In the end there were four survivors this time: herself, Newt, what was left of Bishop, and Hicks.
After a thorough search of the ship for any more stowaways, Ripley set the Sulaco's coordinates for home. She allowed herself and Newt the indulgence of a quick shower before returning to Medical to prepare Hicks and Bishop for the long journey home.
Bishop lay upon a gurney with his eyes closed, his synthetic entrails spilling out of his abdomen. He was a mess, but Ripley was hopeful that they would be able to find the necessary parts to repair him once they arrived at Gateway.
Ripley frowned as she surveyed Hicks’s battered body. As bad as he looked, he was very lucky to be alive after such a close encounter with a xenomorph. She sighed and then began the process of cleaning him up. Once she was satisfied that all of the dirt and grime was gone from his body, she removed the soiled bandages and cleaned and sterilized his wounds and redressed them. As clinical as the proceedings had been, she couldn't help blushing when she removed his fatigues in order to bathe him...she was only human. Even with bandages covering the left side of his face and upper body, he was still a very handsome man...and he looked especially angelic while in repose.
“I assure you, he’s going to be fine.” Bishop said suddenly, startling Ripley out of her thoughts. She had almost forgotten that he was laying there.
“We won't know for a while about his vision, and there will be some significant scarring, but I’m sure that they will only add to his rugged charm.” Bishop said with a weak smile.
“I’m sure you're right, Bishop.” Ripley said quietly. She watched Hicks sleep for few moments and then turned toward where Bishop lay waiting patiently.
Ripley felt a bit out of her element while tending to the android, but with his capable instruction she was able to stabilize him for long trip home.
It was while she was tending to Bishop that Hicks began to stir a little.
“If he becomes agitated, his medication is over there." Bishop said with concern, pointing towards a syringe on the exam table. “He has to be in excruciating pain.” Ripley nodded and continued to wrap Bishop as he had instructed.
Hicks’ eyes slowly opened. His vision was blurred and at first he couldn't remember where he was or why there was gauze covering half of his face. It didn't take long for the memories of the last thirty-six hours to come flooding back to him: the catastrophic loss of his entire team, the unbelievable betrayal of that asshole Burke from the Company, the desperate search for the little girl Newt with Ripley...Jesus, what the hell happened to Ripley? Did she find the girl? He had no recollection of whether or not she had made it out of that god-forsaken place alive before the whole thing blew.
The acid burns on his face, chest and arm were extremely painful and they prevented him from turning his head to see anything beyond what what was directly in front of him. He heard two indistinct voices speaking...a male and female voice. The female's voice seemed familiar.
“Ripley? Ripley?” Hicks said hoarsely. He started to panic when he received no response and began thrashing about which only made his pain worse. Ripley hurried to his side and took his hand and squeezed it gently.
“Shhh.” Ripley soothed, leaning over so that she was in his sight line. “I’m here, Hicks. Newt too. We’re safe. It’s over.”
Hicks closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank god. His relief was short lived however. While he was exceedingly grateful that Ripley, Newt and Bishop were alive, he quickly became overwhelmed with grief as he dwelt upon the profound loss of his squad...his friends.
Hicks opened his eyes and he saw that his vision was becoming clearer. He noticed that Ripley held a syringe with what he assumed was a powerful pain killer, poised to administer it if he requested. He nodded gratefully drew in a quick intake of breath when she gave him the injection in his good arm. The pain began to subside almost immediately and he visibly relaxed, leaning back onto the gurney.
"I’m sorry that I wasn't able to help you back there.” He said a minute later, his voice thick with emotion.
Ripley knew that he wasn't just referring to her battle for Newt with the alien queen. Having been in his position before, she knew only too well the feelings of helplessness and loss that he was experiencing. She shook her head solemnly. “Don't do that Dwayne. Newt and I...none of us would be here if it weren't for you. Those monsters would've killed us.”
Hicks clenched his jaw as he fought back the tears that he knew were inevitable. “That’s bullshit and you know it.”
Ripley shook her head emphatically. “Listen to me, Hicks. There was nothing you could've done to change the outcome. We were outnumbered.” Ripley continued, unsuccessfully fighting back her own tears.
Hicks looked up and met her concerned eyes and his expression softened. He'd thought she was beautiful the first time that he saw her...she bore a striking resemblance to the women in the artsy photographs he'd taped-up in his locker. He and the other grunts had at first resented having to escort her and that other Company suit on their glorified bug hunt. But as he had gotten to know her throughout this hellish ordeal, he had come to admire her intelligence and strength and he now considered her to be one of the most beautiful women he had ever known.
Hicks reached out to squeeze Ripley’s hand. Ripley’s attention was drawn to where their hands were joined and then she looked back at Hicks’ face, which was wearing a curious expression.
“What?” Ripley asked curiously.
Hicks smirked. “Nothing. It’s just...I was thinking that you were wearing that exact same outfit the first time I saw you, and that I thought you were the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”
Ripley looked down, realizing that she was clad only in her underwear and her cheeks turned bright red. “Oh.” Ripley replied, embarrassed. “Was that all you were thinking?"
Hicks smiled. “No, I was also thinking that when we get back home, that I want to take you to dinner.”
Ripley blushed profusely. Hicks grinned mischievously, enjoying the girlish expression that was overtaking her delicate features.
“Sure..." Ripley stammered with uncharacteristic shyness, “I would like that.”
Hicks summoned the strength to walk the short distance to the cryochambers from Medical with Ripley's assistance. She helped him ease into his chamber and then she left him to see to Newt and Bishop. When she returned she prepared the chamber next to Newt and across the aisle from Hicks for herself.
Hicks’ eyes were closed when Ripley approached his chamber. She was amused by how cherubic he appeared while he slept. She shook her head fondly and on an impulse, leaned forward and kissed him on his right cheek. “Sweet dreams, Dwayne Hicks.” Ripley whispered, standing up to her full height.
“Sweet dreams, Ellen Ripley.” Hicks whispered, opening his eyes and startling Ripley who then laughed and squeezed Hicks' hand once more. smiling warmly. They held each other's gaze as she punched in the code which lowered the canopies on Hicks’ and Bishop’s cryochambers. Hicks leaned his head back and soon drifted off to sleep.
"Is Hicks going to be all right?" Newt asked Ripley while Ripley prepared their cryochambers for hyper-sleep.
Ripley nodded. "I think so. He needs to rest so that he can heal."
"That's good. I like him. Do you like him Ripley?"
Ripley smiled. "Yes, Newt, I like him very much."
Newt beamed. "Good, because he likes you too. I can tell."
Ripley chuckled. "I think it's time for us to go to sleep."
"Are we really going to sleep all the way home?" Newt asked incredulously.
Ripley smiled. "All the way home."
"Can I dream?"
Ripley chuckled. "Yes honey, I think we both can. Sleep tight."
Newt saluted. "Affirmative."
Ripley awoke from stasis feeling surprisingly good. The Sulaco reached its destination on schedule and without incident three weeks after they'd left Hadley's Hope. She was greeted by the concerned faces of the medical team at Gateway station who assured her that the other members of her party were fine and that they were under observation.
After a standard fourteen-day quarantine during which she'd described to several representatives of Weyland-Yutani the catastrophic events that had occurred on LV-426 she was finally reunited with Newt and Hicks. Newt flew into her arms when they first saw each other in the mess hall and Ripley happily embraced her. Hicks hung back a bit, allowing Newt and Ripley their long overdue reunion.
After Newt released Ripley from her arms, she stepped aside, allowing Ripley and Hicks to greet each other. Ripley smiled warmly as he approached her. Like Newt and herself, Hicks was freshly showered and was wearing the standard-issue white hospital scrubs. His bandages had been removed, although there was still a piece of gauze covering his left eye. Ripley stepped forward, meeting Hicks halfway and he wordlessly wrapped his arms around her, kissing her on her forehead. She wrapped her arms around his waist and rest her head against his chest, relishing the sound of his beating heart. Hicks sighed contentedly as he rest his chin on the top of her head.
Ripley pulled back a few minutes later and touched Hicks's injured cheek gently. The skin grafts were healing nicely. "You look good, Hicks. How is the eye?"
Hicks frowned. "Not good. My vision is shot."
Ripley's heart sank. Having his vision compromised would sideline him from combat duty. As a self-proclaimed "lifer," she was unsure as to how he would feel about this news. "I'm sorry to hear that. What are your plans?"
"Well, after I was questioned repeatedly by the suits, I was told that my account of what happened had been corroborated by yourself and more importantly in their eyes, Bishop's data recordings. I was informed that what happened on LV-426 was now classified information and that I was never to speak a word of it to anyone again. In exchange for my cooperation, and because of my leadership, under such 'extreme circumstances' they gave me a promotion and a cushy desk job."
"Really? And you're okay with that?"
Hicks shrugged. "For now at least. We'll see how I feel in six months. They also gave me a month's R and R."
"That's pretty nice. Are you going home to visit your folks?"
Hicks shook his head. "Nah, it's not enough time to get there and back. I don't really have anywhere to go, aside from the barracks." The thought of returning to the barracks without his squad filled him with an unbearable sadness.
Ripley studied his face and she understood exactly what he was thinking. She quickly came to a decision. "You should stay with us...me and Newt. They're letting me keep her since her family is gone and there is no next of kin. The Company is giving me a bigger place with two bedrooms...it's the least they could do." Ripley said bitterly. "You should stay with us." Ripley said emphatically.
"Are you sure?"
Ripley nodded. "Yes." A slow smile spread over her face.
Hicks grinned. "I would like that, Ellen. Listen, I'm starving. Would you like to get something to eat?"
Ripley nodded. "Sure."
A few minutes later Ripley, Newt and Hicks were walking through the mess hall with their trays food...cornbread yet again. "This wasn't exactly what I had in mind when I asked you to dinner." Hicks said with a rueful smile once they all three arrived at an empty table.
As they sat down to eat, Ripley was struck by the image of their makeshift nuclear family and she smiled, her heart very full. "I wouldn't have it any other way."