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back through the gates of hell

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Puntarenas had become Owen Grady's personal limbo.

In the first mad rush of evacuation from the park, everyone had ended up there. After that, most of them had booked their way home at Masrani Corp's expense.

Owen had stayed.

The hotel was out towards the edge of the city. Claire's room had an ocean view, which she said barely compensated for the faulty air conditioning and shoddy tile floor. Owen liked it, though. Especially on mornings like this, when he woke up at sunrise and found himself going to sit outside, eyes on the ocean, something restless stirring in his veins.

The tattered shreds of his dream still lingered, haunting muscle memory. The thunder of the Indominus Rex's steps still echoed under the jackhammer of his heart. His skin was sweat-slicked.

He sat down outside and took a deep breath. The air was laced with salt. The vast glittering bulk of the sea rolled lazily under the sky, streaked red with the dawn. On a good, clear day, you could see Isla Nublar as a green speck against the distant line of the horizon.

It was going to be a clear day.

Owen had had the foresight to bring a cold bottle of coke out with him. He sat there and drank it slowly while the world lightened around him and his heartbeat slowed. He fixed his eyes on the horizon line where he knew the island was, an anchor point for his gaze.

On a very good day, he wasn’t watching for anything.

He had read Dr. Alan Grant's book about the first Isla Nublar Incident, the first time just before he'd accepted the job at Jurassic World and the second time just after they had evacuated. Dr. Grant wrote about everything he had learned on that island, and even then it was as clear as a bullet to the face that he never intended to go back there. It didn't matter what lessons there might still be to learn. It didn't matter how cool the dinosaurs, living dinosaurs, were. Dr. Grant was done with that island and done with dinosaurs that he didn't have to excavate as bones only from the ground.

In between Dr. Grant's expertise and dry wit, Owen had felt the man's deep, primal fear, an instinct that had been awoken and might never fully go back to sleep. I still have nightmares, Grant wrote. He hadn't put this at the end of the book, or even at the end of a chapter, where it might have been a dramatic bell toll for the nightmare he had lived through. The confession, for that was what it felt like, was buried between a lengthy three pages on gallimimus and their flocking patterns and a paragraph on the general dinosaur makeup of the island.

It had been a useful book to read. It was still a useful book to read, for all that Owen could not seem to share the clarity of Dr. Grant's feelings about the island. Where Dr. Grant had been in the business of bones and supposition, Owen’s job - his life - had been inextricably intertwined with the reactive, interactive, living breathing dinosaurs, and his feelings about Isla Nublar were more complex. His dreams were laced with the carrion stink of humid raptor breath and his waking hours were spent trying to ignore the tight knot of guilt in his gut that sometimes threatened to strangle him since he had left.

It wasn't just fear and trauma that lingered at the edges of his life, like a bad echo or a bruise that refused to fade.

It was longing too.

When he went back inside, Claire was already awake and in the shower. Her laptop was booting up on the vanity table. The indentation of her body against the mattress was still faintly warm when Owen pressed his palm to it. He would have liked it if she'd still been there. He could have crawled back into bed beside her and pressed his mouth to that soft hollow of skin behind her ear, breathing in the clean vanilla smell of her to remind himself that at least one good thing had come out of everything they’d been through.

Her phone was ringing on the bedside table.

Owen didn’t look at it.

Instead, he made coffee. It was some fancy ass shit from a tiny packet the deep rich red of dried blood and it smelled like a blessing from heaven. Claire's phone rang twice more while Owen was pouring the coffee. They both took it black, unsweetened. He still didn’t look at who was calling.

When Claire emerged from the bathroom in a cloud of fragrant steam, she went straight to her laptop, giving him a distracted smile on the way. Her hair was dark with water, which dripped onto her bare shoulders. She wore a thin cami top a shade paler than her skin, which was still flushed from the shower, and grey linen slacks. She looked tired.

They were both tired. They were both waiting, and tired of that too.

Her shoulders stiffened as she read through her emails. Owen watched her. Claire Dearing didn’t slump when she was stressed. She gathered herself like something about to spring, or snap, like a storm about to break. Nothing good, then, in those emails.

“Hey,” Owen said. She gave him a startled look when he put the coffee down beside her, and flipped her laptop screen down just enough to be insulting.

“Whoa,” he said. “I’m not trying to spy on your shit, ok? I just made coffee.”

“Right,” Claire said. “Sorry.”

She was terrible at sounding sincere when she apologised. But then she blinked once, twice. Her eyes were clear and very green. She folded the stress on her face and put it away somewhere else, and then the corner of her mouth crooked, sweet and charmed. “You made coffee?”

“I figured,” Owen said lazily, “that it was the least I could do, given the work you’re doing to save our collective asses.”

She looked away. It wasn’t going well, then. “Don’t thank me for that yet,” she said. There were shadows under her eyes.

Since the Incident, the park had been bleeding money. There were court cases, reparations, expenses, and every day seemed to bring the body count higher. Corporate wanted people to blame. They needed scapegoats.

Claire had been flying back and forth between Puntarenas and New York almost every other week. This bastard commute was necessitated by the corporate manoeuvring going on in both places, moves that were dictated by layers of strategy handed down through the corporate hierarchy. Claire had tried to unpick it for Owen, but her words had been so full of brand-speak and on-message that he had wound up picking an argument even though it wasn’t really her he was angry with.

They had fought.

“Fuck ‘em,” Owen said, and leaned down to press his mouth against her bare shoulder. Her skin was damp and warm. He lingered there, lips on her skin, until Claire made a small sound in the back of her throat and leaned her head against his. Her hair was still wet and was making his own damp, but Owen couldn’t have cared less.

“If that would solve anything,” Claire said, dry as dust, “I would consider it.”

Owen laughed softly against her shoulder, turned his head and kissed her neck. Her phone shrilled again and he felt the sudden ripple of tension under her skin.

He backed off, giving her space as she answered it. He leaned his shoulders against the doorframe, his eyes on her back. Normally, in her immaculate clothes, Claire’s body was impossible to read unless she wanted it to give a particular message. But in that thin cami, he could see the tension in her shoulders, the line of her spine that of a sword held ready. She could have looked vulnerable, but Claire Dearing had never been anything less than formidable.

And her posture was terrifyingly good.

“Claire,” she said.

And then she listened.

Twice, she tried to interrupt. Whoever was on the other end of the line was as good as she was at controlling a conversation, though, and both times Claire cut herself off. Her face got sharper and sharper, as though her bones were rising under her skin like rocks for ships to wreck themselves upon.

Owen kept his own shoulders loose and easy, even while his stomach tightened. He didn’t have to hear the other side of the conversation to know that it wasn’t good.

This was what happened with corporations. At heart, John Hammond and Simon Masrani had both cared about the animals in their parks. But when you turned those animals into the assets of multi-billion corporations, then there were an awful lot of middle-men there to give more of a shit about profitability and the bottom line than the welfare of those animals.

Claire’s lips pressed together. Her eyes were hard as diamonds. “I disagree,” she said quietly.

Owen watched her, patient as a hunting cat.

“Right.” Claire said. “Thank you.”

She said it like someone else might have said fuck you. Then she hung up the phone. She stood there, with it pressed against her chest, her eyes closed. Owen could see the jump of her pulse in her throat. If she’d been a raptor, her teeth would have been bared. Because she was Claire, the only thing he got was the tiny flare of her nostrils as she sucked in a deep breath.

“What is it?” Owen asked, after a moment.

Claire pressed her knuckles to her lips. Her fingers were trembling faintly. When she took her hand away, though, her voice was clarion and steady.

“They’re going to close the Park,” she said. “They’re going to put all the animals down.”

The sound of wood cracking.

She flinched.

Owen’s hand stung.

He’d put his fist into the doorframe without consciously deciding to do so. There was a hot smear of pain through the split skin of his knuckles. He said, “They’re lying. They’ve soaked too much money into it to throw it all away now—“

“They took what they cared about,” Claire said. She was so steady, even while her hands trembled and her eyes were so burning bright. “The research. The samples. They cleaned out the lab. We saw that. Everything else in the park now is just… dead weight. A reminder. They want to clean it up and start over.”

“They did that once before,” Owen said. His voice was low, cold. “They can’t keep burning and salting the earth every time they make a mistake.”

Claire turned away from him. She pulled on a thin, silky blouse the colour of fog, swept her hair over the collar of it. She did the buttons up from the bottom to the top and by the time she was on the last one, just below the hollow of her throat, her face was calm.

Owen said, “Claire.”

“I have a plan,” she told him. “It might… it might be a stupid plan. But I think it might also work.”

Relief flooded through him. “I like stupid plans that might work,” Owen said. He grinned at her, felt his mouth trembling slightly at the corners. He thought of the jungle Blue had disappeared into being swallowed by the burning fury of napalm. He felt sick. It had been one thing to face Hoskins, but InGen as a corporate entity was another beast entirely.

InGen was something Claire knew how to deal with, though.

“Whatever you’re planning,” Owen said, “I’m in.”

Claire gave him a brief smile. She leaned over the vanity table, painting her lips red. It was the colour of war, of warning. It was the colour she had worn the first time he’d laid eyes on her.

She said, “Good.”

 

********************

 

What they did was they leaked the emails detailing the “termination of the remaining park assets” to an animal rights activist group. From there, they got leaked to the newspapers, and then suddenly Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant, Sarah Harding and other heavy-hitters got wind of it and things got a lot more difficult for InGen.

There was a lot of talk about responsibility, playing God, and duty of care.

In the end, what it came down to was a combination of accountability, public image, and Simon Masrani’s grieving wife stepping up to speak on behalf of her deceased husband.

He loved those animals, she said, and he would not have wanted them to be destroyed in a misguided attempt to balance the scales. We cannot blame these animals for our hubris in bringing them back to life, and we should not punish them now by killing them.

We have another option.

 

********************

 

The other option was Isla Sorna.

Unlike Isla Nublar, which Hammond had always intended to be the public attraction and which had later become the lynchpin of most of their projected profits, Isla Sorna had been intended as a natural habitat for the dinosaurs and as a haven for researchers and dinosaur theorists.

Rather than destroy their multi-million dollar assets in an effort to make reparations, when Masrani Corp was already losing millions in out-of-court settlements and the stock was plummeting like a pteranodon doing a nosedive, some board members suggested that it would be better to salvage what they had tried to build by moving the assets to Isla Sorna. They would never be open to the public again, but the research they offered was still valuable.

The motion passed by a majority of three.

 

********************

 

They were given two weeks to transfer the animals.

Like the inevitable poisoned side of that proffered apple, the Board also let it be known that all direct employees of the park would be unemployed at the end of the month. Masrani Corp would assist in finding new positions and healthcare would be covered for the rest of the year, but that was it.

“Those motherfuckers,” Claire whispered into his shoulder after they received that particular piece of corporate communication.

She swore so rarely that it sent a small thrill through Owen, low in his belly. Her body was bare and warm against his and it meant that he could feel the taut hum of rage all the way through her. He kissed her shoulder, her throat, pressed his face into the vanilla-scented softness of her hair, because he still had someone to fight for him and she was right there.

He said, “At least we’ve still got healthcare.”

“You should all be receiving full redundancy packages,” Claire spat. She was trembling with fury. Owen traced his hands down her back over and over. He wasn’t trying to gentle her, he was just learning the shape of her wrath with the palms of his hands.

He liked the feel of it when it was on his side, but he wouldn’t have liked to be on the receiving end of it.

 

********************

 

In addition to the assistance with finding a new job, all employees of a certain pay grade and above would receive a one-off payment of 50% of their salary for the remainder of the year.

 

********************

The boat for Isla Nublar would leave at midday.

Owen was pleased but unsurprised to see the rest of the animal handlers on the docks. They stood in a loose cluster. Some of them were still bandaged up from the pterosaur attack. Their expressions were wary, worried, excited. Leah Culpepper, the chief handler at the petting zoo, had one arm in a sling but used the other to wave cheerfully at him.

“You good to go?” Owen asked, tapping her cast lightly. It was colourful with scrawled signatures.

Leah smiled. Her eyes were bright and wet. “I want to make sure my babies are ok,” she said. “I wanted to go back weeks ago but they wouldn’t let me. It’s stupid, but now I’m getting what I want… I’m terrified. I don’t want to go back there. But I also can’t wait. You know?”

“Yeah,” Owen said. “I know.”

He had spent that morning sitting on Claire’s bathroom floor, the ghost of gasoline in his nostrils, the thunder of his heart like the ground-shaking thud of the Indominus’ footsteps. It had been something more than fear, that feeling that came and washed over him like a great wave breaking and eroding everything in its wake.

But he had pieced himself back together.

He had got up.

And he was going back to the island.

He had one raptor left, which meant he still had a responsibility.

“Yeah,” he said again.

Through the cluster of milling handlers, he saw Barry leaning back against the side of the boat. He wore a t-shirt and bandages around his arm.

He grinned when he saw Owen, teeth flashing white.

“Mon ami,” he said, thumping Owen’s shoulder in greeting. “I thought I would see you here.”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Owen said, affable. His gaze flicked to the black-clad InGen security on the boat. All of them were armed. Now he knew why the handlers were still milling on the docks.

“What’s the story, my friend?” Barry asked, low.

Owen gave him a curious look, then realisation set in. He had been privy to the corporate communications because of Claire. There had been no effort as of yet to communicate with the wider staff.

He said, “They want to throw us to the wolves.”

Barry hissed between his teeth, but he looked unsurprised. “Assholes,” he said. “How?”

“Scapegoats,” Owen said. “The company will cover healthcare and 50% redundancy in return for NDAs and compliance from us.”

“That, Owen,” Barry said, “sounds like a lot of corporate bullshit.”

Owen grinned, wry and nasty. “Don’t I know it.”

“But you’re here anyway,” Barry said.

“Not for them.” Owen replied.

Barry chuckled, low in his throat, and nodded. “None of us are,” he said, glancing around the docks. Quite a few of the handlers glanced over at them, curiously. The raptors had a nasty reputation and that made Owen and Barry figures of interest.

There were a lot of familiar faces. When Owen found himself looking for those that were missing, he realised that he was actually looking for the dead. It was suddenly hard to swallow.

He was going back to an island of the dead.

Barry cleared his throat and nodded at the boat. “Looks like it’s time to go.”

 

********************

 

Despite everything that had happened, despite every nightmare, Isla Nublar still stole away Owen’s breath when he saw her. She rose from the sea, all sharp cliffs and velvety green valleys, craggy and beautiful, the framework of Jurassic World clinging to her like barnacles on a rock.

He remembered seeing her for the first time, this strange, beautiful, deadly island.

When Simon Masrani had approached him about the raptor handling job, Owen had been sceptical. He had been about 12 when the first Incident had happened and he had only really heard about it once Ian Malcolm threw his NDA to the wind and started talking about it on chat shows and the radio. When Masrani Corp began work on Jurassic World, all those old interviews got dredged up again. Everyone wanted to know if the new park would be safer.

We can only hope to learn from past mistakes, Simon Masrani had said, so earnest and likeable it was almost impossible not to trust him. But if we do not even try, then how can we ever hope to advance? Mankind did not get to where it is today by being afraid. We can be cautious, and we should be cautious, but we also must remember that pioneering spirit that has seen us create cures for diseases that in the past were deadly and without hope and that has seen us go into space and put human beings on the moon.

The future holds any and every possibility. And you can be sure that the Masrani Global Corporation will be at the centre of it. We will take every precaution, but we will persevere.

And we will succeed.

It was the fact that Masrani had agreed that the park could still be dangerous that had meant Owen listened to him. If Masrani had turned up and said, everything is safe because we won’t make the same mistakes, Owen would have never returned his second call. But he had liked Masrani.

You come highly recommended, Masrani had said.

Yeah, Owen said. By who?

He had been a year out of the Navy, heartsick and frustrated and thoroughly done with the US Navy Marine Mammal Program because every success had started to feel like a betrayal of the animals with whom he was working.

Vic Hoskins, Masrani said.

Which had surprised the hell out of Owen.

He had still been uncertain. The contract that Masrani offered him had been generous, but restrictive. It wasn’t as though Owen had been doing anything with all his freedom, but he hadn’t been sure about giving it up either.

Give me a chance to convince you, Masrani had said. Come to the park.

And that had not quite been that, but it had been close. Owen had stepped out of the helicopter and felt that tiny tectonic shift inside that said home.

He felt it again now.

But everything was different now. He stepped off the boat and the air smelled of damp green and salt, just as it had when he had first arrived, only now the air was full of the sound of InGen Security Corps cocking their weapons.

Barry caught his eye.

Owen just shook his head slightly. He was tempted to make a joke, but he had a feeling it would go down like a lead balloon. Which wasn’t necessarily a deterrent, but he didn’t want any of the Security personnel getting cranky and shooting a dinosaur because of it.

The monorail’s automated running had been shut down. One of T-Rex supervisors showed them how to run it manually.

As they sped towards the shattered ruins of the park, everyone fell silent. One of the boys who had helped run the river cruise was crying silently, his face turned blindly towards the window to forestall any comfort. Owen only noticed when the kid reached up to wipe under his glasses.

When they disembarked, Owen saw that transport crates had already been hooked up to the backs of several off-road vehicles.

“We’ll split into teams,” said one of the women in InGen Security black, as her team passed out the handheld tracker monitors with which ACU had been outfitted. She motioned with one hand. “Most of the animals should still be in their paddocks, if we’re lucky. Round ‘em up.”

The only person Owen wanted on his team was Barry, but they got two of the InGen team with them. A baby-faced blonde white boy who introduced himself as Dallas, and a tall black woman with short braids and a cool smile who called herself Niamh. Both of them were armed to the teeth.

“Look,” Owen said. “We’re going after a raptor. She’s loose on the island. Luckily,” he held up the portable tracker monitor, “tracking her isn’t going to be a total bitch, thanks to her chip, but she might very well be one. That said, our first plan of action is not shoot to kill, ok?”

Behind the InGen pair, Barry raised his eyebrows dubiously. He had refused to shoot at Blue himself, but his face said he wasn’t sure about the use of non-lethals now. Blue would have had weeks on the island without interaction from Owen or Barry. She was packless. They couldn’t be sure of their ability to direct her.

“Unless you have to,” Owen amended. “But really, really, really unless you have to.”

“Riiight,” drawled Niamh. “Don’t shoot to kill the carnivorous incredibly intelligent predator unless the carnivorous incredibly intelligent predator tries to kill us, got it.”

Owen gave her a look for that.

“Uh,” said Barry. “What’s she doing here?”

Owen spun around to find Claire heading purposefully towards them. She wore linen slacks the colour of forest leaves and a creamy blouse that she somehow hadn’t sweated through. Claire’s ability to remain unstained in white was something Owen had found annoying at first and now just found rather impressive. Especially now he knew that for all of her poise and her flawless clothes, she would totally smear herself with dinosaur shit and walk into a jungle full of predators for the people she loved.

He shouldn’t have been surprised she was there. He was just surprised she hadn’t mentioned it when he’d left that morning.

“I came by helicopter,” she explained, when she reached them. “I hate boats.” Her smile was brisk and professional as she glanced at the InGen security employees. “Mrs. Masrani asked me to be here, to oversee things.”

“We have everything in hand, ma’am,” interrupted the Security Team Leader.

“I’m sure,” said Claire, crisp as winter’s first frost. “But I’m still the park operations manager for Masrani Global Corporation - for now - and the wellbeing of these assets and our employees is still my concern. Thank you.”

Owen snickered softly.

When the Security Team Leader had gone to check on the cages they were going to use to transport the triceratops herd, Claire turned back to them.

“Adam and Richard said that the T-Rex isn’t in her enclosure,” she said. “It seems like her chip was damaged when- when she fought the Indominus, so we're having trouble locating her on the monitor.But it looks as though she’s been returning to her enclosure regularly, so they’re going to drop a goat and see if it brings her in. But be careful.”

“Always are,” Owen assured her.

When he touched her shoulder, he felt the tiny tremors of fear running through her muscles. Claire was afraid.

“Hey,” he said, low, just for her. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Claire lifted her chin a little. “I didn’t want to be,” she admitted. “But if you want a job done right…” her voice trailed off and the corners of her lips trembled. She looked away, fast, her throat working. She pulled her composure back together as though it were an edifice she were building piece by piece, until her face was as still and lovely as the peaceful heart of the island.

Owen slid his hands up the sides of her soft throat, till his fingers slid into the silk of her hair. “You’re the best person for it,” he told her. “Hell, I think even InGen are a little afraid of you.”

She made a face at him, so unexpectedly childish that it made Owen laugh and lean in to press his lips to her forehead.

Barry coughed and wandered away to inspect the transport they would use for Blue, if they managed to find her.

“And it’s okay to be afraid,” he said. “Fear can keep you alive. Hell, I’m scared shitless about being here-“

That,” Claire interrupted, “is not the most romantic or reassuring thing you could be saying right now.”

Owen grinned at her. “-but it’s the right thing to do. We have a duty to these animals.”

“I know,” Claire said. She touched the palm of her hand briefly to his chest, over his heart. “Don’t get eaten.”

Owen mimed a tiny salute as he stepped back. He watched Claire as she headed over to the temporary set-up of a base camp, ringed with armed InGen soldiers. She would be as safe as anyone could be on this island. He still wanted to tell her to leave, if things started heading south, not to wait around and try to rescue him, but that would be a fight. And he didn’t want to fight with her, not on this island, not now.

He just wanted to be able to come back to her, with Blue boxed up safe and sound for a new life on Isla Sorna.

“Let’s go,” he said.

********************

They headed into the jungle.

Velociraptors preferred concealment - long grass, thick brush, with enough space for them to open up into a prey-herding run if necessary. It seemed fair to assume that would hold true, even though it was possible that Blue’s behaviour had changed as a result of being solitary. A velociraptor who had to hunt on her own might very well need to adapt.

The monitor showed that she was a little north of the Cretaceous Cruise.

“Let’s go pick our girl up,” Owen said, fixing the monitor in place of the satnav. Barry drove, while Owen watched the jungle with wary eyes. His heart was a steady ache in his chest, but he ignored it.

Blue kept moving north and east.

“She’s working her way back to her enclosure?” Barry wondered.

“Could be,” Owen agreed.

The roads had gone to shit in the weeks that the park had been left. Periodic tropical storms and heavy winds had left debris strewn everywhere. And Blue unsurprisingly showed no inclination to actually leave the jungle.

“Rev the engine,” Owen said, abruptly.

Barry raised his eyebrows. “Won’t spook her?”

“She’s used to engine noise,” Owen said. “Try it and see.”

The engine snarled loud and long and the Jeep leapt erratically forward. Revving seemed to be pretty close to stalling. Owen gave Barry a sidelong amused look, got a shrug in return.

On the monitor, the tiny red blip that was Blue began working its way slowly towards the road.

“See,” Owen said, feeling a slow satisfaction. “Raptors. Curious as shit about everything.”

“Or hungry,” muttered Dallas, darkly.

They waited, coughing the engine occasionally, but Blue didn’t come any closer. Both of the InGen people had their guns lightly to their shoulders, eyes on the brush.

“She won’t leave cover,” Owen said. “Not on her own.”

She wouldn’t have a pack member to back her up, to tag them. She wouldn’t risk being exposed and alone.

Owen got that.

“We’re gonna have to get out,” he said. “We’re gonna have to go to her.”

“Owen,” said Barry, low and warning. “My friend, I do not think that is a good idea.”

“Don’t have a choice,” Owen replied. Barry was shaking his head, but he steered the car over to the other side of the road and parked it.

“I do not like this,” he said, eyes liquid and dark. Owen saw that strange dread on his face. They both knew what it was like to be hunted by raptors. In Barry’s eyes, Owen saw reflections of his own nightmares.

“Like I said,” he replied, hopping out of the jeep, “don’t have a choice. I’m not leaving her again.”

“Seriously?” Dallas asked. “We’re just going to walk through the jungle until your raptor tries to eat us?”

“Let’s do this,” Niamh said, hefting her gun lightly to her shoulder.

Owen put out a hand to forestall any of them following him.

“Not you guys,” he said. “I’m not trying to be a hero here, but I’m going alone. I’m the alpha. Or I was.”

“Seriously?” Dallas asked. “You think that’s going to count for shit?”

“You two would just get in my way,” Owen said flatly, feeling the corner of his mouth crook up in a smile that was nothing close to reassuring. “And you’d just be meat to her.”

Owen,” Barry said, sounding distinctly more unhappy.

Owen looked at him. “Just me and her, buddy. I’m going to bring our girl home.”

He took a tranq gun and the monitor. He didn’t want to use the gun, but he wasn’t about to die for that principle. Claire would kill him if he did.

It was hot and humid as hell, but Owen was grateful for the slick of sweat that soon filmed his skin. All the velociraptors had been raised to be as familiar with his scent as each other’s. He could only hope that it would still be familiar to Blue.

They hadn’t been his first set of raptors. They’d tried three batches before Blue and her siblings. The first set had eaten each other a few weeks after hatching. The second set had made it to early infancy before issues with pack dominance set in and they had killed each other. After that, Owen put together a new plan for how he would handle the raptors, but then the third batch had proved unmanageable and untrainable. Owen still wasn’t sure what DNA Wu had decided to splice them with to fill out the missing genomes but it had resulted in a kill order from on high.

Owen had threatened to leave.

Then the fourth batch hatched and it had been different.

Owen had been there when they hatched. They’d spilled out of the shell and into the cradle of his palms, scratching the hell out of him even as babies. Blue had asserted herself as the alpha early on, until Owen could convince her to submit to him. He had done it not by being stronger than them, but by being cleverer. The raptors respected intelligence, even as they learned from it.

He had fed them by hand, and when they were too small to be deadly to him yet, he had even sat with them some nights as they slept coiled into a tight huddle for warmth. The stink of them had been warm and animal and when Owen left their enclosure he found that he smelled the same. He smelled like pack.

When they had been small, he had been able to play with them, the rough-housing games that played a part in establishing pack dominance. If Owen hit them right, he could roll them, soft belly up and the palm of his hand pressing down against them, fingers digging in hard enough to be felt. They would scratch his arms and legs to shit, but he’d worn padded body armour under his shirt to protect his belly. As they got bigger, he switched to reward-based puzzles as a means of establishing his value in the pack. The alpha wasn’t just about being the biggest and baddest in the pack; it was about being canny and having the pack welfare as a priority.

Owen could do that.

He slept and woke thinking of the pack.

And throughout it all, he wove in the training. The hand signals, the clicking commands, the voice.

It had been hard. Sometimes it had seemed impossible. But they had been his pack. He had earned their trust.

And they had died for him. On his command.

The fact was, sometimes when Owen dreamed now, he dreamed of pack and what it was to be without one.

Solitary animals didn’t do well.

The jungle pressed in claustrophobically close around him. Thick fronds brushed against Owen’s face as he moved deeper into the greenery. There was a low constant hum of insects.

And slowly, slowly, all the hairs on the back of Owen’s neck prickled into awareness.

He was being hunted.

He’d known he was going to be, the moment he walked into the jungle. What he hadn’t expected - and perhaps should’ve done - was the sudden gut-sickening surge of panic. He could smell blood, all of a sudden, and his ears roared with the sound of the Indominus’s patient predatory breathing.

The Indominus was dead though. Owen had seen the Mosasaur seize it and drag it down into the depths of its watery enclosure.

It wasn’t the Indominus hunting him.

Fear could keep you alive, but this kind of fear could kill you.

The monitor confirmed it was Blue, her red dot moving steadily behind and parallel to him. Raptors herded their prey into a killzone.

Owen kept walking nice and slow, one foot in front of the other, untangling the strangling knot of panic in his chest. His hunter kept pace with him. He could feel the weight of her interest like a claw pressed testingly to his throat.

It was a relationship based on mutual respect.

He had to trust in that.

Gradually he worked his way around in a loop and started heading back towards the road. The only branches rustling and crackling were the ones he stepped on, but that blip kept pace with him. And the birds were silent.

His skin crawled.

Up ahead, he could see the road. He could see the Jeep. And Barry could see him, because he raised one hand.

It was time.

“Blue,” he called, low and even. He stopped and turned to face the brush, shoulders relaxed, arms out a little from his sides, gun a heavy weight in his hand. It wasn’t enough just to appear calm, he had to actually be calm.

Blue would smell a lie.

Strangely, though, he was. The frantic shuddering of his heart had eased in a slow, steady rhythm. His palms were dry, even his forehead and neck were still slick and sweaty. He felt the same patience that Blue had shown in hunting him.

“Blue,” he called again. “Cut it out.”

And then through the brush, she appeared. One moment he couldn’t see her, and the next her head poked from between the leaves, nostrils flared. She blinked once, twice, quick and reptilian. There was a new scar running along the side of her snout.

She hissed.

Owen clicked his tongue three times. “Hey,” he snapped. “None of that shit. I came back here for you, buddy.”

Arm up, palm out.

Her head cocked, curiously. She clicked back at him.

Slowly, slowly, easing his feet sideways, a painfully slow shuffle through the leaves and debris. He had to pray he didn’t trip. If he tripped, he would die.

Blue twisted to follow him with her cold amber eyes. She took a small step after him, chattering her jaws. She had hunted him, he was prey - but he was also not prey.

Owen could see her indecision.

Raptors did not like to be indecisive.

“This way,” he said, absolute. He could be certain for both of them. That was the alpha’s job.

Then something hit him low in the back. He went down hard, with a yell. Blue screeched high and fierce in answer. Her tail lashed in agitation.

What the hell?!

A second raptor on his back, chattering back at Blue.

A second raptor?!

Owen blinked into the dirt. He wasn’t dead yet. But there was a claw pressing agonisingly into his shoulder. He could feel the hot wetness of blood soaking into his shirt. Pretty soon, he would smell more like meat than like Owen.

“OWEN!” Barry, yelling. A lot of yelling from the car. The rev of an engine and the sound of running feet.

All through their training, Owen had been adamant about people shooting at his pack. They had needed to be sedated several times when they were in his care, if they needed medical treatment or if the paddock needed work, but Owen had made a point of not being around when that happened. The moment the raptors associated him with their own helplessness, he would forfeit their trust.

Put 12 volts into those animals, they’re never gonna trust me again.

He didn’t need them to trust him anymore. He just needed them to live.

“NON-LETHALS,” he yelled back, twisting his head to the side to be sure they heard him.

That claw raked a line of fire down his back. Owen’s heart was hammering now. There were black spots at the edge of his vision. He thought that the second raptor - how?! - might have hit bone.

Blue jostled the raptor on him and god help him but Owen caught the scream between his teeth. The weight was excruciating. He couldn’t tell if Blue were jostling for kill position or out of loyalty. He couldn’t see.

And then that claw slid and popped painfully from under his skin and the weight was gone. Blue folded to the ground in front of him, her belly inches from his nose. He could smell the warm familiar stink of her.

It took a moment, because he was sick with pain and grief, but Owen saw her sides move slowly with each breath.

They’d used non-lethals.

His vision swam as he pushed himself up to sitting. His back felt wet. When he reached around to touch it, his hand came away slick and red. Barry’s face was full of alarm as he came crashing through the brush, gun still up and ready.

“Owen, man, are you ok? Shit, you’re bleeding!”

“I’m fine,” Owen muttered. He looked at Blue, sprawled beside him, and then looked at the other raptor.

It was Echo.

Something sick and dizzy shifted behind his eyes. He blinked rapidly and let Barry help him up to standing, taking most of his weight. His back was a long hot scream of pain.

InGen came scrambling down the shallow slope. “What the hell,” Dallas exclaimed when he saw the two unconscious raptors. “I thought you said there was only one of them left?”

“I thought there were,” Owen said, low. He couldn’t tear his eyes away from them. His girls. Echo’s claws gleamed wet with his blood. Her hide was scored with marks from the Indominus’s teeth and there was a shallow dent in her side that suggested a broken rib that hadn’t healed correctly. But she was alive. She was alive, which meant he hadn’t left Blue on her own.

“Owen,” Barry said quietly. “You’re bleeding a lot. We need to get you back.”

Owen let them help him back to the car, but he only let himself pass out after he’d watched them load his raptors safely into the cages on the back of the Jeep.

 

********************

 

“Ms. Dearing, ma’am, he’s going to be fine.”

“He doesn’t look fine.”

“He will be. Now, if you’d let us continue to do our jobs-“

“Which are what, exactly? Because clearly the point of the armed guards is actually not so my people don’t get clawed up by dinosaurs.”

“Ma’am—“

You gotta stop calling her ma’am, Owed tried to tell him, but he slid back into the dark before he could.

 

********************

 

He woke up with salt spray on his lips and a cool breeze on his face. His face rested against cool linen. He could smell vanilla. His shoulder throbbed dully when he tried to move, so he fell still and opened his eyes blearily.

Claire’s wrap was folded under his head. Beneath it, the steady throb of a boat motor.

“Careful,” she said.

When he sat up slowly, carefully, he found her sitting beside him. Her hands were folded in her lap. She was watching him. There were spots of brilliant colour high on her cheeks.

“What-?” Owen began. His voice was husky and rough. He coughed. Claire’s lap looked invitingly soft, despite her rigid posture.

“We’re going to Isla Sorna,” Claire said, clipped. She hated boats.

Owen re-thought his plan about putting his head in her lap and having her tenderly stroke his aching head. He said, “Thanks for the cardigan.”

“I didn’t want you to bleed on me,” Claire replied. Icy. Her fingers knotted around each other.

Owen’s head hurt. “My raptors?”

“Cargo hold. They’re still under. They should wake up just as we get to Sorna.”

He’d worried her, Owen thought. That was why she was talking like such an ice princess. But his head hurt and his back hurt and he felt shaken in a way that made it hard to think about anything apart from Blue and Echo in the hold.

“Echo,” he said. “She survived.”

“I guessed,” Claire said, “when they brought two velociraptors on board. Was she the one who clawed you open?”

Owen snorted. “Come on,” he said, shoulder a slow-burning fire, “it wasn’t that bad.”

Claire looked away. The line of her jaw was clean and sharp. Her lipstick was smudged, as though she’d been biting her lips, but her mascara was perfect.

“Yes it was,” she said. “You shouldn’t even be on this boat. You should be in hospital. But-”

“But?” Owen asked, when she didn’t speak again.

“But Mr-“ Claire paused, then said: “Barry said you needed to see it through. So I had them stitch you up and put you on the boat.”

Owen started to reach for her hand, winced, then reached with his other hand instead. He wound his fingers through hers, forcing her to stop crushing her own hands, and ran his thumb over her knuckles until she looked at him.

“Thank you,” he said, quiet.

“I thought you were dead,” Claire said. Her voice sounded empty and breathless, as though someone had punched her in the gut. “When they brought you back. I thought you were dead.”

“I wasn’t,” Owen said. He tried for a smile, crooked. “I’m still here to piss you off.”

Hah,” Claire said, explosively, on a sharp exhalation. She was relaxing though, that hectic tension dissipating like storm clouds dispersing.

Owen kept holding her hand.

 

********************

 

Isla Sorna was every bit as green and beautiful as her sister, but so much more vast and wild. They beached the boats on one of the shores of smooth white sand to unload the raptors, pushing the cages up against the edge of the trees and opening them up while the raptors began to stir.

Everyone human retreated to the boat, which was anchored several yards out.

Owen watched the cages through binoculars, his heart aching.

Blue was the first to properly regain consciousness. He could see her struggle to her feet and stand there, swaying and woozy. Her balance was all over the place. She looked drunk. Echo, when she woke, was even worse. It hurt to watch them be that vulnerable.

Someone suggested that they rejoin the other boats and head back to Puntarenas.

“Not yet,” said Claire, flat and with finality.

Owen kept watching.

Did velociraptors feel uncertainty? Did his raptors know they weren’t home any more? He had always managed to be unsentimental about his relationship with them. The emotional attachment, he knew, had been on his side. Their attachment was all about the value he had proven himself to have for them. But watching them stagger drunkenly together in the soft sand made him want to stand there with a gun and protect his pack until they could protect themselves, and he wasn’t going to be given that opportunity.

“It’s all herbivores around the outer edge of the island,” Claire murmured to him. “The carnivores stick closer to the centre.”

“What?” Owen asked, distracted.

Then he realised that Claire was telling him that his girls had time to recover and find their feet. They would work their way through prime and easy hunting grounds before they were even at risk of encountering another predator.

As though they had realised that too, Blue and Echo suddenly snapped their heads round, towards the treeline. Their bodies quivered. It wasn’t fear. Owen knew what their hunting eagerness looked like.

Then they were gone, Blue in the lead. Somewhere beyond the trees, there was the sudden agonised squeal of prey.

Claire winced beside him, but Owen could feel only relief. He leaned heavily against the railing, eyes still on the trees. The raptors were clever and they had long memories. They might always remember some of the commands he had taught them, but they wouldn’t need to anymore. Here they would hunt and thrive. 

“Hey,” Claire said, soft. “You ready?”

“Yeah,” he said. His shoulder was a deep throb of pain and he felt tired, bone-tired, but for the first time in weeks that tight knot of guilt living in the base of his throat had eased up.

Blue would be alpha now.

“Where are we going?” he asked, as the boat began to move slowly away. He kept his eyes on Sorna’s receding coast.

Claire hesitated. “I thought I might go home,” she said, cautiously. “Wisconsin. You… you’d be welcome to come. Of course.”

“Of course,” Owen echoed, mouth curving. He turned to look at her. Raptors look at what they want. “Yeah, ok.”