Gordon dropped to his knees, the pain and blood loss finally getting to him. God, how long was he out? He found himself sitting up to his chest in water, leaning against the interior wall of the derailed train car. He clutched at the metal spike that had driven itself into his side and gave it an experimental little tug. Ow, nope, okay yeah that hurt, that hurt like hell. Pain tore through his very bones. His vision blurred and went dark for a good 5 seconds before coming back. He watched his own blood stain the water around him like food coloring. “VITAL SIGNS CRITICAL,” the suit helpfully informed him. He felt the needles inside the suit inject themselves into his spine, neck, and wrists, and he flinched and hissed, but at least the pain would start to subside soon. His eyes slipped shut for just a moment.
When he opened them again, Alyx was outside the window across from him. “Gordon, holy shit, are you okay?” He blinked slowly at her. “R-right, dumb question. There’s gotta be a medkit around here somewhere, just sit tight and I’ll find something to help… and a way in there.” And with one last worried glance, they were gone again.
Gordon’s had plenty of near-death experiences, the majority of them just this week… or month, or 20 years, however long it had been. But none of them ever felt this… slow. Delayed, almost. Painful, even though he felt no pain. Painful because he felt like this wasn’t just going to be near -death. This felt like it was going to be it. Gordon Freeman, the One Free Man, the messiah of humanity, bleeding out in a train car in the middle of the woods. Killed by some stray shrapnel. Never to be seen alive again.
What would Barney do? All the work he’s done to try and make sure they all got out of this alive, and the most important person to the mission gets himself killed. Barney was never good with death. He was always one to get too wrapped up in the concept if he allowed himself to and dwell on it for hours. If Gordon died…
The physicist sighed, leaning his head back against the wall. He had to keep himself alive. Even if he was on his last legs, he needed to live long enough at least to see Barney one last time. To say goodbye. Something about closure, or whatever.
Alyx came back about 20 minutes later. “Okay so-”-they forced a smile-“-good news is that I found a medstation!” The smile faded into a grimace. “Bad news is we’re gonna have to walk a while.” Realizing something, she held up a finger in the universal sign of ‘wait there’. Gordon watched as she practically skipped over to the jammed door at the end of the train car, reared back, and kicked it open with a deafening CLANG! They carefully stepped into the car, absolutely beaming. “Never gets old.”
She crossed over to Gordon and asked, “Think you can stand?” already crouching down and looping his arm around her neck. He shrugged, signing “[I hope.]” and bracing himself on the wall. With shaky legs and trying not to slip and fall in the water, he was standing. He gave Alyx a thumbs-up and the two started walking.
It took them a good 30 minutes to make it to where the medstation was located in a tiny wooden shack. There were a few medkits on the floor, too. Gordon pointed to them and Alyx turned to him sheepishly. “Oh. I, um… I didn’t even notice those, to be honest,” they admitted, chuckling a little. “I just saw the medstation and booked it back to you.” The medstation opened up and Gordon had to look away as the needles injected themselves into his hand. His sense of pain was still dulled, but he never liked looking at himself getting shots. The medstation was completely drained before the needles pulled themselves back inside of the machine. Alyx gently lowered him to the floor and started picking up medkits. “I don’t know how many of these we’ll need, that looks awful.”
“[Feels awful, too.]” Gordon found signing to be getting harder and harder. Sleep tugged at his bones and he had to keep shaking himself awake.
Alyx dropped 3 medkits on the ground beside him and started examining the metal spike currently embedded in his flesh. “Okay, before we do anything, we need to get this out. I don’t have any tools, so I’m gonna have to brute-force it.” They smiled up at him somewhat sympathetically. “Think you can handle it, tough guy?”
Gordon could barely feel pain right now, but he didn’t think that would last very long, and he was afraid to find out if he could handle it. Nevertheless, he signed with shaking hands, “[Try not to kill me.]”
Alyx laughed, but there was a feeling in it that he couldn’t quite place. “I’ll do my best. Oh, wait.” She paused to take off her gloves. “Open your mouth real quick, we don’t want you breaking any teeth.” Gordon obliged and she shoved the leather in his mouth. The gloves tasted like blood and dirt and the texture was awful, but he had to endure it. Alyx wrapped both hands around the shrapnel.
“On three. One, two, three⏤”
All at once, Gordon felt nothing and everything. The morphine the suit had injected him with was not nearly enough to mask the blinding white pain that ripped through every cell of his body. His lungs emptied in a scream he couldn’t hear. His ears rang deafeningly and all he tasted was blood before everything went black.
“...don. Gordon! Fuck, c’mon, stay with me, Gordon!”
Next thing he knew, someone was gently slapping his face. Gordon slowly opened his eyes and saw Alyx looking at him like he’d almost died. Well, all things considered, maybe he had. They searched his face for any signs of life and all of the tension left their body in a single sigh when they noticed that he was looking back at them.
“Holy shit, don’t scare me like that!” She shoved him playfully, but that caused another surge of pain. He felt acid in his throat and he tried to push her away, missing completely. They got the message though, backing up as much as they could while still keeping pressure on his wound. Gordon turned to the side, making himself lightheaded as he retched up nothing but blood and bile. He damn near vomited up his stomach too. He was shaking like a leaf and sweating buckets and he felt absolutely pathetic. His head was pounding and he couldn’t focus on anything but the awful taste in his mouth and the ringing in his ears.
Everything he’d endured over the past week was catching up with him all at once. Every bullet, every alien, every lake of radioactive sludge, he felt all of it again. He probably had 10 different infections and he didn’t even know it because of the suit. His eyes stung and he had to choke back the sob that suddenly welled up in his throat. Even if he survived this, he was probably going to be useless in a fight. He was supposed to be the hero, wasn’t he? Wasn’t he supposed to be the savior of humanity? He… he couldn’t save anything right now, not even himself. If they got into a fight on their way to White Forest, which they inevitably would, they were absolutely fucked. Alyx was capable on their own, there’s no doubting that, but if the combine swarmed them… they have so many soldiers, they wouldn’t stand a chance, they wouldn’t last 5 seconds⏤
“Hey, hey, hey, Gordon, c’mon.” Alyx was talking to him quietly, rubbing his arms, trying her best to ground him and keep him from spiraling. “I’m here. You’re okay, you’re going to be fine.” He was trying to, he was trying so hard to be okay. He needed to be okay, but he couldn’t. Everything was crashing down around him and he couldn’t stop crying. It was hard to breathe, his vision was blurry, and he could just barely hear himself rasping out apologies with a voice he hadn’t used in god knows how long.
Suddenly, he was caught in a one-armed facsimile of a hug. If the dam were broken before, it had crumbled into dust in that moment. He buried his face in Alyx’s shoulder, simply grateful that she didn’t mind him getting snot all over her jacket. “I’ll get us to White Forest,” they murmured in his ear. “I promise.”
Gordon pried his eyes open and groaned when the weak late afternoon sunlight hit him directly in the face. He was in a small, disheveled room in a bed he didn’t recognize. He didn’t know when he fell asleep or how he even got here, but the blankets were warm, so there was no way he was complaining.
How long had he been out? He wasn’t hungry; actually, just the thought of eating anything made him nauseous. Slowly, he pushed himself into a sitting position, ignoring the headache that formed almost immediately and the twinge of pain in his side. He was alone, but he noticed that the door had been left slightly ajar. Theoretically, he could get up and look for someone to ask about… anything, really. Or he could take advantage of the only chance he’d had for some actual rest in god knows how long. For all he knew, he could’ve only been unconscious for 30 minutes. He lifted the thin long-sleeved shirt he’d been put in. Ah, apparently not. Judging by the clean bandages that had been carefully applied to the worst of his injuries, he’d been out for at least a few hours. So much could’ve happened in that time, important information given that he’d missed. C… can it wait though?
Gordon was so focused on the internal debate between his strong desire to catch up on anything he’d missed and his even stronger desire to stay in bed that he didn’t hear the squeak of the door opening.
The physicist’s head whipped up towards the source of the voice, and he immediately regretted it. The minor headache he had been experiencing spiked in intensity and he doubled over and put his head in his hands with a groan. He stiffened when he felt a hand on his back, but relaxed almost instantly.
“Woah there, Doc,” Barney crooned. “You should be resting, somethin’ hurt you real bad-”
Gordon cut him off: “[How long have I been out?]”
The guard froze for a second, as if debating whether or not to actually tell him. “About 4 hours, but⏤” Gordon attempted to make a break for the door ⏤ there’s so much he probably missed, he needs that information ⏤ and almost fell flat on his face when his legs gave out almost immediately. Barney caught him before he hit the ground and gently sat him back down on the bed. He chuckled, but there was something else in his voice. “I was being serious when I told you you need to rest.”
Barney didn’t look that well off either. He had dark rings around his eyes and he looked like he hadn’t slept in weeks. “[You do, too.]” Gordon signed. Barney sighed.
“Yeah, I know, Alyx already gave me the lecture.” He looked off to the side, hiding his face. “Small problem, though, I uh… I offered up my room so you didn’t have to go to medical. Y’know, because of your tendency to freak out in hospital settings.”
So that meant this bed belonged to…
Something about that brought warmth to Gordon’s face. Seems like his little “workplace crush” hadn’t faded in the slightest. To be fair, he could see that Barney’s ears were redder than a tomato. He smiled mischievously. He tugged on the sleeve of the white t-shirt Barney was wearing to get his attention. The guard looked at him out of the corner of his eye, not wanting to face him fully. “[Too chicken to share a bed with your best friend?]” Gordon signed.
Barney spluttered. “WH- GUH- NO?” he stammered, “I just- uh- I⏤” Before he could continue to embarrass himself, Gordon shut him up with a quick kiss. It lasted less than a second, but it seemed to shut down Barney’s brain completely. Gordon took the opportunity to drag him into the bed with him.
Barney recovered a few seconds later with a chuckle. “Alright then. I guess I’ll take the hint.”