[A/N: This was beta'd by the awesome Jenovaii. Thanks again!]
GLaDOS wasn't sure what she'd been expecting when she allowed the lunatic back inside her Enrichment Center after twenty years, but it certainly hadn't been this. The woman sat on her knees like an execution victim in front of the giant AI, her hands dangling in her lap and her eyes locked on the ground. Her clothes were not only filthy, like she hadn't changed them in days, but mismatched. She had paired a heavy winter coat with shorts and a tank top.
"I beg your pardon?" the AI asked with a snort, although that request coupled with her physical observations was causing her to worry. Hadn't Chell developed a pleasant life since her release from the Enrichment Center? The last time GLaDOS had performed a mandatory checkup, the human had been just fine. Happy, even. She had a droll but apparently fulfilling job as an insurance agent, and it was there that she had met her wife, who was equally droll but seemed to be just as fulfilling. They had adopted twin toddlers close to ten years ago, and GLaDOS knew that all of these things had made her former test subject quite satisfied.
"You heard me," the woman said. She was speaking in a voice almost too low for GLaDOS's auditory processors to pick up, and her grey eyes still refused to meet the searching yellow light of the AI's optic. "I said kill me. That's what you've always wanted, isn't it? Me dead? Well, now you have the chance. So go on. DO IT!"
The last sentence had been shouted, and with it, the human had finally looked up. Her eyes were locked in a glare, inexplicably angry and hurt. GLaDOS edged backwards a bit.
"I know your memory is poor, so allow me to refresh it," she said. "I no longer want you dead. I only want you gone. So if you've really returned to the Enrichment Center after all this time in the hopes that I will kill you, I apologize for the disappointment."
Chell's eyes flashed, but she gave the AI a stiff nod and stood. "I should have known you wouldn't help me. Fine. I'll do it myself."
She turned to leave, but several panels popped out of the floor, blocking her path.
"Not so fast," GLaDOS said. The human wheeled back around to face her.
"I said MOVE!"
"And I said, 'Not so fast,'" the AI reiterated. "If you had any intention of 'doing it yourself,' you would not have come here and asked me to do it. So tell me, [Subject Name Here], for what reason have you decided to plague my existence once again?"
Chell hesitated, her expression torn between anger and an emotion GLaDOS couldn't quite decipher, then returned to her original position on the ground, once again refusing to look up. "How often do you check the news?"
"Well, I—" GLaDOS began, but the human cut her off.
"Check the news stories for my city. Two Wednesdays ago."
The AI didn't bother pretending she had no idea where her former test subject lived, and it only took her a few seconds to lock onto a story she had seen when it was published but had glossed over due to what she'd initially considered irrelevance. There had been a fire in an apartment building. Three casualties. One woman, two children. Their descriptions matched GLaDOS's personal records for Chell's family. Chell's name was even printed in the article. GLaDOS wondered how she could have missed it before.
"I see. I'm…sorry."
"Really?" Chell's grey eyes locked onto the AI's optic and narrowed. "You're sorry? That's all you have to say?"
"Yes," GLaDOS replied, confused at the human's reaction. "That is the customary thing to say when one suffers a loss, is it not? I'm sorry."
"You're not sorry!" In a flash, Chell was up on her feet, eyes blazing and hands clenched into fists at her sides. "You're never sorry. You weren't sorry when you killed everyone I knew all those years ago at Bring Your Daughter to Work Day. You weren't sorry every time you tried to kill me. That's why I came back! Because you're never sorry! But now that I need you to not be sorry, you decide to develop some sort of sympathy. Great." She smacked the palms of her hands against her thighs so hard that they left red marks. "That's just great."
"I am not going to kill you," the AI said again. "I have invested too much effort and far too many funds into watching your mediocre little life from the sidelines. It would be a pity to let all my hard work go to waste like that. Do you have any idea what the annual cost is to maintain microcameras and tracking devices? No? I thought not."
For a brief moment, Chell's face was torn between laughter and sadness, but it quickly settled on the latter. "You have to let me. Do you have any idea what it's like, to lose everyone you love twice? I can't do this. I just can't do this anymore. Without them, I have…I have nothing." With that, she fell silent, gazing up at the giant supercomputer.
"If you think I'm going to let you, you are crazier than I thought," GLaDOS replied. "So once again, why are you here? You don't need me to kill you. As you have already pointed out, you are perfectly capable of killing yourself."
Chell began opening her mouth, looking like she was ready to say something, but stopped, clamping it tightly shut once again.
"No? You don't know?" the AI asked, not deterred in the slightest by her former test subject's familiar refusal to cooperate. "Because I do. After all those things you said about my never being sorry, you came here because you wanted sympathy. You still don't have any friends, do you? How pathetic."
"I never needed any friends!" Chell snapped, glaring once again. "I had her and then we had the kids. They were all I ever needed and all I ever wanted and now they're all gone."
GLaDOS could see tears beginning to form in the human's eyes, but she pressed on anyway. "So you came back here because I'm the only person you had left. How very typical, using me as your last resort. There isn't anyone else you could have gone to for comfort? Anyone at all? I'm sure your coworkers would at least pretend to care about you. I wouldn't. Not because I care. Because I'm not human and therefore have no obligations to uphold your social standards."
Chell shook her head as the first tears began sliding down her cheeks. She didn't bother wiping them away, and she didn't even bother denying what the AI was saying to her. "I just…I thought…"
"You thought what?" the computer snorted. "That I would welcome you back with open arms? Provide some sort of comfort after you destroyed my facility and killed me twice? Well, you're clearly stupider than I thought, because I—"
Her tirade was cut short when Chell yanked a picture frame out of her coat pocket and actually threw it at the AI. It hit her metal casing and shattered, even as GLaDOS jerked back in an attempt to avoid it.
"You lunatic! What do you think you're doing? You could have broken something!"
"Just look at it," the human ordered. Her voice was shaking, but it seemed to be more from anger than from the tears that were now flowing freely down her face. Warily, GLaDOS obliged her, tilting her head so that she could see the picture on the floor. It was still sitting in its golden frame, and although covered in broken glass, was still visible. Four faces smiled up at her, and the AI retrained her optic's gaze on Chell, who was giving her something bordering on an expectant stare.
"For what reason did you want me to look at this? I am sorry they are dead. I was not lying about that. But there is nothing I can do about it, you know. When I talked about reanimating the dead all those years ago, I—"
Chell let out a choked sob. GLaDOS left the rest of her words unsaid. She watched for a while, tilting her head to the side as Chell clenched her eyes and jaw tightly shut. GLaDOS didn't know whether her comment had invoked rage or sadness, but she knew she'd gone too far. She waited until Chell opened her eyes again before releasing an irritated sigh.
"All right. Do you want comfort? Fine. Come sit down on top of all this broken glass and do whatever it is you're trying to do. As long as it'll stop you from making even more of a mess, I don't care."
Chell didn't hesitate. She approached the AI, who eyed her cautiously, and reached down to pick up her picture before sliding off her coat and dropping it on top of the remainder of the broken glass. Then she sat down, cradling the picture in one arm, and reaching up towards GLaDOS with the other.
The supercomputer jerked backwards on instinct, out of her reach. "Whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa. What do you think you're doing?"
Chell's only response was a stare, its intensity not lessened by the tears on her cheeks. After a moment, GLaDOS relented, coming back into range of the human's arm. "Fine. I will allow this just this once. It doesn't mean that I care about you, because I don't. As previously mentioned, I don't want my expensive technology to go to waste and I don't want you to destroy anything else. Who do you think is going to have to pick up all this glass? I'll give you a hint: it's me."
But her objections ceased as the human wrapped an arm around her and pressed her face against the casings that surrounded her optic. If it was cold, Chell didn't say anything, and GLaDOS could feel the dampness of the human's cheeks as she continued to cry. Her optic darted around anxiously for a few moments. She was unaccustomed to consoling test subjects, or humans, or anything, for that matter, and she couldn't do anything but wonder how long she was going to have to allow this.
Then her optic locked on the picture frame that Chell was still cradling. Some form of realization coursed through her, probably some irritating remnant from being human, and she began to understand. Her normally hard gaze softened as she looked at it, and after another moment, she relaxed into the human's grip and let the former test subject hold her.
It was almost two hours before Chell finally pulled away, eyes red. She let go of GLaDOS and moved the picture frame to her lap, wiping at her cheeks with both hands and then at GLaDOS's now-damp casings as the AI stared at her. Then she stood, gripping the picture, and gave the computer a quick nod. "Thank—thank you."
"You're…welcome," GLaDOS replied after a moment. "And now that I've had the immense pleasure of being clung to by a human for two hours, I'd be more than happy to kill you if you still desire."
It wasn't a serious remark, but Chell appeared to be considering it briefly before shaking her head. "No. No, I'll…I've done this before. I can do it again. And I don't just have nothing this time. I have…I have a job, and I have coworkers, and I can handle being by myself."
"How very noble of you," GLaDOS said dryly, ignoring the fresh tears that the last part of the human's statement had prompted. "But there is another option. Since your outlook on life seems to be improved by being here, I suppose I could allow you to remain. Just don't expect me to let you hug me again."
For a moment, Chell's face lit up and she looked the happiest she'd been since her arrival back at Aperture, but her expression quickly dropped and she shook her head. "I can't."
"Why not?" the AI asked, trying to ignore the swift pangs of rejection and fear she'd felt at the idea of allowing her mentally distraught test subject back into the world. "You have nothing without your family. You said so yourself, remember? At least here you have me, and I might be your last resort, but I'm much better than a droll job and coworkers you can't even go to for comfort in times of crisis."
Chell shook her head no again, although her expression said otherwise. "I can't. It is better here, with you, when I don't—when I don't have to face the world and everyone. Aperture's sort of like a sanctuary, even if I did almost die here fifty thousand times."
"That is an exaggeration," GLaDOS interrupted. The human ignored her and continued.
"It's detached from the rest of the world. Like its own little place. It's easier for me to pretend like the rest of the world doesn't exist when I'm here." She took a deep, shaky breath. "But I can't do that. Not forever."
"I see no reason why not," GLaDOS said, and a small laugh escaped from Chell as she shook her head again.
"I just can't."
The AI's optic narrowed, and then she turned away, her voice adopting a hurt, petulant tone. "Fine. Go ahead and leave, then. Just don't expect a song this time. You have to earn those."
Chell closed her eyes for a moment, then reached down for her coat. "I'm going now, GLaDOS. I have to. But…"
"But?" GLaDOS asked quickly, turning back to face the human.
"But…can I come back sometime?" Chell asked. "Not to stay, but…just to visit?"
GLaDOS considered it for a moment. On one hand, it would be easy to give the human an ultimatum, to force her to make a permanent choice between staying and leaving. But on the other hand, GLaDOS was concerned that the stubborn human might not make the correct choice, and then the cameras used for her mandatory checkups would once again become the AI's only way of seeing her.
So she nodded. "Yes. I suppose that would be acceptable."
And then Chell, having slid the picture back into the pocket of her coat, was hugging her again, with both arms this time. The AI tensed more out of habit than anxiety, but it was a quick hug, and far too soon, Chell released her and stepped backwards.
"Thank you," she said. "For everything."
GLaDOS's only reply was a slight nod. She watched as the former test subject turned and walked into the elevator, and she was tempted to stop it from leaving. After all, the human would be far safer inside the Enrichment Center. It was a very logical course of action…
…Still, though, something told her it would only serve to make Chell even unhappier. And the human would return without interference; she was sure of that. So she allowed the elevator to leave, watching the human wave until she disappeared from sight.
[A/N: Thanks for reading! As usual, reviews are appreciated.]