The span of time that laid between Dr. Freeman shedding the HEV suit and him passing out into a deep and well-earned slumber was about an hour. He’d struggled himself conscious through the poking, prodding, gauze-wrapping, and other activities which sent the medical team swarming around him like wasps—but the moment they leaned him back into that infirmary bed and draped a quilt over him, he was out like a light. Alyx assumed the poor scientist must have been downright exhausted, and hell, even she was feeling her muscles crying out for a good night’s sleep.
Once she lied down, however, that good night’s sleep stretched over most of the following day. The clock beside her bed read 02:41 through her bleary eyes, and as soon as she processed sunlight peering at her through the blinds on her window, she bolted upright, her hair and sheets both a frenzied mess. No, it was not two o’clock in the morning, which would have left her plenty more time for dozing—Alyx had, in fact, slept a whopping fifteen hours. She supposed she deserved it, and she was grateful for a dreamless night.
Her dorm room looked so… foreign. The unfamiliarity of these four concrete walls, inside which she had spent at least half her nights for years, was not menacing, but almost comforting. Like something better was waiting for her now, like the lights would shine a bit brighter on her upon stepping out. Like she was free.
Much had happened with her, and much had also happened without her. The first attempt to try and comprehend the recent timeline of events sent her head spinning with pseudo-memories of vortigaunts, impossible mirrored rooms, a man in a suit. Two paths splitting, a forked road with two pools of viscera, one belonging to an Advisor, and the other her father’s. The only way she could articulate the feeling of attempting to make sense of these things was as if her brain was punishing her, like a shock collar on a disobedient terrier. Thoughts scrambled at the moment of formation. Pressing only left her frustrated.
Finally, she decided to focus instead on the things she knew for certain: the Combine were basically neutralized, that man was no longer a threat to her, and there was someone in the infirmary to whom she owed a visit.
A change of clothes, brushed hair and teeth, and a quick meal later, she opened the gate to the lift and stepped out onto the floor of the med bay. Red-crossed sleeves flew by in blurs, the sound of rolling gurney wheels and footsteps ever present as white noise. The final push to rid their world of Combine had brought many casualties, in what Alyx hoped so deeply was the last battle in a long, long war. She wove through the traffic in mourning for the poor soldiers laid bloody on cots, and the overworked and overtired medics who fought to keep them alive.
Her own hero sat behind glass in an observation room. And in front of that window was a mob of curious rebels, bickering for a peek of the patient and speculating about his injuries.
“Hey!” Alyx called out to silence the group with crossed arms. They all turned to face her. “Don’t you have something better to do? Dr. Freeman needs his rest.”
She quirked an eyebrow, daring them to disobey her authority, and slowly they began to disperse. As quickly as they were out of sight, her hand was on the doorknob, carefully and quietly pushing through.
Gordon was still asleep. She was unsure if she was surprised. If she had come out of this with four broken ribs and morphine withdrawals, Alyx thought perhaps that she would be doing her best to sleep it off, too. So, with feather light footsteps, she snuck her way over to occupy the chair beside his bed.
For the first time since they met, he looked peaceful. Something about his neutral expression, the lack of pained contortion in his brow, brought a soft smile to the corners of her mouth. Though he would face discomfort upon waking, right now he lay in earned relaxation. The biggest reward for his troubles.
The wooden chair droned across the floor as she pulled it closer to the bed, forcing a startled hiss through her teeth which she only released after Gordon continued his slumber. Wow, he was still out.
With hesitation she gently pressed her elbow to the very edge of the mattress, her chin held up by her hand. Alyx simply watched his bandaged chest rise and fall. She watched the hair under his nose become ever so slightly roused by each of his breaths, the occasional twitches of his face to remind her that his mind was still at work, dreaming, cataloguing.
Gordon had saved her life so many times over that she lost count. She still remembered their conversation at the vertex of the Citadel wherein she thanked him the first time he’d saved her. There was no reason for him to feel an obligation toward her, and yet he had thrown himself directly into the hands of Dr. Breen to rescue her and her father. She still remembered waking up on a bloody table and his being the first human face she saw after cheating death. Though the exact details of that encounter escaped her—and that event was only one of the many shock-collar memories—she just knew he had something, everything to do with her scraping by with her life.
Alyx remembered Gordon pulling her out of the dark abyss himself.
What made him that way? What possibly drove him to care so much about someone he had just met?
That’s just Gordon, she remarked to herself. Selfless.
As she had this thought, she slowly dared to let her hand drift from her chin down to touch the quilt. And then, her calloused fingertips grazed the scarred back of his hand, and she gripped it with such softness as though he might crumble to dust if she squeezed.
She waited for him to wake, but he didn’t. Her hand stayed in place.
I should let go. Let him sleep.
But her hand stayed in place.
Alyx had places to be, things to get done. She had her father to take care of. She needed to check on Dr. Kleiner, help out with organizing all the commotion around White Forest. That could wait. Just for a minute. Just long enough for her to stroke Gordon’s bruised knuckles with her thumb.
And when he finally woke up, she would have a lot of thanking to do.