The flight is full, the seats are small, and the woman on the aisle is a talker; it's like being in a claustrophobic, airborne version of hell. Lex puts on her headphones the minute the captain gives the all clear, curling up a little with her Discman balanced on her lap and her head resting against the window.
There isn't much to see, just a patchwork quilt of farmland and highways. She perks up when the terrain starts getting rougher, feeling a little thrill of anticipation. She's been looking forward to this for months, used it as a motivator to get herself through midterms and finals and an entire string of obligatory end-of-term parties. She earned this.
Her excitement wanes a bit in baggage claim, where Alan isn't anywhere to be seen.
Lex digs her itinerary out of her pocket, pulling it taut between her hands to smooth it out. Under Billings, 11:45 is written in her looping scrawl, Alan, baggage claim. He was supposed to meet her here, so where the hell is he?
"Lex? Lex Murphy?"
That doesn't sound like Alan. She wonders if she should've worn a hat or something; she gets recognized in the oddest places sometimes, and it can be a pain in the ass.
Lex turns around and looks up at one of the prettiest men she's ever seen. She doesn't recognize him from her previous summer on the dig, but he has the deep tan and sand-dusted look of weeks spent digging up dinosaur bones.
"That's me," she says, thrown by the way he grins at her like something is really funny.
"Alan sent me to pick you up. This yours?" He grabs her suitcase without waiting for an answer. "I almost missed you. Alan's photo of you is really out of date."
She falls into step with him, slinging her backpack over her shoulder. "Alan has a photo of me?"
"Yeah, an old one. I'm Billy, by the way," he says, shuffling her suitcase around to offer her a hand. "Sorry, I should've led off with that."
"I forgive you," she says, smiling. He gives her a flirtatious little smile back, and she has to resist the urge to reach up and smooth down her hair. "So you work with Alan?"
"With, for." He wrestles her suitcase into the back of an aging Jeep, giving her a hand up. They're half a mile down the road, air conditioning blasting away, before he elaborates: "Alan is my dissertation advisor."
Lex slides her sunglasses on, peering at him. "Does that mean you do raptors?"
He grins. "I do raptors."
"I hate raptors," she tells him. "They're total bastards."
Billy laughs. "I try not to hold that against them."
"That's just because you've never had one try to eat you." That comes out a little more tensely than she meant it, and he glances at her quickly, his smile flickering in and out.
"Still, it must have been amazing, seeing them up close like that," he says, almost wistfully. This is the moment when Lex decides that Billy is completely nuts. "I'd love to—"
"And they'd love to eat you," she says, just in case he didn't hear that part the first time. "Surely Alan has told you—"
"Not really." Billy shrugs. "Alan doesn't talk much about the island. Not even to me."
Not even to me, like Billy is more entitled than everyone else. She files that away for later.
"Buy me lunch and I'll tell you about raptors," Lex says. She doesn't normally talk about the island, either, but anyone determined to base their career on that vicious pack of lizards really ought to know that velociraptors are jerks.
Plus, she's hungry.
"It's a deal," Billy says, sounding a little overeager. She doesn't think his eagerness has anything to do with taking her to lunch; it's entirely to do with her riveting tales about nearly being a raptor's dinner. All these dinosaur guys are the same, in the end.
"Great," she says, slouching down in her seat and closing her eyes. "Wake me when we get there."
She thinks she hears him say, god, just like Alan, but she's asleep before she can ask him what he means.
"So if you hate raptors so much, why come out here?" Billy hands Lex a menu, not bothering with it himself; he and Alan come here often enough that he has the thing memorized top to bottom.
Lex fishes the lemon wedge out of her ice water and pops it into her mouth, speaking around it. "I like it when they're dead."
Billy laughs, shaking his head. He likes Lex; she's funnier than he expected. Alan doesn't mention Lex too often, but Billy had the impression she was kind of a shrinking violet. Alan always sounds a little overprotective when he talks about her.
"But you aren't interested in paleontology?"
"I like computers," she says dismissively, examining the menu. She has a look on her face like the menu is somehow problematic, which he doesn't get; the food here is burgers and sandwiches, she's a college student, since when do those things not go together?
"The two aren't mutually exclusive. It isn't all lying around in the sand digging up bones."
Lex looks up from her menu. "Did I mention I hate dinosaurs?"
"Only live ones, I thought," he says, and taps the top of her menu. "Something wrong?"
"No, just—" She leans in a little, lowering her voice. "Is there anything on this menu that doesn't have meat in it?"
Billy makes a note to scowl at Alan later for not telling him Lex is a vegetarian. "Grilled cheese. There's kind of a house salad, but it's really just lettuce and tomatoes. Sorry, Alan didn't say—"
She waves a hand. "Anyway, you're wrong. I don't just hate the live ones. I hate the dead ones, too. I like to come out in the summer so that I can look down at them and say, 'hey, you? You're dead. You're so dead you're a fossil. That's really dead.'"
"That is really dead," he agrees, struggling not to laugh. This is the moment when Billy decides that Lex is maybe a little crazy.
"It's therapeutic or something." Lex shrugs. "Alan gets it. I think that's why he lets me come out."
Billy sits back, trying to give her a closer look without being too obvious about it. In Alan's picture, she's a serious-looking girl with her hair pulled back into a tight braid, arm around Ellie Sattler at a party. Seeing her now – relaxed, grown up, cracking jokes about her very real near-death experiences with dinosaurs – he wonders why that's the image Alan has chosen to keep.
After a moment's consideration, he asks, "does Alan know you hate dinosaurs?"
"Of course he does," Lex says, twirling her straw between her fingers. "Alan hates dinosaurs, too." His eyebrows shoot up, and she pauses, eyes searching his face. "Okay, not all dinosaurs, just the ones that tried to eat us."
"Has anyone ever told you that you're really stuck on this thing about dinosaurs trying to eat you?" Billy grins. "Speaking of which – we're at lunch. I'm paying. Seems to me we had a deal."
Lex rolls her eyes. "You're really going to make me sing for my supper?"
"I really am."
"Okay," she says, folding her arms, "but this had better be a really good grilled cheese."
Lex's first summer in Montana, she didn't do much socializing; she had a laptop and a phone line, and that was all her off-site hours really required. She hung out with Alan a little, but not nearly so much as either of them had anticipated.
She loved Alan. He was her first crush, her hero, and she felt safer with him around, always. She liked working for him on the dig, and she nearly glowed when, at the end of her first trip out, he gave her a one-armed hug and told her, you did real good.
But her passion was computers, and Alan was terrible with computers; his passion was dinosaurs, and she hated dinosaurs. She was a teenage girl (for another six months, anyway), and Alan would never, ever understand teenage girls. Without the mile-a-minute conversation generator that was her brother or Ellie's gentle prodding, they simply didn't have much to talk about. Tim was back home with their grandfather and Ellie was married to some not-Alan guy Lex had privately resolved to hate, so the conversation well ran dry about two days in.
This year, though, they have Billy, and Billy is turning out to be the ideal Lex-Alan communication bridge. Now that there are three of them, there always seem to be things to talk about – or argue about, if Alan and Billy get going about something. They sit in the bar with the meat-happy menu night after night, Lex on one side of the booth picking at her requisite grilled cheese, Alan and Billy on the other side with burgers and beer.
It's an interesting vantage point, sitting across from the pair of them. On this particular night, Billy is trying to sell Alan on some new technology he absolutely has to have – a scanning something or other; Lex isn't following along all that closely.
"Come on," Billy coaxes, leaning across Alan to steal one of his fries. "We could write a paper on it." When Alan's expression doesn't change, Billy tries again: "You could write a paper on it."
Alan gives Billy a level look. "It's always going to be—" He makes a vague gesture. "Gizmos and computers with you, isn't it?"
"I promise I won't let you break it," Billy says, grinning. "I won't even let you touch it, if you're that worried."
A smile is pulling at Alan's mouth; he doesn't look like he's trying very hard to fight it. "Well, so long as I won't be allowed to touch it."
"See?" Billy shifts his focus to Lex, leaning in. "It's like I was saying. Not mutually exclusive."
Alan raises his eyebrows. "What's this?"
"Billy is trying a hard sell," Lex tells him, not even trying to hide her amusement. "He thinks he can convert me to paleontology."
She expects that to at least get a smile out of Alan, but his expression is carefully neutral, gaze sliding back and forth between Lex and Billy. Billy's grin starts to fade, the look on his face going all weird around the edges.
"Anyway, I told him Tim is going to be all the paleontologist one family needs," she continues, pretending not to notice the odd vibe. She hesitates a moment, then makes a decision carefully calculated to divert Alan's attention. "Besides, I think Grandpa is planning on leaving me the family business."
Sure enough, Alan's gaze snaps back to her and stays there, Billy momentarily forgotten. "He's leaving you InGen?"
"He wants to.'" Lex says it easily, as though running a company was ever part of her career plan. "He loves that Timmy loves dinosaurs. He gets that. Me…." She shrugs. "I'm not doing anything that can't be diverted into an MBA, right? So Tim's going to get enough money to dig up dinosaurs for the rest of his life, and I'm going to get InGen."
She didn't mean for that to sound bitter, but it does. Alan and Billy swap a look, weird vibe all but gone.
"You're kind of young to run a company," Billy says, settling back again. He leans into Alan a little, shoulders touching, arms brushing. Alan doesn't seem to notice, or maybe he just doesn't mind.
Lex shrugs, almost smiling. "I think he plans on living forever, so it's all just hypothetical, anyway."
"If anyone can find a way, he will," Alan mutters, not sounding terribly thrilled by the idea. Lex laughs, oddly relieved. Alan is back to smiling faintly around his beer, and Billy is back to casually invading Alan's personal space: balance restored.
Lex watches them speculatively, wondering if she'll still have to hate Ellie's not-Alan husband if it turns out Alan is secretly gay.
The drive to the dig site the next morning is eerily quiet. Lex isn't napping in the car (for once), but she isn't talking, either. Billy has only known Lex for a couple weeks, but he can already tell that brooding furrow between her eyebrows doesn't mean anything good.
He clears his throat. "Something on your mind?"
Lex hesitates, flipping her sunglasses up onto her head to give him a searching look. He smiles nervously, trying to look innocent. He has no idea what she's thinking, but looking innocent is probably a safe way to go right now.
She narrows her eyes. "Are you dating Alan?"
Billy startles, clutching the steering wheel tightly to keep from swerving the Jeep. "Am I – Jesus, Lex. No, I'm not dating Alan."
"So you just have some massive, unrequited crush on him, then," she says, sounding pretty sure of herself.
Billy takes a deep breath, then another, drumming his fingers against the steering wheel and willing himself not to freak out on Alan's sort-of-niece.
"I do not have a massive unrequited crush on Alan, either," he says steadily, eyes glued to the road. He isn't going to talk about this with her, not even a little bit. He likes Lex, but Lex and Alan are family, and he isn't confident that anything he says won't just get passed right on to Alan with the best of intentions. "I think he's great, but that's really all there is."
Lex studies him a moment longer before flopping back in her seat and putting her sunglasses back on. "Yeah, you're such a liar."
"I'm just saying, I'd be way more inclined to believe you if you weren't kind of hyperventilating about me calling you on your Alan fixation."
"I do not have a fixation—"
"If it helps," she says, continuing as though he hasn't spoken, "he likes you. I can tell."
That takes the wind out of his sails entirely. He – what? Alan? "What?"
"Alan hates people," she points out. "I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people he genuinely likes. He likes you. He lets you—" She waves a hand. "Get all up in his personal bubble."
The mental image conjured by the idea of Billy getting all up in Alan's personal bubble is immediate, startlingly vivid, and nothing that has even remotely taken place in reality.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," he says unconvincingly, trying to focus on the road. Maybe he should pull over, reduce the chance that this conversation will kill them both.
"Please," she says, her tone suggesting she's rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses. "If the two of you sat any closer at dinner – and he kind of touches you all the time."
"I guarantee you Alan isn't interested in me," he says. If Alan were interested, he'd know; no one watches Alan quite as closely as Billy does, and he's never picked up on even a hint of an opening there. "Not even a little bit."
"So you've thought about it," Lex says, insufferably smug. "God, how can two people with as many degrees as you both have be this stupid?"
By the time he's formulated a comeback for that, they're at the dig site and she's climbing out of the car, safely away.
A shadow falls across Lex's stretch of velociraptor vertebrae. She squints up, shading her eyes with one hand; Alan smiles down at her, settling into a crouch to her left.
"You're better at this than most of my students," he says, gently touching the exposed line of fossilized bone. "Sure you don't want to switch your major?"
Lex grins, pushing herself up on her elbows and brushing loose strands of hair out of her eyes. "Nah. This is kind of a dead dinosaur vacation for me, you know? It's a nice place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live here."
"Well, if you ever change your mind," he says lightly, bracing his hands against his knees like he's about to stand.
"Alan?" She hesitates, taking a moment to find the right words. Torturing Billy in the car was fun, but she can't do that to Alan; she isn't sure how much she can say. "I'm not – Billy and I are just friends, you know. You don't have to get mad at him or anything."
Alan eases back onto his heels, giving her a weighing look. "I'm not mad at Billy."
"You seemed a little mad in the restaurant last night," she says carefully. That's about as far as she can push it; she's a little impressed with herself for having pushed it so far already.
He rubs at the back of his neck, mouth quirking in a small, wry smile that seems directed more at himself than at her. "I did think he was a little old for you."
"Old?" Lex shoots him a puzzled look. "No, that isn't it. He's just—" Completely into someone else, and possibly not even attracted to her gender. "Not my type." She shrugs, gesturing with her brush. "Have you ever noticed that every man in my life is obsessed with dinosaurs? Like hell I'd bring in another one."
"A wise decision," he says, amused.
"I thought so." She smiles up at Alan, squinting a little against the sunlight. "Hey, Alan? Before I go, we should take a picture together. Billy, too, if you want."
She's seen the photo Billy mentioned. It's pinned to the fridge in the trailer, right between a picture from Tim's eleventh birthday and one of Ellie at Fort Peck: Alan's life c. 1993, never quite brought up to date.
He's giving her that assessing look again, the one that makes her feel completely transparent. "Sure. Any particular reason?"
Lex taps his arm with her brush. "I'm not fourteen anymore, and—" And Ellie hasn't been a fixture in their lives for a couple years now, but she thinks Billy might be. "Anyway, I'm not fourteen."
"Yeah." Alan shakes his head. "Sometimes I forget."
"I know. That's why you're going to have a picture of me, to remind you." She taps him with the brush again, harder. "Now, go back to work."
He smiles, pushing himself up. His shadow drifts across her, heading north, where Billy is photographing fossil fragments in the trailer.
Lex shifts her grip on her brush, turns back to the vertebrae in front of her, and bends her head to her task, slowly uncovering the deader than dead bones of an ancient velociraptor.