Around 75% of Black Mesa has been destroyed and as much as Bubby is glad to see it gone, it occurs to him in the middle of playing Tekken that he has nowhere else to go.
Bubby sits in the middle of Chuck E. Cheese, unsure what to do with this information. What little possessions he had are in a locker several feet below the Earth and most likely destroyed. His room- complete with four horribly, white walls and a bed that was only just comfortable enough to sleep on- is gone.
Bubby picks at his slice of cake, the sound of music and other voices around him become muffled by his own thoughts. What’s he supposed to do after this? Black Mesa’s gone- good- but what now? Is someone else going to come after him? Are prototypes even legal?
There’s a hand on his shoulder that Bubby only processes when it gives him a squeeze and jolts him back out of his head. Harold Coomer scoots his chair closer to him, giving a patient smile with a hidden layer of worry under it.
He doesn’t have to ask. Coomer has had an effect on him long before they even started dating. A younger Bubby was uncomfortable with how much he trusted the man once but he’s long since learned to embrace it.
Trust doesn’t come easy for Bubby but it’s something he holds close to his chest.
Before Bubby knows it, he’s quietly spilling his dilemma to Coomer. He doesn’t mind as much as he thought he would. If his younger self could only see him now, Bubby can only imagine what he would say.
Bubby isn’t sure what to expect from Coomer once he’s finished. Words of wisdom? Sympathy? Mix of both? But in all his guessing, he sure as hell didn’t expect Coomer to laugh at him like it’s obvious.
Defensive mechanisms kick in. Bubby opens his mouth, fully ready to spit out his emotions and brandish them like a weapon.
“Well, I was planning on you coming home with me, Bubby Dear. If it’s quite alright with you, that is!”
The confidence in his voice shakes Bubby, though he doesn’t let it show outwardly. All that fight inside of him dies off and is left with shock. Coomer had said it like it was the simplest solution in the world. And underlying, ‘Why wouldn’t you be spending the night at my home?’ under it. Coomer had already considered it and figured he would stay with him.
Maybe it was obvious since they're together but Bubby’s always been cautious. It’s been decades since Coomer's divorce but Bubby still hesitates to take the next step in their relationship. Coomer’s the one good and constant thing in his life and Bubby would do anything not to screw it up. Overstepping his boundaries and rushing the relationship was the last thing he wanted to do.
But Coomer waits expectantly until Bubby manages to say yes. He’s never liked to use the phrase ‘Butterflies in his stomach’ but he can’t think of another way to describe the way he feels.
And suddenly, Bubby is all too aware of how much the world has changed.
Bubby is surrounded by people he honest to god trusts. Coomer by his side, as he’s always been; Tommy and Darnold sitting on the other side of the table, chatting up a storm and as friendly as ever; and Gordon to his right, silently sipping on his third soda and while quiet and looking worse for wear, still alive all the same.
Bubby tries not to look where Gordon’s gun-arm was. Guilt bubbles in his chest like lava threatening to burn him out. He’s surprised Gordon wants to sit by him at all.
Abruptly, Gordon turns to Bubby and slides his plate of cake over. “Hey, I know you’re not finished with yours but you want mine? I’m not hungry.”
Bubby stares down at the second plate and back up. “You haven’t eaten.”
“Just not hungry.” Gordon repeats, then double takes. “You noticed?”
Bubby bites back the truthful answer. That of course he did. He’s been keeping an eye on Gordon ever since he was forgiving enough to let him out of his tube when he could’ve just… Left him there. Gordon could’ve just walked away and it would’ve been justified. Bubby betrayed the guy for fuck’s sake and all he got was a few snippy comments about karma from him before Gordon let him out and traveled with him- fought by him.
After all that, the least Bubby could do was keep an eye on Gordon’s mental and physical well being, which hasn’t been great but now that they’re free of Black Mesa and Xen, hopefully should improve.
So of course Bubby noticed Gordon hasn’t eaten since they arrived on Xen. Half decent pizza, cake, and salad might not be the best meal but it’s something. By no means does Bubby want to be the mother hen but he’ll be damned if Gordon ends up suffering from malnutrition after all that.
But Bubby isn’t going to tell Gordon any of that in case he comes off wrong so instead he settles for scoffing. “A literal child could notice.”
Gordon laughs with his whole body. It’s been too long since Bubby heard him laugh and hearing him laugh because of him… It’s another step. One tiny step towards redemption.
Bubby will get there. Eventually.
“I’ll eat when I get home. Promise.” Gordon tells him at last. “Just not in the mood for Chuck E. Cheese pizza or cake.”
Bubby squints at him. “I’ll hold you to that.”
Another short laugh from Gordon. Another step towards Bubby being able to forgive himself. Bubby can’t seem to say another word so instead, he dumps Gordon’s cake onto his and finally takes a bite.
It’s sweet. Sweeter than anything Black Mesa has ever given him but not the sweetest thing he’s ever eaten.
There’s few days every year when Black Mesa is distracted. On those days, Coomer takes Bubby by the hand and sneaks him out. Past the walls of Black Mesa, they hit the town in disguises that get better every year (which isn’t saying much) and Coomer shows Bubby a life he’s never had.
Dancing, karaoke, restaurants, pools, ice skating- Coomer always manages to surprise him. It’s really no wonder why Bubby fell in love with him, how couldn’t he? Coomer gives him the world and Bubby just hopes he’s good enough to deserve it.
To deserve him.
And on one of these days, Coomer takes him to a candy shop and buys a bunch of sweets for the two of them to share.
They laid on a picnic blanket in the park, trying them all one by one, even though Coomer had already tasted most of them before. He still laughed at Bubby’s face when he tried pop rocks and smiled ever so sweetly after his first marshmallow.
Nothing has ever tasted as sweet as it did then, for more reasons than one.
Bubby finishes both pieces of cake in record time. He can’t stop thinking about how Black Mesa would have never allowed that on his diet. The cake may not be the sweetest thing he’s ever tasted but it does taste different than anything else.
Nobody’s controlling what Bubby eats anymore. He’s still processing that.
Those two words repeat in Bubby’s head even as he follows Coomer to his home.
Coomer opens the door to his apartment and holds it open for Bubby. It’s not the first time he’s been inside, nor the first time he’s slept over, but when Bubby enters, it feels like it is.
Coomer closes the door behind him before Bubby can chicken out (Not that Coomer would know that) and tells Bubby to make himself at home.
Which is ironic because Bubby has no idea how to do that. God, why is he over thinking everything today?
Coomer takes a shower while Bubby sits stiffly on the couch, feeling all too like a stranger in another man’s home. Which honestly sounds ridiculous because he’s been here before and knows where most things are. The drawer for utensils, the cupboard filled with protein powder, where the emergency food is, where Coomer hides his weapons in case of a break in- Bubby remembers all of it. By no means is he a stranger.
This home is as much his as it is Coomer’s. Coomer himself made that clear.
Bubby’s still getting that into his head.
Once Coomer is out and drying off, Bubby slips into the bathroom to take a shower. He stares at the pile of clothes his uniform is in and decides that he needs a new lab coat without the Black Mesa logo on it. He’s never going to wear that logo again.
Bubby turns on the shower and steps inside. The water is hot and it shouldn’t shock him as much as it does.
Black Mesa’s showers were always lukewarm at best. The hot water was always being used up for machines and tests, Bubby never got a lick of it. He never minded before, that was just normal for him. But now there’s warmth and Bubby freezes as he watches the dirt and dried blood wash down the drain.
It’s warm. He's warm.
Warm like Harold’s hugs, engulfing and promising that everything will be alright and if it isn’t, then he’ll make it alright.
Warm like Gordon’s laugh, sounding like the same way Bubby feels when sunlight hits his face.
Warm like Tommy’s entire personality, encouraging and thoughtful, always finding subtle ways for Bubby to know he’s just as much a part of the group as everyone else.
Warm like the eyes of the one who is no longer with them.
There’s blood on Buddy’s hands. On one hand, blood of a friend who trusted him. Gordon, who he led to the slaughter and was lucky that it didn’t get him killed in the process.
On the other hand, blood of a friend he couldn’t save. Benrey, who Bubby convinced himself was too far gone to do anything about and was killed in the process. Benrey attacked them but something felt so wrong. Another force at work pulling the strings.
Bubby tells himself that helping kill him was justified. Nonetheless, he still wonders if saving him was possible.
But Bubby remembers that Gordon said it himself, he forgives him. They’re… Past that, apparently? And even if Benrey did die, he’s always had a way of coming back.
The blood on his hands starts to wash away, going straight into the drain like everything else. Bubby doesn’t know if he deserves it but by the end of it, Bubby emerges from the shower feeling cleaner than ever before.
Harold leaves some clothes for him outside the door. A light blue turtleneck and comfortable pants. Bubby puts them on and feels like a whole new person.
No more Black Mesa logo, no more prototype numbers, nothing like that. Just Bubby. Only Bubby.
Bubby thinks about that over and over as he crawls into bed next to Coomer, who puts his arm around him and holds him close.
“I’ve dreamed about this, you know.” Coomer tells him. “Being able to sleep next to you like this. No Black Mesa, just us.”
Coomer holds onto him like Bubby’s his lifeline. Bubby wraps his arms around Coomer’s waist and buries his face into his chest. A low rumble of a laugh leaves Coomer.
“I love you.” Coomer tells him.
“I love you too.” Bubby answers, muffled but sincere all the same.
For better or for worse, Bubby’s life will never be the same.
But in the words of his beloved, Bubby would like to think it’s for the better.