Initially there was silence but as the seconds ticked by noises gradually began to filter back. The blaring of an alarm in the background; the crashing and banging of parts of the building as they fell from their original settings and landed on the floor, surrounding them and blocking their exit further. Lauren opened her eyes and saw flames before her face. They frightened her. She glanced right and there was Joey. He was trying to help her get out of the car and it's only then she realised she couldn't move. Why did everything seem to be moving in slow motion? Her head hurt and when she moved her hand to touch her forehead, it came away covered in red and she realised its blood; her blood to be exact. Her eyes moved back to the bonnet of the car, the flickering flames had strengthened in the seconds she wasn't looking. She started to struggle in her seat, desperate to get out of the car and escape. Her eyes met Joey's again and she can see the panic and fear clearly shining from them even though he's trying to reassure her. The seatbelt suddenly came loose and finally she was free but Joey moved to protect her as the car was jolted by more falling debris. His hands helped ease her from the car and she sagged against him in relief. She was safe now. The sounds in the room were deafeningly loud and there was an acrid smell from the smoke that was building around them. Lauren was scared stiff by what she was seeing and the only thing keeping her vaguely sane was her cousin, his arms wrapped tightly around her.
Joey led her through what once was a supermarket, hoping to find a method of escape. It was difficult to see anything now and when they located a door they found they couldn't open it. Their escape was blocked. Lauren saw the flames at the car were now much stronger and not for the first time tonight she wondered if they were going to get out of this alive.
Then she heard a voice she'd earlier hoped she'd never hear again; her Uncle Derek screaming his son's name letting a little hope filter through Lauren that they would be okay. Despite her almost crippling fear it was only moments before she was crawling through shelving and wreckage at the front of the shop, Joey behind her, aiding her escape. Joey was soon at her side again and he helped her to her feet and started walking them away from the shop. Lauren began to realise just how much pain she was in as they did this. Everything ached.
The building exploded behind them and all three Branning's were thrown to the floor by the blast. Lauren stared at Joey as the reality of the situation started to hit her and she slowly moved her hand to where his lay, just a few feet away from her. The feel of his hand in hers gave her strength. It would all be okay now. They could get through this.
Everything was a blur as Joey helped her into the front seat of a nearby car. Lauren felt numb, barely aware of her surroundings and she wished Joey could just take her in his arms and make it all better. She was only partially concentrating on the conversation between the two men, more focused on Joey's hand as it rested on her leg. She caught a few words and it brought her to her senses. "No, I did it," she said, the sound of her voice startling her slightly. Derek looked at her like she was an idiot, "I was driving," she explained when he questioned her. He asked her if she'd been drinking and Lauren heard Joey say she hadn't. Her uncle obviously knew better than to believe that because he kept repeating the same question. She nodded her head and when he asked how much, she couldn't remember. Her mind was blank so she said the answer she thought was right. "A couple..." she told them, "Doubles, I think." She couldn't even bring herself to look at Joey, knowing she'd disappointed him; just like she disappointed everyone in her life.
It felt like Lauren was having an out of body experience. She couldn't seem to stay focused on any one subject and her head and body were really hurting now. She saw Joey being led away by a policeman and she was scared. She didn't understand what was happening. She tried to follow after Joey but Derek stopped her. And she let him. She was so scared... all she could think about was those first few seconds after the crash, how things could've been so much worse.
Time seemed to speed up and before she was really aware of anything she was lying in an ambulance. Joey was at her side and his hand in hers managed to ground her; keeping her sane. When they were at the hospital it was the first time Lauren began to understand that Joey had taken the blame for her mess. He told her he'd said to the police he was driving and Lauren began to cry because he was clearing up after her and he didn't have to do that. His hand reached for her face and he tried to comfort her. The warmth of his hand on her cheek made her want to cry even more. And then he was gone and she felt more alone than she ever had before.
Time passed and after the doctors and nurses had left, the door opened and the police were standing there. Lauren knew what she needed to do. She couldn't live with the lie. She couldn't let him take the blame for her mess. The police started to ask her questions and she could tell they believed Joey's version of events. "It was me..." she whispered.
"Sorry?" the policeman said.
"It was me," she repeated, "I was driving..." Lauren saw the police officers share a look and she could tell they didn't believe her story. "I can prove it," she whispered. Slowly she pushed herself more upright and moved the right shoulder of her top to one side, revealing the bruise from the seatbelt that coloured her skin so dramatically. They stared at her in silence before stepping closer. "I was driving." She said again, her voice a little stronger this time.
One of the officers stepped forward and breathalysed her. Lauren felt her heart sink as he stared at the instrument in her hand, "It's a positive reading." He told her. "You're over the limit." He added.
"I had a couple of vodka's earlier today. I'd forgotten about them before I started driving." She admitted softly. "What happens now?" she asked.
"Lauren Branning, I'm arresting you for driving while under the influence. Once you're released from the hospital, you'll be taken into custody and questioned further." He stepped forward again and put one of the circles of a pair of handcuffs around her bruised wrist. He clipped the other end to the rail at the side of the bed.
"I didn't mean it." She sobbed. Even though she knew she'd just done the right thing, she was really scared because she was going to be in so much trouble. Part of her hoped Joey wouldn't be too angry with her for telling them the truth. She couldn't let him take the blame for her mistake.
A/N: Firstly, a HUGE fankyou to my lovely Eastendersfan444, for her help, encouragement, editing… and sometimes pure nagging with this story. And finally, here it is... my new story... and it's definitely been a labour of love because I started writing this in December 2012, just after the episode aired and I've been working on it on and off ever since then. I hope you enjoy it... as you can see, it's going to be quite different from what happened in the show... Or is it? Back tomorrow with another chapter... Don't forget to send me a review.