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Jurassic World fic: Some Other Beginning's End (1/3)

July 23rd, 2015 (07:32 pm)
indifferent

feeling: indifferent

Title: Some Other Beginning’s End

Disclaimer: I do not own Jurassic World.

A/N: This is pretty much a what-happens-next fic, focused on Claire (and Owen), but other characters make appearances. Beta by my good friend sendintheklowns who has thoroughly enabled my love of this movie. This fills my nightmare square for hc_bingo.

Summary: Everyone here seems to relax in the knowledge that it’s over. But, for Claire, it feels like it’s just begun.

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



-o-

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.