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do i dare or do i dare? [userpic]

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

July 23rd, 2015 (07:41 pm)
satisfied

feeling: satisfied

PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE



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

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

Claire inhales. “I did.”

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

Which is to say, this was preventable.

Claire forces out a breath.

All
of this was preventable.

“Is he going to be okay?” she asks.

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

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

The doctor pauses.

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

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

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

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

This time, it’s satisfaction.

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

And many times when she should.

-o-

Usually standing her ground isn’t so awkward.

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

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

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

But this is where she is.

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

-o-

Then, miraculously, he wakes up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s sentimental, and it’s stupid.

And damn it, it’s sweet.

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

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

“Control?”

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

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything is a lie she’s never believed.

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

-o-

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

Ignoring him would be easy.

Ignoring his point, however, is less so.

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

Claire is gone by the time the doctor comes out.

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

-o-

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

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

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

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

Even when it doesn’t feel over at all.

-o-

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

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

She needs a minute.

All things considered, she needs more than a minute.

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

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

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

Jurassic World.

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

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

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

She’s also, rather noticeably, alone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s people.

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

But she can change what comes next.

Starting with this little girl.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

“A little escapism is good,” Claire says.

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

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

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

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

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

Claire’s stomach tightens. “Yeah.”

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

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

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

Claire smiles back. “Any time.”

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

This time, she means it.

-o-

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

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

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

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

She’s failed them once.

Not again.

Never
again.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

But it misses the obvious.

If we can survive this.

-o-

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

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

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

And his eyes settle on her.

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

“Claire?” he asks, forehead wrinkling.

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

With this conclusion, she’s relieved.

That relief lasts for about two minutes.

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

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

She shakes her head. “I call bullshit.”

He looks at her in surprise.

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

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

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

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

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

At that, he finally starts to look chagrined.

She can’t stop, though.

There’s no way she can stop.

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

He opens his mouth, as if ready to reply.

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

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

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

For a second, he just watches her.

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

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

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

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

“Are you actually an idiot?”

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

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

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

“Then why are you smiling?” she demands.

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

That’s not the answer she’s expecting.

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

But it’s such a good, good answer.

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

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

He nods. “I missed it.”

“Your stupidity?”

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no point in trying.

Instead, she braces herself for the eventuality.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

The third is Owen.

Claire Dearing is officially back on the grid.

-o-

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

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

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

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

Instead, they tell each other the beginning.

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

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

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

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

They’d both been right.

They both still are.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s not about control.

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

It’s a relationship.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a luxury, though.

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

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

More than that, she knows she can do more.

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

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

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

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

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

Not quite.

But close.

Fortunately, Claire has done the latter.

She can do the former, too.

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

-o-

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

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

Instead, Claire just starts over.

It’s maybe not a perfect solution.

Then again, nothing is.

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

It only takes a moment for her phone to ping.

Yeah, comes his reply. We both are.

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

She won’t say this life is better.

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not really helping,” he replies.

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

“And then what is the point?”

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

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

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

“The animals are probably better off--”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And now?”

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

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

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

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

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

-o-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think we all need it.”

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

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

And just for a second, Claire wanted to hesitate.

But there was nothing behind her she wants.

That part of her life, it was over.

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

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