I made this account strictly so I could organize and track my favorite stories, but certain tumblrchums have convinced me to upload my own stuff so


Part 1: "A Stone's Throw from Normal"

There were stars outside Chell's window. Not the vague pinpricks of light that usually dotted the night sky, but actual, geometric stars like paper cutouts wheeling through the empty blackness outside. Something about the sight struck Chell as incredibly odd, but she couldn't quite place what it was.

Shaking her head she pushed off the floor, sending herself drifting upwards to retrieve her book from where it was floating near the ceiling. As she tucked her legs into a comfortable position beneath her hovering body, she once more had the sense of things being inexplicably off.

Chell tried to push this feeling down, but it kept gnawing at her in the back of her mind as she rifled through the blank pages. Finally with a sigh she snapped the book shut and tossed it uncaringly behind her.

"Shouldn't throw things like that, you'll put someone's eye out." Fear, stabbingly cold, shot through her, and Chell felt paralyzed. There was no mistaking that voice.

"Hello there, luv," Wheatley purred from behind her. "Missed you."

Chell's eyes popped open wide and she stared unseeingly at the ceiling for a moment before consciousness returned to her fully. She sat up, quickly scanned her little home for any sign of an intruder, and upon finding nothing and no one, flopped back down with a sigh.

Only a dream. She supposed that she'd brought it upon herself, after watching that movie. A story about the subconscious was bond to make her own act up. Groaning inwardly, she pressed her hand against her eyes. She thought she had been making so much progress when it came to… him.

With another heavy sigh she swung her legs over the edge of the bed, stretched until her back popped, and trudged the nine steps it took to reach the kitchen area. She filled the teakettle from the plastic drum shoved into one of the cabinets, noting that she'd need to refill it soon, and set it over the Bunsen burner she had taken from a nearby high school's chemistry classroom.

She went about her usual morning routine as she waited for the water to heat, each movement ingrained in muscle memory so that her mind was free to wander as it would. Today it wandered backwards, tracing the path she had taken to this point.

When GLaDOS had finally set her free, or if one were feeling less charitable, left her stranded in the middle of nowhere, nearly two years ago, Chell had pushed through the seemingly endless fields of wheat, companion cube in tow, with a dream of humanity urging her onward. She was giddy with triumph and looking forward to interaction with someone, anyone who wouldn't try to poison or burn or crush her.

She would get a job, and go to the grocery store, and spend Friday nights with friends. She would have friends, and a couch, and a shelf full of books, and all the things she hadn't had since the time of her vague memories of Before Aperture.

Stumbling upon the town where she now lived had seemed a gift from heaven after days of uniform vegetation. Coming to grips with the fact that it was completely and utterly abandoned had been hell. She had raced through the silent streets, peered into the windows of every house, hoping to find one, just one, that wasn't empty. What she found instead was an awful lot of dust and one newspaper that had mostly been protected from the weather in its plastic bag.

The front page was faded from god only knew how many years of sun, and some places were smudged to the point of illegibility, but she was able to piece together a basic gist of what had happened to the town; and very probably the rest of the world. The prerecorded voice in the ruined test chambers hadn't been kidding when it spoke of "circumstances of potentially apocalyptic significance." From the looks of things, Chell was the only breathing human left, at least in the vicinity.

She had allowed herself the day to weep and rage at this terrible cosmic joke, but after a night's rest in the overgrown park she had scrubbed her cheeks clean of dried tears and vowed to make the most of things.

The shriek of the kettle broke Chell out of her reverie. Shaking her head to clear out the morbid thoughts she filled a mug with hot water and added a generous scoop of instant coffee crystals. She preferred it black and strong, relishing the bitter taste and the warm aroma. She finished off the berries she had picked the day before for breakfast, lamenting a little that they had gone soft and sort of soggy during the night. There was no way, as of yet, to power the refrigerator and keep perishables like fruit fresh.

But the berries were still sweet, a wonderful contrast to the coffee, and Chell's mood brightened significantly as she popped them into her mouth, one by one, crunching the seeds between her teeth. By the time she trundled out the door of the Winnebago, the melancholy brought on by her dream had lifted. She tipped her face up to the sky, smiling at the feel of the sun on her skin. GLaDOS' claims be damned, pressing her cheek against a hard light bridge didn't even compare.

Chell knew for a fact. She had tried it.

Still beaming, Chell set up her laptop so that the small solar-powered battery could soak up energy while she was out and about, and set off on another "shopping trip", pushing her clever (if she did say so herself) handmade cart in front of her.

She had fashioned the trolley from several old skateboards and her companion cube. After discovering a seam along one of the cube' s faces and curious as to what the weighted companion cube was actually weighted with, she had pried it open using an old crowbar she had found, doing her best to ignore the questionable reddish-brown stains on the tool.

As it turned out, nestled inside the companion cube was a second companion cube, which in turn contained a third. There were five in total, stacked like nesting dolls, and she had repurposed them as she had seen fit. The largest she used to collect the rainwater she used to drink and cook with, the second for her collection cart, the third and fourth for storage and stepstools, and the fifth, which played a charming little song when tapped, to help her find sleep when it eluded her.

Chell whistled, practically the only sound she could make, a cheerful tune from a movie she had recently watched, as she strolled through the deserted streets. She knew that being so chipper in her situation was probably more than a stone's throw from normal, but then again, in the current state of affairs "normal" no longer applied.

The isolation should have been driving her out of her mind, but truth of the matter was that Chell was used to being alone. She had her freedom, and that was enough.

Her first stop was one of the houses she had yet to explore in a very upscale neighborhood near the center of town, and when she left she was rather pleased with her haul. Whoever had owned the house had obviously had a very eclectic taste in entertainment, and had fed it with the help of the Internet; Their collections of books, music, and movies had included titles that Chell had never seen in any of the stores or other houses in town. Many of them looked to be foreign or old and she was excited to check them out.

She had also taken a metal wind chime fashioned to resemble hummingbirds and a lamp that looked like a mermaid. Her cart quickly filled with odds and ends of all sorts; a carved wooden owl, a complicated star-shaped puzzle, a case full of Gameboy games, a stuffed toy dinosaur.

At first Chell had felt terribly guilty about simply taking whatever she felt like. Every time she had lifted a can from a grocery store shelf or some trinket from a house, a little voice in the back of her head had admonished that stealing was wrong.

Slowly, she had stopped thinking that way. That lesson was taught to her a long time ago, in completely different circumstances, and it no longer applied in this vacated world. Besides, there was no one around who would miss these items, no one to use them unless she did. The people who had once laid claim to them were long gone, more than likely dead.

Chell once again pushed away her darker thoughts, and instead focused her attention on the increasingly loud grumblings of her stomach. Based on the sun, she had spent the entire morning and a fair chunk of the afternoon collecting, so she ambled toward the park where she had spent her first night, aiming to take her lunch from the peach tree that grew there.

She often ate from and under the shade of that tree. The view from that spot was lovely; the once manicured grass had been overrun by wildflowers and animals visited frequently. Birds flickered around like little bits of living confetti and every now and again a liquid-eyed deer would amble gracefully by, undisturbed by her presence.

Chell had a certain weakness for peaches. Everything about them was so pleasantly stimulating to the senses: the lovely two-tone of the color, the soft fuzz on the outside, the sweet smell and taste. It was almost like they were the world's way of apologizing for the ascetic nature of Aperture.

Parking her cart, Chell circled around the tree. She had picked all of the fruit that she could reach from the ground already it seemed, so she'd need to climb. She had left her long-fall boots back at home, but the tree wasn't very tall and a spill wasn't likely to do much damage.

She wedged her foot in the fork between two low branches, pushing upward and hooking one elbow around a branch to steady herself, and snagged two peaches easily. There was another nearby, looking full and ripe and especially appealing, and Chell leaned forward to reach for it. Her fingertips could just barely brush the fruit, so she let go of her steadying branch and lunged for it.

She managed to grab it, but in doing so overbalanced and toppled backwards out of the tree. As she fell there was a brief, stinging pain on the back of her neck, followed by a snap.

She landed hard on her back, coughing as the air was knocked out of her. She picked herself off the ground and briefly took stock; nothing felt terribly damaged, at worst she would have some bruises tomorrow. What she was really worried about was—

Her hand flew to her throat, searching in vain for what she knew wasn't there. She could guess what had happened: when she fell the chain had snagged on a branch and broken. Frantic, Chell got on her hands and knees to search, growing increasingly distressed with every passing moment that she couldn't find it…

Finally, she spotted something, a bright blue spark in the grass about four feet to her left. Chell breathed a sigh of relief as her hand closed around the ring, and she held it clutched in her fist near her heart as it slowly returned to its normal rhythm.

With another sigh, this one irritated, she opened her hand and stared at the ring. It was either silver or white gold (Chell had never understood the difference) and set with a large, bright blue gem that winked when it caught the light just so, much as— he— used to wink at her.

Chell snorted, feeling a little disgusted with herself. How pathetic was she, panicking about losing a token meant to remind her of someone who she would be better off forgetting? How pathetic was she for carrying the damn thing around in the first place? She clenched her fist back around it and reared back, made to throw it as hard as she could into the tall grass.

She held the pose for a moment before lowering her arm and staring at the ring again. She had found it not long before she had moved into the Winnebago, at the last proper house she had tried to make her home in, along with her second ring, square-cut and yellow, which she kept on her beside table. Since she had— appropriated it, she had had several moments like this one where she seriously considered tossing it, and any lingering attachment to Wheatley along with it. Every time she couldn't bring herself to do it.

He had been kind to her, at least before he had been plugged in to GLaDOS' chassis. He had made her laugh, had risked his neck to break her out of the testchambers, and he had held her hand in the dark. He had promised to stay with her when they made it out, to take care of her. Practically her entire life was a testament to the fact that she didn't need him to, but she had appreciated the offer.

Maybe she even looked forward to sharing her life outside with him.

She scowled and shook her head hard enough to make it throb a little. He had also, she reminded herself, punched her down a near-bottomless pit, forced her to run a gamut of absolutely insane tests over more bottomless pits just so he could get off on it, and with his spikes, bombs and booby traps he had come closer to killing her than GLaDOS ever had. Really, he deserved to be spaced. She was happy he was so far away

If she kept telling herself that, maybe one day she'd actually believe it.

Chell jammed the ring into her pocket, making a mental note to find a new chain to put it on. Her good mood completely soured, she ate her slightly bruised peaches without really tasting them, and then headed home.

It took Chell longer than usual to make the return trip to the Winnebago; instead of her normal brisk walk she dragged her feet, and so it was nearly sunset by the time she made it back to the broken-down mobile home.

She had tried living in a normal house in the beginning. The first one she had chosen was a little cottage-style number with yellow siding and lots of windows. It had flowered curtains and cheerful, colorful décor and Chell had fallen in love with the place immediately. The whole building seemed to exude an air of friendliness.

Until she had tried to sleep there.

Tried being the operative word. She had been unable to drift off, her thoughts tangling up into one big knot of anxiety because she felt like an intruder. Even if it was empty now, his house had once been a home to someone that was not her. Someone had gone to the trouble of decorating it to their taste, had cooked dinner in that kitchen and watched television on the couch.

She could feel them there, that faceless family that had once been happy in that house; that had more than likely met with a violent, messy death soon after they had fled from it. The next morning, after a long and stressful night, Chell had fled as well.

She had tried living in several other houses, but was always struck by the same existential terror. Every house was haunted, even if the ghosts were only in her mind

She didn't have this problem with the Winnebago. It had obviously belonged to someone once, as evidenced by the spoiled food she'd had to scrape out of the cupboards, but no one had spent their life there. No one had called this place their home until her, and so she could.

Fixing it up hadn't taken very long, as she hadn't had any job or social obligations to distract her from the repairs. She liked to think she had done quite well for herself, considering the rather bleak circumstances she faced.

The engine still didn't run, so nothing electric worked, nor did the heat or AC, but she had battery-powered lamps for light, and could keep the inside temperature fairly comfortable through clever insulation and a very carefully monitored fire in the winter.

Once home, Chell covered her cart with a tarp to sort through her new treasures later, and headed over to the metal pump near the rear of the trailer. As she worked it, throwing her entire body weight onto the lever, she contemplated how this was probably her proudest achievement.

Before if she had wanted a bath she would have to make a trek that couldn't have been less than half a mile to a nearby stream. This was fine on mild days, but though the swim felt fantastic during the heat of the summer the return journey had often left her so sweaty she may as well not have bathed at all. And bathing when the stream was frozen over was absolutely out of the question.

Now she could shower everyday if she wanted. The water was tepid at best because she had no way to heat it, and showering in the winter was a pain, but at least now she could do it without fearing hypothermia.

Chell pumped just enough water for about ten minutes in the shower and, grabbing her laptop, trudged inside, but instead of heading for the bathroom she slumped down at the small table. She buried her face in her hands and allowed herself to mope, just for a moment. Then she slapped her cheeks lightly and decided there was only one way to pull herself up out of this funk.

She was going to bake a cake.

Chell made cake more than was probably healthy for her, but she kept active enough to burn it off and besides, who was going to scold her for her diet? She rummaged through her pantry and cupboards for the necessary bowl and measuring tools, the flour, sugar, powdered eggs and milk, the cocoa. She threw the ingredients together quickly, recipe memorized, and lit the gas oven with a match.

She was done with her shower well before the cake finished baking, and had time to mix up frosting, to boot.

Later that night, she sat on the steps that led up to her home and ate a generous slice of her cake. Her laptop was playing one of her new movies, where an attractive couple danced a waltz in swingtime in black and white, and her ring was back around her neck on a new chain. She watched the stars, and tried not to think about a particular cyborg that now resided among them.

Although, she did wonder a little what it was like up in space. She had been there, but she had been so distracted by the fact that she couldn't breathe and trying to cling desperately to Wheatley, her one anchor to the Earth, that she hadn't gotten much of an impression of it besides "lacking oxygen".

She wondered if the stars were as pretty from up there as they were from down here. Just then, almost as if her thoughts had summoned it, a shooting star arced across the night sky, trailing light.

Chell wasn't a superstitious person, normally, but tonight she decided to take that star as a good omen. She closed her eyes and wished for nothing in particular. She went to bed that night with no idea of what that streak of light really meant.

She found out a few days later as she was going through a flea market that had evidentially been abandoned right in the middle of business. There were some places on the ground where she could see the trampled remains of now useless money that had been dropped in the chaos.

Chell was examining an extremely ugly ceramic dog, with large drooping jowls and even larger, droopier eyes when it happened.

"LADY!" Chell started, dropping the dog to shatter against the pavement and she would have shrieked in surprise had she had a voice.

She whipped around to see him standing there, bouncing on his heels with his hands balled into fists in his excitement. She recognized him, this tiny (he barely came up to Chell's shoulder, and she was no giant herself) cyborg with his manic yellow eyes and shock of white-blonde hair standing on end. His name, if she remembered correctly, was Apollo, and the last time she had seen him had been in the depths of Aperture as he'd been drawn, cheering, into space.

What was he doing here? Dread started to creep up her spine.

"Lady. Ooh, lady, ooh, hi lady. You're on Earth. Hey lady, I'm on Earth! Came back to Earth. Yeah. Came home! Yeah, both came back."

Despite the heat of the day, Chell felt cold. 'Both.' That meant—

"Hello there, luv." She spun around again, dizzy, but not from the sudden movement. Wheatley stood not four feet from her, leaning on a booth. She took one look at him, and from the set of his mouth in an arrogant smirk, the casually predatory stance, the way half of his diodes glowed red, and most of all, the indefinable but unmistakable look in the depths of his blue eyes, she knew.

He was still corrupt. Not even two years in the depths of space had been able to purge him of it. Chell took an involuntary step backwards and his grin widened.

"Missed you."