It’s a good thing Dad taught her sign language, Alyx thought as she led the One Free Man through the streets. Otherwise, she would’ve had no way to know it was him. Well, other than the anonymous tip that Kleiner got weeks ago to watch this particular platform on this specific day. And the fact that as soon as this dude showed up, Kleiner was shouting in her ear that he didn’t look a day older than he did at Black Mesa and where has he been? and, Alyx, the CP’s are pulling him, Alyx, you can’t let them take him, ALYX! Which prompted an impromptu plan to get Gordon away from the CP which ended in a shoot out with several blocks of running to get away.
The point is, without sign language, she would’ve had a much harder time to convince him to follow her.
She won’t lie though; it hasn’t been an easy 30 minutes. At least Gordon understands that it isn’t the time for questions, though she’s seeing his questioning looks and tilt of his head. Occasionally, she’ll see him make a half-aborted motion with one hand, but by the time she turns to see it, he’s shaking his head and motioning to move forward. Hopefully, once they get to Kleiner’s, they’ll both get answers.
God, he looks so lost.
He didn’t look like the savior the Vortigaunts painted him as. In ordinary clothes, he looks just like everyone else here. If she looked hard enough, she could see bruises forming where his shirt occasionally rode up and the bags under his eyes speak of days without sleep. But the way he hugged against walls, the way his shoulders tensed when he heard something new, the way his eyes darted from one thing to the next told a very different story, one where she could begin to see where they got their stories from.. When he put the HEV suit on, it was like a switch being flipped. He seemed surer of himself, but it wasn’t a happy type of confidence. He still had weariness clinging to him, the bags under his eyes still dark.
It’s the type that says he’s done this before.
They didn’t have much time to explain to Gordon what was happening, but they got the basics in. It’s been 20 years since the incident at Black Mesa. Since then, things had basically gone to shit. Gordon simply nodded and prompted clarifications on certain things. It wasn’t until they were done and about to send him off when he turned to Kleiner and signed a question.
“I didn’t quite catch that, Gordon, could you repeat that?”
Gordon repeated, a little bit slower.
“Oh-oh dear. Gordon… I haven’t heard anything from Barney since the Combine moved us all up here. He’s been missing.” Kleiner looked uncomfortable, reaching out and patting Gordon’s shoulder. “I know how close you two were. I’m very sorry, Gordon.” Gordon shook his head and shot them a sad smile.
“It’s fine,” he signed. Everyone in the room knew he was lying.
But there was no time to mourn those dead for 20 years.
After the accident involving the teleporter, Alyx and Kleiner had a few seconds to breathe before she had to go chase Gordon down and help him get out of the city, so she turned to Kleiner with a question on the tip of her tongue. Kleiner beat her to it though.
“Barney was a security guard at Black Mesa back in the day,” he said. “He and Gordon were as thick as thieves.” He chuckled softly to himself. “Hell, there were rumors going around that they were closer than that.”
“Closer?” Alyx asked.
He coughed and looked to the side. Oh.
“Oh,” she exhaled. No wonder he deflated so much. He came back to a world without someone special to him in it.
She didn’t know how she would react to learning one day that her dad wasn’t here anymore.
It turns out Gordon has an amazing sense of humor. After getting lost a couple times, he caved and politely asked for Alyx to help him out and she readily agreed. Now, in between fighting the Combine, zombies, and various types of other aliens, Gordon told her jokes and she had to resist the urge to curl up into a ball from laughing so hard.
He also sprinkled in facts of what it was like before everything went down. Apparently, they could travel across the world in a manner of hours? And nearly everyone drove cars everywhere? And there were large stores that sold anything you could ever need under one roof? Amazing.
While fighting, she would sneak looks and would always be amazed at how different he acted. His face set into a grimace, he’d plow through zombie and headcrabs without a flinch. He was so focused and determined, nothing like the joking and smiling man from 10 minutes earlier.
Still, he was extremely efficient, which shoots down any questions she had.
It was in the middle of a fight with the Combine that something unusual happened.
She and Gordon were crouched behind some cover, hoping that the bullets the Combine had couldn’t go through the solid concrete. Occasionally, in the pauses when the Combine had to reload, she and Gordon popped up and took out a few, but there always seemed to be new ones to replace them.
“We can’t last much longer,” she yelled to Gordon next to her, the sound nearly being drowned by the sound of bullets against cement.
“I know,” he hastily signed. He peaked over the top of the barrier before ducking down and turning back to her. “There’s an alley to our left. In the next break, we should be able to make it. Follow me?” She nodded and then they waited.
Bullets, bullets, bullets…..
They both sprang to their feet and she started to sprint-
Only to run into the back of the HEV suit. What? She quickly looked up at Gordon to realize that he’s looking elsewhere. She follows his gaze and finds an old sight. It’s one of the Combine, definitely, but he looks different. The top half of his mask is missing entirely, revealing dark hair combed to the right and black eyes with blue irises. And he’s holding a large gun. And staring directly back at them.
“Gordon!” Alyx hissed, grabbing his arm and tugging it. “We have to get out of here!”
“Gordon Freeman,” The Combine man said, static crackling from the mask.
Gordon slowly signed something, but it’s not something her dad ever taught her. He looks hopeful though, and maybe on the verge of tears. She gave his arm another tug, but he stayed firm in his place, looking at this new Combine soldier.
“Gordon Freeman,” the soldier repeated. She held her breath, tightening her grip on Gordon.
“Surrender. Or you will be shot.” The man raised his gun, aiming directly at them. Gordon tensed.
A beat passed. No one moved. Then, in a flash, she’s being tugged behind an overturned car by Gordon as bullets rained over them again.
“How did you know he was going to pull the trigger?” She breathed, trying to put together what the hell just happened.
“His right eye twitched. It always did that right before he shot at something, even throughout Black Mesa,” Gordon signed, and wow, that only created more questions. Gordon must have seen the look on her face because he quickly signed, “Later,” and she gave him a quick nod before focusing back on not dying to the Combine, especially to this new, special one.
She just really hopes that the hope she saw in Gordon’s face when he saw the Combine is just hidden behind his serious face instead of destroyed by the Combine, like everything else.
They were leaning against a half-crumbled wall sharing a canteen when Alyx remembers the strange man.
“B-A-R-N-E-Y,” Gordon fingerspells for her when she asks before repeating the sign from earlier. That must be the sign for his name. “He was a guard at Black Mesa. We got along pretty well, especially since he found me passed out in the cafeteria more than once.”
“You asked Kleiner about him earlier,” she stated in clarification and Gordon nodded. They were quiet for a while. She would’ve said something about finding him and how lucky it was that he was here in this city, but, well, was it really Barney they found? Sure, he might have been Barney once, but she knows what happens to the Combine’s elite. There isn’t much of the original Barney left at this point. It might’ve been better that he was dead, but she’s not going to say that to Gordon. Instead, she says, “At least you know where he is.”
Gordon just shakes his head before standing up and offering her a hand.
Later, after another run-in with the Combine (there was no Barney this time, thankfully), she watches Gordon run a hand over the chest plate and stare off into the distance. It’s quiet, she thinks, watching a savior mourn for the living.
Although they’ve encountered a couple more units from the Combine, they don’t run into Barney again. Instead, they hear his voice projected over them as the screens that usually used to broadcast Breen’s propaganda instead show an image of Barney. He just says the same things, asking Gordon to surrender, saying they won’t hurt him if he does, explaining that it’s better this way, but Gordon just ignores them after the first loop. At one point in the middle of a message, he turns to Alyx and signs, “Remind me to talk about Kleiner next time we see him,” with a giddiness that he hadn’t displayed before.
“You’ll see. Unless… No, you’ll see.” Gordon returns to ignoring the messages. Alyx glances at the projection of Barney, silently praying for… Well, she’s not sure yet. She just doesn’t want this man to break Gordon.
While Gordon gives her jokes and stories about the world before, he’s less willing to tell stories about himself. Somehow, she gets him to tell her that he was a student under Kleiner while he got his doctorate at MIT. When she asked what MIT is, he gave her a look and signed with the most serious look, “It’s hell wrapped in textbooks and fees”.
When she stopped laughing, she asked why he would go there willingly. It was his turn to laugh. She never got an answer to that one, but that’s okay.
He was in the middle of explaining how college worked when they were interrupted.
Barney was standing in front of them, gun in hands.
For some reason, he was alone, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“Gordon Freeman, you are under arrest. Surrender immediately,” he commanded, the static bleeding into his voice. Alyx and Gordon looked at each other. He’s starting to sound like a broken record. And then, Alyx remembered what Gordon told her a couple hours ago.
“Hey Gordon?” She starts. Luckily, Barney doesn’t move and she watches his right eye. “You wanted to tell me about Kleiner?” She sees Barney’s shoulders tense slightly. She turns slightly to face Gordon to see his response better, but she keeps Barney in the corner of her eye.
“Oh? Haven’t you heard?” He signs, slow and languid, looking about ready to laugh. “He got locked out of his office again.” She sees Barney freeze up completely out of the corner her eye and whipped her head to look directly at him again.
He stands absolutely still. His eyes were flashing between being blue and green, like they couldn’t decide which they’d rather be before settling on green. The air between the three of them was tense as Barney took a slow, deep breath. Then, in an instant, he threw the gun to the side and started sprinting down the street, shouting “FUCK YOU, GORDON,” in a voice free of static as he ran.
Alyx was in awe as she watched one of the Combine’s Elite turn sharply around a corner in full sprint.
Gordon was bent over, holding his stomach in silent laughter when she finally turned to him.
“What… In the world… Was that?” She asked, laughing slightly in disbelief. Gordon only laughed harder, starting to wheeze, and soon she found herself laughing heartily along with him.
“That,” Gordon signs, wiping a tear from his eye after they calmed down, “was Barney Calhoun, our resident vent cryptid.”