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Life's a Jungle Gym

It took them far longer than Owen had hoped for, to finally find the time to head out to his cabin for a weekend. Between dealing with the fallout of the released dinosaurs and sorting out a temporary custody agreement for Maisie, it felt like he'd been living in government offices and meetings for weeks now. And he had it easy - Claire was the one being run ragged as she ramped up the DPG to deal with all the new issues, held press conference after press conference, arranged and attended rallies, and dealt with all the government's bureaucratic nonsense that they threw at her, all while trying to become an instant parent (and family).

It felt like Claire's phone had become surgically attached to her hand, as she'd be on it from the moment her eyes opened in the morning until they finally closed from sheer exhaustion late at night. It was not healthy - and he could see that if they weren't careful, they were going to fall back into the same situation that had driven them apart well over a year earlier.

However, the dinosaurs had all been rounded up now, many being kept in the temporary holding cells back at the Lockwood estate while the government still sorted out what to do with the. But, for once they could all breathe a little easier and take a step back.

Since the incident, Owen had been back to his cabin just once. It had been a quick in and out trip; just long enough for him to throw a pile of clothes, toiletries and his laptop in his truck and make sure things were locked tightly, before he turned around and headed back into San Francisco. Maisie had wanted to go with him, but they'd convinced her that it wouldn't be all that fun, considering he was going to be at his place for less than an hour, but would be driving for close to six. She'd caved and agreed not to go, although not without a bit of a pout, and he'd had to promise that the moment they had a spare weekend, they'd all go for a visit.

And now, finally, they were pulling onto his lot. The truck had barely come to a halt, when Maisie was pushing at the door handle, trying to get out. The truck had an extended cab, which meant that she couldn't get out of her seat until Claire or Owen opened one of the front doors.

"Whoa, slow down there kiddo," Owen smiled at her exasperated huff. "Lots of time to explore. We're here for two nights." He opened his door, allowing Maisie to finally get her own open, and she almost tumbled out of the back. He grabbed her by the arm, keeping her upright, until she got her footing again.

"We've only got one full day," Maisie explained in a rush. "I can't waste a minute."

"Be careful," Claire called out, exiting her side of the truck, watching as Maisie headed straight for the frame of the cabin, scrambling up onto the platform and looking around in delight. She circled around the front of the cab, coming to a stop by Owen's side, wrapping her arm around his waist. He followed by draping his arm across her shoulder, pulling her in close. "So," Claire said, tilting her head to look up at him. "You going to give me the grand tour?"

"Not a lot to see yet," Owen acknowledged, his gaze roaming his property. "But, yeah, let me share what I was thinking." He led her towards Maisie, grasping her hand tightly in his. "I might need to rethink it a bit. Maybe add on an addition. It's not very big."

The remaining few hours of daylight evaporated in a hurry. Owen giving the two (Maisie had joined in, eyes wide as she listened to his descriptions) a complete tour of both the cabin and his property as a whole, before Claire pulled away from the two to unload the truck, moving the few belongings they'd brought into the trailer. As darkness fell, Owen started up a large fire, and they spent their first meal at the cabin roasting hot dogs and marshmallows. As the fire started to die down, and with the stars flickering on them from above, they shifted back into the trailer. It was a tight squeeze to have all three of them in there at once, but the kitchen table collapsed into a small bed for Maisie and Claire and Owen would share the double. It didn't take long until they were all out.

The following morning, Owen found himself a bit disoriented upon awakening. He was used to Claire's small condo (which felt large in comparison to his trailer), and the bed felt both different and familiar. Claire was curled into his side, head pillowed by his shoulder, while one hand rested over his heart. He bent his arm up from under her, his hand brushing down her arm in small strokes, while he eyes adjusted to the light streaming into the trailer. They hadn't closed the curtains the previous night, and he generally enjoyed being woken by the sun. Shifting around slightly on the bed, pulling the covers a little higher, he closed his eyes, intent on falling back asleep and enjoying a morning where no one had to be anywhere.

As he lay there, he listened to his favourite sound - the quiet hum of nature. He loved the sound of occasional birds' squawking and the wind rustling the leaves on the trees. It was a soothing break from the morning sounds around Claire's condo, dominated by car horns and people talking. This morning, there was an additional sound, and it took him a few moments to place it. His mind slowing filling in the soft singing he could hear coming from Maisie through the window, followed by what sounded like… construction noises? Still on the verge of re-entering sleep, his reaction time was slowed. But as his mind pieced it altogether, he sat up abruptly in bed, dislodging Claire and waking her in the process.

"What's going on?" Claire asked, sitting up beside him.

"Maisie," Owen groaned, already climbing out of the bed. He pulled on a sweatshirt he'd left hanging on a hook, and yanked on his shoes as he tumbled out the trailer door. He could hear Claire following behind him in confusion.

"What the hell!" Owen shouted, stalking up towards the cabin frame, his gaze focused firmly on Maisie, who froze at the sound of his voice.

"Good morning, Owen," Maisie chirped, looking down at him from her perch on the roof rafters. She looked behind him and added, "Morning, Claire."

"Mais, why are you on the roof?" Claire asked, coming to a stop beside Owen and placing a hand on his arm, feeling the tension coursing through him.

"Get down here, right now!" Owen demanded, shaking off Claire's arm and moving forward.

"Why?" Maisie asked, not moving from her position.

"Why? Why?!" Owen looked at her in disbelief. "Do you have any idea how unsafe what you're doing is?"

Maisie looked around her, considering his words, before saying, tentatively. "No… I mean, I'm barely a single story off the ground. It was much higher at the Estate."

"Much higher…" Owen barely got the words out, raising his palms to his face and rubbing his eyes, his shoulders hunched.

"I don't know what the big deal is," Maisie added. "I have excellent balance."

"Mais," Claire looked between Owen and the girl, before giving Maisie her full attention. "Can you come down here, so we can talk about it?"

"Not if he's mad," Maisie shook her head.

"He's not mad," Claire reassured her. "He's just worried. He doesn't want to see you get hurt."

"I have everything under control," Maisie huffed, but started to climb down anyway. "I climbed along the roof of the Estate for years. This is nothing."

"She's going to be the death of me," Owen groaned, palms still pressed tightly against his eyes, trying to compose himself.

Claire laughed, wrapping her hands around his wrists and pulling his hands gently away from his face. "You were saying yesterday how you're going to need some help. Looks like you've already got an assistant." She leaned closer to him, meeting his gaze as his eyes focused on her, and whispered, "At least she's not afraid of heights." She dropped a quick kiss on his lips, before chuckling as she pulled away.

"I like climbing," Maisie told them, stopping a few feet away, still standing on the edge of the cabin, the height bringing her closer to their eye level. "I won't fall."

"You just surprised us, that's all," Claire told her.

"Kiddo, I told you yesterday this is a construction site and so we have to be very careful," Owen finally spoke up. "We're not against you climbing. But you need to wait for us before you do so, especially around the cabin. Okay?" He met her gaze and Maisie looked at him for a moment before shrugging her agreement.

"You weren't awake to ask," Maisie said, her gaze dropping to the ground.

"Next time, wake us up, please," Owen implored, and Maisie nodded.

"Now," Claire put on a happy voice, trying to lift the somber mood that was settling over them. "How about some breakfast. I'm starving."

Chapter Text

The Meltdown

They had read all the parenting books they could get their hands on. Not only that, but Claire had never spent so much time on the phone with Karen as she had since Maisie had entered their lives. They still weren't prepared for it. Maybe it was something you just couldn't prepare for. Not until you actually had one happening in front of you.

It didn't help that for the first few months Maisie was perfect. It was like she was lulling them into a false sense of security. Sure, she had some days where she had been a bit grumpy. And they'd had to deal with her adventurous spirit - learning early on that they had to be very clear about what she was and was not allowed to do when they went somewhere new. Maisie was obviously used to having to entertain herself and being surrounded by grownups. It ended up being a bit of a double edged sword. On one hand, she was very smart, independent and a little bit too fearless. On the other, she wasn't use to being around anyone her own age (or even within a few years of her age) and would struggle sometimes with fitting in.

But the first meltdown, and there was really no other word for it, came out of left field. Maybe it shouldn't have, and Claire was pretty sure, as she watched it happen, that it was one of those things that, when she looked back on it later, she'd recognize all the signs that had led to it. But that didn't help them now.

The two of them were standing in the lobby of the movie theatre watching as Maisie stood insistently in front of the arcade machine, arms crossed over her chest, as she refused to move. "You said I could," Maisie repeated again, glaring at them both.

Claire considered that they were probably really lucky that she was nine and not four. She wasn't lying on the ground or screaming or even crying hysterically. Instead she was digging in her heels, insisting that they follow through with their promise. A promise that had been given without thought, and was now coming back to haunt them.

"Maisie," Owen growled, and Claire laid a hand gently on his arm, feeling his patience running thin. She wondered, briefly, if she would ever not be surprised by the fact that she apparently had more patience than Owen when it came to Maisie. Especially considering the bond the two of them seemed to have immediately developed, with Maisie having a clear preference for his company. She tried to tell herself it was likely a result of her closest bond beforehand being with her grandfather, and the main woman in her life before Claire being more of a nanny who was there to enforce bedtimes, bath and schooling, and not a motherly relationship. That intellectualization, however, didn't make it hurt all that much less. She took comfort that, at least, Maisie did appear to enjoy the time the two of them spent together.

"No, you promised," Maisie shook her head, and Claire was surprised that she could now see evidence of tears. "You said after the movie we could play games."

"I know I did," Owen tried backtracking. "But that was before I realized how long the movie was going to be. It's too late now. It's already well past your bedtime."

"I don't wanna go," Maisie stared at the ground, stomping her foot. "I'm not tired."

Owen sighed and turned to Claire shrugging his shoulders, before letting them drop. She slid her hand around to his back, rubbing comforting circles. She knew there was nothing he hated more than problems he couldn't easily solve.

"Why can't I play a game? You said I could play," Maisie said again, her voice slipping into a whine. "We had time before but you said I had to wait until after the movie. I waited…"

"There will be other chances," Claire offered. "We'll be back here again and you can play it next time."

"Why should I trust you," Maisie rubbed at a tear that broke free and was sliding down her cheek. "That's what you said this time." It was too late, the first tear started the next, until they were steadily running down her face. "That's what adults always say. Next time. Or we'll do it later. Or not right now!" There was a short pause, as Maisie looked at the game behind her, before turning back, the next line escaping in a half-plea/half-whine. "Just one game. I just want to play one game."

"Mais," Claire said, feeling Owen starting to cave beside her. Well, cave or explode. She wasn't quite sure. "I know we said we'd have time. But it's getting really late. We've already had a long day. It's time to go home. We made a mistake. We shouldn't have made that promise. But, we can come early next time, to make sure we have time-"

"We were early today," Maisie repeated.

"Kiddo, it's time to leave, right now," Owen stated firmly. "We've told you repeatedly we don't have time now. That's not going to change. If you keep this up, it won't be an option next time, either."

"But you promised," Maisie cried, the last word coming out in choked sob. "You promised."

"That's enough," Owen shook his head. "If you aren't moving in the next three seconds then there will absolutely be no games, and not just for the next visit."

"But…" Maisie turned away from them, facing the machine that had caught her attention when they arrived. It was a driving game, with seats for two players to play together. Something about it had beckoned her at first sight. An opportunity to try something she never had before, but had seen in countless movies and tv shows.

"One."

Maisie barely heard Owen starting to count behind her. Her tears were blurring her vision and her emotions were canceling out her ability to reason.

"Two."

"Maisie," Claire called her name, not really wanting this to go the whole way. But Maisie still had her back to them, hands clutching at the back of one of the driving seats.

"Three." Owen was not going to cave and start using halves and quarters. He didn't even pause, stepping forward and pulling Maisie gently by the shoulders back from the machine.

"No!" Maisie cried, clutching tighter, as he pulled. "Let me go!"

"Maisie, we've been over this, we need to go," Owen repeated firmly, still tugging her away.

"I don't wanna," Maisie shook her head, but she let her grip loosen enough for Owen to move her away.

"I know you want to stay," Claire soothed, coming to stand on Maisie's other side, as Owen led them towards the door, a firm grip still on Maisie, although she wasn't actively fighting him. "We're really sorry that we couldn't keep our promise this time."

The rest of the walk to the car was quiet. Maisie climbed silently into the back, and sat glaring at them, as they pulled out of the parking lot. Claire and Owen exchanged a glance, before both shrugged, neither sure what to say or do. A few minutes later, Claire risked a glance over her shoulder, only to see Maisie slumped against the car door, fast asleep.

"Oh," Claire said softly turning around. "That probably explains it."

"Hmm?" Owen asked, sparing her a glance.

"She's out," Claire replied.

"Oh," Owen nodded, he continued driving for a few minutes before adding. "I forget sometimes that she's only nine. That we have to take that into account. The movie sounded like a good idea."

"It was a good idea," Claire said. "Just, maybe next time, we'll remember to go to an earlier one."

"And maybe not after a whole long day of activities."

"And without the promises."

"And less junk food."

They both paused, eyes meeting as they stopped at a light, before laughing.

"Yeah, we've got a lot to learn," Claire nodded.

"We'll get there," Owen reached for her hand. "Even with how it ended, it was a good day."

"Yeah, it was."

Chapter Text

Two Days Late

"Owen?" Claire's slightly panicked, slightly worried tone had Owen rushing from his spot in the kitchen and into Claire's home office. He had to dodge boxes on his way, almost tripping over the same one he did everytime he walked down the main hall. They had moved into their house a month ago, but the place was a mix of boxes, unpacking never getting the priority it needed. That box, he really needed to take care of though, or one day he really was going to faceplant.

"What?" Owen asked, pushing his way into her office, eyes wide, searching the room for a threat, before his gaze took in Claire, who was sitting at her desk, looking unharmed.

"Look at this," Claire pointed to her computer screen, and Owen rounded the desk to stand beside her.

"What are we looking at?" Owen asked, his eyes skimming across the screen, nothing jumping out at him.

"This!" Claire used her mouse to highlight a chunk of text on the screen. September 10, 2008.

"Still not following," Owen shook his head. "What's important about that date?"

"Two days ago," Claire moaned, ignoring him. "We missed it by two days. Why didn't she say anything?"

"Missed what?" Owen looked at the screen again before back to Claire.

"Maisie's birthday," Claire whispered.

"No way," Owen shook his head. "How did we miss that?"

"Why didn't she tell us?" Claire turned in her chair until she was facing Owen. "Her birthday. I mean… She went to school. We went to work. It was just an ordinary day. We should've known."

"How?" Owen asked. "She probably has a reason for not telling us."

"Yeah, but we had to fill out all those forms for school. All the paperwork we've done around her. How did neither of us ever catch on to her birthday?"

"There was a lot of paperwork," Owen nodded, thinking back to the frustration they had experienced trying to fill it all out. Probably a task that would take a regular parent ten minutes to do had taken them two days as they had to try to hunt down information about vaccinations and old school records.

"What do we do now?" Claire asked. "Do we throw her a birthday party? Who would we invite? I don't know who her friends are at school yet. Where do kids have birthday parties now? She's probably too old for Chuck E. Cheese, right?"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Owen placed his hands on her shoulders, interrupting the neverending flow of questions and thoughts. "There's got to be a reason she didn't say anything. I don't think we need to go planning a big party. Let's just talk to Maisie first. See what she wants."

They decided to wait until dinner to bring it up. Claire went back to finishing up her work while Owen checked on the spaghetti sauce he had on the stove, before pulling out the ingredients for a salad. Thirty minutes later, Owen was pulling garlic bread out of the oven and calling out to Maisie and Claire that dinner was ready.

Gathered around the table, there was the usual hecticness at the start, as everyone filled their plates. But once they started to eat, silence fell over the table. Owen and Claire exchanging looks, both trying to urge the other to start the conversation with Maisie.

Claire caved first. "Maisie," she questioned, resting her fork against her plate and waiting for the young girl to look up at her. "I was going through some documents tonight and I realized that it was your birthday two days ago." Claire waited a moment to see if Maisie would say anything, but Maisie just looked back at her. Realizing that she hadn't actually asked Maisie a question, Claire continued. "We're really sorry we missed your birthday. Why didn't you tell us?"

Maisie just shrugged in response, her eyes looking down at her plate. "It's not a big deal," she finally mumbled, when neither Claire nor Owen spoke.

"Not a big deal?" Owen repeated. "That's not true, kiddo. It's the one day a year that's all about you. Presents and cake and balloons..." He trailed off, watching as Maisie's shoulders slumped, a frown appearing on her face. "What did you usually do for your birthday?" Owen asked.

Again, Maisie just shrugged.

"Did you have a party?" Claire asked gently. "Or a special cake?"

"What does it matter?" Maisie finally said, looking up and meeting their concerned gazes. "I'm a clone. It's not my day."

"Whoa," Owen said sharply, hands raised. "Kiddo, cloned or not has absolutely nothing to do with your birthday."

"I wasn't born, I was made," Maisie replied petulantly.

"That's not true," Claire disagreed. Off Maisie's scowl, she corrected herself, "Not entirely true. Mais, you may have been … made, but you were born. Just like everyone else on the planet, you have a birthday too."

"Really, all of us were made," Owen tried adding, before backtracking off of Claire's glare. "I mean, we've talked about this. How you were first … conceiv–created doesn't matter. What matters is that you are here, now. And that, on September 10th in 2008 you entered this world just like every other baby – probably crying your head off about having to live in this world." Maisie was still frowning and looking unconvinced, so Owen tried a different tactic. "And you only turn double digits once! This was–is a big one. We need to do something to celebrate it."

"He's right," Claire nodded. "Ten is a big birthday. How about we plan something special for this weekend? Maybe a party? Movie? Anything you want."

"Anything?" Maisie asked slowly, looking thoughtful.

"Anything," Owen agreed enthusiastically.

"Within reason," Claire quickly added.

"Could we go to the cabin?" Maisie asked hopefully, glancing between them both.

"The cabin?" Claire repeated, a little confused. "Sure, but… are you sure you don't want a party or something? We could invite your whole class. Or have a few friends over for a sleepover..."

"Shhh," Owen exaggerated shushing at Claire. "She asked for the cabin."

"I like the cabin," Maisie shrugged, looking at them both. "It's nice out there."

"It is," Claire agreed. "Okay, we'll spend the weekend at the cabin. Any present requests?"

"A dog?" Maisie asked, turning her puppy-dog eyes on Owen, who immediately shook his head no. "Fine," Maisie sighed. "An iPad?"

Chapter Text

O Tannenbaum

Christmas had never been Claire's favourite holiday. Even as a little kid. She'd figured out the Santa myth early on. She'd also been curious and observant, and combining that with having a much older sibling and the gifts labelled as from her parents were wrapped with the same wrapping paper as the gifts supposedly from Santa, well, that story fell apart in a hurry. It's not that she didn't like getting gifts (really, who didn't?), but the holiday always felt full of forced cheer and fake smiles. Everyone having to pretend to be happy and grateful to be spending all this time around family.

By the time she was finishing up high school and heading off to college, Karen was married and expecting Zach. Christmas during college was different. Sometimes, Karen, Scott and baby Zach would be there; other times, it was just her and her parents. It no longer felt the same. And often, the fake cheer and smiles felt even more forced.

Working at Jurassic World ended up being a bit of a godsend when it came to Christmas. It was one of the busiest times of the year, and so it was easy to claim that she was too busy to go home for the holidays. The excuse actually became less of an excuse and more of a fact as the years went by and she climbed the corporate ladder. Also, she knew a lot of her employees were fans of the holiday, and since she wasn't, she preferred to let those take the time off while she stayed.

The first Christmas she spent with Owen was almost a year post incident. Once all the depositions and court cases and lawyers were in their past, they had spent the fall and up through Christmas touring up and down the coast in his van. Owen had excitedly bought a tiny Christmas tree (barely over a foot high - but space was at a premium) a couple of weeks before the holiday. They had found a small string of lights to add on, and Owen showed off his origami skills making a paper star to stick on top.

With their limited space, they had debated over exchanging Christmas gifts. Owen insisted they had, but that they could keep them small since they really didn't have space to store anything. She had to admit, she'd been a little nervous when Owen had presented her with a small box on Christmas morning, as they were still lying snuggled under all their blankets. Instead, she'd opened it to find a Christmas tree ornament. It was handmade, a slice of a tree branch with a hole drilled through the top. He'd carved their initials and the year one one side. When she'd flipped it over, it said "first of many." He'd actually looked a little embarrassed when she opened it.

"I'm sorry - I was hoping I could find something. And when I didn't, well, I thought it'd be easier to carve then it was," he'd confessed. "I'll find a better one to replace it. It's just a temporary one for now."

"It's perfect," Claire had disagreed. "It's got more personality than anything mass produced would ever have."

By the time the following Christmas rolled around, they were no longer together, having had their falling out a few months earlier over the van, which was really just the straw that broke the camel's back. Later, a few weeks after the events at Lockwood, they'd actually had a discussion about the whole thing. Had come to an agreement to put all of that behind them, and chalk a lot of it up to their individual stubborn personalities who weren't use to having to compromise so much of their lives and were both struggling for control in a world that had fallen apart on them.

Ever since Maisie had entered their lives, it felt like everything had been on warp speed. Claire still could barely believe it'd been more than half a year since the events at Lockwood. That in that time she and Owen had been granted parental guardianship of Maisie, that they'd gotten married and bought a house, and the DPG was now running a sanctuary for the dinosaurs on the island that Lockwood had purchased prior to this death. The sanctuary was still a work in progress, but, really, pretty much everything on their list was.

When she and Owen discussed taking in Maisie more permanently, they'd talked a lot about her age. Both were greatly relieved to not be dealing with a baby or a toddler - that they would get to skip diapers, midnight feedings, and potty training. Sure, it also meant they were skipping a lot of the traditional "firsts" - first solid food, first time they rolled over, first step, and so on. But, they were quickly realizing that their life was still full of firsts. They still had a "first day of school" and first trip to the movies. They were still waiting on firsts too, like the first "I love you" and, as time went by, their hopes for a first "mom" or "dad" moment were rising too.

And now, now they were getting to celebrate another first - their first Christmas as a small family. Karen had told Claire, when she'd been bemoaning to her on the phone a couple of weeks ago about how much she still hated this holiday, that it would be different. That they had a child now, and they'd get to revisit it through the eyes of a child, still full of wonder and magic.

It wasn't really turning out that way. When they'd tried to ask Maisie about Christmas - trying to get a feel as to what she had done in previous years, without actually ripping open all the very slow and careful healing she'd been doing, as she tried to grasp that her grandfather wasn't actually her grandfather - she'd turned to them and just stated matter-of-factly: "I know that Santa isn't real. Only babies believe in that. We had a tree. I got to open one gift that was usually pajamas on Christmas eve and then we would open the rest the following morning."

They had both looked at her wide eyed, neither expecting that response and neither quite sure how to deal with it. After a few moments of gaping at her like a fish, Owen managed to ask "Did you have a stocking?"

They'd let the topic drop for a week, before approaching it again at dinner one evening. But instead of asking her what she had done, they decided to approach it as what should the three of them do? What traditions did they want to start? Maisie had looked a little uncomfortable when traditions got mentioned, and they'd pulled back from making it sound long term, knowing she was still trying to sort everything out in her mind and still hadn't quite grasped just how much her life had forever changed.

In the end, they had agreed upon putting up lights, building gingerbread houses, getting a tree, stockings and presents. They had decided to keep Maisie's memory of opening a gift on Christmas eve, although both Claire and Owen had agreed (away from Maisie) that there would be no pajamas under the tree. They wanted the memories this year, for all of them, to be focused on fun and not tied to old memories.

As Christmas drew near, Maisie's eyes had widened, seeing the pile of gifts under the tree grow. She had figured there would be six gifts in total - two from her to Claire and Owen, two from Claire to Owen and her, and two from Owen to Claire and her. Instead, packages arrived in the mail bearing gifts from Karen and Zach and Gray. From Claire's parents and Owen's parents. From Owen's brother. She had been surprised to find that each package had a gift for her, not just Claire and Owen.

Claire and Owen, for their part, hadn't even put all their own gifts under the tree. Maisie may not believe in Santa, but they still wanted her to experience the delight of coming down the following morning to find the pile had grown even larger.

On Christmas eve, after they had cleaned up from dinner, Owen announced that it was time for one gift each, and he'd already picked them out.

"I thought we were going to choose?" Claire had ribbed him gently, knowing that Maisie had been spending part of the last few days trying to decide which one she was going to pick first.

"Yeah, well…" Owen shrugged. "You can choose what one I open, I got something specific for each of you, for tonight."

He'd pulled out two small boxes, both similarly sized, and handed them over. Claire had made a show of gently shaking hers and throwing out wild guesses as to what might be inside, slowly chipping away at Owen's patience.

"Just open it, will ya?" he finally growled, and Claire had just smiled, before doing so. Maisie had been too busy watching the antics to open her own, and she held off, waiting to see what Claire got first.

"Oh." Claire said softly, lifting the lid off the box. Nestled on a bed of tissue paper, was the ornament Owen had given her a couple of Christmas' ago. She had looked for it, when they had been decorating the tree, but hadn't seen it, and hadn't wanted to ask - afraid she'd hear a story about how it made excellent kindling one evening. She raised her eyes to Owen, who was looking at her nervously. "You kept it."

"Of course I did," Owen looked insulted.

"I looked for it," Claire admitted, biting her lip. "When we were decorating the tree. When I didn't see it, I assumed you'd thrown it out or burned it in a campfire."

"Never," Owen shook his head.

"Can I see it?" Maisie had asked, not sure what was the big deal. Claire handed it over and Maisie had looked at it carefully, before flipping it over and reading the other side. Her eyebrows furrowed, she had looked up at the two. "I don't get it? What's so special about it? It doesn't look very good."

"Owen made it. And it's just a good memory," Claire had laughed softly, taking it back before hanging it on the tree. After she'd put it up, she'd moved over to Owen's side, wrapping an arm around him and pressing her lips gently to his. She'd show her full appreciation later. Turning her eyes back to Maisie, she noticed she was still holding her gift. "Aren't you going to open yours?"

Maisie had nodded, and then had carefully untied the bow, before pulling the lid off her box. Inside, she also found a wooden ornament, similar to Claire's. Pulling it from the box, she read the inscription on the first side that said "The start of something new." Flipping it over, she found her initials, along with Claire and Owen's and the date.

When the silence started to stretch, Owen nervously asked, "Do you like it?"

"Did you make it?" Maisie asked, turning her gaze from the ornament to his.

"Yeah," Owen coughed softly, looking away.

"You've gotten a lot better," Maisie replied, looking back at her ornament then over to the tree where Claire had hung hers.

It broke the nervous tension that had been settling over them, as Claire snickered. She tried to bury her face in Owen's shoulder to muffle the sound, but once she started, she couldn't stop, a full belly laugh erupting from her. "Let me see," Claire had held out her hand to Maisie, who handed the ornament over. Claire looked it over, before nodding in agreement. "Yeah, that's definitely a step up. No longer looks like something made in elementary school."

"Hey!" Owen tried to sound indignant, but he was well aware of his own improvement.

"It's good to know that you do know how to use all those tools you keep out there," Claire had patted him on the shoulder, giggles still escaping her. Maisie and Owen both got drawn in by her laugh, and were soon laughing along.

Maisie had taken the ornament back from Claire before finding a spot to hang it on the tree. She returned to their sides, giving Owen a hug. "Thank you," she told him.

"Just wait until you see what I'll be able to create next year," Owen told them both. "I'm thinking this will be a new tradition."

"I can get behind that," Claire said.

"Me too," Maisie nodded.

Chapter Text

Running On Empty

Claire vaguely remembered Karen commenting in one of their earlier conversations that she should be prepared to get every single cold and flu and anything else that goes around. She had scoffed at her sister's comments, remarking that she and Owen were very healthy and so was Maisie. Besides, it was not like Maisie was a toddler; she knew to wash her hands after the bathroom.

The first cold of the school year was easy to brush aside; Maisie only seemed to be sniffling for a day or two before it went away. The second one lasted a bit longer, but again, it cleared up pretty quickly and neither Owen or Claire came down with anything. The first bout of the flu sucked, as neither Claire nor Owen were all that prepared or enthused by the fact that at ten, Maisie wasn't old enough to cope with throwing up on her own. A game of rock paper scissors happened for the first round. Claire lost, but then ran out of the bathroom gagging, and the duty fell to Owen by default.

While both Claire and Owen felt a little under the weather by the end of that round, neither actually succumbed. They all spent the weekend staying home and watching movies and were all ready and able to deal with work and school the following week.

The second bout of flu took down both Owen and Maisie. Claire spent a week waiting on them hand and foot. She barely managed to convince Owen that he still needed to be the one who helped Maisie out when she threw up. She argued that he was already sick and did they really want the flu to take them all out at once? Thankfully, that round of the flu involved very few bodily fluids. Instead, Claire felt like she was working in a laundromat, having to wash the sheets from both beds, along with multiple pairs of pjs, at least once a day as the two kept sweating through them. She never would've thought she'd be so relieved to hear the two whine about being hungry. It was a very welcome change from having to continually remind them to drink more and eat something.

Claire didn't even notice the cough she developed. She was to busy taking care of them and trying to manage all her DPG responsibilities at the same time. Besides, it wasn't like it hurt to cough or that she was even coughing anything up. It was more just a bit of an annoyance.

She was happy the day that both Owen and Maisie were well enough to return to school and work; she'd been missing her office. Her home office was nice, but it was hard to focus when she was also constantly listening for someone to call her name or one of them running to the bathroom. The white noise of the office was soothing in comparison, and she happily settled back behind her desk, finally getting a chance to get on top of her email.

Claire also greatly appreciated the chance to go out and eat a meal that wasn't based on soup and crackers. It helped that both Zia and Franklin were happy to see her and she got a chance to get a full update on what had been happening, liberally sprinkled with all the gossip she'd missed. She continued to roll her eyes over the constant drama going down and blamed it on all the young interns, but she couldn't help being sucked into it. Like watching a train wreck, it was hard to look away.

When she coughed a few times over lunch, Zia had looked a little concerned and asked if she was feeling alright. Was she sure she hadn't come down with the flu? Claire waved her away, saying that it was nothing and she felt fine.

The rest of the week continued on the same way. Maisie and Owen were bouncing back and Claire didn't think she was getting any worse. Sure, she felt a little run down, but she blamed that on having had little sleep when they were sick followed by a long week of working overtime trying to catch up. The cough was sticking around, but it hadn't turned into anything more, so besides drinking a lot of tea, she ignored it.

Sunday was football day. And all three of them had been looking forward to it. While it was common to put the games on in the house, this Sunday they were headed to Levi's Stadium to watch the 49ers live and in-person. Maisie had never been to a game before and had been excited about the planned trip for weeks. She had expressed worry about missing it when she was sick, and all three were equally relieved that she was feeling better.

The day of the game, all three piled into Claire's car, agreeing it would be much easier to park at the crowded lot than Owen's truck. Claire, still coughing, didn't put up a fight when Owen asked for the keys, handing them over easily. She was feeling really rundown, but didn't want to say anything, not with the excitement that radiated out of Maisie. Owen raised an eyebrow, but also didn't say anything, not wanting to press his luck.

Entering the stadium, Claire got caught up in the whirlwind of it all, trying to keep track of both Maisie and Owen. Luckily, amidst the sea of red and gold jerseys, they stood out, as neither was wearing one or even the home team's colors. Owen was a fan of the Cowboys, but they weren't playing today and he sure as hell wouldn't be caught dead in a Niners jersey. Claire was a fan of the Packers, also not playing today, and so she'd left her jersey at home. Furthermore, she was feeling a little cold, and had actually bundled up in layers, trying to keep warm. Maisie didn't own a jersey, although Claire and Owen had already planned to change that. Both Claire and Owen had been competing for her loyalty, trying to both subtly (and not so subtly) convince her why their team was the best. So far, she'd indicated a personal preference for the 49ers, which both were trying to accept (although, admittedly, not very gracefully).

As they walked through the stadium corridors packed full of people, Claire kept one hand resting on Maisie's shoulder, propelling her along, while her other was tucked into Owen's, keeping him close. Maisie's head was swinging from side to side, trying to take everything in. The gift shops full of branded merchandise, the people, and all the food choices.

"Can I get fries?" Maisie asked, as they passed one booth, before her mind switched again. "No, a hot dog." A little further on, it changed again, "They sell ice cream here?"

"Let's find our seats first," Claire suggested. "There will be lots of time to get something to eat. You don't have to decide right this minute."

"And there's enough time for more than one thing, too," Owen winked at Maisie.

"Seriously, you guys were just sick," Claire groaned at them. "Please, take it easy on the junk food today."

"We'll share," Owen smiled at her, letting go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulder instead, pulling her into his side. "It'll be fine."

After finding their seats, Maisie was unable to curb her enthusiasm to just sit quite yet. Claire suggested that she and Owen go back and figure out their first snack, and maybe take a look at the gift shops.

"Can I get a hat?" Maisie asked, eyes wide in excitement.

"Sure," Claire nodded. "Or maybe something else. Take a look around."

As soon as they were out of sight, Claire let out the cough she'd been trying to hold back, before slumping in her chair. She could really use something to soothe her throat. Grabbing her phone, she texted Owen to ask him to bring her back a bottle of water. Then, using the time alone, she closed her eyes, trying to keep her coughing down. It was going to be a long afternoon.

Her eyes sprung open - what felt like barely a minute later, although she knew it had been longer - when she heard Maisie calling her name.

"Claire, Claire, Claire!" Maisie scrambled down their row, stopping beside her. "Look!" She pulled at the number 10 jersey she was now wearing, bright grin on her face. Claire lifted a finger and moved it in a circle, and Maisie twirled on command.

"Looks great," Claire grinned back. "What else did you get?" She leaned around Maisie, seeing Owen struggling down the row, his arms full.

"Hey, kiddo, some help?" Owen asked as he neared them. Maisie obligingly reached for Claire's water bottle first, passing it over, before grabbing the container of fries and sitting down next to Claire. She put the fries on her lap, before reaching up for one of the drinks Owen was still holding, taking it and resting it in the cupholder.

Owen sat down on the other side of Maisie, taking a careful sip of his beer, before resting it on his knee, and reaching for one of the fries.

"Garlic fries," Maise turned back to Claire, raising them up towards her. "Want one?"

"No, that's okay," Claire shook her head, opening her bottle of water. "I'm not hungry yet."

Maisie shrugged, resting the fries back in her lap. "Is it almost ready to start?" She looked down at the field where the players were warming up in casual, work-out clothing. As the young girl's eyes followed Jimmy Garoppolo's throws with keen interest, Claire suddenly understood Maisie's "home team pride." Had she been feeling less ill, she would've laughed.

"Twenty minutes until kickoff," Owen answered, taking a quick glance at his watch and unaware of Maisie's focus.

Feeling a cough rising in her throat, Claire took a quick sip of water, but it ended up being a bad idea, the coughing fit being even bigger than before. When she finally caught her breath, Owen was looking at her concerned.

"You okay?" he asked, leaning over Maisie to look at her a bit more critically.

"Fine," Claire dismissed. "Went down the wrong tube."

Not long into the first quarter, Claire got up to use the bathroom, shaking her empty water bottle at Owen, when he looked up. Really, she was on the verge of another coughing fit, and didn't want to have it in front of everyone. She grabbed another bottle of water on her way back to the seat.

She had to make another couple of quick exits during the second half, each time arriving back at her seat feeling more worn out than before. Thankfully, both Maisie and Owen were caught up in the game and hadn't seem to notice her trips out. She was starting to wonder how she was going to make it through the rest of the game.

When halftime arrived, she was relieved. Maisie was insisting she was hungry again, and couldn't they go get a pretzel? Oh, and that she needed to use the bathroom. This time, all three of them stood up from their seats, Claire and Maisie beelining for the bathroom line, while Owen waited in a food line. By the time Maisie and Claire came out, Owen was just picking up his order. They took it from him, and Owen said he needed to use the bathroom himself, but he'd meet them back at their seats.

The crowded concourse was making Claire agitated. Ever since the Jurassic World incident, she hadn't liked crowds. She put up with them in order to deal with large rallies as part of her DPG responsibilities, but you wouldn't find her near a mall around Christmas or a grocery store on a Sunday afternoon. She hustled Maisie through the crowd, feeling sweat gathering on her brow and the back of her neck. Was it hot in there, or just her?

Once they were back at their seats, she pulled off her outer jacket, still feeling overheated. By the time Owen made it back to them, she'd removed another layer, and was left in a long sleeved T. She could still feel sweat on her brow, and was sure now, that it was just her. Dammit, she wasn't supposed to get sick. She had been fine. Sure, a bit of a cough, but fine.

"Claire?" Owen asked, looking at her in concern. "What's wrong?"

"Wrong?" Claire tried to brush it off. "Nothing's wrong."

"Hey Maisie, switch seats with me for a minute," Owen beckoned to Maisie. She quickly moved over, and Owen dropped into the seat between them, his focus still on Claire. Dropping his voice to a whisper, knowing she wouldn't want him to make a scene, he asked again. "Seriously Claire, are you feeling okay?"

"Fine," Claire shrugged, refusing to meet his eyes.

"Try that again," Owen nudged her, "but see if you can actually look at me when you say it."

"Not so hot," Claire finally sighed, eyes reluctantly meeting his.

Owen rested his hand on her forehead for a moment, before pulling back. "I'd say a little too hot," he said, just as Claire broke into another coughing fit. She couldn't hide it or blame it on water that time, and he just waited it out, rubbing her back through it.

"I'm sorry," Claire whispered.

"Sorry?"

"It's her big day," Claire replied, looking around him at Maisie, who was thankfully occupied watching the cheerleaders.

"Claire, if you're sick," Owen looked a bit offended, "Maisie would get it."

"I really wasn't feeling this bad earlier," Claire leaned back in her seat. Owen moved his hand from rubbing her back to up around her shoulders, letting her rest her head against him, as he shifted closer to her. "Just coughing and a bit run down."

"Well, I think it's moved past that now," Owen said, feeling her start to shiver. He grabbed the thin zip up sweater she had brought and helped her get back into it. "C'mon," he reached for her jacket, and started to gather stuff up.

"What?" Claire looked alarmed at his actions.

"You're not feeling well," Owen looked at her. "This is the last place you should be."

"No," Claire shook her head. "We're already here. I can make it." Off Owen's disbelieving look, she added, "Promise. It's not like I'm doing anything here, just sitting."

"Owen. Owen!"

Owen turned when Maisie called, pulling on his arm. "What?"

"Did you see that?" Maisie pointed out at the field, and Owen just nodded along, although he wasn't quite sure what he was supposed to have seen. He looked back at Claire, who was giving him a pointed look. Sighing, he let her jacket rest in his lap, and leaned back in his seat. He moved his arm back behind her again, and she shifted closer to him. It was actually that move that worried him more, as Claire was not a fan of PDA, and to be cuddling with him at the stadium told him just how bad she was feeling.

In the end, he convinced her to leave halfway through the fourth quarter. The game wasn't close and he didn't expect they'd miss much. He used the excuse of beating the crowds out of the parking lot, and Maisie's own enthusiasm had started to dim after the few hours they've been there. She especially lost interest when Jimmy Garappolo stopped throwing touchdowns. Claire was asleep against the window before they even made it out of the parking lot.

The drive back to their house was quiet. Owen had the radio playing softly and he was humming along, but Maisie had also fallen asleep, worn out from the exciting day. She woke as they pulled into the driveway, and he sent her inside with all their stuff, before he woke up Claire. Barely awake, he guided her straight to their bedroom, sitting her on the edge of the bed while he pulled out pajamas and the thermometer. He'd never owned a thermometer before, but it had gotten a lot of use the last few weeks. Living with a child was definitely a change.

"102?! Claire!" Owen exclaimed, checking the reading when the thermometer beeped.

"What?" Claire asked tiredly, staring at the pajamas he'd placed on the bed, but making no move to change.

"You should've said something," Owen said, a little aggravated.

"What's wrong?" Maisie's voice came from the doorway, stepping into the room when Owen looked over at her.

"Looks like Claire wasn't immune to the flu after all," Owen shook his head.

"Oh," Maisie's expression fell. "I'm sorry."

"Not your fault," Owen immediately disagreed. "Everyone gets sick." He looked over at Claire, who hadn't moved. "Even Claire." He turned back to Maisie. "Can you go grab her a glass of water?" Maisie nodded and left the room, and Owen quickly moved back to Claire. "Let's get you into these pajamas and into bed," he told her and between the two of them, they managed to do so quickly. She was just sliding under the covers when Maisie returned with the glass of water.

"I grabbed the Tylenol," Maisie told him, handing over the bottle.

"Good thinking," Owen smiled at her, opening the bottle and pouring out a couple of pills. After convincing Claire to take them and leaving the glass of water on the side of the bed, he ushered Maisie out of the room. "Let's go sort out dinner and let Claire sleep."

"She'll be okay, right?" Maisie asked.

"Before you know it," Owen nodded, taking one last glance in at Claire, snuggled deep under the covers, just the top of her head visible.

Owen was just cleaning up the kitchen after dinner when he heard heavy footsteps on the stairs. Knowing that Maisie was outside, he hurried out of the room to see Claire tiredly stumbling down the stairs, a pile of sheets in her arms.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Owen stopped her a couple of steps from the bottom. "What do you think you're doing?"

"I need to wash them," Claire told him, her eyes bright with fever. Owen looked at her more carefully, seeing that she'd changed from the pajamas he'd helped her into just a few hours before.

"Why didn't you call me?" Owen asked, gently tugging the bundle of sheets away from her.

"When's the last time you did laundry?" Claire raised an eyebrow. The effect was weak, as she sunk down onto the step, unable to keep herself up any longer.

Owen looked a little chagrined, hating to have to admit that she was right. It hadn't been something he'd planned, but he would easily admit to not being a fan of the boring chore and being happy that Claire had just taken it on. Probably one of a million little things they had never discussed, but both had naturally done (even if there was nothing natural about it).

"You're sick," Owen stated. "I think I can handle taking on laundry while you're sick. Just sit there." Taking the pile of laundry, he hurried into the laundry room, dumping it into the wash and getting it started. He half expected when he returned to the stairs to find Claire gone, but she was leaning against the wall right where he'd left her. Helping her stand up, he led the way back up to the bedroom and sat her on the chair in their room. "I'm not inept, you know," he told her, pulling out a clean set of sheets and remaking the bed. "And I want to help."

"I know," Claire sighed. "But you make practically all the meals as it is. I really don't mind doing laundry. It's pretty mindless."

"Yeah, well," Owen pulled her back to her feet, guiding her back into the freshly made bed. "We're a team, you know? We both should play to our strengths."

"Like Aaron Rogers staying on offense and Clay Matthews on defense?"

"Ugh, more like Cole Beasley playing wide receiver while Zeke sticks to running back." Owen pulled the blankets up to her chin, watching with a soft smile as she snuggled deeper into the bed. "But, seriously Claire," he reached down and brushed her bangs off her forehead before dropping a kiss there, "you can lean on me - sick or healthy."

"I know," Claire replied sleepily, her eyes already closing again. "Love you."

"Love you, too."

Chapter Text

Fessing Up

Claire had put the phone call off as long as she could. Instead, relying on text messages to let her sister know that she was okay, that yes, she'd been at Lockwood and, yes, some dinosaurs had escaped, but no, there was no reason for her sister to panic. She'd exchanged text messages with Zach and Gray as well, as they both pestered her, wanting their own confirmation that she was alive and unharmed. She had glossed over the unharmed part, and focused on alive.

She had known that loose dinosaurs roaming California was never going to be something they could keep quiet. From the moment the doors to the outside opened, she knew her life had been irrevocably changed, again.

They'd called in the cavalry immediately. The estate almost immediately swarming with people in every uniform imaginable. And where first responders congregated, the media was never far behind. As the head of the DPG, she had been in front of the press from the start. Not that there had ever really been a question about who would take on the interviews. Franklin was too nervous and Zia too impolite. Owen was not part of the DPG and had had enough media attention during Jurassic World to last him many lifetimes over. Besides, Maisie had pretty much surgically attached herself to him, crowding herself closer and closer for every new car or truck that arrived. And they wanted to keep her out of sight. No one needed to know her involvement in what went down, and, to be honest, they weren't even sure how… legitimate, she was. Did she have a birth certificate? What sort of paper trail had Lockwood created? Or erased? But those were questions for another day, and not a topic they were going to raise casually, especially around so much media attention.

The first couple of weeks had been a whirlwind. Many of the dinosaurs had been captured immediately, having not wandered far from the Lockwood estate. It was a good thing, but it, unfortunately, had meant putting most of them back in the cages within the basement, as they didn't have anywhere else that was strong enough to contain them. Of the ones that had moved farther away, most seemed to be avoiding populated areas like cities. It was good for preventing a catastrophic death toll, but it made it much harder to track their movements.

And then there was Maisie. They had found paperwork (thank god) but there was a big question mark as to what was going to happen to her. Lockwood's will had, in fact, left her to Eli Mills, but he was also dead. Iris had shown back up at the house, but she wasn't in shape to take on raising Maisie on her own. For the first few days, pretty much no one had left the Lockwood estate, and so a decision hadn't been made. But, once things started to settle down in a more organized fashion, and people were allowed to leave, the question had loomed larger. What was going to happen to Maisie?

In the end, Claire pulled every lever she could, calling in favours left, right, and center, to get permission for Maisie to stay with her and Owen. She now owed a lot of people, but they had received temporary guardianship. It was only for a few weeks, just long enough for child protection services to do a more thorough investigation to determine if it could be a longer term solution. But Claire wasn't worried about that. She knew they'd already cleared the biggest hurdle, and if they could show they were successful in taking care of her over the next while, and that Maisie wanted to be with them, the rest of it would be smoother sailing (not smooth, but smoother).

But, now that the three of them had been back in her own place for a few days, she knew she had to suck it up and call Karen. She wasn't looking forward to it. She was waiting for the yelling, the tears, the drama, and the family and sibling dynamics that never got any easier to navigate.

"You know, the longer you wait, the worse it's going to be, right?" Owen asked, sticking his head into the bedroom where she was sitting on the bed, staring at her phone.

"I know," Claire nodded, her gaze not moving.

"She loves you," Owen reminded her, moving into the room to perch next to her on the bed. "She just wants you to be happy. And…" he trailed off, waiting until Claire finally pulled her gaze away from the phone to look at him, "she's always wanted to be an aunt."

"She's also the one I vented to about you," Claire reminded him. "Everything I thought, yelled, or said, I told her. She's not your biggest fan."

"Oh…" Owen wasn't quite sure how to respond. "Well, Zach and Gray still like me. Two out of three ain't so bad."

"Two out of four," Claire corrected, before adding off his look. "She and Jake – do you remember Jake? – they're pretty serious now."

"Yeah, he's a good guy," Owen nodded. "He liked me, too."

"He's also a smart guy," Claire corrected Owen. "He'll follow Karen's lead." She leaned into him, tilting her head up to catch his gaze. "But, that doesn't matter. I like you."

"And I you," Owen leaned down for a quick kiss, but Claire snaked a hand around his neck, holding him close and deepening it. When Owen pulled back, he gave her a grin, before moving to stand just outside her reach. "I know what you're doing, and I won't be a party to it." Claire gave him an innocent look, but he shook his head. "Call her."

"Fine," Claire grumbled, picking up her phone.

When she didn't make a move, Owen grabbed it from her hands, hitting the dial button, before tossing it back at her. "Good luck," he called out, quickly heading for the door, and closing it behind him.

Groaning, Claire held up the phone, listening to it ring. Maybe she'd be lucky and Karen wouldn't answer. She could just leave a message. Similar to her texts, but Karen wouldn't be able to complain because she had phoned.

"Hello?"

Dammit. "Hi, Karen," Claire said brightly, forcing calmness into her voice.

"Claire!" Karen practically squealed. "I'm so glad you called. I was just telling Jake that if I didn't hear from you in the next few days I was going to be on the next flight down there."

"No! No, no no. You don't need to do that," Claire replied hurriedly.

"Oh?" Karen's curiosity was piqued. "You don't want a visit from your big sister? Are you hiding something from me?"

"No, nothing like that," Claire said, before wincing and correcting herself. "Well, not exactly like that…"

"What, you've got a baby dinosaur living in your living room or something?"

"Or something," Claire agreed.

"Wait, seriously? A dinosaur?"

"What? No. Are you crazy?" Claire held the phone away from her for a moment to look at it.

"What's up then?" Karen asked. When Claire didn't reply right away, Karen continued. "You know you can tell me anything, right?"

"Yeah, I know," Claire nodded, even though her sister couldn't see her. "Just… hear me out before you say anything, please?"

"Oh-kay," Karen replied, drawing out her answer. "It's not bad, is it?"

"No, at least, I don't think so," Claire confirmed.

"You're not making me feel any better about this," Karen noted.

"Sorry. It's not bad. And it's nothing to do with the dinosaurs. Well, not directly. Okay, that's not quite true either."

"And now I'm feeling even more worried."

"Sorry, I'm not explaining this well."

"You're not explaining anything, Claire," Karen rolled her eyes. "Just spit it out."

"Owen and I are back together and we've taken in Lockwood's granddaughter, Maisie," Claire finally got out in a single rushed breath. The phone was so silent that Claire looked at hers again, wondering if the call dropped. Nope, still connected. "Karen?"

"Yeah, sorry," Karen's voice came back through. "That's a lot to take in. Just processing. Let's back up. You and Owen?"

"Yeah," Claire's gaze went to her bedroom door. She could just hear Maisie and Owen on the other side of it, the TV on as well. Sounds she'd never expected to hear in her own house. And yet, it already felt normal and right.

"How?"

"He went back to Nublar with me," Claire confessed. "God, Karen. I baited him into going and was so relieved that he came along, and then he almost died."

"You're not with him out of guilt or something, are you?" Karen sounded concerned.

"No!" Claire's response was immediate and emphatic. "I'm with him because I love him. And he loves me."

"Aww, Claire," Karen sniffled. "I'm so happy for you."

"Really?" Claire sounded skeptical.

"Really," Karen said firmly. "You two never should've broken up in the first place."

"Well he–"

"Yeah, yeah, I know," Karen groaned. "You've told me everything before. Doesn't change my opinion. You're both just so stubborn and neither were willing to compromise. It only works if both sides are willing to give and take. He's a good man, Claire."

"I know."

"So..." Karen drew out. "Lockwood's granddaughter. How old is she?"

"Nine," Claire replied immediately.

"Wait, she's still a kid? You've got a kid living with you? Who are you and what have you done with my sister?"

"Ha ha," Claire rolled her eyes. "Yes, she's still a kid. Although a pretty mature one, if you ask me. But she has nowhere to go and she sort of … latched onto Owen at the house."

"Wait, there was a kid there?" Karen's voice rose.

"Yes, but shhh! You can't tell people. We've been able to keep her involvement out of the news."

"I didn't even know Owen was there," Karen grumbled. "You're getting too good at this media manipulation stuff."

"Thank you," Claire took it as a compliment. She was finding it easier this time around.

"What happened to her parents?"

"Um, her mom died," Claire replied with a wince. All the terminology seemed so messed up when she said it aloud. Mom. Grandfather. Neither were accurate.

"And her dad?"

"We don't know who he is," Claire dismissed. "No one does. Right now, we've got temporary guardianship of her, while CPS does their investigation to make it more permanent."

"Permanent. Like adoption permanent?" Karen asked hesitantly. "Do you guys know what you're getting into?"

"Right now, we're just taking it day-by-day," Claire replied with a sigh. "Adoption, if it happens, is a ways off. There's a lot of other things still going on."

"Are you sure about all this?" Karen asked softly. "You've always been sure you didn't want kids."

"I know," Claire nodded, gaze again drifting to her bedroom door, wondering about the chaos happening on the other side. Her once magazine-perfect apartment felt like it had gone through a blender in the last few weeks. Owen's stuff and Maisie's stuff both finding homes on her bookshelves, tables, closets and walls. She'd tripped over a sock monkey on her way to the bathroom the other day, and had never done so many loads of laundry in her life. "I think I really want this," she confessed to her sister. "It's weird but… it feels right. And normal. Like it was meant to be."

"Aww," Karen said, letting out a sniffle. "Claire, I'm so happy for you. Now, tell me everything! What's her name? What's she like? When can I come visit?"

"Well, her name's Maisie and…"

Chapter Text

Not So Perfect

Owen tried to focus on the sign of growth. They hadn't blown up at each other the moment they had wanted to. Instead, acknowledging that it wouldn't do anyone any good for Maisie to be a party to it, they had both been able to reign themselves in until she was off to school; cheerfully waving goodbye as she rode off on her bike.

However, the moment they had closed the door, silence fell over the house. Maybe that was a sign of growth too – neither of them immediately lashing out at the other with words.

Neither of them moved. Owen was a couple steps in, standing near the bottom of the stairs, while Claire was leaning against the door. Taking the moment of silence as a chance to observe her, Owen realized just how tired she looked. Tired and worn down. He remembered this look – he used to see it in the first few months post Jurassic World, when Claire was being run ragged; depositions, PR events, meetings with Masrani Global, trying to stay in touch with her sister and more. Through it all, Claire never complained. She would just straighten her back, pasted on a smile, and marched into the next item on her calendar like she was paying penance.

But what was running her down now? Things were going pretty well. Maisie was adjusting to school. He was getting use to being back at work. And Claire continued to run the DPG, heading into the office at least five days a week. Wracking his brain, he couldn't think of anything she'd mentioned recently that was out of the ordinary. Work seemed to be work, and life was just life.

Even this morning, he wasn't sure what set them off. Sure, they had both been running behind frantically trying to get Maisie and themselves organized and out the door. But, considering the two of them were still standing there, and neither of them were showing any sign of moving, being late didn't seem to be a concern to her.

He thought back to their earlier conversation; the one they'd cut short when they realized where they were headed, both of their gazes having shifted over to Maisie, who had been sitting at the kitchen table eating cheerios. Had it really all started over coffee?

"Hey, can you pour me some too?" Owen asked, rushing into the kitchen, running his hand through his still damp hair.

"Hmm?" Claire replied, distracted.

"Coffee," Owen reminded her, moving past her to grab the bag of bread and pulling a couple of slices out before putting them in the toaster

"Oh, sorry," Claire looked at her mug, and then at him. "I'm actually drinking tea this morning. I haven't made any."

"Tea? Did you get replaced by a pod person and I missed it?" Owen joked, reaching into the cupboard for the coffee grounds, now tuning into the fact that his favourite morning smell was missing.

"Just didn't want coffee, alright?" Claire's snapped reply had Owen looking at her, confused.

"It's just coffee," Owen said, raising his hands in surrender, before grabbing the carafe to fill it with water. "No harm meant." Once the coffee was started, he began pulling out what he needed to make Maisie's lunch.

He could feel Claire's eyes following him as he moved about the kitchen. His toast popped up, and he quickly spread on some peanut butter, wolfing it down as he made Maisie a sandwich. He rounded out her lunch by adding an apple, a couple of cookies and a small bag of chips, before tracking down her water bottle and filling it.

"Perfect Owen," Claire muttered angrily, and Owen paused in his movements, turning to her, not sure he heard her correctly.

"What?"

"Nothing," Claire shrugged.

"No, what did you mean by that?" Owen asked.

"I didn't say anything."

"Oh don't give me that," Owen rolled his eyes, before mimicking her. "Perfect Owen. What does that mean?"

"What do you think it means?" Claire voice started to rise.

"Am I missing something?" Owen asked. "Did you wake up on the wrong side of the bed? What's gotten into you this morning."

"I just-" Claire cut herself off, the sound of Maisie's chair scraping against the floor as she got up, drawing their attention.

Letting out a deep sigh, Owen scrubbed his hands down his face, before returning his gaze to Claire, seeing her slump even more against the front door.

"What's going on?" he asked, sinking down to sit on the stairs.

"Nothing," Claire shook her head, straightening up and shifting away from the door. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Claire…" Owen let out another sigh. "You're not usually this tense or easily upset. We don't normally have it out over coffee."

"We didn't this morning either," Claire denied.

"Only because Maisie was sitting right there," Owen argued back, his own voice rising.

"Well good thing for Maisie."

"I don't know that it's a good thing," Owen disagreed. Claire looked at him surprise and he clarified. "I mean, yeah, I don't want us fighting in front of her, but… we've done the not communicating thing before. It's never ended well."

"Yeah, well…" Claire shrugged, and silence fell over them again. Owen was trying to figure out how to break it, when Claire spoke up again. "What are we doing?" He looked up and found her gazing at him, a pleading look in her eyes.

"What do you mean?"

"This. Everything." Claire waved her hand around at the house. "Maisie. Us. A house..."

"I thought you wanted this," Owen asked carefully, his heart sinking. "All of this."

"I do," Claire's reply was quick, before she sighed, sinking back against the door. "I didn't realize it would be this hard." She rubbed at her eyes, but Owen couldn't see evidence of tears, at least not yet. "You know," she looked up at him, "the other day someone was telling me about my 'perfect' life and 'perfect' family. About how everything has worked out so well for me." She laughed, but it sounded hollow. "So well…"

"I know things aren't perfect..." Owen wasn't really sure what to say.

"I don't want perfect," Claire cried out, one of her hands falling down in a fist, thumping against the door. "Perfect is an impossible ideal. I'm sick of aiming for the impossible." She thumped her fist against the door again. "So sick of it."

"Did something else happen?" Owen asked, trying to piece together the puzzle. He'd never seen Claire back down from a fight before. Never seen her not want to aim for the impossible. Impossible was what she did. Off her look, he clarified, "At work? Or somewhere else? Or here… did I say something?"

"No," Claire shook her head, her gaze darting away from his, "Not really."

Owen climbed back to his feet, moving to stand in front of her. "What did I say?"

"Not you," Claire shook her head again, this time meeting his gaze and giving him a lukewarm smile. "You've been… you've been great. More than great." Her gaze darted around their house again. "'Perfect' husband." But she wouldn't meet his eyes when she said that.

"While I do like to think I'm perfect..." Owen tried to get a smile from her, but it didn't work. He sighed, reaching for her hands. "I'm not trying to be perfect. And I don't expect you to be perfect either."

"I know," Claire nodded, biting her lip, gaze shifting away again.

From this close, Owen could now see the tears that were threatening to fall, and he tugged her closer, letting go of her hands to wrap his arms around her instead in a loose hug, staying back just enough that he could continue to try to meet her gaze. "What happened?" he asked again. She just shrugged and tried to pull back, but he tightened his grip on her, pulling her closer, until she rested her head on his shoulder. he could feel the tears finally fall, soaking his shirt. He was glad she couldn't see him, as his eyes widened in panic. He'd never been good with a crying Claire. Hugging her, he thought over their morning again. "Who told you everything was perfect?"

Claire didn't reply, but she finally wrapped her arms back around him, hugging him tightly, as if afraid he was going to disappear from her grasp.

"You know there's no such thing as a perfect family, right?" Owen tried a different tack. "Each of us – you, me, Maisie – we're all just trying our best. And that's all we can and should expect from each other. It means we'll have good days and bad. Days where we'll feel like that perfect family and days we'll feel far from it. It doesn't make us any less of a family."

"That's a perfect answer," Claire sniffled, then took a deep breath. "God, why are you so perfect?"

"Can I get you to say that on record?" Owen quipped and Claire gave him a half-hearted shove on his shoulder, but she stayed wrapped around him. "I'm not. You know that, right?"

"Sometimes, I feel like I don't belong in this family," Claire admitted. "I'm the one who's furthest from perfect."

"Um, what?" Owen pushed back this time, twisting until he could meet her gaze. "Claire, have you taken a look around recently? Each one of us is just getting through the day. And each day, we all get a little bit better at it."

"Easy for you to say," Claire mumbled.

"Yeah, because I see it in all of us," Owen shrugged. "Seriously, Claire. Who was talking about perfect families? That doesn't sound like Zia or Franklin or really any of the DPG people."

"It wasn't at the DPG," Claire admitted, leaning against him and letting him support her. "Soccer practice on the weekend. One of the moms."

"Oh," Owen nodded slowly. Outside of Karen, they didn't know or were friends with many people who were parents. And getting used to the parent-to-parent interaction was turning out to be tougher than they'd expected. School pick-up and drop-off could be like walking through a minefield. Owen was thoroughly annoyed by the number of moms who'd practically swooned all over him when he'd meet Maisie there sometimes, like that simple act made him an amazing dad. He'd been the one who pushed having Maisie ride her bike to and from, just so he wouldn't have to deal with it. "I swear, some of those parents are almost worse than the Indominus."

"She just kept going on how great I have everything," Claire said. "How fantastic and perfect my life must be. And all I could think was that I forgot to put the laundry in the dryer before we left. And that I needed to get my suits to the dry-cleaners. And that I forgot to phone back the investor the other day with the updated numbers. And–"

"Shhh," Owen put his finger to her lips, quieting her, feeling her getting worked up again. "I know it doesn't really make anything better to say she's jealous or whatnot. But, it really doesn't matter anyway. We're doing the best we can, and that's all we can hope for. Now," he let go with one arm, keeping his other wrapped around her shoulders, and turned, maneuvering them towards the stairs. "You know, it's been a long time since we've had some time that's just the two of us."

"I've got work," Claire weakly protested but let him lead her up the stairs. "You've got work, too."

"We'll call in sick," Owen shrugged, tugging her into the bedroom. "And show them we're not perfect."

 

Chapter Text

First Day Jitters

Claire was not ashamed to admit that she loved back to school shopping. New notebooks, pens, pencils, binders, markers and more. When they'd registered Maisie at the nearby school, she'd barely been able to suppress her glee at the required school supplies list that came with it. Owen had laughed at her, watching as she skimmed over the list as they'd left the building. But Maisie had been curious. She'd been homeschooled her entire life so far, and so never really had that traditional first day of school or shopping for school supplies. Nothing from a required list anyway.

The two of them had looked over the list carefully that evening at dinner, with Owen rolling his eyes. "Seriously, what do you need besides a pencil and some paper?" he'd scoffed. "Let me see that list." Owen had grabbed it from them, eyes quickly skimming it over. "Wait, what? You have to buy kleenex? And paper towels? What's next – bring your own desk?"

"Wow, you've really ignored the news for years, haven't you?" Claire had raised an eyebrow. "School budgets have been decimated."

The argument had stopped there, briefly, as Owen hated discussing anything even remotely political. He had just handed the list back, listening quietly as Claire and Maisie made plans to go shopping.

Claire had been a little surprised when he'd brought it up later that night, as the two were getting ready for bed. She hadn't been sure where he was going at first, and had simply smiled when he started expressing concern for the state of the school they were sending Maisie to and were they sure they shouldn't have chosen a private school? Or should he stay home and continue her homeschooling? She'd reassured him that it would all be fine and it was just fifth grade. Worst case, they could always pull her out and put her in a different school if they needed to. And, no matter what, they would continue to foster her interests outside of school. They could, and would, provide their own enrichment activities with visits to museums and science centers, the library and, of course, the DPG.

Besides, she'd reminded him, part of the reason they'd chosen their neighbourhood was the quality of the local schools. And they had both agreed that she needed to spend more time around kids her own age.

"I guess I'm just nervous," Owen admitted, climbing into bed.

"Yeah, me too," Claire nodded in agreement. "I thought after college I'd never have to deal with the first day of school again."

"I can't picture you ever being nervous about the first day," Owen said.

"I liked school," Claire shrugged. "But that doesn't mean I never got nervous about finding my classes and having friends in them."

"Do you think Maisie will be okay?" Owen asked after a moment.

"I think–" Claire paused. Was she sure? "I hope so," she sighed after a moment.

"It's not always great being the new kid," Owen said softly.

"I find it hard to believe you never fit in," Claire looked over at him.

"Kids can be mean," Owen looked away for a moment, before turning back. "We've all done stuff we regret, especially as kids."

"Yeah," Claire also looked away. Her list of regrets seemed to only get longer.

"Hey," Owen reached for her, pulling her into his embrace. He pulled her down with him, settling into the bed as Claire curled into his side, her head resting on his shoulder. "Don't go down that path. We should be focusing on the positives."

"And those are?"

"We'll finally be able to have some alone time," Owen grinned down at her. "Maisie'll be out of the house during the day."

"Sure, but so will we."

"And she'll make some friends, and can go on sleepovers…" Owen continued, raising an eyebrow suggestively, when Claire looked up at him.

"Let's see how the first day goes," Claire laughed. "But I like where your going with this."

x x x

They decided to do the drop off all together. None of them were quite sure what to expect, and all were feeling equally nervous about it (although pretending they were fine). The school was only a few blocks away so they decided to walk. They weren't sure how busy the drop off would be, and this way they could take their time.

They'd gone into the school the previous week for a "meet your teacher" day. It was also another chance for Maisie to walk through the school and get a sense of the layout. Mrs. Stevenson had been friendly and welcoming, and while Maisie had explored the classroom, Owen and Claire had taken the chance to talk to her about the whole situation around Maisie. They'd gone through it with the Principal when they were registering her, but they wanted to make sure Mrs. Stevenson was also clear on it. They were sure that Maisie wouldn't be her first student who was living with guardians and not parents. However, they were also pretty sure she'd would be her first student who had a terrifying encounter with dinosaurs, much of which had been broadcast over the news for months.

In the fallout, they had managed to keep Maisie's name out of most of the coverage. The DPG had been really useful there, with Claire continually redirecting the media's focus with well timed updates. But, that also meant that Claire was a very recognizable figure, and she'd seen Mrs. Stevenson's eyes widen in recognition when they had entered the classroom.

As they approached the school, she started to realize that they'd made a strategic mistake. They had been more focused (rightly so) on Maisie and surviving the day, that they hadn't thought about the reactions of the other parents during drop off. The whispers were almost immediate, heads turning in their direction as they walked up. Claire reached up, self-conscious, knowing her hair was one of the first things that gave her away. Owen gently tugged her arm down, lacing his fingers through hers, and Claire clutched it tightly. Maisie didn't seem to notice the commotion they were causing, too busy watching the continuous stream of kids arriving – walking, biking, tumbling out of cars and pouring from busses.

Claire stopped on the very edge, not really wanting to venture further into the crowd and among all the stares, but Owen confidently pulled her forward. He had his other hand resting lightly on Maisie's shoulder, directing her as well, until they had moved closer to the main school doors. They weren't in the center of the crowd, that hadn't been his point. He had just wanted them to at least be able to watch as Maisie headed in. For her to be able to easily see them and know they were there.

"So, are you ready?" Owen turned to Maisie, ignoring the surrounding whispers.

"I think so," Maisie nodded confidently, her hands gripping tightly to her backpack, eyes still darting around the area, taking it all in.

"You remember where your classroom is and your teacher?" Owen asked.

"Yep," Maisie said. "Mrs. Stevenson. Through the front doors, down the left corridor, second last on the right."

Owen nodded along, although he couldn't actually remember the specific door. "And she'll be standing by it too. So just look for her."

"I know." Maisie gave him a big smile.

Claire forced her attention to focus on the moment and ignore everything else around her. She knew she was squeezing Owen's hand in a death grip, but he hadn't tried to pull away, and she wasn't quite able to relax her grip yet. "I can't wait to hear all about your day," she told Maisie.

"Will you be here? After?" Maisie looked around at the crowd again, before her gaze came back to them. Before they could answer, a bell rang, and the crowd started shrinking, as kids headed into the building, calls of good-bye being shouted over shoulders.

"I'll even be early," Owen smiled at Maisie.

"Both of you?" Maisie confirmed, turning to Claire. She knew Claire was headed into the office.

"Absolutely," Claire nodded. "I'll be the reason he's early." She nudged Owen playfully, and Maisie laughed. "But, looks like it's time to head in," she nodded towards all the other kids entering the building.

"Yeah," Maisie squared her shoulders.

"And remember, if you need anything, you go to Mrs. Stevenson. And they can always call us."

Maisie nodded. She looked towards the doors of the school and took a hesitant step in that direction, before turning back and throwing her arms around Owen. He wrapped his arms around her in a tight hug, Claire joining in.

"We'll see you at four," Claire reminded her, pulling back.

"You better head in," Owen also pulled away, and gently turned Maisie back towards the door.

"Have a great day," Claire called out, as Maisie walked away. Maisie looked over her shoulder and waved at them and they waved back. They watched as she approached the front door, getting lost in the crowd for a second, before they saw her again, looking at them and they waved again. And then, she was out of sight.

"Oh god," Claire moved closer to Owen, finally letting go of his hand to wrap her arm around him instead, pulling herself into his side. "I really didn't think it would be this hard."

"Me either," Owen sighed. "How do people manage when their kid is only five?" He copied her action, wrapping his arm around her, as they stood watching the school and the final kids heading inside.

"I really hope it goes well," Claire said. She hated being in this position, where there was nothing she could do but wait and see.

"Me too," Owen nodded. He brought his free hand up, rubbing it along his jaw. "God, me too."

As they heard the final bell ring, they finally turned away from the school to head back home. Claire needed to get going if she was going to have any time in the office that day. Especially with needing to be back in time to pick up Maisie after school.

There were still parents hanging around, some with kids too young for school who had gravitated towards the now empty playground. It was clear that many of the moms knew each other (and it was mostly moms there) and were catching up. Claire could tell some of them were still looking at her and Owen and talking about them. Probably wondering about Maisie, she was sure. None of the articles on her had ever mentioned that she had a kid. Or that Owen did, for that matter. And Owen, while he had less coverage, had still been in numerous photographs and articles. They'd rehashed his involvement in Jurassic World as well, and people had loved him back then. The "sexy raptor guy," as he'd been known. "Brooding and mysterious," as another publication had labelled him, when he'd refused all interviews he hadn't been forced to do. She'd teased him about that before, to which he'd just shrugged and said "I just don't like people."

No one said anything to them as they left, and soon they were far enough away from the school that Claire could feel some of the stress and tension melt away. Her mind finally felt free to focus on her work and other priorities for the day.

x x x

Back at the school, Maisie made her way down the hall to her classroom, listening as all the kids around her were chatting away. She could tell many of them were catching up after having not seen each other over the summer break. It felt kind of lonely walking down the hall by herself, realizing that everyone around her already knew someone else. But, she mimicked what she'd seen Claire do before, straightening up and looking confident, as she sought out her classroom. Spotting Mrs. Stevenson, she headed towards her.

"Maisie! Welcome," Mrs. Stevenson said with a warm smile. "Head on in and choose a seat anywhere. We'll be sorting out lockers once we're all here."

Maisie nodded, and went into the classroom, quickly taking it in. It was the same as when she'd seen it the previous week, desks clumped together in groups around the room. One group was already occupied by a group of boys. Another group, front and center in the room, had a few girls at it already, and so Maisie headed towards them.

Reaching the group of desks, she reached for an unoccupied chair, only to be stopped by another girl reaching out. "You can't sit here," the girl informed her, the rest of the girls standing behind her in support.

"What about…?" Maisie looked at the other empty desk in the group, but they shook their heads. Not wanting to make a scene, and also not at all sure how to deal with this behaviour, Maisie backed away, and headed instead to an unoccupied group of desks on the side. Pulling out a chair, she sat down heavily, and watched as other kids entered the room. Eventually, as it began to fill, two girls came in, chatting with each other. They headed towards her.

"Are these chairs taken?" they asked and Maisie shook her head 'no' and both immediately sat down, before continuing their previous conversation. Maisie sat quietly, unsure how the rest of the day was going to play out.

x x x

At ten to four, Claire and Owen arrived back at the school. While Owen thought 10 minutes early was a little extreme, Claire had been unusually jumpy since she'd got home, and sitting around the house waiting wasn't going to do either of them any good.

They moved towards the same spot they'd stood at earlier. Owen leaned against a tree, watching as Claire paced in front of him. On her tenth pass, Owen reached out, snagging her wrist and pulling her to a stop. "You wearing a path is not going to make her come out any faster," he reminded her.

"I know," Claire looked towards the building behind her before back at Owen. "Why am I so nervous?"

"Because it's out of your control," Owen replied bluntly. "Whatever happened today, happened. And we'll deal with it, good or bad."

"Right…" Claire moved over to stand beside him, wringing her hands nervously, but at least no longer pacing.

"Your kid's first day of school?" a voice startled them out of their thoughts, and they saw a woman had come to a stop near them. She was dressed casually, wearing jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt. "Sorry, didn't mean to startle you."

"That's okay," Claire smiled at her. "And yes, first day."

"What teacher?" the woman asked.

"Mrs. Stevenson," Owen answered.

"Oh, fifth grade," the woman looked confused for a moment, before shrugging it off. "Sorry, I just assumed kindergarten."

"Nope, fifth grade," Claire looked a little chagrined.

"Well, I'm sure it went well," the woman nodded. "Mrs. Stevenson's a great teacher - my son had her last year."

"I hope so," Claire looked nervously toward the building again.

"Sorry, I should've introduced myself. I'm Amanda. Amanda Mayer," the woman held out her hand and Claire automatically shook it.

"Claire Dearing," Claire said.

When she let go, Owen stepped forward and also shook Amanda's hand. "Owen Grady."

"Why do those names sound familiar?" Amanda asked them.

"You must not watch the news," Owen chuckled. He'd been watching as more and more parents had shown up, and the whispers and nods in their direction had started up again.

"Yeah," Amanda winced, apologetically. "Sorry, not big on it."

"That's actually kind of nice to hear," Claire replied. "I run the DPG – the Dinosaur Protection Group."

"Oh," was all Amanda said in response, her mouth gaping open a few times like a fish.

"Yeah," Claire laughed. "Don't worry about it. That's probably one of the better reactions I've had."

"I didn't know you had a kid," Amanda moved back to the topic at hand, which both Owen and Claire were grateful for.

"Maisie," Owen nodded. "As of this summer."

"Ah, the first day of school nerves make more sense," Amanda laughed. "It gets easier, trust me."

"Can't get worse, can it?" Owen joked back.

At that moment, the bell rang, and they all turned their attention back towards the school. It took about a minute, and then kids started streaming out and scattering in all directions. A couple of boys headed towards them and Amanda greeted them. She introduced them to her two sons, Josh and David. Claire and Owen greeted them politely, but their attention was focused on locating Maisie. A moment later, they saw her. They knew the moment she spotted them, her expression brightening and she hurried towards them.

"You're here!" Maisie exclaimed, as she got close.

"Promised we would be," Owen stated. "How was your day?"

"It was…" Maisie looked back at the school building, before turning back to them. "...Different."

"Different good or different bad?" Claire looked concerned.

"Just different," Maisie shrugged. "A lot of noise."

Remembering that Amanda and her boys were still standing beside them, Claire quickly introduced Maisie.

"Well," Owen said, "It's been a long day. We should get home and you can tell us all about it."

"I'm sure we'll be seeing you again," Claire said to Amanda, who was also being tugged away from the school yard by her youngest.

"For sure," Amanda nodded. "Bye!"

Waving goodbye, the three of them headed out of the yard and away from the school.

"So, really, how was your day?" Claire asked again, as they got farther from the school and the noise died down.

"Fine," Maisie shrugged again.

"Any homework?" Owen asked, meeting Claire's gaze, both of them not really sure how much to pry and how to interpret Maisie's responses.

"No," Maisie shook her head. "But we did get a weekly planner*!" Her face brightened at that, and she paused on the sidewalk to pull it out of her backpack so she could show it off.

"That's great," Claire said, peering down at the planner. "I love mine."

"Love is a bit of an understatement, don't you think?" Owen laughed.

"I'm an–," Claire started to retort.

"Organized person," Maisie and Owen finished for her. "We know."


* Okay, so I originally put "agenda" here and then Elise-Collier and I had a discussion about this word. At the schools I went to (middle, high, university) they were always called agendas. What did you call them?

Chapter Text

It Pays to Be a Winner

Had it really been over a year since Maisie had entered their lives? It must be, because the DPG was about to celebrate the one year anniversary of the opening of the dinosaur sanctuary.

The older Claire got, the faster time seemed to move. And while there were days that she wished it would all just slow down, she was also happy to be into their second year – both as a family and with the DPG running the sanctuary. Firsts could be good and all, but they were exhausting when they seem to happen every other day.

She was also really looking forward to the celebration that the DPG had planned. She had even managed to make herself back off and not be directly involved with most of the details. She was proud of herself for delegating; even if it made her a bit anxious. But, her actual responsibilities at the DPG, combined with being a parent and all the tasks that were involved in that, meant she could no longer work 24/7. Even if Owen would disagree and say that she still did.

While the DPG had partnered with the government on the sanctuary, and also had numerous investors, they had decided against turning it into a big gala. There had been a lot of back and forth in that decision, knowing that it could be a good opportunity for fundraising. Claire knew that when you put on a gala, and spent money in that form, many of the smaller donors felt not needed. She was trying to maintain the DPG as being about protecting the dinosaurs for everyone, not just the wealthy. They had decided instead to have a small event, with invitations focused on those who worked and volunteered directly for the DPG, along with significant others.

The other main decision that they'd gone back and forth on was whether the event should be family friendly. While Claire felt a little guilty about it, she was happy that the final decision was to make it an adult-only event. She knew Maisie would've enjoyed going if it was more family friendly, but she was also just looking forward to a night out, where she could forget about being a parent for a few hours. Where she and Owen could finally have some time to just be them and not "Maisie's guardians."

With the date scheduled well in advance, she'd made sure to add it to the kitchen calendar and to arrange a sleepover for Maisie. She'd even bought an outfit just for that night. It felt a bit bittersweet doing so, as it dredged up memories of being back at Jurassic World, where picking out outfits for special events was a common activity that she'd really enjoyed. Since then, she rarely participated in any events where it made sense. When leading rallies and protests and even many of the PR events as the head of the DPG, she usually wore a DPG branded t-shirt and jeans.

Owen wasn't big on dressing up himself, so the two of them had never fallen into a routine of fancy nights out at restaurants or events. In fact, things always seemed to go better when their dates didn't involve any other people. It was something that they'd partially gravitated towards post Jurassic World, when going out often meant interacting with the media. But it was also something they had kept up, even once the media died down, enjoying the chance to just be them, no other expectations in place.

Maisie's entrance into their lives really just meant that their date nights became less frequent, replaced by family nights. On the occasions they managed to get a Maisie-free evening or night, the idea of going out amongst others wasn't usually appealing. They'd tried going to a movie once, and found themselves afterwards talking about how much Maisie would've liked it. They hadn't meant to choose a movie that would appeal to Maisie. They'd actually just picked their standard choice – checking out the latest superhero movie to hit the market. It had been one of those moments where they realized they really were parents – thinking about and putting Maisie first, and wanting her to be involved in their activities.

But, that didn't mean they didn't want (or need) time without her.

The "high" from feeling like a real parent had been quickly squashed, only days later, when Claire had been recounting it with Karen. She'd thought Karen would congratulate her – welcome her to the parenting "club," tell her that she really was one of them now. Instead, Karen had shaken her head and and chastised her. "Don't become me and Scott," Karen had said, "where you end up together only for your kids. They grow up. They leave home. There has to be more to your relationship than that. You'll end up resenting each other. And you may end up regretting Maisie. No one wins when it all falls apart." Claire had been skeptical, saying it wasn't like that. That she and Owen had been through so much, they knew not to take each other for granted. That their marriage was strong. Karen had just nodded, but Claire knew she wasn't in agreement, before the conversation had moved onto other topics.

While Claire had pulled herself back from being involved in all the planning details, she still needed (wanted) to be at the event early to make sure it was all setup. She knew she wouldn't be able to relax if she didn't confirm it herself. As it was happening on a Friday evening, she'd brought her outfit with her to work that morning. She had reminded Maisie and Owen of the event at breakfast, making sure that Maisie had a bag packed for her sleepover and informing Owen that his suit was hanging up in the closet and she'd see him at seven. They had both nodded to her as they sat at the kitchen table eating breakfast, watching as she whirled in and out of the room, trying to make sure she didn't forget anything on her way out the door.

Smoothing down her dress, Claire checked her makeup again in the bathroom mirror, confirming that everything was perfect. Pulling out her phone, she checked it again for any missed messages. Besides a message a few hours ago confirming that Maisie had been dropped off, she hadn't heard from Owen. Not that she was surprised – in fact, she had been surprised to even get the update about Maisie, and was sure that it only happened because Maisie said something. Owen was not a fan of his phone, often commenting that it felt like a noose he had to wear. Checking her watch and seeing that it was nearing seven, she tucked her phone away in the small clutch she was carrying and headed back out to join the party.

When seven came and went, and Owen had yet to make an appearance, Claire didn't give it a second thought. Owen wasn't known for being punctual, and she knew that this type of event wasn't at the top of the list of things he liked doing. She had assumed he'd be late. She kept herself busy and occupied, making the rounds and chatting with all the DPG employees. It was really nice to see them all relaxed and to know, for once, that the DPG was in a good place, both financially and how it was viewed by the public. Everyone was definitely enjoying the chance to just let loose.

It was approaching eight when Zia pulled her aside. "Where's Owen?" Zia asked, surprised he wasn't glued to Claire's side.

"He hasn't arrived yet," Claire rolled her eyes, trying to play it off as a joke, and took a sip of her wine. "I told him seven, but you know him."

"Right," Zia nodded. "He'll probably be waltzing in through that door any moment now."

Claire nodded, her eyes darting towards the entrance, but the doors remained closed. Looking back at her friend, she asked why she'd been pulled aside.

"Oh," Zia smiled slyly, "new gossip." Claire listened with half an ear, most of her attention still drawn to the door, as Zia filled her in on the latest DPG drama. Apparently one of the interns asked two people to be his date and they had both said yes and he'd been trying to keep them separate all evening. Unsurprisingly, it hadn't worked.

Once Zia had been pulled away by her girlfriend Allison, Claire pulled out her phone, checking to see if there were any new messages. While yes, she had expected Owen to be late, she hadn't expected him to be this late, and was starting to get concerned. Had something happened? The last message from him was still the one about dropping Maisie off. She started to tap out a new message to him, before forgoing that and opting to phone instead. She moved away from the main party area, finding a quiet corner.

Four rings later she was listening to his voice mail pick up. She ended the call, knowing that he was unlikely to check that. She went back to texting him, sending simply "Where are you?"

Thirty minutes later, Claire had been sucked into a conversation debating one of their current fundraising strategies, when she felt an arm slip around her waist. She turned her head slightly to catch Owen's sheepish expression, as he murmured that he was sorry he was late into her ear.

Claire continued to nod along and participate in the conversation at hand, grateful for the distraction. She was torn between feeling relief that he was okay and pissed off that he was over an hour and a half late.

A few minutes later, she could feel Owen fidgeting at her side. The topic at hand was of no interest to him. Taking the last sip of her white wine, she handed him her empty wine glass and suggested he grab them a drink, which he eagerly nodded to, before hurrying off. It wasn't until she watched him walk away that Claire even realized what he was wearing – and it was not the suit she'd had dry cleaned. Well, it was part of the suit. He had on jeans, a button up shirt and the suit jacket. No tie. Looking down at her own dress again, Claire sighed. She supposed she should be thankful it wasn't board shorts or something else equally ridiculous. But, he managed to pull out the jacket, would it really have been too hard to put on the rest of the suit?

He was back only a couple of minutes later, a glass of red wine and a bottle of beer in his hands. She gave him a tight smile as she accepted the wine. It wasn't that she didn't like red wine, it was just not what she'd been drinking tonight.

A few minutes later, she was able to separate them away from the others, giving them a chance to finally talk.

"What happened?" Claire asked, as they moved away.

"What do you mean?" Owen swallowed the last of his beer, directing them back towards the bar.

"You're an hour and a half late," Claire hissed. "I was starting to get worried. You didn't respond to my text…"

"I didn't see any message," Owen shrugged, accepting a replacement beer from the bartender.

"And … jeans, Owen?" Claire looked him up and down, barely hiding her disgust.

"What's wrong with jeans?" Owen looked at what he was wearing, tugging on his suit jacket with one hand, and then back to her. "You know how much I hate suits."

"It's just one night," Claire started, a exasperated look crossing her face.

"Owen!" They both turned to see Zia approaching them, Allison at her side. "You made it!"

"Zia, Ally," Owen smiled at them both in greeting. "You guys both look great."

"Thanks," Ally smiled back at him.

"You too," Zia nodded, giving him a look over before chuckling a little. "Couldn't handle the full suit?"

"Just not a fan of formal wear designed to choke you," Owen laughed along, tugging at his collar, although he'd left the top few buttons undone.

They didn't stay late, Claire's mood diminishing over the evening, and while Owen was friendly, it was clear to Claire that he really didn't want to be there. The cab ride back to their place was silent, both staring out their respective windows.

Claire was trying to figure out exactly when the night went off the rails, as the cab pulled into their driveway. Their first night alone in months, and yet instead of capitalizing on it, it felt like a gulf had opened between them, growing larger with each passing minute.

Climbing out of the cab on a sigh, she headed for their front door, letting herself in, not even paying attention as to whether Owen was behind her. She tugged off her heels and dropped her clutch onto the small table by the entrance, heading further into the house. Vaguely, she heard the door shut behind her and Owen turning the lock.

"Are you just going to ignore me?" Owen asked, following her into the kitchen, where she was filling the coffee machine.

Claire waited to respond until she'd turned the machine on, leaning back against the counter to face him. "What happened tonight?" She asked.

"What do you mean?" Owen was confused, and he leaned against the counter opposite her, mirroring her position.

"You were late. You didn't dress up. You clearly didn't want to be there…"

"I'm always late. I hate dressing up. And, yeah, so? It's not like it's my kind of thing," Owen shrugged, not seeing the big deal.

"One night, Owen, one night," Claire let her head fall, one hand rising to rub at her temple. She could feel the headache rising. "All I wanted was one night."

"What's that supposed to mean?" It was Owen's turn to look defensive, and he straightened up, no longer leaning against the counter.

"We rarely have any time together," Claire started.

"Right, and how is going to a party any different?"

"I don't get it." Claire pushed away from the counter, moving over to grab mugs from the cupboard and pull out the cream from the fridge. If she kept her hands busy, maybe he wouldn't notice that they were shaking. Maybe she'd be able to keep it together. "I thought after Lockwood… after Maisie and the Indoraptor and everything that went down there… I thought you finally saw the importance of the DPG."

"What does that have to do with tonight?" Owen tracked her movement through the kitchen.

"This was supposed to be my night," Claire started pouring cups of coffee, doctoring them just the way they each like, stirring in an ungodly amount of sugar into Owen's. "It's been one year since the sanctuary opened. And not only that," she slid his cup towards him, but didn't hand it over, "but the DPG is finally also financially stable. We can afford our employees. We are looking at growing and no longer have to rely primarily on volunteers. Tonight… tonight was supposed to be a celebration of all of that." She picked up her own mug, but didn't take a sip, just staring into the cup like it held all the answers she was looking for.

Owen didn't reply at first, taking a couple of steps over to her to grab his own mug, before moving back to his previous spot. Unlike Claire, he sipped at his coffee, debating his response. "I don't know what you want me to say."

"Say?" Claire raised an eyebrow. "It's not about what you say. It's about what you do."

"I didn't do anything,," Owen shrugged.

"Jesus, Owen," Claire set her mug down with a loud thump, coffee splashing over the rim. "You're not that dense."

"More fortune cookie wisdom?"

"What the hell is wrong with you tonight?" Claire turned her back on Owen, grabbing the empty coffee carafe and rinsing it in the sink. She didn't want him to see the tears that were threatening to fall.

"Why are you always trying to change me?" Owen shot back. "You know I hate this stuff. I've always hated it."

"Yeah, well being an adult means having to do things you hate," Claire replied, still not looking at him, hands braced against the counter. "You know," she grabbed the tea towel and wiped her hands, turning to face him, "you never even said I looked nice." She hung the towel back up, before smoothing her dress with her hands. Had it only been a few hours ago she'd be so happy to pull it on? Excited for the evening ahead?

"I what?" Owen looked a little whiplashed by the change of topic.

"Nevermind," Claire shook her head, grabbing her mug and heading out of the kitchen.

"Where are you going?" Owen watched as she left.

"I have work to do," Claire paused in the doorway to look back at him. "Might as well make this night not a total loss.

 

 

Chapter Text

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday

It took a couple of weeks before Owen really even noticed it. Or the lack of it, to be more precise. It's not like he hadn't known that Claire had been mad. She was right; he wasn't that dense.

Over the years, he'd noticed that there were levels to her anger. If it was minor, she'd growl at him about it, but it'd blow over really fast. If it was more than that, but not quite major, she'd yell, which seemed to be her way of breaking through all the tension and stress; blowing off the needed steam. He usually ended up yelling back, but that seemed to be okay. It was how they dealt. But when it was major… when it really bothered her, that's when she'd go quiet. She wouldn't yell or growl. She'd state her case plainly. And if it didn't work – and he'd admit that he was equally stubborn and quick to temper himself, so it often didn't – she'd walk away.

When this happened, when she'd close in on herself, letting herself work through the problem on her own, never wanting him at her side, Owen never knew what to do. It wasn't often, but he felt like it had occurred enough times now, that he should know. Or at least have an inkling of an idea. But he didn't. Each event seemed so completely unique; each one resolving differently from the last.

On one hand, he thought her walking away had probably saved their relationship more than once. It gave them both a chance to regroup before they finally said something they couldn't walk away from. Before they crossed the line from general anger to being downright cruel. Pushing the buttons that only they knew about. The ones the other had told them in confidence. Their greatest fears about themselves, which could so easily become the sharpest weapon in the wrong hands. Owen wasn't sure he'd ever have the same strength to walk away that Claire did; to stop their fights before they reached that point.

But even those fights, they didn't drag on. They'd walk away, but only for a short while. A couple of hours usually, maybe a day or a weekend. Except once. Once, they had parted for a year. But that had been different, or so he kept telling himself. That time, he'd walked away. Okay, so she'd told him too, but he still believed that it was him who left, not her. He needed to believe that. He needed to know that she'd come back, when she was the one who left. He needed that other break, the one that cost them a year, to be his fault.

Of course, it was so different now. She hadn't really left. Not the way they'd normally walk away from each other. She'd hid in her office that night, while Owen had wandered the house restlessly, not sure what to do or how to fix things. And also mad at her. Mad at all the expectations that seemed to be piling up. Do this, be that, dress this way. He was his own person, dammit. He got that being an adult meant doing things he didn't like. He did that every day. Was it so wrong that for one night he just wanted to be comfortable? That, yes, he got it was "her" night, but, how did what he wear change that? He still went, albeit late, but, like he'd said, that was normal for him.

Even now, even after all this time, she still didn't seem to get that the DPG was her thing. That it was never going to be his. And that he didn't want it to be. That watching Blue get shipped to the sanctuary, that even watching the clips on the website or listening to Claire and/or Maisie discuss some of the latest news, was so painful for him. She didn't seem to get thatt he'd had to watch Blue walk away from him twice, that he'd watched all her sisters die, and that he'd been unable to save them. And that each time that happened, that he'd been barely able to save Claire. And that looking back on it felt like staring all his failures in the face.

He'd been relieved the following morning when he'd been able to duck out of the house to go and collect Maisie from her friends. They still hadn't said a word to each other. He'd gone for a run in the morning, pushing his normal easy 5k into a brutal 10, trying to run out all the tension building within. When he'd returned, her office door was still closed and he'd assumed she still hadn't budged. Except, he'd entered their bathroom to find it still slightly fogged up, a sure sign he'd only missed her by mere minutes. Not ready to talk to her either, he'd had a quick shower, before dropping a note in the kitchen saying he was going to get Maisie and do some grocery shopping. He knew it was petty. That he could've knocked on the door and told her. That he should've knocked on the door and told her. He told himself it was okay, that she'd go and investigate when she heard his truck, and that he had his phone, so it wasn't like he was disappearing; this time he'd be reachable. This time he'd return.

He wasn't surprised when he didn't hear from her, even if he checked his phone more often than not. Grocery shopping with Maisie was always pleasantly distracting, both of them enjoying their normal routine in the store. They'd rush around and get everything on the list first, making sure they hadn't forgotten a single item, and then, once that was done, they'd slowly cruise up and down the aisles, taking their time. They were, both of them, suckers for new products – unable to resist trying every variation of Oreos that hit the shelves.

The first time they'd come home with items not on the list, Claire had just groaned and shook her head, before putting the parsnip chips away (which actually turned out to be really good). The second time they did, they had been so distracted by their new items they'd missed a few items off the main list, and they'd both had to listen as Claire chastised them for it, before sending them back to the store. Every since then, they'd always made sure that the main list was taken care of first.

When they'd arrived home, he'd put away the groceries while Maisie had gone into Claire's office to fill her in on her night. He'd listened, with half an ear, to the two of them chattering away, but hadn't made any move to join. Claire had sounded happy as the two had talked but he wasn't sure that would last with his added presence.

Instead, he'd spent the afternoon putting together a lasagna and helping Maisie with her homework. Claire had emerged from her office for dinner, which had been a relatively quiet affair. They'd both directed questions at Maisie, using her to keep the conversation going and to avoid any direct confrontation. After dinner, he'd suggested Maisie pick out a movie. He had known Maisie would ask Claire to join, but he also knew that on the off chance that Claire said yes (she didn't), a movie wouldn't require any talking.

He had wondered if Claire was going to avoid him for a second night. He hadn't made it to bed the previous night; catching just a few restless hours on the couch. He wasn't sure how Claire was still functioning, as she hadn't left her office overnight, both of them apparently trying to avoid a potentially awkward situation in the bedroom. He was exhausted. When the movie was over and he'd sent Maisie to bed, he'd snuck a glance at Claire's closed office door, before heading upstairs himself. As he'd changed, he'd been worried his brain wouldn't let him sleep, still worked up over the whole fight, but he was out the moment his head hit the pillow.

The next morning he'd woken early, a consequence of his early night. He'd blinked opened his eyes, pleasantly surprised to see Claire had joined him, even if she appeared to be hugging the edge of the mattress. He assumed that meant things were starting to blow over. That they would move past this, as they had their other fights.

In fact, the day proceeded as if things were better. A regular Sunday, with everyone puttering around the house generally feeling lazy and not ready for the week to begin. They hadn't talked, well, not about the fight anyway. Although, there'd never really been a good opportunity to, since he knew neither of them would want to bring it up in front of Maisie. But, all in all, it was a pretty average day.

But now, a couple of weeks later, he was just starting to realize that they'd never talked about it again. Instead, they'd both just moved forward, brushing it aside, never finding the time, or trying to find the time, to actually discuss it.

He wanted to be relieved. It felt like he'd found a loophole. Letting life be the distraction it was, and just continue forward as if it had never happened. Except, he knew that he couldn't, shouldn't, do that. It really sucked being an adult.

It took him a couple more days before he found a chance to actually follow through on it. Well, both found a reasonable time and place and worked up the courage, if he was being totally honest.

He debated giving her a heads up, but was worried she'd schedule something and prevent his plans. So, instead, he showed up at her work, having confirmed ahead with Zia that her schedule was free, ready to take her out for lunch. Zia had acted normally when he'd arrived, and when he hadn't seen Claire in the main area, he'd strode confidently to her private office. No point appearing nervous to anyone there, it would just cause a round of gossip that would make Claire mad all over again.

She'd looked up, surprised to see him in the doorway, and hesitated over his question about lunch.

"I thought you had work today," Claire was confused.

"Took the day off," Owen shrugged, trying to act like it was no big deal. "It's been a while and I thought we could grab lunch. Zia said you had time today." He threw in the Zia mention, knowing that Claire wouldn't want to deal with Zia's questions if she didn't go.

"Yeah, sure," Claire nodded, closing her laptop and picking up her phone, purse, and a light jacket. "Where'd you want to go?"

"The Deli?" Owen suggested, referring to the place they normally went. "It's actually nice out today, we could go eat in the park."

"Okay," Claire agreed, following him through the main area. They waved good-bye to Zia and Franklin, who were, as usual, busy arguing.

He waited until they were had settled on a bench in the park, sandwiches unwrapped, and first bites enjoyed before explaining why he was really there.

"So, I realized something the other day," Owen started, getting a raised eyebrow in question from Claire, as she bit into their shared pickle. "We've never talked about that night."

"What night?"

"The DPG party," Owen replied, resisting the urge to call her out on her bluff. It would be an easy distraction from the real conversation. "Normally, when we have…fights like that, we talk about it...after."

"Normally," Claire hummed in agreement, chewing slowly. "Of course, last time, you left for a year. I'm not sure not talking is really anything noteworthy."

"Claire–" Owen looked pained at the reminder. He moved his gaze away from her, instead, slowly sweeping it across the park. It was busy that day, full of people out for noontime walks, others similarly enjoying their lunch outside, and a few toddlers running around. "Things are different this time, aren't they?"

"What do you mean?"

"It's not just us anymore," Owen shook his head, gaze still focused on the rest of the park.

"So we should talk because of Maisie?" Claire scoffed.

"For Maisie," Owen nodded. "And for us." He finally turned back to her. "I'm sorry."

"You're...sorry?" Claire looked at him in disbelief. "For what?"

"Ruining your night," Owen sighed. "For not sucking it up."

"I don't–" Claire cut herself off, not really sure where she was going or what she wanted to say. "Owen…it wasn't…I just…" She sighed heavily, looking down at her sandwich, but no longer feeling hungry. "I know those types of event aren't your thing, but…if you really didn't want to go, why didn't you just say something?"

"You were so excited about it," Owen shrugged. "I didn't want to–"

"Ruin my night?" Claire interrupted.

"Yeah," Owen gave a hollow laugh. "Didn't really plan that out well."

"No shit," Claire rolled her eyes. "Why this? You went to Zia's birthday a couple of months ago…"

"It's just…nothing," Owen attempted to dismiss it. How could he tell her it was her job?

"It's not nothing, Owen," Claire disagreed. "You're the one who wanted to talk."

"I wanted to apologize," Owen said. "And I did."

"Really? You're not going to tell me?" Claire looked put out.

"It's not something you need to worry about."

"Well, now I am worried. What's wrong? Why won't you tell me?"

"I don't want you to get mad."

"You do get that this path you're on isn't helping, right?"

"Claire," Owen scowled at her, and she softened her expression, gesturing for him to continue. "It's just…it's the DPG."

"You don't like my job?" Claire looked even more confused.

"No, not exactly," Owen paused. "When you look at the DPG, you see it as a sign of hope, right? You created it to save the dinosaurs, and that's exactly what you're doing."

"Right."

"Yeah, well, when I look at it, all I see are signs of my failure."

"The DPG has nothing to do with you," Claire looked baffled.

"Right," Owen agreed. "You started it after I left."

"Did you…do you want to be involved?"

"NO!" Owen's response was so immediate, that both he and Claire looked a little taken aback by the force of it. "No, not involved. It's just…everytime I look at the DPG, everytime I think about it, I think of Charlie being blown up. I remember Delta thrown onto the grill and Echo being tossed aside like a rag doll. And I see Blue walking away from me, twice."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

"You never said anything."

"What was I supposed to say?" Owen shrugged, picking up the pickle and taking a bite. "It's your pride and joy."

"I'm not really sure what to say," Claire admitted, picking up her own sandwich again.

"You don't need to say anything. It's my issue. I'm working on it." They both lapsed into silence at that.

"Is there anything I can do?" Claire asked a couple of minutes later.

"No more events I have to dress up for?" Owen suggested hopefully.

"Yeah, I can't promise that," Claire laughed softly.

"I can always hope," Owen grinned. "But, really, don't worry about it. Time heals all wounds, right?

 

Chapter Text

Inquiring Minds

Owen was always aware of the looks. How could he not be, when it felt like a thousand pairs of eyes were drilling holes through him, with a good third of those making him feel the need to double check that yes, he was wearing clothes.

He'd never been one to have the nightmare of showing up to school or work naked. But picking up Maisie from school was making him start to better understand the feeling. Or maybe this was similar to how Claire had felt anytime she interacted with Hoskins.

Trying to avoid making eye contact, he hurried along the sidewalk, heading to his favourite waiting location under the large tree out front. Even though it really did nothing to hide him from anyone else waiting, there was something protective about standing under the tree. Maybe because he could have his back up against the trunk, and he knew no one could be staring at his ass.

Some of the moms had started to get a bit more daring. Moving closer, trying to engage him in conversation. At first, he'd thought they were just being friendly, and had politely chatted back. However, he soon realized that at least a few of them were looking, hoping, for something more than just friendly conversation. Since then, he'd done his best to just not engage.

And if they weren't blatantly hitting on him, they were swooning over just how great of a dad he was. How they wished their husbands would pick up the kids from school. And, had that been him volunteering in the school the other week? Oh, and was he going to be supervising the upcoming field trip?

After one day full of these comments, he'd mentioned it in passing to Claire. Did she get that too? Was all this attention and flattery because they were guardians? What was going on?

Claire had laughed. And then laughed some more. And then she'd corrected him – it was because he was male. That gender biases were applied terribly in both directions. That for her, it would usually come in the form of being underestimated or undervalued at work. But for him, it was the straight up awe and praise for doing the very basic and much needed tasks every parent should do. "Just wait until they find out you do almost all the cooking," Claire had added, another round of laughter following.

Not wanting to deal with it all, he'd started to pick Maisie up with his truck, so he wouldn't have to interact with anyone. It also provided him with a good reason to zoom off in a hurry, needing to free up valuable space in the pick up line. But, it always seemed stupid to do so if he wasn't already out or coming home from work. They lived only a few blocks away, after all. So, he'd gone back to walking to the school, trying to time it as close to the end of day as possible to avoid any encounters.

Today, he'd ended up early, having underestimated how long a side task was going to take, and unable to come up with something else to waste those few precious minutes that wouldn't result in him showing up late. It was always a struggle for him to get there on time – he found he either needed to go early or accept that he'd be late. So far, the mothers around him seemed busy enough with their own conversations that they were leaving him alone.

Owen knew he was a big guy – it's not like he could easily hide that he was over six feet and that he enjoyed working out. So he was more than aware that even leaning against the trunk of the tree he wasn't invisible to those around him. However, apparently today there were a few who were too caught up in their gossiping to actually realize just how close (and how loud) they were to him. He didn't mean to be eavesdropping, he was just hoping to past the time, but he found himself listening.

"...weeks since she came and picked her up."

"I know, I can't imagine being away from my kids that much," a second voice chimed in. "Some days, it feels like the school day is too long. I took them out last week just to have some more time with them. They're only this little once."

Owen just rolled his eyes at the conversation. He'd heard snippets of similar exchanges before; people whose whole lives revolved around their kids. He generally just felt sad for them. He loved Maisie and was really enjoying being a parent more than he ever thought he would. But, he also knew that his job as parent was to help her grow to not need him; at least, not for everything. Karen continued to hammer him and Claire on how important it was that the two of them had a relationship outside of Maisie. That when Maisie left for college they had to have something left to hold onto, or their marriage would move on at the same time.

"Did you catch her on the news the other day?"

"Yeah, all starry eyed over the dinosaurs. I don't get it. They killed people. We'd be better off if they didn't exist." Owen wished he was surprised to find out they were talking about Claire, but he wasn't. Annoyed, yes, but he was realizing that jealousy and one-upmanship was a common theme among the parents waiting for their kids. It generally just felt petty and pathetic.

"At least she loves something." There was a bit of laughter after that statement. "I mean, have you seen her husband? If I was her, I'd never leave the house."

"You mean the bedroom." More laughter.

Owen would never get over just how uncomfortable and awkward he felt when he overheard those comments. Mostly, though, he hated that it took being put into the same position that most women experience, to really understand just how it felt to have those comments directed at you. He had a lot of regrets about his younger self.

"Seriously though, not only does he look that good, but he's always here picking up Maisie. I've heard he volunteers in the classroom and gone on the field-trips."

"I can't even get my husband to sit and help with homework."

"She runs a non-profit. Her paycheck can't be that good. I wonder what she's got on him? I mean… what does she bring to the relationship?"

Owen liked to think he was pretty level-headed. That he could keep himself calm under pressure. It was a skill he'd developed over his years in the Navy and then at Jurassic World. There was not a lot that made him mad or set him off. But that line, that went too far. He moved to push off from the tree, ready to give them a piece of his mind, only to realize that his hands were already clenched into fists. He forced himself to take a deep breath first. A school yard brawl by adults was not going to endear him to anyone. Relaxing his shoulders and releasing his fists, he felt a bit calmer. But he was still angry, and still wanted to say something.

"Hey, Owen."

Owen turned, relief washing over his features when he recognized Amanda. "Hey, Amanda."

Amanda was his saviour, when it came to pickups. Whenever she was at his side, everyone else seemed to stay away and shut-up. Well, Claire had the same effect, but Claire's schedule rarely allowed for her to attend pick up, and when she could, he usually used the opportunity to stay later at work himself.

"They've been awfully chummy."

"I bet they're having an affair."

He saw Amanda's shoulder stiffen at the remark and knew he was not the only one who heard it. He was so grateful for Amanda's friendship. For Mark's, Amanda's husband, as well. They were, so far, the only parents that they really got along with.

"Oh for fucks sake," Owen growled loudly as he turned around, eyes immediately honing in on the gossipers, who looked a little shocked at his outburst. He took a couple of steps in their direction, a part of him getting a little gleeful as they immediately backed up, but he stopped well away from them. He didn't want a reputation of being a bully, and using his size for intimidation would counter any impact his words might have. "I don't know what your problem is. My relationship with Claire, is my relationship. You don't have any clue as to how it works and it's none of your business either way. I'm sorry you're so disappointed with your own lives that you need to try to invent stuff or bring down those around you to feel better. But leave me out of it. Leave Claire out of it. And leave Amanda out of it. We're not having an 'affair,' because both of us are more than satisfied with our own lives and relationships. Sorry that yours are apparently so small that you can't even imagine that or having a friendship with someone of the opposite sex. But, seriously, fuck off."

By the time Owen finished, he could feel Amanda pulling on his arm. It was joined a few seconds later by Maisie pulling on his other side.

"What's going on?" Maisie was looking up at him. It was at that moment that Owen realized that he missed hearing the release bell, or even all the kids storming out of the building, so caught up in what he was saying. He took a step back, his shoulders slumping, and he felt Amanda letting him go.

"Sorry, Maisie," Owen sighed, moving his arm to encircle her shoulders. He turned them so they were no longer facing the other woman and instead facing Amanda. "And sorry, Amanda."

"Sorry? Don't be," Amanda had a large grin on her face. "I wish I got that on video. Mark would love it."

"Somehow I don't think Claire would see it the same way," Owen groaned.

"Why were you yelling?" Maisie interrupted, still not understanding what she had walked in on. "And you swore!"

"You heard that?" Owen winced. "Let's just keep that between us, shall we? Actually, can we keep all of that between us?"

"Why?" Maisie questioned.

"See you later, Amanda," Owen waved goodbye, before steering Maisie away from the school, trying to figure out a good answer to her question. He knew, no matter what he said, it was going to come up at dinner.

x x x

He was right. Not that he expected to be wrong, but the moment they sat down for dinner that night, Maisie brought up the conversation she witnessed. Barely witnessed, he was glad to determine, when pretty much all she could tell Claire was that she'd heard him swear. And, from the death look Claire was shooting at him, he was really glad that was all Maisie heard.

Trying to change the topic at hand, Owen interrupted with his own suggestion. "You know, I was thinking today that Maisie is probably old enough to walk home from school without me."

"Oh?" Claire looked a little intrigued by the topic change. Owen wasn't stupid, he knew that she was trying to connect what he was suggesting with what Maisie was saying. There was going to be a "fun" conversation in his future once Maisie went to bed.

"Yeah," Owen nodded. "It's like 5 blocks away. Only one turn. And there are lots of kids headed this way, she'd hardly be alone."

"I don't know," Claire was unconvinced.

"I used to walk to school younger than Maisie," Owen shrugged. "I was fine."

"It was also a different time," Claire reminded him, before turning to Maisie. "What do you think Mais?"

"Some kids in my class ride their bikes home," Maisie supplied.

"Would you want to do that?" Owen asked.

"Maybe," Maisie paused, taking another bite of her taco. Claire's look stopped her from continuing with her mouth full and Maisie waited until she swallowed. "I do like that one of you is always there."

"What if I waited like… a block away from the school?" Owen asked. "Would that be okay?" He tried to ignore Claire's gaze, which he could feel burning into him. He just knew this comment was making her question even more what happened earlier.

Maisie nodded. "Sure." She looked towards Claire. "Will you be a block away too?"

"Um," Claire hesitated. She was going to say no, she wanted to say no, but her curiosity was so piqued she was no longer confident in her answer. "Let me see."

"Okay," Maisie shrugged, before picking up her taco again and moving on. "Can you help me with my spelling words tonight?"

Chapter Text

A Very Short Engagement

"So, I've been thinking," Claire announced as she approached Owen, who was sitting on the couch watching tv.

"Is that suppose to surprise me?" Owen asked, quirking an eyebrow in her direction. "I mean, do you ever stop?"

"I'm being serious," Claire frowned at him, as she joined him on the couch, angling towards him.

Owen, aware of her tone, muted the tv and turned towards her. "Okay, what's up?"

"It's just… when we were talking to the lawyer the other day, about Maisie…"

"Yeah?"

"I know it's too early to be really thinking about adoption, but…"

"Can't help yourself?" Owen knew the line sounded like a joke, but he meant it seriously. His mind had been going down the same path. Sure, they had temporary guardianship of her for now. And, he knew it wasn't the right time to be pushing anything more with Maisie – she was still trying to understand and deal with the betrayal of her grandfather and Mills. But he found that he wanted it, really wanted it – for his future to be tied tightly to Claire and Maisie. It hadn't worked before, for him and Claire, but he thought, he knew, this time they could get it right. That they would get it right.

"Owen," Claire said warningly.

"I've been thinking about it too," Owen admitted. "I know she's not ready. And that it's too soon and all that. But, someday?"

"Right," Claire looked nervous over his answer, which made Owen wonder if he had said something wrong. Was she thinking the opposite? He thought she liked having Maisie there.

"What's wrong?" Owen blurted out, when the silence stretched out. "Do you not want that?"

"No, I mean yes, I mean – I do want it," Claire looked flustered. "I just… I've been more thinking about something else the lawyer said. That it would be easier– Well, not easier, but simpler? Maybe that's the word. But that it would–"

"Just spit it out, Claire. It's just me."

"That-it'd-help-if-we-were-married," Claire blushed as she said it, the whole sentence coming out as a single word.

"Um…" Owen paused, his heart racing forward. Had she said what he thought she'd said? It was a topic that Owen had thought of before. Mind you, most of his thinking on it had been over a year ago, before they had… separated, and then in the months after. And a bit since they had ended up back together, but he'd always thought it was too early. Too fast. "Did you say married?" He looked away, trying to hide his own blush when his voice almost squeaked on the word.

"Yeah," Claire almost deflated into the couch cushions, not sure how to interpret Owen's response. "It's just... " She straightened up, regaining her confidence. "I mean, we've already gone in on a house. I just thought… I mean, well, it's you."

"It's… me?" Owen wasn't sure how to take that.

"Yeah," Claire shrugged, looking both a little sheepish and embarrassed. "I wouldn't ask just anyone. There's really never been anyone–"

Owen wanted to tease her. He knew that she was on the edge and it wouldn't take much. But, he couldn't do it. Not on a topic like this. Not when he'd owned, for well over a year, an engagement ring that he'd hoped to give her. When things had gone sideways, when he'd left in his van, he'd spent a lot of time pondering what to do with the ring. She'd never known about it. He'd never asked her, and the topic had really never come up – outside of the occasional push that Karen would give them. But he'd never been able to return the ring. It was still tucked away in the back corner of a drawer in his trailer out on his lot. It hadn't even crossed his mind when they'd taken Maisie out there to bring it back. They were just getting back together – trying to find their new rhythm, now with a child in tow.

"Okay."

"Okay?" Claire raised an eyebrow in response. "I mean… that simple?"

"Claire, there's no one else I'd want to be married to," Owen shrugged. "Whether we do so tomorrow or a year from now, it doesn't make a difference to me. I'm in."

"Okay." Claire looked a little stunned in response. When she didn't say anything more, just sort of gazed off into the distance, Owen turned his attention back to the tv and un-muted it. A couple more minutes went by, before Claire spoke up again. "What about this week?"

"What about this week?" Owen asked, his attention having already moved on from the topic at hand.

"Getting married. What if we did it this week? I mean, Karen and the boys are already coming out for a visit."

"I don't know that we can arrange it all that fast," Owen looked a little doubtful. "I mean, I thought there were huge lists of things that would need to be done. Guests to invite. Flowers to order. A place to rent."

"We don't need all of that," Claire disagreed. "Something small. Us. Maisie. Our families. Maybe a dinner for any friends who are also around."

"Really?" Owen was still unsure. "You don't want something big?"

"What's the point?" Claire shrugged. "It's just as valid either way. And… marriage is really just between the people getting married. It could just be the two of us, but Karen would be pissed. And my mom. And yours. Let me look into it."

"If you're sure…" Owen turned to face her. He grabbed her hands and waited until he was sure he had her attention. "I can wait. It doesn't have to be fast. I don't want you to look back and wish we did it differently."

"Let me see what it takes," Claire gave him a smile. "I've had more than enough attention thrown on me between Jurassic World and now the whole Lockwood disaster. I don't want or need anything more." She got up from the couch, ready to find her laptop and start researching. As she passed in front of Owen, he reached out, grabbing her by the waist and pulled her towards him. She let him pull her into his lap, where he wrapped his arms around her, leaning his forehead against hers.

"You know I love you, right?" Owen asked and Claire nodded. "Good." He tightened his grip on her, one hand sliding up her back and into her hair, as he shifted just enough to pull her into a kiss. Claire sank against him, her own arms wrapping around him.

A couple minutes later, Claire pulled back just far enough to meet his gaze. "I love you too."

x x x

"Why do you look so dressed up?" Owen asked, looking up from the table where he and Maisie were having breakfast.

"Dressed up?" Claire looked down at her jeans and blouse. It was a far cry from what she use to wear at Jurassic World.

"Yeah, like you're going–" Owen cut himself off, narrowing his eyes and he looked her over again. "Are you going into work?"

"Just for the morning," Claire replied, moving into the kitchen area and grabbing her travel mug to fill with coffee.

"Your sister arrives today," Owen reminded her, pushing back from the table and moving over to lean against the counter next to her.

"I know," Claire nodded, popping a piece of bread into the toaster.

"You can't leave me here," Owen hissed, glancing over at Maisie who, thankfully, seemed more interested in her cereal than what they were talking about.

"With Maisie?" Claire turned to him confused. "Why? You're always here with Maisie."

"With your sister."

"I'll be back well before she gets here," Claire dismissed him.

"I thought you agreed you weren't going to work while she was here? Didn't she make you promise that?"

"I agreed that I'd take time off," Claire nodded. "But I didn't agree to no work, even if she may have interpreted it that way. Besides, I'm going in now so I can work before they get here."

"Great," Owen groaned.

"I don't know why you're so worried," Claire looked over at him. "She likes you."

"I know she did," Owen agreed. "But that was… before. I don't know what she thinks now."

"She likes you," Claire repeated. "And the boys will be here, and you know they love you."

"Right, and her boyfriend… Josh?" Owen guessed at the name. For some reason, he could remember the first letter but never the right name.

"Jake," Claire corrected him. "You've met him. You need to remember his name. And… don't call him her boyfriend."

"Wait, why?"

"She thinks it's juvenile," Claire shrugged, slathering her piece of toast with peanut butter before taking a bite.

"What am I supposed to call him?"

"Jake," Claire replied with a smile, after swallowing. She hurriedly ate the rest of her toast as she moved about the kitchen area, unplugging her cellphone and gathering a blazer and her purse to take with her. Grabbing her coffee, she moved over to the table to say goodbye to Maisie, before heading for the door, Owen trailing behind her.

He followed her into the hallway, letting the condo door almost close behind him. "Have you told Karen yet?"

"Told Karen what?"

"Claire."

"Owen."

"About the wedding. If we're going to do it this week you know we're going to have tell people, right? I mean, our parents will need time to get here."

"I know." Claire shifted her gaze away from him, staring at the wall behind him and avoiding his gaze.

"Oh. I get it." Owen looked smug when Claire finally looked back at him.

"What?"

"You're waiting to see how Karen reacts first," Owen nodded. "Although, I don't know why you're worried. You know she'll be excited."

"Says the man who refuses to be here alone when she arrives."

"She'll be excited for you," Owen shrugged. "I'm still not sure what she thinks about me."

"It'll be fine," Claire reassured him. "But, I've got to go. If I don't leave now I won't be back before they get here.

"You better be here," Owen warned. "If you're not, I'm going to tell her."

"You wouldn't dare."

"Try me." Owen put on an innocent smile, before leaning forward to give her a quick peck on the lips. "Seriously," he added, when he pulled back. "If you think I'm nervous? Maisie's… She's never had a lot of family to deal with. Be here."

"I will. I promise," Claire nodded. She gave him another kiss, before turning to head to the elevator.

"Wait, one last thing," Owen caught up with her at the elevator.

"Yeah?"

"Rings," Owen blushed.

"What about them?"

"Do you … would you care if I picked them out?"

"You?"

"Yeah. I know even with a City Hall wedding there's a bunch of things to do. I thought I could take this one on."

"Sure," Claire replied, if a little hesitant. There was a ding and the elevator doors opened beside them. Claire moved in, before looking back at him. "Just… something simple, please?"

"I know," Owen gave her a quick grin. "Promise."

x x x

True to her word, Claire was back at the condo before Karen and the gang arrived. Claire considered herself a pretty neat person. But with the addition of two more people living in such small living quarters, the condo was usually struggling to keep everyone's belongings tucked away. She was a little surprised when she walked in and the place felt almost empty. It took a moment before she realized it was because everything had been put away. No books gathered on the side table or half done puzzle on the coffee table. No sweatshirts draped over the back of a kitchen chair.

As Maisie and Owen emerged from Maisie's room upon hearing her entry, Claire had bit her lip to prevent the grin from taking over. They were both radiating nervous energy – energy that apparently Owen had been channeling into them cleaning up.

"The place looks great," Claire told them, draping her own blazer on a kitchen chair, before moving towards her desk to drop off her purse and other belongings.

"Wait, you can't leave it there," Maisie said immediately, pointing at the blazer. "Owen said everything has to be put away."

"I'll move it in a second," Claire promised, looking past her to Owen who gave a sheepish shrug. "Besides cleaning, what did you guys do today?"

"We went the park," Maisie proclaimed eagerly, following behind Claire as she picked up her blazer and headed into her bedroom to put it away. Claire listened as Maisie chattered away, nodding appropriately.

When they re-emerged in the main area, Owen interrupted. "Have you heard from them?"

"Yep," Claire nodded. "They were going to check in at the hotel first and then walk over. I thought we'd probably just hang around here for a bit before going somewhere for dinner. Maybe sort out what people want to do this week." She glanced down at her watch. "They should probably be here any minute now."

The next few minutes felt like they went by agonizingly slowly. The way time would always feel like it had slowed down when you were wait for something to happen. Claire and Owen both kept encouraging Maisie to talk about her day, just to have something happening besides them staring at the clock. And they both jumped, when Claire's phone rang, announcing their arrival. After buzzing them in, Claire had looked around the place again, but there was nothing out of place. Maisie and Owen had done an excellent job. Taking a deep breath, she moved to the doorway, opening it and waiting. She felt Owen come up beside her, and when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, she sank gratefully into his side.

When the elevator doors opened, it felt like everything went from zero to sixty in a flash. Zach and Gray pushing to be the first out, both of them heading straight to Owen, by passing Claire completely. Claire didn't mind, meeting her sister in the hallway for a long hug, Jake standing just off to the side a little awkward.

After a minute, Karen pushed back, holding onto Claire's upper arms, inspecting her sister carefully. "You look really good," Karen finally said, before pulling her into a second hug.

"I am good," Claire laughed, "and we've been facetiming. It's not like you haven't seen me since everything happened."

"It's not the same," Karen shrugged, finally pulling away. She reached a hand back, grasping Jake's and pulling him forward.

"Jake," Claire greeted him, giving him a quick hug. "It's good to see you again."

"You too," Jake nodded. "I'm surprised you managed to get Karen to wait this long. She wanted to jump on a plane the day we found out."

"Yeah, I know," Claire rolled her eyes at her big sister. "Always in protective mode."

"Well, if you stopped having close encounters with dinosaurs…" Karen shrugged.

"Come on, let's get inside," Claire ushered them towards the apartment, where Owen and the boys had already moved inside. As they crossed the threshold, she could see the guys deep in conversation already. As her gaze drifted around the apartment, she finally found Maisie, who'd tucked herself into a corner by the counter in the kitchen, looking like she was trying to disappear. Claire debated for a moment on what to do. She decided to start by breaking up the small group.

"Zach, Gray, no greeting for your aunt?" She asked them, moving over to Owen's side. The boys both looked chagrined, before they each smothered her with a hug. Letting go of them, Claire moved towards Maisie, noting that everyone's eyes followed her movements. Owen, having also caught Maisie's somewhat terrified look, quickly moved after her.

"Everyone, we want you to meet Maisie," Claire announced, gently pulling Maisie in front of her. Owen stopped by her side, resting his own hand on Maisie's shoulder in comfort. "Maisie, this is my sister Karen, her partner Jake, and her two boys Zach and Gray." The four each gave a small wave or hello as Claire mentioned them.

"Hi," Maisie whispered.

"Oh, you didn't tell me she has a british accent," Karen couldn't help herself from saying. However, being a mother herself, she had noticed Maisie's reticence. "I love british accents. Wish I had one." As she spoke she moved towards the three of them, before crouching down a bit, to talk directly to Maisie. "You know, as Claire's big sister, I've got a lot of stories about her when she was your age."

"Really?" Maisie looked intrigued over the idea.

"Really," Karen winked at her. "And while I didn't know Owen when he was little, I have some stories about him too."

"Don't believe anything she tells you," Owen immediately told Maisie. "You know me. I'm perfect."

"Perfectly–" Karen got cut off when Claire elbowed her.

The ice semi-broken, everyone relaxed a little. Owen was quickly sucked into a conversation on video games with Zach, Gray and Jake and they moved over into the living room area, collapsing onto the chairs and couch. Maisie had stuck close to Owen, and she sat beside him on the couch, tucked into his side, but not contributing as they talked. She still looked nervous but at least she hadn't retreated from the room.

Claire and Karen had stayed in the kitchen, taking the chance to catch up.

"So, I um, I have something to tell you," Claire finally confessed.

"Oh?" Karen was not use to seeing her sister unsure. Even from a young age, Claire had always been confident in her actions. Too confident, if you asked Karen.

"Owen and I, we've … we're getting married."

"You're what?!" Karen shrieked, drawing the attention from the other group, who paused mid conversation to look over.

Claire caught Owen's eye, pleading with him to come join her, but he quickly turned back to the conversation at hand, not missing the glare she sent his way.

"Wait," Karen grabbed Claire's left hand, holding it up. "Where's your engagement ring? Don't tell me he didn't get you one."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Claire grabbed Karen's arm before she could make a move towards Owen. "I asked him."

"You… what? Why? Are you…?" Karen looked pointedly at Claire's stomach.

"No!" Claire's response was sharp enough that they drew a second look, and this time Owen didn't look away as fast, looking a little concerned by her reaction. Claire just waved him off. "We're not pregnant. No way. We just took in Maisie. It's hard enough adjusting to a kid who already knows how to talk and use the bathroom. No baby. No way. Not… ever, hopefully."

"Oh," Karen looked a little disappointed by the news.

"I know you've always wanted to be an aunt," Claire comforted her. "And look, you are. She's just a little older than you were expecting."

"Are you guys adopting her?" Karen asked.

"There's been talk," Claire admitted. "But not yet. It's too soon. And Maisie's not ready. It'll be up to her if we do."

"I just…" Karen reached up and wiped away a tear before pulling Claire into another hug, as other tears fell readily. "I've been waiting years to see you become a mom. I'm so glad it happened."

"Yeah, well," Claire shrugged nervously, pushing gently against Karen. "Life works in odd ways, doesn't it?"

Karen nodded, before looking at Claire's hand again. "I can't believe you asked him. Way to take that away from him."

Claire just pushed past her comment, not really sure how to respond. She didn't think Owen was offended by her asking. And… well, she really didn't need to be thinking about that now. Or she'd be obsessing over that all week, and there were enough other things to do.

"When are you guys getting married?" Karen asked. "In the fall? Or, oh, a winter wedding?"

"Actually," Claire winced, "we're thinking about Friday."

"FRIDAY?" Again, the boys stop talking to look over at them at Karen's screech. "That's less than a week away."

"I know," Claire shrugged.

"So, you're eloping?"

"No."

"Sounds like it."

"You'll be there. And… we're planning on inviting mom and dad. And Owen's parents. And his brother Lucas. Besides, it's not last minute."

"A week! That feels pretty last minute to me."

"Eloping would be Owen and me going to the City Hall the day we decided. We're planning it in advance."

"By a week. Who does that?"

"Do you want to be invited?" Claire glared at her sister, until finally Karen relented.

"Sorry," Karen sighed. "I feel like I've been waiting for this day forever. I've pictured what it would be like, and it wasn't like this."

"You've imagined my wedding?" Claire raised an eyebrow at her sister.

"Someone had to," Karen shrugged. "You were always too busy with school or work." She looked over at the boys and Maisie for a moment, before looking back at Claire. "What have you guys sorted out so far? What needs to be done? Have you told mom and dad? I can't believe they kept it from me!"

"You're the first to know," Claire calmed her down. "Besides Maisie. I… we wanted to tell you first. And the boys. And then," Claire paused for a deep breath, "and then we'll tell our parents."

"Good luck with that," Karen patted her on the shoulder in sympathy. "Well, we're here for the week. What do you need me to do?"

x x x

The next couple of days flew by in a whirlwind of activity. Which was good, at least in Claire's opinion, because it meant that she didn't have time to focus on the results of her phone call with her parents (or Owen's).

Her parents' reaction had been mixed. Her mom had never been completely sold on her relationship with Owen (seemed to think Claire and Owen were "too different," which Claire had always scoffed at – she felt like they were too similar at times). She knew her mom was also disappointed that she wasn't having a big wedding – that none of her parents' friends or extended family were going to be invited. Claire had promised to book their flights and hotel before her mom could use that as a reason to delay it, and tried to play the granddaughter card by dangling Maisie, although her heart just wasn't in it. It wasn't that she didn't want Maisie to meet and know her family, it was more that she knew grandparents, specifically the idea of a grandfather, was going to be a sore subject for at least a while.

Thankfully, her dad and Owen had always got along really well, so at least he had been on board. And she was refusing to allow herself to worry over the fact that this could be another wedge between her parents.

Owen's parents had taken it much better. They had always liked her, and Owen had admitted, that after they had parted ways a year ago, both his parents had been on his case for letting her go. "I think they like you more than me" he had confessed, to which Claire had replied, 'that's easy to believe" before having to quickly dodge Owen's playful attack. They had moved to Oregon a few years ago and insisted that they would drive down and to not worry about them, they'd sort out all their details. To just tell them when and where to be and they'd be there. If only her own family was so simple.

Tracking down Lucas, Owen's brother, had been a bit harder, as he, similar to Owen, was happiest in nature. He was a photographer who took stunning photographs out in the backcountry, which meant he was often incommunicado for days. They had ended up having to leave him a message asking he get a hold of them asap, but that no, no one was dying. Considering some of their past adventures, it would've actually been a completely fair conclusion for Lucas to jump to. He'd reached out a couple of days later and had, similarly to Owen's parents, been surprised but happy by the news, promising he'd be there. He had questioned Claire's sanity, wanting to confirm that she really did want to marry his brother, as Owen had grumbled in the background. Claire had a feeling that Maisie was going to love Lucas.

Owen had managed to escape the chaos at some point (Claire still wasn't sure how) and had nervously presented her with the wedding rings he'd chosen (they had been perfect), so at least another task had been checked off. Not that Claire had a long list. They had to get their marriage license (which could be done the same day), they had booked a time slot for the actual ceremony, and they had picked out a restaurant for dinner. She was going to go with Karen and Maisie to pick out a dress (not white, even if she loved the colour) and Lucas was going to take photos.

Claire was actually feeling very relaxed over the whole ordeal. Considering the tizzy she remembered Karen being in, she was starting to really think this was the way everyone should get married. There just wasn't time for family drama to really rear its head or for people to panic over small details.

In between all of the random wedding moments, they had managed to get in some sightseeing. Going on a tour of Alcatraz and spending some time hiking through the redwoods. Today was a planned beach day, all seven of them piled into two vehicles and loaded down with picnic coolers, towels, beach toys, umbrellas, and anything else that might be remotely useful.

Once they finally managed to claim a piece of sand and dump all their belongings into a pile, Owen had pulled off his shirt, leaving him clad in his boardshorts (which he'd been taunting Claire about all morning) before pointing at the ocean and declaring "last one in is a rotten egg." Zach, Gray and Jake had all taken the bait, dropping their own t-shirts in the sand as they raced after Owen with clamors of "not fair." Karen and Claire had just looked at each other shrugging and rolling their eyes, before trying to organize the pile of stuff and then working to set up a couple of umbrellas to provide some shade over one of the blankets, so they could hide from the sun.

Claire blamed it on the fact that she'd only been a "mom" for just going on two months now, that it took her a few minutes to notice that Maisie was just standing off to the side, watching the guys playing in the ocean. She realized she'd assumed that Maisie had just gone with them. But, now as she watched Maisie fidgeting, she was realizing that over the past few days Maisie had actually been with her and Karen more often than not. It had been nice, and Claire hadn't questioned it. But, usually Maisie hung closer to Owen than Claire, and now she was wondering what she had missed.

"Hey Maisie, are you going to go join the boys?" Claire asked, drawing Maisie's attention away from the ocean.

"No," Maisie shook her head. "Can I stay with you?"

"Of course," Claire smiled at her, gesturing for her to come closer. "You're always more than welcome to hang out with me. But, you know," Claire looked back towards the ocean for a moment, trying to get Owen's attention, but his back was to her, "they'd be more than happy to have you join them, if you want to."

"I don't," Maisie shook her head again.

"If you're sure," Claire looked a little doubtful, but didn't pry further. Maisie loved being outdoors, climbing and running around. It was one of the reasons she and Owen got along so well, the two of them happily exploring new trails and hanging from the playground equipment. For Maisie to choose to sit on a blanket at a beach… it definitely wasn't expected. But since Claire didn't want to go get wet, she would have to wait until Owen was out of the water to say something.

Claire looked at Karen, who had been watching, and raised an eyebrow waiting for some parenting advice. Karen just shrugged, before suggesting that maybe they could work on a sandcastle, to which Maisie had enthusiastically agreed. After they had made the basic shape, Maisie started wandering a little farther away in search of shells, twigs and seaweed to decorate with. Using the bit of alone time they had, Claire turned to Karen again.

"I wonder what's with Maisie? Normally I can't get her away from Owen's side."

"I think she's feeling a little jealous," Karen replied, eyes moving from Maisie to the guys in the water and back. "Gray and Zach have been monopolizing Owen's attention. Jake too. I think she's just a little unsure as to her place. You said she hasn't spent a lot of time around other kids, right?"

"Yeah," Claire nodded, her eyes tracking Maisie across the sand, watching how the girl avoided getting too close to anyone else on the beach, but also stayed back from the water. "She was raised by her … grandfather. And a nanny – who wasn't all that young either. She seems to have mainly interacted with adults her whole life, and a small group at that."

"So not a lot of close family," Karen summarized. "This is probably all throwing her off. It's a lot of people, none who are shy about speaking up or asking for attention. It'll just take some time, she'll get used to it."

"Hmm," Claire hummed absently, gaze moving from Maisie to Owen, watching as he was tackled from behind by Gray, causing the two to fall, crashing into the waves. The four were seemingly in the midst of some game with confusing rules. If she listened closely, she could make out some of their laughter, before it would get swallowed by the crash of the next wave. Occasionally flicking her gaze over to Maisie, she focused on Owen, waiting for him to finally turn and look up the beach, so she could catch his eye. When he did, she waved him to come over. It took a couple back and forths of him gesturing "why" before he headed out of the water.

"What's up?" Owen asked, collapsing onto the blanket beside Claire, sending a spray of water in her direction, causing her to squeal.

"I'm just gonna…" Karen looked around for a moment as she got up, before adding, "I'll just go see how Maisie's doing."

Claire waited for her sister to take a few steps away before she turned her attention to Owen. "I think you've been forgetting about someone."

"You?" Owen asked, confused.

"Maisie," Claire nodded her head in the direction Karen had gone, the two of them taking a moment to watch the young girl. "Don't get me wrong, I'm really enjoying spending time with her, but normally I can get her away from your side."

"I spend plenty of time with Maisie," Owen protested.

"I know you do," Claire laid a hand on his arm, bringing his gaze back to her. "It's just… since everyone's been out here, she's been sticking to my side like glue. Even though I know she'd much prefer to be doing what you and the boys are doing. I think she's a little… well, Karen used the word jealous. I'm not sure it's that exactly, more just feeling out of place."

"Oh," Owen said thoughtfully, leaning back, resting his weight on his hands as he considered what Claire had said. He was feeling a little guilty. He hadn't even noticed when she hadn't joined in, just sort of assuming she had. Then again, even though they still referred to Zach and Gray as "the boys," Zach was now 19 and Gray 15, both significantly older than Maisie. Older and taller. He could see how Maisie would be feeling a little insecure. Not that he had any doubt that she could hold her own among them. In fact, he was sure she could take on Gray no problem, clumsy as that kid was. Pushing back up, he reached over into the cooler, pulling out a bottle of water. After gulping down about half, he turned back to Claire. "You think it's something I did?"

"What? No," Claire shook her head. "I didn't even really notice until today. I think… I think we're just still getting used to this parenting thing."

"It's definitely harder than it looks," Owen nodded.

"And it has never looked easy," Claire agreed. "I did really think we were going to have it easier, not having to deal with the baby-toddler stages."

"I still think we do," Owen said. "But, easier doesn't mean easy."

"Yeah…"

"Claire, Claire!" Maisie's voice had them both turning to watch as Maisie raced towards them, Karen following slowly behind. "Look what I found!" Maisie barely managed to stop herself as she reached them. "Owen!" Maisie looked surprised but pleased, when she realized he was sitting beside Claire. She stuck out her hand, where, resting in the middle was a sand dollar, about two inches across.

"Wow," Claire commented, ahhing appropriately.

"Nice find," Owen agreed. "I've always loved hunting for sand dollars. Did you know, they're actually a sea urchin?"

"Really?" Maisie looked at him in interest, and Claire found herself zoning out, as the two started discussing classification of various sea species.

"So?" Karen asked, sitting down on the other side of Claire, carefully putting the bucket she was carrying down beside her. Claire peaked in, and saw that it was filled with shells and other small items Maisie had been collecting.

"So?" Claire asked back.

"Did you say what you needed to say?" Karen pried. "Feel a bit better now?"

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "You know, you've done an amazing job with Zach and Gray. I mean, I've always known that and I've always known it's not easy but… I'm realizing there's still so much to learn and be aware of."

"Don't sell yourself short, Claire," Karen admonished. "Or Owen. You guys are doing great. It's clear that Maisie is comfortable with both of you. Everything else? Well, that's what time is for."

x x x

"Claire," Karen said, getting her sister's attention as the two made their way to the door of the cafe. They had managed to get a break from everyone else. Maisie was still struggling to find her footing, but this afternoon Jake, Zach and Gray had decided to go check out the Golden Gate Bridge, and Owen had begged off, saying that he and Maisie had plans, to the girls obvious delight. It was decided that they would all meet up again for dinner. Karen and Claire had taken the opportunity to go grab a coffee while doing some window shopping.

"What's up?" Claire asked, holding the door open for her sister, before following her out of it.

"You know I like Owen. You know I love Owen. And I've always thought you two were great together. But...I gotta ask, are you sure about this?" Karen stumbled over the words.

"About … what, exactly?" Claire questioned.

"Getting married," Karen shrugged. "I mean… It's barely been two months since you got back together and took in Maisie. You don't even know if she's going to stay with you permanently."

"We're not getting married for Maisie," Claire denied. It's not like Karen needed to know that it was part of the reason. But it wasn't the only reason.

"Then what's the rush?"

"No rush," Claire looked away from her sister. She took a few moments to gather her thoughts as they walked down the sidewalk. "You know… when I asked Owen, I wasn't asking because I thought we should get married this week."

"So why are you?"

"It's just… when I asked, Owen just said he was 'in.' That it didn't make a difference to him, whether it was tomorrow or in a year. And I just, I guess, I just–" Claire sighed, not really sure how to explain it.

"You just wanted to be married?" Karen asked, sounding unsure about that reasoning.

"Yes. No. Not exactly," Claire paused. "I don't know what it was, really. But, I guess, part of me just thought, why wait? What difference would it make if we got married today or in a year?"

"It's just–" it was Karen's turn to waffle. "I love Owen. And I know I was a little unsure when you first got together, but you guys always seemed to bring out the best in each other until… whatever happened. And I still don't get what happened. But, if it's happened before? I guess, I'm just… I want you to be sure. I don't want you to end up like me and Scott. We were best friends and can now barely have a civil conversation. And while it's been hard on me, it's been hardest on Zach and Gray. You guys have Maisie now. And it's only been a couple of months. There's still so much you guys are going to find out about each other."

"I know Owen," Claire disagreed.

"I don't mean just about Owen, but Maisie too. It's different when there's a kid. When you argue? When something doesn't go right? You can't walk away so easily. You can't even fight as easily. Because there's always someone else right there. It changes everything."

"I know," Claire led them into a small park they were passing by, sitting down on a bench. "It's… Karen, I think he's it."

"It?"

"You know, 'the one,'" Claire rolled her eyes even as she said it. "I've never thought I'd get married. I've never even thought I'd have a kid and yet… if it was going to happen with anyone, I think it was always going to be Owen."

"Aw, Claire," Karen hastily put down her cup of coffee, before reaching for her sister and pulling her into a hug. "I'm just so happy for you."

After a few minutes, Claire managed to extract herself from her sister's grip, watching as Karen wiped away the tears on her cheeks. "Besides," she said nonchalantly, "we've already bought a house together. Marriage sounds like peanuts compared to a mortgage contract."

"Claire!" Karen laughed, hitting her on the arm.

"Seriously," Claire laughed back. "Have you read those contracts? I don't know of anything that gets the 'til death do us part' as well as one of those."

"I'm still so happy for you," Karen repeated. "And Owen… I can't believe he's settling down. And in a city of all places."

"We're keeping his cabin," Claire reminded her. "And the place we bought backs onto a small forest area and park."

"Still, after the whole van thing…"

"I guess we're both growing up," Claire shrugged.

"At least you're doing it together," Karen smiled at her.

"Enough about me," Claire tried to change the subject. "How are things with Jake? The boys seem to really like him."

x x x

The night before the wedding, with everyone in town, Claire and Owen had decided that they should all go out for dinner. It had seemed like a simple thing to do – the twelve of them having dinner together as a family. Especially since they had invited several of their friends to come to the dinner after the wedding, turning it into a bit of a low-key reception. In hindsight (considering it's 20/20 after all), they probably should've known that many opinionated people, sitting at the same table, with the topic focused on what at least a few of them thought was a hasty decision, was not going to end well.

It ended up being a super frustrating evening, with arguments flying left and right over whether or not the wedding should be happening, with people seemingly changing sides mid-debate. Eventually, as more than one argument had brought up Maisie, and then having watched as Maisie had started to shrink back in her chair, barely able to touch her food, Claire and Owen had had enough. The two of them had pushed back their chairs in unison and stood up from the table.

"That's it!" Owen exclaimed, throwing his napkin on his plate. "We invited you all to come because we want to share this with you. But if you can't keep it together, if you can't shut your mouths, then for–"

"Owen!" Claire grabbed his arm, stopping his tirade before it went where she knew it was going. Turning to the table, she took over for him. "This is our decision, and we've made it. You all know when and where it's happening. If you can't respect it, then don't come. But, we hope we'll see all of you at City Hall tomorrow. As for tonight? We're done. Come on, Maisie." Claire grabbed her purse and moved towards the door, knowing that Owen would make sure that Maisie followed after them.

"I'm sorry," Maisie whispered, once they had settled into the car and were driving back to the condo.

"What for?" Claire asked, turning to look at her.

"That all of this is happening because of me."

"Oh no. No, no, no," Claire was quick to negate her concerns, but Maisie was already crying.

"That's what they were saying. That if I wasn't here…"

"No, Maisie," Owen spoke up. "They're grasping at straws and trying to find something. But they're wrong. One hundred percent wrong. Every family… no family is perfect." Owen sighed as he said that, reaching across the console to grab Claire's hand, giving her a crooked smile.

"Every family has issues," Claire agreed. "If anything, all of this is on us, Owen and I. We're the ones who decided we wanted to do this now. And we're also the ones who decided to invite them all."

"But they're your family," Maisie pushed. "Why aren't they happy?"

"They are… sort of. They will be," Claire amended. "I bet you, that tomorrow, every single one of them will be waiting for us at City Hall. Because they are family. And as much as they were making a big deal of things tonight, they'll be there to support us tomorrow."

"She's right, kiddo," Owen nodded, catching Maisie's eye in the rearview mirror. "I have no doubt that they will be there. And, everyone will act like tonight didn't happen. It's just the way things go, sometimes. It's… family." Owen shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at Maisie and then over at Claire. He wasn't sure of a better way to explain it.

"I'm still sorry," Maisie repeated. "I don't want to be a problem."

"You're not a problem," Claire replied immediately.

"Not at all," Owen agreed. "We love having you with us."

At that, the car fell silent, and Owen focused his attention on driving. As they were pulling into the parking garage, Claire's stomach let out a growl, breaking the silence.

"Sorry," Claire blushed, as Owen turned to look at her with a grin. "I didn't manage to eat much. I'm still hungry."

"Me too," Owen nodded, pulling into their parking spot. "What about you Maisie? What do you think of ordering in pizza?"

"Hawaiian?" Maisie asked with a hopeful grin, hopping out of the back of the car.

"Pineapple on pizza? Yuck," Owen made a face, pulling up the app on his phone.

"Please?" Maisie begged, pulling on his arm, as he led the way to the elevator. "It's so good."

"Claire?" Owen turned to her, knowing she was always changing her mind as to her favourite toppings.

"Hmm, vegetarian?" Claire requested, causing Owen to groan.

"I think we're going to need more than one," he said, flipping through the choices. "I'm not eating pineapple, and pizza isn't pizza without some kind of meat."

x x x

Friday morning, Claire and Owen were both feeling so thankful that no one, besides Maisie of course, was staying with them. After the previous night's dinner, they couldn't imagine having to have dealt with family first thing in the morning. As it was, they had to arrive at City Hall earlier than everyone else to sort out the marriage license.

Karen had texted them the previous evening, apologizing for the disaster over dinner (not that she'd really been involved, except for defending them) and asking if they wanted to drop Maisie off with her beforehand. They had opted to keep her with them. They knew that the week had been overwhelming for Maisie, and that the dinner the previous evening had left her shaken. They were hoping that spending the morning with just them, and keeping it mostly lowkey would help settle them all.

Standing in line as they waited their turn, all of them were feeling a little antsy, with Claire continually looking at her watch, even though she knew they'd arrived with tons of extra time. Eventually, they made it to the front and after answering a series of questions and showing their ID, they were given a form to fill out and told to move to the side while they did so. Claire took it on to fill the form in, with Owen looking over her shoulder.

"Oh, we have to specify names," Claire stopped as she reached that part of the form. She hadn't even thought about changing her name. Had Owen? Did he… would he expect her too? "I… I'd kind of like to keep Dearing, if that's okay."

"Of course," Owen replied immediately. It's not like he was going to force her to take his name. And… did it really matter? "Did you, um, did you want me to change to Dearing?" He asked hesitantly, hating that he was hoping she'd say no. Because if she had asked him what he wanted, he would've admitted that he liked the idea of her becoming a Grady.

"Uh… did you want to?" Claire asked, surprised by the question.

"No." Owen winced, he hadn't meant that to come out so strongly. "I mean… I would if you wanted me to, but…" He looked away, both embarrassed and nervous. How had they never had this conversation before? It was such a normal part of the marriage process and yet, it had never come up. After a few moments, he looked back at her.

"I've just… Claire Dearing is my identity," Claire said, meeting his gaze. "Just like Owen Grady is yours."

"It doesn't make us less married if we both keep our names," Owen said after a moment. "The name's not the important part."

"Yeah," Claire nodded. She swallowed over a lump in her throat, but turned back to the form, skipping the name change section. She really didn't want to change her name, and she meant it – her name was her identity and brand. But, bucking traditions always carried with it a bit of an uncomfortable feeling, like you were doing something wrong, even when you weren't.

After flipping through a few more pages, Claire signed off with a flourish, before handing the pen and papers to Owen for him to sign. She glanced over at Maisie, who had retreated to a chair to wait, playing a game on Owen's phone as they filled out the forms. A couple more hours and they'd be one step closer to being a family.

x x x

They'd booked the 2pm timeslot, and just after 1:30, Claire received a text from Karen, letting her know that they had parked and were on their way in. Lucas showed up first, weighed down with a couple of bags full of camera equipment, his parents trailing not far behind him. Karen, Jake and the boys were just a few minutes behind them. And Claire and Karen's parents trickled onto the scene not long after.

"Told you so," Claire heard Owen whisper to Maisie, as her parents arrived and Claire moved to greet them. She had to admit, while she had been sure everyone would come, there had been a small part of her that had worried that someone wouldn't show. But, now that everyone was there, she was ready to have it all over and done with. Ten minutes with a marriage commissioner and it would be done. It seemed crazy how quickly it had all come together and how quickly it would be over, now that she thought about it. For something so life changing (supposedly), it sure seemed like most of the kerfuffle of it all was wrapped up in trying to just get to the day of, and not the actual event itself.

As the clock ticked down, the group of them waited nervously in the waiting area. She knew, from her research, that each half hour block could accommodate three weddings (it really was a revolving door), but as they waited, no one else showed up or appeared to be hanging around for the same reason. Maybe they would luck out and get the place to themselves. Make it feel a little more personal.

Just before two, the door opened and the couples from the previous session filed out, along with their witnesses and any guests. A man in a suit and tie, standing in the doorway looked at a sheet of paper before calling out, "Owen Grady and Claire Dearing?"

The twelve of them moved as a group towards the door, only to be stopped by the man.

"I'm sorry, but you're only allowed six guests, and that needs to include your two witnesses," he informed them. "Some of you will have to wait out here."

"Only six?" Claire asked weakly, turning back to face those behind her. How were they supposed to choose which six? Everyone there was invited for a reason.

"I can wait," Jake offered immediately, trying to reduce the burden.

"Me too," Maisie spoke up.

"No!" Claire and Owen both said in unison, reaching for Maisie before she could back away.

"Maisie, you're one of our witnesses," Owen reminded the girl. "We need you there."

"You're a part of our family," Claire added. "It wouldn't be right without you." She paused, looking at everyone gathered there, her eyes resting on Jake. "It wouldn't be right without any of you."

"How did you miss the limit of six?" Owen murmured to her quietly. "You normally catch all of these things."

"I don't know," Claire moaned back, mentally berating herself. "I guess this is what we get for trying to do this the easy way."

"Well, I think the parents should get to be there," Claire's mother put forward, hesitantly. "But that takes four of the spots."

"Five with Maisie," Owen's dad nodded at the young girl. "That only leaves one left."

"I want to be there," Gray raised his hand. "Owen said I could be like his best man."

"He said we could share it," Zach pushed his brother, "If you get to go, then I get to go too."

"I've been dreaming of this day for years," Karen put forward. "I can't miss it now."

"Hey, I'm the photographer," Lucas reminded them. "If I'm not in there, there won't be any pictures."

Claire turned her back on her family, looking at the man in the suit. "Is there anyway you can just let them all come in? They'll be quiet," Claire winced as the volume rose behind her, as everyone squabbled over who had the "right" to be there. "I promise, they can be better behaved than this."

"Well…" the man looked into the room behind him, before down at the paper in his hand.

"I know there can be three couples per slot," Claire added, working on her defense. "It looks like it's just us. If you can fit three couples and their guests in, you've got to have more than enough room for just us and everyone else. It's less than the total guests for two."

"Please," Owen joined in. "Don't turn this into Sophie's choice."

The man glanced behind him again, before looking at his watch, calculating whether it was worth arguing over it all. Finally, he stepped aside and waved them in.

Owen let out a whistle, and the noise around them lowered in an instant, everyone turning to him. "Thanks. This man has generously agreed that you can all–" Owen held up his hand as he saw everyone was about to speak. "He's agreed that you can all come in, but you have to be on your best behaviour. No more squabbling. Ten minutes. That's all we ask for. Can you do that? Because if you can't…"

Everyone nodded, no one daring to open their mouths, not with the look on Owen's face. His gaze relaxing, he stepped aside, and let them all flow into the room, hanging at the rear with Claire. Once everyone had entered, he turned to her.

"You ready?" Owen asked, reaching for her hand and lacing his fingers through hers.

"Ready," Claire smiled up at him. "More than ready, really."

"Let's do this," Owen squeezed her hand, before leading her into the room.

x x x

The ceremony was short and over in a hurry, and before they knew it, Claire, Owen, Maisie and Karen had signed all the necessary forms, and the group was filing back out into the hallway.

"So, what's next?" Owen asked, now that it was over.

"Pictures," Lucas reminded them. "We need to get some group shots." He looked around. "Although, maybe not in here. At a park or on the beach?"

"Outdoors would be good," Owen agreed easily, and Claire nodded. They chatted about locations, as they moved through the building.

As they were stepping outside, Karen moved to walk beside Claire, looping her arm through Claire's. "Thanks for letting me witness."

"Of course," Claire looked at her sister in surprise. "Always."

"Hey, there were 9 other people there today, you didn't have to choose me." Karen shrugged. "It's just nice that you did." She sighed, looking down at Claire's left hand, now sporting her wedding band. "I never thought I'd see this day."

"And yet, you always thought I'd have kids," Claire reminded her sister.

"You don't need a man to have kids," Karen dismissed.

"Hey!" Owen sidled up on Claire's other side looking offended on behalf of all men. He reached for his wife's hand, tugging her away from her sister.

"So, just how involved were you in creating Maisie?" Karen asked, raising an eye at Owen.

"Leave him alone, Karen," Claire laughed, tugging Owen towards her, so she wouldn't have to move away from her sister. "Besides, I didn't create her either."

"Eh," Karen dismissed it with the flick of her hand. "How they come into your lives isn't important. The fact Maisie's here is what matters."

Claire and Owen locked gazes over that, both immediately searching out Maisie, hoping that she may have heard it. They found her following close behind them, and Owen reached back, tugging Maisie forward until she was walking beside him.

"You're right," Owen winked down at Maisie, before looking towards Karen. "And we agree wholeheartedly. Having Maisie here makes all of this even better."

x x x

If the ceremony had felt fast, the rest of the day felt like it went by even faster. By the time they had taken pictures, including in every possible combination of people imaginable, they had just enough time for everyone to go back to their hotel rooms and homes to freshen up before meeting together at the restaurant for dinner.

The dinner had been fun. There had been almost twenty of them there in the end. Claire and Owen. Their ten family members. Zia and Franklin. Barry. And a few friends of Owen's from his Navy days. Not small, but not big. Just the right number that they felt like they got a chance to talk with everyone and celebrate, without turning it into something massive.

Arriving home, Claire held the door of the condo open, watching as Owen led an exhausted Maisie who could barely keep her eyes open through the doorway, the two heading straight for Maisie's room. He emerged a minute later, heading into the kitchen and grabbing a glass of water, looking over at Claire who was leaning against the counter, staring down at her ring.

"Hardly feels real, right?" Owen asked, holding up his own hand and looking at his ring.

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "I guess I sort of expected to feel different. I don't know why, but…"

"I know what you mean," Owen agreed. And he did. But, that didn't mean it didn't feel like a bit of a stab to the heart to hear. He'd been waiting, hoping, for this day for well over a year now. It was kind of disappointing for it to feel this way. "I mean, it's a major life milestone, right? Feels almost… anti-climatic."

Claire snorted, and Owen turned to her in surprise. "Sorry," Claire said, before bursting into giggles. "I may have drank too much tonight," she said laughing louder, before finally gasping, "Anti-climatic."

Owen looked at her, rolling his eyes at her juvenile humour. He had drank, but not as much, considering he had to drive them home and someone had to be the grown up with Maisie.

"I hope that's not how the evening's going to end," Claire laughed again, raising her hand to cover her mouth, trying to muffle her giggles.

"What's so funny?" Maisie asked, coming out of her bedroom dressed in her pjs.

"Nothing," Owen replied firmly. That was not a conversation he wanted to have with a nine year old. "Come on," he moved towards Maisie. "You need to brush your teeth and I'll tuck you in." As he guided Maisie towards the bathroom, he glanced over his shoulder at Claire. Her giggles had died down, and she was staring at her ring again, a soft smile on her lips.

While he didn't feel different, he could feel the weight of the band on his finger. But he liked it. It let him know that the day was real, and that it really had happened. When they had… taken a break, he had spent more nights then he was comfortable admitting, debating what to do with the ring. More than once, he'd almost returned it or thrown it into the lake (which seemed like the less embarrassing way to get rid of it). But he'd never been able to follow through. He had always hoped, slim as it was, that they would find their way back to each other. That one of them would finally step up and re-open the doors of communication. He hadn't expected dinosaurs, or a little girl, to be the key, but, maybe, it was fitting that they were.

He didn't regret how quickly they had got married. Or anything about the day, really. Well, maybe, that they weren't having a honeymoon. Maybe that's why it didn't feel different. They were back home, putting Maisie to bed, just like any other evening from the past couple of months. Except… except, now they wore rings, binding themselves to each other. Making it just a little bit harder for either one to walk away. And he had to admit, he liked that. Liked feeling tied to her, and her to him.

Okay, maybe he had one other regret about today. He hadn't made it back to his cabin and so the engagement ring he'd bought was still sitting tucked away in its box. He had hoped he'd find the time. That he might be able to give it to her under the pretense that he'd just bought it. But now that they were married? How do you give someone an engagement ring after the wedding? At this rate, that ring was going to haunt him for life.

But he wasn't going to dwell on that tonight. That was for another day. Instead, he encouraged Maisie to finish up in the bathroom, because the sooner he got Maisie into bed, the sooner he could follow up with Claire and show her just how very not anti-climatic the evening was going to end.

 

Chapter Text

I Think You’re Dino-Mite!

Valentine's Day had never been a day that registered for Claire. It was just another day in the month, as ordinary as the ones before and after it. Sure, she'd had boyfriends and dates on the day, but she hated the whole concept of it. Buy expensive flowers – that were made expensive purely because of demand, and therefore you also ended up with lower quality for more money – and drowning yourself in sugar. Which also didn't make sense, because as she got older, the ads moved to being about the skimpy lingerie that she should be buying for her man, and who feels sexy after consuming 2 pounds of chocolate?

When she'd been with Owen, the first Valentine's Day had snuck up on them during the initial Jurassic World fallout, and neither had even realized it had happened until days later, at which point they both had just shrugged and moved on. Their second one, was when they were living out of the van, and at that point, they really weren't paying attention to calendars, and only registered the time of the year when they were picking up groceries. Owen had asked if she'd like to do something for the day, and Claire had laid out her argument against it, to which he'd looked relieved. By the time Valentine's Day had rolled around a few days later, they had both forgotten about it, and it was just another day.

But, it turned out that it was a holiday that was impossible to ignore when you have kids in your life. Maisie had come home from school the week before with a list of all her classmates names and a note from the teacher. It had laid out, very clearly, that if students were going to participate in Valentine's Day (highly recommend) that they needed to bring one for every classmate (please refer to the attached sheet) and that, to accommodate allergies, they were asking that no food items be included as part of the valentine.

Having never participated in a Valentine's Day before, Maisie had been very interested in the whole concept. The idea of picking out cards to give her classmates was exciting enough. But knowing that people gave small gifts with them (like a chocolate or lollipop or eraser, Claire had tried to readjust her expectations) had just about sent her over the moon. Claire was getting flashbacks to Halloween, where she'd thankfully been able to push the task of trick-or-treating onto Owen, who had looked as eager as Maisie to be able to go out. (She had forgotten when she'd done that, that it meant she'd have to answer the door. So much for hiding out in the house and getting work done.)

And so, on the weekend, Claire had taken on the task of hunting down valentine cards and an assorted gift for Maisie to give her classmates. She'd expected it to be easy – stop by the local target and grab a box of whatever the current "in" movie or tv show was. Maisie had had other ideas, picking them over, and dismissing most, saying that her classmates would probably get those and she wanted hers to be unique. It had taken them a few stores before Maisie had settled on a pack of dinosaur themed cards ("Are you sure?" Claire had asked, looking warily at the box of cards. "Uh huh," Maisie had nodded, clutching them tightly). However, they still weren't done, as now they needed to find a small token gift that would match. After Claire had turned down most options (too expensive, too childish – Claire knew that Maisie was still struggling to adjust and fit in at school – or a food item), Maisie had settled on a pack of dinosaur stickers. Who didn't like stickers?

That evening, while Claire had busied herself with some DPG work, Maisie had joined her in her office, the box of cards and stickers with her, and carefully labelled all the cards and signed her name, before tucking a few stickers inside each one. A muffled snort had grabbed Claire's attention at one point, and she'd looked up to see Owen in the doorway, snickering at them both, before he quickly moved away at her glare. She knew Owen thought the whole kids exchanging valentines was ridiculous (she agreed), but at least the one's Maisie had found didn't include sayings like "be mine." Instead, they were all dinosaur puns (Claire ahd rolled her eyes) but mundane and inoffensive: "You are roar-some!", "I think you're dino-mite!", "You are T-riffic!", "Have a roar-ing good Valentine's Day!"

For the first time in her adult life, Claire had actually marked Valentine's Day on her calendar, wanting to make sure that Maisie remembered to take the valentines with her. The morning of, Claire and Maisie had checked Maisie's backpack twice (Owen rolling his eyes in the background, with a muttered "I would've dropped them off if she forgot") to make sure she didn't forget them. And then, once Claire had left for work, it was immediately forgotten.

Arriving home that evening, she'd been greeted by Maisie the moment she'd walked through the door, a bag clutched tightly in Maisie's hand.

"Look!" Maisie had shook the bag at her, before pulling Claire into the kitchen so she could dump the contents on the table. Twenty-five or so Valentine's Day cards came tumbling out, along with a few other trinkets. Claire nodded along, ooh-ing and aah-ing at the appropriate moments, as Maisie showed off what she'd received.

"No one else had the same cards as me," Maisie informed her, showing Claire how she had duplicate Star Wars and Trolls cards. "And everyone was putting their stickers on their agendas!"

Claire smiled at Maisie's proud look, before looking commenting, "I bet no one spent as much time on theirs either." She ignored the snort that came from Owen, who was busy finishing up dinner.

"I'm so glad you had a good day," Claire told Maisie, as they carefully put all the cards back in the bag.

"The best!" Maisie beamed. "We learned a lot about the day, too."

"Oh yeah?" Claire asked, moving into the kitchen to grab plates and cutlery before bringing it to the table. Maisie helped her set the table before grabbing a glass of water for herself, as Claire grabbed the bottle of red that Owen had already opened and poured glasses for the two of them.

"About how the day is named after a Saint and how it's about romantic love." Maisie paused and Claire had to hide her own snort at the disgusted look on Maisie's face. "We also learned about cupid and that they shoot people with bow and arrows. I don't get that part, though."

"That's cause the whole holiday is useless," Owen commented, settling the plate of lamb chops on the table, before turning back for the sides.

"It's not useless," Claire replied, settling into her chair.

"That's not what you've said before," Owen shrugged, settling into his own chair, the three starting to serve themselves. "I swear you gave me a whole essay on why you hate the holiday the last time we talked about it."

"Owen," Claire protested, looking over at Maisie, who was regarding the two curiously.

"So you're a fan, now?" Owen asked, raising an eyebrow, before putting a chop onto Maisie's plate.

"Well, no…" Claire said slowly, because she really wasn't a fan. She just didn't want to ruin the day for Maisie. "I don't like the commercialization of the holiday," Claire said, trying to figure out the right way to word it. "But I'm not against people being friendly and showing those around them that they care and love them."

"Huh, so you really can teach an old dog new tricks," Owen joked, raising his hands in defense when Claire acted like she was about to throw one of her grape tomatoes at him.

"I'm not old," Claire disagreed. "I'm younger than you."

"That's true – you can never catch me," Owen winked at her, before turning back to his food. He redirected the conversation back to Maisie and what she'd done that day at school.

As Maisie and Claire cleared the table after the meal, Owen disappeared out of the room, before returning with his hands tucked behind his back.

"So…" Owen drawled, interrupting the two from their task. "I have to say, I'm glad that Claire's changed her mind about today, because it makes this easier."

"Did you get Claire a valentine?" Maisie asked eagerly. "I mean, you love her. You're supposed to, right?"

"I do and I did," Owen nodded at Maisie, before bringing forward a small wrapped package and handing it to Claire, who accepted it cautiously. "It's not going to bite you," Owen promised, watching her reaction.

Maisie crowded close to Claire, watching as Claire carefully opened the wrapping, gently pulling at the tape and hardly damaging the paper at all. "Just rip it," Maisie said, the anticipation getting to her.

Claire pulled out a box about the size of a piece of paper and lifted up the lid. Inside, nestled in some tissue paper, was a silver frame, containing one of the pictures Lucas had taken of the two of them on their wedding day. While Lucas had supplied them with many photos, Claire hadn't got around to getting any printed yet, having been busy with their move, Maisie starting school and the opening of the dinosaur sanctuary that had all happened in quick succession afterwards. It was on her list, but had never seemed to make it to the top.

"I know you've got plans on some that you want to get printed," Owen commented, as he watched her looking down at their photo, "but I thought maybe this one you could keep in your office – here or at the DPG."

"This is one of my favourites," Claire said, her fingers trailing across the photo, mind flashing back to that day. She turned to Owen, after settling the gift on the table. "Thanks for not getting me something cliche," she whispered, standing on her tiptoes to give him a short kiss. Pulling back, she added. "You're making me feel bad. I didn't get you anything."

"I don't need anything," Owen shrugged.

"No candy?" Maisie looked up at the two, where she'd been inspecting the box, lifting up the frame as if hoping to find a hidden layer of chocolates underneath. She looked disappointed.

"Claire's not the candy monster in this house," Owen laughed, before he brought his other hand forward, holding a small gift bag. "Happy Valentine's Day Maisie," he handed the bag over.

Unlike Claire, Maisie tore into the gift, pulling out the tissue paper and then tilting the bag letting the contents tumble out. A small box of fancy chocolates – a kind Maisie recognized from trips to the mall, but that both Claire and Owen had said were too expensive – and a small dinosaur stuffed animal holding a heart slid out. "Wow," Maisie said, picking up the chocolates to examine them.

"Valentine's Day is not complete without chocolate," Owen said, looking pleased with himself. "And I know you've wanted to try these."

Maisie opened the box of chocolates, looking down at the four nestled inside. She looked up at Claire and Owen for a second before down again, then held the box out towards them. "Do you want one?"

They both shook their heads no, neither missing the relieved look that crossed Maisie's face.

"They're all yours," Claire told her, before turning back to Owen, wrapping her arm around his waist and tucking herself close to his side. "Thank you," she repeated softly, her gaze on Maisie.

"Hey, I may not like the holiday," Owen replied equally softly, "but I saw how excited she was about it."

"Not just for her," Claire shook her head. "For both of us."

"You can thank me later," Owen winked at her, before raising an eyebrow suggestively. Claire laughed, but she didn't disagree.

Chapter Text

Sanctuary

"Knock, knock."

Claire looked up from her laptop, where she'd been trying to grasp the latest email from the DPG's accountant, working to wrap her head around what all the numbers meant going forward. It looked promising, which was something she still didn't take for granted, knowing it wouldn't take much for it all to backslide again. Zia was leaning against the doorframe of her office, peering in at her.

"Hey, come on in," Claire waved her friend in.

"How's everything?" Zia asked, feigning nonchalance, which Claire picked up on right away.

"What's up?" Claire replied, raising an eyebrow in question.

Zia put on an innocent expression, shrugging, "I don't know what you mean. Just here to say 'hi.'"

"Yeah, I'm not buying it," Claire rolled her eyes, turning her gaze back to her laptop. "I've got stuff to do if that's all you're really here about."

"Man, you've become less fun the longer you've been a mom," Zia groaned, flopping back against the back of the chair. She chuckled when Claire's gaze snapped back to hers. "Knew that would get your attention."

"Fine, what do you want?" Claire closed the lid of her laptop, giving Zia her full attention.

"Um…" Zia hedged again, pausing briefly. "We're doing prep to sort out who's going on the upcoming sanctuary visit."

"So?"

"Well," Zia drew it out, before finally spitting it out off of Claire's exasperated look, "Blue's on the schedule."

"Oh."

"So?" Zia asked a couple minutes later, when it became clear that Claire wasn't going to say anything else.

"What do you want me to say?" Claire looked at her friend. "Who goes, who stays, what dinosaurs are getting check-ups, etc, is all your responsibility."

"But it's Blue."

"Just tell me what you want," Claire sighed.

"It's just… I thought you might want to tell Owen. That he might want to join the team this time."

Claire looked away, moving her gaze to the small window her office had, not that it looked out at anything interesting. Ever since their conversation a few weeks ago in the park, she couldn't get Owen's comment out of her head: "All I see are signs of my failure."

"Do you think he might want to?" Zia pressed when Claire didn't reply.

"Um," Claire turned back to her and shrugged. "I'm… I'm not sure."

"Can you ask him for me?" Zia continued. "Last time we gave Blue a check up it was a pain. We ended up having to tranq her. I think it might be a lot easier with him there."

"Why don't you ask him?" Claire said. "You don't have to go through me, you know."

"I know." Zia paused for a moment. "I just thought it might be weird coming from me and not you. Are you sure everything's okay?"

"Yeah, it's fine," Claire nodded. "I'll ask him and let you know."

x x x

That evening, as Claire was folding the laundry she had spread all over the bed, she tried to figure out a way to bring it up. Ever since Owen's confession about his thoughts around the DPG, she'd been actively trying to not mention it around him. Trying to give him the space she thought he wanted and needed, feeling like any mention of her work would be seen as pushing it on him, and she didn't want that. If her job was causing him pain, she would keep it separate as much as she could.

But, she was also a terrible liar. And if she went back to work tomorrow and hadn't asked him, Zia would know. And then she'd push, and Claire didn't want to deal with that, either. There really wasn't a good way to avoid all of this, as far as Claire could tell. Which left her with the only option of actually asking him.

She was still folding when Owen entered the bedroom, giving her a quick nod as he headed into the bathroom, pulling off his shirt on the way. And for a moment, as she watched him walk by, she was tempted to follow him, especially when she heard the shower turn on. If she timed it right… except, no. She couldn't do that. Wouldn't do that. If things went badly, she didn't want to have that connection in her head. Didn't want him to have that connection.

He wasn't in there for long, and soon enough emerged back into the bedroom, towel low on his hips, toothbrush hanging from his mouth as he looked through his drawers, before he turned towards her. Before he could ask, she grabbed a pair of boxers from the folded stack on the bed and tossed it over to him, and he nodded his thanks, before dropping the towel to pull them on. Claire bit her lip, again tempted to just throw caution to the wind, before looking back down at the bed and picking up the next shirt to fold.

"Everything okay?"

Owen's voice startled her out of her thoughts, and she looked up to see the toothbrush gone. She hadn't even heard him leave (albeit briefly).

"Just tired," Claire shrugged, gathering up a couple of folded piles of clothes and handing them over. Owen took them, heading to his drawers to put them away, while Claire did the same with her own. She put Maisie's piles aside – she'd put them away tomorrow.

"So, Zia came by to talk today," Claire announced as she climbed into bed, Owen already settled on the other side.

"Hmm," Owen hummed, acknowledging her statement, but focused on the book in his hands.

"They're sorting out the details for the next trip to the sanctuary. She wanted me to … She mentioned that… It's just–" Claire groaned, burying her face in her hands, this shouldn't be so hard.

"Wanted what?" Owen asked, his attention now pulled from his book.

"It's just… it's Blue's turn. Well, not just Blue, but she's one of the dinosaurs scheduled for a checkup," Claire rambled briefly, before cutting herself off. "Zia was saying that last time, they really struggled with Blue."

"Why are you telling me?" Owen asked, sitting up in bed and placing his book on his bedside table.

"Zia thought it might be helpful if you went. That Blue might be easier to deal with. And that it would be safer for everyone," Claire couldn't meet his eyes when she asked.

"No."

"We'd… the DPG would hire you – as a contractor – to go. You'd get paid."

"Jesus," Owen let out a slow breath. "It's not about being paid."

"I know," Claire finally looked over at him, blushing. "I promised her I'd ask, but you don't have to go. I know that…" she sighed, before finishing, "you don't have to."

"Good, then I'm not," Owen said firmly, turning out his light, and sliding down the bed, pulling the covers up, before turning on his side, back to her.

Claire watched him, not sure what to say or what to do. She supposed it could've gone worse, even if she wasn't really sure how, exactly. Turning off her own light, even though she had planned on reading, she lay down, staring at the ceiling.

"I wish… I don't want you to hate the DPG," Claire said softly a few minutes later. She knew he wasn't asleep, his breathing hadn't settled into the rhythm she now knew by heart when he was sleeping. A rhythm she had used to calm and soothe herself to sleep on more nights than she could count. She closed her eyes, trying to will herself asleep, when she felt the bed shift. Turning her head, she watched as Owen rolled on to his back, his gaze focused on the ceiling.

"I don't hate the DPG," he said after a long pause.

"But you don't like it," Claire said, her gaze still focused on him. He didn't look at her.

"It's not that," Owen sighed, bringing a hand up to scrub down his face.

"Like I said, you don't have to go," Claire repeated. "I just… Zia wanted me to ask. And I wasn't going to but…"

"But?" Owen finally turned his head, his gaze locking on hers.

"It's Blue," Claire stated. "I wanted you to have the option. I thought, maybe, it would help if you got a chance to see her again."

"I–" Owen paused, his gaze shifting back to the ceiling. In the end, the most he could offer her was, "I'll think about it."

"Okay."

They both fell silent.

Claire listened as Owen shifted around, trying to get comfortable. She moved closer to him, cuddling into his side, resting her head on his shoulder, before lifting her hand to run it through his hair a few times. She then let her fingers trail down the side of his face and along his jaw, repeating the gesture. Owen tilted his head towards her, eyes opening to meet hers. Claire pushed herself up onto her elbow, brushing her lips against his briefly. She moved to settle back down, but Owen raised the arm that had been tucked under her, sliding it up into her hair and guiding her face back to his, capturing her lips in a deeper kiss.

When he pulled back, Claire raised an eyebrow. "I thought you were tired."

"Never too tired for this," Owen gave her a suggestive look, bringing her back into a kiss as he pulled her until she was sprawled over him, his other hand slipping under her shirt.

Claire chuckled into the kiss, but her own hands were already sliding down his chest.

x x x

"Are you sure?" Claire asked Owen again, as they stood on the tarmac, not far from the helicopter that was going to take Zia, Owen, and a few others over to the sanctuary for the day. Owen wasn't looking at her, too busy looking through the bag he'd packed, checking to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything.

"I'm sure," Owen said, looking up at her briefly, just long enough to roll his eyes. In all fairness, it was about the tenth time she'd asked him since they had woken up that morning.

Claire took a moment to look him over again. It felt a bit like deja vu – both to that day on Jurassic World and then just over a year and a half ago when they had last gone to Nublar. He was wearing a henley with a leather vest over top, and had a knife strapped to his belt at his lower back. He had slipped his sunglasses into the front of his shirt as he checked his bag. The main difference, was that this time he had a rifle slung over his shoulder. That, and she wasn't going with him.

Until that moment, the fact she wasn't going and he was hadn't even crossed her mind. She'd been too focused on confirming that this was really something he wanted to do. But now, for the first time, a tendril of fear rose up in her chest. Sure, he'd survived both previous incidents. But he hadn't been alone – she'd been there. She'd led the T-rex into battle. She'd found the gun and used it against the Indoraptor. What if something happened this time? She wouldn't be there to help.

As if reading her thoughts, Owen closed his bag, slipping it on his back, before moving to stand in front of her, tilting her chin up until she met his gaze. "It's going to be fine. We're only going to be there for a few hours. And with all the cameras on the island, you'll be able to watch it all happen. We've got a whole crew for protection. It's not going to be like Nublar. I promise." He slid one hand around to rest on her lower back, pulling her towards him. "You know, if you'd feel better, you could always come."

"I can't," Claire shook her head, her gaze darting to the left, over to where Maisie was chatting with Zia. "Can you imagine what would happen if we both went and left her behind?"

"Yeah," Owen chuckled softly, his gaze following hers. Maisie had not been all that pleasant to be around the past couple of weeks after they'd told her what was happening. Not once she'd learned that she couldn't go. "Good luck with that."

"You owe me," Claire half-threatened, half-teased him, her gaze moving back to his, her tone growing serious. "Promise me you'll be safe. That you won't do anything risky."

"I promise," Owen said, gaze boring straight into hers. "Nothing's worth not coming back." Claire nodded, clutching at his shirt tightly with one hand, her other reaching up and wrapping behind his neck, pulling him down for a kiss that was just shy of being impolite for the company around them. When she pulled back, he grinned down at her. "Looking forward to continuing that tonight."

Claire rolled her eyes, her hand letting go of his shirt to slap at his shoulder lightly, pushing him away. All a response that Owen had expected. He stood up straighter, his gaze moving back towards Maisie and Zia.

"We about ready to go?"

x x x

Owen wasn't really sure what he had expected to happen when he agreed to go. It hadn't been an easy decision. He'd actually said no again, to both Claire and then Zia when she had personally phoned to ask him. The idea of seeing the dinosaurs in person again just felt too painful. Too… real? Like he wouldn't be able to keep hiding and pretending about what had happened. Wouldn't be able to keep shoving it into the back corner of his mind, and pretending it had no relevance to what he did now and who he was now.

Not that all the memories associated with the dinosaurs were bad. As he had said when Wheatley had asked him back on Nublar, some were good. And if it wasn't for either incident, he can't say that he and Claire would've actually become something, and that was something he'd never wish away.

However, he would say that he hadn't expected the visit to be quite so boring. They'd been on the island for two hours so far, and he'd essentially been tasked as an errand boy, grabbing various equipment for Zia and her team members as they requested it. And the rest of the time just staying back and out of the way. Blue was scheduled to be the last of the checkups for the day, and he was starting to get antsy. He didn't want to be there any longer than he had to be. Wanted to be back home, back in his life, not this flashback to what it could've been or would've been if things had been different.

"Hey, we're ready to bring her in now," Zia sidled up beside him, and Owen pulled himself out of his thoughts.

"What do you need me to do?"

x x x

"It's Blue!"

Maisie's voice ringing across the DPG headquarters had Claire out of her chair. She'd been sitting in her office trying to focus on work for the past hour. She'd been finding herself getting increasingly antsy and anxious the longer Owen was on the island, even if everything was going smoothly, the same way it had the previous 5 checkups that the DPG had done in the past. Knowing that didn't make it any easier to watch.

Maisie, on the other hand, once she'd gotten over not being allowed to go, had been glued to the video feeds. They weren't streaming the checkup feeds live on the website. The cameras they used for streaming were based on where the dinosaurs were most active, which was not where the paleo-vet visits took place. Also, they tried to avoid, as much as possible, showing any human-dinosaur interactions. They wanted to showcases the dinosaurs as animals separate from humans, thriving on their own (as much as possible), with limited human intervention.

Claire had reminded Maisie that just getting to watch the feed from the visit made Maisie special, and set her apart from everyone else. That her access was exclusive, and while she wasn't able to go to the island, she should be excited about having this. Claire had been surprised when it had worked, and then reminded herself that Maisie was only 11 and she should be grateful for the time left where it would; it would be over before she knew it.

"Have they got her?" Claire asked, slipping onto a chair beside Maisie, looking at the feed.

"Not yet," Maisie shook her head, eyes not leaving the screen. "I just saw a glimpse of her. I think they're going to have Owen go out and try to bring her in."

Maisie's voice raised in excitement over the prospect, but Claire's heart dropped. Sure, she had wanted Owen to see Blue. To maybe reconnect with the dinosaurs. Or, at the very least, to find a way to at least be okay with her job. But the more the day was progressing, the more she was realizing she hadn't thought it through. That Owen might end up face to face with Blue was something she expected, she just expected bars or cages or tranqs to be involved. Not what she was watching, which was Owen standing in the middle of an open area, his old clicker in his hand.

"Oh god," Claire said softly, sinking back into her seat.

"Are you okay?" Maisie finally looked away from the feed to look at her. "You're kind of pale. Do you need a glass of water?"

"I'm fine," Claire reached out a hand, resting it on Maisie's shoulder. "Thanks, though."

The two watched in silence as they spotted Blue's head peak out from the tree cover on the side, Owen swinging around in the frame, also catching it. Then, they watched as Blue entered the clearing, stopping a few feet away from Owen. Claire could feel her breath catch in her throat, unable to breathe as she waited to see what happened.

It ended up playing out more normally than she expected. Owen offered up a treat, and Blue actually accepted it, before eventually taking a few steps towards him, bumping him lightly with her snout, Owen resting one hand on her neck, the other one between her eyes. Claire wished she could see the expression on his face, but the camera position meant their view was coming from almost directly behind him, preventing them from seeing much. And then, using the treats, Owen managed to lead Blue towards whatever the others wanted him to do, and soon they were out of sight of the camera.

Claire supposed she should find it more stressful, now that she couldn't see what was happening, but she actually found it easier to breathe again. She was realizing, that maybe she needed to see this just as much as Owen might need the actual interaction. Sure, Claire had been working hard for over two years now to save the dinosaurs via the DPG. But, after the events at the Lockwood Estates, Claire didn't actually want to be near them. She still believed in their mission. She fought even harder for the DPG. But she had been glad that she hadn't ended up face-to-face with one since, turning down previous opportunities to go to the sanctuary. She wasn't sure she could face it, face them, after Lockwood. Wasn't sure she could see them as anything less than dangerous now. Even Blue. Even knowing that Blue had saved them. Maybe she hadn't dealt with the fallout any better than Owen, she had just managed to hide from it better; to hide it from even herself.

x x x

Owen noticed a different look in Claire's eyes when he climbed out of the helicopter. He hugged Maisie back, listening with half an ear as she unloaded about everything she had watched, but his gaze was stuck on Claire. He couldn't put his finger on what it was. She didn't look upset, exactly. But she didn't look happy, either. At least, not beyond the momentary relief that had passed over her face when she'd first seen him.

The rest of the afternoon and evening flew by. Maisie spent most of it stuck by him, asking him question after question as to what happened on the island. About everything she couldn't see, and everything she had. To be honest, he had always thought her interests in dinosaurs was going to disappear, or at least decrease, given both what happened with her grandfather and that fateful night, but also just as she got older, with interests usually changing with age. Maybe it was the DPG, or maybe it was just going to be one of those passions that followed her throughout life, whatever it was, Maisie was as enthusiastic today as the day he'd met her and she'd realized he was the one in the videos with baby Blue.

By the time Maisie had finally been sent to bed, Owen was exhausted. It had been a long day, and an emotional one at that. He was still processing his own thoughts of the day, of his encounter with Blue. Until she'd stepped out in front of him, he hadn't been sure what to expect of the trip. But knowing that she still remembered, that she seemed to trust him, had blown his expectations out of the water. And to feel her leathery skin under his palm, rough and sort of pebble-y. To see, with his own eyes, not just through occasional glimpses from the DPG feeds, that she was okay. That she was healthy and thriving. It had been something he hadn't known he'd needed.

But that still didn't explain Claire's reaction. He'd expected her to be nervous while he was gone. He would've felt the same if their roles had been reversed, wanting to be beside her, to make sure that nothing happened. But it felt like the experience had hit her differently.

He headed back downstairs to see what Claire was up to, finding her, not surprisingly, in the kitchen cleaning up the final dishes and starting the dishwasher. Owen waited until the dishwasher door was closed, before he reached out for her, turning her around and pulling her into his grasp.

"Thank you," he whispered into her hair. "For pushing me. For today."

Claire didn't say anything, just winding her arms around him, pulling herself into him, holding on tightly. Owen copied her movements, tightening his own grip. She shifted slightly, her forehead pressing against his shoulder, and he nuzzled his nose into her hair, breathing deeply. They stood like that for a couple of minutes, before Owen realized his shoulder was getting wet, and he pushed Claire back slightly, getting her to look up at him, surprised to see her red eyes, glistening with tears.

"Hey, what's this about?" Owen asked, reaching one hand up, gently wiping the tears away.

"I'm sorry," Claire shook her head, her own hand coming up to cover her mouth. "It's just… today…"

"Yeah," Owen nodded in agreement, pulling her closer again. "It's been a long day."

"I was so scared," Claire finally confessed, resting her head on his shoulder, face turned into him, her voice muffled.

"Nothing happened," Owen reminded her. "We all came back in one piece. Not even a scratch."

"They're dangerous," she breathed out. "Blue could've killed you, and there would've been nothing anyone could do."

"Of course they're dangerous," Owen chuckled, "they're dinosaurs." He felt Claire stiffen in his arms, and he tightened his grip before she could pull away. "I knew what I was doing. They knew what I was doing. I don't know what you saw, or how much. But I wasn't alone. Nothing was going to happen. I wouldn't have let it. Zia wouldn't have let it."

"One bite, one slash," Claire mumbled.

"I'm not saying Blue's not dangerous. She absolutely is," Owen said softly. "But, I promise you, if I had had any doubt, I wouldn't have done it. You and Maisie come first. I wouldn't put you through that."

"I can't do this without you."

"Do what?"

"This. Maisie. The DPG. Everything."

"You can do anything."

"Not this," Claire shook her head, burrowing deeper into his hold. "Promise me I'll never have to."

"Claire…" Owen sighed out her name, wanting more than anything to promise her that, but knowing that he couldn't. "You know I can't," he said softly, feeling her start to tremble in his arms. "But know that I will always do everything I can to prevent it."

He felt Claire shift in his arms, and loosened his grip just a little, letting her move just enough, so that she could rise up, arms encircling his neck, pulling him into a kiss. It started off soft, mostly as a method of reassurance, a reminder that he was there and okay. But it didn't stay that way for long, Claire clutching at him, pulling him towards her, deepening the kiss, letting all her emotions of the day flow out. He could feel her tugging at his shirt, and he pulled back just enough to yank it off, before diving back in, his own hands reaching for hers.

If she needed to feel alive, if she needed this reassurance, he wasn't about to deny her that. And, to be honest, he could use it, too.

Chapter Text

Every time they arrived at the cabin, it was like something shifted. Claire couldn't put her finger on what it was, exactly, except that everything seemed easier, simpler, when they were there. Maybe it was all the fresh air. Or the lack of internet. Or the lack of people. Or the wide open spaces and huge skies. Maybe it was the absolute darkness when the sun set, with nothing but the moon and stars providing light. She knew Owen thought it was all those things. But Claire still wasn't sure.

But whatever it was, she enjoyed it. They all did. It wasn't easy to get all their schedules to line up so that they could spend as much time out there as she knew Owen would prefer. But, in a way, it made their visits that much more special. Each feeling like a gift they needed to cherish.

It had taken a long time to get the cabin finished, what with Owen moving to San Francisco and the lack of time they could ever get out there. It had meant that many of their initial visits had consisted of them squeezing into the trailer, or a few memorable nights spent sleeping out under the stars on the platform of the then unfinished cabin. But, it was finished now, making their visits even more enjoyable, as they no longer were running around trying to somehow both relax and complete the next step to move the cabin forward.

It was still a tight squeeze for the three of them, as they'd chosen to stay close to Owen's original design. The main floor was mostly open, with the kitchen / living area sharing the majority of the space. They had squeezed in a bedroom that just fit a queen bed, a bathroom, and a small storage/laundry room. Owen had planned to include a small loft for additional storage space, but they ended up dividing it in half, keeping half for storage and the other half as a bedroom of sorts for Maisie. They rarely seemed to spend much time inside when they were there, so the lack of space never felt constraining, the outdoors always beckoning them.

They would spend their days roaming around the lot or heading down to the lake for a swim. Lately, Maisie and Owen had been on the hunt to find the perfect tree for a treehouse, although they agreed this one would be less elaborate than what they had built back in San Francisco. Claire would often stay behind, choosing to curl up in the hammock with a book, although often falling asleep instead. And their evenings were filled with campfires and roasting marshmallows.

Owen owned a couple of boats. He had a small motor boat he liked to take out to go fishing, often early in the morning. Maisie had been thrilled to go out with him, learning how to drive the boat on the quiet lake under his careful supervision. The other boat was a canoe. A canoe that Claire had taken one look at and had flashbacks to summer camps from long ago, and immediately shook her head. Nope, she was not getting into that thing. She'd fallen out of one before, and it was an experience she felt no need to repeat.

Yet, without fail, every time they were out at the cabin and they decided to go down to the lake, Owen would ask her if today she would be willing to change her mind. Couldn't he convince her now? Didn't she trust him?

Claire would scowl and shake her head, searching for towels and the umbrella she would always take, her fair skin needing protection from the harsh sun.

She'd pack the cooler, before shoving it at Owen to carry, her own arms laden down with the rest of their gear, while Maisie would be tasked with carrying any sand or water toys she wanted for the visit. It was actually a fair hike down to the lake, which meant it always felt like an eBen longer walk back up, after spending a day tiring themselves in the water. But it was worth it, that she was sure. How they would ever manage to get the canoe down there (and back) was a question she didn't even want to consider.

But today, today somehow he'd tricked her into agreeing. She still wasn't quite clear how the conversation had gone down. One moment they had been planning out their day, jumping between ideas on what to do and Owen asking what everyone wanted to eat for breakfast, and the next both Maisie and Owen had been looking at her, wide-eyed.

"What?" Claire had asked nervously, trying to replay the conversation in her head. She'd been distracted, a work thought having popped in, and had been mostly just nodding along, content to do whatever they would decide.

"I can't believe you agreed," Owen said. He turned to Maisie. "You heard her, right? She agreed."

"Yup," Maisie nodded, laughing. "Although, I'm not sure she knew what she was agreeing too."

"Clearly, I don't," Claire said, her gaze jumping between the two cautiously.

"The canoe," Owen said, his eyes wide with glee. "I can't believe I'm finally going to get you in it!"

"What? No!" Claire shook her head emphatically. "Not happening."

"I asked and you said yes," Owen put on a puppy dog expression. "Are you really going to take that away from me?"

"Yes."

"Not fair," he pouted. "Seriously Claire, just this once. If you hate it, I'll never ask you again."

"Never?" Claire considered the offer. It would mean one less thing she'd have to think about. Could she handle one final canoe adventure in her life?

"Never," Owen promised, looking at her hopefully. Out of the corner of her eye Claire could see Maisie was hanging on their words.

"How long do I have to agree to?" Claire asked cautiously. She'd been down this path before with Owen. She would need to make sure he couldn't wiggle out of their deal; claim she'd somehow violated their agreement later.

"An hour."

"No way. Ten minutes."

"What? We'd barely have left the shore! Forty-five."

"Twenty."

"Thirty and that's my final offer."

Claire hesitated. "If I fall in…"

"You won't, I promise," Owen said quickly. "But if you do," he added, when Claire started to counter, "we'll call it time."

Claire nodded slowly, before reaching her hand out. "Okay."

Owen quickly shook her hand in agreement, a look of glee on his face.

x x x

She should've known it couldn't be that easy. Nothing ever was.

The first hurdle came as Owen finally confronted one of the issues that Claire had been worried about all along – how were they going to get it down to the lake. They still had all their other supplies they needed to take.

"Oh," Owen said, standing in front of the canoe and looking at it critically.

"Yeah," Claire nodded, standing beside him. "It doesn't look very light." She looked over at him. "How have you taken it out before?"

"I haven't used it on this lake," Owen confessed. "But I usually had it strapped to the top of the trailer or use my truck." He looked over at the truck for a moment. "We could drive down. I mean, that's what Maisie and I do with the boat."

"That's probably best," Claire agreed. "We need to take lifejackets and stuff too."

"What? No we don't," Owen disagreed vehemently. "It's just a canoe, Claire."

"I'm not getting in that thing, in the middle of a lake, without a lifejacket," Claire shot back. "And neither is Maisie."

"Why?" Owen looked at her questiongly. "You're a strong swimmer. So's Maisie. We don't need them."

"Yeah," Maisie said, joining the two. "We don't use them in the other boat."

"You what?" Claire said her expression looking scandalized, as she turned to Owen, hands on her hips, eyebrow cocked in question.

"Maisie doesn't know what she's saying," Owen quickly covered, pulling Maisie towards him and covering her mouth. "Of course I make her wear a lifejacket."

Maisie giggled as she pushed against Owen, shaking her head at Claire.

"Owen!"

"Nothing's happened," Owen said, raising his hands defensively, letting Maisie go. "Nothing's ever happened, and nothing will ever happen."

"You don't know that," Claire said, biting her lip as her gaze darted away. How many times had they assumed that would be the case in the past? How many times did the world need to prove them wrong before they started listening?

"Fine," Owen grumbled. "I'll get them."

Unsurprisingly, they got down to the lake much later than they planned, even with the benefit of not having to walk. It had taken time for Owen to sort out where he'd put everything to tie the canoe to the truck, and then locate three lifejackets (Claire had not been impressed when he'd initially tossed only two in the back).

Settling the canoe on the shore, Claire helped Maisie get into one life jacket, before she donned the other. Then the two had stared at Owen as he huffed, before he finally put on the third. They were just about to move the canoe into the water, when Claire noticed something.

"Hey, where's my paddle?"

"What paddle?" Owen asked, standing at the back of the canoe.

"Mine," Claire said, turning to face him from the front. "Why's there only one?"

"You don't need one," Owen shrugged.

"Really?" Claire just gave him a look, to which he finally sighed, turning back to the truck.

"You're just going to complain that your arms hurt later," Owen muttered.

"I heard that," Claire called back to him. She gave him a little credit that he'd at least packed two originally, and they didn't have to wait for him to drive back to the cabin to get it.

A few minutes later, they were pushing off, Claire at the front, Maisie in the middle, and Owen steering from the back.

"Thirty minutes," Claire called back to Owen. "It's 11:14 now. I expect to be back on shore at 11:44."

"Yeah, yeah," Owen grumbled. "You know, you may actually like this if you gave it a chance."

"That wasn't part of the agreement," Claire said, looking over her shoulder to smile back at him, smirking as he groaned.

They paddled quietly for a few minutes, heading steadily towards the center of the lake.

"Would you just pick a side," Owen interrupted the not quite peaceful silence that had descended over the group.

"What?"

"You keep switching sides," Owen explained. "You're supposed to just paddle on one side."

"Then we'd end up going in a circle," Claire replied.

"No, we won't," Owen said. "I'm steering. You just need to help us keep our momentum."

"Why do you get to steer?"

"Because I'm at the back!"

Claire huffed, but fell silent, focusing on paddling steadily on one side. Of course, a few minutes later her shoulder started to hurt, and she wanted to switch, just to balance it out. She pushed forward for a few more strokes before pausing.

"Why'd you stop?" Owen called out.

"I need to switch sides," Claire quickly replied, doing so before he could say anything.

"Why?"

"Balance," Claire said, after a moment of hesitation. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing he was right, that she was going to be complaining about being sore later.

"Are you sore?" Owen asked, and Claire ignored him, paddling steadily on the opposite side now.

A couple minutes more went by before Owen spoke up again, unable to help himself. "You know, the forward position is the power position. Canoeing requires arm strength."

"I have arm strength," Claire protested, already feeling her other shoulder starting to hurt. Why had she agreed to this again? She looked down at her watch. It was only 11:28. She still had 16 minutes to go. "If this is the power position, why aren't you up here?"

"Because the experienced canoeist goes in the back," Owen shot back.

Again, silence settled over the canoe. This time, when the struggle got too much, Claire just switched over to the other side without saying anything. And, luckily, Owen chose not to comment, although she had tensed, expecting it.

Taking a look around, Claire did have to admit the view was really nice from the center of the lake, with the mountains rising above them. If she looked just up and to her left, she could see their cabin, the bright red of the hammock standing out against the porch. Okay, maybe this wasn't so bad.

"Look!" Maisie's voice shouted excitedly.

However, it wasn't Maisie's voice that got Claire's attention, but the wild rocking of the canoe that accompanied it. She dropped her paddle, grasping the sides of the canoe in a white knuckle grip, trying to keep steady.

"Whoa Maisie," Owen called out calmly. "Slow and steady movements when you're in a canoe. We don't need to capsize today."

"Sorry," Maisie said, still leaning over the side and peering into the water.

"What do you see?" Owen asked, slowing the canoe to a standstill, peering in the same direction.

"There's a school of fish down there. It's really clear," Maisie told him, pointing at the water.

Owen couldn't see them from his place, not with the reflections bouncing off the water, but he nodded anyway.

"Why have we stopped?" Claire called back nervously, still clutching at the canoe. She could feel it leaning slightly to one side, but she was too nervous to look back to see what was happening, not wanting to upset the balance anymore.

"Just looking at some fish," Owen replied calmly.

"Ten minutes," Claire reminded them, glancing at her watch.

"You ready to move again?" Owen asked Maisie a couple of minutes later, and she nodded, settling back in the center of her seat.

Claire could feel the canoe steady again, sitting level on the water. She picked up the paddle that had been resting across her lap, and started to paddle. It may not have been too bad, but she was still ready to be done.

"Why aren't we turning around?" Claire asked a minute later, after realizing they were paddling parallel to the shore, but still heading away from the boat launch area. There was silence from the back of the boat, and Claire quickly realized that she was sort of trapped. She turned, carefully, in her seat to look back at Owen, who was humming and looking pointedly not in her direction. "Owen," she said calmly, "Why aren't you turning us around?"

"Just thought we should enjoy this while we're out here," Owen finally replied, still not meeting her gaze.

"You promised," Claire reminded him.

"Yeah, well…" Owen gave her a cheeky smile, finally meeting her gaze. "It won't hurt you to be out here for just a few more minutes.

"Fine," Claire snapped, turning back, digging her paddle into the water. If he wasn't going to turn them around, then she would.

"Whoa," Owen called out, as the canoe wobbled. "What are you doing?"

"Turning us," Claire replied, continuing to try to force the canoe to turn.

"I'm the one who's steering, remember?"

"Yeah, well you're doing a crappy job," Claire retorted. "So I'm taking over."

"You can't steer from the front."

"Watch me."

A couple of minutes later, both her arms aching, Claire had to admit he was right. The canoe was still pointing in the same direction it had been before.

"Owen, if you don't turn us around right now…" Claire threatened.

"What are you going to do?" Owen taunted from behind her. It had been easy enough to counter her actions from the back, switching his own paddle from side to side in time with her movements.

"Do you want me to come back there?" Claire said, turning around swiftly this time, causing the canoe to rock again.

"Do you want to fall in?" Owen replied, having watched Claire immediately grab the sides of the canoe when it rocked. He shifted his weight from side to side, easily causing the canoe to rock some more.

"Owen!" Claire knew what he was doing. She could see it in the grin on his face. "You promised. Thirty minutes. It's now been," she looked at her watch, "Thirty four."

"Fine," Owen replied, using his paddle to quickly turn the canoe around.

Once they were heading in the right direction, Claire debated putting her paddle in, but decided that for now Owen could do all the work. He was the reason they were still out there, after all.

"Why aren't you paddling?" Owen asked a minute later.

"I thought you didn't want me to paddle," Claire shrugged.

"You're the one who wants to get back," Owen reminded her.

"So?"

"You know some people call these 'divorce boats,'" Owen grumbled. "I never understood why before."

"Fine." Claire put her own paddle back in the water. She was more than ready to be done. 'Divorce boats.' Yeah, that made sense to her. She just needed to survive a few more minutes. A few minutes and she would never have to sit in a canoe again. She could make it.

And she almost did.

It wasn't really Owen's fault that they didn't. It's not like he could've planned for the group of kids who were out joyriding in the speedboat to make a wide sweeping turn by them at just the right moment, and for the wave they kicked up to hit the canoe at just the right angle. They were in the water before Owen even had a chance to fully realize what was about to happen. Before he could call out a warning to Claire and Maisie.

A moment later, they were all bobbing upright, the lifejackets doing their job of keeping them afloat like corks. Maisie was busy laughing, while Owen raised a hand to swipe the water off his face, before swimming back towards the canoe before it could start to float away. He could faintly hear some shouted "sorry's" being sent their way by the kids.

They weren't far from shore when it had happened, so he focused on dragging the canoe behind him, knowing it'd be easier to flip it back over once he could stand up, prodding Maisie to swim towards the shore too. He looked over and saw Claire following them, clutching the two paddles. He had to bite back a remark, the scowl that had settled over her face making him both want to laugh and also pull her into a hug.

"This is all your fault, you know," Claire said as she waded out of the water, collapsing onto the sand, still fuming.

"My fault?" Owen said, looking at her in disbelief. "You think I asked them to do that?"

"I wouldn't put it past you," Claire grumbled.

"Things happen," Owen shrugged. "It's only water. It's not like you haven't willingly swam in this lake before."

"Sure, things happen," Claire replied. "But if you'd listened to me, we wouldn't have been out on the lake anymore when they went by. So yes, it is your fault."

Owen just shrugged again, turning back around in the water to deal with the canoe. He pulled it closer to shore so Maisie could help him as well.

Claire watched from her spot on the shore, still fuming over it all. She knew it wasn't really his fault. And, to be fair, she hadn't actually hated it, before they'd tipped, like she'd expected to. But she wasn't about to let him know that. He'd be insufferable.

"Owen?" Maisie asked hesitantly from where she was helping to steady the canoe as Owen worked to tip it over, draining as much water out as he could.

"Yeah?" Owen replied, only half paying attention.

"Is Claire going to…" Maisie's hesitation had Owen pause in his actions, and he looked towards her as she finished: "... divorce you?"

"What? No," Owen said emphatically, risking a glance over Maisie's shoulder at Claire, who was still scowling on the beach. "Why would you ask that?"

"You called it a 'divorce boat,'" Maisie shrugged.

"That's just a term people have given boats with two paddlers over the years," Owen laughed. His expression turned serious when he realized Maisie wasn't laughing with him. "It's just a play on the fact that the two paddlers have to work together to get the boat to where it's going, and that some people struggle with it. It's a term used regardless of whether the people are married or just friends or strangers." Owen reached into the canoe for the small hand pump he kept attached to the side and started pumping out the remaining water. "You know Claire and me, we both like to lead. I should've expected that we'd bump heads trying to paddle a canoe together."

Owen watched Maisie carefully. He felt like he could see the wheels turning in her head, as she sorted through his explanation. After a moment, she nodded.

"Kiddo," Owen said, moving towards her, ready to pull the canoe out of the water. "I promise she's not about to divorce me. She's mad, and she has a right to be. I didn't keep up my end of our agreement. But she's not that mad. I'll make it up to her."

"Okay," Maisie nodded again.

"Great, can you help me pull it out?" Owen asked. "I think we're probably done with it for today."

"Yeah," Maisie agreed, grinning at him. "But maybe we can take it out again another day."

"Sure," Owen said easily. "Maybe just the two of us." He winked at her and Maisie laughed.

"I'm strong," Maisie said, flexing her bicep. "I can paddle."

"Perfect. Then we're all set."

x x x

Owen didn't get a chance to speak alone with Claire until late that evening. He was pretty sure she had been avoiding him all afternoon, or at least making sure that they weren't alone together. Considering she probably needed time to cool off, he hadn't pressed the issue. But, now that Maisie had gone to bed, he figured it was about time they talked. Or, more accurately, that he apologized.

He found her out on the back porch, sitting with her legs dangling over the edge as she stared down at the lake. The sun had long set, but it was almost a full moon, and while the edges of the lake weren't clear, the reflection of the moon provided hints of the watery surface.

"I'm sorry," Owen said, dropping down to sit beside her. Claire turned to him, raising an eyebrow in question. "We made a deal, and I didn't keep up my end."

"You didn't," Claire agreed.

They lapsed into silence, and Owen wasn't sure if he was forgiven or not. But a quick look in her direction, and he knew that she was still thinking something over.

"Why didn't you?" Claire finally asked. "I mean, I expect you to try and find some sort of loophole, but … this wasn't that."

"Yeah," Owen nodded, "It wasn't." He then admitted, "I don't have a good excuse. I was having fun. Maisie was having fun. I guess I was just hoping that you were, too."

"I was… sort of," Claire admitted back.

"You were?" Owen wasn't sure if he was surprised or pleased or just feeling justified by the revelation. It was probably a combination of all three.

"I mean, I didn't hate it, at least, not until the end," Claire said.

"Yeah?" Owen was definitely feeling pleased now. "Maisie's already asked when we can go out again."

"You better not be including me in that we," Claire said, turning to look at him.

"Don't worry, I didn't," Owen replied. "Actually, I also need to apologize for the 'divorce boat' comment."

"Why?" Claire asked, surprised.

"Maisie was a little concerned about it," Owen confessed. "She was worried you might divorce me."

"Really?" While it definitely had never made her actually consider divorcing him, she still thought the term was pretty apt for the canoe. "Do I need to talk to her?"

"No, I explained it," Owen said. "Although, it would probably help if you weren't looking so angry towards me tomorrow." He grinned as he said that last line, knowing that it would get a bit of a reaction.

"I wasn't acting…" Claire started, before cutting herself of because she had been, sort of. Although, her tactic of avoiding him had been more so that she didn't act angry towards him. "Yeah, okay." Claire agreed with his assessment. She pushed up off the porch, ready to head inside for the night. She could feel both her arms already starting to ache and she was not looking forward to tomorrow.

"You know," Claire paused, looking back at Owen who was still sitting, looking down at the lake, "if you'd actually held up your end of the bargain, things might have worked out differently…" She chuckled at the shocked expression on his face, as he quickly turned to look at her, before she continued towards the patio door.

"Wait, you were willing to go out again?" Owen scrambled to his feet, following after Claire.

"I guess you'll never know now, will you?" Claire said, continuing forward without pausing.

"Hold up," Owen reached out and tugged lightly on her arm, pulling Claire to a stop.

"What?" Claire said, turning to face him with a sigh.

"Nothing, just…" Owen pulled her closer to him, wrapping his arms around her. "I'm sorry. You know that, right?"

"Yeah," Claire nodded.

"Can I make it up to you?" Owen asked.

"What do you have in mind?"

"Well…" Owen said, dipping his head down for a kiss, one of his hands sliding up her back and threading into her hair. Claire sighed into him, her own hands reaching up, pulling him closer.

A couple minutes later, Claire pulled back, looking up at him with a raised eyebrow. "That seems more like something for both of us."

"Well, we are a team," Owen grinned, "Win and lose together, right?" He moved quickly to pull her back into another kiss before she could respond.

"You still owe me," Claire managed to get out when he shifted, pressing kisses along her jawline and down her neck.

"Yeah, whatever," Owen agreed easily, barely shifting away from her as he spoke, pulling her with him as he moved them towards the cabin. "Let's discuss that later."

Chapter Text

The Power of Words

The first time Owen volunteered at the school, he hadn't really known what he was getting into. Maisie had come home with a piece of paper detailing some science activity day the school was having, and, at the bottom, there was a request for parent volunteers. He didn't even notice it, to be honest. But Claire had commented on it when she'd read over the paper, saying, with a bit of a wistfulness, that she wished she could volunteer. It wasn't something Owen actually had any interest in doing. He wasn't going to say anything, but Maisie had asked Claire about it, and then she had sounded a bit sad that Claire wasn't going to be able to attend. He heard himself volunteering before he had even thought it through.

It hadn't been as bad as he'd been expecting. And Maisie had seem delighted to know that he was going to be at her school all afternoon. He hadn't actually seen her all that much, as they'd had the parent volunteers helping to run various activity stations around the school. The volunteers more or less interacted with the entire student population over the afternoon, as they came by in small groups. To his relief, the kids at the school, unlike their parents, didn't look at him and immediately think dinosaurs or raptor trainer. He was just another adult.

He'd never been in a position where he was continually referred to as Mr. Grady before. In fact, he generally associated it with Claire, from back on Isla Nublar. It had been her way of trying to force distance between them and remind him of his place. It had rankled him, whenever she did this. He hadn't wanted the distance and he hadn't wanted the forced professionalism. He'd been trying to break down her walls from the moment he'd met her. Every time she'd say it, he would push back, trying to get under her skin a little more, saying something flirtatious or mildly inappropriate. He didn't get it at the time – hadn't understood the world that Claire lived in versus the one he did. Hadn't understood how his actions would be perceived by someone who had spent their entire career being thought less of and underestimated, just because of their gender. Hadn't seen that his actions would be viewed as more of the same. And that he was actually just making himself less desirable with every word.

It had taken the fallout from Jurassic World for him to understand. To finally see it. To watch as others did what he had done countless times before. And then to watch as Claire would straighten her shoulders, stand up taller, paste on a smile and act with extreme professionalism in response. He'd apologized. And then he'd apologized again. She'd brushed it aside, saying the past was the past.

Claire still called him Mr. Grady. Usually when she was frustrated or angry with him. But not always. While he still associated it with her, it was no longer wrapped up in bad memories. He knew they both viewed it differently now. This made listening to all the kids at the school call him Mr. Grady feel odd. It also made him feel old, in a way that Claire's use of the phrasing never did. He wanted to say "Owen's fine," but all the other parents were going by Mrs. or Mr. Smith and he was following their lead. He didn't want to rock the boat, not when he was already feeling out of place, something he was not used to or comfortable with.

What threw him off more was the first time he heard someone say "that's Maisie's dad." It hadn't registered for a moment that they were referring to him. But then he heard it again. And multiple more times throughout the afternoon. It was the first time he ever heard anyone call him her dad.

Owen had been careful with his wording, always referring to Claire as "Claire" in Maisie's presence (like "Go ask Claire"). On the few occasions he had to define the relationship between him or Claire and Maisie, he defaulted to guardians. For a while, it was simply because it hadn't felt like they'd had her long enough to call themselves her parents and that it was a title they didn't have the right to bestow upon themselves. Then, after a while, it just became habit.

But that afternoon, everytime it was mentioned, his head would swing around, trying to see who was saying it, and if Maisie was there. She wasn't. He wasn't sure if he was glad or not. Not sure what her reaction would be to hearing that.

It startled him the first few times, but by the end of the afternoon, it had felt natural. Dad. Wow. Now that was a term he never expected to hear anyone use to refer to him. He wasn't against having kids, per se, it was more that he had always been indifferent to the idea. When his twenties and then most of his thirties went by without it happening, he just figured it wasn't meant to be.

The only time it had seriously crossed his mind, was during a short period after Jurassic World. Not immediately, there was too much else going on at the time to ever consider something as life changing as having kids. But later, as the news around the incident died down, and it felt like they had been moving forward and away from it. When he thought that he and Claire were going to last.

They'd never talked about it. At least, never more than in passing, and usually only in response to some comment or prod by Karen or their parents. Never in any sort of actionable or real way. In fact, it was something that hit him, in the days directly after the incident at Lockwood Estate. Here they were, thrust back at each other, and now with a kid pushed into the equation. It hadn't been clear what they should do. Maisie had been reluctant to let him out of her sight. And he had been reluctant to let Claire out of his. But, to start up a relationship again, after another traumatic experience, and to bring in a kid? When he didn't actually know where Claire stood on the concept of being a parent? It had been overwhelming.

He hadn't been surprised when Claire took the lead. He wasn't a follower by nature, but it was easy to follow Claire during that time. She always seemed to know exactly what to say, who to speak to, and what decisions were the most important to focus on. When she started talking about keeping Maisie with them, he'd just nodded in agreement, although he'd been unsure how it would even be possible. And then he'd watched in awe as she made it happen. He really needed to stop underestimating her.

And then, things had just sort of clicked into place. That's not to say it was easy. Being a parent (or guardian) wasn't. And the first couple of months squashed into Claire's small condo as they all got to know each other had been rough. But there had been a lot more good moments than bad ones. As every day and then every week passed by, they all got a little more comfortable, and a little more relaxed. And soon it felt less like they were trying to be a family, and more that they just were.

When his afternoon of volunteering had come to an end, and as he'd walked home with Maisie, he found himself watching her interactions with her classmates. He'd never really paid attention to any of it before, to who she said good-bye to or who she passed by without a comment. He was trying to pick out the students who had referred to him as Maisie's dad. Were they her friends? Had they picked that up from her?

He'd realized, later, that he was overthinking it. That the kids were most likely just assuming he had to be her dad. And probably equally assumed that Claire was her mom. That it was just what most kids knew and expected. The realization had been a bit of a letdown, as he'd realized he had been getting his hopes up, that Maisie had been the one to initiate it. That maybe she had been ready to move them forward. He was glad he'd never said anything to Claire about it, sure she would've caught on to the truth right away. He'd enjoyed the small amount of time he'd been able to just believe.

At a parent teacher conference not long after that day, Mrs. Stevenson had informed him that it had been so great to have him volunteer. That it was tough to get dads into the school for activities like that, and yet it was so important for the kids to see more than just moms represented. And that she hoped he'd be able to volunteer again.

He hadn't missed the proud look that crossed Claire's face, and he'd definitely been rewarded for that comment later that night. He knew part of it was Claire's fear that they didn't know what they were doing and were screwing everything up, and to hear someone else, someone who had seen good parents and bad parents, comment on something they'd done well, carried more weight than anything he could ever say to reassure her.

So, the next time an opportunity to volunteer came up, he put in his name. Soon it was just a given that if they needed a volunteer, he was one they could count on. One of the "regulars." Another thing he'd never expected to happen in his life, but he wasn't about to complain. Well, not usually, there had been one field trip he wished he hadn't been on.

And now, he was back at the school for some sort of sports day. The school yard had been divided into various areas, with mini activities happening wherever you looked. The biggest, the one he was involved with, was a giant obstacle course that took over most of the soccer field. He, along with a mix of other parents and teachers, were patrolling the course, calling out fouls and sending kids back to the start. He was actually surprised how tough the course was, there had been only a few kids so far who had made it all the way to the end. However, it was definitely the most popular activity, if the line of waiting students eager to give it a try, was any indication.

"Owen!"

He turned at his name, seeing Maisie on the course, just a few obstacles away from him. He gave her a quick wave, watching her progress. She was a naturally athletic kid, whose skills were only improved by her enthusiasm and daredevil qualities. He'd taken her to a climbing gym a few times, watching in awe as she practically flew up the wall, no fear at all. He was expecting her to do well on the obstacle course. And she was, easily hopping across her current obstacle, before waiting for the next. They were trying to spread the kids out, but invariably a few of the slower obstacles resulted in small bottlenecks.

He turned his attention back to the obstacle in front of him, watching the next few kids attempt it, sending a couple of them back to the start. It wasn't long before Maisie was next in line at his, and he cheered her along, giving her a high five when she successfully made it to the end. He turned back, watching as the next kid, Alissa if he remembered her name right, one of Maisie's classmates, also successfully completed it. He gave her a high five as well.

Owen had just stepped away from them, when he heard it, the words causing a falter in his step.

"Why do you call him Owen?"

He slowed down his pace, motioning for the next kid to start, while he mostly paid attention to the words being spoken behind him.

"That's his name," Maisie replied.

"But he's your dad…"

Owen spared a quick glance over his shoulder, wanting to see Maisie's reaction to that. It wasn't her reaction but her words, that felt like a knife through the heart.

"He's not my dad."

He wasn't sure why he was expecting a different answer. Or what he had thought she was going to say. But for a moment, his vision tunneled and he swallowed hard, trying to regain his focus.

"Can I go?"

The words were the distraction he needed, Owen turning back to the line for his obstacle, realizing he'd forgotten to signal the next kid to start. He quickly waved them forward.

x x x

When Owen finally escaped out to the garage that evening, he was patting himself on the back for managing to keep it together. That he'd survived the rest of the afternoon at the school and the walk home with Maisie. He'd cooked dinner on autopilot, and then nodded and commented as appropriate, letting Maisie give Claire the rundown of how the day went as they ate. He had used the excuse of mowing the lawn to get outside after dinner, while Claire helped Maisie with some homework.

After he'd mowed, which really didn't take long, he had puttered around, watering the garden and trying to come up with other random tasks to do outside. Eventually, he'd given up, and just went into the garage. A new part for his motorcycle had come in the other day, and it was easy to get lost in the process of disassembling the old piece and then fitting in the new. The sounds of the wrench ratcheting, the feel of the grease on his hands, the smell of the new car (okay, motorcycle) part, all worked together as a balm to calm his mind and help him settle.

He knew he had technically nothing to be upset over. He wasn't Maisie's dad. Well, not her biological one, anyway. She still hadn't given any indication that she wanted them to adopt her, so it shouldn't have been a surprise that she still didn't quite see them as her parents.

But he did.

And he was pretty sure that Claire also saw them as Maisie's parents, too; that he wasn't alone in feeling that way. He hadn't been sure what they were getting into, when they had originally taken Maisie in. Looking back on it now, he didn't think he had really grasped the magnitude of their actions. Just how long term of a commitment they were making. But he didn't regret it. Not for a second. His life now was miles ahead of where it had been just a short year ago.

A year ago his cabin was barely a frame on the ground, and he'd essentially cut himself off from everyone he knew. And now… now he had a finished cabin and a house. But more importantly, he had a family – a wife and a child he thought of as his daughter.

Really, the only thing missing from making it perfect was that he was never sure whether Maisie wanted to be there, as much as he wanted her there.

There was a part of him that knew that was unfair. Of course Maisie would need longer to adjust. She was only ten, and the changes that had been thrust into her life less than a year ago were bigger than most people would ever encounter. And why would she choose them over the life that she had had? Over her grandfather, who had been her whole world?

But, life moves forward whether you want it to or not, and he kept hoping that one day Maisie would feel comfortable to be moving forward with it, instead of continually looking back. That she'd realize that accepting them as her family, of granting them the privilege of being her parents, didn't have to mean throwing away her past.

"Hey." Claire's voice interrupted his thoughts, and he looked up to see her standing in the doorway. When his gaze met hers, she closed the door behind her, stepping further into the garage, coming up beside him, resting a hand on his shoulder and looking down at the motorcycle, as if to examine what he'd been doing (although he knew she had no clue).

"What's up?" Owen asked, picking up a rag to wipe his hands.

"Just… are you okay?" Claire asked softly.

"Of course," Owen replied automatically and by default. Sure he'd been brooding over his thoughts, but he didn't really want to share them, not even with Claire.

"You know you don't have to be, right?" Claire asked, as she shifted her hand to start combing through his hair. Owen felt himself relaxing into her touch, tension flowing out at the gentle comfort.

"I know," Owen agreed readily. "I just… I don't really want to talk about it."

"Anything I can do?" Claire asked, moving to crouch down, so she was looking at him eye to eye, her hand sliding down to rest on the back of his neck, her fingers kneading at the muscle.

"You're doing it," Owen gave her a hint of a smile. Working on the motorcycle had helped, as he'd expected. But its presence would never top Claire's in being able to relax him in an instant. He reached for her, tugging on her gently until she was perched on his thigh, her head resting against his shoulder, his own arms wrapped around her. He buried his nose in her hair, breathing deep, feeling her own hand creep back up, until it was once again combing through his hair.

"You know you can tell me anything, right?" Claire whispered a few minutes later.

"I know," Owen nodded, his grip around her tightening, and he sank against her a bit more heavily, letting her share the weight of his burden. It wasn't always about words, Owen knew that. The comfort of a simple touch was often more powerful than anything that could be said. "I know," he repeated.

 

Chapter Text

The End of the Beginning

One year. It had been one year since Claire had approached him on his lot and asked if she could buy him a beer. One year since the volcano on Nublar had erupted. One year since they'd stowed away on a boat while Zia did field surgery on Blue. One year since the dinosaur auction at Lockwood Estate. One year since they'd been chased by the Indoraptor. And one year since he'd met Maisie.

He'd hoped that the anniversary was just going to slide by. That he'd be able to pretend that the end of June no longer had new significance in his life. That he'd be able to just get through the day like any other.

This past Christmas had been the third anniversary of Jurassic World. The previous one, he'd been on his own, having split from Claire not long before, and he'd still been drowning his sorrows and frustration and anger and every other negative feeling and so the whole holiday season had swept by before he'd had a chance to really pay attention to the dates. It had felt good to miss that anniversary. It had been a bit of good luck that Maisie had been in their lives, as they were too busy focused on making sure she had a good holiday that it had again, mostly escaped his awareness. He knew that Claire had done a few things with the DPG, as the dinosaurs being back in everyone's lives had upped the interest in the Jurassic World anniversary, but he'd been able to stay well away from it all.

First anniversaries, however, especially of tragic events (even if the people who died weren't really people anyone felt any sympathy towards), always seemed to be gleefully anticipated by media networks. Owen had watched Claire get more and more stressed out over the course of the last month. He knew that she was working hard to run interference, to keep the media focused on the DPG and away from him and Maisie. And that part of that interference generally meant sacrificing herself, taking interview requests and then skillfully deflecting questions.

He felt guilty that he wasn't being more supportive. And that it was a burden he was willfully letting her carry on her own. He pushed himself instead to be everything Claire could need around the house. That she wouldn't have to shoulder anything extra when she'd arrive home in the evenings, exhausted by her day. It didn't feel like enough. But at least it was more than nothing.

The school year ended a couple of weeks before the actual anniversary, thankfully. It meant that Maisie hadn't had to deal with the constant chatter around it from her classmates. And, even more, it meant that he hadn't had to deal with it and the inevitable questions from parents at drop off and pickup, and even the occasional teacher.

Now though, it was just over a week behind them and July fourth was just a couple of days away. They were planning on getting away to the cabin for the holiday, taking a four day weekend. He was looking forward to spending those days cut off from the world. No TV, no news, no internet, no dinosaurs. Just the three of them.

There was another anniversary that none of them had acknowledged. It had been a year since Maisie had been placed under their care; since they had signed the paperwork that made them her legal guardians. He wasn't exactly sure why no one had brought it up. It certainly had been on his mind. And he'd caught Claire looking at some photos of their past year, and so he knew it had been on hers, too.

Owen thought it was because both Claire and him didn't know what Maisie was thinking, and were nervous that her thoughts weren't inline with theirs. While it had been a year, and while she seemed to have settled into her life with them, there were days where it felt like she saw them just as guardians, as a temporary stop in her life, while it worked to right itself. Like her grandfather would show up one day and take her home and tell her it had all been a dream.

He didn't know what to do. Over the past few months, he'd had several conversations with Claire on the topic, but they were both at a loss as to how to move forward. Whether they should be saying something, or just continuing on the path they were on. So far, they'd chosen to stick with the status quo. After all, it wasn't like things were bad. He knew, even if they remained her temporary guardians, that both he and Claire saw Maisie as their daughter, and as a part of their family. That they didn't actually need anything more. It didn't stop him from wanting it. Even if it made him feel guilty.

"You okay?"

Owen was startled out of his thoughts as he felt a hand brush across his back when Claire walked by him in the kitchen, reaching for a couple of wine glasses.

"Yeah," Owen replied after a moment, taking the wine bottle and corkscrew from her, quickly opening the bottle and handing it back. He did a quick check of the oven, before pulling out the casserole and moving it over to the table that had already been set. Claire followed behind him with their glasses, and he double backed to grab the salad.

"Maisie!" Owen shouted up the stairs, "Dinner." There was only a brief moment of silence before he heard her.

The dinner started off just like any other, the three of them loading up their plates and Claire pushing the salad towards Maisie with a stern look until she'd put some on her plate. They chatted about their upcoming trip to the cabin and what they wanted to do. It took Owen a while to realize that Maisie was being quieter than normal. She definitely wasn't shy, and was usually the most vocal at the table, easily filling in any silence.

"Something up?" Owen asked Maisie during a lull, as he scooped another serving on to his plate.

"Up?" Maisie repeated, appearing startled by the question. "Nothing's up," she immediately denied, although not at all convincingly, and Owen saw Claire straighten in her chair and knew that Maisie's reaction had piqued her interest too.

"You're quieter than normal," Owen commented, trying to keep it casual, even if he was now worried that he'd missed something.

"It's…" Maisie looked down at her plate, trying to stab a cherry tomato with her fork, but it kept rolling away. After a moment, she put down her fork and looked up at them. Owen had been frozen in his spot, and he knew that Claire was too, wondering what she was about to say. "You know… well, I mean… last summer…" Maisie stumbled, clearly struggling to get out what was on her mind.

"Hey, kiddo," Owen reached a hand out, lightly grasping Maisie's until she looked at him. "You can tell us anything, you know that. Or ask us anything."

"I know," Maisie nodded. She took a deep breath, and Owen found he was doing the same, as he waited for her to say what was on her mind. "Are you… do you still want to adopt me?"

x x x

"That really happened, right?" Owen asked, standing by the kitchen window watching as Maisie was dribbling a soccer ball through the backyard. When he didn't get a response, he turned around, eyes searching out Claire. "I'm not dreaming, am I?"

"Not unless we're sharing the same dream," Claire said, her voice soft, like she didn't want to wake them up, if they were, in fact, dreaming. She moved over to stand beside him, both turning their gazes back to the backyard.

"You know, I never really thought this day would come," Owen admitted.

"Me neither," Claire agreed.

They lapsed into silence, content to just watch Maisie. After a few minutes, Maisie noticed them watching and waved. They both waved back, before retreating away from the window and continuing to clean up from dinner.

"Is it bad that I feel kind of relieved?" Owen asked, pausing by the fridge where he'd started putting away the leftovers.

"Relieved?" Claire repeated, sounding surprised by the word. "Why relieved?"

"I've wanted this for, well, months now," Owen said, closing the fridge door and leaning against it. "But it feels like, by admitting that, I'm saying that what we have now isn't enough. That if Maisie never asked to be adopted, that I'd always feel like I was missing out on something, something more. Like I'm saying we aren't a family, yet."

"Oh," Claire looked pensive, and she stopped loading the dishwasher, mirroring Owen's pose as she leaned against the counter. "I want it, too, you know. I like the idea of it all being official. Of being able to fill out a form and answer the relationship question as 'parent' instead of 'guardian.' Of knowing that the system can't decide tomorrow that they think she'd be better off with someone else."

"She wouldn't be," Owen said immediately. "Better with someone else," he clarified when Claire looked a bit confused.

"Yeah," Claire said, her gaze darting over her shoulder to glance out the window at Maisie. "Most days I know that." She looked back at Owen, giving a brief shrug. "Other days…"

"I know what you mean," Owen nodded. "You know…" he trailed off. He'd never told her about what had happened when he'd volunteered at the school, and she'd never pushed.

"What?" Claire questioned when he didn't continue.

"A couple months ago, at the sports day I was volunteering at," Owen started and Claire nodded. "One of Maisie's friends asked why she called me Owen."

"What did she say?"

"That that was my name," Owen chuckled slightly, if a bit bitterly. "But the friend, I don't remember who it was, then said 'but he's your dad' and–" Owen cut off, looking down and away from Claire.

"Let me guess," Claire said, "Maisie said you're not her dad."

"Yeah," Owen nodded, still staring at the ground. "And I know she's right. I know that. But…"

"Still hurts," Claire agreed.

Owen was startled when he felt Claire's hands on his arms, and he looked up, his gaze meeting hers. She'd moved over to stand directly in front of him and she tugged on him slightly until he took a step away from the fridge, and she could slide her arms around him, pulling him into a hug.

"I didn't realize how much I wanted it," Owen murmured, letting his head rest against hers, his own arms wrapping around her. "To be called Dad. Not until that moment."

"I want it, too," Claire admitted. "Never thought I would. Never thought I'd want a child. But I can't imagine life without her, now. I don't want to."

"Me neither."

"I wonder what changed her mind," Owen said. "Why now?"

"Maybe it's finally sinking in, that this is permanent," Claire shrugged. "Not us, necessarily. But that she really can't go home again. That this is her home, if she wants it. It has been just over a year."

"Maybe," Owen said, his arms tightening around her. Not that it mattered, really, what Maisie's reasoning was.

"I'm really glad she wants it," Owen added a minute later.

"Me, too."

Chapter Text

The Struggle Is Real

Turning into the school parking lot, Owen pulled into an empty space and turned off the truck. While he'd left work in a hurry to get there, now that he'd arrived, he didn't actually want to go in. He still couldn't quite believe what he'd been told. Maisie had been in a fight? She'd punched someone? Maisie? Really?

He sat there for a couple more moments, before finally exiting the truck. He wasn't really sure how he was supposed to feel about all of this. Probably mad, considering she'd apparently been in a fight. But he still didn't know why and it felt unfair to judge her until he knew that. He'd thrown his fair share of punches (okay, maybe more than his fair share) over his lifetime. And he wasn't the type of person who thought that fighting was never justified.

As he headed, slowly, towards the school entrance, he debated again if he should call Claire. He knew she had some really big meetings today and didn't really want to disturb her. He also wasn't sure how she'd react. Sure, she hadn't seemed upset when he'd punched out Hoskins all those years before. And he was pretty sure she wished that she'd been the one who had done it. But, he didn't think she was going to be quite so happy (or forgiving) to find out that Maisie had been in a fight. As he entered the school, he decided it could wait until Claire got home. It'd buy him time to figure out what had happened first. Then he could figure out how to tell her. Or how to get Maisie to tell her. That would be character building, right?

Entering the school, he headed for the office. There were a few chairs across from the reception counter, and he immediately saw Maisie and another girl he was pretty sure he recognized from her class sitting there, an empty chair between them. Maisie was slouched in her seat, arms crossed and a scowl on her face. He paused in the doorway, using the moment before Maisie saw him to give her a quick once over. She didn't look hurt.

"Owen." Maisie looked relieved when she spotted him, and Owen worked hard to keep his face neutral. He still wasn't sure how he was supposed to react to all of this.

"Are you okay?" Owen asked, moving over and crouching down in front of her and giving her a more thorough look over.

"I'm fine," Maisie nodded. She glared at the other girl before turning back to Owen. "Can we go?"

"Not quite yet," Owen said, standing back up, and resting his hand briefly on her shoulder. "I need to…" He trailed off. He wasn't quite sure what he needed to do. Probably talk to someone. He turned around, looking towards the receptionist.

"Mr. Grady?" The woman at the counter looked up at him, and he nodded. "Great. I'll just let Mr. Minton know."

While the woman hurried off, Owen quickly turned back to Maisie. "Who's Mr. Minton?"

"The Vice Principal," Maisie said.

"He's ready," the receptionist interrupted, beckoning Owen to follow her. She led him around the desk and to an office.

When Owen entered, the man behind the desk stood up and they quickly shook hands before Mr. Minton gestured for Owen to take a seat.

"What happened?" Owen asked.

"Well," Mr. Minton leaned back in his chair. "What we know is that over lunchtime an argument broke out between Maisie and Gretchen. We're still not clear on what started it, and neither of them are talking. It escalated quickly, and before the cafeteria supervisors realized what was happening, they were on each other. We're not sure who threw the first punch, it seems to have been pretty mutual. And, to be honest, it's not really a detail we're too concerned with right now."

"I still can't quite believe Maisie was fighting," Owen admitted. "It's not like her, at all."

"We've never had any issues with either Maisie or Gretchen before," the Vice Principal agreed. "It's definitely out of the blue."

"What happens now?" Owen asked, dreading the answer. He knew that kids could get kicked out school for fighting. And that the school had a very strict bullying guideline.

"Since we're not sure who started the fight, and no one's talking. And since it's the first incident for both of them and appears to be pretty mutual, we've decided to just suspend them for the rest of the week."

"Suspend?" Owen repeated. He was glad he was sitting. Claire was not going to be happy. Hell, he was not happy.

"Yes," Mr. Minton nodded. "And if it happens again…"

"It won't," Owen quickly reassured him. "Trust me, we'll be talking about this. Just… fighting? I still can't believe she was fighting."

"There's probably something else going on," the Vice Principal advised. "We don't usually see kids just randomly go at it, not without some precipitating event. They're both generally in the same friend group, and since no one else would say anything, we're sure there's more to the story. See if you can't get it out of Maisie."

"Yeah, thanks," Owen said numbly. Great, just what he wanted to take home to Claire. Hey, Maisie was suspended for fighting and we must have missed something, because the school doesn't even know why they were fighting. That was going to go over like a lead balloon. "A whole week?" Owen confirmed, pausing in his motion to stand up.

"Just the rest of this one," Mr. Minton supplied. "It's only Tuesday, so that will be long enough."

"Okay," Owen agreed as he stood. He walked back to the receptionist and asked her quickly if there was anything else he needed to do, or if they were good to go. Getting confirmation that they were in the clear, Owen turned back to Maisie. "Come on," he said, gesturing for her to stand up and head out in front of him.

They were quiet as the exited the building, passing another parent, probably Gretchen's mom if Owen had to guess, on her way in. Once outside, Owen started towards the parking lot, but Maisie hesitated.

"What?" Owen asked.

"My bike…" Maisie pointed towards the bike racks.

"Right," Owen sighed. "We can stick it in the back of the truck." He waited for Maisie to grab it and, as they walked it to his truck, he debated what to say.

"What happened?" Owen finally asked, as the two fastened their seat belts.

"Nothing," Maisie mumbled, looking away from him.

"It's not nothing," Owen disagreed. "A fight, Maisie. You got in a fight! You've been suspended!"

"Yeah, so?" Maisie huffed, arms crossing over her chest again, glare settling on her face.

"Fighting is never the answer," Owen found himself saying and he had to hide his own cringe at his words.

"Right," Maisie rolled her eyes at him. "Like you're going to tell me that you've never been in a fight. I saw you."

"When–? Oh," Owen sighed. "That was different. Those guys… What they were doing… What happened that night doesn't make this okay."

"Whatever," Maisie shrugged him off.

Owen took a deep breath, before pulling the truck out of the parking spot. He could feel his temper building and knew it wouldn't do either of them any good if he exploded in the truck.

The ride home was short, and as soon as he pulled the truck to a stop in the driveway, Maisie had her door open and was heading into the house.

"Hold up," Owen called after her, pulling her bike from the back and storing it in the garage before he forgot. He caught up with her in the hallway, where she was heading up the stairs.

"What?" Maisie replied, her tone still flippant.

"You better watch that tone, kiddo," Owen said, his voice low and controlled. "This is not a vacation, you get that, right? This is serious."

"It's three days of no school," Maisie said. "Sounds like a vacation to me."

"Yeah, not so easy," Owen shook his head. "First up, hand them over."

"Hand what over?"

"Your phone and your iPad," Owen said, hand out.

"Why?"

"Because you're definitely not having access to either of those while you're suspended," Owen replied.

Maisie fished around in her backpack before handing over her phone.

"And your iPad?"

"It's upstairs."

"Let's go get it," Owen followed her up the stairs into her room, watching as she unplugged the iPad before handing it over.

"Is that all?" Maisie asked, hands on her hips as she glared at him.

"Not even close," Owen fired back. "But, I'm going to wait for Claire to get home before we decide what the appropriate consequences will be. For now… for now, you need to just stay in your room until Claire gets here. We'll deal with all of this then."

"Fine." Maisie sat down on her bed, still glaring at him.

"Fine." Owen repeated, although his tone was more resigned. He looked at her for a moment, wondering who this child was, before retreating from her room, pulling the door closed behind him.

Heading back down stairs, he deposited the phone and iPad onto the kitchen counter, before pacing back and forth across the room. What the hell had happened? What had they missed? When had Maisie turned into… whatever she was today? He vaguely recalled Claire saying that he had no idea just how mean girls could be, but… was that what was going on? Was this a grade 6 girls thing?

He'd always thought that dealing with Maisie was going to be easy, at least relative to his past experience with training animals. It's not like the raptors or dolphins could even tell him what was going on. But, he was realizing, he forgot just how much more complicated human relationships were.

Owen glanced down at his watch. 1:48. Claire wasn't expected home until after 5. It was going to be a long afternoon.

x x x

"Hi," Claire called out as she entered the house. It was approaching 5:30 and she was feeling dead on her feet. Who's bright idea was it to stack all these investor meetings over the same week? Oh, right, hers. Dammit. She just had to survive three more days and her schedule would ease up some.

"Hey."

Claire looked up, surprised to see Owen hovering in the doorway, as she pulled off her shoes and hung up her coat. He looked nervous, which was not an emotion she normally ever saw on him.

"What's wrong?" she asked, her mind immediately racing, trying to figure out what she could've missed.

"It's Maisie," Owen said tightly, and Claire felt her heart drop.

"What happened? Is she okay? Is she here?" The questions tumbled out.

"She's upstairs," Owen reassured, stepping towards her and placing his hands on her arms, steading her. "And she's fine. You… well…"

"What happened?" Claire repeated.

"She got in a fight," Owen said. "I got called to the school just after lunch."

"A fight?!" Claire repeated, not quite believing what she was hearing. "Maisie?"

"My reaction exactly," Owen nodded. "But, yeah. And Mr. Minton couldn't tell me why. And Maisie was not in a mood to talk…"

"Is she hurt?" Claire asked, her mind racing as she tried to sort through her thoughts and feelings.

"No," Owen shook his head. "She's fine. Just… angry. And full of attitude. I didn't really know what to do."

"What's she doing now?"

"I told her she had to stay in her room and I took away her iPad and phone," Owen said, leading Claire into the kitchen, pointing to the two devices sitting on the counter. "I said you and I would figure out what the rest of her consequences would be."

"What did the school say?"

"She's suspended for the rest of the week," Owen admitted, wincing in advance of her reaction.

"Suspended?!" Claire sat down in one of the stools by the counter, looking at Owen in disbelief.

"He said because it was the first fight for both of them, and that it seemed to be mutual, that they'd both get a suspension. But, that if it happens again…" Owen propped his hip against the counter, fiddling with the phone beside him.

"Did you try to get it reduced?" Claire asked.

"No," Owen looked a bit sheepish. "To be honest, I was still in shock and… well, I'm not sure she doesn't deserve it yet. I still don't know why she was fighting."

"Yeah," Claire sighed. "That's probably the first thing we need to sort out. That's so unlike her."

The beep from the phone that Owen was fiddling with had him almost dropping it in surprise. He glanced down at the screen out of reflex, and then did a double take, picking it up and reading what was there.

"What?" Claire asked, surprised by his actions.

"Maybe there's some clues here," Owen said, holding the phone out so Claire could read the message for herself.

I cant believe you got me suspended. Your a bitch.

Claire quickly unlocked the phone and opened the app. "Gretchen… is this the one she was fighting with?" she said, as she started scrolling up through the message history.

"Yeah," Owen nodded. He moved around, resting a hand on the back of Claire's stool so he could look at the screen over her shoulder.

Claire scrolled back through a few days worth of messages, finding what seemed to be the start of the chain, before following it down. It was a group thread between Maisie and her friend group. It started innocently enough, with Maisie sharing a picture of Blue. Actually, looking closely, they both realized it was a photo she must have taken at the DPG when Owen had gone on the sanctuary visit, as it showed both Blue and Owen, and appeared to be a picture taken of a TV screen – probably when Maisie had watched the visit.

The conversation started with another girl in the chain asking Maisie if she ever got to visit the dinosaurs. And Maisie admitted that, no, she hadn't, but she got to see stuff that wasn't publicized. Gretchen hadn't believed her, and Maisie had shared the photo as "proof." Gretchen had dismissed it, saying that having that photo didn't mean that Maisie had seen that, just that she had access to that photo. And then she'd dismissed it all, by saying it didn't matter anyway, that the world would be better off without the dinosaurs.

It had all gone downhill from there. Maisie had been, unsurprisingly, defensive about the dinosaurs. And her tone quickly escalated from reasonable disagreement to outright hostility and toeing, if not crossing, the line into bullying. Most of the others on the chat appeared to stay silent, although one girl attempted to get them both to calm down. It was mainly a back and forth between Maisie and Gretchen that just got nastier and nastier, with each calling the other names. Claire paused briefly over one message that Maisie had sent: People paid millions to see them. I doubt anyone would pay anything to see you.

When she reached the newest message at the bottom, Claire turned off the phone and placed it on the counter. She let out a long breath.

"Well…" Owen started. "Mr. Minton did say that he thought something else must have been going on."

"How did we miss all of this?" Claire asked, her gaze on the black screen of the phone. "When did Maisie start… where did she learn that? That's not our fault, is it?"

"I think we missed it because… because we generally give her the benefit of the doubt on her behaviour. Because she hasn't given us reason not to," Owen sighed, as he slid his hand off the back of the chair and rested it on Claire's back. "And no, I don't think she learned that from us. But, she spends a lot of her waking hours not around us. We're not the only influencers in her life."

"Yeah," Claire nodded. She leaned into Owen, resting against him. "This behaviour though? And that conversation? None of it excuses fighting."

"Agreed," Owen said. "Although…"

"No, no 'although' Owen," Claire said, pushing back upright and looking at him. "She can't respond to stuff like this by fighting. And she definitely needs to know that she can't respond the way she did here." Claire gestured to the phone. "That's not okay."

"I'm with you," Owen said. "I just… I don't like giving a blanket 'no' against fighting. There are times when it's justified." He quickly stopped her when Claire started to disagree. "I'm not saying it's the first action someone should take, but I don't want her to feel she can't defend herself."

Claire hesitated before nodding her agreement. "Fine. But that's not a line I think we need to be focused on right now." Owen agreed and the two lapsed into silence for a moment. "How long she's suspended again?" Claire asked.

"The rest of the week," Owen repeated. "I know you're swamped at work but… that big project I've been working on? I really can't afford to miss the rest of the week. I really couldn't afford to take this afternoon."

"What a week for this to happen," Claire sighed. She pulled out her own phone, bringing up her calendar and looking it over. "I can take her to the DPG. I'll figure out something she can do… Actually," Claire paused, tilting her head briefly in thought. "Actually, I've got the perfect thing for her to do. She can spend some time with Franklin."

"That doesn't sound like much of a punishment," Owen commented. He pulled away as the oven timer went off and he moved over to check. "She likes Franklin."

"Yeah, but Franklin leads the social media team," Claire said, getting up from the stool and pulling out dishes to set the table. "The DPG gets its fair share of nasty messages. Maybe Maisie needs to see a broader picture of what can happen with cyberbullying."

x x x

After setting the table and pulling out dinner, Owen called Maisie down. They both listened to her stomp her way down the stairs and exchanged a quick look. Clearly her mood had not improved over the afternoon.

They waited until Maisie had sat down and everyone had started eating before approaching the elephant in the room.

"So," Claire started, breaking the silence. "Owen told me what happened today."

Maisie just grunted, eyes focused on her plate.

"He didn't have a lot of details, except that you were in a fight with Gretchen. And that you've both been suspended."

Another grunt.

"Maisie," Claire said, and she waited for Maisie to look up. When she didn't, she tried again. "Mais, can you please look at me?"

Maisie finally raised her eyes, meeting Claire's.

"We just want to know what happened," Claire said. "This isn't like you. You're not one who goes around punching people. So, what was it that triggered all of this?" She wanted to give Maisie a chance to confess first. A chance for Maisie to bring up what had been going on and bring them in on it on her terms. Claire didn't like having snooped on Maisie's phone, but she also felt that she and Owen had been more than in their right to do so. Maise was only 11 and letting Claire and Owen have access to her passwords and apps had been part of the agreement from the start.

"I don't want to talk about it," Maisie said, slouching in her chair.

"Mr. Minton seems to think it started before today," Owen said. "That something caused all of this. But he said that you two, and your friends, weren't talking." Maisie still didn't say anything. Owen pushed further. "While you were upstairs you got a message on your phone." At that, Maisie perked up, although she looked weary about what she was going to hear. "You want to tell us why Gretchen would be messaging you and calling you a bit–" Owen couldn't bring himself to say it. It's not that he didn't swear, and he didn't actually have anything against using the word. At least, not normally. But to use that word while looking Maisie. Nope, he couldn't say it.

"Because she's one," Maisie mumbled.

"Maisie!" Claire sat up straighter, shocked at the response. "We don't call people that."

"She deserves it!" Maisie cried out. "She thinks the dinosaurs should die. That it's wrong to care for them. That they don't deserve to live."

"A lot of people think that," Owen reminded Maisie. "That's not an unpopular opinion."

"Well it should be," Maisie replied, scowling. "She kept saying that because people made them, because they were just a science experiment, they should be thrown out the way lab rats are when their time is up."

"That doesn't seem worth actually fighting over," Claire commented, watching Maisie's reaction closely. Claire was starting to think she had an inkling behind what had probably tipped the scales for Maisie. That Maisie was maybe interpreting Gretchen's remarks a little more closely than Gretchen would've ever intended them.

"She just made me so mad," Maisie said, stabbing angrily at the food on her plate with her fork. "I couldn't help it. She's never even seen a dinosaur in person. She shouldn't get to say anything. We created them. How can we just toss them aside?"

"You know we're in agreement with you," Claire reminded Maisie. "And we're not tossing them aside. But, that doesn't mean that everyone has to agree with us."

"And when people don't agree," Owen picked up the thread. "Fighting isn't the way to change their mind. In fact, it usually makes people more reluctant to change."

"I've told her about the DPG. I told her about why the dinosaurs are helpful," Maisie said, dropping her fork and abandoning all pretense about eating. "She didn't want to listen."

"That happens," Owen shrugged. "I wish I could say it was easy to get people to always come around to your way of thinking, but it's not. And sometimes… sometimes you just have to agree to disagree."

"But she's wrong," Maisie insisted. "How do you agree to disagree when they're wrong?"

"Sometimes all you can do is walk away," Claire said. "It's not easy. Especially if it's something you're passionate about. But it's better to be able to feel good about your actions, then to try to force someone to your side."

"I don't feel bad about punching her," Maisie said, her gaze dropping to her plate.

Owen quickly covered his snort with a cough, dodging the kick Claire sent him under the table and grinning at her when she glared at him.

"We still need to talk about your suspension," Claire said after a couple of moments, deciding to let the topic drop for now. They had three more days to discuss it, after all.

x x x

"How'd today go?" Owen asked as they all settled around the table the following evening, a couple of boxes of pizza in the center. Claire and Maisie had picked up dinner since Owen had needed to stay late at work, trying to make up for the missed hours the day before.

"It was okay," Maisie said, pulling a slice of pepperoni onto her plate.

"What'd you do?" Owen asked as he put a couple of slices onto his own, reaching for the chili flakes.

"I spent the day with Franklin," Maisie said. "He showed me how they deal with all the social media stuff. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. He let me post a picture on Instagram."

"Not of you, right?" Owen asked immediately, his gaze darting towards Claire, who shook her head.

"No, I got to pick a screencap from the video feeds today," Maisie supplied. "And write a caption for it. It had over a thousand likes by the time we left."

"That's… good?" Owen said, not really sure what the standards were. He fell silent for a bit, as Maisie chatted away about her day and he nodded along as appropriate. Owen found himself watching Claire more than Maisie. He knew that she had spoken with Franklin the previous evening about what she had wanted him to do, and he couldn't tell from her reaction if he had done so today or not. She seemed awfully calm about everything.

He was reaching for his fourth slice of pizza when Maisie fell silent. After exchanging a glance with Claire, the two waited her out, Owen liberally sprinkling on his chili flakes before taking a bite and starting to chew.

"Franklin showed me some of the messages the DPG gets," Maisie said, playing with the crust of her last slice.

"Oh?" Owen asked, swallowing and taking a gulp from his beer. "What kind of messages?" He saw Claire was also paying more attention now. Okay, clearly Maisie hadn't said anything to her before.

"Did you know they get hate mail?" Maisie said, her gaze darting between the two. Both Owen and Claire nodded. "Some of the stuff that people write… Why do they do that?"

"Lots of reasons," Claire said. "They want attention. They actually strongly feel that way. They get a thrill out of saying it… It's hard to know what drives most people. It's like your conversation with Gretchen. Sometimes it starts with just a simple disagreement, and then… bam, it's gone way off course and people are now mad and yelling. Well, the internet equivalent of yelling."

"All caps," Maisie nodded. "I saw some of those."

"Did Franklin show you that most were anonymous?" Claire asked.

"Yeah," Maise nodded. "He called some of them trolls. Said there are people who will do so repeatedly so they just block them." Maisie fell silent, she put down her crust and then looked up at Claire. "Some of them mention you by name."

Owen's gaze swung sharply towards Claire at that. It was something he realized he'd never thought about, but, hearing it from Maisie, he realized he probably should have. Claire didn't look surprised.

"Sometimes they do," Claire nodded. Owen caught her gaze briefly, before she focused on Maisie. "I'm the most public face of the company, so it makes me an easy target."

"Does it scare you?" Maisie asked. "Or make you mad?"

"Both of those," Claire nodded. "But, there's also a reason I don't deal with the social media. Franklin and the others only show me if there's a cause for concern, so I don't see most of it."

"'Cause for concern'... what does that mean?"

"Well," Claire hesitated, her gaze darting towards Owen's again. He could feel anger building up within him. He was mad that he'd never thought about this happening. That he hadn't been aware of what may be going on. And over how powerless he felt to do anything about it. "Sometimes, they get pretty specific or are repetitive enough that the team flags them as being a potential security issue. If that happens, and it's rare that it does," she added, with her gaze locked on Owen's, "then we report them to the proper authorities."

"Like the police?" Maisie's eyes widened.

"Sometimes," Claire admitted. "Usually we start by going through the social media company. Depends what it is. But, like I said. It's rare. And it's nothing that you," her gaze swung over to Owen's, "either of you, need to be concerned about. I wouldn't keep that from you."

The rest of the meal was pretty quiet as the three finished eating, before they quickly cleaned up the kitchen. Just as they were all about to head into different directions, Owen stopped them.

"You know…" Owen started, and Maisie and Claire both turned and looked back at him from the doorway. "It'd probably be a good idea for you two to take a self-defense course. While we don't condone fighting," Owen gave a pointed look at Maisie, "It's still a good skill to have, in case it's ever necessary."

"What about you?" Maisie said. "Have you taken one?"

"I haven't," Owen said. "But I've had other training before." Owen caught Claire's eye and sighed, before adding "Actually, all three of us could take one. Let me ask around."

"Okay," Maisie shrugged, seemingly indifferent to the idea turning to leave.

Claire caught Maisie's arm as she was about to head out. "Homework," Claire said sternly, pointing back at the kitchen table. "You're still grounded."

"Fine," Maisie sighed. "I just need to grab my backpack."

After Maisie left, it was Owen's turn to grab Claire's attention. "These trolls, or whoever they are… you sure it's nothing to be concerned about?"

"I promise," Claire nodded. "I'd tell you, if there was."

Owen held her gaze, searching to see if she was hiding something. But Claire had never been good at lying to him, and it didn't appear that she was now either. "Okay. Just… If there is something… you'll tell me, right?"

"I will," Claire promised. She reached for him, stretching up to give him a quick kiss, although he pulled her towards him, deepening it, not that Claire resisted.

"Ugh, gross," Maisie said, entering the kitchen with her bag. "Can't you do that somewhere else?"

"Sure," Owen grinned at Maisie, starting to pull Claire from the room.

"Wait," Maisie said, just as the two were about to leave. "I need some help with my math homework."

Owen let Claire's hand drop, his head hanging briefly. "Be right there," he told Maisie, before turning back to Claire and giving her a quick kiss. "Later," he promised her softly, before giving her another one, trying to deepen it.

Claire pulled away, pushing him towards the kitchen table. She gave him a smile and with a laugh reminded him, "The sooner you help her…"

Chapter Text

The Wedge

Owen felt bad that he wasn't at all excited about the DPG picnic. He knew he should be happy that they'd chosen to celebrate their second year of running the sanctuary with a family picnic instead of a more formal, adult-oriented event like they had the previous year. At least he wasn't required to dress up this time. And Maisie would be there too, which meant there were now three people he was willing to talk to (okay, four, Franklin would do in a pinch).

He'd quickly realized, however, the hidden downsides to a public bbq. First, because the DPG was too big to easily host at someone's house, they had rented space in a city park, which meant no alcohol. And second, because it was a bbq in a public park, just because the invite said the event was from 11-3, it was actually unlikely to end by then. He had a bad feeling it was going to drag on all afternoon, and probably most of the evening. What a waste of a Saturday, as far as he was concerned.

Of course, he kept his thoughts to himself as he lugged cooler after cooler from the back of his truck over to the area they'd rented. After emptying his truck, he helped Zia with unloading her car, before following Claire's instructions on getting the area setup. He took over the grill, knowing that would eliminate most of the small talk people would want to make.

The first part of the event went by pretty quickly, with Owen manning the grill and dishing out countless hotdogs and hamburgers, as well as a grilled cheese for one particularly particular toddler. When the lunch rush was finally over, he turned off the grill. He hadn't had a chance to eat yet, so he took the opportunity to make his own burger, and while he ate, he surveyed the crowd, searching out Claire and Maisie.

He found Claire quickly, she was sitting at a picnic table crowded with Zia, Ally and some others, and they looked to be having a heated (but friendly) discussion. Turning away from that, he continued searching until he found Maisie. She and a bunch of the kids in attendance were kicking a soccer ball around. It looked like they were using sweatshirts or jackets to sub in as goal posts. He watched them play for a bit, debating if he could go over and join in. He knew he probably wouldn't be turned away, but they were having fun and no one seemed to be getting left out, so it felt sort of wrong to intrude.

They didn't need him.

The thought struck him, sudden and unexpected. He took a bite of his burger, chewing slowly as his gaze flicked between Claire and Maisie.

Claire was independent. He knew that, and it was one of the things that had attracted him to her in the first place. He hadn't wanted someone who would need him all the time. He was equally independent and had had previous girlfriends who'd couldn't tolerate that aspect of his personality. They felt like his independence kept him distant; like him choosing to do things on his own was a sign that he didn't want to be with them. It wasn't, but he'd given up explaining that after a while, realizing that it was never going to work with someone who couldn't or wouldn't get it.

It was something he hadn't had to explain to Claire. From the very start, before their first awful date back on Nublar, they'd both seemed to just get that about each other. That they had their own lives and made their own decisions. In the fallout of Jurassic World, figuring out how to be independent together, especially while living in a shared van, had caused its share of friction. But they'd managed (until they hadn't). And post Lockwood, as they adjusted to having Maisie with them, someone who needed them and wasn't as independent, they'd adjusted again, sharing the balance and providing opportunities for the other to get the space and time they needed. It probably helped that they had a house with a backyard, and everyone had space within it to which they could retreat.

Maisie had definitely been an interesting addition. From the start, she'd been an intriguing mix as a very independent dependent. She was capable of entertaining herself and was perfectly happy to do so. She believed herself capable of much more than either Claire or Owen were comfortable with, partly due to her naivete and lack of real world experience. But, losing her family and discovering a massive secret about her origins all in one night had also made her needy. She was happy to be on her own, as long as she knew exactly where both Claire and Owen were. And, being a kid, she still needed parents – she needed people to take care of her when she was sick, to provide her with the necessities, and to love her. Something Claire and Owen had both been happy to provide.

Taking on parenting for Maisie, Owen had realized that while he loved his independence, he also thrived and was at his best when he was needed. His raptors had needed him, and his dolphins before them. Claire, well, in the aftermath of Jurassic World she had. Or, more accurately, they both had needed each other; a touchstone in a world falling apart around them. However, their paths to recovery from that experience had been what had separated them in the end, as Owen worked to avoid another emotional entanglement with the dinosaurs, and Claire, in his opinion, was blinded by her need for redemption. Their independence and stubbornness drove them apart, no longer feeling needed by the other, as they pushed forward on their separate paths.

Owen had been content building his cabin and living a quiet life mostly off grid in the months leading up to the Lockwood incident. He hadn't felt like his life was incomplete. Sure, there were moments he'd missed Claire, but he'd missed her not the life they'd had in the lead up to their split. It had felt easier to just be by himself than to rejoin the world.

Claire pulling him back in had flipped his world upside down, and it had taken a long time for the dust to settle. Everything had moved at warp speed, from setting foot back on Nublar, to the Indoraptor, and then getting married and settling down. He didn't regret any of it. At least, not how they'd dealt with everything post Lockwood.

But, now that the dust had settled, now that their life felt very much routine, he had been finding himself feeling introspective. He had time to step back and evaluate everything now. What did he like about his life? What did he want to change? What could he change?

Owen had thought that it was the routine that was getting to him. The lack of the ability to just pack up and go, like he had done for years in his van. That he was tied down now, committed to being there and to be living by others' schedules.

But, standing there, gaze flicking between Claire and Maisie, he was starting to realize that it was something bigger. Something deeper.

"Hey, Owen, right? Claire's husband?"

Owen glanced to the side, just as he put the last bite of his burger in his mouth, and he nodded as he chewed. He couldn't remember the name of the woman beside him, but he recognized her from previous DPG events, and as the mother of the grilled-cheese requesting toddler.

"I left his diaper bag in the car," the woman said, gesturing to the young baby she was cradling, who was asleep in her arms.

Owen swallowed, before offering, "Did you want me to go grab it for you?"

"Actually, could you just hold Ryan for a minute?"

"Me?" Owen looked around, unsure why the woman had approached him, and not Claire, or at least that table.

"Please? It'll just take a minute."

"Sure," Owen reached out. He had very limited experience with babies, having only a small age gap between himself and his brother, and so no memory of his brother being that small. And neither he nor Lucas had ever had kids. The woman helped him adjust Ryan, and Owen felt kind of like he was holding a football. A warm, squirmy football. He'd always thought of babies as being pretty still when they were sleeping – the whole "are they still alive" concern he'd heard new parents had. But, in his arms, Ryan definitely didn't feel still, even if he remained fast asleep.

The woman was back quickly, but as she approached him, the grilled-cheese toddler came running up, insisting he had to go to the bathroom now, and she looked at him apologetically.

"Don't worry about it," Owen brushed aside her concerns. While he still felt a little unsettled holding the baby, it was a nice distraction from where his thoughts had been taking him. "Ryan and I are just fine."

As he continued to hold Ryan, Owen let his gaze circle the area again, checking in on Maisie, who was still playing with the other kids, before settling briefly on Claire, catching her eye when she looked up, her own widening when she took in the baby. He gave a slight shrug, before looking back down at Ryan, his face peaceful in sleep. Holding a baby wasn't so bad afterall.

x x x

"Aw," Ally cooed. "Look."

Claire watched as everyone at the picnic table turned to look at Owen, who was standing and talking with one of the DPG volunteers, Megan. But she knew that wasn't what they were looking at, instead, all the gazes were focused on baby Ryan, looking tinier than usual, as he lay cradled in Owen's arms.

"I swear, there's nothing more attractive than a guy taking care of a kid," Lori, a volunteer who was sitting at the table commented, getting a bunch of sighs of agreement.

"Add a pair of glasses and…," another sighed, getting a few murmurs of agreement.

"Okay, I knew he was in good shape, but… the size of his muscles? His bicep is like the same size as Ryan," came from someone else, and caused most of the table to burst into laughter.

The laughter caught Owen and Megan's attention, both looking over at the group, most who quickly swung around, pretending they hadn't been staring. Claire caught Owen's questioning gaze, but she just gave him a small head shake in dismissal, and he turned away. But her gaze lingered on him a little bit longer.

"How come you guys have never had one?"

Claire didn't realize at first that the question had even been directed at her, until Zia gave her a nudge, bringing her attention back to the table.

"Had what?"

"A baby," Lori said, taking a peek at Owen again.

"Oh, no way, no thanks," Claire shook her head hurriedly. "Babies have never been my thing."

"But you're such a great mom," someone else said, and Claire's gaze darted over to Maisie, who she'd been keeping an eye on.

"Maisie's different," Claire said after a moment. "She was nine when we took her in, almost 10. It's not the same."

"Still," Lori said, a bit wistfully, "If I had a husband who looked like that…"

"He looks like such a natural," Ally admitted, her gaze still on Owen.

"I don't think there's anything he's not good at," Claire joked, trying to hide her discomfort at the topic. "Except maybe being on time." Owen did look natural holding Ryan, and he didn't look uncomfortable at all. When working at Jurassic World, Claire had never had much interaction with children, her job always keeping her separate from most direct guest interaction, unless they were VIPs. And then, afterwards, neither of their friend groups had young children. The most time they'd ever spent around kids, were around Zach and Gray. Claire was realizing she'd never actually seen Owen hold a baby before. Listening to the chatter around her, she was wondering if there was something wrong with her, that she wasn't feeling a tugging on her heartstrings, and that it wasn't making her even remotely reconsider the idea.

Claire was happy with her life as it was. She felt more than complete with Owen, and the addition of Maisie was a bonus. No, she still firmly fell on the side of not wanting a baby. It wasn't something they needed or wanted.

Her gaze was on Owen when he glanced in her direction again, raising an eyebrow in question when he caught her staring. She just gave him a half-smile, which he returned, although she could feel his gaze becoming more inquisitive, and she forced her own smile bigger, before turning back to the others at the table, tuning back into the conversation at hand.

x x x

It had been a week since the DPG picnic, but Owen found that his thoughts had been swirling ever since that day. He'd been watching Maisie and Claire over the week, and had been realizing just how true his initial thought had been – they don't need him. He knew they wanted him. He definitely didn't feel unloved or unwanted. But he didn't feel needed, not the way he had at first. Not like when Claire was scrambling to get the DPG in place to take on the sanctuary. Not like when they were restarting their relationship, buying a house, getting married and stumbling around trying to understand how to be parents. Not like when Maisie still had nightmares and would get anxious when she didn't know where they both were at all times.

No, the DPG had finally found its footing, and Claire, while busy as ever, always seemed less stressed about it all. And Maisie had more than settled into their home life and was excelling at school, having made some solid friends. She no longer preferred that he or Claire walked with her to school or picked her up after; in fact, she'd recently talked about how "uncool" it was that another kid in her class was met by his parents. Maisie was definitely growing up, and no longer the scared kid they had initially met.

He was happy about that. It made him feel good to know that he and Claire were partly responsible for the way she was turning out. But he wouldn't deny that there was a (fairly large) part of him that missed when she would be excited to see him after school. When she wanted to have him volunteering on field trips and special activity days. Now, she was just as likely to arrive home from school, drop off her backpack only to turn around and head out on her bike again, often riding away with friends.

Unless they somehow ended up chased by dinosaurs again – and god, please no – he couldn't foresee anything going forward that would make Claire need him. And really, he didn't want that. He loved that she didn't, that when they were together it was about both of them wanting to be there, choosing to be there. That made him feel so much better than her needing him ever could.

However, he still wanted to be needed. Wanted to feel like there was an area of his life where him missing would be noticeable. Where he couldn't be easily replaced. He knew he was being melodramatic, but he'd been wallowing in his thoughts all week and couldn't help it. He needed something to change. That was the big thing he kept coming back to. That he wasn't actually happy with the way things were. It's not that he hated his life, but he needed… something. He was just having trouble identifying exactly what that something should be.

Owen wasn't sure how to explain his thoughts, but he knew he had to try. That it was eating him up to be stuck with these on his own. And Claire always saw stuff so clearly. Not exactly black or white, but with a clarity that he often envied. Maybe she could help him sort out what he was thinking. Help him figure out what he wanted or needed.

"Hey, do you have time to talk?" Owen asked, leaning against the doorframe, watching as Claire dealt with the laundry, moving a load from the washer to the dryer.

"Talk?" Claire asked distractedly, starting the dryer and piling a new load into the wash.

"Yeah," Owen said, wringing his hands. He still wasn't even sure where he wanted to go with this. How to bring up the topic and his feelings. He couldn't even get them straight in his head, how was he supposed to articulate them to her?

"What's up?" Claire turned to him after she started the wash.

"Well…" Owen stumbled, his thoughts scattering. "I've been thinking and I just– Well, things– Ever since last weekend– At the picnic, when I was holding that baby, Ryan–" Owen stopped, letting out a long breath as he looked down, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand, annoyed at his inability to voice his thoughts.

"You okay?" Claire asked, her voice concerned, as she propped her hip against the machine.

"Yeah, mostly," Owen gave her a wry smile. "I'm not really sure how to start this, my thoughts are a mess."

"What's wrong?" Claire pried, moving closer to him. Owen knew his inability to articulate what he wanted was going to get her worried. It wasn't like him, as he'd always had more of a speak first, think through the consequences later approach to his conversations with Claire. Which, in hindsight, probably explained a lot about their relationship.

"I guess last weekend just got me thinking," Owen finally said. "You know, we've never really talked about kids before. We just ended up with Maisie. And, don't get me wrong, I love her and I know you do too, but…"

"But what?"

Owen could hear the hesitancy, the weariness in Claire's voice, but he forged ahead anyway. "It's just, I guess part of me has been just sort of wondering why?"

"Why we have Maisie?"

"Why we've never had a baby," Owen corrected, his gaze dropping to the floor.

"A baby?" Claire exclaimed.

"Yeah, you know," Owen looked up at her, meeting her gaze, gesturing loosely with his arms, like he was rocking a baby back and forth.

"I didn't know you wanted a baby," Claire said, sounding stunned, and taking a step back from him, leaning against the washer.

"I've never really thought about it before," Owen admitted. "Not until… I'd never even held a baby, before this weekend. But… we've never even talked about it," Owen shrugged weakly.

"I don't… Owen," Claire looked pained, and it was her turn to be unable to meet his gaze, while Owen desperately sought out hers, trying to understand what she was thinking. "I've never wanted kids, you know that. Maisie's… Maisie's different. I wouldn't trade a thing. I love her. But… a baby? I don't–"

"We both grew up with siblings," Owen said, desperately fishing for a way to save the conversation. "Maisie–"

"Maise's 12, Owen," Claire reminded him. "Even if I wanted a baby, it's not like they'd be close, not the way you and Lucas are, or Karen and I. She'd probably be 13 before the baby was even born. And that's assuming there are no issues. By the time the baby would remember anything, she'd be off to college. I'm not– It doesn't matter, anyway," Claire shook her head, biting her lower lip for a moment. "I don't want to have a baby, Owen. I just… I don't." She shrugged, her gaze finally meeting his, and Owen could see evidence of tears, although he was pretty sure they were brought on by frustration, not sadness. "I'm sorry."

"You're right," Owen sighed, his gaze breaking away, darting around the room, although not focusing on anything. "It was a stupid thought. Nevermind."

"What's bringing this on now? What's changed?" Claire asked, taking a step towards him, reaching for his arm. Owen couldn't help his reaction, his body flinching backwards from her touch, Claire's own hand falling to her side in response.

"Nothing… it's… nothing," Owen shook his head, meeting her gaze just long enough to give her a weak smile before he had to look away again.

"Owen…" Claire started, taking a step towards him again, but he moved aside, and she let out a sigh. She hesitated for a moment, before passing him. "I love our life, Owen," Claire said, pausing in the doorway to look back at him. "I love you, and Maisie, and everything we've built here. I don't understand… what's wrong with the way things are?"

x x x

A baby? He wanted to have a baby? Claire was tucked away in her home office, collapsed in the chair behind her desk just feeling stunned and disoriented. When he'd said he'd wanted to talk, that topic had not been something that had remotely come to mind. She'd thought he wanted to sort out groceries, or homework, or some other trivial thing. That maybe he wanted to vent about something that had happened at the DPG picnic. She'd noticed that his mood had seemed to sour over the course of that day and had felt bad that the event had dragged on all afternoon and over dinner, knowing that he hadn't really wanted to be there in the first place. She'd been so relieved and happy that he'd put on a smile and just powered up the grill again.

She'd thought everything was fine. And now, now all she could think was what had she missed? Had he always wanted a baby and just never said anything to her before? Had he been hoping that she'd just change her mind on her own? Had he been waiting for the right time to bring it up? Or talking to Karen? Where had it come from?

Did he… did him wanting a baby, and her not wanting, not willing to give him one… this was the sort of thing people broke up over, right? Was he… is that something he was thinking about? Is it something he'd consider?

Claire paled, and she was grateful that she was already sitting down; sure that her legs wouldn't be able to support her at the moment.

It couldn't be. No. They were solid. Things were good, weren't they? She had thought they were happy. They had started to get good news about the adoption lately, and while it still looked months away from wrapping up, their lawyer didn't seem to have any doubts that it wouldn't conclude in their favour. The DPG was going strong, the animals thriving on the sanctuary, and there had been no news about the ones that had been sold, and as the years now passed without news, Claire was starting to think that there never would be, that those who had bought them would've discovered they were harder to keep alive than they'd expected. And that they weren't as easy to train as they'd hoped.

Sure, they'd had their differences in the past, and they had broken up before. But things were different now. They'd both gone into this eyes wide open. They knew what it was like to be together and also be apart. And they'd both agreed that they were stronger together. That they wanted this.

What had changed? She didn't think he'd found someone new… No, she pushed that thought aside. He wasn't the cheating type. Hadn't in his past, and she couldn't see him doing so now. But if it wasn't someone else… that meant it was her, right? Was she no longer enough?

x x x

He felt stupid for thinking that the conversation was going to go well. He knew Claire didn't want a baby. Sure, they maybe had never actually discussed it. But they hadn't needed to. He'd known from watching her interact, awkwardly and with unease, with her nephews. He'd known watching her cringe every time Karen would hint or imply or straight out suggest it, and Claire would immediately change the subject. He'd known because if she had, if Claire wanted anything, then she went for it. She wouldn't have kept her desire hidden from him, especially not now, now that they were married and already had a kid.

But, he was also mad. Mad that she didn't seem to get what he was saying. That she wasn't willing to understand where he was coming from. Didn't she know him well enough? Shouldn't she know him well enough, to realize that there was more to the story? That he was trying and floundering at figuring out how to explain himself, and that asking about a baby was just him, awkwardly, trying to open the door, to start a conversation he wasn't even sure himself how to have. That he was trying to say that he needed something to change?

Pacing the garage, he wished, not for the first time, that he had room for a punching bag. Something he could take out his anger and frustration on. He wanted to punch something so badly. Often, going for a run was enough to take the edge off, to help him cool down. But right now, he felt to tense and wired, like an elastic band stretched to its snapping point.

His phone ringing startled him, but he reached for it, happy for the distraction. He didn't recognize the phone number on the screen, but, well, if it was a telemarketer, he had plenty of anger he could work out on them.

"Hello?" Owen answered tentatively, relieved when the other caller immediately introduced herself and it wasn't a telemarketer. He quickly got sucked into the conversation, listening intently to what was, essentially, a sales pitch, but one he was actually intrigued to hear. When he finally hung up, he set his phone down, a bit of a thrill chasing through him.

Maybe this is what he needed. Maybe it wasn't about a baby or finding something at home to change. Maybe the real change he needed was work. That it was finally time to get back to doing what he'd always wanted to do – working with animals. Time to put his degrees to use. He couldn't wait to tell Claire.

The smile that was starting to spread across his face faltered, as he heard Claire's words ringing in his ears: "I love our life … what's wrong with the way things are?"

Chapter Text

The One with the Secret Closet

In hindsight, Claire wondered how she had missed it. How she had never really clued in before. It wasn't like she didn't know Owen. She had lived with him pre Lockwood, after all.

She blamed it on their time in the van. They hadn't had space to collect unnecessary stuff. There was nowhere to store anything extra, and so he had been limited to what fit. She just hadn't realized at the time that that was what was holding him back. She should've. She'd been by his "bungalow" on Nublar, after all.

Still, she was shocked when she pulled onto their driveway only to have to come to an immediate stop. The garage door was wide open and it looked like it had thrown up its contents all over the driveway. She barely had enough room to park her car at the very edge.

Her jaw dropping, Claire slowly climbed out of her car, gaze swinging wildly over the area. Finally, it locked on Owen, who was inside the garage, although he had looked up when she'd parked. "Oh my god, Owen!"

"What?" Owen replied, coming out of the garage. He was wearing old jeans and a ratty t-shirt, and she could see grease and dust and who knew what else covering him.

"What happened?!" Claire exclaimed.

"Just going through the garage," Owen shrugged, coming to stand by her.

She looked around again, before furrowing her brow, as a bigger question hit her: "Where did all this stuff come from?"

"What do you mean? From the garage," Owen looked over the contents on the driveway, before turning back to her in confusion.

"This? This was all in there?" Claire asked, gesturing wildly at the driveway and then pointing to the garage. "Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure," he replied, rolling his eyes. "Where else do you think it came from?"

"Owen, we just moved here two months ago," she said, turning to him. "How the hell did we accumulate this much stuff in that time? There's no way we had all this stuff before."

"Not all of it," he agreed. "But, there was everything from your condo, plus all the new stuff we had to get for this place, and then there's the stuff from my place…"

"Your place? What stuff from your place? You had a trailer and partially built cabin, Owen, how did you have 'stuff'?"

"I had a whole lot," Owen said, shrugging. "Tools add up. And you got me the motorcycle. I had to get other tools for working on it. And then there's everything that we didn't know where to put in the house. Did you know we still have unpacked boxes?" he pointed to a pile sitting on one side of the driveway. "I don't even know what's in them."

"How did all of this stuff fit in there?" Claire said, still unable to grasp the sheer volume of things that were now on the driveway. "Where were you keeping it all?" Her gaze darted between the driveway and the garage a few times. "Oh my god, you're Monica!" she exclaimed, her hand slapping against her forehead. "How did I never see this before?" Claire looked around dazedly for something to sit on, finally settling on the exercise bench.

"I'm who?" Owen looked from Claire to the garage and then back.

"Monica Geller. You know, from Friends," she said, cupping her head in her hands, elbows resting on her knees. Owen had to strain a bit to hear her, as her voice was muffled. "You cook. And apparently you pretend to be tidy. She had a secret closet and you..."

"I don't pretend," he replied, sounding offended as he moved to sit next to her. "I am tidy."

"What do you call this?" Claire said, not looking up as she waved at the driveway with her other hand."

"I'm reorganizing," he reminded her.

"I don't even know why I'm surprised," she said, ignoring his comment as a weak laugh escaped her. "I saw your place on Nublar. There was... shit everywhere. And your lot's like that, too."

"There's not 'shit' everywhere," he disagreed, looking offended at her characterization.

"Owen, when we went out there last time I found your frying pan sitting on the table with the cabin model. And when I went to you before Nublar, you had a canoe in the cabin."

"How is the canoe a mess?" Owen asked. "It had to go somewhere, at least there it was unlikely to get tripped over."

"Do you hear yourself?" Claire said. "Tripping? If everything is in its place there should never be tripping concerns." She lifted her head to take in everything still spread across the driveway. "We can't leave it like this."

"Wasn't going to," he agreed.

"How are you going to fit it all back in there?" she asked. "Where's it going to go? How's my car going to fit?"

"Well, you could always park on the driveway, like I do," Owen commented. She turned to him, aghast. "Kidding, kidding. It'll all fit. I needed to go through what I had. I've been thinking about rearranging the garage to make it more useable."

"What do you mean?"

"Well," Owen got up and reached for Claire's hand and pulled her up with him. He led her towards the garage. "So, you've got your office and Maisie and I have been planning out her tree house–"

"Right, and the garage is your space," she nodded.

"Well, I've been thinking about that," he said, stopping just under the garage door. "There's three main things that the garage is used for, and right now only your car usually has a clear area."

"Not my fault," Claire said, meaningfully looking over her shoulder at everything on the driveway.

"Anyway," Owen let go of her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulders, directing her view back into the garage. He lifted his hand, pointing as he spoke. "So, this area is where you park and that will stay the same. What I need, or what I want to do, is to set up separate areas for working on my motorcycle and the home gym stuff. Right now I'm constantly tripping over weights or tools whenever I'm out here."

"O-kay," Claire nodded, drawing out the word, a thoughtful look on her face. "That makes sense."

"Yeah, so I was thinking that this area," he gestured to their right, "could be my work area. I need more space for it really, then the gym. I mean, all we really have right now is my bench and weights."

"Maybe we should get some shelving units," she said. "We could put them all down that wall. And over here, we could get one of those work benches? Or some cupboards?"

"Yeah, shelves would help," he agreed. "I'd like to put up a big pegboard here. Then I can better organize most of my tools."

"You mean actually organize," she commented.

"Hey, I knew where everything was before," Owen said with a grin. "But, yeah, it could use some more organization."

"What if…" Claire started, her gaze jumping between the two sides of the garage.

"What?"

"What if we swapped the side I park on?" she suggested. Their garage wasn't quite a rectangle, with one side extending further back by a few feet. It was the side Claire normally parked on, the back part of it having been full of boxes, until now. "If we did that, there'd be more space for your exercise bench. Maybe we could add a treadmill?"

"Sure," Owen nodded, eager. He had been thinking about a treadmill or an exercise bike, but hadn't known where they'd fit it.

"Where's Maisie?" Claire asked, realizing she hadn't seen her since she'd arrived home.

"Out back," he said. "She didn't want to help."

"Shocking," Claire said, rolling her eyes. "Well, if you're going to do this, we should probably go get some shelves."

"Now?"

"Well, doesn't have to be right this minute," she said, "but if we don't get them tonight, where were you going to put everything?"

"Oh." Owen looked a little chagrined, his gaze darting behind them to the driveway, before he added, sheepishly, "I guess I didn't think that far ahead. I didn't even mean to start this, really, but I was looking for my favourite pliers and…"

Claire sighed, shaking her head at him. Although, she wasn't surprised. He often jumped into things before thinking them all the way through. "You better start measuring. I'll go get Maisie."

Owen nodded, his gaze darting around as he tried to remember where he'd put the measuring tape. He looked up, just as Claire was about to disappear through the doorway into the house. "Oh, Claire?" Owen called out, and she turned back to look at him. "You might want to change first…"

"Why?"

"Well…" Owen winced, before holding up his hands. "Sorry."

Claire quickly looked side to side, finally catching sight of the black grease splotch on her left shoulder. "Owen!"

Chapter Text

Confessions After Dark

Lying on his back, staring at the ceiling, Owen was desperately trying to get his mind to turn off. To give him some peace. To just let him sleep.

It wasn't working.

Instead, his mind was whirling, still trying to come to grips with what Maisie had shared at dinner the previous evening. Trying to believe Claire's comments that nothing had happened; that there was nothing to be concerned about. It's not that he thought she was lying. Clearly, she was still there and in front of them and she didn't have any new scars from their time apart. That, he knew, he would've noticed.

But he just couldn't keep his imagination from running wild on him. From throwing out all sorts of possibilities about what could have happened, or, even worse, what still could. She remained the most recognizable person for the DPG, after all. Sure, she wasn't in the news quite as much, not now that the sanctuary had been open for over a year and a half.

While the news still frequently covered the dinosaurs, they weren't as big a topic as they use to be. Instead, they generally seemed to get covered when something happened at the sanctuary, usually a dinosaur getting injured, or, more recently, laying some eggs. These articles, while they would mention the DPG since it was the source of the information, would rarely talk much about Claire or any of the members specifically, except to quote them. They no longer felt the need to remind people in every article that the DPG was founded by Claire Dearing — yes, that Claire Dearing — and its purpose and mandate. It was finally becoming just a known quantity.

Rolling onto his side, Owen looked over at Claire who was sleeping peacefully, curled onto her side facing him, one arm tucked under her pillow, the other resting on the bed. Well, she definitely had no concerns about the messages. Maybe she really was right, and there was nothing to be worried about. That he was overreacting.

It was just… she said that they'd had to call the police before. There had been messages that had made them concerned enough to seek outside help. He knew they must have happened years ago now, before Lockwood, before Maisie.

Before he'd even realized he was doing it, he had his hand on Claire's shoulder, shaking her awake, as he whispered her name.

"Owen?" Claire asked, her voice sleepy, her eyes fluttering open.

"Sorry," Owen kept his voice low, already feeling guilty about his actions.

"Did something happen?" Claire eyes widened and she moved to sit up. "Maisie?"

"Everything's fine," Owen said, pushing gently on her shoulder, keeping her down. "Maisie's asleep."

"Why'd you wake me?" Claire asked, her gaze focusing on his, and Owen just sighed, flopping back onto his back. When he didn't reply, he felt her move closer, cuddling into his side, one hand resting on his chest, absently running in soothing circles.

"I… I can't sleep," Owen finally offered up.

"And you wanted company?" Claire asked, propping herself up on her elbow, and looking down at him with a raised eyebrow. He turned his head slightly to look at her, giving a weak shrug.

"I wanted–" Owen cut himself off, groaning, rubbing a hand down his face. "I just can't get my mind to shut up. I can't stop thinking." He looked over at her again, unsurprised to find she was now looking down at him in concern. "Are you sure nothing ever happened?"

"Happened?" Claire asked, clearly not following his question. "What do you mean?"

"The messages. The harassment," Owen clarified. "You said you've had to go to the police."

"We did," Claire nodded slowly. "Once. A couple of years ago."

"Why?" Owen asked before he could talk himself out of it. He winced, already regretting it.

"Do you really want to know?" Claire questioned. "It's over and done with. You can't change it or fix it or anything."

"Would I… want to fix it?" Owen said hesitantly, his mind now racing with horrible thoughts. Not all scars were physical, after all. Something he knew all too well.

"Owen…" Claire started, before she let out a sigh. She shifted again, tucking herself into his side, resting her head on his shoulder now. Owen wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to him. "We started getting a lot of messages by this one account. Not all that odd, not at first. We have a lot of regulars, who always comment. Back then, we were still trying to get people to take us seriously, so we'd make an effort to try to respond to as many as we could." Claire paused, and Owen started running one of his hands up and down her back. "We don't always manage, it's hard to keep track, after all. And it depended on who was around and what was going on. But slowly, we started to notice this account would get… upset, if they didn't get a response. Then they started ping ponging between belittling others one day, and the next acting like they were affiliated with us, like they were one of us."

"Were they?" Owen asked, his voice tight, his grip on her tightening unconsciously.

"No," Claire replied immediately. "We tried to get them to back off. To tell them to stop. They didn't like that. We blocked them, but they reappeared with a new account hours later. They weren't even trying to hide it. They were pissed that we had blocked them. We reported the account, but it was determined that they 'didn't violate the terms of service.'" Owen could hear the frustration in her voice. "Those terms of service are a joke. They can use them to ban one person and approve the next over the same thing. Anyway, our actions, no surprise just made this person madder. We weren't all that concerned, not at first. More and more people were interacting with us, and it became easy enough to ignore them. To just let them fade away. We thought that would be enough."

"Wait, how did this end up at the police?" Owen was confused. He didn't understand how most of the social media networks worked in the first place, but this wasn't making him more inclined to learn more.

"We weren't interacting with them, but some of our other regulars started bringing them to our attention," Claire said. "This person started to bad-mouth us, but that we could shrug off. But then they started to say things a bit more personal. Things that didn't really make sense that they should know. Not easily, anyway. Comments like how they hoped we'd enjoyed our Caveman Coffee today or that they didn't like a top I was wearing. Things they could only know if they were there, somehow."

"I thought you said it wasn't one of you." Owen asked, alarm in his voice.

"It wasn't," Claire repeated. "That's what made it concerning."

"And that's when you went to the police?"

"Eventually, yeah," Claire said, nodding.

"Eventually… why not right away?"

"It didn't seem like enough at first. It was concerning, but it was also comments about things that we did pretty regularly. We always get Caveman Coffee. And we realized I'd been on the news the day the comment about my shirt happened."

"So what finally tipped it?" Again, Owen wasn't sure he actually wanted to know, but, well, he'd gone this far.

"The frequency of the comments started to increase. While the main account had him blocked, Franklin was using his personal one to keep tabs. I didn't know this at first, but it was a good thing he did. His comments started to get more specific, and then he made one that implied he knew where I lived. Sort of cryptic if you didn't know, but if you knew… well, it definitely felt clear. At that point, Franklin came to me, and we agreed that we thought we needed to take it up another level." Claire shrugged, her hand drawing patterns on his chest, refusing to look at him. "And so we did."

Owen waited for her to continue, but she didn't say anything else. "And?" he questioned. "What happened next? Did they find him? Is he in jail? What?"

"You'd be surprised, horrified actually, how common it is for people to go through stuff like this," Claire said, letting out a sigh. "The digital age has made it so much easier for people to stalk from afar."

"Afar?"

"Yeah," Claire nodded. "Turns out the guy was halfway across the country. There was never any real danger. Just a guy with really good googling and analytical skills. The police showing up at his place scared him. He hasn't bothered us since."

"He didn't go to jail?" Owen could feel anger coursing through him.

"What for? He never did anything in the end," Claire said. "It's tough to do much in these cases. The most we could've done was maybe get a restraining order against him, but he was never going to be nearby. It wasn't worth the hassle."

Owen let out a slow breath, not really sure what to think about everything he'd just heard. Claire didn't say anything, and he ran his hand up and down her arm, trying to process his thoughts. Finally, pulling her closer, he said, "I wish I'd known. That I could've been there for you. I hate that you went through that alone."

"I wasn't alone," Claire said, looking up at him. "Franklin knew. And Zia."

"But not me," he said, his voice low. "I should've been there. If I had known..."

"Owen, we were broken up," she protested. "We both needed that time."

"I don't care," he disagreed. "If you had come to me, if you had told me, I would've been there."

"Well, you were, sort of," Claire admitted after a moment.

"Um, I'm pretty sure I'd remember if you had told me about this before," Owen said, a frown on his face. "This isn't the sort of thing I'd forget."

"Do you remember," she started, pushing up a bit again, so she could look him in the eye. "A few months before the whole Lockwood thing, when I came out to your lot?"

"Yeah…" Owen said slowly. "When we had that big fight."

"Right," Claire nodded. "You never asked me why I came out that day."

"Wait, it was because of this?" he said, his jaw dropping. "That's when this happened?"

"Yup," Claire said.

"But… why? Why did you come see me? Why didn't you tell me?"

"Nothing happened," she reminded him. "What was there to tell?"

"Then why come out there? What was the point?" Owen looked down at her, trying to meet her eyes, but he was surprised when she looked away, her fingers on his chest drumming lightly against him. Nerves, he knew. "What are you not telling me?" His eyes went wide. "Did something else happen?"

"What? No! No," Claire shook her head. "I just… I didn't need to tell you. But… I wanted to see you."

"But, why?" Owen asked again, sure he wasn't getting the whole story, that something was still missing.

"I wanted to feel safe," Claire mumbled, and Owen wasn't quite sure he'd heard her.

"You what?"

"I wanted to feel safe, to be somewhere safe," Claire repeated, finally meeting his gaze. "Nothing happened. But the whole thing just made me realize… Normally work's my safe place. But, it wasn't then, it couldn't be, not with everything happening. And… and I missed you. I wanted to see you again. I wanted to feel–"

"–safe," Owen finished for her, but even as he said it, he was frowning. How was he supposed to take that? It was a good thing, right? Except, it sort of made him feel worse. Not only had he not been there, but when she'd sought him out, when she'd wanted comfort from him, instead he'd yelled at her.

"Hey," Claire pushed back up on her elbow, leaning over him, her hand coming up to cup his cheek, her thumb caressing him. "Please don't beat yourself up over this."

"Why shouldn't I?" he said bitterly. "I wasn't there for you when it happened. And when you came to me, all I did was start a big fight."

"It was two years ago, Owen," she protested. "I didn't tell you why I was there. We were broken up and I just showed up out of the blue. I don't even know what I was expecting to happen. If I had thought it through, I wouldn't have gone."

"Why not?"

"Because..." Claire's gaze darted away, and he was surprised to see a flush start to rise up her cheeks. She took a deep breath before meeting his gaze head on, back in control. "Because for all I knew, you had a new girlfriend. I got most of the way to your lot before that thought kicked in and, well, I almost turned around."

"I don't really know how to respond to that," Owen said after a few moments passed. "I want to be glad that you came, but we fought, and, well… if it wasn't for Mills, I don't know when we'd have spoken again. But… a girlfriend, really? Did you really think that?"

"It's not like it's outside the realm of possibilities," Claire defended herself, pulling her hand away. Owen quickly reached up and grabbed it, lacing their fingers together and settling them on his chest, tugging her closer to him.

"Maybe," he acknowledged, "But I didn't." A thought crossed his mind, and again, he spoke a question he wasn't sure he actually wanted an answer to before he could stop himself. "Did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Date?" He hated that his voice came out pained. Why was he asking? It was two years ago and they were married now. It didn't matter.

"No," Claire said, giving his hand a squeeze. "My time was completely taken up by the DPG." She narrowed her eyes when he let out a relieved sigh. "Wait, what's that for? You're the one who was all 'so you're dating a dermatologist?' Remember that?"

Owen, at least, had the sense to look sheepish over that. Pulling her up, he dipped his head down to kiss her. "You have seen you, right?" he asked, before kissing her again. "And met you?" Another kiss. "Who wouldn't want to date you?" He met her gaze that was still looking at him sternly and gave her his most charming smile. "I've already admitted before that I was an ass that day."

"You did," Claire agreed. "And you were."

"Yeah, well..." Owen kissed her again, before moving to trail kisses along her jaw.

Pulling herself over him, one of Claire's hands trailed down his side, dipping below his shirt, the other bunching his sleeve in her grip, while Owen slid his hands down her back. Claire pulled back slightly, looking at him, her gaze serious. "You're my safe place, you know that, right?"

Owen nodded, reaching up and capturing her lips in a deep kiss, before saying, "And you're mine."

Chapter Text

Don't Let Me Drift Away

Owen set down his phone, his gut clenching uncomfortably. There was no backing out now. It was a done deal.

"Owen?"

His head shot up when he heard his name being called. He quickly stood up, tucking his phone into his back pocket before picking up a random tool and turning to his motorcycle. He'd just sat down on the upturned bucket he had by it when the door from the house into the garage opened, and Claire came out.

"There you are," she said, walking over to him. "What are you doing?"

Owen glanced at the tool in his hand only to see he'd picked up a hammer, which made absolutely no sense for anything he'd ever do on his motorcycle. "Um, I'm–"

"I just realized I need my suit and I haven't picked it up at the dry cleaners," Claire carried on, not waiting for a response. Owen hid his relief and surreptitiously put down the hammer, hoping Claire didn't actually see what had been in his hands. While he knew she wouldn't have any idea what he was doing, she wasn't dumb, and she would know a hammer wouldn't be the right tool. "I was just going to run out to get it. I think I can make it on time." She glanced down at her watch, and Owen copied her movements, checking the time, just after 7:30.

"Yeah, sure," Owen nodded. "Did you want me to get it for you?"

"No, it's fine." Claire held up the keys he hadn't noticed she was carrying. "Just wanted you to know that I was going out. I already told Maisie. She's supposed to be working on her homework."

"Okay," Owen said, standing up, catching his cue. "I can go in and help."

"Thanks," Claire said, pausing as she passed by him to rest a hand on his arm as she stretched up for a quick kiss. He held himself still, trying not to flinch at her touch. "To be honest, I could get the suit tomorrow, but…"

"Ah, that kind of homework," Owen grinned, feeling himself relax. "Consider it done."

"Thanks," she repeated, kissing him again, this time a little longer. He'd just started to respond when he felt her pull back, which was probably a good thing, because at that moment he also felt his phone vibrate in his pocket, and he was immediately reminded of the email in his inbox. He stiffened, but she didn't notice, having already moved away, heading for her car. Opening her car door, Claire looked over at him and said, "If you think I need to do anything else while I'm out…"

Owen laughed, his chuckle not quite as genuine as usual, before promising, "I'll take a look and let you know."

He waited until she'd pulled out of the garage, lifting his hand in a bit of a wave, before he turned to head into the house. He paused at the door, pulling his phone back out and looking down at the new notification. Another response to the earlier email. Another person congratulating the "team" on getting the application together and submitted on time. Another person with their fingers crossed, hoping for a favourable outcome.

Owen took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, resting his hand on the doorknob. He'd done the right thing, right? Joining the team? He thought so. Or, more, he hoped so.

The door knob pulled out of his grasp, and he looked up, surprised to see Maisie, who looked startled to see him.

"There you are," Maisie said, recovering quickly and reaching to grab his hand, pulling him into the house. "Claire said I have to finish my homework before I can watch TV and I'm stuck."

"Was just on my way in," Owen said, following after her. "What's on the agenda tonight?"

"Multiplying fractions," Maisie sighed. "Every time I think I've got it…"

x x x

"So, at work today," Claire started as she entered the master bathroom. Owen looked up, meeting her gaze in the mirror, and hummed a question, busy brushing his teeth. She grabbed her own toothbrush, getting it ready as she spoke. "Sarah was telling us about her sister, Erin, who's youngest is in kindergarten this year. Apparently Erin's been a stay at home mom the last few years, and now that her youngest is in school, Sarah thought she'd go back to work." Claire ran her toothbrush under the tap, before dabbing toothpaste on top. She turned to look at Owen, resting her hip against the counter as she continued to talk. "So far, Sarah said, Erin's made no move to even look for a job." Claire raised her toothbrush up, pausing to add with a confused look, "I don't get it. What does she do all day? Wouldn't that be boring? Staying home all day alone?" Shrugging, Claire popped her toothbrush into her mouth, watching as Owen leaned over his sink, spitting and rinsing off his own.

"Lots of people stay home," Owen said after a moment, straightening back up. "That's not abnormal."

Pausing to spit, Claire turned to him. "Yeah, I know. It's just… don't they want to feel productive? Like they're contributing?"

"Raising kids isn't contributing?" Owen asked with a raised eyebrow. He reached for the hand towel near him, before turning his tap back on and adjusting the water. He bent over the sink, splashing water onto his face.

"Of course, it is," Claire agreed immediately. "I don't mean to say it isn't, it's just… I don't know. I don't feel like that would feel like enough. Not for me, anyway. Don't get me wrong, I get it — the staying home — when kids are really little. They're so needy at that age. And most jobs aren't flexible enough, so it's probably easier. I mean, I wouldn't want to, but, then again, our situation is pretty unique."

"What do you mean?" Owen was now drying off his face and hanging up the towel.

"Just that our jobs give us more leeway," Claire explained. "That we can shift our hours around."

"Speaking of shifting hours," Owen said, "Are you going to take the Thursday and Friday off for Thanksgiving?"

"I should be able to," Claire nodded. "We still need to figure out what we want to do."

"Not shop," was his immediate reply.

"Scared of the crowds?" she taunted.

"Do you want to shop?" Owen asked with a raised eyebrow, well aware of her own aversion to crowds.

"Well, no," Claire admitted.

"So, no shopping," he said with a grin. "Plan set."

"Right," Claire rolled her eyes, before turning back to brushing her teeth. She watched in the mirror as Owen headed out of the bathroom, pulling his shirt off as he went. She could hear him rummaging through his drawers as she finished brushing, and then the rustle of the covers on the bed as she washed her face and completed the rest of her bedtime routine.

Once she'd finished up in the bathroom, Claire wandered back out into the bedroom. She quickly changed, before joining Owen in the bed. "I just don't get it," Claire said, picking up their earlier conversation. "I can't imagine not having work."

"That's because you're a workaholic," Owen reminded her, putting down his book and turning off the light.

"I'm not," Claire protested, only for Owen to immediately snort. She looked over at him, and saw he'd turned his face into his pillow, shoulders shaking with laughter. She huffed, before pushing at his shoulder, getting him to look up. "I'm not like I was before."

"You were worse?" Owen gave a pretend gasp, and she groaned.

"I'm home for dinner," she reminded him. "I don't go into the office on weekends." Owen gave another snort at that, and sighing, Claire corrected herself. "Okay, not most weekends."

"My, how you've grown," he quipped, and she swatted at his shoulder, although it was half-hearted.

"But seriously," Claire said, turning off her light and settling down on the bed, curling herself into his side, resting her head on his shoulder. "I love my work. I love being there. It's part of who I am. I don't know, it's… it's just comfortable. It feels like going to my safe place. What's wrong with that?" She brought her hand up and rested it on his chest, feeling his heart beating steadily beneath it.

"Not everyone loves their work," Owen said after a brief hesitation. Claire tilted her head up, trying to catch his gaze, unsure if he sounded nervous when he'd said that, or if she was reading too much.

"True," she agreed. "I guess we're lucky."

He didn't reply, but she felt his hand come up, his fingers running through her hair. The sensation combined with his heartbeat under her palm had Claire relaxing further into him. She shifted, breathing deep.

She'd forgotten that it was almost Thanksgiving. It felt like just yesterday that they'd been celebrating the sanctuary's second anniversary. But, Halloween had come and gone, and she vaguely remembered Karen saying something about the upcoming holiday and her disappointment that she wasn't going to have the boys with her this year. Claire had suggested that she come out for a visit, but Karen had said that she and Jake were going to spend it with his family.

Shifting a bit closer to Owen, Claire started drawing mindless shapes on his chest as her thoughts continued to whirl. Maybe they could go out to the cabin, since it'd be just the three of them.

The three of them.

After their talk post the sanctuary BBQ, Claire had felt like she was walking on eggshells. She'd worked hard to avoid any conversations that even veered close to it. Not that Owen had brought the idea of a baby up again, he'd seemed to have moved on, too. But she wasn't really sure how to take his avoidance. Was he okay with just putting it behind them? Had he changed his mind? Part of her was a little afraid to ask. It was easier to just not go there.

As she lay there, Claire realized that it had been a while, a long while, since she'd cuddled up to him. Another consequence of the conversation. It had left her so unsettled and out of sorts, that the idea of having sex had, for the first time, felt off-putting. It's not that she thought she'd get pregnant (she had an IUD for a reason, after all). And she definitely never thought that Owen would ever do anything behind her back to try to force it. But… well, even all these years post high school and horrible sex ed classes, the idea that sex equals babies was still well ingrained.

She hadn't realized, though, how much time had gone by since that conversation. How much time had gone by since they'd had sex. That wasn't like them. Physical intimacy had always been an important part of their relationship, both of them having very healthy sex drives. While the first few weeks with Maisie had been interesting — as they were suddenly much more aware of when and where they could — it hadn't decreased their desire, especially as they were reconnecting. (That time had also involved a very embarrassing phone call to her sister where Claire had asked for tips and advice, and Owen changing her bedroom door knob for one that locked).

Then, life got busy and the days ticked by. And the more time that passed, the easier it was to forget about the conversation. Yet, somehow, neither of them had made a move, Claire realized. Had he been avoiding it too? Or had he caught onto her reluctance, and had been waiting for her to make the first move?

Trailing her hand down his side, Claire heard his breath hitch, and his hand in her hair falter. She slid her hand under his shirt, creeping back up his chest towards his heart. She could feel his heart rate quickening. Pulling herself up a bit, Claire dropped kisses along the line of his jaw. She felt his hand slip out of her hair and he moved to running it up and down her back.

She moved to kiss him on the lips and felt him pull her closer, shifting as if to roll them over. Claire pushed him down, whispering "Relax, let me do the work." She kissed him again. When she went to deepen it she felt him pull away and she stopped, her eyes flying open. She wasn't sure what to think, how to feel. Did he not want it? Not want her? Looking away from him, she moved to pull back, only to feel him tightening his hold on her. She looked up, meeting his gaze. There was a look in his eyes she didn't understand. For a long moment, neither of them said anything, and then Claire asked, hesitantly, "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," Owen sighed, bringing a hand up to scrub down his face. He looked away for a moment, before meeting her eyes again. "I'm just tired."

"Oh," Claire didn't know how to respond to that. He'd never been too tired for sex before. In fact, he was usually the one initiating it, tired or not. She couldn't remember him ever pulling away before, ever not wanting it. She went to move away again, but he didn't let go, so she resettled, tucked into his side, head pillowed by his shoulder. She couldn't see his face anymore, but she felt him drop a kiss onto her hair before his hand started trailing up and down her back again. She couldn't help it when she stiffened, and he paused in his actions, letting out a slow exhale.

"I'm sorry," Owen whispered a minute later, and Claire just brought her hand back up to rest over his heart, unable to come up with any other response.

Maybe he really was tired. She knew he'd been busy with a big work project and that they were in a hurry to meet a deadline. She'd assumed things were fine, as he'd continued to cook dinner and help with homework all week. He hadn't given any indication that things were tough. Or had he, and she had been too caught up in her work to notice?

As she lay there, she could feel his heart thumping steadily below her hand. Closing her eyes, Claire tried to take comfort in the fact that he hadn't completely pushed her away, that he still had his arm wrapped around her, holding her close to him. She guessed she'd have to settle for that.

x x x

Waving goodbye to his colleagues, Owen climbed into his truck, trying to ignore the few comments he heard as pulled out of the site. There were a couple of relatively new members on the crew, and one of them had taken it upon himself to make snide comments about Owen.

Usually, he could let that stuff just roll off his back. He generally liked his life, after all, but this week it was getting on his nerves. Comments about how he was "whipped" and obviously it wasn't Owen who "wore the pants" in his family. Comments about how picking up kids from school or being home for them was "women's work" (he'd had to work hard to suppress his instinct to punch the guy on that one). Most of the comments were made when he was almost out of earshot, and he was never quite sure if the guy didn't realize he could still hear. Was he taunting him on purpose? Or thinking he was doing it all behind his back? He'd heard a few of his other colleagues give defenses for him, but he never stuck around long enough to see how they went, preferring to get farther away to make sure he didn't lose it and snap.

Thankfully, today was Friday and that meant a two day break from work. He was, mostly, looking forward to it.

Ever since the night earlier in the week, the night when Claire had been talking about work and how meaningful she found it and how weren't they both lucky that they enjoyed their jobs, he'd felt antsy. He should've told her then, he knew. Should've used that opportunity to say, no, he didn't find his job satisfying. Should've told her about the job offer, and that he'd put his name in.

But he hadn't.

And then he'd pulled away. He hadn't meant to. Well, that's not quite right. He had been feeling uncomfortable. When she'd cuddled into him, it had felt calming, settling his racing mind and allowing him to relax. But then she'd had to bring up work again. Had to talk about how work made her feel safe. It hadn't been all that long ago that she'd told him that he did that. What had changed?

She hadn't tried anything since that night. But she also hadn't completely pulled away, staying at his side afterwards. He wasn't sure how to reconcile those two things. Did it mean she was okay with him pulling back? Were they fine? It didn't quite feel that way, considering her (lack of) actions since.

Owen knew he probably needed to be the one to initiate it. He just couldn't bring himself to do so. Because every day that passed, he could just feel the job application weighing him down even more. It felt like he was walking around chained to a giant boulder; a constant reminder that he needed to say something.

He knew that making the first move, that having sex, would be easy. That had never been the hard part of their relationship. It was always communication that seemed to trip them up, both of them holding back out of fear of the other's reaction.

Just like he was doing right now.

Why didn't that realization make it any easier to tell her? He knew that every day that went by was just going to make it worse. It was already going to be bad enough that he hadn't told her before the proposal was submitted. Each day that passed now, was just dragging that out.

What was holding him back?

That was the big question, wasn't it, he mused. What was holding him back? What did he really think was going to happen if he told her? That she'd be against it? He didn't think that. He knew Claire would be happy for him. That she'd support him. But… knowing that and knowing that, were apparently two different things.

The one thing about Claire, the one thing that had always remained true about Claire, from the moment he'd first been introduced to her back on Nublar, was that she always seemed to know exactly what she wanted. He had thought he was the same way, until he'd met her. Until he'd seen her in action. He was generally really confident in his own actions, but she took it to another level.

Sometimes, that was great. He'd never felt anything quite like the feeling when he'd realized that she'd wanted him. But other times, whenever he was waffling over a decision, or trying to sort out an area of his life, it just felt draining. Her confidence that she had the right answer would make him second-guess his even more. He knew that was what had kept him from telling her at the start. He had wanted the time to think through the offer, to decide if he thought it was worth pursuing, before he told her.

On the other hand, her confidence did make him appreciate, all the more, the moments when she faltered and would turn to him, looking for direction, support, something. To know that he could provide that, that she got that from him, that she needed him, to some degree, made him puff up with pride. He had always thought they were stronger together.

But lately, for some reason, it felt like something was out of place. Like they were just out of sync. From their conversation after the sanctuary BBQ, to Claire's actions and his response the other night. There was just something off in their cadence and he didn't know how to reset it. He didn't think it was just the job. That didn't seem big enough.

He knew they had rushed things, when they had decided to stick it out a second time, after Lockwood. He didn't regret that choice. And he was pretty sure she didn't either. But in the rush of things — in the speed at which they got married, bought a house, took in Maisie, dealt with the fallout — they had never really discussed everything. There was so much going on, and not enough time (or energy) to have the big conversations that they both knew they needed to have, but that had never felt important enough to try to stop and force time for.

And things had worked. They'd settled into their new lives, with a bit of fumbling, but not as much as they had the first time. They knew each other better now. They knew what they wanted better now. To some degree, reconnecting, moving back in, had felt like coming home. Like the final piece of his puzzle was snapping back into place. He knew (and had known) it wasn't quite that simple. But things had worked, and it had been easier to just not question it, to not rock the boat. Why mess with a good thing?

But now? Now Owen didn't know what the right course of action was. Pulling onto their driveway, he turned off his truck, but didn't get out right away. The garage door was up, and he could see Claire's car parked inside, which meant, for once, she'd beat him home. Getting out, meant having to face her. And he still didn't know what to do. He didn't know how to start the conversation he knew he desperately needed. And he didn't want to be the one who finally did rock the boat.

 

Chapter Text

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie…

"Claire?"

Claire looked up from her laptop when she heard her name called. She'd been neck deep in DPG reports for a couple of hours she realized, catching sight of the clock on the wall. Stretching her arms in front of her, Claire tried to loosen the tension she could feel building in her neck.

"Claire?!"

Hearing her name again, this time she was aware of the slight edge of panic that coated the tone, the way it rose at the end, almost in fear. Except that was Owen she could hear calling her, and what would he be afraid of? Especially here, at their house.

Her blood ran cold—Maisie. Had something happened? Claire bolted from her chair, racing out of her office. "Owen?" she shouted, wondering where he was.

"Garage," he called back.

Claire quickly switched direction as her mind started to bombard her with images of power tools and blood (and Claire figured she had a right to imagine worst case scenarios after two encounters with vicious dinosaur hybrids). Bursting into the garage, she came to a sudden halt. Owen was standing on the upturned bucket he usually used as a stool for working on his motorcycle, but besides that oddity, he looked fine. She quickly swept her gaze around the garage, but she couldn't see Maisie. Or, really, see anything else out of the ordinary.

"What's wrong?" Claire asked.

"Umm..." Owen looked around nervously before meeting her gaze.

"What? You called me for a reason," Claire huffed, hands on her hips when he didn't expand. She waited a few moments, and when he stayed silent, she turned to go back inside.

"Theresamouse." The words came out in a rushed whisper and Claire wasn't sure she heard him correctly. She turned back to face him slowly.

"There's a... mouse?"

"Uh-huh," Owen nodded, his gaze darting towards the base of one of the shelving units lining the wall.

"And...?"

"What do you mean 'and?'"

"You're standing on a bucket, Owen. It's just a mouse."

"It ran right beside me!"

"So?" When Owen chose to stay silent a second time, Claire again moved to leave.

"Can you kill it?"

She barely heard the words, they were said so softly as she was about to pull the door open.

"Kill it?" Claire turned back again.

"Yeah. It's under there," Owen pointed at one of the shelves.

"Wait a sec... are you seriously scared of a mouse?" Her jaw dropping, Claire re-examined Owen's stance, things making sense now. "Wow, you really are."

"Yeah, well..." Owen said, trying to stand up straighter and project confidence. But considering he was still perched on a bucket and his gaze kept darting towards the shelving unit, it didn't really work.

Claire was, however, willing to let him have this. It's not like she didn't have her own unfounded phobias, and he hadn't mocked her (well, not much) over them. Once again, she turned to go back into the house.

"Where are you going?"

The fear in his voice made her reconsider what she was going to say. "I need to get some cheese."

"You're going to feed it?!"

Claire was barely able to hold back her laughter at his horrified tone. "No, it's for the mousetrap."

"But..."

"Just keep watch, I'll be right back."

"Hurry," Owen pleaded as she left.

Claire chuckled as she went into the kitchen and cut a couple of small wedges of cheese. Then, on second thought, grabbed the peanut butter as well. Might as well set out a few traps. Where there's one... well, not that she'd say that to Owen.

"Got it," she told him, reentering the garage. He was still standing on the bucket. "You know, you don't have to be up there. You can go inside if you want."

"What if it moves?" Owen squeaked, his gaze glued to the shelving unit. "Actually," his face paled, "what if it's already moved? I can't see it. It could have gone somewhere else. Anywhere else..."

Claire watched as he started looking frantically around the garage, twisting this way and that, all while trying not to fall off the bucket as he did so. Finally, his gaze landed back on her. "Why are you just standing there? Do something."

"Seriously, Owen, why don't you go inside? Or to the backyard?"

"What if it's in the house?" Owen said, apparently not hearing her.

"What if what's in the house?" A third voice joined, and Claire looked over her shoulder to see Maisie standing in the doorway.

"Close the door!" Owen practically shouted. "Don't let it go in."

"What go in?" Maisie asked again, although she did step further into the garage, letting the door close behind her.

"There's a mouse," Claire said, turning to face Maisie, adding in a whisper, "supposedly."

"There is," Owen insisted from behind her. "It was less than two inches from me."

"A mouse? Really? Where? Can I see it?" Maisie asked, looking around the garage.

Claire turned back to Owen just in time to see him deflate at the delighted tone in Maisie's voice. Stifling her chuckle, she moved towards the work bench, putting down the cheese and peanut butter and pulling open one of the drawers in search of the mousetraps she knew they had stored there.

"What are you doing?" Maisie asked, appearing at Claire's side as she set five mousetraps across the countertop.

"Going to set these around the garage and see if we can't catch it," Claire replied, carefully putting a dab of peanut butter on three, and the cheese on the other two, before setting the springs. "Careful," she quickly warned Maisie, as the girl reached for one of the traps. "You don't want to get caught."

"You're going to kill it?" Maisie asked, her voice losing its cheer. "Why?"

"Of course she's going to kill it," Owen said from behind them. "The sooner the better."

"But…" Maisie looked from the traps to Claire and then Owen. "It's just a mouse…"

"That has no right to be in our garage," Owen stated firmly. "It's trespassing."

"It's probably looking for something," Maisie suggested, crouching down to look under the shelves.

"What are you doing?" Owen asked. "Get up. It might come at you."

"It's just a mouse," Maisie laughed. "Maybe I could keep it as a pet?" She looked up at him. "I could train it like in The Witches, see if I can get it to walk a tightrope. You could help. You trained the raptors."

Claire had picked up a couple of traps, and was moving about the garage to find good spots to set them up, grateful that Owen couldn't see her expression, especially as she watched him shudder in reaction to Maisie's comment. Maisie had recently become obsessed with the idea of a pet (preferably a dog) and had been trying to find ways to work it into every conversation. When it had first come up, Claire had raised her hands and said that animals were Owen's thing and it was between the two of them. That she wouldn't be taking care of it—she already had all the dinosaurs to worry about.

"I will never train a mouse," Owen stated firmly. "And we are never having a mouse as a pet. No way. Nuh-uh."

"I suppose I'd probably need more than one," Maisie continued, ignoring his response. "It would probably need a friend."

"Not happening, kiddo," Owen warned. "No mouse. No rat. No hamster. No guinea pig. Nothing like that."

"Fine," Maisie sighed, watching as Claire set out the remaining three traps. "Do you really have to kill it?"

"We probably won't catch it," Claire reassured her. "I bet it's already run off. But, better to put these out, just in case."

"I hope you don't catch it," Maisie said. "It's not like mice can really know they're trespassing."

"Well," Claire stood up from setting down the last trap, wiping her hands on her pants. "We'll find out tomorrow." She looked over at Owen still standing on the bucket and rolled her eyes. "Let's all go in. If it's still in here, I doubt it's going to make a move while we're all watching."

Owen raised his gaze wearily to her, not looking all that keen to get off his bucket. She ignored him for a second, focusing on Maisie. "Come on, Mais, back in the house." Once she saw that Maisie had turned, she moved towards Owen, dropping her voice to a low whisper. "Do you really want to stand on the bucket all night?"

Claire waited while Owen seemed to consider her statement, before he cautiously stepped down, hurrying after Maisie with Claire following behind them at a slower pace.

"If I can't have a mouse… what about a dog?" Maisie asked as Claire closed the door behind them and, that time, Claire couldn't prevent the snort of laughter.

x x x

Later that night, curled into his side, head resting over his heart, Claire drew aimlessly on his bare chest with her fingers as she tried to catch her breath. She could still feel Owen's heart racing, one of his hands lazily running up and down her back, the other arm draped over his eyes.

"So…" Claire started, tilting her head up to press a kiss to the underside of his jaw. Owen hummed in acknowledgement. "What is it, exactly, about mice?"

"What isn't it about mice," Owen huffed, tensing below her. "They've got beady little eyes. The way their tails move. They can carry stuff with their tails, did you know that? And they can squeeze through the smallest cracks. The sounds they make…"

Claire could feel the shudder that ran through him, and she rested her palm on his chest, shifting to rubbing soothing circles. "But… you used to feed rats to the raptors. Rats are really just bigger mice."

"Dead rats," Owen specified. "They can't move when they're dead. And the fact that mice are small is part of what makes them so terrifying. C'mon, even elephants don't like mice. That should mean something."

"That's a myth!" Claire protested.

"Nope," Owen countered, and Claire could feel him relaxing under her again. "Mythbusters looked into it and they back away when they see mice."

"Huh," Claire said, "didn't know that."

"Elephants never forget," Owen reminded her. "Makes you wonder what mice have done to them before…"

Chuckling, Claire sat up reaching for Owen's discarded t-shirt and boxers. She pulled the t-shirt on and chucked the boxers at Owen, before grabbing the covers they had kicked off earlier, pulling them back up and over them as she snuggled closer to him. "Never thought about it that way."

"And now you will," Owen said, and Claire knew he was grinning. He let out a sigh, his arms circling around her and pulling her closer. "I don't know what it is about mice. Not really, anyway. I know it's an irrational fear. I'm sorry."

"Hey, you never need to apologize for that," Claire said, pushing against his hold so she could prop herself up to meet his eyes. "Just surprised I didn't know about this before today."

"It's not like I go around advertising it," Owen shrugged. "When would I have mentioned it before?"

"But… you love camping and the outdoors. You love going to the cabin. There's got to be mice out there."

"There are," Owen agreed. "But there's plenty of outdoor space for them to have theirs and me to have mine. I have no problem with them as long as they stay away. Far away."

"I'll check the traps tomorrow, but it probably ran away," Claire said, sleepiness starting to take hold, her body relaxing back into his.

"I hope you caught it, no matter what Maisie thinks," Owen mumbled back.

"If I did, let's hope she doesn't see it," Claire said. "I don't want to deal with that."

"I still can't believe you used the good cheese."

Laughing, Claire patted his chest. "You want me to catch it, right?"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Life Support

Under the shade of the umbrella, and propped up by her beach lounger, Claire was thinking that the day really couldn't get any better. It was the perfect temperature to be down by the lake. They had brought down a picnic and she was spending the afternoon finally diving into a book she'd been meaning to read. Owen and Maisie were out in the middle of the lake, paddling around in the canoe. While it had been a year since Claire's unfortunate experience with said canoe, Owen had continued to hold up his end of his deal and hadn't bugged her to get back in it again. She'd seen him give her a slight questioning look whenever they'd be loading it up to take to the lake, and she'd seen him add in an extra life jacket for her, but he'd never pushed and she'd never offered to go in.

While the experience hadn't been all bad, she still preferred to stay on dry land. Or, if she wanted to go near the water, she preferred to venture into the water, and go for a swim instead. Maybe some day she'd give in, and go out again, but for now, she was enjoying the fact that she could read her book without interruptions.

She had just flipped the page when Maisie's scream of "Owen!" had her bolting upright book dropped onto the sand at her side. Blinking against the bright sun, she raised her hand to her forehand, trying to block the glare, before she remembered the sunglasses perched on the top of her head. Claire pulled them on as she scrambled to her feet, still searching the lake.

On her first pass, she didn't see them, but slowing down, and looking more carefully, she realized that the canoe was almost directly in front of her. And that she'd missed it on her first pass, because only Maisie was still sitting in it. Maisie seemed to be looking into the water on the far side of the canoe, the side that Claire couldn't see.

Eyes widening, Claire was already moving towards the water. She could vaguely hear the few of the other people on the beach doing the same.

"Maisie?" Claire shouted, but Maisie didn't seem to hear her, instead leaning over the side of the canoe, reaching for something. Where was Owen, Claire wondered. She couldn't see him, but she knew he'd gone out with a lifejacket, so if somehow he'd fallen in, he would — should — be fine. But the moment she finished that thought, she watched as Maisie appeared to drag Owen's life jacket back into the canoe. She could feel the blood draining from her face, her fingers tingling, and for a moment she froze, unsure what to do.

"I think he's got him," someone yelled, and Claire finally tuned into all the other noise and chaos that was happening around her. She realized she'd been so focused on Maisie, she hadn't even realized what else was going on. Swinging her gaze to the right, she saw the few other people on the beach were looking at something intently, something she couldn't see from her spot. She quickly moved in their direction, only then noticing that someone was in the water, swimming frantically towards the canoe.

Finally getting close to the others, Claire could see what she hadn't before. She could see Owen now, and he appeared to be treading water while holding onto someone — a child if she wasn't mistaken — while saying something to Maisie.

She watched as Maisie nodded at whatever Owen had told her, before Owen turned towards the shore, swimming briskly towards them, still clutching onto the kid. He was met about halfway by the other swimmer, who turned around with Owen and the two swam back together. As they neared the shore, Owen stood up, still cradling the kid in his arms, before rushing out. She wasn't sure he saw her, as he yelled for people to make room and call 911, before laying the kid down on the sand.

It wasn't until he did so that Claire realized the child didn't appear to be breathing. She watched, her breath caught in her throat as Owen continued to take charge. He quickly assessed the situation, seemingly laser-focused on saving the boy's life. She might have stopped breathing herself, watching as he checked for a pulse, gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and then started on chest compressions. There was something captivating about watching him work under pressure. Maybe it was his poise? Or the rhythm of his measured movements?

It was not until she saw the kid coughing up water and sitting up, that she could feel her shoulders relaxing, the fear that she didn't know she had been holding onto finally evaporating. When Owen finally sat back on his heels, she relaxed even more. He looked up, and it didn't take long before his gaze landed on hers.

She was moving before she even managed to comprehend what she was doing, and so was he, standing up, letting the others who had gathered around take care of the kid. Claire didn't even care that he was still soaking wet, her arms wrapping around him immediately, and his around her, as he sunk into her embrace, resting his head on top of hers.

"What happened?" Claire whispered, after a couple of moments had passed. She could feel his heart beating rapidly against her, the adrenaline still clearly coursing through him.

"Kid fell out of a boat," Owen said. "I didn't even notice at first, but Maisie–" He cut off, and as one, they both turned back towards the lake, where Maisie was still sitting in the canoe, watching everything, her eyes wide. "Dammit," Owen cursed. "I need to go back out there." He pulled away, already moving back towards the water, Claire following in step beside him.

"I can go," Claire volunteered, stopping him just as he was about to step back in. "You look exhausted, Owen."

"I'll be fine."

"Are you sure?"

"Do you think you can get back into the canoe without tipping it over?" Owen asked with a raised eyebrow, and Claire scowled, hating that he was probably right. To be honest, she wasn't 100% sure of her ability to actually paddle the canoe back on her own. She was sure she could probably figure it out, but she hadn't thought about the getting back in part.

"I'll be fine," Owen repeated. "But I better go now, before I do crash." Claire nodded mutely, arms crossed over her chest as she watched Owen swim back to the canoe. He was able to get back in without difficulty, and soon enough, they were paddling back towards the shore.

A loud commotion on shore distracted her, and she turned to see some other people running over to the group with the child. Not wanting to add to the chaos, Claire continued to stand where she was, watching as they fawned over the child, clearly the parents, if the kid's hiccuping cries and the frantic hugs and kisses he was receiving were any indication. She could hear one of the parents repeatedly saying that they hadn't seen the kid fall out, that they hadn't realized anything had happened right away. They were thanking the crowd around them, and Claire turned back to watch Owen and Maisie. She knew Owen would be happy to not be around during this, having never appreciated the praise that he would get smothered with, always insisting he was just doing what any normal person would.

When the canoe finally neared the shore, Claire waded into the water, helping to pull it up and holding it steady while Owen and Maisie climbed out. Maisie launched herself at Claire the moment she was in reach, and Claire was thankful for Owen's hand that quickly landed on her back, helping her stay upright.

"Is he okay?" Maisie asked, risking a glance over towards the crowd. "The kid?"

"He'll be fine," Claire reassured her. "Thanks to you."

"I didn't do anything," Maisie said, her voice muffled as she pushed herself closer to Claire.

"You told Owen," Claire replied, squeezing Maisie tighter. "If you hadn't seen it…" She trailed off, not wanting to speak what none of them wanted to think about it. She forced a brighter tone. "But, there's no what if's to be concerned about here. You saw it. And you both acted quickly."

"And you stayed calm the whole time," Owen said, one hand still resting on Claire's back while his other moved to Maisie's shoulder. "That takes a lot of courage. You stayed in the canoe. And you waited for help."

"I didn't know what to do," Maisie admitted.

"Well you did the right thing," Owen said firmly. "And that's what matters. Now," he looked over at the canoe, "why don't we get this loaded up. I don't know about you two, but I think I'm done here for the day."

"Yeah, okay," Maisie agreed. "I don't think I want to be on the water anymore."

The three made quick work of getting the canoe out of the water. Owen and Claire carried it back to the truck, while Maisie followed with the paddles. Once they'd placed it on top, Claire left Owen and Maisie to tie it down, while she want back to where she'd been sitting to pack up the rest of their gear.

After the excitement of earlier, the beach was already calming back down. The parents had already left with the kid, and everyone else was going back to what they had been doing before (or leaving — Claire did notice they weren't the only ones making that choice).

"You're a really lucky woman."

Claire looked up, startled from where she'd been repacking her beach bag, to see a woman standing beside her umbrella, looking down at her. "What?"

"You're a really lucky woman," the woman repeated. "That was really quick thinking by your husband. Not everyone would've acted so fast. And not only that, he seemed to know just what to do. CPR and everything. Things could've been so much worse."

Claire wasn't sure how to respond. "I know," she finally said, when it was clear the woman was waiting for her to say something. "He's… Owen's… I really am lucky." She smiled up at the woman, before turning back to her packing.

"I'm always nervous down here," the woman continued. "No lifeguards and all that. It's good to know there's people around here who will jump in, if needed. Makes me feel a bit safer."

"Owen's good at that," Claire said, putting the bag aside as she stood to collapse the umbrella. "Making people feel safe," she clarified, when she saw the woman's confused look. "I know he does that for me."

"Well, tell him thanks," the woman said, finally turning to walk away.

Claire bent down and picked up the bag, and the umbrella, and then looked over at the cooler and lounger. She'd have to come back for them, she decided. She had just taken a couple of steps towards the car when she saw Owen, and so she paused, waiting for him to reach her so he could help her carry the stuff.

"I would've just done a second trip," she told him, as they walked to the truck together.

"I know," Owen shrugged. "But it's faster this way."

x x x

Pulling the truck to a stop by their cabin, Owen tried to stifle the yawn that wanted to escape. He was annoyed that he was so tired. It wasn't like he'd swam all that far, or that the kid had been all that heavy. He knew it was the after effects of the adrenaline surge from the whole event, but it still annoyed him.

When Maisie had first said that she'd seen a kid fall into the water, he hadn't initially believed her. But, a moment later, he briefly saw a head break through the surface, arms flailing, before the kid sunk out of sight. He had acted on instinct, diving straight into the water, barely managing to tell Maisie to stay put. He'd forgotten about the lifejacket until he immediately bobbed back to the surface, and then had had to rip it off, as it was making it difficult for him to dive after the kid. Just thinking about it and he could feel his heart rate accelerating again.

As they got out of the truck, he saw Claire going to the back to help with taking down the canoe and he waved her off. "Let's do that later," Owen told her and she looked at him in surprise. He was usually insistent that they took it off right away, knowing that he'd be annoyed with himself later when he wanted to use his truck and it was still there. But, he just didn't feel like he had the energy to do so, not right now. Before she could start a discussion, he grabbed the cooler from the back of the truck and headed towards the cabin.

He left the cooler on the kitchen table as he headed into the master bedroom. He wanted to change. He had been wearing a t-shirt out on the canoe, and while his boardshorts were pretty much dry, his shirt definitely wasn't and was getting more and more uncomfortable. Actually, what he really wanted, he decided as he was searching his drawers for something to change into, was a shower.

Owen could hear Claire and Maisie in the main area, unpacking the cooler and beach bag. With only one bathroom in the cabin, they always had to be careful with when people showered. Deciding they were occupied and he could be fast, he found his towel and quickly claimed the bathroom.

The warm water felt great, but what it was really doing, he quickly realized, was actually just making him more tired. He felt like he could fall asleep standing up. After he was dressed, Owen looked at the bed. It looked so inviting, and he almost lay right down. But, there was a part of him that felt like he needed to keep moving, to beat back his exhaustion. He had never been one for naps, preferring to just power through as much as possible, and maybe go to bed a bit earlier.

Wandering back out into the main area of the cabin, he was surprised to find only Claire was still there, in the kitchen looking through the cupboards.

"Hey, where's Maisie?" Owen asked.

"She went out to the treehouse," Claire told him.

"Is she doing okay? Not too freaked out by everything?" Owen asked, realizing he hadn't really confirmed that earlier.

"Yeah, she's fine," Claire nodded, coming over to stand by him. "A little shaken up, but happy that everything worked out."

"Me, too," Owen agreed.

"I told her that's why you wear life jackets," Claire said with a grin. "In case something unexpected happens."

The life jackets had continued to be a bit of a sore point for him and Claire. It wasn't that he thought they were a bad idea, it was more that he never liked how it felt like they were restricting his movement. But, he also saw Claire's point, and if he hadn't, today would've definitely hammered it home. "I know I've argued against them, but I wouldn't have if Maisie was that little. I don't get why you'd ever take a young kid out on a boat without one." Owen shook his head, still shocked that the kid hadn't been wearing one. He was about to add something else, but instead let out a giant yawn.

"Maybe you should go lie down," Claire told him. "Have a nap."

"I don't nap," Owen said. "I just need to do something. I'll be fine."

"Tell you what," she grabbed his hand, pulling him after her. She picked up her book off the table as they passed by, heading for the back door. "I was just about to go read my book. Why don't you join me."

"And read your book?" Owen was confused, but followed after her, letting her pull him along.

"Keep me company," Claire corrected, leading him over to the hammock.

"No, I'll fall asleep," he protested, immediately understanding her idea.

"So?" She gave him small pushes towards the hammock until he finally caved and climbed in and she followed after him. It took them a minute to sort out positioning, Owen lying on his back, Claire on her side, tucked up against him. She propped her book up on his chest, her other hand running her fingers through his hair.

"That's not fair," Owen mumbled, he could feel himself starting to drift away, soothed by her touch.

"I won't let you sleep long, promise," she told him.

"I hate naps," he said, although he could tell his voice was slurring.

"Then don't call it a nap," Claire chuckled lightly. There were a few moments of silence, and he had almost drifted off when she spoke up again. "You know, a woman came by to tell me how lucky I am to have you. That you knew just want to do and just did it."

"You'd do the same," Owen said simply.

"I wish," Claire scoffed. "I'd want to," she conceded, as if she could tell he was about to protest, "but I don't know CPR. And I'm not sure I'd have the strength to pull the kid out of the water." She fell silent, but he waited her out, knowing instinctively that she wasn't done. "That woman is right, I am lucky," she continued. "I always know that Maisie's safe with you. That I'm safe with you." There was another long stretch of silence, before he felt her shift, pressing a kiss to his cheek. "Thanks."

"Never want to lose you." The words escaped without a thought, but he knew it was the truth. He didn't want to lose Claire or Maisie. They were his family.

"You won't," she said. He felt her fingers starting to comb through his hair again. "Sleep. I'll wake you in a bit."

He could feel the hammock swaying lightly, the sound of birds chirping and the pages of her book rustling as she searched for her spot. He felt her shifting to settle more firmly against his side. He moved slightly, turning his head so he could rest it against the top of her head. Maybe she was right, maybe closing his eyes for a bit wouldn't be so bad.

Chapter Text

Day One

It took almost four days before things got sorted out enough that Claire and Owen could finally leave the Lockwood Estate. Technically, they could've left after two, except no one was sure what to do with Maisie yet. And they hadn't been willing to let her out of their sight.

Child Protective Services had shown up on the second day when it had finally sunk in that, no, Claire and Owen weren't her parents. Claire supposed it wasn't an unexpected leap for the first responders to have made, considering Maisie had always had at least one of either her or Owen at her side since they'd shown up. When CPS had arrived, they had wanted to take Maisie so they could put her in a temporary foster home while everything was sorted through. However, between Owen's protective stance in front of Maisie, Maisie's own whimpering and clutching at Owen, and Claire's very passionate and persuasive defense, they had managed to delay the CPS officer long enough for Claire to mount a successful campaign (and pull a whole hell of a lot of strings) to get Maisie released into their care.

Now that they were finally driving away from the Estate and headed back to San Francisco, however, Claire was beginning to second guess their actions. What did she know about raising a nine year old girl? What did Owen know? And were they going to do this together? They'd tried twice now, albeit with much less responsibility, and had failed miserably both times. Would taking in Maisie make this better? Or worse?

Her palms suddenly sweaty, she rubbed them on her legs, before reaching up and wrapping the flannel shirt (one she still wasn't quite sure where it had come from) more tightly around her, taking in a shaky breath. A hand landing heavily on her knee had her swinging her gaze over to Owen to find him looking over at her, his other hand resting on the wheel.

Claire wasn't sure how to read the look in his eyes and the depth of emotion that she could see. She suddenly felt like she was drowning, overwhelmed by a mixture of emotions. Every time she thought she got a handle on what she was feeling, another swept over her, sucking her back under.

"Breathe, Claire," Owen said, his hand squeezing her knee.

She gulped heavily, but it didn't feel like the air was actually making it into her lungs. Could you drown on land? No water in sight? She felt like she was about to find out.

His grip on her leg tightened, almost to the point of pain, but it got her attention, her gaze shifting back to him. "It's just a panic attack," Owen told her. "You're fine. You just need to breathe. C'mon, with me now." Suddenly his hand let go of her knee and she felt both of his cup her cheeks, locking her gaze on his. Had they stopped? When had he pulled over? The thoughts were fleeting, her blood pounding in her ears, making it difficult to hear what he was saying.

She felt him grab her hand, placing it on his chest, holding it steady with his own. "In. One… Two… Three… And out. One… Two… Three." It took a few repetitions, but eventually she was able to time her breaths with his, feeling his chest rise under her hand as he breathed in, and then deflate as he breathed out. "There you are," Owen said, her gaze finally focusing, finally able to pick out the worry that had been pooling in his. "See, just a panic attack." The use of 'just' made her let out a laugh, but it was almost hysterical, and she watched as his gaze jumped to the backseat.

Dammit, Maisie. What kind of parent was she going to be if she'd already forgotten about her new charge and it had only been a couple of hours? Her breath hitched again.

"Oh, no you don't," Owen shook his head, his hand on her cheek directing her gaze back to his. "You're fine. Maisie's fine. We're all fine."

Claire took a couple more gulping breaths, trying to get control back. She'd never liked feeling weak, and, for some reason, it had always felt worse when she felt that way around Owen. Which she knew wasn't giving him enough credit, as he'd never pushed or done anything to indicate that he'd thought less of her when she was. She had just always wanted to prove that she could do it on her own. That she didn't need anyone else. Of course, maybe that was part of what had driven them apart the last time.

Closing her eyes briefly, she sucked in another breath, holding it for a few seconds before letting it out slowly and opening her eyes again. "Sorry," Claire said, finally finding her voice again. "I don't know what came over me."

"No apology needed," Owen was quick to reassure her. "Seriously," he said, when she tried to look away, "It's fine."

Unable to handle the current level of concern in his voice or his eyes, Claire looked past him and out the car window. They were pulled over on the side of the highway, occasional cars whipping by. "Where are we?" She asked more for the need to change the subject than actual curiosity. She wasn't exactly sure what to think when Owen pulled back, sitting back in his seat, his hands dropping away from her.

"Um, almost to Mendocino," Owen replied. "I thought we could have a break there, before we make the rest of the drive. Fill up gas, get a chance to stretch our legs."

"Sure," Claire agreed. Getting out of the car actually sounded really good. Remembering Maisie, Claire turned to look at the backseat, only to find that Maisie was asleep, her head pillowed by a rolled up sweatshirt as she leaned against the door.

"She's been out for a while now," Owen said when Claire turned back to the front. "Probably good to wake her up. I don't know how naps affect kids her age, but don't want her up all night."

"A bed!" Claire exclaimed, before letting out a groan, her hand slapping against her forehead.

"Bed?" Owen sounded confused, but he was focused on pulling back out onto the highway.

"We need to get her a bed," Claire said, reaching down to her feet where a small bag of her few belongings (or, more accurately, random things she'd claimed from around the Estate) was sitting. She pulled out a pad of paper and rummaged around for a pen. "We can't have her sleeping on the couch. I think we can fit a twin bed in the den, but I'm not sure what we'll do with my desk." As she started scribbling a list on the paper, she mused aloud, trying to think through the necessities.

The task felt routine, normal, something she knew how to do. It was putting her back in control. She could feel her whole body relaxing as she jotted down items. Even though the list should've felt daunting, and been making everything seem that much bigger, it felt doable. She could handle lists. She was back in her element.

x x x

It wasn't until Owen was following Claire and Maisie through the door into Claire's place that it actually really registered that holy crap they were really doing this. That he and Claire had, somehow, over the course of a single evening (followed by a few crazy days that had felt way too much like a repeat of the fallout of Jurassic World) become responsible for a child.

When it was happening, in the moment, it had felt completely right. And almost… normal? Which felt like a weird thought, now that he was entering Claire's condo, a place he had never stepped foot in before. And that just felt like a neon sign reminding him that they weren't actually together. Or hadn't been as of only a few days ago (were they now?). And that they hadn't really even talked in a few months.

In fact, the last time he'd seen her, before all of this went down, had been when she'd come out to his cabin a few months prior. They had gotten into a shouting match over who knows what, because back then, they didn't need anything to start yelling, it was just what happened whenever they ended up in the same space. Like they didn't know how to communicate without raising their voices.

While he couldn't remember what they said, the words had never mattered. He could still remember feeling so angry and frustrated and hopeless. Hating that he was unable to figure out how to break them out of the pattern they had fallen into, and yet, feeling like they were both pulling their punches, knowing how easy it would be to strike an essential death blow, what with all they really did know about each other.

Afterwards — long afterwards — once he'd calmed down and they had gone their separate ways again, he'd focus on that. Taking comfort that she hadn't gone as far as she could, that she still seemed to be trying to figure out how to not let their relationship, as tattered and broken as it was, completely slip through their fingers. Some fights were easier to recover from, others felt like he was grasping at sand; that the tighter he tried to hold on, the faster it slipped away.

As they'd approached San Francisco, Claire had wondered aloud if they should stop somewhere and try to get a bunch of the items on the constantly growing list in her lap, but Owen had suggested they go by her place first. He'd convinced her by insisting that they better measure the den area before they ended up with furniture that didn't fit. That, and that once they were there, they could also take better stock of what they'd actually managed to pack for Maisie and what she'd need.

Now, as he emptied his pockets onto the kitchen counter — something he did out of habit — he was realizing that for all of Claire's list building, they'd both forgotten one thing. It wasn't just Maisie they needed to get stuff for, he didn't have anything either. Not until he could get back out to his cabin. At least he'd managed to hang onto his keys, somehow, and unless his truck had been towed, it should be waiting for him out at the small airfield where they'd started their whole adventure from.

Tuning back into the conversation around him, he saw that Claire was giving Maisie a quick tour of her place. They were standing at the entrance to her den (well, office) when he joined them.

"We'll get a bed and turn this into your space, for now," Claire was saying. "And maybe some sort of wardrobe, or dresser. And I can clear off some shelf space for your things. I need to get a tape measure–"

"And you and Owen will be over there?" Maisie interrupted, pointing at a closed door.

"That's the bathroom," Claire said. "But, yeah, we'll be in the bedroom, the next door."

If Owen hadn't known Claire well, he was sure he wouldn't have thought anything about what she said. But, he did know her, and he caught the almost imperceptible pause she gave before she said "we'll." And he wondered if she was feeling as fish out of water about this new setup as he was. Because he hadn't thought through where he'd be sleeping. And, now that he thought about it, besides the few hours of sleep they'd caught on the ship, he wasn't actually sure when Claire had slept in the past few days. He'd been attached to Maisie, and had ended up catching his sleep either in a chair or, on one of the better nights, sitting on the couch with his feet propped up on the coffee table, Maisie's head on his lap as she stretched out beside him. Probably all three of them could desperately use a solid night's sleep in an actual bed.

"First things first," Owen interrupted them. "Let's get this place measured so we can get a bed. I don't know about you guys, but I'm done with couches and chairs. And we're going to run out of day quickly."

They had measured the room, and then Claire had had Maisie go through her belongings, while Claire compared the contents to the list she had, making some notes and adjustments. It was decided that all they really needed immediately was a bed and sheets. That everything else could wait.

Owen wasn't really sure what to think when Claire ushered him and Maisie out of her place, pressing keys for her condo into Owen's hand, telling them to go find a bed. He'd expected her to want to be there for that part. But she brushed him off, saying she needed to do some adjustments in her place, to get it ready. That they didn't all need to go. And that they'd do a bigger group shopping trip tomorrow.

After finding a mattress and frame set at the store Claire suggested, he took Maisie to Target in hopes of finding one of those "bed in a bag" combos. Not the best quality, sure, but it would do for now, while everything was still being sorted. And, his real reason for stopping by Target, was that he was able to quickly throw in their cart some underwear, socks, and t-shirts for himself. Just enough to get him through a few days before he could make it back out to his place and get his own stuff. Not what he'd usually wear, but clothes that would do in a pinch.

The rest of the day had disappeared in a blur. When they'd walked back in, he'd been amazed at how quickly Claire had worked, and how much of her place she'd already rearranged, her desk now out in the living area shoved under a window, and the bookcase half empty.

She'd also had a shower and changed back into her own clothes and he wasn't sure he'd ever seen her look quite so relieved over that. His gaze had been immediately drawn to her leg, as he wondered how her injury was healing. She hadn't said anything about it after she'd been seen by the EMTs at the Estate, but he knew she'd received a few stitches and he was sure he'd seen her take some pain pills a few times. Which was just like her, he knew, to cover up any discomfort she was feeling, to accept it as penance for her part in whatever had happened. He didn't want to make a big deal about it, so he stayed quiet, just watching her when she wasn't looking. She no longer appeared to be limping, but he still jumped in, trying to take on any of the bigger tasks, especially once he realized she'd been moving furniture while he and Maisie had been out. He was annoyed with himself for having forgotten about the injury long enough that she'd had the opportunity to do so.

Claire had gone through their bags, giving him a quick look when she'd pulled out the clothes he'd bought, and he'd given her a brief shrug in response. She hadn't said anything, just loading up the washing machine and getting it going.

By the time the bed was delivered (Owen had paid for rushed delivery), his new clothes were washed and dried and he'd had a shower and also changed. The sheets were just finishing up in the dryer, and they had ordered in pizza, eating it on the couch while The Simpsons played on the TV, all three of them exhausted and no one really up for conversation.

Maisie had the last shower of the day, emerging from the bathroom in pajamas they'd rescued from her room, and looking so much younger than when she'd entered. For a moment, Owen's breath caught in his throat, the reality of what they were doing hitting him again. He looked around, but Claire was in the bedroom and so he grabbed the book Maisie had picked out at Target and gestured towards her new bedroom and bed.

He'd asked her earlier, at Target, about normal bedtime routine and she'd said she liked to read before bed. So, after tucking her in (which he didn't really understand, she'd already pulled up the covers herself), he'd handed over the book, and turned the bedside lamp on. He wasn't sure if he was supposed to give her a goodnight kiss (what was the protocol in situations like this?) and decided to skip it until he felt he could better read her. He was just about to leave the room, having flicked off the overhead light, when she called out.

"Have you seen my monkey?" Maisie was sitting up in bed now, looking at him.

"Your… monkey?" Owen asked, his mind blanking.

"This one?" Claire appeared from behind him, holding an orange sock monkey in her hands.

"Yes!" Maisie leaned forward and Claire handed the monkey over. "Thank you."

"No problem," Claire said, patting Maisie on the shoulder. "Get some sleep."

"You'll both… You're going to… You'll be here, right?" Maisie asked.

"We'll be just in the other bedroom. If you need anything, come and get us," Claire quickly reassured.

"Don't read too late, kiddo," Owen said, stepping back towards the end of the bed, patting Maisie's leg, the endearment escaping without thought. He almost second guessed himself, but the grin on Maisie's face as she lay back down made him think it was okay.

"Goodnight," Claire said, passing him on her way out of the room. Owen quickly followed after her, also calling back goodnight.

"Goodnight," Maisie told them, a yawn escaping her. He watched for a second as she opened up her book, before he pulled her door mostly closed, leaving it slightly ajar.

Turning back to the living area, he saw Claire standing there, looking sort of lost.

"Well, day one," Owen said. "I think that went okay."

"Yeah," Claire nodded slowly, looking at the closed door behind him.

"I don't know about you," Owen said, stepping away from the door towards her. "But I'm exhausted. I don't remember the last time I got to sleep lying down."

"Yeah, same," Claire agreed. "Um… you're okay with…" She looked towards her bedroom door and Owen followed her gaze.

"Yeah, I mean, I am if you are," Owen replied, trying not to sound too eager. There was no way he was sleeping on her couch. He almost didn't think there was anything that could top the idea of getting to sleep in a bed, but, if he was being honest with himself, the idea of getting to do so with Claire would probably be the one thing that could.

"Okay," Claire nodded again. "I'm just… I–" She looked flustered, and Owen closed the distance between them, reaching out with one hand to tuck a loose strand of hair behind her ear.

"While I'm not really sure what we've got ourselves into, I'm glad I'm doing it with you."

Claire let out a slow breath. "Me too."

Chapter Text

Plan B

When his eyes first popped open, Owen wasn't sure what had woken him up. He blinked rapidly, trying to sort through everything he was thinking and feeling. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and he raised a hand to rest atop it, only for his hand to land on top of another. His heart sped up. Why wasn't he alone? He lived alone. His next realization was that he wasn't in his bed — the sheets were too soft. Where was he?

Suddenly the memories of the past week hit him: Claire visiting him at his cabin, the trip to Isla Nublar, the dinosaur auction, Maisie, Claire's condo.

"Owen. Owen!"

He turned his head to see that Claire was sitting on her knees beside him, and he realized that it was her hand that was on his chest. Owen suddenly tuned into the feeling of her other combing through his hair. She was looking down at him, her face worried. He clutched at her hand on his chest, holding it tightly, while he gulped in a few breaths, trying to steady his heart rate and feel fully back in the present.

"I'm here, I'm here," he finally said, raising his other hand up to his face, rubbing at his eyes and then over his jaw. He turned on his side to face her, still clutching at her hand. "Sorry."

"Do you… You still get them?" Claire asked, shifting until she was stretched out beside him, propping herself up with an elbow, her brow still creased with worry.

"Not recently," Owen admitted. "And not regularly." He sighed, closing his eyes briefly, only to pop them back open when his mind assailed him with images from his nightmare.

"You…" Claire reached back out, running her hand through his hair again, and Owen relaxed beneath her touch. He could tell she was deep in thought, but the repetitive motion of her hand seemed to be soothing her as much as it was him.

"I…?" Owen asked when she didn't continue.

"What did you do? When you'd get them?" Claire asked and Owen couldn't tell if that was what she'd been about to ask before, or if she was covering.

His mind flashed back to what they used to do, whenever either of them had woken from one, but he knew that wasn't what she was asking. He wasn't really sure how to answer her question, though. Not without sounding pathetic. In the end, he went with, "Start my day really early." She looked only partly surprised by his answer. "What about you?"

"Same," Claire said, but there was a look in her eyes that he knew she wasn't being completely truthful. However, he wasn't about to push. It didn't feel like the right time, and since it felt like the most open they'd been with each other in months, he didn't want to say anything that would cause her to close off.

For a few minutes, they lay there in silence, Claire continuing to comb through his hair. She wasn't looking at him, her gaze seemed to be focused off in the distance; Owen thought she was maybe lost in a memory. He was using the opportunity to study her. To take in the subtle changes that had occurred since the last time he'd been this close to her. He wondered, not for the first time over the past few days, how she seemed to have gotten younger, while he felt like all he'd done was age in their time apart. Had she been better off without him?

"What are you thinking about?" Claire's question interrupted the path Owen was starting to spiral down, and he was grateful for the distraction.

"Wondering if I can sleep," Owen covered. "I don't really want to start the day at," he peeked over her shoulder, "3:41am. Ugh."

"Yeah, me either," Claire agreed.

She scooted farther down in the bed, pulling at the covers. Owen copied her movements. He watched as her eyes closed, and her breathing steadied. He closed his own eyes, only to open them again with a gasp barely half a minute later. Okay, clearly his brain was not ready for sleep. He tried to be quiet in his movements, pushing at the covers.

"Where are you going?" Claire mumbled, her hand reaching for him.

"Thought I'd go watch something," Owen whispered. "You should sleep."

"Wait," Claire tugged on his arm until he scooted closer to her. "C'mere." He let her pull him to her, her arms wrapping around him, one rubbing up and down his back soothingly. He felt himself melting into her embrace. While they'd been sharing the bed the last couple of nights, he'd been so tired, he'd never even had a moment to really think through their actions, too happy to just be laying flat, and then asleep before any other thought could cross his mind.

His next action happened more out of habit than anything else, as he shifted in her embrace, dipping his head to give her a kiss. He'd meant it mostly as a thank you; for the comfort, for being there, for more things than he could name. But her mouth parted beneath his and he knew he lost control in that moment, the kiss deepening in an instant. He felt her hands creep down his back until they grabbed the hem of his shirt, tugging it upwards. He pulled away just long enough to remove it. As it fell to the floor somewhere behind him, he realized that Claire had done the same. Growling, he pounced, quickly muffling her almost shriek of laughter with a kiss, pulling back only long enough to remind her "Maisie" before he dove back in.

While there were a few moments of playfulness, they didn't last. He was immediately caught up in wondering how, somehow, she felt both exactly as he remembered and yet the experience felt brand new. He was trying to slow things down, to draw it out. He wanted to remember every moment, but he was instantly overwhelmed, his grasp on reality shaky at best. For a brief second he remembered how they use to do this, drown out their nightmares in each other. But by the time they parted, bodies and minds sated, all he could think was, what nightmare?

x x x

The next time Owen opened his eyes, the room was bright, even though the curtains remained tightly closed. A glance at the alarm clock and he was surprised to see it was almost 10, although that did explain the brightness, the sun already high in the sky, the rays forcing their way through the thin fabric of the curtain.

Flopping onto his back, he rubbed at his eyes, trying to take stock as to where he was and what had happened. He couldn't remember what his nightmare had been about anymore, having evaporated both with time and… right, Claire.

He looked to his right but wasn't surprised to find that Claire was no longer in bed with him, even if he had momentarily hoped she would be. As he lay there, he was surprised how quiet it was. Sure, he could hear the sounds of traffic drifting in through the window, but over the past few days he had been growing used to a constant sort of hum in the condo. It was so different from out on his lot, where it could sometimes feel so silent he'd wonder if the world had stopped turning.

But there was something comforting about the sound of the tv on, Claire on (another) phone call or Maisie just chattering away. He hadn't expected to find the sounds of a kid playing to feel so normal. He'd never spent all that much time around children over his life, and so it wasn't something he was used to. He did wonder, sometimes, if Maisie talked a lot for a kid, having no reference point. If she wasn't talking to them, he'd often hear her talking aloud as she played, giving commentary and voices to her steadily growing collection of dinosaurs.

Both he and Claire had shared a hesitant look when Maisie had approached them at the store with a bucket of plastic dinosaur figures, asking if she could get them. He knew they both had expected her to fear dinosaurs after everything, but she didn't seem to, somehow managing to do a better job than they were at separating the Indoraptor from regular dinosaurs.

Pushing back the covers, he groaned as he sat up, his muscles sore. Pleasantly sore, he thought, a grin emerging as he remembered the better — much better — part of his night. While he could've done without the nightmare, he definitely wasn't complaining about the after effects. Although, he looked over at the empty half of the bed beside him again, was Claire thinking the same thing? He'd expected to wake up to her this morning, the way he always had after similar nights in the past, where they'd start their day with another round. Of course, they had been up pretty late (or early, depending on how you looked at it).

The silence of the condo caught his attention again, and he suddenly wondered if he was alone. Had they gone out? Had Claire not wanted to talk with him, to have to face what they'd done? No, he shook his head, Claire wasn't one to hide away from something like that. And Owen knew she'd been just as into it as he had been. Things were just different now, they had Maisie — they couldn't sleep the morning away just because they wanted to.

Standing up, he was about to pull open the bedroom door when he looked down and realized he was only in the pair boxers he'd pulled on afterwards, when Claire had said something about Maisie. He hesitated, then turned back, finding a pair of pajama bottoms and a t-shirt and pulled them on, just in case.

Opening the door to the main area, he was surprised to realize that both Claire and Maisie were still there, over in the kitchen area, apparently having a late breakfast.

"Owen, you're awake!"

He still wasn't feeling exactly awake, but he forced a smile onto his face as he was greeted by Maisie's excitement.

"Claire told me I wasn't allowed to wake you," Maisie informed him as he walked over to where she was sitting at the kitchen table, a mostly finished plate of waffles in front of her. "She said I had to be quiet." Maisie forked another piece of her waffle and was about to eat it when she paused, her head tilted to the side in question as she looked at him. "I didn't wake you, did I? I tried to be quiet."

"You didn't wake me," Owen confirmed, patting her on the shoulder. He looked past her to Claire, who was standing over by the kitchen counter, busying herself with the toaster. He walked over to join her, dropping his voice down low as he reached her side. "Thanks."

"Huh? What for?" Claire asked, turning towards him and pressing a mug of coffee into his hands.

"Letting me sleep," Owen gave a brief nod back towards the bedroom. He raised up the mug to take a sip, before letting out a satisfied sigh. "And for this."

"You okay?" Claire asked, her gaze inquisitive, giving him a once over.

He lifted a hand, running it through his bedhead and gave her shaky smile. "I am. Or, I will be. It's been a while since I've had one of those."

"Yeah, I–" Claire was cut off as the toaster popped, and she turned to it, pulling out a couple of waffles and putting them onto a plate. She turned back to him, handing the plate over. "We're running a little low on food. I'm not used to shopping for–" She cut off again, but this time Owen knew it was on purpose, neither of them having brought up or talked through their sudden change of relationship status. And now, after last night… it wasn't only the nightmare that was leaving him feeling a bit disoriented this morning.

"No problem, I love waffles," Owen gave her a more genuine smile that time. He was turning to go sit at the table when Claire's hand landing on his arm stopped him. He looked back at her just as she raised up on her tiptoes, planting a quick kiss on his lips. His hands full, he was unable to do much when she pulled back, an embarrassed smile on her face. He quickly dipped his head, kissing her, his lips pressed to hers eagerly, and she barely hesitated before hers parted for him.

"Eww!" Maisie's comment from the table had the two pulling away from each other, laughing.

Owen briefly rested his forehead against Claire's, before giving her another quick kiss. As he stood up, he waggled his eyebrows at her, whispering "Later." He moved over and sat down at the kitchen table across from Maisie. "So, what are we doing today?"

"I, um, I—I have an errand I need to run," Claire said, joining them at the table with her own mug of coffee.

"Groceries?" Owen asked, not sure why she seemed to be stuttering, especially about something so mundane.

"Oh, yeah, that too," Claire nodded, and now he was more confused.

The previous day, Claire had taken Maisie out shopping to try and get the last few items left on her list (items like clothing and hair stuff that Claire had known Owen wouldn't have the patience for) while he'd retrieved his truck and taken a very quick trip out to his cabin to grab a bunch of his own things. He knew that Claire had been juggling trying to help Maisie adjust and get settled with all the DPG stuff that was now needing her attention ASAP. So far, she'd managed to get by with just a quick trip to the office one afternoon, although she made up for her lack of presence by being glued to her phone the rest of the time, either taking phone calls or tapping out email responses. He wasn't stupid, he knew she'd need to go and spend some actual time in the office soon, and he'd been waiting for her to bring it up.

He'd actually thought that was what she was going to do, when she suggested he go by his cabin — that she'd use the chance to have over six hours to herself — but it had been Claire who had actually insisted that it wouldn't be all that fun for Maisie to go and that Owen should take the trip alone. He hadn't disagreed. In order to make it there and back in a day, and to not have it take up the entire day, he was going to have to make his stop there as quick as possible. Just long enough to check everything over, clean out the fridge (since he wasn't sure when he'd be back next) and grab everything he'd need for the foreseeable future. A task that would also be much quicker without trying to keep an eye on a curious nine year old. But, even more importantly, he was actually looking forward to having some time to himself. He hadn't realized until Claire suggested it, that he hadn't been alone since he'd climbed onto the plane over a week ago.

The drive out had been great, he was relaxed behind the wheel, his mind mostly blank as he just took in the scenery and drove. He hadn't (to Claire's annoyance) written down a list, insisting that he'd be fine, he didn't have much. Which was mostly true. When he'd first got to his place he'd just puttered around, packing up his laptop, and going through his clothes. He didn't want to take everything, because he wanted a reason to go back. While he wasn't sure how everything was going to pan out with him, Claire and Maisie, he didn't want to lose his place.

It hadn't been until he was pulling out t-shirts from one drawer that he had even come across the box. While he'd never forgotten that he owned it, he had forgotten where he'd stored it. When he'd felt it in the drawer, he'd pulled it out, opening the lid and staring down at the ring. A flicker of hope had flared within him at the thought that maybe, just maybe, he was going to finally be able to give it to her. But he'd forced back the thought, telling himself not to get so far ahead of himself. To look at what had happened last time. And that this time, that sure, they were back to sharing a bed, but they hadn't done anything. Or said anything. And he'd shoved the ring to the back of the drawer.

Of course, Owen mused, that was yesterday. Things had changed now, right? They had taken a definite step forward. A physical one, at least. They probably should still talk about it.

Realizing he'd zoned out for a bit, he tried to catch up on the conversation Maisie and Claire were having.

"...Owen and you could maybe go to the park or something," Claire was in the middle of saying, and Maisie was nodding eagerly.

"And you'll come with us?" Maisie asked.

"Well, no," Claire said hesitantly. "I actually thought I might go into the office for the day. If that's okay. Well, a half-day." She was looking at Owen, clearly unsure of what his reaction was going to be.

He glanced at his watch, noting the time, wincing when he realized that Claire letting him sleep had meant that she'd been delaying going in. "Yeah, sure, no problem," he agreed immediately. "Do you want us to grab groceries, too? Maybe pick up whatever your errand is?"

He wasn't sure what to think when she immediately blushed. Okay, what was going on and what had he missed?

"Yeah, if you guys could go grocery shopping, that would help. I've started a list…" She got up and moved back towards the counter, picking up a piece of paper and a pen.

"Of course you have," Owen groaned, but he held out his hand, waiting for her to hand it over.

"If I didn't, I'd probably get home to find that all we have are chips and beer," Claire rolled her eyes as she sat back down. "It's not complete. It's mostly just everything we've run out of."

"Didn't we just buy milk?" Owen asked, skimming over the list. "And bread?" He looked up to see that Claire was just shrugging at him. Yeah, okay, clearly both of them had forgotten what it was like to shop for more than themselves. "Can I have the pen?" She handed it over and he jotted down a few things that had come to mind, mostly snack foods, like popcorn, ice cream, and cookies. He hadn't realized Claire had moved to stand behind him so she could read what he was adding until he heard her groan.

"Really, Owen? We don't need a pile of junk food," Claire said.

"You can never have too many snacks." Owen just smiled at her.

"Yes, you can," Claire disagreed. "Also, we have limited space. Please, please, try to be reasonable."

"We'll try," Owen agreed. "But no promises." He put down the pen. "What about your errand?"

"Oh, I'll do that," Claire quickly said. "It's on my way in."

"You sure?"

"Yeah, no problem. Oh, wow, it's almost 11. I should get going." Claire made a show of looking at her watch and Owen knew she was hiding something. He decided not to press the issue, knowing she'd get more defensive, especially with Maisie present. She moved over to her relocated desk, searching for whatever she needed to take into work.

"When do you think you'll get home?" Owen asked.

"Will you be here for dinner?" Maise added.

"Oh, yeah, absolutely," Claire reassured Maisie. She came back over to the table, a purse slung over her shoulder, her new cellphone in hand. "I should be able to get out by 4."

"Okay," Owen said. "We'll let you know what we decide to do."

Claire nodded, and then hesitated beside his chair for a moment, as if she was unsure what to do, before she ducked down to give him a quick kiss. He quickly reached out, holding her against him, although he didn't try to deepen it, not again, not with Maisie right there. When he finally let her pull away, the smile she graced him with made him immediately dismiss any of the concerns he'd had earlier. "Okay, I'll see you both later," Claire said, finally heading to the door.

Once it closed behind her, Owen turned back to Maisie and repeated his earlier question, "So, what should we do today?"

x x x

When Claire walked through the door that evening, Owen was immediately worried by the ashen pallor on her face. At first, he thought maybe something had happened at work, or on her way home, that had upset her. However, a closer look and he recognized the look on her face as one of nausea. Abandoning Maise on the couch where she was still engrossed in the movie they had on, he quickly got up and moved to Claire's side.

"What's wrong?" he asked, his hand resting on her back to rub what he hoped were soothing circles.

"Nothing," Claire said with a shake of her head, although she stopped the movement almost immediately, her face going a bit green.

"Are you going to be sick?" Owen was already looking around frantically, wondering what he could grab.

"No… no," Claire said carefully, taking a few deep breaths. "I'm fine, really," she told him, clearly reading the worried look on his face. "It'll pass. I just need to…" She looked around her place for a moment, her gazing lingering on the stove where he had a pot of spaghetti sauce simmering away. "Maybe go lie down for a bit. And maybe have a quick nap. I don't think I can eat anything right now."

Owen trailed behind her as she first stopped by the couch to greet Maisie. He was impressed by the bright smile she was able to put on, listening as Maisie filled her in on what they had done. He finally interrupted Maisie, saying that Claire had had a long day and was just going to get some rest before they had dinner.

Maisie's face had fallen, and she'd looked immediately concerned, but Owen reassured her by saying (although he wasn't really sure he believed what he was saying) that Claire was just tired and that it would give them time to finish the movie first. Maisie had nodded, still looking a bit uncertain, and Owen said he'd be right back out to watch with her.

Claire was already in the bedroom when he entered, standing over by her nightstand, digging through her purse.

"Okay, what's really going on?" Owen asked, having shut the door behind him to give them a little bit of privacy. "Is it food poisoning? Did something happen? Did someone say something? Or do something?"

"What?" Claire turned, clearly startled by his last question. He wasn't focused on her expression, however, his eyes having locked onto the box that was in her hands.

"Condoms?" He was even more confused now. He moved over to her side, looking from the box to her face and back again. "I thought you were on the pill."

Claire sighed. "I was." She turned back to her nightstand, tucking the box into the drawer.

"Wait, does that mean…" Owen's thoughts were flying fast and furious now. He hadn't even thought about it last night. And she hadn't said anything. He could feel his own face paling, and he sunk down onto the bed.

"It's fine," Claire said, sitting down beside him.

"Fine? It only takes one … time and, well, I distinctly remember more than one…" He buried his face in his hands, feeling suddenly like he was back in his teens, the topic making him embarrassed in a way it hadn't in years.

"My errand…" He looked up to see that Claire was also looking embarrassed now. "I got the morning after pill."

"Oh." He wasn't sure what else to say to that.

"One of the side effects is nausea," Claire stated matter-of-factly. "I actually thought I was going to get away with none. It didn't hit me until I was on my way home."

"Oh." He felt a bit like a broken record. But he wasn't really sure how to respond. Or how to grasp what he was hearing. He was almost 40, dammit. He shouldn't be embarrassed by this topic anymore. And he should've been smarter. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," Claire said immediately, and he looked over at her. "I wanted it." His brow furrowed. "Last night," she clarified. "I knew I wasn't on the pill anymore. But I didn't have any condoms. And… well," she shrugged. "I didn't want to stop."

"I'm…" Owen wasn't really sure what he was. Except that he felt like he was 16, and that was not an age he had ever wanted to repeat.

"It'll be fine," she said. "I'll be fine."

"And the condoms?" Owen asked, his mind still feeling fractured.

"I've got an appointment to see my doctor to get back on the pill. But… in the meantime…" Claire looked a little flustered.

Oh. Oh. Well. He fought back the grin that wanted to take over. "You sure you're okay?"

"Yeah," she nodded again. She shifted until she was leaning against his side, head resting against his shoulder and he wrapped his arm around her, pulling her closer, running his hand up and down her arm.

Before he could say anything else, a knock on the door, followed by it immediately opening, interrupted them. "Owen? I thought you were going to watch with me," Maisie said, standing in the doorway.

"Right," Owen said, looking from Claire to Maisie again.

"Go," Claire moved away from him. "Wake me up when it's over."

"Do you need anything?" Owen asked as he stood up.

"Just a nap." Claire was already lying down on the bed.

He grabbed the folded up blanket from the end and spread it over her, wanting to feel like he'd done something, before he knelt down beside her, quickly brushing his lips to hers. "Sleep."

 

 

Chapter Text

Out on a Limb

Pulling the car into her spot in the garage, Claire turned off the engine before resting her head briefly against the steering wheel. It had been about a week since the media had pulled out of their street and finally left them alone. Well, mostly left them alone. They weren't being followed anymore, but as more details were emerging about the dinosaurs the Government had captured and the various field tests (along with the fact being raised again that there were still other dinosaurs unaccounted for) they hadn't been completely left out of the news.

It had been a very long and very tough week. She was so glad it was Friday.

The previous Friday, they had headed up to the cabin, deciding that a long weekend away would be more beneficial for them than getting Maisie back into school right away. What was another day off after the past couple of weeks? While it had been blissful to not be cooped up inside and to not have anyone watching their every move, the trip had felt too short, and Claire had already been busy looking at their calendar trying to figure out when they could get away next.

The past week had just emphasized that need to get away. While it wasn't like she hadn't been working the whole time they had been stuck at the house, she still felt like she'd somehow managed to end up weeks behind, her to-do list growing faster than she could cross items off. On top of that, Owen had been extra busy with sorting out details about his new job, while trying to catch up on his work from his current one. They had decided once he had a contract in place for the new one, he would officially put in his notice at work — he didn't want to quit until everything was sorted out. She knew that he had signed the new contract that day.

And then there was Maisie. Maisie who had been so excited to get back to school only to phone them in tears just before lunch on her first day back from a hiding spot in the bathroom. While they had spent the previous couple of weeks (and also their weekend away) discussing the cloning situation and helping Maisie continue to come to terms with who she was, similar conversations around acceptance clearly hadn't been happening in either the classrooms or homes of most of the other students.

The majority of her actual classmates were not the issue, as they had been attending school with her for almost three years now, but there were older and younger students who did not know her as well. And, more so, there were still a lot of people who were afraid of change and things they didn't understand. Fears that often got expressed as hostility towards those who were different, and that then got passed from parents to children.

It had taken a lot of coaxing (and many additional phone calls to the school and her teachers) to get Maisie to hang in there through the rest of the day. It had also led to another argument between her and Owen, as Owen had been ready to go pick up Maisie and Claire had been the one insisting that she stay. While their relationship was healing, and the time away had definitely helped, it still felt fragile, and the argument had felt like a slippery slope, where Claire had waffled between defending her stance wholeheartedly and not wanting to rock the boat. She'd 'won' in the end, when she'd pointed out that taking Maisie out was just going to make the next day harder. And that unless they wanted to look at changing schools, the sooner Maisie (and the rest of the school) got used to her presence again, the better.

(Although, considering how the rest of the week had played out, Claire was actually starting to wonder if looking at different schools might actually be their best option.)

She knew she needed to get out of the car. She just really wanted a few more minutes to herself. Some alone time where no one wanted or needed or expected anything from her. It shouldn't be too much to ask for, right?

Just as she was thinking that, she realized she could hear a chainsaw. Lifting her head from the steering wheel, she took a moment to try to figure out if it was just a random sound from the neighbourhood or... No, it definitely was something that sounded very close by. Sighing, she pulled out the keys and opened her door. What now?

As she exited the garage, the sound grew louder, and she heaved another sigh, before following it around to the side of the house. She stopped, taking in Owen who was standing on a ladder with a chainsaw and Maisie who was scowling with her arms crossed over her chest a few feet away. Not wanting to yell (and able to see that Owen looked to already be almost halfway through cutting the limb off the tree) Claire decided to wait until he finished.

It didn't take long, the chainsaw steadily making its way through the tree branch, until the branch snapped, falling down to the ground with a loud thump. Owen calmly turned off the chainsaw before climbing down the ladder. He'd just reached the ground, turning slightly when he must have caught sight of her watching, as he stiffened momentarily.

"Hey," Owen gave her a bright smile, one that she instantly knew meant he thought he might be in a bit of trouble. "You're home."

"Mom!" Maisie immediately turned towards her, launching herself across the space between them. Claire instinctively wrapped her arms around Maisie, unable to bite back the grin that appeared at the word, even if Maisie was clearly upset. She wondered if she'd ever get used to hearing it.

"What's going on?" Claire asked, walking towards Owen who had turned back to the downed limb, Maisie still attached to her side.

"He's mad," Maisie stated. "I told him that he shouldn't cut it. Not until you got home. That you wouldn't want him to. That you had agreed it could stay."

"Maisie," Owen almost growled, turning from where he had been inspecting the branch, a frown on his face.

"You did!" Maisie insisted.

"We did," Owen agreed, "but that was before you decided to climb out your window again."

"It's not like I was running away," Maisie grumbled. "I like climbing trees."

"And I'm not against you climbing trees," Owen said, and Claire could tell his patience was running thin. Clearly, this was a conversation the two had already had, repeatedly, before she'd got home. "I'm against you climbing out of your window." He looked over at Claire, his gaze pleading for help.

"I don't know why–" Maisie started up again.

"Maisie!" This time Owen's tone was loud and forceful, and Claire could feel Maisie stiffen at her side. "We've had this conversation. I'm not having it again. It's done." He turned away from them, turning on the chainsaw again as he moved over to the downed limb.

"Come on," Claire tugged on Maisie, turning them away from Owen. "Let's go inside."

They walked silently around the house, heading in through the garage. Claire wasn't really sure what to say, and was using Maisie's silence as a chance to try to choose a tactic. She had a feeling that the results of the afternoon were really just fallout from the tough week that they had all dealt with. That Owen may not have made the same choice, had it been any other week. And while they had agreed to not cut the tree, she wasn't mad with him for choosing to do so. If Maisie was going to continue to see it as an "exit" from her room, it was going to have to go.

"I didn't mean to make him mad," Maisie said softly, as she followed Claire into the kitchen. "I just… I liked the idea that I could climb out my window."

Claire nodded, searching through the cupboards, although she wasn't really sure what she was looking for. Maybe she should get started on dinner. Give Owen a break and a chance to calm down alone. Opening the fridge, she started rooting around to see what they had on hand.

"It's not even like I was doing it in the dark this time," Maisie added. "Or even secretively."

Opening the cheese drawer, Claire pulled out a block of cheddar, grabbed the carton of milk, and found the butter before closing the fridge. She moved over to the counter, facing Maisie who was now perched on a stool and put down the ingredients.

"Mais..." Claire started, still not really sure how to respond. Sighing, she instead moved to another cupboard, and pulled out a box of panko and another of macaroni.

"Ooh, mac and cheese?" Maisie's eyes lit up when Claire turned back around. "Yum! Can I help?"

"Sure," Claire nodded, and Maisie hopped off the stool and came around the counter. "But," Claire put down the ingredients before she turned to Maisie, placing her hands on Maisie's shoulders, making sure she got her attention. "I know you weren't trying to make him mad. And Owen—" For as much as she knew they had both been looking forward to being called mom and dad, she found herself still defaulting to Owen, tripping over the change. "—Your dad knows that too. But it's been a long few weeks and he just wants to know that you're safe. We both want to know that. Yes, you climbing out was probably what triggered him cutting it down today, but he hasn't been all that thrilled with the idea of keeping it. Not after those men used it. It was just a matter of time until it came down."

"I know," Maisie said, a frown reappearing. "But he didn't have to yell at me about it."

"It's been a long few weeks," Claire repeated. "And this week has been particularly tough. You know that. We're all a bit on edge. Give him a break."

"I thought things would get better when it was over," Maisie mumbled, looking down, and Claire pulled her closer.

"They will," Claire reassured her. "It's just going to take a bit for everything to settle. But, hey, I bet today was better than Monday, right?"

"Yeah," Maisie agreed reluctantly. "I am glad it's the weekend."

"Me too," Claire let out a laugh. "Me too." She pulled away from Maisie to get a pot out and start filling it with water. Turning to put it onto the stove, Claire heard the fridge door opening before Maisie appeared beside her.

"Can we add bacon?" Maisie asked, holding up the package.

"Sure, why not," Claire agreed easily. "Bacon makes everything better."

x x x

After Claire had said good night to Maisie, she went looking for Owen. He had been silent over dinner, moody in his own way, and had disappeared into the garage afterwards. Claire had decided not to push him, knowing that it'd be easier to get answers from him without Maisie present.

The sun had set a while ago and so she had expected to find him in the garage, but it was empty. She wandered around the main floor twice before she finally caught sight of him slouched in a chair on their back deck. The outside lights were off, and he was sitting just to the side of the light that was spilling out from the kitchen, mostly shrouded in darkness. She retreated into the living room to snag the blanket off the back of the couch, wrapping it around her shoulders before she finally opened the door to the back deck and stepped out.

Claire wasn't really sure what to say or how to start a conversation, but it turned out she didn't need to.

"I'm sorry," Owen said, looking over at her as she came to a stop beside him. "I should've waited until you got home."

"I don't care about that," Claire said immediately. "I think it was pretty inevitable."

"Yeah, but…" Owen sighed, his gaze moving away from her to the backyard, although she didn't know what he was looking at, considering it was hard to make out anything in the dark. "I just… I saw her dangling out of her window and I… I snapped. I was in the garage getting the ladder and chainsaw before I even thought it through."

"Is… did something else happen today?" Claire asked, moving closer to his side.

"Not really," Owen gave a half shrug. "I told Steve that I signed the contract." He raised a hand to run through his hair before he scrubbed at his jaw and Claire waited him out. "He was fine. I mean, I didn't think he'd have a problem with it. Just…"

"Just what?"

"In some ways, I'll miss the work," Owen said, not directly answering her question. "And in others… in others, I'll be happy not to have to work with some of that crew anymore. Most of them are fine. Great even. But… I've always never quite fit in. Outside of with Steve, that is."

Claire reached out, running her hand through his hair as he leaned back in his seat. "Are you giving him two more weeks?"

"Yeah," Owen nodded. "There's a big project about to start and I said I'd stick around to help finish it. Hopefully won't take more than two. But I don't start with Maria and the team until mid-May, so even if it goes a bit long I've got some time."

"That's good," Claire nodded, her mind already thinking over what school holidays Maisie had coming up and whether they could get back to the cabin.

"It's a lot of change," Owen said suddenly.

"It is," she nodded slowly. "But that doesn't mean it's bad."

"Yeah, I know," he agreed. "Some days I just wish I could hit pause for a while."

"Me, too." It was a thought she'd had more than once over the years, and one that had always been most prevalent during and after the biggest 'change' moments of her life. Unfortunately, life never cooperated, continuing forward without fail.

"It'll be fine," Owen said, although Claire wasn't really sure who or what he was referring to. But she nodded again. It would be. It had to be. There really wasn't any other choice. "Come here." He reached out, catching her wrist and pulling her around until she was in front of him before shifting his grip to around her waist to pull her backwards.

"Wait." Claire removed the blanket from behind her shoulders, before letting him pull her onto his lap. She spread the blanket over them, feeling his arms pulling her closer as she leaned her head against his shoulder, settling against him. "We really need a hammock here."

"We do," Owen agreed. "I'll get one tomorrow."

Chapter Text

Title Cards

- 2019 -

The Sunday started just like any other. And it probably would've continued the same way, except for the texts from Karen.

The first one had made Claire pause in her morning routine as she stared at the words. Don't forget to call mom. It's Mother's Day. She'd completely blanked on the day, having been busy with everything else, and so Karen's text was a grateful reminder. She knew her mom would be disappointed if she didn't say anything.

It was the second text, that arrived a couple of hours later, that Claire didn't know how to respond to. What did Maisie and Owen do for you today? Zach sent me flowers and Gray made me breakfast. The text was accompanied by a picture of a vase of spring flowers. Claire stared at the picture for a while, before putting her phone down.

Even after the first text, and after phoning her mom to wish her a Happy Mother's Day (and reminding Owen to do the same), Claire was realizing that she still hadn't really connected the day with anything in her own life. Mother's Day had always been something about others, not her. And, sure, she had been taking care of Maisie for coming up on a year now, but… well, she wasn't actually her mom.

Or was she?

At what point could she claim to have crossed the line from being a guardian to being a parent and a mother? Maisie had given no indication that she thought of Claire and Owen as anything more than people who were there for her. She'd never slipped and called them her parents or "mom and dad." She'd never brought up adoption. In fact, there were days where Claire was sure that Maisie still thought that the whole situation was temporary; that one day her grandpa would come back for her.

How was she supposed to reply to Karen when, in fact, Maisie and Owen hadn't done anything? And should she have expected them to? No. She didn't think so. At least, she didn't expect Owen to do anything. Not unless Maisie first approached Owen, wanting to. Claire knew, if it was Father's Day, that unless Maisie had said something, she wouldn't make a big deal of the day. She wouldn't want to put undue pressure on the girl; to force her to accept something she wasn't ready for, and she was pretty sure that Owen felt the same way.

Still… picking up her phone and looking at the picture Karen had sent, she thought that it would've been nice to have received some sort of acknowledgement.

- 2020 -

Owen didn't like to track important dates and anniversaries. There were too many of them, and the number only seemed to increase every year. And this time of year, June, always seemed to be the worst offender. It felt easier to just ignore them , however, had been much easier to do when he lived on his own and there really weren't a lot of people in his life to disappoint when he forgot to acknowledge various events. Now, not only was he married to Claire, but they had Maisie to think about, too. And while he would be happy to ignore various "important" dates (and he knew Claire was often in agreement), Maisie hadn't yet moved to that stage of her life (and maybe never would).

Last year, he'd been caught off guard when Claire had mentioned it was Mother's Day and that he should phone his mom. He knew his mom was surprised by his call (he didn't have a good track record of phoning her on the day), but that wasn't what had set him on edge for the rest of the day. He'd been watching Maisie and Claire, unsure if he should be saying something to either of them.

In the months leading up to that day, he had started to feel like he'd moved from being a guardian to really being a parent. He couldn't put his finger on what it was, exactly, that caused the shift. It wasn't any one event or comment or anything. It was more just… the way life seemed to be settling comfortably together. All the pieces feeling like they were falling into place.

He knew, however, that just because he saw it that way, didn't mean that Maisie saw him as her father, or Claire as her mother. And he and Claire had had conversations about not pressuring Maisie and letting her settle at her own pace. So, when Claire hadn't given him any indication she was expecting something, and Maisie had never said anything, he'd let the day slide by. Just over a month later, when it had been Father's Day, he had wondered, briefly, if things would be different. But June was also a whirlwind time of year, what with the school year ending, the anniversary of the eruption on Nublar, meeting Maisie and reconciling with Claire, he had almost missed the day himself.

While nothing had happened that year, it had been barely a couple of weeks later when Maisie had raised the idea of adoption — a conversation that was worth way more than ever being told "Happy Father's Day."

When they'd started the proceedings, he'd originally thought they would be done by now. That it would take a few months, maybe half a year, and they'd wrap it all up. He hadn't realized just how arduous the process was going to be. Sure, Maisie didn't have anyone else competing to claim her as their own and it wasn't that the state was against allowing them to adopt her, it had just been that Maisie's case was extremely complicated.

While Mills had done his best effort to bleed Lockwood dry, he (thankfully) hadn't had access to everything, and so Maisie had a sizeable inheritance waiting for her. While neither Owen nor Claire were interested in touching that money, it did add a layer of complexity.

On top of that, after numerous late night talks and arguments, they had decided to bring up Maisie's status as a clone. Claire's argument for doing so, which Owen had eventually reluctantly agreed with, was that it was likely to come out at some point, and it would be better in the long run if they had been upfront about it.

He knew there was progress being made, but the gears of bureaucracy were slow. Paperwork always seemed to beget more paperwork, and there were days he felt like they were going to be buried alive by it all.

Owen had thought that Mother's Day would be different this year. That now that Maisie had taken the big step towards adoption and accepting them as her parents, that she'd want to acknowledge the holiday. But, just like the previous year, she hadn't said anything. That night, however, after Maisie had gone to bed, he'd approached Claire in her office, a hand hidden behind his back. When she'd inquired what he was doing, he'd produced the small cactus he'd picked up (he'd skipped on flowers, knowing that Maisie might make the connection and not wanting to make a big deal about it and also because he knew Claire had a much better chance of keeping a cactus alive).

"What's this for?" she'd asked, accepting the small pot and placing it on her desk.

"Happy Mother's Day," he'd replied, his voice a bit sheepish. "I know Maisie's not quite ready yet, but…" He'd shrugged. "I didn't want to let another one go by without acknowledging it."

His gift had resulted in a particularly good night, once Claire had managed to stop her tears. The tears had originally alarmed him, as he'd not been sure if they were happy tears or if he'd made a giant misstep.

The previous weekend, for Father's Day, he hadn't been surprised (although a bit disappointed) when there was still no acknowledgement from Maisie, nor had he been surprised when Claire had presented him with a gift late that evening, the two marking the holiday between them.

But now, sitting on Maisie's bed, he was struggling to decide what emotion was dominating his thoughts — guilt for having essentially ended up snooping in her closet (not on purpose, he'd been helping Claire out and putting away Maisie's laundry when he'd accidentally knocked over the shoebox) or the relief and exhilaration of his find.

He flipped through the small stack of cards in his lap again. Four in all, two for him, and two for Claire. All four were handmade, folded over pieces of paper with a hand drawn illustration on the front, often accompanied by stickers. And while they were all addressed to 'Claire' and 'Owen' and not mom or dad, they did say Happy Mother's Day and Happy Father's Day. The one's from this year were signed Love Maisie, and he could feel the tears building at the corner of his eyes.

When Maisie hadn't said anything last year, and then again this year, he'd started to wonder if she even knew about it. After all, she hadn't had a mom or dad to celebrate with growing up. And he wasn't sure if there was a grandfather's day (which briefly sidetracked him as he'd looked it up — turns out there's Grandparent's Day in September). But, while the past couple of years had shown that Maisie had a pretty sheltered upbringing, she'd been a voracious reader from the day they'd met her. There was no way, between all the books she'd read, and the movies and TV shows she'd watched in the years since, not to mention being in public school, that she wouldn't have heard about the holidays.

As he looked at the cards he was holding, he wondered if the fact that he and Claire had chosen not to mention it, had contributed to her not giving them the cards. Were all of them trying too hard to not be the one to step forward first, waiting for someone else to make a move, that they would be forever stuck in limbo?

He decided to focus on the fact that while Maisie may not be ready to give them the cards — she may not be ready for the weight and emotion attached to that — that she'd made them, that she'd considered giving them, and that she'd kept them, was a good sign that she was seeing them as her parents. And that knowledge was almost as good as having received them.

He knew that Maisie was a deep thinker, carefully evaluating all the options before she ever took action. That she'd gone through a lot in her 11 years, more than most people ever would in their whole lives. The cards in his lap felt like hope. Hope that she was finally seeing them as the parental figures that they were. And hope that next year, when it was highly likely the adoption would be finished, she'd feel brave enough and ready enough to actually give them to them.

- 2021 -

"Is she awake? Maybe we should wait for her to wake up. She was really tired last night."

Claire tried to muffle her groan as she turned away from the door, burying her face into her pillow. It had been what felt like the longest week ever, resulting in a last minute trip to DC and she'd got home late the night before. She just wanted to sleep. Couldn't they let her sleep just a little longer?

"It's fine. Come on."

Owen's voice, followed by his footsteps entering the room caused Claire to groan again. She tugged at the comforter, trying to pull it over her head.

"Wakey, wakey," Owen said, accompanying his words by pulling at the cover.

"Let me sleep," Claire kept her eyes closed, holding tightly to the comforter against his light tugs.

"Maybe we should–" Maisie started.

"No, your mom will want to be awake for this," Owen cut her off. The emphasis on the word mom and the almost elbow into her side made Claire rethink her actions. There must be something she was missing, because she knew Owen would normally let her sleep. If he thought it was important…

"I'm up, I'm up," Claire caved, finally letting the comforter get pulled away. She was immediately greeted by bright smiles on both Owen and Maisie's faces. Two faces that looked way too wide awake for, she spared a glance at her alarm clock, 8:30 in the morning. Okay, at least they'd waited a bit.

"Here." Maisie's hand shot out, presenting something. It took Claire a moment to realize it was an envelope. Her brow furrowed, she took it, sitting up in bed and adjusting the pillows behind her. As she moved to open it, she felt Owen settling down onto the edge of the bed near her hip, and she shifted a bit farther from the edge to give him more room. Maisie was almost bouncing with nervous energy.

"What's this?" Claire asked, looking from the envelope to Maisie.

"Open it!" Maisie exclaimed, her patience running thin.

Claire spared a quick glance at Owen, only to do a double take when she realized he had a tray on his lap. A tray that looked pretty precarious, considering it was laden down with a couple of mugs of coffee, a glass of orange juice, a vase of flowers, and three plates of french toast haphazardly stacked.

It wasn't her birthday, that had been a few months ago. She started opening the envelope when the realization hit her. She couldn't help the tears that sprung to her eyes.

"You said she'd be happy." The sound of Maisie voice, trembling as she accused Owen, spurred Claire forward. She quickly reached out for Maisie, pulling her to her side and into a tight hug. She could feel that Maisie still wasn't quite sure what to think, standing stiffly in her arms.

"I am happy," Claire said, the tears already starting down her cheeks. "I hadn't even realized what today was. That it was this weekend. Thank you so much."

"You haven't even opened my card," Maisie grumbled, but she at least finally started to relax against Claire, losing some of her stiffness.

"C'mere," Claire shifted over on the bed again, making room for Maisie to climb in next to her. Once Maisie was settled, Claire returned her focus to the card in front of her, trying to brush away the tears. She didn't like to think of herself as an overly emotional person, but, dammit, how was she supposed to stay calm during this?

As she reached into the envelope, she briefly flashed back to almost a year ago, when Owen admitted to her what he'd found, the hidden cards. That night they had both shed some tears, both in relief and also sadness, knowing that Maisie still hadn't made it over that hurdle. It had been hard, but she'd managed to convince herself not to go looking for the cards (it helped that Owen didn't tell her exactly where he'd found them and she didn't want to snoop, kids deserve privacy, too). He had told her, however, that they were handmade, which hadn't been that surprising, as she wasn't sure where Maisie would've been able to get them without letting either of them know. Knowing that this year, that Maisie had obviously talked to Owen, she expected to pull out a bought card. Instead, when she felt the rough feel of the construction paper, she could feel the tears starting up again in earnest.

As she pulled it from the envelope, another memory hit her, of Karen proudly showing off the card that Zach had made her at preschool when he was three. Although "made" should be probably used loosely, and of her own almost disgust at the random scribbles all over the page and the clashing colours. She had admitted that the very shakily, not quite legible, "Zach" on the card was kind of cute, but she didn't understand the pride in Karen's eyes. Karen had just shook her head and said that someday, when Claire had kids of her own, she'd understand the beauty of such gifts.

As she looked down at the card in front of her, Claire finally understood Karen's words (although she'd never admit that to Karen). It's not that the card was ugly, or horribly done. Maisie was 12, not three, and she'd obviously spent a great deal of time working on it. The front of the card had a picture that was clearly meant to be Claire and Maisie together. Opening up the card, Claire reached up to brush aside the tears again, although she knew they weren't going to stop falling. The inside of the card was pretty simple. It had the classic "Happy Mother's Day" in the middle. But it was the "Mom" at the top, the short sentence about how grateful Maisie was for having Claire in her life, followed by the "Love Maisie" at the bottom that unspooled her (not that she wasn't halfway there already). Over the past few weeks, they had all been stumbling over the word change, messing up just as often as they got it right. But this, this card, was the first time that Claire had seen it written down. The first time that mom was written and referred to her.

Putting down the card she turned to Maisie, pulling her back into a hug. "Thank you so much. I love it."

"Are you sure?" Maisie asked, when Claire finally pulled back. "I don't think I've ever seen you cry so much."

"They're all good tears, I promise," Claire said, letting out a watery chuckle. "I love you so much, I hope you know that."

"I do," Maisie nodded. "I love you, too."

Claire hugged her again, only pulling back when Owen cleared his throat — loudly.

"Can we eat now?" Owen asked. "I'm starving."

"Yes, of course," Claire laughed. She helped him shift the tray to her lap, before he moved Maisie's orange juice to the bedside table and handed Maisie her plate. Owen then moved to sit on Claire's other side, pulling his own plate onto his lap.

Claire took a couple of bites of her french toast, before pausing to look between Maisie and Owen. Three years ago, if you'd told her that this was going to be her life, and that she'd want this to be her life, she'd have fallen down laughing. But now, now she couldn't imagine anything else. When she looked at Owen next, he was watching her with a soft smile.

"What?" she asked him softly.

"Happy Mother's Day," he replied, equally softly, leaning over to give her a quick kiss. Pulling back, he looked down at his plate and then at her again, a playful look on his face. "You know, I think Maisie and I set the bar pretty high. I'm looking forward to seeing you try to top this."

"Just you wait," Claire said, grinning back at him.

Chapter Text

No Place Like Home

- First Day -

It wasn't until Maisie put down her book and turned off her light, that it actually hit home that she was no longer home. That she was in a new bed, in a new room, in a new city. And that she was staying with people she still hardly knew.

Her new bed was a lot smaller than the canopy bed she'd had back at grandpa's house, and the bedspread was decorated with cartoon characters that Owen had seemed excited about, but that she had agreed to only because of his enthusiasm, not because she knew who (what?) they were.

The room was also a lot darker than she was used to. Her old bedroom had a couple of night lights, although she didn't like calling them that. But it meant that there was always something glowing, helping to chase away some of the shadows. That, and she'd often lie awake in bed, counting out the seconds as she anticipated the next flash of light from the nearby lighthouse.

Owen had left her door ajar, and at first there'd been a bit of light from the living area, and she'd been able to hear Owen and Claire moving about the place. Now, however, the lights had been turned off and she could no longer hear them. She reached out, turning her light back on before sitting up in bed and swinging her legs over the side.

As Maisie sat there, she debated if she should go find them. They had said they would be just out there or in Claire's room. Maybe she could ask for a nightlight. Except… she didn't want to be a nuisance. Iris had always said that guests should try their hardest to not make extra requests of their hosts.

Is that what she was? A guest? She wasn't really sure anymore. After all, they had called this space her new room. And had bought a bed specifically for her. And she had been there when the paperwork was signed and they'd been allowed to take her. Before that had happened, the CPS worker had taken her aside and explained her rights. The woman had handed over a business card, telling Maisie she could call at any time, day or night, if she needed anything. But Maisie was pretty sure a nightlight didn't count.

Being careful not to make a sound, she tiptoed across the small space to the window, and pulled open the curtain. A moment later, she had her face pressed to the cool glass, as she looked down at the still busy street below, full of cars driving by and a number of people walking along the sidewalk. Looking across the road, she realized she could see directly into other apartments, many of the windows brightly lit. In some of them, she could see people moving around. In one, she saw a person was lying on a couch, the light in the room flickering from whatever was on the TV, while in another, a dog was wrestling with a stuffed animal. She stood there, transfixed, her gaze darting around as lights would flick on here and go off there.

Claire's place, this place, had felt so small when she'd first walked in. Nothing at all like her home, with its towering ceilings and vast grounds. Here, there wasn't even a balcony. She'd known, of course, from the books and movies and tv shows she'd been allowed to read and watch, that she was lucky. That most people lived in much smaller places than she did. But she'd never experienced just what that was like before.

Eventually though, the thrill of watching the other apartments started to dwindle, everyone seemingly settling into their routines for the night, and more and more windows starting to go dark. Maisie walked quietly back to her bed, leaving the curtain open, hoping that it would allow some additional light to drift in.

Lying back down, and pulling the comforter back up, she debated leaving the light on for the night, before finally mustering up her courage and flicking it off. It took a minute for her eyes to adjust, but she was relieved to see that the open window did make a bit of a difference. But… she still wanted a nightlight. Something to confirm that the shadows she was seeing were just coming from the bookcase and the picture frame on top, and were not a dinosaur lurking, waiting for its moment to pounce.

Squeezing her eyes closed, she tried to block out those images and to focus on something good, something positive. She tried to find a memory that she could hold onto, but every one that came to mind felt tainted now. Her grandpa wasn't actually her grandpa. She still wasn't quite sure what that meant. She'd wanted to ask someone, but with everything that had happened over the last few days, there had never seemed like the right moment to ask. Or the right person. Turning on her side, she clutched her sock monkey closer, curling around it. At least she still had it, something familiar from home.

- First Week -

The CPS woman had come by that morning. Supposedly to "check on things," although Maisie still wasn't really sure what that meant, except it didn't seem like a good thing, considering how both Owen and Claire had started racing around the apartment after answering the buzzer.

She'd been eating breakfast when it had rung and she'd continued to sit at the kitchen table, watching as Claire frantically rushed around picking things up, shuffling papers, and putting away books and toys, all while barking at Owen to make sure the beds were made and clothes put away. When the woman had knocked on the door, Maisie had been surprised when Owen and Claire had frozen, before sharing a concerned look and then answering it.

"Checking on things" seemed to mean getting a tour of the place. The woman had asked Maisie to show her around, which Maisie had done, after looking hesitantly at Owen, who had encouraged her to do so with a nod. When she'd shown the woman her room, she'd been asked all sorts of questions about how she was doing and was she getting enough to eat, and whether she had any concerns she wanted to raise or questions she wanted to ask.

Maisie hadn't known what to say, having not expected to be put on the spot, and had fumbled her way through. That everything was fine, there was lots of food, and that they'd ordered Thai food the previous night. And then she'd asked the woman if she'd ever had Thai food before, because Maisie hadn't, and that she wasn't sure what she thought of the curry but she'd loved the chicken satay and the coconut rice.

The woman had just nodded, jotting notes in a small notebook she'd pulled out, and then asked Maisie what she'd done over the past week. So Maisie told her about going shopping and to the park and watching movies. She told her that Claire had said she could go to the DPG headquarters today. She mentioned that Owen had gone to his cabin a few days ago, but that she hadn't been allowed to go with him, but that he'd promised she could go the next time he went.

The woman had asked some more questions, during which Maisie had looked over at the door to her bedroom, that was still slightly ajar, wishing she could see Owen or Claire. She took comfort in hearing them out in the living area, moving about. She hadn't been alone with anyone but them for a week now, not since the morning they'd left her old home.

The thought of her old house, of her old life, had caused her to start to choke up, and she'd tried to fight the tears back, but once they started she couldn't stop them. The woman had sat next to her on the bed, patting her gently on the shoulder, and Maisie had asked the one question that had been on her mind for days now: "I can't go home again, can I?"

By the time they'd exited her room, Maisie had managed to stop crying, but she knew from the way that both Owen and Claire had froze when they saw her, that they knew, their faces looking increasingly worried. Claire had started across the room to her barely a moment later, her arm immediately wrapping around Maisie's shoulders, pulling her into her side. Maisie had sunk against her, turning her face into Claire, taking the offered comfort.

"Are you okay?" Claire had whispered, crouching down after a moment, her hands resting on Maisie's upper arms as she locked gazes with her. Maisie had sniffled, before nodding, and after another searching look, Claire had stood back up, although she'd kept one hand resting on Maisie's shoulder.

Owen and Claire had stuck with her for the rest of the visit. Well, until the end, when they'd said they needed a few minutes alone with the woman and Maisie had been told to go wait in her room. She'd pressed her ear to the door, wanting to hear what was being said, knowing it was about her, but they'd spoken too quietly for her to make out more than the occasional word.

When Owen had opened her door a few minutes later, he'd looked unsurprised to find her standing just inside, and had simply gestured for her to come back out and join them. For a moment, she'd been worried the woman was going to take her with her, suddenly remembering being told back at the old house that this placement — Maisie staying with Owen and Claire — was temporary. She'd clutched tightly to Owen's arm when he'd led her back to the woman, but she hadn't said anything when he'd asked if something was wrong.

And then… the woman was gone, heading out the door with a wave and a "I'll be in touch." Maisie had felt her shoulders sag with relief when they'd finally closed the door and the woman was gone.

"Well," Claire had said, stretching out the word as her gaze had darted between Maisie and Owen, "that went better than I expected."

"Same," Owen had agreed.

"Are you okay?" Claire had asked, and Maisie had felt herself shrink back when both their gazes had turned to her. Seemingly sensing her discomfort, Claire had just nodded, and continued. "Now that that's over with, what should we do today?"

They'd gone to the DPG just as Claire had promised. Which had been fun. Maisie had got to see Franklin and Zia again. But it had also been noisy and crowded, and almost immediately Claire had disappeared off somewhere, out of sight. She'd stuck close to Owen initially, before Zia had set her up with a poster and markers and asked for her help. Owen had tried to help, but he wasn't very good at it, and after a few frustrating attempts, he had gone to find something more interesting to do.

From there, someone had suggested going out for dinner, and so they'd done that. And by the time they'd left the restaurant, she'd been yawning, although trying to hide it. Owen had mentioned watching another movie earlier, and she wanted to do that again.

As they walked into Claire's place, Maisie paused just over the threshold, the woman's words echoing back to her. "No, honey, I'm sorry but you can't. This is your new home now." As she looked around the place, at the picture she'd drawn hanging on the fridge, her sweatshirt draped over the back of the couch, her dinosaur figures lined up neatly below the TV, and her shoes placed carefully beside the door, she realized that while it still didn't feel like home, maybe it could.

- First Month -

She wanted to go home. She missed her grandpa and she wanted to ask him so many questions. She missed Iris. She'd never thought she'd want someone to correct her pronunciation. There was even a part of her that missed Mr. Mills — not who he was at the end, but how he used to be, how back when she was younger he'd run around the yard with her. And, boy, did she ever miss that yard.

Maisie had never realized just how much freedom her grandpa and Iris had given her until now, where she was often stuck cooped up inside, unable to leave the apartment unless Owen or Claire went with her. She couldn't run and climb at will, as there was no space to run and nothing to climb.

At least Owen seemed to sort of understand her need for wide open spaces and trees and grass, and the two of them would go to the park most days, spending hours on the playground or kicking a ball around. He'd remarked one day that it was too bad they didn't have space for bikes, reminding Maisie of the one she'd left behind with its bright purple frame with a dent on the front right fork from an accidental encounter (not a crash) with a planter.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, Claire announced that they were going to buy a house, and that she already had four showings set up for that afternoon. Maisie had trailed behind them through the houses, listening silently as they talked about this feature or that, discussing prices and number of bedrooms and what they really wanted and needed.

It had taken almost two weeks, and more houses than Maisie had been able to keep track of, before they'd found it. There had been a few that had seemed almost right. Ones that Owen and Claire would talk about in the car as they drove back home afterwards, debating if they should put in an offer or keep holding out hope for someplace else.

But a few days ago, they had pulled up to a modest house on a modest street, parking in the driveway. Stepping out of the car, Maisie had dutifully followed after them as they met with the real estate agent before heading in. She'd walked behind them through the living room and down the short hallway to the kitchen, ignoring the discussion that was happening. When they'd entered the kitchen she'd been immediately drawn to the glass sliding doors that led out to the patio and backyard, and she'd stood there, staring out. There was a fairly large yard (not, in comparison to what she'd had, but in comparison to what they'd seen), but what caught her attention was that it backed onto a forest.

She opened up the back door, stepping out onto the patio, and then out onto the grass. While there were fences down the side, separating the lot from the neighbours, it didn't feel small or enclosed. Maisie had walked over to the forest, finding a path that led in. She'd been about to step onto it, wondering where it led, when Owen had called her name, and she'd turned to see him standing back at the door. She'd given the path one last look, before heading back inside.

The chatter in the car when they'd left that place had been more excited than before, both Owen and Claire talking over each other as they commented on what they liked best. By the time they were entering the apartment, the conversation had moved to them discussing what their offer should be, as it was at the edge of their preferred price range, but they didn't want it to slip through their fingers either.

"Do you agree, Maisie?" Claire's question had caught her off guard, and she looked up to see both Owen and Claire watching her, waiting for her answer.

"Um, agree to what?" Maisie had asked.

"The house. That we should try to buy that one," Claire had replied. "Did you like it?"

"Yeah, I guess so," she'd said, not really sure what they were asking her opinion for. After all, she wasn't buying the house. Claire had immediately phoned their real estate agent, and Maisie had used the opportunity to slip away, ducking into her bedroom and closing the door behind her. As she looked around the small space she'd been given, a new thought had hit her — when Owen and Claire moved, was she going to get to go with them? Or would she be left here and others would come take care of her?

She'd wanted to ask that question that night at dinner, but they'd been so happy and she hadn't known how to bring it up.

But, the thought had been eating away at her, and she'd been struggling to contain her mood, which wasn't being helped today by the fact that it was raining and Owen had taken one look out the window that morning and said it'd be a good day for them to just stay home. Claire, Maisie had noted, had been allowed to leave, as she'd headed off to the DPG offices for the day, her raincoat on and an umbrella in hand. Scowling, Maisie had helped Owen clean up the kitchen before retreating back to her room, flopping onto her bed, where she was still lying now, her chin resting on her crossed arms.

"So, what do you want to do today?" Owen asked, interrupting her sulking, and she looked up to see him standing in the doorway. "Movie marathon? We still need to watch Star Wars."

She wasn't sure what it was about those words, but the next moment she was crying, burying her head into her arms, her shoulders shaking.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Owen exclaimed, and she felt the mattress dip as he sat down beside her. "What's going on? What happened?" His hand rubbing soothingly on her back just undid her more, and her tears came harder. "C'mere," he tugged at her shoulders, pulling her up and into his arms, and Maisie buried her face in his chest, her own arms wrapping tightly around him. Her nose was now running and her sobs were making it hard to breath, choking her on every other breath, but she held onto him tighter, not wanting to let go.

"Maisie, kiddo, you need to calm down," Owen said after a couple of minutes of rocking her. "Should I call Claire?"

"I don't want you to go," Maisie finally managed to get out, the words escaping between sobs.

"Go? Where am I going?" Owen asked. "I don't have plans to go anywhere, except maybe over to the couch to watch some movies."

"To the house," she said, pulling back from him slightly, raising her arm and using her sleeve to wipe her nose. "I want to stay with you."

"What? Of course you're staying with us," he was looking at her with a stunned expression, although it soon fell away, his face looking concerned instead. "Kiddo, we're buying the house for all of us. This place is too small for the three of us, we wanted to have some more room. Enough space so that Claire could have an office again. But also so that you can have a backyard."

"And you?" Maisie asked, wiping her nose again, her tears finally dying down to sniffles.

"There's lots of garage space," Owen said after a moment. "Would be nice to have a home gym, and some space for my tools."

"You need a garage for your toolbox?" she asked, her brows furrowing, thinking of the small red box that sat in the closet by the entrance.

"I've got lots more," he chuckled, raising a hand to wipe at the remaining tears on her cheeks. "They're just out at my lot. Actually," he paused, his head tilted to the side in thought, "maybe we can head out there this weekend. You haven't had a chance to see it yet and I'd like to check up on it."

Maisie's face lit up. "Really?"

"Let me check with Claire and see if she can get away," Owen nodded. "You'll love it. Wide open spaces. There's a lake nearby so maybe we could go swimming or take out my canoe…" Trailing off, his excitement died away as he focused on her again, his expression serious. "Maisie, we're not going anywhere without you. I'm really sorry that we weren't clear about that. You're part of our family now."

She stiffened at the word family, pulling away fully, her arms dropping into her lap. She didn't have a family anymore, now that her grandpa was dead and she didn't have any relatives that she knew of. (Could clones even have relatives?) She'd read about kids without family before, and had watched movies like Annie. While it made her relieved that Owen and Claire were willing to keep her with them, for now, it didn't change what she really was. An orphan.

"Are you okay now?" Owen asked, reaching out to rest a hand on her shoulder, and she looked back up at him. "I can still phone Claire, if you want."

"No, she's busy," Maisie shook her head. "I'm… You mentioned Star Wars?" She watched a few emotions flicker across Owen's face, but was thankful when he decided not to press, instead standing up.

"I was thinking we'd start with the original trilogy, as they are the best."

"Wait, I thought you said those were 4, 5 and 6? Shouldn't we start with number one?"

"Well…"

- First Year -

Lying on her bed with her iPad, Maisie was looking through her collection of photos and videos from the past year. A year since her grandpa had died and the Indoraptor had wreaked havoc throughout her house. A year since she'd let the dinosaurs go free. And a year since she'd been placed into Owen and Claire's care.

It was the last bit that she was mostly focused on, flicking through pictures of the new life the three of them had been building together. Of Owen and Claire getting married. Of working on the cabin. Of starting at her new school. Of the trip to Wisconsin they had taken to see Karen, Jake, Zach and Gray. Of all the holidays they'd spent together — Halloween, Christmas, Valentine's, Easter and more.

Pausing, she focused on a picture from about a month ago, the three of them smiling brightly at the camera, the giant redwood behind them making them look tiny in comparison.

Last summer, when they'd gone up to the cabin for her first visit, Owen and Claire had sat her down, explaining, in no uncertain terms, that they were in this for the long haul and that she was part of their family now. Then, around Thanksgiving, they had brought up adoption, saying they were just putting the option on the table, and they just wanted her to know that when she was ready, if she was ever ready, they would be happy to start the proceedings. They had emphasized that there was no pressure and that either way, it wouldn't change anything, they still wanted her to be with them. Both times she'd just nodded her understanding, but hadn't said anything.

At the time, while she had known that her grandpa was dead and that her old home was going up for sale, while she had known all of that, she had still been hoping that one day she'd wake up back in her old bed, in her old room, and find out that it had all been a dream. That there were no monstrous dinosaur hybrids living in her basement. That she wasn't a clone. That life would just continued as it always had.

But now, a year from those initial events, as she looked at the pictures, at everything she'd got to do over the past year, she no longer found herself hoping that her life would go back to the way it used to be. She didn't want to give up her new memories. She didn't want to think about life without Owen and Claire.

She still loved and missed her grandpa, but he'd never really been her parent, not the way Owen and Claire were. She'd had a family back at the Estate, as mismatched and odd as it had been. But, she also had a family here, now. A family she wanted to keep.

Maybe it was time to finally make it official. To stop living in limbo, and to move forward with them.

Nodding her head resolutely, she flipped back to the picture of the three of them, taking comfort in the wide smiles on their faces.

"Maisie! Dinner!" Owen's voice echoed up the stairs, and she turned her iPad off, plugging it into charge.

Tonight. Maybe she'd bring it up tonight.