AUTHOR'S NOTE: OK, guys, before you begin reading I think you may want to know a few things. First of all, this is going to be the most angst-filled Mondler fanfic I've ever written - by far. It just is. There's plenty of passion and love, IMO, but it gets pretty dark, so if you're not up for that I understand. It also is already the longest fic I've ever written, and I'm not close to being done yet. There's just a lot to it - maybe too much, but that's where I wanted to go. And while Monica and Chandler are always the main focus, all the Friends are in this, too.
So, um, if I haven't scared you away yet…the image that brought this to life has been on my mind for a very long time - and as in all my stories I'll let you know what it is when I get there. Author's notes will be short and rare in this story - though I will explain things that may need context as we move along. Vietnam wasn't just an American war, but in some ways this era was a uniquely American experience and I really hope that doesn't detract from your enjoyment of/interest in this fic. There's some rough language in this, too, and I can guarantee there will come a time when it will change ratings.
I really hope my other stories have garnered enough goodwill that you will be able to trust me enough to see this one through to the end. If you do stick with it, please let me know what you think, good or bad. And since it has been a while I should state that I clearly own nothing to do with Friends…or Buffalo Springfield, whose iconic 1960s song became the Vietnam-era anthem I ultimately decided to name this story after. Much like Slow Me Down, several of the chapter titles will be taken from some of those iconic '60s songs - when it makes sense.
Finally, I must add, if it wasn't for Meg's on-going encouragement this story too may never have seen the light of day. So, Megan, thank you…and "You"…for helping me forge ahead. I can only hope this story, though different than your gorgeous WWII epic, is anywhere close to as captivating.
So, for what it's worth, here it goes…
Late December, 1968
He was vaguely aware that it was raining, pouring in fact.
Wave after wave of water fell off the trees above him, crashing down onto him in a relentless onslaught. He tried to open his eyes, actually he believed his eyes were open but he couldn't see anything. As he lay flat on his back in a pool of mud and puddles of slime all he could do was feel. He could feel pain, a sharp, searing pain radiating throughout the top of his body. The pain seemed to be coming straight from his heart.
He used all the strength he had left to raise his right hand, weakly attempting to swat at the rain. His stark white face was fixed in a pinched grimace. Giving up on making the rain go away, he tried to roll over from his back, trying to push himself up with his right hand. But he couldn't find the ground under him and soon, with a sound somewhere between a sob and a primal moan, he gave up and let his hand slide back to the ground with a gentle thud.
Between the rain and the pain he couldn't breathe. Taking a deep breath was impossible. Small, shallow breaths were all he could muster. He was waiting for the darkness to come, almost welcoming the numbness ahead. Almost.
Then he remembered that he had legs. If only his legs…
"Move," he whispered weakly to no one, willing his body to do anything, anything he asked it to do. "Move…"
In that lucid moment he realized the agony he was feeling from his chest up seemed to stop at his waist. He couldn't feel his legs. The numbness had started to creep up his body.
And an overwhelming feeling of sadness and loss he had never once associated with this moment in his life crushed against him and his tears started to mix with the downpour as both rolled down the sides of his face.
As he lay there for several minutes, body and soul broken, the rain started to let up, though he didn't realize it. What thoughts he could piece together all swirled around her - knowing deep down that he'd never see her again. He yelled out more from emotional wreckage than physical pain, and yet the darkness still stubbornly refused to come.
Suddenly a wave of strength washed through him and he forced his eyes open a crack. He could see trees, and sun through the rain, and felt a swift, strong wind that seemed to drown out all other noise. The numbness started to seep into this chest as he raised his right hand again and slowly, clumsily fumbled with the drenched pocket of his shirt. After several attempts he pulled out the soaked contents inside with shaking fingers.
He tried to focus on the faded photo, but his eyes wouldn't cooperate and the small amount of strength he had seemed to run away as quickly as it had come.
His hand dropped with the picture against his chest and his eyes fell closed once again.
All she could clearly make out was the word "die."
She watched through a haze all the flurry of activity around her. She was there, but she wasn't there at the same time. Doctors, nurses, all of them running around, not listening to her. Not letting her tell them what needed to happen. They weren't listening.
The nurse, the one who had been so kind, moved in front of her and took her hand and gave her a gentle, sad smile. Monica began to panic in earnest.
"What?!" she demanded, her blue eyes wide and watery, and her heart pounding so hard and loud in her ears she was certain everyone could hear it.
"It's time," the nurse said quietly.
"No!" Monica yelled, trying to jerk her hand away, but the nurse held firm. "No, it's not time!"
"No!" she whispered fiercely, now gripping the nurses hands in both of hers, squeezing her so tight her knuckles turned white. "It can't be…not now!"
The other nurse came over, the one who had been so rude before. She had a syringe at the ready between her fingers. She was waiting for the first nurse to give her the order.
"Should we sedate her?" she asked in a cold, matter-of-fact voice.
"Wait, Gladys," the first nurse said, somewhat exasperated at her colleague, but her gaze never left Monica's.
"Miss Geller," she said, her heart breaking for the young woman before her. "I know this is…difficult…but..."
"You don't understand," Monica said desperately, searching the woman's eyes with a crazed look on her face. "He needs me…I…I need him…"
Gladys took another step toward Monica before the kind nurse put up her hand in a "stop" gesture to halt her, and then she motioned to the side of the room.
Through her tears Monica could see Rachel and Phoebe come into view, tears streaming down each of their faces. She vaguely thought she caught a glimpse of her mother, too, but knew at that point she must have been hallucinating.
"Monica…Monica," Rachel whispered softly as she took her hand and the nurse stepped back a moment.
"Don't let them do it," Monica begged, imploring first Rachel, then Phoebe. "Don't let them take him away from me…"
"Mon," Phoebe choked out, stroking her hair. "He…he wouldn't want…it…this way. We have to let the doctors…do what's best…"
Rachel nodded and cried harder as Monica's fingers clamped down on hers.
Monica started to tremble as she looked at her best friends, her last rays of hope…and the betrayal and despair she felt ran deep.
"How could you…" she said miserably, looking right at Phoebe, her breathing deep and ragged. With enormous strength she grabbed at Rachel's hand and jerked her until they were face to face, causing Rachel to gasp in pain.
"How could you?!" she growled at her, sweat beading around her temples now.
"Mon," Rachel said sternly, tears spilling unchecked down her cheeks, trying to disengage her hand from Monica's. "I'm sorry…I'm so sorry. Mon…"
Monica's nails scrapped against her hand as her friend made one more attempt to pull away.
"Let go," Rachel said a little more forcefully. "Monica, you have to let go!"
Rachel snatched her hand away and started massaging it, both she and Phoebe sobbing now.
"I won't let you do it," Monica said, trying to move away from them. "I won't! I swear to God I won't!"
"Gladys," the kind nurse said, quickly coming to Monica's side and grabbing her arm, struggling to hold her still.