Sweet Voice is hard to understand for most humans, that’s the gist of what Tommy tells him at first, and then every time after that. And he’s not wrong, Gordon supposes. He truly understands fuck all from it.
Won’t stop him from trying, though.
Sweet Voice is only language in the loosest sense of the word. It conveys feelings and does so with the addition of colour and sound which both alter the meaning and which cannot all be wrapped up in nice little rhymes that make sense in English, no matter how hard Tommy tries. “Red to blue” means thank you, but “maroon to blue” is sucks to be you. “Vermilion to indigo” is it’s whatever, let it go. Who knows what “cherry to navy” could even be then, despite looking nearly identical.
It all depends on context. And mood. And more context. And just a whole lot of guessing. (And sure, there’s rules, but does Gordon understand them? Mostly no. And can Tommy explain them in a way that makes any sense to Gordon? Also mostly no.)
Gordon keeps asking his questions, because he’s a scientist and because he somehow, somehow ended up sharing his house with a human-adjacent-looking person who uses Sweet Voice. And maybe his empathy will be what takes him to the grave, but he doesn’t like the thought of not being understood in his own home. So he doesn’t want to make anyone else feel that way either.
He tries to settle for taking it as it comes and keeping up a mental dictionary as much as he can. He braces for the constant wave of trial and error, and for Benrey being cryptic in all forms of communication available to him.
For the time being, Gordon concludes that Sweet Voice is like ASL, but you’re only allowed to use metaphors and select obscure pop culture references. That’s the closest thing he can find to compare it to, really.
“and that’s just not how that works. that’s not how the game works, bro, cause, uhh...”
The rambling, only a hint above monotone, meaning that Benrey is feeling pretty strongly about this topic, is cut off by a long beep. Rising steadily for a few seconds until a sudden drop so low it’s almost comical. Gordon glances at the bubbles of colour floating lazily over the carpet to check for familiar patterns. He finds nothing.
He turns back to the spider plant he’s pruning a bunch of its spiderettes off of, because Coomer had expressed interest in getting a handful and Gordon knows better than to ask why. He’s just glad to keep the damn thing from taking over his living room for another day.
(Okay, that sounds mean. He loves this stupid plant. It was the first one he managed to keep alive during his collage days. Him and this plant are a package deal now.
Its name is Maria, but according to Joshie, it’s Buckaroo. According to Benrey, it’s Fredington.)
“Feetman, you’re not listening! y’know how...”
More Sweet Voice.
He turns to look at Benrey this time.
(Benrey is upside down on the couch, legs thrown over the back of it, head hanging down towards the ground. The only thing keeping his hat from giving in to gravity is the fact that he’s tied the tasselled strings of it under his chin, with a bow that’s missing one of its bunny-ears.
He looks ridiculously comfortable.
“You know I don’t understand that, man.”
Gordon laughs. Drops the last spiderette in the box and calls it a day. “And neither that, but I’m not sure it means anything anyway.”
He laughs again. Benrey, somewhere under being upside down and looking as disinterested as ever, seems proud.
Orange means laughter.
It’s one of the first pieces of Sweet Voice Gordon learns, besides whatever he’s picked up from Black Mesa (he still can’t stand the taste of blue raspberry, probably never will). Laughter is bubbles of orange that make towards the ceiling, with little to no gradient.
Once he started learning what they mean, he started missing them when they aren’t around.
Benrey tilts to the side as his cart on the screen flies into a turn, and then promptly off into the ether. By the time he’s returned to the track, he’s four places down.
Joshie plays the foghorn noise on his TTS-equipped tablet from his VIP seat in Benrey’s lap. He preens under the praise of both his dad and the currently winning Player 2, Tommy, bursting out laughing, even as Benrey moves on to using his head as a chinrest. Or maybe that only makes it better. He reaches up to poke Benrey’s cheek.
The next time Benrey faces the fateful turn on the track, he leans to the side again. And leans. And keeps leaning, even as Joshie tries to wiggle free.
They crash together into an unsuspecting Tommy.
“Are you guys okay?!” Gordon asks, springing up from his own place in the armchair, leaning over the pile of limbs on the floor. But his initial pang of panic is quick to give way to laughter and fondness as he takes in the sight properly.
The sight of Tommy lying on the floor, controller still in one of his hands, presently being crushed by Benrey, who’s still clutching Joshie to his chest with both arms, to keep him from getting hurt in the fall. They’ve taken a few pillows with them as they went, and Joshie’s tablet is still close enough to them that Gordon feels the need to nudge it away with his foot, and he hopes to whatever that the reason he can’t see Benrey’s controller anywhere isn’t because someone fell on it.
And all three of them are laughing. A mix of loud laughter and breathy little giggles and orange Sweet Voice that just barely misses Gordon’s head as it rises towards the ceiling.
“suck it, dude! suck it!” Benrey crows, throwing his head back against Tommy’s back. His teeth are stained orange, bubbles emerging between his words. “no one gets to win!”
“I...I don’t think that’s, that’s really how it works, Benrey!”
But he’s only arguing for the sake of arguing too.
Joshie whistles in both approval and just the sheer need to Make Noise, hands too busy clutching one of Benrey’s. He wiggles, delighted, when Benrey sings a particularly shrill note of Sweet Voice in response, but makes no attempts to get out of the still secure hold.
(Gordon’s phone is in his pocket. He snaps a photo when none of them are looking.
He’ll show them later.)
Arbitrary associations are just a simple fact of life. They’re something the human brain does (sometimes more overzealously than others), connecting senses and memories and concepts in a tangled web that makes no sense to anyone but yourself.
They’re also important, in the grand scheme of society. Red is danger and the fire department. Green is exits. Blue are cops, fuck those guys. Green means go and red means stop and yellow means wait.
Orange is the HEV suit.
Damned, heavy thing, like a powered tin can. Sweaty on the inside, covered in blood and grime on the outside. Dented and scratched to hell from playing real-life tower defence against hordes of aliens and the military.
Orange is the HEV suit, and the HEV suit is Black Mesa and armour and fighting for their lives through days and nights that blended together on the walls of derelict corridors.
Orange is also laughter, and carrots. Carrots that Gordon learns fast to always buy extra of when he needs them for cooking, because Joshie taxes them a little, but Benrey taxes them a lot. Like, “an entire carrot at the very least” level of lot.
Joshie feeds Benrey M&Ms, one by one, a different colour each time. He waits with them in his hands until Benrey signs what colour they are, and then hands them to him. Benrey takes them obediently, pops them in his mouth, and sings a matching colour of Sweet Voice. Sometimes he’s handed multiple of the same colour, and then he sings whole strings of them.
Joshie’s yet to start making him sing in gradients, but Gordon thinks it’s only a matter of time.
The colours float at their lazy, comfortable pace, and Joshie sometimes chases them like they’re bubbles. They pop against his hands then, and Gordon knows from experience that they aren’t filled with overwhelming emotions the way they are when they mean something. Sometimes they get too high before Joshie could catch them, but he wants to anyway, and then Benrey will pick him up to help instead of letting him climb over furniture like he did the first couple of times, before Gordon had told him how dangerous that was.
Joshie picks out another three greens, and Benrey makes the correct sign, and then chews them obnoxiously before singing the matching Sweet Voice. Trying his best to keep their colour pure even as orange drips from the corner of his mouth, down onto his hoodie where it disappears without staining.
The good thing about associations is that, over time, they can be rewritten.
None of them got out of Black Mesa unscathed, of course. It had been Hell on Earth, and then Hell, well, wherever Xen is besides far away.
But Gordon used to think that Benrey had gotten off relatively easy.
The ally turned antagonist (turned stranger, turned reluctant roommate, turned friend). The final boss. The monster at the end of the road. The powerful maybe-god, definitely-alien with a hundred eyes and an incomprehensible form and a voice that rattled teeth.
The final boss, destroyed by the good guys. Stripped of all his power, brought as close to death as they could manage. His essence scattered so thoroughly it took him two months to be able to respawn at all. Maybe a whole third month to remember.
He still says it wasn’t his choice. He’s also still yet to explain that to Gordon in a way that he can understand. So Gordon waits.
(Watches and sees the damage it’s done anyway. Why else would the monster cower and cry, “Why aren’t you scared of me?!”
Implying that Gordon should be.)
None of them got out unscathed. They all have their bad days.
Gordon knows something’s off before he takes note of any of the signs. The house just feels duller this morning, somehow. Dull and wrong and grey. Despite the big windows and the colourful letter magnets on the fridge and Joshie fiddling with the slide whistle sounds on his TTS once he’s done with his cereal. Something’s missing.
Benrey is a noisy creature to live with. If he starts talking, usually utter nonsense, he doesn’t stop until he’s run out of things to say. And if it’s not talking then it’s Sweet Voice or video game noises or the clatter of him digging around for stuff he hasn’t yet figured out what to do with.
Hell, even his noclipping has a faint buzzing sound to it.
But on bad days, Benrey is nearly completely silent. Sometimes he functions around it so well he almost seems normal in all other aspects. Other days it’s accompanied by him being nearly unresponsive. It’s a spectrum.
He finds Benrey sitting on the ground in the hallway when he exist his office for a break a few hours later. Eyes dull and staring into nothing. Still in his pyjamas and the ever-present chullo.
The protective instinct flares up so strongly in Gordon’s chest he could swear it gives him heartburn.
He moves slow and drags his feet, in case Benrey doesn’t notice him, but his eyes flick to him the moment he’s within a few steps’ distance. Gordon considers that a good sign and crouches where he is.
“Hey, bud,” he sighs, and Benrey’s eyes squint just the tiniest bit in response. “Do you wanna tell me what’s wrong? You don’t have to, though.”
This dance never quite has the same steps twice.
Benrey’s face screws up in a way that looks painful, before he sings a few dull notes of Sweet Voice at Gordon. They would hit the ground way before reaching him if Gordon wasn’t waiting for them, ready to lean in and catch them with his left hand. They splatter against his skin with a lukewarm, sticky feeling.
His breath stutters against the sudden wave of feelings that crash into him, none of them his own, and on these kinds of days so strangely muted, but still so much.
Guilt, resignation, helplessness.
Figuring out that Benrey can still use the Sweet Voice to communicate on days when talking just really doesn’t work for him has been invaluable. He’s learning sign, but he’s definitely not there yet, and he hates texting about anything involving feelings. Getting even a hint of what’s hurting him has been a huge help for Gordon, and a huge show of trust, for Benrey to bare his heart like that.
It’s yet to stop feeling overwhelming for Gordon though, choking on pain that isn’t his own.
“Is there anything I can do to help?” he asks once he gets his own emotions back in check. Nothing says bro time like having a breakdown in the hallway together, but this isn’t the time for that.
It takes a few seconds for Benrey to process the question. And then another handful to make up his mind about how to react.
Conversations on Benrey Bad Days tend to be slow like that.
In the end, he sings another note of Sweet Voice, just a single one. Gordon catches it.
“Yeah, uhh,” he gives Benrey a small smile. This he can deal with. Maybe not completely and not in the grand scheme of things, but today, within the walls of this house and on this worn, ugly carpet floor? Here, he can. “Yeah, I think we can do something about that.”
Benrey shifts just the slightest bit, his eyes brightening maybe a fraction (literally brightening, like a dimmer switch in reverse). Gordon thinks if he knew him any less, maybe he wouldn’t even notice.
“I can work from my laptop today and work from the couch,” he shrugs with one shoulder like either of them still need to pretend around what the offer is. “You can join me, if you want,” and after a moment, he adds, realising he not only means it but hopes for it: “Maybe even play some video games together once I’m done for the day.”
Benrey takes the offer with as much enthusiasm as he can muster right now, which is admittedly not much, but the effort is seen.
Sometimes, hanging out together while Gordon works means no direct interaction at all. Sometimes Benrey plays video games, subdued and quiet on bad days, nearly vibrating out of his skin and still quiet on better days, because Gordon can’t work if he’s yelling. Sometimes he takes out his headphones and listens to whatever noise he currently considers music. Sometimes he just lies on the couch, maybe with his feet poking into Gordon’s thigh, doing nothing but staring at the ceiling and pulling his hoodie strings back and forth, claiming he’s not bored anyway.
And sometimes he glues himself to Gordon’s side, and Gordon will absolutely fucking let him, because it’s pleasant, and because Benrey being touch-starved and tactile just makes two of them.
Today Benrey takes an unusually long time before he tucks himself under Gordon’s arm.
Gordon waits patiently, and squeezes him into his side once he’s there. Guilty kinds of bad days get like this sometimes, his little mental list Benrey Knowledge tells him. Benrey curls his hands towards himself, grabs at his own hoodie, gnaws on his bottom lip like he’s trying to keep his teeth occupied, but he’ll still press his face into the shoulder Gordon’s sweatshirt.
The monster gets to have internal conflicts too. Maybe a lot of them. Almost enough to crush him.
He dozes off eventually to Gordon’s clicking and one-handed typing, the kind of sleep that’s thin like soap bubbles and disturbs just as easily. He wakes up when Gordon shifts, when a car’s engine roars too loud down the street, when the blackbirds start arguing in the backyard. He stirs to any sign of potential danger.
Then he nods off again, barely and slowly, like it’s less of a moment and more of a gradual shift that’s never truly done.
They pass most of the day like that, with little, one-sided conversation and the kind of comfort that doesn’t require any further discussion. Benrey steals half of the sandwich Gordon makes for himself for lunch, which is perfectly fine, because Gordon had made twice as much as he normally eats and brought along a packet of those flower-shaped carrot slices that he started buying for Joshie but which, according to Benrey, are the ultimate form a food can take.
Benrey crunches his carrots very loudly, and then Gordon steals some even though he doesn’t feel any particular way about carrots, and then he gets hit in the face with a bubble of Sweet Voice that makes him a little giddy and looks and feels suspiciously like surprised laughter.
They pass the day like that.
“I gotta leave to pick up Joshie in half an hour,” Gordon says, hours into the afternoon and some time into having put down work for today. Benrey is too tired to play video games, as it turns out, and Gordon could just play alone and let him watch, but he doesn’t particularly mind not doing that. Scrolling through stuff on his phone and watching dumb videos while Benrey naps off his woes next to him is a perfectly good way to pass time.
Benrey nods against his shoulder. He’s been resting his cheek there and staring blankly out the opposite window for twenty or so minutes now.
“You can come with, if you want,” Gordon offers, though he knows that Benrey wouldn’t want to, when he could barely manage anything but sitting on the couch all day. But offering is important anyway.
He takes Benrey shifting and tucking his face back into his shoulder fully as an answer conveying just that, and he squeezes him more into his side.
“How’re you feeling?”
A vague question. Open ended. Just in case.
There’s a long beat of silence as Benrey processes. Then a long tune of Sweet Voice that Gordon doesn’t get to see the colour of, seeing as it’s being sung directly into his shoulder, Benrey not moving for it at all.
And then there’s the wave of feelings, in lieu of an answer.
(Less dull than it had been in the morning, but still dull. Gordon hates that. It makes him feel like he’s pressing his ear to glass, trying to hear Benrey speak on the other side.)
Warmth. Tiredness. Ache. Warmth. Warmth. Safety. Gratitude.
Gordon lowers his head and presses his cheek into the fabric of Benrey’s hat. He hopes he’s stopped biting his lip at some point.
“Good. Glad I could help.”
They’ll just have to keep doing that for each other, he supposes.
Sometimes Sweet Voice means a lot of things. And then sometimes it means precisely nothing.
“Benrey, come help me make lunch!” Gordon pokes his head out from the kitchen, wooden spoon in one hand. He doesn’t even need a wooden spoon. It’s just fun to wave it around. “...or you’re not getting any!”
Which is a lie and they both know it, but Gordon doesn’t like cooking alone and being left to cook alone when Benrey is fully capable of helping him.
There’s no response.
Which, okay, is a little worrying. Only a little. Maybe. Kind of. Gordon keeps telling himself that and pushing down the rising anxiety. He worries too much and so, so easily, and he hates having people out of his sight when they could be in his sight, he knows this.
Benrey is a very noisy person, until he’s not. Until he has a bad day or gets hurt or-… no, no, stop that. He’s very noisy until he gets absorbed in something that doesn’t require noise, like marathoning youtube videos or redecorating his whole Animal Crossing island on a whim or making bead lizards with Joshie. Plus Gordon is pretty sure his footsteps don’t make sounds unless he wills them to.
Benrey being silent isn’t necessarily a herald of bad things.
(And Gordon’s had anxiety for as long as he can remember. Black Mesa just made it worse. Way worse.
He can deal with it.)
He steps into the living room and whistles, sharp like how his grandpa taught him when he was 9. After a beat of silence, he gets a single-tone beep in response.
Gordon smiles, anxiety melting off into relief, and whistles again, twice. It signals that he doesn’t just want to know where Benrey is and keep playing Marco Polo Beep Edition until he finds out, but that he’d like for him to come here instead.
Benrey beeps back again, and then keeps beeping every few seconds as he makes his way through the house like a roomba that’s very serious about its job and just about nothing else.
Eventually, he emerges, and Gordon’s still yet to stop finding amusement in seeing him pair the ever-present chullo with only a t-shirt, no hoodie. It makes him look like a confused shop window mannequin.
Said confused shop window mannequin scratches at his jaw and tilts his head at Gordon. “bro, you’re lucky I wasn’t busy gaming. what’s up?”
Gordon nods his head towards the kitchen. “Come on, we’re making lunch.”
Benrey takes the wooden spoon from his hand. Gordon routinely takes it back before he could bite into it.
“What were you doing, if not having your epic gaming times?” he asks as Benrey trails after him into the kitchen, not needing to be told twice. He seems to derive a shocking amount of joy from cooking despite being able to eat just about anything, even things that aren’t and have never been food, and despite not understanding most things humans do to their food.
“wouldn’t you like to know, science boy?”
Well, that’s always a herald of interesting answers. He’s learned over the past handful of months that Benrey’s interesting answers tend to be a lot less frustrating and a lot more funny when he doesn’t pull them while they’re being chased down by the US Military.
“Were you looking for earthworms again?”
It’s nothing but a polite inquiry. Maybe a little bit very fucking fond.
Gordon opens a cabinet and chooses to think about pans instead.
“ha. didn’t even hear a door. I know you didn’t,” he smacks his lips. From the sounds of it, he’s leaning right over Gordon, staring at whatever he’s staring at, entirely clueless. “why are you accusing me. gonna have to, uhh, see your credentials for that, bro.”
Gordon straightens up, pan not found. Benrey dodges him just in time.
“I know you can noclip.”
Like he could ever forget.
Benrey frowns at him, then beeps a single note of Sweet Voice that Gordon assumes is either meaningless or a swear. He takes that as confirmation that Benrey’s been bothering the earthworms again.
Benrey doesn’t seem to understand the point of cleaning. Or why he should be included in doing said cleaning.
Which is why it’s all the more shocking when he agrees to joining Gordon and Joshie in cleaning the living room with minimal protests. When Gordon asks him, he says something about “a perfect chance to be in the way.” Which, to be fair, Gordon finds believable. Benrey does derive great amounts of joy from being underfoot.
(Gordon isn’t being overly ambitious today. He’ll call it a victory if they manage to dust the worst of it and vacuum the carpet once. Executive function is hard to come by nowadays, and so is energy to wrangle not only his kindergartener son but also his wildcard alien roommate.
Not to mention that with the capacity for hyperfocus between him and Benrey, they would take maybe a five minute break until midnight if he set out for anything more.)
Joshie is given a rag and a bottle of dusting spray and instructed simply to attack any and all dust he sees. Gordon purposefully avoids using the term dust bunny in case his son would start feeling sorry for them. He does the same dusting as Joshie, just much higher up and with more experience, and Benrey uses his weird alien powers to float around near the ceiling, wielding what he refers to as “the funny poofy brush” and valiantly duelling cobwebs. Every once in a while he informs the other two of how tiny they are from up there.
There’s also a playlist going on Gordon’s phone, coming through the bluetooth speakers at a reasonable volume, because Gordon likes to sing, he especially likes to sing while doing chores, and he’s got better taste than any radio host because he caters only to himself and maybe Joshie. And Joshie, for his part, loves music and when his dad sings and when his dad sings to music. And if that means that sometimes he completely forgets that he’s supposed to be dusting and instead moves on to dancing around in the middle of the living room, then Gordon can absolutely live with that.
And Benrey, well.
Another song begins, replacing one Gordon has only added to the playlist a few days ago. A familiar first note and the words right after, and Gordon is already singing, smile never leaving his face.
“You and I, just yelling off the balcony...”
It’s not long before arching notes of Sweet Voice join Gordon and the bluetooth speaker. He’s sung this song around Benrey dozens of times already, definitely plenty enough for him to learn it. He started listening to it a lot around the time when Benrey started joining him in cooking more and more, and cooking often brought music, and from then on it was easy for the association to stick.
Though by that logic, Gordon could fill a whole new playlist with songs he associates with Benrey for whatever reason.
Joshie dances, mostly just jumping around and flailing his arms, which is the best choreography in the world, really, because it’s a high energy song. And when Gordon looks away from him and up, never stopping his singing, he sees the lines of Sweet Voice trailing after Benrey as he floats around and sings. Gordon knows they mean nothing, they’re only there for the sound, but a lot of them are almost complete rainbows and he finds that lovely. It’s a rare sight, so many colours at once.
He abandons the shelf he’s been dutifully dusting just for a moment, to reach up and catch some of the glowing orbs in his hand. He knows they’re empty of feelings and that they’ll burst against his skin, but something in him delights in reaching for them anyway. Probably the same thing that makes people chase soap bubbles and blow on dandelion seeds.
The colours are warm and slightly tingly against his fingers, and the feelings aren’t nearly as overwhelming as usual.
Huh. There’s feelings.
More of a hint, like it’s quiet, like the main purpose of these notes is indeed to just sing, but there’s underlying feelings there that couldn’t not come out. Like smiling around the lyrics of a song.
It’s a reminder to Gordon that colour and meaning aren’t necessarily connected, because his chest fills with this sense of warmth and joy and comfort, supplemented with his own feelings of the same things, and yet there’s no more orange floating above him than there is any other colour.
He knows he’s smiling as he sings. He can’t really help it.
He catches Benrey’s eyes from across the room, and the smile only grows, and Benrey gives one back, with sharp teeth and a lot less out of practice than mere months ago.
Benrey stops singing but Gordon doesn’t, not looking away, smiling around words he doesn’t interpret in the moment.
“I didn't know just how badly I need this
I'm looking at you we're laughing and screaming
Head out the window
I love you, I mean it”
The only response he gets is a string of Sweet Voice and a small, smug smile.
Another string of the same Sweet Voice. Staring each other down that Gordon struggles not to laugh into just like he’s been laughing into trying to scold Benrey for the past fifteen minutes.
Benrey disappears off the top of the washing machine and reappears in the laundry basket.
“That’s...that’s not much better and you know it.”
The same string of Sweet Voice again. Something orange and pink and mahogany and orange again. Gordon doesn’t understand it and he doesn’t ask Benrey for translations anymore because he never gets any, but from experience he’s gathered that it approximately means “pay attention to me.”
This is by far not the first time Benrey has almost straight up chanted it at him while being underfoot.
There’s another string of the same thing when he goes too long without saying anything and instead turns his attention to the washing machine. He can kick Benrey out of the basket later. He needs to hang things up to dry first.
Benrey reappears on the edge of the washing machine, and the next instance of Sweet Voice comes out a little crooked because he’s laughing. There’s more orange than usual.
Gordon laughs at the absurdity. Doing chores with Benrey around is sure, well, it sure is something.
“Come on man, if you fall in and hurt yourself, I-...”
Okay, an expansion to the vocabulary. Nice.
“That’s-...you can’t just decide that.”
“maybe you can’t. clumsy boy.”
He is grinning behind every word despite the monotone voice, and Gordon keeps having to bite back laughter. He’s starting to consider the merits of just picking him up and moving him out of the way.
Another string of the orange-pink-mahogany Sweet Voice.
Gordon laughs, exasperated. “What do you-...”
The bubbles hit him in the face.
That’s never happened before, not with this particular tune. And it shouldn’t be anything, really. Benrey aimed wrong, so be it, now Gordon will get a full scope of how much he wants attention and how much he’s enjoying being in the way.
That’s…not really it.
Warmth. Safety. Joy, definitely, and lots of it, right down to giddiness. More warmth, and the emotional equivalent of that smell when the heating turns on for the first time that autumn. Comfort. Home. Bone-deep aching, the kind you’re used to, the kind you accept as a fact of life. Love. Warmth. Love. Love. Love.
It’s so much. Maybe more than Gordon’s ever felt from a single tune of Sweet Voice. An overwhelming flood of emotion, and for a moment he feels like he can’t breathe, his throat closing up like he’s going to cry. Not sad-cry, more like overwhelmed-happy-cry, but still. Cry.
He takes a deep breath. Tries to centre himself. It’s hard to breathe and think around the emotions slowly ebbing away in his chest but he raises his eyes to look at Benrey again (when did he look away?) and maybe ask.
But Benrey is staring at him wide-eyed and frozen still, both hands covering his mouth even as more Sweet Voice of the same colour drips through the gaps between his fingers.
All of Gordon’s questions about what the fuck that just was are replaced with worry.
“Uhh, you...you okay there, man?”
Benrey makes a choked noise at being addressed. He takes a deep breath (even though Gordon is pretty certain he has no lungs and definitely doesn’t have to breathe) and takes his hands away from his face. Wipes them clean on his sweatpants, the colour disappearing when it touches fabric, his lips and chin still smudged pinkish-orange.
He can’t meet Gordon’s eyes for more than a second.
“yeah, uhh, yeah, i’m good,” he says, as unconvincing as it gets. He must see Gordon going to ask something again, because he flashes a shadow of his usual obnoxious grins. “what, uhh, Gaydon Feetman care momence? Gaydon care Benrey?”
“No, I just...I mean yes, I’m-”
From the startled flick of Benrey’s eyes to his face, he can tell this conversation is about equally pleasant for both of them.
“I’m...okay. Okay,” Gordon tugs on his ponytail, needing to do something. “Just wanted to make sure you’re fine. I, I gotta do laundry, man.”
He’ll take that as, uhh. Some sort of answer.
Benrey hops off the washing machine to let him empty it. It only takes him a few minutes before he’s back to normal.
He tries to steal socks to stuff them into other socks. Succeeds in sticking his hand into one before he realises that it’s wet and he doesn’t like it and then he throws it at Gordon. Tries to climb into the washing machine. Tries to put Gordon into the washing machine. Babbles on about utter nonsense like he usually does, unaware of how used to it Gordon is now, to have him around as background noise.
He doesn’t sing orange-pink-mahogany-orange again that day.
Or the next.
By the third day, Gordon’s growing worried.
He’s had bigger breaks between hearing orange-pink-mahogany-orange before. He’s pretty sure, at least. He hasn’t really been counting.
What worries him is how it was left off.
He’s still not sure what it means – pay attention to me or...whatever that big pile of affection and comfort and longing was – but whichever it is, Benrey suddenly not singing it is reason for concern in Gordon’s eyes. Sure, him not singing it doesn’t mean he doesn’t still feel it, but. He’s not singing that he wants attention. Or not singing whatever bunch of warm feelings that was. When he usually does and so much too.
Gordon is scared he’s broken something.
Benrey won’t talk about it, and Gordon loses his courage two sentences into the conversation anyway, so maybe they both won’t talk about it. Though Gordon wants to. He’s just too awkward for it. No clue how to approach the subject. He still understands so little of Sweet Voice and how it works, and somehow every time he looks at Benrey (and Benrey at him) he forgets how to string together words for “I’m not sure what you were singing, but I’ve come to associate it with you feeling comfortable, so if that’s what that is, please keep doing it. Please don’t be afraid to keep doing it.”
Oh, Gordon’s fucking terrified he’s broken something.
So he does the only thing he can think of that could help when he’s in need of Alien Roommate 101: he calls Tommy.
(Of course it’s not the only reason he calls Tommy, now or in general. They talk about Joshie and Sunkist and the latest issue of a science magazine they both follow and what the fuck happened last night during the gaming session, because Tommy missed it but could hear Darnold screaming really colourful things and he’s intrigued and wants to hear different perspectives. For scientific curiosity, of course. And for blackmail.
They talk about a bunch of shit. As they always do. Tommy phone calls usually last hours and the guy literally lives two streets away.
But Tommy is the only thing akin to an expert on Benrey Things there is. Gordon is pretty sure even Benrey himself qualifies less than Tommy does.
So he asks Tommy.)
He starts basic. Small. Maybe Tommy can tell him something simple and reassuring from barely any information.
He knows he’s lying to himself.
He doesn’t know why he’s dancing around it so much. There’s few people in the world he trusts more than Tommy. But something about that moment while doing laundry, something about those colours, those feelings feels personal. Like it’s only Benrey’s and his.
“That’s, that’s really not a lot of information! I’m not sure I can help if you don’t, don’t tell my anything more, I’m sorry.”
“No, Tommy, it’s fine. You’re right,” he runs a hand through his hair and tugs the hairband out. Bad idea, because he never learned to redo it one-handed (the time until he got his prosthetic had been miserable) and he doesn’t want to put the phone on speaker. So now he’s stuck with a loose mane of hair over his shoulders. “I know more, I’m just not sure what would help, you know?”
That’s a fucking lie and they probably both know it.
“W-well, what colour was the Sweet Voice? You said he, he sang it a lot before, right?” there’s some clanging in the background and Gordon pointedly doesn’t ask if it’s cooking or experiments or both. Probably both. He can’t have this conversation derailed. “Or, or what happened that, that made him stop! If you have a, a guess, at that.”
Okay, colour. Time to talk about colour. Definitely better than the other question Gordon is just going to ignore, thank you very much.
“Uhm, it was orange? And pink and this kinda reddish brown?” fuck, he sucks at colour names. Tommy’s rhymes have taught him nothing. “There was a lot of orange in it though.”
Tommy stays quiet for a little while. Gordon doesn’t know if he’s hoping for him to come up with a meaning or not.
“I used to think it meant, like, pay attention to me or something.”
Oh why, why the fuck did he say that?!
“Oh?” well now Tommy sounds very intrigued. Fuck. Probably a bad sign. “But you, you’ve changed your mind.”
That isn’t even a question.
“I, yeah, well,” come on Gordon, think, lie.
“I don’t, don’t think I can help you much,” Tommy says without pressing further and okay, even through the panic of navigating this fucking conversation, Gordon can tell that he knows something. Something he’s not telling. Something probably very, very important. “If you only have such, such little information, Gordon. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, man,” he says that on reflex, but he means it. “I’ll figure it out. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“If you say so!”
Gordon can practically hear the happy smiley at the end of that one. Fucker.
Goodbyes are simple after that. Nothing more of importance is said. Gordon drops down to sit on his bed, stare at the opposite wall and promptly forget to redo his ponytail.
Tommy knows something. Tommy is also not telling him that something, so it’s probably not life-threatening. Probably mundane or stupid or amusing enough to be worth it to watch Gordon bumble through it himself. Or maybe just completely inconsequential. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe he’s making aliens out of molehills.
Getting information out of Tommy is like trying to teach sarcasm to a neural net. Ask him what he knows, and he will tell something that he knows. Like what day of the week is it or that Dr. Coomer likes punching things or some fun fact about mushrooms. Sometimes genuinely delightful or useful information. Never what you were going for, though.
Tommy is definitely not telling everything he knows. But then again, neither is Gordon, so takes one to know one, or something.
It’s like Gordon had said. He’ll figure it out.
He doesn’t figure it out.
Gordon wakes up to being poked. In the ribs. Repeatedly. Kind of painfully.
He blinks his eyes open. As much as he’d love to just roll over and tell Benrey to fuck off and go back to sleep, Benrey waking him up in the middle of the night isn’t exactly a common thing. And it almost never means good.
(Or, well, it never means good. Sometimes the problems Benrey wakes him up for are just not the kinds of problems people tend to get woken up for. And Gordon is much more of a chill guy when he doesn’t have his life constantly in danger, so he usually manages to find the silver lining in those and reassure Benrey enough to send them both back to sleep.
They’re still problems though. To Benrey they are.)
Benrey also most certainly did not go to sleep in Gordon’s bed, so something definitely brought him here.
“Is everything okay?” he slurs, not yet committed to sitting up or, like, moving. If it was an emergency, he would’ve woken up to metallic shrieking and red Sweet Voice lighting up the whole room, not to a fully clothed Benrey sitting on his bed. So here’s to hoping.
“yeah, uhh,” he’s staring at somewhere around Gordon’s shoulder. His eyes glow in the dark like faint, yellow nightlights. “we gotta talk, bro.”
Waking up it is, then. There is no way his anxiety is letting him sleep after a conversation starter like that.
He pushes himself up to sit and lean back against the headboard of the bed. He waits to see if Benrey will mimic him and sit next to him, but he stays where he is, sitting criss-cross-applesauce and getting Gordon’s blankets stuck under him.
“Alright. What’s up?”
“it’s the, uhh. this.”
He sings a line of Sweet Voice to float near the ceiling. Orange to pink to mahogany and back to orange again. It bathes the room in warm, soft light, and Gordon stares at it for too long before he realises they’re having a conversation and he should probably say something.
“i know you’re curious,” Benrey says before Gordon could find his words. “’n’ I didn’t want you to hear it from somewhere else. get it from the, from the source. gamefacts. Benreyfacts.”
“Well, I’m listening.”
He tries not to sound too nervous about this. Or excited, maybe? Less for scientific curiosity reasons (though there definitely are some) and more for just. Figuring this out. Learning something about Benrey.
Making sure he didn’t somehow fuck up by getting a face full of feelings.
“sweet voice is, uhh, weird.”
Gordon huffs a laugh at that. “Sure is, bud.”
A more proper laugh, this time. “Okay, okay, I’ll shut up! Go on.”
“sweet voice doesn’t have real words. what are those called? uhh. nouns,” he tugs at one of his hoodie strings until it can’t get any longer, then moves on to pulling the other out. Rinse and repeat. “no names either. except yes names. kinda names. it’s, ugh.”
He throws his head back in exasperation and sings a couple notes at the ceiling. Gordon gets the feeling that they’d both prefer it if Tommy was here to explain this instead. Or even Coomer. Gordon doubts there’s a Wikipedia article about the Sweet Voice, but it’d be worth a shot.
“if you had to describe Feetman the Sequel, but in like, weird cloudy words. fancy nonsense. uhh, concepts and shit. what would that be?”
Gordon chooses to ignore Benrey insisting on calling his son the stupidest names, and focuses on the weird as fuck question instead. It would be much less weird from a creative writing teacher, but Benrey? Talking about metaphors?
Gordon has no clue where this is going, but he cooperates.
“Pff, okay, okay, I’m trying!” he swallows the rest of his laughter and gives it another shot. “Okay, he’s, he’s small and warm and he’s just a little kid but he’s so smart. Loves learning so much. And he’s so sweet, that’s even more important actually, he’s just so kind and curious and nice to everyone. And he’s my son of course, and I love him. So much. As long as I’ve got him, I could be home anywhere.”
Maybe it’s the late night and the sleepiness making him phrase things like that, but it’s true. He’s definitely not taking any of it back.
When he looks at Benrey again, he finds him staring, colour at the corner of his mouth that he wipes away too fast for Gordon to see.
“okay, yeah, uhh, yeah, that’s good. so that’s, that’s your Sweet Voice name for the little dude. or would be, if you were cool like me and could do Sweet Voice and then sang it at him,” he pulls on both hoodie strings at once and that leaves him looking displeased. He switches back to only pulling on one at a time. “but, like, if I gave him one, it’d be different. different sound and colour and big concepts and everything. ‘cause I see him differently. and that’s neat. different names for everyone. like, it’s not your name, it’s someone’s name for you, y’know?”
He looks over for confirmation. Gordon nods. Benrey immediately looks away again.
“but we uhh, we don’t just do that a lot. ‘cause it’s special. reserved for important people, your best bros, realest of MVPs. can’t throw it around willy-nilly ‘cause then everyone could just see your feelings about people and that’s, that’s not,” he spits out a single note of Sweet Voice, something pale yellow-green, and shakes his head. “not fun.
“but it’s like, if someone’s got a name, they know it. so you can run around and beep for them and they’ll hear it and come to you. ‘cause you’re singing their big complicated feelings name.
“and when you’re just chilling. vibing. it’s, like, you can sing it a lot too. we do sing it a lot. ‘cause then it means, like,” he shrugs clumsily. This is a lot of talk about something so complicated and personal for him, and Gordon can tell it’s taking a toll on him. He can count on his remaining hand how many times he’s heard Benrey talk about feelings before this. “it means you’re here and i’m glad you’re here. ‘cause I like it when you’re here. ‘cause I like you, period. ‘cause you’re my person.
“’course you can have, uhh, multiple persons. family and shit. all important. but yeah it’s, like, background beepings. default soundtrack of friendship. noise of I care you. whatever.”
He finally looks at Gordon again, extra eyes opening in the deep shadow of his chullo. Waiting. Nervous.
And Gordon doesn’t really know what to say.
He sits there for a little while, processing, and it’s not long before Benrey gets the hint. It’s the middle of the night. If he wanted faster response time, he should’ve come to talk in the morning.
While he waits, Benrey sings another line of orange-pink-mahogany-orange again, floating under the ceiling like the last set that had faded minutes ago. He stares up at them, many eyes glowing faintly in the dark, hands twisted together in his lap.
Gordon stares at the Sweet Voice with him.
“So...is that what that is?” he asks finally, the only thing on his mind right now.
“yep,” he pops the p. Fake confidence clear even in the dark. He rubs at the corner of his mouth with the back of his hand. “gots yourself a Sweet Voice name, bro. conga rats.”
He doesn’t sound particularly giddy about it. And Gordon still doesn’t know what to say.
His Sweet Voice name. A bundle of feelings Benrey has come to associate with him, if he’s understanding it right. Warmth and home and longing and affection. Running so deep it’s overwhelming.
A love confession wrapped in colour.
“Hey,” he says, quiet, and all of Benrey’s eyes are on him in an instant. “Hug?”
He’s not the best with words in general. He’s definitely not in the middle of the night after getting so much dumped on him. So he’s going for the next best thing (or better thing, depending on how you look at it), and that’s knowing Benrey. Knowing that if all is right, this should work.
Benrey bolts towards him so fast it’s a miracle he doesn’t faceplant into the covers. He’s shoving himself into Gordon’s arms before Gordon could even begin to laugh at him, and the only thing keeping them both from toppling over with the momentum is the wall behind Gordon’s back.
Gordon laughs anyway, and holds him just as tight.
There’s a beep, an unplanned note of Sweet Voice that hits Gordon right in the chest, and it’s like a shortened version of his name. His Sweet Voice name. Warmth and comfort and love and relief.
Like a second layer to the hug.
Gordon drops his chin on top of Benrey’s head (who immediately nuzzles into it, sucker) and looks at the clock on the bedside table. Squints until he can make out some of the glowing numbers.
“I’m not singing for you at three in the morning,” he says and closes his eyes, like that isn’t dangerous, like he couldn’t just fall asleep like this. “But I would, if I could. Please know that.”
There’s a few beats of silence before Benrey mumbles something that sounds suspiciously like “little loser can’t even Sweet Voice,” but Gordon lets it slide. Probably because of the late hour. No other reason.
“Yeah. I’m glad you’re here too.”
And the next day, Benrey starts singing orange-pink-mahogany-orange again.