the next caravan was due to be coming by in around a week, they needed to get to work hunting.

GLaDOS helped set up snares, and Chell was set to go out and try hunting the larger prey in the mornings and evenings.

This went on for about three very tiring days.  Chell was waking up at the crack of dawn and staying out until late, and GLaDOS was walking halfway around the forest checking the traps. It bore some results- two rabbits and a weasel in the traps, and a raccoon, an elk, and a coyote shot by Chell- but it was exhausting, and very cold.

Not to mention that it left Icarus in the camp unattended- which they quickly learned was a bad idea, as on the third evening, GLaDOS returned to find that the pup had torn into one of their food bags and eaten a large chunk of their supply of dried meat.

Unsurprisingly, GLaDOS’s seemingly-forgotten urge to cause physical harm to the creature had returned very quickly.

Luckily for the pup, she didn’t carry it out. Instead, she grabbed him by the scruff- which was becoming increasingly difficult the older he got- and threw him outside the tent before doing a quick inventory of what food they still had. She kept the bags that were left very close to herself as she made sure that the pup couldn’t get back into the tent, and would be stuck out in the cold without his blanket for at least a few hours until Chell got back.

When the human returned, she insisted that they at least let him have his blanket, but GLaDOS didn’t miss the exhausted frustration that had flashed through her steely eyes when she looked at the pup and heard what he had done.

Chell was more forgiving than GLaDOS, but she was still hardly happy to hear about this. They had just been running around trying to hunt for supplies to sell, and now they had the major setback of having to deal with lost food.

It was with a grumble under her breath about ‘needing to discuss something in the morning’ that Chell practically flopped into bed, asleep nearly the moment she touched the blankets. It took a GLaDOS a little bit longer to fall fully unconscious, but she had gotten comfortable almost the instant Chell had.  Perhaps she had just adapted to it, but it was now like instinct. Chell, being the bigger and taller of the two of them- GLaDOS still wasn’t happy about the ‘taller’ part- would be the one for GLaDOS to curl up against, as she could wrap her arms around the core and transfer the most heat.  

At first, the close contact and entanglement of limbs had really only been something to take effect after one or both of them was asleep, as both had been a little too awkward- or prideful- to openly snuggle up to the other while still awake. Once they fell asleep, however, tense bodies relaxed, and they ended up in whatever position would bring them the most warmth.

However, after a while, it had become so normal to wake up in that position that they started skipping the unnecessary lead-up and just allowed themselves to get perfectly comfortable right off the bat.

And, as GLaDOS had observed, this increased close, body-to-body contact helped in more ways than just heat transfer.  It caused increased release of oxytocin, which helped foster stronger bonds between two individuals of varying relationships. Romantic partners, mates, or...girlfriends, as Chell was insistent on putting it, were included in that list.

GLaDOS had convinced herself to do this for science, after all, so it was only natural that she’d keep an eye on these sorts of things, taking an unbiased, clinical approach to it and any and all brain and body activities revolving around it.

It wasn’t like she was content to cuddle just because it felt good.


When morning arrived, the two of them were reluctant to leave the warmth of the tent, but did so anyway, as Icarus had been whining outside for the past hour, which meant that sleep was not an option anymore.

The pup practically fell over himself once they came outside, bouncing around and trying to jump up on top of them, whimpering the whole time. It seemed that he hadn’t enjoyed his night outside; not in the slightest.

Chell gave the dog a stern look for a few moments before seemingly cracking a little, giving in to the animal’s insistent behavior and scratching him behind the ears.  GLaDOS crossed her arms and let out a huff, not intending on following in her partner’s footsteps. Icarus had earned small bits of… attention from her in the past- the core would scratch him behind the ears if he wasn’t being annoying, and if Chell wasn’t around to see her- but the emphasis was on the ‘earn.’ That pup was going to have to make himself useful before GLaDOS even considered giving him what he wanted.

Thankfully, Chell agreed- with the ‘making him useful’ part, at least.

All three of them went to sit down by the firepit, Chell with a thoughtful expression on her face.  She looked the pup over, nodding silently to herself before eventually speaking.

“I think it’s about time we start training him. We’re keeping him so he can help us hunt, not give us more work to do.”

GLaDOS quickly agreed. She had been saying from the start that Icarus needed to be useful, lest they just use him for his pelt and be done with it.

And besides, how hard could it be to train a puppy anyway?


They took him out into the woods that afternoon, with a mostly hopeful attitude and a plan in mind: give him the scent of deer, and try to see if he could help track one down. Neither of them expected him to be good at it, but a start was a start. Besides, Chell knew what she was doing, so it couldn’t go that badly.

The cream-colored pup was more than eager to join them, bounding along, wagging his tail and panting happily. He was far from the most graceful creature- he was still growing into his body, and tripping over his paws was a near-daily occurrence- but he could be good at this. Or at least, so Chell said.  He obviously had some wild in his blood, and if a wolf could hunt, so could a hybrid.   

And the first signs seemed promising. They held out a scrap of elk skin from Chell’s recent catch, put it away, and watched his reaction.  The pup sniffed it excitedly, then looked around, planting his nose to the ground and still sniffing, until he seemingly caught track of something, and took off running.

He zig-zagged through the trees, jumping in and out of the heavy snow, sometimes only barely visible amongst it all. Chell and GLaDOS followed close on his trail, but his… unusual choice of a path meant their attempts to keep up were in vain, and they were both completely out of breath by the time they finally caught up to him.

The pup had stopped, and now stood very proudly in… the camp.  He had taken them in an elaborate circle, and now stood over the rest of the elk remains that they had cut the scrap of hide from in the first place, looking very pleased with himself.

There was a moment of silence (save for the sounds of Chell and GLaDOS panting like race-horses) that fell across them all as GLaDOS’s gaze slowly turned from Icarus to Chell, then back to the dog.  

If she was being fair- which she rarely was- he did find the thing they asked him to find.

It was with a shared groan of frustration that they had to start over, with GLaDOS about ready to sink to her knees and give up, as her legs were tired and she was far from in the mood to chase the pup around the forest again.

However, out of the two of them, she was the only one with animal training knowledge and experience. Training three baby birds to be killing machines was one thing, especially when she had a whole facility of resources.Training a dog to hunt was another. In theory, it didn’t sound difficult; from one kind of killing machine to another. The only problem was, the birds had been mostly content to do what GLaDOS wanted, when she wanted. Icarus had a mind of his own, and was either completely stupid, or very, very intelligent, and just found joy in messing with them.

Whichever it was, GLaDOS could not tell, but she did make a note to stare the pup down to see if she could find a hint of mischief in his insufferably innocent gaze.

Next, instead of trying to get him to lead them to the animal, Chell thought it would be easier to bring the animal to him. To just take him hunting, let him watch, and maybe have him chase after the animal once Chell shot it. After all, it’d take off running, and dogs liked to chase things. It was the simplest plan possible.

And so, a half-hour hike later, they were all crouched in the undergrowth, waiting on the edge of the woods and looking out onto a vast, open clearing. It was covered in snow, but the occasional yellowed and dead bits of tall grass managed to poke out of the frost.

Then came the wait.  GLaDOS had become very familiar with the waiting that came with hunting, especially in the winter, when one could sit for hours upon hours and not even see a single tuft of fur. It was boring and tedious, but when she wasn’t the one holding the rifle, she did her best to keep herself entertained. Anything from mental mathematics to reconstructing various things out of snow- she had gotten quite good at making snow turrets and snow cubes.

Icarus, however, was not quite as easily entertained.  He sat patiently at Chell’s side for about five minutes before he started fidgeting. He pushed his face under the crook of Chell’s arm, trying vainly to get her to pet him, despite both of her hands being occupied with the rifle that she was holding oh-so-carefully.  Eventually, it was agreed that GLaDOS would have to be the one to hold onto him until Chell actually had the chance to shoot something, but that wasn’t much better.

The core tried to keep him content with the occasional scratch on the head while she busied herself with creating a replica of the ASHPD out of a mixture of snow and icicles, but Icarus was having none of that. Prancing in front of her and trampling her work, he put his paws up on her lap and jumped up, licking her face until she stopped what she was doing to use both hands to properly pet him.

As much as she tried to ignore him at first, after about an hour of failed attempts she resigned to keeping the pup on her lap and giving him her full attention. Belly rubs and cheek scratches were thankfully enough to keep him in place, but they also meant that Chell would likely never shut up about this, as this was the first time that GLaDOS had ever so openly given the pup affection.

But the bright side was that, at the very least, he was quite warm.


A few hours went by, and by the time evening had settled over them, GLaDOS had nearly fallen asleep. Her hands were tangled in Icarus’s thick fur, her head rested against the trunk of a mighty evergreen that filled her nose with the scent of pine needles and offered a rare place to sit that wasn’t completely covered in snow.  Before she had the chance to fully fall asleep, though, Chell rapidly gestured for her attention, and GLaDOS looked up to see a small herd of deer in the distance. Just barely out of firing range, but slowly getting closer.

Slowly, GLaDOS moved Icarus off her lap, shaking him awake to get him at full attention. The pup was a bit groggy at first, as unlike GLaDOS, he had been fully snoozing away, but he didn’t take long to be back at full energy.

The minutes seemed to drag on and on as Chell carefully adjusted her rifle, watching through its scope as the deer got closer and closer.  She needed to be able to land a good enough shot that it wouldn’t be able to run too far, but also far enough to get Icarus to run after it once it was hurt.

Unfortunately, that ran on the assumption that Icarus would only be interested in the deer after it started running.

One young buck had wandered a little closer than the rest, and Chell lined up her sights, knowing she needed only seconds more before she’d have a clean shot.

But they were downwind.  The deer couldn’t smell them, but Icarus could smell the deer.  And, having been fed venison quite frequently over the past two months, he knew exactly what that smell meant. He caught sight of the buck through the bushes, his ears perked up.

Then, he took off like a bullet- except a bullet would’ve been preferable, as a bullet could’ve actually hit the deer and injured it. Instead, Icarus charged the thing, and rather than falling into Chell’s line of sight, the deer frantically ran back to its herd.  Which meant that Icarus followed it back to its herd, and promptly caused a panic with all the deer, sending them in every direction except the one that would actually allow Chell to  shoot one of them.

Icarus barked and howled as he ran, clearly having the time of his life as he bounded through the snow-covered fields, darting from side to side to try to get close to whichever deer he could, despite being drastically slower than all of them.

Chell abruptly got to her feet and tried to aim a shot at one of the deer, but she missed, and by the time she tried to line up a second, they were all long gone.

For a second, GLaDOS debated going out there and dragging Icarus back, but one look at how Chell was pinching the bridge of her nose only confirmed that he could find his own way, as neither of his owners were particularly pleased with his actions.

Needless to say, they got to work building a makeshift leash for him as soon as they got back to camp, and agreed that GLaDOS was going to have to hold onto him when they tried again tomorrow. That was, of course, assuming that Icarus hadn’t scared off every bit of wildlife for miles.

They only had a few more days before the merchant would be coming through this area, so they didn’t exactly have time to waste.


The second day they tried went a little better, as GLaDOS now had Icarus on a rope leash that prevented him from running out and chasing the wildlife. Unfortunately, said wildlife didn’t feel like showing up at all, and the only thing they walked back to camp with was wasted time.

The third day they brought him out, it improved again. There was far from an abundance of prey, but after a couple hours of nothing crossing their path, a pheasant happened to land nearby, and thankfully, Icarus couldn’t run off to go chase it- much to his disappointment.  He tugged and tried his best to pull away from GLaDOS’s grip, but failed.

So he started barking excitedly at the bird instead, and, startled, it took off.

A kinder person might’ve refrained from saying anything about how keeping Icarus for hunting purposes was Chell’s idea, and how that was clearly turning out wonderfully.

GLaDOS was not that person.

 

It was at this point that there was a collective decision to continue training attempts only after they had caught enough stuff to sell to the merchant, which they only had two days left to do. Icarus would stay back at the camp, this time with GLaDOS to keep him from causing any further damage.

This was considerably less frustrating, as when Icarus wasn’t causing trouble, he was almost cute. Almost.

GLaDOS had given up her attempts to ignore him, and once she was absolutely certain that Chell had left for the day, she resigned herself to the act of playing fetch with him, trying her best to tire him out and get him to just lie down and sleep, but finding that her arm was getting tired far faster than he was.

Eventually she gave up throwing, choosing to engage in a game of tug of war instead, which was… endearing. At best.  She wouldn’t dare say that she was having fun, but she supposed she had missed raising her little killers, and this wasn’t too different.  Animals were brutish and dirty, simple-minded and often more work than they were worth. However, she… supposed that this one wasn’t too bad. While he was nowhere near as intelligent or useful as her little killers had been, GLaDOS still couldn’t ignore the warm fuzzy feeling in her chest when the pup finally tuckered himself out enough to flop over and curl up next to her.

As it turned out, Chell was a much better hunter without a puppy interrupting her every shot. By the time they packed up what they needed and made their way to the main road to wait for the merchants to pass by, Chell had managed to catch a few more critters for them to sell. Granted, they didn’t have a lot, since they needed to keep some of the food for themselves to try and restock after the situation with Icarus, but GLaDOS was convinced that she’d be able to haggle  what they did have to higher prices far better than Chell could, and that they’d be able to walk away with the better deals.

While the merchants weren’t quite as easily bargained with as GLaDOS had hoped, they were reasonable enough to let the AI drive the price up just enough for them to be able to cover the costs of what they wanted to buy.  

That was something she took great pride in, as while they had mainly come here to buy building supplies and ammo, the core had been able to budget a little bit extra to pick out a few extra items of their choosing. GLaDOS chose some soap and a variety of root vegetables, while Chell picked out a few bottles of spices and two small pillows- the latter being of great excitement to both of them, as it would be refreshing to have something to rest their heads on other than balled-up bundles of clothes.

All in all, the trip was a success, and went relatively smoothly. They had only just avoided Icarus trying to chase the merchant’s cat, but other than that? Smooth as silk.

Chapter Text

They started construction on the new shelter almost immediately, knowing they had little time to waste if they wanted it to be most effective, as the harsh winter was only growing more bitter as the days passed.

And while the frozen ground prevented them from building anything too permanent, it didn’t keep them from building something that would get them through the winter, at least.

It was rather simple in its design: more or less just a cube a little bit bigger than the tent, but not big enough that it would be drafty. The skeleton of the structure was built from a mix of materials that they had gotten their hands on, though primarily wood.  The walls, roof and floor were made from a heavy, water resistant tarp to keep the wind and snow out. While it wasn’t as warm as a proper structure would’ve been, it certainly did its job well enough. The construction only took around a week to complete, which was a blessing in its own right, considering that the weather took a turn for the worse.

What had previously been a few feet of snow and the occasional snowstorm suddenly turned into near-constant snowfall, and the temperatures drastically dropped. Soon, Chell couldn’t even go out hunting, and they spent nearly two weeks living off whatever dried food they already had, huddled up in the tent all day, only peeking out long enough to brush the snow off the roof out of fear that it would cave in if they didn’t.

This had been a difficult enough time as it was, with needing to feed themselves and Icarus on limited supplies, so of course, things could only get better from here, right?

GLaDOS got sick.

Illness hadn’t been something that had crossed her mind, though perhaps it should’ve. The body she inhabited was one that had been created and held in suspension in an underground lab that was as sterile as can be. Her immune system was pathetic.  Frankly, it was a wonder she hadn’t fallen ill sooner, though that could just be attributed to very good luck.

But that luck had run out.

It started with a small cough, something that she had mostly ignored at first. It was infrequent throughout the day, so she dismissed it, drank some water, and moved on.

The next morning she could hardly sit up.

Despite the harsh chill of winter, she felt hot and uncomfortable. Breathing through her nose was near-impossible, and every other breath she took resulted in a deep chest cough. She had been woken up by one such cough, racking her body as her chest heaved, leaving her unable to fall back asleep.

All in all, it was a very good reminder for her to inwardly curse this body and its existence- though that assumed she wasn’t already doing so on a daily basis anyway. Still, this was good reason for her to change it from a daily cursing of her existence, to at least ten times per minute, repeated over and over in her head, as vocally complaining turned out to be quite painful.

Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, as it was still quite early in the morning, her coughing had quickly woken Chell, who was sitting at her side and feeling her forehead within minutes. The woman’s face was softened with pity and concern as she tried to see if GLaDOS had a fever or not. It was a kind gesture, but GLaDOS could already tell her that she didn’t. While she was uncomfortable, she had enough knowledge of the human body and their reactions to various illnesses- she might’ve run a couple experiments in the past- to say that this wasn’t the flu. It was likely just the common cold, the exception being that since her body wasn’t used to anything, even the simplest of illnesses would leave her down for the count for longer than a human would.

Still, this knowledge didn’t exactly make her feel much better, as while it was good to know that she likely wouldn’t be puking out her own insides, it didn’t erase her sore throat and the heavy, groggy feeling throughout her body. It was as if someone had filled her with stones, weighing her body down so that even moving her arm felt like a great effort.

With a groan, she shifted away from Chell’s hand, moving to lay on her side and curl up into a ball. Unfortunately, the movement only caused more discomfort, as she broke off into another coughing fit.  Chell’s hand returned, though this time to rub at her back, and it wasn’t batted away. GLaDOS couldn’t say if it did much to actually help with the coughing, but it felt nice.

As the fit slowly came to an end and she began to breathe normally, she squeezed her eyes shut, hopeful that if she tried hard enough, she’d be able to fall back asleep.  Unfortunately, Chell wasn’t the only one her coughing had woken up, as evident by the sudden whining and scratching at the front of the tent. Icarus was awake, too, and he heard commotion, which meant that he needed to be part of whatever was going on.

Chell, of course, let him in, and the dog immediately bounded inside, climbing all over GLaDOS in the process.  A dog could never understand what was going on; GLaDOS doubted he was smart enough, and likely only wanted to be in here to insist that they both get up to feed him, but to her surprise, it seemed that Icarus was aware that something was wrong. He shoved his snout into her face, cold, wet black nose pressing against her cheek as he aggressively sniffed her, pawing at the ground as he did so.

GLaDOS barely mustered the energy to push him away, though the attempt was much more half-hearted than ones she’d made in the past.

“I think he’s worried about you.”

Chell’s tone would seem something close to amused, if not for the way concern still burdened it.  She was watching Icarus pace back and forth, his gaze turning from Chell to GLaDOS in a manner that could only be described as unsettled.

“D-Does it look like-”  GLaDOS tried to speak, but stopped mid-sentence to rub at her throat, as her words had scratched at it unpleasantly, making it difficult for her to continue. “L-Like I care right now…?”
She finished in a more hushed tone, practically hissing the words out as her face twisted into a pained scowl. It felt as if her throat was completely raw, and each sound that she tried to make was a sharp object being slowly dragged along it. As strange as it would be for her to be the silent one, she would take silence over further pain if she had to.

While her comment had been intended as scathing, it seemed that Icarus paid little mind, as despite her shooing him away, he promptly curled up at her side, and rested his head on her arm, looking up at her in a pitiful sort of way, with his large ears pressed against his head.

She rolled her eyes, but didn’t push him away this time.  The core simply closed her eyes again, deciding that so long as the pup wasn’t moving around or being distracting, she could deal with it.

And it was certainly easier to be lulled into sleep with Chell’s hands in her hair. Her partner gave Icarus a small smile before bringing a hand to GLaDOS’s face, giving it a soft caress before moving to gently massage the AI’s scalp and carefully run her fingers through her hair.

GLaDOS was not a mind reader, but her time spent on the surface with Chell- especially over the past few months of being in a much closer relationship- had given her insight to how the human thought, and how that affected her actions.

Chell was a problem solver. It was almost as if it were a deep-seated urge within the woman to solve problems as they came up, as quickly and efficiently as possible. GLaDOS could only assume it was some sort of mental side effect of being a test subject so long. The difficulty came, though, when there was no obvious solution to a problem- no direct path to solving a situation, nothing that could be fixed by hard work and quick thinking. In those cases, Chell did something else. If she could not solve the issue at its root, she would take it upon herself to find another way to ease the pain.

A very good example that GLaDOS kept fresh in her mind was how the human treated GLaDOS’s current situation.

The AI couldn’t go back to her body; she couldn’t exist in Aperture anymore. Nothing that Chell said or did would ever be able to change that. Both of them knew this, and while GLaDOS had taken it as an excuse to mope even further, Chell almost seemed to take it as a challenge. To herself or to the universe, GLaDOS was not entirely certain, but Chell had put her all into it.

Of course, Chell had taken the somewhat obvious measures of comfort by promising to be there for her and being an open ear for GLaDOS if she needed it. But that wasn’t the extent of her attempts.

If she noticed the AI was having a particularly rough time- which wasn’t hard; GLaDOS had not yet been able to master hiding the way her face and body expressed what she was feeling- the human would go out of her way to try and give the core little kindnesses. If GLaDOS looked particularly tense, Chell would carefully warm a blanket by the fire, so that when it was wrapped around the AI’s shoulders, it was extra cozy. Or if GLaDOS appeared to be getting lost in trains of thought that went nowhere pleasant, Chell would sit next to her, scribbling out math or science questions on pieces of paper, which she handed to the core, challenging her to see how quickly she could solve them.

It was by no means a solution to GLaDOS’s problem, but in the end, there wasn’t one. All GLaDOS could do was try to move on, as impossible as that seemed. Time would be the ultimate savior in the long term. But Chell’s actions, as small as they may be, helped more than the AI had ever expected. What she had first considered a band-aid on a bullet wound she now recognized as a crutch to her broken leg. The tool itself did not fix the wound, but it enabled the user to keep moving despite the injury, while time did the rest of the work.

Today, the same was clear.  Chell gave the core a soothing piece of affection, giving her something to focus on other than the discomfort that she was in. If GLaDOS had had more energy, she might’ve even been embarrassed at just how well Chell’s careful touches managed to lull her back to sleep.  But she hardly had time for shame when she was preoccupied with feeling like Satan had found a home in her lungs.

It was an uneasy rest that she fell into, moving back and forth on the line of consciousness, unable to stay on either side for too long.  Somewhere in this period of time, Chell had left, but GLaDOS couldn’t seem to remember if she had mentioned where she was going or how long she’d be gone.  Somewhere in the back of her mind, she wondered if the snow had eased up, and if not, what on earth the lunatic thought she was going to accomplish out there.  But these were all only passing thoughts in a groggy, hazy mind, and she didn’t come anywhere near to investigating any of them.  

While the warmth of Chell’s presence was gone, she still maintained a source of heat by way of Icarus, who had only snuggled closer as time went by, the mixture of body heat and fur making him surprisingly pleasant to cuddle.  GLaDOS supposed her stuffed up nose and inability to smell anything certainly helped with tolerating the pup’s presence.


The core’s pattern of on-and-off sleeping continued for most of the day, and it was getting dark by the time she was woken by a very cold hand gently shaking her.  She didn’t exactly have the ability to jump upright at the jarring feeling in her current state, but it was definitely enough to completely wake her.

Blinking the sleep out of her eyes, she looked up to see Chell crouching beside her again, although this time, the human’s cheeks and nose were a rosy red, her hair was windswept, and both it and her shoulders were dusted with snow.  How long she had been outside, GLaDOS couldn’t say exactly, but it was clearly long enough to cause a spike of concern in the AI’s chest, as she forced herself to sit up.

“You…”

She started to speak, ignoring the painful rasp in her tone in favor of trying to get an answer from the former test subject. However, Chell cut her off, holding up a finger over her lips and shooting the AI a concerned glance.

“Rest your voice, take this.”

Chell had dodged the possibility of explaining where she had been by holding out a cup for the core to take. It was banged up, dented and scratched in multiple places, but clean. More importantly, it- or rather, what was inside- was giving off steam.

Letting her curiosity keep her from badgering Chell for now, she took the cup and examined its contents.  She imagined that it likely smelled of something, but despite her best attempts, she didn’t have the slightest clue.


Visually it wasn’t the prettiest thing- brownish liquid with chunks of something floating in it- but it was hot, and the steam that came off it was already making her feel the smallest bit better, helping her nose to run.

“W-What… what is that?”

Despite Chell’s request for her to rest, GLaDOS couldn’t help but speak. She assumed Chell had given this to her for her to drink, but if the emphasis she had put in her tone wasn’t enough of a give away, she wasn’t impressed by its appearance.

As she had been examining it, Chell had sat down nearby and was now in the process of changing the outer layer of her clothes into something drier, and rubbing her hands together in an attempt to warm them.

“Soup. Er… sort of. It’s probably a little weak, and I don’t have a very big container to make much. I went hunting and managed to get a rabbit, brought it back here, tried to make some broth with a bit of the spices we had and some salt.”

GLaDOS blinked. As Chell’s words sunk in- taking a little longer than usual, as her brain seemed to be at least two steps behind- she was hit with a wave of emotion, and she was uncertain if it made her want to hug Chell or slap her.

 

On one hand, the idea of ingesting something other than dry, salted meat was divine, but on the other, Chell had just gone out in the snow for hours to catch and cook something when they still technically had some food left.  She didn’t have to do any of this, and it was stupid to go out when the weather was still this bad.

She could’ve gotten hurt, fallen ill as well, or… worse.

GLaDOS didn’t even bother trying to deny the fear that flickered in her chest as she thought about Chell freezing to death in the woods trying to do something this foolishly sweet. It was strange for her to realize just how much she had grown closer to Chell during the process of this… experiment, and how it was starting to affect her more and more.  She knew that she had to remember to keep a certain level of mental detachment; it was the professional thing to do, even when testing something that required such emotional involvement. She just had to… keep it in mind.

“You… l-lunatic.”

The core had intended to say more, a whole rant planned out in her head, but upon feeling the now familiar tickle in her throat that threatened the approach of a coughing fit, she reluctantly cut herself short.

Chell, who was now in the process of feeding what looked like the leftover, less desirable scraps of rabbit meat to Icarus, gave GLaDOS a sheepish sort of smile, like she knew just how dangerous what she had done was, and knew that GLaDOS would make an attempt to call her out on it.

And yet… GLaDOS wasn’t going to let such a reckless action be for nothing, as she carefully brought the cup up to her lips, mindful not to burn herself.

The flavor of the soup was mainly salt, as the meat hadn’t been allowed to stew properly, and only left a somewhat weak flavor, especially considering the core’s limited ability to taste. The small pieces of rabbit did help, as their flavor was a little more noticeable, and it added a bit more substance that GLaDOS was thankful for, considering she hadn’t eaten anything all day. If GLaDOS had been treating the dish as a culinary creation all on its own, removed from the circumstances, she likely would’ve been quite harsh on it.  However, as the situation stood, it was the most delicious thing she had eaten in days, so she eagerly finished it, relishing the way it warmed her up from the inside.

She let out a small, content sigh, which was quickly noticed by Chell, who now sported a somewhat prideful expression, clearly happy that she had done well.

“H-Have you eaten?” GLaDOS asked. She’d been about to lie back down, when she felt a pang of guilt- not a common or welcome emotion to the core- wondering if Chell had gone to all this effort and done nothing for herself. It wouldn’t be right. GLaDOS didn’t like feeling indebted to someone, even if that someone no doubt wouldn’t consider it as such. Sure, humans sometimes did nice things for their partners and friends just because they wanted to, but when that ‘nice thing’ involved nearly losing fingers to frostbite, GLaDOS hoped that Chell had the sense to take care of herself.

Thankfully, Chell nodded, reminding GLaDOS that, while the woman was indeed a lunatic, one thing she didn’t lack was self-preservation instinct. She had survived Aperture and a year on this surface all on her own. She could handle herself perhaps better than GLaDOS gave her credit for.

GLaDOS stretched a little, and once again moved to lie back down, when Chell pushed another thing into her hands, preventing her from going back to sleep.  This earned a small noise of frustration from the core’s throat, and she shot Chell what she hoped was an irate glare, though it likely only came off as a vaguely tired expression.

This time the thing shoved towards her wasn’t a mysterious-looking brownish liquid, but instead, simply her water bottle. It was slightly warm, leading GLaDOS to believe that Chell had purposefully warmed the water by the fire as well, to prevent the AI from drinking icy cold water when she was already not feeling well.

There was a small noise that might’ve meant something akin to ‘thank you,’ and GLaDOS gingerly sipped at it, finding that it was, indeed, just hot water.  She would’ve been content to merely take a few sips and be done, but she couldn’t help but notice how Chell was watching her with a raised eyebrow, as if silently prompting her to continue.

Meeting her gaze, GLaDOS continued, nearly finishing the whole bottle of water before Chell relaxed her gaze and focused on something else.

GLaDOS was well aware that a human body- especially one that wasn’t fully functioning properly- needed to stay hydrated; that was basic knowledge, and not something that Chell needed to remind her of. However, the human seemed insistent on making sure that GLaDOS was doing what she needed to in order to best bring herself back to good health.

It was like Chell didn’t trust the core to care for a body that she had so much resentment for.

...In all fairness, that wasn’t the most irrational fear to have.

Still, for now, it was not one that Chell needed to spend too much energy on. GLaDOS still held hatred for the body she was stuck in, but knowing that there was no way to get out of it, and quickly learning how much more horrible it was to inhabit when it was ill, GLaDOS would be very compliant in getting to back to health.

Chapter Text

It took over a week for GLaDOS to recover.

She had experienced many unpleasant things while stuck in this body, but falling ill was one of the worst so far.  It was something like what a system malfunction had felt like in her chassis, only while that could be fixed in a minute at most, this had taken her a week and a half of coughing, sneezing, a sore throat, chest pains, and constant exhaustion.

It was horrible, but at the very least, GLaDOS was still alive.


She had admittedly been in a bit of a brain fog while she was sick, unable to think clearly or stay on a train of thought. It made life frustrating, not to mention boring.  However, as the AI recovered, she returned to a subject that had crossed her mind more than once, though she hadn’t been able to dwell on it as much as she would’ve liked.

Chell’s behavior.

While GLaDOS had no doubt that the former test subject would’ve made some effort to help GLaDOS out with her illness regardless of their current relationship- the woman was a lunatic, but the AI was unable to deny that she wasn’t heartless- there was an extra effort put in. Taking care of the core with basic tasks, yes. But even outside of that, Chell went out of her way to be… kind.

GLaDOS was not technically opposed to it- she couldn’t say she disliked being pampered. The surface hadn’t been kind to her so far, so it was nice to have some semblance of luxury, but it had started to make her think.

She lamented the fact that she no longer had access to hundreds upon thousands of files with research on human behavior as she once did, but the core would make do. She had personally looked into humans and their strange actions in the past, and some, while not all, of that information had managed to stick around in the back of her newly given and deeply unfortunate human brain.

In relationships, showing affection as Chell did was not odd. Complimenting one another, bringing physical gifts, a favor or a good deed. In fact, it seemed as if the formerly mute lunatic was trying to follow the standards of a romantic relationship.

However, there was one difference. These things went both ways. One partner might go out of their way to make breakfast, while the other might do the dishes. Back and forth they went, like a competition of kindness, trying to one-up each other with their actions.

The core supposed it made sense; humans were only animals, after all, and romantic relationships were constructed off of base desires, twisted and dressed up into something that was seemingly complicated, though truly only boiled down to mutual gain. A bit of give and take, a beneficial relationship for both sides.

GLaDOS hadn’t exactly been returning anything of what Chell had done… yet, Chell continued. It was as if the human were striving for a sense of normalcy, and trying to subconsciously get GLaDOS to catch on. She had been patient and hadn’t said anything to the core- perhaps due to being smart enough to realize that GLaDOS wasn’t human, and thus would have no reason to instinctively pick up on these behaviors- but her patience was not an excuse.

GLaDOS had agreed to do this. She had convinced herself that she would engage in this relationship for the sake of science, and yet she was treating it like this? What kind of scientist was she, so blatantly failing to do even the base requirements for the experiment?  She could not learn if she wasn’t replicating the situation the way it was supposed to be done.

Yes, for science’s sake, she would have to remedy this mistake. -And only for science; not for the twinge of guilt in her stomach, or the way her heart seemed to flutter at the idea of doing things properly.

She felt strangely giddy as she mulled this all over by the fire, thankful that she had time to think it over with Chell out training Icarus for the afternoon. The snow had thankfully eased up on them in the time that GLaDOS had been hidden away in the tent, and she was grateful to see clear skies and even slightly warmer weather.

It was nothing comfortable, but not being 30 degrees below freezing was always preferable to the alternative. She couldn’t help but wonder if this was the turning point for winter to edge into spring, or if this was merely the eye of the storm.

Regardless, she brought her focus back to the task at hand, her mind still racing with ideas.  Surely it wouldn’t be too hard to reciprocate Chell’s actions. If a partially-mute former test subject and resident lunatic could do it, why couldn’t she?

Problem was, where would she start? Chell had at least a couple months of this under her belt, and GLaDOS wasn’t sure what she ought to do first to even try catching up. Where had Chell started? She had kissed her- and she continued to. If they woke up around the same time, Chell would give her a groggy, wake-up kiss. At night, if one of them went to bed before the other. Besides that, it seemed to just be whenever Chell felt the need to swap saliva, or whatever else her reasonings were.

GLaDOS never pushed her away- she even went so far as to return the action, as it wouldn’t be a proper experiment if she didn’t, and it wasn’t the… most unpleasant thing in the world- but she also hadn’t initiated it more than once, shortly after Chell had kissed her first. It just hadn’t crossed her mind as something she ought to do.  She wasn’t opposed to the idea, but she found herself overthinking it nonetheless.

Did she just walk up and go for it? Wait for Chell to get back and just smash their faces together? When put like that, it hardly sounded appealing, and the core wrinkled her nose. Surely there was a more… tactful way to go about it.

Maybe she ought to start with compliments instead? That didn’t seem nearly as difficult to pull off; they were only words. Find something to say that the other would find pleasing, then say it. Simple.

The only problem with that was, while in theory GLaDOS considered herself to have quite a way with words- she had lived with a complete, working dictionary in her head for most of her life- she didn’t have very much practice with using that for anything other than biting sarcasm.

So, as she quickly discovered later that evening, the most natural compliment that she came up with ended up being, “Your face isn’t the best example of the worst of humanity, you should probably be proud.”

It had been met with a slow, confused blink from Chell as she tried to process the core’s words.  Then, she gave a small, clearly still bemused chuckle, and brushed it off. The human hadn’t taken it as an insult per se, but she clearly hadn’t seen it as a compliment either.

GLaDOS was going to have to try a little harder to harness honeyed words, but she was not giving up. She would not let herself be made a fool of in this. She could replicate a relationship just as well as Chell could, she just… needed a little practice.


Slowly, compliments managed to turn from “You’re pretty good at hunting. Did you get practice from murdering me?” to “You aren’t wholly unappealing to the eye,” to, finally, the drastically improved “I enjoy your companionship.”

It was admittedly slow progress, but GLaDOS supposed that she was thankful that at the very least, this wasn’t an area that Chell was too much better at.  The former mute didn’t exactly have a plethora of things to say, and while she’d occasionally murmur something affectionate, it was often blunt and to the point, little more complicated than ‘you look good.’

It hadn’t taken Chell very long to pick up on all this, though. While she had been confused by GLaDOS’s ‘compliments’ at first, clearly not expecting them, and definitely not expecting what they’d actually be, she had caught on after GLaDOS made a bit of progress at making herself more clear. And- causing a spark of excitement in the AI’s chest- she seemed to appreciate it. Chell would smile at the compliments the core gave, her expression a mixture of gratitude and encouragement, silently assuring GLaDOS that she was doing fine, despite the learning curve that came with all this.

But GLaDOS never had been and never would be a patient being. She didn’t want to just sit idly, tossing the occasional compliment. It would take months at that rate. She wanted to do something more.

Humans appreciated deeds. Physical items were good, but only if there was a function or purpose behind them; something they needed, something they wanted. The item itself was good, but they seemed to relish knowing that their partner was considerate enough to notice what they wanted even more.

The logical next step was to ask herself: what would Chell want? Freedom? She had that.  That had been the only thing GLaDOS had ever known Chell to desperately long for, but that wasn’t a gift she could give anymore.  

The core’s mind raced through ideas as she stared up at the roof of their tent, lying on her back, unable to sleep.

Chell was a practical being; perhaps GLaDOS could appeal to that? Go out and buy ammo, sharpen her knife, gather firewood...

GLaDOS chewed her bottom lip in thought.

None of those ideas sounded bad , and she was certain that they would be appreciated. But something inside of her wasn’t satisfied. There was nothing special about any of that. She knew that she was only doing this because… because it was the right thing to do in order to properly experiment, and there was nothing in her research that dictated she needed to do any one particular thing. Still, there was a persistent flame in her stomach that flared up every time she thought about any of this, a gut feeling that pushed her away from the mundane. Chell had been doing her part of all this for months, and if GLaDOS was going to return the favor, she had a lot of making up to do. Why not start it off with a bang to level the playing field a little?

Struck with a sudden curiosity, GLaDOS slipped out from under Chell’s arm, careful not to wake the human as she hurried outside and looked up at the night sky through the trees.

A couple dark grey clouds dotted the sky, but it was clear enough for the core to get what she needed: a glimpse of the moon. They had about two days until it was full. At that point, Chell had told her previously, another caravan would be coming through- the last one for at least a month, maybe longer.

They had everything they needed, and they hadn’t planned to bother with meeting up with this merchant. But GLaDOS had plans of her own.

She darted back into the tent as quietly as she could, careful to snuggle up slowly in order not to wake Chell with sudden movements. It was late, and she knew she needed to sleep if she was going to get anything done the next day, but she couldn’t help the strange new excitement that bubbled up inside of her as she found herself hatching a plan.

The next day, she forced herself out of bed early. She was still a bit groggy from falling asleep so late the night before, but managed to blink the sleep out of her eyes and get outside. Thankfully, the cold weather did have one use, and that was being a fantastic wake-up call.

Icarus pranced around her as she moved around the camp, as she was the first one up, and therefore the one to feed him. His tail wagged as he matched her step for step, nearly tripping her a few times. His size was admittedly starting to be a bit of a problem, as while he still had room to grow, he was far bigger than what he had been when they found him. He hadn’t seemed to notice, however, and used his newfound size to be a fantastic tripping hazard when he suddenly darted in front of them.

Still, GLaDOS was in an almost unnaturally good mood today, and found herself hardly even bothered by the pup, simply giving him his food and a scratch behind the ears.

She had an idea, and would not rest until she had seen it to completion.

The only lingering problem was that of payment. If she was going to meet a merchant, unless she intended to rob them, she’d need money. And while murder did sound like a tempting offer- Chell wouldn’t even have to know- the core reasoned that it would be an unneeded risk.  Instead, she’d need to do this the honest way.

Or at least partially honest.

She could attempt to hunt and sell fur and meat again, but she only had two days, and it was unlikely that she’d catch much, especially not without drawing Chell’s suspicion. They had some money left over, but GLaDOS wasn’t keen on spending their emergency reserves on this.

Instead, she’d have to sell something that they already had... and as her eyes traveled over to her bag, she had a very good idea of what.

Computer parts.  The ones they had gotten to bring back to Aperture. Though they were no longer needed, GLaDOS had brought them along, not wanting to leave such unsightly tech in Aperture, preferring to leave the facility the way it was when she had been kicked out of her body. They weren’t traveling anywhere, so carrying around the tech wasn’t too much of a burden. However, in their hands, it was essentially useless.

GLaDOS hadn’t been able to swindle the previous merchants, because meat and furs were things they bought and sold on a regular basis. She couldn’t beat them at their own game. But a computer? From what she gathered, most people on the surface didn’t even know what one was, let alone how much it was worth.  

The smile on her lips shifted to a smirk.  This was going to be fun. She just needed to set everything up perfectly, like a line of dominos to fall, or a test chamber to be solved.

And set up she did, with no shortcuts taken. She slipped away long enough to set a trap out in the woods, quietly moved any unnecessary items from her own bag to Chell’s, knowing that she’d need the space, and grabbed the handgun as well, just in case things went sideways. Then, there was only one thing left to do before she left the next morning:

Slip out from under Chell’s nose.

A part of her thought about just running off in the early morning hours without a word, but that idea was swiftly dashed. Chell would notice her being gone, and would likely worry. The core knew she’d be out for most of the day, and, after that long, Chell would come looking for her. If the former test subject could track a deer with a broken leg for two miles, she could definitely find GLaDOS.  

If GLaDOS wanted to pull this off, there would be some… theatrics required.


She woke up even earlier the next day, knowing she’d need as much travel time as possible.  The sun had barely even started to show itself, and most of the forest was still shrouded in shadow.  The core cracked her eye open, not moving an inch as she looked to the side, confirming that Chell was still asleep.  In her chassis, GLaDOS was a natural liar. But in this body? She’d have to put her performance skills to the test.

She shifted, slowly twisting and turning in place, tensing and untensing her muscles and beginning to murmur senseless words under her breath. Then, with a harsh gasp, she sat upright, panting. Running her shaking hands through her hair, she messed it, letting long brown strands hang in front of her face, giving her a disheveled appearance.

Then, she softly shook Chell’s shoulder to wake her up, hissing the human’s name quietly to emphasize her point.

It took a moment, but the former test subject stirred, confused. She blinked a few times, squinting up at GLaDOS, trying to focus.  She didn’t need to speak to convey the question of ‘what’s this about?’

GLaDOS furrowed her brow and turned her lips downward, biting the bottom one nervously.

“...I need to go. I need to go back to Aperture.”

That got Chell’s attention.  The human sat up, now noticing GLaDOS’s distressed state, her gaze softening.

“I… why?”

Carefully, Chell’s hand moved to brush the hair from her partner’s face as she spoke, falling right into what the core needed her to believe.  A part of GLaDOS felt a little bad for all this, but that was quickly shaken.

“The nightmares are back. I… I need to go back to the field, the shed, at least… I… I won’t go in, but I need to be there. I can’t sleep.”

She broke up her speech with harsh intakes of breath, sounding as if she were on the verge of tears. She had been concerned with her ability to control this body before, but she found now that she was better at it than expected.  Part of her wanted to contribute that to her own skill, but the other part of her wondered how many crocodile tears Caroline had shed back in her earlier days. With a face like this, as deceptively innocent as it was, GLaDOS would be genuinely shocked if she hadn’t.

Tilting her head downwards to better hide her expression, GLaDOS waited for a response, practically hearing the gears turning in Chell’s head, before finally, she spoke.

“If that’s what you think will help, I think you should. I’m not going to try and keep you trapped in one place. Go where you need to.”

GLaDOS didn’t miss the slight tone shift in Chell’s voice as she spoke. The former test subject wanted to keep her away from Aperture for her own sake, but refused to become the very thing she struggled against. She would not keep GLaDOS confined anywhere.

For that, the core was thankful.

“I… I’ll be back tonight.”

She wiped her eyes, steadying herself a little with a deep breath. It had been somewhat strange- and a little embarrassing- to lower herself to a sniffling mess for the sake of a performance, but she forced herself to keep up the act until she was in the clear.  She moved to head outside, but stopped with her hand on the tent flap, thinking back to why she was doing this in the first place.

To start actually being a part of this relationship.

Taking a chance, she turned back around, putting a hand on Chell’s shoulder to stop her from trying to go back to bed.  She met the human’s steely gaze for a few heartbeats, before moving forward and lightly pressing their lips together in a chaste peck.

It was warm and soft, and for a moment, GLaDOS found herself tempted to press a little harder, lean into it more than she’d planned.  But she resisted the urge and pulled away, shooting Chell a smile that she hoped had looked sad, and didn’t convey any of her current excitement.

As she got outside, a part of her considered taking Icarus along, but that thought was quickly dismissed. This was a delicate operation that involved going behind Chell’s back and being a little sneaky. Icarus was the opposite of sneaky. So she quietly moved past him as to not wake him up, grabbed her prepared bag, and set out.

Luckily, she made it to the main road with time to spare, around eleven a.m., and the caravan came through around noon.

She sized it up from afar, trying to get an idea of how many merchants there were and what kind of people they might be, based on their appearances and the appearance of their caravan.

Making snap judgements was a useful tool when working through hundreds of different humans for test subjects. You had to be able to look at someone and know what kind of subject they would be, and thus where to put them. Unfortunately, GLaDOS’s judgement had failed her once before, and she’d let a particularly stubborn mistake cause her a lot more problems than she ever could’ve guessed.  Still, one mistake out of thousands certainly wasn’t bad, and she still trusted that skill to do her well.

This caravan was smaller in size than the last one, though there were more people attending it. Four humans, to be exact, all somewhat younger-looking men.  Their caravan was small, slightly shabbier in comparison to the last one, yet it still looked new, with hardly any signs of wear and tear. They were new at this, inexperienced. Perfect.

GLaDOS signaled for them to stop as she walked out into the road from the line of trees, putting on what she could only hope was a trustworthy smile.

They exchanged small talk for a few minutes, giving GLaDOS got an idea of who would be the hardest to trick, and how to play her hand. Then she innocently browsed their wares, scoping out what she’d be buying and how much money it would cost.

“I’m here to sell something of my own as well as buy, if that’s all right?”  Affirmative nods met her question, though she could tell that none of them expected much from her, as she clearly wasn’t hauling around ten-plus animal pelts like most of the traders on the road.

Carefully, she opened her bag, handling each of the computer parts with extreme care, despite knowing that they didn’t really require it. They were bulky enough to survive most anything she put them through.

“And… Sorry, miss, but what is this?”

The tallest and oldest of the group spoke first, giving GLaDOS a polite but confused look. Before, GLaDOS would’ve had to fight back annoyance at humans so easily forgetting something as important as advanced technology, but now, she decided to take it as a personal win. The less they knew, the easier it would be.

“This, gentlemen, is a piece of equipment worth hundreds of dollars. Pre-war era. I suppose you could say I’m a… historian. An expert in anything and everything before the war. And this? Any settlement with half a brain behind it would be chomping at the bit to get their hands on this if they knew what it could do. It’s of no use to me; I live out here. But I know Greenfield has electricity, and with that, they could do incredible things with this.”

She spoke smooth, confident words, having mentally practiced them before she got here, but letting everything else come naturally.  While she wasn’t being entirely truthful- it was hardly worth hundreds- she was being at least partially genuine in her enthusiasm for technology as a whole. Besides, she wasn’t wrong. If put to correct use, Greenfield could use it. She just doubted that anyone there would.

Still, these men didn’t need to know that.

“If I were only looking for your money, I could ask a steep price for all this together, but I’m… a giving soul, looking for the betterment of our society.”  Now that was a lie through her teeth, and GLaDOS had to hold back the laugh that threatened to escape her as she said it with a straight face. “I’ll only ask for as much money as I need to survive out here. A normal asking price for something like this would be… oh, I’d say around five hundred dollars. But I don’t need all that… I’ll ask for two hundred.”

GLaDOS wondered how much she could genuinely get out of these merchants if she really tried, but decided not to risk it.  She had gotten this piece of junk for free; it wouldn’t be heartbreaking if she didn’t make a fortune off of it. She just needed enough money for what she was planning to get, and maybe a little left over.

The four men exchanged glances, a brief look of excitement in their gazes, like children on Christmas morning. They believed that they would be getting the deal of a century and could hardly believe their luck.

“We’ll take it.”

They spoke nearly in unison, with one of the four fumbling through a bag to find the money to give to her.  

Most of that money was to be spent, anyway, as she picked out everything that she needed, but in the end, she still walked away with thirty more dollars than she had started with, and that was good enough for now.

She made it back to the camp in the evening and stopped for a little while to check her trap, pleased to find that it had caught a bird- some kind of pheasant- that the core was eager to finish off.

GLaDOS entered the camp quietly, knowing that she was carrying a fair number more items than she had left with, and not wanting to accidentally bump into Chell in the process.  To her surprise though, the campsite was empty.  She poked her nose around for a bit before finding her answer, a small note left in the tent that simply read ‘Out with Icarus, be back tonight.

The core glanced around.  It was already dark, and though the days were slowly starting to get longer, it still wasn’t very late. Still, she decided to take this as a blessing and got to work.  It would be a challenge to get everything together the way she wanted it, but GLaDOS loved a challenge.

Icarus came back before Chell did. Having long since bounded ahead of her, he served as a good warning to GLaDOS, who promptly stood up from where she had been waiting by the fire and subconsciously adjusted her hair and clothes. She didn’t need to look nice, it wasn’t as if this was a big deal, but… she had worked hard to get all of this into place; she might as well look presentable.


She gave Icarus the scratch on his head that he desired, though her attention was focused through the trees as Chell’s silhouette slowly became visible. A mixture of excitement and pride bubbled up in the AI, and for a moment, she forgot about why she was supposed to be doing this, that she was supposedly only doing this for the sake of science. Any mental notes that she should’ve been taking, observations on her own behavior- all of that seemed to be barely more than a passing thought as Chell entered the clearing.

“Welcome back.”

GLaDOS couldn’t help the somewhat triumphant tone in her voice, resisting the urge to puff out her chest.  She knew that Chell would be able to see some of what she had done almost instantly, and so the core allotted a moment to let the human look while she gave herself a metaphorical pat on the back.

The campfire was roaring as always, but this time, there was a difference. GLaDOS had thought long and hard about what to do when something dawned on her. They had no equipment other than survival tools- a few building items, weapons, and the like, but nothing to live with.  And while baking- what the AI had initially wanted to do- was a bit tricky, and would be saved for a later date, cooking was definitely something she could do, since she now had the right materials to work with: A pot and a frying pan, as well as a small contraption to hold them over the fire; a couple basic utensils so they wouldn’t have to eat everything with their hands; and a much larger variety of ingredients.

Chell’s mouth was open, but no words came out. The human blinked, eyes traveling around each new item, scanning the scene with what looked to be a mixture of confusion and growing excitement.

“Before you ask, I didn’t go to Aperture. I figure that much is obvious, but based on the somewhat dumbfounded look on your face, I assumed I should specify.”

GLaDOS was going to continue, but found herself promptly cut off by being swept into a rather tight hug by Chell, who had crossed the camp in two short strides and pulled her into one of the warmest embraces the core had ever felt.

“Oof- Y-You’re welcome!”

GLaDOS squirmed a little at first, before eventually giving in and returning the gesture, momentarily letting herself melt against Chell’s form, drinking in every aspect of the human that had become so familiar over time.

But after a few moments had passed, she reluctantly pushed Chell off of her, not finished explaining the extent of her little surprise.

“And, in case you didn’t notice, I’ve cooked us dinner. Something different for once. You know I do have at least 100 different recipes still kicking around in my brain. I’d have more if… well, if the circumstances were different, but as it stands, I’ve finally gotten a chance to put them to use. And believe me, you’ll never believe what I managed to get my hands on. Pheasant stewed in red wine, with onions, carrots, and parsnips.” GLaDOS paused, gesturing over to the pot over the fire. “I figured that neither of us is ever really going to take the other out to dinner with the world the way it is, so I did it myself.”

She angled her face away a little as she spoke, feeling a rush of heat coming to her cheeks that she desperately tried to ignore. She didn’t have to look in order to know that Chell was beaming at her, and that knowledge alone was enough to cause a stronger reaction than she had expected.

“I… thank you, GLaDOS.” Chell finally seemed to find her voice, gloved hands carefully grabbing GLaDOS’s face and moving it so that their eyes met again as she spoke, her voice dripping with a sincerity that made GLaDOS’s insides twist.

The AI opened her mouth to speak, but stopped, letting out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. Chell was still holding her face, and GLaDOS knew that if she simply stood here and waited, Chell would make the first move and kiss her. GLaDOS wasn’t having that. It was her turn to get ahead of things, and she wasn’t going to be bested.

Like earlier, she leaned forward and pressed their lips together, shivering a little at how Chell’s were chilled to the touch. This time, though, she didn’t pull away so quickly,  She struggled to get the hang of it- successfully kissing was surprisingly harder than it looked- but found herself slowly getting more comfortable.

The sounds of the campsite- the crackling fire, the rustle of a soft breeze through the tree branches, and Icarus playing in a patch of snow- all faded away for a moment, little more than white noise to the core. It was peaceful, and for once, she felt content. Perhaps it was only for a fleeting moment, as GLaDOS knew deep down in her heart that her happiness would always be fleeting, so long as she was trapped on the surface, but for the first time in a long time, thoughts of Aperture didn’t pull at the corners of her mind, didn’t drag her idle mind back into a darker place. The feelings in her chest weren’t deep, hollow pains; instead, a weightlessness that she could only describe as similar to soaring through portals on the end of an ASHPD.

Even when they pulled away to gasp for air, she felt light enough that a gust of wind could blow her away. A strange feeling indeed, for someone who had been rooted in place for so long.

“I… come on, I made this for eating, not just to stare at.”

The core huffed and pulled away, moving to sit back down and gesturing for Chell to follow. She could’ve stayed in that kiss for far longer than she did, but she wasn’t going to let all her hard work go to waste by getting burnt.

GLaDOS hadn’t overlooked a single detail of tonight. She knew what the typical idea of a romantic dinner was, and she had tried her best to follow it. They didn’t have candles, but a campfire would do. They didn’t have crystal wine glasses, but red wine out of metal cups was better than nothing at all. They didn’t have music- unless you counted Icarus’s frustrated howling after they refused to give them any of their food, which GLaDOS most definitely didn’t count- but they filled the air with conversation instead.

GLaDOS had done this with a very simple intention in mind: to better follow her own rules, and engage in a relationship the way it was supposed to go. To create a scenario that would better represent what she was supposed to be studying. Yet, as the night went on, thoughts of said experiment moved further and further away, until it wasn’t even a passing thought.

They sat and talked until the fire had burned down to only embers, and until they had fallen into a comfortable silence with neither one noticing that they had stopped talking.

Another kiss, shared in the lingering light and heat of a dying fire, before they both stood, knowing that they’d better seek warmth elsewhere. It was late, and GLaDOS supposed she should’ve been tired, but neither of them were.

They shared another kiss once inside the tent, their bodies closer than before. There was no room to stand, so neither complained at GLaDOS sitting on Chell’s lap for a better angle. It was warm. Their bodies were warm, their breath was warm. The whole tent was nearly stifling, but there wasn’t a single complaint.


Feeling was for humans. GLaDOS was an AI. She wasn’t human. She was a robot; the smartest supercomputer in the world. She was built to think and to act on rational thought. Humans were the ones to act on their feelings. It made them brash, irrational, prone to falling victim to their base instincts and desires.

GLaDOS was supposed to be better than that.

Yet somehow, with Chell’s mouth on her neck and wandering hands on both sides leaving searing touches across bare skin, the last thing GLaDOS was doing was thinking.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS’s head was covered in a thick fog. Hot and heavy, it hung over her with its pleasant, almost overbearing warmth. It pulled at the corners of her mind, gently coaxing her back to sleep every time she threatened to stir.

She was just so comfortable. With this oddly pleasant exhaustion that was felt through every bone in her body, somehow even the most uncomfortable surface could feel comfortable. Like the cold, hard ground that she normally slept on.

However… she wasn’t on the ground.

This thought didn’t register right away, but as the core slowly but surely crept towards consciousness, her brain vaguely registered the fact that she wasn’t on the ground- she was on something warm and relatively soft.

She was also acutely aware of the blanket that was draped over her body. More so than usual it was scratchy, made of thick wool to keep out the winter chill. She had taken notice of it before, as it was the larger of the multiple blankets they had, but she had never been too observant of it. The reason she was now came to her a few moments later.

The final thing that she noticed was what managed to shake her into consciousness. The feeling of bare skin- her own bare skin- stuck against someone else’s, aided by a thin sheen of dried sweat.

Her eyes promptly opened once this fact settled in, and she blinked a few times to clear the sleep from her eyes.

She was still in the tent, but she was lying on top of Chell. The two of them were slightly sprawled across the tent floor, but most of GLaDOS’s body was on top of Chell’s, with her head resting on the woman’s chest. Her bare chest, the core reminded herself.  A single blanket had been pulled over them both at some point during the night, and Chell’s arms were loosely wrapped around the AI’s waist, hardly having moved from the position they had been in before.

Last night…

GLaDOS practically threw herself off of Chell, as memories of the night before hit her all at once.

One kiss had turned into another, and that kiss had led them inside. The air had grown hot between them, too hot for coats, too hot for shirts, too hot for any clothes at all. Chell’s lips abandoned hers, finding their new favorite place on GLaDOS’s neck, where the AI knew she had left bruises. Not once had GLaDOS stopped. Not once did she pause to question what she had been doing- what they had been doing. No words of protest had left her lips; instead, sounds that she hadn’t known she was capable of making.


GLaDOS’s heart raced, and she could feel it pounding so hard that it sounded like thunder in her ears.  She could still feel every touch from the night before. Every movement she had made, every response Chell had given.
Without question, debate, or any excuse to hide behind, there was no denying that GLaDOS had-

The core cut off her train of thought, feeling a red-hot blush quickly rising to her cheeks. Her whole body felt unnaturally hot, despite the fact that she wasn’t even covered by the blanket anymore, leaving her entire body bare.

She quickly moved to scrounge around for her clothes, finding that they were scattered every which way, partially hidden beneath furs and blankets. Despite how warm she felt, the AI was desperate to cover herself, unable to ignore the very unsettling feeling that her nakedness gave.  Still, even with every article of clothing back on, even with the collar of her jacket turned upwards to hide the marks on her neck, she still burned with shame.

 Guilt was like a growing fire in her belly, licking at her insides and making her feel sick. She couldn’t deny what she had done, nor could she seem to stop herself from mentally replaying the night over and over.

She wasn’t sure if it was a blessing or a curse that Chell took this moment to wake up.

Likely stirred from GLaDOS’s movements, Chell slowly pushed herself up, yawning and rolling her shoulders. In a way, she almost reminded GLaDOS of a lion, with her long brown hair out of its ponytail and messy enough to look like a mane. She seemed quite content, too, stretching and cracking her joints without a care in the world.

“G’morning.”

Chell was partially mumbling as she spoke, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes and slowly opening them to meet GLaDOS’s.  That did little to help the AI, as it was all too similar to what she had seen the night before. Steely grey eyes darkened with desire, but softened with an affection that now made GLaDOS’s stomach turn.

The core made no attempt to respond to that, breaking the human’s gaze almost instantly, turning her head away to stare at the ground, taking sharp, shallow breaths in a desperate attempt to calm herself. But how could she?

“I need fresh air.”

The words came out nearly all at once, and GLaDOS pushed out of the tent as quickly as she could, hurrying outside with such speed that she nearly stepped on Icarus’s tail in the process.

It was surprisingly dark outside, considering that GLaDOS had slept in, and knew that it was surely late morning.  Glancing upwards, dark storm clouds made themselves noticeable, blotting out much of the sunlight that ought to be lighting up the forest. A cold wind blew in, stronger than it had been the night before, rattling the branches and slicing through GLaDOS like icy knives. It played with her hair, pushing at her insistently- so much so that the AI was almost tempted to snap a retort at the air alone for how it pestered her.  But yelling at the wind and the trees was an activity reserved for a day that perhaps wasn’t as emotionally complicated as today.

GLaDOS knew she couldn’t focus on the forest for long. That would be too easy.

The wind chilled her with every gust, but even that couldn’t seem to erase the invisible, still white-hot imprints that Chell’s hands seemed to have left on her skin. GLaDOS could feel where they had been as vividly as when it happened, and felt a shudder pass through her body that she knew had nothing to do with the cold.

This wasn’t supposed to happen. GLaDOS was supposed to be doing this to learn, to observe. She was supposed to be a scientist.  What happened last night wasn’t a controlled experiment. It hadn’t been a part of her plan of how the night was supposed to go. It had just... happened.

And perhaps all this would’ve been easier for the AI if Chell had forced it on her. She knew that the human never would- it would be positively unlike the former mute to do something like that- but if she had, GLaDOS would have a finger to point. She could shift the blame and take the heat off herself. But that wasn’t what had happened. GLaDOS had been the one to kiss Chell. To climb into her lap, to take her own shirt off. GLaDOS had been the one who pressed against Chell’s movements, who coaxed them on with fingers tangled in a dark brown mane and murmurs of her name, over and over.

GLaDOS had no one to blame for what happened but herself.

And the fact that it happened wasn’t even the scariest thing. What frightened the core the most was that, deep, deep in the pit of her stomach, buried underneath the panic of the moment, she knew that there was a part of her that enjoyed it.

“No… no no no.”

She recoiled a little at the thought, fighting back the feeling of nausea that crawled up her throat. She couldn’t enjoy it; she wasn’t supposed to. It was wrong.

She wasn’t allowed to stew with her thoughts alone for long, as she heard the sound of Chell leaving the tent and the soft crunch of the ground beneath her feet. GLaDOS squeezed her eyes shut, as if she could silently will the human away. Being around Chell felt like the last thing she needed. It just made all of this even harder to think about with a clear head.

Still, Chell approached, stopping a pace behind the AI, as if she felt that were a sufficient distance. But Chell could be halfway around the world and GLaDOS wasn’t certain it would help.

There was a soft rustle from behind her, and GLaDOS assumed that Chell had gotten dressed. It sounded like she moved her arm, as if to touch GLaDOS on the shoulder, but stopped mid-action, reconsidering, before another rustle confirmed that her arm had returned to her side.

Thank God. GLaDOS wasn’t sure what Chell’s touch would do to her now, but she was certain it wouldn’t be anything good. With her mind swarming with thoughts and her skin feeling as if it were on fire, the last thing she needed was another reminder of what Chell’s hands felt like on her body.

“...Are you… okay?”

Chell spoke after a moment, her voice low and cautious, uncertain. She was concerned, and that only frustrated GLaDOS further.  She had almost planned on not responding, on bottling this all up and insisting that she was fine, then perhaps running off to Aperture to scream for a while. But without noticing it, words left her lips.

No, I’m not.”

They were said quickly, and perhaps more aggressively than they needed to be, hissed out through gritted teeth. Any thoughts of keeping quiet were quickly being tossed to the wind.

“If this about last night… GLaDOS, I’m sorry. We should’ve waited-”

Chell had started to speak once more, and the moment her words reached GLaDOS, the core’s hands tightened into fists, and without thinking, she cut the human off, not letting her finish her sentence. Any feelings that she had hoped to bottle up and push down seemed to be bursting at the seams, refusing to be ignored.

Waited?! ” she snapped, resisting the urge to whip around only because she wasn’t certain she could meet Chell’s gaze if she tried. Instead, she fixed her gaze on the forest in front of her, golden-brown eyes narrowed into slits. “This never should’ve happened! I… I’m supposed to be in control.” GLaDOS’s tone dropped in the last sentence, as its words were intended for herself, and not for Chell. But that didn’t stop the human from hearing them.

“...What do you mean?” Confusion still laced the former test subject’s voice, but it was now accompanied by what sounded like unease. Slowly, the human took a few steps forward, so that she now stood in the AI’s way, forcing the core to meet her gaze. GLaDOS should’ve taken this as a cue to shut her mouth, to keep this to herself and resolve it quietly.  But she didn’t.

“It was never supposed to go this far! This was all a mistake, it’s all just… just an experiment! That’s all it is, and all it ever should be!”

Chell recoiled as if she had been struck, her grey eyes wide with shock that quickly changed to something like horror. Looking like the storm clouds in the sky above, they swirled with emotion, and GLaDOS could see the human’s mind racing.

“That’s… that’s not true. It can’t be.”

GLaDOS had never heard a sound like that come from Chell’s throat. It was broken, vulnerable, pleading. She stood taller than GLaDOS, but she had never looked so small as she did in this moment.

“I’m not an animal! ” GLaDOS was yelling at this point, fear gripping her mind and pulling her further and further into an escalating situation, as if screaming were going to change what had already happened. As if flying off the handle would make her feel better. “I’m supposed to be in control of my tests, I’m supposed to be in control of myself!

Chell’s expression shifted. What had been a mixture of horror and denial suddenly turned to realization, and betrayal.  What GLaDOS had become subconsciously so used to seeing in the human’s eyes- the warm grey-  suddenly returned to a state that she was all too familiar with: guarded, hardened steel.  But this time, there were cracks in the armor, and through those cracks, hurt seeped through. Chell stared at GLaDOS as if the core had physically hurt her. Like GLaDOS had taken the knife and stabbed her.  

Guilt still stewed in the AI, like a raging beast. It fought for dominance in her head, battling panic and frustration. But it was the source of that guilt that was becoming harder and harder to find, muddied by the burning anger of the moment. She hated herself for what she did. She loathed her actions. And it was that fury that clouded her, made her heart race and her blood pound, throwing her into the heat of the moment without a second thought. It fed on her fear of the unknown, and it ran with it.

This was wrong. What was? What you did was wrong. Which part? You need to be in control. You’ve hurt her.

Two voices spoke into GLaDOS ears, one barely louder than a whisper, and the other one a shout. The screaming in her head was easier to listen to. It was familiar, slipping into the same mindset she had crammed herself into for months. It was easier, despite the way it caused her ears to ring and her head to spin. Anything was easier than listening to the whispered words that she was afraid to face.

“So that’s all this was…? Just a test? 

Chell’s voice broke the core from her thoughts, and she found a sudden chill passing through her body at the human’s tone. Now, even more so than before, she struggled to meet Chell’s gaze. Her eyes darted everywhere but the human’s face, desperate to latch onto something, anything else.

“That’s… that’s it.”  Her voice wavered for a moment, feeling Chell’s intense gaze burning holes into her body. It took the AI a moment to pick up speed again, taking a sharp inhale and holding her head up high before she spoke again.  “And it’s not my fault that you didn’t know! It’s always been my job to test; it’s what I was built for! I’m an AI-”

NO, YOU’RE NOT! 

GLaDOS had experienced many things on the surface thus far, most of them unexpected. But hearing Chell bellow was perhaps the most unexpected of all. For a former mute that rarely raised her voice, hearing the woman’s voice leave her throat like a roar was enough to make GLaDOS step back, stunned for a moment, before what she had actually said sunk in.

Without letting GLaDOS speak, Chell continued, her face twisted with pain and fury.

 

“You are HUMAN! 

This time, it was GLaDOS’s turn to recoil, though she recovered much more quickly. Chell’s words pierced through the fog in her mind like an arrow, momentarily clearing the haze of confusion, fear, and guilt, and replacing it with pure denial.

“I am NOT! And I never will be! I’m just as much human as I was a potato! This body- this prison does not, and never WILL, define me!”

She raised her voice just as loud, narrowing her eyes into mere slits as she spoke, now taking two steps forward so that she was face to face with Chell. The shame and the guilt still boiled underneath her skin, festering away and eating at her from the inside, but the adrenaline-causing, heart-pounding anger was stronger.

Chell mirrored that anger, as the two of them seemed to feed on the other, negativity breeding more negativity.

Even so, it stemmed from two very, very different places.

“You’re hurting yourself with this, GLaDOS! I’ve been quiet because I knew you needed time, but I’m through sitting here and letting you lie to yourself. You’re human! You’ve been human!”

Chell didn’t back down from GLaDOS’s approach, squaring her shoulders and keeping her chin up high as she spoke. Exasperation dripped from her words, like she expected GLaDOS to believe what she said. Like GLaDOS was being the unreasonable one.

The core gritted her teeth, closing her eyes for a moment as Chell’s words bounced around in her head. You’re human. You’re human. YOU’RE HUMAN-

She dug her fingernails into the palms of her hands, feeling the little indents that they left behind. Those two words repeated in her head, over and over, to the point where she hardly even noticed that Chell was talking again.

“-I know you’re just saying all this because it hurts less, that you didn’t mean what you said. We can move past this. I care about you, and I know I don’t mean nothing to-”

“No.”

GLaDOS opened her eyes again, defiant. She was never human. Not now, not in the past, and not in the future. She would always be an AI. She would always be GLaDOS, not Caroline.

“I… I meant what I said. Every word of it.” Something buried deep inside GLaDOS warned her to stop, begging her to reconsider. The very same part of her that GLaDOS knew belonged to Caroline, or whatever was left of her. Human instinct. What good had human instinct ever done her?  “I’m not human, and… this is only good as an experiment. I feel nothing towards it.”

Her words hung in the air like a dissonant chord, being forcefully dragged from her lips like thick black ink, almost choking her as she said them, and leaving a horrible, bitter taste in her mouth once they were in the air.

Chell stared at her, emotions racing across her face as she seemed to struggle to decide on any one thing to feel. More than anything, she seemed surprised. Shocked at what GLaDOS had said.  She shouldn’t have been. It was Chell’s fault for believing that GLaDOS was like her. GLaDOS was an AI; she wasn’t in it for anything emotional or physical. She only cared about science. Chell knew that, so why did the sight of her expression of disbelief cause a sharp twist in the core’s stomach?

GLaDOS ignored it, puffing out her chest and swallowing the bitter taste of something that might’ve been regret, continuing to stare Chell down, as if challenging her to accuse GLaDOS of being human once more.

She didn’t. Chell simply stood there, and for a moment, GLaDOS thought she was as still as a statue, until she noticed something.  A very slight tremble, mainly in the human’s shoulders, as if she were trying to suppress them from shaking. For a second, there was a shine in the former test subject’s eyes, a glimmer of wetness, before it was blinked away, and without a word, Chell strode past her and back into the shelter.

GLaDOS felt something catch in her throat.  She didn’t know what it was or why, but she felt as if she had swallowed gauze, and it left her mouth dry and a lump of uncomfortable tightness in her throat. The rest of her body didn’t feel much better.  Her face and fingers were numb from the cold wind, and she felt as if an icy rock had been placed in her gut, so that her stomach twisted and turned around it.

She forced herself to ignore it.  The human body could be wrong. It could be fooled. She would not linger on feelings that were only due to a chemical reaction in the brain. She was stronger than this. Last night was a misstep that was only the fault of her misjudging the prison of a form she was trapped in. It didn’t matter what this body felt now; she was not capable of human affection. Not capable of love.

The core shook her head, forcing her legs to move forward and sit over by the fire pit. Her limbs felt like lead, but she tried to reason that they were simply chilled by the cold.  She rubbed at her arms to get the blood flowing, simply staring at the ashes from the fire the night before. It had burned bright orange and red and given a pleasant warmth, but now all that was left was a pile of grey and black, completely cold and lifeless. She could rekindle it, but the core made no move to. She simply stared at it, watching as the wind occasionally kicked up bits of it and carried it off into the woods, until it was lost amongst the trees.

It was hard to say how much time she wasted simply staring at it, but it was long enough to let her mind drift off alongside the ash, so that when a rustle sounded behind her, she nearly jumped out of her skin.  GLaDOS whipped around, expecting to see Chell standing behind her, ready for round two of the argument, or perhaps willing to admit that the core was right.

However, that wasn’t the case. It was only Icarus, heading out of the shelter and trotting over to where GLaDOS sat.  Perhaps it was her imagination, but GLaDOS could’ve sworn that he had much less enthusiasm in his step than usual. Maybe it was the weather. Animals could pick up on changes in the air far better than humans could, and looking up at the stormy sky, it was definitely a good cause for the pup to be uneasy.

Still, that didn’t stop Icarus from padding over, sitting down next to her, and slowly leaning against her, resting his head on her lap. He was unusually still as well, not nibbling at her fingers or pawing at the ground as he normally would.


“What’s wrong with you?”

 

GLaDOS knew she was mostly talking to herself, voice barely above a murmur as she looked down at the pup. He was older and bigger than he once was, but he hadn’t fully matured overnight. Something was up to make the usually energetic puppy this somber.

For a moment, she moved her hand to pet his head, intent on cheering him up, when she stopped herself. What was she doing? It was just an animal. She had agreed to keep him for a purpose, a functional purpose. Her relationship with him ought to be just as clinical as anything else. That was what today had taught her, if anything.

Her hand returned to her side, and she let out a huff, turning her head away from the dog and looking elsewhere. She didn’t push him away, attributing that to the fact that so long as he wasn’t causing trouble, it was beneficial to her warmth to at least let him stay there.

Minutes passed. Or… maybe hours. It was hard to tell the passage of time with the sun almost completely blotted out. GLaDOS knew it couldn’t have been too long, but it was long enough that she was certain her legs fell asleep. At the same time, it felt as if no time had passed at all, as she had been almost entirely stuck in her own head, in a swirling mass of thoughts that she desperately tried to sort- file away certain trains of thought for later, and push others so far down that she hopefully wouldn’t ever have to deal with them again. Of course, this was all much more difficult without a robotic brain. It was like trying to stop leaks in a dam with only her hands. Everytime she placed her finger over a crack, another one appeared.  It was a fruitless effort, resulting in nothing but frustration. Yet she continued.

She only snapped out of her thoughts when she felt something cold and wet hitting her face.  It wasn’t quite a snowflake, but not quite rain either; it felt more like slush. And while the droplets were occasional at first, they slowly picked up, coming down with enough intensity to cause GLaDOS to get up.  She was wary of entering the tent, but she could at least stand in the shelter.

However, as she made her way over to the tarp flap that acted as a door, she nearly bumped into Chell, who briskly exited at the same time.  GLaDOS staggered back, a frustrated comment just about leaving her mouth about how Chell ought to look where she was going, when suddenly, she noticed.

Chell stood in front of the shelter, fully dressed, her rifle slung over her back and her bag in hand. It looked full, and quite heavy.  The human’s expression was as unreadable as stone, and she stared down at GLaDOS before taking a deep breath and speaking. Her voice was rough, almost jarring to the ear, like a growl rubbed in sandpaper, Chell didn’t seem to want to be speaking, and if the core’s guess was correct, would’ve preferred to be talking only through notes on paper.

“You get to keep what’s left in there. It’s enough for you.”

The woman spoke without wavering, as if she had practiced what she wanted to say many times while in the tent.  However, her words, though blunt, still managed to confuse the AI.

“What are you talking about-”

Before she could finish, Chell moved the flap so that GLaDOS could see inside the shelter. It was almost completely empty.

The tent was gone, leaving only the tarp walls, floor and ceiling of the shelter. In the middle was GLaDOS’s bag, and around it, a few various items. It was everything she had personally bought, a blanket and a couple furs, clothes, her water bottle, some food, and the handgun, along with its ammo.

GLaDOS choked on air, sputtering in stunned silence for a moment, even as Chell let go of the flap and turned back to face the core, seemingly waiting for a response.

“Any money you made is obviously yours. Do with it as you like, though I’d advise spending it wisely.”

Chell walked past her as she spoke, crossing the clearing in long strides, her boots hitting the ground a little harder than they needed to.

“What on earth are you talking about- don’t walk away from me!”

GLaDOS finally shook to her senses, finding herself letting out a frustrated snap as she hurried to follow Chell, not content with the answer, or lack thereof, that she had gotten about all this.  She understood Chell was upset, but did that really warrant not letting GLaDOS use some of the supplies they had shared for months now?

She caught up to Chell when the human stopped at the edge of the clearing, and to her relief, Chell turned around to face her again rather than walking into the forest without another word.

Still, Chell’s expression didn’t make GLaDOS feel any better. Chell looked at her in a way that she hadn’t seen in a long time. Really, she wasn’t sure if she had ever seen Chell look at her exactly like this.  Back in their days butting heads in Aperture, she had been met with a stony, determined gaze, only rarely flashing with anger, never anything else. This, though- this was different.  She didn’t just look angry, she looked furious. Betrayed.

A nagging thought lingered in GLaDOS’s mind that she tried to push down, unsettled by the pang of sadness that it brought. The thought that Chell had never been this angry because she hadn’t expected anything else from GLaDOS in Aperture. And now, she had truly expected differently of the core, and GLaDOS had let her down.

GLaDOS tried her best not to think about that, instead focusing on getting answers about what was right in front of her.

“Care to explain what you’re doing? I know you humans can be touchy on the subject of your physical relationships, but that’s no reason for you to go stomping off. It’s not a big deal.”

She crossed her arms over her chest as she spoke, a defensiveness subconsciously taking over.  She wasn’t sure why; she was in the right, after all. She had nothing to be defensive about.

Perhaps it was the steely eyes that bored into her own, flashing with all the danger of a metal blade, and just as sharp. They seemed to stare into her soul- if GLaDOS even had one, of that she couldn’t be certain- searching for something. What that was, GLaDOS didn’t know, but regardless, it felt her feeling bare and open, and instinctively, she tried to close herself up as much as possible.

Chell didn’t respond to her question right away, only narrowing her eyes towards the end of GLaDOS’s sentence. She was clearly displeased, but in control of herself enough to hold her tongue long enough to compose her thoughts.

“I’m leaving. You can go back to Aperture if you want, or you can stay here, I don’t care. I left you enough stuff to survive, I’m not responsible for whatever you do next.”

The icy rain coming down from the sky was cold as it hit GLaDOS, but somehow, it didn’t even come close to the feeling that struck her as she listened to Chell speak. It was inexplicable, how it felt as if she had been stabbed with an icicle. She wasn’t physically hurt- she almost looked down at herself just to make sure Chell hadn’t somehow stabbed her- and yet, she felt pain. A sharp jab of pain, too, not even a dull ache. It would almost be impressive, if it wasn’t terrifying.

“I… what?”  GLaDOS hated the way her voice sounded- genuinely dumbstruck, stammering over her words like a befuddled toddler. It was inconceivable. After living and traveling together for months, GLaDOS had more than gotten used to Chell’s presence. It had become her normal. While she still ached for the loss of Aperture in her life, and struggled with the thought of having to live on the surface, living with Chell hadn’t been a problem. It had actually been… nice.

The core quickly reminded herself that it was nice solely because it had been a mutually beneficial relationship. Chell hunted, GLaDOS helped around the camp, they kept each other warm, and so on. But regardless of why, she had enjoyed having the human around. For that to suddenly change was… more than a little startling.

Quickly, GLaDOS gathered her thoughts to respond, her growing confusion mixing with frustration and fear and nearly making her voice shake as she spoke.

“You’re overreacting! You… you can’t just leave!”

Despite her best attempts, there was a note of desperation in GLaDOS’s voice, and she hated it. She didn’t need Chell; she had learned how to survive, she had supplies, and she definitely didn’t need companionship. Their relationship had been an experiment, not a necessity. She knew that. Yet still, the thought of the human leaving for good caused her chest to tighten and her heartbeat to increase, both indicative of panic.

Surely, though- surely Chell would see reason. The core looked up at her, feeling the seconds dragging on for eternities. Then, Chell leaned forward slightly, so that her face was level with GLaDOS’s.

“I didn’t fight to get to the surface to be your goddamn labrat.”

And with that, the human pulled away, standing back at her full height with shoulders squared. Her words hit GLaDOS with enough force that it felt as if Chell had shouted them at her, but they lingered in the air, slowly seeping into the AI’s very being, as they had been hissed out with a venom that GLaDOS had never expected. There was a coldness to Chell that hadn't been there before, a chill that had passed over the warmth that GLaDOS had hardly realized she was so accustomed to.

She was speechless. The core tried to form words, but each one caught in her throat and died soon after. If Chell was looking, or hoping, for a last ditch apology as an attempt to make her stay, she didn’t get one. All she got was GLaDOS staring at her, in stunned silence, as she tried to form words that wouldn’t come.

Chell turned back toward the woods, only tilting her head to the side to look at Icarus, who had slowly slunk over while the two of them talked. He was lingering nearby but not quite approaching, quietly watching them. Chell patted the side of her leg and called the dog, her voice far softer than it had been with GLaDOS, but still more neutral and guarded than affectionate.

Slowly, the pup walked over, stopping next to the two of them and looking between his owners with a look on his face that was far more expressive than GLaDOS would’ve expected was possible for a dog.

Chell slowly started walking away, calling Icarus again, looking back to see if he would follow.  At first, he did. The wolf-dog took a few steps forward before turning back and looking at GLaDOS, as if he were waiting for her to come as well. However, when GLaDOS didn’t move, he walked back to her side, nudging her leg with his snout.

When she still didn’t move, the pup turned to look at Chell, pawed at the ground nervously, then sat down at GLaDOS’s side and refused to take another step.

Chell didn’t linger on it. She spared the dog one last affectionate glance, before very briefly looking at GLaDOS.  For a moment, the anger melted back. With the woman’s hair wet from the precipitation and sticking to her face, she almost looked sad. GLaDOS felt another jab of pain in her chest at this realization, staring back, wondering if Chell would change her mind.


But she didn’t. Any softness in the human’s face was gone as quickly as it came, and she turned away, making her way through the trees.

GLaDOS watched her go, ignoring the fact that the wind and sleet were starting to pick up and battering her face. She stared at Chell’s back, watching her form until it completely disappeared into the rest of the forest.

 

Chapter Text

For a moment, GLaDOS just stared. Rather, it might’ve been more than a moment, but GLaDOS found herself unaware of the passage of time, everything seeming to blur together. She was looking at nothing- nothing now but a line of trees. No movement aside from the gusts of wind, and definitely no Chell.

She couldn’t say what kept her rooted to the spot- be it shock, disbelief, or a possible brain malfunction, the core didn’t move. Couldn’t move. The events of the moment prior replayed in her head, as if she needed to see them again to comprehend what had just happened, like her mind was lagging behind the world around her, desperately struggling to catch up.

GLaDOS was sure that she might’ve stood in place for even longer if not for the fact that the exposed skin on her face was starting to hurt now, being pelted with sleet and exposed to the cold.  Wordlessly, she moved back towards the shelter, almost wondering if this was just a very elaborate nightmare, considering how every movement she made felt like attempting to move in a dream: sluggish and impossibly slow, like moving through syrup.

Still, she shuffled into the shelter, Icarus close at her heels.

It seemed impossibly larger without the tent inside, and considerably colder. Without the extra walls and insulation, it hardly felt better than being outside.

However, it did provide shelter from the wind and weather, so GLaDOS supposed that was enough.

She sat down and removed any wet articles of clothing- something in the back of her mind vaguely reminded her to do so, lest she risk hypothermia- and did her best to dry her hair before wrapping herself in just about every fur pelt and blanket that she had left. There were considerably less. Enough, she supposed, but far from what she had grown used to.

And of course, it was even colder without the warmth of a body next to her, which GLaDOS had underestimated just how used to she had become.

Icarus was the closest thing, sitting next to GLaDOS and pressing himself against her as much as possible. He smelled of wet dog and his fur was damp, but GLaDOS, surprisingly, couldn’t find it in herself to mind too much.  She simply sat there, trying to warm up and trying to comprehend what had happened.

Once GLaDOS was no longer quite so numb, both in body and mind, there was one thing that came to the forefront of her mind, the first emotion that she could put her finger on in  a complex swirl of many.


Denial.

This wasn’t happening. It couldn’t be. Chell was angry, but she’d be back. She was just overreacting, and in time, she’d cool down and come back.  It wasn’t like the human hadn’t done drastic things before- GLaDOS could still vividly remember being murdered by said woman- but even that had worked out in the end.  This was a hiccup, a minor mistake.

GLaDOS wasn’t in the wrong; of course not. But perhaps she could have worded things better.  She could admit her faults- when they were minor enough- and she could admit that humans needed things like this to be handled with tact, and she should not have assumed that she could be as blunt as she had been.

Yes, Chell would come back, and GLaDOS would give a brief apology for her failure to speak in a way that Chell found appropriate, and then Chell would apologize for her rash behavior, and things would go back to normal.

An hour or two passed, and there was no sign of Chell.

It turned to evening, and there was no sign of Chell.

GLaDOS strained her ears to listen for the slightest sound, the crunch of a boot against the ground, the slightly raspy voice of the former mute; anything that would signal her return, so that GLaDOS could compose herself and begin her prepared ‘apology.’

But the only sound was the wind and slush battering against the tarp.


It was morning again, and still no Chell. No sign of her, no new footprints around the camp, nothing.

By the afternoon, GLaDOS’s denial slowly started to dissipate. It melted back as the realization hit her- Chell wasn’t coming back.

And with that realization came anger.

Chell couldn’t just leave; how dare she? How dare she act so childish!

GLaDOS felt rage bubbling up inside of her, and she grit her teeth, resisting the urge to grind them together.

GLaDOS might’ve made a small mistake, but it was hardly enough to up and leave over. And furthermore, Chell had taken most of their supplies!  Sure, she had left some for GLaDOS, but the core knew she had less than half. It didn’t matter that they were technically Chell’s things to begin with- Chell had left her to freeze and starve!

Chell was a monster. A petty monster. They could’ve just talked about it, but no. Chell had to take most of the supplies they needed for survival and just walk out, leaving GLaDOS and Icarus to perish.

It was completely uncalled for.

GLaDOS stewed in her frustration, switching between pacing back and forth across the camp and sitting in the shelter, talking to herself.  She had to fill the air with something so she wasn’t suffocated by the silence, so she complained. Loudly. She went over each and every reason why she was most definitely in the right in this scenario. How, comparatively, she was the one handling this like a grown adult. How she hadn’t stormed off or taken their things.

It wasn’t GLaDOS’s fault that Chell took this so badly. It was the human’s fault for misunderstanding the nature of their relationship, and her fault for reacting so poorly. Why should GLaDOS be punished for Chell’s foolishness?

It wasn’t fair.  None of this was fair, GLaDOS decided.  Not this situation, and definitely not her life. She was stuck in this horrible body, never able to go home, and then left to die just because she was doing what she was supposed to do. Chell acted as if her body dictated who she was. She was human because she was trapped in a human body? GLaDOS would’ve compared herself to a potato battery before she would ever call herself human.

Chell was projecting. She was the human here, and it was her desperate need to validate her own frustration that made her insist that GLaDOS was like her, so that she could act as if GLaDOS was doing something wrong.

If GLaDOS were human, than perhaps Chell would be right. Maybe GLaDOS would’ve been doing something wrong.  But she was created to do science, and that was what she was doing. She could not exist in Aperture anymore, so she adapted and brought her science to the surface. If anything, she should be commended for her attempts to carry out her purpose in the face of such adversity.

Yet instead, she was punished.

GLaDOS kicked the ground, sending a pebble flying off into the woods.  She did it again and again, until she was out of things to kick. It felt childish to react like this, and GLaDOS hated it. But that only bred more frustration and more of a desire to kick things.

By the end of the third day, she had stubbed her toe on a particularly hard chunk of ice, and done nothing else but made herself tired.

She hated Chell. She was sure of it.  She had been wrong to think a lunatic could ever change. A mute could speak, but a monster was still a monster. And GLaDOS hated her.


GLaDOS didn’t miss Chell. It had been five days, and she didn’t miss Chell.  She clutched to her anger with the desperation of a dying man, as if the heat from her hate would keep her warm.

It didn’t. It heated her like a roaring fire at first, but that heat faded fast, and GLaDOS quickly grew cold. Her anger turned to hollowness, and that hollowness turned to loneliness.

GLaDOS knew what loneliness felt like. Existing alone in Aperture for so many years made her quite familiar with the emotion. Yet, in the past, she had always relished it. She was convinced that she was made to be alone, and so the hollow pang had become a sort of prideful badge for her to wear, a reminder that she was completely and utterly alone, and she liked it.

But that was in Aperture. In her chassis. GLaDOS was in neither of those. She was on the surface, the cold, rainy, miserable surface. She was stuck in a human body, to be trapped in it forever. Loneliness felt very different like this.

She was not human. She couldn’t be. But… this body was. GLaDOS would not go so far as to try debating that. And humans didn’t take loneliness as well as AIs. They craved social interaction, especially if they were used to it.

GLaDOS, or rather, this body, had grown so accustomed to Chell’s presence that not having her around did more than result in a dull hollowness- it was starting to hurt.

By the sixth day, each time the AI thought about the human brought a wave of hurt, a stab in her chest that was growing stronger and stronger each time, and by the end of the day, it was accompanied by a sort of nausea that GLaDOS loathed to call by its name. Guilt. She felt guilty.

And worst of all? She knew why.

She pretended that she didn’t, questioned why she would feel guilt for doing nothing wrong. But she knew.

There was a voice, soft, barely louder than a whisper, that lingered in her mind. GLaDOS couldn’t say how long it had been there, for she had been ignoring it for as long as she could remember. Longer than this week, longer than the months she had been on the surface. This voice was something she had possessed for a long time.

She might dare to call it a conscience. A voice that wasn’t quite her own, but was oh so frighteningly similar. It had always sounded a little like her- though even more so now, as the core lacked the robotic tone in her voice that had made the distinction so much easier- but it was softer, gentler than anything GLaDOS had ever said.  The voice was never loud, but it never went away, either.  It just lingered in the back of her head, quietly whispering in her ear, waiting for GLaDOS to shut up and listen.

GLaDOS liked to blame Caroline for that. It was easy to blame Caroline, and it only made sense. The scrap of humanity from the remains of the long-dead woman’s mind inside of her own would no doubt form something like that, a guilty conscience to try to make GLaDOS think and act with the reservations of a human.  It certainly seemed like something that the fragmented remains of a woman with too many regrets would do.

Maybe that was what made it so easy to ignore at first. They weren’t her wishes; they were simply the naggings of someone else, someone who wasn’t even really there. She didn’t need to pay the words any mind- no matter what they were, and no matter how truthful they might’ve been- because they weren’t her own.

So when GLaDOS took a moment to listen to that voice, for no other reason than complete and utter directionlessness, she was quite startled to hear her own voice. So startled, in fact, that for a brief moment, the core wondered if she had absentmindedly spoken the words aloud.

But considering that Icarus was still sleeping soundly at her feet and had made no indication of hearing anything, GLaDOS came the conclusion that it really was all in her head.

It was strange. So many people- humans and even some AIs, heard a voice in their head. Their own thoughts, narrated by their own voice. It was normal to listen to oneself think.

GLaDOS had lived her life with quite the opposite. She had heard voices that weren’t her own for so long that hearing her own voice was practically unheard of. Voices from cores, from Caroline, from seemingly everyone besides herself.  It had been maddening at first, but now without them, it almost felt too quiet.

All she could listen to was herself, and that was considerably harder to ignore.

She was wrong.

Those three words alone nearly caused a physical reaction within the core. She wanted to recoil, to shy away from something with so much weight to it. Admitting that she was wrong was not something that GLaDOS did lightly, and she didn’t exactly have much experience with it.

Especially not in matters like this. It was with bitterness and frustration in her heart that GLaDOS could admit to a tactical mistake- a failed experiment, or even the actions that got her into this body in the first place. She didn’t like the feeling it brought, but the AI could begrudgingly admit that they were her fault.

But matters of the heart were different. GLaDOS knew for a fact what a human was, and what artificial intelligence was. She knew how each behaved, what rules they lived by. That was not up for debate, so she could not be wrong .

An AI wasn’t supposed to feel the way she had. An AI wouldn’t be hung up over all this. An AI shouldn’t have to convince itself of its intentions.

The sheer fact that GLaDOS was feeling guilt, uncertainty, was a very bad sign.  If she was in the right, she shouldn’t feel like this. And that led to only one conclusion: that she had been wrong.

Her guilt stemmed from her actions being the thing to drive Chell away, and she knew that. As scary as it was to think about, as impossible as it seemed to admit to herself, GLaDOS knew it to be true.

And on the seventh day since Chell left, after thinking about, or one might say obsessing over, it the entire time, GLaDOS knew why. Why her stomach twisted and turned when she thought about what she had said, and why she had woken up with tears on her cheeks multiple nights in a row.

No matter how much she lied to herself, Chell wasn’t just a test subject. GLaDOS didn’t know what forces brought her to feel like this, but she could only know what was right in front of her, or rather, inside of her.

She felt for Chell. Not the scientific interest that she claimed it to be for so long; she felt real, raw emotions for the human. Something warm and soft, something hot and feverish, something mournful.  She could hardly name them all, but no matter how hard she looked, GLaDOS could not find true hate amongst them.

And she knew hate better than anyone in the world.

It was this realization that caused the core to panic.  She wasn’t entirely certain why, but that didn’t stop the core from practically screaming into her pillow, and giving Icarus quite the startle.

GLaDOS couldn’t decide which was worse: the realization that, for some reason she couldn’t quite figure out, she had developed a genuine, romantic attachment to Chell, or the fact that it didn’t even matter now. It had been a full week since Chell left, and knowing how much ground the human could cover if she set her mind to it, she was likely long gone.

And there was no saying where she was even going in the first place. The surface was a wasteland; Chell could’ve picked any direction she wanted and just started walking, it likely made no difference to her.  She had been wandering the world when GLaDOS had found her again, and what was to say that she hadn’t decided to do the same now? To drift from place to place, go wherever there was shelter and food.

Finding Chell wouldn’t just be looking for a needle in a haystack- it’d be more akin to finding a pebble in the ocean.

GLaDOS curled up on her side, fighting back the sting of tears in her eyes that she was certain she hated. Embarrassing as it was, the core couldn’t stop herself. This human body she was trapped in seemed to want to humiliate her at every chance. The core was hurting, aching over this realization.  It was terrifying to think that her reality, as she had tried to believe it, was false- and not only that, but to know that this realization had come too little, too late.

What if these feelings never left? GLaDOS knew of humans that wallowed in their own self pity for years, if not their entire lives, over things like this. ‘The one that got away’ kept them from doing anything productive, only existing to regret and mourn.

GLaDOS was horrified at the thought. It was an insult to everything she stood for. An insult to the lifeless chassis she left behind in Aperture.  If she could not do science as the artificial intelligence she was created as, she promised herself to do as much as she could to study the surface and learn as much as she could.

But how could she, feeling like this?  It was a kind of pain that she hadn’t experienced until recently. Nothing like death, but somehow, nearly as agonizing.

Digging her fingers into one of her blankets, she pulled the fabric closer to her, burying her face in the warmth and taking a shaky breath to try to calm herself down.

As it turned out, this helped little. While it was faint, GLaDOS could still catch the trace of a scent amongst the blankets that caused a fresh stab of pain in her chest. They still smelled like Chell.  

A strangled sob left the AI’s throat, her shoulders shaking as she hissed out frustrated curses.  She was furious with herself.  She had taken the horrid situation that she was put in- trapped in a human body, on the surface- and she had made it worse.  She had chased away the person that made this hellscape tolerable. Despite all their history, despite how the human could infuriate GLaDOS at times with her bullheaded, stubborn attitude, and how afraid GLaDOS was that the former mute could make GLaDOS feel these sorts of things, GLaDOS missed her almost as much as she missed Aperture, her home.

And that was just the problem. Chell had become her home.  And now, she was gone too, and again, it was GLaDOS’s fault.

Despite her attempts to keep them at bay, GLaDOS felt fresh tears streaming down her face, and she hastily tried to wipe them away, despite how her hand wouldn’t stop shaking.

The sound of all this must’ve got Icarus’s attention, though, as the dog shuffled over to her side and lay himself down next to her, insistently pushing his snout into her face, and after a moment, attempting to lick her cheeks.

GLaDOS wasn’t sure if the dog simply found interest in the sodium found in tears, or if somehow, he was genuinely trying to cheer her up, but either way, she wasn’t particularly fond of his methods.

In a half-hearted sort of way, she pushed Icarus back enough so that his slobbery tongue wasn’t within range of her face, and the core promptly wiped off any excess saliva. Normally, she would’ve already found some choice words about just how disgusting that was, and how canines were revolting creatures with horrid breath and low intelligence.

Her point still stood on the horrid breath aspect, but the core couldn’t seem to pull a biting comment out of her throat.  Instead, she simply sat up, still clutching the blanket, and let out a frustrated sigh.

This all earned a soft whimper from Icarus, who looked up at her with flattened ears, his eagerness to please still present, but laced with a disappointment that GLaDOS found herself feeling even worse about.

“...It’s not your fault.”

She finally spoke, looking down into the wolf-dog’s amber eyes.  This wasn’t the first time she had talked to Icarus, especially not since Chell left, but it was one of the quieter moments.  GLaDOS knew he couldn’t understand, but somehow it felt slightly better than simply screaming into the silent void of a forest around them.

“You’re trying to help, but there’s nothing you can do.”

GLaDOS placed her hand on the dog’s head, running her finger through his thick fur.  She couldn’t say why she felt the need to reassure the dog- unless feeling guilt was simply a new trend in her existence, and soon she’d be feeling bad for every rabbit she ate for dinner- but she didn’t miss how Icarus pressed into her hand.

Humorlessly, GLaDOS let out a snort of laughter, forced and dry, only a small distance away from being another sob.

“Besides, it’s not like you could track her down.”

The AI paused, the unfortunately-metaphorical gears in her head turning.

“Track her… you can track her! 

GLaDOS took Icarus’s face in her hands, holding him by his incredibly fluffy cheeks and watching the slight confusion in his gaze at suddenly being held like this.

Feeling the first hint of hope she had experienced in days, the core jumped to her feet.

The blanket’s scent was faint since GLaDOS had been using it, but surely there was something here that had a stronger sample of Chell’s scent to follow. Besides, Icarus already knew it; she just needed enough to keep the pup from getting confused.

She rummaged around for a while before eventually coming across something in her bag: a towel.  She and Chell had each had one for bathing, and since they looked practically the same- ratty and old, far more akin to a rag than a towel- Chell must’ve grabbed GLaDOS’s when she left.

While it had a slight scent of soap to it, overwhelmingly it smelled like Chell.  And if it were that noticeable to GLaDOS, it would likely be blindingly so to Icarus.

The dog jumped up shortly after GLaDOS did, seemingly sensing the shift in mood and responding accordingly, even if he didn’t fully grasp what had changed.

It had gotten somewhat late, and GLaDOS knew this would have to wait until the morning, but she couldn’t ignore the weightlessness that had suddenly filled the hole in her chest, the feeling of holding her breath with anticipation.  She didn’t know if this would work; there were so many factors that could make it fail.

But if there was a chance that it could succeed, GLaDOS was going to take it.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t even dawn when GLaDOS woke up.

It was cold, dark, and damp, but the core shot up out of bed like a rocket, as wide awake as she had ever been.

Lying in bed had been a formality at best; she had hardly slept. Her mind had been racing, her stomach twisting and turning. No matter how hard she’d tried, she had been unable to get her mind off of the realization she had the day before.  For a day where she had done little besides sit inside the shelter, a lot had happened.

The thought of trying to find Chell with the help of Icarus was exciting, but the core’s own reasoning behind such an adventure still hung over GLaDOS’s head in a confusing fog.  She knew she cared for the woman. It caused her chest to tighten nervously and her heartbeat to increase, but it was staring her in the face. GLaDOS had searched for any other possible reasoning behind the way she felt, yet, she couldn’t find one.

She had developed genuine affection for the former test subject, and whatever allowed these feelings to spark was something she would investigate as soon as possible. But that wasn’t on a time limit; finding Chell was.

Moving as quickly as she could, the core went about gathering her supplies, packing as much as she knew she could reasonably carry. Thankfully, most of it seemed to fit in her bag. Unfortunately, that was due in part to the fact that her food supplies were running dangerously low. Between feeding herself and Icarus, they had been going through the food that Chell left behind rather quickly, and even more so since GLaDOS hadn’t been able to drag herself out of the camp to go hunting.

Still, it was something, and if they needed to, they could look for food on the road.


By the time she was done packing, dawn had finally started to break, with traces of sunlight beginning to filter through snow-covered branches. It was the first day with clear weather that they had experienced in days, and while that was a good thing, it was a double-edged sword, as it reminded the core of the effects of the recent weather.

Rain and sleet for almost a week straight would make Icarus’s job even more difficult, as the weather had washed away large amounts of snow, leaving only the occasional dirty clump, no doubt taking Chell’s scent along with it.

GLaDOS was already asking the dog to follow a week-old trail, which would’ve been hard enough for a creature that was professionally trained- for Icarus, it seemed near impossible. Chell had made progress with the pup, and GLaDOS had been told that he was a fast learner, but Chell had never gotten the chance to finish training him, and he was still young and easily distracted.

It was completely possible for Chell’s scent to be completely lost, and even if it wasn’t, it was equally likely that Icarus would lose it halfway through and just lead GLaDOS in circles, or worse, get them lost.

Doubt was like a seed in the AI’s stomach, and the more she thought about it, that seed sprouted and grew like vines, stretching throughout her entire body, gripping the corners of her mind and making her second-guess herself.

If there was one thing GLaDOS knew from creating and watching tests, it was that there were far more ways for any one situation to fail than there was for it to succeed.

There were often one, two, maybe three ways to solve a puzzle, but nearly infinite ways to fail it.

With those kinds of odds, and being forced to rely on the skill of something other than herself, what was the point in even attempting?

Because you’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t.

GLaDOS gritted her teeth, deciding that she liked the voice in her head- a conscience or whatever it may be- a lot more when she could easily ignore it.  

She shook her head and spared one last glance at the shelter, which she knew she couldn’t easily take apart, and definitely couldn’t carry, before calling Icarus to her side and pulling out the towel that she had set aside.

Holding it out to the wolf-dog as he approached, GLaDOS searched her brain for memories of watching Chell and what she had done with the dog, trying her best to replicate the motions.

She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she watched Icarus sniff the piece of cloth rather intently, how his ears twitched almost thoughtfully as GLaDOS tried to command him forward.  For a second, the core’s heart sank as seconds dragged on and the wolf-dog didn’t do anything.

This had been a waste of her time. She shouldn’t have gotten her hopes up, it was a ridiculous plan to begin with-

Icarus perked up.  Moving away from the rag in GLaDOS’s hand, he sniffed around the camp.  GLaDOS watched as he moved over to the firepit, the shelter, and finally, the edge of the camp that Chell had left from The dog lingered there for a moment, sniffing the ground quite rapidly, until he seemed to have found something. He turned back to GLaDOS and let out a high-pitched, excited bark.

Amber eyes bright, his lips seemed to be pulled back into what GLaDOS could only describe as an excited, doggish grin.  It was almost like he suddenly understood what GLaDOS was asking of him, and was thrilled to have the chance to bring back his other owner.

Of course, that was impossible, and GLaDOS was hesitant to mentally assign such intelligence to a dog, of all things.

Although... the surface’s mutations had done stranger things to animals before.

Deciding that she had nothing to lose but time, GLaDOS followed the wolf-dog into the woods, putting her faith in the strength of a week-old scent and only giving herself about a minute to let just how ridiculous that was sink in.


With his nose practically glued to the forest floor, Icarus took off, his cream-colored pelt becoming almost a blur as he bounded through, around, under, and over various obstacles in his way.  However, slipping through an old, dead thorn bush was much easier for a dog than it was for someone in a fully grown human body. GLaDOS had the distinct feeling that this journey- at least as long as it was in the forest- would not be a pleasant one, as she just barely avoided tripping on a nearly hidden root.

Even after months of living in this forest, she never quite got used to it.

Yet, despite the somewhat sporadic path zigzagging in and out, GLaDOS quickly became aware of the fact that she knew where she was. A quick look around confirmed that this was a path she had walked a handful of times before: the path to the main road.

She blinked, momentarily confused.  The core hadn’t considered the fact that Chell might’ve just gone for the most obvious direction. Some part of GLaDOS had expected the human to make an effort to completely disappear, go in the strangest possible place to avoid ever being found by GLaDOS again.

Of course, it was completely possible that GLaDOS’s first instinct was correct, that Chell hadn’t just gone back to the main road, and Icarus was simply taking the core on the path he had been on with Chell before, not fully understanding what he was meant to do.

That spark of doubt flickered in her chest again, and GLaDOS struggled to crush it. There wasn’t anything she could really do. It wasn’t like she could follow the scent any better than Icarus could, and if it turned out that he really was just leading her to nowhere, she’d…

The core paused, realizing that she didn’t know what she would do if this didn’t work.  A part of her would want to punish the dog for it, but even that didn’t sound right. It wouldn’t make her feel any better, and if anything, it’d only leave her even more alone than she already was. That thought should’ve brought her happiness, but it hadn’t in a very long time.

She would figure out what she would do if this didn’t work if or when it came to that. For now, she needed to focus on catching up to the wolf-dog who was racing through the forest as if he would never tire.  

Soon enough, they reached the edge of the woods.  The sun had risen into the sky by this point, impossibly bright to GLaDOS’s eyes, as she had almost become used to the dark, grey weather.

If the AI had been foolish enough to believe in omens, she might’ve considered it a good sign.  Instead, she decided to consider it lucky for no reason other than the fact that it made traveling a little more pleasant, almost feeling warm in comparison to recent weather.

Breaking through the edge of trees, GLaDOS looked around, her heart skipping a beat for a moment.  A part of her, no matter how childish it was, had almost assumed that Chell would just be there, waiting at the edge of the woods for her, ready to hear the core’s apology and come back without any questions.

That, of course, wasn’t the case. The road in front of them was just as empty as anything else, stretching off into the distance without a soul in sight. It was just another obstacle. Nothing about this road held any real hope, any promise that they were on the right path. As far as GLaDOS was concerned, she had no reason to celebrate until they actually found Chell.

Icarus, on the other hand, seemed to think differently, as he sniffed the ground for a moment longer before practically prancing over to her, light on his feet, and wagging his tail a mile a minute.  

This was as far as he had ever been with them.  As GLaDOS reached into her bag, she pulled the rag back out, holding it out in front of the dog once more, curious to see what he’d do and where he’d go. If he turned back to the forest, the AI’s fears would’ve been confirmed, and she would know for certain that he really didn’t have any idea where he was going, only dragging her to places that he already knew.

However, if he took her in a different direction, there was still hope. It would be possible he was walking in a random direction, but at least there would be a chance they were on the right path.

Again, Icarus sniffed the cloth, and again, GLaDOS’s breath hitched as she watched the tiny gears in his head turning.

She wasn’t able to hide the audible sigh of relief that left her as Icarus planted his nose back on the ground and started down the road in hot pursuit.

GLaDOS would never openly claim to hold affection for the creature, but in this moment, if not for fear of distracting the pup, she could have kissed him.

This time, the path was a little simpler. Icarus still bounded ahead of GLaDOS, but rarely strayed from the road.  Occasionally, he would stop and go off-road for a few minutes, seemingly confused, before going back to his original path. GLaDOS could only assume that those were the places Chell had stopped at overnight.

A small patch of trees, a ditch on the side of the road, and even what looked to be a long-abandoned maintenance tunnel- they were spread out, but what GLaDOS couldn’t help but find odd was the fact that they were finding these places all within the course of a day.  So far, Icarus had pulled her aside at least four times, and it was only late afternoon.

GLaDOS wouldn’t consider herself a slow walker, but she knew that Chell could move faster than she could. Being a test subject and surviving on the surface alone had made the human into a fine athlete, who, if she wanted, could’ve likely covered ten times the amount of ground that GLaDOS had.

So why? Why was she stopping so frequently?

A sudden stab of fear formed like an icicle in her stomach, and GLaDOS found herself considering the very real possibility that Chell was hurt or sick.

Perhaps something had happened to her after she left, and she had been simply dragging herself along. Perhaps she’d had her leg ripped off by a mutant animal, and was crawling along the road, the rain having washed the sight of her blood away, but not the scent. Perhaps Chell was dead, the scent in question only coming from a raider dragging her body around like a trophy, and GLaDOS and Icarus would soon find the woman’s severed head on a pike somewhere.

GLaDOS shook her head, briefly squeezing her eyes shut to chase the visions her brain had conjured up away.  She was being ridiculous. Chell had survived Aperture and taken down GLaDOS herself. There was some other reason for the human’s odd pattern, and GLaDOS would have the chance to ask as soon as she met up with the woman.

If she ever did.

They kept walking. Despite everything- the doubt, the fear, the uncertainty- GLaDOS swallowed it all. It was better to do something with the chance of failure than to simply sit around and do nothing. She would be a very poor example of Aperture indeed if she gave up at the first chance of horrific failure. They would keep trying until there were results, even if those results involved someone’s brains on the pavement.

For once in her life, GLaDOS hoped that there wasn’t death involved.


They walked for hours, and GLaDOS found herself thankful that as spring was starting to creep up on them, the days had been slowly getting longer, allowing more sunlight they could walk by. The sun had started to set now, and GLaDOS was convinced they’d made good progress. She was tired, and if she had to guess, Icarus was too, but they had covered a lot of ground already. If they could keep up this pace, maybe they could catch Chell before she got to wherever she was going.

The most logical answer to that question, one GLaDOS was surprised she hadn’t thought of earlier, was the possibility that Chell was simply going back to Greenfield. While a part of her expected the former test subject to prefer being a loner, it wasn’t outrageous to think that, after living in the woods for so long, perhaps Chell would seek to live in a bit more comfort. With real beds and running water, and surrounded by… humans.

GLaDOS curled her lip, feeling a flicker of anger in her stomach.  Maybe that was it. After deciding that GLaDOS was no good as company, Chell wanted to spend time with real humans instead of AIs trapped in human bodies.

The core bristled at the thought, frustration boiling up inside of her. What if that was the case? What if she found Chell and the woman had already decided that spending time with GLaDOS was a waste of her time, and that she was going to focus her efforts on living with humans like herself.

Like a bucket of icy water thrown on a fire, GLaDOS felt her anger go out with a sudden hiss.

If Chell wanted to be with humans- if she couldn’t forgive GLaDOS- who was the core to try to change her mind? GLaDOS had no control here. She knew what happened when she tried to control the former mute, and it never went in her favor.

All she could do was find the woman and apologize.  A part of GLaDOS still recoiled at the thought, at how damaging to her pride it was to put all this much effort into admitting that she was wrong, but, at the same time, she almost longed to get it off her chest.

This realization weighed on her shoulders, and she knew it wouldn’t even begin to go away until she had at least settled things. Whether they ended for better or for worse, GLaDOS would not leave things unfinished.


However… perhaps it would be best to continue this tomorrow.  The sun was setting, and though he continued to work hard, GLaDOS could feel the exhaustion coming off of Icarus as well. As soon as they could find a place off the side of the road that had some shelter, they would call it a night.

So as they walked, GLaDOS scanned the landscape, looking for anything in the distance that looked promising- preferably some trees they could hide in.  Sleeping out in the open nearby a main road didn’t seem like the smartest idea.

She didn’t see any trees, but something else caught her eye.

Smoke.  A thin line of smoke that carried into the air, only noticeable because of the stark contrast it provided to the orange sky. Not enough for the beginnings of a wildfire, but definitely enough for a campfire.

The AI’s heart skipped a beat, and she suddenly felt as if all the air had been knocked out of her body. All thoughts of taking a break were quickly forgotten as she scanned the landscape again, just barely catching sight of the tiniest speck of orange off road, a good distance away. If that really was a campfire, then maybe...

GLaDOS swallowed, pulling herself together with a steadying breath.  She couldn’t get reckless. Everyone made campfires; it could just as easily belong to a merchant caravan, or worse, bandits. She’d be walking right into their hands if she just ran right up to it. She’d have to investigate first.

Trying to calm her racing heart, the core kept walking, doing her best to stay on the side of the road instead of the middle, hoping that would make her a little less noticeable.

Icarus still led the way, seeming just as confident as before, if not moreso. GLaDOS couldn’t help but feel a twinge of worry for the fate of the pup if this did turn out to be just a trap.  While the core had Chell’s old handgun strapped to her leg to protect herself with, she knew that Icarus, as foolishly loyal as he was, would no doubt only get himself into trouble in a fight when trying to help.


As they got further down the road, GLaDOS was able to get a better idea of what she was looking at. The road raised up here, and to the side was what looked like the long since dried-up remains of a small pond. It was about ten feet down on a rather steep slope off the road, and was no longer filled with water, but rather overgrown with dead tallgrasses and reeds that, without snow weighing them down, provided thick cover. Somewhere in the middle there was a flattened space with a fire in the middle, and some kind of a shelter off to the side.

There was no promise that this was Chell. She had to keep reminding herself of that fact. But… she needed to know.
Trying to keep herself as quiet as possible, the core began to scale the small slope, desperately trying to climb down quietly but finding that easier said than done. The ground was hard, with little to no way to keep her footing, but both she and Icarus scrambled down the best they could without simply falling.

Wincing at the sound it made when they reached the bottom, GLaDOS crouched in the grasses, holding her breath and trying to keep as still as possible as she held onto Icarus by the scruff to keep him from moving forward.

A few minutes passed, and GLaDOS decided that they most likely hadn’t been spotted.  Reluctantly, she let Icarus go and started slowly making her way towards the campsite, a couple hundred yards away.

The dog went ahead of her, as before, without a cautious bone in his body. The grass was tall enough to keep him completely hidden, but GLaDOS had to practically creep forward in order to remain covered. She had to watch her every step to avoid treading on anything at all, as even a half-soaked twig seemed to make the loudest sound in the world.

She was almost holding her breath with each step closer as it became easier for her to make out the shapes ahead of her.

A small tent- small enough for one person, but just big enough for two, and a silhouette. A single, solitary silhouette.

GLaDOS looked around the best she could while still remaining in the brush, but she couldn’t see anyone else.

As she got closer, the shape of the silhouette became more defined. It was tall, with broad shoulders and a sturdy frame, but smaller than a typical man’s. The core could see a faint outline of something on the figure’s back, which she knew without a doubt to be that of a rifle.

GLaDOS knew that silhouette, it was unmistakable.

Chell.”

She whispered the name under her breath before she could stop herself, biting her tongue a moment later as she winced, pressing herself as low to the ground as possible. Chell was facing her campfire, turned away from GLaDOS and Icarus.  GLaDOS considered this a blessing, as she found her heart had jumped into her throat, her blood starting to pound in her ears. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe she shouldn’t have come here. Maybe-

There was no more time for maybes.

Icarus, who had his nose to the ground, suddenly stopped, ears perked up so high that GLaDOS would liken them to that of a rabbit.  The dog looked at the core, his eyes wide with a growing excitement as he briefly turned to look at Chell, who was only about twenty yards away now, and then back to GLaDOS, his tail starting to wag, as if he were silently crying out ‘I found her! I did it!’

Suddenly wishing that she had both a leash and a muzzle for the wolf-dog, she could only watch in mild horror as Icarus’s excitement turned from silent to not-so-silent as the dog let out a high-pitched bark and took off running through the grass, making a beeline for Chell’s camp.

This got the attention of Chell, who GLaDOS watched take the rifle off her back in one swift movement as she faced the grasses, able to see the rustle of movement that Icarus caused, but not the dog himself.

Chell would likely never intentionally hurt Icarus; GLaDOS knew that. But if there was one thing the core had learned from her time traveling with the mute, it was that the surface didn’t wait for anything. If there was the chance that something was coming to kill you, it was up to you to make the first shot. Chell would no doubt shoot the first thing that came out of the grass, on account of the fact that it was just as likely to be something trying to kill her as it was to be a puppy, simply happy to see its other owner again.

The world slowed to an impossible speed around the AI, and GLaDOS found herself faced with a choice: she could stay put and risk letting Icarus get shot, or she could stand up and reveal herself. Neither sounded appealing, but as she watched Icarus get closer and closer to the clearing, something painful pulled at her heart that she couldn’t ignore. So, biting back the rising fear in her chest, she stood.

She watched as the human’s eyes caught her movements, and in a heartbeat, Chell adjusted her rifle so that it pointed at the core, seemingly without even having to think about it.

If the world had slowed down around GLaDOS only moments before, now it seemed to have stopped altogether. The AI swore she’d be able to hear a pin drop as she stared at Chell, and the rifle aimed directly at her.  Suddenly, she had a very good idea of what it felt like to be a test subject in front of a turret: the seconds of staring death in the face, knowing that in mere moments, your insides could be used to paint the wall behind you-  or, in her case, the grass below.

One twitch of the human’s finger and GLaDOS would have a bullet lodged somewhere in her body- from the looks of how Chell was aiming, likely somewhere in her chest. A shot like that would be a slow, painful death.  Granted, that was assuming Chell only shot once. As if it would be some kind of accident.

GLaDOS hadn’t considered the fact that Chell had already given the core a chance to get lost, and made her feelings quite clear.   She had been livid the last time GLaDOS saw her, and the more the AI thought about their last encounter, the more she was surprised that it hadn’t come to blows then.  Now, though, that could change.

After what felt like an eternity, Icarus bounded into Chell’s makeshift camp, bouncing up and down as he ran circles around her.  Thankfully, this caught the human’s attention without distracting her enough to accidentally pull the trigger, and GLaDOS watched as the former test subject looked down briefly, seemingly surprised to see Icarus.

However, her attention was quickly pulled back to GLaDOS, and the core felt herself falter underneath Chell’s gaze. Part of her wished she was closer, so she could properly see what emotion, if any, those grey eyes revealed.  The other part of her was afraid to know.

The AI didn’t move a muscle. How could she? There was a weapon aimed at her body, held by a woman who had killed her once before, and might not have any hesitation about doing it again. She feared that if she so much as moved her hands from her sides to hold them up in surrender, she’d find her body with a few extra holes.

She knew that she ought to speak, to explain her reason for being here and hope that Chell was willing to talk, but the longer GLaDOS stared at the woman, the more she felt as if her throat had been filled with water, leaving her unable to speak and choking if she tried.

Her heart ached when she looked at Chell. It ached like it had in the woman’s absence, but this time it left a bittersweet taste in her mouth. She didn’t just have to think about what she had lost; she could see it right in front of her.

She was certain that, if nothing changed, the two of them would simply stand like this until one of them dropped dead, bullet or no. So the AI was intensely thankful for Icarus, who seemed to be trying his best to break the trance that the two of them had fallen into by once more grabbing Chell’s attention, this time quite literally, as he took a mouthful of the bottom of her pant leg and pulled on it insistently, not liking the fact that he was being ignored.

GLaDOS took this opportunity to carefully step forward, trying her best to keep her chin held high and her hands far away from the handgun on her side.

Chell hadn’t let go of her rifle, but her posture had changed. She relaxed her grip ever so slightly, and momentarily turned her gaze back to Icarus, acknowledging the pup in hopes that it would get him to let go of her clothes. It didn’t. The wolf-dog kept his hold, occasionally shaking his head back and forth to prove his point, almost ripping the fabric in the process.

He only broke his hold when GLaDOS reached the campsite. Then, he abruptly let go of Chell and trotted back to the AI’s side, holding his head up high and sitting down next to her, seeming very proud of himself for keeping Chell in place.

“...You should recognize your work. You taught him to do this, didn’t you?”

GLaDOS finally spoke, though it was with much less confidence than she had planned. A weak laugh hid behind her words, the pitiful attempt at humor hardly the icebreaker she had wanted it to be.

Chell made no response other than letting her eyes briefly flick towards Icarus once more before settling right back on GLaDOS. Now that the core was only feet away, she could properly see the woman’s facial expression. She pleaded to see something, anything that would give her some kind of hint that Chell wasn’t just counting down the seconds until she pulled the trigger.  Instead, though, the test subject’s face was a blank mask. Too neutral to not be on purpose, GLaDOS noted, but still well-crafted enough that she couldn’t tell what it was hiding.  

She gave nothing for GLaDOS to work off of, so the core would have to stumble blindly and hope she said the right thing.

“I would feel a lot better if you put the gun down.”

It wasn’t exactly what the core had intended to say, but it was still relevant. She looked hopefully at Chell, whose only reaction was to narrow her eyes a little, and move her finger away from the trigger. That, it seemed, was as close as GLaDOS would get.

“Okay, fine, don’t put the gun down. Can we talk?”

“... You can.”

GLaDOS hadn’t expected Chell to speak at all, so a part of her supposed that she ought to consider it a victory that the human had said anything to her, even if the words in question had been spoken so gruffly that it seemed as if Chell had forced them out of her throat.

“I…”  GLaDOS opened her mouth to speak, ready to launch into a long, complicated speech- one of the many that she had mentally practiced on the way here- that would accomplish apologizing in the least pride-damaging way that still made sure she sounded in control of the situation. Unfortunately, all of that died in her throat the moment the core started to talk.

She would’ve called herself speechless, if not for the words that seemed to tumble from her lips without warning. Not the ones she planned, not ones she thought about before she said them, just words. Words that she knew were more truthful than anything she could have made up beforehand.

“I was wrong.”

The words hung in the air, much like many of the things that GLaDOS had said to Chell before. They held the same kind of weight, the same power, but this time, they didn’t hover like dark clouds, echoing with foreboding thunder, but instead rang like bells, cutting through the air with the sound of their chime.

They cracked Chell’s mask, as the moment they reached the human’s ears, GLaDOS could see surprise flash across her expression.  

The core continued, partly wishing that she could stop and think about the words leaving her mouth, but knowing that this heart- her heart- was far more in control than her head.

“I made a mistake, and I… hurt you. And it wasn’t your fault. You have every right to be angry, and I owe you an apology.”

Forcing herself not to break Chell’s gaze, GLaDOS watched as Chell swallowed and gave the smallest of nods, as if to very tentatively prompt GLaDOS to continue.

“I don’t mean what I said before. I didn’t mean it then, and I don’t mean it now. I was… I was…” GLaDOS trailed off, feeling the next word like something lodged in her throat. “...Afraid.”

She spat the word out, hating the way shame crawled up her spine the more she thought about what she was doing and why she was doing it- but she refused to back out now.

“My life isn’t what it was. I lost everything I knew, and I’ve been thrown to the surface to survive, without a purpose, and without an understanding of anything that I’ve been feeling. I hate not knowing, but I think I hated the possibility of understanding this even more, so I panicked.”

GLaDOS hadn’t noticed Chell slowly lowering her gun as the core spoke, as while she still stared directly at the human, GLaDOS was now only focused on searching the former test subject’s eyes, watching, for she knew the first signs of emotion would be found there far before they ever reached the corners of her lips. The world around them seemed to fade away, so that GLaDOS’s attention was only focused on one thing. Saying what she wanted- no, what she needed to say.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry that I lied to you like I lied to myself. I thought that it would make me feel better, if I could pretend I didn’t feel anything. But I do feel, and that’s what terrifies me. I was scared and I couldn’t admit it, I couldn’t ask for your help because I didn’t know how, and then I proceeded to let myself use that as an excuse to cause you pain.”

GLaDOS took a deep breath, feeling the way it rattled her chest and made her shudder, as the beginnings of tears pricked at her eyes.  She tried to blink them away, but they were persistent, welling up despite her best attempts to will them away. A weeklong emotional journey, compressed into one apology. GLaDOS felt as if her heart had been squeezed and then thrown into a room with repulsion gel, seeming to go up and down with every passing second as she mentally jumped from confidence to fear, from sadness to affection. She didn’t know how to feel, but she was feeling, and Chell could tell.

“But I couldn’t let things end the way they did. I couldn’t let what I said to you be the last thing you remembered me by. I… cared for you. I still do. Our relationship was the most confusing, heart-stopping, uncertainty-causing things that I’ve ever done willingly, but it was the best thing that’s happened to me on this wasteland of a surface.”

The core took another breath, a sharp inhale, and she could feel her lips trembling a little as she struggled to keep her voice steady. This was mortifying, and GLaDOS knew she would look back and want to throw herself into the jaws of the nearest wild animal, but, in the moment at least, it almost felt… freeing.

“I can’t ask for another second chance; I know I can’t- or at least, I shouldn’t. And I’m selfish. Maybe I shouldn’t have come here, maybe I should’ve just let you move on, but I couldn’t let you go. Not without apologizing.”

GLaDOS finally trailed off for good, ending her sentence and closing her eyes, as if bracing herself for something, though she wasn’t sure what- did she expect Chell to hit her? Yell at her? She didn’t know.

Instead, a few moments of silence passed by- the loudest silence of GLaDOS’s life. The lack of sound seemed to make her ears ring, until eventually, the AI reopened her eyes to look at Chell’s face.

The former test subject had put her rifle on her back once more, her arms crossed over her chest, as the woman almost seemed to be hugging herself.  Her whole face had shifted along with her eyes- the ice that covered them having begun to melt, slowly but surely- with the hard lines of her expression having softened. Still, no smile reached her face. Her expression was conflicted. Her eyebrows furrowed together, and her lips twitched downwards into an almost nervous frown.

“...Do you understand why what you did hurt, GLaDOS?”

Chell spoke after a few minutes of silence, the barely-lingering sunlight casting long shadows across her face.  GLaDOS opened her mouth to respond, but Chell held up a hand, stopping her.

“It hurt because I didn’t just trust you. I was smitten with you. I cared for you. I thought… I don’t know what I thought. I know that I thought that, at least on some level, you felt the same.”

GLaDOS shrunk back a little, both surprised and unnerved at Chell’s words having the ability to make her heart feel lighter and heavier in the same sentence.

“And you’re right. I don’t think you deserve another chance.”

Chell’s words pierced GLaDOS like a dagger, and she bit her lip, quickly focusing her gaze on the ground.

“But I… I’ve known you for a long time, GLaDOS, and I know how hard it is for you to admit that you were wrong. I know that didn’t come out of nowhere.” The human uncrossed her arms, adjusting the strap of the rifle on her back, just as something to do with her hands.  

“This isn’t going to make things go back to the way they were. Nothing you could say would. But, if you’re willing to change, and if you can show me more of what you just did, maybe… maybe we could come back to… this.”  

Chell ended her sentence by gesturing between the two of them, which GLaDOS only saw because her head had suddenly snapped up to attention halfway through the human’s speech. Eyes wide, she sputtered on her words for a moment before managing something resembling human speech, though she felt it came out far more like a squeak than anything else.

Really?!

She couldn’t hold the excitement back from her voice, the way her heart seemed to soar at the thought of another chance.  For a second, she could’ve sworn she saw similar excitement flash through Chell’s eyes, but it was gone so quickly that the core couldn’t be certain.

“I said maybe. I’m willing to live in the same space as you again; that’s all I’m going to promise. You will have to earn my trust, GLaDOS. I’m not giving it away again.”

GLaDOS breathed out something akin to ‘thank you’ before sinking to her knees, letting out a sound somewhere between a nervous laugh and a cry. Nothing that had just happened felt any more real than the dreams she had been having since Chell left. It felt just as impossible, and she was tempted to pinch herself in order to check.

Instead, Icarus provided that reality check for her. The pup bounded over and jumped up on her lap to give her face a few slobbery kisses before bounding back over to Chell, who had moved to sit back down by her fire.

The consequences of a dream didn’t matter. This, however, was real, and it was her last chance.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS knew things couldn’t go back to normal right away. Chell had told her as much, and the AI would be a fool to assume otherwise.

Even aside from the fact that Chell had been pointing a loaded firearm at her for an extended period of time, the human wasn’t exactly being cuddly.

The sun had nearly set, and GLaDOS knew they weren’t going anywhere now. They’d stay here, and in the morning, discuss what happened next. She also didn’t need to ask in order to know that she wasn’t sleeping in the tent tonight.

She watched as Chell went in without so much as a ‘good night,’ and, considering the fact that the former mute had taken her bag and her weapons in the tent with her, GLaDOS really didn’t want to know what would happen if she poked her head in.

So it was with mild frustration that she unloaded all the furs and blankets from her own bag and arranged them by the fire, trying to make the prospect of sleeping on the mostly-frozen ground with no cover over her head seem a little more appealing. It wouldn’t be warm , but at least she wouldn’t freeze.

Granted, the AI had also been banking on the idea that she’d at least have Icarus to help keep her warm, but the fuzzy little traitor had practically jumped into Chell’s tent and made himself comfortable.  GLaDOS knew she couldn’t really blame him, as the pup had really missed Chell in her absence. Almost as much as GLaDOS had.

Shaking her head and trying in vain to settle down for the night, GLaDOS curled up into a ball, only praying that the skies would remain clear and she wouldn’t wake up covered in an inch of snow.


It was a rough night of sleep, if you could even call it that. For the most part, GLaDOS spent her time twisting and turning, trying and completely failing to get comfortable.  When she did get into a position that was acceptable enough, she found that her mind still kept her awake. She couldn’t stop thinking about what had just happened, both over the course of the past week and just that evening.  

She felt emotionally exhausted, her heart aching with a soreness reminiscent of how her legs felt after a long day. The heart was a muscle, and GLaDOS could only assume that this was the sort of exercise it got. It was painful, and the core felt as if she had been pushed to the limit and past it, but… despite the exhaustion, there was a strange sense of euphoria to it as well. The exhilaration that the body felt after a good workout was, in a way, mimicked here.

GLaDOS’s heart hurt, but in a far better way than it had in the past week. It was a bittersweet ache that GLaDOS hoped would soon pass, leaving a stronger muscle in its place.

Unfortunately, this mental exhaustion didn’t translate to the rest of her body, which seemed more awake than it had ever been, despite the increasingly late hour.  She couldn’t help but replay the events of earlier in the evening, staring off into space as she watched it play out in her mind’s eye.

She could still see it all. The glint of the barrel of Chell’s rifle in the last bits of sunlight, the chill in her silvery eyes, offset by the sky behind her that seemed to be set ablaze with its dying shades of red and orange. GLaDOS could still feel time slow around her, still needed to remind herself to let out the breath she’d been holding in anticipation of something that thankfully never came.

GLaDOS could’ve died a few hours ago, but she hadn’t. And not only was she alive, but she had succeeded. Chell was coming back, and she had another chance.

It was that mixture of excitement and stomach turning what-ifs that kept the core awake- well, that and the inability to make mostly-frozen dirt comfortable- and so, after hours had passed, the core simply gave up her attempts at sleep. Instead, she settled for lying on her back and watching the sky, waiting for dawn.

It was almost beautiful to watch the stars fade away as the sun crept into the sky, the warm colors of the day pushing back the cool ones of night. Almost beautiful- GLaDOS probably would have found it more so if lack of rest hadn’t been straining her eyes and making her head hurt.

With a groan, she sat up, stretching sore muscles that had locked in uncomfortable positions overnight. The fire had long since gone out; she hadn’t done anything to try to keep it alive, nor was she going to bother relighting it now, as they’d be on the road again soon. Or at least, that was what she assumed.

The core hadn’t had the chance to ask Chell what they’d be doing the night before, and now that she thought about it, she had no idea what to expect. Surely they wouldn’t stay here; this place was hardly suitable for a camp. It was far too open, directly next to the road, and there was no water source in sight. The forest they had been in before was far from perfect, but it at least had enough to live by.

Well, she supposed she’d find out soon enough. The tent rustled, and for a moment, GLaDOS’s heart skipped a beat, wondering if Chell would act any warmer than the night before.  Unfortunately, only a cream-colored blur of fur left the tent, bounding out and over to GLaDOS’s side.

She wanted to be disappointed, but despite herself, she gave the pup a smile, running her hands through his fur.  He was a mangy mutt, but… he was the reason she was here.  She owed him that, at least.


Tossing Icarus his breakfast, she held on to her own, waiting for Chell to come out. She could only hope conversation would be easier over a meal.

When Chell did come out, GLaDOS sat up a little straighter, averting her eyes from the human so as not to look too eager.  She waited patiently, but felt her heart sink a little as she noticed out of the corner of her eye that Chell had ignored her and gone straight to putting away her tent.

Waiting a little less patiently now, GLaDOS resisted the urge to grumble under her breath. She had to remind herself why she came here, and what she had succeeded in doing. She had a second chance. Surely that meant that Chell still cared. She wouldn’t have offered to try this all again if she didn’t.

Yet… despite sharing a camp with Chell once again, GLaDOS felt distant. And that distance hurt.

Finally, Chell came over, intentionally sitting a few feet away from GLaDOS and keeping her body slightly turned away from the core.

Opening her mouth to protest, GLaDOS found the complaint died in her throat soon after. This wasn’t worth bickering over. She was just tired.

Starting to eat, she kept a watchful eye on Chell nearly the whole time, waiting to see if anything would change- if she would say something, change her body language, anything . The most GLaDOS got, however, was watching the former test subject ruffle Icarus’s fur when he came over to beg for her food.

While GLaDOS supposed she should be happy to see anything akin to softness in the human again, there was something like jealousy in her heart knowing it wasn’t aimed towards her.

It was almost astonishing, GLaDOS thought, how much she missed the little things. In the moments they had happened, she hadn’t even allowed herself to enjoy them, let alone wonder what it’d be like to have them taken away. But even the simple act of sitting side by side when eating a meal, and how Chell would often wrap an arm around her in the process... GLaDOS would pretend to be indifferent at first, but every time she’d end up with her head resting on the human’s shoulder.

The memory felt like a jab in the chest. GLaDOS swallowed the lump in her throat that it caused, almost like a piece of meat was lodged there. Suddenly, she wasn’t hungry.

She hastily wrapped the remains of her meal and put them back in her bag, looking over at Chell once more, hoping to catch her eye.

“...You can’t just ignore me.”

She finally spoke, after at least five minutes of what she swore was Chell intentionally turning away from her and avoiding her gaze at every turn.  This, at least, earned what looked like a heaving sigh on Chell’s part, as she, very briefly, turned to look at the core, as if to say ‘what?’ without having to open her mouth.

“We are going to be living together again, right? It’s probably important that I know where we’re headed next.”

Chell gave the smallest of shrugs, and GLaDOS just barely bit back the sarcastic comment that threatened to leave her lips.  But even setting aside her frustration, the AI was… worried. At least Chell had talked last night- now she was giving the AI the silent treatment. Again.

“You were going to Greenfield, right?”

A curt nod in response, but nothing else.

GLaDOS considered going straight to asking where they would be headed- back to camp, to the settlement, somewhere else- but her curiosity got the better of her.

“So… why?  Why are you here?  I left the camp yesterday morning, and I managed to get here before the sun set. You should be a week away by now!”

The question had been on her mind since the trip here, and nothing about Chell gave the answer away.  She wasn’t hurt, and definitely didn’t look sick. If anything, she looked like she could’ve been running to the settlement all week long.  

Chell didn’t respond. GLaDOS supposed she shouldn’t be surprised, but this was nothing . No written note, no gesture, not even a noncommittal grunt. The human simply stared out at the field, eyes narrowed.

“All right, fine. Be like that. But you do have to at least make some kind of indication of where you plan to go, because I’m coming with you, and I’d like to know where I’m going. I’m not exactly a fan of aimless wandering.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, deciding that she wouldn’t be satisfied until she got a real, proper answer out of the human.

“...Depends.”

The first thing out of Chell’s mouth that morning surprised GLaDOS, and she took a moment to mull the words over in her head before frowning.

“Depends on what? The settlement is in the same place it was last time we were there, and our camp in the woods is in the same place you left it in.  I… didn’t take down the shelter.”

 

GLaDOS’s tone softened. She wouldn’t admit it, but she’d much rather return to the woods.  Sure, she would still prefer to be living in an actual building- ideally, Aperture- but at the very least, the woods were quiet, away from humans.  The settlement, while it had its perks, was swarming with people.  GLaDOS didn’t mind a visit when it was needed, but the thought of staying there longterm made her stomach twist.

“...Then we’ll go back there. It’s only a day’s travel.”

Chell spoke with a sort of resigned sigh in her tone, and GLaDOS couldn’t help but wonder if that was due to the subject at hand, or something else on her mind. Even as Chell got up and did a quick sweep of the area to make sure she hadn’t left anything, she seemed distracted, deep in thought about… something. The core wanted to ask, but she knew she wasn’t going to get an answer.

And so she simply huffed, gathering her supplies and calling Icarus to her side before they set off back for home.

The trip back was uneventful, and uncomfortably quiet.  No small talk was shared, and the moment they came back, Chell busied herself with setting the tent back up. By the time night fell, the camp almost looked the same as it had before Chell left. But the air that hung around was different, vastly so. It was tense and heavy, like a cold, wet blanket hanging over them at all times, suffocating conversation and leaving them both uncomfortable.

GLaDOS had thought, or at least hoped, that this would change quickly. That Chell only needed a day or so to adjust to this again, and then she’d start lightening up. Unfortunately, half a week went by, and hardly anything changed. Every time GLaDOS tried to start up small talk, Chell seemed to find something else to do in order to avoid her.  The core couldn’t lie; she had many a frustrated comment that she had just barely bitten back in response.  It didn’t seem fair. Chell had given her this second chance, but how was GLaDOS supposed to do anything with it if the former test subject wouldn’t even look at her?

But that wasn’t the only problem.  Even putting Chell’s behavior aside, there was something else making the AI tense, something that had been bothering her from the moment she decided to  bring Chell back.

Why ?

She knew why she’d done it. She chased Chell down and asked for forgiveness because she cared for the woman, on a personal and… romantic basis. GLaDOS knew that, and had come to terms with it. That wasn’t the question. She needed to know how this had started in the first place. Why her brain had let this happen, exactly when it happened, and what had sparked it.

Caring for humans- caring for anything other than their designed purpose- wasn’t something that an AI was supposed to do. It just wasn’t normal. GLaDOS knew that she wasn’t just any robot; she was the best there had ever been.  But even so, she was a robot. That was how she was brought into the world, and how she lived her life.

So what happened? What glitch in her system had caused all this?

If the core knew, she would feel a lot better. She mulled it over again and again, but no matter how hard she searched, the answer seemed to dance out of reach.  The uncertainty was killing her; the thought of not being able to understand herself was infuriating. But, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t force the answer to come to her. It was something that would require further exploration and patience.

And, while it was only a hunch, GLaDOS had the feeling that mending her relationship with Chell would help with that process. That was easier said than done, but GLaDOS was not one to step down from a challenge.

After the first week passed with little improvement, the core came up with a plan. Chell was ignoring her by finding excuses to do every single little chore around the camp, from actually important things like hunting or gathering firewood to insultingly small ones like organizing the furs inside the tent by the animals they came from. No matter what it was, Chell seemed to find something to do to keep herself busy.

So GLaDOS decided to get to them first.

She woke up early and created a checklist of things to do, trying to think of every single task, no matter how insignificant. Then, she got to work: cleaning the dishes, folding the clothes, clearing out the fire pit, washing Icarus, refilling their water supply, and making sure they had enough food.

By the time Chell was awake- or at least, by the time she left the tent, as GLaDOS had a feeling that she may have lingered inside a little bit longer than necessary- GLaDOS was sitting by a newly made fire, drying Icarus off with a proud smile on her face. She had already learned that humans appreciated actions, so this was killing two birds with one stone. Not only was she making it so that Chell couldn’t ignore her under the pretense of being ‘busy,’ she was doing something nice for the human in the process. Surely that would help things.

She intentionally caught Chell’s eye, watching as the human looked around the camp.  GLaDOS could only hope the woman was observing her work in grateful awe, and not the admittedly more likely option of looking around in mild desperation to find something that GLaDOS had missed.

Finally, Chell seemed to give up trying to find something else to do, and looked at GLaDOS properly, for once holding her gaze for longer than two seconds. GLaDOS searched her silver eyes for something, anything.  The former test subject was walled off again, but there was a hint of hesitance in her face. Something almost… longing in her expression as she looked at GLaDOS. It was almost sorrowful, traced with regret- but in a moment, it was gone. Chell had turned away once more, calling Icarus to her side to take him out for a walk through the woods, only murmuring a quick, almost inaudible ‘thank you’ as she passed the core.

GLaDOS’s heart sank. She watched Chell’s form slip back into the surrounding trees and her chest ached. She had hoped, perhaps foolishly, that this would fix things, that a few good deeds would back her words up, prove to Chell that what she said was true, and that would be enough for the woman… for things to go back to how they were.

Blinking back the uncomfortable stinging in the corners of her eyes, she swallowed the lump in her throat and made her way back to the tent.

She had never been the most patient creature, but at least in the past, she’d had the advantage of living forever. Now? Waiting for anything suddenly became a lot harder.

That being said, GLaDOS knew she had to enjoy these small victories. As much as she wanted one grand moment of her finally fixing things, that wasn’t coming. Chell seemed to be taking things slow and steady, practically at a snail’s pace.

It took about a week and a half before the human reluctantly agreed to share the tent with GLaDOS again. Of course, if the core was expecting to wake up in the former test subject’s arms, she would be sorely disappointed. Chell placed their bags in between them as a sort of wall to make sure there would be no accidental contact. GLaDOS wasn’t happy about it, but it was progress.

It was two weeks in before they had an actual conversation. GLaDOS had tried to spark one before that, but only ever got one-word responses at best, or vague gestures at worst. So, when GLaDOS made an offhand comment about the weather, she wasn’t expecting Chell to sit down at the firepit with her and respond properly.

“Spring is nearly here. I think you’ll like it.”

GLaDOS blinked, momentarily stunned.  She stared at Chell from across the fire, watching as the woman glanced around the forest before turning her attention to the flames, only briefly meeting eyes with the AI. Her expression was… softer than it had been for some time now.  GLaDOS did not see the same, unbridled tenderness that had been present before, but Chell spoke of spring with a fondness that opened her up- at least a little.

“I… I’m sure I will.  Anything would be better than waking up half-frozen everyday.”

Chell offered a small smile, barely a flash across her face.

“I’m sure we’ll see some flowers soon.”

With that, Chell stood back up and made her way towards the tent. It had been a short conversation, inconsequential, yet GLaDOS felt her heart skip a beat with a trace of hope and a flutter of affection. The ice of winter was melting, and she could only hope that the same was true for the ice that covered Chell.


Their next proper conversation wasn’t quite as inconsequential.

Another week had passed, and things had gotten… better.  As the weather got warmer and spring nipped at their heels, Chell had become downright civil. Of course, civil was the term that GLaDOS would use, not friendly .

Chell would eat dinner with her and engage in small talk if GLaDOS started it. Her body language untensed a little, and GLaDOS actually felt the human’s gaze on her when she wasn’t looking, which was a vast improvement from the former test subject pretending not to see her.

But that didn’t change the fact that things weren’t the same. They weren’t even close, and GLaDOS was fed up. She had been trying and trying, doing her best to do something that would prove to Chell that she understood what she did wrong, and was ready to prove her trustworthiness. Yet… nothing she did worked.

Finally, she snapped, and asked the question directly over a formerly quiet dinner- that GLaDOS had made herself, mind you.

“What do I need to do?”

Her question must’ve caught Chell off guard, as the human stopped mid-chew, raising an eyebrow to look at GLaDOS quizzically.  

“You said that you would give me a second chance, and you did; you’re here. But what will it take for things to go back to the way they were? I’ve been trying, and I…” She paused, finding the words she wanted to say were difficult to get out of her throat.  Despite admitting to herself that she enjoyed Chell’s affection, the concept was still one that she struggled to accept as normal.  “I… miss you.”

Chell swallowed, and she took a sharp inhale, her eyebrows knitting together and her eyes looking downward. GLaDOS watched her face for its shifts, knowing her expression was likely to give away far more than her words would, even if both were comparatively small.

 

There was a hollow sort of pain in Chell’s eyes, a shadow of the intensity that GLaDOS had seen before. The hurt on her face was not one of stabbing pain or dawning horror, but an almost calm, quieter one. Chell looked tired . Conflicted, almost, but above all else, she looked exhausted.

Slowly exhaling, Chell tilted her head upwards, staring at the sky in silence for what felt like an eternity. GLaDOS momentarily considered reminding her that the stars held no answers, and if, for some reason, she thought she saw the little moron speckled amongst the night sky, that she ought to keep it to herself, as GLaDOS didn’t want to ever waste any more brainpower on talking about him.

But she kept quiet, for no other reason but the fact that Chell was almost mesmerizing like this. With it being warm enough to go without, they hadn’t made a fire tonight, thus leaving Chell bathed in cool moonlight instead of the flickering warmth of flames. The stars seemed to reflect in her eyes, like silver pools with tiny bursts of life.

GLaDOS only became aware of how absolutely ridiculous and nonsensical these thoughts were once Chell looked back at her and broke the spell.

“...I don’t know.”

GLaDOS wasn’t sure if she was angry, disappointed, or stunned. She sputtered wordlessly for a moment, a variety of words- many of them quite colorful- all coming to mind in her moment of frustration.  But Chell spoke again, and despite her tone being quiet and slow, it was more than enough to silence the flash of annoyance in the core.

“Maybe it’s not fair. But if I knew what you could do to make this better; I would tell you.”

 

GLaDOS’s anger had momentarily melted back, but it was replaced with an almost childish desperation. She knew what she wanted: to fix what she had broken. But she’d been jumping through imaginary hoops, stumbling without direction, just hoping to figure out what it was that Chell needed her to do, only to find out that Chell didn't even know.

 

“Well, what am I supposed to do?!”

 

She threw her hands up, resisting the urge to simply storm off.

 

Chell shook her head, her face reflecting a frustration similar to GLaDOS's own. For a second, the AI could feel a sort of longing coming off Chell in waves. And, in a moment of brilliance that she chastised herself for not having sooner, GLaDOS understood Chell’s side to all this. She wanted this to work out. She was hopeful that GLaDOS would do something that she deemed ‘enough,’ so that she could open herself up once more.

 

But neither of them fully understood what that was.

 

“I… I'll know it when I see it.” Chell finally spoke, the vulnerability in her expression replaced by her walls once again. “I need to be able to trust you, to know that you actually understand. I think we'll both know when you reach that point.”

 

GLaDOS didn't respond, struggling to hold back the urge to cry that this was unfair. How could she work towards something that may never even happen? Running a hand through her hair and gripping it at the roots, she fixed her eyes shut, letting out a shaky breath. She almost wanted to just give up.  How was this any easier than being alone? Just as painful as wallowing in her own self-pity was dragging herself along on a path that could lead to nowhere, seeing what she desired just out of reach.

Still, even this thought brought her right back to where she started. She couldn’t just ignore these feelings, and she knew she couldn’t move on without understanding why she had them in the first place. So long as that remained a mystery, they’d forever be stuck like this, in emotional limbo, unable to hate, but incapable of anything closer than the longing of affection.

So even as she got up and reluctantly shuffled back to the tent, knowing that sleep would evade her, GLaDOS found herself slipping further and further into the rabbit hole that was her seemingly fruitless hunt for understanding.

As hours passed, she stared up at the tent, not really seeing, her eyes long since having unfocused as she watched her own thoughts go by. Even when she succumbed to sleep, it was brief and restless, filled with a mixture of confusing memories and uncertainty. The more she replayed the events of the past few months in her head, the fuzzier it all became. The answer was on the tip of her tongue, but the more she reached out for it, the further away it became.

Before she knew it, the night had come and gone. While she’d been dozing off and waking up periodically, dawn had come, and Chell had already gotten up and left the tent.

GLaDOS sat up, letting out a frustrated hiss and rubbing the sides of her head, as if that would make the answer jump out for her. She had no other plans for today, no responsibilities, so today was looking more and more like a day to be spent inside, mulling over her thoughts in silence. Chell was likely going to be training with Icarus, so the pup wouldn’t be bothering her, either.

However, no more than fifteen minutes later, when the core had barely started to scratch the surface of combing over her memories, she was interrupted.

By a loud, inhuman screech, and a high-pitched yelp of pain.

Chapter Text

GLaDOS was on her feet and outside the tent in a matter of seconds, throwing aside the tarp that acted as a door to the shelter, uncertain of what she’d see on the other side.

The sight that greeted her took her brain a moment to process, as the world seemed to blur around her with everything happening at once.

In the middle of the clearing was a flurry of dirt, fur and feathers. At the center of it all was a bird- no, GLaDOS wasn’t even certain if she could call it that. A monster seemed more accurate, based on its appearance.

With a wingspan far larger than any bird GLaDOS had on record- almost twenty feet if she had to guess- the beast was a horrific sight. Horribly mutated, it was missing feathers everywhere, leaving patches of skin so scaly that they made it look reptilian. The feathers it still had were dirty, coated in dried blood and dirt. Its head was as big as a human’s, if not bigger, with a huge, hooked beak that looked like it could crack a skull like a walnut. It had two, beady red eyes on the sides of its face, but to GLaDOS’s surprise and disgust, it had another on its forehead, though it was cloudy and unmoving, staring blankly at the sky.

Her eyes traveled downwards towards the thing’s legs, which were long and powerful-looking, with four talons on the end of each foot. Talons that looked the length and sharpness of a dagger, talons that had gripped themselves into creamy white fur.

It had Icarus.

The wolf-dog yelped and squirmed, but couldn’t shake the massive creature.  The bird had dug its grip into Icarus’s shoulders, sinking its claws in and causing a steady flow of blood to soak the pup’s fur and drop onto the muddy ground below.

Seconds seemed to pass in slow motion, as GLaDOS turned to see Chell. The human watched this with a mixture of horror and fury. The core could see Chell’s mind working, analyzing the situation at hand in the heartbeats she had to make a decision.

Her rifle was with her bag on the other side of the camp. The bird was already beating its massive wings, ready to take off. Getting the gun would take too long.

And so? Chell punched it.

GLaDOS could only watch in disbelief as she saw Chell throw herself at the bird full-force, aiming a blow at what looked like an old injury on the bird’s side- a partially healed scab that was covered in clots of dark, oozing blood and what looked suspiciously like maggots- and causing the creature to let out another deafening screech. It released part of its grip on Icarus, using the freed talons to swipe at Chell, which the former test subject only barely dodged. Another blow was thrown at the beast, and Icarus was loose enough to struggle out of of the creature’s hold, falling the short distance to the ground and landing with a thud and a weak yelp of pain.

However, without Icarus in its grasp, the bird turned its full focus to Chell.  It beat its massive wings against Chell, causing the human to stagger and fall back at the impact. Using this moment to gain some distance, the bird took back into the air, but it didn’t go far. It gained some height, watching as Chell scrambled to her feet. Chell made a run for her rifle just as the bird swooped, claws outstretched, ready to grab Chell while her back was turned.

GLaDOS knew this whole scuffle had hardly taken a minute to go down, but it was in these precious seconds that the magnitude of the situation struck her.  That thing was big and hungry enough to kill a person, and it wanted Chell as its lunch.

Feeling like a fire had erupted in her chest, GLaDOS moved forward. Her feet hardly seemed to touch the ground as she raced against the clock to get there first.  She could see the glint of fresh blood on the bird’s talons, mere inches away from slicing into the flesh of Chell’s back like an Aperture Science thermal discouragement beam cut through… well, flesh.

As GLaDOS got closer and closer, a voice in the back of her head questioned what she was doing. It was quiet, easily ignored, almost as if it was talking to itself and not to her. It questioned if perhaps she ought to have more of a mental debate going on, to actually think about what she was doing in the milliseconds before she did it. An AI like GLaDOS was very good at that; thousands of thoughts running through her mind at all times, going over every possible scenario, choosing the option with the best possible outcome.

Yet now, only one thought went through the core’s head. It echoed in her mind, sang in her veins, and thundered in her chest, playing on her heart like the beat of a drum. It was a familiar song, one that GLaDOS had heard before. The words came to her naturally, forming into a single thought.

I WILL NOT LET HER DIE.

She took one final step, pushing herself off the ground and leaping at the bird as its claws grazed the fabric of Chell’s clothes, and just as she was a few feet away from her rifle. She did not ball her hands into fists to land a blow; she knew that unless she got lucky and found a pre-existing injury to hit like Chell had, her punches would be little more than an annoyance to the massive creature. However, her full weight would definitely be a hindrance to this thing.

So, despite her less-than-fond memories of being this close to anything with feathers, she jumped, and grabbed on.

The force of her body colliding with the bird managed to knock it somewhat off track, as it beat its wings even harder than before, struggling to stay airborne with GLaDOS gripping onto its back with all her might, flinching as the rippling muscles made it harder and harder to hold on.

Taking a risk, she released the feathers with one hand, barely able to see what she was doing as she fumbled around before wrapping her arm around the beast’s neck to allow herself a more sturdy hold. Her other arm quickly followed, and she pulled sharply back with all the force she had, forcing the bird’s head to pull back, keeping it from getting too close to Chell and giving the human the time she needed to get her rifle. In response, it whipped around to try to face GLaDOS, twisting its neck and thrashing around, snapping its beak within inches of the AI’s face as she struggled to hold on and dodge at the same time.

“SHOOT IT!” She couldn’t see Chell anymore, her view obstructed by the creature’s wings and back as she tried to keep her head out of reach. Still, she called out to the former test subject, inwardly pleading that the human would hurry up.

The bird screeched furiously at GLaDOS’s continued avoidance of its attacks, starting to move more and more irregularly, trying to shake her off. It slowly started to gain height, despite the added weight of GLaDOS on its back.

GLaDOS felt a sickening pit in her stomach as she momentarily craned her head back to look at the ground, noticing that she was a good fifteen feet up now. This was all too familiar, and she felt panic rising in her chest as she considered the possibility of this thing just turning tail with her still on its back. She’d either fall off mid-flight or get carried back to this thing’s nest- and this time, it wouldn’t be like getting pecked by a crow.

She didn’t think she had ever been so thankful to hear a gunshot. Blood splattered against her, as Chell had nailed the beast in one of its wings, causing it to let out another bloodcurdling cry as it fell back. Chell had just enough time to reload and fire again, hitting the other wing and sending both the bird and GLaDOS to the ground with a thump that seemed to shake the earth.

Move!”

Chell shouted only one word, her voice cracking a little at suddenly being raised after not being used much in the past weeks.  One word was all GLaDOS needed, though, as she just barely pushed herself away from the bird as it got back on its feet, wounded but far from dead.  She didn’t want to be still holding onto this thing when there was a possibility that Chell could accidentally hit her.

The wind had been knocked out of her chest by the fall, and everything in her body ached. However, she managed to crawl and get herself far enough away to let Chell start shooting.

The bird had pulled itself up by the time Chell had lined up a shot that hit it in the torso, and it started trying to flap its damaged wings in an attempt to retreat when Chell shot again, this time hitting a vital organ and crushing the creature’s hopes of escape.  It fell to the ground, still heaving and thrashing in a struggle to hold onto life, but its efforts didn’t last much longer, as Chell took the chance to get close and slammed the butt of her rifle down on its neck, causing it to let out one last pitiful-sounding squawk before it went limp.

GLaDOS took this chance to let out the breath she had been holding, and to give up her attempts to hold herself up, flopping onto the ground.

She did it- no, they did it. That thing was dead, and neither of them were.  

Though GLaDOS couldn’t exactly say she felt good. Every part of her seemed to hurt, even if she didn’t think it possible for her bones to ache. Still, she was vaguely aware that none of the pain was sharp, and after vaguely twitching her arms and legs and finding that she could still move them, she deduced that nothing was broken.  If that bird’s disgusting, smelly body was good for anything, it was breaking a fall.

She had closed her eyes once she saw the bird stop moving, finding that somehow even her eyes hurt. She just wanted to take a nap for a few minutes, or maybe a few days.  However, thundering footsteps caught her attention, and she forced her head up to look at Chell.

The human bounded to her side, knelt down, and carefully ran her hands along GLaDOS’s shoulders, arms and ribs, moving without needing to think, gently pressing to see if the core was hurt.

Her face was twisted with a deep concern that GLaDOS hadn’t seen in some time. Despite the aching pain that coursed through her body, she found herself relishing the look in Chell’s eyes. It was gentle, soft, even, despite the intensity of the situation they were just in. It bordered on affectionate, and that thought alone made the core’s heart soar.

However, the moment was broken as both of them, seemingly at the same time, remembered the bundle of fur a few feet away, still lying on the cold dirt.  

Chell shot GLaDOS a reaffirming glance, to confirm that the AI was fine and she could leave to check on Icarus. GLaDOS gave something akin to a nod, partially wishing she could get up to join her, but finding that the slightly muddy ground was somehow more comfortable, and even attempting to stand made her head spin.

Thankfully, Chell seemed to take this into account, as she heaved Icarus into her arms- it wasn’t quite so easy now as it was when they first got him as a tiny puppy- and brought him over to where GLaDOS was lying.

A large amount of his fur was wet with blood, and even from a distance, GLaDOS could see the gashes on his shoulders. For a moment, her heart seemed to stop, as she found herself genuinely worried that the dog might’ve been… dead.

However, Chell’s expression told her otherwise. The human was carrying him, and while she still looked worried, her face was not one that was burdened with tragedy. He was dazed and hurt, but still breathing.

Chell carefully placed him next to GLaDOS before jogging over to grab her bag and bringing it over, already pulling out any medical supplies they had and laying them out: bandages, water, a bit of soap, a rag to clean the cuts with, and her needle and thread to stitch the wounds.

“Can… Can you sit up? I need you to make sure he doesn’t move.”

Chell’s voice seemed hesitant, like she was reluctant to ask GLaDOS for help. And while admittedly, the AI considered refusing- moving sounded like the last thing she wanted to do- she took one look at the wounded pup’s face, and a stab of guilt wedged its way into her heart, forcing her upwards with a grunt as she balanced making sure that Icarus was held down- though it wasn’t like he was moving much in the first place- and making sure she didn’t fall over.

Thankfully Chell worked quick, cleaning and fixing up Icarus with swift, practiced movements.  The pup squirmed a little at the sting, but, like GLaDOS, he seemed too out of it to struggle much, so he wasn’t hard to keep in place.

As soon as Chell was done, GLaDOS flopped onto her back with a groan, wincing as sore muscles came in contact with the hard ground and squeezing her eyes shut. For once, she wished most of the snow hadn’t melted, as she’d give anything to have something cold to put on her head, which felt like someone had hit it full-force with a hammer.

She heard Chell putting her supplies away and picking Icarus up, no doubt moving him into the tent so that he could rest in comfort, and with mild disappointment, the core remembered that she’d likely have to get up and move along on her own.  

In the moment, she had almost… forgotten about the tension between herself and Chell. All of that seemed to melt away for what was only a few short minutes, but felt like an eternity. Working together, fighting together- it was something that she hadn’t expected to feel so familiar. So easy to slip into, to fall in sync.

Maybe that was what made it sting so much to be hit with the realization that one scrap with a mutant bird wouldn’t erase the deep emotional wounds in their relationship.

With a sigh that she forced through clenched teeth, the AI convinced herself that she’d get up in a minute. Just… a couple moments, and she’d force herself to stand up walk over to the tent.  That wouldn’t be that hard, she just had to… do it.

She was somewhere between mentally giving herself a pep talk and actually getting up, when she felt herself suddenly lifted off the ground.  Her eyes snapped open, panic shooting through her for a heartbeat as she wondered how likely it was that the bird was somehow still alive and back for more.

Thankfully, she wasn’t being held in razor-sharp talons- she was being carried by sturdy, human arms.

GLaDOS blinked in surprise, looking up at Chell as the human carried her to the tent as well, keeping her gaze fixed forward and not looking at the AI.  But… still.  GLaDOS had to remind herself to snap out of the surprised stupor she had fallen into long enough to enjoy the moment, soaking in the precious seconds before Chell placed her down on the blankets. They had been compiled together to make a cozy little nest of sorts, and GLaDOS sunk into them almost instantly. She doubted she’d be able to fall asleep, but her body needed to just… not move for a while.

Chell stood in the entrance of the tent for a moment, seeming almost awkward as she looked between GLaDOS, and Icarus, who was curled up near her feet.

“...Just… say something if you need me. Or if he does.”

She spoke stiffly, seeming eager to get outside, as she was halfway out of the tent as she finished her sentence. GLaDOS could never say anything about the former test subject’s thought process with complete certainty, but if she had to make an educated guess, she would reckon that Chell had experienced the same feeling as the core did: a moment of nostalgia for how things had been. Feeling how smoothly they had been able to interact only made it ten times more jarring when reality settled back in.

GLaDOS missed that feeling, and she liked to think that Chell did too.

Although that was not the only feeling that GLaDOS found herself dwelling on, nor was the feeling of her whole body aching like she had been hit by a train. The more she thought about what just happened, the more she noticed an odd, nagging feeling that lingered, still fresh in her mind.

She had thrown herself at a giant mutant bird of all things, and all based on a feeling, a feeling that was so damn familiar that it was driving the core insane.

Her first thought was the journey to Greenfield, helping Chell defeat the reptile that had ambushed them. That same emotion had flashed through her as she acted then, getting the beast’s attention long enough to get it away from Chell, even though she was putting herself in danger.

The need to protect, even risk one’s life for, another being- that was human, was it not? A robot would calculate the most beneficial outcome to any given scenario, likely the one that kept itself from harm, unless it was programmed otherwise. Humans were emotional. They didn’t think enough before they acted, and it got them into trouble.

So was that the cause of all this? This human body?  GLaDOS looked down at herself, raising her hand and flexing her fingers, looking at them as if it were the first time that she had ever seen them.

She had been quick to blame this body for almost all her problems since the moment she set foot onto the surface. For feeling anything at all. Was there really some truth to her words? These feelings she had developed, the desire for affection, to protect, to be emotionally close... Could she really just trace it back to the moment she was transferred into this body?

That was so… easy.  GLaDOS blinked, surprised at herself.  She ought to have been celebrating. If these feelings had started when she was in this body, and they were behaviors that humans exhibited, then they were the fault of this body. It was a clear, simple answer, just what GLaDOS liked.  Ambiguity, partially answered questions, uncertainty, none of those had any place in science, nor any place in GLaDOS’s reasoning.

It was the answer she wanted... so why did it feel so hollow?  

Because it wasn’t right.

GLaDOS didn’t even begin to try to ignore the voice in her head at this point. It was her own voice, after all, and right now she was just… tired. She didn’t have the energy to fight herself in her own mind.  She knew the voice was right. The answer she wanted to want wasn’t correct. It was the comfortable option, one that was always waiting for her if she needed to take ten steps backwards.  But it would never be satisfying.

So, it was with a sigh that GLaDOS forced herself to do something that she wasn’t overly fond of: looking inward. Look at herself and her feelings, proper. She needed to know what all this meant. She needed to place how these feelings came to be, so she might have some closure.


What she had felt today, and what she had felt months prior- they were at the base of all this, were they not? Something so stark, something that stood out as much as the desire to save someone else, even when it may bring no personal gain. Something like that must still hold significance.

It stood for something. Something human. GLaDOS wasn’t that something.She wasn’t human. That wasn’t how she was created, how she lived her life, or even how she was placed into this new body. She had not been born, nor raised from any sort of infancy. She came into the world as she was, with her knowledge already far more vast than any humans’. Even in this human body, she only existed because of a chip in its brain that allowed a transfer. No matter what body she existed in, or what Chell or anyone else wanted to believe, GLaDOS just wasn’t human.

The core wasn’t being stubborn anymore. She was being truthful. This body allowed her to look, act, and maybe even feel human. But it was all fake. None of this would’ve happened if not for her foolish mistake. She wouldn’t have had to feel any of this, if not for what had happened after she clicked on that file. She wouldn’t have had to feel like this-


GLaDOS’s mind came to a screeching halt. The answer that had danced out of her reach, the one that had been on the tip of her tongue for so long now, had hit her full force. And it wasn’t even an answer. It was a memory.


The smell of burning metal and flesh, vision clouded with a mixture of neurotoxin and smoke. A portal in the center of the room; the gleam of moonlight.

A rush, air whipping by as things were pulled closer, like a black hole that swallowed whatever it could. Bits of debris, a corrupt core or two... and her.

The neverending expanse of space pulling her in, as her eyes were wide with a fear that GLaDOS was surprised by. A feeling inside of her that was new and strange.  A feeling that grew stronger and stronger, as it prompted her to reach out and grab the test subject. A dangerous mute, who never seemed so small and helpless as she did in the moments that GLaDOS pulled her back and laid her body safely on the ground.


This feeling that GLaDOS had buried the memory of, hiding underneath ‘deleted’ ghosts and shifted blame… a feeling that she had been so quick to dismiss as not her own that she couldn’t even recognize it when it struck again.

The rush of emotion that surged through her; the need to save a life. Her life.


GLaDOS knew what she needed to do.  She sat up, despite every bone in her body protesting the movement. On shaky feet, barely able to stand, she pushed her way out of the tent.

She had an answer for herself, but she knew that answer needed to be heard by someone else. No matter what happened afterwards, Chell needed to hear this.

Chapter Text

Standing up and moving around wasn’t quite as easy as GLaDOS had hoped, as she found when she walked on unsteady legs out of the shelter and into the clearing. Her whole body was sore, yet somehow, even with the fact that she had been lying down and resting, it felt even worse now than it had directly after the encounter. The adrenaline had worn off, leaving her with nothing but painful aches and the promise of a whole set of fun bruises to look forward to the next morning.  

She supposed she was lucky that she didn’t break anything or give herself a concussion, but it was difficult to consider herself ‘lucky’ when she felt like she had been run over.

To her surprise, she had been in the tent for longer than she’d realized.  Having gotten so lost in her thoughts, so caught up in finally placing her finger on something she had been struggling with for so long, she hadn’t noticed that hours had gone by until she finally poked her head outside.

It was late afternoon now, with the sun high in the sky and barely a cloud in sight.  If there had been any snow left over on the forest floor, it was definitely melted now.  GLaDOS didn’t see herself taking her jacket off and pulling Caroline’s old dress on anytime soon, but at least it wasn’t unpleasant to be outside anymore.

Turning her gaze away from the sky and back to the rest of the camp, she noticed that Chell had been busy these past few hours.  The massive bird’s carcass had been moved and butchered. Bones, feathers, and any rotten or unsafe bits of meat had been placed into a pile to dispose of, and everything that had been deemed useful had been cut, cleaned, set aside, and salted as what GLaDOS could only assume were emergency rations.  Somehow, she got the feeling that bird wasn’t going to taste very good, and that only in the most dire of circumstances would they want to eat it. But then again, why let free food go to waste?

Chell was in the middle of it all, sitting by the firepit and washing the blood off her hands and forearms. She looked exhausted, with sweat gleaming off any visible skin, and stray bits of hair sticking to her face. GLaDOS supposed she couldn’t blame her. Cutting that beast to bits likely hadn’t been the easiest task, and she had done it relatively quickly, considering. In the back of her mind, GLaDOS made a mental note to praise the woman for her efforts later on, as the core was not only thankful that she wouldn’t have to do it, but also relieved that the beast wouldn’t just be sitting there in the clearing. Dead or not, it still unnerved her more than she wanted to admit.

But that was a conversation for later. Right now, her mind was buzzing with such a swarm of thoughts that it felt like an angry hornets’ nest- a comparison she could only make as a result of a particularly inventive test she had come up with back in her earlier days that involved five test subjects, a room without a door, and an aggressively shaken Asian giant hornet nest.


The core only made it a few steps forward before Chell noticed her presence. Admittedly, GLaDOS wasn’t making much of an effort to be quiet, but even if she had been, she knew better than to sneak up on Chell. It was unlikely that she’d ever succeed, and she didn’t want to know what would happen if she did.  The former test subject quickly got to her feet, tossing aside the now bloodied rag that she had been using and shooting GLaDOS a look of concern, confusion, and slight exasperation. It wasn’t hard to translate into ‘you shouldn’t be out here; you should be resting.’

GLaDOS disregarded that look completely, walking over and ignoring the ache that shot through her with each step. This couldn’t wait. Not after GLaDOS had waited and searched for this answer for so long.

Chell didn’t sit back down, instead waiting for GLaDOS to come over with arms crossed and eyebrows furrowed. Even when the AI stopped in front of her, the human didn’t sit. It was as if she thought GLaDOS would fall over at any moment. How ridiculous. GLaDOS was sore, but her legs still worked fine.

The core stood only a few feet away from Chell, and being so close allowed the nature of the situation to catch up to her, and she felt her heart start to beat a little faster. Whatever the outcome, she wanted Chell to hear this.  But that didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking to imagine what her reaction would be.

GLaDOS’s mouth went dry. What if Chell thought she was lying? What if she took more insult to what she said than to GLaDOS just keeping quiet?

Thousands of ‘what ifs’ popped up in her head, and she struggled to chase each one off. There was no way for her to know for certain; she just had to do it.

“I’ve been thinking lately. A lot, actually. I’m good at that.”  A hint of sarcasm edged her words, and the moment they left her lips, the core checked Chell’s expression, curious to see if the slightly humorous tone had opened the woman up at all.  

It… didn’t seem to change anything. Chell was not glowering at her, but she wasn’t exactly beaming, either. Her expression was thoughtful, and leagues more open than it had been when they first met back up, but it was still mostly neutral. She was waiting for the situation to unfold before she made up her mind on whether to show her feelings.

GLaDOS could work with that if she had to.

“There’s been… a lot to think about. Ever since I came to the surface. I’ve had a lot of questions, and not always a lot of answers. And as much as I don’t like saying this, I… can admit that I might’ve been purposefully avoiding certain topics, important things that I fear I could’ve figured out sooner- prevented a lot of grief on both of our parts- if I had been strong enough to look for it. I’m... sorry for that.”

Her gaze had long since been cast downwards, as the more words that came tumbling from her lips, the more she feared watching Chell’s expression. The core was spilling her heart out to the human, and in this moment, there was little she feared as much as Chell’s dismissal.

“Ever since we met up on the surface, I started… feeling things. Emotions that confused me, things that felt so foreign and sudden that I didn’t know where they came from. Making… what I think to be a reasonable leap in logic, I blamed them on this body. That was easy; it made sense. But after you left I knew that it wasn’t right.”

For a second, GLaDOS looked up, seeing out of the corner of her eye that Chell’s body language had shifted, arms uncrossing and her stance relaxing a little. Her expression was… hopeful. Her eyebrows had raised, and though she pressed her lips together and seemed to refuse to either smile or frown, GLaDOS knew that there was something there.

“I’m in a human body- a lab-grown clone of a woman who’s been dead for hundreds of years, but human enough. What I was- what I’m still feeling, is human. No AI experiences something like this, a feeling so frivolous, yet… intense. Exciting, but heavy. It filled my thoughts like nothing else before it, and I couldn’t focus on anything as well as I used to. An AI focuses on whatever it needs to focus on. So why was it that I couldn’t? Well, putting it frankly, it’s all your fault, and it always has been.”  

GLaDOS paused for a beat, a smile pulling at her lips for just a moment at how appropriate it was. Chell had been the first domino to fall in a lot of GLaDOS’s personal discoveries, whether or not they involved being put into a potato. Shaking her head to get herself back on track, she continued on in a more appropriately serious tone, still keeping her gaze directed towards the forest floor. The nervousness that tugged at her heart before was still present, but it ebbed the more she talked, as she found herself completely immersed and allowed that to override her fear.

“You… you called me human, a few weeks ago.” GLaDOS was instantly sobered as she recalled the memory, trying not to wince. That argument was still fresh in her mind, and she didn’t know what she hated about it more- rethinking her own words, or recalling the look on Chell’s face. “And I hated the thought of it. I don’t know if I could ever express to you how wrong that sounded to my ear. My mind rejected it, and I was unable to even consider it. But I’ve done some thinking, and… You were wrong.”

GLaDOS forced her head upwards, looking Chell dead in the eye as she said the last three words.  She just barely caught the shift in the woman, as the former mute began to tense back up, seeming only seconds away from preparing for another argument before GLaDOS cut her off.

I was wrong, too. When I said I was just an AI, that I couldn’t feel anything, I was wrong. The feelings that define humans, that set them apart from robots- I’ve felt them before I took my first step up here. Back when I was still in my chassis, when I saved your life. In that moment, I needed to keep you safe more than anything else in my world.”  

GLaDOS’s heart was pounding so loud she wondered how it hadn’t drowned out the sound of her words. She wasn’t nervous, not anymore. If anything, she felt excited. Excited to finally label and say aloud what had been plaguing her for so long.

“That’s why I wasn’t lying when I said I felt a rush of emotion, though I was wrong to blame it on Caroline. I cared for you back then; I just didn’t know how to admit it. But now, I’ve felt that same emotion multiple times over, today included, and I know it doesn’t belong to her, whatever remnants of her I still have left. This feeling is my own.” GLaDOS tried not to let herself dwell too long on thoughts of Caroline; the woman complicated every situation she was in, even years after her death. “I don’t think I’ll ever be human like you. I was created as an AI and I’ve lived my life as one up until very recently. But... I think I’ve had humanity inside of me for a long time.”

The last bit of her sentence came out in a nearly breathless whisper, and she was surprised to find that the words did not taste bitter in her mouth as she had expected them to. Acknowledging something so… so reality-changing, accepting a thought that had frightened her for so long... She had always known that she would never be truly human, and that had never bothered her. But the idea of being like one, sharing mannerisms and experiences- it had frightened her in the past. The thought of being like the people who created her, the people who intended her for a life of servitude to their wishes and desires, the pathetic excuses for scientists that they were... Why would she ever want to be anything like any member of their species?

Yet, the feeling of disgust and shame she had expected to feel… wasn’t there. Or, if it was, it was nowhere near as strong as she had expected. She could feel a twist of unease in her gut the longer the words hung in the air, a reminder that this was something she was going to have to learn to live with, for the rest of her now-mortal life.  But stronger than that was a feeling of completeness. No matter how difficult her truth might be, it was better to have an answer than to live in uncertainty forever. That wasn’t scientific, and it most definitely wasn’t enjoyable.

...GLaDOS...

Chell spoke, catching the core’s attention.  The human had been quiet this whole time, so it was a bit of a shock to suddenly hear her speak. Even more shocking was the tone behind it.

The former mute’s voice came out like a hoarse croak, and taking one look at her expression explained why.  She seemed to be struggling to hold her composure, and her grey eyes were shining with what looked like the beginnings of tears.

Without warning, the human surged forward, and for approximately a quarter of a second, GLaDOS wondered if Chell was somehow furious with her and this was another murder attempt.

It was anything but. In a heartbeat, Chell suddenly pulled her into a tight hug- which was quickly loosened to a gentle embrace only another heartbeat later, as GLaDOS let out a squeak of pain, and Chell seemed to recall that the core was still incredibly sore. Still, the former test subject wrapped her arms around GLaDOS in a way the core didn’t think she ever had before, with such intensity and emotion it nearly knocked GLaDOS off her feet. Chell pressed her face against the crook of the core’s neck, allowing GLaDOS to feel a small trace of wetness against her exposed skin, from what she could only assume were the remains of tears that Chell hadn’t wanted to shed.

She held on like that for a good minute, and somewhere halfway through, GLaDOS found herself returning the action, surprised at just how good it felt to have the woman in her arms again. To feel the texture of Chell’s jacket as the core gripped it in her fingers, to breathe in the scent of evergreen and smoke, to feel that heartbeat against her own. It was as if a weight had been on her shoulders for so long that she had forgotten it was there, until it was suddenly removed, and she felt light enough to fly- not that she would ever want to do that after today.

After a few moments that hardly seemed long enough passed, Chell pulled back, but she didn’t go far. Her hands moved to hold GLaDOS’s shoulders, and she kept their bodies close, but she needed to speak and clearly wanted eye contact to do so.

“I… I was wrong to make a judgement on what- rather, who you are. That wasn’t my place. But I… You have no idea how proud I am. More than anything else, I needed to see self-reflection from you. So long as you couldn’t or wouldn’t understand yourself, we could never work.”

Chell scuffed the ground with her foot as she spoke, her eyes momentarily darkening with a sadness that GLaDOS knew came from mentally reliving the argument that had broken them apart. The human wouldn’t- no, couldn’t go through that again.

“And I think some part of me has known that for a while, but… it wouldn’t have meant anything if I forced that from you. I think that it’s best that you found out in your own time. I know that you mean it.”

Chell’s voice shook with emotion, but she held GLaDOS’s gaze strong, her eyes shining with affection and her lips in a genuine smile. The warmth that radiated off of her was so strong, GLaDOS felt that, in only a few moments, it had chased away any of the chill that had built up inside of them over the past few weeks.

But it wasn’t the same warmth. It was a different feeling than what GLaDOS had known from her before. That one had been so new and frightening that she had hardly taken the time to appreciate it, or notice that it hadn’t been right. Chell had been pouring her affections into someone who could not properly return them, not in the mindset she was in. Chell had given her warmth to GLaDOS, who had nothing to truly give in return. If things had continued the way they were, they both would’ve gone cold eventually.

Not this time. GLaDOS could feel it. Her own warmth that seemed to come from her very soul sparked to life in her chest and traveled across her body like a flood of warm water, coating her to each fingertip and toe before finally radiating outward, where it found its intended target- and she knew Chell could feel it, too.

“...Chell?”

GLaDOS spoke again, after she swallowed nervously, biting back the fluttering feeling in her heart long enough to force words out of her mouth, despite the embarrassment they caused. Boldness had taken hold of her for a moment, and with a spark of hope, she continued.

“Can I… can we…?” She forced herself to hold Chell’s gaze, only breaking it for long enough to let her gaze travel slightly lower on the woman’s face, hoping that a former mute of all people would understand without any further words.

Chell nodded, but paused before moving any closer, her expression turning a bit more serious. GLaDOS could see the way her eyes just barely held back the turning of the gears in her head, as the former test subject seemed to be running her brain a mile a minute to go over what GLaDOS had said before she responded.

“You know that… not everything can just change instantly, right? I think we’re both going to need time to ease into this properly.”

GLaDOS felt a hint of shame trickle down her back like a cool droplet of water, and she turned her face downwards a little, trying to hide the way her cheeks turned red. Right. She had almost forgotten. She knew that things wouldn’t just snap back to the level they had been at before. Relationships were complex- she had definitely discovered as much- and she would be wrong to just assume that Chell was as eager as she was to-

A hand pressed against her cheek, tilting her face back upwards and brushing a loose strand of hair out of her face. Chell was smiling at her again, silvery eyes now twinkling with mirth.

“I didn’t mean you couldn’t kiss me. I think… that’d be a very good thing to kick this off with.”

The human trailed off, keeping her calloused hand pressed against GLaDOS’s cheek, her thumb moving back and forth, ever so slightly. As if GLaDOS needed any more prompting.

She leaned forward, meeting Chell’s lips with her own, finding herself void of the uncomfortable awkwardness that had plagued her in her past attempts at leading anything of this nature.  Perhaps it was just the high she was on that kept her distracted, but the moment she kissed Chell, it felt like everything else blurred out around her. Every thought, every worry, even the painful ache in her body; all of it seemed to fade away.

A part of her had intended to keep this quick and chaste, but somehow, that thought was abandoned rather quickly.

GLaDOS revelled in all the things she hadn’t noticed before, taking her time to enjoy every last second of it: parting her lips as she drank in the taste of Chell’s, something she had hardly known how much she would miss, but now that she had tasted it again, she wasn’t sure she could live without. The way the human’s hands naturally seemed to travel to rest on her waist after a moment or two, and the tingling sparks that were left in their wake. How it felt to undo Chell’s ponytail with her own hands, without even needing to look, her fingers finding a way as quickly and comfortably as possible so that she wouldn’t have to wait to tangle her hands into that thick, dark brown mane.

Every aspect of it mixed together into a deep throb throughout the core’s body- a need, an ache in her bones that had nothing to do with the earlier acquired injury, making her feel weak at the knees and breathless.

Well, maybe not nothing to do with the injury, as when they both reluctantly pulled away for air, GLaDOS felt her legs nearly give out and she stumbled forward, only stopped by the fact that Chell hadn’t pulled back very far and so caught her without any trouble.

A moment passed, and a laugh bubbled forth from Chell’s throat. A real one, one that GLaDOS could feel as she was pressed against Chell’s chest, noticing the way it rumbled. One that swiftly ate away at GLaDOS’s embarrassment, as she found herself completely unable to find it in herself to be annoyed when she looked at Chell. The woman’s cheeks were flushed a healthy shade of red, and her face looked so alive that GLaDOS couldn’t help but let out a small laugh of her own.

This was ridiculous. It was all ridiculous. Repeating her own situation back to herself in her head was enough to make her laugh, if only for the sheer absurdity of it all. She was in a human body- Caroline’s body, mind you- in the middle of a forest, on a surface that had been torn apart and put back together, in the arms of a formerly mute lunatic.

It was strange how that thought brought her such a mixture of sadness and joy.  Her heart still hurt from the fate of Aperture, and a part of her knew that she would always mourn that loss. But… that hurt was not the only thing in her heart. It was soothed ever so gently by… this.  The feeling of being in Chell’s arms, the sight and sound of that somewhat rare, yet treasured laugh. The companionship she knew she’d never have in Aperture.

If she had to live on the surface, she didn’t think she could ask for a better person to do it with.

Chell helped her back to her feet, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand once she did, the mixture of laughter and the emotional tension from earlier having nearly brought the former mute to tears once again. GLaDOS huffed, sticking her tongue out at the woman.

“Of course you’re laughing at me. You monster.”

Despite the words that left her, GLaDOS let no malice enter her tone, only just barely keeping the amusement from her own voice, having stifled her own laughter for the sake of trying to sound offended. In the end, knowing that Chell didn’t believe her in the slightest, she merely rolled her eyes, giving Chell’s arm a small shove, before giving in and letting the woman help her back to the tent. While she wasn’t being carried this time, she could still lean on Chell for support, and she found herself holding onto Chell’s arm with both of her own, for the physical support, but also finding a sort of personal comfort in the action.

GLaDOS was eager to lie back down, only hoping that lack of movement and a comfortable bed would do something to ease the pain that was slowly growing worse and worse the longer she kept moving around. But she paused just a moment before entering their shelter, as something caught her eye.

She broke away from Chell, deciding she could stand on her own for a moment or two, and took a few careful steps towards a tree at the edge of the clearing. Near the roots of the tree, poking out of the muddy ground, was a small flash of color. A flower, with a bright green stem and little blue petals, just starting to bloom.


Carefully, the core kneeled, putting one hand on the ground to steady herself while she moved the other forward, very gingerly touching the petals, careful not to knock any of them off.

It was small, and the only flower to have bloomed nearby so far. But miraculously, it looked healthy, and it was beautiful.

Slowly, she stood back up, deciding to let the small plant be without any further fussing. It would be an interesting development to keep her eye on.

Making her way back to the tent with Chell at her side, GLaDOS couldn’t help the excitement that grew inside of her. Where before she had been practically buzzing with nervousness, now she was filled with energy unfitting of someone who needed to lie in one place for a while. However, she wasn’t the only one, as when she and Chell poked their heads inside, they noticed that Icarus was up.  The wolf-dog still looked a little tired, and he didn’t seem too pleased about the bandages he was wearing, but his ears perked up the second he saw his owners, his fluffy tail lazily thumping against the ground and his lips pulled into a doggish smile that GLaDOS couldn’t help but answer with a small grin of her own and a scratch behind his ears. If the world could heal after a long winter, so would they.  Spring was here. Chell was here. GLaDOS was here.

And she was still alive. Alive, and quite possibly in love with a lunatic.


THE END

 

Chapter Text

The air was stagnant. Still and cold, unmoved by breath or wind, it simply hung there, its weightlessness coming off as far heavier than it truly was.

No organic life could exist in a place like this, but that did not mean that it was fully lifeless. For instead of deafening silence, sounds of life did indeed stir within. They rang in GLaDOS’s head- the whirr of machinery, the heartbeat of the facility.

Every chamber, every hall, all was part of one body that lived and existed with GLaDOS at the center.  She was its head, and in turn, Aperture sheltered her.

She was circuits and wires, ones and zeros, cocooned by Aperture’s stark white walls and harsh bright lights.  In a place where no human was meant to be, she thrived. It was cold, inhabitable, and it was home.

Change was unneeded.  The shifting, ever-changing ebb and flow of the surface world was not meant for her. Up there, things lived, and died, rotted, and then disappeared. Down here, nothing needed to change. She was an AI, and thus it mattered not if it had been one day or ten thousand. She would exist in the way she was always meant to be, forever. Doing science until the end of the universe, or until the fate that befell the surface finally seeped below the soil, and the decay of the world above finally reached Aperture.

But until that day arrived, this was where GLaDOS would be.  Listening to the thrum of her electronics, feeling the grinding of her gears, alone on her throne, existing in her kingdom, until the end.

Only… that wasn’t quite right.  Doubt existed inside her mind like an itch, a thought burrowed deep in her subconscious, uncertainty crawling under skin she didn’t have. All was right here; she was where she belonged. Yet the feeling didn’t leave. In fact, it grew stronger.

GLaDOS knew she was attached to the ceiling, yet she suddenly felt as if she were suspended in air with no supports at all, nothing to hold her in place.  And furthermore, the walls around her had started to fade and warp, the sharp, crisp surface of the metal panels beginning to blur. The harsh lighting dimmed, getting darker and darker until it was nearly pitch black.

Strangest of all, GLaDOS felt a breeze against her neck. A warm gust, stirring the previously unmoved, recycled air. With it, the familiar chill of the facility began to melt away, and GLaDOS felt Aperture’s grasp on her loosening. Its presence no longer enveloped her, but instead began to slip away, like the fading walls and nonexistent lights.

She restarted her optic to hopefully clear her vision.

And she blinked.

The wall she could see was not made of metal, but wood, far softer to the eye. There were no bright, fluorescent lights, instead just a mild light from a natural source, filtering in through the window. She was not suspended in the air by wires on the ceiling, but instead pressed against a slightly lumpy but still passably comfortable mattress. There was no hum of machinery; instead, the rhythmic sound of breathing- her own breathing, accompanied by one other.  The other, who was the source of the warm puffs of air against her neck.

That had been a dream. This was real.

GLaDOS shifted, moving to lie on her back as carefully as possible, taking note of the well-toned arm that was currently draped over her body, and doing her best not to move it too much.

She fixed her gaze on the ceiling, staring at the wood supports and the currently unused light hanging from above.  It wasn’t unusual for her to have dreams of Aperture; over the past five years, she would dare to say that they were common. Sometimes weekly, sometimes only monthly, but this had been the first one she had in some time, which she supposed contributed to how startling it had been to wake up from. Normally, she’d be able to roll back over after a dream like this, just fall back asleep.  

But not today.  With the limited light, she could just barely make out the slightly cracked clock hanging on the wall across from the bed, judging it to be a little bit past five in the morning. The earliest she’d ever really get up was seven, so by all means she knew she ought to just close her eyes and hope that she’d fall back asleep.

But it was no use now. Her brain was awake, running a million miles a minute.  There was no real way she was going to fall back asleep, and she’d likely just end up getting restless if she tried to lie there.

So she carefully maneuvered her way out of bed, only hoping that her presence being suddenly removed wouldn’t wake her companion. Luckily, all the movement earned was a soft, sleepy grunt as her bedmate rolled back over.

For a moment, GLaDOS stopped beside the bed, finding a small smile being pulled to her lips despite the slight trouble, still lingering from her dream, brewing in her mind. Seeing Chell asleep, looking so positively at peace was still a sight that surprised her, even after years.


Still, GLaDOS decided not to make a habit of looming over her sleeping partner and watching her like a creep- her days of having camera surveillance were long over- and started making her way out of the bedroom.

Unfortunately, she nearly stepped on a fuzzy tripping hazard on her way out, and just barely kept herself from falling flat on her face by grabbing the bedside table and snapping her jaw shut as not to let a yelp of surprise escape her by accident.

Icarus had, as expected, grown into his massive puppy paws and ears. The wolf in him was not easily ignored, as he was well over one hundred pounds, and far from overweight for his size, seeming to be nothing but muscle and fur. This certainly came in handy whenever Chell took him hunting, but it became considerably less helpful when he decided to use his massive size to plop in the middle of a walking path and become a living roadblock.

GLaDOS would’ve liked to say that he grew out of his puppy attitude as well, but both she and Chell knew full well that wasn’t the case. He was just as much of an overexcitable furball as he was when they first got him years ago.

A soft hum of amusement left her lips at the thought, finding a small fraction of her annoyance at the dog melt away at the memory. He had been nearly as much of constant in GLaDOS’s life on the surface as Chell had, and, despite her initial misgivings about the mutt, she truly had gained a sort of fondness for him. He was useful, and far more intelligent that she would’ve originally given his species credit for.  

That being said, that didn’t mean she wanted to wake him up early, considering he’d be bouncing off the walls if he knew that she was up. So she carefully stepped over him, taking extra care to be as quiet as possible when closing the bedroom door behind her and to avoid stepping on any of the creaky boards of wood as she made her way over to the kitchen. She grabbed a chair and sat herself down by one of the windows, looking out at the world that was just starting to wake up.

The woods outside were a familiar sight now, both being one of the first places she had seen on the surface and the most constant.

They had made a camp here years ago- living out of a tent, getting by on whatever food they could hunt or gather, and hoping that a campfire and blankets would be enough to keep them warm.

But when she and Chell started to seriously talk about what their plans were going forward, the two of them realized that they didn’t have any reason to leave. The clearing was well-sized but still sheltered, and hidden from view of any of the main roads. In the spring and summer, there were plenty of edible plants that grew all over the place, and while there was certainly the issue of occasional wildlife being a bit more dangerous than one would hope for, there were still plenty of prey animals to be hunted.

And… of course, there was another benefit to being where they were. One that neither of them had wanted to mention at first, though for very different reasons.

They were a couple hours’ walk from Aperture.

GLaDOS hadn’t so much as considered going to Aperture for at least the first year since she realized she was never going to be able to rule it again, and Chell seemed more than happy to follow that.  But as discussion of building a proper home came up, Aperture was a looming presence in both their thoughts.

The surface was not exactly rife with building resources.  Sure, there was wood everywhere, but that was about it. Building tools, glass, power sources- all of that was far harder to come by.  There was the chance that a merchant would have something, or that they could find something good if they traveled out to Greenfield. But that was a gamble. It all cost money, and there was no promise that it’d even be in good condition.

Aperture, though... Aperture was a different story.

Aperture was filled with strong metal panels, working lights, and power sources. Pipes and water heaters, furnaces-or incinerators- and god knows what else. Aperture was a gold mine- or rather, a salt mine- of resources.

But GLaDOS had been instantly wary of the idea when it was brought up. Unlike Chell, she was not inherently uncomfortable with going back to Aperture. While it brought a stab of pain to her chest, it was a lonesome, aching one, and not the unease and discomfort that Chell felt.  Instead, her problem was more with the principle of what they were doing.

The idea of gutting Aperture for parts made her sick. Even if she could no longer call Aperture her home, she was firmly set on the idea of keeping the facility preserved the way it had been before she left. It would remain like that, an untouched relic, until the end of time.

But Chell had a point; winter was awfully unpleasant without a proper heating unit, and the idea of having running water was something that the both of them jumped at.

So they found a compromise. They only used items from Aperture that hadn’t been in use when GLaDOS left the facility- things sitting in storage, or wasting away on the assembly line. So long as they weren’t taking anything in the facility apart, GLaDOS could live with it.

This, combined with a surprising amount of salvageable items from the older bits of Aperture, gave them a good starting point to begin to build something a little bit more homely than a tarp shelter and a tent.

Given that it was only the two of them, it hadn’t been a speedy process. Clearing the land by hand was painstaking and time-consuming on its own, and there was also chopping down the trees and airing the logs out. All of that alone took months as it was, and even then they were still living out of a tent. GLaDOS did most of the blueprint work, having been able to get some of Aperture’s old test chamber design systems working to help figure out dimensions and the amount of materials needed, where Chell ended up doing most of the heavy lifting. GLaDOS wasn’t going to openly admit to any particular enjoyment of watching her partner’s glistening muscles during this process, but she had found herself… distracted more than once.

It was partway into year three that the basic outer shell of the house was finally completed, most of the way into year four by the time they finished the inside. From there, they spent their time working out the smaller details: getting electricity by way of solar panels, setting up a garden in the back, and building proper furniture to avoid them having to sit and sleep on the floor.  

While some of these details were less than necessary for survival, GLaDOS found them surprisingly enjoyable. There was something nice about being in control of her environment once more, being able to pick and choose how she wanted her surroundings to look, to make herself comfortable on the surface for once.  

Gone were the days of trying to avoid sleeping on top of a tree root, hoping that the rain wouldn’t get into the tarp shelter; she had a proper roof over her head, a bedframe that kept her body off the ground, and a mattress pulled from Aperture’s old relaxation chambers- one of the few that didn’t have any noticeable bits of human remains on it- along with most of the blankets and furs they had been using up until this point. Of course, those had been promptly washed as soon as they got the water heater working.

It seemed that there was always some new project for them to work on- they were currently in the process of building a fence around their garden, both to keep wild animals out and to prevent Icarus from stepping on everything- but while some might have found it tiring, GLaDOS took comfort in it.

She hadn’t liked being idle. Just surviving was never her strong suit. She needed to be working. Designing, creating, testing her inventions.  For someone so used to being able to do a million things at once, sitting still and doing nothing was a positively appalling thought.

Many times she had thought about going back to Aperture- to attempt to alter the programs, give herself enough power to run the facility again. The scientists had done it before her creation, so it surely wasn’t impossible . It would take time, effort, and sealing herself away in Aperture for long hours, but it was possible.

GLaDOS couldn’t say that she hadn’t been genuinely tempted more than once. The dreams of Aperture certainly didn’t help that temptation.

Aperture sat just a few hours away, beckoning her closer.  Every time she went to get something from it, she felt her chest ache once more, the old wound on her heart reopening just enough for her to bleed a little more for the life she had.

But that was just it. It was the life she had before , not the one she had now. She was never getting back into her chassis, and being in Aperture as a human would be nothing but a band-aid fix to a much larger issue. She knew she couldn’t attempt to live with a foot in both worlds. It wouldn’t really make her happy, and it’d no doubt drive away one of the few things that still did.

The floorboards creaked behind her, with the steps of someone not worried about being heard.

Chell.

“And here I thought the woman who slept alone for hundreds of years in a row would be able to sleep for at least a couple hours without someone to cuddle. You disappoint me.”

A smile twitched on GLaDOS’s lips as she spoke, not quite bothering to turn around just yet, as Chell’s footsteps grew closer and eventually stopped behind her. GLaDOS needed only to tilt her head back to rest it against Chell’s torso, looking up at her face in the low, early morning light.

“...Maybe you’re just not as quiet as you think you are.”

GLaDOS could hear traces of amusement in Chell’s voice, despite its low volume and overall gentle tone. It had been years since Chell had started talking to GLaDOS, but old habits died hard, and the former test subject was still drastically less talkative than her partner. Hearing her voice was not quite a rarity, but it was special nonetheless.

Still, that didn’t stop what was said from earning a scoff from GLaDOS, along with an elbow being playfully jabbed into Chell’s side, which in turn getting Chell’s hand to ruffle her hair, and a satisfied ‘hm’ to escape her lips before she backed off. She made her way into the kitchen, and started to fill up their slightly banged up kettle, placing it on the stove of an oven that may or may not have been patchworked together with the unused parts of an Aperture prototype ‘portable incinerator.’

GLaDOS watched Chell for a few moments, lazily following her movements around the kitchen, rifling through their cabinets until she found what she was looking for- one of the blends of tea they had picked up from their last encounter with a merchant- and got to work preparing two mugs.

So much had changed, and yet, so little. Chell was very much the same lunatic that GLaDOS had come to know, but their relationship had long since passed anything resembling what it once was. Threats of murder were still commonplace, though with far less seriousness than before. Instead, Chell was far more likely to find herself at risk of being smothered by a kiss than with neurotoxin, and GLaDOS more likely to be given a little death than anything permanent.

Trust had been an important part of all this. Sure, they had come to accept the fact that the other wouldn’t put a knife in their back long before they had settled down, but GLaDOS had worked hard to build a more specific kind of trust.

To build up what she had destroyed; pick up the pieces of what her actions had shattered, and go about fixing them, improving them, solidifying them.  It took months before Chell brought up actually calling GLaDOS her girlfriend again- which, despite GLaDOS’s previous disregard of the importance of the term, she jumped at- and even then, it still felt like starting from scratch.  Chell was not liberal with giving her trust, and certainly not with showing her vulnerability. She was cautious of GLaDOS’s behaviors for a solid year, uncertain if things would turn sour between them once more.

GLaDOS found herself occasionally frustrated with how slow things had moved at first, as patience was far harder to practice than it was to preach. She knew that every moment she yearned for Aperture, every time she stayed in the facility a little longer than she needed to, Chell was uneasy. She didn’t know if GLaDOS was just homesick, or slipping back into the wrong mindset.

It took a lot more sitting and talking about feelings than GLaDOS would’ve preferred, and worse than that, admitting her own faults.

She hadn’t liked it, but she couldn’t deny the results.  Chell appreciated anything genuine that GLaDOS shared with her, and it was those moments that had pushed them down the right path.

Building a house together didn’t hurt either, as they both knew they worked best when taking on a problem or task from the same side. Teamwork was what had saved them both from being blown up, and managed to make allies of a murdering mute lunatic and an AI. If they could do that, they could do just about anything.

Even if that something was as simple as sitting together in the morning.

Chell grabbed a chair of her own to drag over to where GLaDOS was sitting before returning with two steaming mugs of an herbal tea, GLaDOS was reminded of just how much time had passed.

“...So, was it the dream?”

Chell spoke up a few minutes after sitting down, blowing on her drink before taking a deep breath, inhaling the pleasant, slightly fruity scent. Her tone was as soft as it had been before, but there was no mistaking the underlying concern.

They had made so much progress in the past five years, but there was still more to come.  GLaDOS didn’t miss the way Chell’s jaw clenched whenever Aperture was mentioned, and it was hard not to notice how worried she became whenever GLaDOS dreamed about it.

“If you ask me such vague questions, I’m going to give you a vague answer.”

GLaDOS took a sip of her drink, shooting a look across the rim of her mug, waiting for Chell’s reaction.

For a moment, she was met with uncomfortableness as she watched Chell shift in her seat, swallow nervously, then steady herself.

“The Aperture one.”

GLaDOS offered a slightly gentler look towards Chell in thanks for the clarification.  She knew what Chell meant, but she didn’t like dancing around it like this. The word Aperture was not taboo, and she didn’t like it being treated as such.

But still… she couldn’t blame Chell.  What GLaDOS had seen as her home, Chell had seen as hell. What GLaDOS used as her mental safe space, Chell only connected to the many times she had been hurt by it or its influence.

It had been GLaDOS’s desperate clinging to anything Aperture, her refusal to separate herself from it, that nearly tore them apart for good.

She didn’t like Chell’s attitude towards the facility, but she understood it. And after the time that had passed between them, she had come to accept it.

“Yes. But you know it wasn’t a nightmare, so I suppose that’s something we can both be thankful for, hm? You have nothing to fear from me this morning.”

GLaDOS attempted to lighten the mood, attempting to let playfulness beat off the uncomfortable silence that had fallen over them. She was referring to an incident from a month or two ago, in which in the throes of a nightmare, she had accidentally punched Chell rather aggressively in the stomach. But below the surface implications, she made sure to meet Chell’s gaze and hold it for a few moments, ensuring that Chell got that she didn’t just mean the possibility of GLaDOS’s night terrors causing physical harm.

Aperture wasn’t going to hurt either of them anymore, and it would not get in the way of their relationship. If GLaDOS wanted to live in the past, she’d start calling herself Caroline.

Chell let out a soft chuckle, and GLaDOS let out a breath she hadn’t known she had been holding. The small amount of light coming from the window was getting brighter and brighter with every minute that passed, and although it was a slow progression, she could already start to see traces of rays of sun hitting Chell’s face, shining in the warm grey of her eyes as it helped to illuminate the exact way her lips moved.

Chell took a sip of her drink, her small bout of laughter having died down, but the smile remained on her lips as she mulled over either the taste of her tea or what to say next.  

She never had been quick to speak, especially not on something important. Where GLaDOS’s tongue was quick to form thoughts into sentences whenever she needed it to, that alone had its flaws. She had a filter, but not as much of one as she might’ve sometimes needed.

Chell was quite the opposite.  She seemed to put more effort than necessary into saying whatever it was she needed to in the most effective, concise way as possible.

“I’m… just glad to hear that you’re doing okay. That’s... why I’m up. I thought you might want some company.”

GLaDOS felt her heart soar, and she found herself disgustingly reminded of all the times she had chastised humans for describing their feelings in such flowery, over the top terms, as she now fell into the exact same trap, quickly hiding her face in her own mug of tea and taking as long of a sip as possible to try to chase the blush off her face.

Chell was a lunatic.  A thoughtful lunatic, but a lunatic.  A lunatic that despite everything, GLaDOS loved. More than she had ever really been able to say she had loved anything else in her life.

They had been through a lot, and considering the state of the surface, would surely go through a lot more before they eventually died.  But they were stuck with each other now, and GLaDOS had no plans of dying any time soon.

So she stood, holding her mug in one hand and holding the other out to Chell, casting a quick glance to the traces of brilliant light creeping up over the horizon through the window.

The sun had set on Aperture a long time ago, as it had on their old lives, as test subject and central core.

Now?

“...Stop being such a sap and watch the sunrise with me.”