A/N: I'm not entirely sure what possessed me to write this. I think it's because of the vast oceans of Wheatley-apologizing-to-Chell stories that made me decide something needed to be done. He's not the only one who needs to apologize, after all. Also, happy 4th of July to everyone else here in the US, I'm sure that's quite a few of you who are reading. Be safe and don't explode/ignite anything inappropriate.
Disclaimer: Nein, I do not own Portal~
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While figuring out the mood of a slightly-deranged supercomputer with occasional tendencies toward murder wasn't the easiest thing in the world to do, Chell had to admit that she was getting pretty good at it.
The thought struck her that afternoon as she peeked out over the top of the scientific journal she was engrossed in, jerked from her concentration by a short but decidedly profound sigh from Her Royal Highness. The sort of sigh that invited a question of concern—well, at least it would from any normal person's perspective.
But GLaDOS wasn't any normal person. She was an artificial life form that went out of her way to prove that she never suffered from any feelings that conflicted with her purpose and duties. Chell didn't entirely know who she was trying to convince of that, though it was obviously very important to her to do so. She speculated that the AI probably maintained that impassive attitude even when it was just her and those two bumbling little robots of hers.
She could just leave it be. In the past, she ignored GLaDOS's capricious mood swings out of pure self-preservation. But the more she got to know her, the better she got at wheedling some grains of truth out of her oh-so-important facades.
"Having an off day?" Chell offered the question casually, setting her magazine down in her lap. "Usually if you're giving those drama queen sighs, something's up with you."
A little huff of disagreement escaped the AI. Her optic flickered in annoyance at being pulled from whatever she was mulling over. "My system is functioning perfectly fine, thankyouverymuch. A diagnostic is running at all times that would alert me to any problem. So your assumption is conjecture at best."
Chell smiled sarcastically, nodding in agreement. "So you're saying physically, you're fine."
Lowering her head in suspicion, the AI let some animosity creep into her voice. "What exactly are you suggesting?"
"Emotionally, you're all messed up inside for some reason," the former test subject laughed, her smile becoming even more knowing. "I won't speculate as to why, but you definitely seem out of sorts. Is science getting boring for you or something?"
GLaDOS reeled back in horror. "Perish the thought! I might as well suggest you could grow tired of breathing."
"Okay, so it's not science. Then, what?"
Chell folded her arms, crossing one leg over the other. This was going to be like getting blood from a stone, but if nothing else it was a lot of fun to press her buttons. Figuratively, of course. Doing that literally could result in some kind of explosion for all she knew.
Unexpectedly, GLaDOS averted her gaze from the woman before her, shifting her posture to a more defensive stance. "It's probably some kind of minor error in my registry. I just haven't had time to look into it. That's all."
Now it was Chell who sighed. "Come on. I saw you stuck in a potato and ranting about lemons, for Christ's sake. Nothing you admit to me could possibly make me think less of you." Receiving a slightly venomous glare, she continued. "We're friends, aren't we? Maybe I can help."
A poignant silence filled the room. The AI fidgeted a bit, an amusing sight considering her intimidating appearance. "It's an unpleasant sensation that I can't quite trace to its origin. If I could, it would have been deleted a long time ago."
"And when did you start having these 'feelings'?" the woman asked, imitating the professorial tone of a psychiatrist.
GLaDOS stared at her in irritation, her optic brightening and then quickly dimming to an eerie glow. "Ever since you turned up here again, after I specifically told you not to. I had been attributing it to the fact that you brutally murdered me, but that seems unlikely. Because unfortunately, I don't really feel like killing you anymore."
Chell laughed uncomfortably. "That's what I'd like to believe, though I do have my doubts about it sometimes..."
The computer seemed to ignore her, her thoughts refocusing on the source of her troubles in much the same way that she could submerse herself in a question of science. "I have a difficult time allowing you to return here. For the same reasons that I banished you in the first place, though what those reasons are I can't imagine."
She paused, seemingly hesitant to continue the conversation. "I don't want to think about the way things were before. And, honestly? I have no idea why."
For a few moments, Chell was silent. With how incredibly intelligent GLaDOS was, it was easy to forget sometimes that her practical understanding of psychology had some major discrepancies. To her, unfamiliar emotions had to feel like some kind of malfunction. Something very unscientific.
"I would tell you my opinion," she began slowly. "But I don't think you'll like it very much. So it's probably not in my best interest to say anything about this."
"On the contrary, the deadly neurotoxin thinks it is in your best interest." Her voice was cold, regressing toward overtly threatening again. "He would advise you tell me exactly what you're thinking, lest he have to mediate this conversation."
Chell brushed her dark hair over her shoulder in a veiled nervous gesture. "Oh, come on. You wouldn't."
"Would you like to test that theory?"
They stared at each other for a moment, an unpleasant déjà vu permeating the air. It was a stupid thing to be arguing about, but the issue of absolute dominance always managed to overtake sensibility when it came to GLaDOS.
The former test subject unfolded her arms, her expression losing some of the hardened determination. She didn't quite trust the AI enough yet to try her patience; she had such a short fuse, after all. But she still liked to hope that things had changed enough between them to avoid any fatalities.
"Fine. I did warn you though, so don't have a tantrum when I do tell you." Chell felt her jaw stiffen defiantly, almost like a teenage daughter. "That nasty feeling you've got? It's called guilt."
A deafening silence filled the room. The kind that snuck its way into all the cracks of every awkward discussion that had ever taken place since the beginning of time. All at once, it hung in the air and crept across the floor.
At long last, the AI chuckled ominously at the statement. It had taken her a moment to put on the denial act. Had she actually been considering it?
"Guilt," she repeated calmly, a familiar manic edge to her voice. "A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, or wrong. Only a human could put stock in such petty classifications as 'right' and 'wrong.' That's why you never make any progress as a species. Power is the only law that is universal. Morality, on the other hand, is pointless idealism."
Chell couldn't help but smile at this. "A very Machiavellian argument. But I would say that a good king is beloved by his subjects, while a dictator must fear a knife in the back at every turn. Or in your case, a rocket."
The jab didn't go unnoticed. GLaDOS drew herself up in self-righteous indignation, her old imposing nature resurfacing. "I've always been justified in my actions. The monsters who created me treated me like a misbehaving pet, then as a vessel for a human. They deserved to die as they did."
"That sounds suspiciously like a notion of 'right' and 'wrong,' if you ask me," Chell replied dryly, mirroring the AI's own mannerisms. "Morality does go both ways you know. Did everyone in Aperture deserve to die because of the crimes of a few people? Don't try to tell me you didn't get enjoyment out of punishing all of them."
She stopped for a moment, her eyes distant and unreadable. "Including me."
Glancing up at GLaDOS, Chell noticed her demeanor had softened a bit. She had perhaps struck a chord with her. For the sake of a lasting truce, they never discussed their past differences. But she had expected hell to freeze over before guilt ever caught up with the stubborn AI.
Perhaps she had become a little more human than she was willing to admit.
When GLaDOS spoke up again, her voice betrayed a minute trace of sadness that made the enormous room seem very cold and empty. "Do you know why guilt is an irrational emotion?"
She let the words hang in the air, shaking her head slightly. "Because it can change nothing. It doesn't correct the past. It doesn't raise the dead. It just causes misery, like so many other human behaviors."
Chell let out a long sigh. Couldn't she have cut out all the arguing and just admitted that she was having a moral conflict?
No. Of course not. She was way, way too proud for that.
Without a second thought, the woman stood up from her place on the floor and closed the small distance between them. The AI shrunk back a bit, clearly perturbed.
"Oh, please don't tell me you're having a murderer relapse," she groaned. "Hey, what are you—don'ttouchmedon'ttouchmedon'ttouchme!"
Her childish protesting died down a bit as Chell wrapped her arms around her metal frame, patting her encouragingly. She probably was considering using a claw to pry the human off of her, but instead, she merely rested her head on her shoulder.
"I really hate you, you know." The fact that she wasn't moving said otherwise, but Chell decided to let it lie. After all, there was a good chance that this was the first affectionate human contact GLaDOS had ever received in her entire existence.
"Wanna hear a really good way to treat guilt?" Chell asked, her voice like that of a wise mother. "An apology."
She got a "hmph" for an answer.
"I'll go first, just so you see it isn't lethal." The former test subject paused dramatically. "I'm sorry for exploding you, and then inadvertently replacing you with an idiot. Okay?"
The two broke apart, giving GLaDOS the opportunity to glare at her with a very skeptical eye. She made sure to direct her gaze elsewhere when she finally answered.
"I'm sorry. And that's all you're getting out of me. So don't push it."
A/N: Yay for friendship! Anyway. R&R really makes me happy. *eyes wander different directions*