who will cut our hair when we're gone?

"Hey, babe."

"Yeah?"

"When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?"

They've long since stopped paying attention to the TV, nestled close to each other under a too-small and unreasonably soft blanket. A woman demonstrating a novelty waffle iron is reflected in James's glasses as he thinks on the answer.

"A marine biologist," he mutters pensively. "Then an astronomer, then I recall in middle school I had a theoretical physics phase…"

Draven snorts, and James swats him playfully. "A theoretical physics phase. In middle school."

"Don't laugh," he groans, slumping against the couch. "And—" he cuts Draven off— "don't you dare call me a nerd either. I know you read Tolstoy at that age."

"…Not Tolstoy." He's grinning—he knows he's been had. "But… I may or may not have possibly read the works of some comparable authors, maybe."

"…Discw—"

"—Pratchett."

James sighs, good-naturedly. "That is not an apt comparison and you know it. What about you, though? About the—what you wanted to be as a kid?"

"That's easy." Draven's smile melts into something softer, more fond and wistful. "I wanted to be just like my dad."

There's tension in his shoulders, James suddenly realizes. Wordlessly, he coaxes Draven's head to rest comfortably against his chest, accommodating it in their embrace.

For now, his heart keeps beating, steady, strong and stable.


Dr. Hikari Yamada is working late, and there's a rustling by the door.

At first she doesn't react, assuming it's the overactive AC or her overworked mind seeing things that aren't there. She finishes counting her change, and then the dark thing in the corner moves. Wheezes.

Her heart goes cold.

It's human-shaped, curled into a fetal position and facing away, but it knows she's here now; it twitches, its neck spinning unnaturally. As it turns, the light reveals rows upon grotesque rows of teeth and a lolling tongue soaked with blood from an indeterminate source. Where the jaw would be on a human, there's just more teeth, piercing the skin, embedded in the cheeks down to the collarbone. A noise crawls out of its throat, a thick, watery gurgle, like the sound of someone being choked.

It's holding something. Meat. Bleeding, raw muscle.

Dr. Yamada keeps her eyes on the thing in the corner of the breakroom, wondering how she hadn't smelled the blood or heard its labored, wet breathing, and dials the emergency Containment extension. Her motions are slow, practiced, professional, a testament more to instinct than her self-discipline.

As the call connects, the beast turns. Behind matted hair and a pair of glasses with one shattered lens, it makes eye contact, and her throat goes dry with disbelieving recognition. The agent repeats himself over the phone, and instead of stating the threat and her location, she whispers a name.

"…J…James?"


Draven used to sleep like the dead. It’d been a bit of a nuisance, actually; his job doesn’t exactly allow for sluggish mornings, for anything less than a prompt response to emergency, and it was an instinct he’d had to rigorously train into his circadian rhythm. Ever since he’d gotten the call that James had gone missing, though, the ever-present pit of cold worry in his stomach has allowed him only restless, fitful nights. It’s for this reason that Draven jolts awake as soon as his phone rings, every buzz filling him with a nauseating combination of dread and tentative hope.

The caller ID shows only “RESTRICTED”, and Draven’s chest instinctively tightens in worried recognition—a breach? an accident?—and in a poorly-suppressed flutter of optimism for James’s safety. He hits what his sleep-stricken eyes are fairly certain is the “accept call” button, and he does not recognize the voice on the other end.

“Agent Kondraki?”

“Y—yes.” He’s sitting fully upright in bed now, fumbling for a shirt with his free hand. “Sir?”

“Can you travel on short notice?”

Draven’s chest goes cold. He’s never been given orders this direct; he stutters blearily for a long moment, processing. “I—uh, that’s—that is.” Freezing sweat is forming on his brow. “I— where am I needed, what’s the situation? Sir,” he asks, stupidly.

There’s a pause on the line, one that he doesn’t manage to recognize as heavy with sympathy and guilt until three hours later when he’s on the plane. “…Site-118. There’s—“ The voice on the other end of the line cuts himself off, for no immediately apparent reason.

“There’s been… a situation, with Researcher Talloran. How quickly can you get here?”

Draven does not respond. He stares at the carpet, stares at the too-small and unreasonably soft blanket draped over the foot of the bed, stares at the ring on his finger. Words fight bile for the space in his throat, and it’s all he can do to suppress a gag. James. James—

“Agent Kondraki?”

All at once, his stomach stops revolting and his mind settles into the web of fight-or-flight instincts that he’s trained into something marginally useful. His voice comes low and raw and hoarse, a tone he’s only ever used around dead bodies. “I’m on my way. Give me an ETA.”

“Five hours by air, assuming you’re—“

“I’ll be there. Four and a half.”

Draven hangs up, and grabs his keys from the nightstand, and spends the drive to the airport focusing on suppressing the urge to vomit. If he entertains any other thought, he’s certain it’ll eat him alive.

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