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“Dad,” he says. “Jacket.”

“What?”

“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.

“Hey.”

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 response 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 then 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?”

“-Dad-”

“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.

Draven pauses because this didn’t seem quite right. Because his father seems too tired. Because he doesn’t seem like himself tonight, on this particular night in Site-17, so Draven hooks his thumbs in the loops of his tactical belt and backs up and says instead “I’ll be right back, okay?” And he goes into the hallway and tells James that his dad isn’t feeling well and that he wants to stay and James asks if he wants some company and they have a brief discussion about that before deciding that Draven would stay and James would text him later to see if everything was okay, so he leaves and Draven goes back in the office where his dad is still alive and breathing on the cot he half lives on and he tells his father that he’ll be staying with him for the night and his dad for once doesn’t put up that much of a fight against him, doesn’t tell him otherwise, and

  • They both fall asleep and wake up in the morning and the sun rises again and they’ve both survived one more night in this god forsaken place
  • His dad waits for him to get up to go to the bathroom then shoots himself and the same thing happens
  • His dad dies in his sleep and it’s the same grief but it’s not as horrible as it could have been because he was sleeping and didn’t feel it and didn’t want it and and and
  • His dad wakes up crying and doesn’t tell him what’s wrong
  • Draven wakes up crying at a grief he feels in another life not much different than the one he lives now
  • James drives home instead of going to Draven’s on-site apartment and gets in a car accident and doesn't last until the sunrise but his father lives
  • Draven waits until his dad falls asleep and then takes the half-empty bottle of bourbon from his dad’s desk and starts a habit then and there
  • James is watching all these scenarios as yet another endless torture by an incorporeal entity at some point in the future but that's a tale for another day
  • Draven doesn’t wait for his dad to fall asleep before he calls medical and they admit his father to the site psychiatric ward where they decide that his Bipolar has progressed as it tends to do with age and he detoxes there because Draven makes him and starts taking the pink-white capsules again because Draven begs him and in a few months he goes back to work as normal and the sun rises 5000 more times for his father but he doesn’t write as much anymore
  • Draven and his dad are sleeping there when Kondraki wakes up with a start around 1am. He grabs his son’s arm where he’s sleeping in a chair next to his father’s cot and wakes him and says, kiddo, I need help. I need to get out of here and get help. So they do it quickly; his dad packs his backpack and pulls on his jacket and shoes and glasses and Draven changes out of his mobile task force armor and grabs the keys to his father’s Jeep while he’s at it. They don’t say anything. Kondraki is still drunk and sick and maybe in some state of death already from the way he leans his head on the dark passenger side window immediately, like he’s cowering or crying, Draven can’t tell which from where he sits in the site parking lot putting the car in gear. They have to pass through the checkpoint gate. Draven knows the guard and they address each other by name. They see his father curled there and also see that it isn’t in their place or time to ask further questions.
  • Draven drives them on long dark roads through the Polish countryside and realizes that his father- the man who he most expected to explode violently, like a bomb going off or something big and violent breaching containment- is breaking and doing so quietly and profoundly, like cracking ice or glass. At one point, they stop the car under bright moonlight on the side of a gravel road and his father staggers out a few feet and vomits into the snow and Draven asks him for the first time, are you sure you want to do this? And his father is shaking with his knees and palms wet and cold and says, I’m sure. They both climb back in the jeep and this time his father falls asleep with his head bowed in the early morning dark.
  • His son shakes his shoulder to wake him up when they get there. They sit in the parking lot and take inventory to maintain cover; Draven takes his Foundation ID, his keyring, his walkie talkie and pager and all the other little marks the Foundation left on his body until it’s just him, in civilian clothes, good as before he was in that hell at all. There’s the distinct realization that takes hold of both of them that his father is now outside the curtain. There’s nothing hiding who he is and no one trying to fix him. The people out here don’t know about the Foundation and don’t care about who he is and haven’t seen what he’s seen.
  • He’s just a person.
  • And Draven checks him in just like that; a person checking another person into the hospital on an early december morning. There’s a psychiatric ward with no Foundation logos or alarm bells embedded into the walls. There’s no biohazard or memetic wards. No one knows his name or calls him Director or sir. The doctors give him an exam and ask for his name and he says that it’s Ben, and they ask, Ben, what happened? And his father says that he doesn’t know, and Draven knows he’s telling the truth. He says he’s here for detox, and for mental health treatment, and they see that he’s in bad shape because they’re comparing him to other normal people with normal jobs where weighing something like 145 pounds isn’t normal for someone who’s 6 feet tall. They see how shaky and tired he is and ask how long he’s been awake and are appalled when he answers that he’s been up for over 48 hours. They stop asking him questions when he starts crying, and Draven hugs his father goodbye and they take this faceless, pastless person with a drinking problem and untreated bipolar disorder back into the depths of the site meeting room containment chamber office emergency shelter holding cell training facility research lab aviary dormitory hospital and he fights talks negotiates does paperwork takes calls translates writes designs tests repremends people speaks on the intercom takes no shit leaves no survivors initiates lockdown contacts the O5 counsel requests assistance calls for a containment team holds meetings corrects schedules answers an incredible amount of email messages his Senior Staff calls maintenance and talks behind a desk walking back and forth and back and forth in an assortment of english and polish with that damn chord as a tether divorces his wife raises a son who loves him and cares about him sleeps.
  • Draven drives back in the snow and goes to his father’s second in command, Dr. Eskobar, who actually isn’t awake at 5am but still opens the door to his site apartment at that time and Draven asks to come in and they talk about his father and about what happened and that he needed this, he needed this badly. They talk about how to lead people off the trail so no one will contact him at the hospital. They talk about how to not glaze over the fact that he’s gone, but maybe cover it up, say that he was called in for a specific emergency and they aren’t sure how long he’ll be gone. They talk about Foundation things and SCP things and all those things that don’t concern his father right now, and shouldn’t.
  • James texts him at 6am, just as Draven and Eskobar’s heart-to-heart is ending. He goes to meet him at his apartment and Draven tells him everything and they both start crying for an embarrassing but happy and relieved moment. The sun rises and the snow is still falling and soon enough the first guard shift bell rings and Draven is there, in his full tactical armor, and somehow everyone else is there too, all 1,000 of them, lined up at Site-17 against the endless front of 500 things that should not exist. It’s a give and take, and fix and break. Escobar says that Director Kondraki is off-site and people take it because it comes from the Senior Staff team, who will protect his father's privacy to the death. Bells and whistles and a million tiny moving parts go off without a hitch for the millionth sunrise in a row. It’s an incredible, buzzing force that pushes and pulls the entire Site, an immense and crushing and human-breaking force. Draven does his job, and give or take 999 other people do theirs.
  • And Director Benjamin Kondraki starts detox that morning.