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I'm Not Letting Go

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Mark & the officers are distracted. Tense due to the gunshots. I, on the other hand, have only one instinct- to get inside & find out if my girlfriend, niece & sister are all okay.

Mark’s turned sideways to face our house, exposing part of the stairs. I slip behind him, turning to the main set of stairs as he notices.

“TYLER!” He says, as I climb the stairs.

I hear him follow me.

“ALL OFFICERS STAY WHERE YOU ARE!!!” He barks into his radio, as I pull open the security door. “My brother's broken the main line.”

I burst inside, pausing to scan the area. Mark stops behind me, his gun raised. But the area is empty.

“PIPER!” I shout.

Nothing.

I take a step forward. “PIPER!”

“Ty-Tyler?” Piper replies, scared & from the lounge.

I rush over, finding her hunched over on the floor between the couch & the coffee table. I kneel down, & realise she's protecting Felicity- using the couch & her body to shield my young niece.

“Hey, it's okay,” I say, reaching out to her.

She looks up & relief spreads over her face.

“Oh my god! Am I glad to see you!” She replies. “I thought I was hearing things!”

I smile reassuringly at her. “Are you okay?” I ask. I look at Felicity. “Is Felicity okay?”

Piper nods. “Yeah, we’re both fine. I’ve been holding her the whole time.”

“Where's Erin?” Mark says.

I look at him- he’s come closer, standing beside our couch. He’s facing away, gun raised, as he looks over his shoulder at us.

“Uh… Eddie… He… He found out about my mobile,” Piper says. “He got angry. That's what caused the first gun shot.”

“Pipes,” I say, placing my hands on her cheeks. “Focus on where they went, okay? The rest you can tell Mark… Or another officer later.”

She nods. “They were heading for the kitchen last I saw.”

I look at Mark. He grabs his radio. “Sarge, the suspect & Erin are still missing,” he says into it. “Any signs of them in the backyard? They were last seen heading there.”

There's a pause.

“Negative, Constable,” Sarge replies. “No trace.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“Want us to assist in locating them?”

“Stay posted outside,” Mark says. “Maintaining the perimeter will help.” He suddenly realises how that came across. “Not that I’m trying to boss you around, Sarge. Just saying I have a handle on the situation in here… For now.”

“I knew what you meant, Constable,” Sarge replies. “Please keep me updated.”

“Yes, sir,” Mark replies. The radio goes silent. “Stay here. If you see Eddie, lay low & keep them safe. Do not move from them, do you understand?”

I nod.

****

I watch him shift closer to Piper & wrap his arm around her. She rests her head on his shoulder & sighs. Tyler places a hand on Felicity to comfort her, as she's starting to cry.

I slowly head for the kitchen, gun raised & fully aware of my surroundings. As I approach the kitchen bench, I can see into the laundry, & I pause. There's a pool of blood.

I lower my gun, reeling from the sight. I holster my gun, mentally preparing myself to approach the laundry. I need to know if it's her. I need to be the one to learn that first.

I walk around the bench, trying to calm my pounding heart. I turn the corner of the side wall, & let out a huge sigh when I see her. She's sitting next to the rubbish bin, head resting on the door frame into the laundry, legs tucked up to her chest, arms tightly round them. I can see blood stains on her shirt, but the fact that she's staring into the laundry has me convinced the pool of blood isn't hers.

I grab my radio. “Sarge, I found her.”

“Oh, thank god!” Tyler says.

“Good to hear,” Sarge replies. “Is she okay?”

“Not sure,” I reply. “But she's breathing. That's good enough for me right now.”

“And the suspect?”

“Haven't found him yet, but… I have a hunch he’s not a threat any more.”

“Understood. Keep me posted.”

“Yes, sir.”

I cross to her, kneeling down & placing a hand on her back. She jumps, goes to strike me but recognises me & relaxes.

“Mark!” She says.

“Hey. Are you okay?” I ask. “Are you hurt?”

She stares at the wall in front of her, to my left, as she thinks. “Uh… No,” She says. “I… I don't think so.”

I sigh, relieved. “And Eddie?”

She leans into me, struggling to keep back her tears. She turns her head into my vest, turning her head away from the laundry. I wrap my arms around her, kissing her head.

“It's okay, it's okay,” I whisper. “You're okay. You're okay.”

She cries against me for a while.

“Mark?” Tyler asks.

“Just stay in the lounge, please, Tyler!” I reply. “Erin's unharmed.”

“Good to hear.”

I turn my attention back to Erin, but the pool of blood catches my eye.

“Erin,” I say softly. “I just need to move away for a minute, okay? I need to go look in the laundry. I need to confirm where Eddie is, okay?”

She lets out a shaky breath, before nodding. She sits up. I leave my hand on her back as I rise to my feet, leaving it there until I can't any more. I carefully step into the laundry, avoiding the blood. I step to the right of the door, towards the back door & turn around so the back door is behind me. Across the other side of the narrow room, slumped against the wall to my left, lies Eddie's lifeless body. His gun lies on the floor just out of his reach, its barrel pointing at him.

I run a hand over my mouth & sigh. I take a moment to compose myself before grabbing my radio.

“Suspect is dead,” I say into it. “I repeat, suspect is dead. In the laundry. All civilians are safe & unharmed.”

“Copy that, Constable,” Sarge says. “I’ll get the necessary teams in.”

“Thanks, Sarge,” I reply. “Can we also get a couple of paramedics in here? I just want to make sure that Erin is okay. She was with him. I’m not sure on the details, but she's in shock & covered in blood.”

“I’ll call them in.”

“Thanks Sarge.”

I carefully head back into the kitchen. Erin's still sitting where I left her. I bend over, take hold of her hands & pull her to her feet. I turn her away from the laundry, wrap an arm around her shoulder & lead her slowly over to the lounge. Tyler, Piper & Felicity stand as we make our way over. They sit down on one end of the couch, & I guide Erin to this end. She sits down, arms tightly wrapped around herself.

Felicity squirms, hand reaching for Erin.

“Erin, she wants you,” Piper says.

Erin takes a long moment to react. She looks at Piper & Felicity. She shakes her head. Piper, shocked, turns her gaze to me for help.

I kneel so I’m on the same level as Erin. She stares straight ahead, at the opposite wall.

“I know that you're in shock, Erin,” I say. “But your daughter needs you. Just like you need her.”

She shakes her head, still not making eye contact with me.

“Erin, look at me.”

She takes a minute, but she slowly looks at me. I smile at her.

“Why won't you hold Felicity?”

She uncrosses her arms & pulls at her shirt. I look down at it, & it hits me why she's refusing.

“It's okay, Erin. I understand now.”

“What?” Piper says. “Her daughter wants her to hold her, & you're siding with her?”

I look at Piper. “She's refusing because she doesn't want Felicity near her when she's covered in blood.”

Piper looks shocked. “Oh.”

"Just look after her until the paramedics have checked Erin,” I reply. “Then I’ll get something clean for Erin to wear.”

Piper nods.

****

Soon our house is a hive of activity. The kitchen is sectioned off from the rest by crime scene tape, as the crime scene team get to work documenting Eddie's body, the gun & the laundry. Paramedics examine & clear Piper & Felicity, before both focus on Erin. But their efforts are hampered by Erin's refusal to talk.

Aaron & Paige come in. Paige throws her arms around me. After our hug, I wave Aaron, Tyler & Piper over. They come, Piper still holding Felicity.

“They're going to be at this for a while, so our kitchen will be out of use for most of the night,” I say. “So I think it will be best if we spend the night at Lassiters.”

“I can call Mum, see if she can reserve rooms,” Piper says. “I’m sure she’ll offer a discount.”

I nod. “That would be good,” I reply. “In the meantime, can you all go through & pack. Take clothes for a few days, in case we have stay there longer. And can someone please pack for Erin & Felicity? I’d help, but I need to be out here.”

“We’ll all handle that,” Aaron replies.

“Thanks.”

They all head off to the bedrooms.

“Excuse me,” The female paramedic says to me. “Are you her spouse?”

“Older brother,” I reply.

“Sorry,” she replies. “We just need to confirm the source of the blood on her shirt. She's refusing to talk. I was wondering if you’d help us out?”

I nod. I step over to Erin, sitting down next to her right side & placing my left hand on her back.

"Erin, you have to let them help," I tell her. "They just want to make sure you're not hurt, & then we’ll get you changed into clean clothes & you can cuddle Felicity.”

“I’m fine,” Erin says.

“You're in shock,” the female paramedic says. “That may be masking the pain from any injuries. Which is why we’d like to check.”

“Erin, look at me,” I say.

She slowly turns to look at me.

“I’m going to be here the whole time,” I tell her. “I want you to let them do their job, okay?”

She stares at me for a minute, & then nods.

****

“Hey,” Tyler says.

I turn to see him standing in the doorway of Erin's bedroom, where I’m packing her things as I hold Felicity in one arm.

“Hey,” I reply. “You’ve finished already?”

“Doesn't need much,” he replies, walking over to me. “And I’m not the one trying to do it with a kid in one arm. Let me help.”

He takes a shirt off the bed, folds it & places it in the open suitcase.

"Mum's organised for a couple of the bigger, two bedroom suites for us,” I tell him as he continues to pack. “And she's insisting that you stay there for free.”

“Wow,” he says, surprised. “That's super generous.”

“Yep, but she thinks your family has been through enough, so she's spoiling you all with this.”

“That's very kind of her.”

“Mmmhmmm.”

“So… Have you considered who sleeps where yet?”

I raise my eyebrow. “I didn't know I had the power to.”

“You're a part of this too, Pipes,” he says, looking at me. “You were in here today, facing Eddie. You protected my niece. I want you to come stay the night with me.”

"Awwww!"

He leans in, pressing his lips against mine.

“I don't think I’ll be able to sleep if you’re not there,” he whispers, lips brushing mine.

“Shouldn't I be saying that?” I whisper back.

“I’m allowed to too,” he says, pulling back.

“Okay, so you & me in one bedroom,” I say, as he keeps packing a mix of Erin & Felicity's clothes. “And Aaron can take the other bedroom in our suite. Cause obviously Paige will be in with Mark, & I have a feeling that Mark will want Erin close by. He seems to be the only one she's reacting to.”

He nods. “I agree.”

“Mum will meet us at reception, though I think she’ll meet us outside. We’re probably gonna have to drop into the station to give formal statements.”

“Yeah.”

Felicity cries. I pace the room, bouncing her in an attempt to calm her down.

“It's okay, Felicity,” I say as I pace. “I know. You want your mum. You can have her soon. I promise.”

Mark appears in the doorway.

“Look, Felicity! Mark!” I say, pointing to him.

He smiles & waves at her. “Are you almost done packing?”

“Uh… Yeah, why?” Tyler asks.

“The paramedics have just cleared Erin. She's not injured, just covered in Eddie's blood. So I’d like to let her in here so she can change.”

Tyler grabs the last few things off the bed, puts them in the suitcase & closes it. He zips it shut.

“We’ll take the bags out to the lounge,” he says, picking up the suitcase.

I grab Felicity's nappy bag, putting the strap on my shoulder.

“Thanks you two,” Mark says as we head out.

“No worries,” Tyler replies, pausing for a few seconds to grab his bag from the hallway floor.

It's not until Tyler passes her that I realise Erin’s standing with her back against the wall to the left of her bedroom. Felicity spots her, & cries out, her short arms reaching for her mum. Erin forces a smile, fighting back tears. She then quickly slips between Mark & myself into her room.

Mummmmmyyyyyyyyyyy!!!!” Felicity cries.

I look at Mark, desperate for a solution. He reaches out, touching her small hands with a finger from both his hands.

“It's okay, Felicity,” he coos. “Mummy just needs a little bit longer & then she’ll be with you.”

He kisses her forehead, before looking at me & tilting his head towards the lounge. Understanding that he wants me to go, I nod & head down the hallway. Felicity screams, looking over my shoulder at Mark.

“It's okay, Felicity,” I say, rubbing her back.

****

“Am I bad mother?” I ask, rubbing a baby wipe to get the blood off the back of my trembling hand.

“No,” Mark replies. “Why?”

“Because through all of this, I’ve kept my distance from my baby,” I reply, scrubbing at the blood. “The whole time, she was in Piper’s arms. And now that it's over… I should be comforting her. But I’m refusing to!” I look at him, barely keeping back my tears. “I’m running away from her, treating her like I’m abandoning her!”

He walks over, steps behind me, places his hands on my shoulders & turns me to the free-standing full-body mirror.

"Look at yourself,” Mark says. “You're covered in blood. You don't want her getting that on her. So as much as you feel horrible for not giving her comfort, it doesn't mean you're a bad mother. It means you're doing what's best for her. And that makes you the best mother.”

I stare at myself in the mirror, & sigh. “You're right,” I reply, nodding.

He smiles, before kissing my head.

“Now, I’m going to go over there & wait with my back to you while you change,” he says. “I know it's weird to have me in here, but we need to bag the clothes.”

“I know,” I reply. “I feel the most comfortable if you're here rather than one of the other officers that I don't know.”

He smiles. “You're starting to get back to normal.”

I smile. “Gee, thanks.”

“It's good,” he replies. “Seeing you so out of it was heartbreaking.”

“I’m glad you were there.”

“I told you I would have your back.”

“You did.”

“I’ll be over there,” he says, before crossing to stand near my door.

“Mark?”

He looks over his shoulder at me.

“Thank you.”

He smiles.

****

Mark leads me back out to the lounge, his Sargent intercepting us as we get into that part of the house.

“We’ll need you to come to the station for your statements,” the Sargent says.

Mark nods. “I know. We were just going there now, Sarge.”

“Good,” Sarge replies. “Is that her clothes?”

“Yes, bagged and ready to examine.”

“Good,” he replies. “I’ll meet you all at the station.”

Mark nods. Sarge looks at me & nods. I nod back. We stay there, watching as he exits through the front door. Mark places the bag of my clothes on the kitchen bench, next to a bunch of other evidence bags, as Aaron, Paige, Tyler & Piper carrying Felicity walk over from the lounge.

“Mummmy!” Felicity says, reaching both her chubby arms out.

I fight back tears as I step forward to meet Piper, taking Felicity from her & holding her tight against me. “I’m so sorry, baby,” I whisper.

"Uh, Mum says they’ve moved a cot into one of the bedrooms for you,” Piper says.

I nod.

“Shouldn't we wait for the police teams to finish?” Tyler asks.

“I gave them the spare keys earlier,” Mark replies. “They’ll lock up when they're done.”

Tyler nods. “I guess we should go, then.”

We gather our bags- Mark hands me Felicity's nappy bag & takes my suitcase.

“You have enough to carry,” he says.

I smile, before following the others over to the front door. We file out, the boys taking up the back, & we head down & onto the street. Tyler moved his & Mark’s cars so the mortuary van could pull in. I stop mid-step when I realise that they're loading Eddie's body into the van. It may be in a body bag, but the sight still sends chills down my spine.

Mark's hand on my shoulder draws me from my thoughts.

“You okay?” He asks, concerned.

I haven't told him what happened. None of them know.

I nod. “Yeah, just… Still a bit shocked.”

He nods. We walk side by side the rest of the way, rejoining the others at Tyler & Mark’s cars, which are parked across the street outside Lauren’s. Aaron & Tyler are putting the bags into the back of Mark’s car, which has a bigger boot so everyone's can fit in it.

“So who wants to go in which car?” Aaron asks, as they continue loading the bags.

“How about the same grouping as the hotel rooms?” Tyler replies.

We all look confused.

“Nice one, Gurtie,” Piper says. “I hadn't talked about that to the others yet.”

“Well, now’s the time,” Paige replies.

“Terese has organised two of the bigger, two bedroom suites for us at Lassiters,” Tyler says. “Pipes & I were just thinking of how to split our group over the rooms. We thought Aaron, Pipes & I would take one… And you, Mark, Erin & Felicity would take the other.”

“Sounds good,” Mark replies. “Any objections?”

We’re all quiet.

“Good, then it's sorted,” Mark says. “Tyler, Aaron & Piper in Tyler's car. And my three favourite women with me.”

“Technically two favourite woman & favourite girl,” I reply.

He smiles. "True."

“I should start putting Felicity in,” I say.

I walk over to the back door of Mark's 4WD, open the door, toss the nappy bag onto the floor & climb in. I settle Felicity in her car seat, securing her in just as Tyler closes the boot door slowly so it doesn't slam. When I’m done, I stick my head out to see the others. We split up to our cars, Paige & Mark get in as I do my belt up. As we pull off, I rest my head on the head rest & sigh. This long day isn't over yet.

****

We park in the underground carpark at Lassiters. Mark suggests we at least go up & find out which order they want us to go in to give our statements before unloading our bags. We head to the lift, the only bags beyond our handbags is Felicity's nappy bag, which I have over one shoulder.

Terese, Brad & Lauren are waiting for us in reception. Terese hugs- practically squishes- Piper.

“Your rooms are all set up,” Terese says. “I have key cards for each of you. Everything is on the house- the rooms, room service… Anything.”

“That's too much,” Mark says.

“It's the least I can do,” Terese replies. “You’ve all been through so much the last six months.”

“Thank you, Terese,” I reply.

“You're welcome.”

“We should head to the station,” Mark says.

“I’m not needed there,” Aaron says. “So why don't I start taking our bags up to our rooms?”

“Brad & I will help,” Lauren adds.

Mark nods. “Sure.”

“Would you like me to…” Lauren says, pointing to Felicity.

“Uh… No, I’ll take her with me,” I reply. “She's been away from me enough for today. I think it’ll be best for her to stay with me. I don't know how long it’ll take for us to do this.”

Lauren nods. “I understand.”

“Thank you for offering,” I reply. “It's very thoughtful.”

She smiles. “You're welcome.”

We say bye, & follow Mark & Tyler out. Mark holds the police station door open for us. His Sargent is waiting at reception. He & Mark nod at each other.

"I think we'll start with Miss Willis," Sarge says. "And then Mrs Brennan, followed by Mr Brennan. Which leaves Miss Brennan until the end. I understand that you're the most traumatised, so I’d rather leave you until the end.”

I nod. “Fine by me.”

He nods. “Wait over there while Miss Willis comes with me into Interview Room One,” He says. “I’ll come out when we’re ready for the next person.” He looks at Mark. “You’ll need to write up a report. But given the circumstances this evening, it can wait until tomorrow. As long as you have notes.”

“I do,” Mark replies.

“Good. You can sit with your family,” Sarge says, before turning to Piper. “Miss Willis, please follow me.”

We watch as Piper follows him through to the interview room. He holds the door open, waiting for her to walk inside, before he shuts it behind him.

Tyler, Paige, myself & Mark walk over to the waiting area. We sit down in a row- Paige, Felicity & I in the middle, our handbags & nappy bag on the floor.

Mark waits with us until Paige goes in to give her statement half an hour later. Mark decides he should put his vest & gun away.

It doesn't take as long for them to take Paige's statement. She didn't see as much as Piper, Tyler or myself. Tyler's called in next.

“You can head up to our rooms,” I tell Paige & Piper. “You don't have to stay.”

“I’m not moving until Tyler's back out,” Piper says.

“We’re in this together,” Paige adds.

It takes close to 40 minutes for them to finish taking Tyler's statement. Mark explained they probably will have treated it more like an interrogation, given how he snuck past the police to enter first. Felicity's asleep on my chest by the time he comes out.

Tyler returns, looking sheepish & with his hands deep in his jeans’ pockets. Sarge is close behind him.

“In short, Mr Brennan won't be charged for recklessly running in,” Sarge says. “His actions were highly dangerous, not to just himself. However, given the rest of the situation, we’re willing to let him go with just a warning.”

"That's good,” I reply as I stand up.

I pass Felicity to Tyler. He looks surprised as he supports her against his chest.

“You sure you want me to have her?” He asks.

I nod. “I trust you, Tyler.”

“What about Mark? Piper?”

“Piper has done enough today. I need Mark for a few minutes… At least.”

Tyler’s still a little unsure, but he sits down where I was. I look at Mark, tilting my head towards the reception desk. He follows me & Sarge over to it.

“I want Mark to sit in,” I say to Sarge.

Both of them look surprised.

“I know it's breaking the rules, but I’ve been through hell & back tonight,” I continue. “The only thing that's kept me grounded since it happened has been Mark. Having him in there… That's the only way I can see myself doing this tonight.”

Sarge & Mark exchange looks.

“Very well,” Sarge replies. “But he's there strictly for support. No asking questions.”

Mark nods.

“Good. Follow me.”

Sarge heads for the interview room. Mark ushers me in front of him.