AN: Yay!  Thanks to all you multiple-reviewers for pushing me over the 200 mark!  And 10 points to Jess, Exintaris and catnamedzane—way to go you X-philers you, lol.  It's a sad day when I can't even think up my own dialogue!  Anyway, as you may have noticed, this fic is slowly melting into a steaming pile of poo—I personally hate the last two chapters, so this will most likely be it for this one (17's my lucky number anyway!). Thanks heaps for the reviews, and for sticking with me through this hair-brained idea!!

Oh, uh, Jenni—it's spelled juvenile, lol.

~A

The Theory

Chapter XVII

When I was a kid I thought

I wanted all the things that I haven't got

Oh, I learned the hardest way

Then I realized what it took

To tell the difference between

Thieves and crooks

When all along it was me and you

("Macy's Day Parade" by Green Day)

No one will ever really understand how he felt that day; how rejected, dejected, lost and confused he'd been as he disappeared into the city streets.  There are no words for that bottomless pit-like feeling one gets inside their soul when their life unravels.

There are people in the world who never experience this feeling; who never truly understand what it's like to feel completely and utterly rejected by the world.  Then there are others, who will live with the feeling their entire lives.  The emotions can be buried in a sea of un-reality.  And they can resurface at anytime.

Chandler never truly recovered from his parent's blatant rejection of him.  The dark emotions that he'd carried with him for years and years were due to several unintentional, thoughtless actions that scarred him permanently.  In the years to come, he would have trouble maintaining relationships, romantic and otherwise.  He would find himself drained of all self-confidence and self-worth.  And he would come to accept his place in the cold, cruel universe with blasé apathy.

Then he met five people that changed his life.

Chandler had a way of hiding his insecurities, using humor as a defense mechanism.  If others were going to laugh at him, he would make damn sure that it was his jokes they were laughing at.

Ross, on the other hand, seemed completely oblivious to the perceptions of others.  In Ross, Chandler found a person who was happy to become fodder for Chandler's wit.  Not only did Ross seem perfectly content to live as the butt of Chandler's constant jokes, but also he immediately took Chandler in, when it became clear that that was what he needed most.

Ross didn't have to invite Chandler over for Thanksgiving dinner in their college years—but he did, twice, despite the fact that none of the Geller's seemed all that fond of him.  Chandler had always been grateful for Ross' generosity, and relied on his friend's goofy antics to build his own self worth.

As the years went by, Chandler unconsciously clung on to certain qualities that each of his friends held, in the same way he clung onto Ross.  For Chandler, Rachel was an unattainable beauty, who, when she'd suddenly run back into their lives (soaking wet and in a wedding gown!), was so filled with self-doubt and dependence on others, that Chandler felt a need to become a guiding force in her journey toward total independence.  The role helped him build a certain amount of confidence…it made him feel needed.  From Phoebe, Chandler drew a resilient strength that awed him, and scared him simultaneously.  Chandler never doubted Phoebe, when she claimed that they were soul mates.  He felt, in his heart, that it was true, and he felt that while Phoebe had not literally saved his life yet, in her own special way, she'd saved him from himself, and for that, he loved her unconditionally.

Joey embodied the childhood that Chandler never had.  He was at once his best friend, and his fiercest protector.  Of all of his friends, Chandler never really doubted Joey's friendship; he could see through Joey better than anyone else, and he loved him like a brother.

Then there was Monica.  From the day he met her, Chandler felt bound to Monica.  She fueled his fantasies; she became everything he needed, wanted and longed for.  He knew, deep down, that he'd loved her for years.

Which was why that night had stung him so badly.  Not only did it resurface all of his insecurities and imbedded emotions, it made him realize that he was not as secure in his relationships as he'd led himself to believe.

His paranoia and anxiety nearly destroyed him again.  But, unlike the incidents with his parents, he had a much stronger support system around him; his friends stubbornly refused to let him go, forcing him to face his demons, and let them love him.

~Five Months Later—Chandler's Birthday~

"Perhaps you would like to move to a smaller table?" the waiter prodded for the third time that evening. 

Monica sighed, and looked around the restaurant, before shooting Chandler an apologetic look.

"I…suppose we should…it's been almost two hours," she relented, and stood up.

"I'm so sorry, Chandler.  I have no idea what could possibly be keeping all of them," Monica took Chandler's hand, as they took a seat at a table for two.

"It's fine," Chandler smiled weakly, and gave Monica's hand a squeeze, "I'm happy that you are here with me tonight."

"I'm so mad at them!" Monica continued angrily.

"Monica, it's fine.  Let's just enjoy dinner, okay?" Chandler's smile became more sincere.

Monica smiled, and took a deep breath.  "Okay," she said quietly.

"Hey, I think I'm making some progress here…I haven't bolted from the restaurant yet," Chandler chuckled.

"Ha ha," Monica shook her head, "I am proud of you, though.  You seem so much more comfortable with…everything."

"You mean I seem to fit into my skin better?  I feel the same.  I think…no, I know that I'm going to be okay…as long as you are with me."

"You'll be okay no matter what," Monica said confidently, "But I'm not going anywhere."

~*~

"Now if any of the others are in there," Chandler motioned to Monica's closed apartment door, as the two made their way down the hallway of the building, "I want you to be nice."

"Oh no, they are getting an earful," Monica grinned mischievously, and moved to unlock the door.

"Mon—"

Monica swung open the door, and flipped on the lights.

"Surprise!" came a dozen voices, from all around the room.  The apartment was filled with people, and decorated meticulously…a sign that Monica was in on the whole thing from the beginning. 

A monstrous grin broke across Chandler's face, as he scanned the room, and spotted the other four, all with cheesy, proud smiles on their faces.

"Happy Birthday, Chandler," Monica whispered into his ear, as they made their way fully into the apartment.

"Dude, we SO got you!" Joey giggled, as he bounced around Chandler.

"You so did, dude," Chandler laughed.

"Monica said you really kept your cool at the restaurant," Phoebe said, as she and Rachel approached.

"Hard to believe, but yes, I did," Chandler chuckled.

"I knew you would.  Everyone else thought my plan was 'dangerous'," Phoebe said.

"Leave it to my soul mate to practically giving me a heart attack," Chandler laughed.

"Well, I do owe you one," Phoebe said seriously, but soon broke into an incredulous smile.

Chandler laughed, and pulled Phoebe into a hug, "Thanks, Pheebs."

"Happy Birthday," Phoebe said into his chest.

"Open mine next," Rachel said excitedly.  The party had slowed, and only the six friends remained in the apartment.

"Okay," Chandler smiled, and began to unwrap Rachel's gift.

"So Chandler, on your list of top birthdays, where does this one rank?" Phoebe queried.

"I dunno, it depends on what Rachel got me," Chandler joked, and winked at Rachel.

Rachel stuck out her tongue playfully, making everyone laugh.

Chandler pulled open the yellow box, to reveal a gorgeous Breitling wristwatch.

"Wow, Rach…thank you so much!" Chandler pulled the watch out and slipped it onto his wrist.

"Geez, Rach," Ross said, his eyes wide.

"What?" Rachel shrugged, as Ross shook his head.

"So…how does the birthday rank?" Phoebe asked.

"Wait, Monica hasn't given her gift yet!" Joey pointed out.

"I'll…I'll give him mine later," Monica smiled shyly, prompting simultaneous groans and 'woohoo's' from the others.

"Even without the wonderful gifts," Chandler said seriously, "This is the best birthday ever!"

"Yay!" Phoebe smiled.

"Thanks, you guys, this really does mean a lot to me."

"Well, you mean a lot to us," Joey smiled sincerely.

Touched by all that his friends had done, Chandler blinked back tears, and pulled Joey into a hug.  In spite of all that had happened, he knew that he would have never felt at home anywhere else but here, with these people. 

~*~

"Ugh!  Who didn't use a coaster!  Oh, I know who it was…it was that leggy blonde that your coworker Nick brought.  She was eyeing you all night, and she would do something like this to piss me off…" Monica ranted, as she cleared the remaining dishes from the living room.  The other four had just left, and Chandler sat back on the sofa, with a bemused look on his face.  He really and truly did love this woman.  He was about to tell her so, when he noticed that she had stopped ranting about the coasters, and was staring at him.

"Chandler, yes or no?" she said.

Chandler blinked; suddenly panicked when he realized he had no idea what Monica had asked him.

"Uh…yes?" Chandler mumbled unconvincingly.

"You have no idea what I said, do you?" Monica put her hands on her hips to emphasize her statement.

"Sorry, I was—"

"Ignoring me?  Or were you dozing off?"

"I was thinking about how much I love you," Chandler grinned.

"Psh," Monica shook her head, and took a seat on the sofa next to Chandler, "Nice one Bing."

"No, I really was, I—"

"Okay, okay…you get a freebie.  Consider it a birthday gift."

"Does that mean I don't get a gift from you?" Chandler furrowed his brow.

"Oh no, you get a gift," Monica smiled seductively, and stood up, before pulling Chandler to his feet.

Chandler wrapped his arms around Monica, and kissed her passionately.

"I really do have another gift for you," Monica grinned, and pulled a neatly wrapped gift from the coffee table.

"Mmmm, I think I want you more," Chandler groaned.

"Open it," Monica giggled, and handed Chandler the package.

Chandler ripped the paper off the box impatiently, and then lifted the lid.  He pulled off the red tissue paper, and picked up the rectangular wooden frame.  Inside the frame, was a photo of the six friends, seated at Central Perk. Kathy had taken the photo; Chandler remembered this day—he and Kathy had been at Central Perk talking, when the others had come in to join them.  Joey had a camera with him, because he'd told his photographer girlfriend that his hobby was photography—thus, he'd started carrying a camera everywhere.

The relationship had lasted two weeks.

Joey had the idea that they needed a photo of the six of them, and Kathy had volunteered to take it.  Chandler had forgotten all about the photo until this moment.

"Wow, where did you get this photo?" Chandler asked, looking at Monica.

"I, uh, I've had it for a while.  Joey asked me to get the film developed one day, and—"

"How come none of us got one?" Chandler smiled.

"I—I always meant to get copies, but…Chandler, do you remember that I told you the moment I fell in love with you?"

"Yeah," Chandler nodded.

"This was that day," Monica said quietly, as she pointed at the photo.

Chandler looked back down at the photo, this time focusing only on Monica.  For the first time, he noted that Monica was not looking toward the camera—she was looking at him.

"Wow," Chandler said, stunned.

"I wanted you to see what I saw," Monica said.

"I see…I…I love you," Chandler pulled Monica toward him.

"I love you, too," Monica wrapped her arms around Chandler's neck, her platinum and sapphire bracelet sparkling in the lamplight.

~The End~