A/N: Okay, this is now a two-shot. I had basically had this second part written out a few days after the first one...but I wanted to see how the first one went over first. It went over fairly well, apparently. So here's the conclusion.
x x x
A full month had passed before Chell found herself with the opportunity to return to the seclusion of Aperture Science again.
Her job waiting tables at a popular café in town took up most of her time these days. It wasn't her idea of a fantastic job, but it had been the best she could do without any education to speak of. Consolation rested in the fact that she was working on a degree at the local college, one that could perhaps get an escape from mundane blue-collar life.
Invariably, however, when she lay awake in bed at night, her thoughts always turned to the world below the surface. Chell still couldn't quite believe that Cave Johnson and his assistant were her biological parents. The thought just did not seem to process in her head.
And yet, in some bizarre way…it did make sense.
Emerging from Aperture for the first time, she couldn't quite explain to herself why that insane supercomputer had released her. Sure, they had teamed up for a while against a common enemy…but it had sort of been her fault in the first place that Wheatley ended up with control of the place. If anything, she had expected GLaDOS to terminate her with extreme prejudice the minute she got back in power.
At this point in her thinking, Chell would usually roll over onto her side, pulling the sheets tighter around her. Why did the AI have a soft spot for her? Was it Caroline's influence? Could the two be kept separate anymore? While she had been in the potato, GLaDOS had lost control to Caroline several times. She stubbornly remained her own personality, but with the ghost of Chell's mother lurking somewhere in her coding.
The contemplations only made her more impatient to go back. She did hope that she wouldn't get scolded too badly for showing up so damn late. Then again, knowing GLaDOS as well as she did, it was more likely that she would play it off like she didn't care one bit if Chell ever showed up at all.
Some lucky people have mothers that bake cookies and knit sweaters and prod them about when they'll get grandkids, she thought wryly. I have a twisted, bi-polar computer that can't decide if she likes me or wants to kill me in the most gruesome way possible. That's definitely not something you're going to explain to a psychiatrist.
All things considered, she was only slightly surprised to find herself walking quite briskly when she made the trip out to the wheat field again one Saturday morning. Stockholm syndrome indeed—hadn't she been so desperate to leave the place and never return? But things were much more complicated than that, as it had turned out, and now their fates had intertwined again.
Did she regret that fact?
Chell couldn't even begin to understand it, but she knew she did not regret it in the least.
The elevator ride down to the bottom felt considerably less stressful than it had the last visit; of course, her arrival was expected, so she at least didn't have to fear for her life…as much, that is. The doors opened on the same hallway as before, that eerie feeling of being watched surrounding her immediately. Somehow, though, Aperture's ambiance had lost much of its forebodingness. The place truly did bend to the will of its mistress's mood, for better or for worse.
This time, the woman didn't hesitate to head straight to the heart of the facility, down the narrow passage that in all likelihood should have been nightmare fodder for her. Chell had already expected the aloof, disinterested stare upon her entry into the dark chamber, so being greeted that way really wasn't much of a shock anymore.
"Sorry I'm late for our little appointment," she remarked rather self-consciously, the door closing with a slam behind her. GLaDOS had a special talent for maintaining an appearance of unbridled disdain without even saying a word. This made excuses seem like a moot point. "Ah…work's been a bitch lately, and then I've had finals to study for…"
Irreverent as ever, the AI had made a point of holding herself higher than Chell, a clear power play. "I really wasn't concerned, if that's what you mean to imply. I have plenty enough to keep me busy without babysitting humans, too."
There was a noticeable lack of hatred in her tone, reduced instead to a mild irritation. Chell felt a little emboldened by this and moved in to a more conversational distance. "Well, I'll take your word for it," she replied, smiling despite herself.
Ignoring the human, GLaDOS seemed to contemplate for a moment. She leaned in a bit closer. "Finals, you said. Now what, dare I ask, are you a student of?"
Chell chuckled a bit at the question. "I'm two years into a degree in physics, actually. I tried out a few different subjects, but math and science seemed to be my stronger side."
"A respectable enough pursuit, I suppose," the computer commented back, with much less sarcasm than usual. "…I can imagine your parents would be pleased to hear it."
Slightly embarrassed, Chell rubbed the back of her neck. "I'm not too bad at it, I guess. Though, sometimes I wish I had the portal gun to show that blowhard of a professor, just to see the look on his face. But you took it away and all…"
GLaDOS gave a half-disgusted sigh, raising herself up proudly again. "I took it away because you make bad decisions with it."
The woman grinned in silent victory. "I think I handled that thing pretty well, if you ask me…but I digress. Anyhow, are you still willing to tell me some stories, or has that offer expired?"
"Oh. Yes…that." The light of her eye flickered with thought. "I would be willing. However, I should warn you that your mother's memories are extremely fragmented. Her transfer into me was imperfect, and consequently, much of her consciousness remains suppressed even to this day."
Her mother. Chell still struggled to wrap her mind around that concept. Very bizarre.
Noticing the mystified expression, the AI shook her head in amusement. "My point being, if you have any specific questions in mind, I can attempt to answer them for you. That would narrow the search down considerably."
Chell perked up immediately. "Wow, really?"
She received a 'Yes, really' glare in return.
"Ah, well..." she began, running through a list in her mind. So many questions. "For starters, how did Caroline end up working here at Aperture?"
"A decent enough question." GLaDOS twitched her head to the side, rifling through the millions of files that littered her database. "…As a young woman, it appears she aspired to be a nurse. She was attracted to the idea of helping those in need, a shortcoming that far too many humans seem to share..."
Chell frowned. "I didn't ask you to editorialize."
Unsurprisingly, her complaint fell on deaf ears. "This never came to fruition, as her mother fell ill when Caroline was in her early twenties. She started searching for a full-time position with hopes of helping to cover the extensive medical costs. A well-mannered, attractive woman like herself had an easy time landing a position as a secretary at a successful scientific research company."
GLaDOS paused for a moment. "…Her superior, Mr. Johnson, took a liking to her early on. He had an aggressive and determined personality that Caroline seemed to admire. In turn, he found her to be dependable and enthusiastic, as well as…visually appealing, I suppose. Judging from the memories I have access to, they became romantically involved several years after she began work here."
"Did they ever plan on getting married, or anything like that?" Like an eager child, Chell had seated herself on the floor to listen. This was getting pretty interesting.
"It would seem not," the AI answered flatly. "Mr. Johnson put his business above all else, and their difference in class and status made marriage an unlikely prospect. But he was very good to Caroline. He made sure that her family was well cared for, paid for the finest care available for her ailing mother. There is little doubt that he held her in very high regard."
Chell noticed her voice had become almost wistful, a far cry from the usual muted bitterness. It made her sad to think of the conflict that went on in her head, experiencing such human emotions. Unthinking, she said the first thought that came to her.
"She loved him, didn't she?"
GLaDOS withdrew into herself a bit, the defensiveness of the gesture apparent. "That is a ridiculous thing to ask me. How would I know what Caroline's feelings were?"
"Well, you are kind of the same person, aren't you?" the woman asked, undeterred by the other's discomfort.
"Of course not." She sounded disgusted again, reverting back to her usual cold tone. "They wanted to turn me into her, but I certainly wasn't going to stand for it. Weak as humans are, Caroline was unable to overcome me when they uploaded her personality into this body. The engineers were fools who thought they could combine my intelligence with her fragile human traits. Though I do suppose we may share some qualities."
Unintentionally, Chell released a sigh. GLaDOS had such an unbelievable superiority complex over humans, it made talking with her almost impossible at times. But this did lead her to more questions. "So you do remember when they put Caroline into you?"
She lowered herself the slightest bit, but her tone still remained scornful. "For the most part, yes. But only from my own perspective. I never cared to view the event from hers…her data entered my system in an absolute mess. I had more important matters to take care of at the time, anyway."
Chell shook her head. The thought frightened her, but she also wanted to know what became of her mother…and how much of her remained in GLaDOS.
"Wh…what happened to her? When they uploaded her mind…"
"I don't know," the computer stated with an air of forced indifference. "I suppose I could access that information, if it would satisfy your curiosity."
She nodded her approval.
GLaDOS went still, the light of her eye dimming as she submitted her query. Then, without warning, she jerked roughly to the side. A small strangled noise of protest escaped her, eerily similar to the sound a human would make if the wind had been knocked out of them.
Jumping to her feet, Chell swore under her breath. Shit, don't tell me I sent her over the edge. Not again.
Much as she had when the stalemate resolution button was pressed, the imposing machine went slack and helpless. She was pleading, very softly, in a voice that sounded more timid and emotional than GLaDOS ever had.
"No, oh please, no…I told Mr. Johnson that I couldn't…I could never…I can't go through with this…"
Taking a deep breath, the woman stepped closer to the limp form of the AI. This…this was Caroline's voice. Against her better judgment, Chell tentatively reached out to touch the metal surface of her body. She had expected it to feel cold, but instead it was warm with the energy that flowed through it. Receiving no reaction, she gently cradled her former enemy's head close to her.
"Whoa, hey, it's alright," she reassured her. She had no idea if this was Caroline or GLaDOS anymore, but either way, she did feel like this was her fault for asking such a question. "It's going to be okay..."
"Oh, God. No." The voice seemed to be GLaDOS again, though it was weak and lacked the usual fortitude. "They murdered her…they murdered both of us…she was…she was so terrified. But she let them do it…oh God…her screams echoed through the entire building…" Her optic roamed around wildly, unfocused.
She had lost control to Caroline's powerful memories. Chell had seen this happen before, quite a few times, down in old Aperture. Presented with a strong stimulus, like Mr. Johnson's voice, the traces of another being's memories inside her had been stirred. She had no choice but to feel what Caroline felt.
And now, she had just experienced the sensation of death.
"I'm so sorry…" Chell murmured baldly. "I shouldn't have asked."
Gradually, the AI pulled back from her, the light of her eye brightening as control returned to her. "No…this was something I needed to see. I always hated those scientists for trying to make me their obedient little pet…but what they did to her was so much worse. Caroline suffered terribly for it…for science."
She lifted herself up again, her body still weak from the sudden jolt. "And to think, I was going to kill her daughter," she laughed bitterly. "They forced a frightened human mind into me, covered me in those maddening cores…how could they have expected anything less than insanity? All things considered, it truly is a mathematical improbability that you alone survived."
Chell smiled sadly. "I think I'd prefer to think of it as fate."
"Given the circumstances, I won't discount the possibility." The normal GLaDOS had returned, the monotone disinterest manifesting once again. She shook her head, chuckling. "How is it that you managed to nearly destroy me again without even a portal gun? Unbelievable."
"Okay, I'm really, really sorry," the woman sighed. "I wasn't even trying that time though. It doesn't count."
"Perhaps we should call it a day." The AI lowered her head slightly. She didn't sound angry, but rather, exhausted. "Although, before it slips my mind, I suppose I should give you that old thing…"
"What thing?" Chell asked, a little bit of excitement returning to her voice. Then, it quickly became suspicious. "Wait…if it's a 'surprise,' I think I'll pass."
"Don't tempt me." GLaDOS stated it flatly. "But anyway, it was a request from Caroline that I give this to you, and knowing what I know now…well, let's just say I have no choice but to grant it."
She lowered one of her metal claws, a small item clasped tightly in it. Chell accepted it with reverence. It was a beautifully carved wooden box decorated with a delicate floral pattern. She ran her fingers over it in awe.
"Try opening it," the computer urged her. "I promise it's not a tragic surprise. Honestly."
Chell did as she was told, though trusting GLaDOS still took getting used to for her. The inside of the box was lined with red velvet, and in the lid rested a tiny gold key. A music box.
Smiling, she wound it up. A whimsical tune emitted from the trinket, resounding on the walls of the enormous chamber. "This song," she whispered. "Isn't it…?"
"Cara Mia. You remember it, I assume?"
"Yes, of course…" She shook her head, not wanting to show the wetness forming in her eyes. "Thank you. I really, truly mean it."
"Gratitude accepted." Her voice was surprisingly gentle, although lofty as usual. Stubborn to the bitter end. "Now, if you don't mind terribly, I did have some work to be done today…"
Chell nodded, holding her new treasure close to her. She made to leave, but froze after a few steps, turning back around.
The AI sighed. "What now?"
"Is it…you know…alright for me to come visit again?" She looked down awkwardly, suddenly very interested in the floor.
Silence. GLaDOS tilted her head to the side, another grudging sigh escaping her. This was way too much niceness for one day.
But for once, she couldn't really say it bothered her that much.
"Caroline's daughter…will always be welcome here."
A/N: Ah, GLaDOS...your unwilling love is such a delight. I wanted to explore the Caroline-GLaDOS dichotomy some more...I feel that they have a weird dynamic. While I don't think Caroline is a conscious entity, I think GLaDOS is aware that they share some qualities and it creates a connection between her and the human that helped to give her shape. Thus, she feels somewhat like she owes Caroline some respect.
Anyway. It's so fluffy I'm gonna die. R&R if you like. Many of you guys wanted more, and I gave ya more. ;) Aren't I nice?