By Erin (thehush)
Note: You can also find this story at Ao3. Republished upon request.
Prologue: The Path Home
The walk back to the Aperture was oddly quiet and comforting. She shouldn't have expected anything different, but she had. She had expected the world to be falling apart, destroyed. Different, at least, what with how GLaDOS warned her it wasn't safe. That it had changed.
Chell held her companion cube tight. It was heavier without the portal gun, but years of training had built up her arm strength. She was glad to have walked so much in the center, as the walk back to the front door of the facility was a long one. Michigan's Upper Peninsula was flawless, beautiful in every way and it showed in the untouched wheat field growing over the salt mine underneath. The fields led into a dense forest and through the forest, after several stops to get used to the fresh air, she found a gated entrance. A parking lot stretched for miles before meeting up with the back door of Aperture Science Laboratories.
Her bracer boots clicked against the concrete as she rounded the gated back parking lot. Over long stretches of grass and a smattering of small trees and wild flowers she was sure had once been manicured monthly – Chell saw the front entrance of the facility. A small parking lot sat silently in front of the elegant entrance way. The glass walls looked shadowed with grime, vines snaking up over the structure.
A rush of relief washed over her. She had felt an unconscious tug as she had walked, knowing that somehow, she would find the facility in the direction she had taken. Now, she realized she could have run the opposite way. Taken the road that lead to and away from the small parking lot – it was so easy. There would be a tram just a ways down the street. She could go to the garage and hot wire a cart to take her there. She remembers this. She remembers that fateful day when she got up early and rode the tram with her mother and father to show off her science fair project with her elementary friends. They had taken the cart to the door. Spoken to the nice lady at the front desk…
Chell blinked, taking in a deep breath. The memories hurt as they clawed their way to the surface. She listened to the trees move with the breeze and swallowed hard. Outside that road, there was no one waiting for her. She was dead, along with her mother and father. Her family. All she had was Aperture.
Squeezing the Companion Cube, she turned and pushed the automatic doors apart, stepping into the stale building. She was greeted with silence and opportunity.
She was home.