Portraits Of Your Father
rating: +235+x
Table of Contents


Draven’s father was something breakable.

He always tried to keep it on the down low, mostly because his father would throw a fit if he ever found out that Draven thought of him that way — but it was true. Benjamin Kondraki was already fracturing at the seams when Draven was born, already paranoid, already trigger happy, already waking up screaming in the night inconsolable, and many people looked at his father as someone who was stronger than them for these same reasons. They would say how he must be damn tough to keep working such a high stress job with such dysfunction, and Draven would nod but never really agree. He always had seen his father as someone close to the breaking point, and since his late teens had taken it upon himself to make sure he never hit that breaking point any more than was necessary, a constant mantra of take care of dad, take care of dad, you have to take care of dad. His father was loud laughter and notebook after notebook of solid writing and was also the smell of vodka and staying up too late for his own good, dad, dad, please go to bed, and his father would laugh and say not yet.

On a March Saturday when he was 15, Draven Kondraki woke up in his bedroom of his father’s Site apartment where he had lived all his life and realized that the sun was coming through the windows and ripped off the covers, ran out of the room, and threw open his father’s bedroom door where he found him slumped on the floor and for a second felt his stomach drop and terror seize him like he had never felt before in his life before noticing that he was breathing — just passed out, vodka in hand.

Draven had been through these kinds of steps too many times to count. With as much strength as his 15-year-old body can muster, he pulls his unconscious father into a semi-sitting position just enough so that he wouldn’t choke should he vomit, propping him against the footboard of his bed. So close yet so far, huh, dad? It was obvious he had at least made an attempt at getting from his desk to his bed — pen set aside from whatever thick manuscript he had been drunkenly scribbling, chair pushed back, one empty whisky bottle and a cigarette butt in an ashtray next to the battered lamp. Draven cast a bored glance at what his father had left in his hand, and was unsurprised that it was vodka, the hard, cheap kind with the grey label that always made him like this. His dad drank it when he wanted to pass out without dreaming.

He’d had a hard night. Draven didn’t feel bad for him. They did this a lot, and sometimes his father wouldn’t awake in the morning and he would deliberately leave him there, wander around instead of rushing to his side, not wanting to see for sure if he’d lost his only family in the night to a bottle of booze. At least then, he could put it off, pretend he was just sleeping and not in a hard, fast grip of a dangerously high BAC level. Just sleeping harder than normal.

Suddenly, his father’s chest lurches, and for a moment Draven shuffles back, expecting him to vomit; but instead Ben’s eyes fly open and he gasps sharply for air, reaching instinctively for the pistol he left loaded on his desk. Sometimes when they did this little dance the two of them did, his father would have it at his side and Draven’s only instinct — not being able to take on his bulky Polish father in the grips of a PTSD flashback — would simply run quickly and quietly from the room, let him get his bearings without his help. Ideal? No. Was it going to change soon? Also no.

This time, his father sees him and immediately lurches towards him, hands drunkenly grasping for him, and Draven slides backwards slightly and watches his father ungracefully fall onto the floor.

“Dad,” he says, just like he always says, at least a couple times a month. “You gotta stop binging like this.”

And at age 25, he’s in his father’s office, and they’re doing the same dance they always do except now his father has more silver in his hair and seems a little frailer, a little more breakable, and it’s the bourbon with the red label instead of the vodka with the silver one and Draven is in his full task force tactical gear and he’s kneeling next to his father without fear only because he has a bulletproof vest on and he’s saying, again, “Dad. You gotta stop binging like this.”

His father looks at him, bloodshot eyes and long dark hair matted and unwashed, and laughs. Draven does not laugh. The bourbon always puts his father in a good mood.

“Oh, Jesus, Draven —” The elder Kondraki grunts as the only immediate family he has takes him under the armpits and sits him up with relative ease; his son’s primal fear of him choking on his own vomit has increased in recent years as his father’s drinking habits worsened, something that he never thought was possible. He’s still giggling slightly. It isn’t a sound Draven hears when he’s sober. He can feel bones poking out under his father’s worn Columbia sweatshirt and recalls something he once heard about alcohol hitting you harder if you weigh less, and can’t help but reflect on how his father is currently sustaining himself on half a meal a day and vodka has created what he fears is a vicious cycle. Draven winces.

“It’s not funny.” He makes sure his father is somewhat stable with his back against the desk, then sits cross-legged on the hard tile solemnly. “Seriously. This is really bad for you.”

“God, look at you!” Ben explodes into laughter. “Look at you! Look at that— shit, got a son in the fuckin' marines—” His father grabs a handful of Kevlar strapped onto his left shoulder for emphasis. Draven grabs his wrist and pushes him away, agitated.

“Dad. I mean it.”

More laughter. Draven rolls his eyes and pushes himself to his feet.

“When was the last time you ate?”

His father doesn’t respond, still laughing.

“Dad!” Draven hates raising his voice at his father, but it’s hard not to. The man infuriates him to no end.

The elder Kondraki wheezes, tears in his eyes. “…Fuckin…shit, kid, does it matter?”

Draven leans down, hooks his arms under his armpits, and angrily yanks him upward; his father swears loudly and struggles to get his footing before his son half lifts, half drags him to the green vinyl cot sitting in the corner of the room and throws him down. He’s angry past words, and when his father starts laughing again he has to resist the urge to slap him, to shake him and scream I’m afraid that one day I’ll find you like this and I won’t be able to wake you up, but thinks better of it and instead redirects his attention to removing his father’s shoes.

“Yes,” he mumbled through gritted teeth. “Yes, I think it matters that you don’t starve yourself.”

His father falls back onto the cot, sides heaving in laughter, and the door clicks open.

For a fraction of a second, Draven feels like he’s been caught in the act of something he wasn’t supposed to be doing — fearful of someone seeing his father in this state, maybe, which is ironic considering that many have most likely seen his father in varying stages of it — and has just dug his fingers under the knot in his father’s shoestrings just as he cries out “James!” in a drunken shout that startles Draven’s boyfriend in the doorway. “Damn! Just in time. He’s putting me to bed, because I’m an old little shit that apparently can’t take care of himself.”

Draven removes his father’s left shoe and looks over.

James is a man a little shorter than himself, clean shaven with neat, short hair and an empathetic smile; it was this kind of dangerous attractiveness that had Draven waiting outside the lab for him, trying to get on B shift guard duty right at 3pm to get to stand outside the south wing chemical lab, where he could see him in his white coat with an electron microscope, pushing thick glasses up the bridge of his nose, publishing another paper, working in a hazmat suit. He rarely got his wish. Was his bar low? Some might say yes; James was a hopeless academic and deep introvert, and yet it was the first time he had ever gone to embarrassing lengths to get someone’s attention. His father had noticed and teased him about it until he got up the balls to ask him out, and here they were, two years later. It was a miracle, in Draven’s opinion. Like asking someone way out of your league out and getting a surprised response because they thought you were handsome too the entire time. Which was an accurate description of their relationship.

Draven makes eye contact with his boyfriend and communicates through a tight smile and the dramatic dropping of his father’s left shoe to the floor that the man on the bed is drunk, like he always is, and he could have died, like he always could, and that he’s tired and sick of having to do this every damn time and that he would be repeating this rant extensively to him later that night over their cold cafeteria food at 1am, James in his lab clothes watching Draven in his tactical vest rant animatedly about his father, how he needed help, how it feels like sometimes he’s just gonna hurt himself really badly or get sick in the night and no one will find him, what if he dies, James, what if he dies?

James gets the hint, closes the door behind him, and as he’s doing it Ben groans and laughs again.


His boyfriend turns around to face the bed, where Draven gives him another look saying whatever he says to you he doesn’t mean it and I’m sorry and starts on the other shoe. The elder Kondraki gestures lazily with one hand towards the paperwork-riddled desk.

“Can you hand me that bottle over there?”

“Mm. I think you’ve had enough for tonight, Director,” James says in the low, articulate voice Draven has only heard him use at lab presentations and with his alcoholic father in the throes of one of his episodes.

Director…” mocks Kondraki in a shrill voice. He quickly trails off into a fit of laughter. Draven drops his right sneaker to the floor and shoots an apologetic look in his direction, but even in only two years of them being together James has seen his father in episodes lord knows how many times and is vastly desensitized to his drunken insults and ramblings. James wanders to the desk and shifts through an array of coffee mugs to find one that’s the least cracked, then heads out into the hallway with it. Draven gets up from the bed and moves up to the front of the bed.

“Come on. Sit up.” He knows he won’t comply with this on his own, and already has pushed one arm under his father’s shoulders and pulled upward into as much of a halfway, won’t-choke-on-your-own-vomit sitting/laying position as possible, then shoves a pillow underneath his shoulders. His father doesn’t care, preoccupied with his own giggling. Draven gently takes either side of his father’s thick glasses, pulls them off his face, and folds up the arms of the cracked frames to sit on the nightstand next to the cot. Judging by how close to the desk his dad leans to work on paperwork and the font size of his phone, he needs a new prescription; one more bullet on a long list of things he’s let go in recent years.

And yet you still have time to write, Draven thinks, casting an eye at what was clearly not paperwork on his desk: a spiral bound notebook filled with handwriting that gets messier in places with its author’s fluctuating level of sobriety. Writing was something his father has always done, in both English and Polish, a variety of genres, lengths, degrees of secrecy ranging from burning the notebook to publishing. He hasn’t published anything for the past three or four years or so, and Draven can imagine why. Hard to ship something to the publisher while drunk into unconsciousness.

“Ben.” There was James again, right over his shoulder from where Draven was kneeling next to the cot. “Here.”

“That better be vodka,” growls Kondraki, a sharp turn from his previous mood. Draven takes the coffee cup of tap water from the drinking fountain down the hall from James with an appreciative nod and presses his father’s hand around it.

“Close.” Draven’s voice is hard and cold in reply. “Drink.”

“What’s it tonight?” whispers James, edging forward slightly; Draven drives him back with a soft touch to his hand. If his father was going to throttle someone over a glass of water, he’d rather it be him.

“Bourbon. I think, at least,” mutters Draven. Kondraki’s fingers wrap around the cup, sliding into place on the coffee mug more out of familiarity than anything else.

“Rough day?”

“When are the good ones?” Draven replies, an edge of helplessness in his tone.

His father looked into the coffee cup with disgust.

“…This isn’t vodka, boys,” he slurs. “Would have rather had coffee.”

“I don’t think you need that either, dad,” says Draven.

“You know, a valuable life lesson is learning to make coffee at unreasonable hours.”

“Yeah, I know,” Draven replies wearily. “But you need to get some decent sleep.”

His father huffs petulantly, because his father is never above acting like a child. For a second Draven is afraid that he’ll dump it out, but he lifts it to his lips and drinks it disdainfully, and James feels himself exhale a sigh of relief; he touches his partner’s shoulder blade gently, saying, please don’t give another speech on how he needs to take care of himself, because you know he won’t listen and it’ll only keep him awake, and Draven looks at him helplessly. What else am I supposed to do, let him make himself worse than he already is?

His dad finishes it and reaches to put the cup on the nightstand, but miscalculates and bumps it against the side instead; his son takes it from him and puts it where his father intended it to go.

“Glasses are off,” says his dad. Draven smiles weakly at that.

“You really should get some sleep.”

His father rolls his eyes melodramatically and sits back heavily against the pillows on the cot.

“Alright, alright,” he huffs, fumbling for the fleece blankets thrown to the side of the bed, and Draven stands and stops him.

“Dad,” he says. “Jacket.”


“Your— here.” Draven sighs, and unzips the old fleece sweatshirt. His Columbia jacket is the same one he wore when Draven was younger, a dark green color that’s now starting to pill away ever so slightly. It doesn’t fit him right anymore; his father’s lost a lot of the definition he had before his mom left, more in sheer weight than anything else. Poor lifestyle choices as far as alcohol consumption will do that to you. His dad helps him shrug it off awkwardly, because he isn’t quite coordinated enough to do it himself, and Draven takes the worn green fabric under one arm and throws it over the end of the bed. James watches this dance with the same sort of awe as when he first saw it — both of them know the steps. Shoes off, glasses off, jacket off, water, sleep. Check, check, check, check, and check.

They’ve been doing this more often lately.

The elder Kondraki pulls the blankets up blearily, and when Draven thinks he’s ready, he fumbles under the lamp and turns off the light, and James feels so out of place in this delicate family ritual that he’s the first to stumble out of the office with a wave in the general direction of his boyfriend’s father. Draven walks to the doorway, checks the time on his phone. 10:34. He guesses his dad has probably been up for a few days now, so he at least has about five hours of solid rest ahead of him, if he doesn’t wake up from nightmares. This is unlikely considering the amount of alcohol he has in him.


It’s his father, and Draven doesn’t want to turn around but he does, and sighs and says, “What?”

“…come back here for a second,” comes the reply. He looks back at James.

“Here. Just…wait in the hallway for a minute,” says Draven.

“You sure?” His boyfriend’s tone is concerned, given his father’s penchant for violence. Draven nods.

“I’m sure. I’ll be right back.”

James nods back in reponse and wanders into the hallway, and Draven turns, gently closing the door behind him.

“…What is it? I’m here.”

His father is rubbing his eyes in the lamplight. He looks drained in the lamplight coming from the desk, and for a moment Draven feels a surge of overwhelming concern, like something was different about tonight than the other times they did their little dance.

“…Come here for a second,” his father says. There’s no more laughter in his voice. Draven sits on the edge of the bed, and flips the lamp back on.

“…Yeah?” he asks, tentative.

The elder Kondraki focuses his eyes on something across the room, on nothing in particular.

“You’re a really great kid,” he finally says, and Draven is unsure of how to react other than by saying, “And you’re a pretty great dad.” Ben stretches his lips into a thin smile, eyes still focused on something past Draven.

“Yeah, right. Stop bullshitting.”

“I’m not bullshitting.”

His father shakes his head slightly, strands of grey hair rubbing the back of his neck. “That James,” he sighs. “He’s a good guy.”

Draven is confused by the subject change, but runs with it. His dad seems both concerned and relieved, distant in a way he’s never seen him before.

“Yeah. He really is.”

“He’s gonna take care of you,” replied his father, voice steady. “Like, he does that already but I mean, he’s gonna keep taking care of you. You know?”

“…Yeah?” Draven affirms, confused.

“And you take good care of him, too.”

“I mean,” Draven says. “Yeah. I try to.”

His father sighs and shifts under the blankets. “That’s good.”

“…I try to take care of you, too, you know,” he says. “Just the same way.”

Kondraki nods and smiles thinly again.

“I know you do, kiddo.”

They sit in silence for a moment, Draven looking at his father, his father staring at the ceiling. He would be lying if he said he wasn’t concerned.

“You know, I wouldn’t mind if you married him. I mean, if you wanted to. Like I really…I really would be okay with you marrying anybody, or not getting married at all, you know? I would be okay with it.”

“Are you trying to get me to marry James?” Draven raises an eyebrow, confused. “Is this what all this is about?”

His father exhales, still looking at the ceiling. “Nah, it’s not that. I just. I dunno, wanted to let you know I would be okay with…anything, however you choose to live your life. Whatever makes you happy. I mean it.”

Draven’s expression fades into concern. “Dad, I-”

Ben grabs his wrist and looks him in the eye, sharply.

“Whatever makes you happy. Okay? And…be a good person.” His tone is dire and serious, grip hard on his arm. “Yeah?”


“Promise me.”

Draven pauses, confused both by the sincerity in his father’s tone and it’s harness. “…Promise you what?”

“…I don’t know. That you’ll…not turn out like me, yeah? How about that.” His father lets out a forced chuckle. “Just…don’t be like me. Ever. Don’t do anything I did. I guess that’s what I’m saying.”

“Dad.” Kondraki can’t believe how much his son has grown up — dark curly hair, just like his own. Clean shaven. Green eyes. Tactical gear sporting his name. “…Are you okay?”

He smiles.

“I’m fine, Draven.”

“No, seriously, like. I can stay if you want. Or like, I could take you home and just stay the night?” His son’s voice is filled with thinly-veiled concern and even love, protectiveness, attachment. Kondraki would be touched if his son wasn’t investing it in a bag of shit person. He shakes his head, looking down at the blankets.

“Nah, nah. I’m just tired.” He forces a laugh again. “Probably the bourbon.”

His son’s gaze remains on him, dissecting him, no different then when he was born. Ben lets go of his wrist.

“Look, it’s late. I just. Wanted to tell you that, I guess.” Ben waves a hand absentmindedly, then lets it fall against his chest. “Just. Don’t be a shithole. There’s a life lesson for ya.”

Draven pauses, waiting for more words. When they don’t come, he stands in the darkened office, the same height as his father, smarter than his father, better than his father. Kondraki wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Well. Alright then.” Draven hooks his thumbs in the loops of his tactical belt. “Call me if you need anything, okay? I mean it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Kondraki waves his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Just like alwa-”

“Dad.” Draven’s tone is serious again. “I love you.”

Kondraki can’t help but smile.

“Yeah. I love you too, kiddo,” he replies. “Always will.”

Draven moves to the door, opens it so the fluorescent light from the hallway floods in. When Kondraki looks, it’s his son in the doorway, his son’s shadow on the ground.

“Night,” Draven calls, hand on the knob. He can just see James in the background, texting on his phone. He’s well taken care of now.

“’Night, trooper,” Kondraki replies absentmindedly. It feels like a dream. When Draven closes the door, he’s alone, and it hits him all at once that he’s alone, but he waits. He waits until he’s sure they’re gone, down the hallway, and he waits until there’s no one left outside, and that’s when he rises from bed and retrieves his service pistol from the desk. He loads it up just like he always has, then presses the muzzle of the gun to the roof of his mouth; it only takes a fraction of a second, and then there’s nothing at all.


Draven finds him lying there because he came early.

He wakes up at 1am and puts on a tshirt and jeans and goes to check on him, walking through the site with his worn sneakers squeaking on tile. He always checks on his dad during these spells, because god-knows-why, because he’s scared, because he wants to make sure he’s okay and wants to make sure he doesn’t need to call a doctor as he’s had to do in the past, because when he wakes up to take a piss at 1am there’s a pounding in his skull that says check on dad, check on dad, check on dad.

He does not see his dad on his cot as he left him, and his first thought was hopeful sentiment that maybe he got to the bathroom in time to vomit, and if he should just go check on him there to make sure he didn’t fall, and then his second response is to fix it. He sees his father’s body and thinks, I can save you still. He does not turn on the light. His father’s head is blown out but he still checks for a pulse, second checks for a pulse, for anything at all, and when there’s nothing he starts fixing. He kneels in the little pool of blood and starts grabbing pieces of brain matter because now his brain is saying fix dad, fix dad, fix dad, put dad back together like you always do, and he doesn’t know what to do with the little pieces of bone and meat once he has them in his trembling hands and stupidly, drunkenly, tries to but them back in, presses it into to mess that is the back of his dad’s head and blinks down in the faint lamplight, fix dad, fix dad, you can always fix dad, none of the bone or meat fits right back in his father’s head like it should so he checks for a pulse again, thumb and forefinger leaving bloody prints on the cold body, fix dad, and there’s no pulse, he isn’t checking hard enough. He rolls him over and shakes him. He can’t remember how to do CPR, it feels like his brain is short circuiting, and eventually he just scoops his father’s torso out of the mess and holds him, fix dad, fix dad, and says please, even when stagnant blood from his father’s head runs over his arms and plasters his shirt to his body, dad, fix dad, fix dad, and he thinks that was what sent him to the phone, pressing in for medical, and they ask what’s wrong with him? and he said he shot himself, and they say where? and he said in the head, and he just says can you help him? Can you help him? and they tell him no over the phone and it doesn’t register, his bloody handprints are left on the phone and on the buttons, fix dad, fix dad, he’ll get better. He’ll get better.

Dad always gets better, he thinks, sitting in the hospital waiting room at 2am covered in his father’s blood, dad always gets better. James sees him and there are tears running down his cheeks at the sight of him. Draven is not crying, but James is sobbing. Draven doesn’t feel anything at all. Dad always gets better. James sits next to him. The blood is drying on his skin and on his clothes. The nurse talks to James. James talks to him. James calms down enough to stop crying. They keep talking and Draven stares blankly at the door they wheeled his father through an hour ago. Dad always gets better.

Two hours pass, and Draven feels shaky. James asks him if he’s okay and he can barely speak. James talks to the nurse, and then James asks him, honey, what’s in your hand, and he just says dad because he doesn’t know what else to say and is full of panic and numbness and grief, and James gags sharply, then composes himself, and then talks to the nurse again, and then James pulls a biohazard bag over to him.

“What’s this for?” he stammers out, and James sits down next to him and takes his left hand in both of his own and holds it out over the bag. Draven has had it in a fist for the past four hours not out of anger, but out of necessity, and he cannot remember why and feels too small to fight it.

“Okay. We’re gonna do this together, yeah?” Draven looks at him, mortified and unsure, but before he can say anything in response his boyfriend continues, “On the count of three. One. Two. Three—”

James buckles his fingers under Draven’s and pulls them back — index, pinkie, middle, ring, thumb, half moons cut and bleeding in his hands from having held them there so long and so tightly, and the clump of curly grey hair and scalp that he’s been clutching desperately to for the hours following his father killing himself sticks to his palm with congealed blood. Draven feels himself hit a point of overwhelming numbness at the grotesqueness of this scene and is not able to react; he lets his boyfriend, who — as it will occur to him later, when he’s able to recall with some amount of lucidity the events of the hospital — has done more for him then he could ever expect of someone, has done it out of love, has done it because of reasons that Draven could never imagine and can’t fathom the idea of, will carefully, lovingly peel it off Draven’s skin and let it drop into the translucent red bag as he sits numbly in horror, will then pull off the remaining strands of silver hair from where they’ve dried swimming in congealed blood on his partner’s palm, will pick the little shard of bone sitting pressed between Draven’s pointer and middle finger and remove it, will cast an eye towards the washroom and somehow through some force of god get Draven there and hold his bloodied hands under warm water and use his thumbnails to scrape his boyfriend’s father’s congealed film of blood from his hands, will try to get under the nails, between his fingers, but it’s soaked so deep it’s like a stain and even when Draven comes around and begins to stammer something, anything in response to seeing the sink go red, he cannot fathom at this moment to process the fact that he was holding his father’s scalp, his father’s hair, his father’s blood and bone, he cannot form words, and when James turns off the water he barely catches him when he faints.



James is holding his hand in the exam room, and then James is talking with the doctor, and then James is taking him home and it is storming and he’s wearing James’ jacket over his bloodied clothing and sticky arms in the passenger’s seat of James’ clunky green Saturn and feels bad because this is James’ favorite jacket and there’s something on him there’s something still on his body, and then he’s in James’ house, and in James’ shower, and he thinks it must have been in James’ shower with James helping him wash the blood from his bare shoulders that it hits him because this is when he starts screaming. He stands in James’ arms in James’ house in James’ shower and screams, and he isn’t sure why he’s screaming, and James is there saying something in that soft way James says things and he wants to shake James and say James, something happened, James, James and he does, and James says something in that way that James does and he screams James, my dad, and he says something else and Draven says James, James, my dad, and his chest compresses inward because something happened to him that’s out of his mind’s ability to grasp, James, something happened to dad, and James has him sit down in the shower and James turns off the water and James, James, James, everything is James and the thing he can’t quite reach and my dad, my dad, James squeezes some water out of his hair and says I know, it’s okay, it’ll be okay. James says, I’m here. James says, it’s okay. James says, let's get you into some clean clothes, and he’s wearing James’ clothes and is in James’ bed, and he sits and falls uselessly into James because there is nowhere else to fall to.

He’ll take good care of you.

James rubs his back between the shoulder blades and mumbles words; the meanings are lost on him. He feels numb now, like all the energy has been taken from him in the past six hours since he found his father on the floor. The rain patters gently on the window panes, and just as the morning begins Draven drifts off into a numb and distant sleep.


A portrait of your father:

(It’s a memory from when you are very, very young)

It’s him — it’s your father. He’s standing behind a desk in his office but is facing away from you, talking on a landline with a spiral cord that tethers him down as he paces; he’s walking back and forth, back and forth, twirling it around his fingers as he talks in Polish, then English, then Polish again. He’s the smartest man you’ve ever met because the books he reads are thick. He takes lots of pictures of you when you’re little because you’re too young to tell him dad, that’s embarrassing, and you’re his best subject, and his favorite, and you think he has the coolest job in the world, his dad and his mom. They always come home at night and they always tell him they love him. His dad doesn't drink. He takes two white-pink capsules a day with food. They come from an orange bottle with a white top that he keeps in his work bag and the prescription is written in both Polish and English; you know because you take it out and read it aloud to him to impress him, but you aren’t allowed to open it or touch the things inside, not that you could get it open anyway. Dad is amazing. Dad swears sometimes but makes you promise not to tell mom. Dad likes reading and writing and reads to you every night. Dad takes you to see the butterflies that call you things like “PROGENY” and “CHILD” with their wings even though you’ve told them your name before. Dad. Dad. Dad. Everything is Dad, and everything is fine, and the desk he stands behind when you are five is the same desk he’ll die behind when you are twenty-five.

Dad talks on the phone and takes his medicine.


James does not sleep.

He watches his boyfriend sleep, yes; chest rising and falling in the muted light from outside, raindrops casting shadows across his skin. He can’t sleep. He calls them both in from work because suddenly nothing like that matters as much as it did 24 hours ago, and more importantly because he feels like it’s too soon to leave Draven alone. And James had loved Draven’s dad just like he would his own, despite the challenges. James cried on and off for a few hours, shifting between distress and confusion and anxiety for his partner; there were a few times when he was afraid he would wake Draven, but he was too far into dreamless sleep to be bothered because James had crushed up a dose of the sleeping pills the doctor had given him for Draven in the ER and mixed it in with some water and had his boyfriend drink all of it, and Draven, who would have noticed himself being drugged in an instant had he not been too deep in shock and horror to function, drank it with trembling hands and tear streaks down his pale face, sitting on the side of his bed wearing James’ Pink Floyd shirt and sweatpants, looking smaller than he’d ever seen him before at 3am with blood under his nails.

So it’s James — up at 6am watching the rain hit the kitchen window with a cup of black coffee — who answers Draven’s mother’s phone call, because his boyfriend is still passed out in his bed in the other room when his iPhone starts buzzing on the kitchen counter, thrown to the side in the haze of hard, cold grief of the night before. He’s never answered a phone call for his boyfriend before, and considers not answering until he turns it over and sees “Mom” written on the screen, and imagines how worried she must be, how Draven might not be in a mental state to call her back for another couple days.

And so he picks it up.


“Draven?” He’d only met Draven’s mother once the year before, and hoped she’d remember him. “Are you there?”

“It’s James,” he says stupidly, then works to correct himself. “Uh, sorry. Draven’s boyfriend.”

“Is he okay?” Her voice is thick with worry. “Is he there? Can I talk to him?”

“He’s okay. He’s sleeping in the other room right now, I took him home and got him cleaned up. They checked him over at the hospital.”

“Is he— how is he doing? How is he taking it? I heard he found him—”

“He did. He’s…not taking it very well, but he’s resting. I think he’s toughing on through it okay.” James swallows, remembering walking into the ER to find his boyfriend sitting, soaked in his father’s blood, clutching to a piece of his father’s scalp.

“Please let me talk to him.”

“Mrs. Kondraki-” he says, then trails off, realizing that he’s not sure of Draven’s mom’s formal name. “Uh, Alice—”

“James,” she says, seriously. “Please.”

“He’s asleep—”

“James. Let me talk to my son.”

James sets down the coffee cup on the counter and runs one hand through his hair.

“Okay. I’ll…I’ll so see if I can wake him up, but the doctor gave him some sleeping pills, so he might be kind of out of it.”

“That’s fine,” she says. “I won’t keep him awake long. He’s not going to work, is he?”

God, no,” replies James, walking to the bedroom door that he’s left open a crack. It’s dark inside. “No. I called both of us in for a few days, and then just thought I’d see how he was doing. I’m thinking a couple weeks before he’s ready, but we’ll just take it one step at a time and cross that bridge when we get to it.”

He hears Alice sigh on the other end of the line. “Okay. That’s…that’s fine. He just— you know how he can be—”

“I know exactly how he can be. I’m the same way,” he says, lingering in the doorway. “Here, give me a sec, I’m gonna see if I can wake him up.”

He hears Alice reply over the phone, but has already pressed it against his chest as he creeps into the room.

Draven is curled up in a fetal position on the far end of the bed, hair mussed against the pillows, sides making the blankets rise and fall evenly with his breathing. James walks softly — mostly out of habit of coming to bed second than anything else — to the other side of the bed and shakes his arm gently.

“Draven,” he whispers. “Draven. Hon. Wake up.”

Draven continues sleeping soundly. James sighs and places the hand not holding the cell phone on his upper back, rubbing his way up his neck and into his thick black curls.


He sees his partner’s eyes twitch slightly under their lids. He shakes his shoulder again.

“Draven. Hey.”


A portrait of your father:

He’s driving the car as Johnny Cash plays out of the cassette player. He’s in his dark green Columbia jacket that’s zipped open to a faded tshirt underneath, that and jeans and sneakers and his glasses that are different frames than he had when he was older. His camera is a Nikon model a couple years past its due date, scuffed around the edges, but his dad would always say that anything you loved would be roughed a little — including people.

It’s the mountains, and his dad has the windows down and is drumming his fingers on the steering wheel to the beat of the song. He can’t help but reflect on how healthy he looks compared to the last time Draven would see him laying on a cot in his office — shaggy dark hair, color in his face and skin, never really chubby but filled out into his frame, active, alive. His father loves travelling. He loves being outside. He loves exploring.

“Dad,” he says loudly, because now he’s angry, and his father keeps driving, humming absently, mind lost in some partially-written story or project.


His father looks startled for a second, like he’s been woken up from a dream. For a moment Draven is seized with horror at the idea that his father might kill himself again, just like last time, just out of nowhere take a gun and do away with it all. He doesn’t expect him to respond.

But he does.

“What? What?” his father says, and all his fears melt away instantly, because that’s the sound of his father, a woody tenor, capable of speaking softly but usually projecting loudly over groups of people, in forests, testing echos and giving orders, exploring, running to the edge and almost teetering at the brink, never seeming to fit in his body quite right but also seeming to not belong in anyone else’s. It’s been raised in anger before, but not routinely yet, and it shakes him to think that there will be a time where his father will scream himself hoarse at the drop of a hat. Drumming fingers and an extra lens cap in the cupholder. Dad.

He doesn’t have time to respond before the man driving the car does.

“This whole suicide thing is really shaking you up, you know that?” he says. The sky is clear outside; there are sheep grazing in a pasture they pass, Jeep wheels bumping over gravel road, kicking up dust. His father shakes his head, gestures with one hand off the steering wheel. “Like, fuck, you know? I’m dead. So what?”

“So what?” Draven feels anger boiling inside him, sits up straight in the passenger’s seat. “So what? Are you fucking kidding me?”

His dad cocks an eyebrow at him, looks at his son with attentive green eyes through thick square glasses in silence.

“You know what? I don’t care. I’ve spent enough time crying over your selfish ass.” Draven unbuckles his seatbelt. “Pull over. I’m getting out.”

Your dad speeds up the car.

“Oh. Oh, you’re gonna play this shit, huh?” Draven growls. “Dad-”

“You know why I didn’t leave a note, Draven,” he says, and that’s enough to reduce him to shaking, holding back tears in the passenger’s seat, stunned silence. It doesn’t bother your dad; he’s still drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, going just a little fast for comfort, always teetering on the edge, reaching for the moon and burning in the sky, coming too close to the sun.

“I hate you,” Draven says, finally. There’s tears in his eyes and a fire burning in his stomach that makes him sick. “I hate you, you selfish, spineless prick. You didn’t leave a fucking note because you didn’t care what anyone else thought once you were gone, did you? You didn’t even care—”

“You’re blaming yourself, huh?” His dad’s voice is so clear he almost could imagine he was still alive, and that this was a real memory, and that he wasn’t just thrashing fitfully in his sleep with James worrying about him. “You know it isn’t your fault, Draven. There’s nothing you could have done to stop this.”

“I could have stayed.” Draven hugs his arms around his chest. “I could have stayed. I even offered it to you, and it was clear that you weren't feeling well that night. I should have taken you home or called medical or something, Dad, I’m so, so sorry—”

“—And you think I blame you?”

“It doesn’t matter if you blame me or not!” He surprises himself at raising his voice at his dad, but can’t help it and god damnit, it hurts, it hurts so much. “You’re dead! I’m never going to see you again! I’m never going to talk to you again! You blew your fucking brains out in your office and you didn’t even leave a note because you didn’t think it would fucking matter, or that nobody would care!


“What is the fucking matter with you!” Draven screams. His father keeps driving and the Polish countryside passes and the birds are singing and the world doesn’t care, nothing cares about his father like he does. “Why didn’t you get help?! Why didn’t you tell me?! Why didn’t you give me the fucking opportunity to help you while you were still alive?!”

“Draven,” your dad says again, except that now his voice is higher, softer, more empathetic.

“Damn it, why did you have to leave?!” The world is breaking up, like going through a tunnel, and there’s James, shaking him awake. There’s concern in his eyes and a phone in his hand.

“…James?” His voice is husked with exhaustion, and there’s a pull in James’ heart at waking him up — should have just let him sleep — but talking with his mom might help, he thinks. Or maybe it’ll make it worse. “What time is it?”

“Hon, your mom’s on the phone.”

“Mom—” Draven’s eyes widen slightly, and James again feels that weight of guilt, that emotional grimace of sympathy for the pain his partner is experiencing. He hands him the phone, and Draven takes it and lays back in bed and asks apprehensively, “…Mom?”

He can’t hear what she’s saying, but tears well up in Draven’s eyes. James clicks on the lamp on the nightstand, casting the bed in a light yellow glow, and sits on the side of the bed; he had originally intended to give them some privacy, but sees the numb tears rolling down his partner’s face and can’t bring himself to leave.

“…Yeah. I’m okay.” Draven exhales slowly and puts his other hand over his eyes. “I’m okay, mom.” He repeats. “No, I just…went to check on him, and he—”

James has never seen Draven as someone who could be easily broken, but he sees him fracture down now, words breaking away into the heavy sob of someone who tried to fix his dad and couldn’t. It strikes James that this was now their whole immediate family, and it feels like someone just punched him in the chest.

“-he just-” Draven tries to get the words out and can’t, voice high and scraping. James has never seen him cry like this before and never will again. He wants to stop it, to grab the phone and make it okay, but he knows he needs this phone call, that he needs someone else to cry things out to. The screaming in the shower last night that scared him to death was a direct result of Draven being overwhelmed, burned out, horrified, and now there was just what was left. Like the results of a combustion reaction.

“-I don’t know, he was just there—”

His mom is talking over the phone now in words James can’t make out, and Draven sobs quietly, teeth gritted, tears rolling out behind his hand. Unsure of what to do and feeling tears welling in his own eyes, James reaches out and finds his knee under the covers, gives it a quiet squeeze of reassurance.

Draven’s breathing comes hard and fast for a moment, trying to calm himself down and failing, going back to letting hot tears roll from his eyes with another deep sob that wracks his frame.

“-Mom, I should have stayed- I’m sorry—”

Another pause as he listens to his mother.

“He just told me he was okay— he said he was fine, mom, I didn’t-” he wheezes sharply. “I didn’t know—”

“Breathe, babe,” James whispers at him, and he knows that Draven hears him because he quickly draws in breath, shutters it out in a couple more sobs.

“No, he was-” Draven gasps for breath. “-h-happy and everything, when I talked to him, it was just-” He’s hyperventilating. James squeezes his knee again, trying to get him calm. “-just normal—”

They continue on like this for what feels to James to be hours, but it’s only about ten minutes. Draven is sitting up, panicking, trying to control his tears, looking at James from time to time. He knew that Draven was always closer to his father than he was to his mother and stepfather, a fact that made sense once you factored in that his father had gotten custody and raised him. Draven was a Site-17 kid. Mom in Siberia, dad an alcoholic but doing his best, and he had turned out okay despite the challenges of living behind the curtain. It wasn’t ideal, but it worked. It had worked for the two of them just fine, and the closeness came with that.

When Draven hangs up the phone, he swallows sharply, drops his phone on the blankets, and buries his face in his hands.

“Hey.” James moves closer now, putting a hand on his shoulder. “It’s okay. Yeah? It’s gonna be okay.”

Draven took a deep breath, and ran his fingers through his hair with a tight laugh. His eyes are red and his face is pale and James wish he could stop this more than anything in the world.

“S-sorry I’m such a mess,” he stutters out through tears. “N-not v-very attractive.”

James gives him a light smile. “I think you gotta wait a little bit longer before you start apologizing for crying. Jesus, Draven. It’s barely been eight hours.”

His boyfriend swallows and slowly exhales, trying to calm himself down. “…Whoo. O-okay. I’m okay.” Another deep, shuddering breath. “I’m cool. We’re cool.”

“It’s okay to cry, you know.”

Draven nods, pushing his hands back through his curls. “Yeah. Yeah, I know. Just. Tired, I think.”

“Do you wanna go back to sleep?”

Suddenly, Draven’s eyes widen and he looks at the clock on the nightstand with alarm. “Shit. Wait. Shit.”

“I called us in,” James replies. “For a few days. Thought it might be best.”

Draven nods, calming slightly. “Oh.” He wraps his arms around himself and again James can’t help but think he looks small, fragile, like he doesn’t belong in Kevlar and tactical gear under any circumstances at all.

“…A-are you okay?” Draven says. “D-did you sleep?”

James shakes his head no and sighs. “I—” He almost says couldn’t stop thinking about your dad dead on the floor and how you had to see him like that and stops himself. “…Nah, I couldn’t.”

Draven looks over at him with another deep breath, still trying to get calm. “…You need to sleep.”

James smiles at him again. “Not tired.”

“James,” Draven whimpers. “Please.”

His smile falters.

When he climbs into bed, his partner is already out cold, the medication and emotional exhaustion lulling him down. James moves his phone from where his partner dropped it on the bed to his nightstand and grabs his own, still unable to sleep but unwilling to worry Draven.

There’s an alert on his lock screen that grips his chest hard and sends him into a momentary panic:


He swallows and glances at Draven, the mobile task force worker currently sleeping in his bed, and hopes to god that it’s not a breach when he opens it. When he reads the subject line pronouncing “SITE WIDE MEMO: DIRECTOR KONDRAKI” he’s seized with an entirely different kind of fear, the kind of fear that comes from something suddenly being true, real, no longer disputable.


I’m guessing you’ve heard something along these lines already because of how fast things go through the grapevine, and the short story is that yes, Director Kondraki passed away very suddenly early this morning of non-anomalous causes. This means a few things:

  1. Administration is currently in a state of flux; I’ve been appointed Acting Director for the time being, but this won’t be a permanent state of affairs. O5 will get back to us shortly with their appointment for the position, but for the next week or so work will be split between me and the other Level 4s on site. As per protocol, Director Kondraki’s name will still be signed on any paperwork submitted to processing by last night at 1am; any paperwork submitted after with Euclid or lower level of urgency will be sidelined until a new Director is appointed and sworn in. This will cause some delays. We ask that everyone remain calm and work with us regarding efficiency, but things are going to be messy for the next couple weeks regardless.
  2. Projects and pages under Director Kondraki’s name are currently locked, as many of you have noted in the past few hours. These projects will be held and dealt with on a case-by-case basis to designate new project leaders. Certain containment chambers — such as the 408 aviary — will be closed and locked aside from routine upkeep until new project heads are appointed.
  3. Director Kondraki’s research notes and any related files will be released with appropriate redaction in a week or so for his teams to use. Personal notes and files will be held at the discretion of his family.
  4. Information on the circumstances of his death are also at the discretion of his family, as are the funeral proceedings. We ask that you remain respectful of them and their privacy.
  5. Lab Leaders and Principal Investigators reporting to Director Kondraki will be reassigned in the next few hours as our first order of business. Researchers will report to their Level 3 as normal.
  6. Research not concerning Director Kondraki’s projects will go on as normal. Research concerning Director Kondraki’s projects are to be suspended for the time being, and scheduled lab times, meetings, and overall scheduling for these teams are cancelled until new project heads are chosen as previously indicated. SCPs involved in these projects will remain in containment.

Director Kondraki was a fine man and a damn good friend, as well and a fantastic researcher and Director. We ask that you all pay attention to your email in the coming couple weeks to smooth the transition a bit.

Acting Director Eskobar

James leans back against the headboard with tears running down his face.

Draven doesn’t stir.


A portrait of your father:

It’s a hazy, dreamy scene. The aviary is warm in the dark February outside and the circulation fans blow around the faint humidity. The floor is cracked, broken linoleum, green with creeping moss around the edges of potted trees reaching for the greenhouse ceiling. Fluorescent industrial lights dangle down and cast an unfamiliar white light; had the day not been rainy, they would have been off altogether. His father dislikes the industrial numbness they bring in lieu of real sunlight. Raindrops drum on the plexiglass roof and he remembers being young, laying on his back on the floor in here, watching them patter and run off into the containment chamber gutters whisking them away.

And there is his father.

He sees him by following the little flicker of lights the butterflies leave as they go past him. He only sees his sneakers at first, because the table he sits at is obscured by potted plants and mist systems, but his knee is bouncing and he hears the soft tapping of his fingers on his laptop keyboard.

Draven moves forward. He’s filled with a soft kind of comfort not unlike a drug when he rounds the corner and sees his dad, curly black hair in his Columbia sweatshirt that’s not yet pilling, 5 o’clock shadow and a battered toughbook, camera there, baseball cap, jeans, it’s him, it’s all him as he remembers him, filled out, somewhat sober, eyes attentive and sharp behind thick black frames, whatever dog eared paperback he’s working through put aside next to his camera and looking at it his chest warms as he sees it’s a copy of Frankenstein, the copy he’s seen his father read over and over and over again through his childhood, the one with the highlighted pages and the torn off cover that’s dad’s, dad’s, dad’s, that’s his that’s dad’s book that's the book that’s one of dad’s favorites—

“Dad.” His voice wavers, unsure, and he doesn’t expect his father to respond but he knows that his dad heard him because he does that little thing he always does where he cocks up an eyebrow in his direction and continues typing, saying just one minute, let me finish this email.

Draven comes and sits across the table from him, and he sees the outline of some of 408 crawling on his father’s sweatshirt as he does so, crawling in his hair, on the back of his computer. One lands on Draven’s fingers, wings fluttering gently. The whole world is soft and he feels light, airy, tinted with anxiety and love.

His dad looks up at him from his computer and Draven is so happy he wants to cry, and he must be crying, because his father looks at him with concern.

“Dad,” he repeats, and he doesn’t know what to say. Why did you do it? Did it hurt? Would you have done it if I stayed?

And none of his questions get answered, because his father looks him dead in the eye, removes his service pistol from his tattered backpack, puts it in his mouth, and without breaking eye contact pulls the trigger and Draven wakes up screaming.



“Look, I just—” SCP-105 turns around to face him where she’s standing in front of his father’s old desk, and Draven sees the red stain on the floor next to her and can’t stop himself from gagging sharply, cutting her off. He leans against the door frame in the early hours of the morning two days after his father’s suicide and is glad he hasn’t had the appetite to eat in the past 24 hours, because his entire body finds everything about his father’s newly uninhabited office to be nauseating, revolting, everything from the coffee cup still on the nightstand from where James got his father water in the night to the empty chair behind it. He swallows a few times, not really expecting to have this kind of reaction to it — being in the task forces, he’s seen plenty of gore, but this is the first thing that he’s seen in years that has brought him to almost vomiting.

“Are you okay?”

Draven swallows again, and again, and eventually feels the dizziness pass enough to respond to her.

“Yeah, no. I’m okay,” he says wearily, trying not to look at it. The room smells like bleach and the orange soap the janitors use to clean up blood, so much that it’s suffocating. “…Just a little fresh in my mind is all.”

“I can tell,” she replies, and he knows that it’s also the fact that he’s dressed in his boyfriend’s grey sweatpants and t-shirt and the fact that he hasn’t shaved. He looks rough — Draven will be the first to admit this, given that he just rolled out of bed to come get this over with — but he’s coming to pack up his dad’s stuff, not to go to work in the full-tactical-gear-over-black-jumpsuit Iris usually sees him in. It occurs to him that this is probably the first time that she’s seen him without his visor or helmet in years. What an impression he must be making.

“So who put you up to this?” he sighs, letting go of the doorframe to wander into his father’s work space. “Eskobar?”

“Myself,” she replies, and he sees that she already has three cardboard boxes of files loaded up, printed with ‘CLASSIFIED’ or ‘UNCLASSIFIED’ on the top in black sharpie. He spends a dumb second hazing over the fact that she’s an SCP, shouldn’t be seeing those, security breach? before he realizes that she’s a Safe-class semi-employee who’s lived here since Draven was around seven. His dad had signed the paperwork for her low-level clearance himself. She has the red authorized security card clipped to her uniform and everything, and he briefly thinks I really should have let James do this. Draven had left him a note and a kiss on the forehead instead. Better to let the poor guy get some rest.

“You volunteered to do this?” Draven asks, picking up a cardboard box from the pile provided, briefly imagining some kind of dystopian straw-pull or bingo game. Person who wins gets to help the sad kid clean out his dead dad’s office.

Iris looks at him with tears in her eyes, and he winces.

“Your dad,” she says slowly. “Saved my life more than once.”

Draven nodded, distantly. His father was a big advocate for humanoids. He treated them well, and again, it wasn’t perfect, but it was something, anything.

“He…did that a lot,” he drones numbly, moving to the bookshelf on the other side of the desk across the room, more out of avoiding the cot and the stain than anything else. Without thinking, he just starts at the top left and drops the first three books in the box with a heavy thwump.

“When I was twelve, you know, I tried to kill myself,” Iris says, and Draven feels his entire body tighten like a steel rail. But she continues, and part of him wants to hear it. He doesn’t stop her. “…I was…you know. They took me at ten, and I got put in therapy and everything, but I hated it, you know? This whole place. I hated it.”

Iris lands the last couple manilla envelopes into an almost-full box and tapes it shut with packing tape.

“So like, when I was twelve, I took the shoestrings out of my shoes and tried to hang myself. And I did it badly because I was too short-” She takes a second to laugh grimly. “-too short to reach the air vent where I was gonna tie it to, so like, the rope slipped and I fell and they took me to the infirmary.”

Draven can’t help but smile, too. One hell of a thing to laugh about, but both of them have had one hell of a past couple of days. Smiling at anything is better than the alternative.

“And then your dad came in. It was like, god, like, one in the morning. And he came in and introduced himself, and we just kind of…talked. Like, he was just…easy, you know? Like, easy to talk to.”

He nods, still smiling sadly. His dad was good with kids, good with adults, good with most people except people he felt deserved to take some shit. Never felt like the kids were inhuman. Never thought that they deserved to be locked in a box, just that it was safer for them to be. Tried to make shit normal for them, and for the adults, too, and for the staff. Wasn’t always good at it, but tried his best, sometimes took some risks, sometimes broke some rules. They were still people to his dad.

“And after a while, he told me, listen, it doesn’t seem like it’s gonna get better, but it will. It always gets better, because shit changes, you know? And he told me-” Iris swallows, collecting herself. “-He told me, you and I are gonna take this one day at a time, because I’ve been having problems, too, and then said that I was on his list now, and that he was gonna come see me every day to check on me and that if I wasn’t there, he was gonna come looking for me. And I thought he was kidding, but no. He came every damn day for two years. Missed maybe 2 or 3 times, and you know what? Shit got better. And after that, he still came a couple times a month, and Jesus, Draven, the last time I saw him was probably three weeks ago, and he was fine.” Iris slams a stack of papers into a new box, and Draven jumps slightly, still frozen where he was standing. “I just don’t fucking get it! Like, people give him shit, and that’s fine, but goddamn, he cared more than anyone about the people in containment. And it’s not fucking fair, okay? It’s not! Because he actually fucking gave a shit about what happened to us once we were inside!”

Draven looks at her, and she looks at him, and there are tears in both of their eyes, and there’s a silence in the room, and his father’s books are being put in boxes and there’s blood staining the carpeting next to where she’s standing and he knows that she’s right.

“…Oh my god, Draven, I’m so sorry—”

“My dad had bipolar disorder,” says Draven blankly.

Iris looks at him with confusion, then with slow, quiet dawning of understanding.

“What?” she says.

“You said that he seemed fine a few weeks ago?” Draven turns back to the bookshelf and digs his fingers into another couple paperbacks. “That’s…part of the reason why.”

“You’re kidding me,” gapes Iris. “He just. Never said anything about that.”

“Yeah. Like, it was more obvious if you lived with him, I guess.” Draven started dropping books methodically in the box, noting some of the titles in passing. Frankenstein. Something old in Polish with the lettering rubbed off. Cannibalism: a Perfectly Natural History. “He…had moods. Kind of ups and downs. When I was little he took mood stabilizers for it, but when my parents got divorced he-” He almost says chose drinking every night over taking care of himself, “-stopped taking them. Like, sometimes he wouldn’t need to sleep for days, and other times it was hard for him to get out of bed. Sometimes it happened in hours, where he just kind of would spiral down until he crashed, and then be fine the next morning, or sometimes he would suddenly kind of get in a swing for weeks or months, you know? And you would think it was getting better or getting worse, and he would just swing in the other direction out of nowhere.” Carrie. Famous Serial Killers of the 19th Century. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Butterflies. “I think he started drinking because of it. Like, in terms of the actual disorder itself, I always knew my dad was sick but he never really mentioned it outright. Sometimes that’s why he would do some stupid impulsive shit, because it kind of affects your decision making that way sometimes.” House of Leaves. History of Poland. The Spy Who Came In From The Cold. “But the past few years…I don’t know. Most of his episodes have been bad ones, and like, he would start coming up and then go back down instead, and his drinking got really, really bad. Like, he’s been an alcoholic since mom left, but this was…worse than I’ve ever seen him.” Demons: Summoning and Expulsion. Pet Sematary. The Silence of the Lambs. “Like, he wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep, would just binge drink until he passed out. Actually, that’s how James and I found him the night he—”

Draven dropped the box on the floor, breathing hard. Oh god, the night he died.

“Hey.” Iris looked shaken from the information, but recovering into concern. “…You okay?”

Draven slowed his breathing, then slowly, carefully picked up the box.

“I think—” Draven swallowed hard, voice wavering, fighting back tears. “I think we should stop talking about dad and just focus on getting this over with.”

Iris agreed, and within four hours everything in his father’s office was loaded into the back of James’ green Saturn; 90% of it books and manuscripts covered in his father’s writing, unpublished novels, diary entries, everything in Polish and English alike. All the work shit packed in separate boxes equaled about the same amount, all in all, but that happened when you were a Site Director for nearly two and a half decades.

When they’re done with that, Iris asks him if he wanted to get the apartment where his father lived done too, and he agrees, because the only thing worse than cleaning out the place where he grew up is waiting to do it, and when they get there they realize that most of it is already Foundation-owned and is slated to be repossessed, including his dad’s recently untouched bed, all the furniture, and all the files left behind. It becomes clear when as they clean that his dad hadn’t bothered to come home for quite a while longer than they thought. No food in the cupboards, most clothing in his office, most things for living in his office and most already either thrown away or packed, as they realize, because his father was too damn drunk to stumble home each night at the end of his life. Some things they move to Draven’s apartment, and others they move to the Saturn. They sift and sort and find all the pieces of his dad among a mosaic of an abandoned living space and pack up all the little scraps they find, although there’s not much left to begin with, and when they’re done they make one last check of the place to ensure that they got everything, and Draven almost cries for the thousandth time today but is too exhausted and numb to do so.

“Well,” says Iris as Draven slams the trunk of James’ Saturn, “We got it over with, huh?”

And Draven rushes forward and embraces her, and she embraces him back, and when he’s done he drives home and James is waiting there for him, and they bring everything into the garage, and turn out the lights and walk inside the house and leave his dad out next to the car when they go to bed.


A portrait of your father:

The farthest you ever saw your dad into mania was probably when he threw piss on Duke and started running.

Dr. Kondraki, with a small lead, attempts to enter non-sentient object containment by making his way past two armed guards and flashing his ID.

And when he passes you, in all your tactical gear and headset and radio, he doesn’t realize that it’s you at first, and there’s a moment when he whips out his ID that he does recognize you and up until that point in time you think that he’s just doing his job but his grin falters when he sees you, and that’s the point when, instead of letting your father barrel down the R-14 hallway, you run after him. He runs faster from you then he does from Duke, and you manage to get him away from the stairwell and chase him down an adjacent hallway instead, and when his squad commander squeaks over his radio “43, come in for status, 43, over” he pushes the little button to talk and says “I’ve got him, commander, over”, and in a second he does, or thinks he does until his father whips around and lands a poorly-thought-out punch to his visor that rattles it enough to startle him, but it looks like it startles him, too, and you take the opportunity to grab him by the wrist and tranquilize him and Duke is dead in five minutes two hallways over.

There are no casualties. The chase, including the short scuffle they have, takes maybe a minute. The fact that your dad fought back was enough by regulation to back up your choice to bring him down, but your commander can tell that there’s more to it than that when you fill out the paperwork. He doesn’t ask what it is, and it’s best that he doesn’t, because when your dad wakes up and starts ranting on in the twisting way he does in a manic episode the only thing you can think of is you are so fucking lucky that I caught you early. You are so fucking lucky that we can pass this off as a failed decommissioning and not the failed attempt at something more, because they would put you in the psych ward in three minutes if they knew you did it because you were riding a bipolar high into oblivion, you hear me? If they knew you did it because you were impulsive and your thoughts were racing, and you just felt like you could do anything, anything at all, like you were invincible, but you’re not and you are so. Fucking. Lucky. That I didn’t let you go any farther.


His father would have fucking hated him for wearing a suit, but Draven does anyway, his dad in his head laughing at him with a bottle in his hand saying who do you think I am kid, the fuckin’ queen? You’re gonna dress up to watch a piece of shit alcoholic get put in the dirt? And he does anyway, because there's no one in his life that Draven has ever respected more than his father. Didn’t have the appetite to eat, didn’t sleep well the night before. Eyes red and hair matted and he cleans himself up, tries to make himself look halfway presentable. The funeral is always the hardest, that’s what his dad had told him the first time someone in his task force died. You think you can handle yourself and you never can.

James is in a suit too, and when he sees him he pulls a thin smile.

“…’hould wear a suit more often, Bond,” he mumbles, but his heart isn’t into flirting this morning.
James smiles back at him for the effort anyways.

“You don’t look too bad yourself.”

Draven shakes his head slowly from where he’s sitting on the side of the bed. “James, I look like shit and you know it,” he sighs.

His boyfriend rubs his shoulder sympathetically. “Fine. You don’t look too bad considering the circumstances, how about that?”

Draven nods. “…Yeah. Okay.”

“…You ready to go?” James asks, and Draven looks over and sees his partner with his car keys in hand and feels a hole open deep in his stomach, like an encroaching numbness. He doesn’t want to go. He wants to stay here and sleep and wake up and have his father still be there and still be fixable. Draven hasn’t interacted with anyone outside James and his mother and Iris since it happened, and it feels so fast, like he was expecting the world to stop turning if his father ever died. He thinks about seeing other people, about people asking him things and saying that they’re sorry, and it feels so damn unreal.

He swallows.

“…Yeah. I think so.”

When he’s in the car, he feels a deeper kind of hollowness creep over him. He lets James drive because he’s in no shape to, because he feels drunk, unavailable, disconnected. When they get there he’s prepared himself for what he sees, which is his father’s body cremated in typical Foundation fashion in a sealed metal box that glimmers blankly on the church altar. James stays close to him. He lets him to the talking, even when people ask him things, even when people ask how he’s feeling, because he can barely get words out of his mouth and James can and he holds his hand and handles it because nothing Draven will do in his entire life will make him worthy of James.

His father was raised Jewish, but was agnostic through most of his adult life; they give him a Jewish service because it wasn’t like his father would care one way or another, anyway. The Rabbi takes him aside at one point and sits him down and talks to him about god, or about faith, or about his father’s faith, and they pray just like his father had taught him how to in passing when he was young, and he can’t remember what he says to him or what they pray for at all, exactly, because he doesn’t register anything that he’s saying, just nods and thanks him at the end. Praying for…his father? Could his father be prayed to? Would his father hear him if he prayed, and if he did, would he listen or just laugh? Why would god care about his father, anyway? Why didn’t god save him?

Draven carries his father’s body in the cold box, and they’ve dug a hole already for him in the ground in the graveyard outside, and James is there with him still, and his mom is crying and Draven isn’t, and James is crying and Draven isn’t, and a lot of people are crying and Draven doesn’t because he feels too numb to cry any more than he already has. They put his dad in the hole. They bury his dad. The Rabbi reads a passage from the Torah that Draven doesn’t hear, and his dad doesn’t hear it, either. He sees James crying while they’re standing there and Draven feels himself robotically switching into your boyfriend is crying, James is crying, you need to help James now, but there’s no emotion left in him and he just curls his fingers in between his and squeezes them tightly. Draven has never been more tired in his entire life then he is in this moment.

And then because James is crying, now, Draven sits behind the wheel of his boyfriend’s Saturn and tries to comfort him but his movements are unfeeling, strange, alien. They drive home in silence. It’s only 1pm. When they get to James’ house they sit in the car in the garage and turn off the ignition. James is whimpering still and they sit, reeling. After five minutes or so of hearing his partner’s muffled sobs and seeing his own blank expression in the windshield, Draven’s head pounds, and he opens the door, calmly walks inside, and vomits into the sink until he’s heaving up bile.


A portrait of your father:

(this one is also a memory)

You’re 23 in the infirmary, with all your team either gone off to sleep or admitted in another room, and just as you start thinking huh, maybe Dad’s asleep, you hear the hallway doors crash open and you realize that your father was simply not informed. He slams open the door to your hospital room looking deranged with his work bag in one hand. He walks briskly right up to where you’re laying hooked up to an IV and heart monitor, and he’s shaking, and he comes close enough to you until he can feel the heat of his breath. He puts one rough hand on one of your shoulders and grips it too hard and growls, “Draven Kondraki, don’t you. Ever. Scare me like that again.”

And then he collapses in the chair at your bedside.

“Dad,” you say, and your words are muffled because the gauze shoved in your mouth to stem the bleeding gets in the way of your talking. “I’m fine.”

Your father puts his elbows on his knees and his face in his hands.

“Jeezus. Fucking…eight hours before they had you here and they didn’t tell us anything about how you were, you know that? We just didn’t know. For eight fucking hours.

He rubs his face, then runs his hands through his hair. He looks almost as bad as you do.


Jesus fucking shit, Draven, what were you thinking?!” your father explodes. “You could have gotten hurt! You could have died!

It’s rare that your father gets genuinely angry at you; irritated, yes, but never angry, never furious. You tell yourself to keep calm but feel annoyance clip up inside your bandaged chest.

“I didn’t, dad,” you mumble, because your father is on the verge of hysterics if not already there. “These things happen on the field. You know that.”

Your dad’s knee is bouncing, but then again your dad’s knee is always bouncing. He looks at you with the dawning realization of the person shifting back from ‘anxious father’ to ‘site director who does, indeed, know of all the occupational hazard that accompany your son’s line of work’. For a second you think he’s about to explode again, but he doesn’t; he exhales slowly and wrings his hands together.

And then he laughs.

“…God…” He shakes his head. “…God, fuckin'…I’m sorry.”

“Dad. Did something happen?” You can’t help but feel like there’s something you’re missing, and sure enough, your dad smiles widely and shakes his head.

“No. No, nothing happened. Just. Your dad says that books don’t affect his life and then they do.”

Everything is still hazy from the morphine, and for a second you feel as though again, you’re missing something, like you didn’t hear him right, and then he continues:

“I was…damn it, Draven, I was reading that one Stephen King book Pet Sematary. Look, just, the next time your team accidentally walks in on a GoI raid, I’d like a few day’s notice so I can switch to a book less child-death-centered, okay?”

You smile lightly at him, feeling woozy from the drugs and the blood loss, but he’s there, just like he always is. He heard you were hurt and came running, just like he always does. And he was reading, because he’s your dad, and your dad is always reading or writing for one thing or another.

“…Okay. I promise,” you say, and your dad laughs at himself again for thinking that his son might have died a slow and painful death at the hands of some anomaly. He laughs like that isn’t an option for either of them, like that danger isn’t there and never was.

And for the moment, you drift off, and your dad stays and reads.



Everything is in a thick haze when Draven comes around, dressed once again in James’ clothes in James’ bed with James there next to him, James being James with his nose in a copy of The Hobbit for the millionth time. It’s dark outside. His head throbs painfully and he groans.

“Easy,” repeats James softly, not looking up from his book. “You were having a nightmare again.”

Draven released a breath of tired frustration.

“Don’t tell my mom, will you?”

“Nah, I won’t.” James flips the page. “The past few days have been pretty rough on you. I’m not surprised.”

Draven nods slightly; he’s exhausted, but can’t sleep anymore just like he can’t cry anymore than he already has.

“You should just. Try to relax, okay?”

“…What time is it?”

James glances up from his book at the clock on his nightstand.

“Around ten.”

“At night?”

James nods, eyes back in his book. He looks so tired.

“Mm,” Draven mumbles in confirmation, and pushes himself up. “Didn’t we get back from the funeral at like, one?”

“Yeah.” James flips another page. He’ll never know how he can manage to talk and read at the same time, but it was just one of many things that he’ll always love about James. “You came home, threw up, changed and fell asleep.”

“Jesus,” Draven sighs. He sits up and rubs his face, trying to alleviate some of the feverish discomfort crawling through his skin, but all it does is make him dizzy.

“I know. Scared the fuckin' crap out of me. I think the funeral might have been a bit much for you,” James says, and Draven hates it when he’s right about these things and chooses to swing his legs off the bed instead of responding. His boyfriend glances at him expectantly once his feet are on the floor.

“Babe. You should sleep,” says James, noting the purple circles under his eyes. He clearly hadn’t been sleeping well, and the dreaming probably didn’t help with that.

“No, you should sleep,” Draven asserts, grabbing his phone from the bedside table. “You’ve done…fucking everything for me today, James. I don’t think I could have made it through that shit if you weren't there.” The last few words catch in his throat a little, and he swallows, remembering the weight of his father’s ashes in a steel box in his arms. He wished Foundation regulation allowed for him to do something other with the ashes than bury them. Scatter them to the wind somewhere over the ocean, maybe, do something his dad would have liked, but he also knew that that graveyard was where his father belonged, with all the other Level 4s and Directors that killed themselves off, or fell to some horrible fate, or just keeled over at their desks from the strain. He should feel lucky he got to bury a box with something in it at all, Draven thinks. Getting buried on Foundation ground was a conventional honor, and some nondescript part of his fever-ridden brain pulls out an image of his father as a ghost in the Site-17 graveyard saying, Are you fucking kidding me? I’m still here? and he smiles to himself pessimistically. It didn’t feel like an honor.

James reaches across the bed to touch his hand. Draven twitches his fingers in response.

“…I’m gonna go read for a bit,” he says. “I don’t think I can go back to sleep right now.”

James nods wearily. “Don’t read any scary shit,” he says, and Draven knows he’s only half-joking, with their jobs being the way they are. He leaves the room and turns off the light on James as he goes, extinguishing his partner’s reading light and receiving a soft swear in return. No choice but to sleep now. There’s the shuffling of blankets and the soft tap of James’ glasses hitting the nightstand, and it's these cues that send Draven from the bedroom door to the garage, and he sets to work.

He knows exactly the book he wants to find.

His father’s copy of Pet Sematary is a black hardcover with no book jacket and red lettering on the spine. Like all Benjamin Kondraki’s reading material, it’s dogeared many times over, written and drawn in, notes taken in the margins from everything from meeting reminders to reflections on the text, Polish scribblings, things he heard others say, the visual imitation of his father’s racing thoughts. There’s dirt and mud from field missions and even a few droplets of blood here and there, but as his father used to say a little blood loss never hurt anybody. It feels comfortable and sturdy in his hands.

Draven reenters the house, collapses on the couch, and starts to read. He reads for hours, mind swimming, not entirely into it but not entirely out of it, either. His father loved Stephen King. Stephen King, Mary Shelley, Mark Z. Danielewski… strange things, scary things, things that held emotion. He always thought that his father might get tired of all the fear, what with living in it and them coming home and binge reading horror novels all night, but he seemed to thrive on adrenaline, on barely escaping death, on wondering what else might be out there, around the corner, hiding while you slept.

Everyone had their coping mechanisms, he supposed.

And then he turns a page and hits it; it’s a passage highlighted in shaky yellow ink, aged a little, dog eared and marked with a tiny pen star:

It was quick, Missy-my-dear, one minute he was there on the road and the next minute he was lying in it, but was down by the Ringers' house. It hit him and killed him and then it dragged him and you better believe it was quick. A hundred yards or more all told, the length of a football field. I ran after him, Missy, I was screaming his name over and over again, almost as if I expected he would still be alive, me, a doctor. I ran ten yards and there was his baseball cap and I ran twenty yards and there was one of his Star Wars sneakers, I ran forty yards and by then the truck had run off the road and the box had jackknifed in that field beyond the Ringers' barn. People were coming out of their houses and I went on screaming his name, Missy, and at the fifty-yard line there was his jumper, it was turned inside-out, and on the seventy-yard line there was his other sneaker, and then there was Gage.

His heart pounds in his chest. He grips the yellowing book and rereads, slowly, the passage that his father had highlighted.

It was quick, Missy-my-dear, one minute he was there on the road and the next minute he was lying in it

Draven thinks of his father, and then he thinks of himself, and then he thinks of him opening the door on his father’s body—

It hit him and killed him and then it dragged him and you better believe it was quick

-you and James had found him drinking heavily-

almost as if I expected he would still be alive, me, a doctor

-You didn’t really think that, did you-

One minute he was there on the road and the next minute he was lying in it. One minute and then the next minute, and that’s all it ever took for him, one swing and then the next swing, one mood and then the next mood, week to week, day to day, impulse to impulse, jumping from bottle to bottle to bottle, maybe he didn’t even think about it, maybe he didn’t even feel it, and then there was Gage—

He feels panic rising in his throat and forces himself to put the book down over the side of the couch, to go stand up and walk, walk, he needs to walk. He paces around the living room hearing and then there was Gage, and then there was Gage, and then there was Gage, and it dawns on him all at once that that’s what his father had meant bursting through the hospital doors, that’s what he was worried about.

It was quick, Missy-my-dear, one minute he was there on the force and the next minute he was lying in it, but was down in the ditch away from the task force car, and then there was Draven.

He swallows.

Your father loved you and was always scared to lose you. Never scared to lose himself, but terrified of losing you, the only person he had, his little boy that played with his butterflies that he took pictures of who fell asleep in your lap while you did paperwork.

That’s why he waited until you had James.

And then, of course, as he paces around the dark house, he thinks about his dad in the graveyard, and his dad deep in the ground with a tombstone with his name on it, and his dad being dead just didn’t fit his dad. Call it what you’d like, but it wasn’t in his dad’s place to die. Draven’s thoughts are erratic, switching easily, overwhelmed and overdriven. He feels sick. He feels lightheaded. Part of him thinks about waking up James, who’s still sleeping soundly in the bedroom when you check on him, but you go back to the book instead because it’s easier to read and forget than cry and remember.

And that’s when you reach it.

The headstone was here now; it read simply GAGE WILLIAM CREED, followed by the two dates. Someone had been here today to pay his or her respects, he saw; there were fresh flowers. Who would that have been?

Draven’s eyes open a little wider. He skips a few lines, and then keeps reading.

The ground was soft, the digging easy. The grave’s shape was well defined, the dirt he was throwing out softer than the earth at the verge.

Another few lines.

He threw the dirt on the ground to the left of the grave, working into a steady rhythm that only became more difficult to maintain as the hole deepened. He stepped into the grave, smelling

That’s all Draven needed to get an idea of what he wanted his dad’s final stunt to be. He grabs James’ keys from the table and a shovel from the garage and backs out of the driveway at 1am, feeling like Louis Creed.


A portrait of your father:

They don’t see you, because no one at the Foundation cares about the dead unless they’re in containment. All told, your adventure is far easier than Creed’s was, because it’s way easier when you aren’t planning on burying the person in an anomalous graveyard to raise them from the dead and equally easier when the person is cremated in an urn maybe two feet below the surface. You have to say that as much as you’re grateful for the ease of the exposure itself — not getting caught and fired was a plus — you really felt like you were missing out on an integral part of the whole grave robbing experience. When you lift your father’s urn from the ground and set it aside, you’re kind of disappointed, because you really were under the impression up to that point that you would feel some kind of regret once you had it above ground, or at least any kind of feeling at all, but you think about all the times your dad complained about how strict the Overseers were about body disposal and erasing evidence and you don’t; you just fill the hole back in, grab the urn and shovel, and walk back out. Wasn’t very exciting. Thought it would have been more interesting.

But overall, dad would have been proud.


“…Holy fuck, Draven, What did you do?”

It’s still early dark out when Draven walks in the door calling loudly for James and hauls the steel box onto the table, scattering mud and soil. He was grinning from ear to ear. James looks at him from behind the kitchen counter with a look of abstract horror.

“Draven,” he warns. “Please don’t tell me that’s what I think it is.”

“It’s dad.”

Fuck,” says James, with all his heart and soul. Draven knew he wouldn’t be behind robbing his dad’s grave, which is why he did it his own damn self.

“No no no! Not fuck. Like, hear me out here.” He knows that James loves him more than anything because he doesn’t immediately take out his phone and dial for Site Psychiatric and that means more than anything to him. He stands and crosses his arms across his chest, looking at the plain urn in front of them.

“Draven,” he starts. “This is literally fucking—”

“My dad hated the Foundation,” Draven says. “As in, he loved his job, but hated the organization, and you know something, they hated him right back. So why the fuck do they get to keep him?”

James stutters half a reply, then falters, then halts. It’s clear by how he looks at him that he doesn’t approve, and a week ago Draven wouldn’t have either. He raises an eyebrow as if to say you can’t think up a reason for me not to dig up my dead father’s urn from the site graveyard.

“…You robbed his grave,” James says, finally.

“Hell right, I did,” Draven smiles. “And I put the dirt right back where they had it and I brought him home. No one saw me. It’s like they’ll never know he’s gone. I left the gravestone.”

“What if they check?”

“Oh, a vital hole in my plan! The annual Foundation grave check to make sure the Directors are still dead. Silly me.”

“You’re testing me, Draven.”

“James, I just dug my dad up and brought him home because of something I read in a Stephen King novel, and you’re still here.”

“I know, right?” James said, a little bite in his voice. “Looks like we’re all surprising ourselves this morning.”

He paused. Draven could tell that James was starting to warm up to the idea; not hot to it, but no longer going to call site security. He smiled across the table, hands covered in mud.

“I’m lucky I’m cute, huh?” Draven finally replies, trying to warm up the silence. He wasn’t quite out of the doghouse yet, and he got a big feeling that James was cutting him some significant slack because of the grieving process already.

James smirked and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. “Oh, Draven, tonight? This? You are very lucky that you’re cute. Just one thing though.” James brought his hands down from his glasses and gestured broadly to the urn. “…What are your plans here, exactly?”

Draven felt his heart drop and his smile waver, and James must have seen it, because he smiles ruefully and crossed his arms back across his Avengers t-shirt. “Ah. You don’t have one, do you?”

“Well, I didn’t think I would get this far,” smoothed Draven.


“My general idea was to put him somewhere he would have liked. You know? Scatter the ashes somewhere.” He thinks for a moment and comes up with the first thing that comes to mind, a place his father would drive to on the rare weekends he had free, listening to Johnny Cash and NPR and whatever local Polish stations the battered Jeep could pick up. “…Łeba. On the shore of the Baltic.”

James nodded silently.

“Look,” Draven said. “You’ve…put up with a lot of my shit. And I know you don’t like it when I pull random stunts like this, but in my defense, I don’t do it often, and this one’s really, really important. So I was kind of thinking, since we have the next week off, we could like, take him and get rid of the ashes, and then just…you know.” He thought of his father’s words, whatever makes you happy. “…Go…just…do something, just you and me. Like, just go exploring for a while.” He wrings his hands and looks at the floor. “…I don’t know. I just…need to get out of here for a few days.”

He doesn’t look up, although he knows that James is looking at him, scanning him, trying to decide if this was an easy cop-out or a genuine proposition. For a stretching moment, Draven imagines himself doing this alone. It sounds fucking awful.

He hears James sigh.

“You know what? Fuck it.” James grabs his backpack and car keys. “Fuck it. Let’s go take care of your dad.”

Draven smiles, holding back tears.


A portrait of your father:

You pry the steel box open with a crowbar, and there’s your dad, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. There’s no Columbia coat, no scratched black frames or camera or worn paperback books, but he doesn’t need all that to be your dad. James looks at him through his wire-framed glasses that are a little too big for his nose and Draven looks back up at him, and James says, “Ready?” and you toss him out to the open sea so the Foundation can never have him, never really. Maybe they never had him at all.

A portrait of you:

You and James are in James’ battered Saturn as the sun rises. You’re wearing a green Columbia jacket that’s worn and torn in places — it was your father’s, but now it’s yours. James is in the passenger’s seat and you’re driving, windows down, James laughing and telling you to stop it you giant dork because you find a roundabout and go in circles around it several times in the early Sunday morning light and put the pedal to the metal when an old woman comes out on her front porch to yell at you for it. You’ve been terrified and will be again, but right now James is losing his shit because there was a turtle on the side of the road and you slam the car in reverse to look at it. You’ve been sad and you will be again, but right now James is saying that you should go to McDonalds before hitting the highway and you say hell yeah, we’re going to McDonalds, because right now the Foundation doesn’t matter and nothing can hold you back. When the dawn grey dissipates, you head onto the highway.

You’re painting a portrait of something old and something new, and everything inbetween.

Just like your father.

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