Just Another New Year's Eve
It was rare that the control room was quiet. But tonight, Claire could only hear the whirl of the computers, the slight buzz from the monitors, and her own breathing. She wasn't alone in the room, but she might as well be. The single guard was slouched in a chair by the elevator, focused on his phone and not paying her any attention.
Normally, the control room always boasted a slight hum; the sound of multiple people typing away on keyboards and talking in hushed voices to each other, of chairs scraping across the floor and the elevator door opening and closing. Claire often thought of the control room almost as a living organism, or the brain of the whole operation. Almost nothing happened at the park that the control room didn't know about.
But tonight, New Year's Eve, the room was a ghost of its normal self.
The holidays were a busy time for Jurassic World, as guests would flock there in an attempt to get away from the cold and get a last dose of sunshine before winter really set in. They had to keep the park fully staffed, with most people required to work Christmas Day itself. Claire knew that Masrani always felt a little bad about this (she did, too, although she happily worked the holiday herself, thankful for the distraction) and so he tried to fill the holiday season with staff events, spreading them out so that everyone was always able to make it to at least one.
Tonight was the final of the staff events, and the most popular, a New Year's Eve party, countdown included. A time where everyone generally felt they could really let loose and just relax (assuming they weren't one of the few on shift). As it was another holiday marker that Claire preferred to pretend didn't exist, she'd opted to take the control room shift for the night without fail, allowing other employees to attend the party, ever since she had become the Operations Manager.
This late at night the control room never boasted a full staff, as it was rare that anything required an immediate response. The overnight shift generally consisted of two or three employees plus the security guard who kept watch. The first time Claire had volunteered to cover the control room, she had been nervous that there would be too much to do, and she'd regret thinking she could do it all. But that hadn't turned out to be the case. In fact, she'd found herself pacing the room to keep awake and gulping down an ungodly amount of coffee. Nothing had happened, and after chatting with the guard that night, she'd realized that her night wasn't all that unusual. That most nights, the few down there would play endless games of cards while keeping up a constant stream of conversation. After that experience, she'd briefly debated cutting back on the number of employees on the night shift in order to reduce costs, but she'd realized that it was more about helping them all stay awake and less about need. And as the shift was one of the most undesirable, the least she could do was ensure they'd continue to have company.
It had meant that year after year, however, she continued to take on the whole shift by herself. Choosing to isolate herself away from the crowds, from the parties, from the noise, her only company the one security guard who seemed perfectly content to ignore her as much as she did him.
After the first year, once she'd realized there really was pretty much nothing to do, and after she'd practically driven herself crazy trying to stay awake while bored out of her mind, she'd started bringing her laptop with her. She'd spend the night going through emails and editing reports. She'd brainstorm about project ideas she'd had, finally having time to let them occupy more than a couple of minutes here or there. And, occasionally, she'd glance up at the monitors, confirm everything was still fine, and then continue on.
This year, like all the previous ones, she was sitting behind her laptop, intent on starting off the new year feeling productive and on top of things. But, for some reason, it wasn't working. She couldn't seem to focus. Instead, she found herself continually drawn to the security feeds, watching as the image would change, as it cycled through the various cameras spread across the park. Watching and waiting.
Sometimes it took a while, the feeds not flipping in any set order, but randomly rotating through, before there would be a brief glimpse into the staff holiday party. There were actually a few camera feeds from within the room, but it was the one perched high behind the bar that had captured her attention. While she didn't really want to admit it, Claire knew why. It was the man sitting on a stool, turned slightly away from the camera as he talked with the woman next to him. He had an arm resting on the bar, his hand loosely grasping a pint of beer, while he gestured as he spoke with the other. He was smiling and laughing. He was clearly having fun.
Claire hated the surge of jealousy that flared through her every time the image popped up. And the uncomfortable knot in her stomach at the reminder of just how different the two of them were.
She still wasn't sure what it was about him that had gotten to her. Why him and not someone else? It would be easier if it was someone else. Practically anyone else, really. But something had clicked, the first time the two of them met. Or sparked — maybe that was more accurate. She was pretty sure it wasn't just her who had felt it.
They were like oil and vinegar or cats and dogs. Rarely able to stay in the same area for more than a couple of minutes without barbs being thrown as they jabbed at each other. But, as much as they attacked one another, it had never felt mean-spirited; no low blows or unfair comments. It was like they both took pleasure in seeing what kind of reaction they could raise in the other, in seeing who could walk away triumphant in knowing that they'd landed the better hit, but neither of them actually wanting it to end. Instead, both of them eagerly ready for more the next time they would meet.
Until one day, when words had spilled forth that were not an insult, but a question. A question that had made Claire pause in the middle of her retort, and, from the expression on Owen's face, had surprised him as well. She'd given him a long moment, waiting — expecting — him to take the words back, to laugh it off or yell out "psych." But he hadn't, his gaze darting around briefly before landing back on hers, holding steady, the question hanging between them.
Dinner? Did she want to grab dinner with him? She hadn't been sure how to respond, her mind conjuring an infinite number of possibilities. For every thought about how this could be a good thing, how maybe this was the logical next step for the two of them, her mind offered up five more on how it would go wrong. How she'd be made a laughing stock, and how she'd never live it down. The Operations Manager and the Raptor Trainer. How could that go right?
But, she found herself nodding, her body responding to him before her brain could take control, a shy smile fluttering across her lips. She thought she'd seen relief in his eyes. But, later, after the date that couldn't have gone more wrong if they had tried, she was sure she'd made it all up. That he hadn't meant to ask, and then hadn't wanted to admit it once he had, and that it was she who'd made the mistake, accepting it, instead of laughing it off.
She'd thought she'd managed to put it all behind her. She hadn't seen him in weeks, not since their unfortunate night out. She didn't want to see him, but she'd been surprised how easy it had been to avoid any and all encounters, which had led her to believe that he was avoiding her just as much. Which just made her want to see him less.
So why did she care that he was chatting up a woman at the party? Why wasn't she able to just focus on her work and ignore the security feeds? What had she really expected to come out of that date?
Groaning internally, she tore her eyes away from the screen and tried to focus back on her laptop. For a while, she managed to do so, getting sucked into the report she was reading, dropping comments and edits throughout. When she finally closed the document, sending off an email about it to a few colleagues, she leaned back in her chair, and her gaze got caught on the monitors again.
She told herself to look away. That it didn't matter. And that it would just make her feel worse. To move on to the next report. But, before she could talk herself into it, the bar feed popped up again, except this time it was different. Both Owen and the woman he'd been talking to were gone.
Startled and before Claire could fully grasp what she was seeing, the feed changed, flipping away to the inside of a paddock where she could see a Triceratops sleeping. She knew she should look away, but she couldn't. Instead she sat there, scanning each feed, waiting for any view of the party to pop up again, and then quickly trying to skim each one, looking for Owen. When the bar feed finally showed up again, his spot was now occupied by someone else, and she felt her shoulders slump. Owen was gone. And apparently so was the woman he had been with.
Claire tried hard to ignore what that probably meant. Tried to tell herself that it didn't mean that they'd left together. And tried to remind herself that it didn't matter anyway. They'd gone on a date. It had been horrible. They weren't meant to be. Owen was allowed to find someone else.
She waited out another cycle through the feeds, and then another one just in case, but she still couldn't spot him. Finally, admitting defeat, she looked back down at her laptop, but the work in front of her held no appeal.
With a sigh, she pushed her laptop away, crossing her arms on the desk and lowering her head to rest on top. She was being stupid about all of this. She knew that. Their date had showed that while they may have fun bantering and verbally sparring, they weren't meant for anything more than that.
It was just… it wasn't supposed to be like that. At least, she had really hoped it wasn't meant to be like that. She'd had such high hopes for that date. Claire liked dating. She enjoyed getting a chance to go out and get to know someone. It was just, over the past few years, her opportunities to do so had been few and far between. There weren't a lot of single men around her age on the island in the first place, and very few where she wasn't technically their boss.
Owen's appearance on the island and in her life had been unexpected. Claire would fully admit to not getting along all that well with InGen; that she and Hoskins had always had an acrimonious working relationship. And, to an outsider, it seemed like she and Owen had been destined for the same. Except it had been different when she'd argued with Owen. He wasn't the first person who had ever stood up to her (god knew some days there were too many willing to do that), but there had always been an undercurrent of respect between them. She had never felt like he was trying to put her down or elevate himself over her. It was like competing in a game of tug-of-war with someone she was equally matched with, each sometimes gaining a slight edge, but neither able to completely outwit or outmatch the other.
She wished she could just move on, the way he had. After all, didn't the fact that he'd willingly gone to the party that she actively worked to avoid each year just show that they weren't meant to be? That they were too different, and that he was better off with someone who'd want to go and do the same things he liked doing?
Groaning, she hit her head against the desk a few times, willing away the thoughts that were swarming. Why couldn't her brain just leave her alone?
"Everything okay, Ms. Dearing?"
The guard's voice startled her, and Claire looked up to see that George was standing only a few feet away. She hadn't even heard him get up.
"It's fine," she replied, forcing out a smile. "Just a lot of work to get done." She gestured to her laptop, as she tried to nonchalantly pull it back in front of her.
"Do you mind if I duck out for a few minutes?" George asked, his voice hesitant. Claire knew he wasn't supposed to leave her alone down there. There was another guard who did rounds who would come by and relieve him for short breaks. "I just…" George looked a little sheepish. "I probably shouldn't have had so much coffee earlier."
"Sure, no problem," Claire gave him a real smile now. "Take your time. It's been super quiet so far. I doubt anything will happen."
"I'll be right back, I promise," George called over his shoulder, already hurrying for the elevator and out of the room.
She raised a hand in a slight wave of acknowledgement, before actually really turning her focus back to her laptop. She needed to pull herself out of the pity party she'd started to get sucked into. It was about to be a new year. Better to put all the Owen stuff behind her and start the New Year fresh. Opening the next report, she took a deep breath and then started to read.
Claire had barely made it through the first paragraph when she heard the elevator ding, and the doors opening behind her.
"Wow, that was fa–" she started, as she turned to glance over at the door, before cutting off mid-word as her jaw fell open. Standing just inside the room, barely a step outside of the elevator was Owen. It took her only half a second to recover. "What are you doing here?"
She watched as Owen's gaze darted around the room, before finally landing back on hers. "Where's the security guard?"
"He needed to use the bathroom," Claire said, before asking again. "Why are you here?"
There was a long pause, before Owen answered, with a slight shrug of his shoulders. "I didn't want to ring in the New Year alone."
"Didn't look like you were alone." The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she clamped her mouth shut, trying to keep her expression neutral and fighting the traitorous blush she knew was rising in her cheeks.
"Wait," Owen was looking at her curiously now, his gaze darting between her and the wall of monitors behind her as he took a few steps further into the room and towards her. "Were you watching me?"
Straightening her shoulders, Claire simply replied, "That's my job tonight."
At that, Owen's eyebrows shot up, clearly having not expected that answer, before a smug smile started to cross his face.
"Not you," she quickly stammered, realizing how he was choosing to take her words. "I'm watching everyone. I mean, I'm supposed to keep an eye on the feeds. All the feeds."
"Right," Owen's smile just stretched out wider as he drew out the word, finally coming to a stop just a few feet away from her.
Searching for a distraction, Claire went back to her initial question. "Why are you really here, Owen?"
"I told you, I didn't want to start the New Year alone," he said, his gaze darting away from her again as he focused on the large monitors instead.
"And, I repeat, you weren't alone," she replied, still not sure what to make of his appearance but not wanting to read into it.
There was a part of her that was worried she was about to be made into the butt of some practical joke. And if it wasn't for the fact that he looked almost nervous as he stood there, his gaze still constantly moving between her and the large monitor with his hands shoved into his pockets, Claire would have been sure she was about to become an unwilling participant in some joke.
"I–" Owen shuffled his feet, looking unsure about what he wanted to say as he gazed at the ground briefly, before looking back to the monitors again. Claire followed his gaze, catching a glimpse of one of the feeds from the party. She caught barely a couple of seconds, not quite registering the confetti and celebration that appeared to be happening, before the view switched.
Claire turned back to Owen, to find him now staring directly at her. She felt frozen in place by the intensity of his look, so much so that she didn't even realize at first when he moved. Not until a moment later when she felt his hand cup her cheek a second before his lips pressed against hers.
She reacted more out of instinct than anything else, her lips moving against his, as her hands quickly wrapped around his neck, tugging him closer. His other hand snaked around her to rest on her lower back, and when she let out a soft sigh, he used the opportunity to deepen the kiss. Not that Claire was complaining — or protesting, for that matter — her lips parting willingly beneath his.
By the time her brain started to fully catch up to what was happening, and by the time her fight or flight instinct was ready to kick in, Owen was pulling back slightly, his forehead resting against hers, as he gave her a few small pecks, before saying softly, "Happy New Year."
At that, Claire's eyes popped open (although she didn't remember closing them), and she was immediately caught by Owen's gaze, his eyes only inches away from hers. She fought her instinct to pull away, and then almost blushed when she realized that her arms were still twined around his neck, holding him in place.
"I–I'm confused," she finally admitted once she was able to find her voice, before repeating her question again. "Why are you here?"
"I didn't want to start the New Year alone. So, Happy New Year," Owen repeated.
Claire bit her lip, unsure how to respond to that. Was he saying that he only came by because he wanted someone to kiss at midnight? Or was it something more than that? Before she could figure out her reply, the elevator doors dinged again, and she and Owen turned as one towards them. The moment Claire spotted George, she immediately untangled her arms from Owen, pushing him back a little, as she tried to fight the flush of embarrassment that was creeping up her cheeks. Owen, to his credit, didn't fight her, shifting away to half lean/half sit on the edge of the desk beside her, as he gave George a quick wave hello.
"Is everything…?" George looked unsure how to finish the question and Claire knew in that moment that he definitely knew he was interrupting something. "Do you need me to…?" He trailed off again, but was looking at the elevator behind him.
"No! No, it's fine," Claire quickly reassured him. "Mr. Grady's just… visiting." She focused all of her efforts on keeping her gaze focused on George and tried to ignore the snort that Owen was valiantly trying to muffle beside her. She was sure he had a shit-eating grin on his face.
"Okay, I'll just… I'll just be right here," George pointed to the chair he'd been occupying earlier and she watched as he quickly settled back into it, pulling out his phone.
Turning back towards her laptop, Claire could see that Owen was shaking slightly with suppressed mirth. She couldn't help but reach out and smack his leg, with a whispered hiss of, "You're not helping."
Owen stood up, and for a moment Claire was worried he was about to leave, but he just reached out and snagged the closest chair and pulled it over, settling into it at her side.
"So, we're back to 'Mr. Grady,' are we?" he asked, his chair angled towards her, and she risked a glance towards him. She was right, he was looking smug, and so she rolled her eyes and focused her gaze on her laptop. She wasn't sure how to respond to him, and was trying to buy herself time. His next words caught her off guard. "Did you know this past year I only had one resolution?"
She was looking at him again before she could help herself, not sure what he was trying to get at.
He didn't wait for her to say anything, as he leaned back in his chair slightly, looking almost relaxed, if it wasn't for the slight stiffness to his posture, as he continued. "I told myself that this was the year I was going to finally ask you out." He briefly looked away to glance up at the monitors again, before correcting himself. "Well, that last year I was going to ask you out."
"That was your only resolution?" Claire couldn't hide the surprise her voice. There was a slight pause before another realization hit her. "It took you 11 months to do that?"
Owen ignored her, continuing as if she hadn't spoken. "I only have one resolution for this year, too."
"Oh yeah?" Claire raised an eyebrow in question, leaning back in her chair as well. If that had really been his resolution for last year, surely this one was going to be good. If, by good, she actually meant somewhat moronic.
"To convince you to let me have a do-over on our date." He said it so matter-of-factly, that it took Claire a minute to really comprehend what he was saying.
"I thought you'd been avoiding me," she finally said, feeling overwhelmed.
"I thought that was what you wanted," he admitted.
She didn't say anything immediately, churning over his words in her mind, still trying to grasp what was happening, everything feeling somewhat surreal. "I–" Claire hesitated. While she had been avoiding him, it still felt worse to think that he had been doing the same. And yet, now he was saying that he'd essentially done it for her, not because he hadn't wanted to see her.
"Should I not have?" Owen asked, when she failed to come up with anything coherent to say.
"Yes. I mean, no. I mean–" she looked away unable to hold his gaze, wishing she had a pen or something to fidget with. She expected him to say something, but he waited her out, and she finally admitted, "I was avoiding you."
"I know," he replied, and her gaze snapped to his. He gave a slight shrug. "I came by your office a couple of weeks after and… well, I knew you were there — I saw you — but Zara kept trying to tell me you were out. I can take a hint."
Claire remembered that day, when Owen had unexpectedly shown up. She'd ranted (more than once) about the date to Zara, and when she'd seen him walking down the hall, she'd slipped into her office, hissing to Zara to tell him she was out. She hadn't thought he'd seen her and had to work hard not to cringe in embarrassment over it all now, knowing that he'd known all along. Not wanting to focus on that day, she asked, "What changed your mind tonight?"
"Well, I was at the staff party, having a few beers, when this woman approached me–"
"I saw," Claire said dryly.
"Oh, so now you're admitting that you were spying on me?" Owen teased, his tone playful. She gave him a half-hearted glare, before gesturing for him to continue. "Right. So this woman approached me. She was easy to talk to, nice enough, pretty hot–"
"You do get that you're not helping yourself here, right?" Claire interjected.
Again, Owen ignored her interruption. "So, I was sitting there, just chatting away, when it struck me that I wasn't enjoying myself. It's not that I hated it, but… I didn't want to be there. She wasn't who I wanted to be talking to. Or who I wanted to be with to ring in the New Year." For the first time since he'd started explaining, his gaze looked away from hers, clearly feeling somewhat uncomfortable with his confession. She waited him out, and eventually he looked back. "I would've gotten here sooner, but it took me a while to find you." This time when he looked away, it was because his gaze was taking in the control room. "Didn't expect you to be hiding away down here."
"I'm not hiding," Claire protested. "I'm working."
"So," Owen sat up straighter, his confidence seemingly returning. "About that date…"
"What about it?" Claire asked, grinning widely when he frowned at her.
"When can you get out of here?"
"What makes you think I want a do-over?" She couldn't hide her chuckle when he looked momentarily defeated, before he realized she was teasing.
"You kissed me back, remember?" Owen said, his voice dropping slightly, his tone husky. "So, can you get out of here?"
"You want to have a date now?" she asked, her gaze darting to the monitor, registering for the first time that it was about ten minutes after midnight.
"No time like the present," Owen replied, a bright smile on his face. "Besides, I'm not about to wait 11 months this time. So, can you leave?"
"I can't," Claire admitted. "I take this shift every year so the regular night crew can attend the party."
"Oh," Owen couldn't hide his disappointment. "What time are you done?"
"Five! That's hours from now!" He slumped back in his chair briefly, before sitting up straighter again, a determined look on his face as he looked around the room again. "Okay, what do we need to do?"
"We?" Claire looked at him surprised. Considering she didn't actually want to be there, she was finding it hard to understand why Owen would even remotely consider choosing to stay when he didn't have to.
"Figured I'd keep you company," he shrugged. "I can stare at a monitor just like anyone else."
"You don't have to," she told him. "I've got reports and stuff to work through. It'll be really boring."
"I want to," he replied. "We can finish off your shift and then go for breakfast."
"Breakfast isn't a date," she said, with a slight frown.
"Why not? It's a meal," Owen shrugged. "Who says it has to be dinner?"
"I thought you wanted this one to go better?"
The question was meant to be teasing, and Claire hoped he read it that way, but it was also the truth. She was thinking back to the fact that she knew he'd had a few beers earlier. She'd watched him drink them from the feed, but had also been able to taste it when they'd kissed. While he wasn't acting drunk, there was a part of her that was worried that maybe this whole thing, everything that had happened up to this point, every word he'd said, was actually only happening because of the alcohol, and less because he really wanted to.
"Are you trying to tell me you're not a morning person?" Owen joked, before turning serious. "Breakfast doesn't have to be a date. Consider it a… getting to know each other meal."
"That's what dates are," she said with an eye roll.
"Dates usually involve kissing," he replied, wiggling his eyebrows. "And, if they go well…"
"I'm not sleeping with you today," she stated firmly, startled when a grin broke out across his face.
"You said today," he chuckled gleefully.
Claire frowned, "I said not today."
"Which means someday." Owen's grin grew wider. Claire was about to protest, although she was aware there was no good way out of the conversation, when he suddenly leaned forward, kissing her quickly.
"What was that for?" she asked when he pulled back.
"No reason," he smiled at her. "And no pressure, seriously. Besides, I need some time to actually figure out the date. Trust me, I can plan something better than breakfast."
This time, it was Claire's turn to laugh. "I'm not so sure I believe that. I was on the last one, remember?"
"I've already got an idea," he said. "You're going to love it."
"Setting the bar pretty high, aren't you? You sure you want to do that?"
"I can meet it," he replied, full of easy confidence. "Besides, it's going to be different this time."
"How so?" There was something comfortable about his confidence, the way he was now looking completely relaxed and at ease. As they settled back into their more normal routine of bantering, she found herself relaxing, too. And, to her surprise, actually looking forward to getting to find out what he had in mind.
"We're already past two of the more awkward moments of initially dating someone," Owen said.
"Dating?" Claire tried hard not to choke on the word and Owen looked momentarily embarrassed. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself. Maybe we should see if we can survive this do-over date first."
"We will," he replied with conviction. "And we will be — dating that is. You'll see."
Claire was momentarily speechless, unsure how to respond to that. There didn't feel like a 'right' way to respond. She didn't want to commit herself either way. Yeah, sure, she liked — okay, more than liked — the idea of going out with him, but their date had been so over the top awful. While they seemed to be getting along right now, she still wasn't fully convinced that their next attempt at a date wouldn't just bring it all back crashing down.
"You really don't have to keep me company," she finally said. "I'm sure you weren't expecting to be up all night. And you probably have to work today."
"Nowhere I'd rather be," he replied, grinning when she rolled her eyes again. "Too cheesy?" She nodded. "I'm happy to stay. Besides, you've already agreed to breakfast."
"When did I–?" Again, before she could fully voice her protest, Owen was kissing her, although this time it lasted longer. Before it could go any deeper, Claire pulled back. "We can't do that here. We're not alone."
"Who, George?" Owen looked over his shoulder at the guard who was still occupied with his phone. "Doesn't seem like he cares."
"I don't think George is the gossiping type," Owen said, understanding her hesitation. "But, we don't have to do that now. We can save it for breakfast." He gave her a wink when she groaned at his words, before he settled back in his chair, kicking his feet up to rest next to her laptop, crossing them at the ankle. "We can talk instead. Since I already shared mine, what's your resolution?"