It's been a while since I've done a one-shot but here it is. Thanks to lozxtitchx for firstly telling me I had to write a one-shot about Lauren's "tell Joey I said bye" line from Friday's episode and secondly for reading the first part of this and convincing me it wasn't shit. So here it is. It's the first time I've written something in the first person... so that's new for me.

Regrets.

Joey POV.

I am officially the biggest idiot in the world. Now this might not be that much of a surprise to some people but for some reason it's only occurred to me in the last couple of days. I should've had this astounding realisation when I ended my relationship with the girl I love... but apparently I fail on a regular basis to use the brains I was born with. I thought I was doing the right thing for both of us... that us being apart would force her to realise she had a problem. I thought it would be easier for us both if we weren't seeing each other anymore... that it would hurt less. It wasn't. And it hasn't. The last few weeks... months... have been the hardest of my life. Watching her self destruct like she has and knowing that anything I did to try and help would just make it worse has been heartbreaking.

My biggest mistake though, was that I didn't believe her that afternoon. Why didn't I realise she was telling me the truth when she told me Lucy had spiked her drink? The simple answer to that question by the way was I thought Lucy was her friend and I never thought she would do something so stupid and so spiteful to someone she's supposed to care about; someone who's her friend. So maybe my biggest mistake was really that I thought Lucy was a better person than she actually is.

Everything is so confusing at the moment. After the last couple of weeks I'm second guessing every decision I make and have made. I feel so responsible for what's happened to Lauren. I never got the chance to speak to her before she left and I really wish I had. I hope she doesn't hate me. I wish I'd got the chance to tell her I loved her; that I've always loved her and I always would. She probably thinks I hate her but I never have. She holds a special place in my heart that is permanently reserved just for her... even if she doesn't ever come back to me.

The first time I began to doubt what I'd done was the day after I ended it. She came to see me in the pub and it was clear she couldn't really remember what had happened the night before. Seeing the devastation on her face for a second time made me want to forget what I'd said and take her in my arms and tell her everything would be okay, that I would be there for her... but I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was helping her.

A bit like I thought I was helping her when I took her home from the pub a few days later. And she tried to kiss me and there was a very large part of me that wanted to let her. The strength it took for me to walk away from her that afternoon was more than I thought I possessed.

Then everything kicked off between her and Lucy which ended up with Lauren being arrested when Lucy pressed charges for assault. Her and her dad wanted me to make a statement, supporting what they said but I couldn't do it and I told Lucy as much. She was as much at fault as Lauren had been, in fact if I'm being honest and knowing what I know now, she was probably more at fault. I'd thought I was going to be able to help Lauren outside the cafe... I got to hold her in my arms and it brought all my feelings back in those few brief seconds. In the end though I think I made it worse. This was when I started to think that maybe she hated me.

I think this was also when it started to sink in for her family that she had a problem, although I fail to understand how they hadn't seen it before. I think the problem is they're so wrapped up in their own lives they haven't seen it... or maybe they just haven't wanted to see it or see how bad it was.

Whatever it was, Lauren's arrest seemed to be the signal to Tanya that she needed to do something to help her daughter. I wasn't convinced she was doing the right thing and by all accounts neither was anyone else but I guess at least she was trying something but it didn't work. I'm glad I never saw Lauren climbing out of the first floor window to escape the house. I think the sight would've killed me... to know she was so desperate for alcohol she would risk her life like that, well, it would've broken my heart to see her so broken.

Things spiralled really from there. I heard from Alice that Tanya threw her out of the house the next night... something to do with Abi and her exam notes but I don't know the exact details. Anyway she moved in with her dad and no one saw her for several days after that.

The first time I saw her was when we were both in the cafe at the same time. She was meeting her mum and I was getting myself a coffee. I overheard her talking about going on a date and it hit me like a punch in the gut. If I'd had any doubt before, I knew then that I loved Lauren. Of course, I then made another mistake and spoke to Lucy about what I'd heard and she suggested we went out to take my mind off it. I was so angry with her when we walked into a restaurant and Lauren was there with Peter. I knew she'd done it on purpose... this should've been a real clue to me about the real Lucy but I was still wearing my rose-tinted glasses. See, I am an idiot.

I saw Lauren again that night... she came to R&R's and had a go at me when I wouldn't serve her. I was going to take her back to her dad's but I knew if I tried it would just make matters worse. Anyway the club was busy and I got caught up serving customers. I didn't see her leave the club but Lucy told me that she'd met up with some college friends after leaving the club... and I believed her. I asked Tanya the next morning how Lauren was and was met with the sharp reply that Lauren was 'no longer my concern'. They were painful words to hear... yes, they were possibly true but it still hurt to hear them. I later heard that Lucy had lied about Lauren and when Lauren turned up she collapsed and was rushed to hospital.

I don't think I slept that night... I thought through a lot of things, mainly the good times with Lauren. Eventually I gave up and went to the hospital, just wanting to see her and know she was okay. Of course, I didn't get to see her. Max and Tanya wouldn't let me and I guess it was probably the right thing... for Lauren anyway; for me it hurt like hell but it would probably just upset her and that was the last thing I wanted. I do wish I was able to see her though, just to reassure myself she was okay.

I found out Lucy had lied about Lauren's whereabouts and it had delayed Lauren getting the help she needed because Max and Tanya hadn't known she was missing for hours. I went to confront her in the cafe. I guess I don't have to say by this stage that this should've been another clue, right? But I just didn't see it. Of course her brother stepped in, standing up for her which I can understand because I would totally do the same thing for Alice but I thought he was Lauren's friend too... why wasn't he angry with his sister for lying as well? I mean the natural animosity between the two of us is a direct result of our relationships with Lauren... he should've been as angry as I was, right?

Alice broke up the fight, reminding me how I used to love Lauren. Little does she know that those feelings are nowhere near dead... every single breath I take, every beat of my heart is taken with the thought of her at the front of my mind. She is the first thing I think of when I wake in the morning and the last thing I think of when I go to bed. She even haunts my dreams. I needed no reminder from my sister of how much I love her. And there is certainly no 'used to' when it comes to my feelings for Lauren Branning.

I saw Lauren two days later... she was home from the hospital and she came into the Vic, wanting a drink. I'd tried to see her earlier that morning once I'd heard she was home but Abi wouldn't let me into the house to see her. When Lauren started trying to get behind the bar to get herself a drink I tried to stop her, putting my hands on her shoulders... it felt so good to touch her again... but soon she was pulled from my grip by her mum. I trailed behind her out of the pub and my heart broke when I saw her fall to her knees in the street, shaking off her parents when they tried to help her to her feet. I didn't realise at the time that this would be the last time I saw her.

I didn't find out until the next morning that she left with her mum and brother late that night. I never got a chance to say goodbye to her... and to say so much more. That hurt a lot. Abi turned up at our door that morning and asked to speak to me. I could see she was upset as soon as I walked to the door. I couldn't believe it at first when she told me they'd gone. Then she told me she had a message from Lauren for me... that she'd asked Abi to tell me bye. While it was great to get a message from her... I wasn't sure what she was trying to say. Did she mean she wasn't coming back? I tried to ask Abi if she would be coming back to Walford but she just shrugged her shoulders. I wish I'd seen her... that I'd got to tell her I loved her.

It was a couple of days before things became much clearer. Not until I was talking to Lucy about Lauren and she told me that she might've given Lauren the impression that the two of us were involved with each other. In that second everything was startlingly clear... I realised Lucy was the reason behind a lot of mine and Lauren's troubles. Yes, Lauren had a problem with alcohol but Lucy made everything a whole lot worse. While I processing this Lucy took advantage of my distraction and kissed me. The feel of her lips on mine only proved to me exactly how I felt about Lauren, and Lucy to a certain extent. I pushed her away from me and made it very clear to her that nothing would ever happen between us. There was only one girl for me and her name was Lauren.

A week has passed since then and each minute has felt like a year. I knew from Alice that Max and Abi were struggling with the absences of their family. I was too... I missed her so fucking much. Knowing she had been just across the square from me had been comforting even though we were apart. Now that comfort blanket had been dragged away and I didn't know what to do. There was part of me missing and each day that part grew a little bigger.

I walked down the stairs and saw a pile of post on the table in the hallway. I rifled through it and saw a letter addressed to me. I frowned when I looked at it... the writing looked familiar. It was from her. I threw down the rest of the post and walked quickly back up to my room. I sat on my bed and stared at the envelope... part of me was reluctant to open it. Was this a letter saying goodbye? Was I prepared to read a letter like that from her? Then again maybe it said the reverse... I was so confused.

Taking a deep breath I slid my thumb into the envelope and tore it open. There was just one sheet of paper inside. I unfolded it and closed my eyes briefly, trying to compose myself until I read what could be the most important words of my life.

My darling Joey,

I'm sending you this letter although I have no idea if you'll read it. I know I've made a mess of things, everything really. My whole life is a mess. I have many regrets... the last few days here have given me time to think about stuff. My biggest regret is what happened between us.

My heart sank when I read that last sentence and I nearly didn't read any further but I carried on, knowing I needed to let her explain.

I'm sure you're probably thinking the worst now. What I regret is that I screwed it up so badly. I regret not trusting you and believing you when you told me how you felt about me. I find it so difficult to believe what people say when it comes to relationships. I guess it's from watching my parents throughout my life, seeing them teetering on the brink of disaster all the time. I've seen and been told the lies every time and I think it's got to the stage now where I can't recognise what is the truth.

My brain is a bizarre place, Joey. I think there's something wrong with me... because I distrust everyone on instinct. I expect the worst to happen all the time. I think in my heart I knew we would never work so I wasn't surprised when it didn't. I always expected it to fail. That didn't mean I didn't want it to work... because I really did, Joe. I love you more than I love anyone else in my life. I miss you all the time. I miss your smile. I miss the dimples that appear when you smile at me. I miss the way you make me feel like the most important person in the world. I miss waking up in your arms in the morning and knowing that that day is going to be good because I'm with you and have you in my life.

My heart started to race as I read this and I'm fairly sure there is a stupid smile on my face as I read through the words.

I know you've probably moved on now... or maybe it's gone back, I don't know. I know you're with Lucy and while that makes me sad, I hope you are happy. That is all I want and I'm sorry I wasn't enough to make you happy. I understand now why you ended it. I know it was my fault and you only did it for me... so I could get better.

So that is what I'm going to do now and once I'm better I plan on coming back to you and proving to you that we can work. I want to be with you for the rest of my life, Joey. It's the only thing I am certain of. You are the only thing I need.

My heart soared as I read that last paragraph. She wanted me as much as I wanted her. I eagerly turned back to the letter... there wasn't much left to read.

I don't know how long it's going to take for me to get better. I wish you were here with me... because I know this wouldn't be as difficult if you were here but I know I need to do this by myself. I can't rely on other people to make me better.

So, Joey, this is the deal... I hope you read this. I'm at this residential place for four weeks. I'm due to be released on Friday 26th July. I'm going to work really hard on sorting out the issues I have and dealing with my reliance on alcohol. I'd like to meet with you when I get out. I want us to see if there's any chance for the two of us getting back together. I hope there is but I'd understand if you think it's too much bother. I hope we could remain friends if that is the case.

I love you Joseph Branning and I think of you all the time. I hope you come and meet me when I'm done here. I hope you will give me another chance.

All my love

Lauren xx

*JL*JL*

July 26th

I woke early that morning. I was a man with a plan. Today was the first day of the rest of my life. After getting myself ready, I was leaving the house before anyone else was even up. I hadn't told anyone what I was planning on doing. I didn't want to jinx it somehow or for someone to tell me it was a mistake. The square was quiet as I left it, a bag over my shoulder. It was just over a year ago that I had arrived in much the same way and at the time I never thought I would be the person I am today.

I get on the tube and make my way to my destination... to my future. My leg won't stop twitching as I try and stay calm, watching the stations pass me by. Soon I'm on a train heading towards the place my heart currently resides.

It's almost nine o'clock when I finally get dropped off by the taxi outside the clinic. For the first time since I've woken up this morning I suddenly start to doubt what I'm doing but I shake myself. I am Joseph Branning, I can do this. I need to do this. She needs me to do this.

I make my way into the building, surprising a lady at the reception, as I'm here so early. "I'm here to see Lauren Branning. She's being released today..." I ask and even I can hear the uncertainty in my voice.

"I'll just see if she's available..."

I move away from the desk, wondering for a minute or so whether she might have changed her mind. She's no doubt been through a lot since she wrote that letter. She'll have dealt with some of the issues she wrote about. Maybe she won't want me anymore. I rub the back of my neck, suddenly thinking I'm making a huge mistake.

"Joey?"

Her voice startles me and I spin round, seeing her standing there in front of me. I smile at her, so relieved to see her there, knowing that for the first time in months I feel complete. "Babe..." I whisper, my voice failing me as my mouth runs dry. The next thing I'm aware of she's in my arms and I'm wrapping them around her body, holding her tight against me. I kiss the side of her head; it's the closest part of her to me as her face is buried in my shoulder. "I'm here, babe... There was never any chance of me not being here."

She pulled away from me slightly, "You really mean that?" she whispered.

"More than anything. I love you Lauren Branning... I always have and I always will."

"What about Lucy?" she asked and I can see the fear in her eyes.

"Lucy who?" I ask her, dipping my head and kissing her tenderly. "There is no Lucy, babe... there never was and there never will be... as long as you will have me." I told her once the kiss ended.

"I don't plan on letting you go again, Joe. I've pushed you away once and it's not going to happen again."

I smile at her as I lower her feet to the floor and cup her face in my hands, "How are you, Lauren?" I whisper.

Her face turns red but she smiles at me, "I'm much better than the last time you saw me."

"You certainly look healthier..." I tell her.

"I am. I've been working on everything." She said and I can see she's telling me the truth. "I'm ready to start my life again..." she added in a whisper.

I lower my hands and see her face fall. I watch her face as I push back some of her hair from her face and tuck it behind her ear. We both know what that means and I can see the tears pool in her eyes as the realisation of what I'm silently telling her sinks in. "Me too, babe. Me too." I whisper, kissing her again, my thumb brushing her cheek softly. And I am ready. Now she's with me, I am ready to start living again.

*JL*JL*

She's tucked under my arm, her head resting on my chest as we sit in the taxi, heading towards where her mum and brother are now living. We don't have any plans for what the future holds. No doubt we'll end up back in Walford at some time. For now, all I know is that my life is with her and I'm going to be there for her everyday... and we'll face any hurdles together.

THE END.

A/N: Thoughts? Let me know. Hope you liked it.