[This Joey/Chandler story was originally posted as 2 chapters, but I have now divided it up into 7 chapters for easier reading. (It was my very first J/C story, so I hadn't yet got the hang of chapter length.) Sorry for not adding any new material, but I think the story ends where it should.

Anyway, Julia asked for a story based on this plot, not knowing that I've already done it. So I hope she'll spot this story and give her opinion on it.

This story occurs after episode 612, TOW The Joke, and features an elaborate scheme devised by Phoebe, who considers herself the "puppet master" of the group, as she said in episode 901.]

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Chapter 1. The Question

Chandler realized suddenly that he was the only guy who had answered Rachel's hypothetical question, so he quickly and lamely denied, "No way. I'm not going to answer that." He was too late, though, and most of his friends smirked at him.

"Ooh," Phoebe snickered. "Chandler would date Joey! See Monica, when you date one of your friends, you choose the fun one, not the high maintenance one."

Monica folded her arms confidently due to what was said at the coffeehouse earlier that day. "Chandler chose me, didn't he? You heard him say how he loves 'maintaining' me. If he can't have me, he just doesn't want my geeky older brother instead."

"Geeky--!" Ross scowled. "Thanks a lot, Monica!" He turned to Phoebe next. "High maintenance? Are you saying I'm high maintenance?"

Phoebe rolled her eyes. "Okay, do *not* get me started on the Geller problems again!"

Rachel laughed out loud, and agreed that Ross was high maintenance, just like his sister. He was jealous, obsessive, and so insecure that he faked an English accent just to be interesting at his NYU lecture. Ross was not pleased at all.

Meanwhile, Joey stared at Chandler silently, as if he hadn't decided yet how he should react to being chosen by Chandler for a hypothetical date.

Chandler blushed deeply and still tried to bluff it off. "No-no-no-no-no! I-I was just joking! Joking!" He anxiously forced out his work-laugh. "See? See? I'm writing it down in my new joke journal." He took it out and scribbled the date, time, and place, followed by, "I would date Joey. Ha-ha-ha!"

Phoebe loved teasing him. "Oh come on, Joey used to be your cute roomie, and you were his sugar daddy with the bills."

Chandler stammered, "I-I was not his--!"

"Joey and Chandler, sitting in a tree..." Phoebe ended the sing-song by making embarrassing kissing noises.

Chandler covered his ears with his hands, and sang "La-la-la!" to drown it out.

Oddly enough, Monica was thoroughly amused, but she did go over to Chandler and sit him down on the couch, patting his shoulders to soothe him. "It's okay, sweetie."

Ross joined in the fun. "Hey Chandler, didn't you say you invented that cups game to give Joey money?"

"He did?" Joey blinked in surprise.

"Ooh, new evidence!" Phoebe clapped eagerly.

Rachel looked confused. "Wait, uh, 'cups'?"

"You know, the night that you moved out of here." Ross explained how, during the packing, he and Joey had been playing a card game that Chandler had specially invented so that Joey could win money from him. Joey listened intently to this story, while Monica commented, "How sweet!"

Chandler just sank down lower on the couch.

Phoebe continued with a shrug. "Why deny it, Chandler? So you have a little crush on Joey. I mean, who wouldn't?" she winked flirtatiously at Joey, who smiled back.

But, noticing how badly Chandler was taking this prolonged joke, Joey intervened with concern. "Listen guys, maybe you oughta let up a little..."

"Ooh," Phoebe said. "He's defending his little buddy."

Chandler didn't dare look at Joey then.

"Phoebe!" Joey warned.

"Sorry, I can't help it. You make such a cute couple!"

Chandler couldn't take it anymore, so he got up and finally ran out of the apartment. He went across the hall to hide at Joey's place, and Joey followed him, despite how it would look to the others. "Hey, man, you okay?" Joey asked as he entered.

Chandler plopped down on a chair and tried to breathe. "I, uh, I just needed to get away."

"I know." Joey locked the door in case the others came after them. Then he looked down at his feet and cleared his throat. "Hey, um, that thing you tried to do with the cups game, that was nice of you. Really... nice." He walked over and sat near Chandler. "But I told you, man, I don't want to take your charity anymore. Now that you're living with Monica, it should all be for you and her, not me."

Chandler shrugged, avoiding Joey's eyes. "I just--I worry about you." He was thinking of the night before, when he and Monica had caught Joey in their apartment, huddled in a blanket and watching their TV. He had looked so lonely and destitute there, that Chandler wished he could ask Joey to live with them in their guest room, but Joey would probably have too much pride to agree, and Monica would not allow the birds to come too.

"You don't have to worry," Joey assured him. "Look, I'll find another roommate soon, or I'll get more acting gigs, or I'll work more hours at the coffeehouse. I'll be fine."

"But what if you lose your health insurance again? Remember how you needed a hernia operation, and you wouldn't let me loan you the money?"

"I already owe you so much, Chandler. I wanna do this on my own now. I wanna make you proud of me."

"I *am* proud of you. I--"

"Chandler," Joey placed a firm hand on his shoulder. "Can I, um, can I say something?"

"What?"

"About that crush you have--"

"I-I-I don't have a crush--" He became panicky and defensive again.

Joey grabbed both of his arms and squeezed them, confessing quietly, "I have a crush on you too."

That stunned Chandler and made him meet Joey's eyes at last. "You do?"

Joey nodded, looking somewhat embarrassed. "I know I didn't say anything over there, but I do. I would totally date you if I was gay and you were too, and we were both free..." He realized that he was speaking too seriously about the hypothetical situation, so he laughed and shook his head, dismissing it. "Can you imagine what Phoebe would think if she heard that? And Monica! Well, um, anyway, I'm sorry they all ragged on you so much. I think it's because we're best buddies, you know, and they don't get it like we get it."

Chandler did not quite know what to say. He thought about what it would be like if he and Joey were dating, but that would mean they'd both be gay, wouldn't it? Or at least bi.

Joey realized that he was still holding onto Chandler, so he abruptly let go and stood up. "Anyway," he awkwardly smiled. "Don't tell Ross; he'll get jealous."

"Um, yeah." Chandler nodded.

Suddenly, someone tried turning Joey's doorknob. "Hey, what's with the lock? You boys making out?"

"Phoebe!" Joey opened the door impatiently, and saw the whole gang gathered in the hall outside.

Monica hit Phoebe on the arm for her last remark, and everybody followed with quick apologies for their earlier jokes. So Chandler came to the door, and soon everybody returned to Monica's apartment, with all hurt feelings mended.

Phoebe zipped her lips about it, but she secretly looked at Joey and Chandler with growing suspicion. Sure, Chandler might like "maintaining" Monica as he claimed, but he loved taking care of Joey too, and you couldn't ignore his answer to Rachel's question, either.