Eager to relax after a long afternoon spent tinkering with White Forest’s notoriously finicky alarm system, Alyx Vance entered the base’s dining hall, carefully balancing a bowl of headcrab soup and a full cup of coffee on a flimsy tray.
She scanned the large, crowded room in search of a place to sit, and was relieved to meet the eyes of a somewhat distressed Barney Calhoun, who appeared to be trapped at a corner table, helplessly observing a heated debate between Drs. Kleiner and Magnusson. Barney frantically waved her over, clearly eager for more pleasant company.
Alyx made her way over to the table and slid into the empty chair next to Barney. “Thank God you’re here,” the former security guard muttered through gritted teeth, casting a sidelong glance at the bickering physicists. He continued in a stage whisper, “They’ve been on this for at least 20 minutes and they keep tryin’ to drag me into it whenever I try to leave.”
Alyx rolled her eyes in an expression of empathetic exasperation and paused to take a long sip of her coffee and listen in on the argument.
After a moment, she turned to Barney with an incredulous stare and quietly exclaimed, “Are they still arguing about which of them had a better claim to Dr. Morton’s office after he retired?”
“Yep,” replied Barney, popping the ‘P’ and rolling his eyes. “We were having a perfectly nice time, relaxing and tellin’ Black Mesa stories until Magnusson brought it up, and you know Kleiner couldn’t resist the bait.”
Alyx furrowed her brow, trying to recall the last time she’d overheard an iteration of this particular argument. “Didn’t… someone else get the office?”
“Yep,” Barney repeated, noting that the scientists were too engrossed in their heated discussion to pay them any mind. “And somehow I feel like this ceased to be relevant the second Black Mesa got nuked, or whatever.” Alyx nodded in agreement, though she had to admit to herself that it was refreshing to see her colleagues finally relaxing enough to re-hash silly, pointless debates from a lifetime Before.
“Anyway,” Barney continued after a beat, “thank you again for coming to my rescue. I owe you one. So, how’s it goin’?” Alyx realized she’d barely spoken to anyone all day and was more than happy to provide an update about her work with the alarm system, dry as the subject was. In turn, Barney regaled her with a perhaps slightly over-dramatized account of his afternoon spent hunting headcrabs and other Xen fauna, a necessary task for both food and population control in the nearly post-Combine world.
As Alyx finished her soup in between bouts of laughter, Barney abruptly changed the subject. “Hey, have you seen Gordon around today? Before these two launched into Office Debate 2: Electric Boogaloo, we were all talkin’ about how nobody’s seen him around since, like, yesterday morning.”
Alyx tensed involuntarily at the sound of Gordon’s name, and then quickly forced herself to relax, hoping Barney hadn’t noticed. No, she hadn’t seen him, and that was probably for the best. It was easier to be childishly annoyed with him when she didn’t actually have to face him.
Unfortunately, Barney had caught the sour expression that briefly flashed across her face. “Trouble in paradise?” he smirked, unable to pass up an opportunity to tease his younger colleague about her not-entirely-subtle crush on his old friend.
When Alyx didn’t reply, his expression softened. “Hey, seriously, what’s goin’ on with you? Did you two have a fight or something? This is the first I’ve heard of it, if that makes you feel any better.”
Staring resolutely at her empty soup bowl in an effort to avoid eye contact, Alyx sighed loudly and sat on her hands. “It’s stupid, and I know it’s stupid, but I just—ughhh, can I vent? And will you promise not to say anything to him?”
“Scout’s honor,” Barney replied, grinning and raising his hand in a snappy 3-finger salute. Alyx rolled her eyes at the gesture but chose to take her pseudo-uncle’s goofy display in the sincere spirit in which it was intended.
After taking a moment to organize her thoughts, Alyx decided to get right to the point instead of tiptoeing around the issue. “Am I an asshole for being hurt that Gordon suddenly talks to damn near everyone except me?” she blurted, feeling simultaneously embarrassed and relieved to have finally said it out loud.
It had been several months since the destruction of the Borealis, and as attacks from the remaining Combine forces had become fewer and farther between, Gordon had started to feel safe enough to regain his ability to speak. Alyx had been startled, to say the least, the first time she’d stopped by the lab and caught him in conversation with Dr. Kleiner, but this had soon become a common occurrence.
Over the span of a few weeks, Gordon had recovered to a point where he could hold coherent conversations with almost everyone at White Forest. Everyone, it seemed, except Alyx. She’d observed that the physicist was still quite shy and not particularly emotionally expressive when speaking to those outside his inner circle, but at least he seemed to be trying for those people.
Barney exhaled slowly, clearly stalling until he could decide how to respond. He’d only recently started to pick up on the fact that Gordon fell silent as soon as he registered Alyx’s presence in a room, and he had his own theories as to why, but that was a whole tangential conversation he did not feel prepared to initiate.
“Alyx, you know he can’t really control it,” the former security guard began, slowly. “He’s been dealing with selective mutism since he was a kid—it’s a real, diagnosable thing, I promise—plus he’s a socially anxious mess on top of that, and so sometimes he just… can’t talk to folks, for whatever reason. He just can’t get comfortable enough to overcome the anxiety, I guess. I mean, we were all so relieved that he found his voice at all after bein’ so stressed out for so long, and it’s… a process. You gotta be patient with him, and it’s not like he doesn’t communicate with you at all in the meantime.”
Alyx nodded dejectedly and looked down at her lap as she felt a wave of shame wash over her. None of this was new information, and Barney was right that Gordon wasn’t completely uncommunicative with her, despite his muteness. She knew it was ridiculous and unfair to be mad at Gordon for something he couldn’t control but come on.
Now aggravated with both herself and Gordon and unable to stop herself from voicing her thoughts, Alyx responded, “But he talks to everyone else. You, most of the scientists, the vorts, that annoying guy who won’t shut up about punching hunters… hell, I saw him talking to Dog the other day when he didn’t know I was around. He will have an entire conversation with a goddamn robot, but the second he sees me, a person he’s spent ages alone with while saving the world from freakin’ aliens, his voicebox just stops working, instantly. I don’t get it. You said it’s a comfort thing, but we’ve literally saved each other’s asses more times than I can count. How much more comfortable can you get?”
When she stopped to take a breath, Alyx noticed with chagrin that her little tirade had caught Kleiner and Magnusson’s attention. Both were now staring directly at her; Kleiner with compassion and perhaps a hint of pity, and Magnusson with annoyance and perhaps a hint of compassion.
She felt Barney rest his hand on her shoulder. “Hey, I get it, I’d be frustrated if I was in that position too. Does it help to hear you’re not the only person Gordon’s had trouble speaking to, despite spending a lot of time together?” Alyx turned to look at him. “Wait, seriously?”
“Oh, indeed,” Dr. Kleiner interjected. “He was a confident and capable young researcher despite his… impediment, but I remember a few situations where we had to work around his inability to verbally communicate with colleagues. For instance, Gordon would go out of his way to avoid Dr. Morton”—he paused to glare at Dr. Magnusson—“because something about the man’s demeanor triggered his anxiety and he would find himself at a loss for words.”
Barney and Dr. Magnusson nodded, and Magnusson offered another anecdote. “And let’s not forget the debacle with that visiting researcher from Australia.”
“Oh my God,” Barney exclaimed, laughing at a sudden memory. “Was that the huge, loud dude who blamed everything that was wrong with the world on some guy named John Howard?”
“That’s the one,” Magnusson confirmed with a disapproving grunt.
“Yeah, Gordon hated that guy and I don’t think he ever managed to say a word to him,” Barney recalled. “He wasn’t mean or anything, but he was so eccentric that Gordon never knew how to react around him, so he just… didn’t. Or couldn’t, I guess.”
As she processed this information, Alyx found herself overwhelmed with a new anxiety—what if Gordon wasn’t just uncomfortable around her, as she’d previously assumed? Maybe it wasn’t that she was too talkative for him, or that he couldn’t open up to her after she’d seen him vulnerable in battle, or that he was still grieving her father and her presence reminded him of their loss. Was it possible that Gordon actively disliked her, and his disability was preventing him from telling her to get lost?
Her face must have betrayed her thought process, because both Barney and Dr. Kleiner immediately jumped to reassure her that she was nothing like the notoriously gruff Dr. Morton or the hilariously eccentric Australian researcher.
“Okay, okay, those were bad examples,” Barney admitted, throwing up his hands in mock surrender. “But there were also tons of completely normal, likable people that Gordon couldn’t talk to at first, or ever. Like… oh, there was another guy on the security team that Gordon didn’t talk to for months.”
Kleiner added, “I don’t think I ever heard him speak to that nice older woman in the cafeteria.”
“He always clammed up when the laundry staff picked up our lab coats,” Magnusson recalled.
“Honestly, dear, he was quite slow to warm up to your mother, initially.”
“There was that kid who distributed mail to the dormitories—oh, what was his name?”
“I’m quite certain Dr. Perez never heard a peep out of Gordon, even though they shared an office for at least a month.”
‘Aw, what the hell,’ Barney thought. ‘Someone’s gotta say it.’ Unable to suppress a smirk, he contributed, “And of course, let’s not forget to include all smart and/or beautiful women between the ages of 22 and 35.”
The three men at the table shared a furtive, knowing, and slightly exasperated glance. Gordon’s infamous social anxiety around women he found attractive was the most logical explanation for the whole situation, but none of the older men felt inclined to personally involve themselves in whatever was going on between their young colleagues any more than they already had. Eli almost certainly would have addressed the elephant in the room instead of letting this play out naturally, fond as he was of both parties involved, but it wasn’t necessarily anyone else’s place to step in, especially given that both Alyx and Gordon were renowned for their stubbornness.
After taking a long moment to process all of this new information, Alyx sighed and began gathering her dishes in preparation for a hasty exit. “You’re right, you’re right, I’m being irrational,” she conceded. “Thanks for being nice about it and I guess it helps to hear that it’s not just me. And uh, since nobody’s seen Gordon, I guess I could go look for him. Make sure he hasn’t been abducted or fallen through another rotting floor, or whatever.”
Truthfully, she just needed some space to collect her thoughts and avoid another embarrassing emotional outburst, but she was also starting to feel genuinely concerned for Gordon’s well-being. He was surprisingly klutzy without his HEV suit, he was a known workaholic, and was also almost certainly still a target for what remained of the Combine, so she figured someone ought to check in on him.
As she stood up to leave, Barney reached out and affectionately clapped Alyx on the shoulder again. “Try not to let your frustration get to you, alright? Trust me, Gordon enjoys your company,” he reassured her with a surprisingly straight face. “This is just one of those quirky things he’s gonna have to work through on his own. Once you find him, tell him to quit disappearin’ on us, and make sure he’s eaten something today.”
The scientists at the table nodded in agreement and Kleiner stood up to wrap an arm around the young woman in a clumsy half-hug. “Thanks again, and will do,” Alyx chirped, trying to sound upbeat, before making a beeline for the kitchen dish return and then disappearing.
“When will this juvenile nonsense end? This is a Resistance base, not a middle school dance,” Dr. Magnusson muttered, once Alyx was out of earshot.
“Now now,” Dr. Kleiner chided, “they’re not doing anyone any harm, and I for one think they’d make a handsome couple… when they finally get around to it.” Both harrumphed in agreement and Barney took advantage of the momentary conversational lull to escape.
“Gee, it’s starting to get late, and I promised I’d help out with something in the yard before sundown, so I guess I’d better be going,” he rambled as he gathered up his dishes and prepared to make a strategic exit.
“By the way,” Barney called over his shoulder as he retreated, “awfully bold of you two to rag on Alyx and Gordon for acting like children when you spent this entire meal arguing about an office that doesn’t exist anymore that you first fought over twenty goddamn years ago!”
Once she was confident that none of her colleagues had followed her out of the dining hall to further embarrass her with their well-meaning reassurances, Alyx snuck out the first unmonitored exit she encountered. She truly did intend to look for Gordon, but she wanted to start outside so she could have a moment alone with the fresh air and her thoughts. As she slowly made her way to a secluded spot by the stream that she knew Gordon liked to visit, Alyx replayed the earlier conversation in her head.
‘Alright, so there are 3 distinct possibilities here,’ she thought. ‘1: Gordon just hasn’t gotten comfortable enough to talk to me yet and I shouldn’t pressure him because that’ll make him self-conscious about it, which will make it worse.’ That one was a strong contender but even though it made logical and clinical sense, it still wasn’t fair.
Alyx felt that she’d made plenty of commendable efforts to put Gordon at ease, including trying to become comfortable with silence despite the fact that, in all honesty, it tended to make her nervous. She’d even considered learning sign language with him, if that was something Gordon was interested in. Perhaps most importantly, however, she couldn’t help but think that if literally saving the world together—not to mention having their lives woven together in some sort of mysterious vortigaunt ritual—wasn’t enough to put him at ease around her, what would be?
‘So then there’s possibility number 2: He secretly hates my guts and he’s just too annoyingly nice to tell me or anyone else.’ She knew, deep down, that scenario 2 was extremely unlikely, given their genuine camaraderie both in and out of combat, but she felt she couldn’t rule it out and she had to begrudgingly admit that it fit well with her current self-pity kick.
‘Or, 3: He’s… into me and won’t act on it. Does he like stringing me along? Is this like, a power thing for him? Does he feel weird about this because he knew me when I was a toddler or because of his friendship with my dad, or something?’ These possibilities also seemed terribly unfair, and Alyx longed for clarity.
She could admit to herself, in moments of solitude like this, that she was more than a little attracted to the silent physicist. The removal of the suppression field had wreaked havoc on her hormones in a way that exponentially magnified both her attraction and her frustration at the lack of reciprocity, and she felt she was nearing a breaking point.
Exasperated at both the situation and herself, Alyx kicked a rock and watched it bounce into the stream. Gordon didn’t appear to be around, so she decided to relish the alone time and hurled a few more rocks into the stream for good measure. Venting her anger through physical activity was typically cathartic for Alyx, but on this particular day, it did little to calm her racing and conflicting thoughts about this issue that had been eating her alive for days.
Finally, noting that it was getting late and she was unlikely to find Gordon anywhere else outdoors, Alyx sighed and headed back to the base to look for the object of her confusion in all of his other usual haunts. In all likelihood, he’d gotten wrapped up in some sort of science project and completely lost track of time. He had to be around somewhere.
After having checked both labs, the library, the staff room, the garage, several supply closets (just in case he’d gotten himself locked in, somehow), and enlisting the help of another rebel to check a couple of dormitory bathrooms, Alyx was faced with two remaining possibilities: Gordon was either in his room, the only place she hadn’t checked, or he was actually missing, which would be cause for considerable alarm.
Although she certainly hoped he was safe, she felt a bit apprehensive about visiting his room; that felt too intimate, somehow, and it was likely that he wouldn’t feel very comfortable with having his private space invaded by a nosy colleague, naturally.
To her simultaneous relief and distress, Alyx noticed dim light spilling through the crack at the bottom of the door to Gordon’s dorm, suggesting that he was holed up inside, likely lost in a project, just as she had suspected. Gathering up her courage, she raised a fist and rapped twice on the metal door to announce her presence. Through the door, she heard the now-distinctive sound of Gordon clearing his throat, followed by an unnaturally long pause and finally a soft “come in.”
Alyx considered accepting this as sufficient proof of life and fleeing down the hall to the safety of her own room, while she still had the chance, before she was struck by a pang of concern for her workaholic colleague and remembered that she’d promised Barney and the scientists that she would make sure Gordon had eaten.
Given the absence of any noises that would suggest Gordon was on his way to open the door himself, Alyx gently turned the knob and peered into the doorway. She found that Gordon’s room was a bit larger than most of the other rebels’ dorms, which she supposed was fair, given the significance and impact of Gordon’s role in the Resistance.
His standard issue (and perhaps less lumpy than average) twin bed was neatly made, the door on the opposite wall from the bed that Alyx assumed was a closet was closed, and Gordon himself was facing away from her, hunched over an oddly-constructed metal desk situated against the wall to the left of where she stood in the doorway.
Despite the momentary interruption of Alyx’s knock, Gordon appeared to have quickly returned to being completely engrossed in the task of reading through a massive pile of papers—some of which Alyx recognized as her father’s notes—by the light of a desk lamp with a single bare bulb.
Although Alyx had begun to get used to the sight of Gordon in civilian clothes, she was still struck by how normal he looked in his mismatched wool socks, casual gray sweatpants, and white button-up shirt with the sleeves haphazardly bunched nearly up to his elbows. He wasn’t much taller than she was without the HEV suit, and although he was probably more muscular than he had been when he worked at Black Mesa, he was quite lean by post-apocalyptic male body standards. Gordon’s physique—or rather, his apparently unexpected lack thereof—was a common topic of conversation among many of the rebels at the base, and Alyx suspected it made Gordon feel self-conscious.
Personally, she liked to be reminded that Gordon was a regular person once you got past the bulky orange suit and weird hero-worship thing, but it seemed others preferred to cling to their own image of the One Free Man.
As she continued scanning the room, Alyx noticed a nearly full coffee cup and half-eaten sandwich on Gordon’s desk, so that confirmed that he wasn’t wasting away. She knew he had been excited to finally get out of the HEV suit and into the lab to catch up on 20 years of scientific innovation, and it appeared he’d holed up in his room to do just that.
And now, having observed that Gordon was just fine and could apparently be trusted to take care of his own basic needs, Alyx figured she could leave the room quietly, let Barney or Dr. Kleiner know that Gordon was okay, and then go back to her own room to ruminate. Besides, she’d been standing in the doorway and staring long enough that announcing her presence at this point would almost certainly be awkward.
Unfortunately, Alyx’s hopes of slipping out unnoticed were quickly dashed when she went to pull Gordon’s door closed and the metal hinges squealed loudly. She watched helplessly as Gordon’s head shot up and he mumbled a hasty “sorry… sorry” while quickly marking his place in his notes before turning around in his seat to greet the visitor whose presence he had clearly forgotten about. He made eye contact with Alyx and his face broke into a grin. She noted that his eyes seemed tired and his goatee could probably use a trim, but overall, he looked pretty much like he normally did.
“Hey Gordon,” Alyx started, waving awkwardly. “Sorry to interrupt you.” He waved off her apology, rolled his eyes at his own obliviousness, and took the opportunity to stretch; the ensuing cacophony of cracking and popping sounds made Alyx wince and wonder exactly how long he’d been sitting hunched over like that. The desk was an odd height and so was the stool he was sitting on, but geez, someone really ought to find him an actual desk chair with proper back support.
As Gordon settled back into his normal sitting posture, he tilted his head and quirked a brow, his way of silently asking why she had decided to stop by.
‘Oh, we’re still doing this?’ Alyx thought, fighting to keep her emotions in check. He had clearly been talking just fine until he laid eyes on her, as per usual.
“Do you know what time it is?” she asked, as gently as possible, and she couldn’t contain a snort of laughter as Gordon’s eyes widened and darted from her face to the dim early evening light visible through the narrow window near the ceiling, and finally to the alarm clock next to his bed. When their eyes locked again, he looked decidedly sheepish.
“Barney and Dr. Kleiner sent me to find you and make sure you hadn’t disappeared and weren’t wasting away in some remote corner of the base,” she announced. It wasn’t exactly a lie, although she had technically volunteered to do this. “I’ve been looking for you for the better part of an hour! Have you been in here since yesterday morning?”
Gordon paused for a moment, his eyes rolling upwards as they often did when he was thinking hard about something. He finally nodded, to confirm that yes, he had been reviewing notes in his room for nearly two straight days without telling anyone what he was up to, and then he gestured enthusiastically at the sandwich and coffee and grinned, as if to say, ‘but I’m doing fine in here, see?'
However, when he noticed that Alyx was not responding to the gesture in the way he had expected, the physicist switched back to that sheepish, wide-eyed expression that conveyed sentiments more along the lines of, ‘I’m sorry that I worried you and thanks for checking on me, because you’re right that I can be a bit of a human disaster if left unattended for too long.’
Alyx, on her part, felt torn between two emotions: Amusement at this very typical-of-Gordon and oddly adorable interaction, and another wave of irrational anger that he couldn’t talk to her even though they clearly knew each other well enough to have coherent, nearly entirely nonverbal conversations.
Sensing that something was wrong, Gordon’s brows furrowed with worry and he recaptured Alyx’s gaze, inviting her to share what was on her mind. She knew exactly what he was asking, and her heart began pounding, as this was the beginning of the exact interaction she had been hoping to avoid.
She needed time to think through this—why had she thought it smart to actively seek Gordon out while she was already struggling to make sense of their relationship and had just recently been planning to avoid him for the foreseeable future? As Alyx frantically reviewed her options in her head, Gordon’s expression slowly transformed from one of friendly concern to one of apprehension, as he observed the conflict playing out across his friend’s face.
Ultimately, Alyx decided to bite the bullet. This afternoon had already been a disaster, so it couldn’t get too much worse, and if she didn’t say something now, she’d almost definitely have a much more embarrassing emotional outburst in a much more public place later. At least here, in Gordon’s room, they had some privacy.
Also, she knew Gordon tended to be very attuned to her emotions (‘Even though he still won’t fucking talk to me’), and now that he knew something was up, he wasn’t going to let it go until he felt he’d received a sufficient explanation. He was almost annoyingly supportive like that.
Gathering her resolve, she gently pushed the door closed and leaned her left shoulder against it, crossing her arms across her chest as if to protect herself from impending rejection, and avoided Gordon’s gaze as she abandoned her dignity and began sharing her thoughts.
“Gordon, you… you consider us to be pretty good friends, right?” Alyx figured confirming some key details would help form a solid foundation for her central argument. Gordon nodded emphatically and his perplexed expression deepened, conveying his anxiety about where this was going.
“Okay, good,” she continued. “The feeling is mutual.” His expression brightened at that.
“And I’m honestly really glad… I mean, it’s been a relief to see you loosening up and y’know, not carrying your crowbar everywhere and going outside in civilian clothes and talking recently… Dad told me about, uh, your condition and I was really worried because it seemed like a sign that you were like, freaking out inside, all the time, even when you looked calm and relaxed so I guess I’m just really glad to see that you’re actually relaxed now because I—everyone was really worried about you.”
Alyx abruptly stopped there, realizing she was rambling and almost definitely embarrassing Gordon by putting him on the spot, judging by the blush creeping across his face. She observed silently as he shook his head slightly, as if to clear his thoughts, and straightened his glasses before looking back up at her.
At this point, Alyx forced herself to make eye contact with Gordon, and his open expression and body language encouraged her to continue her thought from where she had left off. She took a deep breath. “I just… I’m glad you’re able to let your guard down, because you deserve to feel safe, but I don’t understand why you can’t do that with me. You can talk to everyone else, so why not...?”
She trailed off and sharply averted her gaze. Well, there it was. It was out there, it had come out whinier than she had been aiming for, and the silence in the room was agonizing. Alyx leaned back into the doorframe and hugged her arms to her chest more tightly, bracing for impact, though she honestly didn’t know what to expect.
After what seemed like an eternity but was, in reality, maybe 2 minutes of silence at most, Alyx managed to bring herself to look at Gordon again. He was hunched over again, facing her this time, clearly feeling overwhelmed and resting his forehead in his hands with his elbows propped up on his knees. She could hear him breathing deeply, his shoulders rising and falling in rhythm.
‘Okay, so he’s not crying… I don’t think… is he angry?’ Slowly, as if sensing that she was looking at him, Gordon raised his head, and Alyx found herself confronted with an emotion that she had not expected to see deeply etched onto Gordon’s features: guilt, mixed with something else she couldn’t quite place.
It was nearly the same expression he wore when thinking about his role in the resonance cascade, or Eli’s death, or any of the other deaths he had inadvertently or directly caused since being drawn into this nightmare. Alyx had expected anger, indignation, frustration, maybe even pity, but not guilt. She honestly wasn’t sure where to go from here, but she felt compelled to say something.
“I just…,” she started, hesitating. “For the last couple weeks, I’ve been wondering… have I done something to make you feel unsafe around me? Have I been driving you nuts for the last few months and you’re just too polite to say anything? Can you not… tell that I care about you? I—I want to understand, and I know you can’t help your body’s reaction to feeling uncomfortable—I really do, I swear, even though I’m being an ass and making this about me—but what can I do to...?”
Alyx trailed off again as she choked back a sob. Crying was not going to make this better. She was already guilt-tripping a man with a known disability, to whom she owed her own life, in his own room, because she felt left out; she wasn’t going to make him comfort her on top of all that. Because he would, even if it didn’t make any sense. Gordon was not great about enforcing personal boundaries and sometimes appeared to lack an instinct for emotional self-preservation.
Gordon, in response to his friend’s latest outburst, had started desperately trying to communicate. Alyx watched helplessly as his mouth opened and closed and his muscles moved like he was trying to force himself to speak words that simply wouldn’t come. She felt like a monster.
After a moment, Gordon abruptly fell still, save for the nervous drumming of his fingers against left thigh and the bouncing of his right leg, his guilt and desperation seemingly having been replaced by anxiety and resolve.
To Alyx, it felt like she was watching him transition through the 5 stages of grief—presumably for their friendship—at an alarming pace. Eventually, after catching a glimpse of Gordon’s face, she realized he was giving himself a silent pep talk, hyping himself up to do something he was not sure he wanted to do.
She’d seen this facial expression before, in combat, before Gordon did something ridiculous and terrifying but unfortunately necessary, like charging into a tiny room full of Combine turrets, or climbing around a radioactive chamber to delay the Citadel explosion, or jumping into a pit full of zombies with like, 3 bullets left in a handgun just to press a button that would allow her to escape to safety.
Just as Alyx was considering reaching out to Gordon, wrapping him up in a hug, apologizing profusely for unloading her own baggage and causing him pain, and then keeping her distance for the rest of their lives, he abruptly stood up and took several large, surprisingly steady steps until he had almost closed the gap between them.
He stopped with less than a foot of space between their bodies and used the fact that he was a few inches taller than her to his full advantage. His presence wasn’t threatening, but it was imposing in a way that was unusual for Gordon, who usually preferred to respect others’ personal space and expected the same in return. He faced her, leaning his right shoulder against the wall so he mirrored her posture.
It seemed like an odd choice if Gordon was aiming to intimidate her, since crowding her until she was trapped against the wall would’ve been a lot more effective. Suddenly, the realization dawned on Alyx that Gordon was deliberately leaving her an escape route; his unlocked door was right behind her, and she somehow knew, implicitly, that he would not stop her from leaving if she wanted to.
Alyx held her breath and didn’t dare move as she waited to see where this confrontation headed. Slowly, she tilted her head back to look Gordon in the eyes and wondered if he could hear her heart pounding. In her peripheral vision, she noticed that Gordon’s shoulders were shaking ever so slightly.
When Alyx met Gordon’s gaze, she found his expression unexpectedly open, almost earnest, a sharp contrast from the pain or anger she had steeled herself to face. After a moment, she realized she knew this look: ‘Trust me,’ directed at her throughout long sessions of combat, awkward mutual caretaking in the midst of their shared grief, and even the careful orchestration of laboratory pranks.
Alyx found that the anxious fluttering in her stomach was starting to feel more like excitement as she became hyper-aware of their close proximity to one another. When his gaze flickered down to her lips for a split second, everything suddenly made sense. She’d put him on the spot, forcing him into the difficult position of either rejecting her or answering her questions, and the only way he could find to do that without speaking was—
Alyx found her thoughts sharply interrupted as Gordon kissed her suddenly, with an urgency that conveyed an overwhelming amount of emotion, and perhaps a need to act quickly before he lost his nerve.
A split second after Alyx’s brain caught up to her body enough to return the kiss, Gordon broke away, stepping back to nervously gauge her reaction. Stunned and momentarily operating on autopilot, Alyx found that her immediate reaction was to laugh with relief, and perhaps at herself as well. Possibility number 3 had been correct after all, and despite all her ridiculous catastrophizing, all that had been holding them back was stubbornness and social anxiety.
‘Ohhhh, that’s what Barney was getting at earlier,’ Alyx realized, resisting the urge to actually smack herself in the forehead in the face of this very delayed comprehension. Well, that would be an awkward “I told you so” conversation for later.
For now, she owed Gordon a hell of an apology. Sweet, patient Gordon, who had just been forced to experience the entire range of human emotions in the span of about 10 minutes and had still found the courage to put his heart on the line, and was patiently giving her space to process, even as she laughed and analyzed her own thoughts and—oh right, Gordon.
In one swift motion, Alyx closed the now larger gap between herself and the blushing physicist and kissed him again, wrapping her arms around his waist so he would know he didn’t have to let go this time.
Alyx completely lost track of how long she and Gordon had hovered next to the doorway, locked in a passionate embrace and making out as if their lives depended on it. After getting started in the middle of the floor, Alyx had ended up pressing Gordon against the wall to give them some sort of grounding. He had not protested, choosing instead to pull her against him, running his hands up and down her back while they kissed.
Gordon wasn’t the first person Alyx had kissed in her 25 years, but he was the first that she’d had any meaningful emotional attachment to. He was also the first since the suppression field had been removed, and holy shit. She had never felt more alive, and Gordon seemed to be feeling similarly. So far, he had been fairly gentlemanly about his hand placement, but the intensity with which he kissed and caressed her was nearly overwhelming.
Eventually, they broke apart to breathe, both laughing—silently, in Gordon’s case—as they each took in the other’s mussed hair, flushed skin, and stunned expressions.
Suddenly, Gordon glanced sideways, and his eyes went wide. In a swift motion, he reached out and locked the door, letting out a deep sigh of relief and flushing beet red at the thought that anyone could have walked in on that. Alyx laughed again and kissed his cheek, because… that’s what they did now, right? It felt surreal, that so much had changed in such a short time span.
Before Alyx could further reflect on the situation and how they’d gotten there, she felt Gordon grab her hand and squeeze to get her attention. She turned to look at him, still leaning against the wall—possibly for support, as she noted with amusement that he seemed a bit shaky on his feet—and after they had locked eyes, he nodded almost imperceptibly and squeezed her hand again.
She recognized the expression; in battle, this was their “you good?” check-in, though the hand squeeze was new. She nodded back, and she watched as Gordon let out a breath he’d been holding and grinned. He looked over her shoulder, scanning the room, perhaps for a better location to continue what they’d started. She turned to follow his gaze and froze as they both took in the sight of the bed, with its neatly folded quilt, nestled in the corner across from the doorway.
To Alyx, moving to the bed represented a commitment that she wasn’t sure she was ready to make. This was too new to risk escalating too quickly; she didn’t want to scare Gordon away by coming on too strong. She was also suddenly very acutely aware of her lack of experience.
She knew Gordon probably didn’t have too many notches in his belt either, if Barney’s stories about the young physicist’s pre-apocalypse dating life were anything to go by, but he seemed to have some sense of what he was doing and Alyx was unsure of exactly what he expected.
Fortunately, Gordon seemed to be having similar thoughts about the inappropriateness of the bed, choosing instead to gesture towards the desk.
“I dunno, Gordon,” Alyx teased, turning to humor to distract herself from speculating about how this could turn out. “That thing doesn’t look too sturdy.”
Defiant, Gordon slapped the metal writing surface in an attempt to demonstrate its sturdiness, and immediately found himself lurching to grab his reading lamp before it plummeted to the ground. After a successful catch, he moved to gently set the lamp on the floor behind the desk and experimentally shook the top a few more times, before turning around with a grin and a thumbs-up.
Alyx, meanwhile, was content to stand back and enjoy the view. Gordon’s slightly-too-large, very thin sweatpants hung low on his hips and left very little to the imagination. His bunched-up shirtsleeves also revealed his surprisingly soft, freckled arms that Alyx was quickly becoming obsessed with. She figured they had reached the point where some shameless ogling was to be expected, or at least tolerated.
Having fully tested the sturdiness of the desk, Gordon seemed just about ready to formally invite Alyx to resume their earlier activities on a surface more conducive to prolonged closeness, when he suddenly appeared to panic, holding out a finger in the universally understood gesture for ‘wait a moment.’
Much to Alyx’s continued amusement, Gordon began carefully collecting the loose papers on the desk, sorting them by topic or whatever system he had in place and organizing them into neat piles with the edges aligned.
Once he was satisfied with his sorting, he placed the notes (one pile at a time), the long-forgotten cup of coffee, and the sandwich plate on the floor next to the lamp. As a finishing touch, he leaned over and swept his arm across the top of the desk, sending an assortment of pens and paperclips tumbling to the floor.
After one last glance at the lock on the door for good measure, Gordon wrapped his arms around Alyx’s waist and guided her over to the now-empty desk. Smoothly, he picked her up and gently set her down on the writing surface, electing to stand between her legs, where the desk’s odd height meant that they were almost eye-to-eye.
This was a benefit Alyx hadn’t anticipated but was immensely grateful for. The slight height difference between herself and Gordon felt much greater after a certain amount of time spent with her neck tilted upwards. They hadn’t yet resumed kissing, but seeming to sense her line of thought, Gordon ran his fingers through her hair and stopped to massage her neck for a moment.
With his other hand, Gordon placed a finger under her chin and gently tilted her face to look at him, which made Alyx wonder if he’d found her secret stash of trashy romance novels because that move seemed to have been specifically planned and executed to make her melt. Once again, he checked in with a subtle head nod, which she returned. Satisfied that they had established mutual consent, Gordon leaned in to officially un-pause their frenzied makeout session.
Alyx noticed almost immediately that she felt more confident this time around, and Gordon seemed to feel the same; he was less timid, as he moved from exploring her mouth to kissing and lightly nibbling her earlobes and neck, and he was no longer shaking from anticipation or nervousness.
He was still silent, save for the occasional gasp or sigh, but the two resistance fighters found that the same bond or hyper-awareness that allowed them to anticipate each other’s movements in combat also served them well in this context.
Although Alyx could speak and was rapidly becoming more comfortable vocalizing her own pleasure after observing the effect it had on Gordon, she found it often felt more natural to rely on the same subtle physical and emotional cues that Gordon used to communicate. A quick hand squeeze to check that a new kind of touch or kiss was okay, and a matching squeeze to confirm that it was safe to proceed. A stilling flat hand on an arm to say “too much;” a passionate embrace or longer hand squeeze to ask—or beg—for more.
Alyx’s fascination with Gordon’s arms intensified as they continued familiarizing themselves with one another’s bodies from the waist up. In addition to the freckles, his arms were covered with a constellation of scars and bruises, including matching tender, dark bruises in the crook of each elbow from the HEV suit’s plethora of needles and monitoring systems.
Aside from the fresh scars, Gordon’s skin was also quite soft, a novel and welcome contrast to the weathered and calloused skin most of the other rebels were left with after 20 years of fighting.
‘Where did you go for 20 years?’ Alyx found herself wondering for the umpteenth time since reuniting with an impossibly young Gordon in City 17 all those months ago. Actually, no. Now was not the time to think about the whole age gap thing.
‘Don’t make this weird, Alyx,’ she mentally chided herself, shaking her head violently enough to forget the thought that Gordon looked up from where he was kissing along the neckline of her sweatshirt to check in again.
After thoroughly mapping every single scar, bruise, and freckle on Gordon’s exposed forearms, Alyx decided she wanted more. She reached for the top button of her partner’s shirt, shocking both him and herself with her boldness.
They made eye contact—‘Is this okay?’ ‘Yes’—and Alyx focused intently on the task before her. Button by button, she revealed more of Gordon’s pale, freckled chest, with its alluring patch of dark auburn hair and smaller collection of much larger scars. That made sense, though. Anything that actually got through the middle part of the HEV suit to mark his skin would have to be pretty nasty. She suppressed a shudder and felt a deep ache in her own upper body scars, a constant reminder of her brush with death and Gordon’s willingness to risk everything to save her.
As she slid her hands along Gordon’s shoulders in order to finally remove his shirt, Alyx felt Gordon still, and his muscles tense. She broke away from his kiss to find him blushing, which took her by surprise until she realized he must be feeling shy in light of all the unsolicited—and not always flattering—appraisals of his physique he’d been subject to lately.
“Hey,” she murmured, deciding it was worth breaking the comfortable silence to ensure her intentions and opinions were fully understood, “do you want me to stop?”
Gordon shook his head, indicating that she could continue if she wished, but he still looked apprehensive.
“Screw what anyone else thinks,” she whispered, somewhat more forcefully than intended, taken aback by the intensity of her own feelings on the topic. “No reasonable person expects you to be built like a bulky hazmat suit in real life, soooo… you’re good. Promise.”
Gordon chuckled silently and relaxed, and Alyx finished removing the offending garment with minimal awkwardness, eagerly surveying her partner’s now-exposed chest and upper arms. She noted with satisfaction and that Gordon was a bit ticklish, and that his chest was particularly sensitive to light touches and kisses. She would certainly file that away for later.
At this point, Alyx assumed it was inevitable that Gordon would eventually ask to remove her sweatshirt, especially after she’d granted him permission to touch her however he wanted to on top of it. However, it soon became abundantly clear that she would have to take matters into her own hands, as the physicist insisted on being stubbornly gentlemanly—or, perhaps, couldn’t work up the nerve to make a move.
As Gordon traced the outline of her torso tantalizingly slowly for the umpteenth time since they’d gotten started, Alyx’s reserves of patience finally ran out. Abruptly, she pulled Gordon’s hands away and yanked the garment over her head in one motion, inadvertently brushing his face and knocking his glasses askew as she went.
After tossing the shirt across the room, Alyx looked up to find Gordon staring with an almost comical, open-mouthed facial expression, seemingly torn between overwhelming arousal and wanting to know if he’d done something wrong by not removing the shirt himself.
Alyx had simply covered his open mouth with hers, laughed softly, and guided Gordon’s hands to where her bra was clasped behind her back. To her surprise, he unhooked and removed the offending layer after only a couple of tries, and Alyx resisted the urge to offer a quip about the apparent usefulness of his MIT education.
As Gordon’s fingers brushed over the raised edge of one of her scars from the hunter attack, Alyx felt him still before he bent down to observe and caress the scars more closely, with an unreadable expression on his face.
The moonlight flooding through the tiny window and the glow from Gordon’s reading lamp didn’t provide much light for Gordon to inspect the scars in detail, but that didn’t stop him from tracing each one slowly, almost reverently, on both sides of her body.
Alyx felt a wave of emotions bubbling up inside her; she’d gotten used to the scars, but she’d forgotten that Gordon had never actually seen them, and she found herself wishing he could speak, if only so she could help him process whatever intense emotions he was clearly feeling.
For a moment, Gordon’s body shook as if he was crying silently, though his face remained dry and his inscrutable expression never faltered. After several long moments of tender caresses, the intense emotional moment passed, though Alyx vowed to revisit the topic at some point in the future, when they were in a less lust-fogged state of mind and ready to fully unpack everything that they’d experienced that fateful day.
Soon, Gordon enthusiastically resumed his exploration of Alyx’s bare upper body, in a much more erotic and less emotionally devastating way. As he kissed his way down her chest, Alyx found herself running her fingers through the soft hairs at the nape of his neck.
Suddenly, a thought popped into her head, and before she could stop herself, she blurted, “The other day, Dr. Magnusson mentioned that you used to have a ponytail. That’s not… is—was he serious?”
Gordon froze, and then slowly turned his head until he was looking up at her with a piercing, incredulous look that all but screamed, ‘Do you seriously want to take a break from this to talk about my 1990s hairstyle choices? Right now? For real?’
Alyx found herself unable to react, unsure whether or not Gordon’s indignation was real or joking, and she was also infuriated at herself for allowing an offhand comment to escape at such an inappropriate moment.
Luckily, after holding her gaze for a few seconds, Gordon collapsed to his knees in a fit of laughter so intense that it actually wasn’t completely silent. She almost asked if he was laughing because Magnusson had made up a hilarious lie, or because he had actually had a ponytail and hadn't expected to have to confront that choice under these circumstances, but she held back.
Much to Alyx’s continued relief, Gordon quickly regained his composure, wiped the tears of laughter from his eyes, and resumed his earlier position, reaching up to cup one of her breasts. With a wicked, downright filthy grin that Alyx absolutely had not expected from the shy physicist, Gordon set himself to the task of making his partner forget all about the ponytail that he may or may not have had, with considerable success.
An untold amount of time later, both Alyx and Gordon found themselves thoroughly disheveled and desperately seeking a level of friction and closeness that—as was becoming apparent—two people could simply not achieve when one of them was sitting on a desk.
Alyx’s legs were locked around Gordon’s waist, her hands were shamelessly groping his ass, and they were rocking against one another like horny teenagers, both keenly, painfully aware of their own and the other’s level of arousal but hesitant to escalate the encounter further.
However, during one of their brief moments of rest, which were becoming more and more frequent out of absolute necessity, they made a concerning discovery.
Gordon’s desk, as it turned out, was not built to withstand the kind of motion they had been subjecting it to, and it was now protesting rather loudly to any movement forced upon it. As they had been… distracted, this had not registered as quickly as would have been ideal.
Both blushing so hard that Alyx was surprised they didn’t spontaneously combust, they hesitantly turned in unison to read the time on Gordon’s alarm clock. 6:48 P.M.
‘Okay, good, so most people will be at dinner right now… maybe nobody heard anything,’ Alyx thought, trying to reassure herself that the undoubtedly obscene squeaking of the desk had not necessarily had an audience. ‘It’s not like nobody in this base has ever heard their neighbor getting busy before… maybe we can all just be respectful of one another and have like, a don’t ask, don’t tell thing going on?’
Gordon, meanwhile, had removed his glasses in order to hide his face in his hands without smudging them, which Alyx thought was awfully practical of him. She’d tried to take them off earlier, in fact, but it turned out that Gordon was so nearsighted that he firmly insisted, though a series of rapid hand gestures and distressed facial expressions, that removing them would have a considerable negative impact on the experience for both of them.
Alyx had conceded at that point, while silently thanking any and all religious deities that Gordon had never lost or broken his glasses during a fight. They’d all be dead for sure.
As for the situation at hand, the only remaining sturdy piece of furniture in Gordon’s room was the bed. There was no getting around that.
So, they had a couple of options: They could call it a night and go their separate ways, which neither of them really wanted, or they could overcome the complicated reservations were keeping them semi-vertical and move the party to the bed.
Gordon, having finished mentally catastrophizing about the desk situation, straightened up and put his glasses back on. Gently, so as to convey the tenderness intended behind the gesture (and to avoid shaking the desk), Gordon wrapped his arms around Alyx’s waist and helped her hop down to the floor.
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes at the unnecessary chivalry, seeing as she regularly scaled multi-story buildings and could handle a drop of a few inches with ease. His heart was in the right place, she supposed, and she appreciated the contact regardless.
Hovering awkwardly in the middle of the floor, they were still faced with this choice. Alyx had to admit to herself that she was feeling a lot more confident about whatever-this-was at this point, having just taken advantage of plenty of opportunities to experiment and hone her technique.
Getting horizontal—and all the possibilities that came with it—now seemed much less intimidating and a hell of a lot more enticing, but it was hard to gauge how Gordon felt, and she didn’t want to pressure him.
‘Oh, now you don’t want to pressure him,’ quipped a sarcastic little voice in her head, which she quickly tuned out. This evening had been pretty intense for her, even without the added dimension of crippling social anxiety. Maybe he needed some time to process? On the other hand, it would be borderline cruel to get him all worked up and then leave, right?
While Alyx continued to weigh the pros and cons of going easy on Gordon versus jumping his bones, anxiety be damned, Gordon disentangled his arms from around her waist and padded across the room to sit on the edge of the bed.
Alyx tracked his movement with her eyes, and when he looked up, he shrugged and made a show of rubbing his legs: ‘No ulterior motives; just need a break.’ Oh, of course. He’d been mostly standing for quite a while. No wonder he wanted to sit while she was being indecisive.
At this point, Alyx had to admit that sitting on a soft surface—well, soft-ish, given that this was still presumably a 20+-year-old mattress—seemed pretty appealing to her as well. Cautiously, she walked over and sat down beside him, perching on the edge of the bed to avoid giving him the impression that she was too cozy.
They lapsed into not-quite-comfortable silence, as neither wanted to make a move and risk a setback, after they’d made it this far. However, Alyx found that she could only watch Gordon anxiously fiddle with a loose quilt thread for so long before feeling compelled to take one for the team and ask the deeply personal, invasive question that she felt she needed to know the answer to before deciding how to proceed.
“Gordon,” she started softly, and he turned to face her. “You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to, but have you ever… um, how many… before the whole alien apocalypse thing, did you…?” Thankfully, Gordon’s blush suggested that he understood what she was trying to ask, so she decided not to force herself to finish the sentence. She was relieved that he didn’t seem offended, either.
Gordon’s eyes rolled up towards the ceiling for a moment, indicating that he was deep in thought. After a moment, he held up one finger, started to lift a second finger, grimaced, lowered it again, and then held out a flat hand and rocked it slightly, the universal gesture for ‘meh.’
He shrugged, his slightly embarrassed but otherwise neutral facial expression seeming to convey a vaguely self-deprecating sentiment along the lines of, ‘I have selective mutism and spent 9 consecutive years in a very demanding academic environment before I literally destroyed civilization; what you see is what you get.’
Okay, so this was useful information. It didn’t necessarily help Alyx make a decision, but it was reassuring to have confirmation, straight from the source, that her inexperience probably wasn’t a deal-breaker.
In the interest of fairness, she figured she should answer the same question. “I haven’t… been this close to anyone before, honestly,” she admitted, prompting a somewhat disbelieving eyebrow quirk from Gordon.
Well, that was flattering, anyway. “Y’know, with the suppression field and the constant life-or-death combat and whatnot, this just wasn’t terribly high on my priority list,” she continued. “There didn’t seem to be a real point in trying to get attached to someone when they could disappear tomorrow, and there wasn’t a lot of… uh, biological motivation either, until… recently.”
Gordon nodded in understanding and reached for her hand, which she offered without hesitation. It seemed like an awfully wholesome gesture for a couple of people who had just had the “how many people have you boned?” conversation, but as Gordon scooted closer to her on the bed and squeezed her hand, Alyx realized it was Decision time.
And in all honesty, it was time to get on with it. Alyx was quickly learning that abruptly stopping a makeout session could only be hot for so long, before it just started to feel sticky and hyper-arousal became more uncomfortable than pleasant.
Gordon, looking uncharacteristically confident, used his free hand to brush Alyx’s hair out of her face and caressed her hand with his thumb. His face had that same open, earnest expression from right before their first kiss: ‘Trust me.’ Of course she did, so…
‘Oh my God, we’re both idiots,’ she realized. ‘We’ve both been trying to protect each other from a normal, adult thing that we both really want, and we’ve wasted several precious minutes deliberating about this because we’re so used to having to guard each other’s boundaries all the time when we could already be naked by now. Is this how everyone else feels watching us interact? Jesus, this is a mess.’
Overwhelmed by her sudden clarity regarding the absurdity of the whole situation, Alyx burst out laughing. Gordon looked a bit taken aback; clearly, this wasn’t how he had expected his proposition to be received.
“No, no, no, it’s not you,” Alyx reassured him between peals of laughter. “It’s us. We’re ridiculous.”
Having abandoned nearly all reservations, Alyx grabbed Gordon’s shoulders and pulled him down on top of her. “Come here, you giant dork.”
Whatever nonverbal rebuttal Gordon had been formulating in response to being called a dork was quickly abandoned the moment her lips met his.
So far, Alyx’s only regret for this evening—well, besides mentioning the ponytail thing—was waiting this long to move things to the bed. This new, semi-confident Gordon was… really something, and she was relishing in being the sole object of his intense focus that was usually reserved for science and combat.
After kissing down her body from her lips to her belly button, Gordon requested permission to remove her jeans. ‘So, this is happening,’ she thought, excited and restless and slightly nervous all at once, before nodding her assent. She’d already kicked off her boots and socks, in an effort to speed the process along, and she couldn’t help but giggle at Gordon’s sudden look of consternation as he discovered that her tight, fitted jeans were not, in fact, going to slide right off as he had apparently envisioned.
Impatient, Alyx playfully swatted the physicist’s hands away and shucked off her jeans in one quick motion, kicking them off the foot of the bed to join her boots on the floor. Gordon shot her a look that was simultaneously relieved and quizzical.
“Look, there was no way you were going to be able to do that as smoothly as you wanted to, alright?” she teased. “You’re welcome.” Gordon expressed his appreciation by leaning over her again, kissing her deeply, before eagerly picking up where he had left off.
Fingers hooked into the waistband of her underwear—plain and utilitarian but thankfully clean, and it’s not as if she had a whole drawer of lingerie for moments like this—Gordon met Alyx’s gaze and waited for her permission.
“Please,” she whispered, long past the point where she could feel embarrassed about how needy she sounded. Gordon flashed that filthy grin again before sliding her underwear down her legs and attempting to settle with his head between them.
Seemingly unable to get comfortable, he paused, eyes rolling up towards the ceiling. Gordon held up a finger—‘just a sec’—and slipped off the mattress in order to move his partner’s discarded clothes and kneel at the foot of the bed. Before Alyx could finish asking, “what are you…?”, he hooked his arms around her bent legs and pulled her body close.
Gordon laced the fingers of his left hand together with her right and set himself to the task of exploring between her legs, tentatively kissing and licking at first, but becoming bolder as Alyx’s reactions spurred him on.
Once she’d acclimated to the new sensation, which had initially threatened to completely overwhelm her senses, Alyx decided that visuals could only enhance this experience. With her free hand, she grabbed Gordon’s pillow to prop herself up to watch him as he traced the landscape of her center, eyes tightly closed in concentration, pulse pounding where their wrists met.
Sensing movement, Gordon opened his eyes to look up at her, squeezing her hand to check that she was still comfortable. “Mmmm,” she hummed in approval. “Down a bit, though. To the left?” Gordon obeyed willingly.
Alyx was beginning to realize that this was more of an art than a science, and she found herself wishing that she had… become more familiar with herself, so she could give Gordon clearer instructions instead of relying on trial-and-error. It just hadn’t been practical, when there was so much else to do. Also, until recently, she’d shared a room with Dr. Mossman, of all people, so there really wasn’t a lot of privacy, and…
‘Ugh, what the hell, do not think about that right now!’ Alyx mentally chastised herself, unable to suppress a shudder. Alarmed, Gordon stopped what he was doing and glanced up, worriedly. “No, no, you’re fine. Uh, keep doing whatever you were just doing,” she said, feeling like she might actually die of sexual frustration if Gordon did not pick up where he’d left off immediately.
Fortunately, Gordon complied, seemingly as eager as she was to resume the task at hand. What they both lacked in innate knowledge of the act, they more than made up for in responsiveness to feedback, whether in the form of non-verbal assurances, vocal commands, or increasingly passionate and semi-involuntary moaning.
As Gordon finally settled into a rhythm, Alyx felt an orgasm steadily building. She was familiar with the sensation but had rarely experienced it, and never with another person present. She fought to suppress a sudden wave of shyness, knowing that she had to get out of her own head to fully experience this.
“That’s it, fuck, just like that,” she panted, urging Gordon to go on for just a few more seconds…
Alyx was blindsided by the intensity of her orgasm, which hit suddenly and seemed to activate every cell in her body at once. She threw her head back, unable to stop herself from moaning Gordon’s name, and she actually whimpered as he continued to tease her through the aftershocks.
When she finally couldn’t handle the sensation any longer, she gently pushed his head away before collapsing against the pillow again. Knees creaking, Gordon slowly rose from his position at the foot of the bed and returned to rest alongside her, tracing his fingertips up and down her arms and hips as she recovered.
A moment later, Alyx rolled over to face her partner, who looked awfully proud of himself despite his beet-red face. Gordon leaned in to kiss her and then stopped suddenly, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and grimacing apologetically.
She continued to lean in, and he quirked an eyebrow: ‘You sure?’ Alyx shrugged. On some level, she knew that Gordon’s soaked face and goatee would seem gross later, but for now, it was ridiculously hot, and she figured it was only fair to kiss him after everything he’d done for her. He put up no resistance after that, and Alyx found that she didn’t mind tasting herself on his lips.
As Gordon pulled her close to deepen their kiss and then shifted so he was on top of her, she was reminded of his arousal, neglected for quite some time and still straining against his sweatpants. She ground into him, curious to see how he would react, and he gasped before fixing her with a stare that clearly said, ‘If you keep that up, this is not going to last very long.’
In all honesty, Alyx was surprised he’d made it this far. They’d been going at it for quite a while and she figured his stamina was probably wearing thin. Which meant it was probably about time to give him some relief, right?
She paused, needing a moment to think. She broke their kiss and gently pressed Gordon’s head into her shoulder, encouraging him to relax while she collected her thoughts, softly stroking his hair to keep her hands busy.
This was the only part she still had some lingering reservations about. Sex ed had not been a high priority when she was growing up, since the suppression field had rendered sex virtually unnecessary and dramatically reduced its appeal, so much of her knowledge of the actual act of intercourse (‘Ugh, such a clinical term’) had come from word-of-mouth from older rebels and her secret romance novels.
From these sources, Alyx had gathered that it was supposed to hurt, possibly a lot, at least the first time, there would probably be some blood, she would be more-or-less at the mercy of her partner, and she also recalled snippets of other warnings that she felt less sure about, but that still made her nervous. She trusted Gordon, of course, but the idea of relinquishing all of her control over the encounter for something that had to get worse before it got better was not the most appealing.
Alyx supposed there were… other ways… to take care of Gordon, like he had for her, but despite her reservations, she liked the idea of being intimately connected with him and her innate sense of scientific curiosity made a good case for giving it a try anyway.
Realizing that she was quickly heading down a path of complicated motivations that Gordon could not possibly be expected to discern on his own, Alyx decided to share her thoughts; ‘We’re grown-ass adults and we’re not gonna be idiots about this again.’
“Hey, Gordon,” she murmured, supporting his head so he could turn and look at her. “So, um, I want to make it clear that I absolutely want to do this, okay?” He nodded, encouraging her to go on.
“But honestly, I’m a little nervous. About the pain, especially. And the, uh, blood?” As she voiced her concerns out loud, Alyx began to feel self-conscious about her ignorance, but she still felt better having gotten this off her chest.
Gordon, in response, blinked slowly a couple of times before sitting up. He furrowed his brow, sighed worriedly, and then froze, as if he was unsure how to reassure her without words. There were no universally recognized hand gestures for this. Finally, he simply reached for her hand and caressed it with his thumb again, carefully keeping his distance.
“Okay, sooo… should I take this to mean that I’ve received some incomplete or inaccurate information?” Alyx asked tentatively, figuring that Gordon would have been more apologetic than worried if he, too, knew that trauma was an inevitable part of the experience. He probably knew something from Before that she didn’t. Perhaps they’d both laugh about this later.
Gordon nodded to confirm her suspicions, laying down beside her again and pressing a soft kiss to her cheek, before coming to rest a couple inches from her body.
Alyx realized that he seemed to be trying to convey that he wouldn’t mind if she didn’t want to continue, but especially if this wasn’t going to be a painful ordeal with life-altering consequences, she was very on board. She reached for the waistband of his sweatpants.
He grabbed her arm, temporarily preventing her from reaching her goal, and searched her face for any sign of reservation.
“Gordon, I want this,” she clarified. “I want you. Just, um, go easy on me at the beginning, okay?” He nodded, and then his face seemed to light up with an idea. He allowed Alyx to lean over him to remove his pants and shorts—equally utilitarian, naturally—and then, instead of climbing on top of her as she had expected, he guided her so that she was straddling his lap and pulled her down to kiss him.
It took a moment before it dawned on Alyx that Gordon was giving her control. Although she hadn’t voiced that particular concern out loud, he’d read between the lines and realized that she was uncomfortable with the assumed one-sidedness of the encounter. So, he’d flipped the script, somewhat literally.
They kissed like that for a while, hearts pounding where their chests were aligned, until Alyx’s impatience became impossible to ignore. Gordon was also starting to writhe in a fascinating, desperate way, seemingly seeking friction. Alyx felt suddenly powerful in the knowledge that she was in the position to give it to him, and there was clearly no sense in putting this off any longer.
She sat up, and Gordon reached down to help guide himself into place. Alyx was surprised and relieved to find that it didn’t hurt at all; it was like they fit together naturally, and she loved the sensation of fullness when her body had completely taken him in. Experimentally, she rocked her hips. Gordon’s reaction—a full-body shudder and a strangled gasp—told her she had the right idea.
After a couple of clumsy initial thrusts, they found a comfortable rhythm and were thankful to note that the bed seemed to be much more sturdily constructed than the desk. At first, they made frequent eye contact, each preoccupied with confirming the other’s pleasure, but they later found that closing their eyes heightened the sensations. Alyx couldn’t decide if she preferred to close her eyes or to watch Gordon’s expressive reactions. It felt like a privilege to see him so unguarded, and she didn’t want to miss a second.
Alyx was thrilled with Gordon brought a hand up to where they were joined, to tease her in time with their thrusts. She’d needed just a little bit more, and with the additional stimulation from her partner, she soon felt a second orgasm building. Ultimately, however, she found herself distracted by the sight of Gordon coming undone below her.
Seconds after their frenzied movements reached a peak, Alyx watched him throw his head back, eyes clamped shut, with an audible moan so raw and erotic that the sound alone threatened to push her over the edge. She felt him throbbing inside her for several long moments, before he placed his hands on her hips to still them and opened his eyes to gaze at her in blissed-out amazement.
Once he had started to come down from his high, Gordon gently guided Alyx to lie down beside him and, after pressing his lips to her cheek in a silent apology, slipped his fingers back between her legs to finish what he had started.
With the sensory experience of Gordon’s orgasm still fresh on her mind, it didn’t take long at all for him to bring her back to a peak and push her over the edge. Alyx’s second orgasm was less intense than the first, but it was still enough to white out her vision for a split second and leave her feeling completely spent.
Alyx knew they’d need to move soon, but for a moment, all she wanted was to close her eyes, feel her heartrate slow back to normal, and listen to their heavy breathing that filled the otherwise silent room. Gordon reached for her hand, intertwined their fingers, and squeezed: ‘All good?’ She squeezed back: ‘Never better.’
Gordon’s bed was not large, and Alyx eventually realized that she was dangerously close to falling off the side of it. She gently elbowed Gordon, asking him to move over, and he complied without opening his eyes, clearly still either blissed out or processing everything that had transpired.
As Alyx shifted to move closer to her partner, she became acutely aware that all those fictionalized accounts of couples who had sweaty, passionate sex and then immediately fell asleep had left out some… unsavory practical details. She must have made a noise, because Gordon’s head shot up to look at her, and he offered an apologetic grimace as realization dawned.
Always pragmatic, Alyx began mentally mapping out a route to the closest communal bathroom. ‘Okay, so I’d have to sneak out of here, make a left, go through the lobby—wait no, maybe there’s a closer one in the east wing dorms, which I can get to easily if I leave via the fire exit…’ Her eyes darted around as she reviewed the steps, which seemed to clue Gordon into her thought process.
She was startled out of strategizing by the sound of Gordon clearing his throat. After straightening his glasses, he pointed to the door at the far end of the room that Alyx had assumed was a closet, and she breathed a sigh of relief. ‘Of course the Opener of the Way has the one room in this entire base with an ensuite bathroom,’ she thought, surprised she hadn’t come to that conclusion earlier, as she carefully slipped off the bed and padded across the room.
After fumbling around in the dark to locate the pull-chain for the bathroom light and pulling the door closed behind her, Alyx found herself alone for the first time in several hours. She used the bathroom, did her best to clean herself up, splashed some water on her face, and attempted to brush her teeth with her finger.
‘In retrospect, I probably could’ve just used his toothbrush,’ she thought idly, ‘since it’s not like there are any germs on it that aren’t all over my body at this point.’ That was an odd thought, but sharing a toothbrush still felt a bit too intimate, especially since… they’d never actually defined where things would go from here.
Alyx looked at herself intently in the slightly dingy mirror above the sink. Did she look different? Save for a rapidly fading blush across her face and chest and a few patches of—what had she heard it called the other day?—pash rash scattered across her upper body, she didn’t appear to have been fundamentally changed by these new experiences. Would other people be able to tell that something had happened?
This prompted another train of thought: ‘Will Gordon want me to stay?’ she wondered, kicking herself mentally for assuming that she would be staying the night just because she had been so comfortable with the idea. ‘Should I just assume this is a one-night stand situation unless explicitly told otherwise? What exactly is the social protocol for this?’
Alyx gripped the edge of the sink, searching her reflection for answers, before sighing and reminding herself of the phrase that had almost become her new mantra throughout the course of the evening: ‘Adults. We’re adults. I’m just gonna ask him. This will only be, like, the third most uncomfortable question I’ve had to ask tonight. I can handle it and so can he.’
Still, her stomach dropped at the thought that Gordon might send her away after everything that had happened between them. Not only because she would miss his comforting presence and the closeness with him that now felt so natural, but also because that would imply that this was a one-time thing, and not the start of something more meaningful.
Gathering her resolve, Alyx glanced once more at her reflection and then, having determined that she looked presentable, opened the bathroom door. Across the room, Gordon had climbed into bed and pulled the quilt up to the middle of his chest, which struck Alyx as sort of adorably modest. It wasn’t like she hadn’t already seen everything, after all. His face lit up as he registered her presence, which seemed like a good sign.
Alyx cast a glance at her discarded clothes, scattered to various corners of the small room. She realized a moment later that Gordon had followed her gaze and now looked perplexed, his eyes darting between her, the clothes, and the door, as if he was wondering whether she would try to make a run for it.
Well, this was her chance. “Gordon, I don’t want to be presumptuous, but…” Alyx trailed off as Gordon interrupted by peeling back the covers and inviting her to join him in the bed, enthusiastically patting the empty space next to him.
She smiled, relieved to learn that they were on the same page, but then hesitated when Gordon climbed out of bed as she approached. He shook his head—‘No, it’s not what you’re thinking’—and jerked a finger towards the bathroom. Oh, right. She wasn’t the only one who had ended up unpleasantly sticky and didn’t want to try to sleep that way. Fair enough.
Alyx kissed Gordon’s cheek as they passed in the middle of the room, enjoying the effect the comparatively innocent gesture seemed to have on him as his nearly fully-body blush deepened. She then climbed into bed, thankful for the warmth Gordon’s body had left behind, and watched him retreat.
‘Hate to see him leave; love to watch him go,’ she thought, suppressing a giggle. Before closing the bathroom door, he turned to face her, holding out an open hand with the palm facing forward: ‘Stay.’
She responded with a mock salute, and a firm “yes, sir.” Gordon’s eyebrows shot up before he quietly closed the door. Alyx made a mental note of that reaction for later.
Through the closed door, Alyx heard the water run, the unmistakable sound of Gordon brushing his teeth, and a loud noise followed by a frustrated grunt that suggested Gordon had somehow knocked all of his toiletries into the sink.
‘The savior of humanity, everyone,’ Alyx quipped to herself, unable to resist some private amusement at his expense. She had to scramble to compose herself when she heard the doorknob turn, not wanting Gordon to know that she had overheard his little mishap.
Gordon looked relieved to see that Alyx was still there, and he was clearly eager to rejoin her in bed, though he paused to close the bathroom door and turn off his desk-turned-floor lamp. Alyx’s eyes took a moment to adjust to the sudden near darkness, but she was able to make out Gordon’s silhouette as he removed his glasses and set them carefully on his nightstand, before sliding into bed next to her and immediately pulling her close, so that her back was pressed against his chest.
They remained like that, motionless except for their even breathing, until Gordon broke the silence. “Alyx,” he whispered into her neck, his voice rough from disuse and slightly shaky. Alyx didn’t dare move, not wanting to scare him while she waited to hear what he said next. “Thanks,” Gordon finally offered after a long pause, exhaling deeply and squeezing her a bit more tightly.
Under different circumstances, Alyx figured this might be a strange thing to say to someone right after sex, but she knew Gordon. She felt her heart swell with warmth and relief, knowing that he was thanking her for trusting him, for allowing him to be completely vulnerable with her, and perhaps for putting up with his silence despite their shared understanding, in hindsight, that he had longed to break it just as much as she had.
Suddenly, she remembered how this encounter had begun, and her shame from earlier returned with a vengeance. With some difficulty, given the size of the bed, Alyx rolled over to face Gordon in order to deliver a proper apology. She kissed him gently and then spoke from the heart.
“I am so, so sorry for barging in here earlier and practically yelling at you like that. I know it’s not your fault, and it was wrong to get upset with you for something you can’t control. I care about you so much, and—”
Gordon stopped her by pressing a finger to her lips. “’S okay,” he whispered, before chuckling softly and adding, “I needed to hear that, I think.”
Alyx was relieved to hear that he wouldn’t be holding a grudge, but she still felt compelled to try to make things right. “This is amazing, but…” She paused, feeling suddenly overwhelmed with emotion. “It’s okay if you don’t always feel like talking, or can’t, in the future. I mean, clearly, we can get by, y’know?”
Unless it was her imagination, Alyx felt like the space between their bodies was becoming warmer as both blushed, vividly recalling the events of the last couple of hours.
“I know, and thank you,” Gordon finally responded. Almost as an afterthought, he added, "Talking’s a hell of a lot more efficient, though.” Alyx supposed she couldn’t argue with that.
Gordon pressed a searing kiss to Alyx’s lips that might have almost gotten them going again if they weren’t both so exhausted, before encouraging her to roll back over so they could spoon. She happily obliged, feeling very safe in his arms and secretly thankful for the extra couple inches of bed space that the position allowed. They were both going to be stiff in the morning, but it would be worth it.
Gordon wrapped an arm around Alyx’s waist, bringing his hand up as if to cup her breasts but instead stopping at her upper abdomen. Wordlessly, he traced a figure-eight pattern around her scars, his touch so feather-light that, like before, Alyx could not even begin to imagine what he was thinking.
Eventually, Gordon’s hand stilled, and he shifted once more, his even breathing suggesting that he was close to falling asleep, or perhaps he had drifted off already. Allowing her own exhaustion to overtake her, Alyx closed her eyes and settled into the mattress as well.
Moments before she finally drifted off to sleep, Alyx heard a now-familiar voice whisper, so softly that Gordon would later insist she had already been dreaming,
“I got rid of the ponytail in 2002.”