A/N: I'm really enjoying EastEnders at the moment and particularly like the Lauren/Joey storyline. So looking forward to the Christmas shows. This story occurred to me and, having seen nothing else like it done, I decided I'd throw my hat into the ring and give it a whirl. I hope I've managed to capture the characters effectively.

For clarification (as I can't find the information anywhere), for this story's purposes, Joey is 24 years old and Amy is 19 years old. Oh, and one other difference to the show... Max and Tanya have already re-married before Alice and Joey appeared in the square.

A Father's Love.

Chapter 1.

Joey stared across the bar, seeing her from a distance, his heart clenching as he watched her down another vodka. She was already well on the road to being drunk and if it was down to him he wouldn't be serving her any more alcohol. The trouble was she seemed to know that and she was avoiding him, going to his colleague at the bar instead of him.

"Joey, I'm just going to go for a break," Matt said, causing the elder Branning to look up at the guy who'd been serving the younger one all night. The bar was now his for the next twenty minutes or so.

Several customers later she appeared in front of him, "Hiya Joey," she giggled, her cheeks flushed, from both the heat of the room and the alcohol coursing through her veins.

"Lauren," He replied, her name barely audible over the noise of the music in the club.

"Can I have a double of vodka, please?" She shouted across the bar to him.

"Don't you think you've had enough already?" he asked her, holding his breath as he awaited her response, knowing it wasn't going to be good.

"Don't start, Joey. I get enough of this shit from my family; I don't need it from you as well. Just, please, give me a drink."

He stared into her eyes, reading the expression on her face and knowing he's taking his life into his hands, "I'm sorry, Lauren. It's more than my jobs worth to serve you anymore."

She sighed and took a seat on one of the bar stools, "You know, I could just wait till Matt gets back and get him to sell me a drink."

"You could," he confirmed.

"Please Joey. I need another drink." Her voice had an edge of desperation to it now.

"You've had enough." He repeated, determined to not back down.

"Pretty please?" she said softly, her lips forming that perfect pout and her eyes softening so his heart melted.

He sighed, knowing that despite his resolve, he was going to give in to her. "It's the last one, Lauren." He reluctantly said as he poured her a single shot. "I mean it."

"Spoilsport..." she said and smirked at him when he passed her the glass. She picked it up and lifted it to her mouth, her eyes meeting his and holding his gaze as she took a mouthful of the clear liquid and swallowed it. The glass was back on the bar but she was still looking into his eyes. "So, Joey Branning..."

"Lauren Branning..." He said, his mouth lifted into a lopsided smile.

"Does it seem weird to you that we've lived all this time, so near to each other and yet we didn't even know the other existed?"

"Yeah, well, being a Branning was an issue for us, me in particular, I guess. We didn't exactly have an ideal upbringing." He can't keep the resentment out of his voice, however much he may want to.

"But I met Derek when I was a little girl and no one ever mentioned about him having two children – or a wife for that matter." She was frowning at him now and he couldn't help but be enticed further by it.

"He wasn't exactly around much when I was a child... which actually was a relief because when he was there it was a far from pleasant experience." He tore his eyes away from hers as he spoke, feeling her watching him as he wiped at the surface of the bar.

He was distracted briefly by a customer asking for a drink and when he moved back towards her, he now couldn't meet her eyes. It wasn't often he opened up about his past like he just had to her; a relative stranger and he was somewhat embarrassed to have let his barriers down – even if it was just slightly. Suddenly her hand was on his and her fingers squeezed his in a gesture of comfort that sent his heart racing. He looked up at her quickly and saw the small smile on her face. She was so beautiful and she'd just stunned him completely, doing something no other girl had ever managed.

"That sounds horrible, Joey."

"My parents are certainly nothing like yours, that's for certain." He said quietly.

He wasn't sure what it was he'd said but she tensed at his words and withdrew her hand from his. He missed it immediately. "You didn't corner the market on lousy parents, you know. Mine have had their moments believe me."

"I find that hard to believe." He said stubbornly, refusing to believe Max and Tanya could in any way compare to the misery Derek caused.

"Yeah, well, that just shows you what you know." Lauren spat at him as she rose to her feet. His heart fell as he saw her lift her glass again and angrily down the remaining drink. "I think I'm done with this conversation. You don't know anything about what I've been through in my life and you make judgements about me and who I am. Maybe you should stop thinking you're the centre of the universe, Joey Branning. There are other people who had things just as bad as you did, sometimes even worse." After slamming the glass back on the bar she spun away and strode across the room.

"Lauren, wait." Joey shouted after her. He wished he could go after her but he had to stay at the bar. Suddenly he wished Matt was back. Her words had been like a slap to the face, in fact probably more effective. He knew he'd upset her somehow and he needed to fix it. He needed to fix things with her. Unfortunately by the time Matt returned, it was too late and Lauren had left the club. Joey knew there was no point in going after her.

TBC

A/N: So a new category for me - but this 85 page story pretty much flew out of me and I've got it fully written in less than a week. Hope you liked it, let me know what you think in a review. Next chapter soon. I try to respond to all reviews...