Author's Note - My heartfelt thanks to the extraordinarily encouraging Fire Griffin for beta-ing this!

Carpe Diem

Her father's death had made a few things clear to Alyx, at least. She knew mourning was a process, one she had barely started, but the fragility and impermanence of life were suddenly quite clear to her. She had to start seizing the precious moments of each day and turning them to her advantage, rather than waiting for perfect opportunities that would never come. A brief lull in the chaos of life was all she could ever expect - and this time, she would finally use it to tell Gordon how she felt about him.

She found him in the infirmary, where he had taken it into his head to peruse the shelves of medical supplies. No one interfered. The medics were busy trying to heal as many as they could, the patients were quite involved in their various stages of dying, and everyone in the Resistance had long since decided to just let Gordon Freeman do whatever the hell he wanted. His actions rarely made sense to the external observer, but they seemed to always result in very negative consequences for humanity's enemies.

"Hey, Gordon," Alyx said.

It was like he hadn't heard her, for all she was standing two feet from his left elbow. Nothing could distract from his methodical pillaging of the medicine cabinet's contents - which, to judge from the pile of discards on a nearby table, had been going on for quite some time. While Alyx watched, he pulled out a pill bottle, examined the label, then stacked it neatly with the rest of the rejects.

"Can we talk?" Alyx tried again, laying a gentle hand on his forearm. The tiny hairs along her arms prickled a too-late warning, just as Gordon demonstrated his phenomenal reaction time by spinning around and snapping his hand out to seize her wrist. Alyx froze in instinctive shock, her eyes taking in the half-drawn crowbar, the cool green gaze, the tiny rusty fleck of forgotten blood caked to the lens of his glasses.

"Alyx," he said. The stern, predatory lines of his face relaxed, and he let the crowbar drop back on his belt. "You startled me."

"Hi." She tugged her arm to no avail, blushingly aware of how warm his fingers felt against the pulse-point of her wrist. "Would you mind, um, letting me have my hand back?"

"Oh," he glanced down at his clenched hand, and his eyebrows raised in mild surprise. "... Sorry." He released her and, just as quickly, turned back to the cabinet.

Honestly, Alyx reflected, it was more than a little bizarre that such an absent-minded professor-type could be the last best hope of the Resistance. Still, his awkwardness was rather charming ... maybe if she helped his search she could turn the conversation to her own ends that much sooner. "What are you looking for?"

"Medicine, obviously," he said, darting a quick, amused glance at her.

Even being head over heels for Gordon Freeman didn't increase Alyx's tolerance for mockery. She tossed her cropped hair, crossed her arms over her chest, and drawled, "Obviously. I meant, what specifically do you need? Are you epileptic? Narcoleptic? Do you perhaps suffer chronic constipation from that stick shoved up your ass?"

Alyx could only see Gordon's profile, but the quirk of his mouth showed his appreciation of the jab. "Thoradilithiate," he said.

"Excuse me?"

"I am trying to find some thoradilithiate. It's a psychoactive medication, developed by Black Mesa researchers in the late nineties. Experimental, but human testing showed moderate usefulness in the treatment of antisocial personalities. Many became capable of near-normal relational interaction."

Alyx stared at him blankly, so shocked that he'd spoken in complete sentences that she couldn't quite

process the information. She understood every word he'd said - she wasn't stupid - but they didn't seem to make sense strung together like that.

Seeing her confusion, Gordon clarified, "I have issues."

She could work with that; banter was familiar ground. She raised an eyebrow and replied, "I'm afraid that is news to no one. You sleep with a crowbar, wear a drug-dealing suit, and have spoken more in the past five minutes than I've heard you say in the three weeks I've known you. Which particular issue does this thora-stuff help with?"

"The pills make it easier to ... focus. To act humane." He paused over a handful of random orange prescription bottles, then sighed and set them aside. Reflectively, he continued, "Although it was a stroke of singularly good fortune that I slept late on the morning of the Black Mesa incident and missed that day's dosage. It was not long before I found myself quite enjoying the carnage. All that blood and pain. It was very exciting." He sounded positively wistful.

"You're saying you're a ... psychopath?" Alyx asked, fighting to keep her tone light enough to pass for teasing. She must have misunderstood. Sure, he had been quite clear, but ... no, it was impossible.

"Technically, a sociopath," he remarked absently, pushing aside a few bottles with one long finger to check the back of the cabinet. "I can understand concepts such as 'remorse' or 'mercy', though I must admit I find them perplexing. And I learned caution at a fairly young age, once I realized that there were serious social and legal consequences to overtly indulging my desires. My condition has been useful lately, but as I am now in an isolated facility full of innocent people, I think it would be advantageous to regain some control. Assuming that I can find the proper medication, of course."

"Of course," Alyx repeated, faintly. She took a completely unconscious step backwards, felt her gut tighten with apprehension when he turned and grinned at her. His teeth were very white.

"Found it!" he said, unaware of Alyx's growing anxiety and the hand she'd surreptitiously placed on the butt of her pistol.

"Just," Alyx said, "just to be clear. You're - literally - crazy?"

"I have a medical condition," he enunciated each syllable, punctuating his statement with a cold glare that would not have been out of place at the other end of a sniper scope.

"Ah." Alyx swallowed visibly. "And this condition makes you do things ... like what, exactly?"

"Well." He frowned, strong fingers twisting the childproof cap open. "It's not that it makes me do things. It's just that they don't really bother me. For example, at this moment, I would have no qualms against torturing every human being in this room to death. Slowly, with dull instruments." It could have been braggadocio. It wasn't. The stark honesty in his tone made Alyx's breath clog in her lungs.

For a wonder, Gordon finally noticed her pale, sick expression, and her hand ready on her gun. "Oh, not you, Alyx." Perhaps he meant to be soothing, but all Alyx could think of was the bland look on his face when he spoke of torture and murder. She hadn't felt so nauseated since she'd watched those giant, bloated maggot-bodies slaughter her father. "You've been very helpful, and I am perfectly capable of feeling gratitude. In fact, I feel a surprising amount of interest in your continued well-being." He shook two pills into his hand and dry-swallowed them with a grimace.

"Thank you." Alyx was proud of her vocal control - her voice was reasonably audible and didn't shake at all, despite a throat gone the approximate texture of steel wool.

"You are very welcome." He tucked the pill bottle into one of his many pockets. With an old-fashioned, courteous flip of his hand, he gestured for her to precede him out of the room.

"So what was it you wanted to talk about?" he asked.

"Oh. Nothing." Nothing at all. Life might be chaotic and time always short, but perhaps there was some point to thinking things through before taking rash action after all.