Benrey opened his eyes, and something was different.
The sky above him was stained with deep purples and blues. Murky grey clouds hung high above his head, revealing a few pinpricks of light as they drifted through the air. The sun was sinking into the horizon, a deep orange orb that stung Benrey's eyes when he looked at it.
Did the sky always look like that? There's no way it always looked like that.
Benrey moved to sit up, bracing himself with a hand on the ground. But when he shifted his weight onto it, he felt a sharp pain lace through his palm and fell back onto his side, yelping in surprise.
He'd accidentally pressed his hand into the sharp side of a piece of plastic, and it was bleeding slightly. And it… hurt? Why would it hurt? How did he even get injured by something like that?
Benrey blinked a few times, staring blankly at the trickle of blood on his palm. Then, he wheezed in shock, eyes widening as he realized that he had just blinked. He wasn't supposed to be able to blink. Or widen his eyes. Or squeeze them shut so tightly it hurt.
Shaking his head, Benrey pushed himself roughly to his feet, almost falling back over when he got so lightheaded he couldn't see (what was up with all this pain?). Once he regained his footing, he finally took a good look around him.
Bits of concrete and jagged pipes and shattered glass surrounded him on all sides, piled up in heaps of junk, stretching out into the distance. It was deathly quiet, like somebody had forgotten to add a music track to this scene.
Well, Benrey thought, not like they would've planned for Black Mesa to get wrecked like this anyway. Bet it's not in the code at all.
Benrey blinked for the first time in a few minutes, and started when he realized how dry his eyes felt. On impulse, he started blinking rapidly, and the dry feeling went away. Weird.
Yeah, something was definitely wrong. Not that Benrey was likely to figure out what it was.
Tommy would know. Tommy always has an explanation.
Benrey grinned. That was it, he just needed to find Tommy, then he could figure this whole mess of a situation out.
"TOMMY!" he called. No answer. That was fine, he would turn up eventually. He just needed to wander around a bit more, get in range of his hearing. He couldn't have gone far, not in this mess.
Sighing, he started looking for a way to get out of the rubble. But as he fumbled his way around, every time he grabbed the sharp end of a pipe, or stepped on a shard of glass, pain shot through his body, no matter how small the wound. And his eyes would get dry again whenever he forgot to blink.
"maaaan this is SUCKS," he hissed after falling on another rock. "some fuckin coders. putting all this pain shit in their game. stupid."
A loud clang echoed out somewhere behind Benrey, and he jumped to his feet. Maybe the world wasn't working like it usually did, but Benrey was definitely not the one to make that sound.
He strolled in the direction of the sound, holding his breath in anticipation. Naturally, he didn't know how lightheaded holding his breath would make him until he stumbled and almost fell over again. But he didn't have time to dwell on that new unpleasant realization, because when he looked up, Tommy was right in front of him.
"BENREY!" he cried out, checking him over anxiously. "What happened to you? You're bleeding on your, on your arms and legs."
"it's fucked up, man. these rocks are, uh, hostile. you gotta watch out."
"Benrey!" Tommy sighed, exasperated. "You — You need to learn to be more careful! You — I know it's hard to adjust — it's been fifteen days! I'm having trouble too. But you gotta, you gotta think harder since it's different."
That sure was a lot of words that Benrey did not totally understand. "huh?"
"Oh — the rest of us got... we got out fifteen days ago. I've been looking but I couldn't uh, I couldn't find you until now. I was getting really worried."
Benrey whistled, eyebrows raising a little bit. "i was out for two weeks, huh? better, uh. tell freeman that's what happens when you kill me. s'how it works."
Tommy frowned. "I — I don't see why that would change anything? I mean, we're all... free now. Being killed during the game shouldn't change that."
"dude, i DIED. like the big death. had to wait out the extra respawn time."
"But the, your respawn time is irrelevant! And uh, I dunno if Black Mesa itself was really destroyed. Or, maybe it was, but we wouldn't know about that."
Benrey blinked disbelievingly at Tommy. He lifted his arms and gestured at the clear evidence of a wrecked building they were standing in.
Tommy just tapped his foot and looked around him, arms crossed and brow furrowed.
"...Benrey." His eyes widened, and as he looked at Benrey, his arms dropped to his sides and he let out a breath. "Ohhhhhh."
"yeah, see? i'm right. as usual." Benrey examined his nails smugly, but Tommy started shaking his head.
"Benrey. This isn't Black Mesa."
"wh — "
"We escaped the game."
"...then, uh. where are we? what game did they uh, drop us in this time."
"No, you're not getting it. This isn't Black Mesa, this — this is the facility where they kept us. Our code."
"our..." There was no way Tommy could be implying what Benrey thought he was implying. No way in hell.
And yet... the sky was so beautiful.
"Benrey. The facility is gone. We're not in a game anymore." And then Tommy smiled, big and genuine. "We're in the real world."
Benrey spent a long moment watching as the sun's edge dipped below the horizon, far away. Eventually, he turned to Tommy and spoke.
"...think i'm gonna need some catching up."
Benrey steepled his fingers and scrunched up his face. "mmmmm ok lemme get this straight. you, sunkist, gordon, bubby, coomer, darnold. you aaaall woke up where i did, with a buncha cash, so you split n bought houses."
"Yes! We were, uh, I think somebody provided us with just enough money to settle down somewhere. Maybe — um, maybe they were worried about us?" Tommy shrugged, anxiously drumming his hands on his lap. In response, Sunkist shoved her nose under Tommy's hand, which made Tommy chuckle and start petting her.
"you look. uhhhh, pretty cramped there, bud." Tommy's couch was abnormally small, and it barely fit him and Sunkist sitting together. Benrey didn't even get the luxury of a couch, perched awkwardly across from Tommy on a too-tall stool. To make things worse, looking down at Tommy was making his neck start to hurt. Who knew living would be such a hassle?
"I don't mind. Sunkist is very soft," Tommy said with a smile, reaching out to the coffee table between them to grab his soda. Said coffee table was barely two feet off the ground, so Tommy had to scooch halfway off the couch and bend down to reach it.
"n what the fuck is up with this table," Benrey muttered, kicking idly at it.
"Benrey. Please don't kick at the, my coffee table, I don't know where your shoes have been."
"they were at the... at the DUMP, man. that's where, uh, your shoes went too."
"Well, my shoes are on the ground, where they should be."
"i can't even put my shoes on the floor. i'm sittin."
Tommy winced. "Sorry about the stool. It's the only other chair I have."
Benrey snorted, then looked pointedly at the rest of the room. An old looking fridge sat right beside the door, rattling loudly every few minutes. It slumped over a tiny counter, which was so small that a toaster and breadbox almost covered it completely. A bare table sat in the middle of the kitchen in lieu of an island, with another tall stool next to it. The space between the kitchen and where the two of them sat held only a tiny, faded rug.
"this place is. kiiiiind of a wreck?"
"Hey!" Tommy's face soured. "I know it's, not perfect, but it suits my needs. I never wanted a big house."
"is there even a bed in here?"
"I have a bedroom. AND a bathroom."
"yooooo, three whole rooms?"
Tommy rolled his eyes. "Calm down, Benrey. The, um, the location is superb! There's a park right down the street, and the landlord is pet friendly. Even f — even to a big dog like Sunkist!"
Tommy sighed dramatically, crossing his arms and pouting. "I only realized the accommodations here were... lacking... after I came in. And they didn't tell me beforehand that it was only, uh, there was only availability on the top floor!" Tommy moved a hand to stroke Sunkist's back, and she woofed quietly in response. "Sunkist likes going up and down the stairs all the time, but, but I don't think the neighbors like hearing her. They've been complaining for — for a little bit."
"sooooo just." Benrey clicked his tongue. "live somewhere else?"
Tommy scowled. "You don't understand! This location is — is perfect. I don't know where else I would have found something like this! I can — I can deal with everything else." He picked at his pants, scowl deepening.
Benrey was about to apologize for upsetting him when Tommy shook his head and his scowl vanished, replaced quickly by a bright smile. "It's okay, Benrey! I'll, um, I'll get used to it. The, uh, the sunsets are very pretty from this height."
Benrey blinked, and slowly turned his head toward the single window on the wall. It was maybe two feet across, pressed up against the ceiling, and probably too dirty to see sunlight through.
Tommy just kept smiling. That was not the smile of a man who had his life together as well as he wanted Benrey to believe. But when Tommy got like this, there was very little Benrey could do to change his mind, so he decided to change the subject instead.
"where is everyone else living? are they, uh, on this street?"
"No, they all found their own places. I don't — I mean, Gordon already has an apartment. I don't want to make him move."
"oh, well — yeah, duh." Benrey tried to shrug it off. He... didn't really know why he'd assumed they would all try to live near each other. Everyone probably had different preferences for their own houses, and forcing them all to live in the same place would make some of them unhappy. There was no real reason for Benrey to feel so... sad, all of a sudden.
"I've been texting them every day, but I — but I haven't visited everybody yet. I want to visit, b-but I'm so busy with Sunkist, and looking for work..." He trailed off, looking guilty. Benrey just nodded.
"I made sure to keep track of every address, so I won't forget to visit. I wrote them down on the Post-It™ note by the door," Tommy explained, pointing at the wall next to the door. It did indeed contain a single sticky note with several addresses squeezed onto it in Tommy's handwriting. How did he write so neat, anyway? What, did he print out a page of typed words and copy it exactly for practice? Who would even have the patience for that?
"Oh! Speaking of living situations, um, where do you want to live, Benrey?" Benrey blinked, not expecting the question.
"mmmm. dunno how i'd afford anything," he settled on after a moment.
"Well, you have enough money to buy a small place for a while, before, before you would have to start making money yourself. You just have to—" Tommy started to explain, but Benrey cut him off.
"i don't have money. didn't come in the… reality premium package." Benrey shrugged. Tommy frowned, tilting his head in confusion.
"Are you sure? We all woke up with little cases somewhere near us. I don't think — there's no reason you wouldn't have one too."
"nnnnnn…" Benrey suddenly remembered the piece of plastic he'd cut his hand on when he woke up. "...nnnnoh FUCK."
"i forgot the money. it's still, uh. lying there."
Tommy sighed, exasperation on his face again. "That was very irresponsible of you! You need that money to live."
"mneh neh nehhh." Benrey muttered, without any real annoyance behind it. He knew Tommy was right.
"You can get it first thing in the morning! It's really late, so I'm gonna go lie down." Tommy smiled at Benrey, moving to get up from the couch as Sunkist hopped down to the ground.
"You can, uh... you — do you wanna, sleep on the couch?" Benrey hopped off his chair and collapsed onto the sofa. It was hard as a rock, and it let out a creak so loud it made Tommy flinch. It was also... lumpy?
"yyyyyup. i'll sleep on the couch." Benrey smacked his lips, crossing his arms behind his head and trying to keep himself from grimacing. "gotta rest my bones."
"Okay! Goodnight!" Tommy waved at Benrey and retreated into his room, Sunkist trotting behind. Benrey waited about ten seconds before leaping up off of the couch, unable to stand that awful surface for any longer. He shook himself off like a dog, trying to get the feeling off of him, before tiptoeing toward the door, peeling the sticky note with everybody's address off the wall.
He knew Tommy wouldn't approve of leaving in the middle of the night like that, but he couldn't just lie around all night. He had to check up on everybody, make sure they were all doing okay. It was the least he could do, after... everything.
Silent as a ghost, Benrey slipped the apartment door open and closed it gently behind him. He walked down the stairs and out of the apartment complex, careful not to let anybody see him. Outside, the moon hung low in the sky. The night had just begun. If Benrey was quick, he could probably visit everybody and get back to Tommy's before the sun rose.
How hard could it possibly be?