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blessing in your battles

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Metal under claw. Claire retches for the fourth time in as many hours, nothing gives and there's nothing to give. She wipes a spot of vomit off of her blazer, pulls down her sleeves. Owen stands outside the door, hands deep in his pockets. He watches like the Pack used to -- eyes flick, so quick, so reptilian, she half expects yellow and skin and wet drip the smell of rotting flesh in teeth --

"Hey." His hand on her elbow drags her back, but the flinch is a long time coming. She pulls away instinctively, but eases into his touch again. "Hang on." He wipes the corner of her mouth with his sleeve and hands her a cup of water. "We need to get back in there."

"I know."

Owen smiles. He's smiled through most of this, for her probably. For them both. Nothing he does is really ever for himself -- she tries to pass back the cup, but he pretends he doesn't see. Doesn't let go of her arm until she's with her attorney and he sits himself squarely behind her, leaning forward just to say: "Love the shoes." Mouth pressed to her ear, fingers brushing over the back of her neck and her mind is flooded with images that wouldn't hold up in court as a viable reason why she shouldn't go to jail.

Not that she's going to jail. She can't go to jail.

She isn't going to jail.

Fuck.

 

 

 

"Aunt Claire!"

There's a whistling noise in her ear, wind rushing past, the smell of cologne and new sneakers and an armful of boy. Gray's gotten taller -- it's been seventeen months. Not since she last saw him, she's better about that now. But seventeen months since --

Since.

"Hey, kiddo."

"They've been watching the trial when no one's home." Karen slides into view, silent, maternal, hands reaching out to fix and right and smooth. "I told them--"

"Mom, you can't fight YouTube, I told you." She huffs, and Zach comes around to give Claire a decent side-hug. "You okay?" Zach's voice is mature, but his face is still young. Hand on Gray's shoulder, stiff fingers, sturdy grip, voice like a statue.

"I'm good. Better, now that you guys are here."

Gray's taller, but the crowd still hovers over him, and he twists down to see through an ocean of legs to spot what Claire knows he's looking for. "Where's Owen?"

"I--" Claire looks around, and she doesn't have an answer. He was in the courtroom, but her lawyer shuffled her out so quick, and the smell of him behind her is long gone, now, and the hard touch of his fingertips, like batteries on the tongue, all gone now, nowhere --

"Look, the kids clean up good."

Air out of a tank. Claire breathes.

"Owen!" Gray is on him, and even Zach's attention is piqued. "You look weird."

"It's called a suit," Owen mutters, tugging at the stiff collar of his shirt.

Karen winds her way into the middle, popping up like a prairie dog, curious and sniffing out fresh meat. "I'm so sorry, I don't think we really met." Head extended, Owen's a hunter, he knows what this means, he has to know what this means, Claire is praying he knows --

"Sort of. Not really. Just, like, a second. I'm Owen."

"Mom. Mom. Owen has the raptors."

"Oh." Karen's grip gets tighter, Claire can see it, and her face gets white and she pulls back, burned and surprised and completely out of her element. "Right, Mr. Grady. Claire...mentioned you. The boys love you."

"They're great kids. Really smart. You and your husband must be proud."

Claire tries and fails to become telepathic. Exhusbandexhusbandexhusbandex--

Karen. Warrior. Jurassic in her own right. Tight lips. "We are."

 

 

 

Karen waits until Owen's taken the boys out for ice cream before she asks. Elbow deep in cleaning out the crockpot Owen insisted on buying after they moved in and she looks like their mother from where Claire is standing, sounds like her, too, when she says: "Are you going to prison?"

Claire groans. "I thought you were going to ask something else."

"Like what?"

"Like, does Owen live here? Are you together? Did you call dad?" Karen raises an eyebrow. "Yes. To all of those. Except the last one. Dad called me."

"Sweet of him." Claire shrugs. "I meant it, though. The prison thing."

"I'm not going to prison." She won't tell Karen about her brief, nanosecond of a mental collapse in the courtroom today. Claire isn't actually the one on trial, it's InGen. Claire worked for Simon. Works, technically, for Masrani Corp, which is doing surprisingly well throughout all of this. They've promised her another job once they make it through this. Her lawyer predicts they'll hand out reparations. They've paid for the funerals already, sifted through the chapter eleven bullshit. All that's left is this circus act of a legal proceeding and Claire can stop parading herself in front of cameras and maybe go back to managing horse shows.

To be fair, though, she only did that for six weeks.

To be fair -- she will have to make her defense in six days. Or less, depending on when they call her to the stand. She wrote it a month ago, and Owen likes it. That matters. It matters.

"Okay. So I can worry about the other stuff now, then."

Claire bites. "What other stuff?"

"Does he really live here?"

"Yes."

"Wow. That...was quick."

Claire shrugs again, which she knows her sister can't stand. Their mother couldn't stand it either. She had a saying about shrugging, but Claire isn't Karen and Claire doesn't have their mother's unhelpful anecdotes stashed away. Mental or otherwise.

And Claire could snap back. She has teeth. We need more teeth. She could ask how Scott is. She doesn't. She isn't a good person for not doing it, but she isn't a good person for thinking about it either. The thing with Karen, though -- she always knows.

"Scott moved out."

"I wasn't going to--"

"You wanted to. He moved out after the boys came back. It didn't really make a difference."

"Karen, I'm sorry."

It's her sister's turn to shrug, tipping the bowl of the crockpot over to drip dry on the counter. "We called it off for a few days, but everything that happened to the boys, it just...made it worse. It isn't your fault," she says quickly, even though Claire didn't think for a second that it was. "But almost losing them, it didn't fix what was broken. Maybe if it'd happened sooner. I hate thinking that. I hate myself for it."

"Please don't."

"But I do." Karen laughs, rubbing hard a her cheek with the palm of her hand. "I think that maybe if we'd sent them to you sooner, and this happened then, we could have salvaged something. But there wasn't anything left. It was so lonely in the house when they were gone. I think it would have felt better if I'd just been alone."

Claire doesn't know what to do with all this. The unravelling of her sister's marriage is a minor setback on their shared coastline. Claire can't buffet her sister against the winds of divorce, and she can't protect her nephews from it either. She used to be able to protect people and safeguard things, but she let the monster out of its cage, she did that, and she isn't in any place to give out advice about how to herd it back in.

We have an asset out of containment.

 

 

 

When she settles into bed, Owen is half-asleep, but he rolls to his side to press against her back, mouth at her nape, fingers in her hair. "Hi."

"Hi."

He smiles, slow, and kisses the bend in her neck. "I like your sister."

"She's getting a divorce."

Owen pulls back, and Claire can hear the twisting of the gears in his head, feels the working twitch of his hand as he tries to pull something up and -- "Ah, shit."

"Yeah."

"She didn't--"

"She would never." Claire rolls over to face him, trying to look sympathetic but probably coming off all wrong. "She's got too much of our mom in her." Owen huffs, looking sorry and turning onto his back. "Don't feel bad, it's not really official yet. But he did move out. And she's very unhappy. So maybe don't mention it again."

"Thanks."

"I'm trying to be helpful."

"Well maybe when I meet your dad you can give me like a dossier or something. So I don't accidentally bring up anything too traumatizing."

"My dad's missing a leg."

"Shut the hell up."

Claire laughs and swings her leg over his waist, bending down to kiss him properly. "You really want to meet my dad?" Owen looks noncommittal, but Claire suspects otherwise. Raptors look at what they want. "He'll really like you. You can go fishing."

"He fishes?"

"He tries. He's not very good at it."

"Right. Okay." He rolls his hips up a little, tugging her forward. "So I have a crazy idea. Let's not talk about your dad for like, fifteen minutes? And then when we're done, we can talk about him all you want."

He rolls her over. On her back, looking up, sweetness and survival, sturdy hands, sturdy words -- when he kisses her neck there's teeth there. Nothing that will show when she's in court or standing next to Karen or or or --

She falls open for him, and a hundred times over she would. Does. For survival. He buries his mouth between her legs, hands spread over her thighs, holding her down for him while she pushes. Against tongue, against mouth. She's never been with someone who does this for her the way he does. The way he breathes over her, admires her. She used to be embarrassed about it. Her ex made her feel weird when she would ask for it. She's never asked Owen. Owen just gives. He got drunk and ate her out and told her he could do it for hours, lips wet against her ear while he fucked her. And she believed him.

Her orgasm is a slow thing -- it never takes her by surprise, not anymore. She knows him, in these careful moments between sleep, and he understands. Hands grope for the condoms at the bedside table. A quick flick of his wrist, a bend of her knee, and there, there -- he pushes, groans, kisses her. Claire breathes, reaches up and cards her fingers through his hair. He needs to get it cut again, he hates it when it gets much longer than this. Eyes half-lidded, fingers splayed on either side of her shoulders, quick breaths, in and out, gentle push and push and --

"Shit." It's been a while. He's quick, but not ashamed. They've both been busy, exhausted, all of the above. He drops his head to her shoulder and groans, riding it out. Claire is fine. Claire is happy. Claire bursts with...love? Won't call it that, can't right now, can't afford to. He pulls out and goes to clean himself up before he drops into bed again, arm over his face. "We gotta practice more."

"I'm all yours."

"Well. Maybe later." He kisses her cheek, tugs her closer. "I told you the crockpot was a good idea."

"Yes, Mr. Grady, you win that one."

She can feel him grin against her shoulder, right before she goes to sleep.

 

 

 

Her examination is a gruelling process. They rip her policies and decisions apart, sink their teeth into her career and completely shred it. She spots Karen and the boys in the row behind Owen, and she wishes they weren't here. In the end, they blame everything on poor allocation of funds, time, and energy, while gently telling her it really wasn't her fault and were those scratch marks always there she opened the paddock she sent Owen in, she --

Her lawyer tells her she only has to come to the proceedings if she'd like to from now on, but Claire can't hear him through the haze of being finished and not going to jail and Owen's hands on her back like she's been drowning because she has.

"We're getting dinner. And drinks. For the grownups. You guys can get lemonades or something." Owen takes charge of the group, takes over Karen's rental car despite her muted protests about insurance and coverage. "You guys wanna go to Chili's? I haven't been to Chili's in like eleven years."

Claire leans forward from the backseat. "What?"

"We're not going to Chili's," he announces, decision made. "Somewhere nicer, we all look great." He takes them to some steakhouse no one's ever been to and he and Claire get properly drunk on lemondrop martinis because they are getting old. Karen takes short, disapproving sips of water while Owen tells the boys about the first animals he worked with, before the raptors. Claire keeps her leg pressed to his, keeps his words strung against her all night.

Karen drives them back to their apartment, snagging Claire's wrist as she goes. "The kids want to go to Disneyland."

"Okay."

"I'm inviting you, Claire. Him, too."

"Um."

"Go with us."

Claire nods. "Right. Okay. Tomorrow?"

"Yeah, can we meet you there?" Claire tries to think about where Disneyland is. Not close. Not far, either, but not close. "Claire."

"Yeah. Meet you there. Just...okay. Text me, please?"

"Sure." Karen sighs and gives Claire's arm a little squeeze. "See you then."

The SUV pulls away with the boys waving out the window. Owen stands by the stairs, light flickering over his head and the keys in in hand. "I'm not going to Disneyland."

"You are."

"I'll complain literally the entire time," he mutters, trudging up the stairs to their door. Cool air hits like a wave and Claire immediately begins to strip out of her clothes. "This will not make it better."

"I'm drunk, we're going to bed."

"I will throw up on those teacups, I swear to God."

 

 

 

Claire wonders how the boys can do something like this. So soon. Too soon. Her heart hammers and she doesn't ride anything, waits diligently at the end of the line, sometimes with her sister, sometimes alone. Owen goes on everything with the boys. They love him, Karen says. They want to keep him.

"He's nice," she admits. She pushes her sunglasses up her nose, swings her nalgene between her fingers. "You want one of those banana things?"

"Yeah. He likes the boys a lot."

"They need this." Karen gets two of the chocolate banana things, passing one to Claire. "Do you love him?"

"I do."

"He loves you. You're probably both too emotionally stunted to say it."

Claire nods. "Probably." The banana is okay. Cold. Makes her teeth hurt. We need more teeth. "We're staying here."

"Did you get a job?"

"We both did. Masrani--" She catches her breath, she misses Simon, she misses -- "The corporation is placing us. Here."

"That's good, then."

Claire nods. There's chocolate on her fingers. "It's something."

The boys burst out of the crowd, Owen on on their heels. The line is short, will be shorter later, they're going to ride it again, they're hungry, Karen packed sandwiches, but Gray wants a hotdog --

"Hi." Owen slips in beside her, leans forward and takes a bite from the banana thing. "Miss me?"

"I withered without you. How was the ride?"

"A ride," he says quietly, kissing her temple before he speaks up, hands in the air. "I'll buy fifty hotdogs if you let me sit the next one out." Owen buys the boys something the eat and they get on another ride with their mother, while he and Claire sit by the exit. "You don't wanna do anything?"

"I'm tired."

"I know." He leans back, puts his arm around her. "I'm glad we went with them, though."

Claire rests her head on his shoulder. "We can go pretty soon, if you'd like."

He shrugs. "I'm okay, actually." He looks at her, puts his fingers under her chin. "Are you okay?"

"I am."

He smiles. "Then we're both okay."

 

 

 

Owen wakes up screaming. But only sometimes. Claire can't calm him, she can't touch him or he'll do it again, he'll lash out. He hit her, once, in the chest, and he was wrecked over it, didn't even leave a bruise, but there he was.

He has panic attacks. She's learned to help him breathe. He sleeps with a light on when she isn't in the room. He leaves the doors open. He checks the front door seven times. He is put together and pulled apart and he is fine except when he isn't and Claire just --

Easy.

"I love you," he says. Coming off of a nightmare, suddenly buried in her neck and breathing heavy. "I love you."

"Owen--"

"Please. Just--"

"I know. I love you, too."

He pulls back, sweat on his brow, relief in his eyes. "You'd better. I'd be a mess without you." She laughs and strokes his cheek, but his mouth pulls down and he says again, "I'd be a mess without you, Claire."

"You're a mess now," she murmurs.

"But I'm your mess."

"You are," she agrees.

"Okay then." He settles down next to her and closes his eyes. "Okay."