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Despite the Odds

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Prompt: Anonymous - ’I can’t have sex with you. I’m married.’ Drunk Owen said to his wife, Claire, as she tries to get him out of his dirty clothes.

*

It wasn’t every night that Owen managed to stumble through the front door, balance off, limbs completely useless. ‘Whoa there, Soldier,’ Claire teased, watching on from the hallway.

Jason’s bachelor party was an opportunity Owen couldn’t miss. He was a groomsman after all, and for some reason the idea was far too appealing. Owen held a particular fondness for the young monkey keeper, their camaraderie akin to brothers in arms. The announcement of his wedding only set into motion devious plans of a night full of alcohol and quite possibly scantily clad women.

‘Hey, Red,’ he grinned, humour picking up the corners of his mouth, intoxicated and lopsided. She kissed him for his efforts, stepping away from the stairs to greet him just as lazily, but far more controlled. His arms were around her in seconds, the action automatic as Owen pulled her into his body, crushing her with unmeasured strength.

Claire pecked her husband’s lips before stepping back. ‘You smell like a strip club,’ she complained, stale beer, cheap perfume, and too strong cigarettes infiltrating her nose. She wasn’t worried about that night’s events, knowing without a doubt that Owen was faithful, and somewhat dreading the strip club aspect to the night. She would be lying if she denied attending the Chippendale show Karen had dragged her to the month before.

‘Owen,’ she started, her hands held onto his biceps, holding him away from her and keeping him steady. His hands took hold of her hips, gripping her tightly, his lifeline swaying. ’Is that mud?’ Claire asked, horrified and compelled, at the drying mud all over her husband’s clothes.

She had heard of wild nights; this was new.

Claire laughed, a small giggle bubbling up from her throat as Owen shrugged, his body twisting to get a good look at the mess. Her husband mumbled something incoherent, his head dropping to her shoulder, lips pressing kisses to her neck. Claire couldn’t repress the shiver that chased down her spine at the scratch of Owen’s stubble against her neck, his lips soothing the burn.

She pushed at his arms, forcing the broad shouldered man up the stairs and to their bedroom. She was careful on the creaking floorboards, tiptoeing as Owen moved on instinct instead of clarity of mind.

Owen was a handsy drunk, something Claire had seemingly forgotten as the days and nights passed, his fondness for alcohol next to none. HIs hands had snaked up the inside of her t-shirt, counting her ribs and tracing her spine.

Despite his drunken attempts at foreplay, Claire managed the button and zip on his pants, sliding them off his hips before pushing her husband to sit on their bed. Holding a tight grip on her hip, Owen pulled Claire into his lap. Cautious of the filth covering his clothes, Claire kissed him, purring against her husbands lips as his tongue traced her teeth. Her flingers played with the buttons on his shirt, popping them open one by one.

Owen stopped, her lips popping slightly as he stared at her, apologetic. ‘I can’t have sex with you.’ He was dead serious, eyes focused, full of regret. ‘I’m married.’ Claire bit her lip, holding back the chuckle that was bubbling in her chest.

‘Oh,’ Claire squeaked out, her fingers fiddling with the last button on his shirt. She only wanted to make sure that as little mud as possible ended up on her clean linen. Claire said as much to her drunk hulk of a husband, the man’s eyes swimming across her face.

‘You’re sweet,’ he smiled, the expression lazy on his cheeks. It was almost worn, faded around the edges like a beloved picture. He had been smiling at her like that for years. ‘But, I love my wife.’ The sincerity on his face, lacing his voice as his fingers loosened their grip on her hips, was genuine. Claire felt her chest tighten, fondness blooming behind her ribs for the man she was straddling. She loved her ridiculous husband.

Claire smiled, her head tilting ever so softly. ‘She’s lucky to have you.’ Owen nodded, a mumbled ‘I’m lucky to have her’ drifting from his lips as he shrugged the shirt off his arms. Kissing his cheek gently, she took Owen’s shirt, and climbed off his lap. She rolled up his jeans, holding them and the shirt against her chest as she looked back one last time at his lazy, loving, smile.

For now, his clothes had to be soaked and his alcohol induced brain needed to recover. Hopefully, after napping it off, he’d go back to torturous kisses against her collarbone, his callous hand counting her ribs, while the other slid between her thighs. This time, remembering that she was his wife.

Chapter Text

She quit her job. It was hardly unexpected. The third in six months. Claire Dearing was facing a crisis she couldn’t quite solve, her work taking the blows of dissatisfaction. ‘You could run anything, Claire, what’s the problem?’ Owen asked, across the table, watching her defeated face as she looked down at her entree.

‘I don’t want to control things.’

Owen snorted, ‘you love control.’ 


Claire only glared at him, his smirk unwavering.

‘It’s not right. It just doesn’t feel right, Owen.’

‘Keep ploughing through corporate businesses like they’re the Sunday crossword, the right one will turn up eventually. Six letters, ending with E.’ He hummed. There was no malice, no disappoint, no lack of respect, Owen understood where she was coming from. The inability to find a comfortable position since leaving Jurassic World. Claire was at odds with herself, far more than he had been, but she would figure it out. Something would land at her feet like it always did.

Owen stood from the table, wallet pulled from his pocket, as he dropped cash beside his plate. ‘What are you doing?’ Claire asked, staring up at him as he extended a hand for her to take.

He smiled at her, fingers wrapping around her delicate hand as she stood slowly. ‘The mood’s not right for this date.’ Claire only arched an eyebrow.

‘I don’t want to go home.’ Although she was wallowing in self confusion she hadn’t meant to put a damper on their date. Owen tucked an arm around her waist, pulling her into his side securely as they stepped out of the restaurant.

He laughed, ‘it’s Friday night, why would we go home?’ Claire blinked up at him, watching the yellow glow of the streetlights cast shadows on his face. Her heels clicked along the sidewalk, the thrum humming in her veins. Down the street music pounded, people’s voices echoed.

Three girls stumbled past them, laughter floating from their red stained mouths. Claire watched them sway in too high heels and too short dresses. ‘Oh no, no, Owen, not happening.’ She protested, disbelief dancing with humour across her lips.

Owen chuckled, his grip on her waist squeezing her gently, ‘I’m not taking you to the nightclub, relax,’ he told her, dropping a kiss to the top of her head. ‘There is, however, a bar around the corner.’

Part of her wanted to protest, to claim she wasn’t in the mood to fend off his advances. Because she knew, without a doubt that he would drink just enough that his hand’s wouldn’t leave her, fingers tracing shapes across her skin, trying within their best attempts to sneak beneath her clothes. She’d decided not to care. Let him lead her to the bar, his arm wrapped around her, his cologne infiltrating her nose.

The establishment was a little more adult, than the night club on the next street over. A live band played covers of songs in the corner while groups of people stuffed themselves around tables and in booths, chatting about their lives over beer and spirits.

They found a place at the bar, Owen ordering a drink for each of them, but not before requesting shots. Claire glared at him, watching the bartender poor tequila into tiny glasses, making them overflow and spill across the bench. ‘I hate you,’ she half hissed, watching as he shook salt onto his wrist.

Owen shrugged, ‘nah, you love me.’

Picking up a shot, Claire motioned a cheers towards her date, ‘unfortunately,’ she teased before sucking the salt from his wrist slowly and downing the shot in her hand. Lime between her teeth she shook her head, fowl taste tingling across her tongue, burning a path down her throat.

Owen stared, watching on with avid fascination as she downed her second and third shot. He followed suit, mimicking her actions, eyes never leaving Claire’s as she laughed, liquor sinking into her blood stream.

The bar moved around them, patron’s laughing, band playing, Owen and Claire completely oblivious.

He had pulled her stool closer, her legs trapped between his. Somewhere between there arrival, and her yelling some bizarre drink order at the bartender, Claire had lost her shoes, her foot tracing lines up the inside of his pant leg.

His hand was wrapped around her thigh, his thumb skirted between her skin and the hem of her dress, inching it up with every pass of his finger. She wasn’t swatting him away, only leaning into him closer, her laughter soft between them as she sipped on red wine.

Owen forgot about his drink, the beer beside his elbow warm, not longer appealing when she was in close proximity, her cheeks pink with heat and liquor. He leant forward, arm wrapping around her waist and up her back, counting her vertebrae as his fingers climbed. Owen buried his head into her neck, inhaling the scent of Chanel No. 5, and something that was particularly Claire. He kissed a slow, slightly sloppy path up her neck, Claire giggling in his ear.

She tasted like tequila when his lips met hers, mad and passionate as her tongue slipped between his teeth. She mewled softly, hand curling against his shirt. She giggled when he tried to pull her into his lap, her hands solidifying against his chest as she pulled back. ‘I’m not having sex with you in a public bathroom, again, Owen.’ Her voice was stern, completely aware of his intentions.

Owen blinked up at her, playing smug innocent as a faux pout pulled at his lips. She kissed him gently, mouths barely meeting, before she asked him to dance. Her shoes were back on her feet, her step straight and calculated, tipsy Claire didn’t sway if she could help it. Owen followed, his hand in hers, as she lead him to the small group of people dancing to the young man who strummed on his guitar.

Owen kept a hand on her hip, fingers pressed into her skin. She never saw it as claim, his hands fluttering over her, a hand always present on her hip or holding onto her fingers. The second would linger, count her bones, trace the lines of her arms, cup the side of her breast if he was being particularly frisky. He would tease her, keeping the touch brief, slightly, barely there before it was somewhere else. Her whole body hummed for him, just the way he wanted. She didn’t mind. He was always clear, expressive with his emotions, she always knew how he felt, but the feel of his hands on her was never an unpleasant reassurance.

Chapter Text

Karen had always been the keeper of family history. Even as a little girl she kept guard over family pictures, sharing them only on request. Karen knew every detail behind every story regardless of if she was present or not.

Naturally, the second Claire stepped away from Owen, Karen pounced. ‘Honestly, we’ve been here a whole thirty minutes. You couldn’t wait until after dinner.’ Claire sighed, exasperated already at Karen’s eager attitude towards hers and Owen’s relationship. Claire knew that her sister was only excited to have her back in her life, plus one.

Karen grinned, handing Owen the tick album Claire easily recognised. ‘Where’s the fun in that, Claire Bear?’ Karen teased, smile too eager.

‘Yeah, Claire Bear.’ Owen chimed in, shit eating grin setting dimples in his cheeks.

The nickname felt odd coming from his lips, unfamiliar and wrong. ’Shut it, Grady.’ She threw at him, arms crossing over her chest. Karen teased her sometimes, pulling out Claire Bear on the odd occasion, other than that, the nickname belonged to their father. The childish name he used to call his baby girl as he tucked her into his arms, or embarrassed her in front of her friends.

His grin never wavered, eyes caught to the little girl in the picture on his lap. Claire Dearing, age seven, standing beside her proud father. Team Claire Bear, written on a banner in his hand, a first place ribbon in hers. ‘Make me, Dearing.’ He tossed over his shoulder.

The swift smack to the back of his head was unexpected but well deserved. ‘Oi, fowl play’ he complained hand rubbing at the back of his head. Claire grinned when his eyes met hers, wounded and mockingly betrayed.

‘I’d be far more apologetic if you weren’t asking for it.’ She told him, smug.

‘Oh, c’mon, that’s nowhere near the team spirit!’ Owen tapped the picture in his lap, the little red-head smiling along side her team mates, victory clearly theirs. Claire sighed, bending at the waist to leave across the back of the couch. She kissed his cheek gently in a soft apology. Owen grinned, ‘much better, Claire Bear.’

She smacked him again.

Chapter Text

He almost crashed into their bedroom, hands grasping the door frame to stop his body’s momentum. His heart was pounding in his chest, the sound resinating through his ears. Claire had left a voicemail on his phone, her voice quiet, shaking, trying to stay calm. It was the message that had him racing to the carpark and breaking several driving laws just to get home.

It’s happening again.’

Just as he had started to get excited. He couldn’t help himself. Claire, on the other hand was prepared to fail, or at least that’s what he thought. She was unattached, unemotional, eyes straight ahead just waiting for bad news or hit the safe mark. It was all too much to hope for.

She was hiding in the far corner of their bedroom, propped up against the wall that separated the room from their wardrobe, head against the wall beside her. Her fingers absently played with a small cloth pouch, the satin ribbon sliding against her skin. She turned to look at him slowly, each movement she made a physical pain. Claire’s bottom lip wobbled, one, twice, three times before a sob ripped through her throat.

Owen dropped to the floor beside her, devastation weighing down at his shoulders as he pulled Claire into his arms. ‘What did I do?’ She cried into his chest, her hands curling clumps of his shirt around her fingers, the pouch still held in her hand. Her whole body shook. He took the small item from her, closing his hand around it gently as she softly tapped at the ribbon between his fingers. ‘I was given that last time, volunteers knit tiny white booties and beanies for parents who suffer loss through miscarriage. They put them in these soft little pouches.’ She exhaled a shaky breath. ‘I don’t want another one, Owen.’ Her voice cracked, sobs shaking her chest. He didn’t know what to say.

Owen only held her tighter, rubbing soothing circles on her back as he willed his heart not to break.

He listened to her cry, heavy sobs threatening to crack her chest as she whimpered variations of self pity. Claire Dearing didn’t ask for much, in fact, she didn’t ask for anything. All she wanted lately was this, she really wanted this.

He rocked her, muttering words of encouragement, love, reassurance, promises he shouldn’t be trying to make. So far nothing was certain. Life wasn’t betting on their odds. Owen dropped kisses to her hair, listening as her cries waned in an out, their desperation harrowing. ‘Oh baby girl,’ he muttered into her hair, clutching her tighter, hoping it was enough.

Owen thought she had fallen asleep, her voice quiet, her cries small hiccups, her body tense against his. He lifted her, arm behind her shoulders, the other under her knees. He held her for a second, hoping that it could be that easy. Just holding her. Nothing got better just like that. Rome wasn’t built in a day, her heart wouldn’t start to mend for a month. He lowered her slowly to the mattress, covering her in a throw blanket before he climbed up behind her, one arm hooked over her hip protectively, hand spread across her stomach.

‘Adopting a dog would have been easier than this,’ she whispered, voice quiet and raw. She couldn’t cry anymore. Owen hummed. A dog would have been easier. But not the same. They’d already had that argument, stalking each other back and forth as they made fettuccine from scratch.

A dog wasn’t the same as a baby.

‘Do you want me to get Karen?’ He was uncertain of his place. Last time, she didn’t want to look at him. Last time she only glared through half hooded eyes and pushed him away, yelling at him for touching her. Last time they’d only been together six months.

Last time she blamed him.

He didn’t even know about the pouch that held too small booties, clearly hidden away in their wardrobe all these years. He wanted to be mad, but right now he couldn’t, not as her stomach cramped, forcing away her hope. Claire laced her fingers through his, squeezing his hand weakly, ‘I just need you to hold me,’ she whispered her hand a dead weight.

Her body was a tense coil next to his, she was wound tight from her head to her toes, aching all over, as shuddering sobs filtered past her lips. The tears were gone. The heartache still there. He held her tight, listening to her breathing, trying to be supportive without saying anything. What was there to say?

‘I can’t do this, Owen, I can’t.’ It was already done, her body just forcing her through aftershocks, immobilising her, forcing her to think. Claire pulled herself into a shaky sitting position, Owen right beside her, one hand at her hip, the other against her shoulder, ready to keep her upright or lay her down. ‘I can’t do this.’ She stared at him, the usual blue of her iris turquoise against her puffy, red, eyes. ‘The ultrasound, the D&C, the sweet experienced nurse and grief counsellor who’ll say ‘you’ll always be their mom’, I can’t. Not again, I - oh god.’ She stopped herself, body swaying, waist bending. ‘I’m going to be sick,’ Claire announced, before pushing herself up and racing to the bathroom.

Owen followed her slowly, his own body heavy. Last time she excluded him, going through it alone - Karen by her side. He didn’t know what to do, what to say. All he knew was that he wanted to wrap her in his arms, tell her that he loved her, and keep her there until the pain stopped, until her body relaxed, until she could make it through twenty seconds without choking on her tears. He just wanted her to be okay.

He sat with her on the cold bathroom tiles, his hand in hers. The air around them quiet, nothing but heart broken hiccoughs.

Owen pressed a kiss to her temple, his head resting there momentarily. ‘I love you,’ he whispered, needing to reassure her more than she needed the reassurance. ‘We’ll get our time, one day.’ He pressed a second kiss to her temple as Claire’s chest heaved a sigh, hitching on what he knew would be another sob. Tears glistened in her eyes, the well not completely dry, as she nodded her head softly, accepting his slight promise.

‘One day,’ Claire echoed, voice breaking.

Chapter Text

She giggled, hiccough interrupting the sound. She was unsteady on her feet, her arm around his waist, upper body leaning on him heavily. Her glee was continuous, bubbly, infectious.

His chest felt tight, heart blooming. He felt warm, summer nights, cold beer, a well executed dinner. Claire’s small hand slipped into the back pocket of his pants, squeezing his ass firmly. She giggled, body pulling away from his as she stepped in front of him, flirtatious smirk on her face. She was so far beyond simple, innocent, flirtation, tonight alone would keep her repenting for her sins for years.

‘Claire,’ he warned, eyes watching the people around them. Tonight was the Zoo’s annual fundraiser dinner. As a trainer Owen was expected to make an appearance, as the woman who organised it, Claire had to attend. Together, it was their first night way from home, out as adults, in two months.

Her small finger hooked itself between the middle two buttons on his shirt, pulling him forward. ‘Oh, c’mon lover,’ she purred, ‘Karen has the baby tonight.’ She hinted, in case he had forgotten about their eight week old infant.

Owen stared at her, his wife, drunk off two glasses of red wine, calling him lover in a soft seductive tone. His bold and fierce angel, Claire Dearing in all her lightweight glory. She was going to be the death of him. ’When did you turn into such a cheap date?’ He asked, teasing her fondly, watching the woman in front of him sway out of beat with the music. He pulled her into him. There had been a time, just after the island, where she managed to drink him under the table, remaining upright and clear of mind. Her trick had always been silence, holding constraint on her mouth as to not appear loose in the tongue. That Claire had clearly bid adieu.

She giggled, again. The noise hadn’t stopped if he was being honest. The night was warm, the music pleasant, the drinks over flowing. No one was harassing him for numbers and statistics, no one wanted a personal tour and private screening with the big cats. Owen was free to enjoy the company of his wife, slinky black dress, and warm weathered night.

Claire leant into his chest, humming, giggle still drifting past her lips. ‘Sometime after giving birth to your eleven pound son.’ The pressure of her hands against his chest shifted, as she reached, on tip toes to press her lips to his in an innocent kiss.

Owen laughed against her lips, ‘hey now, Noah’s not here to defend himself.’ He teased, hands settling on her hips as he tried to sway them both with the music.

‘He can defend the Seahawks to the super bowl.’ She shot back, eyes flittering over the expanse of his shoulders. There was no denying their son wouldn’t develop into his father’s build, sport breathing in his blood, if not - the military.

Her hands drifted from his chest, skating down the sides of his ribs, catching on the loops of his pants. ‘Claire, we can’t leave for another hour,’ Owen warned, her hands skipping over the front of his pants, fingers catching ever so slightly against his fly.
‘No one will miss us.’ She was in true form, he mused, nonchalant about the outcome of an event or her incessant requirement for being there. Owen chuckled, pecking a kiss to her forehead, trying to keep it safe.

She giggled when his fingers wrapped around her wrists, pulling her hands away from his body. ‘You’re making this harder than it needs to be.’

‘Maybe that’s exactly how I want it,’ she purred, blue eyes locking on his, refusing to break contact. She batted her eye lashes at him, pupils blown wide, cheeks pink. He didn’t want to fend her off, her low tolerance to alcohol had lowered the carefully constructed professional walls Claire put in place. She had scared some of the donors and staff, polite Claire had transformed into giggly, friendly, genuine Claire. And, god, was she adorable when she smiled properly, full grin, deep dimples, eyes alight with joy.

He dropped her wrists. Claire was molten gold against him, red hot, pure perfection. Who was he to deny this giggling goddess with her hands all over him, slipping into the creases of his clothes, finding skin without permission. She traced circles on his skin, figure eights, circles. Her pattern deteriorated, shifting shapes and angles in lazy distraction.

Claire grinned, tongue between her teeth. Owen threw one last glance at the dinner guests, his wife wrapped in his arms, her fingers starting to stray. No one seemed to notice them, no one begged for their attention. ‘Oh, fuck it,’ Owen cursed, eyes to the stars before he tucked a kiss against Claire’s ear. ‘They’re not going to miss us,’ he tugged on her hand, not failing to catch the look of pure child-like glee that formed across Claire’s cheeks, her lips pursed together in a subtly pleased smile.

Chapter Text

The house was quiet when she stepped through the front door. She toed her shoes off, and hung up her jacket, calling out for Owen before stepping further into their home.

‘Hey babe,’ Owen grinned, greeting her from the kitchen doorway, the door shut behind him, the handle in his hand.

Claire eyed him cautiously, ‘what are you hiding?’ Owen shrugged, innocently answering with ‘nothing’ as something thudded against the door. Her voice dropped, his name falling from her lips with caution. The noise sounded again. Claire took a step towards Owen, smile cracking across her lips. Owen matched her grin.

‘Happy Anniversary,’ he opened the door behind him silently. Claire watched, waiting for what he was going to reveal, her blue eyes wide. She waited a beat on bated breath. Nothing. ‘Wait a sec,’ he spun on the spot, checking around the door before disappearing behind it.

Claire couldn’t wait, she tip toed behind her husband. She crept around the door, eyes flitting aross the room, unsure as to what she should be expecting. Owen appeared from behind the counter, small bundle in his arms. His name fell on a sigh. She stood still, staring at the fluffy champagne border collie, pastel blue ribbon tied loosely around it’s white neck.

‘A puppy?’ she asked, her voice quiet with surprise. She extended a hand to the soft, small head of the tiny animal, the contrast so different compared to her bulky large husband.

Owen watched her, the surprise on Claire’s face, the hesitation that morphed into instant love when the puppy mewled. ‘She was the last of her litter, a little on the small side. She needed someone for survival.’

Claire grinned, taking the small dog into her hands, ‘well, we’re certainly the two people she needs then, aren’t we?’ she studied the puppy, holding the animal up to her eyes. Blue met blue, the puppy cried. ‘What’s her name?’ Claire asked, turning her attention back to Owen.

He smiled, long and slow, the emotion taking over his whole being. This is what they needed. ‘What do you want to name her?’ Claire’s eyes shone with the possibility.

‘Delilah,’ she whispered, holding the puppy to her chest, fingers in the dog’s short fur. Owen agreed. ‘You know, I would have been happy with dinner and candles,’ she muttered, putting the squirming dog back on the floor.

‘But this is better, right?’

Claire nodded, ‘right.’

(404 words)

Chapter Text

‘You’ve crawled under my skin, caused an itch I can’t quite scratch. I think I need you, Owen … at first, I didn’t even like you! You wore board shorts to a date, that - that’s unforgivable, Owen, you know it - it should be illegal. But, god damn, I can’t get you out of my head.’

*

Claire groaned into her pillow, headache pounding in her temporal lobe, serving as a reminder for bad judgement and alcohol consumption way over the respectable limit.

Her phone buzzed under the pillow, Claire blindly grasped for it, her hands gliding against the linen until she bumped the small device. 6:30am, blared back at her obnoxiously along with a text from Zara.

Claire stared at her phone, ’Did you hear from board shorts?’ The message was time stamped just after 1:00am. She squinted at the device, the screen brightness burning into her retina as he head continued to pound. Her mouth was dry, her tongue cotton, the taste of vodka faintly clinging to her fuzzy teeth.

She buried her head back into her pillow, eyes squeezed shut. Claire chose to ignore Zara’s ambiguous message, compelled as to what the hell her assistant had meant. Her conscious was pulling away, tugging at the ends of her hair like daring sirens trying to pull her into the depths enticing her with warm dreams. Something in her head clicked into place, board shorts, Owen, the night before. She and Zara were celebrating the woman’s engagement, pouring glass of wine after glass of wine until they ran out and had to scour her cupboards for anything stronger. Zara had dialled his number.

Claire couldn’t grasp the memory, not in it’s entirety. She had annoyed Zara with her incessant rambling about the raptor trainer, her words nonsense until the phone was shoved into her hand, the dial tone ringing in her ears.

‘Oh fuck,’ Claire cursed her self, sitting up and dropping her heavy head into her hands. She had mewled ridiculous things into his answering machine, things she couldn’t completely remember, but bad enough in her hazy memory that Claire knew she needed to avoid him at all costs. This was it, ground zero. Owen’s charm was thick enough without her added confession of attraction. With this in his arsenal, he would never relent.

She looked at her phone a second time, dread setting like lead in the pit of her stomach. Nothing. Nothing from Owen. He hadn’t called her back. He hadn’t answered her calls. Had he got them at all? She sprung up, despite her weary head. Wobbling in front of her wardrobe a bit, Claire grabbed the first two things she saw and threw them on. There was a chance, the slightest though it may be, that Owen hadn’t checked his messages. That her recorded calls, drunk Claire, slurring words of need, had gone unheard. She could save herself from embarrassment if she got to them first.

She ran a brush through her hair, and quickly cleaned her teeth, before running out the door, intent on being presentable, but too scared that she would leave it too long. Her car rumbled quietly along the park’s dirt roads, her foot resting heavily on the accelerator.

It was quiet out, Jurassic World, preparing to open, weekend staff coming in on the ferry, switching out with those who were granted a couple of days off. The weather promised to be good, sun warming the earth, not a cloud in sight.

Light shone from the lake beside Owen’s bungalow, reflecting off the water, trapping itself in the trees. Claire panicked, her car shut off, she had no plan of action. She got out regardless, sensible flats on her feet instead of heels. She wasn’t in the mindset to be storming around six inches off the ground. She just wanted the messages deleted from his phone, then she could go back to her half day off.

The air around the bungalow was smooth, tracked down to birds in the trees and a few remaining cicadas. She couldn’t hear Owen. His bike sat beside the porch. Did that mean he was home? She had been to his bungalow on two separate occasions, both for work, both demanding he finalise some unfinished paperwork. The last time she was there he asked her to dinner, nonchalant as he scribbled his signature across the bottom of a performance review. She agreed mostly to shut him up, but also out of intrigue. Owen Grady had flustered her enough since he started working on Isla Nublar. Claire would be a liar if she didn’t admit, a date with him could have potentially been fascinating.

And it was, if fascinating resided in all the ways a date could go horribly wrong.

Tension had sat between them, quietly simmering before their date. It now bubbled furiously, crackling in the air whenever they got close. She refused to give him a second chance. The tension would have to learn to simmer down and go away.

Claire hesitated at the steps to his porch, her hand hovering over the rail for a millisecond. She recovered, climbing the stairs and reaching his door before it all fell apart again. What was she going to do? She could knock, wake him, if he was home, and then try to get her hands on his phone. She didn’t want to confront him, concoct a silly lie as to why she was at his bungalow at seven in the morning. She had nothing. She could be honest, tell him about the messages. Claire didn’t trust him, didn’t know him well enough to think that he wouldn’t insist on listening to them with her standing right in front of him. Of course he would choose that option. Humiliation, the blush across her cheeks, it would be a temptation too sweet for Owen Grady.

The door in front of her sat open, only the fly screen separating the inside of his bungalow to the wilderness of Isla Nublar. The hard wood door that sat behind it was propped wide open, a pair of work books holding it in place. Claire reached tentatively for the handle on the screen door. It turned without a hitch.

He seemed like the kind of careless who would just toss his phone on the counter or the couch. It would be easy, she reasoned. Sneak in. Owen wouldn’t notice.

Claire Dearing crept into Owen’s bungalow, slipping her shoes off at the door, leaving her to tiptoe with bare feet. She held her breath, immediately moving to the right where she could see the kitchen. She checked the countertop, across a few shelves, and even the small dining table Owen had set up, paperwork littering the surface. His phone wasn’t there.

She moved onto the living room, her fingers physically crossed in the hope that she would find it. The coffee table was bare bar from a candle, a few select magazine subscriptions and the TV remote.The couch too, held nothing. Claire dropped to her hands and knees, convinced his phone would be there, maybe just under the coffee table, kicked to the side after a long week.

‘Claire?’ Owen’s voice queried, quiet and gravelly from sleep. Face pressed to the rug below her, Claire jumped, hitting her head on the table as she flipped. Owen stood behind her, hair tossed, and clad in only a pair of navy blue boxer shorts. He scrubbed a hand over his face, blinking a few times before opening his mouth. She could see the confusion reflecting in his green eyes. She was caught, not only by him, but caught on him, her eyes scattering over the large expanse of skin he had on display. Claire could feel her cheeks flush pink. ’What are you doing?’

She stuttered, mouth open for a second, as she dragged her eyes from his chest to his face. ‘Do you know how stupid it is to leave your front door open while you sleep?’ she asked, lecturing him slightly.

Owen’s face hardened a little, ‘did you come all the way over here to tell me that?’

‘Well, no, I - I,’ she stuttered, mentally cursing herself. Claire had never been a good liar, not when it came to spontaneity. Little lies, she could manage. The kind of lies that explained your way out of being found in a colleague’s home - a colleague whom of which she had horribly dated - in the early hours of Saturday morning, where not the kind of thing she was good at. ‘Why aren’t you putting on any clothes?’ she asked, accidentally, as her eyes wandered for the fourth time. What was he doing? Trying to kill her?

He stared at her, hand touching his chest, ’that’s your question?’ Claire swallowed visibly, her eyes not meeting his, she nodded, tongue darting across her lips. She groaned inwardly, cursing whatever god had plagued her in the past year.

There had been a considerable drought in her life concerning attractive, able, men. She had been the reason for that drought, tough, cold, unobtainable Claire Dearing who wouldn’t let a man look at her before knowing where he stood. She was content, for a little while. Until her date with Owen blew up in their faces, her aggravation over his board shorts, and insistence for tequila to ‘loosen her up’ pushing her over the edge. It was him, she was convinced, the way he smelt of sandalwood and earth, 100% raw pure human being. His constant affections, teasing words, smug looks, wormed their way into her bone, settling themselves under her skin until she couldn’t help but feel warm when he shamelessly flirted with her. He set her on fire with a single look. What was wrong with her?

Owen didn’t move, only stared her down, still incredulous as to why she was there. The sound of her not so subtly searching his home, waking him with a jolt. He crossed his arms over his chest, their date was a month a go, he’d moved on, his ego recovered. They had returned to his over the top innuendo, and her pretending not to smile. ‘Honestly, Claire, what’re you doing here?’

‘Where’s your phone?’ she asked meekly, eyes diverting to a bare wall.

‘I accidentally left it at the raptor paddock yesterday, why? Has something happened?’ She didn’t look guilty per se, but then again, he had caught her raiding his living room for something she, so far, refused to fess up to. He worried for a second that something was wrong with his girls, it was the only other reason as to why Claire would be there, something had to be wrong.

Claire looked sheepish, her cheeks flushing a shade darker. ‘I might have drunk called you last night, and I would really love to delete those messages.’ Owen’s face lit up, his whole expression changing. He looked like a kid on Christmas, she reminisced, albeit a slightly more grown up one.

‘What kind of sordid affair did you own up to, Ms Dearing?’ He asked, smug grin pulling it’s way across his cheeks. This was so high school, her cheeks grew hotter under his scrutiny. She couldn’t look at him. Owen stepped closer to her, Claire still sitting on the floor between his coffee table and couch.

‘Nothing,’ she half whined, eyes turning to his, determined to stare him down. She wasn’t one to back off from a fight, Claire reasoned, she got caught in his living room, she would work her way out of it.

Owen chuckled, throaty, somehow a little geeky. How did he manage to look like raw sex but still laughed like a geeky teen? She bit her lip, trying to force away the smile, the fondness. She would make it out of his bungalow alive. ‘My, my, was someone looking for a second date? You know, if you just let go of the reins last time, we would have been fine.’ Claire arched an eyebrow. No chance in hell. Despite her indifference to his opinion, her eyes flittered, nervousness breaking through. Owen didn’t miss a beat, realising that he was onto something. ‘Wait, no - it was a drunk booty call, wasn’t it, Claire?’ he teased, watching as a flush rose up her neck, connecting with her beat red cheeks. Right on target.

‘Don’t be crass, Mr. Grady.’ Claire brushed off the comment as nonchalant as her voice would allow. ‘It wasn’t anything like that,’ she glared at him, encouraged to defend herself.

Owen grinned, the smile not fading from his face as he watched her, flustered and uncomfortable on his living room floor. ‘So,’ he started, readjusting his muscled arms over sculpted chest. ‘Just help me out for a second, because I’m trying to understand your situation. You came over here, half hungover, on your morning off to sneak into my house and delete messages off my phone? Messages, that you say aren’t filthy in nature.’ She wanted to shift the atrocious look from his face, shit eating grin cutting into her nerves.

‘Well, no.’ Claire picked herself up, realising, although she could defend herself in any manner, doing so from the floor, with Owen Grady, shirtless, and standing over her, was not working in her favour. ‘No. The door was open, I didn’t sneak in.’

‘You’re not in trouble here, Claire.’ His tone was mockingly reminiscent of scolding parents and stern teachers. Not that she had ever been on the end of either. The glee was almost unmistakable, his pleasure in riling her up a complete visual on his face. There was absolutely no way she could talk herself out of this.

‘I just want the messages gone,’ she was seriously starting to regret the night before, happy for Zara but never trusting in her again.

‘Alright,’ she stared, watching his face soften, his ever present humour melting away. Surely she was imagining his easy acceptance.

Claire muttered a soft, ‘what?’ in disbelief.

Owen shrugged, ’I’ll delete them.’

‘Really?’

He nodded, sincere, ‘yeah, um, I had plans to go check on the girls later anyway. I’ll delete them as soon as I get the chance.’ Claire nodded, a little uncertain of herself as she ran her hands over the ends of her shirt. She no longer needed to be there.

‘I should go,’ she muttered, straightening her clothes for a second time. She avoided Owen’s eyes, Owen in general, struggling to keep eye contact when he insisted on remaining so scantly clothed. Claire thought he was a distracting, from the floor, standing inches away from him, her height just surpassing his shoulders, proved more difficult.

Owen reached out for her, his hand gracing her arm, a playful proposition on his tongue. Her hand twitched, daring to touch him back. Daring to take him up on a morning of slow cooked breakfast and cuddling. Her head pounded, the after shocks of alcohol abuse threatening to dispel her equilibrium. She just wanted to curl back into bed for another hour. Something within her, a nasty little thought, teased that she could just as easily do the same with Owen. No. That was why she was there. Making sure those messages were gone so they could go back to quietly hating each other, while sexual frustration ruined them for other people.

Owen let her go when she politely declined.

Claire returned to her day, her drunken admissions for something close to lust, pushed out of her mind. She did not need Owen Grady. She could manage just fine on her own, had done so already. She napped for an hour, settling back into her sheets, aspirin easing her aching head.

She was doing laundry, moving clothes from the machine to the dryer, lazily. The latest issue of Vouge sat open on the counter, her attention drawn to it more than her soaking clothes. Her phone rang, vibrating across her small dining table. She picked it up, answering it without checking the caller ID.

‘I can’t get you out of my head.’ His low voice travelled through the speaker, setting Claire’s nerve endings on fire.

He had listened to her messages. She couldn’t find the strength to be mad, she almost expected it. Not a single word of promise drifted form his smug lips. Curiosity killed the cat. She exhaled shakily, ‘Owen,’ Claire warned, low belly dread tying a knot in her stomach.

‘No,’ he stopped her, ‘seriously, Claire. Our date was a nightmare, but, that doesn’t mean there isn’t something boiling between us, red hot, setting everything on fire. Can’t you feel it? I swear, it’s worse than the actual heat. I need you too, I - god - I want you.’

She couldn’t help the slight tingle of arousal that trickled down her spine, or the flush that climbed up her chest. ‘Owen, this is inappropriate.’ She breathed slowly, her heart frozen in her chest.

‘Alcohol doesn’t make shit up, it only voices thoughts you’ve had before.’ His voice was quiet, soft, a little scratchy. There was a slight lilt to his tone, something she couldn’t put her finger on, but instantly recognised when he let out a shaky, unstable breath. He was just as on edge as she was.

She whimpered at the realisation, knowing full well that she meant what she said. It was just that the timing was wrong, and she would have preferred to never speak of it - ever. ‘Where are you?’ she asked, softly, her intentions bold. Her eyebrows knitted together, her inner voice asking where the hell that question had come from.

Owen was silent, she heard him swallow hard, before responding. ‘At - at the raptor paddock.’

‘How long’ll it take you to get to your bungalow?’ He went silent again, her inner voice screaming. Her body was humming with anticipation. So what their date had gone badly, so what she wanted to rip his face off half the time. The man knew how to turn her on, setting her body on a low hum, and shutting off her brain. How’d he even manage to find those switches? By this point, she didn’t care.

His response came on a low growl, he knew what she had in mind. Ten minutes was all it took, her car crunching along the loose dirt and gravel beside his bungalow. He was already there, bike back beside the porch, hands in his pockets as he leant against the railing. Suddenly she felt uncertain, a knot tightening in her stomach as her hands began to shake. Her steps were uncertain against the ground, her eyes unable to fixate on one spot.

Owen waited for her to reach him, confidence rolling off his body in waves. She was disappointed to find him with his clothes on, small pout pulling at the corners of her lips. She wasn’t pouting for long, the second her foot touched the top of the porch, Owen had her face in his hands, his lips crashing against hers, tongues colliding in a heartbeat.

He broke away from her when air became a necessity. ’Fuck,’ Owen breathed, dropping his forehead to Claire’s. ‘Why haven’t we done that before?’ Claire didn’t respond, only raised herself up on tiptoes to kiss him again her arms sliding around his neck, holding them both in place.

Chapter Text

Simon Masrani was a firm believer in the satisfaction of his park’s guests, attractions, and employees. The yearly summer get together was a business event, set up specifically for the Jurassic World staff to mingle, let loose, and connect with one an other on a human level.

Claire hated the idea of taking time off in her afternoon. The park was closed, maintenance executed in their slowest week just before summer settled itself across the island. There was nothing for her to do and yet, she felt her time could be spent doing more important menial tasks rather than mingling at a beachside barbecue.

Masrani insisted that her appearance be compulsory and unavoidable. ‘You need to let your hair down, Claire,’ his voice sung. ‘What better way than congregating with your fellow employees. Most of which work under you, you know.’ She had rolled her eyes when he wasn’t looking, posture still straight as she willed herself to smile. How painful could it be, turn up, smile, an hour tops, that’s all she’ll need to be there for.

It wasn’t as simple as she expected. The heat was atrocious, sticky with humidity, forcing Claire away from the wardrobe she preferred, the wardrobe suitable for sitting in an air-conditioned office. She was left with no choice to hollow out the back of her wardrobe, seeking out a bathing suit and light dress. Sitting beach side, working on team building skills, or playing volley ball, was not the place for power dresses’ and pant suits.

Begrudgingly she threw on what she could find, her swimmers - Claire would be lying to herself if she didn’t admit a certain weakness for the beach - the simple pull over dress, and a pair of sandals, she forgot she owned.

*

‘Free bar’ had been the exact words that pulled Owen in every year. He would have attended regardless, but it was the bar that pulled him in, and the bar that made him stay.

Owen and Barry claimed their usual spots, cold beer’s beside their hand’s. They managed to chat successfully with the other keepers of the park, answering questions about the raptor’s an promising visits to the other paddocks. A few veterinary nurses, young women who handled the park’s dinosaurs with the utmost of respect, asked them to join in a game of Flags. It was elementary stuff, the kind of things Surf Life Savers taught their youth recruits. It was a game none the less, racing up and down the beach, diving into the sand.

Teams were divided, Owen versus Barry, miscellaneous park rangers split between them. Lauren eyed him off, teasingly poking her tongue out at Owen, both of them toeing the start line. ‘Game on, Grady!’

Owen was intent, toes buried in the sand, focus on the flags in front of him. Eye on the prize. Someone called their mark, readying them before shouting a sharp ‘go!’ Owen ran on his toes, sprinting for the flag. Lauren was right next to him, grin on her lips as wedged her shoulder into his ribs, sending the Owen crashing into the sand.

‘Cheater!’ He called out, rolling onto his back as Lauren bounced, flag and the first victory for her team, in her hand. He stayed there for a second, eyes closed as he tried to catch his breath. The sun agreed against his face, until it didn’t, a shadow causing overcast. Owen blinked his eyes open, slowly staring up at the figure shielding his eyes.

He expected Barry, even Lauren with an apology, Owen however, did not expect Claire Dearing to be standing beside his hip. A small smile graced her lips, humour tugging at the corners of her mouth. Owen smiled back, grinning his best grin as she uttered his name with a nod of her head, ‘Mr. Grady.’

Owen struggled to his feet, off balance in her presence alone. He’d known her, briefly, for two years, the maturing of his raptor’s finally drawing some attention from the asset management team, regardless, that his girls’ were not an attraction. Claire had chased him down more than once, seeking out paperwork and signatures. He saw her in the halls on occasion, her heels clacking in the main building, echoing in Control. His interactions were limited, his infatuation intense.

Claire Dearing was straight lines and pristine clothes, red hair and freckled cheeks. She looked like the kind of girl he would have known in his youth, sweet country girl, but she was quiet the opposite. Strict, controlled, from wealthy money. He wanted to know her, to understand her. The humour was there, pushing dimples into her cheeks at his slight wisecracks. His ability to push her buttons, to make her crack, were always met with unamused eyes and a slight curve of her mouth.

‘Claire Dearing, as I live and breathe.’ The dimple in her cheeks made an appearance. Owen studied her, her hair wavy under a wide brimmed black hat, make-up light, her clothes black instead of white. That was the difference, almost off putting. Simple black slip dress, the fabric almost sheer. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’ He asked, brushing the sand off his board shorts.

‘The bar’s open,’ Claire tilted her head to the left, curiosity furrowing in her brow. ‘Surely you knew that already?’

Owens cheeks flushed, ‘well, yeah, but,’ he stumbled, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck. What was it about Claire Dearing that made him feel fifteen again? ‘I’m just trying to be nice.’ He was convinced his courage would come back, the usual, giddy, self-assured Owen Grady; the man who would work up the courage to ask her on a date.

Claire nodded softly, accepting his first question without tracking back. She remained unapologetic as she followed Owen to the bar, the man taking a seat on the stool he had earlier vacated.

He called his order, the same ice cold beer he’d already had today. Turning to Claire, Owen asked her poison. Delicately, head held neatly above her shoulders, hair cropped around her face regardless of the wild curls, she answered, ‘lemonade’.

‘C’mon, you gotta order something stronger. Literally anything.’ He teased, a finger daring to poke her in the ribs. Claire buckled slightly, her body swaying, her option stayed the same. Owen obliged.

With their drinks in front of them, Owen faltered. What was he to do when he had her so close to where he wanted her. He couldn’t ask her out, not here, not at a work function. She’d kill him, he knew that much about her.

‘This is new,’ he pointed a pinkie in her general direction, Claire hummed, asking a suspicious ‘what’ as she sipped on her measly lemonade. ‘Black; you don’t wear it all that often.’ Owen shrugged, trying to prevent his inventory of her wardrobe from spilling out of his mouth. Navy blue was the darkest colour he’d seen on her, and even then the pencil skirt was matched off with a white blouse.

‘Doesn’t exactly mean it’s new.’ He shrugged again, there was no use in arguing particulars with Claire Dearing. ‘I’ve had it for years, used to wear it to the beach a lot, back when I had time to swim.’ Claire tutted, pleased to have surprised him.

‘I hardly see you as the kind of girl who frequents the beach,’ his eyes traced over the lines of her pale skin. Her freckles weren’t prominent, faded just slightly, too many months hidden under make up and locked away indoors. He wondered, briefly, if new freckles would spark across her face after today. Would she let herself stay out long enough for that to happen?

Claire grinned, her shoulders rising and falling, ‘your loss, Mr. Grady’.

Was she flirting with him? He couldn’t tell, her cool tone remained indifferent. He barely managed a, ‘Call me Owen, please’. Claire turned her head, stool spinning with her, as she let her eyes cast over the other employees, talking in small groups, some playing games in the sand. She spotted Zara, lazing comfortably on a lounge chair, skin coated in suncream.

‘If you’ll excuse me, Owen, I need to speak with Zara.’ Claire excused herself with a soft smile, slipping off her stool, before she kindly thanked him for the drink Masrani Global paid for.

He watched her step across the sand, her footsteps measured as she reached Zara. She engaged the woman, her assistant, in conversation briefly, before hooking her fingers around the hem of her dress. She lifted the fabric easily, pulling it up and over her head in one swift move. Owen stared, gawking, glass to his lips, his drink spilling down his chin.

Claire Dearing, stood only a few feet away, in all her glory, black bikini clinging to the curves of her body. He thought she was perfect in white dresses, corporate to the nines, this though, shit, Claire Dearing pale skin and red hair wrapped in a black swimsuit. This was something else entirely.

‘You’re drooling, man.’ Barry’s voice sounded behind him, amusement in his tone. Owen caught himself, moving his glass to the bar. It was too late, more than half of his beer had missed his mouth, and what didn’t, certainly dribbled down his chin soaking his singlet. ‘You still hung up on her, Owen?’ He asked, still amused as Barry took the seat Claire had vacated. Owen shook his head, trying to deny the infatuation that had his eyes glued to Claire. ‘Have you asked her out yet?’

Owen stood, ‘ah, no. Still working on it’. His clothes were soaked, shirt clinging to his chest, as the remaining beer, spilt down his front, threatened to seep into his shorts. He only grinned at Barry as he stepped away from the man, his friend, and toward Claire and Zara. Barry stared, if Claire Dearing didn’t like him when he smelt like dino dung, there was probably no chance in hell she was going to like the smell of Owen Grady soaked in Cerveza Imperial.

‘You, ah, you said you swam? Owen asked, catching Claire’s attention, as she squinted up at him. She nodded. Owen was averting his eyes, trying to keep them on her face, and not racing up and down her long, bare, legs. It was juvenile and ridiculous, the plan formulating in his head on the spur of the moment. ’Wanna see who can make it out to the bouy and back?’

Claire looked at Zara fleetingly before she responded to Owen, a smug grin pulling at her lips. ‘What do I win?’ No ifs. She was confident she would win.

‘I’ll do my paper work on time,’ he grinned.

‘You can do better than that, Owen.’

‘A date? Or, well,’ his hand was on the back of his neck, the sun beating down on his already red cheek. ‘the option to say yes or no to a date.’

‘With you?’ Her eyes narrowed, smile widening.

Owen shrugged, ‘yeah, me.’ He smiled shyly, uncertain if she would agree or not, worried that he’d just ruined everything.

‘Alright.’ Claire agreed, shaking his hand on a childish deal. They moved toward’s the water’s edge, still a few feet away. Claire turned to Owen, concern knotting her eyebrows together, ‘is that Barry? Is he hurt?’ she asked, pointing beyond Owen’s shoulder. His head snapped, eyes following her finger, half expecting Barry to be badly injured.

Claire raced past his shoulder, a squeal of laughter flowing past her shoulder as she looked over, making sure Owen knew she had tricked him. ‘Oi,’ he called out after her, breaking into a sprint as Claire reached the water.

In the end, they both won. Claire claimed victory and Owen got his promise of a date.

Chapter Text

The music was soft and low, carrying itself under faerie lights and tree branches. Husband and wife, arms wrapped around each other, swayed with the music, off-white dress to black tux, the image of simple perfection - newlywed bliss.

Claire sighed against her husband, her hands locked over his shoulder as she let him support her weight. ‘It’s perfect, isn’t it?’ She asked voice soft, her chin propped on his shoulder. Owen hummed, his hands rubbing small circles against the fabric of her dress.

It was perfect. Spring had bloomed, promising them no rain on their wedding day. The grass was green, the flowers blossomed vibrantly, the sunset with vivacious pinks and yellows, tangerine evening farewelling them throughout the night. Faerie lights and lanterns, candles and candelabra’s lit the way as celebration moved from crisp evening to warm dusk. Delilah ran around the legs of welcome guests, sniffing hands and greeting strangers. Followed eagerly, under tables and over laps, by Owen’s niece, the flower girl.

They danced against the sunset, love and laughter filling the air, the band’s lead singer crooning the last of her setlist.

‘No one’s wearing board shorts,’ Owen teased, earning himself a jab in the neck. He chuckled, the same quasi nerdy giggle he possessed after years of pushing her buttons. ‘It’s perfect, Claire.’ He hummed, pressing a kiss to her temple as his wife - his wife! - breathed against his neck admiring the last of their party guests twirl around the floor.

Claire Dearing approached her wedding like she approached everything else - it was a business deal, every clause and commitment was highlighted and understood. Each and every detail was planned to an exact minute, particular shade, and seasonal arrangement. Owen witnessed her lose sleep over flowers, bridesmaid dresses and seating arrangements. He laughed at the time, thought she was crazy, loosing her mind over nothing, biting his head off when he offered a ‘so long as you’re there, I don’t care if the flowers are real or fake’. He stood by that, barely noticing the pastel coloured flowers in her shaking hands as she walked down the isle. All he cared about was Claire, her spitfire attitude, her self control and her ability to let go - just a little - when he was around. Her off-white dress, something she found accidentally, vintage, and unobtainable to his eye until she stood in front of him, the sun shining behind her. None of it mattered, not the blue forget-me-nots tucked into her hair, or the garter around her thigh. All that mattered was Claire, standing in front of him, grinning from ear to ear.

They deserved perfect. Nothing less. They were overdue on happy moments, well deserved, fought for with blood sweat and tears.

Her voice was a whisper against his skin, ‘as perfect as me?’ He could hear the sleep in her words, the feel of her body snuggled against his. They had the venue for another hour, he’d take her home soon, Karen promised to stay back, pick up forgotten items, and sign the final cheque.

‘Nowhere near,’ Owen answered simply, pressing another kiss to her skin. She pulled her head back to look at him, her nose scrunched up ever so slightly.

Claire giggled, her eyes shimmering like clear water on hot summer days. ’You’re so corny.’ He dropped a kiss to the tip of her nose. She was fishing for that corny compliment, baiting him to say something ridiculous and completely true. He told her as much. ‘Oh no, this isn’t going to work at all. I think we need to get this marriage annulled. I strictly said - no corny men.’ She pulled away from him, smile hoisting up the corners of her aching cheeks. They had smiled and laughed so much in that day alone, it made up for the hard times when tears fell and their chests ached. His own cheeks were aching, pulling behind his teeth in a persistent thrum. Neither adult could stop.

He pulled her back to him, hand around her wrist, tugging gently as his new wife laughed, crashing back into his chest easily. He buried his face in her red hair, inhaling the scent of flowers and the musk of her perfume. Owen was careful not to ruin the delicate placement of braids and flowers entwined across her head as he held her close. He knew of the effort that was put into it, the planning and precision. He would not be the man to ruin something as slight as her hair. Not, at least, until they got home.

He kissed her a last time, before twirling his wife around the dance floor, watching as her dress swayed around her ankles. ‘You’re not supposed to be looking at my feet,’ Claire reprimanded. The important dance was done, symbolism brushed aside. He was too busy hiding memories in the curves of her dress, on the silk of the ribbon and in the hallows of the lace.

Owen watched her twirl his niece, Olivia, around the room, their skirts flying, swimming around their shoes. The toddler shrieked with laughter, four years old an enamoured with the idea of her uncle’s wedding day. There was a slight smudge, smaller than his pinkie on the back of Claire’s shoulder, a tell tale sign of little girls and chocolate cake. He hid the memory there, Olivia and her Aunt Claire, joy painted across their faces.

Claire was exhausted, he could see sleep hiding behind her eyes, begging for her lashes to flutter closed. She muttered something about ‘get Livvy another bracelet’, the sentence barely put together, and yet she matched him step for step in their lazy waltz.

‘I think it’s time to take you home,’ Owen chuckled, watching as Claire blinked slowly, her eyes struggling to stay open. She shook her head, fighting against his opinion weakly, her weight resting against his chest.

‘I want to stay here forever.’ Claire told him, head turned up to look him in the eye. The Faerie lights above their heads setting her face in a soft yellow glow.

Owen smiled, the expression creeping across his face, slowly extending itself halfway up his cheeks. ‘That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Promising forever?’ Claire nodded slowly, exhaustion winning out as she pecked a small kiss to his lips and asked him to take her home.

Chapter Text

The simultaneous shriek of disgusted children chorused in the ears of preoccupied parents. Grins split across all faces alike, chirping children laughing hysterically, begging for it to stop.

Owen pecked a second kiss to his wife’s lips, a softer kiss, one of promise. A kiss for after Christmas Eve night, when the children were tucked up in bed, sugarplums dancing in their heads.

Karen appeared, hands on children’s shoulders, ushering them away with words of Christmas presents and tin soldiers. They scurried away on light feet, the eldest, with a scrunched up nose, groaned - his eyes, his eyes!

With the children out of the room, their gleeful embarrassment echoing down the halls, Owen kissed Claire, and begged she call him Santa Claus.

*

She cried on his first day of school, small boy, big pack. Owen grinned, from ear to ear, proud of their little champ. Claire gripped Noah’s tiny hand, walking her son to his teacher’s stand.

Unfazed was Noah, strong as could be, heart on his sleeve and lunch packed. That was all he needed, Claire realised. Like father, like son. Hearty lunch and genuine care. Open, honest, kind. Noah would thrive.

She pulled the boy into her arms, crushing him against her chest, tickling kisses across his face. Noah squirmed immediately; ‘Mom you’re embarrassing me’. Claire pecked his cheek one last time, her thumb rubbing at a lipstick stain. She smiled, eyes watery, her baby already too big before her eyes.

Claire cried a little after that, watching him from the parent gate, Owen’s arm tucked around her waist. At least, when they returned home, Violet was selflessly unashamed, basking in her mother’s gently kisses in her happy little girl way.

*

Violet was 10, Noah 13 when they asked to be dropped off around the block. ‘We prefer walking up to the gate,’ they excused, lying as to not accuse.

Claire had a different routine when she dropped them off, front entrance, driving circle. Not a single, round the block stop off.

It was his truck, they confessed, and the music, ‘and the way you dress!’ It was innocent enough, still cutting through his heart.

They loved him on parent days - the only dad to bring a baby tiger to school. His zoo khaki and beat up truck, his old rock music, it was just a little ‘too much’. They sent them to private school - top tier education, better than the rest. Owen, simply, didn’t fit in. He wasn’t state of the art, shiny metal, brand new car. He wasn’t Claire, tight skirts, death glare, essential business rockstar.

He smiled through it, brushing off their apologies.

*

Noah’s senior prom needed chaperones.

That’s how they ended up there, watching their tall, blond son, skirt around the edges of his school gym, innocuously avoiding them.

Owen chuckled, Claire spied, watching Noah and his date collide. They were exploding stars and galaxies, the milky way of teenage romance, nervous energy full of brand new beginnings.

Noah’s anger towards them for volunteering dissipated as the music played and the night grew longer. He learnt to forget they were there, dissolving himself into his classmates in masquerade and Jennifer - his beautiful date.

That was, until, someone spiked the punch bowl.

Claire was the one who ended up a little more than tipsy. Owen was too amused to care.

Hanging off her husband’s arm, Claire giggled obnoxiously, hands straying - not only in front of teenagers, but teenagers who knew them as Noah Dearing’s mom and dad. When Noah witnessed his father fend off Claire’s dexterous hands for the third time, the boy stalked over, feet practically stomping across the gym floor.

‘Can you two cut it out?’ He hissed, eyes seething as he stared them down, cheeks pink. ‘You’re embarrassing me just by being here. This - this is satan’s throne on the scale of embarrassment.’ Owen nodded, his hand falling over Claire’s giggling mouth. He apologised genuinely, promising to speak to Coach Thomas, alerting her of their departure.

Noah nodded, a solitary movement of his head, before he returned to his date and senior prom.

Chapter Text

Strewn across the couch, Charlie Grady pressed her face into a book. Partially, she listened to her mother clack around the house, heels clicking against the floorboards as she got ready for her night out. ‘Charlie,’ Claire called, beckoning her daughter up the stairs.

The teen followed her mother’s voice, finding her in the master suite, earrings in her hands, dress on but not zipped. Claire smiled at her daughter, lips pursed together warmly. ’Can you zip me up?’ She asked. Charlie nodded softly, stepping forward to zip the back of her mother’s black dress. ‘I have to ask you something,’ Claire started, turning once her dress was fastened. Her daughter took a step back, her face guarded, arms crossed over her chest. Charlie hummed. Claire sat on the nearest surface, causing the worry in Charlie’s eyes to flare. ‘How do you feel about moving in with Douglas?’

‘What?!’ Charlie snapped, jaw dropping open. Douglas, although sweet, was put on the planet purely to irritate Charlie, and Charlie alone. Her mother’s boyfriend of almost two years, a British CEO to a multi million dollar conglomerate, had slowly been integrating himself into their lives. ‘Mom, no. He lives in New York! And that’s when he’s in this country at all. What about school? What about my specialists? What about Dad?’

‘This doesn’t concern your father.’

‘But it concerns me, you’re asking me if I’m okay with it. Which, I’m not, by the way!’ Charlie backed towards the door, frightened animal not taking her eyes off her mother. There were times where her daughter reminded Claire of Owen’s raptors from so long ago. Maybe it was the way he’d interacted with her as a toddler, or something that was simply Charlotte. The connection, still, was too real to be ignored.

Claire sighed heavily, her shoulder’s hunching, her hands falling in her lap. ‘We’ve been divorced ten years, honey, we’ve got to think about the future, yours, mine … ours.’

‘And he can’t be involved in that?’

‘Not with me, he can’t. We’re done, Charlie, there’s no going back.’

‘Good to know,’ the teen huffed, turning on her heel and disappearing out the door. Claire heard her feet stomp down the hallway and her bedroom door slam open, before her feet retraced their steps until they hit the stairs.

‘Where are you going?’

‘To Dad’s!’ She shouted back up the stairs, voice angry, feet skipping every second step.

‘It’s not his weekend,’ Claire shouted. He had every second weekend with Charlie, and the last half of her school breaks. That was the deal. But, unfortunately for Claire, Owen only lived fifteen minutes away. Close enough for their fifteen year old to jump between houses whenever she so felt like it. More often than not, Charlie was with Owen.

‘I don’t care!’ Charlie chorused, her voice singing sarcastically, feet still smacking against the floor. Claire didn’t try to stop her, not really, it was Friday night, she had a date with Douglas, she couldn’t force Charlie to stay at home by herself when her father was only just down the road.

*

Charlie’s bike clattered against the pavement, metal skidding slightly under her father’s car, as she fled from it. She crashed through the door, letting it slam shut behind her, alerting the man in the kitchen to her entrance.

‘Hey, Nugget,’ Owen grinned, wiping his hands with a dishcloth. Charlie flew to him, her arms wrapping around her father’s waist and clinging on tightly. ‘What’s wrong?’ His voice was concerned immediately, hands on his daughter’s shoulders. Charlie shook her head against his chest. The idea of her mother picking up their lives and moving them to another state was still frozen in her veins, caught just on the tip of her tongue. She could barely wrap her mind around it, let alone voice it. Of course they would be the ones to uproot themselves, Douglas had a big, important job, he couldn’t do that from Minnesota all year round.

Charlie stepped back, wiping tears from her cheeks as she shrugged her shoulders. ‘I, ah, ordered Thai on my way over here.’

‘Ah, Charlie,’ Owen pulled her back into a hug, ‘a girl after my own heart’.

‘And, the only one, right? Not including Mom, that is.’ She finished slyly, checking in on her father’s social life. Charlie spent enough time with him to know he wasn’t seeing on on a permanent basis, but that didn’t mean - to her - that there wasn’t someone.

‘Does this have something to do with your Mom?’ Owen asked, eyes locked onto the blue-green of his daughter’s.

She uttered the single name that made his stomach roll, ’Douglas’.

Charlie’s eyes fluttered towards the ground, even without looking at her father she knew he had drawn his shoulders back, prepared to storm out of the house and give Douglas was he deserved. ‘Did he hurt her? You?’ Charlie shook her head quickly, throwing a towel on the fire of her father’s anguish.

‘Mom wants to move in with him,’

‘Oh,’ Owen couldn’t avoid the dejected sound, as something cold slid right through his heart. Charlie hummed, turning her back on her father to flop down on the couch. ‘Doesn’t he live in London?’ Charlie nodded.

‘He has an apartment in New York too - spends a lot of his time there. When he’s not wining and dining Mom.’

‘They’re on a date tonight?’ He tried so hard not to pry - honestly - he did so well most of the time. Staying away from Claire’s life like she stayed away from his. It was easy at first, when they divorced, he reenlisted, went back to the navy, spent sometime back on the water before coming home. He had hopped to patch things up with her, but, there was no remorse, only little Charlie patiently eager for her daddy.

His daughter wasn’t a gofer between them. She said what she wanted when she felt she should say it. He never asked for information, occasionally Claire’s life became topic, most of it from Charlie’s frustrated teen lips.

She hummed, responding to her father’s question, before slipping to the floor and shuffling through his DVD cabinet. ‘Indiana Jones, or something on Netflix?’ She asked, changing the topic when she saw fit.

Owen perched himself on the couch’s armrest, watching over his daughter’s shoulder lightly, as she bounced a DVD case in her hand, and fiddled with the PlayStation remote. ‘Charlie,’ he sighed, ‘I’m not telling you what to do here, okay. But, just know you don’t have to go with your Mom if you don’t want too.’ He needed her to know that, the option was there, she could stay with him. Claire wouldn’t like it, but she would allow it.

Charlie shook her head, ‘I don’t want to have to choose between the two of you. You’ve been apart all these years and not once - not ever - have you made me choose.’ Her bottom lip wobbled, he watched her jaw shift. ‘I don’t want to choose.’ The wail that broke the end of her sentence was still unexpected, regardless of her tells. Owen dropped to the floor, his knees cracking as he pulled the young girl into his lap. He soothed her like she was a small child all over again, like they were back in the days were both her mother and father would rush to her room during a nightmare.

He cradled the girl in his arms, rocking them softly as he promised she wouldn’t have to pick between the two. That her mother, if necessary could be talked down from the ledge - it could be resolved. ‘Please, Charlie, don’t get too worked up.’ He watched her breathing, measured the length and depth. It had been years since they’d had an incident, but it didn’t stop him from keeping an eye on her. ‘You alright?’ He asked simply, dropping a kiss to the top of her head as Charlie nodded slowly against his chest.

‘I don’t understand why the two of you just don’t try to make it work again.’ Charlie sniffled, her bottom lip pouting.

‘It’s not that easy, Charlie, you don’t remember the way we used to fight.’

She grumbled against his shirt softly, ‘I don’t remember the last time I saw the two of you in a room together.’

*

They settled into their night easily, father and daughter, Thai food in their laps, Harrison Ford on their screen. Charlie didn’t voice anything else about her mother, instead she prattled on about the baseball game she had that weekend, or running an audio commentary through the movie. She quietened halfway through, her words softer, less frequent. Owen thought nothing of it, watching as the sun set around them, knowing the girl was tired.

The second movie was only minutes in, Short Stack making his appearance when Charlie sat forward, her head hanging between her shoulders, one hand on her chest. Owen turned to her slowly, curiosity watching her, as her rubs shuddered.

‘Charlie,’ her name was a precaution on his lips before he jolted forward, hand on her shoulder. He turned her head in the light, flinching at the sight of pale skin fading to grey, lips already turning blue. Last time she warned them, her tiny voice calling out - ‘I can’t breathe’ - this time she’d kept herself quiet for too long. Swearing under his breath Owen encouraged her to stay calm as his heart hammered in chest faster and harder than his daughter’s was currently capable of.

He panicked, rushing her towards the car, it’d been so long since he had seen her skin turn that colour, hear her lungs wheeze as her heart shut down. The ritual in and out of hospital visits and checkups that ran alongside the birth of their brand new daughter faded away from his mind. He couldn’t remember who to ask for when they got to the E.R. or what needed to be done. The only thing that flashed furiously was to get here there safely and in time.

Charlotte clutched his hand in the car weakly, the tips of her still too small fingers wrapped around two of his. She never once stopped holding his hand like that. Had done since she was born, tiny creature in a humidicrib, his fingers poking through plastic covered holes. It scared him now, to see her almost as fragile fifteen years later, as she had been in the first week of her life.

‘We can do this, Charlie, you’ll be alright.’ He was muttering to himself, the car careening down the road. They picked this neighbourhood for a reason, the streets were quiet, the neighbours friendly, most of all it was the closest they could get to Charlotte’s specialists without living in the medical district, and still being in the zone for the state’s best private school.

He had no idea if his words were true. The word ‘transplant’ kept floating around in his head, threatening his calm resolve. She never needed one, they’d been close to putting her on the waitlist anyway. He wasn’t there last time this happened, she was only seven-years-old, he’d reenlisted in the Navy. Claire was left to deal with it alone, Owen madly trying to bully his way back home.

*

She could feel him rubbing soothing circles across the palm of her hand, wandering to the tips of her fingers and back again. She knew who it was, felt the familiar calluses of his hand, the sandalwood of his cologne, the special scent that stuck with Dad.

Charlie moved the hand he wasn’t holding, her eyes closed, and dropped it to her chest. With a mild panic, her heart beat ticking on the monitor beside her, she felt for the new scar, the warning sign, the reason why she felt like death. Only her old one sat there, no new bandages, just the familiar bump left behind by her first corrective surgery.

She felt the sigh escape her chest, breathing suddenly a little easier than she remembered it being. ‘Daddy?’ her voice croaked out, some letters missing. His hand squeezed hers, his voice whispering that he was right there, she was all right.

Charlie’s eyes fluttered open, landing on her father immediately, the man sitting on her left, holding onto her hand tightly. She tried a smile for him, the corners of her mouth twitching as she assessed the damage on his face. There were two new lines in his forehead, creases her ailing heart couldn’t erase.

‘How’re you feeling, Nugget? A little more human?’

Charlie groaned, the vibration light in her throat. ‘What’s human? I feel like death.’ The right side of the room shifted, shuffling of fabric interesting enough that Charlie turned her head. The sight of her mother’s bright red hair made Charlie do a slow double take. ‘Am I dreaming?’ She asked slightly sarcastic, her eyes swimming in the sight of both her mother and father, Claire Dearing moving to stand beside Owen, her hand on his shoulder. The first time they’d been in a room together for longer than Charlie could manage to remember.

Claire stepped forward, her hand reaching out to brush blonde hair from Charlie’s forehead. Her hand shook slightly, as she rested it on her daughter’s face, cupping her cheek fondly. She was still wearing the black dress from her date, despite the fact that the light in the room was definitely real and not artificial. Her make-up clung to patches on her face, light watermarks of streaked mascara shadowed across her cheeks. She’d spent all night there. Charlie was supposed to lead her life in such a way that was supposed to prevent this from happening - the heartache in her mother’s eyes, the fear etched across her father’s face.

‘You know, maybe I am dead, this wouldn’t happen otherwise’.

Her mother snapped, Claire taking a step back, her eyes steeling. ‘Charlotte May Grady, don’t you dare turn this into a joke!’ Charlie flinched, rarely did her mother’s scolding sting. She didn’t miss the way her father’s spare hand grabbed her mother’s, holding her as tightly as he held his daughter. Claire melted against her daughter’s hospital bed, perching herself on the mattress, apologising for being curt. ‘You gave us such a scare.’

‘I can see that on your face. I would have prevented it if I realised it was going to happen. Nothing was out of the ordinary.’

‘Until you turned blue.’ Owen added, eyes watching her distantly. She knew her father was already in the place of ‘what if’ a grieving man sitting beside her, a man who lost his daughter thanks to her lousy heart.

Charlie cringed, apologising profusely for something that was out of her hands. Her parents only hugged her, glad that she was alright. Promising Charlie, herself, that she was fine - her cardiologist only wanting to keep her overnight to monitor her. She’d worked herself up too much too quickly before crashing back down, her system couldn’t keep up with it. Her doctors weren’t sure if there was an underlying problem, wanting to watch her just incase she had a clogged valve or tore another hole in her patchwork heart.

 

*

Claire refused to budge from Charlie’s room despite the clothes she’d been wearing for close to twenty-four hours, and the reassurance that her daughter was fine. Owen was the one who ducked out, pained watching Claire fidget in uncomfortable clothes.

She was crying when he returned, head in her hands. ‘Whoa, whoa, what’s wrong?’ Owen chanced a look towards the sleeping Charlotte, making sure she was in fact asleep, her monitor’s beeping normally.

Claire picked at the hem of her dress, eyes watching her fingers move, ‘Nothing,’ she sniffled, ‘I’m just being ridiculous’.

Owen scoffed, dropping his over night bag to the floor. ‘Claire Dearing, ridiculous?’ I don’t think those words work in conjunction with the other.’ They did - oh how he knew they did. She was ridiculous on so many different levels. But, she wasn’t allowed to look at herself. Claire was untouchable, undefeated. ‘What did that asshole do now?’ It was the only answer, the only possibility. Douglas.

Claire sighed, ’Why do you always assume the worst of him?’

‘Whenever I hear his name, it’s surrounds something I disagree with.’

‘And how exactly is it, that you hear his name?’ Claire smiled softly, knowing exactly where Owen got his information from. Charlie. He shrugged, smiling back. Charlotte, their very own tattletale, keeping the lines of communication going.

‘What’s going on, Claire?’ He tried again, crouched down in front of her, eyes begging for answers. Claire watched him for a second, wondering where on Earth they went wrong. What crossroads they had parted at with such indifference that they didn’t speak for years.

‘He didn’t want me to come,’ it was Douglas. ‘He even refused to drive me to the hospital, made me get a cab.’ Claire laughed bitterly, eyes floating back down to the hem of her dress. Owen’s voice was gentle, slightly critical when he asked why she hadn’t called him. ‘You had to be here for Charlie, in case something went wrong. You couldn’t just leave her for me. I am capable of fetching a cab, and riding in it, you know.’ Owen nodded, of course he knew. Claire stopped, hand’s rising and falling. ‘He didn’t want me to rush away from a date because my daughter was ill, despite the fact that he knew her medical history. He knew how I would feel if I wasn’t here for her.’

Owen let out a long sigh, his hands rising to grip her arms in a measure of comfort. ’You got here, Claire, that’s all that matters. Okay? You’re here, she’s perfectly fine. It could have been worse, and it wasn’t - thank god.’

Claire shook her head, ‘it’s on principle, it could have been worse. There’s always a chance that it’ll be worse.’

‘But, it wasn’t. The two of you will move on from it, he’ll learn.’ He had been given so many chances before, if anything Douglas would learn to adapt, shifting his life from business to family. Claire managed to keep the balance, if they were important enough to him, so would Douglas.

‘I called him while you were gone. It’s over.’ She was slightly mournful, her fingers pulling on a loose thread.

‘You broke it off?’

‘He refused to let me see why potentially dying daughter.’ She defended. ‘God, Owen, you hate me half the time and yet, you’d never do that.’

‘I don’t hate you.’ His voice dropped, tone serious. He didn’t hate her, never would, or ever could. They had their differences, it became too much, on top of Charlotte. It was easier to separate, divorce, and allow their daughter a life without either of them fighting over her head.

‘You did,’ she whispered, so sure of herself.

‘Never,’ Owen shook his head, readjusting his position in front of her. He watched Claire’s face distort, skin crinkling around her eyes. He didn’t hesitate, watching the mystified look on her face, as she leant in and kissed her gently on the corner of her mouth. Claire moved, just slightly, catching his bottom lip between her teeth, and kissing him back in full.

Neither adult noticed their daughter awake, in her hospital bed, witnessing it all.

 

*

‘Can you stay, just for a little bit?’ Charlie pleaded, leaning effortlessly against her father’s arm. Owen had brought them both home, Charlie cleared by her cardiologist after heavy monitoring, Claire free to sleep guiltlessly in something other than a hospital chair. ‘Please?’ Charlie pulled on her father, begging like a five-year-old in a toy store.

He looked over at Claire, the woman unlocking the front door to what used to be their home, as she gave him a small nod. He squeezed Charlie into his side, ‘I can stay’.

‘Great! I vote Grady family spaghetti bolognese and a fierce game of scrabble.’ She squealed, jumping slightly before running off into the house. Owen called out after her, a warning to take her life easy, nothing fast paced.

He stepped on unsteady feet through the house he used to call a home, the first time he stepped inside in years. Claire had disappeared up the stairs, Charlie banging around from one room to the next.

Owen followed her when she appeared from the living room, boxes of board games in her arms. He chuckled, watching her carry them into the kitchen, before depositing them on the island counter. Charlie smiled triumphantly, her hand patting the boxes gently before chasing circles around the kitchen.

‘Scrabble, Charlie?’ Owen teased, finger tapping the box as he sat at the counter. ‘God, I haven’t played that game in years - and when I did, your mother won.’

‘It’s half the fun,’ Charlie called, head inside a cupboard. Misjudging her exit, the girl bumped her head against the lip on the door, causing searing pain to radiate across the back of her head. She swore, falling to the floor, head cradled in her hands.

Claire was there before Owen, despite two seconds preciously, not even being in the room. ‘What is it about these appointments that make you jittery?’ She asked, tossing half an explanation towards Owen. Charlie had a habit of getting hyped up after a meeting with her oncologist. Claire pressed a kiss to the top of Charlie’s blonde head, hugging her softly before moving to clutch her daughter’s shoulders. ‘Slow down, for an hour, please.’ Charlie stared with great big blue eyes, focus wavering as she dared to look over at her father. ‘He’s not going anywhere, relax.’ Charlie sighed, verbal confirmation of her calm. Claire pressed another kiss to her skin, happy with the outcome before standing slowly from the floor. ‘Why don’t you settle on whatever game will keep him here longer, and I’ll start on the food.’

‘Oh, no, no, I’ll do the food. It’s a secret Grady family recipe.’ Charlie protested, jumping up.

Claire only chuckled, pressing a third kiss to her daughter’s head. ‘I think you forget, I was a Grady.’ The woman teased, leaving Charlie slightly dumbfound.

Owen strayed from their board game before it had even started, optioning to tease Claire from beside her instead from the other side of the counter. Charlie squeaked in protest for a second, before she noticed her mother’s soft laugh, and the gentle hand of her father on the small of her back.

Charlie slipped from her chair, game abandoned, parents left in solitude.

She returned after changing her clothes and washing her face, finally ridding scraps of the hospital from her skin.

‘You knew I left the room, right? Charlie laughed, finding her parents making out rather ferociously against the kitchen counter, food bubbling on the stove beside them. ‘I’m chuffed, my plan barely started and look at you, well on the way to where you should be’.

‘Plan?’ Claire asked, stepping away from Owen, slight flush on her cheeks.

Owen laughed, ‘of course she had a plan. She’s got my instinct, and your persistence for keeping things organised.’

Charlie watched the adults in front of her with a self satisfied smirk. Sometimes things just managed to fall in her lap.

Chapter Text

‘Oh fuck it,’ Claire grumbled, yanking her coat off her arms, dispersing it, and her handbag - minus purse - inside her car. ‘Owen?!’ She called out to him, heels clacking on the pavement. He was already ahead of her, hand on the Margaritaville door handle.

Owen stopped, listening to her heels clack across the sidewalk as she broke into a semi sprint to catch up with him. ‘What made you change your mind?’ He asked, Claire stopping in front of him with a gentle smile. Two minutes ago she was about ready to tear off his face for even thinking tequila was a good idea. He only wanted to knock a chip off her shoulder, loosen the tight control freak that lived within her head.

Claire shrugged, her smile turning slightly flirtatious as she stepped around him to enter the small bar. Owen followed her, slightly stunned, eyes glued to the sashay of her hips. How could she have gone from lost composure to completely in control, within seconds?

She smiled at him through thick lashes, tongue tracing over her teeth tantalisingly slow. She hit the bar with three shots, sliding the empty glasses out of her way as Owen took a stool beside her. She knew her tequila, ordering drinks from the menu he never bothered to read, shots straight from the glass, salt and lime. Maybe it was because he was old fashioned, maybe it was because she was a girl.

He stared as she called another title, another drink promising to be as fruity and cocktail-y as the last. Claire grinned over the slip of her shoulder, watching him through half lidded eyes. He lost count of the shots she’d thrown back, a tall empty glass sitting beside her wrist. How many had she had?

‘Are you going to stare at me all night?’ Her eyelashes fluttered, blue eyes unflinching as she half stared him down. Owen squirmed, shaking his head, suddenly feeling like an idiot. Of course he had been staring, mouth agape. He was staring at the woman who, not thirty minutes ago, exclaimed that she was on a diet in response to his proposition of tequila. She knocked back another shot, her cheeks flushing pink, her eyes slightly skittish. ‘It’s certainly all you’re doing,’ Claire commented, smiling politely at the barkeep who placed a new drink in front of her.

Owen shrugged, pulling his own margarita closer, swirling the glass around the top of the bar, swishing condensation. ‘I’m just confused as to why you’re still here.’

‘You want me to go?’ She asked, small pout forming across her painted red lips, ‘no’. Claire echoed the shake of his head, one hand reaching out to stop her from standing. No, he really, really, wanted her to stay. She played with the orange twirl in her glass, the ice clinking loudly between them before she took a sip of the burgundy liquid. When she turned her eyes back to him lazily, he realised he was still staring, drink slowly melting beside his elbow. ‘Call it: throwing caution to the wind,’ Claire leered, leaning forward on her stool, a hand reaching out to fall against his thigh.

Owen swallowed hard, trying not to focus on her hand and where it was sitting. Her fingers increased the pressure, biting into the slick material of his board shorts before finding home within his skin. He was too busy watching a bead of sweat roll down her neck, catching against her collar bone, to realise she was leaning in, getting closer. He looked up, green eyes meeting hers just seconds before her lips caught his.

He surrendered control at the feel of her soft lips, tongue tracing the curve of his bottom lip before begging entrance to his mouth. She tasted of cinnamon, red wine and faintly of oranges. He knew to expect the tang of tequila on her tongue, coated against her lips, the others though, they were a surprise he could only attribute her her cocktail. Owen didn’t care, kissing her back slowly, he begged for everything she gave him, the slightest ounce of power. Pulling away, his bottom lip dragging between her teeth, Claire Dearing giggled.

Owen was startled by the sound, gentle laughter pulling from her lungs, turning her small smile wide. He tilted his head, ever so slightly, watching her like an inquisitive animal. ‘What’s so funny?’ Owen asked, trying to regain whatever parts of his composure he could hold in sweaty palms.

Claire pulled back, slightly, hands still on him. One remained on his leg, sliding up further, as she pushed herself away. Claire’s other hand messily fondled with the buttons on his shirt. She had to give him kudos for that, at least he wasn’t wearing a tattered singlet to match the absurdity of his board shorts. She was hardly sober enough to care. ‘I’m going to hate myself in the morning,’ she whispered on another fit of giggles, her body swaying towards his. Hands pulling her in.

She kissed him a second time, lips lingering longer, small sound escaping her throat. Owen lost control, his hands finding themselves on her waist, fingers wrapping around her hips, fingers digging into her skin, matching pressure for pressure.

They were undisturbed in their corner of the quiet bar, unrecognised by park guests and late night drinkers. Owen had no qualms with breaking her kiss, his lips trailing across her cheek, latching to a spot behind her ear.

‘Fuck,’ Claire hissed, head rolling back, a hand clutching at his neck, fingers threading through the hair at his nape. He traced back to her mouth, kiss searing, a hand wandering from her hip to her thigh, pulling Claire flush into his lap. She giggled again, throat raspy, breathless, as Owen dropped his head, her fingers in his hair, his kisses carrying to the scoop of her neckline.

The barkeep cleared his throat in warning, reminding them that they were in fact, not alone. Claire jumped back, slipping from his lap, embarrassed flush sliding across her cheeks, mixing with the alcohol that had already exposed itself there. Tucking her hair behind her ear, Claire struggled to meet Owen’s eye. ‘I should go,’ she excused, searching for her purse.

‘Claire,’

‘No, I really need to go’. She was fluttering, jumping between being close to him and stepping away. Like a moth to the flame, she knew he was bad for her, but also couldn’t help herself. It was Zara who put the idea in her head. She needed to get laid, bad. Owen had been the first tantalising, able man to proposition her. Inhibition was gone. She saw the raptor trainer as a challenge, someone not completely tamed, wild, willing to learn. They didn’t work closely enough for this to affect her job.

Likely, Claire respected Owen too much to treat him the way she needed - without attachment.

She shook her head when he said her name a second time, eyes down, feet pulling her sloppily to the door. The chill of the island, after the sun had set, the guests tucked up in bed, usually bothered her. Her skin was on fire, threatening to spontaneously combust as she escaped from Margaritaville.

‘Claire, please,’ Owen called again, the door clicking shut behind him as he joined her on Main Street. ‘Can I drive you home?’ He asked, sincerely, the pink of her cheeks unwavering. She laughed a little at the absurdity before turning him down.

‘That won’t be necessary’.
‘Please? I want make sure you get home safely. You downed those shots faster than - well, faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.’ Owen’s laugh was nervous, his hand on the back of his neck, fingers scratching his scalp where she had clawed him earlier. His intentions were kind, the look on his face too honest to be impure. Slowly, Claire nodded, small smile pulling at the corners of her lips.

‘Yeah,’ she raised her shoulders, heavy sigh escaping her lips. The world was spinning slightly, both from the alcohol and his kisses on her skin. ‘Sure, you can drive me home.’ She handed him her keys with shaking hands, nodding softly at the car not a few feet from them.

Chapter Text

Their mornings ran through routine, quietly. Depending on agenda, they mostly got ready separately, stepping around the other when they finally met in the kitchen. His and hers breakfast was prepared in tandem, toast warmed, butter spread, milk added to coffee in the right amount, sugar left for preference.

Owen’s commute is longer than hers, he leaves before she does, granting Claire twenty extra minutes. Regardless, she’s up with him, every morning without fail. Following through with routine, only a few steps behind. She brews the coffee while he showers, cuts fruit for yoghurt - they went through a juice kick six months ago. Instead of coffee she would press fresh orange juice. Once the shower was free, on the good majority of days where she didn’t shower with him, they would swap places. Owen heating toast, or frying eggs. On occasion he’d make waffles or pancakes.

He’d abandoned his duties that morning, forgoing making breakfast to chase circles around the house, seeking out odd objects. She knew the place of every single one, his use of them so infrequent Owen lost track. Never Claire, she had the answer for everything. She’d pointed him to the entry closet, formal shoes missing in his mind, in fact tucked away for safe keeping.

Sponsors for the zoo were making a visit that morning, promising money to the most deserving exhibit. It was Owen’s turn to chat up rich business types in fancy suits. He didn’t do it often, but did it enough to be comfortable with the people, if not a little annoyed that he had to fight for money.

He was slightly frantic, a little out of place that morning as he moved from room to room, half dressed, items in his hands. Owen was head deep in the hall closet when Claire spoke from the kitchen bench, peanut butter toast in hand. ‘I want a baby,’ she announced around a mouthful of food.

Owen dropped his shoes, head bumping against the closet’s overhanging shelf. ‘Whoa, whoa - what?’ He looked up, staring at her, half mystified, hand rubbing at the back of his head, trying to soothe the ache. Claire smiled softly, hiding behind her mug of coffee, as she too a long sip, working up the courage.

‘I want to have a baby.’

‘You do?’ The smile slip across his face slowly, growing larger with each passing second as his green eyes grew wide. He stepped into the kitchen on autopilot, moving to stand beside her without thinking. Claire nodded slowly, shy. ‘Really?’ She nodded again. It had always gone unspoken, Claire’s career went first, before everything else - even Owen fell second rank after her job in most situations. But, he was a grown man, who had leopards and tigers to train, he knew how easily a career could get in the way.

Owen’s eyes caught sight of the time, ticking precariously on Claire’s watch. He was going to be late for his meeting. Chances were the sponsors, along with other investors, were going to throw their money towards the Orangutangs again. ‘You have the worst timing,’ Owen laughed. He could feel his cheeks starting to ache, the smile on his face so strong.

Claire shook her head, swallowing her last mouthful of coffee. ‘No, the timing is perfect. Everything is where it’s supposed to be, our jobs, our marriage. I’m ready for a baby, don’t you think we’re ready?’ He didn’t think it was possible for the smile on his face to grow any larger.

‘Of course we’re ready!’ He pulled her in, hand on her waist. They’d been ready for three years, ready since before they got married. But he knew, without her ever saying it, that Claire - alone - wasn’t ready to step into the tundra that was child rearing. She loved her nephews, but they were teenagers, children who were capable of explaining their problems, and asking for help. Babies though, they were a crying mess of wet diapers, 3am feedings and interrupted sleep. Claire wasn’t prepared for the disruption to her routine. ‘I really have to go. But, Claire, this - a baby. We can do this. God, can you imagine, a little girl with red hair - did I tell you I had curly hair as a kid?’

Claire laughed, pecking him on the cheek. ‘I’ve seen the pictures. I think you forget it still curls if you don’t cut it, just so.’ Her hand wandered up to the fringe of his hair, wrapping a loose curl around her finger.

‘A perfect little girl with red hair and curls - she’s going to hate us.’ Owen smiled, eyes far off in a fantasy. Claire’s hair was already slightly curly, living with it her whole life made her resent her hair. Especially in her teen years. But the image of a small girl, running around the house, chasing Delilah in circles on the grass, red curls bouncing in the sunlight - it was too perfect to deny, too precious to give up on. She also wondered about a little boy, some small reimagining of Owen, chasing his father around, prattling on about animal behaviour.

She kissed him one last time, a gentle touching of their lips before she pushed her hand against his chest. ‘Go to your meeting, we’ll talk about this later.’

Owen nodded, stepping away, ‘maybe we can throw in a few practice rounds?’ He teased, tossing a wink in her direction, smile indestructible on his face.

Chapter Text

He was used to having her close. Doctors thought, when she was born, that kangaroo care was the best way to try to stabilise Charlotte’s slightly erratic heart murmur. They tucked her into his shirt, when Claire was sleeping, his skin flush with hers, body temperature regulating.

It was only natural, once they got her home, their routine readjusted to Charlotte’s existence, that he continued to keep her close. Claire went back to work earlier than expected, her skin crawling with need. Owen didn’t hold her back, she was ready, he let her go. Instead, he was the one who took paternity leave, spending his days with Charlotte.

He stopped a woman in the supermarket one afternoon, her infant several months older than Charlotte, strapped to her chest. Owen had been struggling with the capsule that snapped into a base in the car, an easily transformed carseat. It was heavy, uncomfortable to carry and bulky when he only needed to get a few things from the store. She smiled at him politely, answering her question with gusto as she peeped in at sleeping Charlotte.

She was considerate, caring, friendly and resourceful, taking pity on the dad venturing the world alone with his tiny young. She directed him to the Moby Wrap. Explaining, on a gentle smile and soft voice, how it connected her to little Jessie.

Owen invested in one as soon as he could. Spending his days, in and out of the house, seventeen-week-old Charlotte secured to his chest. Claire worked throughout the day, Owen stayed at home, timing naps and keeping feedings on schedule. He was happy for the time, willingly sacrificed his job to watch over Charlotte, his anxiety towards her existence only heightened since she was no longer secure within her mother’s body. He just wanted her safe, healthy, loved and warm.

He didn’t hear Claire come in, her heels clacking against the floorboards, until she took them off, sneaking around on bare feet. ‘Nice wrap,’ Claire laughed, leaning against the kitchen door jamb. Owen jumped, his body jolting, one hand flying to Charlotte’s head, protecting the girl at all costs.

‘Shit, Claire,’ Owen breathed, heart rate still scoring a little above normal. She approached him quietly, apologetic smile on her face. A hand joined his behind Charlotte’s head, against his sternum, the girl tucked in tight.

Claire cooed at her daughter, blue eyes opening to stare back at her. ’Look at this, she’s so snug.’ She caressed her daughter’s pink cheeks, marvelling at Owen’s connection with her. ‘She’s going to have the worst attachment issues,’ Claire joked, hand petting the soft tuff of red hair on Charlotte’s little head. She already knew Owen toted her around as close to him as he possibly could. She had no idea about the Moby Wrap, her husband wearing their daughter.

Owen shrugged, ‘I don’t care.’ She was comfortable, content and close - the three Cs. So long as he managed to tick those three things off the list, constantly, Owen was happy, Charlotte was happy and Claire honestly didn’t mind.

‘You’re good with her,’ she whispered, eyes flicking up to his face, watching him watch her, bodies too close.

‘That’d be why you trust me with her alone, or is the hired help just hiding from me. Spying first, before they intervene.’ Claire nodded, telling Owen he was completely right, laughter in her words.
He was just naturally good with her, from the second she was born. Claire would argue, from the minute they found out she was pregnant - Owen was just a natural. It had taken her a few goes, fumbling hands and unsure actions, not knowing what was best and what was wrong. She called Karen a few times in Charlotte’s first two weeks. Crying to her sister in the dead of night that she had done something wrong, too scared to wake Owen, in fear that he would think less of her. Owen always knew what to do, how to calm her, when to fed her and when to change her diaper. He knew, two minutes and running, what cries meant what, without reference, without hesitation. She had envied him a little for that. ‘I raised Raptors, what’s a baby in relation to that?’ He was so confident, so self assured. She still didn’t understand it.

She plucked at the material crisscrossed around his back and front, Charlotte tucked in with it. ’How’d you even learn to do this? I’m impressed.’ Owen shrugged again, muttering about the internet, too ashamed to admit he approached someone in the supermarket. He pulled at the fabric that held his daughter comfortably, one hand on her back as he slipped her out of the three panels and handed her to Claire. The woman was itching to hold her daughter, fingers fluttering over the girl’s back before Owen removed her from the Moby.

Claire cradled the girl, pressing a kiss to her forehead as Charlotte mewled, her little limbs extending in a slight stretch. ‘Look at your daddy, little love, he’s so clever.’ She cooed, bouncing Charlotte. ‘You’re so clever,’ Claire reiterated, her eyes on Owen. He shrugged again, untying the Moby Wrap and pulling it off his body.

‘Yeah, yeah, I know.’ He pecked her cheek playfully. ‘I’m a regular Mr Mom, it’s a total turn on.’ Owen grinned, he was proud of the self professed title, of being the only male in Claire’s mothers group who made a frequent appearance, and knowing he could actively be involved in Charlotte’s infancy with pure confidence. ‘You’re home early.’ He commented, moving to the fridge and pulling the door open.

‘We had a meeting with the higher ups, it finished earlier than expected.’ She was smiling at Charlotte as she spoke, one hand caressing her head of fiery baby hair. ‘No one was going to miss me for the rest of the afternoon.’ She accepted the bottle of water her husband handed her.

Tossing a look at his watch, Owen smiled. ’Just in time to feed her, too. Want a sandwich?’ He asked, pulling bread from the cupboard, intent on making his own lunch. Claire nodded softly, dropping another kiss to the top of Charlotte’s head, the little girl starting to fuss in her arms. ‘Right on it, Honey.’ He clicked his tongue, turning to the fridge for extra ingredients, a hand, slowly nudging her out of the kitchen, attuned to the girl’s fussy cries; begging for someone to feed her.

‘I love you, you know.’ Claire announced, lingering in the doorway. Owen nodded his head, repeating her words. ‘We’re going to the store later, just so I can see you in the wrap again.’ She teased, watching Owen’s cheeks flush.

She should have known he would have found another way to keep Charlotte close. He was a fierce papa bear, his protective instinct in overdrive since Charlotte was born. Nothing bad would happen to her, so long as she had her father, so long as he could keep her close.

Chapter Text

She was so sick of trying. Of waiting months for nothing but her period. She was sick of hormone shots and tracking her ovulation. She was sick of watching their savings go down the drain. At that rate they wouldn’t be able to afford a baby, once they finally got one. She was sick to death of turning her marriage into a machine only there to create a life, while it destroyed two in the process. She was sick of the tears, the emotion, the hope and excitement. She was sick of being high and then so suddenly low. She was sick of lingering, with Owen, in the windows of nursery shops, wondering if only one day.

She was bellowing huge hiccoughing sobs, cross legged in the middle of their large bed when Owen finally came home. Most days his shifts were longer than hers. They both put in overtime on occasion. ‘I can’t,’ she hiccoughed, a sob caught in her chest, swallowing her words. ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ Claire stared at Owen with wide blue eyes, ruined mascara creating black circles around her turquoise orbs, colour altered drastically by the vibrancy of her red cheeks. Owen dropped himself to the bed beside her, unsure if he could touch her or not. They’d been trying IVF for a year, naturally for six months before that, before they realised they were getting nowhere fast. Claire was merely a ghost of herself, hollow, empty, working towards something with all her energy and getting no results.

‘It’s all right, we’ll get there.’ He tried to comfort, catching the negative pregnancy test sitting on the bed beside his wife’s hip.

Claire shook her head. ‘Dr Stephen’s,’ she hiccoughed, hand on her chest, ‘he said my chances were slim. He said that we had to know when the cause was lost. It’s lost, Owen. We’re destroying ourselves, this isn’t healthy. The shit we’re going though - it’s not just going to magically fix itself as soon as I get pregnant.’ She sniffled, limbs curled into her chest, tears falling silently down her cheeks. He wondered when exactly it was that she broke. Snapping clean in two. When did the world stop spinning for her, for them, when had they cheated cruelty enough to be hit so hard.

Owen pulled her into his arms, wrapping himself around her tightly. This wasn’t supposed to be how they lived. So hell bent on creating life, they lost control. ‘How about we give this a break? No more IVF treatment, or the inside of an OB/GYN. Just you and me, movies on the couch, our jobs during the day. We don’t need a kid. We’ll get a dog, or a cat - some fish maybe?’ He was throwing suggestions into the air, hoping she’d latch onto something.

Claire nodded her head softly, her quiet voice agreeing to time away from trying to conceive. They needed to breathe.

*

Life proposed a new perspective. Flowers bloomed, the sun shone, their skin hummed with warmth. She had a plan for everything. It was rare that things didn’t go according to Claire Dearing’s plan, but when it failed, paper crumbling in her hand. Claire fell.

He picked her up, dusted her off. The frantic look in her eye dissipated, taking a backseat before she lost control a second time. But this, Claire’s desire to start their family. It shook her hard when it failed to happen. She put on a smile, soldiered on, despite the fact that she was bleeding, knife wedged between her ribs. He saw it in her eyes some days, the calculating stare that glared at the empty spaces of their home, imagining the children that should be playing there.

Their home was haunted with nonexistent children, the halls full of phantom toys, the nights full of cries calling out to mother and father.

‘We have other options,’ he spoke up, movie playing quietly in front of them, Claire curled into his side, tears drying on her cheeks. ‘If you still really want this,’ two years - they’d been trying for a baby for two years. With and without medical assistance. And still, they were left with nothing but silver scars on their marriage licence and a period where they didn’t speak for two weeks. They were going to start again. They were going to try again. Claire’s doctor had let them down so softly, Owen was half questioning if she’d said it or not. Infertile. They’d both been tested, at the start of the year, all results came back normal. Now, now her doctor wasn’t so sure.

‘You heard what she said,’ Claire’s voice wobbled.

‘Not what I meant. There are children already on this planet who are just as deserving of love whether they’re biologically ours or not. And sure, it’s a shitful process, but Honey, it’s not as though we haven’t already been waiting for this. The satisfaction of being able to hold that child - it’s going to be worth it.’ He hesitated, breath held in his lungs, trap door below his feet quaking with uncertainty. She was either going to swallow the idea, perhaps even kiss him for his ingenuity or she would cry, pulling herself away from him, cursing the world all in her head, begging not to be touched, to be heard, or remotely acknowledged.

‘I really don’t want to talk about it.’ She pulled away from him, tucking on the throw blanket that lay across the back of the couch. She tucked it around herself, eyes glued distantly to the television set. Owen didn’t want her to sit in a funk, but he didn’t know what else to do. He thought hope was lost, until she snuck a hand out from under her blanket and wrapped it around his fingers. ‘It would be nice, though.’

*

They thought the adoption process would be easier than their rounds with IVF. In some ways it was, in others it wasn’t. The wait was killing them the most. They’d filled out the paperwork, sat through the seminar’s, the meetings, the personal inquiries, the training sessions. They passed through each flaming hoop, colours passing them by.

It had been five months since their case worker, Janet, smiled at them softly, her folder closing against their kitchen bench words tumbling from her mouth. ‘Now they just have to match you.’ Her teeth where slightly yellow, straight, not a single crook, as she smiled through perfectly applied lipstick. Claire squeezed his hand before they got up to walk her out.

Five months.

The guest room had been transformed. The neutral colours on the walls, painted by Owen two-and-a-half years ago, when they first started trying for a baby. Excitement racing ahead of him. They left the king single bed - there for Zach or Gray when they boys used to visit - as it was, the linen changed to light blue shade, a discount children’s quilt thrown on top. A crib took residence in the far corner, the desk of drawers cleaned out, the cupboard space emptied. Their whole home lay in wait, floorboards ceased creaking, the walls held their breath.

With each day that turned into a week, into another month, Owen watched Claire’s hope fall.

‘Hengki still isn’t eating properly, it’s starting to worry me, Owen.’ Sarah commented, following Owen back to the food shed, buckets in hand. Hengki, their resident Sumatran Tiger, had been playing up for weeks, moody, disinterested. Sarah, only a junior trainer, had locked him under her belt as her favourite. Owen was convinced the tiger was asserting his own rule, rather than acting out due to illness. Sarah thought otherwise. They walked the expanse of the tiger enclosure, dirt crunching under their feet. ‘Hey, isn’t that your wife?’ Sarah pointed just ahead of them, to the tiger pergola, walkie in her hand.

Owen followed the line of her arm, catching sight of the red headed woman, waiting patiently, trembling slightly. ‘Uh, yeah,’ he responded, slightly dazed to see her there. He couldn’t pick the expression on her face, her hands fidgeting in front of her. Owen broke away from Sarah, the girl taking the bucket from his hand as he stepped towards his wife.

‘Hey, what’s wrong?’ He could only assume something was wrong, otherwise she would have arrived with food - and it was nowhere near his lunch hour. Claire fluttered a smile. It broke across her face, tears pooling in her eyes, as the corners of her mouth extended up to her ears.

‘They called,’ she breathed, knee buckling. ‘We have a match, Owen. They found us a baby.’ Owen stopped, two steps away from her, body completely frozen.

‘What?’ She was antsy, incapable of staying still. He looked at her as though she was an impatient toddler, too excited to watch the world pass them by. His brain still hadn’t caught up, her words made sense, but the meaning wasn’t ringing true.

‘They found us a baby!’ His ear drums popped, the world around him running at a high velocity. He couldn’t hear anything but Claire’s words. The woman in front of him stepping forward, taking his hand.

‘What?’ He asked a second time, full of disbelief. The happiness radiating from her face didn’t seem real. She hadn’t looked like that in years, he’d almost forgotten what her brightest smile contained.

Claire laughed, happy giggle ‘C’mon, they’re waiting.’ She tugged on his hand, pulling Owen out of the zoo.

*

The building was quiet despite the clicking of keyboards and whirring of printers. Someone other than Janet met them in the foyer, promising them just a moment. They managed to wait almost three years, what was a moment in comparison with that?

Claire was shaking beside him, her fingers entwined with his, cutting off the circulation. He was just as anxious, trying to keep it all in, trapping it his chest, letting it hum like bees caught in his ribs.

Janet’s appearance had Claire rocketing to her feet, her hand sill attached to her husband’s, her steps uncertain as she stepped on the spot. Tears rolled in fat lumps down Claire’s cheeks, Janet only a few steps away, small child in her arms. ‘Hey, Mom and Dad.’ Janet smiled, bouncing the infant wrapped in blue. She met Claire halfway, smiling kindly at the woman who wasn’t sure if she could touch the boy or not. ‘This is Dominic.’ Janet deposited the boy in Claire’s shaking arms, tears blurring her vision of the child. Owen was beside her, and arm around her waist, supporting her, keeping her on her feet.

She almost choked on the whisper that drifted from her lips. ’Hi, baby.’ Claire held contact with the brown eyes that blinked up at her, seemingly unaffected, yet curious, at the sudden ball of emotion holding him.

Janet spoke, as Claire cried, Owen tracing a light finger over Dominic’s cheek. ‘They’ve been calling him “Dot”, for a couple of days.’ Janet smiled fondly, explaining they had the boy over a transition period. ‘Now, I know your preference was a newborn, and Dot here is just a little over a year old - we can’t be beggars and choosers in this business.’ Owen nodded his head, agreeing completely without moving his eyes from his wife and the baby. ‘He’s healthy, happy, perfect in every way.’ They didn’t ask about his parents, about why he was alone in the world, why he was now in their arms.

‘He’s ours?’ Owen asked, voice soft. Dominic, in Claire’s capable arms reached up to grab hold of a strand of her hair. It was longer now, gone were the days of her Senior Asset Manager’s bob, now loose waves that surpassed her shoulders.

Janet smiled. ‘You’ll only be allowed to visit him for a couple of days, then you can take him home. If all goes well, the two of you can eventually apply to be his legal parents. I have no doubt that you two will do splendidly - he’s yours.’

*

‘C’mon, Mom!’ Six-year-old Dominic Dearing called from the hallway. ‘We’re gonna be late!’ He tapped his foot against the floorboards, arms crossed, back leaning against the open front door. ‘Daa-d!’ He called for his second resource, the man already out at the car.

Owen stepped forward, hand on his son’s shoulder, sympathising with the boy’s urgency. The first day of school was important after all. Claire, specifically, had been stressing the importance all summer. She’d been teary eyed the night before, after they tucked Dot into bed, and said goodnight. She had promised not to cry until he’d walked into the school gates - he knew she could make good on that. Whatever was holding her up, the clock still ticking without her. He’d lost count of the days in which she’d been ill, nauseous and dizzy. The longer it went on the more concerned Owen got, Claire only insisted that she was in complete health.

‘Go hop in the car, bud. I’ll get her.’ He ruffled Dot’s hair as he passed the boy, heading for the stairs. ‘Claire?’ He called out, ‘Honey, we’re going to be late.’ His shoes clunked against the floorboards, the sound softening once he hit carpet in the master bedroom. He thought the room empty until he heard the click of her heels on the ensuite tiles. ‘Dot’s getting antsy, we need to go.’ He popped his head into the ensuite, Claire washing her hands in the sink. ‘Everything alright?’

She nodded slowly, ‘just feeling a little off.’ She brushed her hands down the front of her clothes, collecting herself before smiling at her husband, promising him for the sixth time that week, she was fine. He took it easily, still watching her with caution but accepting her words.

The schoolyard was cluttered with over excited children, nervous energy thrumming in the air. Dot stood patently beside his parents, holding both his mother and father’s hands as he watched children run rampant on the jungle gym. ‘Can we go home now?’ Dot asked, head pulled back to stare up at his parents. Owen laughed, chuckle reverberating in his chest as he watched Claire crouch down to their son’s height.

‘You’re going to have a great day!’ She told him with a bright smile. Hands on his shoulders. He looked so small with his large school bag on his back, almost the same size as Dominic himself. All she wanted to do was hug him, hold the boy tight to her chest and never let him go. He knew the alphabet, could count to ten, and even write his name with a shaky hand. She didn’t know if she wanted to leave him in the hands of his new teacher or quit her job and home school him for the next twelve years. ‘You’re going to meet new friends and learn lots of things. Before you know it Daddy and I will be here to pick you up.’

‘But you’re crying,’ Dot frowned, little hand touching his mother’s cheek. She thought she had better control over the floodgates, clearly she had been wrong. Claire wiped at her face, swiping away her tears as she smiled wide.

‘I’m just so happy. My little boy is growing up.’ She kissed his cheek, pulling the boy in for a tight hug as his teacher stepped out of the class room and asked for her students to line up on the caterpillar. Dot squeezed her hard, before pulling away to hug his dad. Claire noticed the slight wobble in the little boy’s lip, the easy tell that he was upset, tears on the brink. He didn’t cry. Instead he waved at them both before dropping his hands to tight fists beside his hip. He joined the other too small children on the caterpillar, eyes wide, faces bright. Some were crying, some refused to line up, Claire worried that she second Dot saw emotion on the other children’s faces that he too would loose it himself. He was fine.

Miss April dismissed the parents of children whose names she’d marked off, leaving the ones with their clingy, distraught five-year-olds to stay a while longer. Claire hesitated, waving softly at Dominic until Owen grabbed her hand.

Claire was silent on the way back to the car, her body leaning against Owen’s slightly, his arm around her waist. ‘Are you alright?’ He asked, noticing she was a bit sluggish, a hand on her stomach. Whatever bug had been plaguing her for the past couple of weeks was keeping her down, her head just above the water trying to cope with it.

‘I feel sick,’ she commented softly, her voice normal, if not a little distant.

‘I really want to take you to see a doctor.’ Claire waved his comment off.

‘No, honestly, I think I’ve just been worried about Dominic starting school’.

‘You know, Dot’s gonna be fine. He thrives in a learning environment. We’ll be here at three and I bet, he won’t want to come home.’ Owen chuckled, squeezing the hand on her waist in reassurance. They hand’t coddled Dominic, although they had kept him close. He was in play groups and daycares, kindergartens and programs, the idea of spending the day away from his parents was not foreign to the five-year-old. Claire’s nervous agitation for his first day of school had bore through the boy’s easy confidence. It didn’t help either that she hadn’t been well, worrying both her boys no matter how many times she assured them on her health.

Owen knew it was only a matter of time before the other shoe dropped, before she crumbled, so ill she couldn’t move. They’d had bouts of the flu in the house the year before, Claire the last one to catch it. She’d been so stubborn, so insistent that she was completely well, that she almost found herself in the hospital. He knew they were facing a similar situation, she refused to do anything more than sip some ginger ale for her nausea.

He felt the moment her body started to slack against his. He reacted without thinking, hooking an arm under her knees and hoisting her up, curse on his breath.

*

Their family physician laughed softly, fond smile on her face. Claire had come to in the car, insisting Owen didn’t need to taker to the doctor, but just home. She promised to rest, to let him dote on her - which coming from Claire was a big promise. He refused to accept her terms, driving his wife to Dr Willis, ignoring her complaints.

They were sitting in Dr Willis’ office, waiting for Claire’s test results. Their doctor hadn’t said much, only that she wanted to check her suspicions before saying them out loud. Owen sat beside Claire, leg bouncing against the carpet. He was chewing on the broken off arm of a gingerbread man, something he’d bought in an attempt to get his wife to eat. She wasn’t hungry, nor was she thirsty enough, to accept the bottle of orange juice he’d bought with it.

She reached over, quietly, health magazine in her lap, to anchor a hand to her husband’s knee. ‘You’re driving me crazy,’ she half hissed, eyes not leaving the page.

Owen’s face was apologetic, green eyes wide and worried, mouth slightly turned down. ‘Are you sure you don’t want the orange juice? I saved you the gingerbread man’s head - look, he’s got M&Ms for eyes.’ He waved the treat in front of her, hoping in some way it’d entice Claire to eat it. She opened her mouth, ready with a response when Dr Willis walked back into the room.

‘Okay, you two. Now, I had my suspicions when you told me your symptoms, I ran the tests before proposing my diagnosis because I know you’d want to be as sure as possible before entertaining the idea.’ Owen gripped the hand of Claire’s that sat on his knee, already prepared for the worst. ‘I’ve booked you in with a specialist down the hall, once we’re done here, to double check a third time. But, I’m fairly confident when I say: congratulations, you’re pregnant.’ Claire was still, her eyes unflinching, the gentle tap of her heartbeat resinating through her wrist slowed for a second before speeding up.

Owen didn’t know what to do, or how to react. He could feel excitement pressing against his chest, a wonder pulling a smile across his lips. ‘That’s not funny, Sam.’ Her voice whispered, tears appearing on her cheeks. She was still as the ocean, humming but not quite making a move.

Dr Willis smiled sympathetically, before handing over the paperwork for Claire to read herself. They’d been through this enough times, one negative pregnancy test after another, jumping between Dr Willis and Dr Stephen’s - between the two of them, plus Claire and Owen they all tried to figure out why it was she couldn’t conceive. They were there through the heartache. They knew what it was like for them. And yet, she couldn’t accept the words out of Sam Willis’ lips as anything but a joke.

Dr Willis explained the results, like she had explained the tests to begin with. The smile on her face, was soft, genuine. ‘I’d say, going off what you’ve told me and your hCG levels, you’re getting close to about 12 weeks.’

Owen mentally did the math, counting out on his fingers, his hand freed from Claire’s grip. ‘Three months? She’s three months pregnant.’

Claire shook her head, ‘No. I can’t - we tried to conceive. I couldn’t.’ A lone tear escaped, slipping down her cheek.

‘I promise, Claire, I wouldn’t be telling you this if I didn’t check the tests twice myself. The facts are right there in front of us. We have an ultrasound and a tech just down the hall - they’ll squeeze you in as soon as you’re ready.’

Owen turned to his wife, watching the shell shocked disbelief flitter across her face. He grabbed her hand, squeezing reassuringly. He hadn’t noticed the hand that hovered over her stomach, too scared to trust Dr Willis’ words. ‘What if you’re wrong? What if the sonogram doesn’t show anything?’

Dr Willis coerced the couple of of her office, leading both of them down the hall and into another room. A young technician was waiting with a wide smile, the name Stephanie printed on her shirt. Dr Willis excused herself after introductions, leaving Claire and Owen with the girl.

‘Dr Willis said you’ve just found out, congratulations!’ Her voice was sweet, still caught in easy youth, her degree still wet with ink. She applied gel to Claire’s stomach with a small warning towards the chill. Owen thanked the girl, eyes glued to his paling wife. ‘Okay,’ Stephanie said, clicking a few buttons on her keyboard with one hand, while the other moved the transducer over Claire’s abdomen. ‘Everything looks great, to me. You know, great part about finding out you’re pregnant now, instead of earlier - your baby is gonna look a lot more like a baby and less like a jellybean.’ She smiled, looking directly at Claire. ‘Are you ready to meet your baby?’

They were still in denial, Claire more than Owen, only ten minutes ago were they told she was pregnant, after close to eight years of heartache and distress. After thinking this would never happen, they were about to be face to face with the reality of deepest dreams coming true. Claire gave a stiff nod, her hand squeezing the life out of Owen’s, threatening to crush the bones.

Stephanie tapped buttons, bringing the screen beside Claire to life with a black and white grainy image. ‘Holy shit,’ Owen hissed, the image in front of him very clearly the shape of a baby. Claire wasn’t breathing beside him. ‘Holy shit,’ he repeated again, the hand not being crushed by Claire’s death grip, scrubbed over his face.

‘Do you want to hear the heartbeat?’ The tech asked, smiling at her patients. Owen turned wide eyes on her, completely overwhelmed. She’d only just shown them the small, very real baby, inside of Claire. Owen nodded blindly, his eyes falling back to the screen. Another set of clicks from Stephanie, and suddenly the room was filled with a whooshing sound. It sounded, to Owen, like distant battle drums, something from a cinematic blockbuster not the heartbeat of his unborn child.

The second noise to hit his ears was a sharp laugh followed by a soft sob. Claire’s hand scratched at his, trying desperately to wrap her fingers around his palm. Owen turned towards her, giving her his hand to hold, as he watched her face with confusion.

She was laughing, and crying, and laughing and crying. The smile on her face was genuine, the look in her eyes humorous and not scarred.

Years ago they were hellbent for this outcome, to be sitting in that room, blurry figure on the screen, heartbeat in their ears. The heartache became too much, they stopped running for that dream and set another. They got Dominic and they were happy - in love - with him. They didn’t dare wish for anything more. And yet, there it was with a steady heartbeat, very real beneath her skin. ‘We’re going to have another baby,’ Claire whispered eyes full of tears despite her glee.

‘Apparently so,’ he whispered, voice suddenly weak. He kissed the top of her hand, holding it close.

She giggled, laugh bubbling through her throat. ‘You’re crying.’ She tapped at his cheek with their clasped hands. He laughed with her, the sound of their child’s heartbeat still thrumming in the air around them.

It was simple enough to think they had it all, the two of them and Dot - but good things came to those who put in the time, the hard effort and the tears. They didn’t ask for a second chance, but in that moment they thanked their lucky stars.

Chapter Text

They held out for a while, trying to keep their secret to themselves. Karen knew, that was inevitable, Claire bursting at the seams with excited energy. She was compelled and worried, too, concerned this daydream would burst and she’d find herself back in the middle of their hardships, no baby, no Dominic, Owen walking out the door.

Her clothes were starting to pinch, pink marks left behind by her work pants and skirts. Owen had no problems kissing the marks left behind on her skin, worshiping the subtle curves that housed their child.

It was only a matter of time before Dominic started noticing. He already had, routine in their home slightly altered, behaviour changed. Nothing for the worse, but slight enough that the almost six-year-old picked up on it.

They didn’t want to go over the top - find some flashy way to explain something rather simple to him. There were no special dinners or lunches, extra deserts to soften the blow. They didn’t have toys on hand, or sugary treats, nor the promise of more TV time. He was sitting at the kitchen bench, practicing his sight words for school, Owen on the barstool beside him. He didn’t see his mother nod her head, his father copying the action, when she stepped in the kitchen, work clothes still on - handbag in hand. Nothing was a miss.

Claire dropped a kiss to his head, ruffling his hair softly as she asked about his day. Dot responded, as Claire leant over to kiss Owen hello, the both of them prepared to break the news.

‘Dominic, your dad and I have something we need to talk to you about.’ Claire started, pulling a bar stool around so she could sit opposite her husband and son. The boy stared at them, expectation burning in his young brown eyes. ‘You might have noticed I’ve not been very well.’

‘You’re sick in the morning and sometimes after school.’ Dominic pointed out with a simple smile. Claire had been promised her morning sickness would wane off, especially once she was well and truly in her second trimester - those promises died on lying lips. She was still sick in the morning, and nauseous for most of the afternoon, something Dot never failed to notice.

‘That’s right,’ Claire smiled, ‘There’s a reason why I’ve not been very well, and why I’ll start getting very tired.’ She was already exhausted. Four months pregnant and she could barely make it through the work day without the strong desire to take a nap. Claire wasn’t about to deny that on the days she picked Dot up from school, they both took a nap before starting his homework for the day.

‘What is it?’ Dot asked curiously, eyes darting between his mother and father.

Claire pulled the sonogram picture out of her purse, knowing the boy would quite understand what it was on sight. She placed the picture down in front of his inquisitive eyes. ‘You’re going to be a big brother.’

A beat passed. Dominic stared at the picture, head tilted to the left, eyes costing over the fuzzy image. Claire held her breath, Owen sat waiting on standby for the boy to react.

‘You’re growing him?’ He asked innocently. Dot already knew a little about what bringing children into the world entailed thanks to a nature documentary on National Geographic. Claire nodded, it was enough information for now. What she knew was spinning around in his head, was accurate enough they didn’t need to correct his thoughts. ‘When can I play with him?’ He asked curiously.

Claire laughed, ‘Oh, not until just before the Easter Bunny comes. You know, it could be a girl.’ She added, noting Dominic’s male preference in pronouns. He shrugged his shoulders, as if to say, we’ll see.

‘Can I go now?’ Dot asked patiently, Avengers pencil tapping between his fingers. His parents looked at him, startled. They were prepared to talk about this for hours, to answer questions and wipe away tears. Claire was sure they were going to be hit with a storm of ‘you don’t love me anymore’’s and variations of the like. Instead, Dominic sat calmly, seemingly happy.

‘Do you want to talk about it?’ Owen asked, peering around to get a good look at his son’s face. Dot shook his head, lips popping on a ‘nope’. ‘Are you okay with this news?’ Owen continued to pry. Dominic nodded his head, assuring his parents in a very mature way for a six-year-old that he was completely fine with it. There was no use getting excited when he had to wait until next year to play with his baby brother. He’d finished his homework and really wanted to play with his LEGOs, all afternoon, could he please be excused to do so. Owen and Claire let him go, the boy slipping off his stool and running down the hall.

Claire turned to Owen with a huff, standing from her stool, she moved to occupy Dot’s in order to lean on her husband. ‘That was normal right?’

‘I have no idea.’ He replied, kissing the top of her head with a chuckle. Claire hummed, watching the space her son had disappeared into.

‘Maybe I should call Karen,’ She mused, humming to herself. Karen had been there source for all things little boys since Dot was adopted. She knew the ins and outs of their brains, helping to provide her sister and brother-in-law with desperately needed information.

He was nodding his head, letting Claire get up from her seat beside him when Dominic called down the hall, his voice begging for his father. Owen grinned, Dot was already starting to jump between ‘daddy’ and ‘dad’, finding more maturity in the later to fit in with his friends. Soon there’d be another little boy or girl, in their home, the easy patter of mischievous feet and the gentle cry of ‘dada’ before ‘daddy’ could be completely formed.

He couldn’t wait.

Dominic though, he was the important one who needed to adjust to the new news. His response, however, was not as they had expected.

Chapter Text

He was obsessed with her shoes. From the first day he met her, the clack of her heels resinating against linoleum, echoing across cold, hard metal. Black and blue, beige and pink, the colours varied, mostly solid, none of that leopard print shit. The brands changed, or at least he thought so anyway, the shape would variate, thick pumps and thin stilettos. Owen, although highly uneducated in the shoe world, always managed to recognise the blood red sole of her Louboutin’s.

He never moved beyond simple obsession, watching her approach in sleek black stilettos or matte white pumps. His eyes mostly fixated to her shoes, when his attention wasn’t glued to the fire of her hair or the intensity in her eyes.

Something shifted after the incident. Ever since he told her she wouldn’t last three seconds waltzing through the jungle in her ridiculous shoes. She proved him wrong. Claire Dearing made it from start to finish, she ran, she jumped, and she fell in those beige Manolo Blahnik’s. She lived though, made it to the very end, covered in mud, soaked in sweat, clothes torn to rags. Her shoes remained in one piece, heels attached, still wrapped around her feet. As if to drive it a little further, she never complained, not a single squeak about twisted ankles.

The obsession didn’t dissipate, even with the Indominus Rex on their tracks, their lives hanging in the balance. He still managed a glance at her, strong and powerful, war torn, shoes on her feet. He almost had a heart attack just at the glimpse of her dainty little heeled foot beside his larger boot clad one on the quad bike.

Owen Grady didn’t fancy himself as the kind of man into fetishes and kinks. He liked it rough, fast and hard - that was bred into him through his time in the navy. Days and nights too far between his next conquest and his last, his sordid attempts to let off steam. But, he’d watched Claire Dearing race across Main Street, flare in her hand, T-Rex hot on her heels. She ran from that creature, luring it out towards the Indominus, with every possibility of breaking an ankle and dying in the process. She managed to keep her feet in her shoes, her bones in the socket, her feet firmly on the ground.

He managed to hold onto the last tethers of his sanity until they had a room. Just he and her, Owen and Claire, no more nephews, no more dinosaurs, no more Jurassic world - for the time being. The door clicked shut behind them, Claire sighing dramatically, half hunched over, one hand slowly pulling the heel of her foot gently from the shoe. He knew she had blisters, knew her feet were aching, possibly bleeding. She didn’t waver, willing to hold out to the very last second, even when she swayed, whimpering as she stood to step off the ferry. Owen was beside her, hand hovering behind her elbow, ready to catch her if she needed. He was too in awe to take away her pride, to swoop her up and carry her, he let her walk, never too far away.

He almost choked when he noticed what she was doing, seconds away from removing the first shoe. They were exhausted, muscles ached, their heads pounded, they smelt of the jungle and gasoline. But he snapped, no longer willing to wait. Owen stopped her, dropping to his knees in front of Claire, one hand behind her knee, the other wrapping around the wrist that was removing her shoe. She stopped, startled, tired eyes watching his face. He took her hand, letting her foot, plus shoe, lower to the ground. He kissed it, the palm of her hand, then her fingers, gentle, light kisses. She didn’t pull away.

He did, moving from her frozen hand, to her knee, peppering kisses down her leg to the top of her foot. Claire was fidgeting, her feet aching, making her shake. He changed tactics, no longer on his knees, Owen walked Claire towards the bed. He kissed her softly, lips meeting hers almost cautiously as he sat her down, knees dropping to the carpet a second time. Claire leant back on her forearms, exhaustion almost winning out against the large comfortable bed.

‘Owen,’ she sighed, ‘we’re filthy.’ He didn’t care, his hand back behind her knee, his mouth trailing kisses down her leg. He stopped at her feet, spare hand taking her foot into his palm, kissing the dirty skin her shoe didn’t cover. ‘Aren’t you going to take them off?’ She asked, after he repeated his actions on the second foot, kisses starting to trail up her legs, instead of down. She had decided on keeping him if he was going to rub her feet. Clearly, Claire had the wrong impression.

Owen grinned, pressing a measured kiss to her knee, eyes holding hers above him. ‘I’d prefer it if you left them on.’ Something flashed in his eyes, needy, a little desperate, all too cunning.

‘Owen,’ she sighed, ‘I’m not having sex with you. Not until we’ve both showered.’ She caught herself; since when had the idea of sex with Owen Grady become a reasonable option after showering? She assumed sometime between him kissing her and their sharing of a room. His free hand started pushing at the fabric of her now grey skirt, lips following the path as his hand sliding over her thigh, his right shoulder tucking under her knee. She didn’t stop him, only kept talking, ‘I’m fairly sure I smeared dinosaur shit across my chest, and you - gasoline on your skin. That, that’s really not good - oh!’ She stopped, cut off mid sentence by her own squeak, Owen’s teeth nipping on the inside of her thigh. ‘Fuck,’ she hissed, his stubble scratching her sensitive skin, too close to where she suddenly wanted him.

Claire locked her leg around his shoulder, beige heel digging into his back. Owen moaned, burying his face into her thigh. He nuzzled against her skin, repeating the same little nip and suck looking to create the same hiss that had drifted from her lips.

‘Do you always swear in bed?’ He asked, voice vibrating against her skin, making Claire shift almost uncomfortably. Owen had witnessed Claire Dearing make grown men cry in less than fifteen words. Never once did she break a sweat or cut a curse. And yet, there she was skin under his lips, fowl language in her mouth.

‘Do you always have a thing for high heels?’ Claire teased back, half glaring at the man poised between her legs. Owen shook his head, pressing a feather light kiss to her centre, cotton panties already soaked.

‘Just yours - well, you, in them.’ The words were almost a purr from his lips, as the raptor trainer pulled away from her, sitting on his feet. Claire glared at him, curious for his sudden withdrawal, lazy smile still on his face. She quirked an eyebrow, asking a silently question, he seemed expectant of her to make a move. ‘You wanted to have a shower?’ He answered her with a question, smug grin pulling at his lips.

Claire sat up in a huff, pushing her skirt down as she moved, trying hard to not notice the slight stubble rash blossoming on the inside of her thighs. ‘Oh, so you’re going to start something and not finish it then?’ She asked, humorous lilt to her words. They were both too tired, too tired to argue or to flirt, let alone get themselves into a shower or have sex. It didn’t stop Claire from being annoyed, her cheeks burning slightly, surely a soft pink. Nor did it flick the switch, snuffing out the persistent throb between her legs.

Owen hummed, shrugging his shoulders at her feet, ‘it’s all in your court.’ Claire leant forward, arm wrapping around his neck, bringing them close enough for their lips to meet, tongues clashing instantly.

‘You can join me in the shower, but the heels stay here.’ She breathed against his lips, blue eyes locked with his green. She didn’t care whether she showered with him or alone, so long as she could scrub the jungle from her hair and dinosaur from her skin.

Owen smirked, ‘Can you wear them later?’ He asked, somewhat hopeful. Claire rolled her eyes, ready to bargain with him before she changed her mind, nodding her head in confirmation. In a second, he’d pulled her shoes off, allowing her feet to stand flat against the carpet. The shoes were gone for now, with the promise of a return. For now, she was just thankful they were off her feet.

Chapter Text

He was drifting in and out of wakefulness, all his energy focused on keeping his eyes open. He lay, on his back, legs stretched out before him, hands on his chest, on an actual bed. It felt like he had been removed from civilisation in the last 24 hours, comfort a completely foreign concept in his brain.

He could hear Claire, in the bathroom, shower shut off, stream still drifting from below the door. She’d been in there for close to an hour - so had he when it was his turn. They washed 65 million years off their skin, scrubbing it away before blood dared to draw. She’d let him have the first shower, he insisted she take it, but she only stepped out of their hotel room, leaving him with no choice. She was back by the time he finished, clean clothes in her hand, a small smile forcing itself across her cheeks when their eyes met.

She emerged from the bathroom, skin pink from the hot water, or scrubbing dinosaur from her skin, he didn’t know. He blinked a sleepy eye at her, watching as she shuffled across the room. He needed to get up, or roll over - he just had to get off the bed. Owen couldn’t find the energy, he couldn’t physically get himself to move more than an inch. He tried regardless, at least, if he could get to the edge of the bed, he’d just sort of fall off and hit the floor.

The mattress dipped beside him, slightly, causing Owen to turn his head in surprise. Claire crept across the left side of the bed, crawling on all fours, in pyjama shorts and a t-shirt. She didn’t ask him to move, only watched the side of his face with tired eyes. She collapsed beside him, curling up like the family cat against his rib cage. She threw a leg over his hips, tucking her foot between his legs, while her arms wound around his. Neither of them spoke. Owen shifted slightly, his spare arm reaching out to wrap around her smooth thigh, readjusting her leg across his hips. It was give and take between them, each of them shifting in turn until they were both comfortable, Claire practically half on top of him.

She mewled slightly, half purr, exhausted breath escaping from her lips. Owen squeezed the hand that sat on the back of her thigh, the only response he could provide. Her body settled against his, growing heavy as her eyes closed, breath evening out softly.

He never would have picked it, in a million years. Claire Dearing, Senior Assets Manager, tough as nails, seemingly cold as ice; was a cuddler. Caught under her sleepy weight, he took her in. Her red hair fanned across his chest, freckles exposed themselves on her cheeks, her face relaxed in sleep. ‘I can feel you thinking, go to sleep.’ Her fingers tapped against his ribs, eyes staying closed. Even as she cuddled up to him, their hectic day pressing hard against her bones, her body slack against his, energy gone; she was still the boss.

Chapter Text

It was by sheer coincidence when she met Owen Grady for the first time. His raptor’s had hatched, granting him with four squawking, slippery, little dinosaurs. She’d waltzed into the lab a little after they had hatched, anger bubbling under her skin as she sought out Dr Wu.

The man in the corner of the lab caught her eye before she could storm into Wu’s office. She hesitated, man in cargo shorts and vest, holding two velociraptor infants in his hand, one on his shoulder, and the fourth, distinctly blue, on the floor, tugging at his shoelace. She stepped closer, angry at Wu, angry at this man who didn’t look like he should have been touching baby dinosaurs with his bare hands. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ Her voice snapped, as sharp and clear as the clack of her heels on the lab’s tiled floor. The man looked up at her, green eyes blinking. ‘This isn’t a petting zoo, Mr …’ she didn’t recognise him, or any reason as to why she should know his name. The park was expecting a new trainer, from what Claire had heard, he hand’t arrived yet. Until then, the raptors had to be left alone.

‘Grady,’ his voice husked. ‘Owen Grady.’ The name rang bells in her ears, but she couldn’t find them, couldn’t stop them from ringing with the correct answer. She went over paperwork, mentally, trying to pinpoint where she had seen the name Owen Grady. ‘The velociraptor trainer,’ he told her, Claire’s silence lasting seconds longer than it needed to. He had seen the cogs working in her mind, trying to tick over, to find the answer. He provided it easily. Claire cheeks flushed pink, her expression still stone cold. Her clear embarrassment made him chuckle, the sound startling his charges.

The raptors squawked. The raptor pulling on Owen’s shoelace stepped away only to hiss at Claire for getting too close. ‘Claire Dearing,’ she introduced, temper simmering to a slow bubble. She still needed to find Wu, to put up a fuss with the man. But, Owen, sitting on the floor, raptors in his lap, drew her in. ‘Senior Assets Manager,’ she explained.

Owen looked concerned, one hand pulling his clutch in close. ‘My raptors aren’t assets in this park.’ He told her firmly. There had been paperwork, stacks of it, he read every single one. The velociraptors were a behavioural research project, not a flag of amusement - at least until they were properly handled. He knew there had been a ruckus about the animals, someone, somewhere was putting up a fight towards the project all together. Velociraptors were dangerous, almost uncontrollable, they were not wanted on Isla Nublar.

‘I know,’ she nodded, ‘I have no intention of turning them into an attraction Mr Grady.’ He had the slightest feeling that it was Claire Dearing herself who fought against the raptors. He smiled at her, dimples pooling on his honey cheeks.

‘You look like you’re here to rip someone’s head off,’ Owen commented, watching her body sway slightly, hands rolled into fists beside her hips. He had no trouble believing that she was capable of crumbling staff members to dust and bone. He only hoped it wasn’t him. He said as much, flashing teeth in his grin, hoping to charm rather than aggravate.

Claire laughed, hand flying to her mouth, trying to cover the noise that escaped her. ‘You’re safe, Mr Grady. It’s Wu I’m here for.’ He mocked relief, wiping a hand over his brow grinning up at her. She was beautiful when she laughed. Hell, she was beautiful when rage rushed though her blood, but, it was better to see the smile stretched across her cheeks, blue eyes shining with mirth, rather than the murderous cold.

‘He was in his office, last I heard.’ Owen helped, offering Claire information. Her smile softened, her head nodding slightly as she moved, heels tapping against the floor again, to seek out Dr Henry Wu. ‘It was nice to meet you, Claire.’ Owen called out just before she left the room.

She stopped in the doorway, hand on the frame, smile still on her face, cheeks still a little pink. ‘Likewise, Mr Grady.’

Chapter Text

Their Sundays after the incident, after the media circuit, after the nightmares followed a fairly easy pattern, reliable, almost repetitive. They’d decided on separate residences in the beginning, keeping their fledgling relationship alive through separate space, instead of crowding each other too soon. It hadn’t lasted longer than a month, before his clothes appeared in her wardrobe, his shoes by the door, and most importantly, his body in her bed.

He let her sleep on Sundays. Owen would run, Claire would snooze. Karen would call and wake her, like clockwork, phone buzzing on the bedside table. They talked about nothing and everything, trying their best to open the lines of communication since Isla Nublar, keeping up a weekly schedule, essentially penciled into their calendars. Owen would trudge in sometime after she answered the phone, sweaty and a little out of breath. He’d leave her be, smiling softly, before shuffling into the bathroom to shower.

This morning was different. He went running, yes, her sister had called, still chatting in her ear, but instead of moving silently towards the bathroom, Owen stopped in the doorway. Two take-away cups in his hand, straws poking out of them - not coffee, something that promised - by the looks of it alone - to be cool. The weather felt like it was personally following her, summer a little early that year, making her skin sticky and her body hot. She wasn’t coping already and it had only been two days of warmer than average weather. Owen had almost been banished to the living room, his body temperature too high for her during the night - not that she complained in winter - she’d already slept in her underwear and a singlet, stripping down to bare nothings before she decided sleeping in the nude would keep her the slightest bit cooler. She was still like that, lying in their bed, covers thrown off her, strewn in pale blue panties and white singlet.

He handed her the drink, cup cool around her fingers, sending goosebumps down her arm. She mouthed a small thank you, humming at Karen as she took a sip of ice cold heaven. Claire’s eyes rolled, sweet cool taste exploding across her tongue, pineapple and mango, sliding down her throat, refreshing her, in the least. She could still feel the waves of heat across her skin, but for a moment she forgot. Owen chuckled, watching her expression as she sipped her drink.

‘I keep calling the landlord, but he refuses to do anything about the AC. Says it’s not hot enough to worry about it just yet, anyway.’ She bemoaned to her sister, very clearly complaining about the heat, as she had been for the last forty-eight hours. She wasn’t a whiny person, Claire Dearing sat through far worse things than the heat, but this was her downfall, the heat was the worst thing for her. He eyed her pale skin, wondering how she survived on Isla Nublar in thick suits and dresses, opting to wear jackets half the time too. He rolled his eyes, smirking at her before disappearing from the room. When he returned she didn’t pay him any mind, thoughts fixated on her conversation with Karen, eyes drawn to the window.

Owen flopped down on the bed beside her, receiving a sharp glare from Claire who turned just to scold him slightly. He grinned, leaning into kiss her shoulder fondly, offering it as an apology for what she thought was his jostling the bed. Claire smiled, the corners of her mouth pulling up, as she wrapped the arm not holding her phone, around the back of Owen’s neck. Her fingers coursed through his hair, nails scratching at his scalp softly, absentmindedly.

Usually she would scold him for sweaty skin on her clean linen, but the heat in the last two days had her sweating enough in her sleep, she didn’t care whether he was filthy or not. Owen kissed her shoulder a second time, before moving on to her collar bone, lips gentle against her skin, not overbearing in the heat. Her hand remained in his hair, her voice humming in agreement with Karen, answering her verbally every now and then. He grinned against her skin, a hand finding her hip, thumb tracing lines between the hem of her shirt and elastic of her underwear. Her fingers got a little rougher. Owen shifted, lifting himself a little, to settle a knee between hers, his body half hovering over her, head still against her chest.

She pulled at his hair, making Owen lift his head to look at her. Claire mouthed ‘too hot’ with a mournful shake of her head. That, and she was on the phone with her sister. Owen only nodded, not moving his body away from hers. He had a free hand she didn’t notice, holding a cup of ice. He took a cube and oh so carefully held it to the small sliver of skin that was revealed on her abdomen. Claire jumped, hiss slipping through her lips, her hand flying out to still his wrist. He grinned at her sheepishly. Owen took the ice cube, sucking it into his mouth before he crunched down on it, destroying it completely. Claire went back to her conversation with her sister, something about Karen’s divorce echoing through the speaker.

Owen didn’t stop with the ice, although wasn’t willing to risk the others he’d brought with him, just yet. He pressed and open mouthed kiss to her skin, left hand pulling at the waist of her panties, tugging them down. She shivered underneath him, giggling abruptly before she could stop herself.

He could hear Karen’s voice on the phone, mildly confused. He chose to ignore them mostly, peppering cold kisses across her hips and down her thighs, feeling the goosebumps that pebbled under her mouth, humming into them. ‘It’s nothing, Karen, Owen just left some dumb cartoon on.’ He heard her say, trying to keep control of her voice already. Karen didn’t know about their living arrangements, purely because Claire hadn’t told her. The older Dearing woman was under the impression that Claire lived alone, with sometimes visits from Owen who lived a few streets over. It was all temporary housing, they all knew that, something for the time being until Claire settled on a permanent residence, Owen most likely in tow. It wasn’t that they didn’t want Karen to know, but they certainly wanted to keep it to themselves a while longer.

Owen’s there?’ He heard her sister practically squeak, almost scandalous as he pulled Claire’s underwear from her long legs. He dropped kisses against her skin, haphazardly on the way down, and back up again, eyes flicking towards her face.

‘No, no, he went to the supermarket,’ her eyes were closed, hand over her face, drink discarded to the bedside table. Owen watched her bite her lip, his hands rubbing inconsistent patterns across her skin. He dropped his head to her skin again, grin on his face as he nipped at her thighs.

So, he was there,’ Karen’s voice teased down the line, Claire’s skin flushing pink across her cheeks and chest. Claire dropped her hand, returning it to his hair fondly, her eyes staring up at the ceiling, trying her best to ignore his presence. She didn’t see him reach for another ice cube, or notice as he crushed it with his teeth.

Claire’s ‘maybe’ response came out on a moan as Owen found her folds with his cold lips, tongue probing expertly as she jolted underneath him, her body physically shouting. He’d draped an arm over her hips, keeping Claire’s movements at a minimum, his ministrations torturous against her skin.

He’s there right now!’ Karen shrieked into the phone. ‘And you’re - Claire are you having sex while we’re on the phone?’ He tone dropped, Owen could still hear her shocked voice, even with his head between Claire’s thighs, far more focused on pleasuring her than listening to her conversation with Karen.

‘Not quite,’ Claire laughed, voice breathy as she tried to refrain from crushing Owen’s head or cutting his fingers off for holding her down. Karen’s voice started again, new words falling from her mouth, some accusation about taking it slow, not wanting to spoil what she and Owen had drifting from her lips and straight to Claire’s deaf ears. ‘Karen, I kinda need to go.’ She muttered, squirming slightly as she listened to her sister stutter before she hung up and dropped the phone. ‘You’re incorrigible,’ she hissed, her hand tightening in his hair, death threat falling from her lips fondly.

‘You’re hot,’ he hummed back, chuckling. She jumped slightly, trying to pull away from the vibration of his chuckle against her skin, sparred with with scratch of his stubble still itching against her thighs.

‘You’re not helping me cool down,’ Claire groaned, eyes rolling as a grin skipped across his face.

‘Not what I meant.’ His grin grew, reaching wide and large across his cheeks. He dropped a kiss to the top of her pelvis, thumb rubbing soft circles against the side of her knee. She threatened him with death a second time as he climbed her body slowly, fingers ghosting across her skin as his face managed to hover over hers.

‘Owen, it’s hot,’ she whined, hands sweaty on his chest. Her skin was burning, he could feel it under his fingers, waves of heat radiating between their chests. He kissed her forehead, her cheek, her lips before trailing back down, his body slinking down the curves of hers, hands caressing her thighs.

‘I have more ice,’ he teased, trying to cool her slight temper. The heat made her grouchy, like a small child at the end of a mild tantrum, arms crossed over her chest, displeased with the choices life made for her.

Claire grinned, biting into her lip, ‘Are you going to use it, or are you just going to talk about it?’

‘Oh, I’m definitely going to use it.’

Chapter Text

They were unpacking their lives. Box by box. Claire more so than Owen. Most of what he owned went to Isla Nublar with him, tucked away in his bungalow. But Claire, Claire had things in her sisters possession and locked away in a storage shed.

The picked through boxes and boxes, of nicknacks and heirlooms. She didn’t have much, but she had more than he did, and certainly enough to fill the modest apartment they were sharing. Owen unpacked one box, while Claire worked on another. Pulling out pieces of her life, wrapped in butchers paper and bubblewrap.

He pulled a photo frame from his designated box. A simple, dark wood, A5 frame, holding a singular picture. He’d pulled a few pictures from the box, but none of them caught his attention as much as this one had. It was Claire, mostly, that stopped him. She stood in the doorway of a home he immediately recognised, toddler on her hip, little boy hanging onto her maxi skirt. Zach and Gray, only little boys, but identifiable. She wasn’t facing the camera, her head turned to the right, smile wide as she grinned down at two-year-old Gray. Her hair was what made him focus on the image, the sole attraction to his eyes. The exact same fiery red, burning embers of orange. Her hair wasn’t cut short, sitting above her shoulders as was her custom look now. Instead, it wobbled in loose waves down to her elbows.

Owen stared at the picture, his thumb running over the image of a younger Claire Dearing, her hair long, her smile carefree. ‘What did you find?’ Her voice sounded beside him, two glasses of lemonade in her hand. Owen grinned, flashing her the picture.

‘Look at you! Your hair was so long!’ He was completely mystified. Graciously, he accepted the drink Claire offered, the woman taking the picture from his hand, her smile growing as she gasped. Memories spilled from her lips as she took a seat on the floor beside him.

She took a sip of her drink, before placing it on the floor beside her hip, staring at the picture as she spoke. ‘My god, this had to have been at Karen’s just before Zach’s seventh birthday. I was twenty-five.’ She sounded shocked, her hand toying with the ends of her hair. She laughed, handing the picture back to Owen, her smile almost similar now as it had been then, distant memory passing across her thoughts. ‘It was long, wasn’t it.’ She leant over his shoulder, spying the picture once more before she started pawing through the box. There was another, same day, baby Gray pulling on her long red hair, blue eyes closed in laugher, freckles speckled across her cheeks. There were a few others, on different occasions, all with her young nephews, one in particular just with Karen and an older man, Claire even younger there than the first few.

‘Why’d you cut it?’

‘Change,’ Claire shrugged. ‘I took the job at Jurassic World, and cut my hair. It felt right, the style changed over the years, but I kept it short.’

Owen studied her, watching the lines of her face, the light dust of faded freckles, and lastly, the length of her hair. It was still short, but not as short as it had been. Red strands bypassed her shoulders, there was a long way to go before it reached her elbows, but he could already see the difference in her face. ‘You should grow it out again,’ she stared at him, trying to tell if he was kidding or not. ‘Seriously, Claire, you’re beautiful long hair or no hair, but wow.’

‘You know you only think it looks great because it was from ten years ago, right?’

Owen shook his head, ‘Not true’. Claire cocked an eyebrow, biting her lip. She’d been to the hairdressers in the past months since the incident, but only to trim the dead ends of her hair. With each passing week her hair was getting longer, stretching beyond her normal comfort. ‘Change would be nice though,’ she uttered, hand fluffing with the ends of her hair. ‘Jurassic World, and post Jurassic World hair.’ She laughed, as Owen leant over and pecked her on the check.

‘I can’t wait,’ he’d always had a fondness for her hair, winding his fingers though it, playing with loose strands, she never thought he’d be practically giddy at the idea of her growing it longer. ‘It’s going to be so much fun to play with.’ Claire rolled her eyes at Owen, before turning back to the pictures.

‘I can promise you, you’re not going to have as much fun as Gray ever did.’ She laughed, tapping her finger against the glass panel of a frame, baby Gray with fistfuls of his aunt’s red hair - still attached to her head.

‘Gray never had a love for braiding hair, did he?’ Claire laughed, shaking her head. ‘Well, there you go - I’ll create my own fun.’

Chapter Text

He woke with a start. Collecting his bearings, Owen pushed himself up off the floor where he’d made his makeshift bed. His eyes blurred in the dark, the sudden rush of panic to his nervous system setting his vision in a double. His eyes adjusted to the darkness, his ears attuned to the heavy breathing in the bed beside him. He gripped the edge of the mattress, fingers stretching across rough linen as he blindly sought out Claire’s hand. Owen laced his fingers in hers, listening, head on the mattress, to her heavy breathing. He waited, thumb against the pulse point in her wrist, letting it race, judging her urgency; her need to depend on him.

Their first night off the island was bound to bring nightmares. Owen knew that, expected it, tried to mentally prepare himself. He and Claire didn’t speak about it. She remained on her feet until her knees started to buckle, showered and collapsed into the untrustworthy arms of exhausted sleep. They didn’t have time to discuss nightmares.

‘No!’ Her voice screamed out, hand tightening it’s hold on his, nails burying into skin. ‘Leave them alone!’ She shouted, body twisting in the bedsheets. Claire exhaled shakily, the air around them still, lying in wait for the next abruption. ‘Leave them alone, please …’ her words were a whimper, quiet, before her voice raised, shouting no, no, no, no, along with variations of her nephew’s names.

Owen didn’t hesitate. He climbed up onto the bed slowly, careful not to startle her, their hands still clasped. He was slowly loosing feeling in his fingers as he whispered into the shallow night air, calling into her nightmares, lulling her out. ‘It’s okay, it’s okay, Claire. We’re not on the island. You’re safe, the boys are safe.’

She woke, sputtering, like her lungs were full of water and she couldn’t breathe. Owen pulled her into his lap, her hands reaching for his face and arms, holding on tight. Claire’s eyes were wild, even in the darkness he could see them jump around, pupils dilated. He let go of her hand to brush sweaty hair from her forehead, pushing it back and out of her face. She struggled to catch her breath, hands still frantic, jumping between clutching his arm and touching his cheek. He was there. He was real. She was trying to cling to the certainty.

‘It’s alright, it’s okay.’ He soothed, dropping a chaste kiss to her temple. Pulling back, he held her face in his hands, searching for the calm waters in her blue eyes. Claire was shaking, her breathing slowing, adrenaline still coursing through every inch of her being. ‘Are you alright?’ He asked, timing his breathing with hers in order to help her regulate. Claire nodded shakily. ‘It was just a nightmare,’ Owen soothed, dropping a second kiss to her skin. ‘Everyone’s safe.’ A third kiss dropped to her cheek, a forth the opposite side. It took him a second to notice he had began worshiping at the alter of Claire Dearing, her distress unapparent, even while it shook in his arms.

She followed him when he pulled away. Comfort turned from useless mutterings to sloppy kisses and fumbling hands. It was quiet, lazy, relaxed, despite being shrouded in the echoes of a dinosaur induced nightmare. Claire was too numb to care, confident in Owen enough to know neither wouldn’t get hurt - just yet. She straddled his lap, one hand in his hair, the other worming its way under his t-shirt.

Delicately, fingers traced the lines of ribs and the curves of hips. His wandering hand did both, moving up to cup her breast gently, thumb tracing the soft shape of it before he retraced his steps, counting her ribs again. Their breaths huffed languidly between them, coupling together in hushed sounds, praise, thankfulness, of being alive.

Their bodies rocked together, circling a rhythmic pattern like it was priceless art. Bursts of urgency overwhelmed them, causing hands to squeeze, nails to scratch and teeth to nip ever so slightly. Their kisses depended when they could afford the air, each quietly fighting for dominance until they both stepped back, falling into the slower dance.

Gliding across her smooth skin, Owen’s calloused hands fixated. Paying careful attention to the sighs and gasps that filtered through her mouth at each touch, each place, each slight suggestion. She didn’t need words to give herself away.

There were no screams of ecstasy, only the sound of shallow breaths, lungs overwrought. Slight groans infiltrated the air, breaking a calming silence before disappearing, as though they had never been there. A subtle swear slipped through open lips, quiet, uncontrollable.

Exhaustion weighted down, the last inch, that demanded attention. It ripped away unimportant moments of regret, crashing heavy bodies to the mattress, sleep already in their heads. His hand in her hair, stroking her scalp softly, only lulled Claire back into her deep sated sleep, her limbs still tangled with his, nightmares waiting to strike, yet again.

They had no other option but to relax into the other, find the comfort they provided in a hope to survive the worst; together.

Chapter Text

She hummed, voice vibrating in her chest as Owen’s hands worked at a knot in her neck. He kissed her skin gently, hands slipping from her shoulders, fingers just skimming the ends of her hair. ‘Feel better?’ He asked softly, rough voice, gentle touch, a juxtaposition of himself. Gentle and rough. Soft and hard.

Claire’s head nodded, bobbing slightly on her shoulders as she hummed a second time, quiet, sleepy. The sun had set, dinner prepared and eaten, work for the night complete. They sat in the living room, TV on low, reality program playing out with little attention paid to it. She hadn’t complained verbally about the pain in her neck, only subtly indicated until he took the hint.

He skimmed his fingers across her shoulders, a second time. Languidly flowing fingertips chased down her arms and up her spine. Claire shivered, leaning back into his touch with a slight grumble. He lifted his hands, fingers tucked just behind her ear, thumb against the downward slope of her skull. He pulled his hands towards his chest, soft red hair slipping through his fingers. He repeated the movement, combing his fingers through her hair before collecting it all in his hands. She let her hair grow in the years after their departure from Jurassic World. New life, new Claire, new hair. It swayed half way down her back, folding in lazy curls, twisting itself around his fingers. Owen loved it, was almost enthralled by her red locks, certainly hypnotised when he could run the length through his fingers.

He parted the hair in his hands, splitting it into three, before criss crossing it gently. She slipped a little, against his legs, body relaxing. Playing with her hair had become a ritual, born from nightmares in a tiny Costa Rican hotel. It was calming now, the horrors years behind them, soothing actions continued as therapy. Owen laced her hair, one part over the other, over the opposite, and back again. He moved with silent reverence, hardly concentrating as her hair tightened itself, becoming a simple long knot, easy to untangle.

Owen slid his fingers through the braid once he was done. With no complaint from Claire, he started again. Lazily he threaded her hair, creating his same braid, only a little neater. His eyes strayed to the television, some young woman on the reality program crying. He was intrigued for a second, eyes glued to the screen until it cut to commercial. He’d finished her braid a second time, without even looking.

‘Do you want me to put it up for bed?’ He asked quietly, staring at the back of her head, fingers playing with the ends of her hair. Claire nodded slowly, small mumble drifting from her mouth. Owen couldn’t help the chuckle: she was falling asleep. He used one hand to loosen her already sloppy braid a second time, the other hand seeking out a hair-tie in the breast pocket of his shirt. Finding one successfully, and with little effort, Owen snapped the tie around his wrist. Concentrating on braiding her hair for the third time, he attempted for neat without being too concerned with the outcome. He watched his hands move, fingers tangled with strands of hair, expertly moving three groups between two hands. His tongue pushed at the corner of his mouth, concentration biting deep.

He finished, tying the wispy ends tight, Owen tapped Claire on the shoulders. Silent language for all done. She didn’t move. ‘C’mon, Sleeping Beauty, time for bed.’ He encouraged, hearing her breathing stutter, her body shifting slightly. She grumbled back at him like an exhausted teen, woken too early in the morning. ‘As much as I’d love to sit here playing with your hair, we need to go to bed.’ He tugged on the tail of her braid teasingly, knowing if he antagonised her enough that she’d eventually get up. Claire shifted, turning on her side in order to tilt her head up at him, small pout in place across her lips. ‘C’mon,’ he encouraged, slipping his legs out from behind her back, his hand extended for hers.

‘You’ve gotta stop doing that.’ Claire yawned, taking his hand, letting him pull her up. ‘Playing with my hair.’ She used her free hand - other entwining her fingers with his - to fluff about her ear, indicating her braid. ‘You keep putting me to sleep,’ she yawned a second time, leaning into his shoulder as they stood there.

‘Talent, right there.’ He commented with a slight wink, his hand squeezing hers. Claire reached up on tiptoes to kiss his cheek gently, before stepping away, ‘bed’ on her lips.

Chapter Text

He always had to go and get hurt. It was an impulse, an urge, a recurrent theme with no explanation other than the shrug of his shoulders and, ‘whoops’. He was never injured too badly, nothing beyond an angry bruise and sore muscles, enough to deter him for a day or two.

Owen had managed to push his back too far. Pain building excruciatingly over the years, his doctor’s only recommendation - surgery.

Claire was nervous. Neither of them had been that badly hurt in all their years. Not even after the Indominus-Rex incident on Isla Nublar. Hospitals haunted her. The only time she was ever in them, someone died. She clung to her husband the night before his surgery, arms and legs wrapped tight around his limbs. Scared out of her wits she drove him to the hospital, sitting in her own anxious energy, too scared to touch him in fear of breaking down.

Holding her face in his hands, Owen kissed his wife’s cheeks. He gently spreading his kisses across her face before he touched her forehead with his. She nearly cried when he promised to see her soon, grin hugging his cheeks, last kiss left on her lips.

His doctor came to find her personally when Owen’s surgery was over. He smiled at her politely, filling her in, everything went well. They were expecting him to wake any minute. ‘He’ll be a little groggy for a while, just until the anaesthetic wears off.’ He warned, introducing her to the nurse on Owen’s ward.

They’d left a pack of crackers beside the bed, a cup, and a jug of water. Stacy, the nurse, reminded Claire that she was only a shout away as she left the woman in the silence of her husband’s hospital room.

She fidgeted for what felt like an hour: shuffling in her chair, messing with her phone, holding his hand and letting it go. It only took him twenty minutes to wake, his eyes fluttering open, green eyes peering through slits of his eyelids. ‘Hey,’ she whispered softly, her hand brushing down the side of his cheek. Owen only stared at her, his eyes glassy. Stacy came in to check his readings, smiling softly to herself as she moved around them.

They had him drinking water thirty minutes after that. Claire left the room temporarily to answer a call, leave Stacy to command Owen’s actions. ‘Make sure he eats that cracker. He can do it as slowly as he likes, but I need him to eat it.’ Claire nodded, taking the woman’s instruction on board.

His eyes were closed, arms beside his hips when she reentered the room. ‘You need to eat the cracker,’ she tapped his wrist. The hand holding the small biscuit raised to his mouth blindly, teeth crunching into it with complaint. He sooked like a little boy, mouth downturned asking in his curious and dazed voice if he could sit up.

Claire hesitated, hands hovering over his arm. ‘I, ah, I don’t know. I’ll ask when you finish your cracker.’

He rolled his head towards her voice, eyes opening to look at her. He blinked once, twice, ‘Did the doctor send you?’ She blinked back at him, confused at the question. Claire expected the anaesthetic to make him a little confused, she hadn’t thought that he wouldn’t recognise her. She opened her mouth, small smile creasing her cheeks, prepared to respond when he kept talking. ‘Man,’ the sound came out on an almost whistling exhale, ‘you are eye candy’. Claire almost choked on the laugh that jumped through her throat. ‘Whoa,’ he exhaled again, eyes fluttering closed as his head lolled. Owen touched the cracker to his lips, before he started up at the ceiling. ‘You’d be the prettiest woman I’ve ever seen.’ Claire rolled her eyes, cheeks flushing at his blatant words. ‘Are you a model?’ He asked with slightly drugged sincerity.

‘Nope,’ she popped the ‘p’. ‘Eat the cracker,’ Claire encouraged, tapping his wrist a second time.

‘Who are you?’ He asked around a cracker, eyes blinking up at her. ‘What’s your name?’

She smiled softly, watching his face with tender admiration. ‘My name is Claire,’ she introduced, ‘I’m your wife.’ Owen’s whole face transformed, dazed eyes alight with wonder.

‘You’re my wife?!’ Warmth washed over her, dripping down her shoulders, chasing her spine. Claire had been so worried about him. Scared to leave him in the arms of helpful hospital wings. His doctor delivered him back to her, safely, albeit a little disorientated. She didn’t know if this had ever been his first impression of her, she was humbled. To be seen so highly. Praised upon by first eyes that it seemed unlikely she would ever pick him. She had. Picked him, he her. This ridiculous man; hers. ‘Holy shit!’ Owen exclaimed, eyes closing again. Nonsense words filtered from his mouth for a minute, disbelief fumbling from his lips. ‘How long?’ He inquired, Claire only laughed.

‘Just eat your cracker, Owen, you’re still waking up.’

His eyes flicked back to hers, still glassy, not yet himself. The love was recognisable, despite his eyes not being right. It was still Owen, only a little confused. ’Do we have children?’ Claire shook her head, quite voice whispering not yet. Soon, she hoped. ‘Oh man.’ Most of what passed his lips remained to whatever world the anaesthetic was providing him with, distorting the world around him in lazy swirls of drug induced sleep. ‘Man, have we kissed yet?’ Claire laughed at him, almost snorting with the sound as she reminded him of the cracker, pushing on his arm softly. ‘It’s hard, baby, it’s hard.’ He complained, cracker between his teeth. ‘Do we do that,’ he stopped, ‘Do we call each other ‘baby’?’

‘You prefer ‘honey’,’ she told him. Claire preferred it too, the pet name almost soothing off his lips. Mostly they called each other by their names, but there were occasions of admiration or stress in which honey, baby, sweetheart, wound their way around tongues.

‘How long have we been married?’ He stumbled around his words, eyes blinking closed.

‘A long time,’ she chuckled, reaching out to push a loose curl from his forehead.

Owen groaned, ‘Oh my god,’ his eyes flickered closed, cracker still held between his lips. ‘I hit the jackpot!’ She laughed at him again. He’d only been talking close to ten minutes and all she had done was insist he ate a plain water crack, and laugh. He was acting ridiculously, her cheeks burning with his honest flattery. He spaced out for a moment, eyes closed, hands still. She watched him while he lay quietly, eyes tracing over his soft features. She wondered briefly what exactly going through his head, how was he seeing her for the first time, again?

‘You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.’ He muttered again before fading off. Claire covered her face with her hands, overwhelmed with his admissions. Owen had never skimped out on telling her how beautiful she looked, or how much he loved her. Hearing it come from his lips as though it was the first things he was ever saying to her, made it intense. ‘Let me see your face,’ His hand tapped at her elbow, slightly off, mind still groggy. ‘Let me see your face.’ Claire pulled her hands away, smiling at him shyly. ‘Whoa, your hair is on fire!’ He tried to reach up to tug on a strand of her hair, Claire grabbed his hand instead, knowing he was going to cut himself short. ‘And your eyes - are they from the ocean?’ She shook her head at his ridiculous words, rolling her eyes slightly as the blush on her cheeks crept down her neck. ‘Turn around for a sec …’ he tapped at her hip with his hand, still held by hers.

Embarrassed laughter was almost a constant from her lips, soft, small giggles. ‘No. Owen, eat your cracker.’ Taking a moderate bite, he did as she asked.

Owen sat quietly for a minute, swirling pieces of biscuit around in his mouth. ‘We’re married! Whoa.’ Claire squeezed his hand, moving it to rest on his chest. The diamonds in her engagement ring sparkled in the soft light, enough to catch Owen’s dizzy eyes. ‘Did I get you that ring?’ She hummed, nodding slowly. ‘I musta been really liking you.’ He tapped at the diamonds, thumb sliding across the silver wedding band beside it.

‘Some would say you loved me.’

‘Totally do,’ he mumbled, eyes closed again, voice drifting, cracker finished. Claire let him fall into sleep, knowing that when he woke again he probably wouldn’t remember their conversation.

She couldn’t shake the look in his drowsy eyes, the love she saw there - more lust than anything else - but the look that almost screamed that he knew from the beginning, she was the one. It was confronting, to see that look in his eye, so pure, so undefined. It startled her, but all the same, it reassured any feelings of doubt that wanted to surface in her mind. They were strong, they were in love, they would remain that way through injury and anaesthetic, through disagreement and blow out argument, through anniversaries and ‘just because I love you’ dates. Nothing was going to be disrupted between them, that wasn’t endured by hospital anaesthetic.

Chapter Text

The word echoed in the crevices of his life. Every decision perceived by the raspy little voice in his head. Helpless, hopeless, frightened. He never turned his back on the voice, instead, carried it inside his chest pocket. The heavy weight warmth sat against his heart, concealed from the world, kept safe with him.

He needed to let her go, loosen his grip on her little hand, accept the fact that he never got his proper goodbye. But the words kept ringing, repeating over and over, quiet and shy.

Daddy. I love you, Daddy. I love you.

Nine years. It followed him. The little girl voice. If he turned quick enough, he caught her watching over him. Her sweet face hidden in the shadows, proud smile igniting her green eyes. There were bad days. Days were storm clouds brewed above his head. Days where, if he closed his eyes tight enough he could almost feel her toddler arms around his neck, squeezing as tight as she could.

He kept Anya a secret, his life recreated anew. Her death preceded the week before InGen approached him for militaristic project on Jurassic World’s Isla Nublar. He took it without second thought. Owen buried his daughter, standing stoically beside her mother, refusing to acknowledge the terrible thing that sat between them, gone at both of their guilty hands. He left straight after, flight directly to Costa Rica, first ferry onto the island.

Her name wasn’t mentioned after that, his friend’s kept locked lips on her memory, hiding away the photographs, enabling his pain. Once his clutch was born, Owen through his attention into his four new girls, leaving Anya to stand by his side, her ghostly existence keeping him company.

He tried to tell Claire, her back to him as she got ready for bed. He choked on the words, coughing into his hand harshly as he batted away angry tears. He couldn’t get the words out, couldn’t tell Claire that once upon a time he’d had a little girl, a very large part of himself in a small human being. A little girl who lit up the stars in the sky, but who drowned when her mother stepped away to answer the door. He still couldn’t understand it himself who drowned in her mother’s care. It had been almost eight years and the words couldn’t slip from his mouth. He wasn’t worried for her reaction, in fact, he knew how she would react, his mind just wouldn’t let the words go.

He’d only ever said it once, over and over again, only ever on one day as he ragged inside his home. He broke things, throwing books to the floor, knick knacks, lamps, but never her things. Anya’s toys remained where she had left them, scattered in odd places across her father’s apartment. Her bag hanging over a dining chair, her jacket still on the couch. Her things lay silent, while his were destroyed, Owen throwing his fist through the wall.

His best friend, Josh, had been there, standing against the front door, watching silently as Owen lost his mind, red in the face, throat raw. He yelled, swearing words in-between ‘She’s dead. My baby is dead.’ Josh and his, at the time, girlfriend Allex kept watch over Owen making sure he didn’t hurt himself, or anyone else. They didn’t like Anya’s mom, Kelly, never had any reason to other than she gave Owen his little wonder … and then took her away. That didn’t stop them from trying to keep Owen away from her, more for his sake then hers. He wouldn’t live with himself if he’d hurt her.

They tried to help, Allex and Josh, other friends, all of them pitching in to get his mind on the mend. Owen didn’t want it. He stayed in bed for two days, lying in the dark, hardly eating. He tortured himself with Anya’s beloved stuffed bear, a medium sized fluffy thing he’d bought for her before she was born. She had called on her mother’s phone, asking in her sweet little voice if he could please bring Teddy home. She couldn’t sleep without him, Owen knew that. He abandoned his day to return her bear, knocking on her mother’s door just minutes before her last breath.

He held himself grossly responsible.

The day InGen called, looking to speak with him, was the day Owen got out of bed. His only motivation was getting out of there.

He had no need to tell Claire while they were on the island. They weren’t anything serious. While they processed in Costa Rica after the incident, tagging along with the Dearing-Mitchell family, Owen’s gut dragged. It was Gray. The boy was lovely, sweet, completely enthralled with Owen. But, he was the same age Anya would have been. The same youthful spirit, the same boundless step. He saw his daughter in a young man who had no relation to her. It made him sick, the first intense thoughts of Anya in five years, and they had to happen there, with Gray practically hanging off his arm.

He tried to tell her when their relationship got serious. Especially after she poured her heart out, explaining to him the day her father died, and the reason behind her semi strenuous relationship with Karen. The words were sitting in the back of his throat, lumped there, making it impossible to swallow his fear. He let it go.

Then he panicked, urgency pulling on his gut, when Claire came to him calmly, caught on the idea that she was pregnant. Anya had been deceased for nine years. He still couldn’t find the words. When the stick turned blue, negative sign in it’s small window, his chest collapsed. Owen listened to Claire murmur ‘it’s for the best’ before he left, the rubber soles of his sneakers slapping against the pavement as he made rounds of their little piece of suburbia.

He had to tell her, he just didn’t know how.

It came to no surprise that Claire eventually found out from someone else.

*

When life commenced after the Indominus incident, Owen introduced Claire to his friends. Allex and Josh were waiting with open arms and two small children, pulling Claire into a gracious welcoming hug.

Anya was a silent topic, one no one mentioned. Allex watched Owen’s face carefully, checking for traces of the little girl in her father’s laugh lines. He had been absent so long, that she had worried, knowing the dark pits he had receded too, she didn’t want him to go back. He went to Jurassic World to escape his dead daughter, and now he was back, with no new route of escape. Claire wanted to settle in San Diego, Masrani Global holding offices there, promising her a job when she was ready to take it.

After two years Allex was as much Claire’s friend, as she had been Owen’s all those years ago. Lunch dates were a regular between Claire and Allex, the two women treating themselves away from their significant others, and responsibilities.

‘I’d really hate to impose,’ Allex sighed, smiling softly at the woman sitting across from her.

Claire waved her friend off. ‘It’s no hassle, Al. Owen’s great with the kids, we can watch them overnight.’ There had been a mixup in incoming plans between Allex, Josh and their parens. They needed someone to watch the kids for one night, until Allex’s parents could collect them. Claire, having warmed to them after two years, adored her friend’s children. It was second nature to offer herself and Owen for babysitting duty.

‘Are you sure? Will Owen be up for it?’

‘Of course he will, his back, maybe not. But, he’ll love it.’ Claire laughed, already excited for the four and six-year-old to come visit.

Allex smiled softly, ‘I just worry about him. It’s been so long since Anya, but I just - I don’t know. Maybe I’m stuck in the past more than he is.’ She shrugged. Opening her mouth to continue, Allex stopped, noting the slight confusion on Claire’s face.

‘Anya?’

Allex stopped, her hands poised mid movement, her breathing shallowing, too scared to take a proper breath. ‘You don’t know about Anya?’ Her voice was quiet, whispering as she watched her friend’s face, trying to determine if there was any reason to lie. ‘You really need to talk to Owen,’ Allex clammed up cheeks burning red, eyes burrowing into Claire. ‘It’s not my place to tell.’

*

She found him in the garage when she arrived home, heels clipping against concrete as she approached. Owen looked up with a wide smile, hands greasy with oil. Claire’s heart skipped a beat. She didn’t want to bombarde him, but there was no other way. Her name was scratching at her tongue, worst case scenarios chasing fear around her head. He asked her about lunch, eyes sparkling in the light grin almost permanent. She hesitated before she took the grin away, her breath shuddering in her lungs.

‘Who’s Anya?’ Claire’s voice was soft, almost a whisper against the gentle sound of the street around them.

A mother’s voice echoed her son’s name down the street, bouncing off neat homes and spotless yards. ‘She was my daughter.’ The child called back, bike wheels screeching to a stop. Claire held her breath. She knew that was the answer she was going to receive, it was only logical in context, and yet she couldn’t quite grasp why he had kept it from her. ‘Allex tell you?’

Claire nodded on a half shrug, ‘her name came up in passing.’ She whispered, hands clasped in front of her, watching as the smile melted from his face, Owen’s eyes to the ground, hands fidgeting.

‘I’m surprised it took them this long,’ he sighed.

‘Really, because I’m surprised that I never knew.’ Claire bit a little harder than she meant too. Owen swallowed, adams apple bobbing in his throat. A beat passed, a second, a third. ‘I’m here for you - always.’ She stepped forward, crouching down in front of him, her hand on his knee.

Owen got up abruptly, slipping away from Claire’s touch and into the house. She stared at the empty space he left, sighing heavily before entering the house herself, convinced that she could move on with her day without his answers. She situated herself in the study, determined to work when Owen appeared, box in his hands.

Anya McGregor-Grady was penned, in his handwriting across the top. Claire hesitated, hand hovering over the box. ‘How long has this been in the house?’ she asked softly, curious as to why she hadn’t noticed it.

‘Only a month. When you thought you were pregnant, I realised I was going to have to tell you sooner or later, I had my sister bring this by.’ He lifted the lid softly, revealing hidden treasures of a life too young to have ended. ‘I did try to tell you, more than once. I just, I could never find the words.’ Claire peered into the box, a soft plush teddy sitting on top, a photo album underneath it. Owen motioned for her to go ahead, to explore his daughter’s life - what was left of it.

‘She drowned,’ he told her, ‘of all things. I went over to return the bear - Teddy.’ He pulled the push animal out of the box, holding it tightly in his hands. He never returned it to her, he wanted to, had intended to. He just couldn’t let it go. ‘Her mother left her in the pool to let me in. We argued about something ridiculous, I don’t even remember now. It wasn’t important. I wanted to see her, to deliver the bear personally as she asked. When I walked out into the yard … it was too late. It takes three minutes for a kid to drown, did you know that? Three minutes. We were occupied for five.’

Claire listened, watching her partner’s face as he recalled, only briefly, the split second reaction that had him jumping straight into the pool to pull out the bright yellow blur that had been his daughter on the very bottom. She didn’t know what to say to him. Claire had been mad initially that Owen had kept something from her for so long. Before speaking to him she already acknowledged that there was most likely good reason as to why he avoided the topic with her.

He flashed her a slow, wobbly smile, his hand reaching out to squeeze Claire’s. She should have been the one comforting him. ‘I’ve spent so much time pushing almost every thought of her to the back of my mind, that I never properly grieved.’ Tears bubbled in his eyes, threatening to overspill and run down his cheeks. ‘I don’t know how to talk about her. I don’t - I never know where to start.’

‘You can start wherever you want, Owen. I want to know about her, if you want to share her.’

He nodded slowly, ‘I do,’ he reached into the box, pulling out a small photo album, and handed it over. Claire flicked through the images delicately, hovering over each one, from tiny newborn wrapped up tight, to messy four-year-old covered in marmite. Her eyes fluttered over dark brown hair, deep dimples and startling green eyes. The smiles, caught on glossy paper, were contagious, pulling on the corners of Claire’s lips slowly, teasing out joy from it’s hiding place.

‘She was beautiful,’ Claire whispered, fingers ghosting over the image of Owen and his daughter, fast asleep on the couch, girl in her father’s lap, Owen resting his head on hers. The both of them covered in paint.

Owen grinned, ‘She ‘painted’ my car that day, I swear, she was trouble all over.’ Once the words were out, they kept flowing. Anecdotal memories, the slightest insights on Anya, and the biggest. Her naughtiest incidents and the times he would just hug her so tight he contemplated never letting her go. Claire listened, letting the floodgates open for Owen as he released nine years of held in emotion towards his small daughter.

Nothing was perfect. She wished he hadn’t kept Anya from her, but he was letting her in now. The stories flowing fast and free as the sunset outside their study window.

Chapter Text

He waned in and out of wakefulness, sometimes alert, other times not. Claire wandered in an out from his room, taking calls, messaging her sister, tapping through emails on her phone. She left for an hour, promised at the hand of nurses that he wouldn’t wake while she was gone. They had been right, of course, she found him snoring softly exactly how she had left him when she returned.

Owen’s voice croaked at her softly, once Claire settled herself into the chair beside his bed. She smiled at her husband, fond grin stretching across her face. ‘Hey,’ she breathed, ‘are you feeling a little more like yourself?’ She could already see it in the clarity of his green eyes, Owen, one-hundred per cent. His brow crinkled, confusion setting over his features, just briefly. ‘The anaesthetic took you for a ride, earlier.’

‘Good, you know - I knew that anaesthesiologist was a great guy.’ He joked easily, grinning at Claire as he reached his hand out to clasp hers. ‘So long as I’m getting my money’s worth - I’m happy.’

She laughed, rolling her eyes a little before she took his hand. ‘I’ll remember that for next time. At least then I’ll have a heads up to set my phone on record. You know, a girl’s gotta hold dear the memories in which her husband forgets they’re married and proceeds to loose his mind when he’s told otherwise.’ Owen brought his hand to rest on his forehead, Claire’s fingers entangled with his, soft groan escaping his lips. ‘Oh, yes, it happened.’

‘What did I say?’ He braced himself, she could see the effort hold his features straight, concentrating on the hopeful thought that he hadn’t managed to say anything wrong.

‘Well, for starters, you thought your doctor had sent a hot, model, nurse to come tend to you.’

‘The only natural assumption with you standing over my bed.’ Claire’s cheeks flushed, her eyes rolling at his antics. Leave it to Owen to be simultaneously embarrassed and flirtatious. She muttered, incorrigible, loud enough for him to hear her. Owen grinned, his reactions were slower than what she was used too, only a second or two off. He was still her Owen. Slightly hazed out on pain medication, but still her loveable goofy husband. ‘I know there’s more - it’s got to be worse than that.’

Claire chuckled, her hand straying to thread her fingers through his hair, pushing down his messy locks. ‘Worse? No. It was endearing actually,’ she pulled her chair closer, leaning her elbows on the edge of the mattress. ‘The revelation that we were married - you, your exact words I believe were, “I hit the jackpot”. Which,’ a smile stretched across her face, ‘isn’t untrue.’

Still holding onto one of her hands, Owen raised it to his lips, kissing it softly. ‘Whatever did I do to deserve you?’ He hummed, squeezing her fingers.

Claire had a peculiar interest in the answer to that question. She couldn’t quite remember, only knew that they just seemed to fall together. Regardless of the universe throwing them apart, after their sordid, horrible date, it tied them back to one another only a year after. He was the chaos to her control. Somehow, after it all; their proposition for survival and the media ring after the incident, he’d become her calm anchor. It all felt natural after that. Each part of their lives found a slot beside the other, existing in harmony.

What had it been that made Claire Dearing fall in love with Owen Grady? She couldn’t remember. The fact that their love still soared on had her in no rush to recollect. ‘Whatever it was,’ she hummed, smiling at him fondly. ‘I’m glad you did it.’

Chapter Text

They were still trying to figure out a way to make their apartment theirs. Claire wanted to redecorate within their renters agreement. Owen couldn’t see the point. It was temporary. Just a space to exist in while they settled back into normal lives with enough time to hunt for houses. It was slow going, even after the short six weeks they’d been staying there.

He didn’t need fancy decorations, fresh paint, or IKEA furniture. All he needed, to make the place home, was the sound of Claire’s shoes clacking on the concrete outside the front door. He learnt to listen out for her, Claire arriving home two hours after him. He listened for it, her shoes against the ground, her key in the lock.

‘How was work?’ Owen asked, catching the soft smile on her tired face one Claire stepped through the door. He knew she had been flat out, back to back conferences. She was new to the company and they weren’t going easy on her for it. Claire liked the challenge, liked that they didn’t set her on the lowest rung. That didn’t mean she wasn’t exhausted. He called in his lunch break, as had been customary since they returned to the workforce. She’d been held up in a meeting, her assistant wouldn’t put him through.

Claire grunted, slipping off her shoes and shrugging off her coat. She kissed his forehead as she passed him, Owen lying on the couch, football on mute. She was back, not even a minute later, rid of pantyhose and pencil skirt replaced by sleep shorts and a t-shirt. ‘If I hear one more word about statistics, I think I might break something.’ His eyes flicked from her to the game, commentators on the screen, talking about what he could only guess was player statistics. Owen flicked the channel over.

Instead of taking the empty space on the couch, Claire half climbed on top of him. She snuggled herself into the space between his ribs and the back of the couch, tucking her arm against his chest, her ear to his shoulder. He almost expected her actions now, knew without a doubt that she would cuddle against him after a long day. Claire sighed heavily, her legs tangling with his, day rolling off her shoulders as she settled against his chest.

Owen settled his arms around her, thumb stroking a steady line across her ribs, playing with the soft fabric of her t-shirt. They shared so many moments like this. From their first night in Costa Rica, homeless and possibly jobless, but with their lives still intact. To small moments when the weather sat a slight bit cooler than Central America, their bodies not yet acclimatised. She curled up against his chest like a tiny baby cat for all amounts of reasons, each one as important as the next. He only wanted to ensure that she kept it up. ‘You really like to cuddle, don’t you?’ Owen couldn’t help but ask, pointing it out to Claire who didn’t seem to notice.

‘I do not!’ She bristled, her cheek burning against his chest. ‘I had a long day, is all. And you’re warm.’ She snuggled closer. If it was possible for Claire Dearing to climb under his skin, Owen was sure she would have done it by now. She was always cold, freezing in fact, her hands and her feet, always shocking him in the night. Claire always pointed out how warm he was, like her own personal heater. He didn’t mind so much. He knew most of the time her cuddly-ness had something to do with his heartbeat, especially when she woke from a nightmare, her ear pressed to his chest until the measured thudding lulled her back to sleep. ‘Do you want me to stop?’ She asked, halfheartedly pulling away.

Owen tightened his hold. ‘No, no, definitely don’t stop.’ Claire hummed, letting them fall into silence for a second before he spoke a second time. ‘I think I love you.’ He felt her freeze against him, again, her whole body rigid. It hadn’t even been two months yet. He was sure. More sure than his reason to live. He loved her. ‘You don’t have to say it back, I just - I needed to say it.’ He felt her body relax, a shaky breath, stuttering itself from her lungs.

He could feel the cogs turning in her brain, deliberating what exactly to say. How to surmount her feelings, or how to let him down. Instead she wrapped her arms around him tighter, brought herself closer and pressed a soft kiss to his neck. Her, ‘I think I love you too’, was so subtle, so silent, that he almost missed it. Claire shifted a little, hand on his chest pushing her body up to kiss his chin, his cheek, his lips. She settled back down against his chest, letting silence wash over them as they fell into their nightly routine. Picking up the pieces around making dinner and tidying up, confessions of love sitting in between every word and every action.

He loved her and she loved him back.

Chapter Text

He knew she was getting sick of the hotel soaps. She was professional about it, moving in and out of days without a word. Instead she would rub at her hands, pawing at dry skin, doing the same with her ankles. There was no time to complain, no need to do so either. They were in and out of conferences, interviews, report meetings. They barely had time to begin a conversation, let lone complain about their living situations.

The week had been long and particularly tiring. It didn’t help that she woke with panic on her tongue repetitively throughout the night, and he in cold sweats, his nightmares silent but just a ferocious.

Owen didn’t know what propelled him to wander through the small department store. He’d seen it on their in and out trips to and from the office building Masrani Global kept in Costa Rica and their hotel - the only room they could find once they stumbled off the ferry. It wasn’t wise to wander the streets, not after his face had been plastered over every news channel the world had to offer, but the street was quiet. He could’t see the harm. He found what he was looking for without even trying, almost knowing by instinct without ever seeing the label. He paid and hurried back to the hotel.

Claire sat exactly as she had everything night at approximately 6:15pm. At the hotel room’s small table, ankles crossed, back straight, one elbow on the table, both hands typing furiously on a provided laptop curtesy of Masrani Global. She didn’t turn when he pushed the door shut behind him. ‘They want me to release an official damage report,’ she sighed quietly as Owen came to stand beside her. ‘We’re not going to know that until ACU get over there and start surveying the park.’ Owen hummed, nodding along with her statement as she continued to type and he twisted the top off his purchase.

She flinched slightly when he picked up her hand with a gentle touch and something cold. ‘What are you - is that vanilla?’ She stuttered, as the soothing scent of vanilla wafted towards her nose, Owen kneading her hand between the two of his.

Claire moved, abandoning her laptop to face him straight on. ’I know you can’t really leave without being stormed by the press, and that you would never ask me to fetch anything for you. But, you’re starting to smell like generic hotel soap - and that’s just not right.’ He chuckled, deserving the slap to the arm Claire hit him with.

Owen dropped to his knees, beside the chair she was sitting in. He took the tube of vanilla scented lotion, the label boasting coco butter as well - he didn’t care - and added more the palm of his hand.

Claire giggled, actually giggled, as he wrapped his fingers around her ankles thumbs kneading her flesh like they had done her hands. Her muscles were still sore, ridged after a days hike through the park and a sprint from a T-Rex, all in heels. She was fearless, he had garnered, even before that day. But that, that only proved it to anyone else who doubted her.

She half purred as his hands made their way up her calves, delivering the same torturous massaging treatment he had instilled upon her ankles. He dug his fingers in deep, seeking out the knots and tangles, working up to her knee and back down again. When he was satisfied, he moved onto the other leg.

It had been a little over two weeks and he had already developed a thing for worshiping her legs. Sexually or not so. Owen leant forward to press a kiss to her knee as she shuffled the weight he was sitting on. Her skirt followed his fingers as his hands traced up and over her knee, pushing the fabric up and out of the way as his fingers made their pilgrimage. She had the slightest hint he almost loved the journey more than the destination, on some occasions. ‘Much better,’ Owen muttered, pressing his nose into her thigh, inhaling the fresh scent of the vanilla lotion he bought. It wasn’t quite right, clearly not the same stuff she bought when on the island, but close enough to satisfy a small need.

There was a light urge in him, that needed a waft of vanilla to hit his nose as she breezed past him so effortlessly. That indistinguishable smell against the rough texture of the raptor paddock when she came to visit. He could pick her out anywhere on the island - so long as it wasn’t peak tourist season. She wasn’t Claire if she also didn’t smell like plain cupcakes, not too sweet, straight out of the oven, not added icing.

‘I’m not a dessert.’ He was talking aloud. Owen grinned, dropping a wet kiss to the smooth skin of her thigh, only an inch higher than where his hands were sitting, cradling her hips. His, why not, was only received with the roll of her eyes. He dropped a second open mouthed kiss to her soft skin, sucking gently, playing on her tactile senses as he scratched his stubble across her sensitive skin.

He didn’t know who moved first. Whether she slipped from her chair, or he pulled her. The planet jumped underneath them, landing Claire in his lap no matter who instigated the move. Claire easily wound one arm around his neck, the other sneaking up the back of his shirt, nails already digging into his flesh. Her mouth caught his, hot and urgent, fighting with his tongue for control. He succumbed, letting Claire take the lead as she drew kisses from his lips, to his jaw, down his neck. Caught on his collar bone, Claire started to laugh.

‘You smell like vanilla,’ she explained when he hissed a hardly audible, what. She smiled, an odd sort of look on her face, blue eyes soft as she rubbed at his skin. She doted, trying to wipe as much of the smell away. Not that she didn’t like it, she loved the warm familiar smell of vanilla. It ticked her nose when it sat on his skin, fresh, capable of masking the woods smell that always seemed to accompany Owen with very little effort. She liked the way he smelt, she didn’t want to change it - not this soon.

He pulled her hands away, thumb and forefinger wrapped around her wrist. The subtle break in her control had him in for the kill. His lips found a weak spot on her neck, beating erratically with her pulse. Claire cried out, her knees buckled, despite the fact that she was sitting in his lap, his waist cradled in between her thighs. She started pulling at his clothing, tugging at the grey t-shirt he wore, not caring at which angle it came off.

Without a word, Owen picked her up, arms under her hips. Claire shrieked, her limbs locking onto him tighter as he stood, moving them both to the bed. He dropped her, softly, to the mattress, grinning as she giggled. They both scrambled to rid themselves of clothes, throwing fabric in every direction.

Owen’s hands skated up her legs, tracing the lines of her bones, mapping out her muscles. ‘I told you, you smelt like vanilla.’ He grinned, body hovering over hers, self satisfied smirk on his lips. She’d stuttered in the jungle, thrown back by his admission. It still caught her off guard that he noticed. ‘You were the damned sweetest thing on that island.’ He muttered, kiss dropped to the top her breast. Her hips squirmed underneath his, impatience painting itself across her face. ‘Besides me of course,’ she felt his grin as much as she heard it. Her reaction was nothing more than winding her hand through his hair and tugging as Owen wrapped his lips around a pert nipple.

She whimpered in complaint, the words shut up and fuck me too much for her mouth to say. Her brain shut off, surrendering to the touch of Owen Grady, hands and mouth. He was everywhere, all over her, even in her mind, but not quite where she wanted him most.

He seemed to have relieved her nonverbal message of need. His hand strayed from kneading at her skin - far more haphazardly than earlier - to position himself against her wet folds slowly bracing himself before he pushed inside.

They sighed, just out of unison, the noise caught in Claire’s throat for a second longer. She let him set the tempo, his hips rocking against hers slowly, before the momentum built up. She rolled them, without any warning, grinning from ear to ear at the shocked expression on Owen’s face. ‘That’s better.’ She leant down to kiss his cheek, his lips, grin irreplaceable as she steadied her hands on his chest and confidently took charge of the rhythm. He held her hips, hands grasping tight but not controlling, knowing that mutual respect with Claire came with knowing the other could surrender, so she in turn could lay down respectable law. That didn’t stop him from meeting her, thrust for thrust, or finally flipping Claire onto her back once her legs started to shake.

He slowed his thrusts, trying for slow and gentle as he dropped delicate kisses to her cheeks, a loving one to her nose. She locked her eyes onto his, staring into green pools for a moment that felt like eternity, panting breath falling between them.

One hang dug fiercely into the cheek of his ass, suddenly, her hips encouraging something rough, fast. Owen complied without a second thought, his lips returning to the pulse point on her neck, her moan falling into her ear. Claire wrapped a hand around his fingers, leading his hand to her clit and encouraging his instincts.

It wasn’t long before she was cursing, her breath jagged, her grip tight. A steady line of shit, shit, fuck, escaped her lips on breathy gasps, as her climax built and broke, the last ending on a long moan. Owen was behind her after another two thrusts, a grunt let out against her neck.

Claire hummed, her nails lightly grazing the skin on his back, as Owen settled himself on his stomach beside her. ‘What started that - my legs or the vanilla lotion?’ His chuckle was warm, the vibration rattling the bed, settling itself in her bones as Claire curled into his side, embracing the arm he wrapped around her hip.

He half shrugged in amusement. ‘A little of both.’

Chapter Text

They were given 24 hours to return to Isla Nublar in order to collect their personal belongings. The stray dinosaurs had been subdued and returned to suitable confinement. Claire and Owen spent the first half of their day packing up Claire’s pristine apartment. They avoided the topic of Blue, his Beta, shot down by the new recruits for the ACU. Owen was trying hard not to blame them, Blue attacked, they had to shoot. He couldn’t sympathise if he kept talking about it. So, instead, they boxed linen and folded clothes, jammed her shoes into boxes and pretended that he did it delicately.

His bungalow was a mess when they reached it. Claire pushed at her sleeves, her hands on her hips, teeth biting at her bottom lip. She directed Owen to one corner of his bungalow, while she tackled the other. His whole life stacked up in that shack. Boxes of memories, family portraits, awards, commemorations. She packed and tidied his things, prioritising that of importance over small pieces of life’s junk. They still barely knew each other. Off the island for a whole month and semi glued to the other’s hip. They went so far as to share a hotel room, heated moments and needed release. They were still working on the personality aspect. Sorting through his life, determining what was junk and what wasn’t seemed incredibly personal. He had helped her, and so Claire in turn would help him back. Owen needed all the help he could get to make sure his things were boxed away and ready for the trucks at 6pm.

They worked steadily, Owen peeking over her shoulder making sure she wasn’t deeming his favourite things as junk. She shooed him away easily, small laugh on her lips. So much of his stuff was already in boxes, indicative of the navy man he was, not prepared to unpack everything, knowing that the next move was only on the horizon. The last box on the stack in front of her was weathered, old, well travelled, the logo of the moving company was one she didn’t recognise, easily outdated. The lid was open, half missing, torn and bent at the edges. It wasn’t a box that should have been sitting on the bottom of a three tall pile.

Claire couldn’t help herself from pulling back the already open tabs of the box. It’s content’s already half revealed. Inside sat a small gold trophy, delicately placed on top. MVP 1989, Boys Under 12 Baseball, Owen Grady. Claire grinned, little Owen playing team sport was almost unimaginable. The album, concealed under the trophy only proved to provide her with photographic evidence.

The pictures were a little grainy, the first somewhat hard to make out, every face unrecognisable in the team photography. She scanned their faces anyway before turning the page. Owen Grady, ten-years-old, grinned up at her from the page. Unmistakable green eyes, his skin still gold honey, his hair dirty blond. He was chubbier in the cheeks, and the stomach, if she was being honest, the little boy easily weighting a little more than average for his age group.

‘Hey,’ Owen’s voice jeered playfully from the kitchen behind her. ‘That doesn’t look like work to me!’ Grinning over her shoulder, Claire held up the photo album.

‘Just trying to get to know the little boy who owns all this crap.’ She watched his face widen, grin expanding in disbelief as he took long easy steps towards her. Owen nudged at her hip with his, asking for silent permission to lean against the same box she was perched on. ‘Look at that, ten-years-old, who would have thought.’ She poked a finger at his picture, grinning.

He had bulked up, that much had changed in twenty-six years. His lifestyle in the Navy taught him regime, consistency and persistence. Working with Velociraptor’s encouraged the same things. His eyes were still the same bright green, honest but guarded, even for a young age. His skin was a little darker, years on the decks of ships, working under the sun, gruelling hours of training with his girls in Central America. She wondered how much of his skin tone would lighten once they moved away, a home waiting for them in San Diego. It wasn’t exactly cold there, but it wasn’t as warm and bleary as this.

‘Big boned, my mom used to say.’ Owen grinned, flexing a bicep as Claire attempted to wrap her fingers around it. Noting his weight was still in proportion with his body, his build semi-beefy. ‘She loved feeding me, by god, she baked and I ate.’ He turned the pages much faster than she would have, not all pictures sports related, some others of Owen at different ages. He stopped on one in particular, clearly knowing the album by heart, despite it’s abandoned state on the bottom of a pile, in a crumbling box. ‘My 14th birthday, and this was just for family, not friends. That was worse. Mom’s right there.’ He tapped at the picture, pointing his mother out beside himself.

He was tall, incredibly so, soaring above his mother, a cubby woman, with her arm around his waist. The table in front of them, travelling the length of the picture, was covered in baked goods. Cakes and pies, savoury treats and sweet ones too. ‘She clearly looked after you well,’ Claire smiled, head dropping to his shoulder.

‘I was her eldest son, of course she did. She never quite fed Travis as much as me, he wasn’t ever really interested. Lorna was a sucker for Mom’s pies, that girl would tell any secret truth or lie to get herself a slice. She ratted out more people than you could count - everyone trusted Lorna with their secrets, Mom knew that, and she knew Lorna was a sucker for a good home baked pie.’ She couldn’t wipe away the grin. She knew Owen had family, knew at least, in passing of one sibling, but no particulars. And there he was, telling her all about his sister and her unfaithful tongue.

A photo fell from the back of the album, clipping against the floor as it landed roughly. Owen muttered something about it not belonging there as he picked it up, inspecting it closely. ‘This was just before my 20th birthday. I was due to report for duty the next morning.’ He handed her the photo. He was taller than the last image they focused on, so much so, almost at his full height now, if only a few inches shorter. His hair was thick and long, blond curls rampant across his head. Lora, only a young girl, likely twelve years old, clung to her brother’s waist in what looked to be their living room. Travis was only a little older than Lorna, standing stiff beside his brother’s side, expression refusing to crumble. No matter how hard he clearly tried, the upset was burning wildly in his eyes.

‘They love you.’ She touched their faces gently, thinking about herself and Karen at those ages, what they would have done with they were pulled apart. Karen couldn’t leave - she never had and never would. Eventually anger drove Claire away, strong enough to make the cut.

‘They did.’ Claire’s eyes snapped up, trying to read his expression, or at least his mournful tone of voice. She wanted to pry, to ask what happened, what pulled them all apart. She didn’t think it her place - not yet, anyway.

She changed the subject, hating the dense damp air that suddenly settled between them. ‘I can’t wait to see your baby pictures,’ she teased, pointing at his hair, ‘You must have been adorable’. Owen shrugged, grin biting at his lip.

‘Definitely.’ He agreed, ‘There’s more around here somewhere, but - we should probably get this all packed up,’ he checked his watch with a smooth flick of the wrist, ‘we’ve not got long left’. He was mostly right. Claire slipped the loose photo in between the first two pages, before she closed the album and tucked it back into it’s rightful box, along with Owen’s trophy. She closed the box over as best she could, reapplying a little new tape - not as much as the other boxes - before adding it to the top of her last pile.

‘Hey Owen,’ she called over to him, the man tossing books into a box that’ll end up being too heavy for either of them to carry. He hummed, looking up, eyes catching hers across the room. ‘I didn’t know you liked baseball, that was new.’ Everything was still new, every word, every confession. Each breath they took was new, exciting, small revelations of their lives. They hadn’t even started to share stories, only habits, eating, sleeping, nightmare routines. They were learning how to live with each other, function as two people operating one soul. She wanted to know him, this was the beginning.

Chapter Text

‘Everything will be fine,’ she pushed at his shoulder, urging him out the door. ‘Go to work, I can hold down the fort.’ He had eyed her carefully, she was putting on a brave face, pushing down her panic in front of him. Claire alone with his - their - three-year-old niece was a disaster waiting to happen.

Claire loved Olivia. Had since the day she met her. She just still hadn’t finished the hardwire on her maternal instinct. Olivia seemed to recognise that uncertainty and tested her beloved aunt. Owen was almost too scared to step in the front door when he was finally relinquished from his duties. There was no telling what would be found when he returned home.

He could hear the music before he stepped up to the door, key nowhere near the lock. Delilah greeted him, when he stepped through the door, puppy enthusiastic, jumping at his heels as she tapped his legs with her head. He bent in half to greet her, scratching his fingers behind her ear. ‘Where are they, pup?’ He asked the animal over the blaring music. She blinked up at him with gold eyes, licking his hand in response. Despite Delilah’s useless assistance Owen moved on, toeing off his shoes.

Taylor Swift crooned ‘Shake it Off’ as Claire with Olivia on her hip, bounced around the kitchen, singing along to the words. Owen stopped in the archway, watching them move, laugh slipping through his lips. His fiancee threw herself into it, toddler on her hip shrieking with delighted laughter.

‘Uncle Owen!’ Olivia stopped, her arms and legs scrabbling free from Claire’s grasp to scurry across the kitchen island and finally jump into his arms. He wrapped his arms around her, squeezing tightly before reprimanding her for climbing across the counter.

‘What’s this?’ He wiped at her cheek, a very convincing chocolate smear coating her warm skin. The little girl giggled, her cheeks flushing pink, head bowing slightly.

‘Cake,’ she told him, pointing her finger at the chocolate cake sitting on the counter beside Claire’s hip. ‘’prise!’ She giggled, clapping her hands together before throwing them above her head. ‘I did the pink, Uncle Owen!’ The pink in question related to the sprinkles covering the cake. He cringed only slightly as he raised an eyebrow at Claire.

‘I didn’t know we owned any of that stuff.’

‘Oh, we don’t.’ Claire laughed, ‘Someone insisted on going to the supermarket specifically for pink decorations’.

‘You like it?’ Olivia asked, watching his face intently, blue eyes studying him. She was a good girl, most of the time, when she wasn’t pushing limits. Olivia would hardly be upset if he said no, but who was he to lie to her?

‘I love it, Livvy. You did a wonderful job.’ He wasn’t exactly lying. Owen kissed her cheek, squeezing her for a second time as she giggled, proud.

‘Happy birthday!’ She squealed, jumping in his arms before he put her down, afraid he’d drop her. In the pandemonium of his brother coming back to the US for a funeral and the zoo opening a new exhibit he was supposed to be in charge in, Owen completely forgot his birthday was coming up. He looked to Claire, surprised, not sure if it was true. She mouthed ‘tomorrow’ as he thanked Olivia for her wishes. ‘Can we eat it now?’ She asked, batting her eyelashes at her uncle as she climbed up onto one of the bench chairs.

‘Did Aunt Claire bake it?’ He asked, holding Olivia’s swaying chair steady as she got herself situated and then nodded. ‘Are you sure it’s not poison?’ He asked, laughing through his question. Olivia shook her head, attention split between both adults, as she begged her aunt for a teeny tiny slice.

‘It’s yummy,’ Olivia offered, without even tasting it. Still trying her best to convince the adults who were minding her.

They caved - well, Claire caved - giving into Olivia’s bright eyes. She kissed Owen’s cheek, wrapping her arms around his waist for a second, the first contact they’d had since he arrived home. She was exhausted, he could tell, Olivia tiring her out with no affect to the little girl whatsoever. She promised him quietly, another cake, a different one - definitely not pink. Owen grinned, he’d forgotten his own birthday, who was he to complain about the childish decorations on his cake.

Chapter Text

‘What was that about?’ She asked quietly moonlight streaming over her features. Claire sat in the middle of the bed, legs crossed, hands wrapped around her ankles.

Owen hummed, scrubbing the last droplets of water from his hair. They were finally clean, less than 24 hours washed off their skin, one after the other. He let her go first, leaving Claire to twiddle her thumbs while he showered. They were waiting in limbo. Waiting for the next man to step up, take control of Masrani Global, and start bossing them around. The world held bated breath, waiting for the outcome of Jurassic World. But before then, it was quiet.

‘What was what about?’ He turned his back, folding the towel to leave it on the bathroom counter. Claire fidgeted.

‘Back at the raptor paddock, you said “she gets me”,’ Owen hummed again, nodding slightly. ‘I do get you, Owen.’ He raised a brow. It was a far reach and they both knew it. He chuckled a little, unaware of the hurt on her face. He was starting to regret sharing a room. It was one of the last left, it wasn’t as though they had a real choice, and he did trust her.

For survival. That’s why they were together. He knew more about Claire Dearing than he would like to admit, her tenacity and fire - they were qualities he adored. Qualities he knew, that were compatible with his own.

‘No one gets me, Claire. Even when they think they do, they don’t.’ He brushed it off. Wishing so desperately that he had a bag to shuffle through, instead of having to face her sorry expression. ‘The Raptors - my girls - I’d been with them for a long time,’ he sighed.

‘Since they hatched.’ Her voice was soft, like a little girl adding comment to her father’s bedtime story.

‘Developing a bond with them - that was more important than anything else. I threw myself into it. There was no need for human connection. Blue, being my beta, we had to connect. Once that happened she opened me like a book, in the best way that raptors can. She understood my behaviours almost as well as I understood hers. I’m not used to it - to people. They don’t like it when I read them.’

‘That’s a given,’ Claire scoffed, hand letting go of her ankle to fluff at her hair.

Owen sighed, ‘You and I, we started off on the wrong foot. We didn’t try to understand one another and that created walls. We set ourselves up to fail, with that one.’ Claire nodded, admitting to a high guard going into their date. ‘But, hey, we’re here now.’ He flopped down on the bed beside her, lying an inch too close to her crossed knees.

‘I want to know you,’ she whispered, watching him over her shoulder. Their time off the island had yet to surpass eight hours and she had already vowed to be more of a people person. Especially concerning Karen and the boys. Owen nodded. He had no choice. His skin would shed, his life on Isla Nublar over for the most part. In the least they were stuck sharing a hotel room for another week. They had to break through each other’s walls, tear apart the plaster and pull out the bricks. The incident had started for them, his kiss sending hairline fractures along her careful resolve. Their was no going back now, they were caved in, the only way out was to pull each other back, to strip down their emotions and start again.

Chapter Text

It smelt like animals. The air dry like dirt and tangy with manure. Tilly crinkled her nose, fending off a scowl as she checked the papers in her hand for the tenth time. The address provided was for a small bungalow on the zoo grounds, hidden away from public view, but within reach of the enclosures. It sounded exciting when she first heard, thrilling almost, to be able to live so close to the zoo - so close to the animals like that. The image didn’t live up to expectation.

Tilly stared up at the building in front of her, crumpled and old - in desperate need of simple upkeep. She hadn’t been picky before, she wasn’t really allowed, but this - this wasn’t what Tilly was expecting. Something about the address on Zoo Drive set her heart rate thumping like horses on race day, speeding down the track. She never knew what to anticipate, never thought anything more extravagant than normal. In fact, she’d given up all hope until a week ago.

‘Can I help you?’ A voice called out from behind her, feet crunching on the gravel. Tilly jumped, momentarily frightened. She turned with a soft smile, greeting the man who had spoken.

‘Um, yeah. I’m looking for Owen Grady?’ She squinted in the sunlight, hand coming up to shield her eyes. The man in front of her faltered, face falling slightly before he picked it back up.

‘You’re looking at him, kid.’ Tilly stopped, stuttered, she wasn’t a kid. ‘What’d you want?’ He was brash, the tone almost clipping. He looked tired, when she concentrated on his face, worn and weathered, green eyes seemingly grey.

She shook herself, uncoiling her fingers in an attempt to regain control of the situation as he breezed passed her. ‘I need him - you - to sign these papers for me.’ She almost wanted to stomp her foot. Throw a tantrum at the way he was treating her. If only to protect her sinking heart. Instead, Tilly followed him up onto the porch and to the front door.

‘Who is that?’ A man asked from inside, appearing beside Owen in the doorway, dark hair and glasses. Owen brushed her importance to the side, calling her a girl scout. A third voice called out from inside the bungalow, french accent clinging to the sounds of his words as he called out an order.

Tilly rolled her eyes, drawing on her frustration. ‘Not a girl scout,’ she corrected, ‘look, I really just need you to sign this for me’.

‘If you’re not a girl scout, then what do you want?’ She shook the papers in her hand, almost wanting to hit him with them.

She could hear the strain in her voice before she even managed to speak. ‘I need you to sign this, please.’ His ‘why?’ was defensive, guarded as he started at the folded collection of papers shaking in her hand. He was testing her strengths as she threw them at him, curious to see how important it was. There was no reason for a teenager to be loitering around his bungalow.

Tilly sighed, the breath heavy in her lungs. ‘I’m kind of comprised of half your gene pool,’ it was a whisper. Owen’s utterance of ‘what?’ told her that he had heard what she had said but didn’t quite understand her.

‘I’m your daughter.’

*

There was a heavy sinking feeling, weighing in his gut. He had pushed it aside for years, tried not to think about the sweet redhead who cried in the passenger seat of his father’s car. He thought about her sometimes, about the news she shared with him, about her decision concerning her unwanted teen pregnancy. It reached out to him on dark nights and lonely days. Sometimes he wondered where their child was, wondered if he could pluck them out of their lives just so he could hold them.

He agreed to her putting the baby up for adoption. That was the last of it, she didn’t speak to him again, he didn’t see her. Their lives parted forever. Until now. Until she, their child, was standing in front of him. Tilly. Her name was Matilda and she was fifteen years old. He kept scrubbing his hand over his face in an attempt to wipe her away - confused if she was real or not. She had his green eyes, and dark hair he couldn’t place.

Barry and Lowery, his housemates, sat on their shared couch staring in complete disbelief. The events unfolding almost unfathomable.

The papers in her hand had his name typed in black ink. All he had to do was sign them. That’s all she wanted. She promised to walk away after that, emancipation on her lips.

‘I need her name too. I, ah, I couldn’t find that one.’ Tilly spoke up, after Owen scribbled his signature, half dazed on his designated part of the form. She had haunted him for fifteen years, both the girl and her mother. He always wondered. And now he half knew.

‘What?’ He blinked at her, looking into eyes reminiscent of a mirror. His green eyes on a face that seemed as much like his as it did her mothers, their youthful expressions compressed into one.

Tilly sighed. ‘Fifteen years ago you got a girl pregnant, I need her name.’ Barry and Lowery were on the edge of their seats, gripping the fabric in anticipation. Lowery, in particular, had known Owen since high school, well, at least until Owen had to move.

Owen nodded, a sure steady nod. ‘Um, yeah. Sure. Her name was Claire Dearing.’ The room froze. Tilly’s eyes were wide, watching Owen’s face compelled to call him a liar. Claire Dearing couldn’t be her mother. She had no grounds to base her argument on. But she had admired that woman for years. Claire Dearing was singlehandedly taking over San Diego’s cooperate ladder, big businesses and small, Claire acted as a liaison between them all.

Five years ago Tilly was living with a woman who was big on business management. She had encouraged Tilly to do her school project on Claire, the same year the woman was named Business Woman of the Year. Masrani Global owned half of San Diego, and by omission Claire Dearing ran it.

Lowery was the first to let go of the silence, raising from his seat immediately. ‘You slept with Claire Dearing?!’ Owen cringed. They went to school together, the three of them. Lowery had a crush to end all crushes on quiet, sweet, smart-girl Claire.

Tilly shook her head, ‘No, you can’t be serious.’ Owen only nodded, ignoring Lowery’s outrage. ‘No, no, she - no.’ The girl stuttered, her head still moving from side to side. The woman who had been absent in her life couldn’t have been the one woman whose name was everywhere in Tilly’s life. Hell, when she had an interest in school she even admired Claire Dearing for her smarts.

‘I’m not wrong, kid, it’s not like I had a habit of impregnating teenage girls.’ Tilly only raised an eyebrow. ‘I, ah, I think I have her number around here somewhere.’ He split from the girl in front of him, racing over to the kitchen counter in hope to just distract himself. He did have her number, coincidentally, had had it for years. He was always so tempted to call her, to see how she was doing, to see if it was normal to miss a baby he never met. ‘That way you can call ahead. It’d probably be easier - she’s a busy woman.’ He prattled, tossing things about, lifting stacks of paper and putting them back down.

‘She’s got her direct extension on the Masrani website.’ Lowery spoke, phone raised in his hand.

Owen grinned. ’Even better,’ he took the phone from Lowery’s hand and tapped easily on the number. The phone rang in Owen’s ear, sending nervous shocks through his system.

Claire Dearing, speaking.’ Her voice was soft, a little rough around the edges, but mostly soft. ‘Hello?’ She responded to his silence. ‘Look, I really haven’t got all day.

‘Hi, Claire.’ He breathed her name, voice catching in his throat. How many times had he thought about doing this? ‘It’s, ah - it’s Owen Grady from high school. I really need to talk to you.’ He took a breath, holding back the bubble of nervous that had sent his heart racing, trying desperately to break out of his chest. When he listened for her response, he was greeted with the dial tone. ‘She hung up,’ he told the expectant pairs of eyes. Tilly dropped her shoulders, defeat pulling down at the corners of her mouth. ‘C’mon,’ he extended his arm, ‘Masrani Global HQ isn’t far from here, I’ll take you straight too her.’ At least they knew she was there. Tilly turned, letting Owen’s hand come into contact with her shoulder blade. His warm touch on her skin igniting the smallest bit of joy inside of her. Although he had abandoned the title, here was her father, helpfully lending a hand.

*

‘So, what kind of things are you into?’ Owen asked softly, starting the engine of his truck and setting them on the road. Tilly shrugged, head leaning against the window. Her hair had a red tinge to it in the sunlight, proving that the colour was lighter than he had initially thought. Her eyes too, what little of them he could see from beside her, were a mix between green and blue. ‘Taylor Swift, some I don’t know, other teen stuff - Twilight?’ Tilly scrunched up her nose, head shaking as she uttered her disgust.

‘What kind of person do you take me for?’ She teased.

Owen shrugged, eyes on the road. ’A fifteen-year-old girl. I don’t know. You tell me.’ He wanted to know so bad, every inquisitive question he had ever thought about his child suddenly rushing to the surface. Did she play sport? Did she like math? What did she consider her strengths and weaknesses? Was she loved? Did she ever wonder if her father loved her? He thought he did, even just sparring looks while he was driving. He loved her.

‘I guess, music is hard to put a finger on. I like a little bit of everything,’ she shrugged, ‘the good stuff.’ She started a list, building up from The Rolling Stones, to Nirvana, a few small female punk bands, and some artists he didn’t know. Her tastes sat heavily in the realm of classic rock with a little splash of punk. Like father, like daughter. With the classics, anyway. ‘What do you do at The Zoo?’ She asked, cutting herself off just as she started labelling some of her favourite films.

Owen grinned, ‘I train tigers. Well, I’m their keeper, we don’t focus too heavily on tricks.’ He flicked his eyes towards her, taking them off the road just for a second so he could catch her thrilled expression. Tilly sat beside him, mouth open, eyes wide.

‘No freakin’ way!’ She laughed. ‘Oh man, that’s so cool.’

Owen shrugged, ‘It’s kinda cool.’ It was his job, so long a piece of his identity that he didn’t realise the effect it had on other people. ‘Hey, um, if you want to - at some point, if you’re interested - I could introduce you to the cubs.’

Tilly’s screech almost hit that frequency only dogs could hear, her laughter twining around the sound. ‘“If I’m interested” who isn’t interested in tiger cubs?!’ That would be amazing, Owen!’ His name felt odd coming from her mouth, familiar but wrong. He pushed the feeling aside, listening as she turned up the radio, head bobbing along to the music.

*

She felt inadequate stepping into the Masrani Global foyer. Pristine walls and clean floors, the interior crisp white. She felt off amongst the greenery for decoration, her light blue jeans and vintage tee. Owen waltzed in, seemingly at home everywhere he went.

‘I need to speak to Claire Dearing, please.’ He smiled at the assistant sitting behind the reception desk. The girl smiled back, fluttering her eyelashes at the man in front of her. Did he have an appointment? ‘No, but I know she’s here. She’ll talk to me.’ The woman picked up the phone and dialled a number. She repeated his name into the receiver then promptly hung up.

‘She doesn’t want to see you, sorry.’ Her smile was condescending. Owen turned, catching sight of Tilly admiring the foyer’s art. He nodded to himself, the girl unaware.

‘Call her again.’ The receptionist hesitated. ‘Call her again.’ His voice was rough, stern, almost forceful. The woman did as he asked. She greeted her boss, before looking up at Owen, confused about what he wanted her to do. ‘Tell her - tell Claire Dearing that this concern’s her daughter.’ The receptionists eyes grew wide before she repeated his words. The phone was put back down.

‘She’ll be down in a minute.’ She shook slightly, unimpressed. Owen, however, was rocking on the balls of his feet, proud of himself for luring her out.

It wasn’t long before the sound of furious heels clacked against the foyer tile. The glass wall behind the reception desk revealed a redheaded woman, storming angrily towards him. ‘What the hell do you want?!’ Claire Dearing hissed as she passed through the door, eyes shooting daggers at the only man in the room. He recognised her, it wasn’t like he couldn’t, with her face in the paper all the time. But even then, it had been years since he had been face to face with Claire Dearing. He could still see the sixteen-year-old girl in her eyes. ‘Are you trying to ruin my career?!’ She grabbed his arm, pulling Owen out of the foyer and into the parking lot, Tilly following behind them, unnoticed.

‘Calm down,’ Owen pulled out of her grip, breaking away and setting distance between them.

Claire fumed, hands on her hips, foot tapping against the pavement. ‘You haven’t changed at all - impatient as ever. What? What is so important you had to harass me at work and tell my secrets to the bloody receptionist?!’ She watched him with steely blue eyes, unwavering as she stared him down. Owen shrugged, one hand finding his pocket, the other rising. She opened her mouth to make another comment, but he cut her off.

‘Claire - our daughter: Matilda.’ Owen introduced, his hand pointing to the girl behind the raging woman, standing with her hands in the pockets of her jeans, intimidated by the anger. Claire froze, mid turn, her shoulders settling, her face falling. Anger still bubbled in her chest, but something else took hold of it for a moment. She had heard people talk about mothers intuition that sensation of ‘just knowing’. She never believed in it. Never believed she could even have a maternal bone in her body. With her eyes on Matilda, she knew there were truths that she was only just uncovering. Old feelings awakening inside her chest.

Tilly shuffled under Claire’s scrutiny, her eyes falling to her shoes for a second. She lifted them again, realising, as though she hadn’t already known, that the woman in front of her held the missing half of her DNA. ‘Hi,’ Tilly stuttered out, waving a small hand at the still staring woman in front of her.

‘You, you have brown hair.’ Claire uttered, taking a step forward before she stopped herself, hand in midair. ‘How’d you find me? Not that - not that I didn’t want you to but, you were so small.’ Her hands fluttered at her sides, unsure of what to do, unsure if it was appropriate to reach out and touch the young woman she had given birth too. ‘I, oh my god, I knew you would grow. But.’ The tears welled in her eyes, one slipping free past her eyelashes and down Claire’s cheek. ‘How are you? Are you okay?’ Tilly nodded, her mouth opening to speak before Owen intercepted, leaning over her shoulder.

‘She has something for you to sign.’ Tilly startled, her hands reaching for her messenger bag and the papers inside. Claire stuttered slightly, looking from the girl to Owen as Tilly explained what she needed.

‘Emancipated? From who, your parents?’ Claire asked, eyes still flickering over the face of her fifteen-year-old daughter, never straying too far from her blue-green eyes.

Owen stepped in again, ‘From the foster care system, she’s never been adopted.’

Tilly shrugged it off, ‘It’s a long story, you really don’t want to hear it.’ She did, she wanted to know everything. She couldn’t ask, it wasn’t her place, the girl wanted to be responsible for herself.

She signed the papers easily, handing pen and paper back to the girl. ‘That’s it?’ She asked, mournful tone clinging to her words. She had given up her baby with barely a glance the first time, seeing her - Matilda, alive and well in front of her. Claire didn’t want to let go so easily.

Tilly shrugged, she still had to take the paperwork back to the social services office. Claire jumped on the opportunity to take her, work abandoned for the time being as she struggled to drag her eyes away from the young woman in front of her. Tilly hesitated, turning to Owen, almost to ask if it was okay. He nodded at her softy, small smile on his face. It was goodbye, but he didn’t want it to be.

‘You, ah, you know where I live if you still want to see those cubs.’ He told her, trying to fight back the plea in his voice. He wanted to see her again. Tilly nodded, agreeing easily, light in her eyes at the simple thought. She’d come find him. Hell, she already found him the first time, he didn’t need to be worried.

*

They sat silently in Claire’s car, Tilly offering the woman directions. She didn’t know what else to say to the woman who had given her up. ’I don’t understand, the social worker said she would have no problem placing you. That their were lists of parents out there.’ Claire tapped her hand against the steering wheel.

Tilly fidgeted in her seat, a little nervous now that she was alone with the woman. ’Well, I don’t know if you knew this or not. But, I was born with a heart problem, a hole. I spent three years on and off operating tables. It doesn’t really excite prospective parents. And by then, I was ‘too old’ for most prospective families.’ She didn’t look at Claire as she spoke, instead she watched the city pass by her window, counting the streets and the businesses as they rushed past. ‘You can drop me off here.’ She spoke, finger tapping against the window, lungs struggling for air.

‘No,’ Claire protested, ‘I’ll take you there.’ Tilly shook her head.

‘Please, just - please pull over.’ The car barely stopped before Tilly was stepping out of it without a goodbye. She ran, down the street and out of sight, certain Claire hadn’t followed her. Tilly stopped on a corner, her lungs heaving, desperate for air. She thought it would be easy, simple. All she had to do was get Owen and Claire to sign the papers. Matilda never thought meeting them would stop her heart and hold her breath. She never expected them to care, or to like them. When she thought about her birth parents, when she thought about meeting them, Tilly expected them to be bitter, mean, callous even. Owen fulfilled the criteria until he knew who she was, his whole face transformed, he watched her out the corner of his eye when he thought she wasn’t looking. And Claire, she was soft, suffocating Tilly with unspoken remorse.

She had made it fifteen years without parents. She didn’t need them. She didn’t want them.

*

She was ready for her trial, confident and prepared. Life was going to be easier from there. She would be emancipated, legally responsible for herself, not strangers or the foster care system.

Tilly didn’t notice Claire slip into the room behind her, nor Owen catch the other woman invading on the girl’s trial. Their quiet bickering remained quiet until the judge asked who would co-sign Matilda’s lease.

The girl stuttered, she hadn’t thought of that, or thought of getting a job prior to her hearing. She just wanted to be free of the adults who wanted to control her life. The chorus of semi familiar voices behind her, made Tilly jump, twirling on the spot. Owen and Claire where standing from their seats a little to her left, promising to co-sign a lease. Tilly glared at them both, mortified to find them there. She should have known better than to tell them the date of her hearing.

‘And, who are they?’ The judge asked, voice snapping Tilly back to the present moment. Her sixteenth birthday was tomorrow, she needed to get emancipated, this was her last chance before waiting another two years to finally fall out of the system.

She hesitated, somewhat aware of the implications if she named them. ‘They’re my birthparents.’ The judge turned her attention away, flicking through Matilda’s paperwork in front of her. Tilly spared another glance back at Owen and Claire, who were grinning at the judge, Claire’s elbow wedged into Owen’s rib. The judge called them out, questioning the validity of Owen’s job before she commended Claire for her well known position at Masrani Global. Each adult beamed, nodding when they were spoken to. ‘Wait,’ Tilly spoke, ‘I don’t understand, what’s going on here?’

The judge sighed, looking down at the young girl in front of her. ‘I am not granting you emancipation. You have no income, no permanent residence, you filed a fee waver in order to cover your court costs.’ She waited a beat, almost feeling Matilda’s shuttering breath, her heart shattering in her chest. ‘Now, Claire Dearing and Owen Grady are still legally your parents …’

‘Ah,’ Tilly started, ‘Actually, they’re not. I had them sign the papers.’ She thrust her hand out in front of her, fighting off the urge to run over and pull the papers out to prove the woman wrong.

The judge shook her head with a mournful look. ‘Those papers were not witnessed, nor were they notarised. So, unless anyone here has an objection, I am releasing you back into their temporary joint custody.’ She brought the gavel down. ‘This case is dismissed.’

Tilly flew from the small courtroom, escaping the building and fleeing down the steps before Owen caught her arm. She shrugged out of his grasp, ‘That was the complete opposite of getting emancipated!’ She yelled, ripping away from him.

‘You know,’ Owen turned to Claire, a few steps behind him. ‘This is your fault.’ He pointed a finger. Claire glared at him, incredulously, trying to bite back the words that were threatening to bubble over. ‘If you just let me sign the damn thing instead of jumping in, it would have been fine!’

Her laugh was bitter, laced with sixteen years worth of hatred. ‘Do you really want to go there, Owen? Because, if you had used a condom that hadn’t been lugged with you everywhere - on the off chance of getting lucky - for two years, we wouldn’t be here!’ She couldn’t let go of the anger pressing against her throat forcing words out she hadn’t quite thought of in a long time. Claire stopped, her eyes catching on Matilda a few steps away. She steadied her breathing, regaining control, Owen Grady was only another business agreement. ‘No, that’s no the point. The point is, we need to figure out exactly what it is that we’re going to do.’ Owen stared at her. ‘Like the living situation, for example.’
Owen shrugged, ‘I live with two other guys, at a zoo. It took me three months to convince them we had to buy our own furniture and stop living off second hand dumps. I think a fifteen-year-old is going to be a bit of a stretch.’

Tilly piped in, rectifying her age as almost sixteen, while Claire rolled her eyes. ‘You’re unbelievable, you know that, right?’ Owen groaned, his hand wrapping around Claire’s arm to pull her away from Tilly.

‘I’m sorry, but which one of us has been trying to help Matilda from the beginning?’ He asked, frustrated with the woman in front of him. He was only trying to help the girl, he wanted to help her, he hadn’t been there for fifteen years, he wanted to start with something.

‘Yeah,’ Claire scoffed, sarcasm thick, ‘you’ve been so helpful!’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Like that time you denied we slept together - that was a great time for everyone, Owen. Oh, that’s right, and then your picked up and moved to the other side of the country. Not only did you deny that she existed, but you fled!’ She wasn’t wrong. His father, a military man was offered a position on the west coast, the family moved accordingly. Owen was only sixteen, he didn’t exactly have a choice and he wasn’t about ready to tell his parents that he got a girl pregnant.

‘What did you want me to do Claire? Stay, propose, marry you? Because, last time I saw you, you didn’t exactly want a kid either.’ He hissed, aware of Tilly listening, cautious of what she might hear.

Claire struggled, hands knotted in fists beside her hips. ‘I didn’t want a lot of things when I was sixteen, okay. I didn’t want to take Algebra, I didn’t want my Mom to die, I didn’t want to have a crush on some meat head quarterback, who would -‘ Owen stopped her,

‘What meat head quarterback, me?’

‘No,’ Claire shook her head furiously, angry at the warm tears she could feel building in her eyes.

‘Because, the back of my Dad’s truck, that was a fluke. You said that was a fluke.’

‘It was a fluke, I was just a sucker for Chevrolet’s.’ She waved him off, trying not to reveal long dead feelings, their ghost still following her around.

‘Then why are you upset?’

‘Because this is what you do, Owen! You make me upset.’

‘Shut up!’ Tilly yelled, her stance copying Claire’s, not that either woman noticed, hands in fists at their sides. ‘So what, he let you down?! It’s not like you’ve never let anybody down before. I mean, did you ever consider keeping me?’ Because that’s what it was about, right there, in that moment; Tilly. They gave her up, and the only thing she wanted in her life now, was to be free. Then the judge gives her right back.

Claire stared at her, tracing the lines of her face with her eyes, calculating every inch of her daughter. Her daughter. She had delicate features, but she looked like Owen, darker hair, darker eyes, her skin only a few shades lighter. Where would she have been in her life if she had kept her, raised Matilda on her own at age sixteen? Not here, not where she was now. Could she have ever made that sacrifice? ‘No.’

Tilly threw her arms up, letting go of her clenched fists. ‘Forget about it!’ She shouted at them, trying away from the arguing adults. ‘I’m going back to foster care. The two of you - you can’t be parents. You need them.’

Claire took a step forward, three, four, her heels snapping against the pavement. ‘No, Tilly. Please - Matilda.’

The girl shouted over her shoulder, ‘You let me go once, it shouldn’t be too hard to do it again!’

*

He only offered to buy Claire a drink. How they made it back to his quiet home at the zoo, she couldn’t quiet recall. Matilda was gone, her angry words ringing in Claire’s ears, hissing hatred. Owen expected her to turn up, almost promised that she would. He, so far, had been wrong.

‘What are we going to do?’ Claire dropped her head to her hands, sitting on his sofa, feeling sorry for herself.

Owen shrugged, dropping to sit beside her. ‘Keep stalking her caseworker, maybe we can get her phone number?’ Claire groaned. ‘You’ve gotta stop blaming yourself, it was pretty much a joint effort.

Claire rolled her eyes. ‘I told my daughter that I never even considered keeping her.’ Owen hummed, leaving the air around them to vibrate. She probably shouldn’t have admitted that one, not the the fragile psyche of a teenage girl. ‘I should have lied.’

He shrugged, ‘It wasn’t just what you said.’

‘Oh, right,’ she nodded, ‘The fighting, and the blaming, and finding out her mother got deflowered in the back of a truck.’ The air evaporated.

‘Wait, what?!’ Claire rolled her eyes again, some people never changed. Although she hadn’t known Owen personally for very long, she knew his mind resided very much in the gutter of self pride. ‘Your first time was after prom?’

Her cheeks flushed, despite propriety she couldn’t help the slight giggle that formed in her throat, nor the response on her lips. ‘Technically it was during - we left early.’ The grin on her face deepened Owen’s smirk, making Claire’s cheeks glow. How had they gone from ripping at each others neck’s earlier in the day, to laughing over their sixteen-year-old selves?

Owen’s face sobered, eyes sincere. ‘Listen, Claire,’ he breathed, ‘I’m sorry.’

‘Oh, c’mon,’ she laughed with the flick of her hand, prepared to make a joke about his teenaged masculinity. His voice stopped her, words still flowing, tone serious.

‘Back then,’ Owen scrubbed a hand over his face. ‘Back then I was afraid I was going to mess up my life. I was going to mess up my life. I did. Dad got re-stationed and I happily fled. I should have called you or something.’

‘It wouldn’t have worked. I was so mad at you, mad at everyone really. You know,’ she laughed a little, ‘I wanted to storm your house, rant and rave, call you out in front of your parents, tell them I was pregnant.’

‘Why didn’t you?’ He grinned a little, amused at the fiery redhead who, even at sixteen, would have talked his parents into some form of liable deal.

Claire’s soft smile faltered, ‘My mom got worse.’ She shrugged. The other shoe in her life had dropped on that day. She didn’t have time to throw a tantrum on Owen’s front lawn, instead, she had to step up.

A minute passed between them, silence filling in the empty gaps in the room. Claire inhaled a shaky breath, lungs stuttering to hold it all in. ‘She has your eyes,’ Claire whispered, tilting her head to catch his gaze. ‘… Tilly. I always really liked your eyes.’ He stared at her with said green eyes, tracing her face with a look she hadn’t seen in a very long time.

She didn’t know who moved first, but suddenly his hands where on her face, hers on his, their lips locked together. She was in his lap one second, then hoisted in the air the next. He had picked her up, legs wrapped around his waist, his hands on the back of her thighs.

*

‘I can’t believe you!’ Claire hissed, hitting Owen with a pillow the next morning, shock horror coursing down her spine. He mumbled something back at her, oddly childish and cocky. You weren’t complaining last night. Not again, she told herself, she wouldn’t fall into his green eyed, honey skinned trap - not again. It had worked when she was sixteen, it wasn’t going to work now that she was thirty-one. Except, it did.

Claire climbed over him with a grunt. The realisation that she was wearing his shirt only seemed to make the steam fly out of her ears a little harder. She pulled it off, replacing it with her clothes from the day before, not without flicking the t-shirt at him in frustration.

‘Are you always like this?’ She stopped, halfway to his bedroom door only to glare at him. ‘Aren’t people supposed to chill out after they get laid?’

‘Don’t you - do you realise what we’ve done?!’ He nodded slowly before shaking his head under her scrutiny. ‘No, no, no, no. This,’ she waved her hand between them, ‘Can never ever happen again’. They had just been given a second chance with Tilly, their bickering having ruined it in a second flat. They couldn’t sleep together, their glasshouses would only shatter under the pressure. ‘Hell, this didn’t happen.’ She didn’t catch Owen’s laughing nod, too busy slipping out of his house to notice.

Stepping out the door, Claire tripped over something slightly heavy. ‘Claire?’ Tilly’s voice croaked up at her, the girl lying in a dry spot on Owen’s porch. She hissed, under her breath, undeniably caught. ‘What are you doing here?’ Tilly asked, rubbing at her eyes, gathering her bearings before the pieces fell together. ‘Did you sleep over? Oh my god, you slept with him, didn’t you?!’ The girl was giggling, curled up in a sleeping bag and rocking with laugher. ‘Don’t you people ever learn?’

Claire shook her head, ‘Have you been out here all night?’ She looked down at the girl, concern etched against her words. The last thing she ever expected of her daughter was sleeping on people’s doorsteps.

Tilly nodded slowly, her eyes watching the driveway instead of Claire. ‘I was waiting for Owen to wake up, you know - let me in.’ She shrugged, ‘Guess I should have waited until after my hearing to tell my foster mom to suck it.’

Claire flinched, ‘Is it really that bad?’ She asked, heart aching for the girl in front of her, for the hard decisions she had to make at such a young age - the both of them. Claire lowered herself to the ground, squishing herself between Tilly and a pot plant.

‘Worse.’ Tilly breathed, watching the grass glimmer with rain. ‘But, ah, hey, thanks for coming to the hearing.’ She shrugged, ‘That was nice, until it wasn’t’.

‘I’m sorry that you’ve have to go through all of this,’ Claire started, blue eyes tearing holes in the face of her young daughter. There was something to be recognised in each line, each curve and slope of her young face. Mementos of Owen, of herself. Long lost family members and combined heritage, it all sat there, comprised in the form of Matilda. Tilly waved her off, the same easy comment of, it’s not your fault. ‘It is.’ Claire breathed, eyes never moving from the long lashes on Tilly’s face. ‘Look, I know I should have been there for you. I mean, now that I know nobody else was … I should have been. If I could - If I could go back and make different choices, if I knew you were ill, I would. It wouldn’t have been easy. But, I would have tried to do what I could.’

‘She would have kicked my ass too,’ Owen added, causing both girls to jump. Pulling the fly screen open, he stepped out onto the porch. Claire smiled at him softly. They were both to blame for not being there, for making adult choices from teenage brains. ‘Now, whose up for some Grady family birthday pancakes?!’ He clapped, eyes on Tilly who seemed bewildered for a second before remembering; she was sixteen today.

She let Owen pull her up, his hand wrapped around her wrist before he assisted Claire and lead them both back into his home. ‘Can we go see the cubs later?’ Tilly asked, wide blue-green eyes staring up at him with hopeful expectation.

Owen was a goner, the girl already wrapped around his little finger. He grinned, ‘Anything for you, Till.’

Chapter Text

‘It’s Claire’s birthday today - so, hopefully I’ll be out a little earlier than usual.’ Zara wished, phone pressed between her ear and shoulder. She was standing just outside Claire’s office, leaning on her desk, taking a personal call.

Owen stopped in his tracks. He was certain that he heard Zara right: Claire, and birthday in conjunction with one another. He hadn’t known Claire Dearing for very long, two months approximately, since their formal introductions. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t seen her wandering the park on occasion, sticking her nose into the raptor paddock, curious as to what was going on. He let Claire have her distance, choosing not to approach her unless she approached him. He wasn’t there to make friends on the island, any hook-ups were certainly out of the question concerning InGen and Jurassic World staff. He couldn’t live the next - god knew how many years - having to see their faces on a possible daily basis.

Claire caught his eye as much as any redheaded woman dressed in white, jacket and all, could in Central America, in the middle of a dinosaur infested island. She stuck out like a sore thumb. He kind of loved it. He wanted to push her buttons, if only to see how she would react. Flustering Claire Dearing had become his new game, still a fledgling, he was committed none the less.

He bothered her for stupid, unnecessary reasons, sometimes to flirt outrageously, just to watch her cheeks flush pink, and her neck red. Other times he just wanted to watch her, listen, gather intel, learn her behaviour silently as she prattled on about the importance of the paper work he needed to make top priority. Sometimes he just wanted to hear her exasperated huff as he waltzed into her office looking for someone who wasn’t even remotely on her floor - or currently on the island at all for that matter. He’d given her a fake name once, just to see what she would do.

Knowing that it was her birthday, that very day, excited him a little. Power went to his head, Claire was relatively private. Her birthday would not be common knowledge to her staff. He turned on his heel, slipping out of the corridor before Zara could even realise he had been present. He walked down Main Street for a minute, trying to decide what to do with his newfound power. There was, of course, the thought to surprise her with a birthday dinner, guests: everyone. She would likely feed him to the T-Rex for that. It would be worth it though. The flush on her cheeks, the clenching of her hands. The frustrated little grunt she always managed to make, ever so quietly.

Owen shook his head. No. As great as he felt it would be, she most definitely wouldn’t be appreciative of it or him. He stopped in front of the island’s small bakery, a little shack really, offering sweet treats and delicious delights. His eyes caught sight of a single chocolate cupcake, vanilla icing, sprinkles, a tiny T-Rex edible sticker on top. Perfect. He paid, thanking the woman whose name badge read ‘Trish’ for placing it in a small box.

His step was almost giddy as he traced back down the fifth floor hallway. He flashed a file toward’s Zara, the woman’s curious look trying to stop him before he approached her boss’s door. He was in, the door shut behind him before Zara could protest on his intrusion.

Claire looked up from her desk, fingers still tapping on the keys of her laptop, head tilted slightly at the sight of Owen leaning against her office door. ‘Can I help you, Mr Grady?’ Owen grinned, small cake box handing from his finger by the string. She watched him cautiously as he stepped towards her, arm out stretched.

He placed the box on her desk, grin etched into his cheeks. He nodded, encouraging Claire to reach for it. She did so with speculation, her eyes glued to his face as she reached for it blindly. They barely knew each other. He came in and out of her office on occasion, she visited the raptor paddock - all only on the hunt or hand over of his paperwork. He irritated her mostly, behind the flush of her cheeks and his sly jokes.

There was something underneath his cheesy jokes and half pick up lines, his reluctance to hand in paperwork on time, and the bright smile that warmed her insides. Claire Dearing couldn’t put her finger on Owen Grady, she didn’t think she wanted to, to be perfectly honest. At his most basic the man was a neanderthal, a little more civilised, and certainly easier on the eyes than the rest - but a neanderthal, none the less.

She tore her eyes away from Owen’s grinning face, his teeth biting on the inside of his cheek, trying to prevent the shit eating grin from spilling all over her desk. Claire huffed, the string was loose around the box, freeing her hands to open the lid. She did so slowly, expecting some gag jack-in-the-box, or those spring snakes. She hated surprises. She hated pranks. If he thought he could walk in there and pull a prank on her - on her birthday no less - Owen would have another thing coming for him.

It opened without a hitch, the lid lifting up and back slowly, as she squinted under the cardboard. Just as her eyes ascertained what was in front of her, Owen spoke, half on a whisper: ‘Happy Birthday.’ He was sitting in front of her now, occupying one of the chairs across from her place, expectant look on his face.

Claire sputtered, words caught in her throat, confusion chasing circles around her brain. ‘How - how did you know?’ She asked, head shooting up to look at him across her desk, his smile soft now, gentle, no longer facetious. Owen shrugged, claiming he just did, as he asked if she liked her cupcake. Claire rolled her eyes, thanking him for the sprinkles. Her cheeks were pink, a sign that he had flustered her. Her hands shook a little, her walls down. He’d seen Claire Dearing man conference rooms armed to the walls with male CEOs. She never flinched. Getting her alone, in her office, a cupcake all he had to offer - that had her fingers trembling as she held the treat between them.

‘I overheard Zara, on the phone.’ He told her honestly, hoping to settled whatever had been unnerved. Claire sighed a small ‘oh’, nodding her head as she accepted his words. ‘I just, ah, I just wanted to do something nice. ‘Cause, you know, it’s your birthday and all.’ Owen rubbed the back of his neck, fingers scratching through his hair. It was his turn to be uncertain, unnerved around her. But, then again, he expected that when Claire was around. It was simply the effect she had on him. ‘You’re probably missing your family.’

Claire shrugged, nodding her head a little. ‘I was just about to Skype my sister, actually.’ She pointed to the laptop in front of her, two fingers peeling at the pattypan around her cake.

Owen stood slowly, hands behind his back. ‘I’ll leave you to it then.’ He excused turning to leave quietly.

‘Did you really come all the way over here to bring me a cupcake?’ Claire asked, voice soft. Owen shrugged. It wasn’t the truth, but he felt somehow it would mean a little more if he let her think otherwise.

‘And this too,’ He almost forgot about the manilla folder in his hand, his paperwork complete a couple of days early, just for her. He’d been thinking about her a little too much lately, clearly it was making Owen crazy. Especially if he had his paperwork done on time. He dropped the folder to her desk, smiling softly as she looked at it in surprise. ‘Happy Birthday, Claire.’ He told her again, stepping away from her desk and reaching the door. She told him he didn’t have to leave, suddenly feeling kindly to the raptor trainer, even offering to share the cupcake he bought her. He declined beyond his better judgement.

Owen stopped, hand on the door, her name on his lips. Claire looked up, radiant in the afternoon sun, small little smile tickling her cheeks. That wasn’t always there, today he had been the cause of its presence. ‘I’d really like to take you to dinner sometime.’ The words were out before he could swallow them back down. Inner monologue thrashing him for saying them but declining her invitation to stay.

Her teeth bit down on her bottom lip before her smile grew warm, dimples pooling in her pale cheeks. ‘I’d like that, Owen.’ Her use of his name was not lost on the man, his heard rate soaring at the loss of formality. He’d opened his mouth, lazy smile gripping at his skin, ready to reply - to organise a day, a time when Zara opened the door, squeezing in front of him.

‘Karen’s on line one, said her connection wasn’t working and she couldn’t get through.’ Claire thanked her softly, watching as the British woman eyed Owen cautiously before she stepped back out the door.

Owen stuck his hands in his pockets. ‘I’ll come find you when you’re less busy.’ He told her, pulling the door open, ready to leave.

‘Tomorrow’s fine, around seven?’ He nodded easily, grin stuck to his face as Claire reached for her phone, pressing the extension her sister was likely impatiently waiting on. Owen slipped out before she could give him one last shy smile, excitement bubbling in her chest.

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, the bar was quiet, patrons idling in small numbers even for the nine o’clock hour. He hardly thought to look for her there. He had wandered down there for himself, looking to throw back a drink hard enough to burn his throat, and numb the roaring in his brain.

Claire was seated at the bar, the only one there as the bartender, a young woman, wiped down the counter around her. She sat, back arched forward, elbows on the bar, head hanging between her hands. The glasses that sat scattered around her hunched form, clinked as the bartender picked them up, clearing away long gone drinks in attempt to lighten her work load for the closing hour.

Owen approached her slowly, steps even, treating her like a spooked animal more than a broken human being. The bar stool squeaked, feet raking across the floor as he pulled it back as gently as he could. Claire’s head snapped up, eyes alert, frightened. She relaxed when she registered who he was, her body relaxed, dropped back to its slumped position.

‘Nice choice,’ Owen commented, tapping his forefinger against the bottle of tequila sitting just under her ducked head. ‘Nightmares?’ Claire shook her head.

‘I quit.’ Her voice was a whisper, shaky and rough. He slid the bottle out from in front of her, signalling to the bartender for an empty glass. His chortle was short, a small snort rather than a laugh, as he poured himself a glass from her bottle.

‘We all quit, Claire. Our lives, and this includes everyone at the park, have turned into a circus.’ She shook her head, fingers rubbing at her temple. She moved, one hand letting go of her head to reclaim the bottle of tequila he had pinched from her. Claire didn’t bother with a glass, instead she threw her head back and swallowed as much as she could tolerate.

‘I quit my job. I can’t work for Masrani Global, not after that.’ The hand holding the bottle did a loop in the air circling the conference room that sat above their heads and everything else attached to it. She’d spent the whole day in that room, answering the same question in different ways. How exactly did this happen? At some point her mind wandered, threatening to snap. Claire wanted to slam her hands down on the table and demand an answer for their thoughts. Who actually thought this park would work? She had her doubts in the beginning, but was assured the T-Rex was going to be their only carnivorous species. The park grew from there. A new dinosaur added when park numbers dwindled below average. It was a marketing scheme, one she was comfortable with. Clearly, she had become too trusting with the genetics lab.

She was the only one capable of answering their questions. Lowery was called in, a little useful, Vivian too. But it was Claire Dearing, Senior Assets Manager, Masrani’s right hand man at Jurassic World who had to have all the answers. She wished Simon was there, to tell his part. Henry Wu, too. He was the one who created the damn Indominus Rex. She was the only one left standing in that room, the only one who could answer for those who played God, the only one who could accept the toll of deaths and injuries.

Claire did what she had to do. She stood in front of the small gathering of Masrani directors, her eyes unable to settle on Andrew Masrani. She felt remorse for the man who lost his tycoon brother, and biggest profit. She tried to explain the hard decision. Keep the twenty thousand guests on the island, unawares of the escaped disaster slowly heading their way. Or tell them, letting them flee and never return. She couldn’t have known the I-Rex would cause so much damage. She should have, but no one knew how ill equipped they were for the animal until it was too late.

‘You shouldn’t have done that,’ Owen snorted, cringing as the drink slid down his throat. She hadn’t noticed that about him before, the chortle, or snort, the heavy exhale or low whistle. He responded in sounds more than he did words. Accustomed so a somewhat nonverbal language than proper linguistics.

Claire sighed, the vision of powerful men shooting her down for something that had a fifty-fifty change of falling to shit. She tried to save their park, tried to keep guests out of the loop in order to not affect profits. If Masrani had kept his cool, settled with what they had. If the public weren’t so power hungry for bigger, scarier, more teeth. They wouldn’t have been there. Their ACU teams would have been safe. Their guests would have made it out with happy memories, not physical scars. ‘All I’m ever going to be is the woman who put twenty thousand lives at risk.’

He shrugged, ’You’re going to be that regardless of if you leave or if they fire you’. Claire only wobbled on her barstool, faint, almost pathetic hum vibrating from her chest. ‘Are you sure that’s what you want to do?’ She shrugged weakly.

Claire’s eyes were red when she look at him, wide and puffy, brimming with tears. ‘I just,’ she stopped, stuttering on a half finished breath. ‘I don’t know. I just need the dust to settle, I need things to go back to normal.’

He laughed softly at their situation, ‘Normal is subjective, Claire. And right now, for you, for me, for everyone involved at the park; ‘normal’ is being redefined. This media circus is never going to end, the blame is never going to end. There’s going to be a one year anniversary, a five year anniversary. Hell, who knows, maybe someone’s gonna think it’ll be a brilliant idea to reopen the park in three years. It’s just going to chase itself in circles, like a damn dog after it’s tail. And every god damn time, you’re going to be pulled into it. We’re never getting off this ride.’

She made a noise halfway between a groan and a moan, the bottle raising to her lips for a third time. Owen was right. They were only going to keep circling back, and every time they did her phone would ring off the hook, her inbox would flood with messages, every news room would whisper her name. Normal wasn’t coming back, regardless of if she moved on with her life, found a new job, settled down - maybe had a kid, like Karen was so persistent would happen - she’d only ever be ripped right back into the travesty of Jurassic World all over again.

‘There was no avoiding this, was there?’ She asked quietly, staring at the bottle in her hand, watching the others on the back wall of the bar. Owen shook his head, taking the bottle from her.

‘It was a theme park full of living and breathing dinosaurs - to be honest, we all had it coming.’ He watched her for a second, noting the slight sunburn on her cheeks and the hollow look in her eyes as she nodded slowly. ‘You know, even after all that, I never expected to see you drinking tequila.’ Owen tried for a joke, hoping to at least catch a spark of a smile on her face. He got what he wanted, the smile only small and fleeting as she let out a strangled laugh.

‘It felt appropriate,’ She traipsed through the jungle half delirious for a strong drink. It helped her forget in college, it could help her forget in the middle of their death trap of an island. It could, hopefully, help her forget afterwards. She laughed at her thoughts for a second, before sharing them, marvelling completely at where they were. ‘This is already going better than our first date, and the circumstances are completely morbid.’

Owen grinned. Their disaster of a date never failed to settle between them. They couldn’t help themselves from bringing it up, great chemistry confused by alpha personalities. He’d accepted that they weren’t meant to be. She had her lists. He had his laid back attire. He couldn’t help the attraction, the absolute burn inside of him that screamed for her attention, that begged to flirt with her far more than he should have. The voice that nipped at the back of his brain, begging for corny innuendo just to watch her cheeks flush. Somewhere in the jungle, standing beside a waterfall, her clothes pristine, her hair lethal, her shoes too ridiculous, he’d fallen in love with her defiance. He’d fallen in love with her.

‘You never fail to surprise me,’ he whispered, half in awe. This wasn’t the Claire Dearing that he knew. She was frail and fractured, promising to break apart in a second. He wasn’t scared. This was momentary, hell had broken loose, she would mend her broken pieces.

‘Together, for survival - right?’ She asked, he nodded, ‘You’ve got to learn to adapt, Soldier’.

‘Oh, is that so, Red?’ Owen was ready to accept whatever she was prepared to throw at him. She nodded, a small smile gracing her lips, her eyes a little lighter as she confirmed, that is definitely so.

Chapter Text

She shifted her weight between her feet nervously, wrists shaking anxious energy from her hands. Her lips moved around words of encouragement, voice not breaking them aloud. She clenched her fists, nodded her head, and took a step closer to the door in front of her. She couldn’t tell if it was the Central American heat that was causing her skin to glimmer with sweat, or if she had worked herself up enough standing in front of the small portable building that offered as an office/break room for those working on the Raptor research team. The door opened before she had the chance to reach for it.

‘Claire!’ Owen Grady grinned down at her, already taller in height, accentuated by the small step up into the building. ‘Can I help you with anything?’ He asked, confused towards the slightly fidgeting woman in front of him. Claire Dearing did not fidget. Owen took a step back when she nodded cautiously, reentering the building, woman in tow. ‘What’s up?’ He was casual, shoulders shrugging as he leant against a desk.

‘I need a date’. Claire rolled her eyes at his hopeful expression, green eyes wide, sly smile ticking across his lips.

She held back the want to slap the grin off his face, more particularly, when he spoke. ‘A second date?’

Claire responded faster than the speeding ambulance could possibly be in order to recover his corpse. ‘No, oh no - hell no.’ Owen chuckled, mocking hurt with his hand on his chest. ‘Just a pretend date would do, someone to accompany me to a family wedding. You’re a far more interesting option to my family than Lowery … who, really, was my only other option. Actually,’ She started to ramble, ‘he’d probably suffice - I’d kill him before the weekend was through.’

‘Claire?’ Owen called into her subconscious ramblings, pulling the woman away from them with his hands on her shoulders. ‘Relax.’ He waited a second, watched her catch her breath, slightly startled. ‘I’ll do it.’

‘You will?’ She blinked up at him.

Owen shrugged, ‘yeah, sure. I don’t know what I’m signing up for but - I’ll do it.’ She had already responded with the plus one to her cousin’s wedding. Already fought tooth and nail with Abigail for her guest, certain - that time - that he would stick around long enough. When he bailed, and she should have seen it coming, Claire couldn’t find the courage to face her fiery cousin and recall her guest. The only other option was to find a replacement.

Owen was the only other male individual on the island she had conversations with outside of work. Their date was strained, painful, waiting to implode. They got out of it alive. Frustrated and annoyed, but free from battle scars. She had hoped they were amicable enough to make it through a weekend with her family, playing pretend at a loosely committed couple. She only had to fool her family, her cousins, friends, people who knew her for longer than her memories had started. All she had to do was make sure he didn’t wear board shorts to a formal occasion.

*

‘You can quit staring, I’m going to be here all day,’ Owen grinned, tapping the edge of Claire’s wide brimmed hat. She blinked, once, twice before shaking her head to clear her thoughts. She had been staring, caught in the act, too. He was befuddling her. Her mind short wiring next to the man wearing a crisp white linen shirt and navy three-quarter length shorts. They had come to a compromise on appropriate attire, Owen bemoaning the setting of her cousin’s beach wedding. Maybe it was the Florida heat, but, Owen Grady had suddenly become appealing to Claire in his formal - still weather appropriate - attire.

She blamed the blush on the warm sun, promising that her skin brunt at the simple thought of UV rays. Owen rolled his eyes at her first complaint, reminding the redhead that she worked on a tropical island.

Claire faltered when Owen reached for her purse, taking the small bag from her hands before she could properly shut the car door. She stared at him, mouth slightly open, eyes confused. ‘You want them to think we’re dating right, committed, serious?’ Claire nodded slowly, watching as he wound the long, thin arm strap around his hand. ‘Let me carry your tiny bag.’

This was a bad idea.

It was too late to go back. She couldn’t exactly send him back to the island on some false excuse. They were there, her family just over the sand dunes, expectant eyes waiting to meet Claire’s date. She had no doubt he would pull it off, there wasn’t an inch of awkward about Owen, especially not around her. She just didn’t think she would make it to the reception if he kept up the act.

He’d been completely normal on their flight from Costa Rica to Orlando. If not armed with the excuse to push the buttons of her childhood. Claire felt it completely necessary to fill her in on his family, her mother, her sister, her young nephews. Her cousin, Abigail, whose wedding it was. The oddball family members it was best to avoid, or in the least keep up small conversation. Those she loved, those she loathed. He listened, far better than he ever had on the island, and even offered his own stories in return.

Claire could hear the light chatter of excited family, the soft sound of poor musicians who’d been paid to play in the sand, mixing with their laughter. The voices grew louder, Claire more focused on the sandy path and her wedged heels than what was to come. Owen wrapped his arm around her waist, pulling her tightly into his side. She stumbled, thrown off for a second, breath caught in her throat. It's just an act, she had to remind herself. Just an at to keep her family off her back, to keep away Abigail’s snide remarks.

‘Claire!’ A voice called out, tearing Claire’s eyes from Owen’s softly smiling face to that of her waving sister. She grinned, repeating her name to Owen, preparing him before they got close enough to greet her. Owen broke away from Claire, much to her disappointment as Karen drew close enough to touch. ‘Oh my god, you look beautiful,’ Karen smiled, hands ghosting down her sister’s arms, admiring the light blue dress, that sat off her sister’s shoulders. ‘As always,’ Karen laughed, fingers poking at the bodice of Claire’s dress, where dark blue flowers burst out from a cluster. ‘And you must be Owen.’ Karen grinned, accepting the hand he extended. Claire watched her sister fault a little, as she had done on too many occasions at Owen’s bright smile. ‘You didn’t say he was hot.’ Karen hissed, all too loudly as she hugged her sister a second time.

For the second time in ten minutes, Claire felt her cheeks burn. She was thankful for the hat, and the hopeful shadow it cast over her face. Owen laughed, a deep belly chuckle, as his hand slid around her waist again, fingers resting gently - if not possessively - on her hip. She didn’t hear what he said in response to her sister, her ears attuned to the thudding of her heartbeat, and the rush of her blood moving too fast. She didn’t expect him to drop a kiss to her cheek, his head ducking under the brim of her hat for the affectionate action. Claire didn’t know what caused it, but she could read the look on her sister’s face. He was too good at this. Even Karen, who’d been skeptical of this ‘boyfriend’ she’d never heard of, had fallen for Owen’s charms.

Her nephew’s were next. Gray seeking out his mother in an attempt to exhale his boredom. Any thought of exasperation died on his tongue when Claire introduced him to Owen. He works with the Velociraptor’s at the park. Words flew from Gray’s mouth in seconds, questions, statistics, things little boys couldn’t even pronounce. He was curious about the dinosaurs, already informed about most others, but Velociraptors they were dangerous, thrilling, Owen worked with them up close. Zach was nowhere to be seen, Karen explaining that he was probably a little further down the beach sulking about ruining a perfectly good day.

They were ushered to their seats, the band preparing their instruments for the bridal waltz as friendly chatter turned to hushed excitement and high strung emotion. Claire caught the eye of her mother who only grinned, nodding in Owen’s direction silently. He didn’t notice, head bowed so he could listen attentively to Gray’s questioning whispers. His hand was on her knee, holding lightly to two of her fingers, thumb absently stroking a line between their hands and the edge of her dress.

He was constantly touching her, it hadn’t surpassed an hour, and yet his hand had never strayed from her for any longer than five minutes. She didn’t mind. She should have, but she really didn’t. Claire couldn’t exactly ask him to stop, she’d essentially recruited him for the weekend for the sole purpose of pretending to be her boyfriend. Of course he was going to touch her. She just didn’t know how much of it was Owen and how much of it was her pretend date. Surely he hadn’t realised his thumb was tracing lines on her skin, creating goosebumps under the warm sun.

They stood, when Abigail stepped on the beach, just off the path they’d come down themselves. His hand left hers for a second, returning once they sat again, reclaiming it’s place on her knee.

*

The reception was worse. Claire should have expected it. Her family loved him, extended or otherwise. That was all she should have cared about, that her plan had worked, even Abigail seemed impressed.

He held her hand, or kept an arm around her waist. He kissed her on the cheek when her family doted on her, sharing stories from her childhood, or complimenting them as a couple. He kissed her as an expression of pride and she couldn’t help but feel it.

Claire swayed, watching her cousin share her first dance with her new husband. The weather was still warm, the sun starting to set. The marquee’s on the beach kept them comfortable, all guests abandoning their shoes against the sand. She was absently aware of Owen’s hands on her hips, the man standing behind her, watching just as she was. He tugged her out onto the allocated dance floor when the bridal waltz drew to an end.

She squeaked half in shock, half in protest. His name fell on a surprised sigh as he immediately started to lead her in the next waltz. She resisted him at first, trying to pull away in embarrassment before she gave in, letting Owen lead her in circles around the floor, couple by couple joining them. ‘I didn’t know you could dance,’ Claire laughed, marvelling at the tent spinning around them. Owen shrugged, adding something about debutante balls, and doing them twice.

‘There’s a lot you don’t know about me, Claire Dearing.’ He grinned, pinning it all on their train wreck of a first date. She was suddenly an open book to him now, her life, her childhood, her mother and her sister. They were all accessible to him, she had essentially handed it all over. Claire felt her spine stiffen in fear, she never relinquished that much control. She never let someone into her life that easily. And there he was, waltzing her around the dance floor at her cousin’s wedding. Something in her settled, the realisation that Owen’s intentions were not malicious calmed her precautionary nerves.

The song came to a slow end, Owen’s steps soft, her body following his willingly, feet in line, hand in his. She pulled away from him, away from the gathering of dancing family members, to throw herself into a chair. Her chest rose and fell, laughter on her lips as she tried to catch her breath. She never expected to have fun, to be waltzed around the room, by a man who not only knew what he was doing but could genuinely make her heart feel like it would implode. Her hand sat on her chest, feeling her heart beat erratically. She didn’t expect it, she should have, looking up at Owen’s deep green eyes. He leant down, slowly, with no hesitation, one hand on the table next to her, the other on the back of her chair. His lips were on hers in a second, caught in a gentle, affectionate kiss.

Claire blinked, eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks. She couldn’t quite form words once Owen pulled away, his smile dazzling, his eyes bright. ‘Your sister is watching us,’ he excused, tilting his head slightly to the left, where indeed Karen had an eye on them.

‘You better do it again,’ she whispered, her fingers looping around his hand on the back of her chair. ‘She won’t believe it otherwise.’ Owen grinned, sensing a lie as he watched the blush rise on Claire’s cheeks. She moved first, a hand finding the back of his next, the other - that had been holding his hand - took hold of the lapel on his shirt. Claire caught Owen’s bottom lip between hers, half lifting herself from the seat as she rose to meet him. He grumbled against her lips, causing a chuckle to bubble in her throat.

‘Look at you love birds,’ Karen teased, watching her sister carefully as she approached. Claire laughed, using Owen to pull herself to her feet. This time it was her turn to wrap an arm around his waist, her body leaning into his far more than she should have let it.

She’d warmed to him, fuzzy feelings in her chest flapping like over eager butterflies. Owen Grady put a spell on her, with his green eyes and his charming smile, the way he dressed that night and his hands at her side. He won over her family with a dimple in his cheek, proving to all of them that there was someone out there for Claire. What she had to realise, was that he was probably it. The one, infuriatingly. There was something poison on Isla Nublar, driving them both to their extremes. He teased her until her back stiffened, she reared back, threw order and itinerary in his face. Their differences made them seemingly incompatible. Florida was proving something different. Her family had loosened the laces against her ribs, allowed her to breath. He was just there for the ride, for support, so she didn’t have to deal with their critical onslaught.

‘I was thinking,’ Karen started. ‘Maybe it would be nice if they boys could come see you next year, visit the park, spend some time with their aunt?’ Owen’s hand squeezed her hip, encouraging a confirmation. In a short amount of hours he had learnt about her stance with her family, the divide that kept them distant. Karen’s offer for Claire to see Zach and Gray at some point in the near future of their lives was a big step.

‘I’d really like that,’ Claire told her sister. She didn’t find the words forced, instead sincere. She wanted to get to know her nephew’s, especially after seeing how much they had grown, how much they had changed. Karen half mentioned something about Gray’s growing fascination with the Velociraptor’s, immediately including Owen in the visitation plan. Claire wanted to stop, to over analyse but she couldn’t find a sane reason to care, not when Owen was so warm beside her.

Scott called Karen away, his hand extended, intending to dance with his wife, as every other couple was doing. Owen asked if she wanted to join them, reminding subtly that they were there to play a part. Claire shook her head, fingers twining around his larger hand as she pulled him away from the crowed and out of the marquee. He followed her quietly out to the waters edge, listening to the soft rumble of the ocean, and the quieting noises of the wedding party. Claire stopped where the sand grew wet, water chasing it and out with the current to kiss their toes gracefully.

She sighed, her shoulders falling, resetting her already perfect posture. Owen watched her face in the setting sun, marvelling at the fire of her hair, vibrant in the orange rays of an ending evening. ‘I need you to do something.’ Owen was listening, ready to lay his life on the line for her as soon as she asked for it.

‘Anything,’ he whispered. Owen was sure that he would do anything she asked. He was infatuated to the point of insanity. Claire’s asking of him to be a date to her cousins wedding seemed like a splendid idea to begin with, and it was. But, having the ability to touch her, his hand on her waist, or entwined with her fingers. Being allowed to invade her personal space on the proviso that he was her boyfriend, to kiss her cheek because he wanted to. To kiss her. It had all gone to his head. He was letting emotion seep from his pores, rather than play the part she had so nervously asked of him. Claire trusted him to stick to the plan.

Her eyes scattered away from his, watching the last rays of the sun threaten to dip beyond the ocean, rising for someone else, somewhere, some day. ‘I need you to kiss me again,’ she whispered, ‘because you want to, not because someone is watching.’ Her eyes fluttered back to his. She needed to know if it was real or not. If he was kissing her because she gave him a role to fill, or if he couldn’t help himself. He could feel the nervous energy vibrate off her in waved, her fingers twitching by her sides, her feet ready to turn and run.

They were on the beach alone, everyone in the marquee celebrating now that the sun was going away. Owen swallowed hard, his tongue tracing his lips, his eyes searching the plains of her face. He waited a beat, two, three. He tore his gaze from her eyes to her lips, staring at them half open, almost shaking with her scared breath.

He snapped, one hand finding her waist, the other sliding into her hair as he crashed his lips down onto hers. He kissed her with everything he had, lips, teeth and tongue, his fingers curling into her hip. The hand in her hair was gentle, trying not to pull out pins or disturb the elegant up-do. He was a contradiction. Hard and fast, rough, teeth biting, but he was soft, gentle, and dare she say; loving.

The kiss was real, the emotion raw. It was harder than how they had kissed in the marquee, but the intention was there. A gasp escaped her throat, followed by a long moan as her hands clutched onto him desperately. Something bubbled in her chest, wiggling in beside the affection she had garnered from him throughout the day. It nudged at her gut. Their date had failed tremendously but here he was, months later, warm and solid against her, her hands on his shoulders, holding on for dear life, thumbs curled around his collar.

Claire pulled away, lung burning, skin flushed, cheeks aching from the smile on her face. ‘That,’ she tried to gulp down a hefty breath. ‘Where was that on our date?’ Owen laughed, the sound ripping across the water, sending goosebumps up her arms. She would have killed him, had he tried to kiss her on their date. Claire disagreed, dimple in her cheeks, their date would have ended differently had he kissed her like that. ‘It’s rude to leave a wedding early, isn’t it?’ She asked, cheeks turning pink, slight girlish giggle passing her lips.

‘Let’s find out,’ Owen kissed her again, briefly, before he pulled away, hand in hers as he lead them back to the marquee. He slipped in quietly to collect their shoes and her bag. Karen caught him, smiling knowingly as he passed her, sheepish look on his face.

Claire had plans for a family lunch the following day, if any one missed her throughout the rest of the evening, they’d be able to see her in the morning. She kissed his cheek sweetly when he returned her shoes, admitting that Karen had noticed their sneaky exit with nothing but a smile. Claire only rolled her eyes, hand on his shoulder to steady herself as she slipped her shoes back on.

‘They all think we’re dating anyway, what are they going to say? What is Karen going to say?’ She prattled on about salacious sex scandals and her families dismay jokingly, knowing a word would not be said directly. Karen would certainly bring it up at lunch, but only that they disappeared, not hinting at what they were doing. ‘Honestly,’ She stumbled slightly over the uneven footpath, their rental car in sight. ‘If I want to sneak off to have sex with my boyfriend, I should be allowed.’ She was a few steps ahead of him, until she said ‘boyfriend’ then Owen was behind her in a second, hands on her hips, teeth clashing as he kissed her furiously. He didn’t know if it was the word, or her plan. Something inside of him was spurred on to push her against the car, his hips anchored to hers. ‘Hotel.’ Claire chided, pulling herself away from Owen as he whined.

Owen kept his hand locked around her thigh as she drove, his tight almost painful, certain enough to leave a bruise if they had to travel any further.

They practically crashed into her hotel room, Owen leading Claire blindly. ‘God, you’re beautiful.’ He whispered, hands tracing the curve of her ribs, down to the slope of her hips, her dress billowing around her waist, in soft, poofy, fabric. ‘Did I tell you that?’ He asked, dropping to his knees, staring up at her, her dress still perfect, her face flushed, hair starting to fall apart. He had, she grinned. Meeting in the foyer of the hotel, he’d told her how beautiful she looked, his hand desperate to dart out and touch her, he refrained until they got to the beach, her family almost in their midsts.

‘I’m not good at this,’ Claire whispered back, after a moment, Owen’s lips trailing a sweet line of kisses up her leg and under the hem of her dress. ‘At relationships.’ She couldn’t even manage a date with him - because she had tried to manage it. Today could possibly have been proof that there was chance. Claire was acting on it. Owen was acting on it. They would crash and burn, dying in
the fire they had ignited for themselves. But, for the moment, sun still warm on their skin long after it had gone down; they were delirious.

Claire let him trail kisses up her legs, stubble scratching at her thighs, tongue intrusive on her lips as her knees started to buckle. They bounced against the bed, mattress springs accepting their weight, as Claire found her dominance. She straddled his waist, hands on his chest, lips pressed to his neck. Claire could have sworn the man was purring like a baby tiger. He was hard against her thigh, urgent, silently demanding. Owen let Claire have her moment, tantalising lips burning holes through his skin. He used their position to pull her dress over her head, before he flipped them, Claire on her back again.

They fought like that, each at intervals, Claire not taking no for an answer, and Owen enjoying the fight. Claire’s fingers dug into his shoulder, promising to leave crescent moons in his skin. She marked him with possible scars, he left bruises on her hips, the shapes of fingers buried into her hollow spaces. They rocked together, thrust for thrust, his eyes caught on hers. And when she came, curse on her tongue, his name sighed alongside it, he wasn’t very far behind.

Claire’s laugh almost startled him, as she settled against Owen’s chest. It was soft, settled on a gentle mewl as she got comfortable, her skin against his. ‘Where were you hiding that?’ Owen asked, fingers tracing up the back of her spine in languid lines. Claire giggled, actually giggled, as she pressed a kiss to his chest. She muttered something he couldn’t quite make out, her voice vibrating on a low frequency across his skin.

They had managed to set their differences aside. Maybe it was that, she wondered, legs entwined with his. They didn’t work on the island, something wouldn’t let them - probably her need for professionalism, to remain king of the park from Control. As a woman in the workforce, she needed to be respected. She wanted to go on that date with Owen, but she feared of the ramifications. She raised her standards, set them up to fail.

This was different.

All it took was needing him to pretend to be her boyfriend. That had to be the key. His hands wandered through her hair, smoothing out the tangles, and letting glossy strands glide through his fingers. That was it. They needed fake dates more than real dates. The absence of pressure allowed room for emotion. It opened the floodgates.

‘I’m really glad I asked you to be my date.’ Claire sighed, her eyes threatening to close as she watched the empty space of the bed, happy to know that he was beside her, rather than next to her - or in the other room.

Owen chuckled, the sound reverberating against her ear, the vibrations almost tickling her delicate skin. ‘I’d hate to see Lowery sent in my place.’ Owen teased, one hand finding her thigh, the other going back to lazy shapes against her spine. Claire giggled again, happy for the easy pillow talk, the light humour. She wanted to ask if they would last, if they had something solid. She didn’t want to soil the moment, turning it black with sour thought. They had tomorrow. They had the next day. And then, they were due back on the island. That’s when she needed to worry.

The island would stand to test them, for now, they had no boundaries, no limitations. Only the gentle bubble of affection in her chest, and the fuzzy feeling that made Claire think it was possible to love Owen Grady, even without knowing him completely.

Chapter Text

‘At Daddy’s zoo,’ was Charlie’s prompt response when her mother inquired into birthday plans for her young daughter. Charlie didn’t hesitate to answer, tongue poking out of her mouth as she coloured furiously at the kitchen counter. Claire rolled her eyes, soft groan emitting from her throat at her daughter’s revelation. Of course. Charlie Grady hadn’t missed a birthday at the zoo for four years. Apparently, her eighth birthday would be no different.

‘Charlie,’ she sighed, ‘You can’t have every birthday at the zoo.’ This wasn’t what she expected when the doctor gleefully announced her gender. Claire expected birthdays showered in pink, purple, rainbow glitter. She was mentally prepared for faeries and princesses, damsels in distress at her daughter’s girly whim.

Charlie wasn’t exactly interested in those things.

Elliot, her three-year-old sister, however, was an expert in all things princess.

‘Why not?’ The little girl asked.

‘Don’t you want to do something different?’ Charlie shook her head. ‘Not even baseball? We can all go to the park?’ Her daughter was blessed with a spring birthday, the weather always perfect, the opportunities endless. And, she picked the zoo, over and over again, every time without fail.

‘I like Daddy’s zoo.’ That was an understatement. She adored Daddy’s zoo, was infatuated with it, obsessed. They all loved the zoo, Claire too, believe it or not. It had become home, and the stationary mark for many family memories since the Indominus incident ten years ago that pushed them away from Costa Rica and straight into the arms of waiting San Diego. It was starting to loose it’s shine on the edges with Charlie’s constant use.

Owen loved it. He was the shining crown in his daughter’s eye, her admiration wholly on him. He attended every parents day, every show and tell, and every career week. In turn, they supported the zoo’s easter events, halloween spectacular’s, moonlit balls and sponsor gala’s. All outside of Charlie’s occasional askance to visit the zoo in order to see the animals.

’Daddy can do baseball at the park, too. He’s not restricted to one trick, believe it or not.’

‘But the Zoo is special,’ she pulled that line last year. She had been right, then. The zoo had welcomed a brand new baby elephant only a month before Charlie’s birthday. The little girl twisted herself around her Daddy’s finger tight enough that he snapped. Owen, just for his baby girl, his sweet Charlie Bear, arranged for both Charlie and her friends to have an up close and personal introduction with the baby animal.

Last year, Claire could understand the importance of a Zoo birthday for Charlie Grady, this year she was determined would be celebrated differently. Charlie wasn’t prepared to budge.

‘We can do something special away from the zoo, like Eli’s birthday.’ Charlie shook her head, grumbling something about how her sister’s birthday had been boring. Claire stared at her daughter, baffled. There had to be a bargaining chip in there somewhere, a compromise she could find without blackmailing her daughter with toys. Surely her friends were getting sick of the zoo, the excitement slightly less enthusiastic.

The first two times had been fun, introducing the zoo to a small group of four to five-year-old’s, Owen getting to lead the group around like his own set of eager ducklings. Charlie was a complete peacock, as she always was at the zoo, showing off spectacularly in front of her friends.

Charlie’s attention snapped the second she heard the front door click open, Owen’s voice filling the house along side Elliot’s babbling chatter. ‘Daddy!’ Her shoes thunked against the floorboards as she ran to him, arms wide. Owen caught her in the hallway, spinning Charlie around, Elliot on his other hip. When he stopped Charlie wrapped her arms around his neck and squeezed tight, her head falling against his chest. She sounded bereaved when she spoke, a tone he had learnt to associate with Charlie’s dramatics. ‘Mommy said I can’t go to the zoo anymore,’ she lied.

‘Not what I said, Charlie.’ Claire sighed, happily taking an eager Elliot from Owen’s arms. Both her daughters were happy to see her, whenever they had been separated, but Elliot, Elliot always seemed to love her in the way that Charlie loved Owen; just a little bit more. She kissed her toddler’s cheeks, brushing back dirty blonde hair from her little face. Charlie had curled herself against Owen, sulking as she lapped up the sympathy he always provided. ‘I suggested we do something other than the zoo for her birthday, this year,’ Claire explained for her husband. ‘Something different would be nice for a change, I’m sure her friends are already sick of the place - or at least know it better than their own neighbourhoods. We spend so much time there, ourselves, that she’s only going to wear out the novelty.’ Charlie shook her head as her mother spoke, murmuring a nah-ah against her father’s San Diego Zoo shirt.

They cherished the fact that she loved the zoo. Owen a little more so than Claire. They both knew that a day would come where not only Charlie, but Elliot too, would grow sick of their father’s workplace. There would come a day where Claire and Owen would have to drag them to the moonlit ball.

‘I like the zoo, Mommy.’ They might as well face the fact that Charlie was born to be zoo keeper. It was in her blood, her synergy. ‘Tango is there.’ Tango, Claire rolled her eyes, smiling happily at Elliot who was pulling her mother’s hair silently. Charlie had a kinship with the tiger, an unspoken, unbelievable bond. Owen accredited it to their circumstance. Charlie and Tango were born seconds apart. He liked to joke that they shared a soul, his first born daughter, and his first tiger cub.

‘I know you do, baby.’ Claire tucked a curly red strand of her daughter’s hair, back in line behind Charlie’s ear. The girl shrugged away from her mother, pout creasing her lips. Owen huffed, setting Charlie on her feet as he crouched down in front of her. ‘Mom’s not banning the zoo, Charlie.’ He told the girl, holding eye contact with her stubborn fire. ‘She’s just suggesting that we do something different for your birthday.’

Charlie tore her gaze from her father to her mother, watching Claire stand only a few feet away, rocking Elliot on her hip, as she tugged at the uneven curves of tulle on Elliot’s tutu. ‘But what about Tango, what is he going to do on our birthday?’

Suddenly, it made sense. She didn’t want Tango to be alone on their shared birthday, the poor tiger probably sad if he didn’t see Charlie. ‘How about we go to the park for your birthday, invite your friends, play some baseball, and then after you and Mom and Eli and I will go visit Tango. We’ll give him dinner, and sing happy birthday. Does that sound good?’ Charlie shrugged her shoulders, pouting with wide green eyes. ‘Tango will like that, don’t you think?’

Charlie nodded slowly, ‘I guess so.’ She shrugged again before asking if she could go play. Owen dismissed her, smiling gleefully at Claire as Charlie ran off into the house, her feet echoing her path.

‘Crisis averted!’ He exclaimed, kissing his wife’s cheek, while he ruffled Elliot’s hair. ‘Now, you, little Eli,’ Owen kissed the top of his youngest daughter’s head, ‘Need to stay little’. Charlie was strong willed, persistent and stubborn. That was half the problem they had with her, and she was only seven - nearly eight. At least when she was younger, the same age as Elliot, they could make most of her decisions for her. She would just cuddle up to them and quietly agree.

Elliot shook her head, arms crossing over her little chest. ‘No, Daddy. I’m a big girl!’ She told him with a defiant pout, looking so much like her sister as she did so.

‘That’s it,’ Owen sighed. ‘Maybe we need another one - one that agrees with us. Boys are easy going right?’ Claire laughed, startling tired Elliot on her hip, as she set the girl down, leaving the toddler to toddle off in search of her toys.

‘Oh no, no, no.’ Claire shook her head frantically, laugher slipping between her dismissal. ‘No more babies, Owen. We’re done. We have two girls, that’s it.’ Owen pouted, causing Claire to laugh as she tapped his bottom lip, complaining that he looked just like both his daughters when he sulked. If you want a boy, convince Gray to stay here over going to college.’ Owen grinned, plan forming in his mind before Claire shot it down, swatting at his shoulder with a request for dinner and a change of topic.

*

Charlie didn’t manage to forget her father’s promise when her birthday rolled around. She was anxious all day, bouncing on the balls of her heels, expectant of her friends to go home so she could visit Tango. It wasn’t like she hadn’t visited the tiger at all that week.

Charlie had her Wednesday and Saturday routine with Owen. He left work early to pick her up from school on Wednesday so Charlie could accompany him through the closing routine, helping feed the animals, and do small chores. Mostly she leant against railings and talked about her day to which ever animal would listen. She was fond of the hippos most days, but Tango, Tango always came first. She’d spend Saturday morning with Owen making small rounds, checking that the zoo was in working order for the weekend rush and that each animal was content with their conditions. On Saturday’s she wore cargo pants just like her father, and a miniature version of the employee shirt, her name stitched into the breast pocked just like everyone else.

Her birthday fell on a Sunday that year, meaning she had just seen Tango the day before. Owen called it their connection, again. Explaining away Charlie’s eager desperation. She had to be reminded on a few occasions to go play with her friends, or focus on catching the ball rather than running off the field to ask her mother when they could leave.

Once in check, after the seventeenth consecutive reminder, Charlie seemed to let it go. She calmed completely when Tango was in front of her, bought into the back shed, locked in his pen just as Owen had asked the staff to do.

‘Happy Birthday, Tango!’ Charlie whispered, always quiet around her friend, as she helped her father slip the tiger a birthday treat. She chuffed at him expertly, the sound easy from her lips, already perfected with years of practice. The tiger chuffed back, creating the smile on Charlie’s face to widen.

Claire almost hated the connection her daughter had with the endangered and dangerous animal, if it wasn’t Owen overseeing their interaction. Even then, she had her doubts on Charlie’s absolute safety. There was the picture, that sat, well admired, on Charlie’s beside table, of the little girl, only a couple of days old, lying on a blanket, baby Tango curled up next to her. She nearly killed Owen when he showed her the picture, adding - rather quickly - that Tango was perfectly harmless. It didn’t stop the worry that pounded in Claire’s chest. She knew, without a doubt, no matter the risk, that Charlie was always safe with her father. That he wouldn’t introduce her to a situation if there was a possibility that she could be hurt. Like igniting a friendship between beast and animal, that a year on could have swallowed their barely walking daughter.

She chuffed again, crouching down in front of Tango’s cage, not even reaching his full height. He answered the girl, as he always did. ‘He said, happy birthday, Charlotte.’ Of course the tiger called her by her real name, a name the eight-year-old asked her parents not to use. Claire couldn’t help the chuckle, as she shifted the heavy weight of a sleeping Elliot in her arms.

Tango leant against the bars of his cage, his ear sticking though the gap. Charlie wasn’t allowed to touch the animals, unless Owen specifically said it was okay. Daddy only, no one else. She sought out his permission, little hand hovering inches above Tango’s ear. He nodded slowly, couched down beside her, prepared to intervene if it was needed. He knew he shouldn’t trust the beast, not completely, but a lot more than he could have ever trusted his raptors. Charlie, on more than one occasion had put her hands on the big cat, even leant her little body on his, without the bars between them. Still, safety first.

She dropped her little hand to the cat’s ear, her hand so small in comparison as she scratched softly, petting his soft fur. Tango chuffed again, Charlie didn’t startle, her mother certainly did, but father and daughter remained completely still, making the noises right back.

‘How do I say, "happy birthday, Tango"?’ Owen asked his daughter, self professed talent in speaking tiger. Charlie smiled, slow and wide before she chuffed, the noise sounding half like a purr against her lips, focusing on slight sounds within it. Owen watched the girl, who watched the tiger, her hands buried in the vermillion of his coat as they communicated back and forth, a connection burning deeper than Owen had ever thought imaginable.

Chapter Text

Charlie sat maddeningly at an age that drove her parents mad. She was wild. Too big for a stroller, and far too independent to be carried or confined. Even the trolley seats at the grocery store were too small for her now. She was caught in limbo, not quiet holding the restraint to walk calmly beside her parents without being held down. Charlie loved it. No stroller meant freedom for little Charlie. She was able to run ahead of her parents, or lag behind, most importantly; she was able to pick things up off the shelves.

Charlie had always been chaos incarnated. They should have named her Eris; goddess of chaos, strife and discord. It wasn’t Charlie’s fault, per se. They didn’t have a lot of time to get their lives under their feet. By the time Claire announced that she was pregnant, telling Owen on a whisper in the dark, they barely knew which way was up in San Diego. Charlie had become a whirlwind they anchored too. She became the new normal, the new standard, six-years later that hadn’t changed, only adjusted to let Elliot squish in.

Charlie was a good girl, mostly. When Claire had a steady eye on her. Owen, however, let things slip.

‘Please just make sure you get two kinds of fruit for school. And no sugary cereal, please.’ Owen nodded dutifully at Claire’s instructions as he surveyed his half of the shopping list. Divide and conquer had always been Claire’s mode of action. ‘Are you alright to take Charlie?’ He nodded, too sure of himself for Claire’s comfort. Charlie grinned at her parents, as she hung off the end of the shopping trolley her father had collected.

‘Fruit, cereal, lunchbox snacks, cake mix. I’ve got it.’ She eyed him warily. Almost tempted to send him off in search of the health food isle for Elliot’s gluten free snacks. ‘We’ve got it, haven’t we Charlie?’ He tried to convince Claire, not very well, as Charlie stuck out her tongue. Claire rolled her eyes, of course.

Owen was a good dad. He was a great dad. Far better at the parental role than what she had been initially. Six years on and Claire still found herself smiling after him, watching as he insisted Charlie hold onto the end of the trolley or stand beside him. No other options. Charlie latched onto a pocked of his cargo pants, playing obedient.

Owen Grady could train Velociraptor’s far better than little girls.

Claire watched them walk in the opposite direction, heading straight for Fruits & Veg, shaking her head. She bid him good luck, trying to remind herself not to be too harsh on him when she found them later. ‘Daddy is a sucker.’ Claire told her youngest daughter, kissing the girl’s head softly. Elliot grinned, wide and toothy, blue eyes alight before she gurgled something back with her baby laugh.

‘Okay, Mom said fruit. Pick two, Charlie-Bear.’ The girl looked up at her father, surveying the array of fruits at her disposal. The look of disgust on her little face was internationally translatable. It was all yuck according to Charlie Grady, age six. ‘You love fruit!’ Charlie ate everything from candy to brussel sprouts. Currently, she hated everything.

She shook her head, arms crossed over her chest. Owen had to blink, she looked like Claire. ’I don’t like it anymore.’ She told him, defiantly in a little girl voice.

‘Well, we have to get something, kiddo. Pick.’ For a six-year-old, she was incredibly hard to bargain with. She shook her head. ‘Okay, I’ll pick then.’ He looked over the large section in front of him, knowing the girl wouldn’t budge, but she would eat whatever he selected. He sided with nothing too complicated, the age old bananas and apples. Charlie helped him pick the best ones, sliding them into a bag and then into the trolley without complaint.

He let her stray after a couple of minutes, reading the backs of lunch snack boxes, as the girl wandered a little further up the aisle. ‘Do you like these ones?’ He flashed her a box of rice crispy treats, in a hope of luring her closer. Something clinked in the trolley before she responded. She hummed in authoritative approval. Charlie’s little head appeared beside his hip, her mother’s red hair flaming on her head as she grabbed herself two boxes of treats from the shelf. ‘Would you like those, Charlie?’ Owen asked, trying to bite back a laugh.

‘Yeah-huh,’ the girl nodded with an easy hum, moving without rush to drop the snacks on top of a packet of Red Vines, she had clearly stowed away when he wasn’t looking. Owen thought about giving her a stern glare, of pointing the candy out and telling her to put it back. One pack of Red Vines wouldn’t hurt.

It only snowballed from there.

He couldn’t count the amount of items Charlie slipped in, letting plastic or cardboard slide down the edge of the trolley before landing on her growing pile. Claire was going to kill him. He couldn’t help the smile. She’d spent the weekend being coddled and cosseted by Karen and the boys, he really shouldn’t have allowed it any further.

He coveted the sweet things as much as his daughter, bags of candy, cream stuffed cakes and jam. Whatever was good for Charlie was good for Owen too, the man known for sneaking his daughter’s Twinkies for the hell of it. In reality, both Owen and Charlie were dreaming of filling the pool with sugar, and swimming in it. The best sugar coma awaiting them. If only Claire hadn’t been in on the shop too.

‘It’s for the trick-or-treaters.’ He heard Charlie’s innocent voice, only a few steps behind him, Claire’s indignant hum the only response. He turned, sheepishly, teeth biting at the inside of his cheek to keep the grin away.

‘And the Barbie?’ Claire asked. Owen had been completely unawares to Charlie’s newly acquired items until he turned. He’d been curious when she stopped dropping things in the trolley, but thought it behaving more than swiping a small plastic tiara from wherever she managed to find it, and the latest Barbie.

‘It’s for Eli!’ Charlie told her mother enthusiastically, throwing her hand out for her infant sister, unsteady on her feet but toddling beside Claire. And just as the tick-or-treaters had been a lie - it was early July - the doll was not for the person Charlie said it was. But, in fact, it was for herself. They’d fallen for that ploy before, caving into buying Charlie things she promised to share, only to get them home and have a tantrum because she couldn’t keep up on a promise.

Claire rolled her eyes, her daughter’s hand flying to protect the tiara on her head. Her concern wasn’t so much with the little girl - who would have to put most of her excess shopping back - but rather, with her father, who should have been watching her. Owen shrugged, apologetic, ‘It got out of hand’.

‘You don’t say.’ Charlie grinned between her parents, flashing teeth. Owen braced himself, knowing what he had to do next, as he dropped down to Charlie’s height.

‘Now, I know we had fun shopping tonight, Charlie-Bear. But, we really need to put some things back on the shelf.’ The girl frowned, corners of her mouth pulling downwards. He’d seen far scarier looks of upset on her face, enough to know that she would at least listen this time. ‘We know, don’t we, that some of these things make Elliot feel sick, right?’ Peering around his shoulder, Charlie double checked her shopping. She nodded her head slowly, recognising several items her parents had specifically said, don’t feed this to your sister.

‘I’ll put them back, Daddy.’ She agreed easily. Owen grinned, thanking her softly for cooperating. He swooped up Elliot as Charlie moved for the trolley, Owen kissing her daughter’s face as she protested slightly for the disruption to her free walk.

They replaced most items quickly, Claire making compromises on a few. They were kind of on the list, and she really just wanted to go home. ‘The Barbie, too.’ Owen reminded Charlie of the last item that she clung onto.

‘But, it doesn’t make Elliot sick.’ She argued, and quiet right too. The tiara had been surrendered without her notice, plucked from her head when she wasn’t paying attention and placed on a random, high, shelf. Owen blinked, turning to Claire for help.

Claire shook her head softly, ‘You’re right. But, we can’t get it this time, Charlie, you got spoilt enough by Zach and Gray this weekend. You don’t need a new Barbie.’ Owen watched his daughter’s foot raise, a stamp threatening to fall as her lip wobbled and her mouth produced a weak retort. She frowned again, the pout deep on her lips, before she handed the Barbie over to Claire.

‘Mission accomplished.’ Claire grinned, adding a side note that defusing Charlie of her sugary attachments was not the initial mission. In fact, making it out of the store in one piece, neither child in tears or tantrum, was just an added bonus to leaving with the right groceries.

Chapter Text

When they argued about it - which they do a lot - they blame the jungle. The jungle on that godforsaken island brought them together. She liked to rattle off the factors: the Indominus’ escape, her nephew’s disobeying instruction, her own self defiance.

It was the fast paced adrenaline rush that ticked through their bloodstream while they tried to calm their thoughts. It was near death, and animals that had once been extinct - for a near good reason, too. The jungle had been their setting.

She’d avoided it ever since. Until now.

Vacationing in Hawaii, Owen managed to talk Claire into a jungle hike. Reminiscent of old times, or something like that. She had rolled her eyes, insisting that they could find a far better use of their time. He’d heard of the perfect spot, romantic, quiet, beautiful - completely in touch with nature. Owen loved the green, green grass, green leaves, the sign of life in foliage. San Diego wasn’t giving him the hit Isla Nublar used to. Hawaii was a promise of the tropics, of nature’s existence.

She trudged along, caving in to his puppy eyes and the way he kissed her neck just right. They waded through the Hawaiian jungle, waiting for Owen’s inside source and badly drawn map to lead them to their location, his backpack crammed full with a picnic lunch … or so he had promised. Claire was skeptical of the contents. She followed, right by his side, simple sun dress, canvas shoes - she never knew how to dress for the jungle.

‘Maybe we should have just stuck to the path, Owen. We’re just walking in circles now.’ Claire cranked her head back, looking up at the trees that loomed over their heads, as she huffed to the man who was so self assured. Owen shook his head, denying the circles. They were on track, he was sure they were on track. ‘Well, honey, I hate to break it to you. But, we’ve walked back this log at least three times.’ Claire shrugged her pack off, dropping it to the fallen tree trunk as she surveyed their surroundings.

She hated this. Not the walk, that was nice, the jungle too. She just hated the paranoid fear that tingled up her spine. Every inch of her body was on high alert, waiting for the jungle floor to shake, for an animal to roar, for their lives to suddenly disappear. Every bird had the potential to be a Pteranodon, ready to swoop at her head. Every noise a coming Velociraptor or T-Rex. It was irrational.

It had been three years since Jurassic World. She still, on occasion, had nightmares. The dense jungle wasn’t helping, regardless of her admissions that everything was fine now, everything was back to normal. She could hear Owen behind her, mumbling something to himself that she only assumed was reassurance that he wasn’t lost. The path wasn’t far from where they were, Claire was sure of it, her hands pointed in front of her, her eyes squinting slightly. When he didn’t respond, likely sulking, Claire turned to address her partner. She didn’t expect, when she turned around, to find Owen kneeling on one knee in the moist dirt.

Alarm bells started to ring in her head. Some small part of her was praying that he just needed to tie his shoe laces, or that maybe she was near to stepping on some horrifying bug. She really hoped it was a bug.

It wasn’t a bug, and his laces weren’t untied. Instead, he pulled a small box out of his pocket, fumbling with it a little, almost dropping it to the jungle floor. Despite her panic, Claire laughed. The sound was odd in her throat, wet with conflicting emotions. She was scared, wanted to turn and run, but she could also feel the tears burning at her eyes, and the happiness about ready to burst in her chest.

This was what she wanted. An eternity with this man. They hadn’t talked about it, nor thought about it or heavily suggested. Surprisingly, Karen didn’t hint at every opportunity she got, mocking wedding bells in the silent spaces of family dinners. She never thought about the possibility of marrying Owen, and when she did - in that split second - she realised it was right.

‘I had this big sappy speech planned out,’ Owen laughed, looking up at Claire, the surprise still cast across her face. ‘And this romantic spot. But, this - this is how it should be.’ Standing around in the middle of the jungle was likely the last thing Claire expected for a wedding proposal. He was right, though. Something about it felt right, something ran reminiscent of their time on Isla Nublar, of his bungalow, of their day searching for her nephews and following the dangerous hybrid of a beast. She could have done without the nightmares, or the way her whole body seemed to tremble at intermittent points days after the T-Rex followed her out of Paddock 9. That day was the two of them, no time for masks. They were raw, they were honest, it solidified everything they had. ‘And, I know we’ve not talked about this, but I love you. My god do I love you.’

He popped the box open revealing a simple platinum band, a criss-cross pattern extended up the shank of the ring, embedded with small diamonds before reaching the large european cut on top. It was old, very old. Probably his grandmothers, or some timeless family heirloom. Most importantly, it was beautiful, the midday light making the diamond sparkle. Claire wanted to reach out and touch it, check that it was real and right in front of her.

‘I promised to stick with you for survival,’ Owen grinned, still talking, bits of his speech coming to mind. Claire wanted to stop him, to interrupt, to cry yes as she fell to the earth in front of him. She just couldn’t find her voice. ‘Survival is going to be a very long time.’ The corner of his mouth picked up, smug. ‘Will you marry me, Claire? For survival.’ She was nodding before he had finished speaking.

‘Yes,’ she sighed, dropping down to her knees in front of him.

‘Yes?’ He repeated, eyes wide. He expected her to say yes, but there was nothing quite liking hearing the word. Claire nodded furiously, hands shaking as she pressed delicate fingers to his wrist, trying to keep herself steady. Owen pulled the ring out of the box gently, before sliding it onto her finger.

The ring was light on her hand, the perfect fit. Up close she could see it had been worn, weathered through the ages before it got to her. It was perfect. He was perfect. The jungle could be better, but for what it was worth: Claire wouldn’t have expected Owen to propose to her any other way.

Chapter Text

‘Daddy?’ Charlie started, her voice rasping through her scratchy throat. ‘Tell us a story.’ She snuggled into his ribs, Elliot agreeing, curled up against his other side. They were going to crush him at this rate, not that he wasn’t complaining. They were warm, and soft, and if he concentrated hard enough he swear they still smelt like their baby selves. He blinked and suddenly his daughters were ten and five, snuggled in his and Claire’s bed with a fever they had all developed. Claire the only disease free person in the house. As per usual.

Owen cleared his throat, trying to recall the beginning and end to a particular faerie tale he was sure his daughters loved. He started, recounting the easy once upon a time before Charlie interrupted. ‘No, a different story.’ The girl grumbled, eyes closed. ‘One about you and Mommy.’

‘A Mommy and Daddy story!’ Elliot agreed, her little eyes wide with drowsy excitement. He bopped Elliot’s nose, the little girl’s cheeks rosy, her eyes watching him with anticipation. Charlie loved any story, Elliot loved the ones involving princesses and their knights in shining armour. He was sure Charlie had fallen asleep against him, her breathing even and shallow. Instead, he aimed his story for Elliot, trying to pinpoint the perfect story for her. ‘How did you and Mommy meet? Was she a princess?’

Owen nodded his head, ‘She was beautiful, Eli.’ He mused, image of Claire flashing in his mind. He held onto the picture of her, trying to catch the moment precisely for Elliot, the girl clinging onto his every word. He didn’t know who she was when he saw her all those years ago. Owen had just stepped off the ferry, placing his feet on Isla Nublar for the very first time. He had two days to collect his bearings before he was required to sit in on an introductory meeting.

She was standing at the t-section of Main Street, Zara beside her, arm in the air, pointing at this and that. It was off season, guest count low, weather less than admirable. The wind was subtle, but still strong enough to rush her blazing hair around her face. That was what had caught his attention first, the vibrancy of her red hair and the unruly way it obscured her vision. ‘Like Charlie’s hair?’ Elliot peeped, sitting beside him, her legs crossed, stuffed elephant in her lap.

Owen nodded. ‘A little like Charlie’s hair.’ His hand absentmindedly found the soft red curls of Charlie’s naturally wayward locks. Elliot was right in her observation. Charlie thought her mother was on the right track with keeping her hair short - even though it had grown past her shoulders in more recent years - Charlie kept hers clipped. Uneven curls bounced in red waves against her shoulders, much like her mother’s straightened hair had sat on the day he first saw her.

He kept his distance, standing on the sidewalk, patrons passing him by like anyone would with an obstacle on the road. He swore, to Eli’s eager ears, that he could see the freckles on Claire’s nose, even from a distance. Elliot giggled, hands on her face, touching her own, sparse, freckles. Her eyes were blue, startling in their intensity, almost as deep and dangerous as the Mosasaurus tank. He tried to paint a picture for Elliot, recreating Main Street for her little mind, and exactly how wonderful her mother looked.

‘She was a princess,’ The little girl sighed dreamily, green eyes twinkling. Claire had always been a princess in their little daughter’s mind. If Owen was being honest, Claire was and always would be his Queen. His daughters were rarely wrong.

‘You had no chance, Daddy.’ Charlie’s voice reached him, surprising her father who thought she was asleep. She patted his chest affectionately, eyes still closed.

Owen scoffed, ‘Gee, thanks, kid.’ He scuffed at her hair for a second, before testing her temperature, the back of his hand to her forehead.

‘Did you know?’ Elliot asked, drawing her father’s attention away from Charlie. He didn’t quite understand what she meant. ‘Did you know you loved Mommy when you saw her?’ Owen hummed, he knew she was special, that much was true. If someone had said to him, six years from the first day he saw her, he’d be holding his baby girl for the first time; he would have laughed. More importantly, he would have thought it impossible after they were formally introduced.

Owen had a burning passion to follow her around and make her blush. He still wouldn’t have called it love, definitely lust. She was forced on leave one year, her holiday time built up so much that Masrani Global insisted she had to take time off or else they’d stop paying her until it was gone. She disappeared for a week, Owen just about thought his lungs would fall out. He had his raptors, but he was lost without Claire.

‘Not at first,’ He told Elliot honestly. ‘But, I knew she was important.’ How deep did he want to get with his five-year-old daughter about his rocky beginnings with her mother? He wanted to be honest about love, about how much he loved Claire. But there were moments, moments were they wouldn’t have happened or lasted at all if significant events didn’t step in. The Indominus bought them together, stripped down their walls, leaving only the instinct to protect each other in an attempt at survival. Charlie. Without Charlie, Claire’s quiet, scared, admission that she was pregnant, he would have taken the job offer on the other side of the country and left. Not that they were together because of Charlie - it was complicated, far too much for either of his girls.

He changed his tone, focusing on what his daughter wanted to hear. How much he loved her mother. How he fell in love with her. Owen was walking Elliot through an abridged version of the first time he and Claire met, when a protest sounded at the door.

Owen looked up, his grinning wife caught standing in the doorway. ‘How long have you been there for?’ He asked around Elliot’s body, as the girl pushed herself up on her feet to run across the bed for her mother.

‘I thought you weren’t well,’ She asked the girl, checking her temperature. ‘Long enough,’ Claire answered her husband, distracted, smirk still in place. She wrestled Elliot back to her space next to Owen, joining the three on the bed, sitting where Elliot’s feet finished beside her father’s knees. ‘How’re my babies?’ She leant over Owen to check on Charlie, the eldest girl suffering through the blows a little harder than Elliot. Claire brushed the hair back from Charlie’s forehead fondly, Elliot’s hand on her arm, requesting her attention.

‘Your turn.’ Elliot told her, smiling softly as she snuggled down next to her father, arms wrapped around his.

‘My turn?’ Elliot nodded her head slowly, Owen grinned.

‘Go on, Claire,’ Owen teased. ‘Tell the children about when you fell in love with me’. She played with Elliot’s hair next, the little girl watching her with inquisitive eyes, waiting for her mother to speak. You don’t really want to hear about that, she had signed. Elliot nodded her head, Charlie managed out a soft please.

Claire waited a beat, thinking for a moment before she started. ‘It’s really silly,’ Claire blushed. They’d been married eight years, she thought that secret was safe with her, there was no need to prove she loved him. No need to pinpoint a moment. They had a daughter, they lived together, they couldn’t imagine a life without the other. That was enough. Not for Elliot. There wasn’t anything in particular while they were on the island. It just happened to hit her one day when she was visiting the raptor paddock. They had known each other for a little over a year. Claire was making her usual fortnightly visit, he had dismissed the girls just as she approached, his boots clunking on the metal catwalk as he smiled down at her. It felt like she had been punched in the gut, no warning, no nothing. The breath stolen right from her lungs as Owen stopped in front of her, joke on his tongue. They went on their first date after that. Despite it’s horrendous outcome she couldn’t help herself from grinning at his jokes, or being slightly excited for his presence.

Instead she told Elliot about how he saved her. How he held her hand, and scared away the monsters. Although she believed herself tough enough to keep them away herself, she needed an extra hand. Owen had provided that. Welded his sword beside her, and together they fought. That’s where she really fell in love, those days and nights fighting off invisible monsters, learning to live together, in the real world.

‘Daddy does that for us,’ Elliot added, reminding her mother that he’s the first person there if they’re scared.

Claire nodded softly, agreeing with her daughter as she reached to smooth out the child’s blonde hair. ‘Exactly right. I knew if he looked after me so well, that he could help me look after you and Charlie.’ She squeezed the hand that sat just above Owen’s knee, thanking him silently for everything that they had. She would have given up ten years ago if he hadn’t have given her a push. Where would they be now, if they didn’t have Charlie? What of their daughters, their lives?

‘And we live happily ever after?’ Elliot asked, half mumbling. Claire nodded again, promising both her daughters, and her husband, that they found their happily ever after.

Chapter Text

‘Somebody talk to me, what is happening?!’

Panic chased through her veins, her heart beat erratically, causing the tips of her fingers to shake, and her chest to rattle. Her eyes were blurring with panic as she struggled to focus on the road in front of her. Her foot was heavy on the gas pedal, the weight in her stomach dropping with every second that passed. They weren’t giving her anything. She could barely breath, breath caught in her throat as she hounded Lowery for information. He didn’t have much to supply. The Indominus was definitely in her paddock … and people. There were people in there too. Owen.

Claire’s foot crashed harder against the pedal, desperate to get back to Command. There she could find some calm in her control. She was useless in the car, phone pressed to her ear, one hand fluttering against the steering wheel. There was nothing she could do, but panic vocally to Lowery, or run her car into a tree.

This was never supposed to happen.

The park was safe. At least it was supposed to be. Sure, staff got injured on occasion, some nearly loosing a limb, but they were yet to loose a staff member due to a hungry dinosaur. Owen would be the first. If the Indominus was in her paddock, Owen in there too, as Lowery had said - he wouldn’t be among the living by the time she got back to Command.

Something in her chest contracted. She had no claim to Owen Grady. She just liked having him around. He was infuriating, but funny. She almost felt guilty for their bad date. For her inability to let loose with him, like he so clearly wanted. Maybe she should have. Maybe she should have been the woman he could see behind her corporate exterior.

Those who worked with him and his raptors always had great things to say. What would the raptor project do with out him? He shared an bond with his animals that no one else could recreate - not even Barry.

He was careless, she tried to tell herself, asking for death for going into that paddock until she had confirmed the Indominus’ position. He was asking for it. Likely, deserved it. No. She shook her head against her thoughts. No one deserved to be eaten by the assets they put on display … or maybe they did. She didn’t know anymore. The years ticked on by, after a decade she was starting to doubt Masrani Global and their conscious effort to keep dangerous assets alive. They brought in new guests, celebrity visitors, buzz - at what cost? They just lost the best behaviouralist the island had. There would be no replacing Owen Grady and his flirtatious remarks. Her gut churned, he wouldn’t call her Red ever again.

She shook her head, shaking loose the thoughts as she pulled her car into the underground parking lot and shut off the engine. Claire sucked in a heavy breath, her hands still trembling as she wrapped her fingers around her keys. She couldn’t walk into Command shaken up, she needed to get a grip. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Oh, Owen. The aching hadn’t subsided, she didn’t expect it would - but wished it would at least lessen. How could she do her job objectively while she mourned over his loss. They now had other things to worry about. Like how a beast of that size could evade any and all detection measures set up in it’s paddock.

*

She distracted him momentarily, as he caught her flash of movement out the corner of his eye. His mind screamed. What the heck is she doing? As she slid over the gift booth bench, leaving her nephew’s behind. She ran after that, her shoes faintly clicking in his ears, as she disappeared out of sight. He swore, heartbeat rising a little higher, in fear of her safety - and their’s collectively.

What was she doing?

Owen had almost had enough of her careless antics. Not that she had done anything that day risker than he. Claire could hold her own, too. He knew that. He knew she was capable of herself, hell, that was what he liked. That, and her spitfire attitude, her ability to stand up to him, fight him word for word until he said something so ridiculous her cheeks flushed and she had to bite her tongue. He really wished she would lash back at his innuendo, simultaneously, he was scared of where that would take them.

They already had one failed date. Now, she was abandoning him. No, he shook his head, trying to focus on the large dinosaur beside him, his weapon running out of tranquilliser darts. Claire had a plan, she was smart like that, quick as a whip. It would be ingenious … he hoped. The darts were barely breaking the Indominus’ skin. The raptors were trying to help, their effort not unacknowledged. But it wasn’t enough, they were all going to be chow in a matter of minutes.

He almost missed the Indominus’ tail smashing the amber display he was hiding against, his thoughts on Claire distracting him more than strictly necessary. He moved out of the way just in time, preempting his pitiful death. He jumped into the booth, the boys beside him. They needed to wait it out, prevent injury or loss of life until Claire’s plan was actioned. Owen focused on that, seeking out the sign that she had come back.

The sound of her heels rang in his ears, a memory, not a current sound. He couldn’t tell what was real and what was not, the stress driving him to hallucinate. She could hold up her own, he had to remind himself, over and over until he felt the ground shake, the vibrations not matching up with the steps of the Indominus. Something else was coming. And then he saw her, Claire running, her heels cracking against the pavement, a flare in her hand, T-Rex on her tail.

He swore again. She had a plan all right, a dangerous one, but at least a T-Rex - especially as old as this one - would be easy enough to contain once again. He had to admit, she was smart, fearless even. He couldn’t help the proud little smile that tugged on his lips as he watched her.

She threw her flare, hitting the I-Rex against it’s shoulder blade, diverting the attention of the T-Rex away from her. Claire hadn’t stopped moving, her feet carrying her away from the giant beast. She wouldn’t make it, Owen observed, until she jumped, throwing herself to the ground.

The panic in his chest picked up again, simply at the sight of Claire, lying behind the T-Rex’s back foot. One wrong step and this was over. He was chanting in his head, begging her to move, move, move, get out of the way. Owen really wanted a second chance at their date, he really wanted to get it right. She just needed to get out from under the Rex’s foot.

He lost her for a second, unable to see past the booth as both Rex’s battled it out. He felt the hair at his temples turn grey with worry. Twelve hours chasing through the jungle and Owen was sure he’d go prematurely grey - he’d blame it on Claire, if they got the chance to see that day.

The dinosaurs smashed into the booth, creating a hole where a wall should have been. Claire was in his sights again, his heart rate normalising, glad to see she was fine. She called out to them, her voice desperate, alive. Screaming for Owen and her nephews to run. It was there turn to escape an unfortunate flattening. And they did, they escaped again, and again, and again.

They made it to early morning, the Indominus resting in the belly of the Mosasaurus, the T-Rex once again queen of the island. Claire safe, Zach and Gray in one physical piece, their psyche would be determined later. For now they were thankful to have their mom and dad clinging to them like eager lifelines, keeping their scared pieces together.

When they managed to break away, Owen and Claire, alone in a quiet patch of sunlight outside of the hanger guests were being held in. He kissed her again, his thumb under her chin, only gently on her lips, thankful for the opportunity over everything else. She held onto him tightly, her hands wrapped around his arms, fingers digging into his flesh. Reliving the very real possibility that he could have died today - they both could have died. Her nephews too. It was so close to being over and now her career, the park, it was all done. Claire couldn’t seem to care. Those who made it out, did so, those who died; that would be her job in the morning. Masrani Global would deal with the rest of the aftershocks, pointing fingers, placing blame. It wouldn’t be pretty, it wouldn’t be as bad as running away from a dinosaur with it’s breath hot on the back of her neck.

For now, Owen promised her survival, her hands curled around his biceps, her head falling to his chest. They were exhausted but, they were alive.

Chapter Text

She found a home with a yard. Luscious green grass, bright flowers, and large trees. The property was a little more than what they were looking for. They caved on the price, Claire swooning for bay windows, and an open floor plan. It was perfect.

They had been there for a few weeks, their lives returning to an expected normalcy. The weather had warmed, the grass grew greener. Claire found herself nudging their lives into the outdoors. Eating dinner on the patio, leaving the windows open, stopping to smell the flowers.

Claire sat glumly in a large armchair, foot elevated in front of her, eyes on the blooming garden. It was Owen’s fault that she was stuck there. The pout on her face grew longer. He had too try to scare her as she came home, had too, couldn’t possibly resist the temptation. He was a child, better suited to activities with Zach and Gray than living with her. Because of Owen, she sprained her ankle, the pale skin swelling slightly red around the small bone. He put it up for her, perched on a foot stool with a few extra pillows, and an icepack on top. He looked guilty the entire time, small pout and puppy dog eyes. She scowled at him, for a minute, sulking in an attempt to prolong his guilt. He shouldn’t be waiting for her to come home just so he could jump out and scare her. Evidently, people got hurt.

Claire rolled her eyes, trying to turn back to the book in her lap, a suggestion from Gray, that had been referred to her a second time by Owen. Further proof; he was a man child. She read for a second, head tilted to the side as she absorbed the words on the page, trying to imagine the scenario being spelled out in front of her. She frowned, it wasn’t working, not for a lack of trying on the authors behalf - she just wanted to be outside.

The leaves on the trees swayed softly, calling out to her on the gentle breeze. The weather was perfect, she should be out there. Maybe she could talk Owen into it, letting her sit in the grass beside the flowerbed. She could garden without disrupting her ankle.

She looked up, peering over her chair at the sudden weight that seemed to fall across her shoulder. Owen was there, his presence heavy, highly concerned. ‘Maybe we should go to the the E.R.?’ He hummed, looking over her ankle, same guilt twisted across his face. Claire shrugged him off, she knew her body, and it honestly wasn’t that bad. She was about to retort when he scooped her up, one arm under her knees, the other just behind her shoulder blades. She squeaked a little, not expecting the movement.

‘Owen, put me down, it’s just a sprained ankle.’ Claire tried to wiggle out of his grip, knowing her attempt would get her nowhere. She sat still, letting him carry her through the house and to the back door. She could see through to the patio, noting he’d hung the faerie lights and lit candles. Dinner was set and ready for them.

She bit the inside of her cheek, trying to hold back the loving smile that threatened to skip across her face. ‘I’m still mad at you,’ She huffed, as he put her down, making sure her foot was supported on a cushion.

‘I’m really sorry,’ He repeated for the tenth time since she fell, her ankle twisting awkwardly in her shoes as her hands broke her fall against the hardwood floors. He was guilty instantly, no malice, or laughter, just curses and his hands helping her. And now this, dinner, outside on the porch, candles lit as the sun started to set.

‘You’re an idiot,’ She told him fondly, her hand on his chest providing leverage as she reached up to peck him on the cheek. He apologised again. ‘Honestly, Owen, it’s fine. I’m fine. Just, I don’t know, warn me next time … let me get my shoes off first?’ He nodded solemnly, taking in every word, promising that it wouldn’t happen again. She tapped his cheek, forgiving him with a soft kiss to his lips before thanking him for what he had done to atone.

Owen dropped a kiss to the top of her head, apologising, unnecessarily, again. She didn’t refute, or remind him it was his fault. She basked in the warm air, in his hot touch, in the smell of her blooming flowers and the meal he had prepared.

Claire sighed heavily, looking over her garden in the setting light, Owen warm beside her, his arm around her waist, settled on her hip. At least he brought her out there, for that he could be forgiven, for that she didn’t mind the sprained ankle, or the fact that it would have her out of action all weekend. At least it was the weekend. At least he was there.

Chapter Text

Claire’s hands slammed against the steering wheel, skin slapping leather before pulling back and repeating. She shook, her breathing restrained, her heart beating frantically in her chest. She gasped for air, hands hitting the steering wheel, taking hold, shaking it with all her might. She was suffocating. Claire couldn’t contain the bubble of rage that sat under her agony, poking her in the ribs instantly.

It wasn’t supposed to happen like this.

It wasn’t supposed to happen at all.

Without warning - although she had felt it’s build up - a sob escaped, breaking past her teeth to fill the empty hollows of the car. It shattered her last remnants of control, breaking her down, making her fall.

She should have been able to hear the people on the street, the happy chirping of birds, cars on the road, horns on the brink. Everything fell silent around her as her sobs threatened to crack her chest open, letting the empty silence inside of her suffocate the air she couldn’t breathe. What was the point?

He was gone.

Claire Dearing had never been dependant on anyone. She certainly wasn’t dependant on him. But, he had saved her, she owed him that. He kept her nightmares at bay and her panic attacks controlled. Their new lease on life came hand in hand with the other. That connection had been severed.

Her head dropped to the top of the steering wheel, hands clutching it tight. What was she supposed to hold onto now. There was nothing left within her, no will, no drive, just heavy sobs. She slapped her hands against the leather again, unforgiving, trying to shake the remorseful look on Marco’s face. That’s all it was. The trainer standing at the other end of the hall, hat in his hands, complete and utter devastation across his face. She knew. Without looking at him twice, or waiting to hear his piece. She knew. Brian was there too, owner of the Zoo, overseer of all issues. He’d been the one to call her;

There’s been an incident’.

The words echoed in her ears, forcing the sobs out harder. She had fallen to the floor when he approached her, one hand over her mouth, the other on her chest. She didn’t cry. Even then she couldn’t breathe, her heart rate sitting above normal since the moment she picked up the phone. She knew, as soon as he stepped forward, Marco’s clothes filthy, his skin red with someone else’s blood, his face drawn in deep regret. She knew. It didn’t help her prepare for the words, for Brian’s explanation, for the doctor’s brief analysis and final call.

Owen Grady. Dead. At 2:03pm on a Tuesday afternoon in May.

She couldn’t remember who, but, someone offered to drive her home. She shrugged them off, silent tears dry on her red face, blue eyes turquoise in contrast. She signed form after form with a shaky hand, trying to remember the nuances of Owen’s life and put them to paper. It hardly mattered now.

Claire didn’t let herself break down until she got to the car. She thought she could hold out until she got home, bottle it up until she was alone. She only made it halfway before she had to pull over, mournful rage bubbling up inside her, throwing her hands down, taking her agony out on her car.

When she did manage to return home, her head groggy, she stumbled to their shared bedroom, his t-shirt from the night before strewn across the linen. Claire pulled it on, replacing her work attire with his worn pyjamas before she slumped down onto the mattress, heart in her hands, despair in her head. She sat for a long while, unsure of what to do with herself, sure she had cried enough tears and did not need to add any more to the empty house.

It was too quiet. Her lip wobbled. No more strummed guitar, no more video games on pause, or the football down low. There was no sound of Owen humming in the kitchen, or calling out to her from the ground floor. The silence wrapped itself around her, tightening strings against her ribcage suffocating the little breath she had.

The sound of her phone ringing chattered the hollow silence, making Claire jump, her hands scattering for the device. She accepted the call without paying any mind to the image on the screen. Claire couldn’t breathe. Her chest was caught, lungs stuttering, mind blank. She waited for Owen’s voice, for his laugh or joyful admission of 'miss me?'

Karen’s voice called out to her, easy going, launching straight into her debacle. She stopped after a minute, recognising her sister’s silence. ‘Claire?’ She called out quietly, reaching for the younger woman on the other end of the line. ‘Claire, is everything alright?’ Karen quickly started to panic, it was rare that Claire was quiet. Even when her sister was distracted, she hummed. Karen managed a third call of her sister’s name by the time Claire found her breath. Sucking in air greedily, almost chocking on it, Claire stuttered out a sharp, gut wrenching, cry.

Karen swore, a stream of the same expletive before she called out to her sister. Suddenly the distance from Wisconsin to San Diego was too much. ‘Claire, where’s Owen?’ Her sister was prone to small bouts of panic attacks after the fall of Jurassic World. Claire’s arrangement with Owen started on the pretence of helping each other cope. He was always there to help her focus, and vice versa.

Claire couldn’t help the woeful sobs that broke through her. She thought she had cried herself dry, she was wrong. ‘Shit, Claire.’ Karen panicked on the other line, too far away to step in and help her sister properly. ‘I need you to take a deep breath, okay. Can you do that for me?’ Claire tried, her desperate sobs abating to heavy hiccups as she tried to hold herself together.

‘There - there was an accident.’ Claire managed to stutter, filing Karen in piece by piece through hiccups and the occasional uncontrollable sob.

Karen’s mind started to organise, already booking flights and contacting Zach at UCLA. ‘Zach will be there in two hours, and I’m on my way, okay? Everything’s going to be all right, Claire, you’ll get through this.’ The sound that broke through her throat was more of a whine than a sob. In that moment, ever since the words were uttered to her, Claire realised she couldn’t get through it. She wouldn’t be all right. Her life with Owen had been full of hackneyed admissions and colloquial emotions.

She spent fifteen years working for Masrani Global, ten of those on Isla Nublar alone. Claire loved her job, was married to it. Her dates were far and few between. When Owen stuck around after the incident, when he refused to leave even though they were on the brink of pulling the other’s hair out, she knew he was it for her. There wouldn’t be anyone else. She wouldn’t tolerate video games, and a dorky cheeseball of a man following her around with a guitar on lazy Sundays.

Claire admonished that she could live without him; she didn’t want to, didn’t think she would have to make the choice.

Karen stayed on the line, listening to her sister’s heart bleed out on the other side of the country. Although Claire wouldn’t want to break down in front of her still young nephew, it gave Karen piece of mind knowing that someone would be there and soon. They still had Owen’s family to call, his mother, his brother, his sister. Karen would deal with that once she got to San Diego, her sister beside her. So long as she could keep Claire in one piece, without the woman shutting everyone out the last time the family suffered a loss.

Claire always glued herself back together beautifully, not a hair out of place. The cracks in her heart never healed, especially after significant heartaches. She patched up the problems temporarily, neglecting the real issues until they just seemed to fade away. Karen needed to make sure her sister healed properly, if she healed at all, to save Claire from the broken echoes she would be forced to live with.

‘I’m going to hang up now, okay. I’ll be there soon, Claire Bear. Soon.’ Claire let her sister go, wrapping herself in Owen’s clothes, her head to his pillow, forcing herself to breath. It wasn’t much, but it was what was left of him. She could make it, until Zach got there, until he turned on the radio or coerced her into a video game. He’d keep her sane until Karen could help her find her missing pieces.

Chapter Text

His eyes lit up like the sky on the Fourth of July, flashing with bright colours and pure excitement. He was a Christmas tree the first time it was turned on for the season, twinkling in the front window of a family home. He was a little boy getting his first puppy, shaking in disbelief.

He was so excited to get his guitar back.

Immediately it was in his hands, strung across his chest, fingers fiddling with retuning the chords. Claire watched him with rapt attention, in awe of the instrument he had coveted for months. She didn’t quite believe him when Owen first complained, missing his guitar, his bike, having things to occupy his hands. She shrugged it off, dreading the day he bought a new instrument, or got the old one back.

As soon as he was happy, Owen began strumming, quickly, with apt skill. He grinned at Claire, smug. He stumbled over a chord, catching himself off guard before picking it back up, Claire matching his grin. She had started an unspoken challenge when she questioned his musical ability. Owen was all to ready to torment her now that his prized guitar was back in his hands.

Claire was happy to leave him be, collecting her small selection of items, returned from the island, she turned, leaving Owen to his guitar. Owen followed her, his guitar persistent, ‘We are young!’ He crooned, ‘Heartache to heartache, we stand!’ Claire stopped, in the doorway of her bedroom, rolling her eyes where he could see, once she recognised the song.

She tutted something about ridiculous as she pushed her door open with her hip, box in her arms. He continued, not deterred as Claire sat her box on her bed, and started sorting through it. She was laughing at him, the sound soft, too close to a giggle to keep his heart in check.

‘You’re begging me to go,

Then making me stay,

Why do you hurt me so bad,

It would help me to know
,
Do I stand in your way
,
Or am I the best thing you’ve ever had’.

Claire only rolled her eyes, as she tried to move past him. The grin on her cheeks was wide, the biggest smile he’d received, since they left the island. And, although she was rolling her eyes at him, the small laugh kept coming.

‘Right now, you’re in my way.’ She tried to play annoyed, attempting to shift around him, only to have Owen step in her way. He was laughing too, grin wide on his face, cheeks starting to hurt. He’d missed this instrument purely for the joy it brought him. Now, seeing the humour on Claire’s face, the slight flush on her cheeks, he missed not having it as soon as they settled in Costa Rica … or even having tried it’s magic on her back during their date.

‘Believe me
Believe me
I can’t tell you why
But I’m trapped by you love
And I’m chained to your side'.

The song was the first one he remembered, the first thing that came to his fingertips the second the guitar was in his hand. He couldn’t help but notice the irony, or the changing colours on Claire’s cheeks. They’d kissed, on the island, heat of the moment. They agreed to ‘survival’, but hadn’t exactly agreed to a relationship with each other.

Claire tried to move past him a third time, eyes alight as she rolled them for, likely, the thousandth time. He only grinned harder, waggling his eyebrows at her, teasingly. Owen never expected for Claire to stand up on her tip toes and kiss him. His joke was over, her mouth soft against his, so brief he thought it never happened.

‘Are you done?’ She asked, smile pulling at the corners of her lips. Owen nodded softly, still stunned. She shooed him out of the room, claiming she had work to do, or something of the like. Owen didn’t hear her, too busy promising himself that he’d serenade her a lot more if it got him that response.

Chapter Text

Claire was usually on bath duty. She scrubbed their daughters clean, before Owen put them to bed, sharing a story and a kiss on the head. He had cooked that night, so she cleaned up, leaving Owen to bathe their Rugrats.

She almost didn’t trust him, upstairs with a bath full of warm water and bubbles. He’d leave more mess than intended, the girls mildly clean.

Claire could hear their giggles from the kitchen, as she finished loading the dishes into the dishwasher. Charlie could be heard demanding more bubbles, her bright laugh drifting down the stairs. She wandered up the stairs, following Charlie’s laugh and Elliot’s shrieks. Claire stopped in the doorway, leaning on the jam, her arms crossed over her chest as she watched them. Charlie was patting at her father’s cheeks, adding bubbles to his stubble.

‘Now you’re an old man!’ Charlie giggled, finally recognising that she couldn’t possibly pile anymore bubbles to his face. She grinned, sliding back a little to appreciate her handy work. ‘You have to tell a story now,’ She practically demanded, hands full of bubbles, attention turned to her sister.

Owen thought for a minute, his hand pretending to stroke his bubble beard before he came up with a story - or likely a lesson. He was mocking his father, very clearly, his voice taking on a forced croak, speech slowed. He was reprimanding his daughter’s in his father’s voice, telling them not to make a mess or no Christmas presents. Claire chuckled at the outraged gape Charlie threw over her little shoulder.

‘Mama!’ Elliot shrieked at the sound of her mother’s voice, her body rising from the soapy water, her hands in the air begging to be picked up. Owen plopped her back into the water, clicking his tongue before telling his young daughter he had to wash her hair first. Elliot wasn’t the fondest of baths, nor being told she couldn’t have her mother when she wanted her. Her bottom lip pouted and started to wobble, her little face turning pink.

Owen avoided the emotion, talking her through his steps easily, as he popped open the lid of the baby shampoo. For an almost two-year-old who refused to talk as much as she was capable, Elliot understood every word. Owen bopped her nose with a sudsy finger, creating the little girl to laugh. Her eyes only flickered from her mother’s figure in the doorway to eye Charlie wearily and her father with concern.

Claire had a habit of being overprotective. Seeing the look of worry in her baby’s eyes made her want to rush over and scoop her up. She refrained, knowing Owen had it sorted. It was only water, he just had to wash her hair, it would take two minutes.

Charlie splashed beside her sister’s head, causing the infant to jump. ‘Charlie?’ Owen asked, drawing her attention. ‘Can you see Eli’s ducky?’ It was right behind the girl, he knew the segue would keep her somewhat still. It would distract Elliot too, keeping her calm until her hair was washed before he could hand her over to Claire.

She couldn’t help herself from being fascinated with the way he handed their daughters. Charlie was nearing seven-years-old, and Claire still couldn’t help the butterflies in her stomach. He was gentle, loving, caring. Took every spare second he could with them, doused them in love and spoils. Claire herself never missed out on special treatment either, she was there mother - the most important one of them all.

If someone had told her seven years ago that she’d be living in a moderate town home with two daughters and her husband, Owen Grady, no less; she would have laughed. Karen had always been persistent that her sister would have children, Claire never saw the possibility. And now, here it was. Two beautiful, healthy, and happy little girls.

Charlie found her sister’s duck easily, squeezing it once to hear the squeak. Without missing a beat she launched into a song, something they’d found on Sesame Street one rainy afternoon. Owen joined her easily, and unashamed to know the words of Ernie’s ‘Rubber Ducky’ song.

Claire watched, in awe of the small team Owen always managed to conduct. Just by hinting at the duck, Charlie fell into song, her splashing stopped, Elliot remained relaxed. Another bath time was successfully completed … for Elliot. Claire stepped forward on her cue, the baby sized towel already in her hands. She accepted her daughter when Owen lifted her up, kissed her on the cheek, and handed her over.

She swore somedays all she did was blink. Seven years in a millisecond. Having nothing but a cold high rise apartment on a dinosaur infested island, to warm cuddles with her daughter’s before bed. Elliot’s arms wrapped around her neck, her cheek pressed into her collar bone, her heart thumping under her chest.

Claire kissed the top of her daughter’s damp head, squeezing her a little tighter. They left Owen on his own to wrestle Charlie into cleaning her hair.

Owen sought them out later, Charlie kissed goodnight, the lights turned out. Claire was in bed, book in hand, back propped up by pillows, Elliot curled up, asleep on her chest. Crawling across the bed, Owen chuckled, a kiss pressed to his wife’s cheek, another for his daughter. ‘She’s getting so big, so fast,’ Claire half complained. They never had an issue with Charlie going from infant to toddler, to small child. Claire was struggling with the reality of Elliot’s left behind infant year.

‘We can always have another one,’ Owen teased, stroking the soft hair on Elliot’s head. Claire’s response was immediate. Her head shaking as she closed her book and put it to the side.

‘No way, Mister.’ She tapped his cheek playfully, ‘Two girls is enough. No more.’

Owen sulked, ‘But three’s the charm’. She told him no for the second time, leaning over to kiss his small pout away. Elliot had that pout, the roll of his bottom lip, it was exactly the same even on her baby face. ‘I’ll put her to bed,’ He offered, reaching for the little girl. Claire was right, she was getting too big too soon. Elliot was only born a little over a year ago. Now she could talk, she could run, next she would be joining her sister at school, or tantrums, or preferring her mother over him just a little more.

‘Owen,’ Claire called out to him, her husband in the doorway, their daughter sagged against his shoulder, little face pinched in sleepy annoyance. He hummed, feet stilling in their movement to listen to her. ‘How’d I get so lucky?’ She asked, his eyes sparkling in front of her. Owen only shrugged, repeating the sentiment.

They were both lucky, for each other, for their daughters. For every wet kiss to the cheek, every warm hug, and every little, endearing, moment.

Chapter Text

‘Daddy?’ Charlie whispered as she crawled across the couch to snuggle into his side.

He responded as he always did, ’Charlie?’ Inquiring right back into her small little utterance of his title. No matter how many times she said it, whether she was sad or angry, happy or expectant, he wouldn’t get over it. Daddy, it was a good word when he thought about it. When he heard it from his daughter’s lips.

‘Tell me about my day,’

‘Your day?’ He asked quietly, smile tugging at his cheeks. She was always going on about this, that, and the other. Hers, hers, hers. Elliot’s - sometimes. They were still coping with the idea of sharing now that her baby sister had arrived. There was always something with Charlie that didn’t quite make sense in her four - now five - year old way.

‘My birthday.’

‘Charlie, that was today.’ Owen crinkled an eyebrow as he watched his wife take a seat beside them, second slice of birthday cake on her plate.

The girl shook her head, not playing with her father’s antics. ’Nooo, my first one.’

‘The day you were born?’ Claire asked, reaching a hand out to rub her daughter’s back. Charlie was fading, and fast. The day had worn down on her, testing the patience of her sleepy little mind. She was only five, newly five, her days were still lined in small hours. Charlie hummed, accrediting her mother as correct.

‘That’s a Mommy story,’ Owen told the girl, ruffling her hair. Knowing it was something Claire would prefer to tell, over him. Especially for the first time.

Charlie shook her head, her hand tapping his chest, ‘No. You tell it’.

‘Well, it’s a long story. Are you comfy?’ The girl hummed, wiggling herself in closer. Content that he was comfortable, eyes watching his grinning wife. Owen began.

*

 

Her water broke in the early morning of the day before. She was calm, collected, none too concerned. These things take time, Owen. He was a mess, panicked, stressed. Owen couldn’t keep his head in one place, or his eyes on the road.

Their doctor smiled at them softly. Claire’s water may have broken, but their baby wasn’t on the move. He gave them 24 hours before he wanted to induce labour. She patted Owen on the shoulder kindly, boosting him with a large smile, ‘All in good time, Dad.’ He smiled at the woman, feeling a little wobbly while Claire laughed, ushering them both out the door.

It suddenly became too much, the idea of having a baby. She certainly wasn’t planned, which didn’t make Owen feel any better. They weren’t ready for this, he could see the worry on Claire’s face, the grey in her blue eyes, her teeth gnawing at her bottom lip. They found reality in their child’s heartbeat, in her confirmed sex, and now in her suddenly impending arrival. Baby Grady had 24 hours to vacate the premises or she’d be evicted with little warning.

They returned home after that, Owen trying to push off some joke attempting to hide how scared he was. This was it, go time, in a relative amount of days. If Claire noticed, she didn’t say anything. He expected she felt the same, just as cautious, just as uncertain. They talked about calling Karen before deciding better against the idea. There was no use alerting the older Dearing if there was no baby on the way … just yet. She was still preparing for her big arrival. Somehow, he just knew, they were going to have a little drama queen.

Owen didn’t know if he should go into work like normal, or stay with Claire. He watched her for a few moments, waddling about the house, trying to finish of the last of their newborn washing. It was all so small. ‘Just go, if you weren’t here this morning, I wouldn’t have told you anyway.’ She waved him off. He felt a little offended. Sure, he knew what she meant. If her water had broken later in the morning, after he left, and she got the same response from the doctor, she would have returned home like nothing happened. Hell, she probably would have told him she was technically in labour over dinner. He stayed, torn, for a few extra moments soaking in the sight of her.

She hated it, being pregnant. She hated the large round belly that always got in her way. Her swollen ankles, her aching back, and the way she had to waddle. He loved just about every second of it. Especially the nights were she couldn’t find the energy to get up the stairs. They’d slept in the guest room on a few occasions, Claire too exhausted, too uncomfortable to fight the stairs even with his help. On the nights in which she was determined to sleep in her own bed, he helped her up, hands on the small of her back.

He worried, a few months ago, that maybe he didn’t love her enough to stick around. She’d given him the option to get out, to run, to leave, to not look back. He hadn’t taken it, determined to stick by her side. He had his moments of doubt. But this, pregnant Claire. He loved her too much in those moments to even second guess their future.

Claire eventually swatted Owen out of the house, complaining that he was getting in her way and only bothering her. He went to work, arriving at the zoo just after twelve. He knew his Sumatrans were taken care of, Stewart was always there, regardless of if Owen was on or not. He rushed to pick up the pace where others hadn’t quite completed his usual jobs, before he went to check on the tigers.

‘Where’s Ragi?’ Owen asked Steward the second he noticed their female wasn’t in the enclosure. The news that she was being kept in her pen by the vet set Owen’s heart racing. They were expecting cubs in a couple of weeks, not now, not today, not this week. Regardless of his hesitation, he felt giddy knowing both his tiger and Claire were in labour at the same time. He got carried away after that, sticking with the animal until one of the girls from the ticket booth came to find him.

They were so close, the vet promising cubs at the latest, by early morning. Owen was committed to keeping himself there, determined to imprint slightly on his new cubs as he had done his raptors. And even if he couldn’t, he didn’t care. The Sumatran’s were quickly going extinct, and here they were, in his zoo, welcoming a hopeful three more into the world.

’Hey, Owen,’ It was Alice, one of the younger staffers who doubled in the zoo’s upper market restaurant. She’d already promised Claire to babysit sometime, after the baby was born and they were ready for a night out. ‘Claire’s on line 2, she’s looking for you.’ She shrugged, ‘Kinda sounded important’. Owen thanked Alice as he quickly jumped up and went in search of a phone.

Claire was calm on the other end of the line, nothing in her voice gave away what she was calling for. Owen flicked a look at his watch. It was nearing seven. He should have been home two hours ago. He cringed, knowing that she would be mad about that, dinner probably going cold on the table. He was in trouble.

She gritted her teeth and groaned painfully through a contraction as he explained Ragi was due to deliver her cubs, and that he wanted to be there to help. The sound set his heart racing, the same panic from that morning setting across his skin.

‘That’s really nice, Owen. But, I swear, if you don’t get here soon, I’m going to have this baby on that couch you love so much. It’ll be ruined forever if you don’t hurry up and get home.’ The threat was enough, he ran out of the small office, calling out to Stewart to keep him updated on Ragi.

He swore the whole way back to the house, twenty minutes was too long, too long. Owen’s fingers tapped against the steering wheel, he was determined not to break any road rules, he could drive home calmly, Claire would be fine. He was only partially wrong about that. Running through the door, Owen skidded to a halt in the living room entry. Claire was sitting on the couch, the couch she threatened to ruin, back arched, one hand on her hip the other rubbing a circle against her belly. ‘Are you sure this is it?’

‘Are you really in a place to be questioning me?’ She snapped back, irritated, cheeks a little pink, breath hard to come by. He did as she asked after that, not without pressing a kiss to her cheek in apology. He threw the hospital bag in the car first, chest jumping at the realisation of what was going on. Their were onesies in that bag, sized at four zeros, someone would be coming home in them in a short amount of time - or so he hoped.

Claire stopped halfway to the car, back bending as she called out in pain, one hand wrapped around his arm, nails digging into the muscle there. He let her, wincing to himself quietly while trying to count all the good merits they had coming. Their daughter.

A smiling nurse rushed them into an awaiting room, like they had done that morning. This time Claire was sitting uncomfortably in a wheelchair, half holding herself off the seat, convinced that she could feel her daughter too much to be sitting on her. She was quiet outside of that, nails locked on his hand once the nurse left the room, and let her do as she pleased. She paced in small lines, too scared to move from him as she bit down on her lip every time a contraction passed.

The doctor was in momentarily, smiling at both Claire and Owen, apparently glad to see them so soon. Owen wanted to scoff, with the pain Claire looked like she was in, and the resurgent fear that he was going to be somebody’s father, he would have preferred not to see Dr Samantha Young’s face ever again.

Owen dashed out of the room when his phone beeped wildly in his pocked, apologising to both Claire and the doctor. He had to take the call, it was Stewart. The vet was adamant that there would be cubs that night. Owen thanked him, requesting texts instead of calls. Claire would kill him if his phone started ringing in the delivery room again. He called his Mom before he went back in, letting her know that her granddaughter was on her way. She would pass the message on to his brother and sister. Right now, he needed to get back to Claire, the pensive look on her face worrying him just slightly.

He felt like he blinked when Dr Young started telling Claire to push. She was crushing Owen’s hand in hers, refusing the epidural that would probably save them both. It’d been three hours, he realised, eyes catching his watch, since they came in. It was nearing midnight. She was exhausted, the pain too much, and hungry. There was nothing he could do for her but offer up ice chips. Even then that didn’t help how tired she was, dozing off in the ninety seconds worth of pain free time before her next contraction.

Claire called out only a little, cursing his name under her breath as she bore down and pushed as the doctor instructed. He felt his phone buzz in his back pocket, his mind distancing for a second, wondering if it was Stewart, or his family. Karen was due to be there any minute - Claire had called her earlier in the evening when her contractions picked up.

The tight grip Claire had on his hand kept Owen centred, reminding him of the here and now of the moment. He encouraged her, squeezing her hand back, as he wiped her sweaty hair from her forehead, and dropped a kiss to the top of her hand.

His phone buzzed again, this time in such a way he knew it was a phone call. ‘I swear to god, Owen. If that’s Stewart, I’ll feed him to the god damn tigers.’ She was full of it tonight, Owen couldn’t help but laugh, Claire throwing around threats was reminiscent of her days on the island - only she was scarier now than then. He was worried she would actually do it, now. ‘Go on, answer it.’ She nodded her head, face contorted. He didn’t know if she was being sarcastic or not.

‘My daughter is being born, Stewart, I don’t have time for this.’ He snapped into the phone, taking on Claire’s tense tone as he hit the disconnect button and shoved the device back into his pocket. Claire patted his cheek with a clammy hand, smiling at him through gritted teeth. Dr Young only smirked at him, adding in a quip that he shouldn’t even have his mobile on in the birthing suite.

They didn’t have time to talk technicalities when Dr Young announced that she could see their daughter’s head. It was all a blur after that, Claire fighting with all her might as their daughter came into the world with failing limbs and a strong cry. He moved with the nurses without thinking, Claire letting go of his hand. He watched over their shoulders as the cleaned the little girl off and took her measurements. She was so small. The tiniest little thing Owen was sure he had seen. His raptors had been small, but his baby, his daughter. She was something else entirely.

She was handed to him suddenly, still screaming, almost out of nowhere, the nurse grinning as she announced, ‘Say hello to Daddy,’ To the white bundle that was suddenly in his arms. He didn’t know what to do, and he didn’t have any time to panic about it. She was there now, his daughter, her wailing stopped as soon as he relaxed. His eyes were glued to her little round face, still red and slightly gooey. Owen didn’t care. God, he loved her. Every inch of him loved her.

Owen moved slowly, unsure on his feet with this tiny, feather light creature in his arms. He took her to Claire, lowering himself to a chair a nurse provided. Claire’s hands were on his face, thumbs wiping away at a moisture under his eyes. She laughed at him softly when he looked to her in awe.

‘You’re crying,’ Claire told him, tears in her own eyes, as she looked from his face to the small bundle he was holding. He laughed a little, as he stood, transferring the baby uneasily into Claire’s arms.

‘We did this,’ He whispered, two fingers helping peel back the blankets around their new daughter’s fresh face. Claire echoed his words with complete awe. They did this. They created that life. That very real human being in her arms. ‘She’s beautiful,’ He could feel that world shifting change befall him, every hackneyed phrase and colloquial set up, sat on his shoulders. This was it, the rest of his life was dedicated to that tiny bundle and her courageous mother.

*

‘Aunt Karen was already in the waiting room, ready to meet you. She sat with you and Mommy while I called Auntie Lorna, Uncle Travis, and Nana & Pa.’ Owen continued, filling Charlie in on all the menial details - and most importantly finding out that the first tiger cub was born - to the minute - at the same time as Charlie herself.

‘That’s not as crazy as Elliot’s birthday,’ Charlie mumbled, now sitting against her mother, loyalty shifted once Claire offered to share her cake. Crazy was one word to describe Elliot’s birth, hectic was another.

Claire laughed a little as she smiled down at her daughter. ‘That’s because Elliot was in a hurry,’ She explained easily to her daughter. It wasn’t the whole story, but it wasn’t anything the five-year-old needed to know just yet in her life. ‘But you, Charlie Bear, you were right on time.’ She grinned, flashing her teeth, head against her mother’s arm.

‘That’s ‘cause I’m a good girl.’ It was Owen’s turn to laugh, hand tapping Charlie’s ankle in his lap.

‘That’s arguable.’ Claire mumbled teasingly over his daughter’s head. ‘Are you ready for bed?’ She asked the girl, brushing her light red waves through her fingers. Charlie nodded her head softly, eyes closing against her mother’s soft touch. ‘Who do you want to tuck you in? Me or Daddy?’ Charlie mumbled for her father, little body shifting towards him.

It had been a long day for the little girl and her parents. They’d shepherded a group of small children around the zoo, all of them following Owen like ducklings to the mother duck. He took the lead, stopping at fences and glass walls, introducing the children to the animals and the animals to the children. Claire pulled up the rear, pushing Elliot in the stroller behind the rest of the group, keeping the stragglers in line.

‘Did you have a good day?’ Owen asked, lifting his daughter from the couch. Charlie wrapped her arms around her neck, as she nodded softly. ‘Was it the best birthday ever?’ She nodded again, slowly but surely. Claire got up to kiss her daughter’s cheek, whispering goodnight against her skin as Owen did the same before carrying her off to bed.

They made it through five years. Five years since the day she was born. Birthdays were due to come and go, some she wouldn’t quite remember, others she would never forget. He already couldn’t say what they’d done for her second birthday, or her third. But, Owen knew, without a doubt, that he would always remember the day she was born.

Chapter Text

Owen was chuckling beside her, whole body shaking with his effort to suppress his humour. He wasn’t doing a good job, at hiding it, Claire’s cheeks flushed red. Karen had found a tape she knew Owen would die to see. Claire, at age fifteen stood in front of the camera with two friends. The three of them recanting a scene from The First Wives Club. The three girls, sang the Leslie Gore classic off the top of their lungs. Fortunately for Claire, that was the worst of them.

She was as crisp and finely trimmed as a child as she had been in corporate office when Owen first met her. That never stopped her from having a sense of humour, or silly, memorable moments. Just, some not as bad as others. There was no embarrassing Spring Break video. No drunken night in the back of her sister’s car or equally traumatising memory.

Karen had promised Owen the best dirt she could ever offer up on Claire Dearing. So far all she had was a heap of videos from track meets and some of Claire and her friends in various stages of their lives.

‘You were so cute,’ Owen cooed, pointing at the screen, camera close up to Claire’s grinning face. She had braces at age fifteen, freckles following the bridge of her nose and a smile that only screamed how sweet and innocent she had been.

Claire only rolled her eyes at Owen’s comment, scowling at her sister on the floor opposite them, remote in hand, new album uncovered. ‘I knew you’d love these,’ Karen announced, grin wide. Since the island, and Costa Rica, and since they finally found a permanent home on US soil Karen and Owen ganged up on Claire. Most importantly, since Claire announced quietly to her sister that she and Owen were officially dating and importantly, since Owen and Claire announced quietly to Karen that they were offical.

They sided against Claire in every attempt to embarrass her. All in good fun. They loved her, cared about her. Owen in particular got a certain kick out of making her cheeks flush pink. ‘Claire once her braces came off,’ Karen explained, sliding a picture across the table. She was a year older - sixteen - grinning with pearly whites, up close to the camera. He could count every light brown freckle on her pale face. Owen grinned in turn, flashing her the picture with amusement. She smiled wide, taking the picture out of his hands with wide eyes. Clearly, the memory attached was a fond one.

‘Oh my god. This one - okay, this one - Claire went through this phase where she had to streak around the house after a bath - every night.’ Claire buried her head in her hands as Karen handed over the picture of toddler Claire, back to the camera, naked as the day she was born.

There was more, a whole box full, pictures of Claire from the day she was born to the Christmas just after her mother died. A small collection of her life, caught on shiny paper, immortalised and packed into a small box.

‘Where did you find these?’ Claire asked, shuffling through a stack, smiling softly, cheeks still red with embarrassment.

‘Dad. Got ‘em before he died. I sorted through them ages ago, put them aside for you. I thought you’d want them - I don’t know. Keep up your own album. Honestly, do whatever you want with them. Mom and Dad were good at keeping backups. I have copies of everything.’ Karen shrugged, taking the stack of photos her sister was done with.

Claire hardly thought about keeping photographs. She had a few, that inevitably traveled with her, or were sent as gifts from Karen. She didn’t have as many as this, and certainly not a lot from her childhood. There was one picture, of the girls and their father, beaming beside him at the state fair. She’d had that picture for as long as it had been taken. It went to Stanford, and Isla Nublar in the same frame she had put it in as a seven-year-old. Other than that the only other pictures she had was one of her parents, long before her mother got ill and died, and two of her nephews.

Maybe that was what their house was missing. The personal touch of family photos. ‘You should call your Mom, see if she has anything like this.’ Claire suggested, only to wish that she didn’t by the look of apprehension on his face.

He wasn’t staying. Not in the house that she bought, and likely not in the same state. He was being hounded by a corporation on the East Coast, big money chasing a behaviouralist’s talent. She only knew about it because she’d accidentally answered his phone the week before. Owen hadn’t brought it up, but she could see he was considering it. He moved to San Diego with her because she had a job. After the Incident Owen was left high and dry, mostly on his part - he refused to sign back on with InGen. He was left in the lurch in a city that wouldn’t offer him a job, in a world he felt slightly out of touch with. Claire didn’t know if he would take it or not - he’d be stupid not too - he was unpredictable like that sometimes.

Claire had something on her chest, a secret kept under her clothes, a burden she wouldn’t dare push on him. Not now, not when he had this decision to make. She could keep her mouth shut for the time being, or the rest of her life if he so chose to leave. It would be hard, but she had done it before. Kept secrets that wanted to smother her in their enormity.

She shook away the thought, her eyes watching the side of his face instead, committing the sight to memory. His lips curled up into a grin, his eyes blew wide. He turned to her, photograph in hand, green eyes wide in admiration, grin pulled up in perfect surprise. The picture he held was one of her as a little girl, three or four-years-old. She was sitting on a park bench, denim pinafore, white blouse, bright red curls spouting from her head. The messy fizz curled around her tiny face like a warm halo, igniting the blue in her eyes, and signalling her freckles to shine.

It was a cute picture. She reached to take it, inspect it closer, but Owen had a tight hold. ‘You guys are going to have the cutest kids!’ Karen exclaimed watching their faces as they poured over her sister’s little portrait.

Claire froze. Her heart jumped into her throat, rattling like an animal in a cage, threatening to break out. She tried not to react as she started her sister down, Karen didn’t know, Karen couldn’t know. Owen moved onto the next childhood snap, unaware of her internal panic.

She watched them, quietly, trying not to give herself away. Karen was just as oblivious as Owen, her fingers shuffling through sets of photos, recalling anecdotes as they came to mind. Claire exhaled softly, releasing a shaky breath. They didn’t know. She thought Karen had outed her secret. She was pregnant. They couldn’t have known. Her secret was safe for now, which was how she wanted to keep it until she figured out what exactly to do.

‘Hey, I remember that!’ Claire called out, reaching for the photo Karen held. Her sister handed it over, nodding her head as Claire recalled the memory aloud. They were barely teenagers, the both of them, half amused faces, clearly sore, as they stood at the gate to the local ice skating rink. Things went so very wrong for their future selves, but in that moment the sisters couldn’t have been closer, arms around each other, memories made.

It had been a long time since Claire looked back on these things. Small moments from her childhood where she and her sister played. The days their mother attempted to bake, and their father got stuck with cleanup. Homework and chores, playing in the street, petty secrets and lies that neither could keep. She missed it, without ever realising that it had gone, so caught up in hiding herself away after their father died, she’d practically given up.

They would change that, this time. No more disappearing to wither away.

Owen leant over to press a small, unexpected kiss to her cheek. He always knew how to read her thoughts. She was surprised that he hadn’t picked up on her secret yet, their child growing under her skin. He knew, instead, of when she’d made a solid attempt at trying to change, to readjust, to accomodate her sister and nephew’s again.

She smiled at him softly, the look on her face, likely, dreamy. ‘I think my mom definitely has some shots like this,’ He laughed, ‘I’ll get her to send them down’. Claire felt the slight stutter of hope spark in her chest. Maybe, there was a chance that he would stay, his baby pictures next to hers - next to their baby’s - on the foyer wall.

Claire, for one, couldn’t wait to get her hands on his baby pictures.

Chapter Text

The sheets beneath her nose smelled like sandalwood and the outdoors, more dirt than grass but not entirely unpleasant. They’re clean too, which settled the nerves in her stomach. Claire lay, disorientated for a moment, eyes squeezed shut, arm dangling off the edge of the unfamiliar bed.

The body behind her moved, grunting softly as the bed shifted and a heavy hand found the back of her thigh. Her body froze. Embarrassingly, she knew that grunt. She knew it a little too well for decency even before what evidently happened last night, happened.

She was in Owen Grady’s bed, the night after their planned date. Claire couldn’t remember if they went or not. What did he have planned, again? She squeezed her eyes tighter, trying not to focus on the warm hand pressed atop her bare skin. There wasn’t even a blur of memory. She couldn’t put her finger on it. Slowly Claire peeled an eye open, spotting her clothes strewn about the floor, answered one of her questions: where they were.

There was a slight trickle of memory when she spotted his dark wash jeans on the floor beside her underwear. He was tall and dashing, all while being casual in those jeans, simple button up. He was stood, outside Margaritaville waiting for her, leaning against the exterior wall, hands in his pockets. She wasn’t thrilled about their destination, but settled, content to know they didn’t have to rush for the last ferry back to the island.

Claire scrubbed a hand over her face, as she let out a small yawn. She turned, slowly, trying not to wake the sleeping man beside her, his hand slipping from her thigh. She pulled the sheets up to her chest, cheeks burning as she looked Owen over.

He was lying on his stomach, blankets caught around his knees, one hand under the pillow, beside his head, the other sitting next to her knee. From there she could see the soft shape of muscle under tanned skin, the slight shift made by his shallow breaths. He inhaled deeply at the end of every minute - she knew because she watched, staring unabashed in the moments that she had. His hair was a curly mess, clearly due for a trim, as blond rings formed across his head.

Claire grinned, their date certainly wasn’t so bad. She had worried, nitpicked every small detail until Zara shoved her out the door, itinerary taken hostage. Claire had no other choice but to let loose and accept the generous glass of wine he bought her upon arrival. She’d have to thank Zara later. Buy her assistant some flowers, without needing to disclose the warm tingly feeling that stretched out, like a lazy cat, across her body.

Chemistry translated in the sheets, at least for them, Owen clearly living up to the bravado he was always such a peacock about. She was starting to remember fine details, her mouth still tingling with the taste of tequila. For once she didn’t care about the drink, or breaking her carefully constructed diet. Instead, she was fighting off a giggle that was not only threatening to break free, but to irritate her. They had sex - on the first date no less. Her cheeks burnt red hot. Had she been that desperate? Did he notice? Or did they just collapse mutually?

She couldn’t hold off the giggle, something in her completely giddy. She had sex with Owen Grady! Claire sobered the second the body beside her grumbled. She needed to leave, to get out before he woke up. Something compelled her to stay. The slight frown on his face and the lure of his curly hair. Claire couldn’t help herself. She reached out slowly, tentatively, fingertips first before she ran her hand through his hair, tracing along his scalp as the strands tangled between her fingers.

Claire was halfway through wondering if she could flatten out the mess when Owen grumbled again, his head jerking softly, his eyes fluttering open. He didn’t say anything, only wrapped and arm around her waist and tugged her into his body, the both of them sinking further into the mattress. Claire squeaked in complaint, before relaxing, liking the warmth of his hold over the empty call of her apartment.

‘I’m surprised you’re still here,’ He mumbled into her hair, light kiss dropped to the top of her ear. Owen, undeniably, took a little longer to wake than she did, his voice still groggy his eyes likely still closed. Claire didn’t mind as much as she thought she would. Cuddling wasn’t something she had ever liked to do with past boyfriends - not that Owen was a boyfriend, she reminded herself - she didn’t mind so much when it was Owen.

Claire hummed, finding his large hand on her hip and pulling it up to tuck under her chin. ‘That date wasn’t so bad,’ He hummed in response, a kiss to her shoulder, ‘It was probably worth sticking around’. He didn’t say anything, only held her tighter. He knew she was a buttoned up control freak on the best of days - hell, it was why he liked to push her buttons - he just didn’t think he’d ever have a chance. Yet, there she was, curled up warm against his chest, her skin flush with his. Even better; Claire Dearing was content to stay.

Chapter Text

‘You gotta do it tight,’ Elliot commanded, hair brush waving in the air. ‘And neater than the last time’. Owen nodded curtly, accepting the brush and ties from his six-year-old. Elliot eyed him wearily for a second, trying to threaten him with just a look. She was as fierce as her mother, even in her ballet getup, green eyes threatening to make his life hell.

Tapping the space beside him on the couch, Owen laughed. ‘Got it, Squirt.’ She threw herself beside him, body bouncing on the cushions for a second before she settled. Elliot hummed, her shoulders relaxing as Owen brushed her long blonde hair, before parting it to braid.

Braiding Elliot’s hair was routine. From the day he realised her hair was long enough to criss cross in a basic braid, he made a ritual out of it. Elliot sought her mother out for comfort on more occasions than not, but when she didn’t want Claire, or the times where she wasn’t available; Owen braided Elliot’s hair.

‘Can I go next?’ Charlie asked, wandering into the room, book in hand. Owen grinned, tongue caught between his lips as he tried to concentrate. Collecting the hair from behind Elliot’s ears and checking his watch, Owen nodded.

‘Sure can, Charlie Bear.’ He focused on the last couple of twists, Charlie peering over his shoulder as he worked, desperate to learn. Owen twirled the braid into a bun before securing it as best he could. Claire would finish getting Elliot ready once she walked through the door.

He tapped Elliot’s shoulder letting her know he was done. The little girl ran her hands over her head, gently inspecting before she turned to her father with a grin. ‘Thank you, Daddy!’ She jumped, kissing his cheek before running off.

Charlie quietly filled her sister’s spot, and pulled the tie from her red hair. Braiding Charlie’s hair had always been easy. The young girl never let her hair get too long, begging for a haircut any time it surpassed three inches below her shoulders. ‘You know, Molly’s daddy doesn’t braid her hair.’ He had a quip about Molly’s dad on the tip of his tongue, but he refrained. ‘I like that you can do our hair, it’s special that way.’ He stopped what he was doing, to press a kiss to the top of her head, thankful for his loving girls. ‘And you’re good at it,’ She told him softly, ‘Better than Mommy’. Owen chuckled, Claire struggled in the braiding department - she never saw a need to learn properly, not with Owen around and his easy talent.

Owen checked over Charlie’s hair, fingers gliding behind her ears to make sure he hadn’t missed a lone strand. Finding she was nothing less than perfect - which was never a surprise - he secured the braid with the tie she’d given him, looped around his wrist.

‘Daddy!’ Elliot’s voice called from the second floor, voice panicked, feet thudding on the stairs. ‘It fell out, Daddy, it fell out!’ She was a flash of blonde and pink, little body catapulting into the room and throwing herself into Owen’s lap. ‘You gotta fix it! Quick, quick!’ Inspecting what had gone wrong with Elliot’s hair, only provided evidence that the girl had pulled the tie out on her own. In custom Eli style, the girl had a love for repetition, simple actions repeated over and over until she finally got her fix.

Owen rolled his eyes with a fond smile, before he started again. One third of smooth blonde hair twisted over another, and a third before he repeated it, again. ‘Don’t pull the hair tie out, again, Eli.’

‘I didn’t do it!’ She whined as Owen pulled on her hair, trying to recreate the tight long knot. Charlie hummed, disbelieving the little girl who had a lying tongue. ‘I just need Daddy to do it again,’ she grumbled. He listened to his daughter’s bicker, the noise usually chipping away at his sanity on good days. Owen focused on her hair, braiding it intricately wondering how many time in their lives he had done this, and how many more times would come. How many rainy nights would they sit on the floor, Claire included, reading allowed from a favourite book as he braided the hair of each of his girls. How many warm weathered days would come and go where he was the only one with spare hands, and patience enough to pull his daughters’ hair up from their necks and out of their faces.

If it was the only service he could provide them, aside from just being there, he’d be happy to know that was it. Braiding their hair wasn’t the worst thing in the world, even if Elliot made him do it over and over again.

Chapter Text

She didn’t bother flicking the light switch when they stepped in the door, bags over their shoulders, feet dragging across the floor. Minnesota clung to their skin, Zach and Grey’s voices trapped in their heads. Owen smiled the whole way home, boasting about how great it was to see her nephews again. He loved the boys, and they in return, loved him. 

Claire couldn’t shake the sinking feeling in her gut. The secret she was hiding was slowly slipping out of her grasp, paranoia prying it from her fingers, her own biology a vicious traitor. Owen’s bag dropped with a heavy thud to the foyer’s floorboards, his hands instantly on her hips, prying her own bag away. Claire let him, too tired to shrug away, desperate for gentle affection before he hated her. 

His kisses followed a slow, loving trail up the side of her neck while his hands pulled her back against his body, enveloping her in his warmth. Claire couldn’t shake her thoughts as he tried so sweetly to love her. The weekend was stuck in her head, watching Owen run around with her nephews, getting along with her sister. Worst of all, the baby pictures. She tried to put the thought out of her mind since the little pink plus sign, and again after the blood work came back from her doctor. It worked some days, she’d completely forget until she moved too fast or caught a waft of something that had never particularly bothered her before, and then she’d be running to the bathroom to throw up. Owen’s cologne was the worst trigger, which thankfully he went without most days, but used at least once a week just to torture her. 

He turned her slowly, hands skating down her ribs, lips on her collarbone. He couldn’t miss the small catch in her throat, far different from usual breathless desire. Something desperate broke inside her chest, the feeling spilling out against his lips, sour taste on his tongue. 

Her eyes were squeezed shut when he pulled away, hand covering her mouth, tears streaking down her cheeks in the dark light of their home. His heart rate picked up a beat, panic chasing through his bloodstream. ‘Whoa, whoa,’ He dropped one hand to her hip, steadying himself to her, the other chasing shapes around her face, trying to figure out if she was hurt. ‘What’s wrong?’ He’d seen a myriad of emotions displayed across Claire Dearing’s face in the eight months since the Incident on Isla Nublar. Eight months sitting in idle on the coast of Costa Rica, waiting for news, waiting to be let go. Eight months of nightmares and panic attacks, of guilt ridden anxiety. Eight months and Owen thought he had seen every emotion her face could display. What was eating at her now, was new. 

Claire sobbed for a second, her cries almost silent as he stood in front of her, holding her steady, worry beating in his chest. It felt like centuries past them in the dark, a soft heartbreaking noise coming from Claire, Owen practically radiating fidgety energy. He just wanted to solve her problems, to make the world shine again. 

Claire caught her breath, her throat wrenching sobs subsiding into slight hiccoughs. She opened wet eyes to peer at him, scared like a caught lamb. Her whisper was almost nonexistent, Owen had to strain to hear her, but the words were unmistakable; ‘I’m pregnant’. Owen blinked, staring at her pale face in the dark, enough light flowing in from the street that he could make out her features. He expected a look of overdue excitement, and pure joy. There was nothing, she looked morose in her blank expression. His gut churned. He didn’t know how to react. The first response in the back of his head was an ear splitting smile, and a laugh so loud the whole world could hear his joy. 

He dropped to his knees, following an impulsive action that wanted to break away at the seams. Hands on her hips, Owen pressed a kiss to her stomach, a second, a third, until Claire pushed him away, strangled plea on her lips. She was crying again, tears falling in long lines down her cheeks. ‘We can’t have a baby, Owen.’ She stuttered, stepping away from him. He didn’t get up, only stayed on his knees, slightly shocked that she’d pushed him away, rejected his tender excitement. 

‘Why not?’ 

‘You’re leaving,’ He got up then, pulling himself up from the floor only to try and calm her. She was hyperventilating, the breath rushing through her lips too short and shallow. Claire didn’t push him away when he put his hands to her shoulders. She matched her breathing to his without his askance, following a routine they’d created in the dark of a hotel room. 

‘Are you asking me to leave?’ He asked quietly once Claire calmed. ‘I’m not going to leave, Claire. Wasn’t planning on it before this, certainly not planning on it now.’ His mind was reeling. He wanted to know what was going on in her head, and at the same time couldn’t focus on anything but the fact that she was pregnant. They had spoken about kids in passing, once or twice, mostly in relation to her nephews. He knew enough to know she wasn’t ready, to know she was frightened out of her mind and that every doubt she ever had about anything would now be rushing to the surface. And yet, he couldn’t push down the excitement. Owen had seen enough of humanity’s evils to hate it, but Claire had always been a bright light of controlled calm. Having children with her could only improve his life, tenfold.

Claire shook her head, ‘No, Owen, you need to go. I know Masrani Global offered you a position on the East Coast.’ She wasn’t wrong, he had been offered a position in their research sector. Nothing like what he did at Jurassic World, but enough to keep him comfortable for the rest of his life. He’d gotten the email a few weeks ago, Claire asleep beside him in the bed they shared. The thought of leaving her for the other side of the country was unbearable. He turned them down. ‘But, you can’t get work.’ She responded when he told her of his decision. Another thing she wasn’t wrong about, no one really wanted to hire the ex SEAL, or the ex raptor trainer. His options were limited to none, until Masrani requested him. 

Owen shrugged, ‘I’ll broaden my horizons a little … hell, I’ll train Dolphins at Sea World - I’ll reenlist, anything. I’ll do anything to stay here with you, Claire, so long as you’ll let me stay.’  He could see the tears bubble up again, her face pinched as she tried to keep them away. Claire stepped towards him, head dropping to his shoulder, her body shaking. Owen didn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around her tightly, holding her close. 

‘We’re not ready for a baby,’ She hiccoughed against his chest. Claire Dearing was never wrong, but he did live for every opportunity to prove otherwise. Their relationship was still a fledgling, born out of the ashes of desperate nightmares. It wasn’t the best recipe to start a family on, but he was willing to give it a go. 

‘Who cares?’ Owen asked, dropping a kiss to her hair. Everything she did, she did well, there would be no wrongs on this step, this path of their lives. He just needed her to see it. 

Claire pulled away from him to look up at his face, incredulously. ‘I care! Owen, the last long term relationship I had, surpassed a year … we’ve not yet made it to 10 months. A baby … Owen, that’s the rest of our lives.’  

He shrugged again, ‘I’ll do anything to stay here with you, Claire, so long as you let me stay’. He cupped her cheeks, dropping gentle kisses across her face until Claire let out a light giggle. ‘You ran a part full of people, I trained Velociraptors … I think we can handle a baby.’ Claire’s smile was soft, her eyes still full of fright, but the smile was there, it was genuine in it’s gentle nature, it was there. ‘Are we okay?’ He asked softly. 

Claire nodded, ‘We’re okay’. 

‘Good,’ He squeezed her tight. ‘I promise, I’m not going anywhere. I said “for survival”, I meant it.’ 

Chapter Text

Her husband groaned underneath her, body shifting to break away from her playful kisses. She giggled, chasing his fuzzy, frowning cheek. ‘Morning, party boy. How’s your head?’ He grumbled again, turning away from her gentle attack. Owen slid and arm around her waist, tugging gently in an attempt to collapse her against his chest. Her squeak of, ‘coffee’ made him stop, conscious that she was only holding herself up with one arm, mug clearly in the other. 

The mug clanked against the beside table before Claire wound one arm around his neck and the other under his ribs. She snuggled against his chest, grinning at Owen’s hungover protest. ‘How was your night?’ She asked, pressed against his chest, head tucked into his neck. 

Owen grumbled, hand over his eyes, ‘I don’t think I remember it’. Claire chuckled, she wasn’t surprised. His sloppy movements from the night before gave away his position of memory. ‘What’d I do?’ He dropped his hand to her hair, eyes still closed as he petted the top of her head. Her giggles giving away a humorous story his mind wasn’t partial to. 

‘Oh, nothing,’ She sang, tilting her head to kiss the bottom of his jaw. He’d stumbled through the door the night before, drunk out of his mind after a bachelor party. He was handsy, as per the norm - and filthy too - Claire managed to get him to the bedroom before he stopped her. He was married, had been his declaration. He loved his wife too much to betray her. As his wife, Claire couldn’t help the swelling pride in her chest. She had no doubt of Owen’s love, the reassurance was nice though. 

Owen scoffed, ‘Had to be somethin’. You’re acting overly affectionate today.’ He pulled her closer, securing his hold with the one hand on her hip. 

‘I’m always affectionate,’ Claire wiggled against him, fitting herself closer into his side. Owen grunted. He deserved the sharp jab to his ribs Claire deftly delivered. Owen chuckled, nuzzling his face into her hair. She explained to him the previous night, briefly for his desperate ears. 

‘You are my wife.’ His lips found her skin, depositing a hazy kiss to her forehead. 

Claire hummed, ‘I still like hearing it’. They’d only been married a few months, technically still newlyweds with their pre-marital bliss. Claire was convinced that she’d never tire of hearing the word ‘wife’ on Owen’s lips. She wasn’t over that feeling of love that bubbled in her chest and spread across her shoulders and down her legs. It filled her up, made her whole. ‘We’re married,’ She giggled against his skin, smile pulling on his cheeks at the feel of her nose scrunched against his face. That giggle was everything, so completely unexpected from the likes of Claire Dearing, and entirely wholesome once he heard it flutter from her lips. 

She pulled herself away from him, one hand beside his head, the other his chest. ‘I’m going for a run,’ Claire announced, pecking a chaste kiss to his lips. Owen grumbled, lines on his face deepening as he wrapped his arms around her, one sliding under her shirt. His eyes fluttered open to watch her, green drowsy and caught in sleep. He leant up to kiss her, roughly catching her lips with his teeth. 

Claire hummed against him lightly before sinking into his chest, surrendering to his warm hands against her skin. He’d let her down the night before, passing out due to his drunken haze before she could have any fun. Claire wouldn’t risk it now, even if it was only heavy petting, her run could wait. 

Chapter Text

It’s summer, almost three am and particularly bad storm rolls through. The lightning flashes and the thunder snaps. Claire, awake, seeks him out in the dark, pressing her back against his chest. He grumbles, counting under his breath, one … two … three. As predicted two sets of feet thud in the hallway, the door creaks on it’s hinges and Elliot’s little mouth wobbles a frightened little cry.

‘She got scared,’ Charlie tells her parents, standing in the dark doorway, holding her sister’s hand. Brave little Charlie who could sleep through a meteor striking down in the yard outside her window. Charlie, who couldn’t possibly know her sister was scared unless she got up to check.

Claire shoved at her husband, Elliot’s hiccoughs echoing through the room, encouraging him to get up and get her. The youngest girl squeaked when lightning flashed, igniting the bedroom in white light for a slit second before disappearing again. Her feet thumped against the floor, she didn’t move any closer, caught on the spot in fear - until Owen climbed out of bed to scoop her up.

She settled easily between them, whimper present, as Elliot wrapped a little hand around the strap of her mother’s singlet, and the other around her father’s finger. Charlie waited a beat, sure her sister was content before she climbed up onto the bed and tucked herself under Owen’s arm.

The storm continued to crackle above their heads, lightning soaking the room with light. Charlie was out, as soon as she closed her eyes, falling easily back into an undisturbed sleep as Elliot grumbled beside her. Claire caught herself in a rhythm as she rubbed Elliot’s back, patting her every few strokes, like she used to when the girl was an infant. She listens quietly, in the flashing dark, to Owen falling back into an easy snore, and Charlie’s quiet breath. She wonders all the time how they got there. That point in their lives where they were happily married with two daughters. She never envisioned that kind of future for herself. A crowded bed in the middle of a thunderstorm, and her whimpering daughter.

Her life with Owen, with Charlie and Elliot. It was far better than anything else she had ever planned. Even on the nights where their bed seemed too small, or their cries too loud. She loved the little niche they carved for themselves in the dark.

Chapter Text

She could hear her daughters down the hall. Charlie playing her father’s guitar, Elliot shrieking that it was not Ballet music. Her daughters were organised chaos. Bundles of dirt and glitter, baseball practice and ballet. She’d sanctioned them to green and purple stickers on the family calendar; birthday parties, school events, and zoo fundraisers. She loved the constant chaos. It was manageable amongst the four of them. With five, she couldn’t see it working - odd numbers skewed the system and fear climbed her spine. They had lived as five once before, years ago and it didn’t work the universe ripping them apart.

She fiddled with the positive pregnancy test in her hand, mentally checking off the things that still needed to be done before dinner was cooked and served. That was if dinner was cooked at all. Elliot had a small ballet recital. Claire doubted they’d be home in time for bed and bath routine. Their parenting would lack significantly that night. Junk food and straight to bed. She couldn’t pretend her daughter’s were strangers to a cheeseburger, without turning her eye on the fact that Owen bribed Charlie with them more than once a month. Elliot particularly weak for chicken nuggets and soft serve ice-cream.

She felt bad for caving, for letting them eat junk food. It wasn’t a regular thing, although it did have it’s own routine, and she always tried to pump them full of wholesome foods the day after. Owen only shrugged, he could careless. Their daughters were active, it wasn’t regular - what was the harm?

They had wild girls. Strong-willed and empowered, self-righteous and strong. They had to tie them down, wrap string around their wrists to keep them centred, to keep them calm. Charlie played baseball, as a means to wear her out, she beat the record for quickest rank in their local dojo and arguably the state for karate. They found dance for Elliot, ballet specifically. If given permission the youngest Grady would easily eat, sleep, and breathe ballet. She was obsessed, enthralled and completely occupied.

They were running out of extracurricular activities and Elliot was only six. Even then, they were running out of hours in the day.

The bickering down the hall grew quiet, Owen’s voice joining that of her daughters’. She could hear the sound of the guitar changing hands, the music steady, played by practiced hands. He was going to be hesitant. For the first time in their lives, Claire wasn’t entirely convinced Owen would be thrilled. He always wanted a small clan, even without saying it she knew. That idea died with Max, Owen learning to accept and understand that they needed to be grateful for what they had. She couldn’t help the small dancing with her worry as she grinned, listening to her daughter’s shriek with laughter, Owen’s voice chanting some old song. He was the Pied Piper, begging for more little ones to follow at his heels. She thought their table full, no one missing aside from the ghost of their son - she could have been wrong.

Sitting at the window seat, Claire stared idly out at the lazy street they lived on caught in the busy rush of Friday afternoon. They would have to move. Although their home was big, the rooms were small, they couldn’t squish both girls into one room, or force Elliot to share with a new born. They’d lost the guest room when Elliot was born, leaving Karen and the boys to crash on the couch and sleep in the minuscule study when Christmas came around.

The bedroom door swung open, Elliot bursting through in a fit of laughter, Owen hot on her heels. He caught their young daughter, mid jump as she dove for the large bed. Easily, he tucked the little ballerina under his arm, her little legs kicking, her face pink with exertion, laughter still ripe on her tongue.

‘You ready to go soon?’ Owen asked, slightly out of breath, smile spread across his cheeks. Claire nodded softly, they would be early - which, honestly, was better than being late. Owen put Elliot back on her feet, trying to shoo her out of the room while asking if she could remember her positions.

Instantly her heels were together, and her hands on her hips. Since enrolling her in toddler ballet at age four, this stance had been a common one. It was practically impossible to get Elliot to stand properly - she wanted to stand like a ballerina. ‘I can do pirouette’s better than Charlie!’ Elliot beamed, reminding her father that she wasn’t likely to forget anything she was taught at ballet.

‘That’s because I don’t do ballet!’ Charlie called from down the hall, voice irked and impatient. Their arguments went back and forth, competition’s between the other’s sport. Elliot wouldn’t manage a piece together a fighting stance even if Charlie showed her, just as Charlie didn’t know the five positions of modern ballet. That didn’t stop them from fighting about it.

Claire paled at the thought of a third child involved in this competition. A child who should have been Max, four-years-old if he had survived and surely toddling after his sisters and their humorous argument. But, this child, just a speck in her belly would be eleven years behind Charlie and six on Elliot. A child who would likely have completely different interests, yet again, and would easily take up the competitive fight. A child, Claire realised, who could very easily be another boy rather than a third girl. Maybe they would get lucky in that respect and have an easy going son who liked soccer and didn’t care much for his sister’s arguments. She didn’t know if her heart could take it.

Clinging to that thought, Claire rose from the window seat ready to face the night. She would tell Owen later, wait until the girls were worn out and put to bed. Wait until he was sagging at the shoulders and complaining about how much work they were, about how much energy they had. And oh, by the way, Charlie hasn’t finished her maths homework, so that’ll need to be done over breakfast.

She wanted that shift in his behaviour, his spine straightening, the tired little frown on his face arching up into a wide smile as something brilliant twinkled in his eye. He would be nervous and weary, their track record with pregnancy never a pleasant one. He would be willing to try, able to hold his breath and beg for the best if she felt she was strong enough to do it. She wasn’t so sure. It was Owen Claire was worried about knowing her husband would almost plead for her to go through with this out of the desperation of his weak heart.

Claire couldn’t deny she wanted to cuddle a newborn again, to feel the warmth of their small bodies and that sweet smell that still lingered as a faint memory in her nose. They could go through it, if only for hope. For now, they had Elliot’s recital to sit through enthusiastically before they could call and end to the night and she could tell him.

Chapter Text

She worked too hard. 

Too god damn hard.  

They both had things they were running from. Things they kept busy to avoid. She pleaded sanity when he broached the subject, desperate to put Jurassic World to rest. Claire didn’t want to talk about it. Instead, she shopped with a Masrani Global credit card. She filled the wardrobe in her bedroom of their shared Costa Rican condo, all on Masrani’s dime. 

She thought they deserved as much, to clothe her, as she sat in conference room after conference room, and swallowed whatever it was they tried to force down her throat. 

Owen hadn’t seen her stop. Six months after the incident and she hadn’t so much as sat down for any longer than ten minutes. He took her meals, when he could, venturing out to Masrani’s Central American headquarters, with dinner in hand. She only ever stopped for a second to thank him with a polite kiss to the cheek, sometimes the corner of his mouth if she was feeling dangerous. She always took a large, greedy, bite of whatever he brought her before she rushed back to tapping at her computer or scribbling notes across a file. He stayed for an hour on those days, folding himself into a chair, or stretching across a couch, watching her work or fiddling on his phone. 

She’d been saying for weeks that the trials were drawing to a close, that Masrani Global had been served their last sentence: every life and injury was compensated. Claire came home everyday with the promise of going back the next. Things just weren’t wrapping up how she wanted them too. He could see the bags under her eyes, despite her tired attempts to hide them away with concealer. She was exhausted, worked to the bone, at a whits end. 

Claire slept in Owen’s room most nights. Never on purpose, but he didn’t have the heart to move her. Although they stole kisses, that was all that had transpired between them since the incident. They had decided to stick together for survival, and eventually convenience but had yet to seal the deal on who they were to one another. Instead, she fell asleep, sitting up right - or admitting her fate, and lying down - as Owen talked about his day, Claire cross legged on his bed, trying to keep up an interest. And she was interested, she did care. She just couldn’t keep her eyes open long enough to hear him to the end.

Owen didn’t mind. He should have slept on the couch those nights. Or carried her to her own bed. He never had the heart to move her, face relaxed in sleep - finally sleeping. She deserved every wink she could get. He certainly didn’t mind when she rolled over in the middle of the night, and cuddled up to him. 

She’d been mumbling something that night, about company paid movers for those staff members caught in Central America throughout the trials. Owen didn’t dare hope that she actually meant it was nearly over. Could they actually move on with their lives? Did he want to? They’d found a quiet corner of Costa Rica that he was somewhat proud of. He wasn’t quite ready to leave it yet. She fell asleep before he could enquire further, leaving their condo in questioning silence, wondering what was going through her head, and how much more she had to work herself to the bone for this company. 

He left her to sleep on her newly claimed side of the bed. There were still dishes in the sink, and the TV had been left on. Things had to be done before he could crash as easily as she did. He flicked the TV off first, not one for ambient noise of late night new reporters and trashy shows. 

They never accumulated an unfair amount of dirty dishes. It was just the two of them and even then, Claire barely ate at home. He finished simple chores quickly, glad for the lack of a workload. He didn’t like to leave her for long, not on nights where she fell asleep that quickly. Nightmares were scarce now, and would continue to disappear the further they moved away from the incident. They were less frequent, but just as fierce, hoarse screams ripping through her throat as she fought against his gentle hands on her arms. 

Owen flicked off the lights, shutting the house down for the night as he slumped back towards his bedroom. Out of habit he threw a glance toward her open door, finding the room dark and empty as he passed. 

Claire was still snoozing in the soft glow of his bedside lamp, almost exactly how he had left her. Just as she couldn’t sit still, Claire Dearing could barely sleep in one position without tossing and turning at least twenty times a minute. He found her on his bed, like he expected her, arms and legs spread across the bed, leaving practically no desirable space. He was left with small corners, or to lie horizontally across the bottom of the bed. She would be too short to reach him down there, unless she sensed his body heat and wiggled her way beside him in her sleep. It had happened before.  

Owen sat down beside her, fitting himself into a largish space on his side of the bed. Because, even though their sleeping arrangements were unofficial - by words - they had their reserved spaces. He watched her for a second, caught in the even rise and fall of her breath. He needed to wake her, to get her to at least roll over. Owen couldn’t bring himself to do it, he never could. She barely slept as it was. Looking at the clock, he knew she only had seven hours before she had to be at the office again, her sleep would be disrupted, she’d be moody and upset. She would probably storm off to her own room, retreating to old sheets just to spite him. 

He carded a hand through her soft red hair as he watched her gentle face. He really needed to move her, or even lift an arm enough for him to slide in under it. Owen couldn’t bring himself to do it.

For now, he’d let her sleep.

 

Chapter Text

Early mornings in the kitchen of his bungalow had become a small ritual. 

It had only been a handful of weeks. Short enough to feel new, yet long enough that she couldn’t quite remember where they started. His bungalow, although atrocious, was cosy. The warm morning light set it aflame in an orange glow, stretching across linoleum and licking kitchen cabinets. It crawled across his bed, sneaking through open blinds to kiss at her face, pulling her eyes open gently. 

His small kitchen was somewhat cramped, but served it’s light purposes. Claire learnt quickly that Owen could cook, far better than she could. Which was not at all, if she was being honest. 

It took some getting used too, his bungalow, the almost rustic sound of dinosaurs calling out in the night. The windows were soundproof in the employee block. Claire slept comfortably in the silence of her apartment, adjusting to the wilderness surrounding Owen’s home, was a lot easier than she initially thought. The dinosaurs were locked away, held within the toughest walls money could buy. Besides, if there was anyone on that island she wanted to face dinosaurs with, it was Owen. She trusted him irrevocably. 

Without realising, Claire thrived in his quiet little corner of the world. She thought the small spaces would suffocate her, that his Alpha personality would hold her down. He was nothing but warm, and loving, as gentle as the rising sun, as kind as the green grace under her toes, and as consistent as the lake he lived beside. 

She was pulled from her reverie by large hands sliding across her hips, pulling her against a familiar chest. Claire hummed, hands wrapped around a coffee mug as she exhaled deeply, leaning into Owen.

‘Morning,’ He dropped a kiss to her cheek, holding her tightly for a second longer before breaking away. Claire hummed back the greeting, pressing her own kiss to his skin as she slid a full mug towards him; coffee already prepared. ‘I knew there would be perks to keeping you around,’ Owen teased, taking his mug with gratitude. 

She always woke before him, no matter what. She brewed the coffee, poured it out, and usually left for whatever meeting was scheduled at 7am. He didn’t know when they became quite so domestic, but knew it had something to do with Claire and her meticulous organisation. It only made sense, to keep a spare change of clothes at his bungalow, casual and work attire, for the nights he persuaded her to stay over. It made the rush in the morning a little slower, allowing him to savour her a few seconds longer. 

It was only an added bonus that she always made an extra mug of coffee, just how he liked it. 

‘Got time for breakfast?’ He asked, sliding past her to peruse the fridge. 

Claire nodded, ‘I’ve got all day.’ She told him softly, small grin biting into her cheeks. ‘I, ah, took the day off.’ Owen’s head nearly snapped clean off, he turned to look at her so fast. Claire never took a sick day, she never took an allocated free day either. This was new. He felt the grin creep across his face as he approached her slowly. ‘Migraine,’ She feigned, matching his grin. 

Owen pulled her against him, hands on her waist, kiss dropped to the side of her neck. ‘Why don’t we go back to bed, then?’ He fluttered kisses across her skin, listening to the slight purr that vibrated from her lips. His hands pushed at her hips, guiding her backwards, out of the kitchen and back into the hall. 

‘You still have to go to work, Owen.’ The sound he made came from deep inside his throat, almost a growl as he pulled her down to the bed. 

‘Migraine,’ He mumbled, half on a chuckle as he bit into her collarbone. Claire’s laugh was swallowed by a moan as she tangled her hands in his hair, smile pressed against his cheek. 

She once had her doubts about Owen Grady, thought things between them would be impossible. Their tension was undeniable, but not always a smart move. With Owen settled between the cradle of her hips, his lips trailing down her chest, Claire was glad for the mornings she had with him. For the decision that he wasn’t so bad, and that together they were a quiet force to be reckoned with. 

 

Chapter Text

‘I’m gonna catch him,’ Charlie told her mother, voice sleepy as Claire tucked her in for bed. It was Christmas Eve and the girls were restless, sugar settled deep in their stomachs, excitement burning their lungs. It was always an event, Christmas Eve and bedtime. Especially once Charlie reached four. After that there was no more controlling the excitement. Three years of it, and they were still unprepared.

She hummed softly, ‘Oh I’m sure, Charlie Bear - but first you need to go to sleep. Father Christmas won’t come until he knows you’re asleep’. Charlie frowned, crinkle biting into her brow. She shook her head slightly, arms crossing over her chest. 

‘He has to come! What if I can’t help not sleeping all night?’  

Claire hummed, shrugging nonchalantly towards her daughter’s question. If Charlie didn’t close her eyes and go to sleep, she would never be able to help Owen finish wrapping the girls’ gifts. ‘Well, we’ll just not have Christmas. I’m sure there are some less fortunate children who’d love your gifts.’ 

Charlie’s jaw dropped, her young eyes blowing wide.’Nah-ah! We gotta have Christmas!’ 

‘What? There aren’t little boys and girls who would like some extra toys?’ Charlie shook her head defiantly, protesting that she had been a very good girl all year. Charlie’s behaviour was always debatable. She was their precious first daughter, sighing apple of Owen’s eye, and petulance for not doing directly what she is told. ‘Okay, little one, close your eyes.’ Claire ignored her, knowing that Charlie would argue with her all night, if given the opportunity. The girl fought her, stubborn line thinning across her lip. 

Claire fidgeted, impatient for her daughter to listen. If she was in that room any longer, she would risk Elliot waking up. Once the toddler was up, they were doomed. The youngest Grady girl could put her sister’s stubbornness to the test. Although Elliot was still young enough that they could entertain her with a new toy while Charlie slept, the fact that Owen was in the garage dressed as Santa Claus was not going to help. There was no way she could deal with the toddler if Charlie’s incessant arguing didn’t stop.

Charlie huffed softly, grumbling a small, fine and goodnight before rolling over to face the wall. Readjusting her daughter’s blankets, Claire dropped a kiss to the top of Charlie’s head before leaving the room. Elliot was fast asleep, in the small corner, set up in a portable cot so she could share Christmas morning with her sister. 

Turning off the hallway lights, Claire crept down the stairs and rounded into the living room. She could hear music softly, no longer Christmas carols, but a mixtape of Owen’s favourite rock bands. Claire rolled her eyes, of course

She had not noticed, the slight creak of the floorboard, just beside the stair landing. Claire had pestered Owen to fix it ever since they brought Elliot home; two years ago. It had started to drive her mad, waking their newborn just as she was putting her to sleep. Living for years with a squeaky floorboard almost made her deaf to it.

Owen, in his Santa Claus outfit emerged from the garage, arms stacked full of presents. ‘Sorry, no, wrong house. My daughter’s aren’t that spoiled.’ Claire laughed, pushing at his arm as she looked back at the already filled tree, teeth sinking into her lip. Had they gone overboard? It wasn’t hard too. They bribed Elliot’s good behaviour towards the end of the year with ‘things to go away for Christmas’. Charlie, too, although she was far more likely to remember and be impatient, over her baby sister. 

Owen only chuckled, ‘You can still see the floorboards between gifts. Relax. They’re not going to turn rotten for having as many gifts as toes’. He studied him for a moment, watching as he moved to drop the newly wrapped gifts by the tree. Claire couldn’t help her laugh as he struggled with the face white beard attached to his face. She could tell it was bothering him, scratching at his cheeks and ears. Owen refused to take it off, he thought it fun to dress as Saint Nicolas as he wrapped the last of their daughter’s gifts, those especially left behind by Santa Claus himself.

‘Come here, you silly man’. Claire laughed, having enough of him scratching at his face. Tugging her husband towards her, one hand on the lapel of his costume, the other on his faux beard. She tugged at the stringy un-hairlike fabric, to reveal his grinning face. Owen didn’t hesitate to lean in and kiss her, his hands on her hips, her infuriatingly amused.

Neither noticed the little girls on the second floor landing, peering through the staircase’s railing.

He didn’t know why she always offered to host Christmas. Claire ran around mindlessly, making sure everything was perfect, while she timed him to the second in the kitchen. For a host that couldn’t cook, he was surprised the family kept turning up. 

They didn’t always host. Some years they spent Christmas with Karen and the boys, or Owen’s parents. Lorna even hosted once, in her small apartment for Charlie’s first Christmas. 

Claire, although driven half mad with the stress; loved hosting Christmas. 

Elliot was curled up on the couch beside her Aunt Lorna. An arm was curled around a stuffed Elephant; a gift for Charlie, the youngest at embezzled. Much to her mother’s dismay, the toddler had her little thumb in her mouth. She was listening intently to the story Lorna was reading, another new gift from Santa, this one intended for Elliot. 

Charlie sat on the floor, by the tree with Gray, trying to copy the pictured instructions from a LEGO manual. 

Their group was small that year. Only Karen, the boys, and Lorna. Owen’s parents were overseas with Travis and his family, diving their small group in half. It was better that way, less pressure for Claire, leaving her time to laugh with Karen in the kitchen while Owen chatted with Zach.  

‘Aunt Karen?’ Charlie asked, having abandoned her LEGO to wander into the kitchen. Climbing up onto an empty stool at the bench, Charlie leant against the counter, Christmas cookie in her hand. ‘Did you ever kiss Santa Claus?’ She asked innocently, eyes quickly darting across every face in the room, trying to gauge their reactions before they thought about lying to her. Karen shook her head with a laugh, telling the girl that she had not. ‘Then why did Mommy?’ 

Karen looked to her sister, Claire sputtering over her tea. 

‘Why weren’t you in bed?’ Claire tried to save herself, throwing a glare towards her laughing husband. 

Half chewing on the biscuit in her mouth, Charlie retorted, ‘That’s not important’. There was no way they could talk themselves out of this, not without being honest. Charlie was watching her father out the corner of her eye, somewhat concerned that he was laughing at her revelation. She expected him to be upset. Claire sighed, leaning her elbows against the counter so her face was level with her daughter. 

She didn’t want to ruin Christmas. She didn’t want to tell Charlie that Santa Claus wasn’t real. She could be honest, without being completely honest. ‘It wasn’t Santa, Charlie, it was Daddy.’  

The girl shook her head, ‘Nah-ah, it was Santa Claus! I saw!’ She was insistent, describing the clothes he wore. She had read books and seen movies, she knew what Santa was supposed to look like.

‘You know how Daddy likes to think he’s funny?’ Claire asked, half glaring at her husband. Charlie nodded her head. ‘He thinks it’s fun to dress up like Santa.’ The young girl looked towards her father, accepting the gentle nod and humorous shrug, he offered her. 

‘Sorry, Kiddo,’ Owen apologised.

‘So, mommies don’t have to kiss Santa?’ It was Claire’s turn to laugh softly, as she gave her daughter a reassured smile. If that were a custom, they would certainly not be partaking in Christmas at all. Satisfied, Charlie slipped down from the counter, new cookie in her hand. 

Once Charlie had rejoined Gray, her little voice demanding him to build faster, Claire turned to Owen. ‘That costume is going in the trash, tonight.’ Owen gave his wife a small salute, followed by, 

‘Yes, Ma’am’. The costume was fun while it lasted, and as much as he enjoyed it, he didn’t want to shatter his daughter’s sweet innocence towards Christmas. He still believed they could make it another couple of years before she either stopped believing in Santa Claus, or was told the truth. 

For now, they had their quite little Christmases, the house teeming with loved ones, the girls spoiled year after year. He wanted to cherish that, Claire too, their daughters in their innocent youth, taking Christmas for all of it’s magical joys before they knew the truth.

 

Chapter Text

If anyone should have been nervous, it was Claire. The walk up to his parent’s family home - the home Owen was raised in - was long and daunting. She was calm. Owen, however, was practically twitching with nervous energy. Claire took his hand, easily, squeezing it briefly as she pulled him up the path.

The curtains in the front window ruffled, Christmas light scattering out onto the grass, dancing momentarily in bright colours before it went dark again. The door flung open before they could even step up to it. A young woman stood in front of them, hands on her hips. ‘Owen Grady, as I live and breathe. Gotta say, I expected those dinosaurs to eat you.’ 

‘Lorna,’ Owen chuffed, ‘Pleasure, as always. Bring a date?’ She nodded, brown hair bouncing against her shoulders. Claire tensed beside him, worried that they wouldn’t even make it through the door before conflict arose. His mother agreed that the family would call it quits for a night, the bad blood pushed aside in order to reconnect. Worried things would get out of hand, Claire pressed a steady hand to Owen’s shoulder, the other gripping tightly to his fingers. 

Lorna Grady’s laugh caught Claire off guard. ‘You should see this one, Bro.’ Lorna groaned, ‘Shame it won’t last.’ Owen squeezed Claire’s hand as he laughed, stepping forward to hug his sister good-naturedly. He introduced the women, Claire, Lorna. Lorna, Claire. She smiled softly, not expecting the hug she received from the young woman. While Owen explained his sister’s inability to keep a partner any longer than six months. ’Thanks for being the one to finally bring my brother home. Thought we’d never see his face again.’ Lorna squeezed her, voice loud enough for Owen to hear as Claire nodded her head, explaining that it was no issue. 

But, there was an issue. Sitting under the surface, heating the heels of her feet, snaking up her legs. Owen hadn’t spoken to his family in years, years. She had criticised him for that, gobsmacked that the lines of communication had been dropped. Claire, herself, was a hypocrite, and Owen knew it. A line had been drawn in the sand for her, she and Karen rebuilt the bridge of their sisterly bond. She even learnt to reserve time for her nephews, showing interest in Gray’s intelligence, and Zach’s college applications. 

‘Lorna, who is it?’ An older voice called out, warm and kind, feminine and soft. The woman kept talking, her words nonsense before they drifted off, caught in her throat. She was a short, plump woman, Claire could easily pinpoint as Heather Grady. Caught in the hallway of her home, son and daughter in the doorway, she couldn’t help the shriek that escaped her throat. 

The woman threw herself at her son, arms wrapping around his waist as she squeezed him tightly before stepping back to take him in. Heather tutted, fussing, hands fluttering over his clothes. ‘Look at you! My boy, so thin!’ Owen rolled his eyes, head turned to smile at Claire. Heather shrieked again when she followed her son’s line of sight, eyes on Claire she reached for the woman. ‘And you must be Claire!’ Just like with Lorna, Claire didn’t expect the hug Heather enveloped her in, nor the same scrutiny she studied with. ‘What did they feed you on that island?!’ It had almost been a year since the incident kicked them off Isla Nublar, and forced them together for survival. ‘Come, come,’ Heather tugged on their arms, pulling Owen and Claire into her side before pulling them into her home. ‘Thank you for bringing him back, dear.’ Heather beamed towards Claire, hand wrapped around her arm. 

It was the second time in ten minutes that she had been thanked for pushing Owen towards communicating with them again. She really wasn’t the one to thank, Owen decided on his own. She just nudged him in the right direction. 

He called his mother months ago, keeping up a regular schedule from then on out. Heather didn’t expect him to show up for Thanksgiving dinner, hence her surprise. And yet, here they were, Lorna and Heather both thanking Claire personally for his return. 

A low whistle greeted them as Heather led them into the large kitchen and dining space Claire recognised from so many of Owen’s old photos. Chair legs scraped across wooden floorboards as the body to the whistle stood from their seat. ‘Well, I’ll be damned, look what the cat dragged in!’ 

‘Travis,’ Heather scorned without batting an eyelash as she fussed over Owen and Claire, her voice exasperated as she muttered again, ‘Really who has been feeding you two?’

‘Does Dad know you’re here?’ Travis asked, standing from his place at the table, his wife, Jane still sitting in her seat. 

‘Aren’t you supposed to be in Australia?’ Owen fought back. Lorna sent him the occasional text message, never anything important, just a flicker of contact, always on birthdays, always on holidays. Travis used his reassignment to Sydney to drop contact with his rouge older brother. ‘Hey, Janey,’ Owen moved around his brother to greet his sister-in-law with a kiss on the cheek and a fond hug. Jane always levelled out his sometimes hot headed brother, she was good for Travis, Owen admired her for that.

Heather had kidnapped Claire by the time Owen straightened his back and brushed his brother off for the second time. The redhead was at his mother’s counter, readily accepting the food Heather was handing her. Claire grinned up at him from her place beside his mother, humouring Heather as she nodded her head, sneaking a slice of pumpkin pie. 

Lorna excitedly introduced Owen to Bianca, her date for the night - and past four months. She was beautiful, tall, blonde, honey skinned. Beach babe pulled right from the waves. She smiled shyly, mouth still wide as she shook his hand firmly. This girl was different to the other conquests of Lorna’s that Owen had met. She had a fire, a fight in her eyes. He saw that in Jane, the same drive that enabled her to put up with Grady family dramatics. He saw it too, in Claire, grinning at him from the kitchen counter, his mothers mash potatoes in her hand. She waved shyly when Lorna shouted her name, introducing her loudly to Bianca, followed by missed introductions to Travis and Jane, as well.

There had been very few people in his life who could put up with them: the Grady’s. Together or alone. And there was Claire, already helping his mother in the kitchen, nibbling on everything rather than being helpful - which was a good thing, honestly. Claire could burn water. 

Owen remembered days as a boy, sneaking into the kitchen to pinch food from the bench as his mother prepared it. She always shooed him away with a slap on the hand. She continued to do it, back when he visited for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Here, with Claire, she didn’t bat an eyelash. His mother wasn’t like that. Not even with her own children. Let alone girlfriend’s at family dinner.

She was already at home here with his family, practically favoured above his siblings.

It hit him in the gut. Like the first time his father ever threw him a baseball and he failed to catch it. He was knocked to the ground that day, still a toddler, his father’s throw a little out of line. She was it. Like Jane was for Travis. Like Bianca would surely be for Lorna, if his sister ever opened her heart enough to accept it. Claire was it for him. Owen shook his head, trying to keep the mystified look off his face before she noticed from across the room, or worse, before Lorna noticed at all. 

A thud sounded from the hallway, causing quiet chatter to stop as all heads turned towards the door. Owen had a good childhood, his parents were loving, he had everything he could have asked for. And although his father was a kind man, he was also a stern one. Nothing had changed in the three years since Owen cut off his ties to his family, starting with his father’s disapproval. 

John Grady didn’t say anything to his family, only looked his eldest son in his eye before taking his place at the dining table. 

‘So, tell me, Claire, is my boy good to you?’ Heather asked, trying to bring back the chatter in the room. Claire flicked her eyes towards Owen, small smile pulling at her lips. She hummed in response, he was good to her. 

‘You know,’ Claire giggles, ‘Considering our first date, I can’t quite believe we’re here’. She chuckled through a recount of their first date once Heather asked, flinching slightly when the woman shouted Owen’s full name across the room. 

‘Board shorts! On a date! Owen Christopher Grady, I raised you better than that.’ Claire blanched, she didn’t think Heather would call him out. Respond with shock, yes, but the reprimand was unexpected.

‘Ma!’ Owen complained from the dining table, smile on his face. ‘It was hot!’ 

‘I don’t care if the whole place was on fire, you dress nice, you take her to dinner, you feed the skinny girl, for God’s sake!’ She poked at Claire’s ribs on the last statement. Owen had told her about how his mother loved to feed him, and his siblings as children. They were plump, and that was exactly how she liked them. Claire didn’t realise Heather would do the same for her. ‘I should have known I missed something with that boy,’ Heather tutted, focusing on cutting salad vegetables in front of her. ‘He never, never, brought girls home. Until you.’ Something in her chest jumped and she couldn’t quite figure out if it was a good feeling or a bad one. 

Heather was grinning, the smile on her face seemingly permanent. She busied herself, handing tasks over to Claire as she chatted beside her, unaware that Owen was slowly approaching the kitchen island. She was carrying on about something, Owen never quite knowing what was the best decision and what was the worst, that Claire was seemingly a very good decision. Owen only rolled his eyes, of course his mother thought that, Claire was helping her in the kitchen, she was eating the food provided to her with a simple, thankful, smile. None of Lorna’s partner’s ever managed to do that. And as for Travis, he and Jane had known each other since High School, she learnt to adapt to his mother’s ways. 

‘What about babies?’ Owen caught the end of his mother’s question, worried eyes drawn to Claire’s face as he wrapped an arm around her waist. ‘Oh, calm down,’ Heather laughed, tapping her son’s arm. Owen had half stepped in front of Claire, as though it was possible to shield her from his mother’s question. They barely managed to live together without driving the other mad. He loved her, he knew it. They just hadn’t talked about weddings and babies and life that would extend far beyond Christmas Eve. Owen was ready for anything, it was just Claire he worried about. She meant too much to him to have his mother scare her off. ’You don’t need to protect her,’ His mother tapped his arm affectionally.

‘I think you’ve interrogated her enough,’ Owen argued, trying to defend the sometimes flighty Claire. Besides, if his mother asked all the big questions now what would be left for next year. 

Lorna snuck up behind them, pinching a platter from the counter, and begging her mother for dinner to be announced. She disappeared as quickly as she had materialised, snapping Heather’s tether on Claire. She rushed food into their hands, shooing them away to set the table before coming back for more. It was as Owen took a plate from Claire’s hand, that she spoke, smiling softly, pink growing across her cheeks.

‘Maybe not just yet, but I’d like to think we’ll have kids someday.’ Owen froze, he didn’t expect that kind of response. Hell, she had been given the opportunity to not answer at all. He was suddenly all too aware of his heart beating a little to hard in his chest. His mother squeaked, just slight enough to not draw anyone’s attention but his and Claire’s. She moved quickly to hug the woman, commenting once again that she was too thin. Too thin for grand-babies. 

He placed a kiss to Claire’s cheek when they finally took their seats at the table. Christmas carols played softly behind them, his mother’s cooking on the table in front of him, Claire to his left, his sister to his right. Travis and Jane sat across from him, whispering their soon to be announced secret between themselves. 

Owen had been nervous about introducing Claire to his family, stepping back into the home environment right in the middle of the holidays. They were full on and intimidating any day of the year, let alone Christmas Eve. Meeting the Grady’s, for Claire, was smooth sailing, his mother adored her the second she laid eyes on her, and she sat easily with his siblings. 

This was it. This was family.

Chapter Text

He was holding a standoff with a two-year-old, Elliot attempting to hide behind a tree smaller than her shoulders as she frowned. The lines were deep set on her young face, pulling down in straight creases across her brow, deepening green eyes.

‘C’mon, keep it moving, Squirt.’ Owen tried to encourage the little girl forward, hand beckoning her as he watched for Charlie over his shoulder. He was suddenly realising how much of a terrible idea this had been. Not only were the girls a handful, just for being small children, but Elliot was embracing her ‘terrible twos’ with open arms.  

‘No,’ She grumbled back at her father, little arms crossed over her chest. She was defiant, if anything. Which had been surprising. Elliot was their quiet little girl, patient, soft spoken. Charlie was the one who climbed the furniture and drove them mad, not Elliot. 

‘Ellie, c’mon we won’t get a good tree!’ Charlie called out to her sister, slapping her hands down at her sides in frustration. She was itching to race off into the trees, feet slapping dirt as trunks grew thicker and taller, limbering above her head, high up into the skies.  

Elliot frowned deeper. ‘Mommy,’ She pouted harder, her bottom lip pushing out as far as it would go as she scowled. 

Owen shook his head, ‘Mommy’s at work. We’re making a surprise, remember?’ He would have offered her the phone, called Claire as they sat in the dirt, Elliot refusing to look at him. She couldn’t be trusted, although it was rare that Elliot spoke more than one word, she would undoubtably rat them out to her mother. 

He had decided to take it upon himself, and his daughters, that year to fetch the tree without Claire’s incessant asking. In fact, she’d been so busy at work that she hadn’t even noticed the time of year, or that the tree would usually have been up three days ago if she wasn’t so stressed out. So they ventured out, tucked the girls into the truck and drove to the best tree farm in the state.

Charlie was ecstatic, Elliot not so much.

‘We’re gonna miss the good tree!’ Charlie cried out, again. ‘Stop being a slow poke!’ She whined, tantrum on the tip of her toes. Charlie and Elliot tended to play off each other. When one was upset, the other always seemed to follow - out of frustration. 

Owen turned, not quite taking an eye off Elliot as he tried to abate Charlie. ‘We’ll get a tree, Charlie, just wait.’ He hadn’t realised, until he blinked, that he held and arm out to each daughter, palms facing them, how he had always done with his raptors, keeping them in line, centred, under control. Owen shook his head, ‘We can watch Little Einstein’s when we get home,’ he tried to bargain. Elliot blinked, head tilting softly, little blonde pigtails bobbing against her ears. ‘Do we have a deal?’ Owen asked, repeating his words; Little Einsteins if they managed to pick a tree and get home within the next hour and a half. 

Elliot nodded as she stepped out from behind the tiny tree. ‘This one?’ She asked, flashing bright green eyes and a toothy smile as she pointed at her little tree. Owen shook his head, only to find she was scowling again.

‘It’s too small,’ he held up his hands, shrugging his shoulders - an action he had picked up from the youngest Grady herself. She stared him down for a second, watching him with a critical eye, before Charlie called out, further away than she had been the last time Owen checked. ‘Hey, Ellie?’ He whispered, leaning towards her, ‘Race ya to Charlie?’ Elliot looked at him, green eyes tracing the lines of his face, before she tilted slightly, to peer after Charlie, already way ahead of them. Elliot grinned, the smile bursting across her young face before she let out a squeal of a laugh and raced off for her sister.  

*

‘This one, Daddy!’ Charlie decided, doing another loop of the tree before standing back, to admire it, hands on her hips. Children were often the echo of their parents, he knew that, and yet it caught him off guard every time. Charlie admiring her tree was just like Claire, exactly like Claire. Which is likely where she got the action from. Six years of tree hunting, she had to notice how her mother decided upon the perfect tree. 

‘Are you sure?’ Owen asked, standing beside her, Elliot on his shoulders. It was a little under 9 foot, Fraser Fir, taller and slender in comparison to some of the others they’d looked at. Claire would kill him for bringing a tree that large into their home. The ceilings were high, she just didn’t like the extensive upkeep.  

Charlie nodded beside him, ‘Absolutely! Mommy’s gonna love it!’ She carried on, talking about tinsel and lights, baubles too. Decorations of every kind and every colour until she settled on a solid design. 

‘Chop, chop!’ Elliot giggled, tapping her hands on her father’s head. Tree decision: made. He made quick work of cutting down the tree, a seasonal expert by now, Charlie and Elliot standing by in the snow, holding hands, as requested. 

There was something he loved about sitting in the truck with his girls, tree tied down on the cargo tray, the smell of Christmas engulfing them while Charlie sang along to Christmas carols on the car radio. 

Elliot forgot all about the promise of Little Einsteins, instead the music transferred from the car to the living room stereo once Owen set the tree in it’s reserved spot. He dragged in the boxes of Christmas decorations, letting Charlie and Elliot run free with their bright creativity. He knew, without a doubt, that Claire would ‘fix’ it all while they slept. They wouldn’t notice. Or at least he hoped they wouldn’t notice. 

The house was Christmas coloured chaos. 

He was putting a casserole into the oven when he heard the front door click open, little voices calling out a joyous, ‘mommy!’ He joined his daughter’s as soon as the oven door was closed, the temperature set accordingly before he followed their voices.  

Claire was standing in front of the tree, Elliot on her hip, Charlie holding her hand at her side, directing her mother to look at specific spots in the decoration. Owen kissed his wife’s cheek, marvelling in the way she leant into him, shoulder leaning against his chest as she hummed. 

‘I forgot about the Christmas tree,’ Claire sighed, turning to him with a lazy smile. Charlie was still talking, about blue tinsel and white, and the princess baubles Elliot added to the tree, which she did not like.

Owen smiled, half rolling his eyes at his daughter as he shrugged. ‘We’ve got you covered.’ 

Claire kissed him, just for his efforts. ‘Evidently.’ 

Chapter Text

They wanted to do it quietly, away from the hullabaloo of cousins and second aunts. Owen’s family always managed to fill Christmas far more than hers ever did, Claire still found it slightly intimidating. She was used to quiet, intimate Christmases, just her sister and her parents. 

Owen had agreed to do it quietly, understanding Claire’s want for a small gathering rather than a big one. Instead, they congregated around his mother’s kitchen island after Heather’s compulsory Christmas Eve dinner. They always exchanged small gifts, just before bed, usually pyjamas and a new plush animal for Charlie. No one so much as flinched when Claire slid a box and an envelope across the bench, one for her sister, and one for her mother-in-law. Owen’s father sat quietly beside his wife, like he always did, nursing his last beer for the night and not adding to the conversation. He attended to Charlie when the girl looked over, dancing her new toy fox across the bench just to make her laugh. 

Owen couldn’t hide his grin as the women kept talking, both excited for the arrival of Gray in the morning. He watched Charlie instead, knowing that if he bore holes into the side of his mothers face, she would almost guess the surprise. His daughter had her little arms wrapped round his forearm, small fingers tracing the lines of his tattoos as her head leant heavily against his bicep. He dropped a kiss to the top of Charlie’s drooping head, bright red hair tickling his chin as he did so. 

Claire was tense beside him, anxious energy radiating off her in waves. He reached his spare hand out, curling it around her waist to squeeze her hip. She was watching his mother intently, Heather slowly sliding the lid up off the top of the box before settling it back down again. Karen was still talking about Gray. 

‘Daddy?’ Charlie turned in his lap, her little hands reaching up to tap his fuzzy cheeks. She yawned before she could tell him she was tired, her head falling against his shoulder as all three women stopped their discussion about the Mitchell boys and college. 

Claire reached out for her daughter, skating a hand through Charlie’s loose red curls as she watched her sleepy eyes flutter. ‘Hang in there, baby. Aunt Karen and Nana have to open their presents’. 

‘Tomorrow.’ She grumbled, deciding control over everyone else as her father rubbed soothing circles over her back. He implored her to wait only for a few more moments while her grandmother promised to hurry. 

Heather froze, fingers curled under the lid of her box, half off - revealing the contents. Confusion buried itself in her brow as her eyes flickered over the grey and yellow onesie, booties to match. Karen’s gift, a small envelope was opened while Heather pondered her gift, mouth slightly open, Claire’s name forming a question on her lips. 

The squeal that left Karen’s mouth caused her niece to jump unexpectedly, little heart racing against her father’s chest as she grunted in protest. Karen stared at her sister, small slip of glossy paper in her hand, the other covering her mouth, holding back another squeal as her eyes watered. Heather took the picture from Karen, instantly recognising the grainy image of a sonogram. 

‘A baby?!’ The tears were instant, rushing down her face as she jumped up from her stool. ‘You’re pregnant?!’ Claire nodded softly in confirmation, slipping off her own stool in preparation of the onslaught she was about to receive. Karen kept back, allowing Heather to be the first to move. She pushed past her husband and son in order to get to Claire, eyes already red and puff with tears, her cheeks pinned in a permanent grin. ‘Oh, Claire,’ She sighed softly, squishing her daughter-in-law with a tight hug.

Owen’s father had gotten up from his spot too, only to move closer to Charlie, gently asking into the girl’s excitement towards her new brother or sister. Charlie, as charming as ever, politely informed her grandfather that she was not excited, not one bit. They told her a few weeks ago, Claire supplied, in order to prepare her for Christmas. Which was a good thing, because Charlie didn’t exactly take the news well. 

She leant forward slightly to tap on the sonogram in Karen’s hand, ‘At 13 weeks, this is Baby Grady, number 2.’ Claire grinned.

‘I can’t believe we used to argue about if you were ever going to have a child.’ Karen laughed, hugging her sister tight, as she joked about potential nieces and nephews in a higher number. Claire rolled her eyes with a fond smile, promising her sister that they would see how they travelled. Owen loved kids, lived for Charlie and was over the moon for their newest addition. Getting him to keep an exited lid on their secret was harder than keeping a grumpy Charlie from ratting them out to her grandparents. She’d wait for this next one to get through their terrible twos before they considered adding anymore to the growing Grady bunch. 

Heather was still crying fat happy tears, alternating between hugging Claire and pressing kisses to Charlie’s head. It didn’t take long for Claire to become the family favourite, it didn’t take any effort at all. Naturally, Heather loved her. And naturally, she loved her grandchildren, adding another to her growing list was the best news she could receive. ‘You’ve really out done yourselves this year,’ She teased, patting her son on the shoulder as she watched Charlie’s head droop for the tenth time in as many minutes. 

When Owen stood, announcing that he was going to take Charlie up to bed each member of their small group took turns kissing her cheek and wishing her sweet dreams. It was Heather, who squeezed her little fingers, a kiss to her granddaughter’s cheek, and to her nose before quietly whispering, ‘Merry Christmas’.  

Chapter Text

They’d spent that first year, after Jurassic World, seperate. Claire with Karen and the boys, picking up the shattered pieces of her nephews’ crumbling psyche. While Owen did whatever Owen did, they didn’t talk about their time apart, only acknowledged that they couldn’t breathe without the other.  

This year was theirs. 

Owen wanted to do something fun, something adventurous but within bounds of the expected Christmas Eve rush. And just like the grown child he was, Owen settled on ice skating. A rink had been set up in the middle of town, attracting adults and children alike. It had been years since Claire had spent her childhood youth skating on ponds and in enclosed rinks. 

‘Are you sure about this?’ Claire asked Owen skeptically, her lips brushing his cheek. Owen nodded enthusiastically, his eyes flicking towards the rink in front of them. Children were squealing with delight, some chatting candidly as they looped around in circles. Teens called out on a laugh filled shriek, legs slipping ankles wobbling in their boots like newborn giraffes. She didn’t trust Owen on the ice, she had no doubt he’d be just as out of control as those clinging to the outer walls. 

He was too cocky about it, boasting the apparent skills he had on the ice. Enough so that Claire let him go, no more warnings, no more reassurances. She pecked a quick, loving kiss to his lips before she pulled away, attending to the straps on her loan skates. She stood, feet steady even though the skates were unfamiliar by almost twenty years. Owen wobbled, his hand flying out to her hip to steady himself. Claire laughed, chin on her shoulder, grin on her face. She didn’t say anything, only stepped away from him and towards the gate. 

It took Claire a minute to regain her confidence on the ice. Owen, quiet loudly, realised he had no confidence at all. He wobbled but he didn’t fall, which was enough for Claire. There was nothing worse than an injured or sick Owen. She slid away from him, letting the man grabble for the ledge as she managed to do a small circle in front of him. 

‘How the hell are you good at this?’ He gapped, wobbly like an unsteady newborn just like a few others there. Claire could see the embarrassment start to paint itself in a warm rose across his cheeks. He was the Alpha, no matter where he was or what he was doing, Owen had to take charge - Claire too, which was why they butted heads more often then not. And oddly how they managed to find the glue to keep them together. 

Claire giggled, arms crossed over her chest, hand under her chin. ‘You’ll get used to it after a couple minutes, Babe.’ She promised and it was futile. He didn’t get the hang of it. She went ahead, at his instance, doing three laps of the whole rink slowly before she came back to him, only having moved twenty steps from where she left him. His knees were pressed together, his back hunched forward, one arm anchored over the wall beside him. Claire stopped in front of him easily, small flex of ice hitting his shoes as she stopped without touching the wall. 

‘I wanted to do something romantic, like that.’ Owen half sulked as he subtly pointed towards a couple just to their left. They were skating hand in hand, large smiles on their faces, cheeks pink with the exertion. Occasionally they spun, the two of them in unison, circling one an other, holding each other close as they kissed passionately. 

Claire smiled, ‘We can still do that’. She kissed him on the cheek for the simple thought of wanting to romanticise her. Owen gave Claire a hopeful little grin as he readily took in her advice to seperate his knees and straighten his posture. 

Within seconds they were gliding across the ice, arm in arm, without a hitch. He focused on every move she made, only stumbling when he got distracted. Owen still couldn’t skate on his own, but it was enough with Claire, letting her lead him around, giggling in his ear. They dodged children as they tried to make it back to the gate, Claire insisting that after two hours she couldn’t possibly skate any longer. 

He took her home, solid ground now unfamiliar to feet that had spent two hours balancing on a blade. She kissed him, sweetly, softly, once they made it to the car, holding his large hand in hers. Claire Dearing had her moments of complete loving sap. Owen taking her ice skating, even though he was rubbish at it, had her like putty in his hands. 

‘This is our first Christmas together,’ She told him later, as they stepped through the front door. Knowing Owen it hadn’t even crossed his mind, but he knew. Which was a pleasant surprise. His demeanour shifted suddenly, eyes growing dark as he approached her slowly, on the prowl. Claire kept her place by the stairs, giving him a sultry smile. 

When he reached her, Owen wrapped his arms around her waist, head burying itself against her neck, lips warm on her skin. ‘In that case, I could probably give you your gift early,’ His laugh vibrated across her collar bone, igniting a fire under her skin, causing Claire to moan in satisfaction. 

‘What? No coca and cuddling by the tree?’ She teased, fighting the urge to roll her eyes into the back of her head. His touch was torturous. Claire was expecting a lazy evening in front of the TV, cooking a small dinner and snuggling up to Owen. He had other things in mind, and she wasn’t complaining. They could always have her evening after he’d had his way with her. 

Owen lifted her off her feet, her legs wrapping around his waist as a reflex while he trailed kisses down her chest. This wasn’t so bad, Owen’s skin warm against hers, his touch loving. Was there really a difference between quiet intimacy beside the Christmas tree or endless moans in their shared bed? It was their first Christmas together, and at all. There would be others, spent in other ways. They had to start on a good note. She warned him cautiously to not hurt his back as he carried her up the stairs. 

As far as first Christmases went, this one was already the best.

 

Chapter Text

Neither of them expected much. There wasn’t much to expect. They led solitary lives, dedicated lives - to their commitments, to their jobs. The holiday season always seemed to get in the way of that. So, when the season rolled around, they ignored it. She buried herself in reports, eagerly eyeing guest satisfaction, and the glowing visitor count. Until recently, he was still in the Navy, refusing leave so one of the others in his unit could go home to family. After that, everything was about his girls. He didn’t even have a second to register that it was December. 

Then, Jurassic World fell. The carefully constructed lives they’d built around themselves crumbled. 

As always, they could have chosen to avoid it. Optioned to camp out in their individual hotel rooms, fingers in their ears, humming away the holidays. Claire had planned to do exactly that, fingers tapping away at the keyboard of a borrowed laptop. She had no intention to recognise that it was Christmas Day; until there was a knock at her door.

Owen’s hopeful grin was enough to make her cave. Bar fridge beverages in his hand, and a box under his arm. ‘It’s not much, but it’s something,’ He shrugged as she stepped aside to let him in. He deposited his goods on the small table in her room before taking a seat in one of the accompanying chairs. ‘So, did the jolly ole fat man come to visit?’ Claire shook her head, rolling her eyes at him slightly. ‘Probably best that he didn’t,’ Fiddling with the box in his hands, Owen chuckled. 

‘Where’d you get all this stuff?’ Claire asked, admiring his collection of alcoholic beverages, and in complete awe of the Christmas pudding in his hands. 

He shrugged, ‘Pinched ‘em off the Maître d’,’ He grinned, proud. Claire didn’t ask how or why, nor did she care how irritated the head waiter could have possibly been. Or, perhaps, how easily they caved under Owen’s charms. She was just happy for Christmas pudding - alcohol too, if she was being honest. ‘You don’t happen to have cutlery, do you?’ Claire glared, and Owen shrugged, apologetic look shining in his eyes. ‘Aye, ate with my fingers as a kid, can still do it now.’ If it were anyone else, any other situation: she would have cared, would have put up a small fit. With Owen: she didn’t care. 

He jumped up from his seat, slowly moving around the room until he found a small radio by the bed. Clicking it on, Owen allowed the small room to be filled with the gentle hum of Christmas carols. 

Claire pulled her legs up onto her chair, pulling herself inwards as Christmas suddenly rolled over her. ‘It almost feels weird without the snow,’ she hummed, ‘I don’t think I’ve actually celebrated without it’. She knew, without him saying anything, the thoughtful look pressed between his eyebrows. If Owen could have brought her snow, he would have.  

‘Not even while you were on the island?’ She shook her head,

‘Christmas is for family. Doesn’t really work when you’re alone.’ Owen hummed. He had years like that, knew the feeling. It had been a little different after he started at Jurassic World, once he had his girls and his team. It didn’t make it any less difficult to be away from family over the holidays. 

They sat in silence for a while, Owen cracking open the lid of a miniature bottle of Jack Daniels, Claire staring out the window, watching the sunset. It was too warm in Costa Rica for it to be Christmas, they were both out of whack, both lost and floating in a world that suddenly spat them out and crushed their ‘normal’. Christmas was almost a foreign concept. 

He listened to their silence for a moment, counting the seconds mentally, deliberating a plan, promising himself Silent Night wouldn’t get stuck in his head. ‘C’mon,’ Owen announced as he pushed himself up from the chair. He said it again, large fingers wrapping around her wrist, tugging gently. She followed his movements easily, body pulling itself out of her chair despite the fact that her mouth was protesting. He let her talk, questions flowing from her mouth, as his hold on her wrist shifted to clasping her fingers - by Claire’s instigation. He didn’t question her. Instead, he held her hand gently, pulling her through the hotel hallways and out on the beach behind their temporary accomodation.

The sun had set the beach in a tangerine glow, warming their skin as the cool change blew through. She was still holding tight to his hand, body swaying into his side. He wanted nothing more to walk along the beach, to revel in the quiet of people packing up their days, still revelling in their Christmas holiday. 

Jurassic World, sat like a flashing neon sign behind them, preventing scars to heal. They could have just as easily ignored the day. Could have buried themselves in the mountains of paperwork they were both sorting through. Trying to figure out a way to get out of this situation, sensitively and righteously.

He didn’t want to leave her alone. Not on Christmas day. 

She was yet to define who they were, he was yet to ask. They avoided it like small children and an inevitable scolding. The oven was hot, mother said, do not touch. Both knew well enough to not get burnt. 

They settled on a small patch of grass, toes in the sand. Claire had brought along the Christmas pudding, opening the box, and inhaling deeply. He watched her, small wonder on his face as she rediscovered a childhood memory. Whatever it was, whatever it meant; it was powerful. 

Claire sighed, long and low. His index finger was locked over her pinkie in the sand, as they both leant back on their hands, listening to the rush of the waves, and the quiet amusement of those on holiday. ‘Thank you,’ Claire breathed, leaning over quickly to press a long kiss to his cheek. He smiled at her lazily, pleasantly surprised for a second, before she leant in again, a soft kiss to his lips. 

His cheek, his lips, stung with the memory of her kiss, only seconds gone. But gone none the less. He told her she was welcome, although he didn’t really know what for. They acknowledged a holiday she didn’t usually partake in, one he morphed into a twisted tradition with dinosaurs. He got her out of that tiny hotel room, got her to the beach. They didn’t speak much, but he knew Jurassic World was behind them, she wasn’t thinking about what happened, or what was going to happen. There was no talk, nor any thought of their upcoming battles. 

It was just the two of them, on a Christmas evening, sitting in the Costa Rican sand. 

Chapter Text

Zach and Gray were giddily pulling shopping bags from the car, and racing them inside. Gray, at four years old, was a lot slower than his much older brother. He helped with one bag, before he realised how much more fun Aunt Claire was. She was exasperated just at the sight of him. 

He was helping her pull her suitcase from the back of Karen’s car, fingers going numb against the cold fall of snowflakes. He broke away as the suitcase fell to the snow at Claire’s feet, his voice shouting ‘Reindeer!’ into the empty neighbourhood. She didn’t bother to look over her shoulder to check on the boy, didn’t thick in necessary when he went chasing after the neighbour’s Christmas decorations. That was, until she heard Gray ask if he could pet it. 

Claire spun softly, hand on her suitcase as she spied out for Gray on the snowy sidewalk. He’d approached a tall man, blond hair poking out from under his beanie, warm smile on his honeyed face. ‘Oh, Gray, honey, that’s not a -‘, 

‘She’s only a reindeer in training, not quite ready for Santa’s sleigh just yet’. The man supplied easily, crouching down to Gray’s height as the boy hovered over the dog. The German Shepard, that looked nothing like a reindeer. Claire turned to her sister’s house, hoping the woman would emerge and defuse the situation in front of her. It wasn’t exactly bad, she just wasn’t too sure how to handle it.

‘What’s her name?’ Gray asked, hand hovering over the dog’s spine, hesitant to touch even though the man had said it was okay. 

He cleared his throat softly, chasing away a cough more than anything. ‘Her name is Jericho. I call her “Echo” for short’. He looked the boy in the eyes when he spoke, getting a small nod and a repeat of the dog’s name before his eye’s flickered up to Claire with a soft smile. She smiled weakly, one hand on her hip, the other holding onto her luggage. He was being gentle with her nephew, kind and considerate, taking his time to answer Gray’s inane questions. Claire had to admit, none of them really had any time for it. Most of them shoved the boy to the side, carrying on with their days and tasks uninspired by the second son. But he was smart, smarter than half of them - even while caught in childlike whimsy. And here was this man, a stranger, taking his time to play into Gray’s thought of his dog as a reindeer. 

Except, he wasn’t a stranger, not to Claire. It took her a second to collect herself, memories swirling in front of her face at the flash of his green eyes and honey’d smile. Owen Grady, how could she have forgotten? They had a small spell in college, the two of them caving on a hot fire that burned between them. She had called it naivety, young and reckless, he’d called her the love of his life. Nothing either of them said, stopped him from packing his things and joining the Navy. He promised to write, and she played indifferent, burying herself in a new hot shot internship over the summer break. 

He never wrote. She pretended like it didn’t rip her heart out. 

His dog tags glimmered in the late morning sun, taunting her. It didn’t matter that she had called it off before he left. They both knew he was going. He was older than her, two years ahead in his degree. He compiled his subjects in order to graduate faster under special consideration. The year and a half they had, sat atop a frozen lake, the warm change threatening to thaw it and drown them in its icy depths. 

Claire wondered, briefly, if he was still enlisted. He promised, five years, five years and he’d finish his contract, his tours and obligations over. Five years and she’d have finished her degree, and already be at the top of every corporate ladder on the West Coast. His five years were up. There he was, strolling her sisters street in Wisconsin. 

‘Gray, honey,’ She tapped her nephew on the back, pulling lightly at the hood of his jacket. Owen’s eyes flickered towards hers, flashing almost in fear as she regarded her nephew tenderly. He’d always been bad at math. She wanted to roll her eyes at his perceived idea that Gray was their son. ‘Inside, bud, your mom doesn’t want you catching a cold.’ She defused his thoughts without addressing him, slight rage building in her belly. ‘Say goodbye,’ 

Instead of doing what she asked, Gray bounced up off the icy pavement, little cheeks red as he excitedly shouted, ‘We have carrots!’ He turned without waiting for a response, without listening to his aunt exclaim that it wasn’t necessary at all. Gray stopped at the stoop of the door, brushing his feet against the mat, and waving at them, crying out ‘C’mon!’ 

Claire finally gave herself the satisfaction of rolling her eyes. ‘You may as well come inside, get out of the cold.’ She offered, despite the fact that it was her sister’s house and Karen currently had no idea what they’d been doing out the front of it. That, and she knew he recognised her, probably from the second he saw her red hair.  

‘Hey, Claire,’ He whispered quietly, as though it was a secret they weren’t admitting out loud. She was quite fond of that idea. Humming in response to his greeting as she grumbled something about not needing to appease her nephew. She had invited him in, but under every circumstance, he could have turned her down. 

Owen shrugged, ‘It it’s all right with you, I don’t mind humouring him’. 

‘And who is this?’ Karen’s voice implored as they stepped into the foyer of her home. Claire introduced Owen and Echo, quickly explaining what had happened on the sidewalk. She couldn’t hold her sister’s eye, as Karen scrutinised her. She could tell Karen was trying to pin point if this was the same Owen from a little over five years ago. The Owen Claire almost bought home for Christmas, then didn’t. Gray interrupted before anyone could be interrogated, carrots in hand, excitement iced across his face.

That was how he ended up there, sitting on Karen’s couch while Gray fed Echo carrots. Owen kept up easy conversation, avoiding the fact that he knew her, that they had a scared history. She sat next to him awkwardly, hands between her knees as they watched her nephew. How many Christmases like this did they miss? Minus her awkward nerves? How many years would they have lasted, alternating between his parents and Karen? Or spending Christmas alone while he was at sea? Claire shook her head, no, she made the right choice. 

He was kind, and gentle with the boys, Zach sitting quietly on the floor beside Gray, listening to every confident word out of Owen’s mouth, and every nervous one from Claire’s. He made them all laugh, more than once, catching Claire by surprise. Something in her chest ached. He was flirting with her, only softly, subtly, likely an old habit rekindled with her so close. Whatever it was, it didn’t go unnoticed by Karen who was grinning openly. 

Claire didn’t ask him about his job. She didn’t want to know. His dog tags were tucked back into the collar of his shirt, but he mentioned it, the Navy, just in passing. Claire didn’t know what to say or how to react. Instead, she listened to him talk, watched him, reclined on her sister’s lounge, using the space as if it was his own. He belonged there. 

It had been years, and yet, she could still tell that he was tired. No matter how long they’d been apart, she’d always be able to read the gray that fed into the green of his irises. His exhaustion was deep set, not current. The material of loss of sleep, likely due to wartime nightmares. She didn’t want to think about it, didn’t want to know. Owen had always been sweet as honey, and as soft as a teddy. He didn’t deserve nightmares. She didn’t want that image of him, plagued with horrors. She never wanted him to go.  

He was excusing himself before she was ready, stretching his legs out before getting up to stand. Gray was mournful but didn’t fight it, too tired after the excitement. If they were alone. If they chanced a meeting on the streets of New York City, if this wasn’t her sisters house: she would have fought his departure. Saying goodbye was always the hardest part. She’d done it once, Claire wasn’t too sure if she could do it a second time. 

Karen insisted he could stay, silently figuring out who he was to Claire, the pieces pulling themselves together after he proved himself comfortable around her headstrong sister. He declined, thanked her for her hospitality, but insisted he couldn’t stay any longer. He wasn’t in a rush, Claire could tell. 

She followed him to the front door quietly, listening to the clip of Echo’s nails on Karen’s tiles instead of speaking. He slipped his wet shoes back on, shuffling towards the door, his arms struggling with his coat. Owen stopped at the threshold, shoulder leaning against the empty door jamb. ‘It was nice getting to see you again,’ He whispered, almost so quiet she couldn’t hear him. Owen smiled, long and slow, the corners of his cheeks rising. 

‘What?’ She asked, her own voice a whisper as she stepped closer to him, perturbed by the look on his face.

‘I was just, ah,’ He had seemed so confident until the words started to stumble out of his lips. ‘I was wondering if maybe you’d be interested in dinner … with me … sometime.’ The small, sharp laugh that filtered past her lips was as unexpected as it sounded. She shook her head, softly, slowly, hand wrapped around the door handle. 

‘I don’t even live here, Owen. That’s just - it just wouldn’t work, it -‘ 

‘What if I came to New York?’ He interrupted, eyes flashing with exhaustion, hope almost gone. Something told her that he needed it. He needed to see her again. He was so tired, it was unlike him. Her stomach fluttered, nervous and excited all in one. 

‘That’s a little excessive, don’t you think?’ Owen shrugged, fluttering puppy eyes at her. She sighed, trying to quell the nerves in her belly, ‘Fine. If you find your way to New York, I’ll take you up on dinner’. She couldn’t say no to the worrisome grey in his eyes, nor the fight he would proceed with. His insistence that she was still shocked when she laughed, when he made her laugh, but she deserved that happy sound - and he was the only one would could produce it. She laughed a little more now, than what she did when he met her, but the words would have rang true none the less. 

Claire was certain he would never make it to New York. Surely he had other pressing things to attend too, he’d forget about her now like he did five years ago. He was only asking in order to be nice. What were the chances that he’d find her in New York City? He was just a guy, who lived on her sister’s street, who happened to be pulled under Gray’s innocent spell. A guy who she’d once been in love with as a twenty-year-old girl.  

He wouldn’t make it to New York, they wouldn’t go on that date, and there was certainly no possibility of them repeating a rather lax story of this afternoon to their children, many years later. 

‘It really was nice to see you, again. I certainly didn’t expect it.’ Claire shrugged, eyes fluttering to the ground as his fingers wrapped around her hand. She’d never been good with contact … or compliments. He waited a beat, hand still holding hers, until her eyes flickered up before he leant in to kiss her cheek. 

She flashed crimson. Claire hesitated for a second, before pushing up on her tiptoes, hand on his shoulder, kiss light on his own scratchy cheek. When she settled back on her feet, she held her head high. ‘Merry Christmas, Owen.’ He grinned, bright and beaming, teeth flashing just how she remembered. She shoved her hands against his shoulders, chuckle vibrating in his throat, as he stepped out into the snow. ‘See you in New York,’ Claire called out, watching him go. 

Owen readjusted his coat against the cold, shrugging it against his shoulders as he switched hands holding onto Echo’s lead. ‘See ya in New York, Claire!’ He echoed back, grinning over his shoulder. 

Chapter Text

‘Gingerbread houses,’ He said, eyes on the screen, not his wife. She knew what he was talking about instantly. It had almost turned into a game, naming traditions they wanted to pass on. Small activities jumped out at them during the holidays, little things really, that they wanted to do with their children, once they had them.  

‘Naturally,’ Claire responded, humming lightly, lips pressed to the lip of her wine glass. She’d started the game, whimsically sighing about Christmas lights and tree toppers while they were out tree shopping. A man walked ahead of them, holding the hand of his toddler daughter who had to stop and touch the bristles on every tree.

It all flowed from there. Little touches, daydreams, wishes of things she would like to incorporate into the holidays for their own one day child. That was where the sore spot was pressed too hard. They didn’t have children. Not for a lack of trying. Heartache leaped in bounds across their front patio, daunting them without remorse throughout the holiday season.

‘What else?’ She asked quietly, leaning into his side, legs tucked underneath her. It’s a Wonderful Life, played quietly on the television in front of them, almost ignored. That was another, to add to their long list. The old film, paired off with a few others that the two of them watched religiously each year.

Owen hummed, beer cold in his hand, trying to recall memories from his childhood. ‘Lots of cooking,’ He chuckled, eliciting one from Claire too. His mother loved to cook, Christmas no matter how big or small was always an excessive feast. Claire couldn’t boil water, Owen was only a little better. ‘Mom used to take us to Midnight Mass. I haven’t done it in years, but it was something wholesome. Travis always hated it, but Mom thought it was a good reminder of the holiday’s meaning.’

‘We used to make baubles,’ She started on her own. ‘My mom loved Christmas activities, but the baubles were her favourite. There’s one from each of us every year, Dad included. We’d make baubles on Christmas Eve, and hang them up before bed.’ Claire shrugged, ‘I’d like to do that again’. He smiled warmly, tucking an arm around her back.

He’d seen pictures of a little Claire, Karen beside her - the both of them grinning in brand new pyjamas. There were other pictures, ones of the two girls, faces content as they poured themselves over their mother’s coffee table, picking just the right materials for their Christmas decoration. Karen always repeated those stories with fondness, Claire too, once the album was in her hands.

She dazed for a second, watching George and Mary Bailey dance across the splitting gym floor. He watched her, grinning at the small fancy she fell in, as the dancers jumped into the pool below their dance floor. ‘It’s like Clarence says,’ She was mentally jumping ahead in the film, Owen didn’t care. They both knew it step by step, word for word, each misfortune until gratitude. ‘“Each man’s life touches so many other lives”, that’s what I want for our kids. To be as generous as George Bailey, to be as kind, compassionate, and caring. I don’t care what happens on Christmas Eve, or day, or three weeks before. I just, want children who are there to help others.’

Owen wanted to prod that not everything was sugar plums for George Bailey, that if it weren’t for his guardian angel Clarence, the film would have ended thirty minutes earlier. He wanted to argue that not all was well, Bailey was always handed the short straw. But, he knew that argument was futile as constructive as it was. They would be there for their kin no matter the help they cried for, and so would those they helped.

‘Be it new pyjamas on Christmas Eve and gifts for the neighbours, helping you set up the lights and visiting Karen on rotation. I just want good values to be superimposed on the excitement of gifts.’ He had no doubt that there was any other option. Her gaze fluttered over the Christmas tree, George Bailey exclaiming to Mary that he would lasso the moon for her, echoing in the space around them. He knew what she was thinking, the small ornaments always shining that little brighter than the rest. They were silver, neutral, two sets of booties for the two looses they had incurred. Owen was fairly sure she was torturing herself, body stiff beside his.

He hummed happily, trying to change the tone. ‘And sugar. Lots of sugar - sleepovers with Mom and Lorna, Karen too.’ Even Delilah, on the floor, curled around Owen’s feet grumbled at the suggestion. The dog had been quiet until then, almost as though the sheer suggestion of leaving her was an annoyance.

Claire shook her head, ‘I’m not sending my kid to Minnesota for Christmas Eve’. She laughed at least, shaking her head fondly as she dropped it back to his shoulder. She hummed after a second, glass to her lips, ‘Karen and I did that once or twice - spent Christmas Eve with one of our aunts - we had fun.’ She stopped to chuckle, memory floating around in her head, flashes of her aunt and Karen - and the candy they had for tea. ‘It was probably the most exciting Christmas Eve of our lives. Maybe we should do that - once they’re a little older.’ Owen nodded, kiss falling to the top of her head. ‘Maybe … Next year, when Travis comes home we can offer to have Livvy?’ 

‘I think they’d like that - Livvy would love it.’ Claire grinned, she had a soft spot for their far away niece, the little girl keeping the two of them wrapped around her finger.

‘We should start keeping a list,’ Claire suggested, ‘So, when the time comes, we don’t forget all the things we want to do.’

Owen raised an eyebrow, knowing she couldn’t see it from her angle or in the subdued darkness. They wouldn’t forget - he was sure of it. Maybe in the first year or two. But, what did that matter, the kid wouldn’t remember. They’d remember where it was important, baubles and sleepovers, brand new pjs and midnight mass. He desperately wanted to make gingerbread castles, and rockets, and animals - rather than houses - with his son or daughter.

There were little things too, like gifts for their neighbours, and getting mall photos taken. Listening to carollers sing and venturing into the city for the big displays. He wanted to cut down trees with his daughter, and drive all night seeking out Christmas lights with his son. They weren’t going to forget, but it wasn’t like they needed to remember. Christmas time was such a core part of who they were as human beings that it would be second nature to share their childhood with their child … one day … when the opportunity arose.

 

Chapter Text

The cold never used to bother her. She used to daydream about lazy winter afternoons and cosy nights. The longing thrummed in her chest, like the comforting glow of the fireplace, and the reassurance of someone’s embrace. Winter had been a cold hard bitch since college … since Owen left. Claire Dearing succumbed to it, letting icy tendrils wrap themselves around her beating heart, lulling the murmur, almost stopping it completely.

Claire wasn’t the kind of girl who needed a man to help her breathe. With or without Owen she stood by that. But couldn’t deny that when he left, he took a part with her. She could still feel the ache in her chest, the missing pieces still phantom after all these years. Luckily, he’d decided to take something a little less than a vital organ, enough to leave her breathing … functioning.

She put her head down, pen to paper, eyes on her books and did nothing but study and work until she graduated. Once Stanford had announced her as their finest, Claire packed up everything she owned in the state of California, and moved across the country. He didn’t need her, and she certainly didn’t need him.

Her Christmas visit with Karen had warmed the icy corners of her young heart. Owen was the last thing she expected to find on a suburban street, in the middle of winter, with a dog on a lead. She could still feel her heart beating in her throat, the sheer panic palpable once she recognised who he was. Just as easily as the panic bubbled in her chest, it subsided, evening out across her body, chasing down her arms and legs. In a second, she felt like she was twenty again, sitting on the front lawn belonging to Stanford University, Owen nagging her about lunch right beside her hip. They were easy, simple back then … it had all become so complicated just before he left. Suddenly it felt like none of their drama had ever happened, and if it weren’t for the tired apologetic look in his eye, Claire would have believed that she’d been transported back in time.

Leaving Wisconsin was the third hardest thing she ever had to do. Once she settled in the back of a cab, home, in New York City, did she feel like she’d made the right decision.

The limbo days of the holidays passed. That odd, not quite, vacation period between Christmas and the new year holding everyone hostage like mindless zombies. She lounged through paperwork, contemplated getting a cat … or a bird, read and finished the only novel she’d picked up all year and waited for the countdown.

The city was alive with energy, bursting with colour, and almost fill to the brim with extra visitors. Claire weaved in and out of the crowds, trying to breath in her break from work, while ignoring that another year had passed. She lingered, momentarily, at restaurant windows, spying on the patrons and cuisine. It was too much to ask for, Owen making it to the city to take her on a date. He likely had more of a life in Wisconsin than what she had since her childhood. She couldn’t stop the daydream, not matter how unlikely the outcome.

Without realising time and space, the city exploded in a bright bursts of fire crackers, setting off artificial stars in the sky. Once again, she waded through bodies in limbo. The holidays were done, over, and yet everything still felt like a vacation, brand new, and yet old, routine. Claire counted down the days she had left, on her fingers. Returning to work would be a nice relief, a distraction to keep her from her remerged feelings for Owen Grady.

Her heart fluttered in her chest as her heels clacked against the pavement. A figure stood by the stairs of her building, head drawn down, watching his fingers. Adjusting the shopping bags on her arms, Claire’s first thought was panic. She stepped closer anyway, not ready to disturb her step, hand in her pocket, on her phone. The closer she got, the more her heart started to pound for a completely different reason. She should have recognised him instantly, but it had been years since she had seen his face in composition of the setting sun. Owen.

His grin was electric when her foot falls called him to look up. She breathed his name before he could say anything, his arms wrapping around her tightly, lifting her feet slightly from the ground. Claire couldn’t help the light laugh that escaped her lungs, nor the urge to kiss his cheek. She tugged, gently, on the scarf wrapped around his neck. It was still cold out, snow threatening to fall.

Owen’s hand was warm against the small of her back, her arms suddenly light as he took her bags. He whispered something in her ear about Karen and her address, and that he hoped she didn’t mind. It’d been a week and a half since she gave him her number. Claire jumped every time the damn device buzzed, hoping beyond relief that it was him. He never called. Couldn’t even manage a text. She couldn’t care less in that moment, his breath hot against her neck, his words honey in her ears and his body lean against hers. She just wanted to get in, away from the cold that chilled her bones so fiercely, stinging as an infernal punishment for what he had already done to her vulnerability.

She let him into her apartment easily, somewhat worried that he would mark this place for her. That it would be ruined forever with his memory if he left again. The thought was chased away as he crushed her against the closing door, his hands wrapped around her waist, his lips hungrily devouring hers.

Claire whimpered against his lips, both surprised and mournful. Old, forgotten parts of her memory thawed under his kiss, the adventures they went on, the way her laugh sounded when she was truly happy … everything they had together. They were young and stupid, and she was too hooked up on the first love of her life. Something in the back of her head told her to push him away, to kick him out, and disregard every thought of Owen Grady. She couldn’t do it.

Instead, Claire melted against him, giving into touch and sound, surrendering to his warmth.

*

‘Why here? Why this city?’ Owen asked, once Claire finally settled. They’d found neutral ground in her flashy apartment. Owen in his boxers, Claire in an old, oversized, tee and boxes of Chinese sitting between them on her bed. Those were the days they’d been at their most comfortable, avoiding assignments and bonding over food, scantily clothed.

‘You didn’t leave me in New York.’ Her voice was quiet, eyes watching her chopsticks draw lines in her noddles. ‘Every inch of California reminded me of you. Every internship, every office building, every opportunity on that damn coast. Because you had big dreams for me there. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live up to this aspiration you had for me, in spite and in fear that it wouldn’t work out.’ She let out a shaky breath, shuddering as it exited her lungs. ‘I didn’t - don’t - need you. But, I was too scared to walk in the echoes of your dreams. That was something for us, not me alone.’

His hand found her knee, rubbing small circles on her smooth skin in a hope to comfort her. ‘I’m sorry,’ Owen whispered.

‘Don’t be.’ There was more for her here, more work, more people to intimidate. She’d singlehandedly risen to be Simon Masrani’s trusted right hand man. Not his assistant, his co worker, the person he turned to when he couldn’t make up his mind. She was only twenty-five.

Claire talked about work easily, spitting figures and facts. It was the only thing she had. Her personal life consisted in collapsing on the couch and watching old recorded episodes of shows she was too far behind on to even bother with. Occasionally she had a glass of wine in her hand. She was cold, emotionless, disinterested and uninteresting.

Surprisingly, Owen had turned out slightly the same. His stories were covered, blank spaces filling almost every word. All he had to talk about was Echo. He let it slip that he was discharged a year a go, left to wander the streets unable to adapt to civilian life after his last tour. He was lost.

‘Why didn’t you come back?’ Why didn’t you write? Her voice was quiet, probing, but too scared for the answer. She wanted to know what kept them apart so long, why he was so reluctant to contact her. There was nothing missing between them, she practically fell apart the second he whispered in her ear. It wasn’t them. It was him.

‘At first, I was scared that you were still mad at me.’ It was Owen who flinched as Claire’s gaze drifted. She’d known eight months before he enlisted that he was intending to. The closer they got, the more strained things became, the angrier Claire grew. They were fighting nonstop before he left, despite the fact that neither of them wanted him to go. ‘I got time out of training and I came down to visit, I swear, but one of your friends saw me first, told me that you’d moved on. She said it was best if I just turned around and went back to base … and I did.’ He sighed heavily, eyes fluttering closed. ‘I only ever wanted you to be happy … I never deserved you. I had to know when to let go even if it killed me.’ 

She hadn’t looked at him, her eyes fixated on the food, or the floor. When he heaved a heavy breath, chest clearly too tight, Claire climbed across the bed. Her kiss was soft, repetitive, as she pecked his lips, his cheeks, his forehead. They were so young, and so stupid. He still loved her, and her heart, frozen in the endless winter he’d left behind, still loved him more than she was ready to admit. ‘Promise you’re not going away again,’ Claire demanded between soft kisses as she climbed into his lap.

‘I’m not going away again,’ Owen mumbled around her mouth, grin large as he returned every kiss she gave him.

‘We’re going to give this another go, yes?’ He nodded against her skin, lips pressed to her neck as he promised her everything under the sun. Owen Grady had always wanted to give Claire the sun and the stars, and now he had a second chance.

Chapter Text

‘I don’t want you to worry,’ Claire tried to speak calmly down the phone line, hiccough threatening to penetrate her speech. ‘But, I’ve gone into premature labour.’ Her hands were shaking as she tried to hold the phone to her ear, the hiss of her husbands voice on the other end only elevated her panic. They’d given her something, she couldn’t remember what it was, in an attempt to delay the baby. But, those things had a chance of not working.

She was only in the beginning of her third trimester, seven months pregnant. Her baby girl was nowhere near being due to arrive. ‘Are you okay?’ Owen’s voice called down the line, worry evident as she snapped, breaking out into a loud gasping sob. He tried to soothe her from the other end, on the other side of the country. She shouldn’t have been there, sitting in a hospital room in the middle of New York. Her doctor had cleared her to fly and her corporation desperately needed her in the big apple.

It was supposed to be for two days.

Claire sobbed, trying to break words through her tears and calm herself all in one motion. All Claire wanted to do was go home. She’d already spoken to her doctor over the phone, the woman assuring her that there was no way, even if labour was successfully delayed, that she would allow Claire to fly. She had to stay put until that baby came out.

Hey, hey - you need to calm down, Claire.’

‘This isn’t on my birth plan,’ She cried. Owen couldn’t help the scoff that bubbled up in the back of his throat. He’d never thought Claire would be neurotic about their children, never thought she’d loose her mind over exactly how each month of her pregnancy should pan out. She was a perfectionist who only wanted the best for her unborn daughter. She was too scared, while pregnant with Charlie, to undermine or back talk her doctors on proper procedure and what she read in some parenting magazine. Claire had considered herself a seasonal pro once they found out she was pregnant with their second child.

‘You know they only let you do a birth plan so you feel like you’re in control right?’ He tried for something light, terrified that she would collapse into a bundle of nerves and have their daughter born too early.

‘Something’s not right. Babies aren’t born this early unless something’s wrong.’ Owen’s voice hushed her once again, she could practically hear the man grinding down on his teeth in sheer frustration, pained that he couldn’t comfort her in person. ‘I need you here, Owen.’ She bit down on her bottom lip, trying to contain the wobbles and her fresh set of tears. She couldn’t do this without him, not in these circumstances. Claire was petrified that there was something wrong with their new daughter, terrified that everything would fall apart and Owen wouldn’t be there to support her.

‘I’m on my way.’ He reassured her, crossing his fingers and sending up a prayer that he could find a flight. ‘I’ll get there as soon as I can, but you need to stay calm.’ Claire bubbled another sob and he could see her, sitting in a hospital bed, one hand holding her phone to her ear while the other covered her mouth, trying to stop the throat ripping sound. ‘Does Karen know?’ His sister-in-law was in a far better position to reach Claire before she worked herself up too much. Claire bubbled a yes down the line, murmuring something about her sister was already on a plane. ‘I’m gonna be there as soon as I can, okay. You keep that baby where she needs to be.’ Claire’s laugh was still wet with tears, her promise quiet and uncertain. ‘Okay, I have to go babe. I’ll let you know my flight details when I get them.’

‘Owen?’ He hummed, acknowledging her, expecting something as simple as an admission of love they’d been sharing for years. ‘Charlie …’ She whispered her daughter’s name, the question both soft and loud in his ears. He’d forgotten about Charlie.

The girl was at school, and would be for another four hours, but it was the afterwards they needed to worry about. Owen calmed his wife for the tenth time, promising that he’d handle it, and get to her quickly before he whispered his love and let go of the line.

*

Despite Owen’s attempts to calm her, Claire hadn’t be capable of keeping her blood pressure where it should have been for her midwifes satisfaction. She suddenly understood how Charlie had felt a week earlier, called into the principal’s office for knowingly bad behaviour. She sat, legs crossed, hands on her belly, iPad in front of her as she mindlessly stared off at a blank wall.

They’d admitted her, hospital tag around her wrist, heart monitor hooked up to her finger, another strapped around her belly, and a magnesium drip plugged into her arm. The nurses, and doctors were all cautious about her baby being in distress, her heartbeat was slightly irregular - which was something Claire knew since her twenty-four week scan. It wasn’t the cause for alarm, but considering the circumstances they wanted her monitored. Although they’d managed to delay labour … for the past handful of hours, they were not confident that Claire’s baby would stay where they wanted her to stay.

Claire rubbed a gentle hand over the side of her swollen belly, receiving nothing more than a slight nudge against her fingers. ‘Kick me all you want, little miss, you’re staying in there until I say otherwise.’ Claire sighed, breath escaping her lungs, expelling her worry into the air around her head.

The iPad in front of her lit up, flashing a sign that told her she had a new message. The chair of the board had personally promised, that she would be updated on the conference events through his personal secretary. Although she loved work - Claire would have preferred to be left out of the loop. The board felt ridiculous, especially now. They’d half forced her into flying across the country, and action she did do by choice, but only to not be undermined as a woman … and one with a family. She could have asked her doctor to disallow her flying, but the truth of the matter was that she wanted to work. That conference room without her would be a mess. Claire had never seen a group of men pale like the way they did when her first contraction hit her. Either they felt like idiots, or were scared of the baby being born on the conference table … likely a little bit of both.

She read the email to pass the time, rolling her eyes at notes here and there, glad that they were getting on without her, albeit terribly. Even at seven months pregnant she could still snap the whole room into shape, leaving each and every man - and woman - sitting at that table half frightened of her.

‘Claire?’ Her sister’s voice was easily recognisable, instantly soothing a small part of Claire that was still tense. ‘How’re you going?’ Karen kneeled on the side of the bed, to better hug her sister, as she rubbed a hand across Claire’s back.

She sighed, long and heavy, the only thing she seemed capable of doing right. ‘We had a bit of a fright, but it’s all right now.’ Claire offered Karen a smile, rubbing the same spot on her belly and receiving the same disgruntled kick. ‘She’s going to wait,’ Claire announced, reprimanding her unborn daughter just like she would scold Charlie.

‘Oh, sure. Because babies in utero do exactly what they’re told.’ They’d been through this before. Zach was born three weeks early, despite Karen and Scott insisting it was just Braxton Hicks and nothing to fuss about. Karen ate her words twenty-four hours later, newborn son in her arms. There was a reason why she rushed to get to her sister as quickly as she could, and although it had something to do with making sure she wasn’t alone. She also knew, if she didn’t, that baby would be born before any of them realised. ’Besides, those Grady’s - one hundred per cent free-willed. That baby is going to do exactly what she wants whether it’s good for her or not.’ Claire fidgeted, clearly uncomfortable new weight pressed to the bottom of her pelvis. She needed to stop denying that her daughter was ready to face the world.

Karen’s phone dinged softly, drawing the attention of both women toward it. Owen had only boarded his flight an hour ago, a quick phone call with Claire confirming that he’d made a booking and would be there as fast as the airplane could carry him. ‘Lorna’s going to pick Charlie up from school at three. She’s good to keep her for a few days if need be,’ Claire groaned. She didn’t want to be there one more hour let alone a possible multiple days. Even if they did discharge her, they were unlikely to let her board a six hour flight back to San Diego. She wasn’t going home anytime soon.

*

Claire had been uncomfortable from the moment she got there. As the day ticked passed her, washed by in a wave of nurses and Karen’s stories, her discomfort grew. Somewhere between drifting off to sleep in sheer boredom, and Karen making a call to Gray out in the hall, Claire’s water broke. Her contractions came back with a vengeance, rolling across her stomach every eight minutes.

The nurses clicked their tongues, explaining to her in low tones that her daughter was going to be born ten weeks premature whether she liked it or not.

When her contractions got closer together and her heart rate started to spike, it was suggested that she be moved to the birthing suite. She was already dilated at eight centimetres, and her baby’s own heart beat had started to drop. Claire gripped onto the arm of the nurse who tried to check the monitors beside her, she was desperate, bordering on frantic and in great pain. ‘I need my husband. I can’t do this without him, I need him here … I can’t, not without him.’ That was when the tears started again, Karen by her side, rubbing her shoulder as best she could.

‘He was supposed to tell me when he landed.’ Claire insisted, as the number of people in the room grew and the faces changed. One man introduced himself as her doctor, as a kind young woman claimed herself as Claire’s midwife. They were telling her to push, waiting any longer would send Baby Grady into distress which could severe.

Claire cried out, focusing her energy on her soon to be born daughter as she whimpered something about Owen, through her first push, tears hot on her cheeks. Karen was in the midsts of calming her sister once again, when the doors to the room burst open. He was already dressed in hospital scrubs, caught by a nurse who wouldn’t tell him where Claire was until he changed. Claire reached a hand out for him, sighing his name, as a weight lifted off her shoulders.

Owen was quick to wrap his arms around her shoulders and to kiss her cheek, her head, her tear stained lips. Claire’s grip shifted from Karen to her husband, holding onto Owen like he was her only lifeline. ‘I’m so scared,’ She whispered, talking around soft whimpers.

That was the last thing Owen ever expected to hear from Claire Dearing’s mouth. They’d been together six years. Not once had she ever told him she was scared. They’d faced dinosaurs together, the media circus revolving around the Jurassic World case, and had already passed through the birth of their first child. Her lip had wobbled in the face of the Indominus Rex, it’s hot breath washing over their faces as they hid, flush, against a car. That was the closest he had seen her come to crumbling into a frightened mess.

She was crying, trying to breathe between sobs as the medical personal around her tried, in vain, to keep her calm. When Charlie was born, Claire was as held together as a weathered stone. She sat still, fought through the pain and almost effortlessly delivered their baby girl. She had been teary when Charlie was born, only once Owen was holding the newborn securely in his arms. She didn’t sob, like she did now, her heart ripping apart inside her chest, the harrowing sound echoing through her mouth.

Claire told him that she was scared over and over again, the words falling like a mantra on the already high strung room. ‘We’re not ready for her,’ She whimpered, as Owen climbed behind her, letting Claire settle between his thighs and push against his chest.

He kissed the side of her head, hands taking each of hers.’Course we are!’ That was practically nowhere near true. They were still halfway through converting Claire’s office into a nursery, the furniture still in pieces on the floor, waiting for an afternoon where Owen would construct them. ‘We’ve got Charlie. We can do this, Claire. It’s going to be okay. All of it.’ It wasn’t what she meant, but it was what she needed to hear. The slightest reassurance from her husband’s lips that everything would be okay. He knew without her voicing the concern, that Claire was running a list of defects in her head, things they would likely have to face with their daughter being born at thirty-one weeks.

Her tears turned to quiet whimpers as Claire bore down against Owen, her hands gripping onto his as tight as she could, as she was coached through her second push.

*

‘She’s a long way away.’ Charlie mused, holding onto each of her parents hands as they lead her down the hospital hallway. Owen hummed, musing aloud to his now oldest daughter, that her sister was in fact very far from home. ‘Are we going to live at home, and she stays here?’ She asked, as Owen pushed open the door to the hospital’s nursery, smiling kindly at the nurse they’d become familiar with.

‘No, baby. Your sister has to stay one more week, and then she can come home.’

‘Back to San Diego?’

Claire nodded, ‘Back to San Diego’. Charlie scrunched up her face, it’d been hard to warm her up to the idea of a sibling. Even harder when said sibling was born in another state, on the other side of the country, keeping her parents from her for three weeks.

Owen situated Charlie in one of the large rocking chairs reserved for visiting family, while Claire went and collected their new daughter. Claire’s doctor had removed the small infant from the NICU only the day before, unplugging the machines and removing the monitors. It hadn’t been twenty-four hours, and she still hadn’t adjusted to the fact that her little girl was all right. She was breathing on her own, her heart murmur had smoothed, so far, she was showing no sign of future difficulties. She was happy, she was healthy, and they were going to be able to take her home soon.

Claire picked her up easily, startled at her light weight. Her little body wasn’t dragged down by her monitors. It was just her, Baby Grady Number Two. She snuggled her daughter tightly, appreciating being able to do so without restrictions.

Charlie watched on in anticipation, eyes wide and somewhat wary as he mother stepped towards her, baby in her arms. ‘Now, Charlie, you have to be really gentle with her, okay.’ Charlie nodded slowly, arms already in position like Owen had shown her. They’d been practicing with her dollies ever since she was told about her pending sibling.

‘’Cause she’s precious?’ She asked, blinking green eyes up at her mother.

Owen pressed a loving kiss to the side of his daughter’s head, while Claire hummed, ’Exactly that. Are you ready?’ With a final nod, and murmured mm-hm Claire lowered the infant into her big sister’s arms. ‘Charlie, say hello to Elliot.’

Chapter Text

She exhaled heavily, shoulders falling against the leather back of the diner booth. Her sister’s hands were wrapped around her arm, holding on for dear life like she did the summer they made themselves sick on candy floss and rollercoasters. 

They were likely too old for the affection that decorated the pictures on their living room walls. Something told them their days of childish fancy had moved on. There was no need to swing from their fathers arms or cling to their mothers skirts. The same rules, justly, applied to their current situation. It also, however, didn’t stop them.

Charlie stroked her sister’s soft hair, her cheek pressed to the side of Elliot’s head, tenderly soaking in their quiet moment. Revelling in the days where their parents used to think these moments were a rarity. ’Do you really have to go so soon?’ Elliot whimpered, forehead pressed to her sister’s shoulder, fingers playing with the hem of her sleeve. It was the question they all wanted to asked, whimpered in a childlike voice, whimsy caught on Elliot’s breath. She was only sixteen, still as quiet as a mouse, and in awe of her older sister, her guardian and guiding light.

The diner sighed around them. The very essence of Charlie Grady was evacuating the quaint space, diminishing in her presence as a desperate plea to hold her down. ‘I have two days before my flight,’ Charlie answered as if it was enough. She couldn’t hold the eye of her parents, she watched the table instead knowing already it was a long goodbye. Two days was already too long.

It always had to be different. They’d kissed her on the cheek, each in turn, and waved her off to Cornell three years ago. Sending her to Indonesia for an undetermined amount of time, was frightening. Charlie had lived for her independence, gripped tight to the swing chains and only ever jumped off once she touched the sky … without her fathers help. She wasn’t used to them trying to keep her in one place.

There was a faint memory, sometime in her toddlerhood, recreated in the shadows of a story her mother loved to repeat. Charlie Grady and her carseat. Charlie Grady and any form of restraint. Her mother had told her, that as a toddler she hated being buckled down. It was a fight of rubber limbs just to get her in the car. She so often went without a stroller because it was more hassle than what it was worth. They’d encouraged school trips and summer camps, adventures away from home, and Charlie going out on her own. Indonesia was too far away, her father had sobered. Ithaca, New York, was one thing, Indonesia was another.

‘C’mon, you guys,’ She half whined. ‘Today was a good day - a great day. Your first born is a college graduate!’ Charlie beamed, her whole life they encouraged the importance of higher education. Here she was; finished.

There was no real complaint on Charlie’s behalf, her parents were smiling. She’d been hugged, and squeezed, and peppered with proud kisses more than she could could. The somber mood, however, was hovering over everyone’s heads. Elliot, beside her, tightened her grip. ‘I miss you already,’ She sighed.

There had been days, months, years where Charlie and Elliot simply didn’t get along. They kept their seperate spaces, longing for the days in which Charlie would pick up and move to college. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, or so Charlie heard. It was certainly true in her case. She missed her wallflower of a baby sister, the quiet ray of sunshine that always had some silly little story to tell her, that ended with them both caught in laughter.

She watched her parents, trying to commit them to memory. They were like they always were in her head, sitting side by side, holding hands, whispering something in the other’s ear like they were still young enough to whisper silly secrets on some high school first date.

‘What did you say?’ Charlie asked, after Owen pulled away from Claire, her mother leaving a kiss on his cheek. Owen tilted his head, slight crinkle between his eyes. ‘Just now, what did you say?’ They did that a lot, scattered across her childhood, her father leaning in, whispering, her mother smiling fondly, kissing his cheek. She had distinct memories from her childhood. It was something Charlie had been working on. Vocalising things she remembered, checking her facts, as though she didn’t want to leave, to live with a memory that wasn’t right.

That memory was a riddle she had yet been able to resolve.

Owen’s humour grew slowly, smile climbing up his cheeks. ‘Still worth it.’ Charlie crinkled her cheeks, making her father laugh. ‘You were about six months old, your Mom and I were about ready to kill each other. I don’t think we didn’t anything but fight for a couple of weeks. She told me to leave, that nothing was worth staying and fighting.’ He watched his daughters faces carefully, Elliot gnawing on the straw of her milkshake, Charlie staring back at him with intrusive green eyes. If anything, their daughters didn’t know the severity of his and Claire’s relationship. They didn’t need to know, but at sixteen and twenty-one, they were old enough to understand why things had been so rough.

That first eight months together that melted into another nine more once Claire found out she was pregnant. Charlie’s first year in their lives was a chaotic mess of insecurities, arguments and very little sleep. They were still running from the nightmares of Jurassic World by the time Charlie was placed on Claire’s chest for the first time.

They would yell until they were red in the face, or until the neighbours came to see if they were okay. She wanted him out, and God he wanted to leave some days. But, they stuck it through, the both of them too stubborn to break away and let everything they had fall apart.

‘You were there, strapped into a bouncer that hung from the laundry room door, laughing your guts out. The tension dissolved. You were worth everything. Even if we were fighting, the only reason we stuck out our differences and made it through that first year, was because of you. Every spit bubble, every laugh, every ‘first moment’. Getting to see you grow. Watching you graduate, seeing you off to Indonesia to do something that is important to you. This is what were here for. This is what we fought for. Raising you. Seeing you become your own person. And, Elliot too. Looking back at where we were before you both were born, it’s a blur.’

‘The two of you are far more important than any argument we’ve ever had.’ Claire finished for her husband, tearing her eyes from his face to smile at their almost fully grown daughters.

That first year had felt like a nightmare. She thought, back then, that she had made the wrong decision. Dark days swirled in the clouds, forecast: always thunder. In their own ways she and Owen wedged their feet in the sand, determined not to be the first one to give up, not to crumble or fall. She faintly remembers a promise he made, if by Charlie’s first birthday they were still on rocky terms, he would move out. Their daughter’s first birthday came and went, her third, her fifteenth, her twenty-first. He was still there. They even managed to get married a little after she turned three, finally in a place were their arguments were reserved to Owen forgetting to take the trash out, or leaving his wet towels on the bathroom floor.

All they needed was to find their groove … with Charlie’s help.

‘See,’ Elliot urged, dimple in her cheek. ‘You can’t go, they need you!’

‘They have you, Eli. The reintroduction project, that needs me.’ Her sister couldn’t argue. None of them could. Since the moment Charlie found out about the endangerment of Sumatran Tigers, the same species as her beloved Tango, at age two-and-a-half, she vowed to do something about it. Her parents weren’t about ready to stop her, no matter how much they didn’t want to see her on a flight to the other side of the world. Her father had said it himself, everything was worth seeing her grow up and want to change the world. What more could he ask for in a daughter that already reflected so much of himself.

Smiling brightly at both her parents, promising easily that she would be home before they could even worry about her - which was a ridiculous comparison, they were already worried. They had witnessed her graduate college earlier that morning, they were sitting in her favourite diner just outside of campus, in a world she had been living in without them. No matter her independence, or her worldly experience. No matter how many years she campaigned for the survival of Sumatran Tigers, or the sponsor balls they ran at the zoo each year, in which she always proudly spoke beside Tango’s enclosure; since she was five. Charlie still sat in front of them as their little girl, dressed in the San Diego Zoo cargo, covered in muck and dirt, hay tangled in her orange hair, wild-eyed and a little smart mouthed.

Chapter Text

Karen stayed for a little while. She called Owen’s family, organised the funeral, she cooked, and she cleaned. Hardest of all, she watched her sister suffer, broken sobs shattering her ribs, keeping her eyes puffy and her cheeks red. 

When Karen wasn’t sitting with her, it was Gray. He cried with her, not quite able to wrap his head around the idea of his uncle being gone. That and he was never great with heavy emotions. He whimpered every time Claire made a noise, his heart wholly, one hundred per cent, breaking with hers. Zach tried his best to keep his head. He didn’t cry in front of them at least. Instead he made sure they had a constant stream of movies playing, or that Claire was keeping her mind switched on enough to play video games.

Both boys worried silently. They knew how much Owen had helped to change their aunt for the better. They knew what she was like before him, only faintly, their memories few and far between in her absence. But, with Owen, she was always there; every birthday, every holiday. She called frequently too, Skype’d once a week. The chains of communication where open in places they had never been before. Karen attributed it to Owen, to the startling relaxed effect he had on her sister. They worried about what would happen now. Would she bury herself in work? Would she remember to call. No one spoke about it, only sat around quietly, trying to fill the void with conversations that didn’t involve Owen.

It didn’t work as much as they hoped it would. Poor Gray bringing up his most recent science project, which lead Claire to quietly mumble how proud Owen would be of him. Gray’s face fell, his cheeks turning red before he pushed away from the dining table and ran off to his room. Owen was everywhere. Soaked in every conversation topic they had, even Karen’s ill tempered relationship with her ex-husband Scott involved Owen.

It was worse when his family was there, his sister coming over to help comfort Claire. She didn’t want to push them out, but she had too, looking at their faces only caused her chest to ache, and her head to throb. They looked so much like him, spoke like him too, it was too much too soon. She was hearing a ghost in the voice of his baby sister.

‘You should come back to Minnesota,’ Karen suggested quietly one night, as she sat watching her sister be miserable. She had to go home soon, get back to her job, and Gray back to school. They couldn’t stay in San Diego forever. Karen didn’t want to leave Claire behind. Claire shook her head, she was fine, she would be fine. She couldn’t leave her job on the West Coast. ‘Don’t you think it’d be better. I’ll help you pack up the house, you can put it on the market. Find something new.’

‘I’m not selling my house, Karen.’ Her voice was stern, the strongest it had been for weeks. Claire wouldn’t leave, she couldn’t. Nothing was keeping her there, and yet she wanted to stay. They loved this house. They had argued over it for months, Owen slowly offering his opinion on the properties she was looking at. Eventually she moved away from apartments in the city and ventured to the suburbs, something appropriate for the both of them. It still was. His bike sat in the garage, his precious belongings scattered across the mantel piece and stored in the attic. His guitar had a permanent place in the living room, until he died, Karen moving it out of sight. She was getting better, she could look at his pictures on the walls. She could shift over to his side of the bed without waking up with the rude reminder that he was dead.

Sure, he wasn’t there and when Karen was out with the boys the house taunted her. She still got sick when they left, spending the whole hour of Karen’s errands run, in the master suite puking the little food she had managed to eat. That was another thing, she had a better appetite now than what she had in the first few days.

Claire’s worst week arrived when she missed her period. Karen couldn’t get a word out of her for hours as Claire lay curled up on Owen’s side of the bed, crying quietly, voice so raw she couldn’t speak. When she finally found her voice, the words croaked from her lips, drenched in desperate sorrow, ‘I think I might be pregnant’. Followed by an agonising plea for Owen. She couldn’t do it without him. She couldn’t. She wouldn’t. When the pregnancy test showed negative three times in a row, Karen expected her sister to be elated. There was nothing to worry about now. Claire didn’t have to raise Owen’s child without him. The news that it wasn’t the case only made her cry, her mind had suddenly changed. She rather live with a small piece of him, than with nothing at all. Fate was out of her hands and Karen couldn’t do anything to console her conflicted baby sister.

Karen left reluctantly, charging Zach with guard duty. He was studying two hours away, cooped up in a dorm he didn’t like with rowdy neighbours. So, instead of spending his Thursday nights trying to tune out the sound of drunken pests for the whole weekend, he got in his car and drove to see Claire. He spend the weekend studying at the dining table, or sprawled across the couch. He was there to keep her company, to make sure, as his mother worried, that Claire didn’t fall in on herself. Zach didn’t think it was for the best. Claire didn’t like to break down in front of him, he was nineteen, her nephew, he didn’t know her grief to this extent. Instead, she bottled it up, or locked herself away from him.

Claire ushered Zach back to campus with containers full of food. She cooked to much. Claire was used to cooking for herself and for Owen, for larger portions. She was used to leaving him leftovers for lunch. Zach saw the way her hands shook when she remembered something, a small nuance in her schedule, a nick in the plans. Claire usually pushed though it. Until the one night she didn’t, wine glass shattering to the floor, red liquid splashing against her toes.

‘Aunt Claire, are you all right?’ He’d jumped up from the couch quicker than lightning, worry drawing lines on his face. She didn’t recover as quickly as she had been, her hands still shaking, her face lost. It took a minute before she snapped, shaking hands reaching for paper towel before she dropped to the floor and started cleaning the mess. ‘Everything okay?’ Zach asked quietly, too scared to know the answer as he joined her in the kitchen. She nodded, pushing it away.

She wore his clothes to bed. The same shirt over and over until it lost its smell, then she moved onto the next one. Zach understood that one. It wasn’t so strange. None of her behaviour was strange, but silent. He didn’t understand the silence and the small melancholic little smiles. They looked painful and forced. They made his chest ache more than he liked to admit. He didn’t know his aunt as much as he liked to think, there were still years left unaccounted for, behaviours he should know. He could hardly imagine her without Owen. It made everything harder. 

‘Do you want his bike?’ She asked one week, so casually he almost missed it. Zach blinked up at her. He didn’t know how to ride. Where would he put a bike? Instead, she sold it. They had no use for it. As much as it killed her to see it go, it was only collecting dust. Someone else could use it, could love it like Owen used to. Zach swore his aunt regretted that decision as soon as the bike was towed away from the house. She didn’t say anything.

Claire made a passing comment to Zach, as she did the laundry that Owen’s shirts no longer smelt like him. That his side of the bed was neutral and no longer comforting in its familiar warmth. He worried, breath held in his throat, waiting for the tears, his mother on speed dial. Claire only smiled softly, shutting the lid to the machine and turning it on. It was the first time she’d seen her accept the fact that Owen wasn’t coming back, without crying.

Zach knew things were getting better, even if Claire was still clinging to Owen’s things, some habits not yet ironed out. He was late one Thursday, getting into San Diego two hours later than he usually would have thanks to a campus committee meeting. The house was mostly quiet when he stepped in the door, soft sounds coming from the living room, familiar and pleasant. Hope bubbled in his chest, Zach didn’t know why. Until he heard it. The same voice that kept Zach and Gray safe from the Indominus at their heels. The voice that had become a warm addition to family events and FaceTiming with Claire. The voice and the guitar, musical stylings by Owen Grady; not that he had anything original, mostly old rock or whatever he could strum to annoy Claire as he followed he through the house.

Zach panicked. What had his aunt found? He thought things were getting better. Had she regressed? He was too scared to turn the corner, to find her sobbing on the couch. When Zach discovered the strength, he found his aunt on the couch, legs tucked under her, laptop on the couch arm. There were no tears in her eyes, a soft, reminiscing smile on her face.

He could hear Owen from the speakers, singing along to his guitar, crooning Elvis’ Are You Lonesome Tonight? She was playing with a necklace around her neck, fingers holding onto the pendant he had never seen, dragging it across her lips. She whispered a soft ‘hey’ when she saw him in the doorway, inviting her nephew to sit down beside her.

He did as she asked, curling up beside her. Owen played his guitar for the camera. When he finished, his smile was electric, the same grin Zach had seen countless times before, whenever Claire made an appearance, or so much as looked at him.

I miss you,’ Owen’s voice scratched out. Zach assumed the video was from one of Claire’s business trips, his aunt and uncle having to survive the distance between them for a couple of weeks a few times a year. ‘I was going to wait until you got home … actually I was going to wait until Christmas, but I can’t hold it in any longer. Go check your suitcase, I hid something in there for you. I hope the answer is yes. I love you, Claire.’ The video clicked off and Zach turned to look at his aunt. She readjusted her hold on the pendant of her necklace, revealing an engagement ring.

She’d only had it two weeks before he died. They kept it a secret, Owen too impatient to ask her the way he wanted too, loudly, with her family present, over Christmas. Instead, she gave him back the ring in the airport arrivals terminal, and he slipped it onto her finger, asking the question properly and promising to do it again.

‘You don’t have to come see me every weekend,’ Claire told Zach, shutting the lid of her computer. ‘You should be having fun, partying, meeting beautiful girls. You don’t need to babysit me anymore, I’m okay.’ Zach shrugged, he liked getting away from campus. He hated seeing his aunt upset, but, it had never been too bad.

Claire was going back to work, her posture straightened out. She’d brushed her hair, straightened that too, no longer unruly waves, but neatly kept. Owen would want her to grieve any longer. She had the rest of her life for that, seeing him in little moments he would have loved as she lived out her days, likely alone. She was coming to terms with that, the ache in her chest didn’t hurt as much. She was once again, finally, comfortable in her home without company.

‘If it’s okay with you,’ Zach started, ‘I’d still like to come down on weekends’. Claire wrapped her arms around her nephew, squeezing the boy tight.

‘I’d love it’.   

Chapter Text

The alarm was droning loudly. Requesting that residences vacate the premises and move to the pre approved fire evacuation location. Claire huffed as she shivered in the frigid air. She crossed her arms over her chest in mild agitation with herself for not grabbing a robe or a jacket as she walked out the door.

She wasn’t the only one out there, shifting her feet uncomfortably against the cold grass as a few more people slipped out from the apartment block’s front doors. ‘At least it’s off season right?’ A male voice appeared next to her, dragging Claire’s attention away from the front of the building. She was curious to know if it was an actual fire, or one of the smoke alarms playing up again. If someone so much as burnt their dinner, the fire brigade were remotely called.

She dragged her eyes towards the voice, the body beside her clad only in boxers, the man shivering just as much as she was. They were on an island, in Central America, how was it cold? Claire didn’t mean to stare at the rolling curves of the man’s chest, abs godly defined even as they quivered against the cold. She smiled weakly, blush rising on her cheeks. He seemed slightly grouchy, arms crossed over his muscular chest, inconvenienced like the rest of them, by the fire alarm that was set off at 3am. Most importantly, Claire struggled to recognise him. He had to be staff. The complex was only for staff with access codes. She chewed at the inside of her cheek, thrown off by his appearance in the middle of the night as she tried to recall who he could be.

Jurassic World was gaining an influx of new staff in the coming weeks. Their first year proving to be success enough to bring on new staff, and start research. Too many names were crossing her desk, Claire didn’t know what to think. He was making small talk at least, expressing a gratefulness for the lack of staff that could have potentially seen them all standing around in their underwear. ‘You know, that’s probably the last thing I imagined Claire Dearing wore to bed.’

‘You think about what I wear to bed, often?’ Claire threw back as she bit her lip. There was no use being self conscious around the man who clearly knew of her when she hardly knew of him. At least her pyjamas were that of an oversized t-shirt and pyjama shorts. Rather than his boxers, which were leaving little to the imagination. ‘And, you are?’ She asked, wanting to add a quip about his pyjamas not being what she had imagined. There was such a thing as crossing a line, Claire feared they were already toeing it … the two of them the already the least dressed out of the small group.

‘Owen Grady,’ He introduced, extending a large warm hand. Despite the fact that he was shivering, his body temperature was already miles higher than hers. The man was warm blooded, already acclimatised to Isla Nublar. Claire had heard his name somewhere before, her fingernails flicking through papers trying to remember exactly how.

‘What’re you doing here, Mr Grady?’ She used his last name in the formal to distance herself, tiny shivering body desperately wanting to shuffle closer to his. This wasn’t like her at all, desperate for warmth, eager to step closer to a warm male body. Claire shook her head, she was being ridiculous, it likely had something to do with sleep deprivation.

Owen shrugged, small smile creeping at the corner of his lips, the rest of his face still settled in a stern look. ‘Ah, fire alarm went off. You gotta evacuate when that happens.’ Claire’s laugh surprised her, the noise jumping from her throat as she rolled her eyes at the ridiculous man. Owen grinned, the smile pulling at his face as he watched the glee on hers. ‘No, really. I just recently arrived for the research sector, they brought me in for the Velociraptors.’

‘They just recently hatched,’ Claire told him, a little interested. All research projects were not classified as assets, and further more, not deemed under her control as Senior Assets Manager. Claire always managed to find herself curious towards the creatures she did not have to keep her eyes on. The Velociraptors, being the newest born dinosaurs in the park, had peaked her interest significantly.

Owen puffed out his chest a little at the mention of his Raptors hatching. ‘Sure did,’ He boasted proudly. Claire knew they were bringing someone in, an ex-navy man, to imprint on and work with the Raptors in a training program she didn’t know the exact details of. Clearly, Owen was their man. He was proud as punch, too, even so early in the morning. She was supposed to set up a meeting with him in the following weeks. Even though his Raptors were not under her watchful eye, she was still required to introduce herself to the staff. 

‘You know,’ Owen stated once she shivered for the ten-thousandth time, the fire trucks only now appearing with their red and blue lights. ‘I think I have a spare change of clothes in my tuck, if you’re cold?’ It was only then that Claire realised he was holding onto a set of car keys, evidently smart enough to grab them on his way out.

Claire agreed weakly, the cold seeping into her bones, making her limbs feel numb. He moved ahead for his car, in the parking spaces just to the left of the building. He ruffled through the small backseat, searching through a bag before Owen turned to her with a shirt in his hands. ‘It’s clean, I promise.’ He offered, slipping it over her head without waiting for her permission. ‘Not that you can complain, your lips are turning blue.’ Claire’s hand flew to her mouth, covering the chapped skin there as she flashed wide eyes at him.

Owen wrapped his hands around her wrists before he shuffled them, switching places so he could hoist Claire up into his truck. Her shivering only grew deeper when she folded herself into a small ball, brining her knees up under his shirt. Claire inhaled deeply, soaking in the unfamiliar smell of Owen Grady sandalwood, dirt, something entirely man, and warm. ‘Better?’ He asked boxing her in, hoping to conceal some warmth. Claire nodded shyly, thanking him on a quiet whisper. ‘You know,’ He started again, face a little too close to hers. ‘You should come down, see the girls while they’re too little for mass destruction.’ His green eyes gleamed, face setting off in flashes of the firetruck lights. Red, then blue, red, then blue. Claire was hypnotised. ‘And maybe I can take you to lunch - or dinner - after?’

It was either the sudden warmth of his truck, or the slight embarrassment that sent a blush running across Claire’s cheeks. No matter what it was, she didn’t have the heart to turn him down, not while they were locked out of their building at 3am.

Chapter Text

The face that stared back at them, as their connection cleared was that of their grumpy daughter. Charlie’s mouth turned down in a deep frown, as she scowled at the computer screen in front of her.

‘Hey baby,’ Owen grinned, waving at the camera, as Charlie’s scowl deepened. That girl knew how to hold a grudge, unfortunately her parents were at the end of this one and they knew it. Charlie crossed her arms over her chest, creasing her pyjamas as she did so, ‘Did Aunt Karen braid your hair?’ Owen asked, noticing the braid that fell over her shoulder.

Charlie shrugged, flicking the braid over her little shoulder so her father couldn’t see it anymore. Claire rolled her eyes, knowing exactly what game the seven-year-old was playing. ‘Are you having fun with Aunt Karen?’

She shrugged again, long and low, ‘I’m grumpy with you’.

‘We’ve noticed,’ Owen supplied. She was grumpy with them, like any slightly involved child ever was. Her parents wedding anniversary rolled around. Five years, enough to earn them a quiet vacation away from the children. Charlie didn’t think so. Elliot didn’t seem to mind. ‘You know, Charlie-Bear, it’s nowhere near as fun here, without you.’ That was a lie. For the first time since Charlie was born, Owen and Claire managed to spend a whole day in bed, by themselves.

Why their daughter was more interested in the idea of a bed and breakfast in Savannah, Georgia, than a weekend with her aunt had managed to puzzle her parents. None the less, Charlie was left behind, relinquished to Karen’s able hands. Claire’s sister was ecstatic with having her nieces for the weekend, chirping something about the sound of children in her house again.

‘Well,’ Charlie started, voice matter of fact, face still drawn in a serious scowl. ‘We had Gray come visit.’ She was boasting, or at least she thought she was boasting. Gray, who had graduated from child brainiac, to adult brainiac in the seven years since Jurassic World, was still lovingly doted upon by every member of the family. Especially his young cousins. Charlie practically thought the world revolved around Gray most days.

Claire and Owen feigned jealously, shock and surprise in their voices as they asked after their nephew. Charlie opened up after that, giddily telling them every excruciating detail about her night at Aunt Karen’s. She was gloating. Which wasn’t a good look on anyone, especially Charlie. But, the girl had a certain habit with rubbing salt into any wound.

They were pleased in the least, that she hadn’t locked her aunt in the basement. ‘Where’s your sister?’ Owen asked, noting it was just Charlie, sitting in her pyjamas on Karen’s bed. Charlie slid her aunts computer across the bedsheets, disrupting the connection she had with her parents.

When the image settled, the connection restored, Owen and Claire were treated with the sight of their three-year-old, curled in a ball, little face relaxed and fast asleep on Karen’s bed. ‘She couldn’t wait up,’ Charlie told them, her head appearing upside down in the top corner of the screen. Owen chuckled, Elliot wouldn’t miss her sleep for anything, including a 6:30pm Skype call with her parents.

Evidently, Karen had run them ragged, causing both girls to be drowsy eyed and half asleep. They marvelled at their daughter for a second, minds set as ease to see both girls okay in their absence. It wasn’t until Charlie announced that she’d kiss her sister goodnight for them, that it all fell apart.

Disrupting Elliot while she slept was asking for a death wish. Even as a newborn, when they had to wake her to feed her, the girl would put up a fuss, keeping everyone awake longer just for the hassle. Charlie knew this and still she lowered her face to Elliot’s and kissed her gently on the cheek. She should have expected her sisters grunt, and little hand pushing against her face, and yet she looked completely bewildered when it happened.

Owen couldn’t help the chuckle as Charlie stared at him through the camera shock on her face as she held her cheek, baby sister shifting beside her. At least she hadn’t actually woken the girl up. ‘I’m not loving her anymore,’ Charlie pouted, her arms crossing over her chest again.

Their objections to her statement fell on deaf ears. Charlie felt what she felt about Elliot, which nine times out of ten, was unconditional love. She still, however, was stuck in the I don’t want a sibling phase, despite her sister being three. They were already driving Claire half mad with their silly little arguments, her eyes rolling into the back of her head as soon as she heard their angered voices. She wasn’t made for children, no matter what Owen thought. She loved her daughters, but she had her limits.

Owen loved it. Got some odd kick out of fights over glitter and who was using what toy first. He liked sitting in the middle of them, Elliot on his knee, Charlie leaning against his shoulder as he dissolved whatever it was that had brought them both to tears. He was made for that. Even know, sitting in the hotel bed, daughters viewed on their phone, he was laughing at Charlie.

‘When are you coming home?’ The girl asked softly, all disappointment having vanished from her face. Owen promised her soon, counting out the days for her, full proof that he intended on returning when he said he would. She blew him a kiss when Karen’s voice whispered through the speakers that it was time for bed, the little girl uttering a quick ‘love you’ before signing off.

He turned to his wife, kissing her on the cheek lovingly as Owen discarded his phone. ‘I love ‘em to death, but I am so thankful for this vacation.’ Claire giggled in agreement, happy for the small sight of her children before returning to her holiday mode, sinking deeper into her husbands touch.

Chapter Text

He was scraggly, unkept nine times out of ten. His hair was made of outrageous curls, looping in curlicues down to his ears and across his forehead. It was endearing at first, how such a man could hold such childlike hair. Claire would loose herself in it, willingly, a hand tucked against the nape of his neck, or pushing at his forehead.

He was lazy. To put it at the least. Or at least claimed he didn’t have time for a hairdresser to cut his hair. ‘It’s fine, Claire,’ He told her, despite the length getting a little too close to his eyes. The steady beard that was growing across his cheeks started to bother her just as much as his steadily growing head of hair. He was turning into a caveman, and as much as she wanted not to care, Claire was growing sick of the beard burn on her delicate and pale skin.

How she managed to finally get him to agree to a haircut was a miracle in itself. He sat eagerly, although a little disheartened on a chair in the middle of the bathroom to their small, shared, flat. ‘Are you sure you know what you’re doing?’ Owen asked her, a little skeptical, as Claire surveyed the utensils at her disposal. He already owned clippers, Claire discovered, why he didn’t just fix his hair on his own time was completely beyond her. 

Claire shrugged, ‘You don’t organise yourself, I’ll do it for you,’ She should have just booked him an appointment and dragged him along. ‘Karen and I used to play beauty school as kids. I’ve got this.’ The way she worried her bottom lip between her teeth didn’t strike confidence in Owen. He let her go for it anyway, thrilled to learn something new about her childhood.

Claire waisted no time in dampening his hair with a spray bottle, before pulling out the number four clipper. She knew what number instinctively, just like she knew what size to buy him when she saw something she fancied. They’d been together a small number of months, enough to invest in an apartment yet still not know the little details about one an other. Owen let her work from instinct. He trusted her more than she thought he should.

Her hands still shook from the Jurassic World incident, the ground still unsteady below her feet. Claire gripped tight to the clippers in her hand, pushing them against his head hesitantly. She had been pestering him for weeks to go get his hair cut, Owen refused until she suggested rather confidently that she could do it herself. That confidence was starting to slip from her.

Owen’s hand reached around the back of the chair, to squeeze her leg, silently instilling support as she moved the clippers slowly up the back of his head. She stayed there a while, making sure not to miss a single spot before moving outwards, reaching over and behind his ears. The buzzing of the clippers ceased when Claire was finished, the tool discarded to the bathroom counter and replaced with a comb and a pair of scissors. She instantly started pulling and tugging, the scissors crunched against his hair before he felt strands fall lightly back to his head. She fluffed with his hair for twenty minutes, shifting around behind him before she stood in front of him, peering instantly at his head.

Owen didn’t pause in pulling Claire into his lap, the woman squeaking softly as she settled on his thighs, smiling at him shyly. ‘How do I look?’ Claire crinkled her nose, leaning back to get a better look. She had left him with a little length, leaving a small curl to dangle down against his forehead, still enough to cart her fingers through, without it being too short.

‘Much better,’ She hummed, hands already reaching to run through his hair, fingers gliding across his scalp. Owen peppered kisses across her cheeks, before descending, dropping them down the line of her neck as Claire mewled. ‘That has to go too,’ She tapped at his fuzzy cheek, the hair there getting dangerously close to the idea of being a beard. Owen pouted. Claire wasn’t hearing a word of dispute, she had enough rashes to prove the beard was fun in theory but not in practicality.

She kissed him delicately once, twice, her hand cupping his chin before she pulled away. Propping herself up on the bathroom counter, sink filling will cold water beside her, Claire beckoned Owen forward. He moved, raising from the chair to step between her legs, Claire’s knees tightening at his hips, her ankles locking behind his back. ‘Say goodbye,’ She told him softly, carting her fingers through the small growth. Owen grinned, quickly burying his head against her neck and rubbing his beard across her soft skin. Claire squealed, one hand digging into his shoulder, while the other tapped at his ribs.

When Owen pulled back his grin was victorious, and also unsuspecting of the slap of shaving cream Claire threw across his face. ‘I hate you,’ She scowled through a light in her eyes, mostly humoured. She’ll complain later about the way her skin itches thanks to him.

‘No, you don’t,’ Owen ribbed back, his hands tight on her waist, centring himself.

Claire shrugged, twisted at the waist, as she searched for something on the counter. ‘I’ll like you a lot more once that scratchy mess is gone.’ She held up the straight razor in triumph before putting it down and returning to lathering his face in shaving cream. Her hand was steady with the straight razor, removing the hair from his chin and cheeks easily.

Owen watched her face, eyes concentrated on the way her tongue poked between her lips, and how softly her eye lashes brushed against her cheek when she blinked. He counted every freckle below her intense blue eyes, and traced them across her nose. His breath caught in his throat as he followed an errant curl of her hair to the slope of her jaw. There wasn’t a single thing he didn’t admire about Claire. Every inch of her was irreplaceable gold, honest treasure, divine porcelain. He relaxed his hold on her hips, skating his hands down towards her knees and back again, once, twice, before Claire whispered, her face suddenly too close to his; ‘Did you just realise you love me?’ Her voice was faint, barely there as her eyelids fluttered.

He didn’t respond, not verbally, his mouth crashed down on hers, caught in other thoughts to care about the cream on his face or if she had finished with his hair. The razor popped into the bathroom basin, Claire’s fingers abandoning it to catch his face. Her fingers slid across his cheeks, and out past his ears to grip, like a drowning woman, to the back of his neck. Her  hold was tight, dragging him down against her like he held all the oxygen left in the world.

They had walked on eggshells, tiptoed around beds, caressed skin they thought wasn’t theirs to caress, until that moment. There was no argument of post traumatic stress, and her dependency on him, purely for being through the same thing she had. For now, Claire was trying to be quiet, the only noise drifting from her throat were easy whimpers and desperate moans. Owen peppered kisses down her throat, punctuating each word with a soft admission of love.

There were still so many obstacles on the path, obstructing the good thing he was trying to build. But for now, in this moment, her hands in his hair, his lips on her skin. They had everything they needed.

Chapter Text

Claire was surprised that he hadn’t caught on. They had been through this before. Although, she was told, rather constantly and unprompted, that every pregnancy was different. Even in the early days, there were a lot more similarities than not.

A large portion of her pregnancy with Charlie was spent curled up in bed, asleep. Although that was likely an onset of her postnatal depression rather than the general exhaustion she was fighting now. Fighting was the wrong word. Claire couldn’t attempt to keep her eyes open even if sleeping were to kill her.

Owen found it amusing, Charlie too, catching Claire asleep in the first ten seconds of a film, and drifting off in Charlie’s bed when she tried to read to the girl before lights out. She snoozed at the park, and in the car, Samantha, her assistant had even caught her asleep at work. It was becoming a bad habit, and yet, no one called her on it.

‘That kid is going to send me to an early grave,’ Owen signed, heavy body dropping to the mattress, long day finally over. Claire laughed, halfheartedly agreeing as she unclasped her earrings at the bureau. If she could be certain of one thing, and one thing only, it was how much Owen adored Charlie. They spent the better half of an afternoon that day, sitting in the cooling air, as he and the girl tackled each other in the grass. Tackled. Someone had told her once, when she was pregnant with the girl, that little girls were nothing but sweet interactions and good manners. They had seemingly misjudged Charlie Grady before she had been born, and the girl was hellbent on proving them otherwise.

She was sugar and spice, but not quite everything nice. The grass stains on her new overalls, and up the arms of a white shirt Claire knew better than to put her in, were all proof of how messy that little girl could be. Owen adored it. They both did. Until there was muddy foot prints through the hallway, and glitter on the walls. She got to be a little exhausting most days, pushing every limit and button she could get her hands on. They loved her for toeing the line between cheeky and naughty, for pushing her boundaries and limitations. They just wished, she could do it a little slower.

‘Mommy?’ Charlie’s little voice called out, face suddenly appearing in the doorway. The girl rubbed at her eyes for affect, pretending that she had been asleep for the last hour, like Owen had thought she was. Claire doubted - in fact, she would put money on it - that Charlie had been in bed asleep. She was far more likely up, wide awake, trying to plan whatever was about to come out of her mouth.

Claire turned to her, watching the little redhead in the doorway, wondering how similar Charlie was to herself as a young girl. ‘I thought you were in bed?’

‘Nope. I’m not.’ Charlie shook her head, matter of fact, shoulders shrugging nonchalant. Without permission, she stepped into the room and ran for her father.

From day one Owen was at Charlie’s every beck and all. Claire held the authority in the house, but it was Owen the young girl ran too when she wanted something, or needed something, even things as simple as a hug. She was far more affectionate towards him than she had ever been with Claire. There were cuddles and kisses, and love and affection between the two - just not as often as what Owen received. She hoped, quietly to herself, boy or girl, that this baby loved her as much as Charlie unconditionally, and openly loved Owen.

Her father didn’t hesitate in lifting her up off the floor and settling her into his lap. Charlie cuddled against him immediately. ‘What’s wrong?’ Owen asked the question, coddling her only a little, light kiss pressed to her cheek.

Claire watched her daughter cuddle Owen, face pressed into his chest. Her heart ached for the girl’s early days, barely a year old, cuddled up in Claire’s lap as she finished the last of her progress reports. It was only a matter of months before they would have that again.

‘Can I have a puppy?’ Charlie asked innocently, batting soft eyelashes towards her mother as Claire snapped from her daydream. It was gaining on 9pm and their daughter was wide eyed and bushy tailed, almost on the verge of begging for a puppy.

Claire raised an eyebrow, unclasping the bracelet Owen - in honour of Charlie - bought on her first Mother’s Day. ’Is that what is keeping you up at night?’ The girl nodded meekly, trying to hide the giggle that sat between her teeth.

Owen’s face lit up, ‘Hey, that sounds like a good idea’. Claire shot her husband a look that told him to shut his mouth before he said anything else. She could hear the rest of the argument on his tongue. Charlie was almost five, old enough to learn about responsibility and put it into play. A dog would be perfect. Well, maybe it would, after they trialled her with a fish. She could hear Owen’s argument now, Charlie already helped with the rounds twice weekly at the zoo. If she could do it there, she could do it at home. All in all, if she wasn’t pregnant, Claire might have actually sat down with their daughter and legitimately talked about it. That wasn’t the case.

Claire kissed her daughter on the cheek, and pushed back the already loose strands of hair from her braid. ’I’ll talk to Daddy about it later. But now,’ She lifted Charlie from Owen’s lap, squeezing the girl tightly before setting her on her feet. ‘Bed.’ Charlie pouted, wide bottom lip curling against her chin. ‘Go on, Daddy will tuck you in … again.’ She raced off easily with the news, her giggles too energetic for nine o’clock at night. Owen followed Charlie. His voice drifted down the hall as he tucked her in for the second time, and kissed her goodnight.

Claire filled his vacant spot on the bed, lying on her back, hands on her stomach as she listened to the noises down the hall. Charlie’s giggles finally stopped, Owen’s voice falling quiet before his footsteps resonated against the floorboards.

‘Second time is the charm,’ Owen settled beside her, Claire offering him a gentle correction. Third time is the charm. ‘She’ll stay in bed.’ She hummed, not convinced. Charlie’s freedom, in the form of her big girl bed, usually ended with the girl waking them at inconvenient hours of the night, or simply curling up in their bed. ‘What do you think of the dog idea?’ He asked, pressing a kiss to the crook of her neck.

‘Not now.’

‘Why not?’ He did as she expected, listing off all the reasons why Charlie was ready for a pet. All the reasons why he maybe-really-definitely wanted a dog. Why he thought pecking at her neck would weaken her resolve was weak on his part. Accurate, but slightly weak. She giggled against his touch, pushing at his chest in order to drag herself away. ‘We could surprise her for her birthday. Get a rescue?’ Charlie for one, would kill him if they picked a dog out for her.

Claire shook her head, pecking him on his cheek for the effort. ‘Honey, a dog isn’t a good idea. We have enough going on.’ She wanted to tell him, to let the words fall out but she couldn’t find them, stuck behind her teeth somewhere searching for the right moment. When he pushed a second ‘why not’ Claire managed to find them. ‘I’m pregnant,’ She couldn’t help the devilish grin that dragged across her face as Owen stared at her in shock.

It wasn’t how she wanted to tell him. Even though she hadn’t thought it out. Claire felt as though she was waiting for another admission on how Charlie was put on this earth just to drive him insane. How easily the words would stumble from her mouth then. Telling him to get used to it before the child gained a companion. This moment would have to do instead.

Leaning over her, face inches from hers Owen whispered, ’Really?’ Her soft nod and quiet ‘mm-hm’ welled tears in her husband’s wide eyes. He cupped her face in his hands, gently peppering kisses across her cheeks, her eyelids, her lips. She couldn’t help the bubble of laughter that rumbled through her chest, Owen scattering his love across her face, holding her like she was the most precious thing on the planet.

Claire pulled back lightly when a tear landed on her cheek, her thumbs stroking Owen’s face. ‘You’re crying?’ She whispered, humour still on her tongue as she blinked up at him, wiping away his tears. Of course he was crying, the man laughed, his tears happy.

She should have known from the beginning, as soon as they started calling him mama bear around the park. Owen was very much the parent to his raptors as he was their Alpha. Childrearing was a little different in comparison to Velociraptor intelligence studies, but there were enough similarities. He loved nurturing Charlie, teaching her, guiding her. It practically killed him when she went off to school, Owen insisting on a home school program and falling short when Claire denied it.

The more the merrier, he always teased, pulling at her hips and playfully, lining her neck in kisses. He begged on his knees for a second child. Here lay his hopes and dreams, tucked under neatly her skin.

Claire couldn’t keep her joyous giggles to herself as Owen returned to peppering her face with kisses, punctuating each one with an ‘I love you’. He ended a loving admiration of her body with a peck to her abdomen, sleep shirt rolled up, his ear to her belly. She wound a hand through the locks of his hair, sighing gently as he breathed against her.

They had been here before. In the darkened foyer downstairs five years ago, when she sobbed around her secret for the first time. He pressed kiss after kiss against her stomach until her heart spilled to the floor, her deepest darkest fears let free in the room around them.

‘Are you happy?’ She asked, eyes fluttering closed, sleepy already. Owen hummed, kissing her skin a last time before he climbed back up the bed and kissed her nose.

‘Are you serious? Of course I’m happy! I’m over the moon … hell, I’m on Pluto!’ He bounced the bed slightly, eyes still alight with her revelation.

With her hands on his face, Claire whispered, ‘Come back to me’.

‘I’m here,’ Owen kissed her nose again, ‘I’m here for you, for Charlie, and for this baby.’ The glee was uncontainable, presenting itself in little kisses on her skin once again. ‘We’ll send the two of them to Pluto when they hit their teens though … okay?’

Claire hummed, ‘Oh definitely … especially if it’s another girl’.

Chapter Text

They knew from the beginning that it wasn’t going to go well. But, optimistically, they held onto hope.

Charlie hummed, her response awaited on by baited breath. ‘No thanks,’ She answered easily, batting green eyes at them both. She turned back to her colouring, scribbling delicately across the page, tongue poking out between her teeth while her parents floundered on the other side of the kitchen bench.

Claire recovered first, ‘I beg your pardon’.

As if it had inconvenienced her greatly, Charlie raised her head and stared blankly at her mother. ‘No thanks, I don’t want a baby.’ Her shrug was simple, wishing to move on. ‘I only asked for a puppy.’

They knew this was going to be difficult. Owen silent beside her, hands in his lap. Claire scrubbed a hand over her face. ‘Aren’t you excited?’ Her voice was flat, she’d given up the second Charlie so much as blinked at them after the words were out of her mouth.

Charlie had an inability to share. She was well mannered, polite, and kind on occasion. Nothing was worse than asking Charlie to divide her attention on a toy, a book, the last of her dessert, or her parents. She knew how to do these things. She elected not to do them. News that her life would now be split into two categories: hers and the baby’s, was borderline temper tantrum. She shook her head at her mother’s question, her shoulders shrugging once again.

Claire wondered if they had done too good of a job in raising their daughter to be self sufficient and strong. All it seemed to do was teach her to talk back, and be a little less than emotionally invested on big topics. She was a good girl, Claire knew that, just a little bossy when she wanted to be. There was no way they could possibly come out of this discussion with everyone happy.

Charlie Grady did not want a sibling.

‘You know,’ Owen started after he watched Claire flounder. ‘Uncle Travis and Aunt Lorna are my baby brother and sister. I wasn’t very excited when Nan and Pop told me about them. But once they were home, I couldn’t believe how much I loved them. Its okay if you’re not excited, but very soon there will be a baby living with us.’ It wasn’t entirely true. Owen was the same age as Charlie when his parents told him about Travis. In a similar way, sitting in the kitchen, waiting for dinner. He was over the moon. As a boy he could hardly wait for his brother to be born, and again for his sister. Charlie got her stubbornness from her mother.

The girl sighed, hand on her cheek as she contemplated the colours on her page for a second. ‘I just really want a dog.’

‘I promise you,’ Claire caught her daughter’s eye, speaking with earnest. ‘Having a sibling is going to be a lot more fun than a dog … and a lot less responsibility too. Well, I mean, you won’t have to feed the baby, and take them for walks. But, as their Big Sister Daddy and I need you to watch out for them.’

Charlie shrugged again, ‘A dog still sounds better’. Her mother sighed, long and low, ankles already starting to ache as she tried to ignite some form of excitement in her daughter.

Owen rubbed at Claire’s back, feeling just as defeated, if not a little more humoured than she was. Charlie would come around, eventually … before the baby was born. ‘Okay. Well, we’re going to make dinner, maybe watch that new movie we bought. If you have any questions, or you just want to talk to Daddy and I about the baby, you can Charlie.’ She only nodded, interest slightly piqued at the suggestion of Inside Out which sat, still in its plastic on the coffee table.

They were an open book for her if she needed them. There was nothing she could ask that would surprise Owen and Claire. In fact, they’d already been over the baby topic with her after her best friend Nichole gained a baby brother last year. She was interested in babies then, when they weren’t potentially related to her.

Charlie allowed the kiss her mother deposited on her head, asking what colour she should use next before Claire turned toward the pantry. ‘Just like that?’ Owen whispered behind her.

‘If she doesn’t want to talk about it now, she will come to us later.’ He kissed his wife on the cheek, hand skating over her hip before he turned for the other end of the kitchen. They could only wait for the afternoon that Charlie would curl up beside Claire and feign disinterest in a sibling, while asking softly if she could have a brother. And, under no circumstances, would she be sharing her things.

Chapter Text

Owen Grady didn’t own hats. Despite his better judgement, the man didn’t find them necessary. None, but one. He held an exception for one hat in particular, something he’d had since college, acquired in a dusty haze of common rooms and never ending parties.

She only saw it on bad days. Fabric pulled down over his ears, concealing everything but a few locks of his hair. After the events of Jurassic World it became a semi permanent accessory. With all hope lost they wandered aimlessly in the dark, letting the emptiness seep into their bones and consume them whole.

Things got better. He stopped wearing the hat. She stopped pouting. They lived their lives, until they parted ways.

She hadn’t seen it in a long time. She hadn’t seen him.

They had took to keeping in contact with the likes of Barry and Lowery after the events at the park. Barbecued get togethers became a well relied upon ritual once they all reached San Diego, each of them vowing to not loose contact. Even after Claire had deemed herself and Owen as unable to work, she still arrived every time Barry or Lowery called.

‘Is Owen okay?’ She asked quietly, leaning into the shoulder of Barry’s fiancee. The woman smiled, nodding her head. As far as she knew, Owen was perfectly fine. Claire knew better. He was slumped on Barry’s couch, caught in mild conversation with Lowery, beanie on his head.

He looked lost, forlorn and tired. Like he had waded through the woods just to get here, unable to give full commitment to the fight. The bags under his eyes were heavy and dark, the lines on his face running too deep. Claire hadn’t seen him for several weeks, months since they broke up. He looked horrible and that was just Claire being honest.

Something pulled in her chest at the sight of Owen far more worse for wear than she had ever seen him. Owen was bright, vivacious, and undeniably playful. He was practically borderline mischievous. Alive with the spark in his eye, and humour pulling at his lips. It was strange seeing him as anything less, wrong and off putting. Claire couldn’t stand it, uneasy feeling in her gut.

Claire took a seat beside him, the only space available in the small living room. Owen practically flinched when she did, pulling himself a little closer to the arm of the couch.

‘Are you all right?’ She asked meekly, her fingers gently gracing his arm. The others were caught in their own conversation, too busy to notice that Owen and Claire had checked out, nervous tension building between them. Owen shrugged, listening to her sigh his name. ‘You can talk to me.’ She tapped his beanie, non verbally electing to tell him that she knew what it meant.

‘I miss you,’ He mumbled, unable to look at her as Claire sighed herself.

‘We don’t work, Owen.’ Hands pressed between her knees Claire could feel her own posture slumping. Her own fowl mood descended to greet her, making the woman feel how Owen looked. ‘Survival only lasted so long.’ To the point that they were ready to suffocate each other for some semblance of a sane mind.

He looked ridiculous in sweat pants, and a thankfully clean t-shirt, beanie slouched on his head. Claire had seen it all before, and no matter how crazy he looked, how sad and remotely desperate she just wanted to kiss his cheek and drop her head to his shoulder. He was adorable in that dumb hat, select curls of his messy blond hair sprouting from underneath it.

‘We don’t have to get back together. I miss having you around. Lunch is all I’m asking.’ It hurt her to see him so upset. The ache in her chest unbearable at the sight of his sad green eyes. Saying yes wouldn’t hurt anyone. She still loved Owen, they just didn’t work in small spaces for long periods of time. If she could keep telling herself that, things would be all right.

She nodded once, twice, small smile fluttering across her lips. ‘Okay.’

Chapter Text

He couldn’t help but draw a relation as Owen sat in the church pews sombrely watching his cousin get married. They had been so close. He and Claire. He just never had the chance to give her a ring. He had one, tucked away in the back of his nightstand drawer, unfortunately never forgotten.

Something had spooked Claire. It chased her far away while his back was turned. He missed the whole thing, unable to stop it, unable to call her back.

He couldn’t help the daydream as he watched the soon to be newlyweds say their vows. Claire had always been beautiful in white. Her dress would be classic, tulle and lace flowing in rivers down to the floor. It didn’t take much for Claire Dearing to take his breath away. She was beautiful beyond a doubt and the soul reason why he’d developed a respiratory problem whenever he was around her. He watched the look on his cousins face, the way his breath seemed to catch, front teeth sinking into his bottom lip all at the sight of his soon to be wife. Owen could relate.

He didn’t see himself as a mussy sort of man, overly fond of romantic gestures and being in touch with his feelings. That wasn’t how his father raised him. Undeniably, that personality rested under tough Navy bred skin.

Owen closed his eyes. He breathed in the smell of the old church, fresh flowers and newly burning candles, pretending only for a split second that he was somewhere else. Owen could see her, without a doubt, Claire Dearing unable to hold back her smile tears shimmering in the corners of her eyes. She would have had Zach on one side, Gray on the other, her nephews the only men she’d ever want to have give her away. He would have been a mess. He could already feel his throat tighten, his heartbeat stop at the thought of a fictional version of Claire. Something he so badly wanted to be real.

She would have been magnificent. She still was.

He could barely make it through the rest of the ceremony, daydreaming that it was him up there, Claire beside him, trying to hold back her giggles. He liked to think that she would be giggling, her joy unrelenting. His chest ached.

The reception passed in a blur of familiar faces, each one patting him on the back and kissing his cheeks. A few stopped to comment that he should break away from the bar, meet some of Laura’s friends. Owen shrugged each and every one of them off, holding his mother down with a pitiful look. They left him be, allowed the sorrows to be drowned as the bridal waltz began.

Something snapped inside of him, breaking in his hollow chest, when his grandmother asked into Claire. News hadn’t reached the elderly woman that they had parted ways. She looked as bereaved as he felt when she sighed, tutting something about how much she had liked ‘the young lass’. Owen could only agree, downing the rest of his drink with a mournful ‘me too’.

*

Owen couldn’t put his finger on how he got there, standing in the winter chill as he knocked on Claire’s door. He swayed a little as he waited, arms tucked into his coat, trying in some feeble attempt to keep warm. He was shivering, teeth close to chattering, on the edge of turning away, or freezing to death on her doorstep when he heard the lock unlatch.

‘Owen?’ Claire’s voice was quiet, her face half crumpled in sleep, half annoyed at what he assumed was the late hour. ‘What do you want?’ She asked, grumbling at him softly, one hand pushing through her loose hair. He fixated on that for a moment, noting how long the red strands had grown since he last saw her, since he last heard her say she was trying to grow it out again. ‘Owen?’ She repeated his name.

He suddenly felt sober, and insane. ‘Wh-what time is it?’ He asked, scrubbing a hand over his face.

Claire crossed her arms over her chest. She didn’t look pleased. It was two in the morning, ‘Where have you been?’ She gave him the once over, taking in the sight of him in formalwear. Owen fixed his posture, straightening slightly, his shoulders a little hunched.

‘I wanted to marry you,’ The words came out, out of his control, out of his mind to hit her in the face. Claire recoiled, flinching in the doorway, her hand on the jamb. She watched him sway and shiver wondering quietly where it all managed to go wrong.

‘You’re drunk, Owen, go home.’ She crossed her arms over her chest, giving the man a pointed stare in a hope that he would turn his back and walk away. She didn’t want to talk to him about what could have been not while the ache in her chest was still raw.

He asked to come in on a whimper. Claire ushered him in, unable to turn the man away despite her better judgement. He was as hurt as a wounded and abandoned puppy, eyes wide as he stepped past her, caught in disbelief. She left him to settle himself in a living room they used to share. That alone was enough to stir the guilt in her gut, the trepidation that allowed him space on her couch. Claire returned, glass of water in her hand, spare linen tucked under her arm.

‘You’re staying the night,’ She told him, no room for argument. Claire half wondered if he had the strength to sneak into her - their - room after she went back to bed. Some small part of her wanted him to. To remind her she hadn’t frosted over completely, that she made a rash decision in kicking him out.

Owen downed the glass of water easily, holding it between his knees as he watched her face intensely. ‘I miss you’. Claire felt her heart clench. ‘I miss you so goddamn much.’ He was desperate, soul bared, heart in his hands.

This wasn’t easy for either of them. She should have thrown him out, kicked him to the curb to work off his hangover in her front yard. Waking with Owen in her home once again, regardless of if he was on the couch was too much. ‘Goodnight, Owen’. Claire whispered, one hand on his cheek, rubbing a small circle against his scratchy stubble as she kissed his cheek.

‘Please,’ He sighed, hands on her hips, holding her in position for a second longer. The plea was unclear, the word breathless on his lips, trying to fill an empty space, and mend their broken hearts. ‘What went wrong?’ Owen asked when she stepped away, eyes glistening with tears.

She made it to the archway between the living room and the hallway, heavy sigh pulling at her shoulders, whisper on her tongue. ‘I don’t know.’ We just didn’t work. Owen didn’t say anything. He watched her go, disappearing into the dark of the house.

Owen made sure he was gone in the morning before she woke up.

Chapter Text

The weather was hot, humid, sticky with an everlasting summer. She could feel the freckles sprouting on her skin under the Costa Rican sun. Her hair, sticking to the back of her neck, dripping trails of sweat down the curves of her spine.

Claire Dearing was starting to feel claustrophobic, trapped in close proximity to Isla Nublar, unable to leave. Masrani Global and InGen wanted their employees to stay put. A headache started to throb behind her eyes. She wasn’t sleeping. Masrani pulled her in and out of meetings, interviews, phone conferences. Everyone wanted to know what happened and how. Everyone wanted a piece of Claire Dearing, the woman who single handedly ran from a T-Rex in high heels.

She didn’t sleep, even in the little time she had. Blinking alone saw her with horrific flashes of sharp teeth and even sharper talons. Instead, Claire ran, toes digging into the sand, salt sticking to her skin. She created her own momentum, no fear for the T-Rex on her heels, flare burning in her hand. She ran until her heart pounded dangerously, until her lungs burned far beyond her limits. 

Claire forced herself to trek back to her quaint room, hopeful for the ice cold of her air conditioning. Someone had made themselves comfortable on one of the beaches hammocks, towel and bag below him, shaded by the leaves of the two trees that held his hammock up. He swung, one foot pushing off from the stand every so often.

Claire recognised him almost immediately, the board shorts strikingly familiar on tone, tan, legs. She approached him without hesitation, confident in who he was, old crime thriller in his lap.

He was forced to look up when she cast a shadow over his page. ‘Claire?’ she didn’t speak, suspicions confirmed, only climbed onto the hammock, her body fitting to his. The hammock swayed, unsettled at the extra weight, not completely put off.

Suddenly, she was exhausted, the days wearing down on her, the dinosaurs fending off for a moment by the man who accompanied her through the jungle in search of her nephews. ’You still smell like gasoline.’ She mumbled, her voice muffled against the fabric of his shirt.

Owen Grady stared at the red head against his chest, her hand over his heart, her legs slotted between his.

He had scrubbed his skin raw in the shower trying to get rid of the smell, the slick feeling off his skin. It was up his nose, against his fingers, the feeling, the smell, it wouldn’t go away. The sound of the Indominus roared in his ears, the ground still shaking beneath him. It wasn’t going away. ’Sorry,’ he mumbled back, stunned at the woman laying across him. His arms were in the air, book held between three fingers, unsure if he was allowed to touch her or not.

Claire hummed, a low sound in the back of her throat that vibrated against his ribs. She nuzzled her nose into his chest softly, ‘hm, no,’ she sighed, her chest pressing against his. ‘It’s alright.’ Her hips wiggled, shifting for an excruciating second before she settled, snuggled a little closer, her head a little more the the left, allowing him to see her face. She had closed her blue eyes, eye lashes kissing her freckled cheeks.

Owen held his breath. Since getting back from Isla Nublar, they barely spoke, the both of them whisked away in completely different directions. He wanted to seek her out, he just didn’t know where he stood, where they stood after the island. It had taken him two months to ask her out the first time, near death experiences weren’t an experiment in dating finesse nor an abundance in confidence once the adrenaline wore off. 

They had, however, survived a highly unlikely - harder to survive - situation. He could work up the courage, just this once, for a do over. He had it, right there, sitting on his lips, the words on his tongue.

She was asleep, when he turned to her, her breathing even, her face relaxed. A small hand  held a fistful of his shirt, gently, between her fingers. Owen sighed, her head moving with his chest, unflinching.

He lowered his arms, one settling over her hip, while the other propped his book against her ribs. She was make-up free, sleeping against his chest, the bags under her eyes heavy and grey. Owen would let her sleep as undisturbed as he could possibly make it. His question could wait.

With one foot over hanging the hammock, Owen used it to set them in motion, gently swaying in the warm air, rocking in tandem with the ocean’s crashing waves. His hand rubbing soothing circles against her hip.

The juxtaposition between then and now, Isla Nublar and Costa Rica, Mr Grady and Senior Assets Manager, Claire Dearing had shifted. Then still existed, it created it’s impact on their lives, but now there was a new course, one away from the island, new jobs and new prospects. He had witnessed Claire change between speaking to her the morning of the incident and promising survival the morning after. She would not go back to that island, to Masrani’s prospects, especially since Simon’s death. Whatever she chose, whatever path delivered her from Costa Rica, Owen only hoped he had a part in it.   

He settled for rocking her, listening to her soft breathing as he turns the pages of the book. Only waking her when her pale skin starts to pink under the sun, threatening burns if he kept her out there any longer.

Chapter Text

She hesitated when Gray asked the question, Karen and Zach watching her face to judge her response. ‘Ah, yeah, sure.’ Claire answered easily, smiling into her webcam as she panicked internally. Apparently she had forgotten to share the state of her relationship with Owen Grady with the rest of her family.

Last they heard Owen was crashing on her couch. Which, he was, until several months ago. There was no relationship between the two. He kissed her on Isla Nublar, he suggested survival. After the media storm slowed down, after Masrani Global’s legal battle evened out. The fire between them faltered. With no hullabaloo surrounding them, amping up the air they breathed, Owen and Claire fell flat.

As soon as they were relinquished from a semi house arrest in Costa Rica, they parted ways. She evidently forgot to share that with her sister and nephews. Gray had excitedly asked after Owen, curious to know if the man would attend his 13th birthday party. She agreed without second thought. It would be easier to call Owen, than explain, over Skype, that her family was misinformed.

Instead, she swallowed a lie. Easily telling Gray that she would check Owen’s availability, as well as their ability to get to Madison for his birthday. The glee on his face was enough to guilt Claire even further. She couldn’t lie when she arrived, tell the boy that Owen was busy when she hadn’t even bothered to reach out and contact him. So, she did.

Tracking down Owen was significantly easier than Claire had thought. It helped that his number in her phone was still his and that he was eager to accept an invitation to lunch. Added bonus, he had migrated to San Diego just as Claire had.

She had to remind herself that it was just lunch, as her hands fidgeted. It was just lunch with Owen, in a cafe around the corner from her office. They’d managed to do this before, early morning, after jog breakfast, while he slept on her couch. Their couch. The Costa Rican apartment was split between the two of them. He claimed it as easy living, and comfort … for the nightmares.

Claire half felt his presence before he noticed him waltzing towards her, large grin on his face. He looked like a puppy, or an excited school boy, she couldn’t pick which she preferred as she stood to great him. Owen wrapped large arms around her waist, squeezing her tightly, her feet almost lifting off the ground. She squeaked a little, until he kissed her on the cheek and set her down.

Owen talked. Something she never really noticed about him. He usually kept to himself on the island, unless he was bothering her, or training the Raptors. Living together in the aftermath of a traumatic event caught them in a state of silence. They shared take-out on his makeshift bed before parting ways for the night, both of them wishing that the other was brave enough to make the first move. It had been a little over six month since they relocated back to American soil, restarted their lives. He had a lot to talk about in order to fill a six month gap, and also not a lot.

He told her how beautiful she looked on a sigh, a little more than five times in twenty minutes, thanking the waiter for his food as he abandoned it to study her. ‘So, what changed? What made you call me out of the blue?’ She could suddenly feel every freckle on her face, every imperfection, every extra inch her hair had grown as he watched her with intense green eyes.

Claire blushed, ‘Well, it’s kind of a funny story. In short: it’s Gray’s birthday next week’. Owen grinned, another ear splitting, teeth flashing grin. Something in her gut quivered. ‘The boys and, ah, Karen - well, they seem to think that we’re still together - living … together.’

Owen couldn’t help the chuckle, as he watched her pick at the fries on her plate. ‘Claire, that was six months ago.’

She shrugged, mumbling some half formulated excuse about it never coming up, and completely slipping her mind. ‘You should have seen Gray’s face, Owen, he is so excited to see you again.’

‘Sure,’ He told her as he selflessly stole a fry from her plate. Claire blinked. ‘I’ll come to Gray’s party.’

‘It’s in Madison.’ She told him bluntly, caught between hope and dread, as she begged the travel to be the end of the line for Owen.

Owen shrugged again, ‘Why not? I have some leave. Maybe we can make a weekend out of it?’

She blinked at him again, half stunned, and a little in wonder that he agreed before she had the chance to ask. ‘I, ah - really, you’ll come?’ Owen nodded around a mouth full of food. He liked her nephews, they were good kids, and nothing quite settled a bond more than escaping from the clutches of a dinosaur together. Even though they had parted ways, Owen still worried about her. Claire’s nephews too. Just because they made it out alive didn’t mean they made it out in one piece. Owen wanted to see, with his own eyes, how they were all doing.

She watched him while he ate. Which, Claire realised was odd. She didn’t have time earlier, not when he was scrutinising her so closely, catching every detail twice. He looked good, his South American tan had faded, adjusting slightly to a softer climate. He was still lean and strong, heavy indicators in an active job and gym life. Claire was glad for that, worried that with the closure of Jurassic World Owen would struggle to find work that met his needs. He’d grown accustom to working as he pleased under the warm sun, actively, training his Velociraptors to a strict plan. That sort of work didn’t exist in the every day in San Diego.

His eyes still crinkled when he smiled, slight dimple appearing in his cheek. He still seemed to wow her in size. Owen had always been a God, a somewhat desirable specimen in the light of Adonis. He never failed to remind her, just on sight, that no one would live up to him. Someone had to, Claire had once admonished, Owen never made his move.

How she wished he’d just made the slightest suggestion. Masrani Global and InGen drowned them in legal paperwork and appeals, throwing them in front of panels and board members. By the time they slumped back to their tiny shared apartment, they were exhausted. There was energy to revisit their hasty kiss in the middle of Main Street, no time to explore it, lengthen it, and redefine it.

Once the legalities settled, their worlds a small semblance of normal, Owen became too polite, and Claire worried that it would never work. She adored Owen. For everything he did. For what she had discovered in him concerning human nature. She was willing and able to explore everything he had to offer, but she needed him to make the first move.

Instead, he moved out.

Claire heard something in her chest snap that day as she smiled wilfully and watched him drive away. There was no use making him stay, not if he didn’t want to be there, not after things were starting to grow uncomfortable between them. ‘I really wish you would have kissed me after the incident.’ Claire accidentally whispered, caught in her own thoughts.

Owen’s grin was small, slyly crawling across his face as it grew, eyebrows knitted in slight confusion. He chuckled a little at her easy blush, biting back the retort on his lips at the sight of her embarrassment. He flashed her an all-knowing wink, unable to contain his humour.

He leant forward, food forgotten, elbows on the table. ‘Would you like to go to dinner with me?’ Owen asked, his tone caught in interest. ‘You know, before Gray’s birthday … we could reunite.’ Claire held her breath, knowing there was more. ‘I could maybe kiss you goodnight?’

He caught a flash in her eye, something shimmering as Claire bit down on her bottom lip. ‘How about tonight?’

Chapter Text

 

They didn’t always have good days. Sometimes he drove her insane to the point where Claire wondered if she’d made the right decision. Days were she thought survival wasn’t as important as he made it out to be, not with him at least. Then there were days, marvellous little things, full of colour and bright laughter. Mornings and nights, as well as brief afternoons where he would kiss her so deep she forgot how to breathe. Mornings where he would smile in fresh daylight, so intoxicating she wanted to freeze time right there. Nights where he would fall asleep, head in her lap, or hers on his shoulder the both of them warm, content, happy. 

And then there were afternoons where he surprised her completely. She returned from work, a little world weary as Claire kicked off her shoes and headed for the bedroom, skirt zipper already released. A box sat on the bed, only a few inches thick and wrapped in a red ribbon.

She pulled at the ribbon curiously smile tugging at her lips as the ribbon fell away. Claire lifted the lid, revealing a small note sat atop black tissue paper.

Honey,
I’ll see you at Mister A’s. 7:30pm.

Owen.

The note was simple, scrolled out in his handwriting. Claire gelt the grin bite at her cheeks, warmth filling her chest. Owen always managed to surprise her with romantic tendencies, sweeping Claire off her feet when she least expected it.

Claire peeled back the tissue paper, marvelling at the deep maroon off shoulder bodice that sat before her. She pulled the dress out gently, completely in awe of the a-line cut. It was almost cocktail in it’s length, likely to sit just against her knees. Claire grinned, biting her cheek, overcome with her admiration for Owen. He was going above and beyond tonight, unprompted, for her.

She had stared after this restaurant since they relocated to San Diego. It had been, in the beginning, a little too upmarket for Owen’s taste. He promised her, one day, one night, he’d take her for dinner, where they could sit on the balcony and take in panoramic views of their city.

It felt like she was the romantic lead in a movie, heels clacking against the sidewalk as she looked for Owen on the street, dressed to the nines. His voice called out to her from behind, making Claire stop and turn. Her dress flew around her knees, bobbing softly as she caught sight of him.

For once, Owen was dressed appropriately for a formal occasion, in clothes she didn’t know he owned. He had gone above and beyond, just for her, in a relaxed tux. ’You look beautiful,’ He sighed, breath caught in his throat once he approached her. Claire grinned, twirling in her dress like the young girl she could feel pounding in her chest. He wrapped an arm around her waist, walking with her towards the restaurant as he kissed her cheek.

‘What’s all the fuss for? Buying me a dress? Mister A’s?’ She asked, leaning into him as Owen held the door open for her.

His smile was blissful, a little funny as he watched her curious face. ‘Did you forget?’ His glee was so large it had left the planet. Claire’s brows crinkles as a waiter led them to their table. He could see the cogs turning in her head, trying to remember any significant date in their sixteen months since the incident.

Owen watched her, watch the views, the expanse of Balboa park reaching out before them, the city rising and falling in waves. Owen kissed her cheek, following Claire to their table only a few steps away, and held out her chair. ‘Happy Birthday,’ He whispered, second kiss dropped to her cheek as she sat, Owen tucking her chair in for her.

Claire stared at him in disbelief, unable to accept that she had forgotten her birthday. Owen only chuckled, flashing the date at her on his phone, before she settled into a mildly confused sigh.

Claire was convinced that he could get down on one knee that night and propose to her. She wouldn’t object, wouldn’t whisper that they weren’t ready. Instead, she would slip to her knees and kiss his face, mumbling a yes.

Owen had lulled her in a perfect dream. Treating her to the glamours life as the sun set against the city around them. When they finished their meal, he paid without a word, her arm tucked around his, as he led her towards Balboa Park.

‘I can’t believe I forgot,’ Claire hummed, leaning against Owen’s arm as they walked under the park lights. It was partially a lie. Claire had been so busy of course she forgot. She barely managed to remember to eat during the day, let alone that her birthday was coming up. ‘Thank you for remembering,’ Owen leant down instinctively to greet her thanks with a kiss. Claire could only imagine the low belly dread that would have come in a few days if both had forgotten. Owen would have felt terrible. But, he was amazing in the way that he never forgot those small, important details.

They must have looked so glamours, kissing in the park, Claire in her maroon dress, Owen in his tux. He had dipped her a little, under the lamp light, kissing her deeper for the moment more than anything else.

‘Take me home,’ She whispered into the night, one finale kiss pressed to his lips. They walked through the park, admiring the gentle quiet as Owen led them back to his car in the zoo employee lot. Owen did as he asked; he took her home.

As he watched Claire climb the stairs, giggle slipping from her lips as her dress bounced with every step. Owen thanked his lucky stars for her. Thanked everything under the sun that he was the one to take her home, that he had her birthday to remember, and her smile to greet him.

‘Are you coming?’ Claire called down to him, her form no longer in the stairwell, her giggle still present. Owen didn’t hesitate, he moved for the stairs, seeking out the colour of her dress. He could stand there and worship her in thought, or in body. Owen much preferred the latter.

Chapter Text

 

He had run himself ragged on pure determination. Owen couldn’t stand by when someone else sent his girlfriend flowers for Valentine’s Day. He hadn’t done anything, nothing was organised, no gifts were wrapped in unnecessarily themed paper, and pink bows. Claire had very clearly stated in early January she didn’t want to do anything for Valentine’s Day. Owen, without fight, complied.

He thought his job was done. He thought all the day would entail was phone ordered pizza, and going to bed early. It was enough for the two of them. Neither needed over the top demonstrations of love, or plush animals holding love hearts. At the most, he splurged on heart shaped chocolates, but that was only because he shopped while hungry.

Owen had laid a gentle assault against her cheeks that morning, playfully pecking her face with kisses as she roused. She whispered a quiet ‘I love you’ before slipping back into his embrace. Their morning routine went undisrupted, the two of them leaving for work separately, blissful smiles on their faces.

It felt like a freight train crashed right into his ear when Claire called around eleven, whispering a loving ‘thank you’ into the receiver, slight giggle on her lips. He was derailed by her childlike joy, as he always was when Claire Dearing managed a giggle, before he was overcome with confusion.

For what?’ He had asked on a laugh, dirty hand scratching at the back of his neck. She was bashful in his ear, clearly leaning back in her chair, admiring something he had supposedly done. Something that, by the sounds of it, had made her incredibly happy.

Flowers. Someone had delivered flowers to her office. Beautiful flowers, and ‘Oh, Owen you shouldn’t have’. He didn’t. Owen thought for a minute that he might have forgotten, planned ahead so it wouldn’t skip his mind. He would have remembered ordering flowers and he certainly would not have signed it with ‘your secret admirer’. Owen felt his blood bubble. If it wasn’t him, it was someone else and he knew exactly how he felt about that.

He lied on the phone, through mild panic, humming something about how glad he was that she liked the flowers. Claire was none the wiser which Owen assumed was a good thing, at least whomever was trying to get to her, wasn’t succeeding.

Owen Grady wasn’t one for being outdone. That particularly competitive trait came from being an Alpha, and the oldest of three children, and maybe the military if he really wanted to point fingers. Either or, his plans for pizza and lazy lovemaking was suddenly out of the picture. Some slime-ball in her office - Owen at least hoped he was from her office, and not their local Starbucks - had one upped him, on Valentine’s Day. It was only eleven.

He vibrated on the spot for a moment, adrenaline jumping through his veins as he panicked, unsure as to what move should be his first. He couldn’t send her flowers, not now, not after she thought the ones in her possession were already from him.

Owen called Claire’s assistant on a whim. ‘The flowers weren’t from you, were they?’ Mae had answered immediately, aware that her boss had just been on the phone with Owen. He caved, making a disgruntled noise before asking after the flowers. ‘They’re beautiful. Claire’s smitten, but you could have done better.’ Owen knew he liked Mae for a reason. The young woman took his side on occasion. ‘I’m not helping you plan a last minute Valentine’s date,’ She told him with a laugh, letting Owen down the second he built his hopes up.

Mae had parted with sarcastic words of luck. Owen was quintessentially doomed. Nowhere had tables free, and if he wanted flowers, well he could have the slim pickings - if he was in the mood to fight someone else for them. Florists and maître d’’s laughed in his ear as Owen felt his blood pressure sky rocket and his short list of ideas come to an end.

He left work early, barely an explanation handed down to the staffers he passed as Owen rushed for his car, some semblance of a plan forming in his mind. He focused on Claire. Zeroing in on the little things she loved, the things that blew him out of the water when he first discovered them. She loved their little back garden, and faerie lights in the winter. She loved his cooking, even when she said it didn’t meet the requirements of her latest diet - and his sticky deserts were always gone before he could so much as call them leftovers. She loved how being with him was as easy as breathing, even on the days when it wasn’t.

Owen shopped on a scattered brain, scouring shelves and produce markets for salmon and chutney, for green beans and potatoes, for extra faerie lights and leftover flowers. Owen gathered his pickings and returned home, eye on the clock as time ticked on. He nearly killed himself on more than one occasion as he tired to hang lights in the trees, on an unsteady ladder. He borrowed Claire’s candles from the bathroom, setting them up in the grass with a hope they wouldn’t set the lawn alight. He dragged the garden table to the centre of their small space, a chair on either side.

He was exhausted, sweat worked up along his brow, breathing uneven with the exertion. Arms crossed over his chest, Owen admired his handiwork before changing his focus on tasks.

He had showered and changed into something a little more formal by the time Claire stepped through the door, her heels announcing her entrance as he finalised the food on their plates. ‘Owen,’ Claire’s voice reached for him curiously, her bag clunked against a barstool as she sat it down, a second item rustling as she placed it on the bench. Her flowers, alive with pink, red and white. ‘What have you been up to?’ She asked, eyeing him with humoured suspicion.

She could smell the food the second she stepped foot inside their home, knowing already that Owen was up to something a little more spectacular than regular dinner. He kissed her cheek delicately as he passed, a hand each holding onto their plates as he led Claire out into the yard. 

Her breathless ‘oh’ was all Owen wanted. Every ounce of adrenaline made up for this moment. Setting their dinner down, he turned to her with a large smile, chest puffed in pride. ‘I know you said you didn’t want to do anything, but, I had to do something.’ He half lied. Sure, the day had started out with no real intention, but as he realised someone else thought enough of her to buy flowers, Owen knew he had to do something. She mightn’t have wanted anything lavish or spectacular, but he could still cook dinner and create a romantic setting.

‘You didn’t have to do all this,’ She sighed, caught on whimsy, head titled back to admire the faerie lights above her head.

Owen shrugged, hum reverberating in his chest as he watched her, soaking in every detail he could in the setting sun. ‘Sure I did.’ He entwined his fingers with hers, staring up at his handiwork beside her. ‘I don’t need Valentine’s Day to prove to you how much I care about you, or to show you how much you mean to me. Because, I love you and I’d like to think I show it enough.’ Claire squeezed his hand, taking her eyes away from their pergola full of lights and the lit trees to kiss him on the cheek. ‘But, you deserve to feel special, especially when everyone else is being treated that way. I’d hate to think that one day you found someone who wanted to treat you like a queen on Valentine’s Day, as well. It would kill me. You’re it for me. Everything I need. You’re the only secret admirer, and lovelorn valentine I could ever ask for. I hope I’m the same for you.’

Her gentle kiss on his lips, the slip of her arms around his neck and her warm familiar body pressed to his was all the affirmation Owen needed. The flowers sitting on their kitchen bench were long forgotten, Claire still blissfully unaware of their sender. He would tell her about that in the morning, after he had loved her five ways into oblivion, etching himself into her bones for the rest of eternity.

Chapter Text

 

Claire didn’t suspect a thing. She didn’t even recognise the symbolism for a momentary second. It had completely slipped her mind, that it was February 14th - Valentine’s Day. Which explained the small bag of heart shaped chocolates and envelope sitting in her desk drawer. Claire frowned at it, almost as though her displeasure would make it disappear. The chocolates remained, however, and the small envelope called to her as the curious voice in her head.

She barely had a second to pull the items out of her desk, before Zara was knocking on her door, allowing a courier to step into her office. Claire only stared at the man, bouquet of flowers in his hand. The collection was alive with yellow and green, spattering of white and pink catching her eye as Claire let confusion was over her.

The courier was useless in regards to information. He placed the flowers on her desk and promised, ‘I’m just the courier, Ma’am, I only deliver the flowers’ when she asked who they were from. He left without explanation, leaving Claire to brush gentle fingers over yellow petals, their tips dipped in red.

‘Look’s like you’ve got an admirer,’ Zara mused, tapping the card pinned to a bunch of eucalyptus leaves. Claire rolled her eyes, ‘Well, it is the season’. Claire’s assistant shrugged, leaving her boss to piece together the clues.

The note on her flowers simply read, ‘Be my Valentine’ in handwriting Claire Dearing did not recognise. She couldn’t help the slight skip of her heart or the warmth on her cheeks. She should have pushed the flowers aside, ignored them and the admirer they were from on the pretence that she didn’t need a valentine, let alone an unknown one. She admired the flowers one last time, before moving them away from her desk.

Claire ignored every hint of her admirer until lunch when Zara stood impatiently in the doorway. ‘You have another delivery,’ The woman announced, hands behind her back. Claire pushed away from her desk, eyeing her assistant suspiciously as Zara stepped forward.

As far as her sudden secret admirer went, Claire didn’t know what to expect, and thus her finger was nowhere near the pulse of a possible suitor. When Zara pulled a plush Velociraptor out from behind her back, a rose sewn across its claws Claire knew instantly. Owen. ’Now, before you get mad - he’s trying so hard,’ Zara cut in before the flare in Claire’s eyes could vocalise itself.

‘You knew about this?’ She blinked at her assistant as Zara handed over the plush dinosaur.

Zara shrugged, ‘Well, obviously someone had to tel him in here. There are chocolates and notes hidden just about everywhere. It’s kind of cute really. He really, really, likes you.’ Claire rolled her eyes as Zara grinned, commenting on how endearing it was to watch him bounce around Claire’s office, hiding things in drawers and cupboards. ‘There’s a note in your drawer about meeting him for dinner - but, if he calls me one more time to ask if you liked the flowers, I might scream. You should go see him.’

She preened the edges of her hair, fingers brushing the sharp ends self-consciously. ‘Why would I do that?’

Zara grinned, arms crossed over her chest, ‘For the same reason that you secretly love all of this. You like him too.’

Claire shook her head, ‘No, no way. Our date went horribly.’

‘Give him another chance, he’s asking, practically begging. But, he wants it to be your choice, Claire. Just,’ Zara shrugged, ‘I don’t know, surprise him’. Against her better judgement Claire listened to her assistant’s words.

Their first date was a tragic mess between push and pull, personalities clashing in every way possible. Despite how disappointing the whole thing was, Claire still felt a pull towards Owen Grady. Which was why she found herself stepping across loose gravel, squinting at the expanse of the Velociraptor paddock, trying to spot Owen amongst his staff. 

‘Claire?’ His voice found her before she spotted him, slightly befuddled. ‘Hey, ah, what are you - why are you here?’ He stumbled around his words, hand on the back of his neck. Blinking up at him, the sun in her eyes, Claire couldn’t help the overconfident smirk that formed across her lips. When Owen stepped in front of her, blocking the sun, Claire faltered, something in her chest jumping.

‘I just wanted to tell my secret admirer that my assistant can’t keep a secret.’ He froze for a second, panic stretched across his warm features before he broke out into a laugh. ‘Cat’s outta the bag,’ Claire told him softly, chuckling alongside him.

‘You know, ah, this wasn’t apart of me wooing you - you’re supposed to stay at HQ’.

Claire nodded, ‘I know. I just wanted to tell you to stop worrying, and stop bugging Zara with your worry. I’ll be there tonight.’ He gaped at her, mouth open, eye blinking as he whispered a quiet ‘really?’ She nodded softly, slight hum slipping from her mouth. Claire bit her lip, head turning to check who was around them. Pressed up on her toes, Claire dropped a kiss to his cheek, uttering an acceptance as his valentine before turning and walking away.

When he saw her next she was dressed in black, hair pulled up elegantly, smile tickling her lips as she caught sight of him, ferry side, dressed in a suit. She was thankful in that moment that he decided to woo her again, that something in his chest, in his head ticked towards the importance of this night. He looked wonderful, exactly as she had hoped for their first date.

He extended a rose, kissing her cheek in greeting. Owen sighed on her beauty, taking her hand easily as he led her toward the ferry. He was taking her off island, reservations made a fair distance away from their first nightmare of a date. He was persistent that things would go well. Claire couldn’t help but agree, already knowing they were off to a far better start, his hand warm in hers, engulfing her slight fingers as he squeezed them in reassurance.

‘Ready?’ He asked, looking over his shoulder Claire a step behind as they climbed the ferry’s stairs. She nodded easily, making a quip about him being her secret admirer and diving right in. There was no worry on Claire’s behalf. Where she would usually require, if not demand, and itinerary to ensure they made it back in time for the last ferry, she felt relaxed in his presence now. She was ready to dive right in. He took a risk, sending her gifts for Valentine’s Day. Claire could risk a night out without a strict set of plans.

Claire could give him one night to rectify himself. An entire evening to prove quietly that they would work together, or they went their seperate ways amicably. And if not, if he managed to show her what she already knew to be true, then Claire would willingly let him take her home where she could pull him by the lapels into her apartment.

Chapter Text

Her daughters were indestructible, unless they were taken down by a common stomach flu. Which was how Claire found herself curled up in her bed, daughter on each side. Owen gloated on those occasions, bursting at the seams at the wonderment that came with small children to cuddle. Claire only rolled her eyes, it was always a ploy in plea for another baby.

There was something in sniffles and tummy aches, in ‘Mommy I feel funny’ and ‘Can you read to me?’  that helped Claire easy into a sick day off with her drowsy daughters. She loved them for their bright and sometimes loud personalities. Charlie’s outgoing nature, and Elliot’s love to dance on and around everything. Although she wanted nothing more to encourage and nurture who they were. Claire secretly loved them the most whilst they were quiet. It was the days where she could read them the adventures of Jo, Bessie, Fanny and the Faraway Tree, that Claire treasured most.

Elliot lay with her head on her mother’s chest, thumb in her mouth, eyes undoubtedly closed. The toddler was running hot, spiking Claire’s temperature alongside her. She read quietly, stroking back Elliot’s blonde curls. ‘Even if Mr Whiskers said “It’s so very dangerous!” I would still climb up the Faraway Tree.’ Charlie interrupted quietly, commenting on the content of the book her mother was reading. The girl had heard the story a countless amount of times across her small expanse of youth. The book, one of Claire’s favourites, was a go-to read and a small comfort when her children were running fevers and belly aches.

Claire hummed, turning her attentions to Charlie, hand switching from blonde curls to red. It was so very Charlie to defy authority, even if it involved magic trees and brownies. No matter the danger, that little girl would do anything if given the chance.

‘’Cause it could be the day where the world at the top doesn’t get sick. And there would be no yucky tummies or scratchy coughs. That would be a nice world - not dangerous at all. I would stay forever.’ The girl was miserable, head buried against Claire’s shoulder, her little hand holding a fistful of her mother’s shirt.

Charlie disliked school as much as the next seven-year-old. Days off were like heaven delivered in sleep ins, watching TV and getting to run a muck in the yard; when she was well enough to do so. On most occasions, where she pulled a fake illness, she was carted to the zoo - which she enjoyed too much - or had to accompany her mother to the office. A punishment worth fake illnesses. As much as she liked a day off, Charlie loathed them when she was genuinely ill.

‘Would you come back? From the top of the tree?’ Claire asked, pressing a kiss to each daughter’s head. With only a grumble in response from Elliot, she knew the girl had drifted off.

Charlie hummed, ‘Maybe. You know, sometimes the worlds don’t come back for a long while. Maybe I’ll never come back, even if I want too. That’ll be sad. Daddy will miss me. Maybe I won’t go.’ Leave it to Owen to be the deciding factor in Charlie’s runaway plans.

‘Good thinking,’ Claire concurred.

‘But, I’m still going to Indonesia.’ She told Claire, matter of fact, no doubt about it. Every intention in her mind settled, even at seven.

‘Oh, of course!’ Her mother agreed, no matter how much it unsettled her to think of her tiny daughter jet setting across the world on her own animal crusade. Her father had relocated to Central America for dinosaurs, Charlie was sure to do something similar for tigers. They were glad that she had ambition, they just hoped her path trajectory would land a little closer to home, a little more known than unknown. Claire was convinced it was a phase she would outgrow. Owen wasn’t too sure.

She returned to reading, passing through another few chapters, her daughters dozing beside her. Claire’s eyelids themselves, felt heavy, the book closing against her fingers softly, as she too turned to the land of shut eye, the tales of the three children caught in her head.

When Claire woke she was reminded of the reason why she had fallen back asleep on a Tuesday morning. Her daughters were restless beside her, their cheeks unnaturally pink, their faces contorted in discomfort. Elliot woke the second Claire trailed a hand down her little back, the toddler startling at the touch, and then again at her waking with a fright. Claire soothed her in a second, easing the little girl who wasn’t feeling well.

With a little effort she relocated both girls to the living room, setting them up in their duvets on the couch, covered in pillows, a plush animal each, tucked under their arms. A DVD was inserted into Owen’s Xbox and each child was dosed with medicine before Claire walked away.

Elliot sought her out not twenty minutes later, chicken noodle soup brewing on the stove. Tears clung to her little face, cheeks still shiny and pink as she rubbed at her eyes and whimpered for Claire. She didn’t hesitate to collect the girl, lifting the three-year-old up into her arms and cuddling her close. Claire rocked her daughter, the action second nature as she stroked Elliot’s hair and promised she would feel better soon.

‘Do you want to go back to the living room and watch Tangled with your sister?’ Claire asked, encouraging a smile from the little girl who refused to do anything but frown.

Elliot shook her head. ‘Read, please?’ She asked in as few words as possible, little fingers playing with the necklace around her mother’s neck. Elliot was always after the simpler things in life. Dance. Her mother reading. Quiet time with either, or both parents. Although she took a different route as her boisterous and active sister, she was just as demanding. ‘Please?’ She pouted, wide eyes grey as she pleaded.

‘Not until Daddy gets home, little miss.’ The little girl grumbled, lines appearing in her forehead as Claire set her down on a barstool, promising Elliot that she could help with cooking their soup. She wiggled off the chair, clinging to Claire’s legs before growing tired of it and returning to the living room.

It was always odd having sick children. Where their home was full of life, it fell quiet, caught in coughs and groans and sad little voices calling out for mom or dad. When Owen stepped through the door, for the first time since Charlie stopped taking naps Claire heard him come home. He was home early too, just after lunch. More or less because the girls were sick, he’d swung himself a half day off. She heard him toe his shoes off before his voice became a faint rumble from the living room. Twenty minutes later, Owen showed his face in the kitchen, Elliot on his hip, her head on his shoulder.

‘What is that?’ Claire asked with alarm, pointing at the pacifier in her daughter’s mouth. Owen was sheepish immediately, apologetic look rushing across his features. They’d spent the last three weeks trying to wean Elliot of a pacifier. Three weeks of her suddenly demanding it at random intervals, of listening to her cry down the hall or in their bed. She got a new doll in exchange for it. And now she had one in her mouth. ‘Where did it even come from?’

Owen shrugged, ‘She asked, I had spares’. Elliot giggled, actually giggled against her father’s shoulders, the corners of her mouth sliding past the plastic of her pacifier. Claire was mortified. ‘I swear, it won’t happen again. I’ll throw ‘em out. You know I don’t like it when they’re sick.’ He was as soft as a marshmallow for his girls. All three of them. He turned to goo each time they were injured or unwell, completely bowing under the pressure of their sad eyes and small pouts. Knowing they were suffering from a slight cold, bug, or just because they were upset was enough for Owen to fetch them the moon.

Claire nodded in agreement, look on her face telling him they would talk about it later. She would talk about it, he would listen, and he would be the one getting up to quieten Elliot in the night. Owen kissed his wife’s cheek in apology, back of his hand pressing against her forehead as he pulled away.

‘You feeling all right?’ He asked. A whole day with disease infected children guaranteed someone else was going to catch it. Claire was the last in the household to fall ill, very rarely did she catch whatever the girls brought home from school, or Owen from the zoo. She was their trooper, their nurse, their invincible person. This however, was going to try to knock her down.

She smiled softly, leaning into his touch a little as she nodded. ‘I’m just a little warm is all,’ She agreed, refusing to meet the concern on her face.

‘Mommy?’ Elliot started, ‘Can we read now?’ Her words were choppy, half filled around the pacifier between her teeth. Claire sighed, building her rebuttal before Owen handed the toddler over.

He clapped his hands together. ‘Good idea! Why don’t you join the girls on the couch. I’ll finish this and get you all another round of tylenol.’ He suggested while Claire shook her head, the girls didn’t need any more. Just food. ‘Okay then, and what are we reading this evening, Miss Ellie?’ He tapped his daughter’s cheek. Claire removed the pacifier from Elliot’s mouth so she could answer, the girl grumbled at her like an irritated dog. That was part of the reason she needed to lose the pacifier.

‘Faraway Tree!’ She squeaked, missing the ‘w’ in the title.

Owen beamed, kiss dropped to the toddler’s cheek. He ushered them back toward the living room, the movie halfway through before he sat them down, tucking them both in with a blanket and promised to go fetch the book for when the movie was finished. 

Claire insisted she could handle the rest of the soup. The dishes in the sink already staking up in her mind, as Owen promised, eyes on her rosy cheeks that he could look after them, provide for his family, or whatever other manly attributes he felt it necessary to prove. Claire only rolled her eyes and let him take over from there.

Chapter Text

The zoo was set alight in black tie. Men in sharp suits and women in flashy dresses. Music played softly at the rotunda, where tables had been set up, under the moonlight, in anticipation of dinner. Fancy guests took strolls around the zoo. They partially listened to keepers and trainers who’d prepared speeches, or were willing to answer questions.

And then there was Charlie, propped up on a small podium, so everyone could see her. She was dressed in the zoo’s cargo, her name printed on the breast pocket. ’This is Tango.’ The girl announced to the large group, hands gesturing towards the animal behind her. ‘His brothers Uniform, Victor, and their sister Sierra.’ She gave a brief synopsis, in her five-year-old way into the tigers that lived at her father’s zoo. The tigers she treasured more than life itself, the tigers shared not only a special bond but also a birthday.

Charlie grinned, one tooth missing, far and wide. Ascot made sure guests stopped to listen to her. The little girl with an important job, handed to her by the Zoo’s owner, himself. She spoke loud and clear, talking with her hands like a small copy of her mother. Owen couldn’t help but chuckle, catching similarities between his daughter educating guests and her wife running a board room. Claire grinned beside him, one hand rubbing at the side of her slowly expanding belly, self conscious in her figure hugging dress.

‘Tango and his siblings are four in less than five-hundred Sumatran Tigers left in the whole world.’ Owen watched the faces of banquet guests. The people in attendance tonight were a mix between longtime supporters and one offs - with fat cheques. If Charlie could encourage them, through the exploitation of her adorable face, these people could be throwing money towards Sumatran rehabilitation research.

‘Did I do good?’ Charlie asked, running for her father’s legs after the hoards of people moved on. She was still beaming as Owen picked her up and squeezed her tight. Charlie had every right to be outwardly proud of herself. She worked hard and tirelessly for her honourable presentation. They had been working in preparation for weeks, Charlie throwing more dedication into enunciation than what she had been doing for the alphabet.

Owen kissed her cheeks, making the girl giggle. ‘You did wonderfully, Charlie-Bear’. She settled her head on his shoulder, looking towards her mother for similar affection. Claire dropped a kiss to Charlie’s nose, telling the girl, just as Owen had, that she was spectacular.

‘I like being a grown - grown up,’ She stuttered with a large grin, proud of herself and a little in awe of the attention she was receiving. Not only were people in pretty dresses and nice suits smiling at her, calling her ‘young girl’ and ‘sweet thing’, the zoos staff were over the moon with pride. People she had known since she was a newborn, strapped and grizzling against her fathers chest, where swinging her around in the air, kissing her cheeks and squeezing her tight with their joy.

‘All the makings of one of us,’ Alice had teased, holding the girls hand as she squeezed. Her missing front teeth were on display all afternoon and further into the night as the girl basked in the attention thrown at her.

She politely, albeit, half on the edge of tantrum, turned down her mothers request to change out of the zoo cargo and into something a little more formal for the occasion. Despite the fact that Charlie had picked out the dress with her mother and father, the girl did not want to wear it. She was happy to run around, weaving between the legs of investors, dressed like a zoo employee.

Exhaustion found her in the lap of her father, her body dead weight in his arms as her mother draped a coat over her shoulders. ‘How’s our little zoo keep?’ Douglas Ascot asked as he approached Owen and Claire, grin on his face, hands clasped together. The zoo’s owner had been the one to request Charlie’s presence that night. As with everyone in employment there, he had known the girl since she was born - since Claire was pregnant and uncertain of the path ahead as Owen beamed with joy. Ascot, saw in Charlie, what many others did. Her love for the zoo, for the animals there greatly impacted upon their guest numbers. Patrons enjoying the family feel of the zoo with little Charlie running around among them, offering up free advice and answering questions at animal feeding times, on weekends.

‘The investors loved her, which should hopefully mean things are looking up this year for our resident tigers.’ He clapped Owen on his spare shoulder, beaming like the proud man he was, glad that a plan had worked successfully and that Charlie had dazzled like they knew she would. ‘I have something I wanted to go over with the two of you,’ The man grinned. ‘Charlie here has been an important part of our zoo, since day one.’ He wasn’t wrong. Since Charlie could walk - even still wobbly on her infant feet - she strolled around the zoo grounds entertaining guests and eventually, once the noises from her throat formed into words, enlightened them.

Their family as a whole, always worked hard for the zoo. They strived for large numbers on specialist days, bringing in extra people during the holiday season, or just party crowds for Charlie’s birthday. Douglas couldn’t deny, since the girl was born, attendance had spiked.

‘We’re aiming for a little more tonight,’ Douglas told them. ‘I want to do something for Charlie, because of Charlie.’ Claire couldn’t deny that she liked the man. He reminded her of Simon Masrani and his friendly approach to his business. He was always warm and kind, and had his employees best interests at heart. He pulled a folio out from under his arm, something neither Claire nor Owen realised he was holding. The front page detailed a sketch of a small, modelled building. ‘The Charlie Grady Early Zoological Education Centre!’ Douglas beamed.   

It was a renovation for the zoos nursery centre. The building was rarely used, but Douglas’ plan, if it worked was to make it a fully functioning education centre for children. Charlie thrived in the zoo environment when she was learning. She had that in common with their guests, some who frequented almost every weekend because their children were enthralled with the animals. Ascot’s idea was there to make zoo learning available and accessible to all their young guests, with a centre, and dedicated employees.

‘… Alice is already onboard as team leader. She’s full of ideas for the kids and what we can do.’ The man was alive with excitement, explaining the idea to Claire who was all to familiar with business proposals.

Owen rose from his chair in a vain attempt to stretch out his muscles, Charlie’s deadweight in his arms holding him down. He watched Douglas and Claire, words slipping between their mouths, business and future, his daughter’s name on a building. ‘You want to do that, for Charlie?’ He asked, voice caught in disbelief, as the girl shifted against his shoulder.

Douglas nodded, ‘An education hub where kids can get up close and personal with the animals, just as Charlie does everyday because of you. This is something I’ve wanted since before you came to this zoo, but I never had the means, the motivation, the proof that it would work. Charlie and her love for Tango, sealed the deal.’ Ascot shrugged, ‘Who knows, you pop out another budding zoologist and we’ll just have to change the name to ‘The Grady Family Zoo’. It was Claire who rolled her eyes, Owen grinning with excitement, with an idea he was all too in love with.

‘I think it’s wonderful,’ Claire spoke, hand on Owen’s arm as she grinned at Ascot. ‘Giving children the opportunity to learn beyond peering into an enclosure.’ Charlie, age five, believed full well that she could communicate with each and every creature living in the San Diego Zoo. Logically she could. She chuffed with the tigers, tweeted with the birds, and grizzled with the bears. She was hands on, fingers and toes in the dirt, swimming with penguins, and teaching the seals new tricks.

Charlie grumbled slightly, arm tightening around Owen’s neck as she rubbed at her eye. ‘We gotta say nigh’ to Tango,’ Her words were strung together, caught in mumbles on the plains of a sleepy realm.

‘The little one has spoken,’ Ascot laughed, nodding as Claire made a comment about heading for home. Gracious smiles on their faces, Claire tapped the folio thanking Ascot for the sentiment. ‘It’s not a done deal until I can rope a few investors in. It should be no problem - that little girl is magic, we can all see it.’ He bid them goodnight a second later, squeezing Owen’s arm and kissing Claire’s cheek as he rushed off, flagged down by another investor.

They slipped away from the event quietly, Owen detouring past the tiger lock up. He jostled Charlie a little on purpose as they stepped through the door, warm air rushing out to the meet them. ‘We’re saying goodnight to Tango,’ Owen whispered as his daughter whimpered in the crook of his neck. He lowered her, crouching down beside the cage that housed the animals behind the enclosure.

Charlie attempted a sleepy chuff, her tired fingers knocking against the metal bars. Tango, who was sitting by the bars where Owen was knocked his head against Charlie’s fingers. Letting out a heavy sigh, the tiger chuffed back.

Her connection with the large animal never ceased to amaze Owen. He trained Velociraptor’s, and here was a tiger, affectionate with his five-year-old. ‘You’re so special, Charlie-Bear,’ He kissed her head.

The girl grumbled, ‘No, I’m sleepy’. It was Claire who laughed behind him, her hand on Charlie’s head. The night had dwindled down to stars, the music soft, the food all gone. The animals had been put to bed, their lights turned out, and for the littlest zoo keeper, it was time for her to do the same.

Chapter Text

She tapped her foot anxiously against the tile flooring, scouring the room as the hostess scanned the books for her reservation. Claire was already ticking across her fingers the ways in which she would make Zara pay if the man didn’t show up tonight.

A blind date. Of all things, her assistant sets her up on a blind date. Claire, couldn’t for the life of her figure out who her mystery man might have been. She half stood on tiptoes eyes flying across faces already seated in the restaurant, hoping she might spot a familiar face. If she could just see him before he saw her, Claire could decide if it was worth staying or not. Whomever he was, he worked on the island. That was all Zara was willing to give her. She kept the details short, disabling Claire from backing out on too much information.

The hostess smiled at her, her grin almost fake in its magnitude as she ushered Claire forward on a ‘This way, Ma’am’. Claire stepped forward uneasily, hands fluttering down the waist of her slim dress, suddenly self-conscious in a sea of uncertainty. She had dressed to the nines for this man, someone she wasn’t too sure she would even like. All she had was Zara’s judgement, and the promise that Claire would love him once they started talking. It unsettled her, but yet, there she was, following the hostess through the restaurant to a table that housed her blind date.

The hostess stopped at a small booth. Claire could only see the very top of the mans blond head from where she stood. Heart pounding in her chest, she deliberated the idea of turning around and running. Claire’s hand found her hair, costing across the sharp edges softly in an attempt to calm herself. She could do this. Claire coaxed herself into a deep breath, mentally preparing herself for the face she would meet. At least, she reasoned, if the date went badly, she would have every reason to turn Zara’s set ups down.

Taking in a final deep breath, Claire stepped forward, and slid into the booth.

‘I’m gonna kill him,’ Her companion hissed loud enough for her to hear him. For Claire, that wasn’t her problem, she was thinking the exact same thing as her eyes caught with the cocky grin on a honeyed face that was all too familiar. Her blind date, in all it’s glory, was Owen Grady.

Claire bristled, back in her hands as she clutched it tightly still deliberating her flight or fight. The restaurant settled around them. It felt like the whole place fell into a hush as Owen and Claire’s eyes met, the man smiling meekly. She could feel her heart pounding, a small amount of rage bubbling up underneath it.

Of all the people, in the whole park, Zara had to set her up with Owen Grady the one man who infuriated her to the point of hysterics. They held a large number of interactions between them thanks to his inconsistency in filing progress reports on time. Regardless of the state, or ownership of his animals - Claire still needed the reports. For some reason, Owen never managed to get that in his head. Which left an infuriated Claire to drive out to the Velociraptor paddock in her own time, to chase him down.

He was always smooth and full of charm, Owen Grady certainly never learnt the meaning of personal space whenever she found herself out at the research paddocks. He was always nearby, and on occasion, right behind her. He forked it up to safety one afternoon when she cornered him about it, flustered with herself for being able to smell his cologne, mixed with sweat and dirt. He was too close if she could smell him.

‘I, ah - I guess I’m not what you were expecting.’ Owen started, fighting back a slight cringe as he watched discomfort flutter across her face.

Claire’s laugh was short and fast as she shook her head, ‘Not at all’.

‘Why’d you think they did it?’ Owen asked quietly, eyes on the glass in front of him, twirling the stem of the glass between his fingers. He had to assume it was all Barry and Zara, his friend was so insistent that he came out that night, that he met this blind date. Owen knew, too, that Claire wouldn’t leave her home voluntarily if she knew she would be going on a date with him. Someone had to talk her into it, Zara was the only option. Claire didn’t know. Her guess was as good as his, and neither of them could quite manage to put their finger on the pulse. ‘Maybe they want us to stop fighting’. His smirk was small, creeping up the corner of his mouth, as he watched her.

‘That’s easy,’ Claire laughed, ‘Hand your reports in on time’.

‘I’d never get to see you, if that happened.’ Owen shrugged, ‘I kinda like it when you’re all set alight, jaw clenched, brows furrowed, and stream blowin’ out your ears’. He was nonchalant as he flicked through the menu, eyes avoiding hers as she felt the blush creep up her neck.

Claire faltered for a second, mouth agape like a blubbering fish before she managed to gain control. ‘Wait, are you saying you purposefully don’t finish your reports, just to make me come out to the paddock?’

Owen half shrugged in hesitation, his eyes meeting hers halfway as he quickly changed the subject. ‘Wow,’ He hummed long and low, the sound almost coming out on a whistle. ‘You look beautiful tonight.’ Claire rolled her eyes, lashes fluttering slightly as her blush increased.

‘You don’t look so bad yourself, Mr Grady.’

‘Owen,’ He corrected. ‘That is, unless you want to hightail it out of here.’ Claire bit her lip, finger playing with the edge of her menu as she studied Owen half in front of her, half beside her in the booth.

She hummed, ‘Well, I’m already out, and dressed up … I can’t see the harm in staying’. Owen felt his heart jump in his chest. He couldn’t refrain the slow grin that crept across his face, pleased with Claire’s decision. He would be lying if he said he didn’t fancy a date with Claire Dearing. He just hadn’t managed the courage to ask her yet. He supposed, if all things went well, he owed Barry and Zara for their service. 

Her shoulders relaxed once they ordered dinner, slight laugh drifting from her lips at a story Owen had told. His heart was beating wildly, falling in love with every inch of her glee as she eased into the night, glass of red wine in her hand.

To Owen’s surprise, Claire asked about his raptors - more specifically, she called them his girls. The monologue was easy, the stories on an unending tap. She laughed, actually laughed during some early story about the girls and their habit of chewing through everything.

She didn’t bring up Zara and Barry, or their ticked date. Instead, she lived it, asking about his work in the marines, and what his family thought about their son upgrading dolphins for dinosaurs. He returned the question, rephrased to learn Claire was distant from her family, including her sister and kid nephews.

Topic of discussion chased back and forth, work and personal lives, where they went to college, travel, trivial things. There was no halt in conversation, not stutter, no pause. They talked until the waiter brought them their bill, politely truing to usher them out of the restaurant in order to bring new customers in.

They stepped out onto the street in good spirit, Claire’s hand unknowingly in his. ‘Well … Owen, it’s been wonderful,’ She started, batting her eyelashes playfully. ‘But, I think it’s time to call it a night.’ He pouted, openly, his reaction honest to her words. ‘Don’t forget the deal,’ She told him softly. They discussed it briefly. They were going to tell their respective friends that the date was a disaster, that they couldn’t stand each other. He was a pig, she was stuck up, it didn’t work. Owen didn’t exactly agree, but Claire was still living of the need to claim vengeance against Zara - if only for being right. ‘Would you walk me to my car?’ She asked, a little coyly, smiling at him as Owen regained his thoughts.

He nodded, following her easily, Claire’s hand tucked against his, fingers so slight against his own. Owen felt mournful as they reached her car, cloud growing over his head. He didn’t want to let her go, watch her slip behind the wheel and drive away. She stopped, turned beside the drivers side door.

‘Well, Mr Grady, this is my ride,’ She smiled shyly, hands flat at her sides. She squeaked when his lips met hers, the kiss not quite rough, but hard. He felt her stiffen, body grow rigid under his hands before she relaxed, surprising them both.

He didn’t know what it was that pushed him forward. Owen thought, maybe it was their impending ending, Claire Dearing’s walls going back up brick by brick as she prepared to block him out. Or maybe it was the memory of her laugh, her pink cheeks and soft eyelashes against her skin. No matter, his hands moved on their own, cupping her face as he pulled her closer.

Her squeak turned into a soft moan under his touch, her body liquifying against her car as Owen traced the seal of her lips with his tongue. ’Sorry,’ He breathed when they pulled apart, shoving his hands in his pockets to keep them from reaching out for her.

‘Don’t be,’ Claire told him, reaching up on the tips of her toes to kiss him again. She hummed when the same spark shocked her at the touch of his lips, hands squeezing his arms tightly. ‘What’s the use in lying?’ She asked, referring to their plan. ‘I mean, they’re going to know we got along.’ Claire shrugged, watching her feet on the pavement, hoping he would be susceptible to a backtrack. Owen grinned, matching the flush across her skin as he kissed her in agreement.

Maybe, just maybe, Barry and Zara had been onto something in the first place.

Chapter Text

 

His chest almost collapsed with relief. A heavy breath escaped his lungs to coast across Claire’s cheek, as the doctor held up the newborn for them to see. She wasn’t crying. His heart stopped. Claire whimpered, her head turning against his shoulder.

‘She’s okay,’ Owen whispered in her ear, kissing her cheek softly. At twenty-nine weeks gestation, their new daughter was tiny, too tiny. No cry escaped from her little lungs, but her skin was pink, her little limbs swimming in newfound freedom. He couldn’t help the laugh, it bubbled in his chest, twisting with semi-filled grief.

This brand new member of their family had put them all through the trial of wars. Claire’s body was heavy against his, worn our from the ordeal. Her strength had been drained for that small creature, her breath shallow. She tapped the side of his head with a weak arm, pulling on his ear. ‘Go with her.’ The request was simple. Owen pressed a hard kiss to her cheek before climbing out from behind his wife on wobbly legs.

Nurses were huddled around a small station, tiny newborn lying on a table in front of them, her eyes still closed, an arm swinging in the air periodically. Owen stood, useless, behind them, towering over heads as they talked in words he couldn’t hear.

A small enclosed crib was rolled into the room, wires and gizmos hanging off it’s edges. It looked like a monster in comparison to the small girl as they lowered her into it. An instinct ticked inside him, surging forward with the impulse to demand they remove his daughter. He let them do what they had to, knowing he had no credential other than, ‘I’m her father!’  It wouldn’t help.

There was a nurse by his side, hand on his arm, reassuring Owen that his baby girl was perfectly fine for premature. The incubator was there to help her continue to develop. They wouldn’t hurt her. Owen followed the crib, his daughter inside, as they pushed it out of the room and away from Claire. NICU was the acronym on lips that were simultaneously trying to do their job and keep him informed.

He threw a glance towards Claire before leaving the room, her eyes squeezed shut, a nurse beside her bed. She was okay. She would be okay. Claire was a grown woman used to the ins and the outs of the world. Their newborn was not. He followed the infant.

For a place designated for premature babies, some fighting for their lives, the NICU was noisy, machines ringing off in a chorus as cribs like his daughter’s contained similar, delicate children. He watched the name tag on her wrist intently, far too paranoid for his own liking that someone would switch his baby.

He was locked out of the room they took her into, her crib parked by the window where he could see her. Owen stayed there for an hour, just watching nurses and eventually, Claire’s doctor, come up to see his baby girl. He stayed until a nurse came looking for him, quietly explaining that Claire had been moved to a room. Nothing else would happen with his daughter tonight that the nurses weren’t one hundred per cent aware of. She had a wonderful team watching over her.

*

Owen stretched himself out along Claire’s hospital bed, his wife tucked into his chest. ‘Three pounds, five ounces,’ She told him regarding their daughter’s birth weight. So, so, small. ‘Charlie was eight pounds.’ She groaned at herself in frustration, sleep nipping at her eyes. ‘I feel so useless just sitting here.’ Claire clumped a handful of his shirt inside her fist, clenching onto it tightly.

Owen kissed her temple, a hand tracing lines up and down her side in an attempt to sooth her. ‘We still have to name her,’ His voice was low as he unlocked his phone and brought up the picture he had a nurse take. Claire hummed. They’d barely thought about it, sure that they had plenty of time to make up a list before she arrived. It wasn’t like they had been prepared for Charlie either. Claire was set on not naming the girl until she was in her arms. Even then, they had a short list - one they ultimately didn’t stick to.

She was drifting in and out, her head on his chest, clutching tight to his shirt. ‘I need to see her for longer than two seconds, Owen. I need to see her to name her.’ He kissed her temple a second time, humming in agreement.

Claire slept for an hour before a nurse came in, shooing Owen off the bed and waking Claire. He was almost livid with the woman until he realised it was for the baby. The woman talked quietly with Claire about the breast pump she had brought. Explain that just because the baby was in the NICU didn’t mean Claire couldn’t feed her. For now, it would have to be through a tube, but they would graduate later, once she gained some age and strength.

She felt ridiculous. Cheeks blushed pink as she told Owen, for the twentieth time since their daughter was born, that she felt hopeless. Her husband, and the nurse quickly reassured her otherwise. 

His wife was asleep again almost immediately after the nurse left, already acclimatised to the sounds of the hospital around her. She was prepared and exhausted enough to fall asleep anywhere. She woke again, not long later as Owen sat in a chair beside her bed, shooting off text messages to their immediate family.

Claire’s breath was caught in her throat as she woke with a start, her hand flying out for Owen. He was by her side in a second, terrified that she couldn’t breathe, his fingers inches away from the nurse call button. ‘Something’s wrong,’ Claire gasped, turning to Owen with wild eyes. He ran a hand over her head, smoothing down her messy hair. ‘Something’s wrong with the baby, Owen.’ She told him a second time, her hand forming a tight grip on his arm.

She insisted he take her to the baby. Owen told Claire she was fine, she was being watched, he saw it with his own eyes. Claire refused to be convinced until she saw the girl herself, reassured the fears in her mind before falling back to sleep.

They waddled up the hallway, Claire refusing a wheelchair even though she desperately needed it. They reached the NICU at the other end of the hall, just as a nurse pushed into the room his daughter was in, loud beeping swallowed by the door locking closed behind her. His heart stopped. Claire panicking beside him. Her whole body radiated ‘I told you so’ without the words, the situation too dire for clipped remarks.

‘Mr Grady?’ A voice, that could only belong to a nurse, called out. ‘What are you two doing up here?’ He recognised her face instantly. Rachel. The same nurse who took charge of his daughter when she was brought to the NICU. ‘You should be in bed,’ She told Claire sternly, giving the woman a disapproving look. Claire rebutted with concern only to have Rachel’s face soften. ‘She’s fine, I promise.’ She lead them over to the window, their daughter easily on display. ‘Little tiger has a few respiratory issues, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen up here. We’ve got her. If we think something is wrong beyond normal, you will know.’

‘Can I hold her?’ Claire asked, her eyes on the tiny creature, so close and yet so far away. Rachel sighed, mournfully declining.

‘Not yet. You’re welcome to come see her. You can even sit in the room if you like. But, we want to wait a day or two before we disrupt the incubator. This here is a very big world and she is a tiny little girl. We want her comfortable before we broaden her horizons.’ She was hesitant when Claire asked if she could sit with the baby for a little while. Knowing full well that the woman had given birth four hours ago.

Claire begged for an hour, a whole sixty minutes and then she promised to go to bed. She just wanted to see her daughter.

*

The girl was three days old before Claire got to hold her with both hands. Three days and she already had seemed to have grown. Three days and Charlie was none to pleased that her parents weren’t home.

The nurses in the NICU introduced Owen and Claire to Kangaroo Care. A procedure that had them sit with their daughter, skin to skin on their chests. Claire was thrilled, almost desperate for the interaction as soon as the words were in her ears. Seventy-two hours had been too long to not hold the child she had been carrying for months, anxious to meet. Owen had watched her fidget for three days, stressing herself out without any contact with the infant. They sat with her until they were kicked out.

Returning to her room room, Claire would cry, tears wet on her cheeks, not a sound on her lips as Owen held her. It was frustrating her to no end, watching her daughter in a see-through case, machines beeping her vitals across the screen while Claire could only watch. He knew her pain was tenfold compared to his. Here was a child she had given birth too and she still hadn’t been given the opportunity to hold her yet. Being away from Charlie didn’t help.

They had been calling her the girl, the baby, our daughter, baby Grady - on behalf of the nurse staff - for three days. Neither could think of a name. They were at a complete loss, feeling ridiculous that she was three days old and without an identity longer than Grady.

Tears were impatient on his wife’s cheeks as they settled the tiny girl to her mothers chest, tucking her into Claire's shirt. Her sob was small, falling on a slight whimper as she pressed her hand to the baby’s tiny spine. ‘I have been waiting so long to meet you,’ Claire whispered to the little ear under her chin.

Owen was crying too. The first tears he’d let loose since the girl was born, just as frustrated and stubborn as Claire. They blurred his vision, obstructing the few of his wife and second daughter. A picture was snapped on his phone easily. The moment pure, as he sent it off to their siblings and his mother: the caption; still no name.

Claire talked. Nonsense mostly to the little girl on her chest as Owen marvelled at how his thumb swamped the infants palm. He chocked up all over again. Tiny. Defenceless. She wasn’t even supposed to be born, months still left on her clock. Claire would have been home from her business trip by now, their days mundane. They would have still thought she was ages away.

‘Oh, she’s going to love you so much, …’ Caught in the middle of a sentence about Charlie, Claire stopped. She paused only for a second as she turned wide eyes to Owen, her mouth agape before the word formed. ‘Elliot.’ It was as easy as breathing, tumbling off her lips without second thought, the name sliding into place like it had always been there.

Owen grinned, ‘Did you just give her a name?’ Claire nodded slowly, bottom lip trembling with the realisation, new emotions flooding to the surface. ‘Elliot,’ He rolled it across his tongue, the smile on his face almost reaching his ears. ‘Elliot Paige Grady.’ He said it again, full glory, adding a middle and his last name. 

He wasn’t lying when he said they hadn’t even contemplated names for the girl. They knew her gender and that was as far as they had managed. Paige flowed just as effortlessly for him as Elliot appeared for Claire.

His wife gave him a watery smile. ‘That’s it then,’ She affirmed, ‘Elliot Paige Grady’. They wouldn’t need to talk it over any further than that. It was settled, her name sealed before it even touched paper.

*

Their weeks moved in an out on the same pattern, visiting Elliot, taking their turns in holding her. They called Charlie before and after school, checking in with their grouchy little daughter who wasn’t pleased with the announcement of her new sister. She was warming too it, with each passing day. Slowly.

There were talks of sending Elliot home. Organising a hospital transfer to San Diego where her parents could return to their lives as apposed to living in an hotel after Claire had been discharged. And then, she stopped breathing in the middle of the night. Elliot’s doctor thought it best not to move her, watching to see if it was apnea or an underlying issue. Claire held tightly to Owen’s hand, knowing it was all too good to be true, that the other shoe needed to drop.

When they stopped feeding her through a tube, and let Claire breast feed her, Elliot’s heart rate slowed frightening her mother and alarming her doctors a little further. Bradycarida. Nothing uncommon, but enough, that while they were keeping her in the NICU, they wanted to watch it.

Three weeks past before they knew it. Owen went home. Leaving Claire and Elliot in New York for a few nights while he went to retrieve Charlie. They had tossed and turned on when would be the right time to collect her, choosing ultimately to leave her at home so the girl didn’t miss school. When the doctors took Elliot off her ventilator, confident that the infant no longer needed assistance as she reached her four week mark, they knew it was time for Charlie.

She was quiet, and well behaved, hugging her mother in a death grip when Claire met them at the airport. Charlie played confused as they talked to her about her sister, too busy staring out the window as New York flew past her. 

‘Did you like having Daddy at home?’ Claire asked her eldest daughter, hand squeezing Charlie’s ankle as the girl sat twisted in her seat. She hummed, nodding enthusiastically, as she tried to catch her mother up on the two nights Owen had been home.

‘You’re coming home soon, too?’

Claire nodded. ‘As soon as your sister is allowed to leave the hospital, we’ll be home.’

‘You don’t have to wait for her,’ Charlie told her, ‘You can come home now’.

Owen laughed, eyes closed, full belly chuckle. The kind of laugh he made every time Charlie surprised him, and now Elliot too, even with her small whimpers and flailing limbs. It was some ridiculous family man laugh that only ever attached itself to the stories he repeated throughout the year. ‘You should have seen Elliot yesterday …’, ‘Charlie last week said the funniest thing …’, it was like his laugh was a memory, gluing down his favourite pieces and sticking them in a mental scrapbook. ‘We’ve talked about this, Charlie.’

The girl whined, body flopping as she sat in her seat properly. ‘But you’ve been gone for sooo long.’

‘That’s because Elliot needed very special care here, and Mama needs to stay with her. Just like when you’re sick and you want her to cuddle with you, and read you a story. Elliot needs the same thing.’

‘Why?’

‘’Cause Mama’s magic.’ Owen whispered, kissing Charlie’s cheek. ‘Unfortunately, we have to share that now. But, it’s not so bad, Charlie. I learnt to share Mama’s magic with you. And, look, it works just fine.’

‘But that’s only one … two people! Not three. What if she runs out and can’t share no more?’ It was Claire’s turn to chuckle, her arm winding around Charlie’s back. She’d missed the girl, more than she had realised.

Kissing the top of Charlie’s head, Claire reassured that she had enough special magic for all three of them. There was nothing to worry about.

*

Despite being gone for what felt like longer than what it had been. Five weeks in New York, caught in a hospital, and a sixth once they returned to San Diego,.Claire and Owen easily fell back into routine, plus one.

He marvelled at how different life was after Elliot in comparison to their experience with Charlie. Claire hadn’t been well when their first daughter was born, hiding herself under the covers and choosing to ignore the postpartum depression diagnosis.

The house was full of laughs once they got Elliot home. Everyone relieved to be there. They coasted through the comfort of home, their new daughter a relatively easy baby. She slept on time, ate practically on command, and Charlie had eased into the idea of her a little better.

Several weeks after bringing Elliot home for the first time, the infant settled into her new crib, she started to cry. Owen and Claire had thought they counted blessed stars, relieved to have another daughter who slept soundlessly through the night. They had been wrong. She had crossed the line on three months old and decided to stop sleeping forever.

Claire nudged him in the shin with her cold toes, nonverbally telling him to get the baby as her cries broke through the monitor. Owen nudged back, sure they’d missed a feeding in there somewhere and it was actually Claire’s job to get up.

‘I fed her an hour ago, it’s your turn.’ Claire insisted with a hard shove, sleepy giggle on her lips. Owen relented, succumbing to the realisation that she had it easy. He couldn’t complain, at least they managed to play that game. He got up every time Charlie cried - that was to say, when she cried -  Claire dead to the world, knocked out by her thoughts, or wilful to ignore the cries of her newborn. He tended to every nighttime cry, only waking Claire if it was feed time. He didn’t mind so much, the quiet of the night allowed him to spend time with his daughter, get to know her a little better as they paced around the kitchen in the dark. He was thrilled to share that with Elliot.

‘Daddy!’ A little voice shouted at him when he reached the hall, Charlie standing in the doorway of her bedroom, hands covering her ears. ‘Tell Ellie to shush. I’m allergic to noise!’ She told him innocently, definite pout etched across her young face as Owen kissed her cheeks and apologised.

He thought Charlie returned to bed by the time he reached Elliot’s door, pushing it open to find the infant red faced and still crying. He had hoped the wails were apart of his imagination by the time he reached her bedroom door. He had been wrong before.

Owen scooped Elliot up, tucking her into the crook of his arm as he bounced her softly. Her fingers wrapped around his thumb, small hand finally big enough to do that. ‘Is this you realising that you’ve reached your due date … that you were on the planet too early?’ He asked her, half expecting a response.

Something banged against the wall behind him. Owen jumped. Charlie stood sheepishly in the moonlight, holding onto the neck of his guitar. Her eyes pleaded with him in the dark. When Charlie was young, all it took was music, Owen strumming strings to any tune. His guitar had lived in her bedroom practically since she was born. He sighed, defeated at the late hour. ‘C’mon,’ He nudged his head towards the armchair in Elliot’s nursery.

Owen sat. Elliot still in the crook of his arm, Charlie climbing up onto his lap to fill the other space. His guitar sat awkwardly in front of their three bodies, his fingers unable to reach the strings as much as he liked. He didn’t exactly care. Not when his audience was made up of little girls. They were supposed to love him no matter what.

‘I thought you were allergic to noise?’ Owen threw the quip back at Charlie as he kissed her hair.

She shook her head, ‘Just play, Daddy’.

With his daughters curled up behind his guitar, the music a little shaky, Owen begun to play. It wasn’t anything in particular, just the first set of notes that came to his head, the same song he played over and over again.

The sound washed over them. Instantly silencing Elliot as Owen began to hum, the words in his head but not on his tongue. He was caught in the moment. Soaking in his daughters and their situation, thankful to anyone’s God for this path.

‘Did you get stuck?’ A voice whispered in his ear, causing Owen to jolt slightly, his eyes fluttering open. He’d fallen asleep without realising, daughters still in his lap, as well as his guitar. It was Claire, whispering beside him, smile twinkling in the moonlight.

He was, without a doubt, stuck. Trapped behind the guitar and weighed down by sleep weight. Claire moved the guitar first before reaching for Elliot, settling it down beside the armchair. He stared for a second, thinking back to Elliot’s first days, how small she was, as Claire lifted the girl and cuddled her to her chest. She’d grown so much already, quickly catching up to the normal rate.

Owen stood with Charlie, carrying the girl back to her bed without a word. Claire met him in the hallway, pressed on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. ‘Thank you,’ He whispered, for everything. She laughed, teasing that it wasn’t going to be the first time she would have to rescue him from the girls … and his guitar.

 

Chapter Text

She was antsy. Unable to keep still. Her fingers twitched out of rhythm against the counter top. She pushed herself up, turning from the kitchen, car keys jangling as Claire moved for the door.

‘Where are you going?’ Owen called out to her, worried curiosity creasing in his forehead. Claire stopped, her hand on the door knob, face blank. She blinked at him for a second, as though she hadn’t quite thought about what she was doing.

Claire’s shoulders dropped, ‘Out?’ He dropped the dish he was holding, crookery sliding back into the sink as Owen slipped his hands out of the gloves. He was pulling her coat off the hook by the door when she finally crinkled her brow.

Owen shrugged, ‘It’s cold out,’ He told her. She blinked again. Owen didn’t offer an explanation, and Claire didn’t ask. Instead, she stepped out the door, heading into the crisp winter air.

San Diego’s winter wasn’t as cold as it could have been. They could have found themselves in Madison, shacked up with her sister, buried under blankets of snow. And yet, the cool air coasting across Claire’s cheeks seemed to continually baffle her. The sun was out, waves crashed against the beach. It had a few similarities to Isla Nublar, enough to accomodate a transition but not enough to convince her that it was the same thing. Thick topical air and the scolding sun was ingrained into her skin forever. The lack of it in San Diego so far, was throwing Claire through a loop.

Owen followed her, as Claire buttoned up her coat and climbed into the drivers seat of the car. He didn’t say anything, only climbed in on the other side, seatbelt sliding across his chest before clicking soundly.

‘I don’t know where I’m going,’ She told him admitting an unknown need to drive. He reached out for her hand on the hand-break, squeezing tightly. He understood. There had been a similar need in him when he returned from his first tour. Civilian life didn’t feel real, it wasn’t normal, not in comparison to what he’d witnessed. Owen found himself on the road, his truck cruising along highways, zigzagging in and out of mountains just so he could clear his head.

She drove, eyes on the road, radio off, Owen silent beside her. Claire followed the signs that claimed to lead her along San Diego’s fifty-nine mile scenic route. She barely batted an eyelid at the signs, just kept following them as the city fell and rose around them, shifting and turning.

Owen sighed once they got a clear view of the ocean out Claire’s window, the sea always a welcoming relief. She would have offered to pull over, to sit on the beach and breathe with the incoming waves, but she couldn’t stop. Hands clutched to the steering wheel, foot pressed heavily to the gas pedal.

‘Is your seatbelt on?’ Owen’s voice cracked through the silence, beach a faint outline in the rear view mirror. Claire nodded, hand releasing the steering wheel to tug on the strap. It had hidden itself under the collar of her jacket, enough so that Owen could hardly see it.

He hummed, satisfied with her answer as he tried to control his beating heart. ‘You worried about me?’ She asked, taking her eyes off the road briefly to watch him. Owen shrugged, smile pulling at the corner of his lips.

It was a protective instinct, something that drove him insane when he couldn’t ensure her safety on his own. It had grown since the Jurassic World incident. An unbearable need to keep her safe, despite the fact that she could do so herself bubbled in his chest. They’d come so far already. He couldn’t loose her to a forgetful mind that forgot something as easy as a seatbelt.

‘Pull over,’ The statement caught between a suggestion and question. Claire didn’t hesitate, her wrist flicking the car’s indicator on as she migrated to the side of the road. ‘Let me drive for a while.’ They’d been in the car for two hours, likely well on their way to Los Angeles if they kept up with the direction. Claire blinked sleepy eyes at him, her hands ridged on the wheel, stuck there from her clamped grip.

Owen got out. He rounded the car, approaching her door and pulling it open. Gently he pried her fingers from the wheel. ‘I know what it’s like.’ He told her softly, bent slightly so he was at her height and not towering over her. ‘To be at a crossroads between what you used to know, and what you have to adapt to now. You’re going to be staring through glass walls for a while, driving along the coast with no real destination. That’s fine. But, you need to let me help.’ She nodded slowly. There was no fight in her, no reason why she would push him away. They migrated to the city together, small home shared. She let him close enough, she wasn’t going to let him go.

He pressed a soft kiss to her cheek as Claire pulled herself out of the car, Owen’s hand gliding past her hip as they changed charge. It came so easily, light touches, vacant kisses, hollow excuses for a promise. Owen trusted her. Trusted the quiet little whimpers that met him in the dark, ghosting across frightened lips. He sighed heavily as he watched her walk past the bonnet before taking the seat he vacated.

There was a long road ahead.

Claire’s hand reached out for his, lacing her fingers between his larger ones as she rested their joined hands on the centre console. This was enough. They were together for survival. Even if it meant long drives across the coast, chasing the city in and out as they mapped circles around their new home. For now, they would drive.

Chapter Text

‘You’re warm,’ She breathed against his skin, face tucked against his neck. Owen chuckled, the sound vibrating across his skin as he felt Claire wiggle closer. He had a quip about funny business and her sisters house on the tip of his tongue, but didn’t bother in uttering it.

Madison was freezing. Claire was freezing. Owen was on the verge of wondering what grounds he had in kicking her out of bed for cold feet. He was already swearing never again to visit her sister over the holiday period. From here on out, Karen and the boys needed to visit them. Owen was fairly certain Claire wouldn’t disagree.

The cold had seeped into their bones, turning Claire’s lips the faintest shade of blue. Her teeth chattered and her hands shook. She bunkered down into Owen every chance she had, curling herself into his coat or simply wrapping her arms around him. She was faltering, and fast. Acclimatising to San Diego had been one thing, Madison was something else entirely. Not used to it, Claire suffered. Owen doing only a little better for wear. He had the magical ability to retain heat, and thus drawing Claire closer.

They had three more nights left of shivering cold. Three nights where Claire would bury herself against his body, holding on with all her might. She would kick him away once they went home, Owen reunited with his side of the bed and Claire’s incessant complaining that he ran too hot in his sleep.

He dropped a kiss to her ear, wrapping his arms around her waist tighter. They balanced each other out. She was useless in the cold, and he in the heat, needing each other to equalise the temperature. Even with his arms around her, two duvets on top of them; Claire shivered.

‘It’s so cold,’ She complained on a whisper for the umpteenth time. He squeezed her. Claire hummed, shifting a little closer. She sighed his name, the sound drifting past her lips in quiet contentment.

She was usually the restless one. Turning out the light only to toss and turn, unable to fall asleep. The cold kept her docile, his warm body keeping her close to his. There was no space to toss and turn, unless she wanted to freeze in her sleep. Instead she wiggled closer every few seconds, almost as though she was trying to crawl under his skin, embedding herself in the warmth he provided.

Claire had always been independent. Claimed she didn’t need him for anything, if not for the nightmares. Owen, for the most part, loved being needed. He could function without her calling out to him, or clinging on tightly. He couldn’t live without her toothbrush next to his, their mugs on the table together, or breakfast made in unison.

Owen needed Claire far more than she needed him. He was starting to doubt her end of the relationship, wondering when she would eventually get bored, or stable enough to kick him out. These cold nights in Madison had proved, despite how slightly pathetic the situation, that Claire needed him. She wasn’t just clingy for warmth. The holidays had brought out a side of Claire he didn’t recognise, a side her family knew long ago. 

She shifted beside him slightly, her small hand trailing up his face to press to his nose. ‘Shh,’ Claire sighed, her voice half asleep. ‘You breathe too loud.’ Owen couldn’t help the chuckle as he kissed her hand before it slunk back to its warm place. ‘Nigh’,’ She kissed his neck, tucking in closer, her head under the blankets.

‘Sweet dreams,’ He whispered back to her, kissing the top of her head. He loosened his grip on her slightly as he let go of her sister’s cold bedroom in the middle of winter and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter Text

 

The words slipped from his mouth without any thought, catapulting themselves in the air. The kickback pushed him into embarrassment, dread building in his belly as the words echoed in his years.

I like your laugh’.

Claire sobered in front of him, her glee short lived as her face crumbled in confusion. She blinked. ‘I, ah, no - No, I do. You have a nice laugh.’ He tried to backtrack before realising the move was useless. Owen would only stumble around his words and end up half insulting her in the process in order to reclaim his pride.

A warm blush settled over Claire’s neck. Her confusion shifted to annoyance before settling on a friendly half smile. ‘It looks good on you … It, ah, it suits you, I mean. Laughing. You should laugh more.’ She did, as Owen verbally tripped over himself. Laugh soft and gentle as it washed over Owen, calming him almost instantly.

He’d made some backhanded comment about Hoskins, something Owen didn’t think Claire had heard when she started laughing. The sound had caught him off guard, grounding the man and stunning him instantly. His heart jumped in his chest, affection sparkling in his eyes. He watched, in the split second that it took, as Claire Dearing’s business woman resolve melted into the humoured young woman she was behind the facade.

Leaning against one of the portable offices outside the raptor paddock, Owen almost collapsed. He stared at her for a second, her eyes elsewhere as her mirth rolled from her, settling on a slight giggle, her hand to her cheek.

He told a joke, cracking for the same sound that had simultaneously lifted his spirits and put him in the ground. Owen could die a happy man if he heard her laugh once more. The joke rolled into an anecdote about his raptors as small hatchlings, following him around his bungalow, nipping at his heels. Before he knew it, they were caught in casual conversation, Claire’s humour constant as she looked him in the eye, taking every word he said into thought.

Owen couldn’t have dreamed of it, holding a conversation with Claire Dearing that didn’t involve her ripping off his head over unfilled reports. If he wasn’t in a tachycardic state thanks to her laugh, he would have been due to the scenario.

He’d been on the island for close to three years, a small love lust building in the back of his mind, his whole focus; Claire Dearing. She was unobtainable, out of his league, and hated him to the fifth degree. Owen had tried flirting, only to be stared down until he stopped, apology wilfully falling from his lips.

Here they were now, talking. Actually talking. Claire amused with the things he had to say, body language positive, flush on her cheeks thanks to his half embarrassed compliment. ‘I’ll give it a go,’ She offered in regards to his statement. He was partially right. She should laugh more. She missed it. Maybe those in Control would stop thinking she was a heartless bitch if she just laughed at a joke every once in a while.

The fond light in his eyes was undeniable as Claire stepped out of the shade and into the blearing sun, knowing she couldn’t put off her confrontation with Hoskins any longer.

Chapter Text

They rose from the table in unison, Owen accepting his jacket from the hostess as she handed back his card. He moved before he spoke, nothing that she had nothing to cover her shoulders. ‘Take my jacket,’ He said as Claire stepped away, the fabric only inches from her skin. ‘It’s cold outside’. Claire nodded softly, stepping back into his jacket as Owen lowered it to her shoulders.

She thanked him quietly, Owen’s hand on the small of her back as they moved for the restaurant’s front door. The day hadn’t rolled around with the forewarning that the air would chill. Claire was wildly unprepared for the cold that seeped into her bones as they stepped out the door. Owen stepped around her as they lingered on the pavement.

Main Street was quiet, the park’s guests all tucked into bed. Those who were not, hid away in the restaurants and Margaritaville. Claire inhaled a deep breath, watching the street flicker with the occasional soul.

‘C’mon,’ His hand lingered at her hip. ‘I’ll walk you home.’

Claire leant into him, as their steps echoed across the pavement. ‘You only need to walk me to Command,’ She told him softly, fond smile on her lips.

‘Well, I’ll walk you to Command.’ That worked for him, he’d left his bike by the building anyway, keeping it out of civilian way.

Claire tucked her arm around his, holding Owen’s hand as they walked. So far as dates went, this one was impossible. Their first date was a disaster. Despite their misgivings, it led to a second, to a third, to this current night - a fourth. He was persistent and dedicated to the cause that they could work. Reluctantly, at first, she eased into the idea until spending time with Owen was as simple as breathing.

They didn’t talk, only walked as the Innovation Centre loomed ahead of them, the lights bright and brilliant. ‘Tonight was nice,’ He broke the silence, holding onto her presence for a second longer. Claire hummed, marvelling in the emptiness of the building as they past the visitor’s entrance and headed towards the labs. She kissed his cheek softly, pressed up on the tips of her toes when they stepped into the staff elevator.

Owen hummed, ‘It’s a work night’. Claire agreed, limiting themselves to the boundaries they created. Claire was terrified that they would crash and burn, a fling flung out too fast that it would burn itself up before it broke the atmosphere. They had shared a few nights, weekends only, when neither had work. It satisfied a low thrumming urge, and kept it alive all at once.

‘I know,’ She grinned. ‘A girl’s not allowed to thank her date for the evening?’ Her tone was teasing as she stepped away from him, Owen not hesitating in pulling her back. She could thank him all she wanted. But, it was her rules he was trying to obey.

Claire kissed him again, this time on the lips once they reached her car in the garage. Back against the drivers side door, she moaned into his mouth, hands caught on the lapels of his shirt. ‘I should give this back,’ Claire told him, shrugging his jacket off her shoulders. Owen had been right, it was cold out, the man shivering slightly beside her as they walked along the street. He thanked her, making a mental note that Claire in his clothes was a sight he needed to see again. ‘Drive safe,’ She tapped his chest, full palm, eyeing his motorcycle wearily.

‘When don’t I?’ He asked, pecking the corner of her lips before saying goodbye.

Chapter Text

 

‘Hey,’ Owen breathed, smile easing across his face as he found Claire sitting in the living room of their shared home. ‘I was just thinking about you.’ He’d spent the better part of his day hunkered down in the garage, tinkering with his new bike. It hardly came as a surprise to find Claire already home for the day.

He twirled the stem of a sunflower between his fingers. She stared at him in surprise, curious as to where the flower came from, but not willing to ask. Owen wouldn’t tell her, even if she begged, there was something shameful in admitting to jumping the neighbours fence just to pinch a flower. ‘It reminded me of you’. It had, the wide bright face had caught his eye, and sparked the same warmth and joy he felt just from being in Claire’s presence.

She took it, small smile fluttering across her face before her expression drew downward, eyes pensive. ‘Funny, I was just thinking about you too’. 

Owen stopped, watching her curled form on the couch. ‘Is everything okay?’ His heart skipped in his chest, worry falling on his shoulders as Claire looked up at him slowly.

She was elsewhere. Sitting in front of him, only half the person she usually was, likely still caught in her thoughts. ‘I was thinking … maybe you should start looking for your own place.’ Owen was certain he stopped breathing. He knew it was coming, her statement, had sensed she was on the brink of it for weeks. ‘The trials are winding down. I won’t even need to stay here much longer. As soon as I’m given the go ahead, I’ll be leaving Costa Rica.’ She said the words, and she meant them, but Owen could tell it wasn’t the full truth.

Silence stewed between them, bubbling and steaming, breaking down what little air they had left. Owen refused to speak, instead he waited with greased hands, desperate to get the black liquid off, but unable to move. ‘I don’t know … I don’t know where I’m going yet. I guess, wherever offers me a job first. There won’t be the place for you.’

‘Why not?’ His voice was low, somewhat shy and insistent. 

There was her issue. Right there. Claire was going to leave and Owen couldn’t go with her, for reasons of her own, not legality. They had developed a semi codependency as days and nights surpassed the incident, nightmares and day terrors stalking them from the shadows.

It wasn’t healthy, but Owen was convinced he loved her before all of that havoc anyway. He was so used to having her around that the idea of her leaving, of his not accompanying her, seemed unbearable.

Truth be told, Owen was no longer needed for the proceedings of the Jurassic World incident, he gave his statement, he defended Claire … he may have threatened someone. That was all they wanted. All Claire wanted, despite his offer to stick by her side for every second of the day. Once her panic attacks dissolved from severe to manageable, she no longer needed him. He stuck around. Owen could have left, and yet he stayed, slumming it with her in some crappy apartment, one of the cheapest they could find while her Masrani accounts were frozen.

He could have been settled, in a big city with a new job, but he stayed with her.

Claire swallowed, her eyes focused on her hands in her lap, flower held between her fingers, unable to look at him. ‘I want you to be happy,’ She whispered faintly. ‘Staying glued to my side isn’t what you need.’

Owen dropped to the floor in front of her, shuffling on his knees to get closer, his dirty hands encompassing hers, her knees pressed to his chest. ‘What makes you think that isn’t what I need?’ She had no idea what he needed, she barely asked. They lived for months in that small apartment, Claire in the bedroom, Owen on the couch, passing soft pleasantries past each other each morning as she prepared coffee, and he tried not to burn the toast.

She shrugged. Slight mumble telling him that she didn’t know, before she hesitated, admitting quietly that she was scared. ‘You’re a very smart woman, Claire, but you can be so very dense.’ He grinned, lines cutting into his cheeks as he attempted humour. ‘I’m happy, so long as you’re happy.’

Claire shook her head, ‘You’re too important’. He thought she had missed the hoards of phone calls, emails and letters. Research teams reaching out to Owen in a desperate need to employee him, archeologists, museum co-founders, zoological scientists. He let them all drift to the sidelines, noncommittal and vague responses, not letting them go, but not keeping them.

‘You’re important too’. He told her, hands squeezing hers, waiting the beat it took for Claire to meet his eye. She shook her head, again. No one was calling after her, no one that wasn’t a journalist seeking and exclusive soundbite. There wasn’t an employee in the world who seemed to be looking for a Senior Assets Manager that allowed the fallout of Jurassic World to end with the casualties that it did. All at the hand of her assets.

‘No, I’m not.’

‘You are,’ Owen nodded, thumb under her chin. ‘You’re important to me.’ Claire rolled her eyes, not blind to his corny lines. She wasn’t immune to them either, smile coasting across her face as she bit into her lip. ‘I’m not leaving your side, Claire. Not even if you pick up and move to Alaska.’ Within reason of course. If Claire really wanted him to stay behind, if she was adamant that they go their seperate ways, Owen wouldn’t fight her … not too much.

‘Even if I have to move in with my sister in Madison?’ She asked quietly, steely reserve returning.

Owen nodded, laughter on his lips. ‘It won’t be necessary, but, yeah. Even if you have to shack up with Karen. I’ll be there.’

She reached out, hand tentatively touching his rough cheek, thumb poised on his chin. ‘What did I do to deserve your dedication?’ Never in her life, had she seen a man so undeniably at the whim of a woman. Dedication, worship, admiration, love. Whatever it was, it was unravelling from Owen Grady so far she never thought she’d find the end of it.

‘You don’t take my shit, not for a second. You’re so out of my league it’s kind of ridiculous. And I need you more than you will ever need me. Just, for some chaotic reason, you actually saw me, gave me a chance. Claire, you deserve everything.’ He poked at the flower in her hands, suddenly feeling ridiculous that it was all he had given her. Two months worth of living together and he stole her a singular flower.

Her eyes were open. Every piece of well meaning affection, every nightmare, panic attach and overbearing protection. It was overwhelmingly obvious that he cared, but it only just managed to reach her blind eyes and deaf ears.

Leaning forward, her hands on his stubble covered cheeks, Claire graced his lips with a gentle, thankful kiss. Her eyes fluttered close, forehead pressed to his, breath mingling between them. ‘Thank you,’ She whispered lightly. Claire was convinced she didn’t deserve him, and Owen her, the two of them fighting out ultimatums in their heads. Neither relented until the other gave in. Claire allowing Owen to pull down the last of her walls.

Wherever she went, Owen would be there beside her.

Chapter Text

 

Sat glumly on Owen’s sofa, pouting at the rain that fell outside his window. She was miserable. Stuck in his bungalow as a storm ragged violently, Claire cursed herself for bad timing. She should have known better than to rush out there, kicking up a fuss towards the man’s inability to be organised.

The wind howled, downing out the white noise that belonged to the island. Lightning flashed, thunder clapped, leaving Claire rooted to the spot, Owen watching her from the small kitchen. Her clothes were drenched, the heavens having opened up on her, mid discussion.

‘I don’t think it’s going to let up,’ Owen told her, watching the trees sway in thick currents of downpour from the window. He turned towards her when she didn’t respond, met with wide impossible eyes. Owen shrugged, ‘It’s safer to stay.’ She had moved to stand, half off the sofa, before she dropped, misery slipping further down her face.

She dropped her head to her hand, scrubbing at her face. ’My room’s down the hall .. I mean, if you’re tired … You can,’ Owen struggled. ‘You can sleep, if you want. I won’t mind.’ Claire shook her head, softly, thanking him on a quiet voice. But, if he didn’t mind, she wanted to wait out the storm. ‘Do you want to change?’ He offered, watching the fabric of her clothes stick to her skin. She was shivering, despite the warmth of his bungalow, and trying to hide it.

Claire stared at him, like the man had grown a second head. ‘I don’t have any clothes.’

Owen rolled his eyes, ‘Yeah, well, I know that.’ He chuckled, watching Claire bristle at the sound. ‘You can borrow mine.’ Her staring didn’t cease, mouth poised ready to lecture him on propriety and how she’d prefer to catch phenomena rather than wear his clothes. ‘Really, I don’t mind. We can share.’ He winked at her, instantly laughing off his bad joke, apologising quickly. She was driving him mental shivering on his couch, soaked to the skin. ‘Seriously though,’ Owen sobered. ‘You can’t sit in wet clothes all night.’ He left the room, only to return minutes later, a spare pair of sleep shorts and flannelette in his hand.

She took his offering shyly, as she stood before disappearing down the hall he had vacated.

Claire Dearing made Owen want to tear his hair out. Never had he met with a woman whose force was as fiery as her hair. She pushed his buttons, and the boundaries of his limitations. And yet, he held a deep admiration for her. She always met him, toe to toe, prepared to tear him down just as he was willing to do the same.

He didn’t expect her to render him speechless, stood in front of him, wearing nothing but his clothes. She was practically swimming in his flannel. It was the first time Owen ever thought of her as slight. Claire’s cheeks flushed pink. She’d helped herself to his bathroom too, taking a towel to dry off her hair.

The shirt was a deep red, traditionally patterned, and surprisingly didn’t clash with her hair. Her skin glowed in the warm off light of his bungalow, setting porcelain into a fragile honey. Despite the storm, it was still warm out. Long legs were on display under an old pair of his shorts, tempting him with bare skin.

‘Much better,’ Owen cleared his throat, once he found his voice again. Claire smiled, thanking him as she took her previous seat. With her legs tucked under her, Owen’s shirt swamped her body, legs tucked underneath her, settling like a blanket across her skin.

She fiddled with her phone, while he watched her, marvelling in the sight before him. Something shifted in his chest, admiration moulding itself into affection with the slightest licks of lust. He didn’t understand where it had come from, his chest softening at the sight of her.

He shook himself, chasing away the thought. ‘You ever seen Shutter Island?’ Claire looked at him mildly, somewhat confused at his question until he pulled the DVD case out of his cabinet.

‘I don’t have time for movies,’ She told him bluntly.

His head turned toward the window, silence falling between them again, allowing for the storm to speak for itself. ‘I don’t know about you, but I think you have a little time now.’

Chapter Text

He could hear her indecisive grumble from down the hall. Sighs of frustration and little grunts of agony. Owen sought her out after twenty minutes, his eyes on the clock, they would be late if she left it any longer.

‘Everything okay?’ He asked, rounding the corner into their bedroom. Stood in front of the full length mirror, Claire pouted. Owen couldn’t help but chuckle at her defeated stance, figure hugging black dress accentuating every curve. More importantly, he was drawn to the fabric stretched comfortably across the generous swell of her stomach.

Side on with the mirror, Claire scrutinised the shape of her silhouette, hand on her five month bump. ‘I thought you liked the dress?’ Owen asked, suddenly aware that her frustration came from the look and nothing else. She’d agonised over this dress in the mall for a week, before succumbing to the purchase. Now that it was on, time ticking above their heads, she was uncertain.

‘I did,’ She sighed. ‘Now it just looks like I’ve swallowed a house’. Claire hummed, twisting and turning at every angle small frown on her face. She only stopped once Owen stood behind her, hands on her hips, stilling all movement.

He kissed her cheek fondly. Dispelling the comment she had made about herself. The bump was cute and completely adorable. If he hadn’t already found himself in love with her before she told him she was pregnant, he would have been now. And despite all that, it was barely visible behind her normal clothes. The dress only accentuated the slight curve, not completely out of place with her body. ’I think you’re beautiful,’ He told her watching her smile flutter to life in the mirror.

She reached a hand up to tap his cheek in good humour. ’Yeah, well, you have to say that.’

‘Doesn’t make it any less true.’ It was no secret that Owen found her beautiful in any form, dressed to the nines or lounging around in sweats. Pregnancy only made him admire her more, the slight swell of her stomach making him beam with pride. ‘We’re gonna be late.’ He reminded her softly, watching the time tick on his watch. ‘It’s only Zach’s high school graduation. It doesn’t matter what you wear.’

She sighed for the millionth time, hands running over the fabric on her hips. She gave in, asking Owen to close the zip. He kissed the bare skin of her back before pulling the sip up and smoothing out her dress. ‘Perfect,’ He announced to her grinning face, please that she was comfortable in her own skin. He didn’t think she owned anything else that would fit her or the occasion.

Claire rolled her eyes. ‘You’re ridiculous, I hope you know that.’

He shrugged, ‘Ridiculous, but right. You’re beautiful,’ Owen punctuated the word with a kiss, trying not to smear her makeup. ‘You’re perfect,’ Another kiss, ‘You’re mine,’ A third, ‘And we’re going to be late’. She chuckled against his skin, revelling in the slight scratch of his stubble, as Claire promised she was ready to go.

Chapter Text

She hadn’t realised that she was screaming until Owen’s voice broke through her thoughts. He was on the bed beside her, arms wrapped around her waist as he crushed her to his chest. Claire sputtered for a moment, suddenly awake and all too aware of her surroundings.

They were alive, stuck in the last available hotel room in the entirety of Costa Rica. She’d felt bad in turning Owen away, the room granted to her as a high level Masrani Global employee. He gratefully took her offer to share, promising in al his chivalry that he would sleep on the floor. Claire reprimanded it as nonsense, but Owen stuck to his word.

Claire gasped for breath, sucking in all the air she could before she choked on it. Under other circumstances she would have pushed away, embarrassment flaring at her cheeks. There was no time for that, no thought of it neither. She couldn’t breathe, nightmares still stalking at the edges of her dreams, the hot breath of the Indominus Rex still breathing down her neck.

She grabbed for him, her arms locking around his neck despite the fact that he was already holding her upright. His voice washed over her, shushing at intervals until she calmed. ‘Take a deep breath,’ He encouraged watching her with worried green eyes. Claire swallowed her fear, whole body trembling, as Owen tightened his grip, encouraging her with a soft voice.

‘Better?’ He asked, noting the easier rise and fall of her chest. Claire nodded, pulling away from him slightly to sit on her own. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, threatening to burst out from behind her ribs with its ferocity. Claire shook her head, trying to clear her thoughts, or at least chase away the lingering images in her head. Owen’s hand was on her back, she hadn’t noticed until he started rubbing soft circles across her shoulder blades.

It hit her like an unsuspecting tidal wave, grief barreling to her chest. She had caught her breath, only to loose it again, as a sob forced its way out of her throat. Owen sighed, expelling his own despair. ‘Don’t cry,’ He reached for her, hands cupping her cheeks, thumbs wiping away her tears. ‘It’s okay. Everything’s okay.’ He hushed, taking her back in his arms.

Owen let her go when she fought against him, desperate for space. He moved for the minibar when she crawled against the headboard, knees tucked against her chest. ‘Here,’ Owen extended his arm, small bottle of vodka clasped between his fingers. ‘Drink this. It’ll make you feel better.’ Claire rose a skeptical eyebrow, watching him from crossed arms. ‘Okay, it won’t make you feel better. But, it will block out the noise in your head. I promise.’ She took the small bottle without word, screwing off the cap and downing it quickly.

With his eyes on the clock, Owen scrubbed at his face. ‘You should go back to sleep.’ The suggestion came mostly from the clock, the time nearing early hours of the morning. He didn’t know what was in store for them in the coming morning, but he knew Claire needed her rest.

She shook her head, ‘I don’t think I can’. Owen sat beside her, watching her unsteady eyes linger on the blanket. He inched closer, his hand on hers, pulling her into his chest. She moved willingly, curling into him as she accepted the comfort he offered.

‘You can, and you will. You’ll only feel worse if you don’t sleep.’ He followed his words with more. Anecdotes of his time in the Marines, of the nightmares that followed. He was helping, not only because he cared, but because he had been there. ‘I’m right here,’ Owen told her, hand stroking through her hair as she surrendered all control against his chest.

‘For survival, right?’ She asked quietly, uncertain after they’d arrived onshore.

A kiss was pressed to the crown of her head. ‘Right.’ 

She hummed into his chest quietly, sinking into his embrace for a second before pushing away. ‘I’ll sleep, I promise. I just need to check on the boys.’ She pulled away, still shaking, his hand lingering in hers as he chuckled. He mumbled understanding as he accepted the gentle kiss she placed to the corner of his mouth. ‘I’ll be gone a second,’ Claire promised as she moved for the door, her sister and nephews, thankfully down the hall.

Chapter Text

His bag clunked down onto the table heavily, a drink landing on top of her notebook as he dropped into the chair beside her. Claire grinned, thanking him quietly and greeting him simultaneously. Her hands reached for the pomegranate juice and unscrewing the cap. Owen sighed beside her, hands between his knees, head hanging from his shoulders.

‘Why do you always pick the ‘no talking’ study zones. Why couldn’t we study upstairs?’ She chuckled at his whining. It was the same story every week, boisterous Owen Grady incapable to keep himself quiet in her desired study space.

‘You know why,’ She brushed him off. Truth be told, she liked the lower floors, they were quiet because they had to be, but also because no one else slipped that far into the library. The back corner was hidden behind locked shelves of historical art, allowed to be viewed upon appointment only. The windows were high, legs passing way above their heads as they talked in hushed voices. They were far from the stairwells and elevators, Claire felt at her most comfortable there.

‘How’d economics go?’ Claire asked, watching Owen over the rim of her glasses as she took a sip of the drink he bought her. He had a bag of pastries in her hand by the time Claire righted the cap on her bottle and looked back toward him.

Owen groaned, depositing the food and searching desperately for the notebook in his bag. ‘You told me it was an easy pass,’ His tone was accusatory, his glare playful. All he wanted was an easy pass, a bulge subject he could attend and gain a good mark without effort. He should have known better than to listen to a business major. ‘Collins has set this huge assignment for tomorrow and - God,’ He scrubbed a hand across his face in frustration, eyes squeezed closed. A few students in their small nooks threw him a precautionary glare for being louder than necessary. ‘I still don’t fucking understand a word of this shit.’

It was Claire’s hand on his that caused his heart to skip a beat, kind blue eyes blinking at him softly. ‘I’ll help you study.’ She offered easily, Owen passing her up on the kind offer. The last thing he wanted to do was study. He knew she didn’t mind. Claire never seemed to mind, especially when it concerned studying.

‘You’ve got better things to do.’

Claire shrugged, biting her lip, ‘Not really. Besides, I’ve done the class already. I know what you need to know.’ She grinned, promising him for the second time that she really didn’t have anything better to do with her day. She was studying anyway, why not help a friend.

Owen was convinced he was bothering her. Although that thought picked at the back of his thoughts, and had done for three years, he couldn’t seem to step away. He classed it as fate, his and Claire’s meeting. It was the first lecture of their senior year, and like an idiot he forgot a pen. Claire seated in front of him, eager and fresh faced, only eighteen got the not so subtle tap on the shoulder, and his pleading green eyes. Begrudgingly she handed him a pen.

That was that, as he liked to say. They’d been thick as thieves ever since. She was his conscious, the inner voice in his head that said Study Grady or you’ll be stuck here forever. He still rarely studied. Owen was lucky if his assignments were even handed in on time.

She was always there, regardless of the time or short notice. Sitting cross legged on his living room floor, or with her books scattered across the kitchen counter. Claire never failed to make herself at home, and for a very good reason, Owen couldn’t see himself surviving without her.

Closing her laptop Claire focused on Owen. He stared at her, green eyes wide with her sudden attention. She wasn’t huge with eye contact, something he noticed very early on. She could talk until the sun and moon switched positions, but rarely would she look him in the eye.

Uncomfortable, she tucked a strand of short red hair behind her ear, eyes diverting to her notebook. ‘Do you, ah - do you have Collins’ criteria on you?’ He swallowed quickly before nodding, diving back into his bag in search of the slip of paper he knew he threw in there somewhere.

Economics seemed straightforward coming from Claire’s lips. Owen supposed her mind worked differently, she’d learnt this all before, reading his handouts were only reaffirming the things she knew for certain.

He watched her brain tick as she scribbled in her notebook, writing her own notes for him to use. It always felt a little like taking advantage of her brain. Claire understood what Owen didn’t, and also knew how he learnt. She managed to condense and entire chapter of his textbooks into simple sentences that spoke volumes.

He needed to start paying her.

He certainly didn’t deserve her.

Owen wondered what she saw in him. She was too pretty for her own good, although he had learnt quickly that she didn’t care much for looks. Everything was about getting through college, finishing her internship and hopefully snagging a top job right after graduation. He doubted he’d ever see her again after that.

Claire certainly never hung around for his company. She had a few good friends on campus, not much, but enough that she could count them all on one hand. Each as brilliant and brave as she was, although Owen was bias - Claire always came out on top.

He was just that pesky student, slack from the beginning, who bugged her lecture after lecture, and eventually in their shared tutorial - when he showed up. They were forced together on a group assignment and suddenly the animosity between them dissolved, evening out to a smooth partnership.

Except it wasn’t really a partnership when you pined after the other half - right? He swore he was in love with her. Owen didn’t have anything to compare it too, but he was sure. His heart skipped a beat every time he so much as thought about her.

He didn’t think she felt the same. They were friends. Good friends. If she felt any different he would have known by now - they’d known each other for so long. Maybe she was waiting for him to make the first move. They were young, and dumb, and scared. Neither of them really knew how to do this properly. Not for the long haul. Not for someone as important as Claire.

‘You’re staring at me again,’ She broke through his thoughts, her simple statement about how much he’d enjoy behavioural economics if he just sat down in the psychology of it, had washed away completely.

Owen blinked. ‘Yeah, ah, sorry.’ His hand rubbed at the back of his neck, his cheeks suddenly warm as he offered her a cheesey grin. Owen’s heart leaped in his chest, ‘I like you’. He told her on a quiet breath.

Her voice was soft when she responded, ‘I noticed’.

Owen shook his head, ‘No, I really like you’. He blinked awkwardly, half cringing in preparation of her rejection. He was capable of getting up out of his seat and leaving before his heart shattered into a million pieces. He was ready. She could keep his note books.

Claire watched him, small smile tickling its way up her cheeks, each corner climbing higher. He couldn’t help but stare at her, caught in her somewhat dorky look - oversized tortoise shell glasses, and thick mustard yellow sweater. She giggled, her eyes locked with his, connection unwavering. ‘I know’.

She was inching closer as he stared at her, compelled. He couldn’t tell if her knowing was good or bad, her reaction only glee. Claire had an odd sense of humour, he didn’t think this would count.

He looked at her, actually looked, caught deep in her blue eyes as the next question drifted from him. ‘Can I kiss you?’ He’d lost his voice, the whisper barely there.

Shifting in her chair, Claire nodded, teeth sinking into her bottom lip as her eyes flickered from his to his lips. Owen didn’t wait any longer, he swooped in softly, hands cupping her cheeks as he took her bottom lip between his own teeth, pulling it free. 

Chapter Text

Her palm was sweaty against his. Claire was desperate to yank it away in order to wring her own hands around the other, heightening her stress. Owen squeezed her hand, pleasant little smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Of course he was calm, Claire half brooded. It was his mother. Not hers. The unknown hid in every nook of his childhood.

He promised it would be okay. Claire believed him, of course she would. Owen was usually right, well, at least about the things she had little experience of. Mostly, when he said things were going to be okay, they had turned out how he had said. Claire was still waiting to cash in on a few of those promises, this one in particular.

The front driveway of his mothers house seemed daunting in the early afternoon light. ‘We can still go home, right?’ She asked, tugging on his hand as she tried to back towards the rental car. Claire Dearing didn’t back away from anything. That woman had stood in front of a T-Rex and lured it out of her cage. Here she was, terrified of his mother.

Owen chuckled, his humour light as he switched the hand that was holding hers just so he could wrap the other around her waist. His arms were strong, holding her tight and preventing the slow back step she was attempting. She pouted at him slightly, knowing all too well that she had to confront the issue they were out there to face.

There were worse places to be in comparison to Saint Louis County. She’d eased into it softly, Owen in the drivers seat, his hand on the steering wheel pointed at oncoming buildings, old memories of his childhood flashing past them. His stories emptied out into the car, a Grady childhood pieced together - half the man he had become.

‘It’s going to be okay,’ He told her for the twentieth time hand squeezing her hip. Claire was sure this would be the one time where everything would fall apart. She barely had a chance to refuse, to beg, hand curled against his chest, to see if they could do it another time. Despite their growing problem, there was no time.

‘Owen?’ His mother’s voice called from the front door, her silhouette filling the space. Claire swallowed hard. The woman was off the porch and down her front steps in seconds, arms wrapped around her son tightly. ‘And you must be Claire, it’s so lovely to finally meet you.’ She turned after a second, giving Owen a last squeeze before moving to hug Claire.

There was suggestion in the woman’s tone. They’d relocated several months ago, signed and approved that they could leave Costa Rica without needing to go back. As soon as they were settled Owen went to see his mother, while Claire stayed back. They didn’t have a reason then, there was no defining factor or impending timeframe they had to work with.

She had dragged her feet for weeks, insisting that they didn’t have to go - that they could put it off for a little longer. It was a mix of dread, and an urge not to fly. Claire had been unwell for weeks, the thought of high altitude only made her stomach roll. ‘What? You wanna call her? Tell her over the phone? She’ll be on the first plane over here if you do it that way, and she’ll never leave.’ He’d argued back with slight humour, watching the woman sulk in front of him. ‘You do realise you’re showing right?’ He’d asked too, nodding his head to the slight protrusion in her clothes. It was only slight, enough to see it if you knew to look for it. Claire was convinced she still had time left for baggy clothes. ‘If we wait any longer to tell her, she’ll have our heads when she does find out.’

Heather Grady squeezed Claire’s arms tightly as she took a step back, looking over the woman with a critical eye. Claire felt guilty in a second. Owen’s mother wasn’t an idiot, and she’d had three kids. Claire had no doubt that she would out her without batting an eye. She wanted to give into her guilt, put a hand on her stomach protectively, a position she had unknowingly grown comfortable with. Heather clicked her tongue. ‘You’re too thin!’ Claire laughed awkwardly, despite the fact that she had already put on an extra ten pounds since she found out she was pregnant. ‘Do you feed the girl?’ Heather teased, smacking her son in the arm.

Claire let out a small sigh of relief, as Heather ushered them inside. Her heart rate evened out as Owen rolled his eyes over his mother’s head, as the woman chastised him for evidently never listening to her.

Making up for her son’s easy misgivings, Heather plated copious amounts of food for Claire, who barely touched a thing. She was trying her best not to appear rude, but not eating was better than her upset stomach. Despite moving out of the first trimester and saying goodbye to morning sickness, Claire was still queasy in certain situations.

Owen rolled his eyes when Heather got up to fetch the photo albums, even though he had instigated the activity. She squished herself between them, albums scattered in front of them, Heather telling three different stories at once.

He was a cute kid, or so she had gleaned from his baby pictures, toddler Owen running around in a diaper, making his mother’s life blissful hell. Their child, whomever they were, was undeniably destined for adorable genetics. Heather told them tales of her first born, Owen’s easy charm with his mother, and complete strangers on the street and his laid-back attitude.

Claire had fears. Lots of them, more than what she could count on two hands. The idea of having a child, regardless of her circumstances, was enough to give her nightmares. She was still fighting off the nightmares that still lay etched in her mind after Jurassic World. Claire didn’t need anymore. Listening to Heather talk, doting on old memories of her now grown son, soothed an impatient fear in the back of Claire’s mind.

She wasn’t aware of how or when, but Heather had moved on. The pictures were semi recent, the quality improved. ‘And this,’ Heather started, ‘Is my grand-baby, Olivia’. Her smile was megawatt, enough to bottle and power a whole city. The girl in the picture was about three, wide eyes and cubby cheeks. She boasted about her granddaughter for a little, flipping pages back and forth, telling stories of the child’s youth in a nonlinear fashion.

‘There it is,’ Heather stopped on a picture. It was recent, the woman recounting sometime around the last Easter. It was Owen, in all his glory, grinning for the camera in autumn light, his niece on his hip, mirroring his smile.

Claire hadn’t realised that she spoke until Heather was peering at her with inquisitive green eyes, Owen behind her nodding with fierce encouragement. ‘What was that, dear?’ Heather asked, worry forming a knot in her brow.

She blamed the picture. It had to be. The stories of his childhood, followed by Heather graciously boasting about her granddaughter, just as any doting grandparent would. The words sort of … fell out.

‘I’m pregnant,’ Claire whispered, unable to raise her voice any higher than a frightened squeak. This wasn’t investors and corporate offices. This was family. Something she hadn’t known for so long, it had become synonymous with reluctancy and fear. There was no more park to hide behind. No more giving her nephew’s express passes to Jurassic World and empty promises that she would see them for dinner. This was her daughter. She would be there, she had to be. Owen had tried to ease her into the idea, with half filled promises, that it would all be easy and somewhat magical. The growing disbelief, morphed with happiness on Heather’s face, solidified his promises as correct.

Heather looked between them both, her green eyes searching her son’s beaming face, to Claire’s awkward smile. Claire couldn’t prevent the flood that erupted from her when Heather jumped up to embrace her tightly. Claire was yet to receive a response like that. When she told Owen she was pregnant she pushed him away. Karen found out over the phone. Her own parents were long dead, and here was this woman, who barely knew her more than the stories Owen had shared, an a select number of hours together. No one had hugged her yet.

She spilled her secrets as Heather comforted her. The woman stroking her hair as Claire apologised for her emotions. Owen received a swift smack over the back of the head, when Claire managed to blubber out that she was six-and-a-half months pregnant. The smack was harder when she realised they knew the gender, too.

‘I have you two all weekend, don’t I?’ Heather asked, handing Claire a tissue and squeezing her shoulder. Claire nodded softly as she wiped at her cheeks. ‘Good. Can we shop?’ She asked with an eager spark in her eye. Claire smiled, wet eyelashes fluttering.

‘Of course,’

‘I’m not mad at you,’ Heather told her, ‘In case you’re worried’. She looked to both of them, Owen sitting beside Claire now, digging through her bag in search of the latest sonogram they’d shoved in there. ‘He however should’ve know better,’ Heather threw Owen a pointed glare for affect. They were adults, she understood they had their reasons, and ultimately respected the fact that her son chose to stand by Claire’s decision until she was comfortable. Owen had told her enough about Claire Dearing to know the woman was a little flighty when it came to the idea of family.

‘It’s a girl, grandma!’ Owen exclaimed, proudly handing over the sonogram he’d procured from Claire’s bag. Heather stopped, she grinned, giddy like a small child with a new toy.

‘I’m keeping this,’ She told them as she ran her fingers over it before tucking it into her photo album for Olivia. She would start a new one, already excited for the impending child. She hugged Claire again, kissing the woman’s temple in a motherly act of affection before she quietly welcomed her to the family.

Chapter Text

The lights were low, seeping in from the street through open windows, bathing them both in murky light. Her hands were still shaking, her chest still moving out of time. They were sitting in the aftershocks of joint nightmares, cradled in the darkness, and relief that they were both awake.

‘When we were out there,’ Claire started, body shifting on the bed’s mattress as Owen watched her from the love-seat directly opposite the bed. She didn’t have to specify where they had been, Isla Nublar’s jungle still pressed into the soles of their feet. ‘You said,’ She stopped to think, trying to remember the words, ‘“Humans are an overrated species”, what did you mean?’ Her voice was quiet in the dark, reaching out of him, barely making it.

Owen sighed, legs stretching out on front of him as he locked his arms over the back of his neck. He was glad she couldn’t see the conflict on his face. Unable to display to her fully, the extent of his ordeals.

‘In the Navy,’ He began, ‘You’re unwillingly enrolled in a lesson of human nature. You witness first hand what people will do to one another under the influence of everyone else. People call - called - me crazy for working with Velociraptors. At least with them, I knew they would kill me on blood instinct, not because some convoluted asshole demanded it, in exchange for their lives. Everything with animals is basic instinct, no manipulation. Humans - they’re too complicated … too messy.’

He was so used to watching people be controlled by others, mass destruction at the hands of corrupt political leaders, fighting wars that were not his own, his father and grandfather doing the same. He held too much hope in society as a young boy, and had it all come crashing down around his head.

It was a lot easier to say away from people, and keep to animal behaviour. At least that seemed to make more scientific sense in his head.

‘I don’t know, we’re raised on “it takes a village” and “find a sweet girl” or “a nice husband”. It doesn’t work, we’re all too busy criticising each other to actually help. We’re supposed to be in it together, and no one is really there. Everything’s too fake, and the experience isn’t enough. People are never who they say they are.’

‘I’d like to think I’m exactly who I say I am,’ Claire responded, still quiet in the dark.

Owen chuckled. ‘You’re a lot nicer than what you let people believe, Claire.’ She mumbled something back at him, disbelief in his words, enough to evoke a heart felt response. Claire let her staff believe she was cold hearted and aloof, but deep down she cared about every single staff member in the Control room. She was funny, and bright, she knew when to kick back - but she never allowed any of these things to bee seen by the people she worked with. Instead she allowed horrible names to be spread about her, not bothering to defend them once. ‘You are so gentle and get so strong - so much so that you think mixing the two will make you weak. It won’t.’ The same could be said for him. ‘I think that’s what I love about you - there’s a vulnerability there that you guard so fiercely you must suffocate.’

She shifted but didn’t speak. Owen got up from his place on the love seat to move toward her, perching on the end of the hotel bed. ‘None of us are who we say we are, because we don’t realise all the pent up shit we hide. Hidden behind closed doors we’re half of the human our parents raised, and only a small portion of our true selves. You hide behind the ice queen and I hide behind the cocky bravado.’

Claire knew it was true. She wasn’t as cold hearted as everyone believed, and he had some tender moments when he wasn’t too busy stroking the possessive role of alpha. That was who he was. Act or not.

‘I just don’t trust people, Claire. They rarely ever come out on top.’ All he had to do was point to Hoskins for the day before. The ignorant man causing more harm than good.

She reached for him in the dark, small hand finding his knee as she squeezed. ‘What about “for survuval”?’ They were both quiet for a second. ‘Because, Owen, I’m not going anywhere. And I’m not lying about who I am. I’m petrified, of what’s going to happen when I close my eyes, and when I’m called upon. I can’t do this by myself.’

His hand fell on top of hers, squeezing her back. ‘Nah,’ He sighed, ‘You’re an exception to the rule’.

Chapter Text

She crawled into bed on all fours, plopping down beside him with a small pout. Owen reached out, thumb tracing a line across her bottom lip. ‘What’s wrong?’ If her pout hadn’t given away discomfort, the way she settled in beside him did.

Claire shook her head, letting it fall to his shoulder, as she took his arm captive, wrapping herself around it. ‘Just sore,’ She kissed his bicep, peering over the muscle to read the open book in his lap. He closed the page, discarding the paperback to the nightstand, before dropping his hand to the swell of her stomach.

‘Oi, leave your Ma alone.’ Owen gruffed, thumb stroking lines against her shirt. At four months, she was starting to develop a noticeable baby bump. Not much of one, but enough that Owen could cup the curve of her abdomen.

Claire chuckled, rolling her forehead against his shoulder. ‘That’s it, you’ve cured me. Backaches be gone!’ She was starting to regret the offer she turned down, a pregnancy yoga class with a co-worker. It might have helped. Now she wouldn’t know.

His pattern changed, eyes caught on the way she fit against him. ‘My boy knows better than to cause his Ma strife.’ Owen laughed into her hair, offering a back rub as he kissed the top of her ear.  The gender game was something he played with back and forth. Assigning a gender to a scenario. He decided their daughter would be an unstoppable force, their son quiet and calm. Until he knew for certain he would jump in-between the two, Claire amused with his soft indecision.

Claire let go of his arm, allowing Owen to move it so she could press herself to him a little tighter. ‘I just want to cuddle.’ She whispered against his shoulder, dropping a delicate kiss before she shifted, her back to him.

He took a second to take his thumbs to the back of her hips, knowing most of her discomfort rested there. Claire grumbled, pushing back against his hands. ‘I’m sorry,’ He apologised, pulling her toward him his lips on her shoulder.

She mumbled something back in response. He should be sorry. It was his child growing in her belly, her body stretching and redefining itself for him. For them. She was promised a sweet reward in the end, or so Owen had said.

Claire settled against his chest, each of his ribs fitting between hers. Claire sighed, heavy and happy, her discomfort abated for the meantime as Owen wrapped his arms around her. ‘Better?’ He asked quietly as she pulled his arms around her tighter. Claire hummed, tone noticeably sleepy.  He lay still, not wanting to disturb the peace she found. They’d been on a shortage of comfortable nights, Owen feared it would only get worse. He let her sleep when she managed to drift off, despite the fact that his book was reaching the climax, the story unravelling at it’s peak.

He was a selfless man. His small pleasures were taken from tiny, fleeting moments. Memories that would be replaced with their newborn once they arrived. For now, there was nothing he loved more than pregnant, drowsy Claire, seeking him out for comfort were she would usually have suffered in silence.

Owen slid a hand away from her grasp, leaving it to rest against her hip, lazy circles tracing themselves amongst figure eights as he listened to her breathing shift and change.

Chapter Text

It was a summery afternoon. The air crisp with warm childhood memories, the garage door rolled open, the sounds of sprinklers ticking along the street. The little girl sat at his feet, ears keenly listening out for the ice-cream truck that had a habit of coming close - but never quite reaching their street.

She was talking to him - mostly herself - a mix of real words and baby dribble. Their lazy Saturday afternoon had been set, Claire popping her head in, on the reminder that Charlie would need a nap. ‘Hear that, baby girl, nap at three.’ He told her with a mock warning tone.

‘Nope.’ The two-year-old shook her head, red curls flying as she giggled, overalls already stained with grease. He elected not to fight with her. She would refuse sleep, regardless of if they argued about it now or not.

Owen flicked on the radio, his favourite station already on, the commercial promising non stop rock hits all summer. Charlie bopped on the floor, instantly recognising the song that had begun to play. Owen beamed, watching her for a second before he turned to his bike.

‘I helping!’ Charlie jumped at him, ready for Owen’s command. She’d always been good at helping. Even before she could actually help. It was more the companionship. Owen would leave Charlie in her jumper, asleep in the corner of the garage as he tinkered for the afternoon. Just as Claire would lie her on a blanket in the garden, as she attempted to fix themselves a veggie patch.

‘What do we need to do first, Charlie-Bear?’ Owen asked her, watching green eyes flash.

‘Drive!’ She exclaimed loudly, hands in the air, excitement on her face.

Owen laughed, his head shaking as he dropped a humoured ‘no’ on her. ‘She’s broken, remember.’  Charlie nodded, bottom lip pouting as she sighed. She reached out with a little hand to pet the bike, like her parents would pat her back when she was upset.

They were minutes into their tinkering, Owen loosening bolts as he contemplated the ins and outs of a good polish when his phone started to ring. He sat the wrench on stained concrete, as he pulled the device out from the back pocket of his jeans. It two twenty seconds for Owen to turn his back, launching into conversation with Barry before Charlie picked up the wrench and connected it with his bike.

He couldn’t place what sound hurt the most. The resounding thud of metal on metal, a promised dint, or the light, high pitched screeching of his wrench dragged across the body of his engine that followed. His heart leapt into his throat, dread settling in his gut.

‘Charlie!’ Her name was a rough shout, the same warning tone he gave her at the zoo, or when she was teetering on the edge of falling off the kitchen counter. Owen hung up on Barry with a short excuse and promise to call him back. He turned slowly, body rigid, terrified to look at what had caused the noise. His little daughter was standing beside the bike, wrench in her hand, nothing but solid fear on her face.

He second his eyes landed on her, Charlie flinched before she erupted in tears. Owen’s expression softened as he reached for her. He hadn’t even looked at the bike, was too scared to see if there was damage. First and foremost, his concern lay with Charlie.

She ran, when he reached for her, turned on the spot, and bolted for the door. Terrified of his own fear, and half brewed anger. He had barely expressed it, and certainly wasn’t intending to unload it on her. Charlie may have caused the damage - if there was any - she was two, and prone to making mistakes. They had crayon on the walls to prove it.

He thew a glance towards his bike, before he chased after his daughter.

Charlie was tucked into Claire’s lap, whimpering softly into her mother’s neck. Claire brushed the hair back from the little girl’s face as she asked over and over what had happened. ‘Oopsy,’ She told her mother, hands coiled in Claire’s shirt.

She looked to Owen for an answer, as the man crouched down beside them, his eyes apologetic. ‘My bike,’ He told Claire simply, hand reaching out to touch Charlie’s back. The girl tensed. ‘Charlie, don’t be silly. You’re not in trouble.’ She turned her head, peering at him from Claire’s shoulder, not completely convinced that she wouldn’t get yelled at.

He extended his arms for the girl, asking her silently for a hug. Charlie watched him for a second, her little fists unfurling from her mother’s shirt, before tightening her grip. Claire encouraged her, knuckles running up and down Charlie’s spine as she whispered in her ear. After a moment, Charlie slipped from Claire’s lap, and fell easily into Owens. The tears on her cheeks were dry, but the upset was still shining in her eyes.

‘Are you okay?’ He asked the girl first, kissing the top of her head. Charlie nodded. ‘Good.’ He kissed her cheek, blowing a soft raspberry in order to make her giggle. ‘Did you scratch my bike?’ She nodded again, slowly. Charlie told him on one word that it was an accident. Owen already knew that. ‘Accident’s happen sometimes. That’s okay. I’m not angry with you, Charlie-Bear. But I’m a bit sad.’ She petted his cheek, like she had done to the bike, encouraging a gentle there, there. ‘Maybe next time we won’t leave the tools near Daddy’s bike.’ Charlie echoed the good idea, promising too, that she didn’t need to use tools no more.

They agreed quietly, Owen peppering her cheeks with kisses as Claire suggested they put their tinkering down for the day and retire to the park for an early lunch. Owen was all too pleased for the distraction, the slight shimmer of a long, wobbly scratch on his bike a little too maddening for the moment.

Claire kissed his cheek, promising quietly that it could be fixed … if his bike wasn’t as much of a lost cause as he thought it was. He wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her close. He held her for a second, lips pressed to her neck softly as he hummed, soaking her in before letting her go.

‘Let’s go!’ Charlie cheered from the door, jumping up and down with her hand on the doorknob. He smiled, watching her as she waited for them impatiently, Claire telling the girl to wait - she had to find her shoes. Things went missing in their home, there was crayon on the walls, and paint stained into the floorboards. His bike now had an impressive dint, and scratch to match. And yet, Owen wouldn’t trade any of it. Not a single lost second as he tried to track down his missing key’s, Charlie giggling behind him.

Their home house their boisterous and lively daughter. Charlie, even at two, knew how to make her mark.

Chapter Text

 

He didn’t know where the courage came from. Or the idea really. It’d been months, the strip of fabric practically living on his coffee table. It wasn’t like the thing had just turned up. It had been breathing in his space, practically living, for close to a year.

He shouldn’t have called her and most of all, he shouldn’t have left a message on her machine. The scarf daunted him, the item leering at him - if it could leer. It had been Karen’s. Borrowed one chilly fall when he and Claire ventured to Madison. She practically stole it, not realising the accessory had been packed into her suitcase until they were home, unpacking.

She never retuned it, and in turn, it remained stuffed in the back of their once shared closet - now his alone - until he found it a few short weeks after she moved out. He should have called her then. She never would have collected it, might have just suggested he FedEx it to Karen - which was something else he didn’t need to wait this long to do.

Dread settled low in his belly, building up guilt. He really shouldn’t have called her. Owen couldn’t help himself, and he knew it. Once the idea was in his head there was no shaking it loose. He needed to call her, he’d been looking for excuses for weeks, and failing with each one, terrified that they were pathetic enough to annoy her. The scarf was pathetic. He almost didn’t care.

Slouched on the couch, beer in hand, scarf on the coffee table. He glared at the ball of fabric, willing it to disappear before retracting the thought; terrified that it might. He watched it, half pretending that he wasn’t, as some cooking show flashed across his screen. Owen wasn’t watching, he never usually was. Too caught up in his head to notice anything.

Barry told him he was pathetic. Owen didn’t disagree. She moved out four months ago and he was still hung up on her. Still caught on phantom clouds of her perfume, still waking in the middle of the night, panicked to find himself not wrapped around her. His heart still leapt at the sight of their - his - half empty wardrobe.

He let the scarf haunt him when he found it. The strip of fabric jumping from surface to surface in his modest apartment. It echoed with the sounds of Claire’s laughter and the feel of her freezing hands against his skin. Retracing the memories of that weekend across his frontal lobe, keeping itself at the forefront of his cognitive processes.

He was a mess.

The scarf was found only two weeks after Claire left. It took him fourteen weeks to call her. Fourteen weeks of weak courage, picking up the phone only to put it back down again. So long that he shouldn’t have left the somewhat meek and desperate message on her machine … he should have just hung up.

His door rattled, the sound of someone’s steady knock reverberating around the living room. His heart jumped, pounding in his chest as he pulled himself up and toward the door. Even though he had called, he wasn’t expecting her. Owen wouldn’t have blamed Claire if she never spoke to him again, not even a text. He never dreamed of seeing her in front of him again.

There she was her height almost squaring off with his in a six inch heels. Her face soft, her hair longer than he had remembered, touching her shoulders and rolling forward, her bangs still neatly kept. Owen couldn’t find the words to greet her, he only stared, soaking in every detail. Despite the make up on her face, he could still make out the freckles that coated her cheeks and nose. His heart took a crash landing, plummeting to the pit of his stomach and setting itself alight. He couldn’t breath.

‘Hi,’ She whispered, clearly uncomfortable in his scrutiny. But, she had watched him too. He caught her eyes skating over him, tracing the outline of his shoulders and down his ribs. Owen almost choked on his breath.

Nervously, her scratched a hand over the back of his neck. ‘Ah, hey,’ He tried for causal, and ended up sounding as terrified as she looked.

‘You have my sister’s scarf?’ Claire asked, nudging the conversation in the right direction. Seeking purpose when she could so easily get lost. Owen nodded quickly, removing his hand from his neck, and stepping aside to let her in.

He didn’t know if she would take the offer. If she would step into their old home, or if she would wait in the hall, collect the scarf and go. Owen saw it as a good sign when she stepped in, heading straight for the living room without hesitation. She saw the scarf on the table, but didn’t move for it. He did, unsure of what to do. Owen handed it to her, arm outstretched. Claire blinked at the scarf for a second, just staring before she took it from his hand gently, her fingernails barely touching his palm.

‘I miss you,’ Owen breathed, quickly collecting himself before anything else would slip out. He missed her. He loved her. He was still a little torn at why she had left. And even though Barry tried to get him to move on, nothing compared to Claire Dearing.

She blinked at him, like she had blinked at her sister’s scarf. There was peace on her face, the gentle movement of her eyelashes as she thought for a second before she nodded. ‘I miss you too,’ The words were quiet, barely there if he wasn’t hold his breath in half flung hope that she would say it back. Now that she had. He didn’t know what to do.

He watched her. Studying the lines of her face, like he would never see her again. She watched him back, wringing the scarf around her hands, too scared to move. It was Claire who left. Packed up her things in an almost wild flurry before explaining to him that she had to go while making it very clear that they were over.

She didn’t go very far. But, she was gone. She had ripped a hole in his heart, it never healed properly.

Owen stepped towards her, one slow step at a time, approaching her like he would a wild animal. Claire didn’t move away, her eyes locked to his the whole time. ‘I’m going to kiss you,’ Owen told her, barely an inch away, giving Claire the out she needed.

She didn’t take it, only licked her lips and nodded cautiously. Owen didn’t hesitate. He pressed his lips to hers softly, the touch so gentle he wasn’t sure if he was kissing her or not. It only took a second for the kiss to grow fierce, teeth catching lips, tongues fighting for dominance. Claire’s hands landed on his chest, pushing back against him as she caught his bottom lip between her teeth.

He whimpered against her, unafraid of the sound, the need. It didn’t stop her from clinging to him like he was the only water source in a vast desert. She took command of their lip lock until Owen slipped his hands under her tights and lifted her. Claire’s legs automatically locked around his waist, holding on tight as she squeaked slightly. He was halfway to depositing her on the kitchen counter when she pulled away, her hands firm on his shoulders.

‘Shit, Claire. I’m - I’m sorry.’ He apologised quickly, letting her stand on her own two feet as he stepped away from her, putting the distance between the two of them.

Claire shook her head, chest heaving as she tried to catch her breath. ‘I’m miserable without you,’ Her secrets spilt from her lips, tumbling to the carpet at her feet. She was terrified of loosing him. So scared their relationship would fall apart, that she left. It wasn’t her most defining moment. She let them drift into silence. Owen left confused in her wake, uncertain as to whether he could contact her or not. ‘I should have called,’ She stumbled, ashamed with herself for letting things die. ‘I should have come back.’

Owen shrugged, ‘You know, it would have been nice’. He echoed his I miss you from earlier. Letting it sit between them as he fought back the urge to kiss her. He didn’t understand what was going on. She missed him too. She made a mistake in leaving. ‘Do you want to come back?’ She could, if she wanted too. His life sat in limbo after she left, nothing had changed, it would take no adjustment. Claire could have her space in the wardrobe back, the book shelves, her side of the bed, his clothing she loved to wear. It was already there waiting for her.

He watched her sink her teeth into her bottom lip, thoughts eating her alive. He wanted to take her into his arms and pry her lip from her teeth, save her the pain of her thoughts and kiss her senseless. Claire needed to say the words. ‘I really want to come home.’

Owen moved first, invading her personal space in one large step as he wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her up again. Claire complied easily, legs locking around his hips, hands on his shoulders, forehead on his.

Karen’s scarf was wrapped around Claire’s hand, tapping Owen’s shoulder as she carded her hands through his hair, peppering sweet kisses across his face and short promises that she was there to stay.

If he had know it would have lead to this; Claire back in his arms. Owen would have used the scarf as an excuse to call her much sooner.

Chapter Text

 

‘You’ve got everything that you need right here.’ Claire told him, checking over the small set up she’d left on the bedside table. He was sick. A common case of the man flu. Owen had bed ridden himself, incapable of going to work, and barely existing. Claire had only rolled her eyes, expecting as much when he started to sniffle the day before. ‘Don’t enjoy your day off, too much.’ She told him with a fond smile, as Owen pouted, his arms snaking around her legs as he lay on the bed beside her.

‘I won’t enjoy it at all.’ His pout grew deeper as his grip grew tighter. Claire rolled her eyes, standing beside the bed she was trapped, her balance unstable as Owen’s hold pressed to the back of her knees. 

Claire sighed, fingers pressing into the bedside table in an attempt to keep herself upright. ‘I have to go to work.’ He whimpered at her like a small child, his face pressed against her thighs as his grip refused to loosen.

He wanted her to stay. She wanted to. Claire worried about her husband when he was sick, the man stooping to the pathetic of a young child eager for comfort. She turned her head toward the window. The sky was dark with storm clouds, the glass wet with rain.

It was that time of year. Everyone started to smell like eucalyptus, their eyes puffy, noses red. She’d fly under the radar without a second thought. ‘Fine.’ She groaned, succumbing to his simplistic need for comfort. Owen tugged on her legs, attempting weakly, to pull her down on the bed. Claire protested. Owen whined. She still needed to call her assistant to let the woman know she was ill.

Claire had to pry herself from Owen’s grip just so she could seek out her phone, by the front door. She returned to their bedroom with her schedule cleared for the afternoon, her assistant promising everything was under control.

She slipped into something more comfortable. Leggings and a shirt of Owen’s.Laptop in hand, Claire settled beside him, precariously trying not to disturb the sleeping man. He stirred anyway. His slumber not lasting any longer than five minutes. He likely wasn’t even asleep at all. He shifted, curling himself towards her in order to wrap his arm around her thigh.

Claire watched him, her eyes peering over the top of her glasses, her legs crossed, laptop in her lap. She clicked her tongue, chuckling to herself a little as she traced a hand though his hair. ‘You’re ridiculous.’ He nodded, forehead burning against her leg.

‘You love me,’ Owen told her softly, eyes closed, waiting for the tylenol to kick in. Claire hummed fondly, one hand in his hair, the other typing slowly at her keyboard.

‘Unfortunately, that’s true.’ Claire laughed as she leant down to kiss his sweaty forehead. There was a teasing warning on her lips. ‘You get me sick, Grady, and I will kill you.’ She followed it with another fond kiss, her hand brushing his hair away from his face.

Owen only hummed in response, feeling the drowsiness trying to drag him under. His grip tightened on her leg momentarily before it loosened, the man set off into a deep slumber. Claire stuck beside him.

Chapter Text

 

Karen always had a way of getting information out of her sister. Claire was a good liar, it made the task hard. But, Karen was aware of a weakness her sister hadn’t managed to conceal, purely because she never noticed. Claire got distracted, easily, focusing on work, or organising whatever needed to be organised. When her hands were busy, fingers typing, pencil scratching, her mind tended to run a little stray. The prison on her mind shut down. Her mouth and brain free to stray.

It felt a little like manipulating her baby sister. Taking information Claire wasn’t always willing to share. How could Karen possibly do her job if Claire never told her anything.

Her visit to San Diego was a potential gold mine of information. Karen’s divorce was somewhat settled, Scott in the least being a tad bit kinder after the incident that could have potentially seen their sons dead. Scott watched the kids, and Karen watched Claire.

It was no surprise that her sister was working, and wouldn’t stop despite the guest. In most cases, Karen would be annoyed. For the first time, she wasn’t. ‘How’re you doing, Claire-Bear?’ Karen asked, reverting to the childhood nickname as she settled herself on a bench stool. She’d already asked the question, a million times before in the weeks and now months that had passed since Jurassic World.

Claire hummed an easy ‘Good’. This time a lot more believable than what it had been weeks ago. Karen could see Claire for herself, the gentle smile on her clear skin, the worry fading from her eyes. It was easier to swallow with physical proof. Karen knew too, it had something to do with Owen. The man in question having ducked out to get them lunch. She wanted to know how much on an impact he was having on her baby sister’s life.

‘And you and Owen, how’s that going?’ She pried gently, boring holes into the side of Claire’s face. Her sister hummed. Sometimes Karen managed full sentences out of her, entire rants, and other times she got nothing but an slight noise. ‘He still sleeping in the spare room?’ The room, when she arrived, looked like it hadn’t been inhabited in months. When Karen knew full well her sister had pushed Owen as far as she could, without kicking him out. There was a dependency, not that Claire wanted to admit it. Karen found it endearing. The man meant enough to her sister that Claire was scared of loosing him, either by taking things too far, or not letting him in. Owen seemed to not mind either way, so long as he could spend his time with Claire. He loved her. He was willing to stay.

Claire shook her head, ‘He’s in my room’. Karen hummed, devilish grin slipping across her cheeks as she leant against the kitchen counter.

‘But, like, on the floor or something? Are your nightmares still bothering you?’ Claire had called her one night, still caught in the throws of a nightmare, panic catching the air every time she tried to breathe. She wanted to check on the boys. Karen was more interested in her. Owen was away for the weekend, business or family, Karen couldn’t recall. Claire admitted easily that she was sleeping horribly without him around. She didn’t want to call and bother him while he was away. Karen scoffed. It was impossible for Claire to bother Owen.

Despite not paying attention to her sister, Claire rolled her eyes, pushing her glasses up her nose a little further. ‘We sleep together.’ Karen bit back her laugh as she waited for Claire to embellish a little further. ‘You know,’ Her hand rolled in the air beside her head, letting her sister assume the rest.

‘Oh, Claire-Bear, I have no idea.’ Karen teased, rolling her eyes much as her sister had. She waited a beat. No response from Claire. ‘Are you sleeping with him?’ She asked and Claire hummed, her head nodding slightly. ‘Claire Adelaide Dearing!’ She shrieked, unable to contain it. Glee overriding the right of passage Claire had denied her. They were supposed to talk about things like this. Or, at least, they used to. When they were girls, sharing a bedroom and secrets in the dark. Simple crushes and first kisses, prom dates and getting to second base. It was the closest they had ever been. ‘I need details. Now.’ Just because her love life was in shambles didn’t mean she couldn’t live vicariously through her sister. Claire had it good. Claire had a God, an Adonis.

‘I’m not telling you anything,’ Claire shook her head with a laugh. She turned from the mess of documents spread across the dining table, her computer screen no longer polarising against her glasses. Claire looked her sister in the eye, grinned and then crinkled her nose, freckles dancing.

Karen rolled her hands into fists and tapped against the counter. ‘Oh, come on. You gotta give me something.’ She was giddy, practically over the moon, thankful that her sister found someone who made her cheeks flush. ‘At least tell me he’s good in bed. Please, for the love of god, tell me you’re satisfied.’ Karen was playing with an orange, plucking the fruit from the bowl on the counter and rolling it under her palm. If Claire asked later, not that she usually recalled, the questions pressed into the back of her mind. Karen would claim fear for her well being. After everything it would be a let down to find Owen lacked in a certain important department.

Claire didn’t bat an eyelash. Her cheeks flushed pink, and her bottom lip receded into her mouth, teeth sinking in. Claire sighed heavily, almost whimsical, ‘I’m satisfied. Trust me.’

‘That good, huh?’ Karen chuckled. She watched Claire jump between documents, worrying her lip between her teeth.

Claire stopped. Paused. ‘Indescribable.’ Karen was on the verge of another question, curious to see how much lurid detail she could get out of her sister in one sitting. How far could she take it without Claire’s censor. She was interrupted, the question already slipping past her lips. Something intrusive, begging for details on how well-endowed he was. Claire had answered, slight giggle in her answer. Owen cleared his throat, standing in the doorway holding the groceries and grinning.

Claire jumped, hand flying to cover her mouth as she glared at her sister. ‘I swear, ever since we were kids she put a spell on me.’ She defended, moving to whack her sister in the arm. Karen was gripping tight to the kitchen counter, holding on for dear life as she laughed, rich sound tearing through her throat and bringing tears to her eyes.

‘What?’ Karen shrugged, biding her time through fits of humour. ‘I need to make sure you’re being looked after.’ Claire moved to argue that she could look after herself just fine, when Owen winked at Karen and promised he had everything sorted. Her sister was in good hands.

Chapter Text

‘I told you this was going to be a bad idea.’ Owen hummed, voice tinted with humour as he watched the frown deepen on his daughter’s face. Charlie Grady was not impressed.

Easter was reserved for family. Much like Christmas was. They weren’t big on being out an about, a select few activities were attended for Charlie’s sake. All else was forgone. Their daughter was six, going on seventeen. No matter, she was enthralled with Easter and the promise of milky chocolates hidden in the grass.

Charlie loved an Easter Egg Hunt almost as much as she loved her daddy.

Taking her to the local community hunt was a no brainer. In fact, why they hadn’t done it in previous years initially came off as puzzling. Once they got Charlie there, they quickly realised why. Charlie was impatient, and she hated loosing.

The San Diego Zoo on occasion ran an egg hunt on the long weekend. Charlie rarely partook, mainly because she and Owen were the ones who went and hid the eggs about the grounds. Maybe she loved that a little more than the actual hunt. Working for the Easter Bunny at least had it’s rewards.

‘I don’t like this, one bit.’ Charlie grumbled, dragging her feet before she dropped down on the picnic blanket her parents had settled on. ‘Can we go to the zoo now?’ She asked, reaching for her drink bottle with a pout. Charlie had worried all morning that no one was there to put the eggs out for the kids, while her parents carted her away to another event.

Owen smiled, bopping his daughter on her face painted nose. ‘We’re not going to the zoo today.’ Charlie’s face fell further, her eyes flicking between her father, and sister. Elliot, at eleven months old, was sooking beside Claire’s hip plush bunny being thrown through the air in her hand. ‘But, maybe it is time to go.’ He eyed the cranky infant, knowing they’d held her out long enough. There was a feeding scheduled in her day, and a nap, both of which had been missed for an afternoon in the sun. Claire nodded, thankfully, desperate to get out of the park before her daughter exploded in a full flung fit. ‘Where’d Nana go?’ Owen asked Charlie, the girl collecting her things eagerly.

Charlie shrugged, ‘Maybe to buy me eggs to pretend she found them’. Owen shook his head, he wouldn’t put his mother past it. Heather was about ready to go to the ends of the earth for her granddaughters, even if that meant buying them chocolate eggs, because they couldn’t find any. Owen was readjusting the bunny ears on his daughter’s head, when his mother reappeared. Heather had Charlie’s easter basket in her hands and a soft grin on her lips.

‘Look what I managed to find!’ She told Charlie excitedly, handing the basket over and letting the girl peer inside. It wasn’t full by any means, but it was enough for Charlie’s little grin. The girl knew what her grandmother had done, but didn’t mind in the least if she profited in the end.

She grinned, thanking her grandmother with a squeal and a hug. ‘Nana,’ Charlie sighed, suddenly mournful. They all knew it was an act, the second the word slipped from her mouth. ‘I know you’re having fun. But, it’s time to go home.’ She tapped Heather’s arm, sighing but not completely inconvenienced. She had stolen the words from Owen, the action too. It echoed days where they had to leave the zoo early, kindergarten, and school. There had been a boring playdate or two ended in a similar way. Owen feigning another commitment in order to escape. Heather pouted, sighing with defeat back at the girl. ‘It sucks, I know. But, we’ve got things to do.’ Owen couldn’t help the laugh that barked that tickled his throat. ‘What?’ Charlie asked, ‘I got chocolate buns at home!’

Seemingly, she had missed the fact that they had packed the hot cross buns in a picnic basket for the egg hunt. Owen would have made her stay, especially when she tried to rush them all to the car. Charlie was eager to leave, desperate to leave the unfair hunt behind. If Elliot wasn’t having a fussy day, the infant on the verge of disaster, they would have spent the whole afternoon there, basking in the warm air and glorious sun. His daughters dictated every move, and today called for home.

‘Can the Easter Bunny come every week?’ Charlie asked as Owen buckled her into her booster. She couldn’t manage to wait for home before she dug into the chocolates in her basket. Her cheeks were covered in sticky brown, her hands too. Owen pecked her nose, laughing as he pulled away.

‘What would you do with all that chocolate, sweet girl?’

Charlie hummed, thoughtful. ‘Eat it!’ She squeaked. ‘And Elie’s too, ‘cause chocolate makes her tummy ouch.’ Owen nodded, bopping his daughter on the nose again as he told her she was correct. He pulled on her seatbelt, making sure it was secure. ‘More for me.’ She giggled, pouting as Owen took the basket from her. Charlie couldn’t be trusted not to eat every chocolate before they arrived home. ‘Daddy, next time can we not do this place? I like the zoo better.’

Claire chuckled beside him, ducked into the car in order to strap in a squirming Elliot. The girl started to squawk, and immediately stopped the second her mother offered her pacifier. ‘Wasn’t it nice doing something outside the zoo for a change?’ Claire asked, peering over at Charlie, trying not to think of the chocolate stains.

Charlie shook her head. ‘I like the zoo much better. I know all the hide-y spots.’ Which was exactly why they were doing something different this year. Charlie wouldn’t budge. The zoo was her favourite place. Her sanctuary. Her home. She would go back time and time again. They were powerless to stop her.

They left their children for a second, simultaneously closing car doors while they promised Heather they would see her at the house. ‘Hey, Charlie,’ Owen started, as he climbed in behind the wheel. ‘I think Stuart has an Easter surprise for Tango and Sierra. Would you like to go see them after lunch?’ He watched for her reaction in the rearview mirror, little eyes wide, cheeks still smeared with chocolate as she bobbed her head erratically.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t that she hadn’t thought about it. For some reason it had always been a very real possibility. Owen was about as subtle as a brick barreling through her window. He thought he kept it to himself. Aloof and disinterested, his cards held to his chest. Claire always knew his hand before he did. That was when she made her move. Or, in the least, allowed herself some time to think.

Claire’s dismissal felt so easy sliding past her lips. ‘Owen, no.’ She shook her head, hands on his shoulders. She felt mournful as she watched confusion flicker across his features before it settled in disappointment. She didn’t mean to upset him. He should have known that. God, he should have known her so much better than that.

He changed his position, still on his knees, sitting back on his heels. Claire dropped to his lap easily. Arms twining around his neck. She felt him pull away, his face turned down, desperate to not look at her. ‘Owen,’ She breathed. It was the right thing. For her, anyway. He would not pull remorse or regret from her fickle heart. Clare wouldn’t allow it. She tapped his cheek, his chin, her thumb brushing against his bottom lip. ‘C’mon,’ She sighed. ‘Please don’t close me out.’

‘Close you out?’ He scoffed, voice bitter. He hadn’t managed to push her off him yet. That was a plus. He could have, if he wanted too. All he had to do was apply pressure to her shoulders and she would have moved willingly. Better yet, he could have asked. Owen knew those things. ‘That’s rich.’ Claire rolled her eyes. Yes, that’s rich. We get it.

‘I love you.’ She whispered against his skin, forehead pressed to his, stubbly cheek to her lips. Claire Dearing could count on one hand the number of times she had said those words to him. One hand. It wasn’t a lot. If he needed an argument, there it was.

‘Claire,’ He warned. It was there she noticed he was holding her, his hands looped behind her back. Owen tightened his grip. ‘Please don’t.’ He looked away from her, head tearing toward the patio door. They were sat on the kitchen floor, midway through morning. Owen had decided then and there nothing was better. Claire half ready for her lazy Sunday. The orange juice was poured, her musli out on the counter, his toast in the toaster. She’d turned to fetch her yoghurt from the fridge, caught mid tangent about the shopping list. That was when he ruined it. 

‘What?’ She asked, irritating sparking in her tone. ‘I do.’ It was as easy as that. She loved him. Claire was just still learning how to say it. She peppered his cheeks with kisses, playfully avoiding his mouth as she followed a path down his neck.

His hands found her shoulders, palms flat. Claire knew the sign. ‘You won’t marry me.’ Her knee nudged the discarded box at his hip, lid now closed. She felt her cheeks flush, her own face turning towards their laps. Claire pulled away from him. Her hands dropped to her lap. She didn’t move off him, her thighs remained flush with his.

She wouldn’t marry him. Of course she wouldn’t. She could barely tell him she loved him in the privacy of their own home. What was he thinking, asking her to stand up in front of their nearest and dearest to promise him forever. That was a bigger deal than I love you. She did. Love him, that is. He was her sun and stars, the moon and the glistening ocean. They just weren’t there yet. He was. She was not.

Claire could already see the future in his eyes. A bigger house, children, a dog. She didn’t know what frightened her more. That Owen was it for her or that she might actually carry a child to term. He was wearing her down. She was terrified of the little critters. But there he was, in her ear, promising how great it would be. A bossy little girl, or a boy he could teach to surf. Her feet were firmly set in the ground. Owen, no.

She didn’t mind the idea of a dog.

‘I don’t need to marry you.’ She told him, rolling her eyes as she rolled her thumbs. ‘It’s not that important.’ Claire already knew that response was wrong. At least in his eyes. He tried to play himself off as cocky, arrogant, a man in need of no one. But he needed her. He needed to tie himself to someone or else he might burst. There was no purpose for Owen if he wasn’t co-inhabiting a life. First it was the Marines, then it was The Raptors. Now it was Claire. She didn’t doubt that his feelings were true or loyal. She just wished it wasn’t a need.

‘It’s pretty important.’ He scoffed. He’d let go of her at some point. She couldn’t remember when. His hands were taunt behind him, arms holding up his weight as he lent back. His thumb was playing with the ring box but he didn’t look at it. She did. ‘You love me, but you won’t love me forever.’ He scoffed again. ‘I guess I should be glad you’re being honest. Better that than finding another man in my bed five years down the track.’ She recoiled at the comment, more hurt at the insinuation than anything else. Claire Dearing was loyal. Owen knew that.

Claire rolled her eyes. ‘Don’t be stupid.’ Self loathing never looked good on him. Claire just about said as much.

‘Get off me,’ Owen pushed at her hips trying to slide her onto the tile so he could break away. Claire listened. She pulled herself off him and stepped back. A scowl had etched itself across his face, marking lines in his features. He was stern. Claire traced his face with flighty green eyes, unsure on where to settle. ‘I get to be the stupid one.’ He gruffed, shoving the ring box back in his pocket as he moved away from her, heading for the door.

Claire looked to the patio. The warm spring sun was settling across the grass, kissing her garden just the way she loved. There was their day. Done.

‘Owen, please.’  He raised his hands in the air, a sign for her to fall silent, his back to her. ‘Just because I said “no” doesn’t mean my feelings aren’t valid. I still have a say in this, Owen. I just don’t think we need to get married.’ She didn’t need to look at a calendar for the date. Claire knew. It’d been a little over two years since the Jurassic World incident. Two years. She stuck by his side from the second she asked for his help, to this very moment.

They’d been through hell and back. She just needed them to go a little further.

‘I do love you. So much it frightens me. I just - I can’t take that step. Not now.’ He knows that. He knows that. He damn well better know that. She’d cursed in her head over and over terrified that she had gotten it all wrong. Maybe they weren’t compatible. Maybe they’d wasted two years of their lives. Maybe he was better off walking out that door and never coming back.

Owen had stopped trying to leave caught halfway between Claire and the door. He waited a beat then kept moving. Claire called out for him again, her voice a mere whimper. ‘I’m a fucking idiot. I just need a minute.’

Claire let him go.

She could hear him tinkering in the garage for a short while. Before the engine of his car rattled their small home and the sound of him disappearing down the street vanished in her ears. She kept to the garden. Weeding and watering, trying desperately not to think about where he had gone.

Not for a second did she regret saying no.

Claire wished he hadn’t withdrawn as much as he had. It was the last thing she had expected. Then again, he hadn’t expected her to decline.

When she grew tired of the garden, Claire read. She tackled the stack of books in the living room. Some of them his, some of them hers, all of them lying in wait. She wished she hadn’t abandoned them for better more lively things.

She finished a novel in one sitting. Barely blinked as she turned the pages caught in twists and turns as she kept on, thankful for the distraction.

Claire ate toast for dinner, staring mindlessly at the kitchen bench. Their orange juice was still there from that morning, her musli, his toast. It had all gone bad. She threw it out.

She gave in, waiting for him. Collected her laptop and took it to bed. Work was pointless. She couldn’t focus. How she wound up on the animal rescue website for the state, Claire couldn’t consciously remember. Her mind had wandered for a split second, wondering where that afternoon would have lead her if their morning was far more pleasant. And then she remembered, the dog. The bigger house too, and Owen’s one day unquenchable thirst for a family. Real flesh and blood, not furry, or slimy, or scaly. No dolphins or dinosaurs. A real baby.

The dog, right now, she could do. She couldn’t say yes to marrying him. But, they could adopt a dog … if Owen ever came home.

Claire was clicking through open tabs reviewing animal profiles and closing those that felt the most out of her reach. She didn’t hear the front door open, nor close. She missed the sound of his boots clunking against the floor and the creak of the stairs. Claire all but missed his silhouette in the blue light of their bedroom, illuminated only by her laptop screen and small bedside lamp.

He crawled in beside her and she didn’t flinch. She missed all the telltale signs, but she knew he was there. Instinctively, Owen wrapped an arm around her waist, while his free hand shut the lid of her computer. He pressed a loving kiss to her cheek and whispered, ‘I’m sorry,’ Into her soft skin.

Claire shook her head. ‘You don’t need to be sorry.’ She was thankful that he didn’t smell like a distillery. He was sober and smoke free. Wherever he had disappeared to for the day, it was a safe place. For that, Claire was pleased.

Owen hummed, a new kiss pressed to her cheek, followed by a second and a third on her jawline. ‘Yeah, I do. I knew better than that. I just, I don’t know, got caught up in the moment.’ A fourth kiss found her throat.

‘You had a ring in your pocket. That’s hardly “caught up in the moment”, Owen.’ She felt him grin against her skin. It was his mothers. He’d had it since their first trip out to visit Heather Grady since The Incident. His mother simply wanted him to have it. The ring had been burning a hole in his pocket for years. Owen finally snapped under the pressure.

He pulled the ring box out of his pocket and handed it to her. ‘I promise. I won’t propose this time. But, it’s yours. I’m not going to give it to anyone else.’ Claire didn’t bat his hand away or tell him he was ridiculous. Instead, she took the box and opened it slowly. There had been no time to admire antique jewels earlier. She was still hesitant too. Now her eyes managed to land on the ring instead of Owen’s hopeful face. Maybe that was because he kept his face down, peppering kisses along her collarbone as she criticised the ring. Admired, not criticised.

It was old, and well loved. It felt like too much to hold in the palm of her hand. Just like her mother’s ring had. Karen was going to get it anyway. But Claire never managed to hold the thing without wanting to choke on air. Karen got both. Their mother’s wedding band and engagement ring. Claire got her father’s in the mail after he passed.

‘I thought we could adopt a dog.’ Claire managed to find the words, half lost in mournful fancy and caught on the feeling of his lips on her belly. He was saying sorry, between kisses, his head under her - well, his - shirt as Owen followed the valley of her breasts down to the elastic of her underwear. She had long since forgiven him.

‘What?’ He asked. His voice was muffled as Owen pulled away from her skin, the shirt ruffling his hair as it slipped over his head. She repeated herself. Owen chuckled, hand scrubbing over his face before he settled them on her knees. Nonchalant, Claire reached for her laptop and lifted the top open.

Owen barked his laugh a little harder, humour erasing the worries of their dead. ‘Here I am trying to make up my botched marriage proposal.’ He bent to kiss the inside of her thigh, curious to see her reaction. There was none, at least not what he could see past her computer. ‘And you wanna talk about dogs?’

Claire lowered her computer screen just to look him in the eye as she pushed her reading glasses further up her nose. ‘Mhm,’ She hummed. Satisfaction was the death of desire. She could make him wait a little longer.

‘I love you,’ Owen chuckled, shaking his head like he couldn’t believe her. That was exactly why he loved her. Claire Dearing was a little bit ridiculous. He climbed up the bed to flop beside her, last kiss pressed to the corner of her mouth.

‘As you should.’ Claire teased, kissing him back. He tried to steal her focus, to close the laptop and let live. Claire had other plans, even though she stressed that whatever dog they liked, had to choose them first.

He didn’t care. Owen was simply thankful that she let him back into their bed, that she met his kisses with her own. That she was okay to have him, the colossal idiot by her side through thick and thin.

For survival.

Regardless of if there was a ring on her finger or not.

 

Chapter Text

 

He was a child. Claire was sure of it. Better: childlike. Half their DVD collection was dedicated to children’s animation. Not that Claire could complain. There was something about Disney after a hard day.

He shoved a bowl in her hand when she walked through the door. The rich smell of macaroni and cheese filled her nose and dulled the small ache in her head. Comfort food. Owen always knew what she needed.

Claire settled into the couch, shoes kicked off, legs tucked under her. She lent, precariously against her husband’s shoulder as he settled next to her. They didn’t need words, no ‘how was your day’. He knew. She had called him already.

He wrapped his arms around her when they finished eating, allowing Claire to snuggle a little closer. It added to the warmth blossoming in her chest, blooming alongside the story from her childhood. Horton Hears a Who. Of all things.

‘Don’t you need children to watch a kids film?’ She asked quietly, teasing mostly at his choice of viewing for the night. The question was always on the tip of her tongue, wondering whether they had a right to indulge in silly films. Owen was never bothered by it.

He shrugged, ‘It’s not exactly a prerequisite’. It was his easy way of dodging the broken conversation she wasn’t willing to have. Claire focused instead on the film, listening to Jim Carey and Steve Carell lull her into her after work coma. She was barely listening to the movie, watching the colours play out in front of her eyes. She daydreamed instead of playing the active participant. When Owen recited words back to her, echoing the end of the line seconds after the elephant had, Claire was a little confused.

A person’s a person, no matter how small.’

She rolled her eyes. There needn’t be any context with the sly grin on Owen’s face. He was referring to her. Claire raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t that short. ‘C’mon, it’s funny,’ Owen squeezed her smile still large on his face. She glared daring him to mention the step in the kitchen. It wasn’t Claire’s fault that they bought a home with high set cabinets. The top few shelves were just a little out of her reach.

Claire elbowed him in the ribs just for his grin. It was getting to her, his easy going lazy smile, the admiration in his eyes. She wanted to grumble at him for picking on her height. Five foot, six inches wasn’t short by much. But he looked at her with complete fondness that she couldn’t find the strength to be irritated.

‘Oi, don’t man-handle me.’ Owen complained. The arm wound around her waist pulled her in closer as he kissed the top of her head. ‘There’ll be no sticky date pudding for your short ass.’ He teased, holding her close so she couldn’t physically retaliate. She relaxed under his touch, her body giving in reluctantly.

‘I don’t know why I married you.’ Claire sigh softly, wrapping her arms around his.

Owen chucked, ‘Sure you do. Who else was gonna reach the high shelves?’ He deserved the second blow to the ribs, her elbow swinging home.

Chapter Text

If anything they were used to adapting. Especially when it concerned Claire’s schedule. His daughters, mostly Elliot, but not excluding Charlie depended on their mother. He could provide for his children, comfort them, feed them, send them to bed on time. Hell, Owen Grady could do readers and math homework too. They just didn’t like it as much as mom. Even Charlie. He didn’t do it right, apparently.

When Claire’s business trip to Japan escalated from one week to three, they all took a deep look at patience. He was growing tired of the tears, not that his girls could help it. Elliot was flustered, frustrated and completely caught off guard outside of her routine. Charlie acted up alongside her sister. Claire sniffled on the phone, listening to anecdotes from another day she managed to miss.

She was coming home. T-minus ten hours. Charlie and Elliot were antsy, Owen too. He could hardly blame them when their mother was so close to home. He just wished they could settle and wait patiently. He should have known better than to expect that from his daughters.

‘Daddy?’ A little voice reached out for him, hands touching gently against his cheek, the other pressed deep into his pillow. Elliot. A body draped itself over his back. Charlie. Owen grumbled, the noise low and soft. He couldn’t see the time, and frankly, he didn’t want to. He blinked his eyes open slowly, greeting Elliot’s angelic face. ‘Hi, Daddy.’ She grinned, head tilting so they were both horizontal.

He fluttered a smile for the four-year-old. ‘Hi, baby. Is Charlie on my back?’ He asked, as he wound his hand around his eldest’s foot and squeezed.

Elliot hummed. Mm-hm. ‘We gots’d an idea.’ She grinned, face too bright for whatever time it was. He knew, without a doubt, or confirmation, it was earlier than it should have been. Elliot was still in her pyjamas, from the looks of it, her blonde hair a halo of mess around her head. At least it hadn’t gotten to the point that she dressed herself. They’d been there before.

He let go of Charlie’s foot, to wrap it around Elliot. Tucking the girl into his chest and under his chin. Charlie was heavy on his back, likely asleep, if he was lucky there would be no protest from Elliot. ‘I can’t wait to hear it, Elie. But, can we get five more minutes of shut-eye first?’ The girl shook her head and wiggled out of his arms.

‘Nah, ah. We got things to do!’ There was no way he could settle her bright eyes, Elliot wasn’t going back down even if he held her captive. For the thousandth time in three weeks he wished Claire was there. Maybe she’d have a better chance in scoring him some extra sleep against Elliot. ‘C’mon, let’s go!’ Elliot tugged on his arm encouraging him to move.

Owen sighed, a deep inhale before he slowly let out his breath. ‘Oh-kay. What’ve you got planned?’ He blinked over to the little girl sitting cross-legged in front of him, her hands in her lap, looking more and more like her mother everyday. It was funny, he thought, that in physical appearance, Elliot took after his family. Warm skin, and light hair, she even resembled his sister when Lorna had been young. Despite what she looked like standing still, Elliot was Claire just as much as Charlie was. Every tiny mannerism, every moment of her arms to the muscles in her face. His daughters had a strong influence, and for that, Owen was always thankful.

‘Ma’s coming home today?’ She asked, suddenly uncertain. Owen confirmed, looking at his watch regretfully for the first time that morning. Seven AM. Could have been a new record. Claire’s plane was due to arrive in eight hours. ‘Can we do a surprise?’ Elliot had always been funny like that, bursting at the seams to share her ideas, and once she finally got the stage, she shut down.

‘We’re gonna go meet her at the airport, that’s a surprise.’ Owen told her, hand running over her little head, trying to assess the damage a hairbrush would cause her hair.

Charlie shifted, on his back, arm flopping down next to his. ‘She wants to make a welcome home banner.’ The nine-year-old supplied, filling in the spaces of her sister’s nonexistent words. That was probably part of their problem. Elliot never needed to fill a sentence properly, not when her sister knew everything she was going to say.

Owen hummed. It could be done. Last he checked they had art supplies. His girls were rather meticulous with their coloured markers. Paper would be an issue, but they could pinch some from the study if need be. ‘Are you sure we can’t have a quick snooze?’ He was still tired, and in no way would let his daughters be up and about without doing so too. They could manage themselves. Well, Charlie could manage them - for thirty minutes before World War III broke out.

Elliot crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head sternly. That was it then. ‘You can nap when Ma get’s home.’ She told him in her bossy voice, imitating her mother’s boardroom tone. ‘You know, you even get her at bedtime!’ Elliot pouted, reseting her arms over her chest.

Owen chuckled. The last thing he wanted was to be exhausted the first night his wife was home after three weeks of separation. Elliot’s word was borderline law. ‘All right, I’m up.’ Owen grumbled, waiting for Charlie to sit next to her sister before he got up.

Elliot cheered as he pulled out the art supplies, setting it across the dining table for his daughters to go wild. He brushed her hair, pulling it up and off her face in a high ponytail while she glittered the letters Charlie drew. He watched them work together in harmony for a moment, marvelling at Charlie’s consideration. Each letter was etched out in pencil so her sister could recreate her own off the outline. He’d never been that considerate with his siblings.   

Owen served them cereal, curious to see how long it would take before Elliot ended up with glitter in her cheerios. He cleaned while they drew, and glued, and glittered. It wasn’t the first time he’d been left in charge of the homestead and the kids. In fact, he could manage it fairly well on his own (he would prefer not to). There had been a few things left undone. Excess dishes in the sink, an extra load of laundry. Elliot’s room was a mess, but it’d hardly mattered because she barely slept in there. The TV remote had been lost to the recesses of Couch and Owen had no time to search for it. Knowing Claire it’d be the first thing she stumbled upon when she came home. He checked the entry for the remote. Just in case.

When the girls finished their banner, ‘welcome home mommy!’ spelt out across seventeen sheets of multi-coloured paper, no letter was the same. It had taken them three hours to individually decorate each sheet. Charlie and Elliot had managed to use everything in their craft box; markers, crayons, glitter, pipe cleaners, scraps of wrapping paper, sequins, and stickers. They had exhausted their resources from the looks of things. Charlie had punched two holes in each page before threading a long line of string through them all. Elliot had been the one to tell Owen that they were finished, but the banner had to dry before he put it up, or else he’d ruin it.

He sat them down for a movie once they’d cleaned up, sandwiches in their laps, sleep in their eyes. ‘Is Mama home yet?’ Elliot asked, voice sleepy. She was fighting it, Owen could tell and he hated that she was. They’d had a night or two spent wide awake. Elliot was the biggest contender, refusing to sleep until she had her mother, like Claire would magically appear upon her request. The girl had always been like that, refusing to sleep for him. Owen didn’t expect any less. He just wished she would sleep now before Claire got home and Elliot was hit with the reality that she had to share.

‘Not yet. We’re going to the airport to get her, remember?’ He asked, stroking his knuckles across her cheek as her little eyes drooped. She was on the edge of sleep when Charlie leant over, memory on her lips of the time Elliot was born. They didn’t meet Claire at the airport that day, instead Charlie flew with Owen to go meet her new sister.

Elliot was suddenly abuzz. ‘Are we getting a baby?’ She asked, green eyes wide where seconds ago they had been shut. Owen shook his head, continuing the soothing line of his knuckles, this time against her arm. Claire would not be coming home with a baby. Elliot’s position in the family was safe.

Surprisingly Elliot fell right back into his sleepy trap. The three of them napping throughout the rest of the movie.

The airport’s arrivals gate was surprisingly busy for two o’clock on a Sunday. Owen found a spot the girls to stand, prime position where Claire could see them, or in the least, they could see her. They waited anxiously, bouncing on the balls of their feet as people milled out in a small stream.

Elliot was the first to see her, which hardly surprised Owen. The girl shrieked, before she dashed off into the crowd, her father hoping she’d identified the right woman. It was easy to get confused, even if Claire was recognisable in a crowd.

‘Mommy!’ She shrieked, as her little legs carried her into the hoards of bodies, Charlie following behind quickly, their sneakers squeaking on the airport tile.

Elliot’s cry was received by another voice, ‘My girls!’ Before the mass of people dwindled and he could spot his wife, kneeling on the ground, a daughter in each arm. He approached them swiftly, helping Claire stand as she clung onto Elliot, the little girl’s legs wrapped around her waist. It would be impossible to separate them now, Claire peppering kisses across her daughters’ cheeks. Charlie accepted the affection, her fingers curled around Claire’s spare hand, holding on for dear life.

‘I’d say you were missed.’ Owen grinned, kissing his wife fondly, not in the least bit concerned with who saw or Elliot’s hands pushing at his face. ‘Oi, I’m allowed to love her too.’ He turned to Elliot, holding her hand away from his face as he pecked Claire’s lips with a promise.

Elliot shook her head before dropping it to Claire’s shoulder, her arms wrapping around her mother’s neck like she used to when she was an infant. ‘Mine,’ Elliot told him, offering a semi-serious glare.

Claire laughed, caught mid bend to give Charlie another cuddle. ‘Play nice, Elie. I’ve been home for ten seconds.’ Owen grinned watching as the girl loosened her hold a little but refused to let go completely. They knew to expect a clingy four-year-old, Elliot not willing to retract her claws for days until she’s comfortable with the idea of Claire not leaving again.

Elliot crashed early, the excitement of having her mother home too much. That or bossing Owen around in the kitchen had tired her out. She was out for the count earlier than usual, snuggled up against her mother and content to stay there. It was Owen that had to carry her to bed, praying that once he tucked her in she stayed there. He’d been bad while Claire was away, allowed Elliot to sleep in their bed more often than not. It was the only thing that seemed to soothe her or at least softened her defences faster.

Once Elliot was carried to bed, Charlie got her mother one on one. She took the opportunity to talk about school and promised that Owen took good care of them. Claire kissed her hair, and thanked her for the tenth time for such a lovely banner, listening carefully as Owen explained how good she had been with Elie. Charlie carried herself off to bed not long after, kissing her Ma on the cheek and hugging her close.

It was Owen who waited until all the lights were out. The dishes in the washer, the doors locked. It was Owen who waited until every story and bedtime kiss was done. It was Owen who waited until last before he got his wife back. It wasn’t so bad. He preferred being able to kiss her in the privacy of their bedroom, children asleep than wide open airports, and Elliot pressing at his cheek.

‘I missed you,’ She purred as he growled into her skin. Her hands everywhere and all at once. He’d been whispering things in her ear all afternoon, his own hands sliding across her skin, lips teasing. If it wasn’t so fun to wind her up, the both of them tense with their distance, he would have known better than to tease her. She was desperate, clawing at his skin, trying to merge the two of them together.

She pushed him down onto the bed, Claire climbing across him to straddle his waist, their hearts beating in a rapid staccato as their lips met messily. The bedroom door creaked open, tiny voice calling out Mama. It was Elliot. They knew the faux scared voice anywhere. ‘I scared.’ Elliot wobbled, heart only half in it.

Claire sighed, slipping off her husband as she sought her daughter in the dark. ‘They have school and kinder tomorrow, right?’ She breathed to him quietly, eyes locking on the little figure in the doorway.

Owen chuckled, confirming lightly that his daughters would be out of the house from eight-thirty to three. She signed again, hand patting his stomach in a promise that regretfully meant later. Claire ushered Elliot forward, small footsteps padding across the carpet before the mattress moved slightly to welcome her. Elliot took no time in making herself comfortable, little body curled against her mother’s chest. ‘Welcome home,’ Owen teased as he settled in beside her, gentle kiss dropped to her shoulder.

Chapter Text

Claire didn’t need to wake fully to feel the memory of calloused hands on her skin. Pleasure echoed in her veins, small throb built up in the pit of her stomach. She groaned, trying to cling to faint memories in order to place them. She wiggled just a little, stretching slightly in the late morning air. When she shifted, body wriggling back just a inch Claire collided with thick wall. Her body stiffened. She didn’t need to think in order to identify the mass.

Suddenly all of her senses were on, tuned into the room and screaming at her loudly. She could smell the woods on him, the sun and salt water. It had been a while, but Claire still recognised the indistinguishable morning erection pressed into the small of her back.

She was wearing a shirt that didn’t feel like her own, her fingers curled into the cuffs, the fabric rough against her soft skin. It smelt like him, the heady scent of wilderness that always seemed to cling to him. It reeked faintly of sex and disappointment. Not that the sex had been disappointing, or at least she assumed from the semi pleasant ache settled at the apex of her thighs.

What had she done. What had see been thinking. She groaned a little louder than expected when she blinked her eyes open and found herself in her on island apartment. The groan was followed by a curse as she shoved her head into her pillow.

She thought briefly of getting up and leaving. It was her apartment, what was she to do. At least if she left, took a long walk around the park he had enough time to wake, wait for her, realise she wasn’t coming back before making himself scarce. Claire could live with that. She could live without the calm that had settled over her body, muscles loose yet sore. She could go back to who she was before this. They had time to recover.

She slipped from her bed, careful not to wake the body she left behind. It was with great restraint that Claire shuffled through her wardrobe in desperate need for something clean to wear. Something that wasn’t his.

Her memory wasn’t serving her too well, finer details faded out for painfully specific ones. She knew their date had been bad, he was late, she was annoyed and by the time he offered to take her to Margaritaville Claire said fuck it and gave in. Not to him. To the night. Claire Dearing never would admit succumbing to Owen Grady.

Evidently, she’d had too much. Enough to leave blurs on the outside of her vision her head throbbing along with every previously unused and now aching muscle. Was it possible for fingers to  ache, still with overused movement. That she could remember, curling her fingers against his skin, against her own, head thrown back on a low guttural moan. Owen had only echoed the noise, face buried against her neck, one hand in her hair the other between them.

‘Fuck.’ Claire hissed at herself as she hoped down the hallway, tugging a pair of jeans up her legs as she tried to flee. She’d replaced Owen’s shirt with a baby blue blouse, mustard yellow sweater pulled on top, trying to feign some semblance of a collected appearance. It was her day off, it needed to look like she had an agenda, not like she was running away from a horrible date that had ended too well for her to contemplate.

Thankfully, even in a drunk state Claire managed to leave her keys on the counter where they seemed to live. She collected them, calmed by the easy jingle as she moved without hesitation for the door.

‘Claire, wait!’ Owen’s voice hit her ears, causing the hairs on the back of her neck to stand on end. He pleaded, desperate and still half asleep. Claire swore under her breath before she took a deep breath and turned to face him.

Claire jumped, spinning herself back around. Her breath caught on a squeal as she was met with Owen, standing stark naked in her hallway. She felt like a schoolgirl, cheeks flushing with embarrassment as she begged him to put some pants on. They may have slept together but it didn’t mean she was