AN: So, the radio station I listen to just played a "Friends" audio clip…it was Chandler saying something like "Throw in a fat guy and a tree and you've got Christmas!"  It made me all giddy.

God, I'm pathetic.

Pretty Paper

It was so typical.  Every year, he told himself he was not going to wait until the last minute to finish his holiday shopping, and every year, he was running around like a madman on Christmas Eve.

Arms loaded with bags and boxes, he rushed through Rockefeller Centre, as the bitter winter wind blew fluttering flakes of snow into his face.  Cheeks flushed red, and nose running, he shuffled his way through the holiday crowds, silently cursing himself for choosing to walk through the center of the Centre at this time of year.

He made his way down the street, and around the corner without incident. Suddenly, and without warning, a strong wind knocked him off balance, and sent one of his bags, and all of its contents, to the ground.

"Dammit," he muttered, and rearranged his other packages in an attempt to pick up the renegade gifts.

Strewn across the icy walkway: the sweater he'd purchased for his best friend, Joey; the cashmere scarf he'd purchased for his wife's best friend, Rachel; the tiny red Santa outfit he'd purchased for new niece Emma; and a box of chocolates he'd gotten for free from some shop for spending a certain amount of money.

"Need some help?" came a warm voice from behind him.

He turned, his grateful smile faltering for a moment when he saw that the man standing before him was filthy—clearly homeless—and appeared to be just a little drunk.

"Uh, no, that's alright," he said warily.

The man smirked knowingly and bent down to gather the gifts and re-place them into the Macy's shopping bag.

"Thanks," he said sheepishly, as the man handed him his bag.

"Merry Christmas," the man said sadly, and began to limp away.

"Wait!" he said suddenly, and the man turned slowly, "What's your name?"

"Thomas," the man said, "Thomas Brown."

"Chandler Bing," he said, and the man nodded.  "Look, I…I have to go…lots to do…but I wanted to thank you, for being so kind."

"I didn't do anything that any decent human would."

Chandler bit his lip, and looked into the man's eyes.  Finally, he snapped back to attention, and smiled warmly. 

"You're right.  You know, my wife is a chef, and she'd always looking for new people to tell her how fabulous her cooking is."

The man smiled suspiciously, "Okay," he said.

"Come on, the apartment's warm, and the company is…mildly entertaining."

The man smiled gratefully, and shook his head.

"I appreciate what you are trying to do, but…"

"One good turn deserves another.  Plus, it's Christmas…no one should be alone on Christmas."

Thomas' smile turned genuine, and he nodded slowly, "Okay!" he said.

"Great!" Chandler said, and began turning toward his apartment.

"At least let me help you carry your stuff," Thomas said, pulling two of Chandler's packages from him.

"Thanks, Thomas," Chandler smiled.

They walked in silence for several minutes, before the curiosity finally got the best of Chandler.

"So…Thomas…do you have any family?"

"Yes…long ago.  I used to look a lot like you, Chandler.  I was in a middle-management job, and wore a suit and tie to work every day.  I had a loving wife and a little girl, Victoria.  But I got laid off, and I had trouble finding work.  We were in a lot of debt, and my unemployment started causing problems between my wife and me.  Eventually she left, and she took Victoria with her.  Things just kind of spiraled from there, and last year, I ended up out on the street.  I know it is hard to believe, but it happens all the time."

"Wow.  I mean, that's amazing.  When was the last time you saw your daughter?"

"Three years ago.  She's five and four months now."

"Thomas, that's…"

"Anyway, you'd be amazed how difficult it is to get out, once you are here.  No one believes that being homeless is not my choice—that I don't use my money to buy booze and drugs—that I used to be one of them.  I know that's what you thought, when you first saw me."

"I—" Chandler flushed.

"It's alright, I'm used to it.  Most people just walk right by me, too busy with their own lives to notice."

"You're right…I'm sorry."

"You stopped, and you're trying…that's more than I ever thought I'd get this Christmas."

Chandler nodded, and stopped walking, "This is my building," he said, and opened the door.  The two men ascended the stairs, and stopped in front of apartment 20.

"Just let me tell my wife we have a guest…I'll be right back," Chandler smiled apologetically, and disappeared into the apartment.  Thomas took in his surroundings.  It was the warmest, cleanest place he'd been in a very long time.  A moment later, Chandler reappeared at the door.  Thomas was half expecting a lame excuse about Chandler's wife not wanting another guest or something, so he was mildly surprised when Chandler opened the door completely, and stepped back to usher him in.

"Come on in," he smiled.

Thomas walked in tentatively, his hat in his hands.  Chandler's wife stood behind Chandler, a warm smile on her face.  Thomas noted just how beautiful the woman was, and just how much she reminded him of his own wife.

"This is my wife, Monica.  Mon, this is Thomas."

"Pleased to meet you Thomas," Monica smiled.

Thomas nodded silently, and scanned the apartment, "You have a lovely home, Mrs. Bing," Thomas said politely.

"Please, call me Monica.  Thomas, I've laid out some of Chandler's clothes and clean towels in the bathroom.  I thought you might like to freshen up before dinner.  The others will be here in about a half an hour."

"Th-thank you, Monica.  I appreciate that," Thomas said gratefully.  He'd felt out of place as soon as he'd walked into the immaculate apartment, and was happy that they were giving him an opportunity to get out of his filthy old clothes—donations from a local shelter.  He quickly retreated to the bathroom.

"He seems nice," he overheard Monica say.

"He is…he used to have an office job, just like mine.  It's so strange…and scary to think that he had all of that…a job, a family…"

"Maybe we can help him find all of that again."

"Yeah, I was thinking the same."

When Thomas emerged from the bathroom, freshly clean and shaven, he noted that the 'others' Monica had mentioned were now here, and all were seated at the table.

"Thomas, have a seat," Chandler smiled, and pulled out a chair. "This is Monica's brother Ross, and her best friend Rachel…their daughter Emma is asleep in the living room.  And that's Joey and Phoebe."

"Hi!" the group said in unison.

"Hello," Thomas said shyly, and took a seat.

Throughout dinner, the group grilled Thomas with questions, and told him a little about themselves.  Dinner soon ended, and the group moved to the living room to exchange gifts.  Thomas watched the group with warm eyes, as they exchanged gifts with merriment and animated conversation.  Thomas was shocked, when Monica placed a gift in front of him quietly.  He looked up at her, and she smiled warmly, then silently urged him to open the gift.

It was gorgeously wrapped in bright silver paper, and a royal blue velvet ribbon.  Thomas carefully pulled the ribbon from the package, and placed it aside.  He unwrapped the gift, and pulled out a brand new, thick wool sweater.

"Merry Christmas," Chandler smiled.

~**~

~Philadelphia~

"So that's why we always have this old ratty ribbon hanging off the tree.  Is this really the same ribbon they wrapped your gift in?" twelve-year-old Victoria asked.

"The very same.  They are the reason I was able to get back on my feet…and they helped me find you again.  Now, go get your shoes on, your mother is coming to pick you up in a few minutes."

"Okay, okay," Victoria, grumbled.  She shuffled toward her bedroom, but turned in the doorway, "Dad, what ever happened to the Bing's?"

"I hear from them every once in a while.  They are living just outside of New York City.  Here, they sent me a card, and a photo," Thomas pulled a photo off of the mantle.  In the photo, sat Chandler and Monica, and their two children.  On the bottom, in Monica's neat script, it said: Merry Christmas, Thomas.  All our Love, The Bing's.

Pretty Paper

(Willie Nelson)

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Wrap your presents to your darling from you

Pretty pencils to write, "I love you"

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Crowded street, busy feet hustle by him

Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh

There he sits all alone on the sidewalk

Hoping that you won't pass him by

Should you stop? Better not, much too busy

You're in a hurry, my how time does fly

In the distance the ringing of laughter

And in the midst of the laughter he cries

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue

Wrap your presents to your darling from you

Pretty pencils to write, "I love you"

Pretty paper, pretty ribbons of blue