Author's Note: This is my first attempt at story-telling within the Half-Life universe. Chronologically this takes place after Gordon arrives at Black Mesa East and meets Eli, Mossman and D.O.G face to face for the first time. Let's just pretend that Valve gives Gordon more than five minutes to catch his breath, shall we?
On a different note, Selective Mutism is an actual DSM-IV diagnosed anxiety disorder. I thought that this was a good reason for Gordon's lack of speech from a storytelling perspective. Look it up if it interests you.
Again, any constructive criticism is appreciated.
The Right Words
"So honey, what did you think?"
Alyx Vance glanced up from the computer readout she had been scrolling through, gracing her father with slightly confused look.
Eli smiled impishly back at her, his kindly, weathered face alight with merriment. "About Gordon, of course."
"Oh." Alyx hesitated for a brief moment, considering what would be the best response. Finally she settled for a one-shouldered shrug and a "He's nice." To emphasis her point she nodded rather curtly, bringing her gaze back to the flickering computer screen. "Doctor Freeman was very nice."
She heard him chuckle. "And?"
"And that's it." Alyx had to bite back the irritation in her voice. She loved her father dearly; he had been her entire world since the death of her mother and the arrival of the Combine, but sometimes his habit of making jokes at her expense or just plain out being embarrassing sometimes became too much for her. Eli Vance, however, thought the jokes never got old.
He limped over to where she was seated, leaning his weight against the desk and crossing his prosthetic leg over his good one.
"It seems to me that you're a little disappointed." He bent down to try and peer into her eyes; Alyx kept her gaze locked stubbornly on the readout. Eli smiled, ever patient, and waited until she could no longer bear the scrutiny. After a few seconds she let out a half-sigh and swivelled in her chair to face him.
"Well...it's stupid but..."
She shrugged again, averting her eyes from her father's intense gaze. "I don't know. I just got the impression that he didn't like me very much. I mean, I tried being as friendly as I could, but he seemed so...stoic." She lifted her gaze up to his again, a sudden note of indignation creeping into her voice. "And he didn't say a single word to me, Dad, not even when we were playing with D.O.G. I mean, the way he was acting you'd think-
She cut off abruptly when Eli suddenly guffawed loudly, shoulders shaking with mirth. She frowned at him; the familiar and unpleasant sensation that she was once again the butt of another joke began to creep up on her. "What's so funny?"
Eli actually reached up to wipe away a tear. "Oh, honey. Didn't Isaac or Barney tell you?"
"Tell me what?" This constant parroting of his questions was annoying, not to mention the fact that she was beginning to feel rather stupid.
He reached over and placed a gentle hand on her knee, eyes still crinkled with amusement. "Sweetheart, believe me when I say that it's no fault of your own." He paused, and his expression sobered a little before continuing. "Gordon has a rare anxiety disorder called Selective Mutism. He's quite capable of speech, but when he is confronted with situations or events that cause him anxiety or stress, or even just certain people, he simply can't bring himself to speak." At her look of mute horror, he placed a placating hand on her shoulder. "Oh, it's not your fault honey. From what Gordon's told me he's suffered with it for years, ever since he was a boy. Honestly, I would have thought Barney at least would have had the foresight to tell you, but I guess with all the excitement today he just plain old forgot to mention it."
Alyx shook her head in disbelief. Oh God. I must have sounded so stupid. She thought back to her first meeting with the young doctor, and cringed inwardly as she recalled what she had said to him in the elevator.
"Man of few words, aren't you?"
She jumped a little, startled out of her reverie by the sound of her father's voice.
He smiled kindly at her. "Don't worry about it. Gordon's very understanding; he certainly won't begrudge you the fact that you had no idea. Besides..." His smile turned mischievous, and he wiggled his silvered eyebrows exaggeratedly. "I'm sure it was your ravishing beauty that rendered him speechless, and not the fact that he's had Combine shooting at him all day."
"Dad!" She cried out in mock indignation, giving him a playful punch on the arm. It was amazing how he could make her feel better with such a corny and inappropriate joke at her expense.
He laughed raucously and pushed himself off the desk. "Anyway, it's late. I'm gonna turn in for the night. Why don't you see where Gordon got to and show him where the dormitories are? I'm sure after today he's exhausted as well." He pulled her into an embrace and placed a loving kiss on her forehead. "Goodnight honey. Don't you stay up too late, okay?"
"Okay Dad." She gave him an affectionate squeeze and then exited via the double automatic doors, giving him a little wave goodbye as they closed behind her.
As he hobbled his way upstairs to his private room Eli couldn't help but let his thoughts linger both on his daughter and on the young man who had so suddenly re-appeared back in their lives. Gordon's return wasn't just strange, it seemed downright miraculous, especially considering that his reappearance coincided with the very first test of Kliener's teleporter. It couldn't be just coincidence. In fact to Eli it almost seemed as if the event itself had been somehow...orchestrated.
But there was something else that bothered Eli, a single, recurring thought that niggled at the back of his mind, keeping him awake long into the morning; how was it that in the nearly twenty years that had passed since the resonance cascade Gordon Freeman had remained unchanged? The world had ended when the Combine arrived, but for Gordon Freeman it seemed as if time itself had stopped.
Eli felt a shiver pass through him.
My God, Gordon. Where have you been all this time?
It only took Alyx a few scant seconds to determine where their illustrious guest would be, and a few minutes later she found him in the Mess Hall, which was otherwise empty except for Pierre, the head Vortiguant chef. Gordon himself was sitting at one of the tables, tucking into a steaming hot bowl of headcrab stew that Pierre had obviously been kind enough to warm up for him. At her approach he made as if to stand up, perhaps thinking that she required him for some task, but she quickly waved him back down as she slid into the seat opposite his.
"It's okay Gordon." At her insistence he sat back down slowly, pulling the bowl back towards him in order to finish off his meal. "When you're done I'll show you where the dorms are, so you can get some sleep, okay?"
He nodded emphatically over the rim of his bowl, still shovelling the food into his mouth with gusto.
Alyx felt a presence behind her and looked up to see Pierre; she had to stifle a giggle at the sight of the chef's hat balanced rather precariously on his football shaped head.
"The Freeman is quite ravenous, it seems. This is his third helping. Even the fact that the stew is made from headcrabs does not deter him." The Vortigaunt inclined his slender neck downwards to peer at her, his many eyes blinking in unison. "Does the Alyx Vance also wish for sustenance?"
She patted his clawed hand affectionately. "No thank you, Pierre. I'm just here to look after our guest." She glanced back at Gordon, who was still completely engrossed in his meal. "Where's his H.E.V suit?"
"Some of my kin have taken the suit in order to recharge it. It shall be returned to him in due time."
She smiled up at him. "Thanks, Pierre." There was a clatter from across the table, and she looked back to see that Gordon had finished. There was a splash of gravy clinging to the whiskers on his chin, which he hurriedly wiped away with the back of his sleeve. His gaze settled on hers and he smiled awkwardly.
She stood up, picking some imaginary lint from the sleeve of her jacket. "Ready to go?"
He nodded, and then turned his attention back to Pierre, bowing his head slightly in a gesture of thanks.
The Vortigaunt returned in kind. "The Freeman is most welcome."
The short walk upstairs to the dorms was painfully quiet. Since her revelation in the lab earlier in the evening Alyx had taken it upon herself not to place any pressure on Gordon to talk, indirectly or not. She'd realised that during their first meeting she had babbled almost incessantly at the young doctor, no doubt making him rather uncomfortable. She was determined to nip that particular habit right in the bud.
"Here." She said finally as they reached their destination. She pushed open the door and flicked on the light switch to reveal a rather drab and sparsely furnished room, the walls and floor all made of concrete. A single cot was pushed into the corner, next to which stood a small bedside table. Other than the beat up looking desk and chair on the opposite side of the room there was very little else occupying the small space. Gordon turned to look at her.
She shrugged. "I know, it's not five star, but at least here you don't have to worry about Civil Protection busting down your door in the middle of the night, right?"
He nodded, a small smile curving up the corners of his lips. Alyx noticed with no small amount of surprise that when he smiled it produced a warm, pleasant feeling in her chest. Similar to what she felt when she was with her father, yet different.
She shook it off and pointed behind her. "My room's at the end of the hall, second last door on your left. If you need anything, just knock, okay?"
He followed the line of her arm with his eyes and then flicked his gaze back to her face. She expected him to simply nod again, but to her astonishment he licked his lips and then opened and shut his mouth in rapid succession.
Alyx blinked. What is he...?
His brow furrowed and he shuffled awkwardly on his feet. Alyx watched as once again he opened his mouth to try to speak; his Adam's apple bobbed up and down furiously, his throat clenched as the muscles seized up, blocking the words he was trying to produce. Alyx felt a sharp twinge of empathy. It was obviously a struggle for him.
"Hey." She whispered, placing a reassuring hand on his forearm. "It's okay. Dad told me about your..." What? Condition? Affliction? Disability? Oh my God, it makes him sound like some kind of invalid!
She realised that he was staring at her, waiting for her to finish her original statement. At the sight of his forlorn expression she gently moved her hand up his arm to pat him gently on the shoulder. "Dad told me why you don't speak. Please don't feel as though you have to force yourself for my benefit. Besides, I know what it is that you're trying to say."
He nodded his assent, gratitude clearly written all over his features. He half turned towards the open door and Alyx took that as her cue that it was time for her to leave.
"Goodnight." She whispered as he began to pull the door shut. He paused for a few moments to look back out at her. In the dim light of the hall his face seemed drawn and tired, but the expression was warm, the green eyes piercing against the almost colourless background of the base. Then there was a soft click as he shut the door, and Alyx found herself alone in the cold hallway.
She wasn't usually able to recall her dreams, but when Alyx Vance awoke the next morning she could still feel the ghostly sensation of strong, warm arms wrapped around her shoulders, and the comforting, reverberating murmur of the voice of a man she had yet to hear.