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I'm Not Letting Go

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I open my eyes, bolting up, my seatbelt jamming, stopping me. I take deep breaths in, taking in my surroundings- it's early dusk, & the car isn't moving. In fact, it's parked. I look over to the drivers side, finding it empty. This just drives my fear shooting up.

“Hey,” he softly says, & I feel his hand on my left thigh.

I quickly look left, relieved to see him safe & unharmed as he stands in my door’s opening, his left hand on my thigh, looking worried but with a slight smile. I scramble to undo my seatbelt, shoving it aside as I turn so my feet are on the side of the car, & throw my arms around him. He wraps his arms around me tight as I bury my face into his neck & cry. He rubs my back soothingly.

After a while, I calm down enough to pull back & look at him. I see the worry in his eyes & expression.

“You fell asleep, & then a while later you started calling out my name,” he says, tucking loose strands of hair behind my right ear. “You sounded really upset. So I pulled over. What happened?”

I swallow, still so shaken by it that I can't find the words. I then tell him everything. The whole nightmare from start to finish. We're both in tears by the end.

He pulls me in, wrapping his arms around me. “It's okay, I'm here.”

****

The last of the sunlight is almost gone as we turn down the street leading to Ramsay Street. Neither of us had spoken since we started back on the road again, after my nightmare, & Mark had nearly broken the speed limit a few times in a desperate attempt to get us home sooner.

We turn into Ramsay Street, & I’ve never been so relieved to see the semi-circle of our tight-knit community. Mark pulls into his- our driveway, & I catch sight of Mum, Dad, Tyler & Aaron waiting on the balcony as Mark stops in front of the garage. He turns off the engine & hops out. I sit, frozen. Mark opens my door, leaning in to unbuckle my seatbelt. He turns my face to look at him.

“We're home,” he says softly. “You're safe. We're safe.”

He presses a soft kiss to my lips, & then helps me out. As Mark shuts the door, I watch Mum, Dad, Tyler & Aaron come down. Mum pulls me into a hug. I wrap my arms around her, watching over her shoulder as Dad and Mark shake hands. Mum pulls back.

“How are you?” She asks.

“Shaken.”

She fights back tears.

“Any idea who could do this?” Dad asks Mark.

“The only ones we could think of is Dimato & Michelle,” Mark replies.

“Wouldn't put it past them,” Tyler says, crossing his arms. “They're very violent people.”

Mark nods. “And they're out to kill us.”

“Uh… Why are you all here? How do you know all of this?”

They all look at Mark.

“I… Uh… Rang them while you were asleep in the car,” He says. “I thought you'd appreciate having a welcome home party waiting for you.”

I smile. “Thank you.”

He smiles, stepping closer & kissing my forehead. I wrap my arms around him. I rest my head on his chest as he wraps his arms around me.

“Dinner’s all organised,” Aaron says. “We got take away, that's in the oven keeping warm.”

“Sounds good,” Mark says.

“You two go inside,” Brad says. “We’ll get your bags.”

“Thanks, Brad.”

****

Mark pulls me onto his lap as we settle at the table for dinner. Aaron & Tyler try to lift the mood by telling funny stories as we eat. I force myself to smile. But all I want to do is curl up in bed with Mark, & sleep this all away.

“You gotta eat more,” he says, quiet enough that only we can hear. “I know you’ve lost your appetite, but you just have to eat.” He places a hand on my tummy. “I can't handle us getting through all of this, only to lose our little girl.”

I pick up my fork, collecting a forkful of food, & eat it. He kisses my shoulder.

****

After dinner, there's a knock on the door. Az goes & opens it, returning with Karl close behind.

“Hi everyone,” he says.

The others say hi, except for Mark, who stays silent. Mum, Dad, Aaron & Tyler head into the kitchen as Karl steps over to us, still sitting at the dining table.

“How are you?” Karl asks us.

“I’m okay,” Mark says. “Paige… Isn't.”

He nods. “What exactly can I help with?”

Mark gestures for Karl to take a seat. He does.

“Paige has had… Trouble sleeping.”

“The shock will do that.”

“How about nightmares?”

“That too.”

“Karl, I’m worried. She's barely slept since it happened. And when she does, she always wakes up screaming from a nightmare,” Mark says. “She's lost her appetite, & I’m worried. Not just for her, but for our baby.”

Karl nods. “Paige, you need to eat. Even if you're not feeling hungry, your baby relies on you for their nutrients. So even if you don't want to eat, you need to for your baby.”

I nod. “I’ll try to do that.”

He smiles. “Just keep your fluids up too. I recommend you eat regularly. Small meals, with snacks. Your body will realign & your appetite will return,” he says. “As for the nightmares… There's nothing I can do to prevent them. However, I can give you some tablets that will help you sleep. Don't worry, they're safe. They won't harm your pregnancy.”

He reaches into his bag, pulling out a small bottle of pills.

“I don't have many with me,” he says. “But these will last you tonight. I’ll write out a prescription, & you can go get more in the morning.”

Mark takes the bottle. “Thanks, Karl.”

Karl nods. “No worries.”

He gets out his prescription pad, & writes out the prescription. He hands it to Mark. He then gets another pad, & writes something else down.

“This is the name of the psychologist at the hospital,” he says, ripping the page off & placing it on top of the prescription. “I recommend you call tomorrow & book an appointment. I’ll let her know to expect you. It would be good for you to talk to someone about it.”

I shake my head.

“Paige, I know you’ve been through a lot, & you're wanting to forget it all,” Karl says. “But you can't bottle it up inside. You need to talk to someone.”

****

I visit the psychologist the next day, but the emotions get too much & I flee. Over the next three weeks, I get better at hiding my nightmares & freak outs. Avoiding the news has helped. And the case has stalled- there's no evidence to link the shooters to Michelle & Dimato. Mark is furious. We know it's them, we just can't legally prove it.

"Can you please stop pacing?” I ask him, watching him pace back & forth in front of me in the hospital waiting room. “You're making me nauseous.”

He stops & sits down next to me. He leans forward, resting his forearms on his knees, & then licks his lip. “I'm just… Frustrated.”

“About the case?” I ask, placing my right hand on his back & rub it.

He nods. “They were clever. There's nothing to point to them except for us. And that's just not enough to arrest them!”

“We’ll get them,” I reply. “Something will come up that will link them to the shooters.”

He looks at me. "It's been three weeks.”

I nod. “You can't give up. And getting frustrated isn't going to help. You have to keep calm.”

He sits back, twisting his body to face me. “I'm trying to not let my feelings cloud my judgement,” He says. “But…” He sighs. “They came after us. On our honeymoon.” He places a hand on my tummy, tears filling his eyes. “Our baby… They put our baby's life in danger. I can't let them get away with it.”

"I know,” I reply, placing my hand over his. “But you have a tendency to get so focused on a case. I love how passionate you get, but… In cases like this, you need to step back.” I cup his face with both hands. “I'm scared that you’re going to get hurt, & I’ve already almost lost you twice recently. I refuse to go through that a third time.”

He rests his forehead on mine.

We get called in to the examination room, & we walk into the room hand in hand. Karl had recommended, given the stress of recent events, that we have an ultrasound at 7 weeks to check that everything is going well. When I booked it, they said it would be best to have it done transvaginally (through the vagina)- cause that provides a clearer picture. We're left alone so I can change into a medical gown. I sit down on the special examination chair, Mark standing to my left & we wait. We don't have to wait too long for my obstetrician to arrive.

“Hi Paige & Mark,” she says, coming in.

She's not much older than I am, maybe late twenties early thirties, with blonde hair swept back in a high ponytail. She shuts the door & crosses to us.

“I’m Doctor Melinda Brooke. Now… Dr Kennedy referred you to me. He mentioned you’ve had some stressful weeks since your pregnancy started.”

I nod. “He suggested we do this. Just to make sure everything is going well.”

She nods. “You may feel a little discomfort, but that's normal for this form of ultrasound. The nurse would have told you that it's clearer this way.”

I nod. She puts a pair of gloves on.

“For this, I’m going to need you to put your legs in the stirrups, & lie back,” She says. "Usually, we don't need the stirrups, but I find it gives me better access & you'll feel more comfortable in that position."

I do so, & she covers my hips & legs with a sheet. She then takes the transducer from the ultrasound machine, along with a bottle of lubricant gel. She squirts a bit of gel on the transducer, returning the bottle to the machine. She flicks the ultrasound screen on, pushes it closer to my feet & then sits down on a chair between my legs.

“Okay, here we go,” She says. “You ready?”

I nod. A few seconds later, I feel the transducer pushing inside of me. I involuntarily suck in a deep breath. Mark takes my hand & I smile at him. It's a silent & long process, Dr Brooke not speaking as she watches the screen. A few times she presses buttons. A few instances make me want to ask her what's going on, but I know she'll speak if she finds anything wrong. I’m not sure how long, but it feels like an eternity before she speaks.

“I’ll send a full report to Dr Kennedy, but I can say now that everything is looking really good.”

Mark & I simultaneously sigh.

“Development is going perfectly. Both embryos are well within standard lengths- 7 & 6 millimetres respectively.”

Mark & I look at each other, both surprised. Mark looks at Dr Brooke first, I follow suit a few seconds later.

“Sorry,” He says. “Did I hear you right?” He pauses, brow furrowing. “Did you say both embryos?”

She looks surprised. “Oh my God! I am so sorry! I assumed you knew that already. It should have shown on your pregnancy test through higher readings than what's considered normal pregancy levels," She says. She quickly adds, "Normal meaning a single embryo."

I shake my head, eyes wide.

“Please forgive me,” She says. “I didn't mean for you to find out that way.”

“Uh… That's okay,” I reply. “But… Elaborate something for me.”

“Anything.”

I nervously lick my lips. “So… Uh… Both embryos…” I say. “That means twins, right?”

She nods. She then leans forward, turning the machine’s screen so we can all see it. I look at it- it looks almost like static, except for a dark patch of nothing in the very centre of the screen.

“See here?” She asks, pointing to two blobs of more static in the dark patch. “That's your embryos. Uh… Babies.”

My breath catches in my throat. Twins.

“As I was saying,” Dr Brooke says. “Everything is looking really good. They're both healthy looking, viable… So whatever the stressful events were, they haven't had an impact on your pregnancy.”

“Thank you,” I reply.

“No worries,” she replies. She pulls the transducer out, & wipes it clean. She places it back where it belongs on the machine. “Now… Would you like me to organise a copy of the ultrasound for you to keep? You probably won't be able to really understand what's shown, but most couples like to have a copy on file. I can also print out a photo for you.”

I nod. “Both.”

“Make that two photos, please,” Mark says. Feeling my confused stare, he looks at me & adds. “So we can both have a copy.”

Tears swell in my eyes.

"Certainly,” Dr Brooke replies. She pulls her gloves off & fiddles with the machine for a minute. “I’ll be back shortly. While you wait, you can get dressed.”

I take my legs out of the stirrups, & sit up, drawing my legs together so I’m not flashing anyone. Dr Brooke leaves. Mark walks around till he's standing right in front of me, between the stirrups. I part my legs, letting him step closer & I hold onto his shirt at his hips as he cups my face with both hands.

“Twins!” He says.

“Twins!”

We both smile as he leans in, claiming my lips for a slow kiss.

He tells me he’ll wait for me in the waiting room while I change. As I change, my thoughts drift back to our honeymoon night. Soon enough, I can't breathe. I drop my shirt & grab hold of the chair for support. I close my eyes, pushing aside the bad memories & concentrate on breathing.

Once I’ve recovered, I finish getting changed & head out to Mark. Dr Brooke returns a minute later, giving us an envelope containing the DVD & the photos. We thank her & leave, Mark wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I smile as I look up at him. I hate keeping it from him- I hate not telling him that the nightmares & panic attacks are still happening, but… He has enough to worry about.

At least… For now.