A/N: So I'm trying to address what Episode 2 left on the table, particularly the G-Man's connection to Alyx and the Vortigaunts weaving Gordon's life with hers, because I think that not addressing it is not a good option. This should be an interesting ride.
I would really love your input on this, especially in these first few chapters. (I may or may not know what I'm doing...)
What have I done?
Gordon lay on the hard ground, fighting to remain conscious. He couldn't really feel most of his body, and all he could see was Alyx crying over Eli's dead body. He felt rage start to boil in the pit of his stomach, and he grabbed onto it, using it as a source of strength. He managed to roll over and drag himself forward, straining to reach out and touch her. She wasn't alone; he felt the heavy loss and the swirling emotions that came with it, too, and he had to let her know.
He was too far away, and he knew his energy was down to its last. He probably had just enough to roll back over and pass out, but he used the last dregs to drag himself another precious few inches. As the darkness accelerated toward him, he flung out his arm as far as he possibly could… and came up short.
He had absolutely nothing left, and the darkness took him as he collapsed to the ground.
When he came to, he was outside in the forest in some kind of makeshift camp, and it was completely dark. A Vortigaunt looked at him and walked around the campfire.
"The Freeman awakes," it said. He pushed himself up and rubbed his face, hoping his head would stop spinning. The last battle and what had come after had taken a lot out of him.
"How you feeling?" Kleiner asked from the other side of the fire. Gordon shrugged. Physically, he felt okay, but emotionally was another story entirely.
There was a sound from the surrounding darkness, a high pitched vocalization that slid up to an even higher pitch. It repeated twice, and Gordon tensed, just in case that was another other-worldly monster.
"That's Barney," Kleiner assured him. "He took out a scouting party. That's the all-clear."
Gordon looked curiously at him.
"We lost control of White Forest," Kleiner sighed. "The Advisors were just the beginning. The Combine raided the base; we were lucky to get so many people out. At least Barney was still able to find us."
Gordon took a good look at his old advisor and friend. Kleiner looked worn and beaten. He had depended on Eli as the world they knew was torn apart and replaced with something more dangerous and more costly. Eli was Kleiner's best friend, and Kleiner was Eli's best friend. He was Alyx's 'Uncle Kleiner' for a reason.
Barney seemed to materialize from the darkness, and he nodded at Gordon as he sat down next to Kleiner. Gordon could see the loss on Barney too.
He closed his eyes and focused on the red-hot glowing pit seething in his stomach. Barney and Kleiner were friends and colleagues, and seeing how it had affected them only increased his rage.
When he opened his eyes again, Barney caught his eye, and he could suddenly see the wrathful emotions under Barney's skin. They nodded at each other, wordlessly understanding each other.
He stood and turned to walk from the fire.
"Alyx went to take a walk," Barney told him. He nodded once. He knew exactly where she was.
He walked into the darkness, moving easily through it as he traced out a path almost automatically. She was standing on the ridge, staring out into the night. How he knew he didn't know, and at the moment, he didn't care.
As his eyes began to adapt to the darkness, he saw her on the ridge thirty feet from him, turned to face him. He stopped, leaving the space between them as a neutral zone. He held out his hand and waited, watching to see what she would do. For a long moment, she stared at him, not moving. Then she ran forward and nearly tackled him as she wrapped her arms around him, sobbing uncontrollably. He held her and let her pour it all out. He guided her into sitting beside him on the ground, and he was ready when she hit him, over and over again in need to lash out for this unequaled injury. He waited until she had exhausted the little that remained of her energy, and then he caught her eye. She looked into his eyes and saw he wanted revenge just as much as she did. He intended to hunt down the Combine and exact a deadly toll for this; he intended to use any weapon available to him to make them bleed out for what they had done.
That comforted her, and she relaxed, leaning against him. And together, they grieved in the darkness.
They stood at the base of the ridge in the morning fog, watching as the Vortiguants carried the box symbolizing Eli's body to the grave Alyx, Gordon, and Barney had dug in the hard rocky ground in the pre-dawn darkness. The weak dawn sunlight fought its way through the fog as the entire camp stood to pay tribute to the man who had given his life to the resistance and mankind's uncertain future.
The Vortigaunts gently lay 'Eli' on the ground beside the grave. They had lost his real body at White Forest, so the Vortigaunts had built a wooden casket as a substitute for the service.
"If anyone would like to say a few words," one of the Vortigaunts suggested, turning to face the crowd. "Perhaps the Kleiner."
Dr. Kleiner moved to stand next to the body, facing the others. He was crying, but he took a breath and forced himself to speak. "Eli was a good friend. He and I worked together for so long I can't remember when I met him. To see him like this is…" his voice broke, and he took some time to collect himself again. He looked down at the casket. "Eli, I can't thank you enough for everything you have done for me over these long years. You've saved my life so many times, and you've always been there as the best of friends." He looked down at his shoes, and Barney walked up and guided him to a seat on a rock by Gordon and Alyx when it became clear he was done.
After a long moment, the Vortigaunt said to Barney, "Perhaps you?"
"Sure." Barney moved to stand where Kleiner had. "After Black Mesa, all I had was Dr. Kleiner and Eli. They changed my life. They encouraged me to become a CP spy, and they gave me the courage to go through with it." He laughed humorlessly. "A long time ago I dedicated my life to protecting men of intellect, especially him and Kleiner. I just can't believe I couldn't protect him."
He lowered his head and moved to stand beside Kleiner. The Vortigaunt waited for a volunteer, and finding none, he said, "Would the Alyx Vance like to speak?" Alyx turned and wrapped an arm tightly around Gordon's waist, shaking her head and burying her face into his shirt. Gordon had taken off the HEV out of respect. The Vortiguant looked at Gordon, who shook his head.
"Anyone else?" the Vortigaunt asked. No one volunteered, and after a long minute, he turned back to the casket. He and the other Vortigaunts lowered 'Eli' into the grave and began pushing the dirt back in. One of the Vortiguants turned to where Gordon and Alyx stood off to the side.
"Alyx," he said. She looked up at him with teary eyes, and he offered her a folded Resistance flag, a Combine flag spray-painted with the orange lambda of the Resistance. She took it from him and bent her head, closing her eyes.
"The Combine shall pay for this rent," the Vortigaunt whispered to her. "With this act, they have lost their lease on life."
She looked up at him, knowing he meant every word.
"What about what they learned?" she asked in a broken voice. The Advisors had licked his skull clean, taking out every last piece of information. The Combine knew everything now.
"That is of great consequence, yes, but it is not insurmountable." The Vortigaunt picked up a dead blow hammer and offered it to her for her to pound in the cross at the head of the grave.
"You do it, Gordon," she whispered. He took the hammer and stood at the head of the grave. He stabilized the cross bearing Eli's name in the soil, and then he used a series of powerful blows to drive it deep into the ground. Alyx came up beside him, wrapping her arm around his, looking down at the pile of dirt and rock now housing her father, her only living family.
She took a deep breath and looked up at Gordon. "We'll get through this," she whispered. "We'll get through this, and we'll give them hell."
He nodded and smiled faintly. He saw a spark light behind her eyes, and it caught on something, lighting her eyes with a bright flame of vengeance and determination. He was scared that this loss would take away her compassion and basic humanity, but he also somehow knew it wouldn't. This might force cracks into her psyche, but it wouldn't destroy her. She was going to use this fire to re-forge herself into something stronger and more deadly, but she would always be herself.
That comforted him, and he knew she was going to be alright.
"And it's not your fault," she whispered, knowing his subconscious thoughts. "Don't for one second think that it's your fault. Someone else put that crystal in the chamber. You were a tool for most of the people of Black Mesa. You couldn't possibly know what it would do."
He looked away, but she turned his chin to meet his eyes.
"That guilt drives you. Fine. But do you really think Dad would be okay with me dating the guy who burned the world? He thought he did it. There wasn't a day when he didn't think about what he thought he had done. That's why he buried himself in his work, and that's why he did so much for the Resistance. And don't even get me started about what Kleiner thinks!"
He looked away. That wasn't the point.
"Is that not the point? Is that what you're trying to say? Look at Dad's grave and say it again," she dared. "You tell your supervisor that you should have known better when your administrator wouldn't give you the time of day. The Incident was the result of a series of natural actions everyone took. I think it's Breen's fault. He gave you the sample and nothing else, and then he let you, Dad, and Kleiner take the fall. He's spent the last twenty years covering his ass, and he would have managed it, too, if the Vortigaunts hadn't told their stories about Xen."
Something shifted behind his eyes, and she smiled. She knew just as well as anyone else that it would take years for him to heal and forgive himself for what he thought he had done, but that process was finally starting. After so long, he was finally starting to heal. That comforted her, and she knew he was going to be alright.
She wrapped her arms around him, and together they stood in the cold dawn, tears streaming down their faces, as they tried to find a way to balance.
Gordon sat out in the night, looking blankly at the horizon. He had sat up with Alyx, and when she had finally fallen asleep, he had slipped away. He needed some time to think. In City 17 he had found he had built up walls between himself and others, walls that provided two-way protection. The trauma of Black Mesa had cracked him, and he couldn't afford to let anyone in, lest they just make it worse. The only one who had just gotten that was Barney, who hadn't pushed and hadn't asked anything of him.
At first, Alyx hadn't factored into anything. Sure, she had saved him and helped him, but she was just an outsider, a stranger who couldn't understand. But when he had fought beside her, he had been surprised to see they had flawless combat chemistry. He had managed to convince himself that he could keep his distance and still have her as a fellow combatant.
But then she had begged him to come back when he had entered the Citadel reactor, and then she had dug him out of the rubble. She had actually hugged him, and that had meant, surprisingly, a lot to him. With a look and a touch, she had cracked his walls. When they had escaped City 17, she had shown him her weaknesses, trusting him with her vulnerabilities. Was she justified in doing that? Could she really let such a broken man so far down? She had decided she could, and he had been convinced that she shouldn't have.
When the Hunter attacked her, at first he thought that it was his guilt that had driven him to save her at any cost, but it had been something else, something deeper down and something more primal. Because she had brought down one of his walls, and because his subconscious knew he couldn't heal on his own, and because to him she represented something that he couldn't allow the Combine to corrupt. He knew that the resonance cascade had taken much of his basic humanity, and she had come in to serve as a surrogate replacement.
But it was also more complicated than that. The depth and breadth of his loneliness had come into focus at last, and she provided companionship. But that chasm existed for a reason. He still wasn't sure what to think about that.
He didn't know if he could afford to let her in, to show her his own vulnerabilities, to trust her with his broken self.
He sensed her come up, and she sat beside him, hugging her knees against the cold. For a long time she didn't say anything, just feeling his presence as she looked up at the stars. She was still grieving, but it was less immediate now, and right now she was more concerned about the complex man beside her. She knew he had tried to shield himself from others and he had tried to keep her at a distance. But she was pretty sure she had started to slip behind one of his barriers. But he had to let her in. He had to trust her enough to let her see his weaknesses.
She leaned against him. He looked down at her, surprised. But she didn't say anything, feeling the complicated world around them and how they fit into it.
He held his breath, looking down at her, seeing her absolutely flawed perfection for the first time. Some part of him responded to it with a nervous energy, but the rest of him drowned it out with fear. He couldn't let her in. He couldn't.
But he wanted to. He wanted, needed, to.
But you can't.
But you know you can't do this any more.
You can't get hurt. And do you want to hurt her?
But something whispered that he couldn't hurt her with who he was. She had already seen so much that this was nothing. She was vulnerable, and this might hit her in chinks in her armor, but that was just one more scar among hundreds.
And he just couldn't keep the walls up any more.
He pulled her closer to him, burying his face into her shoulder, sobbing uncontrollably. She wrapped her arms around him, whispering soothing words into his ear. She smiled as her own tears started.
He had let her in.