A/N: Oh my gosh, new DLC? Pure adorableness. Proving that Valve more or less canonized my characterization of GLaDOS as a deranged mother figure. Here's a one-shot for you, spoilers for the DLC ending guys!
Also...this is kinda not fitting into my own canon well (what I've developed through my fics), considering Chell returned to Aperture several years after leaving, and GLaDOS has her birds apparently shortly after the end of co-op. But that's fine, I wanted to write this interaction, so pretend it fits appropriately.
Disclaimer: I wish I owned Portal! But I do own these fics, so, yay?
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Of all the insane, frightening, and sometimes downright hilarious situations she had ever found herself in the middle of, courtesy of GLaDOS, this definitely had to be at the top of the list in the 'hilarious' category.
Well, only with the exception of finding said AI in a potato being eaten by a bird. That one could never be dethroned from its place as number one.
In light of this, the only response Chell could form upon walking in to see the formerly murderous computer peering with intrigue down at a nest of gray-black baby birds safely protected in an incubator…was hearty laughter.
"Y-you…!" GLaDOS, in a rare show of self-consciousness, directed her gaze up at the human visitor with the bewilderment of a deer watching a semi-truck careening towards it on the highway. "You weren't supposed to be here for another two hours…and sixteen minutes! And forty-two seconds!"
Chell shrugged, still smiling as she came down from her laughter. She had actually been bent over from just the sight of what was in front of her. "I got off of work early today. We know what a fantastic employee I am, right? But you do still owe me a letter of recommendation, from what I remember."
She paused, the chattering peeps of the chicks now the only sound in the room. The AI gave them a sidelong glance, as if doing so would make them vanish and take the uncomfortable circumstances along with them.
"So, back to the point," the former test subject began again, her hand resting on her hip in a flippant gesture. "What are you doing with those things, and why aren't they dead?"
"Dead?" Obviously incredulous, GLaDOS pulled herself back in an almost indignant fashion. "If I can manage this facility in its entirety, single-handedly, why would I be incapable of keeping a few disgusting animals alive?"
The human could only shake her head. "I didn't ask if you were capable of it, I think the answer to that isn't what's in question. I asked why you're sharing your beloved throne room with those 'evil' little guys." Chell punctuated the word with air quotations. "You do tend to vent your anger using vast generalizations. Humans told me what to do and put cores all over me—I hate all humans. Birds kidnapped me and pecked me to death—I hate all birds. It seems fairly logical to me."
"I'm aware of that," GLaDOS huffed in return, now making a point of facing away from her newly-adopted children. "But these creatures have been wronged by the exact same bird as I was—their very own mother. Who was attempting to usurp my position as head of Aperture, I'll have you know. She abandoned her own defenseless children like the monster that she is."
Chell stared, an eyebrow raised in perplexity. Her leaving Aperture might have caused the AI to come even more unglued than she already had been before. Birds taking over the laboratory? Things must really be dull without her around to destroy the whole place and provide the threat of potential death.
"That's…quite a story." The woman scratched the back of her head, wondering how best to handle her semi-crazy friend in this situation. "But that really was enough to make you stop hating birds? You had Post Traumatic Bird Disorder for most of the time we spent walking around old Aperture."
GLaDOS shifted her posture defiantly to the other side. "And yet, they can do me no harm in this body." She glanced over at the nestmates, appearing to reconsider the absoluteness of the statement. "They haven't tried to so far, in any case. Sometimes it does take a while for them to openly revolt."
Chell rolled her eyes at the death glare that came with that last comment, even more amused by the change in lighting that accompanied it. GLaDOS was so theatrical that she even provided her own lighting cues. "That means you're saying you put the past behind you and did something—dare I say it?—mature and responsible. Kind even. I think you just might be on the verge of a major breakthrough."
The AI had resumed her watch on the brood, who now appeared to be falling asleep. They didn't seem at all disturbed by the loud, ubiquitous voice of their caretaker. "Would it be too much to ask that you keep your ignorant, uninvited human judgments at a lower volume?"
Folding her arms, Chell couldn't help smiling again. How in the world could someone as deadly as GLaDOS also be so maternal and attentive? All joking aside, everything about her was honestly a paradox wrapped in an enigma.
Speaking of being motherly, this brought up another question that just had to be asked.
"Do you sing to them? Like, Cara Mia maybe?"
Much to Chell's surprise, the AI didn't seem to take the question as an indirect insult. She cocked her head to the side in a fashion that would suit an amused smile. "I haven't found birds to need nearly as much emotional coddling as humans do. Being fed and preserved from danger suffices—humans are the only organic beings that require the subsequent tiers of Maslow's hierarchy."
The woman frowned. Psychology wasn't exactly her strongest point in college; she usually wanted to fall asleep during it. That stuff wasn't real science, as GLaDOS would probably agree.
"Love and belonging. Self esteem. And finally, self-actualization," GLaDOS recited dryly, her voice full of thinly veiled disdain. "Not that many of you ever reach that last one. Dr. Maslow was probably as cruel as the rest of your kind, so he made sure he gave everyone a standard they couldn't measure up to."
Chell had meandered closer to the incubator, noting her friend hovering protectively over the container at her approach. "Does all of that mean, 'Yes, I do sing to birds, but I won't admit it because I have a narcissistic personality disorder and a deluded sense of self.'?"
"Hm. Touché. Someone seems to be improving at the witticisms." Aperture's queen chuckled a bit at this, even more amused than before. But still absolutely unwilling to relent, of course. "You still are making a false assumption, though. I'm not raising children, they're going to be killing machines someday. Better to make them an ally early on, as far as I'm concerned."
"But you're going to have to let them go when they outgrow the nest, you know," Chell pointed out. "I think there are a lot of crows living around the oldest parts of Aperture. We saw quite a few, remember? You should return them to the flock when they're ready. Birds are a lot like humans, they need to be with their own kind to do well."
GLaDOS didn't respond. She glanced over to a corner of the room instead, like a child being scolded for some petty indiscretion.
"Oh." Chell's face fell, turning into a thoughtful frown. "You wanted them to stay with you, didn't you?"
Still no answer. The AI fidgeted a bit, her posture drawing up anxiously.
Every time she starts to love something, it leaves her. Holding things captive is the only kind of relationship she knows how to handle. Chell stared down at the chicks lying in a heap together, their tiny bodies swelling and relaxing with their breathing. Contrary to her initial purpose, GLaDOS had developed an impulse to watch over things. At first there was a definite aggression behind it, a more sadistic science-related motive, but that had gradually begun to change.
And the first step was letting me go.
"You did a good thing in saving them, you know. In fact, just not killing them was a big deal for you." Chell couldn't help but laugh a bit nervously at the latter. "Still, the best way to show them you care is to set them free so they can live their life."
GLaDOS had finally lifted her gaze to the former test subject, the light of her optic dimmed in what was undoubtedly a brooding fit of self-pity. "Why should I? They're mine. Everything in this facility belongs to me. They'll fly away and never return just like any other ungrateful human would— "
She stopped short, almost horrified by her apparent Freudian slip. The eye contact immediately disappeared. "Bird. I meant birds."
Chell had to smirk at this. She reached out gingerly to pat the AI affectionately beside her optic, smiling even though she only got an irritated glare before GLaDOS shrunk away from her touch.
"They'll come back, probably even build their own nests not too far from here," the human speculated, her dark bangs falling forward as she glanced out toward the rest of Aperture. "I don't think they would forget the generosity you showed them…especially when you didn't have to."
Because I sure didn't forget.