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The Missing Years

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After successfully avoiding any jail time as a result of the Jurassic World incident, Claire found it ironic - almost comically so - to be currently sitting in the back of a cell. Granted, the cell was designed for a dinosaur not a human, but it was a prison all the same. She looked up to see Owen standing next to the metal bars exchanging menacing glares with their reluctant guard, Ken Wheatley. When Wheatley’s phone buzzed in his hand, he stalked off in a huff to take the call. Owen finally sat down near the front of the cell but was avoiding eye contact with her. His words on Nublar echoed in her head: “You were the one who made me come.” She refused to believe it was that simple. Nothing ever seemed simple for the two of them.

As if to stop the thoughts swirling in her head, she blurted out, “How did we get here?” It was nearly a rhetorical question, but her tone was resigned. She looked in Owen’s direction and found him staring sadly back at her.

He took a deep breath before responding in a similar tone, “By focusing too much on the past and not appreciating what was right in front of us.” His face betrayed his pain. His voice sounded sincere. His words, however, evoked a visceral, bitter retort.

“I thought you never looked back?” Claire sneered. “Isn’t that what you kept saying? ‘We need to keep the past in the past’?”

“Why did you ask then?” Owen spat back, the hurt in his eyes dissolving into an ire that matched hers. “You don’t care what I think. You always know best.”

“That’s not true.” The defensive words spilled out as her throat seemed to be constricting. Although he was the one who had actually been shot in the chest, she now felt a physical sting in hers.

“Oh, yeah?” His posture stiffened, and his palms smacked against his knees. “You left me in Tahoe without a word, a note - nothing! You decided it was over.”

Her heart was beating fast, but Claire had to set him straight, “It was over. A year before, when you left in that damn van.” She paused, and their eyes locked. Fleetingly, he considered making a snarky comment about her finally admitting that he was the one who did the leaving...the first time. Before he could formulate any response, Claire continued, “Lowery’s wedding weekend was just a fling. A final goodbye. Closure, if you will.”

Owen felt punched in the gut. There was no air in his lungs for a statement or even a breath. It was clear that they’d interpreted their “reunion” so differently. They left each other twice and neither made an effort to stop the other. Both of them too stubborn to be the first to admit a mistake. Leaving each other was a mistake. Despite her icy words, she hadn’t been able to keep her hands off him since they’d been in danger on the island. He relished the little moments that made dealing with the recent events easier, just like before. He shuddered to think, however, that he was reading her wrong again. Maybe they were a lost cause. He had no idea how long they sat staring at each other in silence.

When Claire finally blinked, she asked softly, “Owen, why did you come?” Off his confused look, she clarified, “To the island? I mean, I know I baited you…but I don’t fool myself into believing that you came for me.”

“Oh, I did come for you,” Owen replied bluntly. Grinning at her a surprised look, he added sarcastically, “The DPG needed some brains and brawn.”

Her shoulders sagged in response as she exhaled slowly. “Always making jokes, Owen.” Shaking her head, Claire refused to let him get to her. She dismissed his barb and stood up as if to examine the walls of the cell for weak points. Not fully able to conceal the hurt, she couldn’t look at him when she struck back, “You don’t take anything I do seriously, do you? You never thought the DPG was worthwhile. You preferred to hide away but wanted an ‘anchor’ to the outside world.”

His body recoiled at the acid in her tone. He swallowed hard before disagreeing, “No, Claire, that’s not what I meant when I-” Hearing footsteps, and appreciating that someone other than Wheatley was approaching the cell, Owen cut himself off. Now was not the time for this conversation.

“Hi, Claire,” a vaguely familiar voice said in a spine-tingling way. It was Eli Mills, Lockwood’s little flunky in the flesh, distractedly cleaning the lenses of his eyeglasses on the other side of the bars.

x x x

After the brief but heated exchange, Eli sauntered confidently back to the elevator and made a beeline for his room to obtain a new pair of glasses. His confidence grew as he looked forward to tonight’s long-awaited main event. He’d finally be back on top after the Lockwood well had run dry. Pulling an identical pair of frames out of a drawer, he mused to himself with a wicked grin, “Never thought that buy one, get one free sale would come in handy.” Eli laughed as he considered the benefits of having “clones.”

With his 20/20 vision restored, he descended the stairs with a glint in his eye, ready to meet his buyers inside the auction space. Despite some expected and unexpected obstacles, things were going to plan. It was even better than he imagined with the old man fully out of the way. His pace slowed as he considered the other loose string: Maisie. Eli was now stuck as guardian to the girl. No matter, he decided coldly. With Iris out of the picture, too, he was sure that he could arrange an accident for the little abomination.

Pausing for a moment, he considered lessons from the past. Those who had come before him - Peter Ludlow, Victor Hoskins, Simon Masrani - had taken themselves out. Eli Mills’ legacy would be different. He wouldn’t hesitate to take what was rightfully his, even if it meant disposing of Claire and Owen, too. They were meant to die on the island anyway. So what if they made it out? They were at his mercy now. Suppressing a cackle, Eli resolved to dispose of them quietly once the Estate was emptied. In the meantime, he’d let them stew, reliving their missteps, in the sub-basement. The past three years had been quite a journey.

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 1

Arriving by helicopter always made Henry Wu feel superior. Like he had arrived, and his genius was seen and respected. While the actual arrival might feel good; however, he had yet to figure out how to disembark in a way that kept up that appearance. The noise from the whirling blades caused his immaculate, minimalist look (that, yes, was inspired by Steve Jobs) to feel not quite so perfect. And he always felt like he sort of stumbled out, not able to make the grand entrance he wanted.

This time, however, was different. He was still clutching tightly to the black bag he'd carried onto the helicopter back on Nublar, even though they'd already had to stop and refuel in San Diego. He was feeling pale and shaky, and had been unable to take more than a couple of sips of the water bottle that had been pressed into his hand at some point. How had things gone so wrong, and so quickly?

It was hard to believe that it had only been a few hours ago that he and Hoskins had been making their plans for the next generation of the Indominus. "A fraction of the size," was the main thing they had agreed upon. It was too big and too smart to control. But the IBRIS project had provided them with a mountain of data. For all of Mr. Grady's faults, he was showing them the way forward.

As he stumbled off the helicopter, Henry was greeted by a younger man who looked to be around thirty wearing glasses and a sharply tailored suit. They nodded at each other, before the man gestured towards a waiting limo. Grateful to get away from the noise and wind of the helicopter, Wu hurried forward, the two of them climbing into the back.

"Is that it?" The younger man gestured to the briefcase.

"You're Eli?" Henry questioned, not letting go of the bag.

The man nodded, reaching forward to shake Wu's hand. "Yes, Eli Mills. I forget we hadn't actually met before."

"We haven't even talked," Henry reminded him, exchanging a brief handshake. "Where's Hoskins? I thought he'd be meeting us here."

"Hoskins is dead," Eli informed him.

"What? How?"

"One of the raptors," Eli replied. "It's not public knowledge yet."

"What happens to the plan?"

"We move forward," Eli shrugged. "I'm in the process of getting the lab back up and running at the Estate."

"What about Lockwood?"

"He's practically senile," Eli dismissed his boss.

"That's not what I heard," Henry replied. "He seems to be still quite with it."

"He won't be a problem," Eli reassured. "The estate is big enough that you'll never cross paths. He's barely moving about these days. And he trusts me."

"Trust only goes so far."

"Yeah, well, I've been his right hand man for almost a decade now. I know all his secrets. At this point, he has to trust me."

"Blackmail. That's healthy," Henry rolled his eyes.

"I don't need blackmail," Eli disagreed. "It's just handy to always have something available – you never know if things will change." Eli's gaze went back to the bag. "So, are those the samples?"

"Yes," Henry nodded. "Some of them. My team should've evacuated more. But I guess we'll have to see where things end up. I wanted to make sure that the most important ones, the key ones, stayed in our hands."

"Great, I'll take that," Eli reached for the briefcase, which Henry immediately shifted out of range.

"Do you have the area setup? And all the equipment I asked for? These samples need to be stored in the proper environment. It's already been far longer than I'd like for them to have been out."

"We're still waiting on some equipment, but the fridges and freezers have been setup and are at their optimal temperatures," Eli assured him. "The samples will be safe."

"What about me?" Henry asked, finally handing over the briefcase. "What am I supposed to do?"

"You need to get back to the evacuation center. It'll raise too many eyebrows if you're seen up here, or with me. Deal with the fallout, listen to InGen's lawyers. We'll be in touch." Eli turned and tapped on the glass separating the back of the limousine from the driver. Moments later the door was pulled open.

"How do I reach you?" Henry asked.

"Don't worry about it. I'll reach back out to you. It's best for now that there's no evidence of our direct contact. As soon as things start to die down, you'll hear from me."

Henry climbed out of the car, before turning back and looking at Eli, his gaze dropping to the briefcase. "You may have the samples now, but remember, most of the knowledge is stored right here," he tapped a finger against his temple. "Without me, those samples will be useless."

"You're too paranoid," Eli laughed. "I promise. I'll be in touch."

x x x

"Probably stick together." Owen paused to get a read on Claire and, if he was being totally honest, himself. This hadn't worked once before. While it was over faster than he would've liked, they both knew it was more than one date. His efforts to keep it friendly and casual seemed to have backfired spectacularly. Standing in front of her now, and after having been side-by-side for the last twenty-four hours, he was done pretending. It was time to put-up or shut-up. "For survival," he added with a small smirk. Her tiny nod was all he needed before turning toward the exit. Thankfully, she started following him out of the hangar. Their eyes met in a sideways glance, and Owen thought this could be a new beginning.

Almost immediately after they stepped into the sun, however, any plans that might've been forming in either of their minds were put on hold.

"Mr. Grady," a brusque voice broke through the din. Squinting in the bright light, Owen recognized the speaker as an InGen contractor, Mac, who worked closely with Vic Hoskins. Barry had mentioned seeing him at the raptor paddock before Owen's arrival the previous evening. It appeared that InGen had multiple contingency plans. After nodding respectfully toward Claire, Mac continued, "InGen is prepping missions to retrieve guest and staff belongings as well as research data left on the island. I expect you'll be joining us." It was practically blackmail. Of course, Owen didn't want anyone else touching his files at the paddock and his bungalow.

Before Owen could respond verbally – Claire thought he looked close to exploding – a female voice pulled their attention. "Ms. Dearing," the pantsuited woman said softly. "The board would like you on a teleconference from the San Jose offices ASAP." Her lips forming a tight line, Claire gathered her thoughts and took a deep breath.

"Absolutely," the still Senior Assets Manager finally responded. The other woman extended an arm in the direction of a waiting town car. Biting her lip, Claire turned toward Owen and offered a weak, "I'll call you."

The beleaguered raptor trainer nodded reluctantly with gritted his teeth and returned his focus to Mac, who was tapping something onto his phone. Looking back to Owen, he launched into his spiel, "We'll be operating on a very short string, two hours, so gather any other staff you want on the team and report to the command post on the other side of the hangar."

"Do I get mission input?" asked Owen impatiently.

"It's targeted recovery and clean-up. We're implementing established protocols with oversight and direction by the board and general counsel."

"In other words, 'shut up and color'?"

Mac grinned, "Exactly, soldier."

"It's Lieutenant Commander."

"Not anymore." His laugh made Owen's hairs stand on end. "We have cell phones, provisions, and cots at the command post. See you over there." Without another word, the contractor was walking briskly away to take a call. Owen needed to find Barry…and Lowery.

Stalking back to the hangar, he patted his vest pockets and swore. Realization washed over him. His phone was still on Nublar, and he didn't remember Claire's number. Some new beginning this was turning out to be.

x x x

Two days after Jurassic World was brought down by a hybrid dinosaur, Claire was finally allowed to meet up with her sister and nephews. Ever since she'd been whisked away for the phone call with the Masrani board, she'd gone from one event to the next. More phone calls with the board. Press conferences. Discussions with lawyers – both for Masrani Global and also a personal one for herself. She'd been given another temporary assistant, Kevin, which just made Zara's death more noticeable, as everywhere she turned, a young guy was trailing after her.

What she hadn't been able to do, was talk to the people she wanted to the most. Her sister. Zach and Gray. Owen. She hadn't realized until Owen had disappeared from sight, the two being pulled in different directions, that she had no clue where her phone was. So much for sticking together and keeping in contact. Not that she was allowed to talk to him. She'd been told, both by the Masrani lawyers and her own that, until she'd given her formal deposition, it was best she wasn't in contact with others who would be corroborating (or disagreeing with) her version of events.

As of noon today, however, that was done. She knew there would be many more depositions she'd have to do, but having the first one done loosened the reins a bit. She'd had Kevin track down the whereabouts of her sister and nephews, and of Owen. Luckily, Zach and Gray had been some of the first to give official depositions, as they were not Masrani (or InGen) employees and yet had been involved in many of the major events of the day. While she worried about how that experience had gone for them, she was mostly relieved that it meant she was allowed to meet up with them. Owen, on the other hand, she discovered was involved with the recovery ops on Nublar. His exact whereabouts were considered need to know and, apparently, she didn't need to know.

Instead of arguing the point, she'd chosen to at least catch up with her sister and nephews. She wanted to see them with her own eyes, confirm that they were all still standing. That they had made it off the island; that it wasn't all an illusion. Leaving the Masrani offices, Kevin led her to her driver, who took her straight to the hotel where Karen and the boys were staying. One moment she was knocking on their hotel room door, and the next, she'd been swept inside, with what felt like a hundred different arms pulling at her, trying to give her a hug or get her attention.

"Claire," Karen finally managed to pull her away from her nephews and tugged her into a tight hug. "Oh my god, Claire."

"Are you guys okay?" Claire asked, hugging back equally tightly. "Are they taking good care of you? Do you need anything?"

"Always the fixer," Karen smiled, wiping away at a tear, as she let go and pulled back. "They've been very good to us."

"We even got our stuff back, see?" Gray tugged on Claire's arms, pointing at their backpacks sitting on the couch.

"That's great," Claire nodded, pulling Gray into a hug, before reaching out and grabbing Zach as well. "I'm so happy to see you both."

The sound of a small beep at the door drew their attention, and the door opened as Scott walked in. He paused midstep, surprised to see Claire, before continuing toward the group. "Claire, it's, uh, good to see you," Scott said hesitantly. He hadn't talked with Claire recently, not since things started going south with Karen. It hadn't felt fair to put Claire in the middle, even if he'd known her since she was a young teen.

"You, too," Claire replied, moving from the boys to give him a hug. He hugged her back one-handed, the other clutching a shopping bag full of drinks and snacks. When Claire let him go, she watched as he moved into the room, dumping the bag on a table, Zach and Gray eagerly pulling out drinks and opened a bag of chips. She shot a look towards her sister, who just raised an eyebrow and gave a small shrug. It wasn't the time or place to quiz her sister on her divorce, so she let the questions lingering in her mind drop.

Claire moved further into the room, as everyone found somewhere to sit. There was plenty of seating between the couch, a couple of stuffed chairs and a few more chairs around the table. She took a look around before she settled on the couch, Gray on one side, Karen on the other. "Wow, nice suite."

"Oh, we figured this was your doing," Karen said, also looking around the room.

"Not me," Claire shrugged. "I would've pushed for it, but…"

"You've been on the news a lot," Karen nodded towards the TV in the room, although it was currently off.

"Got to get out in front of everything," Claire said with a sigh.

"What's going to happen now?" Gray asked, shifting until he was pressed against her side. "Will they reopen?"

"It's being talked about," Claire admitted. "But nothing's been decided, and, to be honest, it's not something they can decide yet. It's not clear what the fallout is going to be."

"Do you want to reopen?" Zach asked, perched on the edge of a chair at the table.

"Want to?" Claire considered the question. "I don't know… I don't really know how I feel about anything right now. It's a lot to process." She shrugged lightly, before putting on a smile and cheerful expression. "But, let's not talk about that. I wanted to see how you guys were doing."

"We get to go home," Zach informed her.

"Yeah?"

"They've booked us on a flight for tomorrow," Karen nodded.

"That's good," Claire's smile that time was real.

"Can you come with us?" Gray asked.

"I wish I could, but I'm going to be down here a while longer," Claire replied.

"Can you come visit us after?"

"As soon as I'm free," Claire promised. "But, that probably won't be for a few weeks… or months."

"That long?" Karen winced.

"Unfortunately."

"What about Owen?" Zach asked. "Where's he?"

"Is he coming?" Gray looked around her towards the door, as if Owen was going to walk through any moment.

"He's indisposed at the moment."

"Have you talked with him?" Zach pressed.

"Which one's Owen again?" Scott asked.

"Aunt Claire's boyfriend," Gray answered.

"He's–" Claire tried to explain, but was interrupted.

"Wait, your boyfriend?" Karen was shocked. "How come I didn't know about this? Who is he? What does he do?"

"He trains raptors!" Zach was quick to jump in.

"And he rides a motorcycle," Gray added.

"He rode it through the jungle with them."

"He what?" Karen's gaze swung between Claire and her sons, before finally settling back on Claire. "Who are you and what have you done with my sister."

"He's not my boyfriend," Claire replied weakly.

"That's not what you said," Zach disagreed.

"We saw him kiss you," Gray reminded her.

"I never said he was my boyfriend," Claire said. Zach just gave her a look, and she added, "It's not my fault you assumed."

"Wait, Owen, why do I remember that name?" Scott re-entered the conversation. "Is this… is this the boardshorts guy?"

"How do you know who Owen is?" Karen was now looking at her husband.

"Claire texted me about some date she went on," Scott shrugged. "Months ago."

"You?" Karen said to her husband, before turning back to Claire. "You texted Scott about a date and not me?"

"It wasn't like that," Claire looked desperately at her nephews, hoping one would give her an out. Zach was too busy laughing to be any help.

"Owen's the alpha," Gray inserted, which wasn't really the help that Claire was looking for, as she watched Karen's eyes widen even more, brimming with questions. Thankfully, the presence of her sons seemed to hold her back from unloading on her.

"Is Owen on Instagram?" Zach asked, and Claire was happy with the slight shift to the topic.

"Ha, no," Claire scoffed. "He refuses to use any social media."

"But he has a phone, right?" Zach confirmed.

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "I'm not sure what happened to his, or mine for that matter. But when I sort that out, I'll give him your number."

x x x

Owen was biding his time for a chance to make a break for his bungalow. The team he'd been sent with to Nublar was initially tasked with cleaning up the raptor paddock and gathering all the remaining evidence of the "failed" field test. He grimaced thinking about Mac's word choice. The pack had actually performed very well – better than even he expected. His training protocols had been successful right up until his raptors flipped to their new Alpha. The fact that they flipped back to him, however, was more gratifying than their performance on the hunt itself.

The initial scene at the raptor paddock was relatively gruesome, with the body parts of several InGen security team members strewn about the ground. Owen was thankful for his stint in Navy mortuary affairs, as it came in very handy for clearing the area and coordinating plans for the remains. Not to mention enhancing his ability to keep a level head amidst the carnage. Some of the staff participating in the recovery efforts looked shaken and nauseous. His steel stomach protected him, too. It helped that Barry worked with him side-by-side. They had a sense of normalcy despite the 180 turn the park had taken in the last few days.

When they first arrived at the paddock, Owen had immediately gone to his office in the trailer to retrieve his phone. It was right where he always left it in his desk drawer during shifts. He never wanted to be distracted during training but also generally detested feeling tethered. Consequently, Barry laughed out loud at Owen's eagerness to find the damn thing.

"You need to call your girlfriend?" Barry had teased. Owen had only grumbled in response, additionally on edge because his phone's battery had died. This wasn't the first occasion Barry had referred to Claire with that particular title, at least this time it was said privately.

Now that activity at the paddock was settling down and leadership was deciding their next task, Barry turned to Owen and whispered, "Go, I'll cover for you." Quickly nodding his thanks, Owen walked with purpose to the Jurassic World jeep that he'd driven to the paddock with Claire and the boys. It had been parked in the rear, and as it was somewhat obstructed by the brush, his chances of being discovered were low. He drove faster to the bungalow than he had the last time he was behind the wheel of the same car. Then, he remembered the dinosaurs on the loose, and picked up his temporary mission cell phone.

"Owen?" Lowery asked hesitantly and softly upon answering the call.

"Yeah," Owen responded in a gruff tone. "Are you tracking the dinosaurs out of containment?"

The other man sighed, "It's my primary job right now. I'm bored out of my mind."

"Are they anywhere near the raptor paddock...or the road to my bungalow?'

"No, the T. rex is in the Valley, the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons are clustered near the aviary, and the Velociraptor is near the base of Mt. Sibo." Owen slowed the car and started to zone out as he considered Blue. Fortunately, Lowery snapped him back to attention, "I didn't think the employee residences were being cleared yet."

Owen cleared his throat and said, "I'm gonna need that favor we talked about. Can you meet me back at the paddock?" It wasn't difficult to get Lowery to agree, and Owen just hoped that no one would question a call for additional IT support at the Research area. It was mostly populated by muscle anyway and he had yet to overhear Mac talking about computers. Regardless, Owen knew he'd have to grab the bare minimum from the bungalow and get back as soon as possible.

Thanks to his solar panels, the electricity at the bungalow still worked. He fished out his cellular accessories before locating his laptop and the handwritten research notes he kept at home. The latter with the intention of keeping certain information about the pack to himself and away from Hoskins. There wasn't much, as Owen relied heavily on video diaries and his own memory. He stuffed everything, including a few personal items, into a backpack and headed back out to the jeep.

Once inside the jeep, he immediately plugged his phone into the USB port to charge. As he impatiently waited for it to start up, he debated what to say to Claire and ruminated on their past together. Despite his bitterness about things not working out with her, Owen had never deleted her number from his phone. He could outwardly chalk it up to her being the Senior Assets Manager and her consulting him about the Jurassic World employee handbook (the reason he got her number in the first place). Inwardly, however, he had kept it because he always hoped they'd have another go. He missed the few months when they'd been exchanging friendly texts and the initial weeks after their date when he'd been trying to sort out his feelings. Although their date started out badly, it had ended on a high note. Things got a little higher and hotter a week later, but it all came crashing down not long after that.

Claire's phone rang when he dialed, but it went to voicemail. Not wanting to leave an awkward message, he hung up. Owen went back and forth in his mind over a text, finally settling on "I miss you." Just as he hit send, a memory flashed back to the front of his brain. They had all been on edge driving away from the stampeding guests after the pteranodon attack on Main Street, and Claire had been fiddling nervously with her phone in her lap. He had reached across to still her hands. When he made contact, it had relaxed them both. Claire had shifted to maintain a firm hold on him with one hand and wordlessly set aside her phone with the other. That was the last time he saw her phone. Owen hopped out of the jeep to inspect the passenger's side, scouring the spaces around the seat and searching through the glove box. Her phone was nowhere to be found. Stomping the ground, he cursed loudly. It was probably lying in a ditch somewhere.

On his drive back to the paddock, Owen wracked his brain wondering where the phone could be. His senses were on high alert, and he startled at the sound of his mission phone ringing on the passenger's seat. Mac's name appeared on the caller ID. Oh boy, he thought, knowing that his absence had been noticed. Gritting his teeth, Owen ignored it. His eyes were focused on the road, and his thoughts were focused on how he could make contact with Claire.

Owen left the jeep where he'd found it near the brush and was shortly thereafter intercepted by Mac. "Where the fuck have you been?" the contractor barked.

Before he could answer, Lowery stepped in and placed a hand on Owen's shoulder, "Got that laptop?" Mac looked quizzically at them both.

"Yeah," Owen responded confidently. "It's in my bag."

"Great!" Lowery said, a little too enthusiastically. "Let's get those park files uploaded." At Mac's confused look and unmoving frame, Lowery added, "Owen had consulted with park operations on a few projects, and I need the data from his personal laptop." Mac appeared suspicious but allowed the two men to walk into the paddock trailer.

Once inside, Lowery made quick work of doing what Owen had previously asked. Namely, copying all the raptor training videos and digital notes from the InGen desktop to his laptop.

"I owe you one," Owen stated when Lowery was standing to leave.

"Nah," Lowery responded with a shrug. "Just keep in touch." Owen's shoulders sagged, he wanted to be in touch with Claire most of all. Clearing his throat, Lowery added, "They're sending me to the San Jose offices tomorrow for my deposition, and I know that's where she is." Owen's face lit up, and Lowery smiled knowingly.

Barry suddenly burst through the office door and tossed something onto Owen's desk saying, "She didn't get your text." Eyes wide with surprise, Owen looked between Claire's phone and Barry's smug face, back and forth, repeatedly.

"Where did you get this?" asked Owen, incredulous.

"The mobile veterinary unit for the paddock," Barry answered with a mischievous grin. "Someone drove it over here from Main Street for inventory. The phone was about to be sent to lost and found, until your name popped on the screen."

"Is that...?" Lowery's question trailed off at Barry's slight nod and suppressed chuckle. "I can see that she gets it."

"Please," Barry taunted, "it's a very important message." He was looking directly at Owen, who had crossed his arms over his chest and was rolling his eyes.

Snatching up the phone to check the screen, Lowery emitted a long "Awwww."

Owen cut him off, "Alright, that's enough. Just take it to her, okay?"

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 2

Storming into her new office – temporary office as she kept reminding herself – Claire was brought to a halt by a pile of boxes. On her desk. On the guest chairs. On the floor by the door. Boxes that most definitely had not been there when she’d left for her meeting (the useless, incredible waste of time meeting) only an hour earlier. Being back in San Jose on mainland Costa Rica was just reminding her why she’d been so happy to be based on Nublar and only have to visit the Masrani Global offices sparingly. So many useless meetings. How did people get any work done here?  

Even when she did visit, most of her time was spent at the main headquarters in San Diego, where she kept a condo for convenience. Being stuck at the San Jose offices instead just felt like adding insult to injury. She was one of the few top level employees left who had been stationed on Nublar, and who had actually been there when the incident took place. It felt like she should be at HQ. Instead, they had wanted to try to deal with getting their story together and all the pieces ready to play in San Jose, where they felt they wouldn’t attract as much media attention. Not that it had worked, given all the reporters camped out around the main doors.  

As much as Owen used to make fun of her for it, she really wasn’t accustomed to sitting behind a desk all day. Her job – old job – had her constantly moving about the park. She’d be down in the control room or out visiting the various paddocks. Talking with Wu and the others in the lab and giving tours to potential investors. That job, unlike this new hell she’d been dropped into, was rarely boring.

Although, boring is probably not the right word for what she was going through. It wasn’t boring. It was excruciating. Going through that day over and over again. Minute by minute. Analysing every decision. Were they right? Were they wrong? What did they miss? Hindsight, as always, was 20/20. Not that they were finding a lot of “right” answers in all the mess. And, Claire would argue, it wasn’t that there were necessarily a lot of wrong decisions that were made. Or, at least, not big ones. Really, the incident was the culmination of a whole pile of small mistakes that taken together became cataclysmic.  

Although… although the big mistake, was the choice of Owen, the guard, and the Paddock 11 technician to go into the Indominus cage before she confirmed the asset’s location. Of course, it was hard to really blame them – she had reported the Indominus as loose before she had control check. Did that make it her fault? Yes. No. Maybe. She wasn’t sure anymore.

Moving over to the box on her desk, she set down the iPad she was carrying and pulled the flaps open. Immediately, she was greeted with her laptop, recognizing the scratch across the top from an unfortunate incident where she opened the door to her car and it fell out and slid across some gravel. She pulled it out, and noticed below, more items from her office. She realized, that until that moment, she hadn’t even been thinking about everything that was left behind on Nublar. She knew that Zach and Gray got their stuff back. And that all the guest belongings were being cleared out of the hotel. But, for some reason, it hadn’t even crossed her mind to think of her stuff.

As she started to rifle through all the boxes, getting an idea of what had shown up, she realized, with an unfortunate sinking feeling, what this probably meant – the end of Jurassic World. If they were sending all her stuff, all her files, it didn’t seem likely that she’d be back on the island anytime soon. Maybe ever.

Feeling overwhelmed with the thought, she started searching the boxes more frantically. Where was her cell phone? If there was ever a time where she really wanted a friendly ear, it was right now. It had been five days since she’d been pulled away from Owen. She just wanted to talk with someone who had been there , who would have a chance of understanding what she was going through. Someone who wasn’t questioning her every decision and making her feel worse than she already did.  

Closing the top on the last box, Claire moved over to the chair behind her desk, collapsing in it, and turning to stare out the window. No phone. Which, she supposed, made sense. She had her phone on the day of the incident. She remembered calling Lowery on it.. And then… and then she doesn’t remember what happened, because she used a radio to get Lowery to release the T-rex. She might have to just accept that her phone was lost forever.

“Knock, knock,” the familiar voice accompanying an actual knock on her door had her spinning back around.

“Lowery!” Claire exclaimed, getting up and moving around the desk as he entered the room. Surprising both of them, she pulled him into a quick hug.

“Hey, Claire,” Lowery gave her a lopsided smile as they pulled away from each other. Putting his hands in his pockets and rocking back on his heels, he surveyed her office. “Far cry from Nublar, isn’t it?”

“The farthest,” Claire nodded. She moved boxes off of one of the guest chairs, piling them on the ground, before gesturing to Lowery to take a seat. Moving back around her desk, she sat down again. “I was just thinking about you.”

“Me?” Lowery looked at her in surprise.

“It’s been… quite a morning,” Claire surveyed the boxes again with a grimace. “Was in need of a friendly face.”

“I, uh, I don’t think you’ve ever used that word to describe me before,” Lowery blushed lightly.

“Things change,” Claire shrugged.

“Do they ever,” Lowery nodded. “Do they ever.”

“What have you been up to? I’m surprised I haven’t seen you around,” Claire asked. “You were one of the last ones on the island, I thought you’d be here being grilled, too.”

“They kept me in the control room a while longer,” Lowery admitted, glancing around nervously, not sure he was actually allowed to tell her.

“You were on the island?” Claire confirmed in a whisper, leaning over the desk.

“Yeah,” Lowery nodded. “Just for a few days. Needed help getting everything up so they could keep an eye on all the dinosaurs as they did the retrieval missions.”

“What’s… Did you…?” Claire wasn’t sure what to ask first, questions flying through her mind.

“They’re clearing it out,” Lowery confided. “At least, that’s what it looks like.”

“That’s….actually not surprising,” Claire admitted, looking at the boxes again. “They wouldn’t have sent all my stuff if I’d be heading back soon.”

“I think your prediction is going to come true,” Lowery said slowly and Claire turned a questioning gaze to him. “‘We’ll never reopen’? Remember that?”

“How bad is it?” Claire asked, sinking back into her seat, staring at the wall behind him, unable to meet his gaze. 

“We’ve lost most of the gentle giants,” Lowery started ticking off on his fingers. “A lot of the Apatosauruses, most of the Ankylosaurus, at least half the Pteranodons and Dimorphodons are dead and the other half are… loose.”  

“You can stop there,” Claire raised a hand in defeat, her shoulders slumping.

“It wasn’t your fault, Claire,” Lowery sighed, causing her eyes to meet his.

“Maybe not all of it, but a lot of it is,” Claire shrugged, becoming more comfortable with admitting that truth every day.

“I could’ve closed the gate,” Lowery confessed.

“What gate?”

“Simon was telling me to close the gate.” It was Lowery’s turn to feel uncomfortable meeting her gaze. “But Owen was still in there. He was running… I could see the Indominus right behind him… I couldn’t do it. Simon had to shut it.”

“I–” Claire stumbled, not sure what to say. She wanted to reassure him, tell him it wasn’t his fault, but… was it? They were all at fault, weren’t they. No one was innocent in this tragedy, everyone contributing in some small way. And Owen…how could she ever be mad at Lowery for hesitating. Those few seconds he did? They probably were the difference between Owen escaping that whole incident alive or dead. But at what cost? “Oh god.”

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Claire.”

Claire was brought back to the moment by Lowery’s cries. “No… not you… I mean thank you, I just–” Claire took a deep breath, trying to organize her thoughts. “You’re probably the reason Owen’s alive, Lowery.”

“And that so many others died,” Lowery replied bitterly. “I’m not sure that’s something to be proud of.”

Another thought hitting her, Claire was out of her chair and around the desk in a moment, crouching in front of Lowery, gaze drilling into his. “You got to promise me something,” she insisted, staring at him intently until he finally nodded, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. “You can’t tell Owen.”

“What?”

“You’ve got to promise that you won’t tell him,” Claire repeated. “Promise.”

“Why?”

“He’ll never forgive himself,” Claire whispered. “Not after… just trust me. He can’t know.”

“But, it wasn’t him, it was me ,” Lowery protested. “I should’ve shut the gate.”

“And you beating yourself up for it? He’ll take that on, too,” Claire shook her head. “Don’t tell him, please.”

For a moment, they’re both silent, gazes locked, before Lowery finally nodded in defeat. “Okay.” He looked away from her, and Claire stood back up, leaning against the edge of her desk. “You know,” Lowery stood up, “he’s going to find out. Everyone’s going to know.”

“I know,” Claire nodded. “Trust me, I know.”

Lowery headed for the door, hands sinking back into his pockets, posture slackening. In the doorway, he paused, turning back to face her. “I’m really glad you made it, you know?”

“Yeah, me too.” Claire weakly smiled at him.

“Oh,” Lowery reached into his back pocket, pulling out a phone. “I almost forgot.” As he held it out, Claire recognized it as her own.

“Where’d you find it?” Claire asked. 

“It was at the raptor paddock,” Lowery shrugged. “Owen asked me to give it to you.”

“Thanks.” Claire hesitated, before stepping forward and pulling Lowery into another hug. He hugged her back briefly, before they separated again. With a quick wave, Lowery left. 

x x x

It was surreal to be standing in the middle of Main Street during broad daylight and surveying the damage from the battle Owen witnessed firsthand. He was one of only a small few who had. Most of the employees remaining on the island and involved with the clean-up efforts could detach themselves from the scene. Owen couldn’t do that. The panic he’d felt – for himself, for Claire, for the boys, and for his raptors – was still too close to the surface. While listening to InGen’s plan for evaluating the “assets” on the island, his mind wandered to dark, bitter places. He had trouble focusing, and his eyes drifted. Catching Barry’s concerned, questioning gaze next to him, Owen shrugged and pantomimed jibber-jabbering with his hand. Barry smiled and turned back toward Mac.

Owen suddenly felt his phone vibrating in his vest pocket and moved quickly to stop the disruptive hum. It was a message from Claire: I miss you, too.

His face lit up, and he considered his response. She beat him to it by adding: Thanks for finding my phone.

It was actually Barry who found it, Owen answered. In the vet vehicle. There was a long pause as he walked away from the crowd to step into one of the abandoned shops for privacy. When she didn’t respond, he typed: I thought maybe it was in the glove box of the jeep.

Oh, right. When you took my hand.

Owen was thoroughly relieved that she shared that fond remembrance, even if she didn't get it quite right. Her taking his hand in the jeep was a good memory that, along with a few others involving Claire, had been helping to ground him when feeling lost. It was agonizing not to be able to see her face, her physical reaction to their messages. He craved the closest thing (hearing her voice) and asked, Can you talk?

Yes. Without a pause, Owen dialed her number.

“Hi,” she answered in a hushed tone. His body was instantly bathed in an overwhelming sense of warmth. A few weeks ago, that kind of automatic reaction would’ve been unsettling and embarrassing. Not today.

“Hi,” he almost sighed. “What are you doing?”

“Hiding out in my office...from my new assistant, Kevin.” In that moment, Owen realized that he didn’t know what happened to her on-island assistant, Zara. He didn’t want to get into it now, just in case the news wasn’t good. “What are you doing?”

“Learning about the ‘division of labor’ for the various projects happening here.” He tried to remove all emotion from his voice. In point of fact, Owen didn’t want to share many details from InGen’s “itinerary.” What he was going to be dealing with was hard enough, he didn't want to burden her with it. On the flip side, he really didn’t want to know the specifics of Claire’s daily schedule.

“Do you know how long you’ll be there?”

“As long as it takes.” 

“Then what?” Her voice contained a hint of desperation. It made his chest ache.

“Back to HQ, I suppose.” Before either of them could say anything else, there were simultaneous calls for them by muffled background voices. Mac was asking for Owen while it sounded like someone was knocking on Claire’s door.

“I gotta go,” said Claire apologetically.

“Ditto.”

“I’m glad you’re okay.” 

Owen felt better than okay when they ended the call. Under the circumstances, he was more relaxed than he had any right to be. It gave him the energy and patience to face his assigned tasks.

x x x

The buzz and whirring of heavy machinery filled the air. Owen watched the diggers across the lagoon almost longingly. He wondered if he should’ve volunteered as a mindless grunt. No, InGen wouldn’t have allowed it. They wanted him engaged in tasks befitting his well-earned “behaviorist” title. Namely, being in direct contact with the dinosaurs. Trying to control them, more like, as the vets performed check-ups. The concept of control always made Owen laugh inwardly and, in the current moment, nearly outwardly while many of the park staff in his proximity acted skittish around even the most docile beasts. Owen couldn’t entirely blame them, but these same staff had probably lived in a blissfully ignorant state up until two weeks ago. Completely unaware of the dangers that bringing back dinosaurs might unleash, both from the dinosaurs and their creators. 

As he waited for the vets to gather their gear – they’d shortly be headed out to the Cretaceous Cruise to evaluate that attraction’s free-roaming dinosaurs – Owen craved an escape from his thoughts, lest they take him down a dark path. He texted Claire: They’re building a canal.

Thankfully, he was rewarded with an immediate response from her: A what?

A waterway connecting the Mosasaur lagoon to the ocean.

Why?

PETA.

Seriously?

No. But I’m sure they’d have an opinion. In actuality, InGen was trying to avoid animal cruelty by enhancing the existing filtration system and allowing larger fish access to the lagoon for the mosasaur to eat. Owen, however, didn’t think that InGen had fully considered the risks they were opening themselves up to in case the sea creature attempted an escape. Mac had assured the crew on Nublar that the finest structural engineers in the world were involved in designing the new gate.

Are you helping? Claire’s question pulled Owen back from his cynical musings.

Are you kidding? No way!

A Navy man scared of a little water? He felt tremendously lightened by her friendly teasing.

I saw her jump. I don’t want to be within 50 feet of her. He laughed even though it shouldn’t be funny. His fingers stilled on the screen. Unsure of what to type next. He wanted to tell her how important she was to him now. How he saw her as a lifeline in their shared predicament. How no one else could understand like she could. And that he wouldn’t pick anyone else on earth for such an honor.

How’s your day going? Claire asked after a long pause, making Owen wonder if she was feeling similarly or just too busy to respond immediately.

I got a papercut.

Poor baby. God, he wanted to see her face or hear her laugh. He considered giving her a call but then heard the engine of the mobile veterinary unit roaring to life behind him.

Gotta go. Talk soon?

Definitely. Sooner rather than later, Owen hoped as he pocketed his phone.

x x x

The last week had been unsettling to Claire on multiple levels. The most jarring, by far, was her failing confidence. She had worked hard for many years to prove that she was capable of making the best decisions. The right decisions. She had convinced herself that this ability spilled over into her personal life as well. Alone in the elevator as she descended from the top floor of the San Jose offices, Claire felt a rising panic. The world as she knew it wasn’t making sense anymore. The certainty she’d held fast to for so long had slipped from her grip.

Just as she placed a hand on her chest to calm her increasingly shallow breaths, the door of the elevator opened on the third floor. A group of five park employees looked on her with stunned expressions. Claire’s hands dropped to her sides while she moved backwards to make room for their entry. The shift in the group’s demeanor was slight at first, but the air in the confining space soon filled with tension. They were angry, and the emotion became palpable until one of them finally snapped. 

“Murderer,” a woman Claire knew as a control room technician said with a piercing look. Claire’s heart threatened to pound right out of her chest, but she fought to maintain her composure. 

“Don’t forget,” added the security guard who’d been on the control floor during the Indominus escape and subsequent ACU mission, “she’s also a liar.”

“Towing the company line,” muttered someone else. Head held high, Claire kept her mouth in a tight line. She should’ve known this was how some people viewed her. There was no way, however, to prepare for this kind of face-to-face attack. Since the incident, she had been developing talking points with PR and Risk Management. Her new job was to quell public outcry, but she never lied.

Flashing back to her statements and behaviors on that fateful day, Claire recognized that her role had been the same, reminding everyone to “remain calm.” Part of her had wanted to hide - now and during the the incident - but she needed to be in plain sight. Needed to finish the job she started. Needed to show that she wasn’t afraid. That she could be counted on. That she could handle it. So, here she was again. The need to prove herself was never-ending.

“Are you done?” Claire asked coolly. Her shoulders were relaxed, not stiffened or sagging. The ping of the elevator arriving on the ground floor startled the group, and Claire smiled on the inside. She thought she was in the clear.

Sneering as she walked out of the elevator, the control room technician taunted, “I don’t know how you sleep at night.” Claire sucked in a sharp breath but maintained her neutral stance. Instead of turning toward the building’s exit after the group, Claire made a beeline to the women’s restroom in the opposite direction. She locked herself inside a stall and willed herself not to cry. Not to break down. She’d been fighting this urge for days, but never had it been so strong.

Intellectually, Claire knew that Simon was more to blame for the decisions made in the control room after the Indominus escaped. Emotionally, the situation was harder to bear, especially since she was a living, breathing target for survivors’ wrath. She could talk in objective terms with the spin doctors, but she couldn’t escape the subjective. The memories, faces, and voices from that afternoon. Rushing to the forefront of her brain was Owen. He had been right about the Indominus, and she dismissed him. Literally. It wasn’t the first time either.

Unable to stop the second-guessing, Claire harkened back to their earlier on-island interactions. They’d been friends at one point. Hadn’t they? Before he asked her out? Maybe not. Their date was rough, but the goodnight kiss was...memorable. Worth repeating. They fell into bed only once. Why didn’t they repeat that ? He had wanted to...before she pushed him away. Had she read the whole situation wrong? 

Shaking off her personal drama, Claire refocused on the matter at hand. Was she a “yes woman”? Should she have questioned Simon in the Control Room? Was she repeating history by going along with Masrani Global now? Her head spun. Her vision blurred. The panic was about to overtake her. She had to stop things from spiraling out of control.

It probably meant something - something she wasn’t ready to examine yet - that her first thought was to text Owen. Going to check out a new restaurant with Lowery tonight.

The pressure in her chest remarkably began to ease as she typed and more fully when he responded, Oh yeah?

She couldn’t help but smile as she explained, Some hole in the wall he keeps telling me is to die for.

Uh-oh. Sounds like he might be making a move on you.

Lowery? Ha! Claire blushed and pondered the limitations of electronic communications. Was Owen jealous? Did she want him to be? These questions made her giddy and forget the soul-crushing questions she’d been ruminating on just a few minutes before. 

Well, while you’re fancy dining tonight, think of me with my crappy MREs.

She rolled her eyes. They clearly had different reference points for “fancy dining.” It really shouldn’t be a surprise to her, based on their past. She’d have to Google “MRE” later but generally looked forward to getting to know Owen more. In the meantime, she continued the banter, Did you not hear me? Hole. In. The. Wall.

Those are the best restaurants.


Right. Tequila. I forgot. Maybe she was a liar after all. She never forgot anything about Owen.

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 3

Of all the tasks Owen had been assigned, this, he decided, was definitely the worst. It's not that the other tasks were all that much better – he didn't enjoy dealing with the remains at the raptor paddock. But there was always something about injured baby animals that got to him and the gentle giants at the petting zoo had not fared well in the aftermath. There were a couple who had escaped relatively unscathed. But the majority had either been killed or had received injuries that left them on the brink of death.

At first, he had thought that their task with the vets was going to be saving them. To patch them up and make them whole again. He wasn't ready for what their real task was. The entire situation just felt wrong. The weather wasn't cooperating – the sun was high in the bright blue sky, with just a few wispy clouds around. Where was rain when you needed it? Or at least a dark, gray sky? Something more befitting of their actions.

During a pause in their task, Owen retrieved his phone, wanting the lifeline it brought him. The link and reminder that there were happy times ahead. He couldn't bring himself to share what he was doing, though, and he settled on a different message. Hey, need any t-shirts? He followed it up with two more in quick succession: Or sweatshirts?, Or stuffed animals?

He didn't manage to check his phone until after the next baby triceratops had been euthanized, its cries petering out along with its life.

What are you talking about? Claire had responded.

This place is riddled with souvenirs. I keep tripping over random crap. What's going to happen to it all?

Left to rot, I guess.

Claire's response made him pause. Huh, maybe this wasn't actually a happier conversation topic.

Really? Thought HQ would be worried about choking dinosaurs.

Are they really that stupid? Owen hated that he didn't actually know how to take that comment. Was she joking, or was she actually concerned and needing an earnest response? Just another reminder that while this incident was bringing them closer, there was still so much he didn't know about her.

Nah, they'll be fine. :) Owen looked around at the dead and dying dinosaurs surrounding him and let out a long sigh. Well, some of them would be fine. The rest...

"Hey Owen, we need you over here?" A vet called out, waving him over. Owen stuffed his phone back into his vest pocket. Time to get back to work.

x x x

"Again, let me say how sorry I am for your loss." Claire hung up the phone on her desk, before letting her head fall forward, forehead resting on her arms that were crossed on her desk. Did this ever get easier? Twenty-seven people had died either during the incident or as a direct result of injuries sustained from it. Twenty of them were employed by either Masrani Global or InGen. Thankfully, only seven were guests.

As one of the highest ranking on-island employees left, Claire had been tasked with making condolence calls to the twenty employees. There was a part of her that had hoped she wouldn't have to do both the Masrani and InGen employees, but, really, everyone was Masrani at the end of the day, with InGen just being a subsidiary. So far, she'd completed 9 of the calls.

Each one had been brutal. And while the general context was the same, they were somehow startlingly unique, branding themselves into her memory to haunt her over the nights to come. Pushing up from the desk, she reached for the stack of papers she'd pushed to the side during the call. On the top sheet, she used a pen to cross off the name of the latest family. She knew she should move on to the next one – try to get them all over and done with, so she could put the task behind her.

She couldn't do it. Not now. Not without a distraction first. Something to recenter her. Help her find some balance in all the chaos swirling around her. Reaching for her phone to text Owen felt like a natural instinct now. Claire could still barely believe how much her life had changed over the past 10 days. While she had fond memories (combined with many frustrating ones) of her interactions with Owen pre and post their first date, over the past few days, as they had reconnected through phone calls and text messages, she had come to realize that he was helping her maintain her tenuous grasp on her sanity. That he provided a feeling of safety she'd never expected she'd want or get from another person, having always relied on herself first and foremost.

Hey. She felt a little silly sending her message, but she just wanted a connection without any of the heavy emotional drama of her day weighing in.

Hey. I was just thinking about you.

Yeah?

Just walked by what's left of the Starbucks. Could really go for a Americano. Never would've thought I'd miss overpriced coffee.

I actually think today I could go for tequila.

Really? Would you be willing to eat the worm? Owen's response included the little worm emoji, which made Claire crack a smile, her first of the day.

"Definitely didn't expect to see you smiling," Lowery commented, sticking his head into her office and causing Claire to look up at him in surprise.

"Not much to smile about," Claire shrugged, and Lowery nodded in agreement, entering her office and sinking into one of the guest chairs opposite her desk.

"What have you been up to?" Lowery asked, picking at the armrest on the chair, not meeting her gaze.

"Condolence calls," Claire sighed, and Lowery looked up at her in shock.

"Really?"

"Yep," Claire said as she lifted the stack of paper in front of her and tilted it slightly so Lowery could just see it. "I've made it through nine."

"Sorry."

"What about you?" Claire asked, as her phone vibrated with a new text message. She resisted the urge to look.

"Reports," Lowery said simply. "Lots and lots of reports. They've been sending back information from Nublar and, apparently, my new job is to just synthesize the information into reports."

"Want to trade?" Claire gestured to the pile of papers on her desk.

"No way," Lowery shook his head frantically. "Not unless you want another round of lawsuits."

"Ugh, don't make me think of those." Claire rubbed at her temples, feeling the headache that seemed to always persist these days growing stronger.

Lowery glanced down at his watch, before pushing up from the chair. "I've got a meeting I need to get to. Just needed…"

"Yeah," Claire nodded, understanding the connection Lowery craved. She craved it, too.

Lowery hesitated for a moment, before asking. "Hey, have you seen Vivian? I'm surprised she's not here."

"She gave her deposition and then went back to the States," Claire filled in. "She left after the field test and didn't have much to add. She wasn't keen to stick around."

Lowery nodded slowly, and Claire felt a pang of sympathy for him. She'd known he had a crush on his colleague, but she'd also known (via the gossip grapevine where Zara had always seemed to be a central hub) that Vivian had a long distance, but very strong, relationship.

She watched Lowery leave, before she picked up her phone to see Owen's latest text – Come on, would you really eat it?

Depends. What do I get if I do? Claire sent back.

What do you want? Owen's reply was almost immediate.

Now that was a loaded question. Claire considered her answer carefully, before texting back A second date?, followed by a winking emoji.

Setting down her phone, she turned back to the stack of paper, flipping to the information about the next person on her list. Time to make another call.

x x x

They had been back on Nublar for almost two weeks. In that time, all of their missions seemed to suggest the same thing: no one was coming back after they left. Everything they'd been doing – from moving the penned animals to the open areas of the island to shipping lab equipment back to San Diego to finishing the mosasaur canal – suggested that the park was not reopening. That the humans were going to leave the dinosaurs to fend for themselves. Owen and Barry hadn't discussed it openly, but there was plenty of nonverbal communication to this effect. As they made preparations to ensure the self-sufficiency of yet another species, Mac was cursing into his phone several yards away.

Owen gritted his teeth, frustrated by being kept in the dark and not able to think about the future. Not that he was one to plan too far ahead. Finding solace in the good memories on Nublar had become his primary coping mechanism. He'd focused on the joyful times raising and training the raptors while building his working relationship with Barry into a strong friendship. Thinking about his interactions with Claire gave him mixed emotions. Although there were definitely good times, she confused him – he told her as much during the disagreement that had ended… whatever it was they were before the Indominus escaped. The ending that had cone by way of her denying that she was attracted to him. Definitely not a good memory.

On the other hand, Barry talked openly about his future. He looked forward to returning to his longtime girlfriend, Nicole, back on Martinique. They'd previously discussed not wanting to get married, but (in the aftermath), Barry had changed his tune. Trapped in a tree trunk with Blue clawing her way to him, all he could think about was never seeing Nicole again. It left him with a sobering clarity of mind. He told Owen that he'd be eternally grateful for his drawing the raptor away. Owen stopped short of revealing his evolving thoughts about Claire, but Barry could tell that something had shifted between his friend and the former Senior Assets Manager.

By the time Mac made his way over to where they were standing, Owen suspected that Claire's title was firmly in the past. "Well, boys," the surly contractor began, "it's official. The insurance company for the park just filed for bankruptcy." Barry and Owen exchanged an unsurprised, sideways glance. "I guess the astronomical rates they were charging Masrani were mismanaged." Mac echoed something Hoskins had said about Simon Masrani being detached from his holdings and then speculated that InGen would likely fracture since the the park wasn't reopening. Owen zoned out, not wanting to hear conspiracy theories now that the outcome he anticipated had been confirmed. He needed a distraction and turned to his other coping mechanism.

Unlocking his phone, he texted Claire: Today's "big predator day." While waiting for her response, he admitted to himself that his earlier behaviors had probably confused her as much as her behaviors had confused him.

Mac had already motioned for them to follow him when Claire's reply finally appeared, What does that mean? Owen was practically skipping at this, and Barry just rolled his eyes as they walked.

Checking on the T. rex.

Checking… what do you mean by checking?

We don't actually know how injured she was by the Indominus. Need to confirm her condition.

Be careful.

Based on the speed of her reply, Owen wondered if he'd worried her. In all honesty, he was nervous about this particular mission. He crafted a light-hearted retort intended to soothe them both: I've got a flare.

That'll bring her *to* you. Send her the other way.

Wincing at the joke that didn't land and concerned he'd worried her further, Owen countered, How can we check her if we can't see her? He waited for what felt like an eternity then looked up to a sharp glare from Mac. Swallowing hard, he quickly typed, I'll be fine, before putting his phone back in a vest pocket. To avoid any further confusion, Owen decided that he'd call her immediately upon his safe return.

x x x

It took about ten minutes into the high-level staff meeting being held by the board before Claire really clued into what was going on. And the moment she did, she felt stupid for not realizing it before. She could feel the blood draining out of her face as it sunk in, and she directed her gaze down to the table in front of her, trying to buy herself a few moments to get it together.

"... and so, it has become clear over the course of the debriefings, that Simon Masrani made some critical errors…"

Claire couldn't stay focused long enough to actually absorb what they were saying. Instead, she just caught fragments. But it was more than enough. And she knew how this would play out. She didn't need to hear all the details. Those weren't for her, anyway, and what difference would it make? It was all going to be thrust on Simon. Her boss. Her mentor. Her friend.

And there was nothing he could do to defend himself. He was dead. One of the 27 casualties of that fateful day. And sure, she understood their reasoning. He did make mistakes. But so did she. And Owen. And Lowery. And the board themselves, for letting Hoskins and his idiotic plan take over. Not that she would ever say that. No matter how much she wanted to.

She slid her phone across the table, before hiding it discreetly in her lap, pulling up her message history with Owen. She quickly sent a request: Tell me something happy.

While she waited for a response, she tried to look engaged in the meeting. Modelling the reactions of those around her to nod and smile at the right moments.

Why? What happened?

She was halfway through typing out that they're going to try to pin it all on Masrani when she stopped herself, deleting the message. She couldn't say that. Couldn't have a record of her saying anything about this plan. She settled for I just need to hear something happy.

I got a glimpse of Blue today. No contact, but she's alive.

"... of course, we understand that this is going to be difficult. We all liked and respected Mr. Masrani. He was our friend. Our colleague. We'll start disseminating this message at the press conference tomorrow. Claire …" Claire didn't actually catch what they wanted her to do, but she nodded along, a fake smile pasted across her face. She could see Kevin diligently writing notes. She would figure out what she agreed to later.

Claire?

Looking back at her phone, she realized that she had never responded to Owen. Thanks.

Seriously, you okay?

Just… another long day.

You know you can tell me, right? Anything.

The sound of chairs being pushed back and papers rustling made Claire look up again. The meeting was obviously over, everyone gathering their stuff and filing out the door. She tapped out a final message of I know, before storing her phone back in her pocket. She could feel it buzz almost immediately, but she'd have to look later. She had to figure out what she just agreed to, first.

x x x

The on-island tasks were coming to an end. Owen had known that for a while, as the number of personnel around had dropped steadily over the last couple of days. He had known it was just a matter of time before he was told that his job was done, too. And now it had come. He'd be heading to San Diego tomorrow. InGen wanted all of their employees to go through an internal debriefing process aside from all of the official Masrani Global and other legal processes.

Hey. Do you have time to talk? Owen sent the text to Claire as he left the meeting. He'd been assuming, hoping, that he was going to be heading to San Jose when he was finally let off the island. San Diego was a disappointment but not really a surprise. It was where InGen's headquarters were located, after all, and the most natural spot to gather their employees.

While he waited for a response, he headed out of the building and towards the lagoon. He wasn't sure what was drawing him there. And when he reached it, he stayed well back from the railing, not wanting to tempt the mosasaur. Maybe because the mosasaur represented both an end and a beginning, and now that he was heading off to San Diego, it felt like he was about to embark on a new chapter.

As he gazed over the lagoon, watching for ripples on the water's surface – evidence of the mosasaur swimming below – his phone rang. He paused only long enough to confirm it was Claire before answering with a drawn out "Hi."

"Hey," Claire replied, and Owen could feel the tension melting away just from the sound of her voice. "What's up?"

"Just wanted to hear your voice," Owen admitted, blushing as the words tumbled out.

"Yeah?" The slight lilt in Claire's voice made him wonder if she was blushing too. Jesus, what he wouldn't give to be having this conversation face-to-face.

"I got some news today," Owen told her. "I'm headed off-island tomorrow."

"But…?" Claire questioned. "It sounds like you're about to say 'but.'"

"But not to San Jose," Owen finished.

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"San Diego?" Claire questioned.

"Yep. InGen wants all employees to go through an internal debriefing there. I don't know what else they think they're going to learn," Owen scrubbed one hand through his hair in frustration, catching a glimpse of the mosasaur as it swam by, just below the surface.

"No such thing as too much paperwork in a situation like this," Claire agreed with a heavy sigh.

"There's always a such thing as too much paperwork," Owen disagreed. "They're not even planning to re-open… shouldn't that cut down somewhat on all of this?"

"You would think," Claire hummed. "But, with the lawsuits starting to pile up, they need every t crossed and i dotted. It's going to be a long slog."

"How long are you stuck in San Jose?"

"Not sure. The board's trying to get their whole defence sorted out before they let us go stateside. They seem to think we'll be bothered less here. It's stupid and not true, but…"

"I was really hoping to see you soon," Owen confessed.

"Me, too."

"God," Owen groaned. "I have to sort out where I'm staying in San Diego. Can you believe that? They're not even setting up lodging for us."

"You should stay at my place," the words were out of Claire's mouth before she could stop them, and the line fell silent on both ends.

After a long pause, Owen tentatively asked, "Really? I mean… you don't–"

"Why not?" Claire replied. "I've got a condo there. And I keep a set of keys stored at the front desk because I never know when I'm going through there."

"You sure?" Owen asked again. "I mean… it's your place. And… won't you need somewhere to stay?"

"You saying you don't want to share a place with me?" Claire teased, and Owen was relieved that he could tell she was teasing.

"More I didn't think you'd want to share a place with me," he replied.

"We're supposed to stick together, right?" Claire's voice was a bit timid, and Owen couldn't bring himself to tease her again.

"Absolutely," he paused, before adding. "For survival."

 

 

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 4

When her phone rang, Claire didn’t hesitate to answer it, not even bothering to look at the screen to see who was calling. She’d only left the San Jose offices a few minutes before, slipping into the back of the waiting car, and was hoping she wasn’t going to have to ask her driver to turn around and head back. She was tired, hungry, and had a headache. All she wanted to do was go lie on the bed in her hotel room in the dark, and try to pretend the last several weeks hadn’t happened.

“Hello?” she said while suppressing a groan.

“He’s at your place?”

The question caught Claire off guard and she pulled her phone away to look at the screen, confirming it was Karen’s name at the top. “Karen?”

“What’s he doing at your place?”

Claire stayed silent, not really sure how to respond. How did Karen know he was there anyway?

“Seriously Claire, you’re just going to ignore me?”

“I’m not ignoring you,” Claire disagreed. “I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“Owen… the raptor guy Zach and Gray keep talking about, he’s staying at your place? With you?”

“I’m still in San Jose,” Claire sighed. “So no, not with me. But, what does it matter?”

“It… doesn’t, not really,” Karen reluctantly agreed. “I guess I was caught off guard. I didn’t realize you two were so serious.”

“We’re–” Claire cut herself off. She didn’t actually know what they were. Were they serious? Were they even dating ? She’d joked about a second date to him, but they hadn’t actually talked about it. “He needed a place to stay.”

“You’re usually so private,” Karen commented. “I’m surprised you were fine with him having access to your place without you around. I wonder what he’ll find as he snoops.”

“Karen!” Claire exclaimed, feeling a little put out. And also, now worried. She hadn’t thought about that before. What did she have at her place? What could Owen be learning about her? He was a behaviourist, after all. Oh god. She tried to distract herself...and Karen. “How’d you know he was there anyway?”

“He was on a video call with Zach and Gray and I recognized the background,” Karen replied. There was a slight pause, before Karen switched tracks. “You know, he’s a really good guy.”

“Oh?”

“I know Zach asked for his number, but it’s meant so much to them that he’s taken the time to talk with them. I know how busy you are. I imagine he’s been equally so. He could’ve just brushed them aside.”

“He’s not that kind of guy,” Claire shrugged, even though she knew her sister couldn’t see her. She settled back into the seat of the car, now relaxing into the conversation. “So, besides snooping on your sons’ phone calls and harassing me, how are things going?”

“I wasn’t snooping,” Karen contested. “I just happened to walk by.”

“Right,” Claire laughed.

“Besides, it’s my prerogative as a parent to know who they’re talking to,” Karen added. “I still can’t believe you never told me about your date.”

“There was nothing to tell.”

“Yeah, that line doesn’t work. Not since you told Scott about it.”

“I needed… a guy’s perspective,” Claire admitted. “I knew what you would say. I was thinking it all myself. I guess… I guess I was hoping that there might be something I was missing.”

“And was there?”

“Yes. No. I don’t know,” Claire said. “I think… I think there were some crossed wires and maybe it was just the wrong time for us.”

“And now?”

“Now?”

“What are you guys now?”

“Two people trying to survive.”

“That doesn’t sound like a solid foundation for a relationship,” Karen told her, always practical.

“At the moment, I think we’re just friends,” Claire confessed.

“I thought the boys said he kissed you?”

“He did. But… I haven’t even seen him since the hangar. It’s not a topic we’ve discussed.”

“But you’re talking?”

“Yeah,” Claire couldn’t help the wistful smile that crossed her face. “More than we ever have.”

“That sounds promising.”

“Maybe,” Claire looked out her window as the car was nearing the hotel she was staying at. As usual, there was a crowd of reporters waiting to pounce. “I’m almost to the hotel Karen, I’ll have to talk to you later.”

“Okay, just… are you okay?”

“I’m…” Claire searched for a word that could best describe everything. In the end, she settled on, “I’m dealing.”

“Yeah?” Karen pried.

“Everything’s… there are a lot of decisions that still need to be made,” Claire sighed. “I… I’m not even sure I’m being made privy to everything going on right now. And what I do know, well, I can’t say.” Claire was dying to have someone to talk to. Someone to whom she could confess everything she was worried about – both what she was worried they weren’t sharing with her and what she was afraid was going to be the company’s actions going forward. Owen would be her first choice, if only because he had been there . But Karen had always had a level head and would’ve been an excellent choice, too. Unfortunately, her hands were tied and with all the legal talk that had been swirling, the last thing she wanted to do was add another layer just because she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Karen asked again.

“I… look, I gotta go. We’re at the hotel.”

“Claire…” 

Her driver was pulling open her door, and immediately the volume of noise rose as the reporters started shouting questions.  “I’m fine. Or… I will be. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”

“Bye.”

 

x x x

 

Owen tried to surreptitiously glance at his watch and, when that didn’t work, decided to just do it more obviously. It was his third day being grilled by InGen’s lawyers as to what went down that fateful day. And it was no more fun on day three than it had been on day one.

He was continually amazed by the new questions the lawyers managed to think up. The new angles to press. The new ways to blame him or Claire or any number of people. He knew they were trying to build their defense. Trying to figure out the right way to “spin” everything in hopes that InGen would survive the fallout. He didn’t see how that was going to be possible. Not when it was their creation that caused all the mayhem and destruction. No matter how they spun it, no matter who they pointed a finger at, it was still InGen R&D that had not only created, but actually bred the Indominus.

“Mr. Grady, how did Mr. Hoskins die?”

Owen looked up from his watch, tuning back into the questions being asked of him. He could tell from the impatient look on the lawyer’s face that this was not the first time he’d been asked this question. “Delta attacked him.”

“And who is Delta?”

“One of the raptors from the IBRIS project.” 

“I see.”

Owen almost laughed, the lawyer certainly did not see or get it. Any of it.

“Did Mr. Hoskins provoke it… the raptor?

Her . Delta is – was – female.”

“Did Mr. Hoskins provoke her ?”

“Yes.”

“You do know that there is security camera footage of the attack, don’t you Mr. Grady? That we’ve seen how it went down?”

“If you’ve seen it, why do you need to ask me all these questions?” Owen was annoyed. If they were going to trust video over him, if they were going to act like a single view point from a stationary camera could understand all the nuances of what happened, why was he there? 

“In the video, Mr. Hoskins was moving away from the raptor,” the lawyer ignored Owen. “He appeared to have his hand up, like he was trying to pacify it.” The lawyer corrected himself quickly off of Owen’s glare. “Sorry, her . Can you explain what action Mr. Hoskins made that provoked the raptor?”

“The raptors were – are – very smart. That was the whole point of IBRIS – to determine their intelligence. Raptors remember. They remember who you are and how you’ve treated them. Hoskins had never built a positive relationship with them. His interactions with them were always borderline hostile. And he appeared to have something specific against Delta.”

“That doesn’t explain why the raptor attacked him that day. Why not before?”

“She never had a chance to before. That was the first time that Delta ever had unrestrained access to Hoskins. Her first opportunity where neither was barred from the other. She’d tried before. She just couldn’t get to him. That whole day, that whole experience, was new to them. They – the raptors – were learning, just like the Indominus, their true capabilities. Of what they were capable of, of what they were, and of what we were.” Owen could feel his passion coming through in his comments. This was what he did. This was what he knew. But he could tell that the lawyers didn’t care. They didn’t get it. Unlike his raptors, they didn’t want to learn either. It felt like that same day all over again.

“But they listened to you, right?” the lawyer pressed. “You had control over them?”

Owen sighed. What he wouldn’t give for no one to use the world control again. “I never had control, it was a relationship.

“But you were there, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Then why didn’t you intervene? Why didn’t you call her off?”

“Because it wasn’t just me,” Owen groaned audibly. They said they had cameras. They knew this. “There were three additional people in that room. Three innocent people. I couldn’t guarantee that trying to draw Delta’s attention away from Hoskins wouldn’t result in her turning on me , much less any of the others.”

“But you didn’t know that.”

“I knew I couldn’t guarantee it. That’s all I needed to know.”

“But you didn’t even try.”

Owen slammed his hands on the table, startling everyone in the room. He pushed to his feet, leaning heavily on the table, staring at the lawyer head on. “I did a risk assessment. Hoskins or two terrified kids? Hoskins or Claire Dearing? Tell me, what would you choose? Who would you choose?”

“I am not interested in the others. What we are trying to understand here, is why Mr. Hoskins died.”

“He died because he’s a fucking idiot who wouldn’t listen. Because he thought he had control,” Owen ground out, anger coursing through him. “Because he never truly listened to what we told him, too focused on his own priorities.”

“But you could’ve intervened.” 

“No. I could not,” Owen felt his anger fade away, replaced instead by a feeling of icy calm. “And if I had to do that all over again? I wouldn’t even blink , before I’d make the same choice. Every. Damn. Time.”

“So you’re saying you wouldn’t try to save Mr. Hoskins life?”

“No, what I’m saying is that I couldn’t save his life. Not without sacrificing others.” Owen scoffed, collapsing back into his seat. “Seriously? Is this the angle you’re going to try? That I should’ve turned a raptor on a 12 year old kid?” He ran his hand through his hair before shaking his head in disbelief. “If you try this, I will put out what really happened. And trust me, everyone would be on my side.” 

“Remember Mr. Grady, that you signed an NDA when you took your job with InGen. You are still employed by them and your NDA is still in effect,” the lawyer replied, equally calm. “You cannot talk about this publicly without InGen’s prior authorization.”

“Try me,” Owen replied, his voice steady. “I’d like to see you try to defend, in court, that the NDA covers the events of that night. I’m not stupid. I read it. The NDA covered my raptor research. It did not cover using them for an ill-advised field test. Nor did it cover me being hunted by a hybrid monstrosity.” Owen pushed back his chair before the lawyer could respond, standing up again. “I’m done.”

“Wait, you can’t–” Someone said as he moved towards the door, but Owen just ignored them and kept going. He needed a break. Some fresh air. A moment to try to get rid of the images flashing through his mind. Of Charlie being hit during the firefight. Of Delta being tossed onto the flaming grill. Of Echo being flung aside until she, too, was no longer moving. Of Blue choosing to walk away. From four to one to none. The quick glimpse he’d had of Blue back on Nublar hadn’t been enough. How was she surviving? Was she surviving? The thoughts were tearing his mind – and his heart – apart. 

He wasn’t watching where he was going, his mind focused on just one thing – to get as far away as he could. He knew he’d have to go back. They weren’t done. And he was still employed by InGen. And even if he hadn’t been – and quitting had been on the tip of his tongue more than once – they’d still be able to force him into a room to answer these questions. He might as well be getting paid for it, considering the rest of his livelihood had disappeared.

Turning a corner, he came to an abrupt halt, surprised to see Dr. Wu walking towards him. Henry also stopped, seemingly equally surprised. Although, why either were surprised didn’t really make sense, considering they were both InGen employees and both involved in the fallout of that day. They should’ve expected to cross paths sooner or later.

“You!” Owen’s anger bubbled right back up to the surface, and he found himself stalking towards Wu.

“Mr. Grady,” Henry stated calmly.

“This is all your fault,” Owen proclaimed loudly, ignoring the others in the hallway who stopped to see what was happening. “Couldn’t keep your ego in check, is that it? Bringing back the dinosaurs wasn’t enough? Needed to show that you had moved past it? That it was your turn to play god?” 

“If you’ll excuse me,” Henry tried to move around Owen, but Owen just shifted with him, preventing him from passing.

“What were you thinking?” Owen shook his head. “I’m sorry, obviously you weren’t thinking. Who in their right mind would try to combine the genes of the two deadliest dinosaurs? From the very beginning, the outcome should’ve been known. This was never, could never , be a good idea.”

“As you’re well aware, Mr. Grady,” Henry replied, standing taller and straighter, “The creation of the Indominus wasn’t simply my doing. I don’t singlehandedly decide what we breed next. Those decisions were, I’m sad to say, above my paygrade.” He sniffed, looking offended on his own behalf. “I told them that you can’t have an animal with exaggerated predator features without the corresponding behavioural traits . If you want to blame someone, you should be looking no further than your… friend … Ms. Dearing.”

“Oh no, don’t you dare try to pin this on her,” Owen was seeing red. While he and Claire had avoided getting into the real details of their days when they talked, he hadn’t been able to avoid the news. He’d seen her face plastered across newspapers and TV screens. He’d watched as countless critics and Monday morning quarterbacks had torn her apart, dissecting every action she took that day, until even he was starting to lose track of what was real and what they were making up. There had been nights where he’d hear her voice tremble across the phone line, and he ached to be able to just reach through it and pull her into a hug. To give her the comfort he knew she so desperately needed, but he was sure she would never ask for. He’d tried to ask, to let her know that he was there if she wanted to talk, but she’d brushed aside every attempt, quickly changing the subject to something lighthearted or inconsequential. And he’d let her. Because as much as he wanted to offer her comfort, he was struggling himself. And how do you hold someone else together when you’re falling apart?

“She’s not innocent–” Henry started to say, but he cut off, eyes widening, as Owen’s fist flew through the air.

“Owen!” Barry was on him before his fist had a chance to connect with its target, yanking his friend backwards. Once Barry knew Owen was out of range of Wu, he adjusted his grip on his friend then resumed pulling and walked Owen away. The crowd that had gathered parted easily, no one wanting to get in the way of the furious look on Owen’s face. “He’s not worth it,” Barry told Owen, leading him down the hallway, waiting for his friend to get ahold of himself.

“He–” Owen growled, his hand clenching into a fist at just the thought of Wu. He looked around desperately, needing an outlet for his anger, too wound up to just calm on his own. His only choice, besides Barry, was the wall, and less than a second later, it was sporting a solid dent.

“Feel better?” Barry arched an eyebrow, listening as Owen muttered out a string of curses, shaking his arm, before tentatively flexing his hand. “You know that was stupid, right?”

“I know,” Owen nodded, his anger finally cut through by the pain radiating up his arm. He turned, leaning against the wall, his head hanging down.

“It’s not all his fault, you know,” Barry reminded Owen, mirroring his pose, although keeping his head up to keep an eye on who was around.

“Wu?” Owen confirmed.

“Yeah,” Barry nodded. “Although, really, you could put in any name there. None of this was the result of a single person. Plenty of people were involved in the creation of the Indominus. And just as many, if not more, were involved in making decisions that day. We made decisions. We agreed to go along with Hoskins’ crazy plan.”

“You didn’t want to,” Owen reminded him.

“Neither did you,” Barry shrugged. “But we both did.”

“He’s not innocent,” Owen said after a few beats of silence. “Wu, I mean.”

“Maybe not,” Barry conceded. “But that doesn’t make him guilty either. It’s not so black and white.”

“I wish it was.” 

“No, you don’t,” Barry disagreed. Owen looked up, meeting his friends eyes. “If it was that simple, if everything was just black and white? I don’t think you’d like where Claire would fall.”

Owen’s breath rushed out of him in a woosh, the thought hitting him like a suckerpunch. Barry was right. He knew that Claire wasn’t innocent in all of this either. Hell, he’d yelled at her in the control room that day for the choices she was making. But listening to her as she tried to stammer out her nephews’ ages, too worked up to focus clearly, and then having her latch onto him in the old park, with the Indominus crashing through the building above them? She may not have been innocent, but she had tried to fix her mistakes. Goddammit, she had led a T. rex into battle, armed only with a flare.  

“Shades of gray really suck,” Owen finally let out. 

“Eh bien, oui,” Barry nodded in agreement.

 

x x x

 

Wu leapt back as Barry pulled Owen away from him, trembling from the adrenaline rush of seeing a fist come at him. It may not have made physical contact, but it still left a mark. Wu looked around, taking in all the people who had gathered to watch, just like in a school yard. At least none of them had starting chanting “fight” and all seemed to be quickly dispersing as Barry moved Owen down the hallway. He straightened, standing tall, or as tall as he could with his 5’5” stature. He tucked his hands into his pockets to hide their trembling, and turned to quickly head down the hallway in the opposite direction.

To be honest, he couldn’t quite remember where he had been headed, but at the moment, anywhere but there seemed like a good solution. It’s not like he had as much control over his days anymore. He couldn’t even remember the last time he’d stepped foot in a lab.

He had tried to get access to the labs at InGen. He was worried about all the samples that had been evacuated from Nublar. He had to just trust that Eli Mills was doing his job with the ones he’d passed over, but he’d hoped he could look in on the ones that had made it back to InGen HQ. He’d been disappointed, shocked, and, most of all, insulted to find he didn’t have clearance to check on them. The lawyers claimed it was standard procedure as they sorted through the fallout of Jurassic World and that everything was being handled according to protocol. But, Henry couldn’t remember for the life of him reading a protocol that would ban him from the labs – unless, unless they were never going to let him back in. That this was the first step of forcing him out.

“Excuse me? Dr. Wu?”

Henry looked up to see a nervous woman approaching him. He paused, letting her catch up, and waited for her to continue. 

“There’s a phone call for you. It’s Berkeley.”

 

x x x

 

Claire felt her heart racing faster with every step closer to her front door. Part of her felt guilty, as she knew it was unfair to surprise him. Most of her, however, wanted to catch him unaware. She wanted to see how Owen was living in her space. If she caught him doing something despicable or disrespectful… well, that would be a buzzkill, but at least she’d know sooner rather than later. That outcome actually wasn’t what worried her. The alternative – that he was a perfect gentleman and treating her home well – was much more anxiety-provoking. Taking a deep breath before lifting the key toward the lock, she smiled to herself about finding him in his “natural state.” Her face suddenly fell as she considered the actual worst case scenario: that he wasn’t inside the condo. It was hard to admit that she desperately wanted to be welcomed home.

She turned the key quickly and swung the door open wide to allow her to push her suitcase inside. Wincing as she balanced a box on top of the suitcase, she feared that the door might’ve hit Owen unexpectedly. Luckily, he had been sitting on the couch and jumped up at the sudden commotion.

“Claire?” he asked, as if in disbelief.

“Who else?” she teased with uneasiness in her voice. Seemingly leaping over the couch, he was at her side in an instant. Without thinking, she let go of the raised suitcase handle to hug him. Her eyes widened when she realized that he was leaning forward to kiss her. They were saved from any awkwardness as the suitcase toppled over and the precariously placed cardboard box landed squarely on Owen’s foot. He grimaced before pulling back, looking sheepishly at the floor. Claire let out a sigh of relief. Her heart skipped a beat while her mind considered the meaning of his attempted warm welcome. Should she have been prepared for that ? Expected that?

“Why didn’t you call me?” he stuttered adorably, meeting her eyes once more. “I would’ve picked you up at the airport.”

“Oh,” she deflected, “it was a last minute flight.” This was an awful excuse. San Jose was six hours away, even by plane. “Besides, I didn’t know if InGen was keeping you busy. No need to impose.” She smiled nervously at him.

“I’m already imposing on you.” He blushed and looked around the apartment. Her hands itching to do something to cover her nerves, Claire abruptly bent down to pick up her things. Owen must’ve had the same thought, and they practically knocked foreheads. She started to laugh and allowed the mirth to overtake her. He joined her as they sank to the floor together.

Once she’d composed herself, she was still unable to meet his gaze and surveyed the room instead. There were boxes stacked in two neat piles. One set had a few that were clearly opened while the other set remained sealed shut.

“I didn’t pry into your things,” he said softly. “I’ve barely sorted my own belongings.” His heavy sigh caused Claire to look back at him. There was a weariness to his features that was unbecoming and so dissimilar from the self-assured Owen she knew on the island. Had he been hiding this, even from her, during their conversations over the last several weeks? Or had she missed it, so wrapped up in her own drama? Her chest ached, and she wanted to comfort him. But, she didn’t know how.

They stared at each other in a companionable silence for a long time – perhaps her face told him things, too – before he added, “If you’d given me some notice, I could’ve washed the sheets.” Claire blushed this time. It hadn’t even occurred to her that Owen was sleeping in her bed. Where else would he have been sleeping? The couch? She didn’t have a second bedroom. The condo existed for her convenience, not company. Her heart hammered in her chest as she considered her response.

Suddenly fearful that he would try to kiss her again and not ready to examine why that was such a frightening idea to her, Claire scrambled to her feet. “I should, at least, unpack that ,” she stammered while pointing at her suitcase.

“Sure,” answered Owen, eagerness apparent in his tone. “Do you need any help?”

 “No, no,” she responded a little too quickly. “I can handle it myself.”

He visibly deflated, causing her to wince internally. They needed some honesty. “I’m really glad you’re here, Owen.” It was a loaded statement that she meant on multiple levels. Thankfully, he seemed to get it, and a bright smile split his face. It took her breath away. Text messages had nothing on that. She looked away, lest she blush again. He said he’d make them something for dinner, but she barely heard the words or appreciated his movements in the direction of her kitchen. A cocoon of relaxation had enveloped her.

 

x x x

 

It was getting close to bedtime, and the unspoken tension in the air over sleeping arrangements was palpable. They’d been dancing around each other awkwardly while tidying the kitchen. Finally, her body inadvertently brushed against his, and Owen caught her arm. Their gazes locked before he pulled her into a swift, shallow kiss. When he broke the kiss, eliciting a small whimper from Claire, he declared, “I’ve been wanting to relive that good memory.” She was blindsided just like she had been during the pteranodon attack. The moment successfully recreated. Before she could respond, his mouth came back down on hers. This time, the kiss was nothing like the hurried, grateful-to-be-alive kiss on Main Street. It was sweet, tender and not unlike how he’d kissed her in the past. Specifically, the one night they’d spent together in her bed on the island. Another moment successfully recreated because it equally confused her.

Placing her hands on his chest, Claire pulled back to look into his eyes. Owen appeared surprised and hurt by her action. Perhaps it was her searching, wary gaze.

“What is it?” he asked hesitantly.

“Owen, I..I,” she stuttered then took a deep breath to say her piece. “I don’t want to have meaningless sex with you again.” If it were possible for him to look more surprised and hurt, her statement accomplished that. His mouth opened and closed like a fish, but no words escaped them. Claire sighed, “Nothing’s changed then?” At that, Owen’s eyes darkened. He pulled her tighter to him and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand, giving her goosebumps.

“You have it all wrong, Claire.” His voice was husky. “Well, except for the ‘nothing’s changed’ part.” Her brows knitted in confusion before he continued, “It wasn’t meaningless to me the first time.”

She tried to pull away, but his grip tightened. Anger started to pool in her gut. “You practically ran out of my place!” she spat. Owen bit his tongue and seemed to be suppressing an eye roll.

It appeared almost painful for him to admit, “What I said was, ‘Let’s do this again sometime.’”

“And then you didn’t contact me.” At this pronouncement by her, Owen finally let her wriggle free. His face fell. Was it shame? Regret?

Rubbing the back of his neck, he stammered, “I know. It was a dick move, alright? Not my finest hour and not one I care to relive.” He scrubbed his hands over his face. “I panicked, Claire. After you were so quick to dismiss Barry’s taunt about being my ‘girlfriend,’ I thought you only wanted something casual.” She pursed her lips, unsure of how to respond. In point of fact, Barry’s comment had scared her at the time. She had been thinking that Owen only wanted to be friends when he didn’t ask her out again and they’d resumed their friendly texting from before the date. Thinking back, Claire squeezed her eyes shut. Her thoughts swirled. She couldn’t remember why she had decided to sleep with him after Barry left them alone to talk. Her eyes flew open as she felt Owen entwining his fingers with hers. He looked at her with a passion that turned her legs to jelly. Clearing his throat, he said earnestly, “That night wasn’t casual to me.” He was right. It felt like more. It was why it hurt so much that he left afterward.

“It wasn’t,” she choked out as her breathing quickened. “And nothing’s changed for me either.” No more words were necessary. He closed the gap, and they were kissing again. It was most definitely not casual. It was fierce. Intense. Powerful. Overwhelming. It was two people who wanted each other with every cell in their bodies. Two people who couldn’t wait to have sex again because they knew how great it had been the first time.


Claire didn’t understand how she could have ever denied their attraction. On both occasions, her body went from zero to light speed in an instant. She could analyze this further – as was her nature. Instead, she just went with it, letting the fierceness of the attraction and their primitive needs take over.

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 5

Owen woke up slowly, his limbs immovable, as if he were still dreaming. Regarding the woman lying contentedly next to him, it was easily confused with a dream. He never woke up next to anyone anymore. For almost five years now, his instinct was always to run. Never get close. Even now, he felt that urge to go – his thoughts warning "Mayday" – but there was nowhere to go. All his stuff was there. Closing his eyes, he recalled the last time he'd stayed the whole night with a woman. It was a morning he'd never forgotten due to it being soured several months later. Twisted from something re-invigorating into a deception from which he was still recovering.

He shook off the negative, reopened his eyes, and took in Claire and what he had missed the first time. How peaceful, relaxed, and girlish she could be. She looked so very different from her no-nonsense, take-charge persona on the island. It was as if only in sleep that the weight of her job – her responsibilities – could be lifted from her shoulders. Unfortunately, she also looked thinner and more worn out than she had on Nublar. The constant pressure and scrutiny since the incident was obviously taking its toll. Owen started to wonder if he'd rushed this. Them. Sleeping together. Perhaps what she had needed more than anything else was simply to rest.

Unable to hold back the grin spreading across his cheeks, he pushed away those thoughts, too. No. This was no more a mistake now than it had been on the island. God, it was even better than their first time. Totally worth the build-up. He had probably never wanted anything so much in his entire life. In fact, her surprise arrival had likely kept him in check. Owen might not have been able to control his desire to get her into bed again if he'd been anticipating her for several hours. Hell, he had still almost jumped her as soon as she walked in the door.

The warning thoughts and, unwelcome, morning panic had subsided. Watching her in repose, he knew that he wanted to remain by her side. If he'd felt a desire to comfort and support from afar, it was almost overwhelming now, with her physically next to him. Owen was drawn to protect her even though he knew she was strong enough without him. He'd seen her backed against the ropes in news clips and had wished he could carry some of the load for her, but he couldn't. All he could do was be there for her when she needed him. If she needed him.

Women like Claire Dearing weren't the type to need anyone. Or, rather, they thought they shouldn't have to rely on anyone. However, everyone needs someone when the going gets tough. She had admitted as much, hadn't she? When she said she was "really glad" that he was there? He hoped he wasn't just projecting. In reality, he was very grateful that she had made it back to him. That they were here now. Together. He wondered if, perhaps, it was him who needed her. To be strong. To cope with the past and to face the challenges ahead.

Suddenly, she startled awake. Her eyes burst open, and she sprang up with a loud gasp. Owen practically jumped off the mattress himself. When she turned her head towards him, the look of utter surprise on her face was humbling. It made him want to hide under the sheet. Then, a soft chuckle escaped his lips unbidden as he fought the compulsion to quip about having nowhere else to go. That would go over like a lead balloon. Her brows knitted for only a fraction of a second before she was smiling down on him. She might as well have worn a halo. Her light and warmth were that of an angel. His heart tugged with longing.

"Do you have anything you have to do today?" She asked quickly, words rushing out as if to cover nerves. He couldn't blame her, given their past, but the twinge of hurt was there all the same. Luckily, he knew just how to mask that.

Quirking a brow and pulling her down to him, he responded, "Just you."

x x x

"Ms. Dearing, thank you for being here today."

Claire nodded, but didn't say anything. She was sitting with her personal lawyer on one side and a Masrani Global lawyer on the other. It was hard to believe five weeks had passed since the incident. It felt like both a really long time and a very short time. But, either way, it had been enough time for multiple class action lawsuits to come together.

Masrani Global was being sued by the guests who had been on the island that day for providing an unsafe environment with ill-prepared employees in case of an emergency. They were being sued by the Jurassic World and InGen staff members who had been working that day for not being properly trained on how to react in case of an emergency, undue hardship and an unsafe working environment. And they were also being sued by the families of the ACU members who had been killed or injured in the initial non-lethal response to the Indominus.

She knew she wasn't being charged with anything. But sitting there, boxed in by lawyers, and staring down a panel of them across from her, representing the various lawsuits along with the insurance company, was just straight up terrifying. It didn't help to know that they had her scheduled to do this for almost three weeks. Long days where she'd be questioned about every action, every decision, every thought and every minute of that day as well as the key events leading up to it. On top of that, private meetings with her lawyer to review and prepare were squeezed into every spare moment.

She'd gone over that day numerous times already with Masrani lawyers (and her own) back in Costa Rica. She felt like she'd re-lived the incident a thousand times over. She was confident in her story, in that it was the truth. But, that didn't make her confident that others couldn't and wouldn't tear it all apart. That they wouldn't pick up on her doubts and insecurities. And that, just as she had every night since the incident, they very well might pick it all apart, focusing on every wrong decision she had made that day and never acknowledging the ones she'd done right.

What she wouldn't give to be tucked back in her condo with Owen, hiding away from the world. Or to have him sitting there beside her. To have someone that she knew would be in her corner, supporting her fully. Someone that she didn't have to pay for that.

"Ms. Dearing, we'd like to remind you that you are under oath here. Do you understand your rights and responsibilities?" The gaggle of lawyers Claire was facing off against had chosen to have a single lawyer, Ms. Drew, be the primary questioner. Although, with all the various groups competing to have their lawsuit be the story of Jurassic World, she didn't expect it to last. She'd be getting questions from all sides.

"I do," Claire agreed, after her lawyer nodded for her to answer. That had been the agreement. Claire would not answer anything until the two lawyers with her agreed that she should. Supposedly, it would keep her from accidentally falling into a trap. But, it was just making her more nervous. It was harder to pay attention and keep everything straight when she couldn't just answer the questions immediately, instead having to wait to be told to continue, or to potentially have the question re-defined first. This was not how she normally operated. She was used to being the boss. The one with the answers. And the one who answered to very few.

"Okay, let's get started," Ms. Drew stated, looking around the room for agreement. "Ms. Dearing, please state your full name and position for the record."

Claire, after being prompted by her lawyers to answer, had a clarifying question of her own. "My current position?"

"Your position on the day of the incident in question."

"Claire Dearing. Senior Assets Manager and Acting Operations Manager."

"Can you please explain the nature of those roles?"

Again, Claire checked with her lawyers before proceeding. "As the Senior Assets Manager I was responsible for the health and well-being of the dinosaurs owned by Jurassic World. I worked closely with the InGen R&D team lead by Dr. Henry Wu on the creation and integration of new assets. I was also the chief liaison for investors who were interested in sponsoring an asset. As the Acting Operations Manager I was in charge of overseeing the day to day operations in the park."

x x x

Owen never wandered through grocery aisles. He always shopped with purpose, picking up his usual items and getting out as efficiently as possible. It was clear from the outset of their first trip together that Claire had the same style of shopping. She was organized and knew exactly what she wanted. Surprisingly, this was a huge turn-on for him, especially when she'd look to him for his opinion of certain items. For the most part, he found himself in agreement with her choices. In the instances where she'd select an item that he wasn't so keen on, she'd just shrug and place it in the cart regardless.

Another thing that Claire often did when they were out and about – that Owen enjoyed immensely – was find ways to touch him. Even while walking through the store, her hand would invariably run down his arm or her body would lightly graze his as she reached for something on a shelf. Innocent errands were quickly becoming foreplay. Not that he minded one bit. After spending what seemed like an eternity apart, he reveled in being close to her. Their sudden domesticity was relaxing to him. After actively avoiding relationships for a few years, he didn't expect to feel that way or so quickly.

As he watched her in the grocery store, he realized what made her behavior so appealing. She was guileless. Her movements were unconscious. He was reminded of how Claire similarly reached for him several times on the day of the Indominus incident. It was how she behaved in the night as well. The last few mornings, he'd awoken to her arms around him. Or, at the very least, her hand over his heart. They'd never spoken about it, but this pattern was how Owen knew she needed him. And to feel needed was, perhaps, her greatest gift to him.

While she was kept busy during the day with depositions and PR work, Owen's responsibilities to InGen were dwindling. He was still called into HQ to speak with someone on a daily basis, but the length of time required was increasingly shorter. It was becoming painfully obvious that InGen – as it had existed before – was not going to survive the post-incident legal proceedings. As such, Owen's job would be poorly defined, if it existed at all. His lack of importance had made itself known on the day of the incident, too. Despite Simon Masrani's request that Claire consult with him about the Indominus paddock, Owen wasn't welcome in the control room. Twisting that knife in the chest, Hoskins had even said that the raptor "field test" would occur with or without the pack's supposed Alpha.

"Hey," Claire's soft voice pulled him away from his thoughts. "Where'd you go?" Her brow furrowed with genuine concern, and she reached for his hand.

Squeezing her hand back, he reassured her, "It's nothing. Don't worry." He felt a chill and shuddered over-dramatically next to the dairy case. "I only drink 2%. It's a deal-breaker." His playful smirk elicited an adorable laugh from her. Then, she lifted herself on tiptoes to peck him on the lips.

"Crisis averted," she joked as she pulled back. "It's my milk of choice, too." Letting go of his hand, Claire added, "Why don't you pick out a half gallon while I look through the wine section?"

"No no no," he protested while blocking her path with the cart. "I have refined tastes and need to be involved with that decision." Apparently caught off guard, she stood dumbfounded while he retrieved the milk. "Don't be so surprised," Owen teased. "Did you think I would pair our Delmonico steaks with beer?" She made a show of rolling her eyes and shaking her head. When she opened her mouth to speak, he stopped her with feigned offense, "Wait. You took me for a box wine drinker, didn't you?"

"Maybe," she answered with a blush before wrapping an arm around his waist and muffling her laugh against his chest. It felt so very good. He forgot all about InGen and relationships past.

"I'm not a Neanderthal," said Owen, burying his nose in her hair.

"I know." She paused to take a deep breath. Her tone was serious when she whispered, "Thank you."

They locked eyes, and he noticed that hers were getting red. It was the only chink in her armor that he'd seen since her arrival in San Diego. That she showed it to him at all said something in and of itself. Now was not the time to push her. There would be time enough to come. And, for the first time in a long time, that wasn't scary to him.

x x x

It was day four of being questioned, and the process hadn't gotten any easier. Claire wished she could just hand them her typed up statement and walk out. Instead, they felt the need to ask her every question what felt like a hundred times over, each from a slightly different angle. She knew they were trying to trip her up, trying to get her to confess that she or Jurassic World broke protocol or made some other mistake or misstep. Something they could then use to pin all their class action hopes on.

At this point, she felt very little loyalty towards Masrani Global. Yes, they had supplied her with a lawyer, but that lawyer was there to protect the company, not her. She had always known that – it was why she'd had her own lawyer sitting beside her from the start. And she knew that Masrani's lawyer was also waiting for the moment she would screw up. Because if she did, if she gave them anything, they were going to run with it, too. Everyone needed someone to blame. And everyone would prefer it was one person, because it was much easier to point the finger and scream at a single person, than it was to accept that life could be unpredictable. That awful events were more often the result of a series of cascading failures, than any one cause. That once the Indominus had been created – that once Wu had successfully spliced the genes together – that this outcome may have been impossible to prevent.

"We'd like to continue our focus on your actions in the control room that day, Ms. Dearing," Ms. Drew stated. "On the day in question, why did you leave the control room? If you were the Acting Operations Manager, shouldn't you have stayed behind?"

At this point, Claire was getting into the rhythm, finally, of hearing a question, waiting for her two lawyers to nod their go-ahead, or speak up and voice their complaints, and then answering. It was a frustrating rhythm, but at least it wasn't quite as startling and uncomfortable now.

"I left because there were two guests unaccounted for. I asked security to locate them and they indicated that they were unable, at that time, to do so." One of the things Claire despised most, about this whole process, was the focus on short and to the point. She wanted to add more details. To explain her decisions more fully. But she'd been told and coached, repeatedly, to say as little as possible. Every extra word was another word for them to spin.

"Two guests." Ms. Drew's voice crackled with contempt. "You're referring to your nephews, are you not?"

Claire swallowed hard before she answered, "Yes." She wouldn't let the lawyer get under her skin.

"So you left your post to attend to family?" The judgment in Ms. Drew's tone was palpable.

"Not exactly." And this was exactly the type of question Claire hated. She knew what they wanted, but she refused to give it to them.

"Yes or no, please." The fake smile accompanying Ms. Drew's retort made Claire wince internally.

"It's not a yes or no question." Claire's hands were clenched into fists, under the table and just out of sight of the other legal team. It was the only expression of anger she was allowed. For their part, those sitting on the opposite side of the table looked annoyed with Claire. She imagined they were holding back eye rolls.

"It's a simple question."

"That doesn't have a simple answer," Claire sighed. It didn't seem to matter what she said, they had already made up their minds about everything. "At the time I left, the park was in the middle of enacting our Phase I security protocol. All the attractions had been closed, guests were being sequestered, and safety captains were preparing for evacuations. Simon Masrani was still in the building. At that point, there was nothing that required me to stay there. I had my phone. I remained in contact with the control room."

"Were you aware of the decision to put the M134 on the helicopter? And were you aware of Masrani's decision to fly it?"

"Yes," Claire was quick to reply, "on both counts." Her own lawyers had prepped her well, and she wasn't blindsided by this rapid fire.

"Did you support the decision?"

"I was not involved in the decision." Did she support it? Claire wasn't sure. She definitely didn't support the outcome of the decision, her mind replaying the memory of watching the helicopter crash into the aviary. It was another one of those "what ifs" she kept deliberating over late at night, when she couldn't sleep. If they hadn't been shooting at the Indominus, it may not have charged at the aviary, breaking the wall and releasing the first horde of Pteranodons and Dimorphodons. But if they hadn't, the hybrid may have veered into the jungle, where it would've been harder to track, and headed straight towards the guests.

"But you stated that you remained in contact with the control room, did you not?"

"I did. But Simon Masrani made those decisions. They did not seek my input or approval," Claire stopped to take a breath. She could see Ms. Drew was about to interrupt her, and she raised her hand to stop her. "They didn't need my approval. Simon Masrani was my boss. He had the authority to make those decisions unilaterally."

"And do you agree with the decision that was made?" Ms. Drew paused momentarily, tilting her head tauntingly. "Would you have made the same choice?"

"I... I don't know what information they had when they made it. I can't say for sure what I would have done in the same situation." Claire wished she'd taken the opportunity back in Costa Rica to talk to Lowery about what had gone down in the control room, before the order had come down that they weren't supposed to interact during this segment of the depositions. What was the conversation that had led to them putting the M134 on the helicopter? What were they seeing that made them convinced that Masrani should take it out, without his instructor?

Although, she had a feeling that Lowery would have just shrugged and said, "That's what he wanted to do." She liked Simon. She respected him. But she didn't always agree with his decisions. Whenever he would stop by the park, it was always a whirlwind visit that came out of nowhere and would end up reminding her of how little he really knew about the day to day operations. But, she knew he didn't see it that way. He viewed himself an expert on all things Jurassic World. She'd never confronted him about that, and now she was left wondering if she had, if it would've made a difference – both that day and with the creation of the Indominus.

x x x

Owen had known his plan was risky, what with it being the middle of winter and the sun setting early evening. But he'd sent Claire a text that day over lunch asking if she thought she might be able to get out early. It was her second week of depositions, and she'd been getting increasingly edgier, coming home wound up tight, and struggling to relax. He'd tried to get her to talk about them, but she'd just said stiffly that she wasn't allowed to discuss it, and she didn't want to end up causing problems for him.

While there was less and less to do during his daily visits to InGen, there was a lot of chatter about payouts, settlements, and job reassignments. As he wasn't sure what he even wanted, and he had no idea what the timeline was for Claire, he'd been reluctant to ask too many questions. Not yet ready to figure out what exactly was happening or be forced to make a decision. For now, he was happy to have pretty lax days where he was still being paid, buying himself time to sort out what was going to happen next.

The other day, someone had mentioned going to Sunset Cliffs over the weekend with his wife, and Owen had perked up at the name. He'd googled the location and found that it was park in San Diego that stretched along a series of cliffs, that, living up to their name, were known for spectacular sunset views. There was a 1.5 mile trail that was also good for wildlife viewing, from birds and lizards to even migrating whales (season dependent).

While it was advertised as a family friendly location, it felt like most of the links he came across all talked how romantic it was, perfect for a first date or wedding. Both of those had almost caused him to throw out his entire plan. Sure, when he'd been on Nublar and Claire was in Costa Rica, she had mentioned a second date, but it had been mixed into a conversation about tequila, and he really wasn't sure if it had been a joke or not. Since she'd been back, the word "date" had never come up or, at least, not in the context of a date date. He wasn't sure if they were both actively avoiding the word, or if it just hadn't been relevant.

He supposed that they were dating – they were living together, after all. He'd wondered, at one point, if he should be offering to find his own place, now that Claire was back, but she'd never indicated that she was unhappy he was there and he didn't actually want to leave. Maybe this was better, he thought, how they were supposed to work. Learning about each other without the added pressure of others' expectations. Nothing they were going through was normal, why should their relationship be any different?

He was also still struggling to wrap his own mind around what they were and what they were doing. He'd spent so long purposefully working to avoid real relationships, that to find himself in the middle of one essentially by fluke, was throwing him off. He kept alternating between almost panicking, ready to pack up his stuff and run for the hills, and feeling oddly calm and content over it all.

Everything was too up in the air and he really wasn't sure how to deal with it all. He didn't mind the lack of structure – he'd had more than enough of that during his time in the Navy. But this wasn't exactly freeing or freedom either, what with being tied to San Diego while things got sorted out at InGen. He also felt tied there because of Claire. Even if he could probably easily sort things out and untangle himself, Claire couldn't. Not yet. Not with the depositions going on. Not until Masrani Global was finally done with her.

He'd told her they'd stick together.

He couldn't, wouldn't, take off on her.

So he'd stick it out, for now.

Which meant, that even if it was date-like, he was going to take Claireout to the cliffs. She needed to relax. Not that the current nature of their evenings wasn't relaxing. It certainly wasn't disappointing either, what with Claire eager to stay naked after removing her work clothes when she returned to the condo every night. But Owen wanted them to come together in more ways than one. Their single night on Nublar had been earth-shattering, in the best and worst ways. While he wasn't sure of much at present, he knew that night had contributed to everything falling apart between them. He also knew that he didn't want to lose, couldn't lose, anything else right now.

The planned excursion wasn't just for the benefit of Claire or their burgeoning relationship. Owen found himself desperately needing to get away from being surrounded by the towering buildings of glass and concrete. Part of why he'd taken the job with InGen in the first place, was the chance to escape. To not have to deal with city life, and, to some degree, most of society. Even if only for an evening, he needed to get back to nature. Wide open skies. Lakes. Forests. Rivers. Mountains. The ocean.

He realized, however, that he wasn't actually sure of Claire's thoughts on nature. Sure, she'd lived for 10 years on an island that was more nature than not. And he'd seen her, more than once, giving investors and other VIPs tours around the park. She'd also more than held up that final day, in heels, no less. But, that didn't mean it was something she'd choose to do, if given the choice.

When she'd replied that yeah, she thought she could get out at four, Owen decided it was too late to keep second guessing his decision. He'd seen a pair of her running shoes in the closet by the front door, and he grabbed them, before realizing that she'd probably need socks, and, also, that she'd left the condo in a business skirt and blouse. Not the most comfortable attire for a walk or a hike.

Even though he'd been living in the condo for about a month now, he'd avoided, as much as possible, looking into any of her personal drawers. In fact, he'd lived out of his suitcase for the first week, before realizing he was maybe being a little stupid and had snooped just enough to discover an empty drawer, and to move some of her clothes over so he could have some closet space. He had been so glad it wasn't usually all that noticeable when he blushed, because he had, when he'd been pulling out boxers the morning after Claire had arrived. Noticing her gaze on him as he went straight for his drawer, he'd almost asked, then, if it was okay, but he'd held back, waiting to see if she'd say anything. She hadn't, so he hadn't.

Now, he quickly shuffled through the drawers, looking for items he remembered her wearing. Clothes he'd actually been surprised she'd owned, at first, before realizing it was stupid to think she lived only in business suits. Quickly finding a pair of jeans, t-shirt and sweatshirt, he grabbed them, not wanting to search any more than necessary.

He didn't have a car. He wasn't used to not having access to his own car or motorcycle, but it hadn't made sense to buy something, not when he didn't know his plans. Claire had been given a company car, which she was using to get to and from her depositions and that they'd also made use of on the weekends. Since the InGen offices weren't actually all that far from Claire's condo, he'd been mostly making do with walking, bumming occasional rides off Barry and others. It was too far to walk, however, to meet up with Claire, so he'd managed to convince Lowery to let him borrow his car for picking her up.

Arriving at the Masrani Global headquarters, where the depositions were taking place, Owen found street parking before heading in, passing a gaggle of journalists camped just outside the front door. They didn't pay him any attention, and he just walked by. He was a few minutes early, so he loitered in the lobby, holding the bag with Claire's clothes as he waited.

He saw her before she saw him, and it gave him a few moments to appreciate just how downtrodden she looked. Her shoulders were slumped, and the tension and stress were clearly leaving a mark. When she glanced in his direction, he quickly looked away, knowing she'd want a moment to compose herself, and when he looked back, she was striding towards him, a smile now on her face. A genuine smile, he was happy to note, and he greeted her with a quick kiss, and a big grin of his own, before handing over the bag.

"You need to get changed."

"What? Why?" Claire opened the bag, peering in, surprised to see her own clothes. She looked up at him, taking in his nervous expression.

"Because we're running out of time," Owen said, glancing at his watch. He wanted to get out there in enough time to be able to do most of the walk before the sunset around 5:20.

"Time?"

"I'll tell you when we're on the way," Owen held up the car keys he was clutching.

"What about…?" Claire started to ask, but Owen kept gesturing her to go change, and she finally took the hint and left.

When she'd rejoined him, Owen started to lead her towards the front door, and Claire balked, digging in her heels.

"I always go out through the underground parkade," Claire replied to his questioning look.

"I'm parked just out front," Owen shrugged. "It's not far."

"It's not the distance," Claire said, looking away and wincing. "It's just…" She looked towards the front doors, and Owen followed her gaze. Some of the lawyers from Claire's deposition were walking out, and they watched as they were immediately pounced on by the waiting press.

"Oh."

"Yeah," Claire looked at him sadly, her shoulders drooping again. "Sorry."

"Hey, not your fault," Owen turned to her, gently lifting her chin until she was looking at him again. He kissed her again, longer than before, but still short and chaste enough for an office setting. "How about I meet you in the parkade?"

"Can't," Claire sighed. "Need a remote to get in, and mine's in the car. It's fine. You said it's close, right? We can make it." She straightened her shoulders, attempting to look confident in her decision. If it wasn't for her hand reaching for his – clutching it so tightly that Owen was almost worried she'd break it – he'd have thought she was fine. She looked down, checking her outfit, before remembering she'd changed. Instead of business woman Claire, she was casual Claire. Well, it was going to have to do.

"Are you sure?" Owen asked hesitantly. He didn't want her to think he was underestimating her, but he didn't want to add her to stress.

"It'll be fine," Claire said again. She tugged on his hand, and the two walked towards the door.

For a moment, Owen thought the press wasn't going to bother them. That maybe Claire in jeans was actually going to work almost as a disguise, but it appeared that they were more momentarily startled by her actual appearance. They pounced barely a second later. He tugged her closer to his side, before managing to get his hand free from hers, wrapping his arm high around her shoulders, trying to act like a shield. He could feel her hands clutching at his shirt and side, as if she was trying to burrow right into him, her body shaking slightly from the onslaught.

He worked hard to ignore the questions. To ignore the accusations flying at Claire like pointed arrows, each one landing with an almost physical blow. He growled, "No comment," and pushed their way through the crowd, intent on getting to the car as fast as possible. Maybe this had been a bad idea after all.

He could tell they were confused as to who he was, as his outfit, similar to Claire's, of jeans and a henley, made it obvious he wasn't a chauffeur or bodyguard or some other hired person. But he wasn't about to answer any of their questions. They didn't need to know.

When he got to the car, he pulled open the passenger door first, making sure Claire got safely inside before he hurried around and climbed in himself. He quickly turned it on and pulled away carefully from the curb, trying to avoid actually plowing through the press. Did they want to get hit by a car?

As he put some distance between them, he could feel the tension in the car start to dissipate. Claire spoke up first. "So, where are we going? And why did I need to change?"

"I thought we could do something different," Owen shrugged and replied after a moment, a little flabbergasted they were just going to ignore what happened. But, he decided to take his cue from her. "A guy at work the other day was talking about a place called Sunset Cliffs. I looked it up, supposedly it's a well known landmark."

"Yeah, I've heard of it," Claire nodded.

"Oh," Owen's expression dropped. He hadn't thought this through. Claire owned a condo in San Diego. Of course she'd know about it.

"I've never been, though," Claire added. "I never seem to be here long enough, or with enough free time to actually see anything. It's supposed to be beautiful."

"Right," Owen felt relieved. Finally something new they could both do together. But, he also felt a little sad. He was realizing, more and more, just how much Claire had allowed her work to control her life. Not that he was any different. Two peas in a pod. "We should have just over half an hour until sunset when we get there. I thought we could walk the trail a bit, find a good viewpoint." He glanced over at her, taking in her outfit, "Thus the change of clothes."

"Good idea," Claire nodded as she looked out her window, watching as the buildings got shorter, as they moved away from downtown, allowing her longer glimpses of the ocean. "I used to love hiking to find great sunrise and sunset views." She glanced over at Owen, who met her gaze with a bit of a surprised look. She continued, wistfully, "I haven't had much time to do so, not for a while."

"Nublar had some of the best ones I've seen," Owen commented.

"My favourite was the trail up the back of Mt. Sibo," Claire agreed.

"The one that went by the waterfall?" Owen asked, surprised she'd known about it, much less hiked it. Although, as he kept reminding himself, he didn't actually know her all that well. She'd lived on that island for many more years than he had, it shouldn't be surprising that she knew all its secrets.

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "You didn't even need to go too far, before you could find some good viewpoints. But the view at the top..."

"I loved how, from certain places, it really did feel like you had journeyed back to the time of the dinosaurs," Owen said. "When you couldn't see Main Street or the lagoon, just the tops of the trees with an occasional dinosaur head visible, and their roars and vocalizations mixing in with the general nature sounds."

"Simon used to like saying how Jurassic World exists to remind us how small we really are," Claire said softly. "It never felt more true than out on the trails, away from all the hustle and bustle of the park. When it really felt like it was just you and the dinosaurs."

"The dinosaurs have taught us so much," Owen agreed. "Although, I wonder sometimes if we've actually managed to learn anything. We seem to keep making the same mistakes."

"Some lessons are hard to learn," Claire shrugged. "And some we think we have, only to realize we've made the same mistake later."

"Well, tonight," Owen reached across the console for Claire's hand, threading his fingers through hers, "tonight we don't have any lessons we need to learn. Nothing we have to think about, just a chance to enjoy a beautiful sunset."

"Sounds perfect," Claire nodded, as Owen pulled the car into a small parking lot.

As they got out, Owen grabbed the small backpack he'd packed from the backseat. It had a picnic blanket and a few snacks, in case they wanted to sit somewhere for a bit. He'd debated doing a full picnic before he'd decided they could do that another day. He didn't want to use up all his ideas at once.

They stopped at an information sign that had a map of the area, along with some pictures and short write-ups about some of the wildlife they might see. And, of course, warnings to not be stupid – like don't jump off the cliffs and to be careful near the edge. As they headed out along the trail, Claire reached for Owen's hand again.

A few minutes into their walk, they came across a wedding party getting photos taken. They had to pause, briefly, so as not to interrupt a photo, and Owen had to work hard to keep his feelings from rising to the surface.

"Beautiful place for photos," Claire sighed, gaze taking in the joyful looks on everyone's faces.

Owen managed, barely, to suppress his groan and the moment the photo was taken, he tugged on Claire's hand, pulling her past the group. "Even more beautiful without them blocking the view," he commented, pointing at the sky that was starting to explode with oranges and reds, the sun about to start dipping below the horizon.

"Yeah," Claire hummed in agreement, and Owen could see the tension melting away. He let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her, pulling her into his side. He paused to dip his head and give her a quick kiss, before they continued forward, searching out the perfect viewpoint.

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 6

Another day, another topic. Did lawyers ever get bored of this, Claire mused, the way she was? Shifting uncomfortably in her seat, she was very glad that the weekend was almost upon them, having never needed a break so badly.

It was kind of an odd feeling because, back on Nublar, there really wasn’t any distinction between weekends and weekdays. Every day had felt the same – work dictating what she needed to do and where she needed to be. An amusement park didn’t run 9-5 or Monday-Friday. And when she agreed to become Acting Operations Manager (in hopes of one day being the Operations Manager), her schedule had doubled, and the illusion of weekends (or time off) had evaporated. Not that she minded – she much prefered to be busy than sitting around. Besides, there was very little area on the island that wasn’t open to guests or covered in dinosaurs. It wasn’t as if in her free time she could really get away from the job.

But, after this week, really, after every week recently, weekends couldn’t come fast enough. And, now that she was back in San Diego, weekends also didn’t mean hiding out in her hotel room trying to avoid the press. Instead, it meant two days for her and Owen to get to know one another. To go out and be… ordinary. She had never thought she’d want to be ordinary. But, right now, she craved it.

First, however, she had to make it through this latest round of questions.

Over the previous days, there had been many moments where she had desperately wished that Owen was sitting beside her. Or, if not beside her, that he was just in the room. That she could hold his hand or look over at him for a reassuring smile. But not today. Today was the first day she was glad that he wasn’t there. 

“Is it true that you were advised to evacuate the island?” Ms. Drew asked with a sly, lopsided grin. At least, that’s how it seemed to Claire, who managed to keep her sigh internal. It wouldn’t do any good to show it.

“It was suggested, yes.” Short and to the point – Claire kept her grimace in check, too. Her lawyers must’ve been proud, but she held Ms. Drew’s gaze and didn’t turn towards them.

“And you stated, let me quote from a previous deposition ‘We’d never reopen.’”

Claire clamped her mouth shut. She wanted to respond, but she was learning. Not only short and to the point but, if they don’t actually ask a question, don’t say anything.

Ms. Drew did not manage to keep her sigh internal, when she rephrased, “Can you please confirm that statement for the record?”

“Yes.”

“So you were more concerned with the livelihood of the park than the livelihood of the guests?”

And it was questions like that, that were making her forever grateful that Owen was not there today and would never read the transcript. She may not have known him super well, not yet anyway, but she knew him enough to know that he would not react well his words being used to take her down. 

“No.” Claire was thankful that it was difficult for her voice to quaver with one-word sentences.

“Then how do you defend that statement?” The lawyer’s disdainful tone sounded like something akin to nails on a chalkboard to Claire.

“At that point, we still didn’t fully understand what the Indominus was capable of.” Claire gripped her hands tightly under the table, trying to restrain herself. They were never going to understand this, were they? No one liked thinking about things being unknown. And they expected her to have all the answers. To have been able to predict what was going to happen that day. Didn’t they get it? If she could’ve done that, then that day wouldn’t have happened. Did they think she wanted to see the ACU get taken out? That she wanted to be chased by a T. rex? Sure, it was probably on some people’s bucket list, but not hers. She had read all about Ian Malcolm’s encounter with the T. rex years earlier and had a healthy respect for just how dangerous that dinosaur was.

“But you were given advice, by an expert in animal behaviour, in dinosaur behaviour, to evacuate the island.” Again, Claire kept her mouth shut. Her lips formed a grim line and might’ve been turning white from how tightly she was clenching her jaw, but she wasn’t going to take the bait. She really wasn’t. Ms. Drew looked exasperated at her lack of a response and prodded, “Well?”

“You didn’t ask a question,” Claire replied evenly, meeting the other woman’s gaze head on.

“Do you agree that Mr. Grady is an expert in animal behaviour?” Ms. Drew reworded her statement.

“Yes,” Claire said, hesitantly. She wanted to say more. It wasn’t that simple. No one was an expert in all animal behaviour. Owen was an expert in raptor behaviour. Yes, he knew more about animal behaviour, in general, than she did. And his experience and knowledge was invaluable. But he wasn’t an Indominus rex expert – no one was.

“Did you refuse to acknowledge his expertise because of your personal relationship with him?”

“Excuse me?” Claire couldn’t help herself, the words were out of her mouth before the question had even finished being asked. It felt as though she’d been slapped in the face. The words stung with unexpected force.

“According to others’ depositions, it was well known that you and Mr. Grady had a… tumultuous relationship and were not on good terms at the time of the incident. Although–” Ms. Drew cocked her head to one side, as if debating if she was going to say it, but followed through nonetheless. “Although, it’s quite apparent that things have changed, since that day.” 

“Objection!” Both of Claire’s lawyers were on their feet.

“The status of Ms. Dearing’s relationship with Mr. Grady is not relevant,” Claire’s lawyer stated.

“If their relationship impacted the events of the day, then it is most clearly relevant,” Ms. Drew shot back.

“You do understand what you’re implying here, don’t you?” Claire’s lawyer continued. “That Ms. Dearing is so unprofessional that she would…”

Claire tuned out the arguments, as both sides started talking over each other, questioning her professionalism, her sense of duty, and the current state of her relationship. Had she ignored Owen’s suggestion that day because of her thoughts and feelings about him? She didn’t think so. At the time, she was barely comprehending that she, and the entire control room, had just witnessed the majority of an ACU team get decimated in only a few minutes by the Indominus. She hadn’t been thinking straight. She knew that. Not that she could tell them that. Because they’d take it the wrong way. They’d take it as a confession to her being responsible for everything. And while she knew she wasn’t innocent, she also knew it wasn’t 100% her fault. She could’ve made different choices that day. But so could many others.

Yes, she had been annoyed at Owen that day. And in the days leading up to that day. Their date and everything that had happened after it, had left her confused and unsure. The one time she’d caved to him, she had never felt so compatible with another person, only to have him rush out the door. She hadn’t known how to reconcile her feelings about him. Even now , now that they were in the same place, for all intents and purposes living together, she still didn’t know what to make of everything.

But… But she’d had fallouts with others in the many years she’d worked at Jurassic World. She didn’t get along with everyone (who did?) and being a woman with power had deeply defined the lines of her relationships (professional and not). Every move she made was questioned – by herself and others. No, she was sure her actions that day were not in response to any feelings she may have had towards Owen. She was better than that.

She was.

She hoped.

x x x

They arrived at the bar after the first quarter had already begun, but Owen was in too good a mood to feel guilty about it and Claire wasn’t a huge basketball fan anyway. Despite any possible jealousy, Barry and Lowery would understand their delayed arrival. As discussed, their friends had secured a relatively secluded booth in the back corner of the bar with a good view of a TV. On their approach, Lowery shifted to the other side of booth, sliding in next to Barry. The two men shook their heads with matching, knowing smiles. It was likely obvious from Owen’s body language – not to mention Claire’s relatively mussed hair – what had detained them. Speak nothing of the huge grin on Owen’s face.

As Claire slid into the booth first – sitting as far from the bar crowd as possible – Owen wondered if their last minute fooling around had been her stalling. His face fell slightly, but he covered it by slipping an arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. Although she had said that she wanted to get out of the condo, maybe watching the NBA All-Star Game in a public place was too much. She had been especially evasive about what happened during her deposition on Friday. Owen refused to believe, however, that her additional affection was just to distract him. They both needed comfort, and what better way to get it? There were words enough during the week. He also suspected that both he and Claire were feeling metaphorically castrated by the legal proceedings. But, her increased aggressiveness and vocalizing what she wanted in bed were not things he would ever complain about.

He felt Claire squeeze his thigh gently under the table and, combined with her warm smile, knew that she was relaxing. Owen kissed her quickly to suppress an audible sigh of relief. After the waiter took their drink orders, Claire asked the group, “Who are we rooting for?”

“West,” all three men replied in unison.

Claire laughed, ”Kobe’s still playing, right?”

“Supposed to be,” Lowery answered solemnly. “He’s a fighter – even played left-handed to finish a game – but a right shoulder injury took him out of this one.”

“He’s tough, not unlike all of us,” added Owen, with a wink towards Claire. A dark look unexpectedly crossed her features. “What’s wrong?” he queried with genuine concern and pulled her marginally closer to him.

Claire asked tentatively, “Do you think the animals are okay? Now that no one is there?"

Lowery almost snorted before stating, "I doubt no one's there.”

"What do you mean?” Claire stiffened. Her tone was sharp. “The island is restricted."

"That's never stopped people before,” scoffed Barry, taking a large gulp of his beer.

"Enough,” Owen chimed in. “No more work talk tonight.” Everyone nodded, and Claire relaxed against the arm around her shoulders. Resisting the urge to nuzzle into her hair, Owen noticed the mischievous glint in his fellow IBRIS handler’s eye.

Barry shook his head lightly and teased, “Glad you could join us for this game.” He’d previously given Owen shit about blowing off their plans for the Super Bowl. It had been the weekend that Claire arrived in San Diego.

Lowery joined in taunting, “We were afraid you two might be hungover today.”

“Excuse me?” exclaimed Claire, the offense in her tone reminiscent of when Owen had told her to do as he said while they were tracking down Zach and Gray. He almost laughed out loud, but she stopped him with a steely gaze. “Why?”

Clearly suppressing their own laughter, Barry and Lowery sipped their beers slowly. Owen cleared his throat and revealed, “Yesterday was Valentine’s Day.” Claire looked down sheepishly. He hadn’t mentioned it because she hadn’t. It wasn’t a holiday he had ever particularly liked, and he assumed that Claire was the same. Gently, he took her chin in his hand to turn her face back towards him. “Hey,” Owen said softly, “it was a great day, regardless.” Her eyes were searching his for something. Hopefully it wasn’t the thing he was trying to hide: panic. He also hoped she wasn’t searching for some sort of definition or confirmation of what they were. That was not something he was ready to provide.

After a long pause, a smile crept all the way up to her eyes, which then twinkled. “Yeah,” Claire agreed with a sigh, “it was.” A loud clunk startled them both, and they turned their heads toward the opposite side of the booth.

Barry had just finished the last of his beer and winced after forcefully placing the empty pint glass back on the tabletop. “I’m really going to miss you guys,” he smirked. The following day, he was flying back to Martinique. His depositions were complete, and he’d finalized his contract pay-out with InGen. On Friday, he’d urged Owen to do the same, before there was no money left. Owen had two years remaining on his five-year contract and could potentially walk away with his full, anticipated salary. He’d been mulling over the option, unsure of how to broach it with Claire – or even if he should.

“Bullshit,” Owen piped up, keeping things light. “You’ll be married, thousands of miles away, and not thinking about us at all.”

Barry’s gaze sharpened before he answered, “I’m specifically going to miss seeing more of this.” Toggling an outstretched index finger between Claire and Owen, he continued, “I’m so happy you’ve finally moved on after your divor–"

“Hey, now,” Lowery cut Barry off with a hand on his shoulder and pointed to the glass in front of him. “I think you need another one!”

Owen’s eyes had practically bugged out of his head. His body had gone rigid. Barry didn’t need another one, the alcohol had already dulled his senses. Owen shot his friend a warning glare while Lowery started quizzing Claire on her basketball knowledge. Barry subtly raised both palms in surrender then mouthed, “Nachos?” to which Owen nodded with a short huff before turning his focus to Claire and Lowery’s conversation.

“Of course!” exclaimed Claire, seemingly unaware of the sudden tension that was now dissipating. “I grew up in Big 10 country. My dad always closely followed college hoops.” She was shaking her head dismissively at Lowery, and it made Owen laugh. Claire could hold her own in almost any discussion. Her knowledge base was surprisingly extensive, and Owen figured it was one of the keys to her success at Jurassic World. As he struggled to imagine the next phase of his life, he knew that Claire would be alright. She was dynamic and could apply her passionate nature to whatever she set her mind to. That was both intimidating and enticing, but he hoped to be invited along for the ride.

“What is it?” Claire’s question pulled Owen out of his daze.

Pushing a lock of hair behind her ear, he answered, “Just captivated by you.”

Their tender moment was interrupted by Lowery’s sarcastic exasperation, “You’re ruining the game!” Both Claire and Owen rolled their eyes at him and, as a round of drinks arrived at the table, the small group ordered more food and settled into watching the action on the TV screen.

Near the end of the second quarter, Claire sniggered playfully at Owen for drinking beer while only keeping “high brow” alcohol in the condo.

“When in Rome,” Owen teased her back.

That elicited a hearty chuckle from Lowery, who clinked his glass against Owen’s and said, “Stay classy.” Claire looked between the two men in confusion, clearly on the outside of their inside joke. Lowery explained, “We’re quoting Anchorman . Haven’t you seen it? Owen and I rewatched it the other day.”

“Oh,” Claire stammered, taken aback and seemingly biting her tongue in surprise. “I didn’t know you two were hanging out.” She looked towards Owen, who merely shrugged. He didn’t think this was a big deal and certainly hadn’t been withholding information from her maliciously. Her expression didn’t give much away, but Claire wasn’t obviously hurt and she simply responded to Lowery’s question. “I’m not familiar with Anchorman . When did it come out?”

Pausing to think and exchanging a questioning glance with Owen, Lowery answered hesitantly, “Summer of 2004?”

“Sounds about right,” Owen supported him before noting Claire’s sudden pallor. “Are you okay?” he asked while rubbing soothing circles on her shoulder.

“It’s nothing,” she seemed to be shaking something off. “That summer was when I first went to Nublar...as an intern.” That was a topic about which Claire had shown consistent reluctance to discuss. Owen hadn’t pressed her on previous occasions and certainly wasn’t about to with an audience present. Thankfully, the unexpected awkwardness was halted by the bar crowd suddenly erupting into cheers over a monster alley-oop by Russell Westbrook. By the time everything resettled around them, Claire appeared to have regained her composure and redirected their conversation towards the imminent halftime show.

When Barry excused himself to use the restroom during the third quarter, Owen took the opportunity to tease Lowery, “Are you going to ask for that chick’s number or just ogle her across the room for the rest of the game?”

Lowery gave him a dirty look, but Claire spoke first, “Chick?” Quirking a single eyebrow, she glowered at Owen in annoyance.

Owen shook his head with a smirk, “The blonde woman sitting at the end of the bar.” Claire spotted her then turned to Lowery with an encouraging nod. As Lowery made no move to vacate his spot in the booth, Owen nudged him further. “Do you need a wingman?”

"You?” sputtered Lowery. “Like I'd stand a chance.”

"I was going to suggest you take Claire." Owen was having a laugh while Lowery looked even more nervous.

“No, no,” Claire reassured. “You got this.” She tapped Owen lightly on the chest, and together they silently shooed Lowery away. Somewhat buoyed, Lowery adjusted his shirt and left the table.

Owen capitalized on their momentary privacy, leaning over to kiss Claire’s neck and whisper, “Every other woman is just a ‘chick’ compared to you.”

“Ugh,” Claire scoffed, “does that line actually work?”

Owen pulled back to look her in the eye, “C’mon, it’s coming from me.

“Well,” Claire grinned, “at least you’re not in board shorts .” She muffled his resultant groan with a kiss. It was deeper than he expected for a public place. Even he was close to blushing. But, he ultimately didn’t care and gladly returned her ardor, losing all sense of time and place. They eventually pulled away from each other at the sound of someone loudly clearing their throat. Across the booth, both Barry and Lowery had returned.

Holding up his phone with a weak smile, Lowery declared, “Got her number.”

“Good for you,” said Claire supportively. “Why aren’t you more excited?” 

“I just,” Lowery began with a sigh. “I don’t even know if I’m staying in San Diego.” Like Owen, Lowery’s official duties were winding down. He was completing depositions and data recovery for Masrani Global. The computer tasks required him to work with a partner – ostensibly to protect against one person deleting or changing information – and Owen knew that Lowery was itching for independence. Tonight was also the first time Lowery had been allowed to interact with Claire since the depositions had begun – ostensibly to protect against influencing each other’s testimony – and Owen knew that Lowery had been dying to compare notes with Claire. The former park monitor had been great company, so Owen hoped this wasn’t the last time they’d all get to hang out.

“Maybe she’d be a reason to stay,” interjected Owen, cocking his head slightly in the direction of the blonde.

“Her name is Andrea.” Lowery blushed as he snuck a glance back at her.

Claire snuggled into Owen’s side as she suggested, “Take a chance. Time is too precious. Life can be turned upside down in the blink of an eye.”

It was a sobering truth they’d all learned in the wake of the Indominus. Owen was starting to believe, however, that the life he had previously seen as right side up might’ve been different from his perception. In which case, it might be a past that was better off forgotten.

x x x

Apparently, the lawyers had used the weekend recess to shift the focus of their inquisition away from Claire’s decision-making skills. It was a day that she’d seen coming. And a tactic that the company had been planning since her time in San Jose. Ms. Drew and her colleagues were finally taking aim at the man who couldn’t defend himself. The man who previously held the distinction of being the eighth richest in the world. The man who Claire once considered to be the gatekeeper to her future success. Simon Masrani might now be the key to getting her head off the chopping block.

She felt a little guilty about the relief that brought her. Only a little. For the most part, she just dreaded the barrage of questions and looked forward to another evening with Owen. He’d take away her edginess and not ask any questions. It was exactly what she needed after a long day of being under a microscope. It also relaxed her for the next day’s dissection. More and more, Claire found herself viewing the world in scientific and legal terms. The perspective helped to detach her emotions and not bring home the day’s stress. Someday, she’d have to process those emotions. Today was definitely not that day.

Previous depositions had already covered Simon’s now infamous memo requesting a “cooler” dinosaur. The memo had somehow been leaked to the press, and Claire suspected that Henry Wu himself had been responsible for the breach. A significant amount of heat had been sent the geneticist’s way for his hybrid creation. InGen appeared comfortable letting Wu and Hoskins take the majority of the fall, with the media and the public more than willing to accept those scapegoats. After all, most people preferred an easy solution.

From a legal standpoint, however, Simon and Claire were not in the clear. Both of their signatures were on the paperwork authorizing the creation of the Indominus rex. Going into today’s round of questioning, Claire’s personal lawyer had re-emphasized the recommendation for using as few words as possible.

“On the morning of the Indominus escape,” Ms. Drew began, “did Simon Masrani himself fly you to Paddock 11?”

“Yes,” replied Claire, not bothering to turn to either of the lawyers.

“Is it true that you are afraid of heights?” The inquiry gave Claire significant pause. How on earth did they know that? How was this relevant? She looked towards her lawyer, but he only motioned for her to respond.

“Yes,” she answered, then qualified, “but it’s lessened over the years.”

“Was the helicopter ride rough to you?”

“Yes.”

“Did you feel sick afterwards?”

“No.”

“Can you confirm that Mr. Masrani’s flight instructor vomited upon your arrival at the paddock?”

“Yes, he did.”

Without skipping a beat, Ms. Drew moved on, “On the date of its escape, would you characterize the Indominus as having been ‘fully grown’?”

“That is how Dr. Henry Wu characterized her.” Claire gave a crooked, somewhat smug, smile. Her job as manager was not to fully understand the complex biology and growth rates of new assets, especially not hybrid monstrosities cooked up by egomaniacs. She laughed inwardly, thinking about Owen and his influence on her.

“Had Mr. Masrani visited Paddock 11 or seen the Indominus before that day?”

“No. He’d received emails with photographs and updates, but I can’t confirm that he’d actually reviewed them. At Paddock 11, he was surprised that the Indominus was white.” Out of her periphery, Claire noticed her lawyer’s supportive nod. This was a canned, practiced answer. It had been crafted in discussions with both her personal lawyer and the Masrani Global legal team. The final version omitted the supposition that the lawyers would’ve preferred, but Claire had refused to cross that line. While she didn’t enjoy throwing Simon under the bus, she wouldn’t lie.

“Did Mr. Masrani know that there was only one, surviving, Indominus?”

“Not until that day.” Ms. Drew’s raised eyebrows encouraged Claire to elaborate. A sideways glance at her personal lawyer revealed a similar expression. “He asked about its sibling. I informed him that the surviving Indominus ate it.”

“What did you talk about at the paddock with him on the date in question?”

“The ‘speed bumps’ in readying the attraction for public display.” Those eyebrows raised again, and Claire suppressed a groan. She’d gone over these details at least a dozen times in various ways with various people. “Asset containment insisted on higher walls, the Indominus anticipated feeding plans, and paddock staff morale was low.” The last bit was her own spin on things. It was the succinct response and not one she cared to elaborate upon, unless specifically asked.

“How did Mr. Masrani respond to learning of these ‘speed bumps’?”

“He said, ‘I like her spirit,’ and described her as ‘fantastic.’” Those words were etched in her memory. Claire had been working long hours to ensure employee safety due to the beast’s antics. Simon’s attitude was flippant and betrayed his significant detachment from both the new asset and the park, in general. Hindsight bias certainly played a part in her current predicament, but even when standing next to that cracked pane of glass, her boss’ response had rubbed her the wrong way. For her part, Claire had tried to portray an air of nonchalance, not wanting Simon to lose confidence in her leadership.

“Did Mr. Masrani voice any concerns about the viability of the Indominus as an attraction at the park?”

“It was his suggestion that I consult with Mr. Grady regarding the paddock’s possible vulnerabilities.” Claire wondered if she should’ve considered consulting Owen before that day. Trying not to berate herself more, she forced away thoughts that her personal feelings towards him might’ve blinded her. From there, it was just a spiral of negative thoughts about her own managerial skills. Should she have been more diligent in apprising Simon about the problems with the hybrid? Should she have questioned his decisions in the control room after she’d appreciated his cluelessness at the paddock?

Thankfully, she was saved from the rabbit hole of anxious musings by Ms. Drew’s next statement. The lawyer's tone was borderline caustic when she pronounced, “As your interactions with Mr. Grady have already been covered in previous depositions, let’s continue to focus on your history with Mr. Masrani.” An overwhelming sense of dread seated itself in Claire’s gut. “When did you first meet Mr. Masrani?”

“During my college internship in 2004.”

“Prior to the date of the Indominus escape, were you aware of any human casualties related to Jurassic World?”

“Yes. As with any zoo or theme park, there are always incidents with accidental fatalities.” Another rehearsed answer. She’d already reviewed each and every one of them in excruciating detail with her lawyers.

“Were you aware of any casualties before the park officially opened?”

“Yes,” Claire replied confidently then took a deep breath. “I know that two interns died.” Hearing her lawyer’s voice in her head, she stuck to the facts and answered the question as asked.

“When did you learn about these casualties?”

“During my internship.”

“And yet you continued to work for Mr. Masrani for the next eleven years?” There was nothing borderline about Ms. Drew’s tone. It was overtly judgmental.

“Objection!” Claire’s lawyer was similarly harsh. His tone left Claire unfazed. She was suddenly numb, and her mind was blank. The subsequent exchange of words sounded garbled to her, as if they were speaking underwater. Claire hadn’t previously known what an out-of-body experience was like. It was freeing yet confining at the same time. She didn’t try to fight it and just let it happen. Yes, this was definitely a new sensation.

x x x

Normally, they avoided news programs. It’s not like TV personalities could tell them more than they already knew about what was happening with the Jurassic World fallout. Instead, it was just endless segments of talking heads working with limited information and sewing additional confusion by screwing up the facts.

They’d been watching something else – not that Owen could remember what it was. It hadn’t taken long before they had become distracted, one of them pulling the other down, until they were lying prone on the couch and making out instead. It was never clear who moved first in these instances, the resulting action being more mutual than anything. That evening, they’d slowly shifted from making out to just cuddling, Owen stretched out along the back of the couch. Claire was lying in front of him, her back to his chest, and her head resting on his arm, while his hand played with her hair. His other arm was holding her close, wrapped over her waist. 

When the news started, neither of them had paid it any attention. The remote was resting on the coffee table in front of them, just out of their reach. It wasn’t long, however, before the show shifted into its daily update on the status of the Jurassic World lawsuits.

We have two updates tonight on the continuing fallout of Jurassic World, ” the anchor announced. “ We’ll start with an update on the class action lawsuits facing Masrani Global. Today was the final day of depositions for Claire Dearing, the Senior Assets Manager and Acting Operations Manager of Jurassic World. She was one of the final employees to have been on the island, and is known to have been heavily involved in both the Indominus’ creation as well as actions that were taken that day.

Owen could feel Claire stiffen in his arms at the mention of her name, so he just tightened his hold. He wasn’t sure of the right move to make. Should he be leaping up and turning off the TV? Or would that be signifying that he didn’t think she could handle it? He decided to wait it out, hopefully either it was fine or Claire would turn it off herself.

Ms. Dearing has been undergoing deposition questioning for the past few weeks, but we have been unable to get a statement from her.

Owen was surprised to see himself on the screen, as the news used footage of the two of them pushing through the crowd from the day he’d taken her to Sunset Cliffs. He hated knowing that they had filmed it, and that the clip would likely persist for a while. It felt like it tainted the memory of that evening.

From our sources, Ms. Dearing was extensively questioned over her actions in the control room that day, including not challenging Simon Masrani, the late head of Masrani Global, on his decisions.

He could feel his blood beginning to boil. This person didn’t know what he was talking about. They hadn’t been there. And it’s not like Claire could override Masrani. He was her boss, not the other way around. Owen was working hard to control his emotions and hold them at bay, so he didn’t notice the first tear that landed on his arm, or even the second. It was only when Claire shifted slightly, turning her head into his arm, that he tuned into the wetness on his sleeve, and the very slight shaking that had started to run through her. Startled, he used his hands to gently tug at her, turning her until she was facing him. She had her eyes squeezed shut, trying to prevent the tears from slipping out, but they were still sliding steadily down her cheeks. He just pulled her closer, letting her bury her face into his chest, while he ran his hand soothingly up and down her back, wishing he could reach the TV remote without having to move.

He shifted his gaze to the TV, tuning back into what was being said. 

While it is clear that Ms. Dearing holds some level of fault for what happened that day, it is not something that can be placed squarely on her shoulders. The more information that comes out, the clearer it becomes that numerous high level employees at both Jurassic World and InGen contributed greatly to the outcome, some who even lost their own lives that day.

Owen winced as the screen now displayed a series of headshots of high level employees, the word ‘deceased’ appearing under Masrani and Hoskins images.

It is not yet clear who will take the fall or what will be the eventual outcome. It does seem clear, however, that Masrani Global and InGen will never be the same. And speaking of InGen, that leads us to our second update. Today it was announced that an inquiry will be launched into possible bio-ethical misconduct perpetrated by Dr. Henry Wu.”

Huh, Owen thought, well that was interesting. He’d been wondering if anyone was going to come after Wu. It felt like it was long past time someone did.

Chapter Text

Immediate Fallout - Chapter 7

It had been another day full of conversations and people that Claire didn't want to think about anymore. She needed to talk to someone to drown out the noise in her head. Someone who had been pestering her for days via text to call. Fortunately, Claire's drive home was a limited amount of time, and she'd have a perfect excuse to end her call with Karen when she arrived home. Home to Owen and more pleasurable diversions. Smiling at her own cleverness (as well as those arousing imaginings), Claire dialed her sister as soon as her car pulled out of the parkade.

"Well, hello, stranger," Karen's voice was thick with sarcasm. "About time you called me."

Claire rolled her eyes and suppressed a groan as she replied, "I've been busy."

"Don't you mean 'we've been busy'?" Karen practically cackled with delight on the other end of the line. Claire actually groaned this time, and Karen settled herself. "I don't blame you. I just miss you."

"Miss me?" Claire's tone was harsher than she intended, and she bit her lip. They hadn't been physically or emotionally close for years. In fact, Karen had stopped saying that she "missed" Claire long ago, when it was apparent that her younger sister had become a permanent fixture on Isla Nublar, only returning to the homestead for funerals. At least Claire had shut out all family equally. There was no opportunity for hard feelings between Karen and their parents. Claire felt a pang of regret at that – especially for how it may have affected her dad, who'd lost both his marriage and his favored daughter in the last decade – but quickly shoved it down somewhere deep before it could consume her.

"Claire." Karen suddenly sounded forlorn. "I always miss you." There were things that Claire knew Karen wanted to say. Things about her failing marriage and her increasingly strained relationship with Zach. These were topics Karen had mentioned in passing or, rather, squeezed into the scant time Claire had allowed in her schedule over the last six months. Ever since Claire had agreed to host the boys on Nublar so that their parents could hammer out a separation agreement.

"I know," sighed Claire, sinking deeper into the driver's seat as a gaggle of pedestrians lazily meandered down the crosswalk on the other side of her windshield.

"This is the part where you say you miss me, too." The playfulness had returned to Karen's tone and snapped Claire's focus back to the call.

"I do." She meant it. The light turned green, and the car was moving again, much to Claire's relief. "How's the family?" She cringed at her own ignorance.

"Making it...surprisingly." Karen took a deep breath before continuing. "Scott's been really wonderful. He's patient and kind with the boys… and even me. It hasn't been this way since… I can't remember when." Listening to her sister, Claire pictured the smile tugging at the lips of a woman who'd grown cynical in her middle age. The easy smile from the early years of the marriage, when Zach was in diapers and Scott was the cool older brother Claire never had. It was sobering to realize that Zach was presently at the age Claire was now harkening back to.

"What about the boys?"

"They're coping… in different ways." Karen laughed in a way that warmed Claire's heart. She hadn't heard that laugh in forever. "Gray's suddenly interested in Boy Scouts, and Scott is thrilled. Mr. Eagle Scout is finally able to impart that knowledge and be respected for it."

"And Zach?" Claire looked at the clock on the dash and the street sign to her right. Maybe she could take a longer route home to be able to hear more. It was disconcerting that she was pondering such a thing.

"He's been spending his weekends working on cars with Dad." By Karen's voice, this must've been a change from Zach's previous behaviors. Claire was sobered yet again by the thought that she really didn't know her nephews at all. Didn't know what the Mitchell home life was like, in general, either. Her thoughts started to drift and her stomach churned. When Claire remained silent, Karen added, "Owen's been a godsend." The statement almost caused Claire to slam on her brakes. She knew he'd been talking to the boys but had never eavesdropped or pried into their conversations. Maybe she should've been more engaged. Or taken more initiative herself. She was their aunt, after all.

"How so?" Claire asked quickly, trying to conceal the unfamiliar feeling creeping up her spine. Remorse and jealousy seemed out of place. It wasn't fair to Owen or the Mitchell clan, but those emotions niggled at her all the same.

"He's supporting them as they work through the trauma. Zach's been leaning on Owen a lot." Karen paused to snort with laughter. "There's some hero worship going on, but Owen's trying to use it to encourage Zach to open up more."

"Is it working?" Claire was genuinely tickled by these revelations and was now idling in her parking spot next to the condo.

"It's a slow process. Zach's having some trust issues over the separation. Gray – clever boy that he is – figured it out and shared his suspicions. They've subsequently doubled-down on their roles in the house. Gray is even more a model child while Zach can't stand to be in the same room with us a lot of the time. Scott's been talking to Owen directly about all this, too." Karen trailed off. Claire felt a bit guilty about not calling more often, guessing that her sister was feeling excluded from the male-bonding. There was already an excess of testosterone around her. Given Claire's train of thought, Karen's next statement was unexpected. "You're lucky to have someone like Owen by your side."

Stunned into silence, Claire didn't know whether to cut the engine and run to the man waiting for her inside or back out of the parking lot and run away from him. If Gray was a model child, then Owen had been a model… boyfriend? She supposed that was right, even if they'd never explicitly discussed it. She also supposed that they were lucky to have each other. It wasn't one-sided. Shaking her head, Claire removed the key from the ignition and flatly told her sister, "Just got home."

"Alright," relinquished Karen. "Talk to you later." The call ended, and Claire was thrown. How could she be expected to be the supportive sister when she was barely treading water herself every day? Claire hoped that wasn't just an excuse for the continued detachment from her family.

She walked into the condo to discover Owen sitting on the couch and having a video chat with Zach. Her nephew saw her through the webcam, greeting her first. Owen quickly swung his head around and beamed at her. She practically melted in response. His grin wasn't even sexual – she knew that expression quite well by this point. It was a perfect moment. One that she willfully chose not to over-analyze. Instead, she plopped onto the couch, accepted Owen's arm around her waist (with an appreciative kiss to his cheek), listened to the tail end of their conversation, and marveled at how something new could feel so familiar.

x x x

Henry Wu was struggling with the idea of being stripped of his identity. On top of not having access to his life's work at InGen, he'd been informed that Berkeley – his alma mater and to whom he'd been a more than generous benefactor for over a decade – was cutting all ties with him. Gone was his professorship. The laboratories in his honor were being renamed. The scholarships he funded would no longer be given to promising, young minds. His legacy was quickly being erased from existence. His carefully-planned future was now a blank canvas. All was not lost, however, and he needed to remind himself of that. So, when Eli Mills asked for an in-person chat, Henry knew exactly where they should meet.

"Isn't this a bit on-the-nose?" asked Eli, coming to stand next to the geneticist in front of a Velociraptor display. There was a mixture of impatience, arrogance, and something else in his tone.

Rolling his eyes but keeping them fixed on the skeleton, Henry scoffed, "The Buena Vista Museum of Natural History & Science has long been one of my favorite places. Besides, it's not a suspicious location for me to be seen."

"I get it," Eli responded while raking a hand through his hair. "Bakersfield is neutral, too."

"Exactly." As he turned to face the younger man, Henry was struck by his fidgeting and dejected look. The body language on display disturbed the doctor's quiet reverie in the familiar, comforting surroundings. "What's wrong?" Henry inquired pointedly in a whisper.

Eli cleared his throat and mirrored the hushed tone, "Some of your samples weren't viable." Given Henry's inability to personally complete the samples' transfer, this news wasn't entirely surprising. It was still, without a doubt, the worst possible news and the last setback he needed. No wonder Eli wanted to discuss it face-to-face. Henry fought to control his visceral reaction. His pulse pounded, but he kept his breathing steady and refused to buckle under the added weight. He felt overwhelmed as it was. This was just another blow to his bruised ego, even if he'd never admit his own weaknesses.

Posture stiffening, Henry responded calmly, "What was compromised?'

"The Indominus and one of the Velociraptors."

"Which one?" Henry imagined he was giving Eli his best death glare. Served that little shit right. Time had been short during the evacuation from the island, and Henry had prioritized the samples needed for the side project he'd been developing with Vic Hoskins. The project that Eli was supposed to understand.

It was Eli's turn to be frustrated, only he didn't hide it as well as the doctor. His fists balled at his sides, and his face betrayed his naïveté. "I don't know," he huffed. "I'm not a scientist."

"That's right," Henry sneered. "You're just the money man." He hoped to convey his disdain. Make the high and mighty "Mr. Mills" feel like a bug under his shoe. Unfortunately, they both needed the other. When Eli remained quietly fuming, Henry remarked resignedly, "We'll need more of that money now for acquiring fresh samples."

Eli's eyes squinted as he questioned, "Fresh?"

Henry flashed him a devilish grin. "Call it, 'search and rescue.'" Eli's eyes widened in understanding. Before he could open his mouth, Henry announced, "You'll need to assemble a team. I assume you still have some contacts with Hoskins' associates?"

"There were… contingencies."

"Good." Henry began walking away from the display with Eli following closely at his heels. It made Henry chuckle at the memory of something Hoskins used to say about "refining the pecking order." Survival of the fittest. Henry Wu was a survivor, and he wasn't starting over from scratch. In addition to the samples and equipment housed at Lockwood's Estate, he'd already provided a list of scientists to recruit for the new endeavors.

"How much money are you going to need, exactly?" Eli was almost blubbering. Henry's internal smile widened.

"All of it?" It was half in jest. To be honest, Henry didn't have a clue how much an operation of this magnitude was going to cost. These were minutiae that he would've counted on Vic to know. Managing the security – human and heavy machinery – capital had been the now dead man's role in their partnership. Sighing audibly, Henry knew he'd have to throw his new partner a bone. "Quite a few security and computer personnel will shortly be out of jobs. InGen is going to start unloading its remaining 'assets' very soon. You'll want to mobilize the funds to make offers." Eli nodded as they continued to walk. Henry adopted a brisker pace, feeling more at ease with every step. "I'll draft a proposal – the basics, of what I need – and you'll have to sort out the details." Stopping short and turning around so quickly that Eli almost walked into him, Henry taunted, "Think you can figure it out?"

"Yes," Eli answered through gritted teeth.

"Good." Henry had been walking toward the museum's glass entrance doors, and his gaze was suddenly drawn to a school bus and children flooding the curb. Swallowing back a lump that was rising in his throat, he said quietly, "I'll soon be making a trip to the Bay Area to settle my affairs there. Can you arrange to have my remaining belongings moved?" When he turned back towards Eli, the other man astutely picked up on the mood shift and the melancholy evident in Henry's voice.

"Absolutely, Dr. Wu." Eli's tone was one of reassurance. They did need each other. It was currently a tenuous alliance, and Henry would need to swallow more than a lump to strengthen it. He'd have to swallow his pride and find a way to trust – even if it was somewhat blind, just as it had been when Hammond and Masrani trusted him. He reminded himself that the lost samples were a setback that he had to accept. What other choice did he have? With a nod, Eli exited the museum. Henry looked back towards the displays, wondering which way was forward and which way was back.

x x x

Claire didn't want to be there. She really really really didn't want to be there. But she had no choice. Masrani Global had decided that enough was enough and it was time that a public statement was made. And they wanted all of the remaining high-ranking employees from Jurassic World to be there for it. Well, those who currently weren't facing investigations and potential imprisonment or loss of license. She'd never thought she'd think of Wu as lucky, and yet, here she was.

Thankfully, she wasn't the one who was going to have to give the statement. Instead, the head of the Board was going to do that. But, she had to stand on stage, along with the others, and smile and nod through his words. Although, was smiling the right thing to do, when they were talking about an incident where people died? Of course, frowning wouldn't be right either. Great, now she was going to be wondering how she looked the entire time, as if she hadn't spent the whole previous evening and the morning stressing over what she should wear.

She took a deep breath to try and calm down, but it didn't work. She took another, but instead of calm, she could feel her heart rate starting to race, panic rising in her throat. Her eyes started scanning the crowd in front of her, trying to ignore all the flashing cameras and shouted questions. Owen had said he was going to be there. Where was he? He'd promised…

It took her a few scans of the crowd before she finally picked him out, hovering just near the back edge, off to one side, trying to remain inconspicuous. She could feel her heart start to slow the moment her eyes locked onto him, a wave a calm rushing over her. Unlike her depositions, unlike the weeks of being grilled, trapped in a room full of lawyers, this time he was right there, and with her. He caught her eye and gave her a smile, raising one hand to give her a quick thumbs up. She gave him a slight nod back, exhaling slowly. She could do this.

The volume of the crowd in front of her rose suddenly, and she tore her gaze from Owen, looking to the side with all the reporters, watching as the head of the Board walked across the stage, taking his place behind the podium at the front. He didn't speak, waiting until the crowd quieted on its own, before greeting them.

Claire and the others had been given a copy of his statement about half an hour before they had been ushered onto the stage. Probably so that no one would react in surprise as he talked. At least, that was her assumption. She was realizing, however, as he started to speak, that maybe it was also because they knew how hard it would be to pay attention while standing out there. That they might not actually hear all that much of the speech. And they were all expected to be available to reporters afterwards, to answer questions and spin.

There had been a time when Claire had thought politics could be an interesting future. Where she had hung on every word, listening with rapt attention as policies were debated, watching how politicians could make the most mundane thing sound interesting, and the most serious thing sound banal. She'd done speech and debate in high school. Had loved the thrill of adrenaline at learning how to sway people to her side. It was a skill that helped her rise the ranks so quickly at Jurassic World. It was a skill she knew she would need to get through today.

Except she didn't want to. For the first time in her life, she was no longer Jurassic World's "golden girl." No longer Masrani's favourite. And she no longer believed everything they were spouting. How much of her change was because of what she'd lived through and how much was being influenced by Owen she didn't know. But she didn't care either. There was too much going on, too many things happening. She knew she'd been putting a lot aside already to "deal with later," but she didn't know how else to cope. How else she was supposed to get through every day with a smile on her face and acting like she was fine? She didn't want to go home each night and try to work through it all. She didn't want all of it to invade her time with Owen, not more than it already did. She was so ready for this to all be over.

"…the dinosaurs will be left to live out their own lives. The island has been classified as restricted, and we are working closely with the Costa Rican coast guard to ensure that it remains that way…"

Claire briefly tuned in to the statement, as her eyes watched a look of dark fury cross Owen's face, wondering what had set him off. She wasn't surprised it was a comment about the dinosaurs. He hadn't said much about his time on Nublar, but she knew he wasn't impressed with everything they had done. And that he still wondered, daily, how Blue was doing, wishing he had a way to check on her.

"…the tragedy of that day is something that we do not take lightly. We lost many of our colleagues and close friends that day, including Simon Masrani, our own CEO, when he bravely took the helicopter out to try and assist…"

Claire was glad she was far enough back that it was unlikely any camera would manage to pick up her eye roll. At least, she hoped she was far enough back, because she couldn't repress the instinct. If you'd asked her immediately after the incident, she'd probably have agreed then it was a brave move. She didn't think so anymore. And, either way, it was a rich statement coming from a guy who had orchestrated the whole plan to pin all the blame on Simon. She guessed it was no longer considered "biting the hand that feeds you" once the CEO was dead.

"Many people were involved in trying to stop the incident as it unfolded, and, as in all of these cases, as the investigations into exactly what went down that day continues to develop, it's clear that there were mistakes made. But we're going to do our best to make this right."

Claire had known these lines were coming and managed to suppress her scoff. "Make this right?" How could they ever "make this right?" People died. You can't change that. You can't undo it. Zara would never get married. The ACU guys would never be going home. Simon would never meet his grandkids.

Claire tuned out again, as the statement moved into platitudes combined with wishy washy political-style bravado as it touched on the class action lawsuits. Not that they could say much – they were still ongoing and everything that was being stated now had been reviewed and edited by a team of lawyers. They had to be careful not to step into any traps of liability that would threaten their stance going forward. Not before the outcome was decided. And she knew, at this point, the board didn't hold out a ton of hope that it was going to be dismissed. More, that they were hoping to keep the financial liability as small as they could.

Looking out over the crowd again, her eyes immediately searched out Owen. He had found a pillar to stand next to and was leaning against it, arms crossed over his chest, frown on his face. Although, she did notice the moment he realized she was looking at him again that some of the tension in his stance eased. It did for her, too. It was nice to know the feeling was mutual. That it wasn't just her getting comfort from his presence, but that he also seemed to get it from her.

She let the calm of his presence continue to wash over her, to help her maintain her stance, as she waited for the statement to wrap up. The increased action of the reporters, who clearly could tell the statement was coming to a close, drew her attention, and she listened with half an ear to the conclusion.

"As John Hammond, the one who started this all, said almost twenty years ago, it is important that we establish a set of rules for the isolation of the island…"

Once the statement was finished, the questions immediately followed, being shouted loud and furiously towards everyone on stage, as the crowd surged forward. Claire quickly lost sight of Owen, but she didn't have much time to think about it. The line of them standing on the stage was directed to exit down the two sides into the waiting mob. It was time for spin.

x x x

Owen and Lowery were watching as John Wick exited the animal clinic, leash of his newly stolen pitbull puppy in hand, the two heading down the street when the front door of the condo opened, drawing their attention away from the TV.

"Hey," Owen called out as he looked over the back of the couch, watching as Claire walked in. She looked towards him, and he watched as her gaze immediately flicked over to Lowery who had also looked back. Owen had to hand it to her, she barely flinched in surprise at the other man's presence. "How was today?"

"Just… another day," Claire shrugged. "I can't wait for a day where I don't have to hear the words Jurassic World, incident, or tragedy." She looked towards Lowery. "Lowery, I thought you were still working?"

"Yesterday was my last day," Lowery stated. "I took the payout. Not that six weeks salary is going to take me all that far."

"Is that what they offered?" Claire asked, surprised. Owen knew that Claire hadn't been a part of any of the negotiations and details around how Masrani Global was dealing with the remaining employees. He'd listened as she'd vented about it the other night, hating to be left out and not knowing what was happening. She wanted to know that all the employees she used to oversee were being taken care of; that Masrani Global wasn't going to forget about them.

"Yeah," Lowery seemed a bit down about it for a moment, before brightening. "But I've already got a few leads on some jobs, so I think it'll be fine."

"What are you watching?" Claire asked, circling the couch. Owen moved slightly towards the center, and Claire took the space between him and the armrest. He wrapped his arm around her as she shifted closer to his side.

"Just finishing up John Wick," Owen answered, hitting pause on the movie as the credits started rolling.

"Good?"

"Yeah," Owen said while Lowery nodded in agreement. "Pretty kickass fight scenes."

"Sorry I missed it," Claire said dryly.

"I didn't think it'd be one you'd be interested in," Owen admitted. "We can watch it again."

"No, I'm being facetious," Claire shook her head. "I can do without any fighting in my life for a while, human or dinosaurs. There's been more than enough death recently."

"You probably don't want to watch it then," Lowery said, leaning forward to look over at her. "There's a puppy…"

"Oh god," Claire groaned, turning her face into Owen's shirt for a moment. He could feel her taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "Yeah, I definitely don't want to see that."

"You're home a bit early, aren't you?" Owen asked, looking down at his watch.

"Were you hoping I wouldn't catch you two?" Claire joked, pulling back. "Lowery was going to disappear before I could walk through the door?"

"Course not," Owen laughed. "We were about to sort out something to order for dinner but wanted to wait until you got here to weigh in."

"I'm fine with anything," Claire said, sinking back into his side. "Except, maybe not Thai, we had that the other night. And not Mexican. Oh, maybe a curry? Or, actually, I could go for pizza."

"Anything, right," Owen rolled his eyes, looking over at Lowery who shrugged back.

"I could do pizza," Lowery agreed. "Maybe some wings?"

"Pizza is easy," Owen nodded. He dug out his phone pulling up the local pizza place he had found when he'd first arrived and that Claire had been happy with. He opened the menu before tossing his phone at Lowery, asking him to pick out what he wanted, and letting him know what their usual order was. It didn't take long before they'd agreed on an order and sent it in.

Claire eventually pushed herself up off the couch, saying she was going to get changed before the pizza got there, and Owen and Lowery pulled out plates and set out drinks.

Once the food had arrived they settled back onto the couch, flipping the TV over to a random channel for some background noise. They weren't paying attention, instead enjoying the time to just hang out. Owen knew that Claire and Lowery had worked together for years, but he still wasn't really clear how close the two were. Watching them interact now, he was realizing that while they may not have described themselves as friends before, they definitely had a comfortable relationship, with Lowery having no qualms about needling Claire, and Claire taking it lightheartedly, just as it was meant.

"Have you seen Andrea again?" Claire asked Lowery, and Owen watched as Lowery's face went beet red.

"Um, yeah," Lowery admitted, quickly shoving his pizza into his mouth. Owen chuckled softly, he knew it wouldn't do any good, and, as he expected, Claire just waited Lowery out.

"So? Anything there?" Claire pried, once Lowery had swallowed.

"Maybe?" Lowery replied hesitantly. "I mean, I've only seen her a few times so… too early to say?"

Owen knew Claire was going to dig deeper, so he jumped in to save Lowery, who was looking at him desperately. "Have you decided if you're going to stay around here?"

"I think so," Lowery nodded, looking relieved at the slight shift in conversation. "Like I said, I've got a few job leads already, and I've got friends and family around. So, might be a nice change of pace after…"

"Yeah," Owen replied, although he wasn't so sure he agreed. He'd taken the job with InGen as a way to get away from people, and even now, a few years and a giant incident later, he wasn't feeling all that more inclined to be in a city.

"I still need to find a place though, I don't want to be staying at my parents' forever."

"Yeah, not really the look most women are going for," Claire teased, although her accompanying smile was kind.

"The Jurassic World stuff gives me cover for now," Lowery shrugged, "But it's getting old. There's a reason I left San Diego before. Once I sort out a job, finding a place will be the next step." He looked at the two of them, "What about you guys? I mean, you've got the condo here, so will you stick around?" He looked hopeful.

"Um," Owen looked over at Claire. This was something they'd never talked about. Just like they'd never talked about the fact that they had essentially moved in together and were now dating (although, with living together, dating seemed almost too casual a term for it).

"Have you been looking at jobs?" Lowery continued, his gaze jumping between them.

"Not really," Owen admitted. "Haven't figured out what I want to do next. And while animal behaviourist is not uncommon, a former 'raptor trainer' isn't really what anyone is looking for."

"You've got tons of skills," Claire reassured, patting him on the arm. She looked over at Lowery. "I'm still caught up in all the Jurassic World stuff. I haven't really been able to think beyond it yet. Hopefully soon, though."

"Yeah?" Owen looked over at Claire, eyebrow raised in hope. That was the first he was hearing that stuff on her end might be wrapping up soon.

"I think so," Claire nodded, eyes locked on his.

"You probably won't need to look for anything," Lowery said, interrupting the moment. "I mean, Masrani Global would be stupid to let you go."

"Yeah, we'll see."

x x x

Owen paced in the glass-enclosed conference room while waiting for the designated InGen representative to bring his paperwork. He was willfully blocking out whatever talk show was airing on the TV mounted to the wall. Was it supposed to be distracting him? Entertaining him? How many other employees had been in there earlier in the day, settling up? He hoped he was making the right decision. It was neither impulsive nor without debating the offer's merits with Barry. His friend and former co-worker had told him it was a no-brainer. There was no debate for Barry, so why was this so much harder for Owen? What was he deliberating? In an effort to limit external forces, he hadn't discussed the deal or his decision to take it with Lowery or Claire. It was personal, Owen gave himself as a weak excuse.

Time to think on his own was not good. He was suddenly unsure and questioning his hesitation. It was a solid deal. Two years pay for no work. Who wouldn't take that? In truth, it wasn't about the money. His uneasiness was with his future. Who he would be without his job? It had been how he defined himself for the last three years. He did have knowledge, experience and transferable skills. The question was, did he even want to use any of that now?

He reflected on how he got to this point. Owen had a bullshit degree from college that he'd always viewed as an afterthought. His ROTC scholarship had meant that he would be a Naval officer first and beholden to the needs of the Navy. He had very little say in his career field. Sure, he took aptitude tests and made a dream sheet, but the Navy did what they wanted with him at the end of the day. For a time, he was okay with that. It led him down a path that initially made him feel very fortunate. Blessed. Eventually, circumstances changed. It became a curse. He needed to get away from it, before he completely fell apart.

Owen was suddenly hit with an uncomfortable sense of deja vu. The job that had once seemed like his salvation was no more. It wasn't expected to rise like the phoenix either. The likelihood that he'd be studying raptors again was exceedingly low. In a way, he was in mourning. Isolating himself from others about it meant not having to confront that or process the loss. It was how he'd coped before, so that same strategy should've worked again. But, it wasn't really working this time.

The channel shifted to the local news, causing Owen to recoil internally. Before he could switch off the sound, the InGen representative finally appeared.

"Mr. Grady," he began, "please have a seat." Gesturing to a chair across from him, the administrator pulled a packet out of a manila folder and placed it in front of Owen, who sat down nervously. "I've marked with tabs all the places you need to sign." His voice was emotionless and robotic-sounding. Owen's vision started to blur when he tried to read the pages.

"Can I have a few minutes to look through this?" Owen asked in an almost pleading tone. He'd never experienced a panic attack before and hoped his current physical sensations wouldn't escalate into one. The other man was kind enough not to comment and simply nodded before leaving the room. As Owen tried to calm his racing heartbeat, he rotated his chair towards the TV screen. Maybe it would be a useful diversion after all.

At first he could barely make out what was being said. After a few seconds, however, it all came into focus.

"In a not unexpected turn of events, the paleo-vet fellowship at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine is shuttering indefinitely. This school year's fellows, who recently completed their classroom work and would've spent the spring semester doing their practical work on Isla Nublar, will be offered placement in alternative fellowships at no additional cost."

Owen felt a mixture of emotions at this news. He'd known many of the vets on Nublar and had interacted with previous classes of fellows at the raptor paddock. His involvement in their "real world" education about raptors had netted him an assistant professor title from UC Davis. It wasn't something he'd sought, just something that fell into his lap. While he enjoyed teaching on Nublar, Owen never considered himself an academic nor was he particularly interested in such a career. It did not feel good, however, to have that door officially closed to him. An option erased along with his primary job.

"Unhappy with the university's actions, the handful of current fellows staged a protest on campus today. The group was led by Dr. Zia Rodriguez, who gave a statement to the press."

The camera cut to a recorded segment with a dark-haired woman in glasses addressing a crowd.

"I speak for all of us when I say that we are devastated by the school's decision to cut ties with Masrani Global. While I don't pretend to understand the complexities of the recent tragedy on Isla Nublar, I do know that the tragedy has only begun for the surviving dinosaurs. The fellowship here at Davis was the only one of its kind. An exclusive partnership with Jurassic World. Without our program, no veterinarians would've been trained to care for those animals. That knowledge will no longer be imparted to other veterinarians. The dinosaurs are being abandoned, and no one seems to care about them. It is our fervent hope that a new partnership can be formed to safeguard their lives."

As the clip ended and the camera cut back to the studio, Owen felt an ache in his chest. The woman's passionate plea was heartfelt, but what struck him most was her repeating the word "partnership." Staring down once again at the papers in front of him and pondering those tabs, he realized that he didn't want to make this decision alone. Although he and Claire had yet to discuss their futures, he wanted her in his. He needed to respect her and their evolving partnership before signing on the dotted line. Isolating himself in the wake of losses, professional and personal, had never truly worked. This was his chance to make a correction.

The administrator came back into the room to ask, "Have you finished?" Owen looked up blankly, and the other man's impatience was apparent in his tone. "I have to file those in twenty-four hours. After that, the offer is null and void."

"Okay," Owen answered quietly. "Then, I'll be back tomorrow morning. There's something I need to do first."

x x x

Owen's obvious anxiety was starting to rub off on Claire, and she could barely stand it. Something had been off with him since she got home. He was quieter than usual. Much to her dismay, he also hadn't made dinner. As that had been the plan for the evening, she decided to be passive-aggressive and reluctantly cook something simple for the two of them herself. All while silently fuming at him. They barely spoke to each other throughout the process, during which he hovered nearby to lend an occasional hand. Now that they were sitting across from each other at the table, he wasn't really even eating, just pushing his pasta around the plate. Her anger was transitioning into fear. He looked increasingly antsy, as if he needed to tell her something potentially devastating. Her mind didn't like where her thoughts began to drift, so she had to put an end to it.

"What's wrong, Owen?" She tried to keep her voice as steady as possible, willing him to respond honestly. The next words on her tongue would've laid her insecurities bare. She hoped to prevent them from tumbling out.

He cleared his throat and said, "I have to decide whether or not to take the payout from InGen by tomorrow morning."

A startled and relieved, "Oh," escaped her throat. Owen looked at her quizzically.

"What did you think was wrong?"

"Nothing, nothing," she deflected. "I was just worried about you." That wasn't a lie. As they'd gotten to know each other better, and as a byproduct of living together, she was not only starting to read his moods but also feeling affected by them. It was much easier to find joy in simple things when he was happy. When he wasn't happy, she felt compelled to brighten his day. Making him smile had quickly become a favorite pastime. That, in and of itself, was a simple thing that brought her joy.

"I'm sorry," stammered Owen. "That's the last thing I'd want to do." He looked and sounded so sincere. She reached out to take his hand on the table. He squeezed back but still seemed antsy.

"We should talk it out," she suggested. He nodded as she continued, "What's the alternative?"

He shrugged, "I guess… I stay on the payroll until they decide if they have a place in the company for me, but I'd lose the option of the payout if I don't like their continued employment offer."

"Do you want to keep working for InGen?" Claire was again suppressing her own nerves. They hadn't talked about any of this before. Part of it was avoidance and wanting to focus on lighter matters. Another, more terrifying part for Claire, was worry about what he would say. Worry that what he wanted didn't involve her or was totally incompatible with her worldview. Ignorance had been bliss. While she wasn't sure where they were headed, she was in no rush to bring that bliss to an end.

After a few tense seconds of staring at each other, he gave a firm, "No."

"Then… why haven't you taken the payout?" Her brow furrowed as she wracked her brain over his hesitation. She didn't understand why this seemingly easy decision was ruffling him.

Owen let out a heavy sigh, "You're the reason." She reflexively tried to pull her hand away from him, but he only gripped her harder. He had to feel her suddenly racing pulse and recognize the look of shock on her face. His next words stuttered out. "Us, I mean us. It wasn't a joke when I suggested we stick together."

"I didn't interpret it as a joke."

"Good." Relief swept over his face and body. It relaxed Claire, too. "So… I…" His voice trailed off as he looked down, and Claire couldn't help but smile.

"You… wanted to make the decision together?" Her throat went a little dry as she spoke the words. She supposed that neither of them wanted to formally define their relationship, but external forces were finally pushing them to do so.

"Yeah." Owen looked at her hopefully. When she hesitated to respond, he added quickly, "But, I'm not trying to put any pressure on you. I just really like how things are and want to continue this… us." Truthfully, Claire was so overwhelmed by holding together the tattered remnants of her former life that she had no concrete thoughts about her future. Having something stable, if ill-defined, with Owen was about all she could manage.

"Me, too." At her easy words, they both laughed nervously. It was gratifying but also a tad scary to discover that they were on the same page. They could move forward.

"What about your job?" Owen asked with lingering trepidation. "Has Masrani Global said anything about what will happen next with you?"

"Yes," Claire sighed. "Lowery was right. They want to keep me, but I'm not sure I want to stay." She'd been ruminating on this for days. What the company decided to do and what she was a willing participant in – putting the lion's share of blame on Simon – made her wary of what they might do to her once her own usefulness ran out. She felt guilty for her role in the tragedy, even if the company hadn't turned on her… yet. Choosing her words carefully, she explained. "After everything that's happened since that day, I'm not feeling all that charitable towards them."

"What do you want to do?" It was clear that his nerves weren't entirely dissipated. Claire wondered if Owen had been just as anxious to explore these topics as she had been. That made her feel better than she cared to admit, and she relaxed into her chair.

"Walk away." It felt good to say it out loud.

His eyes went wide before inquiring, "Would they give you severance, like Lowery?"

"No. I'd be resigning. Besides, they've never offered me an out." She'd been thinking that was strange but didn't want to dig deeper.

"Is that something you could do?" One side of Owen's mouth twitched. She knew what he meant. Like their relationship status, they'd been avoiding conversations about money. Owen had been, so it seemed to Claire, reflexively paying for meals out and groceries. It didn't bother her. She imagined the behavior was partly chivalry but mostly driven by fairness. He'd made an off-hand comment in bed one night about not paying rent. She'd never asked him to chip in on the utility bills either and admitted that was folded into her avoidance of defining their relationship. Splitting bills could mean they were heading toward something serious or just really good roommates.

"Yes," she answered flatly. "I'm in a good place financially." She waited for his response, hoping he didn't get the impression that she was being boastful. She also hoped it wasn't emasculating. As he just stared at her blankly, she added, "Even if I wasn't, I don't think I'd want to be bound to Masrani Global anymore. I don't trust them."

Owen nodded and said, "I understand that." He was massaging her palm with his thumb when he asked, "What do you want to do?"

"Honestly? Just get away from here."

"Let's do that!" His tone was eager. He looked ecstatic, as if she was fulfilling a dream of his. "There's nothing more for us here. We could go wherever." Claire was quite certain by his smile that he'd be kissing her if there wasn't a table between them. She was frankly concerned about his leaping over the table to embrace her.

"Now?" she asked in worried tone.

"Whenever." Owen's feet were almost tapping on the floor as he appeared full of excited energy. "As soon as you tell Masrani you're done."

"Okay," she relented with a nervous smile. He beamed back, and a wave of calm washed over her. It was what she wanted. That they were in sync made her feel even better about it. "I'll tell them tomorrow!" She was starting to feel giddy but composed herself. "Of course, out of respect, I'll give them my two weeks' notice, to make sure everything's wrapped up fully."

Owen nodded in understanding before raising his glass in a toast, "To new beginnings." She laughed and clinked her own glass against his. After they both took a sip, he asked, "How do you feel about camping?"

She rolled her eyes and smirked, "Settle down. Let's start with something less complicated." She paused to think then redirected, "A road trip."

"An adventure. Just the two of us." As Owen looked down at their joined hands, Claire detected a small shift in his demeanor.

"I'm really glad we have each other, Owen. I can't imagine going through all of this alone." She squeezed his hand, and they locked eyes again.

Shaking his head, he admitted, "You've handled things amazingly. You astonish me. I feel like I've been floundering by comparison." Claire was taken aback by his words. Following her phone call with Karen, she'd been ruminating on Owen being a "model boyfriend," supporting others left and right – herself most definitely included. Before she could utter any reassuring words, he added, "I've been so desperate to get away. I can't tell you how happy I am that you want that, too."

"Owen," her tone was almost pleading. "You've been amazing. I'm sure your coping skills from past traumas have served you well." Off his confused look, she clarified, "I mean, in the Navy." Claire bit her lip and hoped she wasn't over-stepping. They'd never really talked about his military career, but she assumed he'd been exposed to something combat-related.

"Oh," he stammered, "well… I was always on ships in the Gulf. Never 'boots on the ground' or anything particularly dangerous." Claire didn't know how to respond but felt sheepish. Here they were, living together… planning to escape together, and yet, there was so much they didn't know about each other. Ever observant, Owen looked at her with kind eyes. He was good at reading her moods by now, too. Taking a deep breath as if in preparation, he squirmed in his seat. Claire was not prepared for the next words that came out of his mouth. "The biggest trauma I experienced before Jurassic World was my divorce."

End of Act 1


Whew. Thanks for sticking with us so far! We're busy working on Act 2 where we finally get to see Claire and Owen in the infamous van.

Reviews help keep us motivated, so please let us know what you think below

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 1

Eli Mills didn't pace. Well, he didn't call it pacing. Pacing meant going back and forth. Pacing looked like worrying. And he was doing neither. He was just calmly strolling around his office. Repeatedly. And he was not biting his fingernails. Of course, that may be because there was nothing left, having already bit them down to the quick over the past few weeks.

But he was not worried. He wanted to be very clear about that. He was not worried. Everything was going to be fine.

He paused as he passed behind his desk, his gaze drawn to his phone, which he'd left lying in the middle in an attempt to stop checking to make sure it was still on. What was taking them so long? It was supposed to be a quick in and out. No one wanted to be on the island any longer than necessary. Not with all the dinosaurs loose. Who knew what had claimed that territory? It wasn't something that Eli liked to think about.

They were already hours behind schedule, a storm blowing in having prevented their original plan of visiting the site during the day. Instead, they had been forced to try to wait out the storm. It quickly became apparent, however, that the cloud system was stuck over the island (not all that surprising, it was named Isla Nublar for a reason after all). But, Eli couldn't afford a costly delay. They had one shot to get this done, so he'd told them to go for it as soon as they thought there was enough of a break in the weather. And, if it was less likely that anyone would catch them in the act if it happened to be raining and in the middle of the night? Well, he wasn't going to complain about that.

Now, he was just waiting for an update. Were they successful? Did they find it? What happened?

He continued his lap around the room, passing the large conference table across which he had spread maps and pictures from the island. He'd recently seen a tech demo of a giant touchscreen tabletop and was just waiting for the moment he could slip it into the budget, ridding himself of all the extra paper that seemed to accumulate. He circled by the fireplace, which was roaring, even though it was July. It wasn't a particularly cool day, but he'd been feeling an internal chill he just couldn't shake. He chalked it up to stress. Some days, he would swear this project was going to kill him.

Passing by the window, he looked out, focusing into the distance, where he could see the light from the lighthouse arcing through the dark sky. At least one of the benefits of it all happening late at night was that it was unlikely he'd be interrupted. Lockwood hadn't been doing well lately; he knew the old man was starting to go downhill, unable to stay standing for long anymore. And while Eli normally enjoyed time with Maisie, he'd recently found himself too on edge to deal with a six year old, not wanting to snap and take out his frustrations on her. He'd been hiding in his office more often than not.

The ringing of his phone had him springing from the window, practically diving across his office to answer it. "Hello?" Eli said, posture rigid, gripping the phone tightly.

"We got it. DNA sample secure."

He relaxed immediately, shifting around the desk to sink into his chair, wiping a hand across his brow, and letting out the breath that he didn't realize he'd been holding. "All good?" he confirmed.

"Well… the sample is fine. But, we lost three guys. And Marine One."

x x x

If it hadn't been for an encouraging reason, Owen would've been very unhappy to be back in San Diego. After being on the road with Claire for just over three months and enjoying more laid-back locales, he hated big cities even more than usual. This visit, however, had an important purpose: packing up her condo. He'd never felt completely comfortable with being a freeloader there. Claire hadn't ever asked him for rent or made him feel guilty about their unbalanced cohabitation, but it had wounded his pride all the same. When he first got the payout from InGen, they decided to split the cost of a used SUV. They'd been splitting things ever since, and now the shoe was on the other foot. Claire needed a source of income, and Owen didn't want her to deplete her savings. Renting her condo seemed to be an easy solution.

It had been obvious from their mutual avoidance of the topic that neither of them were ready to talk about settling down or finding new careers. Besides, getting to know each other and taking a break from the world was clearly what they had both needed. Now, however, what they needed most was greater flexibility than living out of a car and relying on hotels had allowed. Owen had been considering an RV purchase since before they'd left San Diego. Not wanting to scare off Claire, he kept that thought – and his research into the best values and features – to himself until she brought up the idea.

About a month prior, she started asking him about the trailer that had comprised part of his bungalow on the island. Her original idea was hitching something to the back of their car, but Owen was prepared to argue for something more. It didn't take long for Claire to agree. She even seemed excited to discuss the various models and amenities. Having disposable income available and not wanting a monthly payment to worry about, he took the plunge and paid cash for an old 1970s Airstream motorhome. He told Claire that it was the best one for their needs, but part of him was longing for his Airstream that was now abandoned on Nublar. It was nice to feel like he had some connection to his past. Claire was initially thrown by their not sharing the cost, but he wanted to go beyond just returning the favor from their time in San Diego. Owen needed to show that he could take care of them both.

The first few days back in San Diego had been better than he expected. They fell into their patterns from before, eating and shopping at the same places, but continued to shut out everything else as they had largely been doing while out on the road. Neither was keen to tell people where they were. This included local contacts and their families. They weren't accountable to anyone and took full advantage of that fact. Living in a bubble was bliss. Literally and figuratively. Moreover, Claire's Tempur-pedic mattress and Egyptian cotton were better than any hotel's accommodations. It was difficult to get out of bed.

"Do we have to leave this for a renter or can we take it with us?" Owen asked huskily, patting the mattress with one hand while his other hand slid over Claire's bare bottom. No matter their location, he never missed an opportunity to cop a feel. She hummed her satisfaction then shifted her position on top of him and propped her head up on her chin.

"I think we could get the same brand for the van," she smirked.

"What about the sheets? I've been reacquainted with this thread count and won't accept anything less now."

She let out a small snort and asked teasingly, "How did you manage in the fleabag hotels?"

"We didn't do much sleeping at those." He laughed and patted her ass lightly before tucking her under his arm.

"Oh," she taunted, "so you need more sleep? I guess we can cut out some other activities."

He cocked an eyebrow. "Better quality sleep, Claire. I can subsist on even fewer hours and have more time for other activities with a bed like this one." She pulled up to kiss him on the lips and pulled away too quickly for his tastes. He whimpered his displeasure.

"You are insatiable, Owen."

"Always with you." He meant it to sound sultry, but it came out sweet. As Claire's eyes twinkled with delight, his own expression mirrored her contentment. This was really what he'd become accustomed to. It was better than any thread count. There was a squeezing in his chest that he'd not allowed himself to feel in a long time. Before it got the better of him, he declared, "We better let people know we're here, lest they think we drove off a cliff."

Claire groaned, "You're right. Karen might make good on her threat to call out a search party."

"Lowery might not want to meet up at all if he finds out how long we've been in town," Owen opined.

"Pfft," Claire scoffed. "He's going to be thrilled, regardless. You said he wanted to buy us a thank you gift for encouraging him to talk to Andrea." She rolled from his embrace and climbed out of bed to wrap herself in a robe. Owen almost shuddered at the loss of her warmth. Then, looking around the place with boxes strewn about – some never unpacked from Nublar – he felt an actual chill.

"It's weird to be back here," he stated solemnly.

"I know," she responded quietly without turning her head towards him. Taking a deep breath, she added, "But, it's only temporary." Owen knew Claire well enough by now to recognize when she was biting her tongue; holding back and refusing to face him. He thought about pressing her on it but decided to let this one go. After all, there would be time enough to talk once they were back on the road.

He watched as she picked up her phone from the nightstand and wordlessly stepped out of the room. Grabbing his own phone, he sent a quick text to Lowery informing him of their return then started searching the web for bed linens.

x x x

"Hey, guys," Lowery greeted them warmly at the door. He looked happier and more relaxed than when they'd been hanging out just a few months before. He was also clean-shaven and sporting new glasses.

"You look great, man," Owen returned with a strong handshake and a pat on his friend's back.

"Good to see you, Lowery," said Claire, leaning forward to awkwardly hug their friend while passing him the bottle of wine they brought to accompany the dinner.

"Thanks, Claire," answered Lowery, accepting the gift and suddenly looking nervous. "Let me introduce you to Andrea." As they walked into the apartment, Owen was surprised to discover how welcoming and homey it looked inside. The walls were hung with a mix of retro movie posters and modern art prints. It was also immaculately clean.

"Your place looks amazing!" Claire exclaimed before Owen could comment.

"He has great taste," Andrea announced as she appeared from the kitchen and gave Lowery a quick peck on the lips. "He is dating me, after all," she added with a wink in Claire and Owen's direction. The blonde looked different than Owen remembered from the bar. Less made up, more girl next door. Her glasses very nearly matched Lowery's, and they made a charming, if not geeky, pair.

"I can personally attest to his improved tastes," Claire teased while shaking Andrea's hand. Taking it well, Lowery only shrugged and put an arm around his girlfriend's shoulders. "We've really been looking forward to meeting you."

"Likewise," Andrea replied excitedly. "Consider this a thank you dinner." She tucked herself tighter into Lowery's side, and Owen reflexively pulled Claire closer to him.

"I'm glad something good came out of the tragedy," Claire deadpanned. "What with the bevy of staff from both Jurassic World and InGen having their livelihoods rendered moot." Owen's posture stiffened, but he didn't let go of her. They'd avoided talking about Masrani and the legal proceedings for the last several months. He was surprised she'd bring it up unprovoked but supposed that she needed to vent.

"Yeah," Andrea said sympathetically. "I have a cousin who worked for InGen here in town who's scrambling."

Shaking her head and leaning into Owen, Claire scoffed, "In the wake of Wu's 'retirement' and the heightened scrutiny after the Gene Guard Act violations came to light, it was mercy on Masrani Global's part to dissolve that company as soon as possible." Owen fought to maintain his composure. He had no idea that Claire had stayed on top of the news. When had she taken the time to do so? Frankly, it was unsettling that she knew more about his former employer than he did. Not that he wanted to know.

Thankfully, Lowery must've appreciated his discomfort and redirected the conversation, "There's no end in sight to those lawsuits, but the salmon is ready now."

Throughout dinner, Owen marveled at how comfortable Lowery and Andrea seemed with each other. The couple was almost in sync and complemented each other well without being off-putting or sickeningly sweet. This made Owen feel proud but also a little unsettled. Lowery saved him from further reflection by asking, "What have you guys been up to?"

"Exploring the Southwest!" Claire spoke with genuine enthusiasm that made Owen proud without reservation. He leaned back, put a hand on her thigh under the table, and let her recount their travels. Largely, he nodded and smiled back at her while occasionally elaborating on some of his favorite spots, like Sabino Canyon adjacent to Saguaro National Park outside Tucson. They'd covered a lot of ground in southern Arizona and New Mexico, hiking around the Organ Mountains, exploring Carlsbad Caverns, walking barefoot through White Sands, and climbing the Gila Cliff Dwellings.

Claire squeezed his hand under the table and leaned into him when she spoke about their month in the vast wilderness of Big Bend National Park along the Texas/Mexico border. "That was my highlight," she admitted with a wistful smile. "Owen has been kind enough to tolerate some of my favorite independent filmmakers." Pausing to poke him playfully in the ribs, she then continued, "And, we got the idea after watching Boyhood together."

"That's where the main character was going to college at the end?" Andrea interrupted to ask.

"Yes!" Claire was giddy. "I'd never heard of it before, but I thought it was so gorgeous when I first saw the movie." Andrea was nodding in agreement as Owen made eye contact with Lowery, who flashed him a knowing grin. It was an unspoken understanding between men over being excellent partners to their women. Truth be told, however, Owen quite enjoyed sharing their individual passions with each other. Claire remained open to and never complained about the places he suggested they visit along the road – including their stop at the campy Roswell.

Regardless of its connection to one of Claire's favorite movies, Owen thought he could've stayed longer at Big Bend. It was a place that had been almost harder for him to leave than Claire's bed at the condo. Sometimes, they slept under the stars, greeting the dawn after an equally vibrant sunset. The limitations of their car were very apparent there, and they'd already discussed making a return trip with the van.

When she was almost hoarse from talking, Claire stopped to take a sip from her wine glass. Lowery used the opportunity to inquire, "What now? Are you back in San Diego to stay?"

It was Owen's turn to talk, and he didn't hesitate to answer, "Hell no." Out of his periphery, he saw that Claire was looking down. He wondered if there was a judgmental tone to his voice. Honestly, he couldn't care less if there was. "We're only back to rent out Claire's condo. Then, we're resuming our adventures." Both Lowery and Andrea wore stunned expressions and appeared hesitant to speak.

"We bought annual passes from the National Park Service," interjected Claire, stuttering just slightly. She rubbed Owen's bicep and looked up at him. "We have so many more places to see!"

"Yeah, but…" The words seemed to die on Lowery's tongue. A moment later, Andrea laid a hand on Lowery's arm and put an end to the awkwardness.

"It's time for the main event," related Andrea with a glee that mirrored Claire's when describing the road trip. While Lowery cleared the table, Andrea excused herself to retrieve an aluminum suitcase from the living area. She dramatically unlatched and opened it on the table to reveal a set of poker chips and decks of cards. "I hope you're ready," Andrea chuckled devilishly.

Owen struggled not to laugh out loud as the two women eyed each other shrewdly. It was a silent challenge, with neither of them giving anything away. Owen's mirth subsided when Claire not-so-gently kicked him under the table. He bit his tongue to prevent an embarrassing yelp from escaping his lips. As Andrea passed around stacks of chips, Owen nuzzled Claire's neck and whispered encouraging words. It had been too much fun seeing her caught off guard, but he did feel a teensy bit guilty. He was thankful when Lowery replaced their wine glasses with beers.

Lowery had already warned his friend that Andrea was a card shark, so Owen had been adamant about teaching Claire the ins and outs of poker – something he did actually enjoy – for the last couple of weeks. He just neglected to tell her the exact reason why. Her annoyance with it on some days had been apparent but adorable. Claire never did anything half-ass and wanted to excel, even if it wasn't strictly her thing. As a bonus for Owen, her smugness was a very sexy tell whenever she had a good hand.

After being an attentive listener during dinner, Andrea shifted into a more dominant and likely purposely unnerving mode while serving as the dealer. The ease with which she shuffled the deck and distributed the cards intimidated even Owen. Before kicking off the hand, she announced, "The game is Texas Hold 'Em." Andrea raised her eyebrows and toggled her gaze between Owen and Claire. "I assume you're familiar with World Series of Poker rules?"

For her part, Claire maintained an excellent game face when she returned in kind, "No-Limit?" Andrea simply nodded in response. Simultaneously, Claire and Owen posted the small and big blinds. Owen almost choked on his beer when he felt the top of Claire's foot sliding up his calf. This was a dirty distraction tactic, but he gave no further response in hopes she'd push things further.

"Where did you learn to play, Andrea?" asked Claire, giving side eye to Owen.

"I worked as a cocktail waitress at a casino while paying my way through undergrad at the University of Nevada, Reno," Andrea replied without hesitation. "I befriended the dealers and absorbed whatever knowledge I could."

"More than you did in college, I presume," Owen chimed in. From Andrea's death glare, he knew he'd said the wrong thing. Maybe his tone was overtly judgmental this time.

Cocking her head to one side and lifting her chin, Andrea replied, "I teach my students that you can learn everywhere, you just need to keep your eyes and ears open." With that, she raised the stakes literally and figuratively. Her clay chips landed on the table top with a dramatic clunk before she dealt the flop.

Lowery cleared his throat before explaining, "Andrea's the AP Calculus teacher at Coronado High… it's one of the top schools in the city."

Andrea flashed an appreciative smile at her boyfriend then continued, "It's also home to the Coronado School of the Arts, where I teach a class in technical theater."

"I'm impressed," Claire said genuinely while placing her next bet. She'd pulled away from Owen's leg, and he could tell she was bluffing.

Andrea pantomimed tipping her hat and revealed, "The casino experience ended up being more than a means to an end. I credit it for developing my dramatic flair as an educator." She paused to laugh warmly, then stated plainly, "Balancing work and play is an important skill that I emphasize with all my students." Owen wasn't entirely sure if Andrea was just being candid or if there was an ulterior motive to her comment. He looked down, as if mulling his bet.

Silence descended upon the group. For Owen, at least, it became increasingly awkward. Lowery eventually offered, "If you guys stick around, you could attend one of the school's productions." His tone was hopeful. Owen was still avoiding eye contact and especially didn't want to see Claire's face at that comment. Worry over her having second thoughts about their plan with the van crept to the forefront of his mind. This wasn't a new worry. There had been a few moments since their return to San Diego where he'd caught telltale signs flashing across Claire's face. Those moments, however, were fleeting, so he'd shoved them away. In this moment, he felt trapped. It made him want to run away more than ever.

Without looking up, Owen dropped his cards and sighed, "Fold."

x x x

It was just after 8pm, the sun having just set and the sky slowly darkening as twilight set in. Not that Claire could really tell, as she and Owen were strolling slowly through the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego that was still brightly lit. They had just finished dinner but weren't in any rush to get back to the condo, and so were enjoying the slight breeze that was cooling the evening temperatures and making it bearable to be outside.

They'd spent the last few days packing up the condo, with multiple trips to the storage locker they'd rented, as they put stuff away, and then one or both of them would debate whether they would actually need it on the road. The van Owen had bought wasn't large, and every item they took had to be carefully thought over. Claire had been tracking, diligently and rationally, at least in her opinion, everything they were going to take. She knew Owen would've been happy to just throw in whatever and call it a day, as he'd taken to repeatedly commenting "we survived living out of just a car for the last few months, surely having the van we'll have fewer problems. We're already going to have like four times as much stuff, and if we're missing something, we'll just buy it."

His comment wasn't irrational, which was driving Claire crazy, as she'd tried to push back on his reasoning. So far, they were at a bit of an impasse, with Owen turning it into a bit of a game as he'd try to sneak things into the van when she wasn't looking. But Claire was organized. She knew what was supposed to be in there and where. So far, she was quite sure it was around Claire 17, Owen 0.

Tonight, however, they had decided to take a break from all the packing. To put it aside for a bit. There was, after all, no rush for them to get out of their place. They hadn't rented it out yet, and they didn't even know where they were headed. The latter was a detail that Claire was slowly getting used to, after numerous arguments of "let's see where we end up" vs. "what's so wrong with having a destination in mind?" There had been something freeing, Claire had to admit, in just letting the road take them, nothing dictating where they went or when they needed to get there.

But, it was also nice to be back in the city. She'd enjoyed, more than she'd expected, catching up with Lowery and getting a chance to know Andrea better. It had made her realize just how isolated she and Owen could be on the road, as they often ended up in areas with limited or no cell reception, and their only real company was each other. That wasn't a bad thing. They'd spent a lot of time talking. And she actually felt like she knew him now. Beyond the "he's a colleague" or "the guy I ran from dinosaurs with" level knowledge. Really knew him. While they'd never gone deep into the reasons behind his divorce, she'd learned that it had involved a Dear John letter and was a large part of the motivation for why he'd jumped at the opportunity to join InGen and Project IBRIS. And that it was also part of what drove his need to be on the open road, to not be surrounded by buildings and people. She'd never pushed for more information around his divorce, having had no interest in rehashing any of her own past relationships.

"Claire Dearing?"

Claire and Owen both turned at the sound of her name. While Claire owned her condo in San Diego, and the two had lived there for the first few months post incident, neither of them actually knew many people in the city, and so it was surprising to hear her name called out.

"I thought it was you," a man said, approaching them. Claire didn't recognize him. He looked to be also in his 30s, dressed similarly to them, clearly out for the same reason that night. A woman trailed behind him, pulling on his arm.

"Do I know you?" Claire asked. She could feel Owen stepping closer to her, his presence, while always palpable, felt slightly different when she could feel him shifting into what she called his "guard dog" mode.

"No, we've never met," the man stated. "But you knew my brother. Andrew Lee. Do you remember him?"

The man was now standing barely a foot away from her, and Claire could feel the anger emanating off of him. She could tell now that the woman beside him, maybe his wife, was trying to get him to leave them, to pull him away. "Andrew Lee?" Claire repeated the name slowly, trying to figure out how why it was familiar. How did she know that name?

A moment later, she felt a hand land on her chest, and she stumbled a step backwards, Owen's arm reaching around her back, keeping her steady. Claire barely heard Owen say "Whoa, man!" as she looked down. The guy hadn't pushed her exactly, instead he'd shoved a photo towards her. She took it with trembling fingers, already having a feeling what this was going to be about. What else could it be about, after all. There was only one thing in her life that people got upset about. She unfolded the photo and saw a picture of two men. One was clearly the guy in front of her, taken maybe a couple of years ago. The other… "ACU Trooper Lee," Claire said softly, her gaze focused on the photo.

"Yeah, thanks to you," the guy pulled the photo away from her, "this is the last photo I have of myself with him. It shouldn't be."

"Hey, man." Claire wasn't quite cognizant of Owen moving until he was standing just slightly in front of her. He wasn't blocking her, just trying to put some space between the two. "It's not her fault."

"What do you know?" The man turned his anger on Owen. "They can try to pin all the blame on the dead guys, but at least they risked their lives. What did she do? Huh? What did she risk? She looks perfectly fine to me!"

It was Claire's turn to mimic the woman across from her, as she reached for Owen's arm, trying to pull him back. "Owen… it's not worth it," she said. "Let's just go."

"You know, we're out celebrating tonight," the man turned his gaze back to her. "It's supposed to be a happy occasion. We just found out that we're pregnant."

The word congratulations was on the tip of Claire's tongue, but she didn't get a chance to say it.

"It should be a happy occasion," the man continued, his voice growing bitter. "But my child will never known his Uncle. My brother should be here. He should watch my child grow up. He should be having his own!"

Claire blanched, the force behind his words hitting something deep inside her. A guilt that she wasn't sure she'd ever be able to get rid of. That she was still here. That she was going to get to watch Zach and Gray grow up. That she still had her life stretching out in front of her.

Her vision blurred for a moment, before a loud "Ow" brought everything back into focus. The man was now clutching his face, and she could see blood gushing between his fingers, while his wife was scrambling in her purse. Owen was standing beside her, his one arm wrapped back around her, while he was shaking his other fist, muttering angrily under his breath. "You don't get to say that. Not to her."

"Owen?" Claire asked, her gaze darting around, seeing that others on the street had stopped to stare, but so far no one was venturing towards them.

"We're out of here," Owen said darkly, guiding her away from the guy, who was still too focused on his nose to fully realize they were leaving.

Claire let him lead her silently down the block and around a corner before she pulled to a stop. "Owen," she said again, getting his attention. "Why did you do that?"

"He had no right," Owen growled, throwing a quick look over his shoulder, as if he expected to find they had been followed. "No right to say any of that."

"It's true," Claire shrugged. "I don't really want to hear it, especially out of the blue like that, but… he wasn't wrong."

"Yes, he was," Owen stated firmly. "It's not your fault." Claire raised an eyebrow, this was a conversation they'd had many times before. "Fine, it's not only your fault," Owen conceded, knowing it was, for now, the most she'd agree to. "Who does that? Who just walks up to someone on the street?"

"And who punches strangers?" Claire pushed back.

"He had it coming," Owen said.

"Maybe," Claire said, "But that doesn't mean you should."

"Well, next time you do something about it," Owen said, looking down at his hand, flexing it cautiously.

"You didn't give me a chance," Claire shot back. "Next time, hold my purse."

"Yeah?" A grin crossed Owen's face as he peered at her, as if doubting her words.

"I raced a T. rex," Claire shrugged. "I think I can take on one guy." She watched as the tension drained out of him at her words, and he let out a small chuckle. "Come on, let's get home."

Claire reached for his hand, lacing their fingers together before bringing up their joined hands to inspect his knuckles. They looked bruised, but they didn't appear broken. "I think you could probably use some ice."

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 2

Their bubble was about to pop. After a blissful month on the road – just them, the van, and whatever they saw fit to do or not do – they were joining the Mitchells for the tail end of their family vacation at a campground in Minnesota. Family. It had been something that Owen was actively avoiding. He didn't want their questions or judgment. Cleverly, he'd managed to sidestep his own in Colorado as he and Claire drove East. Not so easy was refusing the invitation from Karen and Scott. At least not without significantly offending them or contradicting his own support of the boys in the aftermath of the Jurassic World incident.

There was more to it than just the boys, however. Despite the awkwardness that continued distance and intermittent cell phone reception exacerbated, Claire was making an honest effort to reconnect with her sister. As an only child, Owen couldn't relate – and was thankful for that – but he still wanted to be supportive of Claire. Scott had also been reaching out to Owen, who had been largely a sounding board for issues with the boys. There were times when Owen had appreciated that Scott wanted to discuss other topics – one topic in particular that hit too close to home. When that happened, Owen was quick to end the call or, on one occasion, fake choppy reception.

It was easier for Owen to keep people at arm's length, but he still avoided deep conversations about his personal life with those he allowed to get closer. When the topic came up with Barry or Lowery, they usually dropped it after seeing Owen's body language shift. It had worked nicely that Barry had never been all that keen on marriage when they had worked together and that Lowery was single when they were hanging out in San Diego. Now that circumstances had changed, Owen found it challenging to talk to both of them. The topic would invariably come up, with Barry once inquiring about Owen's "intentions" toward Claire. Owen couldn't tell if his friend was joking, so he had just changed the subject.

Turning toward Claire in the passenger's seat, he saw that she looked nervous. She was trying to put on a brave face, rather than hiding in the back of the van with her e-reader or organizing the shelf (for the tenth time) in the sleeping area. These were things he'd caught her doing over the last few days. He'd gently chastised her for not keeping him awake as he drove, but he really just wanted her company and didn't want to address the elephant in the motorhome. As he passed a familiar brown sign with the tent symbol indicating the campground ahead, Owen figured it was time they said something.

"It's going to be fine, Claire," he said in a reassuring tone.

She signed heavily before responding, "I know. It's just… close quarters… no escape."

"What do you mean?" Keeping his tone light, "We still have our bed. You vetoed sleeping on the ground a long time ago. Much to my disappointment over never doing it in a pup tent." He winked at her, but she didn't even crack a smile. Putting a hand on her knee, he continued softly, "We're still towing the car. You can always get away if you need to." Claire finally gave him a half smile, but it didn't reach her eyes. In that moment, he realized that neither of them had used the car to get away from the other. Did she want to? Had she been afraid to ask? No. He shook off the worries. That wasn't what was bothering her. Couldn't be.

She bit her bottom lip before saying, "I feel like we're going to be intruding."

"Huh?" Owen was taken aback. "They invited us."

"I know, but Karen and Scott… they're trying to reconcile. Shouldn't we be leaving them be? On their family vacation?" Owen was surprised and, to be honest, annoyed by Claire's second-guessing. He wouldn't have agreed to this excursion – they'd bypassed a lot of enticing locales and scenic areas to make it happen – if she hadn't seemed so adamant in the first place.

He swallowed back his irritation and reminded her, "They could probably use a break from the tension. What they're attempting isn't easy." The words slipped past his nearly gritted teeth. He knew from experience. Forcing his jaw to relax, he added hopefully, "We're showing our support in more ways than one."

"You're right," Claire sighed while taking his hand in hers. "It's only four nights."

They settled back into silence as the van followed the winding road through the woods toward the predetermined meeting site. When they were closing in, Gray stood up from a tree stump and waved his arms excitedly. He pointed to a spot that was large enough for them to park. As soon as they stopped, the tween was banging on the door. Owen and Claire shared a laugh before she stood to let him in. The rest of the Mitchells were, more slowly, making their way over.

"Aunt Claire!" Gray practically jumped into her arms for a bear hug. His eyes flitted around the interior. "This is so cool." Pulling away from Claire, he catapulted himself at Owen and shouted, "It's so good to see you."

"You, too, buddy," Owen spoke for them both as Claire appeared a little shell shocked.

"Oh, wow," exclaimed Gray, examining a map of the US that Owen had hung near the table. "Are these all the states you've visited so far?" The boy's eyes shot to Owen's and missed Claire's sudden blush. There were, in fact, thirteen states marked with large red X's, dotting their path from San Diego.

"Yep," Owen confirmed with a wicked grin, "those are all the places I've been with Claire." Her expression rapidly transitioned from one of horror to a death glare in Owen's direction. He just gave her a sly smile in return and was saved by Karen's appearance at the door.

"Can we come in?" Karen asked politely then added playfully, "I swear we didn't raise Gray in a barn." The youngest Mitchell groaned but continued to explore the van. Owen was suddenly grateful for Claire's anxiety-provoked organizing. The two sisters shared a warm hug. When she pulled away, there was a mischievous glint in Karen's eye. "I have a surprise," she announced. Owen and Claire regarded her quizzically as Scott and Zach stepped into the motorhome. Coupled with Karen's dramatic pause, it felt like there wasn't enough oxygen to breathe anymore.

"Stop drawing this out, Karen," Scott interjected. "You're making me anxious." Scott shook his head and made brief eye contact with Owen before placing his hands gently on Karen's shoulders. It was a sweet but somewhat awkward gesture. Owen thought it looked as if Scott was holding back from a more obvious show of affection. Was it for his and Claire's benefit or a reflection of the state of the Mitchell marriage?

Before Owen could ponder further, Zach rolled his eyes and chimed in, "C'mon, Mom, just tell her."

Karen seemed zapped with an excited energy when she finally continued, "We're going to have a girls' weekend at a spa!" She opened her eyes wide and grinned expectantly for a reaction from Claire, who was momentarily stunned. Owen suppressed a laugh as he considered Claire's undoubtedly mixed emotions about this proposition. Her resultant "yay" was somewhat forced but not disingenuous.

Owen placed an encouraging arm around Claire's shoulders and teased her sister, "I thought you were the outdoorsy-type – more so than Claire. She's shown me your family ski photos."

Karen chuckled, "I prefer to be a cheerleader on the sidelines. I'm much more of a drink Irish coffee in front of a fire at the ski lodge-type." At Scott's clearing of his throat, Karen added seriously, "I enjoy camping, but I thought we could get in some quality time just the two of us." She wore a wistful smile that Claire responded to by squeezing her older sister's hand.

"Of course," Claire almost whispered, "that would be nice." Owen could tell she meant it.

The poignant moment was interrupted by Zach declaring, "Alright, the women need to leave the men now. Gray, you stayin' or going?"

"Hey!" protested Gray as he re-emerged from the back of the van. "I can tie better knots and pitch a tent faster than you." Before the brothers could get into it further, Scott ushered them wordlessly out of the van and Owen could finally breathe again. As Claire looked at him with slight alarm, he wondered who was getting the better end of this "deal." Despite their close quarters for the last few months, he didn't relish the idea of being apart, especially when he'd have no escape from her family. By the looks of the Mitchell campsite, Karen wasn't expecting to drive the family car. Owen mused that the SUV they'd been towing all this time would finally prove useful.

x x x

Pulling into the parking spot, Claire turned off the car. Karen had spent the entire drive to the resort talking non-stop, and Claire had ended up tuning her out, giving occasional uh-huh's and hm's as the pauses seemed to warrant. It seemed to have been enough, as Karen hadn't stopped or questioned her. But now, as she pulled the keys out, Claire was having a realization of her own – this was the first time she'd driven in what must have been weeks. On their previous road trip, when it had just been her, Owen and the car, he'd driven most of the way, but they'd shared the responsibility. Since they'd left with the van, however… Claire wasn't sure if she'd ever actually even just sat behind the wheel.

Before she could start to overthink it, Karen was clamouring out of the car, pulling their suitcases out of the back, and exclaiming excitedly about how she was dying for some girl talk. Claire followed after her, a bit more sedately, but a smile of her own was growing. With the age gap, and Karen having Zach while Claire was still finishing up high school, the two had never had a weekend like this before. In fact, they'd actually never had a vacation that was only the two of them. They had kept in touch over the years – although that had started to lag as Claire's responsibilities increased and her free time shrank – usually bonding over TV shows they both enjoyed. However, Claire had never had a "girls' weekend." Not only never with her sister, but also just never. She'd been too heads down at school, trying to pack as many courses in as she could, so she could get back to Jurassic World faster. And, well, she lived at a resort on Nublar. The idea of going away to one seemed a little redundant.

After checking in, the two headed upstairs to their room, Claire flipping through the package they'd been given about the resort. She was getting more and more excited about the whole idea. Access to a real bed (although the one in van really wasn't half bad), and a real shower? A shower with actual water pressure? And unlimited (or at least more than 5 minutes worth) of hot water? She may just never want to leave.

Claire tapped the keycard against the door, pushing into the room when the light blinked green.

"Wait," Karen's voice startled her, and Claire looked down to see Karen had snagged her right arm, just above the wrist. Karen lifted Claire's arm, inspecting the turquoise cuff bracelet she was wearing. A puzzled look settled across Karen's face, before she looked up at Claire. "That's not your usual style. I mean, it's beautiful, but… usually you wear pretty minimalist rose gold stuff."

"Owen bought it for me," Claire shrugged, pulling her hand back and moving more fully into the room. "We stopped at this place in Santa Fe. The design is called a hummingbird."

"Huh," Karen just said, skirting past her and falling back onto one of the beds. "Don't get me wrong, I'm happy Gray is getting into all of this camping stuff and that Zach's happy enough to go along with it. But, I've missed my bed like you wouldn't believe."

"What do you mean, 'huh'?" Claire asked, ignoring Karen's comment, although she copied her move, reveling in the feel of the soft down comforter and pile of pillows.

"It's just… not really like you," Karen said after a moment. "Not just the style, but, well, wearing something you haven't picked out yourself."

"He seemed really excited about it," Claire said. "To be honest, I've mostly forgotten I'm wearing it. It's not like I'm getting all dressed up for anything anymore." The moment the words were out, the mood in the room fell, like a storm cloud had come rushing in on her words, on the reminder of Jurassic World and everything that had happened only eight months prior. "But, enough about the past… what do you want to do? We've got tonight and all day tomorrow. We can probably squeeze something in Sunday morning, too."

Karen laughed, sitting up on the bed. "You never change, do you?"

"What do you mean?"

"Always creating itineraries, everywhere you go."

"I–"

"Hey, I'm not dismissing it, we've got limited time and we should pack in as much as we can. I really need some testosterone-free time."

It was Claire's turn to look concerned. "Everything okay, Kar? I thought things were getting better."

"They are… mostly." Karen stood up, walking towards the window and looking out at their view (or, really, lack of a view, as they just stared down over the parking lot). She spun back around. "We're not even sharing a tent."

"You're not?" Claire was surprised. "Why?"

"I don't know," Karen groaned. "He's still sleeping in the guest room, Claire. I thought things were getting better. But… why hasn't he come back to our room? I know Zach thinks everything is just for show. He's made comments, like he's expecting Scott to move out any day now. Gray doesn't seem to have noticed, thankfully. He's just too happy to be spending all this time with Scott."

Claire sat up slowly, watching her sister carefully. She wasn't sure how to respond. She didn't have a lot of personal experience to rely on. Owen was the first person she'd ever lived with.

"Do you want him to move back in?" Claire asked cautiously.

Karen nodded emphatically.

"Have you told him?"

"Are you kidding?" Karen's eyes widened. "I can't ask that. He has to want to."

"And I thought I was bad at communicating," Claire laughed, standing up and moving towards Karen. "Karen, he's not a mind reader. He probably doesn't want to cross a line you're not ready for. You said the idea to get a divorce was pretty mutual, right?"

Karen nodded.

"Well, then you probably need to move forward together, not waiting for one or the other to take a big step."

"When did you become so wise?" Karen asked, wrapping her arms around Claire, pulling her into a tight hug, sniffling against her shoulder.

"Life's short," Claire shrugged, and Karen pulled back just far enough to raise an eyebrow in surprise. "Hey, you spend a day being chased by a homicidal hybrid dinosaur and see if your thoughts on life don't change."

Karen laughed, the sound watery, and Claire joined in. Soon, the two were laughing hard, holding onto each other to stay upright.

"That's not even funny," Karen gasped out.

"It's a little funny," Claire replied.

x x x

It had been remarkably easy to be separated from Claire for the first several hours. Owen hadn't realized how much he missed the company of men – which pretty much described his entire staff at the raptor paddock – or his peaceful plot of land on Nublar until their serene afternoon of fishing on Leech Lake. After cleaning and roasting their catch for dinner, the inquisition began, and Owen wished Claire hadn't left him alone with her family.

"Were you a Boy Scout?" Gray asked with enthusiasm in his voice.

Owen shifted uncomfortably in front of the campfire before answering, "Only briefly, kid. I tried, but it… didn't take." Three sets of eyes looked at him with relative surprise. He caught Zach smirking when Gray's face fell. "I didn't like all the rules and uniforms w–"

Before he could finish, Gray cut him off, "But you were in the Navy. Isn't that the same?" Owen made eye contact with Scott, whose look seemed to say "good luck with that." Gray continued to look at Owen with confusion.

"I wasn't good with authority when I was younger," Owen gave as an explanation. He suddenly felt nine years old again and having to defend his decision to his overbearing father. Then, Zach's outburst of laughter drew everyone's attention.

"I don't think you ever grew out of that," the teen interjected. "We saw you punch that guy, Hoskins. Wasn't he your boss?" Scott was chuckling under his breath now.

"The Navy didn't stick for too long either," Owen said with a wink. As Gray was still looking a bit disappointed, he added, "I did stay in the Scouts long enough to go to Philmont." Invoking the name of the famous Scout Ranch caused Gray to perk up. "Your dad said he wants to take you next summer. It's a really beautiful place."

"Did you know there's a T. rex track there?" Gray's excitement had returned. The comment, however, caused Owen to deflate. He didn't understand why Gray would be excited about a fossilized version of something the boy had actually experienced, live and in color with accompanying roars. There was satisfaction in seeing that Gray didn't appear traumatized at the mention of the dinosaur and Owen took some pride in that. But, he also felt like he'd processed the experience himself in his previous conversations with the Mitchell clan and didn't want to rehash it again.

Thankfully, Scott recognized Owen's reticence and changed the subject to baseball. The boys proceeded to regale Owen with tales of the games they'd attended this summer with their dad and grandpa. Zach's loyalty to the Cubs seemed to Owen an act of defiance against his father's favorite team, the Brewers. While Owen laughed at the playful jabs between father and eldest son, there was an edge to Zach's taunts that cut a little deeper, as evidenced by the occasional tic of Scott's facial muscles. Scott eventually reached his limit and directed the boys to clean up.

"I call the tent with Owen tonight!" Gray announced as he collected their utensils. Owen, who'd anticipated spending the night in the van, was stunned into silence and looked questioningly toward Scott.

"They want to alternate sharing a tent with you the next two nights," Scott told him quietly. "Is that okay?"

"Sure," Owen reluctantly agreed. Trying not to make his displeasure obvious, he stood to assist the boys with the dishes.

After Owen moved some of his essentials from the van into a tent, the four of them sat around the campfire toasting s'mores. It only took two for Gray to start yawning. Owen thought that the kid was minutes away from head-bobbing.

"Gray," Owen tapped his shoulder, "why don't you go to the bathroom and then get into your sleeping bag? I'll be over in a short while." As Gray nodded sleepily, Scott mouthed the words, "Thank you."

Once his brother had retired for the night, Zach almost whined, "Can I call Chelsea now?"

"Please do," Scott muttered sarcastically. "It's been five days since she's heard from you, she probably thinks you were eaten by a bear." The teen did not hide his eye roll as he clambered up to retrieve his cell phone and jog in the direction of the road. Watching him go, Scott added, "I was hoping they'd break up after the park incident. Chelsea's always been so clingy, and she's even worse now."

"It can be nice to have someone in your life who makes you feel wanted," blurted Owen, almost not thinking. Off Scott's somewhat offended look, he stumbled with his words to recover, "I mean, someone who's not your family… it's their 'obligation' to want you."

Scott let out a sigh, "I know what you mean. He's just spending a lot more time with her than us."

"They're probably having a lot of sex," Owen smirked. Thoughts of his own state-spanning escapades with Claire swirled in his mind. He and Zach might have more in common than he initially thought. A dopey grin spread across Owen's face that did not go unnoticed.

Scott cleared his throat and replied nervously, "Not sure I really want to think about that for Zach or Claire." He added matter-of-fact, "Claire's like a younger sister to me." Owen felt sheepish and almost looked away, but Scott wore a warm smile. "I'm glad she has someone who's not family. Karen can be… suffocating."

"I thought you were…" Owen's voice trailed off. He didn't want his own personal biases to affect his words or tone.

"We are trying." It was Scott whose gaze drifted out to the lake. "The incident made us reevaluate and focus more on the good things. Some days, I worry that we might only be staying together for the boys. It's harder to recapture what's been lost when one of them isn't… cooperative." Making eye contact again, Scott added hopefully, "Maybe you could get through to Zach." Owen was relieved at this turn in the conversation.

"Yeah," Owen agreed quickly, "I'll talk to him tomorrow, man-to-man." His tone lightened at the last few words, and Scott seemed to relax considerably.

"You want a beer?" Scott offered.

"Absolutely! That would definitely help make the sleeping bag more tolerable."

x x x

Once Claire and Karen had got themselves together the previous evening, they had gone through the brochures for the spa and had booked themselves for an entire day's worth of treatments. They had decided to start with a morning of mani-pedis. After lunch, they were going to enjoy the heated mineral bath, before finishing off with facials and massages. A definite splurge, but one they had decided was more than worth it.

They were sitting down for lunch in the spa restaurant when a bunch of giggling caught their attention. Looking over to the side Claire saw a group of women, probably early twenties, gathered around a long table. At one end, one woman wore a tiara and a sash proclaiming her the "Bride-To-Be." They were obviously farther into their lunch and had been clearly enjoying the champagne, based on the few bottles scattered across the table.

"I don't get that," Claire remarked, looking at Karen. "I mean, obviously I think a spa day is worth it. I'm here. But… the wearing of the sash? The tiara? It's so over the top and, well, childish."

"Somewhere you must have a romantic bone in your body," Karen laughed. "They're having fun. What's wrong with that? If you're going to get married you probably should be excited about the occasion."

"There's a difference between excitement and, well, that," Claire grumbled. "You wouldn't have believed how many weddings and bachelorette, well, usually stags, that would happen at Jurassic World. They always seemed so much more interested in the event than the actual marriage."

"Since when did you become so cynical about marriage?" Karen asked.

"I'm not," Claire protested, and then added off Karen's disbelieving look. "Okay, maybe I am a little. But, well, it's not like my experience with them has shown that they're really all they're cracked up to be. I mean, mom and dad are divorced. You almost ended up divorced. O–" Claire cut herself off, wondering if that was information she was supposed to share or not.

"Just because Owen's divorced doesn't mean that there's something wrong with marriage," Karen said. Claire looked at her in surprise. "Yeah, I already knew he was divorced. He told Scott."

"Really?" Claire wasn't sure how to interpret that information. She picked up her water glass, taking a sip to buy some time.

"Yeah, you didn't know?" Now it was Karen's turn to look surprised. Claire shook her head and Karen let out a sigh. "They talk a fair amount."

"Owen didn't seem to really want to tell me that," Claire admitted. "I guess I'm surprised he's talked so willingly to Scott."

"Well, from the little Scott's told me, I don't think 'willingly' is the right word. I got the impression that Owen tries to change the subject when it comes up. Seems to be a bit of a sore spot."

"He said it was the biggest trauma he'd had before Jurassic World," Claire said softly. "He hasn't told me much, and I haven't wanted to pry." She looked off to the side, staring at the large aquarium that separated the dining area from the rest of the spa, watching the fish swimming for a few moments. "I didn't know he was talking with Scott so much. I thought he was just talking with the boys."

"He talks with them, too," Karen nodded. "And I've had the occasional chat with him." Claire turned back to Karen at that. "You really didn't know any of this?"

Claire shook her head. "Why hasn't he told me?"

"Not everyone constantly volunteers what they're doing. I doubt he's trying to keep it from you," Karen said. "I am surprised you didn't know, considering the close quarters you guys keep. But… why haven't you ever asked him? He'd probably tell you."

Claire just shrugged. "I don't know. I mean… we talk a lot. But, he doesn't seem to like talking about anything to do with Jurassic World. I guess… we just don't seem to ever touch on that subject or anything around it." It was true. She definitely felt like they did a lot of talking, especially considering they were generally the only company for each other. But, she'd caught on early to his reluctance to keep up on anything Jurassic World related after they'd headed out the first time, and it had been confirmed when they'd had dinner with Lowery and Andrea back in San Diego. She didn't feel the same ability to disconnect from it all and continued to follow the news herself.

"Be careful Claire," Karen said, drawing Claire's attention back to her.

"Careful? Of what?"

"I can see you second-guessing everything right now," Karen said. "Don't. He's a good guy. Men aren't that complicated. He's probably just trying to follow your lead and stick to your boundaries. Maybe consider letting some of your walls down."

 

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 3

The next morning Owen struggled to put on a cheerful face, his back aching from a night on an air mattress. He would swear he’d been sleeping on a bit of a hill, and on top of the root system of some tree. Claire owed him big time for all of this.

His only face-to-face interaction with her family before this had been helping to prevent the two kids from dying on Nublar. Sure, it was a definitely an experience that would bond them for life, but it wasn’t really an experience that he thought should make him “part of the family.” Okay, so he did like to think of Claire as part of his family now (not that he wanted to define anything), but did it have to extend to her family?

However, he wasn’t one to break his promises (not that he could really escape, considering Claire had taken their SUV and his only other option would be to drive off in the van). And he had told Scott that he’d talk to Zach, so when Gray suggested that they rent boats (they had fished from the shoreline the previous day) he agreed, knowing it would be a good chance to have that talk. Also, he really did love canoeing and being out on a lake. He wondered if he could talk Claire into getting a canoe.

The first part of the trip was quiet, as the two paddled silently along the perimeter of the lake. Owen had shared a look with Scott when he got into the canoe, subtly suggesting that they head in different directions. Thankfully, Zach hadn’t said much when Owen suggested they go left and he hadn’t heard any of the discussion from the other boat, but had seen Scott turning it to the right.

Owen was studying Zach, well the back of him, as they paddled, not quite sure how to start a conversation or even what to say. While he knew he was probably right about Zach and Chelsea, Scott’s reminder of Zach being his son, and thus Zach’s age , made Owen feel a little creepy to even think about it now. He really hoped it wasn’t going to come up in conversation. It was easier to think of Gray as a kid, with his boundless enthusiasm. But Zach… Zach was bouncing between sullen and snarky. He supposed that could be a teen thing, but it was definitely not how he remembered his adolescence. Mind you, his parents hadn’t been going through a divorce and he hadn’t been almost eaten by a hybrid dinosaur. 

As they continued to slowly move about the lake, he decided he’d give Zach until halfway around the bay before Owen would say something. It also, conveniently, bought him time to try to figure out how to start a conversation.

They made it just over a third of the way around before Zach paused, resting his paddle across his lap.

“Everything okay?” Owen asked, when Zach didn’t say anything at first.

“Yeah,” Zach said, before sighing. “No. Well…” Owen waited Zach out. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure,” Owen replied immediately. “What’s up?”

“If you don’t like authority figures, why’d you choose the Navy?”

That definitely wasn’t the question Owen had been expecting. But it was, at least, an easy one to answer. “They paid for college.”

“That’s it?”

“Yeah,” Owen shrugged. “I wish I could say I was pulled by a sense of honour or duty to my country. But… I wanted a way out and my parents didn’t have much money for college. It gave me financial freedom from them. I’d known that if they had signed student loans with me, they’d be on my case about what I was studying. It seemed like a better plan than taking on a boat load of debt.”

“Was it?” Zach sounded curious.

“That’s not an easy question to answer,” Owen admitted after a short pause. “I mean, the experience wasn’t so black and white. On the other hand, if I hadn’t done it, I wouldn’t be here now.”

“You also wouldn’t have been chased by a dinosaur,” Zach laughed. 

“True,” Owen nodded. “But I wouldn’t have got the chance to train Blue and her sisters. And I wouldn’t have met Claire.”

“She makes it worth it?” Zach asked.

Owen almost asked him to clarify which ‘she’ he was referring to. But, really, the answer was the same for both. “Yep.” When Zach didn’t say anything else, Owen decided to ask him, “Have you figured out what you want to do next year?” 

Zach just shrugged.

“Do you have any ideas?” Owen tried a different tack. “Like, things you’re considering?”

“Not really,” Zach admitted. “I mean, part of me can’t wait to get out of here. To not be at home anymore, but… then there’s Gray.”

“What about Gray?”

“I told him I’d always be there for him. That we’d always be together,” Zach said. “How can I just leave him? Especially with everything going on with our parents. Sure he seems fine now, but who knows how he’ll be when our parents finally stop stringing him along.” 

“They’re not stringing him along,” Owen quickly disagreed, although he was thinking of his conversation with Scott and Scott’s own hesitancy over his marriage. He didn’t want to lie to Zach, but he did believe that Scott and Karen were actually trying to reconcile, that it wasn’t just a facade. It was starting to seem like maybe everyone was walking around on eggshells in that family, and that it was actually just making things worse. 

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter.” 

“It does matter,” Owen insisted. Great, he was going to have to talk about a conversation he generally avoided at all costs. “I’ve… I don’t know if you know, but I was married. Years ago now. Divorce isn’t an easy decision to start with. But that doesn’t mean that staying together is easier. I don’t know your parents’ relationship. I don’t know everything they’ve gone through. But for them to try… That only happens if both sides want to. It really does mean something that they are.”

“Did you know they don’t even sleep in the same room?” Zach said bitterly, the words escaping in a harsh hiss. “My dad’s always hanging out with Gray. And my mom… it’s like she can’t slow down. She’s constantly doing something .”

“Everyone processes trauma differently. There’s no right or wrong way to deal.”

“Trauma? What trauma did they go through? They weren’t there! They shipped us off like the whole thing was supposed to be a big Christmas gift and really, it was just so they could get divorced behind our backs! Merry fucking Christmas to us.”  

The anguish in Zach’s voice caught Owen a little off guard. Owen had thought that Zach, of all of them, was coping best of all. He was starting to feel bad for not having caught on to any of this earlier. For forgetting that often the ones who look like they’re dealing the best are the ones who are struggling the most.

“Zach, whatever happens with your parents, whether they manage to make it work, or if they do end up divorcing, it’s not a comment on you, you know? And while they weren’t chased by a dinosaur, they’re responsible for the fact that you were there. They didn’t know if you were okay or not. They hopped onto a plane, not knowing if when they landed they would be returning with two sons or two caskets. You’re a smart guy, Zach. You’ve got to understand how that would be traumatic. How, regardless of how they were feeling about each other at the moment, that would remind them of what matters most. That’s a pretty damn significant ‘stop and smell the roses’ reminder.” 

There was a long pause, and Owen wished, for the first time in the conversation, that he could see Zach’s face. “I wish they’d just make up their minds,” Zach finally muttered. “I don’t want to be strung along any more than I want Gray to be.”

“I really honestly don’t think they’re trying to do that to you,” Owen said. “The last thing they’d want to be doing is hurting you. In fact,” Owen paused, would it be a violation of Scott’s trust if he shared from their conversation? He decided it was more important that Zach knew. “In fact, your dad was telling me last night that one of their biggest struggles is that… well, you .”

“Me?”

“They’re worried that trying to stay together is pushing you further away. They don’t want to lose you. It can be hard to feel like a family when one member doesn’t seem to want to be there.” Owen took a deep breath, before plunging into another subject area he had hoped to avoid. “Scott mentioned that you’ve been spending a lot of time with your girlfriend.”

“Yeah, Chelsea,” Zach nodded. “It’s… easier. She doesn’t ask me about what happened. It’s an escape.”

“Been there, done that,” Owen admitted. “I’m not going to say don’t do that. It’s important to have coping mechanisms that work for you. Just… don’t shut your family out. I think you’ll find you’ll need her less if you try to actually connect with your parents. I don’t mean you need to be all ‘kumbaya’ or something sappy like that. Just try to recognize where they’re coming from. And enjoy this year with Gray. You’ve got time to figure out college or a gap year or work or whatever you want to do next.” 

“Like joining the Army?” Zach joked.

“The military could be a path for you,” Owen agreed, “but that’s not a decision you need to make now. As former Navy, I’m not too keen on the Army, but at least you didn’t suggest the Air Force.” He shuddered dramatically, and they shared a laugh before Owen redirected their conversation. “This is your vacation. You should be having fun. Let’s go see if we can find your dad and Gray. I bet we can beat them in a race.”

x x x

After a day of relaxation, Karen suggested that they check out the nearby casino. Claire was relieved, for once, to get lost in a crowd. The earlier conversation about marriage and Owen’s lack of openness was not one she wanted to continue. Their afternoon “diversions” at the spa had kept them occupied and put Claire at ease. She wasn’t even bothered by the facialist pushing various products on her. Claire understood marketing but hoped her pores weren’t getting as clogged as the number of extractions suggested. Living on the road wasn’t doing Claire’s skin any favors. The perks of that lifestyle, however, more than made up for it. Her mind drifted toward what had become hers and Owen’s typical “relaxation exercises.” 

As if reading her mind, Karen winked at her when they entered the building. Claire looked away quickly to survey their options. Sighing at the overpriced buffet’s cliched Prime Rib Night, she thought longingly of the high end dining options on Jurassic World. It was difficult to admit to herself that she actually missed things about her job, but Winston’s and Nobu were no-brainers. Claire turned back toward Karen and pointed to the gaming floor.

Nodding, Karen sighed and said, “I hope crouching over slot machines won’t undo all the hard work of my masseur.”

“I’m sure the chairs are comfortable,” Claire answered distractedly. She was contemplating the seemingly contradictory message of a gambling addiction helpline poster on the wall. “The casino wants you to stay and play as long as possible.” Karen stopped walking and dramatically cleared her throat, causing Claire to finally look back in her sister’s direction. With knitted brows, she asked “What’s up?”

“You missed my joke,” Karen smirked. Claire was confused. “My masseur was so hot. Just having his hands all over me was as relaxing as the massage itself. Maybe more so.”

“Oh,” Claire nodded absently, “I didn’t notice.”

Karen practically snorted, “Why would you when you have Owen?” One eyebrow went up, impatiently awaiting Claire’s response. For her part, Claire was not at all embarrassed. She just didn’t want to be seen as bragging about her – more active than ever before – sex life while knowing that Karen was currently in a drought. 

“Let’s start with poker,” Claire suggested hopefully, redirecting the conversation.

Karen rolled her eyes and huffed before responding, “When did you learn to play?”

“Owen taught me.”

“O-o-oh.” Karen grinned like the Cheshire Cat. “I bet he’s taught you lots of things.” The innuendo was clear, but Claire still wasn’t going to take the bait.

“I can give you a crash course in Texas Hold ‘Em, if you need it, Karen.”

“C’mon, Claire!” Her sister looked exasperated. The stall tactics were clearly wearing thin, so it was time to play dumb.

“What?” asked Claire innocently.

“Give me some juice!” This declaration finally caused the younger woman to wince. 

Claire grimaced, “You really want to talk about this?” 

“Yes!” exclaimed Karen. “I want to live vicariously through you.”

“But…” Claire’s voice trailed off as her sister’s mouth contorted into a pout. She’d apparently wrongly assumed that this topic was off limits. That might’ve been partly a cop-out, too. It wasn’t exactly a topic that Claire felt comfortable discussing. Sure, she and Karen used to watch Sex and the City on HBO back in the day, but talking about her personal exploits was different. It was also not as if Karen divulged much in that department. Zach had been born when Claire was in high school, and it wasn’t uncommon for Karen to be breastfeeding when they would watch the show together. Claire always felt that they were both living vicariously through the characters’ experiences.

Before the awkward silence stretched on for too long, Karen pleaded, “It’s good… isn’t it?” 

“The best,” Claire admitted softly. A smile slowly spread across her face as a warm, tingly sensation spread throughout her body. 

“Awww, Claire!” Karen was suddenly hugging her sister tightly. Claire returned the embrace, and Karen added in a whisper, “I still want details.” They both laughed.

Pulling back, Claire said shrewdly, “I’ll start with some advice. Get better sheets.” 

Karen’s eyes widened, “Like the ones at the spa?” At this reminder, they shared the same contented grin.

“I’ve already asked if they’re available for purchase. They’re made from bamboo and pretty expensive.”

“Worth it,” answered Karen emphatically. Claire nodded in agreement, and the two women headed for the slot machines.

When they sat down to play, Karen suggestively ran a hand over the metal ball at the tip of her machine’s handle. “So,” she began playfully. “Big, right?” Claire just glared at her in response. Karen upped the ante with a shrug, “Well, dick size doesn’t really matter.”

Claire’s mouth moved faster than her brain, “Yeah, right.” Karen’s jaw dropped. Claire bit her lip as she felt her cheeks and other areas flush, not with embarrassment but with the heat of awareness and memories. 

Sniggering, Karen flagged down a circulating cocktail waitress and told her sister, “We need cosmos, then maybe I’ll get more information out of you.”

x x x

As lunchtime approached, Owen found himself getting antsy. Claire and Karen had phoned that morning to say they were going to grab some extra supplies and that they would pick up lunch, so to expect them around noon.

The rest of Saturday had flown by and the evening had gone similarly to the one before, with Gray being sent to bed first and Zach using that time to call Chelsea. Owen had taken the opportunity to pass along some of the insights he’d gained from Zach to Scott, while trying to toe the line of remaining the teen’s confidant. He didn’t want Zach to turn around and refuse to talk to him. That wouldn’t help anyone.

It hadn’t been until Owen had been trying to fall asleep that it hit him that it was the longest he’d gone without seeing Claire since she’d arrived in San Diego. In fact, they hadn’t spent a single night apart. He’d lain awake for a long time, trying to sort through his feelings on the issue. He wasn’t really sure how he felt, or how he should feel. He had eventually managed to convince himself to stop overthinking it all. That for now, he and Claire were happy as they were, and he didn’t need to start putting labels on it.

When he’d got up Sunday morning, however, his back increasingly sore from a second night on the air mattress, he’d decided that he’d had enough. He was done with guy time. He wanted Claire back. He wanted their bed back. And he wanted their alone time back. 

Unfortunately, he knew he was only going to manage two of those options today, as there was no way Claire would be okay with taking off tonight when she hadn’t had a chance to say more than ‘hi’ to her nephews so far.

Owen had spent the morning being hounded by Gray, who seemingly had an unlimited supply of questions about animal behaviour. He hadn’t actually minded the questions at first, as it was a topic he knew well and it felt good to talk about again. Except, while it had started off with basic questions, Gray had eventually started asking more specifically about the raptors and other dinosaurs. Questions about how Owen would train them and how well pack animals fare when left without a pack. It had sent him down a memory lane he was less than interested in visiting, and he’d found his answers getting shorter and shorter, as he became more and more tense.

“So, I was reading about lions, and they say that a lion’s territory can be up to 100 square miles! Jurassic World isn’t that big. And the T. rex is much bigger than a lion. How will they all find enough to eat? Can Blue fish? Can she swim?” Gray asked rapid-fire.

“Lions have such a large territory because most of their prey also cover a large area,” Owen said distractedly, looking down the road, hoping for the sound and sight of the SUV. “Nublar wasn’t designed for the dinosaurs to have access to the same land space as they’d have in the wild. But they’ll be okay for a while. The dinosaurs will thin themselves out, as they settle towards an equilibrium that the environment can sustain.” 

“You mean more of them will die?” Gray’s distressed tone brought Owen’s attention back to him. 

“They’re wild animals now, Gray, that’s just part of nature,” Owen shrugged. “Just like we caught fish the other night. Cycle of life and all that.”

“Yeah, I guess I just…”

“I thought you guys saw the Mosasaur show,” Owen commented.

“We did,” Gray nodded. “And we saw the T. rex being fed. It just feels different now. Do you think we’ll ever know if they’re okay?”

“The dinosaurs?” Owen confirmed and Gray nodded again. “I doubt the island will be completely abandoned. Even if–” Owen cut himself off when he finally caught a glimpse of the SUV. He tried to suppress his grin and sigh of relief. “Look, your mom and Claire are back. Why don’t you go tell your dad and Zach?”

While Gray hurried off to tell them, Owen moved towards the back of their van, knowing that Claire would likely park the SUV there. He waited, a bit impatiently, for them to pull in. He was pulling open Claire’s door before she barely managed to put the car into park, and he found he didn’t care if he seemed over eager by their return, pulling Claire out of the car and into an immediate kiss, his arms holding her tightly to him. 

“Maybe I should go away more often,” Claire joked when she pulled back. Owen didn’t loosen his arms, keeping her close.

“When can we leave?” Owen whispered to her.

“Was it that bad?” Claire sounded concerned. “We can’t leave today, I haven’t even seen the boys yet.”

“Tomorrow?” Owen asked hopefully, trying to convey with a deep look into her eyes just how much he needed to escape.

“Things go okay?” Karen interrupted them, coming around the vehicle. Owen let Claire finally pull back, although he slid his hand down her arm, grasping her hand in his.

“It was good, yeah,” Owen nodded. He shifted and let out a slight groan. “I don’t remember air mattresses being so uncomfortable. I must be getting old.”

Owen watched, confused, as Karen and Claire exchanged a look at that comment, both of them bursting into giggles. “What am I missing?” he asked, his gaze jumping between them. 

“Nothing,” Claire smiled up at him, slipping her hand from his, and rubbing it along his back. “I didn’t realize you’d be staying in the tents.” 

“Yeah, well, the boys wanted…” Owen trailed off, shrugging it off.

“Just be glad you only had to do two nights,” Karen said. “At least you get to go back to your bed tonight.”

“What’d you bring for lunch?” The trio was interrupted by Zach and they turned to see him, Scott and Gray heading towards them. 

“What’d you catch?” Karen countered, nodding to the fishing rods and bucket Scott and Zach were carrying.

“Nothing,” Scott said, setting down the bucket, which everyone could see was empty. “We should’ve gone out earlier. We’ll try again later. How was your weekend? You two look relaxed.”

“It was… informative,” replied Karen, sharing a conspiratorial look with Claire, who flushed at the comment. 

Owen looked at Scott, who looked over at him, both wondering what had been said. Scott gave a tiny head shake and Owen nodded, not wanting to pursue it either.

“What’d you learn?” Gray asked, oblivious to the underlying meaning.

“Um… We… Claire taught me poker,” Karen stumbled, as Claire turned her face into Owen’s shoulder, and he could hear her trying to muffle her laughter, and he wrapped his arm around her again, holding her close. Now Owen really didn’t want to know what was said. He just hoped he came off looking good.

“You gambled?” Zach butted back in, his voice sounding muffled and Owen realized while they’d been talking that the teen had been looking through the car. Zach had found the bag of Dairy Queen burgers and had liberated one for himself. 

“Manners,” admonished Karen, rolling her eyes.

“I’m hungry,” Zach shrugged.

“Where’s mine?” Gray hurried over to his brother’s side.

“Bring them all out,” Karen implored her sons. “Just because we’re camping doesn’t mean we can’t eat at a table.”

Owen took the moment of distraction to turn back to Claire. “I missed you,” he said softly, and she pulled back enough to look up at him.

“I missed you, too.”

x x x 

Owen insisted on leaving almost immediately after breakfast on Monday. Pulling away from the campsite, Claire felt a mixture of guilt and relief at their getaway. They’d intentionally joined the Mitchells at a time when they couldn’t reasonably extend their stay. While the family of four did need to pack up and return to Wisconsin before the start of the school year, their guests were still leaving a day earlier than originally planned. Part of Claire wanted to follow-through with this promise. At the same time, she was admittedly anxious to resume her travels with Owen. It was peaceful, both due to their staying away from big cities and because he made no demands of her. 

As a sign of goodwill to her family, they preemptively committed to returning to the Midwest for Christmas and New Year’s. Everyone had agreed that spending the anniversary of the Jurassic World incident together was a good idea. 

When they reached the main road, Claire suggested, “Let’s head west.”

“Nah,” Owen dismissed her lightly. “I’ve already planned a route in the opposite direction, hugging the southern coast of Lake Superior through Wisconsin and Michigan.” He didn’t look her way as he turned the van east. Even if he‘d seen her face, Claire’s expression was blank. She couldn’t muster the energy to protest, grimace, or even shrug. She leaned back in her seat, and they fell into a comfortable silence. In all honesty, the quiet was welcome. Being around the Mitchells had been noisy. Except for her time getting spa treatments, Claire had been in a state of sensory overload for the last few days. Part of that was relative to the last few months, but she also knew that Owen was faring worse than she was. 

Looking out the window, Claire considered how awkward it must’ve been for him, especially when she’d left him alone for almost two days. Owen handled it all so gracefully and didn’t complain. An even more impressive feat considering that he wasn’t exactly a people person in general. That thought caused her to smile and further appreciate everything he’d been doing for her and her family for nearly nine months. It made her feel even better about her gift. Her smile widened as she recalled the activities that had distracted her from giving it to him. As soon as the Mitchells headed for their tents the night before, Owen had been practically shoving Claire back to their van and directly into bed. They hadn’t spoken much beyond their words of gratitude over being physically pressed back together. It had been heavenly. Somehow better for their time apart. A re-bonding.

She turned her head and found him smiling back at her. It sent a shiver of delight down her spine. When he resumed looking at the road, Claire bit her lip. She suddenly wanted to “test him.” Earlier that morning, Karen had reminded her not to overthink Owen not volunteering the details of his conversations with the four of them. Would he now share if she asked? Was it too soon after an immersive weekend with the Mitchells? Did she really want or need to hear it directly from him?

Her eyes returned to the wilderness rolling by outside the van. Reflecting on her family and the bit of guilt she felt about their hasty departure, Claire began to wonder if there was more to it. If the answer to why she never pried with Owen had nothing to do with him, but if it had everything to do with her. Maybe she’d avoided the topic out of guilt. Guilt for her role in the boys’ trauma. Guilt for not being with them for the entirety of that fateful day. Guilt for bringing them to the raptor paddock instead of evacuating them with the rest of the guests. Her reasons for making those choices now seemed like excuses. Her actions undoubtedly put Zach and Gray more in harm’s way. Was that why she was fleeing them all now? 

Once the snowball started, it was hard to stop. Claire’s mind raced, and her thoughts were all over the place. She recalled something else Karen had said, the suggestion that Owen wasn’t withholding information but following Claire’s lead. To an extent, her “lead” was withholding. She hadn’t missed the look of surprise, bordering on shock, that Owen had displayed when she mentioned InGen being dissolved at Lowery’s apartment. That had been almost six weeks ago, and he still hadn’t confronted her about it. She winced internally at her decision not to share the latest information she’d received from her lawyer over email just last week. Might as well add “hypocrite” to her list of titles after “bad aunt.”

She was starting to feel sick to her stomach. Lest he ask questions – or worse, show concern – she didn’t dare look in Owen’s direction. Keeping her head down, she excused herself to use the toilet. She stared at her reflection in the mirror of the small bathroom and willed herself to get a grip. As she brought her hands up to cover her face, her gaze was drawn to her bracelet. It was another thing Karen had noticed and questioned. Damn her sister for being so observant! Despite its beauty and expense, the birthday gift was decidedly not her. She hadn’t protested or refused to wear it for fear of hurting Owen’s feelings. For the first time, however, Claire considered ripping it off her wrist.

A closer inspection of the bracelet led her to blanche. Lifting her hand, she could see that it was getting tarnished. Her face fell. Did everything she touch turn black? Why couldn’t she be happy about something as small as a piece of jewelry? It was clearly meaningful to Owen. Couldn’t she let her walls down, as Karen also suggested, for him? She took a deep breath and pulled herself together. Yes, she needed to at least try. She owed him as much. There was also something she hadn’t yet have a chance to give him. 

When she returned to the front of the van, her extended absence hadn’t gone unnoticed.

“Everything alright?” Owen asked, sincerity evident in his eyes and tone of voice. For a moment, that genuine warmth took her breath away.

She paused before answering, “Oh, I just noticed my bracelet tarnishing.” Her brows knitted as she searched his face, hoping he would accept the response. Thankfully, he visibly relaxed and took her hand in his, rubbing the turquoise inlay with his thumb.

“Happens all the time with sterling silver,” he reassured. “A little baking soda in water will take that right off. It’ll be good as new.” Her small smile and nod placated him, so she was able to relax herself. 

“I also wanted to say ‘thank you,’” Claire added quickly in a soft voice. “You’ve been so good to my family, and this weekend really meant a lot.”

“Well,” he answered playfully, his eyes still facing forward. “You know how to thank me.” 

“Ugh, Owen, not another joke about ‘road head.’” 

“You keep thinking it’s a joke.” Her eye muscles were practically sore from rolling at his repeated suggestion. While she’d definitely been more sexually adventurous with him than anyone before, she was never giving in to that.

“My surprise is better anyway,” she teased. This finally drew his eyes in her direction.

“Oh yeah?”

“I bought us new sheets at the spa.” His eyes widened at Claire’s taunting smirk. “I was going to wait to tell you until we reached Wisconsin and I could remake the bed.”

“That’s not for another 90 minutes!” He sounded exasperated, and she couldn’t suppress her mirth.

“It’s worth it.” Laughing, she pointed to a road sign, “Oh look, ‘Ball Bluff.’ How fitting.”

“Fitting for a rest stop.”

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 4

It had been the worst week of Henry Wu's life, but there was some comfort in meeting with an old friend. Even if it was under false pretenses. Despite being slowed down by age and illness, Benjamin Lockwood was no idiot, so Henry wasn't surprised when their conversation took a turn.

"Is there anything you need, Henry?" asked the older man, ambulating very slowly through the lower museum level of the library with his cane. Henry had already commented on the ornamental piece, a nearly carbon copy of the cane used by John Hammond all those years ago. He wondered how much longer Sir Benjamin could pretend that he didn't require something sturdier or, worse, a wheelchair to get around. Part of Henry couldn't help relating to the old man's arrogance which was bordering on denial. Everyone had things that they need to cling to for validation. For connection to their accomplishments of the past.

"I need a purpose, Ben," Henry answered honestly. There was no point in being fully deceptive. Keeping up too many lies was exhausting and had already become unwieldy. He couldn't rely solely on their history to engender goodwill between them. Lockwood's warm smile confirmed that Henry made the right choice.

"We can help," the old man began. "Well, Eli mostly. As much as I'd like it to be otherwise, I am limited. My energy now is best spent with Maisie." They had yet to discuss the girl. Henry was immensely curious about her but hadn't wanted to pry. Years ago, he had chosen sides. He followed the money and the innovation, not the intensely personal path Ben took. Henry, however, understood better than anyone that cloning was imperfect. There were always disappointments and flaws along the road to discovery. Expectations didn't always match outcomes. He guessed that the process of recreating something lost had contributed to Ben's declining health. How could it not?

"Is she everything you hoped she would be?" inquired Henry sincerely.

Ben gave a wistful but somewhat sad smile. "Yes and no. She is her own person." He paused, before adding seriously, "I was often jealous of you. I had a comparator, for better or worse. You, on the other hand, created freely without knowledge of the 'accuracy' of your creations' behaviors." Henry looked away and focused his attention on the adjacent dilophosaurus diorama. His teeth gritted as he fought to subdue his rising distress.

The day before (and at the end of a grueling seven-stage procedure), Berkeley's Board of Trustees had unanimously voted to revoke Henry's doctorate. He was no longer "Dr. Wu" and would have to suffer through being addressed as "Mr. Wu" from now on. His suffering seemed endless. He'd already endured attacks on his character and intelligence – or "thintelligence," as it had been described. Among the accusations were that he had been sloppy, too casual, and too preoccupied with making improvements. It was said that his narrow, focused thinking prevented him from seeing this consequences of his actions. All of these cut him far more deeply than the objective facts of Masrani Global's law-breaking. Violating the Gene Guard Act seemed relatively inconsequential to Henry but was, perhaps, the knife's edge. Sealing his fate in the wake of the catastrophic Indominus incident.

No one questions pioneers until something goes terribly wrong, only then do they "circle the wagons." His genius had been praised worldwide until the Indominus incident. He knew that he was still peerless and hoped that his collaborations with Mills would help restore his former glory. At the very least, it would keep him ahead of anyone else's dinosaur innovations. Remaining at the forefront of the frontier was the only thing he could hold fast to.

The awkward silence was interrupted by Eli's sudden appearance. "It's time for your treatment, sir," he announced while giving side-eye to Henry.

Turning towards the former PhD, Ben sighed, "You're welcome here anytime, Henry."

"I was about to give him a tour of the sub-basement," interjected Eli.

"Excellent! I wish I could join you, but I'm afraid that the combination of disrepair and narrow staircases makes such a visit too dangerous for me." Lockwood held out a frail hand for a parting handshake. "It was so good to see you, my old friend. We'll work together to make peace with the past."

"Thank you, Ben," Henry replied, accepting the offered hand while Eli looked at his watch impatiently. As Lockwood left the room with apparent labored breathing, Eli's heels clacked fast and loudly in the direction of the elevator. Henry chose a leisurely pace, working harder than his counterpart to conceal their machinations.

When the elevator doors shut and they began their descent, Eli spoke dismissively, "The memories and the reminders of his… failures are the real reasons he won't visit the lab." He added under his breath, "What a fool."

"Fortunate for us," Henry responded in a patronizing tone. He didn't bother to look in Eli's direction. The doors opened, and they both walked briskly toward the lab. Henry was anxious to see the eggs. Standing over the incubator, Henry's heartbeat seemed to calm. Three eggs due to hatch in roughly three months. The project was progressing nicely to provide some measure of counterbalance to his lost stature. Finally turning to Eli, he smirked, "I understand that January is a lucky month at the Estate."

"Yes," Eli said with irritation, "the successful iteration of Maisie will be celebrating her birthday around the time we meet your new creation."

"Good timing for another visit," Henry smiled devilishly, "and a pleasant distraction for Ben." Looking at the eggs again, his smile widened. This creation was wholly his own. Not dictated by a board or an absent billionaire. The lessons learned from the Indominus, Hoskins, and even Owen Grady had guided him towards this hybrid. Henry knew not to be overly optimistic about the first iteration, but he looked forward to continually making improvements to what could become his greatest innovation yet.

x x x

"I'll be back at 4, that should be enough time, right?"

Claire watched as Owen didn't even wait for a response, waving goodbye as he drove off. She looked down at her watch, it was just after 1pm, that left her almost three hours to fill. Standing on the sidewalk in Pueblo, Colorado, beside the Riverwalk, Claire looked around, debating what to do.

When Owen had brought up the idea of going to the Riverwalk over lunch, extolling all the great things he'd heard about it, she hadn't realized he was suggesting that she go to the Riverwalk and that he was going to do something different. However, maybe she shouldn't have been so surprised. They were on their way to visit Owen's parents in Denver for Thanksgiving, and as their route had inched them ever so closer (they were only a couple of hours away now), she had watched as Owen had become increasingly antsy.

After standing around for a couple of minutes, Claire decided she might as well follow the path along the river. Starting forward, she found it hard to concentrate on the various statues and water features. Her thoughts turned inwards. Owen's anxiety about the visit was definitely rubbing off on her. When he'd suggested the previous day that they spend a couple of nights at a campground in Lake Pueblo State Park, delaying their arrival from Wednesday until Thursday (claiming it would be better to stay off the roads on the busiest travel day of the year), she hadn't objected.

It was increasingly clear that he really didn't want to make this visit. Owen had mentioned, way back when they were still in San Diego, that his relationship with his parents was strained. So when their route over the summer had conspicuously avoided Colorado, she hadn't said anything.

She had limited information on his family, as he'd never been eager to talk about the topic. Claire had been surprised when he had mentioned stopping by for Thanksgiving, sure they were going to skip past Colorado again as they meandered west. Remembering Karen's advice that she shouldn't expect him to just volunteer information, she'd asked a few questions, trying to get some more details. Owen had been reluctant to share, so she hadn't learned much. He'd told her that he'd grown up in a relatively strict Catholic household (although he was mostly lapsed at this point). Recalling the large Catholic families she'd known growing up, she'd been surprised to learn that he didn't have siblings. He'd said that his parents had tried, but after a number of miscarriages (both before and after him) they'd realized it wasn't in the cards. Claire hadn't pressed for further details when Owen called himself their 'miracle child,' as it had been clear from his bitter tone that it was a sore point (well, one of many) between him and his parents.

The one bright spot, and one of the few remaining connections he had with his parents, was animals. He'd grown up in a house that always had at least one dog and, when he was around 10, his mom had started to breed golden retrievers. Animals had brought him comfort and connection at times when other areas of his life seemed to be falling apart. When Owen had first told her that, Claire had almost suggested that maybe they should look into getting a dog themselves, but she'd immediately dismissed the idea. While she'd seen him sometimes reflect on fond memories of his time with Blue and the other raptors, more often she watched as he actively worked to avoid any information about what was happening on Nublar. He seemed to have much more mixed feelings on the concept of pets or, really, people owning animals in any capacity (he'd turned his nose up at the idea of seeing the pandas at the National Zoo) since Jurassic World.

Looking up, Claire realized she'd wandered away from the Riverwalk. A quick scan of the surrounding area, and she spotted a coffee shop. She decided to grab a cup, thinking a quick break there to check her email and the news would be good. It was barely past 1:30, so she'd have lots of time to walk the rest of the path afterwards.

Settling onto one of the comfortable couches, she checked her email first, before moving onto scanning the headlines. She had set up Google Alerts on Jurassic World, Nublar, Masrani, InGen and Henry Wu, and she always started there. But it was never long before links from one article would take her to another, and then another, spiraling her through the never-ending, connected web.

When her phone rang and Karen's name popped up on the screen, she answered quickly, grateful for a distraction to break her away from the news. She wasn't finding anything new, anyway.

"Hey," Claire greeted her sister.

"Hey," Karen responded. "Are you at Owen's parents' yet?"

"Not yet," Claire replied. "We're not going until tomorrow."

"Really?" Claire unsurprised at her sister's shocked tone. "How long are you staying?"

"I think just the one night," Claire admitted.

"I thought you said he hadn't seen them since the whole incident."

"He hasn't."

"Oh."

"What do you mean, 'oh'?"

"Just surprised, I guess," Karen said. "Owen's such a friendly guy. I would've thought he'd be dying to have a visit with his parents."

"He's said their relationship is strained," Claire disclosed.

"Huh, do you know why?"

"No, he hasn't said much and gives really short answers when I ask," Claire shrugged, forgetting her sister couldn't see her. It wasn't as if Owen was asking questions about her parents or she was jumping to volunteer information about them.

"Interesting…"

"Ugh, don't say that," Claire pleaded.

"Why?"

"I'm nervous enough as it is, I don't need you in my head too."

"You? Nervous?" Karen's tone changed to concern. "Why are you nervous?"

"I've never had to 'meet the parents' before," Claire reminded her sister. "And now that I am, why does it have be that he's not on good terms with them? As if it wasn't already going to be tense and awkward."

"Where has confident Claire gone?" Karen questioned.

"Disappeared with the rest of my life," Claire joked, although she was half-serious.

"Well, tell her to get back there," Karen commanded. "What do his parents do?"

"His dad's an electrician and his mom is a homemaker who breeds dogs as a hobby." Claire was relieved to at least knew the answer to this question.

"They don't sound particularly scary," Karen encouraged.

"Right…" Claire answered softly, although she didn't agree. She thought it would be easier if his parents were CEOs or management. Something she could relate to. What did she know about being a tradesman? Or a wife? She was worried she'd have nothing in common with them, nothing to say.

"But seriously, Claire, don't worry about it. You know Owen loves you, that's all that matters. It'll be fine."

Claire was grateful when her phone beeped with a new notification, giving her an excuse to not respond as she quickly checked it. It was Owen saying he was a couple of minutes away and where did she want to meet. She looked at the time in shock, surprised it was already 4. She hadn't been talking to her sister for that long, had she? Nope, the call log was less than 10 minutes. Where had the afternoon gone?

"Sorry Kar, that's Owen. I've got to get going."

"No problem. Hey, Claire, just remember to be yourself, everything will be fine."

"Right," Claire was glad her sister couldn't see her expression. Easy for Karen to say, she'd met Scott's parents when she was 15. "I gotta go."

"Wait, one last thing," Karen said quickly. "I don't think I ever said it, but… the sheets recommendation? Two thumbs up. We've bought a second set."

x x x

Owen was actually more than a few minutes away. In fact, he'd practically driven all the way to Kansas after dropping Claire in downtown Pueblo. He almost hadn't been able to turn the car around. On their drive from the campground into town, they'd passed the city's zoo and a large dog park. He couldn't bring himself to go back in that direction. North was just closer to Denver, and south was nothing but Interstate. Due east towards largely uninhabited plains seemed like the best option. Now, he was racing back to Claire so as not to arouse (further) suspicion. With any luck, she was shopping or enjoying one of the historic sites by the river. He could get away with being fifteen or twenty minutes late. Couldn't he?

During his drive east, he'd successfully zoned out. The road was dull and relatively straight. As he intended when he'd parted ways with Claire, Owen accomplished the goal of clearing his head. Early in their travels, they established the mutual need for 'alone time.' They both benefited from taking occasional breaks from each other, to gather their thoughts or engage in activities that the other didn't need to know about. For one thing, he imagined that she probably used their time apart to read news about the ongoing Masrani Global lawsuits and company restructuring. Aside from that, Claire had explained to him the concept of 'secret single behavior' or SSB from an episode of Sex and the City, and he'd ascertained from her body language that some of her SSBs might be embarrassing.

Owen was happy to let Claire keep her mystery. Not to do so would be hypocritical. He was frankly surprised by the degree to which she didn't pry into his life. While Claire had been asking more questions about his past since the camping trip with the Mitchells and he'd never actively kept anything from her (always answering her questions without protest), those conversations weren't particularly long. It was often hard for him to tell if she wanted to know more or not. Fortunately, she didn't seem uncomfortable with the limited knowledge. Ignorance was bliss, right? He thought that their time together had been largely blissful. It was why this leg of the journey had raised his hackles. He knew this might be painful, but the band-aid needed to be ripped off eventually. Might as well be over Thanksgiving, as family holidays and drama do go hand-in-hand.

Driving back towards Pueblo, Owen couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so on edge. His clarity of mind slowly slipped away. Rubbing the back of his neck, he wondered if he might be breaking out into hives. There was one particular topic that he suddenly wished Claire had been more inquisitive about. For his part, he didn't believe he had anything to hide. There was no embarrassing SSBs, as his was usually just playing pool or watching his IBRIS video diaries. Access to the latter was something for which he'd be eternally grateful to Lowery. Claire knew about that, having discovered a window he'd left open on the laptop one day. What she didn't know, was almost anything about his marriage.

On that topic, Owen had done his best to lay out the basics of how it fell apart, while discouraging follow-up inquiries. He was afraid that delving deep into it and reliving those memories might cause his confidence in not being the guilty party to falter. That if Claire asked too many questions, he would get defensive. Worse yet, she might start to wonder if their arrangement – whatever that really was – was a good thing. He didn't have the best track record in relationships, but he liked his arrangement with Claire. They had been getting along so well. Talking about Susan would screw it up. He winced at the knowledge that things with Susan had been good for a long time, too.

Shaking off any comparisons between the two women, he focused on Claire being so accommodating of his request to stay away from Denver for one more night. She didn't need to be exposed to his judgmental father and doormat of a mother any longer than he did. Part of him knew those descriptions were biased and unkind. Similar to Susan, too many questions about them would surely trigger an unflattering level of bitterness from Owen. As he felt an uncomfortable itch overtaking his skin, however, he began to wonder if what Claire didn't know could hurt her. That was the last thing he wanted. He could kick himself for his selfishness.

"Fuck it," he blurted out while pulling into a parking spot near the area where Claire had texted him to meet. Owen had struggled his whole life to live up to his parents' lofty expectations for him. When he'd left for Nublar, he thought he'd finally put that to rest. Maybe they weren't as buried as he wanted to believe. But, so what? He was happy with Claire. They were forging their own path together. Fuck anybody who didn't understand that.

When he saw Claire walking toward him on the sidewalk, his clarity of mind fully returned. He was grateful for that effect she had on him. His thoughts redirected to the evening ahead. They could stroll along the river, have dinner, and maybe he'd share a few more details about his family dynamic. After sunset, they'd drive back out to the van, and he could properly thank her for being there with him. For being her. There was no one else he'd want to face his parents with. Hell, they'd faced the most dangerous creatures on Earth together. They should be able to handle his parents.

Owen got out and leaned against the side of the car. As soon as she was within reach, he pinned her against the door and kissed her soundly on the lips. God, she felt good melting into him. Another perk to alone time was their reunions. Absence did make the heart and other parts of him grow fonder. When he pulled away, he saw something in her eyes. It wasn't the fiery passion he was feeling. It was something akin to melancholy. He didn't know what to make of it. Did he want to ask? Would she volunteer it herself? Before his lust could transition into panic, Claire snuggled more deeply into his embrace and buried her face in his chest. Their breathing synchronized, and he simply relished holding her.

After a minute of silence, he asked softly, "Did you already walk the whole thing?"

"Uh," she started hesitantly. "No, I lost track of time."

Owen didn't know how to respond. What had she been doing all afternoon instead? Not wanting to waste more time, he offered lightly, "Do you want to walk it now?"

"I'd like that," she sighed. When she pulled back to look at him, the sadness was gone. He hoped that meant that his effect on her was similar to the one she had on him.

They started down towards the river, but his eyes caught on a large statue. "Hey," he said, pointing, "I didn't know the PBR headquarters moved here."

"What is that?"

Owen scoffed, "Can't you tell by the cowboy statue?" He was moving his arm up and down in an exaggerated fashion.

She glared at him in annoyance before commenting, "Bull-riding? Is that your SSB?"

Owen laughed, teasing, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."

x x x

As he pulled the van to a stop on the street outside his parents' house, Owen hesitated to turn it off, hands clenching tightly to the steering wheel. He was itching to just step on the gas. Claire's hand on his arm grabbed his attention, and he turned to face her.

"You okay?" Claire asked, concern furrowing her brow.

Owen took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, before he nodded. Another deep breath, and he could relax his shoulders slightly. He put the van in park and turned off the engine. "Yeah."

"It'll be fine," Claire said, although her tone wasn't all that reassuring.

Owen looked over at her, and realized that his reaction was just amping up her own. He gave her a hint of a smile, before leaning over and following it with a kiss, his hand rising up to cup her cheek, leaning his forehead against hers when he finally broke the kiss. "I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What for?"

Before he could answer, he could hear excited barking and he looked past Claire to see a golden retriever racing across the yard, his mom following behind it. Finally, a genuine smile crossed his lips. Pulling off his seat belt, he opened his door and was greeted almost immediately by a faceful of fur.

"Whoa, Taylor, let me out," Owen protested as the dog tried to practically jump into the van with them. Pushing back against Taylor, he managed to free enough space to slide out of the van, quickly shoving the keys into his pocket. Once he was out, he knelt down with the dog, wrapping his arms around her, getting covered in dog slobber but not minding a bit. "I'm so happy to see you too." Taylor's tail went crazy, her enthusiasm getting the better of her, as she seemed unable to decide how to fully convey her happiness at seeing Owen again. After a couple of minutes, he managed to stand back up, one hand still resting on Taylor's head, the dog unwilling to part from his side.

Walking around the van, he found that Claire had already exited and was talking with his mom. He moved over to her side, wrapping an arm around her waist.

"No hug for me?" his mom asked, and Owen obliged the request, stepping forward. His family wasn't big on physical affection, so he was able to escape quickly, backing up to Claire and quickly tethering himself back to her side.

"Good to see you, Mom," Owen said, forcing a smile onto his face.

"Took you long enough to get back here," his mom replied, her voice tinged with slight disapproval.

"Yeah, well…" Owen just shrugged. It didn't matter what he said, not really. It's not like his parents weren't aware of the dynamics between them. He'd been on Nublar for three years working on IBRIS, and they had never managed to plan a vacation out to see him.

Taylor let out a whine, and Owen looked down at the dog. His original happiness at seeing her again had already died down. He loved Taylor, always had, from the moment she was a puppy, but pets didn't have the same appeal they used to. It didn't feel right to own an animal. Had they all learned nothing from Jurassic World? He knew he was being ridiculous, that a dog was a long way from an Indominus. It just didn't stop his gut reaction, and he found himself pulling away from Taylor, ignoring her as she pushed her head up against his hand, trying to get his attention.

"You've got a lovely-looking home," Claire said, trying to break the tension settling between them.

"Thank you, it's not very big, but we like it," Owen's mom replied to Claire, turning to look back at the small two story house behind her. "Oh, Bill, there you are." Owen looked past his mom to see his father walking down the driveway towards them.

"Mary, why didn't you say they'd arrived?" Bill said, as he approached. He reached a hand towards Owen who shook it.

"They've barely been here for a minute, I would've come and got you," Mary chastised her husband.

"And you must be Claire," Bill said, turning to Claire who was standing silently at Owen's side. "I swear we raised Owen to have better manners than this," Bill shook his head.

Owen felt Claire stiffen in his arm, pulling away from him slightly, and he turned to her, a bit confused. Taking in her posture, he recognized her stance as one he'd seen her engage in numerous times on Nublar and in the Jurassic World fallout. Her "corporate" stance. It wasn't one he really liked, as he felt like she ended up locking away parts of her personality with it, but he took it as a sign that she really wasn't any more comfortable being there than he was, and they were both dealing the best way they knew how.

"Bill, nice to meet you," Claire greeted him, reaching her hand out to shake his.

"Call me Mr. Grady," Bill said, shaking her hand firmly. Owen watched, surprised as Claire straightened even more, not really sure how it was possible.

"Dad, stop it," Owen turned his attention back to his dad.

"Oh, just ignore him," Mary told Claire. "He likes to think he's funny. He's not." Mary swatted her husband lightly on the arm. "Well, come on you two. Let's get inside. I need to go check on the turkey. Do you want to grab your bags now…?"

"Sure," Owen nodded, and he let go of Claire to turn back to the van, quickly grabbing the small bags they'd packed. Carrying them out, he followed after his parents as they led the way towards the house, Claire falling into step beside him.

"You know," Claire said, leaning into him slightly, her voice dropping, "I can definitely see bits of your dad in you."

Owen was about to protest, but as they entered the house, his mother turned back to them.

"So, Owen, I've got your room ready for you, and Claire, we've set up the guest room for you."

"What? Mom," Owen was embarrassed. He hadn't thought his parents would do this to him. Not at this age. It's not like he hadn't shared a bed with a woman under their roof before. Of course, the last time he'd brought a woman here, she was his wife.

"You know our rule," Mary looked at him disapprovingly.

"Do you really think we haven't been sharing a bed?" Owen ground out. "We've been living out of that van for the past five months!"

"Owen," Claire's voice was soft, and he felt her hand come to rest on his back, rubbing small circles.

"Our house, our rules," Bill inserted gruffly.

"Then we'll just sleep out in the van!" Owen protested.

"No, Owen," Claire butted in. He looked over at her in disbelief, but she was looking toward his parents. "It's fine."

"No, it's no–" Owen started, only to get cut off by Claire again.

"Thank you for having us," Claire smiled at his parents. "We're happy to be here."

Owen just looked at her with incredulity. Was she really okay with this? She turned to him and gave him a tight smile that he (correctly) interpreted as 'don't rock the boat.'

"Yeah, thanks," Owen echoed Claire's response, his tone resigned. "I'm just going to go drop our bags in the rooms."

"I'll help," Claire said, pulling her own bag from his grasp.

"We'll be in the kitchen," Mary nodded her approval. "Come down as soon as you've freshened up."

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 5

Dinner had been surprisingly laid back. Bill related how he'd taken on more of an administrative role in the business with his advancing years, and Mary talked animatedly about her dogs. It was clear who wore the pants in the family, but Bill never interrupted or seemed dismissive of his wife. They even shared some plans for upcoming travel, and Claire felt elated to describe some of the places she and Owen had visited. Aside from a few loaded glances she'd caught between Owen and his dad, the atmosphere had been light. Claire was immensely relieved.

When Mary excused herself to retrieve coffee and dessert, Claire offered to assist. Mary just batted her away silently with a warm smile. Relaxing, Claire squeezed Owen's thigh under the table. His sudden jump at her action, however, made her realize that he'd been masking his own tension. Her uneasiness fully returned when he refused to make eye contact with her. Bill loudly clearing his throat suddenly pulled Claire's attention. He was running his index finger and thumb over his chin.

The patriarch's gaze sharpened at Owen as he stated, "You've taken 'relaxed grooming' to a new level." His tone was harsh, and Clare was taken aback. Owen seemed to reflexively smooth out his facial hair while the muscle under one eye twitched.

"Yeah, well," Owen answered bitterly, "not all of us pretend like we're still in the military after getting out." His hands stopped short of slamming down on the table.

"There's nothing wrong with maintaining standards."

"Are we talking about my appearance or something else?" challenged Owen. The two men made intense eye contact, and Claire realized that she was holding her breath. She finally let it out when Mary re-emerged from the kitchen with a tray. At Mary's confused look, Claire shrugged. Feeling like an outsider with limited information about the family's dynamics, she didn't want to rock the boat or speak out of turn.

Putting down the tray and passing out cups, Mary offered, "I know you've been missing my pumpkin pie, Owen."

"Oh," Bill chortled, "I don't think he's been missing any food, Mary."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Owen growled in response.

"You've put on some weight, son." Bill abruptly turned towards Claire to add, "He's always kept in tip top shape, especially for women." Claire's eyes widened as her throat went dry, but she didn't dare look away. The older man's expression was hard to read. Perhaps he was making another joke. She appreciated Owen's stiffened posture and clenched jaw in her periphery.

"You know," Mary chimed in, "we heard from Susan the other day." Claire swallowed hard but was thankful that Owen had mentioned his ex-wife's name over dinner the night before. As if preparing her for this moment, he'd also told her a few more details about his ill-fated relationship, how they'd married young and grown apart. When Claire turned her eyes toward Mary, it was clear from the older woman's hopeful expression that she was clueless. Her comment was a woefully misguided attempt to diffuse the tension. It was likely only going to make things worse, so Claire deferred to Owen for a response. Fortunately, she didn't have to wait long.

"We were thinking about hiking around Lookout Mountain tomorrow," Owen said with eyes down before forking a bite of pie. He looked directly at his father when he subsequently announced, "The pie is great, Mom."

Not skipping a beat, Bill fired back, "Susan was your wife for nine years. She's been a part of our family for the last fifteen."

"She's not part of our family anymore." Owen's answer was firm. "We got divorced. I haven't talked to her in over three years."

"Well," interjected Mary, sounding slightly offended. "Just because you cut her out, doesn't mean-"

"God, are you still on that?" Owen stomped his feet under the table. His fork clattered loudly on his plate. "Still blaming me for the divorce? She cheated on me, remember? I wasn't the one who sent the letter. I wasn't the one who ended it." Claire looked down, now feeling completely out of her element. Her insides also twisted with an unfamiliar emotion. It was akin to profound embarrassment, and she hated it.

"She wanted a child." Mary's tone was almost pleading. "If you'd just–"

"No. Don't go there." Although Claire still couldn't bring herself to make eye contact with anyone at the dinner table, she could tell that Owen was really angry. Possibly the most angry since he'd punched that guy on the street in San Diego. She hoped this situation didn't come to blows. "I don't know what the fuck she's fed you, but that's–"

"Don't swear," chastised Bill.

"She has a son now, did you know that?" Mary sounded like she wanted to cry, and Claire finally looked up. There were tears forming in the other woman's eyes. "His name is Nathan, and she's pregnant with her second. Staying home to raise them, Susan is so much more fulfilled than she ever was trying to have a career." Despite his mom's gaze being focused on him, Owen just gritted his teeth and said nothing. Mary took a stuttering breath before adding, "We could've been grandparents already."

"I don't want kids," proclaimed Owen, seemingly indifferent to his mom's display of emotion.

Mary suddenly turned toward Claire, patting her hand on the table and saying hopefully, "Maybe you can give us one?"

Owen let out a frustrated sigh that Claire had heard before, usually in response to Masrani or InGen information. She'd already learned that this particular nonverbal indicated that the conversation was over. The topic was not worth pressing, as he'd only withdraw. She'd gleaned with time how to avoid eliciting this reaction from him.

Lost in her thoughts, Claire didn't realize that both Mary and Bill were staring at her. What did they expect her to say? She and Owen hadn't ever talked about children or marriage. They hadn't even defined their relationship. There had been no need. She wondered if this kind of inquisition contributed to why Owen hadn't wanted to visit his parents. Before her mind could spiral into what this might mean for them as a couple, Bill scoffed audibly. It seemed exaggerated and jarred her.

Apparently, the elder Grady knew how to push his son's buttons. Owen no longer looked ready to withdraw. His fingers started drumming on the table, and Claire had never seen him do that before. It worried her.

Owen raised a single eyebrow and, with acid in his voice, asked, "What the hell was that for?"

Raising both palms, Bill deflected, "Nothing." The two men stared each other down while Mary's mouth was pulled in a tight line. Her lips were turning white. Claire felt herself slumping in her chair.

"My ass," Owen fumed.

"Language!" Mary scolded. The admonishment drew a sneer from Owen, who continued to avoid looking at Claire. That was fine by Claire, as she wanted to disappear into the background.

"Say whatever it is you want to say, Dad."

After taking a deep breath, Bill unloaded, "You may be living in sin and not doing anything to support Claire, but I know you wouldn't add a bastard to the mix."

Owen's fists clenched on the table top, but Mary's gasp stopped him from saying anything. Immediately, at least. The matriarch looked horrified, and that gave both men pause. Bill had the decency to look somewhat contrite. Owen, meanwhile, looked like his blood was boiling.

Mary turned toward Owen and said sincerely, "No pressure. We just want to see you happily married again." She hazarded a glance toward Claire and gave a lopsided smile that was so reminiscent of her son's.

"I don't know if I ever want to get married again," Owen blurted angrily. "It didn't work out so well last time." His expression softened when he turned toward his mom, whose smile had transformed into a pout. Her lip was quivering, too. What Owen missed was Claire zoning out, suddenly staring at her plate as her mind emptied. She was only vaguely aware of the subsequent words being exchanged at the table. The only phrase she caught clearly was Owen proclaiming, "Let's leave the past in the past."

x x x

Lying on his old double bed, back in his childhood bedroom, Owen was still trying to figure out how he got there. How, in his mid-thirties, was he was there by himself while his… while Claire was in the guest bedroom down the hall. How his only company for the night was going to be Taylor, who was lying beside him on the bed, watching intently as he tossed a miniature basketball into the air, waiting for Owen to finally miss so she could pounce.

Well, he knew how. Because Claire had said it was fine. Even after dinner, after everything had been put away, after the uncomfortable conversation part of the evening had finally wrapped up, and they had all headed off to bed, he had tried to get Claire to come with him. But she'd just shied away, saying it was fine, that they'd spent nights apart before, and that it was only one night.

He wasn't really sure how to take her reaction. Not after that dinner. Not after all the questions and prying and talk about Susan. Owen hadn't realized at the time how quiet Claire had been over dinner. He'd been too busy trying to deal with his dad and trying to hold his own emotions in check. But now, lying there, he was dissecting the whole evening, piece by piece. And as he broke it down, as he revisited every comment of his father's, every reaction of his mother, he realized he couldn't remember Claire's. Couldn't remember how she'd reacted when his mom suggested she could give them grandkids. Or to what he'd said, about Susan or kids or marriage.

Catching the ball, Owen froze. Maybe Claire actually didn't want to be with him tonight. Maybe she needed space. To think over everything he'd said. All the topics they had successfully avoided speaking about. It had been easy to do so. They hadn't actually had to avoid them, or awkwardly skirt their way around them. Neither of them had ever brought them up. Could everything he'd said tonight have ruined that equilibrium? Were they going to have to talk about it all now?

Taylor let out a whine, and Owen looked over at the dog, who remained fixed on the ball that he was still clutching tightly in his hand. Moving the ball around, he watched as Taylor's gaze followed it, her tail starting to thump against the bed.

"Really, you want to play catch now?" Owen asked, glancing over at the alarm clock beside the bed. "At 1:15 am?" Taylor sat up, her excitement clear. "I'm not getting up," he told Taylor. "We're stuck in here." Looking around the room, his gaze landed on the small basketball hoop hanging on the back of his door. Tossing the ball back into the air a couple of times, he then aimed for the hoop. And missed.

Taylor leapt from the bed, grabbing the ball as it bounced off the door, before returning it to Owen. He aimed again, this time the ball swishing through the net. Taylor was already waiting below it and catching it before it could hit the ground.

He'd just thrown the ball for the sixth or so time, when he thought he heard a knock on his door. Except, was it a knock, or just the sound of the ball when it bounced off the door? When Taylor returned the ball, he paused, waiting to see if it came again.

When he didn't hear anything, Owen shrugged, and threw the ball again, just as his door opened and Claire poked her head through. He watched, surprised, when she visibly sagged in relief when her eyes met his, before she slid into his room and closed the door behind her. Taylor dropped the ball and settled at Claire's feet, head held high, waiting. Claire's hand dropped down onto the dog's head, petting her unconsciously.

Owen propped himself up on an elbow, waiting, but Claire stayed by the door, her gaze darting around the room for a couple of seconds before finally settling back on his. "So… is that why you really joined the Navy?" Claire asked him, a smirk forming on her face, pointing to the poster hanging above his bed.

Owen looked up, wincing at the Baywatch poster that still adorned the wall. It featured five of the female stars, all bending over to rest their hands on a surfboard that was laid on its side. To be honest, he was surprised it was still up. His parents (well, his mom) had not been at all pleased when he'd originally put it up. A few times, when he'd visited with Susan, he'd almost taken it down himself, but had left it, kind of curious how long his parents were going to leave his room exactly as it was on the day he'd left for college. Every time he visited, he expected to find it finally turned into another guest room or hobby room. And yet, even though he hadn't been there in over three years, it was still the same.

Turning back to Claire, Owen just said, "Now you know all my secrets."

Claire laughed, finally moving across the room, settling onto the bed, one leg tucked under her. Taylor followed, jumping up to lie down between them, her head resting on Claire's thigh.

"Not that I'm not happy to see you, but what happened to 'it's just one night, Owen'?" he asked, reaching out and resting his hand on her knee.

Claire's gaze darted away from his, but he couldn't tell if it was in response to his question or if she was just taking in all of his old paraphernalia spread across the room. The posters on the wall. The trophies lined up along a shelf. His (admittedly small) book collection. He felt like he was seeing the room for the first time, and was wondering if she was judging him, the way he was now judging himself.

Eventually, Claire's gaze settled back on his, and she gave a half-hearted shrug. "Just… couldn't sleep. Thought I'd see if you were still awake."

"Me neither," Owen said. "I really didn't expect it would be this bad." He scrubbed a hand down his face, his gaze focused on the ceiling. "I didn't want you to have to deal with that. I just thought… I expected them to be better. I'm sorry. I should've given you more warning."

Claire's free hand (the other petting the dog) landed on top of his, and Owen turned his head to look at her. "Parents," she said weakly, "we all have them and well… just count yourself lucky that you won't have to deal with mine together."

"That bad?" Owen asked, an eyebrow raised in question.

"They're easier to deal with since they divorced," Claire said. "Not that I deal with them all that often. Karen's had to bear the bigger brunt of it all. I probably owe her for that."

"And they wonder why we chose to live on Nublar," Owen replied. "Can't get much more isolated."

"Yeah," Claire agreed, stretching out on the bed beside him.

Taylor got up, moving to reclaim the ball now that no one was petting her, bringing it around to Owen, who tossed it absently towards the door.

"Wait, do you have glow in the dark stars?" Claire asked, turning on her side to face him.

"I do," Owen said, reaching out, turning off the bedside lamp, allowing the stars above to glow brightly. "I think my dad put them up when I was, like, seven."

Claire moved over to him, resting her head on his shoulder and Owen wrapped his arm around her, pulling her even closer.

"I always wanted glow in the dark stars," Claire admitted softly. "I had one of those planetarium night light things, but it's not the same."

"We should get some for the van," Owen suggested, feeling Claire nod her agreement. "I'm really glad you're here," he whispered a minute later, turning his head to drop a kiss to her hair.

"Mmm," Claire said, pushing up on an elbow, giving him a proper kiss. "I know I can sleep without you, but… I don't want to."

"Me neither," Owen murmured, pulling her closer, using both arms to tug her over him, sinking into a deeper kiss. He expected her to pull away, to say "not in your parents' house" in that horrified voice of hers that he always got a chuckle out of. But she didn't, her hands sliding down his chest, dipping below his shirt, caressing his sides. "Wait, hold that thought," he said, wriggling out from under Claire and scrambling off the bed.

"What are you doing?" Claire said, sitting up, watching him curiously.

Owen reached for Taylor's collar, guiding the dog to the door. "Sorry Taylor, you're going to have to find somewhere else to sleep tonight." Opening the door, he ushered the dog out into the hall. Taylor looked back at him, letting out a low whine. "Yeah, not gonna work on me," Owen said, shutting the door softly, but firmly. Turning back to Claire and her raised eyebrows, he just shrugged sheepishly and said, "Sorry, the idea just creeps me out. She can't be in here for this."

Claire started to giggle, and Owen hurried back to the bed, shushing her. He covered her mouth with his hand as he laid back down, pulling her against him. "Do you want to wake up my parents?"

She shook her head but couldn't stop her giggles. Owen did the only thing he knew was guaranteed to get her to stop, pulling his hand away from her mouth and replacing it with his lips, his hands now otherwise engaged as they eagerly tugged at her shirt.

Claire's giggles quickly died away, her hands copying his movements, both of them sitting up slightly until they could pull their shirts off. Sinking back down onto the bed, thoughts of parents and the evening melted away, both too busy getting lost in the other.

x x x

As they pulled away from the curb, Claire dutifully waved out the window at Bill and Mary, a smile fixed on her face. The moment they were out of sight, her hand and smile fell, and she let out a slow breath as she sat back. She felt Owen's hand land on her thigh and she looked up to find him looking over at her. He gave her a weak smile and she returned it, resting her hand on his, squeezing lightly. Turning his gaze back out the front, he flipped his hand over, lacing their fingers together.

"I'm sorry," Owen offered a couple of moments later, looking her way again. Claire just shrugged loosely in response, not feeling capable of having a real conversation. Not now, not this soon. She needed some time with her thoughts first. Owen seemed to get it, lifting her hand up to drop a quick kiss on her knuckles before returning their joined hands to rest on her leg.

Turning to stare out her window, Claire watched as the houses slowly gave way to businesses and then interstate. The view out her window was zipping by, but she wasn't really taking any of it in. Instead, her mind had turned inwards, trying to make sense of the visit. Trying to remember that even if his parents didn't seem to like her, Owen did.

While Claire had thought their dinner hadn't gone all that well, she thought their brunch that morning had definitely worked hard to be a close second. Before they'd finally fallen asleep the night before (well, early morning), she'd had Owen set the alarm clock. She didn't want to be seen sneaking out of his room in the morning, and she wasn't convinced his parents would value his privacy enough not to enter after a quick knock.

That part of their morning, at least, had gone according to plan. She'd managed to get back to the guest bedroom before his parents got up. The rest of the morning, however… well, so much for a quick exit. She knew Owen had wanted to leave after breakfast, and he'd been pretty clear about that with his mom the night before, saying they had a long way to go, and wanted to get out of there while everyone was too busy packing the malls to be on the highways.

Claire had been a little surprised by what she saw as a passive aggressive move by his mom that morning, as she'd skipped over talk of breakfast and moved straight to how she had big plans for brunch. When she'd seen Owen's hand rise, pinching the bridge of his nose in frustration, Claire knew he was about to snap. She'd sent him outside to take Taylor for a walk, saying she'd help his mom get brunch ready. He'd agreed, reluctantly, and then Claire had realized the error of her suggestion, when she was left standing alone in the kitchen with Mary.

Mary was nice enough. Claire just found she wasn't really sure how to act around her. She still didn't understand Owen's relationship with his parents. She didn't want to say the wrong thing, and found herself second guessing every word out of her mouth. Not only that, but Claire was used to being surrounded by confident people. Men and women who spoke their minds and were career oriented. Even growing up, her mom and most of her friends' moms worked. She didn't know how to relate to someone whose life had been centered around homemaking.

Thankfully, cooking had always been an activity she found kind of soothing. Follow the instructions and voila, you could create edible masterpieces. She hadn't always had time to do much on Nublar, but it had been an activity she and Owen had enjoyed taking on together, finding their tastes matched well. They'd had to get a bit more creative and a lot less sophisticated since they'd been in the van, but they had enjoyed stopping by farmers' markets and picking out fresh produce. If they were by a lake, sometimes Owen would catch something and, after he cleaned it out of her sight (he only made that mistake once), they'd have it for dinner.

Cooking with Mary was different. There was no recipe to follow, as she had them all memorized, dishes she'd made for years and years. Dishes, she told Claire, that Owen had loved as a little boy. That part, Claire had actually enjoyed, as Mary would pepper her instructions with little anecdotes of Owen's childhood. It was the other comments, the ones she couldn't tell if Mary had meant as attacks, or if she was just reading too much into them, that she struggled with. What did Mary mean when she'd commented that Claire had "a good appetite"? Or when she'd said that Owen always seemed happier when he had a woman looking after him?

And then there were the questions. Did Claire want kids? To get married? Where had she grown up? What church did she belong to? (Oh, there wasn't a church on Nublar? How unfortunate.) His mom didn't seem at all interested in what she had done, not a single question about Jurassic World or Claire's old job, or even what sort of job Claire was hoping to get next. While his dad may have thought Owen was falling down on the job of being a provider, Mary clearly wasn't thinking that Claire would be going back to work.

By the time Owen had walked back in an hour later, Claire felt like she'd been shredded to pieces. His look of concern when he'd entered the kitchen had nearly been her undoing, but she'd just moved aside when he'd tried to offer comfort. It's not that she didn't want it, but she also didn't want to fall apart. Not then. Not there.

As they'd ate, Claire had found herself watching Bill and Mary. Trying to understand what made their relationship work. Surprised and intrigued by the little things, how Mary seemed to instinctively know what Bill wanted before he could even ask, passing items down the table. Or Mary's flush of appreciation, when Bill raved about how she made the best eggs benedict in the world. They were Owen's role models growing up, his first understanding of marriage. Is this what he wanted? What he'd been hoping to emulate with Susan?

While he'd told her more about his relationship with Susan, it had felt more like a list of facts than real details. She knew that they had met during college and got married soon after they had graduated. That Susan had wanted a career, but struggled with finding jobs as they were uprooted by his Navy obligations. That she didn't like how long he'd have to go away for, and that they'd both been happy when he'd got into the Navy Marine Mammal Program, knowing that they'd be settled in the same area for longer. That it had been when he'd been sent on another tour, a field test for his dolphins, that he'd received the Dear John letter. That he'd later discovered that her infidelity had been a bit of an open secret. That he'd accepted the job on Nublar in hopes of a fresh start.

Claire wasn't sure how to consolidate all the conflicting versions of marriage she had in her head. Her parents, who seemed to have stayed together strictly for her and Karen, announcing their separation only a month after Claire had returned from her first internship at Jurassic World. Karen and Scott, who had started down the path of separation, only to have the Jurassic World incident make them reexamine their choices and were now attempting reconciliation. Owen and Susan, who his parents still seemed to think had had the perfect relationship — if only Owen hadn't screwed it up (that thought, at least, made Claire roll her eyes) — but had clearly wrecked Owen's perspective on marriage and commitment. And now Bill and Mary, two people who seemed so opposite and yet, had managed to stick it out. Two people, who as Claire had watched, seemed to just get and accept each other, faults and all.

Where would she and Owen fall? She still didn't know what label to assign them, what to call what they were doing, but she knew it was more than just something casual. Would they be the lucky ones, like Bill and Mary? Or were they going to just be another statistic? Another data point in Claire's life that would prove that marriage wasn't worth it? That relationships couldn't be trusted?

Letting out a long sigh, Claire clutched Owen's hand more tightly in her own. She didn't want to be thinking about that. Didn't want to think about the future at all. All she wanted was to live in the present.

And speaking of the present… "Owen?" Claire asked, turning away from the window to look over at him.

"Hmm?" Owen replied, glancing in her direction.

"Where are we going?"

"Um," Owen looked around, having clearly been lost in his own thoughts, too. "To be honest, I just got on the first highway out of there." He looked at the clock and then up at the sky, searching out the sun. "Looks like we're headed west. So… Utah?"

x x x

Waking up to the soothing sound of rain falling on the van's roof was a slice of heaven for Owen. Coupled with Claire tucked into his side — one arm across his chest with her hand reaching into his shirt to cover his heart — it was almost a fantasy. Fortunately for them both, it was real. He could scarcely believe they'd escaped the nightmare at his parents' house only a week ago. Well, it wasn't all nightmare. They seemed to have an uncanny knack for making the best of shitty situations. Together.

Looking up, he smiled at his handiwork on the ceiling. Owen had been overjoyed to find glow in the dark stars at a small shop in Park City. The sight of them above their bed had Claire practically purring. It was hard to sleep under the stars in the colder months of the year, but now they always could. Owen laughed to himself thinking about the sanctuary they'd created. The van was currently parked at a campground near Solitude, Utah. When Claire had pointed it out on a map, he knew that's where they had to go. Solitude was precisely what was needed after Denver and before they reconnected with Claire's family in Wisconsin for Christmas.

Owen wasn't quite ready to start thinking about interacting with Claire's parents. Besides, she'd seemed less than eager to share much information about them. He hadn't even known they were divorced until she mentioned it in his bedroom. His bedroom. He still couldn't believe they'd had sex there. Susan wouldn't let him so much as touch her every time they stayed at the Grady homestead. His ex-wife had always seemed very eager to please his parents. 'Respect your elders,' is what she used to say. Rolling his eyes at the thought, he was thankful — not for the first time — for how different Claire was from Susan.

Turning his gaze back to the redhead, Owen swallowed hard. They hadn't revisited the Thanksgiving dinner conversation, just the two of them. Neither had brought up marriage or kids. Part of him was relieved. Although his comments on those particular topics were not directed at Claire, he'd literally laid it all out on the table. What was said was said, for better or worse. She now knew his mindset. He hoped her silence meant that they were on the same page. Lying in the darkness, however — the only sound the rain and the only light the plastic stars — his mind took him to less positive places.

What were Claire's expectations for where they were headed? She hadn't objected to him taking control of the itinerary for their roadtrip, but did that mean she agreed? Would she be as accommodating on a grander scale? Owen suddenly began to worry that Claire did, in fact, want the 'whole nine yards' from a relationship. Perhaps she was only placating him now. In a few months, she might expect a ring on her finger. Or worse. Did she crave that fulfillment his mom had mentioned that Susan was finding with her son? He internally shuddered at a flood of bad memories and self-loathing regrets.

Owen and Susan had started their marriage in tune. They talked openly about not wanting kids. About wanting careers and how their love was enough. When things started falling apart between them, he'd wondered if she'd changed her mind. Knowing now that Susan had moved on so thoroughly and so quickly was mind-boggling. What was clear, however, was that he and Susan wanted different things. Maybe it wasn't just about him after all. In the past, his parents had suggested that he didn't love Susan enough and had let her get away. In light of new information, that idea didn't ring true.

With a loud crack of thunder outside, Claire began to stir. It didn't help that the sound also caused Owen to jump slightly on the mattress. He winced at disrupting her peaceful slumber. Watching her sleep was one of his favorite pastimes. As the thunder rolled, a dark thought crossed his mind. What if Susan hadn't changed? She might've been lying to him from the get-go about not wanting children. Lulling him into a false sense of security. Planning to change him. Surely, that wasn't happening to him with Claire. Was it? No, he knew Claire. She was an independent and formidable woman of means, and that had always been a big draw for him. He could count on that staying true, as constant as the stars.

Her fingers tensed on his skin before she whispered, "What are you thinking about?" She didn't lift her head to meet his eyes but knew instinctively that he was awake and pensive. That was gratifying.

"The stars," Owen answered matter-of-fact. Then, he started humming a melody from Les Miserables that he knew Claire would appreciate. They'd been listening to some showtunes CDs along the road. It turned out that she kept quite a few of them at her condo in San Diego. She denied it being embarrassing or considering it an SSB, and he'd actually found himself enjoying her lessons in musical theater history. He felt her smiling against his shoulder. It gave him goosebumps, and he pulled her ever so slightly closer.

When he couldn't remember any more of the song, he asked, "What are you thinking about?" He was silently hoping she was thinking about sex, since they hadn't done anything before falling asleep.

"Whether I made a good impression on your parents." Her response almost made him choke. That was definitely the last thing he expected her to say.

Owen felt compelled to answer quickly and reassured, "You know, they didn't like Susan when they first met her."

"They don't like me?" Her tone was one of horror, and he immediately regretted his words. She started to pull her hand out of his shirt, but he laid one of his hands on top of hers to keep it there.

"No, I'm not saying that… I'm just… they need time." Her entire body tensed, and he feared he was saying all the wrong things. Dropping a kiss on the top of her head, he added, "And it doesn't matter anyway. I've long stopped making choices based on their approval." It had never bothered him that his parents didn't approve of his decision to work with dinosaurs, so he certainly wouldn't get bogged down by whether or not they approved of Claire.

His parents' opinions were clearly bothersome to Claire, however, and Owen didn't like that. Despite his mom's statement about "no pressure," Claire was feeling some. He needed to make it go away, for now at least. A diversion would also help to lighten his own dark musings.

He pulled her fully on top of him and lifted her chin to meet her eyes. Gazes locked, any sadness in her look gave way to a fire that matched his own. "Let me take you to the stars," he suggested seductively. She smirked a little at the corny line, but when he started running the pads of his fingers down both sides of her back, he felt her tension melting away. Before he could lunge upwards, her hands fisted into his shirt and she was pushing him down into the mattress, kissing him hungrily. When her hips ground forcefully into his, he moaned into her mouth. In that moment, he decided to let her fully take control. Maybe it was her turn to take him to the stars.

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 6

It was a few days before Christmas, and Owen wasn't feeling very merry. If they had to be anywhere, he supposed that the Mitchells' house was probably the best option. The entire family seemed elated to have them, and watching SportsCenter was a very good distraction from the never ceasing news stories about the anniversary of the Jurassic World "disaster." To be honest, Owen didn't consider it entirely a disaster. It had brought him and Claire together, after all. Their time on the road had been wonderful. Even the stopover at his parents seemed to bring them closer.

It hadn't been a total disaster for the Mitchells either. Scott and Karen were noticeably more affectionate and happy together now than they had been just a few months ago. Zach appeared to be more integrated in the household routine as well. Everything seemed to be working out for the best. Gray had told Owen shortly after their arrival that he didn't need any presents for Christmas because he already got everything he wanted. How could anyone not appreciate that sentiment? It was practically Dickensenian.

Zach, on the other hand, still thrilled in giving people a hard time. When Scott asked him to grab a couple fresh beers from the fridge, the teen snorted with the jibe, "Owen maybe ought to cut himself off." He and his father exchanged an odd look, as Owen just sat there confused. He hadn't had much to drink. Was he acting tipsy? Had his time on the road turned him into a lightweight?

Zach eventually gave a short laugh and stood from the chair where he was sitting. The teen hadn't seemed too invested in the latest sports headlines anyway. Turning towards his brother, he directed, "Let's grab some things from the basement to restock the fridge." Gray immediately hopped up to assist. The kid was definitely growing into a people pleaser.

When the boys were out of earshot, Owen looked at Scott and asked, "What was that all about?"

Scott barely spoke above a whisper, "Zach noticed that you're... uh… developing a bit of a beer belly." Owen was stunned, and Scott tried to reassure, "I told him that wasn't nice, and that it's probably a sign of your contentment with Claire."

Anger started to build inside Owen. His mind instantly took him back to the comments made by his father at Thanksgiving. "Zach wouldn't be the first person to notice," he ground out through gritted teeth.

"Hey," Scott said with his palms up, "I'm not judging. I've put on a few pounds myself since Minnesota. The 'honeymoon period' is great, not having to worry about your appearance so much." Owen knew that Scott meant well, but it still didn't feel good. He'd always prided himself on his physical prowess. Although he was happy with Claire, he didn't like the idea that their relationship was making him soft, in any sense of the word. His mind drifted even further, recalling his father's harsh words about not supporting Claire. He hated believing that his father might've had a point.

When the boys reappeared, Owen was still lost in thought and not making eye contact with anyone. Gray sounded worried as he inquired, "Want anything to drink?"

Owen looked up and answered with a forced smile, "I'm good, kid. Thanks for asking though."

Gray relaxed and announced happily, "It's so great to have you and Aunt Claire here. You've really changed her."

"Me?" Owen blurted, trying to suppress his alarm. He really hadn't noticed that Claire was any different than she'd always been to him.

"Yeah," Gray continued, as if it was obvious, "she's slowed down. She actually listens to us now. Cares about what we have to say."

"She actually wants to spend time with us," Zach interjected. "I can't believe I've seen her three times in one year." Gray was nodding along then stopped when his brother added, "I keep waiting for her to revert."

Before Gray could defend Claire, Scott butted in, "What did I say earlier about being nice?"

Zach sighed dramatically then looked at his watch. "Can I be excused to call Chelsea?" he asked impatiently. His father rolled his eyes before nodding. Owen wondered if Scott was holding his tongue. Things had definitely shifted in the Mitchell family dynamic.

After the teen stomped up the stairs, Scott addressed Gray, "Why don't you finish your gift for Nana and Pop-Pop?" The boy whined as he spared a quick glance in Owen's direction. Scott prodded, "I'm sure your mom would appreciate you getting that done before she and your aunt get back." His tactic bordered on manipulative, but it worked. Owen couldn't help but chuckle when Gray reluctantly left the room.

There was an awkward silence for a moment, and Owen felt the need to break it himself to avoid Scott bringing up an unwelcome topic. "Has Zach decided what he's going to do after graduation?"

Scott seemed to deflate a little when he answered, "That's the million dollar question. Chelsea's a legacy for Notre Dame, so I imagine she'll be headed there. Neither of them have been accepted yet, and Zach didn't apply anywhere else." He paused to wince. Owen surmised that Zach's prospects weren't great. "Joe's been encouraging him to go to trade school locally." Owen stiffened at the mention of Claire's father. While he'd yet to meet the man, they were planning to spend Christmas Day with him.

Scott must've picked up on Owen's tension and said, "Don't worry about Joe. The boys have already told him all about you, and it's all been glowing praise." There was an edge of jealousy in Scott's words. Owen's suspicions were confirmed by the other man's next statement. "I've never been particularly popular with my in-laws, but they do seem to tolerate me better now that Karen and I are staying together." A realization dawned on Owen. He wondered if he should worry about Claire's mom. Scott seemed to read his mind and laughed, "I like Joe a lot more than Jessica. We're all lucky she's on a cruise this year."

"You paid for it, right?" Owen asked with a conspiratorial grin, trying to cover his own nervousness.

"You're welcome." They both laughed, before Scott added, "How much has Claire told you about her relationship with her mom?"

"I know Jessica didn't approve of Claire's decision to go to Nublar."

"That's an understatement." There was a pause, as if Scott was reconsidering how much to reveal. "Jessica meddles. Thinks she knows best. Kind of your stereotypical 'monster-in-law.'" He took a deep breath before finishing, "She was very upset by the park incident and didn't want to be here for its anniversary. My parents, on the other hand, are overjoyed to see how it brought us all back together." Owen didn't realize that his gaze had drifted away from Scott's. He was also frowning and not even trying to hide it this time. "Sorry to bring it up," Scott said softly. "I can tell it's affecting Claire, too." The comment caused Owen to perk up and resume eye contact with Scott, who placed a hand on his shoulder. "I'm really glad she has you right now."

Of all the things that had been said since their arrival in Madison, this statement threw Owen the most. He managed a weak smile then excused himself to use the bathroom. In actuality, he needed some space. He wished he could go for a run. Unfortunately, it was freezing outside, and the earlier comments made him question his stamina for that kind of exertion.

Staring at his hands gripped tightly to the sides of the sinktop, Owen had a sensation of the walls closing in on him. He couldn't help but take responsibility for Scott's perception of Claire's mood. Sure, they didn't talk about the incident, but they were otherwise good. Right? Had something changed since the last time they saw the Mitchells? His thoughts immediately flew to Thanksgiving in Denver. That was another topic they'd cleverly avoided. If Claire was unhappy now, it might have something to do with him, his parents, and everything unspoken about their future. He shuddered at the thought. It was enough that he was grappling with all of that. He hated thinking that it disturbed Claire as well.

Owen held back from slamming his fist into something. Gray had been right. Claire was caring and supportive of everyone around her, Owen included. And what, exactly, was he doing for her in return? His father would say 'nothing,' but they were still figuring out their life together. On their own terms. Away from others' expectations. How could anyone blame them for stepping away from the world for a while?

Deep down, however, Owen knew that Claire hadn't totally stepped away. Even if they weren't talking about it, she was still involved with the lawsuits. He couldn't wait until those were settled. It was a shadow he didn't want on their new life. Since he'd cut all ties to InGen, his world had been turned upside down. No, that wasn't an accurate assessment. The world he'd known before had been all but erased. His work, his passions rendered nonexistent. Everything except for Claire. Was he clinging to her too much? Was he using her as a replacement for what he'd lost? His head hurt. He needed another beer.

When he walked back to the living room, Owen found it empty. He heard Scott moving around in the kitchen—hopefully getting them more beers. The TV screen pulled Owen's attention. ESPN had gone to commercial, and an anchorwoman was announcing a 'special report' on an upcoming news magazine program. Among others, Claire's picture was on the screen along with the words "Where are they now?" Owen's fists balled at his sides. His fingernails dug into his palms, nearly breaking the skin. An unrealistic wish flashed through his mind. He wanted that island wiped off the face of the planet. A fitting end given how it had flushed away his aspirations.

x x x

Pushing the cart through the grocery store, Claire trailed after her sister, feeling a little overwhelmed by how quickly it was filling up, and they were barely halfway down their list. Living out of their van had made Claire and Owen both really careful about what they bought. They had limited space, in general, but even more so when it came to fridge and freezer space. Stocking up wasn't really something they could ever do. Claire had always heard that teenage boys were bottomless pits, but she hadn't quite realized just how true that was. Add in four adults, and it felt like the fridge was full one moment and empty the next.

Turning down the next aisle, Claire scanned the shelves, only half paying attention to what was stocked on them, until a familiar box jumped out at her. She instinctively reached out, grabbing one and adding it to the cart. She groaned when she saw Karen's eagle eyes spot it immediately as she returned with a couple bags of bagels.

"Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies?" Karen asked, raising an eyebrow in question at Claire. "You hate oatmeal cookies."

"Owen likes them," Claire shrugged.

"Hmm," Karen hummed, giving her a long look before continuing to move down the aisle.

Claire watched after her for a second, waiting for an expanded comment before pushing the cart forward again, hurrying to catch up. "What do you mean 'hmm'?" she demanded, stopping once she was beside her sister.

"Nothing," Karen replied. Claire glared at her, and her sister relented. "Just… still can't believe how much you've changed, I guess."

"Because I grabbed a box of snack cakes for Owen?"

"Not just that," Karen said, checking her list again before leading them down the next aisle. "You're not working, for one. I can't even remember you taking a vacation in the past 10 years, Claire!" She grabbed a few bags of chips, adding them to the ever growing pile in the cart. "And have you looked in a mirror lately? You're looking so good, and so relaxed. You've got curves. I love that your growing your hair out. I can't remember the last time you wore a pair of jeans."

Claire looked down at her outfit as Karen spoke. Jeans hadn't been practical on Nublar, and not just because of her job. In the often oppressive humidity that would settle over the island, jeans would have been heavy and uncomfortable, chafing against her skin. Her skirts and light, breezy business wear had been practical, as well work appropriate. What was practical on Nublar wasn't for her new life. And she was getting used to jeans and t-shirts now. And being on the road had meant irregular visits to a stylist, so growing her hair out had been, again, a practical decision.

"And don't even get me started on Owen," Karen continued, letting out a bit of a dreamy sigh. "His influence has clearly been good for you. It's so nice to see you not fighting for control, and finally letting someone else make decisions. That you're sharing the burden and that you've been opening up and letting him in." She paused to hunt through the various jars of salsa, before selecting a couple. After putting them in the cart, she looked at Claire. "I guess there is a silver lining to the incident, after all. I mean… the whole year has really worked out well for both of us."

"I guess so," Claire said, pretending to peruse the options on the shelves, not wanting to look at her sister. Even though she'd been well aware that it was coming up on a year since the incident — how could she not be, when it was constantly being talked about on the news — it somehow hadn't really sunk in until now. A year. She'd been out of a job for almost a year now. A thought that she'd never have been able to comprehend only 52 weeks ago. Were things actually better now? Sure, some of what Karen listed was objectively good. But… that didn't mean everything was better, or even that things were better as a whole.

"Are things not okay?" Karen asked hesitantly, stepping up beside Claire and resting a hand on her arm.

"No, I mean, things are fine," Claire said, giving her sister a lukewarm smile. Not wanting to go too much into where her thoughts were going, she focused on the incident. "It's… It's just the anniversary coming up, I guess."

"From the sounds of it, it doesn't seem like Owen has been paying much attention to the news," Karen admitted. "Have you been?"

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "He doesn't like to know about it. Wants to pretend it's already all behind us and that we can move on from it."

"Isn't it, though?" Karen asked. "I mean, your parts are done, aren't they?"

"Well, yes," Claire said slowly. "We don't have to testify anymore, if that's what you mean. But… the Indominus? Everything that happened? How can I just walk away from it all? If it wasn't for me…"

"If it wasn't for you, things would've been much worse," Karen stated firmly.

"Or may never have happened in the first place," Claire said, looking away from her sister briefly. She forced a smile onto her face before she looked back. "But… I can't change that. I guess, I just want to feel, to know, that I've done what I can to make things better. To try to fix what's possible. The main class action lawsuit got approval to proceed the other day, so things aren't quite over yet."

"I'm sorry," Karen said, wrapping an arm around Claire in a brief hug. "I wish there was something I could do to help."

"I don't even know what to do," Claire admitted with a slight chuckle. "For now I'm just taking it one day at a time." She took a deep breath, before moving away from her sister. "Okay, what's left on the list. I didn't come out to see you so we could spend time in a grocery store."

"We're almost done," Karen said, checking her list. "Just need to get some ice cream and a couple of frozen pie shells."

"Ooh, you're making pie?" Claire said as they headed towards the frozen food aisles. "Don't tell me you're making a strawberry rhubarb pie."

"I am," Karen confirmed.

"Ugh, that's so unfair, Kar," Claire complained.

"Hey, we said you could stay for Christmas," Karen said with a laugh. "You're the ones who said you were going to go spend it with Dad instead."

"You're spending the day with Scott's parents. We didn't want to get in the way," Claire said, looking over the ice cream options before reaching in for a few pints of Ben and Jerry's. "Owen's not used to a lot of family around and…"

"You never said much about your visit with his parents," Karen said, steering them towards the cashiers.

"There's not much to say," Claire replied, hiding her wince.

"It went okay?" Karen confirmed, as they stopped in line to wait.

"It… went," Claire finally said. "But, let's not talk about family drama. It's Christmas."

"What better time than now for family drama?" Karen laughed.

"Claire Dearing?"

Both sisters turned when they heard Claire's name called, not recognizing the voice. An older couple had stopped, blocking traffic near the registers, the woman having clearly been the one who called her name.

"It is you," the woman said, turning to her husband. "I told you."

"Do you know them?" Karen asked in a low whisper, reading the panic on Claire's face.

"No," Claire replied, barely moving her lips, as if she could stand still enough to disappear. The previous week, she and Owen had stopped to buy Christmas gifts and she'd been recognized there, too. She hadn't been sure how to react, not wanting to engage, but also not wanting to be seen as running away. She had hoped that time and distance would allow her some anonymity, and it had, for a while. But with Jurassic World taking over the news again, it seemed like her face was back on everyone's mind. As if shopping for Christmas gifts hadn't been bad enough to start with, as Claire had quickly realized that, even a year later, she still didn't know all that much about her nephews, relying on Owen to know what they'd want. Had she really changed? Maybe she was still the same Claire she'd always been…

"That's the one who was running Jurassic World. Her picture's always on the news," the woman didn't seem to be aware that people were starting to gather, or that Claire was clearly uncomfortable.

"Here," Karen pressed the car keys into Claire's hand. "Go on. I'll meet you out there after I pay." She gave Claire a little shove to get her moving, before turning to the couple. "Excuse me, now's not the time or place for this."

"Yes, yes, sorry." Claire heard the woman reply, but she was too busy pushing past the people gathered, keeping her head down. She could hear the whispers, like a constant buzzing that was getting louder and louder. She just needed to get out of the store. Quickening her steps, she hurried towards the door, trying not to listen to what was being said. Trying to focus on finding Karen's car. Where had they parked?

Bursting out into the parking lot, the cold air was like a shock to the system. Shivering, Claire shoved her hands into her pockets, scanning the rows trying to remember something, anything about where they'd parked. She could feel her heart racing, and she was starting to feel like she wasn't getting enough air. This had happened the last time, she reminded herself. She was fine. She just needed to calm down. To breathe slowly. In. Out. In. Out.

She was startled out of her thoughts when she was jostled by a cart, the person mumbling an apology as they moved past her, and she realized she'd stopped right in front of the entrance doors. Moving to the side, she gave up on trying to remember where they parked. She could wait for Karen. At least out here, in the cold, she could have a few moments to herself. She could get herself together. After all, she was doing better, right? That's what Karen had said. Things were better.

x x x

If it wasn't for the Christmas tree and Maisie running around the estate singing "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" at the top of her lungs, Eli figured he would've missed the holiday completely. He remembered loving the holiday when he was young, but there was no joy to it this year. Some days, he wanted to yell at everyone who had ever said "oh, just wait until you see it through the eyes of a child." That line was complete and utter bullshit. All seeing it through the eyes of a child did was highlight how the holiday had become so morally bankrupt and entirely capitalist. Santa was just a story designed to convince kids to be good because they were being surveilled on.

But, that was all beside the point. The point was, in the months since Wu had arrived and been working (in secret) in the estate basement, Eli had gone down there exactly three times. He made it a point to try to stay away. The excuse he told Wu was that he didn't want to raise suspicions and get Lockwood curious as to what may be happening. But, his real reason was that he found scientists boring and pretentious. Too busy talking in big words when smaller ones would do (and be much clearer).

Today, however, he had been summoned, rather urgently, and with the chaos of the holidays in full swing on the main area of the estate, he'd been grateful for the escape.

He probably shouldn't have been. Probably should've realized it wasn't going to be a good thing, but he'd been too intent on fleeing.

Now, standing over the incubator, looking at the three eggs, Eli finally got the first inkling that something was wrong. The incubator normally radiated heat, packed full of bright heating lamps, but now it was dark.

"It's over," Henry stated matter-of-factly.

"What's over?" Eli asked, looking from the eggs to Wu and back again, realization creeping in.

"This batch is not viable," Henry said. "We noticed a decrease in growth over the last week and yesterday it stopped completely."

"Not viable…" Eli repeated, the panic creeping higher.

"We've already grabbed samples and have a few ideas as to what may have gone wrong. We hope to be ready to start the next batch in mid-January."

"I don't…" Eli looked up at Henry. "You said things were going well. Last time we talked, you said everything was fine."

"And it was," Henry nodded. "But, what we're doing is not easy."

"Or cheap," Eli muttered.

"Right," Henry said. "But, it was always a possibility. A likelihood, really. We've never been successful with the first batch. It's important that hormones are released at the exact right moment, and each batch helps us improve that timing."

"A likelihood? You never said that." Eli could feel his hands bunching at his side, and he worked hard to reduce the outward signs of his panic. "You told me that you've done this hundreds of times. Thousands."

"And I have," Henry agreed. "But there's always a difference between the first batch and the 21st. We're doing the best we can. We got much farther than I expected this time around. Our process has improved exponentially since the late 80s, early 90s."

"So much for Maisie's birthday gift," Eli sighed. Not that it was ever going to be a real gift, but he'd taken it as a sign, a positive one, that the Indoraptors' expected hatching date looked to be similarly timed. That's what he got for putting his faith in luck.

"Like I said, this batch exceeded our expectations. I fully expect we'll have an actual hatching with the next one," Henry said, moving away from the incubator and towards his office.

Eli followed after him. "Why did you call me down here?"

"Because I thought you should know. And, I need to make another hire." Henry moved to sit at his desk, and Eli stood on the other side, not wanting to sit down because he didn't want to be there long.

"Another person? How many people do you need?" Eli was already mentally pulling up the budget numbers, trying to figure out how he was going to fit this all together. He'd known from the beginning that this was a risk. But the potential payoff was huge. He just hadn't expected how long it was going to take. He was going to have to do some creative accounting.

"Just one more," Henry said mildly. "I need a technologist. Some of the equipment here has been malfunctioning, and appears to be old."

"We can't afford new equipment," Eli was definitely panicking now.

"I'm not asking for that. We need someone who can fix it and get us closer to state-of-the-art, without having to replace it all."

"Do you have someone in mind?"

"There's a few people from InGen I think we could reach out to," Henry said. "We could reach wider, but those men have knowledge of how things were done and may still have access to some of the proprietary data that would be helpful. We did a lot of tweaking to equipment to suit our specific needs."

"Okay, send me a job description, the candidate names and budget," Eli said as he turned to leave. He paused in the doorway, looking back. "This has to be the last hire. Every person we add to the team…" He trailed off, but knew that Henry understood his meaning. Secrets rarely remained secret.

Chapter Text

Shelter from the Storm - Chapter 7

As Claire directed Owen to turn onto her father's driveway, she found herself wiping her hands nervously against her pants. While she'd actually kept in pretty frequent contact with her dad, after the visit to Owen's parents the previous month she'd been hesitant to actually have him meet hers. Even though she didn't expect anything to go wrong — especially since they were starting with her dad and not her mom — Claire just wasn't sure she could handle any more family drama.

The visit to the Mitchells had been fine, but that was probably the best spin she could put on it. There wasn't anything specific she could point out as to what hadn't been great. It was more just… it felt like something had shifted. Like she and Owen hadn't been quite as comfortable there as they'd been over the past year when it had been just the two of them. She wasn't sure if it was the visit, actually, or just the timing with the anniversary of the fall of Jurassic World less than a week away. Just another stressor going into the visit with her dad.

"You know, we could just keep going."

Claire turned toward Owen to see him looking over at her, one hand resting on the gear shift, as if ready to switch into reverse.

"We could come back next week, instead," Owen continued, clearly reading her hesitancy. "It doesn't have to be today."

She took a deep breath, before reaching out and resting her hand on top of his, and gave him an (albeit weak) smile. "We're here. Besides, if there's any of our parents that we can do Christmas with, my dad, I think, wins hands down."

"You're sure?" Owen asked, and Claire nodded, watching as he finally reached for the keys, turning off the RV. "Okay. Let's do this."

Crossing around the front of the van, Claire reached for his hand, lacing her fingers with his as they walked up towards the front door. They'd barely rung the bell when the door was pulled open.

"Claire!" Her father was out the door in a second, pulling Claire into a giant bear hug. The moment his arms wrapped around her, Claire could feel the tears rising. Any reluctance she had over the visit evaporated in that moment. There was nothing quite like the sense of safety she still got from the feel of her dad's arms, and the familiar smell of his aftershave surrounding her.

"Dad!" Her own reply was muffled, her face buried in his shoulder as she hugged him tighter. It took a minute before she felt like she could pull away, suddenly remembering that Owen was standing there. It took her another second to find him, having swung her head side to side before she thought to look down. He was kneeling on the porch, busy petting a border collie while getting a faceful of doggy kisses. "You got a dog!" She forgot what she was going to do, looking back at her dad.

"Yeah, a few months ago," her dad nodded. "Missed the companionship. Max."

At his name, the collie pulled away from Owen, looking up at his master, his tail still wagging and one of Owen's hands still scratching behind his ears. Owen looked up at them, before standing up swiftly, holding out his hand. "Hi, I'm Owen."

"Joe," her dad replied, shaking Owen's hand firmly. "It's so nice to finally meet you." He looked down at Max before looking back at Owen. "Looks like you've already got Max's approval."

"Can't go wrong with dogs," Owen said, a bit of wistfulness in his voice.

"Definitely can't," her dad agreed. "Well, come on you two, come in. I don't have anything planned for tonight, just got some spaghetti sauce on the stove. I hope that's okay."

"Your homemade sauce?" Claire asked, her voice eager, and he nodded. She turned to Owen. "Oh you're going to love this. Nothing beats his sauce." She followed her dad into the house, Owen and Max following behind her.

"So, I've got the guest room set up for you two," her dad told them, as he lead them through the house. "Towels are in the bathroom. Do you need to do laundry or anything?"

"We're good, we did some at Karen's," Claire told him as they were led into the family room. There was a fire roaring in the fireplace, and a simply decorated Charlie Brown Christmas tree in one corner. "You got a tree!" She turned to her dad with surprise.

"Of course I did," he replied. "Couldn't have guests for Christmas and no Christmas tree. I even bought a turkey for tomorrow."

She flung herself at her dad again, his arms immediately wrapping back around her in a hug. "Thanks," she whispered to him. "For making this so easy."

"How was Karen's?" he asked when she finally pulled away again and they all sat down. He turned to look at Owen. "I imagine after your time on the road it felt pretty noisy in that house."

"It did," Owen agreed. "But the boys are great."

"They've always had their hands full with those two," her dad said. "Zach's been coming out here a lot more, we're fixing up a truck. Told him if we can get it running he can use it for college next year."

"Owen does that, too," Claire inserted.

"You like fixing cars?" asked her dad, looking a bit surprised.

"I had a motorcycle back on… Anyway, I use to tinker around on it. Not a lot of other things to do on the island. It kept me busy."

"Way back in the day I had a Corvette," her dad related to Claire's surprise. "Had to get rid of it when I got married. Not a great family vehicle."

"Yeah, I suppose not," Owen agreed. "I'd like to get one again, someday. Nothing quite like it."

Claire settled back on the couch, leaning against Owen, watching as he talked with her dad. She wasn't sure what she'd expected, really, about the two meeting. She loved her dad and had always gotten along well with him. But, she'd never actually brought a guy home — well, not since high school. So never someone she'd been living with. She hadn't been sure what her dad was going to think about Owen and vice versa. After the visit to Owen's parents, she found that she'd mostly been hoping for the bare minimum — her dad not embarrassing her and Owen not feeling a need to leave early.

x x x

After dinner, Owen found himself at a bit of a loss about what to do. Joe had taken Max for a walk, and Claire had said something about catching up on her latest book before disappearing into the small office / library room that had a window seat overlooking the backyard. He'd taken a quick stroll around the property, checking out the truck that apparently Joe and Zach were fixing up (although, with the engine completely disassembled, it was currently much more of a shell), and the other small projects it was clear that Joe had been working on.

Entering the house again, he decided to check in on Claire. Maybe she'd be at an interesting place in her book. With a bit of an evil grin, he snuck into the office, somewhat surprised when he managed to make it all the way to her side before she noticed him. There was a bit of a red flush to her cheeks, and his grin widened. She was definitely at a good part of the book.

"Getting any ideas?" Owen asked, his voice low as he crouched down beside her.

"Owen!" Claire almost dropped her Kindle, one of her hands jumping to cover her heart.

Chuckling, Owen picked up the Kindle, hoping to get a chance to skim the text, but Claire immediately attempted to snatch it back. "Must be a really good part," he said, waggling his eyebrows at her, "if you won't even let me get a glimpse. Who's in this one? Sexy covert agent? Sexy bodyguard? Huh?" Pulling his arm holding the Kindle away from her, and using his other to fight her back, he just managed to get a glimpse of the text. "Dog tags? Oooh, sexy Army guy. You know," he dropped his voice low, his tone almost seductive, except for the trace of laughter creeping in, "you don't need to read about a sexy Army guy, when you've got me right here."

"Give it back," Claire said, her face now a much deeper red, although this time clearly more from embarrassment.

"I'm surprised you're reading this here," Owen said, still trying to get a better look at the text. "At your dad's place? Really Claire?"

"Ugh, Owen," Claire gave up fighting him, leaning back in her seat, her arms crossed over her chest and a pout on her face. A pout that quickly turned sly. "I would've thought you'd be happy I was." It was her turn to give him a suggestive look.

"Really? Here?" Owen's gaze darted around the office.

"Not here here," Claire rolled her eyes at him. "Later."

"I don't know…"

"What, your parents' place is okay, but not here?" Claire asked, grabbing for the Kindle when his arm dropped back down to his side. He handed it over.

"Well… yeah, I mean… this is your dad's place," Owen said, wincing at the glare she sent him. He knew his comment was pretty sexist, but, well, some thought patterns were hard to break.

"Well, if you're not up for it later, I guess it's a good thing I've got my book," Claire said, turning away from him and looking back down at her Kindle.

"Like that's even close to a good replacement," Owen scoffed, and the look Claire sent him almost had him reaching for the Kindle again. "Really? That good?"

"Ask me later," Claire teased, before reaching out to push at his shoulder. "Go do something else. Leave me alone."

"Fine," Owen stood up, stretching out his back as he did so. He looked around the office briefly, wondering if there was something in there that could entertain him.

"Somewhere else," Claire clarified, when he didn't leave at first.

"Going, going," Owen said, finally leaving the room. He wandered back down the main hall, debating going into the kitchen and searching for a snack, but he wasn't really hungry and he was also feeling a bit self conscious after Zach (and his dad's) comments about his weight. Instead, he turned back into the living room, walking over to the fireplace that still had a small fire burning.

He'd noticed earlier that on the mantel there was a smattering of framed photographs and took the opportunity to examine them more closely. Clearly, they represented key people and moments in Joe's life. There were a few pictures of Claire and Karen as young girls. One of Joe with Zach and Gray. Another of Joe holding a fish and beaming at the camera. And two photos of dogs — one he didn't recognize that must be the dog Claire had grown up with, and the second was clearly Max.

Moving away from the mantel, he moved over to the couch he'd been sitting on earlier, although he wasn't really sure what he was going to do. But just as he sat down, he noticed a couple of large rolled up sheets of paper on the side table, sitting on top of a book about home renovations. Picking them up, he unrolled one onto the coffee table in front of him, not surprised to find it was a blueprint of the house, quickly getting sucked in as he studied the details.

A wet nose against his forearm made him start a while later, looking to his side to see that Max had come to join him. "Hey buddy," Owen greeted the dog, running his hand over Max's head before scratching at his ears, the dog sitting in eager anticipation at his side.

"I got a great price on this house," Joe's voice had Owen looking up towards the entry where Joe was standing, "because it had been pretty neglected by its former owners. But it has good bones, and I was looking for a new hobby anyway." Owen watched as Joe came into the room, sitting down in the armchair near him, leaning forward to look at the blueprint Owen had spread out. "Got it a few years ago now," Joe continued. "Recent enough that this is Claire's first visit out here. But long enough that I've already finished the more essential repairs. Now, I can focus on the bits I find interesting."

"You're looking at adding solar panels?" Owen asked, pointing to the diagram.

"Yeah," Joe nodded. "Well, I think so, that is. I haven't quite decided if that's the right choice out here. I mean, I get decent sun most of the year, but, of course, then there's now…"

"Snow," Owen nodded. "Yeah, that can be a pain to have to be clearing them off. That, or not using them. And they can still be quite fragile. I had some out at my place…" He trailed off, briefly caught up in the memory. "Back on Nublar, I had some. When they worked, it was great. But Nublar gets a lot of clouds, and also some pretty fierce storms. They didn't deal so well when the wind really started to blow."

"I've thought about wind power too," Joe said. "But, to generate much electricity you either need a bunch or a really big one. And they're a lot more noticeable than solar panels, which I can at least lay flat on the roof." Owen nodded in agreement. "Gray's actually the one who bugs me the most about switching to green energy. I guess he probably thinks I'm the one most likely to do so." Joe laughed. "Scott's not so handy, and has never really been interested in projects like this. Gray likes the science of it all."

"He's one smart kid," Owen agreed. "Both of them, really. Zach just likes to hide behind his attitude."

"That he does. That he does," Joe nodded. "You know…"

Owen waited for him to finish when Joe trailed off. When a couple of moments went by, Owen prodded him. "What?"

"I haven't seen Claire in a couple years," Joe admitted. "We were always very close. She was definitely a daddy's girl." His smile grew nostalgic. "We've kept in touch — much more so than she has with the rest of the family. But I've always known that her taking the job on Nublar was partly about running away. She never dealt well with family problems, and it was right around that time that Jessica and I could no longer contain ours. I can't really blame her for wanting to get away. It wasn't… we weren't all that pleasant to be around, and Karen was already married with Zach. I know Claire was searching for her place." Joe's smile faded a bit, but Owen waited him out. "She's always been so headstrong. So sure of herself and her decisions. I've always thought that maybe she found that — her place — at Jurassic World."

"She was…" It was Owen's turn to trail off, and he looked back down at Max who he had been petting absentmindedly. "Her confidence is one of the things that drew me to her," Owen said. "We butted heads quite a bit at the beginning, actually. Had a horrible date even." He was happy that the memory of their first date made him laugh now (with a side of cringing). "But… she was definitely at home there. Everyone respected her. You could see that in all her interactions. She was… is amazing."

"I've been worried about her," Joe admitted. "After the incident. About how she'd deal with the sudden change. I was surprised when she said you two were going out on the road back in the spring, and then even more so when she said you had bought the van. It didn't seem like the Claire I knew. But," Joe shrugged, "we all change. And events like Jurassic World are unpredictable and there's no set way to react and respond." There was a pause while Joe's gaze drifted over to the mantel, and Owen wondered if he was looking at the pictures of young Claire. "When you have kids, you always know that they're going to grow up. That they'll leave home one day, and make their own choices. You try to protect them as much as you can, but often, so many of the things you want to protect them from happen well after they've flown the proverbial nest. I'm glad she's had you. That she hasn't been alone this past year."

Owen shifted uncomfortably. It's not like the hadn't known they were coming up on a year (how could he with all the constant chatter about the anniversary of the incident?), but he didn't like the increased feelings of expectations that were coming along with it. And he wasn't even sure what counted as the start date of their… whatever they were doing. Sure, he'd kissed her that day, but they hadn't actually been physically together (and not just that way) until over a month later when she got back to San Diego. Was he supposed to be doing something about their anniversary? Getting her a cheesy Hallmark card? God, he hoped not.

"Karen — and the boys — have all said that she's happy. That's she's doing well." Owen tuned back into what Joe was saying. "I wasn't sure she was going to want to stop by. She's never brought someone home before. But, watching you two, I can see why she brought you. I don't think I've ever seen her as comfortable around another person as she is with you." This time it was Joe who looked nervous. "I don't mean to be butting in on your relationship. Or putting any pressure on you. I just… Thanks for agreeing to stop by. I'm sure this visit wasn't high on your list."

Owen was about to counter, but Joe just gave him a knowing look, and Owen let out a nervous chuckle.

"It's fine," Joe said. "I never liked visiting Jessica's parents. Family can be tough enough to deal with when they're your own. Those of your…?"

The question hung in the air and Owen wasn't sure how to respond. Regardless of the fact they'd never had a conversation assigning labels, he wouldn't know what they'd pick anyway. 'Significant other' felt too, well, significant. And 'partner' too business like. The more standard boyfriend / girlfriend were just too… young. Joe may have said he wasn't trying to put pressure on them, but Owen could still feel expectations weighing him down.

Joe seemed to take pity on him, continuing on. "Well, I'm just thankful you came by."

"Happy to be here," Owen replied, and he was surprised that the response actually felt genuine. The pressure was still there, but he could tell that Joe was being honest, and that helped. "I know Claire was really looking forward to this." Feeling a bit uncomfortable with how serious the topic was getting, and not wanting to go further down the path, he looked back down at the blueprint in front of him again. "What are you working on now?"

x x x

For the first time she could remember, Claire was nervous to be alone with her dad. They'd always been close — much closer than she'd ever been with her mom — but something was off. While Christmas day had largely been lowkey and stress free (just what she'd needed after the Mitchells), over dinner and while doing the dishes, Claire had caught her dad making odd faces at her. Studying her. Holding his tongue? Now that they were sitting in front of the fire with mugs of hot chocolate, she worried what he might say.

Owen had excused himself only a moment ago to call his parents, who'd been unavailable earlier in the evening due to their volunteering at a soup kitchen. Their piety made Claire feel doubly inadequate. She hoped it would be a short conversation and that Owen would be rejoining them soon.

"Cat got your tongue?" her dad's question interrupted her reverie. Her gaze shifted from the fire to her father's eyes. The flames reflected in them for a warm, rather than menacing, effect, but she still felt anxious. "You haven't taken one sip, Claire." He motioned to her mug, so she quickly took a gulp.

She winced at the liquid burning her throat as she swallowed, then answered him with a forced smile, "It's great, Dad, just the way I like it."

"Nice to know some things never change, I guess." His cryptic reply was accompanied by raised eyebrows. He cleared his throat and offered, "Owen seems to be taking very good care of you."

"We've, uh, been taking good care of each other." This time, her smile was genuine.

Her father returned her smile and sighed, "Never thought I'd see the day."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Her tone was unexpectedly harsh. In truth, she was only slightly offended by his remark. Mostly, it caught her off guard. Owen wasn't just the only romantic interest she'd ever introduced to her dad, he was the only romantic interest she'd ever wanted her dad to meet. Bringing Owen home was admittedly a big deal. Is that why she was so nervous? Did she need her dad's approval? Had she reverted to her adolescent self in the moment? Her heart suddenly started to pound, and her breathing became shaky. She almost dropped her mug.

"Claire." His voice was soothing, and he rested a hand on her shoulder. "I like him. A lot." She felt herself relaxing, somewhat, at his words. "It's obvious how much you care about each other."

And just like that, Claire's anxiety raged back even stronger than before. What was wrong with her? Was this really about her dad or was it about Owen? Perhaps it was the fact that Owen had never said how much he cared. She wasn't one to lay out her own feelings unless she was certain, and so she'd pushed the topic aside. Tried not to think about. Instead, she'd just been going with the flow.

"Hey," her dad waved his hand in front of Claire's face. Her eyes had drifted away again. When she looked back at him, he continued, "I never thought I'd see the day when you'd be so… deferential to someone else." He looked at her expectantly, but all she could muster was knitted brows. His expression shifted to mirror hers. She didn't know what to say and decided to wait him out. "Owen was telling me about your travels," he finally supplied.

"Yeah, it's been amazing to see all the National Parks." She tried to calm her racing heartbeat by focusing on good memories from the road. "It's been a real load off to leave the itinerary up to someone else for once." The words slipped out quickly, and he frowned in response. She shook her head lightly, wanting to change the subject, but unable to escape his intense stare.

"Is everything all right, Claire Bear?" His voice was steady and devoid of emotion.

"Of course, Dad," she said with as reassuring a tone as possible. Her palms were starting to sweat, so she put her mug down on the coffee table. That action wasn't enough. She suddenly felt desperate to remove herself from the situation. To get some space. When she moved to stand, he tugged her hand and pulled her back down onto the couch cushions.

Not letting go of her, his next words were somber. "Now, I know something is wrong."

"Nothing's wrong." Even she could tell that her denial was weak. His face was stern, and she felt seventeen again.

"You've hated that nickname for over ten years," he ground out. "You usually snarl at me when I tease you with it." She smiled nervously as her breath caught in her throat.

Shrugging her shoulders, she deflected, "Maybe I don't mind it so much anymore."

"Bullshit." Yup, she definitely felt like a teenager again. If she kept quiet, maybe he would let her off the hook. She absentmindedly pulled at a loose string along the hem of her sweater. He squeezed her other hand when he added calmly, "Has Owen done something to you?"

At that, she yanked her hand away from him and stood. "Enough, Dad! I can't believe you would think that about him or that I would tolerate… abuse." Her arms crossed over her chest, and she glowered at him.

He raised his palms and declared, "I was trying to get a rise out of you, Claire. To see if you still had it in you." A muscle in her cheek twitched, but she couldn't formulate a response. Her dad continued, "I'm happy to know you haven't slipped that much away from yourself." He cleared his throat and motioned for her to sit back down. When their eyes were level again, he asked, "Have you thought about what you'll do next?"

"Head south for the winter." It was only partly a joke. Owen had already mapped out the next leg of their journey, excitedly maximizing their as-of-yet unvisited states, warmer weather, and picturesque campgrounds.

"Have you turned into a bird?" His expression suggested that this was similarly half in jest. Claire felt very unnerved. She'd never liked being put on the spot to justify her decisions. It had been a common occurrence with her mother but not her father.

"What's with the third degree?" Her tone was light, but it was fake. She was the furthest thing from relaxed and knew her dad would see right through her. Hell, this entire conversation was proof that it was a fool's errand to not be totally honest with him. She decided she'd still rather die trying. With all the muscles in her body feeling as tight as a bowstring, she was probably close to collapsing from the strain anyway.

"It's been a year, sweetie. I figured by this point in time, you'd either be immersed in a new job or..." His voice trailed off as a long sigh escaped him.

"What?" She tried to school her expression, but Claire's heart was thumping double-time now. It wasn't hard to guess what he was about to suggest. She didn't, however, actually want him to confirm her suspicion, preferring to hold out hope that he would offer an alternative that didn't churn her stomach. Squeezing her eyes shut, she internally chastised herself for finding the idea nauseating. The idea of being–

"Married," her dad sounded almost as dejected as she felt with that suggestion. When she opened her eyes, he sat with his shoulders slumped and looking at her with curiosity.

"That's not happening." There was finality in her tone as the words tumbled out. His mouth dropped open, but before he could say anything else, Claire stopped him, "Owen's divorced, and I'm not… not in a place to… to..." Her facial muscles wouldn't cooperate with further word-forming, and her hands automatically flew to her cheeks to stop their involuntary tensing. She wasn't exactly sure what she was about to reveal. While her brain may have stopped her from speaking, it supplied an idea that flashed to the forefront of her thoughts and hit her like a ton of bricks. I'm broken. This was simultaneously relief, finally capturing the inner turmoil she'd struggled to articulate, and horror. Who wants to think that about themselves or, worse, admit it to others?

It suddenly felt a hundred degrees in the house. Unconsciously, she began fanning herself and swung her gaze towards the fireplace. Tears started forming in her eyes, unbidden and uncontrolled. A heaviness had descended on her. It was something that she'd noticed on and off for months but hadn't wanted to face. She took a deep breath. No, not tonight. It needed to stay buried for at least a little while longer.

Claire rubbed her eyes dry and turned back towards her father. His features were etched with concern and… something akin to pity. She hated that. She'd rather be subjected to the jeers of an angry mob than to her own father's pity. Squaring her shoulders, she raised her chin slightly. Her control was skating a razor thin edge, unfortunately, and her damn duplicitous fingers shook when she moved to pick up her hot chocolate mug. She quickly sat on them, but he'd already caught her. He always caught everything when it came to her. It was probably the main reason she'd avoided coming home.

"You're not okay." It was a statement, not a question this time. They both knew he was right. He lifted his hand to reach out for her but halted his movement as Owen had just entered the room, looking exhausted.

Owen plopped down onto the couch next to Claire, put an arm around her, and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. Claire reflexively — or defensively, trying to prove her father wrong — nuzzled into him while Owen ran his free hand down her bicep and over the inside of her elbow. This motion was one of his silent flirtations that she'd come to understand implicitly, and she could feel them both relaxing as he did it.

She zoned out of the conversation but was vaguely aware of Owen sharing their plans to visit Cave-In-Rock State Park. Her skin prickled with awareness, and her mind drifted towards more intimate activities. She laughed to herself about his comments on her romance novel the previous evening. While those books offered a pleasant escape, he offered so much more. She felt alive when Owen touched her. Without him close, she felt like she was drowning or walking through life like a ghost. Was she being deferential? Or simply grateful to him? And did it matter?

When she looked up, her father was staring at her. His smile didn't reach his eyes. She recognized it as fake. They were equally adept at reading each other. She swallowed hard at the thought that what he pointed out did matter. It had been a year, and all she had to show for it was a map with scattered X's. Her hands flattened on her thighs as she sucked in another deep breath. That was enough socializing for one night. It was high time she and Owen retired to their bedroom.

Chapter Text

Chapter 8

The bar was noisy, everyone decked out in North Carolina Panthers team colours — a sea of blue, silver and black. Owen felt a bit like they were sticking out like a sore thumb, considering neither he nor Claire were wearing jerseys or the team's colours. But, the Panthers weren't his team, and given the choice for this Super Bowl, he was cheering for the Broncos all the way — they were his home team, after all.

Considering they were in Alabama, home of Cam Newton's alma mater, he knew they'd be asking for trouble if they'd shown up at the bar wearing Broncos gear. Instead, the two were just decked out in jeans and relatively plain t-shirts. Not that they really had much of a choice, as they were still living out of their van and had limited clothing options.

The previous five weeks had flown by as they'd resumed their trek, venturing into the Southeastern states in a hunt for warmer weather and some new thrills. Last summer, on their second swing through Texas, they'd stopped at Six Flags where Owen had been surprised to find out that Claire was even more of a daredevil than he was when it came to roller coasters and amusement park rides. There was something cathartic about screaming about a mostly imaginary fear, allowing them to push aside any other fears and thoughts for a while. They'd caved and spent the money for one of the in-ride photos, the two of them with huge grins plastered across their faces, hands and arms waving wildly. It was pinned up beside the map in the trailer. He was hoping to convince her to spend a day or two at Disney World as they were heading into Florida next.

They had continued to mainly stick to National Parks and other nature areas, preferring to stay away from crowds and potentially prying eyes. Owen thought they were doing pretty well, both comfortable with their lifestyle and happy with their choices. In the first couple of weeks post the Jurassic World anniversary, they'd been recognized a few times when they'd stop to get gas or groceries. Each encounter had felt like a setback, watching as Claire would retreat into herself a little and get lost for a time in her own internal musings. He hadn't been sure how much to ask, his brain warring between wanting to be supportive and also not wanting to have to talk about it. When he had asked, however, she'd brushed him off and said it was nothing, and then she'd usually distract him.

He hadn't even realized what she'd been doing at first, but he'd caught on after a while. And though he did appreciate her choice of distraction, it had also made him feel a bit guilty. Almost like he was taking advantage of her, even though he knew he couldn't be farther from the truth, and so he'd stopped asking. He'd rather the reason they were "distracted" was because they both wanted to be, not because one was using it as avoidance. Besides, it had felt win-win for him to stop asking — she didn't want to talk about it and neither did he.

One of the rare downsides with being on the road, was that it was a lot harder to keep up with all the football news and games. Occasionally, they'd catch one at a bar as they were passing through a town, but usually Owen would just catch up on the scores and various highlight reels on his laptop.

But for the first time in seventeen years, his team was playing in the Super Bowl. It was already the one game of the year that he didn't want to miss, regardless of the match-up. In fact, he couldn't remember not watching a Super Bowl game live, even when he'd been in the Navy. Last year, when Claire had surprised him by coming home that weekend, he'd still watched the game — just curled up on Claire's couch with her instead of out with Barry and Lowery as he'd originally planned.

Speaking of them, Owen saw his phone's screen light up — it was too loud in the bar to hear it buzz — and he picked it up off the table. While the three of them were spread across two states and a second country, they had been texting back and forth over the course of the game. Lowery, lucky guy that he was, was actually at the Super Bowl. Andrea's family had invited him along, and while neither the Panthers nor the Broncos were teams Lowery cheered for, who would ever turn down that opportunity? Barry and Owen had been living vicariously through him, as Lowery continually sent them pictures.

Hey, I just remembered this is your anniversary weekend, Owen. The text from Lowery made Owen scowl. Ever since the Jurassic World anniversary, he'd been on pins and needles over the idea of anniversaries as a whole. He still didn't know what was their anniversary — he felt like they'd both sort of committed to each other that day on Nublar, or maybe the following day in the hangar, or was it this weekend, like Lowery was insinuating, when she finally made it to San Diego?

He hadn't said anything, instead waiting to see if Claire was going to, deciding that he'd leave it up to her. But she hadn't said anything, and he wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel. Maybe she didn't know either? Or maybe she didn't care? Or maybe, because they'd never defined what they were doing, there really wasn't a "start date" to even have an anniversary on? It was all so confusing and made his head hurt, feeling stupid for even thinking about it.

That's right. You blew us off last year for Claire. What did you do to celebrate? Should we be checking our mail for an invite soon? Barry's text message had Owen's scowl deepening. Great, attacked from two fronts. And now with the marriage pressure. Sure, Claire's dad had said "no pressure." And Claire herself hadn't put any pressure on him. And he felt like he'd been really clear at his parents that he didn't want to get married again, but… expectations always seemed to hang around. He'd never understood the one year milestone. He and Susan had dated for almost two years before marriage had ever come up, and even after that time, they'd still ended in divorce. Even if he did want to get married, now was clearly too soon.

Just because you're married, doesn't mean it's the right path for the rest of us. Owen shot back, although he regretted it the moment he hit send. Dammit, he should've just commented about the latest play instead. Tried to redirect the conversation back to what was happening.

Right. The response back from Barry came with the rolled eyes emoji. Keep telling yourself that.

I thought we were watching football. Owen replied.

We can multitask. Lowery responded. Have you two really not talked about it?

Why are we talking about me and Claire? We should be talking about you and Andrea. Must be pretty serious for her family to buy a ticket for you.

"I told you, I'm not alone."

Owen looked up when he heard Claire's no-nonsense tone. He found her standing beside their booth, an (obviously drunk) guy with her, who was clearly struggling to take no for an answer. Owen slid out of the booth, standing up, his arm instinctively wrapping around Claire's waist, tugging her into his side. She immediately reached for him, pulling herself closer.

"That's your husband?" The guy gave Owen a look of disgust. "Where's his jersey? You should be with a real man." The guy pointed at his own Cam Newton jersey. "I'd have made sure you were dressed properly."

"Not my team," Claire said firmly. "Besides, have you seen how he's playing today? He's supposed to play quarterback, not running back."

Owen stood up straighter, puffing out his chest and making himself appear bigger, when he saw the guy waver for a second, clearly trying to decide if the "you shouldn't hit a woman" rule applied if she was insulting your quarterback. A loud cheer from the crowd and the guy turned to see what had happened, quickly getting sucked back into the lively atmosphere of the bar and forgetting about Claire.

Owen turned them back towards their booth, letting Claire slide into the seat first, before he followed her. As he was settling back down, his phone vibrated in his hand.

It is. Lowery's response was accompanied by a selfie of him and Andrea, both of them wearing Broncos jerseys with bright smiles.

"What's with the look?" Claire asked, leaning towards his side and Owen tilted his phone so she could see the picture. "Aw, they're so cute together. I wonder if he's finally found his one."

Great, Owen groaned internally. He didn't actually want to be having this sort of conversation with her either. Today should be about the Super Bowl, not marriage. "She seems good for him," he said with a nod, not sure what else to say. He felt his phone vibrate again, and he made sure that Claire was distracted before he checked the next message. He didn't think she'd read over his shoulder, but he didn't want to look like he was hiding it from her either.

Von Miller is on fire today. He's gotta be MVP.

Owen was relieved to see that the topic had switched back to the game at hand. He tossed in a reply of his own about the latest play before putting his phone back down. Maybe he was better off just staying in the present — focusing on the game and enjoying his time with Claire. They didn't need any outside pressure, things were working out just fine.

x x x

It was ironic that the van was parked in Tate's Hell State Forest, Florida. Owen had abandoned Claire to her own personal hell: a long-avoided phone call with her mother. Owen had been spending more time hiking solo since Christmas, and Claire didn't know what to make of it. He always came back very sweaty but didn't seem more emotionally distant. She'd decided not to pry. It wasn't as if she was worried that he was stepping out on her, and it gave her extra time to pour over the latest communications from her lawyer about the class action settlement or engage in other secret single behavior (SSB). Her only worry, honestly, was that they had become each other's crutch in the Jurassic World fallout.

Fortunately, Claire was prevented from descending into a rabbit hole of negative thinking by the shrill ringtone that she had assigned to her mother. Cringing, she took a deep breath before accepting the call.

"Hi, Mom," she said in as cheery a tone as possible.

"I can tell you're not happy to talk to me, Claire," came her mother's annoyed reply. Claire rolled her eyes and reflected on the fact that both of her parents were commenting on her apparent mood. She still wasn't ready to address that with anyone, not even Owen.

"How are you?"

"Ready to retire." Claire breathed a sigh of relief that her mother wasn't starting the conversation by meddling. "Did you get the Evite?"

"Of course, I was just looking at it." Unfortunately, she'd seen the invitation to her mom's retirement party a few days ago but had yet to bring it up with Owen. Claire didn't think he'd be thrilled about returning to Wisconsin so soon after their last visit to her family. That and she was admittedly being a little passive-aggressive. Valentine's Day had recently come and gone without so much as an acknowledgment by him. Sure, she'd decided not to say anything this year, and they'd both let the holiday pass them by last year without making it into a thing. But, it once more signified the passing of time. The stagnancy of their life together. Instead of talking to him about it, her new SSB had been journaling. She viewed it as a healthy means of expressing her thoughts. Practice for eventually opening up to him about a variety of topics. When she finally found the nerve.

"Well?" Her mother's voice could, in reality, be even more shrill than the ringtone.

"I think we can make it," Claire waffled.

"You think? What else do you have to do?" The older woman allowed a moment of contemplation before continuing her judgmental rant. Either that, or she was just reloading. "You haven't visited me since you returned to the country! You've been to see Karen twice, your dad... even Owen's parents." That final dig was definitely not a topic she'd personally discussed with her mom. Claire transferred a bit of annoyance to Karen, who had to be the source of the 'leak.' "When do get to meet the man everyone's been raving about?"

"Thanks, Mom, I see where I rate." Claire didn't bother trying to conceal the snark in her tone.

"Take a Xanax, honey. You know I love you." Another pregnant pause. Was Claire sure of that? Her mother's expressions of love certainly didn't inspire her to put much faith in the concept. When she didn't respond, her mother sighed dramatically. So much that Claire could almost feel the whoosh of breath passing through the phone speaker. "I want to see you, Claire, see that you're surviving." The word choice blind-sided her. Surviving, not 'thriving'? Not 'doing well'? Not... 'happy'? Was it so obvious to everyone else that something was wrong with her? She tried to shrug it off. After all, Owen hadn't noticed. Or had he but just kept his thoughts to himself... as she did with hers? Her attention suddenly snapped to the sharp pain in her lower lip. She'd been biting down on it so hard that it was a wonder she hadn't drawn blood.

"I am, Mom," Claire reassured. "I am." The repetition was for her personal benefit. Yes, she was surviving with Owen. As they had promised each other. No more, no less.

x x x

Time was passing far too quickly for Henry Wu. Back on Jurassic World, it had felt to him as if time stood still. He was the master of that domain — the man who had brought the past to the present and was forging a new future. Anything was possible. Unfortunately, the brave new world where he found himself in 2016 was not what he had envisioned. His livelihood was now dependent on someone he found increasingly unscrupulous, and Henry felt tainted by their association. At least he was still calling the shots. He also found solace in his sense of irony. Unscrupulous or not, Eli was likewise clearly delighted by their ability to chat openly in the sprawling gardens of the estate.

Striding over to him, Eli carried a white basket with a green ribbon and joked, "Aren't you going to join the hunt?"

"The only eggs I care about are in the sub-basement," Henry tutted.

"C'mon, just pretend to care!" Eli's gaze darted towards the pig-tailed girl swathed in pastels who was crouching to look under a shrubbery across the courtyard. "For Maisie's sake?"

"She's a very curious girl," Henry deflected in an ominous tone.

The other man's expression shifted when he said warily, "Iris keeps her busy with school work most of the day, but I know she likes to play in the dioramas."

"Is there money enough for boarding school?" Henry laughed a little too hard, and Eli scowled at him. The older man scoffed, "Don't be so sensitive. You and I both know that Lockwood couldn't and wouldn't send her away. You'll just need to find creative ways to keep her distracted."

"I'm not a governess," Eli hissed before getting in a dig of his own. "I'm also not the subject of any lawsuits."

Henry turned his eyes skyward and didn't bother masking the resignation in his voice with his reply, "The settlement should shortly be announced, and then Masrani Global can pretend it's over. Despite a lack of criminal charges, the investigations will haunt me, but I'm not alone in that."

"Claire Dearing's reputation was hit really hard," Eli interjected a little too eagerly. A little too… interested?

"To be honest, I'm surprised she's not out there rebranding herself." Henry was pleased to capitalize on Eli's interest and shift the conversation away from himself. From his wounded ego to another's. "The Claire Dearing I knew on Nublar bounced back much more quickly from… setbacks."

"Yes," the younger man chuckled. "I met her once, several years ago. She was impressive, a real ball-buster." He paused to smile wistfully. "I had thought I might be working under her one day." Eli's spreading grin gave Henry the creeps. "Since the tide has turned, maybe I'll have her under me one of these days." Unscrupulous may have been too kind a word to describe his associate after all.

Rolling his eyes, Henry changed the subject back to their current project. "Daniel's expertise with the incubators has been invaluable. The new batch is on course to hatch in late June."

"You're welcome, Henry." The bastard smiled smugly. As Henry cleared his throat to unleash his own retort, both of their heads turned towards Maisie's voice.

"Mr. Mills!" She was shouting and waving her hands wildly. "I can't reach the egg! It rolled under a branch. Will you help me?"

"Of course," Eli hollered back then added quietly in Henry's direction, "Staying for dinner?"

"No, I'll pay my respects to Sir Benjamin and duck out. Best to avoid being the subject of Maisie's curiosity." At that, Eli nodded and jogged toward the girl. Henry was left alone to ruminate on his predicament. Never a good thing. Better to keep his mind occupied with scientific pursuits. He was calling the shots now, but he wondered how long that would be the case. Tides were always turning.

x x x

Owen couldn't remember which Navy buddy told him about hiking Grandfather's Profile but, for some reason, the description of the trail had left an impression. It had always been at the back of his mind that, should he ever make it to North Carolina, he was going to hike it. He hadn't been sure if Claire would be interested, and he'd actually been kind of relieved when she'd chosen not to go, preferring instead to stay back at their campsite.

He'd been going on more and more solo hikes recently. Both on purpose and not. He always enjoyed Claire's company, but recently it had felt like she wanted and needed time alone. And, to be honest, he was enjoying the breaks himself. The last time he'd lived with someone, he was married and they'd had a townhouse, which was significantly more space than the van provided. While the close quarters hadn't been causing any issues, it wasn't until he'd started spending more time on his own that he'd realized how much he'd missed it. Missed just disappearing on a trail for a few hours, or fishing at a lake in the quiet by himself. For as much as he'd been a workaholic on Nublar, when he'd go home at the end of his day it was to silence.

Pausing at a junction in the trail, he braced a hand against the trunk of a tree as he took some deep breaths, wheezing slightly. He'd known there was significant elevation gain on this hike, but he still hadn't been prepared to be winded by it. And that was the other reason for all his additional hiking.

He couldn't get Zach's comment out of his head. Or his dad's for that matter. Or Claire's mom's comments (even if she seemed to think it was a good thing). Why everyone felt the need to comment on his appearance, on the fact that he wasn't quite as trim as he used to be, he didn't understand. Couldn't they tell he was happy? That he didn't need or want to be working out every minute?

Pushing away from the tree, he moved forward resolutely, determined to stay on track and make it to the top in good time.

It's not like he'd had to go up a bunch of pant sizes or anything. And he was a big guy — tall and big boned. He was never going to be stick thin, even when at his fittest. Besides, Claire hadn't said anything, and it's not like their sex life had been suffering at all, so clearly she didn't think there was anything wrong.

Gritting his teeth, he tightened the straps on his backpack before picking up his pace even more.

And he knew that things between him and Claire were good. Sure, she may seem to be wanting some extra alone time, but it wasn't like she was pressuring him. He was enjoying the break from family obligations, too. Glad they'd been able to carve out a couple of months where they finally didn't have to make it back to Wisconsin or Colorado.

Between his parents needling him about marriage, followed by Joe's not so subtle hint about it, and then Claire's mom's outright "so when are you two getting married?" comment, there was absolutely no appeal left to family visits. But it wasn't just family. Visiting or talking with friends was no longer a break either. Barry was enjoying being married, and Lowery's relationship definitely appeared to be heading down that path. Was no one comfortable just being anymore?

Besides, marriage was wrapped up in all number of expectations that he didn't even want to think about. Children. Jobs. Houses. Stability. Normalcy. He didn't want the Norman Rockwell life. He wanted adventure. To travel. To stay out of the rat race. To make his own choices and to not have to toe a company line.

He knew, at some point, he and Claire were going to have to talk about jobs. Or money. So far, their lifestyle wasn't all that expensive (gas was by far their biggest line item), but he knew he couldn't afford to do this forever. And no matter what Claire had been making (or had saved) in the past, he wasn't about to live off her money.

And dammit. That was another issue he didn't want to think about.

Owen paused on the trail to pull out his water bottle, gulping down a couple of big swallows before tucking it away. He pulled off his hat so he could swipe his hand across his face, before repositioning the hat and continuing forward. If the signs were right, he shouldn't be far from the top now.

Fuck his dad for planting the seed about not being able to support Claire. He knew how offended she was over the whole concept. The idea that she would need someone to financially support her. She didn't. And Owen didn't want a lopsided relationship. He wanted to be equals.

That they would support each other in more meaningful ways than based solely on who brought home the bigger paycheck. And, if he was honest, he was pretty sure that if Claire wanted to, she could get another job that would make whatever he could get look like peanuts by comparison.

Why did family have to be so good at getting into his head? Why couldn't he just push the thoughts aside? He just wanted to focus on the here and now.

Of course, he knew why — the damn text from Karen about Zach's graduation that had arrived the other day. She'd wanted to confirm that they would be coming and tried to get them to nail down dates.

How many times would this make it that they'd gone to Wisconsin? Not that they weren't running out of states to visit, having already crossed off 45 of the 48 continental states, which just made him scowl at the memory of Claire's comment the previous week about "rerun sex." But Wisconsin? Not only was it repeating states, but with it being Zach's grad, it was going to be all of Claire's family. Not just her sister, but both of her parents too.

Glowering now, he trudged up the final part of the trail, coming out to the lookout point at the top. It was a clear day, and he felt like he could see for miles and miles. He pulled out his phone and snapped a picture and then sent it with a quick message to Claire as he'd promised, so she would know he was "still alive" (her words, not his).

Settling onto a rock, he unclasped his backpack and shrugged it off, stretching out his shoulders and back.

He just wanted some control back. And for everyone to ease the fuck off with the pressure. His relationship with Claire should be theirs alone. Was that too much to ask?

x x x

Claire couldn't remember how it started. Couldn't remember what Owen had said that had set her off. Or was it that he had done something? Or didn't do something? Or did she?

It didn't matter. Not now, anyway, now that she was screaming at him. She could feel the anger coursing through her. She couldn't remember ever being so angry. Not even after everything had happened on Nublar. This anger felt different though, uncontrollable.

"You're not listening to me!" She could hear the words coming out of her mouth. Could hear herself screaming. She knew she needed to rein herself in, but she couldn't seem to get control.

She tried to focus on Owen, who was standing across from her, his hands raised slightly, as if trying to calm her down. She could see his lips moving. Could tell he was saying something, but the words weren't penetrating.

Claire remembered thinking she was having an out of body experience after Nublar, during all the depositions and everything that had happened. But that hadn't felt like this. She no longer felt in control of her own actions, and that, alone, scared her. She had always prided herself on her control. On being able to take charge of any situation. Of always knowing what she needed to do next.

She watched as Owen raised one hand higher, palm facing her, and the world turned red. Suddenly she was no longer herself, or less herself than she had been a moment ago. The gesture was eerily reminiscent of how Owen interacted with Blue and the other raptors. Was he training her? Using his behaviourist knowledge to get her to bend to his will?

"I'm happy to know you haven't slipped that much away from yourself." Her dad's words from Christmas echoed in her head. Had she slipped away? She had thought she'd been doing fine. That things were fine. But was this what her dad had meant? That she was letting Owen take control, take charge, in a way that she'd never let anyone before?

But… did it even matter? It wasn't like he had just taken it from her. She had told him that he could plan their route. She had handed it over. He hadn't expected it. She knew that. Or, well, she was pretty sure she knew that. That just because he was the male, he'd never treated her like he thought he had to be the head of the household or the one in charge. And things had been good. Sure, her life was a 180 from what she had been doing before, but… you're allowed to change, aren't you? To need a break and to want someone else to lead for a bit?

The words were still flying out of her mouth. She focused back on Owen only to pause, because, wait, was that a smirk on his face? That couldn't be, right? He wouldn't smirk at her. He wasn't that kind of guy. She had to be misreading all of this. His lips were moving again and she tried to focus all of her energy on figuring out what he was saying.

He was gesturing, trying to make a point, but her gaze was drawn to his henley, which was stretched tightly across his chest. She could see the definition of his muscles. She shifted her gaze and let it trail across his chest, and down his body, taking him in. It was as if she was seeing him for the first time. She was now remembering her mom's comments about his 'love handles' and how self-conscious he had been. She hadn't cared, had shown him that night that she didn't care. But now, staring at him, she was realizing that they were gone. When had he changed? And how had she not noticed?

The words that were flowing out of her mouth stopped, and she pulled at her own shirt hem, suddenly feeling self-conscious herself. She'd realized the other day that her favourite jeans were starting to feel a little tight. That she was needing to use a different hole on her belt. How was he looking so trim? What had happened?

She looked down for a second, her vision starting to clear, the anger disappearing just as quickly as it had arrived. She had been so sure she was doing fine. That her dad was wrong. And her mom. That if something really was wrong, that surely Owen would've noticed. That he would've said something. After all, she spent every single day with him. He knew her best, right?

"Do you feel better now?"

The words hit her, almost as if she'd been struck, and she looked up to see Owen watching her, like someone might watch a skittish animal, hesitant in their movements, not wanting to frighten it away. She could still feel her heart pounding in her chest, but it was no longer anger that was powering it. Taking a shuddering breath, a single thought hit her — this felt like more than simply being broken.

x x x

Owen had never been so happy to be sleeping in a tent. He harkened back to his nights in the woods of Minnesota with the Mitchells and shuddered. Had that already been nine months ago? That seemed unreal but undeniably true. Soon, they'd be headed back to Wisconsin (again) to watch Zach graduate. Another surreal fact. He shook his head and focused on the present. It had been one of the best days he and Claire had spent together. Given their recent fight, that made it even better. Sweeter. It felt like they were on the same wavelength again.

He still didn't quite understand what had brought on Claire's outburst. One minute she'd seemed fine, and the next she was biting his head off over nothing. Well, it clearly wasn't 'nothing' to her. So, he had mostly just waited her out. Let her say her piece. In all honesty, he wasn't sure what else to do. He was increasingly finding himself at a loss when it came to knowing what to say around Claire. His own mind had been constantly racing on different topics while he simultaneously worked to shove away painful memories. That hadn't left him with much energy to deal with whatever was bothering her lately. Maybe she was feeling just as lost as he was. That's what he hoped, at least.

On this night, however, the nagging voices in his head were kept at bay. He was feeling sated on multiple levels. Claire had just expressed her gratitude to him for the day's events, and he was still riding that wave of euphoria. It wasn't just that she gave great head. She made him feel like he was appreciated. Like he was supporting her. That his father had been wrong. Owen was providing for them, and (at least for now) it was enough. How could it not be? Keeping each other warm in their shared sleeping bag, with Claire drifting asleep in his arms as the sound of crashing waves surrounded them, was just about the closest thing to paradise he could imagine.

Claire had been different, better, all day. That had rubbed off on him for sure. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so at peace. They'd left the van at an RV park on Harkers Island before taking a ferry to the Shackleford Banks, home of the famous feral horses. Most of their time had been spent searching for a glimpse of the wild creatures. Quietly stalking the island and musing about feeling as free. It had, in fact, made Owen feel free. When they had finally happened upon a herd of them, they had kept their distance and just watched the horses for what seemed like hours, Claire holding tight to his hand all the while. They were in sync.

Aside from his own enjoyment in seeing the animals, Owen knew he'd earned major relationship brownie points today. He saw on Claire's face how meaningful the experience was to her. Ever since she'd mentioned in passing her long-held affection for the children's novel Misty of Chincoteague, he'd been planning this stop for them. His decision was further solidified when they watched the movie Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken, and (similar to tonight) Claire had expressed her significant gratitude to him afterwards.

Others might disagree, but Owen believed they were moving forward. They were just going about it at their own pace, taking their own unique path. Heaven knew they each had demons to battle, but it was no one else's business how they chose to cope. Their friends and family had no right to judge. On bad days, he judged himself enough. He shook his head, and Claire stirred. Rubbing her back soothingly, Owen prevented her from fully awakening. That made him feel powerful, deepening his sense of being needed.

Whatever problems they were having could be fixed later. Today, they were living in the moment. They might as well have run with those wild horses. With their remaining daylight, he and Claire had sought out a place to pitch their tent near the Cape Lookout lighthouse. Away from the masses of humanity and cars (not to mention the lack of cell phone reception), the southern tip of the Outer Banks felt like the edge of the world. It was glorious, and they weren't done with it yet. Owen looked forward to greeting the dawn with Claire and repaying her with some equally empowering gratitude of his own.

Chapter Text

Chapter 9

The din of the room was overwhelming. Claire didn't know most of the people attending Zach's graduation party. It was a different experience from her mom's retirement party three months back. That occasion had been a glorified dinner party, and Owen and her dad had flanked her at a table for most of the night. She'd still felt out of place there, but it had been tolerable. Now, amidst a hodge podge of extended family, teenagers, their parents, and—dear God—her somehow still living piano teacher, Claire felt like she was crawling out of her skin. While slinking into a corner.

Her discomfort only grew after catching a few strangers giving her sideways glances. Glances of curiosity with a touch of disdain. Or was it pity? Maybe it was both. Claire's mind went blank for a moment, and she couldn't remember where Owen had gone. Off to look for an available bathroom? That was it, right? Her ears were suddenly ringing, so she focused on the opposite wall to get her bearings. Her eyes fell on a newly framed family photograph. It had been taken at the tail end of her mother's recent party, and Claire hadn't been given a choice but to pose. Seeing it on the wall, she cringed at her fake smile. To her, she stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone else looked genuinely happy, including Owen.

"That turned out pretty good, Aunt Claire." Zach's voice almost made her jump. She hadn't even noticed him approaching her, and now their shoulders were almost touching. Turning her head, she pasted on the same smile she had used in the photo.

"Yeah," she answered woodenly. "It was great to have everyone together." When he didn't respond immediately, she took in his appearance. He'd changed out of the jacket and tie that he'd worn to the graduation ceremony, but he still looked… grown-up and so much older than the teenager who'd greeted her with annoyance at the Innovation Center on that fateful day. Now, he was looking at her quizzically and, much to her chagrin, waiting her out. The awkward silence growing between them somehow seemed louder than the party noise in the background. As if kicking herself from the inside, she blurted, "Madison Area Technical College, huh?"

As he nodded, she relaxed a little bit, relieved to have correctly remembered what her sister had told her. Zach's gaze drifted to scan the room, and Claire wondered if she should be offended or further relieved that he also seemed to want out of their 'conversation.' She took the opportunity to look for Owen, but didn't see him. Clearing her throat, she asked softly, "I thought your girlfriend… Chelsea, would be here. I haven't seen her."

"Oh, that's long over." His tone was matter-of-fact. His expression flat. Nevertheless, Claire felt like she'd been slapped in the face. When had that happened? Had someone told her, but she wasn't listening? She had no idea what to say, worried that she'd offended him. He chuckled, "It's okay, I'm good with it. I was actually the one who broke it off." She must've looked surprised because he laughed again.

"You seemed so close." The words fell out of her mouth without forethought, and her nephew's face finally turned more serious.

"We were," he sighed. "Chelsea… well, she got me through a tough time." He paused, as if considering his words. "But, I needed more, and she was stuck on the incident."

"What do you mean?"

"I got a lot of attention at school for 'surviving' Jurassic World." He groaned. "After a while, I realized that Chelsea liked that attention. Liked telling people how she helped me get over it."

"You got over it," Claire interrupted with a statement, not a question. One side of Zach's mouth quirked up, and he was looking at her sympathetically. Knowingly. Did he see it on her face? Could he read what she was thinking? Standing there staring at him and catching his obvious maturity, she felt jealous. That realization blindsided her.

He nodded, "I'm moving forward now. With Chelsea, I was just… standing still."

x x x

Oh, boy. No sooner had Claire slipped away to help Karen with… something that Owen had already forgotten, Jessica was bearing down on him; looking like a raptor on the hunt. After their interactions at her retirement party, he was not looking forward to a one-on-one conversation. What were they going to talk about anyway? Just a few months ago, she'd grilled him extensively about his upbringing and Naval exploits. He bit his tongue over worry that she might broach the topic he'd previously sidestepped with her. The topic he wasn't any less loathe to discuss now than he had been before. Maybe he could feign food poisoning from the deviled eggs. Too late, she was standing less than a foot away from him — allowing no personal space — and leering. Her eyes scanned his body before landing on his face.

"What happened to the sexy love handles?" she asked with a wink. Before he could react, she moved on, "At least you still have your well-kempt, lumberjack beard." His mouth dropped open like a fish, and she actually responded by lifting his chin with her hand to close it, subtly caressing him with her fingers as she did so. When one of his eyebrows went up reflexively, she laughed, "Don't worry, Owen, I'm not putting the moves on you." After tapping his cheek lightly, she finally dropped her hand from his face. "I'm no cougar. I've just never been prouder of my youngest daughter." He blinked rapidly with incredulity, but Jessica didn't seem to notice. She was seemingly on a roll. "Never dreamed she would've ended up with someone like you. Then again, I never thought she'd take a job at Jurassic World, let alone stay there for a decade." Her tone was frankly judgmental.

"She gave everything to that job," Owen finally got a few words in and was happy they were in defense of Claire.

"Of course she did," the older woman scoffed and rolled her eyes. "She had nothing else to give anything to." Her gaze sharpened before she added. "I know you weren't together until after the park fell apart." She paused to take a deep breath, but he didn't take the opportunity to say anything. He was too caught off guard. Unsure of how much exactly Claire had shared with her mother. He hadn't thought they were close. Her next words were soft, reassuring even, "Look, I rarely see eye-to-eye with her. She has a tendency to run hard and fast from me, but I like you, Owen." She playfully jabbed her elbow into his side, causing him to jump a little. "I might even be a little jealous." Now, he was really speechless. "Don't tell Claire that. She might run from you, too, knowing she has my blessing."

"Your… blessing?" he stammered.

"Stop acting so surprised! Or... are you needing to speak to Joe yet?" Her eyes quickly darted around the room, then she looked back at him. She offered a lopsided grin and shrugged. "I had rather hoped that you two were going to show up today with a ring." Her eyebrows went up expectantly, and it looked like she was holding her breath. Dammit. Gritting his teeth, he worked hard to rein in his anger at her bringing up marriage again. She must've misinterpreted his expression when she offered with a sly smile, "Oh, I get it. You two are being good and trying not to spoil Zach's graduation." She clicked her tongue and added, "As long as I get to see that ring eventually, I'll be happy."

"I can promise you that I don't have a ring." The words tumbled out quickly and almost harshly. Jessica's gasp was nearly imperceptible as she stepped back. Speechless and retreating at last. Unfortunately, that didn't make him feel good. He needed to backtrack, stop her mind from going to the same unseemly places his was. Although he and Claire had made no promises to each other for the future, they were committed to each other in the present. They weren't using each other. It wasn't just sex. They were good together. Good for each other. He stiffened and declared, "My intentions toward Claire are honorable."

A snort — no, shit — caused Jessica's body to jump, but she recovered by turning it into a cough. "Oh, Owen, you don't have to sound so noble about this, really." She shook her head, clearly amused, and patted him on the shoulder. "And here I thought I couldn't like you more." Her smile was broad and without apparent malice. "My Claire can be quite a handful. I commend you for sticking by her and giving this a real go." She sighed, "I don't need any grand declarations or platitudes about tomorrow." Another snort of laughter broke up her words. "As I always used to tell my girls, 'a promise tomorrow is worth a lot less than trying today.'"

x x x

"An adult. He's an adult, Claire," Karen sighed.

Claire just nodded, not sure what to say. They were standing on the back deck, looking down over the backyard where Zach was talking with some friends.

"When they're babies, you can't wait for them to gain some independence, for them to finally leave you alone for two minutes. Everyone tells you that you'll miss those years, that they'll go by too fast, but in the moment, it can be hard to see that," said Karen, wiping at her eyes. "I get it now. Look at him, he's all grown up. He doesn't need me, not the way he did before. And Gray… he's not far behind."

Claire still wasn't sure what to say or do. She'd missed so much of her nephews lives, having been too caught up with her own, but she understood how much time had gone by. And, to be honest, the idea of taking care of a baby had never appealed, and seeing all the work it took when Karen had Zach, had just dimmed the appeal even more.

"Are the burgers ready yet?" Zach's shout redirected their attention back down into the backyard.

"Not yet," Karen shouted back. "Your dad's about to put them on the grill."

"We're starving," Zach called.

"They won't take long," Karen replied. She sighed heavily, before turning back to Claire. "Some days, I really miss when he was a baby. I could definitely use some more baby snuggles in my life."

"Well, you could always have another," Claire said off-handedly, trying to figure a way out of the conversation. Where had Owen gone?

"I'm too old to have another," Karen dismissed her. There was a brief pause before Karen added, "But you're not."

"Oh, hell no," Claire took a step back.

"You and Owen would have the most adorable babies," Karen continued on, as if Claire hadn't said anything. "And I could snuggle it and finally become an aunt."

"I'm barely comfortable with Zach and Gray," Claire protested. "And they're both way past the diaper stage. Nope. No way."

"I bet Owen would be a great dad," Karen mused.

"I've–" Claire looked for an escape.

"While Mom wasn't all that available when the boys were little, she's retired now. I bet she'd be very hands on." Karen seemed to be completely oblivious to Claire's panic.

"Did I hear a shout for burgers?" Scott asked loudly, stepping out onto the deck, loaded down with the burgers he needed to cook.

Claire capitalized on the distraction, stepping away from Karen's side and ducking back into the house. How much longer did they have to stay?

x x x

It wasn't that Owen didn't like Claire's family — in fact, he generally got along quite well with them — but this party felt like it'd been going on for days. He didn't remember graduation being such a big deal when he was in high school. Maybe he'd just blocked out all of his memories of it; it definitely felt like a few lifetimes ago.

He was hovering by the wall, trying to stay out of everyone's way and avoid being caught off guard. It didn't work.

"Uncle Owen?"

Owen didn't react at first, not realizing that the line had been directed at him. He wasn't anybody's uncle.

"Uncle Owen, can I ask you a question?"

Pulled from his musings, Owen realized that Gray was standing in front of him, looking at him inquisitively, impatiently waiting for an answer.

"Um, sure?" Owen replied, still a little thrown by the title he'd apparently been given, although he wasn't quite sure he'd earned.

"Do you think you guys will move here?"

And with that question, Owen felt like he'd been thrown overboard. Move there? Where had that idea come from? Had Claire said something? He doubted it… He was pretty sure she wouldn't be any more eager to live in Wisconsin than he was.

"What?" Owen hoped Gray didn't catch the panic in his question.

"I mean, this past year has been so great," Gray continued on. "Mom and dad didn't get divorced. Zach's not going away for college now, so he'll still be here. Grandma retired and has been around more. We've seen Aunt Claire more times in the past year than in my entire life… The only thing that could make it even better would be if you guys lived here."

"Well, um–" Owen wasn't sure how to respond to that. He wasn't about to make promises that he knew they wouldn't keep. But, with all the happiness radiating off the kid, he didn't feel like crushing his hopes either.

"I don't really know what you'd do around here, though," Gray said. "I mean, we've got a zoo, but I don't suppose that would be anything like what you did with the raptors." Gray paused, looking contemplative for a moment, his head tilted, before continuing. "Do you think Blue's still alive? She doesn't have her pack anymore. And you aren't there to feed her either. What would she be eating now? What would all the dinosaurs be eating? I read that they ate 50 tons of food a week. How much of that was brought to the island? Or was most of it produced there? Maybe people have been back. I mean, they still own them, right? It's not like they're just wild animals now. They'd want to keep them alive, right?"

Owen took a step backwards until he was leaning against the wall. Gray's stream of consciousness questioning was making him feel dizzy. He'd been able to avoid having any conversations about dinosaurs for months. Why did Gray have to bring it up now? They were doing so well with putting the whole event behind them. Couldn't everyone understand that it was time to move forward. To forget about them all?

"I don't know," Owen finally said, when he realized that Gray was waiting for him to answer.

"You know how sometimes, after something happens, you wish you could go back and do it differently?" Gray asked, and Owen was grateful for the sudden topic change.

"Sure, yeah. Everyone has those moments."

"Well, if you could go back, would you raise the raptors again, knowing what you know now? I wonder about that, because I feel like I should say that I wouldn't go on that trip, but… I think my life is actually better because of it. And that feels bad to admit," Gray said. Owen had been caught on the first line, and was desperately trying to figure out what Gray had said next. "So many people died. I should want that day to have never happened, so that they would've lived. But if it hadn't, well…"

Owen had thought through this question before. Sometimes when he was hiking alone, or lying awake in the middle of the night, unable to sleep, or as they drove down a particularly boring stretch of highway. But he'd never been able to come up with an answer. Would he take back any of his experiences on Nublar? It wasn't a black and white experience for him. For everything that was bad, there were moments of good.

He reached out and rested his hand on Gray's shoulder, the boy looking up at him. "Sometimes I wish that life would let you re-do moments — God knows I'd love another crack at that first date your Aunt and I had — but life is about learning to deal with the consequences and make better choices and decisions next time. While it'd be great if we could snap our fingers and no one would've died that day, we can't. And even if we could, there's nothing to say that your mom and dad wouldn't have reconciled a different way or that something else bad wouldn't have happened to any of those people."

Gray stared at the ground, clearly mulling over Owen's words, before he looked back up and nodded his understanding. "Have you ever thought of going back? To Nublar, I mean. To check on Blue and the others?"

"I don't think that option's available," Owen just replied tightly, not wanting to get into a conversation as to why or why not. He quickly scanned the room, looking for an exit. "Oh, looks like your mom wants you," Owen said, catching Karen's eye who was looking over at the two.

"Oh, okay," Gray took a step away, before turning back. "I'm really glad you and Aunt Claire are here."

"Me, too," Owen said, forcing a smile. "Me, too."

x x x

Claire had escaped to the small den / office adjacent to the living room. Now that the burgers were pretty much ready, everyone had been converging on the kitchen and deck and she was hoping her disappearance would go unnoticed. She felt like she just needed a few minutes to herself. A chance to catch her breath, to regroup, to try to put her personal 'armour' back together, now that it was feeling cracked wide open from all the conversations she'd been having. How was she going to survive the rest of this visit?

"There you are."

She looked up to see her dad standing in the doorway.

"I've been trying to get a few minutes with you, but you've always been so busy," he said as he entered the room. He quickly approached her, wrapping his arms around her in a hug, and it was such a small act, but she could feel tears gathering in the corners of her eyes. The thread of sanity she felt like she'd been holding on to finally snapping. She buried her face in his shoulder, her own arms coiling around him.

Claire gave herself a minute to enjoy the comfort, before trying to get herself together and pulling back from her dad. She raised a hand up, trying to wipe away the tears before he could notice.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's this about?" he asked, his own hand copying her actions, brushing aside the tears she'd missed. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Claire replied, trying to force out a smile, although it was shaky at best.

"This isn't nothing, far from it." Her dad looked out the doorway before turning back to her, the concern on his face deepening. "It's not Owen, is it? He hasn't done–"

"No, of course not," Claire's reply was immediate. "He's been… he's been amazing. Perfect."

"Are you sure? You know you can tell me."

"It's not him, I promise," she said. "He's the… he's the best part of my life." As she said the words, she realized the truth to them. He was. She wasn't sure what she'd be doing if it wasn't for Owen. But, the realization was also a bit of a slap in the face. She'd never wanted to be a person whose life revolved around a guy. She'd always prided herself on having her own ambitions. What was happening to her?

"Then what's going on?" her dad asked, his gaze inquisitive.

"I'm just…" she trailed off, what was the right word to describe how she was feeling? Nothing seemed quite right. In the end, she said, "I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed. And a bit lost." She took a step back from her dad, looking down as she fiddled with the buttons on her sweater. "You remember what you said to me last time? That I wasn't okay?" She looked up at him to find him watching her cautiously. He nodded. "I think you're right."

x x x

Owen's driving was slightly reckless. He knew it but didn't care. Wariness was written all over Claire's face, but she didn't say anything. Of all the visits they'd made to see her family over the last year plus, he'd never wanted to escape more afterwards. Hell, he was driving faster now than when he'd been leaving his parents' house. A shudder rocked his body at the thought. They'd be revisiting Colorado soon enough. His mind didn't need to get there first. Instead, he thought about the places they'd stop between Wisconsin and there. He was planning to draw it out as long as possible.

He jumped as Claire's placed her hand on his shoulder. When she flinched away, his reflexes were faster. He caught her hand and entwined their fingers. She took a stuttering breath before whispering, "I'm sorry about the car."

Sighing heavily, he answered, "Nothing to be sorry about."

"I could tell you didn't want to leave it… there." His back teeth clenched at her words. He squeezed her hand gently before pulling away to put both hands back on the wheel. She was looking out the window when she continued, "We won't have any reason to come back here anytime soon."

He wondered if she was avoiding his gaze, as he was admittedly avoiding hers. He didn't know what to say. Or was it that he couldn't pick what to say? His mind was still swirling, replaying all his conversations from the past few days. Honestly, he'd been more talked to by everyone. It was somewhat embarrassing to realize how much he'd left unsaid. He cringed thinking about some of the things he had chosen to say to Claire's family. No wonder he had trouble talking to her now.

They'd driven back to Joe's house after the party mostly in silence. Owen told himself that was for Joe, who'd fallen asleep in the backseat. By the time the two of them were alone again in the guest room, the silence was almost deafening. He'd shrugged it off to mutual fatigue. Besides, he didn't actually want to know what people had said to Claire based on what they'd revealed to him. Their tacitness had, unfortunately, continued the following morning as they packed up. An unfamiliar awkwardness had clearly descended upon them. Owen was afraid to ask Claire about it. To acknowledge it was there.

His gaze suddenly pulled down to his hands on the steering wheel. They were starting to throb with pain as he was squeezing too tightly, and his knuckles had blanched. He loosened his grip and finally answered her. "The car may have been holding us back anyway. We'll get better mileage without it." As soon the words were out of his mouth, he bit his tongue. It was lame reasoning that didn't address either of their unspoken concerns.

Claire had been the one to discover the problem with their SUV that morning. She'd gone out to buy face wash and came back to Joe's house reporting a strange ticking noise coming from under the hood. Joe seemed to suspect the cause immediately. He and Owen had bonded a bit over the discovery of an unraveling timing belt. Although Joe had expressed relief that they'd found it before it resulted in catastrophic engine failure, Owen just wanted to scream. The last thing he wanted was to be stuck in Wisconsin for even a few more days.

Obviously sensing Owen's distress, Joe assured him that he could take care of it and encouraged Owen to get back on the road with Claire. More distressing than the bad timing belt, however, was what Joe had said next. The words had been ringing in Owen's ears ever since: "You don't need to deal with something else unraveling when you've got more important things to hold together." Joe had nodded in Claire's direction at the time, and Owen's throat had subsequently gone dry. Even now, trying to relax his grip on the van's steering wheel, Owen had no clue how to bring it up with her.

Instead, he broached the other topic he'd been avoiding — the lesser of two evils? "If we take longer to get to Colorado," he said with a smirk, "maybe my mom will have the puppy all trained up."

"I'd prefer she have him spayed," Claire muttered, finally turning towards him. A small smile formed on her lips. The first he'd seen on her all day. He smiled back but regretted it at her next words. "Besides, you can train him." That shouldn't have been upsetting, but it felt like the wind had been knocked out of him all the same. Training an animal was the absolute last thing he wanted to do. He shook his head, wondering how on Earth Claire had convinced him to agree to accept the puppy from his parents at all. Perhaps he'd agreed to it without fully listening to the conversation. What else might he be missing? Quite a bit, if Joe was right.

It wasn't just Joe or the graduation party, unfortunately. Owen's confidence with regard to Claire had been shaken for a few weeks. He'd begun to wonder if he was in denial about their state of bliss in North Carolina. The perspectives of others had only nurtured the seeds of doubt in his mind. Should he trust himself or others? If the others were right, just how wrong were his thoughts and reactions? Were his ongoing avoidant behaviors, in part, a reflection of problems with Claire?

He was pulled out of his musings after realizing that she was staring at him. When had he started sweating? Yanking at his collar, he shrugged and cleared his throat. "I, uh, just think it'll be hard to train him on the road," he attempted to recover.

"Well, I guess we're fortunate the condo is between tenants. We can take the opportunity to housebreak him there." She smiled again, and it was genuine. This surprisingly unnerved Owen. His discomfort grew as she continued, "It'll give us a chance to catch up with Lowery and Andrea, too."

"I thought we were planning to head north?" he almost snapped. San Diego had not been on his summer agenda.

"Oh, Owen," she laughed, "we'll cross off Oregon and Washington eventually." That pissed him off even more. Did she think this was just about sex? Okay, well, it wasn't just about non-'rerun sex.' They had plans for a summer adventure, Pacific Northwest to Canada and to finally reach Alaska. Truly uncharted territory for them both. His heart was now racing. He didn't want to ask what else she might want to do in San Diego. Or how long she wanted to stay. She was supposed to be looking for a new tenant, not looking to settle there. Shoving the thoughts aside, he took a deep breath before looking in her direction again.

She'd pulled out her phone and had a look of intense concentration on her face. If he was going to stop avoiding, he should start small… and nonjudgmentally. "You've been spending lots of time on your phone lately," he commented lightly. "Another good book?" He raised one eyebrow in a gesture of curiosity not malice, but she grimaced and hid her phone screen from him in response. What the hell?

"It's nothing," she said quickly. Too quickly. This was not Claire embarrassed over erotica. This was something else, but why wouldn't she tell him? He shook his head again. They didn't have to tell each other everything. She could have her secrets. Lord knew he was keeping some things close to his vest. They'd sort things out in time. Right now, he needed to focus on the road. The immediate challenge ahead. He leaned over to kiss her cheek, and she rested a hand on his thigh. Yes, things were fine.

x x x

As was typical, by the time Henry found himself preparing to leave the lab for the night, he was the only one left. It didn't bother him, as he found himself more productive in the silence of the late evening than during the day with the hustle and bustle of everyone else.

He missed his old staff. While they had managed to hire a few of them, they'd had to widen their net to fill in many roles, and as a result of their tight budget, had often ended up with new or recent graduates. While they were eager to please, and often hard workers, he found himself often frustrated as many seemed either over confident or the polar opposite — asking for reassurance before taking even the smallest of actions.

After shutting down his computer and grabbing his coat, Henry did a final pass by the incubator to check on the Indoraptor eggs. They were just under a week away from when they expected them to hatch, and Henry was getting increasingly anxious, day by day. So far, from their original batch of eight eggs this time (they'd doubled their batch this time to increase their chances of success), they still had six left. Better, but still concerning.

He moved slowly about the incubator, examining each egg for any potential problems. While the incubator scanned the eggs for issues like temperature and weight, logging the results once an hour and alerting them of changes, Henry didn't like to rely on computers. He trusted what he could see himself over the computers.

He was just finishing up his observation, when a slight movement caught his eye, and he swung his gaze to the egg, pausing and holding his breath while he stared at it. It was over thirty seconds before there was a slight vibration again. He swiftly moved around the incubator until he was facing the egg in question. Reaching out, he gently laid his hand against the egg, wanting to feel what he was sure he was seeing. A few seconds later he had confirmation. It was hatching.

Excited now, he moved quickly about the lab, donning his lab coat, and putting away his bag. He sent out an emergency text to those on the list for nighttime hatchings, all while keeping an eye on the incubator, not wanting to miss a thing.

In what felt like no time, the lab was bustling again, as people rushed back, no one wanting to miss it. Henry barked out orders, but maintained his place near the incubator. Time seemed to rush forward, as the eggs started to hatch, but in actuality took a couple of hours. And then there were five baby Indoraptors.

After each one was freed, it was immediately given a checkup where it was weighed and measured, and its temperature, among many other vital signs, was collected.

It was when Henry was examining the sixth egg, wondering why it hadn't shown any signs of hatching, that the first piece of bad news arrived. The body temperature on two of the Indoraptors was falling, and they were finding it difficult to raise it back up, even after placing them under heat lamps and bringing in warm blankets.

Henry put down the sixth egg and went over to check on the others, to see if he could help. It wasn't long before he realized it was a lost cause. He left them with the tech taking care of them, but he knew it was unlikely they'd make it to dawn. Unfortunate, but not unexpected. Now more concerned about the sixth egg, he had the incubator scan it again, and wasn't surprised to find that it was now showing concerning signs, its temperature having also fallen. Well, that still left them with three.

"They've hatched? Why didn't anyone call me?"

Henry looked towards the door of the lab to see Eli Mills standing, hands on his hips. Eli spotted him, and headed towards him.

"Well? How'd we do?" Eli asked. "Where are they?"

"Five hatched," Henry started.

"Five? Wow, that's great. Way more than we expected," Eli said excitedly.

"Two of them have already shown clear signs of genetic issues and I don't expect them to last the night. The sixth egg looks to be a no-go as well," Henry informed him.

"So three?"

"Dr. Wu?" a voice called out, and Henry and Eli turned to see a tech by the incubator that was holding the survivors. "I think we have another issue."

Henry headed towards the tech, Eli trailing after him, and said, "Hopefully two."