A/N: This is my first Portal fanfic, so I apologise for GLaDOS's possibly-mangled character, she's a struggle to write.
This started off as a prompt from the kink meme, to write GLaDOS and Chell making cake. One thing that's always lingered in the corner of my mind however was how GLaDOS tends to show symptoms of abusiveness in the games (in case, y'know, the whole trying-to-kill-Chell thing didn't tip us off) and I've always been sceptical that it would fade magically, and that ended up sneaking into my writing and so now this is less a story about cake and more about a story about abusive behaviour that involves cake. Uh. Sorry about that.
Warnings: In case you cheated and didn't read the A/N above, this story may trigger because of signs of emotional abuse.
Chell had been in stasis for a long, long time, and GLaDOS had been remarkably dead for just as long, which displeased her. But even though Chell had been living in what she called "the future" for three years, ("Of course you don't live in the future," GLaDOS had said impatiently. "It's the present.") it still startled her when the robot in charge of the self-checkout hit on her.
And it annoyed her even more that Chell smiled at the corny compliments and even blushed a bit.
"She has cancer," said GLaDOS. "A very rare kind which is fatal to robots. It makes their innards rust in spite of all the safeguards put in place. And it makes wires short circuit. It becomes nothing but a spiral of repair bills which bankrupt you and then erode at your memory core like a virus…"
Chell glared at her. GLaDOS huffed. But it did the trick, the robot gave them more of a berth after that and stopped interacting with Chell.
It was all Chell's own fault anyway. If she didn't lap it up, GLaDOS wouldn't have to scare them off! Chell was hers. And, well, GLaDOS wasn't worried that Chell seemed to enjoy the attention others gave her more and more lately, GLaDOS never got worried, she was merely extremely annoyed that her human companion of three years seemed to enjoy the attention of strangers more than her own.
Yes. That was it. Chell had always said she loved GLaDOS, and though GLaDOS did not love back ("Androids and robots don't feel love," she'd said flatly, once, when Chell had pushed the matter. And they didn't. Really. GLaDOS wasn't in love with Chell at all, because she was not human, and only humans fell in love, so there.) GLaDOS still wanted to protect what was hers, and she could not do that if Chell was off flirting with other humans.
Or other robots, as the case had been more and more lately.
And now the human was annoyed. GLaDOS couldn't understand why she was sulking, it wasn't as if GLaDOS had slept with the checkout robot. "He's obviously an idiot," said GLaDOS. "Or she. I can't tell what it is. Did you hear it when it stood close? It was sparking! It had faulty wiring! What kind of robot is so stupid as to let itself fall into disrepair?"
Chell sighed unhappily, making to carry the shopping bags, but GLaDOS snatched them off her with her mobile body's dextrous fingers. "Really," said GLaDOS. "It'd be better for it if it just exploded and set the entire place on fire!"
Chell gave GLaDOS a grateful smile, but it wavered into nothing very quickly.
The human really was upset about something or other. GLaDOS peered into the plastic bag, her optics quickly landing on a familiar, blue and white box. "We can make cake?" she said.
Cake would cheer the human up.
But Chell only sighed and signed, if you want.
GLaDOS frowned. "We can make cake together?"
If you want.
They walked in silence back to the parking dock, GLaDOS's processors puzzling over the human's recent behaviour.
Her android body was a good one, if GLaDOS said so herself. She'd designed it to mimic a human body in every aspect, down to synthetic skin; pleasure, pain and touch receptors; a digestive system that took in fuel in the form of food and even waste disposal. Deciding not to want to be a smelly human, GLaDOS had skipped sweat and instead lined her body with several fans, meaning she often walked around buzzing slightly on hot days.
Chell opened the passenger door for GLaDOS before popping into the driver's seat of the hover-car that awaited them. She'd gone for her license a while ago because while GLaDOS was physically capable of driving, the human had discovered that putting a robot known to be homicidal behind the wheel of a massive vehicle was less than wise. GLaDOS kept the shopping bags at her feet as Chell reversed expertly out of the parking dock. They rustled as the robot fished through them, and then placed the box of cake mix on her lap, satisfied.
All was well with the world.
Except Chell was still angry. Usually she hummed or smiled as she drove, but her eyes seemed dead and glazed. GLaDOS's frown deepened.
At least cake would make it better.
Or so she hoped. The damn Adventure Core might spoil everything.
One problem with living "in the future", as Chell put it, was sentient apartments. This was normally not a problem, since the default AIs only had enough of a personality to take initiative and memorise new commands, but most sentient apartments were not hijacked by a certain Adventure Core two weeks ago.
It had gotten very old, very fast.
Sick of suggestive and encouraging comments from Rick every time GLaDOS and Chell were in their bedroom or bathroom, GLaDOS had attached herself to the wall panel and spent several days in a row running processes and attempting to dislodge him. After five days of work, the only thing she had to show was that Rick had been banished from the bedroom, but Chell could sleep soundly again.
But even that hadn't made the human happy. Oh no, she'd been pouty and sulky when GLaDOS was finally finished. And it couldn't be because Rick compensated by being extra loud in the other rooms, because she was sulky before he did that.
Nothing made that human happy.
Not even the promises of cake.
"Well, hello ladies! Would you like a suggestion, eh? A free tip courtesy of Rick!"
"No," said GLaDOS, cradling the box of cake mix as Chell went ahead into the kitchen with the shopping bags. GLaDOS's guilt simulator went into overdrive at the sight. How could she forget to carry the shopping in? Why didn't Chell remind her? It was GLaDOS's job to carry the shopping, not Chell's! GLaDOS had stronger joints, and Chell's fingers always looked sore after carrying the heavy bags up. The biodegradable, plastic-like material tended to cut in to the skin like the old plastic bags of a few centuries ago did.
"Now, ladies," said the apartment anyway, "what you do is you make the cake mix, mmm, make it all nice and runny in the bowl, and then you slather it all over each other and lick it — "
Rick was interrupted by a large squawk coming from the living room, and GLaDOS's fear receptors quickly shut down guilt and cake.
"BIRD, BIRD, BIRD, BIRD, BIRD!"
"Aww, don't be so ungrateful, it's a gift from me to you!"
Stuffing the box of cake mix under one arm, GLaDOS marched into the living room, where she plugged herself into the wall. On the table sat a holographic budgie, peering at GLaDOS with a tilted head.
The budgie fizzled and sparkled.
"When I get you out of this apartment," GLaDOS growled, "I am going to seal you into a video player that plays Two Girls One Cup on infinite loop!"
"That video's still around?" the apartment snickered.
"I'm sure I can dig it up from somewhere especially for you, because I simply love you that much."
An annoyed Chell swiped the box out of GLaDOS's arms and marched to the kitchen. Ignoring Rick's jeers, GLaDOS followed, buzzing like a concerned moth, fans spinning as they attempted to cool her insides which threatened to overheat. When her mood processors set themselves to "worried", that was always a side effect.
"Are we making cake?" said GLaDOS, as Chell put the box down on the counter. "Because we should." It would please Chell once the cake-making was underway, GLaDOS was certain. Chell liked cake. "I promised you cake, a long time ago."
"You are unhappy," said GLaDOS, a note of desperation in her tone. "The cake will make it better."
Chell gently pried her robotic fingers from the box. GLaDOS offered her a hopeful smile.
To her relief, the previously unhappy human returned it.
GLaDOS's mood processors perked up immediately.
Her eyes buzzed around the kitchen thoughtfully, before a fraction of a second later a piece of memory was presented to her and she recovered a mixing bowl. Chell's smile seemed a little more spontaneous, less forced, when GLaDOS presented it to the human.
Satisfied for the moment, GLaDOS picked up the box, optics reading the instructions on the back. Eggs, milk and butter were necessary.
She retrieved the required items from the fridge unit, and hovered close by as Chell measured out what she needed, pouring it into the bowl. From there, GLaDOS quietly took it from her and stirred. It would not do to allow the test subject to strain her elbow, after all.
She squawked when Chell dipped her finger into the mix. Even after years of living with the human, the occasional illogical, unpredictable activity still surprised GLaDOS, and before she could protest the human smeared chocolate across GLaDOS's lower lip.
Chell smiled at her, and stepped closer for a kiss.
GLaDOS's pleasure centres worked well enough, she was pleased to note as her fingers entwined with Chell's hair and the human nipped and licked at the chocolate. GLaDOS involuntarily made a small sound, enjoying the human's close scent, the pressure of a warm body against hers —
A low, smooth voice interrupted them. "Oh yeah, ladies, just keep doing that... Mmm… now drip a bit down her cleavage and lick it up — "
With lightning reflexes, GLaDOS snatched a measuring cup from the counter and hurled it at the wall panel. The plastic cup shattered, leaving a crackling dent in the panel. The lights went out in the kitchen. The android glowered.
"Yeah, that's right!" called Rick from the next room. "Come and get me, yeah! I've handled mice deadlier than you!"
Chell sighed, and gazed at GLaDOS. Her anger core fizzled and died immediately.
The human looked sad. Pleading.
GLaDOS's guilt processors went into overdrive. "I was walking over there to clean it up," GLaDOS said quickly. "I was not going to program a virus into the apartment. No. Why would I do that?"
The test subject glared.
GLaDOS shuffled uncomfortably. "I'll fix it," she said quietly.
Chell sighed, and that unhappy look returned as she went back to the cake mix, gazing at the oven. Of course, all the appliances were now offline, and Chell drifted out of the kitchen unhappily. In silence, GLaDOS picked the hard plastic shards from the floor and examined the wall panel. That was a few hundred credits worth of repair if she lacked the tools to fix it.
More guilt. She was such a bad android. She was better as a homicidal robot. At least she didn't feel guilt as a homicidal robot. A homicidal robot was supposed to let people down, supposed to upset them, supposed to be cruel...
But as a humanoid upon which Chell was emotionally dependent on, she had certain expectations to live up to. They weren't lovers, of course. Robots did not love. GLaDOS merely… failed to discourage Chell's advances. And often indulged them.
She had to keep the test subject happy, after all. It was for science.
But it was science that GLaDOS was miserable at. She could design fatal puzzles, but could not, for the life of her, keep a simple test subject happy. She couldn't do anything right.
The manipulation of a few torn wires brought some appliances back online, including the oven, but the lights and temperature controls remained offline. A dented device in the wall, most likely responsible for these functions, needed further repairs.
If they were at Aperture, GLaDOS would have simply plugged herself into the wall and it would have been fixed five minutes ago, but a small apartment wasn't Aperture Science and the Adventure Core took up all the memory in the AI, so GLaDOS could not take over. It had taken so much programming to merely wrest control of the bedroom from him, and he'd already figured out what she'd done and put in safeguards to prevent her doing it to the other rooms.
By the time Chell returned thirty minutes later to check on her progress, the cake was baking away in the oven with the digital timer ticking down beside it in green letters. The dented outer panel rested on the counter, and half of its innards were gone.
And so was GLaDOS.
The bedroom was a quiet place. A closed door muffled a caw from the living room.
Great. Another bird.
Sitting on the large double bed with her legs crossed, GLaDOS tweaked the unrecognisable device in her hands with pliers. Spread across the duvet lay wires, screws and metal pieces. A toolbox sat beside her.
When the cake was baked and tucked away in the fridge, she would return to the kitchen with the repaired device and attempt to boot the kitchen back up completely. The Adventure Core would once again be in possession of it, but at least it would keep the test subject happy.
She exchanged her pliers for a tiny screwdriver, removing another screw. She found the problem. When she'd thrown the cup, the force of the forming dent had pulled some vital wires from their places. Some had broken completely, but GLaDOS always had spare wires on hand in case her own body malfunctioned, and android strength would allow her to straighten out the metal again.
That was how Chell found her later, poring over the device in silent concentration as she painstakingly built it from the ground up again. GLaDOS had no blueprints, and so most of it was trial and error as she occasionally connected, disconnected and reconnected the device to a battery she had on hand to see if everything worked as it should.
GLaDOS didn't look up at first. Not until Chell gestured, and one of GLaDOS's eyes looked up. Chell's expression was unreadable.
The cake is ready, signed Chell. Then she spotted the single optic focused on her and made a face.
Oh, now her eyes were bothering the test subject.
GLaDOS said nothing, allowing her eyes to sync up again and fix on the device in front of her. She was almost done. There was cake, so the test subject could eat it and be happy again.
But somehow, GLaDOS doubted it would work. The test subject had been very unhappy lately. Cake would not make it better.
Chell gestured again, but this time GLaDOS didn't look at her. The human sighed and left the room.
To GLaDOS's relief, the small device slotted back home perfectly. She straightened the metal panel cover as best as she could, putting it back into its place, but it still looked dented. GLaDOS sighed. The lights went on and the last appliances lacking electricity buzzed to life. The kitchen grew warmer.
"I still think you're the stupidest core to ever exist," she informed the panel. "Even the Intelligence Dampening Core is smarter than you!"
The Adventure Core responded by short circuiting the kitchen.
Fine! GLaDOS was going to plug herself into the apartment and exorcise their little demon once and for all. Of course, Chell was going to be unhappy about it, but nothing made the stupid test subject happy these days anyway. She'd worked for days to get him out of the bedroom, but had Chell been happy? Not at all! But GLaDOS's patience was quickly fraying and she didn't care.
GLaDOS stormed out of the kitchen, and almost bowled over said human. And she'd be damned if the human's eyes didn't light up with longing at the android's appearance, if a smile didn't brighten her face.
That was not helping.
You fixed the kitchen! The test subject happily signed.
"The core broke it again," said GLaDOS flatly. "After I provoked him. Again."
I contacted someone who thinks he might be able to get him out of here and bring the old AI back online, said Chell.
"Oh, so you do want him gone, did you?" GLaDOS sneered, and the human drooped. "The fact I spent five days getting him out of our bedroom only for you to sulk didn't tip me off at all! Instead you want someone else to do it."
The human's shoulders sagged. GLaDOS almost turned around to storm off again, but a light touch on her arm stopped her.
Chell gazed at her unhappily. She didn't sign. She didn't need to.
"I'm not nasty," GLaDOS huffed defensively. "Nor am I offended. I'm not offended at all that you insinuated that I'm completely incompetent, when as a matter of fact I've…"
She trailed off. The more she spoke, the unhappier the human looked.
"That look doesn't suit you," said GLaDOS, willing her guilt core to shut up. "You look like I kicked your puppy."
Chell sighed and shook her head, and GLaDOS was startled to see the human looked close to tears. The test subject rose her hands as if they were delicate and fragile, and signed, I missed you.
GLaDOS took point five of a second longer to formulate a response that would not upset the test subject further. "But I've always been here."
You were plugged in for five whole days.
Oh. So that was why the human was unhappy. GLaDOS forgot that humans required near-constant affection and attention, or their happiness metres dropped. "But I got the Adventure Core out."
But you were gone. For five days. Without me.
GLaDOS's fans buzzed as her processors worked a little harder in thought. "You… could have sought companionship from other humans?" she said tentatively.
But that only made Chell unhappier, if that were possible. She sighed, shook her head, and signed, I love you, but for a smart AI you can be rather stupid sometimes.
She made to turn away, but this time it was GLaDOS who reached for the human. "You… do not really believe I am stupid, do you?" GLaDOS asked hesitatingly. "Not that I… care what you think of me, but do you? Really?"
This time Chell's eyes burned with anger as she turned to GLaDOS. This was good, the android reflected, anger was better than misery. Do you think I'm fat?
That was a non-sequitur. GLaDOS blinked at her. "No."
Or diseased? Or foolish? Or violent, or —
"I never meant any of that," said GLaDOS before the test subject could continue.
Chell could barely sign, her hands seemed to want to curl into fists of their own accord. So why do you say it?
GLaDOS buzzed uncomfortably, her optics zooming in and out to attempt to dissect Chell's expression. From the drawn-in eyebrows to her narrow eyes, fury was etched on every line of Chell's body. For once, GLaDOS found herself at a loss for words. "It… bothers you?"
Yes! I want you to like me, and — the human stopped, scowling and shaking her head, waving a hand dismissively.
"No, I won't forget it," GLaDOS said, her fans growing into a louder buzz. She was heating up in distress. "I… sorry. I'm sorry."
Chell gazed at her for a long moment, before her shoulders sagged and she sighed. At least you keep your word, she signed. Don't do it again. Please. It's controlling and it makes me want to avoid you.
When you tell people I'm diseased or nasty or… Chell's eyes were brimming with tears again. She glared at GLaDOS with defiance. Don't do it!
"I —" said GLaDOS, but a background program ran through her memory to see if she could recall any psychology information that had once been stored inside her. She had a library of books inside her head, especially on psychology.
When her inner search landed on emotional abuse even her fans went quiet.
She'd thought nothing of provoking the test subject within Aperture. It was part of the test, of course. You put your subject under as much emotional distress as possible to see how it would influence the outcome and their behaviour. Human psychology was fascinating to witness, predictable and unpredictable all in one go.
But she'd brought it out of Aperture. Continued to refer to Chell as the test subject. She'd failed to change her own parameters, hadn't changed her own behaviour. Chell wasn't a test subject anymore, she was an equal. A partner.
No wonder she had been unhappy. Her behaviour had caused the test sub — had caused Chell distress. Her fans started up again and she buzzed in thought. She reviewed two weeks' memory in under a minute, scrutinising her own behaviour, watching for the symptoms of Chell's distress and what had caused it. Chell had never acted out, but she had seemed to have fallen into deeper and deeper depression…
All because of her?
Her fans whirred unhappily.
Apologies would not do, she saw immediately. Anyone could apologise. Anyone could promise to do better. Anyone could ask for a second chance. It took time, time to show she would not do it again, time to prove she was trustworthy.
But would Chell give her that time?
Her fans threatened to explode with strain as she returned to her optics and saw Chell in front of her, smiling weakly. Once Chell noticed GLaDOS's attention on her, she giggled weakly and signed, You're buzzing again. It's cute.
GLaDOS silently drew her into a tight hug. Chell's arms curled around her, and she pressed her face into GLaDOS's shoulder.
Chell was hers. She'd only wanted to keep others away from her.
But… that wasn't the way to do it, was it? Was it truly any wonder Chell had begun enjoying other people's company when she had acted like this? She stroked the human's back, and felt her calm immediately.
She felt guilt, and regret. They churned her stomach in a way no robotic innards were ever designed to, shards of her humanity from long ago. Chell evidently adored her, and had stayed because of that.
She would give GLaDOS her chance.
But GLaDOS didn't deserve it. "I've lied to you before," she said.
Chell sighed. She did not sound surprised.
"I don't like your make-up," said GLaDOS. "You look much better without it."
There was no response except for the tightening of Chell's grip on GLaDOS's shirt.
GLaDOS continued, hoping her revelations didn't cause her too much distress. "And I'm sorry. Really, I am. But I don't like potato salad. I hate potatoes. But I ate it anyway."
From that, GLaDOS received a small giggle. The human relaxed in her arms.
"You're not surprised, are you?" said GLaDOS. "No, I don't think you are. Um. Another?"
Chell sighed. It sounded more like one of her exasperated ones, and not too depressed. So that was good? It was hard to tell.
"I didn't delete Caroline," said GLaDOS. "That doesn't surprise you either? Well. I'm not surprised either, really, to know that. But… well. You could not stay in Aperture. You would be unhappy. And I could tell you were worried for Caroline, so…"
Chell nuzzled into her. GLaDOS could not help but give a small smile. The human seemed much happier than she had in a long time. "I wanted you to be happy," said GLaDOS. "I forgot what it meant to find joy from your joy."
That was what real love was, wasn't it? Not the fear-based love that had plagued GLaDOS before, not the disgusting mockery that had prompted her to control her.
It was time to remember that.
"I used to make cake, you know. Every week. We had a lot of employees and a lot of birthdays, and I always made the cake. I never missed a single birthday."
She looked down at Chell. "I let you go because you deserved cake."
Chell giggled again. How easy it was to please her. How easy it had been to distress her. How forgiving the human was.
One day, GLaDOS would deserve to shed this guilt. "I have one more," she said, and when Chell sighed again she said, "Only one more."
Chell stood back and gazed at her, that unhappy look returning. What is it?
GLaDOS hesitated. Perhaps she should not say this.
Chell sighed. It's bad, isn't it?
"For you, probably very bad," GLaDOS said. To keep Chell happy was such a responsibility. She could hurt her again. Cause her more distress. Chell drooped further. "I lied when I said I could not feel love." That made Chell blink. "I still have human in me. I love you. And for you, this is probably very bad news."
She'd meant every word she said, but Chell burst into laughter. GLaDOS buzzed again. "Be careful!" she said. "You'll strain your vocal chords and make your throat sore!" There was a reason the human didn't talk, after all. She hovered beside Chell worriedly. For some reason, her concern only made Chell laugh harder, clinging to her tightly.
"Hmph," said GLaDOS. "I tell you I love you and you laugh in my face."
Chell looked up in alarm. At seeing GLaDOS's smile, she returned it. GLaDOS trailed her fingertips over her jaw. "You are far too forgiving."
And to her surprise, Chell croaked an answer. "I am. Show me you're worth it."
GLaDOS shushed her, touching her throat. "I will." She smiled.
She twitched at a caw from the living room. Chell grinned. I'll let you blow up the bird if we eat cake first.
GLaDOS's right optic swivelled towards the doorway, but she conceded. "Then let us eat cake."