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The Hammond Affair

Chapter Text

Isla Nublosa is located one hundred and twenty miles west-south-west of Costa Rica's Guanacaste province. Its name means 'Isle of Clouds'; the tip of the mountain at the isle's centre is often shrouded in white. Frequent, heavy rains soon lead to the isle being lacquered in thick green forest, each verdant leaf dripping with moisture in the humid air. It is approximately fifty square miles in area, and shaped like an upside-down teardrop.

Technically, Isla Nublosa is not an island - like Hawaii, it is formed by a volcanic upthrust from the ocean floor. Unlike Hawaii, it is left unoccupied for the greater part of a century before Spanish explorers stake their claim. That's in 1921. Almost eighty years later, in 2000, BioGen Corporation buys Isla Nublosa from the Costa Ricans for the princely sum of US$100.

For eight years, Isla Nublosa remains quiet. Large cargo airplanes transport heavy crates to the island early in BioGen's occupation. Builders come with them. After that, scientists and engineers take up residence. In June 2008, BioGen Corporation sends five short, seductive emails to five top outside experts. Correspondence ensues, and within two months, the five degree-laden invitees have their bags packed and flights booked. They are off to Costa Rica.

 

*

WEDNESDAY

Dr. Peter Lewis Kingston Wentz III, D.Sc., M.Sc., Ph.D., waits impatiently at Juan Santamaria International Airport for his five guests. He has five plaquards with each invitee's name neatly penned on them. The flights are all slated to arrive within half an hour of each other - it's amazing what a little money can accomplish in a currency-starved place like Costa Rica.

As the clock ticks over to five-thirty, Pete picks up the first card and goes to stand in the little waiting area. He props the card up on the nearest seat and watches the passengers disembark. They're all shepherded down the back stairs and across the tarmac. Pete is the only one waiting.

He barely has time to wonder which is his first guest before the man himself bounds through the doors, yards ahead of his fellow flyers. Dr. Brendon Urie, M.D., M.Sc., has spent the last four months in Japan on a top-secret, highly-classified project. His rambunctious enthusiasm would have caused him grief in Japan's ultra-restrained society, Pete thinks as he stands to greet Brendon.

"Hi!" Brendon says, seizing Pete's hand and giving it a great shake. "You must be Dr. Wentz! It's such an honour to meet you, sir. I've been a fan of your work ever since the Tanizaki project."

Of course Brendon would know of that project, Pete thinks. The Japanese are probably still talking about it. Flirt with the wrong person and everything goes down in flames.

He grins at Brendon. "Let's hope this endeavour ends better than that one," he says cheerfully.

"I'm sure it will!" Brendon says. "After all, it wasn't your fault, what happened."

"Some people would disagree with you."

"I'm not one of them," Brendon says firmly.

Pete nods. "Good! You get fed tonight," he jokes.

Brendon laughs. He notices the other plaquards. "Is someone else coming?" he asks.

"Four someones," Pete informs him. "The stronger my support base for this, the better."

"For what, exactly? You weren't very forthcoming in your emails," Brendon says.

Pete claps his shoulder. "All will be revealed, Dr. Urie. Tomorrow."

By now, the other passengers have collected their bags and left. Brendon's is the only bag remaining on the truck. It's bright pink and covered in stickers from airports all over the world. Pete grins again. He has a feeling that, if Brendon likes what he sees on Isla Nublosa, there's nothing in the world that'll stop him from enthusiastically voicing Pete's praises.

In short, Brendon is just the sort of person Pete needs on his side.

Eight minutes later, the next plane arrives. It had been a hassle to get Dr. Victoria Asher, M.Sc., D.Sc., to agree to come on board, but she'd eventually capitulated - at three times the finance the other scientists had accepted. She'd come all the way from Cambridge, though, and she's possibly more well-known than even Pete, so she's worth the money.

Walking across the runway, shimmering in the heat haze, Victoria is a sight for sore eyes. Despite being an absent-minded scientist, Victoria takes superb care of herself, and never goes outside looking anything less than fabulous. Her masses of dark hair shine in the Costa Rican sunlight. The pilot himself holds the door open for her to enter the airport.

"Welcome, Dr. Asher," Pete says, holding his hand out for Victoria to shake.

"Good to be here, Dr. Wentz," she replies. Her handshake is firm, but not overly tight, he's pleased to note. She's as indomitable as all the reports say, and obviously feels no need to prove herself to him. "I hope this trip is worth it. I have important research."

"I know," he says. "I'm glad you accepted my invitation. I'm sure this sojourn will be everything you hope for."

She looks down at him over her tailor-made sunglasses. "It better be."

Pete smiles at her, and sees her weaken slightly. No one can resist his smile at full blast. He gestures behind him to Dr. Urie. "Have you met -"

Victoria interrupts him. "Urie?"

He looks up from his magazine. "Vicky-T!" he exclaims. "Hi!" Brendon stands and wraps Victoria in a massive hug. She freezes for a moment, then pats his back awkwardly.

"Hello," she says. "What -"

"Am I doing here?" Brendon cuts her off. He points to Pete. "I was invited."

Victoria looks between Brendon and Pete. "I see," she says.

"It's so great to see you!" he says, excited.

She pulls away from him, reaches into her designer handbag and pulls out a packet of cigarettes. She lights up and takes a puff before replying. "Yes," she says. "I imagine it must be."

Brendon looks hurt by her chilly manner.

Pete licks his fingers and, reaching out, puts out her cigarette. "No smoking," he says sweetly.

She looks pointedly at the guard inside the door. He's puffing like a chimney, surrounded by a haze of thick blue smoke. Still, she doesn't light up again. Instead, she goes to collect her luggage and when she returns, she sits apart from them, meticulously checking her bag to make sure nothing has been lost.

The next planes to arrive are from New York and Alberta. They land at 5.46 and 5.51 respectively, and they carry very different passengers.

New York yields Gerard Way, B.A.,B.A.. He's dressed all in black; he must be sweating in the Costa Rican heat. He doesn't let his discomfort show, however, and is as cool as a cucumber as he introduces himself to Victoria and Brendon. Pete's worked with Gerard before. When Gerard reaches Pete, the scientist hands him the pre-prepared thermos of piping hot coffee. "Costa Rican, so you know it's good," Pete says.

Gerard hums appreciatively. "It's good to see you, man," he tells him. "New York's no fun without you."

"Ah, I'm banished from the US," Pete says, waving his hand. "They don't want me anymore."

"Mikey misses you."

Pete rubs the back of his neck. "I still email him."

"Every three months, if he's lucky," Gerard snorts. "You're coming back with me after this. You need your friends around you again, Pete."

He holds up his left hand and wiggles the middle finger. A slim gold wedding band glints in the light. "I've got baggage now," Pete says.

Gerard stares at him. "You're married? No one could ever tie the great Pete Wentz down when I knew him!"

"Caught and bound, my friend, hook, line and sinker," Pete admits. "I couldn't let this one get away."

"Is she with you? Can I meet her?" Gerard asks curiously.

Pete just grins and tips him a wink. "Maybe, and only if you're good."

Then, the next plane is landing, and Pete leaves Gerard in Brendon's enthusiastic hands. The plane from Alberta disgorges very few passengers. The last off, struggling with his bulky laptop bag, is Dr. Alexander DeLeon, M.Sc., D.Sc., the wunderkind of the scientific community. He'd achieved his doctorate at the extremely tender age of twenty, making him a baby among his peers - albeit a very respected baby.

Pete hangs out by the door, sheltered by the outside awning. "Can I help you with that?" he says as Alex draws near.

"Nah, man, I've got it," Alex says. "Thanks. Are you -"

"Pete Wentz." He holds out his hand. Alex seizes it in much the same manner as Brendon had, enthusiastically pumping Pete's hand.

"It's great to be here, dude, I'm glad you emailed me! I couldn't believe it, really, when I saw your name at the end of that email. I thought it had to be fake. But then you called me, and, well, I had to believe it, right? I mean, this is just such a fantastic opportunity, to work with you."

Pete grins and leads Alex inside. Boy genius or not, he sure could talk someone's ear off. Better it be Brendon's than his. He drops Alex off with the others, letting them make their own introductions - and speculations. None of them have the slightest inkling about why they'd been brought to Costa Rica, nor about where they're going next. They're all present solely thanks to their curiosity.

The final plane lands at 5:59PM. Dr. Jonathan Walker, M.Sc., M.Sc., D.Sc., is dressed far more appropriately than any of Pete's other guests - but then, he'd come to Costa Rica from Hawaii, and knew precisely what climate to expect. He alone of the five guests know they're headed to Isla Nublosa - it was the only enticement Pete had in his arsenal for Jon. Even so, he does not know why they're headed there.

Their party complete, Pete calls his driver. Andy Hurley is not just a driver - he's also a pilot and a captain. Pete expects nothing less than the best of his employees, and Andy certainly delivers. The eight-seater people-mover rumbles right up to the airport's front door, and everyone piles in.

"Do they know yet?" Andy asks Pete in a low voice as the guests scrabble for luggage space and window seats.

Pete grins. "Not yet."

They spend the night one of San José's best hotels - the Gaia Hotel and Reserve. Its airy white rooms are a welcome retreat from the city's bustling poverty-stricken crowds. The hotel is adults only; when Victoria sees the sign in the lobby, she smirks and tips her cigarette towards Alex.

"I suppose he's sleeping in the car, then," she says.

Alex frowns.

Brendon and Pete both point to the familiar red-and-white symbol displayed on a card on the counter. "No smoking," they say at the same time.

Victoria grimaces and puts her cigarette out again.

Dinner is a fancy affair - Pete warns them that this will be the only time they get to dress up for the entire trip. They go all out; black tie and evening gown. The ties, however, don't stay tied once the wine begins to flow. Pete tips the waitress to ignore Alex's lack of ID - but she winks. "Legal drinking age is dieciocho," the woman says. Alex lights up. "Welcome to Costa Rica," she says, and fills his wine glass herself.

Brendon and Jon cheer and clap Alex on the back. Gerard grins. Victoria merely sniffs. It is several hours - and several bottles of wine shared between them - before she finally begins to loosen up.

The one thing that doesn't loosen, however, is Pete's tongue. He stays remarkably tight-lipped about their destination. "All will be revealed," he repeats over and over, that mysterious, maddening twinkle in his eye. "Patience is a virtue."

"Not one of mine!" Brendon exclaims. He and Jon clink glasses. They'd hit it off very early - united by a love of Disney. The car had been filled with their merry voices, and Alex's too, once Brendon discovered he could sing.

Gerard brings his sketchbook down to dinner. For most of the meal, it remains closed by his plate. Between the main course and dessert, he opens it and pulls a pencil from his pocket. He sets about sketching the diners as superheroes. By the time the chocolate sin mud cake - whipped cream and ice cream on the side, of course - is served, all of them are demanding copies of the fantastic artworks.

After dinner, there is more drinking, but soon the dining room closes and they must depart for their rooms. Brendon looks longingly at the pool, but announces he is far too drunk to be very bouyant, and a swim is a pleasure he'd indulge in the morning.

"Set your alarms, please," Pete says. "I'll be waiting in the dining room at ten thirty. See you in the morning." He takes the first elevator.

His guests watch as the digital display above the elevator rises up past numbers, all the way to 'P'. "P for Penthouse," Alex marvels.

"P for Pete. He probably bought a floor and named it after himself," Victoria says.

"That sounds like him, actually," Gerard admits.

Victoria takes the next elevator - she has a room on the fourth floor, while the boys are all on the third. "Do not disturb me for anything," she warns them. The doors close and she is gone.

"Like we would," Brendon mutters. "What a bitch."

Gerard flips open his sketchbook and makes a few additions to his sketch of Ice Woman. "Super-villain," he says, tipping the book so the others can see once he's done. The notable differences include a black mask and a riding crop.

Jon laughs. "I want a copy of that one, too," he says. "I've got a friend at Cambridge. He'd love to see that."

"Shall be done," Gerard says.

"It's really a remarkable resemblance," Brendon says as they move into the arrived elevator. He pauses, then says, "I think we should do something to her cigarettes."

Chapter Text

THURSDAY

In the morning, the party reunites. Victoria and Alex look the worse for wear: Victoria hiding behind her sunglasses, and Alex wincing at loud noises. Brendon and Jon are fine. Gerard had imbibed only soft drink - he'd confessed early on in the dinner that he was a recovering alcoholic. The fact that he's overcome such an addiction only redoubles Pete's belief that Gerard is the right man for this project.

At 10:35AM, the five guests hover around the laden breakfast table. Pete is already seated. He waves at the chairs. "Sit, sit," he says. "Eat. You'll need your strength."

"Are we going somewhere?" Brendon asks innocently.

Pete just grins.

The six of them tuck in to food and, feeling a lot better after they'd eaten, greet Andy cheerfully when he comes to pick them up. He's driving them to a private airstrip just outside San José where Pete's private plane awaits them. It's the tiniest little thing, barely more than wings and wheels, but it's definitely flight-worthy and has made the trip to Isla Nublosa many times.

"We're flying in this?" Victoria sneers, seeing the little plane on the runway.

"You can always stay here," Pete says. "Of course, your flight back to London doesn't leave until Sunday." Three days away. "But if you want to stay here..."

She sighs heavily. "Fine." She insists on sitting in the middle of the plane, nowhere near the windows, though. It's a twelve-seater plane, so that's entirely possible - and there's enough room for the boys to leave a circle of seats around her.

Alex leans over the back of Brendon's seat to talk to him. "Couldn't Pete have found someone else for this?" he mutters, glancing at Victoria.

"She's the best," Brendon shrugs. He grins wickedly. "Just wait 'til she tries to light up."

That makes Alex feel a little better.

On the other side of the plane, Gerard has his phone out. He's texting someone. Jon perches on the arm of his seat and tries to read the tiny screen. He gives up after a moment and says, "you should probably turn that off before we take off."

"I know," Gerard says, but he's obviously distracted. Jon does manage to catch a peek of the message as he shifts. on antoher plane. missin u. xg

Jon nudges Gerard. "Who's on the other end?"

Gerard ducks his head, embarrassed. "Just a friend."

"A friend who gets a kiss? Man, I wish I was your friend," Jon jokes easily.

"Wanna be?" Gerard says immediately. Then, "sorry, I mean, um -"

Jon laughs. He lets his fingers trail through Gerard's glossy dark hair as he drops back into his own seat, and Gerard shoves down the urge to shiver. He knows what the Tanizaki project did to Pete's reputation - he doesn't want the same thing to happen to him.

Up front, Pete slides on the co-pilot's headset and settles in next to Andy. "Have you told them yet?" Andy asks.

"Not yet," Pete says. "Seeing is believing, my friend."

"Patrick's not going to be happy," the pilot mutters.

Pete switches on the intercom. "Good -" he checks his watch, "morning, travellers. The skies are blue and there's barely a cloud to be seen. The temperature at our destination is a balmy ninety degrees Fahrenheit, so shed your winter vestments. We should be there in about an hour. Kick back and relax, people - conserve your energy for what is sure to be a fantastic couple of days."

The rest of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday morning, these people are his. He just knows that this will be a weekend they'll never forget.

He doesn't know it yet - but he's right about that.

*

Forty-five minutes into the flight, Isla Nublosa appears in the distance. It's a speck of green on a literal ocean of blue, and Pete can barely see it, but a feeling like warm butter slides through him. It's irrational, how much he loves the island, but Isla Nublosa is the only place he's felt accepted in years. He's glad BioGen hired him to spearhead this project.

He turns the intercom on again. "If you'd all like to shuffle on up to the cockpit, you'll get a glorious glimpse of our destination," he informs the guests. "Carefully, though, there isn't all that much space in here."

The five invitees file into the tiny cockpit. Andy takes the crowd with good grace, not even flinching as he's presented with an eyeful of Gerard's crotch in his peripheral vision.

"Is that an island?" Alex asks.

"Isla Nublosa," Pete says proudly. "And technically no, it's not an island."

"It's like Hawaii," Jon says. "Tectonic plates in the Earth's crust shift and move, right? That's what causes earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and like, the San José faultline in California." Seeing his audience is captive, Jon continues. "The Pacific Ocean is mainly one big tectonic plate. It's surrounded by volcanoes - the Ring of Fire," he says.

Brendon looks apprehensive. "Is Isla Nublosa a volcano?"

Jon shakes his head. "Tectonic plates have what're called hot-spots. As the plate shifts and moves, the hot-spot moves as well. Hawaii, for example, is part of an island chain formed by the tectonic plate moving over this hot-spot. It's basically a place where the crust is so thin that the magma below the rock can shoot up and erupt, just like a volcano. Tectonic plates move really slowly, so the hot-spots have more than enough time to erupt continuously and form an island."

"And Isla Nublosa's hot-spot has moved on," Pete puts in.

They're all visibly relieved.

Isla Nublosa grows larger and larger in front of them. Victoria is the first to see the anomaly. "What is that?" she asks, pointing to it. It's like a large growth sticking out of the mountain's side. It's roughly square, almost like a cage, and must be really big to be seen from this distance.

"That's the Aviary," Pete says.

Gerard looks interested. "You have birds?"

Pete smiles.

"Landing in eight minutes," Andy suddenly says.

"Head back and buckle in," Pete tells his guests, pushing at Victoria's hip. They turn their backs and leave - and not a moment too soon, because something happens that Pete really could not have explained away with a mysterious smile. A pod of creatures break the surface of the ocean just inside the seawall surrounding the island, diving merrily this way and that; they average five metres long and are absolutely not dolphins.

Pete exchanges a glance with Andy.

"Everyone buckled in?" he calls back into the cabin. They chorus in the affirmative. He reaches out and kicks the door closed, just in case. He watches the marine pod for a moment, then settles back in his seat. "Begin landing procedure."

*

The landing is smooth, and just as Pete had ordered, there are two plain black Jeeps awaiting them on the tarmac. Andy, Pete, Victoria and Alex take the first; Brendon, Jon, Gerard and a second driver take the other. The driver's name is Greta, and she has the boys wrapped around her little finger before she even starts the engine. Greta is also Pete's top veterinarian, but he doesn't tell her passengers that - and, over the closed frequency of their headsets, orders her not to tell them either.

"I don't want them guessing anything," Pete says.

Greta agrees. "It'll be a wonderful surprise," she adds.

"Exactly."

The Jeeps are open-topped, and they have no windscreens. Greta manoeuvres her Jeep side-by-side with Pete's, and Pete turns around and sits on the dash, facing his five guests. Jon and Gerard are sitting very close together, he notices; he doesn't know whether to be happy or not.

"Welcome, everyone, to Isla Nublosa," he says. "I'd like to introduce you all to each other, properly." They look at each other in surprise. Greta and Andy keep driving - carefully, so as not to jostle Pete too badly - and Pete knows he has maybe five minutes before the guests' attention is stolen from him.

He gestures to Victoria. "Dr. Victoria Asher. World-renowned - though, of course, you all are - geneticist. Dr. Asher is most famous for her work involving Dolly the sheep, and more recently, Tommy the thylacine."

"I heard about that," Greta says. "How did you manage it?"

Victoria flushes, quietly pleased. "You probably won't understand," she hedges.

Greta glances at her. "Try me."

"It was released worldwide that we had managed to restore functionality of the gene Col2A1," Victoria says, addressing everyone in the two Jeeps. "What we didn't release was that it was the final gene we needed to piece together a complete thylacine chromosome. The Australian Museum's genetic sample had been damaged - chromosome twelve was mutated beyond viability. With the restoration of Col2A1, chromosome twelve was completely rebuilt and the Museum's proposed cloning project was finally given the green light." Victoria actually smiles. "That was in January. Last month, Tommy the thylacine - Tasmanian Tiger - was born of a Tasmanian Devil mother. She's accepted him as her own young, and he's practically flourishing."

"That's amazing," says Brendon. "Why hasn't it been announced on the world stage?"

Victoria purses her lips. "Cloning is not exactly the most respected scientific pursuit."

Pete moves on. "Dr. Alex DeLeon, palaeontologist," he says, smiling at Alex. "Discovered a complete Deinonychus skeleton on holiday in Montana when he was twelve and never looked back. Dr. DeLeon finished high school at thirteen, bachelor's degree at seventeen and achieved his doctorate at twenty. Most famous for his dissertation on warm-blooded dinosaurs. It was an inspiration to me," he says to the palaeontologist.

Alex stares at him. "You read it?"

"Not only that, but I had to use a dictionary in places!" Pete grins. "I haven't had to do that for a long time."

"Wait, warm-blooded?" says Gerard, dragging his eyes from the thick forest surrounding them to look at Pete and Alex. "I thought dinosaurs were reptiles."

"They're much more closely related to birds, actually," Alex tells him. "Some dinosaurs may have even had feathers. There's evidence that many dinosaurs were very active creatures, consistent with endotherms. Ectotherms, cold-blooded animals, are generally very sluggish. Many predator dinosaurs would have had to move fast to catch their prey, like the Deinonychus," he smiles.

"Huh," says Gerard.

Alex goes on. "And in the Cretaceous Period, when the Earth's climate was beginning to cool, dinosaurs like Leaellynasaura lived in Australia and the Antarctic, where it would have been very cold during winter, and some months the sun didn't even rise. Reptiles couldn't survive in those conditions today - why do we think they could sixty-five million years ago?" he points out.

"Evolution," Victoria snorts.

"The basics stay the same even in evolution," Alex retorts.

She's too surprised to reply.

Pete is very pleased so far. Alex and Victoria are obviously very knowledgeable about their fields, and they are able to explain themselves capably and in a manner that those who don't study genetics or palaeontology for a living are able to understand.

"We also have Gerard Way," Pete says.

"Not a doctor?" Jon interrupts.

Gerard ducks his head a little.

"Gerard doesn't need a doctorate to be the best at what he does," says Pete, "and what he does is advertising. You've got your own company, haven't you, Gerard?"

"Chem Advertising," he says. "As in, the chemistry between the ad and the viewer."

The other guests all stare at him.

"Chem Advertising," Jon says. "Gerard Way. You're that Gerard Way?"

Gerard shifts a little, uncomfortable. "Guilty."

"Wow," says Alex.

"Most famous for his work involving the Jurassic Park franchise," Pete says. "The black T-rex on the red background? You're looking at the man who came up with it."

"Wow," Alex says again, a little more fervently.

Pete has the feeling that Gerard just earned himself a fan.

He glances behind him and realises he only has a couple of minutes before the clustered forest would give way to a wide open field. "Dr. Jonathan Walker," he says, drawing the attention away from Gerard, "geologist. Specifically, vulcanologist. Dr. Walker is the proponent of the Walker Collapse Theory. Would you care to explain, Dr. Walker? Briefly," he adds.

Jon smiles, calm. "Sure. It's something like the Malcolm Effect, except Dr. Malcolm specified, using Chaos Theory, that a complex system will always fail. My theory, using common sense and experience, is that all systems eventually fail."

"That's a little depressing, don't you think?" Victoria says.

"I like it," Gerard shrugs.

"How does a theory like that come to be a named phenomenon in science?" Brendon wonders. "Like - you called it the Walker Collapse Theory," he says, looking at Pete.

Jon grins. "I had a couple of very - uh, spectacular experiments. Did you hear about the equine influenza outbreak in Australia last year? The slightest deviation in quarantine procedure - that is, a couple of people not washing their hands - and there goes a billion dollars, hundreds of horses and a whole slew of jobs."

This time, Alex looks a little scared when he says, "wow."

"That's not a real experiment, though," Victoria protests. "You can't be sure that the variable you changed was the one that caused the downfall of the system. It wasn't a controlled environment."

"Still worked, didn't it?" Jon says. "The system still failed. My theory is that all systems eventually fail, no matter what."

"I can't believe no one's proposed that before," Gerard says.

"I think they did," says Victoria. "Ever hear of Murphy's Law?" She points at Brendon. "So why's Urie here?"

"Dr. Brendon Urie, M.D., is attached to the US Military. After graduating first in his class at Stanford School of Medicine, Dr. Urie was snapped up for several top-secret projects involving the US Military. Most recently he's been in Japan, but don't ask him what he did there," Pete says, grinning at Brendon, "because he can't tell you."

"You graduated first?" Victoria says.

He pulls an air of mocking arrogance over himself like a cloak. "I'm a genius."

She scoffs. "What's that got to do with anything?"

"Well, for one, House has nothing on me," Brendon says.

"He also holds a Masters in genetics," Pete tells Victoria. "Dr. Urie is an enthusiastic member of the Human Genome Project. His own genome has been entirely read," he adds.

"As of February this year," Brendon says. "I have a propensity towards male-pattern baldness, type two diabetes and Alzheimer's disease. I also have to watch out for kidney diseases and I may or may not develop rheumatoid arthritis in my mid-thirties. Luckily, that's still ten years away, and there are several preventative treatments in the experimental stage as we speak."

She looks shattered for a moment - Victoria, Pete knew, had been rejected as a candidate for the HGP, and had turned to cloning to assuage her bruised ego - then shakes her head. "You're still just a doctor. Do you have a sick kid here, or something?" she asks Pete.

"Something like that."

"So what about you guys?" Jon asks, looking at Pete and Greta and Andy.

"Zoologist and ancient historian," Pete fills in.

Greta smiles, her eyes fixed on the road ahead. "Veterinarian."

"Transportation specialist," says Andy.

"A geneticist, a palaeontologist, an advertising executive, a geologist, a doctor, a zoologist, a vet and a transportation specialist all walk into a bar. Or rather, a tropical island. What do they all have in common?" Gerard muses.

"The first five have no idea what the fuck is going on?" Brendon offers.

"A lot of 'ists'?" says Alex.

Victoria smirks. "Egos the size of China."

*

They drive for a moment more, twisting through the lush green foliage. The road is flawless blacktop, wide enough for both Jeeps to travel side-by-side the whole way. It's almost completely silent - there are no bird calls, no rustling underbrush. Because he has stopped talking, he sees that the five guests have noticed this lack of noise, and are frowning.

He feels warmth on his back, replacing the chill shade of the forest. It's time.

"So," Pete says, "you're all experts in your fields. Between you, you've seen everything this world has to offer." He looks around, and sees agreement on their faces. "What you are about to see," he says, "is not of this world. It is of a world long since past. Everyone," he says, and spins around so that he's standing on the passenger seat, facing what's to come, "welcome to Isla Nublosa."

The two Jeeps burst out into bright sunlight. The forest is left behind as the Jeeps trundle up the short, grassless hill. They crest the peak -

- and for the first time, the visitors see what they have been invited to see.

They all slowly stand up on their seats. "Oh my god," says Victoria.

Everyone has to duck as the whip-like tip of a thirteen-metre long tail sweeps over their heads. Mouths drop open as they drag their eyes along its ten-tonne pale grey body; the massive weight is supported by sturdy legs as tall as a man and twice as wide. Keratinous spines waver along the length of the back and five-metre long horizontal neck. As the giant creature swings around to face them, they see its tiny head, low nostrils and wide, blunt-toothed mouth - a mouth chomping on ferns ripped up from the spinifex plain's ground.

Brendon clears his throat. "What the fuck is that?"

Pete grins. "That, my friend, is a -"

"Diplodocus!" Alex breaks in. "The longest known dinosaur, at least from a completed skeleton, and one of the best known. It's predicted to have grown up to thirty five metres in length and may have weighed anywhere from ten to sixteen tonnes!"

"You sound," Victoria says, "like a textbook."

"A dinosaur?" Gerard looks at Pete, wide-eyed. "That's what you brought us here to see?"

"More than one!" Alex says gleefully. Eight diplodocids were spread across the spiky-grass plain, grazing peacefully. Their whipping tails lashed at the air behind them, just like the tail of the creature that had almost taken their heads off.

Brendon is quiet.

Alex starts down the hill.

"What are you doing?" Jon says, reaching out to grab him.

The little palaeontologist smiles, and its brilliance is like a mega-watt bulb. "It's okay, they're herbivores!"

"They're also bigger than a frickin' bus," Jon says, and doesn't relinquish his grip on Alex's arm.

"Jon's right," Pete says. "These girls can crush you and they'll barely even notice the stain."

"But - dinosaurs!" says Alex. "Real, live dinosaurs!"

"You'll have the chance to get up close and personal later," Pete says.

Victoria shudders. "No, thanks," she says vehemently.

"Are you kidding me?" Alex says, staring at her. "Are you not even the slightest bit curious to see how they feel? This genus of Diplodocid has been extinct for a hundred and forty million years! No one ever has been able to touch a living one. Don't you want to be one of the first?"

"Not particularly," she says.

Gerard is fumbling in the Jeep for his bag. He pulls out a digital camera. "Can I?" he asks Pete, gesturing to the closest Diplodocus.

Pete waves his hand. "Of course." Victoria retreats to sit in the Jeep with Greta and Andy, who are playing a quick round of Snap while they wait for the guests. Jon keeps his arm around Alex, who really, really wants to move down the hill and frolic.

Brendon is still quiet.

Gerard takes a couple of hesitant steps down the hillside - Alex whining about why does he get to go and I don't? - and holds up the camera, viewing the Diplodocus through the screen. After a moment, he steps back again, and again. "I can't get her all in," he eventually says.

"Set the camera to take sequence shots," Jon says. "That way you can layer the photos to make a landscape one."

Gerard looks confused. "What?"

So Jon takes over the camera and Gerard stands with Alex.

Pete comes up to Jon's side and tells him about the Diplodocus. "She's eight years old," he says. "She was the first birth on the island. I can always tell, because of that spot on her leg," he says, pointing it out. "It's a birthmark." He sounds absolutely delighted. "She's still a juvenile - still got a lot of growing to do - and she's sterile. Once, she got in a fight with her little sister over there," he points to another Diplodocus, "and broke her leg."

"Whose leg? The sister's, or hers?"

"The sister's," Pete says. "She's a fighter. I named her Prima."

Brendon butts in. "You named her?" He sounds like he can't believe what he's hearing. "Peter fucking Wentz!"

"What?" Pete says.

Brendon just makes a disgusted noise and sits down on the hard, dirt-packed ground, waiting for Jon to finish taking the photo.

Pete leaves Jon and edges closer to the doctor. "Brendon, what?"

"I just," Brendon says, and shakes his head. "There are no words for this."

Jon's finally finished with the camera. He hands it back to Gerard. Pete looks away from Brendon, upset with the doctor's reaction, and sees that they're done. He hesitates for a moment, then turns away from Brendon and claps his hands. "All right, everyone. Back in the Jeeps. Unless, of course, you want to go back to the plane?"

"Fuck no!" Alex exclaims, and scrambles into the Jeep. He's eager to see what's next. Jon and Gerard are more hesitant, but Pete had seen the curiosity in their eyes and knew they would definitely stay.

Victoria, surprisingly, opts to stay as well. So does Brendon.

With the full contingent in tow, the Jeeps turn tail and head back into the forest. They follow a different path this time, curving up to the northern part of the island. The runway is located right at the heart of the island - the only place not dangerously sloped, eroded by choppy Pacific waves, undershot by giant steam vents or enveloped in thick foliage.

The Jeeps' trail winds along the edge of the main enclosure, and finally hits the mountain. The Aviary looms high and menacing to the west. It's clearly a cage, open air but with metal netting stretched anywhere a creature might take a fancy to fly out.

"So what's in there?" Alex asks. The guests have all been relatively silent following their departure from the Diplodocid field. Pete had expected to be bombarded with questions - but, he supposes, it's a lot to take in.

"A baby Ornithocheirus simus, three Tapejara wellnoferi, and a colony of Nemicolopterus crypticus ," Pete says. "Have you had the chance to read Wang's study about the Nemicolopterus?"

"Just got through with it last week," Alex says. "Toothless, and about this big." He holds his hands ten inches apart. "Probably the smallest known adult pterosaurs. Lived in China, right? They hunted insects. That's different from other pterosaurs - most of the known genera were fish hunters, from what we can tell."

"That's right," Pete says. "Which is why we're comfortable keeping them locked up., up there." He waves at the Aviary.

"'We'?" Brendon says. "You mean you've dragged someone else into this mess?"

Pete frowns. "I haven't dragged anyone into anything."

Brendon snorts, folds his arms and refuses to say anything for the rest of the drive.

"Much as it pains me to say it, he's got a valid point," Victoria says. "Who are you working with?"

"A lot of people," Pete admits. "We've all been hired to turn this place around, make it economically and ecologically viable again."

Alex scratches his head. "Are you saying the dinosaurs were here before you were?"

Pete smiles. "That's exactly what I'm saying."

"Oh," Gerard says in the other Jeep. "That makes sense."

They look at him. He's looking down at his sketchpad, camera in hand.

"What does?" Jon asks. He slides over the seat to sit pressed close to Gerard. The ad exec looks at Jon for a moment, then shakes himself and looks around at all of them.

"You know how," he says, "in the movie Jurassic Park, the Diplodocus goes up on its hind legs to get at the vegetation on a high tree?" He mimes the shape of the animal, making a grabbing motion with his hand, then drops both forearms with a heavy whuff. "And it falls down, like that."

"If you say so," Jon says, but Alex is nodding.

"I always thought that was a load of bull," he says matter-of-factly. "I mean, it's huge, and heavy, and a tiny little tail and two legs couldn't support all that weight. Looking at this weight distribution, with the whippy tail and the super-long neck," he says, "it just makes more sense that it feeds on low vegetation." He starts to sketch a rough outline on the page. "And these spikes are very interesting," he says, "for defence?"

"That's what we think," Pete says. "Though we try to keep the predators away from the prey."

Gerard hums and is soon lost in the strokes of his pencil.

"Now that charming little aside is over," Victoria says, "who are you working with?"

"BioGen Corporation," Pete says. "Used to be called InGen."

Alex frowns. The name sounds familiar to him, but he can't quite place it. He knows that as soon as he thinks of it, he'll feel stupid for not remembering earlier, but for the life of him, he can't quite - man, it's right on the tip of his tongue... no, it's gone.

There's a sudden noise from above. After the relative silence of the island - dinosaurs, it seems, have very little to say - the guests, and even Pete and the drivers, start and look up.

A helicopter flies directly overhead. It's pure white, no logo painted on any side. Its whirring rotors are heard for another few minutes, long after the chopper disappears from their line of sight, before they abruptly die out.

"Wife's home," Andy mutters.

Pete laughs. "Better not say that to his face."

*

The Jeeps take them up the hill. At the very peak of the mountain, even higher than the Aviary, sits the Grant Hotel. It's two stories high and just as white as the helicopter. An artificial tree hangs over the edge of the roof; it's being eaten by a plastic Brachiosaurus.

"It'll be replaced by a more permanent model, of course," Pete says. "Plastic's no good here - gets beaten down by the rain."

"Rain?" Victoria says, automatically patting her hair.

"Oh, don't worry. The next predicted rainfall for the island is the twenty-fourth," says Pete. It's the fourteenth now, so they're safe.

Alex frowns at the Hotel. "Why are we -"

"Time for a presentation," Pete interrupts. "I know you'd prefer to roam free on the island, but that's tomorrow. Today, I thought I'd give you a bit of a history lesson."

"That's what you're good at," Gerard says, tucking his sketchbook back into his bag.

"I used to be a professor of ancient history at Yale, and a guest lecturer at Dartmouth and Columbia. Columbia's where I met Gerard," Pete says for the benefit of the four guests who didn't know him personally.

"Columbia's where you met Mikey," Gerard corrects him. "My little brother," he adds.

Pete grins. "Well, he came as a package deal." He hops out of the Jeep and leads the baggage-laden party up the steps. Andy and Greta fire the Jeeps' engines up again and disappear around the back of the Hotel. "Everyone got their bags? We're not going to be using the Jeeps again until tomorrow," he says.

Once he's satisfied, Pete pushes open the grand doors of the Grant Hotel; the brilliant, high-roofed lobby is revealed. Giant staircases curve a majestic arc around the edge of the round room, leading up to the luxury apartments on the second floor. On the ground floor, Pete tells them, there are the kitchens, the boardrooms, the infirmary, the surveillance facilities, the dining hall, the pool - Brendon cheers - and the cinema.

"You're all set for visitors," Jon says cheerfully. The lobby is clear of any and all dinosaur skeletons; it's minimalistic, almost. The banisters of the stairwells end in a nasty claw, though. The guests wander across the parquet floor.

Pete rubs his hands together. "It would appear that way. Now, what time is it?" he asks. "Any of you have a watch?"

"It's 12:16," Alex says. "You don't wear a watch?"

"Time's irrelevant on Isla Nublosa," Pete says. "We're so far from anywhere. Everything runs on its own schedule. If there's one thing we've learned from the past, it's that this island is especially resistant to human controls."

"What makes you say that?" Victoria wonders.

Pete tips his head. "That's part of the history lesson. The boardroom's this way. If you'll follow me?" He turns towards a door off to one side of the lobby.

Just then, footsteps resound on the floor above them. Pete stops the party in its tracks as he spins around, arms thrown wide. "Is that who I think it is?" he calls.

"Depends who you think it is," is the reply. A man appears at the top of the left-hand staircase. He's short and chubby, with fluffy reddish hair, and he's wearing an archaeologist's traditional khaki shorts and button-down shirt - as well as a trucker cap and argyle knee-socks.

"Oh," Pete says. "I was thinking Pamela Anderson."

The man snorts. "Sorry to disappoint."

Pete runs up the stairs and throws himself at the short man, who catches him easily. "You could never disappoint me, Patrick Stumph-Wentz," he tells Patrick earnestly. "Light of my life, love of my life, all my life and nothing but my life."

Patrick blushes - the five guests can see the fiery red flush even from the bottom of the stairs. "Pete," he admonishes, "we have guests."

"I don't care, and neither do they," Pete says. He cups Patrick's cheek and kisses him tenderly.

Patrick flails one arm and manages to push Pete away. "We have guests," he says again.

Pete leads Patrick down the stairs.

"This is your wife?" Gerard blurts out.

Pete chokes back a laugh. "Ix-nay on the ife-way," he says. Then, "ha. Ife-way."

Patrick cuffs Pete up the back of the head and holds his hand out for Gerard to shake. "You're Gerard Way. Pete says you've written a comic book?"

Gerard looks at him, surprised. "Uh, trying to," he stammers. He shakes Patrick's hand.

"I'm Patrick. Nice to meet you."

Patrick moves around the small group, easily charming - even Victoria is unable to help a smile when he comes to her.

He reveals that he knows about Alex's recent excavation in the Badlands, where he'd uncovered the seventy-percent complete skeleton of a sub-adult Velociraptor. He knows that Jon had been in Hawaii not for work, but for the surf; the tides were huge this year. He speaks to Victoria of her famous father, a musician, and he even knows that Victoria plays the keytar. As for Brendon, Patrick merely smiles.

"You're the one Pete didn't hire," he says.

They all do a double-take. Victoria says, "what?"

"That's right," Brendon says. "BioGen invited me to assess their endeavour at the insistence of the military. I didn't know why the general was so keen to support this project, but it's pretty obvious now," he adds, still disgusted.

"So that's why you're here," Victoria says. "You're a lackey."

"It's true I didn't invite Brendon specifically," Pete says. "But neither did I veto his inclusion on this trip, and I had every opportunity."

Patrick shakes Brendon's hand very deliberately. "It's good to have you here. Someone needs to be the voice of reason to Pete's madness." Brendon looks defensive, still, but he relaxes slightly.

Pete slides an arm around his husband's waist - their matching wedding bands glint in the light. "I thought that was your job," he says, and kisses Patrick's cheek.

Patrick just laughs. "Have you given your talk yet?" he asks Pete. "He's been practising for months," he tells the group.

"Just about to, actually."

"Mind if I sit in?"

Pete's obviously smitten. Gerard wonders how long Pete and Patrick have been married - they certainly look like they're still newlyweds. "Of course not," the zoologist says. "Everyone, let's go. We're behind time."

"I thought you said time is irrelevant on this island," says Jon.

"That's true - but I assume you all want lunch?"

"I hope there's less food than there was at breakfast," Victoria says. "I can't eat so much in one day."

"There's more," Pete says.

Patrick adds, "we spared no expense."

"Fattening us up, are you?" Gerard says. The joke falls flat, and causes most of the party to wince. Jon squeezes Gerard's shoulder, comforting, and the two of them hang at the back of the party to give Gerard a moment to patch his wounded pride.

They make their way down a long corridor. The walls are hung with paintings, detailed depictions of fifteen or twenty different types of dinosaurs. Alex has trouble recognising some of them; they're different to what he'd expected. Not that he'd actually expected to see real dinosaurs, ever! Dinosaurs! How was this even real?

Hopefully we're about to find out, he thinks, and is hot on Pete and Patrick's heels as they enter the long boardroom. Long picture windows frame the room on three sides; a glass door opposite the group leads to a balcony that juts out over the mountainside. Alex drifts towards it, only to be stopped by Pete's voice.

"Please, take a seat," he says. "You'll have a chance to investigate once I'm done."

So they all sit. Pete stands at the head of the table; Patrick sits to his right. Jon and Gerard sit next to him. Alex, Victoria and Brendon settle in on the other side of the table. They dump their bags at their feet.

"In front of you," Pete says, "you'll find a map of the island, a cell phone, and a set of keys. The cell phone has every number on the island programmed into it - including the other cell phones. You might have to swap packs," he adds, leaning across to see the name scrawled on the bag in front of Alex. "Yes, see, this is Victoria's."

They obediently swap packs. Patrick didn't have a pack in front of him; he sits quietly while the others mumble, heartfelt pride written into every inch of his face. He loves Pete very much. He wants this venture to succeed almost more than Pete does; he knows that if the Isla Nublosa project fails, then it will be a very, very long time before Pete smiles again.

"What about the keys, you might ask," says Pete. He points above his head. "One key is to your luxury apartment on the floor above us. That's the gold-edged one. The orange key is to a Jeep, parked in the garage out the back. The other six keys will unlock the six areas of the island."

"Six?" Alex echoes.

"The residential area, of course. The herbivore fields," Pete holds up his index finger, followed by the rest as he names them, "the carnivore enclosures, the Aviary, the Boardwalk, and the underground tunnels."

Jon frowns. "Why the underground tunnels? What's down there?"

"Ah, power systems, monitoring stations, animal holds. Stuff you don't need to worry about," Pete says. "But the tunnels criss-cross the entire island - you can get from one place to another without worrying about any saurian interference."

Victoria examines her map, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "So the herbivores are free roaming."

Pete nods. "Within one large enclosure."

"And the carnivores?"

"Lots of little enclosures. They'd all eat each other, otherwise," he says.

Alex looks out the window at the clear blue sky. It's obvious he wants to be out there, exploring. Pete hadn't expected anything less. "So what do they eat?"

"Sticking to the tradition of our forebears," Patrick fills in, "we breed cattle, goats, sheep and a ton of smaller birds and insects. The larger mammals we keep in our menagerie underground. The birds and insects are kept in the Aviary."

"I noticed there were no insects or birds on the rest of the island - or at least, I didn't hear any," Jon says. "How'd you manage that?"

"What do you mean, forebears?" asks Victoria.

"I wondered when you'd start with the questions," Pete says. "Here begins the lesson."

In 1920, on a bright summer's day, John Hammond was born to greengrocer parents in Glasgow, Scotland. He grew up poor but determined, and attained a scholarship to study business in England. Degree attained, he returned home to Scotland and revitalised his parents' grocery, turning it into a chain of stores spread all through the Scottish Highlands.

His hobby was building. He built a flea circus - tiny motorised circus equipment made to look like fleas were operating it - and travelled with it through the British Isles as his grocery stores, and thus he, grew richer and richer.

In the forties, after the war, Hammond travelled to America with his flea circus. The devastated cities and their poor inhabitants were entertained by him, and he devoted his life to continuing to entertain them. The grocery stores funded his newest hobby: zoos, theme parks and the like. He worked at Disneyland through its opening, and saw how, on the very first day, absolutely nothing worked - but as the days passed, the systems picked up speed and soon, the world's most famous theme park began to flourish.

In an attempt to get ahead of the competition in producing GM - genetically manufactured - crops, Hammond founded InGen. International Genetic Technologies, Incorporated, was funded by both Hammond and several major Japanese contributors. But, inspired by his daughter's fascination with dinosaurs, Hammond's sights turned from crops to advanced genetic engineering.

Here, Alex interrupts. "I've heard this all before," he says. "Though I have to say, you've filled in a lot of Crichton's gaps," he adds.

"What?" Jon says, confused.

"You mean Michael Crichton?" Pete says. He raises his eyebrows. "I should think so. After all, Mr. Crichton's confidentiality agreement did have limits."

Jon is still confused. "What?"

"Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park and The Lost World, the fictional novels about a dinosaur theme park," Alex says, stressing 'fictional'. "I guess those books, or the films, are where Pete got his inspiration. Hammond, InGen - they're not real. Wait, Grant Hotel - like Alan Grant, right? The palaeontologist in the story. He's not real, either," says Alex.

Victoria crosses her arms. "I've read those books, too, Dr. Wentz. You can't fool us. Tell me you didn't drag us all here just to lie to us," she says.

"It's not a lie," Pete says. He turns to the small table behind him and picks up a thick, bound sheaf of papers. He tosses it down the table, and it slides to a stop in front of Victoria. "That's a copy of the confidentiality agreement one Mr. Michael Crichton was required to sign in 1985 after the events of a holiday he and his family took in Central America. His niece was viciously attacked by an escaped Procompsognathus."

Patrick takes over, furthering the story. "Mr. Crichton was informed of the events that led up to the escape of the Procompsognathus from Isla Nublar, as it was then known, by the Costa Rican authorities - an information exchange that was not authorised by InGen. He turned the events into a work of fiction."

"It's all real?" Alex says, hushed. "All of it?"

"It is," Pete says.

"I never saw Jurassic Park or read the book," says Jon. "Can someone fill me in?"

Alex leans across the table. "John Hammond and a team of genetic scientists uncovered a one hundred million year old female mosquito trapped in fossilised amber. They extracted its blood and discovered that the mosquito's last meal had been one of dinosaur blood. Several other mosquitos - fifteen in all - were recovered, all with different dinosaur DNA."

Victoria chimes in. "The scientists pioneered a method of bringing the dinosaurs back to life. They used frog DNA to fill in the gaps in the genetic sequence - a hundred million years leaves nothing untouched - and managed to produce viable dinosaur eggs. Something that was never fully explained," she says pointedly.

"Hammond decided to profit from the scientific discovery," says Pete. "He rented Isla Nublar from the Costa Ricans and intended to turn it into a theme park. The nearby Isla Sorna and its companion islands were turned into a breeding ground and nursery for the dinosaurs, and Isla Nublar into the exhibition ground. But the park needed to be approved by the experts before it could be opened."

"So," Patrick says, picking up the thread, "Hammond hired Dr. Allen Grant, Dr. Ellie Sattler and Dr. Ian Malcolm to visit Isla Nublar and assess it. Things went horribly wrong - corporate espionage led to the park's security system being shut down, and all the fences, which were supposed to be electrified, were rendered useless."

It's Alex's turn again. "The dinosaurs escaped their cages. Grant, Sattler, Malcolm and several others - including Hammond's two grandchildren, visiting the island so Hammond can test-run the tour on its target audience, and Hammond himself - were forced to spend two whole days on the run from an adult Tyrannosaurus rex and a pack of Velociraptors. Three people died. The park was declared a lost cause and abandoned."

"So the dinosaurs were given free reign of the island?" Gerard says, fascinated by the idea.

"Not quite," says Pete. "Dr. Henry Wu, Hammond's chief geneticist, engineered a lysine deficiency into the dinosaurs' genetic code. They were thus unable to produce it on their own and relied wholly on lysine doses once every seven days. They were supposed to die after a week."

"What happened? They're obviously still alive," Jon says. "I mean, we saw them."

Alex grins. "The dinosaurs adapted. The herbivores developed a lysine-rich diet, lots of soy and stuff like that. And, well, the carnivores ate the herbivores, so their diet was lysine-rich as well. They didn't die. That was covered in The Lost World, the second book and film."

"Which was all about Site B, Isla Sorna," Pete informs them. He points out the window. "About eighty miles that way, if you're interested in a swim."

They all laugh, except for Brendon.

"So it's real," Alex says again.

"It's real. For the most part," Pete says.

"What's not real, then? What did Crichton make up?"

Pete grimaces.

Patrick's voice is quiet. "The part where everyone survived."

A sombre mood settles on the small group.

"They all died?"

"Except Ian Malcolm and Alexis Hammond," Pete says. "Both of whom are on my team."

"Technically, you're on Lexie's team," Patrick says.

"Well," Pete says. "Yes."

"Ian Malcolm," Jon says. "The Ian Malcolm. The Malcolm Effect Ian Malcolm."

"The one and only," Pete says.

"Is he here? Can I meet him?"

Pete shakes his head. "He's not here. He stays in California, mostly, with his family. He never came back after what happened on Isla Sorna. He's got a vested interest in seeing this project through, though - Dr. Malcolm wants to see if we manage to fuck up this time as well. I think there's a bet?" he says, looking at Patrick.

"Between him and Spencer," Patrick agrees. "Dr. Spencer Smith, Malcolm's research assistant," he explains for the group. "He's Malcolm's eyes and ears here on Isla Nublosa."

Alex props his chin on his hand. "I thought it was called Isla Nublar."

"New project, new name, new start," Pete says. "Nublar was grammatically incorrect, anyway."

"So what's happening now?" Alex asks. "Why are we here?"

"BioGen - which is what Lexie, Alexis Hammond, renamed InGen after she took over - wants to assess Isla Nublosa's viability. They have a contract with the US Military," Pete says, looking at Brendon. "Dr. Urie? Care to explain?"

Reluctantly, Brendon speaks. "The military wants a new weapon. America's in more danger than ever," he says. "We've got more enemies than Captain Planet. Foot soldiers are all well and good, but they die too easily, so that's out. Other countries generally have better weapons because they don't waste money on things like education and the economy, and the one area where we're superior - well, we'd like to avoid a nuclear war if it's at all possible." Every word out of his mouth is like poison to Brendon; he visibly pales and hunches in on himself. It's clear that he's reciting the company line, so to speak - saying what's been said to him.

"A new weapon," Alex says.

"And what could be better than a Tyrannosaurus rex?" Pete says, smiling tightly. "Or a couple of Velociraptors, though I think they might be a little too smart to be shepherded into military service."

Alex looks stunned. "You can't honestly -"

"I don't want to discuss it," Pete interrupts. "Dr. Urie is here to assess Isla Nublosa for the military. The four of you are here," he says, gesturing to the others, "to enjoy the miracle of saurian life."

"That's the only reason," Jon deadpans.

"That's the only reason," Pete echoes.

The geologist shakes his head. "Why do I not believe you?"

"I'm sure Pete's got his reasons for keeping things from us," Gerard says. "He's always got reasons."

Pete looks at him, surprised to receive support from this unexpected quarter. Then again, maybe it's not quite so unexpected. Pete and Mikey's break-up hadn't been unfriendly - Gerard has no reason to dislike Pete.

And he does have his reasons.

"All right," Pete says. "So now you know everything you need to know. Does anyone want to leave? Keep in mind that the plane's refuelling and maintenance will ground it until tomorrow morning, and the helicopter was not designed to reach the mainland. You can stay here, at the Hotel, until departure is possible."

Victoria sits back in her chair. "I don't think I want to stay here."

"Can we tempt you with a tour of the science facility?" Patrick asks.

She hesitates, then shakes her head. "I just - this is pointless. I have work I could be doing. I haven't taken a vacation in six years, and I don't intend to start now."

"If you say so, Dr. Asher," says Pete. "Your room is the first on the left, upstairs. We can have lunch, dinner and breakfast tomorrow delivered to your room."

"Yes, thank you." She picks up her things - map, cell phone, keys, bag - and heads out of the boardroom.

"Don't let the door hit you on the way out," Jon mutters.

"Ice Woman," Gerard adds.

Her shoulders visibly stiffen and she slams the door behind her.

"I wish she'd had a cigarette in the Jeep," Alex says.

Pete looks between them. "Why?"

"I spiked them with my hair dye," says Gerard. "Non-toxic, but they'll turn her lips black for days."

"Why'd you do that?" Patrick asks.

Brendon shrugs. "She's a bitch."

The other four choose to stay. They, Pete and Patrick dine together in the hall - painted to precisely resemble the dining hall from Jurassic Park, with life-size dinosaur renderings adorning the forest-painted walls - and after lunch, the visitors are introduced to the island's skeleton crew.

"Usually, we have a team of about two hundred working here," Pete says as they make their way to the meet-and-greet centre. "But most of them decided to take the weekend off so you guys could have the full benefit of the wild."

"How nice," Jon says. "Paid holiday?"

"Of course. That's another thing we spared no expense on," Pete says. "It was staff dissatisfaction which caused Isla Nublar's downfall. Our employees are all highly-paid, highly-motivated, and all around happy as Larry."

"And we listen to any and all complaints," Patrick adds. "Ms. Hammond has dealt with several problems herself. We're very approachable, and open to ideas."

"Like dinosaur super-soldiers," Alex mutters.

There's no possible reply to that.

*

The skeleton crew consists of fourteen people; Pete, Patrick, Andy, Greta and ten others. However, there are only two people in the meet-and-greet centre.

"Where's everyone else?" Pete asks a white-coated young man with bright blue eyes and insanely seductive hips.

"With the Ornithocheirus," the guy says, irritation emphasised by the jut of his pretty hips. "Where we should be."

"Spence," says the second white-coat, sounding disapproving. This guy looks like he's twelve years old, with a messy bowl haircut and clothes that don't fit.

'Spence' glares at his companion and crosses his arms. "So this is them?" he asks, looking the visitors, now reduced to four, up and down. His gaze lingers on Brendon, but the doctor doesn't notice. "I thought you said there were five."

"Dr. Asher has elected to leave tomorrow," Pete says, "and will stay in her room for the rest of the day."

"Victoria Asher, the geneticist?" the second scientist enquires. He looks disappointed. "I wanted to meet her."

"You'll have to be content with these guys," Pete says. "They're a pretty stellar bunch."

"Stellar?" Patrick echoes plaintively. "Pete. The sixties called to say they want their slang back."

Pete, as usual, just grins.

"This is Dr. Spencer Smith," he says, introducing the blue-eyed scientist. "A double doctor, as we say. Computer Theory and Practice from -" he breaks off and looks at Spencer.

"UNLV," Spencer supplies. "And Applied Math from CalTech."

"Dr. Smith is Dr. Malcolm's research assistant," Pete reiterates. "Anything he sees or hears eventually makes its way back to Ian, so try to say only nice things about me," he says, managing to be totally charming.

Spencer looks them over again. "Walker, Way, Urie and DeLeon," he says, pointing to each in turn. "Right?"

They nod.

"I'll remember your names, I expect you to remember mine, and I also expect that you'll know not to both me if I'm sitting at a computer looking even mildly interested in what I'm doing," he says. "Whatever it is, it's probably vital to the survival of the island or your own selves. If that's all," he looks at Pete, who nods, "then I'm going back to the Aviary."

He turns and, white coat flying out behind him, leaves.

"Spencer's got a way with words. I'd apologise for him," says the second white-coat, "but he's probably right. It's best not to bother him at all if you can help it."

"This is Dr. Ryan Ross," Pete says. "He's my research assistant, but I poached him from Dr. Malcolm."

"Only because Ian wanted to send me to Africa with Dr. Harding and I wanted to stay with Spencer," Ryan points out.

"What's your doctorate in?" Alex asks, ever curious.

"Physiological psychology," he says.

They all look completely lost, except Brendon, who, being a doctor and having done time interning in a psych ward, looks only vaguely lost.

"It's also called cognitive neuroscience," Ryan explains. "I study brain-behaviour relationships. Basically, which part of the brain does what, and what happens if I change something in the brain. Mostly, I've worked with rats. Dinosaurs are an... interesting change."

"A lot bigger, for one," says Gerard. "I couldn't fit a Diplodocus in my camera scope."

"Far more complex brains, is what I meant," Ryan corrects him, his voice bland. "But you're in advertising. It's all about the appearance for you, isn't it?"

Gerard looks taken aback.

"I'm going over to the Aviary as well," Ryan tells Pete, who waves his hand in a go-ahead gesture. "Pleasure meeting you," he says to the group.

"Tell them we'll be there soon," Pete calls after Ryan as he leaves.

Ryan flicks his fingers over his shoulder and disappears through a set of double doors. They lead out to a wooden patio, to steps and a rocky path that shoots immediately into the forest. The guests can only assume it leads to the Aviary, as Spencer had gone that way as well.

"Those two combined are bitchier than even Victoria," Jon says contemplatively.

"I didn't think that was possible," Alex says.

"We're an isolated society," Patrick says. "Most of our scientists are here because nowhere else will have them." He doesn't add that Pete has a bad habit for taking in strays since he is one himself. "They don't take well to outsiders."

"What's wrong with the Orno- Orni-" Gerard breaks off.

"Ornithocheirus?" Pete says. "She's eaten something that doesn't agree with her, and we've got all hands working around the clock to find out what. Want to have a look?"

"Yes," Brendon immediately says. "That's why I'm here, isn't it, instead of one of the colonels? They could have sent anyone, but they chose me. Your sick dinosaur is why."

"It may have been an influence," says Pete.

"I'll come. I need to take more pictures," Gerard says. "Seeing is believing in advertising."

Alex grins. "I want to see more dinosaurs."

"I thought you'd say that." Pete grins back. "What about you?" he asks Jon. "What'll pique your interest?"

"I want to see how you've pulled off the Aviary," Jon confesses. "It didn't look stable."

"As you wish," Pete says. "You can all put your things up in your rooms first, if you want. We're in no hurry."

"Time is irrelevant on Isla Nublosa," Jon says.

Pete claps his hands together. "You're starting to get it."

*

There are twelve luxury apartments on Grant Hotel's second floor. Pete and Patrick share one. Ian Malcolm's apartment is dusty from neglect. Alexis Hammond rooms with the scientists when she's in residence. The others have all been meticulously cleaned in readiness for Pete's guests, even though there are five people and ten rooms.

The scientists and Ms. Hammond live either underground - the suites down there are extensive and easily personalised - or in the treehouses built on the north side of the mountain, depending on the time of year. During the dry season, the treehouses are open to the breezes that cool off the hot days and nights, and every last one of them has a sea view millionaires would pay their entire fortunes to own.

The treehouses and Hotel are enclosed within a concrete fence lined with electrified wire. There are two doors in the fence's perimeter; each guest has copies of the keys that unlock them. One door leads to the main road - the other to the Aviary. The Aviary would be today's entertainment.

While the guests organise their rooms, Pete and Patrick wait out on the landing. "Are you absolutely sure that this is the only way?" Patrick asks Pete. "We can still fly them out tonight if we have to."

"To where?" Pete says. "Isla Sorna by helicopter? Because that would go down well. I wasn't kidding when I said the plane's down for maintenance - Andy told me on the flight to Costa Rica that it needed some repairs."

"So we're stuck here?" Patrick shoves at Pete. "That was smart. I told you we should have bought another plane."

"It's fine," Pete says, stepping up to Patrick and wrapping his arms around his husband. "It's all fine. I'm sure this is the right way to go."

Patrick sighs. "What if they're not convinced?"

"If they're not convinced by tomorrow night, then there's still Saturday," Pete says. "This trip can either be really good, or really bad. Either way, the US Military will not be getting their moronic hands on these dinosaurs."

"No one is going to die," Patrick says.

Pete sighs. "Patrick."

"No one is going to die," Patrick repeats forcefully. "That's the one condition Lexie had. She gives us full reign of the island in order to nullify this contract, and as long as no one dies we're good, or else -"

"Or else we shack up in some non-extraditionary country with a nice climate and electricity and lots of smiling people who don't ask any questions," Pete says.

Patrick sighs. This is an argument they've had before. "Electricity, huh."

Pete tweaks Patrick's nose. "Yeah, electricity. How else am I going to have an electric blanket to break so I have an excuse to snuggle up to you at night?"

Patrick looks at Pete for a moment. "I was going to say something really sugary just then, like 'you don't need an excuse', but then I remembered exactly how many extra limbs you seem to grow at night and how they all end up kneeing me in the bladder or dick."

"Not all limbs have knees," Pete points out. "And it's not always a limb on your dick when you wake up."

"Yeah," Patrick agrees. "On the good days, it's Angelina Jolie."

Pete blows a raspberry at him.

The guests shuffle out of their rooms at this point. Jon's brushed his teeth and Gerard's eyeliner is darker than before. Brendon looks more cheerful now, like he's told himself to buck up and enjoy what boils down to every six-year-old's dream of playing with dinosaurs. Alex is obviously relieved to have his laptop off his shoulders, but he's still got his bulging messenger bag.

"Are we all ready?" Pete says.

"Definitely!" Alex chirps. He's echoed by the others' affirmatives, and they follow Pete and Patrick down the stairs and out the back door like eager ducklings.

Upstairs, Victoria drops her hand from the knob of her door and thinks about what she just heard.

*

The rocky path Ryan and Spencer had tread before them takes them on a meandering tour of Isla Nublosa's greenery. There's not a patch of real grass anywhere - Alex is happy to inform them that grass evolved probably only one hundred million years ago, and even then, individual blades would have been several metres tall.

"Only a hundred million years?" Gerard says. "That sounds like a pretty long time to me."

"The Earth itself is approximately four point five billion years old," Jon points out. "A hundred million's peanuts compared to that."

"So, no grass in the promo material," Gerard says to Pete.

"No grass," he agrees. "Actually, Alex and Jon will probably be the best possible resources for information on what to depict," Pete says. "Jon knows the land and Alex knows the dinosaurs."

Jon bumps Gerard's shoulders. "Happy to offer my services," he says.

Gerard glances at Jon, sees the geologist's sly grin, and feels himself start to blush again. Uncool, uncool, uncool, he tells himself, and tries to think of ice and winter and other cold things to douse his steaming cheeks. It doesn't quite work - but what Gerard doesn't know is that Jon thinks his red cheeks are kind of adorable.

Suddenly, an inhuman shriek streaks the air. Brendon ducks, hands over his head, and the others are startled, but Pete and Patrick grin. "They've been fairly quiet today. I was wondering when they were going to say hello."

"Say 'hello'?" Brendon repeats, slowly straightening up.

The same shriek comes again, ripping through their ears, and it's followed by a chorus of shrieks in different pitches. It's an honest-to-god cacophony of noise, and everyone's got their hands clapped to their ears - except Pete and Patrick, who produced earplugs from their pockets and are smiling calmly.

Soon enough, it falls silent again.

"What was that?" Gerard asks, digging his finger into his ear to try and stop the ringing. Pete and Patrick remove their earplugs.

"Those were our Nemicolopterus crypticus being fed," Pete says. "Every three hours or so, we release a hoard of bugs into the Aviary, and the Nemicolopterus chase them. They shriek when they catch their first one. We think it's something like a competition for them - the first one to catch the food becomes colony leader until the next feeding."

"That's amazing," Alex says. "Like a game?"

"That's what we think," Pete says, and he sounds almost proud. "Our colony's only very young. We have three sub-adults and forty-two juveniles."

"Why so many juveniles?" asks Brendon.

"The question you should be asking is, why so few sub-adults," Pete tells him. "When they're juveniles, they're coloured all black and they seem to have some kind of pack instinct telling them to protect each other. Once they reach sub-adulthood, vivid colours bloom all over their wings."

"So they can see each other against the foliage," Alex says. He's fascinated. "Feeding time."

"Exactly," Pete affirms.

Jon frowns. "What?"

"The new sub-adults hunt and eat each other," Pete says.

He blinks. "Why the hell do they do that?"

"We believe it's to keep colony numbers at a manageable level," Pete replies. "Otherwise there would be too many mouths to feed. A full colony has two adults, an alpha male and alpha female, who produce all the juveniles of the colony, and then between two and ten sub-adults who protect the colony."

"It's kind of like bees," Alex says, scratching his head. "That's cool."

Jon still looks disbelieving. "Two adults producing forty juveniles? That's a lot of sex."

Pete and Patrick laugh. "The alpha female lays a hundred eggs at a time," Pete says.

It's Jon's turn to nurse wounded pride. He falls to the back of the party and, to return the favour from earlier, Gerard drops back with him. It's a subtle drop back, though, and Jon doesn't even notice Gerard's with him until he's next to him. Gerard gives him a tentative smile, and bumps their shoulders together. Jon likes his smile.

"Wow, really?" Alex says. "Did the rest of the eggs just not hatch? Or -"

"Oh, they hatched," Pete interrupts. "Vicious little brutes."

Alex's eyes widen. "What happened?"

"Ninety-six eggs hatched and ninety-six babies found their first meal," Pete says. "We weren't watching closely enough and we missed the hatching. The babies converged on the adults. We've got footage of what happened, if you want to see it?"

"That'd be awesome," Alex says. "I take it the adults fought back, and that's why there's only forty juveniles alive? But they won, so there are no adults."

"That's it," Pete says. "Once the sub-adults mature, there'll be a battle between the two females for the top job, leaving only one alive. The alpha male and female will have a new litter, who'll eat them once they hatch. Once the juveniles mature, they'll battle it out, leaving only a fraction alive to guard the colony and wait to become adults."

Patrick speaks up. "A vicious cycle."

"For sure," Alex says.

"Can the Nemi - Nemicolopterus," Brendon says hesitantly, "can they be trained to attack a specific target?"

Pete's expression is momentarily frozen, then melts into his usual charming smile. "That's not my problem," he says.

Brendon nods. He looks, maybe, a little relieved.

"Look," Patrick says, pointing ahead. "There's the Aviary."

Alex runs ahead of the group, down the wide log steps. He almost slips on the loose stones, but catches himself like he's used to his own clumsiness. He comes to a stop by the door, bouncing on the balls of his feet. The door is solid steel; the wire bars of the Aviary hook into it, and the super-fine thick mesh is actually soldered into the doorframe, so there's no chance of a gap where an entrepeneurial pterasaur could eke through.

"No door handle?" Alex says as the others catch up to him.

"Yeah, we learned our lesson," Pete grins.

Gerard whips out his sketchbook and does a quick, messy drawing of the door. "So I can remember," he explains. Jon slides his hand into Gerard's messenger bag - very similar to Alex's, but no doubt carrying very different tools - and pulls out his camera. He takes a shot of the page.

"That way," he says, "you won't ever forget. Graphite fades; photos are forever."

Gerard stares at him. "Uh, thanks," he finally remembers to say.

Jon winks at him.

"Are we ready?" Pete asks. He punches a code into the keypad and the door unlocks with a hydraulic hiss.

"I don't know about you guys," Alex says, looking at the other three visitors, "but I've never been more ready."

They enter the Aviary.

*

Inside, the world is dark and green. Their footsteps clack on the white tiled floor; it's the only noise. There's no sunlight - they're walking along a very narrow corridor that rises only just above their heads. It's artificially lit, and the walls are dirty, dark green. "So where are the, uh," Jon says.

"Dinosaurs," Alex finishes. He looks a little disappointed; he'd been expecting a jungle paradise, perhaps, with the avians flying free.

They come to a door. Pete punches in another code, and there's another hiss of air. "Right through here." He pushes the door open and marches on through.

Alex gets his wish.

The door grants them access to a magnificent rock-cliff jungle. Mast crunches underneath their feet, bark and leaves fallen from real trees stretching over their heads. The mountainside slopes gently down, away from them. It's just like the world outside - but a darker, richer green, and thick with shadows. The limits of the Aviary are obvious: far below, a solid metal floor juts out from the mountain; to the right, the left and high above, thick metal bars stretched with fine green mesh block out the sunlight. In a word, it's massive. Huge UV lamps hang from the roof; it's actually warmer inside than outside.

"The Aviary's a full mile wide," Pete says, "curving around the side of the mountain, mostly. It sticks out half a mile from the mountainside, too, and is half a mile top to bottom. There's three sections - a small one for the Nemicolopterus, and two large ones for the Tapejara and the Ornithocheirus."

Gerard's glad Jon got his camera out - the geologist is busy snapping pictures of the verdant vista. He wonders if Jon even remembers it's Gerard's camera, at this point. Jon just seems taken in by the scenery.

"Which one is this?" Brendon asks.

"This is the Ornithocheirus habitat."

Brendon's sour when he asks, "have you named her, too?"

"Kiara," Pete says. Brendon makes a noise of disbelief and shakes his head. Pete goes on, "when she grows up, she'll have a twelve metre wingspan. That's taller than a double-decker bus. Her ancestors used to roam the world - she'll have to be content with the Aviary, along with trips to the almost fully contained Isla Pena, Sorna's neighbour."

"Almost?" Alex echoes.

Pete shrugs. "It's an island. We couldn't build a cage over the whole thing."

"We tried," Patrick says.

Pete grins, as if remembering something funny, but shakes his head. "She's this way. Dr. Urie?" Pete gestures for Brendon to go ahead. "Right along the path."

The military doctor trots on ahead.

"Anyone have any questions?" Pete asks the other visitors. "I'm more than happy to answer them."

"Not right - not right now," Alex says. "I don't think. Give me a minute."

Gerard and Jon look up from the camera and say, together, "huh?"

*

The medical facility is inside the mountain. It's actually part of the underground tunnel system. Everything is sterile silver and grey once Brendon gets past a particular door. He definitely thinks he should be washing his hands and donning scrubs or something to promote cleanliness, but so far he hasn't actually seen anyone.

Then he hears a noise, a sort of soft whimper, but unlike any whimper he's ever heard before. He looks around, but he's alone in the corridor. Pete, Patrick and the other guests had stayed outside in the Aviary to join in the hunt for what was making Kiara the Ornithocheirus sick, and meet the other scientists. He's alone - but obviously he's not, because duh, he didn't make that noise.

He thinks the noise came from down that corridor, so he ventures down it. About halfway along, he can see a large, plate-glass window set into the wall. He heads for it.

"Oh," Brendon says helplessly.

On the other side of the window, there is a holding cell. It's a simple six-by-six cage; it has to be that large so the creature inside it can take more than a step in any direction. Not that she looks like she'll be stepping much.

The baby Ornithocheirus' wingspan is a full metre already, and her beak - is it a beak? Maybe a snout - is easily half a metre in length. Her massive wings end in claws, and taper to a point behind her. He can see that she's supposed to be much more brown than the sickly yellow-grey painting her leathery skin. She's standing on her feet using the wing-claws for balance, but she's swaying and clacking her snout.

His heart almost explodes from sympathy, and he wishes that he was here, like the others, to enjoy the dinosaurs' existence, not to assess them as weapons. Now he's seen Kiara - she looks like a Kiara - he'll never be able to give an impartial report to his superiors.

Brendon slips through the door next to the window and comes into the room. He's outside the cage, and is very glad for that fact, because as soon as she scents him, nostrils flaring on either side of the bony crest on her snout, she throws herself at the cage bars. She batters them, as hard as she can, clucking throatily and snapping her snout.

He freezes for a moment, then steps right up to the cage. "Shh," he says. "Shh, you'll hurt yourself. Stop it, Kiara. Stop it," he says firmly. At the sound of her name, Kiara actually hesitates. She holds still long enough for Brendon to offer his hand; he waves it near her nostrils so she can become accustomed to his scent. It's what he does with dogs - Brendon's not sure if this is exactly the same thing, but it's worth a try.

"Uh, you might not -" someone says. "Well, I'll be damned."

Brendon can't look away from Kiara; it's amazing. She's actually nuzzling his hand. The very tip of her snout is bony and hard. She clacks her jaw again, but it's more of a fond sound this time - not that Brendon has experienced many fond sounds from dinosaurs.

The someone comes to stand beside him. He's about Brendon's height, with wistful brown eyes, olive skin and a sideswept fringe. "She usually bites people who are stupid enough to do that," the man says, pushing his black-frame glasses up his face and leaning in closer to where Kiara is still nuzzling Brendon's hand through the bars.

Sure enough, Kiara breaks away from Brendon and snaps at the man's nose. He jerks back and laughs.

"Why does she like me, then?" Brendon wonders, dropping his hand back by his side.

"Maybe she thinks you can help her feel better. She likes Greta, too," the man says. He pulls his glasses off and cleans them. "You're Dr. Urie, right?"

Brendon nods. "And you're..."

"Alex Suarez." He shakes Brendon's hand. "Palaeobotanist. It's my fault she's sick," he sighs, "so I'm the one who stays with her. She doesn't like me at all," he says mournfully. "It's like she knows."

But Brendon's not so sure. "Are you absolutely sure it's something in her diet?" he wonders.

"Pretty sure," says Alex. Wait, DeLeon is Alex, Brendon thinks. So, this guy is Suarez. "She's throwing up anything she eats, if she eats it at all, and she's listless. She's off-colour, obviously, and her gums are inflamed."

"But her pupils aren't dilated," Brendon points out. "Her breath smells relatively clean," aside from the smell of vomit, of course. "She's not intoxicated. Has she got abdominal cramps? Diarrhoea?"

Suarez shakes his head slowly. "That's what's curious. But we thought it was just because - you know, she's a dinosaur," he says. "We're studying her to find out about her physiology."

Brendon rubs his chin thoughtfully, and crouches down by the cage. Kiara huddles in close to him, sticking her long snout through the bars. "How fast is she growing, do you think? Say, in comparison to a human?"

The palaeobotanist looks surprised. "Greta says she's only a toddler. She's going to grow much larger than this."

"A toddler, huh," Brendon says. Carefully, he strokes Kiara's snout. She gives a soft, throaty cluck, as if she likes the touch. "I don't suppose..." He taps the tip of her snout, and her jaw falls open. He runs his finger along her bottom jaw, and says, "ah."

Suarez crouches down next to him. "What?"

"I think," Brendon says, then pauses. "I think she's teething."

*

"Hey there," Pete calls. He skips down the rock-cut path towards a skinny, white-coated figure. His group follows slowly, and when they reach Pete and this new person, Pete's scratching his head and the other guy is shrugging his scarily thin, bony shoulders. "Guys, I'd like you to meet Dr. William Beckett," Pete says. "Bill, these are Drs. Alex DeLeon and Jon Walker, and Gerard Way. Dr. Beckett is my business manager," he tells them.

"Secretary," William says darkly. "A D.B.A. from U.C. and I'm a secretary for Dino Boy."

"That's Mr. Dino Boy to you, and I don't hear you complaining when you're looking at your account balance," Pete says.

William shrugs elegantly. "Are you coming or not?" he says, and sweeps through the small group, back up the path they'd just descended.

"Dr. Beckett told me," Pete says as he ushers the guests after William, "that Dr. Blackinton says Dr. Suarez says Dr. Urie has figured out - within two minutes of sitting with the patient - what is making our Kiara sick. And Dr. Salpeter says he's probably right."

Alex looks surprised. "Within two minutes?"

"House really does have nothing on him," Jon says. "So what's wrong with, uh, her?"

"I don't know," says Pete. "Let's go see."

When they reach the cell where Kiara the Ornithocheirus is being held, what they see is something of a shock. There's a crowd of white-coats surrounding Brendon, slapping him on the back and conducting impromptu cheers. Greta's sitting inside the cage with Kiara, offering her a tough chew toy. Kiara seizes it in her massive snout: a bout of tug-o'-war ensues.

Pete stops in the doorway and the others bunch up behind him. "What's up, doc?" Pete says.

Brendon looks up. His face is flushed and he's grinning - his eyes are sparkling. He's as exuberant as he was when Pete first met him at the airport. It's like all of the suspicion the others heaped on him when his employers were revealed has somehow melted away, leaving him his old self again. "She's teething," he says, grinning. "She's just teething."

They pile into the room. Pete shakes Brendon's hand. "Thank you," he says. "You didn't have to -"

"Yeah, I did," Brendon interrupts. "It's what you brought me here for, right?"

Pete looks at him for a moment, then says, "right."

With that, Patrick, Jon and Gerard all offer their congratulations. Greta has beckoned Alex inside the cage by now - he's taken over co-custody of the chew toy, and Kiara, even though she's still weak, is tugging him back and forth.

"I didn't even think of teething," Greta says, standing up and brushing off her khaki shorts. "I should have. The Tapejara went through this last year. It was just that the symptoms were so different," she shrugs. She accepts a syringe from a short guy with SISKY BIZ written across the back of his white coat. "Thanks. Now we know what's causing her pain, we can administer a variant of the same drug we gave the Tapejara."

"What'll it do?" Brendon asks.

"Oh, just, numb her mouth," Greta says. "Open up, Kiara," she adds, squeezing the Ornithocheirus' lower jaw. Kiara's mouth drops open obediently. "Keep her still," she says to Alex as she guides the syringe into the pterosaur's mouth and slides it into her inflamed gums. Kiara flaps her wings, and Alex hurriedly wraps his arms around her, trying to keep her steady so the syringe doesn't tear at her mouth.

He cups her snout in one hand and holds her wings down with the other. He's very gentle - the membrane stretching across her wings is little more than skin and blood vessels. His ear ends up pressed against her neck in an awkward position. "I can hear her heartbeat," he says, and there's wonder in his voice. He doesn't even notice how uncomfortable he actually is; all that matters is that he can hear an Ornithocheirus' heartbeat.

"Amazing, isn't it," Greta says, accepting a second syringe from the Sisky Biz scientist and numbing the other side of Kiara's mouth. The baby Ornithocheirus slowly calms down, and she clacks her snout sleepily.

Alex actually has tears in his eyes.

*

Once Kiara is asleep - which doesn't take long, seeing as she hasn't slept in quite some time according to Greta - Alex and Greta back out of the cage and Pete sets about introductions. When everyone knows everyone, he splits his visitors among the resident scientists. "I can't be dragging all of you around," he says. "Who volunteers?" Ryan and Spencer disappear very quickly, and a couple of the others cite ongoing projects and also drift away.

There are six scientists left: Pete, five others, and Patrick, who isn't actually a scientist. Greta and the Sisky Biz scientist - whose name is Dr. Adam Siska, and he's Greta's assistant - say that they're going to stay with Kiara to monitor her behaviour while she's drugged, and anyone who wants to stay with them is welcome. Brendon chooses to stay, which definitely earns him points in the other guests' eyes.

"We're a team," Dr. Alex Suarez reminds Pete, pointing to a tall, skinny guy with bright blue eyes and a mop of curly brown hair.

"Duh," says Pete. "How about you two take Dr. Walker?"

Jon waves a little.

"Dr. Alex Suarez," Pete says, pointing to him, "and Dr. Ryland Blackinton. Palaeobotanist and palaeoentomologist, respectively."

"Old plants and old bugs," Alex says when Jon looks a little lost.

Jon perks up. "That sounds cool."

Pete pushes him at Alex. "This is Dr. Jonathan Walker, geologist. Be gentle; he's a palaeo-virgin."

"Not a dinosaur fanatic?" Ryland says.

"I wasn't until I saw the Dip - Dip -"

"Diplodocus," Alex fills in.

"Right, that," says Jon, "this morning."

"Oh, Prima's herd," Suarez says, understanding. "Yeah, they're pretty convincing. Diplodocus and their cousins are everywhere in society," he adds. "Apatosaurus - you might have heard it called Brontosaurus - and Brachiosaurus are popular, too. It's because they're so big."

"Definitely big," Jon agrees.

"We'll take you around the Aviary, okay?" Suarez says.

"Sounds good to me." Jon looks at Gerard. "Do you want your camera, or..."

Gerard thrusts it at him. "I'm better with my pencil."

Jon grins. "I'll bet."

Gerard splutters, but Suarez and Blackinton whisk Jon and Gerard's camera out of the room and they're gone.

"Meet our palaeontologist," Pete says, gesturing to the fifth scientist. "Dr. Alex DeLeon, this is Dr. Joseph Trohman."

The guy with the wild hair grins. "Call me Joe," he says magnanimously. "And I'm going to call you Little Man, because you are a little man." He wrestles Alex into a headlock and drags him out the door.

Gerard is left with Pete and Patrick.

Having recovered from his Jon-related blush, he puts his hands on his hips and says imperiously, "Wedding pictures. Now."

*

Everyone meets up for dinner at seven. They've showered and changed and they all look wonderful. The scientists have all been invited up to the Hotel as well; the dinner party swells over several tables that have all been shoved together.

One by one, the guests chatter about their afternoons.

Jon, who has a masters in botany - "it was a hobby," he says, "and then it wasn't," - had the time of his life with Suarez and Blackinton. Jon and Suarez bonded over plants and ecosystems; with Ryland, it was guitars, of which they are both connoisseurs.

"This whole place is amazing," Jon says. "It's like you guys have literally tried to recreate the Cretaceous, which is when most of these dinosaurs were alive," he adds for Gerard's benefit. They're sitting next to each other again, and they're the only two at the table who know that their thighs are pressed together the whole way up, heat burning between them.

Pete nods. "That's exactly it," he says. "I mean, of course it's impossible. Not only is the sun cooler than it was seventy million years ago, the climate is completely different and even the air composition has changed, thanks to industrialisation. But in the Aviary," he goes on, "we can control basically everything."

"And, it was the weirdest thing," Suarez adds. "You might remember, in the movie of Jurassic Park, that the palaeobotanist talks about plants that shouldn't be alive, that existed only in the Cretaceous." Those who'd watched the movie nod. "Well, obviously, we can't regrow fossilised plants. The thing is, we discovered plants from the Cretaceous actually growing here - completely on their own."

"What?" Alex says. "But this island didn't even exist seventy million years ago." Joe had told him all about Isla Nublosa, and the volcanic eruptions that had formed it; they'd occurred between four and six hundred years previously.

"You're telling us," says Suarez. "It's a botanical mystery. Ms. Hammond says they were here when even her grandfather got here. He chose this island because it's the closest thing to the Cretaceous that exists in, quite literally, the whole world."

"Even the insects are strange," Ryland puts in. "We breed our own," he says, "but after eight years, you can't call our flies, for example, regular flies. They're bigger, for one -"

Jon shudders. He'd visited the Nemicolopterus sanctuary just on feeding time. The automated system had released hundreds of insects into the air; giant flies and bees and mosquitoes for the Nemicolopterus to hunt. He, Suarez and Ryland had retreated to an observation room - or rather, been chased to an observation room.

"- and much fiercer. More wild, you might say." Ryland stabs a toothpick through the cheese-bit on Suarez's plate. Suarez slaps his hand away and eats the cheese himself. Dinner hasn't been served yet - the cheese platters that serve as entrées are very good, though.

Alex and Joe had spent their afternoon clambering all about the Aviary, up in the heights and down in the depths, investigating several curiosities the Aviary-wide search for Kiara's poison had turned up.

"Tapejara faeces are in pellet form," Alex says cheerfully.

"We didn't know that before," Joe adds.

There's silence.

Alex tries again. "The Ornithocheirus has made a little nest. We found this there." He fishes something out of his pocket. It flashes brightly when the light, brilliant orange out the sea-view windows, hits it.

Greta says, "hey, I wondered where that went." She leans over the table and plucks the barrette out of Alex's hand, and fixes it into her hair.

"That's much more agreeable conversation for the dinner table, by the way," Pete says. "We try not to talk about shit when we're about to eat."

"Right," Alex says, flushing lightly, "sorry."

Gerard only shrugs when asked about his afternoon. "Just hung out with Pete and Patrick."

Brendon's reply is much more enthusiastic. "Kiara's doing great," he says, beaming at everyone. The defensive, pale-faced military doctor from that morning is gone, replaced by the vibrant, dinosaur life-or-at-least-teeth-saving Brendon. "She's in a lot less pain than she was, and Greta's working on a way to hook her up to an IV so she doesn't became any more malnourished."

"That's great," Pete says, and the sentiment is echoed by everyone around him. Just then, dinner is served. It looks delicious - the vegetarians are served lo han tsai, a Chinese dish using eighteen different vegetarian ingredients, while in the spirit of Jurassic Park, the omnivores are served Chilean sea bass.

Talking drops off and near-orgasmic moaning takes its place as tastes tantalise the diners' palates.

"This is absolutely fantastic," Gerard says, mouth full. "Can I steal your chef?"

Ryland picks up Suarez's hand and flashes his ring. "He's taken," the palaeoentomologist says cheekily.

Suarez tugs his hand back and rolls his eyes. "I keep telling you -"

"Yeah, you're not my bitch," Ryland says. "We'll see about that tonight." He snaps his teeth at Suarez's nose.

"Eat my sea bass," Suarez says. "Honey."

Just as they finish the main course, Pete does a head count and realises that someone's missing. "Where's Gabe?" he wonders.

The resident scientists do a double-take. "He was just sitting next to me," Dr. Andrew Mrotek, marine biologist, says. "Like, literally!"

"Motherfucker," Pete says. He wipes his mouth on his napkin and stands up.

"Don't talk about my mother that way, Wentz," says a voice from the door, "she's a lovely woman and she made you chocolate chip cookies last time you visited."

The party turns around.

Dr. Gabriel Saporta, M.Sc., D.Sc., zoosemiotician, crazy-eyed madman and Gossip Girl fan - which may and may not be the same thing, depending who you ask - tugs on his captive's elbow. "I found her in the weapons cache," he announces cheerfully.

Victoria pulls her elbow free of Gabe's grasp and dusts off her chic, short dress. "I got lost."

"That's what they all say," Patrick mutters.

"My dear Dr. Asher," Pete says. "Was your dinner not to your satisfaction?"

"It was fine," she replies. Suarez looks mildly offended that it was only 'fine'. "But I came to tell you that I've had a - a change of heart, I suppose. I'd like to stay. If that's possible, of course."

Pete claps his hands. "Of course it's possible!" he says. "Right, Andy?"

"I'd like a day off," the transportation specialist says, reclining in his seat.

"There you have it, then. Come, sit, sit," Pete says, waving his hand at the free chairs. Gabe re-takes his seat next to Dr. Mrotek - who, for some reason, everyone calls the Butcher - and Victoria settles down next to him. Pete makes quick introductions around the table; Ryan looks ecstatic to meet her. As ecstatic as he can look, anyway - he seems to be a very restrained person. "What made you change your mind?" Pete asks.

She shrugs. "I had time to think."

*

Dessert consists of either wild raspberry baked cheesecake or dark chocolate sin mud cake, both served with double cream. Everyone says Suarez has outdone himself, and Suarez says they say that every night. Ryland says that's because it's true every night. They're a bit cute.

After all plates have been scraped clean, Pete stands on his chair and taps his glass with his spoon. "Attention, please." He almost slips off; Patrick props him back up without even spilling his post-dessert coffee. "You're all dismissed for the night."

They cheer.

"But," he calls over the cacophony, "I expect you all - all, Ross and Smith - to be in the lobby at nine o'clock tomorrow morning. We're leaving at 9.15, and we've got a busy day planned. Anyone who's not on the Jeeps at 9.15 gets left behind at the Hotel for the whole day." He looks at Ryan and Spencer again. "Anyone who purposely misses the Jeeps gets scut work for the rest of the month. Are we all clear?"

Everyone nods.

Pete shoos them away. Ryan and Spencer, expressions mutinous, slip away together. Gabe and Greta make sly eyes at each other and disappear. Ryland and Suarez tuck their hands in each other's back pockets and mosey off. The Butcher tells Sisky he's got something Sisky might want to come check out down at the docks, and they're gone. William says something about an international call and leaves. Pete and Patrick head up to their room, and Joe is deeply asleep on the table.

The invitees are left alone.

"So why are you really staying?" Brendon asks Victoria, once they've moved away from Joe.

She glances at the door to make sure they really are alone, then speaks. "I overheard Dr. Wentz and Patrick talking," she says. "I think they're up to something. They said that no matter what, the US Military is not getting their hands on the dinosaurs," she looks at Brendon pointedly. "And that Ms. Hammond gave them complete control over the island to," she fingerquotes, "'nullify the contract'."

The other invitees look at Brendon.

He frowns. "The military's got a contract with BioGen that says, as long as the assessor - that's me - says the dinosaurs are real, healthy and utilisable, they'll take Isla Nublosa, Isla Sorna and the other islands off BioGen's hands. BioGen's close to broke," he explains. "They'd need a miracle to support the islands as well as keep the company from going under. The military wants to be that miracle."

"So that's why you stayed? To figure out what Pete and Patrick are planning to do?" Alex says to the geneticist, disbelieving.

"They said," Victoria says, "that Ms. Hammond's one stipulation was that no one dies."

The other four pale.

"What the fuck is going to happen?" Gerard whispers.

*

The guests walk back to their rooms together, all bunched up. They know it's stupid, but they're jumping at shadows. At the top of the stairs, they all hesitate.

Victoria snaps out of it first. "See you in the morning," she says, and heads into her room. She closes the door firmly behind her, and they all hear the snap-click of her door locking.

"Hey," Jon says to Gerard suddenly, "want me to upload all the pictures I took to your laptop? You do have a laptop, right?"

"No?" Gerard says. Jon smiles at him. "I mean, of course. Yeah, sure, we can do that." He leads Jon into his room, and there's another snap-click as the door closes and locks. Then there's a muffled thump, and a low groan.

Brendon looks at the closed door for a moment. "They think they're really subtle, don't they."

Alex shrugs. "I just hope the walls are soundproofed."

*

Jon pushes Gerard back against the door as soon as it closes behind them. He captures Gerard's cherry-red mouth and licks along his tiny teeth, half-swallowing Gerard's shaky groan. Shoving his knee between Gerard's thighs, Jon pushes the ad exec's black jacket off his shoulders and runs his hands down Gerard's pale-skinned arms.

Gerard lets his head fall back against the door as Jon bites at his neck. "Fuck," he breathes.

"Yes, please," Jon murmurs, and crushes their lips together again.

He digs his fingers into Jon's short, dark hair and rocks his hips against Jon's thigh. He's already hard; he's almost thirty years old and he's already hard. He's not sure if that should be allowed. Then he thinks, fuck being allowed, and forces Jon back a step.

Jon licks his lips. Gerard stares at him. After a second, he remembers what he was doing, and drives Jon back another step, and another, and then they're falling back onto the king-size bed. He climbs on top of Jon and straddles the geologist's hips.

"Better?" he says. Jon pulls him down into another kiss and he takes that as a yes.

The pace slows from frantic to lazy before either of them take another breath. Gerard runs his fingers across the planes and lines of Jon's face; he's got sun wrinkles that taste like actual sun under Gerard's tongue, and sweet little laughs tucked into the corners of his mouth that Gerard eats up like candy. Jon wrinkles his nose when Gerard laps at his nose.

Gerard stops. "More kissing?" he says. He can't help it; he likes noses. Not everyone does, though, and he's used to that.

"More kissing," Jon agrees. He rolls them over and cups Gerard's cheeks, stroking fingers under his closed eyes as they kiss.

Jon's flip-flops fall off with a double thump, and then Gerard feels Jon's newly bare feet wrapping around one of his own. After a moment, Gerard's laced-up shoe pops off his foot.

"That's quite a talent," he says, breaking off the kiss.

"Hard won," says Jon, and it's not long before the other one's off, too. They grin at each other, kiss-stupid, and go back to making out.

Tropical islands don't cool off at night, they soon find out - or at least, not this island, not this night. They're soon sweating, tiny hot beads sliding down their faces and dripping into Gerard's hair and dampening their shirts. Jon fingers the hem of Gerard's black shirt. "Can I?" he mumbles against Gerard's mouth.

"Fuck, go for it," the artist says. They sit up, Jon in Gerard's lap, and he lets Jon pull his shirt over his head. He's beautiful in the moonlight from the window - soft and white and a little vulnerable. Jon holds his arms wide out so that he can't cover himself and kisses him until he's comfortable.

Jon's shirt is Hawaiian, and button-up, and it takes a good deal of fumbling and several occasions of "fuck it," when they just go on kissing, before it's off. Skin slides, wet and hot, and Jon groans when Gerard's nimble fingers tease his nipples.

Jon leans forward, heavy, so that Gerard tips back onto the bed. Their cocks bump together, and Jon thrusts down again without thinking. Gerard inhales sharply, mouth falling open, arching his back so it happens again, and again, and again. They're pushing against each other, Jon's hands braced on the white bedspread, Gerard's clamped on Jon's hips. Their legs tangle; their breaths mingle.

But it's not enough. "More," Gerard pleads, frustrated. He shoves at Jon's hips and slides his hands under the waistline of the shorts. Two quick tugs and the knot holding them up is undone - the shorts slide off Jon's legs like so much water. The canary-yellow briefs follow, and then Gerard's capable hand is wrapping around Jon's cock, and they both moan.

It's a quick, rough slope Jon's falling down. His stomach is tight with excitement, his mouth is dry because Gerard keeps licking away all his saliva, and Gerard's got this little flick thing happening that presses not quite hard enough on that one spot under the head of Jon's cock which every single nerve in his body is currently linked to. It's a rough slope, but, "harder," he grunts, letting his head drop into the shiny curve where Gerard's neck meets his shoulder.

Gerard can do harder. He tightens his fist and squeezes a long, torturous stroke that has Jon keening. "I wanna see you come," he says, panting in Jon's ear and thrusting up so his own hard cock presses into Jon's naked hip. "I wanna see that pretty face twist in lust for me. I wanna feel heat spreading on my hand, wanna be satisfied because I'm the one who did that, who made you come. Come on, Jon, I wanna see."

Holy fucking shit. Mouth of an angel, voice of a devil. Jon pumps his hips once, twice more, and then Gerard's doing that hard stroke again, words still coaxing, and he loses it. "Fuck, Gee," he gasps, and comes, hard, all over Gerard's hand and belly and jeans.

He slumps, flopping like a doll over Gerard's body. "Where the fuck did you learn how to talk like that?" he murmurs, cupping Gerard's head and pressing a sloppy kiss to his temple, because he hasn't got the strength to lift his head and get to Gerard's mouth.

Gerard huffs a laugh, then says, "um."

"Right, right," Jon says. "Although my mouth is nowhere near as dirty as yours," he adds, and slides down Gerard's body like a really sexy snake. He massages the bulge of Gerard's cock, his grin all smutty and looking delicious.

The move draws a thick, honeysuckle noise out of Gerard's mouth, a choked "ahhh".

Jon keeps grinning. "I can at least try to repay the favour." He pops open Gerard's black jeans, and Gerard's not wearing any underwear so it's really easy for Jon to bob down and take the head of Gerard's cock right into his mouth.

"Ohmygod," Gerard says, and flails his arms weakly. He withstands Jon's fucking made-for-this mouth for nought point two seconds before his hips jerk up and he comes. Jon catches some of it, but most of it shoots onto Gerard's belly. "I'm sorry," he says, "that was really -"

He's about to say 'uncool', but then he feels Jon's satin tongue licking across his stomach and damn. He lies there, oversensitised skin and hot flushes, and no one has ever, ever licked up his come before. If he could get it up again right now, he would.

Jon smacks his lips when he's done and slithers up Gerard's body. "Mmm," he says.

Gerard looks at him. "I'm not kissing you until you've brushed your teeth."

"Hey, I'm not the one who came like a fourteen year old getting his first BJ," Jon says pointedly. "I wouldn't have had to lick it up if you'd hung on a couple more moments."

"Hung on?" Gerard echoes. "I couldn't hang on! You were being all - all -" he waves his hand around.

"All what?" Jon says.

Gerard lets his hands fall back onto the bed. "You know what."

Jon grins. "Say it."

"Sexy."

Still grinning, Jon bops him on the nose. "You called me sexy," he says. "I'm going to go brush my teeth." He rolls off the bed.

"If I call you drop-dead gorgeous, will you have a shower?" Gerard asks. It's not that he hates being dirty, or sleeping dirty, or sleeping with dirty people, or anything like that - but he loves sex with clean people, loves the taste of skin and sin, and this night is far from over. And hopefully Jon's an early riser, too.

"Only if you have one, too," Jon says.

Gerard hesitates. It's Thursday, and he had his last shower on Tuesday. He's not due yet.

Jon sweetens the deal. "With me."

"I suppose," Gerard says, and huffs a big sigh, "I suppose I can do that." He slides off the bed too and shucks his jeans - Jon hadn't even had time to take them off, how embarrassing - and follows Jon into the massive en suite bathroom. Jon flips on the light. "Oh my god, that's huge," Gerard says.

Jon puts his hands on his hips. "That's something I could get very used to hearing."

He was actually talking about the shower.

*

Pete rolls over. "You know, listening to them makes me -"

"Don't even," Patrick says from the other side of the pillow wall.

*

Sometime during the night, Brendon wakes with a start. He pulls the pillow off his head - jesusfuck, Jon and Gerard are noisy, libidinous beasts - and goes to answer the knock on the door that had woken him up.

He opens the door and finds one Dr. G. Ryan Ross standing there.

Ryan blinks at Brendon.

"You're naked," he finally says.

Brendon rolls his eyes. Suppressed science types, geez. "It's hot," he points out. "You knocked, Dr. Ross?"

"I was looking for Dr. Asher," Ryan mumbles.

"First on the left," Brendon says. "This is first on the right. Are you aware that it's -"

Ryan interrupts. "Three twenty-seven in the morning?"

"If you say so," Brendon says. "I don't think she'll want to be woken up at three twenty-seven in the morning. I've seen her before her first cup of coffee," he explains, and he had that morning at the Gaia Hotel in San José, "and she's kind of. Um. Ornery?"

"Did you just say ornery?" Ryan says.

"Look, are you even supposed to be awake at this time?" Brendon asks. "Because you don't seem like you're at your best."

Ryan blinks kind of like an owl. "Dr. Asher told me she wanted to see the next hatching. It's not my department, but -"

"Are you going to wake her up?" Brendon cuts in.

The physiological psychologist shakes his head slowly.

Brendon looks at him for a moment, then says, "well, I don't trust you on your own. Give me a sec to get some clothes on." He closes the door in Ryan's face, and when he re-opens it a few minutes later - this time wearing jeans and a baby blue tee and even shoes - Ryan is still standing there, still looking slightly taken aback. Which, Brendon supposes, means he's really extremely surprised.

"Did you really just say ornery?" Ryan asks again.

"Ugly and unpleasant in disposition or temper," Brendon says. "Also stubborn."

"I know what it means. I'm surprised you do," he says.

Brendon shrugs. "I've had quite a few ornery patients in my day."

"Still."

"Are you always this charming in the morning, or is this a special showing just for me?" Brendon wonders.

"It's not morning until the sun rises," Ryan says grumpily.

Brendon nods. "The former, then. Well, are we going?" he asks.

Ryan waves his hand. "Go back to bed. I'll be fine."

"Like I said." Brendon steps out into the hall, making Ryan take a step back. "I don't trust you on your own."

"Why not?" Ryan asks, baffled.

"Mostly because when I opened my door and saw you, I totally thought you were a zombie," he admits. "And people who look like zombies generally don't last very long around carnivorous dinosaurs."

"Because you've had so much experience with both zombies and carnivorous dinosaurs," Ryan deadpans.

"More than the average person. Or am I mistaken, and Kiara the Ornithocheirus will actually grow up to enjoy that delicious lo han tsai we had at dinner tonight?"

Ryan blinks again. He seems to only do it very rarely, so every time he does, Brendon feels the need to document the occasion. "True," he grants. He starts to walk off. When he's on the third step down, he looks back and sees that Brendon isn't following. "Are you coming?" he snaps.

Brendon hurries after him.

Chapter Text

FRIDAY

The sun rises at six. Apparently, so do the dinosaurs, and they all like to say hello to each other, because they're almost all blind as fuck in the dark and it's such a nice surprise to see that everyone has made it through to morning, no sneaky comets having fallen and wiped out their entire population.

No one gets much sleep after that.

*

"And they're hatched from really big crocodile eggs, not ostrich eggs, and I got to hold one! In the egg and after it was born!" Brendon says excitedly, plowing through his pancakes. "An actual Othnielia rex, which I will happily inform Galton are real, and it was so little," he adds. "It fit right in the palm of my hand."

Alex is listening eagerly. He's the only one; everyone else is bemoaning the lack of sleep. Well, Jon and Gerard are actually feeling each other up under the table, but they're acting like they're bemoaning the lack of sleep, which amounts to nearly the same thing.

Victoria's had three cups of coffee, so she's back to her usual charming self; Ryan claimed the seat next to her when he and Brendon came from the hatchery, but throughout all of breakfast, he's still - unsurprisingly - a zombie, and can't think of any good questions to ask her. That suits Victoria just fine. She's had coffee. That doesn't mean she's ready to deal with her fanbase.

Most of the resident scientists have made it up to the Hotel by 8.45. Everyone actually, except Spencer. Pete pinches the bridge of his nose and sends Jon to go get him. "He's probably in his office," Ryan de-zombies enough to say.

"Where else is he, ever," Pete says.

Jon scratches his head. "Uh, where's his office?"

"Underground. Just follow the signs saying DO NOT PASS and you'll find him." Pete yawns and tucks his head into Patrick's shoulder. Patrick doesn't make a move to stop him.

Okay, Jon thinks. Find the ornery scientist. Then he wonders where 'ornery' came from. Probably filtered into his subconsciousness during the night, he decides as he finds the door marked UNDERGROUND and clatters down the steps. He's got a tendency towards being suggestible.

He's wearing more sensible clothes today, including boots, so the familiar rubbery thwack of flip-flops is absent. He misses the noise, but forgets all about it when he sees the first DO NOT PASS sign. It's got a little t-rex in the corner, jaws yawning wide and tiny arms clawing at the air. He laughs.

It's searching out the humans hidden behind the letters of TURN THE FUCK AROUND.

I MEAN IT, says the next one. The t-rex now has a tiny human body in its mouth.

IT'S YOUR FUNERAL, and underneath, propped against the wall, there's a cardboard gravestone craftily engraved - in Sharpie - with 'R.I.P. YOU: dinosaur chew toy'.

Wow. Dr. Smith's kind of an asshole.

There have been no doors since he came underground. There have been corridors turning off, but that was before he hit even the first DO NOT PASS sign. His footsteps - bootsteps - echo off the walls. It's a little intimidating, and a lot lonely. Pete had implied that Spencer was always in his office. Always hiding behind his dinosaur signs.

Jon feels something shift in his chest.

He comes to a doorway, finally, after the longest, greyest corridor he's ever walked in his life. The door was grey, too, with little bumps and divots in it. He knocks.

"Dr. Smith?" he calls.

No sound. He knocks again.

There’s a sudden thud from inside, and a rush of something that might be a pile of papers crashing to the ground. A quiet - well, quiet from this side of the door - curse reaches his ears, and then, suddenly, the door opens. Dr. Smith, eyes bluer than the cords of a bomb but just as mysterious to Jon, his hair mussed like he'd been asleep and a creaseline drawn up the side of his face, stands looking at him.

"What?" he snarls.

"It's time to go," Jon says affably. "Were you asleep?"

Spencer growls, literally, and scrubs at his face. His clothes are rumpled but he doesn't even seem to notice; he just pulls on the shoes that are sitting by the door.

When he bends over, Jon sees over his back to the inside of his office. It's immaculate, mostly. There are file cabinets that look used, and a stuffed bookcase. There's a black-screened computer with its power button pulsing in sleep mode orange. And there's an overturned load of papers on the ground, like Spencer knocked them over when Jon startled him from his sleep.

"Are we going?" Spencer says, gesturing irritably.

"Sure." Jon steps aside and Spencer blows past him, a hurricane in all its force. He powers off along the corridor and it's all Jon can do to follow in his wake.

Honestly? Spencer's wake is not that bad a place to be.

*

The group gathers at precisely nine o'clock; Pete and Patrick, the five guests and the ten scientists who keep the entire island running while the rest of the employees enjoy a little vaycay. Probably a forced vaycay, Victoria thinks, remembering Pete and Patrick's conversation. She wonders if the scientists are in on it. It's entirely likely, she decides, and tells herself, again, that she's only here to have her name recorded in the history books as being a survivor and naysayer of one of the worst experiments in the history of ever.

"All right," Pete says, catching everyone's attention - not that they're the rowdiest crowd. "You - with the exception of Victoria - explored the Aviary yesterday. You know what the pterosaurs have to offer. But there are other dinosaurs on this island," he says. "Other places to explore."

"The herbivore fields, the carnivore enclosures and the Boardwalk," Alex lists from memory. He has a fantastic memory; if shown fifty-two shuffled playing cards in a row, then asked to recall them, Alex will not get a single one wrong.

Pete nods. "Dr. Salpeter will remain at the Aviary with Kiara," he says, and Greta inclines her head. "Drs. Mrotek and Siska have volunteered to guide the Boardwalk tour, a long, leisurely drive along the shore. Drs. Saporta and Trohman will take the Jeeps around the herbivore fields - and Drs. Ross and Smith will take the carnivore enclosures."

Victoria stifles a very unseemly giggle when everyone immediately edges away from Ross and Smith. They look like they could set fire to the air with their combined glares.

"Lunch is at one, and you're all expected to be in the dining room at that time. Drs. Suarez, Blackinton, Beckett - you're dismissed." They leave, and so does Andy, heading out to enjoy his day off. Pete claps his hands together. "So who wants to go where?"

*

With three groups, five people and Pete's inexplicable love of balance, someone was going to end up alone. So what if it just happens to be him, Alex thinks, watching Jon and Gerard climb into the carnivore Jeep, and Victoria and Brendon set off with Gabe and Joe. He shrugs it off - baby genii are used to being alone - and slides into the backseat of the third Jeep.

"So," he says.

Dr. Mrotek - Butcher, Alex reminds himself, Butcher Butcher Butcher - shifts into 'drive' and slams his foot down on the accelerator. The car jolts into line. Dr. Smith's Jeep is ahead of them and going oh-so-slow; Butcher revs the engine a couple of times and Smith flips him off. The revs successfully cut Alex off whenever he tries to say something.

The second they're out of the massive gate, Butcher guns it and they swerve off to the left. Alex is thrown against the door. The Jeep races and bumps down a narrow dirt-rock trail, and he bounces hard on the seat. Grabbing for the Jeep's struts, Alex leans forward and shouts above the noise of the engine. "You're a maniac!"

Dr. Siska looks back at him and says, "you're gonna want your seatbelt!"

Just then, they dive over a massive rock. Siska and the Butcher whoop as they fly through the air. Alex tries to sink into the seat. It doesn't work. When they reconnect with the ground on impact, he whacks his head against the back support and everything goes black.

*

Joe shakes his head, watching Butcher's Jeep careen down the path to the northern end of the Boardwalk. "He's going to get someone killed," he says.

"Like you've never driven like that," Gabe points out. "Like I've never driven like that."

"You drive worse than that," Joe reminds him.

Victoria and Brendon exchange a glance.

"Which is why I'm not driving now," Gabe says, grinning wildly and looking over the back at their passengers. "Aren't you glad?"

It's probably not polite to respond to that. Brendon does anyway, nodding with wide eyes. He's not so sure he should have let Alex go off alone with maniacs like that for drivers - if Gabe is worse, then he's sure he's supposed to stay with Victoria. Alex is girlish, but Victoria is actually a girl, and Brendon's a gentleman.

He's also pretty sure that she'd beat the crap out of him if she knew he thought of her as a girl needing protection from a guy. Victoria's worked hard to cement her balls of steel reputation. She beat up three guys in her graduating class at Stanford, three years ahead of Brendon's, when they slept with her and then tried to use that to ride her gravy train - and that's not the only thing she's done to prove herself in a male-dominated scientific world.

Stanford is how Brendon actually knows Victoria. She'd tutored him his first year when he almost failed Anatomy - then when he started to catch on too quickly for her liking, she'd dumped him onto one of her classmates. She'd told him he would never be a good doctor, that he had too much heart and not enough ice, and that dumping him like that was her way of encouraging him to man up.

Brendon kind of hates her for that. But his second tutor had gotten him onto the military track, so it wasn't all bad, and Victoria had been right - he had needed to man up. Twelve weeks' Basic training, a month's induction at Camp Delta and a year's service at an anti-Taliban hospital buried deep in Afghani territory taught him that. So he was willing to put the past behind him, if Victoria was, and that was why he'd decided to hop in the same Jeep as her today.

Joe is driving at a much more sedate pace than either of the other Jeeps. "The herbivore fields," he says, "are on the plains, along with the carnivore enclosures. There's a big electrified fence splitting the plains in two - herbivores on one side," he gestures expansively and the Jeep swerves a little, "and carnivores on the other." Another sweeping gesture.

"Are the herbivores allowed to mix? Like, is it one big field?" Brendon asks.

"Sure is," Gabe says.

A howl echoes through the trees.

Gabe smiles. "Ah, she's about," he says. "Joe, swing by the feeding pens, yeah? I'll get Maia's treat."

"Who's Maia?" Victoria asks.

"Maiasaura peeblesorum," Gabe tells them. "A large duck-billed dinosaur from Montana, lived about seventy four million years ago."

The geneticist frowns. "How do you know it's her?"

Gabe winks at her. "I'm a zoosemiotician."

"What... sounds? Animal sounds?" she says.

"That's right. I've got recordings of every dinosaur on the island. I can recognise each individual by sound."

"Every one?" Victoria is surprised. There were forty Nemicolopterus, she knows from Alex's ramblings during dessert last night, and she'd seen eight Diplodocids yesterday afternoon - and those weren't the only dinosaurs.

Gabe grins. "No human voice is exactly alike," he says. "And they're just like human voices to me."

"That's -" she says, but stops, because she doesn't know exactly what that is.

"Cool," Brendon fills in. "When you say large, though, exactly how large do you mean?"

"Well," Joe breaks in, "Maia's our matriarch, and she's fully grown, about nine metres long. She's got eleven adult herd members who are all smaller than her, but not by much, and three juveniles who are about a metre long, and two hatchlings, only about twenty inches at this stage."

Nine metres. Thirty feet.

Brendon sits back and thinks, awesome.

*

"There are three rules," Spencer says as soon as Jon and Gerard are buckled up. "One, don't get out of the Jeep unless Dr. Ross and I say you can. Two, I'm not a teacher or a tour guide: I don't answer questions. And three, since it's you two, no PDAs."

Jon sits up straight. "Hey, where do you get off giving us rules?" he snaps. "We are the guests here."

"And we live here," Spencer points out frostily. "We know what's safe and what's not. If you're too distracted by each other to notice the Velociraptors slamming against the fence and you get startled, slip, fall and die, then that's a lot of paperwork and money and investigation we don't need."

"Do the Velociraptors make it a habit to slam against an electrified fence?" Gerard wonders.

"More often than you'd think," Ryan says, laying a hand on Spencer's forearm and giving him a very pointed shut-up look. "The rules are for your protection. We're going to be seeing some of the most vicious carnivores to ever walk the Earth. We just don't want you to get hurt."

Spencer goes first, leaving the other two Jeeps behind. Under the hum of the engine Jon hears him say, "speak for yourself."

*

Alex comes to and sees two concerned faces hovering over him. He groans and throws his arm over his eyes.

"Yeah, he's awake," one of them says.

"You hit your head pretty hard," says the other one. Alex thinks it's Butcher. "Are you okay?"

"Hurts," Alex whimpers.

Butcher and Siska help him sit up. "Dude, do you want a drink?" Siska asks. He passes Alex a huge bottle of water. "We've got aspirin, I think," he adds. "If you want that, too."

Alex nods, then winces and presses his hand to his head. He can feel a bump underneath his fingers; it's pretty massive. It's a good thing he's got a thick skull. He downs two aspirin with a huge gulp of water - he hates taking pills - and then swallows half the rest of the bottle. He can smell the sea breeze, stronger than it's been since they landed yesterday, salty and refreshing.

"Keep driving?" Butcher asks.

"Sure," Alex croaks.

"Be more careful this time," Siska says, shoving Butcher. "We have to take care of our delicate flower."

Alex groans and throws the water bottle at Siska's head.

*

Maia is long, but not so tall. She's maybe two and a half metres high, a couple of feet taller than them but not like the Diplodocids. Joe coaxes Victoria out of the Jeep with hearty reassurances of Maia's vegetarian diet, and he even takes her hand and places it on Maia's right foreleg.

The Maiasaura is munching on bloodgood, a potted red-leaf Japanese maple sapling that Gabe says is her treat. They usually try and keep the dinosaurs' diets as chronistically-correct as possible, but several scientists had persuaded Pete to experiment with more modern plants. Maia's favourite is bloodgood, but she's only allowed it every couple of weeks if she's been good and kept her herd safe and comfortable.

Even though she's munching, Maia turns her head to eye Victoria. The geneticist freezes, but it's only two seconds' space, if that, before Maia turns back to the bloodgood.

"She likes you," Gabe says, sliding an arm around Victoria's waist and spinning her around. She's startled into laughter and even lets Gabe spin her for a moment - but then she regains her head and digs her heels in.

"Don't," she tells him, dusting herself off. She's wearing high-end trekking boots, sleek dark pants and a silk shirt under a cashmere coat, topped off with sunglasses and a white ribbon through her hair. She looks like a model.

If Gabe was in charge of her wardrobe, there'd be a lot more neon and a lot less sticks to shove up her ass. Dr. Victoria Asher looks like a girl who needs more neon in her life.

He drops his hands from her waist. "Sorry." But he bumps her hip with his and gets her to help him heave the bloodgood pot plant back into the Jeep. When soil spills out of the pot all down her front, Gabe's right there to help dust her off.

Victoria shrugs the cashmere coat off her shoulders and balls it up, chucking it in the back of the Jeep.

For a moment, everyone thinks she's loosening up.

Then she pulls her sunglasses down over her eyes and huddles in the corner of the backseat, a frown twisting her lips. Her foot taps on the floor, irritated, and she crosses her arms.

Gabe, Joe and Brendon share a despairing look and give Maia one last pat. They all jump back in the Jeep and Gabe points the way to where he swears he heard a Microceratus gobiensis lowing.

*

They drive along a long, high wire fence for a while before finally coming to a gate. It's solid and slow to open, and Spencer stalls the Jeep three times before they can finally trundle inside.

"It's an automatic," Ryan says to him, "how do you stall it?"

"Shut up," Spencer grits out. "Or do you want to drive?"

Ryan holds up his hands. "Remember what happened last time I was behind the wheel?"

Spencer snorts.

Jon raises an eyebrow, but Gerard's not even paying attention. He's right into this nature thing; he's been sketching trees and plants the whole ride down from the Hotel to the plains. Half of them he messes up - he's never drawn plants like this before. They're similiar to modern plants, lots of ferns and cycads and conifers, but they're all just - different. He's found he likes drawing monkey puzzle trees.

Now Gerard is looking at the huge wire fence and the forbidding steel gate. There's a Tyrannosaurus rex behind those walls, and he doesn't know how many Velociraptors. The sign hanging off the gate also advertises Ornitholestes hermanni, Deinonychus antirrhopus, Dilophosaurus wetherelli, Hypsilophodon foxii and Procompsognathus triassicus .

"Are there very many of each species?" Gerard asks absently, noting down each name for later googling.

Spencer grinds his teeth together. Too late, Gerard remembers Rule Two: no questions.

"There are five Velociraptor mongoliensis," Ryan says. "Two adults and three juveniles. Uh, four adult Deinonychus antirrhopus and one juvenile. Two Dilophosaurus wetherelli, and ten -"

"Eleven," Spencer butts in.

Ryan corrects himself. "Eleven Procompsognathus triassicus."

Gerard wants to know how long it took to learn to say all these long Latin names, and how long it took for Spencer to be able to predict what Ryan is going to say even before he says it.

"And they're all in enclosures," Jon says.

"Of course," Ryan says.

"Just checking."

*

Alex clambers out of the Jeep. It feels like the world is swaying under his feet, and then he realises it's him that's swaying, and he has to stick out a hand to grab something stable. He ends up grabbing Butcher's arm, and the marine biologist laughs and waits for Alex to regain his balance before tackling him into a headlock.

"What is it with you people and headlocks?" Alex whines, clawing at Butcher's tattooed arm.

Siska slaps his butt. "That's what," he says as Alex yelps.

When he's released, Alex stumbles right into a waist-high stone wall. He stubs his toe and curses, looking down to make sure it's still there. It's not until he raises his head that he sees why they've stopped here.

He stares.

Butcher and Siska lean against the wall on either side of him. "She's a Pelagosaurus typus," Butcher says.

"Family, Teleosauridae, suborder, Thalattosuchia," Alex whispers. "At least this year. Similar to a modern day gharial in adaptations and feeding habits. Like a crocodile, it swims sweeping its tail from side to side. It only emerges from the water to rest on the banks and to lay eggs."

"You sound like - well, me," Butcher says jovially. He claps Alex on the back and swings over the low wall. "Come on, don't be shy. She's friendly."

Alex shrinks back. "She's a carnivore!"

Butcher waves his hand. "Only in the water. Besides - she's beached. We gotta get her back into the ocean."

This makes him hesitate. "Beached?"

"C'mon," Siska says. He sits on the wall, his legs facing seaward, and beckons to Alex. "You know you wanna help. She stays out of the water much longer and she'll dehydrate."

Alex is still hesitant. The Pelagosaurus' teeth are really, really long. And sharp, did he mention sharp? "Why can't you two do it?"

"We tried last night," Butcher says.

"And we couldn't," Siska puts in.

"We needed a third person."

Siska jumps off the wall and lands on the soft, white sand. "So come on already."

Alex hesitates a moment longer. Butcher crouches down by the Pelagosaurus and runs a hand along her scales. She swishes her tail in the sand, but the movement is weak.

He's always been a soft touch for animals in need. Alex jumps the wall and says, "where do you want me?"

*

The Microceratus are like an herbivorous mini Tyrannosaurus - they walk on two legs, have very short forearms and are bent almost horizontal when they move. But they also have a small crest, and they're bright green, and they're very, very tiny - they only come up to Brendon's knee, if that.

They're also very friendly. He plops down on the ground and lets the fifteen-strong herd tumble all over him. They seize his fingers and ears in short, blunt little teeth and it stings the same way a puppy's bite stings. But their leathery skin is cool under his fingers, and they almost purr when he strokes their crests.

"Adults and juveniles?" he asks.

"All adults," Gabe says, picking up one of the Microceratus and cradling it like a baby. "Male and female, we've recently found."

"So they do change sex," Victoria says from her seat in the Jeep. She's opened the door and is sitting sideways, at least, but she refuses to get out of the car.

He nods. "But Pete's probably told you they're all born sterile," he says. "So there's no worries about reproducing."

"There are a lot more females than males on the island," Brendon puts in, wrestling with one of the dinosaurs for possession of his pant leg.

"We still make them all female," Gabe says. "Since we know about the transmorphism, we can monitor it. We've found that, if left as an all-female population for three years, about one fifth of the females will change into males. Since they're a sterile population, they can mate but not reproduce. After that, every mating season, more females will change into males."

"In this little herd," Joe says, "there are only two females left." He points them out, and Brendon and Victoria can see that the females are a different shade of green to the males - they're slightly darker.

"When it's an all-male population, will they start changing back to female?" Victoria asks.

Joe shrugs. "Maybe. These last two should change in the next year or so, and then we can start looking for signs of homosexuality and tendencies towards changing back."

"When they were all girl dinosaurs, two of them were together," Gabe says. "You could tell, because they were always hanging out and rubbing their beaks together, kind of like they were kissing, and they shared food." He meanders towards Victoria, looking like he's just wandering around. Before she can react or even realise what's going to happen, he drops the Microceratus into her lap.

Victoria starts and scrambles back. The Microceratus looks up at her from the gap between the seats, where it fell when she jumped away. It blinks large eyes at her.

The boys hold their breath.

Very slowly, Victoria edges forward. She reaches out a trembling hand and touches the Microceratus' parrot-like beak. He holds still as she strokes him tentatively. When her hand reaches his crest, he purrs - it's strange to hear that noise from a dinosaur - and nuzzles up into her palm.

She carefully pulls her hand back and Gabe lifts the Microceratus down to the ground.

"I think you've made a friend," he says.

She looks at him with eyes wider than the Microceratus'. He can suddenly see that maybe Victoria is someone who's in desperate need of just that - a friend.

*

The carnivore enclosures are all just like the ones from the Jurassic Park film - high, electrified wire fences and wide roads running from one to the next. There are observation platforms jutting out over each enclosure for overhead viewing.

Jon can see where the road used to have a track running down the middle, probably for remotely-controlled Jeeps, and he can see where the roads have been re-paved. The island was abandoned for a good ten years, maybe more, so it's no wonder they needed to be redone.

They jump out of the Jeep and Ryan gestures to the toilets. "Do you need to?"

Gerard shakes his head. He leans back against the Jeep and props his sketchbook on his hip. It's already a quarter full. He's got just seventy-five pages left for the rest of today, tomorrow and Sunday morning. He grimaces: it won't be enough.

"Aren't you going to come up?" Jon asks.

Gerard shakes his head again. "I'll see from down here," he says.

"Do you not like heights?"

He shrugs. "They're fine. But this is the T. rex enclosure, and that platform," he points with the end of his pencil, "is not that high."

Jon shakes his head, smiling, and runs up the steps after Spencer and Ryan. He wants to see the T. rex in all its big-ass glory. The fence and thus observation platform is easily six metres high, and the T. rex is just four metres at its best. He reaches the top and finds that Ryan is cornering Spencer and whispering fiercely in his ear, while Spencer is shaking his head and trying to move away.

Ryan spots Jon and abruptly stops, switching his expression from a frown to a smile. "We're going to try and lure her out," he says.

"Okay," Jon says, ambling towards the rail. He stands next to Spencer, who huffs in annoyance and moves to the other side of the platform.

Hurt, Jon stubbornly stays put. He pretends to ignore Ryan's ferocious whisper and Spencer's low, snappish, "you don't know what you're talking about."

There's a metallic clunk after a moment. A section of the ground slides back and a cage is elevated up. Inside the cage is a goat. The bars crash down, leaving the goat unprotected. It shivers and bleats.

Jon stares. "No way," he says.

"What did you think carnivore meant?" Spencer snaps.

The goat takes a hesitant step forward.

Ryan drops a pebble off the side of the observational platform. The goat bleats loudly, startled, and bounds into the brush.

The ground shudders once, twice, a third time. Again and again, and the reverberations are getting worse as they're getting closer.

The goat reappears a moment later, being chased back towards them.

Right behind it, every step a thunderclap, is the Tyrannosaurus rex.

She's majestic - a smooth, dark olive green, with drizzled black sliding down her sides. Her eyes are tiny, and her arms, too, but her jaws are enormous and her teeth are longer than Jon's fingers. Her legs alone are Jon's height, he guesses. If he was on her level, inside the enclosure, he'd be shitting himself right about now.

Her prey can't escape her for long. She snatches up the goat with ease and chomps down and shakes it into pieces. The head flies off in that direction - the hindquarters in that one. She spits the torso down onto the ground and digs a foot into it, then lowers her massive head and rips out bloody flesh.

Jon turns away.

Spencer smirks at him. "Had enough?"

"Spencer," Ryan says, cuffing him up the head. "That's crass. Jon, are you all right? You look a little green."

*

Alex, Butcher and Siska manage to pick up the Pelagosaurus - Pelle, according to Butcher - and carry her into the shallow surf. The sea wall starts just off to their left, stretching out two miles into the ocean. It curves around half the island, Butcher says; it's only a stone wall in places, too. For the most part it's a thick metal mesh the dinosaurs have learned not to bite, because it's coated in some foul-tasting waterproof paste.

"That's my job for next month," Butcher says. He's barely even breathing hard, whereas Siska and Alex are both huffing. Alex swears Butcher got the easy part. Then Pelle snaps a little at Butcher's hand, and Alex is glad he didn't have to carry the head.

But Butcher just pats her.

"What... is...?" Alex finally grunts.

Butcher looks at him. "Repainting the wall chain. Okay, this should be deep enough."

Alex and Siska immediately let go and step back. Butcher holds Pelle's jaws between his hands for a moment and bends over her, looking into her eyes. He says very sternly, "don't go so high up the beach, all right? I might not find you in time."

She flips her tail, soaking both Alex and Siska, and then Butcher lets her go. She sinks below the water and disappears, shooting off into the sea.

Alex shakes the water off his hands and pushes his dripping hair off his face. Siska sneezes twice.

Butcher looks at them. "Anyone would think you've never been in the sea before," he says.

"I haven't," says Alex. He eyes the open water. Even though it's surrounded by a sea wall, there are carnivorous icthyosaurs inside the wall. And it's not that he doesn't like the beach - it's what could be at the beach that keeps him away from the seaside. "I swim in pools."

"Oh, that's a travesty," says Butcher.

"That, that is proof you're spending too much time with Bill," Siska tells him. "And not enough time with me!"

Butcher slaps a wave of water over Siska.

Siska looks at him for a moment, the salt water trickling down his face and off his nose and jaw - and then he tackles Butcher. They go down in a wave of noise and water and arms and legs, and before he knows it, someone's hand is around Alex's ankle and it's a three-person water war.

*

"We have a mixed herd of Triceratops and Torosaurus," Joe explains as they trip down a hill. The Jeep's parked at the top, and there's a thick copse of trees at the bottom. On the other side, there's a wide open plain and a lake and apparently, a mixed herd of Triceratops and Torosaurus.

Wait, Brendon thinks. "Wait, Torosaurus. Like as in -"

"It was discovered in 1891, so, no," Joe says, apparently predicting what Brendon was going to say. "But he laughs about it all the time."

"He does? He's here?" Brendon says.

Victoria huffs. "Who?"

Brendon looks at her. "Ray Toro."

"Oh," she says, and there's really no other reaction when you get Toro thrown at you. "He's here?"

"Usually," says Gabe. "But he went home."

"He missed his brother's birthday last month - we were grounded by that cyclone, remember?" Joe asks Gabe, who grimaces and nods. "So he's gone home to make up for it."

"Man, I wish I could've met him," Brendon says. Victoria grudgingly agrees. Joe and Gabe look curious, so Brendon explains. "He holds every single record at Stanford. Our skill? Combined?" He points to Victoria and himself. "Doesn't even come close to Toro."

*

Gerard looks pale when they get back to the Jeep. He'd had a front row seat to the goat's legs splattering against the fence. Jon slings an arm around his shoulders and squeezes him tight. He looks like he needs it as much as Gerard does.

Spencer glares at them as hard as he can. They both pretend not to notice.

"Are we ready?" Spencer snaps.

"You're breaking Rule Three," Ryan says, a smirk tugging at his lips.

"Geez, sorry," Jon huffs. "I don't see goats ripped apart on an everyday basis."

Spencer says, "maybe you should," then goes bright red. He turns and almost runs to the car, climbing in the driver's seat and staring out the front window.

Jon frowns. "What?" he says.

"Never mind," says Ryan, and ushers them both into the back seat of the Jeep. He himself climbs in the passenger seat and they're off to the next enclosure.

But the Dilophosaurus don't show. Neither does the Hypsilophodon, or any of the Procompsognathus.

They take a toilet break. It's almost eleven - they hit the T. rex at nearly ten, then wasted more than an hour just hanging around waiting for the dinosaurs to show.

Gerard pulls out his island cell phone and scrolls down to Pete's number. Leaning against the outside of the toilet, he dials. Jon's washing his face; he's a bit motion sick. Spencer's driving got immeasurably worse with each dinosaur who didn't show. It's like he wants to impress them, secretly, and is pissed off that the dinosaurs are ruining everything.

"Y'ello," Pete says.

"Are you planning on having actual dinosaurs on this tour?" Gerard asks. "I mean, the T. rex was good, but everyone else is apparently shy."

Pete pauses for a moment. "Hi, Gerard, how are you? That's great. Me? I'm good, too, a bit busy, though. I've got some asshole on the line who's getting up me for something I can't control, you know. I hate that. Oh, you do too? Awesome."

Gerard hangs up. There's no talking with Pete when he's like that.

He peeks around the edge of the toilet and sees Spencer and Ryan having another one of their vociferous whispered conversations. Spencer looks resolute and Ryan is pleading. When Spencer shakes his head, Ryan throws his arms up in the air and stalks off to the car.

Spencer glances over and sees Gerard. His expression hardens and he very pointedly turns his back on the ad exec.

Jon comes out, wiping his bearded cheeks and flicking droplets off his fingers. Gerard looks from him to Spencer, then considers the weight of his personal cell phone in his pocket.

Assuming he hasn't read the situation completely wrong - and he does have a tendency to do that - maybe he has an idea.

*

When Alex, Siska and Butcher resurface, absolutely soaked and their sides aching from laughter, a pod of Ophthalmosaurus icenicus - eight, plus a pup - are playing around them. Butcher hurries them out of the water and onto the shore, where it's safe enough to watch.

"Their idea of playing is biting each other's tails," Butcher says.

"And since they're six metres long, you're just one big tail to them," Siska tells Alex.

He winces. "Oh."

The Ophthalmosaurus are cute from this distance, though, huge eyes and long snouts and fat blue bodies. The pup is tiny in comparison to the adults; it can jump much higher into the air, too.

They retreat to the Jeep.

"Ophthalmosaurus are carnivorous, right?" Alex says, climbing over the low wall.

Butcher strips off his tee. "Yep."

Alex stares at the colourful tattoo on Butcher's chest. It's some kind of bird. Butcher turns to chuck his shirt in the back of the Jeep and wow, there's another tattoo on his back. Actually, it's not just on his back, it is his back - the fish curves a trail from his shoulders to the waist of his shorts and below.

"Yo, you're scaring the delicate flower," Siska says.

Butcher turns back and grins.

"Did that hurt?" Alex asks, still staring. The chest-piece is so colourful, wow.

"Like a bitch," Butcher nods. "But it's worth it."

"No kidding," he says under his breath. Butcher's grin widens and Alex shakes himself, remembering what he was going to ask. "Why haven't they eaten the Pelagosaurus? It's a lot smaller than they are."

"The Ophthalmosaurus are toothless," Siska says. "And Pelle's body is tough. They tried it once and never again."

Alex snorts. "Sounds like what I've heard of Dr. Asher."

*

"You are joking yourself if you think I am going anywhere near that," Victoria says, pointing to the Apatosaurus - better known as a Brontosaurus.

Gabe grins. "Come on," he says. His long fingers wrap around her wrist and her sensible boots skid along the dirt as she tries to dig her heels in. It's no use - the dirt's too loose-packed. Gabe is able to drag her right up to the Apatosaurus' massive leg. "Come on," he repeats, softer this time. He wraps one arm around her waist and slides the other along her own arm, pressing his front against her back.

"But -" she starts to say.

He grips her wrist and lifts her hand to rest against the Apatosaurus' leg.

"Wow."

"It is," Gabe says.

Meanwhile, Brendon's clambering up a tree like a monkey. "Come down from there, little dude," Joe calls.

Brendon waves down at him. "It's fine." He's climbed higher trees than this - some of them, like those ones on Sumatra, dripping with extremely venomous snakes. He grins in fond remembrance and hoists himself up another branch.

Finally, he's at a height with the Apatosaurus' head. From here, he can see the Triceratops and Torosaurus - and one lone Styracosaurus - herd drinking at the lake. They've already visited them; the giant horned dinosaurs had managed to steal Gabe's electric blue cap, Victoria's white headband and Joe's left shoe. Kleptomaniacs.

She's feeding from the next tree, efficiently stripping the foliage with her evolution-customised teeth. He bounces on the branch, rustling it, and she pauses. The movement has definitely got her attention, so Brendon does it again, and is delighted when she twists her neck and yanks at his branch.

"Hey there," he says.

The Apatosaurus munches his branch clean, eyeing him as she chews like she's re-evaluating her diet and calculating how many carbs are in a tasty Brendon-shaped snack.

He gulps and climbs down.

*

The Velociraptors make a better showing. All five of them are gathered around the fence as the Jeep pulls up. They bend low to the ground, nose almost in the dirt and tail waving high, and the claws on their small, in-turned hands are viciously sharp.

Ryan spells out the raptors' capabilities for Jon and Gerard. They're amazingly intelligent, more so than dolphins and some primates, and probably some humans. They can solve problems and they can remember things; they can learn from their mistakes. They've got pack instinct and they use divide-and-conquer and ambush to hunt. They can reach speeds of up to 40mph and those sharp claws can tear through clothes, skin and muscle - and turn door handles.

As they stand there watching the Velociraptors, the Velociraptors stand there and watch them right back.

It's undeniably creepy, but Gerard insists on taking pictures and sketching the raptors. "I want to get it right," he insists when Jon tries to hurry him along - the Velociraptors are making him nervous. "You're distracting me," Gerard goes on to say, "go and stand with Smith and Ross."

Jon looks at him, surprised. "Sorry," he offers, and retreats.

Gerard feels bad, snapping at Jon like that, but he doesn't want Jon to feel guilty when he and Spencer inevitably get their acts together. They're both very smart men, or else they wouldn't be here; they'll work things out. Gerard doesn't want to be in the way when they do.

Besides, Spencer already knows that he's attracted to Jon. It's obvious, with how waspish he is, with how he leans towards Jon when he speaks, how pissed off he is whenever Gerard is close to Jon or touching him and how his eyes flash whenever Jon smiles.

It's obvious, too, that he doesn't actually want to be attracted to Jon. But, as the CEO of Chem Advertising well knows, chemistry is an exacting taskmaster, and it very rarely lets go of its victims.

Of course, the sex with Jon was fantastic, and Gerard will be sad to lose that connection. Jon's the first person he's been with in - oh, a while. He drops his hand down to his pocket and fingers his cell phone. He wants to text Frank, he really does, but he's texted him four times already and Frank hasn't replied.

Gerard digs his teeth into his lip and puts the finishing touches on the Velociraptor's agile feet.

*

They have to take a boat out to see the other dinosaurs featured on the Boardwalk. The Pelagosaurus and the Ophthalmosaurus are found close to shore, but the Kronosaurus and the Liopleurodon are huge denizens of the deep and can only be found off the continental shelf to the island's south side.

Andy's waiting at the dock. "I thought it was your day off," Alex says.

"This is what I do on my day off," says Andy, and drops the plank to let Alex, Butcher and Siska aboard.

Alex is relieved that Butcher's not going to be behind the wheel. He'd gained two more - thankfully less serious - bumps on the head on the drive along the Boardwalk road to the south side. If he takes many more pills, it'll probably be considered an overdose and he'll have to be flown back to the mainland to get his stomach pumped.

That would be a bad thing, he thinks, looking out over the calm tropical waters. He hasn't even seen the Deinonychus yet, and he won't be able to leave until he does - it was the Deinonychus he found when he was twelve that had catapulted him onto the palaeontological track. Before that, he'd had his heart set on being a dentist. Isla Nublosa is infinitely more exciting than the inside of a slimy, cavity-filled mouth.

The boat is small but sleek, top of the range in its class. Spare no expense is the motto around here. Andy pulls the whipcord and the engine putters to life, and they're off, jetting smoothly over the blue crystal waters.

"Where's the continental shelf?" Alex shouts over the engine's rumble.

Butcher and Siska both point.

Alex looks over Andy's shoulder. The water ahead of them is a shallow blue, pretty blue - tropical island blue. But a couple of hundred metres ahead, it's like an artist has gone along with a paintbrush and swiped a line along the water. It darkens to midnight blue like a finger-snap.

Only a few seconds, and they're off the shelf, speeding over deep, deep water.

"How deep is it?" Alex asks.

Andy says something.

He doesn't hear. "What?"

The transportation specialist waves his hand in the air, a never-mind gesture.

Alex frowns. "How deep?" he asks Butcher, pointing off the side of the boat.

The engine suddenly cuts out and they're floating in the boat's own wake, choppy waters disturbed underneath them. Butcher's voice is loud in the sudden silence, even though he's speaking quietly. "Very."

*

"It's like a really big, armoured, spiky anteater," says Brendon, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. "I mean, that's what I think."

"With a mace for a tail - yes, I can see that," Victoria agrees. She's standing on the seat beside Brendon as they view the Euoplocephalus tutus from a very, very safe distance. "Are you sure it's herbivorous?" she asks Joe.

"Positive," he says, tipping his hat over his face and propping his feet up on the dash. "But she gets grumpy around noon, so we won't bother her."

"Are you seriously going to sleep?" Brendon asks, kicking the back of the driver's seat.

"If it's okay with your Highness," Joe says. "If I don't get my pre-lunch nap, I get grumpy around noon, too."

"He's not kidding," Gabe says. He slides over the back of his seat like a snake and stands up next to Victoria and Brendon. "It's got something to do with all that pot they grow under the Aviary."

"You what?" Victoria says.

"For recreational purposes," Joe says sleepily.

"Just as long as it's not some poor dinosaur's 'modern plant' treat," Brendon says.

Gabe smirks. "Not as far as we know, although the Nemicolopterus have been getting hungry at the strangest times lately."

Victoria glares at him. "Animal cruelty," she says, and Brendon echoes her.

"Oh, I'm kidding," the zoosemiotician says. The Euoplocephalus grunts noisily as it grazes on the shallow tubers by its feet, and Gabe stares at it for a moment. "Hey, either of you know how to drive a Jeep?"

Victoria shakes her head, but Brendon says, "yeah. Why?"

"Joe, Joe, shift, man," Gabe says, kicking at Joe's seat until the palaeontologist huffs and climbs into the passenger seat. "Iphigenia's getting antsy and we should go before she thinks we're a predator."

Brendon shimmies over the seat back, into the driver's seat. He starts up the engine and drives where Gabe tells him to. After a moment, he says, "what kind of a name for a dinosaur is Iphigenia?"

*

The Deinonychus are no-shows as well.

The Ornitholestes, however, is all too willing to parade around for them. She's quite bent over, with a long, striped grey and white body and a speckled ridge running up her neck. She also has bright blue spots around her eyes. Gerard points it out. "Why so bright a colour?" he asks.

Spencer glances at Ryan, who sighs - he's getting sick of answering all the questions - and leans against the rail of the observation platform. "She hides in the bushes. Her body is camouflaged, but the blue looks like the petals of a flower."

"So prey is attracted to it," Gerard says.

"That's the theory, but we've not give her any creature to try it on," Ryan says. "She seems to like chickens well enough."

Jon leans his chin on his hand. "Alive or dead?"

"Alive, of course," Ryan says. "Thrill of the chase."

Jon starts to hum Eye of the Tiger.

The Ornitholestes is prowling along the fence below them.

"You know," Gerard says, sketching out the frill of spines jutting out the back of her head, "I'd almost say she was agitated. She's acting like a caged tiger, or something."

Ryan frowns. "You might be right," he admits reluctantly. "She's rarely out of the trees for this long." Like most of the other enclosures, the Ornitholestes enclosure was thickly forested; perfect for hiding and scaring the kiddies.

The Ornitholestes suddenly stops.

*

The boat bobs on the stirred-up water for a moment, then as the ocean calms, they steady off. "Is it okay to just sit here like this?" Alex asks, unsure if the halt is planned.

"Sure," Butcher says. "Don's not going to come any closer if we're making a racket."

Alex raises his eyebrows. "Don?" He imagines the Ninja Turtle swimming up to their boat and asking where he could find the nearest pizza joint.

But Butcher doesn't answer. Evidently, he wants to keep it a surprise.

The boat's not big, but it's not tiny either. Alex leaves Andy in the front, shaded section where the controls are and picks his way through the scattered scientific equipment to the open-air section at the back. Butcher and Siska are relaxing along the long benches that line the boat's sides, both shirtless, tanned and lean with muscle.

Alex kneels on the back bench and leans over the stern. He's hot in his shirt but he absolutely will not take it off. He's suffered through worse heat in the Badlands in high summer - hell, he's from Las Vegas. He's from Vegas, and he has image issues. Alex snorts. That's kind of oxymoronic.

The water below him is glimmering blue, dark and mysterious. He can see the shelf, still, a sharp change from deep and murky to tropical clean, and he can see shoals of fish swimming this way and that. He supposes they're for the smaller icthyosaurs' meals.

He sighs. Why are they here? Nothing is happening.

That's when he sees the shadow.

*

A Stegosaurus is the size of a bus. One plate on its back - and there are seventeen all told - is bigger than Brendon's torso. The four tail spikes are each the length of his arm. Brendon hates himself for it, but he can see the military application of such a beast; coat it in bullet-proof armour and train it to attack the enemy and you've got yourself a living killing machine.

 

He takes off his shoes and socks and wiggles his toes in the dirt.

"She's lovely, isn't she," says Joe, who'd woken up from his nap just in time to give them the facts about Sally the Stegosaurus.

Brendon sighs. "Very." He wishes so hard he was just here for the holiday, like the other visitors. It would be so nice just to appreciate these dinosaurs as they are, instead of seeing the huge bulk of the Diplodocus, the Euopocephalus' armour and mace-like tail, the Triceratops' deadly horns.

Sally is grazing on waist-high ferns. The only noise is coming from her as she steadily chomps her way through her meal. Brendon's used to the quiet now. At first, the absence of bird calls and insect chirps had disturbed him. Now, it's relaxing.

But then he hears a noise that's not coming from Sally. Joe has heard it, too - he's slowly looking around, trying to pinpoint the source of the faint rumbling.

"Gabe, Victoria," Brendon says. They look up from the screen on Gabe's video camera, which continued its silent playback of Ryland Blackinton in the process of some sort of mockumentary on Sally. "Do you hear that?"

Victoria frowns.

Gabe closes his eyes and listens.

"When hearing a weird noise at an animal park," Joe says, "there's no one better to be with than a zoosemiotician."

He's got a point. The three of them watch Gabe, waiting.

*

At the precise same moment, Gerard's bag, previously leaning against the post because Gerard needed both arms free to sketch, fell through the slats of the observation platform.

*

"What is that?" Alex says, pointing down. The water is practically black underneath them, black like it hadn't been before.

*

The rumble is getting louder. Gabe's eyes snap open. He draws in a deep breath and says, very calmly, "everybody get in the Jeep."

*

Gerard lunged for it, fumbling his sketchbook and pencil and his head almost ramming into the post. The sketchbook hits the deck with a clatter; the pencil and Gerard's sunglasses go the way of the bag.

But the bag is a messenger bag. It has a long shoulder strap, which gets caught on the wooden supports of the observation platform. The pencil and sunglasses are lost causes - the custom-made sunglasses shatter as they hit the ground far below. But the bag is hanging off the beam right below their feet.

The ad exec drops to his knees and scrabbles at the slats, trying to get through.

The Ornitholestes looks up, slowly, her head craning at an awkward angle so her eyes are peering right up at them. More precisely, right up at the hanging bag.

It's hanging easily four metres above her head, but she doesn't seem to care. As Gerard, and after a moment of surprise, Jon try to stick their hands through the slats to reach the thin strap of the bag, the Ornitholestes appears to be measuring the distance between her and the bag.

Ryan and Spencer exchange a look. "Give it up," Spencer says. "You're not going to get that bag back."

"Shut up," Jon says. He's sick of Spencer's wet-weather mood.

Spencer huffs.

Gerard plasters himself to the low wall encircling the platform. There's a gap between the floor and the wall. He worms his arm through it and, lying flat on the ground, reaches down and around.

"Almost," Jon says. He lets his hand rest on Gerard's lower back, the minute twitches of his fingertips guiding Gerard's hand. "Just a little to the - yeah - and then down. Almost got it."

The Ornitholestes jumps.

She soars through the air and falls short by a good metre, twisting gracefully and landing with a thump, square on her feet again.

Ryan sounds surprised, which is saying something. "She just jumped three metres up in the air."

"She's getting ready to go again," Spencer says. Both he and Ryan lean over the wall, watching the Ornitholestes. Jon's watching, too, and Gerard's still trying to grab his hanging bag. He's very close now, his fingertips nearly brushing the material. He just needs to stretch further.

She jumps again. She gains a good extra foot this time.

"Crap," Jon says, realising that if she jumps much higher - or if she gets the bright idea to use the trees around her for leverage - Gerard is actually going to lose his bag and possibly his hand. "Crap," he says again.

The Ornitholestes jumps, this time using a rock as her starting point.

Gerard's fingers close around the bag's strap. He yanks it off the support beam and lets his now-sore arm go limp, resting for a split second to gain the strength to sit back up.

The bag is now dangling from Gerard's hand. It's dropped more than low enough for the Ornitholestes to snatch at it.

And she does.

She bites right through it with powerful jaws, her sharp teeth slicing through the thick material. She gets a good mouthful of whatever's in the bag. Her momentum makes her fly for a moment -

- but then she starts to fall again. Her full weight, a good twenty five pounds, drags on the bag. Gerard slams forward, his whole body sliding across the platform and whacking into the low wall.

Ryan, Spencer, Jon, Gerard, the bag and the Ornitholestes are all frozen for a moment.

Then there's a ripping noise, and Jon throws his arms around Gerard's waist and drags him back from the wall.

The bag tears, the Ornitholestes' teeth taking a chunk out of it.

The Ornitholestes herself falls to the ground with nothing more than a mouthful of canvas to show for her efforts.

Jon drags Gerard back and back and back until they hit the back wall; the bag comes with them. It's empty - the hole is huge and everything inside has fallen out, scattering on the ground far below. Gerard is panting, in pain, his head throbbing.

Not only throbbing, he realises after a moment, but bleeding. The sticky blood trickles down into his eye and he rubs at his face to get rid of it. The cut is a shallow, nasty motherfucker and it's stinging like anything.

"Are you okay?" Jon asks. His arms are still around Gerard's waist. He's leaning back against the wall and Gerard is leaning against him; he can't move, and he's not sure Gerard can, either.

"I'm - bleeding," Gerard says, and proves Jon wrong. He shifts forward and pulls his bag towards him. "And - my bag - is ruined." He's struggling to get his breathing under control. It's almost like a panic attack. He hasn't had one of those in forever.

The Ornitholestes honks. She's apparently decided that everything that had fallen out of Gerard's bag - cigarettes, a water bottle, the camera, spare pencils, an empty sketchbook, the island map - isn't worth eating. She wanders away, into the trees.

"That was exciting," Ryan says dryly. He unties the pale pink kerchief from around his neck and hands it to Gerard.

"Thanks," the ad exec says, pressing the cloth to his forehead. Jon helps Gerard up, and they examine his bag. It really is ruined - there's a giant piece missing from the bottom. "Great," Gerard says. "Perfect." He thinks sorrowfully of the camera, of all of Jon's beautiful photos taken in the Aviary the day before. They're all gone now.

"It could be worse," Spencer points out. "She could have jumped higher and ripped off your arm."

The others all look at him. Ryan's rolling his eyes and Jon's disbelieving; Gerard just looks sick.

Spencer shrugs.

*

Oh god, oh god, the shadow is moving, Alex realises after a moment. It's moving! "Wha -"

Butcher rolls over onto his stomach and slithers up the bench so he's propped up on the rail, Ariel-on-the-rock style, next to the young palaeontologist. "Alex," Butcher says. "Meet Don."

"Don -" Alex cuts himself off. The shadow passes completely underneath them then turns back for a second pass, and now that he's focussing, he can see the pleiosaur's features. A massive crocodilian head with wicked sharp teeth; a long, sturdy body; four inefficient but powerful flippers, each as large as Alex himself; a thick tail that bumps the boat gently. "Liopleurodon," he says, understanding. There's wonder in his voice.

Butcher grins. "Isn't he great?"

Siska yawns.

Alex and Butcher both shoot him a dirty look. Butcher scoops up a palmful of ice-cold salt water and chucks it in Siska's face.

With his mouth still open from yawning, it literally splashes everywhere. His disgusted expression is priceless as Siska sputters and scrubs at his lips and tongue. "That's gross," he says matter-of-factly, and Butcher keels over laughing. Alex, too, is giggling.

Siska grits his teeth - he doesn't like it when people laugh at him. He shoves Butcher and Alex off the side of the boat.

*

"What?" Brendon asks. "What is it?"

Gabe just gestures towards the Jeep, clapping Joe on the shoulder as he does like he's pushing him into action. "Get back to the Hotel," he says.

Joe's expression goes curiously blank. He grabs a handful of Victoria and Brendon's clothes and pulls them to the car, pushes them in the backseat and jumps in the driver's seat. He fires up the engine and shifts into drive and hits the accelerator, and they're off.

Brendon and Victoria turn in their seats and see the zoosemiotician facing away from them. He obviously hasn't noticed that they're all in the car and leaving without him - surely, if he had, he'd be running to catch up?

"Excuse me?" Victoria yells over the engine. "What about Gabe?"

As they watch, Gabe melts into the trees.

Joe frowns, glancing over his shoulder at her. They bounce over a small bump and Joe's words are stilted. "What about who?"

Uh oh. Brendon's seen this before.

"Gabe Saporta," she says, looking bewildered. "Zoosemiotician?"

Joe shakes his head, just as bewildered as Victoria. "Zoo-what?" He turns back to the front, keeping his eyes on the fields ahead. They swing onto a dirt track riddled with potholes and ditches.

Brendon braces himself on the bouncing seat and leans forward. There it is - a tiny clear patch on Joe's shoulder, unobtrusive and nearly invisible to the naked eye. It's located right where Gabe had clapped Joe on the shoulder.

He speaks right in Victoria's ear so she can hear him without Joe hearing as well. "It's no use," Brendon says. "He doesn't remember him."

"But we were just with him!" Victoria says.

Joe suddenly grabs the rear-view mirror, tilting it so he can see over the back of the Jeep. "Fuck," he says, and they speed up. "Seatbelts, kids!"

Brendon and Victoria both turn.

Then they both look at each other and say, "fuck." Scrabbling for their seatbelts, both are buckled in and braced within a moment, and Joe speeds up even more.

Gallimimus are funny-looking dinosaurs. They're a bit taller than a person, and they look a lot like the dinosaur version of an emu, with big, fat backs, spindly legs and a lean neck. They have strong tails, though, and tiny arms and hands and a snout-like face. Isla Nublosa has a herd of them, twenty strong, and they like to run.

In fact, they're running right now. Behind the Jeep.

Faster than the Jeep.

"They're catching up," Joe says, swinging around a corner of the track.

A Gallimimus bursts through the trees ahead on the left.

Joe curses and swerves.

Swinging so fast, the steering wheel locks and Joe loses all control. He tugs at it, but the Jeep just goes on swerving, right across the track, spinning - and slams side-on into a bush.

Momentum rolls the Jeep right over the bush.

*

It's a quiet ride back to the Hotel. Gerard nurses his torn bag in his lap and Jon holds his sketchbook. Ryan doesn't say anything, and Spencer is as bright and cheerful as always.

They pull up outside the fabulous white steps. Neither of the other Jeeps are there. "We're a bit early," Ryan says, checking his watch. It's only twelve. "You should get that looked at," he tells Gerard.

Gerard fingers the band-aid over his cut. Blood is still trickling out from under the adhesive - he always was a big bleeder. "Yeah," he says reluctantly.

They climb out of the Jeep, and Ryan pulls out his phone and calls Greta even as they're heading up the steps and into the lobby. "She'll be here in a moment," Ryan says, snapping his phone shut. "Stay here in the lobby."

With that, he leaves.

Spencer looks at Jon, an unreadable expression on his face, then turns and goes after Ryan.

"I don't know what his problem is," Jon says, looking after Spencer.

Gerard suppresses the urge to roll his eyes. "You should go and find out."

Jon hesitates, then shakes his head. "It's pretty obvious he doesn't like me."

"He doesn't know you," Gerard says. "Give him a chance. You gave me one," he reminds Jon.

"Yeah, but you took the chance," Jon points out. "He won't."

"You can't know that for sure." Gerard bites his lip, then offers shyly, "I know I'm glad I took the chance."

Jon pulls him into a kiss, and Gerard melts into it. The geologist's strong fingers massage the base of his skull - Gerard breaks the kiss and lets his head fall back. He groans in appreciation. "That feels amazing."

A moment later, the ring of a phone echoes through the majestic lobby.

*

Everything is cold.

Then, Alex breaks the surface with a gasp, and everything's still cold, but it's noisy, too. Someone's yelling, and there's splashing, and it's fucking cold, did he mention the cold? Because it's cold.

He's flailing in the water because he can't see or touch the ground like in a swimming pool, and he can't see the boat either. He slides under the surface and sucks in a mouthful of water, and coughs and splutters - and then there's an arm sliding around his waist.

Alex struggles. Who the fuck -

"Quit it," Butcher says. "Quit moving. Liopleurodon's a carnivore."

This penetrates the panicked haze of Alex's mind and he goes completely still. Butcher can't hold him up if Alex isn't helping, though, and they both go under again. Alex is soaking wet and cold and his clothes and shoes are heavy. He breaks the surface and goes right back to flailing.

"Oh my god, you're useless," says Butcher, surfacing behind him and grabbing his waist once more. "Stop fucking moving, kid."

A lifesaver's ring plops into the water beside them, and Butcher tosses Alex towards it. The young palaeontologist drapes himself over the ring and shudders violently, gasping and hiccuping and still coughing up salt water. He's too heavy like this, and starts to slide back off the ring; he kicks off his shoes and wiggles forward so he's completely lying on it.

He feels himself being pulled across the water. Butcher's swimming alongside him, saying things like, "it'll be okay, Alex," and, "just hang on there," and, "fuck it's cold."

Then, the ring bumps into the side of the boat, and Andy and Siska are pulling them up over the gunwale. Andy's cussing Siska out, and as soon as Butcher's back in the boat, he's doing the same - but Alex just lies on the floor of the boat and shivers, hiccuping and wondering why he isn't dinosaur meat right now.

"- not to mention, I think you broke him!" Andy says, pointing down at Alex.

Butcher's teeth are chattering. "You broke a baby genius, Sisky, are you happy?"

"'M not broken," Alex mumbles. "Cold."

"Take the helm," Andy tells Siska. "We'll talk about this when we get back."

Siska nods, miserable, and after a moment the boat is cruising back towards the shore. The veterinarian's shoulders are slumped and he's completely silent. Alex would feel sorry for him if he could feel anything other than cold right now.

Andy digs a whole bunch of towels out from under the seats. Butcher takes a couple and dries himself off, then wraps himself up in them and lies out on the floor to spread out and get warm in the sun. But Alex is, as Butcher said, useless, and can't seem to wrap his fingers around the towel to dry himself. Andy does it for him, acting all motherly, even towelling Alex's hair.

Alex is then put down on the floor with Butcher. "Body heat," Andy says sternly. "You both need it. Snuggle. Now."

So they do, and very slowly, Alex starts to feel like a person again. "Why -" he starts to say quietly, then coughs a little. "Why did he do that?"

"Sisky's got impulse control problems," Butcher says. "It's like a brain thing. It's why no other science facility in the world will take him, even though he's brilliant. He's a real liability. He's got it mostly under control - but, I guess, not today."

"But Pete - Pete took him."

Butcher nods. "Isla Nublosa is like the Isle of the Misfits. Pete will take anyone who's as miserable as him."

Alex keeps shivering. He wonders if these scientists are in on Pete's mysterious plan, and if they are, what they'll do to keep their sanctuary safe from the military.

It's not long before the boat is bumping up against the dock. Andy helps Alex into the Jeep, but Butcher brushes Siska off when he tries to help. Hunching in on himself, Siska climbs in front with Andy, leaving Butcher and Alex in the back.

They drive straight back to the Hotel - Alex barely even registers that they'd only seen three marine dinosaurs out of a promised four - and when they get there, it's in time to see Pete and Greta and a bunch of other piling into a van and speeding out the gate, down towards the plains.

The plains - where the herbivore fields and carnivore enclosures are.

Alex almost panics - what if dinosaurs have gotten loose and eaten the other visitors? - but he sees Jon and Gerard emerge from the lobby doors, out onto the steps. They were the ones who'd gone to see the carnivores.

"What's going on?" Alex asks, teeth still chattering from the cold. His clothes are soaked through and he's sock-clad, and he just wants to have a shower and a hot meal and sleep for a while, but he can't do that if someone's hurt or in danger.

Jon shakes his head. "We don't know. Pete said something about a stampede."

Alex frowns. He looks at Gerard and sees the band-aid, and sees the blood seeping out from under it. "Your, uh -" he says to the ad exec, gesturing to his forehead.

"I know," Gerard says, his nose wrinkling. He uses his sleeve to wipe away some of the blood. "I had an encounter," he explains.

"With a dinosaur?" Alex is surprised. Gerard had an encounter with a carnivore and he survived?

"A wall, actually." He looks embarrassed.

Alex is confused.

"You should go and change clothes," Butcher suddenly says to Alex. The marine biologist is sun-dried by now, and he'd only been wearing booty shorts and sandals anyway. Alex is fully clothed and still drenched. Even his hair is still wet. "You're going to get pneumonia."

"I'm not," Alex protests, but Jon and Gerard both finally notice that he's all wet and they drag him inside and up to his room, so Alex changes. When he emerges again, Butcher, Siska and Andy are all gone - probably back to wherever they live to recover from the morning spent with him - and only Jon and Gerard are there.

The three of them sit on the grand staircase in the lobby and while they wait, they swap stories of their day so far. It's hard to believe it's only ten past twelve.

*

This is supremely uncomfortable. Also painful. Very painful. Mostly painful, in fact, but Brendon spent a month at Guantanamo Bay following his Basic Training and they weren't exactly teaching him about splints and field medicine. So he focuses on the uncomfortable and tries to shift so he's not quite as awkwardly twisted around the tree branch impaled in his shoulder.

He almost bites through his tongue.

Okay, let's not move that way again, he tells himself.

Victoria sits on the seat beside him, gnawing at her thumbnail. Her hair is messed and her high-class clothes are dirty, but she's uninjured.

The Jeep had rolled upside-down on top of the bush. Its short, sharp branches had stuck right through the open-top, spearing Brendon - but missing Victoria and Joe. It had continued to roll, its weight dragging it over the other side of the bush back down to its wheels.

So now, a foot of jagged wood is sticking out of his shoulder. It really, really hurts.

Joe is pacing outside the Jeep. Victoria glances back at him and then looks at Brendon. "So," she says softly. "He doesn't remember Gabe."

Brendon swallows. Okay. Distraction. This is good. "No," he says, keeping his voice steady. "Can you see the patch on his shoulder?"

Victoria looks again, and then nods. "What is it?"

"I think it's a pheromone-specific memory inhibitor," Brendon tells her. "The drug - ah. The theory is that every person has individual pheromones. We pick up on these subconsciously and they react with our own body chemicals."

"Hence part of the reason why we like a particular person and not their twin, or even why we dislike someone on sight," Victoria says. She did biochemistry 101 too.

"Right." He can't think properly, but he pushes forward anyway. He came up with the company line for this drug; he should be an expert on explaining it. "The theory is," he says, then has to say it again because he forgot what he was going to say the first time. "The theory is that every person -"

"Has individual pheromones," Victoria interrupts.

Brendon swallows. Right. He already said that, didn't he? "And there's a part of the brain that registers these pheromones. Synapses connect in a particular way and stimulate memory. They connect in the same pathway for every individual pheromone."

She nods slowly. "So the drug latches onto this pathway."

"And obliterates it." He sighs and closes his eyes.

"But," Victoria says, "but, hey. Brendon." She touches his thigh.

He drags his eyelids open again.

"But how does that, obliterating a scent-memory pathway, obliterate the memory of an entire person? We remember a person as more than just their smell," she points out. "Sight, sound, event," she lists. "Even taste and touch."

"Ah, there are, um." Brendon blinks. "Chemicals. Pheromones trigger chemicals in the brain that make us remember other things about a person. Other synaptic pathways are activated from scent-memory. It can go the other way, too."

"So the drug activates these pathways and obliterates those as well."

He tips his free hand from side to side. "Basically."

"Uh huh." She pulls her hand away from her mouth; her nail's bitten to the quick. She starts on the next one. "I didn't know there were drugs that could do that."

A ghost of a smile crosses his face. "Top secret."

"Right. One of those military projects you've worked on," Victoria says.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," he tells her. His eyes flutter shut again.

Victoria says, "no, come on. Pale and unconscious is not a good look for you."

So he opens his eyes open again, and exhales heavily. He can feel the blood dripping down his chest and arm. It's sickening and warm. "Didn't know you cared," Brendon says. He's oddly touched, because he suddenly realises what Victoria's doing. Only part of her questions are inspired by curiosity; she's also concerned for his well-being. It's really... nice.

She sighs. "Don't be stupid. I'm not heartless."

"A lot of people would disagree."

"Then a lot of people are wrong." Victoria drops her hand into her lap. "What else have you worked on, exactly?" she wonders. "Anything public?"

He hums. "Not really."

"All top secret stuff."

"Just like this island," Brendon says.

She frowns. "This isn't top secret."

He looks over at her. "Of course it is. Dinosaurs? What, you think it's public knowledge they're here?"

Victoria cedes the point with a nod. "But it's not top secret. How else would we all be here? Not you, of course - you've probably got clearance at the highest levels. But Jon, Gerard, Alex and me. I know for a fact that I don't."

"The, uh, island is owned by BioGen," Brendon says. "They bought it after the Hammond Incident. Dr. Malcolm and Ms. Hammond were kept by the Costa Rican authorities for months after they, um, escaped the island. When Ms. Hammond came of age and inherited the company, she bought the island so she could work here without Costa Rican interference. So she can clear people to come here."

"So she knows we're here," Victoria says. "This Ms. Hammond."

"No doubt," Brendon says.

"She's also the one who said no deaths."

Brendon nods. "Right. So she trusts Pete to - to do whatever - in order to convince us, or me, to get the military contract annulled, but at the same time, keep us safe."

"This," she says, gesturing to his right arm, pinned to the seat, "is not exactly safe."

"I'll probably get a nice payout once we get off the island," Brendon says. "She'll foot my medical bills, any physiotherapy, medication, that sort of thing. She said no deaths, not no injuries."

"Are you going to tell your bosses the dinosaurs aren't worth the trouble?" Victoria asks. "You've got a valid reason now."

He pauses. "From what I've seen?" he says. "The dinosaurs are worth the trouble. They're worth their weight in gold. Or," he considers, "enemy soldier blood."

Victoria looks at him for a long moment, then says, "you know, I think that sometimes, you're colder than I am."

*

Greta looks down at her patients. Alex is shivering still. He's dressed in warm, dry clothes, his hair wrapped in a towel, and he's buried under a pile of blankets and hot water bottles. Gerard's forehead is as clean as she can get it, and it's finally stopped bleeding. Brendon is in the operating room, under anaesthetic. They're waiting for a surgeon to arrive from the mainland to remove the branch.

She's a veterinarian. She should not be handling this. But Greta is a kind person, and she hates to see anyone in pain or sick, be they man or mammal or anything in between. So she pads around in the infirmary in pale pink scrubs and smiles her best smile. Pay it forward, is Greta's motto, and everything has to start somewhere - so why not with her.

Pete is hovering anxiously by the door. "So?" he says.

"They'll be fine, and Brendon is sedated," Greta says. "Dr. Toro will be here within the hour, and until then, Adam is keeping Brendon under the anaesthetic."

The ex-professor rubs his face. "Good. He'll be okay?"

"The branch went straight through," Greta tells him. "It's pencil-thin inside his arm," she says. She holds her hand just above the skin of her shoulder. "It only thickens about here. The x-ray shows it hasn't penetrated anything major. But we'll know more once it's removed."

"Right," Pete says. "Thanks."

"Victoria tells me that," Greta hesitates. Alex and Gerard are at the other end of the infirmary - it's safe to talk. "That Brendon's still undecided as to his assessment of the dinosaurs." Actually, Victoria had said that he was pretty sure he'd go with a positive assessment, but Greta's not going to tell Pete that - he might do something drastic. "And he's not going to be going anywhere. How are you going to convince him to give the military a negative report?"

Pete scratches the back of his neck. "I don't know," he says.

But he's lying.

*

The visitors are given the rest of the afternoon off. Pete had intended to rotate the guests, allowing them to experience a second part of the island in the afternoon, different to what they'd experienced in the morning. Now, with Brendon in surgery, Alex and Gerard bed-bound and Victoria insisting they have a missing scientist, no one's going anywhere.

Pete sits across the table from Victoria. She's got her arms folded and this super stubborn expression on her face that women get when they know they're right and there's nothing a man can say to change their minds.

He scratches absently at the smoker's patch on his upper arm. "So what you're saying," he says, "is that there was another scientist here. This Saporta."

"That's right." She crosses her long, long legs. Her clothes are filthy, but she still looks fabulous.

"But Joe doesn't remember him."

She nods. "Did you see the..." she trails off, her gaze falling on the patch on his arm. Shit, she thinks. "You don't remember him either."

Pete shakes his head. "What use would I have for another zoosemiotician? I already have three."

Victoria sighs. "You don't remember him last night? He brought me to the dinner table."

"You showed up on your own," Pete says. "Didn't you?"

"How long have you been trying to quit smoking?" Victoria suddenly asks.

He's confused. It shows on his face.

She gestures to the patch on his arm. "Do you not smoke?"

Pete yanks it off. "Never," he says, staring at it.

"I would suggest you check the rest of your staff for those patches," Victoria says. "Anyone who's wearing them isn't going to remember Dr. Saporta's presence on the island. I have to wonder," she says. "Who else have you 'forgotten'?"

*

Four hours after Dr. Toro arrives, Brendon is out of surgery and awake. He's already charmed the gentle-natured Ray into giving him the good drugs and showing him his x-rays - and the branch he'd taken out of Brendon's shoulder.

"Man, it's tiny," says Brendon, reaching out to finger the thin piece of wood.

Ray holds it away. "Sure is," he says.

"It's hard to believe that something so small hurt that much."

"Ah," Ray says, waving his hand. "You're bluffing. I've seen your medical record. What about that - uh -" he snaps his fingers, "outside Kabul?"

"Oh, man," Brendon says, and laughs. "Almost lost my foot."

"See? This," Ray gestures to his heavily bandaged arm, "is nothing. You'll be fine."

This high, on drugs of this calibre, Brendon can believe it. Plus, Ray Toro is the best - even if no mainland hospital will take him because he gets too emotionally involved with his patients.

Brendon lifts his uninjured fist, and Ray bumps it with his own. "Thanks," Brendon says.

"No problem."

"Are you good for visitors?" Ray asks. Pete's given Brendon a private room in the infirmary so he can rest unwatched.

Brendon pauses, then says, "sure." He doesn't want to be left out of the loop, after all, and he's not got much chance in here to find out why Gabe disappeared. Maybe Victoria's had more luck.

So Ray lets himself out and a moment later, Pete, Jon and Victoria come in.

"How are you feeling?" Pete asks.

Brendon thinks about shrugging, but that's probably a bad idea. He smiles. "All right."

"Good." Pete runs his hand through his hair. "I know it's a bit insensitive for me to be asking this, but -"

"Oh, I want compensation," says Brendon.

Pete nods. "We'll talk."

"Yeah, we will." Brendon settles back against the pillows, wincing. "So," he says, glancing at Jon and Victoria, "where's Patrick?"

Pete blinks. "Who?"

*

Instead of everyone hanging around the Hotel, Greta takes Victoria and anyone else who wants to come down to the Aviary. Victoria hasn't had a chance to see the pterosaurs yet, and Greta is eager to show them off - especially Kiara, who is regaining some of her former deep satin-brown colour. Alex, rugged up in layers despite the tropical weather, goes; the others stay.

Before, though, Jon and Victoria and Brendon laugh away the mention of Patrick after an awkward moment - they tell Pete Brendon is obviously still woozy from surgery and he's gotten someone on the island mixed up with someone he knows. Pete ruffles Brendon's hair and departs, and sighs of relief are breathed. Then Brendon falls asleep, and Victoria leaves with Greta.

So Jon and Gerard, because Greta says he's well enough to leave the infirmary, are left alone. It's not hard for them to decide how to amuse themselves - the novelty of skin has not yet worn off. The infirmary is below ground - they race up the stairs like kids, Jon shoving Gerard into the wall and Gerard shifting so he's always right in front of Jon, blocking any opportunity for him to get ahead.

Up the steps to the lobby, and up the steps to the second floor. Gerard gets to the door first and as he's fumbling at the keycard lock, Jon suddenly presses up behind him, hot and solid up his back, and he mouths at Gerard's neck. "Want you to fuck me," he murmurs.

Gerard stops fumbling and gets the card in the slot, and the door is sweeping open and they're inside. It's all smooth, because when Gerard really wants something - like to draw, or to make coffee, or apparently to fuck Jon - the clumsiness packs it in and things become easy.

Jon spins him around and catches his mouth in a kiss. His short, blunt fingers slide over Gerard's ears as he licks into his mouth. He's very tender, stroking the sticky gauze over the patch on Gerard's forehead, and then his fingers skim further back and he's cupping Gerard's head. Gerard bites at Jon's lip, smiling; shivers run down his spine as Jon scratches his scalp lightly.

They break apart, and Jon licks his lips like he always does. Gerard can't stop smiling.

He leads Jon to the bed, walking backwards. Jon's caught the smile from Gerard; his eyes are crinkled at the edges. They sit on the edge and pull off their socks and shoes. It feels so easy as they crawl onto the bed, side-by-side, and collapse onto their backs. Gerard rolls onto his side and tosses an arm and a leg over Jon, and kisses him.

They kiss, and kiss again, and Gerard trails his fingers along Jon's jaw. Jon's mouth falls open; Gerard leans in and sucks on his bottom lip. Jon's hand twists in his hair and pulls, and Gerard lets himself be tugged back. "Where's the stuff?" he asks, his eyes so dark.

Gerard kisses him again; he can't help it. He shifts right on top of Jon and brushes his tongue against Jon's lips, then ducks his head and sweeps a hot, wet line down through the stubble, to Jon's neck. He lingers there. Jon's hands fist in the bedspread when Gerard sucks at his pulse-point, his back arching and a helpless groan fighting out of his mouth.

"I want you like this," Gerard suddenly says, lifting his head to looks at Jon. Jon forces his eyes open, and he looks confused. So Gerard clarifies. "When I'm fucking you." Jon moans and crumples back. "I want you competely useless." He pulls at Jon's shirt, and it glides over his head - he wore one without buttons today. "I want you so far gone that whenever anyone says my name tomorrow, you'll remember moaning it." Jon's shorts and blue briefs are tossed away. "I want you to be right back here, on this bed with me, every time you move a muscle tomorrow."

And now, Gerard is fully clothed, and Jon is fully naked. Lust is crackling over their skin. Gerard runs his hands down Jon's bare chest, tracing his collarbone and pectoralis muscles and feeling out each rib. He's fascinated by the play of muscles as Jon props himself up on his elbows, and he leans forward for another kiss even as his fingers circle Jon's flushed nipples.

Then he pulls back, slipping off the bed, and Jon makes an unhappy noise. "Come back here," he says. "I'm not finished with you, yet." He rolls half onto his side, unaware of the way his skin glows in the light, of how his muscles twist into dips and swells that Gerard just wants to tongue all day.

But there are no tattoos spreading across his hips and chest and arms and neck and back. His fringe doesn't fall over his eyes, and his grin isn't half as cocky as - Gerard cuts himself off. Besides, staying in bed all day isn't something Jon and Gerard would do. It's more something Gerard would do with - again, he cuts himself off.

"What?" Jon says. He obviously saw the irritation flash briefly across Gerard's face.

"Nothing," Gerard says. "Just a thought I can't shake." He picks up the lube and condoms from where they'd left them that morning and drops them on the bed.

Jon reaches out and tugs on the hem of Gerard's shirt. "Anything I can do to help get your mind off it?" he says, all coy and sly and Gerard leans down and kisses him again. Jon stretches into him, kneeling up. His hands are still pushing at the shirt, so Gerard pulls back and lets him take it off.

And then Jon's hands are wrapping around his shoulders and pulling him down onto the bed. He twists deftly and traps Gerard underneath him, their legs hanging off the edge.

"You want me useless," Jon says, his eyes sparkling in golden humour, "you're going to have to work for it."

Then there's a noise from the door.

The open door.

Gerard and Jon, as one, look over. Dr. Spencer Smith stands in the hallway, staring at them.

More accurately, he's staring at Jon - at the long, flushed lines of his naked body. It's not anywhere near evening yet, so there's more than enough light to see the blush spread across Smith's face.

"I -" Spencer begins to say something, but stops. He tears his eyes from Jon's lean form and instead looks at Gerard. "How's your head?" he asks, his voice strained.

"Better now, thank you," Gerard says.

"Good." And then he flees.

Gerard shoves at Jon, who's still hovering above him caught up in shock. "Go," he says.

"What?" Jon blinks.

"Go," Gerard insists. He dumps Jon onto the bed and grabs up the geologist's pants. "He obviously wasn't coming to ask about my head, now, was he?" he says pointedly.

Jon stares at the pants, thrown into his lap, then slowly pulls them on.

"Faster, Walker," he snaps.

And then Jon's a blur. It's like Gerard's words have woken him up. He yanks his pants on and tugs his shirt over his head and down. "Do you really think he came to talk to me?" he asks, his expression hopeful as he tosses the room around looking for the flip-flops he left here the night before.

Gerard rolls his eyes, flopping down to sit on the bed. "Was there ever any doubt?"

Jon grabs Gerard's head and presses a kiss to his forehead. "Thanks. You're wonderful." With that, he's out the door and after Spencer.

Wonderful?

Gerard pulls his cell phone out of his pocket and considers that.

*

"Dr. Smith!" Jon calls, but that sounds wrong to him. "Spencer," he says instead, and that's miles better. "Spencer, please, wait." He's at the top of the stairs and Spencer is halfway across the lobby, heading for one of the doors he knows leads into the Hotel's labyrinthine downstairs complex. Spencer knows those halls; Jon does not. He'll never find him down there if Spencer doesn't want to be found.

And Jon realises, with a flash of insight, that he's entranced by Spencer. It's not just his stunning looks, either - Jon wants to know everything about him. Who hurt him so badly that Spencer shut away his heart? How long has he been on the island, and what does he do here? Where did he grow up? How long has he known Ryan? Does he have family? What's his favourite colour? What's his best memory? Why won't he stop walking away?

Jon catapults down the stairs and runs faster than the wind. He slams the door closed in front of Spencer just as the mathematician goes to open it. Spencer spins around to face him, his expression chilling in fury.

"What?" Spencer spits.

His arm is still braced on the door over Spencer's shoulder. Their faces - hell, their whole bodies - are close, but not touching. Jon brings his other arm up so Spencer is trapped. "Don't run from me," Jon says, his breathing unsteady.

"You were the one running," the mathematician points out. He doesn't seem the least bit discomfited by their closeness. His blue, blue eyes are frank and his lips are pursed in irritation. Jon's betting that if he looks down, he'd see those lovely hips cocked to one side.

"Spencer," Jon says -

- but then Spencer is shoving him. He shoves Jon so hard that Jon falls back, flat on his ass, and skids across the floor. "It's Dr. Smith," Spencer says coolly, then turns on his heel and disappears through the door.

Jon picks himself up. Spencer - Dr. Smith - may or may not have just broken his coccyx.

He is calm. He is completely calm.

Right up until he slams the front door of the Hotel behind him. Then he's off, down the steps and across the lawn and disappearing into the trees. He's only wearing his flip-flops and he loses both of them quickly. He dodges this way and that, his feet being torn by the sharp mast underneath him - he runs right through a spider's web.

And then the foliage thickens and he can't get any further. Not while running. Jon punches a tree trunk and barely notices the burst of pain, the embedded splinters. He climbs between trunks, carefully picking his way further and further from the Hotel. There are sticky smears on leaves under his feet and on trunks that brush his knuckles: he can find his way back by following his own bloodtrail.

And then he really can't go any further, and he stops and slumps against a tree. He's dirty and bloody and shaking with adrenaline; there is no pain, no anger, no breathlessness. There's just a headrush.

Jon closes his eyes.

Then he hears a noise. Specifically, footsteps.

*

Staring at his phone, Gerard realises something peculiar. The last time he checked to see if Frank had texted him, he'd had four bars of service. The island has its own cell signal tower, its own satellite to bounce the signals off - the Hotel has the strongest reception zone on the island.

He should be getting the full four bars, like he had been before; but the reception indicator on the screen is blank. He has no reception.

"When did that happen?" Gerard wonders. But, it's not like his phone is very new or anything - it fucks up. He turns it off and back on again. Usually that restores it.

But the reception meter still reads as zero.

Curious. Disappearing people, disappearing phone signals - next it'll be the dinosaurs that start disappearing. Or their fences.

Gerard shudders and forces himself not to think about that. He's seen the Jurassic Park movies too many times to even contemplate what might happen if the fences should disappear or become de-electrified.

Are they completely cut off? Gerard fumbles through the menu for the phone and comes to the radio function. He switches it on and flicks through the frequencies - the tinny speaker shoots out only static. But then, high in the FM range, the static drops out and there's only silence.

He holds the phone close to his ear. There's faint dialogue. He can hear the low murmur of a voice, at least.

Hm.

*

Brendon pulls apart the phone using only one hand. He can probably perform surgery with only one hand, Gerard thinks, catching up the bits that Brendon lets fall to the bed.

"So you can amplify the radio frequency by just fiddling inside it?" Gerard asks. "And it'll still work afterwards - like, as a phone."

"If it doesn't, I'll buy you a new one," Brendon says. "But I've done it before. It's amazing, the things you learn," he adds, but he doesn't say where he learned how to amplify a radio signal - or why.

He pokes around inside the back of the phone.

"Do you need something?" Gerard asks, seeing that Brendon's getting frustrated with his fingers.

Brendon bites his lip. "Pencil? Something with a sharp point."

Gerard pats his pockets and digs out a tiny pencil. Brendon takes it and for a moment, all Gerard can see is a mass of wires and the sharp graphite tip of his pencil disappearing into it.

"What are you doing?"

"There's a receiver in here," Brendon explains. "It's specifically tuned. If I can re-tune it, I can pick up different frequencies, or change the amplitude of the frequencies I'm already picking up." Barely a moment passes, and then Brendon makes a satisfied sound. It takes another few moments for them to put the phone back together, then Gerard switches it back on.

The signal is much clearer this time. He can hear the speaker.

But although the broadcast has apparently been running since even before Gerard turned the radio on for the first time, back in his room, it ends abruptly just a moment after he and Brendon tune in. They do manage to catch the last few words.

"- taking him back to base camp."

*

When Jon wakes up, he's handcuffed to the central pole of a tent.

Someone's wrapped his feet in bandages, shoed him in soft loafers and possibly cleaned and wrapped his knuckles too from what he can feel. But he's still handcuffed and on the ground, and the tent is khaki coloured, and there are rifles leaning against the tent wall in front of him.

What the hell has he gotten himself into?

Jon traces the handcuffs with his fingers. They're cool and tight, and he has to twist a little to get comfortable. Whoever handcuffed him knew what they were doing - he can barely move his elbows.

Jon has no choice but to sit here and wait. There's a slow, sick feeling creeping through his gut, leaving cold tendrils of dread in its wake. Nothing good can come of this.

The adrenaline he was feeling before is all but gone. He lets his head drop to his chest and closes his eyes.

*

Gerard knocks on Pete's bedroom door. He left Brendon in the infirmary - there's no way he's going anywhere, not with his shoulder. Not without a doctor's approval, anyway, and Greta, Victoria and Alex are still down at the Aviary, and Gerard doesn't know the first place to look for the guy they brought over to do Brendon's surgery.

So there's only Gerard. He doesn't know who the 'him' is that the scary dead voice on the radio was talking about, but he does know that Jon didn't come back from seeing Spencer but the outside door did slam, that Gabe and Patrick have disappeared, that the other guests are with Gabe's girlfriend, that there are people all over the island who may or may not be in danger.

He doesn't know what's going on, he doesn't know what to do and whatever he has to do, he can't do it alone. He's known Pete since Pete was Mikey's lecturer, crush and then lover at Columbia. And somehow, the three of them had managed to stay friends even after Pete and Mikey split, even after the Tanizaki project. So Gerard knows Pete, and he knows he'll know what to do.

But Pete doesn't answer his door.

Gerard knocks again.

After a moment, he tries the handle. It's unlocked, so he opens the door and peeks inside.

"Pete?" he says.

There's a low groan. He can see a pair of feet poking out from the far side of the bed. Gerard investigates, and finds Pete lying on the floor. He collapses by his friend's side: Pete's eyelashes are fluttering.

"Pete," he says. "Come on, Wentz, wake up."

Gerard tentatively feels his way across Pete's skull and finds a nasty bump at the back of his head. Someone's knocked Pete out - with what? He sees one of the heavy photo albums lying near them. If it was Patrick who knocked Pete out, then using the photo album? That's a really crappy form of poetic justice.

Of course, it's Pete Wentz. Anything that can go wrong and even some things you swear could not ever go wrong, will, in the most spectacular fashion possible.

The Wentzian Vortex, Mikey called it. Bright and shiny at first, and then everything gets faster and faster and things start to happen that no one can control - least of all Pete, always at the heart of the mess. And people tend to get sucked into the Vortex; swallowed up and only spat back out if they're very, very lucky.

The Walker Collapse Theory, Murphy's Law, the Malcolm Effect, Chaos Theory, all centered around this one man. It's like Pete's got his own sub-atomic vibration in space-time that's a beacon for disaster. STRIKE HERE, DO YOUR WORST. He's survived so far, and every catastrophe he survives seems worse than the last.

The universe has been gunning for Pete Wentz for a long time. Nothing's taken him down before. Gerard is going to have to have faith that Pete will survive again, and that he'll drag everyone else out with him.

Of course, if they're going by what Pete has and hasn't conquered before, the T. rex might tip things in the universe's favour.

*

Brendon is dozing lightly when Greta returns. He wakes but doesn't stir as he hears her soft-soled feet padding closer to his bed. She's Gabe's girlfriend; as far as Brendon knows, she's in on the plan, whatever the plan is.

She sees Gerard's phone sitting on the bedside table and clucks her tongue. "You've had a visitor," she whispers. She's standing by his bed.

He grabs her wrist.

Greta gasps and drops the phone. "Sorry," she says. "I didn't realise you were awake."

"Are you working with Gabe?" Brendon asks her.

"I - who?" Greta says.

But she's lying. He can see it.

"You know who," Brendon says. "I know you do. Tell me the truth. Are you working with him?"

Greta looks at him for a long moment. There's a stand-off, almost. Then her shoulders relax and she gently tugs her hand free of his grip. "He thinks I am," she says. "But he underestimates the value I place on sauropsidian life."

"I hope you're telling the truth," he says.

"I am," she says.

Brendon rubs his chin. "Do you know what he's planning?"

Slowly, Greta nods.

*

Alex and Victoria are returning to their rooms on the second floor - Kiara is fine and Victoria was strangely fascinated by the brightly-coloured Tapejara, and they by her - when they notice the door to Pete and Patrick's bedroom is open.

Alex points it out.

Victoria tells him in a low whisper, "not Patrick's, remember?" she says. She's explained it all to Alex as best she could from what Brendon had told her - about the memory patches that obliterate every last synaptic pathway associated with the memory of one specific person. The two of them together theorise that Patrick was left behind at the Hotel to obliterate the memories of both himself and Gabe from everyone he could reach, and then to wipe out the memories of the visitors and the rest of the scientists as they trickled back in for lunch.

Obviously the plan had failed when Joe's Jeep had tipped over and Brendon had been wounded. "The Malcolm Effect in practice," Alex had said. "You make your system - or plan - too complex and even the tiniest little variation can make it go wrong."

"Something like that," Victoria had agreed.

They creep towards the open door. They have no idea what they'll find - maybe Patrick himself, ransacking the room. But what they find is Gerard, cradling Pete's head in his lap and coaxing him to wakefulness.

"He's coming around," Gerard says as he sees them. "I think Patrick knocked him out."

Pete looks woozy and a little out of it, and he doesn't seem to be able to sit up yet. "Little dude looking through my stuff," he mumbles. "Wearing a hat."

Victoria, Alex and Gerard all nod and say, "Patrick."

"Do you know what he was looking for?" Gerard asks. "Did he say anything before he knocked you out?"

"Uh," Pete says. "Keys. I think." He lifts his hand and points to an open jewellery box. "Keys to the computer system."

"Electronic keys?" Victoria asks.

"No, no," he says groggily. "Manual keys. Computer's locked." He struggles and Gerard helps to prop him up. "Gotta use the keys to unlock it and get into the security system."

Alex pales. "Security system?"

"You mean the gates and fences?" Victoria says.

Pete nods.

"There are malevolently-inclined people on this island who have the keys used to unlock all the gates and fences." Victoria sounds like she can't believe what she's saying. Gerard and Alex can't believe what she's saying, either.

Pete rubs his head gingerly. "Sounds 'bout right. Where're Jon and Brendon?"

"Brendon's in the infirmary," Gerard says.

"And Jon?"

Gerard shakes his head. "I don't know."

"I think," Pete says, blinking his eyes really fast to open them up properly, "that the five of you are the only ones I can trust on this island."

Victoria puts her hands on her hips. "Is that so? Tell us, then. What were you planning on doing to 'convince' Brendon to break the military's contract with BioGen? What was it - something about Alexis Hammond giving you control of the island just so long as no one dies?"

This time it's Pete who pales.

*

Greta helps Brendon sit his arm in a sling and finds him clothes to wear. They have to move fast - they have to find the others, specifically Pete and a few choice scientists, if they want to prevent Gabe's plan from succeeding.

He hasn't used his legs in a while. Technically, he shouldn't be using them now; he's still got post-op drugs running through his system. Greta gives him a couple of painkillers and it's the best she can do, so Brendon pushes through the haze in his head and tries to focus.

"Okay," he says. "Gerard was going to find Pete."

"I did find him," Gerard says from the door. Behind him are Pete, Gerard, Victoria and Alex.

"Guys," Brendon says, relieved. "There's something you need to know."

Gerard points to Greta. "Is she okay?"

Brendon nods. "I think so. She told me Gabe's plan."

"Gabe's plan is nothing compared to Pete's plan," Gerard says. He moves inside the infirmary and Brendon realises that Victoria and Alex are frogmarching Pete between them. He looks cowed. "But you go first."
"The US military has decided to rescind my authority on the matter," Brendon says. "And come in after the dinosaurs regardless of my report. They've been working for months to get operatives on the island to open up the way for them to just waltz right in and take the dinosaurs, so even if Ms. Hammond hadn't agreed to the contract, they'd have their prize weapons."

"So Gabe's working for the military," Victoria says. They shove Pete down into one of the uncomfortable infirmary chairs and stand over him to stop him from trying to escape.

"That's right," Brendon says. "He was sent here to make sure that there were ways to sedate the dinosaurs and get them off the island unharmed, as well as to wipe the scientists' memories once the dinosaurs had been removed. And you know who else is working for the military?"

"Patrick," Alex says promptly.

Brendon looks at him for a moment. "Yeah," he says. "How'd you know?"

Alex gestures to Pete. "There's only one person on the island, theoretically, who Pete would trust with the security codes required to open each individual dinosaur enclosure so they could be removed," Alex says. "His spouse."

Brendon leans back against the bed slowly. "You idiot," he says softly, looking at Pete. "You'd think you would have learned about fraternisation after the Tanizaki project."

Pete flushes and looks at the floor. "Maybe I did learn," he says sullenly. "It's not like I remember telling this - this - Patrick the codes."

"The keys to the security computer were in a jewellery box in your bedroom," Victoria reminds him in a voice reminiscent of a kindergarten teacher speaking to her slowest student. "You trusted Patrick with all your heart."

That statement physically hurts Pete - he flinches and slumps.

There's a moment of silence, then Brendon starts talking again. "So, what we heard," he says to Victoria, "the rumbling? Helicopters. Gabe recognised the noise and started the Gallimimus stampede to cover the noise and run us out of the area. Thinking about it," he says thoughtfully, "I'd say it was a large helicopter, or even a couple of them. Cargo or troop-carriers."

They all sort of stare at him. Alex says, "you can tell that just from the noise?"

Brendon shifts. "Shut up," he says uncomfortably, and it's really startling clear that he doesn't want to talk about it. He changes the subject. "So what's Pete's plan?"

Gerard, Victoria and Alex exchange glances over Pete's dejected head.

*

Jon hears movement behind him. He stirs, lifting his head and trying to see over his shoulder. "Who's there?"

"Does that ever work in movies?" someone says. "Like, when people say that into the darkness, do they actually expect someone to answer? 'Hi, it's me, your friendly neighbourhood murderer. Just doing my ironing.' Like, what good ever came from asking that question?"

"What good ever came from tying someone to a pole for hours on end?" Jon says pointedly. He still can't see the person, but he knows their voice. He thinks it's Gabe.

"Oh, you'd be surprised," says Gabe. "I make sure to have poles in my basement. Hours of fun."

Jon snorts. "Somehow, I'm not surprised that you have a basement."

Gabe crouches in front of Jon. "Was that meant to be an insult?" he asks, and he seems genuinely curious.

"Loses its sting if I have to explain it," Jon says. "Are you going to uncuff me?"

"Nah," Gabe says. "You're pretty when you're tied up. Plus, one less loose end I have to worry about."

"Why don't you just kill me, then?" Jon wonders. "Or wipe my memory?"

Gabe pats his cheek. "You'd be helpless. Where would be the fun in that?"

Jon grits his teeth. "This is fun for you?"

"Oh," Gabe says. "Immeasurably. So Jon, answer a question for me."

"I probably won't," Jon says.

"Why are you here, so far from the Hotel? It looked like you'd been running away from someone when we found you."

Jon pauses. "I needed a break. We don't all get along," he says.

Jon realises it's surprisingly easy to lie to Gabe. Jon usually has trouble lying. Not now - his voice doesn't shake and his gaze is fixed on Gabe's with quiet confidence.

"Now," Gabe is saying. "You're going to tell me where my other loose ends are."

"You mean the other visitors?" Jon says. "You had Victoria and Brendon with you half the day today. Why didn't you take them out then?"

"Base camp wasn't set up," Gabe says. "Now it is, and I want to make sure my friends don't hurt anyone who shouldn't be hurt."

Jon hesitates. "Who are your friends? And why should I tell you?"

"I have been hired by the US military to make sure this operation goes off without a hitch," Gabe says. "Pete's visitors are that hitch. Unless you want them dead, tell me where they are."

Gerard, Jon thinks. They'll kill Gerard. And sweet Alex, cool Victoria, resourceful Brendon. Probably the scientists, too, and Jon hurts to think that he'll never have the chance to break down Spencer's adamantium walls.

"Tell me," Gabe says again.

He breathes out. "Dr. DeLeon chucked a fit because he didn't get to see the Kronosaurus, so Pete took them down to the Boardwalk."

*

"Depending on whether I do or do not enter a specific code in the security computer at eight o'clock tonight," Pete says morosely, "all of the fences in the park will fail precisely twelve hours from then."

Greta and Brendon stare at him. "What?" Brendon says. "What? Are you serious? What the fuck, Wentz!"

Pete grits his teeth. "All I have to do is enter the code and they won't fail!"

"Why would you want them to fail in the first place?" Brendon demands.

"Didn't you think of everyone's safety?" Greta says. "People could have been killed, Pete! The carnivores are behind the fences for a reason!"

"If you were going to give the dinosaurs a positive review," Pete says, looking at Brendon, "then I'd have to do something to convince you to write them off. Too dangerous."

"It's the US military, Pete," Brendon says like Pete's stupid. "No weapon is too dangerous for them to use, or are you forgetting Los Alamos? Not to mention the Tanizaki project, which you yourself worked on! You know first-hand what kind of weapon the military wants. You really think that if I told my superiors the dinosaurs attacked and almost killed me, that would turn them off the idea?"

Pete shifts. "I didn't think of that," he admits. "But it's been set in place for months. There's no way to neutralise the program without going to each and every enclosure and fence's circuit box and manually re-booting them. All of them, and there are a lot of fences on this island."

"So you have to enter the code."

"I have to enter the code," Pete nods. "I'm -" He runs his hand through his hair. "I'm sorry. I just - the dinosaurs, you know? Lexie thought, and I agree, that they should be left alone."

"Tell Brendon why we're here," Gerard says, nudging his friend.

"When we got off the island," Pete says, "if you'd decided to give the military a negative report, then I would have asked Drs. Asher, DeLeon, Walker and Mr. Way to help me get the dinosaurs on the endangered species list."

"World-class experts, sweethearts of the media," Brendon says, understanding. "Jon's practically a household name after his documentary on Mt. Vesuvius last year, and the cameras love Victoria. And who wouldn't get behind Alex? Baby genius who's an expert on dinosaurs. Surely he knows what he's talking about."

"And I'm the advertising-slash-marketing expert with the money to back everything up," Gerard finishes.

Brendon frowns. "Speaking of Jon."

Gerard shakes his head. "I don't know. He went to talk to Spencer - Dr. Smith."

"And he didn't come back?"

"Not yet," Gerard says. "Maybe they're occupied," he says.

Alex blinks. "With what?" He'd thought Gerard and Jon were together. They'd spent the night before together, hadn't they? Everyone had heard them. But everyone gives him a look and so he says, "oh." Gerard and Jon aren't together, then.

"So that was the plan all along," Brendon says, looking at Pete. "If I liked what I saw today, you'd set the dinosaurs on me tomorrow and just hope that everyone survives." He's hurt - they can all see it. Brendon's thinking that they all could have died because of him.

Actually, they still could all die.

"We have to get out of here," Brendon says. "We have to hide."

"What?" Pete says. "Why?" The others all chime in.

Brendon rubs his chin. His shoulder is starting to hurt again; the painkillers are wearing off. "Gabe and Patrick are going to lead the military right here. The security computer is here, or can be reached from here?" he asks.

Pete nods.

"Then they have to come here to turn off the fences."

"They have to sedate the dinosaurs first," Greta pipes up. "Gabe is expecting me to meet him at my lab so I can hand over the drugs."

Brendon worries at his lip. "If you're not there?"

Greta shudders. "He won't be happy."

"Can you give him placebos?" Alex says after a moment. "To delay him?"

Greta pauses, then nods.

Brendon nods, too. He picks up Gerard's phone from the bedside table and checks the clock. It's just gone four-thirty. He looks around at the group. "Then first, we do that."

*

Pete unhooks three walkie-talkies from the wall. He hands one to Alex, who's volunteered to go with Greta to her lab. He'll hide in the cupboard or something and keep an eye on the situation, and help Greta if she needs it.

Then, to everyone's surprise, Victoria volunteers to stay with Brendon. She offers him a faint smile. "I'm good at finding hiding places," she says. That's what they're going to do: find someplace for the six of them to hide until eight PM. So she gets the second walkie-talkie.

And Gerard and Pete take the third. "We'll round up as many of the scientists as possible," Pete says. "Who knows who else Gabe thinks he'll need to pull off this plan of his."

"Definitely Spencer," Greta puts in. "He's the only one left on the island who knows exactly how to run the security program. Except you," she says to Pete, "and Gabe's not expecting you to co-operate with him."

"So we'll get Dr. Smith first," Pete says. "And you said Jon is with him?"

Gerard nods.

"All right. We'll keep in touch," Pete says, waving the last walkie-talkie. "I expect us all to be in some safe hiding spot in, at most, an hour's time."

So they split up.

*

Gabe sends men down to the Boardwalk to retrieve Pete and the others. Jon watches the exchange over his shoulder. Once the men - dressed in forest BDUs with camo paint on their cheeks and nasty-looking guns slung over their shoulders - have gone, Gabe comes back towards him.

He leans over and kisses Jon's forehead. Jon jerks away and Gabe pouts. "Don't be like that, baby," he says. "Once everyone's together, we'll slap you all with patches and send you on your way. We just don't want you guys getting in the way."

"Of the operation, yeah, you said that," says Jon.

"Captain Saporta?" says a familiar voice. "Sir?"

"Come in, Sergeant," Gabe says, trailing his fingers along Jon's jawline. He's absolutely fascinated with Jon-as-prisoner.

Sergeant Thomas A. Conrad ducks inside the tent. "Sir, I just wanted to - Jon?"

"Tom!" Jon says, and they sound pretty much as surprised as each other. "What the hell are you doing here?"

"I'm working, man! What are you doing here?"

Jon suppresses a laugh, because he hasn't seen Tom in years and he looks so good, so healthy! "Well, I'm a little tied up right now, but I got invited."

"You what?" Tom says, then seems to realise where he is and stiffens to attention. "Sorry, sir, Captain Saporta, sir."

"At ease, soldier," Gabe says lazily, waving his hand. "You two know each other?"

"Practically grew up together, sir," Tom says, apparently unable to lie to his superior.

"Excellent," Gabe says. He stands up and dusts himself off. "Then you're on guard duty."

Jon blinks at Gabe. "Seriously?" It's smart now to leave friends in charge of other friends who are supposed to be their prisoners? He must have missed that memo.

"Seriously," Gabe says. "Sergeant Conrad. If your prisoner escapes, it's your neck on the line." He steps up to Tom and palms the Sergeant's throat, tracing the bearded curve with his long, spidery fingers. "And I mean that literally."

Tom nods jerkily. "Sir, yes, sir."

Gabe looks over his shoulder at Jon. "Got it, Walker?"

Jon nods, too. "Got it."

"Good. I'll leave you two alone to catch up." And with that, Gabe lifts the flap of the tent and is gone.

Tom carefully swings his rifle off his shoulder and leans it against the wall, then falls to his knees next to Jon and wraps his best friend in a hug. "Missed you, Jonny," he says, his voice muffled.

Jon tucks his face into the curve of Tom's shoulder. "Shit, Tommy," he says. "What have you gotten yourself involved in this time?"

*

Victoria and Brendon stock up on painkillers before they leave. Brendon pops another two. "Be careful how many of those you take," Greta says, pointing a warning finger at him.

"I'm a doctor," Brendon says, "I know what's safe. But thanks," he adds, softer.

She smiles at him and she and Alex leave. Pete and Gerard follow, leaving Victoria and Brendon behind.

"So, where do you think we should hide?" she wonders.

"Well, you're the one who had an entire uninterrupted afternoon alone here," Brendon says to her. "I'm assuming you didn't just sit around and wait for us."

Victoria breaks into a grin. "You think you know me so well."

"I just don't underestimate you," Brendon points out.

"Which is nice," she admits. "Come on. I think I do, in fact, know a place." She takes the lead and Brendon comes along behind her.

He's never had a broken arm, so the sling is uncomfortable. He can't get used to it. But he follows without complaint as Victoria heads deeper into the underground complex. He's survived worse, he's survived worse, he's survived worse. The corridors are all brightly lit, for which he's thankful. It means he doesn't trip as they head down a flight of stairs. He has to take them slower than usual, though.

Victoria waits for him at the bottom. As he hits bottom, she asks, "so why the military?"

"Sorry?" he says.

"Why the military?" she repeats. "You must have had a dozen other offers, or more. Top in the class at Stanford is no small thing. You could've done an internship at any hospital you chose. Why the military?"

"My student mentor," he tells her. "He told me about all these awesome projects they'd promised him when he graduated. Then he did graduate, and he disappeared for a few months. I got a letter from him just before I graduated telling me it was all he'd hoped for and more, and if I was approached, I should definitely consider the offer."

"Who was your mentor?" she asks. She'd been only three years ahead of Brendon; perhaps she knew this guy.

"His name was -" Brendon cuts himself off.

"Yes?" she prompts.

He shakes his head. "Uh. I can't - I don't - remember," he says. "Weird. I should remember, right? It's not that long ago."

Victoria frowns. "Not remembering people is certainly becoming a problem," she says.

"But - I'd know," Brendon says. "If I'd forgotten. If I'd been hit with one of those patches."

"Actually, the very definition suggests you wouldn't know at all," Victoria points out. "You'd have forgotten."

"So you're saying that my mentor somehow got a hold of one of those patches and slapped me with it," Brendon says. "Just so I wouldn't remember him?"

Victoria looks at him. "Are you sure it was even a him?"

Brendon blushes. "Pretty sure."

"Oh, really?" she says, nudging him. "Mentor-mentee liaisons are strictly prohibited."

"I think that was half the fun of it," he confesses.

Her laugh echoes in the corridor.

*

"What do you mean, he's not with you?" Pete snaps.

Spencer raises his hands. "He's not with me," he repeats. "He threw a tantrum and ran away, I don't know."

Gerard feels like grabbing the snooty mathematician and giving him a good shake. "How could you let him do that?"

"He's a big boy," Spencer mutters. "He can take care of himself."

"Except there are god knows how many military assholes running around out there," Pete says, waving his arm in a general outside direction. "Most of whom could break Jon with their pinkies!"

"We have to go find him," Gerard says.

Pete grits his teeth. "Do you know how big this island is? He could literally be anywhere. Which brings me back to, how could you do this?"

Spencer throws his arms in the air. "Give me a break! It's not like I knew we were going to be invaded."

"You are so not getting your bonus this year," Pete says.

"Is there going to be anybody left alive to even pay me this year?" he says pointedly.

Pete hesitates. "Okay, let's work on that."

"Yeah, let's," says Spencer.

Then they look around and see that Gerard's gone.

"Fuck," Pete says. He shoves Spencer's shoulder. "Go on, go after him."

"What? Why me?" the mathematician protests.

"You were the one who let Jon go off by himself," Pete says. "Now, go!" He shoves the walkie-talkie into Spencer's hands and Spencer turns, with a heavy sigh, to follow the retreating footsteps. "And for god's sake, don't let yourself get captured!"

Spencer flips him off over his shoulder.

Pete runs his hands through his hair and goes to find the rest of his skeleton crew.

*

Greta's lab is sparkling clean. Everything is neatly labelled. She's busy switching labels while Alex watches out the window for any movement. She says Gabe's going to come from this way. He hopes so.

Finally, he sees something. The trees move.

He stumbles back from the window. "Are you done?" he asks.

Greta nods. "I think so." She shows Alex the bottles. "Do they look right?"

"Look fine to me," he says. "Where do you want me?"

She gestures to a low, long cabinet. "Can you fit under there?"

"I can find anywhere," he boasts, and hurriedly creeps underneath. Not even a moment after Greta pushes the cabinet doors closed behind him, the lab door opens.

"Hey, there, beautiful," Gabe says smoothly.

Greta sounds delighted to see him. "Hi," she says, her voice low and sexy. "Haven't seen you in a while."

"Mmm, too long," he replies, and then there's sounds of kissing.

Finally, lips smack and Greta giggles. "Not here," she says. "It's not comfortable."

"Of course," he says. "You'll sleep in a real bed tonight, my love," Gabe promises her. "Hundred-count Egyptian cotton sheets and plush pillows filled with freshly plucked feathers from the tail of an ostrich. Nothing but the best for you, Dr. Greta Salpeter."

"A live ostrich, I hope," Greta says, and it sounds like they've had this discussion before.

Gabe laughs and there's another kiss. "Have you got what I need?"

"More than enough," she says. Alex hears the clink of bottles as she hands them over to him. "I've labelled them according to species and dosage," she says. "The correct dosage should induce a forty-eight hour window of unconsciousness for you to transport the dinosaurs off the island. It could take a moment to take effect," she tells him.

"We've got tranq guns," Gabe says. "As long as that's okay with you."

"As long as it's absolutely necessary," she replies.

"It is," he says. "Or do you want my men getting hurt?"

Greta's dress swishes. "Of course not. Do you need my help?"

"I don't think so," Gabe says. "My boys have it covered. Unless you can fire a gun."

"Not one of my talents," she tells him.

"Maybe I'll give you lessons," he says. "Would you like that? Me pressed up behind you, guiding your touch, your stance, your every breath?"

There's a pause, and then more kissing.

Alex rolls his eyes.

"Sir," says someone new.

"Hold on a minute, Sergeant Colligan," Gabe snaps. "Can't you see I'm busy?"

"Sir, sorry, sir," says Sergeant Colligan. "But there are two sets of tracks leading into the lab, sir. Someone else is here."

Alex freezes.

"Is that true, my sweet?" Gabe asks. Assumedly he's talking to Greta and not Sergeant Colligan.

"I don't know," Greta says. "I didn't bring anyone with me. Maybe my assistant is here, Dr. Siska?"

"Check the place, Sergeant Colligan," Gabe commands. It sounds like he believes Greta.

"Yes, sir."

Alex hears heavy boots clomp past his hiding place, presumably heading into the rooms out back. Greta's lab has several rooms - she does experiments and surgeries here. Alex hopes beyond hope that Siska did come here after he'd left Alex at the Hotel.

"There's no one back here, sir," Colligan says after a moment.

"And you're sure there are two sets?"

"Both very recent, sir."

Gabe pauses. "Check the cupboards, closets, bathrooms, cabinets. Check the windows to see if anyone's used them, and if there are any tracks leading away."

"Yes, sir!"

"Gabe, is this necessary?" Greta says.

"I have to make sure there are no hitches, my dove," Gabe tells her. "Eavesdropping is definitely a hitch."

The banging of opening cupboards begins.

Alex squeezes his eyes shut and swallows a whimper.

*

Spencer crashes through the undergrowth. They found Jon's flip-flops a moment ago, so they at least know they're going the right way. Gerard is pushing on ahead of him and refuses to slow down, even when Spencer cusses him out. He seems completely unaffected by Spencer's bile.

But Spencer wasn't built for this kind of outdoors-y life. He's twisted his ankle twice already and he can barely keep up. He doesn't even know if they're still going the right way. Jon might have turned off anywhere after he lost his flip-flops.

"Will you fucking calm down?" Spencer finally snaps. "It's not like he's going to be eaten by anything?"

"Yeah, maybe not," Gerard says. "But what if he's fallen down a hill and broken a bone? What if he's hit his head and passed out? What if, and bear with me here, Pete doesn't enter that alarm code at eight o'clock tonight and tomorrow morning, the fences and gates open up, the dinosaurs escape and Jon gets eaten then?"

"You have a very vivid imagination, and usually, I would applaud that. Ryan has a very vivid imagination as well. But right now, you're just being stupid," Spencer says.

Gerard huffs. "You can't know that." He pushes past a tree and the branch he holds away from himself almost snaps back into Spencer's face.

"If you hope for the worst, then the universe will oblige," Spencer says. "Don't you kooky artist types believe in all that The Secret stuff?"

"Kooky artist types?" Gerard echoes.

"You look like a kooky artist type," Spencer says, ducking around a really, abnormally high tree root.

Gerard shrugs. "I s'pose I am. I don't really believe in The Secret, though. I don't know what I believe in. I believe that everyone's beliefs are real."

"What, like, a Christian will see St. Peter and a Muslim will get the seventy-two virgins?"

"I guess," Gerard says. "Why are we talking about this?"

"Because it makes you walk slower," Spencer says.

Gerard suddenly stops and stands right in front of Spencer. "Look, man. I get it, okay, someone hurt you and now you hate the world." Spencer opens his mouth to snap something. Gerard holds up his hand and surprisingly, he stops. "But even I could see the sparks between you and Jon today, and I honestly thought that would make you more eager to find him, not less."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Spencer says sulkily.

"You know exactly what I'm talking about," Gerard says. "You were so jealous of me with Jon that you ran away - you couldn't face all the emotion swirling around inside you."

"Yeah," Spencer says, suddenly strengthening. "You with Jon. You with Jon. I don't see what I have to do with anything."

Gerard flicks his forehead.

Spencer stares at him. He finally finds his voice. "What was that for?"

"For being absolutely unbelievably dense," Gerard says. "When we find him, you will get your act together and kiss him, okay. You will, or I'll know why."

Spencer folds his arms over his chest. "You can't tell me what to do."

"If I have to literally grab both your heads and force your lips together, I will," Gerard says. And Spencer believes him. "So let's find him."

Spencer follows Gerard deeper into the forest. As they duck around trees and the vegetation gets thicker and thicker, he realises his hands are shaking. It only gets worse when they see the bloodtrail.

*

Pete collects Ryan, William and Andy. He lists the others on his fingers. "Joe, Ryland, Alex Suarez, Sisky and Butcher," he says. "Anyone seen them?"

"I haven't seen Sisky and Butcher since we dropped Dr. DeLeon off," Andy says.

"I think Suarez is in the kitchens," William volunteers. "So Ryland's probably with him."

"And Joe?" But they all shrug. "He came in with Brendon and Victoria in the van," Pete says thoughtfully. "I don't know. Let's just go to the kitchens."

*

Rattling and banging. That's all Alex can hear as Sergeant Colligan makes his way around the room. It seems like the place he's chosen to begin is the furthest place away from Alex.

That only makes it worse. The fucking anticipation, oh god, Alex thinks he's going to die. Fear is ripping him apart inch by motherfucking tense inch. He just wants Colligan to fucking find him already.

Since when did he have such a dirty mouth?

And then Colligan is opening the cabinet to Alex's left, and then he's opening Alex's. His grin is electrifying, and his eyes are wicked. He curls his fingers in Alex's hoodie and yanks him forward. "Well, well, well," he says. "Look at what we've got here."

"You banged through those cupboards for that long, and that's the best you came up with?" Alex grouses.

Colligan yanks him to his feet and cuffs him up the head. Then he shoves him towards Gabe, keeping a tight grip on the back of Alex's neck.

"Alex DeLeon," Gabe says. He looks at Greta. "Did he follow you?"

"He must have," she says, looking at Alex like he's the worst kind of bug, not even worth squashing under her shoe. Alex knows she doesn't mean it - that she's acting - but it still hurts, because he's seen that look before. She twists her hand around Gabe's elbow. "What are you going to do?"

"I think we'll lock him up with his friend. But not yet. Bring him," Gabe says to Colligan, then slings his arm around Greta's shoulders and drags her out the door.

"What friend?" Alex says, confused. Then, "god, stop doing that," to Colligan, who'd just cuffed him up the head again. "Is that like your equivalent of pulling pigtails? Look at my face, dude, I am not impressed."

Colligan just grins and pushes him out the door.

*

They find a really obviously crushed trail through the brush. It's like five or six guys came through here. "What's the bet Jon got captured," Gerard mutters.

"I'm not taking those odds," Spencer says.

The trail slides down a hill, and they do too. The trees, inexplicably, start to thin. They slow down and when the tents come into view, Spencer and Gerard start hiding behind the trees as they try to see where these people - whoever they are - might have taken Jon.

There are people everywhere. Specifically, there are men everywhere. There's barely a woman to be seen in the sea of forest-camouflaged BDUs. "Military?" Spencer whispers.

Gerard nods. "Special Forces," he says softly, pointing to the crests on the burlap bags they're carrying around. They're blue arrowheads with a vertical yellow sword and three horizontal lines of jagged lightning. Also on the bags is a sea-blue shield with a pink stripe running diagonal from right upper corner to left bottom curve. Gerard only knows general military crests, and that's just a hobby - he doesn't know what the second crest means.

He also has no idea where the hell Jon might be in the bustling little camp. He looks around, scratching the leaves out of his hair, and his eyes fall on the small tent in the centre of all the rest.

If he had to hazard a guess, he'd say that's where the USASF keep prisoners.

Spencer taps his shoulder. It's clear he's seen the same tent Gerard has, because he looks grim and determined. "Follow me."

*

"Where are we?" Brendon asks.

"This," Victoria says, sliding open the heavy metal door with a crash, "is what military men like Gabe would - and did - call a weapons cache." She surveys the room satisfiedly.

Brendon looks at all the guns and grenades and wow, is that a real rocket launcher? "This is a pretty good spot to hide," he agrees.

"Glad you think so. Can you use any of this stuff?"

"Uh." He wonders if he's allowed to tell her that. Surely non-disclosure agreements have a clause about times of dire emergency. "Some of it."

"Show me," Victoria says. "You're useless - sorry - and we need defence."

Okay. He can do that.

*

Gerard grips the gun and looks at Spencer. "I don't know about this," he says in a low voice.

"Trust me," Spencer says, "just shoot it a few times and they'll scatter."

"They're United States Army Special Forces, Smith. They're not exactly wimps who run from gunfire," he says fiercely.

"But what they'll see is two crazy maniacs who don't know how to fire guns, firing them. Wouldn't that make you want to run for cover?"

"If I was one of them?" Gerard says, pointing at the hustling troops. "I would jump me and disarm me. They can do that!"

Spencer rolls his eyes. "Fine. Stay here, then, and I'll go get Jon." When Gerard actually hesitates, Spencer huffs. "Are you serious?" he snaps, then pushes Gerard out from behind the tent where they'd been taking cover.

Immediately, Spencer starts firing. The rounds rattle off in bursts of three - Spencer visibly jerks with the recoil. Gerard sticks close by his side and starts firing, too. They try not to hit anyone, but with the SF guys diving everywhere - including at them, and Gerard wants to yell SEE! but can't find the time - they can't tell if people are hit or not.

And they're moving, and moving, and some guy comes right up to Gerard and tries to take the gun from him. It's a really fucking long gun, though, easily thirty inches, and Gerard just twists it the right way and the barrel slides neatly into the guy's crotch. Gerard yanks up and the guy is incapacitated.

It's also kind of heavy for a gun, Gerard realises when he swings the gun back into his arms to start firing again and all seven pounds wham into another guy's gut, sending him over.

Gerard gets off maybe six bursts before they hit the tent. Spencer tumbles inside and Gerard hangs out in front, slamming the butt of the gun in the face of anyone who gets near. Soon, he's surrounded by a ring of Special Forces men - and one woman - who all look pretty angry.

"Any time now would be great," he calls into the tent.

*

Tom springs away from Jon when they hear gunfire. He grabs up his rifle and positions himself off to the side so anyone who comes in wouldn't see him straight away. Jon twists and shuffles so he's facing side-on - he wants to see what's happening. But the tent flap is closed, and he can't see a thing.

After a moment, the flap lifts.

And Spencer comes in.

"Wait," Jon says, and both Tom and Spencer freeze. Jon looks at Tom. "He's a friend," he says. "So's he," he tells Spencer, jerking his head at Tom. "Put your guns down." He's a little terrified to see a gun in Spencer's hands, to be honest.

But both rifles are lowered.

Spencer eyes Tom warily, sidling closer to Jon. "Are you all right?" he asks.

"I'm fine," Jon says. "You have to get out of here."

"Not without you," Spencer says. "Came all this way for you - do you think I'm just going to leave?"

Jon stares at him. "You came for me?"

Spencer drops to his knees, his eyes still on Tom, and reaches for Jon's handcuffs.

And that's when he remembers Gabe's threat. "Stop," he tells Spencer, twisting his hands away from the mathematician. "You have to leave me here."

"What? I'm not doing that," Spencer scoffs.

Tom, whether he knows it or not, is massaging his throat. He remembers the threat, too.

"If I'm gone when Gabe gets back," Jon says, "then he'll kill Tom."

"Who's - oh," Spencer says. "Then, come with us," he tells the Sergeant.

Tom looks at him like he's stupid. "I can't do that."

Jon frowns up at him. "Why not?"

"I'll be listed as AWOL," Tom says. "Absent Without Official Leave. That's desertion. I'll get thrown in Leavenworth if they catch me."

"Pete," Spencer says, "Pete can help. You think you'd be the only deserter in his employ? Or he can get you into a non-extraditionary country and set you up, with money and house and whatever. Jon can't stay here," he tells Tom. "Surely you see that, if you're his friend."

"Please," Jon says quietly. "Please, Tom."

"Any time now would be great," Gerard calls from outside.

*

Alex Suarez and Ryland Blackinton are indeed in the kitchen.

"Oh, god, did not need to see that," Ryan complains. "Tell us when you're decent!" He lets the door swing shut. "Hey, don't look," he snaps at Pete and William as they try and see past him, through the windows in the doors. "Don't be rude."

But they can see the pale curve of Ryland's back as he shrugs on his shirt, and they can see Suarez' olive-dark fingers doing up the buttons. Suarez' mouth is utterly used when he and Ryland finally emerge; Ryland's smile is wicked and the tilt of his arm, draped casually over Suarez' shoulders, is possessive.

Pete has a sudden flash, a sudden longing - but for what, he doesn't know. He shakes it off and claps his hands together. "Right. Three to go."

*

Greta's lab is just down the side of the mountain from the Hotel. It overlooks the north shore of Isla Nublosa, and the view is magnificent - but Alex isn't concerned with the view right now. He's kind of busy.

He backs up slowly. He's taking tiny, tiny steps in the hope that Sergeant Colligan will come to his senses before Alex falls to his death off the edge of the nasty cliff that's about three metres behind his left foot.

But Colligan's pistol isn't wavering. There's a maniacal grin stretched across his face and his eyes gleam with anticipation. He wants Alex to go over the cliff.

Alex chances a glance behind him again. Yep, the view of the north shore is magnificent. Huge trees actually block the Hotel's northern view, so he hasn't had the chance to appreciate it yet. Of course, if Colligan gets his way, Alex is going to be appreciating it a lot closer.

"Pick it up, DeLeon," Colligan says. "I haven't got all day."

"Right, yeah, you've got dinosaurs to capture and people to kill," Alex says. "So why don't you just go on ahead? I promise I'll throw myself off the cliff. You don't have to watch me. In fact, I don't like being watched, so you should just -"

Colligan cuts him off, exasperated. "DeLeon."

"Or you could even just let me go?" Alex suggests. "I mean, look at me: I'm a shrimp! I won't cause any trouble. I'll just hide until it's all over. Please," he says, and he knows he sounds desperate.

The young Sergeant rolls his eyes. He looks up the path, where Gabe and Greta were already out of sight. Alex can still hear Gabe's psychotic voice in his head: "Deal with the kid." Like Alex was little more than a minor problem. Alex shakes his head to clear the voice away.

Colligan steps forward again, and now the barrel of the gun is resting at the dead centre of Alex's chest. "I could shoot you, if you prefer."

Alex gulps. "Really, really wouldn't prefer. Thanks for offering."

"Then," Colligan says, leaning right in close, "hurry up." His breath ghosts warm over Alex's face; this close, Alex notices his eyes are crisp brown. Colligan looks like he means business. He also looks like he might be a dork outside the military, but that's neither here nor there. He doesn't want to befriend the guy - he doubts Colligan would fall for the whole 'let's be best friends' shtick.

Okay. Okay, Alex has an idea.

Colligan's still hovering in close, the barrel of the gun hard as ice against Alex's chest. Alex glances down at the gun, then looks up through his admittedly girly eyelashes. "Let me live," he says, his voice low. "And I'll make it worth your while."

*

The gunshot echoes through the trees.

Greta stumbles and turns, staring back they way they'd come. Gabe curls an arm around her. "Nothing you can do, my heart," he says. "The boy was a problem."

"He was just a kid," she protests softly. She's blinking back tears.

Gabe kisses her temple. "Come on," he says, and takes her hand. "The Hotel isn't far now."

*

Victoria almost clobbers Pete over the head with the rocket launcher when they all meet up in the weapons cache. It's a good thing his reflexes are so sharp or he'd have never ducked in time; the years of dodging soccerballs finally paid off.

"Sorry," she apologises. They all look at her in shock for a moment. "What are you all looking at?" she snaps.

"Nothing, sorry," they all mutter. Everyone Pete has managed to round up troops inside. There's Andy, Ryan, William, Suarez, Ryland, the Butcher and Joe.

The Butcher looks positively miserable. "We couldn't find Sisky," he explains to Victoria when she asks what's wrong. "We had an accident in the boat this morning with Dr. DeLeon, and Sisky was all cut up about it," he says. "And I tried to talk to him about going back on his medication. Sisky's got a problem with his amygdala," he adds. "He can't process emotional reactions properly, and he can lose control. And I thought he agreed, and he went into the bathroom to go and get the meds, but he didn't come out for ages. I went to check on him and the window was open, and he was - he was gone."

"God," Victoria says, stunned. "He could be anywhere."

"He could have been captured," the Butcher says. His face is lined with pain. "And I never told him -" He cuts himself off and slumps against the wall, sliding down between the crates of ammunition. He buries his face in his arms; he doesn't want to be disturbed. Victoria backs off.

On the other side of the room, Brendon sits down next to Ryan. The psychologist's forehead is lightly creased - that probably means that he's very, very worried about something. They'd spent a couple of hours together that morning in the hatchery; Brendon figures he's allowed to ask. "What's up?"

"Spencer," Ryan says simply.

"Pete said he's okay," Brendon frowns.

Ryan shakes his head. "We haven't heard from them in ten minutes." And anything can happen in ten minutes.

Brendon bites his lip. "I'm sure he's fine," he says.

"You're lying," Ryan tells him. "You're military. You know he's in danger."

"We're all in danger," Brendon says. "And I'm not military. I just work for them."

Ryan snorts. "Same thing," he says, his tone derisive and dismissive, but he doesn't protest when Brendon takes his hand and squeezes it tight.

*

To be honest, a tent filled with guns was probably not the best place for Gabe to leave Jon. And it wasn't only guns, either. Tom rifles through a steel box and comes up with two grenades, one of which he chucks at Spencer.

"They're flashbangs," he says, then gestures for Spencer to take the pin out. "Three, two, one -"

Like synchronised swimmers, Tom and Spencer lean out the tent flap and lob the grenades at the surrounding soldiers. At the same time, Jon grabs Gerard and yanks him inside the tent.

The flap falls shut.

There's an almighty clap and everything outside the tent goes white for a second. There are yells and thumps.

Tom grabs his rifle and a long knife. He holds open the flap. Spencer and Gerard, supporting a hobbling Jon, edge out of the tent.

None of the USASF soldiers outside had been prepared for the stun grenade. They're all on their knees, groaning, feeling their faces to make sure their eyes and ears are still in tact. Spencer and Gerard take Jon right past them, to one of the small green Jeeps on the perimeter, and all three of them climb in the back. Tom bashes a few heads in and then jumps in the driver's seat.

"Buckle up," Tom says, then reverses right into a tent. Fabric rips. People inside cry out. Jon, Spencer and Gerard all grab for their seatbelts. After that bumpy start, Tom throws the car into drive and races out of the camp onto one of the many dirt trails that run right into Isla Nublosa's forests.

Spencer reaches for the radio tucked into his belt.

"Pete," he says. "Come in, Pete. Victoria. Are you there?"

Tom goes over a bump. Jon, who's in the middle, falls against Spencer, who automatically wraps an arm around Jon's waist to keep him steady.

It crackles for a moment. "Yeah, Spence. What's going on?" says Pete.

*

"We've got Jon," Spencer says. "Way and I are safe and uninjured. We also managed to pick up a defect."

Ryan relaxes as soon as he hears that Spencer is uninjured. He shakes his hand a little, like he wants Brendon to let go, but the doctor just flashes him a grin and squeezes tighter.

"Brendon," he says. He's blushing; Brendon's hand is warm.

Brendon grins. "Yes?"

His beautiful brown eyes.

Ryan shakes his head. "Never mind," he says, and thinks Spencer is going to hate him for this new development. They've sworn to be bachelors together. There's no one on the island who'd attracted Ryan's attention, so that was fine. Was.

But Brendon is very attractive. Cocky, a little arrogant and smug, too, but sweet and enthusiastic and strong-willed. Ryan can tell that if Brendon wants something, he'll fight to get it - and it's been a very long time since anyone had fought to get Ryan.

It might be nice, and it doesn't hurt to try, Ryan decides. Tentatively, he squeezes Brendon's hand back.

Brendon shoots him a smile and Ryan's knees turn to jelly.

Nice, indeed.

*

"Well done, Dr. Smith. Get your bootylicious behind back up here - we have to talk."

Gabe smirks and hands the radio back to Sergeant Travis McCoy. He claps him on the shoulder. "Thanks, my man."

Travis salutes lazily.

"Any luck on finding Wentz's actual location?" he asks.

This time, Travis shakes his head. "He's good at hiding."

Gabe nods. "Keep looking. I want him found. We have the computer, the keys, the individual fence codes," he nods to Patrick, "but we needs to run things on our own schedule. We can't have Wentz mucking us around. Now -" he says. "Novarro, take your team down to the base camp and re-establish order."

Warrant Officer Nate Novarro snaps a sharp salute and beckons to his six-man team. Well, five-man. Four, not counting himself. Dammit, shut up, Novarro. "Where's Colligan?" Novarro asks Gabe as the rest of his team shoulder their weapons and shuffle out the door.

"Dealing with a problem," Gabe says. Novarro nods and leaves. Gabe waits until Van Vleet and Luciani are gone, then turns to his own team and says, "Conrad's the defect. The rest of you had better not follow his lead." Then, he grabs Greta up from her seat.

She smiles at him, coy. "Want some cheering up?" she says.

"I thought you'd never ask." They disappear into a side-room.

Patrick checks the clock on the computer, absently turning the stolen keys over and over in his fingers. It's five-nineteen. There's just over two and a half hours left to enter the code that will inactivate the unlocking program.

He should have talked Pete out of installing the program in the first place. Pete had been adamant, though: the military was not going to get the dinosaurs, and if it took setting the dinosaurs loose on the island to get the military to see how dangerous they really are, then that's what it took. Patrick should have told him the military wanted the dinosaurs no matter what, and what the US military wanted, the US military got.

Exhaling slowly, Patrick wonders if Pete's okay. They were only married for a year, and it was a fake-marriage - on Patrick's end - anyway, but a year is a long time. They'd only had sex three times before Patrick said he didn't like sex. It hadn't felt right, letting Pete focus all that worshipful attention on him when Patrick was basically closing his eyes and thinking of England.

The rejection had hurt Pete, but he'd put up with it, and he'd been completely happy with just the daytime affection. The pillow wall, splitting their giant bed in two, had been Pete's idea; the word 'divorce' had never been uttered. Pete had been so trusting, so smitten, so utterly devoted to Patrick. It had been almost sweet, and more than healthy for Patrick's ego. At least at the time. Now, not so much.

Now, Patrick is going to destroy Pete's life.

Patrick Martin Stumph, undercover agent. Professional liar. Professional asshole.

He just wants this to be over already.

*

Spencer directs Tom around the base of the mountain. There's an entrance to the Underground hidden away in the forest - there's a couple, actually - and since it would be a humongously bad idea to approach the Hotel from the front, it's Underground they go.

"Why would it be a bad idea?" Gerard asks, clutching his seatbelt with white fingers.

Tom glances over at him. "Captain Saporta's up there," he says.

Spencer frowns. "And how do you know that?"

"I'm on his team," says Tom. "Or I was. He's probably given the order to shoot me on sight by now."

"How would he know you're gone?" Jon asks, worrying at his lip. He doesn't want Tom in danger. He and Tom haven't seen each other in years, not since Jon went away to grad school in Boston, but it seems like the old best friend instinct is kicking in full-force.

"Stop," Spencer says. "It's here."

Tom hits the brakes. They all slam forward against their seatbelts. Gerard makes a funny retching sound, but apparently swallows whatever it was that was going to fly out and settles for tumbling out of the Jeep onto solid ground.

Spencer helps Jon out. The geologist's feet are still so sore from his mad run through the forest. The bandages are dirty by now. He doesn't care that it hurts or that they'll get more dirty, though, and instead gets up in Tom's face and says, "how would he know you're gone?"

"We're Special Forces, Jon," Tom says, squeezing his friend's shoulder. "The others in the camp, once they'd recovered, would have radioed Saporta straight away to tell him. And in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they're following us now, so," he says and looks at Spencer, "where's this entrance?"

"It's -" Spencer stops and looks around. "Hm."

"Do we need to get out our swords and ask our fathers for guidance?" Jon says teasingly.

Spencer smirks. "Couldn't hurt. Your sword first, though."

Jon bursts out laughing - only to have Tom clap his hand over Jon's mouth. "Shh," the Sergeant says, his blue-grey eyes boring into Jon's. "Let's not lead the bears to the honey."

Jon nods slowly. Tom is standing very close to him. Very close. For the first time ever, Jon feels the need to lick Tom's palm. Actually, that's not true, but it is the first time that Jon's wanted the licking of Tom's palm to lead to the licking of other places on Tom's body.

Spencer grits his teeth and continues inspecting the trees.

*

They're all waiting at the weapons cache for Spencer's group. It's a little crowded - there are nine people and twenty boxes squeezed into twenty-five square feet of space. Luckily the boxes are stackable.

Finally, they hear voices. Pete picks up his radio. "Smith? That you?"

"Yes. Let us in."

So Pete and Andy slide open the heavy steel door. Spencer makes a beeline for Ryan, dragging him away from Brendon and pushing him into a far corner and whispering in his best friend's ear. Gerard, breathing hard from the run through the twisty corridors, slumps against a wall.

Jon comes in, too, and behind him is a tall guy with a scruffy beard and blond-brown hair, dressed in forest BDUs and carrying an M4. The defect; the deserter. Pete stands in front of him and folds his arms. "Why?" he asks.

"For Jon," says Tom.

"You could get killed for this," Pete tells him.

Tom shrugs. "He's worth it."

And that's that.

It's 5:35pm.

*

Half an hour later, they're all agreed on a course of action.

There are several people in the room Gabe would definitely like to get his hands on: Tom for treachery, Pete for the codes, Andy for transport, Butcher and Joe for their dinosaur knowledge. Everyone else, Gabe would like to find in order to get them out of the way - either by bribe or death.

So in order to prevent the capture of all of them at once, they're going to split into groups. This is met with protest from several people, but they're overruled.

Pete's group will be attempting to get to the computer so Pete can enter the code and stop the unlocking program; their lives will be hell if those dinosaurs get loose tomorrow. The other groups will be in charge of drawing Gabe and his team away from the computer so Pete can enter the code without interference and then escape again.

Pete, Spencer and William are the main group. Pete's got the codes, Spencer has the computer knowledge and William knows how everything is filed.

Apart from that, Pete demands that there be at least one resident scientist and one wanted person or guest paired together at all times, so the groups can find separate hiding places for the night.

Jon's in pain from his feet and wrists. Suarez is going to take him, Brendon and a gun-toting Victoria to safety immediately - they won't even be involved in the group activity.

Tom, Butcher, Joe and Andy are the main assault team. They're all relatively big and tough, and they can take on Gabe's team. Ryland, Ryan and Gerard are their backups.

Everyone is armed.

It's 6:05pm. There's just under two hours until Pete has to be in that computer room. "We're going to leave now," Suarez says. "Before it gets dark." They're going to be out of radio contact, and Suarez isn't telling anyone where they're going - though Ryland probably knows - so Jon and Brendon are totally safe. Suarez has a backpack of food and water that he took from the kitchen; they're all set.

Jon and Tom hug. "Stay safe," Jon says fiercely. "You hear me, Conrad? Safe."

"I hear you," Tom says. "You, too. Don't get frostbite out in the cold all night."

"That's your department," Jon jokes.

Suarez kisses Ryland goodbye. Everyone looks the other way to afford them a little privacy. When they part, Suarez slides his arm under Jon's shoulders and helps him to the door, Victoria on Jon's other side. "Coming?" he says to Brendon.

The doctor rubs his nose. He looks at Ryan. "Bye," he says, and then blinks and looks around at the whole group, like he'd forgotten to address them all. "Good luck."

Ryan waves awkwardly, and everyone bobs their heads. The atmosphere is so tense; it's like Suarez, Victoria, Jon and Brendon are leaving the rest of them to die. It's hard to say a cheery goodbye.

And so the gathering is down to ten.

*

Pete scratches a map onto the floor. They work out a general, very flexible, heavily-dependent-on-outside-variables plan.

It's a little depressing that it's the best thing they've got.

*

"Still nothing, sir," says Sergeant Chislett. "The helicopter's out unharmed, too."

Gabe resists the urge to throw the radio across the room. If he did, Travis would probably kill him. Communications Sergeants have problems with people throwing their toys into walls. Greta lays a gentle hand on his arm and her head on his shoulder. "They'll find them," she says.

"I hope so," Gabe mutters darkly. "If they don't, I'm leaving them on the island with the dinosaurs we don't manage to recover in time." Because they'll still have twelve hours in between the unlocking program initiating and all the fences coming down, and twelve hours is more than long enough to sedate, box up and load all the best dinosaurs onto the boats in the bay.

Greta wonders if, by 'them', Gabe means his own team or the island's residents. Knowing Gabe's temper - both.

*

Another half hour passes and the tension is almost unbearable. Eight o'clock is the deadline. Pete's code must be entered at that time. It's now 7:38pm, and Pete's group quietly depart the weapons cache and head for the secret room. The security computer sits apart from all other computers - both physically and network-wise. There is no possible way for it to connect to another computer. That was safest, they thought.

And then Patrick had turned out to be a plant, and he'd stolen the keys. The key to the secret room, the two keys to the wire cage encircling the computer terminal, the key to the box on the hard drive, the key to the lock which sits inside the box that, when unlocked, turns the computer on.

Pete wishes he could remember Patrick. He wants to know what the man was like; how Pete had fallen for him so completely that he'd never even guessed that Patrick was a plant, an undercover agent of the US military. He wants to remember their wedding, the year they'd spent together. He wants to know how they met. He wants to remember their dates - he wants to know if he persued Patrick, or if it was the other way around. He remembers doing things he'd never have done on his own, couples' things, but in all his memories, there's just him. He wants to know the man who persuaded him to take tango classes, of all things; the man who bought Pete the engraved bass that sits in the corner of their apparently shared bedroom.

But that's impossible. Patrick is the enemy. Patrick wants to use the dinosaurs as weapons. Patrick stole from him; memories, keys, love, trust. And so Pete will never - can never - know Patrick. And when this is over, and he's won, he'll turn Patrick over to the authorities and never think about him again.

They creep through the hallways. There are several different routes to the secret room. At a particular fork, each of the three groups go a different way. Pete's trio is going to sneak around the side and wait for the soldiers to be drawn away before they make their move. Tom and his companions are going to hit them dead on, because Tom knows his team's tactics and knows how to bait them. Ryland, Ryan and Gerard are coming at the front, too, but their route will lead them to the room a little later, so they can draw out the stragglers or anyone left behind.

At 7:46pm, everything starts to get hectic.

*

Tom waltzes right into the room like he belongs there. Technically, he does. "Hi, guys," he says, flipping his knife in his hands. "How you all doin'?"

"Get him," Gabe says. He's leaning over the computer behind Patrick; he doesn't even look up.

Bryar, Chislett and McCoy all lunge for Tom. He sidesteps them neatly and whacks their collective asses with his knife. Tom is, after all, senior Weapons Sergeant - he's the most experienced in combat and the most highly trained, aside from Colligan, who's the junior Weapons Sergeant. Even Gabe can't beat Tom Conrad in a hand-to-hand, knife-to-knife, anything-to-anything fight.

But Bob Bryar is a Master Sergeant, and older and taller and more muscled than Tom. When he lunges again, it's more calculated, and he manages to land a blow - and Tom hears his nose crack, and now, all he can smell is blood.

He doubles over and skips back, under Bryar's fists, and ducks out the door. Bryar, Chislett and McCoy go after him.

Standing in the hallway outside are Joe, Butcher and Andy. They bunch up around Tom, standing support, and it's four against three. The three are military-trained Sergeants. It's more or less a fair fight, and boy, is it a fight.

As they're trading blows, Tom's team manages to draw the Sergeants further down the corridor. The Sergeants believe that they're backing Tom and the scientists into a corner, so they're all for it.

This leaves the doorway to the secret room free. The secret room is in the middle of the long corridor - it can be approached from two ends. As the Sergeants herd Tom and the others down one end of the corridor, Ryland, Ryan and Gerard creep up from the other end.

Left inside the room are Medical Sergeant Alex Marshall, who's whip-thin and no good in a fist-fight, Captain Gabe Saporta and Patrick. Ryland knows, when he looks in the room, that nothing and no one less than Pete Wentz is going to get Gabe and Patrick away from that computer.

Sergeant Marshall, however.

*

Tom gets snapped in the nose again. He doesn't think his ex-teammates realise exactly how much that hurts, okay, so he smashes Chislett in the face. The Engineer Sergeant is on loan from the Australian Army; his pretty beachboy tan pales significantly and he drops like a stone.

Huh. Tom must have been a boxing kangaroo in a past life. That's the only thing Chislett said could take him down. To be honest, Tom's down with that. Kangaroos are kind of awesome. And tall. He'd like to take a kangaroo's picture one day, but of course, now he's a deserter he never can - Australia's got an extradition treaty with America. Koalas are cute, too. Maybe the zoo in San Francisco has Australian animals. But San Francisco is in America, which is probably worse than being in a country with an American extradition treaty.

Oh, boy. The blood loss is starting to get to him.

*

Marshall is minding his own business. Watching the fight is minding his own business, because he's a Medical Sergeant and he needs to be on hand for medical emergencies. Like - ouch - like for Chislett, who just got knocked down. But he won't go over there yet; it's still dangerous.

He never sees them coming.

*

Pete, Spencer and William are creeping along the corridor. It's 7:54pm. They have six minutes to get into the room, access the mainframe, find the right .exe file and disarm it with Pete's code. Not to mention get back out again without getting caught.

By the time they round the corner, Tom, Joe, Andy and the Butcher are the weary victors. McCoy's leg looks broken, bent underneath him in an unnatural way. Bryar appears to be missing a finger - a victim of Tom's knife, maybe. The knife itself is dripping with blood; so are the winners.

And Ryland, Ryan and Gerard have a captive. As they watch, Tom serves Sergeant Marshall a blow to the temple with the hilt of his knife; the soldier topples, unconscious.

Pete sends them a thumbs up, then gestures to the room. Ryland holds up two fingers.

He can guess which two remain inside. Saporta, for sure, and more than likely the mysterious Patrick "Stumph-Wentz", possessor of the keys and the individual fence codes.

Okay. "I'm going to distract them," Pete whispers. "And you're going to incapacitate them."

Everyone nods.

So Pete steps inside.

*

Patrick looks up when he hears someone enter the room. It's the second time; he expects it to be Tom again, come to gloat about winning, because it's Tom Conrad and there's no way he lost. But it's not Tom. It's Pete, and Patrick is frozen in his seat. There's not a flicker of recognition in Pete's eyes when he looks at Patrick.

It hurts more than it should.

"Focus, Stumph," Gabe says in a low voice, then moves out of the cage and towards Pete. "Hey, Wentz. What's up?"

"You're Saporta," Pete says bluntly. "You stole my memories, you fuck."

Gabe shrugs. "'S not like I can give them back. What are you going to do? Beat me up?"

"No," Pete says. "They are."

Nine people swarm through the door behind Pete, part around him like water around a stone and heap themselves on top of Gabe. The Captain has no chance. Joe and Andy stretch his arms out between them, with Butcher and Ryland sitting on his legs, and Tom slams his head back into the ground.

Gabe looks up at Tom with woozy eyes. "Traitor."

Tom's lip curls. "Murderer."

"'S all gov'ment sanctioned," Gabe mutters. "Not murder."

Tom slams his head into the ground again, and Gabe's out.

Patrick jumps up from the computer chair and shoves the cage door shut. The lock's on the outside, so he can't lock it. All he can do is push his weight against it and try and stop them from pushing it open.

"If he's Saporta," Pete says, looking down at Gabe, "then you must be Patrick." He comes forward, right up to the cage, and, pressing through the wire, touches Patrick's hand lightly. "My husband."

"I - I -" Patrick stammers. "I never loved you."

Pete frowns. "I don't even know you."

Isn't that the truth. Patrick's chest is hurting and he doesn't know why. He's been on undercover jobs that lasted longer than this; hell, he's been married before, twice. But no one is like Pete Wentz. No one's been able to affect him this much.

Maybe it's time to get out of the business. After this job, he'll hand in his resignation and retire. He's got a nest egg tucked away in the Caymans - payments the CIA doesn't know about - and he's got all the bonuses the CIA's paid him for his years of service and commendations. He barely ever spends his pay cheque, even.

"Let me in," Pete says. "Let me in, and I'll put in the code. I don't want the dinosaurs roaming free any more than you do."

Patrick sneers a bit. "Bull. It's your program. Your idea. You came up with all this."

"All this?" Pete asks, gesturing to the tired, hungry wounded people behind him, to Saporta, and hell, to the invaded island beyond.

"Tell me the code," Patrick says. "Tell me what to do. I don't trust you."

Pete shakes his head.

It's 7:58pm. "Two minutes," William says. "I know where the file is."

"I'm the only one who knows how to work the system," says Spencer.

"And I know the code," Pete says. "It's group effort. Let us in."

There's a tense moment.

Then Patrick steps back.

*

It's a pressure-filled two minutes. The computer's already started up. Spencer plops down in front of the monitor and delves right in. Keys clack like mad. The seconds tick by. Tom watches the line of Spencer's neck as he leans close to the screen, sees the determined frown on Spencer's face and the awesome knowledge in his expression, and he can see why Jon likes him.

Oh, Tom's not stupid. He's not blind. He may not have seen Jon in years, but he's always been good at reading Jon's body language, and those skills just slipped right back into place the moment he stepped into the tent and saw Jon cuffed to that pole.

Which was, admittedly, much hotter than it should have been.

But that's not the point. The point is, Tom can see that Jon likes Spencer. He's also pretty sure that Spencer likes Jon back. He's Jon's best friend forever, to borrow a phrase, and so he has to figure out why Jon likes this guy. It can't just be that he's determined and smart and capable and sexy and sly and...

Oh boy. The blood loss has got to him even more than he thought. He pinches his nose and feels for the nasty cut on his leg - how dare Bryar try to get the knife away from him - and yep, they're both wet and nasty. Great. Maybe he shouldn't have knocked out Marshall.

If he ever finds out what Tom's thinking right now, Jon will hurt him. A lot. In creative geological ways, possibly involving volcanoes and landslides. Worlds of pain, Tom will be in worlds of pain. But dammit, he just can't stop thinking about what that lean neck tastes like.

Maybe it's a hate-lust thing. He's had those before. Maybe he hates Spencer Smith for stealing Jon away just as Tom got him back. Yeah. That sounds plausible. He can explain it to Jon like that, and Jon will look at him with those wide brown eyes and smile that bright smile and say, It's okay, Tommy. No one can steal me from you.

Wow. Maybe he needs to lie down for a minute.

William is now directing Spencer's clicks. After what seems like just a second, Spencer makes a noise of triumph. Tom wonders what that noise would sound like muffled by his cock. He groans quietly and closes his eyes.

*

Spencer frowns over at Tom. Weren't soldiers supposed to have ace self control? Tom's like a serious goofball. Okay, that doesn't make sense. But Spencer gets the feeling that Tom's a disaster waiting to happen in the funniest possible way - not that Spencer would ever laugh at him, because Tom is Jon's and Jon is Tom's and they probably laugh at each other's disasters. There's nowhere in there for Spencer to fit.

Maybe he wishes he could fit.

He shakes his head and focusses on the computer screen. There are approximately two million lines of code in this program. It's very complex. Thankfully, Pete's got an awesome memory. He knows the precise line of code that acts as a key. He types it into the 'Find' box and hits enter.

Text not found.

What.

No, really, what.

He checks his spelling quickly. Pete's been known to make spelling mistakes. But it's all right.

"Spencer," he hisses. "Where is it? Did you re-write it?"

"Why the fuck would I do that?" Spencer huffs. Leaning over Pete's shoulder, he adjusts the code line a little and hits enter.

Text not found.

He looks at the clock in the lower left corner. It's 8:00PM exactly. He has to enter the code now. Now!

Pete whimpers and starts page-downing. He and Spencer skim the coding, looking for the supposedly missing line. "It's gotta be here, it's gotta be here, it's gotta be here," Pete mutters over and over again. "Dammit!" he slams the keyboard. "Where the fuck is it?"

Spencer trails his fingers down the screen as Pete pages down. He sees the individual fence codes and the reams of script that allow this program to unlock them. "Should be around here," he says. "Down, down. Down... stop!"

Pete stops.

He sees it.

He did have a spelling mistake after all.

"Fuck, remind me to take typing lessons," Pete says as he punches in the line of code that acts as a key. He re-reads it and, convinced, hits save and close.

Then he looks at the clock.

8:02PM.

"No!" he shouts. "No, no, no! Fucking no!"

"They're starting to wake up," Joe suddenly says. "The blond one -" Chislett, "- and the girly one," Marshall.

"We have to go." Spencer yanks Pete out of the seat and shoves him through the cage door. William follows behind.

"Wait," Patrick says. "What are you doing? You can't just go! You have to reverse the program," he snaps.

"I can't," Pete says, tugging out of Spencer's and William's hands. "It's a single-run program. What's executed is executed and it can't be undone."

"You're lying," Patrick says. "I know you are. There's a manual reset switch built into every enclosure."

Pete looks at him for a moment. "You're right," he says slowly. "There is."

"Pete, we have to go," Joe says. Some of the others have already disappeared outside.

Pete backs up. "You better pray we can get them all reset by eight in the morning," he tells Patrick. His voice his cold, but his eyes are bewildered - like he's fighting some impulse inside himself. "Or you'll wish you never married me and came here."

"I already do," Patrick shoots back.

Hurt flashes across Pete's face, and then he and the others are gone.

*

"Was that true?" Gerard asks as he jogs beside Pete. They're all running again. Gerard hates the running. These hallways are wide enough for a golf cart. He should mention that to Pete.

"What? The manual reset?" Pete says. "Yeah. I guess there's no rest for the wicked."

"Speak for yourself," Gerard grumbles. He's about as wicked as Dorothy.

"Back in the day, Way, you were wicked," Pete tells him.

"That was before I became CEO of my own advertising company," Gerard says.

Pete nudges him. "Doesn't leave much time for wickedness?"

Gerard sighs. "Guess not." And that's probably why Frank doesn't like him. He's a withered, 29-year-old CEO and he never has fun. He doesn't drink, he smokes like a chimney and hearing about his little brother's escapades in graduate school is the best part of his week, aside from seeing Frank. And that'll soon be over anyway.

They run and run and finally come to the garage. They all pile into two Jeeps. "Once we get to the front gate," Pete says, "we split up again. You guys take the herbivores and the Boardwalk," he orders the other Jeep, which has Ryland at the wheel. His own has good ol' Andy. "We'll take the carnivores and the Aviary."

"Like hell!" William exclaims. He makes to jump from Pete's Jeep to the other but a pale-faced Gerard grabs his wrist and yanks him back down.

"If I have to do this," Gerard says firmly, "you have to do this."

William looks terrified. "But I'm just a secretary. I don't deal with the dinosaurs! Especially not the carnivores." He shudders.

The garage door is now open. The two Jeeps fire up their engines and shoot out into the night; the chance for protest is lost. They circle around from the back of the Hotel and Pete's Jeep edges out in front. Bumping over the road in the dark, Andy's a magnificent driver, and every move is smooth as he punches out through the gate and swings out towards the carnivore enclosures.

Ryland's driving is not as good, but he keeps up with Andy and they only tip up onto two tires for a second as they turn off to the herbivore field. Even a single second is long enough to slide Spencer into Tom.

"Sorry," he says immediately, and pulls on the rail above his head to right himself again.

"It's fine," Tom says.

Ryan, on Spencer's other side, rolls his eyes. And he thought Spencer would be mad at him for being attracted to Brendon.

Brendon. Ryan feels a flash of worry. He hopes that Brendon and the others are okay; that they're safe and in hiding. The dinosaurs will get loose come eight tomorrow morning if they don't succeed in their task tonight, and there's no way to warn them. Ryan looks out into the dark forest and wonders where they are.

*

Suarez pulls a cord and the light comes on. "Welcome to Casa Suarezinton. Or Suaripley, depending on the day."

"This is where you live?" Brendon asks, looking around with interest. The treehouses have a complex elevator system, designed by Dr. Max Steger. It was no problem for him and Jon to come up to the level of the homes.

It's quite cute, to be honest. Very tropical. There's a low king-size bed in the room off to the left. Pictures of Ryland and Suarez in places all over the world hang from the walls. The furniture is wood or wicker, and there's a well-stocked kitchen that looks like it regularly gets cleaned within an inch of its life. Two guitars sit on stands in the corner, and there's a radio, and a TV-DVD setup. Brendon likes it. It's very homey.

"This is it," Suarez agrees. He pulls another cord and a rope ladder descends from the roof. He climbs it like a monkey and disappears into an attic-like room upstairs. Jon sits down on one of the plush armchairs, and sighs in relief. Walking sucks.

"Not the smartest place to stay," Victoria says, swinging her gun around warily. She's treating that thing like a baby, Brendon thinks, and snorts. The snorting makes his arm hurt; he winces. "Payback's a bitch," Victoria mutters in his ear. Then she raises her voice again. "Don't you think this is the first place they'll look for us?"

"Well, yeah," Suarez says. His voice is muffled. "But we've got one thing they don't."

Victoria puts her hands on her hips. "And what's that? You?"

One by one, four bags drop down from the hole in the roof. After them, Suarez drops - he lands neatly on his feet. Awesome. "Well, yes, but that's not what I meant," he says. "I meant that I know this compound like the back of my hand. That's what we've got," he says. "Inside knowledge."

"Gabe lived here too," Victoria points out. "He'd know his way around."

"Actually," says Suarez, and picks up one of the bags. He hands it to Victoria. "He lived further up the hill, in the Underground. He wanted to be close to Greta, I guess, but she didn't want to live together. Maybe she sensed what an asshole he was. Whatever. Anyway, the treehouses down here are more for couples," he explains.

"So you and Ryland are...?" Brendon trails off. He takes one of the bags, too, holding it in his unslung hand.

Suarez lifts his hand and shows off the plain wedding band. "Committed," he says. "Loved each other all our lives, and it never occurred to us to get married until we couldn't." He pulls a face. "Well, you take what you can get."

"You could always go to Massachusetts," Jon suggests from the chair, where a bag has been deposited in his lap.

Suarez smile calmly. "I'm wanted for murder in Massachusetts."

They all pale.

Victoria says weakly, "what about Canada?"

Suarez laughs. "Yeah, probably best not to talk about Canada, either." He gestures to the bags. "Aren't you curious?"

"What's in them?" Brendon asks warily.

"Supplies," says Suarez.

"We already have food and water." Victoria points to Suarez's backpack.

"Well, if you actually want to sleep on the cold, dewy ground, then give it back," Suarez says, and reaches for Victoria's bag.

She opens it quickly and sees a sleeping bag and pillow inside. "That's okay," she says quickly. "I'd prefer this."

"Thought so." He claps his hands together. "All right. Obviously we can't stay here, in this one. How about... oh, I know. Maja's treehouse is the tallest. You can see over the whole compound from there. We'll be able to see if anyone's coming."

Jon struggles up from the chair and the three of them follow Suarez out onto the balcony. A solid wooden walkway stretches from their platform to the next. Suarez points into the distance. "Maja's is over there."

They all nod and mutter, "right, cool," or variations thereof.

"Let's go." Suarez leads the way.

It's 8:17PM.

*

They're all shivering, standing out by the herbivore field gate. Butcher and Ryland are on foot, scanning the fence. There was a flashlight in the glovebox; thank god for prepared people. So now they've just got to find the fuse box and the reset switch.

Big grey metal box hanging off the fence. Fuse box. Ryland opens the little door -

- and there are about fifty switches and buttons and different coloured wires inside. With no labels. "Oh," he says.

Butcher says, "fuck," and knocks his head against the box. "Don't touch the fence, guys. It's electrocuted, remember," he says, then he and Ryland get to work figuring out which switch is which and which switch is the one they want.

Tom seems to be shaking more than Spencer or Ryan. Spencer frowns at him. "Are you all right?" he asks gruffly.

"Fine," says Tom. "Just cold."

But Ryan's a psychologist, and he knows when some idiot is lying his ass off. He can hear the pain tremors in Tom's voice. "What happened?" he asks. "Was it in the fight? Spencer, I think there's a first aid kit in the Jeep - would you get it?"

Spencer stares at Tom. "You're hurt?"

Tom's face is impassive under the light of the moon. Blood has streaked a trail from his nose, around his mouth and half down his neck. "I'm fine."

"Get the kit, Spence," Ryan says. He points at Tom. "You, sit, on the backseat. Now."

There's something in Ryan's voice that says I AM PSYCHOLOGIST HEAR ME ROAR. So Tom plonks down on the backseat, slides back and stretches out his leg. The light fabric of his forest BDUs is matted black in the moonlight, and slick with blood.

Ryan tentatively feels the cut, trying to see how long and serious it is. Tom winces, but bites back any noise. Spencer props the kit on the seat by Tom's foot. He's found another flashlight, too, which he switches on and aims at the wound.

"This doesn't look too bad," Ryan says. "It's shallow. You've lost a lot of blood, though."

"Always been a bleeder," Tom says. "Bleeder, biter, screamer. Anything to get attention, my mom said."

Spencer very, very pointedly does not think about Tom being a screamer. He just holds the flashlight steady.

"Okay, you're going to have to take those pants off," Ryan says.

Tom shakes his head. "No."

"Take them off," Ryan says, "or I'll do it for you. Or maybe Spencer will."

Spencer goes bright red, and he's thankful that neither Tom nor Ryan can see that in the dark. But the dark isn't as absolute as Spencer thinks it is, and Tom looks at the bright flush spilling down Spencer's cheeks and wonders how far down it goes. He pushes his pants down to his knees. "I don't take my pants off on the first date," he says, his voice low.

"Mmm," says Ryan. "Got yourself a gentleman, Spencer."

The mathematician swallows a groan. "Oh my god, Ross, shut up."

Ryan takes a cloth out of the kit and swipes away most of the blood. The wound's mostly stopped bleeding now, which is good - better to work with. Alcohol swabs are next. He cleans the wound as quickly as he can, but Tom's still fighting back hisses at the alcohol's sting.

Spencer's flashlight keeps wanting to wander up higher. He almost lets it before Ryan snaps, "keep it steady, Spence," and he immediately feels bad. Ryan needs the light to help Tom. He holds it above the wound again.

And then he wonders why he cares about helping Tom.

Out come the needle and thread. "I'm only gonna do a couple," Ryan tells him. "There's no anaesthetic."

"I'm fine," Tom says. "I've had stitches in the field before. Do it."

So Ryan does it.

Tom flops back on the seat and claps a hand over his mouth, screwing his eyes shut. Spencer watches him carefully, his heart beating double time as Ryan efficiently sews the long, shallow gash shut. He sort of wants to hold Tom's hand. He hasn't wanted to hold anyone's hand in a very long time, except maybe Jon's. And his mom's, the first time he saw the T. rex.

"Are you fellows - what are you doing?" Ryland asks. He and Butcher apparently found the reset switch; they're back. The fence doesn't look any different. Hopefully they pressed the right button.

"Tom got hurt," Spencer says. "Uh. Sergeant Conrad."

Tom feels a warm flush of pleasure. Considering he has a needle stuck through the skin of his leg, that can't be good.

*

Maybe it's some sense of self-preservation, but they head for the T. rex end of the carnivore enclosures first. Up the other end, of course, is the Ornitholestes, the dinosaur Gerard has his own bad memories of, so either way would have probably been propelled by self-preservation.

It's 8:29PM and getting very cold. The sky is amazingly clear; there are some fantastic stars out. There's almost no noise on the island. Pete says the dinosaurs grow less chatty as the day goes on - dawn is their most talkative time. It would be a great time to relax, except for the fact that it's freezing and Pete keeps cursing as he fumbles the wires while trying to reach the reset switch.

Gerard's in a group with Pete, Joe, Andy and William. It might as well be just him and Pete, Joe and Andy, because William's curled up in the back of the Jeep and absolutely refuses to move. He's absurdedly childish. Pete says it's because he's never had anyone tell him to grow up. He got kicked out of every corporation from here to Bangkok because of his attitude. Pete really does take in all the strays.

He leans back against the Jeep. He wishes he had someone to hold, or someone to hold him. Joe and Andy are mumbling to each other - possibly about food, which, hey, sounds good right about now - and Pete's at the fusebox. William's antisocial. Gerard is basically on his own.

Oh, how pitiful. Poor Gerard. Poor, multi-millionaire Gerard Way, master of his own life and destiny, advertising executive who changes lives - and maybe saves them - with the products he chooses to advertise. Poor Gerard with the wonderful family and the brilliant artistic skills. Poor Gerard and his hired model-slash-crush who'll be leaving Gerard forever in just four weeks, at the end of his contract.

He rubs his face and sighs tiredly. It's been a long day. He just wants to eat and sleep and not have to worry about dinosaurs munching on him while he does either of those things. For that to happen, these switches need to be flipped. So flipping switches it is.

He just wonders what Frank's doing.

*

Brendon, Jon and Victoria settle inside Maja's treehouse. By silent agreement, Brendon got the bed, Victoria and Jon got the two long, comfy lounges and Suarez is sitting guard outside on the balcony.

It's not hard to sleep. They've eaten - little stuff from the kitchen, fruit and snack bars - and used the toilet. They're all wrapped up in blankets and sleeping bags. It's the best they can hope for, being on the run from the fucking US military.

So as crazy as it might sound, they all sleep.

*

With Tom's leg fixed, his pants back up and his face cleaned, he looks practically respectable. "Be careful of his leg, Spence," Ryan warns him as they all climb back into the Jeep. It's Tom's right leg which is hurt, and that's the side Spencer's pressed along.

"I know," Spencer snaps. "God, I'm not stupid."

Ryan pats his hand and rests his head on Spencer's shoulder. He yawns.

Butcher yawns, too. Ryland looks at them both and says, "please do not start that." But then he yawns, so the irritability is kind of lost.

*

Dilophosaurus. Hypsilophodon. Procompsognathus. Done. Done. Done. Pete's getting the hang of this. They come to the Velociraptor enclosure.

Once again, the five pack members - was pack the right word? - were hovering around the fence. Gerard, Joe and Andy stay right back. Even Pete's hesitant as he approaches the fence.

It's completely weird, and more than a little creepy. As Pete moves along the fence to the fuse box, the head female turns her head like she's tracking his movements. The others have their eyes trained on Gerard, Joe and Andy.

Gerard tries taking a step to the left. The one look at him cocks its head a little.

Holy shit. They are tracking their movements. "Just like the movie," he says softly.

Pete reaches into the fusebox, and quickly flips the switch off. They have to wait ten seconds to turn it back on.

One.

Two.

Nothing's happening. Everyone's holding their breath - even the raptors.

Three. The head female steps daintily towards the fence.

Four.

Five. She lowers her head.

Six. The Velociraptor charges.

When she doesn't get shocked, she tips her head back and lets out a throaty caw.

Seven. The other four charge the fence and bounce back.

Eight. All five at once. The fence creaks a little.

Nine.

Ten. Pete flips the switch and the electricity comes back on. The Velociraptor pack charges one more time - and Gerard has to throw up a hand to cover his eyes from the brilliant shower of sparks that erupts from the fence. The raptors are all thrown backwards into the trees, yelping loudly like dogs.

"Let's go," Pete mutters, heading back to the Jeep.

Gerard pulls a face. "Gladly."

*

Butcher's got a little hut at one end of the Boardwalk. Inside there's a cot and a bank of computers, all networked to sensors along the seawall. He needs the sensors to tell him when the dinosaurs are being too rough with the chain, or when there's big predators outside the wall, or when the chain needs fixing, or when there are boats passing by, or half a dozen other things a marine biologist needs to worry about in a dinosaur sanctuary.

Much to his disgust, everyone insists Tom lay down on the cot. Ryan says he'll sit on him if Tom doesn't, though, and Tom believes him: again with the HEAR ME ROAR tone of voice he must have learned in psych school. So he settles on the uncomfortable pallet while Butcher examines the monitors. Ryland, Spencer and Ryan are outside investigating the veggie patch. Desperate times.

"Hm," Butcher says.

Tom rolls his neck on his shoulders. "What?"

Butcher frowns. "Did you guys come in a ship?"

"Yeah. It's outside the seawall. We lowered smaller boats inside the wall and paddled to shore," Tom explains. "A couple of the senior officers came in the helicopter, though. Why?"

"I'm thinking," Butcher says, leaning against the computer bank and facing Tom. "That maybe we can sabotage the ship. Stop them from taking the dinosaurs."

Tom pauses. That... may be possible. "Tonight?" he asks.

"No better time than the present," the Butcher points out.

"Okay," Tom says. "Do you have a piece of paper?"

*

Suarez is shaking him awake. Jon shakes his head groggily and sits up. He licks his lips and tries to swallow; his mouth always tastes disgusting when he hasn't had enough sleep. "What is it?" he asks slowly.

"We have to go," Suarez says. "You gonna be okay?"

Jon blinks a couple of times and then nods. His feet feel better, and the angry welts around his wrists are almost gone. He could almost run, if he wanted to - or had to.

Victoria stirs on the other lounge. "Time is it?" she asks, sleepy.

"It's about one," Suarez says. "Victoria, can you pack up the sleeping bags?"

She opens her mouth to protest and then, surprisingly, doesn't. She just nods and starts folding up her own and shoving it into the little canvas bag.

"What's going on?" Jon wonders. Suarez leads him out to the balcony and points north, towards the mountain.

"See that?" he says, breathing into Jon's ear.

Jon squints. "Light?" he guesses. There looks like there's a bobbing light coming towards them. Maybe.

"It's a Jeep. Far too late to be Pete and the others. I'd say it's the military, going to do something sneaky," Suarez tells him. "So I want you guys to be awake, just in case."

"Okay," Jon says.

"Keep an eye on that light," says Suarez, and goes back inside to wake Brendon.

Jon watches it. It's definitely descending the mountain, and it might be coming this way. Or it could just be following a particular track that swings them in a completely different direction once it reaches a certain point.

That's when he hears-feels the explosion.

*

It's 9PM, and the Deinonychus are still nowhere to be seen when Pete's doing their enclosure. That's probably a relief: Joe says they're even more deadly than the Velociraptors.

Then there's the Ornitholestes, and Gerard stays in the Jeep with William. He doesn't want to face that bitch again.

And then they have to go back up to the Aviary. "Volunteers only," Pete says quietly. "It's near the Hotel and bound to be crawling with military, trying to find out our secrets and boxing up our pterosaurs."

"I'm going," says Andy.

"Me too," Joe says.

William shakes his head. "Fuck that."

"I -" Gerard hesitates. "I think I'm going to stay as well."

Pete nods. "Probably for the best. William, who's place is closest to here? Underground?"

William frowns. "Disashi?"

"Go there. Food, bed. Stay out of sight. You hear anyone, you run and you don't look back," Pete says. "Even if it's us. Don't trust anyone, okay?"

Gerard and William both nod. Pete, Andy and Joe jump in the Jeep and motor off. "Okay," William says.

The Ornitholestes crashes against the fence.

Gerard swears loudly. William looks about ready to pee himself.

Well. It has been a long time since they visited a bathroom.

*

Ryan knows hypnotherapy. "I didn't know that," Spencer says.

"It's not something I broadcast," Ryan says pissily.

"I suppose you're good at it, too."

Ryan shrugs a little, faux-modest. "Now that you mention it."

"Dr. Smith, let it go," Butcher says. "Ryan gets to go and you have to stay."

Spencer puts his hands on his hips. "Why does Blackinton get to go? He's an entomologist! Bugs, Butcher. He studies bugs. Surely a mathematician is more use than an entomologist when you're blowing up stuff."

"You are a computer expert." Butcher steers him to the computer bank. "You're going to watch these for any irregularities, like I explained to you. And you're going to keep an eye on Sergeant Conrad." Both because he's injured and because he might run back to his friends when their backs are turned, Spencer thinks sourly.

"Fine," he snaps. "But when you get back, I so get first turn sleeping."

Ryland puts a hand on Butcher's shoulder when the marine biologist looks about to object. "Sure," he says. "When we get back."

So , at 9:07PM, they leave. Spencer stands on the shore and watches as the little dinghy bobs over the water, three dark human shapes and one large box visible. The box is a crate of dynamite. They're going to blow the ship up. Tom had drawn them a map of the most strategic places.

Spencer exhales slowly, unfolds his arms and goes back inside the shack. Tom looks exhausted; he's pale and his eyes are droopy. Spencer doesn't care. He goes to his knees in front of the soldier and snaps his fingers in Tom's face. "Hey," he says, "look at me."

Tom drags his eyelids open. "Mmm?"

"If they die," Spencer says, "you die."

"Got it," Tom says sleepily. "But they won't. They've got -" he yawns, "- timers and stuff."

"They better not." Spencer looks at him for a moment, then waves his hand. "Go to sleep."

Tom scratches at his beard. "What about you?"

"I'm going to watch on the beach," Spencer says, and he doesn't know why he's telling Tom that.

The soldier struggles to his feet. "'M coming too."

"Lay back down." Spencer grabs his shoulders exasperatedly, intending to push him back down. They're toe-to-toe. Tom blinks tiredly at Spencer, his blue-grey eyes framed by ridiculous eyelashes, and his pale, plump lips begging to be bitten.

Spencer grits his teeth. "Fine." And he turns on his heel and stomps outside.

Tom follows slowly. They both sit on the shore and watch the dinghy disappear from sight. The military ship is two miles out, just beyond the seawall - even with the moon illuminating the water, it's a black smudge in the distance. Everything's quiet except for the gentle waves lapping at the sand.

Swaying a little, Tom yawns. "Cold," he says.

"Well, you're wearing more clothes than me," Spencer tells him. "So you're not getting my jacket. Not that I'd give it to you, anyway," he feels the need to add.

"Why don't you like me?" Tom wonders. He slumps against Spencer, his head on the mathematician's shoulder. Before Spencer can reply - he's sure he looks a bit like a fish right now - Tom's breathing evens out and he's asleep. Asleep on Spencer's shoulder.

Brilliant.

But. Spencer doesn't shove him off. Which means nothing.

Shut up, he tells himself crossly. Don't think about the way he's pressed up against you. Don't think about his soft breath on your neck. Don't think about the way his beard prickles at your arm, and you like it. Don't think about his hand, three fingers resting on your knee. Do not think about any of it.

Shit.

*

Gerard and William crash in a little two-room place only a couple of corridors Underground from where the Ornitholestes enclosure is. William gets the bed in the other room, while Gerard takes the couch. They eat first, though; there's meat and cheese and bread in Disashi's cupboards.

While they're eating their sandwiches, Gerard pulls his phone out of his pocket and the screen lights up. Still no reception. "Is there any other way to phone off the island?" Gerard says, waving his phone. "I mean, what if you guys have no reception and someone gets hurt?"

"We're mostly self-sufficient," William says. "I designed the island to be that way. We produce our own food, we've got livestock, and we've got some of America's finest outcast doctors in quarters. But there's a couple of satellite phones, yeah."

Gerard frowns. "Where?" Maybe they can call Ms. Hammond and let her know what's going on. If she knows, surely she can pull some strings and - but Gabe had said the operation was government sanctioned. No help from that end, then. But there are surely other people, other governments even, who might help. All they have to do is phone Ms. Hammond.

William smacks his lips thoughtfully. "Pete's office, up at the Hotel. It's locked, but he hides spare keys everywhere just in case he loses one."

"So where's his office?" Gerard asks. He's trying to sound casual, but William narrows his eyes suspiciously.

"It's in the Hotel, but - you're not serious. There's no doubt that Saporta and his men are awake by now. They've probably called for backups. They'll be watching for us," William says.

"Well, you don't have to come," he says reasonably. "Just tell me where to go."

William looks at him for a long moment, then sighs. "Just - wait until morning, yeah? Get some sleep first."

Gerard can see the sense in that. "Okay." So they finish eating, and curl up on their respective pieces of furniture and try to sleep. It's 9:46PM. At around one, they're both startled awake by the rumble of a distant explosion.

*

Chapter Text

SATURDAY

Four hours. For four hours, Spencer and Tom sit on that beach. Spencer maybe dozes off for a while, slumped against Tom while Tom's slumped against him. Not the most comfortable of positions, especially with gritty sand under his ass, but they can't exactly sleep in their nice, clean beds at the Hotel: it's make the best with what they've got. And what they've got is sand and each other.

So four hours pass. It's 1:13AM, and Spencer is awake again. He doesn't know that, in other parts of the island, Gerard and William are sleeping Underground, or Jon and Brendon and Victoria are being woken up by Suarez because of a suspicious Jeep. He does know that Butcher, Ryland and Ryan aren't back yet.

The plan was: Ryan hypnotises-or-distracts the guards or anyone they find around the places Tom had pointed out on the map. Butcher plants the dynamite - and Ryland, the entomologist with knowledge of soil and elements that apparently extends to explosive materials, was going to wire up the timers. He had to give them enough time to set all the explosives and get a respectful distance from the ship.
u
But four hours. Four hours is too long. The moon's behind a cloud so the water is dark: Spencer can't see if there's a dinghy heading their way. There should be. It's been too long. "They should be back," he mutters, and Tom stirs and yawns.

The soldier rubs his face and sits up slowly. "What?" he says, his voice still thick with sleep. Spencer hadn't meant to wake him, but now Tom's sitting up, Spencer is able to stand. He does, and dusts off his pants.

"They should be back," he says again. "It's past one. Where are they?"

And then the ship explodes.

Spencer falls back, flat on his ass. Noise. Heat. It rolls across the water, all two miles, and brushes at their faces. He and Tom stare at the mushroom cloud, the flames, the debris that splashes into the water.

The water is calm; they can hear screams. Two miles isn't far for sound to travel across flat, open water. Flat, open, empty water. The light from the fires illuminates the area for a good mile. The moon comes out from behind the cloud and illuminates the rest. There's no dinghy.

"Where are they?" Spencer whispers. "Where's the boat?"

Tom rubs his eyes and drags himself to his feet. He brought his rifle out to the beach with him, in case someone tried to sneak up on them. Picking it up, Tom jams the butt into his shoulder and sights along the scope.

He scans the water. "There's nothing," he says.

Spencer jumps to his feet. "Don't say that," he says fiercely. "Ryan is - don't say that."

"Is he your boyfriend?" Tom hasn't missed how close Ryan and Spencer are. Attraction doesn't take previous ties into account, though.

"My best friend," Spencer says. "Since we were five and six."

Tom thinks about Jon - how he would feel if someone had just implied that Jon could be dead. He feels seriously sick. "Sorry," he says. "But I can't -" He's scanning aimlessly and he sees the chainwall. He can see the buoys. He can see the buoy closest to the ship. "Wait."

Spencer stills. "What? What is it?"

"There's someone hanging onto the buoy," Tom says. "I can't see who, but there's someone out there." He stifles a yawn, frowns and scans the water again, looking for little blips in the water. He'd discounted the debris before, but maybe there wasn't only debris.

"We have to -" Spencer cuts himself off. He doesn't know what they have to do. He doesn't know how they can go out there and check who it is. There's bound to be more people in the water, too. Maybe Butcher and Ryland. Maybe Ryan. They could be inside the chainwall; the Kronosaurus and Liopleurodon are carnivores. "We have to do something," he finishes lamely. Ryan's in danger. Spencer has to do something.

Tom hesitates. He was never all that good at rowing, but. "Where's that other dinghy?"

*

"What was that?" Suarez sticks his head out the door. "It sounded like -"

"An explosion," Jon says. "Yeah, I think so." But they can't see what exploded, or where it happened, so there's no way to guess what's going down elsewhere on the island.

Suarez frowns. "We should go," he says. He looks back at Victoria and Brendon, both still half-asleep. "Are you ready?"

They nod.

"Where are we going to go?" Jon asks.

"Underground," says Suarez. "They'll never find us down there."

So they take one of the nifty little wooden elevators down to the ground, and Suarez leads them to a trapdoor buried under a pile of leaves. They climb down, one after the other, with Suarez watching the trees for movement.

When they're all down, Suarez closes the trapdoor over their heads. What they find themselves in is a corridor lined with display cases. The cases hold bones and fossils, as well as a veritable ton of amber globes. "What's that inside them?" Jon asks quietly.

"Mosquitoes," says Victoria. "That's where they got the dinosaur DNA. It was in the books."

Brendon shifts. His shoulder is aching from being in the sling all day. "Alex would have loved this."

Jon and Victoria look at him. They'd been avoiding mentioning the young palaeontologist. "Yeah," Victoria says, her voice quiet like Jon's. "He would have."

But Jon frowns. "He will," he says firmly. "He'll get to see it."

Brendon and Victoria don't say anything. Neither does Suarez. Brendon, at least, knows that there was a high chance Gabe smelled a rat and discovered Alex and Greta. Greta hadn't been in the secret computer room, after all. Brendon's worked with Special Forces before. They're ruthless. They're specially trained to be ruthless. If Gabe suspected Greta and Alex of treachery, then they were dead.

But he just says, "okay."

*

Gerard and William go back to sleep. There's nothing they can do.

*

Tom and Spencer push the dinghy into the water. They take off their shoes and chuck them in the boat, and roll up their pants. The water is freezing. But they have a moral duty to find the survivors.

They both row the two miles. It doesn't take long before they're floating amongst the wreckage.

Wreckage and bodies.

The ship itself is still floating, but it's a blazing mess. There's no way it's going anywhere. Tom's strategic points specifically stayed away from the fuel tanks, so there'll be no leak - but they incapacitated the ship as surely as if they had lamed an animal.

Tom knows some of these people. He'd come by ship - he wasn't senior enough to have come in the helicopter. So he knows the cook that floats past, face down, and a couple of the deckhands who were good at poker and willing to part with money. This guy, someone from the engine room, had a guitar stashed away that he let Tom play.

He shakes his head. Survivors. They're looking for survivors.

They head straight for the buoy, because Tom had seen through the scope that the person clinging to it was moving. He still had his rifle; as they drift closer, he leaves the rowing to Spencer, pops the scope off the gun and uses it to see ahead.

Finally, they pull up next to the buoy, Spencer stilling them as much as he can. Tom says, "hey," and reaches a hand to the person hanging off the red-and-white cone. "Hey," he says again.

The person's face is pressed into the buoy. "Not real," he tells himself sternly, his voice muffled. "'S not - not real." He's shivering and dripping wet.

Tom grabs the guy's shoulder. "We're real, buddy," he says gently.

So the person lets himself get pulled into the dinghy.

It's Ryan.

*

An hour later, the dinghy bumps onto the shore. It's small but sturdy, and it discharges eight people onto the beach, six of them dripping wet. Tom and Spencer couldn't find anyone else, and they gave up after an hour; that long in water that cold, and there's almost no chance of survival.

Spencer throws himself at Ryan as soon as they're on land, knocking his friend to the ground. "Don't you ever do that," Spencer snaps at him, burying his face in Ryan's wet chest. "I thought you'd died in the blast."

Ryan shakes his head, shuddering with cold still. "Our - boat - drifted away," he says. "We - had to - swim for it." He wraps his arms around Spencer. He's significantly drier than he was an hour ago, but his clothes are still sodden. That can't be good for his future health, Spencer thinks, but there are no other clothes to give him. He'd strip off and give Ryan his own clothes if Ryan would let him.

"We thought we'd, uh," Butcher swallows his shivers, "use the chain to, uh, swim to the shore."

"Ship exploded too early," Ryan adds. "Ryland miscalculated." Then he looks around at the other four wet faces besides him and Butcher. There's a cook and three deckhands. "Where is -" he starts, confused.

Spencer flinches and Tom looks sick. Tom finally says, "we couldn't find him. We couldn't find Ryland."

*

At a quarter past two, an hour after the weird rumbling, Gerard wakes up again. He's not sure what woke him up this time. He sits up slowly, the blanket falling away, and listens.

"Footsteps," he whispers to himself. "I think that's footsteps." He slides his feet into his shoes and checks the bedroom.

But William isn't there.

Gerard remembers what Pete said. "You hear anyone, you run and you don't look back."

Okay. Okay, he's on his own and there are footsteps outside. He doesn't know where William is, or even where he himself is, and there are footsteps outside. There are footsteps outside, and he has to - what. Hide? Hide. He can hide.

Where?

He slides under the couch, and not a moment too soon. The door to Disashi's room opens; two pairs of feet are illuminated in the light from the corridor beyond. They clomp inside. They're wearing army boots.

The last Gerard had seen, William was wearing stylish loafers. So it's not William.

"Gabe's mental," a quiet voice says. "There's no one here. They were here, but they're not now."

"Wentz said," says the second person.

The first person scoffs. "Wentz lied."

"Just check the bedroom, Marsh."

'Marsh' - Sergeant Marshall? - heads into the bedroom. Gerard hears the cupboard doors opening, and then someone clattering around in the bathroom. The second person checks in the kitchen, inspecting the pantry and the cabinets.

"There's no one here," Marshall says again. "But this bed is really nice."

The second person snorts. "Come on," he says. "We gotta get back."

Marshall seems to bounce on the bed if the springs squeaking are any indication. "You're no fun since you got promoted, Johnson."

"No fun, huh," says Johnson. "I'll show you no fun." The bed squeaks an alarming amount, like someone just jumped on it, and Marshall is squalling with laughter. Then there's sounds of kissing, and Gerard realises he's going to be stuck under this couch for a while.

Awkward.

*

The cook's name is Trace. He's skinny and pierced and tattooed. The deckhands are Wannabe!Afro Ian, Bert, who seems to be very dirty even after his ocean bath and Quinn, whose platinum blond hair shines under the moonlight. They're all nice enough, but Spencer would trade them all for Ryland Blackinton.

Butcher produced blankets from inside his shack, and now, wrapped up in the blankets, they're all trudging through the trees. It's not safe to stay on the shore; the military will have heard the explosion and they'll investigate. So Butcher, Spencer and Ryan are leading the group to the Underground. Maybe down there, they'll find someone's room and there will be a shower and clean clothes and food for all of them. And then they have to figure out a plan to take down all of Gabe's men so they can't call in backup and a plan to get rescued.

But Ryland. God, Spencer thinks, how are we going to tell Alex Suarez?

*

By 3AM, Gerard, Jon, Brendon, Victoria, Suarez, Butcher, Ryan, Spencer, Tom, Trace, Ian, Bert and Quinn are all Underground, along with forty-six highly trained United States Army Special Forces soldiers intent on their blood. Pete and possibly Joe and Andy have been captured. William, Siska and Ray Toro are missing. Alex DeLeon, Greta and Ryland are presumed dead.

As a point of interest, Sergeant Colligan is MIA.

*

Gerard hears clothes being pulled back on. What a relief. He thought they'd never stop. He was starting to get really, really uncomfortable. He watches from underneath the couch as the two pairs of military boots give both rooms another lookover, then head out the door.

He waits a moment.

Hearing the footsteps get fainter, he slides out from under the couch, stands up and stretches. His back cracks three times. Ouch. But he feels much better, after, and he pokes his head out the door to make sure he's alone in the corridor.

Indeed he is. Gerard closes the door behind him and heads in the opposite direction to the clomping boots. He can find another way to the Hotel, to Pete's office and the satellite phones. Hopefully he doesn't bump into anyone on the way, though.

Knowing his luck, he will.

*

Suarez, Victoria, Jon and Brendon find a two-bedroom suite pretty quickly. The whole Underground is like a maze of corridors and rooms and laboratories. It's pretty cool. Suarez conks out on the couch straight away. Victoria takes one bed to herself, as is fair, and Jon and Brendon take the other one. It's cold, and Brendon's shoulder is in pain, but Jon is warm and a good pillow. So they're good.

*

They find a few of rooms in a row. There's a lab nearby, so maybe these rooms belong to the people who work in the lab. Whatever; there's eight places to sleep and more than enough food in the cupboards for each hungry mouth.

Bert and Quinn take a bed, with Trace on their couch.

Butcher gets the next bed, and the corresponding lumpy couch is Ian's.

In the third room, Ryan and Spencer share the bed - they've done it tons of times before - and Tom is on the couch. Rightfully, Tom should get the bed. He is injured, after all. But Tom insists, and it makes more sense to have the pair in the bed and the single person on the couch than to have one person on each the floor, the couch and the bed.

Spencer very, very nearly volunteers to take the bed with Tom. But in his mind there's a red flashing light and a robotic voice going DANGER, DANGER WILL ROBINSON, so he pipes down and eats his cold sandwich and curls around Ryan when they go to sleep. He tries not to think about Tom in the next room, and he tries even harder not to think about where Jon is.

*

Gerard finds a map after he wanders around for a while. It tells him he's going in the wrong direction, so he turns around and heads back the way he came, fixing the route to the Hotel in his mind. He wonders how often people get lost down here, in order for there to be a map hanging from a wall in a random corridor. Doesn't bode well for him.

But it's not long until the corridors widen out a bit, and the lights and rooms come more often. He is actually heading in the right direction. He slows down and starts checking around the corners. He hears anything, anything that sounds remotely like someone coming, and he ducks into a room until they pass.

Moving so slowly, it takes a while for him to get to the Hotel. But he does recognise the corridors soon enough, and he realises that he's passed into the depths of the Hotel without even noticing.

Gerard begins to check rooms to see if they're locked; he begins to look for the glint of a hidden key.

The rooms aren't the only thing that's becoming more numerous. Gerard spots members of Saporta's team everywhere. He sees Sergeant Bryar with a bandaged hand, and McCoy limping along in a field splint, a grimace of pain twisting his face with every step. There are others he knows, and some he doesn't. He avoids them all - quite craftily, in his opinion.

However, every door he tries is unlocked. He doesn't do more than jiggle the handle a little, just to see if it catches or not - he's sort of afraid of what he might find if he enters any of the rooms, or if someone inside sees the handle noticeably turning.

Gerard makes it all the way to the grand lobby. He's checked one entire side of the Hotel. Maybe it's time to see if Pete works and sleeps in the same place. Gerard knows a lot of his fellow CEOs in New York like to have their home office adjacent to their bedrooms; it makes for less hassle in the mornings, or late at night when they just can't sleep. Better than keeping a cot by the desk, that's for sure.

So he creeps out into the lobby. The double-staircase is like a curved, inverted 'u', with a door in the middle. That's the door he comes out from. He edges along the wall of the staircase, then, when he gets to the base, he runs up the stairs as fast as he can. He can't see or hear anyone. That doesn't mean no one can see or hear him.

Second floor. There are twelve doors. Gerard's hoping that, when he was in Pete's bedroom earlier, he missed the door that leads to Pete's office. So he heads for the bedroom that was once Pete and Patrick's. He pushes open the door.

And Patrick is sitting on the bed.

Gerard freezes. "I -" he says.

Patrick looks at him, then looks away again. He doesn't look interested in calling for protection. He's more interested in the photo album on his lap.

"I can't figure out if I loved him or not," Patrick says. He runs his fingers over the glossy page. "I'm thinking not, but every time I go down there and see him locked up in that cell, I start to doubt. Maybe I do love him. Did. Do."

Gerard bites his lip. He should be running in the other direction. "If you love him, then why don't you help him?"

Patrick sighs. "I'm trying to work out if I love him more than my job, my freedom. My integrity. The Hammond Affair, my bosses call it, and they wanted it wrapped up. I was the man to do it. I've never fallen in love with a mark before. I shouldn't have this time. But - somehow, somewhere along the way - I think I did."

"What is your job?" Gerard asks.

He smiles humourlessly. "I haven't formally introduced myself, have I?" He puts the photo album aside - gently - and stands up. He offers Gerard his hand. "Special Agent Patrick Stumph. CIA."

*

Spencer's always been a light sleeper. Even if he only gets an hour of sleep, he wakes up at the slightest noise and cannot get back to sleep. Ryan says it's his greatest fault when they share a bed, because once Spencer can't sleep, he usually jostles Ryan until he wakes up too. If Spencer has to suffer, Ryan has to suffer.

But not this time. He's pretty sure the noise came from the other room, which means it came from Tom. The bedroom door is closed, so he can't be sure what the noise was. He's going to investigate. It could be that Tom's leg is bothering him, but he doesn't want to be a bother. They had no anaesthetic and no painkillers. He's probably in pain.

Spencer, even though he treats all of humanity - bar Ryan - like they've personally offended him, doesn't like seeing anyone in pain. Or hearing, as the case may be.

So, as careful as he can, he rolls away from Ryan and off the bed. He's barefoot, so he's quiet as he pads across the floor and opens the door a crack. If Tom's okay, he doesn't want to disturb him. Maybe he imagined the noise.

Twenty-six years old, he thinks as soon as he sees Tom. He is twenty-six years old and he discovered his cock when he was eleven, so that's fifteen years of jerking off both himself and other guys. As such, it's pretty damn obvious that Tom is okay. More than okay.

Spencer presses his forehead to the doorjamb and, hating his own weakness, watches.

Tom's BDU pants and jacket are hanging off the edge of the couch. He's wearing a tight black tee and pale cream boxers; boxers that are around his knees. He's shoved the blankets down to his feet. Spencer can see everything.

He can see the muscles in Tom's arms - one reaching down to his cock and the other thrown over his face, muffling the noises he's making. He can see the way Tom's throat is working. He can see how Tom's hips are pushing up from the couch. He can see Tom's cock, and the twist of Tom's hand as he fists himself.

Tom is rough, and fast, and he's probably getting close.

Spencer swallows his own groan. It's been a long time since he's been this close to sex, and as much as he wants to deny it, he's attracted to Tom. Maybe it's the scruffiness. Maybe, on the other end of the spectrum, it's the danger of wanting a USASF soldier, or maybe it was the uniform. Brent had been a cop.

Fuck. Tom looks so hot. The lamp is on in the kitchen; the soft light is spilling out from the door right onto the couch. His hair glints; his eyes are closed. There's a dip between his abdomen and his thigh, and a long, silver scar wrapping around his hip.

Spencer wants to know how that scar happened, and that's a sign that he wants more from Tom than just sex. He is absolutely not ready for that. He closes the door quietly and climbs back into bed with Ryan.

After a moment, there's a low groan from the other room.

He determinedly closes his eyes.

*

Gerard stares at Patrick. "You're kidding," he finally manages to say.

"Captain Saporta told you this operation is government sanctioned," Patrick points out.

"You just -"

"Don't look like I'm with the CIA," the chubby man nods. "That's kind of the point."

Right. Okay. "So," Gerard says, clearing his throat. "The Hammond Affair?"

"Richard Hammond leased the island of Isla Nublar from the Costa Ricans in the eighties," Patrick says. "He and several others died one memorable weekend in 1985. The two survivors were rescued when Dr. Ian Malcolm managed to rig up a radio to call the mainland. Along with Malcom and the young Alexis Hammond, the Costa Rican authorities took several dinosaurs from the island. These dinosaurs broke loose and killed Alice Crichton on a family holiday."

"That's how Michael Crichton found out about it all," Gerard says. That's from the story Pete and Patrick had told them on their arrival to the island. "The Costa Ricans told him."

"That's right," Patrick says. "Five years later, InGen sent teams to explore the situation on Isla Sorna. More people died. An adult male Tyrannosaurus rex and a juvenile were transported to San Francisco, where they broke loose. That was hushed up as a hallucinogenic in the water supply."

Gerard nods. He remembers that. He and Mikey had thought it was awesome that people had hallucinated a dinosaur.

Patrick continues. "A decade later in 2000, Alexis Hammond, CEO of the newly-minted BioGen, hires Pete Wentz and a team of scientists to re-establish the island as a sanctuary for the dinosaurs. She cuts out the Costa Ricans altogether by buying the island. So the Costa Rican police are pissed off, and they go behind their own government's back to the US government and spill the beans on the dinosaurs."

"And after that, it was just a matter of time before the island was stretched to its financial limit," Gerard realises. "They just had to wait for the right time to approach Ms. Hammond with their offer, and finish up the Hammond Affair once and for all." Patrick nods. Gerard thinks for a moment. "But how are you involved? How did you meet Pete? What were you supposed to do?"

Patrick sits on the bed. "The CIA set me up as a real estate broker when they found out Alexis Hammond was looking to sell her grandfather's place and get her own house. That's how I met her. She liked me. We became friends. And she introduced me to Pete." He rubs his face. "I was supposed make sure Pete went along with Alexis' decision to accept the offer, and to inform my boss if he was planning anything."

"Did you?" Gerard asks. "You knew Pete was planning all of this. You must have known about the unlocking program in advance. It's not something Pete would have kept secret from you. He tends to overshare about his work." Thus the whole problem with the Tanizaki project, actually.

"I didn't," Patrick said. "I didn't tell them. So I think I love Pete."

*

Tom knows someone saw him just now. He's trained to notice things like soft noises and disturbances in his environment, even when he's sleeping - or jerking off.

He hopes it was Spencer.

Fuck, he is so gone.

*

Patrick blinks and shakes his head. "I'm sorry. Was there something you wanted?"

Gerard starts. He's standing here, talking to Patrick, who could call Gabe at any moment. "I - uh. Satellite phone?"

"There's one in Pete's office. I assume you want to get off the island," Patrick says.

Gerard nods.

"Well, I won't stop you. Gabe wants to kill you," Patrick says, "but there's very little that can make me condone murder. I would suggest you try and spring Andy, down in the cells. He can fly you out of here on the plane. I'm sure it doesn't need repairs as much as Andy insists it does. You can make it to the mainland, at least."

Spring Andy? But Gerard's only one person. "How should I do that?"

"You managed to overpower Saporta," Patrick says.

"Yeah, ten of us," Gerard says.

Patrick looks at him like he's stupid. "So find your friends."

Gerard hesitates. He might be able to do that. But... "Will you help?" he asks. "We can take Pete. And you can escape, too."

"If I leave the CIA without notice, I'll be hunted and killed. I've seen too much," Patrick says. "I know too much. They have to vet me before I can leave."

"Do you want Saporta to kill Pete?" Gerard says frankly. "If Saporta's got him locked up, then it's only a matter of time before Pete is useless and Saporta kills him."

Patrick winces. "I've never been in love before," he confesses. "I - helping him escape would be illegal. But I can't let him die. I love him. I can't -"

"Okay," Gerard interrupts. "So we'll make it look like you fought us. You can go back to the CIA and resign because if we overpowered you then you're obviously not an effective agent anymore, and then you can come find Pete. Everybody wins," he says. "Help me break them out."

There's a long moment when Patrick considers it. Agent Stumph and Patrick Stumph-Wentz are fighting it out inside him; Gerard can see it. "We can't do this alone," Patrick finally says, a little reluctantly. "We need to find your friends first."

'We'.

Gerard fist-pumps in triumph. "Then let's do it!"

*

Dawn arrives. Gerard and Patrick are sneaking out of the Hotel. Tom's group are Underground near the Boardwalk. Suarez's group is Underground near the resident compound. Andy and Pete are confirmed captured. William and Joe are not confirmed; they are still missing, as are Sergeant Colligan and Drs. Siska and Toro.

Alex DeLeon, Ryland and Greta are still presumed dead.

Saporta's men are all over the island. A second transport ship has been summoned to replace the destroyed one; it's fifty miles out and should be there by 10AM. At that time, the dinosaurs sedated during the night will be locked into crates and cages and loaded onto the ship, and the military will leave the island. Their loose ends must be tied up before they go.

There was a second team at Isla Sorna. They were done yesterday; that makes Saporta look bad. The Isla Nublosa operation, to put it plainly, has gone very wrong.

To tie up loose ends, no one can be left alive who will blab. That's a death warrant for everyone on the island not under Saporta's command, plus Conrad and possibly Colligan - but not Patrick, who, as far as Saporta knows, is still working with him.

By 10:30AM at the latest on Saturday the fifteenth of August, 2008, the Hammond Affair will be over and done with. Forever.

*

When Victoria wakes up and comes out, she finds the other three already sitting around the table. Suarez gestures to the coffee pot; she grabs it gratefully. Brendon's face is pale. He's usually cheerful and energetic - she remembers from Stanford - but since he's been on the island he's been very restrained. Maybe the military taught him that. They obviously taught him not to complain about his pain, too, because he's suffering in silence.

She just pours herself a cup of coffee and sits on the fourth chair. "So what are we doing today?" she asks quietly.

"Staying out of everyone's way," Suarez says. "I'm assuming they were successful in entering the code last night, which means all the fences above ground are still locked. I'd say it will take the military until at least midday to take the dinosaurs. After that, we can go up to the Hotel and see if anyone else is around."

"What if they're not?" Jon asks quietly. "What if everyone's gone?"

Suarez shrugs. "There are phones and radios. We can use those to call for help. But I don't think Ryland would willingly leave me behind, any more than Pete would leave you three."

"Unwillingly, though," Brendon says. "What if they've left unwillingly?"

*

Tom is woken up by his radio squawking. It's in the pocket of his jacket, slung over the arm of the couch. The frequency has been changed since he deserted so he can't hear his ex-teammates' correspondence - no one's raised him since then. No one should be on that frequency.

The squawk gives way to a voice. "Sergeant Conrad. Sergeant Conrad, please respond. Sergeant Thomas Conrad."

He rubs his face. That's Patrick. But Patrick is working with Saporta. He sits up and grabs his jacket, pulling the radio out of the pocket. He'll turn it off.

"Sergeant Conrad, I have Gerard Way with me."

Tom pauses, his fingers on the dial.

A new voice comes over the line. "Sergeant Conrad, my name is Gerard Way. As you probably know, I'm one of Pete Wentz's guests. Pete has been captured by Captain Saporta and we have a plan to get him back. Sergeant Conrad, please respond."

"That's his voice," Spencer says from the door of the bedroom, startling Tom. "That's Gerard." Spencer should know. He heard Gerard talking dirty to Jon yesterday; that memory, and the flare of sharp jealousy every time he thinks of it, is not going to die away any time soon.

Tom considers it. "Could Saporta have turned him?"

Spencer snorts. "Pete Wentz used to date Gerard's little brother, and yet Pete and Gerard are friends. No way are either of them betraying the other any time soon."

So Tom presses the 'reply' button instead.

*

"This is Tom Conrad. Let's meet up."

Patrick and Gerard grin at each other. "Resident compound at seven," Patrick suggests. It's close enough to them; just down the hill, within walking distance. It's 6:23AM now. They've got more than enough time to get to the compound.

"We'll be there."

*

Spencer watches Tom put the radio away. "How do you take your coffee?" he asks after a moment.

"In a thermos," Tom says, looking at his watch. "We have to go."

"I'll get the others," Spencer says.

Tom makes a soft noise. "We have to trim the fat," he says reluctantly. "Eight people travel much slower than, say, three or at the most, four. We've only got half an hour to make it halfway across the island."

If he was anyone else, Spencer would have protested the term 'trim the fat'. But he'd lightened his department on the island by several bodies in the past month, and those were the exact words he'd used. So he just nods. "Who are you going to take with you?"

"You," Tom says immediately. Spencer shoves down the surprise. He's not exactly in top shape. He would not have been surprised if Tom had left him behind. "Ryan, and the guy with the tattoos."

Spencer says, "Butcher. So leave the ship crew behind."

Tom nods.

Spencer goes to wake Ryan, and Tom creeps into Butcher's room. He gets into the bedroom without waking the deckhand on the couch - but two people are not nearly as quiet as one, and Ian wakes up on the way back out.

"You are not leaving without me," Ian says firmly.

Tom scratches his beard. "How fast can you run?"

"I made it to my high school track team with pot lungs."

"Good enough," Tom says. "Come on."

Spencer and Ryan are waiting in the hallway. "'At the most, four,'" Spencer quotes back to Tom when he sees Ian.

"He can probably run faster than you can," Tom snaps. "Let's go." He gestures to the corridors, silently asking which way to go.

"We can make it Underground," Butcher says, and turns to lead the way. Tom and Ian follow, and the three of them start to jog.

Ryan squeezes Spencer's shoulder, but Spencer shrugs him off. "I'm fine," he says. "Tom's an ass."

"Tom, huh?" Ryan says.

Spencer huffs. "Shut up."

*

"We should organise a place for you and Pete to meet," Gerard says as they slide down the hillside. "I mean, after you quit the CIA you're going to find him, right? We should make that as easy as possible."

Patrick glances at him. "Who says Pete will want me to find him?"

Gerard frowns. "You love him, right? I'm guessing he loves you, too."

"Loved." Patrick shakes his head. "He doesn't know me anymore, remember?"

"Call me idealistic, but I don't think a memory drug can wipe away love."

"I hope you're right," Patrick says. "I hope so. But I don't think you are."

Gerard sighs. Jaded CIA agent and disgraced professor. What a match. "We'll see."

*

Brendon's sleeping. Suarez and Victoria are playing cards. Jon, however, can't seem to settle. He's paced the corridor outside, checked out every room, walked every inch of the room where they're waiting. He can't seem to walk out the bug that's eating at him.

And he knows why. It's because Tom and Spencer are both out there. Jon only just found Tom again: he doesn't want to lose him. And Spencer... well, that's one nut Jon would like to crack. Jon's a flirty guy, but he knows when someone's worth more than the chase.

He found a pair of shoes in one of the bedrooms that fit him. His wrists are still bruised from the cuffs but the bruises aren't as bad as they were yesterday, and with the padded insoles of the shoes, his feet barely hurt at all. He should be out there, doing something. Helping, or something.

Jon hates not knowing what's going on.

He heads out into the corridor again and doesn't turn back.

*

Tom drops back to jog next to Spencer. Ryan pulls ahead to give them a moment's privacy.

He's quiet for a moment,put only the sounds of their feet hitting the floor and Spencer's slightly laboured breathing. "I'm sorry for snapping at you," Tom finally says.

"Don't be," Spencer replies. "It's true. He can run faster than me." Ian's right on Butcher's heels at the front of the group. Spencer, however, can't seem to catch up and stay caught up.

"I shouldn't have been so -"

Spencer cuts him off. "I said it's fine."

And then Tom knocks him against the wall.

"Hey, what -"

Tom claps a hand over Spencer's mouth. "Sh," he says sharply. He presses in close to Spencer and breathes in his ear, "not a word. Okay?"

Spencer nods.

The hand slides from Spencer's mouth to cup his neck, and Tom applies enough pressure to make Spencer turn his head. Spencer sights the corner ahead; Butcher, Ian and Ryan have already disappeared around it.

"Hear anything?" Tom asks very softly.

He shakes his head.

"Exactly."

Spencer doesn't understand.

Then he hears Ryan. "Hey," his friend calls. "Get your asses into gear; we haven't got all day!"

Tom relaxes a little. He goes to move away from Spencer, to head around the corner.

But Spencer shakes his head again. "'Ass' is Ryan's rescue word." He grabs Tom's arm and tugs him the other way, away from the corner - away from Ryan, Butcher and Ian. "They're in trouble."

As quick and quiet as they can, Tom and Spencer back down the corridor. It's a long corridor. There's only a moment before two BDU-clad soldiers round the corner they're backing away from.

"Hey, stop!" The one on the left calls. They start to chase.

Tom shoves Spencer ahead of him. "Run!"

*

Patrick and Gerard reach the resident compound at 6:54AM, six minutes before the rendezvous time. There are tyre tracks everywhere, and stuff all over the ground. It looks like someone's ransacked the treehouses and chucked half the residents' belongings out the window onto the dirt.

But there doesn't seem to be anyone here now, so they choose the most obvious spot to wait. Hopefully, Conrad and whoever's with him will see them right away. The sooner they break Pete and Andy from the cells, the sooner everyone can get off the island.

"I hope this is love," Patrick suddenly says. "I mean. There's nothing else that I would betray my country for, and that's what this is."

Gerard toes at the broken chair near his foot. "Haven't you been in love before?"

"Never." Patrick wraps his arms around himself. It's a cold dawn. The sky is cold grey, and the sun hasn't risen yet even though it's light. "You?"

He thinks about Frank. "No," he finally says. "But there is... someone, and I think if I was in love, I'd do just about anything, too."

Patrick looks at him. "Tell me about her?"

"Him," Gerard corrects him. "He's - he works for a record label. I picked up a contract with them to design posters, backdrops, TV, billboard, newspaper advertisements. The label chose him to be their face. So I've been working with him for a couple of months."

"Does he know you like him?" Patrick asks.

Gerard shakes his head. "I'm not exactly a catch, you know? I'm rich, but that's it. Like - I'm absentminded, and shy, and I get too focussed on my work, and I'm not fit. So I don't know. He can do better than me."

Patrick frowns. "So is that what love is?" he asks, genuinely curious. It's like being an undercover agent has left him ill-prepared for his real life. "A sacrifice. You're giving up being with him so he can be happy?"

"I -" Gerard hesitates. "I guess?"

"Huh," Patrick says, then checks his watch. It's 6:58AM.

"Gerard?"

They turn.

Jon emerges from the trees.

*

They ran.

Pounding along the corridors with two soldiers hot on their tail, Tom and Spencer look for any possible way out. If they can find a ladder up ramp up to ground level, they can get lost in the trees, lose the soldiers that way. They've come quite a distance - the resident compound can't be that far away. They can make it, if they don't get caught.

"Come on," Tom says, "come on." He's scanning the halls, pulling ahead of Spencer.

He almost runs right past the ladder. Swinging up the rails, he shoves at the trapdoor and it's heavy, but he manages to pop it open. Spencer's right behind him as he climbs up and out.

Except then he's not right behind Tom - he's yelling and kicking at the hand around his ankle. "Get the fuck off me," Spencer snarls, and his heel crunches into something hard. The hand around his ankle falls away.

Tom reaches down the hole. "Spence."

Spencer grabs at his hand and lets Tom yank him up. Spencer collapses onto the dirt and Tom slams the trapdoor closed.

But there's no opportunity for rest. "We gotta go," Tom says, helping Spencer up.

"What about Ryan?"

Tom shakes his head. "He'll have to take care of himself. Come on, we can still make the meet." He disappears into the treeline.

The trapdoor rattles.

Spencer hurries after Tom.

*

"Jon, what are you doing here?" Gerard says. They hug. "I thought you were with Suarez?"

"I was," Jon says, pulling back. "I couldn't stand waiting around any more. What's been happening?" He eyes Patrick. "Are you okay?"

Gerard waves a hand. "I'm fine. Patrick - he's working with us."

Patrick waves awkwardly.

"So what's been going on?" Jon asks. "Why are you here?"

"Uh," Gerard says. "Long story short: the plan didn't work. We didn't enter the code in time. But, through the night, we manually reset all the enclosures. Pete, Joe and Andy headed up to the Aviary to do those locks," he adds. "They didn't come back."

"So, what?" Jon says. "You and him," he gestures at Patrick, "are going to get them back?"

"That's the plan. Andy can get us off the island," Gerard points out. "We're not doing it alone, though."

Jon raises his eyebrows. "Then who?"

Patrick piped up. "We contacted Sergeant Conrad."

Okay. Cool. Tom can - Tom can figure all this out. Tom's good at figuring things out. He was always the one who made the plans when they were hanging out together, trying to find something to do. Now he's military trained, he's probably even better at planning. So Tom can get them rescued.

Jon wonders when he developed such a case of hero worship for his best friend.

*

"Where are we?" Spencer says. "I don't know where we are."

Tom looks at him. "Well, I don't know. You work on this island."

"I'm a mathematician and a computer expert," Spencer says. "I don't get out much."

So they stop. "You want to," Tom looks around, "climb a tree or something? Figure out where we are from above?"

Spencer winces. "Okay," he says doubtfully. There's a tree near them with a lot of low branches. Slowly, he starts to heave himself up.

Tom sees Spencer having trouble. "So," he says. "What's a rescue word?"

Spencer pauses and looks down. "What?"

"Hey, keep climbing," Tom says, gesturing up the tree. Spencer does. Tom waits a moment, until he's a bit higher, then says, "a rescue word. You said 'ass' was Ryan's rescue word."

"It's, um," Spencer says, pulling himself up another branch. "You know when you're out, and someone's talking to you, and you just - don't want to be talking to them? Well, Ryan and I worked out a system. Ryan doesn't say 'ass' all that often: he thinks it's crude. So if I hear him say 'ass', I rescue him. Pretend to be his boyfriend or whatever, chase the other person away."

"And what does your boyfriend think about that?" Smooth, Conrad, real smooth.

Spencer snorts. "I don't have a boyfriend. Why, Sergeant Conrad? Do you like what you see?"

Except Tom can't actually see Spencer anymore - he's climbed up past the lower canopy. "Sure. I'd eat you right up," he says anyway.

Spencer laughs. "Oh, hey," he suddenly says. "I can see the compound. It's not far." He comes down from the tree carefully. "It's that way." He points west-ish.

Then they hear a little chirp.

Tom and Spencer look down. Hovering in the bushes around their knees are three Microceratus. "What the hell?" Tom says.

"They're Microceratus," Spencer says. "They're clawed and fast and if we run, they'll think we're playing a game and they'll chase us."

"I thought you said you didn't get out much," Tom says.

Spencer snorts. "I get out enough." He lifts the edge of his shirt and shows off a tiny scar across his belly. "My very first day on the island," he says.

"What a welcome."

"You're telling me." They share a wry grin. One of the Microceratus comes up to Spencer and noses at his knee. It chirps again. Spencer touches its head gently and says, "hey. I think you're a girl. Hey, girl."

The other Microceratus edge forward. There aren't just three of them, Tom can see now - there's eight, twelve, fourteen. They've surrounded them. "Are they, uh, meat-eaters?" he asks, reaching out to one.

"No, they're herbivorous," Spencer says.

"Then that means..." Tom says.

Spencer realises it at the same time. "Shit. We're inside the herbivore field fence."

So they strike out to find the fence, and when they do, Tom reaches for his radio.

*

Suarez and Victoria realise Jon's been gone a while. They exchange a look and deal the cards out for another round. There's nothing they can do.

*

"Come in, Patrick and Gerard."

Jon whips around to look at Patrick. The CIA agent pulls a slim radio out of his pocket and presses a button. "This is Patrick. Go ahead, Conrad."

"Smith and I are stuck inside the herbivore fence. You're going to have to let us out."

Smith. Spencer. Spencer and Tom are together.

Jon has to pause for a second, because that sentence should not be that undeniably hot. Tom and Spencer. Spencer and Tom.

Hey, how about Spencer, Tom and Jon?

Nice.

"So where's the herbivore field?" Patrick says.

Gerard and Jon exchange a look. "No idea," Gerard says. "That was where Victoria and Brendon went."

Patrick bites his lip. "Okay, Conrad. We're at the resident compound. You say you've got Smith with you? Since he's the only person who knows the layout of this island, he's going to have to guide us to your location."

*

Tom passes Spencer the radio. Spencer sighs. "I have to climb a tree again, don't I?"

*

Spencer was right. They weren't all that far from the resident compound. That meant that it didn't take that long for Spencer to guide Patrick, Gerard and Jon to the fence.

The fence is fifteen metres high, and it's actually a double fence. It's thick, electrified wire, and the two fences are half a metre apart and supported at alternating intervals by strong steel poles. There's no way a dinosaur is knocking that fence down, not even an Apatosaurus; mostly because the fence is run on direct current, which violently repels anything that touches it.

So there's a half metre of electricity and wire and steel separating the two groups.

"How ya' doing, Conrad?" Jon calls across the divide.

Tom salutes him lazily. "Good to see you, Jonny."

"Trust you to land on the wrong side of a cage," Jon says. He looks at Spencer. "Although."

Spencer flips him off, even though his stomach is twisting in happy knots. He doesn't like happy knots. They cause him to make stupid relationship decisions. It's bad enough that he saw Tom jerking off, and that he got hot under the collar from Tom slamming him against the wall. "I dropped you on your ass once, Dr. Walker, I can do it again."

Jon grins at him.

"So which way's the gate?" Patrick asks. He knows that there are spare keys buried near each gate in case just this sort of thing happens. It's not like dinosaurs can use keys.

Spencer gestures to the left. "I think it's that way?"

As they trek towards the gate, Patrick and Gerard relate their plan.

*

Unfortunately, the plan relies on several key variables. That Pete/Andy/Joe is in his cell. That there are no more than three guards at any one cell. That the keys to the cells are accessible. That no one else has been captured. That no one interferes.

All of those variables are about to get thrown out the window.

*

YESTERDAY (FRIDAY)

The smell of cordite thickens the air and a casing shell drops to the ground.

Alex slowly opens his eyes. "I -"

He's cut off by Colligan's mouth, crashing down on his own. Alex squeaks and grabs Colligan's biceps. The soldier's lips move against Alex's - he drops his pistol and slides his hands into Alex's hair, cradling his head.

That. That feels really nice.

He sighs a little and, when Colligan licks at his lower lip, Alex opens his mouth and lets the kiss deepen. Colligan groans, pulling Alex's body flush with his own with a hand tight on his waist. The kiss is honestly the best Alex has ever had, and when Colligan pulls away, Alex leans forward, chasing his mouth.

Colligan is a little breathless. "Okay, that's definitely worth my while." He runs blunt fingers through Alex's hair and squeezes his hip. "Please tell me that was what you meant."

Alex blinks at him. "Um," he says, and catches Colligan's mouth in another kiss.

The soldier turns them around and backs Alex into a tree, a safe distance from the edge of the cliff. He shoves a thigh between Alex's legs. Alex slides his arms around Colligan's neck and tilts his head back as Colligan mouths down his jaw and throat. Fuck. Fuck, this is so good. His, like, mind is, like, blank. Like. Fuck. He can't even think properly.

"Saporta is mental," Colligan says, licking at Alex's pulse point. "It'll be fun, keeping you from him. A challenge. Hey, guess what."

Alex scrapes his fingers through Colligan's sheared-short hair. He doesn't even know the guy's first name. He's not even sure Colligan knows Alex's name. "What?"

He can feel Colligan grinning against his skin. "I can fly a helicopter."

"That," Alex says, "is kind of cool."

"'Kind of'?" Colligan hits his shoulder lightly. "Try 'very'. I can get you off the island."

Alex grins. "We can get help."

Colligan stares at him for a moment, then groans. "Oh, man, you're serious. Why'd I have to be attracted to the noble one?"

What the hell, it worked last time. "I'll make it worth your while," Alex says. He grins.

"Oh, you better believe it." Colligan kisses him hard. "It's a good thing I'm a gentleman." Alex snorts and Colligan goes to cuff him up the head. Alex catches his hand.

"No more of that," he warns the soldier.

Colligan grins, cocky. "Let's go get that helicopter."

*

Several hours later, Gabe's men inform him that the officer helicopter has been stolen, and they were unable to shoot it down. The predicted flightpath from their angle of departure is the Costa Rican mainland.

About forty minutes after that, Tom Conrad waltzes in the door of the secret computer room and hell breaks loose.

*

PRESENT (SATURDAY)

Patrick unlocks the gate and swings it open. Tom grabs Jon in a tight hug. "How you feeling? Your feet?" he asks. He pulls at Jon's hands and examines the bruising around his wrists.

"I'm fine," Jon says. "What about you?"

"He got hurt," Spencer says before Tom can say he's okay. "His leg."

Jon slaps Tom's hands away from his wrists and checks out his leg. The makeshift stitches look like they're holding, which is good. "Anywhere else?"

"Well, my nose," Tom says. "But -"

Patrick interrupts. "Can you do this later?"

Tom shakes his head. "Right. You said -"

And again, he's cut off. This time it's not Patrick. The five of them drop down into the spiky spinifex and watch as several Jeeps trundle past along the road.

Saporta's standing up in one of them. Tom recognises Warrant Officer Novarro driving one, and Master Sergeant Bryar, Sergeant FC Johnson and Sergeant Carden driving the others. The passengers, all tied up and some tied together, are Pete, Andy, Joe, William, Ray Toro, Butcher, Ryan, some other dude with cool hair and Greta.

Once the Jeeps are gone, they sit up and look at each other. Patrick says, "so. New plan."

It's 7:22AM.

*

"Where are the ships?" Saporta asks Novarro. Nate takes one hand off the wheel and grabs for his radio.

"Bay watch, where are our boys?" Nate asks.

"Still two point five hours out, sir."

All over the island, Gabe's men are uncovering the transport vehicles. The larger dinosaurs, when they get sick, are removed from their enclosures or whatever and taken to the holding cells on the island's eastern side. For that to happen, large transport buses are used. Gabe's making full use of those buses.

Gabe squeezes Nate's shoulder. "How many dinos are down and ready?"

Again, Nate talks on his radio for a minute. He looks up at Gabe with a grin. "We've got at least one of everything, sir, and all the hatchlings from the nursery."

"Including the Tyrannosaurus?"

"Including the Tyrannosaurus," Nate confirms.

Gabe slides down in his seat and leans over, kissing Nate's cheek. "Maybe we'll beat the Isla Sorna team after all." He turns around and looks at Pete. "You know, when I gave you the choice to die up in your cell, you really should have taken it."

"Kill me here, kill me there," Pete says, "what does it matter?"

"What matters is," Gabe says, pushing over the seat so he's right in Pete's face, "the way you're going to die, Wentz. Up in your cell, it could have been quick and painless. Well, there would have been a little pain. Okay, more than a little. I can't stop myself sometimes, after all."

Pete thinks he knows that. He has three broken fingers, a gash on each cheek and first degree burns on his feet, calves and thighs to prove it - hey, he hadn't given up all that information easily. "So how am I going to die now?" he asks.

"Now," says Gabe, grinning crazily - as if he ever grins any other way. "Now, we're going to put each of you in the cage with one of the carnivores. They'll be hungry when they wake up, after all, and it would just be cruel to deprive them."

Pete spits in Gabe's face.

The Captain wipes the spit away. "I'll give you that one, Wentz. You do it again, and I won't just be breaking your fingers. I'll be ripping them off and shoving them up your ass, and that'll be the only preparation you get for my dick." He bites at Pete's nose. "I'll leave you raped and bleeding and burned and broken, inside the - let's see. The Velociraptor cage, I think. A raptor doesn't care if you're dead when it starts to eat you. Probably even prefers you alive: warm and kicking. I'm sure you two will have loads of fun together. You get me, Wentz?"

"Not really one for encouraging Stockholm Syndrome, are you, Captain Saporta?" Pete mutters.

Gabe laughs and turns back around. "I guess not."

*

There comes a time, Suarez thinks when he emerges from the bathroom, when you realise that you're not a very good guard. For him, that time is now.

Victoria's cards are abandoned on the table. Brendon's bed is mussed and empty.

They're gone.

*

They're running after the Jeeps: Tom and Jon in front, Spencer, Gerard and Patrick behind. The Jeeps are crashing down a trail as they speed through the brush. They're easy to follow.

*

The three ships are twenty miles out from Costa Rica, so about a hundred miles from the island. They'll dock at the cargo wharf on Isla Nublosa at approximately 9:50AM. The ships are fighting strangely choppy sea. If the captains didn't already know the forecast, they'd have said it's going to rain today. Rain a lot.

*

YESTERDAY (FRIDAY)

The helicopter is unattended. A woven covering of fake leaves and branches has been thrown over it, but there's no one standing guard. It's the simplest thing in the world for Alex and Colligan to strip off the cover and climb in. It's just starting to get dark as they close the doors and strap in.

"The noise of the blades is going to draw someone's attention," Colligan says, handing Alex the second headset. He shows him how to turn the mike on. "So," he says into his own mike, and his voice is loud in Alex's beefy, noise-cancelling headphones, "we're probably going to get shot at."

"Shot at?" Alex says, eyes wide. "What if - I don't know. What if they hit the fuel tank?"

"Then we're screwed," Colligan says. He reaches over and tugs on Alex's belt to make sure it's secure. "Which had better not be the case, because I really want to fuck you."

Alex adjusts his mike. "Who says you're going to be the one doing the fucking?"

Colligan glances at him, grinning in his most charming way - which manages to make him look more like a douche than a Prince. "We'll flip a coin, then."

"Oh, yeah, flip a coin," Alex snorts. "Heads you fuck me, tails I get fucked by you. I know your type, Sergeant Colligan."

"Cash," he says.

Alex frowns. "What?"

"That's my name." Colligan flips switches and pulls on something by his leg and pushes a button or two. Alex can't really follow it all. "Cash."

"You're joking," Alex says.

"I don't want you screaming out 'Sergeant Colligan, oh, Sergeant Colligan' in the middle of sex, you know? So you should know that my name is Cash." And then there's a jolt, and the blades are turning, and Colligan is gripping the joystick-thing and they're lifting off above the trees.

Alex can't believe he is entrusting his life - and the lives of everyone on this island - to a guy named Cash. He also can't believe he's going to lose his virginity to a guy named Cash. When, exactly, had this ever seemed like a good idea?

*

An hour and a half later - during which Cash does not stop talking, first about sex, then about music, which is a topic they, surprisingly, hit it off on - they touch down on the Costa Rican mainland. On an estate, to be exact, possibly belonging to a Columbian drug lord who took a wrong turn somewhere along the way. But if he is a drug lord, then he's got enough money to have a satellite phone.

And Cash speaks Spanish.

*

PRESENT (SATURDAY)

Tom spots the rear Jeep. Its driver is Sergeant Carden; the passengers are Ryan, Ian and Greta. Gabe's Jeep is leading the way, the others following in single file, and Carden obviously drew the short straw.

"Try to keep up," he says to Jon, and puts on another burst of speed. He's got reserves like no motherfucker knows; that mission he did running from the natives in the Amazon really paid off. That was back when Gabe was still more or less sane. Good times, good times.

The Jeeps can't go that fast. They're crashing through undergrowth that's been growing since the island rose up out of the sea; it's no easy task. Gabe's navigating the best he can, but they're not going fast enough that a really good runner couldn't catch up.

And Tom is a really good runner. And he is catching up.

These Jeeps are not like the tourist Jeeps. They've got a tray on the back for bags and boxes to be transported. The tray has a rail. A good, steady rail. Tom lunges for it - and grabs on.

Instantly, he flexes his muscles and grits his teeth; he swings his legs up. He gets his feet braced under the rail. His ass is sticking out in the air - who cares. It's a good view for the others running behind. Grunting, he hauls himself over the rail and crashes into the tray.

The Jeep is now swerving from side to side. Tom props himself up on the backseat and sees that Carden is wrestling his gun out of his hip-holster. Fuck: he's been seen. He ducks just as Carden gets the gun free and fires behind him. The shot's wild - it slams into a tree. The next one is just as bad, skimming off the rail behind Tom.

God, he hopes Carden doesn't hit one of the passengers.

Tom climbs between the pretty woman and the cool-haired guy. He grabs for the gun while Carden's trying to correct the Jeep. He gets it out of Carden's hand, yanking it away. "No more shooting," he says firmly, and delivers Carden a sharp punch to the temple.

Carden slumps. Tom unbuckles his seat belt - seriously, he's wearing one? - and kicks him out the door, then climbs in the seat himself. He pulls the switchblade out of his boot and chucks it in Ryan's lap.

"That was remarkably easy," Tom says as Ryan gets to work cutting the plastic ties around his wrists and ankles. Tom slows the Jeep down so Jon, then Spencer, Gerard and Patrick can all climb in. Things are a mite squished, but they manage, and then Tom speeds up again, racing after the other three Jeeps.

*

YESTERDAY (FRIDAY)

Alex speaks enough Spanish to know that the drug lord doesn't appreciate Cash's attempts to ask for a satellite phone. "Por favor?" Cash finishes weakly.

The silk-suit-wearing guy takes his phone out of his pocket. It's slim and new and probably not a satellite phone. "Si, la polizia, por favor," he says into it.

"Cash, he just asked for the police," Alex says.

"I'm aware of that." Cash starts backing up. He's bumping Alex behind him. The helicopter is parked - is parked the right word? - on the other side of the orchard. They have to get back to it and try their luck somewhere else. Thankfully, it's dark, so if they run fast enough they can lose the drug lord in the orchard and make it to the helicopter safely. "Are you ready?" he says.

Alex is a little slow on the uptake. He's a genius, not omniscient. "Ready to what?"

"To run," Cash says calmly. He smiles at the drug lord, who is starting to frown at how far away they're getting. "On my mark," he says.

"Fuck that," Alex says. He turns and disappears into the dark orchard.

Cash swears and takes off after him. Behind them, he hears someone say something about dogs in Spanish. Dogs. Release the dogs?

Shit.

So he runs. He runs, and he shoves at Alex to keep running, and when he hears barking, he tackles Alex to one side. They roll off the track under the big bushes. He yanks off his shoes and Alex's, and both their jackets, and throws them further along the track.

Then he reaches up through the bush's branches and yanks sweet-smelling fruit off the tree. The barking is getting closer. He pierces the skin of the fruit with his nails and the juice spurts out.

"What the hell, man," Alex snaps.

"Mask your scent," Cash says. He squirts more juice onto Alex. "Your face, your hands. Your feet. Anywhere you're sweating, come on. You know where you smell the worst. Rub it in." He chucks a couple more pieces of fruit into Alex's lap then sets about rubbing the juice into his own skin.

The dogs are almost on them. A dog's sense of hearing isn't quite as acute as its sense of smell, but Cash isn't going to take any chances. He grabs Alex and pushes him down right under the bush, where a lot of the fruit has fallen and rotted over the years. "This smells disgusting," Alex breathes.

So Cash takes his mind off it. He's stretched out all along Alex's body, and they're not wearing their jackets. He pushes his hand up under Alex's shirt and skims Alex's nipples with his nails. He swallows Alex's hiss in his own mouth. The kiss is warm and distracting; Alex's legs come up to cradle Cash's hips.

Cash loves how responsive Alex is. He trails his fingers down Alex's abs and has to flatten his palm to push him back down to the ground. He licks at the roof of Alex's mouth and has to bite back his own noises as Alex starts to get bold, massaging Cash's neck and rolling his hips up a little. They're making out under a fruit bush in the orchard of a Costa Rican drug lord.

There's basically nowhere else Cash would rather be.

They make it to the helicopter but don't make it off the ground. The police arrive and stop them. Cash and Alex are arrested and taken to the local police station. Which has a phone. And at least one person who speaks English.

This could work.

*

PRESENT (SATURDAY)

The third Jeep in line is driven by Sergeant First Class Alex Johnson. Butcher, Ray Toro and William are in the back of this one.

Tom glances over his shoulder. Ryan's passed Tom's switchblade back and Ian and Greta - they've all introduced themselves now - are free. Jon is sitting in between Ian and Greta, with the other three perched in the tray. Tom bites his lip. This is going to be very dangerous.

"Jon, my mate, my buddy, my pal," Tom says. "Lean up here for a second."

So Jon does. He wraps one arm around Tom's shoulders; the press of their cheeks together, the rasp of their beards, makes Tom grin. Neither of them were bearded last time they'd seen each other. It's a little weird.

"I want you," Tom says softly, "to take over the wheel."

"What are you going to do?" Jon asks.

Tom looks sideways at him. "I'm going to climb over the hood onto the back of the next Jeep. But I need you to basically ram the back of the other Jeep so I don't have to jump like Superman."

"You're crazy," Jon says.

"Crazy like Jack." Tom is such a dork. "Come on, it'll work. Take the wheel, man."

So Jon does, curling his arms under Tom's and grabbing onto the wheel. "This is so awkward," he says from somewhere near Tom's armpit. "And you need a shower."

"Nag, nag, nag," Tom says. He unclips the knife sheath from his belt and props it on the gas pedal. Hopefully that'll work until Jon can climb into the seat properly.

Tom shimmies up so he's standing on the seat. The Jeep doesn't have a windshield, thank god, so it's relatively easy for him to slide over the dash and get his feet on the hood. He's just about to try and remember his surfing lessons - balancing on a board, balancing on the hood of a moving Jeep, same thing, right? - when another pair of feet slide down beside his.

"What are you doing, Smith?" he says.

Spencer looks at him. "I assume you're going to be pulling this trick again to get to the next Jeep in line. So you'll need someone to drive this Jeep," he says, gesturing to the one right ahead of them.

"So, logically," Tom points out, "I'll need someone to drive the next Jeep, too."

"Which is why I'm coming along." A pair of delicate feet with painted toenails slide down on his other side. "I've driven these Jeeps for eight years, Sergeant Conrad. You don't think we've pulled stunts like this before just for Sunday afternoon entertainment?" Greta grins at him.

"You guys have no sense of self-preservation," Tom says. "You're a veterinarian, and you're a mathematician."

Spencer shoves him. "Quit with the whining, Conrad, and get a move on."

Wow. Tom could fall in love with this guy so easily, seriously.

He looks over his shoulder at his best friend behind the wheel. Jon waves at him. "Get us closer, Jon," Tom says, and Jon salutes. They accelerate. Tom, Spencer and Greta slowly get to their feet and edge down the hood.

All holding hands, as the bumper of their Jeep touches the tray of the next, they jump.

*

YESTERDAY (FRIDAY)

So Alex has, in his phone, the number for Alexis Hammond's office. This is mostly because he didn't think Pete was for real when they started emailing and Ms. Hammond had personally called him to assure the offer to visit Isla Nublosa was real. He saved the number just in case he had any further questions.

Well, 'will you please come rescue us?' is a question.

"I'll contact the Costa Rican police headquarters," Ms. Hammond finally says. "They're pissed off the Americans bought the island. Let's see if I can sell it back. If they accept, then the military is invading foreign soil and the Costa Rican army will be forced to respond."

"That's sneaky of you," Alex says.

"Thanks," she replies. "I'm going to fly down in my own personal plane. We'll take everyone off the island who's willing to come with us. Do you and -" she breaks off.

"Sergeant Colligan, ma'am," Cash puts in.

"You and Sergeant Colligan," she goes on, "want to stay where you are or come with?"

Alex and Cash exchange a look.

"Come with," they both say.

"Then I'll pick you up at your present co-ordinates at approximately four in the morning," Ms. Hammond says. "See you then."

"Bye."

"Good luck, ma'am."

She hangs up.

"'Ma'am'?" Alex says.

"Hey, shut up," says Cash.

The translator claps his hands. "All right, then? You go back to cell until friend comes for you," the little man says. "Yes, yes?"

"Uh, no, no," Cash says.

"Yes, yes," the little man assures them, and gestures for the guards to take them away.

"Fuck," Cash says.

Alex snorts. "Not in a jail cell." It's not like he's going to tell Cash it's his first time, but he wants it to be in a place a little more high class - and clean - than a Costa Rican prison.

So they get thrown into a tiny, dirty cell together. "At least we are together, right?" Cash points out. "Imagine if they'd put you in with Tiny Teresa over there." She does look quite menacing, Alex has to admit. "Come on." Cash sits on the pallet and pats the spot next to him.

"We're not fucking," Alex says, just to reiterate the point.

"Yeah, yeah, your Highness," Cash says. "Just snuggling, whatever."

"Did you seriously just say 'snuggling'?"

Cash looks at him. Alex still hasn't sat down, so he's looking up. "Guys like you love that sort of stuff, right?"

"Guys like me?" Alex echoes.

"You know, like. Nice guys. The kind of guy you take home to Mom," Cash says.

"Whoa, already taking about meeting the parents?" Alex says jokingly. "I thought this was like a payment sort of thing. You save my life, you - you know - get rewarded."

Cash is still looking at him, and Alex can see the precise second when Cash's whole face just shuts down. He furiously tries to backpedal in his mind but there's nothing else he can say. That's what this is, right? Cash only wants him for his ass. He only saved his life for the challenge of keeping him away from Gabe.

At least, that's what Cash has led Alex to believe.

The soldier shakes his head. He flops down on the pallet and scoots over, facing the wall. Facing away from Alex.

Alex goes to his knees and reaches out to touch Cash's shoulder. "Cash," he says.

Cash flinches away. "Good night, Dr. DeLeon," he says coolly.

Okay, Alex has no experience with things like this. Graduated high school at thirteen, a doctor of science at twenty, then shipped around the lecture circuit and to digs - he never had time for relationships. And not only romantic ones, but friendships, too. He barely knows his own family. He has no idea what to say to Cash.

"Sorry," he says. "I'm - I'm sorry." And he lies down with his back to Cash, facing the dirty jail cell. He closes his eyes and tries to sleep.

Five minutes later, all the lights in the block go out. The prison is closed for the night.

*

PRESENT (SATURDAY)

"Remind me where we're going again," Victoria says. She can't believe Brendon is actually ahead of her. She's in good shape and he's injured. What the hell, right? He should be having trouble with this rough outside terrain, but it's like he doesn't even notice his injured shoulder.

"Like I told you," he says, "I'm sick of not knowing what's going on. So we're going to find someone. The best place to do that is at the Hotel, which as we already know, Saporta has claimed as his base of operations. Who knows, maybe we can blow up some stuff and shit him off," he adds.

Victoria huffs. "And blowing things up is a good idea, why?"

"Well, point a, it's cool. Point b," Brendon says, and actually starts to think about it, "I guess a ship could see the smoke and come investigate."

"And we can get off the island! Not bad, Urie, not too bad at all," Victoria says.

They keep climbing the hillside.

*

Sergeant First Class Alex Johnson is good at his job. That's why he got promoted ahead of his friends or more senior Sergeants. He's more reliable than his friends and more ruthless than his seniors. Captain Saporta also likes people who don't answer back and fight when they're told to fight no questions asked.

However, SFC Alex Johnson has one weakness. Well, Captain Saporta would call it a weakness. Johnson has what most people call sanity. This is a very rare trait in the Special Forces and it's saved his hide a number of times, because he's sane enough to know when to back off.

See Exhibit A. When Johnson was seventeen, his hair hung past his shoulders. To join the Army, he needed to cut it. So he did. It's grown back now, though: Captain Saporta likes men with free-flowing hair. Win-win situation. Exhibit B. When Johnson was nineteen, Sergeant Alex Marshall joined the team. He walked in on Marshall and Sergeant Colligan in a compromising position, apologised and walked out. Thirty seconds later, Marshall and Colligan pulled him back into bed. Win-win situation. Especially when Marshall kept pulling him into bed after that.

See Exhibit Right-Fucking-Now. Sergeant Conrad, once upon a time, was Johnson's teacher in weapons and combat. Sergeant Conrad, right now, has a gun pressed to Johnson's cheek. Johnson has no chance of winning this, and he'd kind of like to stay alive. Alive means sex with Marshall. Alive plus sex equals win-win situation.

"Surrender," he says. "I surrender."

Conrad grins at him. "I was hoping you'd say that."

*

About fifty miles out from Isla Nublosa, a shiny private jet flies above the clouds. "Looks like rain," says Alexis Hammond, the thirty-eight year old single blonde bombshell CEO of the nearly-bankrupt BioGen Corporation. "Don't you think, Dr. Malcolm?"

Dr. Ian Malcolm grunts. "Can't believe I'm doing this," he mumbles, crossing his arms. His curly black hair is peppered with grey, now, and his face is lined with stress and work. Malcolm is fifty six, and he's much, much too old for this sort of rubbish. "Can't believe you actually trusted Wentz not to screw this up."

Lexie pats his arm. "I'm nervous, too."

In the row behind them, Alex bites at his nails. "Cash?" he says.

Cash takes a swig from his water bottle and very obviously does not acknowledge that Alex has spoken.

"Cash, I -"

Unbuckling both their seatbelts, Cash wraps his hand in Alex's collar and yanks him up out of his seat. He heads towards the back of the plane, dragging Alex behind him, and shoves the palaeontologist into the tiny bathroom. He wedges himself inside and closes the door behind them.

Lexie Hammond and Dr. Malcolm exchange a long-suffering glance at the impetuousness of youth and Malcolm lets Lexie draw him into a very loud discussion of the weather.

Inside the bathroom, Alex says, "what -"

Cash's mouth cuts him off. He seems to like doing that; kissing Alex to shut him up. Alex isn't going to complain.

Without a word, he shoves his tongue into Alex's mouth and his hand down Alex's pants. Alex hardens; he pushes his hips into Cash's fist and melts against him, wondering distantly if he's forgiven. Cash tightens his hand around Alex's cock and jerks him roughly, squeezing and twisting by turns.

Alex has never felt so good. Cash isn't being gentle or sweet, isn't treating him like he's a baby or a girl, and it's the best thing ever. Alex works his hand into Cash's BDU pants and laughs into Cash's mouth when he realises Cash has gone commando.

Cash growls and pushes him against the little counter. He curls his free hand under Alex's thigh and hefts him up so Alex is half-perched on the ledge, and wrestles Alex's pants and boxers all the way down so they're tangled around his ankles. There's a pump dispenser of liquid soap by the sink; Cash collects a handful of the stuff and works his hand between Alex's thighs.

Oh, hey, wait. Wait wait wait, Alex thinks, wait. He tries to shimmy back, to get away from Cash's demanding mouth, but there's no space. "Cash," he tries to say, but it's mangled by Cash's tongue. He even pulls his hand out of Cash's pants and tries to push him back a bit; Cash doesn't even notice.

Okay. Cash doesn't have to know that it's Alex's first time. Cash is preparing him; it's not like he's going to take Alex dry. And Alex wants Cash to do this. Alex is a guy and can take a little pain. Besides, this is sex. Sex with Cash. So, it's all good. It hurts, and it might be better if Cash goes slower, but it's good.

He feels Cash's fingers pushing at his ass. There's two, right off, and Cash forces them both inside. Alex whimpers. Two is too much. It hurts, fuck, it hurts - Cash is stretching him in ways he shouldn't be stretched. He moans in pain, muttering, "no, no, oh god, ow," around Cash's tongue. "Slower."

Cash finally pulls away from Alex's mouth. "Shut up," he says roughly. "This is what you wanted."

"No," Alex says, "no, stop." He presses his forehead into Cash's shoulder and tenses as Cash's soap-slick fingers push further inside him. "Oh, god, please stop. Go slower. It hurts," he says. There are tears in his eyes, and his voice is shaking with held-back sobs. His cock has gone completely limp in Cash's other hand.

Then, unpredictably, Cash gentles. He quits stretching Alex and slowly, softly massages his abused ass, then pulls his fingers out. He wraps both his arms around Alex and pulls him close, hugging him.

"Shh," he says. "Shh, it's okay. It's okay. I'm not going to hurt you."

"You already did, fucker," Alex says through his sobs. His hands are trapped between their bodies and he thumps both fists against Cash's chest to make sure the message gets across. Apparently Alex can't take a little pain.

Cash presses his lips to Alex's ear, kissing him. "I'm not like that, okay?" he tells Alex. "I - I'm not like that. I can't believe you were going to let me do that."

"What, have sex with me?" Alex mutters into Cash's shoulder. "Don't you want me?"

"Alex," Cash says, pulling back and gripping Alex's shoulders. "Alex, I practically raped you. Why didn't you stop me?"

Alex is confused and upset. Doesn't Cash want him? "It wasn't rape," he says in a small voice. "I wanted you. Want you. That's not rape."

Cash stares at him. "Alex, I was hurting you! You're crying," he points out, and wipes away the tear under Alex's eye with his thumb.

"It's supposed to hurt," Alex says. "The fi-" He cuts himself off.

"Oh my god," Cash says, and pulls him into a hug again. "The first time - that's what you were going to say. Alex, oh my god. I'm so sorry." He's stroking Alex's hair and it feels really nice. "Why didn't you say stop?"

"Why would I?" Alex says miserably. "I thought you wanted me."

"Alex, sex," Cash says, "especially your first time, oh my god, it should be enjoyable. You should want to remember it. You were just having sex with me because I saved your life. You shouldn't," Cash tells him. "Don't ever have sex with someone just to say thank you or whatever. You deserve better than that. I meant what I said about you being a nice guy, Alex. You deserve better."

He's getting very confused now. "Why did you kiss me if you didn't want to have sex with me, then?"

"I thought you were joking!" Cash says, exasperated. "I kissed you because you're cute and I thought you were joking, and I was going along with it."

"So," Alex says, trying to work it out, "you don't want to have sex with me."

"God, Alex, it wouldn't have been sex," Cash says, "it would have been rape. Rape, do you get it? Or prostitution! You would have been like a prostitute, whoring yourself out because I saved your life. That - no, Alex, I didn't, don't want that. Not for you."

Alex takes a deep breath. "So you don't want to have sex with me." Cash opens his mouth to say something, probably something angry, but Alex goes on. "Because - you should know, I want to have sex with you."

Cash stares at him. His mouth is hanging open. It would be funny if he didn't look so stricken.

"And not," Alex says, "not because I want to thank you for saving my life. I mean, yeah, that's awesome. But also because you're funny and you have crap taste in music and you're kind of stupid, but in a really likeable way, and you're hot and strong and you try to hide it by being a douche, but you're a nice guy, too. And that's - that's why I didn't really stop you," he says. "Because, you know, I like you. And I want you, and I thought you wanted me."

Cash doesn't seem to be able to speak. He's frowning and working his mouth, and he's tilted his head like Alex is a particularly fascinating puzzle or artwork that he wants to figure out.

"Right, um," Alex says uncertainly. "Yeah. You should probably, um. I wouldn't blame you if you got a restraining order against me. I'm kind of weird, and crazy, and I actually don't have any friends, so it's not like I can see 'let's just be friends' or anything, because I don't know how to be friends. Um. I should probably go." He tries to push Cash away so he can reach his pants to pull them up.

Cash does something really weird. He grabs one of Alex's hands and shakes it. "Hi," he says. "My name is Cash. I'm a douche, I have crap taste in music, and apparently I develop completely spontaneous girly crushes on adorable palaeontologists. I would really like to buy you dinner, take you to a movie, make out with you in my car, have you meet my parents, and then go back to my place - or your place, I'm not picky - and fuck you stupid, or let you fuck me stupid, if that's okay with you."

"I'm adorable?" Alex says. "I mean, yes."

Alex's pants and boxers are still around his ankles and his ass is kind of chafing, but he absolutely does not care. Cash grins his goofy grin; Alex kisses him and Cash kisses back.

They finally break apart. Cash's grin turns a little dirty. "You know, to make up for this, you're going to have the best first time ever."

Fuck, yes.

*

Spencer slides into the driver's seat. William, Ray and Butcher cut their ties using Tom's switchblade as Greta and Tom prepare to jump to the next Jeep. It's Master Sergeant Bryar's Jeep, the one with Joe and Andy in the back.

Bryar's obviously seen them coming, because he starts swerving from side to side and speeding up. Spencer is not the best driver. He generally tries to keep the car going as steady and straight as possible. What's even worse is that Sergeant Chislett is in the passenger seat and is sitting backwards, firing at them.

He's not really one for evasive manoeuvers.

Spencer grits his teeth and ducks every time Chislett fires. William and Butcher hide behind the seats. Tom and Greta are not having much luck standing up.

"You have to get us closer," Tom says to Spencer.

Fuck.

"You want closer?" Spencer snaps. "How's this?" He flattens his foot on the accelerator and the Jeep jumps forward, slamming into the back of Bryar's Jeep. Everyone in the Jeep is thrown forward - except Chislett who, already facing forward, is thrown back. Chislett slams his head on the bar behind him and drops his gun. He's stunned; he sways and drops into his seat. Bryar is shaken enough to be driving normally for a moment.

Unimpeded by gunfire or swerving car, Tom jumps across into the tray. Crouching, he grins back over his shoulder at Spencer. "That's pretty good."

*

"This is kind of weird," Victoria says. Her voice echoes in the lobby, mostly because the lobby is completely empty. All the doors are hanging open and no one is coming at them waving guns or anything. It's a bit of a letdown.

Brendon shrugs with one shoulder. It's the best shrug he can manage right now. "I'm going to go -" Then he stops and frowns. He's listening to the noise outside. It's a heavy rumble, kind of like a... "Does that sound like a plane to you?"

*

It's probably not the safest idea, but Bob Bryar does not like people trying to steal his Jeep and he's not going to make it easy for Conrad to do so, so he lets go of the steering wheel and climbs on his seat and punches the Weapons Sergeant.

The Jeep starts to veer off to the side and slow down. So does Conrad. Bob's got these big, meaty fists he's kind of proud of - Conrad may be gifted at combat, but Bob's downright big, and big wins over gifted if big knows what big's doing. Which Bob does.

Chislett, though, regains enough sense of self in time to grab the wheel and stick one foot over the transmission to be able to work the pedals. It's awkward going, especially with the fist fight going on over his head.

Tom is slowly getting beaten back over the backseat towards the tray. Andy and Joe exchange a look. They're gagged and bound together - they were causing Saporta too much trouble. So, working as one, they hook their tied wrists around Bryar's leg and yank forward, bending his knee. Caught by surprise, Bryar wobbles and Tom is able to clobber him over the head with Carden's handgun.

It takes two more clobberings for Bryar to actually go down.

*

Gabe glances back over his shoulder. "Aw, fuck," he says. "How far are we from the docks?" he asks Novarro.

Nate wiggles his hand. "A couple of minutes."

"Drive faster," Gabe commands him. Nate flips him off but accelerates. In the Jeep behind them, Sergeant Conrad and Greta appear to be having a heated discussion while Sergeant Chislett tries to destablise them and shove them off the Jeep. Master Sergeant Bryar is missing. The two Jeeps behind that are also missing their military drivers. Fuck.

Then a small plane flies overhead, heading for the island's runway. Gabe looks up. He sees the BioGen logo plastered on the plane's belly and swears violently. Hammond is here. She must have gotten wind of the trouble, though Gabe doesn't know how that would have happened.

Gabe slams his hands down on the dash. He swings around in his seat, facing the Jeep behind, and pulls his rifle off his shoulder. Cocking it, Gabe sights along the scope and fires twice.

*

The first bullet breezes through Greta's hair.

The second ricochets off the rear view mirror and thuds into Andy's stomach.

*

Brendon is standing out on the steps of the Hotel, watching the plane approach. It's coming in fast and low, and it circles around the mountain twice, bringing its speed down, before it goes in to land on the runway at the mountain's base.

"We have to get down there," he says to Victoria.

She agrees. "Let's see if there are any more Jeeps out the back."

It's 8:00AM.

*

Lexie pats Alex's head. "Come on, boy," she says. Alex, back in his seat after a very long toiletbreak, reluctantly parts lips with Cash and they both get ready to disembark. Then Lexie turns to the third guy on the plane. "Dr. Malcolm, you're getting off this plane."

"Ohhh, no, no, no, no, no, no," he says, "I don't think so. The last time I set foot on this island, all the dinosaurs got loose. I'm bad luck, Lexie."

"We're much better secured this time," Lexie says. "I've made sure of it. Come on, Ian. Don't be a spoilsport."

"No. Way," Dr. Malcolm says. He folds his arms and absolutely refuses to move.

"Oh, well," Lexie says. "Come on, Dr. DeLeon, Sergeant Colligan. We'll leave this wet blanket to his bad mood. Let's go rescue some people." The co-pilot lowers the steps to the runway and the three of them descend. "Now, we have," she checks her watch, "about two hours before the Costa Ricans arrive. We all have to be off the island before then, otherwise we'll be considered foreign nationals and taken into custody."

"Okay," Alex says. "The Hotel is probably the best place to start, right?"

*

Everyone screams.

*

Victoria and Brendon speed out of the Hotel.

*

Lexie, Cash and Alex start walking.

*

Immediately, Chislett slams on the breaks. Gabe's Jeep disappears down a hill as all three of the others crash into each other - Andy cries out around the gag with each crazy jolt. Tom pushes the handbrake on and stops the train of smashed Jeeps from sliding down the hill, too.

He pushes Bryar and Chislett out of the Jeep and spins around. Greta is crouching over Andy, pressing her hands against the bulletwound. She's yanked the gag out of Andy's mouth and is using that to staunch the bloodflow - Tom hands her Joe's as well. "This isn't going to work," Greta says. "He needs to go into surgery, he needs transfusions. God, I don't - he could be bleeding internally, stomach wounds are always bad, I just -"

"Please," Andy says, "please stop talking."

Greta winces and says, "sorry."

"Okay," Tom says. "So we need to take him back up to the Hotel. There's an operating room up there, right?"

"Right," says Greta. "Hey," she says, calling behind them. "Hey, Dr. Toro. Any good with bullet wounds?"

"I'm fantastic with bullet wounds," Ray says, shaking off his wooziness. "I'll have you patched up in a second, Andy."

"Good," Andy gripes. "Can any of these Jeeps still drive?"

"Mine can!" Jon says. He revs the engine to prove it. "Everybody out." Ryan, Ian and Patrick tumble out. Everybody gets together to carefully load Andy into the backseat of Jon's Jeep. Ray and Greta both jump in and start fashioning a makeshift bandage.

"Oh, there's a better entrance to the back of the infirmary that we should use, so we don't need to carry him up the stairs," Greta says. "If you just..." Her voice fades away as Jon starts the engine and they - more or less carefully - motor off back up the hill.

They're left with two possibly-not-working Jeeps and nine people, and Gabe getting away. Not the best of circumstances for Alex Suarez to walk in on.

*

An hour and a half's worth of ocean away, the three cargo ships en route for Isla Nublosa are trying to coax more speed out of their engines. The small fleet's Captain, a man named Shane Valdez, is standing on the bow deck, leaning on the rail. He breathes in the salty Pacific air and smiles. Not even Isla Nublosa can put a damper on his mood.

Suddenly, a bell starts to ring. Shane half-turns, glancing up at the sheltered helm, and sees his first mate trying to get his attention. "Sir!" the man calls. "Sir, you'd better come have a look at this!"

Shane jumps up the steel stairs and sprints towards the mate. "What is it?" he pants.

The first mate hands him a small telescope and points to the stern. "Sir, they weren't there a minute ago."

He lifts the telescope to his eye. They're only a small ship, hired infrequently by the military for covert operations and more commonly used as a fishing vessel. They don't have the luxuries of radar and proper 'scopes - they've got to make do with what they've got.

Sighting straight down the low length of the ship, Shane sees what his first mate's talking about. A cold chill shoots down his spine. "Run up the white flag," he says quietly, "and prepare the crew. We're about to be boarded."

*

Spencer has had a hard time in his adult life. Chubby and stocky, and good at only drums and skateboarding and math, he wasn't the most popular guy in high school. He lived for the afternoons when he could see Ryan. And then he met Brent. Brent Wilson, who was applying for the police academy, who played bass and laughed at Spencer's crummy jokes - and made crummy jokes of his own - and liked skateboarding, too. Spencer swallowed his fear of rejection and asked him out.

Three months later, post-graduation, when Brent's fists became too free, his tongue too sharp and his words too alcohol-blurred, when the police academy was turning Brent into someone Spencer couldn't handle, Spencer shot Brent. Twice: in the leg and in the shoulder. Spencer had had more than enough, and the gun was the only thing between Spencer and Brent's crazy rage.

He spent three days in prison on aggravated assault charges. They upped to manslaughter when Brent died in the hospital. His lawyer tried to spring for battered spouse, for self defence, but Spencer was bigger than Brent and besides, they were both teenaged guys: the jury didn't buy it. Spencer was all set for the long haul when Ryan showed up on the other side of the glass and breathed into the phone, "I know a guy."

The 'guy' was Pete Wentz, who Ryan had been corresponding with by email. Pete was a disgraced professor from Columbia who'd started up a new enterprise on an island somewhere south of California. Wentz and Dr. Ian Malcolm pulled together to hire Spencer a fantastic lawyer and get him admitted to UNLV and then CalTech, and Ryan to Princeton, where they studied computers, math and psychology respectively. And since then, Pete Wentz, Ian Malcom and Ryan are the only people Spencer trusts, because they're the only people who know Spencer's dirty past. They're the only ones who know that he'd died inside when he'd pulled that trigger.

But inner death is advantageous in certain situations, and this just happens to be one of them. Suarez looks between them all. "Is everyone okay?" he asks, and Spencer notices he's a little out of breath. "I heard a crash, and - are you all okay?"

"Um," Butcher says, and that's as far as he gets.

So supervillain Spencer steps in. Well, he feels like a supervillain. Surely only a supervillain would have the guts to look at Suarez and say, "Alex, I'm sorry, but Ryland's -"

"Right here," someone breaks in. And Siska drags Ryland into the clearing.

*

Victoria is driving very carefully. She's not the world's best driver and she's not experienced with this terrain or type of vehicle, so she's taking it slow. Brendon is glad; it means he's not getting jostled all that much.

In fact, they're driving so slowly that when they see three figures coming up the hill towards them, they've got more than enough time to slow down and stop.

"Alex?" Victoria gasps. "Oh my god." She jumps out of the Jeep. "We thought you were dead!"

"I'm not that easy to kill," Alex grins. "This is Cash Colligan, and this is Alexis Hammond. Dr. Victoria Asher, and Dr. Brendon Urie," he says, gesturing to where Brendon still sits in the Jeep. Brendon gives a little wave.

Greetings are made.

Then Alex asks, "so where is everyone?"

*

The first Jeep hits the beach and skids to a stop on the sand. Gabe and Nate jump out.

Nate immediately heads off to confer with the men who have already made it to the beachfront; they are the men with the smaller cages, the smaller dinosaurs. There's a Microceratus, a Nemicolopterus, a Velociraptor - who originally had two handlers and now only one - a Procompsognathus, a Gallimimus and the Dilophosaurus. There's also a rather large tank with an Ophthalmosaurus inside. They can't really afford to take any of the other marine dinosaurs; they're much too large. But the Ophthalmosaurus is manageable.

Gabe turns to Pete. "I hope I managed to hit someone with those bullets," he says sweetly, and yanks Pete out of the Jeep. Throwing him down onto the sand, Gabe straddles Pete's hips and leans in to lick at his cheek. "Mm. I wish you'd struggle. Then I'd have a reason to hurt you." He pulls a strip of cloth out of his tac vest pocket and gags Pete.

Pete glares up at him but stays completely still. He's not going to give Gabe any reason to hurt him. His fingers are already swollen and misshapen; the burns are festering and his face is itching with dried blood. Enough is enough.

Gabe slithers off Pete and gets to his feet. "Who am I kidding? I don't need a reason." He kicks Pete in the ribs; Pete curls over with a sick cough. This only amuses Gabe. He laughs and summons Nate over to inform him of progress.

*

Far off, Underground near the Boardwalk, Trace, Bert and Quinn are awake. They don't know the dangers above ground - they came on the ship as crew at the last port. They haven't even been told that there are dinosaurs on Isla Nublosa. So when they realise that they've been left all alone, they set off to try and get above ground and find somebody who can get them off the island.

*

Suarez runs for Ryland. "Oh my god, you look terrible," he says, yanking Ryland out of Siska's arms and gripping him tightly.

"Thanks, honey," Ryland rasps. He squeezes Suarez. "Missed you, too."

"What happened?" Spencer asks, staring at them. He was sure Ryland was dead. Sure, he looks like crap - he's rumpled and looks like he was wet, but has now dried, and he's a little bent over like it hurts to straighten up.

Siska rubs the back of his head. "I found him on the beach this morning," he says. "I - I gave him CPR, and -"

Butcher sweeps Siska into a hug. "You saved his life."

"It was an impulse," Siska mutters. "You know how I am with my impulse control."

"You did good, Sisky," Butcher says, and presses a smacking kiss to his forehead before hugging him again. "Really good."

"Yeah?" Siska grins a little. "Finally." People crowd around to clap him on the back and check Ryland's tiredly grinning face to make sure he's still alive.

"Hey," Butcher says. "Hey. Sisky. Adam." Siska looks up at Butcher, but only a little - they're very similar heights. "Hey. Do you wanna come save the dinosaurs with me?"

Siska grins. "Like a saving the dinosaurs date?"

"Sure." Butcher grins back. "Why the hell not."

So suddenly the day looks a little brighter.

"Hate to interrupt this reunion," Patrick says. "But Butcher's got a point. We should probably be going?" He points along the trail Gabe's Jeep has made: the trail leading down to the beach. "We still haven't got Pete."

Suarez is confused. "Patrick's with us?"

*

Two Jeeps meet in the middle of a thin road. The bartender says.

Uh.

Two Jeeps meet in the middle of a thin road. Jon's looking ahead and Victoria's looking ahead, so they're both able to see the other coming. This is good. Things could have gone very badly if they'd been speeding or not paying attention.

So both Jeeps trundle to a halt. "Jon," Greta says, her voice strained. "Jon, Andy doesn't have time for this."

"Yo, Victoria," Jon says, waving. "Let us past?"

She grits her teeth and does a very, very tricky thirteen-ish point turn so she's over on the skinny arm of the road and Jon has enough room to edge through. Ray happens to look up at just the right moment; he sees Brendon.

"Stop," he says, in that quiet, you-must-obey voice. Victoria's and Jon's feet are pressing down on the brake before they even realise it. "Urie, I need you. Come on."

Brendon blinks at him. "I'm kind of -"

"One arm of a genius could help save Andy's life," Ray says gently. "Get over here."

So Brendon hops out of Victoria's Jeep and right over into Ray's.

"Now, go," Ray says, and bends back over Andy. He's murmuring to Brendon now, about all this medical stuff that Jon can't even fathom. He shifts back into drive and they're off again, up the incline.

Victoria shakes her head a little. Things change so fast on this island.

*

Bert, Quinn and Trace find a ladder and climb up to the world of skies. They emerge into madness. Men - and the occasional woman - in forest-green BDUs are shouldering rifles and firing feathered darts this way, that way and that other way. Someone knocks them to the ground just as the trees begin to shake.

"Impact tremors," breathes Sergeant Sean Van Vleet. "Oh, god, she's coming." He scrambles up off the three crewmen and disappears into the trees ahead. "She's coming!" they hear him yell. "All hands to guns!"

"Who's 'she'?" Quinn says.

Bert shrugs. He rolls over onto his butt - Van Vleet had knocked them all onto their bellies - and starts to dust himself off. The three of them barely notice the pounding feet of the Special Forces men arrowing for shelter.

His hands clean, Bert grins over at Quinn.

The blond is staring at something over Trace's shoulder. Trace, who is in front of them, facing them, is frowning. He's confused. "What?" he says. "Is there something...?" He starts to bat at his hair.

"Oh my god," Bert says. "Oh my god. That's a 'she'?"

Quinn is sliding backwards. "That's not a 'she'," he says. "That's a dinosaur."

Trace whips around. The Velociraptor bends over, her nose right up against his face, and she huffs. His carefully arranged hair flips out of shape.

He whimpers. The Velociraptor doesn't seem to care. There are three others of her kind emerging from the trees behind her. Two of them go for Bert; one to Quinn. They're all faced with their own personal nightmares, and their nightmares seem fascinated with them. The Velociraptors inhale their smells.

"Pretty sure if we don't move, they won't see us," Quinn says out of the corner of his mouth.

"Pretty sure you're wrong," Bert mumbles.

Quinn squeezes his eyes shut. "Bert, I love you."

"I love you, too, man."

Trace opens his mouth to say something and the Velociraptor springs forward and guts him with its sharp claws. Trace claps his shaking hands to his stomach. His bloody intestines spill out over his fingers. "What," he says, and then the Velociraptor buries her face in his warm entrails and starts to eat.

Bert and Quinn don't stand a chance.

Sergeant Van Vleet shudders, presses a hand to his mouth and closes his eyes, turning away from the horrible scene. He flicks his fingers and his men fire their sedative-loaded darts. It's far too late for the three hapless crewmembers when the Velociraptor pack finally flops to the ground.

*

Gabe is staring at Nate's mouth as his 2IC reports.

He's noticed before that Nate has a very nice mouth. It's nothing in particular; just every so often, he'd look over and go 'hey, pretty'. And that would be that. If Nate had ever agreed to live in Gabe's basement it might have been more than that, but that plan had fallen through when they'd both enlisted as Special Forces.

And then he was Nate's superior, and superiors had more game than they knew what to do with. So Nate kind of... well, he wasn't on Gabe's to-do list. Mostly because he laughed and pushed Gabe away whenever Gabe tried to do him.

But now Greta's a traitorous little bitch and while Victoria might be hot, she's unfortunately on the wrong side of this action, and Wentz is most definitely going to bite his cock off if he tries anything - gag or no gag - Nate's mouth is starting to look pretty damn appealing. Again. Still. Whatever.

Nate trails off. "Sir?" he says.

Oh. Oh, wow. Gabe grins at Nate. "So, tell me, Warrant Officer," he purrs. "Where have you been all my life?"

"Mostly? Right beside you," Nate says. Then, "whoa," as Gabe pushes him back, back, back to the trees. "What are you doing?" he asks, one eyebrow arched in that perfect Nate-like way, and it's possible that Gabe is sexually excited from the gun shooting and the hurting Pete and the plan going off well. And the Nate calling him 'sir' thing, which he never really noticed before.

"What am I doing?" Gabe grips Nate's shoulders and urges him back even more, so that Nate's shoulders collide with the trunk of a tree on the edge of the beach. Most of the other soldiers have wandered away, pretty sure that they're not wanted - which they're not, unless they're Nate, who is quite wanted.

"What am I doing," he says again. He brackets his arms on either side of Nate's head. "What am I..." And he leans forward and kisses Nate.

Nate's eyes widen. "Mmph." He pushes at Gabe's arms. "Mmph," he says again, and manages to actually shove Gabe away a step. "Sir," he says carefully, "with all due respect, we have a job to do."

"The other cages are on their way," Gabe says, his eyes sliding from Nate's lovely eyes to his strong arms and back up to that mouth, that fucking mouth, oh god. "And the ships won't be here for a while."

"What if the other -" Gabe kisses Nate again, and again, and again, and then breaks off to kiss his way to Nate's ear. Nate continues talking like he'd never been interrupted, "- scientists on the island show up?"

Gabe bites down on Nate's earlobe. Hard.

Nate's knees buckle. Gabe has to slide his thigh between them to prop Nate up. Bonus.

"Then we'll invite 'em to join us," Gabe says throatily. "Fuck, this is - why didn't I ever think of this before?" He wraps Nate up in his arms and pushes him back against the tree and licks right into Nate's mouth. Nate groans and slides his arms around Gabe's neck, anchoring himself with his lean, muscled arms. Apparently Nate likes a man who takes charge.

Gabe is so down with that. Who needs Victoria or Greta when Nate's been standing here all this time? Goddamn, but Gabe's been blind. "Be my evil partner in crime," he says, and dips his head to suck on Nate's collarbone.

Nate thrusts up against him. "I always have been - sir."

Oh yeah.

*

Victoria looks back at Alex, Cash and Lexie. "Where are we going?" she asks.

"I saw activity on the beach as we were flying in," Lexie says, pushing her blonde hair out of her face. "Why not there?"

So they head for the beach - with Lexie guiding the way, because Victoria and Alex are both guests and Cash is an invading soldier. None of them actually know their way around. That's probably a bad thing.

*

The beach is about to become very crowded.

*

Far away, in New York City, Frank Iero is curled up on one of the plush black faux-leather chairs in Gerard's high-class office. It's all windows and low furniture and black and white. It's not really Gerard at all - or at least, not the Gerard that Frank has come to know.

Speaking of Gerard. Frank checks his watch. It's four in the morning.

Okay, there is late, and then there is late. Yawning, Frank digs his cell phone out of his pocket and peers at the screen. No new messages, no missed calls. Nothing. He flips through his address book and finds Gerard's number.

It doesn't even connect. No cell phone coverage, what the hell? Like Gerard ever goes anywhere except his apartment, the office, Starbucks and his studio. They had an appointment, a meeting. Midnight Friday. Frank has been sitting in this fake-cow chair for four hours waiting for Gerard, and Gerard hasn't even tried to contact him.

Frank sighs. He's probably lost in one of his projects. He usually calls Frank to let him know the meeting's off whenever that happens, but maybe this time he forgot. Frank's contract is drawing to a close - maybe Gerard is losing interest in him as a model. There's only so many times Gerard can exclaim over his waist-to-hip ratio, the intricacy of his tats, the bridge of his nose and arch of his mouth, the grace of his fingertips on a guitar.

He was kind of hoping Gerard would want to exclaim over those things for a long while to come. And that he'd let Frank do some exclaiming - or maybe just claiming - of his own.

Okay. So, Gerard's studio is like a holy sanctuary. It's up in the roof of his office in the Chem Advertising building. And the office is where Frank is sitting right now. The studio, therefore, is right above him. He could always go and have a look. He's never been allowed before, but maybe Gerard's fallen asleep up there or something. Polite thing to do is check.

So Frank stands on Gerard's desk and reaches above him for the almost-invisible cord. Giving it a good yank, Frank has to duck the ladder that descends right on top of his head. It extends all the way to the floor, but Frank's sly like a monkey and climbs on from where he is, then clambers up the rest of the steps.

The studio is much more Gerard. It's messy, for one, and colourful. The clean lines of the office below are gone here; everything's curvy and sharp by turns, blending into a harmonious workspace for a brilliant artist-advertiser. Bits and pieces of Gerard's major projects hang on the walls.

Frank sees himself. He sees himself from all different angles, doing all different things. Playing music, mostly, as that's the kind of thing his record label wants, but there are others. Things Frank doesn't remember posing for. Maybe Gerard drew them from memory?

Wow. Oh, wow. Frank definitely did not pose for that. Hidden in the corner, tacked up above Gerard's desk is a sketch of Frank. It's not just any sketch. Gerard has captured Frank's face perfectly; captured the lines of Frank's body. Frank's body in all its naked glory.

He stumbles closer. Is he...? He's jerking off. Gerard has drawn a sketch of Frank jerking off and has tacked it above his work desk. Oh boy oh boy oh boy. Frank rubs his hands together and fights the urge to cackle. When he finds Gerard, what a surprise the exec is going to get.

In his glee, he bumps the humming laptop, expensive machinery propped up on a pile of books like so much bric-a-brac. The screen flickers to life. There are notes on the screen for meetings Gerard has missed - since Wednesday? That can't be right. Gerard wouldn't just take off like that. Would he? What for? Frank perches cautiously on the computer chair and directs the mouse of the laptop down to Gerard's email program. It's got a calendar - it can tell him where Gerard is, so long as Gerard's bothered to update it.

Wednesday through Sunday are marked HOLIDAY.

What. What.

Frank double clicks on the label for more details. SAN JOSÉ, it reads. PETE WENTZ. DON'T FORGET TO TELL FRANK&MIKEY.

Well, shit.

Frank fumbles for his phone and calls Mikey.

*

They have only one weapon between the twelve of them, and that's Tom. Technically, Tom's gun is the weapon, but Tom himself can kill a man many more ways than the gun can, so Tom wins. So, they have Tom plus eleven and then about a zillion - or, like, twenty - guys on the beach.

So that's a con.

The pro is that the two head honchos of the operation, Captain Saporta and Warrant Officer Novarro, are making out against a tree. Making out and possibly grinding. And Novarro is so little and Saporta is freakishly tall, so it's taking all of their concentration just to keep on making out.

This is definitely a pro.

So seven scientists, one advertising executive, one soldier, one secretary, one deckhand sans ship and one CIA agent are all able to creep onto the beach and launch a near-silent campaign against the eighteen Special Forces soldiers guarding several dinosaur-laden crates.

Because, even though Tom and Patrick are the only ones who've seen combat before or are even partially trained in combat and stealth, there are twelve people. Special Forces soldiers seem to gravitate towards being alone or in pairs when their leaders are otherwise occupied, so twelve people versus one or two is kind of a snap.

So the beach is like this long curve that fades into trees at both ends - it's kind of like a smile where the trees are the cheeks. The crates and the soldiers are spread more or less evenly along its length. They start at one end and soundlessly work their way along.

Basically, what they do is run quietly at the pair or single person from behind and slam them down to the ground. Hands over mouths and guns removed are the most important issues. When the soldiers are pinned and harmless, Tom or Patrick push at the pressure-point on the soldiers' necks that knocks them out. One person stays behind to stand guard over the unconscious body or bodies.

So they first lose Ryan, William and Siska. This is because the first three soldiers are all singles and Ryan and the others are tiny scraps of people who can't really manage two people on their own, if those two people happen to be soldiers who might wake up. Then William, who has a degree centered around efficiency, drags their three soldiers together so they can guard them all together.

Saporta and Novarro continue to make out. It looks a little like Novarro is about to slide down the tree trunk. If he does, Saporta will likely slide right down with him and then things will get horizontal. Which is great for the Isla Nublosians, because Saporta will then be even more distracted than he is now.

Joe, Butcher and Ryland also make a pile with their six soldiers. It's all very comic, especially when Ryland - who is still a little sick from spending what may have been the entire night floating out on the ocean - sits on top of the pile and makes silent arms of victory, pumping his fists in the air.

And it's right about then that the remaining soldiers realise the beach is half as noisy as it used to be. And they don't even shout to each other about the intruders - they all just turn at the same time and raise their guns at the same time and oh, shit. Start firing at the same time.

Joe, Butcher and Ryland tumble down behind their pile of guys and start wrestling the unconscious soldiers' guns free. They all shoot one each - Joe only shoots his guy in the leg, though, and then marches up to him and knocks him out with a punch, because Joe's a nice guy like that.

Tom does this really awesome dive-roll to the side and takes down two soldiers at once, then a third when he's up on his knees.

And Ryan, shooting from all the way back at the end of the beach, manages to shoot or graze the remaining three, startling them enough so that Tom can incapacitate or kill them for real.

When the gunfight is over - and that doesn't take half as long as in the movies - the Isla Nublosians turn to congratulate each other on not dying and not getting shot at all.

Then Saporta clears his throat.

They look at him.

And promptly put down their weapons.

*

Frank, Mikey, Mikey's wife Alicia and Gerard's secretary Brian are on the next flight out of Newark.

*

The back way into the Hotel has a ramp that leads right down into the infirmary. They've had some pretty bad accidents on the island before, accidents that proved the need for a ramp instead of stairs, and so it's relatively easy for Ray and Greta to collect a stretcher bed and transfer Andy onto it and wheel him into the operating room.

"It's weird seeing it from this angle," Brendon says as he follows the others inside.

Ray directs him to the anaesthesiologist's seat, which Brendon gladly takes - the pain from his arm is wearing him out in ways pain never has before, probably because he's foregone painkillers for almost a whole day. He measures up the right dose for a guy Andy's size and applies it intravenously, because Andy is almost hyperventilating by now. Hyperventilating in a manly way.

Greta cuts Andy's clothes away while Ray washes up. "Very minimalistic surgery," he tells them once Andy's completely out. "We're going in, getting the bullet and sewing up whatever's been punctured, then coming right back out again. If the damage is too bad, we'll have to fly Andy back to the mainland."

"Which is about half an hour with a good plane," Brendon says, because he asked Andy on the flight over on Thursday. Which seems forever ago, actually. "And we can call ahead to make sure there's an OR and a team ready."

"Good," Ray says. He scrapes his hair back into a ponytail and snaps on two pairs of gloves. "Let's save a life."

*

Gabe has a foot braced on Pete's crotch. In one hand, he's holding a grenade, no pin in sight, with his thumb holding down the detonator switch. In the other, he's holding a gun.

The gun is pressed against Spencer's head.

Spencer is not running away because Nate has both arms wrapped around him, holding him where he is - and Nate, despite being smaller, is much stronger and better trained than Spencer.

Tom takes a step towards Gabe. "Let him go," he says firmly.

"Dreaming," Gabe tells him. He cocks the gun and everyone flinches at the loud sound - especially Spencer. "You just killed or incapacitated eighteen of my men. Now, I've only got two of yours, but I can at least begin to return the favour." He digs his heel into Pete's crotch. Pete whimpers around the gag.

"I'm the one you really want," Tom says, his voice bland. "Well. Me and Wentz."

"So, what?" Gabe says. "Trade you for Mr. Hips? Oh, sorry. Spencer. I forgot: you don't like people complimenting you on physical aspects of your appearance or assuming that you're a sexual being, when you've worked so hard to divorce yourself from your body and relationships in general." He sounds like he's reciting something he's practiced. He probably has practiced it. He's probably played all this out in his head many, many times. Power fantasy; Gabe's twisted like that.

Spencer's lip curls. "Fuck you."

"Yeah, you had that chance." Gabe snorts. "At least I know it's not me. You turn everyone down." Then he looks at Tom again. "So is that what you're suggesting, Sergeant? A trade?"

Tom doesn't even have to think about it. "Yeah, that's what I'm suggesting."

"Don't," Spencer snaps. "Don't you dare, Conrad."

This sparks the sulky teenager inside him. "You can't tell me what to do."

"Yes, I fucking well can," Spencer insists. "And you're not trading yourself for me."

"You're right, he's not," Ryan says, taking a few cautious steps towards them. "I am." Except he's not really looking at Gabe when he says it, Spencer sees. Gabe's too busy being insane to notice the flicker of Ryan's eyes over their shoulders. But Spencer does notice.

"Actually, I think it's my turn to selflessly sacrifice myself for the greater good," Ryland says, dragging himself to his feet. He's looking behind Spencer, Nate and Gabe, too.

Suarez supports him, slinging his arms around Ryland's waist to keep him upright. "Two sacrifices for the price of one," he says. "If Ryland's sacrificed, I am too."

"Or you could make a matched set of me and Pete," Patrick suggests. His lips are quirked, but sedately, like a private joke between him and himself.

Gabe is slowly grinning, looking between them all. "Oh, it's so disgusting," he says, licking his lips. "You're all noble and kind souls. I'm going to break every single one of you."

And then Victoria cracks him over the head with a tree branch. "That," she says, "is for leading me on." She swoops down and grabs up the grenade before its three-second delay runs out and gives it a mighty throw out into the ocean. It explodes on the waves, showering everyone with salty spray.

Nate whips out his gun and shoves it into Spencer's gut. "You forgot about me," he gloats.

"Uh, no, we didn't," says Cash, and clobbers him with his trusty rifle. The rifle's completely out of bullets by now. He hasn't let go of it - not even in prison - since he stepped foot onto the island. It's still works well as a club. "I never liked you," he tells Nate.

"Huh," Nate says, and crumples to the ground right beside Gabe.

And then there is much gladness, cheering and clapping of backs.

*

There are two lifeboats per ship and approximately twenty men per crew. That's ten men in a boat. None of the lifeboats are motorised, possess GPS tracking systems, locator beacons, satellite phones, first aid kits or food. Twelve men have asthma with no inhalers, four resisted the displacement and are nursing head or bullet wounds, one is hysterical and approximately sixty - twenty per crew, three ships - are fucked.

Shane really hates the military.

The Americans got him into this mess by hiring him - and don't think he hasn't been in messes because of them before, because he has, and nearly all of them were on classified missions so he didn't even get hazard pay - and the Costa Ricans put him in this tiny lifeboat and laughed as they sailed away with Shane's ships.

He thinks that, if he survives this, he's going to polish up his CV and apply to be some millionaire's private captain. If that means sexual favours, Shane is more than ready to oblige. Seriously, anything, anything, anything has to be better than working another fucking lame-ass probably-fatal mission for the militaries of the world.

But before he can get that cushy boy-toy leisure cruise captain job, he has to survive this.

The lifeboats are approximately forty miles from Costa Rica, and it's only 8:24AM so the sun is still in the east, which is the same direction as Costa Rica. He marshals his men, hands out paddles and smoothly lies his ass off about how far it is to shore. Most of them don't speak English anyway.

Fuck. He really hates the military.

*

Now comes the hard part. Lexie Hammond introduces herself to everyone - she's not exactly been a social butterfly on the island, more of a silent financier - and tells them they have about an hour and a half before the Costa Rican army swarms in to take over the island and detain them all.

In that time, they have to get all the dinosaurs back to their enclosures, take care of the rest of Gabe's men - Tom guesses there are around another twenty, including most of Gabe's team - reunite all of their people, make sure Andy's okay to fly and get off the island. More or less in that order.

Easy. Hopefully.

*

So Saporta and Novarro are both down for the count, and eighteen others. Wow, eighteen? They really knocked out twenty people? Wow. Anyway. Spencer is yelling everyone into submission and pushing them into the trees to look for the Jeeps or cargo transport vehicles they had to have used to move the dinosaur crates to the beach. Everyone, that is, except Patrick.

This is because Patrick is kneeling next to Pete in the sand, busily untying the Saporta-specialty knots around Pete's wrists, ankles, between those two - he's kind of hogtied, but at the back - and the gag in his mouth. His fingers are gentle and he works carefully at the knots, not yanking or tugging them tighter. And when the last rope falls to the sand, Pete goes to rub his own wrists, but Patrick takes them into his hands and begins to massage the chafed, dented skin. He determinedly avoids eye contact with Pete as he does this.

"Patrick," Pete says quietly, only the sounds of waves, trees and people yelling 'hey, I found the Jeep' or variations thereof invading their momentary bubble. "Patrick, why did you make me forget you?"

Patrick continues to knead Pete's wrists. "I thought it would be easier," he says.

"For me - or for you?"

He looks up into Pete's disconcertingly thoughtful eyes. "You're such an ass," he says, drops Pete's hands and gets to his feet. He brushes the sand off his black slacks.

"Says the guy who's been lying to me for - god, I don't even know how long," Pete snaps. He tries to stand up but his legs are weak as new playdough. So he ends up flat on his ass again, looking up at Patrick like some kicked puppy. "Patrick, give me a chance."

Patrick looks at him for a long moment. "No. No, I don't think so." He turns and walks away.

*

"Okay," Lexie says from the tray of a Jeep. She has one end of the Microceratus crate in her hands and Victoria has the other. The manly men took all the larger crates on the bigger, cooler trucks, leaving Lexie and Victoria with the littlest dinosaur. Actually, Alex has the littlest one - he's en route to the Aviary with the Nemicolopterus on the Jeep that's heading up to the Hotel. "Okay," she says again, "a little to the left."

Victoria shifts. The two women carefully lower the crate to the tray and when it's finally loaded, Lexie jumps off the side. Victoria looks at her in surprise, although Lexie is sure she doesn't mean to. Actually, she probably does - Lexie has read Victoria's previous employers' comments on her classified file. Bitch is probably the politest thing they'd had to say.

"So," Lexie says, climbing into the driver's seat. "What's the look for?"

"You just - jumped," Victoria says. "Like it was nothing."

Lexie grins. "Gotta stay fit in my old age." She starts up the engine and looks at Victoria. "Are you coming?"

Victoria gets in.

"Right. Now. I hear you have a good memory," Lexie says as they trundle up the already-worn track the Jeeps have beaten through the trees. There was one single track leading to the beach before. Now there are more like eight. Oh, well. "List everyone you know on this island."

"What?" Victoria says. "Why?"

Lexie glances at her. "So we don't leave anyone behind."

"Right," says Victoria. "Because that would be a bad thing."

That probably shouldn't be funny, but unfortunately, Lexie knows Spencer. So she laughs, and Victoria - surprisingly - laughs too. They head for the herbivore field so they can release the Microceratus, and Victoria recites the names of the guests and scientists she's met on the island.

*

Ray gets the bullet out and clips the worst of the bleeders. Andy still needs more surgery, but he'll survive until they get him into an OR on the mainland. Hopefully an American one, because foreign healthcare is a bitch. Brendon, Greta and Ray all work to sew Andy back up and wrap him in bandages and gauze and antiseptics.

"That was an amazingly fast surgery," Ray says when Andy is finally lying on the table, all clean and closed and vaguely fixed.

Jon pipes up from near the phone, where he's been sitting the whole time, waiting to call the mainland. It's only now he remembers the phones aren't working. Oops. "I think it's because Saporta is a really terrible shot," he offers.

It's 8:53AM, T-minus one hour to the Costa Rican arrival.

*

"The plane we flew here," Lexie says, watching the Microceratus scamper off into the brush, "seats nineteen people at best, not including the pilot and co-pilot. And we have twenty-three by your count. That's kind of unfortunate."

Victoria agrees.

*

Bosses. Alexis Hammond and Dr. Ian Malcolm. 2.

Semi-bosses. Patrick Stumph-Wentz - though a CIA-influenced annulment is nigh and Patrick might not even return on the plane - and Dr. Peter Wentz. 2 + 2 = 4.

Guests. Dr. Victoria Asher, Dr. Alex DeLeon, Dr. Brendon Urie - who should be flown off the island due to injury - Gerard Way and Dr. Jon Walker. 4 + 5 = 9.

Residents. Dr. William Beckett, Dr. Ryland Blackinton - who should be flown off due to possible hypothermia - Andy Hurley - who absolutely must be flown off - Dr. Andew "Butcher" Mrotek, Dr. Ryan Ross, Dr. Greta Salpeter, Dr. Adam Siska, Dr. Spencer Smith, Dr. Alex Suarez, Dr. Ray Toro - who must also be on the plane to take care of Andy and Brendon - and Dr. Joe Trohman. 9 + 11 = 20.

Others. Sergeant Cash Colligan, Sergeant Tom Conrad and Ian Crawford. 20 + 3 = 23.

Surplus = 4.

There was one helicopter brought in by the Special Forces, now abandoned in some drug lord's orchard on the mainland. There was one plane maintained and piloted by Andy on the island, but it's in need of repairs and there's no one to fly it, anyway. There are two dinghies, but the mainland is one hundred and twenty miles away. The phones are not working, and the Costa Rican army will be at Isla Nublosa in less than one hour.

Four people are going to have to stay behind.

*

Sergeant Ryan J. Luciani - the 'J.' sounds cool, say it aloud and see - was given the lamest, possibly the most boring dinosaur on the whole island to bring in. At least, that's what Captain Saporta had told him, then he'd patted Ryan's head and said, "you know I love you," which is code for You fuck everything up so I'm giving you the easy job.

Saporta didn't even assign him any extra men to help. Ryan scuffs his boots as he walks along the track to the Aviary. Why'd he have to get the sick dinosaur, the unexciting one? They're fucking dinosaurs! And Saporta gave Ryan the worst one. Everyone - except Sean - had laughed at him.

Ryan fucking loves Sean. Except when Sean forgets everything, which, actually, is all the time. At least forgetting things, Ryan thinks, is better than being a general, all-around fuckup. Ryan goes to rub the tip of his nose with the barrel of his gun - but remembers that's a bad thing to do and stops himself before he blows off his face.

The Ornithocheirus - Kiara, cute name, he thinks he's heard it before somewhere - is apparently locked up in one of the observation rooms in the avian infirmary. One of the island's doctors had performed some sort of miracle and cured her or whatever. Cool for them.

Fucking lame-ass, stupid, freaking dumbest dinosaur on the whole damn island, and - hey. Oh, hey. Ryan stares through the glass of the observation room window. She's beautiful.

And then some kid with a pole whacks him down to the ground. Ryan thinks, figures, and passes out.

Alex is surprised that stealth-attack-mode actually worked.

*

Since Butcher is a marine biologist, he's given the extremely difficult task of releasing the Ophthalmosaurus back into the Boardwalk sanctuary. The sanctuary's southernmost wall is about a hundred metres up the beach; Butcher has to enlist Siska to help him. You know, since it's so far and all.

The Ophthalmosaurus tank is heavy, but it's on a rolling cart. Butcher takes one rope and Siska takes the other, and they start to drag it along the beach while the others disappear into the trees. It's slow going, but the wall is in sight and getting closer. All they have to do is release the Ophthalmosaurus inside the wall and the job is done.

"Were you serious?" Siska asks after a moment.

Butcher looks at him. "About what?"

"The date."

"Of course I'm serious," Butcher says. "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Well," Siska says, drawing it out. "You never - I mean... You don't like me."

Butcher almost drops his rope. "What?" he says, baffled. "Since when?"

"I, uh." Siska blushes. God, he hates being so insecure. Sometimes he wonders if the problem is with his impulse control or with, you know, everything else about him. "Never mind."

Butcher does drop his rope this time. He grabs Siska's shoulders. "You really think I don't like you?"

Siska looks down and away, half-shrugging.

"Sisky. Adam. I visit you at work and drag you down to visit me. I always sit next to you at dinner, and I chose the room right next to yours, near your lab and a freaking mile away from mine. I've been following you around like a puppy for months," Butcher says. "Please tell me you've noticed, otherwise I'm going to start to think I'm really, really terrible at flirting, and that would be a travesty the likes of which neither William nor Ross have never written."

"Butcher," Siska says, and it's all that's coming out. He's sure he looks like a gaping fish.

"When we get back to the mainland," Butcher says, cupping his hand under Siska's chin, "will you go on a real date with me? Pizza, a movie? Or a carnival? Something?"

And then Siska is laughing, and it's like he hasn't laughed in months. It's full belly laugh, a delighted, happy, gorgeous laugh. He throws his arms around Butcher and tries to pick him up, to swing him around, but they only manage to shuffle a couple of steps sideways and then they crash down into the sand.

"Fuck yes," Siska says. "Yes, I'll go on a date with you."

Butcher grins up at him and slides his hand into Siska's short hair. "What about kissing? Is that okay?"

"It's more than fucking okay," Siska says. "Oh my god, Butcher, how long could we have been together if I wasn't such a total asswipe?"

"A long fucking time," Butcher says, and brings Siska's mouth down to meet his.

*

The Gallimimus is a herbivore, so it needs to go to the field. The other three dinosaurs in crates on the beach are all carnivores: Velociraptor, Procomsognathus and Dilophosaurus. So, they send Gerard and William off with the herbivore - probably safest - and everyone else gets about loading the carnivores onto the trucks.

It ends up being Tom and Spencer with the Velociraptor, Ryan and Ian with the Procompsognathus because it's little and they're little, and Joe, Ryland and Suarez with the Dilophosaurus. The trucks shuffle into line with Joe's truck in front, because Joe knows where he's going.

"Remind me again why I'm helping," Spencer mutters. Tom is driving the truck - Spencer can't - and Spencer is crouched on the tray with the sedative-dart gun aimed directly at the Velociraptor. She's not waking up or even showing signs of stirring, so that's good. That's a pro. Still, he's holding a gun and he's less than a metre away from a Velociraptor, both of which are cons. Two cons do not make a pro.

Unless you're a criminal. Which Spencer is, actually, so never mind.

"Because you're a really nice person at heart," Tom says over his shoulder. The two trucks ahead of them bumble along up the road. They're heading straight for the carnivore enclosures. They want to get these people-eating dinosaurs off their hands as soon as possible.

Spencer snorts. "No, really."

He can see Tom holding back a grin. "Somewhere deep inside you, Spencer Smith, is a heart."

Spencer's heard that line before. Ryan usually pulls it out around Christmas. "And it's all shrivelled and hairy. Grotesque is the term, I believe."

Tom's silent for a moment. "I don't know why Jon likes you," he finally says, speaking slowly.

"Excuse me?" Spencer says. His chest tightens. What right does Tom have to say something like that? To make Spencer feel like a complete and utter asshole?

And then the crate bursts open.

*

Brendon feels kind of floaty. It's probably because he's been existing without painkillers for the last twenty four hours or so and now he's dosed up on the good stuff. Ray made sure not to give him too much, but any amount is a godsend.

Jon and Brendon are sitting on the steps at the front of the Hotel, waiting for Greta and Victoria to bring the cars around. Andy and Ray are going to be in the back of Greta's because she's the better driver. They're going to head straight down to the plane. Victoria will take Jon and Brendon down.

He leans against Jon and nuzzles under his chin. "I like you, Jon Walker," he says. "I like your name."

"I like your name, too," Jon says generously. "I think this is what you'd be like if you were high. It's kind of hilarious."

"Can we be friends, Jon Walker?" Brendon says. "I know I'm on the dark side because I was sent here by the military, but, you know, I'm a nice guy. I could totally be a great friend. You would be a great friend to have."

Jon is touched. "Sure, we can be friends," he says. "I'll have to teach you the secret 'I Am BFFLs With Jon Walker' handshake, though."

"I'm a good learner," Brendon says eagerly. "I love handshakes."

And then the phone in Jon's pocket rings.

Jon stares at Brendon. "I thought the phones weren't working. I haven't had reception since almost as soon as we got here," he says.

"Answer it," Brendon urges him. "Answer it."

So Jon fumbles it out of his pocket and hits 'answer'. "Hello?" he says cautiously.

"Dr. Walker," says Lexie Hammond. "The phones are working."

Jon was wondering how they were going to organise everyone to meet at the plane. "Thank god. Who else have you called?"

"You're the first," she says. "Start calling other people. Tell them to meet at the runway at 9:30. See you there."

"Bye," Jon says, and she hangs up. He glances at his watch. 9:04AM. "Okay. Start your engines," he says, and opens up the contact list of his island-provided cell phone.

*

It's not until they reach the carnivore enclosures that Joe, Ryland, Suarez, Ryan and Ian realise Spencer and Tom's truck has disappeared. And then their previously-dead cell phones start ringing, soldiers start pouring out of the enclosure gates and everything gets a little crazy.

*

Pete is waiting for Alex when he exits the Aviary. Pete was supposed to be Alex's partnerfor putting the Nemicolopterus back, but the bat-like dinosaur is approximately the size of Alex's forearm and doesn't really need two people to manage it.

"I just got a phone call," Pete says. "We have to be at the runway by 9:30."

Alex frowns. "I thought the phones weren't working."

"Are now," Pete says. He's strangely distant - something in his expression tells Alex that Pete is far away, thinking about something else entirely. He's guessing Patrick. It hadn't escaped Alex's notice that Patrick had vanished into the trees after untying Pete's ropes, leaving Pete stunned and pale. Poor guy.

"Then we should go," Alex says. Pete nods. It's a very vague nod, if nods can be vague.

Cash is behind the wheel of the Jeep and says, "where to now?"

"The runway," Alex says. "We're leaving."

"Thank fuck," says Cash. "All right. Let's blow this popsicle stand."

*

A chunk of wood panelling - and who the hell was the genius who thought that wood could hold a Velociraptor? - slams into Spencer. He's tumbling off side of the truck before he even knows what's going on. He strikes the ground and groans.

Tom hits the breaks hard. The truck skids to a stop.

The Velociraptor leaps free of its prison, jumping onto the cab of the truck. The weight of its landing dents the roof; Tom ducks. "Spencer," he yells. "Spencer, are you -"

"I'm okay," Spencer croaks. "More or less."

The Velociraptor isn't moving. She's standing completely still on the cab. Her nose is jutting up into the air, her tail down low to balance. She's sniffing - scenting. After a moment, she barks a horrible, grating call.

Tom crawls over the front seat and carefully opens the passenger side door. He slides down to the ground almost soundlessly. Spencer is lying on the track a few feet away, not having moved an inch; Tom creeps towards him.

"We're fucked," Spencer says softly.

Tom's barely moving his lips as he speaks. "Maybe if we don't move?"

Spencer shakes his head. He gestures Tom closer. Who cares if Tom has just insulted him? They're going to die. Tom may as well die well-informed. He pulls Tom's head close to his mouth and speaks right into his ear. "Velociraptor has excellent sensory perception. If not sight, then hearing and smell." He lisps it, dulling down his words so the sharpness of 's' and 'c' don't prick at the Velociraptor's ears.

"Fuck," Tom says, and of course, that's what the Velociraptor hears. Its beady eyes snap right to them, and it's staring.

Four more harsh, barking calls rent the air, and the Velociraptor is distracted. It looks away for a brief moment. When it looks back, Tom and Spencer are gone.

*

Jon's called everyone. It's 9:11AM and he's in the back of the Jeep with Brendon beside him and Victoria in front, and they're heading down to the runway. He's called everyone - except Spencer. And Tom, but Ms. Hammond has the radio to contact him. So Spencer.

He totally can't do this. He's hopeless.

But if he doesn't do it, Spencer will be left behind on the island. That cannot be allowed to happen. Jon wants to have the chance to really talk to Spencer - not like their brief encounter in the lobby after Spencer caught Jon and Gerard together. And if Spencer is left behind on the island, they will not be able to talk.

So. He has to call Spencer.

"God, don't be such a wimp, Walker," Jon tells himself. He scrolls down to SMITH, SPENCER and hits 'call'.

*

Alex, Cash and Pete reach the plane first.

"Hey, guys," says Dr. Malcolm, waving at them from his seat. He hasn't moved at all since Alex and Cash left. He must really hate this island.

They all greet the mathematician and settle into seats. Pete grabs the seat right at the back of the plane and proceeds to stare out the window. He's in a funk. Alex suspects only Patrick can bring him out of it.

But Patrick's not here. Yet. Patrick will come. Alex knows this. He will come. He can't just leave Pete like this - it's pathetic, seeing so much energy reduced to a husk of a man.

Patrick will come.

Greta, Ray and Andy are the next to arrive. Andy isn't awake yet; they're able to strap him into one of the seats and get the seat reclined to a comfortable position. "Hopefully," Ray says as he sits down beside Andy, "none of the internal stitches will rip."

"Don't even say that," Greta tells him. "Think positive."

Right. Positive. Ray can do that. He's the chief doctor on an island full of dinosaurs, but he can think positive. Well, at least since the phones are working, Greta was able to call ahead to San José and have an OR room prepped for them. That's positive.

Positive. Positive, positive, positive. Maybe if he says it enough times, it'll happen.

*

"Where the fuck are they?" Ryan yells, struggling against Joe's tight grip. "Where the fuck is Spencer? Spencer!"

Joe looks at Ryland and Suarez, who are visibly concerned. "If that Velociraptor got out -"

Ryan starts screaming.

There's nothing for it but to knock him over the head and drag him to the trucks. They all got called by Lexie Hammond or Jon or both - they have to get to the runway. Now.

They have just over half an hour to get off the island before the Costa Ricans come, and that's only an estimation. The Costa Ricans have light ships and they know the waters. They could come at any time.

So there's no time to go back for Spencer and Tom. Tom has been trained by the Special Forces, and Spencer is a hurricane when he's pissed off, so they'll be fine. They'll be fine.

Joe straps Ryan into the passenger seat and really, really hopes Ryan doesn't kill him for this.

*

Gerard and William shove the crate inside the herbivore field gate and rip apart one of the sides so the Gallimimus can get out. Gerard knows how to rip apart wooden crates without getting splinters; he's loaded and unloaded many canvases in his time. So they get in and out of the herbivore field in just a few minutes, then jump back in their truck.

The gate is at the northern end of the field, right near the runway. It's barely two minutes before they're pulling up on the tarmac and running up the stairs to the plane.

"Good," Alex says when he sees them. "I was afraid the two of you would go back to try and get your stuff."

Gerard pales. His sketchbook! His clothes and toiletries and art supplies... can all be replaced. He straps himself into a seat and says, "I don't need any of that stuff."

His personal phone - he keeps the island phone and his own in separate pockets so he knows which one's which - beeps with a message. Gerard feels his heart leap into his throat when he sees it's from Frank. me mikey alicia brian coming 2 san jose 2 get u asshole. u better b ok. xf

The relief that sweeps through him is profound.

*

Butcher is driving the last remaining Jeep from the beach up the track to the runway, Siska in his passenger seat, when they see the abandoned truck. There's a broken crate sitting on its tray, and a massive dent in the roof of the cab. The passenger door is hanging open.

"Shit," Siska says.

"I wonder whose it is," Butcher adds.

Siska grips his seatbelt as they edge around the truck. "Hopefully none of our people."

But Butcher's got a bad feeling.

They make it up the rest of the track and arrive at the runway at the same time as the group who were assigned to the carnivore enclosures. Siska frowns at them. "Hey, weren't Spencer and Conrad with you guys?"

Joe gathers Ryan into his arms, bridal-style. "Yeah, they were," he says simply, and climbs on the plane. Suarez props his shoulder under Ryland's and helps him up the stairs and into a seat, then curls up against him. Joe, Suarez and Ryland all look miserable.

"Kid, what happened?" Butcher asks Ian.

Ian rubs the back of his neck. "They disappeared," he says. "They were right behind us in their truck, and then they weren't."

Siska and Butcher blanch.

*

Sergeants Marshall, Van Vleet and McCoy are standing on the beach. They stare at the carnage around them. Eighteen good soldiers plus Captain Saporta and Warrant Officer Novarro lay before them. There are tracks that show crates which had been carted to the beach have been carted away again.

"I think we lost," says Marshall.

McCoy shifts on his crutches. "Did you boys see the plane fly in earlier?"

*

Jon, Brendon and Victoria reach the runway. They climb the steps. Ray immediately descends on Brendon, making him sit and buckling him in as though Brendon couldn't do it himself. Victoria is also grateful to take a seat.

But Jon sees that there are no more seats, and he does a face-check to make sure everyone's there. "Where are Tom and Spencer?" he asks. He figures they're in the cargo hold or something, strapped in by ropes. There are no more seats, after all.

The nineteen people seated before him carefully avoid his eyes.

"Where are Tom and Spencer?" Jon repeats.

"Jon," says Gerard.

No. Jon does not have time for this. They don't have time to fuck around. The Costa Ricans could be here at any time. "Where are they?" he snaps.

"They're not here," Greta says gently.

"Their truck disappeared," says Cash, and there's nothing gentle about his voice. In fact, his words are almost like a challenge.

Jon will take that challenge.

He spins around and darts down the steps. He's over the other side of the runway and into the trees before anyone can even get their seatbelt undone and stand up.

Then the pilot says, "Ms. Hammond, I'm picking up chatter on the radio frequency. The Costa Ricans are about to land. We need to leave, right now."

Lexie stares after Jon, then looks around at the passenger cabin. Nineteen seats are filled.

She stands, pushes Gerard and the others back down into their seats and efficiently winds up the ladder and shuts the cabin door. "Go," she says to the pilot. "We're ready."

"What the fuck?" Gerard says. "Jon is out there!"

"And Spencer," Alex says. "And Sergeant Conrad."

Pete even speaks. "And Patrick," he adds, his face blank.

"There are nineteen seats and twenty three people on this island," Lexie says, standing at the front of the cabin. "Sergeant Conrad is trained in weapons and combat, Dr. Smith is more than capable of handling himself and Dr. Walker left the plane of his own choice. As for Agent Stump," she says, looking at Pete. "He made his choice as well."

Pete looks back out the window.

Lexie straps herself in again. The cabin is ringing with protests and people unbuckling their belts and trying to get the door open. But she's locked it, and this is her plane. She knows how things work, and she knows how to lock the door so no one can get it open.

The plane taxies down the short runway; barely a moment later, they're off the ground.

And that's that.

*

Jon stumbles through the trees. He yanks his phone out of his pocket and dials Spencer's number again. Spencer hadn't picked up before. Maybe he would this time. Maybe he'd know, intuitively, that the plane was leaving - that their chance for escape was leaving. Maybe he'd pick up on Jon's urgency. Maybe he'd just get the feeling that he had to answer his phone.

Then again, maybe not. Jon groans and shoves it back into his pocket. He has absolutely no idea what's been happening since he drove Andy up to the Hotel. He doesn't know where Tom and Spencer might have been seen last. He doesn't know where to start.

He stops running and takes a breath. Calm, Walker, calm. He is infamous for his laid-back calm charm. So, time to emply some level-headedness.

Spencer is not answering his phone.

Colligan had said they were in a truck. So they had to have been on a road. Jon is running alongside the road. He's pretty sure it's a few metres that way.

So he pushes his way through the trees, and soon finds himself on the road.

Jon hears the plane engines begin to rumble. What. No, really, what. He turns around and watches the plane zoom past the gap in the trees. It's taxiing. It's taxiing, and they're leaving. Without him, without Spencer and Tom. What.

Fine. Jon doesn't need them anyway. He and Tom and Spencer will find their own way off the island.

He turns around to head back down the track and finds himself facing one pissed off Master Sergeant Bryar.

Damn.

*

They land at Juan Santamaria International Airport and Brian immediately starts ringing around the hotels for any rooms booked under the name of Pete Wentz.

One chattering Spanish woman at the Gaia Hotel tells them that there was a Wentz party staying there the previous Wednesday. "Thank you very much," Brian says.

When he hangs up, Frank says, "it's gotta be Gerard. That's where he must have been staying."

"Only for one night," Brian says. "So where would he have gone after this?"

Mikey blinks slowly. "Well, Pete's got an island around here somewhere."

When Mikey says things like that, Frank wonders if he actually knows how it sounds out loud. Like, saying someone's got an island around here somewhere sounds like Pete Wentz is just going to walk up to them carrying an island. Considering Frank doesn't actually know Pete Wentz, he doesn't know if this is something the guy would do or not.

Then he thinks about that. Wait. Mikey knows Pete Wentz? "Wait," he says. "You know Pete Wentz?" So there's not much padding in between what he thinks and what he says, so sue him. Actually, don't.

"Well, yeah," Mikey says. "He's my ex."

Alicia just grins. She is the coolest wife ever.

Brian butts in. "So you know his number?" He hands the phone to Mikey.

Mikey dials.

*

Tom has this thing where he's really earnest - except being in the military kind of turned that please-believe-me sweetness into you-will-believe-me firmness. Whatever, he's still earnest about it.

And right now, he's pretty sure he's being earnest about the Velociraptor that's going to eat them. Eat them. Him and Spencer. A Velociraptor is going to eat them. Wow, that needs saying a couple of times before it makes sense. Anyway, Tom has Spencer's wristbones grinding between his fingers and Spencer's heavy footsteps pounding along behind him, and if he gets much more earnest about this dinosaur that is going to kill them, he is going to be wide-eyed. Wide-eyed is not respectable soldier behaviour.

"Come on, Spencer," he says over his shoulder. "Come on, come on, it's not that much further."

"What's not that much further?" Spencer snaps. Tom is sort of surprised that he can still snap while they're running like this. A plane flies overhead but neither of them really notice, having grown up in big cities where air traffic is nothing out of the ordinary. If they'd remembered they were on a tropical island, they probably would have worried more.

And then Tom gets tackled down to the ground.

From the side?

Sergeant Michael Guy Chislett shoves Tom down to the ground and rolls them both under a log. "What the fuck," Tom says. "Spencer!"

He sees Spencer's shoes, sensible boots with bright red laces, and then he sees Spencer's knees, and his face. "What the hell?" Spencer says. They seem to be of like mind. This would be a funny thing if Tom couldn't hear the Velociraptor crashing through the trees behind them.

Tom grabs a handful of Spencer's shirt and yanks him under the log, too. Spencer crashes down on top of him; his shoulder slams into the log as he comes down and an avalanche of mast slides down off the top and pretty much barricades them in.

Spencer is face-down in Tom's chest. "Ow," he says. Tom is fairly sure that's Spencer's knee bearing down on his ankle, which is not comfortable, and that both of Spencer's shoes are sticking out from under the log and mast. So he wraps his arms around Spencer and makes him wriggle up further. "Ow," Spencer says again, and then he's face to face with Tom. "Hi."

"Time enough for love later," Chislett says. "Quiet now."

"What?" Spencer says.

Tom presses a finger to Spencer's lips. They're warm and dry and smooth. And very close to Tom. Tom tries to think about how much Jon would hate him for being in this situation with Spencer, how vigorously Jon is going to castrate him. Jon hates it when Tom steals his crushes before he can make a move on them.

But of course, thinking about Jon castrating him is really thinking about Jon in the general vicinity of his crotch. Which, Tom is surprised to remember, is something he's not supposed to think about. At all. It wasn't a problem before. They could wrestle around for hours without it being even vaguely sexual. Thinking about wrestling with Jon now makes Tom wish it was naked wrestling. With Spencer.

Mmm. Threesome. Tom has only been so lucky once before, and that was with an open-minded native girl and Sean, when they were on shore leave somewhere in Central America. No offence to the girl, but they'd both been scratching for weeks after that. Never have a threesome on a pile of leaves in Central America. Spencer probably wouldn't let that happen, though, Tom thinks. He seems like the organised type. Tom's only organised when it comes to his weapons, and Jon is only organised about his weed. Spencer can handle everything else, he deicdes, like bringing blankets to have sex on instead of leaves.

Wow, did his stitches tear? That must be it. Tom's never gotten so distracted about someone before. Someones. Jon as well as Spencer.

Man, he is so dreaming.

But Spencer is still really close to him, and apparently thinking about Jon castrating him doesn't help. So instead, Tom listens for the Velociraptor.

Holy shit, it's like right outside.

*

Bryar doesn't even have to say anything. He's big enough and scary enough that he can just look menacing and point, and Jon will go wherever he's pointing.

He ends up pointing to what used to be the Special Forces base camp. Jon's pretty sure it's 'used to be', because it looks like the place has been ransacked. "What's happened?" he asks.

"Everyone's gone off on their own," Bryar says. His voice is surprisingly nice. "You looked like you could use a friend."

Jon kind of wants to go 'oh my god Bob Bryar', except he thinks that would be really bad for his health. He kind of wonders how he knows Sergeant Bryar's first name anyway. So instead he just goes, "huh," and then, "so what are we doing here?"

"We're getting food, a couple of radios and some weapons," Bryar says. "But you can go somewhere else - on your own - if you want."

"I'll stay with you," Jon says quickly. He's not stupid.

*

The Costa Ricans land. There are one hundred and fifty of them.

A second after they step foot on land, there are one hundred and forty nine of them. This is because even though Gabe is not, Nate is a crack shot. Just as quickly, there are one hundred and forty eight, seven, six, five of them, and then Nate decides it's in his best interest to flee the scene.

"Got five," Nate says, catching up to Gabe.

"God, I love you," Gabe says. He slings an arm around Nate's shoulders and they disappear into the trees.

*

The Velociraptor snoops around for a moment. It seems to know that they're under the log; they probably smell like a tantalising feast. But it can't get its in-turned hands to do more than scrabble at the bark of the log.

Far off, there are shouts. It sounds like they're coming from the general direction of the beach. Well, there's beach in every direction - this is an island. But more specifically, the beach where the Isla Nublosians triumphed over the Special Forces.

After a beathless moment, the Velociraptor wanders away, towards the shouts. Easier prey.

Spencer goes to move away. Tom tightens his arms. "Are you crazy?" he says. "Raptors have problem solving intelligence. It might turn right back around as soon as it can hears you moving."

"He's got a point," says Chislett over Tom's shoulder. Spencer can see his bright blue eyes. They're not the eyes Spencer wants to be seeing looking at him over Tom's shoulder and - no. No, he's not thinking that.

"Fine," Spencer says, and waits until Tom and Chislett agree that the Velociraptor is probably far enough away by now that it won't bother turning back. When that agreement comes, he immediately slithers backwards, shoving through the mast to get to clear air again.

He misses the disappointment on Tom's face at how quickly Spencer had pulled away.

Once the three of them are brushed clean, Spencer asks, "so what do we do now?"

"Gabe always said," Tom says, looking at Chislett, "if everything goes to shit -"

"Head back to base," Chislett finishes. "It worked in Bolivia," he says. "We all got out."

"I assume you guys had a backup plan for getting off the island?" Spencer says.

Tom frowns. "Not really. That was kind of bad on our part, huh," he says, looking at Chislett.

"Hey, we had the helicopter and the ship," Chislett points out. "Both of which are now gone. But we have phones to call for help."

And that's when Spencer realises he has a phone, too. He pulls it out. There are two missed calls, both from - from Jon. Spencer usually keeps it on silent and non-vibrate. He hates being interrupted.

"You know," he says, still looking at the screen. Thinking of Jon makes him think of Andy. Andy the transportation specialist. "The island has a plane. It needs some minor repairs -"

"I'm an engineer," says Chislett. "I have a degree."

Spencer raises an eyebrow at him. Chislett seems so proud of that. "I have two," he says, specifically to burst his bubble. "Don't interrupt me." Chislett holds up his hands and gestures for Spencer to continue. "The plane needs some minor repairs, but it's an eight seater, not including pilot, co-pilot, steward. It can get us out of here."

Tom thinks about it. There are twelve men in his team. He doesn't care about the other Special Forces teams - none of them are from his group. He doesn't know any of them. But his own team has twelve, and Gabe and Nate are non-entities when it comes to Tom wanting to rescue people. So ten, including Tom, plus Spencer, is eleven. And eight plus pilot, co-pilot and steward is eleven.

"That could work," he and Chislett say at the same time.

"Let's swing down to base camp and see if anyone else is there," Tom says. "Then we can go see about this plane."

Spencer nods. Now that that's settled, he taps his finger lightly on Jon's name on the screen. He's thinking. Will he call Jon? Why did Jon call him? Should he call Jon? It's not like to be a misdial if it happened twice.

So as they start to walk - following Chislett's lead, because apparently he knows where he's going, and all Spencer can think is 'oh boy' - he presses 'redial' and holds the phone to his ear. It rings. Once. Twice. Thr-

*

"Hello," Jon says.

"Dr. Walker," says Spencer.

Jon nearly drops the phone. "Oh yeah, now you call me back?" He snaps without meaning to and feels instantly bad. "I'm sorry," he says before Spencer can even retort. "I'm just annoyed. We're stuck on this island."

"We're stuck on this island and you're 'annoyed'. Dr. Walker, do you understand the concept of - never mind. We're not stuck."

He sits down on an overturned crate and watches Bryar pick through a basket of fruit. "I think we are," he says. "Everyone else kind of left us behind."

"They what." It's not even a question.

"Ryan was unconscious, if that makes you feel better."

"He what?" And that was more of a question, or maybe an exclamation. Jon winces. Maybe that wouldn't actually make Spencer feel better.

"Lexie Hammond brought a plane to the island and took everyone else off."

"And why not you?" Spencer demands.

"Because I was worried about my best friend," Jon says.

*

Spencer is supremely surprised when Jon adds, "and about you."

"Me?" he says. "Why would you be worried about me?"

"You've been on my mind a lot, Dr. Smith. So what do you mean, we're not stuck?"

"The island has a plane. Sergeant Chislett thinks he can fix it," Spencer says simply.

"You're with Sergeant Chislett? I'm with Sergeant Bryar!" Jon sounds delighted at this quirky development. Enemies becoming friends, or something, Spencer is sure he's thinking.

"I'm also with Sergeant Conrad," Spencer says, glancing at Tom. He sort of wishes he could say 'Tom', just once, but there's no way he'd be able to bring himself to do it. Some things are too much to ask for.

"Tom's there? Can I talk to him?"

Spencer wordlessly hands the phone over to Tom.

"Hey, Jonny," Tom says easily. His whole face lights up when he hears Jon's reply. Spencer's chest tightens again; 'I don't know why Jon likes you,' he hears Tom say again.

Fucking bastard. Spencer speeds up to catch up to Sergeant Chislett and leave Tom to talk to Jon in peace.

*

Spencer hears a very strange noise while they're walking. It's sort of underneath Tom talking to Jon, underneath Chislett's bouncing steps. Literally underneath. Spencer frowns; he reaches out and touches a tree trunk.

It shakes a little under his fingers.

So he grabs Chislett, and grabs Tom. He says, "shut up for a second."

Tom glares at him a little but stops talking.

And now Spencer can hear it properly, and the other two can as well. Spencer is confused. "But we're not in the herbivore field." And then he realises what that means. "Oh, shit. The Costa Ricans have deactivated the fences."

*

Bryar suddenly looks up. "We have to hide," he says, like he's testing out the words. "Yes. We have to hide, now." He grabs Jon's arm in one massive hand - in the other, he's holding a bag full of necessities he's collected from around the camp. He starts to pull Jon to the edge of the camp, to the trees.

"But what about Tom?" Jon says, pulling against Bryar.

"That's the thing about Conrad," Bryar says. "Even if you don't want to be found - or maybe especially then - he's going to find you. The Costa Ricans, on the other hand, managed to not even notice this island for more than a hundred years, and they're the ones we need to hide from."

That is quite possibly the most words Jon has heard Bryar string together, so what he's saying must be pretty important. "Okay," Jon says, and lets Bryar lead him deeper into the forest.

*

As it turns out, Tom doesn't need to hide-n-seek out Jon and Bryar, because the two little groups run right into each other. Tom, Chislett and Spencer grab Bryar and Jon and turn them the other way.

"So we're running this way?" Jon says, falling into line beside Tom.

"Yep."

"Cool."

"Yep."

"...Why?"

"Gallimimus herd stampeding towards us."

"Oh."

"Yep."

Jon frowns. "Costa Ricans are coming this way," he says, pointing into the trees ahead of them.

It's Tom's turn to say, "oh."

So they stop for a second and re-orient themselves. Spencer says, "wait, which way is east?"

The three soldiers all point.

"Okay. And which way is the beach where we were?" he asks Tom.

Tom points in a different direction.

So Spencer has two points of reference. He is a mathematician, a computer expert and he is really, really organised. He also happens to like maps, which is a plus, because with his skills and those two points of reference, he's pretty confident about where he is and where they should be going. "The plane hangar is this way," he says, and goes in a different direction to both the Gallimimus and the Costa Ricans, who, hopefully, will run into each other.

And so they're off again.

Jon finds it a touch weird that none of them have even said 'hello' yet.

*

It's 10:32AM by the time the plane lands in San José. There is an ambulance waiting on the runway for Andy, Brendon and Ray. The doctors take Ryan too, since he's still unconscious, to check him over. There are limousines waiting for everyone else.

Pete is gone before anyone can even say goodbye or good riddance.

Alexis Hammond and Ian Malcolm disappear together with a final round of apologies for the inconvenience and promises of recompensation. They leave before Gerard can demand that they charter another plane and head right back to the island to get Jon, Spencer and Sergeant Conrad. He's pretty pissed about that.

Ryland and Suarez go. Butcher and Siska go. William. Greta. Joe. None of them want or need to hang around. They have to find new jobs, new homes, or quite possibly new identities.

So it's down to Alex and Cash, Gerard, Victoria and Ian Crawford, who admits very awkwardly, "I don't have anywhere else to go," and no one has the heart to tell him to scat.

"We could always leave," Cash says, looking pointedly at the limos still waiting for them.

Alex nudges him. "Don't be a douche."

"I was born a douche," he says.

"Okay, try not to be such a huge douche," Alex specifies.

Cash salutes him mockingly. "I'll see what I can do."

"Guys," Gerard says. "We have to go get J-" And then he sees the four people running across the runway towards him, and he's stunned into silence.

Frank, Mikey, Alicia and Brian crash into him. There are a lot of hugs. The others pull away and let Gerard have his surprise reunion - not so surprise, because Frank texted him, but surprise because of it being here and now. When the hugs are over, the exclamations begin.

"Don't you ever -" Frank says, and then loses the sentence and just starts saying, "don't, don't, don't,' and he whacks Gerard's chest for emphasis.

"Okay, I get it," Gerard says, catching Frank's wrists. He looks into Frank's eyes and says. "I won't do it, if you'll tell me what it is."

Frank looks right back, defiant and going to say his piece, no matter what. "Don't leave. Me. Don't leave me. Ever again."

And then Brian casually shoves Frank so he falls right into Gerard, and there's nothing to it, with their lips that close - so they kiss. Gerard totally intended it to be a friendly peck. He's sort of a master at the friendly peck. But just as he goes to pull back, Frank grabs his head and tugs on his hair and bites Gerard's lip before he lets him go.

"Oh," Gerard says.

"Yeah, oh," says Frank. "I went into your studio and saw that drawing of me. You were very nearly correct, by the way," he says. "Wanna see how correct?"

Oh, does Gerard ever. And then he remembers where he is, and that's where Jon, Spencer and Tom aren't. "I can't," he says, without thinking about what that'll sound like.

So when Frank punches him, it's all Gerard's fault, really.

*

"God help us," Spencer says. "We're in the hands of engineers."

"What, do you think you can help?" Chislett says, looking between the plane and the mathematician.

"I have a degree in applied mathematics," Spencer emphasises, putting his hands on his hips. "I think I can work it out."

Tom shoves his shoulder lightly. Since they reached the hangar, he's been more - playful, is the only word for it. Like he's letting go of his military responsibility. He's accepting he's not going back to gruel, helicopter drops and secret missions to god-knows-where. So there's a grin on his face when he says, "let the expert work, Smith. Sit back and relax."

The glare Spencer shoots him is so dirty, it could be a martini. "Just because you're willing to be stranded on this island for god knows how long, Conrad, doesn't mean the rest of us are."

"'Willing to be stranded'? It was your boss who got us all into this mess in the first place!" Tom exclaims. He's kind of hurt. What did he say to provoke such spite from Spencer?

Oh, shit. Wow, he is an asshole. He remembers what he said in the truck. I don't know why Jon likes you. He was just stating facts! He doesn't know how Jon could like Spencer. Spencer is definitely not Jon's type. He's bitchy and mean and jagged on the inside. Jon likes people who - hm. Jon just kind of likes people, actually. Tom really is an asshole, then. Why'd he even say that to Spencer? He doesn't know. That's bad.

"My boss," Spencer says. "Not me. And unless my memory is failing me, which it might be with all the times you've pushed me into a wall or pulled me under a log today, then it's your boss, the US military, who's responsible for at least half the mess, if not more!"

"What, a mathematician not sure of his calculation?" Tom snaps. "What a surprise."

Spencer snarls. "Where the fuck do you get off -"

Tom pushes him back into the hangar wall. "Is this what you meant, by the way?" he hisses. "Pushing you into walls? Surely one more time couldn't hurt. Maybe you actually like it, and that's why you brought it up," he says. "Maybe you like it a lot." He starts to pull away. "But then, maybe Gabe's right, too. Maybe you have chopped off your libido."

And then right there, with everyone watching - because they've drawn everyone's attention now - Spencer pushes forward off the wall and kisses Tom. Hard, harsh, loud, with smacking lips.

Tom's hands snap to Spencer's hips, and he shoves Spencer right back into the wall. Hands clench in clothes as both of them fight to control the other. Tom forces his way into Spencer's mouth and nearly gets his tongue bitten off. That's mean, he tells Spencer by licking rough along the roof of Spencer's mouth.

And then Spencer shoves him away.

Tom crashes to the cold floor and blinks, dazed.

"How's that for libido," Spencer says, a little breathless, and shoves past Jon to get outside.

He needs air. He needs air he needs air he needs so much air. Spencer slides down against the outside wall of the hangar and scrubs at his face. Oh, fuck, who is he kidding. He needs human contact, and that kiss was definitely, definitely not enough.

Fucking Tom Conrad.

*

Chislett and Bryar get back to work, and Jon says, "that looked oddly familiar."

Tom looks up at him. "My ass hurts," he says.

"That's what happens when you get it handed to you," Jon tells him. He helps Tom stand up. "Want me to kiss it better?" he teases.

Tom's onto Jon's game. It's a Walker thing. They all get very cheerful when they're hurting the most. So he shrugs and says, "if you want?" And when he says it, he's at his most earnest in a very, very subtle way.

Except earnest and subtle don't really go together, so even Jon picks up on the truth of the offer. "Really?" he says. "Like, really?"

Tom does that side-nod half-shrug avoiding-eyes thing that Jon remembers from their teenage years - the one that means 'fuck yes I want a toke of that' or 'fuck yes I want to see that R-rated movie' or 'fuck yes I want to play guitar in a band', but he's embarrassed to admit it.

So Jon cups Tom's cheeks with his rough, geologist's fingers and says, "really?"

"Spencer," Tom says, looking at him as if he's stupid. "You like Spencer."

"But he doesn't like me," Jon points out, "and you do. You do, don't you?"

Tom breathes out. "Fuck, Jonny. Yes. I shouldn't, but, yes."

"Why shouldn't you?" Jon says.

"You're my best friend," he says helplessly.

Jon's gut clenches, and he shifts so he's standing his-toe-to-Tom's-heel with Tom, and their lips are so close together it's criminal. "They make the best lovers," he whispers, grinning.

When Jon finally manages to catch the clue bus, he really, really catches the clue bus.

*

Except when he doesn't.

The hangar is built of thin corrugated tin sheets all propped together, with a slapdash roof stuck on top. Jon and Tom are standing right by the wall. Spencer is sitting on the other side in the precise same spot.

Spencer hears the whole conversation.

And his heart drops to his shoes.

*

Tom is waiting. "So kiss me already," he says. His lips are so close to Jon's, but they're not touching, even when he forms the 'o'.

"Why don't you kiss me?" Jon says.

"Because you're the one -" And then he stops, because Jon does kiss him. He breathes in through his nose and squeezes his eyes tightly shut. He feels Jon's mouth move gently against his; a shock streaks down his spine and he's so tense, so desperate not to fuck this up like he'd just fucked up the thing with Spencer.

Their noses bump, and then Jon is smoothing at Tom's lower lip with his tongue, which means his mouth must be open and oh god. Tom drops both of his hands to the small of Jon's back and presses him close. He opens his own mouth; the second their tongues touch it's like - well, it's amazing.

And then they're kissing comfortably, each sweeping through the other's mouth like it's been welcome to him for years. They kiss, and the intensity builds. Soon, Tom's hands aren't just resting on Jon's back - they're pushing at him, pushing him closer still. Jon wraps both arms around Tom's neck to hold him where he wants him. Breath is coming fast as their mouths meet and meet and meet, and their scruffy beards are rubbing together and it feels fucking fantastic, itching at the skin just right.

Jon wraps his foot around Tom's ankle and pulls, collapsing to the floor at the same time. He folds down to sit cross-legged, and Tom's knees flare with pain as he goes down, too. He sits tight against Jon, his thighs hot around Jon's hips, and he cradles Jon's head in his hands and strokes his ears with his thumbs, coaxing and swallowing Jon's soft moans.

To think: this is what they could have been doing all those years ago, bored in Jon's room or Tom's room, video games played to death, fingers hurting from guitars, heads fuzzy from weed smoke. This is what they could have been doing, instead of Tom or Jon getting up to go home with no more than a pat on the back and a see you tomorrow. This is what they could have been doing.

Tom is pretty sure his brain is a broken record.

"Oi." There's a clang of metal on stone, and Jon and Tom break apart. "Get a room, god," says Chislett.

They laugh and press their foreheads together and for what may be the first time ever - which is a crying shame - Tom really knows what Jon's exes mean when they say Jon has kind eyes. They're crinkling at him, all happy and bright, and something about the curve of the iris just says I'll do anything to make you happy.

And Tom should really return the favour. So he slides his mouth across Jon's cheek to his ear, pressing brief kisses along the way. "You like Spencer," he breathes. He can't ignore the thrill in his stomach when Jon's fingers tighten slightly around his waist.

"I swear," Jon says, "you're the only -"

Tom bites at his earlobe. Jon shuts up. "Shh," Tom says anyway. He licks his lips. "You might have noticed... me, too."

And Jon's fingers definitely tighten this time. "What are you suggesting?" he asks, and his voice is so low that Tom can't hear any emotion. He can't see Jon's face, either. But he can feel that Jon's too tense: he's not happy. "A one night -"

"God no," Tom breaks in. "You, me," he kisses the tip of Jon's ear, "and Spencer. Together."

Jon pushes Tom away a little so they can both see the other's face. "Are you serious?" he says, solemn.

"Spencer is going to need more than one person to fix him and love him," Tom says. He's had this burning on low in his mind pretty much all today and yesterday, along with a stroke of wishful thinking and a dash of hope. "And I'm not letting you go, and I doubt," he adds, dropping one of his hands to stroke at Jon's grip around his waist, "that you're letting me go."

"I let you go once," Jon says. "When I went away to school. Not again." Maybe they'd have discovered each other sooner if they'd never parted ways.

"So," Tom says. "Let's try."

Jon looks like he's going to nod, and then he says, slowly, "did you just say 'love'?"

*

"I know a guy," says Brian when a dazed Gerard explains the dilemma. If Spencer had been there, he would have warned Gerard of the danger of that sentence: I know a guy was how Spencer had come to know Pete, and look how well that had ended up.

"You know a guy?" Gerard says. He winces as Frank presses the icepack a little too hard on his cheek.

He doesn't complain, though, because Frank didn't mean to do it. Frank, in fact, had been horrified and apologetic to the point of creepy when Gerard had said, "jeez, Iero. I can't because there are people in danger who need to be saved, not because I don't want to, which I definitely do, or at least did."

Frank had looked shattered. He'd gotten one of the limo drivers to make an icepack out of a towel and champagne-bucket ice, and he is now biting his lip to stop the flood of apologies threatening to spill from him. He'd almost hit Gerard again when Gerard had tried to take the icepack to apply it himself.

So Gerard doesn't complain.

"Yeah," Brian says. "With a seaplane. How far away did you say this island is?"

"A hundred and twenty miles," Alex fills in. "Hi, I'm Alex."

"Hi, Alex," says Brian. "The guy's seaplane can go a hundred sixty an hour. We can be there and back before lunch."

"With the Costa Ricans crawling all over the place?" Gerard says. "I doubt it."

Mikey scratches his chin. "We could always call them and ask to see if they have a plan yet."

Alicia kisses him. "That's why I love you," she says. "You're a thinking man, Mikeyway. Get to it," she tells Gerard.

He has the oddest feeling that he should salute her.

*

When Ryan wakes up, he's strapped to a hospital bed. "This is not good," he says.

"And cue screaming."

Ryan frowns. He turns his head to the side and sees Brendon sitting by his side. "What?"

Brendon looks up from his book. "Oh, hey. You're you again."

"What did you mean, cue screaming?"

"Why do you think you're tied to the bed?" Brendon says. "The last three times you woke up, you started screaming for Spencer. Who the doctors all think is your boyfriend, no matter how many times I tell them that for you, that'd be like fucking your brother," he adds.

Ryan remembers that Spencer is stuck on Isla Nublosa without him. "Okay. But screaming?"

"I know," Brendon says. "It's very co-dependent of you."

"You probably wouldn't mind if I was screaming your name," Ryan says. "Why did I just say that?"

A grin blossoms on Brendon's face. "You're on uppers," he says helpfully. "You can scream my name any time you want, Dr. Ross."

"Ryan," he corrects him automatically. 'Dr. Ross' makes him sound like a paediatrician or something. "They gave me medication?"

"You know these Costa Rican doctors," Brendon shrugs. "Can't tell them no - in any language."

And Ryan can't help it: he laughs. He's worried as hell about Spencer and he's absolutely hating the belts strapping him to the bed and he's embarrassed for being so loose and free around Brendon.

Brendon doesn't seem to mind, though. He's wearing ridiculously bright red glasses and smiling. "So how are you?"

"All right," Ryan says. "Can you unstrap me?"

He shakes his head. "Doctor's orders. I'm not even supposed to be in here."

"Why not?"

"They say I have a concussion," Brendon says. "From the crash? And they have to keep an eye on me to make sure I don't suddenly drop dead. Plus, they want to make sure this," he gestures to his perfectly bandaged shoulder and slim sling, "doesn't get infected." He's smiling. Should Brendon be smiling about things like that?

Ryan looks at him suspiciously. "Are you always this cheerful?"

"Pretty much," says Brendon. "Or it could be the concussion."

"That's not a very funny joke," Ryan tells him.

Brendon grins. "That's why it's not one."

"Then why are you smiling?"

"Because it's starting to make you smile," Brendon says, and reaches out to touch the corner of Ryan's mouth with a fingertip. "I like that."

Ryan pulls away a little. "Why are you here?" he asks. Oh, god, never before has he missed being able to flirt. He's so rusty, with the years spent on the island. He's fairly sure Brendon is flirting with him right now. Touching, smiling, hanging around. Sounds like flirting.

"Because -" Brendon says, then stops. "Hm. Because you interest me."

"What, like, you're a doctor, and you find my case of uncontrollable screaming fascinating?" Ryan says.

Brendon smiles at him again. "No. Because you're funny, and you don't seem to want to smile. Ever. And that's a shame."

"Why is it a shame?"

"Smiling makes the world go 'round, Ryan Ross," he says, and taps Ryan's nose. "When I smile at someone, I like it think it brightens up their day a little, and then they smile at someone else, and that person smiles at someone else. It's like my own little pay it forward," Brendon shrugs.

"That's - nice," he says, kind of lamely.

Brendon practically glows with the praise.

Ryan bites his lip. "So, um. Spencer?"

"Gerard is taking care of it," Brendon says. "He called me to say that he called Spencer and Spencer has a plan to get off the island. Well, Spencer and Jon and Tom and apparently, like, half a dozen of Gabe's men. Spencer says he thinks you're lazy, being asleep all this time while he's working his ass off."

"He's probably sitting in the corner watching everyone else work and occasionally giving orders," Ryan says.

Brendon laughs, delighted. "Oh, and Jon got on the phone, and he said that he and Tom are going to seduce Spencer, if that's okay with you. Well, they're going to do it anyway, but they would really like it to be okay with you."

Ryan scratches his head. "They can give it their best shot. Flowers and chocolates are not going to work, though." He pauses. "Maybe shoes. Tell them shoes."

"Ryan Ross, you are my favourite ever," Brendon declares. He kind of says it in a loud voice, though, so the nurses wandering past hear him and come in and scold him. They're nattering at him in Spanish, and Ryan can't understand a word they're saying, but Brendon apparently knows enough to decode them and reply.

The two little nurses eventually point out the door, looking very stern.

Brendon is apologetic. "Sorry, Ryan," he says. "I'll come back," he promises. Then, to Ryan's surprise - though he really should not be surprised, because Brendon seems like the touchy-feely sort - he leans forward and hugs Ryan tight around the neck. "See you later."

"Bye," Ryan says.

He wonders if he can somehow coerce Brendon into seducing him.

Then he thinks that the seduction might have actually already begun.

*

So Spencer hears Jon and Tom kiss and decides that's more than enough for him, so he gets up and goes to find - or make - a bathroom. He hasn't used the toilet in a while; but then, he hasn't eaten or drunk much either.

When he comes back from the bathroom, there are more of Gabe's soldiers tagging along behind him. Sergeant Van Vleet, who had only just managed to escape the Tyrannosaurus enclosure with his life, Sergeant Carden, who glowers at Tom but is an engineer, so is allowed to stay so long as he joins Chislett in fixing the plane and Sergeant Johnson, who is slowly getting more and more antsy the longer he's not with Marshall.

What a delightful bunch. But Chislett and Carden are soon hammering everyone into line and giving them all jobs, except Spencer, who gets to sit and watch because Tom raises an eyebrow every time he gets up. Every. Time. It's disconcerting. So Spencer stays seated.

And then it's lunchtime, and Bryar makes pretty good sandwiches. Bryar, Chislett, Carden, Van Vleet - who has managed to give himself no less than four burns with the welder and three stabs with the nailgun, even though he's a Medical Sergeant -
and Johnson all sit down together.

Spencer grabs a sandwich and goes to wander off. That's when Tom and Jon each take one of his arms and steer him towards their little corner. "We're calling you on your bullshit, Spencer Smith," Tom says, forcing Spencer to sit down.

"You're going to sit and have lunch with us," Jon adds, handing Spencer his sandwich back.

Spencer goes to stand up. "I don't want to have lunch with you."

Tom pushes him right back down again. "Bullshit," he breathes in Spencer's ear. "That's one."

Spencer shivers and doesn't try and stand up again. Maybe he should go and call Brendon again. That was fun. Brendon's obviously flying high on some sort of painkiller, and he says Ryan is sleeping like a baby, which is probably better than Spencer's ever seen.

He's distracting himself quite successfully from the way Jon and Tom are leaning against each other. Well. Mostly successfully.

Okay. Not really successfully at all. He is jealous. Jon and Tom fell together so easily. He wants that. Not necessarily with them, but with someone - okay. Okay, yes, with them. He wants that with them. Either one or both, because Spencer is selfish.

But Spencer has had exactly two relationships in his life and one ended in a slap, the other in murder, which is not the best track record. And he doesn't want to fuck up what Jon and Tom have. Which he will.

And he knows what they're doing. They're going to try and patch him back together, because they're nice guys and they don't like seeing people hurt. That's why Jon's studying natural disasters and Tom joined the army.

So they're going to call him on his bullshit? He'll call them on theirs. "You can't fix me by fucking me," he says bluntly.

They exchange a look. "No," Jon says. "But we have to start somewhere."

*

Marshall and McCoy turn up a little after lunch. "They were with me," Van Vleet says as they lumber into camp. "But McCoy's a little slow and someone needed to be the advance guard."

Tom grimaces. "Yeah," he says. He nods to Travis' leg. "Sorry about that."

"Hakuna matata, man," Travis says. And that seems to be the end of that.

*

"How are the repairs coming?" Brendon asks cheerfully.

Spencer grunts. He is not pleased with the way either Tom or Jon are always hovering around him. Every time he tries to get away, they say, "bullshit," and plaster themselves in really close. It's like a lose-lose situation.

Except how Spencer will not admit it is a win-win situation.

"Ryan will be glad to hear that. He misses you."

"He's awake?" Spencer says, suddenly alert.

"Awake and flying very, very high. So high I think he's starting to like me."

Spencer smirks. "You get him, Brendon. You'd be good for him, I think. Make him take himself less seriously." Hooray for pulling things out of his ass. He knew very well that Jon and Tom had discussed their 'bullshit' plan with Brendon and therefore probably Ryan. Time to get his own back.

"You think so?" Brendon says.

"I know so," Spencer assures him, and passes the phone over to Jon so Brendon can hear how the repairs are really going.

*

It is really, really weird, but the Costa Ricans keep missing the hangar by, like, a hundred metres when they do their noisy patrols. It's like their patrol routes accidentally all missed this spot.

Which couldn't be better for the Special Forces team. The plane will be ready by 3PM, if they can stay safe until then. It's 1PM now.

And it's around now that Bryar does a head count and says, "okay, where's Luciani, and why am I not surprised he's the one missing?"

*

Victoria and Gerard, funnily enough, don't believe that the Special Forces team are going to take Tom, Spencer and Jon with them off the island and drop them somewhere unharmed. Common sense just makes it seem very, very unlikely.

The seaplane was a hundred dollars an hour to rent, and an extra fifty an hour for a pilot. Captain. Whatever. Alex and Cash opt to stay behind, just in case their missing friends do fly back by plane. So Gerard, Victoria and Ian Crawford head off in the plane with Jorge - at least, they think his name is Jorge; he has a very thick accent.

Frank doesn't want Gerard to go. "I'll be fine," Gerard says.

"I want to go with you," Frank insists.

That would involve an entire day of going through signing confidentiality agreements. "Look, I'll be, like, right back," Gerard says. "A couple of hours."

Frank folds his arms across his chest and does his best wibbly-teenage-girl. "Don't you want me to go?"

"It's not that," Gerard says. "There's stuff. And. I can't talk about it." He looks really, really broken up at not being able to tell Frank, so Frank lets him off. After all, he did kind of punch Gerard earlier.

It's kind of fun to fly in a seaplane. It's a half hour drive to the nearest water source. The takeoff is unique and they're in the air before they know it.

Twenty minutes into the flight, Ian points out the window and says, "I think I see my cousin."

They laugh, and then they realise that there are six lifeboats bobbing up and down gently on the waves. "You have eagle eyes," Gerard tells him, "if you can see a single separate person on those boats. They look like a big blob to me."

Ian shrugs a little. "He's my favourite cousin."

Right.

Gerard trips up the front to tell probably-Jorge about the lifeboats.

*

"I think this is their way of trying to get rid of us," Spencer says as they clomp through the trees. It's him, Tom, Jon and Sean Van Vleet of the big blue eyes who are off to find one Sergeant Ryan J. Luciani. Everyone else stayed behind to 'work on the plane'. Spencer is so onto them.

Tom and Sean are busy jostling each other along the path. "Huh?" Tom says after a moment.

"Carden is an asshole," Spencer says. "Who, I think, is trying to leave us behind."

"Well, yeah," says Tom, and goes back to shoving Sean.

Jon frowns. "No," he tells Tom, "dude, that's a bad thing."

"He's right," Sean says. "I don't want to get stuck here. I've seen what that T. rex can do." He shudders.

"And there is a Velociraptor running loose on the island," Spencer reminds him.

"True," Tom says. "But I don't think they'll be going anywhere without this." He holds up what looks like a funky shaped pipe.

Spencer is blank. "What is that?"

"It's essential to the running of the plane, is what it is," Tom says.

Jon raises an eyebrow. "Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Tom says. "It was either this thing or the other thing."

They hear the plane engine start up.

"I'd say it was the other thing," says Sean cheerfully, and then they all turn and run back to the hangar to try and stop the plane from leaving. By throwing themselves in front of it or something. Hey, it could work.

*

It doesn't work.

*

"I can't believe they left us behind," Sean says to Ryan when they find him in the Aviary.

Ryan blinks slowly. "What?"

Sean helps him sit up. "The team left us behind."

There's a pause. Then Ryan says, "I have a headache."

Sean sighs. "Yeah, I guess it's not really that much of a surprise."

*

The seaplane passes the repaired plane in flight. It would have been funny except for how Carden tries to shoot them down. However, probably-Jorge has a rifle of his own, and he is a much better shot than Carden. While Victoria - shaking like a leaf because this is so much worse, so much scarier than driving a Jeep - grips the wheel, probably-Jorge manages to shoot a hole in the repaired plane's fueltank.

"I hope Jon and the others weren't in that," Gerard says as Victoria takes her seat again.

"Call him and find out. I'm sure they'll make it to land," she adds, glancing out the window at the repaired plane. It's leaking fuel into the ocean far below. She winces.

Across the aisle from them, Shane Valdez is wrapped up in three blankets. His crew officially mutinied against him so he wouldn't feel guilty about leaving them behind. He did give them one of the radios from the seaplane so they could contact the Coast Guard and get picked up. He still feels a little guilty.

Ian props his feet up on Shane's lap and says, "I missed you."

Shane pushes his feet down again. "You too, boyo."

"Only Aunt Meg gets to call me that," Ian says, pointing at him. "And that's because she's five and it's cute."

"Why do you call her 'Aunt' when she's a billion years younger than you?" Shane says, and just like that, they fall into their old bantering habits. Shane feels warmer already.

*

Spencer crosses his arms. "I am sick of this bullshit crap," he says.

Jon looks up from his book - where the hell did he get a book? - and grins. "Bullshit."

"God, what is the point of it?" he snaps, flopping down on one of the upturned crates. They're back in the now-empty hangar, mostly because the Costa Ricans still seem to avoid it. It feels very cold without the plane, somehow.

"Once you stop lying to us," Tom says from the ground near Jon's feet, where he's busy tying Jon's bootlaces together, "you'll stop lying to yourself. And then we can have the sex."

Spencer hrumphs. "Who says I want the sex? I might not." He sees Tom open his mouth and sighs. "Yeah, bullshit, whatever."

"He's learning," Tom says to Jon.

Jon grins. "About time."

There is something very strange about the two of them. "Did you two, by any chance, sneak off and get high together?" Spencer says suspiciously.

"Not today," Tom says. "I think you bring out the playful side of us, Spence."

"Dr. Smith."

"Spence," Tom insists. "Bullshit you want us to call you Dr. Smith."

And then Gerard calls, and Spencer doesn't get a chance to reply because they somehow have to hustle down to the beach in under fifteen minutes - avoiding all the Costa Ricans and any released dinosaurs and extra military guys hanging around - plunge into the icy tropical water, which is actually not that icy around 1:30PM, and wade across to a seaplane.

It will be a miracle if Spencer, Jon, Tom, Ryan J. and Sean all make it together and in one piece.

*

"In between us and the beach," says Spencer, recalling the map of the island in his mind, "are five miles and seven carnivore enclosures which may or may not have been opened by the Costa Ricans."

"The Tyrannosaurus rex is out," Sean says. "I, uh. Yeah, she's out."

Spencer nods. "The Tyrannosaurus enclosure is bordering on the beach. We'll need to go through it; hopefully, she'll have wandered off by now. We need to go through the Ornitholestes enclosure as well."

Jon winces. He remembers the Ornitholestes all too well. "Anything else?"

"We have to pass along the track right between the Velociraptors and the Deinonychus," Spencer says almost apologetically. "Which are both very fast and very dangerous and probably running loose."

"Brilliant," says Jon.

"Isn't it just," says Tom.

Ryan J. shrugs. "Could be worse."

Immedaitely, everyone groans. "What?" Ryan says. "What?"

"You never, ever say that, Luciani," Tom says, speaking with an air of long sufferance. "You tempt fate."

"Good thing I don't believe in fate, then," Ryan says cheerfully. "Let's go." He shrugs on his tac vest, swings his rifle into his hands - Spencer has the overwhelming urge to take the weapon away from him - and starts off down the little dirt track that leads to the runway.

Tom shakes his head. "He really is crazy."

"Like you ever doubted," Sean mutters, and starts off after Ryan.

"Are you ready for this?" Spencer says to Tom. "Dr. Walker has seen some of these dinosaurs before, but you've only seen the Velociraptor."

"Way too close for comfort," Tom says. "Yeah, I think I'm ready. We shouldn't get separated, anyway," he says, gesturing to Sean and Ryan's disappearing backs.

Mile One. The fence surrounding the carnivore enclosures has been de-electrified, so it's safe to climb over. It takes precious time, but the wires are too close together to climb through. Tom, Sean and Ryan J. scale it quickly. Spencer, too, has little trouble; he has a lot of upper arm strength.

When Jon's feet finally touch the ground, the five of them immedaitely dash into the trees. Forest covers most of the island, and this area is no exception. It's the back paddock, Spencer explains as they run - they ahve to move fast to make up for lost time at the fence. The forest soon thins and then flattens out onto a flat dirt field, bordered on the far side by another fence.

"The Ornitholestes enclosure," Spencer says. "We have to go through it - there's no way around."

Tom throws a stick at the fence to make sure it's safe. It is. They climb it, Jon struggling even more this time because of wariness of the Ornitholestes, and are over. They're now sharing space with one lean, mean fighting machine that can jump more than six feet in the air, as Jon can personally attest.

Mile Two. The Ornitholestes enclosure has a small lake in the middle that they have to go around. Other than that, it's just thin forest, rock tumbles and spiky bushes. There's no carnivore in here. Spencer inhales sharply when he spots Gerard's camera. He ducks down and grabs it as they pass. May as well.

They make it to the gate and it's easy enough for Tom to blow it up with one of the grenades Bryar had collected from the base camp and left behind. The explosion, however, calls attention to them.

Mile Three. There's a Costa Rican patrol racing up the road towards them. The four men get off a bunch of shots, only three of which come close. The second close-call grazes Ryan's arm, but he doesn't notice until later because he, Tom and Sean are squeezing off their own shots. They're much better marksmen, and all four of the Costa Ricans go down.

Tom, Sean and Ryan immediately check their weapons to make sure they're still working. Spencer and Jon see what the Costa Ricans were running from. "Fuck," says Spencer. Up ahead, a single Velociraptor pursues a group of three men across the road and through the bent wire fence into an enclosure.

"We gotta go," Jon says. He grabs for Tom who alerts Sean and Ryan, and the five of them take off down the road while the Velociraptor is busy with other prey. They're still running when another Velociraptor appears behind them.

It chucks on an extra burst of speed and pursues them. Velociraptors can clock a cheetah's speed, an easy 60mph; they don't even know they're being followed until Jon's tackled to the ground.

Tom and Sean immediately spin and fire. Six bullets thud into the Velociraptor's neck. It keels over before it can start to slice Jon.

"Clumsy of you to fall over like that," Tom says, hauling Jon back onto his feet.

Jon rolls his eyes. "Shut up." But his hands are shaking. Tom ignores it; Jon probably doesn't even realise he's scared out of his mind. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing at the right time.

Mile Four. The road is quiet. Spencer and Jon are starting to flag. The Special Forces soldiers have run further than this in worse conditions. They're also ace at pep talks, and they take to running in circles around Spencer and Jon to urge them to speed up.

Up ahead, in the distance, a dark speck appears on the horizon. The seaplane?

Mile Five. The fun begins.

A massive explosion, twenty times larger than the grenade Tom had used to blow the gate, rocks the island. Spanish-flavoured shouting reaches their ears, and an ear-splitting, sickening roar tears the air. Everyone who's seen the Jurassic Park movies or even heard of them could probably identify that roar.

The Tyrannosaurus rex is somewhere close by.

They're all running slantways, backwards or on the side, trying to see where the explosion came from - trying to find a smoke column, or something. And that's when Tom sees it. "Holy shit," he says, and points at the Aviary. Which is now missing a huge chunk of its lower right corner.

As he points, a cloud of something speeds out of the Aviary. "Nemicolopterus," Spencer says. "They're going to get out!" The Nemicolopterus colony swarms through the air, wheeling south. Jon has to shake Spencer to get him to keep moving.

The speck in the distance is getting closer, fast. It is the seaplane - the floats are unmistakable. Hopefully it's got room for five more people. No way is Jon letting anyone get left behind again.

"¡Alto o disparo!" someone shouts.

Costa Ricans pour out of the trees on either side of the road. Twenty, thirty of them.

"Fuck," says Tom. It's a really good, sharp word for getting your frustrated feelings out.

"That's the Tyrannosaurus enclosure," Spencer says, pointing over the shoulders of the men. "We have to go through that to get to the beach."

"More fences?" Jon mutters. "Great."

And then there's shrieking. Shrieking. And a great black cloud envelops them, a cloud made of claws and leathery wings and biting beaks. The Nemicolopterus colony is attacking everyone - Costa Ricans and Isla Nublosians alike.

Jon stumbles forward. He can't see anyone else - he can't see anything past his own arms, held up to protect his face. He can't even see his own feet. For all that there are only forty or so Nemicolopterus, it does seem like they number a lot more right now. All he can do is push forward and hope he makes it to the other side of the storm - and that everyone else does too.

And they do. Jon finds himself being tugged into a quick hug, and he recognises Tom's smell. "That was fucked up," he says.

Tom grins. He has light scratches all over his face. Obivously he didn't try to protect his face with his arms like Jon did. "That was kind of cool."

"You're fucked up," Jon snorts.

Spencer, Ryan J. and Sean have also made it out. Several Costa Ricans have, too, and the Nemicolopterus seem to be refining their approach, now; they're attacking several individuals instead of a large group. Seems like they're hungry, and an insect diet just doesn't do it for them any more.

The Costa Ricans bring out their guns and start shooting the bat-like pterosaurs. Jon and the others run for the enclosure. They don't want to be 'accidentally' caught in the crossfire. The gate of the enclosure is hanging open - Sean shrugs. "I was in a hurry," he says.

Another terrifying roar rents the air. The Tyrannosaurus rex sounds really, really close now. They all sort of freeze, then Ryan says, "I think I know why." But they have to do what they have to do, and they head into the enclosure.

They crest a hill near the middle of the enclosure and they can see the beach spread out in all its sandy glory. The bodies of the Special Forces men who were killed in the gunfight are still there - the previously unconscious men have all disappeared, including Saporta and Novarro. No telling where they are.

And there, rolling over the bay, is the seaplane. It's just coming in for landing.

They've got about a third of a mile to go. It's across a wide plain. At the other end of the plain is a fence - Jon groans - and then there's the beach, the bay and the plane. And survival.

So they run. The five of them tumble down the hill and start across the wide, long-grass plain. Long meaning neck height or higher - the only type of grass the dinosaurs ever knew, and it only showed up late in the Cretaceous. Jon wonders how he knows that. Maybe he paid more attention to Alex's ramblings than he thought.

The grass stings at them as they whip through it.

But the stinging becomes meaningless when the ground shakes with an impact tremor. "Jesus fucking Christ," says Spencer, somewhere in the grass to Jon's right. Somewhere to Jon's left, Sean moans miserably.

The Tyrannosaurus rex stands at the top of the hill they've just crashed down.

"Faster," Tom urges them. He's ahead of Jon. "It doesn't matter if it can see us," he calls, "as long as we can move faster."

"The T. rex can hit up to thirty miles an hour," Spencer says. "We? Have no fucking chance."

"Change your name to Ray of Sunshine, why don't you," Ryan J. mutters.

The Tyrannosaurus pounds down the hill. It's sniffing at the bent grass where Jon and the others had run into the grass. It - she throws her head back in the air and bellows that awful roar.

They're halfway across the field. The Tyrannosaurus starts towards them at an incredible pace. They're not going to make it. They're not going to make it.

Jon pushes himself a little harder.

And then there's gunfire, and Nemicolopterus shrieks. The Costa Ricans and their tormentors have obviously chased the Isla Nublosians into the enclosure. The gunfire? They're either still firing at the Nemicolopterus or they've spotted the Tyrannosaurus.

From the screams that echo through the enclosure, Jon would say both.

Two hundred metres to go. The Tyrannosaurus is still chasing them, but she's impeded by bullet wounds. Not even the mighty T. rex is invulnerable to armour-piercing bullets fired from modified drug runner guns.

He sees ahead that Tom is a metre up the fence already. Tom's a fast climber - as Jon closes the metres, Tom rises up them. When Jon's a hundred metres to go, Tom's already scaling down the other side. Jon's relieved that Tom's going to make it.

"Come on!" Tom yells. "Come on, where are you?"

And then Sean's hitting the fence, and Ryan. They're both veritable monkeys, swinging up the wires, over the top and down. Tom, Sean and Ryan all raise their guns and start firing at the Tyrannosaurus - she's well within their range.

Jon really, really hopes they don't hit him or Spencer. That would kind of suck at this point in the game.

Fifty metres left. Forty. Twenty-five. Spencer's at the fence, climbing. He's struggling even with his shoulder muscles - Tom, Ryan and Sean are cheering him on while they fire at the T. rex.

Jon slams into the wire and starts to climb. He doesn't dare look behind him to see how close the Tyrannosaurus rex is. He just grabs step after step of wire, focussing on the voice of his best friend, on the squeak of Spencer's boots on the wires above him. Spencer meets him going down as Jon's coming up, one on either side of the fence. "Hurry," Spencer hisses.

Jon really cannot hurry any more.

The Tyrannosaurus suddenly roars again. It sounds like she's right behind Jon. He lunges for the top of the fence and vaults over it, clinging to the wire on the other side.

She crashes into the fence barely a second later. Her massive jaws snap and gnaw at the wire, trying to get through it to Jon.

"Jon!" That's Tom's petrified voice. Jon clings to the fence a little harder. "Jon, come down! She's gonna blow!"

Gonna blow. Gonna - explode?

Oh, holy fuck, Tom's going to grenade the dinosaur.

Jon clambers down as fast as he can, letting go and jumping off as soon as he can. Spencer, Sean and Ryan catch him and pull him away, away, and Jon's feet are like rubber beneath him.

Tom's standing right at the fence. The Tyrannosaurus has a huge mouthful of the wires, and she's in the process of ripping them apart. There'll be a hole in the fence big enough for her to get through in just a matter of minutes.

But Tom's always had good aim, for someone who mostly sucks at sports. He lobs the grenade, sans pin, right into the Tyrannosaurus' mouth and runs like hell for the cover of the rocks where the others are already waiting.

He throws himself over the stand of boulders just as the three-second delay runs out.

BOOM.

Blood, guts, gore and teeth splatter everywhere. The Tyrannosaurus' head was literally blown to pieces.

Tom pulls Jon to his feet. "Let's go to the beach," he says. Sean and Ryan help each other up; Spencer pushes up off the rocks and dusts himself off.

"That was kind of cool," Ryan tells Tom.

Sean sounds amazed. "How many bullets did we fire into that thing? I'm all out."

The beach is just ahead. They break through the trees and run across the sand. The five of them crash into the water just as the seaplane floats into the shallows. They only get wet up to their knees before they're being pulled into the seaplane and taking off.

The Costa Ricans who'd followed them emerge onto the beach and start firing at the plane. Not a single bullet hits, and in just a couple of minutes, they're in the air and out of firing range.

One lone Nemicolopterus wings across the water and dips right into the cabin. She lands on Gerard's lap, completely unafraid of him, and nuzzles him. "Hello," he says. "Nemicolopterus, right?"

"You're not serious," Victoria says.

Tom shrugs. "Why not? The Costa Ricans are just going to kill it if it stays."

"It's a she," Spencer says. He drops Gerard's camera into his lap.

"Wow," Gerard says. "Thanks!"

Spencer waves tiredly and plops into a seat. His feet are killing him. Jon and Tom sit down in front of him and immediately pull off their boots.

"What are you going to name her?" Ian asks.

Gerard smiles. "Nemesis."

*

Brendon pokes his head around Ryan's door. He's managed to sneak past the nurses guarding his door again - hello, Brendon is a doctor, he knows how to take care of himself! - and he just has to see Ryan again. He has to tell him that Spencer's okay.

Which is not his only reason for wanting to visit. He wants to - he doesn't quite know the word, so he's going to go with woo - Ryan. Because Ryan is interesting, and Brendon wants to see more of that smile, and there is just something about this Dr. Ryan Ross that Brendon needs to figure out. And if it takes him a whole lifetime, well, so be it.

But Ryan is asleep.

Looks like the uppers wore off, Brendon thinks as he creeps closer to the bed. Ryan's hair is bed-messed and he's so tangled in the sheets it's going to be impossible to roll him out again. He looks kind of adorable.

He climbs onto the bed with Ryan and before he can scold himself or tell himself it's stupid, he goes with his first impulse and lays down facing him and waits for him to wake up. The world can wait for them.

*

In their expensive, luxurious, ocean-view three-bedroom hotel room on the ground floor thank you very much, Spencer has a shower. When he gets out, already having pulled his clothes on and now just towelling his hair dry, he sees Jon and Tom making out on the balcony.

He has to pause and appreciate the sight. Jon's perched on the low wall, with Tom standing between his thighs. One of Jon's legs is hooked around Tom's waist; they're pressed together as close as they can possibly get. And the noise Jon is making as Tom mouths at his neck - surely they're disturbing the neighbours.

But Spencer can't bring himself to care about the neighbours. Tom's hair glints in the dying sunlight. Jon's tanned hands melt against Tom's black shirt. Jon casually rolls his head right back, giving Tom total access to the smooth skin of his throat.

Spencer very loudly opens the door and comes out onto the balcony with them.

Jon drags his head upright again, and his eyes flutter open. "Hey," he says, the very picture of a lazy summer's day makeout victim. Jon's dark red lips stretch into a slow smile. "Whatcha doin', Spencer Smith?"

Spencer swallows. "Nothing."

"Bullshit," Jon says, and winks at him. He stretches his arms up, arching his whole upper body back, and glories in the dusklight falling on his face. Tom finally lets go of his mouthful of Jon and turns to face Spencer. He leans against Jon, though, and when Jon recovers from his stretch, he wraps both arms around Tom. "Whatcha doin', Spencer Smith?" Jon asks again.

He can play this game. If it takes a close call, if it takes nearly having sex, for them to realise they don't want the responsibility of 'fixing' Spencer, then that's what it takes. "Watching you," he says.

Tom grins. He tips his head to one side and Jon nuzzles at the soft skin under his ear. They have decades worth of sex to make up for - it's no wonder they're all over each other, acting like teenagers. "What do you want to do, Spencer Smith?" Tom asks.

"I want to do you," Spencer says, smirking a little. "Both," he remembers to add, including Jon in the look.

Tom steps away from the wall and Jon jumps down behind him. They move to either side of Spencer. "Come on," Jon whispers in his ear. "Bedroom."

The atmosphere is positively languid as Jon and Tom take one each of Spencer's arms and lead him across the room. The two of them pause twice to kiss, mouths pressing and moving and sliding right in front of Spencer. It's almost more than Spencer can take. He doesn't know how he's supposed to walk away when they decide to kick him out.

They make it to the bedroom. Jon takes off Spencer's shoes. It feels sort of like everything's in slow motion, with how relaxed both Tom and Jon are. Tom takes off his own shoes and Jon's, and pulls the blanket back. They both press Spencer down to the bed, then Tom curls up on his left and Jon wraps himself around Spencer on the right. They pull the blanket up and close their eyes.

"What -"

Jon squirms an arm over Spencer's waist and rests it on Tom's hip, bared where his pants ride down and shirt rides up. "It's been a long day," Jon says.

Tom's suppressing a grin. With his eyes closed, he looks slightly ridiculous. "Time for sleep."

Spencer cannot believe this. Are they serious? "Come on," he mutters. Like, he does feel tired, but why on earth do they want to sleep with him? Actually sleep? Spencer's never just slept with someone who's not Ryan before - not without sex in the mix. He already knows he's not going to be able to do it. He's just going to be lying here for hours while the two of them sleep.

Torture. They're not seducing him, they're torturing him. That's what the bullshit game was all about - getting him riled up. And now this is drawing out the tension. It's fucking nasty of them, is what it is.

He's still complaining in his head, lying stiffly between the spaghetti noodles of Tom and Jon, when the sun finally dips below the horizon and the room darkens to twilight navy. Soon, definition fades completely and it's night.

Somewhere in between plotting revenge and wishing it was all real, Spencer falls asleep.

*

When Gerard gets off the plane, only Frank and Brian are waiting for him. "Where are Mikey and Alicia?" he asks.

"Gone shopping," Frank says. "Can you now?"

Gerard blinks at him. "Can I what?" Frank winds up to punch him again. Gerard catches his fist and pulls it up into the air like a judge for a medallist, and the movement brings Frank close. "I was joking," Gerard says.

Frank frowns. "Do not ever joke. Don't quit your day job and become a comedian. Not ever. You're not funny."

"So, not being funny at all, I suppose this would be a bad time for me to tell Brian I kind of got a new pet?" Gerard says. He opens up his jacket and showcases Nemesis.

"Oh my god," Frank says. "What is that? It's like a bat, but not."

Gerard grins. "I can't tell you. So should I tell Brian about her?"

"Absolutely not." Frank makes grabby hands for Nemesis and Gerard hands her over. "Oh, she's so delicate," he says wonderingly. "Brian will make you take her back to wherever you got her from."

"I doubt I can go back," Gerard says, thinking of the overrun island.

"Then you'll just never tell Brian," Frank says. "She can stay at my place when Brian's working at yours."

That surprises him. "Oh?"

Frank cuddles Nemesis close to his chest. "Well, yeah. I mean, I'm not giving up my apartment just yet. I'm not ready to move in with you. We haven't even been on a date yet, or kissed. Although you have drawn naked pictures of me, which is probably like second and a half base, except I never posed. So maybe like first and a half, because it's more of a fantasy."

Gerard scratches at his head. "Right."

"Gerard, that was me telling you to kiss me or ask me out," Frank says. "Get with the program."

"Right, sorry. Frank," Gerard says. "Um. Do you want to get coffee with me sometime?"

"'Sometime'?" Frank echoes.

Gerard rubs his nose. "Today? Tomorrow? Every day for the rest of our lives?" he mumbles.

Frank kisses his cheek. "Yes, yes, and more than likely, though I've heard tastebuds change in old age. I might not like coffee then."

"Never say such things," Gerard says. His cheek is tingling. "Coffee is god."

"Pretty sure that God is god," Frank points out. He finally hands Nemesis back to Gerard. Unfortunately, that's right when Brian decides to look over at them, and he sees Nemesis and rushes forward.

He points at her. "What is that?"

"It's a she," Gerard says. "Don't hurt her feelings."

"Yeah, Brian," Frank says. "Don't hurt her feelings."

"Okay," Brian says amiably. "Then what is she?"

Gerard opens his jacket and lets Nemesis curl up on the cloth strip again. He cradles her with his arm. "She's one of a kind," he says, and really, really hopes that's not true.

Frank says, "just like me!"

"Yeah, unfortunately," Brian snorts.

Gerard squeezes Frank's bicep. "You're very unique," he assures him.

Frank grabs his hand. "This okay?" he says, wriggling his fingers through Gerard's.

"Sure," Gerard says. "Maybe later I'll buy you a soda and let you wear my letter jacket."

"Excuse me, you're totally the girl here. You've got the hair, and a pet, and you're all -"

"You're both girls," Brian interjects. "Speaking of, we should go find Mikey and Alicia. And make reservations at one of the hotels, because I'm absolutely not flying twice in one day for your pasty ass, Gerard."

Gerard absently squeezes Frank's fingers. "You're such a respectful employee."

"You know it."

Frank swings their joined hands as they follow Brian out of the airport. Gerard is going to have to make sure that naked drawing of Frank gets framed or something; it's only because Frank saw it that he cottoned on to Gerard's terrible shy flirting. That drawing deserves a place of honour.

Then again, Frank might possibly find that disturbing.

*

Victoria finds herself sharing a limousine - she can't believe they're still waiting on the runway - with Ian Crawford and his cousin. She sits facing forward, they sit facing backward. And she's looking at Shane like she's very curious about something.

"Dr. Asher," Shane finally says. "Is there something on my face?"

"Oh, no," Victoria says. "I think I recognise you."

He shakes his head. "I doubt it."

"No, see," she says, "I did some modelling to help pay for my rent during med school, and I also starred in a short film. I think it was your film," she says. "Aren't you that Shane Valdez? Of RealFilm?"

Shane stares at her. "Oh, wow," he says. "Vicky-T."

She smiles. "No one's called me that for years." She taps her chin thoughtfully, looking from Shane to Ian. She's going to want to lie low for a while after this debacle; get her strength - and her walls - back up. "I suppose you're out of a job," she finally says.

Shane perks up. "Are you offering?"

"Would you prefer something filming or something sailing?" she asks.

He shrugs. "Both?"

Victoria nods slowly. "That, I might be able to do." She's got friends who have boats, and she could always buy one. As for the filming - she's got a condo in Hollywood that's perfect for lying low, mostly because of the sky-high solid walls and complete technological outfitting. She's sure one of her neighbours could find a use for Shane.

"For Ian, too," Shane says.

She looks the crazy-haired kid up and down. "Sure."

Shane and Ian hi-five.

Victoria settles back in her seat. The only phone she's got now is the one from the island - none of them were able to recover their things from the Hotel. Oh well. This phone will do fine. She dials the number for her housekeeper in Beverly Hills. "Oh," she says, raising an eyebrow. "You boys are going to be needing new clothes, too, if you're going to be around me."

"I only own jeans and shirts," Shane says. "And vests."

"Me, too," says Ian, who can't believe his luck. From deckhand to Dr. Victoria Asher's staff, what an awesome jump. He never liked the rest of his crew anyway.

"I'll buy," she says.

Victoria is ninety-eight percent sure that she's gone soft. With a two percent margin of error.

Maybe it'll be good to try out the soft side of things for a while. Who knows; she might even try to land a job by being nice instead of just qualified.

Then again, she is who she is.

*

Jon wakes up first.

It's still night, and he realises they must have left the curtains open. The strong moonlight washes through the glass, spilling over Tom and Spencer as they continue to sleep. Tom is more relaxed than Jon's seen him since Tom first entered Saporta's tent and saw Jon cuffed to the pole; Spencer, though, is supremely tense.

Jon is no Alfred Smith, masseur to the stars, but after years of guitar and digging through rocks, he knows a thing or two about tense muscles. Spencer is wound so tightly that he's even frowning in his sleep.

He runs light fingers over the frown ridges on Spencer's forehead. They deepen. Jon wiggles so that both of his hands are free to touch Spencer's face. He's going to make those lines of worry and stress disappear. They've been bugging him ever since he met Spencer.

Pressing his index fingers into Spencer's temples, Jon rubs in slow, circular motions. Movement suddenly picks up under Spencer's closed eyes, his eyelids beginning to flicker, and Jon sweeps his fingers over Spencer's forehead, smoothing away the creases with his thumbs. Spencer's eyes finally open just as Jon's hands curl under his jaw, stroking away the clench of his teeth.

Spencer's beautiful blue eyes are guarded. "What are you doing?" he says softly. He's rolled over to face Jon in the night, which is nice, and Tom's pressed right up against his back. Spencer must be warm; maybe it even feels nice to have someone, to have two people so close. Jon hopes so.

"I," Jon says, sliding his fingers over Spencer's cheekbones, "don't really know."

"You should stop," Spencer says. He bites his lip.

Jon taps Spencer's lips with his thumb. "Do you want me to stop?"

Spencer swallows hard. "Yes."

"Bullshit," Jon says, and kisses him. Their lips brush again, and again, and Spencer barely responds. Jon's about to pull away in frustration when suddenly Spencer gasps into his mouth.

Jon does pull away, to look. He sees Tom's fingers digging into Spencer's waist, squeezing and pushing at the tight muscles there. "You don't want gentle," Tom says; he's blinking sleepy eyes but his grin is totally awake. "Do you?"

Spencer shakes his head.

Tom nudges him onto his stomach. "Try and relax," he says. Then he catches Jon's chin in his fingers and kisses him. "Take charge, Jonny. He wants to know we're here."

So Jon and Tom each attack a side: they massage away the clumps of horrible knots running from Spencer's neck and shoulders, down the smooth, clothed run of his back to the swell of his ass, and they're not gentle about it. Tom digs individual fingers into the tense muscles to work them out; Jon uses the heel of his palm. It's amazing how Spencer just lets them touch him. Jon would have thought for sure that Spencer would be tensing up even more at every push of their fingers.

But, no - Spencer's practically pliable. Jon gets the feeling that they could do whatever they want to him, and he wouldn't stop them. They could knock him around, twist him into a pretzel and kick him out of their bed, and Spencer would just go along with it.

This is their first time in bed together, and Jon wants it to be good for all three of them.

So he grabs Tom's wrist. "Spencer," he says. "Spencer, look at us." Tom glances at Jon; he mouths trust me and Tom nods. They shift back to the end of the bed and give Spencer the room to sit up.

"What?" Spencer says warily, once he's seated. It's strange. He looks almost entirely different. His shoulders aren't nearly so square, and his mouth is slightly open instead of tightly shut. He's just more relaxed. It's nice. But the wariness in his expression has got to go.

Jon sits with his hands folded in his lap, completely neutral. "What do you want?" he asks Spencer.

Tom frowns a little.

Spencer breathes in. "I want," he says, "to see you two kiss."

That's doable. Jon turns to Tom and goes to kiss him, and then sees movement out of the corner of his eye. Spencer's sliding off the bed.

Tom shakes his head. He jumps up and grabs Spencer and pushes him back down to the bed. "You're not going anywhere," he says, and leans down over him, hands braced against the mattress, to claim Spencer's lips. It's a hard kiss, like the one in the hangar; Tom pushes right inside Spencer's mouth with no hesitation. Spencer's hands come up to shove him away - Tom pins them down.

Then finally, when Spencer's wrists go lax under his hands, Tom lets him go and pulls away. "Stay," he says, then turns to Jon. "Right. You want everyone to be happy, for this to be good. I want both of you here. Spencer wants rough. We can do all of that," Tom says. "We can do it by making sure everyone gets what they want," he says, looking between Spencer and Jon, "not just one or two of us. All of us."

"All of us?" says Spencer.

"That's right." Tom cups the back of Jon's head and pulls him close. "Okay?" he says.

Jon noses at Tom's cheek. "You're so bossy." Tom kisses him, swallowing Jon's laughter. Spencer goes to stand up again - Tom doesn't even break from kissing Jon to push him back down.

And then he does break from kissing Jon, because the noise Spencer makes as he hits the bed - frustrated, annoyed, lusty - is just too delicious. Tom falls on top of him and pins him down again, smearing Spencer's face with kisses.

Jon drops down to Spencer's other side and taps Spencer's chin. "I can't," he says. "I can't do rough."

"Sure you can," says Tom. Still sprawled over Spencer, he leans over and catches Jon's mouth. He bites at Jon's lip and shoves his tongue in his mouth. Jon's frozen, surprised, and then starts to get into it. When he starts trying to control the kiss, Tom pulls back and pushes his head down to Spencer's.

So Jon kisses Spencer, hard this time, and finally - Spencer melts into him. He's still pinned by Tom's body, so all he can do is push up into the kiss, and he does. "Much better, Walker," he says.

"I'm a fast learner," says Jon.

Tom's hands are suddenly sliding up Jon's sides, dragging his shirt with them. Jon shudders; he kneels up and holds his arms high, letting Tom pull the shirt off. "God, you're beautiful," Tom says. Jon feels lips press against the small of his back.

"Definitely," Spencer agrees. Since Tom's at Jon's back, Spencer is free to move; he sits up and mouths at Jon's stomach. He fiddles with the button of Jon's pants. "Can I?" he asks, looking up at Jon.

"Fuck," Jon breathes. "Yeah." Tom rests his chin on Jon's shoulder, watching Spencer down the length of Jon's body. Having Tom pressed all up behind him is amazingly hot - Jon feels cocooned.

Tom's hands reach around Jon's hips to help Spencer get rid of Jon's pants and free his cock. "Oh, Jon," Tom says, kissing Jon's neck. "You've been holding out on me." Jon goes to laugh, then gasps and lets his head fall back on Tom's shoulder as Spencer's hot mouth wraps around him.

"Fuck," he says again. "Fuck, fuck, Spence." He tangles his fingers in Spencer's hair. "Are you sure you want to -" Spencer's tongue fucking undulates under Jon's cock, and Jon is amazingly glad Tom is behind him, holding him up. Spencer's pretty sure he wants to do this, then.

So Tom knows how things are done, and Spencer knows what he wants done - Jon is basically along for the ride. And what a fantastic ride. Spencer's suckling lightly at the tip of his cock when Jon feels Tom's fingers twine with his in Spencer's hair, and then Tom's pulling Spencer off.

Jon and Spencer both groan with frustration. Tom bites at Jon's earlobe, then says, "Jon, ask Spencer what he wants now."

Jon looks down. Spencer is palming his cock through his pants. His eyes are heavy-lidded and he keeps licking his lips. "What do you want?" Jon asks him.

Spencer looks at Jon's cock, then at him. "I want you to fuck me."

"Spencer thinks that," Tom says, "if you fuck him, then there's no way you can take him back to the store, so to speak. Are you on board with that, Jonny?"

"How did you even know that?" Spencer says. He's pushing his head up into their fingers in his hair almost unconsciously. "I mean, that's not what I -"

"Bullshit," Tom says sharply. "Don't lie now, of all times. And I just know," he adds.

Jon's still stuck on the I want you to fuck me thing. He's still stuck on it as Tom strips him completely, stroking reverent fingers across Jon's golden tanned skin. Spencer bats Tom away when he tries to undress him; he undresses himself. "I'm not useless," Spencer snaps.

"Did I say that?" Tom says. He twists fingers in Spencer's hair again and shoves him back onto the bed. "Flip over," he says. Spencer does, and he lets Tom slide a pillow under his hips. "You look good like that," Tom tells him, slapping his calf lightly. Spencer snorts.

"Uh," Jon says. "Lube? And condoms. We need them," he says, but he's not paying any attention to himself. His hands are twitching with the need to touch Spencer. He half-kneels on the bed and trails his fingers along the massaged muscles. They jump a little under his touch. "Wow," he says. "So -"

"Responsive," Tom interrupts. He drops a bottle of lotion and a string of condoms onto the bed. "Imagine how he's going to be when you're fucking him."

Jon sweeps his hand over Spencer's ass. Spencer buries his face in the sheets, his hands tightening into fists around the loose white cloth.

"Wow," Jon says again. He thinks he's drifted into one of his more recent fantasies. Tom is still clothed and his voice so low and sexy; Spencer is completely naked underneath him and not pulling away.

Tom picks up the lotion and slathers it on Jon's fingers. "Go on," he says, bumping Jon towards the bed. "I wanna see."

Jon shakes himself out of his stupor. He doesn't want to miss a moment of this. "Are you okay with watching?"

"For now," Tom says.

Then, unfairly, time blurs - and it's only when Jon's gasping at how tight Spencer is, how his ass is clenching around him, at how intense this feels when sex has never been so full-on before, that it slows down again.

"Spencer, you're so -" Jon breaks off when Spencer purposely clenches again. "Tom, you can't imagine. God, Spence. You're amazing."

"You mean my ass is amazing," Spencer mutters, then groans as Jon pulls out and thrusts in again. He pushes his hips back to meet Jon, the pillow basically useless with how he props himself up on his knees and elbows.

"No," Tom says, his voice low and rough, "he said you, Spencer. You're amazing."

Spencer's panting so prettily, his forehead pressed against the sheets, and Jon wants to shove his fingers into Spencer's mouth, feel Spencer's tongue licking at his skin. He wants to swallow those pants.

"Jon, fuck," Tom says, raising his eyes to his best friend's. Jon's struck stupid when he sees Tom's face; he's flushed and his eyes are bright. He's really enjoying watching them - but maybe this is the point where watching isn't enough. "Jon, wrap your arms around his waist and pull him up."

Jon does. He sits all the way back on his heels and Spencer slides right down his cock; the new angle hits Spencer's prostate. He's gulping in air like a drowning man, pressing his nose into Jon's neck.

"Spencer," Tom says, crawling onto the bed. He's still clothed. That should change very soon, Jon decides. "I want your mouth, yeah?"

Spencer stops breathing for a second, then he whines. Tom gives this adorable little boy smile, like he's totally flattered Spencer's so desperate to suck him. He looks so innocent for a moment, nothing like the dirty-mouth sexy fucker who's been prowling around the bed watching them. "Fucking Conrad," Spencer says. "Hurry up!"

So Spencer's soon between them on his hands and knees, Jon fucking him one end, Tom the other. Jon was sure this never happened outside of porn, and now he's living it and it's so much better than porn. Tom's naked from the waist down - he's still wearing his tight black tee, which clings to him, wet with sweat. His eyes are so dark, and he's got his hands wrapped around Spencer's jaw, holding him exactly how Tom wants him.

Jon just wants to lean over and kiss him - so he does. He grasps the back of Tom's neck and pulls him forward, burying himself as deep inside Spencer as possible so he can reach Tom. Spencer's still so fucking tight around him; Jon drops a hand to Spencer's waist and smooths his hand over the slick skin as he and Tom kiss and kiss and kiss. Jon can feel that Tom's still moving, still jerking in Spencer's mouth; he can hear Spencer gasping, breathing through his nose. Jon groans desperately. He can't stay buried in Spencer like this any longer - it's torturously hot and tight. He needs friction. He breaks the kiss with Tom and picks up a rhythm again, gripping Spencer's hips tight enough to bruise, which he suspects is half the reason Spencer's groaning.

"Jon," Tom grits out, his thumbs digging into the tender spots behind Spencer's jaw and before his ears, "Jon, you're holding back," he says. Jon sucks in a few deep breaths, his eyes squeezed closed. Tom's voice is almost enough to send him over. "Jon," he says again, "I wanna see you come."

Fuck. Jon slams deep into Spencer, sparks firing behind his eyes, and comes. He digs his short nails into Spencer's hips without realising as he jerks through the pulses; Spencer fucking keens and comes without anyone even touching his cock.

Jon slumps over Spencer. The other two lose balance when Jon does, and Tom falls back on the pillows, his legs spread wide with Spencer right between them. Jon gets rid of the condom and almost trips over when he sees how greedily Spencer is sucking Tom off. Tom is spread out with his arms wide, his head rolling from side to side as Spencer bobs in his lap; Spencer's using both hands, and one of them has disappeared between Tom's legs. Tom's gasping quietly as he jerks up into Spencer's mouth. He doesn't moan or groan or make silly sex noises. That's something Jon's going to have to work on.

He lays down at Tom's side and remembers way back before they'd wrestled, they'd tickled, and Tom had a weakness. Tom had been so in control for most of the night - it was time to take that precious control away from him. If Jon had to resort to dirty childhood tricks to do it, well. He's not above that. He drags the backs of his fingertips ghost-like along the soft skin of Tom's inner forearm and watches Tom writhe and shudder. "Fucker," Tom breathes, and comes.

Spencer swallows it all. Jon kisses him, curious for the taste, and likes it enough to push Spencer down to the bed and lick at his mouth until every last trace was gone. Spencer keeps laughing and trying to push him away, but Jon persists - mostly because Spencer is laughing.

"Shit," Tom suddenly says, "it's like three in the morning. Why are we awake?"

"Because we went to sleep at five in the afternoon," Jon says, then licks Spencer's chin.

"Gross, Jon," Spencer says, grinning at him.

Jon strokes Spencer's sweaty hair away from his face. "That could be the first time you've said my name."

"There's a certain degree of familiarity that comes with having someone's cock in your ass," says Spencer. "But if you prefer -"

"Jon's fine," he says quickly. "Great, in fact."

"Now if you lovebirds are done," Tom drawls, "come cuddle."

Spencer lifts his head to look at Tom. "Oh, no you didn't, Conrad."

"Oh yes I did." He grins lazily. All three of them are grinning, actually, which is a nice change from arguing, bitching or running for their lives. "Cuddle!" He lunges for Spencer and latches onto him. "Cuddle me, Spencer Smith."

"Oh my god, was he always like this?" Spencer asks Jon.

Jon lazes on the pillows. He's still all sweaty and gross, and his eyes aren't dilated anymore, so everything's shadowy. Spencer and Tom look like denizens of the dark. Maybe if he's really good, they'll ravish him. "Worse," he says, and grins.

They share a laugh, then Tom says, "so, Smith. Feeling the urge to flee?"

Spencer yawns. "Maybe in the morning. So, Conrad. Thought about what country we're going to be avoiding the US government in?"

Jon and Tom both say, "'we'?"

"You assholes are stuck with me now," Spencer says, frowning.

"But, like," Tom says, "you and Jon are still both legal."

"So we're the ones who'll go out and do the shopping and get jobs and talk to the neighbours," Spencer says. "You'll be the housewife."

Jon nods. "I like it."

"Housewife," said Tom bluntly. "I'll give you housewife." He tackles Spencer, throwing him back into Jon.

It's a while before they manage to get to sleep. In the morning, they visit Ryan at the hospital, and Tom ducks into a little motel to see Sean and Ryan J. Spencer and Jon call their parents about taking a holiday, and Jon asks his mom to tell Tom's mom that he's with them, too. It's best if Tom not contact anyone for a while. Desertion from the Special Forces is a serious matter.

Sometime during the day, William calls Jon about his compensation from Pete. There's also a sizeable amount for each Spencer, as a displaced employee, and Tom, like Pete had promised. The accounts are in Caymans under false names and codes, which William organises to leave somewhere in case the phone is tapped.

And when it's heading on to evening, Jon, Spencer and Tom board a non-descript plane to a country far away, and leave Costa Rica and Isla Nublosa behind forever.

*

Just to cover all the bases, Alex and Cash were actually nowhere to be found when the seaplane returned to the airport. It's quite possible that they'd already jumped on a plane to some foreign city with a carnival, a pizza place and a movie theatre so they can have their perfect date.

Either that, or they really, really, really could not wait another moment for Alex's first time.

Everyone is betting it's the second one. The world can only have so much cute, after all.

*

The Costa Ricans completely destroy Isla Nublosa. They murder every dinosaur and burn the bodies. They raze the place to the ground, ripping up every tree and stone and wall. Every personal possession left behind is obliterated. They go through every last nook and cranny of the Underground to make sure there are no embryos or amber-frozen mosquitoes for the whole thing to start again.

A helicopter drops in at the Hotel before the Costa Ricans get to it. It only stays for a few minutes, and then it's gone again, too quick for the gunmen to shoot.

By dawn of Monday the eighteenth of August, all that remains of the once-lush tropical sanctuary is a big hunk of rock sticking out of the ocean.

The Hammond Affair has been laid to rest forever - and the world is none the wiser.

*

Chapter Text

EPILOGUE
FOUR MONTHS LATER

Pete dumps a load of money and fake passports onto anyone who needs them - namely everyone - and disappears without a word. He buys himself an estate outside of Thimphu, Bhutan and doesn't speak to anyone outside of his household staff for four months.

In late November, there is a knock on Pete's giant, antique front door. Pete's bulldog puppy, imported a couple of weeks ago, races for the door and barks at it. He'll keep doing it until Pete or one of the staff answers it, and Pete gave everyone the weekend off to go visit their families in the village.

So he puts aside the photo albums and gets to his feet, scattering crumbs and bottles and cans everywhere. He peels off the dressing gown and chucks it over the arm of his chair. He fixes his hair.

Only once he's done all that does he find his way to the door.

It's Patrick.

"I had to learn Dzongkha to find you," he says. "Don't make me do that again."

Pete stares at him.

"Well?" Patrick says. "Aren't you going to let me in?" He shakes the suitcase in his hand. "This is heavy."

Pete stares at him.

Patrick frowns a little. "Right, well. This is a happy reunion."

Pete closes the door.

Half an hour later, Patrick walks into Pete's living room - sans suitcase - and takes the photo album out of Pete's hands. "Hm. I remember this one. I thought it got left behind on the island?" he says. "I guess you went back and got it."

Pete stares at him.

"Well, this is as good a place to begin as any," Patrick says. "Scoot over." He pushes at Pete until there's enough space on the armchair for Patrick to curl up beside him. He spreads the photo album out on their laps, flicks to the front page, points to the first photo and starts to talk.

A week later, Patrick's voice is hoarse and he's talked his way through every photo album in the house. And it's a big house, and Pete was a prolific photographer.

'Was', because Pete doesn't do much anymore except eat, sleep and now, listen to Patrick talk.

Patrick closes the last photo album. He sighs and closes his eyes, and rests his head against Pete's shoulder. "I quit," he says, in his croaky voice. "I quit the CIA, and I think they've blacklisted me. So I have people trying to kill me everywhere I go, and I thought, who's the one person who hates me too much to kill me? So here I am."

Pete gets up out of the armchair and leaves the room.

The next morning, Pete bounces down to breakfast. Patrick is sitting at the kitchen counter like always, with his boring bowl of cornflakes and milk; Pete kisses him on the cheek. "One, I don't hate you. Two, I think half your stories are made up off the top of your head because even you can't remember some of the crazy shit we've done. And three, how the hell did you get into my house?"

Patrick stares at him. Then he snaps out of it. "One, yes you do. Two, everything's true. Three, I was married to you for longer than a day, so I know where you keep all your spare keys. And four, you're talking again?"

"Let's quit with the numbers," says Pete, pouring himself a big bowl of Froot Loops. Every morning Patrick's been here, it's been oatmeal. He's not sure what the Froot Loops mean. "I don't hate you, Lunchbox. You were a stranger to me. And then you came and spent a week in my house telling me all of these," he laughs, "amazing stories about you and me and the things we've done. And then I woke up this morning and I remembered it all, even without the stories. You're the key, Pattycakes, the key to my brain. You restored all the memories. I didn't even know that was possible."

"Technically," Patrick says, "it's not."

"But since when have technicalities applied to you and me?" Pete points out. He leans in close and rubs his nose with Patrick's. "Technically, we're both wanted by the US government. Technically, I should hate you for betraying and deceiving me." Patrick winces. "Technically," Pete goes on, "technically, I should still love you like I did when we were living on Isla Nublosa, because all my memories of that time just came back."

Patrick gets it. "And you don't love me like that anymore." He ducks his head and tries not to cry. He just spent a week talking himself hoarse because he couldn't get over Pete. Before that, he spent four months on the run from his former colleagues, tracking Pete to this house. Before that, he spent years dating and being married to Pete, and he's not sure how much of that was real and how much of it was forced. His life and Pete's have been running along the same paths for so long that Patrick literally has no idea what to do without him, and Patrick always has ideas of what he can do.

But Pete's fingers slide under his chin. "I love you even more than I did then," he says, and gently kisses Patrick. "Because now we're nobody but ourselves, with only ourselves to answer to, and you still chose me."

Patrick swallows. "I want - I want to have sex with you," he says, blushing hotly. If Pete so much as grins at him, Patrick is going to punch him, he swears to god. "Like, I know, we didn't much. I always had excuses. And you, you accepted them, because you loved me and you wanted me to be happy. And it was all really because," and the 'because' only comes to him as he talks, "I hated lying to you with my mouth, and I didn't want to lie to you with my body."

Pete doesn't laugh, or grin, or smirk. He smiles and bumps his cereal bowl with Patrick's. "Let's have breakfast first."

Some tightly wound coil in Patrick's stomach relaxes. That simple statement tells him Pete really does want him to be happy. That sort of knowledge is intoxicating, like a drug, and Patrick grins. "Are you afraid our dry spell has affected your performance?" he says.

"As if," Pete scoffs. "My skills never get rusty."

Skills. That reminds him. "I have something for you," Patrick says. "I liberated some files from my superior's office when I was handing in my resignation, and -"

"It can wait," Pete says. He crunches down on a mouthful of Froot Loops.

"But one of them's about the -"

Taking Patrick's hand, Pete leads him to the music room. "It can wait," he says, and pushes open the door.

Patrick wanders inside. He abandons his bowl of cornflakes on a table. "Yeah," he says. "It can wait." And the smile he gives Pete is so amazing. "What are all these for?" he asks, lightly stroking the strings of the zither.

"Playing music," Pete says patiently.

"Ha ha." Patrick rolls his eyes. "Why do you have them?"

Pete shrugs. "For you."

"But you didn't even know I was coming," Patrick says.

"I hoped."

Patrick opens his mouth, closes it, opens it again and says, "I really don't feel like having breakfast anymore."

Pete carefully puts his bowl of Froot Loops on the table with Patrick's. "Finally."

And then Pete Wentz and Patrick Stumph-Wentz kiss, and it doesn't matter if they live happily ever after - which they didn't, because Pete is moody and Patrick has a temper - because as someone once said, the important part is that they live.

Upstairs, in the room Patrick had claimed as his own in the week he'd been Pete's storyteller, several files sit in unopened manila folders in his suitcase. The topmost folder is marked, in heavy black ink, THE TANIZAKI PROJECT.