Chell, try as she may, can't shake the dreadful feeling of looking up at it. She presses her head against her pillow, trying to drown out every possibility that she'll catch a glimpse of silver out her bedroom window.
Too many late nights (sometimes flowing into early mornings,) have been spent strained, with knees hugged up to her face. Fingernails leaving crescent moon shaped indents in her arms from holding too tight. Black hair sticking in curls to the back of her neck, drenched in cold sweat. If she could just focus on these sensations for long enough, she could spin herself out of this spiral. Will you calm down? It's just a rock. You know, I've never seen a human so scared of something so harmless before. It's not even a rock capable of hurting you, I'm sure someone has died due to rock-related blunt force trauma before. Of course, that would be impossible in your situation considering this specific pebble is approximately two hundred and forty thousand miles away from your current location. Not even a moron could come to your conclusion, that this is a circumstance worthy of a breakdown.
Luckily her roommate has his own experience with irrational fears.
In the beginning of their time together, each was quite apprehensive of the other. Doors were shut tight and locked at night. Hands and eyes were kept to oneself, and words were seldom spoken- in Chell's case, not at all. Doug initially felt it was a fault of his own that she refused to speak to him. (In his mind, Chell was not capable of being at fault. She hadn't yet proven otherwise.) But slowly he put the pieces together and realized perhaps she was just more comfortable this way, unrelated to his ideas that she held against him a grudge for his actions.
He came to grips with her means of communication being mostly body language. Eventually her eyes would start to steal glances, or roll sarcastically, or be lifted by a smile. Later hands would hesitantly wander, sinewy fingers brushing bruised knuckles in expression of solidarity.
After months of quiet consideration, she would begin to speak in small sentences. Her inflection was crackled from a lack of use. Doug never minded. His own voice was scratchy like a broken record, and stuttered like one too.
Around the same time, she employed the equally intermittent, slightly more preferable use of sign language. She had learned a bit of it due to her parent’s attempts at trying to express herself when she was younger. She had always been almost entirely mute, to her peers’ dismay. Doug tried his hardest to be a good student for her. Some of their more pleasant moments arose from the back and forth of him questioning what a sign meant or how to make the motion, and Chell obliging his inquiries. He liked being able to communicate with her in a way that seemed to be far less taxing than speaking. Sometimes she got frustrated. Chell is not a very welcoming person. But she isn’t off-putting more than she is untouchable. Her own guard was always up, and yet she could see right through any facade you tried to clamber to hide behind. It’s exhausting. Sometimes Doug felt guilty for getting worn out by her. Something tells him she probably felt the same way about him.
Ultimately Chell liked to stay quiet, it was her natural state of being. The moments in which she decided to talk would seem random to anyone who didn’t know her well enough to be able to tell that it tended to be when she had the most energy. Doug’s favorite was when she laughed. Whenever she was too amused by something to keep her walls up, it’d come out in a short, breathy chuckle. Her slate blue eyes looked softer then. Her smile in these moments could light up a room. And because of the harsh, cool-toned way Doug saw things, it often did.
Night-time was not particularly easy. Doug had always struggled with nightmares, but since escaping Aperture they had grown to be even more lucid. It was frustrating enough having to cope with the undesirable parts of being alive and haunted by his experiences there during the day, but not being able to rest even when he was unconscious drove him up the wall.
Some particularly feverish nights could be characterized by a ubiquitous static, vivid blue and black and red ants clouding his mind every time he tried to close his eyes. This was to mention nothing of the things that would appear in the corner of his room when they were open. Or the auditory hallucinations he was all too familiar with that naturally, did not stop once the sun went down. He felt as if he were in a constant battle of wanting to crawl out of his skin versus laying motionless in hopes that if he could achieve stillness for long enough, there’d be a chance he would feel safe enough to fall asleep.
He quickly grew sick of that room. Maybe it was unreasonable to believe that a space's very energy could be tainted, but he could only wake up ill-rested and aching so many times before starting to feel that something was off about it. Trying to sleep in there felt like trying to sleep knowing a turret was just around the corner. Eventually, on a night after Chell had clicked her door closed for the evening, he dragged his blankets out of the accursed room and into the living area, onto the couch. He knew, of course, that simply changing locations would not stop the loud ticking and gears shifting that never seemed to wind down when he was trying to rest, but a change of scenery sounded nice. That, and he wasn’t ready for the only alternative option he could think of, which would be disturbing his roommate. Doug would much rather suffer alone than bother her. He figured he had put her through enough already. As much as he enjoyed her company now that they were on friendlier terms, he preferred not to overstep. He was aware that he was.. a handful, to say the least. This guilt kept him from doing many things, opting to instead make himself as small as possible when she was around.
Chell didn’t comment on his bedsheets being strewn across the old, dithered green couch the following morning. Instead placing herself at the adjacent kitchen table. Their housing was modest, a small kitchen, dining area, and a seating area all within one square room. A closet and the door to Doug’s bedroom were placed on the walls, as well as a hallway containing access to Chell’s room, one small bathroom, and at the end, the front door. Doug was hunkered down on the couch scribbling away at something with his back against an armrest. Almost half a year of living in town (..Already? They could have sworn they came tumbling out of that wheat field only a couple weeks ago.) had made possible the ability to have small luxuries like pads of paper, because of the jobs that provided them. Doug had the day off today, but Chell would be leaving in an hour.
Chell skimmed over the newspaper that she struggled to understand how such a small town could afford to have, while a pot of coffee brewed over on the counter. It was old as all hell but worked well enough for her to be able to pour two cups for her and her companion, whose own companion cube was leaned up against the sofa. As she made her way over she took care not to set the mugs on his cube, but rather on the ground. Doug didn’t seem to like using it in that way so she didn’t either.
As strange as his hang-ups about the memento had seemed at first, she came to the conclusion that she cared more about his well-being than his occasionally odd choice of coping mechanisms. It wasn’t as if she didn’t have her own.
She could hardly tell if Doug had noticed her presence before she placed the drink on the ground next to him, and seated herself across from him on the couch. He tucked his feet closer to himself at her arrival, and glanced up at her with an air of being mildly perturbed. It wasn’t that he hadn’t noticed her, (despite being enraptured enough what he was doing for it to have potentially slipped his mind,) in fact he always perked up at the sound of her door unlocking and sleepy footsteps trailing out of her room, (he was almost as perceptive as Chell herself) but rather he still wasn’t quite used to her willingness to take up space around him. She knew when to back off and allow Doug his personal bubble, but had no issue and actually seemed to enjoy hanging out around him.
Many times they had started out the door for an outing, Chell fully intending to speed-walk independently to her destination, then seeming to change her mind and backtracking to invite him to lace his fingers with hers as they walked to wherever they were headed.
The reality of the situation is that over the months they had found themselves somewhat tied at the hip. Who’s to say if they would have hit it off had their paths not been forcibly crossed and intertwined as it were, but regardless their shared experiences and unique differences drew them together in a way they hadn’t expected. As careful as they were with each other, even now still learning which boundaries not to cross, there was a certain kind of solace in being the only two surviving humans from the Aperture disaster. Quantum entanglement, if you will.
Chell smiled in her usual slight way, and settled into the couch crossing her arms lightly, cup clutched in one hand. Their radio droned on in the background. Today was a sunny one, streaks of light pouring in through two small windows.
“Ah, good morning.” Doug looked up at her. “And thank you.” He leaned the sketchpad against his lap and bent over to pick up his coffee, taking a sip off of it. It was about Spring now so the warmth it provided was well met. He typically forgot things like breakfast nowadays, opting to wait until lunch, but Chell never forgot a morning ritual and took it in stride to rope him into it. He was grateful for her thoughtfulness, although little did she know he had already been awake for hours.
In a common, comfortable moment of silence Chell looked out the window behind him for a moment before setting her drink aside.
“What are you working on?” She signed. Doug shuffled in his seat. “Oh, it’s nothing. Just a bunch of nonsense.” He shook his head briefly. “I had this weird dream last night, there was a painting on the wall that I think I did. It was really specific, I’ve been trying to capture it all morning.” He admitted.
Another couple of signs. “Can I see?”
He looked down at the marks on the paper, and decided today he’s fine with it. He wasn’t always in the mood for sharing his art, as his work didn’t seem very palatable to others in his eyes, but Chell already had a history with finding his art whether it was of his volition or not. So he might as well just show her. She always seemed to get a kick out of it. “Uhm, sure. They’re a little.. weird, Nothing you haven’t seen before.” He mumbled.
She scooted closer, they huddled together. Chell swore her head was close enough to his chest she could hear his heart beating between his ribs. Sometimes he really did remind her of some sort of small animal whose heart might beat out of its chest, or feel compelled to leap away from the situation at hand at any given moment. She did her best to make him feel safe around her, but ultimately sometimes had to do the equivalent of inching closer to a deer in hopes it wouldn’t be too startled and run away. Silently she looked over the drawings, brushing her hand against the corner of the page in interest. She really did think his art was fascinating, it was always hauntingly captivating whenever she came across it on those sickly white wall panels. Even if it scared her a little sometimes, too. Chell was not really an artistic person before she met Doug. It was an omnipresent thing in her life as it is anyone’s and had dabbled in photography at some point, but it never fully occurred to her how deep the roots of art as a form of self expression could go. Doug’s art was an extension of himself, and it was pretty wonderful to watch in motion.
This specific page was full of many different takes on the concept from his dream he had mentioned. Some sort of figure with his usual style of expressive lines encapsulating it, almost like a bramble bush around them. Pops of a dull raspberry type color and cerulean blue were interwoven in the form, created by broad motions of the wrist using old colored pencils he had found in a co-op shop a couple months ago. He loved those things.
“I don’t remember if it’s supposed to be someone specific.” He commented as she looked the pictures over. Doug couldn’t help making defensive comments, out of a sort of obligation to make sense of what she was looking at. Frankly she was content just getting to see them at all, but never minded the insight into his method.
She ran an inquisitive finger along one of the swirling lines on the paper. Briefly resting her head on his shoulder before shooting back up, suddenly realizing she was going to be late for work. How long had they been sat there like that? Her coffee was cold.
She glanced at Doug urgently, and then tilted her head as if in apology.
“Oh god I forgot! Sorry for keeping you.” Doug felt just as bad for occupying her as she apparently did for having to leave so soon. Sometimes they didn’t see each other much in a day. “It’s fine, go.” He added reassuringly.
The stocky woman rose to her feet and stretched her arms above her head before disappearing back into her bedroom, only to pop out a minute later wearing work clothes and pulling on a boot. One of the many ways the machinations of their captor had stayed with them was in the fact Chell had never removed her Aperture Science Advanced Knee Replacements. She was very conflicted about them. On one hand, she resented the fact that she always carried with her a physical reminder of times past. Metal and bolts welded onto her leg and a permanent spring in her step. But she never felt she had the time to get them removed, let alone try to explain to a doctor exactly what they were. Many times she mulled over the idea of ripping them out herself, but each time decided it would be too risky. So for now, there on her legs they stayed. She hated to admit she had also just grown used to them.
After grabbing her coat and keys Chell reappeared back in front of him, giving a quick wave as a goodbye. “Have a good day.” He said, and called “Bye.” as she was gone out the door.
Doug collapsed his head between his knees. He could never help the sunburst in his chest that sparked when she did things like that.
He wished he could just leave her alone, but he liked her far too much. He embarrassed himself with these feelings. She was only being normal. But nobody had really tried to understand his point of view like she does. No one wants to.
But she does, and god if he doesn’t resign himself to that sometimes.