~~~~When They All Found Out~~~~

A series of fics by Mizzy (castle_ebgb@yahoo.co.uk), all on the "What if…" premise of:
"What if they all found out about Monica and Chandler in a different way to the series?" All of the fics are stand-alone, unrelated to each other.

Friends does not belong to me, it belongs to Bright-Kauffman-Crane productions and WB. I'm just playing in the sandpit of "Friends", and I will return everything - including buckets, spades and starfish - when I'm done.

Dedicated to fellow C/M addict, AnHonestMoose ()

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(iv) The One With The Best Man For The Job

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(Assuming no one found out, even after a year and a half... Warning: not happy. )

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From the top, it's a long, long way to fall.

Chandler stared at the blank wall, the white paint searing his eyelids, and he regretted his colour choice when he repainted the wall. Granted, the Ultimate Fireball™ scorch marks had to be hidden somehow before their annual apartment inspection, but maybe white was a little harsh. He'd always hated white. White rooms always gave him the impression of falling, and falling forever, dragging your eyes to a center that kept moving away, and away, and away…

Plus, white was his dad's favorite colour for his spangly ball gowns, but that was neither here nor there. Not right now, any way, because of last night.

Last night. Ah, the stupidity of last night. How come fate always came in and dealt you one of those stingers when you were already down and dirty? Kicked you in the nuts when you needed it the least?

He and Monica had had a stupid argument, and the same night, Richard had made his comeback bid, and Monica had accepted. Spurned the only real relationship either of them had been part of for the chance of a previous dream.

To be honest, how did he think he had a chance in the first place of competing with Richard? Because you were drunk, drunk on her, addicted. Maybe I can commit myself to one of these rehab clinics with Monica-obsession. Richard was a doctor. Richard could admit he loved Monica in public. Richard wanted to give Monica everything she'd ever wanted. And I'd thought, once upon a time, she might have wanted me. What a joke.

You're the joke, his thoughts added dismally. Richard was her perfect dream. You were just… A poor girl's Richard.

Now everyone was over across the city, celebrating in a top notch restaurant, thinking he just had too many commitments to get out of. He'd earned a hard thwack across the back of his neck from Joey for that, but it was less pain that it would have been having to sit through a "Congratulations, you're engaged to a man who's too old for you and is only willing to have kids because you're the most amazing damn woman on the planet, not because he loves you as much as I do and wants exactly the same thing you do" dinner party. Yeah, man, Chandler thought ironically, they're always the worst kind of dinner party!

Chandler taped over the last box with the dogged determination of a broken man, just in time for the rap on the door. He trudged over the door, flashing a regretful smile at the removal men, and let them get on with it.

It didn't take a long time for the men to pick up all the boxes, and Chandler felt slightly bad that they had to cart them down all those stairs, still rebelliously thinking at least it's them and not me. They were taking it into storage. A rare call earlier to his mother had been hard, but exactly what he'd needed. He'd broken down over the phone line to his mom, who'd been instantly supportive and upset on his behalf. He'd spend a few days at her condo in Erie, before trying to get a new life for himself far, far away from New York. The plane ticket was booked for seven in the morning, the hotel room for the night, his boxes due to go into storage in New York until he knew exactly where he would be relocating himself.

He signed the release forms almost mechanically, handing over the payment to the chief removal guy and watched him leave the apartment. It wasn't even noticeably emptier. Chandler took the envelope with the longer note and a cheque for Joey, to tide him over until he found a new roommate, and pinned it to the bag of Joey's favorite potato chips, knowing Joey would find it there.

Chandler shouldered the rucksack with his ticket, wallet and enough clothes for a few days in it, looked slowly around the apartment and waited for the others to return.

Their return was louder than he'd predicted. Perhaps the meager number of items of furniture he'd decided to take with him had made a difference, changed the acoustics or something. There was giggling, and some muttered comments, and Monica's high laugh, sounding happy and content, but also slightly tense to Chandler's heightened sense of perception.

"This is so great!" "You two are so sweet."

Chandler wished he couldn't hear those words, the words he didn't want to hear. After waiting the longest minute of his life, wanted them to be settled in before he barged in and told them he would be going away. They didn't have to know how long for, that he didn't plan to come back.

He swallowed, put his hand on the door, opened it and left, his back to the apartment and all the symbols it involved: security, friendship, love, home.

Staring at the opposite door, the number 20 shining more than the 19 plaque behind him thanks to Monica's obsessive cleanliness, he pressed his lips together and experienced an emotive flashback, back to when he was eight and stuck on the very top of the climbing wall at school, wanting to get back down, to avoid the pointing and laughing and that dizzy feeling of being too high, but not being able to. I can't, I can't, I can't, his thoughts blared at him, then and now, only this time there would be no comforting words from someone supervising his actions.

Forcing a more neutral expression, he pushed open the door and attempted a casual nod to the six facing him.

"Had a nice time?" Chandler asked, feeling the need to be polite.

"Yeah, the food was great and there was this really cute waitress," Joey enthused. "Pity you couldn't be there, man."

Chandler refrained from looking at Monica on the grounds it would hurt, looked anyway, and hurt. He looked away just as quickly. "Yeah, work and such." He shrugged aimlessly.

"You don't have to stand in the doorway. We're your friends, we don't bite," Rachel said sipping from a glass of juice and flickering a few longing glances at the ring on Monica's finger.

"You've met Joey, right?" Chandler said, trying to say something funny to hide what he was really feeling, stepping in and closing the door behind him.

"That's not funny!" Joey scowled, and then noticed the bag. "You going somewhere?"

"Yeah. Gonna go see my mom, y'know." Chandler shrugged as if it was nothing.

Ross' face screwed up. "This has gotta be the first time she's invited you in forever."

"It was more like I invited myself," Chandler said, knowing they needed to know a little of the truth. Six years upwards of friendship deserved that much. "I just came to say goodbye."

There was a polite decisiveness about his tone that made them uneasy, and Phoebe peered at him narrowly for a long second. "How long will you be gone? 'Cause I'm not dealing with the tears from the chick and the duck if it's longer than a week."

Chandler muted the brief smile that threatened to instantly cross his face, a stark contrast to his dour mood. His friends were always there to cheer him up when he was down, and that was exactly what made it all the more worse. Chandler felt very abruptly what Kip must have felt, and felt a twinge of sympathy for his old flat mate, resolving to drop him a bell one of these days. "Does the chick cry?"

"When you're not there? Are you kidding, when you were in London it cried like a baby!" Phoebe smirked in self-satisfaction.

"When we were in London you forgot about them and left them without food for four days," Joey said, folding his arms across his chest.

"Enh, yeah! I forgot about that. I made up this great story about how I fed the chick and duck every day and dried their tears over the two of you to make myself feel better." Phoebe wrinkled her nose at Chandler.

"Well, anyway, the taxi'll be here soon. See y'around, I guess."

He turned to go.

"Wait!" Joey leapt to his feet. "You didn't answer Phoebe's question. How long are you going for?"

Chandler turned, his insides contracting in fear, unable to avoid answering the one question he'd hoped he wouldn't have to. Joey stepped forwards, facing Chandler, and stared at Chandler.

"How. Long." Joey enunciated the words firmly, with a strength of projection his Drama class teacher would be proud of.

"I don't know," Chandler retorted quietly, keeping eye-contact with Joey. Joey's brow furrowed as he thought rapidly, and then when he came up with the answer the next stare was full of betrayal.

"This is forever, isn't it? You're runnin' out on us!" Joey's voice rose in an angry crescendo. "You aren't coming back!"

"What?" Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe crowded to their feet. Monica and Richard were stood already, although Monica stepped forward involuntarily at the words.

Chandler looked at the door, then at the accusing glances of his friends. "I guess not."

"You guess not?? Wha- I mean wh- Why?"

Chandler shrugged, a brief inclination of his head. "Because I have to. Because- because I can't stay here and still be me, if I stay, I'll lose myself!" Despite his earlier resolve for self control, his voice was rising in volume too. "Because- I wasn't the best man for the job," he finished, looking directly at Monica with a lost, self-hating smile as if his heart was breaking.

He looked down at his own feet, not wanting to see the others changing, bewildered expressions. Then he looked across directly at Richard. "Can I give you some advice? You've got her. Don't let her go again, 'cause if you do-"

He couldn't finish the sentence.

"Well, good luck with the rest of your life," he said simply, now lifting his gaze to his friends, hurting so much more inside than he'd ever thought possible, before he turned and staunchly walked away. The door swam before him slightly, blurred by the tears threatening to fall and shatter on the ground, and he swallowed, opened it and stood stock-still in the doorway. "I would have given you everything, y'know. I love you," he said, quietly as if he was caressing the words, but with a crystal clear sharpness that sounded through the whole apartment. He walked out, pulling the door shut behind him, a seemingly diminutive figure carrying a rucksack falling into obscurity.

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