When We Dance

~Five: Nevermore~

There's no living in my life anymore

The seas have gone dry

And the rain's stopped falling

Please don't you cry any more

Can't you see

Listen to the breeze

Whisper to me please

Don't send me to the path of nevermore

(Freddie Mercury)

"This can't be right…there is no apartment eight…there is NO apartment eight!!" Monica paced the hallway of the first floor, her eyes wild with panic and her brow covered in sweat.  The group had scoured the building, and had found no apartment number eight.  Unsure what to do next, the group stood huddled in the small, darkened hallway, their hopes quickly fading.

"Pheebs, are you sure his dad said apartment eight?" Ross turned to Phoebe, who was busy studying the ratty brown carpeting.

"Yeah that what he said…wait!  The machine might have cut him off!  Because he said eight…and then there was a beep!"

"There was a beep!  Mon, did you hear that, there was a beep!" Ross turned to his sister, and pulled her into a hug.

"So maybe it was eighteen!" Rachel said, as the group walked back down the hallway, fueled by renewed hope.

The door looked like all of the other doors in the building.  It was made of wood, and was covered in dingy white paint.  A peephole sat just below the brass numbers, and several locks ran along the left edge of the door.

But the door to apartment eighteen seemed darker, somehow, and more menacing.  The eight was barely hanging on by a nail, and when Joey reached out to touch it, it spun down with an eerie squeak, then began swinging back and forth from the bottom nail, like a pendulum.

"Joey!" Rachel hissed, "Stop it!"

Joey took a small step back, as Monica rapped on the door.  The knocks echoed in the hallway, sending chills up their spines.  When there was no answer, Monica knocked again, this time louder, and with more force.

There was no response.

Monica turned to look at the others, before turning back to the door and placing her hand on the doorknob.  Slowly, she turned the knob and pushed the door open.

The group stepped inside the apartment, and the first thing they noticed was the body lying in the center of the room.  Rachel gasped and clung to Ross, who was shaking and backing into a corner; Phoebe covered her mouth and fled into the hallway; and Joey and Monica slowly approached the body.

"I…I think that's Chandler's dad," Monica whispered, her heart racing.  Where was Chandler?

"He-he's dead," Joey whispered shakily.

"Yeah," Monica replied, as she straightened and scanned the empty room.  Her eyes fell onto the closet door.

"The closet," Monica said, as she crossed the room.  The others followed, stopping a few feet away from the closet door.  She ran a shaky finger across the bullet holes, and closed her eyes.  This isn't happening, she thought, this is just a nightmare…it's just a horrible dream.

A dream she wanted desperately to wake from.

Monica placed her hand on the doorknob, and took a deep breath, before turning and opening the door.

She had prepared herself for the worst.  She had a mental image of the Polaroid that had been sent with the ransom note, and she knew that if they found Chandler, that she would have to see him like that; bound and gagged, possibly still bruised.

But she wasn't prepared for what was in the closet.

He was so emaciated; still bound, gagged and blindfolded, and more bruised than before.  His hair was wet with sweat and his skin was a ghostly gray-white.

But that wasn't what made Monica fall to her knees, and let out a strangled cry.

He was covered in blood—the result of a gunshot wound.

He looked dead; and in that split second before chaos struck, she was certain that he was.

Moments after Monica opened the closet door, the apartment door was kicked in, and several uniformed police officers stormed the room.

They were screaming at the group to get on the floor, and place their hands in front of them.

Monica was oblivious to their orders; her ears were ringing, and all she could see was Chandler.  It wasn't until one of the officers grabbed her arm, and shoved her to the ground that she was aware of what was happening to her.

She opened her mouth to protest, but no sound came out.

"Unit 222 requesting an ambulance at 347 East 86th," the officer standing over Chandler was speaking into his walkie-talkie, as the other officers grilled the people that they had found at the scene.

"Please, you have to believe us!  We came here to find our friend!  His dad is the other guy over there…and he called us and told us to come here…please, you have to help our friend," the officer listened as four of the five people they had apprehended pleaded their case.  He looked at the fifth person, a pretty, dark haired woman who looked like she was in shock.  She hadn't taken her eyes off of the injured man since they had arrived, and he was beginning to believe that they had apprehended the wrong people.  The ebony-haired woman turned to look at him, and the officer was taken aback by the profound sadness that weighed on her face.

"Can you untie him at least?  Please help him," she whispered, turning again to the man they had pulled from the closet, her eyes glazing over slightly, her shoulders slumped in defeat.

*

The other four looked up, as Monica shuffled into the waiting room, a thin brown blanket wrapped around her thin frame.  She had been treated for shock, and had been released several minutes earlier.

"You okay Mon?" Rachel stood and led her friend into a small brown chair in the corner of the room.

"Did they say anything?  Did they find who did it?  Who killed him?" Monica's voice was shaky and soft, and her eyes were glassy and bloodshot.

"He-um, Mon, Chandler's not dead…he…he's in surgery.  They think…he'll be okay," Rachel whispered, smiling.

Monica looked up at Rachel, and at the faces of the others, and smiled slightly, before letting tears of relief slide down her face.

*

He had been trapped in darkness for so long, he had grown accustomed to it; even drew strength from its depths.  The cold would seize him, and he would bury himself in the darkness, in the security of the only thing he knew anymore.

But he never got used to the loneliness.

And now, in the complete darkness that inhabited his soul, he had convinced himself that he was alone, and that he would be, alone and inside the darkness, until death claimed him.

Was he dead?  He felt nothing, and the darkness still surrounded him.  He could hear nothing, and he knew that there was no one there.

No one cared anymore…right?

Suddenly, a distant, foreign sound filled his ears.  A beeping, rhythmic and monotone, but muted by the darkness that protected him…that stifled him.  He pulled away from the darkness, and the sound grew louder.  Curious, he followed the sound into an unsteady consciousness.

The light was blinding to eyes that hadn't experienced it for countless hours.  He squinted, as the harsh rays of the dawning sun slipped through the blinded windows in thick, ginger stripes.  Where was he?  As his eyes adjusted to the light, he noted that he was no longer bound and gagged, but there was something in his nose.  He lifted his arm tentatively, and touched the oxygen tube that snaked across his face.  Hospital.  He was in a hospital.  But how did he get here?  Where were the men that had taken him?  He closed his eyes, opening them slowly when he heard the door to his room open.

He blinked, certain that his mind was betraying him once again. 

But she was still there, standing in the center of the room, looking absolutely stunning.

He had seen her before, of course, in his dreams and delusions.  She had been too far away to touch, and yet so close…he had longed to wrap himself around her, to draw from her warmth…but she would always elude him…she was always just out of reach…and his heart broke every time she walked away.

But this time…this time she seemed so real…so close…but he didn't have the strength to stand, or even move.  He looked at her pleadingly, his eyes begging her to make his dream a reality.

To his surprise, she walked toward him, until she was just inches away, standing over his bed, tears streaming down her delicate, porcelain face.

"Chandler," she whispered, "I…I thought I'd lost you…"

He gazed up at her, still too stunned to speak, still wary that none of this was real.  But when she reached out, and caressed his cheek softly, he could no longer deny that this moment, whether real or imagined, was the only thing keeping him alive.

"I'm going to go get the doctor…and the others want to see you, now that you're awake," Monica smiled.  She pulled her hand away, and turned toward the door.

"No!  Monica, please don't leave me!  Please—" Chandler cried out hoarsely, salty tears lining his tired eyes.

Monica turned, and approached him again, her eyes wide with concern.

"Honey, I'm just going out into the hallway.  I'll be right back."

"No…please, swear to me that you'll never leave me.  I don't want to die alone…and I don't want to live alone…please promise me that you'll never leave, okay?"

Monica started, shaken by the intense fear that resided in Chandler's once-shining cerulean eyes.  She nodded vehemently, and struggled desperately not to cry.

"I promise, sweetie.  I swear," Monica rasped, and leaned in to kiss his forehead softly.

"I can't be alone," Chandler whispered again.

"I would never leave you," Monica whispered, and closed her eyes, as Chandler's panicked grip on her arm tightened, "I'm so sorry, Chandler.  I never meant…I need to tell you—" Monica looked up at Chandler, who had calmed slightly, and was looking at her curiously, "Chandler, when I saw you…in that…closet a few days ago, I thought…I thought I had lost you.  And I wanted more than anything, to have just one moment, just a moment to tell you…to tell you that I…I never regretted London.  It was the best thing that ever happened to me, and…I lost a part of my heart, the day I thought you were dead…I love you, and I am so sorry—"

"I love you too, Monica," Chandler whispered softly, "I'm sorry too."

Monica sniffled, and looked up at Chandler, confusion lining her brow.

"Why are you sorry?  You didn't do anything…this wasn't your fault…"

"I'm sorry I made you cry," Chandler whispered, "It breaks my heart to see you cry."

Monica smiled, and pulled herself up onto the bed, careful not to disturb the various tubes that surrounded Chandler.  She wrapped her arms around his torso, and laid her head on his chest.

"Welcome home Chandler," Monica sighed sleepily.

Chandler stared up at the ceiling, the memories of the past ten days haunting his soul.  He pulled Monica toward him, and closed his weary eyes.

As long as she was here, he was home.

**Epilogue**

Chandler reclined his head onto the back of the deck chair, his head lolling to one side lazily.  He took a deep breath, and let the salty sea air fill his lungs.

Ahead of him, the Atlantic Ocean was sprawled in an endless mass, ebbing and flowing rhythmically, as the evening sun began its rapid descent into the distant horizon.  A blaze of dusty pinks, yellows, oranges and indigos swept across the sky, creating a canopy to which nothing could compare. 

The screen door creaked open, and Monica emerged, wearing thin, beige linen pants and his dark gray Knicks sweatshirt.  She set down two glasses of lemonade on the table adjacent to his chair, and climbed into his lap.

"The sky is amazing tonight," she whispered reverently, careful not to disturb the calm atmosphere.

"It seems to get a little better every night," Chandler replied, and pulled Monica closer toward him.

She smiled, knowing that his statement implied much more. 

It had been four months since Chandler's kidnapping, and outside of the occasional nightmare, and his absolute refusal to sleep without at least one light on, he had recovered amazingly well.  The group was spending a week up in Montauk, all of them desperately needing a break from the chaos of the city.

Monica and Chandler's peaceful respite was shattered by the arrival of four bickering friends.

"Ross, just let it go, okay?" Rachel fumed, as the group headed for the front porch.

"Look, all I'm saying is that there is no way that a person can inhabit a rock, okay?"

"Well then why do people have Pet Rock's then, huh?" Joey argued, as Phoebe nodded in agreement, her rock nestled securely in her hand.

Monica looked at Chandler, who was shaking his head and laughing.  She turned to the group, and whistled loudly to get their attention.

"So, who's hungry?" Monica asked loudly.

"Yeah, baby!" Joey exclaimed, and ran into the house, the others closely following.

"Is the rock gonna eat with us too, Pheebs?" Ross asked bitterly, as he followed her inside.  Monica moved to follow Ross, but stopped when she noted that Chandler had not left his chair.

"You coming in?" she asked softly.

"Yeah, I'll be in there in a second," Chandler smiled, and watched Monica go into the house.  He turned, and looked up at the increasingly darkening sky.  As the night consumed the day, stars began twinkling, winking down at him as though they were in on a secret. 

Chandler sighed, and stood up, stretching slowly, as a cool night breeze kicked up, and swept through the porch.  Dead leaves danced past his bare feet, and sand slid across the wooden deck silently.  Chandler smiled, and turned to look at the scene unfolding through the screen door: Monica struggling to pull together her meal, while Joey, Ross, Rachel and Phoebe studied the 'inhabited' rock that lay lifelessly on the kitchen table.  He shook his head and mentally cataloged a list of sarcastic remarks and rock jokes he could use at dinner, before swinging the door open and sauntering inside.

"Dude, what the hell were you doing out there?" Joey looked up from Phoebe's rock, and tilted his head slightly.

"Just…taking it all in," Chandler smiled knowingly, and placed a heavy hand on Joey's shoulder.

"Taking what in?"

"Life," Chandler grinned, then looked at Monica, who was looking at him lovingly, "Love…friendship…I'm taking it all in," Chandler grinned.

"Yeah, this new, positive-thinking Chandler is kind of creeping me out," Phoebe joked.

"This coming from a woman who spent the afternoon conversing with a rock," Chandler arched an eyebrow, and silently reveled in the laughter of his friends.

It was the greatest sound in the world.