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Some Other Beginning's End

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Years ago, when Claire first took the job at Jurassic World, her sister had been skeptical. “Look, it’s not about the dinosaurs, okay?” Karen finally said, because they’ve been going around this conversation all evening.

“Then what is it about?” Claire asked, crossing her arms across her chest mulishly.

“It’s just--” Karen shrugged, gesturing widely with her hands. “When does it end, Claire?”

“It’s human achievement, you can’t slow it down,” Claire began.

But Karen was already shaking her head. “For you, I mean,” she said. “You’re always pushing to the next best thing. You had to graduate top of your class in high school. You had to get into the best schools. You’ve always been pushing, Claire, to be the best, the brightest, the boldest--”

“And what’s so wrong with that?” Claire asked, indignant.

“You can’t have a life full of beginnings,” Karen told her. “Sometimes you have to come to the end and just be satisfied.

“What?” Claire returned. “And settle like you?”

“No,” Karen replied softly. “But someday you’ll run out of rings to reach for, and you’ll need something to fall back on.”

Claire turned her nose up in the air. “Endings are depressing, Karen. They’re all about what you don’t get to do. They’re about failure.”

Karen looked resigned. “A little bit, yeah,” she said. “But failure is a part of life, isn’t it?”

“Your life, maybe,” Claire said haughtily. “But I aim for higher things.”

-o-

Claire aims higher, this much is, and always will be, true.

She also falls a lot farther.

And a whole lot harder.

-o-

It seems a little too easy, really. When it’s over, Owen ushers her onto a boat and her nephews tuck themselves close to her as they leave the island.

As they pull away, she can’t help but look back, at the world she helped build and destroy in equal turns. It took her years to build it.

And mere hours to bring it tumbling back down.

“Don’t worry,” Owen tells her as they slip farther away. “It’s over now.”

She closes her eyes and breathes in the salty air with her fingers wrapped tight along the edge of the boat.

It’s over.

-o-

The ending isn’t really an ending, though.

Not for Claire.

This is what she concludes, huddled into one of the shelters with other survivors. That’s what they are now. Not workers or innovators or vacation-seekers. They’re survivors.

Claire’s always styled herself as a lone wolf in the man-driven dog-eat-dog corporate echelon, but she looks just as weary and terrified as everyone else.

Really, they’re the lucky ones. They get the ending.

For them, this can actually be over.

The guests, after all, get to go home. Even the workers, with no park to operate, they all go back to their families. They escape with their lives and the phone numbers of countless lawyers who stalk the coast of Costa Rica while people flush out of the area.

Claire’s home is back on the island, though. There’s where she’s spent all her time for the better part of a decade. It’s where her things are -- her clothes, her computer, her toiletries -- and more importantly, that’s where she’s invested herself.

She helped build that island; she helped make it what it was. A day ago, that was her proudest accomplishment.

Today, it’s her greatest shame.

Everyone here seems to relax in the knowledge that it’s over.

But, for her, it feels like it’s just begun.

-o-

When Karen collects the kids, Claire half expects her to stay. She can’t, of course. Not with the now-official ex-husband and two traumatized kids in tow. In fact, Claire recognizes just how magnanimous her sister is when she invites her to take a flight back with them.

“You should lay low for awhile,” Karen says, and she sounds like she’s really worried, like she doesn’t blame Claire for nearly getting her children eaten. “Get your bearings.”

Claire rubs her arms absently; she thinks she’s cold even though the Costa Rican sun is hot outside. “Oh,” she says, looking to where her nephews are giving Owen hugs and her ex-brother-in-law is glancing anxiously at his watch. “I couldn’t impose.”

“You’re family,” Karen says, and she means it. She means it.

“But the boys--”

Karen casts them a glance and shrugs. “You can all do therapy together,” she says. “At least this will make the news of a divorce seem less traumatic.”

“Compared to nearly dying?” Claire asks.

Karen almost laughs, a short near-hysterical sound. She sniffles, catching herself and tucking her hair behind her hair. She wets her lips and straightens herself, looking at Claire again. “I’m serious, you know,” she says. “You’re welcome to come and stay while you figure it out. Stay longer, for all I care. We all need a new start, I think.”

It’s tempting, to say the least, but Claire can’t say yes. Because it is family, because it’d be neat and easy for her, because it might be what she really wants and she’s scared of that.

Claire’s just scared. Of the things that are over. Of the things that she knows has to start.

Owen ruffles Gray’s hair and claps Zach on the shoulder. He looks at her, and for a second, their eyes meet.

“Maybe,” Claire finally says. She looks back at Karen. “Maybe when the dust settles.”

For once, Karen doesn’t argue with her. Maybe she’s too tired; maybe she’s finally learned there’s no point. She smiles instead, giving Claire a ready nod. “Okay,” she says. “Take care of yourself, okay?”

Claire wants to apologize again; she inexplicably wants to thank her sister, although she’s not sure for what. She even wants to wrap her arms around her, hug her tightly like when they were girls and just not let go.

She can’t do that, though. Karen might let her, but Claire doesn’t have the right. She can’t expect a relationship where she hasn’t put the time into building it, and it wouldn’t be fair to start now.

Instead, she forces a smile and nods. “Yeah,” she says. “Okay.”

They stand like that, awkward for a moment, before Karen finally lets out a breath and turns away. She’s all smiles when she gets to the boys. Owen offers out his hand, but she bypasses it and hugs him instead.

Yeah, Claire tells herself.

Okay.

-o-

By the time Owen has disentangled himself from Gray, Karen is herding her kids toward the makeshift security checkpoint someone has thought to erect. It’s not clear who’s in charge here -- InGen, whatever is left of Masrani’s corporation, or even just local law enforcement -- but there’s enough order to keep track of who’s coming and going.

The toll will need to be calculated, Claire knows. The cost, in terms of loss of assets, damage to property, and loss of life. InGen’s lawyers have to be working overtime already, and Claire knows it’s probably all hands on deck to see if Masrani’s business is even viable. Honestly, she things InGen will liquidate everything, use Masrani’s defunct capital to cover expenses and quietly settle back until there’s time to regroup.

That’s what Claire would have done, anyway.

She shudders at the thought.

Owen finds his way back to her, rocking back on his heels as they watch Karen usher the boys beyond the checkpoint and through the throng of reporters that are just barely held at bay.

“You’re not going with her?” Owen asks, and he’s trying to sound like he might actually be surprised by that.

He’s not.

Claire shakes her head. “No.”

Owen nods for a moment, then he looks at her. “She doesn’t blame you, does she?”

“Karen?” Claire asks. “No.”

“Then why aren’t you going with her?” Owen presses, careful but persistent.

Raising one shoulder, Claire wishes she could explain it better. “I can’t do that to her.”

“Can’t do what?” Owen asks. “You’re family.”

She cranes her neck up toward him. “I haven’t exactly been sister of the year recently,” she reminds him. “And that was before I nearly got her children killed.”

It’s a cutting reply, and she’s used to having the upper hand with that tone.

Owen, though, isn’t easily cowed. He offers her a half-smile. “You have to start somewhere.”

She draws a breath, letting it out through her nose. Her eyes linger to the place where her sister has just left. “Maybe,” she says. “But not here.”

-o-

Maybe Owen thinks it’s futile to argue with her, but she somewhat suspects that he’s a bit relieved that she’s not going anywhere. She thinks maybe she should ask him, but he’s already got her by the hand.

They weave their way together through the people, and Claire nearly trips over a family of four tucked up by a stack of crates. She starts to apologize, but stops herself when their little girl blinks big, brown eyes at her.

Startled but innocent; Claire imagines she might have been on one of the baby triceratops before everything went wrong. She wonders how much they scrimped and saved to get here, how it was supposed to be the vacation of a lifetime.

It is that, she supposes, but for all the wrong reasons.

There’s no apology for that.

Claire ducks her head, and follows after Owen.

-o-

Owen has them past three security guards and a lawyer before one of the doctors finally brings them to a stop.

“I just need to be sure that you’ve both received all proper medical care--” the man begins in a perfectly reasonable tone. He’s probably tired, Claire thinks. He could even be working pro-bono, just because it’s the right thing to do.

Claire smiles politely. “I was cleared four hours ago,” she says. “I’m sure it’s on the list somewhere. Claire Dearing?”

The man nods, letting his assistant type her name into a tablet. “And you, sir?”

Owen has put up with raptors, engineered killers and bureaucratic idiots over the last few days, and he’s handled them all with relative aplomb. So the terseness in his voice actually surprises her.

“I’m fine,” he says.

“You have some nasty looking cuts, sir,” the doctor says, reaching for a pair of latex gloves. “We should check--”

Owen pulls away, though. “They’re nothing I can’t handle.”

It’s not that Owen isn’t stubborn -- he is, almost without a doubt -- and it’s not that he’s not prideful -- because he’s almost as bad as she is in a lot of way -- but he’s also invariably pragmatic. This makes his resistance seem almost out of character for him.

“Sir, please,” the doctor says. “I just need--”

“To help these people,” Owen says for him. “So that’s what you should do. I’ll sign whatever form you want, but you need to spend your time where it matters right now.”

The doctor almost protests, but the assistant hands Owen a piece of paper and a pen. Owen has scribbled his name and his signature before the doctor has his gloves on, and he hands it back with a grateful smile. “There,” he says. “Now we’re all good to go.”

-o-

It’s disconcerting on some level that she doesn’t know where they’re going. Claire operates an entire island. She keeps track of every guest, every employee, every asset.

Every animal, she reminds herself.

They’re animals.

Assets can’t eat you.

The thought makes her shudder, and she keeps her head down, watching the back of Owen’s feet as he leads them down the street. They take several quick turns until they’re on a busy street. Owen doesn’t hesitate, stepping out with a wave of a hand until a taxi pulls up next to him.

Owen opens the door for her.

She looks at him.

She knew every inch of that island; she knew how many people were in every attraction and where all the animals were at any given moment. She kept track of every penny in and every penny out, and she’d been good at it.

Damn it, she’d been brilliant.

And now Owen is holding the door open for her and all she can do is follow. He’s easy to trust like that, his steadiness and calm. The only thing she knows now is the color of his eyes and the touch of his fingers through the back of her shirt.

That’s not much, but it’s a place to start.

Ducking her head, she climbs into the back of the taxi, sinking back deep away from the sunlight as Owen rattles off an address and the cab pulls away from the curb.

-o-

They come to a hotel, and Claire is both unimpressed and relieved. It’s small and unimposing. This far inland, it can’t be a high end resort, and the clientele seems to be middle class families and local travelers. He tips the cab driver and gets them a room.

It’s on the top floor and the room is small with few frills. There’s a single king sized bed with a dated comforter and bland art on the walls. Owen walks over to the window and pulls back the curtain, letting the light streak in. He jimmies the window open and stands back, hands on his hips as he looks out.

She approaches him carefully. “So,” she says.

He sighs. “So.”

Hesitating again, she takes another step closer. “Not much of a view,” she notes, taking in a scant panorama of the cafe across the street.

“First time I visited Costa Rica, it was on my own dime,” he explains, shrugging out of his worn vest and tossing it on the bed. “This was all I could afford.”

She makes a face. “Surely InGen could have done better if they actually wanted to hire you.”

“Oh, they offered me first rate accommodations on the island,” he says, turning toward her and stretching.

She arches her eyebrows. “And you stayed here instead?”

“I was a little skittish at the idea of staying on an island with dinosaurs,” he says, sounding almost sheepish. “Besides, we need a place to lay low for a bit.”

Karen has been telling her this for years, and to be frank, Claire’s not entirely sure what it means. “I’m the head of operations, though,” she objects. “I should be--”

“The head of operations at a park that’s overrun right now,” he reminds her.

“I still have responsibilities--”

“If you go back now, they’re not going to care about your responsibilities,” he says. “They’re going to grill you about protocols and ask you questions about what procedures you skipped. They’re going to want to know who authorized what, and who did what when. They’re going to ply you with legalese and make you sign ten billion forms until you don’t know what you’re liable for and what they’re not going to let you sue for down the line. They don’t want their head of operations right now. They want a scapegoat.”

Her breathing picks up, and she puffs her chest out indignantly. “Maybe those are questions I need to answer.”

“And you will, I’m sure,” he says. “They’re questions we’ve been asking since this whole thing started.”

“Then what are we doing here?” she says, gesturing to the small room.

“Taking care of ourselves,” he says, sitting heavily on the bed. He starts to loosen the laces on his boots. “You’ve been through a lot, and survival is more than food, water and shelter.”

He kicks one boot off and it thumps heavily on the ground.

“Trust me,” he says, working on the other. “We need some time off grid.”

The other boot thunks next to the first.

He looks up at her. “Just for a while.”

-o-

It’s not that Owen’s right, it’s that he’s so damn logical about it. He doesn’t give orders, and he doesn’t make demands, but his straightforward declarations are impossible to resist.

She’s too tired to fight, weary right down to her bones. The aftermath of adrenaline has left her shaky and overwrought; she feels like she’s tightly wound and coming undone all at once. Part of her wants to sleep; the rest of her never wants to sleep again.

Owen unbuttons his shirt and takes of his belt before he seems to notice that she’s still standing there. “You can relax now,” he says.

“Yeah,” she says, swallowing hard and nodding.

He waits a long moment. “Claire?”

Her breath catches.

“Claire,” he says again, on his feet now. He touches her shoulder, and when she doesn’t flinch, he slips his hand under her shirt.

She closes her eyes.

“Do you want me--” he starts.

She bites her lip and nods.

“Are you--” he says.

“Yes,” she breathes, the tension releasing from her shoulders as his fingers find the knot on her overshirt. “Yes.”

-o-

She doesn’t move when he undresses her, and when she opens her eyes, he’s down to his boxers. She expects him to kiss her, he’s so close, and she can feel his breath against her skin. When he takes her by the hand, she lets him guide her to the bathroom. She’s surprised when he starts the water, letting the room pick up a heavy steam before he pulls back the curtain.

Standing there, she cocks her head, confused.

“It’s been a long day,” he explains. “I know this isn’t your steam shower back on the island, but--”

“It’s fine,” she says, stepping inside. “It’s just fine.”

-o-

The water is hot, pounding against her skin in a wide arc. It’s a strange feeling, too familiar to be real, and too wanted to be possible. For a moment, she can only stand there with her eyes closed as it washes over her and she tries to remember how to breathe.

The curtain rustles, and Owen steps in behind her. She turns to face him, but his steady hands cup her shoulders. He’s rubbing now, soap in one hand as he works up a lather, spreading it carefully over the planes and crevasses of her skin.

He’s surprisingly gentle, fingers only skimming over her, and he skips the sensual areas and focuses on the bruised and muddied parts instead. He scrubs her arms and her legs, picking up one foot at a time to ease away the marks from her shoes after two days on her feet. When he turns her to face him, he meticulously cleans away the smudges of dirt on her cheeks before massaging shampoo into her scalp and rinsing her clean.

It should feel awkward, but the controlled motions are relaxing, and the gentle pressure beneath her fingertips is all she needs to forget for the moment.

So she lets him wash her, again and again, watching as the dirt and grime collects on the floor at her feet and disappears down the drain.

-o-

When he’s done, he turns the water off before gathering her in a towel. He’s reaching to wrap one around his own waist when she sees the livid scratches and the patchwork of bruises on his back and chest.

“Is this--?” she asks.

He glances down as if he hasn’t noticed them himself. “The pteranodons, mostly,” he says. “We’re lucky that humans don’t look like fish or this all could have been a lot worse.”

For a lot of people, she thinks but can’t bring herself to speak.

He succeeds in tying the towel around his waist, stepping out of the shower. “I got thrown around pretty good in the jungle, too,” he comments. “Not sure which is which anymore.”

She steps out after him, using one hand to touch the raised edges of the wound. Briefly, she wonders if she could have prevented this wound by shooting earlier -- or by evacuating the moment he told her to. “You should have let the doctor look at these.”

He shrugs away from her. “You saw them back there,” he says. “They had enough to worry about.”

“But you’re hurt--”

“Because that was part of my job,” he says. “I knew what I was getting into; I always knew the risks. The other people? They didn’t have a clue.”

Because they had been promised safety and security. Because they had put their faith in her systems and protocols and leaderships.

She draws her towel tighter around herself. “You still got hurt. Worse than a lot of them.”

“Not all of them,” he replies. “I’m alive, after all.”

The faint smile on her lips makes goosebumps ripple across her skin. “That’s putting the bar pretty low.”

He doesn’t smile in return. “Yeah, well,” he says. “I call it being realistic.”

-o-

The only clothes they have are in a dirty pile at the foot of the bed. Feeling suddenly exposed, she tucks herself under the starchy sheets and pulls the comforter up to her chin with her wet hair splayed across the pillow. It’s not cold, but she’s shivering, curled into a ball against the encroaching night.

He slips in behind her, tentative but close.

It only takes her a moment to sink back against him, skin on skin as she closes her eyes in utter relief.

His arm wraps around her, tucking her closer still.

That’s how they sleep, his heartbeat like a much needed lullaby in the stillness.

-o-

Claire falls asleep fast.

And wakes up hard.

She comes to with a sudden start, a scream wrenched from her throat. Her voice feels raw and her heart is pounding, hair damp in the warm tropical night.

The rush is disorienting, and she screams again. It can’t be over. There’s a raptor out there somewhere, and a t-rex is roaming free. She’s left someone behind, she must have -- and as far as she knows it’s her.

But then, Owen is there, hands smoothing down the sides of her face and cupping her head. His fingers are laced through her hair as he looks her steadily in the eyes.

“Claire?” he says. “Look at me. Eyes on me.”

She struggles on a breath and it leaves her body in a sob. She tries to speak but her stammering is too pronounced to make works.

“Eyes on me,” he coaches. “I’m right here. I see you, okay? I’m right here.”

He smooths down her hair, pressing his palms gently against her cheeks.

“Keep your eyes on me,” he coaxes, voice dropping as her heartbeat starts to slow.

She knows how it must look, as she sits panicking on her motel bed while he whispers reassuringly to her. And she knows everything he’s telling her -- it’s over, Claire, it’s over -- but it’s easier to believe it when he says it.

He’s calmed raptors, after all.

Still, when they lay back down together, she thinks this may be his most impressive work yet.

-o-

When she wakes with the sun several hours later, it’s still a taut, uncertain thing. For a moment, she forces herself to lie very still until she feels confident that she’s okay, she’s okay, she’s okay.

Blinking, she sees the ceiling fan slipping in lazy circles above her, and she turns her head until she sees Owen sitting by the open window, using his knife to absently cut dried mud out of the crevices of his boots into the trashcan at his feet. He’s half watching the television, which is on mute at the foot of the bed.

She watches him for a second; she watches the screen for a moment more. There’s a talking head there, and even with the Spanish news scroll at the bottom of the screen, Claire knows what they’re talking about.

The Jurassic World logo flashes on screen; there’s a picture of Simon Masrani alongside an overview of the shattered aviary. The camera angle pans over the abandoned center of the park, which is scattered with trash and shopping bags.

When the footage switches to surveillance -- she recognizes the camera, right outside paddock nine -- she flinches. The figure in the frame is a small, white smudge.

It’s her.

Holding a small light which fizzles as she starts out of the frame, the massive frame of the t-rex not far behind.

That’s when Owen turns it off.

She doesn’t move -- she doesn’t dare move -- but Owen looks at her. “You could have slept later.”

Gingerly, she props herself up, resting against the headboard. “What about you?”

He doesn’t acknowledge her question. Instead, he taps the shoe on the trashcan before putting it back on the ground. “I got a few things from the front desk,” he says. “But we’ll have to go shopping today.”

A few things, he says like it’s nothing. Claire has nothing -- not even the clothes on her back -- and she pulls the sheets a bit more protectively around her chest. “Forget shopping,” she says. “I need to check in with my boss.”

“Masrani’s dead,” Owen reminds her, his tone flat as he picks up his other shoe.

It’s a plaintive statement. She still remembers Simon putting the helicopter jerkily on the ground. It’ll give the parents nightmares, he’d said.

She shakes herself. “He wasn’t actually my direct boss,” she says. “I’m sure InGen is trying to get ahold of me as well. I really need to check in and see--”

He runs his knife along the bottom of his shoes, pulling a hunk of dirt and sod free. “Your checklists aren’t going to help you much right now.”

Stiffening, she holds herself as still as possible, as if she’s standing in front of a t-rex and wants to prove Alan Grant right. “And if checklists are all I have left?”

He looks up at her. “Then you’re not paying very much attention.”

-o-

Owen has managed to get them a pair of clothes from the motel’s lackluster concierge service and while Claire tries to fit into the oversized maxi dress, he orders up breakfast, too. In the morning light, she takes the time to actually look at herself in the mirror, and it’s not pretty. With no makeup, there’s no much she can do, but she gets her hair damp and dries it again, attempting to straighten her hair back into a the once-sleek reverse bob.

The result is less than ideal, but it still feels like something of an accomplishment, which is the only reason she allows herself to eat the greasy eggs and bacon Owen has left out for her. She actually doesn’t eat meat on a regular basis, but she figures she burned a week’s worth of calories alone from sheer adrenaline over the last few days, so she indulges.

Together, they down a carafe of orange juice, and she’s nibbling on a piece of white toast when she finally addresses the silence between them.

“So if we’re not going to make any checklists,” she ventures, “what are we going to do?”

He’s trying to adjust the shirt he got from the front desk, but it’s far too small and it looks like his chest is going to burst the buttons. He gives up, leaving it open to the plain white t-shirt underneath. “We can still work with a checklist.”

She regards his curiously.

“But this checklist can’t be about work,” he says. “Not yet.”

“Then what?” she presses.

“Well,” he says, trying to sit down without busting a seam in his short. “How about we start with the basics?”

“Hunting, eating and--”

He rolls his eyes. “How about clothes,” he says, leaning over to peck her on the cheek. “And a toothbrush. Your breath is terrible.”

She pushes him playfully. “Shut up.”

He grins. “That’s my girl.”

-o-

 

There’s a shop not far from the motel, and after two minutes, Claire realizes there’s nothing there priced over 40 dollars. She can’t hardly build a corporate wardrobe from this selection, but by the time she’s ready to tell Owen they need another stop, he’s already got a pile of shorts and t-shirts, ready to buy.

“What about you?” he says.

She gapes for a moment, then looks blankly at the cotton tank top she’s holding.

“It’s versatile and cool,” he says. “I like it.”

“I can’t wear it to a boardroom,” she says.

He grunts a little, snagging the shirt and adding it to his pile. “Good thing we’re not going to a boardroom.”

-o-

Reluctantly, she buys enough clothes to get through a few days. The pieces leave something to be desired, but in a purely pragmatic sense, they’re sensible selections. Owen tries to get her to buy a pair of shorts, but he’s so smug about it that she insists on skirts and sundresses instead.

If she’s going to dress down, she’s going to do it on her terms.

And Owen’s credit.

Although Owen manages to produce a muddied wallet when the occasion demands it, Claire left her purse back on the island. Her gold cards do her little good there, and Owen’s Visa seems good enough.

She wonders if she can pay him back, make it up to him someday.

The idea is almost laughable in the broader context.

As if there’s any way to pay Owen back for any of it.

-o-

Much to her relief, they wear the clothes out of the store, and while she’s happy to be rid of the oversized mess from the motel, she almost misses Owen in the too-small ensemble.

On the street, Claire looks like a typical, run of the mill tourist.

Of course, Owen looks like he always has.

It’s almost infuriating, how he can appear entirely unscathed; unchanged.

For Claire, it feels like her body survived the ordeal just fine.

It’s just every other part of her that’s been torn to shreds.

-o-

After shopping, he takes her to a restaurant. It’s already past noon, and the place is crowded, so Owen herds her toward the bar and orders them each a water while they wait for a table.

This is a perfectly acceptable idea, and although Claire has doubts about the cleanliness inside the kitchen of the establishment, it’s a risk she feels is probably worth taking.

At least, until the bar fills up.

The people start to crowd around her, and when the stool next to her gets taken, she scoots as far to the end as she can. Someone switches from sports coverage to the news, and Claire is almost relieved that the commentary is in Spanish.

It’s stupid to think people are making the connection. Claire hardly looks like herself right now; she’s just another tourist trying to find their way back home. But her cheeks burn, and she feels like they’re closing in.

There’s too many people. Too many people she can’t save; too many people left standing in the open to condemn her. Zara’s dead; she’s not even sure a single member of the ACU is still alive. Simon, Hoskins, men and women who trusted her. She marketed a product to people like these; she told them it was safe; she promised them everything.

Her breathing catches; her pulse thrums against her throat.

She can’t breathe; her heart is about to pound out of her chest. She’s hot and she’s cold and there’s sweat collecting in her bra as the cotton shirt makes her itch. She can’t.

Owen’s fingers surround her own. He squeezes her hand just enough until she looks at him.

“Hey,” he says, voice cutting through the others. “What do you say we get this to go?”

-o-

Mercifully, he doesn’t say anything about her near panic attack.

That’s what it was, of course. She’s had them before, for a while back in college. Her therapist concluded that Claire had borderline obsessive-compulsive qualities, and that sometimes her need for control outpaced her physical capabilities to produce that control. Of course, her therapist had also blamed her mother, suggesting that Claire was still trying to create definitive goals to prove her worth.

She has to wonder what her therapist would say now.

Post traumatic stress, maybe. Severe emotional trauma.

“It’s okay when you can’t control everything,” she’d said.

But Claire wonders what she’s supposed to do when she can’t control anything.

-o-

Back at the motel, Claire apologizes.

Owen has a mouthful of hamburger that he’s working on, and he washes it down with a swig of soda. “For lunch?” he asks. He shakes his head. “I’ve never really been a fan of crowds, anyway. Why do you think I lived in a bungalow off the main grounds?”

“No, that’s not what I meant,” she starts, her heart fluttering in her chest. Because she is sorry for that, but that’s not all. How could that possibly be all? “I mean, I’m sorry. For everything.”

Everything is a big word -- it’s a word that’s bigger than the damn Indominus Rex -- and it hangs like a weight between them. The thing is, it’s just a word -- one, silly, overused word, and she’s thrown it out there like it can encapsulate the blood, fear and destruction it actually hides.

He swallows another bite of food carefully. “It wasn’t your fault,” he tells her unflinchingly.

She looks at her half-eaten lunch, going tepid on the bed between them. “It was sort of my fault.”

Because she didn’t create the Indominus Rex, but she marketed the hell out of that thing. Because it was her job to keep all those people safe, and she put the bottom line first. Because she was the Operations Manager, and when every operation spectacularly fails on her watch, she has to shoulder some of that.

Owen’s face is hard. “It’s not that easy.”

“Maybe,” she says, shrugging. “But it’s also not that hard.”

This time, he hesitates, and she can see him considering his words. Owen, after all, told her from the start that a new dinosaur was a bad idea. He was the one who told them to evacuate after barely escaping with his life. He’d been the only one to go back out there with her to save her nephews when he’d already escaped once with his life.

He has every right to say I told you so.

Instead, he looks at her. “The I-Rex never should have been made. The instant they spliced all that DNA together, this thing was going to happen, with or without you,” he says. “You did your best.”

He’s trying to be nice. He’s trying so, so hard. Even so, the answer grates at her. Your best is what other people strove for. The best has always been Claire’s endgame.

“Claire,” he says, putting a hand on her arm. “I mean it,” he tells her. “You did everything you could be expected to do -- and then some.”

She sees what he’s doing. He’s not just being nice; he’s trying to protect her. Part of her wants to let him do that -- she really, really does -- but it’s too easy. It’s an escape route she doesn’t deserve.

Besides, Claire’s not used to being the beta to anyone’s alpha, no matter how appealing Owen makes it.

“Do you think that’s enough?” she asks. “For the people who died? For the investors who will lose everything? For all the visitors who came to be amazed and left traumatized? Do you actually think that’s enough?

She’s baiting him, tapping into the pulse of anxiety and independence that’s lurking just beneath her cowed exterior. She didn’t climb the corporate ladder by doing enough; settling is not in her nature.

And she doesn’t know how to find absolution if she can’t appropriately identify the blame.

Owen offers her neither. “It has to be,” he replies without any pretense. “It’s what I keep telling myself.”

-o-

They eat in silence. She feels morose, and he keeps his distance. She flips channels between a soap opera and a game show while Owen sharpens his knife absently on a piece of flint that must have been with what little gear he’d had on him.

They’re both waiting, it seems, to see what the other will do. There’s a precariousness about them, as if the entire thing could explode into screams or tears at any given moment. She’s not sure if they’re about to have a knock-down fight or rip each other’s clothes off and just have sex.

She’s almost relieved when there’s a knock at the door.

Owen frowns from where he’s sitting, but she’s already across the room and looking through the peephole.

What she sees is almost as terrifying as the Indominus Rex.

“Who is it?” Owen asks, voice hushed and brow furrowed.

She turns, swallowing hard. Her body goes flush with adrenaline. “My boss,” she says. “And his boss. And one of their lawyers.”

He’s on his feet now, crossing over to her. He leans past her, peeking through the peephole. Stepping back, his expression is taut. “Want me to make them leave?”

It’s all she can do to keep breathing, and her palms are starting to sweat as she leans herself with her back against the door, closing her eyes.

“Claire?” he asks.

She can’t answer, though. Her fight or flight response is kicking in, almost by default, and she feels sick to her stomach and weak in the knees.

Owen is close to her; she can feel him. “Do you want me to make them go away?”

Yes, is all she can think. Yes, yes, yes.

It’s funny how easy that word is. Yes, build a genetic hybrid. Yes, raise it in isolation. Yes, let your assistant take care of your nephews. Yes, let ACU handle the situation.

Yes, let the t-rex out.

Yes, go off grid.

Yes.

She forces out a breath.

The knocking sounds again.

Owen presses closer to her. “Claire?”

The world slips back into sharp focus. She can’t fall apart in front of him, not this time. He can’t herd her where she doesn’t want to go, and just because he’s right, doesn’t mean he’s the only one who’s capable of making decisions.

In fact, if anything, she’s the one who knows more about the mistakes people make and the consequences that you have to stare down, eye to eye, even if they threaten to eat you alive.

This is her job.

Opening her eyes, she inhales deeply. “No,” she says. “It’s okay.”

It’s not that he doesn’t believe her, it’s just that he doesn’t think it’s the right choice. But, it’s also the first real decision she’s made since they left the island, and in the tension between them, he’s not going to argue.

She holds his gaze until he blinks, ducking his head a little and nodding. “Okay, then,” he says, moving across the room to gather his things. “I’ll leave you to it.”

He’s doing exactly what she asked for, but when she sees him open the door and excuse himself past her bosses, her heart still stutters. She starts sweating through the cotton tank top when she realizes he didn’t say when he’d be back. For a second, she wants to run after him, but sometimes in the face of danger, common sense stops working and you freeze.

The lawyer has the door open, and Claire blinks like a deer in the headlights. She hears herself scream run in the back of her mind, but she plants her feet squarely and holds her ground.

Some things you can’t outrun.

Some things you just have to face.

-o-

It’s a long conversation, and it’s couched in utter niceties. Her bosses are more than polite; they’re considerate and sympathetic in equal turns. They are gentle when they ask her about the policies and procedures, and which ones were used and which ones weren’t. They are careful but thorough when they ask about what was missed, what was overlooked.

Their kindness doesn’t negate the weight of it, though.

It’s two long hours going over every second of the event. She lays out every detail she can remember and explains every decision that was made.

The lawyer takes notes, and her boss smiles at her when she’s done. “We’re glad you’re okay,” he says. “I assume you’ve been cleared by a doctor, but we’ll be sure to arrange for a therapist.”

She exhales shakily, almost smiling. “Honestly, I’m just glad it’s over.”

Her boss looks to his boss, who casts a telling look over the rim of his glasses. Her boss shifts, flashing an awkward smile at the lawyer before looking at her again. “Ms. Dearing,” he starts. “Claire.”

There’s something in his inflection, something in the subtle shift of his posture. He’s trying to look supportive, but she detects a hint of something calculated, too. It’s the way a predator looks at its prey.

Claire would know, after all.

“I’m afraid this is really just the beginning,” he continues, his voice sounding almost saccharine now. “We’ve been working overtime to try to take back control of the news cycle, and we’ve got our PR people on overtime to spin this for our benefit. We need to make sure that every documented failure is matched against two stories of bravery. We’ve got stories from all sorts of people about the way the staff pulled together, about the personal sacrifices our people made on the ground to make sure that people were safe when it counted.”

This much isn’t a surprise -- of course this is what they’re doing -- but she still feels like she’s missing something.

“We’ll need you to be a part of that,” her boss continues. “We’re going to get you a transfer back to our offices in the United States, and we’ve already got several interviews set up with major news networks.”

It’s so audaciously business as usual that Claire feels like there’s a catch. “You can’t be serious.”

They are serious. They’re so serious that it’s almost comical. As if losing control of dinosaurs is all part of the day to day operations of their business model. “You’re the hero in this, Ms. Dearing,” the lawyer interjects, trying to sound helpful.

“But people died,” she says.

“And we’re already negotiating generous settlements with as many people as we can,” the lawyer says. “But that’s all the more reason to get this thing back on track. We have viable solutions to keep the company earning. We need to take stock of our assets and determine what can be salvaged.”

Assets.

The word tingles down her spine, turning her stomach to ice.

“But shouldn’t our focus be on what we can give back to make this right?” she asks. “And not what we can get out of it?”

“We are making amends,” her boss says. “But we are a business, Claire. We can never lose sight of that. If we don’t keep our focus on making money, then we won’t have anything to give back in the first place.”

“Maybe if we hadn’t been more focused on money than the practical and ethical considerations of what we were doing, we wouldn’t be here at all,” she says. “I mean, my God, we can’t pretend that this is some act of the divine when we’re the ones who sat around playing God for years.

They’re staring at her now, each one more dumbfounded than the last. The lawyer clearly thinks she’s crazy.

Maybe she is crazy.

“Ms. Dearing,” her boss’s boss says, sounding exasperated now. “We just need you to do your job.”

It’s all she can do not to snort in utter incredulity. “My job is to run a successful theme park,” she says. “Unfortunately, the attractions tried to eat the visitors, so I’m not sure that’s an entire viable career goal at the moment.”

Her tone is not quite sarcastic, but it is brittle and pointed as she stares them down unrelentingly. She’s faced a damn Indominus Rex; she can’t be scared of three little people in crisp business suits.

She thinks the lawyer may have had an aneurysm. Her boss’s boss looks like he wants to fire her on the spot. Her boss sits forward, though, elbows on his knees as he looks at her intently.

“Claire,” he says. “When we say you’re a hero, we’re not just being nice. That’s not a compliment. That’s your job. As of now, your job is to be the hero of Jurassic World. If you don’t think you can do that, then you’ll be a scapegoat, plain and simple.”

The honesty might be refreshing if it didn’t hit Claire like a punch to the gut.

“We’d prefer you to be the hero, and we’re prepared to do whatever we can to help you with that,” he continues. “But, either way, we need you.”

Claire doesn’t know what to say to that. What could she possibly say to that?

Her boss’s boss is on his feet; the lawyer has collected her things. Her boss looks at her a moment longer.

“Think on it,” he says with a small smile. “We’ll call you with information about a flight within two weeks.”

-o-

When they leave, she doesn’t get up. The door closes, latching behind them, and she’s still sitting there.

She’s still sitting there seconds, minutes, hours later. She’s too numb to move.

Too numb to think.

She can’t think.

She can’t think, she can’t think, she can’t think.

She can’t.

-o-

When Owen comes back, she hasn’t moved. She’s still frozen in her chair, but she can feel him watch her as he shuts the door and throw a bag on the bed. “How bad was it?”

It’s telling that he doesn’t ask how it went; he already knows more or less how it must have gone. Claire can work with data and hard numbers, but Owen can read people.

And raptors.

“They want to send me back to the States,” she tells him woodenly. “Start the press cycle over and do damage control.”

He nods, sitting down on the bed. “Yeah, I figured.”

She huffs, almost with a bitter laugh. “They think I can help salvage things if I go back,” she says, bowing her head to look at her hands. “Like I can still sell the park the same as I always had.”

 

“You are good at it,” Owen says.

She turns her eyes to him. “But now?” she asks. “How can I go back and try to put a positive spin on this? How am I supposed to go back at all?”

He shrugs. “You don’t have to.”

“Don’t I?” she says. “Because they weren’t exactly making a request.”

“It’s only an order if you follow it,” he says.

“You think I can just abdicate responsibility in all of this? Like I don’t owe something?”

“I think it’s over, Claire,” he says levelly. “Whatever they say about you, whatever happens next -- I don’t know. But what happened back on the island -- what happened -- you don’t have to go back to it.”

He’s been looking at her since he got back, but for the first time, she actually sees him back. He’s tired, and not just a little. There’s a weariness in him that she’s never recognized before. All his confidence has settled into something like resignation, and no matter how much she wants to fight him, she realizes he’s not looking for an argument.

He’s just looking for closure, same as she is.

“It’s over,” he says again with a shake of his head.

Because that’s what they want to believe; that’s what they need to believe. The only way they can catch their breath, after all, is to finally stop running.

But Claire doesn’t know what to say. She has no idea what to do.

She’s sitting there, looking at Owen, and there’s only one thing in the world left that makes sense. It may not be all she needs, but it’s all she has. She feels like she’s watching a pteranodon try to peck him apart, and this time, it’s up to her.

There’s no gun this time, though.

What the hell, though, she still takes the shot.

Crossing the distance between them, she grabs him by his shirt and pulls herself close to him. Any protests he might make are squelched when she presses her lips to his.

-o-

They start kissing and don’t stop.

She fumbles with his shirt before all but ripping her own clothing off. She doesn’t even bother to unmake the bed as she gets on top of him and trails herself down his exposed chest.

“Please, Owen,” she says, closing her eyes. “Please.

-o-

Afterward, Owen drops his head against hers. He tries to pull her close, but she shifts out of his grip. Barefoot, she steps over their discarded clothing, swallowing hard.

“Claire?” he asks.

“I just need--” she says, cutting herself off as she opens the bathroom door. “I just need--”

She latches the door, sliding the lock in place as she turns on the light. The artificial light is bald and blinding, and she sits shakily down on the toilet seat.

Her heart is pounding; her blood is flowing.

She feels enlivened, her heart pounding in her chest like there’s a t-rex charging after her.

Her breathing catches, and she breaks on a sob.

She’s alive.

She’s alive.

-o-

By the time she comes out of the bathroom, Owen is already asleep. He’s still entangled in the sheets, half curled on his side toward the space she’d left. It’s not quite dark out yet, and she can see his face in the faint light from outside.

She stands there, watching him. She listens to the sound of his breathing before reaching out to brush at the curls in his hair. It’s a funny thing -- the tactile sensation -- and she can only think how reluctant she’d be to do this if he were awake. As a woman in a position of power, she’s keenly aware of herself at all times, and she never wants to appear too open or too affectionate. There are stereotypes, after all.

But that’s the easy answer. Maybe she’s just well suited to that kind of life, because this…

Well, it seems so much harder.

Here, there are no memos or talking points. She doesn’t have to manage countless employees and navigate red tape with investors. She’s not thinking about the PR spin or the endless checklists that usually define her.

This is just her and Owen, two people sharing the same experience.

The intimacy is as overwhelming as it is comforting.

Her fingers ghost across the cuts on his face, which are starting to heal up. The scruff on his cheek needs a trim, and he looks younger like this.

It’s such a cliche, she reminds herself, to fall for the man who saves your life.

But that’s the thing, though. It’s not that he saved her life; it’s that he’s still saving it.

Even if he doesn’t know it.

-o-

That night, she sees them all get eaten. It’s not just the ACU troopers or even Zara or Simon.

It’s Zach and Gray.

It’s Owen.

The Indominus Rex roars her victory.

It’s not her fault, after all.

This is who she is.

This is who she became to survive.

But when the Indominus comes to Claire, she towers over her. Claire’s too scared to run; too scared to cry. She’s ready. She’s ready for this to end.

The Indominus tilts her head, though, giving Claire one last look.

They’re not so different, in the end.

All the blood is on their hands.

-o-

Claire wakes up breathless with Owen’s hands on her cheeks.

“Just listen to me, Claire,” he says, like he’s said it before. “I’m right here, and you’re okay. We’re okay. It’s over.”

She nods convulsively, still struggling to catch her breath.

He doesn’t flinch; he doesn’t waver.

She needs that.

She needs that.

She needs.

-o-

In the morning, she wakes up sore and tired. Her mouth feels cottony, and her skin feels tight over her bones somehow.

Sitting up, she blinks a few times before seeing Owen perched in a familiar posture in the chair at the edge of the room.

“Hey,” she says.

He barely glances at her.

Absently, she smooths her hair. “How did you sleep?”

He shrugs. “Better than you, it seems.”

It’s not an accusation, but it’s also not spoken in comfort. “Yeah,” she says, feeling her cheeks redden. “Look, about that--”

“It’s not your fault,” he says, preempting her. “After what you’ve been through, you’re doing remarkably well.”

There’s more sincerity in that sentence, but he still will hardly look at her. Scooting to the end of the bed, she lets her legs down. “What we’ve been through.”

Inexplicably, that garners almost no reaction, and she becomes aware of the fact that something has changed. There’s something distant in his demeanor, and his disposition is entirely noncommittal. It’s so unlike Owen that her heart skips a beat.

“Owen, is everything okay?”

At that, he looks up before his gaze skitters around nervously. “Of course it is,” he says. “We’re safe here.”

She shakes her head, because he’s trying to brush this off. He’s trying to brush her off, and she’ll put up with a lot right now, but not that. Not from him. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

He’s weighing his answer, the back and forth so visible on his face that it’s almost funny. That’s when he purposefully puts his cell phone on the table next to him. “I talked to Barry.”

If he’s waiting for her to take the lead, he’s badly mistaken. Although her sister accuses her of lacking patience, Claire has unparalleled tenacity. She has no patience for subpar performance or irrelevant things, but she can stick with the things that matter with more vigor than a dog and its favorite bone.

He seemed chagrined under her stare, and he clears his throat. When he lifts his eyes, there’s an unmistakable and foreign resignation. “They’re putting together a team to go back to the island.”

Determined as she had been for an answer, this isn’t the one she’d been expecting. Honestly, she’s fairly certain she’s misheard him. Because that’s utter insanity.

With a long suffering sigh, he continues. “InGen’s been gathering up everyone they can find who’s qualified, and Barry’s--”

This time, she laughs. She’s traumatize, this much is certain, and sometimes she feels like she’s hanging onto the dwindling wisps of her sanity, but all her years of spreadsheets and checklists can’t be so easily forgotten. Especially in the face of such blatant, unremitting idiocy. “The ACU was decimated -- and it’s safe to question whether they were actually qualified to go back,” she says. “And there are no protocols for this kind of thing; we have no procedures in place.”

Owen nods.

She lets out an incredulous huff. “I mean, the scale of it would have to be military-grade,” she says. “And containment isn’t even feasible without technical support staff in place, not that that would matter until construction crews can repair the damaged enclosures. And none of that is possible without containment. The first team to go back would be virtually unprotected. It’s, it’s---”

She stops, faltering badly.

He’s looking at her quietly.

Too quietly. She’s missing something here -- something obvious. Something so obvious that she probably already knows it.

She probably doesn’t want to know it.

Just like that, her heart drops to her stomach. “Oh,” she exhales, suddenly feeling light headed. “It’s not just any team they’re sending back to the island. It’s your team.”

He’s already shaking his head. “They’ve got a lot of teams, and there’s been nothing confirmed as of yet,” he says. “But they’re going to start with security teams to create secure containment zones. Once those zones are established, full construction can start. They won’t even start dealing with the animals until--”

“Until never,” she interjects, voice starting to rise. “They can’t go back there. You can’t go back there.”

With the demand laid out so plainly, he noticeably bristles. Even so, he looks more regretful than he does defiant. “I have to think about it.”

He’s trying to sound reasonable. As if there’s anything reasonable about trying to go back there. “You said it was over, though,” she tells him, trying not to sound as absolutely desperate as she feels. “You told me just yesterday not to go back.”

“I told you that you didn’t have to go back,” he corrects.

The nuance only makes her hackles stand on end, the way it always does when people talk down to her. Something settles inside of her, turning her horror into anger. “What, so you can go back alone and clean up my mess?” she asks pointedly. “You think that’s what I need? Owen, the hero, still protecting the poor, stupid damsel in distress.”

Owen has put up with a lot, and he’s handled it with more grace than she’s let herself realize. He’s never blamed her; he’s never let her shoulder any of that burden, at least not by herself. Sure, he’s been flippant and crude with her from time to time, but he’s mostly been supportive.

This is the first time she’s seen him angry.

Even back on the island, when he’d nearly been eaten by the Indominus, he’d been firm and incredulous and zealous, but never angry.

Never at her.

His eyes darken, and his jaw settles tautly. “Believe it or not, this isn’t just about you.”

There’s a hint of warning in his voice, and she knows him well enough to sense that she’s pushing buttons she probably shouldn’t.

A few days ago, she would have been polite enough to stop there

They’ve been through too much now.

She’s not going to be cowed by convention, and Owen Grady is not her alpha. “So what is it about, then?” she asks, voice heavy with accusation. “Is it Barry? Do you two need to go mourn the loss of your stupid raptors?”

At that, he visibly pales, fingers tightening imperceptibly into a fist.

She doesn’t stop. “Or is it InGen? Are Hoskins’ minions throwing enough money at you to make you forget everything you told me when this started?”

Slamming his fist on the table, he gets to his feet. The rickety thing wobbles as he paces toward the window. “It’s about me,” he says, the words thick. He turns back toward her with bright eyes. “It’s about why I came to the island in the first place. Because I didn’t come for the money, Claire, and I knew from day one that I’d never be able to do what they wanted me to do. But I stayed because I knew I could do something better.

“Better?” she asks with her eyebrows up. “Your so-called trained raptors decimated an entire contingent of men. Men who risked their lives to control the situation; men who put their lives in your hands.”

“For the love of God, Claire,” he says, rubbing a hand over his face. “It’s never been about control--

“Then what? It’s the good of the animals?” she asks. “The Indominus severely depleted the island’s population. Your raptors are mostly dead now. Whatever’s left there isn’t going to see you as an alpha anymore, or even a friend. You’re just going to look like their next meal.”

He stares at her now, hard and unapologetic. “I don’t walk away from the things I start, especially not relationships,” he says. “Blue’s still out there, and so are a lot of other animals.”

It’s like a blow to the chest, stealing her oxygen. “You’d go back for a raptor, but you wouldn’t stay for me?”

Visibly, Owen deflates. “That’s not fair--”

“No, it’s not fair,” she agrees. “It’s not fair that you tell me to take time, to go off grid, to hide from all my problems while you’re planning to go back without even telling me.”

“It’s not like that.”

“It’s not?” she asks, and she sounds almost hysterical now. “Because I’ve trusted you with everything, and now you’re making plans without even talking to me.”

He swears abruptly, running a hand through his hair. “I wasn’t making plans,” he says. “Shit, Claire, I haven’t planned anything. I just wanted to make sure that Barry was okay -- that was all. And he sprung this on me.” He shrugs, almost helpless. “And I can’t ignore the fact that there are a lot of animals out there that need to be taken care of.”

“I don’t know if you noticed, but they seem to be doing a pretty good job of taking care of themselves,” she points out.

He nods. “And if I thought InGen was going to stay the hell off that island, I’d agree.”

“InGen is going to go bankrupt after this,” she says. “No one will invest.”

“You might be surprised,” he says.

“Well, we can be a part of making sure that doesn’t happen,” she tells him.

“And who buys out InGen?” he asks. “When they liquidate the assets, are they going to keep the park together? Or are the animals going to be purchased and shipped off to the highest bidder? Someone is going to make a profit off this, whether it’s InGen or the next company to come down the line. Those animals will never be left alone.”

She raises her chin stubbornly. “Maybe they should.”

“I’m just trying to be realistic.”

“Owen, please!” she says, gesturing widely with one hand. “There’s nothing realistic about any of this. I feel like I’ve spent the last decade of my life living in some alternate reality and I’m finally back on the planet Earth where everything makes sense. They’re dinosaurs, Owen. What are we going to do? Build more cages for them to break out of? Since that worked so spectacularly before. The entire thing is insanity. You’d actually have to be insane to even think about going back there.”

“Well,” he says, hedging. “I did take a job to train raptors.”

She refuses to be bowed by his attempts at humor. “And this is not the same thing.”

His shoulders fall. “What else am I going to do, then?”

“Anything!” she explodes. “We can do anything, Owen!”

He shakes his head, sitting down next to her on the bed. “Anything,” he repeats. “You can do anything, Claire, and I will support you, one hundred percent. I want you to do what you need to do for yourself.”

This close to him, and her resolve is faltering. She wants to melt into him, right into his arms. All her anger is an outlet for something else, something deeper. Something needy and broken inside of her. “You’ll support me, but you won’t stay with me.”

The tremor in her voice leaves him stricken. “I can, though,” he says. “I wouldn’t have to leave right away, and even when I do, security won’t be established enough to allow for residency. They’ll have to chopper people in and out each night, so I’d be here, okay? I’d still be here.”

He’s trying, and Claire knows it. But it’s still breaking her, a little more with every word. She pulls away from him. “I can’t believe you’re actually saying this.”

“Yes,” he says, not unkind but firm. “Yes, you can.”

She looks back at him, confused.

“There’s a reason I wore shorts on a first date, and there’s a reason you brought an itinerary,” he says. “Trauma changes us, but it doesn’t erase us. None of this actually surprises you, because you know me. You know me, Claire, and you’re not surprised at all.”

The answer isn’t the one she expected, but she also can’t deny it. All the same, she hates it. She hates that he’s talking like it’s fate. As if the two of them being together is as much an eventuality as them falling apart. “Then what are we doing here, Owen?”

“We’re figuring it out,” he tells her steadily. “Together.”

That’s not enough, though. They’re past the point where cliches will make a difference; they’re way beyond quick fixes and glossy finishes. “Figuring it out? What does that even mean?” she asks. “Is this just a vacation for you? A way to unwind? Maybe the chance to get a little action before heading back to work? I mean, am I part of your sex therapy?” She shakes her head. “You can’t possibly be that immature.”

“And you can’t be that obtuse,” he counters. “Don’t go acting like this is still our first date, okay? We’ve both been looking for the same thing in different ways, and once we get past ourselves, I think we’ll realize that we’ve found it in each other.”

She makes a face. “What are you even talking about?”

“A relationship, Claire,” he says. “Someone to work with, play with, survive with.”

She snorts. “But you want to leave.”

“I don’t want to leave,” he says. “But maybe I need to. I mean, eventualities, right? That’s what Simon called it. His mistake wasn’t in assuming the inevitable but not accepting what it meant. I believe that you and I can work if we want it to. Or we can go up in flames. I don’t know which way we’re headed, but I know that if we’re going to make it through this -- if we’re going to survive -- we can’t deal with idealizations or fairy tales. We have to face each other in the situation we’re in. Someone is going back to that island.”

“And it has to be you?” she asks, even though he’s the one who went back out in the jungle with her. Even though he’s the one that never left her when he had every reason and every opportunity. “You have to be the hero?”

“I’m not trying to be a hero,” he replies. “I’m doing what needs to be done.”

She shakes her head. “It’s someone else’s turn.”

“But no one else can do it right.”

Sighing, she rolls her eyes. The strength is leaving her voice; the tension is slipping from her posture. This is a fight she can’t win. “Going back there is a terrible idea. We’ll make the same mistakes all over again.”

“Maybe,” he says, leaning closer to her now. “But the opposite of control isn’t anarchy. The world doesn’t exist in black and white.”

She doesn’t pull back this time. “I don’t do so well with shades of gray.”

He considers that; he considers her. There’s something in the way he looks at her; something in the way he lifts his hand and brushes her cheek. He calms the raging parts inside of her; he brings steadiness to the parts of her that want to fall apart. When she’s with him, she finds a clarity she can’t explain. It’s not lust exactly, and she’s not sure it’s love yet. But it’s a connection she can’t deny.

A connection she doesn’t want to live without.

That’s why she’d said yes to a first date so long ago.

It’s also why she’d never asked for a second.

Claire doesn’t like needing people.

And it scares her how hard it is to imagine her life without Owen in this very moment.

“Owen,” she starts, but doesn’t know how to finish. She doesn’t know what she wants to say; she doesn’t know.

“Hey,” he says, softer now as his fingers thread through her hair. “If you need me to stay, I’ll stay.”

Her face starts to crumple.

He smooths away a tear with his thumb. “But I think you know I’m right,” he says. “Because we’re not that much different than the animals most of the time. Remember?”

She closes her eyes, thinking back to a time before this happened, back to a time when they were assets and profits and nothing more.

“We do what we need to do, just to survive,” he continues. “That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to survive.”

She breathes him in, willing herself to play this game. It’s a back and forth she remembers, but this time she knows it can turn out different. “And what do you need?” she asks, looking at him again. “What do you need to survive?”

“I need to eat,” he says. “I need to work.”

The familiarity is comforting; the lightness unfurls something tight in her chest.

His lips twist up into a smile. “I need to….”

She can’t help but laugh.

He shrugs, feigning innocence. “You have to relate to at least one of those.”

-o-

Food.

They get food.

Owen may be right about the other two, but Claire’s nowhere near ready to deal with them at the moment. The thought of work makes her heart skip a beat, and she’s fairly certain that if they have sex again, she’ll end up crying in the bathroom a second time. Just because Owen’s right on those two points doesn’t mean he’s not a little wrong, too, and Claire is having trouble putting her head back in control of her heart for the first time in her life.

Food, therefore, is the easiest of the three.

At least, that’s what Claire thinks. She actually manages to order her meal this time before the conversations around her start to make her twitch, and she’s almost hyperventilating by the time the waiter brings the water out.

Owen asks for two doggy bags and the check.

Food, work and sex.

Claire is batting zero of three.

-o-

After lunch, Owen says he’s going to lay down for a bit. Claire is thinking of an alternative when his breathing even outs and he’s asleep.

She sighs.

Maybe this is a mistake, she tells herself. What is she even doing here? She hardly knows Owen Grady -- one terrible first date years ago doesn’t count. And running for their lives is no definition of a second date, so this week-long getaway is probably the worst idea she’s ever had.

On the other hand, she can’t sleep through the night without him; she can’t even order lunch without a total breakdown. She’d be nowhere without him.

But where exactly is she with him?

She can’t reason this away; she can’t make it parse into a neat little box. She knows that she survived the Indominus Rex with little more than scratches, but she still feels like she’s been ripped to shreds.

And swallowed whole.

-o-

An hour later, Owen’s phone rings. Claire reaches to turn it off -- Owen’s still out like a light, and she has to think he’s earned it -- but she stops when she recognizes the number.

With a frown, she answers. “Karen?”

“Oh, um, wait,” Karen says over the line. “Claire?”

“Yeah,” Claire says. “How did you get this number?”

“Owen gave it to the boys before we left,” Karen explains. “But why are you at this number?”

Claire’s mouth opens but she realizes she doesn’t have a good answer. In fact, she’s not even sure.

“Are you two,” Karen says. “I mean, are you two together?

“No,” Claire says, a little too quickly. Her cheeks are turning red, and she’s grateful her sister is thousands of miles away. “I mean, yes, but not like that. We just thought needed to go off grid for awhile.”

“Off grid?” her sister asks. “Is that, like, a euphemism?”

Embarrassed, Claire gets up and moves toward the bathroom. “No, it’s not a euphemism.”

“So you two are just, what, hanging out?”

“Look, we went through a lot together, okay, and we’re figuring things out,” Claire says. “How are the boys?”

“I’ve already got them scheduled to see a therapist,” Karen replies. “I mean, they’re spending most of the time playing video games, and Gray threw out all his dinosaur toys and we literally burned the books, and I keep catching them in Zach’s bed together, but since it keeps Zach from sneaking out like he used to, I’m actually okay with that last part.”

Claire doesn’t miss the seriousness behind Karen’s banter. She’s trying to sound lighthearted, but there’s more to it than she’s letting on.

Not that Claire needs it spelled out.

She glances nervously back at Owen. “I’m sorry,” she says, phone pressed to her ear.

“They’re alive, though,” Karen says, a bit more soberly. “I actually was calling to see if he had a number for you. So this is a happy coincidence.”

“Oh,” Claire says. “I lost my phone back on the island.”

“Yeah, I figured,” Karen says. “But I just wanted to check in, you know. See how you were.”

It’s a small question with no small answer. Claire bites her lip. “You know,” she ventures finally. “Been better.”

“The offer to stay with us still stands,” Karen tells her. “The therapist would be a good idea for you, too.”

“Yeah,” Claire says, trying to keep her voice from slipping. “I’ll...think about it.”

There’s a hesitation on the line. “You took care of a lot of people in all that,” Karen adds. “Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.”

“I’m okay,” Claire says, clenching her teeth shut. “Really.”

It’s a lie, and they both know it. But Karen also knows Claire’s at her end, and decides that a long distance phone call isn’t the time or place to push those boundaries. Or maybe Karen already has her hands full.

“Okay,” Karen says. “Is Owen helping with that?”

“Karen!” Claire hisses.

“What!” Karen protests. “I was referring to your shared experiences, but I’m sure he’s helpful in a lot of ways.”

“It’s not like that,” she insists.

“Okay, okay,” Karen says. “So what is it like?”

Claire turns, looking back toward Owen, who is still curled on his side in the afternoon light. Her stomach roils. What is it like?

It’s the best thing, sometimes. She loves the way he knows what she needs, and she loves the way he gives it to her without having her suffer the indignity of asking. She loves the way he anchors her to the present, the way his voice calms her, the way his touch soothes the brittle edges of her sanity. She loves the sound of his heartbeat as it thrums next to hers in the night.

And then it’s the worst thing. Because she hates that every time she’s needy, he’s there to pick her up. She hates that she’s so scared of losing him when three days ago, she never gave him a second thought. She hates that she never agreed to a second date, and now she’s trying to talk him into staying with her permanently.

She hates that she’s falling apart, and he’s the only one who knows how to put the pieces back together.

“It’s...nothing,” Claire answer feebly.

“You two seem pretty close,” Karen says.

“Well, we survived the impossible together,” Claire says. “He helped me when no one else would. And when you’ve got that much adrenaline going, it’s pretty easy to work together. No matter who we were before, we share this now, and nothing will ever change that.”

“That makes sense,” Karen accedes. “I mean, the boys can’t stop talking about him. I don’t know who loves him more, Zach or Gray. Zach gets more excited talking about Owen than his girlfriend these days.”

“Owen did save their lives,” Claire reasons.

“It’s not just Owen, though,” Karen adds. “You, too. You two practically need one of those celebrity couple nicknames for all they go on about you. Clowen, maybe. What do you think?”

Claire takes a measured breath. “I think it’s normal for people to become bonded over trauma. It could very well pass.”

“Sure, but it could also last,” Karen says. “You two are good together, maybe.”

“We barely know each other,” Claire says, turning toward the bathroom again. “We’re basically strangers who shared one, intense day together.”

“Relationships have started with less,” Karen says.

“And fallen apart with more,” Claire argues.

“Look, I know I’m in no position to offer relationship advice all things considered,” Karen says. “But that’s kind of the point. Relationships are hard to keep; they take work. The thing is, though, I know how hard you work when you’re committed to something. If anyone can make something happen, it’s you.”

She flicks on the light in the bathroom and makes a face at her poorly kempt appearance. “You assume I want to.”

“Oh, please,” Karen says. “Don’t forget how well I know you. I mean, I may not get your desire to climb the corporate ladder, and I may not fully appreciate just how hard it is to do what you do, but I remember the things you used to want. Someone to be with you in the quiet moments; someone to grow old with.”

“Yeah, and when I was seven, I wanted a pony,” Claire says. “I grew up, Karen.”

“News flash: grown ups make mistakes, too,” Karen says. “Trust me. I know.”

Claire presses her fingers to the bridge of her nose. She knows, too. Better than Karen ever will. “I just -- I have responsibilities. Priorities.”

“Uh huh,” Karen replies. “And here I thought you finally knew what those were.”

Claire groans. “You still think having babies will fix me?”

“No,” Karen says with a remorseful chuckle. “But I think that keeping people you care about close to you for once might.”

-o-

She hangs up with a promise to call Karen as soon as she gets a new phone. No matter how much she wants to be, she’s not mad at her sister. Sure, Karen doesn’t always get it, but Claire has a new appreciation for that.

They’re all just doing their best.

Claire hopes that enough for today.

-o-

Owen is still sound asleep at dinner. She considers trying to go out on her own -- it could even be a surprise for Owen, after all he’s done for her. But she can’t bring herself to open the door, so she grabs a bag of potato chips from the stash of things Owen picked up yesterday and settles down to wait.

Bored, she flips on the TV, turning the sound on mute. For a while, she watches a Latin soap opera with subtitles, but she’s never been one for needless drama. Flipping through the channels, she catches the news cycle as it starts, and when the Jurassic World logo pops on screen, she almost turns away.

This time, there’s new footage of paddock nine, this time from the interior camera. It’s still a low quality feed, but it’s closer, and she can see the expression on her face as the locks slide out and the door opens.

She looks so small as the t-rex comes into frame. It’s an outrageous plan: using a monster to quell another monster. Using her last bit of control to surrender it altogether.

All or nothing, she’d thought.

Honestly, she’s not sure which she ended up with.

-o-

Owen is still sleeping when the sun starts to go down, and Claire finally can’t take it anymore. She doesn’t want to wake him up, but she definitely wants him to wake up, so she turns all the lights on and turns the volume up on the TV.

He twitches a few times.

When it still fails to produce actual results, she turns the volume up louder and switches to a channel with machine gun fire and explosions.

Finally, he startles awake.

Claire lets out a breath of relief. “Hey,” she says. “You’re up.”

He cranes his neck, blinking at her blearily. He’s awake, it seems.

But he looks terrible.

He’s paler than he should be, and despite the extra sleep, he looks more tired than ever.

Still, he makes a visible effort to push himself upright.

The small movements look like torture, and his face contorts. He hisses as he gingerly positions himself in a seated position against the headboard.

“Owen?” she asks, getting to her feet and crossing toward him. “Are you okay?”

He grimaces, his Adam’s apple bobbing as he swallows. “It hurts.”

She sits down carefully next to him. “It hurts?”

He lets out a panting breath, as if trying to retain his composure. “My back.”

The admission makes her frown, and she reaches up to the nape of his neck. He hisses again, but complies, dutifully tilting his head to the side while she pulls back the collar of his t-shirt. He flinches as she picks at the bandage over his shoulder, peeling it back from the wound.

Three days out, she expected it to be crusted but healing.

This is still oozing, and the edges are raised and raw. “I told you to get this look at,” she says, unsticking the last corner of the gauze. “Now it’s infected.”

He breathes heavily through his nose. “I had it under control.”

She gives him a stern look. “I thought it wasn’t about control.”

He rolls his head back toward her with a sheepish smile. “No one’s perfect.”

-o-

Claire has precisely no medical training, and she’s actually somewhat averse to doctors overall. She keeps herself healthy and clean, which seems to eliminate any serious health concerns, and there’s honestly a reason she’s meticulously about the medical staff that are hosted on the island.

Because when someone gets hurts, she delegates the responsibility.

This time, though, there’s no one to delegate to. It’s just her and Owen and the small but relevant fact that his injuries are still all her fault.

And it’s not like she can’t figure out basic first aid.

Wounds have to be cleaned and wrapped consistently.

That’s it.

Still, she can’t quite get her hands to start shaking when she fills the ice bucket with warm water and lays out the extra washcloths on the bedside table. Owen has obediently turned onto his back, though he seems restless as she organizes.

“This is silly,” he says, starting to roll over. “I can--”

“You can lay back down,” she says firmly, pushing him back to the mattress. “You’ve let this go on long enough.”

His face creases with discontent. “I’m fine,” he mutters.

“We’ll see about that,” she says, picking up the first washcloth and putting it in the warm water. “Now, lie still.”

-o-

She’s not entirely sure if she’s being too thorough or too lax. The wound is crusted over, but clearing away the oozing debris makes Owen get tense beneath her, his finger fisting into the sheets until his knuckles are white. He can’t quite hold back a cry when she scrubs between the jagged edges, doing her best to flush it out entirely.

When she’s done, she presses down a patch of gauze that she got from the first aid kit the front desk gave her. Helping Owen sit up, she wraps it, tying it tightly while Owen winces.

Sitting back, she feels satisfied at a job well done.

Owen’s pained look dampens her sense of accomplishment.

He’s leaned back awkwardly against the headrest. In addition to being pale, he’s also sweaty now and he looks more tired than ever.

“You still feeling hot?” she asks.

“I assume that’s not a compliment on my physique,” he quips.

She sighs. “Owen--”

“Yeah, yeah,” he says. “Sort of shaky, too.”

Nodding, she reaches for the Tylenol, undoing the child lock and shaking out two tablets into her hand. “Here,” she says, handing them over before picking up the cup of water she’s laid out for just this purpose. “You need your fluids, too.”

Without argument, he pops the pills in his mouth and takes a long drink, swallowing with a wince. He puts the cup back heavily before sighing in utter exhaustion.

“Maybe we should go to a doctor,” Claire suggests.

Owen shakes his head. “I’m fine.”

She’s always believed him about this, but it occurs to her now that he’s not always right. They are both their own greatest weakness.

But she doesn’t want him to be wrong.

Not about this.

-o-

He sleeps, and Claire holds an awkward vigil. It seems irresponsible to sleep, but staring at him just seems weird. Instead, she sits in the chair, watching TV with the sound off, listening to him breathe.

Maybe it’s too much; maybe it’s not enough.

Claire is trying, though.

God help her, she’s really trying.

-o-

Sometime after the late night shows, Claire starts to doze. She flips to an infomercial but the bright lights can’t keep her awake.

Sleep is not a refuge, but it is a necessity.

To that end, it’s not even a choice anymore.

Her own body rejects her will and wants, and that’s one of the greatest betrayals of all.

It’s also probably the most inevitable.

Because there’s no way to fight the darkness.

You just have to survive it.

-o-

She wakes to screams.

Her breath catches; her pulse races.

Then she realizes, they’re not hers.

The revelation startles her, and for a moment, she’s badly disoriented. She’s used to hearing screams in her sleep -- Gray and Zach, Zara and the ACU troopers, all the innocent visitors she failed -- but this is different. Closer, immediate, terrified.

Owen.

She scrambles to her feet, almost tripping on the pile of clothes on the floor.

It’s Owen.

On the bed, he’s turned onto his back and, even in the darkness, she can see that his face is contorted in pain. He’s sweating in earnest now with the tufts of his hair plastered to his head. And he’s straining, feet kicking in the sheets and hands grasping at nothing with such desperation that she’s scared, too.

She knows what he’s running from in his dreams.

Somehow, what’s in front of her now is even more terrifying.

“Owen,” she says, taking his arm in her hands. “Owen, wake up.”

She tries to remember how he does it; how he manages to pull her back and calm her down all at the same time. She tries to remember the words, the touch, the feeling.

He jerks beneath her, though, trashing with new desperation.

“No, Owen,” she says, his sweat-slicked arm slipping through her grasp. She half climbs on the bed to reach his face. “Owen, please.”

He doesn’t seem to hear her, and her self-control falters.

“Owen, it’s me, it’s Claire,” she says, making a face at her own ridiculousness. “I mean, it’s okay. It’s over.”

The words are right, but her voice doesn’t carry the same weight. Her touch on his face isn’t as sure, and she can know exactly what to do without knowing how to do it at all.

He whimpers now, body almost going rigid.

Gritting her teeth, she climbs on the bed, slipping over him until she’s on her knees at her side. She takes his face with both her hands, heart fluttering at the heat coming off his skin. “Owen,” she all but orders. “Wake up.

It lacks the compassion, and it lacks the steadiness, but it is the only non-negotiable she can offer at the moment.

She is a corporate executive, after all. She has a voice that can woo investors and put subordinates in their place.

She has to believe that she can surely wake Owen up.

To her great relief, his eyes open.

Relief is short lived, however.

Owen’s eyes are glazed and distant, and even though she’s right over him, he’s looking through her vacantly. His breathing is coming in short, wispy gasps now, and as the tension starts to drain from his body, she can feel the tremors that are running through him.

He’s not just dreaming; these are more than nightmares.

This is a fever -- and a bad one.

The infection, despite her best efforts, isn’t stopping. It’s spreading.

An asset out of containment, her mind screams, just like the first time she thought she’d sent Owen to his death in the Indominus paddock. He’d escaped that time with the forces of hell nipping at his heels.

Or, as it had been, trying to bite his head off.

He’d survived that. He’d survived everything.

And this is a fight he’s losing now.

She’s paralyzed with that, staring down in shock. Owen is tossing again, turning his fever-bright eyes as if he’s looking for something.

“Claire,” he moans, sounding pained. “We got to -- we got to -- the raptors, Claire.”

“The raptors are fine,” she says, not sure if she’s lying or not. “We’re fine, Owen.”

A tear leaks from his eye, and his breathing catches in a sob as he shakes his head. “They trusted me; everyone trusted me,” he continues, writhing helplessly on the sheets. “But I can’t control it -- people are putting their lives in my hands -- and I can’t control it--

He breaks off with another cry before his words run together unintelligibly. It’s not that she doesn’t think he dreams about the island. It’s not that she doesn’t think it’s affected him. It’s not that she even thinks that he doesn’t blame himself somehow, for not doing more.

It’s just that she’s not used to seeing him in need.

Owen is the one who is cool and calm and collected. Owen is the one who knows when to run and when to hide. Owen is the one who knows how to save himself and everyone around him. Owen is the one who outruns, outsmarts and outlives the worst of Claire’s nightmares.

When Owen wanted to stick together for survival, she’d assumed it was for her benefit.

She hadn’t even considered it might be for his as well.

She is the obtuse one, so resentful of her own needs that she didn’t see his.

All the times she hated the way he kept her from falling apart, she never once realized he might need her to return the favor.

They’re all looking for control, it seems.

And failing as much as they succeed.

-o-

There had been a moment, near the end, when Claire was standing at the gate to paddock nine. Owen was back with her nephews, and there was no one left but Lowery in the control room to back her up. She had no guns and no real exit plan.

When the doors had opened, there had been one moment -- just one moment -- where she’d thought she was going to die. Her body tensed up; her mind froze. There was no one left to save her.

But then she’d remembered.

She didn’t need someone to save her.

Not when she had the power to save herself.

And everyone right along with her.

In their shared motel room, Claire has another moment. Only this time, there’s no one in any control room and the life she needs to save is not her own. It’s Owen’s.

And there’s just this moment. When she thinks he’s going to die. Her body tenses up; her mind freezes. She’s seen too many good people die; she’s watched too many things fall apart. She’s lost more than she can afford to give, and she can’t lose Owen.

She won’t.

For the last decade, she’s let herself look at the big picture, but it all comes down to the tangible details. A hug from her nephew; a phone call from her sister; getting Owen through this alive. Maybe it’s not love.

Maybe it’s just survival.

Her world is teetering on the brink, and her sanity hangs by threads. She’s not sure if she can do this without him.

This time, there’s no back up. There’s no one coming to save her.

But then she remembers.

She remembers.

Claire doesn’t need a hero.

Because she knows what to do.

-o-

It’s simple procedure at this point. Medical incidences on a minor scale should be arranged with the closest medical facility. In case of emergency, however, 911 or the local equivalent should be leveraged immediately, regardless of situation or jurisdiction.

Since Owen is suffering from a fever that is high enough to cause mild hallucinations or incoherency, she feels that this situation does warrant emergency measures. Besides, in the middle of the night in a foreign motel room, Claire has few other options to consider. Even if she knew where a local clinic might be, transporting Owen in his condition would be impossible.

Therefore, she calls 911.

She easily navigates the phone, using articulate Spanish with the proper usted form to request assistance. The address of the motel is listed on the stationary, and although she struggles with the precise terms for his injuries, she requests prompt help.

When she hangs up, she calls the front desk to alert them to their situation. While she waits, she organizes a bag of things for herself and Owen, packing clean clothes and several toiletries to prepare for a hospital stay. As an afterthought, she also includes their extra snacks and a bottle of water along with Owen’s phone and wallet.

She even finds Owen’s insurance card, which she knows will provide easy coverage with the local hospital, and by the time she gets her own shoes on, there’s a knock at the door.

At that, she hesitates. Her heart starts to beat faster, and her palms start to sweat. It’s one thing, to be in control within the confines of a small, safe motel room. But the second she opens that door, there’s a whole wide world out there with variables she may not be able to control. That terrifies her more than a little, and her confidence slips badly.

But she looks at Owen.

He’s still breathing heavily on the bed, tossing fretfully every now and then. His condition isn’t getting better, and she’s not about to let him die for her own insecurities.

Insecurities be damned.

She’s not about to let him die, period.

Determined, she opens the door.

-o-

The medics seem competent, and the motel manager loiters just outside. Claire assures the manager that this is no cause for his concern while simultaneously answer questions in pristine Spanish about the onset and circumstances of the symptoms.

When they ask her what made the wound, however, she hesitates.

Taking a breath, she holds her head high. “Un dinosaurio,” she replies.

The medics exchange looks, but they aren’t altogether surprised. Mainland hospital undoubtedly received an influx of similar injuries, which will work in Claire’s favor at the moment. In a cotton nightshirt with disheveled hair, she doesn’t look like the corporate executive responsible for everything. No doubt, everyone is looking for her, but no one would think to look for her here.

“Pues,” she continues at their hesitation. “Estamos listos?”

They exchange looks before one reaches for the backboard. Owen is groans on the bed, still more unconscious than awake. “Are you his, uh--” one medic starts, struggling for the words. “Girlfriend?”

She’s been completely professional and totally prepared. But that question catches her off guard.

Is she his girlfriend? Does she even want to be? She’s a grown woman, not some preteen angsting at lunchtime. There hasn’t even been an official second date yet, and Claire’s been so busy being afraid of losing Owen to decide what she actually wants Owen to be to her.

But they’ve got Owen strapped down, and they’re lifting him up to take him out. It’s a choice she has to make, whether she wants to stay or go.

That’s not really a choice at all.

She’ll follow Owen.

That might not make her his girlfriend, but for now, it’s close enough.

She nods. “Yes,” she says. “Yes, I am.”

“Pues,” the other medic says as they move toward the door. “Vamanos.”

-o-

Claire is grateful that the lobby is empty at this time of night, and there’s no one on the street. Still, it’s crowded in the back of the ambulance, and she studiously avoids eye contact with the medic that is monitoring Owen’s vitals.

Instead, she watches the IV as it drips saline down into the crook of Owen’s arm and focuses on her breathing.

She’s okay, she reminds herself. She’s okay, she’s okay, she’s okay.

Unspoken, she reaches out and takes Owen’s fingers in her own. They’re clammy, and she gives them a squeeze.

They’re okay.

-o-

At the hospital, the nurses ask her to stay in the waiting room.

It’s a request Claire decidedly ignore.

“No, I’m staying with him,” she says in no uncertain terms.

Although she fully understands the litany in Spanish the nurse provides for her, Claire decides this is the perfect time to be the idiot tourist.

“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t speak Spanish.”

-o-

Recognizing that she is about to be ushered out against her will, Claire makes herself as small and helpful as possible. She stands back, holding the bag she packed neatly, while answering questions from the English-speaking doctor who finally starts to look Owen over. She’s able to provide an accurate timeline and a good description of exacerbating factors, so by the time Owen is draped with a sheet and entered into the system, she has been given unspoken permission to stay right where she is.

“This wound,” the doctor says. “Who cleaned it?”

Claire inhales. “I did.”

The doctor nods, reaching for a fresh dressing. “It’s well done,” he says. “We will have to watch for any signs of further deterioration in the wound, but I suspect our greatest risk is if the infection spreads through the blood or into the bone. So far, there are no other reported incidences, which leads me to suspect that there was minimal risk of disease from the animal, but without proper cleaning, an open wound like this would be susceptible to infection.”

Which is to say, this was preventable.

Claire forces out a breath.

All
of this was preventable.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asks.

“Let’s see how he responds to the medication, shall we?” the doctor redirects. “We will get him transferred to a room, if you would like to--”

“I’ll wait with him,” she replies, not waiting for an order or an invitation.

The doctor pauses.

Claire steps closer to the gurney. She has no authority and no precedent, but she doesn’t care. “I’m staying with him.”

The doctor seems a little surprised, but most people are when they first meet her. It’s a gift to be self-assured, and it’s a gift she’s always had, even if she’s sort of forgotten it in the last few days.

“Okay,” the doctor says. “The nurse will be right there, finishing the paperwork if you have any concerns.”

Claire’s light headed when he leaves, but this time it’s not shock or fear.

This time, it’s satisfaction.

Because Claire Dearing is many things, but she’s always been a woman who stands her ground, even when she shouldn’t.

And many times when she should.

-o-

Usually standing her ground isn’t so awkward.

It’s bad enough that the nurse keeps giving her wayward looks that vary from curious to suspicious, but the copious medical equipment makes her nervous. True, most of it isn’t being used for Owen, but all of it is so foreign to her, that she feels badly out of her element.

She is out of her element. A nameless girlfriend in a Costa Rican hospital. On the other side of the curtain, there is a woman crying in agony about excessive bowel movements.

This isn’t where Claire would have expected to find herself.

But this is where she is.

Standing at Owen’s bedside, she decides to make the best of that.

-o-

Then, miraculously, he wakes up.

It’s not really a miracle. He’s been in an out of consciousness since the ambulance ride. Moreover, the doctor had predicted this turnaround once enough of the medication got into his system to work against the dehydration and start to control the fever.

And miracle is a rather big word, one she should save for surviving a rampaging genetically modified dinosaur and letting a t-rex out of its paddock and living to tell the tale.

Still, Claire’s been through a lot in the last few days. She’s allowed a bit of melodrama.

Especially since, for the first time since getting sick, Owen looks her in the eyes and smiles.

She can’t even help herself. Her heart lifts as she squeezes his hand again. “Hey.”

He swallows with a wince. “Hey,” he croaks back. His eyes flick around. “Um. What happened?”

“The cut on your back got infected,” she explains. “You’re in a hospital.”

He seems to have a bit of trouble with that one. “Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”

“You survived the Indominus Rex,” she reminds him. “And this is the part you can’t believe?”

“No,” he breathes, eyelids fluttering a little before he smiles weakly up at her. “I just can’t believe you’re still here.”

It’s sentimental, and it’s stupid.

And damn it, it’s sweet.

Which is why she scowls at him. “Why didn’t you get this looked at in the first place?” she asks. “Or at least when you noticed that it started to get bad? You’ve had days, Owen. You had to have known.”

He sighs, tipping his head away wearily. “Control.”

“Control?”

He nods with a small grimace even as his eyes slid shut and stay that way. “You’re not the only person afraid of losing it sometimes.”

-o-

Owen is transferred to a room. She follows without being asked, and she’s about to make her way inside when the doctor stops her with a smile.

“You are free to go back to your motel room,” he says, trying to sound kind. “Maybe refresh yourself.”

She’s insulted, somehow. Not because he’s questioning her hygiene but her fortitude. “I’ll be staying with him, thank you,” she replies curtly. “I want to be there for him.”

“This is good, this is good,” the doctor says. “But you have brought him to the hospital. We have given him medications. What your boyfriend needs now is sleep. There is nothing you can do but leave him alone.”

It’s not an answer she’s used to. Claire lives a life that pushes, pushes, pushes, and she’s always felt restless whenever she’s standing still. Maybe that’s why she survived running through the jungle in heels. She’s been running since the day she was born.

“Trust me,” the doctor says, opening the door for himself. “You’ve done everything you can.”

With that, he closes the door behind him, leaving her standing in the hall.

Everything is a lie she’s never believed.

She has a feeling it’s a reality she’ll be forced to make parse now.

-o-

Claire doesn’t have to obey -- the doctor has a medical degree but Claire has operated (and helped destroy) one of the most innovative and revolutionary theme parks of the century. She’s made a name for herself in the corporate world, and she’s never been afraid to play the alpha in a dog-eat-dog business.

Ignoring him would be easy.

Ignoring his point, however, is less so.

She watches through the open blinds as the nurses helps Owen get comfortable on the bed. The nurses arranges his IV and the leads, and Owen is already asleep by the time the doctor signs a note on his chart and is moving toward the door.

Claire is gone by the time the doctor comes out.

She will listen to reason, but there’s no point in giving anyone else the satisfaction of being right this time.

-o-

Acceptance is one thing. Deciding to move on is important.

The act of doing so, however, is never so easy.

It is not a dramatic struggle, but a quiet, resigned one. There is no adrenaline; there is no clear and present danger.

There’s just the inevitable knowledge that it’s over.

Even when it doesn’t feel over at all.

-o-

Numbly, she makes her way down the hall, back past the nurse’s station. Her sense of direction is a bit askew, and she ends up walking in a circle before stopping in the waiting room just to collect herself.

From what, she’s not sure. She has seen her career fall apart and her theme park become the biggest disaster of the century. She’s also somehow managed to start living with a man she hardly knows before admitting him to the hospital with an infected pteranodon bite.

She needs a minute.

All things considered, she needs more than a minute.

In the chair, she sits with her head forward, knees pulled together out of habit even though she’s wearing dreadful khaki shorts. By the time she gets her breathing to even out, she realizes that she’s being watched.

Her defenses kick in, but it’s unnecessary. The little girl in the chair across from her is staring intently, though, brown eyes through a dark fringe of bangs. It’s rude and it’s unnerving, and Claire is about to get up and walk away when she notices what the girl is wearing.

The denim skort is nothing much to notice, and the little white tennis shoes are scuffed. It’s the shirt, though. The bright pink shirt with a white dinosaur logo.

Jurassic World.

It sold for 19.95 in the gift shop, available in sizes 2T through adult XXL.

In the time it takes Claire to realize this, she’s the one who’s staring now.

Fortunately, this little girl clearly has no shame and no sense of manners.

She’s also, rather noticeably, alone.

Glancing around, Claire sees no mother or father. Not even an older brother or sister. She’s about Gray’s age, but it still seems awfully young to be stationed alone in a waiting room.

Claire bites her lip for a moment, then manages a smile. “Are you waiting with someone?”

The little girl shrugs, and Claire worries that maybe she doesn’t speak English.

Swallowing, Claire considers alerting the nurse’s station, though the child doesn’t seem to be in any kind of distress. “Are you waiting for someone?” she tries instead.

At this, the girl nods. “My mommy and daddy are here.”

“Oh,” Claire says, feeling relieved. “So they’ll be here soon?”

“Well, they’re already here,” the girl explains. “Mommy and me, we stay in one of the emergency shelters sometimes, but we like to stay with daddy until he gets better.”

Claire stomach roils, and she feels physically ill. “Better?”

The girl nods earnestly. “He says it’s his own fault,” she says. “We were running inside when he slipped and fell. Broke his leg. It’s in traction. They had to put pins in it.”

The nature of his injuries is actually reassuring, but Claire knows better than to feel good about it. This girl is still sitting by herself in a hospital waiting room and living in an emergency shelter with nothing but a Jurassic World shirt on her back. This little girl, who probably rode a triceratops and got soaked watching a mosasaurus feeding. This little girl, who will probably have nightmares and PTSD for the rest of her life.

It’s not just Owen, after all. Or Zach or Gray. Or Simon or Zara or any of the ACU troopers she ordered to their deaths. It’s not even the people who got hurt; the ones who will be in therapy for years.

It’s every single guest who has ever stepped foot onto that island. It’s her promise to control the situation and her absolute failure to do so. It’s not just head counts and total profits.

It’s people.

And the understanding that she didn’t do enough before this happen, and she can’t change what happened.

But she can change what comes next.

Starting with this little girl.

-o-

Claire takes her to the vending machines and lets her pick out whatever she wants. She comes away with a candy bar and a bag of chips, and Claire listens to stories about her pet dog back home.

By the time the girl’s mother gets back, Claire has heard all about her Minecraft game and her science project last year.

The woman is a little uncertain at first, but Claire can be charming when she wants to be. “We were just keeping each other company,” she explains to the woman.

“Claire has never played Minecraft, Mom!” the girl chimes in. “Can you believe it?”

“Since she’s over the age of ten, yes,” her mother replies. She gives Claire an apologetic smile. “Kids, you know.”

“A little escapism is good,” Claire says.

“Speaking of, why don’t you hit the bathroom before we head back,” the mother says. “The good news is that they think Dad can get out of here tomorrow.”

“Yippee!” the girl cheers, skipping off to the bathroom.

The mother watches her go, wearily. “I’m sorry if she was a bother,” she apologizes. “It’s the middle of the night, isn’t it? I have an early appointment with a local insurance adjuster to try to get us medical transport back to Canada, and I just lost track of things.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” Claire says. “I couldn’t sleep now if I wanted to.”

The mother looks at her, studying her for a moment. “Were you on the island?”

Claire’s stomach tightens. “Yeah.”

She draws a breath and lets it out. “I still don’t really get what happened,” she says, shaking her head. “I guess I always knew it was a possibility, but I never thought, you know.”

“That’s the problem, I guess,” Claire says. “No one did.”

The woman nods. “Well, thanks again for keeping her company.”

Claire smiles back. “Any time.”

That’s something Claire has said before. It’s something she’s said a lot.

This time, she means it.

-o-

The little girl had been easy to spot, easier still since she’d found Claire first. But it doesn’t take much work to spot the others. The ones that look like tourists, still in tennis shoes and t-shirts. They’re in waiting rooms and at the front desk. They’re in rooms up and down the floor.

Some are still in ICU, and some are being released in the morning.

The hospital is full of them, hurt, broken but recovering.

Claire’s not on the island anymore, but she’s still responsible for them.

She’s failed them once.

Not again.

Never
again.

-o-

She buys bottles of water for the people in the waiting rooms. She sends flowers and chocolates to people still under medical care. She takes an entire family of six down to breakfast in the cafeteria, and buys a game of travel Scrabble for a little boy stuck in bed. She buys every stuffed animal at the gift shop and disseminates them at random, giving the rest to the nurse to deliver to anyone who’s been admitted from Isla Nublar.

It’s not just the things, though. She holds a baby while the mother checks on x-rays for an older child. She holds the hand of a grandmother waiting for news on her oldest son. She looks at pictures of the newlywed couple, who spent all their money on a honeymoon to Jurassic World and ended up nearly dying for their trouble.

“No regrets, though,” the new husband says, wrapping his fingers around his bride’s scuffed fingers. “We’re still alive.”

“And we’re together,” the wife says with a longing smile at her husband, who is still laid out in a hospital bed. She looks at Claire. “It makes you get your priorities straight.”

“If we can survive this,” the husband says, and his head is still heavily bandaged with colorful bruising down his cheek, “then we can survive anything.”

-o-

Somehow, no one recognizes her. She certainly doesn’t recognize any of them. At least until she checks the last bed in the ICU unit and sees one of her ACU troopers lying there.

He’s nearly covered in gauze, and what skin is visible is bruised and scratched. He’s hooked up to more machines than she cares to think about, including one that seems to be controlling his breathing. There’s a stiff brace around his neck, and both of his legs are pulled tight in traction. One hand is bandaged thickly; the other is just gone.

It’s a lovely sentiment: if we can survive this, we can survive anything.

But it misses the obvious.

If we can survive this.

-o-

When she finally retreats back to Owen’s room, it’s much later than she intended with breakfast long past over and the hour pushing noon. Part of her wants to feel guilty for leaving him so long, but the doctor had told her that leaving was the best way to help him. Besides, Claire already has no shortage of guilt in her life right now.

At any rate, she’s too exhausted for self-flagellation at the moment. All she wants to do is sit in the chair by Owen’s bed and sleep.

It’s probably only fitting that the second she sits down, he starts to stir. She’s almost comfortable when his eyes open. Given the events of last night, she still expects him to drift back to sleep, but he turns his head as if looking for something, someone.

And his eyes settle on her.

He looks more exhausted than she feels, but he’s awake. More than that, he’s marginally coherent.

“Claire?” he asks, forehead wrinkling.

Sitting forward, she finds herself grinning. “Hey,” she says. “You’re up.”

His expression relaxes. “And you’re here.”

“Yeah, well,” she replies. “Where else would I be?”

“Anywhere,” he says. “You could literally be anywhere.”

“Okay, okay,” she relents. “But this is where I want to be.”

-o-

Overall, Owen is groggy and weak; his voice lacks it usually gusto. But he’s significantly improved over the night before, and even with the flush of fever still in his cheeks, she knows this is a step in the right direction.

With this conclusion, she’s relieved.

That relief lasts for about two minutes.

“What were you thinking?” she finally asks, chair pulled close as he shifts gingerly in the bed. “You, of all people, should have known better.”

“I’m not a doctor,” he says. “Well, I am technically a doctor, but the PhD didn’t come with any medical training.”

She shakes her head. “I call bullshit.”

He looks at her in surprise.

“You train raptors,” she reminds him. “You literally train raptors, and you’re about the only person who went head to head with the Indominus and didn’t die. You don’t do the things you do and not understand the basic realities of first aid.”

His expression is a mix of sheepishness and amusement. “I did have other concerns.”

“At the park, maybe,” she agrees. “But after that? Seriously, you blew off the medical check with your whole put-others-first thing--”

“Which is called altruism, by the way,” he interjects.

“No, it’s called stupidity,” she says. “You can’t help people by becoming a burden to them. You’re not helping anyone in this hospital by taking up their time and resources. You’re not helping other victims while you’re out of commission with an infected wound. And you’re definitely not helping me on any level, because the only thing worse than waking up from a nightmare is waking up to a nightmare.”

At that, he finally starts to look chagrined.

She can’t stop, though.

There’s no way she can stop.

“I mean, seriously, Owen,” she says. “Pteranodon wounds. You left pteranodon wounds untreated. That’s about the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my entire life, right after, ‘We made a new dinosaur that’s bigger than a t-rex!’”

He opens his mouth, as if ready to reply.

As if she’s going to give him the chance.

“With all that, you almost deserve to die,” she snaps. “Because no one survives the Indominus, the raptors and a t-rex just to die in some half-rate motel room that doesn’t even have a view!”

Her heart is pounding by the end, and her emotions are spiraling. It’s a rush of adrenaline with nowhere to go, and she stands frozen and breathless and absolutely unyielding.

For a second, he just watches her.

Cheeks flushed and palms sweaty, she doesn’t dare look away.

Then, inexplicably and frustratingly, he lets out an airy laugh as he starts to smile.

“Seriously,” she says. “You’re smiling.

“Sure,” he says, and he’s downright grinning now.

“Are you actually an idiot?”

“I think you just established that,” he says.

She shakes her head, indignant. “You cannot possibly find this funny.”

“No, definitely not funny,” he says, even as his smile widens.

“Then why are you smiling?” she demands.

“You!” he replies, lifting one hand to gesture. “I haven’t seen you get all worked up about anything since I showed up on our first date in shorts.”

That’s not the answer she’s expecting.

That’s not the answer she’s waiting for at all.

But it’s such a good, good answer.

She would hate him, she truly would, if she didn’t like him so damn much.

“Well,” she falters and she’s fumbling to hold her ire together. She can only pull off miffed now, and just barely. “You were stupid. You saved the lives of everyone around you, and then the first thing you do when getting to safety is to let your minor wounds get infected. It’s irresponsible and idiotic and so, so stupid.”

He nods. “I missed it.”

“Your stupidity?”

“No, you,” he says, earnest as ever. “Just being you.”

It’s getting old, all the things she doesn’t see coming. She wonders if the most obvious things are the things she’s been missing all along in life. It’s fitting probably that she’s spent so much of her professional life keeping dangerous things in cages. And she knows that it’s not just the dinosaurs but the personal things, too.

Wetting her lips, she finds herself nervous suddenly. For the girl with an itinerary on the first date, this is far past uncharted waters. This is the middle of the whole damn ocean, as far as she’s concerned. “I thought you didn’t like it when I got controlling,” she hedges.

“Claire,” he says, and the inflection in that one word sends a tingle down her spine. “It’s not about control.”

Even when she knows what’s coming, she can’t stop it.

There’s no point in trying.

Instead, she braces herself for the eventuality.

He holds her gaze, tired and weary as he is. “It’s about a relationship.”

The emotions flood over her, and her eyes are burning inexplicably. “You are such a hypocrite,” she says shortly as her breathing tightened in her chest. “You’re trying to control everything right now, and you nearly get yourself killed for it. And you lie there and tell me it’s not about control. You couldn’t be more of a hypocrite if you actually tried.

“Yeah, this hasn’t been my best work this week,” he says. “But that doesn’t make me wrong about this. We’re still finding the rhythm. The give and take. Mutual respect and mutual trust.”

She works her jaw. “You say that like it’s easy.”

He tilts his head ironically. “Clearly, I know it’s not.”

She stiffens her shoulders and shakes her head, even as she feels herself start to cave. “I’m not one of your raptors, you know.”

He reaches for her, taking her hand. It’s the touch that breaks her, and she dips her head forward until her forehead is against his hand and he can’t see the fact that she’s crying.

With his other hand, he ruffles her hair. “Thank God for that.”

-o-

The medication is keeping his fever in check, but the infection is still hard to break. He tires easily, slipping into sleep easily and for hours at a time. It gives Claire plenty of time to think.

More than that, it gives her plenty of time to act.

The first thing she does is buy a new phone. The first number she programs is her sister’s. The second is her boss.

The third is Owen.

Claire Dearing is officially back on the grid.

-o-

By the next morning, the doctor is sounding optimistic, but Claire is holding out for palpable results.

In other words, until Owen is out of the hospital, she’s not going to be satisfied.

In the last twenty-four hours, she’s spent most of her time with him, getting him more water or helping him to the bathroom. When he’s awake, they share stories about college and growing up.

They don’t talk about what went wrong; they don’t talk about what they want to do next. They don’t talk about endings at all.

Instead, they tell each other the beginning.

She tells him about how she got the job at Jurassic World, about the way Simon Masrani personally took her to the temporary holding pens and asked her if she thought they could make this work.

“Mr. Masrani,” she’d told him. “With persistence, I can make anything work.”

When he’s feeling up to it, he tells her about the day Blue was born, and how he’d picked her up as she unfurled from egg. Wu had been trying to take measurements, but Owen had steadfastly ignored him, cradling the small, quivering body against his chest.

“I’ve got you,” he’d cooed, unfurling her clawed fists and stroking the still-wet leathery skin. “I’ve always got you.”

They’d both been right.

They both still are.

-o-

Still, most of her time is quiet. It’s a strange thing, to be so alone with her own thoughts. Not that Claire isn’t a reflective person. To the contrary, she is very analytical of herself and has always possessed a strong and accurate sense of self.

This isn’t the same, though, and she knows it. This isn’t about what she wants to improve or change; this is simple a quest for understanding. The inherent idleness of her situation is difficult at first, but Claire decides that’s probably the point.

After everything, she can’t expect things to be easy.

And there’s nothing harder for her than to sit and pin her hopes on a man she hardly knows but can’t live without. Because she doesn’t just think about herself. She thinks about him.

Part of her hates that, as though somehow she’s been broken to fit in some stereotypical mold. As though Karen’s been right all this time that all she needs is a strong man to make the pieces of her life fall into place. It’s such a horrible, stupid cliche to fall for the man who saved your life.

But, watching Owen sleep, she understands that it’s just as ridiculous to fall for the woman who’s saved yours.

Owen’s smart and capable, but he’s not impenetrable. There’s no other way to explain it, how the man who knew to douse himself with gasoline would let himself go down from an infected wound after the fact. She’s never really thought about it before, but it’s funny how you can be the hero and the victim all at the same time. It’s hard to think that someone who is so strong, so resourceful, so brave could be suffering just as much as anyone else.

Their retreat off grid hadn’t just been for her; it had been for him as well. He’s as scared and as hurting as she is. He doesn’t want to do this alone any more than she does.

They’ve been meeting at the wrong time and the wrong place, but here they are together when all their edges are chipped away. And what’s left of them fits. Maybe they don’t need each other; maybe Claire can do this on her own, but there’s no prize for doing it alone. There’s no prize at all, just the harsh reality of the aftermath. It’s not about being strong or weak; it’s about surviving any way you can.

After everything, they want the same thing, Claire and Owen.

Not control. Control is an illusion at best, a vain attempt to master all the elements that are far beyond their reach. Claire has to give up that up now, sitting at his bedside. She’s never had it anyway.

It’s not about control.

Her fingers ghost over the top of his hand. He stirs slightly in his sleep, face tipping toward her as she smiles.

It’s a relationship.

-o-

She recognizes the woman as a journalist about two seconds before the woman recognizes her. There’s something in her posture and the glint in her eyes: she looks like a carnivore, hungry for blood. Claire’s outrun a t-rex, but she’s too tired to evade a journalist looking for a story.

“Claire Dearing?” the journalist asks, as if she can’t believe her own luck.

Claire hesitates. She looks horrible, and she’s completely out of her element. With all her time in the hospital over the last day or so, she hasn’t bothered to watch the news. She knows the company’s main talking points, but she’s not entirely sure what she’s legally allowed to say and what will get her fired and sued.

More than that, the last thing she really wants is to talk about it. She doesn’t want to talk about what the Indominus was or how it managed to trick them into opening the cage. She doesn’t want to talk about the decision to use asset containment and why evacuation was stalled as long as it was. She doesn’t want to talk about Simon Masrani’s last decision or how all of the park’s numerous safety protocols were foiled by one genetically modified monster and a whole host of human arrogance.

She can walk away, of course. She can turn around, keep on walking and not walk back.

That’s a luxury, though.

She’s too aware of all the people who don’t have the option of walking away. All the people who will leave the island in pieces or not at all.

This is the truth she can’t run away from: people died. Families are broken; lives are shattered. It’s not solely her fault, but part of it is. She holds some responsibility for the things that happened. She knows that some people want to make her out to be a hero; she’s sure that others will blame her for everything. Honestly, she’s not sure who’s right, but she is sure that she could have done more.

More than that, she knows she can do more.

That matters, she decides, even more than the nightmares or the anxiety or any of the rest.

She stops and presses her mouth into a perfunctory smile. “Can I help you?”

Eyes brightening, Claire can see a thousand questions pass through the woman’s eyes. She already has her tape recorder poised, as she tries to figure out which question she should ask first to win herself a Pulitzer. “Are you Claire Dearing, Head of Operations at Jurassic World?”

It’s a simple question, but it’s still a little terrifying to answer. Because that’s who she is, and she’s not sure it’s who she wants to be, but she’s pretty sure she can’t change it.

Scary as it is, though, it’s not quite as terrifying as opening paddock nine and staring into the eyes of a tyrannosaurus rex.

Not quite.

But close.

Fortunately, Claire has done the latter.

She can do the former, too.

Smoothing her hair, she holds her head high and commands the woman’s gaze. “Yes,” she answers, voice not wavering. “Yes, I am.”

-o-

There’s a lot to do now, and Claire gets right to it. She keeps their room up to date at the motel and sets up a makeshift office in front of their window with no view with the laptop she orders and has shipped overnight from Apple. It takes most of her time just to check her email, which is overflowing on normal days.

After an epic park disaster that has attracted international attention and dominated the news cycle, it’s safe to say the email load is even more pressing. Most of the other items on her calendar are entirely useless now, and without Zara around, she doesn’t even bother to attempt fixing it.

Instead, Claire just starts over.

It’s maybe not a perfect solution.

Then again, nothing is.

-o-

Owen’s fever lingers, much to the doctor’s frustration, and she expects him to be anxious about his extended hospital stay, but he takes it better than she does. He seems content eating Jello and watching sports on TV.

He seems happiest, though, when Claire is there. Sometimes she wishes they could stay like that, living in some artificial limbo. A place where it’s just the two of them with nothing but silly stories to tell and personal truths to divulge.

There’s no place to go; there’s nothing else they have to do.

They hold hands, as if they can cling to these moments between them and make them last forever.

“I wish you didn’t have to go,” Owen tells her as she gets ready to head back to the motel.

She’s perched on the edge of his bed, the brush of her bangs against his face as she runs a hand through his hair. “I’ll be back in the morning,” she promises.

“And what if that’s not enough?” he asks.

She pulls back, tilting her head with a knowing smile. “You know that it is,” she says, pecking him on the check. “Enjoy it while you can.”

-o-

Busy as she is getting her life back together, Claire still answers her phone every time Karen calls. She tells herself it’s because she owes her sister, because she nearly got her sister’s children killed.

But she’s more than a little relieved to hear a familiar voice.

-o-

She still wakes up breathless at night, and she still can’t stay in a crowded place for more than five minutes. When the panic strikes her, she clenches her fist and closes her eyes and tells herself, “It’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay.”

It’s not as convincing as when Owen does it, but it’s a start at least.

When she’s able to open her eyes, she gets out and texts Owen. You okay? she types.

It only takes a moment for her phone to ping.

Yeah, comes his reply. We both are.

She breathes for a moment, and believes him. He’s not always right, but he has to be right about this. It’s an eventuality with them.

Her fingers are still trembling a little but she’s smiling when she types, I miss you.

His reply is almost without hesitation. I miss you, too.

-o-

Sometimes, he’s the one who texts her. Do you think they’ll let me drink tequila in the hospital?

It’s 3:21 AM, but she’s reading a cheap paperback novel in the dim light of her bedside lamp. You should never drink tequila, she returns. Period.

The phone is quiet for a moment, before he finally writes, It was pterosaurs tonight.

The mosasaurus for me, she types. Then, she adds, I started to research therapists. I can make us appointments.

Probably a good idea, Owen writes. But tequila will help, too.

In the dark of the motel room, Claire still chuckles. You’re probably right.

-o-

In many ways, her life in the aftermath is nothing like it was before. She used to entertain the richest investors in the world, talking intricate science and billion dollar deals. She slept in silk sheets and had an assistant who managed her personal and professional life seamlessly. She’d had her life planned down to the minute, and she’d taken satisfaction in her own independence.

Now Claire lives in a below average motel with spotty internet. She fields emails by the dozen, all rehashing the same details as if somehow the fiftieth explanation will be more satisfactory than the first. She sleeps in t-shirts and bed shorts, waking up breathless and drenched with sweat as though she’s still running from the Indominus Rex. Her life is a mess now, full of off the cuff emails and unending phone conversations, and the only thing she looks forward to is Owen.

She won’t say this life is better.

But there are some things she’d be hard pressed to trade.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. This is the life she has; she can’t wish it away. She can’t hide or run or make protocols to keep it in check. Some things you just have to face, no matter how scared you are.

-o-

When Owen is finally being released, she is there in a full business suit. She’d done her own shopping, and though it still could use a bit of tailoring, she thinks it looks good enough for now. It’s navy blue with small pin strips and a soft, billowing pink blouse.

The hospital stay is over, and Claire knows they can’t put off this conversation forever.

Packing up his things, Owen gives her a cursory look. “Wow,” he says. “You look nice.”

“This is what happens when you shop at actual stores,” she says. “I couldn’t risk showing myself in public wearing jersey tank tops.”

“Because how outrageous would it be to look comfortable,” Owen says.

“Should we talk about how unnaturally tight your pants were back on the island?” she asks.

He smirks. “I didn’t know you noticed,” he says. “But who would care what you look like right now anyway?”

She inhales, steadying herself. It’s a simple question, but its answer is not so easy. It’s one she’s worked her way around for the better part of a week now, and it’s not one she can evade forever. “I think you should take the job,” she says. “Back on the island.”

At this, he stops. He’s surprised. “I think I need a vacation first,” he says. “And probably a little therapy. A lot of therapy.”

“You probably needed therapy before all this,” she quips.

“Not really helping,” he replies.

She waves her hand through the air. “That’s not the point,” she says.

“And then what is the point?”

She sighs, fiddling with the newly straightened strands of her glossy hair. “The point is that I get it now,” she says. “I understand why you have to go back.”

His expression turns uneasy and he half hearted turns away, absently putting another item in his bag. “Funny because I was thinking maybe you were right,” he says. “I’m probably in no condition to go back.”

“Maybe not now,” she says. “But you will be.”

“The animals are probably better off--”

“If you believed that, you never would have taken a job on the island to begin with,” she argues. “Those animals; the work that you did; that’s part of who you are. If you don’t go back, you’ll never really recover from what happened.”

He stops packing as she speaks, looking at her uncertainly. This is everything he’s known, but maybe he’s scared. Scared of failing; scared of losing; scared of never getting things back to how they were. Claire knows those feelings, and she knows now she can’t outrun them.

“Owen,” she says. “It may be crazy and stupid, and maybe it won’t make a difference. Maybe it’ll be even worse than we know. But just because something is terrifying, doesn’t mean it’s not the right thing to do. The only thing to do.”

Wetting his lips, he swallows hard. “What about you?”

It doesn’t escape her notice that he’s changed the subject; it’s as much a concession as he seems able to allow himself. This is the only boost of confidence she needs to keep going, because the next part is the hardest for her. “I called InGen,” she says, doing her best to keep her voice steady and her eyes unmoved. “I told them I would keep me job and manage the recovery. I told them I’d be their public face; I promised to personally go over every single detail of the incident. I’ll redefine policy; I’ll protect company interests; I’ll make sure that everyone is fairly compensated and equally prepared. I’ll do it all -- but not from the United States.”

He hasn’t moved, and the starkness on his face makes him look like he’s twelve.

She forces herself to take a deep breath. “I’ll do it from here,” she says. “From the motel room at first, and then, when the island is secured, I can do it from there. If I’m Head of Operations of Jurassic World, then I need to be in Jurassic World.”

Standing where he is, Owen barely manages to blink. He’s still frozen, and she has to think it’s the longest she’s ever seen him stand without making a movement. “Is that what you want?” he asks in careful, measured words.

Because he wants to know. Not just the answer she thinks is right or the one she feels like she has to give. He wants to know the truth, the honest reality that’s hiding behind her carefully built exterior. That’s what he’s always been able to do, to see through the person she presents to the world to the weakness underneath. It’s only because she’s done denying those weaknesses that she feels comfortable around him after all these years.

“Most of my life, all I wanted was to be the best,” she explains. “I talked about more guests, more attractions, more investors. I worked hard to boost profits and gain notoriety. I wanted to break through glass ceilings, and I thought the power of a t-rex could help me do it.”

“And now?”

“I can’t run away from who I was or my part in this,” she says, as plainly as she can. “I don’t know for sure what InGen wants to do with the island or what’s going to happen to the research, but someone has to be a part of this that understands.” Her lips start to twitch, almost in a smile. “And clearly, someone has to keep you from getting yourself killed.”

She says the last bit lightly with more than a touch of fondness, but the color still drains from his already pale face. “You don’t have to do that, not for me,” he says. “Not for anyone. No one would blame you -- especially not me -- if you never set foot on that island again. It’s over.”

That’s what she wants to hear; that’s what she needs to hear. Hell, last week she probably would have clung to that and begged him to leave with her once and for all. But running away is as much a fallacy as control: you can’t fight a physical battle to win an existential one. All the protocols in the world won’t stop disaster, and no matter how far she goes, part of her is always going to be on Jurassic World.

And Claire’s not the type to be idle. The truth is, she’s already made the decision. There’s no turning back. She’s lit the flare, and she’s waving it at the monster. No doubt, this could consume her, but she also knows it could. She’s never shied away from a challenge, even when it’s breathing down the back of her neck with its teeth bared.

She steps closer to him. “No,” she says, taking his hand. She feels the pulse of his heart skip a beat as she wraps her fingers tight. “I think it’s just beginning.”

-o-

In the end, even though Karen had never been sure about the job, she was always a good sister. The day Claire left for Costa Rica all those years ago, Karen had been the one who drove her to the airport, triple checking her tickets and fretting.

“It’s a big change,” Karen said, checking the lock on Claire’s luggage. “A new start.”

Claire did her best not to roll her eyes. “Karen, honestly. It’s just a job.”

Her sister looked at her in that way of hers, like Claire was five years old and said the cutest thing in the world. “I think it’s more than that.”

There was no point in disagreeing. Claire was packing up and moving to a different country, away from her sister, away from everything she knew. She was taking nothing but two bags, a carry on and her total confidence that she could do this better than anyone else.

When she was ready to board, her sister hugged her. “Be sure to call,” she said. “And good luck.”

Claire stepped back, straightening her shirt. “Do you think I really need it?” she asked cuttingly.

“I think we all need it.”

This time, Claire did roll her eyes. “I’ll call you when I land,” she promised.

When she entered the gate, Claire looked back but Karen had already left. It made sense, of course. Claire had tried to talk her out of coming altogether, but Karen had insisted. Her sister had a life of her own, a husband and a baby.

And just for a second, Claire wanted to hesitate.

But there was nothing behind her she wanted.

That part of her life, it was over.

So Claire did the only thing she could do, the only thing she could ever do.

She gathered her bag, handed over her ticket, and moved ahead.