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All Along, My Heart Was Beating For You

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            “And how’s our little Boop doing today?” Harry grins and gently picks up the tiny bundled-up Maiasaura from her nest. The little thing squawks weakly at Harry and reaches a tiny scaly hand out to him. Her eyes are just as glassy as they’ve been the whole week, and she feels hot under his touch. “Aw, still feeling a little under the weather? Let’s check you out.”

            He brings Boop to a check-up station, carefully unbundling her and setting her down on the table. She lies there just staring up at Harry with big, watery eyes. Harry coos at her as he gets his check-up tools out, “It’s okay, buddy, we’ll sort you out.”

            Nick rolls his eyes at him from the neighbouring station, where he’s carefully examining a tiny Stegosaurus’ spikes for more breakage. “You’ll talk to the dinosaurs but not to me?”

            Harry hums as he gets to checking Boop’s temperature, sticking the gage in her mouth. “You’re just gonna ask more questions about James when there’s nothing else to say.”

            “I mean you have to be upset,” Nick scoffs. “You can’t just not be upset. I mean, three years of your life just down the drain like that?”

            “It didn’t just go ‘down the drain’. We tried it and it didn’t work. It was over a while ago, at least for me, you know that. And I think for him, too. We just never actually broke up.” He pauses, cooing at Boop again and carefully drawing her blood through the palm of her hand, where the scales stop and give way to smooth lizard-like skin. She squawks softly again, and Harry gently strokes her cheek the way mother Maiasaura do to their babies. “Besides, I’m not really the one-night stand kind of guy. You know me, I’m domestic.”

            Nick groans, “Ugh, yes, I know. It’s boring. You’re twenty-three and all you want to do is mother dinosaurs and find a husband.”

            “Hey, these dinos need a mother!” Harry glares at him. “They’re the misfits, okay? I’m here for them.”

            “I know they’re the misfits. Doesn’t mean you’re the one who needs to be here all the time taking care of them, or running off all over the island looking after everyone’s babies.” Nick sighs, leaning back from his table, “Fuck, Stevie’s spines just keep breaking even with that new medicine. We’re gonna have to get one of the scientists back in here to look at him again.”

            Harry looks at the tiny guy with a sad smile. “Poor baby. Zayn will do it. Hey, Camila!” He calls out to his intern, who’s looking over Stevie’s bloodwork for Nick. “Can you take Boop’s blood over to the lab to get examined? She’s feeling better but I want to see her iron levels again. And let them know we need Zayn to look at Stevie later? The new meds aren’t working.”

            She nods and takes the vial. Harry gives Boop her usual dose of meds and says to Nick, “Seriously, it’s fine with James. It was just comfortable to be with him, I stopped loving him a long time ago.”

            A pale, blond boy bursts through the doors leading a wide-eyed group behind him. His voice booms through the place, “We’re now entering the nursery! My mate Harry works here, everyone say hi to Harry! And uh, Nick over there, too.”

            The group greet Harry cheerfully. Harry waves over at them. “Hi, Niall. Hi, everyone!”

            The blond shoots Nick a smile before asking, “So, Harry, want to tell the group what it is you do in the nursery here?”

            Harry smiles at them. “We take care of all the injured or sick baby dinosaurs, as well as the dinosaurs that get rejected by their mothers or other family. That doesn’t happen that often, but just like all animals there are always special cases. We always try to let them live in their correct enclosure, but if they’re here we try to make life as good as it can be for them. The rejection rates vary from type to type of dino, too, like raptors have really high ones.” He wrinkles his nose, then gestures at the little dinosaur on his table. “See our little Maiasaura here? Her name is Boop and she’s very sick. We’re still not sure what’s wrong, but our scientists are working hard on her case. Anyway, Maiasaura are pack animals, and they have very strong family structures.They very rarely reject any of their young and are almost always fantastic mothers to their babies, but Boop here needs special attention and has to stay here in our nursery until she gets better.”

            He bundles Boop up again in his arms and brings her closer to the group. The little kids crowd forward to get a look at her. “She’s a very, very sweet girl and just needs a lot of special care.” He strokes her cheek again, “Do you guys have any questions about the nursery?”

            A tiny blond girl shoots her hand up. “Why does her face look like a duck?”

            Harry grins at her and answers, “She’s a hadrosaur, or a duck-billed dinosaur. They’re gentle herbivores, and act similarly to modern-day cows, as they graze in large groups on grass.”

            A boy raises his hand next. “Do you just take care of all the babies, then? There’s so many!”

            “Well, I don’t take care of all of them,” He laughs and hugs Boop a little tighter. “I work here at the nursery taking care of the little ones. I don’t do any science stuff or anything, just a caretaker. I also go into the field when there are special cases during pregnancy or after birth, to see if any little ones need to be taken here or if I can just take care of them and keep an eye on them in their enclosures.”

            Nick calls out from his station, “He’s basically the mother hen of Jurassic World. He can feel out whether dinos need to be here or with their families and take care of them without any data or anything. He’s magical.”

            Harry giggles, “I wouldn’t go that far. Any other questions?”

            He answers a few more standard questions before Niall is herding the group out and saying goodbye to Harry and Nick.

            Harry smiles dopily as he waves them away; talking to kids about his job and the dinosaurs he cares for always puts him in a good mood. He puts Boop back in her little nest area and signs off on her check-up.

            Camila comes back in, a dark-haired man in tow. He hands him Boop’s bloodwork. “She’s a lot better, H. We might be able to put her back with her mother soon. Obviously, we’ll keep careful watch of her, but we can talk more about that tomorrow.” He turns to Nick, “What’s up with Stevie?”

            “Thanks, Zayn.” Harry takes a look at Boop’s bloodwork as Nick and Zayn examine Stevie’s spikes. He signs off on it and calls over to them, “Nick, I’m taking my break now.”

            “Cool, when you get back let’s go check out that pteranodon situation they called about this morning?”

            “Yeah, for sure. I’ll see you later, Z, right?”

            Zayn smiles at him, “8 o’clock, yeah?” He pauses, beckoning Harry over. “Oh, and by the way, there’s a pregnant velociraptor, and we want to put you on it as a special case. The mother’s had health issues in the past and raptors have such high rates of early death and rejection. The last attempt at reproduction failed miserably, and the suits are looking to expand the raptor population, so. We can talk about it tomorrow, too.”

Harry sighs, “Don’t you have some nice Apatosauruses I could take care of instead?”

Zayn laughs, “You wish. I know you don’t like all the teeth and stuff, but everyone else has commitments already, and you’re kind of a dino miracle worker, so we kind of need you.”

 

-

 

            The bar is crowded when Harry and Niall finally get there, a strange mix of a few guests and lots of staff leaning over tables and shouting for drinks, music playing loudly and air smoky. The bar is Harry’s favorite: tucked away from Main Street, so less guests come there, predominantly filled with staff and happily lacking cheesy dinosaur decor. Harry spots their intern, Camila, back in a corner with a group of other interns. They head towards where Liam and Zayn holding court at a table by the back wall.

            “Hey H, Ni! Over here!” Liam waves them over and stands up to give them both bear hugs. Zayn waves at them and puffs on his cigarette. “God, H, I feel like I haven’t seen you in so long! And without James, no less. Where’s he at, then?”

            Harry takes a seat across from Zayn. “Oh, we, uh, broke up a few days ago, so.”

            They all stare at him, eyes wide. Niall leans back in his chair and cheers, pumping a fist in the air and laughing. Liam’s mouth is wide open and he exclaims, “What? Seriously?”

            “Uh, yeah. It was mutual, though, so I’m fine. It was really over, like, forever ago.”

            Zayn shrugs, “I never thought you were really into him anyway, for the record.”

            Niall is still laughing, “Oh my god, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me, you fucker! I’m so excited!”

            “What, why?” Harry squawks.

            “That guy sucked. Oh my god. He was awful. I can’t believe you dated him for so long! Such a bore.” Niall cackles and pounds on the table. “He never liked coming out with us. Or anything fun, ever, for that matter.”

            Zayn sneers, “He told me my hair was stupid when I dyed it purple.”

            Niall giggles, “It was stupid, mate.” He leans over the table to stare at Harry. “No, seriously, this is fantastic. Now you can date around and stuff.”

            Liam’s eyes widen. “You know who’s gonna freak about this?”

            “Liam!” Zayn hisses and smacks him in the arm. Liam winces and makes a pouty face at him.

            Harry’s eyebrows furrow, “Wait, who?”

            Zayn smiles at him, one of the fake ones he gives whenever he has to interact with guests. “Just uh, you know, everyone else we hang out with all the time. It’s so weird. Feels like you’ve been together forever. Everyone’s gonna talk about it.”

            “Hey, lads!” a voice shouts at them from the crowd. Louis is pushing his way through the crowd to their table. He’s dressed down in looser black jeans and a long sleeve with the sleeves pushed up, showing off tanned forearms and tattoos. He sits down next to Harry with a huff. “Sorry I’m late, Delta was acting up and needed a talking to.” He waves a hand dismissively and snatches Niall’s beer. “You know how raptors are.”

            “Hey, Lou, guess who’s single now?” Liam asks, leaning forward with his arms on the table. Louis quirks an eyebrow at him, and Liam grins. “Harry.”

            Louis chokes on his beer and turns in his seat towards Harry, eyes bulging out a little. “Really? Wow, are you okay?”

            Harry smiles at him before glaring at the rest of the boys, “You’re the first one of any of you to even ask that. Yes, I’m fine, really. I mean, I think we all could have guessed it was over a long time before we actually called it off.”

            Louis flicks his hair with a shake of his head. “I mean, still kinda sucks to call it off, right? He was a fucking prick, though. Good riddance.”

            The boys all laugh and Harry pouts, “He wasn’t that bad! He was nice to me!”

            Niall cackles, “He took you to the most touristy restaurant on Main Street for Valentine’s Day and didn’t even make reservations.”

            Zayn sighs, “He told you he didn’t think the nursery was important.”
            “He liked Nick.” Louis looks outright outraged at that fact.

            Harry laughs behind his hand, “Hey, I like Nick!” Niall’s got a weird look on his face, and Harry pauses to steal his beer from Louis, shooting him a raised eyebrow. “Ok, so maybe you guys have a point. It was just...comfortable, okay?”

            Niall leans forward, “Harry, you realize this means you’re a free man now? You can suck as many dicks as you want now.” He grabs his drink back with a glare “And give me my fucking beer back, you vultures.”

            Louis and Harry protest, and Liam rolls his eyes. “I’ll get drinks, what does everyone want?” He takes orders and weaves his way through the crowd to the bar, broad shoulders cutting through the smoke and bustling mass of people.

            Zayn blows his cigarette smoke away from his face. “We all know Harry would rather literally become a mother dinosaur and watch Netflix than suck dicks.”

            “But he’s never tried sucking a lot of dicks!” Niall protests. “Also, he’d so be a Maiasaura.” Liam nods seriously at that.

            “Niall, I am not sucking any dicks anytime soon.” Harry snorts, “I have standards. And besides, how many gay guys are actually on this island that aren’t guests?”

            Niall shrugs. “Probably a lot more than you think there are. You just haven’t looked.”

            Louis excuses himself to the bathroom. As soon as he leaves, Zayn smirks broadly at Harry and his voice is smooth when he comments, “I mean, there’s Louis.”

            Harry feels his cheeks heat up. He stutters, “W-what? Louis would never.”

            “I mean,” Niall pauses and raises an eyebrow at him. “You guys have always had that thing between you.”

            “What thing?” Harry squeaks out. He doesn’t like the way Niall and Zayn are grinning at him like predators sizing up prey.

            “You know, that thing where you’ve been dancing around each other for years,” Zayn says.

            “I--I had a boyfriend!”

            Niall laughs, “You’re the one who said it was over a long time ago. You guys had that weird thing before you started dating James, too.”

            Harry hides his face behind his hands. “Are you talking about that drunk thing at Liam’s twentieth? For the love of god, why did I ever tell you that? It was so embarrassing. I’m still embarrassed. He’s never looked at me the same way after that.”

            “Yeah, ‘cause you almost kissed him and then ran away and passed out in the nursery curled around the Triceratops eggs incubator!” Niall snorts.

            Harry drops his head to the table and groans, “It’s not my fault he’s both gorgeous and scarily intimidating at the same time! Besides, we’re just friends now. He would never with me.”

            Liam sets their drinks down on the table. “Who wouldn’t with you?”

            Niall chimes in, “Louis.”

            “God, your head is stuck up your ass, H,” Liam laughs.

 

-

 

            The raptor enclosure was farther out than most of the other enclosures, past Gallimimus Valley and northwest of the Aviary. It was a tour-only facility and they did only did one tour in the afternoon. The enclosure had slowly expanded over the years, as the raptor population was expected to expand over the next few years as they began a breeding program. The vast majority of dinosaur types on the island had moved to natural breeding over the years, but the raptors had struggled to effectively raise young past a few months.

            Louis was leaned up against the thirty-foot concrete walls of the enclosure when Harry pulled up in his car. Unease was already pricking at his skin, setting him on edge as visions of half-foot long length and claws ran through his mind.

            “Oh, come on, I know you don’t like teeth but give them a chance, Harry,” Louis calls out as Harry gets out of the car.

            Harry laughs softly, “How come you get to dress like a vagabond for work while I have to wear scrubs?”

            Louis brushes invisible crumbs off his skin-tight black jeans. The rainbow on his shirt stands out brightly against the gray wall. “You work in a nursery. I work with some of the most dangerous dinos on the island. It’s all relative,” he laughs. “Come on, we’ll go up top and I can show you around the place before we meet Birdie. That’s the mother.” He leads Harry up the sturdy stairs to the top of the enclosure.

            “I’m kind of dreading the whole meeting-a-raptor thing. I’m not convinced she won’t eat me.”

            Louis smiles back at him and shrugs. “Birdie’s actually the nicest raptor we have. Her and Ghost, who’s almost a dog. We’ll meet Birdie in the side cage. She gets testy sometimes, but I think the health problems she had last year really softened her. Delta’s the real mean one, but Dingo - that’s the beta - keeps him in place.”

            “Who’s the alpha?”

            Louis pauses while he unlocks the top gate, shooting a grin at Harry over his shoulder. “I am. Didn’t you read your files?”

            Harry makes an impressed noise. “Must have missed that.”

            Louis starts leading him over the catwalk. Harry keeps an eye on the forest below, half expecting a raptor to leap out at any second. It’s quiet now, though, only birdsong breaking the silence. Louis throws an arm over the side to gesture at the forest below and says, “So this is where I take the people on tours. I show them how,” he finger-quotes the next word, “‘well-trained’ they are. Make it as impressive as possible.”

            “Oh, I’ve heard it’s quite impressive. I’m still not sure how you can trust them to not eat you.”

            “After basically living my whole life with these guys, they learn to trust you, and you trust them in return. It’s a give-take relationship. I mean, I still keep weapons on me to show them who’s boss if I need to, but I kind of think they love me a bit.” He stops where all the catwalks intersect and points back in the west corner. “See where the trees are especially dark there? That’s where I think Birdie’s making her nest.”

            Harry clucks his tongue and says, “If she seems to be especially high-risk, we may have to take her or the eggs to the nursery. The scientists aren’t sure how last year’s illness will affect the eggs and their incubation. I really want her and the babies to stay here, though, given what I know about raptor packs.”

            Louis smiles at him and nods. “Me too.”

            There’s a loud growl from below. Harry jolts and draws into himself nervously, stepping closer to Louis as large, mean-looking predators with gleaming teeth and eyes emerge from the trees beneath them into a small clearing. There’s seven total, and they form a circle around the largest one. The big one leans back on his muscled back legs to look up at Louis.

            “That big one, there? That’s Dingo.” Louis points from left to right, “And Delta, Charlie, Echo, Ghost’s the little one, Sierra, and finally Birdie. Hi mama!” He waves cheerfully down at her. Harry could swear the raptor quirks her head to the side in an almost friendly manner.

            Harry steps a bit closer to Louis again. “So, uh, you train them? What exactly does that entail?”

            “A lot of what I do is getting them to do impressive stuff for the tours. They only do one a day, they’re super expensive apparently. So, I get them to follow me around the cage while I stand up here and throw rats at them. They do a couple of--I guess you could call them tricks? And then we give them a live animal to hunt. We usually do a pig or a bull or something else they can actually hunt. If they’re acting nice, I go into the cage and hang out with them. People really love that one.”

            “So you just let them go after live animals? You raise live animals to feed them?” Harry frowns.

            Louis shrugs, waving again at the raptors below. They’re sitting now, and Harry swears they’re eyeing him like he’s their afternoon meal. “Unfortunately, that’s part of the deal with carnivores. We have to let them hunt live meat, too, or they get really restless. They’re pack animals - they need to hunt. It’s in their DNA.”

            Harry feels bile rising in his throat. He knows the disgust is clear in his voice when he asks, “And you like these things?”

            “Oh, come one, H. Give them a chance. They’re not so bad. I quite like them.” Louis shrugs.

            Harry sighs, “I think I’ll happily stick to my herbivores given the chance. Is there anything else important about the enclosure I should know? Or their daily behavior? Any red flags that tip off babies shouldn’t be raised here?”

            “Well, it might not always be a nice, cuddly environment like you’re used to with herbivores. They’re quite rough with each other as a pack.” Just then, one of the raptors belows growls and claws at a smaller one. The smaller one screeches back and jumps on the instigator, clawing at his skin. They start wrestling while the others watch on with beady eyes.

            Harry grabs Louis’ arm, stepping closer. Part of him thinks they’ll somehow get up here and attack him. “Aren’t you going to stop that?”

            Louis looks utterly unconcerned, but he smiles at Harry and leans forward on the railing. “They’re just play fighting. Kind of like wolves, you know? I’d call it off if it got too rough. That’s Delta, by the way,” he points. “The one that started it. He’s a piece of work. And that’s Echo he’s fighting.”

            Harry watches as the two raptors wrestle on. Eventually, Dingo, he thinks based off his size, snarls at them and hisses through bared, six inch incisors. The two stop fighting immediately and nose at their raised scratch marks, still refusing to take their eye off each other. Harry bites his lip, still clutching at Louis’ arm. “That’s hardly an environment to raise young in.”

            Louis turns towards Harry. His eyes are so blue, standing out against the green growing all around them. “The young will have to grow up in this enclosure. They can’t live in the nursery all their lives, and we couldn’t build a new enclosure for them. Besides, this is just the way raptors are. They’re a little mean, a little dangerous, but they love each other. They do. It goes beyond survival. They don’t need to fight to survive here, they know that. That’s not the reason they stick together.” He pauses, gaze unwavering. “You know how I said hunting is in their blood? Family is in their blood too - pack is in their blood. They trust each other more than anything. They might fight and claw at each other, but they really care about each other.”

            Harry can’t take his eyes off Louis, his skin is warm under his fingers. He probably should have take his hand off by now, but he finds himself drawing closer instead. “Then why didn’t the last group of young survive? Physically, they were perfectly healthy.”

            Louis finally looks away to glance down at the raptors, mouth downturned. “They weren’t right. Zayn’s told you about the DNA problem, right?” Harry nods, and Louis continues, “The DNA mutated. There was something in their genetic code that wasn’t right. I can’t describe it. I’ve tried to tell the scientists this, but they refuse to accept how important their behavior is. Zayn told me they just looked past the fact that the DNA morphed. Something about how they originally created the DNA must not have translated right. ‘They look right’, they said. ‘Everything’s in the right place’, right?” Louis sighs, running a hand through his fringe and drawing his eyes back up to Harry. “Their behavior wasn’t right. I could tell, right off the bat. It wasn’t that the mother was a bad mother, she was fine. They weren’t normal. They weren’t good. I couldn’t do anything. Not to mention they didn’t imprint on me right. It was all wrong.”

            Harry takes a minute to process his words. “What makes you think these ones will be?”

            Louis scoffs, “I don’t. We can only hope they come out right this time.”

            Harry raises an eyebrow. “We better hope they do. The suits will have our heads if they die. Good or not, we have to keep them alive. If that means pulling them into the nursery…”

            “I know,” Louis says bluntly. He stares down at the raptors again. Dingo’s let Birdie, Harry thinks, rest her head on his back, the rest of the pack spread out lazily napping in the sun. Harry savors the look into their lives when they aren’t such big, terrifying monsters with teeth as long as his whole body. They’re peaceful now, lounging about in a way that almost reminds him of human teenagers.

            Louis pushes off the railing and starts leading him back down the stairs. “How do we feel about meeting Birdie, then?”

           

 

            Birdie stands almost as tall as Louis, with dark green, almost black, scales and bright yellow eyes that fix on Harry without blinking. She’s more subdued than Harry expected, although she shifts from foot to foot every few seconds and hums softly despite the muzzle-like contraption Louis’ carefully put around her jaw. The muzzle is the only thing keeping Louis away from certain death, Harry thinks, as her long black claws hang down dangerously. Harry swallows as he sees her flex her massive sickle claw on her back feet, still staring him down from behind the bars of the side cage.

Harry had stood outside the small side cage while Louis had whistled for her. He’d explained quickly about how each raptor was trained to respond to a specific whistle between blows. Louis had promised she wouldn’t hurt him after he made it clear he was his friend.

            “Hey, Harry, do you think you’re reading to come in? She’s used to your scent by now.” Louis’ softly stroking her side and scratching lightly around her neck.

            Harry swallows. He can feels his nerves peaking, pulse picking up rapidly. Shit, why couldn’t Zayn have given him Apatosauruses? Getting into that cage meant certain death. “I--I don’t know, Louis.”

            “Harry.” Louis pauses his ministrations on the raptor. He smiles at Harry softly instead and reassures him, “I promise it’ll be ok. Trust me?”

            Honestly, fuck Louis Tomlinson and his stupid pretty face. Harry steels himself, putting in the code to open the door that’ll let him into the cage. It swings open and he steps hesitantly inside.

            Birdie’s completely still, eyes still fixed on him. Louis’ still stroking and murmuring at her. Harry steps a little closer and she lowers her head, legs bending just a little and claws flexing. Harry freezes. His heart is in his throat, beating so loudly both the raptor and Louis can probably hear it. The raptor definitely can, Harry remembers something vaguely about their excellent hearing. The door is still open, if the raptor goes for him he could easily escape and close it before she could exit, too.

            Louis’ eyes harden a bit, and he steps in front of the raptor to look her straight on. “Hey,” he barks. Her eyes settle on him, widening just a little. “No! Harry is my friend. You do not hurt Harry.”

            Harry’s breath stutters in his chest, making his whole body shake. He whispers, “Can she understand what you’re saying?”

            Louis doesn’t break eye contact with Birdie. “She understands ‘no’, at least. I think they all know a lot more of our language than we give them credit for. Smarter than dolphins and monkeys, after all.” He steps menacingly closer to the raptor. Harry clenches his fist in fear, although Louis somehow manages to look dangerous facing up against the predator. His eyes are hard and he stands with his chest puffed out, pressing even closer. “H, close the door.”

            “I...Louis!” Harry exclaims.

            “Trust me.”

            Harry bites his lip and sends up a short prayer to whatever god is up there before closing his only escape route.

            “Step closer,” Louis instructs him.

            Harry wraps his arms around his middle, stepping closer to the raptor. He can see her eyes flicker away from Louis to him, before Louis barks again at her. “Eyes on me, Birdie! Harry, keep coming closer.”

            Harry steps closer and closer, but the raptor keeping her eyes on Louis. Eventually, he’s only standing a little behind the other man. “Louis?” he asks, voice wavering.

            Louis holds up one hand to Birdie and gestures Harry closer with his other. When he’s close enough, he grabs his hand and pulls him next to him. The raptor isn’t tensing up like before, only staring straight at Louis. He links their fingers together before lifting them up to Birdie. “Birdie, this is Harry. Harry, this is Birdie.” He presses their hands closer to her nostrils. “Friend, Birdie. Friend.”

            Louis steps to the side a bit and pulls Harry in front of the raptor. Her nostrils flare just a bit, but her eyes aren’t nearly as mean-looking as they were earlier. Up close, Harry can see how wide the pupils are now, more there than he saw earlier. Louis lets their hands drop back down and squeezes tightly. Harry glances at him, and the man smiles and nods towards the raptor. “Here,” he gestures, “You can stroke her cheek.”

            “Are--are you sure?”

            “Yes, she likes you. I promise.”

            Harry takes a deep breath and slowly lifts the hand not holding Louis’. Birdie just calmly stares at him and makes no move when he carefully pets her cheek. Her skin is surprisingly warm and smoother than he expected, although there are slight ridges between scales. Louis’ humming softly next to him, and Birdie slowly blinks her eyes shut. She presses her cheek into Harry’s hand and hums softly along with Louis.

“Oh my god,” Harry can’t help letting out the breathy whisper.

Louis is beaming at him, eyes crinkling in a way that makes Harry’s heart glow just a little. “Now, this is just precious."

 

            “So, did I change your mind about raptors at all?” Louis is leaning on Harry’s car door facing him, head quirked to the side.

            Harry opens his mouth to respond, before closing it and reconsidering. “I...Well. Maybe. Birdie’s...sweet. I’m just not sure about the rest of them. Like, raptors as a whole.”

            Louis grabs his hand, stroking his thumb down the outside. “You sure you’re not just irrationally scared of them? I can hold your hand every time you visit, if you want, just like we did to meet Birdie.”

            Harry feels his cheeks heat up and he covers part of his face with his free hand. He stutters, “I--I’m not irrationally scared! They have giant teeth! And claws! And hunt things!”

            “H.” Louis rolls his eyes. “They only use the teeth and claws to hunt and defend themselves. And hunting is instinct.”

            Harry pouts, “It’s a mean instinct.”

            Louis laughs, “You’re ridiculous. Are you coming by tomorrow or the next day then? You could see the tour and we can check out the nest?”

            “Yeah, I’m scheduled to come back in two days, I have a check-in with the Triceratops babies we had last month in the morning but I’ll come over after that? When’s the tour?”

            “Like two o’clock. You can text me to let me know when you’re gonna be over. I could hold the tour up for you,” Louis muses.

            Louis is still holding his hand, and Harry knows he has to go back to the nursery for afternoon check-ups and feedings, but sitting out here in the sun with Louis is really fucking nice. The two of them don’t really hang out alone, especially after Harry started dating James. It’s just always been something they’ve skirted around, only hanging out in groups. Hanging out like this is just...it’s really nice.

            Eventually he coughs and pulls his hand away from Louis’. “I uh, really have to go do my afternoon rounds. But I’ll see you in two days, right?”

            Louis’ smile is the brightest Harry’s ever seen. “Of course, H. See you then.”

 

-

 

            Harry’s running late. The Triceratops had been fine in the morning; the tiny little things were already mingling seamlessly with the rest of the herd. Harry had been so relieved -- the mother had had a fair few complications while carrying her young, and they’d been taken out of their enclosure for a few weeks. They were all fine now, though.

            The trouble had come when Camila had called him in tears begging him to come help with the pteranodon newborns she’d been assigned to. She’d apparently made a mistake in feeding them and caused a massive fight between them all, resulting in the mother getting angry at Camila and scratching her arm up badly, as well as destroying the nest. The poor girl had been so upset, blabbering on about how she was going to lose her job and how she couldn’t tell anyone but Harry or they’d fire her. Harry had reassured her the best he could over the phone before he got thee.

            Harry had arrived just in time to stop the fight from getting really out of hand. Thankfully, the aviary was really close to the plains where the Triceratops lived. He’d worked with pteranodon for an extended stint last year and knew just how to calm them down. He’d bandaged his crying intern up and helped her repair the nest the best they could under the angry, watchful gaze of the mother. He’d reassured Camila that reporting the incident would be absolutely fine, no one would fire her or anything, but the nest needed maintenance to come check up on it.

            He’d driven the girl to the clinic after for her arm, stopping to buy her ice cream on the way. She’d started crying again, thanking Harry for being the “nicest person on the entire island” and thanking him for being the best mentor she’d ever had. Harry had just smiled and pulled her into a tight hug, murmuring reassurance to her.

            It really hadn’t been a huge deal, but Harry remembers how scary his first internship at the island was. Especially when you’re only eighteen and just starting to fulfill your career goals, messing up even a little can be terrifying. It was incredibly competitive to get internships and jobs here in the first place, after all.

            Anyways, Harry really was the best mentor. But he was also pretty sure he’d completely missed the raptor tour. It was already starting to get dark, the sun sinking and casting the island into soft orange light. Just as the sun starts disappearing behind the horizon, Harry pulls up outside the raptor enclosure and gets out.

            “Hey, Harry!” Louis is walking down the stairs waving at him. He’s cast in lovely sunset pink and dusted in burnt orange. He looks like some sort of dusk painting, clad in all black against the fading sky.

            “Lou, I’m so sorry I’m so late,” Harry rushes out. “There was an incident with the pteranodon and my intern was so upset and I’m trying to be a good mentor and--”

            “H, it’s fine. Seriously.” He grasps his shoulder, smiling up at him. “We can just take a look at the nest tomorrow, if you want. I saw Birdie and Ghost gathering stuff today, which is cool. We’ll get a better look at it in the light.”

            “I...okay. Sorry.” Harry looks down and shuffles his feet. “I guess I’ll um, head back to my flat then, and see you tomorrow?”

            He starts to turn before Louis says, “Wait!” He’s avoiding meeting Harry’s eyes, staring instead at his worn-out Vans. “I was just going to head back to my house. I, um, if you want you could come over? I’ll make dinner. We can talk about the raptors and, um, stuff, since we couldn’t today.”

            Well, this is new. Harry can feel his grin almost splitting his face. “I would love that.”

 

            To say Harry is a little nervous is an understatement. He’s been to Louis’ house a couple times, for parties and gatherings for their group of friends. Most of the staff on the island live in the group of flats close to Main Street or the other group of flats near the middle of the enclosure. So the fact that Louis has an entire house to himself means it’s perfect for the parties the staff have every once in a while. It’s far removed from tourists, too, on a cliff overlooking the ocean and a short drive from the raptor enclosure.

            “When’s the last time your family was here?” Harry asks as Louis unlocks the door. “Feels like forever since I’ve seen them around.”

            Louis hums, considering. “They haven’t visited for two years, I’d say. You know, once you leave dino island you never really come back. Even if your son stays behind.” He leads Harry into the house, pointing to a group of horizontal lines on the corner leading into the living room. “Never showed you this, right? We all measured our heights here. Measured them the last time the girls were all up, for old times sake.”

            Harry smiles as he notes how the lines have scaled the wall from only a few feet above the ground to right around Louis’ height, the handwriting labeling the names getting gradually neater. He notes the inked cursive ‘Lottie’ only a few inches above a printed ‘Fizzy’, and some scribbles near the ground that must have been the twins. “How are your parents?” he asks. “Must be weird retiring from being the scientists that practically ran the whole island.”

            Louis laughs, “Oh, they’re fine. Just called mum this morning. They still do dino stuff every once in a while, but mostly they just golf and raise the girls.”

            “Do you think they’ll ever follow in your footsteps and come back?”

            “Maybe.” He shrugs. “It would be cool if they did. But, you know, living so far from normal society isn’t for everyone.”

            Harry follows him into the kitchen and watches him furrow his eyebrows and pull out a box of pasta from a cupboard. Louis asks, “Um, pasta okay? I don’t really cook for myself so I don’t really know what else to make.”

            “Yeah, absolutely!” He exclaims. Louis scan through his fridge with a confused look on my face. Harry says, “I, um, actually cook for myself a lot. If you want help?”

            Louis turns around with a giant grin on his face. “Why didn’t anyone tell me you can cook?”

            Harry giggles and joins him at the fridge. He pulls out any veggies Louis has tucked back in his drawers, which are a sorry-looking zucchini and some herbs. “Oh,” Louis exclaims from behind him. “I forgot about that zucchini. It was growing in my mom’s old garden.”

            Harry fixes him with a look and asks, “You have a garden here?”

            “It really only has the stuff that grows back itself. It’s all over-grown and stuff. Not very appetizing.”

            Harry huffs, “You have a garden and you don’t even use it.”

            “You’re welcome to cultivate it any time you’d like, love,” Louis laughs.

            Louis turns on music while Harry boils the pasta and cuts up the zucchini and the chicken strips he’d found in another drawer. It’s an old Ed Sheeran album, one of Harry’s favorites. He sings along under his breath.

            “Didn’t know you sing,” Louis teases. He’s given up helping, instead sitting on the counter next to Harry swinging his feet.

            Harry hums, “If I wasn’t so obsessed with dinosaurs, I probably would’ve tried to be a singer. But alas, I decided to go with dino mom for a career.”

            “I could see that. Those curly locks on your head would make you an excellent rockstar. Pretty Mick Jagger-esque. Pretty wild and crazy over there.”

            “Hey,” Harry frowns at him. “It is not wild and crazy.”

            Louis snorts, “Mhm. Totally tame, love.”

            The pasta is done soon, and they carry their bowls out to the porch outside facing the ocean. It’s mostly dark, now, only a few streaks of dusted pink near the horizon lighting up the sky. Louis lights the candles on the railing before sitting down. He moans when he takes a bite, “H, this is amazing. Why don’t you cook for me more?”

            Harry giggles and shakes his fork at him, “And this is what I can do with shit ingredients. Just wait ‘til I cook with real stuff.”

            “Oh so is this gonna be a regular thing? You cooking for me?”

            Harry seriously needs to stop blushing every time Louis so much as alludes to them being friends and hanging out, but alas. “Could be if you wanted it to be.” He ducks his head down, twisting pasta around his fork. “You have a really nice kitchen.”

            They fall into easy conversation, occasionally sharing a comfortable silence. By the time they’re done eating, which takes a while with how much Louis makes him laugh, all the color is drained from the sky.

            “I should probably get going. I have Boop’s last check up early tomorrow before we re-introduce her in a couple days,” Harry sighs. He wishes he could stay here for hours with Louis, talking about silly stuff and serious stuff and anything in between, until the sun rose back up over the horizon.

            Louis smiles and asks, “Boop’s the Maiasaura you like so much, right?”

            Harry’s pleased he remembers his rambling from the bar the other night. “Yeah, that’s the one. I’ll see you tomorrow afternoon, yeah? I’ll try not to be late this time!”

           

-

 

            Harry’s not sure he’s gonna be able to let Boop go. She’s just one of the sweetest babies he’s worked with, so curious and gentle, constantly making little squawks. He’s always had a soft spot for Maiasaura, but little Boop is just extra cute and extra needy.

            They’ve only just put her in with all the nursery herbivores, as she’s finally healthy enough now, and she seems to be getting on splendidly. Harry keeps a watchful eye on her and he and Nick carefully take notes on the rest of the group’s members. They have a little nursery “playgroup” of herbivores that has an outdoor/indoor enclosure where they can all interact, completely different from the petting zoo near Main Street. They use it for the dinosaurs who have to stay in the nursery for extended amounts of time and to get a read on how the young might fair back in their own enclosures. Most of the herbivore enclosures are mixed types, so it works out perfectly for them. Carnivores, of course, are a little more difficult and had a separate enclosure, but Harry mostly stuck to the herbivores.

            “Boop will probably be able to go back to her enclosure in a few days,” Nick observes next to him as he checks a box on his paper.

            Harry grunts, checking off the ‘interacts peacefully with members of another type’ box for a larger Gallimimus greeting their new Ankylosaurus.

            Nick clicks his tongue, “You know she’ll be happier and healthier in a real enclosure.”

            He sighs, “I know. I do. She’s just so cute. I’ll miss her, is all. More than most of the guys I see here.”

            Nick laughs, “You’re sadder about missing a dinosaur than missing James.”

            “Well,” Harry hesitates and shrugs. “I was over that, like, forever ago. So. Hey, you think we should ask for more bushes in here? Janice and her little group seem to really like them.”

            Nick glances up and comments, “Yeah, we could. I think they all could use a few more toys, though. These ones are getting a little worn out.”

            Harry hums thoughtfully, “I’ll put in a request for some soon.”

            They’re interrupted by the door to the nursery opening. Camila pops her head out, a curious look on her face. “Um, Harry? The uh, raptor guy is here to see you? I didn’t let him in yet.”

            Harry blinks. “You mean Louis?”

            She nods, hair falling over her forehead. “Yeah, that one!”

            “Wow, um, can you let him? I’ll be there in a second.”

            She hustles off, and Harry quickly makes his notes for his last dinosaur, the Apatosaurus that’s leaving tomorrow. Nick shoots him a look and teases, “Louis, eh?”

            Harry blushes, turning his face away. “It’s not a thing, if that’s what you’re implying.”

            “Never said I was. He’s pretty hot, though.” Harry knows that look on his face.

            Harry glares at him. “Nick, no.”

            “Hey,” the man exclaims. “What, I’m too old? You already have your sights on him? Don’t pretend that the Liam’s twentieth birthday incident didn’t happen.”

            “How do you even know about that?” Harry grumbles. Nick just smirks at him. Harry huffs and goes back into the nursery, finding Louis leaning on a table as Camila fixes up meds next to him

            “Harry, love!” Louis smiles at him, pushing himself off the table. “Sorry to show up so unexpected. I know we’re already seeing each other later, but I had a meeting I forgot about with administration earlier and I thought I could come surprise you.” He lifts up two styrofoam boxes, grinning impishly. “I brought you lunch. Figured I owed you for doing the cooking last night.” He winks.

            Harry catches Camila staring at the two of them with wide eyes out of the corner of his eye. He ignores her, instead smiling back at Louis. “Wow, Lou, this is so nice. I’m due for my lunch break, if you want to go eat together? I just have to finish off this paperwork.” He pauses, considering, “Do you want to meet Boop first?”

            Louis’ eyes widen a bit but he grins even brighter. “Of course I do.”

            Harry leads him outside to the outdoor enclosure. Louis greets Nick, who mumbles back and smirks at Harry with an eyebrow raised. “Wait here,” Harry instructs.

            He opens the door into the enclosure and finds Boop, who’s playfully bumping heads with a Parasaurolophus. He carefully picks her up, apologizing to the Parasaurolophus, who just plops down and starts chewing at the long grass next to him. He grunts a little at her weight, surprised at how much she’s grown recently.

            “Alright, Lou. Meet Boop.” He holds the little Maiasaura so she can perch on his chest and arms and look right at Louis. She stares at him for a second before squawking in his face.

            Louis giggles, “Well, hello there, Miss Boop. How are you today?” The little dino squawks again and reaches out a little hand to him, like she’s expecting him to shake it.

            Louis shoots a questioning look at Harry, who nods, and he carefully holds her little hand. She makes a pleased noise, eyes sparkling. Harry remembers the glassy look she had only a few days ago, and he can feel the smile on his face trying to split it in two. “Do you want to hold her? She’s a sweetie. I promise.”

            “Is that okay? She won’t get too used to humans?” Louis asks with a nervous tone.

            Harry shakes his head, holding Boop out to him carefully. “Maiasaura are very kind with little to no rejection rate. She’ll be fine.”

            Louis slowly takes Boop from his, holding her to his chest. “Hi, sweetheart,” he says softly.

            Harry’s heart is melting. Louis looks like a father seeing his kid for the first time, smiling down at the dinosaur like she’s the best thing that’s ever graced the planet. He can’t keep the words off his tongue, “This is adorable.”

            Louis absolutely beams at him. “I know. How precious is she?”

            Nick coughs behind Harry, “I’m done with my paperwork. Did you finish yours? Or did you get a little distracted?” He looks like an evil villain, like he’s just waiting to take the piss out of Harry any second.

            Harry blushes bright red. “Oh, no. I’ll um, finish it now.” Boop waves her little claws at Louis when Harry takes her back and gives him one last squawk before she’s put back into the enclosure. He follows Nick back into the nursery, Louis trailing behind him.

            “I’m parked right outside. Come out when you’re done,” he says.

            As soon as he’s gone, Camila exclaims, “Oh my god, Harry, are you guys dating? This is the greatest thing ever. You’re so cute together.”

            Harry chokes, pausing his pen on the paper so the ink bleeds deep, “What? That’s not--why would you even think that?”

            Nick rolls his eyes and barks out a laugh. Camila giggles, “You cooked for him,” she pauses to wiggle her eyebrows at him, “last night. You’re already seeing him later. You let him meet Boop.

            “He let him hold Boop,” Nick adds in. Camila’s eyes nearly pop out of her head. Nick laughs, “I’m surprised he didn’t pop a boner right there and propose.”

            “Camila, Nick, that’s not--we’re not dating, it’s a work thing,” he stutters, hiding his face in his hands.
            They both give him disbelieving looks, and Camila laughs, “Sure.”

            “I’m serious!”

            “I believe you.” She winks at him, then whispers, “So are you guys trying to keep it secret or what?”

            Harry gapes at her. “No! We’re not dating! We’re just friends. I swear.”

            She leans back on the table, nodding faux-seriously. “Absolutely. Just friends, sure.”

            “You--you are eighteen! What do you know about dating?”

            She rolls her eyes. “Whatever. Did you even see the way he looks at you? And I saw you blushing! You’re blushing right now!”

            “That’s not, I can’t believe you. You’re an intern! I’m your mentor, you can’t ask me about who I’m dating!”

            “Again, whatever. If you guys aren’t dating you totally should be.” She’s smirking knowingly at him, tossing dark hair over her shoulder. “I’m an excellent matchmaker, you know.”

            Nick grasps Camila’s shoulder. “I like this intern. Let’s keep her.”

            Harry groans, “I’m leaving. Drop this paperwork off for me?”

            “Sure. Have fun with your boyfriend!” Nick calls after him.

           

 

            If Harry thought meeting Birdie was scary, meeting Dingo was worse. He stood a good two feet taller than her, with longer claws and more menacing teeth and a much meaner disposition. Harry had begged Louis not to meet him, but Louis had insisted they couldn’t have a stranger poking around the nest. Dingo had to trust and know him first.

            They’d repeated much the same process that they’d used for Birdie with Dingo, starting off with closer and closer steps and letting Dingo get a good sniff of him. Harry had tried to ignore the leap in his stomach when Louis had grabbed his hand again to show Dingo they were friends. Surprisingly, the beta had only growled a few times at Harry and flinched when he’d stroked his cheek. Louis had explained he’d be easier to win over since he’d already won Birdie over.

After the meeting, Louis had shooshed let Harry out of the side cage and called in the other five raptors so he and Harry could go into the enclosure with Birdie.

“Don’t be nervous,” Louis reassured him, leading him through a different door into the enclosure. “She likes you.” He whistled Birdie’s whistle, and she loped lazily up to them again. It was terrifying seeing her without the muzzle on, but she only hummed a greeting to Louis and dipped her head at Harry. Harry shuddered at the thought of her teeth, though. They both had multiple tranquilizers on them, but he wasn’t sure if he could protect himself in time to save himself. He had to rely on Louis’ reassurances that he knew what he was doing.

Louis started walking towards the darker forested part, Birdie walking right next to him. Harry walked on his other side, tempted to grab his hand again. For comfort, of course. As if reading his mind, Louis stepped a little closer to his side, shooting him a soft grin.

It was still bright in the forested part, thanks to the sun shining through the trees and lighting up the brush. It was cooler than the area outside, a thankful respite for them. Louis stroked a hand down Birdie’s side. “Hey, Birdie, where’s your nest?” he cooed at her.

She cocked her head. Louis repeated, “Nest, Birdie. Babies?” He pointed to his stomach, then hers.

She stared at him a bit longer before her pupils widened and she knocked Louis’ shoulder softly with her snout. The raptor started trotting further into the forest, tail swinging slowly from side to side and claws hanging down unclenched. She looked relaxed and navigated around the trees easily as the boys followed her.

She led them across the small river that ran through the whole enclosure, up a slight incline to a small clearing. The clearing hadn’t been visible from the bottom of the incline, and it was lined with soft bright green grass, with a massive tree in the top center. The bottom of the tree was hollow to almost Birdie’s height, with various straws and sticks forming what almost looked like a cradle or misshapen bird nest at the bottom

“That’ll be the nest, then,” Louis grins. Birdie goes over to it and sniffs at it as if checking that everything was in order. She straightens up and cocks her head at Louis again.

Harry gulps and mumbles, “Looks pretty secure and safe to me.”

“We can get closer, silly.” Louis pulls him closer to the tree-nest by the hand. To Harry’s surprise, Birdie stays completely calm and collected. “H, why don’t you take a closer look and I’ll keep an eye on Birdie here?”

Harry bites his lip, eyeing Birdie nervously even as Louis starts cooing at her and petting her side. He takes a deep breath and kneels down to examine the nest. Birdie seems to be keeping an eye on him, but she’s not tense at all, only humming softly at Louis. Glancing up at the raptor occasionally, he pokes around the nest. Under the many layers of feathers and bits of fur and soft grass in the middle, the ground is hard, but the padding makes the middle almost feel like a mattress. There are sticks built up around the middle so it looks similar to the bird nest. The eggs definitely won’t fall out of the center. The tree is massive enough that Birdie can curl up in the nest, probably tucking her tail around and letting her head and claws hang out. It doesn’t look as if there’s any bugs or other nasties crawling around, but Harry gets out the lab kit to test for potentially harmful chemicals or poisons that might be lurking around.

When he’s finally done taking small samples for the kit, he straightens up, holding his back and groaning under his breath. He’s always had a bad back. Louis is talking to Birdie about babies and the pack, “Delta won’t be a problem, right? Dingo will keep him in his place. And me too, of course. And you’ll raise them better than Sierra. Your DNA is better, I can just tell.”

“Which of those words do you think she knows?” Harry muses.

“The names, for sure.” He shrugs, “Maybe ‘babies’. You get the samples?”

“Yeah. It looks really nice, actually. Plenty of padding and it’s really secure in there, with enough room for her to keep them warm. When do you think they’re due again?”

“The scientists put it at a few weeks from now.”

Harry muses, “How are we gonna keep watch here?”

Louis wrinkles his forehead. “Keep watch?”

Harry raises an eyebrow at him. “This is a high-risk case and most raptor babies die within the first week or so of life, particularly in the first ten hours. Of course we’re keeping watch, so we can pull out anyone in trouble or help Birdie out.”

“Oh,” Louis pauses. “We’ll have to set up a fence to keep the other raptors out during the hatching and stuff so we can be there and build a hut that can keep us safe if Birdie gets mad. We’ll have to make a request for the fences soon.”

“I put in a request for some stuff like that when I first got the case, so they should have enough time to get it all set up.”

Louis laughs and shakes his head teasingly. “You really thought of everything, didn’t you? We can make a night out of it when they hatch, if you want. I’ll bring wine, you can make food…”

“You just want my cooking!” Harry giggles.

“What, I’m curious to see what else you can make!”

Harry shakes his head at him. “Here I was thinking we were friends and now you just want me for my cooking.”

Louis nods seriously. “Duh. Isn’t that right, Birdie?” The raptor just stares blankly at Harry and hums. “See, she agrees!”

“Shush, you said she liked me.”

 

-

 

            It’s a risky move. He knows it is. He knows Nick and Camila will tease him endlessly for it. He’s already been getting weirdly intense looks from all the other interns running around. Camila’s probably told them all about her delusions about Harry and Louis. But the image of Louis holding Boop is haunting him and Harry would probably commit murder to see him hold Boop one last time. And well, this is the last day he’s going to be able to.

            So it’s a risk, but it’s 7am and he’s a little sleep-addled, so he’s going for it. The phone rings five times before Louis answers with a grumpy “It’s 7 am. Who the fuck calls at 7am?”

            Harry stutters, “Oh, it’s um, it’s Harry. Sorry.”

            There’s shuffling over the phone that sounds like sheets. Louis’ voice comes out much brighter this time, “Oh, hi Harry! Sorry, I’m so grouchy in the mornings. What’s up?”

            “I didn’t mean to wake you up…” Harry trails off.

            “Oh, it’s fine!” Louis’ voice almost squeaks. “I’m happy to hear from you!”

            “It’s just,” he pauses, steeling up his nerves. “I was wondering if you wanted to come and like, re-introduce Boop with me today? This morning? Sorry I should’ve asked earlier. Sorry, you’re probably busy, I--”

            “Harry. I’d love to.”

            “Oh, wow. I, um. Want to meet me at the nursery in like 45 minutes?”

“I’ll be there.”

 

            Camila blinks slowly. “You what?”

            “I asked Louis to come reintroduce Boop with us. It’s not a big deal,” Harry shrugs, coaxing the little Maiasaura into the traveling cage with coos and treats.

            “Not a big deal?” she almost shrieks. “Nick is gonna have a field day with this.”

             Just then, Nick walks in with Niall trailing after him. Nick grumbles, “Got a special delivery for you, Styles.”

            “Oh hey, Niall. What are you doing here?”

             Niall smiles, looking oddly nervous and out of place. “Uh--I just heard Boop’s getting reintroduced today. Thought I’d come say goodbye.”

             “Aw, Ni.” Harry grins at him and teases, “I didn’t think she meant so much to you! Coming here just for her.”

             “Yup, I’m--uh, here for her. You’re the one who talks about her all the time! I can’t help getting attached.” Niall crosses his arms.

             Harry giggles and lifts Boop’s cage up to the table so Niall can say hi. He hasn’t closed the door yet, so Niall can grab Boop’s hand when she reaches it out to him. “Hey, there, little guy. Sad to see you go. You’re so big and healthy now!”

             Camila calls to Harry, “Hey, Harry. Louis is here!”

             “Let him in, yeah?” he calls back.

              Niall grins widely at him. “Why’s Louis here?”

              Harry coughs into his hand, focusing his eyes on Boop. “I thought it would be good for him to see Boop with her family. You know, get him some experience with that. The reintroduction thing. In case it happens with the raptors.”

              The blond rolls his eyes. “Because Maiasaura are so similar to raptors. Plus, he’s dealt with raptor young before. He did mention you guys have been hanging out lately.” He waggles his eyebrows at him. “Is there something I should know?”

              “Yeah, Harry, is there?” Louis walks up behind Niall, simultaneously giving Harry a heart attack and crossing his arms. “Hey, Ni. What are you doing here?”

              “Saying goodbye to Boop, obviously,” Niall snorts. “Why else would I be here?”

              “Obviously,” Louis scoffs. “Dunno, maybe you were coming along with Boop.”

              “Nah, that’s all you, mate. I should actually get going, but I’ll see you both later.” He waves goodbye, slinking out the exit.

              Louis crouches down to see Boop eye to eye. “Hey there, little Missy.”

              Oh god, this was a terrible idea. Louis looks absolutely precious petting Boop’s cheek. Harry can feel his heart dying in his chest. Why did he ever think this was a good idea?

 

              The Maiasaura live in Gallimimus Valley with the rest of the grazing dinosaurs and the Gallimimus, of course, that zip around on their stalk-like legs around all the rest of the herbivores. On the car ride there, Louis teases Harry for his Fleetwood Mac CDs and his lavender air freshener, all with a grin that puts his eye crinkles into full effect. He keeps an eye on Boop’s cage filling up the backseat, poking fingers through the bars from time to time to entertain her.

              The valley stretches out as far as the eye can see, and all over again Harry is overwhelmed with the sheer vastness of the island. It’s covered in soft green grass and bushes, with the occasional low-growing tree breaking up the space. The Maiasaura cover a large portion of the area, wandering in a giant herd. Louis can see young the size of Boop walking next to their mothers, each accompanied by a sibling or two.

             “How do we know which one’s Boop’s mother?” Louis asks as they get out of the car, hauling Boop from the backseat before Harry can get to it.

             “She has a tracker implanted in her. Nick has the device for it.” He crouches down to take a look at Boop. She’s sitting right by the mouth of the cage, peering out with bright eyes.

              Nick pulls up beside them and he and Camila get out. Camila’s got a camera to document the occasion and Nick’s holding the tracker. “Do we let her out here?” Camila asks.

              Nick nods and answers, “Yeah, and we’ll encourage her to find her mom. If it goes as we hope, she’ll be able to find her herself after a little bit. Push comes to shove we use the tracker.”

              Harry takes a deep breath and unlocks Boop’s cage. Her expression has gone from curious to confused and she pulls back a little. “Hey there, Boop. I have to say goodbye for now. I’ll see you again, but only to make sure you’re still healthy.” She squawks at him and stands up. Harry can hear his voice getting choked up, his throat feels heavy and too tight. “I’ll miss you. Are you ready to go home to your family now?”

              He points at the herd, and she follows his finger with her eyes. She leans forward, eyes widening when she sees all the dinosaurs like her milling about. She takes an uncertain step forward. “There we go,” Harry encourages her.

              Finally, she walks slowly out, eyes fixed on the herd. She looks at Harry, then at the herd, and back to Harry. He gulps and stands up. “Come on, Boop. You can do it.” He starts walking toward the herd and she stumbles behind him on her two big back legs.

              Harry can hear the camera shutter snapping. He looks up at Louis, who’s smiling softer than he’s ever seen, but so hard Harry can barely see his eyes, the corners of his eyes crinkled with happiness. He meets Harry’s eyes and mouths what looks like “You got this”.

              The closer they get to the herd, the straighter Boop stands and the faster she walks. She’s almost trotting when they’re about a hundred feet away. Louis is walking next to Harry and Harry comments to him, “This is pretty much her fastest speed, I reckon.”

             Louis smiles back and bumps his shoulder with his. Some of the Maiasaura seem to have caught sight of her, stilling in their grazing to look at her. One of the older ones ambles away from the pack towards her. Harry holds out a hand to stop Louis. Boop stops, too, looking up at him curiously. Harry gestures towards the Maiasaura wandering their way. The older one stops about ten feet away and lowers her head to look at Boop.

              “Is that the mom, you think?” Louis asks Harry.

              “No, her mother is much older and bigger. This one might help her find her, though.” Harry crouches to look at Boop. “Hey, buddy,” he says softly and points at the Maiasaura looking at them. “That’s your family. That’s where you belong.”

              He can hear Nick muttering behind him, “What is this, Shamu?”

              Harry glares at him, then refocuses on Boop. “I love you. I do, buddy. But the nursery isn’t your home.” He gestures towards the herd again. “They’re your home.”

              Boop stares at him for a few seconds, before stepping forward and pressing her cheek to Harry’s cheek. Harry wonders if she can feel the tears sliding down them. She stays there for a few seconds, before pulling back. She squawks at him one last time before she turns and starts walking towards the Maiasaura. When she reaches her, the older one presses her cheek softly to Boop’s, looking over calmly at Harry. Maybe they’re not as smart as humans, but it feels like reassurement to Harry, like a promise that Boop will be okay.

             The two Maiasaura start walking along the edge of the pack, moving faster than the rest of their kin. Nick motions them to follow, and they trail behind the two. Louis bumps into Harry’s side, casting a soft smile at him.

             Eventually, the two Maiasaura stop and the older one lets out a rasping honk. They wait there for a few painstaking, silent minutes before a giant Maiasaura comes ambling out of the herd, three little ones at her side. She freezes when she sees Boop standing next to the adult, before letting out a loud honk and almost running towards her. She drops to the ground and presses her giant forehead to Boop’s little one, letting out a deep, comforting rumble. Harry can hear Boop’s pleased squawk from here. The mother reaches out and strokes Boop’s cheek, the way that Harry always did to her in the nursery. Boop presses her head into her mother’s palm, eyes closed. She looks peaceful, finally healthy enough to be where she belongs. Her siblings mill about her, sniffing at her curiously as the mother keeps rumbling comforts at her child.

             Harry’s full on crying now, eyes red and voice throat completely choked up. He’s happy, he is, but he’s also sad to see her go. Louis hugs him, murmuring sweetly in his ear, angling his shoulder so Harry can watch Boop and her little family over it. After a few minutes the mother pulls back from her child, standing up again. She stands still and stares at the little human group standing a little away. Harry could swears she makes eye contact with him before craning her head deeply. Boop sits back on her haunches and waves at Harry one more time, the way she’s imitated so many times back in the nursery. Then she follows behind her mother back into the herd.

 

            Harry’s sniffling in the car back, eyes and nose tinged red. Louis puts in one of the Fleetwood Mac CDs and glances helplessly at Harry. Harry can see his eyebrows furrowing deeper and deeper, before he finally asks softly, “Hey, H? Do you wanna hear a joke?”

            Harry wipes his nose and chokes out, “Sure, Lou.”

            Louis grins. “So, a group of chess players are staying in this hotel, right? So they’re in the lobby just discussing all of their tournaments wins. And after a while, the manager comes over and asks them to leave. And when the chess players ask why, the manager says ‘Because I can’t stand chess-nuts boasting on an open fire.’”

            Harry stares at him for a second, before slapping a hand to his mouth and letting out a honking laugh. “Oh my god, is this your way of cheering me up?”

            “Maybe. Maybe I just really like jokes.” Louis shrugs.

            “That was the worst joke I’ve ever heard. Where did you even hear that?”

            “It was my mum’s favorite jokes. I grew up on chess-nuts, mind you.”

            Harry laughs again, putting his hand back on the wheel. Stevie Nicks is singing on in the background, the one song his sister always makes Harry dance with her to. He glances at Louis again, who’s got a small smile back on his face. “Did you know I found Boop myself?”

            “Really?”

            “Well, not really myself. Her mother led me to her.” Louis is listening with a rapt expression on his face. Harry continues, “So I was in the field checking on some reports of lost Parasarapholus young. I’d just re-introduced a pair, so I was worried they were mine. Turns out some interns had just miscounted and messed up the reports. Anyways, I was walking back to my car, and I noticed this giant Maiasaura walking towards me, which was unusual because they’re always in the herd. Strays are very uncommon. So, I walked over to her and she made that honking noise, but then she started walking away. I was pretty sure something was up, so when she looked back at me and honked again, I started following her. She led me over to this bush far away from the rest of the herd, and there was Boop under it. She was so obviously sick, and tucked under the bush so well you never would have caught her unless someone showed you. So the mother looks at me with this look, I can’t explain it, and then looks at Boop. It was both sad and desperate. I picked Boop up and the mother just followed me when I walked back to the car. Before I got in, she just stroked Boop’s cheek and let me get in the car and watched me drive away.”

            The car is silent save for Stevie crooning for a minute, before Louis breathes out a stunned-sounding “Wow.”

            Harry laughs heavily, voice still choked up, “I know. It felt like she just trusted me with her. It was…I don’t know how to describe it.”

            “H, that’s amazing. Seriously.” Louis looks so earnest, so different from his usual light, teasing expression.

            “Thank you.” Harry takes his eyes off the road for a second to smile at him. “How did you meet the raptors? Were they little?”

            Louis leans back in his seat. “I was fifteen when the last raptor pack died out with only two living offspring. Those offspring died soon after, though, they actually killed each other off. So, they made another pack. My dad was the lead scientist on it. Their main goal was improving the DNA so this group could breed. Anyways, he let me into the lab when they were hatching.  I remember standing right in front of them and they were so tiny you could fit one in your hand. My dad actually did hold one in his hand, and held it out to me. My dad was a little bit of a nutcase, s’why mom divorced him. So, he held it out to me and me and the little guy just had this, like, connection. I was always asking to visit them, and eventually he made an appeal that I should train them so they could have a permanent connection as they grew up. We both knew they imprinted on me.  Always became much more mild-mannered when I came around, never wanted to hurt me. The first new group they made was Dingo, Delta, Charlie, and Echo. Then Sierra, Birdie, and Ghost a few years later.” Louis snorts. “Ghost took a full extra three days to hatch. Baby of the group, and all. My dad didn’t really expect them to consider me part of the pack. Or their alpha. But they imprinted on me, each and every one of them, and accepted me as theirs.”

            Harry feels his insides dying a little again. The image of teenage Louis meeting little raptors was making his heart race, ready to burst out of his chest at any second. Even he could admit that tiny raptors were probably pretty cute.

            “Hey,” Louis says. “Do you want to have a lads night this weekend? To put your mind off Boop and cheer you up. We can watch sappy movies and drink beer and go swimming. And you can cook.” He smirks, “I’ll even buy you the ingredients.”

            “You better buy me the good stuff. Organic only,” Harry laughs.

 

-

 

            “Louis, are these actually organic?” Harry’s looking at Louis with wide eyes, holding a tomato in one hand and a bunch of kale in the other.

            Louis snorts, “Yeah, I had to shell out extra for it and everything. You’re lucky I even bought you kale.” He haughtily lifts his nose a bit. “I won’t eat it, of course. I’m not a rabbit. But you can do whatever with it.”

            Harry laughs, “I’m making a kale salad.”

            Louis’ eyes pop out. “What?”

            “You said I could do whatever! It’ll be good. I promise. And I’m making mozzarella chicken.”

            Louis sighs, dramatically placing a hand on his chest. “Oh thank god. Real food.”

            Harry wiggles his eyebrows. “And it’ll be wrapped in parma ham.”

            “Oh my god,” Louis grins. “This was my best idea ever.”

            Louis puts on an old Rolling Stones album and flits about cleaning up and making conversation. Harry had laughed at the state of the house when he’d come in, pointing out the dirty clothes on the couch and the empty beer bottles scattered around. The most notable one was on the edge of the bathtub that he’d noticed last time he’d come over. Even the kitchen, despite the fact that Louis never used it except for the microwave, had various papers and dishes piled everywhere.

            Harry’s just finishing up the chicken before putting it in the oven when there’s a knock on the door. He hears Louis open the door and exclaim, “Zayn, Liam!”.

            The three of them pile into the kitchen around Harry. “Hey, H.” Liam gives him massive bear hug.

            Zayn smiles at him. There’s a cigarette tucked between his two fingers, like he’s already itching to take a smoke.

Liam asks, “How’s work and everything?” He has this weirdly sympathetic look on his face.

            “It’s good, it’s good! Just heard the fence for the raptors got put up, which is good. And Stevie’s spikes are looking so much better, thanks to Zayn. We had a mild spat in the nursery enclosure with a Pachycephalosaurus in the afternoon, you know how thick-headed they can be.” Harry giggles at his own pun. “Lou, will you check the oven temperature for me? It should be ready for the chicken.”

            Louis checks quickly and confirms, opening the door for Harry to put the tray in.

            Zayn murmurs, “So, when do you see Boop next?” He lifts up a bottle of wine in his other hand. “I brought wine to drink away your mama dino feels.”

            Harry rolls his eyes. “Louis, what did you tell them?”

            Before Louis can answer, Liam’s saying, “Oh, just that we were having a lads night all to cheer you up. Quite cute, if I do say so myself.”

            Zayn elbows him in the ribs. “Quite cute for uh, friends, you know. Friends who care about each other. Quite cute.”

            Harry eyes them suspiciously. They’re grinning at him impishly, identical smiles on their faces. He sighs and turns back to where he’s preparing the veggies. “Anyways, I’m making chicken and kale salad.”

            Liam groans, “What is with you and the kale?”

            Harry turns around, pointing a finger at Liam accusingly. “Excuse you. It’s one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet. And it’s delicious when prepared correctly.”

            “Did you read that in the health foods magazine you get shipped out here?” Zayn raises one perfectly shaped eyebrow.

            Louis and Liam laugh, and Harry glares at them, crossing his arms. “Actually it was in Goop. You know, Gwyneth Paltrow’s blog?” The boys only laugh more at that, and Harry grumpily starts chopping the kale. “You’ll see how good it is when I’m done.”

            “Where’s Niall?” Louis asks when he stops laughing.

            Liam shrugs. “I dunno, said he didn’t want a ride for some reason.”

            They talk and joke for a bit, Louis having grabbed beers for all of them. There’s a knock at the door again, and Louis yells, “It’s open!”

            Niall looks mussed up when he comes into the kitchen, hair just a little askew and cheeks more red than usual. “Hey, sorry I’m late! Work stuff, you know.”

Liam sounds suspicious, “Don’t you have early shifts this week? I just had my intern rearrange all the tour guide schedules the other day.”

            Niall laughs hollowly, “Yeah, someone was uh, sick, so I stepped in. You know me, always trying to help.” He grabs a beer from the fridge and pokes his head around Harry’s shoulder to get a look at the salad he’s mixing.

            “Kale.” Harry shoots him a look. “Don’t complain. Apparently it’s my night, anyway.”

            Niall laughs, “Aw, yeah, heard about Boop! Too sad, I liked that one. You’ll see her soon, though?”

            Harry opens his mouth to answer, but then pauses and closes it again. He drags his eyes down Niall’s shirt and furrows his eyebrows. “Your shirt buttons are all messed up.”

            Niall’s eyes widen and he coughs into his fist. “Aw, yeah. Funny how that happened. Just changed to run over here, so.”

            “You didn’t have to rush,” Liam snorts. “We would’ve waited to eat.”

            “I didn’t wanna miss a minute of little H’s food!” Niall exclaims, mussing up Harry’s hair.

            Harry pushes him away, laughing. “Duh, I’m the best cook on the island. This is done, by the way. Can someone set the table?”

            Louis starts grabbing silverware and plates. “I got it.” He addresses the other boys before darting out, “I cleared the dining table and everything for this.”

            Liam smiles broadly at Harry. “This is adorably domestic.”

            Harry freezes in picking up the salad bowl and groans, “Liam.”

            “I know.” He puts his hands up. “Just saying.”

            “Shut up and carry the chicken out,” Harry says, pointing at the platter.

            When they’ve finally all sat down, Louis raises a glass of freshly poured wine and winks at Harry. “To dino moms.”

            They all laugh and clink glasses, Harry blushing again.

            Niall is the first one digging into the chicken. He moans around a bite, “Oh my god, H. This is delicious. Marry me.”

            Harry giggles as the rest of the boys back up the statement. “Didn’t know you swung that way, Ni.”

            Niall’s mouth twitches and he laughs back, “You always did tell me don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”

            Harry smiles and turns his head to the other boys. He says threateningly, “So, who likes the salad?”

            They all freeze and stare at him, eyes wide. Liam’s got a bit of mozzarella hanging out of his mouth. Harry leans forward on his elbows, assessing the boys. “I’ll give whoever tries it first some of the red velvet cake I’m making later to take home.”

            Immediately they’re all scooping up forkfuls of the salad, shoving it in their mouths with unbridled enthusiasm. Harry’s red velvet cake is famous in their friend circle, and even people out of it have asked Harry for the recipe before.

            Zayn’s spluttering out, “Wait, that’s actually really good.”

            Liam’s got a bit of kale hanging out of his mouth now. “This is fucking good.”

            Niall voices his approval as well and Harry turns in his seat to Louis next to him. “What do you think?”

            Louis chews a bit longer, dragging out the moment with a thoughtful look on his face. He swallows and tilts his head, looking off into the distance dramatically. Finally, he turns his face to Harry with a massive grin. “I hate you. This is fucking delicious.”

 

            Around two hours later, Harry’s head is spinning from all the wine and beer. Louis had apparently been stockpiling wine for a while, and the addition of Zayn’s bottle made the drinks even more free-flowing. The end of “Love Actually” is playing out on the screen, and the boys are lounging around in Louis’ living room with dirty cake dishes scattered about. Zayn has a piece already in a tupperware ready to take home tomorrow. He’d hidden it, of course, as all the boys loved midnight snacking and the cake was just too tempting.

            Louis sits up, reaching his arms up in a stretch. “Who wants to go for a swim?”

            They all cheer and drag themselves from their seats. Louis grabs towels and hands the two opened wine bottles to Niall and Zayn before he’s pushing them all out the door. He leads them next to the cliff edge for a bit, stopping at a wooden staircase. The cliff is much shorter here. The wooden stairs go straight down the edge of the cliff, twisting around the edge and eventually following the earth as the cliff turns into a hill part way down. “It’s not bad, I promise. Like fifteen, twenty minutes.”

            Niall cheers and pumps a fist and starts tottering down the stairs. “Oi oi!”

            Harry stumbles a bit down the first stair, Louis catching his arm. He teases, “You ok, H?”

            “‘m just clumsy,” Harry murmurs, focusing on the stairs in front of him. “Will you get the wine bottle from Zayn?”

            Louis snorts and complies, handing the bottle to Harry with a raised eyebrow. “Let’s not have a repeat of Liam’s twentieth, eh? No throwing up tonight.”

            Harry gapes at him, feeling frozen to the stair. Louis throws a wink over his shoulder and keeps walking down the stairs. Harry can’t believe he just brought up the incident! The incident Harry’s been so carefully avoiding! He feels his cheeks heating up once again and he’s thankful for the young night hiding it. He feels butterflies kicking up at his stomach. He watches Louis’ back, unable to comprehend that he’s just brought up the incident he thought they were both tiptoeing around.

            Louis turns around again, teasing smile on his lips. “You coming or what?”

            Harry shakes his head and hurries to catch up.

            When they reach the bottom, night has completely descended on the island. The only light is the bright half-moon above them, casting soft silver light onto the sand and reflecting off the waves. Harry feels his breath catch. He’s been down to the island’s beaches quite a lot, but none as beautiful as this one. It was a cove of it’s own, the cliffs closing off a stretch of pale sand.

            “It’s technically mine,” Louis explains to Harry. “My parents inherited from their parents, who built the place. The family has a big stake in the company and the park, so this is sort of our property. They told me I could keep it private if I wanted, but no one really comes here anyway.”

            Niall starts singing some drinking song, brash voice filling up the cove. He strips off all his clothes, leaving only his boxers, and runs full speed towards the water. Liam and Zayn look at each other and shrug, following suit. Harry takes a second to tuck his wine bottle into the sand next to the towels Louis’ dropped. Then he rips off his shirt and starts peeling off his skin-tight jeans. As he’s working them down his legs, he glances up at Louis. Harry’s heart leaps in his chest, hitting him in the throat. Louis’ eyes are so dark, staring at him. He watches him look at his body, gaze raking up and down his stomach and legs. His eyes make it make up to Harry’s eyes, finally, and the intensity of his stare feels like it’s burning through him.

            He catches his breath, finally, unsure of how to proceed. His mind whirls slowly with the wine sitting heavily in his stomach, mixing up with curls of heat. He can hear the boys running amuck in the water, and he goes with the first idea that comes to mind. He shouts at Louis, making the man jolt, “Catch me if you can!” He takes off towards the water, stumbling out of his jeans finally.

            He runs as fast as he can into the water and dives, dunking his head under and tossing his long hair as he pops back up. The boys are singing some pop song around him, splashing at each other and laughing hysterically. Niall swims towards him, leaping at him and dragging him under again. They wrestle in the shallows, giggling and tossing insults at each other. Liam and Zayn are swimming deeper, still singing at the top of their lungs.

            Louis has finally caught up, running into the water and yelling what sounds like gibberish. Harry and Niall look at each other, before they’re jumping at him and pulling him under the water. He yells louder, but the yells turning to bright laughter after only a few seconds. He retaliates by pulling Harry under the water, pushing at his shoulders. He laughs at him, “Caught you!”

            It feels like someone’s injected happiness straight into his veins. The world is spinning pleasantly and the night is dark, cloaking them softly and sweetly. Somewhere there are dinosaurs sleeping softly in packs or herds or on their own, and Harry is surrounded by his best friends in the most beautiful place he’s ever seen with the most beautiful person at his side.

 

            Something is poking at his face. He groans and turns his head away. The something, he’s pretty sure it’s a finger, only follows and pokes harder. “Harry!”

            “Shut up, Niall,” he grimaces, trying to pull the covers over his head.

            “H, get up! Louis said he got breakfast stuff but you have to cook it.” The blond pulls the blanket off him.

            Harry glares, eyes slowly adjusting to the morning light coming through the open windows. “Some of us actually get hangovers, you Irish freak.”

            Niall nods. “Exactly. That’s why you need breakfast food!” Harry grumbles again, vainly trying to grab the covers back. “Nuh uh, H. You’re cooking. I made you tea and everything!”

            He eyes him carefully. “Is there cake left?”

            “One piece. I remember yelling at everyone to leave it for you last night,” Niall chuckles.

            Harry sits up slowly. “Fine. Two spoons of sugar in my tea, right?”

            “I’m on it.” He nods and leaves.

            Harry falls back on the bed, arms spread and images of last night running through his head. He remembers splashing around in the water for too long, remembers Louis’ eyes staring right at him every time he looked over and the heat curling in his stomach when he saw him walk out of the water in skintight, wet boxers. He remembers sitting in the sand laughing with his boys until the horizon starting getting lighter, then stumbling back up the stairs only in their boxers, eating the rest of the cake, and falling into bedrooms: Louis in his, Liam and Zayn in another, and him and Niall in the last. Harry thanks the heavens again for the family house.

            He smiles at the memories fresh in his mind, determined to keep them there for a long time. Eventually, he gets out of the bed and tugs on his jeans and shirt. As soon as he opens the door, he can hear some top 40 radio station filling the house. Fucking Niall.

            Liam is also up when he gets to the kitchen, sipping on his own mug of tea. “Hey, H.”

            “Hi, Li,” He greets him. Niall’s pulling food out of the fridge. Eggs, bacon, cheese, a few various other things.

            “When did Louis get so many veggies?” Niall quips.

            “Oh, I told him what to buy. So I could cook, you know.” Harry shrugs.

            Niall stares at him. “And he actually bought them? You got Louis to buy vegetables?”

            Harry hums thoughtfully as he turns on the stove and starts gathering stuff for an egg scramble. “Guess I did.”

            Liam takes a long sip of his tea. “Take that smirk off your face, idiot.”

            “Hey, don’t insult the chef,” Niall defends him.

            Harry reaches up for a high five with Niall. “That’s my boy!”

            Zayn stumbles into the kitchen a few minutes later. He’s wrapped in a blanket and he’s got a cigarette tucked between two fingers. He sits in a chair next to Liam and leans on him, mumbling something in his ear. Liam nods seriously. “Niall, will you make Zayn a tea, too?”

            “Gotcha.” He moves around Harry to start the kettle again.

            The four of them bustle about for a few minutes. Niall and Harry sing along to top 40 as Harry works on the eggs, instructing Niall to make toast. When it’s close to done, Liam goes to wake Louis up all the way. He comes back with Louis in tow, dressed in ratty pajama pants and a tee shirt. He’s wearing thick black glasses and his fringe is down all over his face. Harry still can’t get the image of him naked save for his boxers, soaking wet and bathed in moonlight, out of his head.

Louis shuffles towards the kettle, mumbling out a good morning to the boys. He makes a tea and sits back on the counter next to the stove and groans, “Why are we all up so early? I’m disgusted.”

            Niall snorts, “You’re the one that bought Harry breakfast food. And vegetables.”

            Harry opens his mouth to defend vegetables, but Louis answers the comment himself, “Harry’s a human tree that feeds on green leafy shit. If I didn’t get him that, he’d die.”

            “Hey,” Harry pouts.

            “Sorry, love. It’s the truth” Louis smiles at him. He looks so soft and cuddly like this, all soft edges and warmth. He leans over to look at the scramble. Harry’s breath catches in his throat as his face hovers to the left of his. “You put veggies in an egg scramble?”

            “‘Course I did. It’s good for you,” he smiles down at him. “Hangover gone in seconds.”

            Louis snorts and leans back. “So you’re a miracle worker now?”

            “Always have been.”

 

-

 

            Next Tuesday, Harry’s driving out to the raptor enclosure again. Louis’ leaned up against the wall again, just like last time, cutting a lean line against the concrete. He pushes himself off to greet Harry, “Ready to meet the whole pack?”

            Harry tries to calm his nerves down. Since they’re going to be spending time in the enclosure while Birdie is laying the eggs and while they’re hatching, Louis thinks it’s a good idea for Harry to meet the whole pack, one at a time. They’re both going to be there when the whole pack first meets the young, in case something goes wrong, and Louis wants the pack to feel comfortable with Harry there. He takes a deep breath and sighs, “Born ready.”

            They repeat the same process they used to meet Dingo and Birdie. Harry’s not sure the icy fear running down his spine will ever stop no matter how many times he goes through it. First up is Charlie, who is distinctly disinterested in Harry. Then Echo, who stays quiet but never takes his eyes off Harry for a second. Sierra and Ghost both go smoothly, with Ghost take a particularly friendly interest in Harry, going so far as to bump his shoulder with his nose and startle the ever living fuck out of him.

            Delta’s the problem child. Louis seems extra apprehensive as he instructs Harry to step closer into the cage. He’s holder his stunner particularly tight and keeps scanning the raptor head to toe. There’s a tranquilizer strapped to his back, ready for a quick draw. Harry wants to ask him if he’s okay, but he remembers the remarks about Delta’s snippy nature and doesn’t want to rile the raptor. Delta’s almost as big as Dingo and tense from head to toe. He keeps growling lowly under his breath, claws clenching rhythmically as his pupils narrow at Harry. Harry’s thankful for the muzzle tight around his jaw. Harry takes these steps forward even more slowly, fear screaming in his throat.

            He’s only a few feet away when Delta’s had enough. He crouches down low and snarls loudly around the muzzle, lifting his claws high and tail swinging quickly behind him. He looks every inch the terrifying predator Harry’s always been so scared of, and he stumbles back with fear. He’s so sure Delta’s about to attack and rip his throat out, leave him bleeding out on the floor.

            Louis moves quickly, though. He hits Delta right in the neck with the stunner, stepping threateningly in front of him. The raptor falls back, howls of pain muffled by the muzzle and eyes shutting. Louis’ shouting at Delta but Harry can barely the words above the pounding blood rushing in his head. Louis looks so fucking furious, face nearly red with anger and stunner raised threateningly, stance wide and strong. Harry faintly registers his shouts. “Delta, don’t fucking try me right now. I’ll get out the tranq, too.” He waves the stunner, making the raptor press himself further back along the cage wall.

            Harry feels his own back hit the other cage wall. He can’t close his eyes. All he can focus on is Louis’ back stepping forward and forcing Delta even further back, cringing and sinking lower to the ground on his big back legs in fear. Louis hisses, “You should be fucking terrified right now, Delta.” Harry doesn’t know how long he stays stuck to the wall, watching Louis beat the raptor down with only shouts and a menacing stance. He never uses the stunner again.

            Finally, Louis’ voice returns to a normal register. “Harry, can you open the gate to the enclosure to let Dingo in?”

            Harry walks around the edge of the cage, keeping as far away from Dingo as possible. When he reaches the code box for the gate, he hears his own voice quaver and ask, “But what if the rest of the raptors come in?”

            Louis’ voice is soft. “Harry, I promise you’re safe.”

            Harry nods, steeling himself to the task. He plugs in the code Louis had given him earlier and steps back as the gate slides smoothly open. There are no raptors in sight from here, probably napping in the sun as they wait for their turn to meet Harry. Louis lets out Dingo’s long, high-pitched whistle.

            It isn’t long before Dingo is loping out of the trees. Harry can see Birdie just behind him, and they both pause to take in the scene in the side cage. Dingo crouches lowly, body tense, and lets out a loud growl as he notes Delta cowering before Louis. He stalks into the cage, leaving Birdie watching at the tree line. He stalks up to Louis, lowering his head in what looks like a respectful nod. Then he snarls at Delta, hissing. Louis smiles grimly. “Dingo.” The raptor’s head snaps back to him. He continues, pointing at Delta, “Yours.”

            Harry swears that Dingo smiles, teeth bared and eyes shining in the shade of the cage. Louis steps back and grabs Harry’s shoulder, leading him out of the side cage and closing it behind them. Harry can hear Dingo growls getting louder; he can picture the beta creeping towards his lower-ranked packmate, ready to tear him to bits. He feels himself starting to freak out. “Louis,” he chokes out. Louis looks at him, eyes soft. “He’s not going to kill him, right?”

            “Harry, no.” Louis grabs his shoulder again gently, staring into his eyes intensely. Harry can feel his own brimming with tears. “He’s just going to rough him up a bit. No real injuries or anything. This is how they keep order. They’re a family and they love each other, but they also have a hierarchy, and they have to maintain that. Dingo just needs to make sure Delta leaves you alone from now on.”

            Harry feels the tears threatening to spill over. “Is that how the babies are going to be raised? Is Dingo going to hurt them if they make a mistake?”

            “No, no, I promise. He’s going to keep them in line, like any parent would, but he’s not going to hurt them. I know Dingo, he wouldn’t hurt his own babies.”

            Harry sniffles, “You think they’re his?”

            Louis’ eyes look so blue. He squeezes Harry’s shoulder and starts pulling him away from the sounds of Dingo screeching at Delta. “Yes, I do. Did I ever mention the last ones were Delta’s? He’s the one that killed the last one. Dingo won’t do that. He’s a good beta. The best. Look at what he did back there, don’t think he didn’t know what happened. He knew Delta tried to make a move at you, and he’s making sure he won’t ever again.” Louis takes him to his car. “H, I’m going to make a quick call to the other staff to keep an eye on the raptors. We’re gonna go bake a cake, okay?”

           

-

 

            A couple days later, Birdie starts acting particularly odd. She seems particularly skittish, flitting around the cage and picking small catfights. She even forces Dingo into gathering even more nest material for her. Harry laughs at him from the catwalk above as he grumbles lowly, poking his head under bushes and into low trees to pull out feathers and other soft materials. He even sees him carefully stripping some fur off a rat that Louis had tossed at him earlier, face furrowed in concentration. He almost seems human in the moment. Harry feels his worry loosen a bit -- maybe he’ll prove to be a good father and beta to his pack.

            Louis takes him into the cage again, not bothering to put the raptors in the side cage. He’s given Harry his own stunner and tranquilizer though, keeping his own ready for use. Harry thanks his job in the nursery for making him learn basic defensive skills, including using stunners. He also keeps the heat sensor on him, tracking where each of the pack are. The two of them walk the length of the fence, checking it for gaps or other defects. When they appear to be reaching the end, Harry freezes at the shuffling he hears behind them and he just now realizes the sensor is beeping. He swings around, lifting the stunner apprehensively. There’s a raptor poking their head out from the trees, frozen mid-step as they stare at Harry. There’s an almost stunned look on its face, like it didn’t expect Harry to see her. Harry and the raptor stare at each other, both standing stock-still and staring at each other.

            He startles at the hand on his shoulder. Louis laughs lightly, “That’s Ghost, H. The baby. She’s been following us the whole time.”

            “Is that supposed to be comforting?” Harry hisses.

            Louis grins. “She’s the one that’s practically like a dog. Like a pitbull -- mean but sweet. Do you mind if I call her over?”

            Harry almost barks out a ‘no’, but stops the word at the last second. He trusts Louis with the raptors, he does. He’s the alpha after all, Harry himself saw the man scare back a predator with six-inch long claws towering over him just a few days ago. He nods, instead.

            The raptor comes trotting over at their whistle. She’s definitely the smallest of the raptors, her eyes more golden than the others. She nudges Louis with her nose, staring at Harry the whole time. Louis laughs, stroking a hand down her scales. “I think she’s curious about you.” He pats her softly and keeps walking down the fence, Ghost walking along next to him. Harry notes that she’s even shorter than Louis. She keeps looking back at Harry, making him his breath catch a little each time.

            When they reach the wall and Louis takes an extra-careful look at where the fences meets it, Ghost turns to him and lowers her head the way the raptors always do to Louis. Harry’s breath stutters in his throat, and he hears her humming raspily.

            “Aw, that’s so cute,” Louis says. Harry whips his head around to him. He looks like he didn’t mean to say that, and he gestures helplessly at Ghost. “Ghost, of course. Very cute.”

            Harry rolls his eyes. Ghost is almost eye to eye with him and he notices her eyes are a warm gold color. He lifts his hand and gasps when she pushes her head into it. “Hi, Ghost,” he coos. The way she hums reminds him of some of the dinos at the nursery he’s worked with over the years. He can feel the vibrations from it traveling up his arm.

            Louis gestures at them to walk back towards the fence gate. They make their way through the open gate towards the nest site, Ghost trotting next to Harry now and constantly nuzzling into his hand. Harry still can’t believe such a mean creature can act so sweet, and he furthermore can’t believe Louis is so confident she won’t hurt him. Louis chuckles, “What did I tell you? She’s practically a dog.” He checks the heat sensor again. “Birdie and Dingo are at the nest site, by the way.”

            Harry nods, considering the raptor next to him. He’s still nervous, with her just trotting freely next to him, but he knows Louis has enough training to take any and all the raptors out in minutes. Plus Ghost really does seem sweet, although the sight of her claws and teeth still send tremors down his spine.

            Birdie and Ghost are napping when they reach the little hollow, but they startle and lift their heads with twin glares when they hear their footsteps. They calm down when they see it’s Louis, and Birdie stands up to walk over. She nuzzles Louis, then dips her head at Harry and bumps noses with Ghost. Louis pats her side. “Mind if we check the nest, Birds?”

            She stares at him and he chuckles, heading over to the nest. “Harry,” he calls. “Wanna check out the hut?”

            There’s a steel hut a short distance from the nest, on the edge of the hollow. There’s a huge window facing the nest. He plugs in a code and pushes the heavy door open. There’s two cots set up side to side in the corner and a table with a lamp and binders and other equipment on it. Harry swallows heavily at the two giant tranquilizer guns hooked on the wall, with real guns underneath. There’s a row of  stunners, too. He turns away with a shudder and takes out the list he and Louis came up with, carefully checking for anything missing. There’s a camera inside the nest that Louis planted a few days ago that will transmit to Louis’ laptop when he brings it out here. He notices Ghost looking curiously inside the big window after a bit, and he taps on the glass to startle her. She doesn’t seem to see him inside when she leaps back with a growl, meaning the glass is only one-way.

            He pokes his head out of the door. Louis’ knelt by the nest, pushing around the materials under the watchful gaze of Birdie. Harry calls out, “Looks good in here, Lou. You can come take a look when you’re done but everything’s here.”

            Louis throws a thumbs up at him and stands. He brushes the dirt off his jeans and pats Ghost’s side before going inside. He runs his hand over the equipment, wiggling an eyebrow at Harry. “Cozy.”

            Harry feels the butterflies kicking up again, and he laughs to hide the flush of his face.

            They go back out and Louis yawns. “If I take a nap in the sun, will you keep an eye on the heat sensor and the stunner?”

            Harry stares at him, wide-eyed. “What?”

            Louis frowns. “I’m tired!”

            “That sounds like a horrible idea.”

            “You can wake me up as soon as any of the raptors wake up. And the gate is closed, so we’re the only ones in here. I promise they won’t hurt you with me right here.”

            “Lou…” Harry sighs. “Fine.”
            Louis cheers, pointing him under the second largest tree in the hollow, which is still massive. The roots are right in the sun, and Louis sits down with his back tucked into the biggest nook. There’s room for Harry to sit next to him and keep a keen eye on the raptors napping in the sun. They’re only about thirty feet away, and Harry keeps his hand clenched tight around his stunner. With Louis drifting off to sleep, he can feel his nerves screaming at him. These were animals that hurt each other to keep themselves in line. Or, not hurt, maybe. Just keeping the pack safe. Harry wasn’t sure.

            Ghost pokes at Birdie with her nose, making a grumbly noise in her throat. Birdie snaps at her with an abrupt snarl, baring her teeth. Ghost sounds distressed and she trots towards Harry instead. Birdie lays her head back down to bask in the sun. Harry raises the stunner a bit as the youngest raptor approaches, eyes glinting gold. She’s not showing any of the body positions Louis warned him about. Her claws hang lax, tail almost dragging on the ground, and head lowered politely, but not low enough to be dangerous.

            Harry holds his breath as she stops right in front and towers above. He’s ready to hit her as soon as she looks menacing, but she only lowers her head and nudges at his shoe with her nose. Harry lets out the breath but his body stays tense as she simply walks around the edge of the root. She lays down on the other side and rests her head out on the root right next to him. She huffs at him before closing her eyes. Soon, her breath evens out lowly and her head flops to the side a little, clearly falling asleep like the others in the midday sun.

            He can’t help the little laugh that falls out of his mouth. He’s surrounded by his favorite, ridiculously hot friend and three dangerous, mean raptors with six-inch claws and teeth like knives. And they’re all peacefully dozing away in the bright sunlight. He falls back with a laugh and resides to keeping an eye on this little neck of the enclosure.

           

-

 

            They’re trekking back into the enclosure a few days later on the day Birdie is expected to lay her eggs. Louis had sounded convinced on the phone about it, insisting that it would absolutely be today, not any later. The rest of the pack have been tip-toeing around Birdie for days, even Dingo leaving her ample space to avoid her recent snappish tendencies.

            They carefully shut the gate to their section of the enclosure, leaving only the two of them and Birdie inside. They’ve only walked a few feet into the forest when there’s almost howl-like noise from behind them. Harry bites his lip and looks at Louis, who shrugs and head back to the gate. He comes back with a sad look on his face. “It’s Dingo. He’s just standing there whining,” he says.

            “We can’t let him in?” Harry frowns.

            Louis sighs, “We’re just not sure if it’s safe for the eggs. I tried to talk to the scientists today about it, but they borderline threatened me with a lawsuit if something went wrong and he went after the eggs. Delta did last time and they had to force him back, but not before he got one. I can’t imagine Dingo would do anything like that. And we’re better prepared for it now. But, you know, we can’t risk it.” His face is grim, mouth downturned and eyebrows furrowed deeply.

            Harry gulps. “Well, if he’s really a good father, like you say he’ll be, he’ll still want them when they’re hatched and all.”

            Louis nods, striking off further towards the hollow. When they get there, Birdie is huddled inside the tree on top of the nest, eyes gleaming bright yellow in the low light. She grumbles lowly at them, earning a sharp bark from Louis. He instructs Harry to go into the hut and he crouches down next to Birdie to give her a short stroke down her face in greeting.

            When he comes in, Harry’s sitting on the cot closest to the window, leaning on the wall with his legs out. “How long do you think it’ll be?”

            Louis pauses in hooking up his laptop to the camera. “Dunno,” he says. “Did you skim the tapes of the last hatching?”

            Harry nods and pulls the files out of his bag to flip through them. “Yeah, took a look at all the scientist’s notes, too. Took the last one two hours into her nesting to start laying and an hour to lay all seven eggs. How long is she into nesting now?”

            “She went down maybe a half hour ago.”

            Harry focuses on the small print on the papers, then glances up. “Oh, is that the footage? Perfect.” He heaves himself off the bed and hunches over next to Louis sitting at the desk. Birdie is still curled up on top of the nest, head poking out and tail wrapped tightly around herself. “The last one started shuffling almost uncontrollably about twenty minutes before the first egg, and showed signs of movement up to an hour ahead of that. Sound right?

            Louis nods. “She looks pretty still now, though. We probably have a while.” He glances up at Harry with a eye-crinkling grin. “Did you bring food?”

            “‘Course I did.” He rolls his eyes and pulls tinfoiled sandwiches and thermoses of soup out of his bag. “Chicken salad and chicken noodle soup. Warmed it up right before I came here so it’s still hot.”

            Louis takes the food and sighs happily, “Food, glorious food.”

            “Guess we better tuck in then.” Harry settles back down on the bed. “Tell me stories.”

 

            Three hours later, he and Louis are back hunched over the laptop screen, watching Birdie shuffle around rapidly. She’s been at it for about thirty minutes now, pupils narrow and tail whipping nervously. Harry can tell Louis is starting to feel a little antsy, rubbing at the back of his neck and standing up occasionally to look at Birdie through the window. Harry cautiously lays a hand on top of his. “Lou, it’s going to be fine.”

            He can see the fear in his eyes, his hand feels cool under his. Louis sighs, “But, what if it isn’t? I already fucked up the last time.”

            Harry squeezes his hand softly. “That wasn’t your fault. You can’t control the DNA.”

            “I know, I just.” He pauses, gulping. “I know it’s not my fault. I just wish I could have done more.”

            Harry freezes, staring at the screen. “Louis.”

            “H, I know, you don’t have to comfort--”

            “No, Louis, look!” He points at the screen, sitting on the edge of his seat now.

            They can just make out two stark white eggs that Birdie’s curled around. She noses at them, eyes gleaming in the soft moonlight illuminating the nest. Louis lets out a deep breath, leaning back into his seat and staring silently at the screen. He looks so relieved and almost like he’s on the verge of tears. Finally he lets out a quiet “Oh my god. H, oh my god.”

            At the end of an hour, there are six perfect white eggs. Louis ventures out, stunner in one hand and a few frozen rats in another. He lays the rats out in the front of the nest and her hungry eyes follow his motions hungrily. Harry can hear him through the nest cam. “Don’t worry, Birds, I’ll bring you more tomorrow. ‘m so proud of you.”

 

-

 

            They fall into a sort of routine, after that. It takes around 30 days for the eggs to hatch, according to the scientist’s predictions. After Dingo merely nuzzles the eggs with his nose and curls around Birdie the best he can, they feel free to open the fence gate occasionally to let the other raptors in. They usually keep them outside and they never even venture near the nest save for Ghost, but if the protective way Dingo stands over the nest is any indication, the eggs are without a doubt safe. Birdie doesn’t lay on the eggs all the time, but Louis assures him the last mother hadn’t either, and the babies had at least been hatched properly. She spends her days sleeping, eating, and nuzzling up to Dingo. Ghost is the only raptor that’ll come near the nest, and Birdie sometimes lets her come in the hollow.

            While Louis checks on the eggs every single day, the two of them hike to the nest three times a week. Harry takes tests of the eggs and Birdie, making sure they’re healthy, while Louis keeps an eye out for any overprotective behavior from the raptors. The most Louis had to do the first time is yell at Birdie when she growled under her breath at Harry. The eggs are always fine, still proving to be the right temperature under the heat sensors and showing up normal inside in the scans they can take. The scans and tests they can do out here in the field aren’t perfect, but they can at least point out major problems. Thank God there haven’t been any.

            More times than not, Louis invites Harry back to his with his most eye-crinkling smile spread across his face. Harry cooks dinner for them and plays whatever music he likes, no matter how much Louis bitches at how hipster it is. He plays his favorite, most unknown indie bands just to piss Louis off half the time. It’s compensation for him always cooking.

            Harry looks forward to those three days they spend together like nothing else. Somehow in the last few weeks, Louis’ lodged himself inside Harry’s head and won’t leave for a second. He’s magnetic, like a human sunray you can’t take your eyes off. He certainly makes Harry feel hot all over. Sometimes when Louis looks at him, Harry feels the same heat curling in his stomach he felt on the beach that one night.

            Sometimes, Louis brings Harry lunch in the nursery. Whenever he does, Nick and Camila share twin looks of exasperation and tease Harry endlessly about it the next day. Maybe it’s that Harry is always sure to let him meet his new favorite dinosaur of the week, from the Parasarapholus named Izzy with a broken back foot to the Ankylosaurus named Alan with an acute cold.

            The worst time was when during a special workshop that they’d had for all the nursery and some of the scientist interns. They’d had a session working through all the proper behaviors they should be looking for in the nursery enclosure and how to take notes, as they were hoping to hand the watching duties entirely over to the interns soon. The session had gone perfectly fine, some of the interns more bored than others, but all of them had sparked up in excitement when Harry had been forced to break up a spat between the aforementioned Alan and another Ankylosaurus.

            The real issue comes when he leads them all back into the nursery to show them some of the dinos they’re about to release into the nursery enclosure and how to handle them properly. Louis’ waiting there at his desk with a big brown bag from Harry’s favorite lunch place, dressed down in joggers and a hoodie. Harry realizes he completely forgot to tell him about the workshop, but he can’t find himself caring when Louis looks right at home here. He can’t help but blush when Louis gives him a giant hug and keeps a hand on his shoulder when he pulls back. “Got us lunch. Didn’t realize you had an intern thing.”

            “Thank you, really. Forgot to tell you.” He coughs into his hand and turns to the group of interns watching them. “Guys, this is Louis. He works with the velociraptors.”

            They all chime back greetings, but Harry’s distracted by Camila’s little group. The group of girls is staring at the two of them, wide-eyed and huddled around a smirking Camila. They’re whispering at each other and giggling, throwing glances at the two of them. He feels the blush on his face only getting deeper. “You can, um, tag along with us?” he asks Louis softly. “I’m teaching them how to properly put them in the enclosure and ensure they’re ok to stay there.”

            “Sounds great.”

            Harry can feel the girls’ eyes watching him and he rushes through the rest of the workshop, feeling a little hot from the way Louis sticks to his side and puts a hand on his back whenever he stumbles slightly. Which is often. He’s not sure if he likes all the eyes on them, but he can’t deny the thrill of Louis touching him in public, showing him attention in front of all these people. His blush never dies down, and when they’re all done he drags Louis quickly out the door and into the car.

            “Why the rush, H?” Louis teases, starting the car.

            “Nothing,” he mumbles. He types out a text to Camila. You and your friends need to stop harassing me and Louis!!!!

            His phone dings only seconds later. Are you guys dating yet? He sighs, and the phones dings again twice. Please tell me you are. You’re so cute. I’m going to die. The second one reads, Me and the girls are starting a Larry shippers club.

            He groans, typing back, You need to be stopped.

            She texts back, Do you want a button? We’re making buttons.

            They have a lovely lunch, for the record. They sit on Louis’ porch and eat the food, sharing a beer between them and laughing for an hour straight. Louis even lets Harry play his indie music.

 

  •  

 

            Harry’s checking out the blood work for a Pteranodon on his exam table when Louis calls him. He answers without thinking, holding the little dino with one hand. “Louis?”

            “Harry! You need to come over here right now! One of the eggs is hatching!”

            Harry freezes, glancing around the nursery to find his intern. “It’s--it’s too early! It’s only been like 24 days. Is everything okay?”

            “Yes, I was feeding the pack and Dingo wasn’t there, so I went to go look for him, and he and Birdie were in the nest and I saw a little crack mark on the first egg.”

            Harry squeaks, excitement coursing through his veins. “I’m on my way. I’m coming right now!” He hangs up and yells, “Camila! Come take this Pteranodon! I have baby raptors to deliver!”

            Camila rolls her eyes. “You don’t deliver dinosaurs.”

            “Shush you.” He grabs his coat and rushes out the door, hair flying into his face as he rushes around the corners.

 

            He calls Louis when he gets to the enclosure, and Louis lets him in through the side door. He’s practically bouncing on his toes as they rush back through the fence gate to the nest. Louis’ right, Birdie and Dingo are sitting outside the nest, now, sat back on their haunches watching the eggs carefully. Birdie makes a pleased noise when she sees Louis.

            Harry makes his most pleading eyes at Louis. “Do we have to go into the hut? We can see from here, and we can always watch the tape back later. Not often you get to see a live raptor hatching.”

            Louis hesitates, but Harry pouts. He sighs, “Fine. If they yell at us it’s all your fault. Can you grab the stun guns and tranqs, though?”

            Harry complies, hurrying back with a big gun in either hand and two more on his back. They hook them around their shoulders and sit together on the ground nearby where they can watch. Harry whispers, “I’m so excited. I can’t believe they’re really here.”

            Louis smiles at him, bumping their shoulders together. “Me neither. This already feels so much better than last time.”

            “How’d you get clearance for Dingo to be here, by the way? Thought it was too dangerous.”

            Louis shrugs. “Well, I didn’t really get clearance…”

            Harry laughs, shaking his head. His nerves still scream at him whenever he steps inside the enclosure and pitch a fit when the actual raptors are near him, and he knows they’re still not nice creatures, but Dingo’s not showing any indicators of aggression towards Birdie or the eggs.

            Harry’s seen plenty of dino hatches before. He’s even witnessed a T-rex hatching. One time, he even got to hold a Parasarapholus egg while it hatched. But there’s something more thrilling about this. Something that makes his heart feel like it’s singing and ready to burst out of his too-tight chest, even if he’s still terrified to be there. Maybe it’s the excitement of something he’s never seen before, or the pressure that these babies have to grow up right, or Louis pressed so warmly into his side.

            They sit in silence for a while before Birdie starts humming loudly in the back of her throat, pushing herself closer to the nest. Harry feels Louis tense up besides him and push his own chest further, an eager expression playing out on his face. There’s a giant crack in one of the eggs now, and soon the cracks widen and break and there’s a little head pushing itself out. There’s tiny little claws now with the snout, too. Harry thinks he might be crying, but he doesn’t want to move to check. He grabs Louis’ hand and squeezes it tight. Louis looks at him, face soft and sweet. Harry think he might be crying too, tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. He presses himself even closer to his side. The tiny little raptor is almost completely out of his shell now, making the cutest little growls Harry’s ever heard.

            Birdie nudges the little raptor, urging it on, and it breaks the shell completely around it. The tiny thing is shiny, completely covered in the fluid from the egg. It’s so little, barely six inches tall, maybe. It crawls towards the edge of the nest towards Birdie, who softly bumps her baby with her nose, still humming.

            Another egg starts hatching then, and another and another. As if the first raptor had opened the floodgate, the rest of the babies are pushing their way out of the shells and a chorus of high-pitched squeals and little growls kicks up. There seem to be so many of them, all greeting the new world with unbridled enthusiasm and crawling towards the sunlight. The pack’s love for sun and heat must’ve been passed down to them.

            Louis stands up and leads Harry over to the nest by the hand. Birdie and Dingo watch him cautiously, but they merely turn their attention back to the nest, bumping the babies with their noses and humming. Harry and Louis crouch down by the nest, taking in all the broken shells and tiny raptors wrestling.

            “Lou, one didn’t hatch.” Harry’s voice quavers, pointing at an egg in the back of the nest. It’s tucked in to the edge, nestled in a particularly thick bunch of feathers.

            Louis tenses back up. “Will you go grab the heat sensor?”

            Harry’s back in minutes, and he waves the sensor over the egg. He’s surprised the new parents stay quiet as he bends over the nest, careful to keep his arm above the reach of the newborn additions. He sighs in relief, the sensor dinging. “It’s ok. It just needs time.”

            Louis nods shortly. He bends over the nest to coo at the little raptors. The frown on his face melts away as one of them bites at his finger. Birdie makes a low growling noise at her child, but Louis reassures her with a stroke down her side. Harry feels like crying even harder at how fucking cute Louis looks, making baby noises at the tiny dino chomping on his finger. “Does it hurt?” he asks, giggling.

            “No.” Louis turns his grin to Harry. “Her teeth aren’t that sharp yet, and she doesn’t have enough strength to make it hurt. She’s just like, teething.”

            Harry smiles back. He faintly registers that their fingers are still linked, hanging low between them. He doesn’t want to pull his hand away. “It’s a girl?”

            Louis nods. “We have to think of names for all of them.”

            “We? You’d let me help you name them?”

            “Of course.” He’s so beautiful. He’s going to be the death of Harry. Louis says softly, “Of course, they’re as much yours as they are mine.”

            Harry really does feel the tears spring back to his eyes, then. He can’t believe Louis’ going to let him leave his own little imprint on the babies. He whispers, “Do you think they’re imprinting on you, right now?”

            Louis smiles. Birdie is subtly nudging the rest of the babies towards Louis, hopefully urging them to imprint just as well on him as their parents. “I think they will right now.”

            Louis starts playing with another one, letting the first one wander over to Harry. The little guy sits down in front of Harry, plopping down with a humph. Harry giggles, sticking out a cautious finger to her. She squeals and gnaws on his finger. Louis was right -- it doesn’t hurt. It’s more of a funny feeling and reminds him exactly of a puppy teething.

            “We should name her June,” Louis says softly, wiggling his eyebrows at the little guy with Harry.

            Harry laughs, “What, cause it’s the month of June right now?”

            Louis bumps their shoulders together, laughing along. “Yes, and it’s a nice name.”

            “Alright, June it is for you, buddy.” June growls at him playfully, rolling over onto his back.

            Louis keeps playing with the little ones before letting them on to Harry. Harry decides on Halo for the next one, and Violet after that. Louis picks Bailey and Star. By the time they’ve met and played with them all, the final egg is still sitting there. Harry checks on it again with the heat sensor, and it’s still pulsing away. He murmurs to Louis, “They just need a little more time, Lou. Still cooking in there.”

            Louis nods hesitantly, leaning his head into Harry’s shoulder as he makes soft noises at the babies. They’ve all taken an interest in each other now, wrestling around in pairs. Louis reassures Harry that everything is fine with them, they’re just naturally rambunctious.

            The sun’s slowly sunk under the horizon, and Harry grabs a lamp out of the hut. Louis backs away from the nest a bit, stretching his legs out and laying back on the ground. Harry lets himself fall back with him. The silence is only broken by Birdie’s soft hums and the noises of the baby raptors. The hums almost sound like a lullaby now, and Harry feels his eyes getting heavy.

            Despite the massive, clawed predators right next to them that still scares the ever living fuck out of him, the whole night has felt so gentle and sweet, like safety and comfort. The stars are out now, hanging over them and twinkling gently. “Lou, see that one over there?” He points, Louis following his finger. “That’s Orion.” He points out a few more, pausing before he smiles at the last one. “That’s Taurus. My aunt is a Taurus. See that one really bright star, between the horns that looks red? That’s Aldebaran. The red eye of the bull.”

            Louis pinches his side, a teasing grin on his lips. “They look beautiful. I love that word. Aldebaran.”

            “My mom taught me a lot of constellations when I was little. She was really into it. Her dad taught her some when she was little, too.” Harry smiles.

            Just then, Birdie lets out an excited noise and there’s an increased sound of shuffling in the nest. The boys spring up to see the nest, and finally the last egg is hatching. The head pushing out looks even smaller than the others, letting out fainter noises. Louis says under his breath, “I was so worried. I thought it was dead.”

            Harry tucks his head into his shoulder. “They’re here now, Lou. Look how precious it is.”

            Finally, the little thing crawls to her mother. Birdie gives her the once-over before urging her on to Louis. Louis is definitely crying now and he sniffles a bit, holding a finger out to the littlest raptor. She’s tinged a dark red color, standing out from her siblings. She hesitantly reaches out with her tiny jaw to bite at his finger, teeth digging slightly into his finger. Louis’ face is so, so fond, eye crinkles out in full force.

            Louis picks her up and cradles her in her arms. It squawks at him, the sound reminding Harry a little of Boop. Louis stares down at her as she waves her little claws in the air. After a minute, he holds her out to Harry. “Do you want to hold her?”

            Harry gapes at him. “Really?”

            Louis nods, and presses the raptor into his waiting arms. He keeps a hand on Harry’s arm, though, rubbing a thumb along the skin. Harry’s heart soars when he looks down at her. She definitely reminds him of Boop, so tiny and helpless and sweet, and he makes some of the same baby noises he made for her now.

            “What do you want to call her?” Louis asks softly.

            Harry meets his eyes, and can’t take his own away. The night is so warm around them, and the stars are gleaming brightly. “Aldebaran, the red eye of the bull.”

            Louis smiles at him, shuffling closer to look down at Aldebaran. “We can call her Alde for short.”

            They’re so close Harry feels like he can make out each individual eyelash as he looks down, even in the lamp’s dim light. Louis’ so good. He’s probably the best person he knows and that fact makes the now-familiar heat curl in his stomach again. He’s going to burst any second, just explode right here with this raptor in his arms and Louis right next to him. Louis looks up, as if he feels the intensity that Harry’s staring at him with.

           “H,” Louis whisper, leaning in over Alde.

            Harry bites his lip and releases it. His heart is racing so fast, beating a thousand miles per hour, and Louis looks so incredible right now in the soft moonlight and the lamp’s dim light. “Hi, Lou,” he breathes out. And without thinking he ducks forward and presses their lips together. It takes him a second to register Louis is kissing him back and god, it’s good. It’s so good. Louis presses even closer to him, holding him by both arms against his chest. The heat between them is searing and he already feels addicted to the way Louis pushes his tongue into his mouth. Louis is the most incredible thing he’s ever been this close to.

            They only break apart when Louis jolts back with a yelp. Alde’s got her tiny teeth just barely sunk into Louis’ hand. They both start giggling uncontrollably, Harry pressing his head to Louis’ shoulder and Louis gripping Harry’s side. “Alde!” Harry gasps between his giggles.

            Louis presses his forehead briefly to Harry’s. “C’mon, love, let’s head back into the hut.” He wiggles his eyebrows at him. “We can take turns watching the babies. Make sure no one kills each other.”

            Harry carefully places Alde back in the nest, watching her crawl to the doggy pile her siblings have formed. She settles in beside them, making a soft whimper as she closes her eyes. Birdie and Dingo are already curled up together, but Dingo has one eye open on the babies.

            Louis lets Harry take the first sleep, holding his hand in his lap as he watches the newly hatched raptors sleep softly.

 

            Harry wakes up for his turn to watch the babies with his head pillowed on Louis’ thighs, and when the sun eventually rises he makes them both breakfast on the little hot plate they brought. The raptors are just starting to stir, making fitful waking noises and shuffling about the nest. Harry gentles nudges Louis awake. “Lou, the raptors are waking up.”

            Louis grumbles nonsense, turning his face further into his pillow.

            “I made breakfast.”

            Louis opens one eye. His voice is muffled into the pillow. “Shit. We forgot to eat last night. I’m starving.” He rolls over to face Harry fully and sits up with the blanket over his shoulders. He looks like a disgruntled teenager like this, hair flopping messily over his forehead and wrapped in a blanket. Harry feels his stomach flip when he smiles at him and takes his plate. “Thanks.”

            Harry grins back. He wants to kiss him good morning, but he’s not sure if that’s okay. Or worse, he’s not sure how bad his breath smells. He looks gorgeous in the pale sunlight just starting to stream in through the window; his eyes look particularly clear and bright blue.

            Louis gestures out the window. “I can’t believe they all made it. It’s incredible.” His grin is nearly splitting his face and he reminds Harry of a proud father.

            Harry nods. “I have to admit, they were a lot more peaceful than I was expecting. I wasn’t expecting Dingo to be so involved, either. Usually fathers of every species don’t give a shit and leave the job solely to the mothers. I was expecting biting or claws or something. They almost seemed like herbivores parents, really gentle and nice.”

            Louis’ smiles gets even wider. “Told you to give them a chance. They’ll probably get tougher as they grow up, but you’d say they’re at least okay, right?”

            “More than okay right now. They’re showing all the indicators we look for when evaluating parents. See how Birdie’s nosing them right now, turning them all over gently? She’s waking them up but also making sure they all smell right. It’s a common parental behavior. Should be even more pronounced for raptors, with their heightened sense of smell and all.”

            Louis lets out a low breath. “The last mother never did that.”

            Harry smiles. “Well, Birdie seems to be a good one. And Dingo’s a good dad so far.”

            The little raptors all start shrieking at once, a tiny chorus of perturbed little ones. Louis laughs, “I think they’re hungry.”

            Louis leads Harry out the door around to the fridge in the back. He unlocks it with the code and pulls out a large hunk of cow back. Harry shudders at the bone sticking out and pointedly looks away. When they round the corner to the nest, Birdie and Dingo are standing staring at them hungrily. Harry shuffles further behind Louis, but Louis just laughs and sets the meat down a few feet away from them. Louis quickly turns Harry around, making his heart jump when his hands settle on his waist. “You don’t need to see them eat it,” Louis says.

            Harry starts to protest, but then freezes at the sound of meat tearing. “Yeah, you’re right,” he says weakly.

            Louis watches the meal over his shoulder though. Harry watches his eyebrows furrow. “Hey,” Louis’ voice sounds soft. “They’re feeding the babies first. That’s good, right?”

            Harry perks up. “Louis, that’s fantastic! Parents feeding children first is a great sign, especially with carnivores.”

            Louis squeezes Harry’s waist, pulling him a little closer and grinning like a maniac. He snorts, “H, I feel like a proud father.”

            Harry giggles and sneaks a glance back at the raptors. Birdie and Dingo are feeding the little ones bits of meat. They’re growling happily at their parents and wrestling with each other when they’re not being fed. “Lou, they’re so cute.”

            “Did you just call raptors cute?” Louis quirks an eyebrow at him.

            “They’re so tiny, and they all seem to like each other and just. They’re cute, okay.”

            “Hmmm. Seems like you kind of like them now.”

            Harry cocks his head. “I’m not completely convinced.”

            Louis pecks him on the lips, pushing Harry’s hair off his forehead. “We’ll get you, don’t worry.”

 

            They stay with the raptors for the rest of the day and the next night, keeping an eye on them. Harry makes notes to report to the suits and scientists in the morning, as he’s due back to the nursery then. He’ll check in every day, of course, and come in for at least half a day in the morning or afternoon to evaluate them.

            The raptors are a rambunctious bunch. Despite only hatching yesterday, they’ve already crawled out of the nest. Birdie and Dingo keep an eye on them, but otherwise let the little ones scramble around and explore the hollow as much as possible without actually leaving it. June’s a natural-born leader, clearly taking after her father, and the rest of them follow her cues without fail. Alde’s clearly smaller and less self-assured than the rest of them, always bumbling along just a little behind the rest of the group. While the rest of them poke curiously, she holds back and watches. Harry keeps an eye on her and an even closer one on Dingo and Birdie to make sure they treat her the same as the others. So far so good.

            Harry feels like he’s existing in a bit of a wonderful haze right now -- like his normal life just got a thousand times more colorful and pleasant. Maybe it’s the tiny raptors running around his feet, or maybe it’s Louis putting a hand on his waist or lower back and pulling him closer all the time, or the way he’ll reach up on his tip toes to kiss him quick. Harry’s sure it’s supposed to be awkward between them now, that they should talk about what’s happening, but it feels like there’s no need to talk about it. New relationships aren’t supposed to feel so easy. With James, Harry was always questioning where they were headed, how it would turn out. But with Louis, he’s not worried at all. There’s a little voice at the back of his head telling him they’re going to fall together exactly the way they’re supposed to.

           

  •  

 

            Three days later, Harry manages to drag Louis away from the enclosure for lunch after his morning there. He personally makes sure Louis’ assistant is settled in to the hut and briefed on everything before they go, but Louis frets the whole way in to town that something is going to go horribly wrong. Harry fixes him with a look and reminds him he hasn’t left the enclosure in four days and the assistant has been working with Louis for almost as long as Louis’ known the raptors, but he calls them to check in before they leave the car. He even encourages him to keep his phone out on the table. Harry won’t admit he also, wants that extra security.

            “Ok,” Harry says, leaning forward at the table with his chin on his hands. “I’m banning dino talk for the duration of this lunch.”

            “What, trying to wine and dine me, H?” Louis smirks.

            Harry laughs. “Maybe. But you do really need normalness now, or you’re going to go crazy.”

            Louis grins, crossing his eyes at him. “I’m already crazy.” He sips his water. “I mean. We could just call this a date and call it a day.”

            Harry’s going to die. Oh god. “My, my, Lou. I haven’t been on a first date in over three years. Better impress me.”

            Louis makes a bit of a weird face, mouth quirking oddly. “I’m not sure this is nice enough of a first date, though.” He leans in, biting his lip just a little and drawing Harry’s eyes to his mouth. “I think you need to be wined and dined. Nice clothes, roses, wine, the works.”

            Harry pouts. “Can we call this a pre-first date then?”

            Louis nods. “That’ll do.” He points a finger at him teasingly. “No funny business today then, mister.”

            Harry laughs and winks at him. They talk through their meal, laughing over their sandwiches and sodas. It’s not Harry’s favorite lunch place, but they have a nice open spot overlooking the ocean. It’s almost bright blue today with how sunny it is. He likes the way Louis looks in natural lighting, Harry decides. There’s something about him that’s just a little wild, untamed -- something that indicates he’s not one to spend his life inside, that he’s one to live it just a little on the edge.

The waiter is just taking their plates away and setting down their receipt when Harry hears a loud “Harry!” from behind. He turns to see that James is sauntering up to their table, hands in his pockets and footsteps oddly loud on the tile floor. He’s wearing one of the polos he’s so fond of, the leather shoes he polishes every week, and a crisp pair of dress pants. He’s probably on break from his office job. He leans over the table, hands resting on the edge. “Harry, it’s so nice to see you! How are you?”

            He then goes to give him a hug, and Harry grudgingly plays along. “Good, I’m good. How are you?”

            Louis looks severely put off, hunching his shoulders and stretching his hand closer to where Harry’s is resting on the table. His voice is tight when he says, “Hi, James.”

            “Oh, hi, um? Sorry, which one are you again?” James smiles down at him. Louis looks downright murderous.

            Harry coughs into his hand. “This is Louis, my um, my friend. You know Louis?”

            “Of course! Louis.” James’ grin is faker than it’s ever been, and he pops his hip out. “Anyways, I’m fantastic but Haz honey, I haven’t seen you for over a month. You haven’t even answered my texts. I can’t go this long without you!”

            “Just, um, been really busy,” Harry mumbles. His face feels hot under Louis’ stare.

            James smirks. “Oh, of course. The nursery! How is everything there?”

            “Oh, it’s good. You know. Normal nursery stuff.”

            Louis slams his wallet down particularly loud on the table, pulling bills from it. His voice sounds particularly high pitched. “So sorry to be rude, but I really need to be getting back to work. Ready, H?”

            Harry frowns at the hesitance in that last sentence. “Of course, Lou. Let me just get my wallet out.”

            Louis grins at him, placing his hand over his. “I got it, love.” He turns to James. “It was nice to see you.”

            He immediately starts walking out of the restaurant, pausing at the door for Harry. Harry rubs the back of his neck, uncomfortable. He mumbles a “See you soon” before catching up to Louis. He doesn’t turn around to see if James is watching them.

            Louis is quiet in the car, and Harry struggles to find words. He doesn’t want Louis thinking there’s anything still there between him and James. James has always been jealous and possessive, often over things that aren’t really his. He’s not a nice person, not like Louis, and the way he’d leaned in close made his stomach twist painfully. Harry reminds himself that everything will fall together as it should, and settles for kissing Louis deeply before leaving the car.

 

            Louis is weird the next afternoon. He’s jittery and tense, raising his voice too sharply at Halo when he chomps on his ankle and throwing the meat too hard on the ground. Harry sighs, unsure of how to bring his foul mood up, and settles for little touches here and there.

            At least the baby raptors are looking fantastic. They’re starting to get a handle on their senses now, able to sense when Louis’ got the food out and waiting at the edge of the hollow when Harry and Louis trek back in. At this point, they’re just a pack of puppies with toothpick teeth running amuck under the weary gaze of their parents. Harry notes that they should be exploring the rest of the enclosure soon, at least behind the fence, and maybe meeting the pack through the fence.

            Alde’s still dragging just a bit behind her siblings, but she takes a shining to Harry and Louis. She sits at their feet, napping occasionally as the rest of the little ones explore. Harry makes sure to get her to join the rest after she’s been away for a bit. Socialization is important, he reminds Louis.

            Harry stays until the sun starts setting, and Louis walks Harry to his car, leaving his assistant in the hut. Harry leans on his door and faces Louis. The sun is just sinking below the horizon, bathing the two of them in soft orange light. Before Louis can say anything, Harry pulls him forward by the waist and kisses him, then leans his forehead on his. “Babe, please tell me why you’re upset.”

            Louis sighs, “I…” he pauses, staring at Harry. “It’s just that you only just got out of this huge, long relationship. And I’m scared that I’m forcing you into this too soon. I just...I feel like you’re not over James yet.”

            Harry bites his lip. “Is this about yesterday? He’s just jealous and possessive. It made my skin crawl. There wasn’t anything real between us for so long before we broke up, and he knows that. He just doesn’t want to admit that.” He takes Louis’ hand in his, stroking his thumb down the warm skin. “I don’t feel anything for him.”

            Louis nods slowly, but his eyebrows are furrowed. “I trust you. I just feel like I can’t force you into another relationship so soon after such an important one. You haven’t had enough time to just be you.”

            “Lou, I know who I am and I don’t need time to just be me. I’m not the kind of guy to lose myself in a relationship.” He pauses, pulling Louis in closer by the hand. “I want to be with you.” He pauses, feeling fear sink into his bones. “Do you not want to be with me?”

            Louis’ breath hitches. “No, I...I want to be with you, too. Just, can we please take this slow?”

            Harry nods. “Of course. I don’t want to make youuncomfortable.” He smiles. “I’ll spend however long you need trying to convince you I’m ready for this.”

            Louis smiles back. They’re so, so close he could count Harry’s eyelashes. “I--I’ll let you know when I’m convinced.”

            Harry breathes against him. “Can I still kiss you?”

            Louis kisses him against the car instead of answering.

 

-

 

            Niall groans, falling back on the bed on top of the mess of patterned button-downs. “This is so embarrassing. Oh my god, I’m getting secondhand embarrassment right now. I’m going to tell him about this later.”

            Harry whips his head around. “Niall James Horan, you will not!”

            Niall snorts. “You’ve known each other for years, what’s the big deal about tonight?”

            “It’s our first date! I have to look nice.” He pauses, examining a sheer black number. “Will you please just help me?”

            “You’re ridiculous. This is ridiculous. You’ve been going on dates for weeks.” He sighs loudly. “Why are you even asking me? Zayn would be better.”

            “Zayn’s with Liam at a movie. I know most straight boys have zero fashion taste but please?”

            Niall snorts. “Well, I definitely have eyes.” He rolls over, examining the shirts on the bed and throwing one at Harry. “Um, do this one.”

            Harry runs his fingers down the material. It’s another button-down, made of sheer black material with red flowers on the front. “I haven’t worn this in forever.”

            Niall rolls his eyes. “Yeah, last time you did James made fun of you the entire night.”

            “Oh, right. I like it, though. Do you think Louis will like it?”

            “H,” Niall fixes him with a look. “He likes you in everything.”

            Harry giggles. Everything has been so nice the last week. They went down to Louis’ beach again on Tuesday, grabbed ice cream on Wednesday, had a Netflix night last night, and finally they were having their first official date tonight. The real deal. Louis was picking him up and they were driving to the the least touristy, but still nice, restaurant by Main Street. He’d made a reservation and everything.

            Niall snorts. “You’re getting that frog face again.”

            “Hey!”

            “Aw, don’t be sad, it’s cute!” Niall pulls him into a hug. “Have a fuckin’ great night, okay, I’m gonna head out.”

            “Wait, where are you going? Louis isn’t picking me up for like a half hour.”

            Niall laughs on his way to the door, glancing back over his shoulder. “I have plans tonight too, you nitwit!”

            Harry buzzes around for the half hour, checking his hair again and again and making sure his leather shoes are nicely polished. He jumps when his doorbell rings. He takes a deep breath before opening it to a smiling Louis. Fuck, Louis looks incredible. He’s got on a light grey collared shirt, skintight black trousers, and even polished shoes. His hair is done up in Harry’s favorite way, hair tousled over his forehead.

            He stares at him for too long before breathing out, “Hi, Lou.”

            “Hi, H.” Louis looks him up and down. “You look fucking gorgeous.” He pauses, furrowing his eyebrows. “Am I allowed to swear on a date?”

            Harry laughs, “Well, you’re definitely allowed to on this one.”

           

 

            They’ve only just sat down at the table when Louis’ phone starts buzzing. They’re both still on high-alert for the raptor babies, and Louis goes tense in his seat. He answers immediately and Harry bites his lip, carefully watching his nervous expression. His body suddenly goes completely stiff and he launches himself from the seat. He shoves his phone in his pocket after hanging up and tugs Harry from the table by his hand.

            “We have to go. There’s a problem with Alde.” He rushes around the waiters and tables to leave the darkened restaurant, pulling Harry behind him.

            Louis drags him along to the car by the hand. He’s practically running and Harry’s feet are dragging on the ground. He was never one for running. He gasps out, “Lou, what happened? Is everything okay?”

            Louis puffs out an answer, “Birdie and Dingo won’t let Alde back into the nest. They’re snapping at her.”

            “What? That’s not, that’s not supposed to--”

            “H, I know, please, just--let’s get there first.”

            Louis drives like a maniac. Harry grabs the emergency handle the whole time, jolting as Louis speeds over the bumps and potholes. He barely brakes going down the massive hill and Harry feels his heart choke up in his throat. Even with Louis’ insane driving, it feels like it takes a thousand years before they’re finally pulling up to the enclosure.

            Louis rushes into the cage, still holding Harry’s hand to pull him along again. Harry feels white-hot adrenaline and fear rushing through his veins, prickling down through his limbs and clogging his throat. Louis doesn’t even bother to grab a light or weapon, dragging them right through the stream and weaving around the dark trees. He barely takes the time to lock the gate to the fence and keeps running through the trees. All Harry can think of is poor little Alde and he just stumbles after Louis. He freezes when they reach the hollow. Every nerve in his body stiffens, rooting him to the spot to just stare at the scene.

            Birdie and Dingo are standing in front of the nest, crouched so low they’re hovering just above the ground. Dingo is a little in front of Birdie. Their massive teeth are completely bared and they’re letting out growls that feel like they’re shredding Harry’s ears. Birdie’s tail whips behind her dangerously and her claws are clenched. Little Alde is cowering before them, so tiny they could smash her under one foot. She’s letting out pained whimpers. Harry’s mouth feels completely dry as he watches her try to take a step towards the nest and Dingo hisses and swipes at her with his claws, making her shriek and leap back.

            Harry jolts when Louis suddenly rushes out of the hut with one of the massive tranquilizers. His voice sounds haggard. “Dingo! Birdie! Stop!”

            He pushes in front of Alde, pointing the tranquilizer straight at Dingo. The beta falls back a bit, snarling lowly. His eyes look wider and darker than Harry’s ever seen them, almost sunken into his head. Louis barks, “Stand down, Dingo!”

            Harry feels his feet rushing forward as Dingo falls back further, Birdie at his side. He scoops up Alde and falls back to the edge of the hollow. He lifts her up, examining her for injuries. Maybe she’s hurt or sick, something wrong with her that’s making her parents push her out. She looks perfectly healthy as Harry looks her over, and she claws and chews on him like always. She seems fine, although she’s still letting out little whimpers.

            Harry can feel his heart sinking to the soles of his feet.

            He doesn’t notice Louis’ retreated backwards until his back bumps into him. Louis snarls, “Is she okay?”

            “She’s--she’s perfectly fine. I don’t understand.”

            Louis shoulders fall. “I...I. I don’t. We just need to get her out of here. She’s clearly unsafe.” He instructs the assistant to keep an eye on the rest of the young and take immediate tranquilizing action if any of them are in trouble. He finally turns and nudges Harry to walk back out. Harry hikes Alde further up onto his chest and lets Louis take the lead, trusting the assistant to watch Birdie and Dingo. Louis rushes back through the enclosure, tranquilizer still hiked up on his shoulder.

            Alde’s still as they take her into the car, looking around with wide eyes. Her pupils are tiny slits and she lets out little squeaks every once in a while. She doesn’t seem stressed, just curious and a little afraid. Her dark red skin reflects the moonlight shining through the windows and Harry strokes her gently as he calls the labs to get them ready for their arrival.

            Louis’ jaw is clenched tight. They sit in silence for a while. Harry’s nerves won’t calm down -- he’s fucking terrified. Louis’ voice is rough when he asks, “Are you sure she’s fine? No wounds? Sickness?”

            “No wounds. She’s not showing a single sign of illness. I don’t understand.” He means to go on, but stops as he feels hot tears gathering. He’ll start crying and choke up hysterically if he talks right now.

            Louis groans. “I can’t believe this is happening. I thought, I just thought everything was going so well. She’s a little runty but I didn’t think…I wasn’t expecting this.”

            Harry wants to hold his hand up, but he’s tangled up in Alde. He takes a few deep breaths before saying, “Maybe we missed something. Maybe her DNA is screwy.”

            Louis chokes out. “I just thought they were different. I didn’t think they’d do this.”

            Harry sighs, “Lou, we need to get her checked out. They--they wouldn’t without reason.”

            By the time they get to the nursery, Louis is a coiled ball of stress. He wrenches open Harry’s door for him and helps him out. Harry knows he’s trying to stay calm, but he can see the nerves written all out on his face. The on-call scientist is waiting for them when they make it inside. He leads them to the nursery’s medical unit near the back and tells Harry to lay the little raptor down on an exam table.

            The scientist asks, “So, what exactly happened here?” He starts looking Alde over for wounds. “Harry, can you grab a syringe for a blood sample for me?”

            Harry pulls out a syringe as Louis explains the situation for the scientist. The scientist nods along, carefully checking Alde’s temperature. They wait there as the scientist runs through all the health checks. Harry runs the blood off to the lab. Thank god for the overnight intern, honestly, who gives him a wide-eyed look when he tells him to drop whatever he’s doing and run the blood work. When he returns the scientist is explaining to Louis, “As far as I can tell, she’s perfectly healthy. No fever, no wounds. Nothing. Behaviorally seems normal. I’ll examine the blood work and run some tests. She may have an underlying health issues that we can’t detect right now.”

            Louis’ voice wobbles when he asks, “Is that a reason they might reject her?” His voice cracks on reject.

            The scientist shrugs. “It may be. You’d know more than me on raptors, but illness is a common reason for many rejections.”

            Louis sighs, rubbing his forehead. “What can we do now?”

            “Go home,” the scientist says. “She’s not in immediate danger. I’ll run the tests first thing in the morning and look at the blood work. I’ll let Harry know when I’m done.” He pauses, contemplating the two. “If you want you can put her in her cage.”

            Harry nods, picking her up again. She’s gotten sleepy, resting her head on Harry’s arm and letting out a happy grunt. Harry follows the scientist to a large cage back in the nursery and lays her down in the blanket nest in the corner. The intern must have set it up after their call. He and Louis crouch in front of the makeshift nest, watching little Alde curl up in the blanket and promptly fall asleep.

            Harry lets Louis watch for a bit, before resting his hand over Louis’, clenched tight in his lap. “C’mon, we’re sleeping at my place tonight. It’s closest.”

           

 

            Harry doesn’t bother with the lights when they get back to his flat, the open window gives enough moonlight that he can lead Louis to his room. He opens the curtain so the full moon’s light fills the room. Louis’ sat down on the bed, staring at his hands. Harry feels his heart breaking a bit at the devastation on his face.

            He sits down gingerly beside him. “We won’t know anything ‘til the morning. This might not be as bad as you think.”

            Louis bites his lip so hard Harry thinks he might draw blood. He sighs, “I know. I’m just…” He looks at Harry. The moonlight lights up his cheekbones, making him look like some ethereal creature. “I thought it was going so well.”

            Harry pulls him into his arms before he can question it. He hugs him so hard the smaller boy almost falls into his lap. He’s so warm in his arms, soft and fragile and in need of protection. Harry presses his cheek to his hair and murmurs. “This isn’t your fault. There’s no way you could have prevented this.”

            Louis makes a choked noise, pressing his face into Harry’s shoulder. Harry holds him tighter. He’s not sure how long they sit there, breathing against each other in the bright moonlight. Eventually he pulls back and kisses Louis on the forehead. “I know you’re scared. But the best thing we can do now is sleep so we can handle this in the morning.”

            Louis nods and leans against him again, eyes turned down so Harry can just catch the shadow of his eyelashes on his cheek. “Can I sleep with you tonight? Don’t wanna be on the couch.”

            Harry’s breath hitches in his throat. “Of course, love, was planning on giving you the bed no matter what. You can borrow clothes.” He carefully leaves Louis’ embrace and digs through his drawers. Louis is a lot smaller than him, so he finds the smallest tee shirt and joggers he has. Louis smiles up at him when he presents them to him, still sad and soft but with a sliver of hope, Harry thinks. “Can I use your bathroom?”

            Harry feels a tiny twinge of disappointment. He still has trouble getting the images of a moonlit, half-naked Louis on the beach out of his mind. But he shows him to the bathroom and pulls on his own set of comfy clothes in his room. He’s curled up on his side of the bed by the time Louis gets back in, padding softly across the floor. Harry catches his breath as Louis scrambles into the bed.

            “H?” Louis’ voice sounds shaky.

            “Yeah, Lou?”

            “Can I cuddle you?”

            Louis looks so hesitant, eyes gleaming and blanket pulled up to his chin. Harry says, “‘Course, Lou. C’mere.”

            Louis scooches over and Harry rolls over to hug him tight. He’s so warm and lovely and he smells like that peppermint shampoo Harry’s seen in his shower. He sighs happily, wrapping his arms around him and holding him to his chest. “Night, Lou.”

            “Night, H.”

            They lay there for a while, both knowing the other is still awake. Finally, Louis pipes up again. “Hey, H?”

            “Yeah?

            “Can we go the other way?”

            Harry giggles, already rolling over. “I’ve always been more of a little spoon.”

            Louis laughs, and Harry feels his heart bursting out of his chest at his eye crinkles. He feels his pulse slow as Louis wraps his arms around him, pulling him to his chest. The nerves that have been screaming for hours are finally giving up, relaxing into a calmness that spreads through his whole chest and down his limbs. He lets out the breath he’s been holding forever and lets himself sink back further into Louis.

            Louis brushes his long curls away and kisses his neck softly. “Night for real this time, love.”

           

-

 

            “Both fortunately and unfortunately, we couldn’t find any signs of illness in the raptor--”

            “Alde,” Harry interrupts, arms crossed. “It’s short for Aldebaran, like the star. It’s red like her scales.”

            The scientist fixes him with a cool look. “My apologies. We couldn’t find any signs of illness in,” he pauses, nose turned up a bit. “Alde. This is fortunate for her health, obviously, but it’s unfortunate for her future. I’m no raptor specialist, but I believe we can call this a case of parental rejection.” Harry presses his side to Louis’. He doesn’t need to look to know his face has fallen. The scientist continues, “I set up a meeting with the two of you with Liam Payne to discuss her future. Just after this meeting, over in the administration building.”

            Louis just stares blankly at the scientist, eyes carefully emotionless. Harry steps forward, reaching out to shake the scientist’s hand. “Thank you, we’ll stay in touch about her condition.”

            The scientist nods. “I hope for the best of luck with her case.”

            Harry leads Louis out of the medical unit and back through the nursery entrance. The administration building is just a few blocks away and he holds Louis’ hand as they start walking. Harry squeezes his hand tight. “Lou, maybe we missed something. Maybe they’ll want her back soon.”

            Louis’s voice is all choked up but he nods. “I’m glad they gave us Liam. He’ll help us.”

            The administration building is a hulking, yet modern building far removed from Main Street. The exterior is all cool metal and broad windows that reflect the sun, making it shine and hurt Harry’s eyes. It’s uncomfortably quiet inside, the silence only broken up by the sharply dressed individual at the front desk asking them where they’re headed. They get sent up to the fourth floor. Everyone is dressed in dark business dress, hair either neatly coiffed or done up in buns, and Harry shifts nervously in his old black jeans and smooths his long hair down. Louis’ still in a pair of his old sweatpants, swimming in a hoodie. Liam’s assistant, Jade, greets them cheerfully and send them into Liam’s office. Liam’s sitting at his big desk and he looks up from his laptop with a grin.

            Louis lets out a deep breath once they close the door. “Wow, Payno, I didn’t know quite how important you are here.”

            Liam laughs, getting up from the desk to give Louis a giant hug. “Perks of being a suit,” he huffs out. He pulls back and gives Louis a big smile. “I’m sorry to hear about the raptor. Let’s sit down, yeah? See what we can figure out.”

            He sits back down behind his desk and the two of them sit in the chairs in front. Liam folds his hands on top of the desk. “So, luckily we get to keep the rejected raptor--”

            “Alde,” Harry interrupts again. He can see Louis grinning at him from the corner of his eye. “Short for Aldebaran, like the star? Her scales are red.”

            Liam laughs a little. “Sure, sure. Anyway, we get to keep Alde alive. Which is good. But we have to think about her future. If this rejection is permanent, we have to create a whole new enclosure for her. We have no other place to keep her and we can’t keep her in a cage without animal rights activists from all over the world coming at us with a lawsuit. Building is expensive, we’d have to count on guests wanting to come see her and paying for that. We have to start planning.”

            Harry shares a look with Louis. Louis widens his eyes a little and shakes his head. He leans forward in his seat, eyeing Liam. “Look, Li. I think we need to give it a little time.” Liam opens his mouth, clearly confused. Louis rushes on, “We don’t know for sure if this is permanent. I think we should aim for a more reintroduction course, try to get her back with the others.”

            Liam frowns, solemn brown eyes looking back and forth between them. “Reintroduction was a complete failure the last time.”

            Louis’ fists clench under the table and his eyes harden a bit. “We know more now. Alde is perfectly healthy, her DNA looks normal, Birdie and Dingo were acting normally towards her until today. This time is different, Li. There’s no reason she might not be accepted back into the pack.”

            Liam tilts his head, shifting his eyes to Harry. “H, what do you think?”

            Harry feels Louis’ eyes on him. “I agree. The parent raptors have been showing behavior similar to herbivore parents, which have the highest rates of successful reintroduction. She needed to be pulled out of the environment at the time, but it may have been a fluke. There’s a good chance they’ll welcome her back.”

            Liam leans back in his chair, expression carefully blank. “I’m willing to give it a try. We have to know soon, though, as enclosure planning and building takes a long time. How long do you want?”

            Harry looks at Louis again, who nods at him. Harry says, “We can try almost immediately. It may take time, though. How about if she’s not back with the pack in three weeks you can start on an enclosure?”

            Liam cocks his head, glancing down at some papers on his desk. “Two weeks?”

            Louis looks about to protest, but Harry speaks first. “Two weeks is fine. But we should be allowed to extend if we can make a case that we’re making progress to extend.”

            Liam nods. “Sounds reasonable. We can have some of our interns start taking a look at enclosure plans in the meantime.”

            Louis’ expression is sad again. “Thanks, Li. I was worried we were gonna get a hardass over here.”

            Liam rolls his eyes. “You think all suits are hardasses.”

            “That’s ‘cause they are, Li. Except you. You’re a puppy.”

            Liam sighs. “Do you want to go get tacos for lunch?”

 

            Louis leaves to go back to the raptor enclosure after Harry and Liam force him to eat lunch. He promises Harry he’ll call that night or stop by to give him an update. Liam grins impishly at Harry after Louis breezes out with a kiss to Harry’s cheek. Harry feels himself flushing under the weight of his grin.

            “Raptor problem beside, I’m glad you guys are getting your shit together,” Liam says.

            Harry eyes him cautiously. “Well, I mean. We’re taking it slow. He’s amazing.”

            Liam makes a little ‘aww’ sound. “That is so cute. You guys are so cute.”

            “Thanks, Li. Do you know if Zayn is down in his lab yet?”

            Liam nods. “Yeah, he’s probably back from lunch by now. Think he had a full day today.”

            “Thanks. I’ll see you later, yeah?” Harry hugs him before he leaves. He still feels sloppy in his old jeans, but Jade just waves him out politely. He makes his way back to the labs that are connected to the nursery. While the nursery is smaller, less obtrusive, the labs are as ugly and cold as the administration building. There’s one huge building, with connected buildings that sprawl out and cut into the forest that covers most of the island. He checks in with the front desk and makes his way to the side building where Zayn works. Everyone is in lab coats here, the kind you see on doctor shows.

            He presses the intercom button to be let in, and a woman’s voice answers. She lets him in after asking who he’s there for and confirming with Zayn that it’s okay for him to come in. Security measures for the labs are particularly tight.

            Zayn’s waiting for him when he gets in. He smiles and waves slightly awkwardly. “Hey, H.”

            “Hi, Z.” He pulls him into a hug. “Do you have time to talk for a bit?”

            “Yeah, I’m due for a smoke break anyway. Here.” He leads him out a locked side door to a little outside area and leans against the cool metal building, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it immediately. The grass is tall around the building, at least reaching mid-thigh, and the little area they’re standing in is pleasantly shaded. Zayn puffs and asks, “What’s up?”

            “Did you hear about Alde?” Harry leans next to him, wrapping his arms around his middle.

            Zayn raises an eyebrow. “The raptor rejection?” Harry nods, and Zayn continues, “Yeah, heard about it from the scientist that had her this morning when I was making a tea. I hate that guy. He’s always complaining.”

            Harry’s throat feels dry. “I know he said there was nothing wrong with her, but I just have this feeling like we missed something.”

            Zayn puffs on his cigarette, staring out at the trees. He’s always had a flare for being lowkey arsty. “What do you mean?”

            “Maybe it’s her DNA, or there’s some illness we don’t know about yet or just...I don’t know, Z, I just feel like they wouldn’t push her away for no reason. She was shy and a little weaker than the others, sure. But they didn’t treat her any worse or oddly or anything. I just...would you take a look at her?”

            “You mean like look for health problems?”

            Harry nods, turning onto his shoulder to look at Zayn. “Yes, or check her DNA again or anything. It’s not that I don't trust the other guy. I just trust you more to actually check everything out.”

            Zayn hums around the cigarette. “Sure.”

            “So you’ll do it?” Harry’s heart leaps in his chest.

            “Of course, H.” He turns to smile at him. “I trust you to not be sending me on a wild goose chase. Even if it was, I’d still do it for you guys.”

            Harry pulls him into a hug, attempting to pick him up and swing him around despite Zayn’s muffled protests. He drops his cigarette somewhere in the middle of the hug. Harry giggles, “Thank you thank you thank you! I owe you, Z. You’re the best. The absolute best.”

            “Don’t let Louis hear you say that. He’s the jealous type,” Zayn laughs, ruffling Harry’s hair playfully. “Let me down, you fuck!”

            Harry finally puts him down “Aw, he won’t care. He’ll be so excited about this.”

            Zayn nods, eyes a little troubled. His voice is soft when he says, “H, I don’t want you to get your hopes up too much. I might not find anything.”

            Harry nods. “I know. I just have to know. I…” he pauses, shuffling on his feet. “I’m trying to think the raptors are as good as Lou says they are. I’m just really struggling with that idea.”

            Zayn’s whole posture softens. “Hey, I’ll do my best. I promise.”

 

-

 

            A week later, Zayn still hasn’t found anything and their first, second, and third attempts to reintroduce Alde had gone horribly. They’d carried her to the hollow each time, and set her on the ground. They let Birdie approach while Louis had a huge tranquilizer trained on her. Alde squeaked as she saw her mother approaching and stumbled over her feet towards her. Birdie held herself above the little raptor, then leaned down to nose at her. After only a few seconds, Birdie snarled and dropped to an attack position, claws clenching and teeth flashing at her child. Before she could do anything, Louis stepped forward and barked at her to back up, pushing her back and shoving the tranquilizer in her face. Harry heard her snarls through the trees as he retreated with Alde in his arms. They didn’t stop until the sounds of her anger faded away.

            Harry and Louis were now sitting by Louis’ car, letting Alde sniff around in the grass and finish up the meat Louis gave her. Louis’ expression is dark and he picks at a thread on his pants. Harry reaches out to grab his hand, making him jolt. “Lou, love, we still have plenty of time.”

            Louis nods. “I know. This whole thing is just dragging me down.” He smiles sadly at Harry. “I thought Birdie and Dingo were different.”

            “They’re still raptors, Lou,” Harry says softly.

            Louis’ head snaps up. “What do you mean?”

            Harry steels his nerves. “Just that they’re still going to be raptors, even when they have young. They’re still going to act to their nature.”

            Louis pulls his hand out of Harry’s. “What the hell are you implying?”

            Harry’s hands feel cold. “Just that they’re mean to each other normally. Why would it be different with young? Survival of the fittest and all.”

            Louis’ eyes wide but his expression stays dark. “Haven’t I done enough to convince you they’re not as bad as you think? They might fight but they wouldn’t fucking abandon each other!”

            “Lou.” Harry can hear his own voice wobbling. “I just--I didn’t mean it like that. I just meant that they’re going to be rough with each other. We still haven't found anything wrong with Alde. We might have to accept they’re rejecting her.”

            Louis scrambles to his feet. He looks murderous. “I thought you trusted me about this.”

            Harry stands up too. “I do trust you! I just think we need to be rational.”

            Louis’ jaw tightens. “I think you should leave.”

            “What?” Harry almost shrieks. “Why?”

            “Clearly we’re not on the same page here,” Louis snaps. He whips around and starts storming back towards the enclosure.

            “Lou, please!” Harry calls, taking a few steps after him.

            Louis turns around again. “Please just leave me alone.”

            Harry feels his heart shriveling up in his chest. He watches Louis disappear back into the enclosure, probably heading back to the little hollow to up on the rest of the raptors.

 

-

 

            Boop’s the only thing that can comfort him now. All last night he’d just eaten ice cream and ramen, whining to Niall over an episode of Househunters. Niall had only rolled his eyes and told him to grow up and talk to him, then eventually left after the fifth episode. Harry had, of course, pulled out a bottle of wine to drown his sorrows in instead.

            So he called Nick in the morning to tell him he’s doing the Boop check-in a few days early, and now he’s scanning the herd of Maiasaura for his favorite little guy. He uses the tracker and follows it to a shady spot near the sluggish river on the edge of Gallimimus Valley. The herd is all napping or playing in the water. He laughs at the little ones playing, as the Maiasaura are all so slow it’s like watching normal dinos in slow motion. He finally spots the unmistakable massive shape of Boop’s mother with the help of the tracker. She seems to have spotted him, too, and nudges at the young running sluggishly around her feet with her duck bill. Harry waits a short distance away until one of the little ones lets out the cutest little squeak and starts trotting towards him. He recognizes her as Boop immediately, something in his gut tugging him forward.

            God, she’s gotten big. He saw her a few weeks ago for a check up but somehow in the time he hasn’t seen her she’s grown so much. She reaches just a little taller than his knees now, and she’s still the cutest thing Harry’s ever seen. Harry crouches down as she reaches him and he can’t help but to pull her into his arms for a cuddle. She squawks at him like a teenager being embarrassed by their parents in front of their friends, but still nuzzles his cheek with her own.

            Harry rushes through her vital checks, noting all of her levels and taking a small blood sample. Then he sits there and babbles at her. About his day, how big she’s gotten, how much he misses her calming presence in the nursery, and how happy he is to see her fit right in with her family. He admires how big and strong she’s gotten. Her mother watches on somewhere in the background, a regal presence keeping an eye out for her young. Boop sits there the whole time pawing at him and cooing and cocking her head curiously. He even asks her for advice on Louis, but she just squawks at him.

            He’s not sure how long he’s there. The sun is high in the sky, but the shade is lovely, and the grass beneath him is soft.  Eventually, the rest of Boop’s siblings wander over. There’s four of them total, and they poke at him curiously with their bills. He laughs to himself, thinking of how his friends would tease him if they saw him now, looking like an actual dino mom with her kids. He sort of never wants to leave.

He’s just thinking of heading out so he can finish his rounds at the nursery when a familiar voice cuts in behind him. “Hey, H.”

            Louis is standing there, hands behind his back and shifting on his feet. He looks nicer than usual, blue button down making his eyes look brighter and bluer than the sky behind him. His hair is soft today, fanning out over his forehead. “Hey, Lou,” Harry murmurs. “How did you find me?”

            Louis sits down next to him, skirting around one of Boop’s siblings. “Showed up at the lab. Nick laughed at me and told me you were here. So, here I am. Took me a while to find you.” He pauses, leaning down to pet down Boop’s nose. “Hey, Boop. You’re so big now!”

            She squawks at him, eyeing him curiously. Harry admires how healthy she is now, how strong her voice has gotten and how bright her eyes are. Louis coos at her.

            “Why are you here?” Harry asks softly.

            Louis pauses with his hand stroking Boop’s back. He draws it back and turns to Harry. “I wanted to say sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you yesterday.” He pauses and lifts a hand up to brush a bit of hair off his forehead. “I’ve been so stressed out this whole week and freaking out internally. I should’ve have taken that out on you the minute you said something that bothered me. You just brought up the truth and I should’ve have been so horrible.”

            Harry hugs him, pressing his forehead to his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m sorry too, I shouldn’t have pushed your buttons like that.”

            Louis leans closer to him. “I was just upset I wasn’t able to convince you about the raptors, and I should’ve just talked to you about it instead of getting mad.”

            Harry sighs, “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I do, I really do. I just don’t trust the raptors. I’m sorry.”

            Louis nods, frown firmly on his face. “It’s not your fault. You can’t help how you feel.”

            Harry hugs him tighter. They sit there in the shade for however long, still intertwined and surrounded by sleepy Maiasaura, before Harry gently asks, “So, how close am I to convincing you to date me properly?”

            “I thought we were already dating. I tried to take you on a fancy first date in everything.” Louis grins at him, winking teasingly.

            Harry groans, “You know what I mean.”

            Louis tilts his head with a little smile on his face. “Oh, I don’t think I do. Please elaborate.”

            “Lou.” Harry tugs on his hair. His butterflies are going crazy, flopping about and dancing. “I mean boyfriends. You know that.”

            Louis hums thoughtfully, “Oh, interesting. Maybe we can do that. Soon.”

            Harry blinks slowly at him. “Soon?”

            Louis smiles at him, leaning forward to kiss him softly. “Soon, babe.”

 

-

 

            Harry’s in the middle of a checkup for a sick Gallimimus when Zayn bursts into the nursery. He looks like he hasn’t slept in two weeks, hair a fluffy, unstyled mess and lab coat flying behind him. There’s a huge coffee stain on his worn-in tee shirt underneath and Harry’s a little surprised he doesn’t have a cigarette in hand. He shouts “Harry!”, making Nick and Camila share an exasperated look. Those two really are the menaces of the nursery.

            “What’s up, Z?” Harry asks as he slows to a stop right in front of him. Harry’s never seen him move so fast.

            He shoves a bunch of papers in Harry’s face. His eyes are wide as he says, “I found it! I figured it out! There is something wrong with Alde!” He throws the stack down on the table and digs through them, producing what looks like a full-body scan of the little raptor. “Look, H! See this lighter bit here in her chest? Looks normal, right? It should, ‘cause all raptors have this large pocket of fat and muscle in their chest that balances out their body and tail, but that’s whatever. But see this slightly lighter part right here?” He points excitedly at an almost unnoticeable light bit near the front of the chest. “If you do an individual scan of the chest, here.” He rifles through the stack, sending some papers flying off the table but eventually pulling out a close-up. “And try a few different things and muck with the lighting, you’ll see that this bit is totally different than the rest of the matter around it. So, clearly it’s neither fat nor muscle! So,” he huffs out, turning to Harry and shoving the colored scan in his hands. “It looked like a tumor, right? So, I went in and did a tiny autopsy and blood test of that area and it’s cancer, Harry, it’s cancer!”

            Harry feels his blood go cold. “Oh my god, that’s awful! Is she--”

            “No, Harry, it’s fantastic!” Zayn laughs hysterically at Harry’s shock. He continues, “No, it’s amazing! The cancer is only in a very begining stage and the tumor can be removed easily. The cancer cells haven’t spread at all to the rest of the body -- that’s why she seemed perfectly normal! She’s going to be totally ok after we remove the tumor! Of course, it’s not quite normal human cancer,” he starts babbling. Harry’s never heard him speak so quickly or excitedly. Zayn pulls out a few more papers. “See, this is a human cancer cell and this is Alde’s. This is huge, Harry, this is a major discovery. It’s so similar to human cells. We’ve never accurately diagnosed cancer in dinosaurs before! This is incredible.” He runs a hand through his hair, eyes bulging out a big. “My god, Harry, you know what this means, right?”

            Harry can barely speak out the relief flooding through his body. He can feel tears gathering in the corners of his eyes. “That she’s gonna be ok and the pack might take her back?”

            Zayn nods enthusiastically. “Exactly! But it’s more than that. Based on the timeline of human cancer detections and the size of her tumor, it probably started growing only a little before her parents rejected her! By the time they did, it was probably an actual tumor. You get that, Harry?” Harry stares at him, for the life of him he can’t piece together what Zayn’s implying. Zayn grasps his shoulders, dropping the rest of the papers. He goes on, “There’s a huge possibility her parents were able to detect the cancer! There’s been suggestions in other animals that they can do stuff like this, based on scent and behavior and all these different clues, but there’s a huge possibility they did that here!”

            Harry starts crying then, pulling Zayn into a huge hug. His emotions are all over, spilling out of his heart and filling his whole body. He chokes out, “Zayn, oh my god. That would mean they didn’t just reject her! Oh my god, Z.”

            “I know, H. I know.” Zayn hugs him tighter. “I’m so happy for you.”

            Harry pulls back. “When are you removing the thing?”

            “Scheduled a surgery for later today. Perrie wasn’t super excited about it so short notice, but she’s so nice and I told her all about why it was important. I just don’t want to risk it spreading to the rest of the body,” Zayn says around a yawn.

            Harry hugs him again. “Thank you so much. Thank you, thank you.”

            Zayn smiles.  “Anything for you and Louis, H. Love you both so much.” He yawns again. “Think I’m gonna take my afternoon off so I can check on her after the surgery.”

            “When’s the last time you slept, Z?”

            Zayn grins impishly. “Um, well I worked on this all night and this morning, so...probably a million years ago.”

            Harry punches him in the arm. “Jesus, Z, go to sleep. I can text you when the surgery is almost done.” He smiles to himself, “I have to go tell Louis.”

            Zayn grins at him. “He’s gonna jump you on the spot.”

 

            Harry and Louis are watching over the nursery enclosure, awwing over a Parasarapholus and Harry’s Gallimimus becoming fast friends, when Zayn runs through the doors at a full out run. Harry can’t believe he’s seen him move so quickly in one day. He yells at the top of his lungs, “Cancer free! She’s cancer free!”

            He crashes into the two of them, pulling them both into a hug and dancing around in a circle. Louis cheers and pumps a fist into the air. Harry starts crying again and trips over his own feet, pulling the three of them to the ground. They laugh hysterically and fall into a victorious doggy pile. Eventually, they roll to a stop, all three laid out on their backs but still cheering. Harry’s half on top of Louis and he’s fully in tears now.

            They’re still laughing when a voice coughs obnoxiously. Camila is standing, arms crossed, a few feet away from them. She raises an eyebrow and asks, “Are you guys done here? Because the surgeon wants to see you so she can go home.”

            They scramble to their feet. Harry huffs at her, “You’re too sassy for an intern. I could fire you right now if I wanted to.”

            She rolls her eyes. “You threaten to fire me every other day. You love me.”

            Harry sighs again and holds on to Louis’ arm as she leads them back to the medical unit and the surgery room. The surgeon, a sweet blond named Perrie, smiles at them and hands Louis a sheet of instructions. “So, Zayn already did some tests and determined her to be cancer free. The surgery was relatively easy and she won’t need too long to recover from it. There’s not that many stitches. She should be able to return to normal activity in under a week. I recommend she stay here overnight and tomorrow to monitor her condition, but she can return to her spot in the nursery and recover there after that.”

            Louis scans the sheet. “Is it safe to attempt reintroduction after that?”

            Perrie nods, ponytail bouncing a little. “I’d say so. But we’ll do daily check-ups and reassess later.”

            “Thank you, Perrie.” Harry smiles at her. “Can we say hi to her before we go?”

            “Sure, just check out at the front desk before you go.” She leaves with a smile.

            Zayn leans over the little raptor immediately. “Hi, sweetie.” He smiles at Harry and Louis. “Hey, can I be her godfather?”

            Louis frowns. “I think Harry should get that title. I mean, I’m her alpha and all so he should get that.”

            Zayn laughs, poking a finger at Alde for her to chew on. “Ok, but she probably considers Harry to be like, your mate or something at this point. So he’s almost like a part of the pack.”

            Harry feels his cheeks heat up, and Louis just grins at him when he looks over. The spot where he’s hanging on to Louis’ arms feels hot. Louis laughs, “Well, I guess that sounds about right.”

            Harry just giggles, pressing his forehead to Louis’ shoulder and letting him Zayn and Louis discuss Zayn’s godfather status above him.

 

-

 

            A week later, Perrie gives them the all-clear to attempt reintroduction, with a promise from them to schedule medical checks if it goes well. Louis is jittery the whole morning, only stilling when Harry pulls him into a kiss. Harry has to force him to sit down and eat the breakfast he makes for them at the flat. Louis babbles the entire time, choking down boiling hot tea and scarfing down eggs. He bounces around Harry when he’s done, gently urging him to hurry up. Harry snorts at him and spews out health facts about breakfast, to which Louis groans and wraps his arms around him from the back.

            After picking up Alde and double-checking their tranquilizers, they finally make their way to the enclosure. Harry lets Louis drive his car, but plays his Fleetwood Mac CD. Louis scoffs but leans over the console to kiss him on the cheek, so Harry counts it as a win.

            Harry draws Alde up into his arms and they approach the enclosure together. Louis hikes his tranquilizer up on his shoulder as they go through the door and start making their way to the gated section. It isn’t too hot out yet, so they’re able to walk in the sun comfortably. After they’ve been walking for a bit, the tracker starts beeping and Louis pauses, turning towards the heavier forested part next to them. “Delta?” Louis’ voice rings out in the silence.

            Louis gestures Harry to comes closer, and he draws him behind him. He whispers, “Sorry, I wouldn’t be worried if it was any other raptor.” He pauses, glancing at the tracker again. “Delta!”

            An ear-piercing screech rings out behind them, and Harry whips around to see a massive raptor leaping at him with his claws reaching out. Harry feels all the breath get knocked out of him as the creature tackles him to the ground, knocking Alde out of his arms and sending her flying. Harry sees Louis fire the tranquilizer and miss before the raptor turns at leaps at Louis. Harry chokes out a scream as Delta knocks the tranquilizer out of his hands and pins him to the ground with massive claws. Louis struggles, gasping as one of Delta’s claws sink deep into his arm. Blood trickles out around the claw.

            Harry’s about to scrabble to his feet to help. He has no idea how, but his panicked brain is screaming at him to help Louis, to save him. Before he can, though, another raptor flies out of the forest and jumps onto Delta’s back. It’s so small Harry knows it has to be Ghost.

            Delta stumbles off Louis, twisting to throw Ghost off. Ghost is shrieking at the top of her lungs, gripping her massive back claws onto Delta’s back and trying to bite his neck. Louis yells at Harry, “Get Alde!”

            Alde’s by the wrestling raptors, squawking at them and watching them in fascination. She must not realize this isn’t play fighting, and she’s only a few feet away. Harry manages to get to his feet and grab her. Before he can run again, Delta whips his tail and knocks him down with it. Harry gasps as he hits the ground again, covering Alde with his arms. He sees Louis scrambling towards the tranquilizer on the ground, and he only notices now the giant rip in the leg of his jeans. His face is twisted up in pain.

            Delta throws Ghost off completely, tossing her straight into a tree. She sinks to the ground with a muffled shriek. Delta turns to Harry and starts looming towards him, hissing lowly out of his bared teeth and clenching his claws. Harry hunches over Alde on the ground. There’s no way he can pull the tranquilizer out of his belt before the raptor attacks, but maybe he can keep Alde safe until Louis reaches his tranquilizer.

            Suddenly another raptor is ripping into Delta’s side, pushing him back. Louis gasps out, “Dingo!” There’s only one raptor that towers over even Delta and could knock him to the ground as easily as he is now.

            It must be Birdie right behind him, immediately heading over to Harry. Harry freezes, ducking his head further and covering Alde up. His mind runs through images of Birdie attacking him, too. He almost cries when he feels her nosing at his head. She’s humming softly at him, though, and she only stands there while Harry breathes heavily.

            Harry opens his eyes and cautiously glances up. Birdie is staring at him, but she doesn’t look angry at all. She noses at his arms, letting out a little whimper. Harry holds his breath as he shifts his arms a little so she can just see Alde’s head. She hums louder now, leaning down to nose at Alde, probably scenting her.

            Harry holds his breath as Birdie raises her head and stares at Harry. She leans forward and presses her cheek to Harry’s. Harry feels his nerves relax, letting out a deep breath and opening his arms completely to let Alde crawl out. Birdie hums happily and drops down to her haunches, pulling Alde towards her.

            A muffled raptor scream makes Harry look up, fear in his veins again. Louis’ finally reached the tranquiliser and fired it from where he’s laid out on the ground. Dingo’s standing over Delta, who’s completely knocked out on the ground  by now. Dingo sniffs him, then snorts and kicks his body over.

            Birdie’s wrapped up in Alde, and Harry can see Ghost stirring over by the tree. He runs over to Louis, dropping to the ground so he can pull him into his arms. “Louis,” he gasps out. He can feel hot tears spilling on to cheeks, and he feels so, so fucking relieved that Louis is alive in his arms.

            “H, I’m fine. I swear. Just my leg and my arm. They’re not bad.” Louis smiles at him. There’s a smear of blood on his face, probably from him rubbing at his arm then his face. “I’m sure they saw what happened and they’re sending people out now. There’s cameras everywhere.”

            Harry holds him tighter, crying harder. “Louis, honey.”

            Of all the times to kiss him, Louis does it then. He pulls him in by the front of his shirt and kisses him. Maybe it’s the adrenaline making it feel like they’re on fire, burning up together in the sun.

Harry loses touch of their surroundings, only feeling Louis’ lip on his, until he registers the raptor snout bumping at his shoulder. He laughs, pulling back to look Ghost in the face. Louis reaches out to pet the smaller raptor. Harry just wipes at a tear and hugs the raptor around the middle, making her squeal a little. “Thank you, Ghost,” he sighs out.

“Hey, getting jealous over here,” Louis teases. “I want a hug.”

Harry laughs, “Hey, she saved our lives. And Alde’s. Think she deserves a hug.”

            Louis grins, rolling over to look for Alde. He lets out a relieved breath when he sees Birdie and Dingo nosing at her protectively, covering her in their scent again. “H, look.”

            Harry feels tears pricking at his eyes again. “Lou, it really just was the cancer. They’re gonna take her back.”

            Louis’ crying now, too. “Do you believe me now about them?”

            Harry lets go of Ghost to kiss Louis again. He sighs out happily, “Yes. Yes, I do.”

 

            Harry holds Louis’ hand as he gets his arm and leg stitched up at the hospital. He’d convinced him to let his assistant take care of matters back at the enclosure, as the blood loss was starting to get to Louis’ head, making him pale and disoriented. Harry relays what his assistant had told him while they’d loaded Louis into an ambulance to take him to the hospital. Despite Louis’ protests, his injuries definitely needed medical attention. Now that the nurses are stitching him up, he’s back to his normal color and in a relatively normal mind state. Harry tells him that the sensors in the raptors must have been faulty and misinterpreted where Delta actually was, making it look like he was in front of them when he was really behind. Dingo had seemingly jumped into action as soon as he heard Delta’s first attack, and he and Birdie had immediately started ripping through the gate.

            Louis nods along to the story, wincing at the pain in his leg. The leg was apparently the worse of the injuries, so deep it ripped part of his muscle. His arm is all done now, painstakingly bandaged tight so he couldn’t wriggle out of it somehow. An intern, a pale dark-haired girl, is watching them like a hawk as she helps the nurse. Harry recognizes her as one of Camila’s friends, and he internally groans at the notes she must be taking to relay to their little group.

            Louis is playing with their tangled up fingers as Harry finishes telling him how the assistant had rushed to call in the rest of the enclosure workers to bail the two of them out, but by the time they were mobilized Dingo had arrived on the scene. Louis makes a snide comment about how lazy the staff are, but otherwise listens attentively.

            “So that’s that,” Harry finishes.

            “Hmm, lovely,” Louis comments. He’s staring up at Harry, eyes fixed on his face. “You know, you look gorgeous for just having a raptor attack you.”

            Harry giggles, “You’re one to talk.”

            Louis laughs, squeezing his hand. “Hey, you know how I said I wanted to take things slow?”

            The intern’s eyes widen. Harry squeezes his hand back. “Yeah, of course.”

            “Well, I don’t think I want to anymore. I think I was just scared you were gonna change your mind.” Louis’ smirking up at him and even laid out in a hospital bed, he takes Harry’s breath away.  He pauses to brush a bit of Harry’s hair out of his eyes. “I’ve liked you for so long I couldn’t bear the thought of you changing your mind about us. Would’ve killed me if we got together and then you left.”

            Harry’s heart is definitely melting. He’s so, so fond of the boy in front of him. “You’ve liked me for so long?”

            Louis nods. “Liked you ever since we first met. Was gonna ask you out after Liam’s twentieth but that fucker James got there first.”

            Harry laughs lightly, “We did always have this connection, you and me. Never wanted to admit that I was disappointed when he asked me out.” He squeezes Louis’ hand, keeping his eyes fixed on his. “I’m not going to leave you now. Not for anything. I want this, I want you.”

            Louis smiles, eyes softly gleaming blue even in the dull light of the hospital room. “Well that’s fantastic, because I’d really like to make you my boyfriend now.”

            The nurse pauses and looks back and forth between them. The intern gasps and nearly drops the towel she’s holding. Harry just blushes and leans in to say, “Fuck yes, I’d love to be your boyfriend.”

            Louis tilts his head up to kiss him on his jaw. “You coming back to mine tonight, boyfriend?”

            Harry’s pretty sure they’ve given the intern an aneurysm.

 

           

            Harry barely has a second to glance around Louis’ darkened house before Louis pushes him up against the door, pressing his whole length up against him. He moans in the back of his throat as Louis starts trailing kisses down his neck. He’s all heat down his front, making Harry’s spin head already.

            “Babe,” Harry breathes out. “What’s gotten into you?”

            Louis pauses to kiss along Harry’s jaw. “Been waiting to do this forever.”

            He reaches up and tugs at Harry’s hair, and oh. Harry’s had people play with his hair before, but never like this -- nothing that made heat pool in his stomach or ripped the breath out his throat. “Lou,” he whines.

            “Fuck Harry. Wanna fuck you so bad.”

            “Please, Lou,” Harry gasps as he tugs on his hair again. “Please.”

            Louis shoves his thigh between Harry’s legs, pressing up against his crotch. Harry moans high in his throat and grinds down, completely lost in the feeling. Louis suddenly yelps, pulling away and bending over to press his hands to his thigh. “Fuck!” he half-shouts. It echoes out in the dead silent darkness.

            “Fuck Lou, your leg!” Harry exclaims. He crouches down to check the bandage. “Babe, I’m so sorry! I completely forgot.”

            “No,” Louis chokes out. “I’m the one who put it there.” He groans angrily, running his hand down Harry’s arm. “Fuck, honey, I wanted to fuck you so hard you cried. Don’t think I can with this.”

            Harry wants to cry right now, actually. He wants Louis inside him, wants the heat to sear and burn and make him lose his mind. He kisses Louis, mind running through images of Louis fucking him into the mattress, bathed in soft moonlight. Finally, he latches onto a idea and pushes Louis towards his bedroom, where moonlight streams in from the window, casting the bed in soft blue. “C’mon, I have an idea.”

            Harry pulls Louis down on the bed on top of him. “Touch me, please,” he breathes.

            Fuck, that’s Louis’ hand tracing along the edge of his pants, scratching lightly along his tummy. His shirt’s ridden up, and Louis’ eyes are fixed where his skin glows softly in the lighting, lighting up his laurels. “Love these,” he says, pressing a hand to one of the laurels. “Love your hips. Wanna lick them.”

            “Why don’t you?”

            Louis smirks at him. “Take this off. All of it.” He drags his hand down from his shirt to his pants. Harry nods, wriggling out of the shirt. He stumbles out of his jeans, only avoiding falling over when Louis grasps onto his arm. His head feels a little fuzzy with the way Louis’ eyes drag down his body, just like the way he looked at him that night on the beach. He stands there, shuffling awkwardly on his feet. Louis laughs and snaps the waistband of Harry’s boxers. “These too, love.”

            Harry’s going to burn up under the heat of his gaze. His cheeks are certainly burning as he tugs them down. There’s something he loves about a fully-clothed Louis directing him. “On the bed, love,” Louis tells him.

            The sheets are cool against his burning back. Louis makes a pleased noise and crawls between Harry’s legs. Harry shudders when he mouths at his hips. He trails little kitten licks and kisses down own of the laurels, then the other, and finally down to his thighs, skirting right around where Harry really wants him. He sucks at one of his inner thighs, stroking the other one softly with his thumb. “Lou,” Harry gasps as he nips sharply at him. “Please.”

            “Honey,” Louis sighs. He finally goes right to where Harry wants, licking a fat stripe up his cock. Harry’s mind nearly goes blank, consumed by the way Louis teases him. Louis finally takes him further and sucks him into the heat of his mouth. Harry can’t stop the moans, can’t stop bucking up into Louis’ mouth. Louis only hums around him, pressing him back to the bed with his hands on the laurels.

            Harry stutters out, “Lou, ‘m gonna, gonna--”

            Louis pulls off immediately, making Harry whimper lowly. He smiles up at him, kissing one of his laurels again. “What was your idea, babe?”

            Harry covers his face with his hands to hide his flaming cheeks. “This is embarrassing.”

            He feels Louis stroking a hand up and down his inner thighs. “Honey, no. Tell me.”

            Harry presses up onto his elbows. “Well, you can’t very well fuck me with your leg like that. But I can ride you?” His voice lifts up in a question.

            Louis’ fingers tighten around Harry’s thigh, pressing hard into the skin. He chokes out, “God, babe. Yes.”

            “Wanna open me up?”

            “Fuck, you know I want to.” Louis scrambles over to his nightstand, pulling out lube and condoms and letting the drawer hang open. He crawls back between Harry’s legs and asks, “Can I lift your legs up?”

            “Will it hurt your leg?”

            “No, it’s just the movement that hurts.”

            “Then of course you can.” Harry lets out a breath as Louis hikes his legs up to his shoulders. “Are you gonna take these off soon?” He picks at the collar of Louis’ shirt.

            “Soon, honey.” Louis presses a kiss to Harry’s inner thigh. He opens the lube and coats his fingers in it. He brushes his wet finger over his hole, and Harry jolts at the coolness of it. “Okay?” Louis asks.

            Harry nods enthusiastically. Louis kisses his thigh again and pushes his finger in slowly, expression bright as Harry arches his back and lets out a deep sigh. Louis feels like sweet relief inside him, even at only one finger. Louis asks, “Good, babe?”

            Harry wants all of him. He hisses, “Yes. More, please, more.”

            Louis presses in a second finger and moves his fingers about, scissoring them back and forth. Harry can’t fucking breathe, it feels so good. Louis puts it a third finger in without prompting and Harry whines high in his throat, back completely arching off the bed. “God, honey, look like a fucking pornstar. So beautiful,” Louis breathes out. He move his fingers around, and Harry almost yowls when he brushes against his prostate. Unbidden, he brushes against it again and again, making Harry writhe about on the bed. “Can’t wait to get you on my cock, baby.”

            “Lou,” Harry whines. “Please, can I do it now?”

            Louis leans forward to kiss him on the mouth. “Sure you’re ready?”

            “Yes,” Harry whines. Louis nods and slowly pulls out his fingers. He wriggles out of his clothes, letting them drop silently to the floor. Harry watches him lay out carefully on his back on the bed, heat burning in his stomach. He moves across the bed and pumps Louis’ cock a few times. “Lou, you’re so hard. Wanna sit on it so bad.”

            Louis groans lowly, “Can you put the condom on for me, babe?”

            Harry nods, frisking over the bed for the condom. He finds it in a fold by the edge, and rips the foil open with his teeth. Louis’ eyes on him are intoxicating, his head feels fuzzy but he’s so, so sure of Louis. So sure he’ll keep him safe. He sits by his side to roll the condom down, careful not to bump into his bandaged thigh. “Ready?” he asks, sitting back to look down Louis’ body. He looks so fucking good, strong and lean and beautiful.

            Louis grins. “Fuck yes.”

            Harry kisses him on the cheek before straddling him. He lowers himself down on Louis, letting out a deep whine as the head pops in. His cock feels so good as he sinks down slowly. His isn’t the longest Harry’s ever had, but it’s definitely the best, filling him up so, so good. He groans hoarsely when he bottoms out. “Lou,” he moans.

            “H, honey, you feel so fucking good. So tight. Wanna be inside you forever,” Louis breathes out.

            Harry collapses on Louis’ chest, breath shallow and head exploding. Louis is his entire world right now, filling up every little corner of him like sunshine streaming into a dark room. “Okay, baby?” Louis’ voice is ragged and he strokes his hands down Harry’s back. He cups Harry’s cheeks, pulling him further forward and ripping another whine out of Harry’s throat.

            Harry nods against his chest, already feeling thoroughly fucked. “Fucking incredible. Just need a breather.”

            Louis kisses him deeply, letting himself into Harry’s mouth too. Harry’s not sure how long they kiss for, but eventually Louis pulls back with a strangled breath. “Honey, can you move now?”

            Harry scratches his arm lightly, pulling himself back upright. “Gonna ride you so good,” he moans, thighs straining as he pushes himself up and sinks down again. He feels clumsy, inexperienced and young again, but the little gasps Louis breathes out as he takes him further and further make him feel amazing. He starts bouncing on his cock as well as he can, punching out moans every time he sinks back down. The room is silent save for their breathy groans and Louis’ occasional praise for Harry.

            Harry feels himself nearing the edge and he whimpers, “Lou, babe, ‘m gonna -- m’ gonna come.”

            Louis pumps his cock as he keeps bouncing. His thighs are on fire but he can’t slow down, can’t let the burning feeling die without it’s final burst. “C’mon, honey,” Louis grits his teeth. “Love you, sweetie.”

            “Lou, Lou, Lou, baby,” Harry moans as he runs over the edge, falling down on Louis’ chest with a contented sigh. Every part of him feels warm and completely satiated. Louis grunts and comes, too. He pulls out, rolling the condom off and tossing it into the trashcan near the bed. Harry lets Louis pull him into his arms against his front. Louis’ chest feels sticky against his back, but his eyelids are already falling shut.

            Louis kisses his neck softly. “You were so good, baby. Love my little spoon.”

            Harry giggles, leaning back to kiss him on his jaw. “We’ll get cleaned up in the morning, yeah? ‘m too sleepy to move now.”

            “‘Course, honey.” Louis tightens his arms. “Will you make breakfast?”

            He huffs out a laugh. “Anything for you.”

 

-

 

            Louis still likes to bring Harry lunch, even when they’re not “courting”, as Nick loves to call it. Harry secretly thinks it might be because he loves seeing all the baby dinos in the nursery, but he’ll take his boyfriend being the sweetest guy ever, too. Camila and her little group, of course, still keep careful tabs on the two of them. Like now. Louis’ just come in with Harry’s favorite and she’s stealthily texting under the desk where she’s supposed to be doing paperwork. Harry kisses Louis thank you, then yells at her, “Camila, do your job for fuck’s sake.”

            She rolls her eyes again. Harry thinks her eyes are probably going to get stuck like that. She flips her hair off her shoulder and gives him a look. “What? I’m texting Nick that you guys are still gross.”

            “Not your little group?”

            She laughs, “Oh no, them too.”

            Louis laughs, straightening out Harry’s scrubs collar. “Where’s Nick anyway? He’s usually always here.”

            Camila twirls her hair around her finger. “Oh, he’s out by the enclosure with Niall.”

            Harry pauses. “With Niall? Why would he be with Niall?”

            Camila gives him a weird look. “Of course he’s with Niall.”

            “Of course?” Louis asks, eyebrow raised.

            “Yeah, I mean they have that thing going on,” she says.

            “Thing?” Harry squeaks out.

            She stares at him, blank faced. “You really don’t know?”

            “No, tell me!”

            She laughs, “You might wanna go ask them yourselves then.”

            Harry huffs and marches away, dragging Louis by the hand after him. He pushes through the door to the outdoor and enclosure and freezes, mouth wide open.

            Nick has Niall leaned against the railing of the enclosure, kissing him deeply with Niall’s hands tangled up in his hair. Louis lets out a bark of laughter, startling the two of them. They pull back from each other and Niall gasps when he sees Harry, immediately pulling his hands out of Nick’s hair and holding them awkwardly at his sides. Nick just smirks over at them, but Niall looks mortified. He stutters out, “Uh, hi, Harry. Louis. Hope you’re having a lovely day.”

            Louis snorts, “You’re certainly having a lovely day.”

            Harry’s still in shock. He sputters out, “I thought you were straight!”

            “Well,” Niall shrugs. “Not so straight now. It’s a new thing.”

            “And how long has this been going on?” Harry crosses his arms and taps his foot, pointing between the two of them.

            Niall hesitates, “Oh, maybe a few months or so.”

            “Months!” Harry shrieks.

            “You were busy with Louis!” Niall protests.

            Louis laughs, starting to drag Harry back. “Babe, why don’t you call Niall about this later? We still have to go see the raptors.”

            “But..Niall! And Nick!” Harry lets himself get pulled back, throwing looks over his shoulder at Nick and Niall, who are outwardly giggling at each other. “Nick and Niall together! Is this an alternate universe?”

            Camila laughs at Louis pulling Harry along, calling out as he pulls him outside. “Maybe if you paid attention to anything other than your boyfriend you would’ve noticed!”

            Harry shouts back, “Shut up, Camila!”

            As soon as they’re in Louis’ car, Harry pulls his phone out and calls Liam, putting the phone on speaker. His tinny voice comes out when he picks up, “Hey, H, what’s up? Zayn’s here too.”

            “Did you know about Niall and Nick?” Harry demands. Louis is giggling under his breath as he shifts the car into drive.

            Zayn answers, “Yeah, of course we did. Did you not?”

            “No!” Harry almost yells.

            “How did you not notice? They’ve been sneaking around for months. They weren’t subtle,” Liam laughs.

            Harry turns to Louis. “Did you notice, Lou?”

            “Not really.” He shrugs.

            Zayn snorts. “You two are two tied up in each other and dinosaurs to pay attention to anything else.”

            Louis answers, “What, we’re still in the honeymoon phase, okay?”

            “Aw, babe, I thought we weren’t gonna talk about honeymoons ‘til we got engaged,” Harry teases.

            Louis says around his smile, “We can talk about all the honeymoons you want anytime, babe.”

            “Ugh. You two are disgusting. And blind. Disgusting and blind,” Zayn scoffs.

            “Agreed,” Liam chimes in. “But also cute.”

            “Disagreed. They’re gross,” Zayn huffs.

            “You love us,” Louis sings.

            “Disagreed,” Zayn repeats.

            Harry leans back in his seat, laughing. “Ok, bye losers. See you this weekend, right?”

            “Of course. See you then.” Liam ends the call.

            “Are we blind?” Harry has his arms crossed again. He wants Louis to know he is not pleased about being the last to know.

            “Babe,” Louis sighs. “We’re the best.”

            Harry smiles, putting in the Fleetwood Mac CD he’s made just for Louis’ car. “That’s right, honey.”

            A little while later, they’re pulling up to the enclosure. Louis makes sure to knock on the bars of Delta’s new separate cage after they get out to tease him. They’re still waiting for his new enclosure to get built, as Delta wasn’t a member of the pack anymore and couldn’t stay in the same enclosure.

            They still gear up with tranquilizers, although they both know they don’t really need them anymore. Still, the suits have rules. As soon as they step in the enclosure, there’s a little roar and the smallest adult raptor pads out of the trees. “Hi, Ghosty,” Harry coos and pats her on the nose. She hums happily and presses up into his hand.

            Louis follows the tracker to the knot of raptors focused around the hollow. There’s no longer a gate separating the two groups and they’ve added the new additions almost seamlessly to their pack. It’d been nerve-wracking introducing the tiny raptors to all the huge, dangerous ones, but the process had gone without a problem.

            When they reach the hollow, it’s full of raptors. Harry sends out a silent thank you that they’ve caught them during nap time. Not all of them are asleep, but they’re all in a nice calm state now. The pack can be exhausting when they’re all awake and together, particularly if you’ve caught them too soon after a hunt and they’re hyped up. The little ones, especially, are constantly on the move and craving attention. They’re too mischievous for their own good. They’re all mixed in with the rest of the pack right now, all laid out on top of each other. Harry snorts at the sight of little Bailey snoozing on top of Charlie, who’s watching her with one eye and looks extremely disinterested in her presence, as always. Charlie just wants to sleep and be left alone.

            Dingo raises his head, humming at the new arrivals. Alde’s curled up next to him, fast asleep. Her scales gleam dull red in the sun. Louis and Harry pad over to her and Dingo and Louis greets him as an alpha should greet his beta, making some weird noises. “Nap time, Dingo?” Louis asks next.

            Dingo stares at him, blinking his huge yellow eyes slowly before laying his head back down to sleep. Louis had checked his assistant notes on the wall before they’d come in. That day’s hunt had gone excellently, apparently, with the little ones eagerly trying to help in taking down the bull they let off in the cage. Harry imagines the pack moving together in harmony, weaving around each other in perfect synchronization for a single goal, leaving room for the six new members of the group to run with them. They were one cohesive unit, with Louis at the head of them with, somehow, Harry by his side. They fought sometimes, and snarled at the young ones when they got too annoying, but the older pack members had accepted the little ones as easily as if they were their own children.

            Louis smiles at him. The sun lights up his whole face, casting little shadows into the crinkles of his eyes. Harry’s pretty sure he loves him. Someday, he’ll tell him at just the right time, when the sun is setting over the beach or the stars are gleaming on a clear night. He never worries about the two of them. No matter what happens, Harry knows they’ll always fall together just like they’re supposed to.

            Louis tugs him towards the little hut that’s still up, casting a teasing look over his shoulder. “Wanna make out ‘til they all wake up?”

            And really, how could Harry ever say no?