A/N: So here we are... the epilogue of this story. Thanks to everyone who's sent me a review for this story (so far), your comments have really helped me and have certainly encouraged me to continue writing for this pairing. Where possible I've replied to all signed reviews now but anyone I couldn't get back to, thanks again. I'm actually sorry to see this story end but I've really enjoyed the process of it and it's spurred me on to write more so keep an eye out.
Anyway, enjoy this last chapter.
On the morning of Wednesday 10th October 2012, it was the turn of Derek Branning to take the stand and give evidence. His defence barrister asked him many questions about his relationship with his son, trying to spin it so it showed Joey as a violent and unstable boy who'd always defied his parents. The prosecution were more aggressive in their questioning though and it led to a blow up from the witness where he belittled his son, stating he deserved everything he'd ever got and if he'd been a better father, he'd have killed him years ago like he'd wanted to but his wife had persuaded him not to.
His outburst caused havoc in the court room with both barristers calling out different objections to the judge. The judge himself called out for security to restrain the defendant in the witness stand and for the jury to be removed from the room.
In all the chaos Joey watched his father, his eyes wide at the venom he'd just heard in his voice. To know that his death had been something his parents had actually discussed made him feel physically sick and if it wasn't for Lauren's hand keeping him anchored to reality he would've already fled the room.
Joey sat, motionless, as he watched Derek be led from the room. He flinched and cowered in his seat as Derek broke free from the security guard and made one last attempt to get to him and do him harm. He didn't get very far however before a mass of security guards manhandled him to the ground. Derek glared at Joey, smirking slightly when he saw the fear in his son's eyes.
Joey couldn't bring himself to even think about food as they sat in the cafeteria of the court house. His grip on Lauren's hand tightened as he had a flash of his father's face spring into his memory. He could feel Max and Tanya watching him as they walked over to where he and Lauren sat. Lauren placed a plate of food in front of him and Joey felt his face pale. The thought of trying to eat made his stomach protest violently and he pushed it away. "I can't..." he told her in a whisper and she nodded at him, leaning forward and kissing him softly on the lips.
"It's okay." She said softly. Lauren wrapped her arm around his shoulders and he leaned against her, resting his head on her shoulder. He was suddenly very tired. He closed his eyes, trying to shut himself off from the rest of the world, trying to rebuild some form of defence against his father.
Lauren picked at her lunch, her focus more on Joey than the food she was blindly eating. She could feel him pulling away from her, despite his closeness to her, as the seconds passed. She felt her tears bubbling under the surface and closed her eyes. When she opened them after several minutes she saw Alice sitting opposite the two of them. The girls shared a look and an understanding passed between them in that moment, both knowing that, for Joey at least, they would make the effort with each other. Maybe in time, things between them would be restored. Lauren smiled gently at Alice.
Alice returned the smile then looked at her brother, "Joey?" she said softly, not wanting to startle him.
Joey heard her voice and when he opened his eyes he saw she was really there. He just stared at her, sure that if he uttered one word she'd disappear again and he didn't think he could handle that at the moment.
"You should eat something, son." Max said, hearing but not reacting to the gasp of his daughter as she registered what he'd just said. Joey looked at Max, seeing the small smile on his face and he turned back to the plate of food he'd been given just minutes earlier. Slowly he began to eat, not able to stomach very much but at least managing to get something into his body.
On the afternoon of Wednesday 10th October 2012, Derek Branning was found guilty for multiple counts of Grievous Bodily Harm with Intent, after just two hours deliberation by a jury of his peers. The judge adjourned the case till the following morning where he sentenced Derek Branning to twenty years imprisonment, with no chance of parole. It was clear from his actions and words in court that Derek Branning was still a threat to his son and the judge couldn't risk the possibility of harm coming to the boy who'd already been through so much.
Joey sat in his seat once the court was dismissed; surprised at the speed it had ended. Was it really only three days earlier that he and Lauren had given evidence? He felt faint as he tried to process it all and he wondered if his sister felt the same way. Mr Wright had spoken to him before court was called into session this morning and had warned him that there was a chance their mother could face a prison sentence too given what Derek had said in court the afternoon before. Joey wasn't sure how he felt about this, he wasn't sure he was comfortable with the thought of her being punished as well but he wasn't going to dwell on it. He wouldn't let this continue to affect his future in the way it had affected his past.
"Joe, we should be going." Lauren said to him softly.
"Yes, we should." He said, suddenly determined to start living his life. His life with Lauren and her family.
On the evening of Thursday 11th October 2012, a stronger Branning family returned to Walford and rather than hide from the rest of the square, the entire family decided to go to the Queen Victoria pub to celebrate the result of the case and put a lid on the whole situation. They were all aware that Derek's actions had been the talk of the community over the last few days and the preceding few months with much speculation being made about what had happened and whose fault it was. Derek had been feared and respected in pretty equal measures since his appearance on the square and there were some who thought Joey Branning has possibly deserved the treatment doled out by his father. It was not a secret that there had been little love lost between father and son. Max, Jack and Carol decided it was time to face everyone and stop the local gossips once and for all.
The pub fell silent as the family walked into the bar. Several people had been talking in hushed voices over the latest copy of the Walford Gazette where the Branning's had made front page news, going into great detail the evidence that had been given and clearing up some of the wilder rumours that had been circulating. It also mentioned the relationship between the cousins and it was the unearthing of this new – and much hotter – gossip that was particularly being discussed.
Joey and Lauren were the last to walk into the pub, hand in hand with each other. The general murmur that had been increasing ever since the family first started arriving ceased, a silence falling for several seconds as everyone seemed focused on their joined hands. It couldn't mean what it looked like, surely? There was no way the family would be supporting them in this, right?
It was Max that broke the silence, "What do you two want to drink?" he asked them both.
"A beer, please." Joey said quietly.
"Just an orange juice, dad." Lauren said, earning a smile from both of the men in her life.
"Lauren, baby girl, where have you been?" Fatboy said, walking over to them, and easing some of the escalating tension as only he could. "It's been a long time."
"Around." She said, edging slightly towards Joey, pleased that she could finally show everyone how she felt about him. "I've been busy, Fats." She added, her hand squeezing Joey's
"The others are down there, if you'd like to join us?" He said, nodding towards the rest of their friends at the far end of the room. "We could make a night of it." He said, hoping to tempt Lauren.
"Maybe another time, Fats," Joey said as Lauren nodded her head in agreement with his words.
"We're here with our family tonight." Lauren added softly.
Fatboy realised he wasn't going to persuade either of them, so backtracked a little. "Cool. Cool." He watched as Max handed them both their drinks, noticing the soft drink for Lauren. "Another time then you two. See yaz." He ambled off to the rest of Lauren's friends who'd been watching them with Fatboy.
Lauren could see Lucy, Whitney and Tyler looking in her direction and she could see concern on their faces. No doubt they'd read all about everything in the paper. Her usual worries appeared briefly but she couldn't let herself worry about them now. Lauren knew their opinion on her relationship wouldn't make any difference to her anyway. She knew where her heart lay and it was with the person holding her hand. Nothing they said to her would make that reality alter. She wasn't going to let it worry her either. In fact she decided maybe it was time for a small demonstration, just to make sure everyone understood exactly where she stood on the matter. She didn't miss the tension that appeared when she released Joey's hand but she also felt it vanish when she leaned against him, her head against his chest. She wrapped her arm around his waist and slid her hand into the back pocket of his jeans. She knew her friends would all be able to see it. Hell, most of the square would be able to see it but she just couldn't bring herself to care. The most important people in her life knew and were supporting them and that was all she really cared about.
Joey picked up her silent signal instantly and took his cue from her. He moved slowly so she could pull away if she'd changed her mind until he kissed her softly on the lips. The kiss deepened naturally and the drinkers once again fell silent as they watched the kissing cousins.
"Are you two going to stand there all night?" Max teased them, again managing to break the silence that had fallen and pull them apart after a minute or so. He leant forward to them, dropping his voice slightly but still allowing the rest of the pub to hear his words. "Oh, and word to the wise, can we limit the PDAs to two or three a night? This is a family pub and besides, if you keep this up, your mum and I might have to see how you like it with the visuals." Joey and Lauren chuckled and winced a little at his threat before following him to the booth the rest of the family were waiting in. Lauren again hadn't missed how her dad referred to himself as dad when speaking to Joey. She could tell something had changed between them both in the last couple of days and she wasn't sure she minded that much. In fact she liked it more than she thought she would.
Alice was sitting the other side of Joey as they sat down and she smiled at her brother and cousin. The events of the last thirty six hours had brought the two siblings back together a little and she'd spent time with Joey and Lauren the night before and after seeing them together, watching them as they relaxed with each other, she'd been able to see how much in love they were. Alice knew who was number one in her brother's life, even if Lauren thought otherwise, and she was getting used to seeing them together now. It was clear as day that the two of them were completely in love and she hoped one day she'd be able to find that connection with someone too. Joey leaned over and kissed his sister on the cheek before turning back to Lauren and starting PDA number 2 of the night... and believe me, Joey was definitely counting.
The rest of the bar took their cue from Lauren's father, deciding that if he was okay with their relationship, then it wasn't their place to say anything. Peace was restored once more in the London Borough of Walford... at least for a little while anyway.
A/N2: So there you go. Please note I have purposefully left this open for a sequel - although there is no guarantee I will do one. Please send me a review and let me know what you thought about this tale. Maybe your comment will inspire me to write that sequel. You never know...
I will (hopefully) begin posting my next story tomorrow but it may be Tuesday... we'll see.